A Journey Through the Wilderness

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Wilderness– an uncultivated, uninhabited, and inhospitable region.

Sometimes I think we forget just how amazing the Israelites’ trek through the wilderness really was–

God provided direction.

God provided food.

God provided water.

God provided the necessary laws to keep the people unified.

God protected them.

This is a good reminder, isn’t it? Because sometimes we find ourselves in our own wilderness and we feel so abandoned.

Traveling through a wilderness is difficult. Whatever your trial may be, grieving, longing, fighting, hopelessness are all part of the process.

Is there anything we can learn from the Israelites about traveling through the wilderness?

1. Complaining not only doesn’t accomplish anything, it also displeases God. In fact, so much so that some people were put to death for it. (Numbers 11:1-3) Were you as shocked as I was that God dealt with complaining so harshly?? And, yet, so often we complain without a second thought. This passage certainly gives us cause to pause before opening our mouth to voice our displeasure, does it not?

2. We need to keep our deepest affection placed on God alone. God kept Moses on a mountain and the people grew restless. Finally, they begged Aaron to build them a golden calf to worship. After the way they had seen God work to bring them out of Egypt, they so quickly turned to worship an idol. Seems impossible, doesn’t it? And yet, how quickly we turn our affections to other things– trying to medicate ourselves from the pain of the trial we are experiencing. Alcohol, gluttony, materialism, entertainment, gambling, and love affairs are all ways we try to escape our pain, aren’t they? And sometimes we even turn to a legitimate, really good thing, such as our children or our church work or ministry and they capture our affections and provide the much needed escape from reality, giving us the security and self-esteem that we long for so desperately.

The really interesting thing is that when we love God first and foremost, we actually live such a fuller, more meaningful life. The good things of life and work God has called us to do become more productive, there is peace knowing we are in His will, and our lives glorify God.

But giving up the idols that capture our soul is a painful process. One that is so very worth it, but so very difficult.

3. We must follow God’s direction. The Israelites had it easy, didn’t they? They followed the cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night. It was so obvious when they should pack up and go and when they should stay. Sometimes I wish my life could be directed so plainly. But, alas, it’s not.

But maybe it is.

All the direction we need can be found in God’s Word. There is such an insatiable desire for  supernatural experiences and visions, but are they really necessary? Personally, I think that all of this hearing from God is mostly counterfeit. God’s Word holds so much about His will for our lives and most of us just don’t want to follow what it says.

We are to forgive (Matthew 6:15). But we just don’t want to.

We are to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44). But that’s too hard, Lord.

We are to think of others before ourselves (Philippians 2:3-4). But that’s not what the world says.

We are to be holy and separate from the world (I John 2:15-16). But that’s no fun!

We are to be share the gospel (Matthew 28:19-20). But then people might think I am strange.

We are to exercise self-control and temperance. (I Corinthians 6:19-20) But I just want one more piece of that chocolate cake and then I’ll start eating more healthy tomorrow.

We are to keep our hearts focused on eternity, instead of the here and now (Matthew 6:20-21). But I really want to drive a car that’s just a little better than my neighbor’s…

And, so, because we don’t want to follow the plain will of God, we instead turn towards the vague, supernatural feelings and “words” we hear. They are so much more pleasant and easy to swallow.

But that’s not how Christianity works. And so, following God’s direction and living in the center of His will is doable and certainly not dependent on any special revelation from God. Of course, it is not always what we want to do.

But getting through the wilderness to the other side is very much dependent on us doing things God’s way.

4. We must trust God to provide. Multiple times through their journey in the wilderness, the Israelites panicked about their situation. Where are we going to get water? What are we going to eat? What are doing to do? And yet, each and every time, God provided. It may not have been in the way they wanted, but He did provide. Have you seen God do the same in your life? I know I have. Just when I think I can’t take one more step in my personal wilderness, He provides an encouraging word or makes the next step very clear. These moments are like an oasis for our souls, aren’t they? Just as God remained faithful to the Israelites, so He will do for us. God will not desert us.

 

And so we keep reading. I won’t deny that some of these Old Testament books are challenging for me. All of those names and laws. Wow. But God’s teaching us, isn’t He? This week, one of the things He has been teaching us is how not to respond as we take our own journey through the wilderness.

 

 

The Problem with Predictions

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It was 2:30am when my husband got home last night. Snow does that to his schedule. The problem with yesterday is that this one wasn’t really predicted. At least not in the way it turned out.

The predictions started out by calling for 1-3″ and then turning to rain with rising temps. A couple of hours later it was supposed to be less than 1″ before changing over. What ended up happening was over 3″ followed by some freezing rain and sleet with temperatures that never did really rise above the freezing mark.

That changes everything for a snow removal guy.

The night before this snow event, my husband was scanning through all of the weather forecasts — on tv, online, and using apps on his iPhone, trying to discern which one was correct. He usually goes with the one that is most popular. After all, if three or four weather forecasters are saying the same thing, they must be right, right?

Wrong.

Because no one really knows.

I often have to laugh about weather forecasts. Doesn’t it sometimes seem as if God is showing us how really out of control we still are? We are busy building our modern day technological Tower of Babel and He keeps knocking it down. We will never reach Him–at least not in that way.

But eventually, if you watch a lot of weather forecasts, you realize that they really are only educated guesses about what a certain weather pattern is going to do.

Because no one really knows.

The same could be said of what happens after we die. Where do we go?

There are a lot of theories about this. Some more popular than others. The most popular — at least here in the states is that we all go to heaven. That is, by far, the most pleasant option, isn’t it?

But the problem with predictions is that–

No one really knows.

And there’s another, much bigger, problem–

Truth is rarely found in the majority.

So how do we know what’s coming? What should we base it on?

As you probably already know, I base my answers on a Book. God’s Book. Sure, I don’t always like everything I read there. I would love to believe in a world where heaven is the final resting place for everyone and love is all that matters. But if that’s not the Truth, then it doesn’t really matter what I believe, does it?

Just because I believe it doesn’t make it true. I have to confess that this view on truth is really one of the strangest phenomenons in today’s world. Well, if you believe it, then it’s true for you. No, it isn’t! Just because you believe 2+2=5 doesn’t make it true. (Sometimes when I listen to people talk about truth I almost feel like I’ve landed in a parallel universe. This surely can’t be the same world I grew up in? It has changed that much.)

Truth isn’t subjective. It never has been and it never will be. What is true is true and what is false is false. You can be surrounded by a whole world telling you it doesn’t matter what you believe, but the fact remains that it absolutely does matter what you believe.

So why the Bible? How do I know that the Bible is true?

I could give you a lot of reasons (and will list a few articles after this post to get you thinking) but at the end of the day, I have chosen to believe that the Bible is God’s Word. Period. And, oh, how it has been confirmed for me in a myriad of ways– from how I see the end times scene coming together to how I’ve seen Him work in my life and in lives around me. It all makes so much sense.

From this, I base my whole belief system with confidence. It doesn’t really matter what other people think or believe, because I am standing on the Word of God. People can ridicule and mock me, but I cling to the Bible. I am standing on a foundation that will not move. As that old, beloved, hymn says–

How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in His excellent Word!
What more can He say than to you He hath said,
You, who unto Jesus for refuge have fled?

I will never forget the time I saw four “professionals” being interviewed about the tragedy of 9-11. I think there was a rabbi, a priest, a psychiatrist, and a pastor (sounds like I’m setting up a joke, doesn’t it? But this isn’t a joke…) Everyone was giving their opinion about what had happened. “Well, I think…” was the beginning of almost every sentence. Except for the pastor. He– John MacArthur–would always begin with, “God’s Word says…” My respect for this man went up 100% in that interview. He made it clear that it wasn’t about his opinion but about what God’s Word says.

Because, let’s be honest– in the end, it really just doesn’t matter what you believe or what I believe, does it? It doesn’t matter what has been predicted or what the majority says. The only thing left will be the Truth.

And that changes everything for all of us.

 

 

Here are some helpful and reliable resources–

How Do We Know that the Bible Is True?

How Do You Prove the Bible is True?

What evidence is there that the Bible is in fact God’s Word?

Can You Prove the Bible is True?

What must I do to be saved?

 

 

A Deeper Appreciation for Grace

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As we left the sounds and smells of Port-Au-Prince, we drove off into a dusty, drab landscape. I think I saw less than five wildflowers on our trip to the compound — not five plants filled with flowers–but five actual flowers. I counted. There was some green brush and weeds covering some areas and a few low-growing trees but that was about it.

When we arrived at the compound, it was to find out that we had no hot water, no soft place to sit, and the water tasted…thick. It had this weird texture from the chemicals needed to sterilize it. Our meals consisted of cereal with warm powdered milk for breakfast and rice and beans for lunch.

Be sure you understand that I am not complaining. It was an extremely nice place to stay in this needy, third world country and we were very well taken care of. And I am also well aware that there are some areas in Haiti that are quite lovely.

But through that week, I realized just how much I love my hot showers, sitting on my comfortable sofa after a long day, and the wonderful abundance of options I have when choosing what I want to eat or drink. I realized the precious blessing of going to the sink and being able to turn on a tap for clean, drinkable cold water and {almost} instant hot water. Do you really realize how amazing this is?? So many do not have this luxury.

I also realized that week just how much my soul is fed by the colorful landscape of my home state. Trees of all shades of greens abound and flowers in every color of the rainbow can be spotted simply on a trip across town in the summer. A trip to my local grocery store, nursery, or florist makes flowers and plants available all year round. Within a few hours in any direction, we can go to various lakes, rivers, streams, mountains, and even the beach for a weekend away. In fact, we even have the money to afford an occasional weekend vacationing in one of these spots. How blessed can I be??

The funny thing is that I am not sure I truly understood how blessed I was until I left my personal comfort zone and thought outside of myself. While a trip to another culture can help you see this very clearly, you don’t necessarily have to leave the country to discover this — a trip to your nearest inner-city, a good missionary biography, or a conversation with an older person who went through the depression or the war can also help you understand just a bit.

But it’s really hard to fully appreciate our blessings until we realize what life looks like without those blessings.

My experience in Haiti seems akin to how reading the Old Testament works in our lives as a believer. I know many people are quite satisfied to just ignore the Old Testament. They are quite comfortable in the New Testament and believe that all they need to know for the Christian life is held there. And I can honestly admit that I used to be a bit like that myself. After all, the Old Testament is filled with so much we don’t really understand and what we learn about God in those books can make us squirm. But as I was reading in Leviticus this past week, I realized that perhaps–

We can’t truly appreciate grace until we truly understand what life without grace looks like.

Of course, God has always provided a certain amount of grace to His people and provided a way to be reconciled to Him, but all of the sacrifices, and laws, and the specifics of the Tabernacle are so much to take in. This style of life is so foreign to us now. Interestingly enough, I recently watched a Frontline film (DVDs that show how the gospel is spreading in hard-to-reach places) that featured an animal sacrifice in Bangladesh. I found that especially interesting in light of what I have been reading. Some people are still sacrificing animals today to appease their god.

As I read all of the seemingly unimportant and very specific rules and laws, I ponder at their inclusion in scripture and yet God included them in His inspired, inerrant Word. There must be a reason. So what could that reason be?

I don’t presume to know God’s reasons, but what I do know is that the Old Testament is teaching me so much about God–who He is and what He’s like. I’m learning of His omnipotence, His love, His desire for my humility and obedience. I am learning the meanings of holiness and justice.

But, most of all, I’m learning what life looked like before Jesus died on the cross and provided a sacrifice for our sins.

As I read the Books of the law, *hymns like Amazing Grace, Wonderful Grace of Jesus, and Marvelous Grace take on a whole new meaning. I hope that, as you read through the Bible this year, you will notice that God doesn’t change, but through His incredible grace, He provided a way for us to be reconciled to Himself that doesn’t require animal sacrifices and obedience to detailed laws. This is amazing! This knowledge of life before Jesus’s sacrifice and resurrection leads us to a deeper and fuller appreciation of grace.

So let’s keep reading through the hard passages. It will not be in vain.

 

*Hymns are a wonderful way to grow in our faith.  Much doctrine and depth of thought lies within their lyrics. I hope that you will consider listening to them sometimes with your children or grandchildren. While I love all kinds of music, it pains me to see beloved hymns being removed from churches. They are more than “old-fashioned” songs. They are wonderful songs of testimony and doctrine. Few worship songs (and I have nothing against worship songs) hold a candle to a hymn’s depth of lyrics. Try turning your Pandora station to hymns occasionally or read some hymn lyrics as an addition to your devotional time.

 

Divisions Are Not Always Bad

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As believers, we have seen great effort in these recent years to unite all religions that use the name of Jesus. We are told that if we do not agree with this, we are divisive and that we are committing perhaps the worst sin of all. Of course, it doesn’t seem to matter if the religion is based off the Bible alone or not, as long as they use the name of Jesus. This has been a struggle these past twenty years or so as we listen to popular pastors encourage us to partner with faiths that aren’t truly Christian.

In fact, the other day I even heard Rick Warren recommend we partner with Muslims, since we serve the same God. His mouth spoke those words. On the radio. Really?! And, yet, many people still look to this man as a godly leader. Let me state first that we, unequivocally, do not serve the same God as the Islam faith. Just because they serve one God and so do we, does not mean it is the same one.

So why this push for unity? Personally, I believe it is a puzzle piece that fits right into the end times scenario. The future power of the Antichrist will come much more easily with a global, one-world religion and we are seeing this take place right before our very eyes quite literally. Fifty or a hundred years ago, believers couldn’t have ever imagined joining with all different religions while ignoring major differences. And, yet, here we are today, being encouraged to join with other religions that don’t even use the Bible as the foundation of their faith. I wrote a post a little while ago about how easy it is for us to discern if a religion is true or false, so If you are wondering about that, you can find that post here.

Paul tells us in in 2 Corinthians 6:14–

Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness?

This seems to make it pretty clear. But, if that isn’t enough convincing for you, I am including this by A.W. Tozer. How discerning he was way back when and how appropriate this is for us today–

Divisions Are Not Always Bad, A.W. Tozer

{italics are mine for emphasis. His insight is truly amazing!}

When to unite and when to divide, that is the question, and a right answer requires the wisdom of a Solomon.

Some settle the problem by rule of thumb: All union is good and all division bad. It’s that easy. But obviously this effortless way of dealing with the matter ignores the lessons of history and overlooks some of the deep spiritual laws by which men live.

If good men were all for union and bad men for division, or vice versa, that would simplify things for us. Or if it could be shown that God always unites and the devil always divides it would be easy to find our way around in this confused and confusing world. But that is not how things are.

To divide what should be divided and unite what should be united is the part of wisdom. Union of dissimilar elements is never good even where it is possible, nor is the arbitrary division of elements that are alike; and this is as certainly true of things moral and religious as of things political or scientific.

The first divider was God who at the creation divided the light from the darkness. This division set the direction for all God’s dealings in nature and in grace. Light and darkness are incompatible; to try to have both in the same place at once is to try the impossible and end by having neither the one nor the other, but dimness rather, and obscurity.

In the world of men there are at present scarcely any sharp outlines. The race is fallen. Sin has brought confusion. The wheat grows with the tares, the sheep and the goats coexist, the farms of the just and the unjust lie side by side in the landscape, the mission is next door to the saloon.

But things will not always be so. The hour is coming when the sheep will be divided from the goats and the tares separated from the wheat. God will again divide the light from the darkness and all things will run to their kind. Tares will go into the fire with tares and wheat into the garner with wheat. The dimness will lift like a fog and all outlines will appear. Hell will be seen to be hell all the way through, and heaven revealed as the one home of all who bear the nature of the one God.

For that time we with patience wait. In the meanwhile for each of us, and for the church wherever she appears in human society, the constantly recurring question must be: What shall we unite with and from what shall we separate? The question of coexistence does not enter here, but the question of union and fellowship does. The wheat grows in the same field with the tares, but shall the two cross-pollinate? The sheep graze near the goats, but shall they seek to interbreed? The unjust and the just enjoy the same rain and sunshine, but shall they forget their deep moral differences and intermarry?

To these questions the popular answer is yes. Union for union’s sake, and men shall brothers be for a’ that. Unity is so devoutly to be desired that no price is too high to pay for it and nothing is important enough to keep us apart. Truth is slain to provide a feast to celebrate the marriage of heaven and hell, and all to support a concept of unity which has no basis in the Word of God.

The Spirit-illuminated church will have none of this. In a fallen world like ours unity is no treasure to be purchased at the price of compromise. Loyalty to God, faithfulness to truth and the preservation of a good conscience are jewels more precious than gold of Ophir or diamonds from the mine. For these jewels men have suffered the loss of property, imprisonment and even death; for them, even in recent times, behind the various curtains, followers of Christ have paid the last full measure of devotion and quietly died, unknown to and unsung by the great world, but known to God and dear to His Father heart. In the day that shall declare the secrets of all souls these shall come forth to receive the deeds done in the body. Surely such as these are wiser philosophers than the religious camp followers of meaningless unity who have not the courage to stand against current vogues and who bleat for brotherhood only because it happens to be for the time popular.

“Divide and conquer” is the cynical slogan of Machiavellian political leaders, but Satan knows also how to unite and conquer. To bring a nation to its knees the aspiring dictator must unite it. By repeated appeals to national pride or to the need to avenge some past or present wrong the demagogue succeeds in uniting the populace behind him. It is easy after that to take control of the military and to beat the legislature into submission. Then follows almost perfect unity indeed, but it is the unity of the stockyards and the concentration camp. We have seen this happen several times in this century, and the world will see it at least once more when the nations of the earth are united under Antichrist.

When confused sheep start over a cliff the individual sheep can save himself only by separating from the flock. Perfect unity at such a time can only mean total destruction for all. The wise sheep to save his own hide disaffiliates.

Power lies in the union of things similar and the division of things dissimilar. Maybe what we need in religious circles today is not more union but some wise and courageous division. Everyone desires peace but it could be that revival will follow the sword.

Why How We Live Is So Important

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Many times, as believers, we really struggle with this concept of holiness. If we are truly saved, it is something we know is required of us and so we work and strive to be more “holy”. But do we truly understand why?

I think that is a question with several answers, but one was just made very clear to me by our scripture reading this past week.

As you read the detailed description of the tabernacle, did your eyes glaze over? I have to confess that as I read all of the specifics about the Tabernacle, I found it hard to stay focused on what I was reading. In this day and age of “soundbite” information, such detail can be hard for us to read.

So why did God place so many details about the Tabernacle in His Word? That was the question my youngest daughter and I found ourselves discussing the other day.

If God gave 50+ chapters in the Old Testament to let us know His exact requirements for the place His Spirit would reside with the children of Israel in the wilderness, then it must be important. As we discussed this question, it dawned on me that it could have something to do with helping us to understand just how holy is the place His Spirit demands as a sanctuary. It gives us some insight into just how holy and awesome God is!

Now, jump with me, if you will, to the New Testament. Suddenly, personal holiness takes on a whole new meaning–

Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? (I Corinthians 6:19)

 That good thing which was committed to you, keep by the Holy Spirit who dwells in us. (2 Timothy 1:14)

For there are three that bear witness in heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit; and these three are one.(I John 4:7)

If, now, in this church age, we have become the place in which the Holy Spirit dwells, then our sin takes on a whole new light, doesn’t it? It becomes even more offensive and not something to brush off lightly, as we are so apt to do.

I would often ask my kids if they would take Jesus to that movie or listen to that radio station if Jesus were sitting in the car with them as they were growing up. But God is with them at all times. God, the Holy Spirit, is with them. With me. With you. At all times. We have a responsibility to live a holy and pure life so that we are a fitting place for the Holy Spirit to dwell.

If God gave all of that detail in the Old Testament showing us what He required (and it’s clear that the sacrifice of Jesus did eliminate all of the ritual and blood sacrifices of old — just read Hebrews 9) and if we read all of the specifics of gold and silver and bronze, of the colors of blue and purple and scarlet, the carvings of orange and almond blossoms, we have to understand that God demands the best.

Not perfection. Perfection isn’t an option in this sinful world. But the best, purest, most holy me I can be. Because if I believe what the Bible says then I understand that when I became a believer, His Spirit came to dwell within me.

Doesn’t that make us view even the smallest choices with much greater care? And even our “smallest” sins with much greater remorse? Doesn’t daily confession and the idea of repentance make much more sense with this insight? We not only represent a Holy God, but His Spirit dwells within us!

In this day and age of casual living, we tend to view God as our buddy and friend (and we are called His friends in John 15:14) but may we learn from our Old Testament reading that God is also holy and awesome and omnipotent. This hasn’t changed just because of Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross. And a Holy God demands a holy dwelling place. Let us not forget!

 

Please Note: I am presenting the insight and understanding that I am learning as we read through the Bible with each Thursday post, but may I encourage you to please do your own study using good resources to gain insight and grow in the Lord. I am doing my best to give biblical, solid food for thought as we read through the Bible, but I would be the first to admit that I am no theologian!

 

 

Our Undoing

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Many of us cannot fathom how Fifty Shades of Gray is accepted as normal entertainment, not only by the world, but also for many in the church. We just can’t understand.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot over the last few days. Why is something so obviously wrong embraced so eagerly by people who call themselves Christians?

I think I may have the answer.

Somewhere in the not-too-distant past, Christians decided that what we entertain ourselves with just doesn’t matter. It is considered completely separate from the rest of our spiritual lives.

I remember a conversation I had with my daughter a few years ago. She was trying hard to process the fact that so many Christians who live otherwise godly lives spend so much time watching shows and movies that are filled with all of the things that God hates and somehow have no conviction about this. And she finally suggested that perhaps entertainment is the one big blind spot in the lives of most Christians today.

I think she may be on to something there. For what other explanation could there possibly be to explain how Christians would fill their minds with such filth and call it okay?

Sure, Fifty Shades of Gray is a little out there for most of us reading this blog, but do you honestly think God hates S&M any more than He hates adultery and fornication? Or the glorification of theft and illicit drugs? Really? Or what about homosexuality? Or sorcery? Or crude and profane language? Or violence for no reason? The God of the Bible hates all sin. And yet most Christians will put any or all of the above before their eyes on a regular basis and call it okay.

Actually, we might wonder why there is such a to-do about Fifty Shades. We watch just about everything else and call it okay, don’t we?

I am so excited that so many of you have joined the Bible Challenge this year. I love hearing all that you are learning in God’s Word. We know that His Word never returns void (Isaiah 55:11). And I am sure you are finding out, like me, that Hebrews 4:12 is true.

But I do have a concern as we continue on in our challenge.

Imagine with me, if you will, an elderly lady knitting a beautiful sweater. She is carefully crafting it for her only granddaughter and it is in an intricate design of flowers and hearts. She has spent hours and hours on it.

The curious thing is that after she has knitted for a few hours, she spends the next few hours undoing all that she has done. Not because there is anything wrong in her work, but because she just loves to undo her knitting as much as she loves to knit.

Sound strange and completely unrealistic?

Of course it does. No person in their right mind undoes so much hard work. And, yet, I propose that many of us do just that by how we entertain ourselves.

Why do we believe that we can watch, read, and listen to anything we feel like and yet think we will grow by leaps and bounds towards the Lord? Unless we use very careful discernment, we are going to undo every good thing that has come from our Bible reading and study.

Look, I am not going to give you a list of acceptable entertainment. This is not about a list of rules but, instead, about a heart that wants to please the Father in all we do (I Corinthians 10:31).

And I just want to shout out a warning to any of you who are giving effort to reading and studying your Bibles (in any way, not just through the G4L Bible Challenge)–

If you leave your Bible and then go fill your mind with ungodly music, movies, tv shows, or books, don’t expect this to be a year of great growth. The Christian life is about learning God’s Word and biblical truth but it’s also very much about living a holy, pure life before God. Both are required for a life that would glorify God. Giving our time to learning God’s Word and then filling our minds with ungodly entertainment could be likened to the elderly lady with the sweater. It’s the undoing of so much of the good work being wrought in our lives through God’s Word.

Grace and Introspection

Parting of the Red Sea

Sometimes we approach the stories we read in the Bible with a bit of arrogance, don’t we?

“Well, I would have never done that!”

or

“I can’t believe anyone could have acted {or reacted} like that!”

If you are reading along in the Bible Challenge, we have arrived in one of the most exciting books of the Bible–

Exodus.

In this book we witness God’s power through many different miracles, we see His care and protection for His people, and we read of God’s faithfulness and sinful man’s faithlessness.

It’s the faithless stories that drive me a little crazy. One of these is told in Exodus 14:10-12. Here’s what it says–

And when Pharaoh drew near, the children of Israel lifted their eyes, and behold, the Egyptians marched after them. So they were very afraid, and the children of Israel cried out to the Lord. 11 Then they said to Moses, “Because there were no graves in Egypt, have you taken us away to die in the wilderness? Why have you so dealt with us, to bring us up out of Egypt? 12 Is this not the word that we told you in Egypt, saying, ‘Let us alone that we may serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than that we should die in the wilderness.”

My initial reaction when reading this was to condemn the Israelites harshly. For goodness’ sake, they had just lived through the ten plagues where they had witnessed miracle after miracle. They had seen the lives of their firstborn children and livestock spared, while the firstborn sons and livestock of the Egyptians were killed on one dark, dark night. There was only one explanation for how they could even be beside the Red Sea at that very moment and that explanation was God. God had worked miraculously to bring them to this point. They had seen it with their very own eyes!

And yet they doubted.

How could that be?

But then I remember times in my life when I do the same thing. Oh, it may not be in such dramatic fashion. I’ve never had the waters part for me or food fall down from heaven, but I’ve seen the hand of God work in mighty and wondrous ways– ways that defy circumstances and could never be called coincidental. And then, after all that, the impossible scenario comes along and I throw up my hands with questions and doubts, all the while wondering if God really does care for me.

One thing I have learned over the years is that when we are in our lowest, most hopeless place is when we see God work in the most incredible ways.

If we can do it ourselves and fix it ourselves and, through our own effort, solve our own problems then we have no need for God.

But when we reach that hopeless place–when we are smack dab against the Sea with nowhere to run and the enemy is headed towards us at breakneck speed-that’s when God shows His power!

Sure, we can criticize the Israelites’ reaction as they sat in that terribly hopeless place, but I am pretty sure we would have done the same thing. After all, we do do the same thing.

As we read through the Bible and even as we interact with other believers, let’s remember to do so with humility, love, and much grace. We don’t know how we would act in any circumstance, but one thing we can be sure of is that we are sinners, just like everyone else. And that fact alone should keep us humble and full of grace. And let’s keep our eyes open, because our God is still working in our most hopeless situations!

 

 

About Love

I Corinthians 1313

When I was a kid, life was a lot different. I can remember when Dad brought home our first microwave, our first VCR, and our first Video Game Console. I remember the Christmas as a young married woman when I received my first CD player. I was so excited! I didn’t know it at the time, but just like life had changed so drastically with the development of machines in the late 1800s, so would life change again in the late 1900s with the development of the computer.

One of those changes — a seemingly very minor one — is that instead of buying the whole album of our favorite artist to get the song we love, we can now just buy that one song. This option means we don’t have to buy the songs we don’t like. But I wonder if it doesn’t also mean that we miss a few we would really like?

Sometimes I think we approach love a little like that. We want to just experience the easy, good parts of love. Let me explain–

If we are a parent, the easy, fun parts are the hugs & kisses, the snuggling up at night and the “I love yous” and the proud moments when you get to say “I’m that kid’s parent!”

If we are a spouse, some of the good parts are when we are in complete harmony in purpose, holding hands and talking, looking across a room and knowing exactly what the other person is thinking.

If we are a son or a daughter, the good parts are the cool ways your parents take care of you even as an adult, or the friendship that has grown deeper with your older parents.

If we are a friend, the easy part is the connection we feel, the support we know we have, no matter what befalls us.

These are some of the best things about love. The joy that comes from interpersonal relationships.

But I wonder if, with the advent of all of this technology, we have become a little unrealistic in our expectations of love, thinking we can just pick the good times. Trying to hang on to “perfect”– just getting the pleasant experiences and bypassing the unpleasant ones.

It doesn’t take long to figure out that sometimes there are far more unpleasant ones than pleasant ones. We are all sinful human beings and life is hard–

As parents, we need to discipline and provide consequences for sinful behavior. We need to have hard conversations. We need to endure a few “I hate you!”s and quite a few seemingly hopeless moments that just aren’t any fun at all and certainly not easy. But that is love.

As spouses, we don’t always jive, we disagree, and we have periods of crazy, busy times where we hardly see each other. We argue, we fight, we lay in bed not talking. But this is just the hard part of love.

As adult children, we see our parents growing weaker, they need us to do things for them that they used to be able to do for themselves, we take them to dr appts, or do their finances, or change their diaper. But we remember how hard it must have been to raise us, and we do it because we genuinely love them with all our heart.

As friends, we disagree– sometimes on major things, our kids may fight or not get along, or we may move far away from each other, but if true love abounds, the friendship remains, because that is what true love does.

I just wonder if we have become so used to pulling only the good things and avoiding the bad things, that we have not experienced love in its fullest, most satisfying way. For when we walk away (physically or emotionally) from a tough situation, we are in essence saying that we don’t want the hard stuff.

Now, please don’t take this to the extreme. There are a few very legitimate reasons to walk away from certain relationships, at least for a time. But this is not the norm. Most relationships are broken because they just weren’t easy or fun anymore.

Many of those who walk away go on to start a new relationship that sours faster than the first one.

But true love accepts the bad stuff along with the good stuff. Rejection isn’t even an option. Divorce or abandonment aren’t even a passing thought in our brain. True love means commitment and work but, oh, the rewards are tremendous.

I have no idea if you are struggling in a relationship today. Many of us are. Don’t give in to the thoughts that tell you to quit and move on. Keep loving. Keep doing what’s right. Do what you can do and then pray. Hard. We can’t change the other person, but we can surely do all that we possibly can to salvage the troubling relationships in our lives.

 And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love. (I Corinthians 13:13)

 

Where Were You?

happy-sunrise-morning-wishes-hd-picture

As a friend recently pointed out to me, Job is not only about suffering but it is also about the very nature of God. If you are still reading along with us in the 2015 Bible Challenge, we are just about at the end of Job. The book is filled with men giving their eloquent (and dare I say long-winded?) interpretation of why Job is suffering and their personal descriptions of God and life.

But finally God speaks. In Chapter 38, we hear God’s response to Job.

I am always put to shame with the words of God. It is such a lesson in submitting to God’s Sovereignty.

Where was I when the foundations of the earth were laid?

Have I commanded the mornings since time began?

Can I loosen the belt of Orion?

When we read God’s response to Job, we can respond two ways: Submission or Rebellion. There is no neutral.

So let’s move ahead many thousands of years. What does this have to do with life today?

As you read Job 38, can you understand why it was so critical to Satan that people stop believing in a 6-day literal biblical creation?

For when the world system undermines our belief in God as Creator and Designer, then it undermines our complete and total understanding of God, as presented in the rest of the scripture. This naturally leads to rebellion towards God, rather than submission.

Many Christians say it doesn’t matter if we believe in a literal creation or not. But it does. Job 38 is one of the reasons. If we don’t believe in creation, then Job becomes a poem to us– something that we can learn from and that sounds beautiful in a literary, symbolic sort of way instead of being the true, inspired Word of God. And when that happens, God’s Word loses its power in our lives.

This is a big deal. As believers, we need to understand the critical nature of believing in a literal 6-day creation. It is the foundation of the rest of the Word of God. And we know what happens when a foundation is destroyed– it isn’t long before the rest of the house comes tumbling down. I think we can already see this playing out in the modern-day church.

But let’s make this even more personal. How we deal with the unanswered questions we have as we read is very important. I have no doubt that you have many, after having read Job. There are just some really puzzling verses within this book of the Bible.

We can get frustrated as we read and start focusing on our questions, rather than on the words themselves.

When I asked my brother, Pastor Dean, a particularly burning question that several people have asked me about this book, he encouraged me to let my readers know that they should not worry too much about the unanswered questions, but instead focus on what we can know.

Last year while I was doing my first read-through of the Bible, I became aware of two things–

1. If I focused on the questions, I would stop reading. There are so many unanswered questions– particularly in the Old Testament. I had to allow God to give me insight into what He chose and stop thinking I needed to understand it all.

2. I also realized –and this is really important–that if I understood it all, I would be God. Do you get what I’m saying here? We live in this culture where we think we have to understand everything. The age of reason has affected us in more ways than we even know. And, while I don’t recommend living a life of ignorance, we do have to come to God’s Holy Word with an attitude of submission and humility, recognizing that we aren’t going to understand everything because He is God. And we are not.

And so let’s move on from Job assured that God is God. He is sovereign and does what is best, even when we don’t understand why. And while God does give us more and more insight, the deeper we dig into His Word, let’s remember that we are never required to understand it all, but only to submit and obey. For therein lies the key to the joy of the Lord and the peace that passeth understanding.

 

A Picture of Repentance

PA Welcome

So let’s say you and I live in Indiana. You are without a car and license but have an urgent need to get to California. I am your best friend and am out of a job right now, so you ask me to drive you there.

Okay, so that probably wouldn’t happen, but stick with me, would you?

We get in my car and start off on our adventure. You aren’t paying attention to the road signs as we talk with one another. An hour or two later you grow drowsy and fall asleep. When you wake up a few hours later, you see a big sign that says “Welcome to Pennsylvania”.

What?? You are quickly wide awake. You ask me what in the world are you doing? with some panic in your voice. I look at the sign and then look at you. I calmly acknowledge that I am definitely not going in the right direction.

What do you want me to do at this point? How would I acknowledge that I am serious about the grave error that I have committed against you?

Would I simply stop the car and tell you how very sorry I was? Or perhaps go buy you a nice dinner?

Obviously, I would turn around and start going the right direction.

So, here’s the thing– why exactly aren’t we taught that this is the natural response of someone who truly believes in God for His free gift of salvation through Jesus Christ? We have committed a grave sin against God and yet many of us say we’re sorry but then keep living the same life we have always lived, never changing direction and continually abusing the grace of a loving, holy God. Could that possibly mean that we haven’t repented at all? It is something very serious to ponder.

So why don’t we view a decision to follow Christ with this in mind?

Probably because Satan has weaved a fantastic lie that is extremely appealing to all of us in our human form– we can be saved (and skip hell) by just saying a quick prayer, letting Jesus know we believe that He died for us. But that’s just not true.

Yes, I said it. It’s not true. Nowhere in scripture is their indication that this is true. True salvation is always followed by some form of fruit. You cannot read the Bible without understanding this very important fact. (Matthew 7:16; I John 2:3-6; Galatians 5:19-26)

Remember my favorite saying?? It’s about direction; not perfection. When we are saved, we turn around and start heading a different direction– one that goes against the crowd. Oh, sometimes we mess up and get turned around briefly, but, generally, we are going towards God and away from the world. The very nature of salvation demands this change in direction. It’s not something you can choose or have to choose. It just is, according to God’s Word.

Now, lest you think I am teaching a works-based salvation, I certainly am not. There is nothing you or I could do to merit salvation. Ever. We have broken God’s laws– no matter how little we have sinned and that sin demands justice. Jesus died to pay the price for our sin. When we get that– I mean really get that– then repentance isn’t a “have to” but a “want to”.  The change in direction is as natural as breathing. It’s just what you do if you are a true disciple.

Don’t let the lie of easy believism steal your soul or the souls of those you love. If someone claims to know Christ but has never shown any fruit whatsoever, talk to them. Don’t tell them they are going to hell– since you are not the judge and that method won’t be affective, anyway. But it’s ok to share your concerns. In fact, if a bus were heading towards your loved one, wouldn’t you shout a warning? I would say the same holds true if we are fearing eternal damnation for them.

Look, I know we are worried about what people think. I struggle with that, too. We don’t want to be “over the top” and we don’t want to annoy anyone. We don’t want to be called the “Jesus freak” or ruin our reputation at work or in the family. But I have to wonder– wouldn’t that mean that we are more concerned about ourselves than we are about the person who is in danger of eternal hell fire?

It is certainly something to think about, isn’t it?