Monthly Archives: April 2014

Desert Days

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Very few people really love to be in the desert – after all, it’s hot, dry, and exhausting.  But did you ever consider that the desert is necessary?

Scripture is full of stories of people who went – or were sent – into the desert.  The desert was either the making or the breaking of God’s people.  Let’s look at some of the people who thrived from their desert experiences.

hands with flowersOld Testament prophet Elijah, after single-handedly defeating four hundred fifty prophets of Baal, ran a full day’s journey into the desert wilderness to escape the wicked queen Jezebel of Israel.  This mighty prophet was ready to give up and “prayed that he might die” (1 Kings 19:4).  Elijah’s “desert” was not merely physical – it was a symbol of his deep spiritual weariness: ‘“It is enough!  Now take my life, Lord”’ (1 Kings 19:4).  But the Lord strengthened him with food, and by the Lord’s sustaining power Elijah journeyed forty more days into the wilderness to Mount Horeb, where he heard the still, small voice of the Lord.

John the Baptist spent most of his life in the desert: “So the child grew and became strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his manifestation to Israel” (Luke 1:80).  It was in the desert – the wilderness – that the word of the Lord came to John.  This was given John could go forth into Israel to call for a baptism of repentance in preparation for the soon-coming Messiah, fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah about John’s life and destiny (Luke 3:2-6).

Another major figure who spent time in the desert was Jesus. He was led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness to be tested for forty days.  Three times Satan came to tempt Jesus to sin, and all three times Jesus rebuked him with Scripture.  When Jesus’ time in the desert was complete, “Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and news of him went through all the surrounding region” (Luke 4:14).

When we usually relate deserts to weariness, but the desert can become a place of strength.  Either your desert will refine you, or it will define you.  For Jesus and John, the desert was a place of refinement.  (That is, after all, what heat does when properly applied!)  Elijah nearly let his desert define him; his weariness was so great that he longed for death.  God, however, had other plans for his faithful prophet and renewed his strength, giving him a message of hope for the remnant who had remained true to the Lord.  When Elijah chose to walk in God’s strength, he allowed his desert to refine him.

Mount Horeb

Scripture also gives us a sobering example of a people who let their desert define them: the Israelites.  They refused to see the good in anything that God was doing; they felt the heat and saw themselves as deceived victims.  After all, God had promised them abundance and blessing, a land flowing with milk and honey, so why should they waste time in the desert?  However, the fact that they fell so quickly into complaining, self-pity, and faithlessness displayed that they weren’t ready for the good things God had prepared for them.  That was why they were in the desert: they simply weren’t ready, so God sent them into the desert to prepare them.  Unfortunately, because of their hardness of heart and unwillingness to let God refine them, the old generation had to perish in the desert and a new generation raised up to inherit all God’s promises.  The problem with the old generation of Israelites was that they forgot that the desert is never the destination. 

Here are a few key points we can learn from the desert days of God’s people.  God never leaves His people in the desert places, but sometimes He places us there – or we place ourselves there by our choices – so that He can refine us.  Notice with the examples of Elijah, John, and Jesus that each one came away from his desert experience.  The desert was only for a season.

They also each received words from the Lord and empowerment from the Holy Spirit.  John’s ministry was born out of his time in the desert.  Jesus’ ministry also came after His forty days of testing in the desert.  When you are in a desert, there is only emptiness, so you are much more able to hear the Lord’s still, small voice.  Listening is a skill that usually must be learned in the desert, and listening is necessary for relationship.  We often surround ourselves with so many other things and so many other voices that we don’t take the time to listen for the one Voice that really matters.  If you let your desert days refine you instead of letting them define you, you will walk away with a deeper connection to the working of the Holy Spirit and the ability to carry the silence of the desert so that you are always listening to the God-whispers.

tumbleweed in desertIt is so easy to let your desert define you.  As humans, we have emotions that are not always within our control.  Sometimes our emotions make us apathetic to what God wants to do in us.  We don’t feel God’s love, and we don’t feel like we are in love with Him.  We faithfully continue our journeys, and we don’t feel His presence, His closeness.  We don’t feel happy – and shouldn’t we feel happy?  Isn’t that what God wants for us – to be happy all the time?  The truth is that God gives us a joy rooted in Him that can never be shaken if we choose to accept it, but we aren’t always going to feel those nice things.  We won’t always have warm, fuzzy feelings that make our life a bed of roses with a side of peaches and cream.  And that’s perfectly fine.  But the truth is that God is always with us, always speaking, and always good, so we should be always seeking to draw closer to Him, no matter what our feelings are telling us.  We don’t like the desert places, but recognizing that we go through them is a major step toward allowing God to refine us in those times.

His desert rose

His desert rose

In the desert you can flourish like a desert rose.  Or you can live like a tumbleweed, dead and dry as you roll heedlessly over the hot sand, being shifted by every scorching wind.  What will your desert days do for you?

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Culture Shock — Six Months After

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You’d think that after more than six months I would be readjusted to American life.  You’d think that now that I am partway through my second semester of college I would be settling easily into new routines.  However, if you thought either of those things, you’d be wrong.  Four years in Africa conditioned me to a completely different lifestyle.

When it begins to rain I experience a panic-induced surge of adrenaline as my brain tells me that I need to get the laundry off the line.

I mindlessly grope for light switches outside rooms, forgetting that in America we sensibly place light switches in the rooms where the lights are.

The internet connection — ranging between sketchy and nonexistent – helps me to feel right at home here at college.  (It’s good to have at least one familiar thing, right?)

When I go to the grocery store and find something I was looking for, I have to remind myself that I don’t need to buy every box of it, that it will be there next week.  After four years of living with constant (and well-founded) low-level paranoia that I will never see something again, I am working hard to break the habit.

What is this chilly foreign substance? Snow, you say?

What is this chilly foreign substance? Snow, you say?

This is not the equator – it isn’t 70 degrees each day — surprise, surprise.  I am not quite certain how I feel about it.  (Ask me in four months.)

I stifle a gasp each time someone asks for a napkin at the table and try to refrain from asking for a “serviette” lest I confuse people.  And I try to stay on-track when people talk about chips — they are not talking about french fries!

After years of constant fresh air, as the windows never closed all the way even if we wanted them to and there was no such thing as central heat or air, I find that my body greatly dislikes the “fake air” I am forced to breathe in the synthetic indoor environments of the cold North.

Not a monkey.

Not a monkey.

When I see critters out of the corner of my eye, my first thought is “Monkey!”  However, there are never monkeys when I look – only squirrels or cats.

I get confused by the whole who-bags-the-groceries thing at the checkout.  I stood waiting for someone to hand me my groceries the other day until I realized that I was supposed to put them in bags as the cashier scanned them.  And someday, when I actually have my own car, I am also going to have to pump my own gasoline – what a novel idea!

Not geckos.

Not geckos.

When I see something small and dull-colored skittering across the sidewalk, my first thought is “Gecko!”  However, apparently leaves are pretty much the only things that “skitter” across the sidewalks of North Dakota.

I find myself reverently rescuing perfectly good Ziploc baggies from the trashcan and judiciously saving those “barely used” ones before recalling that this is America and nobody thinks anything of throwing away those small plastic treasures.

The horror!

The horror!

It feels strange to not feel conspicuous.  I grew so accustomed to being the only white girl that I now feel oddly like “part of the crowd.”  I sometimes still think I stick out then realize that I don’t.

I have never been a tea enthusiast, but it still feels odd to go places and not be offered tea.

I wear pants, but in my heart I wish I could wear dresses or skirts all the time.  Whenever I go to church wearing pants I feel as though I am committing some sort of sacrilege!

But what is culture shock really? It is, essentially, the collision of conflicting ways of life and understanding.  For me, both worlds are a reality, and sometimes I don’t quite fit into either of them.  Both experiences are valid, so how do I connect the two?  My life at times seems an incongruous story — this lifetime and that lifetime — yet it is only the beginning.  Every good story takes all the bits and pieces, tying them together in a beautiful whole in the end.  Such is life — a story already written by the masterful Author but seen only in part.  How could I not desire to have a role in such a grand adventure?

God Is Not Your Fairy Godmother — Part 3

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Our inheritance as sons of obedience is the good things God already has planned for us.

“Oh how great is Your goodness, which You have laid up for those who fear You, which you have prepared for those who trust You in the presence of the sons of men!  You shall hide them in the secret place of Your presence…secretly in a pavilion…” (Ps. 31:19-20)

Ephesians 2:10 tells us that “we are [God’s] workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (emphasis mine).  Keep in mind that this verse comes right after the verses talking about our old status as children of wrath and our having been saved by the gift of God’s grace.  God can easily promise the good “future and the hope” in Jeremiah 29:11 because He already has good things planned for each person He has made (i.e. everybody).

Cinderella's Fairy Godmother

It is not as though we obey and then God says, “Oh! Wonderful!  Now let me think of something good I can do for those who obeyed!”  God is not our fairy godmother; He does not have to think up blessings for us because His plans for our best were set in place before the beginning of time.  God has already done good things for us and asks only that we obey Him in order to walk in those abundant blessings. When we obey God we are walking in our destinies, but when we disobey we are outside His will for our lives and in our rebellion refuse His goodness.

Painting of fairy godmother by Eliza Furmansky

Painting of fairy godmother by Eliza Furmansky

We have beautiful verses like Jeremiah 29:11 and Romans 8:28 – another popular but commonly misapplied verse – because God is good and He loves us.  We do NOT have them because we can blithely disobey and then expect everything to “all work out in the end.”  Romans 8:28 tells us that God works all things together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.

What do you do if you love Him?  “If you love Me, you will keep My commands” (John 14:15).  Obedience, then, is tied very closely to love.

What is His purpose for you?  His will is that you be sanctified (1 Thess. 4:3), that is, be made holy and pure, which you do by walking in obedience.

Purity, holiness, fear of God, righteousness, obedience to God – these concepts are intimately linked with God’s love, God’s kindness, and His goodness.  It is, in fact, “the goodness of God that leads [us] to repentance” (Rom. 2:4).  Furthermore, by not recognizing this aspect of God’s work in our lives we literally “despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering” (Rom. 2:4).  The overwhelming love of God should spark in us a desire to obey Him simply because He is good.

Artist's rendering of what Eden might have looked like

Artist’s rendering of what Eden might have looked like

People only disobey God because they think that they can find something or achieve something better than that which He offers.  This is a lack of faith (unbelief) in God’s goodness, His sovereignty and wrath, and His ability and desire to provide abundantly for His children. Think of the Garden of Eden for a moment.  God lavished Adam with abundant blessings (Gen. 2:8-15), and all Adam had to do was walk in obedience, caring for what he had been given.  Adam and Eve, however, thought that God was holding out on them, that there was something better than the perfection of God’s creation and relationship with Him, and so they chose the sin of disobedience (Gen. 3:1-6).  In truth, all sin is just a form of disobedience.

Disobedience to God = Unbelief

However, to obey God is to walk in faith, trusting in His matchless goodness and total power to provide.  This is why we read in Hebrews that “although the works were finished from the foundation of the world” (4:3), only those who walk in faithful obedience enter God’s rest; the unbelieving (the sons of disobedience!) do not.

Obedience to God = Faith

There is one vital concept that we must grasp in regard to obedience: obeying God is always for our benefit in the long term; it is never about God’s benefit.  I know that is a bold statement, but Jesus says in Luke 19:40 that even if we were to be silent, the rocks would cry out, and according to Psalm 19:1 the heavens themselves declare God’s glory.  In light of that, do you think the God who created all things out of nothing – the God who is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent – really needs you to obey in order to accomplish His purposes?  (Think back to my story about running into the road: whom did my obedience benefit?)  Obedience is always ultimately to our benefit because God has our highest and best interests always on His heart.  His best plan for our lives is that we obey Him because “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning” (James 1:17).  Proverbs 10:22 tells us that “The blessing of the Lord makes one rich, and He adds no sorrow with it.”  Walking in God’s blessing requires nothing more and nothing less than obedience to Him.

We must each choose to live no longer as disobedient sons, as though we are still slaves to the wrath our old natures stood to inherit.  Rather we must choose to live as sons of obedience, children of God who inherit every good thing our heavenly Father predestined us for.

“Let us therefore be diligent to enter [God’s] rest, lest anyone fall according to the [Israelites’] example of disobedience.” (Heb. 4:11)