In The End

I wrote yesterday about God’s pre-knowledge of the ups and downs, blessings and tragedies, and Joys and heartaches in our lives. The question then comes, “Why would He allow us to go through these very hard things?”  “Why does He set us on a path when He knows it leads to hardship?” I confess, I’m far from an expert and I certainly can’t read God’s mind, but I can read His Word and glean some things that might help us to understand.

When the Israelites escaped Egypt they rejoiced, yet “on the fifteenth day of the second month [figure about 6 weeks] after they had come out of Egypt . . . the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron” (Ex 16:1,2). They missed the plentiful food of Egypt. So God sent them food – manna. It was their daily diet for forty years (v. 35). After a long steady run of the stuff, they complained, “we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!” (Num 11:6). It became a source of contention for the Hebrew people.

But God knew all this. He knew when He sent Joseph to Egypt to save his family they would become enslaved for four hundred years. He knew that Pharaoh would oppress and abuse them. He knew Moses would be born at a time when Hebrew baby boys were killed. He knew that Mama would make a basket to float him down the river just as Pharaoh’s daughter would bathe in the same river. He knew that Moses would run after he killed an Egyptian for abusing a Hebrew slave. He knew right where to send him where a bush waited. He knew Pharaoh would forbid the Hebrews to leave. He knew they would be pinned between the river and the enemy. He knew they would rebel. He knew they would wander. He knew they would make a golden calf. He knew they would get hungry. He knew they would eventually grow sick of the manna.

He knew all this. Yet He worked in it all. And Moses declared, “He gave you manna to eat in the desert . . . to humble and to test you so that in the end it might go well with you” (Deut 8:16). All of it, from Joseph to the manna was part of God’s plan. God used the manna to humble them and test them and bring them to a place of blessing. And that’s what He’s up to in your life too. In the good, the bad, and the ugly, He’s working to make you useful and usable in His kingdom. He’s working for your good. That season you’re questioning is part of His plan. And His plans never fail. Be encouraged, Beloved, God is up to something. And in the end, it will go well with you.

Hebrews: Outside the Camp

“We’re New Testament Christians, why are we studying the Old Testament? This stuff doesn’t apply to us anymore.” “One reason,” I answered “is because the New Testament writers used it quite a bit in their books and letters.  If we want to understand what they were saying, we need to understand their references.” That’s what we’re going to do in today’s passage.

“The high priest carried the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp” (Heb 13:11). It was Yom Kippur, the most holy day of the Jewish year. The day when the sins of the nation were atoned for. It was a day for fasting and prayer and confession. It was the day that the slate was wiped clean and the people were declared righteous – at least until they sinned again.  The high priest took the blood of the slaughtered animal into the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle/Temple as a sin offering and sprinkled it on the mercy seat of the Lord. The carcass of the animal would be carried outside of the camp/city to be burned because it represented the sin of the people. Sin must not be allowed to remain among God’s holy nation.

The writer makes the new covenant connection in verse 12: “And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through His own blood.” Jesus was the sacrificial animal. Jesus’ blood was sprinkled on the mercy seat of the Lord. And Jesus was crucified and buried outside of the city of Jerusalem because He bore the sin of all humanity. And by His blood, those who believe and receive His atonement are made holy.

An interesting aside here is that the Jewish leaders rejected Jesus and had Him crucified at Golgotha because of His radical message. But by putting Him outside of the city proper they were unknowingly confirming that He was indeed the sacrifice for the sins of the people. Because his original audience was believing Jews, the writer urged them to “go to Him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace He bore,” symbolically rejecting the old ways of Judaism (v. 13).

As believers in Christ, you and I will often have to “go outside the camp” of popular opinion and cultural relevance, even within the church, to live in holiness. But we’re in good company. We’re out there with Jesus. Remember what He said: “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first” (John 15:18).

Oh, and there’s one more reason why we need to study the Old Testament, even as New Testament Christians – because Jesus is all over it and all in it. It’s worth digging into the early texts to know Him better. All of history, including the entire Bible, is His story. It’s the greatest story ever told.

Consider it Pure Joy (part 1)

Check this out – James says that as believers we are to greet every trial as a cause for Joy.  “Consider it pure Joy, my brothers [and sisters], when you face trials of many kinds” (James 1:2). Excuse me? Joy is not my default reaction when life gets hard. I don’t like trials and I’ll bet you don’t either.  But the Bible says that we can have Joy because our trials are not without purpose.  God has a reason for every trial we face.

James follows up our key verse by saying, “Because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:3-4).  We know that we become physically stronger when we work our muscles, and any trainer will tell you that resistance training is the best strengthening exercise.  Our faith becomes stronger when we have opportunities to exercise it as we strain against some resistant force – like a trial.  How will you know that you can trust God if you never have to?  Trials strengthen our faith and lead us into spiritual maturity.

Trials also accomplish God’s wider purposes.  Joseph was hated by his brothers, sold into slavery, falsely accused of rape, and unjustly imprisoned.  But all of those very hard things positioned him to be in the right place at the right time – God’s place and God’s time.  Joseph was used in Egypt to save thousands of lives during the famine, most importantly the life of his own people – the Jews, through whom our Savior, Jesus, would come. Through some pretty hard trials in our life, God moved us back home positioning us for many good blessings including placing me in a great job with the opportunity to further my education – for free.  Trials often become the catalyst for a God-ordained redirection into His good plan.

Our trials prepare us to minister to others.  Paul said, “The Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). I have benefited greatly from the wise counsel and comfort of others who have “been there, done that” and survived.  Their testimony brought me hope and confidence in God and they gave good advice drawn from their own experience.  Perhaps your trial today will give you the wisdom to come alongside someone in a similar situation one day and offer them hope.

This is part one. Part two will post tomorrow.

This is the Way

Hubby and I went into town yesterday to run some errands. But first breakfast at our favorite breakfast spot. When we got to the 3-way intersection by the church, I expected him to take the middle road, knowing where we were headed. He went to the road on the right. I opened my mouth to say that this was the wrong way, but then I remembered that he grew up driving on these backroads and I settled back in my seat. He loves to take alternate routes. Riding with him is an adventure but we always end up in the right place.

After 400 years of enslavement, the Israelites were allowed to leave Egypt and journey to Canaan, the Promised Land. But there would be alternate routes all along the way. If you look at a map, the easiest way would be due east, hugging the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, but God didn’t lead them that was because they would have crossed through Philistine country and faced a fight they were not strong enough to handle. He said, “If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt” (Ex 13:17). So He detoured them to the south toward the Red Sea.

Then he turned them back the way they came. I’m sure they were thinking, “God, what are you doing here? Where are you taking us?” But He said, “Pharaoh will think, ‘The Israelites are wandering around the land in confusion, hemmed in by the desert.’” Thinking he had the upper hand Pharaoh pursued them, but God divided the sea and led the people across on dry ground. Then He closed the waters up over Pharaoh and the Israelite army. And they glorified Him. (Ex 14:1-31).

Of course we know about the detour through the wilderness when the Israelites disobeyed Him, but in the end, they crossed over the Jordan (again in a miraculous way) and into the Promised Land. Even in their sin, God was working to take them where He wanted them to be. Traveling with God is always an adventure. He never directs me the way I expect. But He has never gotten me lost. Every time I think He’s given me a wrong turn it turns out to be a different path to the right place. And when I fail to listen and think I know the way, He guides me back to the place I need to be. He knows every backroad and every detour because He blazed the path long before.  Beloved, you can trust God to lead you well. Whatever path he guides you to, He will always get you Home.

More Than Words

The more tired she is the more Joy fights sleep. I suppose she doesn’t want to miss a thing around her. When she was just a baby I would snuggle her close in the rocking chair and give her her bottle. She would drink just a little, pull away, then immediately complain because she didn’t have her bottle. I’d plug it back in and say, “You’re the one who turned away from it sweetie.” We would repeat this cycle several times until she finally gave up and drifted off.

This little ritual reminds me of people who complain, “I don’t feel God anymore. I don’t think God cares about me. Why does God not love me?” The first thing I ask them is, “What is God saying to you in His Word?” And they answer, “Oh, I haven’t read the Bible in a while – I know I should, I just haven’t felt like it.” DING-DING-DING! They just answered their own question. They don’t “feel” God or think he cares about nor loves them because they have turned away from the very place they find Him.

God gave the Israelites His commandments and His Law so that they would obey Him. But it was about more than just compliance, it was about knowing Him. The closer they lived to the commands of God, the more He revealed Himself to them. They came to know God by knowing and obeying His Words. Moses declared to them, “The word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” (Deut 30:14).

The Word of God has never been more readily available than it is today. The Scriptures are literally at our fingertips, in printed form, electronic media, by audio and video – and in almost every language on earth. You can have it any way you want it. But you have to want it. You have to pick up the book or open the app or pull up the podcast. You have to make God’s Word a priority in your life. The less you read, the less you want to read.  And the converse is true: the more you read, the more you want to read.

The Bible is not just a bunch of stories and rules and words on paper. It is the true and living Word of God (Heb 4:12), inspired and empowered by the Spirit of God (2 Pet 1:20-21) and embodied in Jesus Christ, the Son of God (John 1:14). Have you turned away from the very thing your spirit is craving? Come back to the Bible, Beloved. “These are not just idle words for you, they are your life” (Deut 32:47).

God Will Not Let You Down

When God rescued Israel from Egyptian bondage by opening up the sea and swallowing up their enemies, the Israelites rejoiced. They sang a song exalting God’s strength, salvation, power, majesty, holiness, love, and faithfulness. Then three days later, they were grumbling. They went from rejoicing to griping in THREE DAYS! God had rescued them in a powerful way just 72 hours ago – and they would be grumbling again six weeks later.
I read this account and want to shake my head – why were they so quick to turn from rejoicing to grumbling. Then I look a little closer and see myself in this crowd of grumblers. Oh, how often I forget about God’s goodness and faithfulness yesterday in the difficult moments today. It’s as if the God who rescued me last summer has somehow lost His ability to rescue me again. Or – as I often think – He has grown weary of rescuing me.
Can you relate? I think we’re all guilty of fretting and complaining when things go wrong, forgetting about God’s goodness to us in the past. But doesn’t He always comes through? Read the rest of the story and you’ll find that He provided for the Israelites every step of their journey, with every need that arose, and He brought them safely into the Promised Land. He is the same God with the same power and faithfulness today. He doesn’t grow weaker with age. He doesn’t forget His promises. He doesn’t get weary of helping His children. God was faithful to me last summer—He will be faithful again in my time of need. I know He has been faithful to you in the past – He will not fail you today Beloved. Let’s not be grumblers. Let’s trust God’s track record of faithfulness and goodness. Let’s take our needs to Him and believe that He is still willing and able to meet them. Then we can say with Moses, “Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations. From everlasting to everlasting you are God” (Psalm 90:1,2)

Defense!

My football team lost yesterday. We’re not used to losing. We are winners. It has left a very bitter taste in our mouths. My husband will probably wear all black to church today. Why did we lose? Because we let them into our “house” – our end of the field. But even more so, because we didn’t defend the gate.

Isaiah was a prophet of the Lord to Judah. He continually warned the nation about their sin, idolatry, and disobedience. He prophesied the nation’s fall to Babylon as God’s punishment. But he also implored them to turn from their sin and return to God. He insisted that they guard their lives as fiercely as they guarded their city. The walls around Jerusalem were thick and strong and wide enough for armed sentries to stand guard all around. The troops had a high vantage point so they could see the enemy coming and warn the rest of the city. Immediately they shut and fortified the gates and put all their effort into defending that strategic point. If the enemy ever got past the gate, the city was all but defeated.

Isaiah called for Judah to be strong and “turn back the battle at the gate” (28:6). The defense point was the gate – not their doorstep. They kept the enemy away from their homes and families by keeping them out of the city. In football the gate is not the goal line – it is the 50-yard line. Almost every time the other team crossed the midpoint of the field they steamrolled into the endzone. If we’d never allowed them to get past the fifty-yard line, we would have won. The principle of defending the gate works in war, in football, and our lives.

You and I have to defend our gate. If we wait to battle sinful thoughts and desires after they’ve infiltrated our hearts and minds, we’ve already lost. What is the gate? It’s eyes and ears. It’s what we see and what we hear. No. Wait. The gate goes farther back than that. The gate is our choices – what we choose to see and hear and even what we choose to think about. When we choose well (see Philippians 4:8-9) we shut the gate. When we choose poorly – inappropriate websites, movies, books, t.v. shows, music with sexually explicit lyrics – we swing the gates wide open and leave ourselves with no defense. There’s so much this world throws at us that we can’t choose, but when you can, you need to keep your heart and mind secure with godly things. It’s not a game. Beloved, don’t lose the battle at the gate.

Faith and Fear

If I give my mind just a little rope it will always run into the pit of anxiety and fear. I was very fearful as a child and it stuck with me all my life. “But you’re a Christian,” you say, “and you write often about not giving in to fear.” And you are correct. It’s been a hard lesson for me, and I don’t always get it right, but God has revealed something to me in His Word and I need to pass it on to you.  Please take a moment to read Genesis 32:1-12.

Genesis 32:7 says Jacob was “in great fear and distress,” and with good reason. He was returning home to the brother whom he had years earlier cheated out of their father’s blessing. The brother who had sworn to kill him. The brother who was coming toward him accompanied by four hundred men. I would be in great fear and distress too. Jacob prayed to the God of His father Isaac and grandfather Abraham saying, “Save me, I pray, from the hand of my brother Esau, for I am afraid he will come and attack me” (v. 11). Then he immediately follows his confession of fear with a profession of faith – “But You have said, “I will surely make you prosper and make your descendants like the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted” (v. 12).

Do you see the pivot point? “I am afraid…” “But You have said…”(vs. 11,12). Jacob was afraid of his brother, but he trusted God and took Him at His word. “I will believe what You have said, Lord.” Notice that Jacob didn’t say, “My brother is coming after me, but I’m not afraid.” He was honest about his fear – just as I have been many times. Then he picked up his shield of faith – just as the Spirit has taught me to do, too.  David said, “When I am afraid, I will trust in you” (Psalm 56:3). That’s a simple, yet powerful prescription for fear.

Whatever is making you anxious today, Beloved, take your fears to God in prayer. He will not condemn you for being afraid, but He will remind you of His promises and give you the peace and courage you need. Faith is the hinge on which our hearts swing between fear and hope.

Sin in the Camp

I don’t want to write this devotional. I’ve tried to talk God out of it, but He is persistent. This is His word to the Church – and the individual parts of it. Get your boots on and read Joshua 7.

Joshua and the army of Israel had just taken the city of Jericho. It was an extraordinary victory. Now they prepared to take Ai and the spies come back saying “Just send two or three thousand men to take it, for only a few men are there” (v. 3). But those three thousand were routed by the few men of Ai, and thirty-six were killed. The Israelites were in mourning – and in shock. Joshua went before the Lord and accused Him of bringing them out to destroy them (vv. 6-9). God corrected him saying, “Israel has sinned” (v. 11).

When the army went into Jericho they were commanded to not take any of the “devoted things” – the precious metals and other costly things – for themselves. All of those things were to be designated as “sacred to the Lord and put into His treasury”. Joshua said anyone who took them would bring about their own destruction and bring trouble on the whole camp of Israel (6:18-19). But somebody ignored that command. Through a process of elimination, Achan was found to be the guilty party. He saw a beautiful robe and silver and gold and he took them and hid them under his tent. He was the reason for Isreal’s defeat by a much smaller army. One man. One sin. But God regarded it as the whole nation’s sin. Achan and his entire family and even his animals were stoned to death and God’s curse was lifted from the nation.

Here’s what the Lord keeps speaking to me. The reason the Church today has so little power and has lost her godly influence in the world is because there is sin in the camp. The Church – the bride of Christ – has failed to keep herself pure and devoted only to Him. She has taken on lovers and allowed them to infiltrate His holy place. She has welcomed what God has called an abomination. She has championed perversion. She has fought for the slaughter of innocent babies. She has become like the world.

But here’s the other part of the problem. You and I are the church. You and I share the guilt because our personal, private lives affect the faithfulness of the camp, just as Achan’s did. You and I are joined to the whole body. We don’t live one life at church and a separate life outside of it. We cannot invite sin into our private lives and think it won’t matter. It all matters. To all of us.

So here is my pointed question – and believe me, I’m asking it of myself as well. What is buried under your tent Beloved? “You cannot stand until you remove it” (Joshua 7:13).

Hebrews: Are You Listening?

Several years ago I turned down an invitation to an event. Afterward, I discovered that one of my favorite authors was a surprise guest speaker that day and I missed it. I was so disappointed. A few years later this speaker passed away and I realized that I had missed my one opportunity to hear her in person.

The writer of Hebrews offers a warning that you and I need to heed. “See to it that you do not refuse Him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned those on earth, how much less will we if we turn away from Him who warns us from heaven.” (Heb 12:25a). The writer started this sermon by saying “In the past, God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various, but in these last days, He has spoken to us by His Son” (Heb 1:1-2).

The history of Israel had been a sad story of God’s people rejecting God’s word through His prophets. The Lord said, “They have not listened to my words, words that I sent to them again and again by my servants the prophets” (Jer 29:19). Their stopped-up ears and stubborn hearts put them in exile in Babylon for seventy years. But now, the writer said, His people have rejected the very Son of God, whom John called “The Word [made] flesh” (Jn 1:14). God was speaking to His people face to face and they didn’t want to hear what He had to say. It’s not just that they couldn’t hear and comprehend – they refused to hear. It’s like the little kid with his fingers in his ears saying, “Lalala – I can’t hear you.” The writer said if the Lord didn’t excuse those who rejected the prophets, what makes you think He will excuse us for rejecting His own Son?

Here is something important I want you to notice. What were the prophets speaking? What was the Son speaking? Not “you can decide for yourself what is right and wrong.” Not “I just want you to be happy.” Not even “unconditional love.” Their messages were words of warning. It was always, “Repent.” Turn away from your sin and turn back to God.

Here’s another thought: If God did not excuse those who rejected the words of the prophets and the word of His Son, will He excuse you and me who have the luxury of His Word in written form? I have at least fifteen Bibles on the shelves in my office. I expect most of us have a Bible app on our phones – and every one of them says the same thing: “Repent.” It’s not that we don’t have His Word. It’s that we’re refusing to listen. Beloved, we have no excuse.