Tribulations? You got this! (Or at least God does)

I am trying to make it through the Old Testament.  I have read Genesis many times, but usually get bored after Noah.  This time I have made it to Deuteronomy, which is a first for me.  It has been a lot of Moses since Genesis and I find myself waiting for Moses to die.  I am getting tired of the people whining, God and Moses getting mad, the people turning back and then, within a chapter, the people are doubting or failing once again.  I did not realize how much of the Bible is taken up with Moses.

It is very easy for me to judge these early Israelites.  Don’t they realize how much God has done for them?  He brought them out of slavery in Egypt.  What more do they want?  But then again, I don’t know how positive or trusting I would be wandering in the desert.  It’s not always easy to see the good that God is leading us to.  And although I am becoming bored with the repetitive nature of the people’s shortcomings.  It is comforting to know that no matter how many times they fail, the Lord God is still there.  Today Moses reminds them, that they can always turn back:

But from there you will seek the Lord your God, and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul. When you are in tribulation, and all these things come upon you in the latter days, you will return to the Lord your God and obey his voice, for the Lord your God is a merciful God; he will not fail you or destroy you or forget the covenant with your fathers which he swore to them.

Deuteronomy 4:29-31

This is a wonderfully repetitive message in the Bible.  And one I should turn to every day.  There is no promise that there won’t be tribulation.  Indeed, Moses tells them “when you are in tribulation” not “if”.  There will be tribulation.  We all face it.  Sometimes we go from one tribulation to the next.  The Israelites went from slavery to the desert and, yet I am reading it thinking “suck it up.”  “Don’t you know that God is bringing you to the Promised Land?”   It is so easy to judge thousands of years later when we know the outcome.  And thousands of years from now, people will look back at us and think the same thing.  God is leading us to the Promised Land.  There will be tribulations along the way.  We will be challenged, physically, mentally, spiritually.  We will fall along the way.  We will fail to trust and be led astray.  But God will not fail us.  When we search with our whole heart and whole soul (in other words, when we really want to find Him), we will find Him.  When we turn to Him, no many how many times we have failed before, when we turn back and obey Him, He will show us mercy.

My God, My God,

I know you will never forsake me.  I know the tribulations bring us closer.  But sometimes I need the reminder.  Thank you for being merciful.  Thank you for loving us through our darkest times.  My heart and my soul seek you.  I feel your love and your strength.  May my struggle through every tribulation and my rejoicing at every mountain top honor you.

 

Turn to God, Seek Help, Confess

Tonight the Gideon bible in my hotel room opened to Daniel.  I had to pull up the passage on the computer though because there were too many “thou’s” and “Ye’s” in the hotel version.

I turned to the Lord God, to seek help, in prayer and petition, with fasting, sackcloth, and ashes.  I prayed to the LORD, my God, and confessed, “Ah, Lord, great and awesome God, you who keep your covenant and show mercy toward those who love you and keep your commandments and your precepts!  We have sinned, been wicked and done evil; we have rebelled and turned from your commandments and your laws.

Daniel 9:3-5

I  could, and probably should, say these words everyday.  Ah Lord, great and awesome God, you who keep your covenant and show mercy toward those who love you and keep your commandments and your precepts,  I have sinned.  I have been wicked and done evil.  I have rebelled and turned from your commandments and your laws.  Have mercy on me.

In the Bible, God responds to Daniel’s prayers:

But then a hand touched me, raising me to my hands and knees.  “Daniel, beloved,” he said to me, “understand the words which I am speaking to you; stand up, for my mission now is to you.” When he said this to me, I stood up trembling.  “Do not fear, Daniel,” he continued; “from the first day you made up your mind to acquire understanding and humble yourself before God, your prayer was heard.

Daniel 10:10-12

Amidst the Thou’s and the Ye’s, the Bible provides simple instructions:

Turn to God

Seek help

Confess

Humble yourself before God

And the Bible provides hope and comfort:

Do not fear.

Your prayer was heard.

Ah Lord, great and awesome God, you who keep your covenant and show mercy toward those who love you and keep your commandments and your precepts,  I have sinned.  I have been wicked and done evil.  I have rebelled and turned from your commandments and your laws.  Have mercy on me.

 

God lifts us up for the slam dunk

This morning, I woke up early and decided to open the Bible while I ate some Frosted Mini-Wheats.  The Bible fell open to John chapter 8.  In John 8, Jesus saves the woman from being stoned and reminds her would be assailants:

“Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”

I have always found this passage very easy to grasp. People in glass houses should not throw stones.  None of us have any room to talk.  Or are righteous enough to judge others.  Easy to grasp, not always easy to live up to.  But today I read further:

Jesus then said to those Jews who believed in him, “If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”  They answered him, “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone.  How can you say, ‘You will become free’?”  Jesus answered them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin.  A slave does not remain in a household forever, but a son always remains. So if a son frees you, then you will truly be free.”

John 8: 31-36

I read this passage over several times, particularly the last three sentences:  “Amen, amen, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin.  A slave does not remain in a household forever, but a son always remains. So if a son frees you, then you will truly be free.” At first it was very troubling to me.  And I was filled with this feeling of hopelessness.  “Everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.”  Well, we all know that we are all sinners.  So we are all slaves.  “A slave does not remain in a household forever.”  What does that mean?  We don’t remain on earth?  We don’t remain alive?  Of course both of these are true.  We don’t remain in God’s household?  We are not truly part of His house, His kingdom?  This is where, the feeling of hopelessness set in.  Because I know I am a sinner.  I also understand that all humans are sinners and that we really cannot opt out of being a sinner here on earth.  So is it hopeless?  I want to be able to not be a slave to sin.  I want to remain in God’s household forever.  But from everything I read and hear and understand, I cannot choose to do that — I will always sin — so isn’t it hopeless and why do we try not to sin, if we know we will fail?  Is anyone else feeling hopeless with me, now?

So I put the Bible down and thought — maybe I will try to open it again later and it will be a happier place.

Then as I was driving to church, I had a moment of clarity, or at least I think it was. My hopelessness came, because I was thinking only of myself, and my pride was getting in the way saying if I cannot fix it, then it is hopeless.  If I cannot not sin, then  I am a failure.  I was totally missing the last sentence: “So if a son frees you, then you will truly be free.”  Jesus frees us.  Jesus is our hope. I was putting myself ahead of God.  I was thinking like a child: if I can’t do it on my own, then I don’t want it.  I am not able to do it on my own, but God is.  I just need to be humble enough to accept it.  And I need to be humble enough to ask for God’s grace and mercy — to ask Him to free me.

Ok, starting to feel a lot better.  But I was still struggling with a question that has haunted me before.  Why should we keep trying not to sin, even if we know we will fail and continue to sin.  Because God asks us to try.   By trying we show our love for Him. (This time some clarity came from basketball.)  We all root for the under dog.  (I am watching #11 seed Xavier University trying to beat #1 seed Gonzaga right now in the NCAA Elite Eight.)  Why do we like the under dog?  Because they don’t give up — they keep trying even when the odds are against them.  Why do they keep trying?  Because they love the game, they love their team.  God wants us to try.  And understand that when we try, and when we accept our failure and turn to Him, he will lift us up to the rim, so we can finish with the slam dunk.

Jesus,

I love you!  I do not want to sin.  I want to live in your household forever.  I need your help.  I need your grace and your mercy.  Forgive me for my sins.  Break the chains that bind me.  I know that when you lift me up, I will truly be free.  Lord, Lift me up!

Amen