It was mid-October and the sun was streaming down rays that pierced through the black rain clouds as we entered the state of Maine for the first time in our lives. We continued to drive north toward Acadia National Park, slowly winding through the dark, velvet-green evergreen trees —the perfect backdrop for the thick blanket of vibrant orange, red, yellow, and bright green autumnal leaves along Maine's 125-mile scenic Bold Coast Highway. The rain clouds began to give way to white clouds floating in the blue skies and as sunset approached, every time we’d pass over a little bridge, I’d take in a sudden little breath, stunned by the beauty below. There, the quiet, still waters reflected the pink clouds above, nestled between two blankets of autumn color where little red cabins and other little quaint, older homes were nestled in the woods.
Pink clouds are special in our family and serve as a reminder of our familial love between generations because of the lullaby the mother sings to her baby in the movie Lady and The Tramp, that makes reference to them. If my granddaughter, Lucy Jo, is in her car seat and sees pink clouds, she’ll take her thumb out of her mouth just briefly enough to make the announcement to her brothers Sam and Barnabas, and the rest of the passengers to take note. When I see pink clouds, I often text the pictures to my daughter to share with my granddaughter so our hearts can be together even when the rest of us cannot.
I had no idea we had just scratched the surface of Maine’s beauty. When we entered Acadia National Park, I fell in love. The fresh smell of the woods, the crystal clear ponds, the granite mountains all around, and the beautiful little turquoise blue waves crashing on the rocks and sand at Acadia Beach, were unlike any beauty we’d seen anywhere else in the country.
What makes pink clouds and other natural beauty so soothing to the soul, so restorative to our minds, and so comforting to our spirits? I’ve thought about that a lot, and after decades of finding my “re-creating” not in popular media, but rather in the woods, it occurred to me: Nature is all that it is to us because it is in complete compliance with its Creator in fulfilling the purpose for which it was created. Nature shows us, by example, how beautiful, ordered, and bountiful life can be when we bring our own lives into complete compliance with our Creator’s wise instruction. Let that sink in and bring you to your knees.
“...ask the beasts, and they will teach you; the birds of the heavens, and they will tell you; or the bushes of the earth, and they will teach you; and the fish of the sea will declare to you. Who among all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this? In His hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind" (Job 12:7-10).
Two days after our visit to Acadia National Park, we headed back south to worship with a church family in Portland, Maine. When we arrived we found they were worshiping in a large music education room with every manner of instruments and teaching aids that an instructor would need to instill the understanding and love for the gift of music into his or her students. As our chairs were being set up so we could begin our Bible class on Exodus chapters 33-34, I had an encouraging conversation with a sister who shared with me her winding journey toward her relationship with God. It all started, she said, with a cry to God asking Him to help her find a church that teaches only what He says in His word, and what followed was an amazing series of events and circumstances that the Lord used to answer her plea, bringing her to this time and place in which she now rests outside the chaos of denominationalism, to worship with a beauty and simplicity, free of manmade religious teachings. It occurred to me that what she wanted in her religion was what nature has: to offer worship that is in complete compliance with its Creator. She wanted to fulfill the purpose for which she was created, so she could enjoy a more beautiful, ordered, and bountiful life according to her Creator’s wise instruction.
Our conversation during Bible class was about the first written collection of instructions the Creator ever gave to mankind. This collection of instructions was given on top of a mountain and was written by the very finger of God (Exodus 31:18). They were for only one nation, the nation of Israel, (Deuteronomy 5:3)and the laws He gave to Moses to give to these souls whom the Lord had rescued out of slavery in Egypt (Exodus 14:30-31) would be binding until the moment Jesus, His other Lawgiver, breathed His last (Hebrews 9:15-28). God the Father said the death of Jesus was His way of inaugurating a New Covenant, that is, a New Testament (Hebrews 9:15) available not just to Hebrew (Israelite) people, but to every soul in the future who hungers to know Him and what He requires to be in relationship with Him, both in this world and for all eternity (Acts 10:35).
During our Bible study, I was struck by what God says on this topic and how it is so at odds with what many people say God says on this topic. Ask many popular religious teachers of the day what God requires of man in order to have a relationship with Him and too often the answer is generally “Nothing. He’s already done it all. Trust that fact and you’re good to go.”
The following is the real answer of how to draw near to God, from the mouth of God Himself; an answer that comes to us by way of the story of His relationship with a nation He loved very much, the nation of Israel. You’ll see that my own observations below are within the brackets. My secondary objective in sharing the remainder of this entry is to show a sample of my favorite approach to personal Bible study, that I think you may also enjoy and derive much benefit. My practice is that after copying and pasting a book of the Bible into a Google doc in my favorite red font, I respond to the words of God in writing by bracketing in black font the kinds of observations you will see below. This approach has made my experience of communing with God so much more conversational and engaging, and I love having an electronic copy of all my Bible studies with me wherever I go, for how spontaneously I can access and share my Bible studies:
1 “Then the Lord spoke to Moses, “Depart, go up from here, you and the people whom you have brought up from the land of Egypt, to the land of which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, ‘To your descendants, I will give it.’ [God always keeps His promises, both the promises that comfort us, and the promises that terrify us] 2 I will send an angel before you and I will drive out the Canaanite, the Amorite, the Hittite, the Perizzite, the Hivite and the Jebusite. [You and I need a relationship with God, because only He has the strength to give us victory in every battle of life] 3 Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; [How rich, luxurious and unparalleled the blessings that await those who are in favor with the Lord] for I will not go up in your midst, because you are an obstinate people, and I might destroy you on the way.” [Stubborn rebellion against the moral laws of nature that prevent all chaos and promote all beauty is such ingratitude for all God has done for us that it moves Him to snuff out the very life He has gifted us.]
4 When the people heard this sad word, they went into mourning, [There is absolutely nothing more disastrous than the absence of God’s presence. Nothing. Everything good is because of God’s presence. Everything dark and painful is because of God’s lack of presence. Lack of God’s presence is hell.] and none of them put on his ornaments. 5 For the Lord had said to Moses, “Say to the sons of Israel, ‘You are an obstinate people; should I go up in your midst for one moment,[So disgusted is He by their love of evil, He could not bear witnessing yet another moment of it] I would destroy you. Now therefore, put off your ornaments from you, [All that they had put on to make yourselves more attractive to each other, rather than putting on the holiness that would make them beautiful to Him] that I may know what I shall do with you.’” 6 So the sons of Israel stripped themselves of their ornaments, from Mount Horeb onward.
7 Now Moses used to take the tent and pitch it outside the camp, a good distance from the camp, and he called it the tent of meeting. And everyone who sought the Lord would go out to the tent of meeting which was outside the camp. [The “good distance” it takes in order to seek the Lord is always a journey worthwhile. “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” Matthew 7:7]8 And it came about, whenever Moses went out to the tent, that all the people would arise and stand, each at the entrance of his tent, and gaze after Moses until he entered the tent. [Oh, the glory that shines forth from those most near to the goodness of God!] 9 Whenever Moses entered the tent, the pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the entrance of the tent; and the Lord would speak with Moses. 10 When all the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance of the tent, [How beautiful the manifestation of His perfect presence!] all the people would arise and worship, each at the entrance of his tent. [“How can I keep from singing?!”]11 Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, just as a man speaks to his friend. [This is what your soul and mine want in its deepest recesses, is it not?] When Moses returned to the camp, his servant Joshua, the son of Nun, a young man, would not depart from the tent.
12 Then Moses said to the Lord, “See, You say to me, ‘Bring up this people!’ But You Yourself have not let me know whom You will send with me. Moreover, You have said, ‘I have known you by name, and you have also found favor in My sight.’ 13 Now therefore, I pray You, if I have found favor in Your sight, let me know Your ways that I may know You, so that I may find favor in Your sight. [To know His ways, is to know Him, and we cannot know His ways by only “standing in the woods”, but must open His word day in and day out.] Consider too, that this nation is Your people.” 14 And He said, “My presence shall go with you, and I will give you rest.” [The only genuine rest in life is the presence of God, and the only way God will be with us is if we exchange our obstinance for full compliance.] 15 Then he said to Him, “If Your presence does not go with us, do not lead us up from here. [Not one step should we take apart from the leading of our Good Shepherd.] 16 For how then can it be known that I have found favor in Your sight, I and Your people? [If you are going to know one thing in life, let it be whether or not you have found favor in His sight.] Is it not by Your going with us, so that we, I and Your people, may be distinguished from all the other people who are upon the face of the earth?”
17 The Lord said to Moses, “I will also do this thing of which you have spoken; for you have found favor in My sight and I have known you by name.” 18 Then Moses said, “I pray You, show me Your glory!” 19 And He said, “I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, [God’s glory is His goodness] and will proclaim the name of the Lord before you; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion.” [And to whom will He be gracious and compassionate? Read on.] 20 But He said, “You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!” 21 Then the Lord said, “Behold, there is a place by Me, and you shall stand there on the rock; 22 and it will come about, while My glory is passing by, that I will put you in the cleft of the rock and cover you with My hand [Holy, holy, holy!] until I have passed by.[Hallelujah!] 23 Then I will take My hand away and you shall see My back, but My face shall not be seen.” [Just a glimpse of the goodness of God is enough to fuel our undying love for Him, and what follows is His invitation to share in the goodness that makes Him so incomparably beautiful].
34:1 Now the Lord said to Moses, “Cut out for yourself two stone tablets like the former ones, and I will write on the tablets the words that were on the former tablets which you shattered. [So angry was he to see God’s people worshiping the golden calf they had made and the lascivious revelry he witnessed the first time he descended from Sinai with the original tablets engraved by the hand of God] 2 So be ready by morning, and come up in the morning to Mount Sinai, and present yourself there to Me on the top of the mountain. 3 No man is to come up with you, nor let any man be seen anywhere on the mountain; even the flocks and the herds may not graze in front of that mountain.” 4 So he cut out two stone tablets like the former ones, and Moses rose up early in the morning and went up to Mount Sinai, as the Lord had commanded him, and he took two stone tablets in his hand. 5 The Lord descended in the cloud and stood there with him as he called upon the name of the Lord. 6 Then the Lord passed by in front of him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; 7 who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.” [“Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God’s kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off.” Romans 11:22] 8 Moses made haste to bow low toward the earth and worship. 9 He said, “If now I have found favor in Your sight, O Lord, I pray, let the Lord go along in our midst, even though the people are so obstinate, and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us as Your own possession.” [because You are truly who You say You are.]
10 Then God said, “Behold, I am going to make a covenant. Before all your people I will perform miracles which have not been produced in all the earth nor among any of the nations; [and thus they will be without excuse] and all the people among whom you live will see the working of the Lord, for it is a fearful thing that I am going to perform with you.
11 “Be sure to observe what I am commanding you this day: behold, I am going to drive out the Amorite before you, and the Canaanite, the Hittite, the Perizzite, the Hivite and the Jebusite. [There is nothing more motivating to remain within the favor of God, than seeing how He deals with His enemies, which in this case are those who would do His beloved children harm.] 12 Watch yourself that you make no covenant with the inhabitants of the land into which you are going, [including intermarriage Deuteronomy 7:2-5] or it will become a snare in your midst. 13 But rather, you are to tear down their altars and smash their sacred pillars and cut down their Asherim [Idols, in the form of anti-God ideologies, still presently exist that must also be torn down, smashed, and cut down] 14 —for you shall not worship any other god,[including yourselves] for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God— [a quality entirely inappropriate for a human who cannot with honor possess another human, but entirely appropriate for our Maker to Whom we belong in every sense: “Behold, all souls are Mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is Mine” Ezekiel 18:4.] 15 otherwise you might make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land and they would play the harlot with their gods and sacrifice to their gods, and someone might invite you to eat of his sacrifice, 16 and you might take some of his daughters for your sons, and his daughters might play the harlot with their gods and cause your sons also to play the harlot with their gods. [Refrain from spiritual adultery, for oh how it breaks the heart of the God we adore!]17 You shall make for yourself no molten gods. [God now continues to give more details of His holy covenant with the nation of Israel, then says…] 27 ...“Write down these words, for in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel.” 28 So he was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights; he did not eat bread or drink water. [“Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God” Matthew 4:4.] And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments.
29 It came about when Moses was coming down from Mount Sinai (and the two tablets of the testimony were in Moses’ hand as he was coming down from the mountain), that Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because of his speaking with Him…[“The Lord bless you, and keep you; the Lord make His face shine on you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up His countenance on you, and give you peace” Numbers 6:24-26.] 32 Afterward all the sons of Israel came near, and he commanded them to do everything that the Lord had spoken to him on Mount Sinai.”
I was encouraged by this Bible study to yield my spirit to full compliance with God’s life-sustaining direction so that I can thrive as productively and beautifully as the nature I had witnessed in and around Acadia. Whatever sacrifices are necessary to remain in His favor, they are nothing in comparison to the very real presence of God in my midst.
“Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice... let the field exult, and everything in it! Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy” (Psalm 96:11-12).Portland church of Christ
856 Brighton Avenue (Breakwater School)
P.O. Box 822
Portland, ME 04104
(207) 839-3075 (207) 839-8409