Be Silent or Keep Grumbling; Be Stiff-Necked or Get Moving

Faced with a big choice–or a small one, for that matter–my decisions are usually more complicated than “Just do it.” However, the Lord will be clear with a solution and the instructions are usually simple. Not easy to carry out, but simple to understand. Listen to his encouragement to the Israelites when he told them to cross the Red Sea on dry land.

  • “The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.” ESV
  • “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” NIV
  • “The Lord shall fight for you, and ye shall hold your peace.” KJV
  • “The Lord will fight for you while you keep silent.” NASB
  • “The Lord himself will fight for you. Just stay calm.” NLT

After a search for various translations of what Moses’s said to God’s people, I saw that the ones I found all say God will fight for me.

In the story of the Israelites crossing the Red Sea, the people once again grumble, moan, and in effect blame Moses for the current predicament. When I’m up against a wall, as they were, I can easily begin to wonder—sometimes loudly—”What in the world is this all about? Weren’t things bad enough already? Now what?”

I will sometimes exaggerate situations, but things are rarely so bad that I have my back against a wall. I do well to examine my situation and always, no matter its severity, keep my mouth shut, be still, and wait for instructions by listening to God.

God had led the Israelites to the Red Sea for good reason; it was to give Pharaoh time to plan a strategy and to harden Pharaoh’s heart.

The Egyptians found them, but God knew they would. I mean, He’s God after all. He wanted His people to trust Him. It was a way for them to see Him. To watch Him do what He does best. To know Him even better. This is no less true for me.

On the other hand, when I find myself in difficult situations, whether with my back is to the wall or not, I believe God always expects me to do my part. (In scripture we’re often instructed with an “If…then.”) In the context of this story, the Israelites could have stood in their immobility continuing to rant about the situation or get their butts moving down that dry path through the sea. With a wall of water thundering on either side. Sometimes doing my part means moving through a situation that’s kind of scary.

One of the best things I ever heard about this aspect of using patience and trusting God is from a friend who used to say, “God feeds the birds, but He doesn’t throw the food into their nests.” Ultimately, my trying situation may go on for a while and my patience will continue to be tried. But God knows that too. I mean, He’s God after all.

Here are some of my favorite “If…then” verses.

“Then Jesus told them, “I tell you the truth, if you have faith and don’t doubt, you can do things like this and much more.” Matthew 21:21

“If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” Galatians 3:29

Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” John 11:40

“Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:12-13

“…and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.” Isaiah 58:10 (reference to fasting)

“And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Joel 2:32.

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:35

“Heavenly Father, I know you’re fighting for me. I know I need to leave my hands off things and allow you to act according to your love for me. Help me to be patient and stay calm while you do what you do best. I also pray that you’ll show me the part I need to play so that, together, we will fulfill your purpose for me. Amen

 

So, Just “Who is My Neighbor?

We live in a divided nation. I’m from the United States, and realize I also live in a world where various nations are at odds with each other. But one thing we should agree on is that even one critical illness or death from a world pandemic is a tragedy. Maybe not to us, but to someone.

The schoolteacher from a small town in France, the accountant for a big city law firm, the coach for your college’s football team, or the writer at Hallmark Greetings who created the message in that birthday card you sent to your friend. They all love the people close to them as much as we love the people close to us.

What if the death from COVID-19 is your family member; the person who sits in the next cubicle at work; your hair stylist or barber; your friend of 20 years; the person who always sits in the seat next to you at church; the barista at your favorite coffee shop. Deaths from this pandemic will be personal and a cause of grief to us. Deaths from this pandemic will also be personal to someone you’ll never meet.

So why even discuss ‘inflated numbers?’ Why criticize and alienate people using an argument you found on social media? (This one included.) Why fall into the trap of making it all about politics? A human being isn’t defined as a number, or explained away with an argument, or solely identified by a political party.

We’re defined by our humanity.

These are weird and challenging times for us. Even if we haven’t lost our jobs. Even if we got tested and the test was negative for the virus. Even if before all this madness we stayed home most of the time anyway. And they’re weird times whether we’re old or young, male or female, religious or not religious, employed or not employed, sick or well, prominent in our community or only counted because we took a census.

I have opinions and I’ve stupidly—and regrettably—expressed some of them. However, now it’s time for me to keep in mind a few things I believe are true: Patience is better than ‘tolerance.’ Silence is (sometimes) better than speaking. Being kind is better than being right.

With that in mind, I hope I can, as I always say, “be a blessing to someone today.”

Father in heaven, we thank you for your grace to us no matter how we see our current circumstances and how we respond. Help us to see that people all over the world are affected by the same things we go through. Remind us every day that you love them too. Most importantly, keep us safe and secure in the knowledge that you are in control. Amen.

Worshiping in the Time of a Pandemic

“And when he had taken counsel with the people, he appointed those who were to sing to the Lord and praise him in holy attire, as they went before the army, and say, ‘Give thanks to the Lord, for his steadfast love endures forever.’ And when they began to sing and praise, the Lord set an ambush against the men of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir, who had come up against Judah, so that they were routed” (2 Chronicles 20:21-22 ESV).

King Jehoshaphat believed God when he said, “the battle is not yours, but God’s.” Like him, when we see a battle before us, praise and worship come before action.

During these times of uncertainty and isolation, I like to remember the attributes and character of God. He is

  • Sovereign
  • Mighty
  • Faithful
  • Eternal
  • Active in the world
  • Loving
  • All-knowing

God isn’t surprised at what’s happening. He didn’t create the situation, but he’s allowing it. The coronavirus pandemic isn’t punishment for sin; it’s another indication that all creation “waits with eager longing” for the fulfillment of his promises (Romans 8: 18-23).

Our responses should be with the wisdom expressed by C.S. Lewis in “The Weight of Glory.” (Where you see the word ‘war’ read ‘pandemic.’)

“I think it is important to try to see the present calamity in a true perspective. The war creates no absolutely new situation; it simply aggravates the permanent human situation so that we can no longer ignore it. Human life has always been lived on the edge of a precipice. Human culture has always had to exist under the shadow of something infinitely more important than itself. If men had postponed the search for knowledge and beauty until they were secure, the search would never have begun. We are mistaken when we compare war with “normal life.” Life has never been normal. Even those periods which we think most tranquil, like the nineteenth century, turn out, on closer inspection, to be full of crises, alarms, difficulties, emergencies. Plausible reasons have never been lacking for putting off all merely cultural activities until some imminent danger has been averted or some crying injustice put right. But humanity long ago chose to neglect those plausible reasons. They wanted knowledge and beauty now, and would not wait for the suitable moment that never comes.” (Learning in Wartime)

Or, as the late Paul Harvey continually reminded us, “In times like these, it is always helpful to remember that there have always been times like these.”

People are saying, “We’re in this together.” Because of our trust in a faithful God, we know for certain that he is with us as well. “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17).

Each of us will find ways to get through the confusion, aggravation, and unsettled feelings as the result of self isolation, an uncertain economy, and death. But God expects us to enter the battlefield and face the trouble. He goes before us and protects us. Let your weapons be songs of praise.

God and Father, you are our refuge and our shield. Give us wisdom to do your will. Help us to not be afraid or be reduced by anxiety. Our eyes are on you. Amen.

Praying for Yourself With Humility

She prays this earnest prayer when she realizes she is prone to behaving like, as we used to call it, a ‘fuddy-duddy.’ I believe the prayer fits no matter what our age is.

Lord, you know better than I know myself that I am growing older and one day will be old.

Keep me from the fatal habit of thinking I must say something on every subject and on every occasion.

Release me from craving to straighten out everybody’s affairs.

Make me thoughtful but not moody; helpful but not bossy.

With my vast store of wisdom, it seems a pity not to use it all; but you know, Lord, that I want a few friends at the end.

Keep my mind free from the recital of endless details; give me wings to get to the point.

Seal my lips on my aches and pains, they are increasing and love of rehearsing them is becoming sweeter as the years go by.

I dare not ask for grace enough to enjoy the tales of other’s pains but help me to endure them with patience.

I dare not ask for improved memory, but for growing humility and a lessening cocksureness when my memory seems to clash with the memories of others.

Teach me the glorious lesson that occasionally I may be mistaken.

Keep me reasonably sweet. I do not want to be a saint, some of them are so hard to live with, but a sour old person is one of the crowning works of the devil.

Give me the ability to see good things in unexpected places and talent in unexpected people, and give me O Lord the grace to tell them so. Amen

Anonymous Nun, Seventeenth century

Be a blessing to someone today

Our Responsibility: The Image of God

“Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’ So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” Genesis 1:26-27

“Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” Genesis 2:7

Of everything God created, we are the only creatures designed in His image and His breath is the breath we breathe.

We guard the image of man by respecting our bodies and respecting the image of God in others. We make decisions about right to life and quality of life based on what God sees and expects. We understand that, from conception to death, all human beings are people God loves. We know the things of God because we know His character.

We guard the image of man through our worship of God.

“Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.”

Praising God requires our breath–His breath. When we give honor to God we’re cherishing our own bodies, spirits, and souls.

God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’” Genesis 1:28

In the beginning, God had a plan. His plan, which included you and me, was for a world where we live as stewards of everything He made. Ruling over God’s creation means being the authority. With that authority we undertake the responsibility of care. Caring includes listening, so we’re attentive to the needs of others created in God’s image.

We’re attentive to the needs of everything God created. “Every living creature that moves on the ground.” To ‘subdue‘ in Hebrew means to conquer and hold in bondage. We make it our servant. However, we must remember that God always saw harsh treatment of anyone in bondage as sin. Hence, while we may conquer Earth and everything in it, we respect those things that are under our control. We answer to God for that.

When the idea is a simple one, God is speaking. If we’re in tune with God, guarding the image of man and caring for everything he gave us becomes second nature. Implementing The Golden Rule in reference to our planet and in regard to others is the solution to our questions every time.

So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you,

for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 7:12

Salvation Was *Always* God’s Plan

“Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to (them), and proclaim to (them) that (their) hard service has been completed, that (their) sin has been paid for, that (they) have received from the Lord’s hand double for all (their) sins.” ~ Isaiah 40:1-2

If you’re a person who says such things as, “The Old Testament was meant for then and doesn’t apply to today,” I submit that no one has helped you to more completely understand God’s heart.

The words quoted above, which God spoke through Isaiah regarding salvation were targeted to the Hebrew tribes. We can, however, change the people groups and names in this section of scripture using pronouns (indicated by the parentheses) and put on display the future that God has in mind for anyone, anywhere, at any time.

We can do that because God is immutable—unchanging. So when He says something, the meaning doesn’t change simply because we only turn to the pages of the New Testament to read about Jesus and a New Covenant.

God’s plan has always been to redeem people from sin. Isn’t that a comfort to you? It is to me.

What we may have formerly chosen to see when we read the Bible or hear when we listened to a sermon might be changed when we realize God always meant to send Jesus “because he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21) That’s what an angel said to Joseph, telling him about the Son that was coming: “that (their) sin has been paid for.”

The Old Testament speaks to New Testament people—you and I, here and now—because, simply put, if the words come from God, those words will always translate to the context of His eternal plan for us.

We’ll better understand that when we have “eyes to see and ears to hear.”

“Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid  for, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.” (Isaiah 40:1-2)

 

 

Jonah and a Big-Mouthed Fish

While waiting for my appointment with a doctor, I picked up a Highlights magazine from the table beside me. I don’t often read magazines for children, but this one caught my eye because of a cover blurb.

“Whoa! Whale Sharks,” it said.

The article in the February 2015 issue was fascinating. As I read it, I began to wonder if perhaps this huge fish wasn’t of the species God chose to swallow Jonah. When I was growing up, our Sunday school teachers gave us flannel graph lessons and explained this reluctant prophet’s story as “Jonah and the Whale.” But ‘whale’ isn’t the animal name given in the Bible. (Jonah 1:17, emphasis mine)

The King James Version says, “Now the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah.”

The New International Version reads: “Now the Lord provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah.”

Yet another version, the New Revised Standard Version, says “But the Lord provided a large fish to swallow up Jonah.”

Even more interesting language comes in the English Standard Version: “And the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah.”

I guess, even aside from the verb used to say how the fish came into the story, it’s obvious that this is not a whale, but a fish. Whales are mammals; fish are not. Scripture also makes it clear that God caused this to happen.

Basic information about whale sharks is agreed upon from research which scientists have done on them. Science describes and provides “everything you ever wanted to know about” whale sharks. For perspective, a whale shark is about the size of a school bus so it could easily hold a man in its belly.

Most of us were captivated by the story of Jonah when we were children. It’s even captivating when we’re adults with the very idea that someone survived inside a fish for three days and three nights.

Some people don’t believe the story is true. But God never answers all the questions we have about what happens in the Bible. Scripture includes lots of mysteries.

Perhaps the mystery of what kind of great/huge/large fish swallowed Jonah will never be known. But I think it’s nice to have whale sharks as a possible answer to where Jonah spent three days in the dark as he came to his senses and decided to obey the Lord.

Doxology = Praise

Praise God

from whom all blessings flow.

Praise Him,

all creatures here below.

Praise Him,

all you heavenly hosts.

Praise Father,

Son,

and Holy Ghost.

Amen

The word “doxology” has roots in the Greek language. Doxo, meaning opinion or glory and logia, meaning oral or written communication. It follows that anything calling itself a doxology would mean praise.

Growing up in church, I sang this ‘song’ with everyone, usually prior to the sermon. I had no idea what praise to God meant. I do now. The song isn’t sung at the church I now attend, but I don’t hold ill feelings about that or expect my church to implement the practice. Gratitude to God is encouraged through other means.

I wrote out the lyrics to this particular doxology not only because it’s the one I’m familiar with. I chose to write them in that fashion because seeing then this way forces me look at the phrasing more carefully. As with many songs with which we become familiar, the meaning can get lost in that familiarity.

To me, prayer itself is a form or worship. Beginning a prayer glorifying God and with expressions of praise is how I most enjoy hearing prayer. I may start conversations with God by asking questions or expressing frustration, but eventually, I get to the part where I recognize his wonder and thank him for how he works in my life.

Sometimes, I even sing the words.

Father, I’m grateful for a God who is who he is and, surely, “I AM” is how you define yourself. When I know “who” you are, I’m more likely to give praise to you. Help me to always, in addition to my questions, requests, and emotional expressions based on difficult circumstances, be aware enough to show the gratitude you’ve taught me is necessary for a fruitful life. Amen

Why? Why? Why?

Guest Post by James N. Watkins

If you have children, nieces and nephews, or younger siblings, you know that a three-year-old’s favorite word is “why.”

“Johnny, hold my hand while we cross the street.”

“Why?”

“Because I don’t want you to run out in front of a car.”

“Why?”

“Because if a car hits you, you’ll be hurt or killed.”

“Why?”

“Because if it’s a contest between a thirty-five-pound boy and a three-ton SUV, the truck is going to win every time.”

“Why?”

“Because the laws of physics state that mass plus momentum equals . . . Just take my hand!”

And on it goes—right into adulthood!

“Why didn’t God heal my friend?”

“Why do bad things happen to good people?”

“Why do I still have acne at 50?”

I’ve worked up way too much spiritual perspiration trying to answer why my second-grade Sunday school teacher committed suicide, why I was laid off from the perfect job in publishing—twice—or why bad things happen to such good people as you and me.

I have learned that while why is often a futile question, God is more than willing to answer other questions. But, like the popular game show, Jeopardy, the answers are in the form of a question.

What can I know?

“But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways” (James 1:5-8).

So, while I’ve struggled with hundreds—probably thousands—of questions about God’s workings, I have grown in my knowledge of who he is. While agonizing about an estranged relationship, I burst into tears—for God. I had described to a friend my pain: “It feels like my heart has been cut out with a chainsaw, run over by a logging truck, and then fed through a wood chipper.” If I was feeling this excruciating pain for one broken relationship, how was God feeling about billions of heartaches? It was one of the few times I actually felt I understood God.

I can also find the answer to . . .

How can I grow?

I’ve always leaned into Romans 8:28:

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (NIV).

But what is that “purpose”? The very next verse answers: “To be conformed to the image of his Son” (Romans 8:29). So do other verses:

“And the Lord—who is the Spirit——makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image” (2 Corinthians 3:18b).

“Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:1).

That’s our purpose! So ask, how can I grow more like Christ through this difficult time.

Who can I show?

Second Corinthians 1:3-6 has become one of my favorite passages in encouraging me while I’m going through terrible times:

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer” (NLT).

The Greek word translated comfort isparaklesis. It is a calling near, summons for help; a prayer, a plea; exhortation, admonition, encouragement; consolation, comfort, solace, refreshment; or a persuasive speech, motivational talk, instruction. And it’s feminine case. No one comforts like a mother.

We offer our best comfort to those experiencing what we have personally gone through.

So, sorry, we can’t always answer the “why” questions, but we can answer these three.

Condensed from The Psalms of Asaph: Struggling with Unanswered Prayer, Unfulfilled Promises, and Unpunished Evil by James N. Watkins.