Tell the Next Generation

1 Chronicles 7-10

Psalm 78 4b NIV

 

I believe today’s reading will be the last of the genealogies for awhile.  There are a lot of names, a lot of generations.  Father to son.  Father to son.  Father to son – and sometimes a daughter.  Father to son. A whole lot of heritage.  A whole lot of passing along from one generation to the next.  It reminds us that our life is not just what we see and experience today.  We have a past that has shaped us and we (and our children) have a future for which to prepare.

 

I am reminded of a passage in Psalm 78 that we read last week but didn’t have time to discuss directly.

 

My people, hear my teaching;
listen to the words of my mouth.
I will open my mouth with a parable;
I will utter hidden things, things from of old—
things we have heard and known,
things our ancestors have told us.
We will not hide them from their descendants;
we will tell the next generation
the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord,
his power, and the wonders he has done.
He decreed statutes for Jacob
and established the law in Israel,
which he commanded our ancestors
to teach their children,
so the next generation would know them,
even the children yet to be born,
and they in turn would tell their children.
Then they would put their trust in God
and would not forget his deeds
but would keep his commands.
They would not be like their ancestors—
a stubborn and rebellious generation,
whose hearts were not loyal to God,
whose spirits were not faithful to him.

Psalm 78:1-8

 

I am thankful for a father who passed along to me the spiritual heritage he received from his father and grandfather.  Both of my parents brought their children up to seek and serve the Lord first – it is by far the most important life lessons that they taught.  In fact, today’s photo is a Bible timeline that I inherited from my dad, and one of my favorite treasures from him. He spent hours researching and meticulously drawing out this timeline to help illustrate for his Bible students (including his children) God’s faithfulness and plan for the ages.  And, he lived it out with his life, too.

 

So, now it is my turn to pass along what I have heard and learned.  How do I do that with the words I speak, with the priorities I set and with the life I live?  How do I help my children seek God, grow in faith and love Him more and more?

 

There are so many negative influences and evil that would love to help us and our children forget God’s great deeds, His law, His faithfulness and His plan for the ages.  But we must not forget.  Nor is it enough to just remember for ourselves.  We have a great responsibility to hand these truths down to the next generation so they can hand them down to the generation after them, etc…until Jesus returns.

 

Maybe you cannot celebrate an upright Godly spiritual heritage in your genetic past.  You don’t have the benefit of an antique family heirloom Bible timeline rolled up in your closet.  That’s okay.  Paper rips and ink fades, but if you have a love for the LORD you have priceless spiritual mentors you can call mom and dad.  And, then, we must in turn create a spiritual heritage rich in God’s goodness, laws, and plan for salvation for those around us: our children, grandchildren and those children of all ages and colors and countries who need to know what God’s Word says and who God is.

 

God’s genealogy doesn’t end here in 1st Chronicles.  It is continuing today, and into the future.  Will it be recorded that you passed along what is of the most importance to those that came after you?  Don’t let yourself, or your children, be listed as the ones that forgot.  Tell of His goodness.  Put God first.  Pass it on.

Marcia Railton

 

Too important to not mention: I love verse 6 in Psalm 78 (above) where we see the value and great worth of, “the children yet to be born”.  Whether the children are conceived or not, born or not, they were planned to play a part in God’s design of the passing along of family and faith.  How tragic that this link has been broken time and time again when the children yet to be born are killed for convenience before they even get a chance to hear, learn and share of their Creator.  Tell of His goodness.  And His Word and His law.  Do not forget.  And do not ignore the evil that rejoices when God is forgotten.  We need to speak louder since voices in the chain are silenced.

 

Today’s Bible reading can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+Chronicles+7-10&version=NIV

Tomorrow’s reading will be Psalms 102-104 as we continue the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

God’s Promises are Not Empty Words

Deuteronomy 17-20

Deut 20 3 4 NIV

We’re going to continue our study of Deuteronomy today by looking at a principle that, although given specifically to the Israelites, also has application today.

Let’s look in chapter 20.

“When you go to war against your enemies and see horses and chariots and an army greater than yours, do not be afraid of them, because the LORD your God, who brought you up out of Egypt, will be with you.  When you are about to go into battle, the priest shall come forward and address the army.  He shall say: “Hear, O Israel, today you are going into battle against your enemies.  Do not be faint-hearted or afraid; do not be terrified or give way to panic before them.  For the LORD your God is the one who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies to give you victory.”

Promises in Action

First, it’s kind of cool to see examples of God’s people claiming this promise and God doing exactly what he promised. (Because frankly, more often than not, we see disobedience, don’t we?)  In 2 Chronicles 32, Assyria invades Judah and Hezekiah does all the typical stuff to prepare for war.  He consults his military advisors, makes some strategic moves, has weapons and shields made.  Then he addresses the soldiers with these words;

“Be strong and courageous.  Do not be afraid or discouraged because of the king of Assyria and the vast army with him, for there is a greater power with us than with him.  With him is only the arm of flesh, but with us is the LORD our God to help us and to fight our battles.”

Want to know what God did?

“And the LORD sent an angel who annihilated all the fighting men and the leaders and officers in the camp of the Assyrian king. So he withdrew to his own land in disgrace.”

Moses’ successor, Joshua, also reminded God’s people of this very promise before his death in Joshua 23.

“…the LORD your God fights for you, just as he promised.”

God will fight for you

Wondering how this principle applies to us today?  After all, I don’t know about you, but our church doesn’t have its own military battalion.  Paul tells us in Ephesians 6 that our battles are against the “powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”  He further encourages us to “be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.”

Whatever you are battling today, God will fight for you.

Even if you are out-manned, out gunned, or have every reason to run….don’t.

Be like Hezekiah—consult advisors, make a plan, do what you can do.  And then remember,

“The LORD your God is the one who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies to give you victory.”

 

Susan Landry

 

Today’s Bible reading can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Deuteronomy+17-20&version=NIV

Tomorrow’s reading will be Deuteronomy  21-23 as we continue the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

 

 

Susan lives in balmy Minnesota with her favorite person, Greg, and (except for this year) their two sons.  She teaches, tutors and writes.  You can find her blog, The Sparrow’s Home, online at thesparrowshome.com  Some of Susan’s favorite words include grace, kindness, and authenticity.  Also snuggling.

Who Are You Blaming?

Job 29-31

Job 31 2 NIV

I love the orderly layout for Job’s final 3 chapters of his defense before God and man.

 

In chapter 29 Job longs for his earlier days, “When the Almighty was still with me and my children were around me” (Job 29:5).  He isn’t dwelling on all the wonderful material  goods he once enjoyed, though we know they were many.  Rather, he is fondly recalling the interactions he had with others – the respect he felt, the ability he once had to help others: serving as the father to the needy, rescuing the fatherless, and comforting the mourners.  And, then he became the mourner.

 

In chapter 30 Job details his current despair.  Now he is detested by men.  He has lost all former dignity and safety and feels terror instead.  He is physically suffering with gnawing pain; blackened, peeling skin; and fever.  And perhaps worst of all, he feels like God is ignoring his cries for help.

 

In chapter 31 Job affirms his righteousness, denying his friends’ claims that he must now be suffering because of great past sins.  He describes many sins: lust, dishonest business transactions, marital infidelity, injustice, not caring for the poor and fatherless, abusing power, greed, idolatry, rejoicing over one’s enemy’s misfortune, and hiding guilt.  For each sin he says, I didn’t do it.  And for each sin he names a punishment a just God could give to him or anyone else who did that evil.

 

The problem is Job – and his friends we have heard from in the past many chapters – don’t understand that there are multiple reasons why we may be enduring trials.  His friends say trials are a result of God’s punishment.  And they were right – but only partially right.  They were erroneously blaming Job for his current trials because he must have deserved it.  Job says he was righteous (not sinless, but righteous) and thus shouldn’t be experiencing trials if God was just.  But, just who is God?  And why does He allow suffering?  These are still the questions that need answers today.

 

Last month I was delighted to watch the youth of our church develop and share a Youth Sunday based on several “apologetic” questions people ask about God.  Does God exist?  Did He create the world?  Is the Bible accurate and reliable?  Are science and the Bible enemies?  AND the biggie – why does God allow suffering?  Too many times a faithful person can believe all the right things and live the right life (just like Job) – until trouble comes.  And then the blaming and questioning tears them away from what they knew was true and the God that loves them.  It was powerful seeing these young people studying truth (guided by godly mentors) and gaining this understanding which will prepare them for trials to come.

 

I want to share with you a brief outline which youth group members, Kaitlyn and Addie, presented on “Why Does God Allow Suffering?”

  • The Fall (Genesis 3:14-19, Romans 5:12)
  • The Devil Causes Evil (2 Corinthians 4:4, 1 Peter 5:8,9)
  • God’s Judgments (Romans 6:23, Genesis 19:13) – this was the one Job’s friends knew about
  • God Uses Suffering for Good (Romans 8:28, James 1:2-4)
  • Sometimes People Don’t Get Healing Because of a Lack of Faith (Matthew 9:22-24, Mark 9:29)
  • Time & Chance (Luke 13:1-5, Ecclesiastes 9:11)

 

Many sermons could be written about any of these but I want to say just a few words about the devil, Satan, the accuser, the serpent, or the god of this age…the list goes on.  He goes by many names – perhaps a part of his deception and secret identities.  I find it very interesting that he plays a KEY role in Job 1 & 2 – and yet is not mentioned again by either Job or his friends.  He is the one bringing about these trials (which God is allowing) but everyone is pointing the finger at God rather than at Satan.  It is true that the Old Testament has a very limited number of references to Satan.  They did not yet have a very thorough understanding of many things God would reveal to His people through time – the Messiah, the resurrection, and Satan.

 

When Jesus enters the scene, he works to bring a clearer understanding of all these things.  All 4 gospel writers record Jesus speaking about (and sometimes directly to) the devil/Satan and the power he wields to tempt, deceive and inflict.  Every New Testament writer references the devil or Satan.  I believe we still point the finger at God often times when we ought to be recognizing, and fleeing from, the power of the god of this age.  Perhaps there is something you need to stop blaming God for and give the “credit” to Satan instead.

 

And, that is just ONE of the other Biblical reasons for our trials.  So much to think about in the book of Job!

 

I enjoyed looking into Job with you this week and I greatly look forward to the coming week when we get to hear from Cayce (Ballard) Fletcher as we get into the BEST parts of the book of Job!

 

Keep Reading and Seeking, Growing and Loving
Marcia Railton

 

To read or listen to today’s Bible passage check out – https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Job+29-31&version=NIV

 

Tomorrow’s reading will be Job 32-34 as we continue the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

 

Put on Your Armor

Ephesians 6

6

Paul, the writer of Ephesians, was imprisoned in Rome, where he got an up-close and personal view of the Roman soldier’s armor. He encourages us to put on our own armor to deliver us from evil in our own spiritual battles.

Do you realize how often your faith is under siege? In the United States, you probably won’t be imprisoned, attacked, or killed for your faith, but don’t underestimate the battle you are fighting. Lies are infiltrating your mind and heart all day long. Consider how much information you take in each day that contradicts what the Bible teaches:

Do whatever makes you happy.

Truth is relative.

A fetus is just a clump of cells.

Sex before marriage? Go for it!

Billions of years ago…

You’re unlovable.

It can feel debilitating being surrounded by so many lies, but I have good news for you: God is the source of our strength. He wants to clothe you in His protection—His armor.

Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.(Ephesians 6:13-17)

God has supplied you with the armor, but it’s still your decision if you’re going to put it on. Sometimes we get too busy (or honestly just lazy) and neglect to take the time to put on our armor, but we should take every precaution possible because the consequences of losing our battles are severe.

What exactly does putting on your armor look like? First of all, you must know what the Bible says in order to recognize the lies. Never underestimate the importance of reading your Bible. Next, pray! Pray that God would open your eyes to His truth and would give you the courage to expose the lies.

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.(Ephesians 6:10)

 

-Mackenzie McClain

When Temptation Comes

Matthew 4

matthew 4 1

More than we would like to admit, we struggle with temptation.  No matter how great our will or sense of purpose in our life, it always seems to find a way to slither into our lives and rear its ugly head.  Ironically, we are caught most off guard and unaware, not when we are in the midst of a struggle with sin or a desperate time, but when things are at their best.  One minute we are walking close to God, doing his will, connected to His Spirit, loving His word, sharing his Gospel, and the next we are faced with an idea (James 1:13-14).  An awful idea. A wonderfully awful idea that will feed our selfishness, our human condition.

In Matthew 4, today’s reading, Jesus is led by the Spirit to the desert.  God, being the great storyteller he is, takes Jesus to the ultimate contrast of Eden, where the groans of nature longing for restoration can be most heard (Rom 8:22).  A setting that is far away from paradise, an allegory of the state of mankind, filled with the different, yet same challenge – temptation. Now, there are theological hairs you can split as you read this message today. Don’t do that. Fix your eyes on Jesus.

Jesus’s  triumph begs the question, “How did He overcome temptation?”  Well, He was the Son of God, right? This is true, but an error in our thinking if we think this is the sole reason that Jesus wins the days.  He is the Son of God, but he faced temptation, “just as we are”, and did not sin (Heb 4:15). You might say, “He obviously had a special ability to resist.”  You are right. It is the same special ability we have access to: The Holy Spirit. God may take us to the desert to see what our faith is made of, but He will not give us something we can’t handle, and will actually empower us if we seek Him in that moment (1 Cor 10:13).

But careful. Careful we must be because when we are in the desert it is easy to see what is coming.   We might feel as though we have plunged a dagger into the heart of temptation, but we have not put it to rest.  We must remember, we are human. No matter how willing our spirit is to continue on day after day in the will of God, our flesh is weak (Matt 26:40-43).  We crave food. We seek power. We want to be known. Our eyes, the lamp into our soul (Matt 6:22-24), see a way we can instantly fulfill the desires that will be made complete by God and chases after them in selfish, fleeting moments.  Unfortunately, this often comes on the day we leave our armor at home, catching us off guard, not ready to do spiritual battle.

Deut 8 3Looking to Jesus, how can we be ready to do battle with temptation?  First, he knew the word of God. It is how He responds not only to the temptation, but even when the word of God is seemingly being used against Him.  How can you know the will of God? It is as ironically simple as losing weight: diet and exercise. Consume the right thing, His word, and practice it daily, so you will be spiritual healthy.  Next, do God’s business. Know that temptation can come at any moment, but comes easier when we are idle (Prov 16:27-29). Keep your eyes on God and your hands and feet busy to his work. Like the old adage, “if you’re going through hell, just keep going,”  Jesus faced the temptation, but immediately moves onto His ministry. Temptation IS NOT sin. No guilt required; pick up and move on. Finally, be on guard. Relapse can setback or even kill your spiritual life. Removing unnecessary temptation from our lives is a must.  Even if we are in the word every day, engaging in spiritual disciplines, or deeply involved in a ministry, at the very height of our endeavors, it only takes a moment to go back to sin and fall harder and faster than we ever did (the very nature of relapse). If you can’t hang out with your friends without getting drunk, then don’t hang out with them.  If you can’t be on the internet without looking at inappropriate sites, then don’t get on it. If you can’t use social media without bridling your tongue and speaking in love, then stop. Jesus uses hyperbole to illustrate the practical advice when he states, “it is better to cut your hand off” or “pluck your eye out” (Matt 5:29, 30) than to be lost to sin, and ultimately the kingdom of God.

It is imperative you know there is a way to overcome temptation, no matter how great.  We have access to the Father, power through His Holy Spirit, and our eyes on Jesus Christ not only as our example, but our mediator when we fall short. He speaks to the Father because Jesus knows what it is like, and encourages us to not give in or give up.  Study. Do. Guard. Repeat. Temptation may come, but sin will no longer find a foothold in you.

-Aaron Winner

Our Hope in the Wilderness

choose joy

This week, we’ve been taking some time to rest and reflect on what it means to wander through the wilderness. Through the complex stories of the Israelites, Elijah, David, and Jesus, we see both the types of wildernesses that we may face in this life as well as the ways that we can ultimately overcome the wilderness and make it out of those difficult seasons.

As we’ve discussed this past week, these are the four Wilderness Wandering Lessons that we learned from these stories:

  1. The faithful love of God is infinitely more secure than our fractured circumstances.
  2. Remembering past victories can help to steady our heart in the midst of our current despair.
  3. When the desires of our heart lead us away from God, true repentance leads us back.
  4. God’s word sustains us when we are depleted by the trials of the wilderness.

If you find yourself in a time of wilderness wandering, don’t despair. Many have been there before you and have made it out and used that time as a witness for God’s deliverance. Remember, one of Satan’s ultimate goals, as I mentioned earlier this week, is to steal your joy. One of the primary fruits of the Spirit is joy, and that joy should be evident in your life. The Israelites and Judeans knew what it was like to lose their joy when they were exiled from Israel at the end of 2 Kings. But, as we read in Jeremiah 31:2-3, 11-13, God promised that Joy to the Israelites and Judeans and he promises that Joy to you too.

“This is what the Lord says: They found favor in the wilderness – the people who survived the sword. When Israel went to find rest, the Lord appeared to him from far away. I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore, I have continued to extend faithful love to you… For the Lord has ransomed Jacob and redeemed him from the power of one stronger than he. They will come and shout for joy on the heights of Zion; they will be radiant with joy because of the Lord’s goodness. I will turn their mourning into joy, give them consolation, and bring happiness out of grief.”

By living our life in Christ, our joy is made complete (John 15:11). When you find the hurt, isolation, or pain of life weighing down on you, pause and remember that we can overcome through Christ. Trade your grief for happiness, your mourning for joy. We can celebrate. We can overcome. Because the joy of our Lord is our strength.

~ Cayce Fletcher

***Click on the following link to listen to one of my favorite songs by Rend Collective called the “Joy of the Lord is my strength.” Learning this song can be a reminder to you to choose joy. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c2B6Yw0zy70

Lessons from the Wilderness: Jesus

Wilderness Wandering Lesson #4: God’s word sustains us when we are depleted by the trials of the wilderness.

god's word does.

This week, as we’ve been thinking about our wilderness wanderings, we’ve primarily looked through the lessons from the Old Testament. Today though, we’re going to turn to the New Testament to see an example of a wilderness experience that can teach us a lot about how to make sure this experience makes us and doesn’t break us.

In Matthew 4, Jesus is tempted in the desert by the Devil for 40 days and 40 nights before he begins his ministry. This is a familiar story that shows the humanity of Jesus and how he can relate to us, but today, I want to focus on where Jesus was tempted. It says in verse 1 that “Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil.” In our time thinking about the wilderness, we’ve focused on the types of wilderness experiences we may have and how God’s faithful love can sustain us. As we look at Jesus’ experience, we can see how to survive and thrive in the wilderness.  

The first lesson we can glean from this passage is that sometimes, as is the case with the Israelites and Elijah, we are led into the wilderness by God. Jesus was led into the wilderness by the Spirit where he fasted 40 days and 40 nights. At this point, Jesus had not begun his ministry, so this time could have been for testing and strengthening Jesus’ faith and dependence on God so that we could learn from it. By asking ourselves during each wilderness experience “What can I learn from this? How can I grow?”, we can better face the times in wilderness with palms held open instead of allowing bitterness to grow in us.

The second lesson we can learn from Jesus’ time in the wilderness is that God’s word is crucial for surviving in the wilderness. In the wilderness, Jesus had to face physical hunger, thirst, and exhaustion. He also was probably emotionally drained in this time as well. This may sound like a description of ourselves when we go through times in the wilderness. How often in these times where we are sad, lonely, depressed and drained – how often do we pause in these moments and stop the spiral of depression and wandering by saturating ourselves in God’s word? By looking at Jesus’ example, we can see how we can stop temptations in their tracks by responding with God’s word, more specifically by aligning our actions with God’s word.

The last lesson that I want us to focus on today is looking at when this wilderness experience took place. Though Jesus had not begun his ministry yet, in the previous chapter, he had just gotten baptized. All too often, we think that if we have committed our life to God that things will go well, that we’ll never have to experience trials or periods of suffering. But, we can look at Jesus’ life to see that this is simply not that case. Aside from Jesus’ experience on the cross, we can look at the beginning of his ministry as well to see that as these periods will happened to him, they will happen to us.

Jesus survived in the wilderness, and he thrived in the wilderness. I’m not sure what Jesus gained spiritually or emotionally in the wilderness, but I know what I can learn from his experience there. In the wilderness, Jesus was able to overcome temptation and suffering, including not only physical trials – but also spiritual trials – through God’s word. God’s word sustained Jesus and allowed this time to be a springboard into Jesus’ ministry instead of something that would have crippled his ministry. Now, we can look at this story and lessen the impact of what Jesus was able to do because Jesus was the son of God. But, Jesus was capable of growth and change, as seen in Luke 2:52. This is what makes him the perfect mediator for us. So, as we close this lesson today, I want to leave you with the words of Jesus as he readied his disciples for the trials they would face during the days leading up to the crucifixion: “I have told you these things so that in Me you may have peace. You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world” (John 16:33). With Jesus, we can conquer the world, including all our days of wilderness wanderings.

~ Cayce Fletcher

spurgeon quote

Lessons from the Wilderness: David

Wilderness Wandering Lesson #3: When the desires of our heart lead us away from God, true repentance leads us back.

Psalm-51-Prayer.jpg

At the heart of our lessons from the Israelites and Elijah is a focus on trust. We need to trust that God knows best for us and will lead us in the right direction as the Israelites learned. And, we need to trust that God will provide and protect us according to his will like Elijah learned. Elijah, in our previous lesson, was not lead into a wilderness season by any failing on his part. Instead, the wilderness for him was because of circumstances outside of his control. By looking to God and remembering those past successes with God, he was able to overcome trying circumstances.

The wilderness story that we will look at today also concerns a man that could remember past successes with God. In his story, he had stood against giants, mad kings, had been through the wilderness once and overcame it. David was a “man after God’s own heart” (1 Sam. 13:14). We see in the book of 1 Samuel David’s victories. He was blessed by God, and because of this blessing, he was able to overcome his enemies. The book of 2 Samuel then describes what happened to David after he overcame these things and became King of Israel. During the first 10 chapters, David is set on the throne and receives the Davidic covenant, where he is told that Jesus will come from his lineage. If David could have just stayed in these moments where his focus was on God, he would have dwelt securely in the land and set up his children to do the same.

Instead, we see David drifting down a path that led him to devastation in 2 Sam. 11. In this chapter, we see the story where David, without questioning his actions for how they would reflect God, sleeps with Bathsheba and sends her husband to her death. After this, David is told that he would lose the baby Bathsheba just bore and that his house would be destroyed. David’s actions here lead toward the hurt that he faced with his son Absalom in 2 Sam. 14-15. The first sin that we see in these chapter 11, lusting after Bathsheba, began the sin cycle that led David into a wilderness period that was a time of intense pain that David never really got over.

So how did David get to this point? During this time, he had stayed back at his palace idle instead of going with his armies to fight in the wars he wanted them to engage in. At this moment, his desires began to be misaligned from the desires of God. And from here, his actions lead him away from God.

We see some of David’s reactions in 2 Samuel as he mourns his son and repents of his sin. But, at this time, we don’t see his feelings about this time in the wilderness. In Psalm 38, a psalm written by David, we see the danger that comes from drifting too far from God. We see the desperation in David’s voice as he says, “There is no health in my body because of Your indignation; there is no strength in my bones because of my sin. For my sins have flooded over my head; they are a burden too heavy for me to bear. My wounds are foul and festering because of my foolishness” (Ps. 38:3-5). Because of David’s sin, he had to experience terrible pain, a trying wilderness experience. We can look back at the lessons of the Israelites to realize this time in the wilderness was for purification, but still, if David had aligned the desires of his heart with the desires and character of God, he could have saved himself from this pain.

ps. 51

The wilderness is not always caused by our sin, as we’ve seen. But, at times, it is. And during these times, we can look to David’s example to see how to overcome those moments in the wilderness that were caused by our sin. Psalm 38 is an example of a penitential psalm, that shows both David’s true repentance and his desire for God in his life. Psalm 51 is another example of David writing in repentance. He says, “Be gracious to me God, according to your faithful love; according to Your abundant compassion, blot away my rebellion. Wash away my guilt and cleanse me from my sin. For I am conscious of my rebellion, and my sin is always before me. Against You – You alone – I have sinned and done this evil in Your sight. So you are right when you pass sentence. You are blameless when You judge” (Ps. 51:1-4). In this psalm and the other psalms, we see how David takes responsibility for his sin and also recognized what is required from him if he sins. He needs to be purified with a new heart that reflects the desires of God to be placed within him. This is key to accomplishing what David asks God in v. 12: “Restore the Joy of Your salvation to me and give me a willing spirit.” When we are in a wilderness of cause by our sin, we may be tempted to harden our hearts in anger against God. But, that is the path that leads us away from God and further into the wilderness. When we truly repent, we can receive back the true joy that comes from the salvation of God. After we have made it through the wilderness, we can use this time to bring others back to God (v. 13). If you are in this time today, choose the right path and come back to God. It may be painful to soften your heart and feel the weight of your sin, but that we’ll lead you towards the true joy that comes from God.

~ Cayce Fletcher

Lessons from the Wilderness: Elijah

Wilderness Wandering Lesson #2: Remembering past circumstances can help to steady our heart in the midst of our current despair.

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It was at that moment though that the sky got a little cloudy and the wind started to pick up. We wanted to hike a little, so we to hike the trail towards the top of the mountain, with cattle lazily grazing along the rocky path. Quickly, the picturesque scene turned gray. We made it to the summit, but the mountain had clouded over, so much so that it was difficult to see straight in front of you. We quickly walked back down and waited out the fog in a small cafe, trying to warm up our hands with a coffee, before making our way to the tram.

That hike was beautiful and totally worth our short brush with the fog. But, what I’ve found is that our lives sometimes mirror that hike, but the fog can be much more dangerous. Sometimes, our lives are steady, and we exist in the happy medium of contentment and love. At other times though, our lives can be a stormy cycle of highs and lows, mountains and valleys. In our case, we were on a mountain, a mountain where we were elated. We had traveled far to get there and wanted to rest in the view and the glory. But, it was on this mountain that what we had traveled far to see and done a lot of work to do (including a 1 hour train ride and a flustered conversation in German) that we experienced a storm that clouded our experiences and made us doubt if it was really worth it.

Elijah the prophet experienced his own brush with the wilderness right after he experienced the high of his life. He was no stranger to the wilderness after relying on God’s provision in 1 Kings 17. In 1 Kings 18, he is able to testify to God’s glory and work as he goes through a showdown with the prophets of Baal. He actually gets to see the fire of Yahweh fall from heaven and rid the people of the prophets of Baal!

If we saw these things, we might be tempted to say that we would never doubt God. After seeing this, we might be elated, speechless, high on our mountaintop moment. But, for Elijah, the fog rolled in. In chapter 19, Jezebel sends word to Elijah that she was planning on killing him as soon as she could get her hands on him. Elijah panics and runs for his life into the wilderness. There, he lays down and prays for God to take his life (v. 4). Sometimes, our wilderness moments can lead us to places like this. Our vision can get cloudy if it’s focused on our circumstances that may stormy and volatile. And, in those moments, dark despair can set in, and we may think it would be better to just give up.

But then I recall all you have done, O LORD; I remember your wonderful deeds of long ago.If you are in that moment, remember that God does not leave Elijah there, and he doesn’t want to leave you there either. Instead, he says, “Get up and eat (v. 5). After Elijah eats twice, he goes on a journey forty days and forty nights to the mountain of God. There, Elijah waits, first through a great wind, then through an earthquake, and lastly through a fire. In each of these places, he does not hear God’s voice. Finally, he hears it in the soft whisper, as God asks him “What are you doing here Elijah?” (v. 13) Elijah responds by saying, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God of Hosts, but the Israelites have abandoned your covenant, torn down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they’re looking for me to take my life” (v. 14). Elijah feels this despair because he had forgotten what God just showed him. In the desert when he was hungry, God was there with provision. He had forgotten that in the showdown, God was there with provision. When we turn our eyes from God to focus on our fractured circumstances, it can lead us to doubt. But, one remedy for that doubt is not only to remember the character of God but also to remember how God has exhibited that character in previous actions of faithfulness. We can trust in him not only because of what we know from the Bible but also because of what we know from our own lives. So, if you are in a wilderness period in your life, pause and remember God’s past faithfulness instead of dwelling on your despair. These reminders can help us to remember that even in our darkest times, God will carry us through.

~ Cayce Fletcher

Lessons from the Wilderness: The Israelites

heb.Over the next few days, we’re going to look at four wilderness stories in the bible to learn a lesson about what the wilderness is and what it can teach us. The first Wilderness Wandering Lesson is this:

Wilderness Wandering Lesson #1: The faithful love of God is infinitely more secure than our fractured circumstances.

The most recognizable story of wilderness is that of the Israelites. After 400 years of servitude to the Egyptians, the Israelites kept crying out to God for the deliverance prophecied by Joseph in Gen. 50:25. That help came in the form of Moses, who was commissioned by God to lead the Israelites to the land of Canaan. So this so-called Promised land, part of the covenant promise that God made with Abraham in Gen. 12, was the Israelites’ destination. Even in the Israelites’ time in the wilderness, we can see two purposes in the wilderness. The wilderness in the first year was a time of purification and dependence. It is in the wilderness that the Israelites learned to trust God for direction (Fire and Cloud – Ex. 14) and sustenance (Manna and Water – Ex. 16). In Exodus 16, God even says, “I will test them to see whether or not they will follow my instructions” (v. 4). This testing was his goal for the first year the Israelites spent in the wilderness. Spent mostly at the base of Mt. Sinai, it was in this time that the Israelites received the ten commandments, built the tabernacle, and received the rest of the law (Ex. 15-Num. 10). Though there was difficulty in this time (think Golden Calf – Ex. 32), this time in the wilderness was also full of incredible closeness to God. It was during this time that the Israelites were able to witness the Shekinah glory of God descend on the tabernacle. And, during this time, the Israelites experienced the humbling dependence on God that came from relying on him.

Map-Route-Exodus-Israelites-Egypt

We can think of this first year in the wilderness as the training wheels period where God was showing the Israelites that relying on him was best. That trusting in him was the way to choose life and joy. In Numbers 10, the Israelites break camp and move towards the border of the Promised land. In Numbers 11, the cracks begin to show again as the Israelites complain more and more about hardship, food, and in the case of Aaron and Miriam, the power and relationship with God that Moses had. Based on the tendencies that we see in these chapters, we shouldn’t be as surprised as we generally are that the Israelites get to the border of the promised land and choose to go against God and refuse to take the land because of their fear (Num. 14). The Israelites chose not to go into the promised land because their trust in God was lacking. They didn’t think that God would do what he said he would. Instead, they based their decisions on their circumstances, which seemed too difficult to overcome. It’s this that ultimately angers God and leads towards his judgment against the Israelites: They would wander the wilderness for 40 years (one year for each day they spent scouting the wilderness). In the remaining chapters of Numbers, we see more instances of rebellion and provision as the Israelites do exactly as God says and wander the wilderness for 40 years. It is not until the book of Joshua, that we see the next generation of Israelites rise up and take the land just as God promised his people that they would.

These two tales are frequently told together, but they tell two very different stories of the wilderness. In the first, the Israelites seemed to have done nothing to be put in the wilderness, while in the second, the wilderness was a place of punishment for the past sin of the people. But, the purpose of each wilderness experience is the same. The wilderness is meant for purification and refinement, to make the people of God ‘holy, because [he] is holy’ (Lev. 19:2). Too often, I think we view the wilderness as a punishment, and because of that, we go back to asking God, “Why? Why am I here?” We may even sound like some of my high school students when they get called out, “Why? I wasn’t even doing anything!” (No matter what they are doing.) We need to stop viewing the wilderness as a place of punishment. It can be that place, as we’ve seen with the Israelites. But, more importantly, this time in the wilderness is where God is beckoning us back to him. It’s in this time that all of the Israelites first heard God’s word. It’s in this time that they felt the characteristics of God that Moses spoke in Numb. 14:18. In your wilderness wanderings, instead of focusing on the doubt – the questions of why you are in that experience – focus on who God is:

“The Lord is slow to anger and rich in faithful love, forgiving wrongdoing and rebellion. But He will not leave the guilty unpunished, bringing the consequences of the fathers’ wrongdoing on the children to the third and fourth generation.” (Numb. 14:18)

Rest on God’s faithful love, and in your time in the wilderness, don’t forget to remember who he is. When we trust in him, our circumstances don’t seem so challenging anymore.

~ Cayce Fletcher