On Spiritual Mood Swings

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Life is often a battle with inconsistency.  We go from feeling good about our situations and God’s favor, to feeling like we are in a spiritual desert, and back again like a pendulum.  Knowing this, God provides verses like Psalm 126:4-6, which says:

Restore our fortunes, O LORD,
            like streams in the Negeb!
Those who sow in tears
            shall reap with shouts of joy!
He who goes out weeping,
            bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
            bringing his sheaves with him.

The metaphor is a comparison to the south of Israel, which has a very dry climate, yet experiences flooding in a rainstorm.  The Negeb also is mentioned in the story of Caleb and his daughter Achsah.  Her inherited land was in the infertile Negeb, and she asks him also for springs of water, which he gives her.[1]

Like Achsah’s father Caleb, our Father God also provides for us in our seasons of trouble.  Here, the Psalmist compares tears to seeds, reminding us that in the dry times as well as the times of overflowing blessing, God is with us, using those circumstances.  Our current loss is future gain, and our current time of suffering is bound and measured by God’s will, like the Babylonian exile was measured at 70 years[2] and the year of Jubilee came after every 49 years[3].  After our time, we will enter His rest and rejoice eternally.

In this life we may experience spiritual and emotional extremes, like drought and flood in the desert.  Don’t overreact to the pendulum swing but count your tears as seeds.  Pray that He will restore your fortunes and thank Him that our seasons are in His hands.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” – Matthew 5:4


[1] Joshua 15:18-19
[2] Daniel 9:2, 9:24
[3] Leviticus 25:8

An Ebenezer in the Sky

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Ebenezer the squirrel, the blog’s mascot, represents memorials of God’s intervention in the world and in our lives.  The times when He changes the course of events, and when the narrative is changed by the words “but God.”  In the ESV Bible, this phrase appears 43 times, including:

But God remembered Noah and all the beasts and all the livestock that were with him in the ark. And God made a wind blow over the earth, and the waters subsided.” – Genesis 8:1

The phrase first was used in Genesis 3:3, when Eve says to the serpent, “but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’”  As we know, Adam and Eve fell to temptation, eating the fruit and therefore providing us a warning that we should live by God’s words, not just quote them.

However, the second time we see “but God” it is a reminder that God intervenes to save sinners.  Sin started with one rejection of God’s word, but by Noah’s time, “the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence.  And God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth.[1]  God had Noah built an ark for his family to escape the coming flood of judgement, and the last verse before Genesis 8:1 says, “the waters prevailed on the earth 150 days.[2]  Even for Noah and his family, the ones God chose to save, 5 months alone in an ark may not have felt like salvation.  “But God…made a wind blow over the earth, and the waters subsided.

Today, if salvation seems far away, if the flood around us feels like it’s not going away, even if it’s been months since we’ve had a “good day”, God gave us an Ebenezer especially for this occasion: the rainbow.  Genesis 9:14-16 says:

When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh.  When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.

When you see a rainbow, in the sky or anywhere, remember it as a sign of God’s love for His people, for sinners who rejected Him, but who He chose to save anyway.  He will deliver all of God’s children from the flood because His covenant is everlasting.

Also, keep an eye out for Ebenezer (still the blog’s mascot) as an ongoing series here, covering the 43 direct “but God” references, but also others.


[1] Genesis 6:11-12
[2] Genesis 7:24

When All You Have is God

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Near the end of Book 3 in the Psalms (43-89), several Psalms read like cries for help by writers at the end of their rope.  In Psalm 86:14, for example, David writes: “O God, insolent men have risen up against me; a band of ruthless men seeks my life, and they do not set you before them.”  While the exact circumstance is unclear, David knows there is a wide conspiracy against him, and his only hope is to turn to God.  The Psalm opens with “Incline your ear, O LORD, and answer me, for I am poor and needy.”

Likewise, when we feel desperate and don’t know where to turn, these Psalms remind us that God will never turn us away.  On Psalm 86 John Calvin comments that “the more severely any one is oppressed, and the more destitute he is of the resources of human aid, the more inclined is God graciously to help him. That despair therefore may not overwhelm our minds under our greatest afflictions, let us support ourselves from the consideration that the Holy Spirit has dictated this prayer for the poor and the afflicted.”  In other words, because these Psalms are in the Bible, we can be sure that, no matter the mess our own choices or the actions of others have put us in, God in His steadfast love will listen.

Throughout the Psalm, David writes reminders of the character and works of God as a contrast to both his circumstances and his feelings of futility.  Like him we must always remember that our character is never so bad that God loving us is inconsistent with His character, and that our circumstances are never so bad that loving us is beyond His power to achieve.

Our character is never so bad that God loving us is inconsistent with His character

Even for the most desperate, there is always a way out, as Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 10:13 – “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” In Psalm 86, David does not just pray for a miraculous deliverance, but in verse 11, David looks for the way of escape: “Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name.”  A united heart is one that feels no anxiety because it knows it is seeking God’s will and willing to act on it based on reverence for Him.  God may urge us to merely wait for His deliverance, or prod us to actions we may not expect, but in all cases, He knows the way, because He is the Way. Only He can unite your heart.

Bring your desperate anxiety to Him and let Him show you the way forward.  When all you have is God, He is enough.  When you feel your faith is weak because you can’t see or feel God in your life or the world around you, begin with “Incline your ear, O LORD, and answer me, for I am poor and needy,” and He will listen.

Don’t Let the Stink Stop You – Blessed are the Meek #5

Since it’s been nearly 3 months since the last post on the topic, here’s a review of the series on meekness[1] so far.  The first two posts contrasted two characters from the movie The Matrix, Agent Smith and Neo, to Jesus.  Agent Smith was the “Malevolent Incarnation,” who used and enforced rules to keep people in their place.  Smith can’t stand the stink of humanity and just wants to be free of it.  Neo, the hero of the Matrix series, is the “Ambivalent Incarnation” who wants to free mankind from rules, but otherwise wants to let them be as they are.  However, under Neo’s no-rules philosophy of “everyone should do what they want,” there is no foundation from which to object to anything someone else does, including brutal oppression.  Any objection is also an objection to the same philosophy Neo claims to hold, and “no city or house divided against itself will stand.”[2]

Jesus, contrasted to these, is the “Benevolent Incarnation.”  Jesus is more aware of the problems that make Agent Smith repulsed by us and that make him want to control us, but He also does not leave us alone with no way to overcome our problems.  He rules us for our good, and because we cannot meet His perfect standard, He lived it in our place, then died to cover the cost of our failure.  He wants to fix our stink, not because He hates us as Agent Smith does, but because He loves us in spite of our stink.  He refuses to allow us to stink forever, as Neo would.  He is benevolent, not malevolent or ambivalent.

Meekness is the third step in the Beatitudes, an intentionally sequential series of statements that describe what’s involved in following God, like gears in a machine: “First, being poor in spirit means that we have emptied ourselves of all illusions that our plans are better than God’s.  Second, mourning the state of ourselves and our world means we are emotionally engaged.  That we care.  In the third Beatitude, being meek is where we begin to engage our will, submitting it to God as our benevolent Lord.”

He wants us to also be benevolent incarnations, however we often don’t want to engage the third gear of meekness, where “the rubber meets the road” so to speak.  But if we don’t embrace it “the first two Beatitudes alone can leave us in a place where we’re a mess and the world is a terrible place and there’s nothing we can do about any of it.  It can be a place of depression and despair.”

Martha almost found herself stuck in this place when Jesus returned to Bethany after the death of Lazarus, her brother.  Jesus found the family mourning, then: “Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone.’ Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, ‘Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.”  (John 11:39).  Jesus intended to raise Lazarus from the dead, but for Martha the stink was all she could think of.  Patently, Jesus encouraged her, the stone covering the entrance to the tomb was moved, and Lazarus walked out of the grave alive!

Don’t Let the Stink Stop You
Does the stench of sin keep us from being meek?  Do we, like Agent Smith, just want people to behave so we can go about our way?  Or does our obedience come first?  Jesus wants us to live as He lived, but we only can if we accept His righteousness and become invested in it at all levels of our being.  If we are truly poor in spirit and mourn our sin, what’s stopping us?

God won’t tell us to move the stone from Lazarus’ grave – that was Martha’s task. It also was not Jesus’ task.  We don’t do what Jesus would do, but what He would have us do.  He could have moved the stone Himself, but He wanted Martha to participate in His work, but to do that she had to be willing to be uncomfortable.

We all are often in Martha’s place, struggling with what Jesus wants us to do.  He asks us to do things that don’t make sense to us, that don’t make sense to the world, and sometimes it stinks (sometimes literally).  Jesus wants to bring His people to life, as He did with Lazarus, but there may be a stone He wants you to move, and it will only move if you have faith in Him stronger than the stink involved.

Meekness is the Cross
Meekness means carrying the cross the Father assigns to us.  For Jesus it was taking on all the sin of the world, not just by His death on a literal cross, but also by proactively taking on the consequences of it for the benefit of others.  We stink but He did not leave us alone.  For us, carrying the cross involves taking on some of the stink of the world, stepping into the suffering of others and offering the life that only Jesus can give.  What an amazing contrast this is to what’s so common today: pointing out sin everywhere and demanding those “other sinners” pay the price, or demanding that government solve the problem somehow, or withdrawing from problems that seem too big to do anything about.

Is there a stinky situation you’re aware of, but avoiding?  Being meek toward Jesus means we’re on board with His plan of salvation and willing to do our part, whatever that is.  Sometimes all that’s needed to bring someone life is moving a stone and enduring the odor.  While the smell was enough for Martha to hesitate, to Jesus it was part of the cost of living and dying for us.  He was willing to bear it, and if we meekly move the stone, Jesus will do the rest.


Post Script
Sometimes I put off writing thinking the time is better spent on the people and situations right in front of me.  Is hiding behind a screen and keyboard just an avoidance tactic?  At other times I know that each person’s meekness includes a response to their own calling and use of their specific gifts: “if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching.” (Romans 12:7). Meekness is difficult, and I pray we all find better balance as we grow in Christ.  Do the things God calls you to, even if it stinks sometimes!


[1] If you have the time, the previous posts are here: [1], [2], [3], and [4].  But I’ll summarize here as best I can.
[2] Matthew 12:25

Let God Speak to Your Inner Wilderness

I’ve written recently about John the Baptist[1], who announced the coming of Jesus, baptized Him, and led the way for His ministry to begin.  This John was identified with “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight’”[2] prophesied by Isaiah.  Today I want to describe a little more about the passage from Isaiah 40:3-5, which says:

A voice cries: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD;
            make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
            and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
            and the rough places a plain.
And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed,
            and all flesh shall see it together,
            for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.’”

Is Isaiah talking about a massive, miraculous geological event, creating an easier route for Jesus to take to His kingdom?  Perhaps in the future something like this will happen, but I think Isaiah is saying that God’s power over nature is a symbol of His power to reform and perfect us into the character of His Son Jesus.

Before Jesus comes into our lives, we are a spiritual “wilderness” full of “uneven ground” and “rough places.”  The path of our salvation begins in this wilderness, an unorganized chaos of thoughts and desires.  We are like “children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.”  However, the power of the LORD enters our low valleys – our guilty secrets, shame and depression – which will be raised up.  It progresses through our mountains and hills – areas of pride, self-sufficiency, and our desire for power – which will be made low.  God, with the same power that created the universe, removes all obstacles to the coming of His kingdom to us, and to the world.  He has given us His word, His Spirit, and fellow believers to strengthen us, “until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.”  (Ephesians 4:13-14)

John the Baptist called his followers to confession and repentance.  In announcing the coming of the kingdom of God, John anticipated a time when our internal and external wildernesses will become a paradise.  Until then, we each have different hills and valleys, different uneven and rough areas.  Until then, the world remains full of false doctrine, cunning, craftiness and deceit.

Today, pray that the powerful voice of our LORD will reach into your wilderness and remove obstacles on the path to His kingdom.  Pray that His word and His Spirit will reveal His glory.  Pray that all believers will answer the call of “the voice of one crying in the wilderness” to build up His church.

Amen.


[1] See recent post here.
[2] Isaiah 40:3, quoted in Matthew 4:3.