I Don’t Know…

I spent a good portion of my adult life working in positions where my value rested in my ability to impart knowledge and answer questions. As a teacher, my job was to guide students into a base of knowledge about the English language (and especially spoken communication) so that they would be prepared to adequately speak, read, write, explain, defend, and use it. I was expected to know enough about grammar, spelling, connotations of words, nonverbal communication, sound logic (and fallacies to avoid), presentation, tone of voice, etc., to enable students to improve their communication and use language more effectively in their careers, academic endeavors, business dealings, and even in personal relationships. If they had questions about word choices, written or spoken directions, propaganda techniques, advertising tricks, euphemisms, or a hundred other topics, I was expected to have an answer– and one that would shape their ability to succeed.
When I made the transition to working in a public library, my job was to have answers– which books were at the appropriate reading level for various elementary students; where could someone find information about manatees; who wrote the Captain Underpants books (Dav Pilkey); did our library loan out encyclopedia volumes or sets of early reader books; could our library borrow a rare book from another library; what was the capital of Uganda (Kampala); did we have books that might help a child coping with the loss of a pet, or a parent struggling with toilet-training their toddler; where could someone find … the list was endless and extraordinarily varied. My job was to have an answer– or know where to find it.

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At no time was it expected that I would simply answer “I don’t know.” Even if I didn’t know in the moment, I was expected to search until I found an answer that was sufficient and satisfactory. However, in each case, I found situations where my “answer,” while satisfactory to me, and even to everyone else I had dealt with, was not enough to satisfy the person in front of me. Sometimes, I had misunderstood the question and given an answer to what I heard or assumed I had heard. I needed to listen some more, or ask for clarification before I could answer the question correctly. Sometimes, the other person was looking for an answer that didn’t exist– either they wanted confirmation of a falsehood they believed to be true, or they wanted a single, absolute answer to a question that was complex and open-ended. In rare cases, there were questions for which I could find no satisfactory answer– it doesn’t mean that there was none, but I had not found it, nor had I found someone else who could find it in the time allowed. I might find an answer that was not satisfactory, or I might find seven possible answers, but not one that stood out from the others, or I would find nothing but dead ends.


The Apostle Peter tells each follower of Christ:

15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.

1 Peter 3:15 & 16 (NIV via biblegateway.com)–emphasis added
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This does not mean that we must completely satisfy everyone who asks– the curious neighbor who knows nothing of the Bible and has dozens of confusing questions, or the nay-saying agnostic with a single “gotcha” question. Nor must we fight and fuss and pound the Bible until we “win” every theological and metaphysical argument–because we won’t! There are many things about the Bible, about Spiritual matters, etc., for which we will not have absolute or definitive answers–and neither will they! (That’s why they ask, sometimes.) And those things that satisfy our longings, our questions, our doubts– sometimes don’t meet the needs of the one who is asking, not because the answers are deficient, but because we are all different in our needs, and understanding, and experiences.

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Some people will listen to us merely to scoff and try to make us lose heart or make us look foolish. Others are afraid that our answer will make them feel lost or guilty. Some people have been hurt by others who have used the Bible as a cudgel or a whip– bringing shame, judgment, and contention wherever they go. We must not expect that our answers, our arguments, even our favorite scripture verses– that WE are enough to satisfy the questions, the doubts, and the spiritual needs of everyone we meet.

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What we should always have is an answer for the hope that is in us– why have we chosen to believe? Why do we choose to trust when we do not know all the answers? And our answers should be given with gentleness and respect– not arrogance and snide judgment. I don’t have hope because I know answers to tough questions. In order to have that kind of hope, I would need to know all the answers to all the questions– even those I haven’t asked or imagined! I don’t know about the future– I can’t explain why God allows evil (there are compelling arguments for some reasons, but no absolute answer that stops the question)–I don’t know how God’s Spirit moves, or why He drew me to Himself. I cannot “prove” God to someone who is determined to deny Him– not because God doesn’t exist, but because He will not force anyone to accept Him in this life, and especially not because I said a few words based on my limited understanding. My job is not to explain God–only God is big enough and wise enough to do that– but to reflect His character in a changed nature, and to explain what God has done in my life to effect that change. My hope is in the ONE I choose to trust– the ONE who does have the answers! God has not promised to answer all our “what ifs” or our “whys”– but He has promised to answer all our needs, and to BE the answer in every situation, no matter how daunting.

Jacob Meets His Match–Part two

In the last post, we looked at how Jacob worked for 20 years for his corrupt father-in-law. Jacob has changed from the scheming young man who cheated his brother, lied to his father, and was sent away for his own safety. But that’s not the end of the story…

After 20 years of keeping Laban’s flocks, establishing his family, playing referee to his squabbling wives, and dealing with Laban’s greedy and capricious nature, Jacob is ready to leave. But we have a couple of curious incidents yet to explore in this relationship. In Genesis, chapter 30 https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Genesis+30%3A25-43&version=NIV we are given a detailed plan by Jacob to develop and increase his flocks. Jacob outlines part of his plan to Laban, and Laban agrees. Jacob’s flocks will be speckled and spotted, while Laban’s will be “pure.” On the surface, it looks like Laban is getting the better end of the bargain, and, as Jacob points out, there will be no way he can “cheat” by claiming Laban’s animals as his. But Jacob’s plan has a couple of twists and turns.

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As Jacob follows his plan, he ends up with the strongest and best of the flocks, while Laban’s flocks are weaker. Once again, Jacob uses a clever scheme to advance at the expense of someone close to him. At the beginning of chapter 31, we see the result– Laban and his sons are angry and resentful– they feel they have been cheated, and plan to retaliate. Jacob leaves in the middle of the night with his wives, children, and livestock, planning to return to his father in Canaan. Jacob explains to his wives that his “plan” was inspired by a dream in which God told him what to do to increase his flocks and then told him to return home. https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Genesis+31%3A4-13&version=NIV

But is Jacob telling the truth? Has he really changed, or is this just another case of Jacob using his wits to get what he wants?

The Bible doesn’t give us direct confirmation, but indirectly, the story seems to back up Jacob’s statements. Though the Bible says that Jacob “deceived” his father-in-law by sneaking away in the night, and not telling him that he was going, it never says that he deceived Laban by separating the flock as he did, or by preparing to return to Canaan. Furthermore, when Laban pursues Jacob, God warns him in a dream to say nothing to Jacob (advice he quotes, but doesn’t actually take)! Laban also confessed (back in chapter 30) that, via divination, he has learned that he was blessed on account of Jacob.

Why am I taking time to dissect this relationship between Jacob and Laban a second time? What else can we learn from this story?

I think there is a great lesson about deception, and how it often backfires. But just as powerful, I think there is a lesson about how God looks beyond our actions to see our heart.

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Laban was not only Jacob’s father-in-law– he was also Jacob’s uncle. They shared similar character traits– both were ambitious, clever, and driven to take advantage of any “edge” that might be to their advantage. God did not “choose” Jacob because of any of this– but neither did he condemn him for any of it. Instead, God appeared to Jacob, and Jacob responded in awe, worship, and obedience. God didn’t change Jacob’s nature; his drive to succeed, his innovation, his ambition. But he did change Jacob’s heart–Jacob didn’t leave his uncle in ruins, in spite of the treatment he and his family (Laban’s own daughters and grandchildren!) had received. Jacob used his cleverness to build a strong flock, but he also used it to prove to his uncle that he was not the liar or thief he had been labeled back in Canaan. Jacob listened to God in formulating his plans– both his clever plan to build the flock, and the plan to return home.

Laban, on the other hand, had seen the hand of God at work blessing him on account of Jacob. Years before, he had seen the hand of God leading his sister, Rebekah to be Isaac’s wife. He had seen how God had blessed his daughters. He even saw that his ill-treatment of Jacob, Leah, and Rachel led to a loss of God’s blessing. But at no time is there any evidence that Laban ever acknowledged God, worshiped Him, thanked Him, or obeyed Him. https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Genesis+31%3A14-55&version=NIV

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In their final encounter, Laban accuses Jacob of theft and duplicity– Jacob confesses that he fears Laban, but then, he gives him a blistering rebuke. Laban’s response is a feeble argument that all Jacob has belongs (or should belong) to him– Laban! “All you see is MINE” (emphasis added). He also claims (even after God tells him to say nothing to Jacob) that he has the power to hurt Jacob. Laban is a controlling user– a bully and a manipulator. Laban is a powerful man who is ruthless in using that power to get what he wants. But all that power is not enough to challenge God– the same God who blessed Laban because of Jacob; the same God who warned him not to act against Jacob. The real power does not belong to Laban or to Jacob. Jacob has been learning this lesson–Laban never will. The most he learns is that Jacob will no longer be under his control and submit to his corrupt authority.

Perhaps you have been in a relationship with someone who is controlling and manipulative. Perhaps they have convinced you that they have all the power to keep you enslaved to their manipulation. There are two essential truths you need to remember:

  • God sees you. He sees the injustices done to you– and your response to them. He sees your heart– even when it is breaking under the weight of oppression. He asks that you trust HIS power and HIS timing as you are going through this deep valley. Abusers thrive on clever lies– that you can’t make it without them; that no one else will help you, love you, believe you…; that their actions are in your best interest…even going so far as saying that they are making sacrifices for you and that you “owe” them. Don’t let their lies overwhelm God’s truth–
  • God desires you to submit to HIM. Even when the road is tough and we don’t understand circumstances, God is making a way for you, just as He did for Jacob. God allowed Jacob to grow his flocks in spite of Laban’s crooked ways– He allowed Jacob to be both the agent of Laban’s success and the instrument of Laban’s downfall. Submission to God does NOT mean abject submission to an abuser or a manipulator. If God has shown you a way of escape (even running away without warning) or shown you a way to flourish under harsh circumstances– listen and obey!

And keep praying to the “God of Jacob!”

Jacob Meets His Match–Part One

The Biblical patriarch, Jacob, is known for many things– He was the son of Isaac and Rebekah, and grandson of Abraham. He was the brother of Esau. He cheated and/or schemed his way into taking both the blessing and birthright that belonged to his older brother. For this, he was sent away to live with his Uncle Laban, and told to choose a wife from among his extended family.

Jacob’s life took a dramatic turn when he left his small (but slightly dysfunctional) family behind to begin this new chapter. Growing up, Jacob had been the quiet one, the one who stayed around the house. This was no longer an option. Jacob faced a long journey, and years of work to establish his own family and career. On the way to Paddan Aram and the house of Laban, Jacob had his first encounter with God– the vision of “Jacob’s Ladder” at the place he would call “Bethel.” There, God confirmed his promise to establish Jacob, increase his family, and bless all people through him. No longer was Jacob a second son with only his wits to help him succeed (or cause trouble)– God had promised to be with him and watch over him wherever he may go! https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Genesis+28%3A10-22&version=NKJV

With that promise and the hope of finding a welcome, Jacob arrived at the well where his uncles flocks were watered. Jacob would take over the work of herding and watering the many flocks of Laban. He worked for the first month without wages–setting a dangerous pattern. After the first month, Laban “generously” offered to pay Jacob, and even let Jacob set the terms! Jacob demanded no monetary wages; he wanted only to marry his beautiful cousin, Rachel, with whom he was deeply in love.

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Seven years pass– Jacob has worked for almost nothing but the food he has eaten, and the promise of marriage with the daughter of Laban. And in a scene that seems strangely familiar, Jacob is presented with a feast, and his promised blessing– his wife. But Laban tricks him, substituting one daughter for another. Instead of Rachel, Jacob is bound to her sister, Leah.

When Jacob confronts his new father-in-law, he is given an excuse– tradition says the older daughter must be married first. Laban had seven years to explain this to Jacob, seven years to “break the bad news”, seven years to offer Jacob an alternative. Yet Laban chose to deceive his nephew and use his love for Rachel to get seven years of cheap labor. Worse, he chose to string Jacob (and Rachel) along for another seven years. The Bible gives us a clue as to one ulterior motive of Laban– Leah had “weak” or “delicate” eyes. It is possible that she had been rejected by other men or deemed ineligible for marriage. Without a prospective husband, Leah will be dependent on her father for life. But married to Jacob, Leah becomes one less responsibility for Laban. https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Genesis+29%3A14-30&version=NIV

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Laban gambles his daughters’ fate on Jacob’s character. Jacob could have cast Leah aside easily and forced her to return to her father’s house a ruined woman. He could have treated her as a servant, rather than a wife– he could have beaten her or “given” her to someone else. And Jacob could have decided Rachel was not worth another seven years of labor, or that he could not trust Laban to keep his word. He could have walked away. He could have taken his anger and frustration out on Leah or on the flocks. He could have returned to his father and started another family quarrel.

But this Jacob is not the same as the one who left Canaan. He serves another seven years, marries Rachel, and then works yet another six years for flocks to call his own. All the time working for a man who is greedy, deceitful, capricious, unjust, selfish, and oppressive. He doesn’t complain, doesn’t rebel, and doesn’t cheat, lie, sabotage or steal from this horrible boss and indifferent father-in-law. Instead, he shows that he has been transformed from the young Jacob who caused so much trouble for his brother and father back home.

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May we choose to submit today to the God of Jacob, and remember that His promise to Jacob extends to all who trust Him– He will not leave us; He will see us and be with us wherever we go!

Hannah and Eli

The story in the Bible about Hannah is about prayer; it is also about depression, anguish, misunderstanding, marriage, rivalry, infertility, trust, and obedience.

Yesterday, I talked a bit about the priest, Eli, and his wicked sons. It is that same Eli who becomes a surrogate parent for Hannah’s precious, promised son, Samuel.

Think about that. In all my years reading through this story, it never occurred to me that Hannah had already known about Eli’s sons and their wickedness. Hannah knew that Eli was not the best role model for her small son. She knew that she was sending her child into an environment that included corruption, injustice, and perversion. This child she had promised to “give back” to God would grow up in a family more dysfunctional and dangerous than if he had stayed with Hannah, Elkanah, and even Peninnah and his half-siblings.

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The Bible does not give us all the details of either family, (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+Samuel+2%3A11-26&version=ESV ) but there is evidence that Elkanah was a good provider, an honest and worthy man, and a good father. Eli, on the other hand, was told of his sons’ wickedness, and, other than giving one mild rebuke, he turns a blind eye to their practices and grows fat and lazy in his service. There is no mention of a mother or motherly influence at all in Samuel’s new “foster” family. Why would Hannah surrender her maternal rights (and why would Elkanah agree to forfeit his paternal rights) to send Samuel into this hornet’s nest?

Perhaps the answer can be found just before the account of Eli’s wicked sons. At the end of Hannah’s Song (which we will examine in more detail later), we have a profound statement of faith:

1 Samuel 2:9-10 English Standard Version (ESV)
“He will guard the feet of his faithful ones,
    but the wicked shall be cut off in darkness,
    for not by might shall a man prevail.
10 The adversaries of the Lord shall be broken to pieces;
    against them he will thunder in heaven.
The Lord will judge the ends of the earth;
    he will give strength to his king
    and exalt the horn of his anointed.”

http://www.biblegateway.com

Hannah was not giving Samuel to Eli to raise; she was giving Samuel to God to raise and guide and protect.

I am writing this today, not to encourage parents to absolve themselves of responsibility for training and caring for their own family, but to encourage those parents who may not be in a position to guide and protect their children. Some of us have children, grandchildren, siblings, or other young and vulnerable family members living away from our care or influence. Some are living in dysfunctional and even dangerous environments. God KNOWS. He SEES. He HEARS. We do not know, nor do we understand, why God allows innocent people to suffer. We do not know what fears or concerns Hannah and Elkanah may have had about Samuel’s upbringing. We do not know what Samuel endured under Eli’s care, or what he saw or heard in the presence of Eli’s sons. As a child, he may have been spared some of the worst of their behavior.

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We do know two things, however. Hannah and Elkanah may or may not have had reason to trust Eli. He did allow them to visit each year, and he seems to have been fond of young Samuel; certainly the Bible stories I used to read in Sunday School made Eli seem like a kindly uncle. But the reality was that Samuel’s life was not in Eli’s hands–it was in God’s! Hannah and Elkanah trusted God to guide their son, even as they relished every moment they were able to spend with him. They certainly prayed for his safety and growth in wisdom as he served in the Tabernacle of the Almighty.

Secondly, we know that God can bring good out of even bad circumstances. Eli was weak and indulgent with his sons; he was warned and did nothing. He sat down on the job and faced judgment without repentance. When Samuel was grown, this pattern could have been repeated. Samuel’s own sons began taking bribes and perverting justice. Samuel was still serving faithfully, even as an old man, but his sons were not following his good example. However, when the people came to Samuel with reports of his sons’ activities and asked him to step aside and appoint a king, Samuel sought the Lord. God reassured him, and Samuel was faithful to appoint and advise Israel’s first king, Saul. God was faithful to guide Samuel’s footsteps, and to bring justice against the wicked sons of Eli.

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Eli’s flawed examples of fatherhood and leadership still served as models for Samuel. Even as a child, he showed wisdom, respect, and love for his “foster father” and mentor. Hannah and Elkanah never wavered in their trust that God could and would guide their son and provide for him. Their faith wasn’t based on the knowledge that Samuel would one day become the chief priest and anoint both Saul and his successor, David. They only knew that God could be trusted.

That is not a promise that every child in a bad environment will be “safe” and rise above their circumstances to become famous or powerful. But it is reason to keep hope and faith when we feel powerless. None of Hannah and Elkanah’s (or Peninnah’s) other children are mentioned in the Biblical narrative. They may have been honest, upright citizens, successful in business or esteemed in their hometown of Ramah. Samuel’s story is not a parable–there is no “moral” about “giving a child back” to God and being able to expect success and fame and blessing. There is, however, a lesson here about recognizing that every child is a gift– not a reward, not a burden–our children belong to God. We should do our best to guide them, nurture them, protect them, and above all, to love them. But their destiny– including tragic circumstances and glorious opportunities–is not ours to control.

Next time, we explore another important relationship– that of Hannah and her Son.

Look Up!


My faith looks up to Thee,
Thou Lamb of Calvary,
Savior divine!
Now hear me while I pray,
Take all my guilt away,
Oh, let me from this day
Be wholly Thine!
May Thy rich grace impart
Strength to my fainting heart,
My zeal inspire!
As Thou hast died for me,
Oh, may my love to Thee
Pure, warm, and changeless be,
A living fire!
While life’s dark maze I tread,
And griefs around me spread,
Be Thou my guide;
Bid darkness turn to day,
Wipe sorrow’s tears away,
Nor let me ever stray
From Thee aside.
When ends life’s transient dream,
When death’s cold, sullen stream
Shall o’er me roll;
Blest Savior, then in love,
Fear and distrust remove;
Oh, bear me safe above,
A ransomed soul!

Hymn lyrics by Ray Palmer 1830

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 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

Hebrews 12:1-3 New International Version (NIV)

When was the last time you spent a little time sky-gazing?  Looking up at the stars?  Or even looking up at ceiling tiles or roof lines?

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It turns out that the very act of looking up is good for your body, mind, and soul.  Looking down, on the other hand, can, over time, lead to neck and back problems, and contribute to depression.  (for more info, use a search engine to look up “health benefits of looking up” or click here: https://www.spine-health.com/blog/modern-spine-ailment-text-neck )

The author of Hebrews reminds us that we should be “fixing our eyes on Jesus” as we run the “race marked out for us”. This is more than just watching the road ahead or looking up at the sky.  We look up at Jesus because:

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  • He is the Author and Finisher (the pioneer and perfecter) of our Faith.  Faith must be anchored…we will believe in something, or we’ll fall for anything, someone has said, and if we don’t make a choice to fix our eyes on Jesus, we will end up looking around or down for something else.
  • He is our guide.  Like a highway sign keeping us on the right road and keeping us from taking a wrong turn, we look to Him to stay on track.
  • He is our example.  In looking up to him, we are also learning how to live and endure and overcome.
  • He is our advocate and encouragement!  How much better will we run when we look up to see Him cheering us on!
  • He is our goal.  We run to Him, so we look up to see how close we are to running into His loving arms.
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The Birds of the Air

Yesterday, I was working in the Toddler Room at church.  The children had been playing and singing, when suddenly, our attention was caught by something happening outside our window.  Hundreds of birds were gathering in the front lawn and in the parking lot of the church, resting and re-organizing for the next leg of their long migration.  Birds were swooping in, landing, hopping about, lining up, changing places with other birds, circling in low flight, rearranging, and chattering before the entire flock took off and headed south.  The children gathered by the window in fascination for a few minutes, before returning to their play.

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I was reminded of the passage in Matthew 6:

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

Ironically, yesterday was the first day of “falling back” from daylight savings time to “normal” time– literally trying to add a single hour to our lives by changing our clocks!

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The birds were not worried about clocks, or falling leaves.  They were not nervously searching about for seeds or worms or bread crumbs to eat.  They didn’t compare feathers or try to ostracize birds who were “different” in size or coloring or age.  Each year, the birds fly hundreds of miles, over lakes and fields and cities, to get to their “winter” home.  They repeat the process each spring to get to their “summer” home.  God has created them with a special GPS that not only gets them where they need to go, but helps them find food and resting places along the way– including the lawn and parking lot of our church!  And this is only one of thousands of flocks of birds.  They arrived, rested, regrouped, and left.  They didn’t collide with another incoming flock; they didn’t arrive upset or confused about the repaving that occurred this summer.  They didn’t need reservations or recalculations, credit or debit cards, cell phones with wi-fi hotspots, or pilots’ licenses.  God did not forget about them, abandon them, or set them up for failure.

The birds still have to face the long journey– they must gather food each day; rest each night; they must brave the very real dangers along the way.  Not every bird will reach its destination.  Some will be injured or become food for predators; some will succumb to bad weather or old age.  Some will even be blown off course or become separated from the rest of the flock.

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God doesn’t promise that we will never face danger, or that we will never have to struggle.  What He does promise is that we can trust Him to always be present and that He will provide all that is sufficient for us to follow Him.  There is nothing we can do to add an hour to our life– and nothing we can do to erase, amend, or alter His Love for us!

Trusting in Chariots

Psalm 20:7 New International Version (NIV)

Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.

King David wrote this verse..one that I learned at Vacation Bible School as a child.  Taken out of context, it reminds us that the Name of the Lord is powerful and trust-worthy.  It is better to trust in the Lord than to place our trust in even the might of an army.  Military might, political power, wealth, popularity, social influence– all are fickle.  God is Sovereign and will do what He says He will do.

In context, David is not just recounting a principle; he is speaking from the experience of being God’s anointed King.  In the verse just before this, David says:

Now this I know:
The Lord gives victory to his anointed.
He answers him from his heavenly sanctuary
with the victorious power of his right hand.

See full text of Psalm 20 here

David knew God’s saving power– he had experienced protection, blessing, and victory from the hand of his Creator.  He had also known exile, hardship, and danger.

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It is interesting to note that King David did not come up with the image of horses and chariots– God had already spoken to the people of Israel, warning them NOT to put their trust in such things.  David was proclaiming his adherence to God’s command several hundred years before:

Appointing a King

14 When you have come into the land which the Lord your God gives you and possess it and dwell there and then say, “I will set a king over me just like all the nations that are around me,” 15 you must set a king over you whom the Lord your God will choose. You must select a king over you who is from among your brothers. You may not select a foreigner over you who is not your countryman. 16 What is more, he shall not accumulate horses for himself or cause the people to return to Egypt in order that he accumulate horses, for as the Lord has said to you, “You must not go back that way ever again.” 17 He shall not acquire many wives for himself, lest his heart turn away; nor shall he acquire for himself excess silver and gold.

18 It must be, when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write a copy of this law for himself on a scroll before the priests, the Levites. 19 It must be with him, and he must read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to fear the Lord his God, and carefully observe all the words of this law and these statutes, and do them, 20 that his heart will not be lifted up above his brothers and so that he may not turn aside from the commandment, to the right or to the left, to the end, so that he may prolong his days in his kingdom, he and his children, in the midst of Israel.

Deuteronomy 17:14-20 (ESV)

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David did NOT adhere to all of God’s commands for a king.  He had many wives, and family troubles plagued his house for generations to come.  Tragically, his son Solomon, for all his wisdom in other areas, failed in his kingship because he failed to put his full trust in God.  He accumulated wives, horses, chariots, and wealth, but he lost the opportunity to establish his father’s house and his family’s dynasty by trusting in the very blessings of wealth and wisdom that God had given to him.

God blessed both King David and King Solomon with peace and prosperity.  Neither one followed God absolutely, but David understood something his son never fully grasped.  God’s blessings are abundant; they are rich and glorious.  God showers blessings upon both the just and the unjust.  They are not always a mark of God’s favor– frequently, they become a stumbling block and a substitute for the worship that belongs to God alone.  Solomon began his reign by trusting the God of his father, King David.  But in the end, he put his trust in his wealth and honor, and turned his back on God.

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25 Solomon had four thousand stalls for horses and chariots and twelve thousand horses, and he put them in designated cities and with him in Jerusalem. 26 He ruled over all the kings from the River to the land of the Philistines and to the border of Egypt. 27 So the king made silver in Jerusalem as abundant as stones and cedar as plentiful as sycamore trees in the lowlands of the Shephelah. 28 The horses of Solomon were imported from Egypt and from all other lands.

2 Chronicles 9:25-28 (ESV)

In fact, he did exactly what God had warned against during the days of Moses– importing horses from Egypt.  Without context, it seems like such an ordinary thing–kings accumulate might and power, and they import the best this world has to offer.  What’s wrong with that?  Solomon’s own father had the answer; the answer was written into the laws of Moses(the very ones Solomon was commanded to keep with him at all times!),  but Solomon turned away and crossed the line between gratitude for God’s blessings to placing his trust and identity in those very blessings.

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Some (people) trust in chariots and some in horses;
Some trust in their jobs or their homes;
Some trust in their bank accounts or their popularity–

Where is my trust today?

Praying in the Present

I don’t know about anyone else reading this, but I need a reminder every so often about living in the present (including keeping my prayer life centered in the present).  It is very tempting sometimes to wallow in the past or dream of the future.  There’s nothing wrong with learning from past mistakes or making future goals, but we are not to waste our time or our energies pursuing what isn’t, while ignoring what is happening around us.

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If we look closely at the Lord’s Prayer, we see how centered it is in the present.  There are a couple of forward-looking phrases (Thy kingdom come…lead us not into temptation…For ever and ever..) but most of the prayer is for the present and foreseeable future.

I need to be reminded, through Christ’s example and through scripture, that God wants me to trust Him for my daily needs and follow one step at a time.  If I find myself spending more time asking God for things far out in my future, or continually bringing up things from my past, it may mean (though not always) that I am not fully trusting in the sufficiency of His Grace for today.

God has already seen my past– and loves me unconditionally.  His Grace will not be rescinded each time I face a reminder of my past; He will not change His mind if someone else carries a grudge against me.

God has also seen my future.  He knows my needs, my concerns, my desires.  He wants me to bring my whole heart to Him in prayer–a heart that is ready to trust His provision and plan, even when I don’t know the details.

Think what would happen if every parent-child conversation involved the following themes:

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  1. “Mom, do you remember the time I tipped over your plants when I was five, and you yelled at me.  I just want to tell you I’m so sorry I did that.  I know you said you’ve forgiven me, but I need to ask you again.”  “Dad, I know you were disappointed when I got into a fight with my brother back when I was eight, but I hope you can see how I’ve learned a lot since then.  Please don’t hold that against me today.”
  2. “Hey, Dad, I really want to drive when I turn 16.  Can I ask you for a purple sports car when I turn 16?  I want to be a good driver, and I just know that you want me to be a good driver.  I think a purple sports car would make me a great driver in another seven years.”  “Mom, will you promise to babysit my kids after I have kids?  I just know my kids will want to have a close relationship with you, so will you just promise to be close to my kids when I grow up and have them?”

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There’s nothing essentially wrong with the actual requests– but when we focus on the past or the future at the expense of the present, we miss learning what God has for us TODAY.  We also risk seeing God only for what He gives and what He has done, and not for Who He Is!

Let’s enjoy time with God today (and every day) as it unfolds.

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Surprise!

Have you ever been the “victim” of a surprise party?  Maybe you sensed that something was “up”, but you were still shocked and elated to see old friends or family all wanting to wish you well on (or near) your birthday, anniversary, wedding, retirement, or even “just because”.  Even is you “catch on” or if someone “spoils” the surprise, it can be a wonderful celebration.  (Or, on occasion, a disaster.)

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Have you ever been on the planning side of a surprise party?  Several years ago, we threw a surprise birthday/retirement party for my father.  It required several months of planning.  We invited cousins from out of town, co-workers, neighbors, and old friends.  We gathered old pictures and momentos to display, ordered cake and balloons, and tried to keep the excitement under wraps, lest my father guess our intentions.  All the details fell together, except we couldn’t figure out how to get him to the party without guessing.  Dad was a genius at “sussing out” secrets and surprises, and also at setting them up.  We wanted to turn the tables and give him the best surprise of his life.

 

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Just less than a week before the party, my aunt (my mom’s sister) died in a car accident.  The funeral was arranged for the same day as Dad’s celebration.  We suddenly had to wrestle with a decision– to cancel or to forge ahead.  With so many coming from out of town, we decided to stick with the original plan.  It would be difficult– my aunt’s funeral was scheduled earlier in the day, and there would be about an hour to drive from one event to the other.  Dad was certainly surprised–already dressed in his best suit, he drove from a funeral in one town to a party in his honor 20 miles away.  From flowers and tears to laughter and cake..it was a day unlike any other.  The first several minutes were surreal and jarring.  But it was also cathartic.  As difficult as the day was, we honored both my father and my aunt.  Being surrounded by family and friends, some of whom joined us for both events, became a healing and encouraging experience.
It was not the surprise we expected–certainly not the surprise we had planned.

Several years later, (in fact, after my father had passed away) we planned another surprise party– this time for my mother.  Mom had, of course, been part of the planning (as well as the trauma) of the first event.  As with the first party, we invited family from out of town, ordered cake and balloons, gathered photos and memorabilia, and wondered how to get her to the event without suspicion.  All went as planned, and we had a wonderful time.  Mom was delightfully surprised, and even more so for having been through the experience of the prior party.

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What does any of this have to do with prayer?
Well…we prayed for both parties.  We prayed that all would go well, that Dad and Mom in their turn would be surprised, that guests would arrive safely, and that the parties would both please and honor the recipient.

But, far more, the two parties offer an illustration of God’s grace in the area of knowledge and foreknowledge.  “If I had only known…” is a common phrase, and one that we could readily apply to the Dad’s party.  But if we had known the end from the beginning, would we have changed our plans?  When we say that we want to know the future, we’re generally asking to know a specific outcome of a specific event– without considering the greater consequences and impact of that outcome.  When we pray, we generally pray for a specific outcome, again without knowing the full consequences.  What seems like a disastrous outcome to us may be God’s way of preparing us for an unexpected blessing.  God doesn’t send bad gifts– disasters come (and God allows them in His sovereignty)–but He doesn’t send disaster and pain to mock us or ruin our lives.  Instead, in the midst of tragedy, He gives us unexpected strength, comfort, and sometimes, even joy.

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If we had known that Dad’s party would be shadowed; that my aunt would be so suddenly gone, we might have given in to despair and bitterness.  And though the party brought unexpected comfort, it did nothing to erase the overall grief of my aunt’s passing.  But we learned so many things that day.  We were reminded that our time with Dad was precious– that life itself is precious– in a solemn and powerful way.  We were able to receive comfort from unexpected sources.  We would not have shared our tragedy in such a public way with those who did not even know my aunt.  But circumstances forced us to do so, and in the process, we were able to continue to honor her in the celebration.

If we had known all that would happen at Dad’s party, and not seen it through, we might never have risked planning a party for Mom.  If we knew in advance all the joys and tragedies we would face, we would never learn how to trust God for the next step in life.  Even more, we would live in constant dread of looming tragedies and negate all the joy of discovery and wonder.  We might not be driven to take risks if we already knew their outcome, and we might not learn from our mistakes if we already knew their consequences…and because our lives are so short, we might only see the short-term consequences, and never see the ultimate outcome.

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God is above and beyond time– He is the creator of all things, including time.  He has decreed for us a beginning and an end to life on earth, and He has decreed that we should life our lives with a certain amount of suspense– of not knowing what the future holds.  It holds both triumph and tragedy– trial and temptation.  Life is filled with surprises– catastrophes, ecstatic joy, and “a-ha” moments–as well as peacefully uneventful moments to reflect and enjoy.

As we pray today, we can be thankful that God’s knowledge is perfect, and that His power is sufficient to hold us in the midst of shock, lift us in the midst of tragedy, and surprise us with joy along the way.  And we can ask Him to grant us the wisdom to trust Him fully when we don’t see the end from the beginning.. or from the middle of the storm.

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