Do You Trust the Cloud?

What is “the cloud”, exactly?
And where is it, honestly?
And who is in charge, precisely?

Are the pictures of my grands and my garden floating somewhere in space? Are my documents being filed in a cosmic cabinet in the sky? Is my stuff safe up there? Am I a fool to trust my work to an ethereal nimbus?

cloud

It seems we are not the first generation to question “the cloud”.

The Israelites, who had been delivered from slavery in Egypt, had to deal with a cloud as well. They would wake up in the morning, look out their tent flap and see what the cloud was doing. If it was lifting up, it was time to pack and move. If the cloud was settled over the Tabernacle, they could go back to bed after gathering their portion of manna for the day.

Easy.
If the cloud moves, you move.
If the cloud stays, you stay.

Imagine — a visual representation of God’s glorious presence right outside your door 24/7. A comforting cloud during the day to shade the intense desert sun and a fiery pillar at night to provide warmth and a nightlight. What more could anyone want?

Except people tend to get stiff sleeping in tents. And stiff-necked.

Only a few days after walking through the Red Sea on dry ground,
there was grumbling.
Only a few weeks after being delivered from 400 years of enslavement,
there was quarreling.
Only three months into their trip to the Promised Land,
the people had stopped looking at the cloud
and decided a golden calf was a better option.

Oy vey.

I’m tempted to think it would have been easier to follow God back then. Yet His visual presence didn’t seem to make obedience any easier for people. Perhaps it was just as tempting then for people to take their eyes off the Lord as it is now. Then again, it’s hard to love a cloud.

How glorious is it that the cloud returned when Jesus came onto the scene in the New Testament? There was a cloud at Jesus’ baptism, at the transfiguration and at His ascension. How starkly revealing is it that there was no cloud present at the crucifixion? The death of Jesus at Golgotha was the one time the Father turned His back on His Son because of the sin He carried on our behalf.

When Jesus returns, He will be seen coming in the clouds — unbridled glory for all the world to see. All believers who are living on earth will be caught up in those very same clouds.

It takes a lot of faith to hit “save” and believe that our personal information is safe and sound, somewhere in “the cloud”. May we all have the same kind of trust in “The Cloud”.

“Whenever the cloud lifted from above the Tent, the Israelites set out;
wherever the cloud settled, the Israelites encamped.
Whether the cloud stayed over the tabernacle for two days or a month or a year,
the Israelites would remain in camp and not set out;
but when it lifted, they would set out.”
Numbers 9:17, 22

In Every Pew

I once read a book by Ann Graham Lotz (Billy Graham’s daughter) entitled “In Every Pew Sits a Broken Heart”. I’ve often wondered, as I’ve taken my seat in the 3rd pew from the front right side,

“Whose heart is breaking here today?”

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The thing is, we’re all so good at coming to church with our game faces on that it’s hard to tell. But, as Pastor H. A. Ironside told his seminary students, “Always preach to broken hearts and you will never lack for an audience.”

I have several friends going through trials right now. Each situation is different, each one is painful. I have these dear names written on a card that I keep in my prayer book. “Carry one another’s burdens,” the Apostle Paul told his friends in Galatia. But how do we do that, exactly?

“What do I do with other people’s pain, Lord?”
“Child, learn from the Good Samaritan.”

Good Sam was walking down the road when he noticed someone in the ditch, beaten and bloody. It wasn’t his tragedy. It wasn’t his problem. He could have kept going. Instead, he entered into the pain and did what he could. The Bible says it was compassion that drove him to action. (Luke 10:30-35)

I think God puts others’ sorrows in our hearts from time to time. The inability to shake off the burden must mean that we are being invited in, to help shoulder the load. It should be received as a privilege. To share in someone’s grief is a holy summons. Maybe the nudge means nothing more than to pray. Perhaps at that moment, no one else is doing that for our wounded friends. The hurting person may never even know that our tears and prayers went to the throne on their behalf. It is a hidden ministry — an anonymous service.

It takes time.
It requires emotional energy.
It demands a compassionate heart.
But,
we dare not walk by on the other side.  

There’s more.

Good Sam did what he could — above and beyond what most would do. He eased the poor man’s pain and tended to his wounds. Good Sam put the helpless victim on his donkey and took him to an inn where he stayed with him for one night.

Then he left.

He didn’t stop living his life. He carried on with his other responsibilities. Yet he provided resources and caretakers with a promise to follow up and continue to help.

That’s a truth we need to hear.
Our job is to enter into others’ pain in order to carry them to Jesus
not to carry them.
Only the Everlasting Arms are able to bear that kind of load.

Like Good Sam, we need to check in regularly and see what needs tending. It might mean providing a meal or a hug or a well-chosen book. It might mean introducing other caretakers who can meet a particular need. It might mean interrupting your regularly scheduled program for an intense season of suffering alongside a friend.

Look down your pew this Sunday and watch for broken hearts.

They are hiding there.
Let compassion move you
to help carry a burden,
to soothe a wound,
to bind up a hurt.

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Of course, broken hearts aren’t only in pews.
Many more are outside the doors of the church.
Take your compassion with you into the world.
It’s desperate for hope and help.

Smiling Father

tomb

“All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is by his great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead.” 1 Peter 1:3

You know, as I just read that verse, I realized that I have been giving Jesus all the credit for the resurrection. Somewhere along the line, I came to believe that Jesus raised Himself from the dead. Clearly, this needs correction. All praise goes to God the Father. It is by God the Father’s great mercy that this happened. It is by God the Father that I have new birth. And, (wake up and listen) God was the one raising Jesus from the dead. I’m sure Jesus deserves some praises as well, but this little detail changes the story for me.

The last I heard from God in the Passion saga was on Good Friday when the Father turned His back on the Son, who was hanging on the cross. I think that’s where I’ve left God in the story. I was a little miffed, a little incredulous that the whole salvation plan had to go that far. I’ve viewed Jesus as the Hero who did the thing. I never knew at what point God turned back around.

Suddenly, I see God the Father in the tomb, massaging His boy’s heart back to beating. I see Abba bending down, giving mouth to mouth, giving breath of life. God the Father was there, doing the work of raising His Son back up. Whoa.

When Jesus’ eyes fluttered open, was Father the first one He saw? Did they embrace? Jump around? Dance and sing? Certainly, God smiled. Surely, Jesus laughed. Up until now, I’ve envisioned only Jesus walking out of the tomb, but perhaps Father and Son strode out into that Sunday morning darkness arm in arm. Then maybe God said, “See you in 40 days. Have fun with Your guys. I’ve got a coronation to prepare for.” Wink. Twinkle. Pat on the back.

It’s all conjecture. I’m crossing the line from academic accuracy to imaginative deduction. Dangerous ground. Yet I believe in holy imagination. And holy correction. And holy inspiration. Holy, holy, holy.

Father God, I’m sorry I’ve held a little something against You. I was kind of disappointed. It appeared to me that You disappointed Your Son at His lowest moment. I suppose it had to be, but I left You there, with Your back to us all.  I was in error. I’m so glad to let this go. I’m thankful for this vision of You and Your Son walking out of the grave together, rejoicing. Thank You for doing the work of raising Jesus from the dead. You did it!

Laughing Jesus

I read something that has really got me thinking.

I’m going to quote it so you can get to thinking too.

“What would you guess Jesus’ mood is this particular morning? (My note: after the resurrection.) Surely he must be happy. The man has conquered death, ransomed mankind, been restored to his Father, his friends, and the world he made. Forever. He is in the afterglow of the greatest triumph of the greatest battle in the history of the cosmos. I’m going to venture that he is one mighty happy man.” Beautiful Outlaw, by John Eldredge

Jesus? Happy? Perhaps laughing? At least, smiling? Or even chuckling with a twinkle in His eye? Could it be that He was bursting with joy?

Why do we have this picture of meek and mild Jesus, slowly rising from the dead, all serious and calm? Coming forth from the tomb with a slightly furrowed brow, solemn and subdued? Why do we have a hard time picturing Jesus as one mighty happy man?

Have a little fun.

Go back and read all the post-resurrection gospel accounts, but with one condition: listen for Jesus laughing.

Go ahead, do it.

Hear Him chuckle as He folds the cloth before leaving the tomb.
See the twinkle in His eye as He poofs into the disciples’ hiding place.
Watch Him grin as He eats a piece of fish before their eyes.
Hear Him roar with laughter as He watches Peter wildly splash toward breakfast on the beach.

It’s true!
Jesus is the happiest man alive.

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“I have told you this so so that my joy may be in you
and that your joy may be complete.”
John 15:11

The Borrower

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Jesus was buried in a borrowed tomb.
He had planned ahead for the entrance into Jerusalem.
He had pre-arranged details for the Last Supper.
He knew everything that was going to happen to Him.

But He hadn’t prepared for His burial,
so Christ was laid in a borrowed grave.

Borrowed. 

Borrow: to obtain or receive something on loan for temporary use, intending to give it back.

Jesus didn’t need a permanent grave.
He just needed to borrow one for a few days.
Joseph of Arimathea would get his tomb back because
Jesus had no intention of staying there for very long.
It would be a brief stopover.

When I die, tell everyone that I’m just borrowing that grave, because I’m going to be giving it back. On the day the angel shouts and the trumpet sounds, I’ll be among those rising up. Ain’t no grave gonna hold me down.

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“We know that God, who raised the Lord Jesus, will also raise us.”
2 Cor. 4:14
“Because I live, you also will live.”
John 14:19

“Ain’t No Grave” by David Crowder

The Next Ten Minutes

What are you doing for the next ten minutes?

ten minutes

I mean, the ten minutes after you read this short blog post.

The next ten minutes.
I’ve heard that phrase several times in the past few days.
Enough to know I’m supposed to be paying attention.

“Our spiritual formation simply happens within the next ten minutes. What would it look like to trust Jesus, or be patient, or be content, or choose connection with God for the next ten minutes?” Jan Johnson

“At what point in your day is there some sacred space? You’ve got to push back ten minutes. I’m not talking about 40 days of fasting and prayer. Just some space to allow your soul to experience God.” John Eldredge

Ten minutes praying is better than a year’s murmuring.” Charles Spurgeon, on Twitter

“Will you share your life with me for the next ten minutes?” from The Last Five Years

“When I’m training, I tell myself to just go for the next ten minutes and then I’m free to stop if I want to. I never want to.” Kikkan Randall, gold medalist

See what I mean?

So, what are you doing for the next ten minutes?

“My times are in your hands.”
Psalm 31:15

What We Didn’t See

medal

When athletes step up on the podium and a gold medal is draped around their necks, I can’t help but wonder — what is behind that one moment of glory?

When I watch a competitor twist and turn in midair and land right side up, I pause and ask, “What didn’t I see that led up to this?”

All of the Olympians were inspirational, but the women’s pairs cross country skiing really grabbed me. This event is called “the most grueling sport in the winter games.” I watched Jessica Diggins and Kikkan Randall gut it out on the course and I thought, “That looks horrific. That looks painful. Why would anyone want to do that?” And then, “What did they have to do to get here?”

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Three thoughts:

#1
Kikkan Randall skied in her first Olympics in 2006 and came in 44th.
In 2010, she finished in the top 10.
Four years later she missed a medal by five one hundredths of a second.
She had a baby in 2016, but kept training.
As the only mom on the USA Olympic team this year, she won gold.

Back in 2006, she told her coaches and trainers she wanted a medal. They told her it would take 10 years of intense training. Ten years. Kikkan said, “I’m all in.”
It took twelve.

Would I stick to something that demanding for that long?

#2
Six days a week, twice a day, for twelve years, these are the things we didn’t see:

  • Core training — exercises from the pull-up bar. Oh, and with a 45 lb. weight chained to her waist. Ten reps of bringing her knees to her chest, 10 reps of bringing her toes to her hands, 10 reps of swinging her legs back and forth like a windshield wiper. Over and over. Add various squats with a weighted bar.
  • Endurance training — Roller skiing uphill for an hour.
  • Interval training — Ten minutes of roller skating at racing pace followed by three minutes at a slower pace. Repeat for two hours straight.
  • Speed training — Pushing the limits every day. “On a scale of 1-10, where 10 is dying or passing out, I rate a 9 fairly often.”
  • Strength training — Lifting weights for 1.5 hours.

She follows a very controlled diet and sleeps for 10 hours every night. Olympic athletes endure all that for one event, on one day, every four years.

Would I find that much dedication within me?

#3
Champions are made in the things we don’t see.
The daily workouts, the daily reps, the daily pull ups.

Life is built on the dailies.

Even for us average, unathletic, non-YouTube worthy people (speaking for myself here) who will never stand on an Olympic podium, life is made up of unseen, unheralded and seemingly unimportant dailies.

As a child of God, the questions remain:
Can I stick to something as demanding as consistently living for Christ?
Do I have enough dedication to take my faith seriously every day?
Are my daily reps helping or hurting my spiritual life?

Of course, it’s more than a gold medal or a place in a record book that motivates us. As Paul said, “For it is Christ’s love that fuels our passion and motivates us, because we are absolutely convinced that he has given his life for all of us.” 2 Cor. 5:14.

Someday
there will be gold crowns (Rev. 4:4)
for those whose names are written
in the record Book of Life (Rev. 20:12).
Instead of raising our arms in victory
on a podium
while the national anthem is played,
we will be on our faces in worship
at the throne of God
while angels sing, “Holy, holy, holy.”