I could never have imagined I would do something so silly in front of my new (non-believing) friends…

In February 2019 my family and I moved to the Illawarra region in NSW, Australia. It was meant to be a very temporary stay as we prepared to move where my husband’s work was to take him next.  However, due to the virus, we are still here. I could never have imagined I would live here for so long! I suppose, around the world as we navigate this Coronavirus, millions of people are experiencing similar sentiment: “I could never have imagined…!” 

I must confess: I did not like this town before living here.  As a child I spent many Sundays here visiting my grandparents in their small apartment across the road from the beach. The weather was always a bother. It was either awfully windy, the kind of wind that causes the sand to ‘bite’ your legs, or it was pouring with rain. In summer the tidal surf, made worse by the wind, was  dangerous, so swimming even on a very hot day was unpleasant. I did not romanticize the area at all so the idea of staying here long-term didn’t excite me. But, as it turns out, God knew better. I can see that God brought us here with intention and purpose and it has been one of the most rewarding (and confronting) times of my life. It’s the friendliest town I’ve ever lived in and as a result I’ve made more new friends than I ever thought possible. And once I came to accept the wind as it’s own character, I have come to see the certain charm and true beauty to the place. 

Regrettably, If I had known that I was to be here for over a year, maybe even two, I would have put more effort into making friends during those first weeks and months but then I don’t really think it would have mattered: people here are so nice!  Also, with the town being a little over one hour train ride from Sydney, there’s a steady flow of new families into the area eager to make new friends. I now have a local circle of friends and acquaintances far greater than I ever could have imagined. It’s going to make it tough to leave!  Eighteen months ago I did not realize that God would reveal his promise in Romans 8:28 to me so succinctly:  “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” 

The more I read the Bible the more I learn that God is all-caring and loving. He knows what we need (even when we don’t) and he plans how to meet that need.  (Some examples of God doing this can be found in the lives of Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Elijah, David, Esther, Mary, Peter and Paul.) Before moving here I was not aware that I lacked connection with people and that I needed to make new friends and work on my social skills. I had forgotten that I used to be more of a people person (Having four children close together in a foreign country (USA) can be isolating). But God knew! Psalm 138:8 says: ‘The Lord will work out his plans for my life’. As God makes his plan work out in our lives, He often reveals ideas, beliefs, pain, fear, or worry that may be hindering our character from becoming more Christ-like. For me, God has cleverly used my new friendships to reveal the fear and discomfort I have about revealing and discussing my faith in the most embarrassing way. 

“That’s my son. His name is Isaiah. But we’re not religious at all. In fact we’re atheists”, is what Isaiah’s father said to me when our children happened to play together at the beach. His atheist beliefs didn’t surprise or shock me but the manner in which he made his statement did. It was said in such a matter-of-fact way I wasn’t sure what my reaction should be. Mostly, there’s either a hesitance or confrontational sound in people’s voices when they mention religion but Isaiah’s Dad said it in the exact same way he discusses the weather (and I know this, for my family has now spent much time with his).  I was taken aback because he had no emotional connection to what he said. I however, felt so thrown about his unexpected admission, I was rendered silent. I said not a word.

Recently, I have come to think what a strange statement it was to make for unless a person knows there is an Isaiah in the Bible, the name wouldn’t raise any eyebrows. Either this man had some association with Christianity in his earlier life or he has met with braver christians than I whom have questioned his faith connection when they hear his child’s name? I’m going to guess it is the latter. I’m also going to guess that Isaiah’s Dad does not want to be associated with religion and that he has made this simple matter-of-fact statement many times before because he has not yet come across a Christian who questions him on it. He is trusting, and assuming, that most people around his age are faithless. 

Isaiah’s Dad is not the only person in this town to have woven into generalized, and unrelated, playground chit-chat their atheist and agnostic beliefs. Every time it is brought up, I note my reaction: their confession makes me nervous! I find myself nodding along, smiling politely, and doing everything I can to disarm myself from any potential conflict and conversation. I don’t want them to talk about their lack of faith because I don’t want to talk about my growing faith! I feel myself become anxious because I am very aware that I don’t want to say or do anything that might offend them. Yet, here they are, brazen in their speech with the assumption that I must agree with them, because in their mind there’s no way that I could be one of those ‘silly brainwashed people’ who could believe in such a thing as God, particularly the Christian God.  In such circumstances, I do the one thing I want to do: I change the subject. 

Would it surprise you to know that these ready-to-confess atheists and agnostics make up the majority of my new friends? If this is a trend or just the way the western world is going, I’m not sure. However, Jesus does wonder if he will find the faith at all on earth when he returns (Luke 18:8).  

Are you familiar with the verse in Mark 8:38 that says:  “If anyone is ashamed of me and my message in these adulterous and sinful days, the Son of Man (Jesus) will be ashamed of that person when he returns in the glory of his Father with the holy angels”? I am. I’ve known the verse for quite some time and still, I hide my faith. 

You might be very kind and wish to come to my defense in thinking that changing the subject is not a shameful act! Surely, you might say, isn’t it better and wiser NOT to challenge the atheist beliefs of those people we spend occasional time with THAN appear like a bully Bible basher -someone who forces the beliefs of the Bible on someone else?  Don’t Bible bashers only confirm the suspicions and prejudices non-believers have about us, thereby making the salvation of the unbeliever more difficult? Isn’t it better to show our faith by the way we live than what we say? Jesus did say that ‘it is by their fruits that you shall know them” (Matt 7:20) and if that’s true, why not stay silent when someone brings up the subject of faith, particularly when my the answer might make me look bad…or dare I say it, dumb?

It is absolutely true that we should act out our faith and that our lives should reflect the very character of Jesus so that we can be a blessing to our brothers and sisters in Christ and serve as example to our non-believing neighbour. God created us to be set apart from the world (LEV 20:24) so that we live as witnesses to God’s truth and goodness.  But what about those times it feels inconvenient or embarrassing to live set apart What about when it’s just easier and less controversial to just go with the crowd? What if keeping silent, or ‘hiding our light’ (Luke 11:33) means that people will like me more, that I will fit in? Surely that’s ok? God doesn’t want me to be lonely, right? What if I just fit in now and then pray about it later? It’s too hard, too awkward, too embarrassing to talk about God in front of my friends! None of them agree with me anyway, and what if they don’t like me as a Christian? 

I confessed at the beginning of this blog that I didn’t like the town I was to live in, so let me confess something really embarrassing now: I cringe at the thought of my new friends seeing evidence of my faith. It’s one thing to say I’m a christian, it’s another thing to have evidence of how seriously I take my belief. The simple acts I’ve done speak deeply about who I am:  I’ve hidden my Bible and other books about Christianity when non-believers have come to the house, I’m always embarrassed by the cross hanging on the wall that is visible from the front door, and I’ve shut the door so that anyone passing by the house won’t hear the Hillsong worship songs I’m playing.  It’s a real effort I have made to hide evidence from my new non-reliving friends? Is this an act that ultimately shows I am ashamed of Christ? Yes. Absolutely. He knows my heart. He knows exactly what it is. The reality is, and what God has shown me, is that I’ve been keeping my faith secret my entire adult life.  Thankfully Mark 8:38 serves as a warning to me. 

There is irony here too, it’s not all bad and embarrassing. Though I make effort to hide the little light I have and cower at the prospect of entering into a faith discussion with my friends, this has also been a time of such growth of faith and knowledge. I could never have imagined that I would read and love God’s word so voraciously. I could never have imagined that the scriptures would begin to make so much sense.  I could never have imagined that with my Christian friends I now speak about God, His Holy Spirit and His Son so openly with passion and conviction. I could never have imagined the swelling of my spirit within. And, I could never have imagined that I would dare to blog about any of this before either! So, what’s up? How can someone be such a contradiction? 

This week I read John chapter 7 and  God in his eternal wisdom, opened my eyes to verses 12-13:  “There was a lot of grumbling about him (Jesus) among the crowds. Some argued, “He’s a good man,” but others said, “He’s nothing but a fraud who deceives the people.” But no one had the courage to speak favorably about him in public, for they were afraid of getting in trouble…

There’s nothing new about the controversy of faith! Jesus is as controversial now as he was then! There’s always been people who openly dis-believe and there’s always been people who hide their belief in fear! Jesus said himself that he did not come to bring peace, he came to cause division, to ‘render judgement – to give sight to the blind and to show those who think they see that they are blind.’ (John 9:36) Must admit, it is a relief to know that I am not the only one but it is also terrifying to think of how many people stay silent when they know the truth. 

Another example of being to afraid to show faith is in John 9. Verses 20 -24 describe the actions of parents who are brought into the synagogue to confirm that their son whom Jesus had miraculously given sight to, was actually born blind.  They are able to confirm this but when asked how his eyesight was suddenly made possible, they defer the answer to their son because they are too afraid to say what they know and believe. “Ask him” they say “He is old enough to answer to speak for himself.” The Bible is very clear in the explanation as to why they do this in verse 22: “His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders, who had announced that anyone saying Jesus was the Messiah would be expelled from the synagogue” 

It’s apparent then, that since the beginning of Christ’s ministry on earth right up to now people have been afraid to speak their faith…for fear of consequences. 

This I now know to be very true of myself. Though I am delighting myself in the scriptures, relishing reading His Word, and honored to feel His presence in my life, I am deeply afraid of being ‘the christian’ to my new friends. What Christian means to my friends is another discussion but for the purposes of today’s blog, let’s just take it as it is; a person who believes in Christ.

To clarify my fear a little more: I’m not ashamed of my faith and I’m certainly not ashamed of Jesus, his message, miracles, life and resurrection, I’m embarrassed to be known as Christian first because I am in fact, afraid of the questions my new friends may have. I’m afraid of how I am going to act, what I am going to say. I’m afraid of the conversation because deep down, I am afraid of what God is going to say through me. I don’t mean that I will get all preachy or rain down fire on them, not at all;  God always wants us to responds to people in love.  But I think that in his strength and light and, as my weaknesses and failings are made known to me, I am more aware of the importance and relevance of his message.

There’s another thing I think I might be afraid of: to speak is to become the person God wants me to be and I’m not sure I’m ready yet! There’s so much I don’t know. Surely, it’s better for me to be well prepared and equipped with knowledge and experience before I tackle the topic of God and faith with anyone, right? Wrong! Absolutely wrong. 

I am ready now. You are ready now. For the Word of God in Luke 21:15 says not to worry: “I will give you the right words and such wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to reply or refute you!” 

That’s the NLT translation. Here it is in other interpretations just so there is no misunderstanding:  The NIV: “for I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict”.  Now the ESV: “for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict. 

Thank you for taking the time to read my confession, embarrassing as it is. I know that what I have to do is simple: stop hiding!  Leave my Bible out to be seen,  keep the doors open when I play Hillsong Worship and then pray without ceasing when, if ever, one of my new friends asks me about what I’m reading (currently Knowing God by J.I Packer). For most certainly, God will answer their questions through me, without fear and with much love.  Jesus did say in Matt 9:37 that “the harvest is great but the workers are few.”

My prayer for you, for me, is that when the time comes, we are counted among the workers.  

If you have something similar to share, please do so at the bottom of this page in the comments section. Thank you!

Anyone else feeling tired and overwhelmed? They say it’s ‘quarantine fatigue’ but I’m not so sure…

Is it just me, or have you been feeling fatigued and weighed down by the worries of the world? Are you experiencing days when you wake up and wish that it were already time for bed? Does it feel near impossible to focus on a simple task for work? Are you not able to motivate yourself, let alone all the people that rely on you at work or at home? Or, perhaps even more frustrating, can you not do your job because the person you rely on, simply doesn’t have the energy or direction to do theirs? If only it were already 2021, right? 

Do a quick internet search on ‘quarantine fatigue’ and you will see article upon article discussing our collective feeling of tiredness and how best to beat it. The sheer number of articles, linked articles, nested articles, blogs, tweets etc. on the topic is fatiguing to think of. This tiredness, it’s too much. Coronavirus is too much. Everything feels like too much. ‘God how long can this go on? Can’t you see it’s crippling me, crippling everyone?’ 

Having experienced the physical fatigue that often accompanies Covid-19, the kind of tiredness that keeps you in bed all day as the body aches and the headache feels like it’s teetering on the edge of explosion, what I feel now is something very different. I wonder if what I am feeling is not ‘quarantine fatigue’ but grief. 

Grief, as defined by my Apple Pages writing software, is ‘deep sorrow, especially that caused by someone’s death.’  To define it further: sorrow is ‘a feeling of deep distress caused by a loss, disappointment or other misfortune suffered by oneself or others, and distress is ‘extreme anxiety or pain’.  I do not doubt that I, and much of the globe’s population, as we watch our nations, families, and friends lose loved ones and face unemployment, social unrest and upheaval, we are living through a prolonged period of grief…and, until that elusive vaccine, there is no end in sight. Could the entire world be living through a period of grief? 

For me, my tipping point was the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Police Officer in the United States and the subsequent protests, violence and looting. Then seeing businesses burning that I would frequent in Los Angeles up in flames; it broke me. For I saw the deep scars, pain, hurt, anger, despair, rage, and grief of an entire community of people ripped open and laid bare. The truth can not be denied: we are a broken people living in a broken world. And Coronavirus, our unseen enemy, makes ground every day. Our cries for justice, our grief, is surely heard throughout the universe. For we are ‘exhausted and completely crushed. (our) groans come from an anguished heart. (Psalm 38:8) 

Until today, I have not been able to bring myself to blog. And even now, I still don’t know what to say. I am as lost for words as I am in thought. I have no answers. No solutions. I am but a small voice in an increasingly loud world. What, if anything, could I blog about that might encourage you? That might bring you peace? That might inspire you to read God’s word? That might be an answer, or insight, into an unspoken question you have? How could I possibly think that I could be a little of a light to you when the world that we knew crumbles beneath our feet and nothing seems to make sense? I have been overwhelmed with sadness, with confusion, with grief. It’s not just because of injustice, it’s everything. And I’m going to guess that you feel it too. 

I did make a few attempts to blog. I have been reading about King David and King Saul. I finished the books of Matthew, Mark, Judges, and Joshua, as well as reading most of the Book of Psalms. There’s a lot of topics I could have chosen to blog about but nothing felt appropriate. Personally, I was encouraged by David’s years in the wilderness and, as it touched on a previous post of mine (Is it just me or does isolation feel like a wilderness?), I could have easily written something about it – Specifically that David spent about a decade in the wilderness running for his life even after God (and Samuel the Prophet) had anointed him as the next King of Israel – talk about a long time waiting for an answer to prayer! I found many Psalms of David to be relevant and encouraging (honestly, given his struggles and persecution, his songs and poetry are extraordinary), but I still couldn’t bring myself to write.  

So why today? Why is today so different? Well, I think it’s because I am finally able to recognize, to define, what it is that we are all going through. It’s not fatigue, it’s grief. We’re grieving loss that our generation has not known before. Lost jobs, lost health, lost lives, lost childhood, lost economy, lost connections with family and friends, lost education, lost birthdays, lost weddings, lost funerals, lost church, lost entertainment, lost travel, lost opportunities, and lost freedoms. We’ve also managed to lose faith in the democracies and nations of the world we live in. Nothing is certain. All is unknown. Together we cry out for God’s help and together we can weep and mourn for ‘Morning, noon and night (we) cry out in our distress and the Lord hears (our) voice.’ (Psalm 55:17.) 

So, I’ve cut myself some slack for not being able to blog. For, in periods of grieving, it is better not to say anything and just listen.

Listen and pray. 

Listen to my prayer, O God. Do not ignore my cry for help! Please listen and answer me, for I am ovewhelmed by my troubles.’ (Psalm 55:1-2)

Pray for our world leaders. Pray for God’s presence to be found and known. Pray for revival. Pray for God’s will to be done here as it is in heaven. Pray for healing. Pray for peace. Pray for the families of those who have lost love ones. Pray for those who are sick. Pray for a vaccine….the list goes on. 

God is listening. He is waiting for us to seek him. He wants us to trust him. He desires for us to be in relationship with him so that, and because of, ‘God’s tender mercy, the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide us to the path of peace’. (Luke 1:78-79.) 

Sometimes I think the God in the Old Testament can’t be the God in the New Testament. Who is he? What is his character? Did he change?

I recently began reading J.I Packer’s book Knowing God. I didn’t get far into it before I was confronted with the statement ‘Those who know God show great boldness for God’. Summing up my existence and ‘slow burn’ christian faith, I realized that I don’t know God at all. Yes, I know stories of Jesus and the Old Testament (OT) but I really don’t know who God is. I suppose a reason for this is that I have always felt more akin and comfortable with the God whom Jesus reflects and speaks of; ‘God is love’ (1 John 4:8). But the other God, or the other version of God in the OT, him I’m not so sure about. Verses like Joshua 7:15, ‘(the sinner)…will be burned with fire, along with everything he has (meaning his entire family), for he has broken the covenant of the Lord and has done a horrible thing in Israel’, cause me distress. How could this ‘all loving, all caring God’, do this? Surely, this is not the ‘father’ that Jesus reflects and prays to? 

Various violent acts and absolute statements in the OT can leave many christians stumped. I know of people who no longer, or who have not read, the OT. I also know people who are lost for words when asked by unbelievers to explain the OT and why they would ever believe in a such God. I also know believers (and in this case I’m one of them) who are reluctant to show their faith at all in the presence of, what I would call, an evangelical atheist. I admit it, I am not bold in faith at all. But I’d like to be. So who is this God? Did he change or is the same? How do I reconcile these apparent two versions of God? And where, if at all, can I find the link in the Bible?

In a previous post, I briefly touch on how the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ changed how we live and how we view each other. In him we learnt to love our neighbor as ourselves, to lay our life down for others, to turn the other cheek, and that we should behave peacefully and respectfully to all for God is love. So we then, should love one another. Christ and his teachings provided cohesion to the world. For from this point in time, civilization evolved in this framework and now we feel that sending armies to conquer a land and destroy it’s inhabitants is horrific (to say the least). Our thoughts, our ethics and morals have changed. Prior to the coming of Christ (and I’m still studying all of this so I won’t give an in-depth answer for now), the world was a very violent, waring place with no human rights or laws in place to protect the vulnerable. So to read the OT is to step back to a time that is difficult for us to comprehend or empathize with. The books and events wherein could not be more disturbing, alarming, baffling, different, and peculiar. Yet, the more I read of it, the more similarities I can see in God’s character as we know of him from the NT; the more I can recognize the God I am familiar with, and the more I agree with the statement in Malachi 3:6 ‘I am the Lord, and I do not change’.  It is a liberating and bold thing to know. 

Have you ever read the Psalms? It is a book of poetry and song written to worship God and it is written a long time before the birth of Jesus. In it, the authors use the most expressive and heartfelt emotion to describe their relationship with God, their sins, their longing, and their love towards a God they know to have ‘unfailing love’ for them, whom they call their ‘rock and salvation’, and who they describe as ‘trustworthy’, ‘gracious and merciful’ and as a ‘shelter’ worthy of all praise. Sounds a lot like Jesus and his father, right? The Psalmists also cry out to God for him to ‘Punish the wicked…(and) Break the arms of these wicked, evil people! Go after them until the last one is destroyed…The godless nations will vanish from the land.’ (Psalm 10: 13,15,16b)  Um…what the heck? Obviously, they live in a very different time to us!

Does it surprise you, as it did me, to know that the Psalmist, in this case King David, was referring to the God of the OT, the God pre-Jesus, and the God as described in the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible? How did King David get this version of God? How did he see God as having unfailing love when God wiped a generation of Israelites off the planet for disobeying him? King David knew something of God that we can easily forget. He knew that God was just. He knew that God commanded obedience. He knew God to be compassionate and gracious. He knew that God demanded purity and reverence. Mostly, he knew that he himself was full of sin. And in those days, sin and disobedience were dealt almost immediately. In contrast, in our post-messiah-arrival world, we now wait for God to bring justice to the oppressed, to the wronged, and to the faithful – which he promises to do at the end of time. Until then God is giving the world time for the Kingdom of God to grow; for the full measure of those who will call Christ Lord.  

The prophetic description of judgment in New Testament is reminiscent of the violence and death we see in the OT. John 12:48 is blunt: ‘But all who reject me and my message will be judged on the day of judgment by the truth I have spoken.’ Romans 2:5 is terrifying: ‘But because you are stubborn and refuse to turn from your sin, you are storing up terrible punishment for yourself. For a day of anger is coming, when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.’  

In the NT, for those people who do not love and follow Jesus, God’s son, Jesus wasn’t and isn’t always peace and love. In the OT, for those people who do not obey God and ‘brazenly violate the Lord’s will…have blasphemed the Lord and they must be cut off from the community. Since they ave treated the Lord’s word with contempt, they must…suffer the punishment for their guilt? (Numbers 15:30) Spot any similarity? Would God, if he was different say practically the same thing over 2000 years later? There is solidarity in the Word of God if you look for it. (There’s also a lot more blessing, love, goodness, and grace than God smiting the sinner if you’re taking a tally.)

Reading four consecutive chapters a day from a variety of books (today it was Deuteronomy, Joshua, Psalms and Matthew) I have been able to perceive the piecing together of one giant story.  From the beginning to end, Genesis to Revelation, God is recognizable as the same God.  He does not change. The world he operates in may change, but he does not. In being able to discern this, I am beginning to see his full character. He is, at once, loving and just; for to be loving and gracious is to be just. His unfailing love for his people is to be jealous for their affection. To demand obedience is to shelter and protect. To love is also to hate sin – the very thing that makes us unclean in God’s eyes. To send His very own son to bear the burden of sin is to provide grace – an undeserved grace. To kill then, can be to save.

God’s offer of salvation through Jesus Christ is available to everyone for God is love. And for you and I as we choose to trust and love Him, in our efforts to desire to know Him more we need to understand live out Christ’s directive: Love your neighbor for ‘anybody that does not love does not know God.’ (1 John 4:8)

This world we live in is crying out for love, for more of God’s presence and love. As we love and respect each other, we can be God’s light to each other and in turn, God will reveal more of himself, his heart, to us and to those that we serve. 

(Please note that I am not a theologian or an historian, just an average person trying to make sense of all of this. I am however, trying to read as much as I can on the topic discussed. Thank you.)

My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts” says the Lord. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts are higher than your thoughts

Isaiah 55:8-9

If I could remember to ask God to bless me with a good memory, maybe I wouldn’t keep forgetting that God promises to be my rock, my comfort, my guide, my teacher…um, what else?

In the days before the Israelites finally enter the promised land, Moses speaks at length to the people recounting what God has done for them, describing what God will do for them, and what they must to do remain in God’s blessing. He tells them to, “Remember how the Lord your God led you through the wilderness for these forty years, humbling you and testing you to prove your character…to find out whether or not you would obey’ (Deuteronomy 8:1-2), and ‘…Recognize today that the Lord your God is the one who will cross over ahead of you like a devouring fire to destroy them (the inhabitants of the land whom God knows to be wicked). Then Moses asks ‘Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you? He requires only that you fear the Lord your God, and live in a way that pleases him, and love him and serve with all your heart and soul. And you must obey the Lord’s commands and decrees that I am give you today for your own good.” Remember, Recognize, Required.

As I continue to read the book of Deuteronomy I wish that I began to take note of how many times the Lord, through Moses, urges the people to Remember, for it is often. Here are three: “Remember and never forget how angry you made the Lord your God in the wilderness. From the day you left Egypt until now, you have been constantly rebelling against him (Deuteronomy 9:7), “Remember that the Lord rescued you…in order to make you his very own people…(Deut 4:20), “…Remember this and keep it firmly in your mind: The Lord is God in both heaven and on earth, and there is no other (Deut 4:39).  It seems then, that God knows human memory is limited, but his desire for us to remember what he has done in our lives is infinite. 

Does this mean that if we remember what he has done, it will be easier for us to recognize him currently at work in our lives? Remembering who he is, who he says to be and what he did for us personally, is the best way to relax in this moment as we look for the signs and recognize that he is working for us today.  Can God really be at work, for the good of those who love him, during this very frightening and uncertain time millions of people are out of work, sick, and afraid? Why doesn’t he just end this now? 

I wonder, as the Israelites looked over the promised land, did they wish that God would just immediately give them land? For they knew that to get this land they would have to fight in hand to hand combat to get it. Could there have been some people, who would have rather returned to Egypt? I am sure there would have feen fear and anxiety amongst them, they are after all, only human. But God tells them to recognize that he went before them, that he is at work in their lives, basically wanting them to trust him, no matter how hard and long this time will be. 

While he’s working out our lives for our good, for that’s what he says he will do for those who love him, and that’s what you can see he’s done in your past, all he wants us to do is love, trust, and obey – as in do what his word says.

So, as you remember what God did for the Israelites and the miracles he did for them, what can you personally remember about God and what he has done for you? And right now, in the middle of this pandemic, what can you see God doing? Can you recognize his love? Can you recognize his goodness? It may be in something small, like a phone call or text message from an old friend, or the kindness of a nurse or doctor, or the promise of getting back to work sooner than you thought. Or can you recognize God at work in someone you love? Can you see their heart and mind turning to thoughts of God at this time? Or are you being ‘God recognized’ for someone else as you serve them? We are many people and God is at work in many ways. What then, do you think God requires of you right now? Aside from loving, trusting, and obeying, is there something that God keeps putting in your mind, something that you should probably do but just haven’t yet? 

As for me, I don’t have an awe inspiring testimony to remember; a moment like the apostle Paul experienced as he was on his way to persecute Christians when Jesus appeared and in an instant changed his life (and the course of history for Paul’s writings make up a large portion of the New Testament). My faith journey is one of slow burn with a little bit of revelation here, a prayer spoken over there, and a good sunset or two around that world that inspired me to think more of God and his purposes. But there are times that I can remember God at work in my life. In recent years I have seen and felt God’s guidance and assurance over my life and the lives of my family members as we grieve through the sudden and tragic death of my brother Paul. And now I can recognize God at work in the spiritual and personal disaster that has come in the wake of Paul leaving earth. Also in all of this mess, and the disaster that is Covid-19, as I read God’s word I have come to know what God requires of me today – to love him, to read about him more, to serve him (thus the blog – I really am a reluctant blogger but for some unknown purpose I feel compelled to do this), to trust him always, and obey his commands he so clearly makes known in his word…for my own ultimate good. But mostly, Remember who he is.

These truly are alarming and worrying times. No person or expert really knows how this Coronavirus pandemic is going to end, nor what we have to go through to reach that day. It can feel as if the world is teetering on the edge of collapse. It can feel hopeless. We all know that we all feel isolation to an extreme. So what now? What can we do? Worry? I pray not. God said three things to the Israelites and he says it to us today: Remember, Recognize, and Required. As we remember how he has helped us in time past and we recognize him and the work he is doing in our lives now, all we are required to do is love, trust and obey him today. We only have today. 

So don’t worry about these things…but your heavenly Father already knows all of your needs. Seek the kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you every thing you need.

So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s troubles are enough for today.

Matthew 6:31-34 NLT

I find some of the stories in the Bible so disturbing. Is it bad for my faith to question them?

There’s something about the Bible. It is capable of evoking joy in those that choose to believe it or it evokes anger in those that choose to discredit it. Oftentimes, it can evoke anger and joy in those who believe it too. Most of us modern day thinkers find many chapters (or the entire thing) in the Old Testament too terrible to comprehend. Much of the old testament speaks of brutal war, murder, rape, plagues, sin and sorrow. The Israelites were themselves brutal in their conquering of their enemies as they took hold promised land. In Deuteronomy 3:6-7 Moses, the author of the book, puts it bluntly: ‘We destroyed all the people in every town we conquered – men, women and children alike. But we kept all the livestocks for ourselves and took plunder from all the towns’.  In my opinion that is horrific, barbaric, and wrong! I am forced to ask ‘what kind of God could do that?’ And, if I take this further, I must consider if a God like that is really God at all because shouldn’t God be all about loving thy neighbor?

Somewhere along my journey of faith, perhaps when I heard Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church in the United States say that it is ok to have doubts, I came to realize that it is good to have questions too. In fact, more than that, it is essential to have questions, to mediate and think about God and what all of this means. Questions and doubt are not something to fear or to feel guilty about. It is part of who we are and how God made us. The intelligence he gave us is to, first and foremost, think.  And in our thinking and questioning we should not feel the need to hide from our christian friends, pastors, leader and churches. They too should not shy away from the deep questions we ask for there is opportunity for everyone to grow in faith and knowledge. Questioning God isn’t an act of doubt, it is an act of belief! If there was no belief, or no desire to believe, why bother questioning? There would simply be no reason to. It would be a waste of our precious time. To question then, is to desire understanding and meaning. Nothing wrong with that! 

So how then do you and I read the Bible? How do we continue in relationship with God when there is so much we don’t get and empathize with in the book? I suppose we need a little bit of faith, even just a tiny bit, to begin. Faith is that thing we can’t see but might be able to feel in our hearts but is also something we choose to have. It’s like saying ‘I don’t know about that but I’m going to trust that one day I will and that it will be good for me’. ‘But how do I even get to have faith, I don’t even know where to begin?’ 

Faith is found, seeded, and grown in hope. Hope comes from trusting a God who promises life and blessings to those who believe in him. We hope that the good stuff in the bible is true, we trust that it is. Trust is made manifest in the questions, trials, tribulations, joy and goodness that can be found in relationship with God (all those times we can see that God worked the good into our lives). Trust grows over time and relationship with God comes from time spent together with him. That’s time spent in thought, prayer and reading his word (and other writings that encourage you). Time given to thinking though God’s purposes and meanings. Wrestling over the purpose, meaning, and character of a God who stood by as the Israelites slaughtered thousands, means that you haven’t given up, you haven’t lost faith in God, it means that you desire peace in your heart over something that doesn’t sit right. And it doesn’t. I admit it. The slaughter of children never sits right. But then I wonder, why doesn’t it sit right? It seems like many ancient cultures killed children in war. In fact, many ancient cultures sacrificed their own children to gods (Deuteronomy 12:31b). Is there a difference in how we see children, or how we value life now in comparison to then? Yes. There is. Obviously.  

The reaction of many of governments around the world to bring their nation’s economy to a standstill in favor of protecting it’s citizens during this Covid-19 pandemic reveals something striking: life is valued. It is valued more than the billions of dollars lost. It is valued more than winning the next election. A world at standstill, in lockdown, in isolation to save the lives of people indicates more than strongly that we are valued. I am valued. You are valued. It seems that governments are acting in good faith that there is no financial loss that could be considered worse than losing one life in this pandemic. In Australia, where I live, to date, 97 people have died. The dollars spent to protect them – it’s not countable. So what happened? How is it that we read the Old Testament with such disdain, disgust and interrogation when ancient cultures and it’s celebrities, including King David (the most celebrated Israelite (human) king), read it with acceptance and understanding? They even agreed with it! So, what changed us? The life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ did. It was he who offered a profoundly different way of thinking and living. In doing this, he also brought about a different way of relating to God. 

When Jesus was ministering in Israel, the nation was under the command of the Roman Empire. The Roman Empire, famous to many of us now for it’s architecture and Gladiators, waged war for centuries with millions of people across land and sea. It was also a people who, if a baby was not wanted, it was put into the street to be ‘exposed’ to the elements so that it would die. Children were not valued anywhere. Was it shocking for people to witness Jesus reprimanding his disciples for attempting to stop children approaching him? And when Jesus placed his hands on the children’s heads and blessed them saying ‘Let the Children come…For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are like these children’ (Matthew 19:14), doesn’t this infer that Jesus placed value and equality of the lives of children, on all of us? Similarly, when Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman (Samaritans were despised by the Jewish people), and at such length, he broke all social custom and treated her as equal. Most distinctly, when he commanded that we should love our neighbor (Mark 12:31) he said something that no one before him had done. The act of loving our neighbor as ourselves makes us equal in ways that the Old Testament did not do. It is this, this idea, that our western civilization, our world has profited from. For now, in our hearts, we abhor murder, rape, war, and all evil treatment to our neighbors and children alike. We are a changed civilization. Our perspective has been altered and it is for this reason that we have difficulty reading, understanding, and empathizing with parts of the Old Testament. But that’s a good thing! We are not meant to empathize, how could we, we view things in the light of Christ. We’re the lucky ones. We have an enormous benefit of seeing the story played out in God’s word. The ancient Israelites did not, they only knew the beginning of the story. For that’s what the Bible is, it is a story, it is history, as in HIS story, describing how God plans to bless all nations through the birth, death, and resurrection of his Son.

Depending on where we fit in story, in that timeline, we will all view things differently and have many different and similar questions. The more I read the Bible, the more I can see one thing in particular common to all peoples at all times: God is there and waiting to be found by those who seek him. So ask, think, ponder, doubt, talk to others, and even celebrate about what you think it all means. Thinking, meditating, questioning and seeking is a privilege – a God given one. What question is on your mind? 

Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.

Matthew 6:33 NLT

The Israelites in their wilderness saw God, they saw his incredible miracles and they still doubted. I don’t see God, is he talking to me at all?

Three weeks ago I began reading the books of Exodus and Deuteronomy. Aside from skimming over the details for the building and presentation of the Arc of the Covenant and the Tabernacle, I read it as closely as I could. I underlined, I made notes, I asked questions, and I discussed it with a person who knows the scriptures better than most (my mother). I wasn’t surprised by the violence; ancient cultures are known to have been barbaric. The strangeness of the plagues God used to expel his people from Egypt didn’t astonish me for I have known this story since childhood however, I found myself in awe of the constant complaints and failure of the Israelites. I came to understand that Exodus and Deuteronomy are not only about how God rescued his people from slavery, it is a record of how the Israelites kept getting it wrong. And in their failure, this record stands as example of God’s perfect and loving grace. 

I was dumbstruck to learn that within days of fleeing Egypt many Israelites (or Hebrews as they were known as at the time) doubt God’s deliverance and wish to return to slavery for ‘its better to be a slave in Egypt than a corpse in the wilderness’ (Ex 14:12). I could not believe that even after they witness the extraordinary parting of the red sea, experience God providing care, food and water for them in the wilderness, and seeing God’s daily guidance and protection manifest in a pillar of cloud in the day and a pillar of fire at night, they still doubt! Can you believe that before the first year is out they even take their jewelry and form a carved idol, which they then celebrate with a big party declaring that idol to be the god who brought them out of Egypt? (Ex 32:1-8) How did these people forget him so quickly? Did they have amnesia? 

In 2020, thousands of years after these events, it’s easy to judge the Israelites. They had physical proof that God was with them! They witnessed miracle after miracle! They were guided daily by God who even went ahead of them and chose the best campsites for them to dwell in (Duet 1: 32-33), but they still didn’t trust the Lord God! And here we are in May 2020 never having seen, or likely to ever see, anything remotely like this, yet we are still asked to put our trust in him? They had it so easy! So much easier than us. God appeared to them, time and time again, but there are probably millions of Christians today who don’t even believe that God has ever, or will ever, communicate with him. To him, he’s a distant God, not an interventional God, but one still worth believing him. When comparing us to the Israelites at the time of the Exodus with a God that so obviously showed up, it is difficult to comprehend their mistrust of him. Worse, when God after a short time takes them to the Promised Land and tells them to enter it, they refuse in fear. They still do not trust him. Their failure in this resulted in another forty years in the wilderness!

I wonder, what would my belief have looked like if I was among the Israelites? Would I have given my jewelry to be melted down and made into an idol? Would I have failed at the tests God gave them? Tests that God had already provided the answer for? What about you? Do you think you would have trusted him? When overlooking for the first time the land that God had promised to give them, all they had to do was enter and take it, instead they let their own fear and worry consume them. By not trusting and obeying God, they missed the blessings he had prepared for them and they were ordered back into the desert to learn again what God had already taught them – ‘Trust me and I will provide for you’.

Covid-19 and the enforced isolation that comes with it, feels (and looks) like a wilderness. It is unknown, it is mundane, it is a place a fear and loneliness, it is something all of us wish to turn away from. But I must wonder are God’s blessings, his provision and his very presence in this Coronavirus desert too? This may be a time of unprecedented change, worry, sickness and grief (don’t forget boredom too) but it can also be a time of trust, peace, faith and understanding. We may not have pillars of clouds or fire to guide us but God has already provided guidance for us in his word. 

The bible isn’t a book about God’s commands, punishment and law, it’s a book expressing God’s grace and unfailing love to a people who continually failed him. It’s a book that can be a light upon our path as we walk through these days. It is a book with a personal message of hope for you and I, if we decide to take the time to read it. The more I read it, the more I can see that God’s plan was, and will always be, good for those who put their trust in him. What will you discover?

 The wilderness the Israelites experienced destroyed many of them. My prayer for you and I is that this wilderness called Covid-19 and all the stress and discomfort it brings will not be a time of failure to trust, or a failure to hope or a lack of wanting to seek God, but rather a time of growth and blessing as we search for and rest in his comfort and guidance…as we seek him – the God who wants us to remember the miracles he did to rescue his people, knowing that one day when our time to be on this earth would come about that we would be blessed by what he did then.  I wonder, was King David thinking of the Exodus when he wrote Psalm 25:6 ‘Remember O Lord, your compassion and unfailing love, which you have shown from ages past.’ His love, the same love that dragged a stubborn people out of slavery so that he could honor his promise and bless them, is the love that God still has for his people, all people today.  Just now to trust him. 

“Remember how the Lord your God led you through the wilderness for these forty years humbling you and testing you to prove your character, and to find out whether or not you would obey his commands…He did it to teach you that people do not live by bread alone; rather, we live by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” 

Deuteronomy 8:2-7 NLT