Old Testament Surprises

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Each time I delve into the Old Testament I’m struck by its relevance, even when my reading falls within the historical accounts of kings and tribes. If we met for tea today, and you asked what I’ve been studying, I’d tell you 1 Chronicles. Would you yawn? Perhaps, but let me share what I’ve been learning.

1 Chronicles 22

In this chapter, David charges his son Solomon with the Herculean tasks of assuming kingship over Israel and building a temple for the Lord. His primary advice?

  • Be careful to observe the decrees given through Moses.
  • Be strong and courageous, unafraid and never discouraged.

And to the leaders of Israel, ordered to help Solomon, David says, “Now devote your heart and soul to seeking the Lord your God” (1 Chronicles 22:19a).

There it is, the essence of a believer’s walk once again: trust and obey!

Moving back a few chapters to 1 Chronicles 5:20-22, I find God working for his people in the heat of battle. He “delivered…all their allies into their hands, because they cried out to him during the battle. He answered their prayers, because they trusted in him…The battle was God’s.”

All our battles belong to God. We may be called to fight, but he is the one who does the winning.

While the Old Testament is chock full of encouragement, it warns us as well. Moving back just one book to 2 Kings 18, I was surprised by the passage condensed below:

“Hezekiah did what was right in the eyes of the Lord. He removed the high places, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles. He broke into pieces the bronze snake Moses had made, for up to that time the Israelites had been burning incense to it. (It was called Nehushtan.)”

Wait, what? God used that bronze snake as a means of rescue for the Israelites. They turned it into an idol? Yes, they did. Anything can become an idol, even something that started out as an instrument of good. I asked myself, “Am I in danger of making something an idol?” The answer for all of us must surely be yes. 1 John 5:21 cautions, “Dear children, keep away from anything that might take God’s place in your hearts.” We must always be on our guard, asking God to keep our perspective and our loyalty in line with him.

What have you been learning? Whether from the New Testament or the Old, has God used his Word to surprise you lately?

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Chain of Events

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A few months ago, Steve was stopped by a Boy Scout as we headed into Kroger. The young man politely asked if Steve would buy the $10 coupon book he was selling. After Steve agreed and shelled out the $10, we continued into the store to do our shopping. We don’t generally frequent the fast food restaurants that place coupons in those sorts of books, so I never really expected to get our $10 back.

A few days later, I thumbed through the book, expecting to toss the whole thing. One page caught my eye, though. It was two “Ten Dollar Gift Cards” for the Whole Earth Provision Company. I knew where the store was—adjacent to the Trader Joe’s on Shepherd, but had never been inside. I tucked the coupons in my purse just in case we found ourselves in that part of town (a rarity at best).

Shortly thereafter, Steve and I drove into town to look at the azaleas, in full bloom despite the calendar that said, “It’s February, get your coat on.” We planned to pick up a picnic at Trader Joe’s on Shepherd. We were dissuaded by the FORTY people in the check-out line, but did go next door to check out the Whole Earth Provision Company. It’s a delightful store, and spending $10 of free money (each!) is always fun. My fun was particularly interesting, though.

I broke my little toe about ten days earlier. It still hurt a bit, and we were leaving for Washington, where we had planned miles and miles of walking, in just two more days. On the way into town I remember thinking, “What shoes am I going to wear? I don’t want to wear jeans and tennis shoes the whole time, and sometimes my tennis shoes still hurt.”

As you may have guessed by now, Whole Earth Provision Company sells everything from books and toys to socks and shoes. Clarks, a favorite brand of mine, has a new line called “Cloud Steppers.” They look like classy shoes but feel like a cross between bedroom slippers and running shoes. The “daily special” was a pair of great black ankle height CloudStepper boots, regularly $100, marked down to $40 (before my $10 off coupon.)

  • Sold.
  • Comfortable.
  • Delighted by God’s creative provision.
  • And no longer wondering what I’d be wearing around DC !

Please tell me, when has God used an unusual chain of events to bless you?

Falling in Faith

Steve VSI

We’ve all heard sermons about walking in faith, but what happens when we fall, when things go deeply awry as we seek to do God’s will? Let me share with you an edited email from my friend Steve Vinton and his wife Susan, founders of Village Schools International, and longtime residents of a village in Tanzania. Please look within this essay for their perspective on the troubles in life and the goodness of God.

Susan slipped in the mud, passed out, broke her arm, and dislocated her wrist. A houseful of people showed up in the early evening bringing her home. I was sick over what had happened and how much pain she was in, while at the same time I was feeling woozy myself from the pain of what I mistakenly thought were kidney stones. Our friend, Dr. Leena, told us the best thing was to make the 13 hour drive to the big hospital in Dar es Salaam. Godfrey and Emmanueli took turns driving that night, and Sarah spent the whole night massaging Susan’s fingers until we were finally all in the emergency room together.

Although Friday was a big holiday in Tanzania, the orthopedic surgeon came in that afternoon anyway and relocated Susan’s wrist. A CT scan showed that I had a blockage coming from my left kidney and putting me into three days of really terrible pain. Once we had Susan taken care of in the emergency room, Godfrey and I went to reception to get started on me. I was told that, since it was a holiday, I could see a general doctor, but then I’d need to come back next week. As he walked me toward another building, we ran into my dear wonderful friend, Dr. Jamal. He talked to the doctors in the emergency room, and the next thing I knew one of his surgeon friends was on his way to the hospital. As soon as they finished Susan’s surgery, it was my turn! (Things were a bit delayed when the electricity went off, but other than that everything was wonderful.) My body is all fixed, although I won’t be good to go home until next Friday, and Susan’s wrist is going to take months to heal.

Once again we are reminded of God’s goodness in all things!

  • A dear old grandmother carrying a huge load of firewood on her head stopped to help Susan where she had fallen.
  • Our students at the college spread messages to the four corners of the country for people to pray.
  • Dr. Jamal “just happened” to bump into me in the hallway here at the hospital.
  • Emmanueli, who never takes naps, had gone home for lunch that day and surprised his wife by saying that he was going to take a nap for “no particular reason.”  But that meant he could drive through the wee hours of the night to get us to the hospital.

Sometimes you just have to smile at ‘coincidences’ like that in order to experience the real joy there is in seeing God at work when the bad things happen.

How I wish that Susan had not fallen! But she did, and what followed was a little glimpse of God arranging really kind things for us.

  • Right now I am not only without pain, but the nurses connived to get Susan and me in a hospital room together so that we get to talk and slowly get better together.
  • When Susan was nauseated and felt she just need a sip of coke, the nurse found out we were here with no money, went out herself, and bought Susan a coke.
  • Later Susan wanted a banana, so when Godfrey & Emmanueli & Sarah came during visiting hours they went and bought us a huge big bunch of deliciously sweet bananas to share.
  • As Susan said, the way she fell she easily could have broken both wrists.
  • How easy it would have been for us to have made a poor decision to go to a closer hospital that couldn’t have helped us!
  • And what would have happened if Dr. Jamal had not been walking down that hall?

Soon we’ll be back home and back into the busy days of what we do—there are schools to visit, classes to teach, big programs to work on—but for right now we just get to be the happy couple here with nothing to do, nowhere at all to go, and we just get to smile and talk and marvel at really how blessed we are.  How nice to just enjoy a nap together—a forced vacation! Life sure is good.

Exhausted but Still in Pursuit

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Many of you know the story of Gideon. The Lord told him to go and fight the Midianites, promising victory. As a sign of this promise, the Angel of God instructed Gideon to put an offering of meat, bread, and broth on a rock. Before departing, the angel touched the offering, causing fire to rise from the rock and consume the food. Somehow, that miracle wasn’t enough to convince Gideon to follow instructions. He asked for two more signs. First a threshing floor remained dry all morning, while a fleece of wool was soaked full of dew. In a second test, the fleece was dry while the ground around it became wet.

Finally persuaded, Gideon amassed an army, but it was too big. Ours is the God of the impossible. A large army might have taken credit for the Midianite defeat, claiming that victory was by their own strength. The crowd had to be reduced. First Gideon told all who were fearful to go home. (And twenty-two thousand did just that.) Then he took the remaining ten thousand down to the water and watched them quench their thirst. Only those who drank by lifting their hands to their mouths, three hundred in all, were allowed to stay and fight.

God in his compassion assured Gideon of His plan one more time by allowing him to overhear a Midianite relating a dream and its interpretation—sure defeat of the Midian army by the hand of God through Gideon. Then Gideon did as the Lord commanded. By the blowing of trumpets, the breaking of torch-filled pitchers, and mighty shouts of faith, he and his band of three hundred secured the victory, pursuing their enemy army as they fled.

That’s enough of a story right there, chock full of important lessons:

·       God directs.

·       He asks the impossible.

·       He does the miraculous.

·       He is gracious when we ask for confirmation of his will.

That’s all I ever learned about Gideon until yesterday, when I read the rest of the story. Judges 8:4 teaches that, “Gideon and his three hundred men, exhausted yet keeping up the pursuit, came to the Jordan and crossed it.” There were more battles to be fought. The whole trumpet and jar thing was just the beginning. Eventually, but certainly not immediately, “Midian was subdued before the Israelites and did not raise its head again. During Gideon’s lifetime, the land had peace forty years” (Judges 8:28).

Are you in the middle of a battle today, one that seems incredibly long and drawn out? Are you in a place where you are exhausted, yet must keep up the pursuit? I hope you will look at the story of Gideon and be reminded that, while God does indeed keep his promises, he may ask us to press on beyond what looks reasonable to us. May he give you the grace and strength to keep up the pursuits he has assigned to you this week!

 

Psalm 78

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I love to talk (and write) about trusting the Lord, worshipping him, honoring him. Today, though, my Bible reading covered the other side of the coin, the dark side, so to speak. The verses below, beginning with Psalm 78:40, point out what happens when we ignore the Lord our God:

“How often they rebelled against him in the wilderness and grieved him in the wasteland! Again and again they put God to the test; they vexed the Holy One of Israel.”

I could try to pass these verses off as ancient history, a simple description of the Israelites as they wandered the wilderness, with no implications for my own life. I don’t believe that’s the only reason they are recorded in the book of Joshua, though. I can rebel. I can grieve him. I can vex the Holy One of Israel. How? I suppose there’s more than one way, but look at the very next verse. It’s the one that struck me this morning as an important reminder of what it means to serve the Lord.

“They did not remember his power—the day he redeemed them from the oppressor, the day he displayed his signs in Egypt, his wonders in the region of Zoan…”

The Israelites lost sight of the power of God. Despite all he had done, all the ways he had revealed himself, they abandoned their faith in him. They fell into fear and a frenzy of complaints whenever the going got rough.

God makes it clear throughout the Bible that he does not ever want to be forgotten or ignored. He is to be the center of our lives and of our thoughts every single day. Do we benefit from that kind of faith and trust? Of course, but that’s not the reason we are to keep him as our focus. We are to remember his power because that is what he demands, what he commands us to do. And when we don’t, we have rebelled. We grieve and vex him. We walk in disobedience.

These are hard words, but only if we choose to ignore them. The brighter side of this coin is that the One who created us, who created all things, wants us to be in close, continuous relationship with him. Joshua had that, and so can we.

Signs of Healing

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Crossword puzzles have become a part of my bedtime routine most evenings. I find that they engage my brain just enough to help me tone down all the other thoughts that clamor for attention throughout the day. A few nights ago, though, the very first crossword clue started me thinking about perspective.

The clue for 1 across was “Signs of healing.” The answer was five letters long. Since I had no idea what it might be, I took a look at 1 down. One down was easy and started with an “s.” So: signs of healing, five letters, starting with an S. Have you got it? I didn’t either. The answer turned out to be scars.

What? Scars? I’ve always thought of scars as a sign of injury, not of healing. I have scars on my belly now, three of them, serving as daily reminders that errant cells within my body demanded surgery. But signs of healing? Well, come to think of it, my body has healed. No bleeding or infection runs along those three little lines. And the small bald spot on my husband’s temple where a childhood fall required stitches? It poses no threat and causes no pain. It too has healed. So has the place on my father’s back where melanoma was removed half a century ago.

Perspective is a powerful thing. We all have scars, some of them physical, some emotional. We might look at them and think, “Why did I have to suffer such an injury?” But even if the scar itches or aches now and then, it is no longer a wound. We can choose to let those same scars remind us that, praise God, we have healed. In that choice, much of life changes.

Do we really trust God to carry us through all hardships? Our loving Lord heals our wounds and uses our troubles (often in ways we would not choose and may not understand.) If we can remember his intervention in our lives, then once we bear scars, they are indeed signs of healing.