Do You See What I see?

This is not a reference to the Christmas carol, although I’m sure it will be playing on radios and in department stores before too much longer now that Halloween is past. I’m actually referring to the scene in Exodus 14 when Israel is leaving Egypt after 400 years and then gets trapped between the Red Sea and Pharaoh’s powerful army.  Verse 14 says that “the people of Israel lifted their eyes, and behold, the Egyptians were marching after them, and they feared greatly.  And the people of Israel cried out to the Lord.”  If I’m an Israelite in this situation, I’d probably be doing the same thing – freaking out!  After all they are trapped by a powerful sea on one side and marching death on the other.

Now to give some context, earlier in the chapter God tells Moses to lead the people to this place by the sea in order to cause Pharaoh to think they were wandering aimlessly.  God then hardened Pharaoh’s heart so that he would pursue Israel.  God would then destroy the Egyptian army to demonstrate His might and as a reminder of this to all generations.  So to recap – God directs His people into a place where they were blocked by the sea on one side and penned in by the army on the other – essentially a place where they were powerless to save themselves.  After all, they were brick-makers, not trained warriors.  And swimming across the sea was definitely out of the question.

So back to verse 10 – note what Israel was looking at: “the Egyptians [who] were marching after them”.  So they panic.  They tell Moses it would have been better to have stayed in Egypt as slaves than to die out here.  But Moses knows what God is up to.  He tells the people to “‘Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which He will work for you today.”

There’s a subtle but important distinction here and it’s all about what we’re looking at.  Paul tells us in 2 Cor. 5:7 that as Christ followers we are to “walk by faith, not by sight.”  That’s what’s playing out here in Ex. 14.  The Israelites are walking by sight and what they see is absolutely overwhelming.  So Moses tells them, effectively, to look at God.  Hebrews 12:2 puts it another way: “fixing our eyes on Jesus.”  Moses then goes on to tell them that the Lord will fight for them, they need only to be silent (or still).

This is oozing with application so I’ll dive right in.  The bottom line on this – and I speak from my own set of recent challenges – I have a choice as to how I will view my circumstances, whether they are of my own making or not.  I can view things from my own eyes based on my own strength and resources or I can look for “the salvation of the Lord”.  If I view it through my eyes, then I begin to panic when I realize that many things are out of my control.  I can be obedient, I can act wisely and with due diligence, but there is a point when things are not in my control and this is usually where I start to doubt.  The alternative to this is to walk in faith, having a confidence in God’s goodness and faithfulness based on His word and His past provisions.  The result of this is peace based on an assurance that God is using my circumstances for something I can’t see and that He will use it for His glory.

The beauty of Exodus 14 is that we get a glimpse of what God is doing.  We see the earthly situation and we see God’s purpose in it.  He’s going to do something that will be a reminder to Israel (and to us) throughout history of His faithfulness and His might.  As you probably know, God does the miraculous (which really isn’t a big deal for God) by parting the sea, getting His people to safety and then wiping out the Egyptian army.

So every day I have a choice to make – will I walk by sight or will I walk by faith?  The difference is tremendous.  So what do you see?

Faith and God’s Will

Faith is an interesting thing.  Something often discussed yet not fully grasped or understood.  God’s will is another interesting topic, often evoking some sense of divine revelation to guide us in our decisions.  Both tie together and both are important topics in our walk with Christ.  And both are front and center in my life (and consequently my family’s life) right now.

I’ve learned a lot here lately about the realities of faith.  Sometimes it means following God by our own choice into a walk of obedience (e.g., Abraham).  At other times we are placed in situations not of our choosing (e.g., Joseph).  Either way, we exercise a choice as to whether or not we will walk in confidence, believing that God is in control and using our lives and circumstances for His purposes which are good.

I’m also learning a lot about “God’s will”.  A phrase often used to indicate some sort of divine leading in our decisions.  I think there are a lot of misconstrued ideas about God’s will, as if it is something to be discovered by rolling the dice or realized by some sacred sign.  There are things in Scripture that are clearly God’s will: that we be saved, that we walk in obedience, that we be sanctified, that we love others, etc.  There are other things, however, that are not clearly laid out by command but rather guided by principle and wisdom (e.g., who to marry, where to work, etc.).

So when making these types of decisions, are we looking to Scripture for guidance and wisdom in our decision or are we simply waiting for God to send us a message in a bottle with the next steps?  Are we seeking counsel (as instructed in Proverbs)?  Are we considering our motives for making decisions (e.g., Phil. 2:2-5)?  Is it something clearly forbidden or commanded?  I’m not saying that God doesn’t have a clearly defined path for our lives, to the contrary, I’m saying that I think we often approach God with an expectation that He’ll throw us a hint before we’ve done our due diligence to understand His heart as laid out in Scripture.  God will not lead us to do something that contradicts His words or His heart.

Even now, in my own life, I’m considering some different career directions, one of which is very interesting, not contradictory to Scripture, and is in line with how I’m wired.  There’s some risk to this opportunity but there’s also the opportunity for great reward (on a number of fronts).  So I’m in the process of seeking counsel from those who know me and from those who are familiar with this type of opportunity.  I’m not sure of what my final decision will be, but I am confident that by following what God has laid out in his word, it will be made clear.  And wherever I go, it must be in faith, for that is how we are called to walk – and that is clearly God’s will.

God Himself

Recent circumstances (namely – getting laid off a few weeks ago) have given me and my family another opportunity to learn to walk by faith. We have the opportunity to take God at His word that He will not only provide for our needs but also direct our paths.

While I am actively looking for my next job, I have been reading through different scriptures. Most recently I was reading in Deuteronomy (where Moses gives Israel the law, again, just before they enter into Canaan – 40 years late).  In chapter 31, Moses is reminding the nation that God will go before them and will be with them as they enter the new land and fight many battles in order to conquer and claim the land. Verses 3 and 8 caught my attention:

“The LORD your God himself will cross over ahead of you.” (v. 3, NIV)

“The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you.” (v. 8, NIV).

What really stands out to me the is the emphasis of “himself”.  Who is “himself”?  I know, an obvious answer, but really think about it – this is the God who created everything that exists with a few words and this is the nation that had a knack for perpetual rebellion against God.  God could have sent an angel to lead them – after all, they’re pretty bad dudes, one of whom could wipe out an entire army on his own.  But God chooses to lead His people himself.  He will fight their battles.  This is dripping with grace, that God steps down to lead a grumbling and rebellious people to the fulfillment of a promise that He gave to His chosen people.  He’s giving good things to those who haven’t earned it.  Absolutely amazing!

And the best part is that this was a precursor to Christ, who came, humbled Himself to take our place on the cross, offered us His righteousness, and who will himself lead us into the eternal promised land for those who believe in their hearts and confess with their mouths that He is Lord.

Plain and simple

Our pastor Cole Huffman has been doing a series on 1 John.  The main thrust of the book is that those who are Christ followers should be characterized by their love for others, in particular others who are also following Christ.  One set of verses in chapter 3 have been particularly convicting for me:

16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.

We are called not to simply hope someone’s circumstances get better, we’re supposed to do something about it.  It’s easy to say “I’ll pray for you” and then go on about our day.  But according to this, if we have the means to do so, we’re supposed to help out in whatever way we can.

Our love is to be shown through what we do, not what we say.  If we are Christ followers, that’s not a suggestion or something to do when we have the extra time, it’s an expectation.  After all, how can we claim to follow someone who put Himself on the cross for us and then not show love to others?  Either I follow Him and love others or I don’t.   Period.

God is bigger than the boogie man

If you’re wondering about the title to this post, it comes from a VeggieTales song that my son sings sometimes.   I was thinking this afternoon about how big God really is and for some reason, this song came to mind…  I’ve had several friends who have been going through some very difficult times over the past few months.  These are people who are in ministry and who have sacrificed much to follow where God has called.  Sometimes I wonder when God will intervene & bring deliverance or at least bring a season of rest.

Trust in GodYou see, trusting God isn’t just about believing God is big enough to handle the problems and challenges we face individually, it is also believing God is big enough for others who are also going through difficult times.

The reality is that I don’t understand God’s ways.  He doesn’t respond when I think He should.  But then again, He is infinte.  He is eternal.  His ways are far above mine.  Trying to understand God is like trying to contain the ocean with a dixie cup – impossible.  After all, we are the ones who were created, not the other way around.    And God doesn’t owe me or anyone an explanation.

We know through the Bible that He loves us and offers forgiveness to rebellious people and that there is something far better on the other side of this world.  So even though I don’t understand, even though I question, I’m thankful that God is in complete control and that He’s even bigger than the boogie man.

Verses to consider: Romans 8:28-39.

iGod

I like being in control.   I like the fact that there are online radio services like Pandora and Last.fm where I can choose what type of music I want to listen –  I can even vote on the music so it’s even more tailored to my preferences.  Our culture is geared towards customizing things just the way we want them.  Look at cell phones… there are tons of apps so you can do exactly what you want when you want it.  You can access a world of info in just a matter of seconds.  And if things aren’t fast enough for you, just wait a few months because things will get even faster.

So when I approach God with my thoughts on how things should be, should I be surprised when He doesn’t respond like I want?  The reality is that life isn’t about me.  Honestly, I want it to be about me.  I think most of us do.  After all, that’s where sin entered into the picture to begin with – Eve & Adam choosing what they wanted instead of what God wanted.

I’ve been reading Crazy Love by Francis Chan.  Chan dives in from the get-go and is quick to remind us that things aren’t about us and that all things are made for God’s purposes (Dan 4).  He highlights how big the universe is and how small we are in comparison.  He delves into the intricate design of a caterpillar.  He points out that God is the One who has made all these things and that, quite frankly, He gets to set the rules and the purpose of everything.

To be honest, I struggle with all of this sometimes.  I struggle with the whole idea of surrender.  Following Christ means letting go of what I want and of how I think things should go.  Scripture makes it clear that God can do greater things in my life than I can even imagine, so the issue isn’t about what I get in exchange.   The issue comes back to faith.  It comes back to pride.  It comes back to me embracing all that Christ is, wholeheartedly, setting what I want aside.

I am thankful that God is patient.  I’m thankful that He pursues me.  I’m thankful He took the first step.  He is the Mighty King and yet He knows how many hairs I have on my head.  He offers us the opportunity to experience joy for all of eternity.  He is the One thing that won’t be changing.

May His name be praised.

What do to when life sucks

Over the past few decades there have been numerous books that proclaim to have the knowledge you need in order to have an incredibly successful and fulfilled life.  The authors tell you that if you’ll follow their plan, you’ll have more than you could imagine.  Some of these authors are “spiritual” and propose something akin to karma.  Others title themselves as Christians and may even use Bible verses on occasion, however, they are simply teaching karma by another name.

The sad part about these books is that many of us have bought into their bookstand philosophies.  We approach God with the expectation that when I do something good He’ll reward it with what I want.  We also expect the reward to be immediate.  We’ve lost a sense of the eternal.

And another thing…how can someone proclaim to the mother who just lost her child to cancer that she can have her best life if she’ll just follow these steps?  How can we expect the person who just lost everything to have a more positive mental attitude (or PMA for you motivational junkies)?  What happens to the self help philosophy when everything we’ve achieved and hoped for is falling apart?  We look to something bigger than us, to Someone eternal…

Sometimes life just sucks and there’s no making it right this side of heaven.  Did you catch that?  It doesn’t all work out while we’re spinning around on this big blue ball.  The Bible tells us repeatedly to focus on things beyond the temporal: “we walk by faith, not sight”, “set your hearts on things above”, “store up treasures in heaven”, etc., etc., etc.  We’re also told that things will be difficult, especially for those who follow after Christ.

But sadly we have built our theology on the sand of our own expectations.  We are sorely disappointed when God doesn’t play by our rules and do what we want.  We’ve lost sight of the fact that, for one, we are created for His purposes and for another, that we are in a fallen world that is marred by our willful sin.

We need a theology that addresses the reality of life.  We need a God Who put on skin and suffered along with His creation.  And thankfully, we do.  Christ came as man and God.  He walked in our world.  He was killed by people He gave life.  So He understands our pain and our cries.  (Read Psalm 69 as it’s considered a prophetic passage, indicating some of what He was wrestling with before He went to the cross).

My hope is that we begin to discover that the worth of the gospel is in Christ Himself.  Christ tell us in John 17:3 that eternal life is knowing God and He tells us repeatedly that we can only know God through Him, that is Christ.

So what do we do when life sucks?  We look for Christ.  What else do I do?  We keep looking for Christ.  And after that, you keep looking.  And you will find Him.  Anything else will give fleeting hope at best.  We need something more than just a great life here and now.  We need something that’s eternal and that can’t be taken away.  And that is only in Christ, for He overcame our sin, our enemy and our death.

May His name be praised.