Mukuntuweap – Stand Straight Land

Years ago I took one of those self-assessment tests.  This particular test was intended to help you understand what to do or where you need to be to feel close to God; the idea is that once you know this about yourself you need to go and do that activity or be in that place – often and regularly.  My assessment told me I hear God best when I am studying His Word and feel especially close to Him when I am out in nature.

This week I was able to combine both when I visited Zion National Park in Utah.  Mukuntuweap, or Stand Straight Land, is the name given to this area by the Paiute Indian people.

As the sun was rising over the peaks of this Stand Straight Land, I turned to Psalms to help me praise the Lord…

“Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God has shone forth.”  Psalm 50

“May the Lord bless you from Zion, He who made the heaven and the earth.” Psalm 134

“The Lord will reign forever, Your God, O Zion, to all generations. Praise the Lord.”  Psalm 146

…and my favorite…

“How blessed is the man whose strength is in You; in whose heart are the highways to Zion.”  Psalm 84:5

Later that same day, hiking the Kayenta Trail to the Lower Emerald Pool, I was brought to tears by the beauty of this place and how blessed I felt to see and experience a small part of it.  Every few steps I had to stop and gaze at the surrounding rocks and landscape.  Really that is what Zion is, just rocks, trees, tall rock walls, many rising straight up from the ground, and if you’ve seen one rock you’ve seen them all right?

But if Zion and places like it are not such a big deal, just bunches of old rocks, why do people travel from around the world to spend time here?  There are places that are much more accessible, much easier to walk in.  There are temperature controlled places so you are neither too hot or too cold.  It is work to get to the spots with the breath-taking views and other people have already been there and done that so you could just look at their photos and YouTube videos and save yourself some time, money and effort.

I think a lot of people are like me; they long to be in a place where they can feel close to God and that place is in His creation.  Not all of these people know that God is drawing them.  Some will deny this reason.  But something larger than ourselves draws us to see and personally experience beautiful places and the spend time outdoors.  That “something larger” is God and now part of my heart remains on the highway to Zion, among the incredible and beautiful rocks of Stand Straight Land.

“My soul exalts the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.”

You Get What You Get

There was a very limited menu in the home I grew up in and my kids were raised in the same kind of home.  Meals were prepared, you sat down to eat and you ate what was served.  Most meals were planned and prepared based on Dad’s favorites, available budget and Mom’s inspirations.  As a kid, we never ate brussels sprouts, casseroles, or raw broccoli because my Dad did not like those; we did eat mashed potatoes, gravy, pot roast and roast chicken – big Dad favorites.  In my home, I do most of the meal planning and always have, in general I did it the way my mom did, I cooked what my husband and I liked and what the budget would allow.  I did try to include some kid favorites such as macaroni and cheese.  My kids never had to eat brussels sprouts either but they were expected to eat whatever was cooked and served without complaining.

I didn’t have a lot of patience for complaints about the food choices then and I still don’t have a lot of patience with complaints or complainers; it is all too easy complain and once that train gets rolling it is very difficult to stop.  The Israelites apparently complained loudly and often, there are numerous episodes of their complaining recorded in the Old Testament.

The book of Numbers, chapter 10 verse 33 tells us that the Israelites left the mount of the Lord and walked for three days, their first, organized march.  They had spent a year camped in the desert and at the end of these first 3 days they set up camp; Numbers 11 records that they immediately start complaining!

They complain about the situation they are in,

“Now the people became like those who complain of adversity in the hearing of the Lord;”

And then they complain about what they are not eating,

Who will give us meat to eat? We remember the fish which we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers and the melons and the leeks and the onions and the garlic,”.  

Next they complain about what they are eating, 

“There is nothing at all to look at except this manna.”

Moses jumps on the “Complain Train” bemoaning the difficulty of leading these baby whiners,

I alone am not able to carry all this people, because it is too burdensome for me.  So if You are going to deal thus with me, please kill me at once,”

God’s anger is kindled greatly and He has a dramatic and swift response to this chorus of complaints:

  • Warning – the Lord sends a fire that burns the outskirts of the camp.  Certainly God could have burned it all, He chose to burn just some and the fire died out when Moses interceded in prayer.  Has God given you a gentle warning?  Are your complaints becoming tiresome to those around you?
  • Mercy – God anoints 70 elders, men to assist Moses in listening to complaints and settling disputes.  There were over 600,000 adult male Israelites at this time and an unknown number of women and children, a lot of complainers and problems.  Have you considered that God may be holding back on allowing some bigger/worse problem your way?
  • Provision – God sends quail and lots of it, 36 inches deep worth of quail.  I have never eaten quail but I guess it would be a welcome change from manna.  Most people are like me, I have everything I need to survive, maybe not exactly what I want but what I truly need.  Does this describe your life?  Am I, are you, grateful for what you do have?
  • Punishment – Plague, possibly a result of all the quail, rotting since there was too much of it to collect, clean and cook.  The people were so greedy the place was renamed Kibroth-Hattaavvah, Graves of Greediness.  God is patient and long-suffering but He is also just, He will never protect us from experiencing the consequences of our choices.

I cannot be too hard on these Israelites because this sounds so like me at times.  I complain because it is too hot or too cold, my feet hurt, I’m tired, I don’t like where I am, I want to be somewhere else, I have to dust the stuff I have, I can’t afford to buy more stuff, I wish I could afford a steak, I am sick of eating salads, brussels sprouts look and smell weird, my clothes are shrinking, I have no time to exercise, exercise is too difficult, and on and on and on it goes.

Complaints are an insult to God.  Complaining sends the message that God’s gifts are just not good enough.  Philippians 4:6 tells me that I am free to ask God for whatever I want but I need to ask humbly and receive whatever He sends with gratitude.  This story makes me think of Violet Beauregarde from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  She’s the greedy girl who wants everything she sees.   She ignores Willy Wonka’s warning about his experimental chewing gum, grabs it and pops it into her mouth.  She begins to turn a delightful shade of blue and inflates, turning into a huge round blueberry.

So be careful!  You get what you get but when you get what you want it might make you sick but not to worry, no brussels sprouts served in this house!

Heart Work

Done!!  Just finished writing thank you notes for some of the gifts I received this Christmas.  The gifts themselves were small things, inexpensive items but quite unexpected; from residents of the apartment complex where I work.  Actually, I am always surprised when anyone gives me a gift, even on those occasions like Christmas when gift exchange is expected, I am surprised at the thoughtfulness of the people in my life.  Of the Five Love Languages, Gifts is not one of mine so getting a gift, especially from someone I hardly know is very surprising to me.  I enjoy giving gifts if I get an inspiration or see something I know is perfect for the recipient, otherwise giving becomes more of a chore since I am not a big fan of shopping malls or stores.

Recently, I was challenged to think about the gift Jesus would like from me.  What gift do I give to the person who quite literally has everything and already has my heart?  The Book of Leviticus contains verse after verse describing in great detail the who, what, why, where, when and how of God’s commands on sacrifices.  There were times bulls, rams, goats, birds and unleavened bread were to be offered.  Sacrifices must be unblemished and without defect.  Different occasions, sins and situations demanded different sacrifices.  All of this seems so alien and odd in today’s culture and to me; it is difficult to relate to and causes my mind heart and stomach to rebel at the thought of so much blood, work and ritual.

The OT God who demanded this level of sacrifice and dedication has not changed but I am not under the old covenant of law but under the new covenant of grace and since it is the same God some form of sacrifice, of gift, seems appropriate but what?

I found my answer in Romans 12:1.

Therefore I urge you brethren, by the mercies of God to present your bodies, a living and holy sacrifice acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.

Myself, God wants me, all of me, my heart and my body, I am to be a living sacrifice.  All the OT sacrifices were dead, killed before being placed on the altar, God wants me to place myself on a symbolic altar and by His strength, to stay there when everything in me is screaming to jump off.  God wants me holy as He is holy, Jesus has covered my sin defects and blemishes, my sacrifice is to remain unblemished but when I do sin (and I will) to quickly confess my sin (blemishes and defects).   All of this process, this life style of sacrifice and awareness that I belong to God and am not my own, is worship.

Worship of God as He is, pure, holy, majestic, awesome, just, righteous, merciful, wise, loving, good, long-suffering, infinite, self-sufficient, omnipotent, omnipresent, eternal.  Worship that no longer follows a ritual or pattern but is from the heart.  Worship is a life lived God’s way, putting God first, others second and myself last.  Worship that only God can inspire and the Holy Spirit enable me to offer.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, Jesus.  Here is my gift of worship and here is my open and teachable heart;  I can’t do it without you, so teach me how to be a worshipper, offering my humble and flawed spiritual service to you.

Blessings, Seen and Unseen

So much to be thankful for, blessings that can be seen and blessings that cannot be seen.  Here are some of the unseen blessings of knowing Jesus as Lord and Savior from Romans 8.

  • No condemnation in Christ Jesus
  • Freedom from the law of sin and death
  • A mind set on the Spirit
  • Life and Peace
  • Life in the Spirit
  • A living Spirit
  • No obligation to the flesh
  • Son (and Daughter) of God
  • Spirit of Adoption
  • Child of God
  • Heirs of God, heir with Christ
  • Saved
  • All things caused by God for my good
  • Foreknown
  • Pre-destined
  • Called
  • Justified
  • Glorified
  • Overwhelming Conqueror
  • Cannot be separated from God’s Love

I am so incredibly blessed that in addition to these wonderful spiritual blessings I also enjoy a wealth of blessings here on earth.  Here are some I am most grateful for…

  •  A good and godly husband
  • My kids and their loving partners
  • My wonderful family
  • Loyal and encouraging friends
  • My home – in Florida – an added gift
  • A new job I am enjoying
  • A wonderful church and church family
  • My Bible
  • Food to eat every day
  • Heat in winter, AC in summer
  • Sunshine, Rain, Clouds, Beaches, Flowers, Trees…

A never ending list of things I am grateful for on Thanksgiving and every day.  Feel free to add a few some of your own “gratefuls”!