Some Trust In Chariots

S7300001_r1How many times will I go back to doing things that have already proven not to be helpful before it occurs to me that perhaps I should not go back that way again? As it turns out, I am not alone in my dilemma. Around 3500 years ago, the Lord explained that very concept to the Israelites.

The King, moreover, must not acquire great numbers of horses for himself or make the people return to Egypt to get more of them, for the Lord has told you, “You are not to go back that way again.”  Deut 17:16 (NIV)

After He delivered His chosen people from Egypt, God knew that there would come a time that they would want to be ruled by a king, so that they would be like “everyone else.” He warned them that even then, in their trying to be like everyone else, they should do it in their own, special, set-aside, holy-people-of-God way.  They were not, like everyone else, to fall into the trappings of acquiring status and power symbols and treasure.  They were not to trust in the size or strength of their army, with all its horses and accompanying chariots; they were to trust in the Lord. He was their deliverance and their strength.

And above all, they were not to go back to Egypt to get these things.  Egypt had been a place of refuge, a place of provision and safety, but it had also been a place of bondage and suffering.  The Israelites had come out of Egypt with a collective mentality of slavery. It took years for the Lord to rid them of this attitude and start seeing themselves as God’s Chosen People and a force to be reckoned with among the pagan nations around them.  The last thing He wanted was for them to go back to that mentality, no matter how tempting the benefits of trading with that nation appeared.

The frustrating thing about this is that the Lord had already proven to the Israelites that they did not need the horses and chariots of the Egyptians. That army was not as mighty as people supposed.  He had swept the entire thing aside into the Red Sea, proving once and for all that even the greatest army on earth was no match for the Almighty God.  So He wasn’t asking the Israelites to do something completely crazy by not amassing a cavalry.  He was asking them to trust the One who had proven Himself mightier than the even best-equipped form of protection man could devise.  And yet even after all that, He knew human nature well enough to know that He still needed to warn the Israelites not to go that way.

In the same way, it seems that every time the Lord sets me free from something in my past, some bad attitude or wrong conception or downright entanglement with sin, after the initial glory of freedom wears off, there will come a point where a situation arises that tempts me to fall back into old habits or thought patterns. That difficult person in my life will do that thing again that always hurts me.  That financial situation that was almost resolved will suddenly have a set-back. That promotion I thought was imminent will once again be put aside. Or maybe a combination of traffic, cranky kids and sleep deprivation will align perfectly so that I have A Really Bad Day.

Like the Israelites, when I am faced with these situations, I can chose to not fall back on what I did before.  I can choose not to go down that road, but instead to trust the Lord and let him show me a new road.

And like the Israelites, that old road that is tempting me, that old thought pattern or entrenched groove of bad reaction, that stupid, self-destructive habit, really was not the best way to go about life anyway.  In the immortal words of Dr. Phil, “How’s that workin’ for ya?” And therein lies the problem, and the reason that the Lord had to deliver me from that in the first place.  It wasn’t working for me.  It was making me miserable.  It was a cold, dark cave of insanely repeating the same action and expecting a different result.

But that road is so easy to follow.  It is so easy to go back that way again. It feels comfortable to me. In a cold, dank, dreary, miserable way.

I have come to the conclusion that I need a sign post, or preferably a road block, at the entrance to that road.  I need to mentally construct that across that path.  A big, neon sign that says “You are not to go back that way again.”  And then maybe another one, pointing in the opposite direction, that says, “See, the former things have taken place, and new things I declare; before they spring into being I announce them to you.” Isaiah 42:9 (NIV)

At any rate, I need to keep reminding myself of the truth.  That I have a choice in the way I react.  That my misery is not inevitable. And that God has a far, far better way if I will only stop in my tracks and turn to Him instead.

The Keystone – Part Two (Julia Schmidt)

Part Two of my guest blog on KHC Women.

KHC Women

If you missed Part One

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I opened my Bible and read  Kings 17, where it describes a drought that was in the land of the Israelites. The Lord told Elijah to go to Sidon, to the city of Zarephath, because He had commanded a widow there to take care of him. Elijah found the widow and asked for some bread. 1 Kings 17:12 gives her reply:

“As surely as the LORD your God lives,” she replied, “I don’t have any bread—only a handful of flour in a jar and a little olive oil in a jug. I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it—and die.”(NIV)

As I read, the tears began to flow. This widow did not have enough to do what she needed to do. She could only see one outcome – to make…

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Promises and Plans

Just when we think we understand God’s plan for our lives, He sometimes takes us the opposite way than we would expect.

“The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Gen. 22:8 (NIV)

“Now there was a famine in the land… The Lord appeared to Isaac and said, “Do not go down to Egypt; live in the land where I tell you to live.” Gen. 26:1-2 (NIV)

The Lord had promised an heir to Abraham and had miraculously brought it to pass.  But He made it clear that even though Isaac was a key figure in His plan, and even though he was the long-awaited fulfillment of a promise, it still was not all about Isaac. Flying in the face of logic, which would dictate that the precious promised one should be protected at all costs, the Lord asked Abraham to sacrifice him. When Abraham, in faith, went through the steps of doing so, right up to the last second, the Lord stopped him and reiterated His promise to bless the world through his offspring.

Fast-forward to the time when Isaac was an adult, married with children — the seed of the promise and the carrying out of God’s plan. Once again, logic would dictate protecting them and providing for them in whatever way was practical.  But when famine came to the land, the Lord instructed Isaac not to take the prudent course of taking refuge in Egypt, but to stay in the land where He had told them to live. When Isaac obeyed, He again reiterated the promise of blessing through the offspring.

Abraham and Isaac both seemed to understand an important concept here — it was important to keep listening to the Lord even after He had delivered on His promise, and even after He had set His plan in motion. When He promises us something, and especially when that promise or that plan involves a period of waiting, our faith can be built by the process as we learn to trust Him.  However, if the focus of that faith shifts off the Lord and onto the promise, or the plan, then we can be in danger of going astray after its completion.

This is usually right at the point where we think we are “safe.” The long-awaited answer to prayer is delivered, or the wheels finally begin to turn on the new ministry or venture, and things appear to be just as they should be. This is not the time to get complacent, though. Just as Abraham needed to understand that he could not hold on to the son for which he waited such a long time, and just as Isaac needed to understand that his safety lay in obedience to the Lord and not necessarily in what he thought was the best course of action, we need to understand that the important thing in our lives is our relationship to the Lord, not the circumstances we have so longed for.

It’s never about the promise or the plan; it’s always about the Promiser and the Planner.

Out Of Our Depth

English: Ocean waves

English: Ocean waves (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Standing in church today, singing along with the congregation, I suddenly glanced around and watched the those around me, belting out, with all their hearts and souls, the words from the song “Oceans” by Hillsong:

Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior

It was a moment of corporate devotion, and since I personally knew a lot of those around me, I knew that they absolutely meant every word they were singing.  They weren’t just singing along.  Their body language, their fervor, and the way they live their lives outside of the church service all tell me that this song was echoing a cry of their heart.  It has been the cry of my own heart for years, and being able to sing it in the company of others who felt the same way brought tears to my eyes.

But oh, how I wanted to get up on the mic and offer them a warning.  “Brothers, sisters, are you counting the cost?  Because you may well get what you are asking for here.”

Not that I would suggest for a moment that someone should not pray this prayer.  I think more prayers should be this challenging, this fervent, this heart-surrendering.  No, I am all for the singing and praying of verses like this. I have spent most of my life doing so.

But when we do pray something like this, it is important to count the cost.   If we have not counted the cost, then when the Lord answers our prayer, and leads us “deeper than our feet would ever wander,” we run the risk of missing the strengthening of our faith.

Because it is relatively easy, when surrounded by fellow saints and caught up in worship, to cry out to the Lord, ‘Yes, Lord! Send me! Call me! Bring it on! Let my faith in You be strengthened!”   Certainly, it can still be a struggle, but let’s assume for the moment that we have reached the point where we are hungry for more than just social Christianity, more than just Church attendance, more than just a declaration of belief.  We are ready to be challenged, knowing that we could be going so much deeper in our understanding, our service and our devotion to Christ.

This is a good thing.  This is a very, very good thing.

But here’s the warning: This FIRST step is not the LAST step. It’s just the first one.  And each subsequent step is just as, if not more, challenging than the one before.

I say this not to discourage anyone from taking that first step, or praying that prayer.  I say this because of all the times I have pleaded with the Lord to take me deeper, only to find myself moaning about circumstances that are trying my faith a little while down the road.

Remember, we prayed that we would be led “deeper than our feet would ever wander.” Think about that for a minute.  That implies that we are asking the Lord to take us to places WE DO NOT NATURALLY WANT TO GO. Because if we wanted to go there, we would eventually wander there of our own accord.

Where is it you do not, absolutely DO NOT want to go?  Strained relationships with loved ones? Sickness in the family? A career or ministry opportunity where you feel totally out of your depth? Financial disaster? Natural disaster?  Think about how hard it would be to be there, in the place you do not want to go, and understand that you just asked the Lord to take you to a place that involves similar not-wanting-to-be-there-ness.

Please understand, I am not saying that if you sing this song, God will strike you down with sickness or make you lose your job or send a hurricane your way.  That would be ludicrous, for many reasons. What I’m saying is, wherever it is the Lord leads you, it will take you outside of your comfort zone, stretch you, show you the areas in which you need to grow, and try your faith to make it stronger.  In all of that, you will most likely come to a point where you FEEL the way any of those situations I listed earlier would make you feel, because, well, He will be leading you somewhere you wouldn’t have chosen to go, and we tend to avoid situations that make us feel that way.

So when you get to that point, if you have not counted the cost and were not expecting it, your first reaction will most likely be to switch to a different song.  Something like, “Rescue me…”  Something along the lines of, “This is all messed up and I want out of it now and I’m sure there’s a Bible verse somewhere that says You have to make it stop.” At that point, you will most likely have completely forgotten that you are right where you asked the Lord to lead you, poised on the brink of going deeper, of having your faith made stronger.

If, however, you have counted the cost, if you have your eyes on Christ rather than the situation, then you will be “in the presence of your Savior.”  In the midst of the most angst-ridden day of your life, you can still be in the presence of your Savior, resting in Him, abiding in Him, trusting in Him. And THAT is where you will suddenly realize you went deeper, and that you hardly recognize your faith, because it has become so strong you no longer worry about the situation, its outcome or your level of stress. You will be reaching out to others from the middle of your need, comforting people with the comfort with which you have been comforted, and hearing things like, “Oh, you’re such a strong person, I could never handle that…”

So sing this song.  Do sing it.  But then don’t forget about it.

And when things start to get uncomfortable, come back and sing it again; it will take on a whole new meaning.

Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)
by Matt Crocker, Joel Houston and Salomon Lighthelm

You call me out upon the waters
The great unknown where feet may fail
And there I find You in the mystery
In oceans deep
My faith will stand

And I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise
My soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours and You are mine

Your grace abounds in deepest waters
Your sovereign hand
Will be my guide
Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me
You’ve never failed and You won’t start now

So I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise
My soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours and You are mine

Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior

I will call upon Your Name
Keep my eyes above the waves
My soul will rest in Your embrace
I am Yours and You are mine

©2012 Hillsong Music Publishing
CCLI #: 6428767

Fighting The Battle With Your Hands Full

Judges 6-7

English: Gideon and His Three Hundred; as in J...

Gideon and His Three Hundred; as in Judges 7:9-23; illustration from a Bible card published by the Providence Lithograph Company (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When God called Gideon to fight the invading Midianites, it was all about God’s glory rather than man’s ability.

From start to finish, God was determined to show His hand working as He not only delivered the Israelites from their enemies, but did it in such a way that no man could possibly take the credit for it.  He wanted the Israelites to know who their Deliverer was so they would stop turning away from Him to other gods.

First of all, to begin his great plan of deliverance, God approached a man who was threshing wheat in a winepress.   Since threshing depends on wind to blow away the chaff, a winepress is not the most effective venue for it.   Anyone with experience with grass clipping, dead leaves, or, indeed, actual threshing, can probably imagine that a good portion of the chaff was sticking to Gideon.  This was the man God chose to call “Mighty Man of Valor.”  (Judges 6:12)

Now there was neither “mighty” nor “valor” about this man at that moment.  There was “fearfully trying to get some food to survive this invasion.”   There was “do this by myself so there’s a better chance I’ll get away with it without drawing attention to myself.”  There was certainly “chaff-encrusted beard and hair.”  And by Gideon’s own account there was, “Please, Lord, how can I save Israel? Behold, my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.” (Judges 6:15)

But God is the “God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were” (Rom. 4:17),  so He went ahead and called Gideon anyway and assured him He would be with him.  It took some persuasion, testing and patience, but He eventually convinced Gideon to answer the call.

Granted, Gideon’s first act of valor, pulling down his father’s altar to Baal and cutting down his Asherah pole, was done at night “because he was too afraid of his family and the men of the town to do it by day.” (Judges 6:27)

And granted, he required not one but two miraculous signs to confirm that God was really going to do what He said.

But still, he stepped out, trusted God and eventually mustered some men.  It was an army of about 32,000, which is a fairly decent troop for the least in the house, from the weakest clan.  Fairly decent, as long as you don’t think about the fact that “the Midianites, Amalekites and other eastern people had settled in the valley, thick as locusts,” and that “their camels could no more be counted than the sand on the seashore.”

But God is the God for whom “nothing is too difficult.” (Jer. 32:17)  So it should come as no surprise that the Lord said to Gideon, “You have too many men for me to deliver Midian into their hands.”  Gideon’s army was getting in the way.  God didn’t need Gideon’s strength, Gideon’s fame, Gideon’s cunning or Gideon’s valor, and apparently He didn’t really need Gideon’s men, either.  He chose Gideon to be His “mighty warrior” precisely because he did not possess those qualities in any great measure.  God’s idea of a mighty warrior was a man who, totally against the odds, would step out and obey a call that seemed ludicrous to consider.

At some point, Gideon seems to catch on, because without arguing he sent home 22,000 men.

The 10,000 men he had left was nowhere near enough to fight the eastern hoards, but at least it felt like an army.  Again, however, God didn’t need an army.  He didn’t even need the feel of an army.  He wanted to deliver Israel in such a way that Israel could not boast that “her own strength had saved her.” So He winnowed the army down to 300 men.

Three hundred men. There was no escaping reality at this point.  This was not an army.  This was a special force of the bravest and most alert men, but it wasn’t a big enough force in and of itself to make a dent in the hosts of the enemy.

And since God is the God who brings life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were, and since God is the God for whom nothing is too difficult, He sent these 300 men into battle… armed with a trumpet in one hand and a torch in the other.  A trumpet and a torch.  Not exactly what I would want to have in my hands were I to go into battle where the enemy vastly outnumbered us.  A sword at my side would have been little comfort if I had no free hand with which to draw it. But that was precisely what God wanted.  There was no question at this point that it was God who would fight the battle.  He had so filled their hands with the things He wanted them to carry, the tools for the plan He had in mind, that there was no way they could fight their own battle.

If they had not trusted God, if they had looked at the situation with their human understanding and said, “This is crazy!  I’m not going in there without my sword in my hand,” then they would not have been able to do what God wanted with the torches and the trumpets.  The enemy would not have been thrown into confusion, would not have fled, and the group of men would have been left with the option of fighting a vast horde with 300 swords, or fleeing themselves.  The only way they could hope to win this battle was to do exactly what God said.  He never intended for them to use their swords in this battle, despite the fact that “going into battle” is pretty much synonymous in the mind of any warrior with “being fully armed.”

Which makes me wonder how many times I’m picking up the reasonable tool to solve a problem, trusting on my own skill, knowledge, money, connections or sheer will-power, when all along God wants me to put those things aside and pick up the tools of His plan.  Maybe He doesn’t want me barreling into a meeting with my superior grasp of the problem, so that I can show up my co-workers with my brilliant solution.  Maybe He wants me to simply wait for the right time and his prompting and say one sentence that will change everything, without putting anyone else to shame.  Maybe He doesn’t want me throwing the law against my neighbor with his loud music and late-night parties.  Maybe He wants me to pray for him when I can’t sleep, show him love and bring him food when he’s sick.

There is no formula for winning battles.  As far as we know, Gideon never again went into battle armed with torches and trumpets. The point isn’t to do foolish things.  The point is to listen to the Lord and trust Him when His plan appears to fly in the face of reason.  And to remember that He is the “God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were” (Rom. 4:17) and that “nothing is too difficult” for Him. (Jer. 32:17)