Walking Through the Desert Part 1

Deserts are hot, there is no way around it, and the heat just radiates off of the sides of the rocks and sand.  If we think Indiana summers are hot, we haven’t got anything on the heat of the desert.

On our Israel/Turkey trip last year we spent several days in the desert wilderness.  One thing that was amazingly clear to me was the amount of water needed to survive the heat and dryness.  When ever we would come to the slightest bit of shade it would feel like a drastic temperature difference.

We had a significant benefit that the Israelites did not have in their 40 years of wandering.  We had water packs that could carry a three or more liters of water, we would return to an air-conditioned bus after our hikes then head to a hotel to eat supper, shower, and sleep.

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There is an obscure passage in Exodus that I know I have read before but never really realized the significance until I was in the same desert the Israelites were in.

Exodus 13:17 When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter. For God said, “If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.”

The path through the Philistine country would have been shorter with plenty of water and food sources.  The land was lush and green, running along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea.  So why would God lead them into the desert?  He led them into the desert to shape and mold them into his people.  The land of Goshen in Egypt is one of the most fertile places on the planet.  Recent Science estimates that the topsoil depth of the area is between 70- 100 feet deep.  The second most fertile place on the earth is in Iowa with around 6 feet of topsoil.  When faced with war, I can understand why they would return to Egypt when they lived in the most fertile place on the planet.

The Israelites needed to learn to trust God, they needed to become his people so they could show to the other nations the One true God.

The question becomes what desert has God taken you through to shape and mold you? God loves us so much that he works to shape and mold us and helping us grow in our faith.  We can trust his love, and hold on to the hope that above all else, he loves his people. This was one of my favorite lessons from the desert.

Hear O Isreal, the Lord is our God, the Lord alone.  You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might, and love your neighbor as yourself.

Stay tuned for part 2 tomorrow

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A Good Samaritan​

The story of the good Samaritan comes out of Luke 10:25-37 giving us an excellent description of what it should look like to be a “good neighbor” (click on the Scripture reference to the full text).  Let’s set the scene…

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This is the “road” or path between Jericho and Jerusalem up towards the upper right side where the hiker is just coming from.  Down on the left is a “wadi” or a dry valley/river bed that only has water during heavy rains or a flash flood.

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The story begins because an expert in the Old Testament law asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life.  Just like any good rabbi/teacher would do, Jesus answers the question with a question.  “What is written in the law, how do you read it?”  The man answers correctly, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'”  Jesus replies, “Do this and you will live.”

Excellent answer, and had the expert in the law left it at that it might have been okay but, just like we will so often do, he seeks clarification as to who exactly counts as a neighbor.  As if he is asking who is the exception, certainly this only applies to other Jews.  So Jesus begins to tell a story using a familiar subject of the day; a priest, a Levite and a…

Here is where Jesus throws a wrench, some historians suggest the third common subject would have been a Pharisee, but Jesus throws in a Samaritan.  Jews and Samaritans hated each other.  A Jew would travel miles out of the way to go around Samaria, they considered Samaritans as half breeds and dogs.

The road to Jerusalem was narrow. Apparently, the priest and the Levite could hardly pass by with out noticing the man that had been robbed and left for dead.  The two people who should have helped (one a temple priest and one a temple worker) didn’t.  The one that was the good neighbor was the very person that should have hated the Jew.

Even more interesting is the imagery that Jesus uses, “He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii[c] and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’”

In the Old Testament, oil is used for the dedication of people or things for sacred use and the anointing of a king.  Here the Samaritan is using his valuables and resources on an injured man he never met, a man he should have hated!

Jesus brings it back around; 36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”  The expert in the law can’t even say the word “Samaritan”  he says “The one who had mercy on him.”  

Go and do likewise.

Daily verse to memorize “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 

​Experiencing​ God/Transformed Lives​

I have often heard different people say they don’t feel close to God, God seems distant, or God doesn’t speak to them.  If any follower of Christ is honest, there have been times we have not felt as close to God’s presence as we would like to be.  It is especially in those times where we purposefully push ourselves closer to God, seeking to devote daily to the things that draw us closer to Him.

When the Apostle Paul was formerly known as Saul, he was an up and coming mind, respected for his education and training.  As he says in Philippians 3:  a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.  He was a zealous persecutor of the followers of Jesus.

And then he was transformed by his encounter with Jesus (see Acts 9).

Later, Paul writes about transformation in Romans 12.  “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your minds.”

DSC_0286How do we transform?

Paul says by the renewing of our minds.  That comes when we pursue God through daily prayer, Bible study, reading spiritual books, prayer journaling, memorizing biblical text, joining together in corporate worship, serving others in the name of Christ and the list can go on.  But it takes discipline and effort.  I have been told that if we do something for 30 straight days, it will become a habit.  The renewal comes when we make a habit of pursuing God.

If you see me at church or want to post a comment, feel free to ask me what I am studying in the Bible, what text have I been memorizing or what spiritual book I am reading.

There is a treasure trove of resources, here are some that I use:

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Pray As You Go Podcasts

STEP Bible

No matter what combination of tools we use, transformation and renewal come when we are intentional about our pursuit of God.  Athletes who compete in any sport have to practice the fundamentals. They have to condition their bodies to be able to play and endure the physicality of the game.  Our spiritual lives are not different.

Reasons To Party or Obedience isn’t Painful

If you were like many families, you had some sort of Labor Day party last weekend.  Whether it was a tailgate party to kick off Notre Dame football season (Go Irish!) or a family gathering on a holiday weekend, many people celebrated or did something special to commemorate the close of another summer.  Did you know that rest and celebration is something that is God ordained?

That’s the cool part, God commands us to rest from our labors and to party! Sadly, this is something that we don’t know how to do well in our culture.

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If we hold to biblical tradition (which I do), the first people to hear Genesis from the mouth of Moses would have been the Hebrew slaves.  As slaves, all they knew was labor because their lives and the lives of their families were dependent on the ability to produce or work. Maybe that is why God commands Sabbath.

One of the significant messages of Genesis is that God rested on the 7th day.  We need to ask ourselves why. Was he tired from creating? Maybe God in all his wisdom knew when to stop creating.  So he gives us the example… we need to know when to stop.

Exodus 20 8-11 “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

Sabbath was established as a day of rest and a day to remember God’s love for His people, it was a gift to the human race.  God set apart several festivals to celebrate his goodness, his love, and his care for the Israelites.  It is still part of our human DNA to work and produce. But we are designed to need rest, and I can’t think of anything better than to designate a day where I step away from my work as a campus minister, spend time with family, rest, and above all remember God’s love for me.  He tells the Israelites they are to take a Sabbath day every 7th day.  We are a society still consumed with work and production, sadly, we don’t really like to stop.  There is always more to do, always something we feel needs done.

Whether it’s a Saturday or a Sunday, take a day each week and rest in the love of God.  A comment made about the above photo was that it looked so relaxing and the best part is that God commanded it. Sometimes obedience can be so peaceful, and that is a reason to party!

Together In Community

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Today’s society can feel chaotic and disheartening.  We don’t have to look far to see hate and violence, even among Christians.  The very ones who should profess the love of Jesus sometimes show the exact opposite.  But there is an answer in Philippians 2:

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from (his) love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. (Phil 2:1-7 ESV)

I love the words in verse 5 “Have this mind among yourselves.”

What mind?  The same mind as Christ.  Being one community together in thought, love, and deed.  Being united together as a body of believers in Christ Jesus showing to all the love of Jesus.

But Paul goes on further to say that we should always seek to put others ahead of ourselves.  This idea was completely counter to the Roman culture that treated any non-Roman citizen as less than human, including the sick, blind, lame and weak.  Do nothing from selfish ambition, humbly view others as more important than yourself, look to the interests of others even as you look to your own, love each other and take care of each other.

Jesus being in the form of God still did not count himself as equal to God.  Instead, he became human by taking on the form of a servant becoming obedient in death, even death on the cross.

And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:8-11 ESV)

The very Son of God humbles himself and becomes human, showing us the ultimate example of what loving others really looks like. We are to have this mind among ourselves, just as Christ Jesus did.

Daily verse to carry with you or memorize:

3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests but also to the interests of others. (Phil 2:3-4)

When Things Go Ary

blog5-2If you were to read Philippians in one sitting it would only take about 15 minutes or so.  

Go ahead and read it, I’ll wait…

In the reading of the entire book, you may have noticed a particular theme of joy emerging throughout each of the 4 chapters. Philippians 1:3-6 starts it off with joyful words from Paul, “I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joybecause of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”  I love this because we can see Paul’s heart and his commitment to the Christians at Philippi.  

It’s not until v.12 that we actually see what is happening.  Paul is in prison, not a cell with a bunk and a toilet but a Roman prison that can only be described as pain, filth, and stench.  But Paul writes:

Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. 13 As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. 14 And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.”  Under such extreme circumstances, Paul writes about joy and is able to see how his suffering is actually advancing the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Under such extreme circumstances, Paul writes about joy and is able to see how his suffering is actually advancing the gospel of Jesus Christ.

One of the clues how he can have such joy despite his situation is found back in verse 3.  His thoughts and prayers for others are a key for his joy, and it is evident that he prays often.

Where is your focus today, on the good or on the bad?

Take a few moments and memorize verse 3-4 I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy…”