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The water’s fine, come on in
Deuteronomy 20: Don’t waver in resolve. Don’t fear. Don’t hesitate. Don’t panic. God, your God, is right there with you.
A dad is teaching his son to swim and his approach is quite reasonable. Dad doesn’t relax on the lounge chair and tell his son, “If you need me, I’ll be right here.” Instead, Dad gets into the pool and then beckons his son, “Come on in, I’m right here and I’ll help you.” Moses is instructing the spiritual leaders of the people of Israel. Soon these people will cross the Jordan River and engage the armies of the nations of Canaan. They’ll be outnumbered and will face experienced armies in numerous battles. Moses instructs the spiritual leaders of the land to prepare God’s people for battle by encouraging them to be strong and courageous. The reason for confidence is that God is going into the battle with them. Moses is about to depart but the Lord isn’t going anywhere. Instead, thick or thin, he’ll be with them all the way. God is never a sideline spectator to our lives. Of course he’s near when things are going well. He’s also near in the darkness of night. As my spirit trembles he reaches out to me, reassuring me that it’ll be okay because he’s right here and he’ll help me through it all.
Take Away: Everything in life changes, but God remains faithful.
When you’ve seen one giant you’ve seen them all
Deuteronomy 3: God is going to do the same thing to all the kingdoms over there across the river.
Moses reminds his people of the victories they’ve already experienced. By God’s help they defeated the army of Sihon. Then they took on Og of Bashan. Before we ever meet the giant Goliath we meet Og. He’s huge. In fact, after he’s defeated his bed is put on display. It’s over thirteen feet long! As they say, “the bigger they come the harder they fall.” The Lord supercharges the Israelites and down comes Og and his army. Before long it will be time for this current generation of Israelites to do what their parents refused to do. They’re to cross the Jordan and take the land of Canaan as their own. This time, rather than cower in fear they’re to think of Sihon and his army and how, by the strength of the Lord, that army was crushed. When they see the big guys of Canaan they’re to picture the fallen Og and his big, iron bed that is on display. The victories of the past are to give them courage and faith to move forward to even greater victories. That’s how it’s supposed to be for me too. God has been good to me. By his grace I’ve come a long way. I don’t know what the future holds, but I wouldn’t be surprised at all if the biggest challenges of life lie ahead. I’m to let the work of God in my life in days gone by be a source of strength in my life in the events yet to come.
Take Away: As we remember what the Lord has done for us in the past we’re encouraged to trust in in current and future situations.
Numbers 14: If God is pleased with us, he will lead us into the land…just don’t rebel against God!…Don’t be afraid of them.”
Joshua and Caleb – I like these guys! While everyone else is talking grasshopper talk they’re talking faith talk! They saw all the same things their fellow explorers saw – both the good and the bad, yet while the others are convinced of sure failure, these two gents are trying to rally the troops into action. It isn’t that they’ve decided that their army is superior to those of their foes. Instead, they believe God has made certain promises to them, has brought them to this place, and now commands them to action. You see, Joshua and Caleb aren’t especially brave. In fact, they’re fearful. They’re afraid, not of giants, but of rebelling against God. Let’s see: giants over here, God over there. If I’m going displease one or the other, which should it be? It’s easy: I’d rather have God on my side against the giants than have giants on my side against God!
Take Away: If I’m going to be fearful, let me be fearful of failing God.
Exodus 16: Who are we in all this? You haven’t been complaining to us – you’ve been complaining to God!
It’s been two and a half months since the Red Sea parted and they passed through on dry ground. Two and a half months since they saw their enemies drown in the sea and since they celebrated their liberation. Now they’re out in the wilderness. It’s a difficult adjustment for the Israelites. No more comforts of home as they transition to becoming a nomadic culture. Change comes hard. As they long for the meat and bread they ate in Egypt God graciously responds through Moses and Aaron that he will provide for them. These leaders relay God’s message but they also include a word of warning concerning their complaining. This journey is not in their hands. Abraham has been dead for centuries, but they have yet to learn what he learned: the just shall live by faith. The problem with complaining is that it places us outside the life of faith. The God of the Red Sea is the God of the wilderness. He’s also the God of my everyday life. He expects me to place my faith in him in the days of miraculous victory and in the days of the wilderness as well.
Take Away: Complaining and faith are incompatible.
Head ‘em up – move ‘em out.
Exodus 14: Moses spoke to the people…“Stand firm and watch God do his work…God said to Moses: Order them to get moving.”
Behind them is the army of Egypt, moving in to destroy them. Before them is the Red Sea, impassable. What are they to do? Moses has great faith, “Stand still and see…” what God will do. That sounds good. They have pretty much stood still through the plagues and God took care of everything. Surely Moses is right and God will do it again. But God has other ideas. Even as the people of Israel had a part in the Passover by following God’s directions, now they have a part in this final victory over Egypt. The Almighty says, “Don’t stand still…move forward.” As they obey the command to move, God acts and deliverance comes. There are, indeed, times to “stand still.” To do otherwise is to attempt to be our own deliverers – something that’s bound to fail. At times like that we simply wait on the Lord. However, there are more often times to “get moving.” To do so is to act in faith that God is with us and that he has given us a role to play in our own salvation.
Take Away: Don’t be guilty of standing still when God is saying, “Move out.”
The last word
Exodus 2: Take this baby and nurse him for me. I’ll pay you.
Moses is not only born into slavery, he’s also condemned at birth. In a callous effort to stem the booming population growth of the Israelites Pharaoh has ordered the execution of all boys born to the slaves. When his mother can hide him no longer Moses is placed in a small basket that will float and hidden among the reeds along the river. His older sister Miriam is given the task of watching over him from a distance. Apparently, the idea is to hide the baby by day and then retrieve him at night. In a surprising twist that is characteristic of the Lord’s work, it’s Pharaoh’s own daughter who discovers the baby. Then, making things even more delightful, quick thinking Miriam offers to find a nanny for the baby. She goes directly to her mother who’s given the job. Instead of seeing her baby murdered, Moses’ mom is paid to raise her own son who’s now under the protection of the house of Pharaoh! I love stuff like this and, apparently, so does God. He loves taking impossible situations and turning them upside down. As I read this story today I’m reminded that God always has the last word even in the darkest of nights. In my life, it won’t be the writer of my obituary who’ll have the last word – it’ll be him.
Take Away: God has the last word even when everything seems to be going wrong.
Living between the promise and the blessing
Exodus 1: They made them miserable with hard labor.
Centuries earlier the Lord spoke to Abraham and made wonderful promises to him. Abraham’s descendants will number as the stars in the sky and they’ll have a land to call their own. When Jacob follows his son Joseph’s direction to relocate everyone to Egypt, the Lord promises to go with them and to bring them back to the Promised Land. Now, Abraham, Jacob, and Joseph are all dead and while the promise of a multitude of descendants is being fulfilled, the people with the Promise are enslaved in Egypt. Generations are being born into slavery, living and dying having never known freedom. It occurs to me that being on either end of the process is the place to be. Living between the promise and the blessing isn’t nearly as much fun. At the beginning there are thrilling encounters with God; dramatic experiences filled with expectancy. At the end, of course, is the thrill of obtainment; God’s Word being made real. In the middle, though, is uncertainty; hanging in there when the circumstances tell us to surrender. The thing is that much of life is lived between the promise and the blessing. For instance, there have been many generations of Christians since Jesus promised to come back. They’ve lived their lives believing in that which remains unseen. The only prescription for dealing with living between the promise and the blessing is continued trust. Today, I’m reminded that the Lord has made certain promises to me and, even though I don’t yet see the blessing, I chose to trust in him as one who is always faithful. I build my life on that firm foundation here between the promise and the blessing.
Take Away: Most of life is lived between the promise and the blessing; it’s no wonder that God places such high value on faith.
What God knows
Genesis 22: Now I know…
Jehovah gives Abraham the most difficult task possible. The old man is to follow the example of the pagans of the area and offer his son as a sacrifice. As unbelievable as it is Abraham never doubts that this is God’s command and acts in painful obedience. If the Lord doesn’t stop him when he does, well, we’d probably have another Old Testament resurrection story. It’s at this point that the Almighty says something that gives us an amazing insight into the attributes of God. Three words: “Now I know….” Those aren’t big words for me to say about myself – there are many “now I know” moments in my life. But for God to say it – wow! In these words I get a glimpse of what it means for God to have created human beings with genuinely free will. At the Creation he made us, at the same time, like himself and “other” than himself. At certain times and at some levels, even our Creator is unsure of what we’ll do. Understand this: God is never at a loss as to what to do in response to what we do. In this case, the Lord has a preferred action for Abraham and he comes through with flying colors. Still (and I know I can’t prove this) I’m convinced that the Lord has already considered what he will do and how he will do it if Abraham’s performance is somewhat less than stellar. In this case we have the very best result possible because Abraham fully cooperates with the Lord God.
Take away: Sometimes the best way to partner with God in what he’s doing in this world is to listen carefully to his voice and then act in obedience even if we don’t understand it all.
Genesis 21: The matter gave great pain to Abraham.
I was just trying to help.
My dad wasn’t the best teacher in the world. He was one of the hardest working men I’ve ever known and he didn’t have time to teach when there was so much he needed to do. Often he’d let me try my hand at something, like loosening a bolt on a motor he was repairing but if I didn’t get it right off, he’d tell me to stand back so he could do it. Honestly, I wasn’t very good at that kind of stuff anyway and my “helping” could have been better described as “hindering.” I think the Lord feels that way about the tragic Abraham-Sarah-Hagar situation. The Lord had promised the couple a son and then, following Sarah’s suggestion, Abraham tried to “help” by taking advantage of defenseless Hagar. The result is, well, things are a mess. Abraham now has competing heirs. When Sarah, a senior-adult-over-protective mother, demands that Abraham send Hagar and his son Ishmael away, it breaks his heart. As he hesitates the Lord speaks to him. In their attempt to help God, Abraham and Sarah have greatly complicated matters. Now, the Lord tells Abraham to stand back and let him handle things. The result won’t be perfect, but the Lord will deal with the mess Abraham and Sarah have made. However, the solution’s going to bring continued pain to Abraham’s and Isaac’s descendants. Think of how different the world would have been had Abraham and Sarah waited on God and not tried to help. Sometimes, I need to just stand still and trust God to act and not try to help so much.
Take away: Sometimes the best way to partner with God in what he’s doing in this world is to get out of his way and let him work.
The Bible’s “emergency letter”
Jude: I’ve dropped everything to write you.
There’s nothing leisurely about the little letter of Jude. In fact, you might call this an “emergency letter.” Jude has received disturbing news concerning happenings in an unnamed church. Events there are unfolding that could result in their turning away from the faith. He quickly reminds them of just how dangerous this is, listing one event after another from the Old Testament about spiritual failure and its consequences. Jude is just a short no-chapter book but if one takes time to follow all the references, the book expands considerably. The bottom line, though, is that they’ve allowed teachers into their number who aren’t teaching the Gospel. The result is that a cancer has begun to grow in the church that, if left unchecked, will have disastrous effects of biblical proportions concerning their salvation. Jude gives them a plan of action and urges them to act immediately. They’re to focus on the “most holy faith” and to pray “in the Holy Spirit” and to stay “right at the center of God’s love” and keep their “arms open and outstretched” to receive the mercy of Jesus in their lives. As they deal with those who are already wavering in the faith they’re to tread lightly and as they deal with those who are outside the church, the sinners, they’re to take it easy on them while standing firm against their sin. Jude has already told them what to do about the false teachers who have infiltrated their church: they’re to “fight with everything” they have “for the faith entrusted” to them. As I read this “two-page book” I’m reminded to be careful about who I allow to influence my spiritual life. Not everyone who claims to speak for Christ does so. At the same time I’m reminded not to get too worked up over this kind of stuff. Jude says: “Relax, everything’s going to be all right.” As I focus on the basics of love and prayer and the like, things will work out just fine for me.
Take Away: It’s a challenge for Christians to major on the majors and to minor on the minors and to tell one from the other.