Monday, May 14, 2018

Bitterness in the Camp

What is bitterness? How can you spot it? Here's an easy test: bitterness uses another person as an excuse for disobedience.

In other words, "I would do such-and-such, if it weren't for such-and-so." "If such-and-so is going to be there, I'm not going." "It's not my fault."

..but God is greater.

As I read about the Israelites in the book of Joshua this morning I came to these verses:

At that time the Lord said to Joshua, “Make for yourself flint knives and circumcise again the sons of Israel the second time.” So Joshua made himself flint knives and circumcised the sons of Israel at Gibeath-haaraloth. This is the reason why Joshua circumcised them: all the people who came out of Egypt who were males, all the men of war, died in the wilderness along the way after they came out of Egypt. For all the people who came out were circumcised, but all the people who were born in the wilderness along the way as they came out of Egypt had not been circumcised. For the sons of Israel walked forty years in the wilderness, until all the nation, that is, the men of war who came out of Egypt, perished because they did not listen to the voice of the Lord, to whom the Lord had sworn that He would not let them see the land which the Lord had sworn to their fathers to give us, a land flowing with milk and honey. Their children whom He raised up in their place, Joshua circumcised; for they were uncircumcised, because they had not circumcised them along the way. (Deuteronomy 5: 3-7 NASB)

Did you see it? The people were so hardened against God they did not want their children identified as His people. "Sure, we're stuck here in the wilderness. We don't have a choice, but He's not going to get our children." There was a sense of entitlement (I deserve)* which led to a consumer mentality (God's here to serve me):

The rabble who were among them had greedy desires; and also the sons of Israel wept again and said, “Who will give us meat to eat? We remember the fish which we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers and the melons and the leeks and the onions and the garlic, but now our appetite is gone. There is nothing at all to look at except this manna.” (Numbers 11:4-6)

When God didn't meet their demands, they fell into a victim mentality (I can't help it; It's not my fault). When they realized they had no control and they were stuck with manna for forty years, they surrendered to a perishing mentality (We're all going to die). This type of thinking always results in rebellion.  The Apostle Paul broke it down like this for the New Testament Church:

Now these things happened as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved. Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and stood up to play.” Nor let us act immorally, as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in one day. Nor let us try the Lord, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the serpents. Nor grumble, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer. Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. (1 Corinthians 10:11-13)

Even with the perfect Rock, the perfect Father and Provider, they fell into bitterness, seeing themselves as the center of the universe. They refused to be satisfied with God's provision and demanded more. We do the same. Maybe we want a better job, a different family, a better wife, children, home, car...whatever it is, it's not good enough for me. Then, as my thoughts cycle around and around, and I struggle with discontentment, I end up angry and bitter. The result is me justifying my sin: I won't talk to them; I can mistreat them; I won't go to church; I refuse to go out of my way, God doesn't deserve my _______ (fill in the blank)... In the case of the Israelites in the wilderness, God doesn't deserve our children, so we won't circumcise them. And the root grew deep, defiling many (Hebrews 12:15).

The Bible uses Esau as the prime example of bitterness: See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled; that there be no immoral or godless person like Esau, who sold his own birthright for a single meal. For you know that even afterwards, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought for it with tears. (Hebrews 12:15-17).

Bitterness. Like all sin, it is an act of rebellion that creates destruction; but it is not outside the hand of God. He can and will use all things to glorify Himself. Know someone who's bitter? Get involved. Call them out. Pray for them. Love on them. Don't let their bitterness be an excuse for your disobedience. Are you bitter? Look to the Lord. Confess your self-centered desires and demands then ask God to help you turn it around so you can forgive, love, and serve others as Christ did. What about your enemies? God says,

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:14-21)

Guess what? God lives longer than people. His way and will prevails. And He is faithful. He raises us leaders and kings--and in the case of Israel, He raised up Joshua to lead the rebels' children. Our disobedience, rebellion, and bitterness will not, cannot, stop God. But confession and repentance restore our relationship and give us a God-designed purpose: that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 4:11)

Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall. No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:12-13)

* See Mark Shaw's book, Addiction-Proof Parenting: Prevention Strategies for Parents

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Moving Forward

The way I understand it, not all of the Bible is written to me, personally. Yes, the truths of the Bible are timeless and God never changes, but the stories and letters were written to specific people at a specific time. They have a context that may or may not apply to what's going on in my life right now. Whether you agree or disagree with my viewpoint perhaps you will be encouraged as I was this morning.

(After time off to rewrite and study the book of 1 Corinthians, I'm back at my chronological read through the Bible....)

When I left the Old Testament, Moses had reviewed Israel's time in the wilderness and God's commands. Then, after a longing gaze on the Promised Land, he died alone and the Lord buried him (oh, how God loved Moses!!).

Its time to move forward. Joshua has taken over and Israel is ready to get on with it. Here are some of my thoughts from Joshua 1-4.

  1. 1:3 The LORD said: “Every place on which the sole of your foot treads, I have given it to you, just as I spoke to Moses.” God has not given me literally every place my foot treads, but every step of my path is the place He has brought me; it is the place He has given me, for this moment, for His purpose. While I’m here, I am to continue to meditate on God's Word and do it! (Just do it--as Kevin Carson says, "God doesn't pay you to think, He pays you to obey" --personal paraphrase). 
  2. 1:8-9 And then He said: “…meditate on [this book of the law] day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed for the LORD you God is with you wherever you go?”
  3. In the moments of uncertainty, going, and doing life, God’s call does not change. I am to remember Him and His Word, to obey, and walk in His way regardless of my circumstances, trusting Him with the outcome (see point 1).
  4. 2:17-18 The spies did not know how God was going to give them Jericho, but it made sense for Rahab to set apart her home from the others in the day of battle. Not only did Rahab act in faith by hiding them (James 2), they, too, acted on faith that God would provide a means of rescue for her and her family if they followed practical steps of obedience, doing what made sense, and trusting God with the outcome.
  5. 2:24 The spies reported, “Surely the LORD has given all the land into our hands; moreover, all the inhabitants of the land have melted away before us.” God, in His goodness, showed them that even the people who lived there were afraid of them and what God was getting ready to do. God doesn't just take care of the surface details, He works every bit, down to the very thoughts, motivation, and emotions of the people involved.
  6. 3:10-11 Then, as a means of showing His might and intentions, God gave them (and the surrounding nations), and unforgettable sign. He is so good! He knows our tendency to doubt, question, and give in to our own way instead of moving forward in faith. “Joshua said, ‘By this you shall know that the living God is among you, and that He will assuredly dispossess from before you the Canaanite, the Hittite, the Hivite, the Perizzite, the Grigashite, the Amorite, and the Jebusite…” as He stopped the water of the Jordan and dried it before the nation.
  7. 4:8-9 As a reminder, they placed stones--one for every tribe--in the Jordan itself before it overflowed its banks once more. i.e. Remember!!! We are such forgetful people!
  8. 4:23-24”For the LORD your God dried up the waters of the Jordan before you until you had crossed, just as the LORD your God had done to the Red Sea, which He dried up before us until we had crossed; that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the LORD is mighty, so that you may fear the LORD your God forever.” In other words, "This is not about you. It never was. This is about God showing His might and power--this is about man seeing himself and his incredible limitations and turning to worship almighty, omnipotent God, the One who makes it all, who goes before you, who is worthy of all praise and adoration. He is worthy of your obedience and your life.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Who's Your Shepherd?

I was unloading the dishwasher this morning, thinking of the nights I worked as a labor and delivery nurse in the barn. One of the most common questions people ask about sheep is, "Are they as stupid as people say they are?" And the answer? Yes.

But in my mind the thing that gets sheep in trouble is not their lack of smarts but their fear. They are creatures without the ability to protect or care for themselves--without sharp teeth, hooves, the ability to hide or run fast. God created them defenseless. That is why they need a good shepherd.

Our sheep are not frightened most of the time. They live within a sound fence and barn with cattle, dogs, chickens and cats as companions. Each day they are provided clean water and grain or grass. Their needs are met; they have no fear, which is evident as they mosey from one end of the pasture to another. Content sheep don't run willy-nilly, they graze, lie down, and quietly mind their own business.  That got me thinking about people; scared, frightened people.

If you don't  have a good shepherd, you will be afraid. You should be afraid. Suffering from fear and anxiety is a natural response to being in a bad place. Whether we admit it or not, people were created from the very beginning as helpless, depending creatures. And not having the right shepherd is terrifying. The good news is, there IS a Good Shepherd--and it's not me. If I have enough sense to stop and look at where I am when anxiety rises in my gut, I may find that I've wandered away. I'm trying to be my own shepherd. Perhaps I'm trusting someone or something else. Neither is a good option.

But when I turn and run to God and come under His shepherding through Christ, my needs will be more than met. I will even walk through the valley of the shadow of death, without fear.

The next time fear and anxiety threaten your heart stop and ask, "Where is my shepherd?" You'll find Him right were you left Him--and He'll be looking or waiting for you.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
(Psalm 23 ESV)