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Thursday, January 29, 2009

Safety in the Wilderness

Something took my mind back to a family vacation through west Texas several years back. As I recall, we got to Pecos, Texas, and even though we had most of a tank of gasoline, my family decided to stop at the gas station on the edge of town to top off the tank and check our car gauges and fluid levels. Why? Well, we were about to drive through a stretch of desert that is almost completely unpopulated. If our car broke down, there would be no cell phone service and very little traffic to flag down for help.

Going into it, I hadn't comprehended how big a stretch of desert my parents were talking about. We set out on the road, and after about thirty minutes, I realized there were no signs of human life on either horizon, except for the road beneath our car. It was so vast and flat that I could see an oncoming car almost a minute before it passed us (there were very few cars on that road, too; I think I only counted 14 the whole trip).

Yuccas and cacti became landmarks, and the broken yellow line down the middle of the road became almost the only way I knew we were still moving forward.

There was no radio service out there, so Mom played a music CD in our car stereo to break up the monotony. I'm sorry if the analogy offends anyone who lives there, but my mind could only compare it to a giant abandoned parking lot, where the stripes had worn off and the occasional weed had sprouted up through a crack in the blacktop.

We'd driven on for quite awhile when a barbed-wire fence finally appeared. I don't know who owned it, but someone had built a fence along the road. Then a second, unpaved road branched off to our right, and guessing by the markings, it was some sort of military installation. Later on, a fence appeared on the other side, and another mysterious driveway branched the other way. These were the only signs of human "civilization" in the area.

The Civilization Crutch

At some point during that trek through the desert, I realized just how much I'd come to depend on "civilization" for my sense of security. Out there, besides my own family, there were no people to help me if I got hurt or lost, no people to keep me from feeling lonely or bored. We were pretty much exposed to the elements if our car (the only product of "civilization" nearby) had decided to break down.

When you're all alone like that (I mean truly alone), the veil of security rolls back, and suddenly you are confronted with the reality of how small and frail you really are. You really can't save yourself from anything.

I think a lot of people think they don't need Jesus because they haven't really faced that reality. As long as "civilization" exists, people feel safety and purpose in numbers. After awhile, we come to believe the presence of others is our safety. We judge ourselves safer, the more friends and witnesses we are able to gather together to join with us. We judge the success or failure of a decision by how many people are willing to agree with it or pitch in to accomplish it. It was just this short-sightedness that made the Israelites lose faith that God could deliver them into the Holy Land as He had promised. You can brush up on that story in Numbers Chapter 14.

God is the only way any of us are ever really successful or secure--even if we choose not to consult Him in our decisions. Because He is merciful, He even allows people who reject Him to succeed; however, I've seen better end results for those who choose to involve Him. The adults in Israel (except for Caleb and Joshua) did not see the Promised Land, but God was still merciful and their children did see it.

The Bible gives us ample warning against this limited human perspective.
"Make plans by seeking advice; if you wage war, obtain guidance" (Proverbs 20: 18).

And again, to clarify who you should consult for guidance:
"Unless the LORD builds the house, its builders labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain. In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat—-for he grants sleep to those he loves" (Psalms 127: 1, 2).

And one more time, this time to remind you to trust God with your future, the Bible says:
"Many are the plans of a man's heart, but it is the Lord's purpose that prevails" (Proverbs 19: 21).

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

An Almond Branch

The other day I stumbled upon one of those beautiful examples of symbolism in Scripture--only I'd somehow missed this one in all the times I'd read the passage.
"The word of the Lord came to me:'What do you see, Jeremiah?'
'I see a branch of an almond tree,' I replied.
The Lord said to me, 'You have seen correctly, for I am watching to see that my word is fulfilled.'(Jeremiah 1: 11-12)

My version of the NIV includes a little footnote that makes sense of the passage. Apparently, the Hebrew word for "almond tree" and the Hebrew word for "watching" are closely related and sound similar, because the almond tree blooms first and therefore "watches" for spring. It's one of those things my English reading of the passage fails to translate.
Thinking on it further, I noticed that the almond branch is a symbol for God's vigilance--not ours. Jesus warned us, long ago, to be ready when the end of all things comes. He even told us what to look for at the end of the age. Still, like the parable of the virgins (Matthew 25: 1-13), some of us are not ready for Him to return, and will be left out when it happens.
It's so important for Christians to understand why they are here and what they have to look forward to. When we accept Christ, we are not instantly "beamed up" into Heaven. That means Christians still have a job to do here on earth, and I'm pretty sure it's not just to improve ourselves. Our purpose here is to obey God and to be His witnesses to everyone who doesn't know Him.
However, we should not get so caught up in "being Christian" that we forget why we became Christians in the first place. We are Christians because we have a real, living relationship with Christ that will one day be fulfilled when this imperfect existence of ours is swept away and we are reunited with Him in person at His return. Eternal life with Christ is the hope to keep us going in dark times.
We, like the virgins in the wedding party, are gathered here to celebrate His soon return. We should be prepared to receive the bridegroom, or else all our waiting is for nothing!
I'm talking about prophecy because I don't hear many people doing so any more. It's as if we no longer think He is coming back. Why should we study prophecy when it doesn't apply to our daily lives? Well, because it does. Every day this generation moves closer to the time when all these prophecies will be fulfilled. We have already begun to see some of them coming true. Will we recognize Christ when He returns? Just as we learned as schoolchildren, if we don't study and prepare ourselves, how can we expect to pass the test?

The Lamps

The book of Revelation begins with letters from Christ to several of the early churches. In the letter to the church in Ephesus, Christ commends the Christians there for their dogged perseverance in doing what is right in the face of evil, but He warns them to repent, because they have abandoned their first love (Revelation 2: 1-4). In essence, they have turned their relationship with Christ into a ritual of righteous living. When trying times come to Christians with this attitude, they are more likely to abandon Christ altogether. Because of this, Christ told them He would remove their lampstand from its place if they didn't repent (Revelation 2:5). Their lampstand was a symbol of their testimony as Christians, and the vitality of their faith (Matthew 5: 14-16). If Christians lose faith, they lose everything they have. If we forget the future promised to us, and forget to look forward to Christ's promised return, we will be deceived, taken in, and destroyed by our enemies.
In these troubled times, don't forget why you chose to follow Christ. Study your Bible and watch vigilantly for His return, like the almond trees watch for spring, so that your love won't go cold, and you won't be taken in by deceivers and false christs who don't have your best interests at heart. If you are faithful and stand firm, you will be saved from every foe (Matthew 24: 9-13).

Wednesday, January 7, 2009


It's the beginning of a new year, and I've been reflecting on my goals for this blog and for my own life. I thought I'd share what's on my mind.

I'm committed to the message of this blog--to teach my brothers and sisters in Christ to hold tightly to their relationship with Christ, and to reject every argument and influence that could destroy that relationship. We, as Christians, live in a spiritual battlefield, and it's hard to keep our heads when our very lifestyle is under attack from all directions. I've watched so many people lose sight of the hope God had given them and turn their backs on their faith in order to gain acceptance and peace in this world. This is a problem, because I can confidently say that no one actually finds permanent acceptance and peace among people.

We need love that doesn't give up and forgiveness that is limitless, even though we know that we are flawed and that we aren't always worthy of love. Our ideal friend is always available at a moment's notice and a guide who never leads us into a trap, but we know that all people have temporal limits and are fallible. We plan our future and store up money and possessions but can never be secure about anything to come. We are constantly looking for some way to fill that place in our hearts and lives, but so many people fall short of finding and keeping it.

We don't need to place our hope in a force or consciousness that can be shaped to suit our purposes. We don't need a fallible, temperamental or unforgiving being like us. We need a God above all of that, a God outside of everything, who involves Himself in our life not for a joke or a hobby, but because He really cares. We don't need a false god like ourselves; we need to follow a God who is closer to us than our brother or sister. We need Jesus.

"Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, 'Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?' Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, 'Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?' No the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it" (Deuteronomy 30:11-14).

"Jesus said to them, 'I tell you the truth, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world'" (John 6:32, 33).

What God sent from heaven to us is Jesus, and it is Jesus we should receive wholeheartedly. Have you included Jesus in your plans for this year?
This year, resolve to follow Jesus, even if you can't follow your diet and exercise plan. Refuse to give up on God. If you fail, get up and try again. In this way, you can live out the promise in the Bible:
"I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves....Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved" (Matthew 10: 16, 22-23).