In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now all the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light.

Monday, May 16, 2011

God “Hovers” Over Creation

Genesis 1:2: “And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.”

Here, God is creating everything within our universe. The NIV Bible version says “hovered” and the KJV says “moved,” but what I find interesting is the original Hebrew word used in this verse:  rachaph.

(Strong’s H7363) rachaph: to grow soft, to hover; to relax, to be moved or affected—especially with a tender love. 

The Hebrew definition of the word “moved/hover” gives us a clearer picture of how God created in the midst of creating.  When we think of hovering, we might think of a vulture anxiously hovering over its prey. But when we view hover in light of the Hebrew word rachaph, we see that God was not moving over His creation like a vulture. He was not hovering at a distance like a helicopter.  Instead, God created the heavens and the earth while softly moving over His creation, relaxing, and being deeply affected by what He was creating because of His tender love for all His creations.  He poured out His heart as He hovered and moved over and around all that He created.  At the heart of God’s creative activity is His heart. 

Because we were made in His image (Genesis 1:27), we move about and create, like God.  We create opportunities. We create relationships. We create situations. We create beautiful things, and we create disasters. But we are always creating something because we were designed to create.  Creativity means “to make or bring into existence something new,” denoting whomever creates does so from himself, not another.  God handed over control to us how we create our lives. He gave us free will to decide whether we choose conflict or peace, choose hatred or love, choose judgment or grace, choose resentment or freedom, choose irresponsibility or responsibility, choose right or wrong.

Every day we create our own distinct life. Every decision embeds a stepping stone onto a path that we have created by our own doing. Often, where we end up in life is based on the choice(s) we made at the very beginning of that path. We can look back and find the crumbs that led us there, whether through good or bad choices. My mantra is, “Life is a series of our choices.” Our life is like a railroad track.  Before the little choo choo train ever hits the track, an engineer carefully decides where the track will begin and where it will end.  The engineer determines the track’s path much like we lay down tracks that land us somewhere. We are the engineers of our own life.

Yes, sometimes life’s circumstances plow through our lives where we have no control, and life takes unexpected turns. Cancer. Infidelity. Death.  Then, we are faced with even more challenging choices.  How are we going to handle such uncontrollable circumstances?  Do we, like the apostle Paul, “rejoice in our sufferings” because of the character it builds in us (Romans 5)? Do we “in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving” hand over our concerns to God (Philippians 4:4-7)?  Do we maintain an eternal view of our trials, knowing that our “present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Romans 8)?  Do we get our eyes off our circumstance and, instead, “fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18)?  Do we keep a wide-angle view on our life, understanding that there is “a time for everything,” and that everything has a divine purpose (Ecclesiastes 3)?  Even in the worst of life’s scenarios, we still have control over our attitudes, our reactions, our responses, our words, and our actions.  We can choose goodness even amidst the badness that comes through our lives.  Our choices indent the outcome of our lives. 

But through it all, God also intersects our lives, exactly proportionate to how much we allow Him access. We live in a very physical world, so it is easy to forget about the spiritual realm moving about us, weaving itself into our lives in ways that are not as perceptible or tangible as the physical things in our lives.

But knowing the spiritual presence of God throughout our day is much more elusive. We can forget that the Spirit of God still moves about us, around us, above us, beside us, and inside of us—now!: “For the eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him” (2 Chronicles 16:9).  From this verse, did you notice why God has His eyes constantly on us? To strengthen us!  God hovers because He cares. His Spirit protects, guides, teaches, informs, and sends His love vicariously into the vacuum of our soul waiting to be filled by something.  We yearn for His Spirit, yet we often attempt to fill ourselves with the pleasures of this temporal, physical world rather than filling ourselves with the Almighty Himself.  We get swept away in the concerns and the temptations of this physical world because the spiritual world is unseen, and often untapped. 

And we must also remain keenly aware that in this spiritual world around us, we have another spiritual being constantly hovering about us:  Satan.  We are told that Satan roams the earth (Job 1:7), which the word “roam” in Hebrew is shuwt, meaning “to run to and fro eagerly and quickly.”  Satan moves about like a “roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8b).  Do you see the drastic difference in the way GOD roams and the way SATAN roams the earth?  God ranges the earth to nourish us; Satan ranges the earth to devour us.  Why are we so inclined to allow Satan’s spirit into our vacuum instead of God’s?

We must pause long enough to evaluate honestly how we move and roam about.  It will give us a clear indication as to whose spirit fills us.  Are we running to and fro eagerly and quickly—or are we moving about slowly in a relaxed manner, basking in our creation and enjoying all we see as we roam?  In the world we create, we either hover like God, or we hover like Satan.  The world we create will look like one or the other.   

In the daily creation of our lives, and in the lives with whom God crosses our paths, let us be mindful of creating in His image, like Him.  While we create, let us rachaph—let us relax, let us grow soft, and let us pour out God’s tender love on all that we create.  Let us choose to hover like God.

Friday, April 29, 2011

And God Still Speaks

            Jordan’s Wadi Arnon experience was a Na-shama moment in my life. Na-shama (pronounced: NAY SHAH-muh) comes from the Hebrew word “breath” from when God breathed life into Adam/man,1 but the term also relates to when a rabbi gives his disciple an ah-ah moment, a life-changing teaching.  About two years ago, I was blessed to simulate the Exodus experience during a Holy Lands trip from Egypt to Jordan to Israel.  George DeJong led our group, and he teaches in rabbinic style and integrates Hebraic culture, language, history and geography to enhance our understanding of the Bible with its very Hebraic roots.  A wadi is a valley set between mountainous peaks and can be 8-10 ft. deep with torrent waters that often cause many deaths during the rainy season.  Wadi Arnon, which means “noisy” in Hebrew, is 45 miles long and runs through Jordan and ends at the Dead Sea.  After wading through miles of tumultuous waters in the valley of Wadi Arnon, our group finally rounded a corner to see a colossal waterfall pouring out, with all its might, the sound of rushing waters.  “THIS IS THE VOICE OF GOD!  THIS IS HOW GOD SPEAKS TO YOU,” shouts our guide George DeJong, his voice small and broken compared to the mighty roar of the waterfall. 
What? I thought to myself. This is how God talks to me? Like the sound of rushing waters?  I had always imagined God’s Voice as a whisper, like when He quietly spoke to Elijah during his standoff with the Baal prophets on Mount Carmel.2 I had no knowledge that God manifested Himself akin to the waterfall’s “voice,” which embodied the epitome of power—and life. The Israelites’ mikveh came to mind, the cleansing baths that gave new birth, an atoned life through faith in the Divine. I opened my heart and said to God, “Speak to me. I want to hear Your Voice!” I stood under the waterfall and soaked up God into my soul. As the water rushed around me, on top of me, and what seemed like through me, I felt cleansed.  I felt alive. God spoke to me that day at Wadi Arnon like I had never heard Him before, and upon my return home, His Voice impassioned me to explore Him in new ways.
I opened up the Text and found, to my surprise, that God’s Voice is rarely a quiet whisper but is often described in the Text the following ways: “loud’ or “great,”3 “powerful” and “majestic,”4 with the capacity that it “shook” and  “melted the earth,”5 as “thunder” and “lightning,”6 coming from “fire,”7 the sound of “a trumpet”8 “like multitudes,”9 as a “roar” or “shout,”10 and —like that at Wadi Arnon—a voice “of many waters.”11 God’s Voice is powerful because God’s Words aptly reflect His power. 
            I found out something else interesting about God’s Voice. Many times in the Text, God’s Word is actually seen by man, often in the form of nature. In the desert tabernacle, God manifested His Glory and spoke though a pillar of fire and clouds so that He could dwell with man.12  When God spoke to the Israelites on Mt. Sinai, they saw and heard the Voice of God in violent upheavals of nature—thunder, lightning, and a dense cloud upon the trembling mountain.13 God said:  “You have seen for yourselves that I have talked to you from heaven.”14 Rabbi Moshe Weissman explains the rabbinical interpretation of the supernatural phenomena accompanying the giving of the Law, based on The Midrash (which is traditional Jewish commentary on the Torah), saying: "In occasion of the giving of the Torah, the children of Israel not only heard the Lord’s voice but actually saw the sound waves as they emerged from the Lord’s mouth. They visualized them as a fiery substance. Each commandment that left the Lord’s mouth travelled around the entire Camp and then to each Jew individually, asking him, ‘Do you accept upon yourself this Commandment with all the halochot [Jewish law] pertaining to it?’ Every Jew answered ‘Yes’ after each commandment. Finally, the fiery substance which they saw engraved itself on the tablets."15 The pairing of seeing and hearing God’s Voice was not something I had ever even contemplated, but  God revealed more and more examples in the Text where His Voice could be physically seen. 
            In Genesis 15:1, as God is about to seal His covenant with the father of all nations, we are told: “. . . the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision.” The Hebrew root word for “vision” in verse 1 is chazah, which means “to see.”  Abram SEES the word of God in a vision. Stop and think about this.  We typically associate HEARING the spoken word, but here, Abraham SEES the word of God.  What did Abram see? Did he see words spelled out in puffy, cloud-like letters that he could read as God’s contract? Did he see the Bible with words printed on parchment paper, showing Abram how God’s covenant would be fulfilled in our New Testament? Rethink John 1:1: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning.” The Word of God is God. Abram saw The Almighty as He spoke!  God reveled His power and authority through His Word by both sight and sound. 
                   Our first inclination might be to say, “Well, that is Old Testament when God manifested Himself through nature, prior to His gift of the Holy Spirit where God indwells in His children and speaks to them.” Yet we have an example from the New Testament as well where The Divine’s Voice is seen and heard, as related by Paul the apostle: “About noon as I came near Damascus, suddenly a bright light from heaven flashed around me. I fell to the ground and heard a voice say to me, ‘Saul! Saul! Why do you persecute me?’  ‘Who are you, Lord?’ I asked. ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting,’ he replied. My companions saw the light, but they did not understand the voice of him who was speaking to me”16  In these verses, both sight (light) and sound (words) are inextricably linked to this heavenly voice.            
            After studying these verses, I realized that I had, over the years, put God in a box—a tidy little box that contained preconceived notions about Him and His Voice.   At times, certainly God speaks to us in a whisper, only heard when we sit quietly before Him. But sometimes His Voice comes to us in a thunderous roar.  Under the cascade of the falling mayim chayim (“living waters”) at Wadi Arnon, I could relate to the experiences of Moses, Abraham and Paul. I knew that I, too, had seen and heard the Voice of God.  And that Na-shama moment reminds me that when we open our minds, God will speak to us in new ways, revealing new facets of Himself where we can see and hear Him differently so that we can stand in greater and greater awe of Him and His mighty word.

Biblical references: (All emphasis, such as bold or italics, in Scripture mine.)
1. Genesis 2:7
2. 1 Kings 18:17-40
3. Deuteronomy 5: 22; Revelation 1:12, 12:10, 21:3
4. Psalm 29:4; Jeremiah 10:13
5. Hebrews 12:26; Psalm 46:6
6. Isaiah 30:30; Jeremiah 51:6; Psalm 77:18; Psalm 77:18; Job 37:5; Psalm 18:3;
    Psalm 29:7
7. Deuteronomy 4:2, 4:36, 15:24; Psalm 18:3 
8. Revelation 4:1
9. Daniel 7:11
10. Jeremiah 25:30
11. Psalm 29:3; Revelation 1:15; Ezekiel 43:2
12. Exodus 13:21-22
13. Exodus 20:18-21
14. Exodus 20:22
15. Rabbi Moshe Weissman, The Midrash Says on Shemot (New York, 1980), p. 82.
16. Acts 22:6-9

Monday, April 25, 2011

After the Resurrection: Then What?

Yesterday (“Easter Sunday”) was a remembrance of Christ's Resurrection, which brought God's eternal plan to light. His plan was first revealed to His chosen people, the Israelites (Jews). What many Christians do not realize is that ALL JEWS were in attendance on the Day of Pentecost when God gifted the Holy Spirit into believers' hearts (Acts 2:5, 9-11). Remember, the Day of Pentecost was one of the three required Jewish feasts (ordained by God), and on this particular Day of Pentecost when God poured His Holy Spirit onto His people, it was the beginning of the "Church." Do you find it shocking that not a Gentile was in sight, only Jews? What most do not know is that the early church believers were predominantly Jews, and they continued meeting in synagogues, they held to the regulated Jewish Feast days and lived by Jewish Law, and they were not even called a "church.” They were called "The Way." Greek converts were called "God fearers." What we Christians seem to ignore (or not know) is that (for the most part) THE JEWS MADE UP THE FIRST CHURCH OF CHRIST. 

The Gentiles merged into the Jewish faith; we (Gentiles) were grafted into Israel (
Romans 11). We see the early church's struggle as to how best to incorporate the new converts (mainly Greeks) into their early church in the Book of Acts when Paul goes to the Jerusalem Council to ask if these new converts must follow Jewish Law. I find it sad that we Christians have so isolated ourselves from our Jewish roots. We have set ourselves apart as "The Church," yet the word "church" (Greek: "ecclesia") was a Greek word used merely to mean "an assembly" (and, ironically, usually meant as an assembly to settle disputes). The word "church" did not take on its meaning of "a place to worship God" until much later, actually (and sadly) when the need arose to call THIS place of worship the "one and true church" over THAT place of worship who believed differently. Yes, "church" was designed by division rather than unity. There IS One True Church, and that is the Body of Christ, which is made up of each and every believer joined together in spiritual form to the Head of the Church, Jesus Christ (Ephesians 5:23). Okay so off my soapbox and back to the subject at hand...this next part is amazing, so bear with me.

Notice Christ's instructions to His 12 Jewish apostles prior to His death. Pay particular attention to His focus: "These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: 'Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. As you go, proclaim this message: The kingdom of heaven has come near'" (
Matthew 10:5-7). When I first ran across this verse, I was stumped. Why would Jesus exclude the Gentiles from the knowledge of the kingdom of heaven? Then, I found my answer in other Scripture. God desired for the Israelites to bring Jesus to the Gentile nation: "For this is what the Lord has commanded us [Jews]: 'I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth'" (Acts 13:47). Although many Jewish people accepted Christ as Messiah, the nation as a whole rejected Him.

Then, notice Jesus’ REVISED commission to His apostles after His death on the cross, now expanding His plan to ALL NATIONS. The instructions He gave, following His ascension, were: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age" (
Matthew 28:19) and "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth" (Acts 1:8). Certainly, these verses show us that Jesus initially intended for the gospel to be preached to the Jews first, but after they (as a nation) rejected and aided in His death on the cross, He revised His plan and opened up His salvation to ALL nations.

Then, 30 years later God calls Saul, a devout Jew, to follow Him, renames him Paul, and takes him away to the desert for three years where the Holy Spirit teaches and prepares Paul for his mission to go and preach the kingdom of heaven to the GENTILES. God never intended for the Gentiles to be ignored. One way or another, God would offer His salvation to ALL NATIONS, as promised in His covenant with Abraham: "Seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him" (
Genesis 18:18).

So, as the other apostles focused on preaching the Good News of the gospel to the Jewish people, Paul and Barnabas spread out to what are now the Turkey and Greece areas to preach the gospel to the Gentile nations. But what I find interesting is that every town Paul went to, he first went into the synagogues to try once again to reach his own people, the Jews. But see their reaction when Paul preached in Antioch: "So when the Jews went out of the synagogue, the Gentiles begged that these words might be preached to them the next Sabbath. Now when the synagogue broke up, many of the Jews and of the devout *proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas; who, speaking to them, urged them to continue in the grace of God. The next Sabbath almost the whole city was gathered together to hear the word of God. But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with jealousy, and contradicted the things which were spoken by Paul, and blasphemed. Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, and said, 'It was necessary that God's word should be spoken to you first. Since indeed you thrust it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles. For so has the Lord commanded us, saying, I have set you as a light for the Gentiles, that you should bring salvation to the uttermost parts of the earth.' As the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of God. As many as were appointed to eternal life believed. The Lord's word was spread abroad throughout all the region. But the Jews stirred up the devout and prominent women and the chief men of the city, and stirred up a persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and threw them out of their borders. But they shook off the dust of their feet against them, and came to Iconium. The disciples were filled with joy with the Holy Spirit" (
Acts 13:42-52).

*"Proselyte" is a Gentile who converted to Judaism.

This, folks, is the beautiful story of the beginning of our Christian faith. When our first Gentile representatives heard the Word of God, their hearts were stirred and their souls rejoiced with the Good News of Jesus. They begged for God's Word. They GLORIFIED the word of God, meaning they lived it out in their lives, giving glory to God in all they did.

Do we Christians today still respond so quickly, so faithfully? Do we beg to hear God's word? Do we feel the same gratitude of those early converts to "The Way" for being included in God's eternal plan? Praise God that we, Gentiles, are included in The One and True Church, the Body of Christ!

Today, feel blessed. 

In His love,