We Will Move...When the Cloud Moves: Part Seven

Monday, May 28, 2012

Part Seven:  The Cloud Provided a Constant Sermon on Mercy

However, I do fail…and often it seems.  There’s not a week that goes by that I don’t feel like I fail in some way with this whole ordeal.  I have “good” days and “bad” days, though with God’s grace there really is no such thing.  I complain sometimes, just like the children of Israel.  I gripe, too.  I have lied, and perhaps have made foolish decisions of desperation.  I carry around consequences to this day of failures in the past.  And it pains my conscience when I think that my family must bear the brunt of those consequences of my own doing. 

I look back over the last ten years of my life and wonder how many of my moves for “ministry” were not foolish decisions.  There’s one or two I am absolutely certain about.  The rest are a mystery to me.  I have no doubt that my failure to step out of my tent every morning and look continually to the cloud throughout the day certainly did not create an atmosphere or environment where I was listening to God and watching His hand.  I was often too eager to remove myself from some sort of pain, difficulty or conflict.  Consequently, I would see mirages in the wilderness, mistaking the cloud for what only looked like clouds.  Insane moments of “what if’s” seemed to carve out my reality in those seasons, and when I look back on these times, never once was I really crossing through on dry ground. 

Meanwhile I dragged my family through swampy lands, desperately wanting to believe that I could see, or at least at some point had seen the cloud.  My family followed so faithfully, believing in me, believing I was actually hearing God’s voice and following the cloud.  I am positive that my wife was probably looking beyond me, believing in the God Who was leading me, even amidst my own foolishness.  Perhaps you can relate…whether you’re a husband or a wife…or even if you’re a kid who followed a dad like that!

Yet even in these seasons and decisions of my life the cloud offers a daily sermon in mercy.  An Israelite could wake up in the morning, see the cloud, know that they were settled for the moment, and then encounter some unfortunate circumstances that might have turned him sour the rest of the day.  He then comes home, takes out his frustration on his wife and kids.  He kicks the family goat, swears a little, and goes to bed angry about it all, confused, frustrated, and irritated that things turned out that way.  But then, he gets up the next morning, and because all the tents in the nation were setup so that the front door opened to the Tabernacle, he would see the cloud.  And then he would feel an overwhelming, fresh wave of mercy.  Despite his sinful behavior and lack of trust in God, the cloud was still there.

The cloud did not rise and settle based on the sins of the people.  Nehemiah remembers the cloud even in his day.  His people had been given to slavery and bondage again, for the umpteenth time in their nation’s history, and for the same thing over and over again: idolatry.  In Nehemiah’s day the Jews were just beginning to be released from their bondage in Persia after seventy years of captivity.  Nehemiah was given permission by the king to go and rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.  After the wall was completed, they gathered together to celebrate the next festival on the Jewish party calendar: the feast of booths, known later on the book of Acts as Pentecost.

Ezra the priest read the law of God…from beginning to end…though not all at one time.  The people would gather daily to listen to the reading of the Word, and then Ezra would explain what he was reading and preach to the people.  After days of listening to the longest consecutive exposition of Scriptures in history, the people fasted and confessed their sins. 

This was followed by a group of leaders praying aloud.  Their prayers were recorded for us in Nehemiah 9.  There they recount the foolishness of their nation’s history.  God’s incredible creation, calling of Abraham, deliverance from Egypt, giving of the law, and miraculous daily provisions were responded to with pride, stubbornness, disobedience, and flat-out rebellion.  And then they prayed this, in verses 17-21:

But you are a God of forgiveness, gracious and merciful, slow to become angry, and rich in unfailing love.  You did not abandon them, even when they made an idol shaped like a calf and said, ‘This is your god who brought you out of Egypt!’  They committed terrible blasphemies.

But in your great mercy you did not abandon them to die in the wilderness.  The pillar of cloud still let them forward by day, and the pillar of fire showed them the way through the night.  You sent your good Spirit to instruct them, and you did not stop giving them manna from heaven or water for their thirst.  For forty years you sustained them in the wilderness, and they lacked nothing.  Their clothes did not wear out, and their feet did not swell!

The constant presence of the cloud was a daily reminder of the constant presence of God…despite their behavior.  God’s presence doesn’t ebb and flow with His people’s obedience and disobedience.  Why?  Because a sacrifice had already been made on behalf of their sins every year on the Day of Atonement, in addition to the individual sin offerings the people would make throughout the days, weeks, months, and years.  God’s presence in the cloud was there by sheer grace, because a satisfying offering had been made for their sins obtaining forgiveness.  That’s why the cloud never, ever left them all those years.

Today that grace still remains with us.  Jesus Christ was the once-and-for-all offering given to God, satisfying the demands of the law of God, obtaining our forgiveness.  That is why God’s presence in His Holy Spirit never, ever leaves us throughout all our years. 

Despite our sin, our failures, our mistakes, our rebellion, our disobedience, the fact is that God will keep His promise to never leave us nor forsake us (Deut. 31:6; Josh. 1:5;  Heb. 13:5).  He will be with us always, to very end of the world (Matt. 28:20).  That’s why even amid God’s discipline through the bloodshed and chaos of the fall of Jerusalem, the prophet Jeremiah could pray as he wept through what was only the beginning of an incredibly terrifying transition for him at that time.

The thought of my suffering and homelessness is bitter beyond words.  I will never forget this awful time, as I grieve over my loss.  Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this:  The faithful love of the Lord never ends!  His mercies never cease.  Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning.  I say to myself, “The Lord is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in him!”  The Lord is good to those who depend on him, to those who search for him.  So it is good to wait quietly for salvation from the Lord. (3:19-26).

Read the entire series here in one document.

About the Author: Rob is a entrepreneur in Statesboro, GA, where he envisions and pursues missional-shaped business for the kingdom. He and his wife Sherri have been married for 18 years and together have three sons and a daughter. Rob believes the mission of the gospel is summed up in four simple phrases: know God, obey Jesus, make disciples, and plant churches. This is the pursuit of his life, as well as the point of his blog.

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