The distant reach of failure
Deuteronomy 1: Don’t be terrified of them, God, your God, is leading the way; he’s fighting for you.
The “you” in this passage isn’t the members of the present congregation. It’s their parents. However, Moses is speaking to them as a nation of people, seen as one with the previous generation. This doesn’t sit well with my Western mindset. We Westerners are individualists who like to think we make our own decisions apart from others. In this case it was 40 years earlier that Moses had said these words and “they” refused to hear, refused to have faith, and refused to obey. The penalty was 40 years in the wilderness — an experience all those in the congregation hearing this sermon did share, at least to some extent. Soon it will be their turn to hear, believe, and obey. Moses is preparing them for it by reminding them of their already shared failure in their parents. Still, God is the God of Second Chances. Soon they will stand on the banks of the river. To a great extent they will have the opportunity to erase the failure of those who went before them. While I’m no expert on “generational curses” (or “generational blessings” for that matter) I’m reminded that my failure or faithfulness reaches far beyond my individual life.
Take Away: It’s unlikely anyone ever sees the full extent of their influence, be it for good or for evil.
2014 – Canyonlands National Park, UT
It’s a local call
Exodus 29: I’ll move in and live with the Israelites. I’ll be their God. They’ll realize that I am their God….
Moses, their leader, is on the mountaintop, both physically and spiritually, in conference with God Almighty who’s giving him all kinds of instructions. The Lord intends to make the people of Israel a unique nation on the face of the earth. Right now the Lord is in the process of setting everything in motion. In the midst of the detailed plans for the Tabernacle and it’s furnishings I hear an earth shaking promise from God. He says, “I’ll move in and live…I’ll be their God…they’ll realize that….” This concept is both humbling and thrilling. The Lord isn’t going to sit up on Mount Sinai, distant and unapproachable. Instead, he’s moving in with them. Some years ago a joke was going around about churches having a “golden telephone” providing direct access to the Lord. The punch line depended on where the joke teller lived. Of course, for me, Texas was the featured state. Using the golden telephone in Texas is much cheaper because calling heaven is local call from Texas. In this passage in Exodus we find that the Lord intends that it be a “local call” when his people call his name. He’s moving in and has no desire to be beyond our reach. It’s humbling to think that God Almighty would take such interest in mere human beings. However, it’s also thrilling to consider that he wants to move into my neighborhood and be an active participant in my everyday life. For Moses, this is all about the Tabernacle and worship there. For me it is all about Jesus coming and then sending his Holy Spirit to “move in and live” in my heart. “Oh Lord, come on in, you’re welcome here.”
Take Away: The Lord is as near as my next thought directed to him.
2014 – Looking out over Canyonlands NP from Dead Horse Point State Park, UT
Living as one of God’s people
Exodus 22: Don’t be stingy as your wine vats fill up. Dedicate your firstborn sons to me.
If anyone thinks the Law given at Mount Sinai is all about the Ten Commandments or at least is filled with regulations concerning their religion they need to spend some time in the second half of the Book of Exodus. The regulations stated here are a mulligan stew of civil, personal, and religious rules and regulations. The Lord’s just as interested in telling them how to settle a property dispute as he is in telling them how to conduct a worship service. For instance, he tells them that as they prosper in the land he’s giving them that they’re to live generous lives. Then, in the very next sentence he tells them that they’re to dedicate their firstborn sons to him. For these people, there’s to be no difference between their “religious” lives and their “secular” lives. Instead, they’re to live their “whole lives” under the authority of God. Refraining from eating the meat of some dead animal they find in the field and making sacrifices only to the Lord God are both filed under the heading of “be holy.” A lesson for me in all this is that my life as a whole is to be lived under the authority of the Lord. I’m to live a generous, honest, compassionate life. Not only am I to dedicate my children to the Lord, but, as my “wine vats fill up” I’m to be a generous person, sharing the blessing the Lord has given me. The two, secular and religious, are really just one, living as one of God’s people.
Take Away: My entire life is to be lived as a person of God.
2014 – Looking out over Canyonlands NP from Dead Horse Point State Park, UT
The Ten Commandments
Exodus 20: I am God, your God.
And so it begins. This God who spoke to Moses through the burning bush, this God who brought the plagues to Egypt in securing their freedom, this God who delivered them at the Red Sea now describes how they’re to live. He didn’t bring them up out of Egypt so they could do their own thing, living as they pleased. The Lord God brought them out of slavery to be his own people. Their relationship to their God is going to be very different than the Egyptians relationship with their gods. The very first thing their Redeemer does is state Ten Commandments to them. These Commandments are just as focused on how a man treats his neighbor as how a man relates to his God. In this new relationship with the Almighty they’ll treat the Lord with absolute reverence, but they’ll also treat one another with respect, honesty, and fairness. One doesn’t have to be Jewish or Christian to recognize the brilliance of the Ten Commandments. In just a few words the foundation is laid for a God-fearing and just society. To this day there’s no finer expression of how society can function at its best. This gift from God to his people is every bit as impressive as was his parting the Red Sea for them.
Take Away: We can find no better set of rules for living than what we find in the Ten Commandments.
2013 – Smoky Mountains and vicinity – Cullasaja Gorge
Exodus 1: He killed the Egyptian and buried him in the sand.
Moses is thought of as the grandson of the king, but he’s raised by the woman who’s secretly his own mother. On one hand, he’s an Egyptian and a member of the ruling class at that. On the other hand, he’s a Hebrew, condemned at birth, a member of a nation of slaves. Sooner or later he has to decide who he is. That day comes, even though his expression of solidarity with God’s people is quite flawed. First, he kills an Egyptian who mistreats a fellow Hebrew. He then tries to be a peacemaker between two Hebrews who are having a fight. There’s no question in his mind or in the mind of Pharaoh which side he’s on and soon Moses finds himself fleeing for his life. I’ve heard some sermons about how Moses should have waited for God to call him to be the liberator of his people and that, had he done that, it would have saved him four decades of leading sheep. For all I know, those sermons are right on. Still, I’m taken today with the need to decide early on which side one is on. Moses is likely mistaken when he kills the Egyptian, but his decision to cast his lot with a nation of slaves rather than be a member of the Egyptian royal household is courageous and ought to be appreciated by all who read the story. I’m glad that early on in my life the Lord spoke to my heart and that, right then, I decided to say “yes” to him without over thinking what such a response might mean. Today, I won’t give Moses a “thumbs up” on what he did but I’ll certainly give him credit for why he did it.
Take Away: Sooner or later we need to decide what side we’re on…and the sooner the better.
Pastor to people
2John: My dear congregation, I, your pastor, love you in very truth.
Compared to some books of the Bible, 2John isn’t much of a “book.” It’s more of an “email.” It’s just a few lines, written as a quick placeholder for a congregation by their pastor. He’ll fill in the material in person. He greets them by declaring his love for them. I can’t help but think, as I read this opening line, that’s it’s a beautiful thing when a pastor loves his or her congregation “in very truth.” Because of that love-based relationship John starts his note to them by encouraging them, telling them how happy he is with them. Anyone who thinks the pastor’s job is to “tell it like it is” and “set people straight” needs to spend some time here. John tells his church how much he loves them and how pleased he is with their faithfulness to Christ’s command that his followers love one another. It’s only after doing that that he moves on to warning them about some false teachers who are taking advantage of gullible Christians. He has more to say to them, but until he can be with them personally, he thinks this little “email” will do. The brevity of this letter speaks volumes about the friendly, loving relationship between this pastor and his congregation. I can’t help but think that sometimes saying less is saying more.
Take Away: Pastors need to love and appreciate the churches under their charge. Churches, on the other hand, need to love and appreciate pastors who lovingly care for them.
Good for what ails you
1John 3: For God is greater than our worried hearts.
John moves to his favorite topic: love. Frankly, he sees love as a cure-all, good for what ails us. Are we at odds with our brothers and sisters? Love will fix it. Are we struggling in understanding God’s purpose for us and in grasping what Jesus has done for us? The key is love. When we see countless wrongs in the world and wonder what should be done about them John says the key component in our response is, you guessed it: love. The test of love proves or disproves our relationship to this God who is love. As his love is allowed into my life — as it’s allowed to influence how I feel about, well, everything, its then that I know I’m where God wants me. For many of us our greatest challenge is loving self. I, more than anyone else, know my faults and failures. It may be that I’ve been verbally abused and have come to believe that what was said to me and about me is true. Possibly, deep in my psyche is the belief that if anyone really knew me they’d see so many flaws that they’d never love me. John tells me that that’s simply untrue. The One who knows me best, who “knows more about us than we do ourselves” loves me with a powerful, sacrificial love. He thinks I’m worth loving, worth dying for. As I accept his love for me, and his evaluation of me my relationship with myself changes. Once again, even as I struggle with my own self-esteem, the answer is love.
Take Away: Love is the greatest.
Putting Jesus on display
1Peter 2: Treat everyone with dignity. Love your spiritual family. Revere God. Respect the government.
Being a Christian in a non-Christian society has its challenges. Sometimes Christians are viewed with suspicion and other times with contempt. Peter says it’s up to us to correct the mistaken views of our faith. We do that, not by standing up for our rights or debating to prove our point or by withdrawing from society. Instead, we take our spiritual lives out to the streets and let our faith be seen by anyone who cares to look. We treat people well, granting them dignity no matter what their station in life. We treat one another well, refusing to sink to petty infighting over minor differences of opinion. We live as people who reverence God, unashamedly putting our high regard for the Lord on display. Finally, we conduct ourselves as good citizens, not using our citizenship of heaven as an excuse for neglecting our duties as citizens of the country in which we live. The result is that people who don’t know much about our religion will come to respect us. That, in turn, will open the door for us to have a real influence for Jesus. We don’t try to win people by beating them over their heads with our Bibles. Rather, we win them by putting the Jesus we serve on display in our lives every day and in every situation.
Take Away: People are drawn to lives that reflect the real Jesus.
What does it mean to have a genuine relationship with Christ?
Philippians 3: I gave up all that inferior stuff so I could know Christ personally.
A friend of mine commented that he was preparing to do a certain thing. His intention wasn’t to do something bad but it seemed to me that there was a superior course of action. In an off handed remark I asked, “Have you asked the Lord about it?” His response was, “Oh, the Lord understands.” Later, I found myself thinking about the exchange in view of my own life. How often do I do whatever I want to do with the attitude: “It’s okay, the Lord understands.” Tell you what; I don’t treat my wife that way. When I’m thinking about taking some out of the ordinary action I talk it over with her. Most of the time I could probably go ahead and she would “understand” but the thing is that we have a relationship with one another that includes our respecting each other and valuing one another’s opinions on things. Surely, I should have a similar respectful, intimate relationship with the Lord. There’s a place for prayers along the lines of, “Lord, I’m thinking about doing this, what do you think?” The Apostle says he gave up a lot of stuff that he might have a personal relationship with Jesus. If I want to have a vital, real, living relationship with Jesus one of the things I must give up is having a self-willed, presumptive attitude toward him.
Take Away: Do we treat the Lord as a real person or as some abstract idea?
A secret to the victorious Christian life
Ephesians 4: I don’t want anyone strolling off, down some path that leads to nowhere.
God never calls people to be half-hearted, costing along, distracted followers. He’s given us everything we need, in fact, abundantly more than we need to live victorious Christian lives. With this in mind we’re to take it all and run with it. There’s no need for fits and starts, stumbling and struggling back to our feet. Rather we’re to confidently move forward on our spiritual journey. Some folks don’t get it. Rather than moving forward they wander along, taking detours in which they’re in real danger of totally losing their way. So, how can I best get on and stay on track? The Apostle frames it in terms of relationships. He describes the victorious Christian life as one filled with “acts of love” and in which things that strain our connection to our brothers and sisters in Christ are quickly recognized and resolved. After all, he reminds us, we’re traveling this road together and we’re connected in our mutual love for our Master, Jesus. If I fail to love and allow little things to fester in my relationships with God’s people, I become one of those half-hearted, distracted Christians who are in danger of wandering so far from the path that I become lost in the darkness.
Take Away: We really do need each other.