God uses three ways to change us and conform us to the image of Christ: people, circumstances, and spiritual disciplines. Of all three, only one is under our control: spiritual disciplines.
First, God uses people to change us. Proverbs 27:17 says is well: ‘As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.’ Our relationships with friends, family, spouse, coworkers, neighbors, pastors, teachers and all sorts of people all mixed together create ample opportunities for us to learn, be corrected, be rebuked, be changed, and become godly in the process, however we react to them.
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In the apartment where I live, there is this dear elderly lady who waves at me almost every morning before I go to work. If I am within earshot, she would always say, “Good morning Pastor!” I’d smile, beam back my chirpiest good morning, crank my motorcycle, and speed out of the gate.
She knows I am a pastor. I knew she is related to the owner of the apartment where I live but I never really tried to find out her story. One time when I did a dedication service for their family’s computer shop, we exchanged a few sentences over breakfast. She said she liked my exhortation and that she appreciated that I recited the Apostle’s Creed.
Last week, I received news that the father of two of my friends died. These siblings used to attend my discipleship group in Caloocan before I transfered here in Tacloban about a year ago. I didn’t know why but even at a distance of over a thousand kilometers, I could feel the sense of loss and devastation in the family.
The news really got me thinking about the place of death in the Bible. I realized that even believers of Christ are not spared from the fangs of death for now. We all lose someone, and one day, someone will lose us too. Such is the destructive effect of the original sin on humans. Death came as a result of the fall. Death tears us apart, it puts a sudden stop to our relationships, it leaves us in mid-sentence, it doesn’t give us the chance to finish saying the things we needed to say.
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The place Dothan is mentioned only twice in the Bible, first in Genesis 37 where Joseph was sold to a caravan of Ishmaelites, and second in 2 Kings 6:13 where Elisha and his servant were surrounded by Syrian army. The events surrounding these two accounts are interesting in that one of them involves the seeming total silence of God and the other involves a fantastic story of miraculous deliverance.
In Genesis 37, Joseph was thrown into the pit by his brothers and was later sold as slave to the Ishmaelites. He was later sold to the household of Potiphar in Egypt. We know the rest of the narrative about how God used Jospeh’s terrible experience to deliver the entire Hebrew race from starvation in the seven years of famine that came afterwards. Where was God when all these were happening? Why didn’t He intervene? How could he be absent when one of His children was suffering?
Read Exodus 32:1-6.
This passage has always puzzled me. Barely three months after crossing the Red Sea, the Israelites were found worshipping a golden calf at the foot of Mount Sinai. What’s more puzzling was that Aaron seemed to be under the impression that they were actually worshipping the LORD Himself. How come?
Drew Dyck, in his book Yawning at Tigers, suggests a few reasons. He mentioned that Egypt was an idolatrous nation. When the Israelites slipped back to idolatry, they were simply reverting back to the way of life they were most familiar with. Old habits don’t die easily. Idolatry was Israel’s default religious practice for 400 years. Crossing the Red Sea didn’t change it yet.
Dyck believes, however, that something more was at play. When God appeared to the Israelites in Exodus 19:16-19, the spectacle was very terrifying. The writer of Hebrews summarizes the scene with words like fire, darkness, gloom, storm, trumpet blast, and the disembodied thundering voice of God that Moses ended up saying, “I am trembling with fear.” The presence of God was too much for the Israelites that they asked for God to stop speaking to them.
When the people gathered gold and asked Aaron to fashion an image of a god, what they were doing was basically create a manageable, domesticated, less frightening, totally tamed version of God. They didn’t want the awesome presence of divinity; they preferred something or someone that is scaled-down to their level. Dyck writes:
We just did our first Making Disciples Training here in Victory Tacloban yesterday. Fifteen leaders and upcoming leaders came and we had a great time talking about the very thing that is so important in the heart of Jesus: discipleship. Why do we think this is important?
Well, for starters, when Jesus was about to go to heaven, the last words he uttered were his commission for his disciples to go and make disciples of all nations. It sometimes sounds trite to our modern ears because we hear that all the time but when you really think of it, the parting words of a person are usually the most important. Jesus told us to make disciples because it matters to him; and if it matters to him, it should matter to us too.