Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Oh the Stories We Tell!

Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them. Remember the day you stood before the Lord your God at Horeb, when he said to me, “Assemble the people before me to hear my words so that they may learn to revere me as long as they live in the land and may teach them to their children.” You came near and stood at the foot of the mountain while it blazed with fire to the very heavens, with black clouds and deep darkness. Then the Lord spoke to you out of the fire. You heard the sound of words but saw no form; there was only a voice. He declared to you his covenant, the Ten Commandments, which he commanded you to follow and then wrote them on two stone tablets. And the Lord directed me at that time to teach you the decrees and laws you are to follow in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess.
Deuteronomy 4:9-14

Never forget the ways that you have personally experienced God's faithfulness in your life. These experiences remind us of His love for us and give opportunities to praise Him and proclaim His goodness to those around us. In addition, this passage reminds us of the great responsibility we have to pass these precious gifts on to the next generation. When it comes to proclaiming God's glory we must always remember to proclaim it not only in the assembly of worshippers, as the psalmist does, but also among our own children and our children's children after them.

God gives parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and siblings a precious window of time to minister to the children in their lives. He causes children to look up to the adults in their lives. They want to hear our stories and be like us. Even after they enter the teenage years and begin looking more to their peer group for input on their burgeoning personality, even then parents and other adults continue to have a significant impact on them. Teenagers are less likely to show it but they still want to be like you in certain ways. So take advantage of the time you have with the children in your life. You may not have stood at the foot of Mt. Sinai; you may not have seen God deliver the Ten Commandments to Moses out of the fire, but God has done things in your life. You have stories to pass on! You need to tell your children of how God called you to salvation even as you lived a life of sin and rebellion against Him. You need to tell of how He saved you from life threatening diseases and situations. You need to rejoice in the extraordinary kindnesses and blessings that He has poured out on your family.

This is particularly true for parents. If you are the parent of a child, the truth is that no one is as peculiarly gifted to teach your children about Jesus as you are. In fact, I would say that you were designed to teach them, but the truth is the reverse. They were designed so that you would be able to teach them. Literally, their genetic makeup comes from you as their parent. This combined with the fact that they naturally look up to you and want to become like you makes you, in my opinion, the best and most effective teacher they will ever have. You may want to run from this calling God has placed on your life, but you can't. You teach your children everyday. They watch you and they learn and then they mimic what they see you do (and this not always in your presence). So the question really isn't will you teach your children, but what are you teaching them? Are you telling them of God´s unending faithfulness to you and your family? Are you telling them how God set you free from the power of sin in your life? Are you telling them how God continues to graciously meet your financial needs? What has God done in your life that you haven't yet passed on to the next generation? Take some time today to proclaim His goodness!

For further consideration...
  • Ebenezer is more than just Scrooge's first name. In the Old Testament it was a mound, pile, or pillar of rocks set up as a monument to God's faithfulness or provision for His people. God commanded the people to set up these Ebenezers so that they wouldn't forget all that He had done for them. Forgetting God's goodness is a real danger we must combat in the Christian life for we have an enemy who is all the time trying to warp our minds against our Maker. One way to combat this is to set up little Ebenezers of our own in more modern ways. Then whenever we are down, we can remind ourselves of God's past provision. Here are some ideas.
    • An Ebenezer Book- Start a photo album which contains photos and short journal entries about God's answers to your prayers.
    • An Ebenezer Email- Start an email account solely for the purpose of keeping up with God's goodness. Set a particular time and day every week to write an email to that account telling of all the good things God did for you that week.
    • Ebenezer Art- If you are more of an artistic person, then you could create art to commemorate God's faithfulness in specific situations in your life and then display these pieces of art in your home. A photographer, for example, could take pictures to remind her of God's provision and then display these. A painter could paint. A musician might write songs, etc...
    • Ebenezer Names- This one may seem a little extreme but often in the Bible we find that children are given names that help remind their parents of God's provision and goodness. This is especially true when children are born to parents who were thought to be barren or beyond childbearing age.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Great Paradox of God

For this is what the high and exalted One says— he who lives forever, whose name is holy: “I live in a high and holy place, but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite. I will not accuse them forever, nor will I always be angry, for then they would faint away because of me— the very people I have created."
Isaiah 57:15-16

What a paradox our God is! He is both high and exalted, yet He chooses to delight in the lowly and contrite. This juxtaposition of seemingly contradictory traits is more than man could have imagined. Yet, it is true of our God! This passage brings to mind the story of Manasseh, king of Judah. Scripture tells us that Manasseh led Jerusalem back into the idol worship that his father King Hezekiah helped lead them out of. This Manasseh even went so far as to sacrifice his own children in the fire to foreign gods and to erect idols in the sacred temple of the Lord. Thus, Scripture rightly says of Manasseh that he "led Judah and the people of Jerusalem astray, so that they did more evil than the nations the Lord had destroyed before the Israelites" (II Chronicles 33:9). 

However, this is not the end of Manasseh's story. It continues in chapter thirty-three of II Chronicles to become not only one of the most unexpected repentance stories in all of Scripture, but also one of the clearest examples of God's grace and forgiveness in the Old Testament.
The Lord spoke to Manasseh and his people, but they paid no attention. So the Lord brought against them the army commanders of the king of Assyria, who took Manasseh prisoner, put a hook in his nose, bound him with bronze shackles and took him to Babylon. In his distress he sought the favor of the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his ancestors. And when he prayed to Him, the Lord was moved by his entreaty and listened to his plea; so He brought him back to Jerusalem and to his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord is God.
II Chronicles 33:10-13
The next few verses of the chapter tell how Manasseh returned to Jerusalem a changed man. After once again making Jerusalem secure from its enemies, "he got rid of the foreign gods and removed the image from the temple of the Lord, as well as all the altars he had built on the temple hill and in Jerusalem; and he threw them out of the city. Then he restored the altar of the Lord and sacrificed fellowship offerings and thank offerings on it, and told Judah to serve the Lord, the God of Israel" (II Chronicles 33:15-16).

If there is anything we can learn from Manasseh it is the wisdom of humble repentance when we find ourselves under God's judgment. How often we bear the result of our sin with disdain. How frequently we cry out to God as though we were as innocent as Job and demand to know how He can allow our afflictions to come upon us. The truth is that many of these afflictions are the result of our own sin. God cannot be mocked, we reap what we sow (Galatians 6:7). It is often better to humble ourselves under the Lord's correction and to show Him a contrite heart. God didn't have to hear Manasseh's prayer, but He did because He delights in humility and repentance. Humble yourself before the Lord, and see if you do not fare better.

For further reading...

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Go and Tell

How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!”
Isaiah 52:7

For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”
Romans 10:13-15

In his book entitled Night, Elie Wiesel tells the story of a man named Moshe who lived in the town of Sighet in Transylvania where Wiesel grew up. In 1942, at the age of twelve, Wiesel had began to be mentored by this barefoot Jewish mystic. Wiesel tells of how one day the Hungarian police loaded all of the foreign-born Jews onto cattle trains and shipped them away. Moshe was one of those Jews. The native Jews with Wiesel eventually came to accept this as a reality of the war, until one day Moshe returned.
"He told his story and that of his companions. The train full of deportees had crossed the Hungarian frontier and on Polish territory had been taken in charge by the Gestapo. There it had stopped. The Jews had to get out and climb into lorries. The lorries drove toward a forest. The Jews were made to get out. They were made to dig huge graves. And when they had finished their work, the Gestapo began theirs. Without passion, without haste, they slaughtered their prisoners. Each one had to go up to the hole and present his neck. Babies were thrown into the air and the machine gunners used them as targets. This was in the forest of Galicia, near Kolomaye. How had Moshe...escaped? Miraculously. He was wounded in the leg and taken for dead..."*

Wiesel tells of how Moshe went from house to house warning the Jews of what the Gestapo had done, but nobody believed him. Maybe he has gone mad, they said. Perhaps he is just looking for sympathy. "And as for Moshe, he wept. Jews listen to me. It's all I ask of you. I don't want money or pity. Only listen to me."*  They would not listen to Moshe but perhaps the saddest part of Wiesel's account is that as days turned into weeks, and weeks turned into months, eventually Moshe stopped telling his story. Later Wiesel and many others from Sighet witnessed the horrors of the Nazi hatred for Jews firsthand, but Moshe had long given up hope of convincing them of the terror that lay ahead.

May we never grow tired of warning people about Hell, because unlike Moshe we have good news to tell as well. We have a Savior who has already fought the enemy and has already won the victory for all those who will believe. He commanded us to "go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything [He commanded us]” (Matthew 28:19-20a). And so we must go! We must go and tell even when they won't listen. Even when they tell us to stop. Even when they threaten our lives. We must tell... in love, in gentleness, and in humility. And we must go to wherever there are those who haven't heard and to wherever there are those who have rejected the message. May we never lose heart. May we never give up proclaiming the good news of His glorious gospel! 

For further reading....

*Wiesel, Elie. Night. : Bantam Books, 1960. Pages 4, 5.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

A Precious Treasure Hidden from the Nazis

If you put all these people to death, leaving none alive, the nations who have heard this report about you will say, ‘The Lord was not able to bring these people into the land he promised them on oath, so he slaughtered them in the wilderness.’

“Now may the Lord’s strength be displayed, just as you have declared: ‘The Lord is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.’ In accordance with your great love, forgive the sin of these people, just as you have pardoned them from the time they left Egypt until now.”

The Lord replied, “I have forgiven them, as you asked."
Numbers 14:15-20

This week I came across a summary of Corrie ten Boom's story. I confess that although I had heard of Corrie and her best-selling book The Hiding Place, up until this week I really didn't know what that book was about. The ten Booms were a Christian family living in Holland during Nazi occupation that bravely chose to hide runaway Jews in their three-story home above their family's watch shop. They had a secret room constructed next to Corrie's bedroom which they called "The Hiding Place." Thanks to the ten Boom family and this hiding place, seven Jews were protected from Nazi concentration camps. These Jews were never found, but Corrie and her sister Betsie were eventually arrested and sent to the women's extermination camp at Ravensbruck.

"At Ravensbruck the women were permitted worship services in their crowded barracks. At every meeting a crowd of thin, sad-faced women gathered around Corrie and Betsie to hear the sisters read from their hidden Bible. One read the Dutch text and the other translated aloud in German. Other interpreters then passed the precious words along the aisles in French, Polish, Russian, Czech, and other languages. These evenings were 'little previews of heaven' Corrie later wrote in The Hiding Place."*

This image of malnourished women crowding around the Word of God, devouring its precious truth, and taking great pains to share the hope they find in it with others struck me. The truth is that God's Word is always this precious and this powerful, but we do not always treat it as such. In the above passage we find that Moses did though. God has just told Moses that He is ready to wash His hands of the Israelites. They have rebelled one too many times. After the Lord rescued them mightily from Egypt, brought them through the Red Sea on dry ground, and then sustained them across the desert with bread from heaven all the way up to the Promised Land, the people of Israel choose not go in. They fear the giants in the land and still doubt God's power after all He has done. So God offers to destroy them all and start over and make a people for himself through Moses. We see Moses' response above.

The careful reader will notice that Moses recites God's words back to Him. On Mt. Sinai Moses was given a precious revelation from the Lord. God placed him in a hiding place, in a cleft in the rock, and caused His glory to pass in front of Moses. As He passed before him the Lord declared His name and character to Moses. It is clear from the fact that he quotes it back to God as the reason why He should show compassion that Moses treasured these words.

It's unfortunate that we don't appreciate God's Word in the same way. Take a lesson from Corrie and from Moses today. Open the Word and treasure it!

For further are some places you might start:
  • Exodus 34:5-9- Check out the special revelation Moses experienced on Mt. Sinai.
  • Psalm 23- Try one of the most loved Psalms in the Bible. 
  • John 1:1-18- Sample one of the most beautiful explanations of Jesus' true identity ever written. 
  • Romans 8- Give the chapter that some have called the "crown jewel of the New Testament" a chance.  

*I am indebted to James and Marti Hefley's book By Their Blood: Christian Martyrs of the Twentieth Century for the information in these two paragraphs.