Where do we “dwell”?


We have all seen many opinions and comments about what should be done in the aftermath of the latest school shooting. One of the quotes that is commonly posted on social media when these things occur is the hypothetical note that states:
“Dear God, Why do you allow so much violence in our schools? Signed, a concerned student.
Dear Concerned student, I’m not allowed in schools.  ~God”
There is a bit of truth to this and in our world. Evidence in our own nation of a clear move away from God, godly lifestyles and obedience to God’s standards is not hard to find. Things like allowing a child to decide if they are a boy or girl, legalization of homosexual marriages and the prosperity gospel and lifestyles are just the tip of the iceberg. None of this should be a surprise to us at all. It is also certainly no surprise to God.

God told the Israelites this would happen thousands of years ago. He did not specifically say that homosexual marriage would be legalized or the other things above, no, but he did warn of snares. He warned his people in Exodus what would happen if they allowed themselves to mix with the pagans in the lands they would be moving in to. He warned that mixing with them would make them sin against Him, because slowly God’s people would turn to serving other gods. Choosing to adopt their customs, worship their gods and harden their hearts to sin, as defined by God, would snare them. It would draw them away from God. It would make them oblivious to the path God was leading them on. They would miss out on blessings God had ready for them. It would destroy their relationship with God. It would snare and corrupt all areas of their life and it did.

It started by mixing and mingling with their pagan neighbors, allowing their lives to be influenced by them. We, naturally, are just as susceptible to this mixing and mingling. God’s warning was that they not serve the gods of their neighbors, but this came from slowly being influenced by their lifestyles. So, where do our influences come from? The same place as the Israelites. They come from those around us who tell us things, invite us to join in activities with them, who hold things in high esteem and encourage us to do the same. So again I ask, who does that to you? Who does that to me? Most of the friends that I spend time with are believers, so for me, it is probably not them. That doesn’t mean I am not influenced or don’t have other voices trying to persuade me. I do. They come through my tech podcasts who can be very liberal in thoughts beyond technology. On facebook or instagram I see pictures of others lives and am pushed to consider if my life measures up in the same way as theirs appear to. My own tendency to be accepted by my peers (remember: peer pressure never ends) can fuel a desire perhaps to overlook a conviction God has given me about a show that perhaps “everyone else” is watching. These are my “modern day” pagan neighbors. The influences are still very much there.

I, just like the Israelites, need to be on my toes daily making sure I am not slowly mixing and succumbing to the snares. You do too. Who and what are your “pagan” neighbors? If you don’t know, you are in trouble, because the snare is there. God’s warning still stands “They shall not dwell in your land.” To dwell is to stay for a long time. To spend most of our time somewhere. Our “land” is our home, friends, computers, apps and anything else where we “live” consistently hour by hour, each and every day. Do not “dwell” amongst pagan influences more than godly ones or you and I will serve other gods. Reject any ideas that are counter to what you and I know as truth in God’s word, no matter where it is coming from. It is not a question God is asking here. Instead, He is stating a fact about what will happen if we choose to “dwell” with them, and it is not good.

Don’t shoot the messenger!

Every morning when I get up, I am very thirsty. I usually have some ice tea to start, but I am currently trying to change that to water. It is a struggle, since I don’t like water. I guess I am not like the Israelites in today’s portion of Exodus. They were thirsty for water. Then again, I don’t think ice tea was an option for them!

I may not be like them in thirsting for water, but there are others ways I am like them, and I bet you are too. They were accusing Moses of something he had not done. Look at Exodus 17:3. The Israelites are thirsty for water because their wanderings have led them to a place without water.  Their actions and attitudes go “south” when they start complaining to Moses. Look at what they say: “Why did you….”. They are accusing Moses of taking them out of Egypt and then have the audacity to go so far as to accuse him of intending to kill them. Maybe they were being facetious, or exaggerating. I don’t know, but one thing I am sure of: they are WAY out of line AND they are accusing the wrong person. It was not Moses idea to bring them out of Egypt. It was God’s idea. If they are going to grumble and complain about their circumstances and the turn their lives have taken, the least they can do is aim it towards the one responsible. God. He is responsible for leading them out and for the exact geographical location with no water where he has led them. It was His plan, not Moses’.

Consider this: If instead of blaming Moses, what if the Israelites had looked at their difficult circumstances and recognized God’s hand was specifically in it instead? Would they have still complained? I don’t know, because that is not what they did. I can guess. They could have complained to God. If they did,  it would have at least, in part, brought them to Him. They may have thought to ask Him to provide for their needs. It would have refocused them to realize God was the supplier of all their needs. For goodness sake, the manna they had probably just had for breakfast had been provided by Him!  Perhaps they would have at least seen hope in God as their leader, trusting that while things were hard, He had a plan and could be trusted. If only they had looked at the true source of their current circumstances and moved forward from there.

But they didn’t. They looked to the wrong person who, by the way, could do nothing on his own about their problem. Moses didn’t have a case of water bottles hidden somewhere that he was keeping from them. You can bet he was thirsty too! They looked to the wrong person and lost hope. They should have gone straight to God.

This is where we are alike. I falsely accuse as well. I can blame trials on people or things that really are not responsible and can’t help me. I can lose sight of the fact that God has me in whatever circumstance to bring himself glory through my little life. I forget to ask Him to help me with my dire needs. Instead I just try to help myself, ask others who can not help or just wallow in frustration, lashing out at the closest person I can find. None of these things are productive. None bring hope. None help me trust God. The old saying, “Don’t shoot the messenger” certainly applies here. God reminded me today (and hopefully you too) to stop complaining and falsely accusing others when I am struggling, and instead, to come straight to Him. He is the only one who can give me what I need to survive my current trial and any I will face in the future.

 

Grab a sharpie…


Did you ever write a note on your hand with pen so you wouldn’t forget it? This is a fairly common method used through the ages when you REALLY want to remember something. I bet you didn’t know it goes all the way back to biblical times, did you?

While they did not have ballpoint pens or sharpies back in Moses day, they did have parchment and writing instruments. And God had reminders too. In Exodus 13, he is further laying out the passover celebration, and likens it to a written reminder that would always be before their eyes. The custom was to not eat “leavened” bread (think something like Naan bread)  for 7 days (along with other things) so as to be reminded of what God did for them in the exodus out of Egypt. He does not want them or their future generations to ever forget that He has a strong hand, and was responsible for saving them.

Why was and is this important? It points to two apparently very important characteristics of God: He is VERY strong and He is trustworthy. They were to remember these things and realize they could trust him to save us them in the worst of circumstances. God knew what the Israelites would face in the future including the Assyrians, Babylonians and more. If they could remember to trust and keep following God, and not to turn back to trusting other things (ie: like their tendency to turn back to Egypt) they would be able to walk in God’s blessings. To help them remember this, God says in Ex. 13:8, “You shall tell your son on that day, ‘It is because of what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt.’ They were to say “We eat this bread and celebrate a whole week long like this because of what the Lord did for us in Egypt.” In other words, “Don’t forget what God is like and has done for us.”

God is still all-powerful. God still saves us, knowing what our future holds, which most likely includes hardships. Part of helping us get through those difficult times when we will be tempted to not trust God or think he is not strong enough to help us is to dwell on the characteristic of God that we need to be reminded of. Is it hard for you to believe God has not lost control of a situation? Memorize or write down a scripture like Prov. 19:21, “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.” Maybe you worry. Remind yourself of Phil. 4:6-and pray God would help you not be anxious, give Him your requests, and pray for the peace of God that surpasses all understanding. Are you emotionally or physically tired? Carry Isaiah 40:30-31 in your pocket, to remind you that everyone gets weary, but if you are faithful to wait on God, he will renew your strength. Whatever the characteristic of God is that we specifically tend to forget or that we need most, find a verse and write it down to remind yourself. Try to memorize it so you can call it to mind. Perhaps pick a time of day every day that you commit to reading it or having it pop up on your phone. Whatever you need to do to keep it with you, do it. If you need to borrow a pen or Sharpie, I would be happy to lend you one!

 

Intervention…


Have you ever watched the show “Intervention”? I watched it while I was up visiting Gege and Grandpop. On this show, family and friends get together with trained professionals to confront substance addicts to convince them to go to rehab. They do this to get them to help themselves, and save themselves from further destruction. Unfortunately the addicts are not always willing. They all too often, choose to continue in their downward spiral of actions and choices further destroying themselves and those around them. It is very, very sad, and preventable.

How do you think an addict, prior to addiction, would answer the question; “Will drugs help you in life or hurt you?” Surely any heroin addict would say it would destroy them. They know it before hand, but still choose heroin. What they are doing is consciously disregarding what they know to be true.

As I read through Exodus, and particularly today through God’s instruction to his people for the passover, I see a connection between the drug addict and the Israelites. Both willingly opt for what they know to be destructive and wrong. In the Israelites case, God gave His people preventative measures against this. We see in Exodus today how God laid out a specific ritual, passover, to be repeated over and over again. It was to remind them and all future generations what God had done for them, who God was, and to obey and keep their lives focused on God. This would prevent them from turning away from God through disobedience, turning to idols or their own sinful desires because that would lead to their destruction.  If you asked those first Israelites “Will disobedience to God help you or hurt you?” they would all know the right answer. Sadly, history shows that they, just like the drug addicts, deliberately chose disobedience, and the spiral downward began.

We know the right answer too. Unfortunately, we too, like the Israelites need rituals or habits as reminders. Without them, we will be tempted to ignore what we know to be true and disobey God. The difference is, we now have the Holy Spirit to help us stay the course. He is the ultimate “Intervention”. God gave us His word and the Holy Spirit to keep us on track and away from disobedience. In fact, this week’s verse (James 4:7) sums up perfectly what we ought to do, so we don’t start down that road of destruction. We should continually submit to God and obey Him. and flee the devil’s temptations to disobey, convincing us that God is too “restrictive” in our lives. I was reminded in a sermon last week that Satan is always trying to convince us God is “restrictive”. Just consider this: Adam and Eve were granted freedom to eat from EVERY SINGLE TREE in the garden except one. What did Satan do? He focused their attention on the one tree they could not have, instead of focusing on the wealth of gifts and the incredible freedoms God had given them. It destroyed them. He will do the same to you and I. He will try to get us to disobey by convincing us we are “missing out”, which leads to destruction.  Just consider this question honestly: Which must you choose to experience blessing or life? Obedience or disobedience? We all know the clear, true answer. It is as clear and simple as the fact that drugs lead to a destroyed life.

God told the Israelites to put practices. like the Passover celebration, in place so they would remember what God had done for them and who He was. It would keep them on track and obedient. It would keep them on the path to life. What practices are we putting in our lives, so that we foster the “intervention” of the Holy Spirit daily to keep us on track and off of the road of destruction? If we have very little or none, guess which road we will end up on?

 

Heads or Tails?


The Super Bowl this Sunday will begin with the flip of a coin. Just one coin-with two sides: heads or tails. There are only two choices.

Flipping a coin, even in the Super Bowl, is not that big a deal. But there are other things in life with just two choices that are a really big deal. Today, in the life of Joseph, I see one of those really “big deals.” His dad has died, and now there is nothing to stop him from seeking revenge on his brothers. He has two distinct choices- he can pour out complete vengeance on them with all the powers he has available to him being the second in power in Egypt, or he can choose not to. His brothers know this and he knows it. His brothers, knowing this, are in dire fear of Joseph’s choice. Apparently, they still don’t know Joseph well at all.

Joseph does not live like his brothers. He doesn’t act or think like them. This is why they miscalculate him. They expect him to do what they would do. Instead, Joseph views life and his responses to what life hands him completely different. His brothers did do egregious evil to him. This is a fact. Joseph does not deny that it was evil. What he does, though, is sees a purpose in it. He sees that he is NOT God, and not in God’s place. He also sees what God was able to do with their evil act. He sees good that God brought about through and despite the evils done to him. This allows Joseph to completely dismiss the idea of seeking revenge on his brothers.

The difference between Joseph and his brothers? How he thought. Joseph interpreted and lived life differently. Good and evil came into his life just as it does ours, and in his case, in much more life-altering ways than we may ever experience. He watched how God meant it for good and was even able to rejoice in that. By doing so, he demonstrated incredible mercy and forgiveness to his brothers. He saved the lives of 11
men, who became the nation of Israel. He experienced joy instead of bitterness from anger. He healed family relationships that had been severed for decades. He provided for his family who might have otherwise died in a famine. The list could go on. The point is, by living out the truth we read in Romans, that God can “work all things together for good to those who love God”, Joseph’s life and the lives of all those around him were richer than they ever could have been otherwise.

Think of that last “evil” thing done to you. Can you see any way God was able to use it for good? If not, pray about it and ask God to show you. Pray for eyes to trust and see how He is working it for your good. Look and see how others around you are blessed by your decisions in difficult circumstances or when things go wrong. This is how we learn to actually stand on the promises of God (not just memorize them) and how our trust in God’s faithfulness will be strengthened. Seeing the good that God can bring about despite evils done to us will also surely be a blessing to all of those around us, bringing life where there might otherwise be death.

 

Credit where credit is due…

Aaron had a history project this week on unions. It was a joint project that he and 2 other classmates worked on together. Fortunately, they seemed to all truly work together and all put effort in. We all know that is not how it always goes. Sometimes there are group projects where the whole group gets credit, when one person really did all the work. The worst would be if one person did all the work and got no credit for it.

Biblically, this is one thing Jacob does not let happen-at least not in regards to what God has done in his life. Jacob is nearing the end of his life in Gen. 48. He is starting to hand out blessings to all of his sons and grandsons, and does not miss giving “credit” where credit is due. This credit goes to God. Jacob is looking back on his life-all of its ups and downs. He realizes things happened that he would never have dreamt could happen-in this case, actually seeing Joseph again. Then, in light of this fact, he also makes a point of giving God the credit. He specifically stands in awe that God allowed him to see not only Joseph, which was more than he ever expected, but also Joseph’s sons. He has no doubt that God orchestrated all of it. He saw God in his life. He then acknowledged God in his life and wanted others to know about it.

We claim that God is “our” God. Do we look for Him in our lives? Have you or I considered today or this month or last year, the unexpected ways God showed himself to be fully active in our lives? Have we ever written it down or told others about it? Do we give God credit for the good things that happen in our lives, or do we take the credit ourselves? As I see Jacob’s example, I see 2 parts to life in Christ that should be evident in our lives; Constantly looking for what God is doing in our lives, and giving Him the credit for those things. By doing this, we will be able to keep God in his rightful place as Savior and Lord and we will also be more apt to remain humble and thankful. Today, think about what God has done in your life. How would you finish the sentence, “I never expected _______”. Once we identify some of the unexpected blessings that have happened in our lives, let’s be sure to give “credit” where credit is due: to God.

Winding paths…


If people ask me what I do when they meet me, I tell them I am a stay-at-home mom. Sometimes I add that I worked Arco Chemical Company prior to staying home. This sounds simple, but if you were to know the “behind the scenes story” you would see it was not a straight path. I started college as a Biology major to be a zoologist. I graduated as a German/El.Ed. major and then moved to Austria for a year to teach English. Upon returning to the US, I got a job teaching which I hated because I was a terrible teacher. I then signed up with a temporary agency, who put me at a chemical company.  I worked in the Purchasing department, then accounting, and ended up in Customer Service. I loved all these positions. Now, God has me as a stay-at-home mom, my favorite job of all so far. Needless to say, my path was not exactly a clear, straight line.

Gen. 47:27 is one of those verses that definitely does not indicate the whole story either. It sounds like God’s people settled in a land and multiplied as if that was a simple path. We all know it was not so simple. It was not a clear line of Abraham moving to Egypt, and having a large line of descendants all the way to Joseph. If we were going to write a plan for God to implement how he would bring Israel to this point, I don’t think we could ever imagine it like the true life story. We would not include a man (Abraham) who had no children of his own and was old, finally having a son at the age of 100. We wouldn’t be able to dream up Isaac having twins, Esau and Jacob, who lived lives of treachery, deceit, and fierce sibling rivalry. We would not opt for trickery in marriage to Leah instead of Rachel by Laban. Joseph would not be hated by brothers to the point of being sold into slavery and gone from his family for decades. No, I don’t think any of us could even come up with a storyline this crazy with so many twists and turns. This is not how we would write a novel with an end sentence like “Thus Israel settled in the land Egypt.”

Why was it done this way? Why wasn’t it simpler? A clearer path? Less complicated? It is because as God tells us in this week’s memory verse: “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are my ways your ways.” (Is. 55:8) God’s ways will not be what we would have “written” many many times in our lives, the lives of our families and others. His thoughts are not like our thoughts. Sometimes we might find them the same, but I think those will be the rare times. We are the “character”  in the story like Joseph, and our main job is to be faithful and obedient where God places us. We are to use the gifts He has given to do what we believe He is calling us to do, until He chooses to change our path.  We must trust God when we think there would have been a much simpler, straighter path. God has His reasons. The final sentence or summary of our life will be the exact outcome God wanted from the beginning. It will be the fulfillment of His will, with our life intertwined in ways that are not “our” ways, but are the best ways. It may lead us down roads that are ones we never thought we would travel. I am not a zoologist and never will be. Thank goodness, because I wouldn’t trade where God has brought me for anything now. I am thankful I am not writing the story and that God is the “writer”. His story is the best path for me and for you. We need only know he is the Author and perfecter of our faith, and trust the story of our life, with all its twists and turns, will end up exactly where it needs to in the end.

Choose your lens…


Does anyone watch the show “Survivor” anymore? I guess they do, because it is still on as far as I can tell. I am not sure which is harder for those survivors-surviving the elements where they are, or surviving against their teammates.

I realized reading more on Joseph this morning, he had similar battles, except his was not a game show, and it lasted much longer than a few months. Oh, and he didn’t choose by his own will to be in his “show”. Who did choose though?

Today, he seems to be firm in his answer on that question. After the 20+ years of turmoil, difficulties, huge ups and downs, separation from family for decades-his conclusion to the whole experience is that God had a plan. He did not conclude he had absolutely rotten brothers. He did not conclude he had bad luck, good luck or both. He did not conclude that fortune was on his side. He saw all that had happened as the hand of God using the circumstances and his life to preserve his own family, and ultimately God’s remnant so His people and His plan would come to fruition. He goes so far as to say; “God sent me before you…”.

How did Joseph do this? How was he not bitter towards his brothers? There is no doubt they truly committed a grave wrong against him that drastically changed the course of his life. He could have sought revenge on them after all these years. He had the choice to look at what God was accomplishing through him or what had happened to him. His actions and his response depended on which lens he wanted to look at his life through. One would lead to justifiably punishing his brothers for the years of wrongs done to him. The other would lead to life for himself, his brothers, extended family and ultimately preserving God’s chosen people. We know which lens he chose to look through and to act on.

We have those same two lenses-the lens of life centered around us, our will, our desires, and wrongs done against us OR the lens of God’s will in our lives, and His using us to accomplish his purposes through us. Both will determine our responses and actions towards all of those around us in large and small ways. When I have to pick up after someone, I can be angry they have not put their things away, or I can see it as God giving me the opportunity to serve my family another day. When God puts a difficult person in your life, your can look at the wrongs and failures in that person or as the opportunity to be Christ-like towards them and show them what God’s love is like.

We may never be on game show Survivor, but we will be called every day to survive wrongs done by others as well as experience general struggles with day to day living. Joseph was able to go through all of this and conclude it was because God sent him. I pray we will be able to view life in the same way Joseph did. May we see God’s great work in our lives, may we overlook the faults of those around us, and by doing so, rejoice in His amazing Master plan in which He has chosen to include us.

Providence every year…


Today is my 53rd birthday. I am thankful for every breath and day God has given me. The blessings of family and friends are much too numerous to even count. I was thinking about this this morning, and thinking about God’s sovereignty in my life. Are there things in my life I would change in the past if I could? Sure. Could I have orchestrated and chosen who came into my life and who did not? No, not really. I did not always understand why certain things did not work out at certain times in the past 53 years, and I never could have dreamt what other wonderful things would work out in my life that God knew from the start. He has and always will be sovereign and providential in my life.

I thought about this, because I was reading further in the story of Joseph. I was thinking he would certainly not have chosen to be sold at 17 into slavery. He would not have chosen to have Potiphar’s wife in his life, to accuse him of a crime he never committed. Joseph probably was happy with the outcome of being in a position just under the Pharaoh that allowed him to provide in the future for his own family-but he didn’t choose that. God did. God saw it all from the beginning. He saw Joseph-as a single person, a boy who would become a man. He strengthened Joseph somehow to be able to hold on to his faith through what I would consider years of aloneness in a culture that did not worship God. He certainly did not have a Bible app or daily devotions and Bible studies to meet and bolster his faith. But Joseph had God. He was faithful from his perspective and held fast to God. In the meantime, from the other side of things, God was exercising his sovereignty and providence in Joseph’s life at the micro level, and in the preservation of his chosen people on a macro level.

I do not know how many more years I have on this earth. It could be less than one or decades more. What I do know is at 53, God knows. I will understand and love some of the things that His providence will bring into my life. There will also be hard things, things that will force my faith and trust in God to be strengthened as I walk perhaps through them not understanding, not liking, and thinking I would not have chosen them. What I hope I do and I hope we all do is to remember that God is good, all things come from Him, and continually pray for the faith to stay true to Him through however many years He grants us!

Expectations and Timeframes…


Aaron just turned 17 last week. He now has the privilege of no restrictions on his license, which he has been waiting for. He expected to get his license at 16, and his expectation was to get the full privileges at 17. We actually “expect” more things in life than we realize. Most of us expect to graduate from high school and college, we expect to get married and raise a family, we may expect to get a certain job. Many times, God fulfills these hopes and expectations, but not always in our expected timeframe. How do you and I react when our expectations are not met? This is what I want us to think about as we look at Joseph in today’s Scripture.

Joseph surely understood unmet expectations. I would think Joseph “expected” his life to be like his brothers’ and his dad’s-to carry on the family life of a typical Hebrew son. We know that did not happen. He was sold as a slave at the age of 17. He did what was right before God’s eyes even when sold to slavetraders and while in Potiphar’s house. You would expect things would work out well. He ended up in jail unjustly. This was not what he expected. He continued to do what was right, but as we can see, was not restored to freedom until he was 30. Did you ever calculate how long that was?  It was 13 years from when he was sold as a slave until he came into the high service for Pharaoh. 13 years is a LONG time. It is almost Aaron’s entire lifetime.

We have the hindsight to be able to see why God did what he did in Joseph’s life and how that came to good in the end, but Joseph did not. He just had to be obedient, faithful and wait on God. He had to wait much longer than he expected. Chances are, God will also put us in waiting patterns in our lifetime and not give us what we “expect” at certain times. It happened to Joseph. We will see this coming Sunday in the sermon with Elijah after the whole prophets of Baal incident. Elijah “expected” the Israelites to turn back to God, but they did not. It was disappointing for him. I am certain Joseph was disappointed when he was sitting in jail and things didn’t turn out as he expected. God’s timing is not our timing. As you and I read the Bible, watch how God acts. Watch His timing. Remember when things don’t go “as expected” in your life as I need to remember in mine-God’s timeline will often be VERY different than ours, but we can always trust His timing is perfect.