Just Follow the Instructions

From my 2009 Journal. When my three girls were getting ready to live on their own, I gave each of them a homemade cookbook filled with our favorite family recipes. (See below.) What I knew by intuition and experience didn’t always translate onto paper, however. Apparently I did not give precise enough instructions, for I’d frequently get a phone call asking me to clarify an ingredient or procedure.  

In contrast, when God gave instructions to His prophets, He was detailed and precise. One day He spoke the following to Jeremiah:

  1. Stand in the court of the Lord’s house (where and with what posture)
  2. Speak to all the cities of Judah that come to worship there (what to do and to whom)
  3. Speak all the words that I command you to speak; diminish not a word (what to say—precisely, fully, accurately) (26:2)

And so Jeremiah obeyed. But after he finished Step #3, the people, priests, and prophets seized him and threatened to put him to death.

Jeremiah’s response is most interesting and gratifying. He obeyed God out of a peaceful heart because he had already grappled with the fear of the results of his actions.

Be assured, however, that if you put me to death, you will bring the guilt of innocent blood on yourselves and on this city and on those who live in it, for in truth the LORD has sent me to you to speak all these words in your hearing (Jeremiah 26:15 NIV).

My first takeaway is that God’s will was accomplished through Jeremiah’s obedience. Second, obedience does not guarantee comfortable results! (Gulp)

When God gives instructions, He is the expert. He knows the intended outcome as well as the steps to achieving that goal. His instructions are clear and precise. When God speaks, it is in our best interest to listen . . . and obey to the letter.


Intro to Katie’s Cookbook:

Dearest Katie-Bug,

I’ll never forget the day you came into my bedroom early one Saturday morning and announced that pancakes were ready. You were so small, you probably had to stand on a stool to reach all the ingredients. I was astonished. “How did you . . . ?”

“I read the instructions,” you replied.

Up to that time, your classic experiments with ingredients in the kitchen consisted of getting a small mixing bowl, a big spoon, and anything in the cupboard you could find:  a little flour, some sugar, a pinch of various random spices. And when you were satisfied with the results, we would bake the concoction at 350 in a disposable pie tin. Incredibly, sometimes the product was edible! You were so proud of yourself and your creations.

Of my three girls, you were the most interested in what went on in the kitchen—until it came time to clean up, and then you would suddenly declare you had to go to the bathroom; and off you went, conveniently waiting till the task was done. You were most intrigued with the creative part of cooking—like decorating Christmas cookies. Your latest endeavor was decorating a gingerbread house. Remember your attempt at making stroganoff for your dad while I was in California!? But you became a master at turning out perfect macaroni and cheese.

Here are some of our family’s favorite recipes—some yours, some your sisters’ favorites. Keep them safe, for when you get to college, it’ll save you a phone call or two to find out how to make . . . (no, there’s no recipe for making French fries or ice cream!)

May you continue to hone your skills in the kitchen so that you can minister to others, perhaps to your own family some day.

I love you with all my heart,

Mom


Chocolate Chip Scones

1 ¾ cups flour                         1/3 cup butter

3 T sugar                                 1 egg, slightly beaten (reserve some)

2 ½ t baking powder             ½ c chocolate chips

½ t salt                                    4-6 T cream or milk

Combine dry ingredients.

Cut in butter, add egg, choc chips.

Add enough milk so dough leaves sides of bowl.

Knead on floured surface gently 10x

Roll into a circle ½ inch thick

Cut into wedges. Place on ungreased cookie sheet.

Brush with little bit of beaten egg.

400, 10-12 min.

What If God Asked?

Cow

From my 2009 Journal. Ezekiel 4 is a fascinating exchange between God and Ezekiel. God gives Ezekiel instructions that impose hardships on him, including eating rationed food and water, lying on one side for over a year and on the other for 40 days. But worst of all, God says he must prepare his food using human dung for fuel—like they will be doing in captivity. Ezekiel protests—he’s never defiled himself before with abominable meat. God relents and allows him to use cow dung instead.

In Ezekiel’s agrarian society, using cow dung is normal. It’s not offensive to them. Some tribes in Africa even use it to create shiny floors in their huts. But there’s something inherently offensive, disgusting, repulsive, unclean, about using human waste. At least it feels that way to me.

Ezekiel was used to using cow dung. Was there something in the Law that said human dung was defiling? Or was it inherently known that this was ceremonially or socially or emotionally unacceptable?

The part that really fascinates me, however, is that God relents from His command. He’s already asked Ezekiel to do some pretty humiliating and bizarre things. But He accepts Ezekiel’s protests based on his argument: I’ve never defiled myself—this would make me impure.

Now fast-forward to Peter in Acts 10:14. God instructs Peter to eat unclean animals. Same response: I’ve never defiled myself before. The passage doesn’t say that God made Peter eat them, but He does say, “What God calls clean is clean.”

God could have used the same argument with Ezekiel, but He doesn’t—which makes me think that God understood and took pity on Ezekiel. That He would not require of him more than he could bear.

Both men said they had never been defiled. Pete said, “No, Lord!” Ezekiel didn’t say no, but “Ah, Lord God . . .” Did Ezekiel protest or simply express his dismay?

What hard thing has God asked me to do? Did I protest? Yes, that’s quite normal, I think. But I eventually relented and obeyed. But He’s never asked me to go against my conscience—or has He?

Be Careful What You “If”!

From my 2009 Journal. Around 1895 Rudyard Kipling wrote a famous poem entitled “If.” (It’s well worth the read if you haven’t heard of it.) That word if is an awfully small word that can pack an awfully large punch. I hear it all the time in conversations: If you’re free . . . If you love me  . . . If I’ve offended you  . . . If there is a God. . . .

I got to noticing that little word if in the book of Judges, and recorded a few of my observations.

Remember the story of Gideon and the fleece (Judges 6)? The Israelites are distraught because the Midianites have overpowered them, and God shows up one day to tell Gideon that he’s been chosen to deliver his people from the oppressor. But Gideon is skeptical:

IF I have found favor in your sight, then give me a sign that it’s You who talks to me. (v. 17 NASB)

It’s not a bad request. We are indeed admonished to test the spirits (I John 4:1). God granted his request and confirmed His authority by lighting Gideon’s sacrifice and then disappearing. God is willing to respond to a genuine request for confirmation that it’s His voice we’re hearing.

Later, in obedience to God’s instructions, Gideon pulls down his father’s altar to Baal and the Asherah pole beside it. Using this wood, he offers a burnt offering on a new altar that he’s to build on top of the Baal one. When the irate town’s people show up at his dad’s house, his dad stands up for his son and says:

Will you contend for Baal? IF Baal is a god, let him contend for himself! (v. 31)

Sounds rather reasonable to me!

SheepskinSo now it comes time to face the Midianites, and Gideon gets cold feet. Here’s where the two famous dry/wet fleece tests occur. (If you need a story refresher, click here)

Fleece test #1. IF you will deliver Israel by my hand as you have said . . . (v. 36)

Fleece test #2. The if is not repeated, but it’s implied. (v. 39)

So I begin to ponder: how is Gideon’s response to God’s command different from Moses’ response to the burning bush command or Jonah’s response to the command to go to Nineveh?

Moses said:  I can’t!

Jonah said:  I won’t!

Gideon asked:  Can I?

Moses appears to be resistant, stubborn, willful, maybe even whiny. And Jonah is downright rebellious. Gideon, on the other hand, seems timid and fearful: Am I sure I heard You right, Lord? Later on when God tells Gideon to go down to the enemy’s camp, He anticipates Gideon’s response and says, But IF you are afraid to go down, go with Purah your servant down to the camp (7:9-10).

In all three stories, God’s will is accomplished and His mission fulfilled, but He responds differently to each character. With Gideon, God honors his need for courage and does what Gideon requests. This gives me hope when I am feeling less than courageous at God’s calling on my life. The true seeker of God will find Him faithful.

Following God’s words of assurance, the final antidote for Gideon’s fear is personal experience (when he goes down to the camp and overhears the Midianite’s dream). Gideon’s response? He worships. Fear is gone at last; he’s ready for battle. There are no more “ifs.”

After the rousing victory with only 300 soldiers, the Ephraimite tribe gets mad at Gideon for not asking them to join the battle. There is no fear response from Gideon at their accusations. Instead, humility has taken its place (Judges 8-1-3). Matthew Henry says, “Humility is the surest method of ending strife.”

God prepares His servants for His service. (I wish the story ended here, but it doesn’t. Gideon has other character flaws that need to be worked on.) I know I’m human and have fears and doubts, but I pray that every time God speaks, I’ll have faith to believe and leave my “ifs” behind!

Do you have time to read one more “IF”? This one is truly bizarre.

 Jephtha’s story (Judges 11) intrigues me. His dad is from Gilead, and his mom is a harlot. His half-brothers kick him out of the tribe saying he can have no inheritance with them. He flees to the town of Tob where worthless men gather around him and they go on raids together and he becomes a mighty warrior. When his half-brothers are attacked by the Ammonites, surprisingly they go to Jephtha to beg him to be their leader! Even more shocking, he agrees to do so.

But now it gets even more interesting. Jephtha makes a foolish vow. IF You [God] will indeed give the Ammonites into my hand, I will offer up for a burnt offering whatever comes out from my house to meet me (30-31). And we know the outcome . . . his only child, his daughter, comes out the door.

So what does Jephtha do? Incredibly, he shifts the blame! YOU [daughter] are the cause of great trouble to me; YOU have brought me very low (11:35, emphasis added).

Are vows retractable? I think so. Why could he not have suffered the consequences and taken the debt in her place? Why couldn’t he have gone to God, confessed his foolishness, and let God give him a creative alternative?

But his daughter is more righteous than he. She accepts the vow as binding. We don’t know if Jephtha actually sacrifices her on an altar or if she’s simply banished for the rest of her life and disallowed marriage. In any case, as often happens, our sin, ignorance, and foolishness impact others, whether intentional or not.

Be careful what you IF!

Stay put or run?


Run and hideI Samuel 23:2-3.
I’ve always wondered why David went into hiding from his enemy King Saul? Couldn’t God have protected David if he chose to stay put and not run? Did God tell him to run? Did instinct? Would it have been foolish to stay put when a spear was thrown at his head?

God delivered him every time, but it seems He could have done it without David having to run and hide all the time. Daniel stayed put. And Shadrach and his buddies did too. They didn’t go underground when persecution started. Perhaps, unlike David, they had nowhere to hide. Corrie ten Boom went underground when she chose to hide Jews. Risky no matter what. But when caught, God delivered David, Daniel, and Corrie. But He didn’t deliver martyrs in the early church, and He didn’t deliver Corrie’s sister Betsie from death. (Is that a cop out to say He delivered her from further torture?) When do you go into hiding, and when to the lion’s den?

Two things go through my head: this was part of David’s training to let him experience God’s faithfulness in the hard times as well as learn about this part of his future kingdom. Second, man has freewill and choice. God could have knocked out Saul at the first sign of rebellion, but He continued to give Saul chances to repent. And Saul refused. Obedience to God’s command in the moment is the key, I think.

What’s your opinion?

Moving Day

By day you led them with a pillar of cloud, and by night with a pillar of fire to give them light on the way they were to take (Nehemiah 9:12).

May 2018. Packing and frequent transitions were a normal part of my life as an MK (Missionary Kid), but it’s different now that I’m an adult. Just the thought of moving makes me tired. I have two daughters in transition right now. I don’t envy them. Moving is disruptive, time-consuming, and unsettling to one’s little routines.

So I try to imagine being an Israelite housewife wandering in the desert. When the cloud or the fire moves, I have to pack up everything I own and get back on the trek. When it stays put, I get to stay a little longer in my tent. The pillar can move at any time and I have to trust God for His perfect timing. And maybe I have little kids who need routine and naps and bedtimes on schedule, and maybe I’m about to give birth to Number Six. But God says I must be flexible enough to pack up all my possessions at a moment’s notice and move on. You almost don’t want to unpack because you may only be at this location for 24 hours . . . or 24 days. You just don’t know. At least my daughters know their destinations and plan to stay there for a while.

DSCN3186 Timnah Park

Scott and I recently visited Solomon’s Pillars and copper mines in the desert at Timnah Park, Israel

I, personally, would have found this situation most unsettling! I wonder how long it took for the entire camp to start moving? After marching all day, could the Levites set up the tabernacle in just a few hours—with circus-tent efficiency? Up one day, down the next. What a life!

DSCN3203 Tabernacle

We visited a full-size replica of the wilderness tabernacle in Timna Park

But they knew that there was a goal at the end of their trek—a land ahead, promised for them, a good land, flowing with milk and honey.

I can’t wait for the day when I reach Canaan Land—when I have a permanent residence in heaven. No more packing and unpacking, no more moving, no more good-byes. No more temporary storing of worldly goods or worrying about breakage because things didn’t get packed securely enough for the moving truck. No more decisions about what to keep and what to throw or give away. I get to leave the worldly stuff all behind because I won’t need it anymore. Everything I need—all my real treasures—will already be there, waiting for me.

How do YOU feel about moving?

Learning Through Suffering

Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered (Hebrews 5:8 NASB).pexels-photo-551590

Was it only at Gethsemane and the cross that the Son of Man suffered and therefore learned obedience? Or was He learning it all along?

How was junior high for Him? Was He rejected, accepted, or loved by His peers? As a toddler, did He get into trouble for wandering off? When did He first understand enough to respond in obedience to Mary or Joseph’s commands? As a ten-year-old, ever feel sad when He saw injustice, poverty, or illness, and knew that it wasn’t His time yet to make things right? That he had the power to heal, but didn’t because He was learning obedience to His Father? What about His temptation in the wilderness?

Was it a shock to Mary when she had a second child and found that he had a sin nature? Did Jesus’ sibs feel jealousy toward Him? Was He given preferential treatment because He was the firstborn, or because He was such a goody-goody? I suspect Jesus’ suffering began at conception—the Creator of the space of the universe confined to the space of a womb.

Why am I surprised when someone reacts positively during a trial? I expect him or her to struggle, to rage, to cry and complain. But when someone gives glory to God and rejoices in the suffering, I’m suspect. Is she for real!? Perhaps it’s because I know my own heart. . . .

Why do I/we believe that we don’t deserve sorrow and pain? Our behavior is often an attempt at pain denial or pain removal. When is pain part of God’s plan and we should embrace it and lean into it?

Past emotional pain—remove it. Present pain—lean into it.

There’s always a purpose for our suffering . . . God never wastes our pain. Jesus learned obedience. What have you learned?