Israel

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God of the Hills and Valleys

Published August 3, 2017 by Dawn

“Afterward, the prophet came to the king of Israel and said, ‘Strengthen your position and see what must be done, because next spring the king of Aram will attack you again.’ Meanwhile, the officials of the king of Aram advised him, ‘Their gods are gods of the hills. That’s why they were too strong for us. But if we fight them on the plains, surely we will be stronger than they.”

“The next spring … the man of God came up and told the king of Israel, ‘This is what the Lord says: “Because the Arameans think the Lord is a god of the hills and not a god of the valleys, I will deliver this vast army into your hands, and you will know that I am the Lord.’”” (1 Kings 20:22-23, 26, 28)

I was picking up around my room yesterday morning, and it was a rare moment where I really wasn’t fixated on anything in thought. My mind was quiet, which hardly ever happens. I’m glad it did, though, because I heard the Holy Spirit say something that I needed to hear, very clearly.

You over-estimate the devil, and under-estimate God.

It was a mouthful of something bitter I needed to chew on. The truth is bitter sometimes, you know. I was glad the Holy Spirit confronted me on this, even though in that moment, I was uncomfortable. I mean, I know my thoughts are laid bare before the Lord all the time, but sometimes, I put on a good enough front, I can even fool myself into believing I have rock-solid faith. It’s all a sham, I’m afraid. When the Lord spoke this to me, I knew instantly I had been called out on something He wanted to deal with.

I wrote it down on the whiteboard in my bedroom. I put my prayer requests on it, quotes I want to think about, scriptures that are doing a work in me … pretty much anything I need to ruminate on go on the whiteboard. I wrote this “word” down and went about the rest of my day, thinking back to it often because let’s be honest, when the Holy Spirit speaks so clearly, you know God is about to do some major work in you.

I sat down to read my Bible this morning and eventually ran into the above scripture, and recognized myself in it immediately. I think this is my problem: I see God as master over certain situations, but deficient in others. I also tend to look at the enemy in certain circumstances and immediately give him the victory in my heart because I’ve seen him victorious before. I also worry a lot when I don’t see the whole picture, afraid that God is not going to prevail in things that are truly important to me. You see, I have designated Him a God of the mountains. I have come to expect the mountains, strive in climbing them, meet Him there, but then I descend (as we all inevitably do) into a valley and immediately lose sight of God because I believe Him to be up on the hill somewhere above me.

I don’t expect God to be with me in the valleys. I don’t carry with me the faith that He truly will never leave me or forsake me, even though He said so and the word assures me He cannot lie. In the valley, I am often defeated in my mind before the battle even really begins, and because of that, I cannot see the victories until I am up on the next hill looking backward. He hasn’t failed me ever, but I often feel He is failing me because I allow my abandonment issues to rise up and cloud my vision.

Add to all of this, the fact that I give Satan credit where none is due, and I can clearly see why the valleys seem so deep, dark and troublesome. I feel alone in a place I know the enemy is lurking. He’s got a plan and before he even begins to work at defeating me, I’ve raised my hands in surrender, trembling at the thought of what he’s capable of. I get my eyes off the Lord because I don’t trust Him to truly be with me and deliver me. In my heart, I have believed that God is not God of the valleys.

Just like the prophet said, the enemy is preparing for battle all the time. We need to muster our courage, check our defenses and strengthen what remains. We need to strategize and have a plan (it’s not hard … my plan is to rely on God and see His victory!). We need to stand up and face life head on KNOWING that our God is God in the valleys just the same as He is God on the hills. I probably don’t have to tell you that in this story, He reaped an awesome victory. He will do this in our valleys too. While our enemy may be encouraging us to see his own strength and to fail in our faith, God is lovingly imploring us with His tender gaze to TRUST HIM. He is no less God in the bleak days. He is no less powerful in the darkness or storm. He is no less loving in our struggles to believe. He is God who cannot change. The same yesterday, today and forever. He is for us. He is victorious!

Our God is God of the hills and valleys!

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Going Through the Motions

Published July 6, 2017 by Dawn

“Now the Israelites went out to fight against the Philistines. The Israelites camped at Ebenezer, and the Philistines at Aphek. The Philistines deployed their forces to meet Israel, and as the battle spread, Israel was defeated by the Philistines, who killed about four thousand of them on the battlefield. When the soldiers returned to camp, the elders of Israel asked, ‘Why did the Lord bring defeat on us today before the Philistines? Let us bring the ark of the Lord’s covenant from Shiloh, so that he may go with us and save us from the hand of our enemy.’

“So the people sent men to Shiloh, and they brought back the ark of the covenant of the Lord Almighty, who is enthroned between the cherubim. And Eli’s two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the ark of the covenant of God.

“ When the ark of the Lord’s covenant came into the camp, all Israel raised such a great shout that the ground shook. Hearing the uproar, the Philistines asked, ‘What’s all this shouting in the Hebrew camp?’ When they learned that the ark of the Lord had come into the camp, the Philistines were afraid. ‘A god has come into the camp,’ they said. ‘Oh no! Nothing like this has happened before. We’re doomed! Who will deliver us from the hand of these mighty gods? They are the gods that struck down the Egyptians with all kinds of plagues in the wilderness. Be strong, Philistines! Be men, or you will be subject to the Hebrews, as they have been to you. Be men, and fight!’

“So the Philistines fought, and the Israelites were defeated and every man fled to his tent. The slaughter was great; Israel lost thirty thousand foot soldiers. The ark of God was captured and Eli’s two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, died” (1 Sam. 4: 1-11).

Isreal, God’s people, were in battle. Surrounded by the enemy and being defeated mercilessly. They were so sure of victory, they went into battle a little under prepared. We know that because they didn’t even take the ark of the covenant with them. It had been at the forefront of their trials in the desert, their crossing the Jordan and stepping into the Promise Land. All the battles won as Joshua was obedient and conquered the land so the people of God could have a place to call home. The ark went before them, symbolic of the presence of their great and mighty God. They knew where their strength lay … for a time, at least.

Then it happened: they went zealously into battle against a great enemy. The giants in the land – the Philistines. Israel, so sure of victory, went into that battle with nothing more than a grand illusion and lost. They had forgotten to bring God into their plans, and subsequently, their plans failed.

An elder knew immediately what was wrong. The ark wasn’t there. But to the new generation of Israelites, who hadn’t been in the desert, it was only a relic. They went after it, of course, and brought along the “priests” as well, but it almost seems like they just set it up ceremoniously on the edge of the field of battle, celebrated their forthcoming victory and again, went into  battle in their own strength.

It amazes me to think of how it happened: they Israelites even shouted in praise that the ark was there. Their praise was so loud, it shook the ground and got the attention of the enemy. It scared the Philistines, and awakened them to their impending doom. Their solution? Fight harder.

It worked.

How?!

I literally sat here and cried after reading this. It’s just like us, friends.

I prayed to understand, because frankly, I’m sick of being defeated. Here’s what happened:  The Israelites were defeated the first time because they went out high on past victories, in their own strength and completely underestimating their enemy. When they were defeated, someone reminded them that their past victories were due to the presence of God among them, so they went back and grabbed the ark. Sadly, to them, it was the symbolism that mattered, not the reality. They went through the motions and expected that God was in it. He wasn’t … because they hadn’t spent time seeking His will and His way to victory.

The really disturbing part is how their hollow worship scared the enemy into action. The Philistines recognized something the Israelites did not: They had brought gods into the camp. Not God. Little Gs … gods. They had brought their own idolatrous ideas and plans into the camp and worshiped as fervently as they knew how. Their enemy noticed and although they afraid, their fear was based on what God had done for the Israelites. Not what the Israelites had done for themselves. Are you getting this? The Philistines’ fear led them to fight stronger and because the Israelites had a form of worship with no power, they were defeated.

This scares me, church. And humbles me. And suddenly, the continuous battles and frequent defeats make sense. Maybe it’s because, instead of truly seeking God, we’re just going through the motions. Maybe that’s why America’s church is powerless and the world is in chaos. Satan seems to be winning because he is, I’m afraid. Because we’re fighting him with gods; our own ideas and strategies are failing us. We have for so long refused to get still before the Lord and seek His face. Instead, we’ve changed the program a hundred and fifty different ways trying to bring people in, but all this time, what we really need to do is bring God back in. Not with our preconceived ideas of how things need to go, or what people want to hear. People need God. They want to hear God. Not you. Not me. They are dealing with deep calling unto deep, but we’re beckoning them into shallow church services. We’ve reduced the movement of God to a program and put Him in a box we refuse to let Him out of. That’s what Israel did. They went back for the box, but they didn’t open it up and let God do what He wanted to do (technically, they were forbidden from opening the ark, but I’m speaking metaphorically here). They were afraid it would look a little foolish, maybe. After all, they defeated Jericho by walking around the walls and shouting. They defeated the Midianites by breaking clay jars and blowing trumpets. All God’s plans, and let’s face it: it was a little weird sharing the war stories. A little humbling. They couldn’t take credit. Maybe that’s why they went out without Him. Maybe they wanted to actually look and feel like warriors instead of weirdos. How’d it work out? Defeat.

I think it’s time to stop going to war without God. Stop trying to win people to our ideologies and get back to what scripture actually says. Stop trying to make it fancy and give it to people straight. Stop worrying about if they like our worship and just worship. It’s not for them; it’s for Him. Stop candy-coating, or polishing up, the truth and give it straight. It is the truth that sets men free, not a confusing combination of cutesy anecdotes and platitudes. Our sermons have become so devoid of actual scripture, the garbage being fed to the multitudes is quite vomitus. No wonder the world can’t stand the church! God himself would like to spew us out of his mouth, no doubt!

Stop doing your thing, church. Do God’s. And if you don’t know what that even means any more, I think that’s a good indication it’s time to get on our knees and shut up long enough for God to speak. He hasn’t changed. He cannot. He will not. Therefore, we must.

Waiting on the Promises

Published February 8, 2014 by Dawn

It had finally come to this. As she sat in the dust watching him lick away the final drops of water from the skein, Hagar began to despair. Great heaving sobs shook her  body as she realized the disparity of their situation. She looked up to Heaven and wept bitterly. “Haven’t I also served you well, Lord?”

Hagar’s life was a tragedy, by all accounts. At the end of the day, you can rightly surmise she had been used and then rejected. By becoming the surrogate in place of Sarah’s barren womb, she had only done her duty. It was a common practice for the women of that time to give their slaves to bear children in their place, and Hagar had submitted out of reverence in her lowly position. But it wasn’t long before hearts became bitter. As she recognized the silent rejection of her son, she began to hate Sarah more and more, and resent Abraham. There was talk of a promise and she had not missed the fact that Ishmael’s part in the inheritance of Abraham had been in question since his conception. As the firstborn, he had a right to it, but she had overheard the whispers of hesitation mingling with whispers of downright refusal. After all this time, Sarah still expected to bear a son, and it was said he would inherit all.

Hagar thought back to the prophecy given before Ishmael’s birth, that he would be a wild man and he would be against all people. Glancing over at him, hunched up against the brutal heat and desert wind, she wondered if even now, his hatred was surpassing her own. Abandoned, rejected since birth, Ishmael seemed to never have had a prayer. Again, she wept bitterly at the man her son was destined to become.

Hagar is a symbol to us today, of the far-reaching affects of what we do in the waiting. God had given Abraham and Sarah a promise, then He tested them in the waiting. We see through Hagar that they failed. Sarah failed to believe wholeheartedly, and Abraham failed to take authority in standing on the promise. As a result, they took matters into their own hand and really messed up some people. Hagar was used to fill in a God-sized gap, gave birth to a forsaken son, and literally changed the course of Abraham’s destiny. Instead of walking into God’s promise in freedom, Abraham walked into it with a little bit of baggage and a whole lot of bondage. He couldn’t control the women in his life, and he ultimately had to abandon his son because of it.

As the ripple widened, Ishmael became a nation that forever after opposed the nation born of Abraham’s covenant. While Abraham’s through Isaac begat the Israelite nation, Abraham through Ishmael begat the Arab nations that have since opposed Israel, even up to this very day. A war that began between Sarah and Hagar as a result of jealousy and pain hasn’t stopped since. All because two people struggled to receive a promise with a wholly devoted faith.

It behooves me to say God does not need our help in fulfilling His promises. He needs our cooperation, our obedience, but not our limited understanding getting in the way of His unlimited ability. If you’ve ever seen a toddler help make cookies, you know what it looks like when we help God out with our mistaken efforts. He’s working to make something delicious to bless us with, and our hands are in the way and we are quickly creating a mess. The problem increases when we involve the hearts of others. Their lives become fragmented as we use a piece here and a piece there to fill in the gaps where we feel God is not sufficient, and our enemy is standing by to sow those fragments back together with threads of anger, resentment and deep distress. And like a stone thrown into a pond, the ripples widen and widen, touching more and more people and wreaking havoc beyond imaginings. Let me say again, God does not need this kind of help.

There’s almost always a waiting period when it comes to the promises of God. God is very gracious in revealing things to His children. But like children, once we’ve heard it, we wait impatiently, with much longing and making plans the entire time. And then we start figuring out how we’re going to get there. And then we start moving in only the directions that make sense to us. And we screw things up. Anxiety in the promises long coming is detrimental to the beauty of God’s reality for us. If we could only be at peace and look with anticipation, yet move with surety at His commands, we’d eventually get there without problems. But who of us can do that? The results of our human efforts getting there will always be Hagar’s broken heart and Ishmael’s fury. And there will be war between what God intends and finally brings about, and the busyness of our own hands in the waiting. For Heaven’s sake, be still and know.

Second Chances

Published August 28, 2013 by Dawn

Every time I read the story of David and the Israelites restoring the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem, I stumble over the part about Uzzah. Uzzah was apparently walking right next to the cart that the ark was on, and when the oxen that were carrying it stumbled, he put out a hand to steady the cart. And fell down dead. I’ve always thought, “Well, Lord, it seems like he was doing a good thing. Why would you inflict such a heavy blow when he’s obviously trying to avoid the shame of dropping the ark?”

I’ve literally thought about this story for years. It has always bothered me because I never before understood the Lord’s anger at him. Today, though, I feel like I’ve had somewhat of a revelation. First Chronicles 15:13 says, “For because you did not do it the first time, The Lord our God broke out against us, because we did not consult him about the proper order.”

The Lord was not just angry with Uzzah. He was angry with the whole affair. If you back up to 1 Chronicles 13:4, you will see that the Israelites just up and one day decided to bring back the ark “for the thing was right in all the eyes of the people.” They were doing something that seemed honorable, but they left out one crucial detail, apparently. They forgot to ask God how they should go about doing such a thing. Who would have thought that overzealousness would be such a big deal to the Lord?

I got to thinking about Uzzah and what it was about his act that seemed so irreverent to the Lord. Looking at the second attempt David makes at returning the Ark, it is clear that the journey was a lot smoother. There was not a whole lot of opportunity for the Ark to be bustled about because they were sacrificing every step of the way. They were constantly acknowledging the Lord as they journeyed back into the city. Uzzah took it upon himself to steady the Ark the first time around and it was like the Lord gave them all a huge wake-up call: “This is actually a big deal! Do it right!”

It is unfortunate that someone had to die for them to see the flippant approach they had taken to such a glorious event. Returning the presence of the Lord to the land was not some everyday task. It was monumental. It called for ceremony, and much prayer and dedicated worship. It was going to be a huge, redefining moment for the Israelites. They were wooing the presence of the Lord back into their daily lives.

I can’t help but think about all the things that I have screwed up in my life, all the parts of me that died because of my casual approach to life. All the things I’ve done just because they seemed right in my own eyes. All the things I neglected to search out the Lord’s heart in, to know His Will and His desire for me. I have plenty of places in my past I can name “Perez Uzzah” because the Lord broke out against me. I have known since I was a child that the Lord had a calling on my life, that I was born to make much of Him. I didn’t live like that was a big deal. But He was quick to give me that rude awakening, thank the Lord. Like David, though, I had to reevaluate what I thought I knew about the Lord and resubmit my plans to Him for approval. After all, I have to admit that this is a big deal. Making much of Him is a big deal. My zeal will only take me so far, and it’s not my purpose to just get somewhere on it. I want to glorify Him to the utmost. I want to see Him smile from ear to ear when I walk into heaven and I want to hear Him say with such love and adoration, “Well done, my child.”

Father,
I want to do this right. I give all of my plans to you, knowing that you don’t need my help in perfecting them. I ask that you make me submissive to your every will and desire for me. This life is not my own. I live for you. And that’s a big deal to me. Overrule my zeal where necessary and make the most of this life that I willingly give to you now. Thank you, Father, for the wake-up call and helping me to endure the aftermath of it all. Thank you for second chances. I intend to acknowledge and exalt you every step of the way. You are my King! I love you!

Tragedy on the Edge of Canaan

Published April 26, 2013 by Dawn

I opened my bible this afternoon and read a tragedy I didn’t even know existed within the pages. I guess I skipped over it seeing little significance before, but today, it broke my heart. The story takes places near the Jordan, so close to the Promised Land it literally hurts. Numbers 32. The Reubenites and Gadites stopped to enjoy the view around them and decided to settle. Just short of the Promised Land, they settled their families and their belongings. They didn’t care to inherit the provision and protection of God. They didn’t care to abide in His will. They looked around with their physical eyes and appreciated what was immediately before them to the degree that they were willing to stop short of all that God had for them.

“The Reubenites and Gadites, who had very large herds and flocks, saw that the land of Jazer and Gilead were suitable for livestock. So they came to Moses and Eleazar the priest and said … ‘if we have found favor in your eyes … let this land be given to your servants as our possession. Do not make us cross the Jordan.’”

I can only imagine Moses’ face when he heard them speak this. His face must have fell, chin to the floor in dumbstruck awe. And then perhaps he tightly closed his mouth and his jaw line tensed as he struggled to recover from the shock. Forty years in the wilderness and you aren’t even going all the way? You want this instead of that? You want this land without promise, and you are willing to sell out your brothers to have it?

“Moses said … ‘Shall your countrymen go to war while you sit here?

Moses thought it was because they were either lazy or scared. And he pointed out that this was a sin their fathers had also committed. It appears their forefathers were the same men who dissuaded the Israelites from entering Canaan the first time.

“This is what your fathers did when I sent them from Kadesh Barnea to look over the land. After they went up … and viewed the land, they discouraged the Israelites from entering the land the Lord had given them … And here you are, a brood of sinners, standing in the place of your fathers and making the Lord even more angry with Israel.”

But the Reubenites and Gadites insisted they were men ready for battle. They just wanted to unload their wives and children, and all their belongings. In effect, they were tired of traveling and wanted to settle down, and they looked around and said, “Why not now? This looks good and we are on the edge of Promise, so this is just as good as what’s on the other side of that river, right?” So they assured Moses that if they could receive that land, they would make their families comfortable and then go ahead of the children of Israel into battle to drive out the inhabitants of the land so they could also receive their inheritance.

As I read further into the chapter, I noticed that Moses, even after relenting to their requests on the premise of their binding oath to the rest of the Israelites, never referred to this land as their inheritance. Actually, what he said to them was this, “…if you will arm yourselves before the Lord for battle, and if you will go armed over the Jordan before the Lord until he has driven his enemies out before him – then when the land is subdued before the Lord, you may return and be free from your obligation to the Lord and to Israel. And this land will be your possession before the Lord.” The land was to be their possession, but it would not be the inheritance. Not something from the Father because of a birthright, but just a belonging given to assuage desire. Is that not a tragedy? And to be free from their obligation to the Lord? I can’t even imagine that kind of life.

I’ve been standing here on the edge of Promise for quite a while, and I know the promises God has given me. They are forever in my mind. I completely understand the weariness of the Reubenites and Gadites. The journey has been long and tiring, and I spend a lot of time peering off into the distance, straining to catch a glimpse of the beautiful Land. I know in my heart it is wonderful and worth the wait. But I’m tired. God spoke of abundance and I am still scraping by. He spoke of peace and rest, and I am living in a constant state of chaos. I understand the intense longing to finally settle down and be done. But, and maybe this will serve as a notice for my enemies, I’m not willing to settle. I don’t just want a land to possess. I want the inheritance. I don’t just want to settle. I want to receive the Promise. I want to walk the land that I have envisioned based on God’s promises. I know that I have battles left to fight. I know that I will have to continue to put one weary foot in front of another until I finally get there. I know it’s gonna take some work. But I cannot allow myself to have come this far to quit. Forty years in the desert, what’s one more day? Or two? Or another year? While the thought is not immediately comforting, I am compelled to obey God. One day at a time, I’ve made it this far and I know that if I just take them as they come and do all I can with the moments, I can tread on until I reach the land. Dear Father, help me not to stop short of the Promised Land. I don’t want to receive anything less than Your Will for my life. And may I make no excuses to quit. Thank you for helping me to plod on.