The Journey

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The Spirit brought a verse to my attention this morning. “Remember your journey from Shittim to Gilgal, that you may know the righteous acts of the Lord” (Micah 6:5b). He asked, “What’s so important about Shittim and Gilgal?” And the dig was on.

Shittim is where the Israelite men fell into sexual immorality and idolatry with the Moabite women who worshipped Baal, even bringing one of the women into the camp. This was a slap in God’s face and because of their sin, 24,000 Israelites died at Shittim (see Numbers 25).

Gilgal was the first city the Israelites came to after crossing the Jordan River into the Promised Land. It was here that the entire nation took a (painful) step of obedience to the Lord by circumcising all the males in the camp. This is where the Lord declared, “Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you” (Joshua 5:9). This was the place of a new life for Israel. Gilgal was also where the Israelites celebrated their first Passover in the Promised Land and where the manna they had eaten for forty days finally stopped.

Shittim represents the lowest point in Israel’s history when they were captivated by sin and idolatry. Gilgal represents the redemption of God when the Israelites finally submitted to the Lord and received His blessings. This verse is your story and mine. We all have a Shittim, a place in our lives where we were held in the grip of sin. But God’s grace is the way to Gilgal, the place of surrender and obedience and blessing. The place where we find the righteousness of God.

One other word jumps out at me: “journey.” It’s 276 kilometers (170 miles) from Shittim to Gilgal. It took the Israelites 40 years to make that trek. It is a journey from the place of sin to the place of righteousness. We’ve all walked it.  But we don’t walk it alone. From the day they walked out of Egypt to the day they walked on the dry ground of the Jordan, God was with them step-by-step. And He is with you and me.

Where are you on the journey from Shittim to Gilgal, Beloved? Take one more step. And another, and another. God is with you. The saints are cheering you on. You’re going to make it. You have God’s Word on it.

Bear One Another’s Burdens

A few years ago my family was riding in the car together. My husband and son were in the front seats and I was in the back. I overheard this conversation:

Son: That truck’s tires are really low.

Dad: Well, he’s carrying a load of bricks in the back.

Son: Oh, I saw the tire, but I didn’t notice the load.

How many times do you and I notice when someone is “low” but never notice the load they are carrying?

I thought of the Israelites in their first battle on the way to the Promised Land from Egypt. Moses told Joshua to pull an army together and fight the Amalekites, while he stood atop the mountain and held “the staff of God” high above his head as a sign to the Israelite army that God was on their side. Now if you’ve ever tried to hold anything over your head for very long you understand how tiring that can be, and Moses was no exception. As long as he kept the staff raised high, the Israelite army had the advantage in the battle. When he got tired and dropped his weary arms, the tide of the battle turned and the Amalekites got the upper hand. No one else could hold up the staff – it was Moses’ God-given responsibility. But others could help him bear his burden, and a rock was placed behind him so he could sit down and “Aaron and Hur held his hands up – one on one side, one on the other – so that his arms remained steady till sunset” (Exodus 17:12). The result? “So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword” (v. 13). Joshua fought the battle, Moses held the staff, and Aaron and Hur held Moses’ arms till the enemy was defeated.

That is how the church works when it is at its best – holding one another up till the battle is over and Christ has claimed the victory. Sometimes you’re the one in the battle. Sometimes you’re the voice of encouragement to the weary warrior. Sometimes you’re the practical helper who keeps everyone else going. Everyone is crucial – every task is vital.  Do you know someone who is carrying a heavy load?  Find your place in the battle, Beloved, and “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way, you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). What is the Law of Christ? “Love one another” (John 15:17).  

What a Ride!

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I remember hearing about a man from a country where it is deadly to be a Christian who was visiting the US. On his first stop at an American church, he talked about having armed men invade his house and threaten to kill him if he didn’t denounce his faith in Christ. After 3 three months of visiting around this country speaking in multiple churches and staying in church members’ homes, he prepared to return home. He spoke to the first church once again and what he said stunned the people. “I thought it was dangerous to be a Christian in my country, but it is more dangerous here. I am only in danger of being killed for my faith, but you are in danger of having your faith die a slow and miserable death because you are spoiled by comfort and ease. I am going home where my faith can grow strong again.”

When Moses was preparing the Israelites to enter the Promised Land, he told them, “When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land He has given you. Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God.” The danger of complacency was very real for the fledgling nation, and it is just as real, if not more so for us today. Moses warned them that when they are satisfied, “and “build fine houses and settle down,” when their wealth increases and they become a powerful nation, “then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God” . . .  “so you will be destroyed for not obeying the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 8:10-20, selected verses).

Remember, the Lord was talking to His people. I believe the Lord would say the same thing to Christians in the West today –people who claim to belong to Him. And He would be absolutely right.  Jeremiah spoke about a nation that was “like wine left on its dregs,” that had not been stirred as it fermented (Jer 48:11). It was ruined by excessive sweetness. And so are believers who become satiated by the pleasures and wealth of the world. Jesus said, “Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it” (Matt 16:25). I don’t want to hoard my life. My desire is to come sliding into heaven out of breath, armor all dinged up, shouting, “What a ride!” knowing I gave it all for Christ.

Your Promised Land

cover0123-gate“See the Lord your God has given you the land. Go up and take possession of it as the Lord the God of your fathers told you, do not be afraid; do not be discouraged,” (Deuteronomy 1:21).

 When the Israelites first stood at the threshold of the Promised Land, they went out to explore the territory and were astonished at the good land that awaited them.  It was everything God has told them – rich and fertile, good for supporting livestock, with settled towns and homes waiting for the wandering people of Yahweh.  But – and sn’t there always a “but” – there were also giants inhabiting the towns.  Despite the assurances of Moses, Joshua and Caleb that the Lord would fight on their behalf, the Israelites balked at pressing on.  They let fear take away the blessings God had promised and caused the whole community to wander in the wilderness for forty years.

What I see so profoundly in this verse is that, even before they set foot in the land, it was already theirs.  God had already declared it for them, all they had to do was move ahead into what was theirs by divine decree.  Yes there were giants in their way, but if God had already declared it to be so, would He not also move every obstacle in their path?  Of course He would.  But they would not trust Him and so they let the Promised Land slip through their unbelieving fingers.

Some fifteen years ago, God promised to use me as His spokesman, to share His Word and His Truth.  There were some mighty big challenges before me, and I took more steps back than forward, but He has been faithful to bring me to what He declared over me.  This post and my blog (https://dbethandrews.wordpress.com) are part of that, and I hope there is even more ahead. I don’t know what God has set before you as your “Promised Land.”  I don’t know what giants are in your path.  But I know that if the Sovereign King of the universe has spoken a promise over you, you need to step into that promise and watch Him move the giants and make it happen.  What God declares is as good as done.  Beloved, it’s time to march on.

In the Desert

Sunbaked Mud in Desert ca. 1990s Death Valley, California, USA

Sunbaked Mud in Desert ca. 1990s Death Valley, California, USA

“The desert and the parched land will be glad: the wilderness will rejoice and blossom” (Isaiah 35:1)

I’ve been in a bit of desert lately; work and school and other responsibilities have sapped my mental, physical and spiritual energy and drained my joy.  Yesterday was the first Sunday I’ve been able to attend church in 4 weeks.  I expected to be like a sponge and just soak it all up, but I felt more like a rock that sank to the bottom of the sea.  What is happening and why Lord?  This morning when I came back to Mark chapter 1 (God has kept me here for weeks) I read that after Jesus’ baptism, “the Spirit led Him out into the desert . . .” (v. 12).  So I began searching for other “deserts” in the Bible and I found that, despite what I expected, most of the desert experiences in Scripture were not times of punishment or even rebellion.  They were encounters with God and seasons of preparation. 

The first mention of a desert was when Hagar was running from Sarah.  There she met God – El Roi – the God who saw her in the desert.  Later she and her son were rescued by a miraculous well of water in the desert, by the God who heard her son’s cries.  David wandered in the desert wilderness for several years before he gained the throne of Israel.  And even though their 30 years of desert wandering was punishment for Israel’s rebellion, it prepared them for the Promised Land.  If we need any more evidence that God works in dry places, don’t forget about the dry bones the Lord brought back to life in Ezekiel.  In the desert, Jesus faced His enemy and came through victorious, and when He left that desert His ministry began.  I’ve decided that this dry season I’m in is preparation; it’s about staying true to God and watching for Him in the desert.  My friend remember that the desert is not your dwelling place – it’s the path God has chosen for you and me on the way to the Promised Land.

Will Your Faith Stand?

“Do everything without complaining or arguing.” Philippians 2:14

Three days. That’s all it took for the complaining to start. Three days from blessing to grumbling. Three days from rejoicing to grousing.

The Israelites were three days out from crossing the Red Sea in miraculous fashion, and they were already complaining. They had witnessed God’s power and might in rescuing them from slavery and defeating the Egyptian army. They had fled Egypt, carrying the wealth of their captives with them, and the Lord had guided them in a pillar of cloud and fire to the edge of the sea. They watched as the presence of the Lord moved to form an impenetrable wall between them and their enemy. They saw the waters part, felt the dry ground beneath their feet as they moved between two walls of water and then watched the walls collapse onto the Egyptian army.

They sang and danced and rejoiced, proclaiming “The Lord is my strength and my song; He has become my salvation; Who among the gods is like You, O Lord-majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders?” They sang of their trust in Him, “In your unfailing love You will lead the people You have redeemed…You will bring them in and plant them on the mountain of Your inheritance.” (Ref. Exodus 15:2, 11, 13, 17.)

And everything changed. They found themselves in a desert with no drinkable water, the one spring poured forth bitter water. Now that’s not a little problem, mind you. Water in a desert is a big deal. Water for as many as two million people or more is an even bigger deal. They were in a serious situation. So they turned on their God-appointed leader and “grumbled against Moses, saying ‘What are we to drink?’” (Ex. 15:24). We might think, “Are these the same people that crossed the sea on dry ground and witnessed the power and might of the Lord?” Well, yes, actually they were.

And so are we. The truth is, I can very often turn from praising to grumbling in thirty minutes. At least it took them three days. Are we really any different than the Israelites? Like them, we have often forgotten God’s faithfulness and goodness in the past and complained about the circumstances of the present. It is a pattern that shows up over and over again in their wilderness journey. We see it again in Exodus 16, as they grumble about the lack of food, saying “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted” (Ex. 16:3). In chapter 17 they are grumbling about water again, and so it goes, until they stand at the edge of the Promised Land. Rather than rejoice in God’s faithfulness thus far and move ahead with confidence they grumble and cry and moan, until finally that generation lost the Promised Land altogether.

If you and I are honest, wouldn’t we admit that the same pattern shows up in our own lives as well? Why do we fail to believe that the God who sent His Son to die on the cross for us will also provide for, protect and bless us? Paul asks the same question in Romans 8:31-32, “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all – how will He not also, along with Him, gracious give us all things?” Why do we, like the Israelites, fail to trust the Lord who has proven Himself faithful again and again and again?

In a word: unbelief. The very same unbelief that demoralized the faith of the Hebrew nation undermines our faith and confidence in God today. The exodus from Egypt was the great expression of Yahweh’s love to the Israelites. But because they had grumbled all along the way; at would should have been their defining moment of faith, they stood at the edge of the Promised Land and balked. “All the Israelites grumbled…and the whole assembly said, ‘Why is the Lord bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt?’” (Numbers 14:2,3)

Are you believing God today? The cross of Jesus Christ is God’s ultimate expression of love to you and me. Every day we are surrounded by reminders of His care and devotion to His people. Yet still, when we are faced with a challenge, we grumble. Rather than believe God, we doubt. We question. We whine and complain. And God asks, as He asked of Israel, “How long will these people refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the miraculous signs I have performed among them?” (Num. 14:11).

There is a day coming when Christians will be faced with their defining moment of faith. We need only to read the Scriptures and look at the world around us to know it is not far away. Have you and I walked in faith, believing God? Will our faith stand?

Jesus posed a question, “When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth” (Luke 18:8)? What if He comes today?

Holy Father, my faith is often so small. I cry out like the father in Mark’s Gospel – “I believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24).

Clearer Vision

“The Lord is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear?  The Lord is the stronghold of my life – of whom shall I be afraid?”                Psalm 27:1

 What happens to our faith when our vision becomes clouded by fear and doubt?

In Numbers 13, the Israelites, having been freed from Egyptian slavery, now stand at the edge of the Promised Land.  Moses selects 12 men, one from each ancestral tribe, to explore the land of Canaan. After forty days, they return with samples of fruit – including a cluster of grapes so heavy it had to be carried on a pole between two men.  They declared the inhabitants “powerful and their cities fortified and very large.” While Caleb and Joshua declared, “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.” (v. 30), the other ten spies “spread a bad report. We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.” (v. 32, 33) They saw themselves as piteously small against the enemy who lived in this wonderful land that the Lord had promised to them.

I know this one, because I have spent far too many years looking at the giants in my life through the eyes of a grasshopper.   I am learning the key to overcoming fear – we have to develop clearer vision.  We have to look through eyes of faith.

First we have to have a clearer vision of our God.  When I feel the enemy pressing me, I turn to Psalm 18 where I am reminded that God is “my Strength, my Rock, my Fortress, my Deliverer, my Refuge, and my Shield.” (vs. 1-2)  He is a MIGHTY GOD! His power is beyond comprehension.  Psalm 66:3 says “So great is Your power that Your enemies cringe before you.”  When I recognize the truth that the power of God exceeds the power of any enemy force or circumstance, I can rest my heart – and mind in Him. He is also my Protector and Defender.  No enemy dares approach me with the Lord on guard. David said in Psalm 20:7, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.”  The enemy trembles and flees at the name of the Lord.  Learn His Name and use it!

We also need to have a clearer vision of our giants.    The giants you and I fear loom so large and terrifying to us, but how do they compare to our God?  David certainly had the right perspective.  In the famous battle of David and Goliath, the enemy towered over the Israelites at over nine feet tall with massive armor and weapons. (1 Samuel 17:4-7).  Day after day, he taunted the Israelite army,
“This day I defy the ranks of Israel!  Give me a man and let us fight each other.  If he is able to kill me, we will become your subjects, but if I overcome him you will become our subjects and serve us. (1 Samuel 17:8-10) And how did the Israelites respond? “On hearing the Philistine’s words, Saul and all the Israelites were dismayed and terrified.” Goliath’s threats had broken the spirit of the Israelite army and they believed themselves powerless against him. Isn’t that just like us?  We become consumed with fear as we focus on our enemy who taunts and defies us.  But the little shepherd boy David looked, not at the size of the enemy, but at the size of his God.  David told King Saul, “Let no one lose heart on account of this Philistine; your servant will go and fight him.” As David approached, with no visible weapon or armor, Goliath cursed him and shouted insults at him. But David responded with spiritual armor and weapons that Goliath could not see, and he said “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.  This day the Lord will hand you over to me…and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel! (1 Samuel 17:45-46)” I am sure you know the rest, “David triumphed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone. (1 Samuel 17:50)” I want that kind of faith!  I want faith that knows the power of the Lord.  I want faith that is confident in God’s promises to defend and deliver me from all the giants in my life. I want faith to meet every challenge the enemy throws at me with my head held high and my eyes firmly fixed on God.

Finally, we must develop a clearer vision of ourselves-as God sees us.  If you are in Christ, God has declared that you are “His child (Romans 8:16; 1 John 3:1); sanctified (1 Corinthians 1:2); valuable (1 Peter 1:18-19); chosen (1 Peter 2:9); His workmanship(Ephesians 2:10);  His dwelling place (Eph. 2:22); dearly loved (Colossians 3:12); children of light (Eph. 5:8); a holy & royal priesthood (1 Peter 2: 5, 9) – and that is just a small sampling of what the Bible says you are to God.  The enemy will always try to make you feel small and defenseless.  He will always try to attack you with words of condemnation: “Look at you! Look at the mess you have made of your life! Look at your sin! You are worthless to God, He could never love you!”  But you need to know and believe that under God’s loving and protective gaze, you are a priceless treasure, His priceless treasure, and He loves you with an everlasting, never-failing, all consuming love.  When God looks at you He doesn’t see your mess, He sees your Messiah.

To stand strong in the face of fear, we must look to our God for strength and perspective.   “We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes and we looked the same to them.”  But how do you look in God’s eyes?  Victorious!

Holy Father, the giants are big, but You, Lord are bigger. Help us keep our vision clear and our eyes “fixed on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2).  God give us eyes to truly see.