2013 – Shenandoah National Park, VA – Skyline Drive
What God knows
Genesis 22: Now I know…
Jehovah gives Abraham the most difficult task possible. The old man is to follow the example of the pagans of the area and offer his son as a sacrifice. As unbelievable as it is Abraham never doubts that this is God’s command and acts in painful obedience. If the Lord doesn’t stop him when he does, well, we’d probably have another Old Testament resurrection story. It’s at this point that the Almighty says something that gives us an amazing insight into the attributes of God. Three words: “Now I know….” Those aren’t big words for me to say about myself – there are many “now I know” moments in my life. But for God to say it – wow! In these words I get a glimpse of what it means for God to have created human beings with genuinely free will. At the Creation he made us, at the same time, like himself and “other” than himself. At certain times and at some levels, even our Creator is unsure of what we’ll do. Understand this: God is never at a loss as to what to do in response to what we do. In this case, the Lord has a preferred action for Abraham and he comes through with flying colors. Still (and I know I can’t prove this) I’m convinced that the Lord has already considered what he will do and how he will do it if Abraham’s performance is somewhat less than stellar. In this case we have the very best result possible because Abraham fully cooperates with the Lord God.
Take away: Sometimes the best way to partner with God in what he’s doing in this world is to listen carefully to his voice and then act in obedience even if we don’t understand it all.
2010 – Near Lamar, CO
Genesis 12: God told Abram, “Leave your country, your family, and your father’s home for a land that I will show you.
When I was younger there was nothing I liked better than taking a trip and our young family often hopped in the car to go and see something new. Then, I ended up traveling for a living, sometimes being gone weeks at a time. That, for me, cured my wander-lust and when that period of my life ended I emotionally overcompensated and became a homebody for several years. These days, I’m back to traveling again, but I confess that I still like the comforts of home. I’ve come to realize that it’s possible to be too comfortable. Sometimes, God has things he wants to do in my life: transitions he wants to take me through. He has something better for me, yet I hesitate. “Lord, it isn’t all that bad right here – if it is all the same to you, I think I’ll just settle down here in this place of comfort.” It makes perfect sense to me – but to fail here is to miss something much better he has for me. When Abraham obeys the Lord in the call to begin a journey into the unknown, he’s about to leave the comfort of home and set out on a decades-long journey. There are going to be some big bumps in the road but the destination the Lord has in mind for him is going to make it all worthwhile. What’s true for this, the first Patriarch, is true for you and me too: God initiated trips are always worth taking.
Take away: Don’t get too comfortable and miss out on something better the Lord might have in store.
2013 – Tompkins Campground – ACoE – Lawrenceville, PA
Fighting the right battle
Genesis 6: Noah did everything God commanded him to do.
We Christians sometimes rush out to fight the wrong battles. When I read the story of Noah and the flood I’m not supposed to come away with a scientific understanding of how the flood happened. I’m not supposed to whip out my calculator and try to figure out how many animals and provisions the ark would carry or study geology to prove there was really such a flood. Instead, I’m to see that God has a plan to redeem humanity and that he’ll go to whatever extreme is necessary to get that done. I’m also to appreciate Noah’s obedience in spite of the seeming unreasonableness of his task and his being alone in accomplishing it. Now, that isn’t to say this event is to be filed under the heading of “parable.” Just the details of the construction of the ark and the clear references to locale mark this as a historical event. The take away, though, isn’t my charging off to prove the story is true or sharpening my debate skills so I can conquer the “unbelievers” with stories of gopher wood on Mount Ararat. Instead, I’m to see God at work, redeeming humanity. I’m to be impressed at what the Lord can do with just one obedient person and be challenged to obedience in areas of my life that are beyond my understanding. Rather than fighting battles on the scientific front, a wiser use of my energy is to deal with the eternal spiritual issues of this event.
Take away: It’s easy to get caught up in battles and miss the main points.
The bottom line
1Thessalonians 5: If he said it, he’ll do it.
When Paul first preached the gospel at Thessalonica he made it quite clear to them that not only is Jesus coming back, but that they can be ready for that sure event. Both of these things are absolutely true, facts that can be taken to the bank. He also told them in no uncertain terms that the date of the Lord’s return is quite uncertain. No secret codes reveal the date. We’re sure he’s coming but we’re in the dark as to when. What’s left? In the words of Jesus, we must “be ready.” Paul reminds them of that as he closes this short letter. As I live my life in the Lord, trusting in him and cooperating with him, he makes me “holy and whole” and keeps me “fit for the coming of our Master, Jesus Christ.” The bottom line in any discussion concerning the Second Coming is that, while we don’t know when it will happen, we can be (and must be) ready for it. So I pay attention to the things that matter: prayer, cooperation with God, showing compassion, staying away from “anything tainted with evil.” I don’t know “when” but I’m reminded in this passage that I do know “how” to get ready and stay ready for Jesus to come back.
Take Away: The most important thing in life is being ready for the sure return of Jesus Christ.
Paying attention to the big deal of life
Ephesians 5: Observe how Christ loved us.
So what does a thoughtful, genuine Christian life look like? What examples are good ones for me to study and then apply to my life? Paul says the place to start is by looking upward. As a child of God I study his behavior, doing all I can to make true the proverb, “like Father like son.” If I want to see those attributes “with skin on them” I look to Jesus. Whatever I see in Jesus, I attempt to copy into my life. And what do I see? I see extravagant love. Out of love my Lord gives of himself without reservation. He doesn’t use God for his own purposes. Rather, he reflects the loving compassion of the Father in all he does. The Apostle says that I get chances to live like that. Opportunities to love selflessly come my way and I need to make the most of those opportunities. Some folks miss that boat and rather than filling their lives with Christ-like love they let other things dominate their lives. I understand the problem. Everyday a thousand voices cry out to me. Like carnival front men they invite me to try their game. If I’m not careful, I wander off into their diversion. Today, I’m reminded that love is the thing. When all is said and done in my life, the big deal will be love. Have I loved God with all my heart and soul and mind? Have I loved my neighbor as myself? This passage reminds me to “make the most out of every chance I get.”
Take Away: Love is the thing.
Wandering in the wilderness
Ephesians 2: You’re no longer wandering exiles.
We know the story of how under the leadership of Moses the children of Israel refuse to enter the Promised Land and end up wandering in the wilderness for 40 long years. In this passage, Paul describes the Gentiles as also wandering out in the wilderness, separated from God. Now, thanks to Jesus, the way into the Promised Land, the “kingdom of faith,” has been provided. Everyone is invited, both Jews and Gentiles, to make the crossing into that place of peace, at home with God. The reason, of course, that the children of Israel even make that long detour in the first place is that they didn’t trust God. Having rejected him, they turned away to the misery of the desert. For the Gentiles, the situation’s a bit different. Because of Jesus they’re experiencing their first opportunity to come to God and they’re taking full advantage of it, coming in by the thousands and tens of thousands. For those who respond, the wandering days are ended and the days of spiritual abundance have begun. On a personal level I’ve seen more than one respond to what Jesus has done. They’re rewarded with new, everlasting life for their decision. Sad to say, I’ve seen a few who have opted for the wilderness instead. Decisions have been made, priorities have been set, and they’ve followed the road out into the desert. Happily, God is the God of Second Chances. At some point, I hope and pray that they’ll find themselves once again at the point of decision. I sincerely pray that at that time their wandering days will end.
Take Away: Jesus provides us all the way to God.
Enjoy the moment but realize it may not be permanent
Acts 13: Take Barnabas and Saul and commission them for the work I have called them to do.
When Paul’s converted the Lord says “I have picked him as my personal representative to Gentiles and kings, and Jews.” From the beginning it’s clear that the Lord intends for this man to minister beyond the current reach of the Church. Now, years later we find Paul, along with his friend and mentor Barnabas working among the Gentile believers in Antioch. It’s reasonable to assume that Paul thinks he’s fulfilling that calling, living distant from Jerusalem, ministering across cultural lines. Then there’s an unexpected stirring in his heart. The Lord is moving him in a new, and somewhat unexpected, direction. Soon the church leaders receive word from the Holy Spirit on this matter. Paul and Barnabas are to be set apart to take the gospel into new territory. The move a few years earlier to Antioch may have felt as though it was the ultimate response to God’s call but now Paul sees that it was but a step in the direction the Lord had for him. The rest of his life will be lived “out there” proclaiming the gospel in new places, doing just what the Lord said years earlier in Damascus. To some extent we’re always on a journey. Even when we stay in the same place the circumstances around us change. However, at times the Lord tells us that what we took for a permanent assignment was merely a stepping stone to the next thing. Just because the Lord puts me in a place for a time or blesses me in a particular way as I do things in some specific manner doesn’t mean that I’m to institutionalize it and refuse to budge from there. I must not confuse a step for a permanent assignment.
Take Away: Don’t get too settled. The Lord may just be preparing you for the next step in your journey.
When the Lord says to wait….
Acts 1: Judas must now be replaced.
The story of the resurrection doesn’t conclude the story of Jesus. This is no “and they lived happily ever after” kind of story. Now we learn about the response to the Gospel and how it, empowered by the Spirit of Jesus, begins its spread across the face of the earth. That journey, though, gets off to a rather poor start. Jesus told his followers to wait in the Upper Room for “power from on high.” Peter, though, (bless his heart) thinks that while they’re waiting they can conduct some business. He has some scripture to quote and some logic to apply as he suggests that they make good use of this waiting period to select a replacement for the fallen and now dead Judas. Criteria are laid out and people are nominated. Then, using an ancient method, they select a good man, Matthias. Since hindsight is 20/20 we know that this isn’t the Lord’s intention. Matthias, good man that he is, isn’t intended to be the replacement disciple. The criteria, as Biblical as they are, aren’t going to be applied. The man God has selected is, right now, a Pharisee of the Pharisees. He’ll soon be the greatest enemy of Christ on the face of the earth. The lesson to be learned here is simple: when the Lord says to wait, just wait.
Take Away: The best of disciples must guard against running ahead of the Lord.
Peter, stop arguing!
John 13: Why can’t I follow now?
It’s Thursday night before Jesus is arrested. He and his disciples are in the Upper Room and Jesus is in the role of servant, washing their feet. He comes to Peter, but Peter resists, declaring “You’re not going to wash my feet – ever!” Jesus, though, persists telling Peter that if he won’t allow this that he’ll have no part in what Jesus has come to do. Peter decides to give in, but if that’s how it is, he has a better idea. He wants Jesus to wash his hands and head as well. Once again, our Lord holds steady, explaining that it’s foot washing that Peter needs and it’s foot washing that he’s going to get. Then, the meal ended, Jesus tenderly commands his disciples to love one another. This, he says, will be their primary, distinguishing characteristic. As Jesus is stating these words, Peter’s focus is on what Jesus said earlier. He ignores the teaching concerning mutual love and wants to know where Jesus is going. The Lord patiently responds, telling Peter that someday he’ll follow but not right now. Peter is having none of that. “Why later? Why not now?” he demands. Then he adds, “I’ll lay down my life for you.” At this point, Jesus has had enough of Peter’s approach. Even as he declares his allegiance to the Lord his responses are always that he knows better than Jesus. At this point Jesus tells him that big time failure is coming to him, and soon. I don’t know whether to smile at Peter’s “Lord, I love you but I know better than you” approach or if I should wince and remember the times I’ve blundered ahead of the Lord thinking I knew what to do without asking him. How often do my actions betray the truth that I think I know better than God?
Take Away: A part of following Jesus is admitting that he’s smarter than we are.