“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” Philippians 4:8-9
Have you ever traveled the proverbial road down memory lane? Or possibly the physical road of past homes and lives? Our memory often plays games with reality and easily brings forward the good thoughts often shadowing challenges and difficulties. One stroll, without emotional checks in place, can lead us on a path of memory bliss and if not careful – will cloud the thoughts of the present. Current struggles become impassable mountains and reminiscent waterfalls and fields of flowers overtake the current hardship. But, it is an illusion.
I love cold weather. Well, I at least love the thought of cold weather. I live in Houston and have lived in the South most of my life. Other than the South, I’ve lived in Southern California. Cold weather brings refreshment and the crisp air sharpens the senses. An occasional snow fall every few years adds so much interest to an average “warm” winter. Recently when discussing the lack of cold weather with one who lived a more northern life, he informed me that any winter without snow was a good one. After years of shoveling endless white powder to clear a miniscule path by which to drive, coupled with months of dreary skies and layering clothes, his perspective accurately reflected life in cold weather. I had only imagined it with ski poles in hand.
In Philippians 3, Paul writes an encouragement to press on toward the goal of Christ Jesus. But before pressing on, he challenges us to forget what lies behind. I’ve typically read this passage and believed the intention is for me to forget the negative failures and struggles that can so easily guilt the mind to inaction. But likewise, I believe this verse also encourages us to forget the successes that might hinder action as well. Our mind has this peculiar way or reminding us of the good of the past without balance. My success then paves the road for pride, arrogance, and my inevitable fascination with me. We are also reminded of the perceived pleasure of greener grasses far off. In the quest to find heaven on earth, we quickly lose the battle of contentment. This passage encourages us to forget what lies behind, both good, bad, both could-be good, and could-be bad. We are challenged to strain toward God’s call.
It isn’t wrong to take an occasional stroll down memory lane or even gaze at the grass. We just have to be reminded that we live here and now and God has great things He wants to do here and now through us. After all, all of this is for His glory and not comfort or contentment. Learn from the past and strive for the goal of the upward call of Christ Jesus. Otherwise we will spend our days seeking illusive pastures and imaginative yesteryears.
The dust bowl of the 1930s will forever be recorded as one of the worst droughts and farming losses in American history. Hundreds of millions of acres of farmland were lost to fierce dust storms and the lack of rain. Photographs from the time illustrate the devastation such a drought could cause. After four years of drought, the entire country felt the effects of rationing, expensive food, and lost employment.
Photography in the 1930s recorded the dust bowl with dramatic images. I can imagine that the images would have been just as dramatic during the seven years of drought that sent Joseph’s brothers to Egypt (Genesis 42). Seven years of drought in a region much smaller than the dust bowl region and without support from neighboring lands equated to certain death for Jacob and his family. Jacob’s children journeyed to Egypt to find food.
Fast forwarding a few years, Joseph and his extended family settled in northern Egypt, the land of Goshen. To this day Goshen produces some of the most amazing crops. The land is fertile and a far cry from the arid land the family left. The Jewish people grew and multiplied quickly until the favor of Pharaoh and the Egyptians faded. Years later and now enslaved, God would rescue His people from captivity.
I wonder if Egypt’s favor had never changed, if the Jewish people would have left the fertile land of Goshen. God had promised them their own land yet for generations the people were content in borrowed land. After all, they were successful. The Jewish people grew in number and in wealth. LIfe was good. Some Rabbis suggest that the people ceased taking part in the covenant and quickly began to assimilate into the culture. They were living with the best.
What is best? What is success? Churches often live on the measure of tithes and attenders. Businesses exist for the bottom line. Personally, the size of our homes, the age of our cars, the intelligence of our children (and the rating of their schools), the size of our retirement, savings, and checking accounts, and the health of our family members all indicate success. But what is best?
In the case of the Jewish people, God would eventually call an exiled murderer to be His voice. Moses, after a dramatic series of events, plagues, and heartache, would lead the Jewish people to the promised land. The people revolted because of the difficulty of the task before them. Evidently, the promised land flowed with milk, honey, and large cruel inhabitants. After 40 years of wandering, the people were ready to be obedient. They would spend the next generation fighting for the land God had given them. This land is largely desert, full of rocks and in the middle of the ancient world. Was this the best?
It appears that our definition of best according to our eyes is oft a far cry from best through the eyes of a limitless God. After all, it was in the desert that God’s people learned to lean on Him. It was in captivity where they remembered to call on His name. It is in trial and pain that our relationship with God is most alive.
We have to live in the world and engage the culture. We are called to selflessly love people who aren’t like us. But too often, I begin looking and living like them. I redefine best and reach for the reigns of life. The land of Goshen looks so nice but is void of desperation, sacrifice, and cries to God. God’s provision may truly be the desert only because it is there I learn to lead hard on Him alone.