God’s Thread

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Nothing can hinder the LORD from saving, whether by many or by few. . .1 Samuel 14:6b (NIV)

It seems everyone loves a good suspenseful movie. You know type I’m talking about where the hero or heroine finds themselves in a life-threatening, precarious situation with no visible sign of escape.  If you need a mental picture think of the popular Indiana Jones movie series.  Even if you’ve never seen any of the Indiana Jones movies in their entirety, you’ve likely seen short clips from them showing Indiana Jones being chased by a giant boulder or attempting to outwit a cobra.

Taking a look at redemptive history, it appears that God too has an appetite for suspense.  A pattern seems to emerge where God will make a promise to an individual or community and then either orchestrates or permit events to occur that would seem to undermine the promise.  The Israelites had been in bondage for 430 years in Egypt when God emancipated them and promised to lead them into a land flowing with milk and honey.  However the escape route that God intentionally chose for the journey was an apparent dead end leading them to be trapped by the Red Sea.  The Egyptians pursued the Israelites and had them boxed in.  The Israelites had two means of escape, one would involve turning around, doing an about face and running headlong into the teeth of the advancing Egyptian army.  The other means, which seemed even more improbable, would be to escape by swimming across the Red Sea, which was 221 miles across and 1,600 feet deep.  This was playing out to be a true cliff hanger if there ever was one, clearly besting anything that Indiana Jones might face.  Why would God place the people he swore to deliver in such peril?  God reveals the answer to Moses, “I will gain glory for myself through Pharaoh and all his army, and the Egyptians will know that I am the LORD” (Exodus 14:3b)(NIV).  While God shared his plan with Moses, apparently that word had not yet spread throughout the entire Israelite camp, because the people reacted in fear. “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!” (Exodus 14:1-12)(NIV). 

God did not abandoned his plan to save is his people.  Instead of utilizing either of the two apparent options of rescue; a.) the Israelites turn and face and Egyptian army head on or b.) the Israelites swim across the Red Sea, he created a third more miraculous option; c.) part the Red Sea to allow the Israelites to walk across on dry land and cause the Red Sea to revert back to its original form and drown the Egyptians when they attempted to follow.

We all like a suspenseful drama provided we’re in the audience and not acting it out. But God does not exempt us from his casting call.  He will see to it that we are protagonists in our own spine tingling stories apparently hemmed us in on all sides with no visible means of escape. Sooner or later we will all find ourselves hanging on by God’s thread and that thread will appear to be fraying. But God’s salvation does not rely on appearances.  He often does his best work when situations appear most dire.  He can save by many or by few.  Even if we are saved by what seems like a hair’s breadth the outcome is no less secure than if we had been saved by a mile.  The more dramatic the rescue, the greater the faith lesson taught to us and the greater the witness to God’s glory.

The Israelites’ lament when they saw the Egyptian chariots approaching turned into a song of praise when they saw those same Egyptians washed up dead on shore of the Red Sea, “who among the gods is like you, O LORD? Who is like you–majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders?” (Exodus 15:11)(NIV). 

Do you feel like you are in a tight spot with no visible means of escape?  Remember that God is just helping you to compose your song.

Learned Contentment – The Secret to Everlasting Thanksgiving

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I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. – Philippians 4-12b (NIV)

As I post this, tomorrow will be Thanksgiving Day in the US, a day commonly marked by family, food, football, making Black Friday shopping planning and of course giving thanks.  Perhaps it’s because we have a tendency to grow lax in our thanksgiving the rest of the year, that we set aside a specific day to do so.  The gratitude machine kicks into full gear as we are reminded to “give thanks for the many manifold blessings that God has bestowed upon us.” (Those of you who grew up in church might recognize that last phrase.) Please do not infer that I am in any way belittling the idea of giving thanks or the Thanksgiving holiday. Anything that causes us to reflect upon God’s goodness and gives thanks to him is a good thing.  In just a casual read of the Bible you’d be hard pressed not to find a reference to giving thanks and the Israelites formally offered thanksgiving sacrifices (Leviticus 7:12, 22:29).

What I am suggesting is that we consider an alternate approach to giving thanks from what is typically offered.  When giving thanks we are generally encouraged to “count” our blessings as if they were piled in stacks like chips on some cosmic poker table.  If we exclusively focus on counting our blessings, we may well become distraught as we see our stack diminish through, death of loved ones, divorce, financial setbacks, loss of health, etc.  Instead, our focus and the sum of all our affections needs to be on the one dispensing the blessings, God, and not the blessing themselves.

As new Christians, we tend to seek God and – God and family harmony, God and financial well-being, God and good health.  However, as we continue on our Christian pilgrimage, the difficulties we encounter loosen our grip on the ands. God allows the ands to be knocked from our hands, fall to the ground and shatter into a 1,000 pieces.   At this point we are left with several options.  We can halt our journey to mourn our shattered ands never to continue on, or we can continue on as tough and arduous as it might,  to leave our ands and simply find God alone.  Upon finding God alone we will discover that he is enough and he is the only true source of everlasting thanksgiving.

In the book of Philippians, the Apostle Paul recounts a bit of his spiritual sojourn and the release of his ands,  “But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:7-8– NIV).

The brevity of the above passage does not do justice to the difficulty of the process.  Paul writes a bit later on in the book of Philippians that he had to learn the secret of contentment.  It is not something that comes naturally to us as human beings.  The state of sinful mankind is always to desire and possess more.  We can only find true and lasting contentment in the person of Jesus Christ and his divine enablement.

During this Thanksgiving holiday I would encourage you to read the book of Philippians.  It is a brief book of only four chapters that oozes with joy and thanksgiving.  One of the most incredible things about the book is the circumstances under which it was written. Paul wrote it at a time that he was under house arrest in Rome.  As you prayerful meditate on this book and allow the Holy Spirit to speak to you.  You will then be able to response to the Apostle’s admonition to, “Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice” (4:4 – NIV).