Old Testament Surprises

snake of moses

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?

Lovely Day

Levites siteThe sign at the corner said “Gospel Brunch.”

Steve’s take: “I wonder how much gospel vs. how much brunch. Maybe this is just an Austin start-up band looking for a place to play.”

My take: “I’ve been wanting to try Threadgill’s anyway, so let’s give it a try.”

And so, on a sunny Sunday during our month of “Let’s consider Austin,” we walked down the road to a vintage BBQ joint, wondering if we should have gone to church instead.

Oh, my goodness! (And I’m not talking about the omelets.) We were in for a treat.

The Levites ( http://www.levitelab.com/bio )sang their sermon with hearty helpings of encouragement, conviction, and just plain fun.

  • “Keep Your Mind on Jesus.”
  • “Lay Your Burdens Down.”
  • “Don’t Worry. Be Happy.” (Because you trust the Lord).
  • “Lovely Day”

That last one surprised me. It’s clearly a romantic love song, yet it has become a worship tune for me  now. Its message is this:

Sometimes I wake up with my mind burdened by the seemingly impossible challenges ahead of me. Then, once I’ve looked at you, I know everything will be okay.

Doesn’t that pretty much cover how our best days begin? We rarely wake up to face a day free of all difficulties, but we always wake to a chance to remember Who is really in charge. We have a choice, each morning, as to what our focus will be. And when we make the right choice, many of our days can be lovely.

Because I take copyright laws seriously, you’ll have to go here  to read or here to listen to the full lyrics written and performed by Bill Withers in 1977. I hope you’ll take the time to do so. Then I hope you’ll take yet another moment and post an answer to this question: What “secular” song has become a song of worship for you? I would love to know!

Unsettled

cloud

After nearly 30 years in the same house, I am moving. I’m not sure precisely where or when just yet. I don’t know who will buy our present home, nor which furnishings and possessions will “make the cut” and come along with us. I could spend another paragraph detailing the myriad of other uncertainties in my life. But then, you have a list of your own, don’t you?

You may, like me, sometimes be tempted to say, “I will be at peace when _____.”  Perhaps you would fill that blank with, “when the doctor gives me a clean slate” or “when my baby is born” or “when my next job review is over.” Of course, that will never work. By the time today’s list of uncertainties have cleared, a whole new crop of them will be headed our way. Our only hope for pervasive peace is to maintain our trust in the Lord within uncertainty.

I was thinking about my uncertainties as I washed the dishes this morning. (That’s usually Steve’s job. I don’t remember where he was!) Somehow, my thoughts landed on the Israelites. As they traveled the wilderness, they never knew what the next day would bring, whether they would be traveling or staying put.  If the cloud of God’s presence moved, they moved. If it settled, they settled. (See Numbers 9: 17.) But what of it? Their hope, their peace, was not in knowing what tomorrow would bring. It was in believing, believing that God would lead, provide, and protect.

Should we be any different? Do we really need to know what’s coming next in order to be at peace? Surely not, as that would mean we could never really be at peace. Today, I am looking squarely at my uncertainties and proclaiming, “I do not need to know. God knows. And that is enough!” I pray that you will do the same.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27).

 

The Fretnotters’ Club by Beth Smith*

 

membership-685021_1280-card-pixabay

Are you a worrywart? Worrying is something most of us do even if we don’t want to do it. Barbara Johnson once wrote that, “Worry is wasting today’s time to clutter up tomorrow’s opportunities with yesterday’s troubles.”[1] We’re not meant to go through life like that. There’s a better way.

Today I’m inviting you to join my club, The Fretnotters Club. It’s based on Psalm 37:1, “Do not fret because of those who are evil.” There’s no monetary investment required, but there are a few rules. (You knew that was coming.) I’ll summarize them, but the complete list of rules and bylaws is found in Psalm 37. That chapter doesn’t just tell us to stop fretting. It also tells us how to stop that nasty habit, and what will happen when we do.

Rules for Fretnotters:

  • Rule One: “Trust in the Lord (lean on Him; rely on Him) and do good” (Psalm 37:3 AMP).
  • Rule Two:Take delight in the Lord” (Psalm 37:4).
  • Rule Three: “Commit your ways to the Lord. Roll over and rest each care of your load on Him and be confident in him” (Psalm 37:5 AMP).
  • Rule Four: “Be still and rest in the Lord; wait for Him and patiently lean yourself upon him” (Psalm 37:7 AMP).
  • Rule Five: “Refrain from anger. Turn from wrath. Don’t envy” (Psalm 37:8-9 author’s paraphrase.

Now about that last rule, sometimes we think, “Well, I’m not an angry person. There’s no wrath in me.” Ahh, but do we experience road rage? Can we read the newspaper without having our blood pressure rise? How many times do we raise our voices to loved ones or grit our teeth to keep from yelling? Maybe we all have a little more anger in us than we’d like to admit.

In verses 23-40, God lovingly the benefits he bestows on those who trust and obey him, on Fretnotters. It’s a great list. He will delight in us, make our steps firm, and direct our paths. When we stumble, we won’t fall because he’ll hold us up. (This is a very important promise, because we will stumble as we attempt to obey these club rules.) God says he won’t forsake us, and he’ll protect us. Instead of requiring a pledge from us, God makes one to us in the last two verses of Psalm 37. I’ve changed pronouns, but not the meaning. Here’s God’s pledge to Fretnotters. Imagine him saying this to you.

The salvation of the godly comes from me, your Lord. I am your stronghold in times of trouble. I help you and I deliver you and save you, because you take refuge in me.”

Because we are in his care, we need not worry or fret, ever. Go on – enjoy God. Become a full time member of the Fretnotters’ Club.

*This is 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.

 

 

 

[1] Johnson, Barbara. Splashes of Joy. New York: Thomas Nelson, 2000, p. 332.

Enjoy Your Day

dc pixabay

I went to Washington! Steve and I spent four days visiting the monuments and museums of our nation’s capital. Travel often means discovery for me. Here are two lessons I learned, or rather re-learned, during the course of this adventure.

Don’t kid yourself. You are not in charge. When I’m traveling, I am more keenly aware of my lack of control. Perhaps it’s the unfamiliar surroundings or the need to try things I simply haven’t mastered (like Uber and the Metro). At any rate, I often find myself relying on God in a different “I can’t do this on my own” sort of way as I prepare for a trip and head out the door. The uncertainties of travel sharpen my eye for the interventions and blessings that keep me on the right track. Little things—check out last month’s blog about shoes—and big things like safety and health. Now back in Houston, I’m hoping to maintain the same level of faith and reliance on our Lord, the same awareness of his blessing, as I jump back into everyday life.

Lesson Two: “Have a nice day?” The people of Washington are inordinately friendly, in my opinion. (Okay, I didn’t meet any politicians, but hopefully I could say the same for them.) Almost all of them end their greeting with “Have a nice day” or “Enjoy your day.” I used to say the first, but intend to try switching to the second. Here’s why. “Have a nice day” seems to indicate that all should be well. We know that, on far too many days, all will not, at least to our way of thinking, be well. We will forget the important, stumble into the inconvenient, experience pain and disappointment, or hear bad news. Some days simply will not be nice.

On the other hand, “Enjoy your day” says to me, “Look for the best. Keep an eye out for the blessing,” or, to quote the Westminster Shorter Catechism, “Remember that ‘Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.’” (Look here  to read more of that catechism or to check out the scriptural support for its statements.) “Enjoy your day” means there is reason to rejoice even when the day isn’t nice. I’ve gone back to the real world now. I’m not on vacation anymore. The odds are high that, at some point, perhaps several points in the coming week, my day will not be nice. I hope to be able to rejoice and glorify and enjoy nonetheless. And when I greet friends, I will try to remember to say, “Enjoy your day!”

 

Exhausted but Still in Pursuit

fire-1105349_1280

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!