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.

Are Pieces Missing in Your Puzzle?

missing puzzle piece

Have you ever felt like your life is one big puzzle—like you were born as a thousand-piece puzzle—and each year, thousands more pieces have been added?

Even though your parents might have assembled some of this puzzle for you as you were growing up, does it seem like you have had to figure out the rest by yourself? Have you tried really hard to put your puzzle together, only to have a major event, or even a tragedy, come and break apart hundreds of the assembled pieces, like a large puzzle on a table that has been pushed partially over the edge? Or did you ever feel like someone put all of your pieces into a box abruptly, and then shelved them out of sight for several months, or even years?

Maybe you feel like you aren’t able to figure out where many of the pieces belong, and everybody you ask for help doesn’t want to be bothered. Or, even worse, they do ‘help’ by forcing pieces of your puzzle into the wrong place! Maybe it seems like someone slips in and steals the very pieces you need when you aren’t looking.

Have you reached a point in your life where you just can’t seem to find the final pieces that would make your puzzle complete? In fact, do you even know what the finished puzzle of your life is supposed to look like? Does anybody know?

closeup of incomplete puzzle

There is someone who does know you and the way your puzzle will turn out, even better than you know yourself. This ‘someone’ is God. He knew you before you were even conceived. “Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee…” (Jeremiah 1:5), the Bible tells us. When God created human beings, it was never His intention for them to function solely on their own. God wants you to be dependent on Him. The problem often is that, knowingly or unknowingly, you left Him at some point; but He will never willingly leave you. “And the Lord, he it is that doth go before thee; he will be with thee, he will not fail thee, neither forsake thee: fear not, neither be dismayed” (Deuteronomy 31:8). If He ever does withdraw from you, it is only because you do not want Him. This means that you want to do it your way, or do it by yourself, instead.

missing piece of puzzle

When you look at your life as a complex puzzle that you can’t totally assemble, you are looking at it from the angle of your own strength and understanding.All of your struggles and fears or worries and confusion come from trying to solve a situation that you can’t possibly solve by yourself.

Even if you go to someone else to help solve your puzzle, you are still sidestepping God. The only way to achieve complete satisfaction—real and lasting happiness and victory over life’s situations—is to surrender your life and all of your attempts to solve this puzzle by yourself over to God.

photo puzzle missing pieces

God is the only One who knows what the picture on the puzzle of your life will look like when it is complete. When He first formed you, He did not include the final ‘missing’ pieces of your puzzle. He did this because He wants to be the One to complete your puzzle. He wants to fill that void in your heart that nothing else can fill.

No matter what you try to do on your own to make your puzzle complete, without Him, it will never work.

You might try to cut up a piece from another puzzle and force it in, or you may try to make your own pieces. Either way, improper replacements will only leave you feeling empty inside in the end. Let Him complete your puzzle in the way that He knows is best. No other way will satisfy.

If you are interested more about completing your life’s puzzle with God, click here.

Exit Signs

overhead exit sign

Have you ever thought about the “EXIT” signs that many buildings have placed inside rooms over the doors that lead out of the building? On the ones I’ve seen, the word EXIT is most often in red letters, lit from behind. They are readily recognizable this way, and we’ll be able to find them easily in an emergency. Then we’ll know how to find our way out—especially if the lights go out and the room is in darkness. A room may have other doors without these signs, but not all of them necessarily lead outside where we will be safe. Some could even lead us into a more dangerous area than the one we are already in! It’s easy to get disoriented when everything is dark, when we can’t see which way to go.

An “EXIT” sign reassures us that we will be able to find the way out, no matter how dark the room may be, if we will only make our way over to leave by the door under it.

This world we live in is going more and more into an emergency mode, getting increasingly dark. When Jesus hung on the cross and died, it could be said that He became a ‘living’ exit sign for us. His body, drenched in His own red blood, wasnot an exit sign hung there to show us the way out of the darkness of this world. There are other ‘doors’ that we could try, but Jesus is the only door that leads us out of this world and into the safety of our Heavenly Father’s arms, where no harm can ever reach us. There are many other doors, but none of them can lead us to Heaven. They do not have the right sign over them showing us the way to exit this dark world to safety.

Jesus said, “I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved…” (John 10:9, italics mine). There is only one door to Heaven. That door is Jesus Christ and there is no other.

Jesus also said “…I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6, italics mine). As things get darker and darker in this world, will you be looking for the ‘red’ exit sign so you can find your way out? Be sure you are ready.
For information about finding your way out click here.

–Alana Pangburn

Anger Management

angry man

“That idiot! Why, I’ll run him into the trees!” Geoff exclaimed with violent passion. He eased his truck up closer and closer, until he was just a couple of inches from the car that had cut him off moments earlier. Eighty-five, ninety-five, one hundred—the speedometer kept climbing on Geoff’s truck as he attempted to pass the offending car in front of him. “That fool messed with me at a bad time, and the time’s ain’t gonna get no better for him,” Geoff relished with vengeful glee. “I’ll show him what it means to cut me off, the rotten…”

Suddenly, the other car swerved over to the shoulder of the highway, nearly clipping a nearby sedan, and almost crashing into the guardrail on the side. Geoff managed to pull over quickly onto the same shoulder in front of the other car. He was going to jam the truck into reverse, then floor the accelerator in an attempt to finish the car off.

His anger was not just getting the best of him; it had already gotten all of him.

After a quick look in the rearview mirror, Geoff realized he was too far away from the other car for the effort to be worth it. He pulled back out instead and took off down the highway again.

As his anger subsided, he began to feel smug about what he had just done. Later that evening, when he was just arriving at his friend’s place, he could hear uproarious laughter emanating from the open front window. “Yeah, Geoff in his truck was all over some guy on the highway today,” one of his friends belted out. “I saw the whole thing! All the guy did was pull in front of him a little too quick. You’d think Geoff was going to knock him into the trees, the way he came up fast behind that car! What a fool!” Another round of laughter filled the room.

Geoff decided not to go in after all. “What a fool I made of myself today,” he thought as he returned to his truck. “These anger sprees are going to get me locked up one of these days, and I don’t know what to do about it!”

Meanwhile, hundreds of miles away, a young lady was standing at her boss’ desk. “Julie, I know the man was wrong, but you can’t keep blowing up in anger at our customers,” her boss reprimanded her. “Three times before I put up with this, but this is the last time—you’re fired!”

Hurt and distraught, Julie left the office and slowly moved though the store to the exit, while all of her co-worker’s eyes were fixed upon her. “What can I do about this sudden anger?” she fretted to herself.

What can people like these two do about their anger? The Bible addresses this situation in Proverbs 14:29: “He that is slow to wrath is of great understanding: but he that is hasty of spirit exalteth folly.” God’s view of quick and impulsive anger has always been negative. “Be not hasty in thy spirit to be angry: for anger resteth in the bosom of fools” (Ecclesiastes 7:9). While it is not wrong to be angry at certain things on appropriate occasions, we can’t be quick to blow up in anger over every little thing that fails to please us.

statues of anger management

An “anger management” program is the most common solution recommended today. In severe cases, drugs may be prescribed. While the impulsive anger may become more controllable and even subside for a while by these methods, are they the real answer to the problem? For those who take the drug route, the drugs may very well remain a part of their life for the rest of their life. Is that the best solution? Like so many other problems today, has this really caused the anger problem to be eliminated? Just a brief review of the news today confirms that the problem has only been increasing.

Yet God had a solution, even before this problem began. It came through His Son, Jesus, as He hung on the cross. “When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost [His spirit]” (John 19:30).

wooden cross

When Jesus said “finished,” all of the laws and requirements that God laid out in the Old Testament were fulfilled through His sacrifice of His life on the cross.

All the animal sacrifices, all the ceremonial procedures, and everything else God had set out in the law He gave to Moses, Jesus fulfilled. This doesn’t mean that the Law of Moses has been eliminated, but rather, that it is has now all been fulfilled through Jesus. He said, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil” (Matthew 5:17).

Our sin-desiring self—our “flesh”—has to die daily in Him. This may sound awful, but it is actually good news! If we will stop trying to control our flesh by ourselves and lay the situation upon Him, if we simply take our hands off of these problems or issues, and let Him take control, we will be overcomers. Problems like impulsive anger won’t control us anymore, because we have handed them off to Jesus. But when we stop letting Him work through us, and pick these problems up again, then they will control us.

Impulsive anger, lust, lying, stealing, etc., are all by-products of our rejection of the finished work of Jesus at the cross. If we won’t accept what He has done for us, why should He choose to work through us?

This is the reason why it is almost impossible to control or eliminate these kinds of problems like anger in our lives by ourselves. By the time these problems come to the surface, we have already crossed the point of no return. It’s like trying to stop ourselves from going over a waterfall when we are at the very edge of it, instead of searching for a solution upstream long before, where all the means were available. Sure, there are all kinds of help to keep us from going over, but the waterfall is still there, and we are still right at the edge. Instead of trying to just control impulsive anger, try seeking the Lord and establishing a real relationship with Him. We need to let Him control us, instead of trying to control ourselves by ourselves.

–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