December 14, 2010

God has been with you

In Deuteronomy chapter 1 we become well acquainted with the Israelites’ rebellion and disobedience against God. I remember reading some of the stories in Deuteronomy when I was in high school, and all I could think was how stupid the Israelites were. They had seen the mighty hand of God send plagues, part waters, and provide fire by night and clouds by day for the Israelites to be protected. What on earth could allow the Israelites to disobey? Yet they did, and they did so numerous times. Not only did they doubt God, but they actively rebelled against him. You read, “God said,” followed by, “But you did.” Does this sound familiar? I know it does for me. My heart is rebellious, and that is the problem. By nature and by nurture, I am sinful. I am inclined to rebel, “prone to leave the God I love.” And, while painful, God disciplines those he loves which brings me to an interesting place. In the middle of reading Deuteronomy 2, it hit me. I touched on this in an earlier blog. God did not abandon Israel. Israel abandoned God. God never left.

Then the LORD said to me, “You have been traveling around this mountain country long enough. Turn northward and command the people, ‘You are about to pass through the territory of your brothers, the people of Esau, who live in Seir; and they will be afraid of you. So be very careful. Do not contend with them, for I will not give you any of their land, no, not so much as for the sole of the foot to tread on, because I have given Mount Seir to Esau as a possession. (Deuteronomy 2:3-5)

Even in the midst of their disobedience and subsequent punishment, God was directing Israel, as the author always conducts the characters of his book, as if God is saying, “You will do this, because I have done this. I am the Author.” Could Israel have risen up against the people of Esau? God had already promised this land to Esau, and this speaks to the very character of God. When he promises, he delivers. When he appoints, he provides. God will not be outdone, or undone. He is just that: GOD. Meditate on this. Let it sink to the very fiber of your being. What are you worried about? If God promised it, he will deliver it. (Do not mistake this for so-called “name-it, claim-it” theology. There is no such thing. I can no more claim athletic ability or medical healing than I can claim that the man in the moon is my brother. Hogwash!)

This is not really where I want to camp, though. Read on:

You shall purchase food from them for money, that you may eat, and you shall also buy water from them for money, that you may drink. (Now pay attention!) For the LORD your God has blessed you in all the work of your hands. He knows your going through this great wilderness. These forty years the LORD your God has been with you. You have lacked nothing.

Now that is good! “For the LORD your God has blessed you in all the work of your hands…These forty years the LORD your God has been with you. You have lacked nothing.” Stop. Think about this truth. Even in the midst of your discipline, in the middle of your wilderness, in the middle of the silence of God, God has been with you. Wow. WOW! This attests to the great hope that we have in the One True God. He is with us. He knows our going out and our coming in. He knows our sleeping and our waking. He knows us, and he is with us. Remember that the Israelite’s wandering in the wilderness was God’s ordinance to bring them to full dependence upon him. Again, this speaks to the character God more than it does the value of his people. God’s people, we, are unfaithful, sinful, rebellious, and prone to wander. God is faithful, perfect, righteous, and steadfast. “These forty years…God has been with you.”

Perhaps you need to be reminded of this today. Maybe God has given you a direction, a dream, a desire but you are in the wilderness. And maybe you have been in the wilderness for a long time. “He knows your going through this great wilderness…God has been with you. You have lacked nothing.” You may not be where you thought you were going, or where you believe you will end up. You may be passing by Mount Seir and thinking, “That looks like a good land,” but God is saying, “Not this one. I have promised this to someone else. Keep going.” God has been with you.

I want you to notice something about this passage. Look at the word “your.” I had to read this line several times before it finally hit me. I kept thinking it was a typo. Your. The word should be “you’re” meaning you are. God knows YOU ARE going through the wilderness. But that is not what it says. It says your. “God knows YOUR going through this great wilderness.” It is personal. He knows YOUR path, YOUR wilderness, YOUR frustrations, YOUR praises, YOUR cries. He knows YOU. Oh yes, he knows you are, but more importantly he knows YOU. As you continue to pass by land after land, dream after dream being reminded, “Not this one. I have promised this land to someone else,” take courage knowing that he knows YOUR path, and has a land, a dream, a desire that is YOURS.

For forty years the Israelites wandered, and finally God showed them.

Rise up, set out on your journey and go over the Valley of the Arnon. Behold, I have given into your hand Sihon the Amorite, king of Heshbon, and his land. Begin to take possession, and contend with him in battle. This day I will begin to put the dread and fear of you on the peoples who are under the whole heaven, who shall hear the report of you and shall tremble and be in anguish because of you. (Deuteronomy 2:24-25)

God had a purpose for the wilderness – that Israel would be found utterly dependent upon God. Notice that the Israelites did nothing to take over the land. God told them, “I have given into your hand.” It is the appearance of self-fulfillment, but God was the provider. Not only this, God was the contender. “This day I will begin to put the dread and fear of you on the peoples.” God had already secured the victory, provided the land, and sealed the results. All Israel had to do was move. We will look more at this next time. Be encouraged. God has been with you. He knows YOUR going through this great wilderness. You have lacked nothing.

In the spring of 2006 I was nearing graduation from college. Life was about to change in a major way. No longer would I have the luxury of “working” for only 4 hours per day then returning home to play countless hours of video games and hang out with friends. This was tragic, of course! Not only was the schedule about to change, but so were my dreams. At the age of 14 I surrendered to ministry. At the time, I believed this meant I would be the pastor of a mega church in Suburbia, America. As time went by, my vision of ministry changed. By the time I graduated college, nearly eight years later, my vision of ministry as it began no longer existed. I began filling out an application to join a mission organization and was planning on heading to the Middle East or India upon graduating college. In April, though, I stopped filling out the application, but I still knew in my heart that missions – whatever that would look like – was my calling.

In May of that year I fell in love with the woman that would later become my wife. One of the things that drew us together was our commitment to ministry, and in particular – missions. As we grew together our commitment strengthened, culminating in my resignation from a youth ministry position in April 2008 to leave the comforts and confines of America and head to the mission field of post-Christian Europe. But God had not given us that land. For reasons beyond our control, we were not able to go, and thus, the beginning of our journey in the wilderness. (I wrote about this on a previous date. See Running.) The great thing about the wilderness is how God uses these times to draw us closer to himself. Now this did not happen in the beginning. In the beginning came frustration, anger, etc. But now, having been reminded of God’s faithfulness, comes the closeness. We have drawn, and continue to draw closer to God, because of his faithfulness – his character – because for all the days in the wilderness God has been with us. We still do not know where our land is, but we know we are going with the full confidence that God knows our going through this great wilderness, and that he has been with us.

December 3, 2010


Chuck Swindoll tells a story from his thirteenth birthday:

Do you remember the last time you got a spanking? I remember the last time I got one. I had reached the ripe old and wise age of thirteen. That’s the age where you are amazed that your father has been able to make it as far in life, being so ignorant without your counsel. As a matter of fact, the spanking came on my thirteenth birthday. And in our home, since this fell on a Saturday, when you had a birthday you were sort of “king for a day.” I remember lying around in the bed and on the sofa, barking orders here and there, demanding response.

And so my father, from the flower bed outside, sensing the need for some correction, called me, “Charles.” And I said, “Yeah,” which was mistake number one, because in our home you didn’t say “Yeah”; you said, “Yes sir.” And then he called my name again and said, “Come out and help me weed the flower bed.” And I said, “No,” which was mistake number two. He graciously continued his pleading by saying, “Now don’t lie there and act like a three-year-old. Come out and help me weed this flower bed.” I said, “Daddy, I’m not three, I’m thirteen.” Now that’s the last thing I remember on that day, because with both hands and both feet he landed on my body. And did not let go until I was vigorously weeding the flower bed.

I still remember it even though it was years ago. As we worked together through most of that day, he said to me at a time that was well chosen, “Son, I would be less than a good dad if I did not correct you when you disobey.”

Those final words have a power punch, don’t they? “Son, I would be less than a good dad if I did not correct you when you disobey.” These days we don’t want to talk about discipline. It’s my life, leave me alone. We teach our children that it is their world and we are privileged to be living here by their good grace. We have been taught not to damage our children’s self-esteem, and the easiest way to do that is to let them do whatever makes them happy. Truth be told, it is easier not to discipline our children than to offer corrective reproofs. But this is antithetical to our faith. Parents are admonished to discipline and train their children, and we are given the ultimate example in the corrective love of our heavenly father.

As Moses was recounting the Israelites deliverance from Egypt and subsequent wandering in the wilderness, he reminded them of the rebellious spirit that led to their wandering.

And the LORD heard your words (referring to 1:27-28) and was angered, and he swore, “Not one of these men of this evil generation shall see the good land that I swore to give to your fathers, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh. He shall see it, and to him and to his children I will give the land on which he has trodden, because he has wholly followed the LORD!” Even with me the LORD was angry on your account and said, “You also shall not go in there. Joshua the son of Nun, who stands before you, he shall enter. Encourage him, for he shall cause Israel to inherit it. And as for your little ones, who you said would become a prey, and your children who today have no knowledge of good or evil, they shall go in there. And to them, I will give it, and they shall possess it. But as for you, turn, and journey into the wilderness in the direction of the Red Sea.”

God was not being mean or spiteful. He was disciplining his children, correcting their behavior and reminding them that he is God and his ways are best. We like to have a Sesame Street view of our Father – some gentle giant who just wants us all to be happy. Translation – God lets me live how I want and doesn’t interfere or have an opinion of my sin. False. God does care, and he is the standard bearer of righteousness. Sin has no place before God. The truth is, God hates sin! And he wants us to hate sin, thus correction. Further, God does want us to be happy. But our happy and God’s happy do not always measure up. God desires for us to be happy in him, forever. To be completely satisfied in his goodness and his grace. As John Piper so frequently says, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.” Satisfaction in what God can give us, or has even done for us, misses the point. God wants us to be satisfied in and dependent upon him. This is why Israel was sent to the wilderness. “Alright, son. You want to do this your way? I will show you that my way is better. Off you go.”

A few things to notice about these verses. First, the Israelites condemnation was communal. Go back to verse 37: Even with me (Moses) the LORD was angry on your account and said, “You also shall not go in there.” This was Moses. The same Moses God spoke to out of a burning bush; the same Moses who said, “I am slow of speech,” and God promised to be his mouth piece. The blessings and curses of God are almost always communal, all throughout scripture. There is little room for individualism. We are reminded of this in Hebrews the readers are told not to forsake meeting TOGETHER. Numbers 14:33 illustrates the communal condemnation this way: And your children shall be shepherds in the wilderness forty years and shall suffer for YOUR faithlessness, until the last of your dead bodies lies in the wilderness. Can you just hear your kids in the background, “Thanks a lot, dad!”?

Next we notice that evil/sin has no place in the presence of God and God is faithful. These two statements seem to have no correlation, but indulge me for a moment. Moses declared on God’s behalf “Not one of these evil (i.e., sinful, rebellious) generation shall see the good land.” It is doubtful that every single Israelite grumbled against God. This actually speaks volumes to the human condition. Sin is not only the choices we make and actions we do. It is our VERY BEING! We are born, because of Adam, separated from God in sin. It is interwoven in our DNA. Our being dictates our behavior. We sin, because we are sinful. Think about in these terms. Does a dog bark because he is a dog, or is a dog a dog because he barks? If I get down on all fours, bounce around, hang my tongue out of my mouth, and bark would that make me a dog? No. That would make me crazy, not a dog. The same is true of our condition. God was punishing Israel not just because of the sin of their actions, but because they were sinful.

Despite this setback, God still stood by the promise he made. He said, “Not one…except.” EXCEPT. What a powerful word. An entire generation just received a death sentence – wandering around in the wilderness until the last one falls. EXCEPT Caleb – and his children. This not only demonstrates God’s faithfulness, but his faithfulness to communal blessing. But what made Caleb, and also Joshua, special. Why did these men inherit the blessing, but the entire rest of the Israelites were cast off? First, the scripture tells us clearly, “because he wholly followed the LORD!” If you go back to Numbers 13, Caleb and Joshua were two of the twelve chosen to go spy out the land (Numbers 13:6). In verses 25-30 we are given a solid look at the character of these men. They believed the Promise. While the other ten stated, “It is a good land…but…” Caleb and Joshua stood firm in their belief that God would deliver, just as he said he would. The inhabitants of the land may be stronger, but we will overcome because our God – YHWH – is greater! Faith is always what has pleased God, all the way back to the very founder of our faith, Abraham, who believed God and is was counted to him as righteousness.

How would you like to be that one?! Everyone else – EXCEPT – you. Caleb and Joshua believed God. They trusted him. And they wholly followed, not faltering to the right or to the left. God did not command Israel to sort of possess the land, to kind of follow him, to waiver back and forth. These men were faithful in response to God’s faithfulness. It is his love that allows us to love. His faithfulness that allows us to be faithful, and these men honored that. This is God’s faithfulness, going all the way back to Abraham. God made a promise, and he intended to keep it. As it says in 1 Thessalonians 5:24 “He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.”

But remember, that just because he has called us, and just because he will surely do it, does not mean it will not come without discipline. And discipline hurts. I believe it hurts both father and son. I cannot imagine spanking my child, after all, he is barely two weeks old. But there will come a day, as there does with every child, that he will rebel against my will, and he will need to be corrected. I am not looking forward to it, and it will not be fun, but it is necessary. If God did not love Israel he would have allowed the nation to continue to do things against his will without reproof. But God did love Israel, and those whom God loves, God disciplines. Not out of meanness, out of love. In response to God’s faithfulness, be faithful!