Some Thoughts on Ebenezers

Charles Dickens did a disservice to the name Ebenezer when he gave it to Ebenezer Scrooge.  Even though the story of Scrooge ends well his name has become synonymous with miser.   The word Ebenezer is actually a Hebrew word that means “stone of help.”  In I Samuel 7 after God has delivered His people from the hands of the Philistines and returned the Ark of the Covenant safely Samuel erects a stone, names it Ebenezer and says, “Thus far the Lord has helped us”.

I love this idea of the Ebenezer stone.  I love the way it looks backward and forward.  “Thus far the Lord has helped us” strongly implies trust in the fact that the Lord will continue to be faithful.  It is important to keep in mind though that an Ebenezer stone marks a place in the journey, not a final destination.  The Ebenezer stone marks a spot from which we must continue on.

Something I’ve noticed about the Ebenezers in my life is that I want so desperately to stop moving and live there.  Sometimes I might even go so far to say that I forget to be thankful for the Ebenezers.  Instead I get bitter that I can’t live at the Ebenezer all the time. This week I’m basking in the grace and mercy of God as I enjoy some perceived success.  The next week I’m fighting discontent and even despair because God has taken me further and the road is not so smooth.

I think Peter, James and John had an Ebenezer experience on the Mount of the Transfiguration.  I like the way Mark tells it in chapters 8 and 9 because the account has Peter’s fingerprints all over it.  Jesus had just administered their mid-term exams.  On the first portion of the exam they passed with flying colors: Who do you say that I am? You are the Christ. But on the second half they came up way short.  As of yet their view of Messiah did not include suffering and dying.  They’re probably pretty low at this point thinking, “What have we gotten ourselves into?  Are we in on the ground floor of the next big thing or is this some kind of suicide mission?”  So Jesus takes His three closest companions up the mountain to get a little perspective.

This would be the original mountain top experience and they needed it bad.  But Peter once again misunderstands.  What should have been an Ebenezer moment became for him the destination.  “Why don’t we build some tents and just stay right here?”  But that didn’t fit with Jesus’ mission and before they knew it they were back to trying and failing to exorcise demons from little boys. “Lord, why could we not drive it out?”  Meeting Moses and Elijah was great but they still had a lot to learn.

I so often identify with Peter.  Every now and then I get it right, “Lord, you are the Christ,” knowing that I didn’t come to it on my own.  But a lot of times I get it all wrong.  I try to correct the Lord on the suffering and the dying that’s so clearly a part of this work.  Then, by His grace, He gives me a little taste of what it all means.  Somehow, through the Word, or prayer, or a conversation, or an unexpected gift, or a little touch of fruit-bearing I am given perspective.  And it’s really good. It is at this point I need to learn to be more like Samuel and less like Peter.  Go ahead, lay the stone, name it Ebenezer and then keep moving on. When I try to stay at the Ebenezer I turn something good God has given me into an idol.  That which should have become a blessing becomes a snare.

Only after the cross and the resurrection did Peter and the rest of the disciples seem to have gotten it.  It’s baffling to me that none of them even bothered to check the tomb on Sunday morning.  He is risen!  JUST AS HE SAID!  Until then they just weren’t really listening. I suspect Peter experienced the lowest of all lows and the highest of all highs that weekend.  And then, when Jesus ascended from the Mount of Olives a few weeks later no one seems to have suggested building anything there even though He says He’s coming back to that very spot.

The resurrection changes everything.  It proves that Jesus is who He claims to be.  It proves that His promises are true.  And it proves that this life is a journey not a destination.  He is just the first fruits of a redeemed race and we don’t have any business stopping until we get the call to be with Him.

So here’s my point: raise your Ebenezers and rejoice in the goodness of God.  Thus far the Lord has helped us indeed!  But remember that those Ebenezers are just gifts along the way.


The Glory of the Insignificant

“Out of all the suns and stars of the universe God has chosen this tiny earth, and on it the small land of Canaan, and in it the people of Israel, the ‘smallest’ of all peoples (Deut. 7:7); and in Israel the town of Bethlehem, that was too small to be reckoned among the thousands of Judah (Micah 5:2), and in Bethlehem itself – a manger. And from the manger it went on to the cross! Thus God chooses the insignificant…But the whole results in the revelation of the divine greatness.  It is the ‘foolish’ measure of His holy jealousy (I Cor. 1:21,25,27).  The very choice of the insignificant is the very method of divine honor.” Erich Sauer, The Dawn of World Redemption, pp. 91-21.


Good Doctrine leads to Holiness

“Christian Bible doctrine ever remains the same, and can only be authoritatively changed by God Himself.  It is God’s truth and not man’s.  If man could add to it, modify it or alter it, or even bend it in accommodation, what infallible standard or guide would there be to protect us against error and unbelief?  The motive power to virtue and holiness embraced in the doctrines of the Bible, is deteriorated just in proportion as changes are introduced.  The more scriptural our faith, the more pious and devoted the life, seeing that the purest influence for good comes from Gods own gracious words.” Peters, The Theocratic Kingdom.

“You have ordained Your precepts that we should keep them diligently.” Psalm 119:4


Are You Faking Biblical Literacy?

I’ve had a little fascination with the life of George Mueller for about the last 5 years.  His biography written by A.T. Pierson is a treasure.  The snippet below is actually taken from the back of Murray’s With Christ in the School of Prayer. This is Mueller describing his “discovery of how the true place of the Word of God…was the commencement of a new era in his spiritual life.”

His reasoning went like this: “God Himself has condescended to become an author, and I am ignorant of that precious book which His Holy Spirit has caused to be written through the instrumentality of His servants, and it contains that which I ought to know, and the knowledge of which will lead me to true happiness; therefore I ought to read again and again this most precious book, this book of books, most earnestly, most prayerfully, and with much meditation; and in this practice ought to continue all the days of my life. For I was aware, though I read it but little, that I knew scarcely anything of it.  But instead of acting thus, and being led by my ignorance of the Word of God to study it more, my difficulty in understanding it, and the little enjoyment I had in it, made me careless of reading it (for much prayerful reading of the Word gives not merely more knowledge, but increases the delight we have in reading it); and thus, like many believers,  I practically preferred, for the first four years of my divine life, the works of uninspired men to the oracles of the living God.  The consequence was that I remained a babe, both in knowledge and grace.”

A few weeks ago an article called “Faking Cultural Literacy” was making the rounds.  The author says, “It’s never been so easy to pretend to know so much without actually knowing anything.”  We read what other people think about books, movies, and television shows so that we can discuss even if we haven’t had time to read or watch for ourselves.  We expect someone else to tell us what we need to know.  As I read the article I kept thinking, are we doing the same thing with the Word of God?  Could it be said that there is a whole generation of Christians who are faking biblical literacy?  Do we actually read the Word or do we just expect others to tell us what we need to know?  If so, like Mueller, many are choosing to remain babes, both in knowledge and grace.

Back to Mueller: “As I neglected the Word, I was, for nearly four years, so ignorant that I did not clearly know even the fundamental points of our holy faith.  And this lack of  knowledge most sadly kept me back from walking steadily in the ways of God.  For when it pleased the Lord in August 1829, to bring me really to the Scriptures, my life and walk became very different.  And though ever since I have very much fallen short of what I might and ought to be, yet by the grace of God I have been enabled to live much nearer to Him than before.  If any believers read this who practically prefer other books to the Holy Scriptures, and who enjoy the writings of men much more than the Word of God, may they be warned by my loss.”

I am a lover of books.  I enjoy using  social media.  I appreciate the vast resources that are now available to us through the internet.  But the danger of this tsunami of information is that we can all pretend to know so much without actually knowing anything.  Do you clearly know the fundamental points of our holy faith in such a way that you can give a basis explanation from the Scriptures? Can you go directly to God’s Word to find help in times of trouble or do you turn to what others have written about God’s Word?  Are you fearful of telling others the good news of Jesus because you are afraid you’ll get it wrong?  You should read your bible and stop faking it.  Preachers and writers are great tools for understanding.  But there is no substitute for the pure milk of the Word.

One more testimony from Mueller:  “Before I leave this subject I would only add: If, the reader understands very little of the Word of God, he ought to read it very much; for the Spirit explains it word by word. And if he enjoys the reading of the word little, that is just the reason why he should read it much; for the frequent reading of the Scriptures creates a delight in them, so that the more we read them, the more we desire to do so.  Above all, he should seek to ave it settled in his own mind that God alone by His Spirit can teach him, and that therefore, as God will be inquired of for blessings, it becomes him to seek God’s blessing previous to reading and while reading it.”

Christians who speak in vague terms about the Scriptures will not be able to provide the world with a convincing defense of their faith.  If it’s clear that we don’t really read the Bible how are we going to convince a non-believer to read it?  You don’t have to be smart.  “The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.” (Ps. 19:7)  Just come and ask for wisdom because God gives it generously and without reproach. (James 1:5)  Or just pray with the psalmist: “Deal bountifully with You servant that I may live and keep Your Word. Open my eyes that I may behold wonderful things from Your Law.” (Ps. 119:17-18)


40

Today I am turning 40.  The Lord has given me 4 wonderful decades of life on this earth that He has created.  At this point in my life I am more blessed than I would ever have imagined.  He has filled my years with good things: an excellent wife, 4 precious children and new mercies every single day.

The Lord has given me the desires of my heart.  But by His grace He has consistently given me new desires.  I think that, had you described my life at 40 to my 20 year old self, I might have wrinkled my nose.  But I am so thankful for the unexpected blessings that God has brought me.  My plan would have been inferior in every way.

I am thankful that the Father saw fit to open my eyes to my sin and His gracious provision to cover that sin. I am thankful that Jesus Christ humbled Himself as a man and died a shameful death on a cross for the glory set before Him.  I am thankful for His resurrection so that death has lost its sting.  I am thankful that He lives to make intercession on behalf of those who belong to Him. I am thankful for the Holy Spirit who reveals Christ to me and opens the eyes of my heart so that I can see wonderful things from the Word.

If you are reading this I want you to know that God is a rewarder of those who seek Him.  He takes the initiative on behalf of His people.  His promises are true.  And I am thankful.

 


Adopting an Older Child

It’s been a while since I’ve written an update about our adoption.  The actual process of adoption is complete but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing interesting going on.  I’d like to say something about adopting an older child.  Once upon a time I was scared to death at the thought of adopting an older child.  When we went to adopt Gus we spent several days visiting with him at his orphanage on our first trip to Ethiopia.  Gus was just a baby but there were tons of older kids running around ranging in age from 3 to the early teens.  They loved practicing their English and playing pretty much anything.

One day as we were leaving the orphanage after a visit with Gus a little girl was leaving for the last time with her new mom. On our way back to the guesthouse we all stopped for lunch.  It was very interesting and fun to watch her experience the outside world.  The kicker was watching her eat ice cream for the first time.  After that I said to Erika, “We’re totally doing this.”

I can’t adequately explain you the joys of adopting an older child.  These first few weeks together have been precious.  This little boy needed a mom and dad so bad.  When we picked him up on that first day he sat close to me silently with big tears running down his face.  In our first few days together he didn’t know that when you get hurt you can cry to your mom and dad and they’ll try to help make it better.  On the one hand he’s strong and self-sufficient and on the other he’ll lay in my arms and look up into my eyes like he’s a newborn trying to figure me out.

This is not always easy.  The language barrier has been tough.  We’re still learning how to care for his special needs.  He’s really particular about where his things go.  And, shocker, he’s everything you would expect a 5 year old boy to be in terms of naughtiness.  He needed a mom and dad…real bad. And there are tons more just like him.  I saw them.  We visited his orphanage and he marched around like he owned the place showing us where he slept and where he played.  There was room after room filled with children with various special needs, sentenced to an institution because they weren’t born perfectly healthy.  As he took us around he told everyone we were Mom and Dad.  He was happy be there to show us around but he was clear that he wasn’t staying.

It took us a couple of days but we did take him for ice cream.  Ice cream parlors aren’t all over the place in China so we had to settle for McDonald’s.  I’m not positive it was his first but he loved it so much his eyes rolled back in his head after each bite.  On the way home he tripped and hurt his knee.  He cried, Erika picked him up and kissed it and we went back to the hotel and cleaned him up.  Ice cream and kisses for skinned knees may seem pretty normal to you but for Archie it’s all still brand new 6 weeks later.


The T-Shirt Sale

I thought it would be good to give a little explanation about this new fundraising project.  One of the biggest roadblocks to adoption is the cost.  It’s hard to imagine coming up with tens of thousands of dollars.  Lots of people have huge questions about the price tag.  But if you’re using a reputable agency (which we are) you can see clearly where every dollar is going.

A reasonable question to ask at this point would be, “How did you plan to raise this much money?”  Our plan has always been to pray and trust God.  But I don’t think we were presuming upon God. I definitely had in mind the way I thought God was going to provide.  When we adopted Gus in 2011 we were able to claim a dollar for dollar tax credit up to $13,000.  Since so many people helped us adopt Gus our plan was always to put that money into another adoption.  We actually filed our amended tax return for 2011 about the same time we started the process of adopting Archie.  That was almost a year ago.

t-shirt

The moral of this story is:  depend on God not on the US government.  You may have heard that the IRS isn’t excited about paying money to conservative causes right now.  Our amended return has been audited and as of the current government shutdown I don’t see us getting our return on this side of 2014.

It’s God’s money and He can direct it where He pleases.  We see this as an opportunity to trust Him through prayer and faith.  His ways are not our ways.  He may choose to move the IRS to process our return.  Or He may not.  In the meantime, we need to raise about $15,000.  It seems crazy but our God distinguishes Himself as a God who demonstrates His glory by providing in the midst of crazy circumstances.

So this t-shirt thing is a way to let our friends know the need.  We need to sell 50 for the project to go forward.  But we’d love to sell 2,000.  Will you help us by praying and sharing the website?  As Facebook continues to decline in use we’re looking for other ways to get the word out.  As always, if you’d like to make a tax-deductible donation (and not receive a t-shirt) you can do so at our Adopttogether site.  Or you can buy a t-shirt here:  Archie Cleland Adoption Fund.


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