Christianity 201

May 7, 2019

Fix Your Eyes on the Goal

by Russell Young

It is often said that without a compass, people in a forest would often travel in circles. Without focus on an end-point, journey toward a goal becomes confused. Certainly, without clear focus and committed determination, objectives can become lost or altered.

With limited understanding and purpose choice-making is often based on the immediate. This truth is evident from the Israelites while on the Exodus. They had experienced slavery in Egypt with its cruelty, but as they traveled the wilderness, they had lost motivation and the reality of slavery, and at times even desired to return to it. They became focused on the immediate not on the purpose or promise of their journey.

Would you have been like them? They walked, walked, and walked. Day followed day. The rocky crag before them was no different than the one they had just passed. There was nothing on their horizon to stimulate hope. Month followed month. They often became thirsty through lack of water. They complained and grumbled. The wilderness provided no source of food and they lived on the Lord’s provision of manna for forty years. Would you have grumbled at the monotony of diet over such a long time, or would you have rejoiced that your needs had been provided? Would you have remembered the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, garlic, and fish that supplemented your diet in Egypt? After time slavery had become a distant memory; however, eating was an ever-present occurrence. Have you every groused about having the same dinner two days in a row?

The Lord was not pleased with those he had brought out of bondage. They did not appreciate him or his accommodation. He hadn’t provided enough. They wanted more and expected more. “They despised the pleasant land; they did not believe his promise. They grumbled in their tents and did not obey the LORD. So he swore to them with uplifted hand that he would make them fall in the desert.” (Ps 106:24−26)

God does not like grumbling; it demonstrates a lack of faith in him, a lack of trust. The Israelites felt and experienced trials, pressures, and discomfort. Their eyes were consumed with the present and they could not envision “the pleasant land.” To many of them the trials and travel had no purpose. They had surrendered their expectations and had become doubtful of those leading, both God and Moses.

The land to which they were headed and to which believers are headed is not for all; it is for the faithful, for those whose hope is fixed and whose eyes are on the goal. The land is reserved for those who trust enough to feel secure in God when trials come and when wants are not fulfilled, for those who can see beyond the everyday and rest confidently in his promises. Those in him do not need to know the solution for their challenges. They do not need to know where water can be found in the wilderness of life because they are sure that their Lord knows. He knows the need and has a plan; he is to lead, and they are to follow with thanksgiving. “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish.” (Jn 10:27−28) When following is abandoned, so is hope.

Those who will dwell with their Lord are not called to an easy and pleasant journey through life; in fact, they have been reminded of the need to persevere through the mundane, through difficulties, and even through the threat of death itself. “You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what you have promised. For in just a little while, ‘He who is coming will come and not delay. But my righteous one will live by faith.’” (Heb 10:36−38) The righteous will obediently follow their Lord with thanksgiving.

During trials, the passage of time tends to dim hope, but the test of faith and of their hearts was the very purpose of Israel’s journey. Focus must be set on the goal, not on the interruptions to it. At every age believers have had to journey through the wasteland. Their faith will be tested and must be proven. “Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.” (Deut 8:2) God is still testing hearts (1 Thess 2:4; Jas 1:12) to identify those who recognize his sovereignty and to find those who obey his authority. (Heb 5:9) Paul admonished the Philippians, “Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of god without fault in a crooked and depraved generation in which you shine like stars.” (Phil 2:14−15)

Many teachers have neglected to convey the purpose of testing and the need for obedience. Regardless of one’s situation the response during testing must always be to trust and obey. The situation may not be understood but God is always in control and his provision is for his child’s eternal good. “[I]n all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Rom 8:28)

The gospel is not to become person-centered or offering the promise of the abundant life today, but needs to be God-centered and for the achievement of his goals while giving the believer an eternal hope. Concern for life in the immediate reflects the attitudes of the Israelites who had lost sight of their goal and of God and had allowed the day to rule their lives.

All believers are assured to have wilderness experiences where life is “parched” and where there is no water in sight and no visible solution. Answers are promised, but in the challenges, focus needs to be set on the coming glory. The day should not callous hearts since the Lord journeys with each one committed to him. The faithful are only called to obediently follow and to trust his leadership. Like the Israelites, those who grumble and complain or go their own way, will not find relief from the wilderness nor a place in the Promised Land.

Russell Young’s column appears here on alternate Tuesdays. His book, Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay, You’re Okay” Really? is available in print and eBook in the U.S. through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.

To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link. There is also an extended article at this link.

June 28, 2013

How an Eleven Day Trip Took 40 Years

I once heard a Bible teacher state that Deuteronomy 1:2 — a verse describing Israel’s wilderness wanderings — is “the most tragic verse in the Bible.”

In many of our translations the verse appears in parenthesis, almost as an afterthought or a footnote in an era before footnotes:

(It takes eleven days to go from Horeb to Kadesh Barnea by the Mount Seir road.)

The Wycliffe Bible Commentary notes:

For Israel, the journey to Canaan by this route proved to be of forty years duration. (p. 157)

The International Bible Commentary says the verse’s inclusion

…may be a contrast between the eleven days required and the forty years taken. (p. 260)

A year ago Bill Berry wrote on this passage in the context of how Deuteronomy is a restatement of things already covered in previous books, but how verse two is a microcosm of how God sometimes has to restate things covered in our lives so that we will get it…

Okay, now we’re taken by our chronological Bible read into the “book of redundancy,” as I call it. … Deuteronomy, … which, when I’ve read it in the past, always seemed to be quite a bit repetitive from a lot of what was already covered in Leviticus and Numbers. Actually, I know that the word “Deuteronomy” comes from the Greek “deutero” [second] and “nomos” [law]; so, … the title for this book means a “restatement of the law;” and that’s exactly what Moses is writing here, an historical recounting and restatement of “The Law” for the posterity of the people, as well as a chronicling of their trek through the wilderness in God’s purification process of these very fallible and forgetful children.

And it is this latter reason for Moses writing Deuteronomy which has captured my application attention… God repeating, via Moses, all of this information about why He turned an 11 day trek into one which lasted 40 years was worthy material for His people (which includes me). They needed to get it – AGAIN; and so do I. Therefore, it’s worthy enough for me to pay close attention to this Book as I read through it one more time, trying to glean what God has for me by reading what He had Moses write for the Israelites.

I’m certainly no different than God’s stiff-necked and recalcitrant Old Covenant Jews. I can so easily go into pity-party mentality and grumble about my circumstances. I too often tend to see things my way rather than seek out – or just simply trust – life as God’s way. I wander though life with a self-inflated attitude when my Savior keeps saying over and over to me, in a personally redundant paraphrase of Luke 9: 23, [God’s Spirit speaking to me Christ’s thoughts] … “Bill, if you want to follow after Me as My disciples, you just have to deny yourself, trust me in all of our travels through life, and simply follow Me.”

But like the Israelites, wandering through the desert on the way to God’s promised-land, do I get it? No, … even though God redundantly keeps trying to show me this truth and message of obedience in so many different ways, I’m coming to believe that God needs to be very redundant in repeating His message of truth through His word over and over and over so that people like me can wander in the wilderness of life and die to our sin nature, giving us life and direction, through God’s grace and truth, taught so repetitively in His word.

So, as I read through Deuteronomy … AGAIN, … I’m going to expect that God is going to give me truth after truth after truth for my living just as He was doing through Moses in this Book of repetition for His children, the Israelites. Hopefully, I’ll see those truths and die to self, allowing me to live … in and through God’s truth revealed by His Spirit through His word.

My Prayer Today: … Lord, say it again so that I’ll hear it this time! Amen.