Thursday, January 23, 2014

Calibrating True North

This morning, during my quiet time, I have started reading Exodus again, as I just finished the book of Genesis.  This morning I reread Exodus 5-7.  Moses and Aaron approached Pharoah for the first time, to tell him to let the Hebrew slaves go and worship God in the wilderness, and instead of letting them go, he increases the workload of the slaves.  Here is a portion of what I read in Exodus 5:15 all the way to Exodus 6:1: 

 Then the foremen of the people of Israel came and cried to Pharaoh, “Why do you treat your servants like this?  No straw is given to your servants, yet they say to us, ‘Make bricks!’ And behold, your servants are beaten; but the fault is in your own people.”  But he said, “You are idle, you are idle; that is why you say, ‘Let us go and sacrifice to the Lord.’   Go now and work. No straw will be given you, but you must still deliver the same number of bricks.”   The foremen of the people of Israel saw that they were in trouble when they said, “You shall by no means reduce your number of bricks, your daily task each day.”  They met Moses and Aaron, who were waiting for them, as they came out from Pharaoh;  and they said to them, “The Lord look on you and judge, because you have made us stink in the sight of Pharaoh and his servants, and have put a sword in their hand to kill us.”
Then Moses turned to the Lord and said, “O Lord, why have you done evil to this people? Why did you ever send me? For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has done evil to this people, and you have not delivered your people at all.”

 But the Lord said to Moses, “Now you shall see what I will do to Pharaoh; for with a strong hand he will send them out, and with a strong hand he will drive them out of his land.”

I was thinking this morning as I read this, about how we as Christians are to accurately judge if we are truly following God, or if we are not.  How do we know what is right and what is wrong?

That thought led me to think about true north.  I mean, if you are in a room full of people and you ask people which direction is north, you might actually get a bunch of different answers, if people don't know.  But that doesn't change the fact that there is actually a correct answer.  It might be confusing, though, if you're in that room, and people are pointing in different directions.  Sometimes, life is like that.

It's evident in our culture to me as well; we as a people seem to have lost our bearings on how to discern what is right and wrong.  At times, we confuse moral ambiguity with compassion, and other times we confuse legalism with holiness.  However, when you talk about right and wrong, you have to first believe there IS, in fact, right and wrong.  And while there are some people who will argue that point today, most of us still have a basic sense that some things are just evil, or wicked.  But even once you have decided you concur with the idea that there is good and evil, right and wrong, then you have to decide what SOURCE you will use to determine what is right and wrong.

Whether people are honest about it or not, everyone who believes in the idea of good and evil has to have someone or something they use to judge what is, and is not, evil.  Some people use their feelings as a standard of righteousness, while others seem to adhere to the idea that if the majority of people feels something is morally okay, then it is.  But feelings are fickle, as are cultures.  If there truly is an absolute truth of right and wrong, and I believe there is, then there has to be a better way to judge that than by depending on our feelings, or what the culture says about what is okay, and what is not.  When I look at history, I see example after example of times where a government (including our own; I read to my children just the other day about the trail of tears, for example), has sanctioned and given their proverbial blessing on the mistreatment of a people group.

For me, the most realable standard I have found has been the Bible, in its entirety, and most especially the life of Jesus.   There are books written, much more eloquently than I could express, laying out how the Bible came to us, and the basis for faith in it as the inspired word of God, as well as books that discuss the life of Christ and the way he fulfilled so many of the prophecies spoken about the Jewish Messiah.   So my goal in this post is not to rehash that, or even argue with someone about it.  What I do find frustrating, however, is when I see comments or statements made by people who claim to be followers of Christ, but most of the things they adhere to or stand by as right and wrong appear to be based on their feelings or culture, not a knowledge of God's word. I say that is how it appears, because when you ask them WHY they believe what they believe, they have little support to give to their beliefs Biblically, but will tell you all the reasons why a loving God could NEVER be any other way.  In other words, they are relying on their feelings as a yardstick to measure God's justice and holiness.   But if we are to truly be a people who claim follow Jesus, we should make it our goal to think Biblically in all things, as he did, not to just be comfortable with something because the church culture says it, or our friends are okay with it, or even just because a preacher we like says something, but to KNOW what the Bible says and know WHY we think what we think.  I am no Bible scholar, but I don't think you have to be to study the Bible, and receive something from it.  I do think it requires care not to take just one verse and build a whole doctrine on it, but to look at the whole thing, at patterns and the things I see God saying over and over.  I never want to assume that just because a prophet or person God used in the Bible did something, that makes it sanctioned by God as right, or even the "holy way" of doing things.  David was an adulterer; that does not mean that God condoned adultery.  It just means that God uses sinners, which all of us are, to bring his plans and purposes to pass. 

Another way that people determine if they are on the right path sometimes, is by the circumstances of their life.  An assumption that can be easy to make, especially and most usually when life is going swimmingly for the individual making the assumption, is that if you are doing the right things,  you will be blessed with all the right outcomes, and not have to experience many trials or hardships in life.  Now, I will admit, when I read the Bible, I do see a pattern that blessings follow obedience.  In other words, when people are obedient to do things the way God wants them done, they do often avoid some of the pain which sin can bring into life.  For example, if I am a businessman, and I choose to run my business with honesty and integrity,  then I will  hopefully never endure the pain of going to jail for fraudulent business dealings, and I will have the respect of others who deal with me, and enjoy a good reputation in my community as an honest, upright man.  That is the general principle, I believe, which often comes to pass.  At the same time, doing things God's way is NOT a guarantee of success.  Nor does it ensure that you will not suffer unjustly.  In fact, if you are not only trying to live your life in a way that pleases God, but also actually seeking to love God and others well, and you have an intense passion to know Him more, then the pattern the Bible sets for those types of people is very different in some ways from the standard pattern of blessings following obedience.  The blessings from God still follow, but the persecution from the world, and the onslaught of trials, and hardships, actually seems to increase exponentially.

As I read the passage in Exodus, that was what I noticed.  God is on a path to deliver his people, and the path is not going to be all sun and flowers.  In fact, at the initial stage, things may seem to get worse, not better.   The good news for the Hebrew slaves, if they would have listened, is that God KNEW it was going to get worse before it got better, and He was not taken by surprise.  He actually proclaimes to his people that Pharoah wouldn't listen, and that He was planning to use Pharoah's hardness of heart as a way to show the Egyptians, and His own people, and ultimately the world, that He truly is the Lord, and that He alone is worthy of honor and glory.  And then He sets out to do that spectacularly.

The tragedy for the children of Israel in this story is NOT that they are slaves, enduring persecution.  The real tragedy is that when God begins to deliver them, they respond with murmuring and complaining, focused only on their immediate circumstances instead of the amazing fact that the God of the universe is acting on their behalf to deliver them.  The sole focus of the Hebrew taskmasters is the physical reality they see, not the spiritual reality that Moses has told them is going to come to pass.   And this is not a one time occurrence; over and over in Exodus, and in other books of the Bible as well, we see the pattern of God's people being so focused on their immediate circumstances that they whine and complain about God's provision, and put no trust in Him as their provider and protector.  Which, when you think about it, is pretty crazy.  He is the God of the Universe.  He knows the end from the beginning.  He fulfilled prophecy after prophecy.  He creates life with only the words of His mouth as tools.  Truly.

Hubris being what it is, it's always an easy thing to observe the behaviors of other humans in the Bible, to see their folly exposed, and to assume that we ouselves would never be so foolish.  When we are angry, it's righteous indignation, of course.  When we complain about our spouse, for example,  we rarely see it as an issue of our sin, but of theirs.  When we murmur about the tribulations we go through,  we're not questioning God's provision in our life.  At least, that is what we tell ourselves.

But when we begin to recognize ourselves in the story of the Hebrew slaves, when we come to God and acknowledge to Him that, "actually, yes God, I have murmured and complained.  I have questioned your provision in my life."  When we repent and ask God to help us trust Him anew, because we recognize that with regards to our own stories, we are not at the end of the book yet, so to speak, then we can begin to truly experience the blessings that follow the obedience, that often come in the midst of trials and unjust suffering, and sometimes because of them.   The awesome thing is that once we as Christians begin to get a handle on this, life becomes more of an adventure and less of a drudgery.  Even the hard parts become more bearable, because we know that God is just writing our story.  Our job is not to figure out all the answers, but to trust and obey, and to enjoy the ride.  The single greatest blessing any human can have bestowed upon them is to be called a friend of God, and to be a witness to the world of His glory, majesty, and power.  What an awesome privilege it is to sit back, popcorn in hand, and watch our God do wonders.  And he still does.

Don't lose heart, believer, if trials have come.  Examine your life, repent of sin and strive always to walk closer with Him who will never leave or forsake you.  And when the trials come because you are serving Him, rejoice!  Hallelujah! He who began a good work in you is going to finish what He started.  Sometimes his processes may seem painful, sometimes they may not make sense to us, but we can trust Him.  He is good.  He loves us.  Remember the great and mighty things He has done in the past, and see that the outcomes themselves prove this truth to be so.  No one would think to look at the clay on a potter's wheel, still in the process of being shaped and formed, and judge the artistic ability of the potter.   Yet this is how we view God.   We are still being shaped and formed, and we want an answer RIGHT NOW for the suffering and hardships we endure.   But that is not how it works, friend.  God is our "true north" in life, and we must always recalibrate our life to orient toward Him, not the other way around.  

That is what I see in these verses I shared, and I hope it encourages someone else.

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