Well, it’s starting up again… Central Michigan University [CMU], Clare Schools, Farwell Schools, and Gladwin Schools all start classes tomorrow. (Harrison Schools will open soon enough.) Are you ready? … excited? …nervous?
The start of a new school year means the start of a school-based schedule. School-based schedules mean your personal schedule adapt to school timing. [Grand]Kids start at a specific time and end at a specific time. So, you have a time period when you can complete errands without toting around extra passengers. You can clean without toys getting in the way. You can sit and relax or read and watch in quiet. Then, when they come home at 3:00 o’clock, you return home around 3:30PM. If they have practice, it means you have practice. If they have a game at 7:00PM, you have a game at 7:00PM. If they must eat before 6:00PM , you must eat before 6:00PM. Your personal schedule will start transitioning from relaxed to rigid.
That will hit home even more after Labor Day. School schedules force weekend vacationers to spend more time downstate. That means your streets will less congested, the stores less busy, the sidewalks emptier, the lakes quieter, and the neighbors not-so-noisy. Any frustrations and irritations will melt away. Your personal schedule will be affected by the school-based schedule of others.
Even our church schedule will transition. Soon we will start up Sunday School and Bible Classes (new topic included!). Transition brings adjustment.
Encountering a transition time means you must adjust your schedule. Summer free-time will now be consumed with fall events. You may not have enough hours to participate in every activity. Your appointments may change based on the availability of others. This transition time presents an opportunity to reconsider your priorities. So, what makes the cut? What’s left behind? Who are You Serving? Throw away the idols of your heart. Fill up with the LORD alone.
Our reading brings you to a very crucial transition for Old Testament Israel. Joshua assembled all the tribes of Israel at Shechem, a city about 30 miles north of Jerusalem (much like how Harrison is 20 miles north of Clare). Millions of faces look up at him. Joshua looks over the people he led and guided and advised for decades. Their worn, weathered faces had endured 40-years of wandering in the wilderness. Tired eyes had witnessed God wipe out nations so that they could now stand in the land promised to them. Those burdens of traveling, of unpacking and repacking, of encountering obstacles and overcoming obstacles are all over. A new chapter in life begins.
Standing in this location— in Shechem— place them into a significant setting. Five hundred years earlier Abraham stood here. He received God’s promise to make him (one man) the father of many people. And those people would call this land home (Genesis 12:7). Abraham’s grandson, Jacob, lived here. In Shechem purged his house of idols and urged every servant, relative, and family member with him to worship God alone (Genesis 35:2-4). Now standing in this monumental city, Joshua urges Israel to do the same thing: keep God the Main Priority.
This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: … Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Even though so much of life is about to change they are to love and serve God only. Every thought floating through their minds and every word they speak and every action, is to reflect love, honor, and respect to the One who loved them and rescued them. That love will gush forth as they throw away the gods [their] forefathers worshiped. With the idols of the heart removed, the heart will be less divided. It will cherish God even more. Because idols can tug allegiance away from God.
Yes, the idols you serve. Alright, you probably do not hike out into the woods and worship a tree. I’m sure you do not pray to people who have died. Nor do you sing songs to a little golden statue sitting on your dining room table. That is called ‘open idolatry’— when you physically, visibly worship an object that is not God.
But what are the idols hidden away in your heart? The hidden objects your heart loves? The secret comforts you trust? The unseen objects you treat as God— as though they have power and control, and have influence over the outcome and future of your life?
Well, what demands priority in your heart? Sports? Do you skip Sunday worship for soccer or baseball or softball? Yes, out comes the quick defense: “Well, it’s only one Sunday here, another there. I still come.” That misses the point. God asks: “What takes priority? What do you love more? Your God or your game?”
Do you believe the future only rests in the hands of people— as though God has no influence in the world at all? Remember, God guarantees: All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me (Matthew 28:18). He urges: Pray for those in authority (1 Timothy 2:1-2), turn to me for help. Whose word do you trust more? That which comes from world leaders? or your God?
Or, is your idol, well… you? After all, who decides to step outside the commands of God? God makes quite clear: You shall have no other gods (Exodus 20:3). You shall not love your time with sports more than time with me. You shall not trust others ahead of me. You shall love me with all your heart, mind, and soul (Matthew 22:37). Yet, your (and my) heart determines that you are so great, your time so important, your wants and needs so significant that you can refuse to obey God.
Have you dared marched up to the Living God, grabbed his royal robes, and thrown him down from the throne of your heart so that you can sit on it? Have you dared bark out, “Listen to me, Lord, for I am speaking.” To set yourself over God is to set yourself against God. A God who demonstrates the Amorite gods are worthless because they could not stop him from taking their land. A God who pours fire down from heaven to consume a sacrifice— something the god Baal could not do (1 Kings 18:16-39). A God who not only makes promises, but keeps him promises including the promise to punish every single person who stands against him (Exodus 34:6-7). Who are You Serving? The Almighty God of the universe? Or, mere mortals who pass away like grass?
[I]f serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. Either you serve God or you do not. Either you love God or you love something that is not God. That’s tough, isn’t it? Who can do that? Jesus can and Jesus does.
He is your perfect Substitute—meaning, he does what you (and I) never could! For just a moment, see what he pours into his heart. He worships every single week; this is his custom, his habit (Luke 4:16). In worship, he hears the Word. Not just that, but he takes it into his heart— and then lives it!
He preaches to thousands so infatuated with him. Then, he hits a crossroads. He preaches: I am the Bread of life. Feast on me, take in my words, believe my life will pay for you to enter heaven (John 6). The crowds respond: This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it? (John 6:60). There it is: Jesus can either cling to God’s Word above all things or he could change that Word, soak in popularity, and speak only what people want to hear.
Your Jesus clings to God’s Word alone. Inside, his heart remains this crystal clear temple in which only love for God dwells. On the cross, he takes out your (and my) filthy, corrupted heart and puts his perfect heart in its place.
That is why Joshua can say: [C]hoose for yourselves this day whom you will serve. He’s speaking to Christians, people who already believe in Jesus as Savior. He does not ask you to make a personal decision to come to faith. You could never do that (John 6:44; 15:16). The Holy Spirit puts the heart of Jesus in you. The Holy Spirit sets God on the throne of your heart. The Holy Spirit daily turns you to see what great love the Father has lavished on you. As you see your God forgive, promise eternal life, and create the desire to live a Christian life now, you cannot help but shout: As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.
The people answered, “Far be it from us to forsake the Lord to serve other gods! It was the Lord our God himself who brought us and our fathers up out of Egypt, from that land of slavery, and performed those great signs before our eyes. He protected us on our entire journey and among all the nations through which we traveled. And the Lord drove out before us all the nations, including the Amorites, who lived in the land. We too will serve the Lord, because he is our God.” What’s the point of retelling something they all already know? So that they can look back and remember that God kept his promise. The God who promised to protect them and bring them into the Promised Land is the same God who would be with them in their future. The more attentions fixated on God’s awesome work, the more the heart filled up with the Lord alone.
Set the heart on the Word and the Word will fill the heart. Take your attention off from the Word and idols fall back in. One generation later, another generation grew up, who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel (Judges 2:10). How does that happen? Because Israel separated themselves from the Lord. Instead of teaching the next generation, families kept the Word to themselves. Instead of letting the Word sink into their hearts, empty ritualism grew rampant. Instead of immersing and growing with (and in) the Word, thirsty hearts sought relief in human solutions. Israel sunk deeper and deeper into idolatry. They wander further and further from their God.
Learn from Israel’s history! These things are written for you to see, learn, and avoid the same pitfalls (1 Corinthians 10:6). Who are You Serving? Fill up with the Lord alone.
How? Make worship a priority. Start the habit of daily devotions. Make the honest effort to attend Bible class. Send your child to Sunday School. Yes, the mind will always scream: “I don’t have time!” The devil will tempt: “You have nothing more to learn!” The heart beats: “You don’t need to know this!” You can make an excuse for anything you do not want to do. In the end, they are just that: excuses. Instead of creating excuses, create reasons to come, to worship, to study, to learn. Carve out time and you will soon realize you do have time to spend with God. Remember Jesus’ saving work and the heart will fill up with the Lord alone.
Transitions provide an opportunity to reconsider the priorities of your heart. Summer free-time will now be consumed with fall events. You may not have enough hours to participate in every activity. Your appointments may change based on the availability of others. Transition brings adjustment.
So, what your priorities? As you look forward to the fall, what makes the cut? What’s left behind? Who are You Serving? Start your planning with Joshua’s words: As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.
Yet, wisdom holds a unique feature. You can refuse to follow wise advice and still complete your tasks. You can wear loose clothing at the table saw; the saw will still power on. You can have greasy burgers, salty French fries, and sugary sodas for every meal; you will succeed eating. You can slice veggies with your fingers on the blade. Your bike still functions without you wearing a helmet. You can ignore wisdom and complete tasks… but(!) the table saw can grab your untucked shirt and pull you into a blade capable of splitting logs. Too much junk food clogs arteries, increases blood pressure, and can shorten life. Knives slice veggies and can slice off your fingertips. You can bike without a helmet, collide with a car, and damage your brain. Ignore wisdom and you put life in danger. Follow words of wisdom and you preserve life.
Each day you are confronted with following wise words or brushing wisdom aside. That truth not only applies to everyday matters, but also to your Christian life. Ignoring wisdom leaves you wandering into spiritual danger. So, God provides his Word of wisdom for you to follow and live. Be Careful to Live Wise. Remember the will of the Lord! Make the most of every opportunity!
In verse 17, God defines wisdom: [U]nderstand what the Lord’s will is. If you want to know what the Lord’s ‘will’ is for your life, then you must read God’s Word and hear what God says. There, in the Bible, God reveals his ‘will’ for you: God wants all [people] to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2:4). God wants you(!) saved. So, he took the necessary steps to accomplish his desire. He gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life (John 3:16).
Those who are wise recognize that life has a beginning and an end. The time you have now (in this life) is the time you have to know that only Jesus makes you right before God. You need to know this truth now because when you die, it will be too late to learn it then.[A.G.E.1]
So, real wisdom (1) knows there is an eternity. Real wisdom (2) knows, trusts, and believes that Jesus paid the price for you to enter heaven. Real wisdom (3) remembers the will of the Lord is for you to spend eternity with him. To those who know this, to you (and me), God expands his will. It is God’s will (his ‘want’ for your life) that you should be sanctified (or, ‘live a holy life’) (1 Thessalonians 4:3).
Wisdom can be lost. That is why God cautions: Be very careful, then, how you live— not as unwise but as wise. Wise people remember— constantly, always, continually. God has saved you and has called you to live a holy life. Only a fool thinks he is so secure, so safe, so certain that nothing will destroy his faith. And that fool grows careless about what his heart believes. Are you a fool?
Well, what’s your response to God’s command (in verse 18): ‘Do not get drunk on wine’? Are you smirking inside? …replaying your drunken escapades? … chuckling about that one time your buddy mouthed off to the cops? Are you rolling your eyes because this sounds so, well… so “prudish?” I mean, this is one of those commands your friend points at: “Oh, Christianity is so strict! It’s no fun; it’s full of rules!” You do not want to be prudish, right? So, ignore God’s wisdom! Brush it aside! Follow whatever decision feels right to you! Let loose! Be excessive! Lose control! Because, after all, getting drunk does not hurt anyone, right?
Do you realize God gives the reason for his command? ‘Do not get drunk on wine.’ Why? [It] leads to debauchery. ‘Debauchery’ is wild, immoral living. Just think about where drunkenness leads. Sexual boundaries are crossed— sometimes against better judgment, at other times, it’s illegal. Drunk drivers crash cars and damage property; they injure others and ruin lives. Children are abused by a drunk parent. Reputations suffer. (It takes longer to erase the title “drunk” than serving a jail sentence.) Those are just the shameful, physical consequences! Drunkenness affects you spiritually! You indulge again… and again… and again. Little by little your conscience dulls. Breaking God’s command no longer bothers you; you do not even give a second thought to the holy life you are meant to live! Little by little you foolishly wander away from your God.
This command highlights the spiritual dangers surrounding you (and me). The devil uses the most innocent of looking objects and whispers the most subtle of lies: “Is it really that bad?” He wants you to leave God’s wise Word— a Word meant to preserve your life!— and to follow the opinions of your faulty human heart!
He can take just one single sin and make it explode exponentially. Yes, maybe you’re not the one getting drunk, but ask yourself this: Does the sight of drunk spouse or a drunk child still bother you? Or, do you tolerate it? Do you laugh? Do you condone it? (Which, by the way, means you stand on the opposite side of God)
And if you condone one behavior God calls ‘wrong,’ why stop there? Live in whatever way feels right to you! Dabble with drugs; say nothing when you catch your kids smoking pot! Never mind that God calls you to be sober-minded (1 Peter 5:8). Who cares if your relationship does not honor marriage as God intends it? Follow your own moral code— even if it means you willingly choose to do the wrong instead. You know you should immerse yourself with Word and sacrament— and you even admit this! But create all sorts of flimsy excuses as to why it is just not possible to worship every Sunday. Ignore wisdom and complete tasks!
Ignore wisdom and you put life in eternal danger. You see, the more you (and I) ignore God’s commands, the more you dull your conscience. The more you dull your conscience, the less you care about the wrongs you commit. The less you care about the wrongs you commit, the less you care about a Savior. Because, if you do not think your lifestyles are wrong, then what is there to confess? Nothing! And if there’s nothing to confess, then you don’t need a Savior. That, my friends, is the very definition of ‘foolishness.’
You need a Savior. You (and I) cannot save yourself. So, God provides his Word of wisdom to preserve your life. The Holy Scriptures are able to make you wise for salvation [eternal life] (2 Timothy 3:15). The Bible points you to Jesus, the only One who desires to obey God’s will, the only One who desires to obey every single command (Psalm 40:7-8; Hebrews 10:5-7).
Just like you (and me), the devil trots up to Jesus (Matthew 4:1-10). “Jesus, make bread out of stones; it doesn’t look like your Father cares.” “Jesus, jump down from the building. Let’s see if God will keep his promise of protection.” “Jesus, worship me— just this once— and gain wealth.” Each seductive whisper wants Jesus to wander away from God’s commands. Following the devil’s lies, would lead Jesus into sin. Following the devil’s lies, would fail you (and me). Yet, Jesus wisely stands on the Word. Yes, ‘wise’ because Jesus’ obedience brings eternal life in heaven!
God chose to love the world, to send his only Son, to stand in your (and my) place, to suffer separation from God, which is where your foolish wandering leads—separation. Jesus has brought you back to God. Jesus has removed your foolishness. In its place, he fills you with wisdom. The wisdom to know that you are indeed forgiven. The wisdom to know eternal life is yours. The wisdom to know life leads to heaven.
God has made you wise to know, to trust, to believe this. So, he urges you, Be Careful to Live Wise! Remember the will of the Lord. Remember you are walking to heaven. Since this walk continues your entire life, make the most of every opportunity.
That is how you live wise. Mak[e] the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Non-Christians in the world— friends and family, co-workers and neighbors— will invite you to participate in the things God calls ‘wrong.’ Your sinful heart will continue pushing you to make your own choices. The devil will whisper foolish lies. Every day you will confront countless opportunities to wander into foolish behavior that only harms you.
So, make the most of your personal time. Instead of filling your heart up with earthly pleasures, be filled with the Spirit. The Holy Spirit already lives in you. At your baptism, when water was poured on your head and God’s Word was spoken, he entered your heart. He continues working in you as you remain in God’s Word. When you are unsure of a decision, turn to the Bible first for guidance. Reflect if your words are pleasing to God or not. Consider if you can still control yourself as you head out with friends. Deflate your pride by relying on the fact God saved you. If you are defending and justifying lifestyles you know are wrong, the time to return is now! Separate yourself from that which tempts you. Do not put yourself into a position of pressure. Make the most of every opportunity, that is, make the most of your time on earth by keeping your heart and thoughts close to God.
Make the most of every opportunity with others. You have family and friends, co-workers and acquaintances, those you are friendly with and those you know struggle. Some are walking the wide road to hell and may not even know it. The worst thing you can do is to condone the evil you know is wrong. It does not mean that you wag a finger, present a lecture that only rips people to pieces. Rather, speak the truth in love. The friend (young or old) who shrugs off God’s beautiful gift of marriage, simply say, “But marriage is God’s gift of blessings.” The kids smoking bowls when you’re gone; you, as a parent tell them: “I want you in heaven. Follow what is right.” The child greedily craving status, remind: “Status has an end. Your life does not.” God has handed you words of wisdom meant to preserve life! Make the most of every opportunity, fighting to dig deeper into the Word, fighting to sing it with others, fighting to share it now before the Savior returns. Be Careful to Live Wise, making the most of every opportunity to be close to God.
You can refuse to follow wise advice and still complete your tasks… but(!) ignore wisdom and you put life in danger. Follow words of wisdom and you preserve life.
Each day you are confronted with following wise words or brushing wisdom aside. That truth not only applies to everyday matters, but also to your Christian life. Ignoring wisdom leaves you wandering into spiritual danger. So, God provides his Word of wisdom for you to follow and live. Remember the will of the Lord! Make the most of every opportunity! Be Careful to Live Wise.
What is your ‘escape?’ You know, that sanctuary where you drown all your anxieties, fears, and stress? … that haven which helps soothe stinging memories? …that refuge you enter when hopes and dreams crumble away? Do you have an ‘escape?’
My garden is my escape. When my attention fixates on problems that cannot be solved, the garden redirects my attention onto the things that can be solved, like weeds that must be pulled and branches that need pruning. When my eyes replay the pictures of dear friends now gone, the garden pulls my eyes to search for cucumbers and tomatoes hiding under leaves. When the mental work calendar demands more hours than there are in a day, the garden rolls out the transplanting and the landscaping that can be planned now and done later. Anxiety and stress, sadness and frustration melts away in my garden-escape.
Yet, my ‘escape’ has one major shortcoming: it cannot end trouble. My ‘escape’ cannot erase [delete] painful heartache. It cannot free up a busy schedule. At best, an ‘escape’ distracts you from life’s troubles, but you must return to those overwhelming challenges. How can you ever do that?
You need a better escape. Some place that ends anxiety and stress, that wipes away tears rolling down your cheeks, that builds you up when frustration leaves you mangled. And you have that rock-solid place of rest. When troubles press into you and you do not know where to turn, remember this: God’s Word Strengthens Weary Hearts. When you feel pressed down, feast on God’s promises.
Picture it. Elijah stands high on a mountain, looking down on a city he loves so dearly, on a people wandering from their God. Most of those citizens now flock around this scene on the mountain. Four-hundred-fifty priests are piecing together an altar to this god called: ‘Baal.’ A god considered active in nature; he sends the rain and allows crops to grow and produce. A god so many trust.
Elijah watches priests dance circles around the altar, arms stretched out to the heavens, heads thrown back, howling at their god to receive their sacrifice. Someone pulls out a sword, another brings out a spear, and they begin slicing into each other, hoping the sight of blood would move Baal to have compassion and take action. From sunrise until sunset they shout, plead, beg: “Baal, answer! Baal, act!”—and nothing happens.
While the priests ramble on, Elijah constructs an altar out of twelve stones. He digs out a trench around it. Then, he lays kindling on top and arranges his sacrifice. He commands: Fill four large jars with water and pour it on the offering and on the wood (1 Kings 18:33). He does that again… and again… and again— four times total! His sacrifice is sopping wet. Kindling, stones drip. Water pools in the trench. Standing before the altar, Elijah prays: O LORD… let it be known today that you are God in Israel… (18:36-37). Fire instantly spills from heaven, devouring the meat, incinerating stone and wood, vaporizing the water.
Elijah turns from the smoldering altar. “This is your God, Israel! Follow him!” points Elijah. Masses chant: “Yes, the Lord— he is God! We will leave Baal! The Lord—he is God!” (18:39).
This is it! God proves his existence in the most spectacular of ways! Everyone knows God is real! In fact, God’s blazing fire should ripple throughout the country, toppling down idol worship once for all. Everyone would worship him! In the greatest of successes comes the lowest of threats from the king’s wicked wife: “May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of [the slaughtered priests of Baal]” (1 Kings 19:2).
Just like that Elijah’s confidence deflates. [He] was afraid and ran for his life, scrambling out to a desolate area. There, he finds his ‘escape:’ a scraggly broom tree and [he] sat down… No servant pesters him. Queen Jezebel’s threat is a distant thought. Now he can unload his thoughts, his burdens, his deep-seated emotion. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.”
Prophet after prophet after prophet pointed to God, and Israel only plunges ever deeper into unbelief! You live as God’s light in the world, but the world chews up your Christian living and spits it right out. As Elijah wallows in the dust, he’s confronted with an undeniable truth: He controls very little. And that absolutely crushes him.
Know the feeling? You love God oh so dearly. People see you as a ‘Christ-follower.’ You imitate Christ in your living— not to be better than others, but to shine Christ to others. Still, the world chews up your Christian living and spits it right out. It leaves you questioning the value of a Christian life in an increasingly Christ-less society. “The world is changing! I cannot stand against it! I must change my social beliefs to blend with it!”… “No one cares to listen anymore! I must change the “offensive” parts of the Bible so that others may listen!”…“Oh, so few worship now. Why am I here? I don’t want to be one of the last ones! I don’t want to be stamped: ‘Failure.’” And it’s not always the world that afflicts, is it? Personal suffering threatens to overwhelm you. You feel crushed and weighed down because you have no answers for cancer. You feel lost after an untimely [early] death. Questions surge after a painful accident. You missed the life-goals of: having a good job, earning enough money, having the perfect family. Friends hurt you and you feel so sad. All these troubles pile up and leave you struggling with your own faith, wondering: “Does God really cares about you?”
Just like Elijah, you (and I) feel pressed down. Why? Because you are trying to fix things that you cannot fix and to control that which you cannot control. When you realize how little control you have, you get angry with God because you (and I) think we can order him to fulfill all our demands.
Self-reliance pushes the head right into the heart. You stare at yourself. You trust yourself. Yet, the greater your self-reliance, the harder you fall. The harder you fall, the greater opportunity you have to look up to Jesus.
As Elijah sinks to his lowest low, God’s angel knelt beside his head. He touched him and said, “Get up and eat.” Shaking himself alert, Elijah looks around and sees a cake of bread over a little fire and a jar of water. Yes, the angel feeds him, but how does bread and water help? His troubles had not gone away; he’s still a wanted man! Spiritual decay still ravages the hearts of so many Israelites.
The angel of the Lord came back a second time This time he does not just feed Elijah with bread and water, he feeds him with the Word. “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.” Can you see the gears grinding in Elijah’s mind? He relied so heavily on himself, imagining that he is the crucial mechanism to solving Israel’s spiritual decay! Yet, God puts his ministry in its only correct perspective: “Elijah, that’s more than you’re capable of handling on your own.”
The angel of the Lord is a special person. You see, that angel is not from the Lord; he is the Lord. That Lord reminds you: “The journey of life is too hard for you to handle on your own, but it is not too hard for me to handle.” When you feel pressed down, look up to heaven!
Jesus speaks—and does everything he promises! No one stands in his way. Even when it appears the Jewish leaders succeed, Roman soldiers crucify, and the cross kills, Jesus still triumphs. He loads your (and my) self-reliance onto his back and removes it. Jesus plants his heel into Satan’s head. His unblemished blood spills before God and shows his innocence. His empty grave reveals the Father is pleased with Jesus. Then, the Word reaches your ears: “Peace be with you!”
And what peace you have! Dear friends, when you are tempted to rely on yourself, look up to Jesus. There you see the One who has crushed Satan’s head so that you will never, ever fear death in hell. See Jesus, who rises into heaven so that he can return to [his] Father and your Father, to [his] God and your God (John 20:17). See your God, the One enthroned in heaven, reigning from his high throne, keeping his watchful eye on you, making sure to work all things for your good (Romans 8:28). Weary hearts receive strength from God’s Word—because in the Word, God promises your forgiveness. He promises to handle your burdens. He promises to remain with you always. Yes, God’s Word Strengthens Weary Hearts. Feast on his promises!
The promises of Jesus speak in such a way to the human heart that only Jesus could bring real peace. Eyes fill up with tears at funerals when you hear the Bible read. No, not out of sorrow or sadness. Rather, tears flow because God reveals the sight of blissful paradise— the paradise Jesus gave to that loved one, the paradise your loved one enjoys now. Anxiety melts away when you hear Jesus promise to provide all things better than he already does the birds of the air and the flowers of the field (Matthew 6:25-34). Hearts flutter when they see the Holy One enthroned in heaven scoffing on the trivial works of man (Psalm 2). You grasp peace because God the Holy Spirit is working in your heart. He wraps your heart’s fingers around God’s promises tighter and tighter. He increases your confidence of knowing God remains in control no matter what. When the storms of life may gather, you may run into God’s promises, your rock of refuge.
God’s Word Strengthens Weary Hearts. Sometimes, it makes you stronger by removing that which makes you weak. The Holy Spirit cuts away the frightful clutter of your (and my) human heart. Yes, the clutter. God’s Word purges pride— and reminds you (and me) that you are not in control; God is. It clears out self-reliance and returns you to Jesus, the Good Shepherd.
God’s Word clears out Elijah’s self-reliance. He prays, weeping that he is the only believer left. And God answers his prayer. No, not by taking Elijah’s life. He answers it better. In fact, he increases Elijah’s trust over time. Do you realize it takes 40 days and 40 nights for God answer Elijah? At Mount Sinai [Horeb] he says: I reserve seven thousand in Israel— all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and all whose mouths have not kissed him (1 Kings 19:18). “Elijah, you’re not the last Christian.”
The time in responding allowed Elijah to reflect on God’s Word. Do you think, that after day 10, he realizes he had not eaten for some time? Do you think after day 20 he realized God has some strength? Do you think after day 37 he realized God has control to carry out his plans? For forty days and forty nights God re-centered Elijah’s attention and heart back onto his promises. God’s unbreakable, unchanging Word strengthened Elijah for life in an ever-changing, always breaking world.
Little by little, God re-centers your (and my) heart back onto his promises. He teaches us patience as we wait for his answers. Some answers have come. Others are coming. Still others will continue to come. God’s Word Strengthens Weary Hearts as you feast on God’s promises.
Elijah’s death threat never disappears. King Ahab and Queen Jezebel always stew in anger, but Elijah has strength to stand up to them. How? The Almighty King of the universe is on his side— and no one can stand against Him.
And that’s the perfect ‘escape’ the world will ever have. In fact, it is better than an ‘escape.’ God does not distract you from troubles; he deals with troubles. Feast on his promises and satisfy your anxious mind, you stressed out heart, and confused-twisted emotions. When you feel pressed down remember this: God’s Word Strengthens Weary Hearts.
Marcia Kester Doyle is a mother of four children. To help ease an already tight household budget, she stayed home with them, while also working three different in-home jobs.
What she did not earn financially, she made up for with what she offered her family. Her kids had a roof over their heads, clothes in the closet, and full bellies. She cooked dinner and packed lunch boxes. She washed and folded laundry, vacuumed and dusted each bedroom. She solved difficult math homework and read bedtime stories. She chased away nightmares at all hours of the night. She clocked hours driving children to choir practice and church services, to their friend’s homes and practice fields. She stayed up all night to cool down a fever and mopped up each sloppy mess during flu season.
As the kids grew, they grew aware of the family’s financial limitations. It left her youngest, now a teenager, frustrated. He realized that he did not have as much stuff as others his age. So, he accused Marcia of being the cause for his lack of money. He challenged when she would get a “real job.” He even grumbled, What have you done for me? (https://www.huffingtonpost.com/marcia-kester-doyle-/rude-children-_b_5589057.html)
That stings, doesn’t it? That ungrateful attitude failed to realize that everything he had came from his mother. Yet, that’s what ungratefulness does, right? Ungratefulness treasures something that is not really treasure at all. That’s what makes an ungrateful attitude so dangerous. It fails to appreciate real treasure.
So, God records this Old Testament account so that ungratefulness does not poison your heart (1 Corinthians 10:6). Trace Earthly Blessings to Your Eternal Blessing. See The LORD remove worthless grumbling and see The LORD satisfy your every need.
For 430 years Old Testament Israel slaves away in Egypt! (Exodus 12:40) (That’s almost twice as long as our nation’s existence!) Pounding out clay bricks under a scorching desert sun. Leather whips snapping bare backs. Sweat streaming from head to toe while cracking grain in the stuffy, sweltering mills. Twelve, fourteen, sixteen hours each day. No vacation. No freedom to begin whenever. Seven days a week, 52-weeks each year, for 430 years!
And God hears their groaning (Exodus 2:24-25). His ten powerful plagues rip through the laws of nature. Water becomes stinky, sewer-gas-smelling blood. Gnat and fly swarms blot out sunlight. Frogs and locust squirm over every surface. Darkness, hailstorms, boils break out; the angel of the LORD takes away the life of those who stand against him. Then God grabs Old Testament Israel by the hand and walks them out of the fields, out of their homes, out of slavery. He splits the Red Sea in half and dries the ground so millions could reach other side.
Imagine standing high on a rocky ledge, watching walls of water stand in place. Watch the Egyptian armored chariots race after these hobbling slaves. Powerful warhorses grunting, soldiers clutching spears, hooves pounding earth. Just then— chariot wheels spin off! Confused soldiers toddle around the sea-floor. The moment the last Israelite steps onto level ground, the walls of the sea collapse on every single soldier (13:17-14:30). Is there any question that God cares?
Then you get this reading. One month after witnessing God subdue the superpower of the ancient world, the Israelites grumble. They’re hungry. “If 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.” God, what have you done for us? A better question would be: What hasn’t God done?
God has allowed you to live in one of the most prosperous nations in world history. People own two homes, meaning two sets of property taxes, two sets of appliances, and two maintenance schedules. Just a short time ago owning two cars was considered a luxury. Drive down any street in town and you see at least two cars in every driveway. People do not own just enough property for a house; they own acres just to have. Go home, open the fridge and cabinets, and find food on every shelf. Crack open the closet door and find sets of clothes lasting for weeks. Look in your bedroom and see a roomful of toys! Drive down the street and find banks and doctors. Is there any question God cares?
Still, somehow in spite of these many blessings, it never seems to be enough, does it? Never mind God put gas in your car to arrive here today and to return home; gripe that gas went up ten-cents (which is only about $1.20 more for a fill-up). Never mind God provides money so you can pay bills with extra left over for retirement(!); complain that you do not have as much as your friends. Never mind God hands you freedoms in America; just criticize your leaders (which, by the way, is actually criticizing God for the leaders he set in office [Romans 13:1-2]).
You see, grumbling, complaining, griping is not done in vacuum— as though you’re complaining to no one at all. You are not grumbling against [people], but against the Lord. God opens his hand and out pours everything needed to satisfy the desires of every living thing (Psalm 145:16). That’s why you have anything at all; God is handing you what you need for life. Ungratefulness reveals that you love your earthly possessions more than the One who gave them in the first place!
You know what? If it really feels as though God is wronging you by withholding something from you, then he would be completely fair to let you have your wish and get out of your life. “You want to return to Egypt? … live as slaves? … eat pots of meat until you die in hell forever? Fine! Have it your way! I’m gone!”… “Are you discontent over the money I give you? Do you want more cars, a bigger house, more gadgets? Is that the most important thing in life? Then fine, love your stuff more than me! By doing that, you will lose me forever.” Be sure, The LORD will remove worthless grumbling from his ears forever.
In love he has done just that; the LORD removes worthless grumbling. He removes your (and my) griping and criticizing by satisfying your only real need with Jesus, the Bread of Life (John 6:25-35). Look at our gospel reading; see the real satisfaction Jesus provides. Crowds search for enough food until they get hungry again; Jesus presents a feast of God’s Word which will fill the soul forever. Crowds want just another miracle; Jesus gives you his life. Israelites had their fill in the desert, but still died, but because Jesus dies, you never will.
See Jesus give thanks for the food he eats. See Jesus treasure his Father as a perfect Provider. See Jesus trust the Father to give him all things at the proper time. He does all this— not to shame you— but rather to live as your Substitute.
The LORD removes worthless grumbling with his death on the cross. With his resurrection the LORD satisfies your every need. He gives you forgiveness. He gives you peace. Something you can never buy. Something you can never earn. Something you possess now. Out of all the earthly blessings of life, you hold the most priceless of them all: unending life in heaven.
If you want contentment, then look no further than the cross of Jesus. That sight puts every earthly blessing into its proper perspective. God showered Israel with peace and forgiveness. Then he gives them even more. 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. God would satisfy their hunger. Yet, do you see what else the manna and quail would do? Every evening when they went out and saw the quail fly in, every morning when they looked out and saw manna littering the ground, they would see God provided for their physical needs. They would realize this God is kind, loving, and forgiving. Those earthly blessings led to their Eternal Blessing.
That God has not changed. He still showers everything you need for life so that you may know that I am the Lord your God. Look at all the stuff packed into your house. See the cars in the garage, the boats in the water. Consider your freedoms and mobility. Do not to fixate on what you have, but rather reflect on how you received it. It’s as though every single possession has a string tied to it. Whatever you receive, take it into your hands and follow that string back to the One who gave it to you. Trace Earthly Blessings to Your Eternal Blessing. Know that Jesus made God your Father. Now, live confident this Father provides your every physical need.
That’s why you can pray with confidence: Give us this day our daily bread. Ask your God to provide what you need— not always what you want, not always what you think you need, but ask that he continue providing for all you need in life.
When you Trace Earthly Blessings to Your Eternal Blessing, you will always live content. That contentment will move you to action. [T]he 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.” So, six days the camp would gather and on the seventh they would not work. The seventh day was a day of rest. Attentions would not be fixated on the chores to be done. Hearts would not delight in greed for more. Rather, a day of rest provided an opportunity to thank God for what they had received.
See the many, many things you have received. Maybe they are “big,” like a house, car, job, retirement. Remember the “small,” such as flowers, seasons, weather. Fuel to buy food. The leaders for safety. Money for comfort. These are all blessings from your gracious God and Father. The LORD satisfies your every need.
Ungratefulness treasures something that is not really treasure at all. That’s what makes an ungrateful attitude so dangerous. It fails to realize that everything you have comes from God.
So, God records this Old Testament account so that ungratefulness does not poison your heart (1 Corinthians 10:6). Set your sights on Jesus. He hands you heaven— and that’s not a hopeful wish; it’s a reality. Words like that fill your heart and soul through and through. There is nothing more you really need— and still, God graciously provides so much for everyday life.
Trace Earthly Blessings to Your Eternal Blessing. See The LORD remove worthless grumbling and see The LORD satisfy your every need.