They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

What will they say at your funeral?

I wrote this in Feb. of 2005 after attending Kedric Hobbs’ funeral. I gave a copy to Randy Hobbs,his dad, not knowing that I would be attending his funeral only a short time later. A funeral service, at my age, gives me somber pause as I reflect on my own mortality. As Dr. Dobson says, “None of us are going to get out of this journey alive”. I am hoping that my thoughts will ring true to you and you will approach every day with a purpose to make it count for the Lord. We all need to remember to “number our days”..

Sands of Time

Sands of Time

This question leapt out at me recently as I attended a young man’s funeral service. This bright, physically fit, well-liked 21-year-old had been snatched from his parents and from this life prematurely and unfairly by a drunk driver. Hundreds of people were at the funeral and many testimonies to this wonderful young man were given. He had been an uncharacteristically mature Christian, compared to most of his peers. He studied his Bible, had prayer time, was a soul winner, and had a heart for his fellow man. It was a horrible loss for mankind, not just his family.

I thought about myself as a 21-year-old What if f God had come to take me then? What would they have said about me as far as my walk with Christ was concerned? What about my two boys? What would they say about them? What about me now?

Psalm 90:12 keeps coming to my mind. “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” I looked and found Psalm 39:4-6:

“Show me, O LORD, my life’s end
and the number of my days;
let me know how fleeting is my life.

You have made my days a mere handbreadth;
the span of my years is as nothing before you.
Each man’s life is but a breath.

Man is a mere phantom as he goes to and fro:
He bustles about, but only in vain;
he heaps up wealth, not knowing who will get it…

I remember my dad and my mom’s funerals and how pleased I was that so many people had come to pay their respects. Surely, their life had counted – they had helped and influenced and made an impact on the people who had come. I remember the strong thoughts coming to my mind; that this is really all there is — if you have helped your fellow man, if you have shown him or encouraged him in his walk with the Lord. These are things that matter when you’re gone. This is the eternal, heavenly things the Bible tells us to focus on.

Lord, please don’t let me waste what’s left of my days. Don’t let me spend any unnecessary time trying to accumulate stuff that won’t matter when I’m gone. Give me a heart for people, make me take time to help them bear their burdens and give them a little heaven on earth. Give me the attentiveness and the “chutzpah” to tell people about you and what you have to offer. Let me delight in you and seek you first. You have reminded me often, that if people want to know what you are like, they are supposed to be able to see it in me.

Teach me to number my days. Don’t let me waste them. When my time comes, I want people to say, “he told me about Jesus”, “he was a big influence on my walk with the Lord”; “he prayed”, “he was a man of the text”, he helped me out when I was down”, all of these things that will matter for eternity.

Colossians 3:17, “7And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

Lord, at my funeral, please let them say I was like you, and was one of your witnesses so that the world may know.

Tamarisk Tree

Abraham planted a tamarisk tree in Beersheba, and there he called upon the name of the LORD, the Eternal God. 34 And Abraham stayed in the land of the Philistines for a long time.
Genesis 21:33-34.

Another tree that you do not hear much about is the tamarisk tree. It is mentioned in the Bible only a few times; 1 Samuel 22:6, 31:13, and in Genesis, in the story of God promising the Promised Land to Abraham. Abraham said, “I believe you God”, and planted a tamarisk tree in Beersheba. Why did he plant a tamarisk and not some other tree? Let’s look at the significance.

Tamarisk tree

Tamarisk tree

The tamarisk tree is what we would call a salt cedar in America. It is of the same family and has the same leaf and color of bark. The tree itself can get much bigger in the Middle East, while ours are more bushy looking. We saw several that were real big trees. It is an extremely slow-growing tree and has to be cared for in order to do well. Very few grow in wilderness settings; they are usually around communities where families plant them on their property.

To a Bedouin or a Jew, you don’t plant a tamarisk for yourself, you plant it for the generations to come. From the Abraham story, they took the idea that I am planting this tree to say, “for generations to come, my family is going to be here”. “This shade is for the generations to come, I’ll never get to use it.”

How much of what we do in life is done for just ourselves? Our comfort, our profit, our satisfaction? Do we do anything to bless or to plant a seed for the generations that are to come? Is there anything that you are currently involved in that will outlive you? A thought, do something this week that will benefit people long after you are gone. The desert speaks…

Battle with the Enemy

Israelite encampment

Israelite encampment

The saying, “we have met the enemy and it is us!” is certainly an appropriate saying and one I was reminded of as I studied Beth Moore’s tabernacle series recently. We were studying the Israelites as they camped around the tabernacle. The Hebrew word for camp is “machaneh” which means army, band, company, or station, and was a military term. Out in the wilderness, God had assembled an army and was leading them as their commander, but there was no enemy on the outside in sight. Instead, the Israelites faced the most vicious enemy of all – themselves! They were in a constant battle against their flesh .Their wants and desires from living in Egypt had corrupted them immensely. It took 40 years in the wilderness to get Egypt, out of them. This led me to the following faith lesson about”ourselves” as our enemy:

As we go through the trials of life, we are tempted to label most of our problems as spiritual warfare. We feel that Satan is constantly out to get us and is placing roadblocks and rocks in our path. “I’m under attack” is our cry, and every difficulty is labeled spiritual warfare. To be sure, we do fight Satan and his demons, but we often war against an equally sinister foe, our flesh! Noted Christian author , Henry Blackaby ,has said, “Before we can be sure it’s spiritual warfare, we must be able to answer the following three questions and be sure the answer is no to each of them. If it’s no, then Satan is after us, if yes, we are fighting are fleshly desires. Look at these questions:

  1. Am I living outside of the will of God? Or the reverse of this is – am I where I am supposed to be in the matter – am I doing what God wants in this situation? Am I right?
  2. Do I have any unconfessed sin? Am I contributing to the problems? Or is it something completely out of my control?
  3. Is God simply working His completion in me? Is this just the path that God is asking me to walk?

Far too often our difficulties originate from one of these three realms instead of a Satanic attack.

Beth Moore said that people often ask her, because of her prominent role as a spokeswoman for God, if she is under continuous attack from Satan. She responds to them,” my own flesh is twice the enemy to me that Satan is”! She goes on to say, we know how to rebuke Satan because we hate him so, but on the other hand, we won’t rebuke our own flesh, because we love it so much. We have far more difficulty rebuking our own flesh and squelching our own desires.

Take a difficulty you are dealing with and test it according to these three questions. Are you under attack from Satan or are you under attack from your own fleshly desires?

Wasn’t this what Paul was talking about in Romans 7:14 – 25 – when he says” what I want to do, I don’t do, and what I don’t want to do, I do. When I want to do good, evil is right there with me, fighting against me.” Like the Israelites, our greatest battles are within ourselves, warring with our minds, our thoughts, and are fleshly desires.

Clearly, the mind is the largest battlefield in our struggles with the flesh.

How do we keep from losing the battle and being subject to defeat?

First and foremost, we must camp and stay close to our commander. The promise found in Deuteronomy 23:14 is awesome and something I hadn’t seen before. If we choose to camp and walk closely with Him, He will protect us and deliver our enemies to us. But our camp, our lives, minds, families (fill in the blank) must be holy and he must not see anything indecent among us or he will turn away. It is a necessary challenge of this life that we must take – to have a holy, godly separated life. We can’t delve into sin and expect God to protect us.

Secondly, we have a promise from II Corinthians 10:3 – 5. Though we live in the flesh, the weapons we fight the flesh with are not carnal, not the weapons that worldly people have to use, no self-help for us! Our weapons are spiritual, and can pull down strongholds, if we will take every thought captive to make it obedient to Christ.

Hezekiah said, when faced with extermination by Sennacherib, “Don’t be afraid of the king of Assyria and the vast army with him, for with him is only the arm of flesh. With us is the Lord our God to help us and to fight our battles for us.”

God will protect and deliver us if we get our camp cleaned up and holy. We can avoid a lot of our problems just by surrendering our minds to Christ and walking closely with him and by living a separated ,holy life. My thoughts to myself for the day – a lot to work on.

Creation Story in the Tabernacle

Adam & Even Driven from Eden --Gustave DoreAs you read and study about the Tabernacle, you definitely notice some parallels between it and the creation story.  What was God doing, or trying to say to His created?

First of all, in both stories God was creating a space where He could come and live with His creation.  In both stories God came and met with them and walked with them in His created space. His desire from the beginning was to come and live with His chosen people.

As God created the universe He divided into three sections; the visible Earth, the visible heavens, and the invisible heavens.  He also divided the Tabernacle into three parts; the outer court, where ordinary people would be, the priest court, and the Holy of Holies, where God would be.  You can definitely see the similarity in creation in that God would live in the invisible heavens, man would dwell on earth. The  priests were a symbol of how man could get to the invisible places where God lives.

When God created the universe, it took Him six days.  On the seventh day He rested. Now compare that to the  seven times in Exodus where it says.  “The Lord said to Moses” (Exodus 25:1, 30:11, 30:17, 30:22, 30:34, 31:1, and 31:12).  This equates with the seven times that God said “let there be” in Genesis.

The seventh time God said.  “Let there be”, the Scripture said.  “He rested”.  The seventh time” God said to Moses”, it was, don’t do any work on the Sabbath.  Rest.  (Exodus 31:12 and 13).

The main job for the inhabitants of the Garden of Eden, was to work the land and take care of God’s home (see Genesis 2:15).

The main job for the priest was to take care of all the furnishings and do the work in God’s new home.  (Numbers 3:7-8).

The entrance to the Garden of Eden was on the east.  The entrance to the Tabernacle was also in the East.  See Genesis 3:24 and (Exodus 26 process of deduction).

The entrance to the Garden of Eden was guarded by cherubim (Genesis 3:24).  The entrance to the Tabernacle and the holy of holies were guarded by cherubim woven into the fabric.  (Exodus 26:31-33).

God placed a tree of life in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:9).  When God had the Israelites craftsmen build the lamp stand or menorah, He had them build it to resemble and represent the tree of life, with buds, blossoms, branches, and fruit.  (Exodus 25:31- 39).

In Ezekiel 28:13, it lists the precious stones that were present in the Garden of Eden.  These are the same stones that are worn by the priest in the Tabernacle (Exodus 28:17- 20), painting another picture and parallels of the 2 places.

The complete Tabernacle was erected on the New Year’s day (Exodus 40:17), which signified a new era, a new beginning for God’s people.  This mimics the creation story, which was, of course, the new beginning for mankind.  God was saying in Genesis and  Exodus ,”this is a new creation”.  The Tabernacle is, in some many ways, the renewed version of the Garden of Eden.  God was, again, trying to live with his people.

Compare the Scriptures: Genesis 2:1 with Exodus 39:32.  Both use similar language and say “all the work was completed”.  Compare Genesis 1:31 with Exodus 39:43– both God and Moses saw what was done and said “it is good.”  Compare Genesis 2:2 with Exodus 40:33.  The Bible says in both verses, Moses and God “finished the work.”  So much of the creation language is used again in the building of the Tabernacle.

To summarize, when God had the Israelites construct the Tabernacle, He was re-creating something that was already in place in heaven.  He was just making a smaller version of the furnishings in heaven.  And the Tabernacle was also a re-creation of the events at the creation.  God was starting over, in another attempt to dwell among his creation. God continued  this theme with his final act to dwell among his creation when he sent his son Jesus to earth to dwell among men (John 1:14).  Now He lives among us, in our hearts, instead of in a tent made by human hands. Amazing grace!

Shade II

Desert Shade

The idea of God being shade is found throughout the Bible.  Psalm 121:5 says, “The Lord watches over you – the Lord is your shade at your right hand, the sun will not harm you by day, or the moon by night.”  “The Lord will keep you from harm, he will watch over your life.”

God is definitely our shade.  But the Bible also takes the shade concept to the next level in that as believers we  are supposed to be shade to other people.  He is shade and since we are his witnesses, we are supposed to be shade to a hurting world.

In Psalm 80:8-10.  It says that a vine would come out of Egypt and the mountains were covered with its shade.”  From the very beginning, the new nation of Israel, born from the Exodus, was to be shade to the rest the world.  Israel’s mission was to be God (shade) to world.

In Isaiah 32 it says.  When the Messiah comes, each man will be a shelter from the storm, a stream of water in the desert, in the shadow of a great rock in a thirsty land.”  The idea is when the Messiah comes, his followers will show a hurting world what he is like by being shelter, water and shade to them.

It is interesting to see if you apply these thoughts in Psalm 80 and Isaiah 32 to the early church, in Acts 5:12 – 16, just Peter’s shadow falling on people was healing them.

It’s evident from these verses that God wants to create a community that will bring shade to a hurting world.  Our mission in life, the reason we are here is to be shade to each other.  That is the whole purpose of the church, the community of believers.  Just as God provides shade to us, so we are to be that same shade to someone else.  We live in a world of intense heat; most people are barely making it and God has chosen us to be a broom tree for them to get some shade from.  We are not only promised shade, we are called to be shade.

To be part of this community of shade requires at least a couple of things.  First, we have to be willing to give of our time to be that shade.  God wants to use you to be shade to certain people, but you have to be willing to get involved to help them see the shade that God is providing.  We probably won’t be able to make the heat go away; the broom tree doesn’t fix the problem, it’s just there for shade.  Our job is to help them get around the next bend in life and let them taste God’s sweetness as He provides some relief from the heat.  This is comforting to me in that when we try to help people, we don’t have to have the answers; usually there’s nothing we can say or do that will fix the problem.  We are just called to be shade – just be there to show what God’s sweetness is like.

Secondly we must also admit that we need help.  We’re always willing to pray with someone else on their problems, but we don’t want to  tell or admit that we are in need of God’s shade also.  We have to be part of the community in this way, also.  We try to set ourselves up as people who don’t have problems – we’ve got it all together.  We’ll pray for you, but…

To conclude, the Lord is the shade at my right hand, says Psalm 121.  It is never longer than your right hand, but it is always that close.  We are called by God to be shade to a hurting world and just our shadow, our presence, can be Jesus’ relief to someone who is hurting.  I remember a story of a woman praying for her mother-in-law after she had  just lost her husband. As they were leaving the hospital, she placed her hands on her mother-in-law’s back from the backseat of the car and prayed, “Lord, please have your hands on my mother-in-law as she goes through this awful crisis.”  God immediately spoke to her in her thoughts and said, “I do have my hands on her right now, they’re yours.”

We call on God in a crisis and say,” God where are you”?  God replies back,” where are you”?  You are my witnesses, you are the living water, the shade, the instruments I use so that the world may know what I am like. God has chosen us to be a broom tree in the desert of life.  May we be God’s shade in a world that is desperate to know what He is like.

Shade: Biblical Imagery & the Broom Tree

Desert Shade

Desert Shade

During the time we spent in the desert we were constantly reminded of the biblical imagery that is so wonderfully found there.  Until you’ve actually been in the desert, there’s no way to describe how hot and desolate it really is.  A lizard can’t live there in the summer; it’s often in the 115° to 125° range.

One of the plants found there that is talked about in the Bible is the broom tree, or “Rottem”.  It is one of the main shade trees of the desert.  Although more of a bush than a tree, it was very important as shade to the early wilderness travelers.  Its roots also produce a very hot fire and make the best charcoal available.

There are two Biblical stories that mention the broom tree.  The first one was the story of Hagar and Ishmael in Genesis 21:8-20.  Although the NIV says bush, the Hebrew is “Rikman” which is root word of “Rottem”.  The second story involves Elijah in 1 Kings 19 and here it specifically says, “he came to a broom tree (Rottem) and sat under it.”  These 2 stories both create a desert lesson involving heat and shade.  In both cases, the heat was unbearable and overwhelming and the characters look like they were not going to survive it.  But God came and provided a moment of shade in their desert experience, and they were able to continue on their life journey.

Broom Tree Closeup

Broom Tree Closeup

The shape and size of the tree is itself a lesson.  It is not a big tree at all, barely providing enough shade for one man and then not much. It’s not anything like what we Westerners would call a shade tree.  The image of the broom tree is ,”just enough.”  When you come to a desert moment in life, as Hagar and Elijah did and the heat is excruciating and your think you won’t be able to take another step, God is there to provide you a little shade to get you by.  The image is not deep shade or air-conditioning, but just enough shade.  The world we live in is one of intense heat, but around the bend is a broom tree, where we can get a little shade, a little rest, to be able to keep going on life’s journey.  That leads us to the second part of the shade image, which I’m calling Shade II.

To be continued…