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I Tested You

November 17th, 2017

I tested you at the waters of Meribah. (Psalm 81:7b NIV)

The Lord takes responsibility for our testings. To us our lives appear random and our events happenstance, but, as this and other scriptures teach, nothing happens to us in life that does not pass through the permissive will of God. In a mysterious way, what comes into our lives does so by God’s allowance.

There is a difference between testing and tempting. The Lord does not tempt us with evil (James 1:13-15), that is He does not put the evil thought into our minds. But He does test us to reveal to us what is in our hearts, how strong is our faith, and how obedient we are. Passing the test will bring glory to God and lead us on to greater responsibilities, and greater testings. Failing the test will show that we have more need for growth. It may cause us to lose opportunities for Christ, but it does not remove us from God’s eternal family.

The purpose of trials: That does not mean that all that happens to us is pleasant or even good from our perspective – though often good is disguised by discomfort. We too easily equate good with physical pleasures, whereas God sees good on a moral level. It is not the comforts of our bodies that dominates His heart’s desires for us, but the condition of our souls.The Bible teaches that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28-29).

The Bible teaches us, also, that God “does not afflict willingly or grieve the sons of men” (Lam. 3:33 NASB). So God’s goal is not to inflict us for no reason. God is not some perverted sadist in the sky who delights in seeing His creatures suffer. The scriptures teach that, in addition to learning through hardships, we learn also through God’s blessings to us. God’s kindness leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4).

The trial of hardship: The trial was that the people were without water. This happened several times on the Exodus journey. Numbers 14 tell a similar story, and the people cried out to Moses and Aaron, accusing them of mismanaging the entire Exodus event. “Did you bring us out here to die?” they asked. Moses and Aaron fell on their faces before God, possibly asking God the same thing.

In our hardships will we turn against one another in anger, or will we turn to God in prayer? Hardship shows our hearts like nothing else. It is a test to reveal where we stand in our faith, whether it is strong or weak.

The trial of loss: When we lose a loved one, or any significant person in our life, we often wonder if we will be able to go on. What form will life take for me after the death of my beloved? We may ask similar questions when we lose things as well – jobs, positions, investments, opportunities, etc. Our losses cause us to look beyond the person or the earthly thing and look to God. Despite our losses, we have not lost Him.

God led Israel to Meribah, and the story is told in Numbers 20:1-13. It was after the death of Miriam, Moses’ sister. She was influential in the Exodus and no doubt her feminine qualities added some motherly softness to Moses and Aaron. She had raised Moses after he was discovered by Pharaoh’s daughter among the reeds. So she was like a mother of sorts to Moses, and the primary female spiritual leader in the nation, called a prophetess in scripture. After the victory over the pursuing Egyptian army. We read:

For when the horses of Pharaoh with his chariots and his horsemen went into the sea, the Lord brought back the waters of the sea upon them, but the people of Israel walked on dry ground in the midst of the sea. Then Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a tambourine in her hand, and all the women went out after her with tambourines and dancing. (Exodus 15:19-20 ESV)

It was immediately after this that God miraculously supplied water to the nation for the first time at Marah and later at Elim (Exodus 15:22-27). Many might have connected this event to the praising and prophesying of Miriam, as much as to Moses. Moses also was tested at this moment and he too lost his sister.

In our times of loss, that is when we need especially to reach up to God in faith and know that He will never be removed.

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom. 8:38-39 NIV)

The trial of leadership: Not only were the people tested but so was Moses and Aaron. We do not know all that happened in Aaron’s heart, but Moses’ great sin was committed here. He struck the rock and did not speak to it as God commanded. He had an outburst of anger and claimed power that only belonged to God. “Listen you rebels,” he said, “Must we bring water for you out of this rock?” (Numbers 20:10).

In Numbers 14 under similar circumstances, Moses prayed for the people saying:

The Lord is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression, but he will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, to the third and the fourth generation. Please pardon the iniquity of this people, according to the greatness of your steadfast love, just as you have forgiven this people, from Egypt until now. (Numbers 14:18-19)

But here, in Numbers 20, Moses is angry. He does not intercede for them, rather he angrily and proudly shouts at them. And it was this sin that prevented Moses from being allowed to enter the promised land.

Anger, pride, faithless despair, these things lose opportunities for Christ in our lives. Moses did not lose his salvation, but he did lose opportunities. And we too when we are tried as spiritual leaders will reveal our strengths and our weaknesses. The spiritual leader must keep his head at all times and follow the leadership of the Spirit at all times. This is the constant discipline of the spiritual leader. “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine” (2 Tim. 4:2).

Summary: Spiritual testing comes in periods of difficulty and hardship, in times of loss and grief, and in situations where spiritual leadership is difficult. God allows all of these, that we might learn to depend on Him, to find our strength in Him, and to trust and obey Him no matter what.

Daily Devotions, Dealing with Difficulties, Leadership , , ,

The Aftermath of Temptation

February 21st, 2017

Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him. (Matthew 4:11 ESV)

Today’s typical portrayal of Jesus facing the temptations presents Him as a good man dragged along by the questionings of his soul to face an awesome tempter. The good man emerges shaken, humbled by the dark thoughts of his soul, but victorious – and not always because he had resisted temptation but that he learned something about himself.

This is the type of unbiblical nonsense that too often passes for modern religious thought. It is humanistic in its origins, debasing Christ and, by so doing, attempting to make us look better to ourselves. Certainly our own experiences with temptations, which are marked by so much failure, should leave us humbled, shaken, and more aware of our inner weaknesses. But with Christ it is different, for He is the One who came to destroy the works of the devil. Christ was fully human, and so He was tempted as a human, but He had no evil in His heart to which the devil could appeal.

The biblical account is quite different. Christ met Satan in the wilderness and the showdown between the two revealed that Christ was more than a match for him. It was Satan that left the meeting defeated and aware of his soon coming end. The best tricks that Satan could devise to tempt and derail Christ’s mission were powerless against Him.

1 John 2:15-17 says:

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.

Christ’s character was directed entirely toward pure love for the Father, pure devotion to His cause, and pure commitment to fulfill His mission. He loved the world as its Redeemer, but not as its worshiper. The desires of the flesh did not corrupt Him, did not give Him confusing thoughts that might lead Him astray, off-course from God’s will or from the pure worship and love of God.

Pride also did not trip Him up, as it does to us so often. Even when we resist giving into the lust of the flesh, the devil needs merely to send us a compliment or two and immediately our ego swells – “You are such a good Christian,” he says, and then on his way out of the door of temptation he trips us up with pride. “Yes, I am such a good Christian, much better than others…” and the trap snaps around us. While rejecting lust’s lures, pride has trapped us. This is typical with us, but this is not what happened to Jesus.

Christ’s sympathy with us is not the sympathy of failure, it is the sympathy of one who was also tried and tempted without failure – it is the sympathy of power and compassion and love.

Neither did Christ give into the lust of the eyes. Satan in particular appealed to Jesus through His eyes – showing Him the stones He could turn to bread, the crowds gathered in the temple grounds, and the nations of the world. The eyes are the sense that we humans are most dependent on, yet Christ revealed the inner eye of the spirit that communed with God.

Many have analyzed the three temptations in these three categories: (1) the lust of the flesh – the stone to bread, (2) the lust of the eyes – the leap from the temple, and (3) the pride of life – the wealth of the nations. But, as it is with us, it is best not to over-analyze the temptations, but rather to simply be aware that all three elements were in each of them to some degree.

The end result was complete defeat of the devil, total resistance. No crack in His character or thoughts that Satan could return later to use against Him. The defense was total and the defeat complete. Satan was routed by Christ and he left Him as a defeated foe.

But afterwards, it says, Jesus was ministered to by angels. The word in the original is diakoneo, the common word for ministering or serving, the word from which we get our word “deacon” or “diakonie” in German. Whatever else this means – and there appears to be a depth to this experience that we are not able to fathom – it means that the Father supplied by the angels what was lacking for Christ among human contacts.

We are social creatures and need friendship. We often face loneliness even when among Christian fellowship. We need others, and we should not fall into the pride of believing that we are too good for others. We ought to be open to the gifts and experiences that Christian fellowship brings. Yet we can also expect that there will be times and places where the Christian fellowship we need is lacking. Here is an example of the divine supply of devoted friendship.

The last words that we have from the pen of Paul are the closing verses of 2 Timothy. In them he wrote of the loneliness he had experienced toward the end of his life, toward the end of his mission for Christ. One by one he mentioned where his companion had gone – Demas had deserted the cause for Christ, Crescens, Titus, and Tychicus had gone to serve elsewhere, only Luke had remained with him. His words tell us how precious Christian fellowship is. Then he spoke of his first trial, where he was released:

At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them! But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen. (2 Tim. 4:16-18)

We should take these words to heart, that though we need one another as Christian to Christian, the case may be in each of our lives that for different reasons we may feel alone – some will desert Christ, and some will be led elsewhere by Christ to serve Him there – but the Lord will stand by us and strengthen us.

If you are facing loneliness today, this verse is a wonderful promise to you. The Lord will strengthen us all who call on the name of Christ, even if we are left alone by others.

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