Publication:Pastoral Letter, March 2018
I love the Word of God for so many reasons but primarily because I believe it is the Word of God and therefore it is true. It doesn’t gloss over the “nasty stuff” or deny us the great stuff. It gives us amazing promises, warns of serious trials, and tells how to triumph over them so that we may reach those promises.
The Apostle Peter and so many others are models of this process through trial to triumph. I would encourage the study of Peter’s letters. Of course, Peter was a Jew and thoroughly acquainted with Israel’s journey, which is also an example to us (see 1 Corinthians 10:1-11). Israel was given great and precious promises and on the way to those, they suffered great trials before entering the promises.
Israel was given many great promises beginning with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. On the way to those promises, their descendants spent centuries in Egypt; that was not the Promised Land. Then Moses entered their history with his own amazing story, which included the good and the bad. He was chosen by God in spite of his deficiencies, to deliver Israel from Egypt. He was sent to tell them the good news that they would be delivered and travel to “a land that flowed with milk and honey”. Moses himself had spent 40 years in the wilderness; that was a clue about trials that lay ahead.
The good news: Israel would be liberated from slavery and fulfill the promises made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They would become a Kingdom of Priests, the Light of the World, and bless all the nations of the earth. What an amazing possibility for people who were, at that time, slaves! Of course the journey would not be easy, but they would be delivered out of Egypt. Delivered out is not the same as being delivered into. Between those two events would be 40 years of trial.
For Peter and others, the years of testing would be much less. The issue is not how long the trial lasts, but how soon it affects the changes in our character, our lives, and how we respond to the trial.
Israel is not only an example of promise but also of trial. From the Red Sea onward, they faced overwhelming odds. It seemed that at every turn there was a test. They were tested in the lack of water, the demands of the law, idolatry, lack of meat, immorality, opposing armies, rebellion against leadership, and then by the giants that occupied their Promised Land.
Those and other trials were designed to root out the habits that had become part of their life as slaves in Egypt. Every trial confronted their character and ways of thinking. It was frustrating, continual, and provoking to their very being. Though miracles were happening and God was revealing Himself, they remained in misery and were slow to respond.
My purpose here is not to criticize Israel but to help us learn that trials are not for our misery or simply because God is angry at us. Trials are there to reveal us to ourselves and prepare us to fulfill our promise.
Let’s diagnose the primary issue up front; they were plagued by unbelief in God and lost sight of the promise. I write with some embarrassment because I have been there. I can recall times when I became anxious or even angry over a situation that my loving and generous Father allowed to try my faith and patience. I was working on my goals while He was working on my character. Israel only had 40 years, I have had 80!
Great promises often bring us to great trials as we pursue the promises. What do we do with the unexpected test, a loss, an attack, misrepresentation of our motives, or some affliction? Israel often did the wrong thing; they grumbled, accused Moses, accused God, rebelled, turned to idols, gave into immorality, and longed for the “good ole days.” God was not pleased!
God in His foreknowledge chose Israel as He has chosen us. “Chosen” is not a selection based upon worth. Israel was least among nations. They were chosen to demonstrate God’s ability to save to the uttermost and demonstrate His glory. Remember, Israel did not have the Bible; they were writing it. Thank you, Israel! Aren’t you glad it was not us.
Israel’s responses did not look like the responses of kings and priests, the light of the world, or a holy nation, but God chooses people who do not respond properly. Remember the disciples? Remember some of your responses? But God is relentless; He does not change, and therefore we are not consumed, but adjusted (see Malachi 3:6). The primary difference between Israel, us, and our Lord is not that Jesus was exempted from trials; it is that He always responded in the right way.
So what are our promises? As Peter said, we have great and precious promises (see 2 Peter 1:4). I love the old hymn, “Every promise in the book is mine, every chapter, every verse, every line; O, I’m trusting in His Word Divine.” We are promised salvation, deliverance from Satan and self, a new nature, provision, healing, resurrection life, to reign with Christ, to be the light of the world, entrance into His Kingdom, victory in Jesus, harvest, prosperity, eternal life, heaven, and so much more. There are literally thousands of promises.
We were slaves to sin, now liberated to freedom in Christ. We are heirs of Christ; given spheres of influence, exceptional blessings, the power of the Holy Spirit, and the authority of the name of Jesus! Peter says that we have all things that pertain to life and godliness (see 2 Peter 1:3). In other words, we have all that we need and more to make the journey to the land of our promise. The key requirement in our journey is our faith in what He said.
Christianity, or better yet, discipleship, is not a status, name tag, or club; it is a trip! It is a never-ending journey to God’s purpose which goes beyond creeds and traditions. Creeds are important; traditions can be useful, but without a journey, they are just academic. The journey is required to get to the “land of milk and honey.” God does not bring the land to us, He brings us to it… through many dangers, toils and snares.
We have seen how Israel responded in the wilderness and how we should not respond lest we also come short. So we are not to murmur, rebel, grumble over our lack, fall into idolatry or immorality, or draw back from God’s leadership. We are not to long for the past or forget His promises. So how should we respond?
As Israel’s chief problem was unbelief. our chief response must be faith. Faith is demonstrated by obedience that takes us forward. Abraham believed God and was counted righteous (see Romans 4:3). He continued toward a land that he had not seen. We must ask ourselves in every trial, “Do I believe God?” Faith is the oil that takes the friction out of trial. Faith allows the Lord to use the trials to accomplish His will and achieve His purpose to conform us to Christ (see Romans 8:28-29). Faith moves us forward beyond wandering around or going back. Faith moves the mountain in front of us and pleases God. He counts us as righteous, as He did Abraham.
Faith and Joy
Faith does something else; it enables us to rejoice in all things (1 Thessalonians 5:15-18). It enables us to give thanks even in the trial; it enables us to believe that God will bring good out of it; it gives us the discernment to prove all things while we are being proven. Faith gets us through the fire to become gold (see 1 Peter 1:7; Revelation 3:18).
Faith brings joy and joy brings strength! James tells us that in our trials,we should “count it all joy” (see James 1:2-8), Joy will take us on through. Winston Churchill said, “When you are going through hell, don’t stop.” Joy heals the hurts and revitalizes our energy; laughter is a great medicine. We can start by laughing at ourselves and with others.
I was in a meeting where the late Evangelist Oral Roberts was speaking. Suddenly a deranged man came forward to attack him. Brother Roberts pointed at him and began laughing. The man fell down. The devil hates our laughter and joy.
How can we have joy in trial? I remember one of my early trials in ministry. The church I pastored was divided over the work of the Holy Spirit. While preaching one Sunday night, the joy of the Lord came upon me and I began laughing. At the close of the service, a lady who was not joyful said, “How can you be so happy at a time like this?” I just laughed. I was joyful because the Lord was with me; that should be enough to cause us all to rejoice!
Our Shepherd is with us especially in the valley, and He will ultimately get us to the table prepared for us. Even in the presence of our enemies He will anoint us with Holy oil until our cups run over! Praise God!
Israel was not laughing in their trial, but we can and should. Israel’s frustration became Moses’ frustration and that caused him to strike the rock a second time in disobedience to God’s instructions. He was prevented from leading Israel into the land. There are many frustrated leaders. It was Moses’ disciple, Joshua, who finally led a new generation into the Promised Land. I find the names, Moses and Joshua interesting. Moses means “drawn from the water”; Joshua means “Jehovah saves.” The names Joshua and Jesus have the same meaning.
Moses could take the people out, but Joshua took the people in. Jesus can take us into the promises of God. In Joshua chapter 5, Joshua meets “The Captain of the Lord’s Army.” I believe that is Jesus. The Captain gave Joshua instructions as to how to conquer Jericho. Those instructions were amazing; march around the city in silence once a day for six days. On the seventh day, march seven times with trumpets blowing. Then upon one long blast with the ram’s horn, everybody shout and the walls will fall down!
I wonder how the former generation would have received that? But this new generation believed and obeyed and the walls fell down.
Which generation do we belong to? Will we get out but not in? Can we stop the wandering around and looking back, and go forward believing that the best is ahead? Will we allow frustration to keep us out or will we allow faith to take us in? Is Jesus still with us even in our valley? Does He still move mountains and calm storms? Yes, He does!
Wherever you are, I pray that you can receive the promise, make the journey, and enter His will for your life. Even when we arrive at His great purpose, there is more ground to take. It is not over until we see Him face to face; then He can tell us what is next. Don’t you just love it? Think about all of that and laugh with joy!
P.S. We are so thankful for your friendship, prayer, and financial support. Please remember us this month. We depend on the Lord and our friends to continue in our mission. Also, mark your calendar for the May 8-10 CSM Gatlinburg Conference, “Celebrating the Goodness of God!” We would love to see you there. See csmpublishing.org for more information today.
SCRIPTURE REFERENCE: 1 Corinthians 10:1-11; Malachi 3:6; 2 Peter 1:4; 2 Peter 1:3; Romans 4:3; Romans 8:28-29; 1 Thessalonians 5:15-18; 1 Peter 1:7; Revelation 3:18; James 1:2-8