Bleating of the Sheep

Bleating of the Sheep

By Pat Knight

Historically, God’s chosen people displayed a chronic disobedience pattern. Nearly as soon as God communicated a new decree, the Israelites either ignored or blatantly disobeyed His command. Few people took God seriously; fewer still took His laws seriously. The punishment for breaking God’s laws was particularly severe: disease, plagues, capture by enemy forces, and sometimes immediate death. Yet the grave consequences were not sufficient to motivate the Israelites to consistently obey their God.

The prophet, Samuel, relayed God’s instructions to King Saul: “‘Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys’” (1 Samuel 15:3). The Amalekites were descendants of Esau, named after Esau’s grandson, Amalek. The directions were simple in terms of clarity. King Saul understood explicitly.

God’s edict may seem excessively harsh punishment to us, but God and the Israelites knew the Amalekite people to be ruthless, merciless, and savage. They were predatory, attacking the Israelites during their wilderness walk. From the rear of the traveling camp, the Amalekites stalked and killed the weak and the elderly as they traveled from Egypt. Their treatment of Israel was spontaneous and vicious, causing Moses centuries earlier to prophesy:  “‘When you were weak and worn out, they {Amalekites} met you on your journey and attacked all who were lagging behind; they had no fear of God. When the Lord your God gives you a rest from all the enemies around you in the land he is giving you to possess as an inheritance, you shall blot out the name of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget!’” (Deuteronomy 25: 18-19).

God had been generously patient with the Amalekites, giving them over five hundred years to change their barbaric ways. Our heavenly Father is the supreme judge, adjudicating wrong and evil. He does not forget!

With thousands of soldiers, King Saul staged an ambush for the Amalekites. Saul was given the opportunity to demonstrate his allegiance to the Lord by obeying the assigned task of eliminating the Amalekite tribe. Instead of wiping out all life, “Saul and the army spared Agag {the Amalekite king), and the best of the sheep and cattle, the fat calves and lambs—everything that was good;. These they were unwilling to destroy completely but everything that was despised and weak they totally destroyed” (1 Samuel 15:9).

God then spoke to the prophet, Samuel, expressing His sorrow that He had ever made Saul king of His people, for Saul refused to follow God’s instructions, relying on his own instincts and greed instead. When Samuel traveled to confront King Saul, he discovered the king had set up a monument in his own honor. From disobedience to false image worshipping, King Saul was puffed up with self-importance. Yet even before Samuel questioned him, Saul offered, “‘I have carried out the Lord’s instructions’” (1 Samuel 15:13). Saul actually believed his actions were justified, but sinning against God is neither wise nor justified.

Samuel retorted, “What then is this bleating of the sheep I hear?
What is this lowing of the cattle I hear?”

1 Samuel 15:14

Saul shifted responsibility, blaming the soldiers for sparing the best animals to use as temple sacrifices for the Lord. Samuel then replied, “‘Enough!’

I can envision the prophet abruptly gesturing with his hand protesting Saul’s weak excuses. Samuel asked King Saul, “‘Why did you not obey the Lord? Why did you pounce on the plunder and do evil in the eyes of the Lord? (vs. 19). Saul actually felt merit in completing his assigned military orders from God. It appears the details of God’s commands were irrelevant as long as Saul met his own selfish needs. “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart” (Psalm 51:17).

Our Lord values humility, repentance, and grief for sin. Saul’s heart was full of pride. Chief among the seven things God hates the most is pride, followed next in line by a lying tongue (Proverbs 6:16-19). Saul had employed both of the shameful priorities, masterfully disguising his rebellion and disobedience. Samuel replied with this rebuttal to Saul’s actions: “‘To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams’” (1 Samuel 15:22). God removed His Spirit from Saul, dethroned him as king of Israel, and anointed another king in his place.

Upon self-examination, do we discover ourselves to be as shrewd as Saul, crafting insidious excuses for disobeying God? What personal justification do we use when God confronts us with our sin? We have ready access to all of God’s commands in His Living Word, through which He speaks to us. God commands that we love Him and others more highly than ourselves, discouraging our selfish motives.

It is possible that fear of reprisal prevents us from sinning on a regular basis, but we occasionally fall into temptation that is hard to resist. That is when our obedient devotion and love of God is paramount to  empower us to follow His words and His will. He has shown you. O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). It is the most compelling principle of behavior, defining a right relationship of men with Almighty God.

Our Lord loves us beyond measure, demonstrated by the gift of His Son, who died to set us free, creating a sovereign relationship that bridges between finite man and the infinite God. With God’s overwhelming love and attention to every detail in our lives, why would we even consider disobeying Him with the intention of indulging in self-desires? Why do we settle for second best when God is “able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us?” (Ephesians 3:20, KJV).

We cannot come to God without faith in Him; faith leads to obedience. We want to please our Savior by serving Him. It grieves our Lord when we wander outside the boundaries He has established for us. “‘You are my friends if you do what I command. I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you’” (John 15:14-15). It is astounding that human friendship with Almighty God is even possible, deeming it imperative that we not react to His gracious gift with apathy or scorn exhibited by disobedience.

Instead of reacting like King Saul, blaming others for rebellion against God’s commands, let us take personal responsibility for sin, redirecting our energy to serve our Savior as His friends and fellow workers, seeking to consistently pursue His righteousness and faithfulness.

Obedience to God is palpable evidence of our faith. God considers our personal submission to His will so expressive of our love for Him that He accepts full responsibility for the consequence of our obedience. What assurance!

Grumbling in Paradise

Sharing today from Desiring God.

Grumbling in Paradise

How to Break Through Discontent

by Scott Hubbard

June 14, 2010, sticks out like a redwood tree in the orchard of my memory. For the previous two years, I had wandered through a spiritual wasteland of discontentment, doubt, and morbid introspection.

But on this summer day, God breathed a wind over my parched and cracked heart. I had just spent the afternoon reading a chapter in John Piper’s The Pleasures of God about God’s joy in his creation. As I walked out of the dim-lit, air-conditioned coffee shop into the bracing warmth of a summer afternoon, the words became real: God’s pleasure rang out in birds chirping, leaves whispering, dust motes soaring, cattails swaying. Earth and sky resounded in a chorus of praise to the God of glory, and for the first time in a long time, I heard the music.

Joy swelled my lungs and broke out in spontaneous laughter. My inward gaze exploded outward to find a universe of marvels. My discontentment fled the scene like a thief at daybreak. I discovered, in other words, a lost weapon in the fight for happiness and contentment: wonder.

Grumbling in Paradise

Wonder is that wide-eyed awareness of creation that leaves us hushed, self-forgetful, and brimming with gratitude. Where wonder reigns, contentment flourishes; where wonder is dethroned, discontentment takes root. Exhibit A: the garden of Eden.

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Here’s the scene. Adam and Eve live in a garden of delights, where God has “made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food” and has said, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden” except for one (Genesis 2:916). The first couple bathes in a wonderland of spiritual bliss, marital intimacy, and created splendor.
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But then a liar slithers in and opens his mouth. And in a matter of a few sentences, Adam and Eve’s world shrinks from a pleasure-packed universe to a cramped backyard. The Maker of the galaxies walks in the garden. Birds and beasts chant his praise. A world of raptures awaits discovery. Adam and Eve grumble.

So too with us. 

Read the rest here. 

Divine Protector

If the Lord delights in a man’s way he makes his steps firm;
though he stumble, he will not fall,
for the Lord upholds him with his hand.
—Psalm 37:23-24

Divine Protector

By Patricia Knight

Following our son’s tonsil and adenoid surgery at age seven, one of his young friends presented him with a spider plant as a get-well gift. On the upper window frame above our son’s bed, a bracket was mounted from which to suspend the plant. It flourished in the sunshine and within months required transplanting into a larger pot.  

One night before his dad and I retired, we entered our son’s room to check on him. What a terrifying sight met us! Our son was sleeping peacefully on his back, buried in dirt. Wet, clumpy potting soil was scattered over his body. What dirty chaos!

It appeared our son sustained no bodily damage, but we awakened him to check his mental alertness. One of us gave him a midnight bath while the other vacuumed his bed and floor and changed his bed sheets. Piecing together the events, it was apparent the plant had grown too heavy for its support system. After pulling away from the wall, the heavy pot then dropped, careened off the upper shelf of the bookcase headboard, smashed the pot, and disgorged its contents directly onto our son. We gently brushed the clinging soil away from our child’s face and eyes, impressing upon us just how tragic the accident could have been. A concussion or a skull fracture may have resulted had the plant pot crashed into his head instead of the shelf, only inches away.

Once we determined our son was unhurt and alert, we viewed the scene with far less panic and much more gratitude. Decades later, whenever that memory flashes onto our mental screens, we are grateful for our son’s divine protection from injury. We thank God profusely for His miraculous deliverance.

Imagine how many times each day God oversees and protects our lives. There are instances when we are fully aware of God’s actions to shield us from catastrophes. But what of the times when we are oblivious to God’s interventions to protect us?  Often we are divinely deterred from potentially perilous scenarios before they impact our lives. “If the Lord delights in a man’s way he makes his steps firm; though he stumble, he will not fall, for the Lord upholds him with his hand” (Psalm 37:23-24).

Pharaoh refused to emancipate the Israelite slaves. After Moses’ repeated negotiations failed, God inflicted all of Egypt with ten increasingly horrendous plagues, while safeguarding His own people from collateral damage. God then freed the Israelites to walk away from their captors. When Pharaoh realized the ramifications of losing his entire slave workforce, he and his army pursued them. “As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians marching toward them. They were terrified and cried out to the Lord” (Exodus 14:10).The marchers were trapped between the expanse of the Red Sea in front and the Egyptian chariots behind. 

Only a few hours before, the Israelites had witnessed God’s mighty hand creating disaster among the Egyptians while preserving their own lives. In spite of their disbelief, God was faithful. A million or more people walked on a dry path as God divided the sea, forcing walls of water up each side of the walkway. The Egyptian army followed directly behind them on the dry Red Sea bed. Precisely when the last Hebrew reached the far shore, God returned the Red Sea to its normal configuration. The walls of water crashed down, sweeping Egyptian horses, chariots and their riders beneath the sea forever. “And when the Israelites saw the great power the Lord displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant” ( Exodus 14:31). They sang and praised God for His great love and mighty power, vowing to follow and fear Him in the future.

The Israelites were suddenly free of servitude for the first time in four hundred years. God had heard their cries of oppression and He responded with miraculous deliveries that only He could orchestrate. One month had passed since their exodus from Egypt and the nations’ walk through the Red Sea. Then, “In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The Israelites said to them, ‘If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt’” (Exodus 16:2-3). They reflected on the good food available in Egypt, accusing Moses of leading them into the desert to starve.

Although God had shielded and delivered His people, as soon as the immediate danger had passed, doubt and fear transformed their attitudes to bitterness. How quickly they forgot the miracles and blessings of God! Their faith was shallow; their motives selfish. How fickle we humans are! We are inclined to forsake God due to fear and complain to Him when faced with challenges. Yet, God is always faithful, protecting us and advocating for us.

Many of the trials the Israelites endured during their wilderness walk were tests God used to determine their faith. His purpose was to strengthen their trust and to draw them close to Him through unquestionable submission and obedience. But the Israelites usually opted for the path of least resistance. They found it easier to complain than obey; grumbling was effortless. Obedience requires energy and discipline. The Apostle Paul admonishes us, “Do everything without complaining or arguing” (Philippians 2:14). Being discontent with God’s will leads to unbelief.

We may resemble the ungrateful Israelites more than we care to admit. When was the last time we glorified God for specific and constant protection? When we narrowly avoid an accident, is one of our first responses to thank God for shielding us from danger? Let us praise Him for our lives of spiritual prosperity and protection!

“I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until the disaster has passed” (Psalm 57:1). David sought safety in a cave when King Saul relentlessly pursued him. We know David wrote Psalm 57 while sequestered in a cave, but we don’t know if he viewed avian life in a nest tucked into the crevice of the rock. Perhaps as David observed a mother bird’s protective instincts shielding her offspring beneath her wings, he was inspired to write the metaphor of God’s great protection and power when He shelters us, unencumbered from the perils of this world. The bird and her hatchlings may have provided the object lesson, illustrating God’s protective character.

God grants strength during trials,
not immunity that spares them from happening,
so that His glory and splendor are exalted by our worship.
In His shielding sanctuary, our Lord is our refuge and fortress.
Snuggle beneath God’s protective wings in your time of need.
What a privilege, to be sheltered by the sovereign hand of God!

Happy Blogiversary!

Happy-2-Year-Blogiversary…..
Yup, it was two years ago today that I started this blogging journey. Thank you to all who have stuck with me whether I’ve been here or not. You guys rock!

Two years doesn’t sound like much but I have struggled off and on a lot in these short two years, especially lately. I know I’ve been MIA for too long but I think I’m back … at least part time. As I wrote a close friend the other day, I’m not going to set myself up for a disappointment by planning something I may not be able to complete.

Life for me this summer has been, um, unmanageable at best. During my worst times, I felt like my head was going to blow apart. Most people love summer and everything associated with warm/hot weather. Not me. As June approaches, I get this feeling of dread because I know the combination of hot temperatures, the constant fluctuation of barometric pressure due to our summer monsoon storm systems, and the high-pitched screaming of the cicadas will serve to drive me bananas.

[Side note: I know people who love the “song” of the cicadas, and if that’s you, please forgive me for dissing them. One of my fibromyalgia symptoms is extreme sensitivity to lots of things including bright lights, certain chemicals and odors, tastes, medicines, and yes, high-pitched sounds. Although we don’t have trees around our home, we are surrounded by trees that are home to a certain breed of cicada that appears in mid-summer and don’t leave until sometime in October. There are literally thousands—if not millions—of these creatures in the trees around us, and the extremely high-pitched noise they make starts at around 7:30 am and doesn’t stop until 7:30 pm when it is dark out. I can’t even enjoy my patio without having to wear foam earplugs, which keep out most of the high-pitched noise created by the cicadas while still enabling me to be able to hear and carry on a conversation with my hubby or whoever happens to be sitting out there with me.]

The other day I finally snapped, and I’m not proud of it but to keep things real here, I want to share some of that with you. I’m sure you know people who “suffer in silence”—I guess I’m not very good at that. Oh, I’ll go along for awhile without telling anyone how awful I’m feeling, but toward the end of summer, that gets thrown out the window. Last week, I started stomping around here grumbling out loud about how unfair all this is. Why is it that on top of daily unrelenting migraines do I have to be surrounded by trees that house those awful creatures whose extremely high-pitched cacophony causes me to run for my foam ear plugs? And I’m talking about hearing them even though our windows are all shut!

On that particular day, I grumbled to myself, to my hubby, to God. And of course, every single small thing irritated me, in addition to my pounding head. I kept dropping things and had trouble concentrating, and finally I yelled to my sweet hubby, “This is what my life is like now! I can’t do anything right and those stupid insects are driving me bats!”

God bless my calm, ever-loving hubby’s heart. He listened to my ranting and then calmly changed the subject. Gotta love a man who knows when not to try to fix things!

Oh, but God was working in my heart all that day, and had been for several weeks. I know He patiently listened to all my grumbling and complaining but kept trying to show me how blessed my life is—no matter what I’m going through. The same night I had seemingly reached my limit, this question came to my mind: Why are you kicking against the goads?

Huh? Where had that come from? I recalled reading that in the Bible a few times over the years but couldn’t place exactly where. The next morning I immediately looked it up and found it in chapter 26 of the book of Acts, where Paul is explaining his story to King Agrippa. This is only a small portion of that story (verses 12-15) [emphasis mine]:

12  “On one of these journeys I was going to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. 13 About noon, King Agrippa, as I was on the road, I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, blazing around me and my companions. 14 We all fell to the ground, and I heard a voice saying to me in Aramaic, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’

15 “Then I asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’

“ ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ the Lord replied.

According to my Bible commentary, an oxgoad was a sharp stick used to prod cattle. “It is hard for you to kick against the goads” (oxgoads) means, “You are only hurting yourself.”

Wow, did that ever resonate with me! All my grumbling, complaining and whining was doing nothing but hurting me! And more importantly, it was beginning to hurt my relationship with my Savior because the more I complained, the more I was moving away from Him rather than toward Him.

Beloved, have you ever found yourself in such a situation? I was crushed that I had allowed myself to wallow in my misery for so long and immediately asked God to forgive my complaining and whining. And here’s the clincher: not only did He forgive me, but He forgot right away and we’ve moved to a whole new level in our relationship! If this is hard for you to believe, read this:

Psalm130-3-4

Psalm 130

Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord;
Lord, hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive
to my cry for mercy.

If you, Lord, kept a record of sins,
Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness,
so that we can, with reverence, serve you.

I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits,
and in his word I put my hope.
I wait for the Lord
more than watchmen wait for the morning,
more than watchmen wait for the morning.

Israel, put your hope in the Lord,
for with the Lord is unfailing love
and with him is full redemption.
He himself will redeem Israel
from all their sins.

Oh, how thankful I am for God’s unfailing love and forgiveness! How about you, Beloved?

AnnaSmile…..

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Faith in Hard Times

wonderfulwednesday+heade2-01

Yep, it’s Wednesday again. What’s so wonderful about that? It’s just another day to struggle with all that’s wrong in our lives, right?

Unemployment, sickness, finances. How to keep a roof over our heads and food on the table. Why is it that we seem to be going through so many bad weather situations? And what about all the evil deeds going on in our world? Exactly where is God in all of this and why doesn’t He seem to care?

The other day I caught myself grumbling and complaining several times [can “several” mean less than 10? I sure hope so!] about how horrible I was feeling. I was having another reaction to mistakenly eating something with gluten in it, and this affects my entire body: migraine, nausea, mind-numbing fatigue… my body even itches horribly in a lot of places. When I get “glutenized,” it takes me days to recover. And all of this is on top of my normal migraines and fibromyalgia/chronic fatigue syndrome symptoms.50art

As I was praying that night, the Lord brought the day into sharp focus and all I could see was me complaining—sometimes to myself, sometimes to my hubby, sometimes to no one. And I was horrified at how much of a grumbler I had become. The Lord then brought to mind Philippians 2:14: “Do everything without grumbling or arguing…” I couldn’t believe how far my complaining heart had gone.

So what does this have to do with Wonderful Wednesday?

Everything.

The first thing I did was ask the Lord to forgive my bad attitude and then I asked Him to help me overcome this tendency I have to moan and complain. I also talked to my sweet hubby about it and asked him to lovingly let me know when I fall back into that grumbling pattern.

And then I decided to do some Bible reading about grumbling and complaining, and that led me to search out passages about faith and trust. Not the usual verses about faith like Abraham’s that I’ve somewhat memorized. No, these are more about digging in and having faith that God is with me and at work:

in me…

through me…

and all around me…

even though I may not feel that He is. It is an unconditional trust that in spite of how I might feel about what’s going on with me, God is allowing certain things in my life to hone more of those rough edges. And that enables me to walk closer with Him.

That is the wonderful part. In spite of how much I’ve let my pain overshadow my joy—the joy of knowing Jesus and basking in the knowledge of His saving grace—He still loves me and has been patiently waiting for me to finally get it. And I do!

stop-complaining-stopsign

Here are a few passages that bring me a wonderful combination of comfort, peace and hope. The first one from Psalms is something the Lord pointed out to me in my daily Bible reading:

We wait in hope for the Lord;
    he is our help and our shield.
In him our hearts rejoice,
    for we trust in his holy name.
May your unfailing love be with us, Lord,
    even as we put our hope in you.

—Psalm 33:20-22

This next one from Habakkuk is the last few verses of that small book, what I call Habakkuk’s Statement of Faith. In the margin next to this passage is my handwritten note: “Habakkuk was scared, but waiting. Faith waits on God to take care of things.”

I heard and my heart pounded,
    my lips quivered at the sound;
decay crept into my bones,
    and my legs trembled.

Yet I will wait patiently for the day of calamity
    to come on the nation invading us.

Though the fig tree does not bud
    and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
    and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
    and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
    I will be joyful in God my Savior.

The Sovereign Lord is my strength;
    he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
    he enables me to tread on the heights.

—Habakkuk 3:16-19

And one more:

Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming.

See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains.

You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door! —James 5:7-9

Thank you for allowing me to share this with you. In an attempt to keep things real, I wanted to make sure you understand that limping with joy through a difficult valley does not mean that I am satisfied and happy with this struggle. I am definitely not! But what it does mean is that I have found the only way to live with any of it and still have that peace that passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7).

It’s a fine line I walk with this complaining issue. Sometimes I need to let Rick and others close to me know exactly what’s going on with me because I usually don’t look like I’m feeling horrible. As Rick is fond of telling me, “But you look so good!” So I’ve asked Rick to specifically let me know when sharing the facts of how I feel turn into complaining.

Beloved, what are you struggling with today? Have you found your hope in the one true God? The One who is your Strength and Salvation? Please contact me with any questions about any of this: annap at annapopescu dot com.

AnnaSmile