Christianity 201

August 18, 2016

Passing Through the Valley of Baca

Andy ElmesI couldn’t help but take a second look at the passage below several times, as UK devotional writer Andy Elmes, to whom I am subscribed, has spent over a week in these three verses. To get these sent to you by email, go to Great Big Life and click on Breakfast of Champions.

Psalm 84:5-7 (NKJV)
Blessed are those whose strength is in you, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage. As they pass through the Valley of Baca, they make it a place of springs; the autumn rains also cover it with pools. They go from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion.

August 9:

I have been thinking of these verses a lot recently and have been considering how pilgrimage affects so many areas of our lives; also how it is not a bad thing but, more often than not, a God-designed thing for our lives. Here are some thoughts for you.

What is it to pilgrimage, you may ask? The word pilgrimage means ‘to journey’, so when God speaks of pilgrimage in this Psalm He is saying, “Blessed is the person who sets his heart on journeying”, and that is so true, especially when it comes to our walk or journeying with God. “Blessed [daily] is the person who sets his heart on journeying with the Lord”. Other faiths in the world have a spiritual pilgrimage mentality but theirs are always to physical places and landmarks, like Mecca and Lourdes, but it is not to be that way for us. Our pilgrimage is to a person – the person of Jesus – ever towards a deeper relationship with Him.

Christianity is not meant to be something or somewhere you totally arrive at instantly. Yes, when we believe, we receive from God everything we are going to get (of His fullness we have received, John 1:16). But we are called to spend the rest of our days (till we appear before Him in Zion) journeying into everything He has given us, to understanding and embracing all that He has done and given to us in Christ. God wants us to “keep on movin'”.  We are not to be parked vehicles, but ever-moving ones that walk, like Abraham, into all the promises and intentions of God for our lives.

So, our pilgrimage (journey) does not end when we reach a historical landmark, because if it did, how sad would that be. You would be left thinking, “What next?”. No, God commits to walk with us each and every day on this pilgrimage that He has called us to and every day it gets better and better. It’s when we set our hearts to journey with the Lord that we learn all that we need to and He is revealed to us so we know Him closer and more intimately as the miles of our days pass by.

Think about those two disciples that walked with the freshly risen Jesus on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24). For some reason Jesus had not allowed them to recognise Him, but appeared as someone they did not know. It was as they walked (journeyed) with Him that He made the mysteries of the scripture easily understood, and then it was during the journey that He revealed Himself to them. As we set our hearts to journeying with the Lord He helps us to daily understand His mysteries and daily reveals Himself to us, as He did to those two disciples, and He causes our hearts to burn within us as theirs did…

August 10:

…This verse then makes a strange statement that caught my attention: “as they pass through the valley of Baca they make it a place of springs”. I wondered where Baca was and after a short search discovered that no one really knows where this valley was, but most live by the interpretation rather than a physical place: its most common interpretation is ‘valley of weeping’. We all, at one time or another on our pilgrimage, will go through valleys or ‘times of weeping’ but God promises, as we journey (stay) with Him through these seasons, He will cause them to be places of refreshing springs.

When you walk daily with Jesus He causes life and joy to break out in the saddest or seemingly driest places. He causes rivers to flow in what are the dessert times of our life. He does not call us to avoid or by-pass these valleys but walks with us through them – remember He promised, “I will never leave you or forsake you”. He is not a ‘good-time God’, only there for the good bits. Rather He remains a good God in all the seasons we experience on this pilgrimage called life. Remember, David in Psalm 23 said, “though I walk through the valley”. He included valleys in his great ‘pilgrimage with God’ Psalm because he knew we all go through them! …

… He is the God that causes springs to flow in dry places with us, in us and through us!

August 11:

Psalm 84 teaches us that journeying with the Lord causes your life to go from strength to strength, not from strength to weakness. As we dare to daily journey with Him He causes us to become strong where we are weak and fully developed in the areas of our life that we are not. Each stage of our pilgrimage causes our lives to be enhanced and empowered for the road and journey that still lies ahead. Remember what we learn about David’s pilgrimage when it came to the moment he needed to take down a giant (Goliath): his life was prepared and ready, his life was more than strong enough. Why? Because the pilgrimage (God-journey) of his life had brought him to, and through, the defeat of bears and lions; Goliath was the next logical victory and he was destined to win that encounter too.

It was his ongoing journey that made him strong for what God had for him next, and so will yours as you daily commit to journey with the Lord; through things that may seem big He builds you up for the victories that lie further ahead. As the disciples walked with Jesus over the three years of their discipleship they went from strong to stronger in their ability, knowledge and confidence. We don’t have just three years: we have a lifetime! As you commit to walk with Him daily, as they did, your life will also go from strength to strength too.

August 12

…We love the destination and the arriving bit. God loves the journey just as much, because in the journey He does a whole lot of stuff in us which is always good for our long-term life. He is looking at the book of your life, not your present chapter. Let’s face it, when it comes to the promises of God and seeing them manifest in our lives we are all like a bunch of kids in the back of the car on the way to a summer holiday.

Independent of whether we are on route to Torquay or Disneyland, the question that comes from the kids in the back is always the same – come on, you know it, you have either heard it or were the one that said it when you were younger. Yeah, that’s the one: “ARE WE THERE YET?” Kids do not appreciate journeys: they like instant arrivals! Meanwhile, the parent is enjoying the journey (except for the kids keeping on) and the journey is actually producing patience and appreciation in the life of the kids (when they finally get there they will love it).

God has promised we will arrive – and arrive we will, but we, like the kids in a car, need to remember that God is not in a hurry. He knows that the journey can produce a whole lot of good and effective stuff in us that would never be produced if we had a Tardis-type experience (instant arrival) with our destinies. It is often on the journey that we learn and gain valuable things like appreciation. When you have journeyed toward somewhere you really appreciate it when you get there. One common example would be if you save up for something: you appreciate it a lot more than if you put it on the credit card! Journeying towards something really does cause appreciation and value…

August 15:

The journey will create appreciation. It will also create faith as you continually trust in God while still on route. When we talk of faith we should always look around for its best friend, patience. I like faith more and would like to hang out with it on its own! The problem is that God most often sends them as a team, because patience produces a lot, too – and together they produce greatness. Let’s think about the power of patience this morning (the art of waiting for something).

Galatians 5:22–23 (NIV)
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

Remember, patience is a fruit of the Spirit not a gift – it is grown, rather than given. Like any fruit it grows slowly, not suddenly appears.

Hebrews 6:12 (NIV)
We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.

The Bible tells us to imitate people of faith and patience – not just those who are full of faith, but those who can trust God and wait for His perfect timing. When we choose to walk in faith and patience we will inherit everything God has promised. Remember, God works in the delay and the things He has promised are so worth waiting for. Keep away from shortcuts that produce look-a-likes, and hang out for the genuine which comes from the very hand of God. Hey, to be honest with you, patience was never my favorite fruit – I would have loved for God to give it to me as an instant download! Trouble is, He would not. Why? Because He knows that patience does us good, and when we have it and mix it with our faith incredible things start to happen.

 

March 7, 2012

Living in Two Worlds

This poem, Pilgrim Reflections is from the blog Pilgrim Song by David W. Fisher:

Pilgrim Reflections

Reflections as I close another day on life’s pilgrimage:

The journey’s long, the going tough
And oft’ the pathway’s very rough
But sovereign grace will be enough
‘Til I get home.

The storms may rage, the billows roll
And fears assail my troubled soul
But I won’t let them take their toll
While here I roam.

The Lord is strong and holds my hand
And while I sojourn in this land
A member of the pilgrim band
I’m nearing home.

Encouraged by my brother’s prayers
That lift me o’er my daily cares
Every burden Christ now bears
‘Til I get home.

When I arrive on heaven’s shore
The cares of life concern no more
I’ll praise my God and Master…for
I’m finally home.

David Warren Fisher, 2007.

What does that home look like?  At Right From the Heart Ministries, we read this:

And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.”John 14:3

What do you suppose heaven is like? I think most of us have our preconceived ideas about it to some extent.

The most common image is a place of clouds where people wear white robes and halos, and do nothing except play harps with goofy smiles on their faces. Well, that certainly is NOT what it is like. What a bore!

But, what is heaven really like? Jesus spoke very little of it, but He did say this, “In My Father’s house are many dwelling places. I go to prepare a place for you.” What is heaven like? It’s like home, with a loving Father. It’s a place of security, a permanent place to live, and a place of refuge. A place where there is no sorrow, no pain, but rejoicing and praise for our Heavenly Father. There’s a longing within all of us to find home. Heaven is like home with a Father and loved ones as they’re supposed to be.

How can you be sure you’ll get to that home? Is there a map or rules to follow? No, it comes through a person, Jesus Christ. As He talked about a heavenly home, He added that He is the only way for us to truly come home.

Finally, Gina Han, writing at Gracepoint Devotions looks at what it means to live here, but as Citizens of Heaven.  This devotional is based on Philippians 3:12-21, where Paul is talking about those who live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Click the reference before reading what follows.

What are the characteristics of  “those who live as enemies of the cross of Christ”?  What are the characteristics of those whose “citizenship is in heaven”?  Which group do I belong to and how does my life show this?

The characteristics of those who live as enemies of the cross of Christ are that they live for their appetites (“their god is their stomach”), they take pride in dishonorable things (“their glory is in their shame”), and they live for the rewards of this world (“their mind is on earthly things”). These are what it means to live as an enemy of the cross of Christ, because Jesus on the cross is the exact opposite of these things. It’s Jesus denying and emptying Himself of all His own rights for the sake of saving others. It’s Jesus denying his own appetites and physical desires; it’s Jesus choosing the honorable values of sacrifice and humble obedience to God whereas an enemy of the cross would take pride in stepping on others to push himself to the top, or would take pride in using others to satisfy his own desires; it’s Jesus becoming obedient even to death on a cross because of the “joy set before him” – choosing the eternal rewards of heaven knowing the true joy that awaited him over the fleeting and temporary counterfeit rewards of earth.

Apostle Paul is also an example of one whose citizenship is in heaven. He says that he “presses on” to fulfill the purpose for which Christ redeemed him. He says that he forgets what is behind and strains toward what is ahead – “to win the prize for which God has called him heavenward in Christ Jesus”. Apostle Paul is all about citizenship in heaven. Through all of his imprisonments, floggings, shipwrecks, labor, toil, going without food, water and sleep, and the daily pressure of his concern for all the churches – he said, “However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me – the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace,” (Acts 20:24), and he was able to indeed say at the end of his earthly life: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing,” (2 Timothy 4:7-8).

We don’t have many of these kinds of persecutions that Apostle Paul faced, in these times and in this country. But we do have the gods of this age that seek to blind us to the reality of heaven and lull us into living for this earthly life alone – for the comfort-seeking, pleasure-seeking, self-aggrandizement and self-centered life that is lifted up as glorious, when really in light of heaven and in light of the cross of Jesus, this is shameful. That’s the kind of life that would stand in stark opposition to the cross of Christ. But how often and how prone I am to actually live as an enemy of the cross many moments throughout the day, when I give into my self-centered perspectives or emotions about something, instead of submitting them under God’s perspective and God’s Word.

One aspect in which this plays out is that as Apostle Paul thinks about his citizenship in heaven, he does all he can to take hold of the purpose God has for him. I imagine that he often thought about seeing his Lord face to face on that day, and longed to say that he lived his life for the purpose Jesus had for him, the purpose for which Jesus took up the cross. I long for this; this is what I strive for and strain toward. But how many times am I tempted to think thoughts like, who am I kidding, how can I live this kind of life of love and joyful sacrifice which is His purpose for me when I am just full of my own sins and insecurities and fears; or I need to go through a shaping and pruning process in terms of my character flaws and sins, and I feel hopeless that I will ever change and be able to fulfill God’s purpose for my life.

But those are the times that I can actively choose to say I will look ahead to my citizenship in heaven, where there will be no more sin, where I will finally experience God having completed His work in me, instead of throwing in the towel, following an earthly perspective that says I should not need to struggle with myself in this life but be physically and emotionally comfortable. That kind of thinking is still centered around me – what I can and cannot do; what I can and cannot have; how I can or cannot change; instead of a surrender and obedience to a life of denying myself, a life of the cross. As I push through these kinds of doubts and fears, daily I am committed and challenged by the example of Apostle Paul to strain toward what is ahead – my citizenship in heaven.