Trust and Obey

“(13) Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, ‘Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him.’
(14) When he arose, he took the young Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt, (15) and was there until the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, ‘Out of Egypt I called My Son.’
(16) Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men. (17) Then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying:
(18)’A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation, weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.’
(19) Now when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, (20) saying, ‘Arise, take the young Child and His mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the young Child’s life are dead.’
(21) Then he arose, took the young Child and His mother, and came into the land of Israel. (22) But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea instead of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And being warned by God in a dream, he turned aside into the region of Galilee. (23) And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, ‘He shall be called a Nazarene.’” (Matthew 2:13-23)
                I tried to write about this yesterday but I found myself merely telling the story again only I was adding in the details of the hardships this new, small family had to go through. The Bible is full of accounts of people who heard God speak to them—whether through a dream, a burning bush, or by means of an angel—and they are told to leave everything they know, everyone they love, behind. Just get up, go to this strange and foreign land I am sending you right now. Don’t wait a week. Don’t make travel plans. Don’t figure out a new job before getting there. Just go. Right now. And amazingly enough each one of them did. Granted Jonah got up and went the exact opposite way than God had told him, but in the end Jonah ended up in Nineveh. Back then there was no Google, no MapQuest, no GPS, no cell phones, and not even a mail system for them to ‘keep in touch’. They just got up and went.
                To be honest I don’t know if I am capable of that kind of obedience. I console myself by saying it would be different once God Himself was actually speaking to me. But then I wonder if I would think myself a little loopy to even entertain the idea of God speaking directly to me. Which really just makes me sad. I know God still speaks to us. He speaks to us—the believer and non-believer—through other people, through dreams, through music, and through our own souls. The problem is we don’t listen, we don’t see, we don’t pay attention, we get distracted, we have to answer this text message, we have to take this other call, we need to get coffee first, and we believe we have to be crazy to actually think God has spoken to us. I know I have personally used all of those excuses and some of them more than once.   The hard truth is I don’t know if I could have been obedient enough to God’s will to keep Jesus safe. And having typed out that shameful confession I feel extremely uncomfortable. The truth hurts, and the only way to change that truth is to admit it and figure out why.
                What Joseph and Mary did in the first few years of Jesus’ life is amazing. I read those ten verses and I am in awe of their trust in God. God says to jump and they ask how high. God told me to write a book, and I said, “Sorry, Jesus and I are not on speaking terms right now. So I am going to go do massage.”   Right out of massage school I get diagnosed with cancer and that consumes my life for about 8 months. During that time I meet this great Christian guy and become saved.
                So God comes back and says, “I want you to write this book. Jesus and you are on speaking terms again.”
                My reply? “Sorry, God, that story is too personal and uncomfortable. It is too revealing. Besides, I really want to do this massage thing. I am good at it and it could give me a more comfortable life.”
                A month and a half after I start working as a massage therapist I fall and basically destroy my ankle. I spend the next 20 months unable to walk. I now have severe nerve damage in my left leg. I have a noticeable limp. I had to have major reconstructive surgery on my ankle. All in all, being a massage therapist is out of the question for me. And in these last two years of recovering God has really leaned on my heart and told me He really wants me to write this book. So now I am writing this book.
                It wasn’t three days in the belly of a great fish, but I unfortunately took after Jonah rather than Joseph. I don’t think God gave me cancer. I don’t believe God caused my ankle injury. Had I listened to God and wrote the book the first time I still would have gotten cancer. The difference is I probably would have handled it better emotionally because I would have already had Jesus at my side and had the Holy Spirit as my strength. I would have done things during that time much differently. If I had written the book after the second prodding I might not have gotten hurt. I might not have been at work that day to live up to my klutzy ways.  Then again, because I am most skilled, I might have found another way in another place to have the exact same injury. But the book would have been done by this time, and probably published. And that could mean I would have had added money where I have currently been struggling with what little Workmen’s Comp has been paying me.
                So here I am, writing the book I should have written two years ago. At the end of the day God’s will is being done. If Joseph had woken up from that first dream and said, “Sorry God, I need to finish working on that bench for the Smith’s. It will give me the money I need to make the trip to Egypt for you. Let me get that out of the way first.” I don’t think it would have changed things. I don’t think if Joseph delayed his leaving for Egypt would have enabled Herod’s men to find Jesus and kill Him. God had a plan. I do think that the delay would have cost Joseph in some other way. Why do I think that? Because when we give up God’s perfect, good plans to follow our own design…it can never end as good. We aren’t perfect. We don’t know everything. We don’t see everything. My design will always fall short of God’s design. So why, then, do I always think I know better? Why do we always have excuses wrapped up in the pretty packages of ‘valid reasons’?
                Pride. For me it usually boils down to pride. I was too proud of myself, and all I have done, to think I needed Jesus. I was good enough, despite my pervasive sinful ways, it was more than enough. Jesus dying on the cross to atone for me is redundant and obsolete. The problem is God is never obsolete. He wouldn’t have humbled himself by becoming a human child, dependent on sinful people (because we are all sinners, even Joseph and Mary) to keep Him alive through Herod’s rage, and submit Himself to the degrading, spiteful, hateful ways of man when He could easily wipe any one of us out for all time…..if we could do it on our own. And it took one man (my Raggedy Andy) and cancer to entertain the idea I am not almighty…to open a Bible and read what God actually has to say.
                So I read the four Gospels. I met Jesus. I admitted I am not good enough on my own because I am a sinner. I became saved. But I still held on to my pride. I, after all, had paid a lot of money to go to this school. I really loved giving massage. I was good at it. I could make myself a comfortable life doing massage that didn’t involve me opening my life up to the public scrutiny that would come with the writing of the book. My way was clearly better. My way was clearly less painful. And in my way I still loved Jesus, so everything was good.
                I wonder what would have happened if Joseph took that road. If he obeyed the first dream by taking Jesus and His mother away, but instead of going to Egypt he went to north into Syria, or maybe wanted to spend some time on the Island of Cyprus. I bet that choice would have required several more verses having been written and maybe required another chapter to write about how that had gone. Because I honestly don’t think it would have gone well for Joseph. But Joseph headed the wisdom of the Proverbs. God is good. And true wisdom is found in aligning ourselves to the will of the Lord. He heard and he obeyed. Mary listened to her husband, submitted to his wisdom in obey God, and followed. How many women, today, would make those same choices?
                So as I sit here and read that passage again I want to shine the light on how incredible Joseph and Mary are. I want to hold them up high so that way I can look at how good they are without ever addressing what their light shines back at me. Which is a mistake I think a lot of us make when we read the Bible. God gives me the example of this small family not just so I can admire them…but so I can strive to be like them. See and obey. Hear and obey. Know and obey. Trust and obey. The trusting part is as hard as the obedient part. The world we live in today doesn’t nurture the concept of trust. It feeds us ways to bend trust, sneak around trust, or tell little white lies to trust for its own good.
                Jesus told us, however, that the moment we believe in Him we are not of this world. We should not strive for worldly things. We can either hunger after Jesus and follow His ways; or we can hunger after man and follow in worldly ways. I can honestly say I hunger after Jesus and attempt to follow His ways…while I stumble along the ways of the world. I am getting better at distinguishing between the two paths. I know I will never be able to perfectly follow the footsteps Christ has left for me. But I also know that when I come before the Father…I won’t have to the tolls for all the detours I took. Jesus already bought my ticket, He took over my debt. I don’t have a bill to atone for. So I need to be better at trusting and obeying. For anyone who can pay off my debts to God…is better, more good, more trustworthy, and more deserving of obedience than any other man on earth can ever hope to be.
                So I need to be more like Joseph and Mary. Not because without them Jesus wouldn’t have made it. Jesus would have made it by the God’s grace and through His will. I need to be more like Joseph and Mary for they obeyed God because they knew they needed Jesus. I shouldn’t do God’s will, and write this book, because God needs me to. God will get it done one way or the other. I should be doing God’s will because I need God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit in my life. And the only way to have Them in my life…is to walk with Them. Not against Them or away from Them.

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