2014 – Grand Canyon, AZ
The battle that never was
Judges 7: I had this dream: A loaf of barley bread tumbled into the Midianite camp.
In preparation for the coming battle the Lord sends Gideon to the outskirts of the camp of the mighty Midian army. As he cautiously scouts the camp he overhears a conversation between two soldiers. One is telling the other about a dream he’s had that has nearly scared him to death. In his dream he saw a tent that represented the Midian army. Then, of all things, he saw a giant loaf of barley bread, representing Gideon and the Israelites, tumbling down the hill into the camp and knocking down the tent of Midian. The soldier has concluded that this is a message from his gods that Gideon’s army is going to roll over Midian. Overhearing all this is greatly encouraging to Gideon who concludes that God is preparing the way for his tiny force to defeat this mighty army. That night, when Gideon’s 300 sound the trumpets, light their torches, and break the jars what the skittish Midian army hears and sees causes mass confusion and they begin fighting one another and running for their lives. In no time at all the battle that never was is over. I think stories like this are important to God’s people. We need to tell them to our children and in telling them, instill in our boys and girls a deep faith in a God who takes care of his people in sometimes delightful, unusual ways. As we tell and retell stories like this, we, ourselves, are reminded of God’s power over those things that overwhelm us and his faithfulness to us in all the circumstances of life. Maybe that’s a message you need today.
Take Away: The Lord delights in doing good things for his people and he especially seems to enjoy doing those good things in unexpected ways.
2014 – Sweet Creek Hike – Mapleton, OR
Follow the Leader
Deuteronomy 31: Be strong. Take Courage. Don’t be intimidated…God is striding ahead of you. He’s right there with you. He won’t let you down; he won’t leave you.
There is a bit more to the book of Deuteronomy, but this is the conclusion of thirty chapters of preaching that makes up most of the book. As Moses preaches the people are looking across the Jordan to the Promised Land. They know who lives there and they know that their army isn’t ready to face the superior forces of Canaan. Beyond that, Moses, who is the only leader they’ve ever known, isn’t going with them. The new battles will be fought without their old leader. Well, not quite. Their real Leader is not only right there with them; he’s already confidently marching ahead of them preparing the way in places like Jericho. When Moses at 120 years of age breathes his last God will remain their strong leader. Even as Moses is about to commission his successor, Joshua, he reminds his listeners of God’s faithfulness to them. I thank God for people who have influenced my life by providing vital spiritual leadership along the way. Even more important, though, is the awesome steadiness of God. The finest, most dedicated person has their limits, but not the Lord. As Moses says, “He won’t let you down; he won’t leave you.”
Take Away: The Lord is our faithful Leader and as we follow him, we can do so with confidence that he won’t let us down and he’ll never forsake us.
2014 – Mt St Helens, WA
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.
2014 – Arches National Park, Utah
Having a small role in a big deal
Exodus 17: But Moses’ hands got tired.
The first of what will be a seeming unending number of battles is taking place. Their background as slaves affords these Israelites little preparation of combat. King Amalek, on the other hand, is a fighter with a trained and disciplined army. He sees the Israelites as easy prey and attacks them. The thing he doesn’t know is that Israel is under the protection of God Almighty. God’s man, Moses, climbs to a high point and raises that famous staff to the Lord. When he does, it’s almost as though God’s power flows from heaven, through that staff, into Moses, and then out to those defending the nation. These slaves fight like soldiers. However, Moses’ arms grow weary and he lowers the staff. When he does, the tide of the battle turns and Amalek’s forces begin to gain the advantage. Two men, Aaron and Hur, come to the rescue. They provide Moses a place to sit and then they hold up his arms and staff. Victory is theirs. As I read this story I see that God’s teaching them that (in the words of Jesus) “Apart from me you can do nothing.” Their victory on this day is clearly linked to Moses, the staff, and the action of Aaron and Hur. It’s a great victory, the first of many, but there’s no way they can take credit for it. Also, I can’t help but comment on the support of Aaron and Hur. Neither is God’s man for this moment. Clearly, that’s Moses. However, they become literal “supporters” of God’s man, lifting him when he can’t go on. Generally speaking, that’s our role in life too. We lend our support to those God is using in unique ways. In so doing, we play a small role in the big deal of God’s work in this world.
Take Away: It’s nice to have a part to play, even when it’s mainly just supportive of others.
The end is at hand, the end is at hand!
Revelation 17: The Lamb will defeat them, proof that he is Lord over all lords, King over all kings.
John’s mysterious journey continues with disturbing scenes and promises of divine judgment. He sees a woman riding a beast. She’s branded as Babylon, but he’s told that that, too, is a riddle name, and the city, Rome, is described. In John’s day, seeing Rome as the seat of evil in the world makes a lot of sense. Some continue to take the woman, Babylon, and description of the riddle to add up to the literal Rome, carrying with it lots of religious overtones. Frankly, it’s beyond me (seems I’ve been saying that a lot lately). If it isn’t to be taken literally, it may be that the “Babylon” represents a current world power that dominants the world as Rome did in John’s day. All of this is the set up for the big battle. This world power will rally the nations of the world to battle against the Lamb of God. Then, before the battle is even described, we’re told the outcome of it. The Lamb wins. In the end, there will be no doubt as to his high standing: Lord over all lords, King over all kings. The descriptions of judgment, war, and destruction are soon to give way to victory, worship, and the exaltation of the Lamb of God.
Take Away: We don’t have to understand everything to understand this: in the end, the Lamb reigns.
The way to die
Revelation 14: Blessed are those who die in the Master from now on; how blessed to die that way!
In this passage the harvest of the world is about to be described but prior to that there’s another description of God’s people standing “passionately patient, keeping God’s commands, staying faithful to Jesus.” Then John is told specifically to write about those who finish their lives while being “passionately patient.” They serve God through their lives, looking for Jesus to return, overcoming the hardships and trials of their journey. In the specific case of this passage there’s considerable pressure on them to follow the general population in worship of the Beast. These saints resist and at personal cost persist in being “faithful to Jesus.” Now, for them, the battle ends. Their “hard, hard work” is over and “God blesses them for it all in the end.” I’ve known people such as these described in this passage. They loved the Lord and served him through their lives. When hard times came, they wished for a way out, but way out or not, they continued to trust God. Physically, they were ultimately defeated. Spiritually though, they were victorious. John is told to remind God’s people that those who “die in the Master” are blessed. Unless Jesus comes back first, my turn’s coming. I want the same kind of passionate patience, the same faithfulness to God’s commands, to be the hallmark of my life. As this passage says: “how blessed to die that way!”
Take Away: Live the right way so you can die the right way.
Revelation 12: She was giving birth to a Child.
John’s vision shifts to new images including that of a dragon and war in heaven. It’s my guess that his original readers better understand the symbolism than we do. Interpretations are all over the map but due to the fact this book is written to be read by first century Christians I lean toward understandings of it that keep their perspective in mind. Also, there’s such a strong parallel to the story of the birth of Christ that I tend to think that John’s using that well known story to illustrate something more. Mary, the most blessed of women, gives birth to the Son of God. Immediately, Satan tries to have him killed but, being warned in a dream, his earthly father, Joseph, takes them and flees to the desert, Egypt. Throughout his ministry there’s a war for the hearts of men, women, boys, and girls. Ultimately, though, Satan’s defeated as Jesus goes to the cross, winning the ultimate victory for all who will come to him. It all fits, kind of. The question for Bible scholars is “What does it illustrate?” Most say that the woman represents the Church and that the battle represents the war waged by the enemy of our souls in an attempt to defeat the Church. If that’s right the message here is one of divine protection and ultimate victory. Even readers like me, in spite of my struggles in understanding the passage, can conclude that, whatever the exact meaning here, God will protect his people and that ultimately, in Christ, victory is ours. I know I don’t get everything that’s going on here, but that’s a pretty good place to start.
Take Away: We don’t have to understand everything to have a firm grasp on the fact of the Lord’s provision for, and protection of, us.
Victory in Jesus
Revelation 7: Who are these dressed in white robes, and where did they come from?
As the worship scene in heaven unfolds John sees more and more worshipers. First, there are 144,000 people from the family trees of Israel. Then, he sees thousands and thousands from “all nations and tribes.” The number is too vast to count and they all begin singing praise to God and to the Lamb. John is transfixed by the scene but his focus is interrupted when one of the Elders asks him a question. He asks John who they are, this white robed, too-vast-to-be-counted throng of worshipers. John doesn’t know, but the Elder answers his own question. These are those who have come through the great tribulation. This huge multitude isn’t made up of everyone in heaven, just of those who faithfully serve Christ right at the end, as earth’s history is being wrapped up. A couple of things come to mind at this point. First, heaven won’t be a lonely place. In spite of “many called, few chosen” the “few” comprise a huge number. Second, as bad as the time of tribulation might be, by God’s power his people can overcome, not just surviving, barely limping in, but thriving in numbers too great to count, coming through clean and rejoicing. This is a testimony, not to human perseverance, but to God’s power at work in the lives of his people.
Take Away: By the grace of the Lord, by his power in our lives…by the Lord, we can hold fast in our faith and receive a glorious entrance into the place he’s prepared for us.
Not a walk in the park
Ephesians 6: Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own.
Several years ago a popular song included the phrase “I beg your pardon; I never promised you a rose garden.” Know what? That’s life in general and, in light of this passage, the Christian life in particular. Paul writes this passage from jail. He warns his readers that they have an enemy who’s intent on destroying them. Their spiritual journey is no game and how they live in the here and now has eternal consequences. If a person starts out living for the Lord thinking it’s going to be a stroll in a rose garden they’re in for some unpleasant surprises. The Apostle focuses on spiritual adversaries, unseen but real. It’s not unreasonable to add the common inconveniences and out and out tragedies of life to this mix. I’m not to be naive about all this. There are times when it becomes clear that I’m up against far more than I can handle. Happily, the Lord hasn’t put us out here in real life without some resources. Paul urges us to take advantage of many powerful resources that are at our fingertips. He reminds us that “Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words.” He directs us to God’s Word and prayer. It’s no rose garden, but I have everything I need to live a victorious, overcoming life.
Take Away: Life isn’t always easy but it’s important to remember the Lord’s faithful provision for us.