Monthly Archives: October 2011

A lesson from the ashes

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This was a homework assignment based on Joshua 7:16-26.

When you first look at this passage in Joshua, it certainly stops you in your tracks. Really? God killed a household over a few stolen items? I know that stealing is wrong, but to kill an entire
family…?
You have to look back a few verses to start to see the behind-the-scenes-perspective here. In Joshua 6:17-19, Joshua tells Israel that all the plunder of Jericho is banned, they are not allowed to keep any of it, and any gold, silver, iron or bronze articles are to be collected for the Lord. So we see that Achan didn’t steal in the literal sense (the whole city of Jericho was technically theirs after the walls fell), but he disobeyed a direct command of God. Not a good idea.

But Achan’s choice reveals that there was more going on inside him than simple obedience. By taking those forbidden items, Achan revealed the pride in his heart. He believed that he deserved more than his fellow Israelites, so he took for himself. And what did he take? “A beautiful robe from Babylon, 200 silver coins, and a bar of gold weighing more than a pound” (Josh 7:21, NLT). He took a robe to make him look better, to esteem himself among his friends and family, and he took precious metals, which God had already claimed as his. Achan believed that he deserved what was rightfully God’s, and that he could get away with it. And he was sadly mistaken.

Besides pride, mistrust or lack of faith was also evident in Achan’s actions. He didn’t believe that God would provide for him and his family in the Promised Land they were invading, so he took matters into his own hands (quite literally). He needed to steal. And we all know that sin committed for the right reasons is excused, right? Obviously not. God never calls us to something that requires us to sin; that just wouldn’t make any sense. God wanted Israel to occupy the land he had for them, and, so long as they obeyed Him, He was going to provide for them as they did. Achan believed that what he saw right in front of him was better than what God had promised. The Biblical definition of faith is “Seeing things the way God says they are, not how I see them”, and his act was the direct opposite of faith.

Achan didn’t believe that God was who He says He is. By taking those forbidden items, Achan echoes the same thoughts as Adam and Eve in Genesis “God won’t see it. Besides, it’s just a few things (just one bite). What can it hurt? It’s not like God is here. What He doesn’t know won’t hurt Him, right?” Wrong.

And finally, Achan’s sin showed his inward discontentment. He didn’t believe that what God had already provided for him was enough. He refused to rest in the knowledge that what God was going to give him in the Promised Land was best. He wanted, coveted, what he saw. So he took it.

The root of all these wrong heart-positions is a faulty worldview, one based on worldly ideas instead of the Bible. Achan fell for the appealing philosophy that currently reigns in America: Instant gratification is always better than delayed gratification. The robe, silver and gold I can get my hands on now is better than anything God would give me for obeying Him later. So much better, in fact, that I’m willing to risk everything for it. And don’t we do the same things, in our own ways? Entertaining lustful thoughts is much more satisfying than waiting in purity for the one spouse God has for me, and reveling with him/her it he pure gift God has given.

Or what about the idea, “I’m just one person. God doesn’t care.” Every heard, or thought, that? It’s an easy trap to fall into. Just look at the facts, there are 6.97 Billion people in this world. Why would God care about what I do? Nevertheless, He does. He has a specific call for each person in relationship with Him, and He calls us each individually to live holy lives. That’s why the Holy Spirit convicts us of certain things that He doesn’t for others. Why would watching a certain movie, or saying certain things, be sin to one person and not another? Because God cares about what we do, individually. The fact of the matter is, we are so important to God that He died for us. “Do you not know… that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price, therefore glorify God in your body.” 1 Corinthians 6:19-20

Ok, so we get that Achan had more going against him than just a few items hidden in the tent, but why did “his songs, hid daughters, his oxen, his donkeys, his sheep, his tent and all that belonged to him” have to be utterly destroyed? The passage says that he and all with him were stoned, and then burned up. Picture absolutely nothing left. Achan was the one who sinned, so he alone should be punished, right? The trouble with this claim is the idea that each person is solely responsible for
themselves, when God says throughout Scripture that a man is responsible not only for himself, but for his entire household. And we’ve seen this in our own lives, haven’t we? A father’s sin affects his own family, and sometimes the entire neighborhood or church. “With great power, comes great responsibility”. God gives the man of the house, the husband/father, the power to lead his family, but He also bestows on him the responsibility of that calling.

Yet there is hope in this sad tale of utter destruction. Look at Joshua 22:20. Battles, victories, moving vans, and many house-warming parties later, Israel still remembered the sin of Achan and
clan. God used one man’s sin to impact an entire nation, and to remind them (however briefly) that He indeed is God and demands worship and obedience.

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Law = Awesome

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My class is going through the Bible chronologically, and we just finished a unit on The Law. At the end of each unit, we are assigned a project elaborating on a principle we picked up in that section. The firs unit resulted in a silent, black-and-white film based on Job (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IMoGX652pdw) For this unit, we were supposed to pick a law, pull a key principle and sub-principles from it, and fit those principles to a modern context. Approaching this project, I was hesitant. Didn’t sound like my idea of fun (Swan Princess, anyone?) But, as it is due tomorrow, so I jumped in, and before I knew it I was writing my third page. Four verses brought me three pages of analysis and application. I’m just as surprised as you are, and I thought I’d share what I learned with you.

Deut 22:1-4

Key Principle: Love is not based on the other party’s actions.

Love is others-centered. Implied in this whole passage is the idea that the Jew noticed the missing
animal/object, and this isn’t necessarily as straight forward as it sounds. He has a farm of his own, his own animals to tend to, his own crops to plant, fertilize, irrigate and harvest, his own family to feed, his own life to live. It would be easy to get so caught up in his own life that he never notices the simple oxen slipping away from his neighbor’s barn. But God tells him to be others-focused, neighbor-focused. He needs to take the time to pull his eyes beyond his own yard to that of his neighbors’, and rather than criticizing or falling into the jealousy-trap, stop and see if there’s anything he’s overlooking that needs to be done.

Love is active. Repeatedly this passage says, “you shall not see… and pay no attention to it”. The ESV translates this same concept as “you may not ignore it”. It is not loving to stand by and do nothing when a need presents itself. As believers, we are called to love our neighbors, and, as this passage asserts, love is more than a feeling. Love is seeing a need, and meeting it.

Love is unconditional. Nowhere in this passage does God say anything about compensation for the Jew’s time or money. He simply says that he is to “bring them back to [his] countryman”, and if the neighbor is away from home, or even a stranger, “[he] shall bring it home to [his] house and it shall remain with [him] until [his] countryman looks for it”. He doesn’t know why the animal is roaming around, he doesn’t know how long you will have it, and he can’t demand anything back from its owner. There is no way for this situation to benefit him, and that’s the point. Love is not about what someone or something does for you, it’s about meeting needs, unconditionally. God also knows that we often try to loop-hole our way out of obeying His commands, so He made this law clear: “Thus you shall do with is donkey… with his garment… with anything lost by your countryman…” There’s no way for the Jew to say, “Whew! It’ just the Jones’ horse. Good thing it’s not an ox or a sheep, because then I would have to help them.” Similarly, we as believers are not to
loop-hole our way out of helping a neighbor. Quit the hair-splitting and just love them.

Love is costly. You don’t just keep an ox in your barn; you have to feed it, water it, and clean up after it. And with no promised compensation in this law, all that food, water and time is coming straight from your pocket. This law shows that love takes more than going through the motions (putting the animal in your barn), it takes time, money and effort, and sometimes you don’t get anything in return for your work but a strengthened relationship and a God-glorifying reputation.

Love is about God, not the neighbor. Assuming that this “neighbor” is a God-fearing man, who has strong relationships with his surrounding friends, it would be easy for our hypothetical Jew to take in his animal for a short period. It would be doing a favor for a friend. But let’s say that this “neighbor” is that neighbor, the one who plays his music to loud, who slams the car door at odd hours of the morning, who leaves his barking dog outside to annoy the whole neighborhood, who lets his “ox or sheep [stray] away”. That makes this whole situation different, doesn’t it? Wouldn’t it be best to just let the animal wander off?  After all, the neighbor should learn to keep a better watch on his own belongings. He has to learn to be responsible, right? God thinks differently. While He does demand personal responsibility from each of us, that lesson is between God and the “neighbor”.  e calls Jews (and believers) to love their neighbors. Period. Why? Because we are to love with the same love we’ve received from God through Christ. Love is about reflecting God, not justifying some warped need of personal revenge wrapped in a lesson in responsibility. When we love our neighbors, in spite of their actions toward us and others, we reflect God’s love. He did the exact same thing for us.

Love is selfless. So our Jew found the animal, brought it home, cared for it, cleaned up after it and invested time and money into it, and then the neighbor shows up looking for his wayward beast. How does God tell the Jew to respond? “You shall restore it to him”. Simple as that. The animal doesn’t belong to him, he was just taking care of it for a while. The real owner is back, so he must give it back to him. He donates his time, money, effort (and maybe emotional attachment) to his neighbor along with the animal, getting nothing but one less shoveling job in return.

So how does this apply? After all, we aren’t Jews, so we aren’t called to keep the Law. Well, Jew or Gentile, the principle(s) behind this passage are just as valid. Love is not based on the other party’s actions. For example, look at a mother’s love for her baby. He may be cute as a button, but that child requires a lot of his mother. 3 am feedings, endless diaper changes, hundreds of dollars in clothes and accessories, and all that screaming (sadly, no mute button). Ignoring the motherly instincts God has put inside women, there is no practical reason why this woman should love her child. He does nothing for her. In fact, his whole life so far is spent taking from her. And yet, she loves him, actively, unconditionally, selflessly, in spite of the cost. It is by no means easy, and when he grows up, he’ll leave. A Godly mother is an example of love: meeting someone’s needs, simply because there’s a need, expecting nothing in return. God gives us the capability to love others, and when we do, we reflect and glorify Him. So what’s holding us back?

At the end of the day

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I just had one of those “aha!” moments. And since the main purpose of this blog is to record my journey, I figured I should get this one down before I forget (and, Lord willing, it might encourage you, too!)

A few classes ago, Professor/Pastor Randy said something that really resonated within me, based out of Exodus 3-4: “It’s so much easier, and often considerably less painful, to just do what God wants you to, instead of coming up with excuses of why you can’t/don’t want to.” Can you imagine how the Exodus story would’ve changed if we didn’t have 4:1-17? The entire layout of Exodus would’ve changed; there would be no faithful Aaron accompanying his tongue-tied brother. There might not have even been the epic stick/snake showdown. Now, I’m not trying to say that Aaron or the super-staff were plan-B, last-minute additions God included to get Moses to agree. But just imagine what might have happened if he hadn’t have spent all that time trying to excuse his way out of God’s will.

Like usual, when Pastor Randy mentioned this idea mind searched my limited experience, and the lives of those around me, to see if what I’ve witnessed coincides with this concept, and I heartily agreed. God’s will really is best, and we can either choose to follow it, or suffer the consequences of picking our, second-rate path. And those consequences can range from minor set-backs or major upsets, all of which are intended to steer us back to His original plan. Though it may not seem to be, it’s just plain less complicated to pick His plan in the first place.

Isn’t it funny how you can whole-heartedly agree with a Biblical truth and still walk completely opposite to it? By “funny” I mean really, really annoying. This afternoon passed like many Saturday afternoons at GCBI: me trying to decide what to do with the 6+ hours of free time I had laying before me. Between working, classes, ministry involvement and spending nearly 12 hours each week at different familys’ homes, the little time during the week on my own is usually spent cramming in homework (ahhhh, the college life!) So, when Saturday rolls along, and we aren’t doing some sort of ministry volunteering, I’m almost paralyzed with free-time hesitancy. WHAT TO DO? Adding to my dilemna was my lack of Disney movies, no library card, and no cool, Alaskan air to be outside in (ahhhh, college life in Florida). So I had to do something inside. I tried to watch some stuff on YouTube, but nothing kept my interest. As time continued to pass, I began to grow frustrated. “Why does this happen? I’m supposed to be enjoying myself, resting during my free time! But nothing I try is satisfying. I guess I could do homework, but all I ever to is homework. This is my fun time. But why do I feel so…. not right? So…. unfulfilled?”

And then God reminded me of something else my teacher has said: “There’s nothing more satisfying than feeling fulfilled and content at the end of the day. And, for a believer, that feeling comes with the knowledge that you have done all that God has called you to for that day.” And it hit me. Just like my conflict resolution practice-session (see my previous post “One foot in front of the other”), God was giving me a situation to live out the principles I claim to believe on a smaller, easier-to-handle, stage. So, you think that it’s best to just do what God’s called you to, eh? Well, here’s your chance, Jessi…

Perhaps, just perhaps, the reason that my attempts to seek mindless entertainment were leaving me feeling high and dry was that God had other plans for “my” afternoon: homework. Definitely not how I would plan on spending my free time, but I figured I’d give it a shot. Ignoring the small voice in my mind saying that I could start it later (nothing will kill conviction quicker than procrastination), I jumped right in. And it worked. I can’t really explain it; I spent an hour separating Deuteronomy 5-6 into individual laws, pulling timeless principles from them and typing it all onto my computer. Nothing spells fun quite like D-E-U-T-E-R-O-N-O-M-Y. But really, as I labored through the Law, I knew I was doing what God wanted me to. And that’s a great feeling.

And as frustrating as not seeing my own hypocrisy is, I can’t help but enjoy the moments when God allows me to grow out of it. It’s faith building, knowing that God is intent on transforming me from myself to His likeness. It’s reassuring to know that God puts those feelings in me on purpose; that doing His will really is the best (not that you can always judge “best” by happiness and comfort), even in this small way. It’s just so cool that I don’t have to sit in dissatisfaction, that God has more for me, and this afternoon, that “more” was homework.

“So, about your son….”

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I remember something my youth pastor told us years ago. “Reading my Bible is now a daily discipline of mine which I encourage you all to adopt. I average about three days; whatever I’m studying in the Word will somehow pop up in my everyday life within three days of reading it. If God does so for me, He’ll likely do so for you as well.” Well, when you’re in Bible school sometimes it feels like all you do is read the Bible (a somewhat accurate exaggeration), so I think the ratio of 1 reading to 3 days is shortened dramatically. Or, at least, it was for me today. Not even 24 hrs after studying Exodus 5 and I saw its principles playing out in my life. However, since you have not spent the last 24 hours in my head, allow me to fill you in.

When I first read this story, I couldn’t decide whether it was gross or just weird. Quickly summarized version: Moses has just seen the bush and heard from the LORD and he has packed up his family (wife, Zipporah, and sons) and they’re headed off to Egypt, ready to do God’s will. And then verse 24 sneaks up out of nowhere, allowing the reader (that’s us) to see that there is definitely something going on behind-the-scenes. “Now it came about at the lodging place on the way [to Egypt] that the LORD met him [Moses] and sought to put him to death“. This seems completely off-the-wall, doesn’t it? Here’s Mo and fam faithfully trucking to Egypt, ready to face the unknown just because that’s what God told them to do, and God comes to their campsite and wants to kill Moses? What? Hold on, it gets even weirder.

How does Zipporah handle this out-of-the-blue situation? She circumcises her son. And “He [God] let him [Moses] alone“. Simple as that.

So now we have weird and kinda gross (I edited out the gross part). How could God trying to kill someone and a boy being circumcised have anything to do with my everyday, college girl life? It doesn’t, really, if you’re trying to pull Biblical facts directly into your life. However, I was/am studying this passage to pull out and apply timeless principles that fit any culture or lifestyle. And believe it or not, there is (at least) one to be found in this obscure, awkward story.

The heart of this principle lies in the answer to one question: Why was God seeking to kill Moses? He was doing God’s will, right? He was doing everything he should… Or was he? After careful examination, you realize something: Zipporah only circumcised one son, when she and Moses had two. So, if only one was circumcised, it’s a safe assumption that the other son (probably the first-born, Gershom) was already circumcised…. Bingo!

Our culture prizes focus and determination. Hard work is an essential element of the American dream. Even Christian/church culture values devotion, as we should. We are called to be Christ-followers, to “run with endurance the race that is set before us“, to lay “aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us” and to fix “our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of faith“. Obviously the Christian life requires devotion, and Moses was certainly devoted. He was epitome of dying to himself and living according to God’s will, right?  He abandoned a predictable, steady lifestyle, moved from a stable environment in which to rear his children, left the only functional family he’d ever known and returned to the land filled with not-so-hot memories and the impossible looming before him, all because God said, “Go, I will be with you“. In fact, he was so devoted that he neglected his everyday responsibilities, like being a good dad. He had his eyes super-glued to the Egyptian horizon, so much so that he didn’t bother noticing that his youngest son wasn’t circumcised. But he was trying to do what God called him to, right? He had bigger, better, brighter things on his mind: God’s will (insert halo here). Why should an everyday chore cause God to stop Moses in his tracks? Hold that thought…

To pay the few bills I have (praise God for GCBI’s minimal tuition), I am working 21 hours a week at a local diner/down-home-cooking-hang-out as a waitress. This is my first experience in the food industry, and let me tell you, serving people from all walks of life has been the perfect supplemental vitamin to all that I’ve been learning in classes. Take today, for example. As some subconscious part of my mind was pondering emergency circumcision in the Arabian desert, the conscious, moving part of me was cleaning up after a large gathering of local ministry workers. They had just finished their weekly meeting, planning for an upcoming youth event that has enormous potential for bringing masses of young people into a relationship with our Savior. Great, right? All these people, varying in age, color, denomination, accent and life-experience, all uniting over the cause of providing an environment in which the Gospel can be shared on a large, impacting scale. Get’s a hearty, “Amen!” from me. But between my trips from the tables to the kitchen’s bus tray, my mind’s-eye started picking up on something happening behind the scenes.

Within minutes of the meeting’s ending, almost everyone had quickly cleared the room. All had left but two men, one mid-twenties, the other in his early forties. As I entered the room, I noticed these two men picking up chairs and tables, quietly restoring the room to order. And my mind flashed back to the desert….

Please understand, I have no grudge against the event board, in fact I admire their cause and devotion. It’s humbling to see people twice my age, with busy, involved lives, jobs and relationships, take time to pray, plan and coordinate an event for the benefit of my peers. But as the masses evaporated, I couldn’t help but see little Moseses pass by. Eyes intent upon the future, eager to see what God will do, prayerful and full of faith in God’s will, excited about their small part in it. Eyes up in the air, simple opportunity under their nose. And these two men were my inspiration, for they were the perfect fusion. Not to over-spiritualize things, but they both saw what God was going to do through them in the future, and what He could do through them right then. Not that they had to help me clean up, in fact, they had every right to leave. It was my job to clean up after them. But they saw an opportunity to help a sister in Christ, and took a few minutes and just did it.

God stopped Moses in the desert because He cares less about what we do for God than where our hearts our in relation to Him. Am I surrendered, completely? Am I willing to do whatever He asks of me? That means saying “yes” to both the great and the mundane. The being involved in ministry and doing your chores. The bringing a child/friend to the Lord and being nice to the girl in the drive-thru window. The Pharoah and the circumcision. A person surrendered to the Lord sees every opportunity as a chance to glorify God, big or small, because that’s how He sees it. (I have by no means mastered this, it’s just what God is teaching me right now. I can easily be just as, if not more, blind than Moses.) Success for a believer is obedience, and to God, respecting your parents and giving a stellar sermon are (in a lot of ways) one in the same.

How often do we do that? Are we so focused on what God is about to do, the needs He’s going to meet, that we ignore what needs could be met right now? So intent on the glamorous, most-impacting things we will be involved in, that we step right over opportunities for simple, daily faithfulness? What sons do we have that need circumcising?