Lessons from the Wilderness: The Israelites

heb.Over the next few days, we’re going to look at four wilderness stories in the bible to learn a lesson about what the wilderness is and what it can teach us. The first Wilderness Wandering Lesson is this:

Wilderness Wandering Lesson #1: The faithful love of God is infinitely more secure than our fractured circumstances.

The most recognizable story of wilderness is that of the Israelites. After 400 years of servitude to the Egyptians, the Israelites kept crying out to God for the deliverance prophecied by Joseph in Gen. 50:25. That help came in the form of Moses, who was commissioned by God to lead the Israelites to the land of Canaan. So this so-called Promised land, part of the covenant promise that God made with Abraham in Gen. 12, was the Israelites’ destination. Even in the Israelites’ time in the wilderness, we can see two purposes in the wilderness. The wilderness in the first year was a time of purification and dependence. It is in the wilderness that the Israelites learned to trust God for direction (Fire and Cloud – Ex. 14) and sustenance (Manna and Water – Ex. 16). In Exodus 16, God even says, “I will test them to see whether or not they will follow my instructions” (v. 4). This testing was his goal for the first year the Israelites spent in the wilderness. Spent mostly at the base of Mt. Sinai, it was in this time that the Israelites received the ten commandments, built the tabernacle, and received the rest of the law (Ex. 15-Num. 10). Though there was difficulty in this time (think Golden Calf – Ex. 32), this time in the wilderness was also full of incredible closeness to God. It was during this time that the Israelites were able to witness the Shekinah glory of God descend on the tabernacle. And, during this time, the Israelites experienced the humbling dependence on God that came from relying on him.

Map-Route-Exodus-Israelites-Egypt

We can think of this first year in the wilderness as the training wheels period where God was showing the Israelites that relying on him was best. That trusting in him was the way to choose life and joy. In Numbers 10, the Israelites break camp and move towards the border of the Promised land. In Numbers 11, the cracks begin to show again as the Israelites complain more and more about hardship, food, and in the case of Aaron and Miriam, the power and relationship with God that Moses had. Based on the tendencies that we see in these chapters, we shouldn’t be as surprised as we generally are that the Israelites get to the border of the promised land and choose to go against God and refuse to take the land because of their fear (Num. 14). The Israelites chose not to go into the promised land because their trust in God was lacking. They didn’t think that God would do what he said he would. Instead, they based their decisions on their circumstances, which seemed too difficult to overcome. It’s this that ultimately angers God and leads towards his judgment against the Israelites: They would wander the wilderness for 40 years (one year for each day they spent scouting the wilderness). In the remaining chapters of Numbers, we see more instances of rebellion and provision as the Israelites do exactly as God says and wander the wilderness for 40 years. It is not until the book of Joshua, that we see the next generation of Israelites rise up and take the land just as God promised his people that they would.

These two tales are frequently told together, but they tell two very different stories of the wilderness. In the first, the Israelites seemed to have done nothing to be put in the wilderness, while in the second, the wilderness was a place of punishment for the past sin of the people. But, the purpose of each wilderness experience is the same. The wilderness is meant for purification and refinement, to make the people of God ‘holy, because [he] is holy’ (Lev. 19:2). Too often, I think we view the wilderness as a punishment, and because of that, we go back to asking God, “Why? Why am I here?” We may even sound like some of my high school students when they get called out, “Why? I wasn’t even doing anything!” (No matter what they are doing.) We need to stop viewing the wilderness as a place of punishment. It can be that place, as we’ve seen with the Israelites. But, more importantly, this time in the wilderness is where God is beckoning us back to him. It’s in this time that all of the Israelites first heard God’s word. It’s in this time that they felt the characteristics of God that Moses spoke in Numb. 14:18. In your wilderness wanderings, instead of focusing on the doubt – the questions of why you are in that experience – focus on who God is:

“The Lord is slow to anger and rich in faithful love, forgiving wrongdoing and rebellion. But He will not leave the guilty unpunished, bringing the consequences of the fathers’ wrongdoing on the children to the third and fourth generation.” (Numb. 14:18)

Rest on God’s faithful love, and in your time in the wilderness, don’t forget to remember who he is. When we trust in him, our circumstances don’t seem so challenging anymore.

~ Cayce Fletcher

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Broken

my flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever-4

When suiting up for battle, the biggest lie the enemy tells you is that you’re too broken to be loved by God. The whispers in your head that you are damaged goods, scuffed and bruised, attempt to overpower the innate value that you have because you are God’s child. By trying to hide your brokenness, you fight for the wrong side. Brokenness isn’t meant to be hidden, but embraced.

Scars become stories. Think of the physical scars you have—all those little gashes and scratches tell of what you have been healed from. Scars no longer hurt; instead, they are signs of victory. Just like your body repairs your physical wounds, God has healed you from your brokenness and sin. He has picked up your shattered pieces, brushed off the dust, and glued you back together. Your brokenness is a sign of victory. Jesus conquered death, and in doing so conquered your sin. When you weep and wallow in your brokenness, you send Jesus right back to the grave.

Kintsugi is the ancient Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with gold. When a piece of pottery is dropped, it isn’t thrown out. Instead, it is restored and made even more valuable. This, in essence, is the gospel. You were crushed under the weight of your sin, but God, through the sacrifice of His son, pieced you back together. Where you see your life shattered to pieces on the ground, He sees restoration. If the Creator of the entire universe embraces your brokenness, you should, too.

Moses killed a man. David had an affair. Jonah ran away. Rahab was a prostitute. Noah got drunk. Paul murdered Christians. God could have left these details out, but He didn’t; He transforms broken people and puts them on pedestals to bring glory and honor to His name.

Let’s take a closer look at the story of Rahab, which is found in the second chapter of Joshua. Rahab had lived a promiscuous life as a prostitute, yet God redeems her. Joshua, the leader of the Israelites searching for the Promised Land, sent two spies to the city of Jericho, hoping to conquer the land of Canaan. When the officials of Jericho tried to hunt down the spies, they found safety in the home of Rahab. When the officials come knocking at Rahab’s door, she hides the spies on her rooftop under stalks of flax. This same woman who used to live a life of sin and shame helped save God’s chosen people. This same woman who used to live a life of sin and shame is an ancestor of Jesus, God’s own precious son (Matthew 1:5).

When the enemy stares into your eyes and tells you that you are broken, embrace it, knowing that your brokenness doesn’t define you; your Savior does.

~Mackenzie McClain

It All Comes Back to His Kingdom

Jesus & Cross

In case you have missed part of this week’s study, here is a quick summary of each of our daily devotions this week:

Sunday –  Luke 13 – The Kingdom of God is Like – Like a virus, a mustard seed, or yeast is the Kingdom of God.  The smallest amount can cause a giant reaction in your life.  You are called to be contagious; constantly build and spread the hope you have in Christ.

Monday –  Luke 14 – Counting the Cost – We are to take account of all we hold valuable.  We may be asked to trade those things in to live within the will of God as we seek his Kingdom.  Entry may cost us everything, but it is a meager price to pay by comparison.

Tuesday – Luke 15 – The Parable of the Lost Ring – God will not stop searching for those who want to be found.  He desires that all men are saved, having a home awaiting in His Kingdom.  The whole of heaven rejoices when the lost sheep are restored to their shepherd.

Wednesday – Luke 16 – The Master and Manager – God is the master of all wealth.  He wants us to be faithful in small ways before we are given more responsibility.  When we acknowledge that we are mere managers, we look at our fortunes differently, as the master’s talents to do his bidding.

Thursday – Luke 17 – One Thank You – Like the lepers, we have been restored; we now can enter the eternal city, The Kingdom of God.  We need to acknowledge God’s restoration through Jesus Christ; no longer are we outcast.  A deliberate and thoughtful thank you is a life that turns to Him.

Friday – Luke 18 – The Power of Persistence –  We should not give up our hope that our Father is listening to our appeal.  Perseverance is the outcome of faith.  Stay the course.  Appeal to the Lord.  He will turn His ear and answer you.

As we have taken a closer look at the six chapters of Luke, we see that it all comes back to the Kingdom of God.  Parables, teaching, healing, reproach – They all point towards the eternal hope that all men can have when they accept Jesus Christ as the Lord and Savior of their life.  Jesus does not dilute the truth of the price of admission.  He says we must be faithful with what we are given; it could cost us everything. Consequently, the reward isn’t necessarily immediately.   The crown of life is not for those who casually follow commands, or openly do good works to receive their inheritance in this present age.  The Kingdom of God is for those who become infected with His love, truth, and message and spread His hope at all cost.  Each of these teachings have been immeasurably challenging and equally thought-provoking.

It has been a great opportunity to write for you this week.  I hope my narratives and notions have resonated in some way to the circumstances and challenges presented in your own life.  I pray you have found connection, truth, and hope in these handful of chapters for the Good News of Luke because these works speak the greatest of truths.  Continue to read, grow your faith, and pray for His Kingdom to come soon.

~With love, your brother in Christ,

Aaron Winner

Why Should We Pray?

Monday, October 2, 2017

Luke 18-1

I don’t want to spend any time talking about what prayer is or how we should go about it before I even convince you that we should be praying.

So why should we pray?

I think this is a pretty easy question to answer. Jesus commands it. There are a few verses that explicitly command prayer: Matthew 6:5-15, Matthew 26:41, Ephesians 6:18 and Luke 18:1. I want to look a little closer at the verse in Luke today.

”Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up” (Luke 18:1).  If we strive to be disciples of Jesus, then we should always pray. Being a disciple is essential to being “in Jesus,” just like our memory verse says. If we commit ourselves to constant prayer, than we can become a new creation.

Seems like a pretty easy step right? All we have to do is pray! Tomorrow we’ll talk about what that looks like.

-Nathaniel Johnson

 

Scripture: Our Corrective Lens – Proverbs 12

reading-glasses-in-use

Today brings our weeks study of Proverbs 6-12 to a close.  Chapter 12 is a continuation of the antithetical Proverbs and there are some real beauties in here and they range through quite a spectrum of wise and unwise behaviors.

It leads off with a really good set of contrasts: “Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but whoever hates correction is stupid.”  It doesn’t get much plainer than this:  A wise person willingly accepts discipline, but if you hate to be corrected by another you are stupid.

ted williams

Everybody makes mistakes.  I’m a big baseball fan.  I’ve always enjoyed playing and watching baseball.  The amazing thing about baseball is that the BEST baseball players fail between 60 and 70% of the time.  That’s right!  The best hitters usually have batting averages around .300, sometimes .350 and very rarely (like Ted Williams was the last one who did it and that was more than 70 years ago) someone will bat .400.  But even if you’re the greatest hitter of all time, you still FAIL to hit the ball 6 out of 10 times.  What is it that sets great hitters apart from the rest of us?  They learn from their mistakes.  They study film of their mistakes.  And they listen to their coaches who help them to correct what would appear to us to be very minor mistakes.  You get to be a great hitter by accepting correction, from learning from your mistakes.  That requires a lot of humility.

The same is true in the rest of our lives.  We all make mistakes.  Often we catch our own mistakes and take steps to correct them.  But sometimes we don’t even see our own mistakes.  Sometimes someone else sees our mistake and offers a word of correction.  A wise person willingly listens to correction and attempts to change their behavior… a foolish person refuses to receive or learn from the correction of others and so they fail to improve their actions.

The whole foundation of the gospel message in the Bible is a openness to correction and a willingness to change.  Jesus himself began his ministry by calling people to “repent, and believe the good news.”  To repent means to change your direction.

As you read through the Bible, God will use His word to bring to your mind and heart his corrective word.  You will see areas where you need to change.  You’ll see a passage like “Diligent hands will rule but laziness ends in forced labor.”  You might read that passage and realize, deep down, that this is an issue in your life.  You might blame other people for some of your problems, you might make excuses for why you do or don’t do certain things, but the fact is, you might actually be lazy.  I’m not saying you are lazy because, well, I don’t even know you.  You might be a diligent, hard working person and that’s great.  But then again, you might be lazy.  Your laziness may cause you to procrastinate and put off doing things that you need to do but don’t enjoy.  Your laziness may be costing you good grades in school, or a promotion at work.  Your laziness may because causing conflict in your marriage as your spouse resents that they have to work harder to make up for your laziness.  Your laziness might be keeping you from going to Church on Sundays or serving in a ministry at your Church where you might be very gifted and very helpful.  I don’t know if you’re lazy or not, but you need to at least take a hard look and ask yourself “does this Proverb apply to me?”  If you’re not sure, ask someone important in your life who really knows you and isn’t afraid to speak truth into your life and ask them “Do you every observe laziness in me?”  And if they say, yes, then you might want to consider that you may be lazy and you might want to become more aware of ways that laziness manifests itself in your daily life.  And you might begin asking God to help you change, understanding that it won’t happen overnight.

all scripture is God-breathed

But know this, no positive change can happen in any area of your life until you are ready to receive correction.  God’s Word, the Bible is powerful.  In one place the Bible refers to itself as a double-edged sword.  It’s able to dig deep inside of you.  It is able to help you change if you allow it to do it’s work in your life.  II Timothy 3:16 says it very well: “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right.” (New Living Translation).

Almost exactly a year ago I had surgery to remove cancer from my body.  I let a surgeon cut through my skin and muscle to get to where the cancer was and very carefully cut it out.  Why?  Because I don’t want to die from cancer any sooner than necessary.  As I think about it today,  I gave that surgeon an awesome responsibility.  And to be honest, before the surgery I was afraid.  Who is this man with a knife that I’m entrusting with my body, my life?  I’m glad I did it, because here I am a year later and I’m still alive and I have a whole lot less cancer in my body then I did then and I’ve got a whole lot better chance of living longer now because I trusted him to perform surgery on my life.

“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of Wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding”. (Proverbs 9:10).  I trust my awesome God to use His word to go to work removing all the bad stuff in my life and bringing me to wholeness and salvation.  God does this through his word and through Jesus Christ, who was pierced for our transgressions.  It takes some cutting and some bleeding to bring us life, and to bring us eternal life.  I trust God my awesome God, do you?

~ Jeff Fletcher

Two Roads Diverged – Proverbs 10

If you didn’t read yesterday’s devotion you should go do that now.  Go ahead, I’ll wait…..

Ok, Proverbs 9 sets the backdrop for the next several chapters in Proverbs.  Proverbs 9 gives the contrast between the way of wisdom and the way of folly (foolishness).  One way leads to life, the other leads to death.  With that in mind, chapter 10 begins a lengthy section of Proverbs which give a very clear contrast between the way of wisdom and the way of foolishness.  These Proverbs are technically known as antithetical which is a very common rhetorical device used in ancient literature to hold opposites next to each other.

Chances are, at some point in your educational journey, you became acquainted with the following poem by Robert Frost.

two roads

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

 
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

 
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

 
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

 

~ Robert Frost

 

That is poetic and filled with all kinds of metaphorical imagery, and it leaves it to each reader to fill it with its content.  What do the two different roads look like and where do they lead?

Proverbs 10 leaves very little to our individual imagination.  It spells things out like Mapquest.

These are my paraphrases of Proverbs 10:

If you are wise, you make your Daddy happy.
If you are foolish you break your momma’s heart.
If you are lazy, you’re broke
if you work hard, you’ll have plenty of money.

 
If you are wise, you’ll take instructions from those in authority
If you are a fool you’re always running your mouth and you’ll ruin your life because you don’t listen.
If you do things the right way, you have little to fear
but if you cut corners and break rules, it will eventually catch up with you.

 
If you go around spreading hate, it leads to more hate, and fights.
If you love others, it puts an end to the hate and helps bring about peace.
If you willingly accept correction your life will improve
if you ignore correction, you’ll not only hurt yourself, you’ll hurt others too.

 
If you live the right way, you have good things to look forward to.
If you spend your life doing evil things, life eventually becomes a dead end.

 

wisdom verses foolishness

That was fun, putting that wisdom into my own words.

You try it.  Take some of the Proverbs which contrast the way of wisdom with the way of foolishness and put it in your own words.  That’s the practical,  analytical, left-brain approach.

If you are more right-brained, creative and artistic, then write a story or poem or paint a picture contrasting the way of wisdom or the way of foolishness.

And if you’re really into it… try doing both the left and right-brained approach- and then you’ll never forget Proverbs 10.

~ Jeff Fletcher

Pursue Wisdom – Proverbs 8

wisdom more precious than rubies
per·son·i·fi·ca·tion
/pərˌsänəfəˈkāSH(ə)n/
noun
1. The attribution of a personal nature or human characteristics to something nonhuman, or the representation of an abstract quality in human form.

The ability to make observations of all things whether physical or abstract and transform them into practical understanding that helps us to live better lives is an important aspect of wisdom and wisdom literature.  It certainly is a time honored tradition.  If you’ve ever read Aesop’s fables you are familiar with this kind of use of metaphor, here’ an example:

The Ants and the Grasshopper

THE ANTS were spending a fine winter’s day drying grain collected in the summertime.  A Grasshopper, perishing with famine, passed by and earnestly begged for a little food.  The Ants inquired of him, “Why did you not treasure up food during the summer?’  He replied, “I had not leisure enough.  I passed the days in singing.”  They then said in derision:  “If you were foolish enough to sing all the summer, you must dance supperless to bed in the winter.”

It is thrifty to prepare today for the wants of tomorrow.

Proverbs 8 is a textbook example of personification.  The writer takes Wisdom as an idea and personifies it all over the place.

Wisdom calls out and raises her voice.  Wisdom takes her stand.  She cries aloud at the city gates.  Wisdom speaks truth and rejects lies.  Wisdom is older than the earth, she was alongside God before the creation.  Wisdom has children and imparts blessing to all who listen to her.

I’m a big fan of metaphorical language and so this kind of personification of wisdom is very appealing to me and how I think and communicate. To me, the theme which rises above all in Proverbs 8 is that Wisdom should be highly valued:

  • “Choose my instruction instead of silver, knowledge rather than choice gold.  For wisdom is more precious than rubies, and nothing you desire can compare with her.”
  • “My fruit is better than fine gold; what I yield surpasses choice silver”
  • “Blessed are those who listen to me, watching daily at my doors, waiting at my doorway.  For those who find me find life and receive favor from the LORD.”

The importance of wisdom can’t be overstated.  It’s essentially giving high value to common sense and good judgment.  The writer of the Proverb wants the reader to value common sense and good judgment so much that he or she looks for it every day.  Where can I find valuable insights that will help me to live a better life?

Here’s the problem, there’s an awful lot of foolishness in the world and our entertainment industry and now social media traffics in a lot of foolishness.  Now, don’t get me wrong- technology is a double edged sword and there’s a lot of wisdom to be found at our fingertips.  I’m not the most skilled mechanic or carpenter in the world, but when I have a household repair job I need to tackle, I can usually find at least a dozen Youtube videos showing me how to get the job done.  But there’s also a lot of stupid stuff on there that can be an extreme time waster.  We all have the same amount of hours in a day, we need to be wise in how we use it.  We can eagerly use it to search for wisdom where it can be found… or we can waste it on foolishness.  Do you value wisdom enough to eagerly pursue it like it was gold?

One gold nugget from Proverbs 8 to close “To fear the LORD is to hate evil; I hate pride and arrogance, evil behavior and perverse speech.” (vs. 13).  If we fear the Lord, which is the beginning of wisdom, then we need to love what God loves and HATE what God hates.  So pay attention to the things that God hates: “pride, arrogance, evil behavior, perverse speech.”  If God hates it, so should we. So we need to reject attitudes and actions in ourselves that are offensive to God.

So let’s learn to love wisdom (even if it isn’t a person).

~ Jeff Fletcher