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No Bit or Bridle Required

Psalm 32:8–9 (ESV)
8 I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you.
9 Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding, which must be curbed with bit and bridle, or it will not stay near you.

I like horses. I like riding them and watching them out in the pasture. I just like being around them. But I haven’t always had the best experience with them and I’ll relate one story to help make my point.
I inherited my fondness for livestock from my maternal grandfather. As far back as I can remember he had at least one horse but the ones I remember best were his Appaloosas, Jewel and Dusty. I love the exotic patterns and colors of the Appaloosa so I decided to buy one. My grandfather offered to help me, but I felt I was smart enough to not need any help finding a horse so I searched on my own. I spotted an advertisement for an Appaloosa at a local farm and drove out to take a look at it. The horse that was for sale didn’t look much like an Appaloosa; it had classic buckskin coloring right down to the dark stockings on all four legs. It did, however, have one tiny dark spot on its rump. The guy who was selling it had some beautiful Appaloosas in his back pasture so I believed him when he said that the horse was still young and would “color up” as he got older. Did I mention that I wanted a colt instead of a well-seasoned, mature horse? Felling confident in my abilities as a horse trader, I bought the horse and brought him home.
When the horse was about 18 months old I decided it was time to find a trainer. A couple of people offered suggestions, but I felt I was smart enough to not need any help finding a trainer so I searched on my own. I visited one guy who seemed to know what he was doing and had successfully trained a couple of horses for a friend of mine (one being a wild mustang that she adopted through the Bureau of Land Management Wild Horse Adoption Program) but I rejected him because he exposed my limited knowledge about horses. I chose another trainer instead, who kept my horse for over six months and basically did nothing but take my money. Did I mention that the horse, now almost two years old, still had not “colored up?” After throwing away several hundred dollars a month for six months I decided it was time to cut my losses and bring the horse home. By now I felt I was smart enough to not need any help training the horse. I would just buy a book and do it on my own.
To make a long story short, I kept the horse for several years because I liked looking at him in the pasture. I didn’t ride him much because my training efforts were less than successful. I finally sold the horse to a man who had some experience and felt he could do something with him.
That experience taught me a lot about horses – and myself. Did I mention that I have never owned another horse and have a real nice, very unused saddle for sale?
I learned that horses are complex creatures that require a lot of skill and attention to handle properly. I also learned that horses do not appear on this earth ready to ride and it takes more than reading a book to successfully train one. It takes a lot of time, patience, effort and experience working beside someone who already knows what he’s doing. I learned that the reason horses need to be trained is because they don’t know and don’t care what it is that you want them to do. And when you try to teach they naturally rebel.
I also learned that I’m not much different from that horse. I had people all along the way who were willing to help me and give me advice but I rebelled against their advice because I took it as an insult to my miniscule knowledge and experience.
This passage is such a perfect picture of the stubborn heart wanting to go its own way. We can certainly count on God to lead us correctly because he not only knows the future, he makes it. Doesn’t it seem logical to let him guide us in the right direction rather than thinking we can do better ourselves?

Father, thank you for being willing to guide me in the way I should go. Help me to be willing to follow.

Ophidiophobia and a Slithery Lesson

Exodus 4:1–5 (NASB95)

1 Then Moses said, “What if they will not believe me or listen to what I say? For they may say, ‘The LORD has not appeared to you.’ ”
2 The LORD said to him, “What is that in your hand?” And he said, “A staff.”
3 Then He said, “Throw it on the ground.” So he threw it on the ground, and it became a serpent; and Moses fled from it.
4 But the LORD said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand and grasp it by its tail”—so he stretched out his hand and caught it, and it became a staff in his hand—
5 “that they may believe that the LORD, the God of their fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has appeared to you.”

 

One sunny Saturday not too long ago I was doing some yard work and walked around to the back yard to set the timer on the irrigation system. As I came through the gate I saw a brownish snake with red, yellow and black rings slithering along the base of the wall, stopping every few inches and trying to crawl up the wall. It was evidently looking for an entry point into the house. I tried to remember the rhyme in my head – was it a coral snake or a king snake? I decided that it was a moot point whatever that rhyme was, because my rhyme is “See a snake son, go get the gun.” Since I didn’t see the advantage of shooting into my own house (although I have a story about a friend who did have that experience, maybe I’ll tell you sometime) I went to the shed for a more suitable instrument for dispatching the intruder. When I returned to the scene with a suitably long-handled hoe, the snake was gone. In the meantime I had Googled coral snake on my iPhone and determined that it was in fact a coral snake I was dealing with. Just in case you’re interested the rhyme goes like this – “Red touches black, good luck Jack. Red touches yellow, kill the fellow.” As you can probably tell, I’m not a huge fan of snakes, especially potentially deadly ones (coral snake venom is as lethal as a cobra’s) that happen to be slithering around in my back yard. I’m in good company though, because Moses didn’t like snakes either.

We pick up our story after God speaks to Moses from the burning bush and gives him his assignment. Moses has a bigger fear than ophidiophobia though. His biggest fear was atychiphobia, the fear of failure. See, Moses had doubts about whether he was able to perform God was calling him to do. To help him understand that he didn’t need to be able, just available, God showed him a sign, a sign that he was afraid of. God told him to throw down his shepherd’s staff and it turned into a snake and Moses ran from that snake. Now the Lord asked him to do the unthinkable (in my mind anyway) – reach down and pick it up, by the tail no less. The limited experience I have with catching snakes is that you want to grab them behind the head so they can’t whip around and bite you. You have to give Moses credit because he reached down and grabbed that snake. Even though he was afraid of it, he had enough faith to pick it up when God told him to.

I think there is a good lesson that we can learn from Moses’ experience. Moses was afraid of the snake and ran from it but his bigger fear was the calling God has placed on his life. By demonstrating the faith to pick up the snake without fear of being harmed by it, he learned to pick up the mantle that God had placed on him as deliverer of God’s people.

Is there something that are you afraid of? Something that God wants you to do but you’re not doing because of fear? Moses teaches us that it is possible to set aside your fear and reach out and grab what you have been running from. After the burning bush and the rod-snake, Moses took the next step in his journey which was to head back to Egypt. That’s another lesson that Moses teaches us. All that we have to be concerned about today is just the next step. One step. Will you take it today?

The Secret to Success

Joshua 1:7–9 (NIV)

7 “Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go.
8 Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.
9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”

I love reading about the exploits of the Israelites as they left Egypt and made their way to the Promised Land. But the story doesn’t really center around the Israelites; it’s truly the story of Jehovah. After Moses died, the Lord outlined for Joshua the formula for being successful in the task that had been given to him. Although none of us are going to be overthrowing any kingdoms any time soon, the principles still apply today. Do you wish to be successful and prosperous? Let’s examine God’s plan for success:

1. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left – God told Joshua to be careful (be diligent, pay attention) to obey ALL the law. In other words, make sure you pay attention to my law and stay on the course that it charts for you. After all, when you’re taking a trip, what’s the best way to get to your destination? Isn’t it the way that has been mapped out for you by someone who has already been where you are going? If we follow that route, we will have the best success in arriving at our destination. God, as our Creator and Sustainer, knows what is best for us. His word is the roadmap to our success. Staying on his road and not making any exits is the surest way to prosperity and success.

2. Keep it on your lips – One way to keep the Word on your lips is to recite it to yourself. The advantages for doing so are:

  • It helps you memorize scripture which puts it in your heart and mind for future reference and avoidance of sin. (Psalm 119:11)
  • As long as your lips are quoting scripture they’re not saying something they shouldn’t. (James 3:8–10)

3. Meditate on it day and night – God, in his infinite wisdom, created us in such a way that we can only concentrate on one thing at a time. If we stay busy meditating on God’s word, our mind can’t wander to areas that will get us in trouble. Always keep the word on the forefront of your mind. Put it in your car and on your desk and take it with you wherever you go so when you have a spare moment you can meditate on it some more.

4. So that you may be careful – There’s that word careful again. God told Joshua that if he constantly rehearsed it and thought about it he wasn’t going to forget it. The better we  know it, the more likely that we’ll obey it. I think that is why the Lord made no provision of a sacrifice for intentional sins (Numbers 15:30–31). The idea is that if you know what it says, you’ll do what it says. If you happen to unintentionally disobey it while you’re learning it, you shouldn’t want to repeat the error.

5. Be strong and courageous – Being strong and courageous would simply be an outward expression of faith in God and his promises. To be scared and weak like the 10 spies would illustrate a lack of trust in the Lord. The Lord also says it another way – do not be afraid or discouraged. Discouragement can come when things don’t go the way we think they should. However, as long as we are paying attention to the word of the Lord and obeying what we know, there is no reason to be afraid or discouraged. We can be confident that whatever happens is part of God’s plan. We can be strong and courageous knowing that we are going in the name of the Lord.

The final thing to consider is what the Lord meant by being successful and prosperous. Obviously the success he was referring to in Joshua’s case was conquering and inhabiting the land. A more generic view would be that taking over the land was simply following the Lord’s command and seeing his purpose fulfilled no matter what it happened to be. The prosperity Joshua achieved was the Promised Land and all the good things it had to offer. In other contexts it would be gaining the benefits of the work to which God has called us. The prosperity may not necessarily be monetary, although it could be.

Simply put, God’s plan for success is to focus on the word of the Lord and do what he tells us both generally and specifically. Then the Lord will see to our success according the his definition and he will reward us by giving us what we need to continue to follow him.

Lord God, we desire no other success than that which comes from you. As we saturate ourselves with your word, help us to turn neither to the right or the left but follow it wholeheartedly.

Great Things to Talk About

Jeremiah 32:6-33:3
Jeremiah 32:26–27 (NASB95)
26 Then the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah, saying,
27 “Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh; is anything too difficult for Me?”

Jeremiah 33:1–3 (NASB95)
1 Then the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah the second time, while he was still confined in the court of the guard, saying,
2 “Thus says the LORD who made the earth, the LORD who formed it to establish it, the LORD is His name,
3 ‘Call to Me and I will answer you, and I will tell you great and mighty things, which you do not know.’

These two passages relate a dialogue between God and Jeremiah. The context is that the Lord told Jeremiah to buy a field and put away the deed for safekeeping because one day he would be able to lay claim to it. The ironic thing is that God gave Jeremiah the command while the Babylonians had Jerusalem under siege and King Zedekiah had incarcerated Jeremiah for prophesying that the city would be destroyed and its inhabitants taken away into exile.
It doesn’t seem to be the best time to be making a real estate investment does it? And that’s why Jeremiah questioned the Lord about it. In essence he was saying, “Why did you tell me to buy this field when you have also told me that this city will soon be nothing but rubble?” Even though it was the Lord speaking, Jeremiah was having a hard time comprehending. And who can blame him? Sometimes it’s difficult to accept something as truth when circumstances are indicating something totally different. I’m certain we have all been there at one time or another.
So to help Jeremiah in his understanding, God reminded Jeremiah who he was talking to. The LORD (Hebrew yhwh) was the memorial name that God gave himself when he met Moses at the burning bush. It is the proper name of the one and only true God. He also reminded Jeremiah that he is the God of all flesh, in other words he is sovereign over all humanity and thereby is in total control of all that takes place in this world. But not only is he sovereign over all people, he is also sovereign over all creation. Basically, he said, “In case you have forgotten, the one who told you to purchase the field is the same one who created the field and the same one who will orchestrate history so that one day you will reclaim the field.” Looking at the situation from God’s perspective, we recognize that the question, “Is anything too difficult for me?” is merely rhetorical.
Then the Lord answers Jeremiah’s incredulity by offering him this promise in the form of a challenge – “Call to me. If you don’t understand, or are having trouble believing then ask.” And what will he do when Jeremiah asks? “I will answer you and show you incredible, hidden things beyond your wildest imagination. I will let you in on what I’m going to do.” And that’s what he does in the chapters following.
This exchange between God Almighty and his prophet was not for Jeremiah’s sake only. The Lord desires to converse with us as well. It is awe-inspiring to realize that the God of the universe, creator and sustainer of everything, will answer us if we call upon Him. Not only will he answer us when we call, but he won’t waste our time with idle chitchat about stuff that doesn’t matter. He will tell us great and hidden things. Things that will blow us away when we hear them. Things that we would not believe if we didn’t believe they came from God. Knowing that God wants to share with me certainly inspires me to call on Him more often. I want to know great and mighty things. I want my faith stretched and strengthened so I can do great things, not for my sake but for his glory. I want to see and do things that I never would dream of.
Father God, cure me of my smallness and small mindedness by telling me great and mighty things. Enable me to do great and mighty things for your glory and the furtherance of your kingdom.

Peace II

This week we are continuing our examination of true peace. Last week we determined that there is no true peace for the person who does not meet God’s standards of righteousness. Having a right relationship with God is the way to have peace with God and that’s the starting point. But this week I want to figure out what it looks like to have the peace of God.

So what does it mean to have the peace of God? Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. (Eleventh edition) defines peace as:
1. A state of tranquillity or quiet.
2. Freedom from disquieting or oppressive thoughts or emotions.
3. Harmony in personal relations.
4. A pact or agreement to end hostilities between those who have been at war or in a state of enmity.
That’s a pretty good synopsis of what peace is. Now let’s look at how the Bible presents peace in each of these contexts.

 

A state of tranquility or quiet:
And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” (Mark 4:36–40, ESV)
A relentless gale, a tiny boat, a recipe for disaster. Yet in the midst of all of the chaos we see a picture of perfect tranquility – Jesus asleep in the back of the boat. He wasn’t worried in the least. In fact, the disciples had to wake him up to clue him in to the danger they were facing. “Teacher, do you not care about us? Do you not see that we are in grave danger? Are you not going to do anything so that we die in this storm?” In Jesus’ response we see a second picture of perfect tranquility – he turned that stormy sea into a sea of glass.
Could this be a metaphor for life? I think Jesus was demonstrating for his disciples what he would share with them later on – “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33, ESV) Life can become stormy at times, and often at a moment’s notice. Sometimes it feels like we’re just along for the ride as events start spinning out of control. And when it happens, we can learn from the disciples’ example and cry out to the One who can calm the storm. Even though He may not still the waves, he will steady the boat – and the hearts of those in it.

 

Freedom from disquieting or oppressive thoughts or emotions:
Worry. I would wager that it is a malady that affects almost every single person on the face of the earth at some point. Without a doubt it is the number one enemy of peace.
One cause for worry I have seen is that sometimes we get our priorities out of whack. Spending valuable time chasing after things that don’t have any real long-term significance causes us to put the important things on the back burner. That can lead to guilt and internal strife. Jesus has a remedy for the worry that comes from misplaced priorities:
“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. (Matthew 6:25–34, ESV)
In other words, concentrate on the major things in life, keep the minor stuff minor and let God take care it.
Not only can our hearts be disquieted from concentrating on the wrong things, but also by concentrating on the bad things. It’s easy to get into the “what if” mentality – “What if my car breaks down or what if I get sick or what of I run out of money?”  We can literally worry ourselves sick over things that may never happen. We can also worry about things over which we have no control and situations for which we see no solution. But honestly, does it do any good to worry? Paul told the Philippians it didn’t:
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6–7, NASB95)
Whatever has you out of sorts, take it to God. He will hear and respond and the interaction with Him will put things back into the proper perspective.

 

Harmony in personal relations:
I believe that a lot of conflict that we have with other people is an offshoot of the conflict that we find within ourselves. If we have tranquility in our spirits from relying on Jesus and have our priorities correct, it makes it a lot easier to get along with people.  The Apostle Paul understood this and made sure that all of the churches to which he wrote understood it too. He includes the words grace and peace in the salutations of every one of his epistles and in all but one he includes the words “from God.” It works like this: The grace from God grants us peace with God and being at peace with him, he gives us his peace. If we let his peace rule in our hearts (Colossians 3:15), we extend peace to those around us. The peace of God enables us and requires us to minimize the conflict between us and everyone else:
Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,” says the Lord. “BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS ON HIS HEAD.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:17–21, NASB95) 

 

A pact or agreement to end hostilities between those who have been at war or in a state of enmity:
Even though it’s the last definition in the list, as we have already seen, it’s really the first thing. I think it bears repeating, if you have read this far and long for peace with God you can you can have it today.

 

The peace of God. It’s a wonderful thing.

 

Father, thank you again for your peace. I know that you are my lifeline, the One to whom I turn when life gets stormy. Help me to bring all things to you, depend on you for all things and extend your peace to everyone I know.