The Bitter Made Sweet

dead tree in water

“So Moses brought Israel from the Red sea, and they [the Israelites] went out into the wilderness of Shur; and they went three days in the wilderness, and found no water. And when they came to Marah, they could not drink of the waters of Marah, for they were bitter: therefore the name of it was called Marah. And the people murmured against Moses, saying, What shall we drink? And he cried unto the Lord; and the Lord shewed him a tree, which when he had cast into the waters, the waters were made sweet: there he made for them a statute and an ordinance, and there he proved them, and said, If thou wilt diligently hearken to the voice of the Lord thy God, and wilt do that which is right in his sight, and wilt give ear to his commandments, and keep all his statutes, I will put none of these diseases upon thee, which I have brought upon the Egyptians: for I am the Lord that healeth thee. And they came to Elim, where were twelve wells of water, and threescore and ten palm trees: and they encamped there by the waters” (Exodus 15:22-27).

Only three days before this, God had miraculously brought Israel across the Red Sea. But they found no water for their desert thirst all three days. Finally at Marah they found some, but it was bitter, unfit to drink. Their first reaction? To “murmur” against Moses, their God-appointed leader. These were the same people that God had just miraculously redeemed! He intentionally brought His children to a time of testing here to bring out what was really in them. Where was that faith that had trusted God to lead them through the Red Sea? Their lack of faith in Him was not hard to expose, unfortunately.

Marah’s bitter waters were the first trying encounter on the path God had marked out for His people in the wilderness. They were a type of what life and its disappointments are like, a foretaste of the path ahead for them. These trials that began in their wilderness journey were examples of our trials in our spiritual journey as the redeemed people of God.

How could these waters be healed of their bitterness so the Israelites could drink from them? When they complained loudly to Moses, he took their complaint straight to God. This is the right way to handle setbacks and disappointments—turn to God at once and pray. He won’t begin to help until we begin to ask for it.

Think about this: if Marah’s waters had been sweet instead of bitter, would Moses have prayed? How could the Israelites have then known that it is in God’s power to make bitter water sweet? And how many of us realize that the Marah experience is normal for God’s children? What would we be like if we had no trials or tribulations? We very likely would be rough and hard-hearted, unable to sympathize with those undergoing suffering.

During a bitter-tasting experience many say, “Why is God allowing this to happen to me?” Know that it is not because God is punishing you for something. “In the world ye shall have tribulation…” (John 16:33). This is all part of your preparation and education for the future God has for you.

Realize that there is always a remedy when God puts us in a trying situation. It is close by, but He will not reveal it until we come to Him in prayer. Years before, God planted the ‘tree’ we would one day need to throw into our ‘bitter waters.’ For those who are willing to pray, the Spirit of God is always ready to lead them to the tree that will sweeten the bitter waters. He knows what we will need, and He provided for it long before we become aware of a problem. He holds back the answer until the time is right, but everything we need here in order to get to Heaven He has already provided.

Why did God provide a tree for this wilderness trial? Was there something about that particular tree that would make the sickening waters sweet? It was not so much the kind of tree, but what it stood for. Moses did not discover the tree and run back and say, “I’ve got the answer!” God specifically provided the tree and made Moses aware of it. The healing of the bitter water was a miracle, and God intended for it to teach His people something. For every trial in this earthly life, a remedy has been provided—although we don’t always see it.

Our first parents ate the forbidden fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and made life bitter for themselves and all who came after them. But God has also provided a tree of life, with leaves as the remedy for the healing of the nations.

cross with colored sky

Jesus is a ‘tree of life’ whose branches spread far enough to encompass everyone who wants to come under His outspread limbs. And He reaches high, as high up as Heaven. But this Tree was chopped down at its peak of maturity. Then it was thrown into the bitter waters of our life to sweeten the bitterness that we encounter.

He is the ‘tree’ that is our remedy. His cross is also a tree where He succumbed to the deep, dark waters of death for our sake, thereby making them sweet again.

God used this Marah incident to demonstrate to the Israelites their need of Him to survive the wilderness experience, as much as their need of Him to be delivered from the power of Pharoah and Egypt. After He healed the bitter waters and satisfied the thirst of all the people, He told them to strictly obey every one of His commandments. Then He would make their lives ‘sweet,’ just as He had done with the waters of Marah. This would be their next trial in their journey.

“And they came to Elim, where were twelve wells of water, and threescore and ten palm trees: and they encamped there by the waters” [v. 27].

After their ordeal at Marah, God led His children to the oasis of Elim—a place to refresh themselves. When God’s people obey Him, He graciously cares for them. Here they would learn about God and His ways in order to prepare them for the trials ahead. Then He would be able to bring them into His full blessings and promises.

The bitter experiences in your life can be changed by God to become sweet. He allows you to taste the bitter water for a reason—it is for your benefit. Accept God’s will out of your love for Him. Then you will find the secret place of peace in your life in the midst of this bitter world of trouble.

Has grief and suffering embittered your life? Remember that Jesus suffered on the tree for you and still continues to suffer with you. He shares all your woes and has deep sympathy for all you go through. He will never leave you, nor forsake you, nor forget you, especially in your time of trouble.

Are you experiencing the bitter waters of Marah yourself right now? Cast the ‘tree’ into the water and cause it to become sweet. The tree makes all the difference. Drink from God’s well deeply. Its water will always be sweet. Remember His mercy and thank Him for His sweet presence. He alone can heal your bitter, troubled waters. He is right there with you.

Fear, Fear and No Fear

When Mr. Rooksten entered the boardroom, a pronounced hush fell upon its occupants. “Gentlemen,” he said, his voice reverberating across the room, “my purpose for this assembly today is not to motivate you with trite announcements of our company’s position in the marketplace, nor is it to deliver a motivational oration of the greatest degree.” A sense of bewildered curiosity moved across the attendees.

“My purpose today,” he said, and then paused momentarily before continuing, “is to announce a decision to appoint an assistant to the position of Chief Executive Officer.”

Whispered gasps of surprise filled the room. Karl Rooksten has always been the prime example of a stark, solitary leader. This one announcement alone could send shockwaves across the business establishment as a whole.

“Mr. Rooksten, how will this affect the overall decision-making process of your position?” inquired Mr. Toomkinley, assistant vice-president of the equine neurology division.

“My decision-making process will always remain the same. My appointment of an assistant is merely for clerical and administrative collaboration. Under no circumstances will any assistant that I appoint to this office have the power to execute decisions or discharge any individual in this company, unless I personally give him the authority to do so. As always, I will insist on complete respect for myself, as well as for this office—a respect established since the founding of this company. Am I well understood on this matter, gentlemen?” Rooksten commanded firmly.

“Yes, sir!” the room echoed in totality, with hardly a note of irreverence.

***

“Hey, Stu! shall we give ‘em a little shake up?” Rodney sneered as he rhythmically tapped his fingers on the shotgun’s barrel. The teens, now shuddering with fright, huddled closer together in the corner of the alley. Stu let a small jeer cross his lips as Rodney took aim at the crumbling wall beside the teens. Blinding smoke and debris suddenly filled the air when the windows of the adjacent building shattered from a small explosion inside. The teens barely managed to slip out of the alley after the wall crumbled from the explosion. Stu and Rodney hurriedly moved down the road out in front of the alley. Then the air filled with the reverberations of Rodney shouting, “YOU MAY RUN NOW, BUT YOU’LL NEVER ESCAPE FROM US!” The teens made it back to the recreation center, where they sat together, filled with worry and trepidation.

“What are we going to do? Rod and Stu are determined to wipe us out, and we just can’t seem to get away!” one teen exclaimed anxiously.

“I don’t know and I can’t take it anymore!” cried out another. “It’s like we’re now in a constant state of dread and terror.”

***

“Ha!” Cameron sneered with glee. “I did it, and nobody saw me; nobody knows what I’ve done. I bet I could do even more and nobody could stop me!” Cameron grabbed a bowl of chips as he sat down in the recliner and turned on the TV.

“Authorities announced today a complete investigation into the break-in of Outer World Technologies’ computer servers last night,” the TV’s speakers resounded across the small living room in Cameron’s place. ”So far, no suspects have been found, nor have any groups come forward claiming responsibility for the attacks. The amount of damage continues to rise as technicians uncover what some experts believe could be one of the biggest cyber break-ins in history.”

“Yes! Yes! Yes!” Cameron shouted, as potato chips went flying all around. “I’ve got no fear of anyone now!”

***

Fear is something we experience regularly throughout our lives, whether it is in respect of someone, in dread of another, or just fear of anything at all. It may surprise you to know that God expects these kinds of fear in us. He does not want us to completely remove all aspects of fear from our lives, but rather the instances that do not honor Him.

First and foremost, God expects us to fear Him, not anyone, or anything, else. To fear God in this manner is to respect Him with wonder and awe, to the point where we are continually looking up to Him in honor. Over and over the Bible speaks of the need to fear God:

  • “Thou shalt fear the Lord thy God, and serve him, and shalt swear by his name” Deuteronomy 6:13).
  • “The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him; and he will shew them his covenant” (Psalms 25:14).
  • “Only fear the Lord, and serve him in truth with all your heart: for consider how great things he hath done for you” (1 Samuel 12:24).
  • “O fear the Lord, ye his saints: for there is no want to them that fear him” (Psalms 34:9).
  • “So shall they fear the name of the Lord from the west, and his glory from the rising of the sun. When the enemy shall come in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord shall lift up a standard against him” (Isaiah 59:9).
  • “Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the Lord, and depart from evil” (Proverbs 3:7).
  • “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding” (Proverbs 9:10).

When we fear God, we are submitting ourselves to Him and giving Him the honor and glory. We are actually saying to Him that He knows more than we do, and, as a result, we bow out of the way, His way.

Secondly, we are to live our lives in a manner in which we fear His punishment for our disobedience to His commands. This is not the kind of fear where we are constantly in fright and terror, nor a fear where we feel that the slightest act of disobedience will result in God striking us dead. The proper fear we are to have is one out of love for God as our Heavenly Father. Most children can testify to this type of fatherly fear on a regular basis. They know that when they are disobedient to their parents, a rather painful punishment will follow. God will forgive us of our sins, but we still are held responsible for the results.

Finally, there is the point of no fear at all. While this may sound contradictory to what was previously mentioned, the lack of fear that I’m referring to is fear of Satan (or the devil). When we yield ourselves over to God, when we accept Jesus as Lord of our life, when we accept that the sacrifice of Jesus at the cross is final and complete, then we no longer give Satan the legal right to operate in our lives.

Sure, he is definitely going to attack us. He will pour out his hate and fury at us in full force. But the difference now is, that we no longer have to fear these attacks, as long as we place all of these attacks and problems into Jesus’ hands and take them out of our hands. When we try to fight these battles on our own, we are essentially canceling out the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross for us.

“Be strong and of a good courage, fear not, nor be afraid of them: for the Lord thy God, he it is that doth go with thee; he will not fail thee, nor forsake thee” (Deuteronomy 31:6). When we take our eyes off of Jesus and put them on our problems, on the attacks Satan is making against us, then our interest and focus has slipped away from Jesus to this present world and all of its issues. “There is no fear in love; but perfect [complete] love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect [complete] in love” (1 John 4:18).

Our fear is never to be toward human beings, or Satan, but toward God. We should never give men or women, regardless of their authority and position, more respect than we give God. When we stop fearing God and no longer yield to His Son in our hearts, or disobey His commands found in His Word (the Bible), then we open, or reopen, ourselves to physical fears. We give Satan the legal right to work in our lives again. We allow fear to control us. A void of peace in our heart reappears, leaving us to try to reestablish that peace on our own. Don’t continue on allowing ungodly fear to reign in your life; give it all over to Jesus. “Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you” (1 Peter 5:7).

–James Pangburn

 

Fine Castles Are Not Made With Wet Sand

sandcastle with wave

When I was a child, my family preferred to go to the beach whenever possible for vacations—not so much for the sun or to swim, but more to take in the refreshing air and relaxing sounds of the surf. I never cared to go swimming, never wanted to ride on the waves, or even to go wading in water higher than my waist. This is mostly due to one small detail—not being able to swim! My particular fondness was building sandcastles. I enjoyed creating grand structures in the sand, particularly in forming them dangerously close to the water’s edge. I doubt that any king would have wanted to reside in the ‘castles’ that I formed though! In fact, I think he would be in a constant state of fear, considering how close these ‘fortresses’ would be to the incoming waves.

I would naturally build some kind of retaining wall, perhaps even two or three, to help protect the ‘castle’ that would eventually rise up from the sand. (I’m using the word ‘castle’ loosely here, since the end result of my endeavors only vaguely resembled anything a self-respecting monarch would live in!) I have found that, no matter how carefully I would take handfuls of dripping wet sand and try to construct something with them, when I finished almost nothing resembling a building remained. It did not matter how hard or how fast I tried to use the sand. The mixture would soon just dissolve into the sand around it, if not first swept away by an incoming wave.

“But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us [made us alive] together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) and hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: that in the ages to come he might [show] the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:4-9).

Have you ever thought about the fact that our own works we do for God are much like building fine castles with handfuls of wet sand? They ultimately prove to be futile, without any lasting merit. It doesn’t matter how much work we do on our own to try to make ourselves right before God. In His eyes, these efforts are worth nothing more than a pile of wet sand. If we decide that we are going to clean ourselves up before we come to Him, we are just wasting our time.

beach with person

At the beginning of each new calendar year, we have lots of great ambitions to lose pounds and pounds of weight, read numerous books, fix everything broken in our home or vehicle, visit places all over the world, maybe even clean up our lives and make ourselves right with God, as well as with everyone else. Yet, after just a few months (or even a few days), these great ambitions soon fizzle out. We find ourselves in the end not much better than we were the year before. Why does this happen? because we do it all by our own strength and effort. To put it bluntly, God does not need our help (or even us, for that matter). Whenever we try to do God’s work for Him, or try to help Him with His work, we are doing it without Him. Yet it is only by the grace of God that we can even be here today.

What is God’s grace? Many views and explanations have been put forth. But, in a nutshell, His grace is His perfect love (something we, as finite beings, can’t truly understand) and favor for us that makes Him willing to overlook our faults and shortfalls, even though we don’t really deserve anything but death eternally in Hell. Grace is continuously flowing from Him, but that does not mean that it automatically flows over or covers us. We need to first accept it, and then to be obedient to His commandments and His will.

We can only do this by accepting the sacrifice that His Son, Jesus Christ, made on the cross over two thousand years ago for our sins as our own, done for every man, woman and child who ever lived.

There is nothing we can do by ourselves to earn His grace or favor. No human being, or even the angels above, can earn His favor.

We need to come humbly before Him instead and yield our lives to Him. We need to turn completely in the opposite direction in our sinful ways, willing to totally forsake them. We can’t remain in their shadow  and also be successful with Him.

At the same time, this needs to be a continual effort. Whether you accepted Christ and became a believer decades ago, or only just recently, you need to come humbly before God, our Heavenly Father, daily, and yield to Him. For many, the act of surrender is considered a one-time event. But God expects it every day. “And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me” (Luke 9:23 emphasis mine).

This is not some type of asceticism, but rather, not allowing our old sinful self to continue to control us. If we are not surrendering ourself to God every day, we are operating on our own plan. Then all our efforts become just futile works, not worth much more than elaborate castles built of piles of wet sand. This ultimately will lead us to boasting about our works, thereby leaving God out of the picture.

Don’t try to please God with your own works, thereby nullifying the finished and complete work of Jesus at the cross. Yield to God instead, and trust Him do all of the works for you.

–James Pangburn

When the Plus Sign is too Religious

arithmetic symbols

A magazine I recently read had a humorous list with three strange requests on it that graphic designers have heard from their clients. One was a client who wanted his designer to use something besides the plus (+) sign, because he considered it too ‘religious’! While this is somewhat amusing, it also reflects the current state of our society. It ultimately demonstrates how far we have now digressed ‘religiously’ as a society. Another article I also read not long ago was about a church that discarded the cross from their building. It even showed a photo of a church leader throwing the cross in the dumpster!

When we remove God from our workplace, our homes, our schools, and ultimately even from our churches, we are left with a void that must be filled with something else.

For many, it’s another religion (which worships or acknowledges a god (or gods), but not the God of all gods). For others, it’s seeking pleasure, being entertained, playing or watching sports, getting more education or knowledge, etc. And for some, it’s a denial of any kind of god or divine being. Man eventually becomes sterile this way, when he has no affiliation with anything he considers offensive. Whatever is ‘religious’ becomes taboo, especially anything concerning God, the Bible, Jesus, or the Cross.

Yet society has not become happier, more peaceful, or more loving, with everyone equally prosperous, under this kind of approach.

Look at countries where God and all connected with Him have been either banned outright, or pushed into a corner—where worship becomes strictly an internal affair. Or countries where all forms of worship are state-controlled, and God is diluted to almost nothing. Its citizens are in a repressive state that way, with no true happiness.

The problem does not actually lie in the Cross, or the plus sign (which, by the way, was derived from a simplified form of the Latin et, meaning ‘and’), or any other variation. The Cross in itself means nothing; it serves only as a representation or reminder of what was accomplished there.

The real hatred is for the One who died on the Cross—Jesus Christ.

Many criminals in ancient Rome were sentenced to death on crosses all the time, but no one objected to the crosses for that purpose. When Jesus Christ died on the Cross for the sins of everyone, past, present, and future, when He completely fulfilled God’s Law and won the victory over sin and death, this brought on and fueled the hatred. It was foretold all the way back in the book of Genesis, in the Garden of Eden:

“And the Lord God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life: And I will put enmity [hostility, opposition, hatred] between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:14-15).

True believers in Jesus Christ are hated and despised, not so much because of what they believe as for Whom they believe. His victory at the Cross is the dividing line between eternal life and peace, and death with eternal torment. Without the Cross, without belief in the finished work of Christ (i.e., the complete fulfillment of all of God’s requirements up to the birth of Jesus) at the Cross, there is no hope for anyone. This is how the plus sign, or any other resemblance to the Cross, becomes offensive to some people. Their offense is at the One who died on that Cross, and that offense originates from the one who put Him there in the first place—the Devil (or Lucifer, Satan, Beelzebub, the Evil One, etc.). He has always been at odds with God and anything affiliated with Him, because he wanted to be God himself (not in addition to Him, but as the replacement for Him). Therefore, if you are not on the Devil’s side, his hatred will affect you too. Even if you are on his side, it doesn’t guarantee a hate-free life either!

This may appear to be just a war between good and evil, but it isn’t. That war has already been won through Jesus’ victory at the Cross! The victory He won through His sacrifice of His human life on the Cross took all the legal rights of the Devil away concerning his ownership over us. That is, if we give our hearts over to Jesus, accept in faith His sacrifice of Himself for all of our sins as our sacrifice, and submit our lives to Him. Then the Devil loses his control over us.

You can now be free in Christ because of what He did for you on the Cross. “If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed” (John 8:36). If you want to know more about this freedom, click here. But if we reject, or don’t completely accept, what Jesus has done for us on the Cross, then we continue to give the Devil the right to own and control us—even after we die. The choice is up to you.

Let’s keep the + sign in mathematics and the Cross in our lives and hearts!

 — James Pangburn

The Key That Fits

Ever heard of the promotions where a brand-new car will be given away free? Many keys are handed out, but only one key is the right one that fits the lock of the free car. 2,000 keys might be given out, and then presented at the car dealership and tried in the lock. 1,999 of those keys will not work. Out of all those keys, there is only one key made that will fit the lock. The person holding it will be the only one to win a free car.

“The Cross” is a term used to represent the place where Jesus Christ gave up His human life to save us from sin and bondage to the devil.

If there could have possibly been another ‘key’ that could have saved us and set us free, then Jesus would not have had to hang on the Cross and die in our place. God the Father is all-knowing. He would not have overlooked any possibility of another way to set man free.

Even Jesus Himself asked His Heavenly Father, when He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, if there could possibly be some other way besides going to the Cross and taking the sins of all mankind upon Himself to set men free. The Heavenly Father replied, “There is no other way. You will have to personally go through with death on the Cross to set man free.” Surely, in His immense love for His beloved only Son born of a human woman, God the Father would have found another way to spare Him, if any existed. But it had been decided before man was ever created that this would have to be the way to set man free, after he believed the lie of the devil and turned from God to follow sin.

We try many ways to get free from situations that enslave us, but none of the ways we try have the right key. We can try every way under the sun, and maybe get relief for a little while, but nothing will ultimately work except the right key—the Cross.

The Heavenly Father made this opportunity to be set free from sin available to everyone. It is not just for ‘good’ people, or the rich, or for a certain special group. It is not just for the people of a certain century, and then the offer expired. God has handed out billions of keys, and in this ‘promotion’, they all fit! They all fit because they are the same key being turned in the same lock. The Cross is the ‘key’ that fits the ‘lock’ to free us from bondage. It is the only key that will work. But the good news is that we can all have one! Bring yours in and try it!

–Alana Pangburn