5. Abraham I: The Way of Exile

Our passage today is longer than the previous, but teaches a unified lesson about this way of living according to the Unseen Reality. For the sake of easing references, I will emBolden portions upon which to expound.

By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise; for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. By faith even Sarah herself received ability to conceive, even beyond the proper time of life, since she considered Him faithful who had promised. Therefore there was born even of one man, and him as good as dead at that, as many descendants as the stars of heaven in number, and innumerable as the sand which is by the seashore.

All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own. And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them.~ Hebrews 11:8–16.

Photo found and altered from: elcmthoreb.org

Why would a good teacher skim over so much great stuff and even include two different paragraphs to talk about one lesson? In answer, it seems clear to me that the author of Hebrews 11 has taken a break from chronologically recounting the lessons of faith, to share a summative lesson about what has been said before. The lesson about Abraham is the same lesson about “All these” and so it is my aim to dig into both sections to see the lesson from two angles. The lesson being: Faith is the way of exile.

Abraham and Sarah

What could induce a man to leave his entire life– his family, his home, his inheritance–behind? Faith. God called Abraham to leave, and Abraham obeyed and left. He went out from everything else, and lived as a stranger in the land. His faith was so great that he did not waver even when God brought him to the land of promise, and he didn’t take full possession of it. He continued to trust in God whole-heartedly. This is because his faith was not based on the promise’s fulfillment, but on something else.

Sarah, going with Abraham, considered that this was alright, for only one reason: Faith. Sarah received the ability to conceive simply because she trusted that the One who promised–the Promiser– was trustworthy. Out of this womb of faith, the special nation of Israel was supernaturally born.

All these

Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah all have faith in common, and this uncommon faith made them wanderers. They would have agreed together to say the same thing: “Our home is still to come.” Cast away from their home, their hope rested on the One who was leading them home. No lesser home would do. If they were looking back, they could go back to their comfortable, ordinary home, but here even in the land promised them, they who pursued what was guaranteed were unwelcome. The Seen World had completely cast off the ruler in the Unseen Reality. Because of this, all who seek to walk in faith, will find themselves current Exiles, if they wish to be future Heirs.

Such a God is unashamed to be called their God, because He has already settled in his heart that their home will be eternal, and they they will have a share in it.

No Turning Back

This is the crisis of faith: Will you leave the inheritance of the world your eyes can see for the glorious kingdom that awaits those who look to the unseen? Very few have this kind of faith. God would be ashamed to call himself the God of those who turn back and who, out of remembrance of their old way, seek to be rejoined with their old country. And so he will not be called their God. As Hebrews quotes:

“But My righteous one shall live by faith; And if he shrinks back, My soul has no pleasure in him. ~ Heb 10:38. Hab 2:4.

Application:

  1. Take care that your heart doesn’t desire the Seen World, with it’s connections, wealth, and power. It will continuously draw you away from the One who is more real than the creation that you see corrupted before you. He is working a New Creation. But only those of faith can be a part of it.
  2. Consider yourself an exile, whose citizenship is now in heaven, and whose inheritance is God in the New Heaven and the New Earth.
  3. Endure without shrinking back so that you will actually gain what is promised. (Hebrews 10:39)
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4. Noah: Obedience is a Two-Edged Sword

The gospel is a two-edged sword: - The two sides of the gospel
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Hebrews 11:7–By faith Noah, being warned by God about things not yet seen, in reverence prepared an ark for the salvation of his household, by which he condemned the world, and became an heir of the righteousness which is according to faith.

This hard lesson from Noah gets to the grittiness of a stark reality depicted in both Covenants: some will not be saved. Faith is more than a spiritual exercise: it is the vitality of obedience that prepares us for the day of God’s judgment.

The Warning

Who was Noah anyway? His name meant “rest” and he was named by his father with a hope that “This one will give us rest from our work and from the toil of our hands arising from the ground which the Lord has cursed.” (Genesis 5:29) So he was a child born with destiny, but this is not why God warned him. God warned him because “Noah walked with God.” (Genesis 6:9). God is a good friend. He doesn’t keep from sharing his secrets with those who walk with him. (See the previous post.)

God warned Noah by sharing with him what He saw (the corruption of the world) and what he was going to do about it. (flood the whole earth). He let Noah, who could only see with his two eyes, what God saw in the unseen. This warning is privileged to one who is seeking to know the Unseen God.

The Obedience

Noah’s internal response to God’s wrathful declaration, is not depicted as sarcasm, terror, doubt, or some vain imagination. Reverence is the word that Hebrews’ author uses. Reverence is submission of the heart to the obedience of God. Reverence is worship of God as the one who is worthy when your world is not yet but soon will be very literally falling apart around you. Obedience is the material offspring of a Reverent heart. As total as one is so total is the other. Obedience is only 100% if Reverence is 100%. And what are we told of Noah in Genesis 6:22: “Thus Noah did; according to all that God had commanded him, so he did.”

The implications for the believer today are staggering. Anything that draws the heart away from total reverence of God is also drawing the person’s body away from total obedience to God.

This is the life of Faith: Walking with God doing what He gives you to do.

The Sword

“By which he condemned the world.” This is not vindictive as a way of saying, “Noah was looking down with grim satisfaction at all the sinners floating away.” No. This means Noah’s obedient actions were Noah’s proof that the world needed to be judged. Another way of saying it, because he did right, by the same rule everyone else had done wrong. Obedience is the sword that swings both saving those with faith, and condemning those without it.

This is the burden of Faith. Faith is 100% for God, and brings salvation, and is the just condemnation of the world who refuses to be whole-heartedly for One whom they cannot see. The tragedy was world-wide in Noah’s day, and one day again the tragedy will be world-wide once again.

Application:

  1. Cultivate healthy reverence for God by examining your thoughts and affections toward him, and let every thing that is important to you be laid down on the altar of faith.
  2. Walk with God. Let your relationship with God be the basis for all else in your life.
  3. Obey him 100% in whatever he calls you to do. It is your salvation.
  4. Be real with believers and unbelievers about God: there is no middle road: there is only fully obedient and saved, and not fully obedient and condemned.
  5. Pray for those who are weak or lacking in faith that they may have a heart to trust in Him who is unseen.
  6. Establish relationships of trust with others and let them see your own faith in action.

We will talk more about “the righteousness which is according to faith” as we talk about Abraham.

3. Enoch: A Pleasing Walk with God.

Hebrews 11:5-6– By faith, Enoch was taken up not seeing death, and was not found because God took him, for before he was taken up he had been proven that he had been pleasing to God. Now without faith it is impossible to be pleasing, for the one coming after God must believe that He is, and He becomes the rewarder of those who seek Him out.

The notion that Faith can cause a person to escape death is not uncommon. Is it not the faith-healings which revive the terminally ill and set them on the path to wellness again? My father, a chaplain for Hospice has seen many a peaceful transition from this life to eternal life as people “fall asleep” when they die. The point of this post however is not faith’s power in the face of death, but rather what entails for the living.

Proven to be Pleasing

What kind of proof is this? We are not told, but we are given the application for what it means concerning faith in the life of the Believer. Without this faith it is impossible to be pleasing:

“The one coming after God must believe that He is and He becomes the rewarder of those who seek Him out.”

The 3 things in this phrase I want to note are:
1. Following God
2. Belief that God exists
3. The rewarder of those who seek Him out

Following God

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Jesus said, “Follow me.” and when he picked his twelve disciples he picked them “that they might be with him.” The awesome privilege of faith is first and foremost getting to be with God, to walk with him, to be in His presence, to know the pleasantness of His company. But He keeps moving, and so you must keep moving to go with him, and let no care of the world slow you down or keep you back.

“Enoch walked with God.” (Genesis 5) That means He kept step with God, and God was with him. Both were glad to be with one another. Enoch did not have anything written about him except he had a son named Methuselah, and he walked with God. This walking with God, is seen in the Greek verb “to come after, to come toward, to go after.” This is less intense than a pursuit, but it is as complete as a living relationship in the world. This is the life of faith.

The Belief that God Exists

The agnostic and the atheist are really alike in this respect: they lack faith in God’s existence. One may say that God doesn’t exist and they’re sure, the other just says they are not sure that God is. Both are the lack of faith of one who does not trust God enough to go after him. Usually, it is in response to the way their world has been presented, or things in their world that seem too big or unthinkable to believe that an Unseen God could exist, and many still more believe that the God who is presented by those who claim to know Him is not a God worth believing in.

Now, if even demons believe God exists, (James 2:19) then I won’t belabor God’s existence with those who doubt, but I will say that what we learn about faith here in Hebrews is not merely a superfluous qualifier that God has to exist in order for you to look for him. It’s something far more personal than that. Faith maintains the belief that God is real despite all evidence or 
difficulty the visible tangilbe reality entails. This takes such a trust, such a surrender of one’s own right to judge God, such a willingness to obey the Good King against whom all of Humanity has set its rebellion and hold visible reality with an open hand for God to make clear.

He is the Rewarder of those Seeking Him out.

I have spoken to some who have said “I’ve looked for God and not found him.” Or others, “I’ve tried Jesus, and he didn’t work for me.” There are two wrong beliefs behind a search for God that ends up fruitless. 1. You have not yet accepted the reality that God is real. Any search for God starts with this. 2. You doubt your capacity or your worthiness to be rewarded by God if you seek him out. This one is harder to shake, because it is usually based in what other people have said to you, or things you have said to yourself that you have accepted about yourself as truth. If you remain in a state where you will choose to listen to yourself or other human beings before you will listen to God, then your present faith will not save you. You have already made your choice to listen to someone else, and have settled for your cell in Satan’s dungeon.

Furthermore, keep in mind if you want to seek God out, you must know what it will cost you. No one going after God can get there with an eye to get human recognition or reward. In the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, this is written about the concept of Reward as far as following Jesus is concerned.

“The distinctiveness of the divine reward is so radical, however, that if a man seeks human recognition and earthly gain for his acts he thereby forfeits the acceptance which God wills to grant him in the [reward].” ~TDNT p 699.

The path to finding God is a glory-less one as far as the eyes of man are concerned. The only way to live a life of faith is free from the sought rewards of man: fame, wealth, achievement, power, self-actualization. The reward is God Himself, friendship with Him is the sweetest reward that God gives to the one who walks with him.

Application

  1. Ask for the privilege to walk with God.
  2. Wait for Him
  3. Make it your ambition to please Him.~ (See 2 Corinthians 5:9)
  4. Believe He is right next to you working, and ask Him to show you what He’s doing
  5. Join Him in His work.

2. Abel: A Better Offering

Hebrews 11:4–By faith, a better offering Abel offered to God than Cain, through which he gained the testimony that he was righteous, God testifying about his gifts, and through faith, though he is dead, he still speaks.

Image result for cain and abel
Photo credit: ancient-hebrew.org

Two sons were born to our first parents: Cain the firstborn, and Abel the second. We are told that they gave offerings to the Lord of which the Lord liked Abel’s better than Cain, but we are not told why God liked Abel’s offering better than Cain’s. I do believe the limited detail of Genesis 4 does offer a clue as to why God regarded Abel’s offering.

Genesis 4:3 It happened at the end of days, that Cain brought to God from the fruit of the ground his offering, but Abel brought to God from the first born of his flocks and their fat portions.

Some principles from this text is that Abel’s offering was better because he gave God the best of the best, because he believed God was the best of the best. Cain offered from the fruit of the ground, a common gift, an earthy gift. But Abel sought to give the best of what he had, and the best part of that thing.

This particular offering communicated something about God. What did Abel communicate about God through his offering that Cain did NOT communicate in his? Simply this: God is the best of the best, and deserves the best of the best.

A gift that a man gives God is a visible description of the invisible God. And when a man gives a gift that worthy of God, then God is able to attest to all witnesses that his gift is a right gift. If he had regarded Cain’s offering, he would have accepted a low rank of a common soldier from the gift of a man who did not master the corruption that was within him, but He regarded Abel’s offering and thereby he attested to all witnesses that Abel was righteous.

What does this look like today? Many treat God as a common household trophy: a glorious symbol of somebody to depend on when you need to reference the supernatural, but never more important than yourself, or your family, or everything in your own life. Such a view of God, such a treatment of God like drivel is like unto Cain’s offering.

However, there are others who see that the very best of their lives is the only thing that is close to worthy of God. To give it to themselves or to another would be simply ludicrous, because God is the One who deserves it. And while God has given us all things to enjoy, it is not the truest good for us to enjoy the best, because we are merely images of God, rather than the one who is truly good.

This offering of what is truly Good to God, is the better offering: and it is only possible by faith. Faith recognizes:

God alone is worthy of our greatest gifts, and the life of faith is lived where God truly is the most important person in the relationship.

This is what the blood of Abel still speaks, and also what moves Cain to jealousy today. Those who live spiritually mediocre lives envy the favor of God upon the ones who are regarded by Him as righteous. And all the while the answer is found in what God says to Cain, “If you do what is good, will not your face be lifted up, but if not, sin seeks to have you, but you must master it.

O the glory of having God Himself attest to your righteousness– that you actually serve Him rightly. Such a testimony is only the acquisition of faith which sees God for who he really is before it actually lays eyes on Him.

Application:

  1. Today, take stock of the most important things in your life: requirements, and enjoyments, and find a way to give God the best of each simply because He is worthy of it. Example: If TV is your greatest enjoyment, converse with God about a way you can use your TV time to please him: whether by spending time doing something else, or by watching a particular TV show He lead you to, or by moving something else up in the value chain.
  2. Repent of the areas where you have given God the crumbs instead of the main course. Areas where your love of God grows cold in comparison to what it once was. Example: You go to church, and while you’re there, you are thinking about what else you could be doing right now.
  3. Spend time earnestly trying to figure out what is actually pleasing to him: Is He pleased when you sing? Is he pleased when you work with your hands? Is he pleased when you are still and silent? Is he pleased when you read the Bible? What do you do that makes you feel his pleasure?

1. Us: The World and the Word

Hebrews 11:3~ “By faith we understand that the ages of time were created by the proclamation of God, so that, from what was not visible, things that are seen came to be.” (Translation mine)

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Faith accounts for the unseen reality which is the basis for the seen reality. Faith does not just think there is something to the Unseen, it simply understands that the Unseen is real. We have already discussed this, and now let us look at the nature of faith.

Principle: It sees the Visible in terms of the Invisible. How are we supposed to make sense of the world of time in which we live purely by observation of the visible world? Even if those who claimed to have done so actually could, they would negate so many concepts that are unseen yet obviously real: such as meaning, love, happiness, even words. There is an invisible dimension behind everything, and faith sees it.

The Bible teaches us how to see the Seen world in terms of the Unseen.

Faith recognizes the designer in the design, the creator in the creation, and his word behind the thing. It is easy to think of Words giving us access to understanding things: a bridge between us and the world around us. This is not untrue, but words can also give access to the Person behind the Words behind the thing referred to with the word that is formed in your mind and heart. As words give access to the Seen reality, so words also give us access to the Unseen reality. Just as Paul wrote in Romans 10:13 “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the proclamation of Christ.”

This is also why faith can be trained by learning the Words of God, which we have in the Bible. The Gospel of Christ is the power of God bringing us to Salvation, because the very Gospel of Christ is woven into the fabric of the way God made the world. Paul wrote also to the Romans 1:20 that, “since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.”

Faith gives a person the ability to see the world through God’s eyes.

Application:

  1. Read the Scriptures, listen to them on audio, and let the word of God, the SAME word that created the whole world, be your access to seeing the Unseen realm, and also the world around you.
  2. Learn to see the world from the Word of God’s point of view. It’s like how Neo saw the Matrix. God’s Word in the Bible is the same Word for understanding all of the Seen world. By this I do not mean the “Bible Code” or DaVinci anything. I simply mean that a person’s words are a result of who they are, and God has revealed who He is in the words that He used to create the visible world.
Matrix as it is
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0. Lessons on Faith: Intro to Hebrews 11

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I do believe many Bible-studiers have written devotionals on faith already. What’s one more?

The purpose of Hebrews chapter 11 is not to celebrate heroes of the Bible, but to inform and encourage believers concerning faith. Since I have heard so much malformation on the subject of faith, I thought it best to share the joyous and sobering results of my Bible Study in this space. These lessons can serve as a daily devotional to any seeking to fully grasp, grapple with, and be gripped by the greater unseen world unto which faith is the door. May you see Him Who is Unseen, here in the words that follow:

The Unseen Reality (a rather philosophical part of the intro)

Anyone familiar with the Bible when asked the question “What is faith?” will probably quote or cite Hebrews 11:1, here in New King James.

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
–Hebrews 11:1 (NKJV)

For me, these words have gotten crusted over with interpretations and explanations. What does this really mean? With eagerness I return to the original languages and bring forth another translation, which I believe helps get to the fire behind the words.

Faith is the reality hoped for, and the proof of unseen things.–Hebrews 11:1 (translation mine)

This helps me see some important things about faith right away: that there is a reality that is hoped for, and there are unseen things being proven.

First, a reality that is hoped for. it’s not like a hoped for reality like “I hope that it will be a reality that it will rain later.” It is the reality which is the basis for our hope! It is already real and going to happen. This part of the definition itself affirms a reality in which the believer sets his hope.

Second, unseen things are being proven. Faith is the proof that there is an unseen dimension to all of life. Some scientist friends of mine may take issue to this, but history has recorded many things about unseen forces at work in the world. This part of the definition is affirming the tangible reality that corresponds things which cannot be seen.

These two halves of the definition of faith make faith a tangible and mysterious thing. It may be foolhardy to think I could offer a simplified definition of faith that is adequate but not simplistic. Here it goes:

Faith is the proof of the unseen reality in which we hope.

I want to vouch to all of those reading this that there is indeed an Unseen Reality. There are unseen beings and places and things in this reality. It is governed by rules and people just like the Seen reality in which we all live. It is as real as the physical world, and as we will learn in the verses to come, it also governs the Seen reality in which we live.

Faith is the two-way door from one reality into the other. It is where both realities meet: Because of this, Faith is not just the notion of an unseen reality, nor is it a practice in the Physical world with the acknowledgement that there is a spiritual reality. Neither of these sides of the roof classify as faith. Faith is where the two realities meet and bleed into one another.

Because of this, a person’s whole being must be engaged in the exploration of faith: Any ways of dividing up a person you can try: Body, Mind, Soul, spirit, heart, will, emotions, etc. All of these must be as you the one person presently engaged in this exercise of being. Faith is as deeply personal as the foundation of a person’s being: the reality in which a person exists.

The Way of Approval (The more straightforward part of the intro)

In Hebrews 11:2 we read:

“By this [faith] the elders were testified as approved.” Hebrews 11:2 (translation and parentheses mine).

This means that faith is how we can look back on those who came before as to whether or not they have been approved by God, (as we will talk about later). In the court case of whether not a man is approved by God, Faith is the deciding proof in the following cases which we will be examining. The nature of faith, then, will be our aim to uncover so that we too may be judged as approved as they were. Because:

Faith is the proof that God has approved a person.

These will be the lessons as divided up by number, character, themes, and verses.

  1. The world–The Creation of the World (vs 3)
  2. Abel– A Better Offering (vs 4)
  3. Enoch–A Pleasing Walk with God (vs 5-6)
  4. Noah–Condemning the World. (7)
  5. Abraham I–The Way of Exile (8-16)
  6. Abraham II–The Death of the Promise (17-19)
  7. Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph– Keeping Our Eyes on the Promise (20-22)
  8. Moses–Identifying with God (vs. 24-27)
  9. Israel–Obedience under Judgement –> Salvation (28-31)
  10. The Servants of God–The Visible Reality (32-42)

Each section will deal with the Biblical theme, what it shows about faith, and how it involves us.

Lightning Rod

I see him scrambling to the top of the building.
The lightning flashes all around him, but does not strike home.
He is the only hope they have for power
Because the rest of the people stay inside the lower building praying
And he is the lightning rod.

The classic architecture white and sturdy
Bears him up as he slowly reaches the highest point.
He had passed the gates and open field
He was admitted at the door of the house and allowed to serve
He submitted his appeal to the Highest office in the land.

The wizened Ruler had stared back at him incredulous
“What makes you think you could restore power?
Don’t you believe that your God can help you out without your sacrifice?
Let me give you the power you need, you can stay alive.
Just be my servant, and I will give you everything you want.”

The young man had looked him in the face
Unwilling to surrender that charge which he had carried thus far:
A lightning rod in his hand connected to his darkened home.
He told him, “The power is not yours to give.”
“I go to seek the One who is ruler over you.”

With permission, he had broken forth into the rain like hail.
His charge in hand, his clothes drenched with Heaven’s tears
Now at the top, he stretches himself upwards
And blazing from the sky above the connection is made
Power without limit surges through his brittle frame.

The prayers of the people are answered with self-sustaining light
All the house is enlightened by the revelation of Heaven’s power
The young man knew what this would cost him,
And now charred and scorched like a rag in the ashes
He crumples to the roof and rolls off to the ground far below.

When the Ruler looks out the window, he sees something good:
A power above that could not be rivaled
And one young man who gave his all.
So that others might live in the light of life
He closed the curtains and made a call.

Fire and Stone

Is the earth rock solid?
Scientists know
There is fluid flame
In deep places below.

The rock is so good
It does not move
The world stands fast
Until rock breaks

The fire is so good
It only moves
The World expands
And shatters the rock

But lo the mystery:
Fire takes good stone
And forges it anew
As one solid piece

And from that solid piece
New life grows
And foundations are laid
For the time it is given

What is stone does not last
Unless fire melt it
What is fire cannot settle
What ignites if fire touches it

God is good: true and living
His word settles the future.
His word is ever breathing
Right now in your hearing.

The Secret to Slowing Time

Now that I am exiting another stage of life, Time has locked into high gear for me. Days are an afterthought. Weeks gone in a blink. In a flash the months are past. I anticipate time will only continue to accelerate.

I know time hasn’t budged. It continues to grind at the same pace it has with a few variations of years being seconds longer or shorter. I know the change is within me. What has caused me to feel time has sped up?

I believe I have found the brake pedal and the gas pedal for time. Why do children feel like every day is an eternity, and most adults feel like it is a blur? This equation helped me find the answer:

Requirements speed up time
Retirements slow it down

Ask any retired person, their days crawl by just like a child’s does. When in the working world however, our time is being poured out into the mold of those who require things of us. Our present is thinned to a narrow strip between what just happened and what is needing to happen in the next minutes.

Present time is the greatest gift we have: and the celebration of that present gift is rest. Responsibly rejecting the requirements of a person for a time, and enjoying the gift of doing nothing of required consequence allows a person to be real with themselves, and most importantly with God. This is what makes rest an act of worship which just happens to be prescribed in the Ten Commandments.

Think about it: Why do you work? Why do you do anything? Is it not a reflection of your belief about the God who you worship? If you believe God is always working, then you will never give yourself a break. If however, your design is patterned after a God who rests occasionally, should that not inform your decisions concerning your own rest?

Genesis 2:2–“On the seventh day God rested.”

The Lord has made us after the pattern of His likeness with eternity in our hearts. It is Eternity that we step into whenever we rest from our labor. The silence, the stillness, the sweet release of tension– These are the gift of God to a body worn down by time’s millstone march.

This Christmas season, take time to rest. Enjoy the gift of eternity that God has given you, and see what your heart is just waiting to release as part of the tension you have built up over time.

This post was a result of resting.

The Joy of Persecution

I saw joy’s fire burning white
In a heart of flesh hidden from sight
Cruel thorns slashed gashes gaping wide
And there spilled out a glorious light

What mystery is brought to bear
When crushed plants’ perfume fills the air
The sweet aroma soft and fair
Arousing those fellow-crushed to care

I heard a spirit blowing past
Being split upon the metal cast
To rend the air with full-lunged blast
That screamed the music breathed at last.

What other ways, has He made known
The joy of new life, despite death grown?
To the humble of heart, proof He has shown
That the joy of the cross can be my own.

“For the joy that was set before him…”~Hebrews 12:2a