Friday, July 20, 2012

The Good Ol’ Days Weren’t All That Good

How often have you heard people talk about “the good old days when…” or maybe you have begun to talk about bygone days when things were so much better. Now that I’m approaching fifty, I find myself looking back more than I used to. Like this morning when I woke up to another cool and gray summer day in Tillamook. I yearned for the warm, sunny summers where I used to live. But our memories can play tricks on us.
 The Israelites’ description of their “good ol’ days” in Egypt made me laugh out loud. “There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted” (Exodus 16:3). They said this on their arrival in the Desert of Sin. Hmm. I can hear it now, “Moses, I’m tired. It’s hot out here. I’m hungry. Are we there yet?” Memories of Egypt flooded their minds, but what they remembered was not the way it was.

First of all, they were slaves in Egypt. Slaves don’t sit around, they work. Hard. All day, every day, until they fall into bed exhausted. Then they get up the next day and do it all over again. Secondly, they didn’t get pots of meat. Most likely they ate whatever leftovers they could find – stale bread, spoiled fruit and vegetables, and bits of cheap meat. Thirdly, they didn’t get all they wanted. They labored in the hot, Egyptian sun and probably went to bed every night with sore muscles and growling bellies.

Do you ever catch yourself longing for days gone by that weren’t that great? Maybe you remember partying with your friends. Have you forgotten the hangovers, waking up in your own vomit, the fear of getting caught, of overdosing, the expense, the stench, the empty feeling in the depths of your soul? And about your friends. Were they around when you really needed them? It wasn’t that great in Egypt was it?

Or maybe you didn’t party – you just did your own thing apart from Christ. You went to work, accumulated stuff, hung out with friends, went to the gym, attended school. But you felt empty until God set you free from sin and set you on a course for heaven.

Throughout the Bible Egypt is symbolic of sin and the Promised Land represents our home in heaven. When the Israelites complained to Moses about how much better it was in Egypt, it was really a slam on God’s ability to take care of them. And we do the same thing.

The trouble is we don’t get from Egypt to the Promised Land in one step. We have to do some traveling first, and there are obstacles along the way. When the Christian life seems harder than we expected, we begin to grumble. We complain about our circumstances and our leaders.

If I were God I think I would have told them, “Fine. Go back. See how many pots of meat you find when you get there.” Amazingly, He didn’t. Instead, He fed them manna from heaven, every day, for forty years. Crunchy bits of bread that tasted like honey and helped them go the distance.

Oh the mercy of our God.

So, if you’re tempted to go back to the good old days:

  • when you were married
  • when you were single
  • when you had a job
  • when you didn’t have to go to work
  • when you went to such and such church
  • when you got to sleep in on Sundays
God has you where you are for a purpose. If He has rescued you from the slavery of sin and you belong to Him, don’t look back. It’s not as great as you remember it. You’re on your way to a better place than anywhere you’ve ever been. There will be dry times ahead, and you will get tired, but it’s worth the trip. I’m counting on it.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

What Do You Do When Growth Brings Conflict?

Personal growth is exciting. It energizes and delights the person making positive changes. But it can also cause pain and friction with their closest friends if they’re not growing at the same rate. If you’ve recently given your heart to Jesus, are in recovery of any kind, or are learning and maturing, this friction might come as an unexpected jolt. You would expect your husband/wife, boyfriend/girlfriend, family, and friends would be overjoyed at the changes you are making, but that’s not always the case.
In the movie, When a Man Loves a Woman, Meg Ryan plays the role of a recovering alcoholic. Contrary to what one would think, it’s her recovery that brings discord to her marriage. Her husband doesn’t know how to relate to her other than their established dysfunctional roles. Their entire relationship has revolved around her being the crazy, party girl and him being the rescuer. When she emerges from rehab, she is herself for the first time in years and her husband isn’t sure how to relate to this new person.

This is such an excellent portrayal of the dynamics of change. Our relationships follow established patterns. If one person deviates from that, it confuses and even angers those closest to them. Even if their behavior was previously dysfunctional and in need of change it disturbs the status quo. If there’s to be peace in the relationship, the other person will also need to change, but they may not be ready for that.

Amos 3:3 asks a very important question: “Do two walk together unless they have agreed to do so?” If you have just become a Christian or rededicated your life to Christ it may be upsetting to those closest to you. Your new mindset and behavior confuses them. The best thing you can do is invite them to join you on the path of freedom and forgiveness. If they see how much joy and peace it brings to your life, they just might come along.

If you’re a recovering alcoholic, druggee, gambler, porn user, overeater, homosexual, shopaholic or whatever, you have chosen a road your closest friends and family may not be ready to travel yet. You will need a support group who will help you in your resolve to form better habits and rely on your higher Power (God) for strength against temptation.

If you’re growing in Christ and gaining insight on how to deal with hurt, anger, abuse, parenting etc. those around you may not appreciate your ideals and enthusiasm at first. Try not to take it personally; they’re just used to the old you and the comfort of established patterns. If you know you are on the path God wants for you, stick with it. Explain why you’re different and give others freedom to respond and adjust. They may back away for a time; they may even decide they don’t want a relationship with a healthier you. However, they may also be drawn to the new you and start making a few healthy choices of their own.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Not Ready for Battle Yet?

There’s something you should know about God: He knows you inside and out and will never let anything into your life that you can’t handle with His help. Notice I said with His help. Your current circumstances may feel overwhelming and way too hard for whatever strength, patience, wisdom, or experience you feel you need. However, you can be sure that God’s got it covered. If He’s leading you to battle, He will provide whatever you need to defeat the enemy.

That’s a great comfort to me, because to tell you the truth, I’m feeling a little panicky right now. I want to run away and escape. We’re facing a situation in our lives that seems insurmountable and I’m not sure I’m up for it.

Yesterday morning I read Exodus thirteen and I’ve been smiling ever since. God always knows what we need to hear. When Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt, they were a hoard of uneducated, beaten down, idol-worshipers that had been enslaved in Egypt for 430 years. God sent a series of ten plagues to convince Pharaoh otherwise when he refused to let them go. Each was specifically designed to defame a particular Egyptian god.

From there they headed for the Promised Land that Moses and Aaron had been telling them about, but God didn’t lead the Israelites into battle right away: “When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter. For God said, ‘If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.’ So God led the people around by the desert road toward the Red Sea. The Israelites went up out of Egypt ready for battle” (Exodus 13:17-18).

Interestingly enough, the Israelites thought they were ready for battle, but God knew they weren’t. Sometimes when I’m eager to fight, He has to “take me the long way around” for some basic training. More often, though, God has to push me into the fray when I still feel unprepared to face it. How wonderful that we have a God who knows what we’re ready for and even what would discourage us. Too much too soon and we would give up and go back into slavery rather than face it.

Whether your current battle is addiction, anger, depression, loneliness, fear, a wayward spouse or a wayward child, God sees it all and is right there with you. You and I still have to face desert times in life, but He will spare us from the “Philistines” until we’ve built up enough spiritual muscle to stand in battle. Until then, there’s a pillar of cloud by day and fire by night to show us the way to go; there’s water gushing from the Rock in barren land; there’s daily nourishment of manna from heaven; and the companionship of others with us on the way.

God sees our weak areas when we think we’re tough and strong, and protects us from certain failure. He also sees our strength when all we see is our weaknesses and gives us courage to fight. What a comfort it is to live in His presence!