The Lord works in mysterious ways, and He knows exactly what we need. I have experienced this many times in my life, but definitely in the past few days. The sermon message I heard yesterday at Elwood Church and also these passages today are exactly the words that I’ve needed to hear. This is one of my favorite Psalms. When life knocks us down and it seems like there is little hope, we can look to God for strength. My soul cries out to you, O Lord; my soul longs for your comfort.
In Exodus, Moses is trying to do everything himself because he feels like it is his responsibility to the people of Israel. That’s when his father-in-law steps in to say to Moses “What are you doing? You can’t possibly do all of this yourself! You need to assemble some worthy people to help share the load. When we hit difficult times in our lives, we have to know that there are plenty of people in our lives who care and who WANT to help us. Moses helped barter for the release of the Israelites from the pharaoh, parted the Sea of Reeds, and was handed The Law from God. A man of that stature surely could handle anything, right? NO. He needed the help of others in order to carry out all of God’s plans. Sometimes we need that friend or group of friends to open our eyes and realize that we can’t do this thing called life alone.
In Philippians, Paul rejoices in the fact that Jesus is being shared amongst the people. The Gospel is spread by people who do so in love, while others do so out of selfish ambition. Those who spread The Message in love are getting the job done well. Those spreading The Word out of selfish ambition, hoping for personal gain, even if that is not the best attitude, are still spreading the Gospel nonetheless. Either way people are learning about Jesus.
Although I think I understand what Paul is trying to say, I personally am not sure I completely agree with his perspective on those sharing the Gospel selfishly. In some cases, that selfish ambition causes people to say or do things that are not very Christian in nature. There are times that people act “in accordance with the Bible”, but actually they are doing just the opposite. That in turn, from my own interactions, pushed people away from God. I was in a back and forth on Facebook last week with someone that I went to high school with who is an Atheist. He had shared a couple examples of where some “Christian” leaders made statements saying they had prayed for Ruth Bader Ginsburg to die. And his point was that is why he is Atheist, because he doesn’t see Christian people acting or speaking in Christian ways. My rebuttal to him were passages in the Bible where Jesus and Paul spoke about false prophets. So here in Philippians where Paul is excited about people spreading the Gospel whether from a loving heart or from selfish ambition, I feel like there needs to be some caution in that we need to not fall prey to these false teachings.
Psalms 42 There are those who, on this earth are my enemies. These people have no regard for my well being. They have no concern for my wants, needs, cares, health, comfort, healing, sustenance, mental state, happiness, or future. To them I am an enemy that must be conquered, simply because of Jehovah. Their misguided imaginations have directed them to love destruction and disorder, and the crushing of their enemies, by any means necessary. Their god is ha-satan, (the adversary), the prince of the power of the air. He has deluded them into believing all manner of evil is to be attributed to me. Yet my soul longs, aches for Thee, O Jehovah, like a deer wanting water on a dry, arid day. I remember Your works on my behalf, as I was a leader of those who in procession went to the House of Jehovah. I remember the days of peace which You afforded us, and the joy, and thanksgiving at Your festivals. Yes, I am in despair right now but I remember Your power and Your comfort, and it will return to me, O my Rock that is higher than I.
Exodus 18:1-12 Moses is reunited with his wife, Zeporah, and his sons after he has left them for his mission to Egypt, where Jehovah used him as a deliverer for Israel, to set them free from slavery. At the reunion Moses tells of the mighty works of Jehovah, whom Jethro, his father-in-law has never heard of before, though he himself is the prince of Midian. Jethro bows before Jehovah and marvels at His great works.
Philippians 1:3-14 Paul is in prison in Rome while writing to the church in Philippi. He remembers his time with them and their spiritual growth in their faith in Christ, which includes knowledge, discernment, sincerity, blamelessness, and bearing the fruit of righteousness, which comes through Jesus Christ. Even though Paul is in prison He is flourishing as he is able to withstand the discomfort of his conditions, because of his remembrance of the good things that Jehovah has done, and is currently doing in changing mens lives in his presence. The very men who are guarding Paul are hearing of the works of Jehovah, and seeing his life while he is proclaiming their need for a Savior. The Roman guards are turning to faith in Jesus Christ.
As we see in our own time that ha-satan is working in the lives of many for the destruction of Christianity, we must prepare ourselves spiritually for battle. In Romania, Russia, China, the Middle East, Europe, Africa, Christians are being persecuted, imprisoned, tortured, and killed for their faith. It is coming to our country also, and is present in many major cities, in the destruction of our society and soon to be our churches. Religion in general, and Christianity particularly, is soon to be singled out as the cause for all evil in the world. As Kris pointed out in her blog the need for turning to the bible for instruction in this life, I add the need to strengthen ourselves in God’s word for the coming persecution of Christians.
Review & Remarks: Miriam, sister of Aaron, passes away (v. 1) … Wandering Israel thirsts for water and bemoans their absence from Egyptian wheat and fruits to Moses and Aaron (vv. 2-5) … I painfully experienced, for years as a project manager, the complaints of team members when the inevitable controversies befell us … My leadership was always questioned … I question my leadership, always have, still do … I discovered leaders are always to blame … At the same time, a leader never discovers the true character of his or her troops when things are going well … I’m not sure tough situations build character, but they reveal it … Returning, Moses and Aaron visit the LORD at the tabernacle with His glory appearing to them (v. 6) … The LORD speaks to Moses (only?) telling him to speak to a prominent rock before Israel and it will spew needed waters for them and their animals (vv. 7-8) … Moses does as instructed with self-aggrandizement – he shows his temper, he strikes the rock with his staff twice instead of talking to it and water, indeed, abundantly flows from it (vv. 9-11) … Moses is then schooled for disobedience, unbelief, displaying a bad temper, and for glorifying himself rather than YHWH in front of Israel … Israel’s punishment, in Meribah, is not being allowed into the land given them (vv. 12-13) … Aaron, being with Moses, suffers consequences as well. He is stripped of his position, his priestly garments are given to his son Eleazer and he dies (vv. 23-29) … From the human perspective the offenses of Moses and Aaron are easily understood – they are frazzled! … I believe from the divine perspective they are understood as well … Jesus knows us … Even so, understanding a problem does not mean it’s results are not experienced, that there are no repercussions … It is believed the result of this problem is an added 38 years (cp. Deut. 2:14) of life “On The Road” … Along their way, Moses contacts the king of Edom, telling of Israel’s hardships, wanting to pass through his land, apparently a short cut, by way of the King’s Highway (vv. 14-17) … His request is denied under the threat of being attacked, even with Moses’ promise to travel on foot, to take nothing from the land or pay for any taken resources (vv. 18-21) … Instead, Israel detours their trip from Kadesh, around Edom, to Mount Hor (v. 22) … The whole of this passage is marked by wrongs, ancients called them sins … This we can say, wrongs or sins create delays and more worn sandals.
Today’s Readings: click here – Psalm 119:97-104; Numbers 11:18-23, 31-32; Matthew 18:1-5 (to open the scripture links – hover over, right click, open hyperlink)
Our three readings today have a special interwoven message that ‘When God is all we need, we have all we need.’ I wholeheartedly believe that, and no matter what, I know that I was made on purpose for a purpose and he is always with me. Life is Good!
One common claim people make one time or another, is wishing there was a ‘life manual’. An instruction manual of life, to tell us just how to get it right when things seem so out of sorts, especially raising kids, keeping a marriage strong, being faithful, serving God, overcoming grief and disappointment. I recall when my kids were little and I just couldn’t seem to get it together, I expressed my frustration with ‘Why isn’t there a manual that comes with having kids?’. I have never forgotten the answer that came that day.’ ‘There is a manual, it’s the Bible’. I remember thinking, ‘What in the heck is THAT going to tell me about raising these kids?’. As my faith grew and God became more present in my life and family, and scripture began to shape who I was as a child of God, a wife, mother, daughter, and friend, I soon realized that everything I needed to know was right there between the covers of that book! The more I read and studied scripture, connected with others through church groups and events, I found answers, guidance, strength, peace, freedom and unconditional love that soon became my ‘life manual’. Psalm 119:97-104 is a reminder of just that, to seek God through His word and everything we need is right there. We just have to trust that God’s plan and way is clear and concise through prayer and submission. Surrounding ourselves with other believers is a reassurance when doubt tries to creep in. I find that GOOGLE is a a great source for finding those perfect fitting scriptures for any season, struggle, diversion, uncertainty, wandering faith, and even joy and thanksgiving! I GOOGLE everything… !
The scripture today in Matthew clearly expresses that our faith should be like that of children; “Childlike”, I like to call it. Not ‘childish’. ‘Childlike’ resonates with and embraces the neediness, dependency, and smallness of those who understand their place in the kingdom of God. ‘Childish’ is simply refusing to grow up. There is a very distinctive difference and not a new term to anyone familiar with Christian thinking and practice. We’re often directed to passages like Mark 10:14: “Let the children come to me,” Jesus says. “Do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.” The point here is that we should be childlike in our faith, trusting our heavenly Father the way a kid trusts his earthly parents with reverent dependency and trust. Faith is essential to life as a Christian. Faith is both necessary and a gift. Without faith, it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6), and we are saved by grace, through faith—and that faith doesn’t come from ourselves, it is given to us by God (Ephesians 2:8-9). Faith is not something that we produce within ourselves. It is an essential piece of armor in which we are fitted so that we are protected from Satan’s warfare against us. (Ephesians 6:16).
Faith is a very humble quality, which is perhaps why it is associated with childlikeness. Jesus’ disciples were concerned with which one of them was the greatest, or the closest to Him, or the most important. But Jesus responded to their debate by taking a small child to His side and saying that ‘the least among them was the greatest’ (Luke 9:46-48). He told them that they were to “become like children in order to enter the kingdom of God” (Matthew 8:3). Jesus was pointing out the truth that a child is completely dependent on adults for safety, sustenance, and knowledge, just as we are to be with Him because were not made to do this life unguided and alone. The faith God looks for is humble, teachable, and trusting— like that of a child.
In this way, the Christian is to have childlike faith, a faith looks outside itself for salvation. Salvation is a gift; man does not pay for or contribute to his salvation—it is entirely of God (Ephesians 2:8-9; Romans 8:1; Romans 5:1). Just as a child has to use his father’s money to pay for a Christmas gift he plans to give his father, we depend on God’s provision for everything, even the good works we do in His name (Ephesians 2:10). The world sometimes misunderstands the idea of childlike faith, thinking that Christians are childlike, or childish because they believe in myths and fairytales. But this is not the Bible’s meaning when it compares His children. Instead, childlike faith is a metaphor for trust, dependence and love, and an encouragement to ask for what we need (Matthew 7:11). Childlike faith keeps us from exhausting ourselves through failed attempts to pick apart God’s sovereignty and deity. It aligns us with His peace and comfort, knowing with utmost certainty who we are in Christ Jesus.
Here are a few songs for your spiritual listening pleasure!
Prayer: Lord, thank you for your promises, guidance and strength found in scripture, as it is my LIFE MANUAL. It is so holy and true and it is my source of life. Help me to understand it more everyday with an open mind and faith like a child, trusting You beyond anything my heart and mind can comprehend. You alone are my source of light and I trust in you entirely. Thank you Lord Jesus, for your constant watch over me, for I fear nothing, and love deeply.
This passage comes from the longest chapter in the Bible. I did a little digging to learn more about this chapter as a whole, and I found that it is a form of poetry called an acrostic. When you think of an acrostic poem you may think of one where the first letter of each line, when put together, spells a word of some sort. What makes this acrostic different than others is that there are 8 verses for each letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Since there are 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet, with 8 verses per each letter, there are a total of 176 verses in this chapter. I’m sure some of you reading this can add a whole lot more to the story than me, but I never knew this before.
In verses 97-104, David describes his love for God’s law and how he dedicates himself to following the law every day. The law has guided him, and gives him more wisdom than any of the elders or any of his enemies.
God provides the Israelites with manna during their 40 year wander through the wilderness. The manna is sweet like honey. Every day, there is more than enough to feed everyone. When you realize that the number of Israelites that left Egypt with Moses was about 600,000 men, not including women and children, you realize just how many people are wandering and probably hungry. But still there was always enough manna. God provided for their NEEDS throughout their journey, even though they didn’t always realize it or appreciate it. Sound familiar? I think we do a whole lot of wandering here in 2020, and don’t always realize or appreciate what God provides for us. It takes slowing down, reflecting, meditating on exactly what God has done for us to realize how blessed we are.
Paul is closing out his letter to the Romans by sending his best regards to some of the people he has worked with over the years. As I read this, it reminded me of the “Acknowledgements” at the end of a book by it’s author. Those that write books rely on a lot of people around them to make the book possible from its first draft to its final edit and being published. The same is true for Paul’s ministry. From the first days of his ministry after his conversion, and then on through the founding of all of the churches he worked so hard to form throughout the Mediterranean region, he didn’t make it all happen alone.
And churches today also need many people working together to continue the ministry of the Gospel. It is one of the things that I love so much about First Pres; there are so many people willing to serve in some form or another. People seeking a new church look for a church that is alive and active. People that are in a church stay there for the same reason. We are THE CHURCH. I can picture if Paul was writing a letter to the churches of Joliet, he would have a long list of people he would be thanking at First Pres for their dedication to the One True Gospel, that is Jesus Christ. We still have plenty of work to continue doing, but I think we have done a great job so far.
Psalm 105, is a remembrance of the exodus from Egypt for Israel. Jehovah, with a mighty hand brought them through the plagues that fell so heavily on Egypt, and released them with the gold, and silver of their oppressors. In addition to their release, as they were leaving no Israelite stumbled, fell, was injured, or died. This is a huge accomplishment! Anyone associated with the military of today knows that one major goal in any training exercise is to keep the troops from injury or death, and many are injured in training. But back to Israel in the exodus, Jehovah absolutely protected and provided for those whom He loved.
Exodus 16: 1-21 This is the recount of how Israel complained about the way Jehovah was caring for them and how they wanted to return to Egypt, to a life of slavery, for that life was more desirable to them than freedom and living under God’s direction. So then Jehovah provides Manna, and Quail for them daily. Oh how quickly we complain and demand even more.
2 Corinthians 13:5-10 In a concluding statement for the Corinthian church Paul says he desires for them to examine themselves individually to see if Jesus really dwells with them, or if they like Israel, would rather return to the slavery of sin.
Many times in our own modern world we Christians somehow get twisted in our thinking and regard life with Christ as a fire escape from Hell, and a license to return to sin. Paul himself asked the rhetorical question in chapter 6 of Romans. “Should we then continue in sin so that grace can abound?” Is it possible that the new life in Christ could be construed as a fail safe opportunity for us to pursue the rewards of sin? Is this the base for prosperity Christianity?
Galatians 5 gives a quick comparison of the deeds of the flesh: “immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and others.”
While the fruit of the Spirit is: ” Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self control, against such things there is no law.”
Is there any real comparison, or is there any real desire to return to a life filled with aimless desperation, enslaved to worthless desires, without hope, and a meaningless destination? Many Christians trip and fall into their past lives, but there is a way back to Christ. Confession and repentance is the path to restoration, where Christ Himself can heal and restore all who call upon Him. The story of the good shepherd, Luke 15, shows him looking for the sheep that left the flock, finding that lost one, rescuing him from the entangled briars, and restoring him, by carrying him on His own shoulders. How great is the Fathers love for us, through Jesus Christ our redeemer!
Review & Remarks: Previous to this passage, the whole of Israel sings to the LORD for his overthrow and destruction of Pharaoh and his pursuing army under the Red or Reed Sea (vv. 1-13) … Looking forward, YHWH will gift the lands of Philistia, Edom, Moab, and Canaan to Israel by way of His presence (vv. 14-18) … Miriam, Aaron’s sister, directs a celebration in musical instruments, singing, and dance (vv. 20-21) … Quite often, when people want to celebrate, really celebrate, it is led by music … Moses leads Israel from Egypt for 3 days until they arrive at the bitter waters of Marah and grumble about their thirst (vv. 22-24) … Chemically speaking “bitter water” is not potable due presumbably to it’s alkaline or high pH (OH-) nature … Such water has a high amount of dissolved minerals in them – sodium, calcium, magnesium, and the like … Ironically, in the US and Europe, areas with such waters later became resort destinations – French Lick, IN and White Sulphur Springs, VA are examples. These waters were believed to have magical healing powers … Moses voices these water concerns to YHWH who, in turn, instructs him to sweeten the water by casting a particular tree into them (v. 25) … Verse 26 is the basic theology of the OT … Obedience to YHWH will and commandments will prevent the disastrous consequences of disobedience … Like what happened to plague riddled Egyptians (cp. Ex. 7-11) … It’s interesting how humankind dismisses the lessons of history, especially those in the Bible, either through willful ignorance or by a complete reinterpretation of the event to fit the beliefs of the present hour … In other words, if you don’t like what your life looks like, simply change your sunglasses!
At decisive and difficult moments in life we see that God is at work in our lives. In Psalm 77 we read of one crying out to God for help. This person was in great distress. Comfort was elusive at first. Then the Psalmist remembers Gods rescue of Israel, opening a way through the Red Sea just when they need it. God is still leading his “people like a flock.” We have a Good Shepherd.
In II Kings 2 we find Elisha in distress because the Lord is going to call Elijah home. Elijah is like a father to Elisha and now Elisha is grieving and in denial. He does not want to be separated from his mentor and guide of many years. Elisha keeps saying, “Yes I know, be quiet,” when he is told that God is going to take his Master. Elisha cries out to God. God hears his cry and is present to him and gives him his Spirit.
The Disciple are with Jesus in that decisive final week, we call Holy Week, in Jerusalem. Although they come into the harsh disbelief and unbelief of the nations leaders, symbolized by the withered fig tree, they are with Jesus. And they are told to have faith in God, say their prayers in faith, and forgive.
In decisive moments and turbulent times we too can “Have faith in God,” say our prayers, and forgive. God will hear our prayers and be present to us as we see in the scriptures and have experienced in the past.
Prayer– Saving God, we thank you that you are at work in the world and in our lives, even when we can’t see it, and even when we cry out to you and wonder where you are and what’s going to happen next. Help us to listen the Lord Jesus and have faith. We make this prayer in Jesus’ name, the Faithful One, Amen.
Today’s Readings: click here – Psalm 77; Nehemiah 9:9-15;Romans 14:13-15:2 (to open the scripture links – hover over, right click, open hyperlink)
I recall times, days periods when I have felt that same state of deep distress as Asaph in Psalm 77. Most often our deep distress stems from our doubt. God is not listening, not caring, not present at all as I cry out searching and wandering for Him. This describes my own ‘Pity Party’ looking to God to bring me through. But keep reading, Psalm 77:11 clearly describes my next scene. When I am weary, dismayed and crying out to God, it’s a song, a scripture, a familiar voice, a long-lasting hug, or a cherished memory shakes me, shifting my focus from me to Him and clarity emerges again, remembering God’s amazing awesomeness of love, care and guidance. I realize that He had never left, that my head and heart become clouded with doubt that paves the way for fear, heartache and paralysis to set in, but in the end, GOD IS GOOD ALL THE TIME, AND ALL THE TIME GOD IS GOOD! I love scripture that reveals my very own story.
Nehemiah 9:9-15 expounds on a collective summary of God’s past works, reminding the Israelites of their miraculous heritage and God’s many promises. When we encounter such energizing scriptures, they become a tool for recalling our own history, helping us to avoid repeated mistakes and to enable us to serve God better. Examining our past, the past of our ancestors and those who have traveled this road, opens our eyes to recognize missed opportunities and unhealthy behaviors that reveal patterns of our spiritual growth and channels us to learn from the past, grow in faith, live life in the light of God’s plan for us and become the person He has created us to be.
Our Romans passage today is long and rich in several areas, so I will try to bring light to it all. First, let’s back it up to verse 12, that explains how we are accountable TO Christ NOT to others and to not base our moral judgements on one’s opinion, personal dislikes, cultural bias rather than on the word of God, because I know that when our time comes to stand in judgement giving full account of our life, we won’t be worrying about what our fellow Christian neighbors have done 2 Corinthians 5:10 . It’s affirming that our main efforts must be to first align ourselves with God’s plan for us and with the two greatest commandments, ‘Love your God with all your heart, your mind, soul and strength AND love your neighbor as yourself.’ (Matthew 22:44).
As we continue in Romans 14, I’m pretty sure this is where we can see where the world around is failing, because every day we are falling farther and deeper into a society of ME FIRST, IT’S MY RIGHT, AND I’M OFFENDED and those with the LOUDEST voice are being heard while the rest of us remain prayerful, silent, and frustrated. Our behaviors matter. They matter to us, to others and to God, and given our individual strengths and weaknesses, we are called to be strong in faith and sensitive to others needs, constantly monitoring the effects of our behavior to others. We do this by being kind, showing compassion and empathy towards one another, not proving to be better than others. Paul uses food as an example of honoring one’s sensitivity, without sacrificing or compromising our faith. This example is applicable with anything. For example, outdoors or in designated areas, it is one’s right to smoke, but perhaps you are with someone and you ask if they will be bothered if you smoke. They answer yes. The right and considerate thing to do, to honor that is NOT smoke. Be considerate and be kind.
This passage addresses the fact that we all have varied opinions on everything, and how do we handle these differences? To accept one another without judgement and to act in LOVE, patience and self-restraint, so as to maintain peace. Sin is not a private matter, everything we do affects others, which in return, as Christians we are called to think of others first and foremost, always. It’s not easy or comfortable, but to be obedient to God’s law, it should be a part of who we are in Christ Jesus.
Scripture is not always screaming out in our ear or flashing warnings in front of our eyes, and so, by our Holy Spirit fueled instinct, we tend to stay clear of those actions of forbidden scriptures and tune into what we know to be right and acceptable. But sometimes we are called to rely on our instincts, and those GUT FEELINGS. You know those… The famous words as parents we use, our parents used, and their parents used; ‘If it feels wrong, it most likely IS wrong, so don’t do it’, or vise-versa; when compelled TO DO something. Yep, we’ve all experienced them, but how have we acted on them? Do we follow and act on the instinct, trusting God that He is the guiding force? YES-we should…every time! Not always is it very clear or obvious, but when we are patient and prayerful, God is faithful!
As a Christian, I am called to be considerate of others, be kind, and show love to all, even those who are sensitive, different, who follow Jesus or not. To help others do what is right and build them up in faith is our call to serve. (vs. 15;1-2), because it’s not about me!
Matthew 7:13-14 reminds us; ‘Enter through the narrow gate [path, way]. For wide [easy] is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life [salvation, eternal life] , and only a few find it.’ In being the peace makes, we are called to honor the convictions of others with humble endurance and perseverance that illuminates the love and saving grace of God through Christ Jesus. Hold on, be strong, stay faithful and close to Jesus because this road is not easy… BUT IT IS SO WORTH IT!
Here are a few songs for your spiritual listening pleasure!
Prayer: Lord, help me to be obedient to the call of living for Your sake, loving others without judgement, understanding with compassion, and selflessness. Give me eyes to see the needs, ears to hear the cries, a heart to feel their pain, and strength to carry through as you would have it. I am your vessel, use me for your glory and kingdom. In the name of my mighty savior Jesus. Amen.