3. Wilderness Manual–The Siblings (12)

The Family may be God’s first institution, but since the fall it is far from perfect. My older sisters and I had a pretty good relationship, managed well by my Mom and Dad, but growing up I still felt looked down upon or pushed to the side, or left out. One of my favorite lines from a TV show called “Home Improvement” is where Jill, a psychology student, asks her husband, who claims to be an expert in child behavior, “Okay, honey, what causes sibling rivalry?” Tim, her husband confidently answers, “Having more than one kid!”

Principle: The work of God in the wilderness will go deep into all of the things that have shaped you into who you are: Family being one of the foremost. In Numbers 12, Moses’ two older siblings Miriam and Aaron oppose Moses because of the woman he married. They make a statement which seems totally rational in the realm of Sibling Rivalry, “Has God spoken through Moses only? Has he not spoken through us as well?” The Logic of sibling equality does not work in this stage. Family will not be able to understand what is going on, nor provide clarity as to what God is up to. I believe this is a part of God’s proving realities that run deeper than the blood ties of family and the family’s communal and relational role in shaping a person.

God heard the dispute and called them outside the tent of meeting. Moses had said nothing in response, (according to the writer because he was the most humble person there ever was.) God explained to Miriam and Aaron that Moses was not just their brother, he was also God’s servant. Therefore they should have thought twice before speaking against him. This logic reorients the whole family relationship to what God is doing in each person’s life, instead of what the family thinks is best in relation to itself.

Application: Don’t lean on your family for everything you need in this wilderness stage, and take their advice with a grain of salt. In Deuteronomy, Moses will show that the lessons God is teaching you cannot be learned from the family unit. Instead, be humble: regard each person as those whom God must lead individually, and look to God for His vindication in His timing. Beware the sibling rivalry need to be as special as, or more than other family members. It is a self-trap from which God would love to extricate you.

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6. Abraham II: The Death of the Promise

By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten son; it was he to whom it was said, β€œIn Isaac your descendants shall be called.” He considered that God is able to raise people even from the dead, from which he also received him back as a type. ~ Hebrews 11:17–19.

Image result for isaac and the cross
photo credit: timeline.biblehistory.com

Faith cannot survive mortality. One of the truest signs of faith’s strength is its willingness to face even its own death. But Abraham has faced a test unlike any most people face. He was giving up his only son, in whom was his future, and all of the reasons he had followed God in the first place.

Or was it.

The Elephant in the Room

Many people can’t get past a father offering up his own son. Does allegiance to the God of all reality Seen and Unseen require child sacrifice? Of course if he truly is God, He is more important than anything else, even our own beloved family. Allegiance to God is one thing, but the murder of someone else seems like an insurmountable barrier to this kind of faith. Few English translations will show you what I will here, but the Rabbis who study the Torah will tell you that what I write coming up is true. Remember that we are talking about an extraordinary life because it is grappling with the Unseen Reality that is real. This may be challenge your own faith.

Please

Image result for offering hands
photo credit: car2future.info

Genesis 22, the tale where Abraham offers Isaac, is a famous story in Jewish, Christian, and Islamic circles, though details are emphasized more some places than others. All three are largely in agreement that it was written by Moses, and also agree it was written in Hebrew. The text reveals something about God’s command which Abraham obeyed in offering up his son. The Hebrew word for “Now take your son . . . ” is better translated “Please take your son . . . ” The first thing any faith needs to acknowledge about God is the heart of a father; the heart of a friend. This faith of Abraham was based only on what God had revealed to him, and in Abraham, God found a friend with whom he could share one of his most intimate secrets. He already understands what it will cost Himself one day. He has already seen that it will be his own Son, whom He will be offering, but here, with the kindest of all invitations, He calls Abraham out of his entire past, present, and future to give up his one and only son whom he loved. Such is the friendship of God that He lets us experience alongside him the inexpressible joy of resurrection of an insurmountable promise undaunted by death itself. Such a faith and joy are given not in the harsh immediacy of command only, but also with the gentility of an inviting heart that says “Please.”

The Most Difficult Test of Faith

There is no room in real faith for “coming out ahead on the deal” with God. No self-gain, no added benefits that you can finagle or haggle or sneak past God. This is because Death is the gateway for everything in the new life. Only that which is for God and of God will last. Nothing for self or sin will be able to escape the penalty of Death. Death is therefore the truest test of something’s worth. Paul spoke of this a great deal in his epistles, though what he most often referred to it as was “the cross.” He closes the letter to the Galatians with these words.

“But as for me, may it never be that I should boast in anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world is crucified [as far as I’m concerned] and I [am crucified] to the world.” ~ (Galatians 6:14 translation mine)

There is no good thing that can pass from this world to the “new creation” spoken of in the next verse except that passes through the gate of the cross. Consider in Pilgrim’s Progress how Cristian the Pilgrim needed to cross the River of Death to reach the Celestial City. And God knows that because of sin’s all pervasive presence, the only way for the promise of faith to be fully realized, is for that very same promise to be laid down.

Image result for cross
Photo credit; gclipart.com

One thought before Application: God really does know best how to realize the Promise. If Abraham had not had the faith to offer up his son, he would not have seen “day of his salvation” when the ram got caught in the thicket. (John 8:56) In this place where he laid down his very future on the altar, he came to know God by a new name. “Yahweh sees.” (Also known as Jehovah-Jireh– God will provide.) When your faith is tested, remember that even though You can’t see, in the Unseen Reality there is a God who sees and who is stronger than death.

Application:

  1. Let every good thing that you count dear to you be before the Lord on the Altar to live or let die. I am speaking figuratively primarily, because the sacrifice has been made for the Promise to be secured for all humanity. Still, even our family must come second to God. One thing this practically might look like is taking time away from your family to be with Him. We do it for work; why not do it for Him? The same one who demonstrated care for his family also showed us how to value time with just Him.
  2. Do not seek to get ahead on deals with God. It can only end in greater misery for yourself. If you have any selfish agenda for pursuing a walk with the Lord, abandon it now. Lay it down on the altar. Example: you may be following God because you want fame or prestige among God’s people. God will call you to do things which will be utterly frowned upon by the church so that you will be infamous and a shame in the midst of His people. His Joy is worth only the price or real faith, and the cost of real faith is the death of self. Surrender is the only way.
  3. Remember what Abraham remembered. “He considered that God is able to raise even from the dead . . .” Let it be God’s glory to vindicate the one who has trust in Him, and satisfy you with Himself, and in Him to give you all things.

My Spiritual Journey

This, in Christian terms, is my “testimony” I’ve translated it into more common speech, which I hope will be of help to people who are seeking a place to start.

My personhood is where I’ll start. My family was a father and a mother and two older sisters, with extended family still largely intact. At home, I was scheduled, given quiet time to be on my own, and given limited time in front of a screen. I had fairly consistent parents who disciplined not just actions I did, but also called me out on attitudes I held.When I reflect on my childhood, I felt safe, loved, and full of respect for my parents. They took me to church, where my discipline as a child proved useful in making me very well liked in the Homeschool Co-op and Baptist Bible Belt communities I found myself a part.

The selfishness was in me from the beginning. I can retrace places in my heart where I acted out of selfishness and was punished, and my pride caused me to make un-punishable error after self-destructive decision. I wouldn’t check my work, I would find ways to twist things to my own advantage, I would use the good behavior and things I did right to make me more prestigious in the eyes of people so that I would be praised. Silly boy. My Mother I’ve long understood has been much more caring than I, and my Dad knew what it was to be led by something greater than him.

Now that I have started with the setting and the problem, when I was 5, I prayed to ask Jesus to become my Savior, which basically means I knew I had done bad things, and I wanted to go to Heaven one day. But this hasn’t felt like the biggest part of my spiritual journey.

One of the big moments was around 7 or 8 years old: a moment when I made a promise to God, and refused in my heart of hearts to break that promise. I had lied to my parents about cleaning up my room, and lay awake that night unable to get past the promise I had made to God that I would tell them, so I told them. That was a pivotal moment when my heart decided that God, or at least my integrity before Him was the most important thing.

I got baptized around 12 years old, and for some reason it was around this time that I felt an acceleration in my spiritual journey. I started journalling, after the pattern of MYST and Riven, complete with the number system. Dad, who claims to have been led by God for many years (not that he has ever claimed it. He hasn’t really needed to claim anything to me), told me that God uses men who journal, so I journaled. He also told me two things that have greatly shaped my life. He encouraged me to pray two prayers:

  1. Give me a heart completely and utterly devoted to You.
  2. Speak to me in a way I can understand you.

To a reader, it may seem like the deck was stacked pretty heftily in God’s favor as far as shaping who I was going to believe in. Granted, I was steeped in Bible verses from the AWANA program, and my Dad almost always had a Proverb for anything he was doing, but I started pursuing it for my own sake. I dabbled in systematic theology, listened to the Bible on tape, Christian artists. When it came to sealing the deal for the direction of this spiritual journey, I had one main thing I can point to.

As I journaled, I became fascinated with the idea of what true manhood means: what it means to be a real man. I read John Eldredge’s “Wild at Heart” and it really got me excited about the battles to fight, adventures to live, and beauties to rescue. It gave my heart room to fly. I wanted to be mature as a real man so badly, and I knew I would have to leave my childishness behind.

A climax to this initial stage of my spiritual journey where I think I was completely convinced was thanks to Norm Wakefield, of Spirit of Elijah Ministries. His tape series of Equipping Men, had one particular lesson that brought me to my knees.

In his lesson “In Search of Happiness,” Norm explains that a person will try everything he can to be happy, except just Jesus, and Jesus only is the only answer. In a moment I saw my idolatry, and my fleshly pride. I saw my sin utterly, and I confessed to the God who I believed was real how I had been trying everything to make myself happy, instead of looking to Jesus alone to meet all my needs. Basically, I turned over full control of my life to God at that point. From that point forward, I wouldn’t want to do anything, make any decision unless it was what He wanted me to do. In Christian terms, Jesus became, “Lord of my life.”

I believed God wanted me to do vocational ministry in some way, though I’m not entirely sure what kind. My Dad continued to call me out to manhood, especially to being like Jesus. He gave me some books which continued to shape me into College: Refiner’s Fire Volumes I and II, and The Existence and attributes of God Volumes I and II. After those two books, Christianity had taken on a very interesting characteristic. I would compare it to colors: the Christianity that glows amber. It’s Christianity with a smell to it. It reverberates with the heart, mind, and soul in ways that only melted and broken hearts can. This vein of Christian tradition has taught me to prioritize God as a person, rather than prioritizing doctrine, tradition, or expressionism. (Blue, Purple, and Yellow respectively). These are subjective terms, but the point is that through my journalling, my listening for His voice, and the writings of those who had been with God, I had a pretty steady grasp in my heart of the God whom the Bible attested to.

Speaking of His voice, I don’t actually remember the first time I heard Him “speak” to me. This is one of those mystical experiences that many of the ancient Christians attested to, and many of today in various branches of Christianity also experience. I know what it is to hear His voice because, this voice miraculously sounds like the Bible, and he says things that I do not yet know or understand. I’ve recently learned that there is more for God to say to people who are willing to take the time to listen, but it seems so few truly are interested in listening to Him. I’ve found precious few.

From there, College met a lot of trial and error as I tried to walk out this very personal faith on a campus of very doctrinally solidified individuals (PCA Covenant College) My heart’s fire was not dimmed though. However, I had a continual source of personal revelation of God: the Scriptures. This has been the most fundamentally important pieces of my spiritual journey. The more I studied the Bible, the more I got a clear picture of God, humanity, me, and Jesus. This religious text is far more than that to me, because of who I have felt breathing in it page after page, word after word. Like thrusting my heart back into the fires from whence it was forged over and over again until I am shaped more like my maker.

Anyway, as you can tell, I start to get passionately excited about this journey. It has grown sweeter. He keeps showing me how there is so much more to Him even in the Bible for people who truly want to know Him. He is real, and does ever so desire a relationship of close intimacy with those who are honest of heart.

This is probably one of the main points my testimony asserts: God is real, and really interested in intimacy with the honest of heart. I’ve genuinely wanted to know Him, and my spiritual journey has led me to conclude that He is real, and He has matched my desire with the purest responses of genuine love that keeps me changing to be more like Jesus.

Now that I’m married, a lot of things about God that the Bible said have made a lot more sense as I get to experience them in relationship with another human being. The Torah has given me a greater appreciation for the depth of human (my own) depravity and the depth of God’s goodness in response, and the power and importance of the Cross. This is where I find myself currently on my spiritual journey: married, teaching Bible to children, and growing in my faith by following God’s leading, studying the Scriptures, and journaling what I’ve learned. I also do a lot with music, but maybe that’s another story.

I hope this has been helpful to you, dear reader. It’s not a testimony of which I am ashamed. I am nothing, an insignificant proud guy who has learned to lay his life down for the pursuit of God’s pleasure in all my life.

Thanks be to God. He is absolutely amazing!

Happy Thanksgiving!