Friday, October 30, 2009

The promise: intimacy

For years, each of us has studied Hebrews 11, and with each example of fidelity and trust in God by the heroes of the Bible, we learn. We apply their tactics of strength in the face of opposition and trust in the face of doubt, following the whisper of God where we cannot discern the next footstep on our own. Faith is taking hold, taking possession of the title deed that we cannot see, but is more real than we are.

BY FAITH, Abraham. BY FAITH, Moses. BY FAITH, David. They did amazing, worthy, historic acts. But is that what pleased God? No, it wasn’t what they did – it was what they believed about God: that He was able to, and cared enough to, fulfill His promises.

When I needed reassurance, I read Hebrews 11 and sucked in my tummy, dried my tears, and let out a cleansing breath. It was all good until I got to the end of the chapter, and then my resolution collapsed. There we learn that people of faith held out despite torture and death, waiting for their promise to be perfected (matured).

That’s where the book says that “Not one of these people, even though their lives of faith were exemplary, got their hands on what was promised. God had a better plan for us: that their faith and our faith would come together to make one completed whole, their lives of faith not complete apart from ours.” (Hebrews 11:39-40 MSG)

But not one got their hands on the promise? Not one of those amazing heroes literally took hold of the title deed to what God said would happen? But they still believed?

So what was the promise? Was it for wealth and land, successful crops and fertile livestock, a loving spouse and happy children, freedom, security, long life, influence and power, beauty, or physical perfection?

The promise was repeated throughout the ages, in all the scriptures. In the Garden, God walked and talked face to face with our parents (Genesis 3). Immanuel, God-With-Us would come and live with us (Isaiah 7 and Revelation 21). God would be our God, and He’d be intimately known by us (Jeremiah 31:33-34). There would be a Ruler from among us who can approach God’s Presence (Jeremiah 30:21-22). Christ in us is life (Galatians 2:20, Romans 8:10). He will appear a second time to save those waiting (Hebrews 9:28). And we will not only worship Him, but actually partake of His holiness (Hebrews 12:10).

The new covenant is this: “This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, 'Know the Lord,' because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” (Hebrews 8:10-12 NIV.)

The new, superior covenant is that God offers intimacy, instead of being separated from us by prophetic symbols, analogies, types, and a written code of regulations. Those things, like toys and art supplies, were given to teach us what God is like, but not to distract us from what His heart is saying. Instead of being separated from us by a temple veil, He became the open Door, the Way in to Abba’s throne, the mercy seat of grace. Now God is real to us.

The promise that millions have died for and believed in was that Jesus is the reality when all else is shadow or reflection. What we humans perceive as solid and measurable is the vapor; and the God we can’t see or touch, define boundaries for, or understand – is the reality. We are aliens in this physical world, but we are citizens, the royal family, in His kingdom of love.

To our finite minds, this concept is upside down and inside out, that what God offers is intimacy. We’ve seen Him as remote and untouchable, harsh and judgmental, and by beholding that lie, we’ve been changed! But seeing God’s compassion, mercy, forgiveness and boundless love is why those heroes of faith were willing to go through such trials, such pain, such separation from what they loved, but held loosely. For the promise of intimacy, close contact with the Most High God, they held tightly to His hand, they obeyed the Voice, they lived as nomads and settled new territory, they braved the best-equipped armies on earth with songs of praise – and won!

Whether married or single, we crave close contact on every level, and the need for intimacy is as vital as air and water. We want to be touched emotionally and physically by those we trust. A friend says that her elderly mother wells up with tears of joy when her son-in-law takes her into his embrace.

We want to be known in more than a superficial glance, more even than for the image we project, but for the secret heartbeat of our God-given passions and obsessions. We want to be KNOWN. Intimately known by a trustworthy person. We need to be loved and touched, to connect on every level.

And that is what God offers. That is what those heroes lived and died for. They knew it. They had the Promise in their hearts, the Promise that Immanuel would walk and talk with them as a personal Friend; that He would tenderly wipe away their tears with His own hand.

“Regarding [your name here], I can't keep my mouth shut, regarding [you], I can't hold my tongue, Until her righteousness blazes down like the sun and her salvation flames up like a torch. Foreign countries will see your righteousness, and world leaders your glory. You'll get a brand-new name straight from the mouth of God. You'll be a stunning crown in the palm of God's hand, a jeweled gold cup held high in the hand of your God. No more will anyone call you Rejected, and your country will no more be called Ruined. You'll be called Hephzibah (My Delight), and your land Beulah (Married), Because God delights in you and your land will be like a wedding celebration. For as a young man marries his virgin bride, so your builder marries you, And as a bridegroom is happy in his bride, so your God is happy with you.” (Isaiah 62:1-5 MSG.)

Who doesn’t want to hear the divine whisper in our ears, “You are my delight”? Who doesn’t want to be a cherished, precious jewel, held high in the hands of God for all to admire its beauty? That unimaginable privilege is offered to you as a gift.

And the only way you can accept the gift is by trusting that Jesus Christ is the reality when all of this world is shifting shadows. That is faith. When we are filled with that love, our hearts expand to take in more, and the love spills over to those around us. It’s not only a good feeling, love. It becomes a choice and an action, helping the unloved, the desperate, the needy, the lonely – the lost, whom Jesus came to seek and save.

“It's impossible to please God apart from faith. And why? Because anyone who wants to approach God must believe both that he exists and that he cares enough to respond to those who seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6 MSG)

He cares. He responds. He offers what you crave. Why resist? Reach up and take hold of the Promise.

4 comments:

  1. Absolutely beautiful post, Christy! Very soulful and inspiring. I was just reading Hebrews 11 this morning - thanks for the wonderful devotional reinforcement!

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  2. I cried simply because I want that so much from God. But I have never been able to feel it even remotely, no matter how earnestly I seek it. I want so much to crawl into his lap and just be held and loved. I've never really had parents, so I think my craving for a "Daddy" is greater than most. Hope I get to feel that in heaven. I've lost hope to feel his presence here on earth.

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  3. Dear Anonymous,
    Although I had loving parents, I've been single and rather isolated (socially speaking) all my life. I had great responsibility as a child because of my mother's grave illness. I learned recently that I don't really know how to play! My idea of a good time is playing the piano, reading, or enjoying nature (solo). I suspect that I've been prickly or off-putting, though it wasn't my intention. And I crave being held and touched appropriately.

    I don't have much of an answer for you except my own experience, and sometimes even THAT is not enough. But I asked God to speak to me and let me know it's him. No, I don't hear voices. But as I read the Bible, certain passages stand out to me. I see tiny lessons in everyday experiences (like walking the dog or gardening). When I'm speaking with a friend in trouble, and the right words come out to help them, I realize that God is using me. I believe that God speaks to us all, constantly, in a stream! We just don't recognize his voice very often.

    Three weeks ago, I was feeling very, very low, and isolated and lonely. Over the course of 5 days, emails and phone calls poured in unsolicited! I recognized that God was speaking to me through my friends, whether Christian or not. He lifted me up with those verbal hugs and expressions of love. What a joy.

    So my "advice" is to re-evaluate the kindnesses shown to you by friends, family, and even strangers. Recognize that God motivated them to contact you, and that he does see, care, and touch you--through his children. Thank and affirm and respond, and those relationships will deepen. And you'll know at least a TASTE of the intimacy that will be ours in full someday. God bless you.

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  4. Much-appreciated comments, Christy.
    Every living one of us needs intimacy, because God is Love and built us to need it as much as food or air.
    Some live alone and languish in their intimacy deficit, skin hunger, and loneliness.
    Others are surrounded by people, or married, yet just as much without real intimacy and just as lonely.
    Countless others don't even recognize what drives them to seek to fill their lack with substitutes: pleasure, possessions, fame, addictions, or substance-induced anesthesia for the inner pain and emptiness.
    At times, I've personally been in all three of these places.
    Truth is, in this life we may never have the fullness of intimacy - the merging of soul with soul - that will await us on the other side.
    But even here, God is available to be to us friend, parent, and spouse more fully than we probably realize.

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