I crossed into the promised land. The land flowing with milk and honey. I was shown all the promises of God. His Word was ever before me. I knew the statutes, I knew the laws.
And yet I continually looked to the pagan cultures, the pagan places, the very people that I was to push away…I embraced them. I held their ways in awe, revered their lives, and I envied their gods. I became like them.
And then…I wondered where did my God go? Why did God forsake me? I cried out…where are my blessings? Why do I feel alone? I wondered about this as I continually participated in the pagan ways that I knew God had called me out of.
When I left Egypt, I denounced the old ways and turned my heart to follow God and His ways. And yet, in my heart I still longed for the life of Egypt. My heart still lived in Egypt.
When I came into the land that God was giving me, I told God I would follow Him. And yet I blended in with the cultures around and embraced them. I lived among them and I was like them.
God’s Word was still there. His words never changed. But I did.
And yet I wondered…where is God? Why has He forsaken me? He has left me to my own devices.
And I wondered.
Sometimes in life we journey a particular direction, and yet God sees fit to re-direct our steps just before we reach what we believe to be our destination. To some, this would appear to be God denying us blessings and happiness…specially in light of promises He may have made regarding those blessings. And yet, we get re-directed, perhaps even to the point of having to retrace our steps, causing us to think that we are going backward in life. Such was the situation of the Israelites in the Old Testament, and such can be the circumstances we may face in life today. So, why does this happen? One simple thought is that God has plans for us and we might need to be put on a better path instead of our own. That happens more than we may know, but that also shows us that God is walking with us and guiding our very steps and that He wants the very best for us! But another look might show that perhaps God is redirecting our life’s journey because we are fighting against Him by doing our own thing. God took the Israelites back into the wilderness right when they were about to enter into the promised land because of their disobedience and, well, quite honestly, their whining!
In my previous podcast/writing called “Between Two Worlds”, I spoke about the issues people have when they try to walk between two worlds; the ways of God and the ways of man. The lure of this world, to fit in and enjoy the fun and excesses it has to offer, is a temptation that many easily embrace, including those professing to be Christians. And yet God is clear when He tells us to “choose this day whom you will serve.” And despite what many modern and liberal churches may claim, there is no gray or middle area that is acceptable to God. Revelation 3:15-16, Jesus says “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth.” This is a bold declaration that tells us we are either walking in the ways of God or we will be rejected in the end, and that rejection is to eternal damnation. Harsh, yes…but a reality that we cannot afford to waffle on.
I also pointed out the struggles that the Israelites had with falling into the temptations of idol worship that the pagan people around them would actively participate. These types of activities that the people of God would involve themselves with not only angered God, who is a jealous God, but would also cause loss of blessings because of their actions. You can easily see the direct correlation that I am drawing here! In our lives, in my life, the Lord is illuminating the reality that we are to be a people who worship Yahweh God and Him alone. We can learn to identify the many idols that take away our devotion and worship from God when we take the time to look into His word and then look around at the things that we count as important in our lives. The bottom line is that living contrary to God’s commands is a losing venture. Though you may enjoy some temporal pleasures in the here and now, eternity will have a completely different result.
As I read through the accounts of the Israelites in the Old Testament, I can’t help but put myself in their shoes (sandals) and wonder how my faith would hold up under those circumstances. One of the most important elements in reading and studying the Scriptures is to understand the time and culture associated with the words. Looking at the Word through a 21st century lens will cause us to misunderstand key elements of teaching. We specially have the conflict of having a modernistic, westernized viewpoint to begin with that can skew our application of the Scripture’s teachings and its Biblical worldview. But when we understand the people and places and times that are displayed within the pages, we then see how God is the same yesterday, today, and forever! And most of all how God’s words and decrees are still applicable to us today!
God’s plan for humanity was to set apart a people, the Israelites, and teach them who He is, what He requires, and His laws or statutes. Essentially through these holy (set apart) people, God’s Word would spread to all nations so that even the Gentiles (non-Jewish) could be grafted into God’s redemptive work through His Messiah, Jesus. The non-Jews were brought in by the promises of God when He set aside His covenant with the Israelites because of their stubborn and defiant attitude toward God. But now that the Gentiles (us) have been given the hopes and promises of God’s eternal salvation through His son Jesus the Messiah, we also have the commands to honor and worship God and Him alone.
Yet, so many walk this world without a thought of God, and, in the same manner, even those who say they believe in God and His son Jesus and yet live life under their own ways and means…just like most of the Israelites did. And you easily see where their neglect of God as their Lord got them!
The temptations that this world offers people today can be seen as more intense, more available, and more accessible than in Bible times. The advent of television, computers, and the internet has seen to it that people can readily access any form of sin they wish just with the push of a button. Yet even in Biblical days, sin’s lure was potent and drew many to their demise. The Apostle Paul had to write many times to the church he planted in Corinth to correct them for their “worldly” and “pagan” behaviors and practices…some of which even the pagans themselves condemned! And sadly, Paul, were he alive today, would be writing those very words to many so-called churches today…most right here in America…because you literally cannot tell the difference between the church and the culture around it. The command to “come out from among them” was not grasped by the Corinthian church, nor has that command been adhered to with many of todays “churches”.
“Flee immorality.” Simply put, you cannot serve the flesh in the ways of this world and expect God to walk with you. Not only is the dishonoring of our bodies by fleshly lusts an abomination before God, but our willful drive to put self first in our day to day life is just as bad. The world embraces, and even pushes, open sexuality and fleshly desires just as the many pagan temples did back in the Biblical times. Nothing new under the sun here. But neglecting God and His decrees because you want to do things your way because it makes you “happy” or “feels good”, is the very thing that caused God to withdraw His Spirit from the people in Biblical times and that punishment still happens today. Having the “me first” mentality is the very issue that drove the people in Corinth to put self-pleasure as a priority over God’s decrees and, sadly, we see this irreverence to God and His Word even among the many self-professing Christians today. Truly a sad testimony to the very lost and pathetic people that are wandering this world without knowledge of God.
How do we defeat the issues of “me-ism”? How do we fight the temptations that pound at the doors of our soul day in and day out? How can we stand against the waves of worldliness and selfish desires? Before any solutions can be implemented, we must first and foremost know who God is by knowing His Word. So many men and women all around the world have views and opinions as to who God is and how we should worship and follow Him, yet there is only one true source that we need to focus our time and studies on and that is the Word of God, the Holy Bible! It is in the pages there, God’s inspired complete Word, that gives us what we need to know about God, His son Jesus our Savior, the redemptive work that God has laid out for us, and how we can walk through this war zone with faith that He, alone, will bring us to our promised land in the end! Though the Word appears to be deep with complexities that some may think they cannot understand at first, it is important to know that our Lord has given to us His Spirit, that will illuminate the very Word to our souls and open our eyes to its truths! This we do with simple faith, like a child who trusts his parents for all things to sustain them through life.
This walk might not be on an easy road that is evenly paved with clearly marked signs and directions. We might be on a path that has many hills and curves. We may be on the wrong road in life and need to turn around and go back to a new starting point. We might be traveling rough roads that have caused us deep pains and sorrows for many years. We might be in a position where we are totally lost and have no point of reference where to go. What I can tell you is that the Israelites as well as many believers in Christ Jesus have been exactly where you might be now. Each one of our current locations might be unique to us but, like the people before us who have sojourned through rough and hostile places, we can be assured that God above knows each of us personally and knows exactly where we are and how to get us on the road that He has for us to reach the Celestial City of Heaven. Our road map is the Holy Bible and our guide is God’s Holy Spirit! We do not travel this journey alone! We just need to trust completely in Him. We may not like some of the ways and means we go, but He does know the best way. He may be taking us down a particular path for a season and for a reason that we need! We have to just trust Him and stay focused on His Word!
Like those that have gone before us, we may have a tendency to think we know better. We might want to do things our way because it brings us instant gratification. We may think that we know a good shortcut through life. We may want to go a different way to experience firsthand the pleasures of the world along the way. But deviating from God’s plan for our life only brings us to ruin and misery. At some point God will let you go (give you over) to navigate this life by yourself. But one thing that is important to know is that you will never arrive to the eternal joy in the heavenlies by your own power. You will not be able to enter into the rest for eternity by doing things your way. Only God’s way will lead you to that peace and joy that He alone can offer. And only through God’s way will you be able to have peace and joy during the journey…knowing that God is in control for our best.
The journey might be rough, difficult, confusing, and even completely different than what we thought was the better way, but we can know for certain that God will never leave you or forsake you. He will never put you in a direction that is beyond your capabilities with His help and guidance. God knows you. He says in Jeremiah 1:5 “before I formed you in the womb I knew you.” He also says in Luke 12:6-7 “are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.” If God is for us, who can be against us?
Therefore, we can take comfort in God’s plan for our lives by trusting in the salvation work of His Son Jesus, who took our place on the cross and bore the penalty for our sins upon Himself unto death, yet rose from the dead and lives today…defeating death for us! He sits at the right hand of God, interceding for us! Jesus said that no one comes to the Father except through the Son and that by putting our faith in Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we can be restored to a rightful relationship with God! We repent of our sins, submit to God, resist the devil’s lure to sin, and walk in faith guided by the Holy Spirit and the Word of God! By this only can we enter into the promised land!