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"You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings and brought you to Myself."
Joyce's love letters always started out a little slow.
I was young, in college, in love, and in a hurry. And I couldn't help but note how her correspondence always moved along in low gear for the first few pages.
I wanted to jump right into the good stuff, to read the parts that said how wonderful I was. How she couldn't live without me. I could spend hours looking for code words and secret meanings.
I realize now that I would have enjoyed life a lot more if I'd just relaxed and treasured her letters for what they were. I really didn't need to read between the lines. The love was right there in front of me.
Have you ever heard the Ten Commandments described as a love letter from the hand of God? I'm convinced that they're one of the most powerful expressions of God's love in Scripture. He doesn't leave anything out. These ten statements are the truths He knows will provide blessing, strength, a future, and a hope.
Some people, of course, imagine the exact opposite. They don't hear love at all; they hear God saying, "You mess with Me and I'll fry you like abug."
All this, of course, plays right into Satan's age-old caricature of God-the one he's had from the beginning. "God is a prude, a harsh old grandfather with a long beard and bushy eyebrows who doesn't want anyone to have any fun-ever."
Is he right? Are the Ten Commandments harsh and negative, or do they have a warmer, more passionate side?
To find out, let's begin with the words that set the Ten Commandments in context. Before God gave Moses those tablets of stone, He gave him specific instructions about what to say to the people before presenting the Ten Commandments. Can you hear His heart beating in these words?
And Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain, saying, "Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel: `You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings and brought you to Myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.'" (Exodus 19:3-6)
The Lord was saying, "Moses, before you give the people these commands, will you please remind them that I bore them on eagles' wings?"
What does that mean? Well, a mama eagle will make a nest at least eight feet by eight feet. The largest on record was more than nine feet wide and twenty feet deep. It weighed almost three tons.
She will fill it up with leaves, animal fur, and down from her own breast, so it's warm and snug. But when the time is right, she will make things uncomfortable for her unsuspecting little eaglets.
It all begins when she takes them to a "home" that will be more important to them than any nest in the world ... the sky! She will pick them up, fly with them to a dizzying height, and drop them.
This is all shockingly new to the little eaglet. For him, life has been a comfy, snuggled-down, fuzz-ball existence, with little pals to play with, regular meals, and Mama's protective wings at night. But now Mama kicks him overboard, with nothing between him and certain death but the wild blue yonder.
The eaglet begins to flutter. He doesn't know what to do. He doesn't even have a learner's permit. His heart pounds in his tiny chest. And he's heading down, fast.
As the little fella plummets to earth, contemplating his comfortable but surprisingly brief life, Mama Eagle watches. And what does she do? She swoops down just before her eaglet hits the ground and picks him up. And of course the poor little bird has gone into cardiac arrest. But there's a happy ending here for the baby eagle, right? Mom is climbing back into the heavens. Oh boy, the nasty trauma is over. Back to the beloved nest ... and isn't it just about lunchtime?
But what does she do when she regains altitude? She drops him again! And again! And each time she swoops down to save him and bears him up ... on eagles' wings.
That's exactly what the Lord is saying: "Moses, please-before you give them these commands, remind them how much I have loved them in the past. How I've watched over their lives every day and concerned Myself with their future."
We can look back on the same thing in our own lives, can't we? Everything we have and everything we enjoy are blessings from His hand. We, too, were headed south one day. But in Christ, the Lord swooped down and picked us up and gave us everything that we have. And now He sustains us and keeps us every day of our lives.
If we lose sight of that, we can't see anything at all. God is all about developing us and helping us grow. He loved the children of Israel. His purpose was to lead them step-by-step, test by test, so that when they crossed the Jordan they would have the faith and the strength to throw down walled cities and take possession of the land. He always has a plan!
He has a plan for you, too. Never doubt it. You might be puzzled by the circumstances and timing in your life, and you might feel that you're going nowhere fast. Yet God's eye is upon you. He will catch you on His wings and take you where you could never go in your own strength.
He carries you because He loves you. And that is what makes the Ten Commandments a love letter.
"You shall have no other gods before Me."
Recently I was at a pastors retreat in a wilderness area in New England. A major snowstorm hit. One night one of the pastors slipped out of bed, put on snowshoes, and headed off for a walk with no flashlight, compass, or provisions.
He never marked his trail and paid no attention to landmarks. After a while he suddenly realized he was becoming very, very cold. And in that same instant he was jarred by another realization: I have no idea how to get back!
Others who searched for him that night eventually found him ... cold, embarrassed, but none the worse for his midnight wanderings.
That's the deceptiveness of the path the world offers. It looks good until it suddenly dawns on you: I don't know where I am! I've wandered into something and have no idea how to get back. You're lost in the woods and it's too dark to retrace your own tracks.
King Solomon would have known the first command from boyhood. I suspect it was very much on his mind when he wrote these words: "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight" (Proverbs 3:5-6, NIV).
That's pretty much the bottom line, isn't it? But notice that this statement is conditional. It tells us very specifically that we must not lean on or trust in our own understanding. Why? Because we are in a dangerous place full of traps and pits and swamps, and our compass is broken. Proverbs 14:12 says, "There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death."
Yes, but don't these commands of God have a "stern" quality that sometimes puts us off? Perhaps ... but when you are warning someone not to go where certain death awaits, how stern do you get?
Imagine that you take the winding drive up to Glacier Point at Yosemite National Park. As you approach the top of the rock cliff, where you can peer over a belt-high railing at the valley 3,200 feet below, one of your car doors flings open and your three-year-old leaps out and begins running for the edge as fast as his chubby little legs will carry him.
Is it a time to whisper sweetly? Is it a time for a seminar on "values clarification"? No! As your heart lurches, you shout, "Tommy, stop! Stop right now!"
Do the Ten Commandments have a bit of that flavor? Do they seem written in bold with capital letters? Could it be because the Father heart of God lurches within Him as He sees spiritually blind, unheeding men and women running for the edge of the cliff?
Listen to the urgent tone of these words from Ezekiel:
"As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel?" (Ezekiel 33:11, NIV)
It's as if the Lord were saying, "If you will acknowledge Me in all your ways, if you will hear and obey My word, I will keep you from harm and let nothing hinder your fulfillment."
He wants to care for you, and He knows that no one can care for you better than He can. Psalm 116 says that when we call upon Him, He inclines unto us. No matter where He's working or what project He's involved in, He leans over to hear us.
In verse 13 the psalmist says, "I will take up the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the Lord." Here, "salvation" is not used as we mean it today. Old Testament believers didn't live in the shadow of the Cross. Salvation referred to the many times the Lord had sustained them and saved them from trouble. Their cups overflowed.
I have a cup like that, too, filled with the times God has helped me overcome doubt, disappointment, and failure. The times when He spared my life, kept our children from danger, and paid our bills. He has loved us and reached out to us and delivered us even when we were unlovely.
And now He is saying, "Knowing that I love you with a sacrificial, serving love, would you put Me first in your life, just as you are first in Mine?"
Many people ask me how I've dealt with years of leukemia-years of hanging by a rope over a cliff. But it's not so bad when you know who's holding the rope. My life really is His responsibility. He is responsible for the outcome. He is responsible for how long I live and serve. The weight is off me. He's responsible-and I'm not!
In fact, what you don't surrender is what ends up eating you alive, because you carry it and feel so responsible to bring it all to a good conclusion. Yet deep in your heart you know you never can.
What does Jesus say so clearly in Matthew 6? "Don't worry about anything. Don't worry about what you'll eat. Don't worry about what you'll wear or where you'll live. Don't fret over those things. Just seek Me first and everything will work out."
Worry is like a warning light on the dashboard, informing us that we've taken back our lives from His care-a very foolish thing to do.
I love the story about an eight-year-old boy taking a test. He became so nervous that he suddenly wet his pants. Horrors! He looked down and saw a little puddle. Sick with worry, he looked up just in time to see his teacher motioning him to her desk. How could he move? What could he do?
At that very moment, one of his classmates, a girl, came down the aisle from behind, carrying a large fish-bowl. Suddenly she lurched and dropped the heavy bowl. It shattered with a loud crash and sent debris everywhere. Now covered by water, the boy sat there thinking, Thank God! Thank God! There is a God in heaven!
But then it dawned on him that little boys don't like little girls. He couldn't possibly let this pass. "What's wrong with you, you clumsy clod? Can't you watch where you're going?!" As the class laughed, the teacher took the boy to the gym for dry clothes.
At lunchtime, no one sat with the girl. Her friends avoided her at recess. In the unforgiving society of elementary school, she was suddenly a plague and a pariah.
But when the day ended, the boy walked out the door and saw her. All the kids were leaving, but she was walking by herself. He reflected on what had happened and suddenly-on impulse-walked over to her.
"You know," he said, "I've been thinking. That wasn't an accident. You did that on purpose, didn't you?"
"Yes," she said. "I knew what had happened to you. I wet my pants once, too."
I heard this story and thought, Lord, I don't want to ever forget what You have done for me. You covered me. You spilled Your precious blood and took all my shame on Yourself. You have fit me for heaven though I deserved hell. You have given me dignity and hope and a reason to get up in the morning.
How could I not put such a God first?
Excerpted from Right with God by Ron Mehl Copyright © 2003 by Ronald D. Mehl
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
|1.||On Eagles' Wings||6|
|2.||No Other Gods||12|
|3.||Pursuing Empty Images||18|
|4.||Take Care with the Name||25|
|5.||A Time to Reflect||32|
|6.||A Command with a Promise||39|
|7.||Removing the Seeds of Murder||47|
|8.||God's Fence Around Your Marriage||53|
|9.||Letting God Meet Your Needs||59|
|10.||Words That Wound, Words That Heal||68|
|12.||Whoever Takes the Son||87|