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.

Yellow Ribbons (by Beth Smith)

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”Tie a Yellow Ribbon ‘Round the Old Oak Tree” hit number one on the music charts in April 1973. (Perhaps you were just a baby at the time. Maybe you weren’t even born yet. Consider this a history lesson.) The song told the tale of a man who served a three-year prison sentence. When he was about to be released, he wrote a letter to his wife and explained that he would be taking a particular bus through their hometown. If she wanted him to get off the bus and come home, she was to tie a yellow ribbon around the oak tree in the city square.

Imagine the man’s anxiety as the bus got closer and closer. He asked the bus driver to be on the lookout in order to tell him what he saw. When the town came into view, there were yellow ribbons on every branch. He was forgiven. What a wonderful feeling!

We can all have that joy, that release from sin and regret, because God forgives us. We can come home to him, no matter what we’ve done.

  • In Matthew 26:28 (NIV), Jesus said, “This is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”
  • Peter said of Christ in Acts 10:43 (NIV), “All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

This is not an exclusive promise. It’s for everyone! We may be tempted to think, “Yeah, right. Sure it is. But nobody knows how bad I am, what evil thoughts I have, what terrible things I do. No way can I be forgiven.”

My answer is a wholehearted, “Yes. Way.” We are promised in 1 John that if we confess our sins, admitting them to God, he will forgive us. Then, we are to forgive others.

Forgiveness isn’t always easy. Sometimes, we think, “I can’t do that. What they did was too horrible.” The truth is, if God tells us in his Word to forgive, then we can forgive. He never tells us to do something without giving us the power to do it. Forgiving isn’t a feeling, it’s a choice.

This very day, if there’s someone we haven’t forgiven, it’s time to get alone with God and do it, perhaps praying, “God, I don’t feel like I want to do this, but as an act of my will, by choice, I obey you. I choose to forgive this person. You can change my feelings. I will no longer rehearse the grievances and bitterness I have. I forgive them as you have forgiven me.”

The next step? When those old bitter feelings rise up, we have to say, “No Way! I have forgiven that person as I have been forgiven.” And when can we stop forgiving others? Never. Because God never stops forgiving us. Jesus has yellow ribbon tied around everything. He tells us, “All is forgiven. I’m waiting for you with open arms.”

A Stake in the Ground*

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Once upon a time a farmer accepted Christ as his Savior. Whenever he had a mean thought, though, or argued with his wife, or was tempted to lie about something, he wondered if he really was a Christian. One day, as he plowed a field near his house, old doubts returned. Determined to put an end to his spiritual waffling, the farmer stopped his tractor, picked up a fence post, walked to the center of the field and drove that stake into the ground. “There!” he said. “I have accepted Christ. I am a Christian here and now and forever more.” Then he climbed back on the tractor and continued his work. Thereafter, whenever a doubt came into his mind, he’d point at the stake and say, “I am a Christian. There’s my stake. I have already made that decision.”

Many of us need a stake of remembrance, one that reminds us that we are being renewed day to day by the power of God. ‘Ever heard comments like these?

  • “Well, our family always has been stubborn.”
  • “He’s just mean spirited like his daddy was.”
  • “You know alcoholism runs in her family.”

That kind of thing is over according to this verse: “If any person is in Christ, he is a new creation (a new creature altogether), the old (moral and spiritual condition) has passed away. Behold the fresh and the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17 AMP).

Why don’t those of us who have accepted Christ as Savior act fresh and new (and sweet and angelic) all the time? Perhaps it is because we need daily renewal. Even though our spirits are right with God, we have minds, wills, and emotions that have to be brought in line with God’s Spirit in us over and over again. We need to be “constantly renewed in the spirit of your mind, having a fresh mental and spiritual attitudes, and put on the new nature created in God’s image in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4: 23-25 AMP).

This daily renewal involves:

  • Looking to Jesus for help.
  • Asking for forgiveness and forgiving others.
  • Loving others every day.
  • Reading God’s Word.
  • Doing our best to be more like Jesus.

Will we fail to do all that? Certainly! But God always gives us the opportunity and the power to start afresh. Don’t get discouraged. God’s grace is enough. We can each drive a stake somewhere as a reminder that we can be and are being renewed every day by God’s grace and power.

*For the month of December, each post will be an abridged excerpt from Every Wednesday Morning, written by my mom, Beth Smith. If you want to read all 64 devotional essays in their full length form, you can grab a copy of her book at etsy.com.

No More Excuses by Beth Smith

tankI once heard a preacher say, “An excuse is a reason wrapped up in a lie.” Are you as good at finding excuses for your actions, or lack of action, as I am? We are not alone. Let me give you a few examples from the Bible. Even though these people went on to obey, their first reactions were excuses.

In Chapter 6 of Judges, the Israelites were in deep trouble (again). They were being starved to death by the Midianites. God called Gideon to the rescue, addressing him as a mighty man of fearless courage. Gideon answered with an excuse, “Lord, I can’t rescue Israel. I come from the weakest tribe…” We do that, don’t we? We tell God we can’t because we’re just nobodies. We don’t come from a very good background. We’re not well educated. We’re the poorest of the poor. In other words, we tell God he’s not able to use us.

God called Jeremiah to be a prophet to the Israelites, saying to him, “Before you were ever born, I planned on making you my spokesman.” Wow, that would inspire and convince anyone, right? Nope. Jeremiah’s first response was an excuse. “I can’t speak for you. I’m too young.” Does that excuse sound familiar? Sometimes we think we’re too young and inexperienced or (as in my case) too old and worn out. That’s just a flimsy excuse, if we’ve been called by God to do something.

In the book of Exodus, God even spoke from a burning bush, assigning Moses the task of going to Pharaoh and leading the Israelites out of Egypt. Moses immediately offered two excuses: They won’t believe me, and I’m not a good speaker. Do we dare to tell God that we don’t have the talents or skills to do what he wants us to do? In the light of God’s power and God’s grace, we stand without excuse for our disobedience.

How do we break our habit of making excuses? Try starting here. Do the last thing you remember thinking God wanted you to do, but that you didn’t do. Perhaps it’s something that offers a great challenge. Maybe it’s something as simple as writing a letter or making a phone call. We may think we can’t go through with whatever those things are, but God’s Word tells us that:

  • He knows us.
  • He has empowered us with his Holy Spirit.
  • He never leaves us or forsakes us.
  • We can do anything he asks us to do, because he will make us able.

I heard a story about a group of Marines who were using war games for training. Instead of using weapons, the men were told to use verbal cues. For example, when they “fired” their unloaded rifles, they were to say “Bang! Bang!” They said “Boom” when lobbing an imaginary grenade.

A young soldier spotted a member of the enemy team, but all of his shouts of “Bang!” and “Boom!” did nothing. The other soldier simply held his ground. When asked for an explanation, the unmovable Marine simply said, “Rumble, Rumble! I’m a tank!”[1]

With Christ we’re tanks. Next time we’re about to offer excuses for avoiding what we know we should do, we could say to ourselves, “Rumble! Rumble!” Then move forward and do it. Write “Rumble! Rumble!” someplace where you can see it this week. Let those words remind you that we can do anything God wants us to do through Christ who gives us strength.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Inspired by a skit found at http://www.scoutorama.com/skit/sk_display.cfm?sk_id=104 accessed 5/14/15.

 

Weed or Flower?

It’s a weed.dandelion-blowing-1269626_960_720[1]

No, it’s a flower.

Or maybe it’s a wildflower, but I’m not really sure.

I spent some time today researching the difference between weeds and wildflowers and found this delightful quote.

“What’s the difference between a wildflower and a weed? Nothing more than society’s judgment.”

Maybe plants and habits have a lot in common. We often let society determine which habits are “weeds” and which are “flowers.” And society often changes its mind.

  • Chick-fil-a is closed on Sunday. That’s a bit out of place these days, but was a common practice for many businesses when I was a child.
  • Sex and violence were far less common elements of network television programming years ago. On the other hand, many a TV cowboy or detective lit up a string of cigarettes while solving the problem of the week.
  • Once upon a time we all ate less sugar and processed food, but we hadn’t really given much thought to organics yet.

Society is an unreliable compass. We know that truth in our heads, but do we embrace that it as fact in our hearts and show it in our actions? We are often called to a life that is out of sync with what is cool. Our wildflowers may look like weeds to others. (I mean, really, why would anyone want to fast periodically, or get up early on a Sunday morning to head out the door, or give away a significant portion of every annual income?)

Sometimes what we identify as a weed is labeled as a wildflower these days as well. (While we know better, it can be easy to allow certain sins into our lives, because they simply aren’t as clearly labeled as sin these days.)

So, as always, it’s back to The Book. We have to take our cues from The Manufacturer’s Handbook, regardless of what is “in” or “out” in popular culture. And we can do just that, with great result, because the Bible and its Author do not change. They do not lie. The Lord who loves us set down many do’s and do not’s for us long ago for our good and for his glory. Living his way works well.

I hope you’ll adopt some new, true-flower habit this week, and maybe yank a weed or two out of your life as well. Want to tell me about it? Your comments mean much to me, so write away!

 

The Cloak of Invisibility

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Harry Potter. I’ve been watching this series of movies with Steve over the last several weeks. Some are delightful. Some are surprisingly dark. I’m not here to extol or vilify J.K. Rowling, though. Rather, I’d like to focus on one of her many creative inventions—the Cloak of Invisibility.

Harry receives the cloak as a gift. It allows him, no surprise, to become invisible each time he hides beneath it. Thus he is able to escape danger on occasion and to become privy to otherwise forbidden conversations. I’d like to have such a cloak, wouldn’t you? No such luck.

However, there’s another cloak of invisibility we can have—that we are actually instructed to use on many occasions. It’s the cloak we can don whenever we are tempted to flaunt our efforts, to have our good deeds recognized. The Bible talks about not “letting your left hand know what your right hand is doing, about doing our good deeds in secret.” This is somewhat counter to our current culture, but can still become our personal mode of operation. It’s the aftermath that’s tricky.

Following our Lord’s direction, and blessing someone in a secret way, can be great fun, actually. The trick is to give God the silent glory and then remain silent about the situation henceforth, never “accidentally” slipping into “wasn’t that cool?” mode.

Need some encouragement to keep with the invisibility plan? First, take a gander at Matthew six. Then consider enjoying this novel: Magnificent Obsession by Lloyd C. Douglas, © 1929. It’s the story of a man who decided to put his cloak of invisibility to good use throughout a lifetime filled with acts of kindness. If you choose to read it, let me know what you think!