Mad at God

“You heavens above, rain down righteousness;
let the clouds shower it down.
Let the earth open wide,
let salvation spring up,
let righteousness grow with it;
I, the LORD, have created it.
“Woe to him who quarrels with his Maker,
to him who is but a potsherd among the potsherds on the ground.
Does the clay say to the potter,
‘What are you making?’
Does your work say,
‘He has no hands’?
Woe to him who says to his father,
‘What have you begotten?’
or to his mother,
‘What have you brought to birth?’
“This is what the LORD says—
the Holy One of Israel, and its Maker:
Concerning things to come,
do you question me about my children,
or give me orders about the work of my hands?
It is I who made the earth
and created mankind upon it.
My own hands stretched out the heavens;
I marshaled their starry hosts.
I will raise up Cyrus in my righteousness:
I will make all his ways straight.
He will rebuild my city
and set my exiles free,
but not for a price or reward,
says the LORD Almighty.” (Isaiah 45:8-13)

Just because you got mad at God doesn’t mean that you should have. God is God and we aren’t. Israel suffered because it deserved to suffer. The nation had failed to worship God exclusively, chasing after meaningless idols instead. They had mistreated their neighbors and one another. But no one had a right to criticize God for how things turned out or for the pain and inconvenience they might experience, any more than a broken bit of pottery on the ground had any cause to be speaking ill of the artist who made pots.

God made the universe and everything within it. And when he made it all, he announced that it was all very good, from beginning to end. How could it be otherwise with God as its maker? The heavens above declare the glory of God and the same from the earth below. Is there suffering, is there evil? God is still in control and still going about the business of building his universe. The unfinished pot has no cause for criticism or concern. In the end, it will look just fine. A half baked thing never looks so good. But wait until you taste the finished bread!

Even Cyrus, a man who didn’t even know God, would do just what God wanted and in a wonderful way.

We can only see a tiny portion of eternity, the smallest fraction that exists during the course of our single lifespan. We don’t see enough of the finished pot to legitimately criticize the artist putting it all together.

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The Messiah

The LORD said to Cyrus, his chosen one:
I have taken hold
of your right hand
to help you capture nations
and remove kings from power.
City gates will open for you;
not one will stay closed.
As I lead you,
I will level mountains
and break the iron bars
on bronze gates of cities.
I will give you treasures
hidden in dark
and secret places.
Then you will know that I,
the LORD God of Israel,
have called you by name.
Cyrus, you don’t even know me!
But I have called you by name
and highly honored you
because of Israel,
my chosen servant.
Only I am the LORD!
There are no other gods.
I have made you strong,
though you don’t know me.
Now everyone from east to west
will learn that I am the LORD.
No other gods are real.
I create light and darkness,
happiness and sorrow.
I, the LORD, do all of this. (Isaiah 45:1-7)

God really can use anyone. The word translated by “chosen one” is the Hebrew word that comes into English as “Messiah” or by way of its Greek equivalent, “Christ.” The word more literally means “anointed one” and refers to how priests and kings had oil poured on their heads when they took their positions of authority.

Cyrus, the pagan king of Persia, the man who conquered Babylon and issued a decree that the captives of Israel could go home and rebuild God’s temple in Jerusalem, was chosen by God for just that task. God had “anointed” him to perform a valuable service: to defeat the enemies of his people Israel, to rescue them, and to set them free.

Even though Cyrus didn’t know God, God knew him and used him for his own purposes. Thanks to Cyrus, a pagan, many people would come to know the one true God. God pointed out that there were no other gods. Yahweh alone existed. From Yahweh alone came all that there was, whether light or dark, good or bad, happiness or sorrow. The universe as it exists in all its many states was a consequence of God’s creative effort.

We must never imagine that simply because God used us that it means everything is okay between us and God. How useful we are to God doesn’t prove our righteousness. God used a pagan idolater and called him his Messiah, after all.

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“Coastlands, listen to Me in silence,
And let the peoples gain new strength;
Let them come forward, then let them speak;
Let us come together for judgment.
“Who has aroused one from the east
Whom He calls in righteousness to His feet?
He delivers up nations before him
And subdues kings.
He makes them like dust with his sword,
As the wind-driven chaff with his bow.
“He pursues them, passing on in safety,
By a way he had not been traversing with his feet.
“Who has performed and accomplished it,
Calling forth the generations from the beginning?
‘I, the LORD, am the first, and with the last. I am He.’ ”
The coastlands have seen and are afraid;
The ends of the earth tremble;
They have drawn near and have come.
Each one helps his neighbor
And says to his brother, “Be strong!”
So the craftsman encourages the smelter,
And he who smooths metal with the hammer encourages him who beats the anvil,
Saying of the soldering, “It is good”;
And he fastens it with nails,
So that it will not totter. (Isaiah 41:1-7)

Sometimes God has to chase us. When God pursues people, it can be for good or ill. The word translated “pursued” in this passage is most commonly used—as it is here—when someone is being chased, as an animal might be chased by hunters. But it can also be used more positively, as in the final verse of the famous Psalm 23 which explains that “goodness and love” will “follow” us all the days of our life. That word translated as “follow” is the very word here that appears as “pursue.” Goodness and love pursue us all the days of our life. God has to chase us with it. We resist his will for us. Too often we fear what God wants to do, imagining it is something he intends to do to us rather than for us.

The discipline that God was bringing against the Israelites for their unfaithfulness was going to be unpleasant. God didn’t pretend otherwise. But like bad tasting medicine that made people shudder, in the end it was for their good. So it is with whatever God does. It may frighten us, but in the end, we’ll recognize that it’s all for the best.

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The Martian: Surviving Mars

Source All about our solar system, outer space and exploration.

This infographic from does a good job of explaining the nuts and bolts of both the book by Andy Weir, as well as the movie. Both were excellent and I highly recommend you read the book as well going to see the movie. And if you can see the movie in 3-D, you won’t regret spending the extra money for the privilege.

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Count on God

This is a message about Egypt:
The LORD comes to Egypt,
riding swiftly on a cloud.
The people are weak from fear.
Their idols tremble
as he approaches and says,
“I will punish Egypt
with civil war—
neighbors, cities, and kingdoms
will fight each other.
“Egypt will be discouraged
when I confuse their plans.
They will try to get advice
from their idols,
from the spirits of the dead,
and from fortunetellers.
I will put the Egyptians
under the power of a cruel,
heartless king.
I, the LORD All-Powerful,
have promised this.” (Isaiah 19:1-4)

Lies can live for a long time. For thousands of years Egypt had endured as a major world power, independent and wealthy. They had worshiped their gods, performed their rituals with little change for those same thousands of years, never feeling the need for change, never knowing that the foundation of their civilization was like the sand beyond the Nile.

But God told them the time would come when their civilization would come crashing down. A few hundred years after Isaiah, the Macedonian general, Alexander the Great, conquered Egypt completely. He took its wealth for his own, and crowned himself Pharaoh. When he died, one of his generals, Ptolemy, took the Egyptian throne in his place. That general’s descendents ruled Egypt thereafter, known as the Ptolemies. The last of Ptolemy’s descendants was a woman named Cleopatra. When she killed herself with an asp’s bite, the Egyptian nation was absorbed by the Roman Empire.

The idols, fortune tellers, the mediums—those the Egyptians had depended upon for thousands of years—ultimately failed them. In the end, the Egyptians came to realize they had put their trust in empty lies.

We need to be careful about who and what we put our trust in. Only God can really be counted on.

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God Has Plans

This is what the LORD of Heaven’s Armies says:
“I, myself, have risen against Babylon!
I will destroy its children and its children’s children,”
says the LORD.
“I will make Babylon a desolate place of owls,
filled with swamps and marshes.
I will sweep the land with the broom of destruction.
I, the LORD of Heaven’s Armies, have spoken!”
The LORD of Heaven’s Armies has sworn this oath:
“It will all happen as I have planned.
It will be as I have decided.
I will break the Assyrians when they are in Israel;
I will trample them on my mountains.
My people will no longer be their slaves
nor bow down under their heavy loads.
I have a plan for the whole earth,
a hand of judgment upon all the nations.
The LORD of Heaven’s Armies has spoken—
who can change his plans?
When his hand is raised,
who can stop him?” (Isaiah 14:22-27)

You can’t spoil God’s plans. Whatever God has decided to do is what will happen. Babylon and Assyria imagined themselves invincible. They thought that they were in the driver’s seat, the captains of their souls, the architects of their fates. Reality was something else all together and God’s plans for them were a bit different from their plans for themselves. From God’s perspective, the Assyrians and Babylonians were merely tools in his hands that he used for his purposes. When God was done with them, he set them aside.

For the Babylonians and Assyrians, the end of their power was a disappointment and a surprise. From the standpoint of the Jewish people, however, it was a moment of great pleasure, a time of intense thanksgiving. No more would the Jewish people be enslaved, no longer would they be barred from their homes. At long last their great suffering that they had endured as punishment for their sins would be lifted. Hundreds of years before it came to pass, God let his people know everything would turn out well. He granted them his divine perspective.

We know how the story of the universe ends: God wins. Since we belong to God we will win too. We have an eternity to spend with him. So things couldn’t be better for us.

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God’s Tactics

The men of Gibeon sent word to Joshua camped at Gilgal, “Don’t let us down now! Come up here quickly! Save us! Help us! All the Amorite kings who live up in the hills have ganged up on us.”

So Joshua set out from Gilgal, his whole army with him—all those tough soldiers! God told him, “Don’t give them a second thought. I’ve put them under your thumb—not one of them will stand up to you.”

Joshua marched all night from Gilgal and took them by total surprise. God threw them into total confusion before Israel, a major victory at Gibeon. Israel chased them along the ridge to Beth Horon and fought them all the way down to Azekah and Makkedah. As they ran from the People of Israel, down from the Beth Horon ridge and all the way to Azekah, God pitched huge stones on them out of the sky and many died. More died from the hailstones than the People of Israel killed with the sword.

The day God gave the Amorites up to Israel, Joshua spoke to God, with all Israel listening:

“Stop, Sun, over Gibeon;
Halt, Moon, over Aijalon Valley.”
And Sun stopped,
Moon stood stock still
Until he defeated his enemies. (Joshua 10:1-12)

God takes care of those on his side even if they aren’t exactly nice people. The people of Gibeon had tricked the Israelites into forming an alliance with them. When the other Canaanites in the land learned that Gibeon had gone over to the Israelite invaders, they were furious and attacked them. Because of the treaty the Israelites had with the Gibeonites, Israel had no choice but to come to their aid.

God told Joshua not to worry. God promised that he would take care of things for them. God threw rocks from out of the sky, slaughtering the Canaanite armies arrayed against Gibea and the Israelites. Then God spoke, stopping the moon and sun in the sky. Since it was not possible to fight in the dark, it gave the Israelites extra time to wage war against their enemies. Joshua achieved a great victory.

Just as God had spoken to create the sun and moon, so his power over the universe was undiminished. Joshua—and Israel’s—confidence in God’s power grew enormously after this, a miracle that trumped the parting of the Red Sea in Moses’ day.

Just because we don’t see how to fix a problem doesn’t mean that God is similarly blind.

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Burning Down a City

Then the LORD said to Joshua, “Stretch out the sword that is in your hand toward Ai; for I will give it into your hand.” And Joshua stretched out the sword that was in his hand toward the city. As soon as he stretched out his hand, the troops in ambush rose quickly out of their place and rushed forward. They entered the city, took it, and at once set the city on fire. So when the men of Ai looked back, the smoke of the city was rising to the sky. They had no power to flee this way or that, for the people who fled to the wilderness turned back against the pursuers. When Joshua and all Israel saw that the ambush had taken the city and that the smoke of the city was rising, then they turned back and struck down the men of Ai. And the others came out from the city against them; so they were surrounded by Israelites, some on one side, and some on the other; and Israel struck them down until no one was left who survived or escaped. But the king of Ai was taken alive and brought to Joshua. (Joshua 8:18-23)

Victory is sweet. The first battle against Ai had been a disaster because one man had stolen some plunder at Jericho from God. The second battle, with God’s instructions, went much better. Joshua’s early career repeated incidents similar to those faced by Moses, in order that the Israelites could recognize that God was with him just as he had been with Moses. Thus, just as Moses, with the help of Aaron and Hur, had held his staff symbolically up while Joshua had led Israel to battle against the Amalekites, so God told Joshua to raise his sword over the city of Ai. Joshua’s troops that had been in hiding in ambush entered the city and set it afire. The enemy troops of Ai that had been pursuing Jacob and the soldiers with him saw their city in flames and lost heart, making it easy then for the Israelites to finally conquer them. When the king of Ai came before Joshua, Joshua himself executed him by impaling him on a pole. Afterward, he had the king’s body thrown down at the entrance of the city. They raised a large pile of stones over the body, as a memorial to Israel’s victory.

God will grant us victory over our troubles, whether they be external foes or internal ones.

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Pay Back Time

What are you to me, O Tyre and Sidon, and all the regions of Philistia? Are you paying me back for something? If you are paying me back, I will turn your deeds back upon your own heads swiftly and speedily. For you have taken my silver and my gold, and have carried my rich treasures into your temples. You have sold the people of Judah and Jerusalem to the Greeks, removing them far from their own border. But now I will rouse them to leave the places to which you have sold them, and I will turn your deeds back upon your own heads. I will sell your sons and your daughters into the hand of the people of Judah, and they will sell them to the Sabeans, to a nation far away; for the LORD has spoken.

Proclaim this among the nations:

Prepare war,
stir up the warriors.
Let all the soldiers draw near,
let them come up.
Beat your plowshares into swords,
and your pruning hooks into spears;
let the weakling say, “I am a warrior.”
Come quickly,
all you nations all around,
gather yourselves there.
Bring down your warriors, O LORD.
Let the nations rouse themselves,
and come up to the valley of Jehoshaphat;
for there I will sit to judge
all the neighboring nations. (Joel 3:4-12)

The call to arms preceded the call to peace. When Isaiah spoke of beating swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks, he was taking a common phrase and twisting it in a new way. Ordinarily in an agricultural society, when enemies came, the farmers had to take their tools of life and turn them into instruments of death.

God told Israel’s neighbors that had profited from the destruction and captivity of his people, that they would be paid back in kind. Just as the Jewish people had been sold northwest to the Greeks, so the people of Tyre and Sidon would be sold to the Sabeans living in the southeast, on the edge of the Arabian peninsula—as far from their homeland as they had sent the Israelites.

Jehoshaphat was a king of Judah who had faced an overwhelming Assyrian army. God had destroyed that army without Jehoshaphat having to fight. Tyre and Sidon’s fate would be the same as that of the Assyrians of Jehoshaphat’s day. Those assembled against them would not have to raise arms against them. They’d only have to bend over to pick up the spoils.

God has ways of solving problems that are beyond us. The exciting thing about an insurmountable problem, if we only turn our eyes to God, is seeing what God will do about it.

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So What?

“‘Nevertheless, I will bring health and healing to it; I will heal my people and will let them enjoy abundant peace and security. I will bring Judah and Israel back from captivity and will rebuild them as they were before. I will cleanse them from all the sin they have committed against me and will forgive all their sins of rebellion against me. Then this city will bring me renown, joy, praise and honor before all nations on earth that hear of all the good things I do for it; and they will be in awe and will tremble at the abundant prosperity and peace I provide for it.’

“This is what the Lord says: ‘You say about this place, “It is a desolate waste, without men or animals.” Yet in the towns of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem that are deserted, inhabited by neither men nor animals, there will be heard once more the sounds of joy and gladness, the voices of bride and bridegroom, and the voices of those who bring thank offerings to the house of the Lord, saying,

“Give thanks to the Lord Almighty, for the Lord is good; his love endures forever.” For I will restore the fortunes of the land as they were before,’ says the Lord.” (Jeremiah 33:6-11)

The giver matters more than the gift. The prophet Jeremiah hoped his people could understand the heart of God, so they could understand what he was doing to them. Jeremiah warned Israel of the impending Babylonian invasion and captivity, the inevitable punishment for their disobedience. But God also gave them comfort: his punishment was designed to correct, not destroy. And the correction would achieve its goal of changing the hearts of God’s people, so that they could one day be restored to their place. The torn-down cities of Israel would be rebuilt, the land and people would once again prosper. No discipline seemed fun at the time it happened. Only afterwards could anyone recognize its purpose. Only afterwards could they see that the punishment was actually a gift. The Israelites would mourn until the suffering inflicted by Babylon ended.

When God restored the Israelites to their land, their joy came from the fact that they could finally see that God still loved them and that they were, indeed, still his people. Afterwards, they could recognize the value of what God had given them by taking so much away. Some gifts won’t be recognizable as gifts we first receive them—but over time, we at last discern their worth.

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