Christianity 201

August 11, 2019

Marriage Secret: Making the Lord Your Shepherd

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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CEB.Gen.2.23-24 The human said,

“This one finally is bone from my bones
        and flesh from my flesh.
She will be called a woman
        because from a man she was taken.”

This is the reason that a man leaves his father and mother and embraces his wife, and they become one flesh.

CEB.Mark 10.8 and the two will be one flesh. So they are no longer two but one flesh.

CEB.Eph.5.31 This is why a man will leave his father and mother and be united with his wife, and the two of them will be one body


The Voice.Ps.23.3 He makes me whole again,
    steering me off worn, hard paths
    to roads where truth and righteousness echo His name.

Even in the unending shadows of death’s darkness,
    I am not overcome by fear.
Because You are with me in those dark moments,
    near with Your protection and guidance,
    I am comforted.

Today we’re back with Arnold Reimer, for many years the pastor of Bayview Glen Alliance Church in Toronto, and his blog titled Finishing Well.

Togetherness

In a month’s time, my wife and I will have completed 65 years of marriage. We have good reason to own Psalm 23, for the Lord has been our Shepherd. He has abundantly taken care of our needs; we have rested and been fed in green pastures. Quiet waters have often restored our souls, and His leading has been by paths of righteousness. We have been nourished at His table by the cup of salvation, the bread of His Word and the overflowing oil of His Holy Spirit. Every day we experience His goodness and lovingkindness, even in our twilight years. He gives joy as our strength.

Our anticipation is a final dwelling place in His heavenly home being prepared for us by a loving Father. In the meantime, though surrounded by the shadows of death, we have nothing to fear because of God’s protective, providing presence. Our hearts are filled with praise and adoration for the multitude of His tender mercies!

How did all this happen? Were we such deserving people that God had no choice but to bless us? I will not insult you with a feeble response, other than to say: “Grace, grace, God’s grace! Grace that is greater than all our sin.”

But, that “grace” bears fruit. God put into our hearts a desire to serve Him. He led us to each other in Bible School. He filled our hearts with a longing to avoid sin in dating, and enabled us to practise the necessary disciplines we had been taught by the Scriptures. Our love for, and understanding of, each other blossomed over the three years until marriage was possible.

We are not sure if we truly understood at the time the powerful significance of God’s purpose for marriage, but it was surely there: “The Lord God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man. And the man said, ‘This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.’ For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.

That togetherness is so true, important and essential that no marriage can be whole or truly happy without it. Is it easy? Does it just happen? No, indeed! It starts with the mutual ownership of the divine purpose for the union. It involves learning, humility, forgiveness, death to self, a growing desire for genuine love, time together where sharing is deep and honest, and giving to each other is constant, knowledgeable, pure and satisfying.

Whoever said it is dead right: “Fifty-fifty marriages won’t work! It must be one hundred-one hundred.” That controls selfishness, builds oneness, corrects and heals relational cracks and flaws. It makes submission to each other practical and sanctifies the promise, “Till death do us part!” Others observe with sincerity, “Behold how they love one another.”


 

October 29, 2018

The Value of Road Blocks

Today for something a little different, we’re going to return to Jon Swanson’s site, 300 Words a Day, but we’re going to add a little of the linked scripture passages, because, well, let’s just say we can tell who clicked what by looking at our stats page!  (I have been guilty of this myself over the years, only reading the commentary without clicking through to the passages; or just reading the key verse in a print devotional, but not the entire recommended section listed on the page.) Remember, you’ll still want to read the full texts which are linked in each paragraph.

Click the title below to read at source, and then you can navigate to Jon’s site where hopefully, you will click the links provided!

Road Blocks

A road block is an event or object that makes us stop moving. A tree that has fallen across the road can be a literal road block.  So can the sarcastic comment that interrupts our train of thought, the clogged drain in the tub, and the paperwork that we didn’t expect which has to be completed by tomorrow morning.

I want to think about the value of road blocks, but I encourage you to not read this if you are currently stopped by a road block. (You’ll get frustrated).

Road blocks let us test our reactions and responses.When I get frustrated that everything is spilling some mornings, I eventually have to step back and say, “why is this bothering me so much?” It’s one reason James tells us to value the trials we face because they can, when reflected on, help us discern what is going on in our hearts.

NIV.James.1.2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

Road blocks allow us to be creative. Some obstacles invite us to find different solutions. Zaccheus wanted to see Jesus. There were crowds. There was a tree. He climbed the tree.

NASB.Luke.19.3 Zaccheus was trying to see who Jesus was, and was unable because of the crowd, for he was small in stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree in order to see Him, for He was about to pass through that way.

Road blocks remind us to rest. I suppose this is related to the idea of reflection, but if we find ourselves frustrated or angry or overwhelmed, we may need a nap, a snack, a walk. It may not be our road black to remove. Or it may, but not now. Or it may, but tomorrow, when we’re rested.

NIV.Ps.4.1 Answer me when I call to you,
    my righteous God.
Give me relief from my distress;
    have mercy on me and hear my prayer.

Road blocks invite us to focus  Some obstacles remind us that what we are doing is valuable. We are invited to devote more focus to the task at hand and ignore the distractions. As Nehemiah said, “I am doing a great work. I cannot come down.”

NASB.Neh.6.2 then Sanballat and Geshem sent a message to me, saying, “Come, let us meet together at Chephirim in the plain of Ono.” But they were planning to harm me. So I sent messengers to them, saying, “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and come down to you?”


Here’s a CCM classic from Andrae Crouch. I thought of this song because of the verse:

I thank God for the mountains
and I thank him for the valleys
and I thank him for the storms he’s brought me through
for if I’d never had a problem
I’d never know that God could solve ’em.
I’d never know what faith in his word can do.

For those of you who’d prefer a more modern song, here’s Matt Redman. The lyrics begin,

Standing on this mountaintop
Looking just how far we’ve come
Knowing that for every step
You were with us…

…Scars and struggles on the way
But with joy our hearts can say
Yes, our hearts can say

Never once did we ever walk alone
Never once did You leave us on our own
You are faithful, God, You are faithful

July 31, 2018

When the Answer to “How are you?” is “Not so fine.”

Today’s article has been shortened from its original form at the blog Jesus Unboxed, which we’re featuring here for the first time. Rev. David Eck is the pastor of Abiding Savior Lutheran Church, Fairview, North Carolina, and Chaplain PRN at Mission Hospital, Asheville, North Carolina. In the introduction, David points out that Nehemiah only surfaces once in the three year cycle of the Lectionary. Some of his thoughts below are derived from hearing author Brian McLaren. For the entire passage in Nehemiah, click here. To read the article in its full context click the title below.

Nehemiah: From Despair to Hope (Neh 8:1-18)

…“So, how are you?”…

…if you’re feeling “not so fine” today, that’s perfectly okay…

…Nehemiah gives us some tools for how to cope when it feels like life is an avalanche of “not so fine” days.

First, let me give you a little background on this relatively unknown prophet. The book of Nehemiah takes place after the Babylonian exile. This is a people who had experienced so many “not so fine” days in a row that they had lost count. They were people of despair. They were people who had abandoned all hope that things would get better.

Then, miraculously, King Cyrus of Persia defeated the Babylonian army. He allowed the Israelites to return to their homeland, and even gave them some of the resources they needed to rebuild their lives. Nehemiah is all about the rebuilding. Chapter 8, in particular, gives us a lot of wisdom regarding how we can rebuild our lives when we feel like we are a people without hope.

As chapter 8 begins all the people in Jerusalem were asked to gather in the public square in front of the Water Gate. The Water Gate was located near the Southwest corner of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, near the Gihon Spring. It was a place that was open and accessible to everyone.

In this very public space Ezra began reading the Torah, the “law of Moses” to everyone who would listen. For those unfamiliar with the term, the Torah is the first five books we have in our Bibles. It was revised and edited by Ezra and other priests while they were in exile.

And so this brand-spanking-new version of the Torah was read to the people. When Ezra opened the scroll for the first time, the people shouted “Amen, amen!” and they began to worship together. While Ezra was reading the Torah, the Levites, who were the traditional teachers of the Law, moved among the people and helped them to understand how it applied to their lives.

This is something that lasted an entire day. During this gathering the leaders reminded the people “This day is holy to the LORD your God; so not mourn or weep.”

When the day came to an end they told the people, “Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions of them to those for whom nothing is prepared, for this day is holy to our LORD; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.”

What I see going on in this passage is a blueprint for how we successfully navigate the “not-so-fine” times our our lives; times when we have lost hope and despair is our constant companion.

First of all, we need to immerse ourselves in the Word and in worship. The “law of Moses” that Ezra read was defined by Brian McLaren as “the standards of basic human decency.” They contained the Ten Commandments and reminded the people how they were supposed to live in covenant with God and with each other.

In times of despair, it’s important that we immerse ourselves in scripture. This is something we do not do alone. We interpret it together. This circle of interpretation involves the whole family of God: pastors, lay people, poets, musicians and scholars.

It’s important that we have this holy conversation because in 2018 it’s vital that we understand clearly who Jesus is and what he stands for. There are many counterfeit Jesuses out there. If we are students of the Word, we are less likely to fall for them.

My challenge to you… is that if you haven’t read the gospel lately, it’s time to do so. We all need to be able to defend the Jesus we know and love in a world that often makes him into their image instead of the other way around.

Worship is also important during the “not so fine” times of our lives. When we are despairing, when we have lost hope, we need to surround ourselves with those who will remind us of God’s promises to us. They are there to sing the hymns of faith we cannot bring ourselves to sing. They are there to love us and care for us when we cannot love and care for ourselves. We see this happening in Nehemiah 8. It was Ezra’s way of helping God’s people to heal and have their hope restored.

The second thing that emerges in Nehemiah, is that during the “not so fine” times of our lives, we need to practice gratitude, celebration, and service to the needy. Ezra tells the people “Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine, and send portions of them to those for whom nothing is prepared, for this day is holy to our LORD; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.”

When things are going wrong, we need to focus on what’s going right. When things get us all hot and bothered, we need a cool oasis where we can refresh our weary souls.

This is exactly what the people did. They set aside their troubles for at least one day. They feasted with one another. and shared a portion of what they had with those who could not afford to feast.

Then they were reminded by Ezra that “the joy of the Lord is our strength.” This is not some rose-colored glasses kind of joy. It’s not even the-glass-is-half-full kind of joy. It’s the kind of joy that believes “If God is for us, who can be against us?” It’s the kind of joy that lives deep inside our souls. It cannot be taken away from us no matter what is happening in our lives and in our world.

We may not think we do not have this kind of joy within us. But, trust me, its there. Our job is to awaken that kind of joy in those around us when they cannot awaken it themselves…

But there’s one more piece of the blueprint we need to examine for how to navigate the “not-so-fine” times our our lives. This occurs in our second lesson which contains a ritual celebration known as the Festival of Booths. It is a festival that Jews celebrate to this very day. Some of you may remember the Jewish Secular Society of Asheville, who does their monthly Shabbat here, set up a booth or tent in our yard this past fall.

The reason why it’s important in Nehemiah, is that the Israelites had not celebrated this festival since the time before the exile in Babylon. Now that they were rebuilding their community, this particular festival was important. They feasted under these booths to remember how their ancestors wandered in the wilderness after escaping from Egypt, as well as how God led them to the promised land.

The important lesson we learn from this festival is that during the “not so fine” times of our lives, it’s important that we remember how God delivered us from difficult times in the past. When we do this, it gives us hope for the future. It helps to replenish the deep well of joy that is our strength.

And so, as we make our way, through these unstable and unpredictable times we are experiencing as a nation, it’s absolutely vital that we remember God’s faithfulness to us in the past. This gives us the strength we need to trust that God will help us to navigate the “not so fine” days were are experiencing currently.

Friends in Christ, there is a lot of wisdom we can gain from Nehemiah. I encourage you to read this chapter during the week, and see what else you can learn from it. Make no mistake about it, God is with us in these “not so fine” times. The joy of the Lord WILL be our strength. If we immerse ourselves in the Word and in worship; if we practice gratitude, celebration, and service to the needy; if we remember the times in our lives when God was faithful to us; we will get though this! Our hope will be renewed as we place our trust in the One, who helped Israel persevere during both an exodus and an exile. Amen!

Copyright ©2018 by David Eck; used with permission.

 

May 26, 2018

Covenant: Past, Present and Future

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Today we’re paying a return visit to Clergy Stuff, which offers daily devotionals following the Narrative Lectionary. This one is actually the reading for tomorrow. (The text follows at the bottom.)

What God Has Done

by Kace Leetch

Several times throughout the Bible, God enters a covenant with people. First with Noah and his family, then with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Here God enters a covenant, not with individuals, but with an entire nation. God’s covenant with the Israelites is this: God will be their God, and they will be God’s people.

True to form, God enters the covenant with a promise—past, “I… brought you… out of the house of slavery;” present, “I am the Lord your God;” and future, “You shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples.” God is a leader before God requires people to be led.

I am a binge-watching fool when it comes to reality TV about small businesses. Often, rich entrepreneurs step in, either to invest in start-ups, or to rescue failing small businesses. What regularly strikes me is that the failing businesses are often run by people who just don’t have adequate leadership skills. Some are pretty snooty, thinking they are above the menial tasks of their employees. Others are too passive, letting their employees walk all over them. Still others are so stuck in their ways, their aversion to change is killing the business.

God is the opposite of all of these struggling leaders. God is not above getting God’s hands dirty in order to lead. God did some difficult and horrendous—yet necessary—things to rescue the Israelites from slavery. God is certainly not passive. God stood toe to toe with Pharaoh, challenging his reign, his stubbornness, and his cruelty.

God also showed a willingness to grow, renewing the covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, by reestablishing a new relationship with Moses and Moses’ people. As the people and the relationships changed, so did God’s terms of the covenant.

With Noah, the covenant was between God and all of God’s creation. God promised never to destroy the planet by flood. Noah had no commitment in this covenant.

With Abraham, the covenant was that God would bless the earth by blessing Abraham. Again, there was no commitment by Abraham for this blessing. Later, however, God did require Abraham to circumcise his descendants as a sign of their covenant that Abraham would be father of a great nation.

With Moses and the Israelites, God included in the covenant a more defined role for the Israelites to play. They would have to put God above all else. They would have to follow God’s commandments. As the conditions and the people changed, so did God’s requirement of them and God’s promises to them. Despite people’s failures, God continued to establish, reestablish, and recreate the covenants, always starting with and fulfilling God’s commitment.

Narrative Lectionary Text: Exodus 19:1-6; 20:1-2

On the third new moon after the Israelites had gone out of the land of Egypt, on that very day, they came into the wilderness of Sinai. They had journeyed from Rephidim, entered the wilderness of Sinai, and camped in the wilderness; Israel camped there in front of the mountain. Then Moses went up to God; the Lord called to him from the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the Israelites: You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the Israelites.”

Then God spoke all these words: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.

August 31, 2016

God As the Jealous Husband

My Jealous Godby Clarke Dixon

. . .for you shall worship no other god, because the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God. Exodus 34:14

God is jealous. So much so, in fact, that according to the verse above He even has the name “Jealous.” Isn’t that a problem? Isn’t jealousy a bad thing, a sinful thing? While preparing for a sermon on Ezekiel chapter 16 it struck me how this passage helps us understand the jealous love of God. It compresses the history of the people of Jerusalem into a story, an allegory. Let me compress that even further and give you the “Coles notes” version of the story which we can divide into the following chapters:

Chapter One: Rescued (verses 3-6)

In ancient times there was a form of birth control called “exposure.” Basically an unwanted baby, all too often a girl, was left out in an open field to die. This story begins with such a baby being rescued having been found covered in blood and still attached to the placenta given the details. Remembering that this is an allegory, God’s people in Ezekiel’s day were to understand that they were in a relationship with God, not because there was anything special about them, but because of God’s love. The same can be said of the Christian today. To sum up chapter one: Rescued instead of dead.

Chapter Two: Married (verses 7-9)

Once the child in the story grows, the rescuer marries the child. At first glance we might think this is gross, but when we remember the context of ancient times and how marriage was different then than now, we learn that this was a very loving move on the part of the rescuer. This child, once old enough, could have been forced into slavery instead, or worse. Marriage was a promise of continuing nurture and care. Remembering that this is allegory, God’s people in Ezekiel’s day were to remember that being in a covenant relationship with God was a sign of God’s amazing love and grace. The Christian today enjoys the covenant love of God. To sum up chapter two: Married instead of enslaved, sold, or worse.

Chapter Three: Blessed (verses 10-14)

Here we learn about how blessed this woman really is. She is not married and then provided with the mere essentials. She is, in fact, the queen, and treated as such. God’s people in Ezekiel’s day were to realize just how blessed they were to be in relationship with God. As Christians do we realize just how blessed we are? To sum up chapter three: A queen, instead of a mere dependant.

Chapter Four: Betrayed (verses 15-34)

Here there is a shift in the story:

But you trusted in your beauty, and played the whore because of your fame, and lavished your whorings on any passer-by. Ezekiel 16:15 (emphasis mine)

There is a lengthy and quite graphic description of the betrayal. Though rescued instead of dead, though married instead of enslaved or sold, though a queen instead of a mere dependant, though all of this was because of the love and grace of the rescuer, the groom, the king, she betrays him with her unfaithfulness. She is described as acting like a prostitute, only worse, for a prostitute has enough sense to get paid. Remembering that this is allegory, God’s people in Ezekiel’s day were to get the point that they have been unfaithful to the Lord. As Christians are we faithful? To sum up chapter four: Promiscuous and stupid, instead of grateful and faithful.

Chapter Five: Consequences (verses 35-59)

Following the betrayal come the consequences of a living a promiscuous and unfaithful life.

You must bear the penalty of your lewdness and your abominations, says the Lord. Yes, thus says the Lord God: I will deal with you as you have done, you who have despised the oath, breaking the covenant; Ezekiel 16:58-59

There is a lot to read and digest here, but let’s just say it does not go well. Remembering this is allegory, God’s people in Ezekiel’s day were to understand that the exile and the coming fall of Jerusalem to Babylon is a consequence of their unfaithfulness. As Christians today we are not automatically saved from the consequences of our decisions. “You reap what you sow” is a Biblical affirmation, taught in both the Old and New Testaments.To sum up chapter five: Suffering the consequences instead of getting away with murder.

Chapter Six: Forgiven (verses 60-63)

Next in this story comes a pleasant surprise.

. . . yet I will remember my covenant with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish with you an everlasting covenant. . . I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall know that I am the Lord, in order that you may remember and be confounded, and never open your mouth again because of your shame, when I forgive you all that you have done, says the Lord God. Ezekiel 16:60,62,63

God remains faithful to His people! He will forgive! He still does. To sum up chapter six: Forgiven instead of cast away.

Do you get a sense of the jealous love of God from this story? The jealousy we tend to think of arises out of insecurity. It doesn’t just arise from a man thinking his wife is looking at another man, it arises from a man thinking there is a better man. God knows better and knows there is no better. The Lord is not insecure. God is jealous, meaning God is passionate. If God were not jealous for us He would be apathetic. God is jealous, meaning God is caring. If God were not jealous, He would be uncaring. God is jealous, meaning God is faithful. His love does not cease at the first sign of betrayal. He is faithful in His love, in His keeping of covenant promises. He knows what is best for the people He loves, and He is the best for the people He loves!

Spiritually speaking, we may be more like the woman in the story than we care to admit. We do not deserve the rescue, the marriage, the blessing. We betray. We experience the consequences of our decisions. But God remains faithful. Got sin in your life? You can depend upon God to forgive it. He is jealous for you. Storm clouds are brewing? You can depend on God to walk you through the storm. He is jealous for you. Got a sense that you do not deserve heaven? Me too. Though in this age we will still often experience the consequence of our sin, in the age to come we experience the consequence of His goodness and grace in Jesus Christ. Rescued, married, and blessed; not because we are good people, but because God is a jealous God.

All scripture references are taken from the NRSV

Source for this article at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon

Source for Today’s Graphic Image at Brian Hunt Blog

July 14, 2016

Past Tense, Future Victory

We return today to a multiple-writer site we visited last July, Inspire A Fire. The writer for this one is April Dawn White. You can click the title below to read this, with pictures, at source.

Victory Perspective

The invisible battle of trust, is the biggest battle I face.

When I find myself wondering in my wandering, I return to these stories of God’s faithfulness. I can trust God has already won the battle on my behalf.

I love how God uses past tense grammar to describe a current or future victory.  Here are a few of my favorites:

Joshua and Jericho

See I have delivered Jericho into your hands.” (Joshua 6:2, NIV)

Joshua stands before a small city fortified with tall walls. Assessing the giant walls, God said, “See I have delivered Jericho into your hands.” I wish I could see the look on Joshua’s face at that moment. Queue the climatic music. Staring up at the walls, did he have a look of skepticism or determination? Before God offers an unusual battle plan, He assured Joshua, “I have delivered” this city into your hands.

Joshua entered into battle from the stance of victory.

Moses’ Commission

See, I am sending an angel ahead of you to guard you along the way and to bring you to the place I have prepared. Exodus 23:20-31 (NIV)

Moses led a million march–a motley crew of former slaves, out of Egypt through the Red Sea towards freedom. God in is mighty way parted the Red Sea and the people marched right through toward freedom. Before the split, God assured Moses, “I am sending an angel ahead of you…to a place I have prepared.”

With Pharaoh and the entire Egyptian army closing in behind, Moses walked in a stance of victory on dry ground as he crossed the Red Sea.

Gideon’s Call

Get up! The Lord has given the Midianite camp into your hands.” (Judges 7:15, NIV)

A chapter before, the Lord finds Gideon hiding from the enemy. Now God has called him to fight. Before God issues an unusual battle plan (by the way, most of God’s battle strategies are unusual) He assures Gideon, “The Lord has given” the enemy into your hands.

Gideon enters into battle from a stance of victory.

We can learn from Joshua, Moses, and Gideon. These men faced insurmountable circumstances, yet they entered into battle from a stance of victory.

Before God issues an unusual battle plan, for our lives we can rest assure He has already prepared our future and delivered the victory.

What battle are you facing?  The victory is already yours. Go get it.


A song which fits this theme well is one we haven’t previously featured here. Enjoy “The Battle Belongs to The Lord” by the band Petra.

July 7, 2016

The Judgement of God

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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I Am The Lord•••by Clarke Dixon

If you have been reading along in Ezekiel during our series you may have noticed something about chapters 5 through 7. God seems, well . . . how shall we put this, . . . quite judgemental. Some would say the judgement of God is quite brutal. Some would say unfair even. Many look at God’s judgement to come at Christ’s return in much the same way. Should we ignore Bible passages about the judgement of God? Should the judgement of God give us reason to disbelieve? Quite the opposite, by looking more deeply into the judgement of God we gain some clarity about God and humanity. Let us consider what we can learn from Ezekiel 5-7.

The judgement of God is an expression of the faithfulness of God. The language of Ezekiel chapters 5-7 reflects the language found in the covenant promises of Deuteronomy chapter 28 and Leviticus chapter 26. There we find promises of things going well for the people if they keep the covenant and of things going rather poorly if not. God’s people ought not to have been surprised that they stood under judgement, for God is faithful to His promises. Looking ahead to the judgement to come, God will be faithful to His promises, all of them, even the ones we may not like.

The judgement of God demonstrates the patience of God. Some Bible scholars see in the instruction to Ezekiel to lie down for 430 days in chapter 4 an allusion to the 400 or so years that God had put up with His people since Solomon built the temple. Reading about that era in the Bible you do get the impression that they were less than impressive in their loyalty and commitment to God. In bringing judgement in Ezekiel’s day, and not before, we must be impressed at the patience of God. He is still patient:

The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance. 2 Peter 3:9

The judgement of God reflects the reality in the hearts of people, and not some arbitrary punishment in the mind of God. The judgement we read about in Ezekiel chapters 5 through 7 reflects the situation on the ground. It is entirely fitting:

According to their way I will deal with them; according to their own judgments I will judge them. Ezekiel 7:27

Let us take as an example one of the most striking and brutal verses about what the people in Ezekiel’s day will experience in the judgement:

Surely, parents shall eat their children in your midst, and children shall eat their parents; I will execute judgments on you, and any of you who survive I will scatter to every wind. Ezekiel 5:10

The thought of cannibalism is horrid enough, but one’s children, or parents?! To understand this, please realize that we do not have a command of God, such as “as punishment parents must eat their children and children must eat their parents.” Rather, this is what the Lord knows will happen when He judges the people through the siege of the Babylonians. When the food becomes scarce, as happens for an extended time in siege warfare, the strong will eat the weak to survive. The strong, adult parents, will prey on the weak, their young children. The strong, adult children, will prey on the weak, their senior parents. In doing this the people have sunk very low and have wandered very far from God and from His law which was given to protect the weak and vulnerable from the strong, which was given to nurture love within families and society, which was given to provide proper guidance on morality including evil practices like cannibalism. In experiencing judgement, the people harm themselves by their own will having wandered far from the will of God. This is not God’s idea, this is what is in the hearts of the people.

When we think of the judgement to come, people will sometimes say things like “the punishment of hell does not fit the crime of disbelief.” However, here again we see that the judgement reflects what is in the hearts of people and not some arbitrary punishment in the mind of God. While the language of hell throughout the Scriptures paints a vivid picture of an experience no one would ever want, there is something approaching a clear definition of it in 2 Thessalonians 1:9:

These will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, separated from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, 2 Thessalonians 1:9

The experience of hell is an experience of separation from God. When someone experiences separation from God at the coming judgement, they will be experiencing something they have not yet experienced, but have been ‘living towards’. When people have been rejecting God in their lives, in their minds, in their hearts, then will come a day the Lord will allow them to actually experience what they have wanted all along. The coming judgement will reflect what is in the hearts of people, and not some arbitrary punishment in the mind of God.

The judgement of God shines a light on the grace of God in Christ. The brutality we find in the language of judgement in a passage like Ezekiel 5-7 really impresses upon us how contrary to God’s nature sin really is. Sinful people and a Holy God necessarily mix like oil and water. Actually worse, because at least oil will sit on water. When we speak of Jesus dying on the cross for us, we often put it in a way that could be summed up like “Jesus took a bullet for us.” This is not deep enough. He did not just die. He bore our sin. He experienced the full weight of the judgement of God upon sin.

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Corinthians 5:21

Let us be reminded of the coming judgement:

Then I saw a great white throne and the one who sat on it; the earth and the heaven fled from his presence, and no place was found for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Also another book was opened, the book of life. And the dead were judged according to their works, as recorded in the books. 13 And the sea gave up the dead that were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and all were judged according to what they had done. 14 Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire; 15 and anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire. Revelation 20:11-15 (emphasis mine)

That should be us! But in receiving Christ, we experience grace, the judgement having been experienced by Jesus at the cross, our names having been written into the “book of life”. The judgement of God shines a light on just how astonishing the grace of God in Christ really is.

The judgement of God sets the record straight. Chapters 5 through 7 conclude with words we find throughout the passage, indeed throughout the whole prophecy of Ezekiel:

And they shall know that I am the Lord. Ezekiel 7:27

If there was any doubt before, through judgement the record has been set straight. People may hear of the judgement of God, whether in Ezekiel, or in passages that speak of the judgement to come and say “God’s judgement is unfair,” or “God’s judgement is brutal”. On the coming day of judgement the record will be set straight and we will all be able to say “Your judgement, Lord, is excellent.”


Read this at source; then navigate to find other titles in the Ezekiel series from Summer 2016

January 22, 2016

God’s Promises are Guaranteed

A year ago I asked our friends at Daily Encouragement to recommend some souces for material here at C201 and they mentioned one and one only, a marriage enrichment blog by Sabra and David Penley called Simply One. Today we pay a return visit. There is always a danger in misreading a principle in scripture as though it is a general, absolute promise. But if we meet any conditions mentioned, we have the assurance of God’s faithfulness to his promises.

Clicking the title below to read this at source will get you not only a graphic image, but also some discussion questions. And you don’t have to be married to extract the truth of today’s teaching, even though their blog is written for couples.

Five Promises of God to Guide Us through the Year

1 – God enables us to live a godly life.

We read in 2 Peter 1:3-4: “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.”

In this passage, God gives us “great and precious promises.” These promises are found in His Word, and they are “everything we need for a godly life.” This includes a godly marriage. This is why Sabra and I teach about marriage from God’s Word. And this is why we developed Couple Connect and encourage you and your spouse to use it together. (For a printable PDF of how to design your own time together, click here.)

When we live by God’s great and precious Word, He promises that we will “participate in the divine nature,” and we will escape “the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.” This is the only way we will have the marriage God designed for us.

2 – God is always with us.

A second promise God gives to us in His Word is that He is always with us, and He will always be with us in our marriage. The last thing Jesus said before He ascended to heaven, after His death and resurrection, was such a promise. We read these words from Jesus in Matthew 28:20: “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Hebrews 13:5 gives us a command of God, followed by His promise: “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’” By the way, this directly follows God’s word to us about marriage: “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral” (Hebrews 13:4).

So God tells us the key to a blessed marriage. If we’ll be faithful to Him and each other in our marriages, He’ll be right there with us. We can be certain that when we seek Him together He will guide us down the right path and He will take care of our every need along the way. We can have a marriage without fear because He is at the center of it and in control of it.

No matter what He allows to come our way, God will go through it with us.

Psalm 139:7-12 says: “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,’ even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.”

As God’s children, our faith and hope for our marriages can be founded on the solid rock of His constant presence.

3 – God will provide all our needs.

He promises at the end of this section in Hebrews 13:6: “So we say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?’” In Matthew 6:25-34, Jesus promises that we do not have to worry about anything because He will provide everything. He says in Matthew 6:33: “‘But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.’”

4 – God will answer our prayers when we seek His will together.

Jesus gives us another promise in Matthew 18:19-20: “Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” This certainly applies to a husband and wife who are one in Christ.

As one in Christ, we desire to do His will together. When we desire to do His will, He is pleased to reveal it to us through His Word. When we pray together as a married couple, seeking and desiring to do His will, that is a prayer we can pray with confidence. For He promises to answer us. We are told in 1 John 5:14-15: “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.”   

5 – Whatever we face in the year ahead, God will bring good out of it.

Not only will God be with us through every situation we face, but He will see that good comes from it. This amazing promise is found in Romans 8:28: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

This promise can help us be strong and stand firm in our faith when our circumstances become difficult and the days seem dark. God is able to work it all together for good.

So, as you look together toward the year ahead, remember God is eternal and omniscient–He knows everything that will happen. And He promises to be with you in the midst of every trial, pain, victory, and defeat. He longs for you to hold on to His promises and to recognize His presence at every moment, in everything you do. He wants you to be full of the hope for this year because He is God. He is your God. And He will be there with you and help you every step of the way.

Never forget His promise to you: “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).

December 27, 2015

Physical Reminders of God’s Provision

This morning at church we had an opportunity to share a testimony of God’s provision during the past year. After speaking, participants were asked to take a marker pen and write one or two words that describe what they had shared.

First we need to know the background to this account in Joshua 3:

Early in the morning Joshua and all the Israelites set out from Shittim and went to the Jordan, where they camped before crossing over. After three days the officers went throughout the camp, giving orders to the people: “When you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, and the Levitical priests carrying it, you are to move out from your positions and follow it. Then you will know which way to go, since you have never been this way before. But keep a distance of about two thousand cubits[a] between you and the ark; do not go near it.”

Joshua told the people, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you.”

Joshua said to the priests, “Take up the ark of the covenant and pass on ahead of the people.” So they took it up and went ahead of them.

And the Lord said to Joshua, “Today I will begin to exalt you in the eyes of all Israel, so they may know that I am with you as I was with Moses. Tell the priests who carry the ark of the covenant: ‘When you reach the edge of the Jordan’s waters, go and stand in the river.’”

14 So when the people broke camp to cross the Jordan, the priests carrying the ark of the covenant went ahead of them. 15 Now the Jordan is at flood stage all during harvest. Yet as soon as the priests who carried the ark reached the Jordan and their feet touched the water’s edge, 16 the water from upstream stopped flowing. It piled up in a heap a great distance away, at a town called Adam in the vicinity of Zarethan, while the water flowing down to the Sea of the Arabah (that is, the Dead Sea) was completely cut off. So the people crossed over opposite Jericho. 17 The priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord stopped in the middle of the Jordan and stood on dry ground, while all Israel passed by until the whole nation had completed the crossing on dry ground.

and in particular the stones of remembrance in the next chapter, Joshua 4:

When the whole nation had finished crossing the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua, “Choose twelve men from among the people, one from each tribe, and tell them to take up twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan, from right where the priests are standing, and carry them over with you and put them down at the place where you stay tonight.”

So Joshua called together the twelve men he had appointed from the Israelites, one from each tribe, and said to them, “Go over before the ark of the Lord your God into the middle of the Jordan. Each of you is to take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, to serve as a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.”

So the Israelites did as Joshua commanded them. They took twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, as the Lord had told Joshua; and they carried them over with them to their camp, where they put them down. Joshua set up the twelve stones that had been in the middle of the Jordan at the spot where the priests who carried the ark of the covenant had stood. And they are there to this day.

Of course, not everyone at church this morning could participate in this, but as I thought of what I might say or write, a Biblical phrase came to mind:

“Hitherto hath the Lord helped us.”

The language is KJV, and I wasn’t sure of the reference. So returning home, I looked it up only to find that it is from a similar story of using a stone as a marker remembering God’s provision or faithfulness or both; this time in I Samuel 7:

10 While Samuel was sacrificing the burnt offering, the Philistines drew near to engage Israel in battle. But that day the Lord thundered with loud thunder against the Philistines and threw them into such a panic that they were routed before the Israelites. 11 The men of Israel rushed out of Mizpah and pursued the Philistines, slaughtering them along the way to a point below Beth Kar.

12 Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer,saying, “Thus far the Lord has helped us.”

There’s a pattern here:

  • First Moses has the original experience of seeing the waters of the river part so that the nation could cross on dry land. (This is directly alluded to in verse 7 of chapter 3, above)
  • Then the miracle repeats for Joshua and he establishes the placing of stones of remembrance.
  • Then Samuel repeats the setting up of a memorial stone, one that hymn-singers have kept alive in the verse, “Here I raise my Ebenezer” (in Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.)

In some churches over the past century, stones of remembrance were replaced by plaques in the lobby (or even on individual pews) which instead of honoring God’s help, honored those who had given significant amounts of money toward the building of the church.

Now the modern church doesn’t even have those. There’s good and bad in that. The one who gives should do so in secret, but we often forget that as a faith community in the local church, we have history.

The raising of an Ebinezer sounds rather old-fashioned and quaint today, but we need to find visible, tangible, even tactile ways of remembering God’s help in ages past.


We’ve covered this theme here at least two times previously:

Go Deeper with this article

 

 

 

December 13, 2015

God Perseveres With Us

Nancy Ruegg has been blogging faithfully for three years at From the Inside Out | Impressions Becoming Expressions. She uses a variety of writing styles to cover various themes from scripture. To read today’s at source — with some beautiful pictures — click the title below and then click the ‘Home’ tag to view other articles. Today’s writing takes the form of an extended prayer.

Our Persevering God

The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
Slow to anger
And rich in faithful love.
–Psalm 103:8, HCSB

Oh God,

As I skim through the memories of six-plus(!) decades, I see much evidence of these attributes in my life: 

Compassion

I praise you that you’ve always looked upon me with compassion, not condemnation. Not one moment of struggle in my life has slipped by your attention unnoticed. And with that attention has come your sympathy. You’ve completely understood every situation I’ve faced, and shared in the physical pain, emotional hurts, and spiritual battles as they’ve come.

How comforting to know that you see my circumstances and sympathize. But even more precious?  Your love compels you to express that compassion with encouragement, strength, and support. Each day you bestow new mercies. You never give up on me.

Grace

Oh, how thankful I am that you are a God full of loving kindness. What relief to know your gift of salvation is not based on my effort but on your grace.

Your blessings flow continuously, not based on my faith, but on your benevolent nature.

Even more wondrous, you dwell within me, bestowing peace, joy, wisdom, and more—not because I am righteous and deserving, but because you are righteous and dedicated to my highest welfare.

Patience (Slow to anger)

One evidence of your grace is patience. As a parent and teacher, I’ve learned a little about the attribute of patience—mostly how difficult it is! Little ones can ask countless silly questions, frequently test the limits of acceptable conduct, and behave quite selfishly.

How shameful to admit I still demonstrate such traits. I, too, ask frivolous questions. When troubles assault, I want to know Why, God? I test the limits of your grace with my shallowness, failings, and stubborn streak.   And as for selfish behavior, that tendency hasn’t died yet either.

Some Bible translators have used the word longsuffering in place of patience. You have suffered long as you’ve trained me! Step by laborious step you gently guide me toward maturity. And one day my character will be complete, lacking in nothing because of your great forbearance with me.

Love 

How can I begin to thank you, God, for the treasure of your undying love? You brought me to faith in Jesus as a child, gave me a place in your forever family, and bequeathed to me an eternal inheritance in heaven. As I wait for that reality, I revel in your faithful love that:

  • Expresses itself continually, day after day
  • Attends to what will be in my best interest
  • Willingly and patiently endures the pain of rejection and disappointment, because of my rebellion
  • Disciplines me as any loving parent trains his/her dear children
  • “Perseveres until it perfects” (Philip Yancey)

I praise you, Holy Father, that day after day you manifest these attributes in my life.  I am encouraged by your compassion, blessed by all facets of your grace, guided by your patient Spirit, and strengthened by the richness of your faithful love.  I can never praise you enough for your magnificence!

October 4, 2015

The Certainty of a Conditional Promise: If We _____, Then God Will _____.

Just a few weeks ago we looked at this verse:

For all of God’s promises have been fulfilled in Christ with a resounding “Yes!” And through Christ, our “Amen” (which means “Yes”) ascends to God for his glory.
 2 Corinthians 1:20 NLT

Whatever God has promised gets stamped with the Yes of Jesus. In him, this is what we preach and pray, the great Amen, God’s Yes and our Yes together, gloriously evident. God affirms us, making us a sure thing in Christ, putting his Yes within us. By his Spirit he has stamped us with his eternal pledge—a sure beginning of what he is destined to complete. (same verse + 21 and 22, The Message)

Years ago churches would sing a hymn titled Standing On The Promises. (If you’re above a certain age, you’ll remember it like this.) The second verse begins with our trust in the promises themselves:

Standing on the promises that cannot fail,
when the howling storms of doubt and fear assail,
by the living Word of God I shall prevail,
standing on the promises of God.

The fourth verse begins with what that says for us in our Christian pilgrimage:

Standing on the promises I cannot fall,
listening every moment to the Spirit’s call,
resting in my Savior as my all in all,
standing on the promises of God.

The promises themselves are sure and trustworthy, and by them — if I live out any conditions set forth — I am assured of spiritual victory. The Reformation Study Bible* is consistent with this interpretation:

Christ fulfills all the promises of God to us, and all our confidence in God’s promises must come from our trust in Jesus Christ as a person whom we know and can rely on.

The Dictionary of Bible Themes* has a long section about “Divine Promises” which begins:

The promises of God reveal his particular and eternal purposes to which he is unchangeably committed and upon which believers can totally depend. These promises are, however, conditional upon obedience on the part of believers.

God’s promises are irrevocable

He is absolutely trustworthy Nu 23:19 See also Tit 1:2; Heb 6:13-18

He is unchanging Ps 110:4; Mal 3:6-7; Jas 1:17-18

He has the power and will to fulfill his promises Isa 55:11 See also Ro 4:21

He is faithful in keeping all his promises Jos 21:45; Jos 23:14-15; 1Ki 8:56; Ps 145:13; Heb 10:23

His promises stem from his goodness and glory 2Pe 1:3-4

God may confirm his promises with an oath Ge 22:15-18 See also Ge 26:3; Isa 45:23; Am 6:8; Am 8:7

But what is meant by “yes and amen?” At the blog The River Walk we read the following:

2 Corinthians 1:20 (Yes And Amen)

For all of God’s promises have been fulfilled in Christ with a resounding “Yes!” And through Christ, our “Amen” (which means “Yes”) ascends to God for his glory. (2 Corinthians 1:20)

Read: Job 23:1 – 27:23, 2 Corinthians 1:12 – 2:11, Psalm 41:1-13, Proverbs 22:5-6

[all of the listed passages appear at the above link]

Relate: Depending on who is counting there is roughly three thousand to thirty-five hundred promises made by God in the Bible. Granted, many of them are situational, person specific, and time limited, but that is a minority. Even if more than half were to fall into one of these categories, we have well over a thousand remaining. A significant number of God’s promises are “If… then…” promises. For example, IF we keep our mind focused on Him THEN God has promised to give us perfect peace. (Isaiah 26:3) Some might complain that all of these are conditional. Well duh. I for one am glad. I wouldn’t want to be living in perfect peace if my mind keeps wandering off in sinful directions. I would rather have a divine discontent that would force me to repent.

Even with these conditional promises, it is important to remember that all scripture, especially the Word of God, is authoritative and infallible. What we mean by that is first that scripture has the right and the power to be our authority in life. We have a responsibility to order our life based on its teachings. The second half of that, infallible, means that scripture cannot fail. When we live based on its rules of faith and conduct it will not, it cannot fail us. In other words, when we hold up our IF part of the promise, the THEN is a guarantee. You can bank on it. It is yes and amen. That is my promise to you.

React: So what are some of God’s promises? There are so many, it is hard to limit it, but here are my top 20(ish)

1. God will always be with us wherever we go (Joshua 1:9) even to the end of time. (Matthew 28:20)
2. God will never leave us or forsake us. (Hebrews 13:5)
3. God cares for us. (1 Peter 5:7)
4. I am justified freely by God’s grace (Romans 3:24) that I have access to (Romans 5:2) and that is sufficient (2 Corinthains 12:9)
5. The incomprehensible peace of God will guard our hearts and minds. (Philippians 4:7)
6. If I love and am called by God, Then all things work for my good. (Romans 8:28)
7. If I ask, Then God will provide. (James 4:2)
8. If I resist the devil, Then he will run away. (James 4:7)
9. Nothing can separate me from God’s love. (Romans 8:35)
10. If I am God’s sheep (I hear and follow Him), Then nothing can snatch me from His (Father and Son) hand. (John 10:27-29)
11. The Holy Spirit will help me to pray effectively. (Romans 8:26-27)
12. God will not lie to me because He cannot lie. (Titus 1:2)
13. The Holy Spirit will lead me into all truth (John 16:3) and give me the right words to say. (Mark 13:11)
14. God will supply all my needs. (Philippians 4:19)
15. If I sow, Then I will reap. (Galatians 6:7)
16. If I labor in the Lord, Then it will not be fruitless. (1 Corinthians 15:58)
17. If I approach the throne of grace, Then I will receive mercy and find grace to help in my time of need. (Hebrews 4:16)
18. I have an inheritance. (Ephesians 1:14)
19. I am being transformed into God’s image. (Romans 8:29, 2 Corinthians 3:17)
20. Christ is in me. (Colossians 1:27)

Finally, the IVP New Testament Commentary affirms:

…God’s faithfulness in and through Jesus was preached by Paul without any wavering or inconsistency, so that the consistency of his message ensured the consistent character of his motives and actions. As the Corinthians themselves could verify, there was no “yes” and “no” about the Son whom Paul and his colleagues preached. His consistency in the greater matters ensured his reliability in the comparatively lesser matters.

Music resource: Click the link above for the River Walk blog, or listen to Your Promises by Elevation Worship at this link.


*Click the “Study This” tab for this verse at BibleGateway.com

 

 

September 8, 2015

Old Testament Provides Examples of What Not To Do

Today we pay a return visit to Juli Camarin at JCBlog. The article is long, but there is good insight here. Click the title below to read at source and look around the rest of the website.

A Textbook Example of What Not To Do

Do you ever stumble across an odd statement while reading your Bible and think, Are you kidding me?

This happened to me this morning. I was reading the account in Numbers where Moses struck the rock and water came out. This account is actually the second time in Israelite history this event has occurred—and check this out—it happened at the exact same place as before: Meribah, which means “quarreling.”

The first account of getting water from the rock was shortly after the Israelites were delivered from Egypt. But the second account that gave me pause happened a generation later. Same place, same situation, but this time this generation had grown up in the desert and grumbled and complained to Moses about not having water.

This is what they said:

“If only we had died when our brothers fell dead before the Lord! Why did you bring the Lord’s community into this wilderness, that we and our livestock should die here? Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to this terrible place? It has no grain or figs, grapevines or pomegranates. And there is no water to drink!” (Numbers 20:3b-5).

Sounds like a classic rant, doesn’t it?

“We’re going to die of thirst!”
“It would have been a lot better to die when our parents died!”
“Moses, admit it…you’re trying to kill us!”

The Israelites had fallen into a textbook example of a loose tongue backed by charged emotions…I know I’ve been there…(just ask my husband).

Here are the laments that stopped me cold: “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to this terrible place? It has no grain or figs, grapevines or pomegranates. And there is no water to drink!” (Numbers 20:5).

That is an odd statement coming from a people who grew up in the wilderness eating quail and manna. Of course, there are no grains, figs, grapevines, or pomegranates because they are wandering in the desert!

Come to think of it, when had they ever had figs, grapes, or pomegranates? And why were they complaining to Moses about there not being any at Meribah? It’s the wilderness after all! Makes me scratch my puzzled head:

  • Do you know where there are figs, grapes and pomegranates? Egypt.
  • Do you know who came from Egypt? Their parents.
  • Do you know why that entire generation died in the desert? Because they were faithless.

Their parents’ generation was a textbook example of what not to do. They grumbled, complained, and continually tested God. But you know what? Let’s cut them some slack because they grew up as slaves and didn’t know any better.

But their children, oh, their children should have known better! They were never slaves, as they had always been free.

They had always lived under God’s provision. He went before them in a pillar of fire. He fed them for forty years. He protected them from every single enemy that tried to wipe them off the face of the earth. And most amazingly, during their entire time in the desert, their clothing and shoes never wore out!

This generation was familiar with the miraculous ways that God provides. On top of that, they had this amazing promise from God of a permanent home in Canaan. This was their time to shine!

And yet their main complaint was about their lack of figs, grapevines, or pomegranates…echoing their parents. How disappointing!

Don’t get me wrong—there is nothing wrong with knowing where you come from and remembering the trials and situation you’ve survived to become who you are. It is part of your story and is therefore worth sharing.

But sharing becomes dangerous if we use those things as an anchor to keep us chained to our past rather than walking full of faith into the unknown with the knowledge that the future is full of God’s promises waiting to be unlocked.

Here is an important truth: God will be faithful to you regardless of whatever situation you presently find yourself. So why not trust Him to lead you through it?

This is where I truly believe the Israelites went wrong. They were longing for something in the past, and they kept looking back to what was known rather than looking forward to what was promised!

God was angry with them because they could never quite accept that He had a good plan even though it was unfamiliar to them within their life experiences up until that point. Because His plan was unknown, the Israelites clung to what they remembered and taught their children to do the same, and they all bought into it—hook, line, and sinker.

The Book of Hebrews calls this behavior disobedient unbelief! (Heb. 3:18-19).

So here they are in the exact same place as their parents when they came out of slavery and they are facing the exact same problem. But instead of remembering how God provided water from the rock for their parents’ generation, they longed for figs, grapes, and pomegranates. In other words, they yearned for Egypt, even though that meant slavery.

I call this behavior insane! I read this and thought, Are you kidding me?

They remembered their bondage in Egypt through a different lens than the reality of what actually was. Slowly throughout the years, this fantasy became preferable to wandering in the desert. But the real tragedy in all of this is that their disobedience and hardness of heart blinded them to the real freedom God desired to give them in the future.

Imagine what would have happened if the older generation had only focused on what they were looking forward to: if they spoke about the Promised Land and how it flowed with milk and honey reminded each other that God had promised that land to Abraham. They would have convinced themselves that God would be faithful in bringing them into that land.

I imagine that their children would have shown up in Meribah and announced that this was the last water stop before Jericho! (Oh, the irony, as there was no water anywhere!).

But the entire generation that wandered and died in the desert only spoke of Egypt. They spoke so well of it that their children held onto the hope of having figs, grapes, and pomegranates from a master’s table rather than having their own land, their own vineyards, and God’s best for them. Sadly, this is true because they had never been taught any better!

Friends, we need to evaluate our own lives:

  • Why are we clinging to the past?
  • Why are we focused on our solutions to our problem rather than on the faithfulness of God in the midst of our problems?
  • When was the last time we spent a moment reflecting on the promises found in scripture? And if we know them, do we really believe them?

From the example of the Israelites, we see how harmful this type of thinking is! Not only did it keep them out of the rest God planned to bring to them (Heb. 4:6) it also taught their children to do the same! And the scary thing is that we still behave like this!

  • How many of us are resting in God’s promises, actually resting, which means at peace in the midst of turmoil?
  • How many of us are confident about the future, even when the past and present are less than ideal?
  • How many of us are drowning in circumstances instead of looking to the author of solutions?

If the Israelites are the textbook example of what not to do, then let’s learn from their example and try something different.

March 22, 2014

On Asking God, “Why?”

There are always new readers here, so I want to again recommend the devotional website that is regularly the place where I begin my day. I try to make it my ‘first click’ once the computer is fully booted up, but often there are distractions. The site is Daily Encouragement and the authors are Stephen and Brooksyne Weber.

Normally we don’t do a lot of stories or illustrations here. There are devotional writers who do that, but I try to either find or write pieces which go straight to exposition of the text. But sometimes a contemporary example of an individual, couple, family or church working through the principle that the text teaches us can bring the text to life. Sometimes we need to see the text being lived out. This article appeared at Daily Encouragement as Why Me Lord?

“Don’t call me Naomi,” she told them. “Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter” (Ruth 1:20).

“See to it that …no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many” (Hebrews 12:15).

…We all bear burdens, some large and some small. Last fall an Amish family in our area was traveling along in their horse and buggy when they heard what sounded like a firecracker. They made it home but found out the sound they thought a firecracker was a gun shot fired at their horse. Somehow they made it home but the horse died before the vet arrived. The shooter did it because he thought it was funny. I suppose since I have given a lot of consideration in the last several weeks to the Romans 1 portion of Scripture I consider the phrase, “They invent ways of doing evil” (Romans 1:30). His trial here in Lancaster County will be held in April. Of course such a reckless act could have very easily physically harmed any member of the family as well.

As a pastor, situations like this are among the greatest challenges we have when attempting to minister to the family and loved ones. Many of us have had situations in our lives where we have uttered a deeply felt “Why me Lord?” I’m not speaking of the many trite situations where we are inconvenienced in some manner or things just aren’t going our way. Really, these situations amount to mere grumbling if we honestly examine our hearts!

We want to draw your attention to a song…provided after our message today that speaks of God’s faithfulness in the deepest of trials. Brian Doerkson sings a stirring song he wrote after the birth of his son born with special needs. He and his wife have six children and both of his sons were born with a severe form of autism.

In our previous church in New England we had a member whose little daughter was backed over by a service truck in her own driveway and died. These are the “Why me Lord?” experiences that test the very limits of our faith in God who is good. I myself have had to deal with a few situations like this in my own life and so have many of you.

The severity of the testing may vary among Christians but the grace of God is all-sufficient to meet every affliction we have. Annie Johnson, a woman orphaned at a very young age and severely crippled by rheumatoid arthritis by the time she was a teen-ager, wrote the following poem set to music:

“He giveth more grace when the burdens grow greater,
He sendeth more strength when the labors increase;
to added affliction He addeth His mercy,
to multiplied trials, His multiplied peace.”

Simply put, the grace of God more than matches the depth of our need.

The best step I have found in dealing with these troubling situations is to humbly acknowledge, “I don’t know why,” get my focus off the situation (which will eventually lead to bitterness), and focus on the character of God. He can turn the situation around or He may be shaping my character in ways that can only come about in times of difficulty.

Naomi had great loss. Her husband and two sons had died. She expresses her deep hurt and confusion in our daily text with these heart-felt words, “The Almighty has made my life very bitter.” But the little book of Ruth ends with a contented grandma holding an ancestor to Jesus. As people of faith we believe that “in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).

Today if you are dealing with a situation that prompts bitterness may you recall Naomi’s story and remember the powerful truth in our second daily text, “See to it that …no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.”

Father, when burdens increase and answers don’t come I have a choice to let a bitter root grow up or to remain firmly rooted in You. Focusing solely on my troubles is sure to germinate doubt, fear and unbelief. But when I clothe myself in the spiritual armor You provide I have a powerful defense against the enemy; I can stand firm against his evil schemes. Though he plots evil You plan my eternal good. We are cautioned repeatedly in Scripture that we will have many troubles, but that we should take heart because You help us to overcome them. Father, though You’ve proven Yourself over and over I ask for grace to trust You even more.  Amen.

November 9, 2013

Practical Christian Living: Walking With God

Walking With God from Sermonview dot com

Last week we shared a short excerpt from David Murray’s excellent book, Jesus on Every Page. Today, I happened to visit David’s blog at HeadHeartHand.org and discovered the piece which follows here. There isn’t a key scripture verse today, you need to look up the references. You are strongly encouraged to read this reprint from an article David did for a Reformed periodical, at source, where it appeared as Walking With God In Everyday Life.

The Bible says that “the Lord was with” Abraham, Joseph, David, and Hezekiah. We’re also told that Enoch and Noah “walked with God.” These are two sides of the one coin, two perspectives on the same experience of God’s special presence with His people.

This was a gracious experience. Humanity had severed itself from God by sin, but God in mercy came down to humanity again to reconcile, to re-establish, to re-connect, and to re-commune. These were all sinners separated from God by sin, and distant from God by nature. Yet God drew near to them, drew them to Himself, and filled them with His own presence. By God’s gift of faith in the coming Messiah, these Old Testament believers experienced forgiveness of their sin and God’s love shed abroad in their hearts by the Holy Spirit given to them. The Lord who had been against them was now with them.

This was a spiritual experience. If you looked at Enoch or David you would not have seen another physical figure with them. God was not with them physically. He was with them spiritually. By His indwelling Holy Spirit, God connected and communed with these men. The “withness” was a spiritual “withness.”

This was a personal experience. It wasn’t “the force” that was with them, but a person. It was not some impersonal power but someone with a character, a personality, a will, an ability to communicate, etc. As such, there was a sharing of personal thoughts, feelings, plans, hopes, etc. There was conversation between the Lord and those He was with. We don’t know how much the Old Testament believers understood of God being three persons, but they certainly knew a personal God.

This was a transforming experience. God cannot be with someone without it making a difference in their lives. Enoch and Noah stood out from everyone else in their generation. Heathen kings and officials, like Abimelech and Potiphar, noticed a difference in those that God was with (Gen. 21:22; 26:28; 39:3). God’s presence produced inner qualities of holiness, peace, contentment, and courage. In the Old Testament it was also associated with outward prosperity and success (e.g. Gen. 39:2-3; 1 Sam. 18:14; 2 Kings 18:7).

This was an enjoyable experience. This was not some unwanted and terrifying invasion of these men’s lives. No, this was the God who was their best friend, coming to walk with them through life’s journey. What a wonderful experience, especially when these men were often so otherwise alone in their spiritual pilgrimage!

This was a varied experience. Though God never leaves any believer in whom he has come to live, there are times when he withdraws the sense of His presence, the feeling of his nearness. For example, we’re told that God left Hezekiah to test him (2 Chron. 32:21). That cannot mean  God was with him one day and gone the next. Rather, it means that at this time Hezekiah did not have the conscious sense of God’s presence. God was there, but he was silent and still. Yes, the Spirit could be grieved in the Old Testament too, and such painful times taught these men how much they needed God’s active presence in their lives.

It was an everywhere experience. It was not confined to the Temple or Tabernacle, but God was with His people in building projects, in prison, on the throne, and on the farm. Wherever they went, whatever time of the day, they could enjoy God’s companionship. They could talk to Him, sing to Him, worship Him, enjoy Him wherever, whenever, whatever.

If Old Testament believers experienced this divine “withness,” this divine presence, how much more should we New Testament believers, who see Christ more clearly, who have the fullness of the Spirit’s indwelling, and who have so many other helps in our lives, families, and churches?

Today’s graphic is available as a banner in various sizes from SermonView.com — click the image to see variations. Graphics are also available as slides for preaching series and both traditional Bible imagery and contemporary designs are offered.

August 29, 2013

In Awe of God

I love the name of this blog: Warning! Sleep Talking Zone.  This is a recent post by Christy that appeared there titled God Astounds Me.  I encourage you to visit around this blog; what I’ve seen makes me want to read more of this writer.

Psalm 51 is a beautiful picture of God’s mercy, love and grace.  The entire chapter is a prayer of confession and repentance.  It is a reminder that even the mightiest of us can fall into sin.  However, when we humble ourselves, confess our sins and repent, we find compassion, forgiveness… mercy.

David was confronted by Nathan, a prophet of God, about the adultery he had committed with Bathsheba.  If you are familiar with the biblical account, then you know David was also guilty of murder, for he had Bathsheba’s husband killed to cover up the adultery.  David was God’s chosen, God’s anointed.  At some point in his relationship with God, God called David a “man after My heart”, and yet we read in Psalm 51 the way David had grieved his God through sinful acts.

Each time I read this psalm, I am moved by the brokenness, the sincerity and even the confidence with which David approaches God.  How could he go before a holy God with such confidence after sinning?  It’s because he knew his God.  He knew that God is a loving God, slow to anger and not willing that any should perish.  He knew that God desired their relationship to be restored.  David had seen God’s faithfulness time and time again throughout his life.  He knew that this breach in his relationship with God was because of his own actions, not because of any unfaithfulness on God’s part.  He knew that if he was willing to humble himself and pray, and seek God’s face that God would be faithful yet again and forgive him!  Does this not cause you to be in awe of God?  Just think – a holy, righteous God willing to forgive our sins each and every time we are willing to submit to Him!  God astounds me!

There are many people who consider God to be a bully.  They think that He is an arrogant tyrant who smugly demands dominance over us.  This mindset stems from a rebellious spirit and a prideful mind!  God IS God.  He IS holy.  He IS the ruler of the heaven and earth.  And yes, every knee WILL bow and every tongue WILL confess that He IS LORD (Romans 14:11).  BUT – as I stated above, He is a compassionate God, slow to anger and not willing that anyone should perish.  He has gone above and beyond to prove His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).  I know I frequently site that verse, but it is because it is the clearest, simplest way to share the gospel.

My prayer is for those who are lost – meaning those who have not called on the name of the Lord Jesus (Romans 10:13) – to realize that the love of God is extended to them, and for them to humbly accept it.  My prayer is also for followers of Christ to remember that when we fall back into sin, God is still faithful to forgive us if we confess and repent (1 John 1:9).  A relationship with God is a daily, deliberate choice.  It’s not a one-time decision.  It is something that we must continually choose (I’m talking about the relationship, NOT salvation. I don’t believe we can lose our salvation, but that’s for another post).   “Submit yourselves, then, to God; resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” James 4:7

Below is a beautiful musical rendition of Psalm 51 by one of my favorite groups, Sons of Korah. I pray that today Psalm 51 will be your prayer, as it is mine.

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