Friday, March 29, 2013

Baby Steps of Trust

From the time we come wailing into the world, our brains are ready and eager to learn new things. Stop and think about it for a moment - we are constantly learning, anything and everything, from how to cook a new dish to how to manage a new health concern.

God created us with a thirst for knowledge. He also designed the learning process so that we build our knowledge brick by brick, laying a foundation, then building on top of it. We do that by collecting information, creating theories and testing them, then cataloging the results. Even our failures teach us important lessons about how life works.

Picture a child playing with blocks. A baby will hold them, taste them and bang them
MP900309175together to understand what they are. As he grows, he applies what he learned about their size and shape stacking one on top of another. First, he stacks two, then three precariously upwards. When they fall, he stacks them again and again, eventually learning to put them on more straight so they don't topple. Eventually he learns to build them pyramid style so they  create a wall. And so on.

Learning to trust God employs that same process of gathering knowledge and applying it. After years of slavery, the Israelites were much like infants, needing to learn trust from ground zero.

God helped them to "discover" him with their senses -
  •  To see his power through the plagues and watching the Lord form walls of water on either side of a path at the Red Sea;
  • To hear the water come crashing down on their enemies
  • To feel the dry land beneath their feet as they crossed the sea, to feel the cooling effects of the cloud by day and the warmth of the fire by night,
  • To taste his power as they drank the once-bitter waters at Marah and the fresh water at Elim.
Now they come to the wilderness where they need food. The lesson becomes  a little more complex this time because they have to trust God to provide something to eat and  there is nothing available.
There's no possible way to gather enough for all of them to eat. With all they've seen, felt, heard and tasted so far, can they build on that knowledge and trust God to provide for their needs?

Then Moses told Aaron, “Say to the entire Israelite community, ‘Come before the Lord, for he has heard your grumbling.’”

While Aaron was speaking to the whole Israelite community, they looked toward the desert, and there was the glory of the Lord appearing in the cloud.

 The Lord said to Moses, “I have heard the grumbling of the Israelites. Tell them, ‘At twilight you will eat meat, and in the morning you will be filled with bread. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God.’”

That evening quail came and covered the camp, and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. When the dew was gone, thin flakes like frost on the ground appeared on the desert floor. When the Israelites saw it, they said to each other, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. Exodus 16:9-13 NIV.

Notice how the Lord built their trust?  He showed them his glory so they would recognize that he was the one providing for them. Then He sent something they knew. Flocks of quail inundated the camp that evening. The people wanted meat for their pots and they already had recipes for preparing it. God just made it easy for them to  get ahold of as much as they needed.

But the next morning he sent the unknown manna - the new heavenly bread which would give them strength to travel all day if necessary.  God was building their trust in baby steps.

Think back over your relationship with the Lord. Are there any experiences that stand out to you where God led you in baby steps to teach you something or to build your faith or trust?

If you'd like to share, I'd love to hear about your experiences! Feel free to leave a comment below.


Wednesday, March 27, 2013

When it's easier to look back

The whole Israelite community set out from Elim and came to the Desert of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had come out of Egypt.  In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron.  The Israelites said to them, “If
­³¸±only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.”
 Then the Lord said to Moses, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions.   On the sixth day they are to prepare what they bring in, and that is to be twice as much as they gather on the other days.” Exodus 16:1-5 NIV

For those who work with victims of  human trafficking, domestic violence or abuse victims, there is an unhappy truth: not everyone who finds their way to freedom from the abuse remains free.
Some return to their abusive situations because  they fear they cannot make it on their own.

Maybe they fear retribution or harm to their children unless they return to their abusers.  Often they lack the self-confidence necessary to make it on their own because of the years of brutalization. And sometimes they lack the support from outside agencies, family or their communities to pick up the pieces of their broken hearts and lives. Some may even  feel overwhelming guilt and shame if the abuser threatens to harm himself unless they return.  Many are looked down upon as the "bad” ones, even though they were victimized and not the ones responsible for the abuse.

Dealing with all this fear, confusion, lack of self esteem, shame and guilt isn’t easy. Those emotions often play into one’s ability to cope with freedom, causing  disorientation and an inability to make wise decisions. Freedom from the abuse can be too hard, too frightening,  so they return to the only life they know.

Look at the children of Israel. They were brutalized for generations as slaves. No doubt they suffered from this type of fear and disorientation after their deliverance from Egypt.

In spite of all the mighty miracles they had seen and experienced so far on the journey, they were still afraid to trust God. It was easier to look back to the things they knew, and to edit out the bad parts, than it was to trust God and look to the future: “There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.”

The Lord understood how fragile the faith of the Israelites was at this point. They had forgotten who God was and his promises to their forefather, Abraham,  about becoming a mighty nation. They saw his acts  but still didn’t know his nature as he washed their enemies away in the Red Sea and then sweetened the water at Marah.  They were unsure about trusting him with their lives. This new freedom frightened them and seems too hard.

Thankfully, God had a plan for healing their fear and building their trust.
  • He made it impossible for them to return to their life of slavery, destroying the enemy that had enslaved them and putting the Red Sea between them and their past life.
  • Then he put them into a situation where they had to trust their lives entirely to him in the wilderness.  By now their unleavened bread had run out that they had baked in Egypt. They had no grain to bake new bread and no way to get enough grain to bake more for so many people. Sure they had flocks of sheep and goats, but if they used them all for food now, what would they do when they got to their new home? How would they start over?
  • In his wisdom, God sent them two ongoing miracles of provision - Manna each morning - a heavenly substance to be used like grain to give them strength for each day; and flocks of quail in the evening to satisfy their hunger for meat for their pots because they craved it.
  • God wanted them to learn that trust didn't have to mean enslavement.  Unlike Pharaoh, God did not plan to enslave them, beat them and destroy them after providing for them. He provided because they were his children and he cared for them as a nation. His provision was meant to teach them to trust again and to help them become whole. It was "safe" to trust his provision.
To experience healing from sin and abusive situations, we have to learn new ways of coping with people and life events. Maybe God needs to put us in a situation like the Israelites where we can't look back and we are forced  to address the question of trust.

Can you think of any times in your life where God has done this to you? I'd love to hear about your experiences!

Monday, March 25, 2013

Trust 101

Then Moses led Israel from the Red Sea and they went into the Desert of Shur. For three days they traveled in the desert without finding water. When they came to Marah, they could not drink its water because it was bitter. (That is why the place is called Marah.) So the people grumbled against Moses, saying, “What are we to drink?”
Then Moses cried out to the Lord, and the Lord showed him a piece of wood. He threw it into the water, and the water became fit to drink.

Then they came to Elim, where there were twelve springs and seventy palm trees, and they camped there near the water.Exodus 15:27New International Version (NIV)

A child learns to trust its parents as its needs are met on a consistent and loving basis.  When they’re hungry, we feed them. When they’re uncomfortable because of a dirty diaper, we change them. When they need reassurance and love, we do that too, because we love them. And they learn to trust us because of that consistent care.

It’s the same with a new Christian, or a person who’s working through abuse issues. They 
MP900148892need to know that God can be trusted because he loves them. The Israelites had just witnessed God’s great deliverance. He killed the Egyptians – their enemies could never again come after them and take them back to the place of brutal slavery. God already showed them that he would protect them.

Now, the wilderness provided God with a perfect incubator to show his people time and again that he would provide for them and that he loved them. In the wilderness, they would experience trust for the first time.

First lesson – water provision.

Now that their enemies were no longer a threat, their most pressing need was water. Yet, the first place they stopped to refill their water skins was Marah, where the water was so bitter they couldn’t drink it.  Instead of asking their God for help, they complained to Moses.
  1. In Egypt, they had lived in Goshen, a delta area of the Nile so there would have been adequate drinking water. Here in the wilderness, water was scarce. (The need)
  2. It would be difficult to find enough water to  take care of the need of such a large group of people (A problem)
  3. As slaves, they probably had water withheld from them if they didn’t perform adequately. So when they faced the bitter waters of Mara, they may have feared that God was punishing them and was going to kill them. (Their perception - Slave mentality)
  4. Instead of worshipping their strong God who had delivered them, and asking him for what they needed, they grumbled against Moses and God. It was a fear-based reaction (Their reactions)
  5. Moses lost patience with them, but he still went to God because he knew God and trusted him. (Moses' reaction and response)
  6. God showed Moses how to make the water drinkable. (God’s response to Moses)
  7. Moses modeled  the trust and ask behaviors the Israelites needed to learn. God met their need at Marah in response to Moses' trust. Then God directed Moses to bring them to Elim where there were springs of fresh water and 70 palm trees for shade. (God reinforced the lesson of His provision.)
What lessons has God taught you about trust through your Christian journey? Has he ever used a person to model the behaviors he wanted to teach you?

I’d love to hear about your experiences!

Friday, March 22, 2013

Riding Emotional Roller Coasters

Then Moses led Israel from the Red Sea and they went into the Desert of Shur. For three days they traveled in the desert without finding water. When they came to Marah, they could not drink its water because it was bitter. (That is why the place is called Marah.) So the people grumbled against

 Moses, saying, “What are we to drink?”

Then Moses cried out to the Lord, and the Lord showed him a piece of wood. He threw it into the water, and the water became fit to drink.  Exodus 15:22-25a NIV

Did you know that 99% of people come to know the Lord in the midst of a crisis. When he comes to them in response to their cry for help and brings forgiveness, comfort, love and guidance, there is often an emotional high. Yet within days, they face a new crisis that stirs up the old insecurities and pain. It's much like a roller coaster ride.

That's exactly what happened to the Israelites at Marah. For several hundred years they had been slaves in Egypt. The Pharaoh provided for their needs - food, water and shelter, but it cost them and created a debt they could never hope to repay. They "owed their souls to the company store" and as their masters beat the men, raped the women and killed their sons, they grew demoralized and impotent, losing their  will to fight back.

Yet God sent Moses to deliver them from their slavery. They partied at the Red Sea when God washed their enemies away as the walls of water collapsed on them. The people rejoiced because of their emotional high. But when they came down from that high after three days of wandering in the wilderness of Shur,  they realized how truly powerless they were.

In a very real sense, they were experiencing withdrawal symptoms from their former life.  Leaving their slavery mentality behind meant making many new changes for people who had no idea what to do or how to do it. So they grumbled and resisted the leadership of Moses because they couldn't drink this bitter water.

Many of them had unrealistic expectations of what it would be like to follow God. They didn't like feeling down  and thirsty after the rollercoaster high of the Red Sea. Maybe they expected God to do some new amazing thing to prove that he still loved them and to renew that emotional high point for them.

But God began their wilderness healing right there at Marah. As a trustworthy parent, he provided for their need for water, but he didn't yield to their perceived need for the thrills, chills and vibrations of another Red Sea miracle.

To avoid those emotional roller coasters, learn to look for God in the small things, the ordinary things of life. He doesn't always answer with dramatic waterworks. Sometimes it's the small pieces of wood, those seemingly insignificant, every-day things, that have the healing properties to make the bitter experiences of your life sweet and bearable again.

What everyday circumstances, events or people has God placed around you to help you heal and live a Christian life? Rather than giving up in discouragement when you hit an emotional low after a breath-taking high,  start looking for him in the small things. He's always there if our expectations don't blind us to his presence.

Learn to know him in the small, every-day experiences of your life!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Crossing the sea of crisis into freedom

When Pharaoh’s horses, chariots and horsemen   went into the sea, the Lord brought the waters of the sea back over them, but the Israelites walked through the sea on dry ground. Then Miriam the prophet, Aaron’s sister, took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women followed her, with timbrels and dancing.    Miriam sang to them: “Sing to the Lord,     for he is highly exalted. Both horse and driver he has hurled into the sea.” Exodus 15:19-21

Can you remember back to the time when you asked the Lord to be your friend, savior and guide for
your life?

Woman Praying in ChurchFor many of us it happened in response to a crisis or some kind of life-challenging event that we felt we couldn't handle alone. Then  Christ was there, holding out his arms to us and we fled into his embrace as he came alongside to help, comfort, forgive and love us through the crisis.

The crossing of the Red Sea by the Israelites presents a wonderful Old Testament picture of our salvation experience. The Hebrews were enslaved and beaten down by the Egyptians. Just when their morale ebbed to its lowest point, God sent a deliverer - Moses -  at the time of their greatest crisis. He organized and mobilized them. God fought for them, coming against their enemies until Pharaoh relinquished his hold on the people. Then their God led them into the wilderness away from their life of slavery and into a time of learning how to be truly free. Not only did he help them escape their captivity, he put a barrier between them and their enemies - the Red Sea.

Can you imagine how it must have felt for them to stand on the opposite shore of the Red Sea and watch as the bodies of their enemies washed up on the far shore after God sent his punishment crashing down on their heads? They experienced freedom for the first time in their lives and they celebrated all night.

I experienced that when I was 8 years old, one night after an abusive experience. My Sunday School teacher had told me that Jesus loved me. Somehow, he was the one I thought about that night in my crisis time -  when my little-girl heart was hurt and confused.  I just knew Jesus was standing at the foot of my bed, holding his arms open wide for me. I ran into his arms that night and have held his hand ever since. He became my big brother, my protector, my Savior and the guide for my journey.
What was it like for you when you first tasted the forgiveness and freedom from your sins?  I'd love to hear about your salvation experience, just leave a comment below.

If you haven't experienced this freedom yet, it can be yours today. Jesus is standing there in the midst of your crisis  waiting for you to call to him. He will forgive you, comfort, love and guide you on an unforgettable journey into an eternal relationship with him.

God bless you!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Chewing the cud...

I've lived in semi-rural areas most of my life so it's not unusual to drive past fields full of dairy cattle. Most of the time, they are standing there either eating the green grass or methodically chewing their


It makes perfect sense for them  because it's the way God designed their digestive system. They eat and swallow partially chewed grasses, then completely chew their food a second time, slowly as if they haven't a care in the world. There is a word for this activity - to ruminate.

It almost makes me wonder what they're thinking about as they stand  there, dreamily staring into space and ruminating over their food?

But ruminating cows are one thing. When the word is applied to people, there is a completely different meaning. Ruminate: to reflect or to rehash thoughts or events in the mind repeatedly and often purposely.

Have you ever found yourself going over something that happened repeatedly in your mind?

It may not be so bad to ruminate over something, but often those ruminations can lead to anxiety or even hurtful behaviors against others as people begin to imagine how they will act when those events occur.

The rumination process looks something like this: We remember an event, usually it's something that hurt us. Then we analyze it - what was done to us, how we acted or what we said. Because it really bothers us, we think about it often, reliving the details.

Then, because we are problem solvers, we begin to take time to consider each little thing, going over and over it in our imaginations. We replay different scenarios about what we will do or say if it happens again. And we imagine the outcome of what we do or say as well as how it will make us feel to do or say those things.

As we ruminate, we begin to understand what needs to be done and we plan a course of action. Finally we act on those plans.

God knows we will most likely ruminate about something at some point in our lives. These anxious thoughts can lead to hurtful actions toward ourselves or others. It's important that we saturate our minds with God's Word so our ruminations will lead us to consider his ways and his solutions to the problems and hurts of life, rather than our own.

When we find ourselves rehashing some event or words that hurt us, it's important to stop early in the process and allow God to intervene. The longer we ruminate without his intervention, the greater the chance that we will hurt others with our words or deeds in the end.

The sooner we ask him if our musings offend him; the sooner we give him the opportunity  to redirect our thoughts so that our actions will be positive and pleasing to him - the sooner we will find the ability to forgive and experience peace.

Search me, O God, and know my heart;  test me and know my anxious thoughts.  Point out anything in me that offends you,  and lead me along the path of everlasting life.         Psalm 139:23-24 NLT


Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Keeping up...

These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts.  Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.     Deuteronomy 6: 6-7 NIV

With eight children, laundry is a never ending chore for my daughter. We used to share a
Woman Holding Laundry Basket Full of Towels
"momism" that if we didn't get every single piece of laundry done on wash day, the leftover pieces would go to seed and the piles of laundry would grow to epic proportions even more quickly before we washed clothes again. And the same was true with dishes in the sink. LOL!

As I read this morning's verse, I thought about those large piles of laundry and dishes - perhaps because I just returned from spending two weeks with my daughter. 

Dishes and laundry are definitely everyday chores for her. But if she intends to keep her brood clean and well-fed, she has to keep up with those chores by doing a few loads of wash and a dishwasher full of dishes every day.

In the same way, we need to hide God's word in our hearts daily - it is a discipline for us if we want to stay spiritually clean and healthy. (Sometimes we treat it like a chore! )

We are responsible to help our children stay clean and spiritually healthy too. Impressing God's Word on them  is as routine  and needful an activity as doing dishes and laundry - at least it should be.
As we look around us, there are thousands of things to give thanks for each day. There are hundreds of little events, circumstances and opportunities to remind ourselves and our children of who our God is and what he has done for us. There are those difficult but needful "teaching moments" when we must correct them as our heavenly Father corrects us.

God needs to be at the forefront of our thoughts and minds every moment of every day. If not, sin piles up like dirty laundry or dishes. We begin to feel overwhelmed and unable to keep up. Our peace falls away and we begin to fret over the smallest stuff. Our relationships suffer and we begin to die inside, a little at a time.

Moses didn't make this suggestion to the children of Israel to hang a weight around their neck, but rather to help them to remain strong as they entered into a new land so they would never again become slaves to disbelief and disobedience. And that's still true for us today.

So how are you doing? Are you keeping up with your relationship with the Lord each day? Are  you helping your children to love and remember the things he has done so they will walk in his paths each day?

Open my eyes, Lord, and help me see you in a thousand new ways every day. Strengthen my relationship with you and help me to be that encourager and spiritual strength trainer for others around me. Amen.   

Friday, March 1, 2013

A portion of eternal proportions

Before I started blogging this morning, I happened to read two interesting MSN articles  because they dealt with frugal living, a subject near and dear to my heart.

Food items shrink - but prices don't  pointed out some interesting things I already
Removing Pizza from the Ovensuspected about the psychology of food packaging - ways we are being tricked into paying more for less product.   

Duh!  I've seen those commercials for pizza sliders and shook my head at the irony of it all. Since they are "cute," I might just have to make my own for far less cost  (and calories) and freeze them if I need a "convenient" snack.

The article, 10 ways to prepare for a meat shortage, basically offered frugal suggestions to stretch your  meat purchases in case  there are slim pickings at the meat counter because of government sequester measures.

Hmmmm! Again, I had to laugh to myself because I already do all of the things they suggest like stocking up on the weekly meat specials,  repackaging them in family sized meal portions, and checking for those meats that are reduced in price because they're nearing the sell-by date.

Then I read today's verse: Whom have I in heaven but you?  And earth has nothing I desire besides you.  My flesh and my heart may fail,  but God is the strength of my heart  and my portion forever.         Psalm 73:25-26 NIV

I especially love the last part of the verse - God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
Isn't it great to know that there is one thing in this whole earth that  can never be sold at a higher price for a smaller portion? God will always be there in all his fullness, in all his power. He is our portion - exactly what we need for each day - forever!

We don't ever have to settle for less of him. As a matter of fact, as things get more difficult in our daily lives, he is there to fill us with more of his presence and grace to help us live fuller, more abundant lives in spite of cutbacks, trials or tribulations.

God IS the strength of my heart and a portion of eternal proportions!  Forever. Amen.