2013 – Smoky Mountains and vicinity – Cullasaja Gorge
Exodus 1: He killed the Egyptian and buried him in the sand.
Moses is thought of as the grandson of the king, but he’s raised by the woman who’s secretly his own mother. On one hand, he’s an Egyptian and a member of the ruling class at that. On the other hand, he’s a Hebrew, condemned at birth, a member of a nation of slaves. Sooner or later he has to decide who he is. That day comes, even though his expression of solidarity with God’s people is quite flawed. First, he kills an Egyptian who mistreats a fellow Hebrew. He then tries to be a peacemaker between two Hebrews who are having a fight. There’s no question in his mind or in the mind of Pharaoh which side he’s on and soon Moses finds himself fleeing for his life. I’ve heard some sermons about how Moses should have waited for God to call him to be the liberator of his people and that, had he done that, it would have saved him four decades of leading sheep. For all I know, those sermons are right on. Still, I’m taken today with the need to decide early on which side one is on. Moses is likely mistaken when he kills the Egyptian, but his decision to cast his lot with a nation of slaves rather than be a member of the Egyptian royal household is courageous and ought to be appreciated by all who read the story. I’m glad that early on in my life the Lord spoke to my heart and that, right then, I decided to say “yes” to him without over thinking what such a response might mean. Today, I won’t give Moses a “thumbs up” on what he did but I’ll certainly give him credit for why he did it.
Take Away: Sooner or later we need to decide what side we’re on…and the sooner the better.
2013 – Along Natchez Trace – Tennessee River in Mississippi
Seeking God’s direction
Genesis 46: I’ll go with you down to Egypt.
The news that not only is his son Joseph alive but that he’s running the entire country of Egypt is almost more than Jacob can absorb. For over 20 years he’s thought his son was dead, killed by a wild animal. Now, he’s to leave the land promised to his grandfather, Abraham, and join Joseph in Egypt. With a region-wide famine ravishing the land and Joseph calling him to Egypt Jacob is ready to go; well, almost. As he begins the relocation of his family, Jacob stops at Beersheba. This is the site of a well that was dug by his ancestor Abraham. It was also a favorite location of his father, Isaac. Jacob comes to Beersheba to seek the face of God and the Lord doesn’t disappoint. The promise is a wonderful one. God will go with Jacob to Egypt and he’ll prosper him there. When the time is right, Canaan will be given to his family, just as the Lord promised Abraham. With this promise ringing in his ears, Jacob leads his family to Egypt. I really like all I see here. Jacob’s returning to holy ground to seek God’s direction makes perfect sense and the response of the Lord proves the wisdom of this action. I need to remember to seek God before making big decisions. Actually, come to think of it, I need to practice for the big decisions by seeking his face in the minor ones too.
Take away: It makes good sense to seek the wisdom of God as I make decisions in my life.
2014 -Along California 101 – smoke from forest fire
Road to ruin
Genesis 19: God was so merciful to them!
I really dislike the story of the destruction of the wicked cities, Sodom and Gomorrah. There’s almost nothing uplifting in it. Years earlier, Lot and his family had taken up residence in the vicinity of Sodom. Now, in spite of its reputation for sexual wickedness, we find him at home there. When the messengers of God warn him to take his family and flee he doesn’t want to go. His wife can’t bear leaving and his daughters have a warped view of morality. Even when he’s convinced to run he can’t bring himself to leave the area and, even though he later changes his mind about it, strikes a bargain to move to a smaller town in the area. I squirm a bit as I read all this and then, even though I’ve read the story many times, I want to turn my head as the fire and brimstone falls in judgment. I come away from this passage thinking I’d better be careful about the choices I make…that they may have more impact on me and those I love than I realize. I’m also reminded that I must never underestimate the seriousness of sin. As does Abraham, once in a while I need to glance out over the plain and see the smoke rising from the destruction and remember that Judgment is real and sure and serious. And, as I see Lot and his family being ushered away prior to that Judgment, I had better be reminded of God’s mercy. That was their only hope and it’s also my only hope.
Take away: I’d better be careful about the choices I make.
Wandering in the wilderness
Ephesians 2: You’re no longer wandering exiles.
We know the story of how under the leadership of Moses the children of Israel refuse to enter the Promised Land and end up wandering in the wilderness for 40 long years. In this passage, Paul describes the Gentiles as also wandering out in the wilderness, separated from God. Now, thanks to Jesus, the way into the Promised Land, the “kingdom of faith,” has been provided. Everyone is invited, both Jews and Gentiles, to make the crossing into that place of peace, at home with God. The reason, of course, that the children of Israel even make that long detour in the first place is that they didn’t trust God. Having rejected him, they turned away to the misery of the desert. For the Gentiles, the situation’s a bit different. Because of Jesus they’re experiencing their first opportunity to come to God and they’re taking full advantage of it, coming in by the thousands and tens of thousands. For those who respond, the wandering days are ended and the days of spiritual abundance have begun. On a personal level I’ve seen more than one respond to what Jesus has done. They’re rewarded with new, everlasting life for their decision. Sad to say, I’ve seen a few who have opted for the wilderness instead. Decisions have been made, priorities have been set, and they’ve followed the road out into the desert. Happily, God is the God of Second Chances. At some point, I hope and pray that they’ll find themselves once again at the point of decision. I sincerely pray that at that time their wandering days will end.
Take Away: Jesus provides us all the way to God.
It’s out of our hands
Acts 21: “It’s in God’s hands now,” we said. “Master, you handle it.”
In spite of repeated warnings from God’s people that this trip to Jerusalem will end with him in chains Paul remains convinced that this is what the Lord wants. He believes that the gospel will be advanced in entirely new ways as a result of his facing whatever it is that he must face there. Frankly, I’m not clear as to whether or not this is the Lord’s express will for Paul. It may be that this is mostly Paul’s idea and that the Lord has warned him but also assured him that he can get good out of what is coming. On the other hand, this may be exactly God’s plan. I just don’t know. Paul’s friends, though, know what they want. They want Paul to stay out of Jerusalem and away from the trouble that awaits him there. The great Apostle, though, is having none of it. He’s bound for Jerusalem and nothing they say is going to change his mind. At this point they do the only reasonable thing: they hand it all off to the Lord. Why try to press the debate with Paul? Why lay awake at night and worry about it? Sooner or later we find ourselves right where they are. We don’t agree with the course of action a respected brother or sister in Christ is taking, but they’re convinced that it’s the right thing to do. At that point, we need to decide to take our hands off and trust the Lord with it. From then on, we can go on loving and supporting our friend without trying to change their mind or even holding an “I told you so” in reserve. Know what? The Master really can handle it.
Take Away: There’s a time for letting others work out their own lives; for letting the Lord and them handle things without our help.
Crossroads in time
Luke 19: All this because you didn’t recognize and welcome God’s personal visit.
It’s the Triumphal Entry. As many cheer, giving Jesus a royal welcome into Jerusalem others harden in their opposition to him. In less than a week Jesus will be dead. Our Lord weeps, not for himself but for Jerusalem. This city is at a crossroads in time. This day could have been much more than the Triumphal Entry. It could have ushered in a new, transformed age of peace on Earth, good will to men. This week could have been a week without a cross. Instead, the results of these days for Jerusalem will be horror, pain, suffering, and destruction. It’s a moment in time. Listen, I don’t claim to grasp the theology of all this but Jesus says it didn’t have to be the way it was. He wept as he considered how different things might have been. As I deal with this passage from a devotional perspective I wonder how often people come to such pivotal moments. I wonder how aware they are that they’re about to walk into a trip wire that will change their lives forever. My consolation is that in the case of the passage before us Jerusalem has had hundreds of years of opportunities to prepare for this moment. It’s not in ignorance that they’re about to step off this cliff. I have to believe that in smaller, personal ways that it’s the same for us as we arrive at our crossroads in time.
Take Away: I may not always recognize the significance of life events so I must rely on the help of the Holy Spirit as I negotiate life.
Trying to lock up the wind
Ecclesiastes 8: No one can control the wind or lock it in a box…as long as men and women have the power to hurt each other, this is the way it is.
I’m not sure that the writer intends for me to associate these two statements but they tie together for me. I’ve seen people make bad choices. If I ask them about it, they’ll most often have someone or something to blame for what they’re doing. I’m not saying that everyone else is always innocent in some of these things but the bottom line is that people pretty much do what they want to do. Sadly, even when I see what’s going on I can’t force people to do the right thing. As Ecclesiastes says, “no one can control the wind.” Well, neither can one control the hearts of others. The very fact that I love people, encourage them, and help them through their darkest hour means that I also give them the power to hurt me. At some level I have to just let things go and protect my own heart. As the writer says, “This is the way it is.” When I’ve done all I’ve been allowed to do, and when my heart has been broken, I come to the place where I have to let go and entrust those I “can’t control” to the hands of a gracious God. He’s able to work through issues if he’s given an opportunity, even after I’ve been removed from the situation.
Take Away: Sometimes we just have to walk away knowing that the more we try to help the worse we’re making things. Happily, the Lord never has to just walk away.
Spiritually deciding things in practical ways
Nehemiah 11: The people drew lots to get one out of ten to move to Jerusalem.
When the Jews return to the vicinity of Jerusalem to rebuild the city and reestablish worship there they find a city in ruins. They also find small settlements of the descendants of the remnant of Jews who had been left behind a generation earlier. Many, apparently, opt to live in those settlements rather than in the rubble of Jerusalem. That makes good sense; after all, this is an agrarian society in need of open land for their livestock and for growing food. Now, though, the wall project is complete and worship has been reestablished in their holy city. I’m impressed that the leaders have already led the way back by making their homes in Jerusalem. Now, the decision is made to draw lots to decide who else will join them. It’s an interesting mixture of spiritual and practical decision making. As God’s people they want to have a real presence in this City of David. However, they’re practical about it too. Not everyone can immediately relocate to this broken city. Instead, one tenth of them will, and to be fair, it’s decided by drawing lots. To me, this all embodies the balance the Lord wants us to have in our lives. Some would have us live mystical lives in which God opens parking spaces at the mall for us and in which we just flip our Bibles open to a random passage to find “God’s will” for us in big decisions. Others want us to keep our feet planted firmly on planet earth. “If it’s to be it’s up to me” is their motto. They plan their lives and operate the Church as though they’re putting on a performance for God, who sits off at a distance being impressed by it all. In the middle is the balanced life. Living with an eye toward God, seeking his direction and relying on his strength while at the same time using the brains he gave us, applying our experiences, intelligence, and gifts to all we do. As I watch these Jews lining up to draw lots, I’m impressed by their desire to walk with God even if it means the inconvenience of moving to the destroyed city. I’m also impressed by their practical way of working through who will do what.
Take Away: The people of the Lord are to live between the extremes; both trusting God and, at the same time, using all the capability he has given us.
The funeral service was poorly attended
2 Chronicles 21: There were no tears shed when he died – it was good riddance!
Jehoshaphat fathers five sons and he leaves them each an inheritance of wealth. Additionally each one is given a fortified city to rule, basically setting them up for life. His oldest son, Jehoram, gets the throne. This could work out as the most successful handoff of power since Solomon took the throne from his father, David. Instead, there’s murder and abandonment of God. This wicked man murders all his brothers and leads his subjects away from God. The Lord, in turn, is disgusted with him. There are rebellions and then a humiliating and destroying illness. After eight years of failure Jehoram is dead. And no one cares. What a pitiful life story. How sobering it is to think that the untimely death of a person is considered a favor of God to those under his influence and authority. What an important reminder to realize it all started when he turned his back on God. Each life journey arrives at key forks in the road. When I arrive at such a place I make a fresh decision concerning the type of person I will be. That decision will impact not only me, but those who are closest to me, and in some cases, even people I’ll never know. Because of the importance of how I handle those big moments in my life, I want to practice for them by dealing with the little stuff in the right way. Little things lead to big things. Big things lead to eternity.
Take Away: We become the people we are by the decisions we make along the way.
Hopefully, David wasn’t trustworthy
1 Samuel 29: He’s not going into battle with us.
How about that, wisdom from the Philistines! Fleeing from Saul (maybe said better: “getting away from Saul so he won’t have to kill him”) David’s living in Philistine territory, the town of Ziklag. Now the Philistines are uniting to take on Saul and the army of Israel in a major, decisive battle. Amazingly, David’s with the Philistines! King Achish, who mistakenly thinks that David has already been attacking his fellow countrymen in Judah, is confident that David has completely betrayed Israel. However, the other warlords of the Philistines aren’t convinced. They don’t know David, but they know his reputation. They think that in the heat of the battle he’ll turn on them. Achish reluctantly sends David and his men home. Are the other warlords right? I hope so. David has no business living in the land of the Philistines in the first place much less fighting on their side. I think this event is crucial to David’s future as king of Israel. In the story of Abraham and Lot, it’s Lot who mistakenly decides to live in the wicked city of Sodom. That decision changes his life. Had he not made this crucial mistake he might have gone down in history as a great man who walked in faith with his uncle, Abraham. Instead, his story is a mere footnote in the history of God’s people. In this incident, David’s at a similar crossroads. If he joins the Philistines in this battle he’ll never lead Israel. Instead, he’ll only be a minor player in the story of redemption. I hope these warlords are right and that David would have turned on them. If not that, I wish that it had been David, himself who decided to leave the battlefield. Instead, it’s the enemies of God and his people who wisely send him away. Is it possible that we can see the hand of God in this decision of the Philistine warlords?
Take Away: The Lord is sovereign and can use whoever he wants to accomplish his will.