Lies, Unbelief and Disloyalty

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Reading:                                      Psalm 78

(Verses 32-39)
In spite of all this, they kept on sinning;
in spite of his wonders, they did not believe.
So he ended their days in futility
and their years in terror.
Whenever God slew them, they would seek him;
they eagerly turned to him again.
They remembered that God was their Rock,
that God Most High was their Redeemer.
But then they would flatter him with their mouths,
lying to him with their tongues;
their hearts were not loyal to him,
they were not faithful to his covenant.
Yet he was merciful;
he forgave their iniquities
and did not destroy them.
Time after time he restrained his anger
and did not stir up his full wrath.
He remembered that they were but flesh,
a passing breeze that does not return
(NIV).

Reflection
Psalm 78 is a lengthy indictment against the people of Israel for their unfaithfulness to the LORD. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that these were the people of God—His chosen people—yet they responded with lies, unbelief and disloyalty. If this is how the people of God conduct themselves, what are we to expect from those who do not know the LORD?

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Autumn glory in Gatineau Park — photo by David Kitz

Unfortunately, the people of God today are not so different from the people of Israel 3,000 years ago. When we look about the church world, we see a plenty of division, backbiting and sin. All too often hate rules instead of love. We cover ourselves with a fig leaf of self-righteousness and then proceed to attack those who fail to meet our standard. We do all this while we are trapped in our own secret web of sin. We are determined to clean up the world while ignoring our personal pile of filth.

The words of Jesus from his Sermon on the Mount still ring true today, “How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:4-5).

But given this deplorable state of affairs, what does the LORD do? The psalmist states, “Yet he was merciful; he forgave their iniquities and did not destroy them.” Like the people of ancient Israel, we are saved not because of our righteousness, but solely because of God’s mercy and grace.

Response: LORD God, I cannot boast because of my righteousness. You know all my shortcomings. I have an impressive pile of personal sin. Forgive me through the mercy of your son, Jesus. Amen.

Your Turn: Have you been guilty of pointing out the faults of others while ignoring your own?

Awakening the Dawn

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I will praise Him!

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The Wonders of God — photo courtesy of Liz Kranz

My heart, O God, is steadfast;
    I will sing and make music with all my soul.
Awake, harp and lyre!
    I will awaken the dawn.
I will praise you, LORD, among the nations;
    I will sing of you among the peoples.
For great is your love, higher than the heavens;
    your faithfulness reaches to the skies.
Be exalted, O God, above the heavens;
    let your glory be over all the earth.

(Psalm 108:1-5, NIV)

They Sowed Fields

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I will praise Him!

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A field of harvest ready oats near MacNutt, SK — photo by David Kitz

He turned rivers into a desert,
    flowing springs into thirsty ground,
and fruitful land into a salt waste,
    because of the wickedness of those who lived there.
He turned the desert into pools of water
    and the parched ground into flowing springs;
there he brought the hungry to live,
    and they founded a city where they could settle.
They sowed fields and planted vineyards
    that yielded a fruitful harvest;
he blessed them, and their numbers greatly increased,
    and he did not let their herds diminish.

Then their numbers decreased, and they were humbled
    by oppression, calamity and sorrow;
he who pours contempt on nobles
    made them wander in a trackless waste.
But he lifted the needy out of their affliction
    and increased their families like flocks.
The upright see and rejoice,
    but all the wicked shut their mouths.

Let the one who is wise heed these things
    and ponder the loving deeds of the LORD.

(Psalm 107:33-43, NIV)

Getting What We Want

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Reading:                                      Psalm 78

(Verses 23-31)
Yet he gave a command to the skies above
and opened the doors of the heavens;
he rained down manna for the people to eat,
he gave them the grain of heaven.
Human beings ate the bread of angels;
he sent them all the food they could eat.
He let loose the east wind from the heavens
and by his power made the south wind blow.
He rained meat down on them like dust,
birds like sand on the seashore.
He made them come down inside their camp,
all around their tents.
They ate till they were gorged—
he had given them what they craved.
But before they turned from what they craved,
even while the food was still in their mouths,
God’s anger rose against them;
he put to death the sturdiest among them,
cutting down the young men of Israel
(NIV).

Reflection
Several years ago I received some wise counsel from a pastor. He said, “Be careful what you pray for. You may get what you want. And that’s not always a good thing.”

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Sunsetting through the windows of the National Gallery of Canada — photo by David Kitz

What happens when we get exactly what we want? For the answer to that question we should consult with million-dollar lottery winners. Obviously, they got what they wanted when they bought their lottery ticket. Sociologists who do long-term studies on lottery winners will tell you that in some cases winning the “big one” ends in disaster. Some people have managed to fritter away millions in a perpetual party lifestyle that leaves them physically broken and bankrupt in less than five years. Others have maintained their wealth and their health, but they have become socially isolated with family relationships in ruins. Getting what we want doesn’t and more than we need doesn’t always end well.

In today’s reading from Psalm 78, we learn that despite Israel’s rebellious ways, God gave the people exactly what they wanted and more than they needed. Human beings ate the bread of angels; he sent them all the food they could eat. 

The greatest temptation we face may not be denying God in the face of poverty, but rather neglecting Him in the midst of wealth. When God gives us the wealth we want, the end result may be the impoverishment of our spirit. Be careful what you pray.

Response: LORD God, help me to find my contentment in you and not in the abundance of my possessions. If your blessings come, help me to be a wise and generous manager that seeks first the Kingdom of God. Amen.

Your Turn: Have your answered prayers led to regrets later on?

The Faith of a Child

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Reading:                                      Psalm 78

(Verses 17-22)
But they continued to sin against him,
rebelling in the wilderness against the Most High.
They willfully put God to the test
by demanding the food they craved.
They spoke against God;
they said, “Can God really
spread a table in the wilderness?
True, he struck the rock,
and water gushed out,
streams flowed abundantly,
but can he also give us bread?
Can he supply meat for his people?”
W
hen the Lord heard them, he was furious;
his fire broke out against Jacob,
and his wrath rose against Israel,
for they did not believe in God
or trust in his deliverance
(NIV).

Reflection
Psalm 78 is largely an indictment against the people of Israel for their lack of faith and their rebellious ways. As the psalmist says, “They willfully put God to the test.”

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Chateau Montebello, Montebello, QB — photo by David Kitz

As a child I recall reading the entire book of Exodus and thinking to myself, “Wow, these people sure are dumb. How could they see God’s amazing miracles and then a few days later grumble, complain and doubt that the LORD would help them? These people are real losers!”

Then I grew up and had a family of my own. At times I saw amazing miracles and God’s supernatural provision. But guess what? When the next big difficulty arose, I found myself doubting that God would come through. I complained about the difficulty I was in and acted just like the people of Israel in the wilderness.

Oops! I thought I was different. I thought I was smarter than those spiritual dullards in the Old Testament. In reality my grownup faith was much weaker than my childhood faith. When real testing and temptation came, I was and still am, as susceptible to unbelief as any of the wandering Israelites in the wilderness. Faith is a gift from God—a wonder-filled gift that carries us through the hard times.

The indictment against Israel is that they did not believe in God or trust in his deliverance. Do I truly believe in God and trust in his deliverance? Is my faith more than a creedal statement? Does it have legs and wings to carry me through the toughest situation? Often I am more like the rebellious children of Israel than I would like to admit. How about you?

Response: LORD God, I humbly ask you for the gift of faith—faith to sustain me through the tough times ahead. You are my help, my salvation and my deliverer. I praise you for your faithfulness. Amen.

Your Turn: Do you have grown-up faith or childlike faith? Which is better?

Fleeing on the Day of Battle

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Reading:                                      Psalm 78

(Verses 9-16)
The men of Ephraim, though armed with bows,
turned back on the day of battle;
they did not keep God’s covenant
and refused to live by his law.
They forgot what he had done,
the wonders he had shown them.
He did miracles in the sight of their ancestors
in the land of Egypt, in the region of Zoan.
He divided the sea and led them through;
he made the water stand up like a wall.
He guided them with the cloud by day
and with light from the fire all night.
He split the rocks in the wilderness
and gave them water as abundant as the seas;
he brought streams out of a rocky crag
and made water flow down like rivers
(NIV).

Reflection

Today’s reading from Psalm 78 discusses the cowardly behavior of the men of Ephraim. Though they were well-armed, they turned back on the day of battle. There are numerous instances in the annals of war, when a superior force was overwhelmed by fighters who were fewer in number, poorly equipped or both. Why does that happen?

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The waters of Georgian Bay, Bruce Peninsula National Park — photo by David Kitz

Undoubtedly, armchair generals can provide a list of reasons for the poor performance of “superior forces” in a variety of historic battles. In every instance, the psychology or spirit of the troops is a contributing factor to their success or failure in war. In the case of the men of Ephraim, the psalmist tells us they did not keep God’s covenant and refused to live by his law. They forgot what he had done, the wonders he had shown them. How could this forgetfulness lead to defeat in battle?

Actually, Christian men and women are daily defeated in battle because they refuse to live by God’s commands and they forget that God is all-powerful. Soldiers who do not obey orders can’t be counted on in the day of battle. An army that knows its proud history is likely to rise to the occasion, rather than slink off in retreat. It has often been said that past performance is the best predictor of future results.

In the daily battles of life, how are you performing? Are you keeping God’s covenant and obeying the orders of Jesus, our commander-in-chief? Do you realize He is victorious over death, hell and the grave? He’s no second-class wimp. Compared to our Lord, Satan is the second-class wimp, and when you come under the Lord’s command you are on the winning side; so live like it and act like it. He is the miracle worker. Today, the first miracle He is working on is the transformation of your life and mine. Are you up for the challenge, or like the men of Ephraim will you turn back on the day of battle?

Response: LORD God, today I accept the challenge to follow you with all my mind, heart, soul and strength. Give me ears to hear and obey your commands. I pray in Jesus’ all-powerful name. Amen.

Your Turn: Why is daily obedience so crucial to the advancement of the kingdom of God?

Are We Hearing and Listening?

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Reading:                                       Psalm 78

A maskil of Asaph.
(Verses 1-8)
My people, hear my teaching;
listen to the words of my mouth.
I will open my mouth with a parable;
I will utter hidden things, things from of old—
things we have heard and known,
things our ancestors have told us.
We will not hide them from their descendants;
we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the L
ORD,
his power, and the wonders he has done.
He decreed statutes for Jacob and established the law in Israel,
which he commanded our ancestors to teach their children,
so the next generation would know them,
even the children yet to be born,
and they in turn would tell their children.
Then they would put their trust in God
and would not forget his deeds but would keep his commands.
They would not be like their ancestors—
a stubborn and rebellious generation,
whose hearts were not loyal to God,
whose spirits were not faithful to him
(NIV).

Reflection
Psalm 78 begins with a simple imperative statement: My people, hear my teaching; listen to the words of my mouth.

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Backyard white wonder — photo by David Kitz

 Hearing and listening are very simple commands. There is nothing particularly difficult about hearing or listening. But…but it seems most of humanity’s problems stem from not hearing or listening. Most marital breakdowns come as a result of a refusal to listen to one another. Intergenerational conflict results from a breakdown in communication. One party may be speaking, but the other party isn’t listening. Even on the international stage, when nations refuse to talk to one another, the next step is usually war.

Why do we stop listening or hearing? Is it because we don’t like what the other person is saying? How does that affect our relationship with God? Have we stopped listening to His voice because we don’t like what He says? Have we stopped listening to the voice of our conscience? Good listening starts with listening to the LORD. When our children stop listening to us we have a problem. Have we in turn listened to them? Telling the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the LORD starts with us hearing and really listening to God. Our children are so very important to us. But it all starts with the LORD. He has something to say to you today. Are you listening? 

Response: LORD God, today give me ears to hear what your Spirit is saying to me. I want a listening heart. Help me to really hear the others in my family and workplace. Thanks for listening to me. Amen.

Your Turn: At times I have not listened to God. How about you? How do we change?

Going through Hell and High Water

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Reading:                                      Psalm 77

(Verses 16-20)
The waters saw you, God,
the waters saw you and writhed;
the very depths were convulsed.
The clouds poured down water,
the heavens resounded with thunder;
your arrows flashed back and forth.
Your thunder was heard in the whirlwind,
your lightning lit up the world;
the earth trembled and quaked.
Your path led through the sea,
your way through the mighty waters,
though your footprints were not seen.
You led your people like a flock
by the hand of Moses and Aaron
(NIV).

Reflection
Psalm 77 began with the psalmist in a state of anguish approaching despair. He was filled with questions for the LORD—questions but no answers. This was followed by the psalmist’s decision to recall the miracle-working power of the LORD. He reflects on Israel’s release from bondage in Egypt and in today’s reading he describes their escape through the Red Sea. Your path led through the sea, your way through the mighty waters, though your footprints were not seen.

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1000 Islands boat cruise near Gananoque, ON — photo by David Kitz

Sometimes life will bring us to difficult or even impossible situations. We can see no way forward and it’s impossible to turn back. That’s the situation the people of Israel found themselves in as they set out to escape from Egypt. The sea blocked the way before them and the Egyptian army was pursuing them from behind. They had nowhere to turn but to the LORD.

What did the LORD do? He didn’t take Israel around the problem or over it. He took them through it. We read these words: Your path led through the sea…

During the dark days of World War II, Winston Churchill gave his nation this advice, “If you are going through hell, keep going.” 

Don’t stop. Don’t give up and hang your head in despair. You don’t know the moment when the LORD will intervene on your behalf. You don’t know when the sea will part. You don’t know when you will be called to follow the LORD’s invisible footprints onto the floor of the sea. That requires faith—steps of faith. And don’t dilly dally along the way. If you are going through hell, keep going. If you are going through a personal Red Sea experience, keep going. You don’t want to be caught in the middle. That’s what happened to Egypt’s army. Have faith the LORD will bring you through, and by all means keep going. Persevere.

Response: LORD God, I am facing some difficult challenges. Give me the faith and the courage to keep going. I trust that you will bring me through—through hell and high water by the power of Jesus. Amen.

Your Turn: Are you facing difficult times? Has the LORD brought you through in the past?

Some Went Out on the Sea

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I will praise Him!

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Crashing waves, Lake Ontario – photo courtesy of Eric E. Wright

Some went out on the sea in ships;
    they were merchants on the mighty waters.
They saw the works of the LORD,
    his wonderful deeds in the deep.
For he spoke and stirred up a tempest
    that lifted high the waves.
They mounted up to the heavens and went down to the depths;
    in their peril their courage melted away.
They reeled and staggered like drunkards;
    they were at their wits’ end.
Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble,
    and he brought them out of their distress.
He stilled the storm to a whisper;
    the waves of the sea were hushed.
They were glad when it grew calm,
    and he guided them to their desired haven.
Let them give thanks to the LORD for his unfailing love
    and his wonderful deeds for mankind.
Let them exalt him in the assembly of the people
    and praise him in the council of the elders.

(Psalm 107:23-32, NIV)

He Sent out His Word 

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I will praise Him!

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Quiet waters, Petrie Island, Orleans, ON — photo by David Kitz

Some became fools through their rebellious ways
    and suffered affliction because of their iniquities.
They loathed all food
    and drew near the gates of death.
Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble,
    and he saved them from their distress.
He sent out his word and healed them;
    he rescued them from the grave.
Let them give thanks to the LORD for his unfailing love
    and his wonderful deeds for mankind.
Let them sacrifice thank offerings
    and tell of his works with songs of joy.

(Psalm 107:17-22, NIV)