Choices

Joshua 24:14-15 (NIV) 

Now fear the LORD and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD.  But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.

The verses leading up to this quote from Joshua provided a brief history of what God had done for the Hebrews.  It was about perspective.  In brief Joshua told the people that all they had was the result of God’s grace.  God called Abraham, from a family that worshiped other gods (v. 2).  God gave Abraham numerous descendants.  He gave them land.  Over time he protected them and afflicted those who mistreated them.  God watched over them throughout their history.

Then comes the kicker, with knowledge of God comes a choice, “choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve.”  You and I have to make a decision.  Will we recognize God’s grace in our lives, or will we turn to “other gods?” Joshua had to make the same choice and for him the choice was easy.  It did not matter what choices others made.  Peer pressure or not, hard times or good times, Joshua would serve the living God.

 

What choice have you made?   

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Laying a Defense Before God

Job 31:35-40 (NIV)

 (“Oh, that I had someone to hear me! I sign now my defense– let the Almighty answer me; let my accuser put his indictment in writing.  Surely I would wear it on my shoulder, I would put it on like a crown.  I would give him an account of my every step; like a prince I would approach him.)–  “if my land cries out against me and all its furrows are wet with tears,  if I have devoured its yield without payment or broken the spirit of its tenants,  then let briers come up instead of wheat and weeds instead of barley.” The words of Job are ended.

The Book of Job is one on my favorite books of the Old Testament.  It is filled with life lessons.  It is also filled with the messiness of life; friends turning against friends, life tragedies, suicidal thoughts.  It is a book that presents God in his grace and mercy.  As Job’s “friends” challenge his integrity and his very way of life, God is there to defend.    Everytime I read Job, I find myself humbled and in awe of God. 

In the verses listed above, there is a sense that Job is at his wit’s end.  If only he could make his case before God.  If only God would hear his case.  Surely his innocence would be clear and his pain removed.  What I really like about Job’s approach is that it tells me that I can question God about my situation.  I can “challenge” God.  God knows my frustration.  He understands that pain causes us to cry out.  Tragedy causes us to examine our lives. When we are questioning God, we are more likely to listen to his response.

It is important to note that Job does not shake his fist at God with a holier than thou (a dangerous assumption when you are talking to God) attitude.  He notes that if his understanding of his life and integrity is misguided he accepts rebuke.  However, he has examined his life, he has considered his dealings and he does not get it.  His friends tell him he is being judged, Job asks, “for what?”

There is a lot more to the Book of Job than these verses reveal.  In all his struggles Job asks “Why.”  It is a question that God does not answer directly.  Instead, God reveals who he is.  He reminds Job of what he has done.  When Job hears from God the why turns to worship.  Are you struggling today?  Are you hungry for a touch of God’s grace.  Get real with God.  Tell him your frustration.  Ask him to shine a light on your life, but more importantly listen to God as he reveals himself.

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Surviving in the Wilderness

Luke 4:1-13 (NRS)

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.'” Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.'” Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.'” Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'” When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.

I have been away from family and home for a while.  I had the pleasure of traveling around Israel with Dr. Doug Cullum as we have done some planning for an educational tour we are organizing with Jerusalem University College; a place I have enjoyed studying at in the past.  

Israel is an amazing place.  With all its modern conveniences in many ways it carries over its ancient culture and feel.  The surroundings provide a rich and diverse image that at times makes you feel as if you are witnessing the biblical narrative. In the passage above the devil takes Jesus to three “places;” the wilderness (Greek: a desolate place), a very high mountain (Matthew 4) and the pinnacle of the temple in Jerusalem.  

Wadi Qilt

Two of the places mentioned cannot be pinpointed with precision.  What is called the desert or wilderness may likely be the Judean wilderness (pictured to the left).  The high mountain could be anywhere.  The pinnacle of the temple has be identified in archeology and can be seen today in the temple excavations in Jerusalem.

Each location provided the devil opportunity to try get Jesus off track; you’re hungry…make bread from stones, you deserve the world…worship me and you can by-pass God’s plan, prove who you are… test God.  With every attempt Jesus thwarts Satan.  Jesus did not succumb to the temptation of a wilderness experience. 

Where are you today?  Do you feel like you are in the wilderness?  Are you being tempted by desires contrary to God’s will for your life?  Jesus provided you and me with the key.  When tempted, when confronted by things that test our faith, that is the time to dig deep and put your dependence on God.  At times of trial, worship should not be far from your lips and when circumstances seek proof, remember what God has done in your life.  Remembering the past provides assurance for the future. 

The wilderness can be difficult, but when seen in the proper perspective it reveals an amazing beauty.  God brings the beauty.

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The importance of place

Psalm 126:1-6 (NIV)

When the LORD brought back the captives to Zion, we were like men who dreamed.  Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. Then it was said among the nations, “The LORD has done great things for them.”  The LORD has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.  Restore our fortunes, O LORD, like streams in the Negev.  Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy.    He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him.

I have a real interest and passion for context as I read the bible.  For many people that means understanding the verses leading up and following a particular verse.  I agree.  However, I also realize that in many cases there is an even broader context that needs to be examined; the context of the time, culture and geography. 

The message of the bible has a number of audiences.  There was the audience under the direct influence of the inspired author; the people of the time and place.  However, there is also the larger audience who transcend time and place.  We are part of that audience.  If you live in a city in America you may not have a clue what the Psalmist is taking about when he says, “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God” (Psalm 42:1).  The reader may know what a deer is, but why is the deer panting after water, why is that like the thirst the Psalmist has for God?  Understanding that context, or perhaps more importantly, being able to visualize that context can change a persons understanding, or appreciation of the scriptures.

In Psalm 126 the Psalmist recounts the joy that filled the hearts of the returning captives.  If the author is David, then he is prophetically describing the Jewish return from the Babylonian exile as suggested by the Jewish content site “AISH.” Regardless, any reader can get a sense of the joy described as having, mouths filled with laughter, and tongues with songs of joy.  We do not have to be a prisoner to at least have some understanding of how freedom gained would be a joyous occasion. However, if you do not know what the Negev is, what image created by having one’s fortune restored like streams in the Negev (Psalm 126:4)?  At times like these, understanding the geography can be very helpful in appreciating the Psalmist’s expression.  The Negev is a barren (see image to the left), but beautiful area in southern Israel.  Rain is rare, but when it comes there can be an explosion of color.  What is lost in the summer, can be restored by the winter rains.

If you want to gain a better understanding of the culture and geography there are opportunities.  You can always find books about ancient customs and there are some books written about geography of the bible.  Better yet, take a trip.  See the land.  Join us in June 2012 for a 14 day excursion intothe land of the bible.  Watch this site for details

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Where does you help come from?

Psalm 121:1-8 (NIV)

I lift up my eyes to the hills– where does my help come from?  My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.  He will not let your foot slip– he who watches over you will not slumber;  indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.  The LORD watches over you– the LORD is your shade at your right hand;  the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.  The LORD will keep you from all harm– he will watch over your life;  the LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.

I really love this Psalm.  I can almost see David, perhaps standing in the courtyard of his palace.  The hills surrounding Jerusalem to the West and the mountains raising up to the region of Moab (now Jordan) to his East. David did not consider his palace and his great might to be his protection; he knew power was fleeting.

For David the real help comes from God alone.  David had traversed the surrounding territory for a long time.  David was familiar with the difficult pathways,  dangerous Wadi’s when the rains came and the extreme heat that can effect the area.  Yet David understood that when it came down to where to put your trust, only God would suffice.  After all, God is the Maker of heaven and earth.

Where does your help come from?

Special Note:  Watch this post as we will try to give you a little glimpse of Israel every night, as we walk the land where Jesus walked. Tomorrow we will travel the Dead Sea region.  Follow us on Twitter@ChrisKbeaberean.  That feed to provide images and updates 

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Praising when times are tough

Psalm 124:1 – 8 (NIV)

If the LORD had not been on our side– let Israel say–  if the LORD had not been on our side when men attacked us,  when their anger flared against us, they would have swallowed us alive;  the flood would have engulfed us, the torrent would have swept over us,  the raging waters would have swept us away.  Praise be to the LORD, who has not let us be torn by their teeth.  We have escaped like a bird out of the fowler’s snare; the snare has been broken, and we have escaped.  Our help is in the name of the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.

As I travel to Israel and consider the current geopolitical climate of the region, I find myself drawn to the Psalmist’s words above.  Israel has often been on the defense against various peoples bent on Israel’s destruction.  Yet Israel has survived and in many cases, thrived.  No one likes trouble.  No one likes to be attacked.  However, when attacks come, it is a blessing to know where your help comes from.

I like how Charles Spurgeon render’s part of the translation, “Had it not been Jehovah! He was for us, oh let Israel say! Had it not been Jehovah! He who was for us when men rose against us” (Source).  Even in times of trouble, the one who has put his or her faith in the Almighty God has something to cheer about.  If it wasn’t for God, I don’t know where I’d be!

As I read the language of the Psalm, I see an important point.  The Psalmist did not say that God delivered them from the trouble.  He carried them through the trouble, “when men attacked,” “when their anger flared,” when the flood and torrent came.  The psalmist recognized that God oversaw the outcome so that Israel “escaped like a bird out of the fowler’s snare.” 

Why do I tend to forget God’s protection in my life?  Why do I often retreat into self-pity and doubt?  I need to remember “where my help comes from” (Psalm 121).  I need to replace my “why me” with worship.  That’s when my perspective changes.  The next time you are up against a struggle consider these words from the song, Praise the Lord by The Imperials.  Perhaps a more modern rendition of the sentiments of Psalm 124:

When you’re up against a struggle
That shatters all your dreams
And your hope’s been cruelly crushed
By Satan’s manifested scheme
And you feel the urge within you
To submit to earthly fears
Don’t let the faith your standing in
Seem to disappear

Praise the Lord
He can work through those who praise Him
Praise the Lord
For our God inhabits praise
Praise the Lord
For the chains that seem to bind you
Serve only to remind you
That they drop powerless behind you
When you praise Him
(Source)

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Israel Bound

I rejoiced with those who said to me, “Let us go to the house of the LORD.”  Our feet are standing in your gates, O Jerusalem.  Jerusalem is built like a city that is closely compacted together.  That is where the tribes go up, the tribes of the LORD, to praise the name of the LORD according to the statute given to Israel.  There the thrones for judgment stand, the thrones of the house of David.  Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: “May those who love you be secure.  May there be peace within your walls and security within your citadels.”  For the sake of my brothers and friends, I will say, “Peace be within you.”  For the sake of the house of the LORD our God, I will seek your prosperity (Psalm 122:1-9, NIV).

As I write this post, I am sitting in New Jersey awaiting my flight connection to Tel Aviv.  From there I travel first to Hebrew University for a meeting and then to my hotel in the Old City, near the Jaffa Gate.  Keep watching as I plan to post reflections over the week.  I will also “Tweet” from various locations in the land as my connection allows.  Pray for the peace of Israel.

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Remembering Your First Love

Revelation 2:1-7 (NIV)

“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands: I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place. But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.”

In many ways the Book of Revelation is difficult to understand.  The Apostle John, inspired by the Holy Spirit, takes us on a journey that in many ways uses images from the past to convey to us God’s unfolding plan.  From the Book of Revelation various people have developed different understandings about end times.

What is sad, is that for many, a particular understanding of end times has become a dividing point; a line in the sand.  In these cases, failure to agree with their understanding of end times and their interpretation of the Revelation separates real Christians from the hopelessly lost.

As I read the Scriptures I always try to remember that the audience begins with a certain people at a certain time, while at the same time providing a message that transcends time, geography and culture.  So as I study God’s Word I always try to ask myself, what was the message for the original audience and what is the message for me.

In today’s text we listen in on God’s message to some real churches in real places of the time: Ephesus, Smyrna,  Pergamum, Thyatira, Philadelphia, Sardis, Laodicea, .  All located in modern day Turkey. 

Our focus today is on the first church addressed, the church in Ephesus.  What does Jesus Christ say about the Church in Ephesus?  What does Jesus see in his evaluation?

·      The church is active in Good Works

·      The people work hard even when results are not immediate

·      They hold a high degree of accountability

·      They have a strong knowledge of God’s Word

·      They accept and endure hardships that result from their faith in Christ.

It reminds me of Paul’s words to Timothy, “You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings– what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured (2 Timothy 3:10-11). Continue reading

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