A few decades ago (not years, but decades) our family went on a family camping vacation to the southwest, mainly Arizona, to visit some missionaries to the Papago Indians near Sells. It was very hot and our car was equipped with 4/60 air-conditioning (four windows open at 60 mph). No complaints were registered as we hadn't yet been introduced to real AC. Peanut butter poured from the jar and handkerchiefs in hand were necessary to open car doors. We had never experienced that kind of heat.
After several days there the family decided, "enough is enough", and we headed north to Oak Creek Canyon near Flagstaff where at a higher elevation and tree cover it was blissfully cooler. We camped at Slide Rock State Park (we called it Slippery Rock), known for a natural water slide along Oak Creek. What fun was had by our parched and desert weary kids. The water slide for them was an unforgettable thrill, totally occupying them for hours.
That's the end of the travelogue. Just a circuitous way to introduce what has been ruminating in the minds of two over-the-hill seniors. Studying Ezekiel (SS Class) and Joel (with Pat at home) - both OT prophets - we've been made acutely aware of the Israelites proclivity to reject God and rebel against Him and His claim upon their lives. And of course, God's judgment eventually came upon them and it wasn't pretty. In fact it makes for some horrific images. Take a look-see in these two books and make sure you are prepared to be overwhelmed emotionally and maybe become a tad queasy.
No, the Israelites didn't get up one morning and decide to be rebellious and reject God and to worship idols instead. It's pretty safe to assume their apostasy (totally forsaking their allegiance to God) occurred gradually. Many had no spiritual root system (read the parable of the Sower and the Seed - Matt. 13), i.e. they had never truly been born into God's spiritual family and so it took very little to cause them to reject God. In Arizona we were intrigued by the tumbleweeds. They have no roots so are blown whichever way the wind is blowing. Contrast the tumbleweed with the many varieties of cactus that thrive in the desert. Why? Because they have a deep root system. We especially liked the majestic saguaro cactus, a home for many birds and the watermelon-tasting fruit they produce. The rebellious Israelites are like those who dabble into Christianity, but having never really made God their Lord and Savior and their faith walk the number one priority in their lives, they become easily mesmerized by more glamorous worldly activities. The result - gradual loss of their interest in Christianity. Demas, at one time a believer, and a fellow worker with Timothy, deserted Timothy because he loved the present world too much (II Tim. 4:10). The Israelites degenerated into the worship of idols, graven images and even creeping things, and loathsome animals, and the idol of jealousy (not sure how that fleshed out) rather than worship God. It's all in Ezekiel. God's judgment was swift and certain on these people.
Has God's permissive will changed for us today. I think not. Maybe we need to think more soberly about some of the idols we worship today, i.e. activities or things we assign priority over our worship of God. If we're honest with ourselves the list can be pretty daunting.
Sometimes a person will begin their walk with God with great sincerity and determination, but something happens along the way, and they renounce either in word or by life style their faith in Christ. The writers of Hebrews call it "drifting" (Heb. 2), i.e. neglecting the disciplines outlined for us in the Bible that are designed to help us stay focused and grow spiritually. The same thing happens frequently in marriages. Benign neglect of one's spouse and their need for love and attention usually occurs very gradually - and the drifting apart begins insidiously either ending in an actual divorce or more commonly in an emotional divorce. In reality the difference in the two types is sometime not all that great.
O Yes, we began talking about being on a slippery rock. Only you can tell if you are on such a rock spiritually, but that requires brutal introspection on your part. God's Word and/or a mature Christian friend can help you if you suspect you might be in danger. The water slide at Slide Rock State Park took people down the slide very rapidly. A spiritual slippery slope operates the same way. Before you hardly realize what has happened you are drifting very decidedly back into the "world" and no longer walking with God.
This January, 2011, is a wonderful time for a "new beginning." Life in the "desert" only gets hotter.
Hope all you readers have a blessed and spiritually life changing year.
Paul Williams is a retired veterinarian, having practiced in Indiana for 41 years, lived in Drummond Island, Michigan for eight years and in Marietta for seven years. He and his wife, Pat, attend Faith Bible Church in Williamstown. Thoughts of Faith is a weekly column written by various ministers and lay people. To participate call 376-5446.