Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Have you noticed this is the phrase Paul most often started his letters with? With the exception of his letters to Timothy and Titus. For them he also added the word “mercy”, those boys needed something a little extra. God’s grace and peace can carry us a long way. If that was all He gave us, it’d be totally worth it to follow Him.
Although I’m writing this from Alabama, by the time you receive it, I will be safely frozen in Indiana. When watching the weather, I keep wondering what I was thinking to return home in the middle of winter! I’m actually writing this a week early because from January 27th to 31st, is the Renew Hope invasion of all the prisons in Alabama, where about 400 volunteers will come together on the 27th to receive instruction, worship and pray together for the prisons. We will then be divided up and sent to all the institutions in Alabama over the following 4 days where we will minister day and night. It’s a whirlwind week where you have so many encounters with people you’re not exactly sure at the end of the week what happened but you know God has the tally and all the glory.
I have to confess to you, there were times during this season when I wanted to pack up and run home. The darkness in the prison caused me to have some mornings when I just did not want to get up and go back in there. The Lord caught my attention one morning in the book of Exodus. Specifically chapters 28-32. Moses was on the mountain and the Lord began giving him instructions as to how to design this royal garment for Aaron. The Lord was very specific about the kind of thread to use, how it should be “skillfully woven”. Not just hastily thrown together and not by just anyone but by someone who had the skill to do it right. He went into intricate detail about braided gold chains and onyx stones on the shoulders, the breastplate with the precious stones set in it. You should read it. The whole chapter is about this garment, all the way down to bells and pomegranates around the hem. The part I love best is the headdress. The Lord says they shall make a plate of pure gold and engrave on it, “Holiness to the Lord”, and it shall be on the front of the turban. The first half of the next chapter is all about the ceremony to honor Aaron as he is consecrated to the priesthood. God is laying out this elaborate plan to honor Aaron and his sons in front of all the children of Israel to make it clear that God has set them apart as his royal priests. Do you know what Aaron was doing while God was giving these careful instructions to honor him? Making the golden calf. I wish I could make a long dramatic pause right here. For the first time I seen this in a whole new light. Don’t you love how God does that with His Word! Aaron was doing the very thing that was an absolute abomination to the Lord in front of hundreds of thousands of witnesses, and it did not change God’s mind to dress him in His righteousness. (Other than the one brief moment when He wanted to wipe all of Israel out of existence and Moses begged Him not too, but we all have those moments J)
How great are the mercies of God! There is not one thing any of these inmates have done or are currently doing that has changed God’s mind about clothing them in His righteousness. Proverbs 4:22 tells us that God’s words are life to those who find them and health to all their flesh. Reading this word about Aaron gave new life to my spirit and health to my flesh, which was becoming weak. It renewed my vision. He doesn’t see what we see. Poor Moses. Can you imagine after being in the presence of the God for 40 days having to return to that! I probably would have agreed with God about wiping them all out and just making a great nation out of me. But that’s why God chose Moses. After seeing how incredible God was, Moses knew if anyone could fix that mess, God could. In 32:26 he said, “‘Whoever is on the Lord’s side-come to me!’ And all the sons of Levi gathered together to him.” Including Aaron. And although 3,000 men fell that day as a result of their unrepentance, God was faithful to His Word, and clothed Aaron in the royal robes just as He said He would.
This shouldn’t surprise us about God. Numbers 23:19 says, “God is not a man that He should lie, Nor a son of man that He should repent. Has He said and will He not do? Or has He spoken and will He not make it good?” This passage is it’s own wonderful story about God’s mercy. It’s where Balak is trying to get Balaam to put a curse on Israel and God said to Him in Chapter 22, “You shall not curse the people for they are blessed.” Mind you, in Chapter 21 the people were telling Moses he should have left them in Egypt and their “soul loathes this worthless bread.” That’s a pretty harsh statement against God, when that “worthless bread” was the very thing keeping them alive. God sent fiery serpents among them and it says many of them died. But isn’t it interesting, God will not allow someone else to curse them. In Numbers 23:8, Balaam says, “How shall I curse whom God has not cursed?” To many onlookers, it may have looked like Israel was wondering around in circles with no direction. But God had a plan and He called them blessed. How dare I look at any individual and think God couldn’t possibly have a plan for them. (Oh yes, that thought has crossed my mind.) They look like they’re wandering aimlessly, they’re in constant rebellion against God, they love Egypt. But how do I know that He hasn’t called them blessed?
I’m telling you, this has been a growing revelation for me. I was in General Dollar last week. And this woman came in and asked the checkout guy about someone. He was so rude and short with her, that she started to respond then obviously bit her tongue, did an abrupt turn and went out the store. She looked like the type of person who was a million miles away from God and He would be the last person she’d want to hear about. Yet because of these passages I kept thinking what if God did want to reach her, what if He calls her blessed. I was thinking if she was still outside maybe I should say something to her. Sure enough she was in her car, just sitting there. I went to my van, thinking of how I’d approach her and how my words might encourage her, got into the van, still thinking, and drove off wondering if my words would have made her feel any better. I got a couple of blocks away, turned around and went back to the parking lot. She was still there. With my heart in my throat, I walked over to her window and told her I’d heard how the clerk had spoken to her and I just wanted to bless her. I gave her some money, which surprised her very much, and asked if I could say a pray over her. Her whole demeanor changed instantly. After I prayed, she asked if she could get out of the car and hug me. We looked like two of the most unlikely people to be hugging one another in the parking lot. No matter their appearance, no matter their attitude, what if God calls them blessed. What if His design is to clothe them in royal robes and put a gold plate on them that says, “Holiness to the Lord.”
Some people seem to have a natural gift for witnessing and the goodness of God oozes out of them. As much I as I have went into prisons, jails, halfway houses, and been with the homeless, it’s still hard for me to walk up to a stranger and share Jesus with them. I tell you this story because we’re all a piece of work in progress. Even when though it’s hard or awkward, and sometimes we’ll drive away knowing what we should have done and didn’t do, still try again. There is not one person who has done something so awful that God doesn’t want to complete His plan for their life.