Faith Builds Faith

It seems that I’ve had a running theme in my blogs lately about how much things “suck”. Pain, brokenness, being wrong. All of it sucks. But there is a lesson in it, right? And the lesson is faith.  The pain we endure brings a harvest of faith. Faith is born from things that suck. I have to chuckle at that even as I write it.  

God builds our faith as we endure trials.  

2 And the word of the Lord came to him: 3 “Depart from here and turn eastward and hide yourself by the brook Cherith, which is east of the Jordan. 4 You shall drink from the brook, and I have commanded the ravens to feed you there.” 5 So he went and did according to the word of the Lord. He went and lived by the brook Cherith that is east of the Jordan. 6 And the ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning, and bread and meat in the evening, and he drank from the brook. 1 Kings 17:2-6

I have been contemplating Elijah again.  After he prophesied the drought, God sent him to a specific creek where he would have water to drink and crows would bring him food.  Elijah obeys. Wow. God told him birds would bring him food and Elijah didn’t laugh, he said, “okay.” That’s serious faith.

7 And after a while the brook dried up, because there was no rain in the land.
1 Kings 17:7

The creek dries up.  Because there’s a drought.  And droughts mean no water. How easy it would have been for Elijah to raise up his hands in frustration and not faith and question why God would bring him to such a bitter end.  But that’s not what happens. Elijah has faith that God will continue His faithfulness to His servant, and the word of the Lord does indeed speak to him.

8 Then the word of the Lord came to him, 9 “Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there. Behold, I have commanded a widow there to feed you.” 10 So he arose and went to Zarephath. And when he came to the gate of the city, behold, a widow was there gathering sticks. And he called to her and said, “Bring me a little water in a vessel, that I may drink.” 11 And as she was going to bring it, he called to her and said, “Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.” 12 And she said, “As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug. And now I am gathering a couple of sticks that I may go in and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it and die.”
1 Kings 17:8-12

So Elijah ends up in a town asking for an impoverished widow to take care of him.  Isn’t it supposed to be the other way around? Aren’t God’s people supposed to take care of widows and orphans, and not have them take care of us?  But Elijah obeys. Elijah doesn’t question it, he just obeys the word of the Lord.

Sure enough, the widow obeys Elijah and by proxy obeys the Lord, she brings Elijah water and makes one last cake with the handful of flour and oil she had left.  Bread and water. I can’t help but see Jesus here. Jesus is the bread of life and the living water. This obedience to the Lord’s request brings Elijah and the widow both a picture of Jesus as salvation.  The bread and water would keep them alive. God would bring them salvation, and keep the flour and oil from running out. God brings salvation to the widow and Elijah.

13 And Elijah said to her, “Do not fear; go and do as you have said. But first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterward make something for yourself and your son. 14 For thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘The jar of flour shall not be spent, and the jug of oil shall not be empty, until the day that the Lord sends rain upon the earth.’” 15 And she went and did as Elijah said. And she and he and her household ate for many days. 16 The jar of flour was not spent, neither did the jug of oil become empty, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by Elijah. 17 After this the son of the woman, the mistress of the house, became ill. And his illness was so severe that there was no breath left in him. 18 And she said to Elijah, “What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance and to cause the death of my son!”
1 Kings 17:13-18

The widow’s son dies.  Ya. And the widow’s son, by her cultural perspective of the time, was her only chance at life with someone to take care of her.  Without her husband, all she had was the hope in her son to provide for her. And he dies.

This would have been a really good time to give up.  And the widow does! She’s devastated. But Elijah decides not to give up.  

19 And he said to her, “Give me your son.” And he took him from her arms and carried him up into the upper chamber where he lodged, and laid him on his own bed. 20 And he cried to the Lord, “O Lord my God, have you brought calamity even upon the widow with whom I sojourn, by killing her son?” 21 Then he stretched himself upon the child three times and cried to the Lord, “O Lord my God, let this child’s life come into him again.” 22 And the Lord listened to the voice of Elijah. And the life of the child came into him again, and he revived.
1 Kings 17:19-22

He takes the boy upstairs, out of view of the widow, to have a private pleading moment with God.  He begs the Lord to bring life back to the boy. And God listens! The boy’s life is restored.

This miraculous moment of resurrection further reveals the promise of Jesus.  The son, the widow’s only means of salvation and life, is resurrected by God to show her that He will provide for her salvation.  


23 And Elijah took the child and brought him down from the upper chamber into the house and delivered him to his mother. And Elijah said, “See, your son lives.” 24 And the woman said to Elijah, “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth.”
1 Kings 17:23-24

The widow’s faith is built up.  She sees the power of God revealed in a tangible way, not just in the life returned to her son, but in the life that God provided for her, first with bread and oil, and then with the life of her son.

Elijah’s faith brought faith to the widow.  Faith brings faith.

As we suffer and overcome, our faith expands and through that expansion, the people we are in contact with have their own faith built up.  It may be the faith to finally trust in God, or perhaps it’s just the faith to endure, but as our faith is strengthened it has the power to multiply the faith in others.

Lord, help me trust You that my faith may be built up by the trials I endure in this life.  Let my faith be a testimony. Build up my faith so others may be built up in faith. Let my faith produce more faith, that Your Glory may be revealed.

close up of hands
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A Worker Approved

15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.
2 Timothy 2:15

For a very long time, and sometimes still, I have felt that the work I’ve done for the Lord was insignificant.  I longed to be known for my good works. I longed to be recognized for my “accomplishments” for the Kingdom of God.  Embarrassing, right?

I’ve come so far over the years, though, and that is something only God could do.  Is my ministry more famous or more recognized now? Nope. Is my work for God more relevant now? Nope.  My work is generally the same. It’s only me that’s changed.

So, Paul’s advice to Timothy was to be unashamed, approved, and to rightly handle the word of truth.  Hmm. So working for God means being the perfect pastor, right? Or maybe the perfect evangelist? We know a lot of their names.  The ones on tv must be pretty good. They are surely unashamed and approved or God wouldn’t let them be on TV, right?

Wrong.

Obedient submission to God is what grants us the ability to be unashamed.  To have the faith to accept that God’s answer for my salvation is from Him and not from me. The righteousness of God, given as a free gift, unearned, undeserved, that’s what lets us approach the throne of grace with confidence.  Having Jesus as our high priest, Jesus as our righteousness, Jesus as our savior, Jesus as our King. That’s what gives us the right to be unashamed.

7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. 8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 11 For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.
2 Corinthians 4:7-11

So how do we know we are approved?  “We are afflicted and not crushed, perplexed but not driven to despair, persecuted but not forsaken, struck down but not destroyed, always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.”

And look at what Paul says in Romans:

What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.”
Romans 4:1-3

Approval doesn’t come from anything we’ve done or are doing!  It comes from faith. Abraham believed God. That’s approval. When I believe God and what He says, that’s approval.  That’s it. Nothing more. Faith brings God’s approval.

So, when I act according to God’s will for me.  When I trust that He is going to use me as He sees fit, that He will give me opportunities to trust Him and serve Him, and revere and worship Him, that’s when I’m working for God.  He’s given me gifts and tasks to use for His glory and not my own.

Did He ask you to hug that lady at the grocery store, and you obeyed?  That’s God’s work. Did He ask you to give up your career and serve refugees in the Middle East and you said, “ok”?  That’s God’s work. Buy someone’s groceries because you felt stirred? God’s work. Preach a sermon because the Lord has burned it in your heart to share what He has taught with His people? Yep, God’s work.

But here’s what’s not God’s work: quitting your job to become a missionary because that sounds like a great adventure.  Or, going on a mission trip to Nicaragua every year because the church body will know how holy you are. Or, teaching a Bible Study because you want people to think your smart.  Or being the front man of the church band so that you can maybe get a record deal or you love the attention. The list can go on forever.

So many things in this world sound good to us.  King David thought building a temple for God was a great idea, but did God ask him to build it?  Nope. Did God let David’s son Solomon build the temple? Yes.

God will partner with us even when we’re wrong.  He’ll partner with us in folly just to teach us how to hear His voice better.  Was building the temple folly? Of course not. But did it last? Nope. God will let us “work” for Him in a million different ways, just to teach us, just to show us that it all comes down to Him in the end.  Nothing else.

Have faith in Him, the One who made you, the One who calls you. To work for God is to submit to His rule.  You must stop obeying your own heart and the picture the world has offered you of what ministry is supposed to look like.  You’re never going to find it that way. And you’re not going to accomplish much for the Kingdom, either.

Instead, keep your eyes on Jesus.  Trust Him. That’s it. Only trust Him and do what He says.  That’s how I’ve changed the most over the years. I’m much quicker now to want to glorify Jesus, instead of myself.  If God asks nothing more of me than to point my silent smiling face to the King of Kings, then that’s what I’ll do. That is being a workman approved.  

Jesus, give me the faith to trust You.  Help me to stop looking at myself. Help me to hear Your voice and obey Your commands.  Thank you for how far You’ve brought me. Teach me and help me to go further for You and for You alone.  

7 So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. 8 All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. 11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.13 He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”
John 10:7-18

 

Being Wrong

The only thing worse than being wrong is getting advice from someone who is wrong.  But if I’m being honest, I’m wrong all the time. I infer wrong things, I presume wrong things, I interpret wrong things, I say wrong things, and I hear wrong things.  And the people with whom I interact, behave similarly. It’s a truth of life.

Being wrong is going to happen.  

So what am I supposed to do when the people I interact offer me advice with sincerity and genuine concern and love, and they’re wrong?  Awhile back I went on a rant about some people I care about who had completely misunderstood a situation I was involved in that they knew nothing about.  

You can see the full article here: Dealing With Offense

It hurt and I was angry.  For a time I refused to receive any of it.  Why should I? They were wrong. But that’s the thing, even though they had made a lot of wrong assumptions, even though they had presumed a lot of things by way of other people, even though they didn’t know the whole story, some of what they said was still true.

How would I ever be able to receive the valuable truths from God hidden within the confines of broken people with broken ideas who loved me and genuinely wanted to help me?  I had to eat a big helping of humble pie, that’s how.

After a lot of whining and processing and crying and feeling like a victim, I finally had the sense to ask God to help me figure it all out.  God’s answer: “humble yourself, see My truth”. Not an easy task, that’s for sure!

So, knowing that God is in fact the only stable and consistent truth I know, I asked Him to show me.  I asked Him just to help me stop being angry, to stop feeling judgemental and victimized toward people I knew cared about me deeply, and just listen for God’s voice in it all.

Of course, the Lord answered my cries for help, and He began to walk me down the road of truth that could be found in all the words I’d been so offended by.  Wow. He revealed way more than I thought He would.

I humbled myself before the Lord.

I humbled myself before the Lord.  I acknowledged that God can and does use broken people to speak His truth.  And I learned a lot.  I learned people are wrong, but God is always right.  He loves me and He wants what’s best for me.  That means humbling myself to His truth and letting myself see His truth in broken human beings.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
   and do not lean on your own understanding.
6 In all your ways acknowledge him,
   and he will make straight your paths.
7 Be not wise in your own eyes;
   fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.
8 It will be healing to your flesh
   and refreshment to your bones.
Proverbs 3:5-8

On Being Thankful

11 Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance 13 and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”
14 When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed.
15 One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. 16 He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.
17 Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine?18 Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?”19 Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”
Luke 17:11-19

I complain a lot to God.  I know that sounds bad, but I don’t think it is.  I complain about my circumstances. I ask for provision.  I ask for healing. I ask for salvation for my loved ones.  I ask for hope. I ask for courage. I ask for help in a million different ways, and if I look at my requests with a critical eye, I can see the complaint in every single one.  On the surface, my prayers seem dependant on the Lord. They are filled with the helplessness that we should always assume about ourselves. It’s the notion that, “there but for the grace of God, go I.” And that’s very, very true.  But I know it’s more often my doubt and my fear that plunge me into these prayers. I doubt provision. I doubt healing. I doubt hope and courage and strength. If my life and my salvation truly are by the grace of God alone, shouldn’t I be more confident in the lesser things?  

For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?
Matthew 16:26

My salvation should be enough for me.  The whole world and the things of the world are nothing in comparison to the profound gift of eternal life that Jesus has provided.  James put it forward in an interesting light:

You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.
James 4:3

I say all of this to examine honestly my motives.  Do I ask for my passion? Do I ask for my fear? Do I ask for my safety?  Or do I ask for the Lord? And am I thankful for it?

33 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
John 16:33

Is the overcoming of the world not enough for me?  Really? Do I praise God for my life and salvation or do I wallow in fear and anguish over the things of this world?  And that brings me back to the lepers. They want Jesus to have pity on them. They want healing. They want to be restored.  They want to return to their lives. But only one acknowledged the author of his salvation. Only one came back to say thank you and to praise God.  That one leper knew that the Lord had saved him from more than his disease. He had given him life, and being thankful for that became his primary goal.  He didn’t just take the blessing and run along with his life. He praised the author of his salvation. He praised the King of Kings for his sovereignty, his authority over life, and his mercy.  

Lord Jesus, I want to trust You in all things.  I want to have confidence in your sovereignty in all aspects of my life.  When I come to You, Lord, I want to come in confidence, not fear. I want to come in the knowledge of Your divine grace and mercy.  You saved me!

9 “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!
Matthew 7:9-11

I want to trust You more, Jesus.  I want to trust in Your provision, Your life, Your deliverance, because you know what I need and are delighted to give the good gifts we ask for.  You love me. Help me trust in Your love so that I can truly worship and praise You with thanksgiving instead of fear.

 

The Intentional Love of God

It seems to me that the word “intentional” gets thrown around a lot: “be intentional with your finances”, “be intentional with your relationships”, “be intentional with your worship”, “be intentional with your friendships”, be intentional, be intentional, be intentional.  This got me thinking about the Lord and His very intentional love for mankind. He chooses to love us in very intentional and specific ways in order to teach us about His character, and ultimately to show us that His love is sincere, unchanging, and forever for us. One could likely fill volumes on the subject of God’s love, but the Lord brought a few key verses to my mind as I meditated on this idea.

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
   his mercies never come to an end;
23 they are new every morning;
   great is your faithfulness.
24 “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
   “therefore I will hope in Him.”
Lamentations 3:22-24

God intentionally loves us by showing us mercy and compassion.  No matter our sin, no matter our guilt, no matter our circumstances, the Lord of Hosts offers us His love through compassion.  His heart is moved by our trials. His desire is to show us mercy, though we are dreadfully entangled by sin. This mercy and compassion comes from His faithful love.  It is a love that doesn’t change. God’s nature is to love mankind, His glorious creation, made to worship Him, and free us from the enslavement of our own sinful folly.  That is the epitome of mercy and compassion. And it is truly new every day. Everyday, every moment, we find ourselves caught up in sin, and yet, His great love never dies or grows weary.  His love is eternal and fresh for us everytime we choose to receive it.

4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
8 Love never ends.
1 Corinthians 13:4-7

The thirteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians is beloved and known by many as the “Love Chapter”.  It defines the specific characteristics of what true love looks like. It is often read at weddings as a lesson to newlyweds about how to love one another.  But how often do we look at this passage and consider it in reference to Our Lord? Who better to exhibit the pure light and love of God, but Jesus Christ? Jesus bore all things for us on the cross.  His love never ends. How beautiful to recognize this list as we look upon the face of Jesus and see His proclamation of love expressed through this passage. Understanding God’s intentional definition of love helps us to understand God’s character in a deeper way, and when we understand what love is, it becomes much easier to accept.

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.
1 John 3:1

In order to show us His love in another way, God calls us His children.  He brings us into his family and gives us all the rights and authority He has given to His Son.  We don’t deserve any of that, but he doesn’t care that we don’t deserve it. He adopts us anyway!  He adopts us because He loves us. And in that adoption we are given all the rights of His children.  All we ever have had to do is accept His offer of adoption.

and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
Romans 8:17

How much more proof of God’s love do we need?  He has made us equal inheritors of all Jesus has.  We get to share in all of that! What a powerful testimony of God’s deep love for us!

But it doesn’t stop there.  In fact, I think the most important and most intentional way that God shows us His love for us is in this:

16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
John 3:16-17

God shows us His deep, compassionate, merciful, familial love fully in those verses.  His love is a love that would die for us to live. He gave us salvation from our own troubles, our own folly, our own failure, by giving us His Son, Jesus, to pay the ultimate price for our wrongdoing.  Nothing is more loving and more selfless than that. He paid the price for our sin! He took the blame on himself for what we have done! You can’t get any more intentional than that.

So, the next time you hear someone talk about intentionality in this thing or that, I hope You will remember the intentional love of Jesus Christ for His people.  It is a love that is compassionate, merciful, never failing, familial, and sacrificial to the point of death.

At the King’s Table

What is man that you are mindful of him,
   and the son of man that you care for him?
Psalm 8:4

It is easy to be reminded in this world how unworthy we are of the love of God.  For a follower of Christ, every moment of our lives is a battle between the desires of our flesh and the desires of our heart.  We long to serve and obey the Lord and yet we fail so miserably at every turn. Crippled from the start, our tendency is toward sin in all its forms.  It’s been that way since the fall of man. And the more we grow in our relationship with the Lord, the more we recognize our complete depravity without Him.  Who are we, that God loves us so much? Who are we, that God would call us His children? Who are we, that God would come into Creation as one of us, in a decayed body bent toward sin, and suffer and die just to save us?  Who are we?!

While reading about David’s victories in 2 Samuel, it quickly becomes clear who we are to God.  Considering that David is the prophetic forerunner of Jesus, we can safely look into the actions that David took as opportunities to reflect on what Jesus has done for us.  First, we have received the blessing of victory through Christ. The phrase: “And the Lord gave victory to David wherever he went” appears twice in 2 Samuel Chapter 8, first in verse 6 and then again in verse 14. God gave David victory because David’s heart was filled with love and faith in God.  Our victory is received by that same faith in what Christ has won for us through His death, burial, and resurrection.

David didn’t deserve his victory anymore than we do, but God honored David for his faith and trust in Him.  Even more importantly, God honored David because of God’s promise to Abraham. And God doesn’t go back on his promises.  Now take a look at David’s treatment of Jonathan’s son.

And David said to him, “Do not fear, for I will show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan, and I will restore to you all the land of Saul your father, and you shall eat at my table always.” 8 And he paid homage and said, “What is your servant, that you should show regard for a dead dog such as I?”
2 Samuel 9:7-8

Doesn’t that sound a lot like Jesus.  I can just hear our Lord saying, “Don’t worry, kid, because of my promise to Abraham I’m not going to destroy you.  Instead, because you trust me, you can join me at my table forever.”

Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out,
“Hallelujah!
For the Lord our God
   the Almighty reigns.
7 Let us rejoice and exult
   and give him the glory,
for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
   and his Bride has made herself ready;
8 it was granted her to clothe herself
   with fine linen, bright and pure”—
for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.
9 And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.”
Revelations 19:6-9

Just like the sweet, crippled son of Jonathan, Mephibosheth, we are inheritors of the promise.  David loved Jonathan and therefore took his son into his own court, and fed him from his own table.  God loved Abraham and therefore took any who would believe in Him, brings them into His courts, treats them as his own children, and feeds them from His own table. Beautiful!

So Mephibosheth lived in Jerusalem, for he ate always at the king’s table.
2 Samuel 9:11

Lord, I want to have confidence in Your provisions and promises.  I want to know You are my father and that You love me. I want to feel the power of Your promise and love for Abraham and receive the promised blessing of that promise.  I want confidence in Your love, Lord. Fill me with Your unending and precious favor. Thank you for adopting me as your child. Thank you for giving me Jesus and letting me be a joint heir with Him and all You have given Him.  Let me come into your presence with thanksgiving always. I will praise You, God! I will trust You by Your power at work within me. Amen.

 

Lost in the Land of Shadows and Dirt

The people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord gave them into the hand of Midian seven years. 2 And the hand of Midian overpowered Israel, and because of Midian the people of Israel made for themselves the dens that are in the mountains and the caves and the strongholds.
Judges 6:1-2

It’s crazy what disobedience can do to people.  Disobedience fills us with fear, shame, and guilt, and drives us out of all the good things God wants to give us.  Disobedience causes us to stop trusting in God’s provision and start trusting in fear. We let fear become our leader instead of God.  And it takes us nowhere good. For the Israelites, disobedience to God led them to do evil in the sight of God, which ultimately led to their self inflicted exile out of the Promised Land and into the mountains to hide in caves.  They went from the Land of Milk and Honey to the Land of Shadows and Dirt.

“For whenever the Israelites planted crops, the Midianites and the Amalekites and the people of the East would come up against them. 4 They would encamp against them and devour the produce of the land, as far as Gaza, and leave no sustenance in Israel and no sheep or ox or donkey. 5 For they would come up with their livestock and their tents; they would come like locusts in number—both they and their camels could not be counted—so that they laid waste the land as they came in.
Judges 6:3-5

God allowed the Israelite’s enemies to take over the land He had given to them so that they would repent and recognize that the Land and God’s protection were by His sovereign hand alone.  As the people of God walked away from the worship and trust of Yahweh, The One True God, they also walked away from His blessing and provision. The people began to worship the false idols and put their trust in those things to provide for them and it had them living in the dark in caves!  How often have I found myself living in a cave because of my own lack of trust in God. I fall into fear and doubt and worry, and then there I am: in the dark instead of the light, afraid and hungry.

And Israel was brought very low because of Midian. And the people of Israel cried out for help to the Lord.
Judges 6:6

So, what do we do when we have thrown ourselves into the dark? We cry out to God!  He is our rescuer and our salvation. If we know God, then we are all too familiar with His love and mercy and His longing to restore us into a right relationship with Him.  But God isn’t content to just save us, though that would surely be enough for us! Instead, He lovingly teaches us and guides us, so that we will understand how to avoid going into the dark again.  

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
   his mercies never come to an end;
23 they are new every morning;
   great is your faithfulness.
Lamentations 3:22-23

For the Israelites, God’s compassion and deliverance came from a curious source.  And over and over again we see God do this. As it says in 1 Corinthians 1:27, “God chose the foolish things to confound the wise.”  That’s just how God rolls. And the Israelites needed to see that even though they were weak and afraid and living in caves, He could rescue them from their own failings and bring them back into the inheritance that He had planned for them from the beginning.

And so God chooses Gideon whom He calls “a mighty man of valor”. Gideon who hid from his enemies in a wine press to beat out his wheat. Gideon, who doubted and questioned even after the miraculous sign of the appearance of the “Angel of the Lord”.  Gideon, who even after he agreed to do as Yahweh commanded, took it upon himself to do it under cover of darkness so no one would see him do it! (reference Judges 6:11-40)

Yes, God chose Gideon, because Gideon bodily encompassed everything that the Israelites had become.  Gideon was afraid, in the dark, and doubted God. And don’t we all do the same thing? Don’t we all fall short a thousand times a day?  Don’t we all fall back on fear and hide in the dark? Thankfully, our God knows that about us, and just like Gideon, He will patiently teach us again and again that He is faithful and He will save us.  Our inheritance is ours for the taking if we will simply cry out to Him from the darkness and trust Him.

 

  

The Gibeonite Consequence: the Flipside to Mercy

A few days ago I talked about the profound mercy of God when Joshua got tricked by the Gibeonites into a false covenant.  But now it’s time to look at the flipside of this egregious error. Disobeying God led to tragic consequences for the people of Israel.  The very thing that could have been a gift of mercy became a thorn.

It’s easy to look at our lives at times and think about how clever we are, or how kind, or how forgiving, but at the end of the day, if we aren’t obeying God, we will find ourselves, no matter how clever we think we are, on a path of tragedy.  If we truly believe that God is sovereign and omniscient, why do we rely on our own reason in any matter? Why do we presume to know what’s best, when only the Lord can know? God has given us a direct line of communication with Him through His Spirit, but we flounder in our self-sufficiency and fall short of all the good God has planned for us, as well as suffer the consequences for our poor choices.

What started out as an opportunity to show mercy with the Gibeonites became a stumbling block for all of Israel.  By enslaving the Gibeonites (and others along the journey) instead of destroying them, Israel brought upon themselves the taint of false worship and the lie of doing what seemed best in their own eyes.  The consequences of not asking God’s opinion brought profound suffering to the Israelites.  And don’t we think the same things?  How many times have I thought, “wow, God, that’s harsh” and questioned His judgement?  Thoughts like that or troublesome to Believers.  We want to believe God, but sometimes we don’t understand or see the big picture.  Why did God let that person die?  Why does God let bad things happen at all?  If God is love, why doesn’t He “accept” everyone?   Having faith and trusting God is hard.   

And they (the Israelites) abandoned the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt. They went after other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed down to them. And they provoked the Lord to anger. 13 They abandoned the Lord and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth. 14 So the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he gave them over to plunderers, who plundered them. And he sold them into the hand of their surrounding enemies, so that they could no longer withstand their enemies. 15 Whenever they marched out, the hand of the Lord was against them for harm, as the Lord had warned, and as the Lord had sworn to them. And they were in terrible distress.
Judges 2:12-15

Just as the Lord had warned, by allowing anyone to enter into their fellowship who was not willing to follow and obey Yahweh, the Israelites became influenced by, and began to worship, the pagan gods of their enemies.  They got sucked into evil by their own compromise. They incurred the wrath of the One True God and broke the covenant Yahweh had made with their ancestor, Abraham. Fortunately, however, the covenant Yawheh made with Abraham did not rely on the obedience of Abraham’s descendants.  (See Genesis 15) It was God alone who took responsibility for both sides of the covenant with Abraham. And just as God foretold would happen, the descendants of Abraham fell short of their obligation and promise to God.  They didn’t trust God to provide a way for them.  That’s why it’s so powerful that Abraham trusted God to provide a sacrifice when He was asked to sacrifice his own son.  Abraham trusted God and it was counted to him as righteousness!

And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.
Genesis 15:6

God allowed the consequences of disobedience to be revealed and experienced by His people in the hope of showing them that trusting in God would bring them salvation, while trusting in false gods or themselves would bring only destruction.  Time and time again, Yawheh raised up leaders for His people to guide them in His ways. And time and time again, the people would be led for awhile and then fall away when their leaders died.  They failed again and again to trust the God who made them and saved them.

8 Whenever the Lord raised up judges for them, the Lord was with the judge, and he saved them from the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge. For the Lord was moved to pity by their groaning because of those who afflicted and oppressed them. 19 But whenever the judge died, they turned back and were more corrupt than their fathers, going after other gods, serving them and bowing down to them. They did not drop any of their practices or their stubborn ways. 20 So the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he said, “Because this people have transgressed my covenant that I commanded their fathers and have not obeyed my voice, 21 I will no longer drive out before them any of the nations that Joshua left when he died, 22 in order to test Israel by them, whether they will take care to walk in the way of the Lord as their fathers did, or not.” 23 So the Lord left those nations, not driving them out quickly, and he did not give them into the hand of Joshua.
Judges 2:18-23

It seems clear to me that God’s mercy is great, so great in fact, that He is willing to see us hurt ourselves if it means we can learn that trusting in Him is better than trusting in ourselves or the things of this world.  We can’t ever fall into the trap of thinking we know best, especially if we feel confident that we are walking with God and know Him well! That is when we are in even deeper danger of straying away! If we gain too much confidence in ourselves, we begin to believe we know the will of God even if we haven’t asked Him!  We can trust the Spirit of God within us will guide us, but we need to take caution before making decisions. We need to stop and listen before we act rashly.

Jesus, I’m so thankful for the Holy Spirit within me that helps me and guides me.  Lord, thank You that You have done everything to teach me, guide me, and fulfill Your promises for me.  Thank You that You are not content to leave me where I’m at. You’re not content to see me suffer in the consequences of my past mistakes.  You’re not content to see me walk in the paths of death. You want me to be free. You want me to be strong. You want me to learn and grow and thrive in life.  So, Lord, I submit to Your rule in my life and in my decisions. Help me to stop and listen before I act. Help me to know Your will by communing with You regularly and keeping Your Presence near to me at all times.  Protect me from foolish choices and lead me in the paths of righteousness for Your namesake. Thank You that where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom! Help me to trust You more.

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
2 Corinthians 3:17

 

Choose Today Who You Will Serve

I gave you a land on which you had not labored and cities that you had not built, and you dwell in them. You eat the fruit of vineyards and olive orchards that you did not plant.’
14 “Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. 15 And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
Joshua 24:13-15

I have earned nothing that You have given me, Father.  Nothing but Your grace has provided for me. And when I’ve tried to provide for myself it has only led to rebellion, suffering, and pain.  Even knowing that, Lord, I still look to things besides You to find my joy and my deliverance. I have put other gods before You, Jesus. And I’ll probably do it again.  I’m pretty miserable at trusting You and following You, and in that way I’m no different than the Israelites.

But just like the Israelites, You have given me a leader.  You’ve given me someone to follow, someone to lead me in the right way.  Someone even better than Joshua. He is called Faithful and True. (Rev. 19:11) He is called Jesus, Yeshua, and he is my salvation.  When I was a very little girl I said yes to following Him. And since that time I have strayed and strayed away. But every time, He has been faithful and true to me.  He has never left me nor forsaken me.

What I have learned is that following You is a choice, Jesus.  Each moment I choose who I will serve. My heart longs to please You and follow You, but my sinful nature pulls me away time and time again.  Like Paul said, I do what I do not want to do, and do not do what I should do.

It can be easy for me to get hard on myself.  I know that You have given me Your Spirit and I look at my actions and wonder how I could ever disobey You with Your Spirit so alive and active within me!  Yet I do. I look at the Israelites and say to myself, “Well, they didn’t have the Holy Spirit. No wonder they strayed away from God all the time!” But I don’t have that excuse.  Thank you for Paul’s example and of others in scripture who had Your Spirit in them and still failed You miserably at times.

Lord, the Israelites obeyed You and trusted You when You were right there with them, guiding them and protecting them, just like the Disciples did when Jesus was with them and helping them, and teaching them what to do.  And when You weren’t tangibly present they struggled to obey and over time they abandoned You altogether, serving themselves and the idols of their own making.

“I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away.2 They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. 3 And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me. 4 But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you.
“I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. 5 But now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ 6 But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. 7 Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. 8 And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in me;10 concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; 11 concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.
12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
John 16:1-15

Jesus said that it was better for Him to go so that we could have the Helper.  Thank You, Jesus, that You have made a way to be forgiven by the cross, You have made a way for life by Your resurrection, and You have made a way to obey by the gifting of Your Spirit.  So, today I choose to serve You, Lord. I choose to let Your Spirit guide me. I choose to submit to Your greater authority and be filled with your forgiveness, your life, and your obedience.

Do not be conformed to this world,[a] but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Romans 12:2

I will no longer be conformed to this world.  I will let my mind be renewed by You and stop trying to renew it myself.  I will stop living in condemnation of my failures and strive to forgive myself and follow You. Thank You God.  Thank You for Your help, Your guidance, Your love, Your forgiveness, and Your life.

I am Yours, Jesus.  Today I choose to follow You.

 

Yeshua is Salvation

I recently learned that the first use of the word “salvation”, that is “Yeshua” aka Jesus, happens in the Torah when Yahweh rescues His people from the Egyptian army at the crossing of the Red Sea. While on a general level I could see the similarities to Jesus, this morning I had an even deeper understanding of the parallels of this story with the story of Salvation through Yeshua for all who would believe.

The Israelites had been enslaved by Egypt.  They were oppressed and despised. Humanity is enslaved by sin.  The world is ruled by, oppressed by, and destroyed by sin. It takes over our decision making, it rules our thoughts, it inspires anger and vengeance, and dependance on self instead of God.  

God brought a deliverer to Israel with Moses.  And God brought a deliverer to humanity with Jesus.  Through Moses, God parted the Red Sea to make a way for the Israelites to journey toward the Promised Land and have victory over the Egyptian slavers. God used Jesus to bring salvation to the world, by taking on the sin of the world on His own body and having victory over it, to clear the way for people to enter the journey toward the Promised Land of the New Jerusalem.  

Moses interceded for the people with God.  He communed with God on the mountain, brought the law of the Ten Commandments to the people, and told the people what God wanted from them.  Jesus intercedes for all people with God. He came to earth as a man to intercede for people to God. He fulfilled the Law once and for all by conquering sin and death on the cross for all people who would accept it.  He came back to life to lead all people who would believe Him to the Promised land of eternity with God.

The Israelites wandered through the desert learning the lessons of God, and growing in their faith and trust in God’s protection, provision, and salvation.  Humanity wanders a world still ruled by sin, learning the protection, provision and salvation of Jesus. Just as God led the Israelites along the way through the desert, so too, God leads the way for all who trust in Him, through the Holy Spirit, to navigate through the desert of a sinful planet until we can finally arrive at the Promised Land of eternity with Christ.

Finally, the Israelites are led into the Promised land by the conquering of idol worshipers, and false gods and practices, while allowing any who chose to side with God to have the salvation He offered to His chosen people as equal inheritors.  God partnered with the Israelite army, but in the end it was always God who provided the victory, not any special work or tactics of Joshua and his military prowess. We are allowed to partner with Jesus in the conquering of sin and death, by being made co-heirs with Christ, and this is given not by our own power, but simply as a gift of God by his grace.  As followers of Christ, we can have victory over the sin and death in our lives but trusting in God to win the battle for us.

And finally, the Israelites receive their promised inheritance, just as we too shall recieve our promised inheritance with Christ.  Pretty cool.

Note: I didn’t include scriptural documentation because I have assumed a Biblically savvy audience.  For Biblical context references, feel free to contact me privately, and I will provide them.