Thursday, April 25, 2019

A Servant's Gift

When we first meet Israel's to-be king Saul in the Scriptures, he's taken off from home in pursuit of some lost donkeys. They aren't his donkeys, but his father's donkeys, and he and a servant set out to find them. They look everywhere, but several days pass with no sign of the animals, and the conversation is starting to turn from "Where have the donkeys gone?" to "Where is Saul?" as though he could not find his own way back home. 

Meanwhile, Israel is pressing in on the prophet Samuel, demanding a king just like all of the other nations have. The prophet is grieved, and so is the Lord, but the Lord comforts Samuel and tells the prophet that it is the Lord the people have rejected, not him. God then promises to reveal to Samuel who he is to anoint as this desired king.

Now, all we have to do is get a man out looking for his father's lost donkeys to meet up with the prophet looking for the Lord's anointed king. 

Enter the servant.

Saul is starting to understand that his father, at this point, is probably more worried about where his son is than where his donkeys have wandered off to. It's even possible, as Saul and the servant discuss, that the donkeys have long since made their way back home and now, it's just Saul that needs to return. But of course, he has no way of truly knowing this; it's just a theory. 

Then the servant says that there happens to be a seer - a prophet - in a town nearby and that maybe the two of them should go and talk to this man, as this man can tell them where the donkeys are. (Let that sink in for a minute - they are going to ask a prophet they've never met to ask the Lord where their donkeys are. Oh, how much we could learn from just that! But that's for another day.) 

Saul thinks this is a great plan that the servant has, but there is one catch - Saul has used up his provisions. He doesn't have anything left that he could offer to the prophet as a gift, and you don't come to the prophet without a gift. Even if he wanted to, he can't go and ask Samuel anything. That's when the servant, who had the idea in the first place, pulls out a tiny little bit of silver that he has leftover and offers it to Saul to offer to the prophet. 

With a quarter of a shekel of his servant's silver, Saul travels into town to see the seer...and is prophesied the king of Israel. 

Whatever little gift you have, give it freely to those who seek the Lord. For you never know when what seems like an odd question becomes a greater thing. And it may just be your quarter of a shekel of silver that makes it possible. 

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Stolen Offerings

For being the men chosen to serve nearest to God in the Tabernacle, the priests sure cause a lot of problems in Israel. This is the case when we first meet the sons of Eli the priest, priests themselves, who will very shortly be smitten by the Lord for their unfaithfulness.

God had set apart a special portion of Israel's sacrifices for the priests; it was their payment, their provision, for doing the work that He had called them to do. Since most priests were so busy with their duties at the Tabernacle that they didn't have time to really build their own homesteads or tend their own land or flocks, this was God's way of making sure that they eat.

The problem with Eli's sons is that they weren't content with the provision that God had made for them and started making provision for themselves. Specifically, they started taking portions of Israel's offerings before they were appropriately given to the Lord.

Imagine if you brought your ram, lamb, or one-year-old male goat and only, say, 2/3 of it ever made it to the altar. Imagine if you were the Lord who required an offering made by fire and the aroma pleasing to you was 1/3 less than what it should have been. 

This is the problem the priests were causing. Not only that, but they were taking the women who served at the tent and turning them to serve the needs of the priests before the needs of the Lord. This was a serious abomination, as it was well-known that other nations had cult prostitutes at their worship sites - a sin that the priests themselves probably knew of when they started this whole thing - and now, Israel's priests were turning her faithful women into prostitutes at the worship site. No good.

Fast forward several thousand years, and it's a fine line that we walk in our churches on this issue. 

No, I'm not talking about shady/dirty pastors or priests who are skimming off the top. I'm not talking about persons in our churches who are taking advantage of others. I'm not talking about those who are trying to get ahead by taking what others have. I'm talking about something much more pervasive and so commonplace in our churches that it slides sinfully right under the radar:

The volunteer system.

So many of our churches run on volunteers. They're stepping up everywhere and in every capacity to do the kinds of things that need done in our churches - cleaning our buildings, teaching our children, changing our light bulbs, running our sounds systems, handing out our bulletins, tending our parking lot, locking and unlocking our doors. If you're in a church, no matter what your capacity, you know just how many opportunities we have for the members of the church to serve. 

The question we have to ask is...who, or what, are they serving?

We have persons graciously teaching our children who have no business teaching our children. Not because they aren't loving, caring, compassionate individuals, but because they don't have a spiritual calling to teach our children. We have persons who are changing light bulbs just because they are the least busy persons and have the time to do it, not because they feel any special inkling to be the ones to step up for that ministry. We have persons passing out our bulletins whose gifts are wasted at our front doors. 

We are stealing the spiritual capital of our congregations and putting it to use for our own purposes, convincing our members to offer themselves to the church before they offer themselves to the Lord. 

Read that again. Because it's absolutely true. You have persons right now in your church whose spiritual gifts are going to waste because they've been commandeered by the church herself and put to work in service of programs and ministry "needs" rather than any particular calling or giftedness. Maybe you're one of those persons. 

And you think, maybe, that some things in the church just have to be done; they don't require a special calling, but someone's got to do them anyway. Bull. There is nothing that needs done in our churches that God hasn't put one someone's heart. Our challenge is to find the places where our needs feed the souls of the called, not the pursuit of the programmed. 

Yes, there are persons whose souls are nourished by fixing toilets. I'm serious. There are persons who thrive on being the face at the front door. There are persons who give their best to God when they are teaching our children or watching our infants. Our challenge, as the church, is to match these persons not with our needs, but with God's needs and put them in places that God needs them. 

Right now, sadly, that's just not often the case. More often, we're co-opting them, taking advantage of their good nature to serve our more pressing needs. But what if we took advantage of their best nature and put them where they could shine?

What if our priority was that every man, woman, and child in our churches gave their offering to God first? And then we, the church, feasted on what God has given us from that? 

It would revolutionize our churches. But even more than that, it would revitalize our Christians. And it would reinvigorate our faith. 

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Provision of Work

Tucked into Israel's conquest of the Promised Land and the time of her judges is the story of Ruth, which is also the story of Naomi. Ruth was a foreigner in the land of Israel, having come with Naomi back to her home country after all the men to whom they were connected died. And the two women, having returned, wondered how it was that they would provide for themselves even among Naomi's own people. 

Ruth, unwilling to die from lack of action, sets out to find a place to gather a little bit of grain for the two of them. If they haven't figured out anything else at this point, she at least has a plan by which they can eat. She'll go out, quiet as a mouse, and walk behind the workers in whatever field that she finds that is friendly to her, and she'll gather enough grain each day for the women to eat. 

So she goes out and finds this field. And wouldn't you know it? The owner of that field is tender-hearted toward her. In fact, he tells his workers to even leave a little grain on purpose for her. Not only that, but pull it out a little bit and make it easier for her to grab it. In other words, he instructs his workers to help feed the woman.

It turns out, of course, that this man is also the family redeemer, and it will come to pass that he will end up marrying Ruth and keeping the name of his dead relatives alive, and oh, what a beautiful story it is. It makes it all the way into the lineage of Jesus. But let's not get ahead of ourselves.

Because there's something very important about the way that even this redeemer provides for Ruth that we cannot (and should not) overlook: his provision is for her labor, not for her needs.

See, most of us think that when God provides for us, He does so in such a way that magical blessings just fall from the sky, right into our laps. He rains down His mercy and grace and just makes our lives better because, hey, that's what God does. And then most of us are disappointed to live so much of our lives without this ever actually happening to us. 

But the story of Ruth puts it in real perspective; this is overwhelmingly how God works in the world, and even in our own lives. 

Boaz could have just given Ruth the grain. He was, after all, the family redeemer. He could have told her that he had compassion for her and that, if she would just come to his fields at the end of the day, he would give her enough grain for the week. And then she could go home and not worry about anything for seven whole days, then come back and do it all over again. That certainly sounds like good provision to us; it's what we want when we are in need.

Instead, however, he tells her to make herself at home among his workers. He tells her that she is welcome here, that he will let her come every day and gather as much as she wants/needs for her and her mother-in-law. He tells his workers to help her by leaving some grain behind, but he doesn't instruct them to just hand her the grain; she still has to gather it. 

So often in our lives, this is what God is doing. His provision...is work. It's the opportunity to put our hands to something and go out and do it. Faithfully. A little bit at a time. Just enough for the day. It's not magical blessings fallen into our lap, but opportunities placed in our hands, and we have to be willing to show up, go out, and work for it. For work itself is holy; it always has been. 

What is God asking you to do in your life? Are you doing it? Or are you waiting for Him to just...bless you anyway?

Monday, April 22, 2019

Cursed Silver

It's the time of the Christian season when we hear often about the most famous cursed silver in all of history - the thirty pieces of silver Judas accepted as the price to betray Jesus into the hands of the leaders of the religious folk. When he realized what he'd done, he tried to return the silver, but the leaders would not accept it because it was blood money. So Judas threw the money on the ground in a field where he hung himself and then, ironically, the leaders took it back. 

They came to see the spectacle of his body, but they left with their hands on the silver they had just rejected. And now, they had to figure out what to do with it that would not put it to waste but would not put it on their hands, either. So they used it to buy the field in which Judas died and turned it into a burial place for foreigners, for outsiders. 

And it's not the first time this has happened in the Scriptures.

All the way back in Judges 17, there is another story about cursed silver. This time, it comes from the house of a man named Micah, and it begins - not ends - with a confession. 

Micah has stolen his mother's silver, silver that he heard her utter a curse over. Now, it's quite likely that she uttered the curse only after the silver had been stolen, in an attempt to exact revenge on the thief (who was unknown at the time). The way you would mutter to yourself, upon finding something of value missing, "I hope whoever took it has absolutely no use for it whatsoever." Because things are meaningful to us in ways that they just wouldn't be to others.

Anyway, it was no particularly small sum of silver, which is probably why Micah took it, but when he has heard his mother curse it, he can no longer take the guilt. He returns the cursed silver to his mother and confesses what he's done, and she takes it. But then, she gives it back to him and it becomes the fodder for an idol. The silversmith works his magic, and bam! the cursed silver becomes something to worship. 

Which, by the way, was extremely illegal under the covenant of God with Israel, but this was the time of Judges, when "every man did what was right in his own sight." It's why God had to keep coming to rescue them. 

Now, the reason you set up your own idol is because you feel disconnected from the worship of your people. You feel cut off somehow from the Lord. If you didn't, you wouldn't need the idol - who truly has the fullness of God and decides it is not enough? But Micah lived far away from where Israel worshipped, in a tribe that was turning away, and he figured he ought to have something with which to worship. 

And his idol became the thing. Not just for him, but for many. He set up the idol in his house and then, a little later, when a Levite was journeying by, Micah went out and convinced the Levite to come and be a priest for him - to serve at the altar of his idol. That Levite became known around the area and when the men of the region decided that they, too, should have their own worship, they went and persuaded the Levite to come and be a priest to them - after all, it's better for one man to serve many men than to serve only one house, isn't it? 

All of a sudden, we're hip-deep in idol worship in the heart of Israel. And all it took was some cursed silver and a group of men who felt on the outs - outsiders. 

This is what I love so much about the Bible. (Well, one of the things.) First, we have this story about cursed silver that is freely taken and given, but comes with a cost and leads the outsiders astray. But then, several pages later, we have this story about cursed silver that came with a cost and is despised and unwanted, but it is used to give outsiders a place. It buys them a spot in the holy city.

That's the difference Jesus makes. Isn't it? That's what He's all about, what He's always been about. He takes these stories that we have, and He turns them on their head in ways we couldn't imagine. They take us from a house in Israel to a field in Jerusalem, from a man seeking life to a dead man hanging, from a way to go astray to a place to welcome in. And it's Jesus. He wasn't even there, and it's all Jesus. 

Pretty cool. 

Friday, April 19, 2019

The Plan

Did Jesus have to die? Was the Christ intended to be crucified?

We have been taught that this was God's plan all along. Well, it was His plan B all along - after we spoiled plan A with what turned out to be rotten fruit. From that moment on, God planned on the atoning sacrifice of His one and only Son. 

But Paul's preaching on the matter makes things a bit more difficult. Multiple times as he makes his way around the provinces, Paul speaks to the Jews about their unfaithfulness. When he does, he brings up the fact that God sent them the very prophet/king/Messiah they were waiting on, but they killed Him. 

But they killed Him.

It's meant, it seems, to induce guilt and remorse among the Jews. It's meant to open their eyes to what they had in Jesus, the fulfillment of God's every promise to them. It's meant to awaken them to what they missed when they got caught up in the politics of religion and the social pressures of the leading priests, who controlled their Temple life. 

But they killed Him.

You would think that if Jesus was intended to die, if He had to die, if that was God's plan all along, Paul ought to be thanking the Jews for killing Him. If this was God's plan, then the Jews leading Jesus to the slaughter was part of God's divine plan, and shouldn't we be praised for doing what God desires of us to do? Shouldn't we be applauded for following the plan? 

After all, if Jesus was destined to die and the Jews didn't kill Him, then God could not have done through Him all that He intended to do through Him. So why the guilt? Why the heavy burden? Why does Paul take every opportunity to remind the Jews of this "horrible" thing they have done, killing God's very promise...if, indeed, God's Promise had to die to be sealed?

It's complicated. There's no easy answer here. On the one hand, we could say that Jesus's death was foretold long before He ever lived, which seems to lend credibility to the fact that sure, God always intended Jesus to die. But God's knowing something and God's ordaining something are two very different things. God can know what is going to happen, what His people are going to do, and not desire them to do it. That's what free will is all about.

And if you look at the passages that we often cite as foretelling Jesus, there's not really any "must" language. There's not an indication that God is sending a Servant who "must" die; just that His Servant "will" suffer. God talks frequently about what will happen, but less frequently about what must happen. So God's foreknowledge of how His Servant suffers does not necessarily indicate a divine "plan" for the suffering to happen. 

At the same time, we follow Jesus to the Garden this week and hear Him praying before His betrayal, and He prays rather clearly about the cup from which He is about to drink. He knows what's coming. He knows how this ends. He longs for any other way, but submits Himself to God's will on the matter - which seems to be crucifixion. If Jesus Himself knows that His death is God's will, doesn't that mean that it really was the plan?

But again, if it really was the plan, why the guilt?

Jesus came that we might have life, and have it abundantly. This much, we know. And because of His death, we have convinced ourselves that the life that Jesus promised is coming "one day." Not today. But think all the way back to the beginning, to the Plan A. Plan A was that we would live forever with God, routinely feasting off of the Tree of Life, walking with Him in the Garden in the cool of the day. If we hadn't killed Jesus, might Plan B have been Plan A revisited? Might He have simply lived among us, forever, showing us how to live and letting us feast off of the Tree of Life? 

Might the Cross have been Plan C?

Like I said, it's complicated. But we cannot ignore what Paul says to the churches in the provinces. We can't just dismiss the fact that he places a large burden on the Jews for having killed Jesus, the very essence of their promise. Not once does he ever thank them, not once does he credit them with the eternal salvation of all mankind by their gracious act of having crucified the Christ. Not once.

Rather, he says, the Promise was among you, fulfilled to the fullness of all that God ever promised you, but you killed Him.

This weekend, we celebrate the crucified and resurrected Lord. But a question kind of lingers, doesn't it? At least a little?

Did Jesus have to die?

Could we have lived if He hadn't?

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Future Past

Yesterday, we looked at the way that Samson simply discarded the jawbone of the ass after defeating the Philistines in that battle. He no longer needed a weapon (which would have set his mind on the future and possible threats) and he didn't need a trophy (which would have kept him in the past). He was content to live in the present, which was his victory.

But we are a people of weapons and trophies, and more important, we are a people content to live in the future and the past. In fact, we've built our entire faith around it. 

Modern Christianity has become a faith that lives anywhere but here. It lives in the past, where Jesus, by His great and wonderful mercy, has forgiven our sins. Whatever you've done in your life, Jesus has washed clean. He has forgiven, and God has forgotten, removing from you the greatest stains of your life. For this, we are thankful. And it is one of the foundation stones of our faith - our past has been forgiven. 

The other foundation stone of our faith is what Jesus is going to do - He is coming back. He will return to redeem the world, to call us up to Heaven with Him. He will restore us fully to life and create us anew, the way we were always intended to be. He will set everything right, avenge what was wrong, and shine in great glory. For this, we hope. 

And while these are good and wonderful things that should absolutely help to inform our faith, they leave us decidedly empty in the present, in the space and time in which we actually live. Although we know what to do with yesterday and tomorrow, most of us have absolutely no idea what to do with today. 

Yet today is all that we truly have. 

Jesus Himself said that as much as the life of faith is about tomorrow, it's also about today. He said that He has come that we might have life, and have it abundantly. That's not life that comes after death; that's not life that comes in the Heavens. It's life on earth, the same kind of life that He lived in the human flesh.

We know this because there's not a single man or woman in the Gospels that Jesus told to wait until He comes back. When He met the blind men, the lame men, the deaf men, the cripples, the demon-possessed, the sinners, the outcasts, the weary, the meek, the masses...He gave them life. Today. Right now. He reached out, touched them, and healed them

He never said, "I promise the day is coming when you will be healed." He didn't say, "In my Father's time, I will come back, and you will have the life you've always wanted, the life you can't have right now." He never said, "I'm sorry about your current situation, but just hold on, for Heaven is coming." He said, See. Hear. Walk. Repent. Come. Be released.

Live.

It's what our Christianity has forgotten, and it's crushing the hearts of so many of the faithful. We want to believe that Heaven is enough, but our souls nag at us that there's got to be something more. They nag at us because there is something more. It's life...and life abundant. Life that lives right now, not because Jesus is coming back, but because Jesus lives. Because He lives among us, the way that He always has. Because He breathes and walks and talks and feeds and heals and loves and lives. God has called us, as He always has, to a living faith, and we have become a people far too content to have a dying faith, and our own hearts call us on it.

What would it mean to your faith - what would it mean to your life - if life abundant was right now? If the greatest focus of your faith was not what has been done or what will be done, but what is being done, right now, before your very eyes? What if you lived living?

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Jawbone

One of the better-known judges of Israel was Samson, whose mighty strength led God's people against the Philistines at a critical time in their journey. The Philistines had been a bane in Israel's side for quite awhile, and they would continue to be, but Samson would declare a powerful, though temporary, victory over them. 

There are really three big scenes that we remember when it comes to Samson. We remember how his wife, Delilah, deceived him and cut off his braids. We remember how he, as a blind jester, pushed down the columns of the Philistine theater and killed thousands with his own death. And we remember, at least vaguely, that time he slayed the enemy with the jawbone of an ass. 

It is this third story to which we turn today. 

Because it's not like Samson particularly trained to use the jawbone of an ass as a weapon. Given his choice, it probably wasn't his first pick, but it was there, and it was strong, and he used it to the glory of God. And then, when the battle was over, he did something unexpected: he simply discarded it. 

This was an Israel with a powerful enemy, an Israel who didn't want to find herself without a weapon to fight with. And Samson was still firmly in Philistine territory. It would have made sense for him to harness this jawbone on his hip until and unless he found something better with which to defend himself. But he didn't. 

And Israel was known for her trophies, as well. Later, when David slays Goliath, they take Goliath's sword and put it into a holy place as a relic. We know this because when David later finds himself in need of a sword, he is offered Goliath's sword by the holy man. So there's that. Samson could have taken the jawbone as a token of victory and enshrined it. But he didn't. 

As I was reading this passage earlier this year, the note that I wrote about this passage was simply this: Samson discarded the jawbone because he no longer needed a weapon and he didn't need a trophy. 

Oh, how far this seems from our own experience. 

We are a people who won't give up our weapons, who always feel the need to have something with us to defend ourselves. Whether it be our words or something stronger, we're always right on the edge of fighting for ourselves. We feel like we have to. We feel the pressures of the world pressing in on us. We feel the weight of brokenness creeping in. Around every corner lurks a shadow, and most of us are unwilling to walk in this world without a weapon of some sort. We can't imagine being a people who fight only when God tells us to fight, who could actually claim a victory; we have to fight all the time, don't we?

And when we do have victory, we want a trophy. We want some remembrance of what we've been through, of what we've accomplished. In the best cases, of what God has done for us. We are a people who build altars and enshrine tokens as reminders of our best days. It's why we buy the T-shirts and the commemorative DVDs and carry small crosses in our pockets. We can't seem to help ourselves. Our lives, and our homes, are full of our trophies. Most of us would have that jawbone on our mantels. Guests would come over and say, "What's that?" and we would tell them the story of how we conquered the Philistines. 

But Samson didn't need either, and if we're being honest, neither do we. 

The truth is that weapons keep us on constant guard for the future and trophies keep us mired in the past, despite the fact that our lives are lived only in the present. The jawbone was useful only in the battle. Before hand, it wouldn't have crossed Samson's mind to consider it for the future; he wasn't packing a jawbone "just in case." Afterward, it didn't matter; the battle was over, fought and won. It was only valuable in the present, and the present was now something new entirely. 

It's something that's just far too easy for us to forget, for us to not even consider. We live so much in the past and in the future that we miss the present entirely, until we realize it's too late. And then we try to live it again, but we can't. All of a sudden, we find ourselves with a faith that trusts God for tomorrow and tries to cling to Him yesterday but doesn't remember what's going on right now, where He is with us right now. But our faith is a faith that can only be faith in the present. Right now. 

And with a right now kind of faith, so often it is the case that we no longer need weapons and we don't need trophies. 

It's time to lay our jawbones down. 

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

On Being Afraid

Yesterday, we looked at 22,000 men who showed up to fight with Gideon even though they were afraid. We know they were afraid because when God decided to pare down the army, His first command was that anyone who was afraid could go home. So 22,000 men left. 

But Gideon's story is more wrapped in fear even than merely this. The whole thing begins in fear, when Gideon himself is hiding out in a winepress, threshing grain. As you might imagine, a winepress is not really a great area for threshing grain; you'd normally press wine there, as you'd thresh grain on a threshing floor. But a threshing floor was an open, outdoor area where the enemy could easily have spotted Gideon and injured him. So...the winepress it is. 

Here's where we have to pause for a minute because there's just so much fear going on in this story, and it's fear that we can easily relate to. Most of us don't live our normal lives in wide open spaces in front of our enemies; we, like Gideon, know when to hide if we have to. Most of us fear that God will do with us exactly as He first did with the soldiers - that He'll ask us to show up and do something we're terrified of doing, something we are pretty sure could possibly kill us. We might, like the soldiers, show up anyway, but a lot of us wouldn't show up at all. We'd excuse ourselves before God could even speak and thus miss out on everything.

Because the truth is? Both of these stories of fear end up differently than we could ever imagine. All by the grace and mercy of God.

The soldiers that showed up scared, they didn't have to fight. God let them go home without ever even lifting their sword. We think that's probably good enough reason to not show up at all, if God isn't going to make us stay, but that's not true - we have to show up. Then let God be the one with the glory in sending us home. 

And Gideon? Gideon goes on to fight and to defeat the princes of the enemy people. And wouldn't you know it? The last prince that he kills in the fight...he kills in a winepress. Of all places. 

It's no accident the way that God redeems us from our fear. Not by a long shot. It's no chance occurrence that a scared man shows up and finds that he isn't needed; you couldn't have predicted that. Nobody, at least at this time and in this kind of battle, makes his army smaller before engaging the enemy. Maybe you think you show up and not enough men are with you, but you'd never think you have too many. Yet that is precisely what God says - I have enough, and you will not be required to do this today. But thank you for coming. That just doesn't happen. 

Unless, of course, God is merciful. 

It's no random situation that Gideon finds his final battle where he had his first calling - in a winepress. A pursued man, like the prince, would do everything in his power to run away from a losing battle before he would settle for hiding among it. Gideon probably anticipated chasing the prince away, losing him somewhere in the wilderness or on the plain, driving him out of his land to some place of exile. He couldn't have fathomed the prince would be so hard-pressed as to hide, well, in a place that Gideon knew so well. 

And so we go from the place where the Lord first proclaimed, "Hail, Mighty Warrior!" to a fearful Gideon to the very same surrounding where Gideon is, as proclaimed, a mighty warrior, grabbing the final victory. 

You can't make this stuff up. It doesn't just happen. It's not by chance or random occurrence or accident. It's by mercy, by God's incredible grace. By His design. He will redeem our fear.

If we just show up and give Him the chance. 

Monday, April 15, 2019

22,000 and 1

We come now to the book of Judges, which fairly early on brings forth one of my favorite characters from the Bible - Gideon. There's a lot to love about Gideon and so much richness to bring from his story, but we will start today with the army that he amasses against the enemy. 

The problem with Gideon's army is...it's too big. That's not typically an issue in battle; you want to have the most guys on your side. But God says that there are too many men to go with him and that if all of these men go, the glory will end up in the wrong place. The men might think it was by their sheer size and force that they won the battle, rather than by the favor and provision and providence of God, so He declares that Gideon must pare down his forces before he fights.

There are a couple of ways to get rid of part of the army, and the first way is this: anyone who is scared can go home. Just like that. No questions asked. If you're a soldier who showed up today, and you're scared, you're dismissed. 

And 22,000 men left.

We don't know how many men he started with, but that seems like a lot of men to leave all at once. And because they're scared? It's easy for us to read this and think, Cowards. How incredible that so many men were so afraid, especially when they should have known that the Lord was on their side! It just blows our minds, and all of our own false bravado comes out. Certainly I would never leave because I was scared. I mean, if I was a soldier and everything. 

But there's another way to read this. Sure, we could look at 22,000 soldiers who left because they were scared to go to war, but we could also talk about 22,000 men who showed up for war even though they were afraid. 

That changes everything.

It changes everything because we are a people who too easily excuse ourselves because of our fear. We think that being afraid is a warning sign, something that ought to stop us in our tracks. We think that fear and hesitation is a good reason to stop altogether, to turn back, to turn away, and to go a different route. When God asks us to do something, we first ask whether or not we're afraid to do it, and if we're afraid, we determine that God probably didn't really ask us to do it in the first place. And so most of us simply don't show up...for our own lives. 

These 22,000 men...showed up. They came, bearing their swords, even though they were afraid. They believed that they were part of what God was doing in His people, and they showed up. Shaking in their boots, hands unable to even hold onto their hilts, they showed up. They stood among the ranks and declared, We will go, even when there was something in them screaming not to, a voice they couldn't wholly ignore. 

What would happen if we showed up? I'm not talking 22,000 of us; I'm talking just one. Just you. Just me. What if one of us showed up for what God was doing, even though we were scared? What if we came clad in our armor, sword on our hips, hands shaking on our hilts? What if we came to the place where God called us and stood, trembling, but stood nonetheless? 

What if just one of us did something that scared us?

Imagine the glory of God.... 

Friday, April 12, 2019

By All Outward Appearances

After Israel fights her way through the Promised Land, taking control of all that God has given her and fighting together, brother by brother, the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and half of the tribe of Manasseh return home to the land that they've chosen for themselves on the other side of the Jordan. They are now cut off from their brothers by a river that sometimes rages, the very same river that the anointed and blessed armies of Israel not so long ago wondered how they would ever cross. 

And with everyone settled and settling into their own places, it suddenly occurs to them that this may be a bit of a problem later. When their children don't remember fighting together. The day may be coming and indeed, may be not so far off, when the peoples on either side of the Jordan see each other not as brothers and not even, perhaps, as neighbors, but as simply nations...who may become rivals. 

So the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and half of Manasseh decide that they will build an altar to the Lord on their side of the Jordan, one that mirrors the altar on the other side. In this way, they will have a permanent marker that signifies the relationship between the peoples on either side of the river. 

Except...the people on the other side of the river doesn't "get it." 

Israel doesn't understand what their brothers are doing, and it seems to them that they are quickly turning away from the Lord to worship their own gods. After all, just look at this altar they have built! You can see it all the way from this side of the river! And Israel is disheartened at losing her brothers, so much so that she's ready to go to battle to keep them. 

So the majority of the tribes on one side of the river send brothers to the handful on the other side as an attempt to draw them back into the fold, only to find out that they never actually left. What they were trying to do was to cement themselves in the fold for future generations, to remind everyone - themselves and their brothers - who they were, that they were part of Israel and always had been. 

What we have had here is a terrible misunderstanding, one that almost resulted in bloodshed. 

And so it goes. It's so easy for us to judge others based on what we think we see of them. We come up with all of these stories in our own heads about what they must be doing over there in their own land. After all, we see the signs of it from this far away, don't we? We see the altars they have built. Just look at that monstrosity. How could they even do such a thing?

I'm not talking just about the unchurched or the non-Christian here; we do this with our Christian brothers and sisters, too - especially of different denominations. We look at the ways that they are choosing to worship and we think, oh, how dramatically they have turned from the Lord. We're ready to go to battle with anyone and everyone based on what we think we understand, and unlike Israel, we don't often take the time to send brothers to talk. We just go in guns blazing.

But outward appearances can be deceiving. We cannot know truly what is in someone else's heart unless we ask him. We can't know what they're up to unless we get close enough to truly see, and we can't get close enough until we come in peace. How many of the battles that we're fighting could be stopped if we would understand first and fight later? 

What if we just started with a simple question? Hey, I noticed your big, giant altar over here, and I was wondering - what are you thinking

The answer may surprise you. And you may just find that we're not so far away from one another after all, raging river between or not. 

Thursday, April 11, 2019

This Land is My Land

Israel has just barely begun pushing into the Promised Land, with a couple of major victories under her belt, when she stops and camps and settles into the small bit that she's already taken. And it is here, so close she can almost still hear the rushing of the Jordan nearby, that she begins to divide the land among the tribes.

This portion will be for Dan, this one for Judah, this one for Isaachar, this one for Asher. Among them all will be this land for Levi, who gets not his own land but a portion among the portions of the others. And here will be the cities of refuge, six in total - and the cities of refuge in themselves are interesting to look at, but that's another story for another day. 

What's interesting at this point is that Israel is not dividing the land she's already taken; there's very little of that and not nearly enough for all twelve of the tribes. Israel is dividing the land that she's promised. All of it. 

Even the vast majority of it that still has other nations living in it.

This is not particularly comforting news if you happen to be one of these peoples who have yet to be conquered. This encroaching people is already staking a claim to your land, and they haven't even fought you for it yet! And it seems a bit presumptuous if you're Israel. Especially given that she literally just came upon the territory of a people with whom she made an ill-advised treaty, against the wishes of the Lord. She already has land in which she did not push out the people who live there, and she is now dividing the land of peoples she has yet to encounter.

But what a powerful reminder this is for those of us who live by faith. 

Most of us, if we're honest, want the land cleared out before us. We don't count our chickens before they hatch, so to speak - promise from the Lord or no promise from the Lord. Even when God tells us exactly what's going to happen or what we're supposed to do or where we're supposed to, most of us won't move until the path before us is clear. Most of us won't take the next step until we know there's ample space to put our foot down. 

We can't fathom a faith that divides the land before it's fought for it. We can't imagine claiming possession of something that currently belongs to someone else. And it doesn't matter what it is - if it's money or a new house or a new job or a new family or whatever. It's beyond our realm of believing. The door isn't open yet. The house isn't empty. The space is currently occupied. 

It's not ours, even if God has said in no uncertain terms that it is. 

But Israel sits down together and draws a map of a land she hasn't even seen. She takes it to the edge of her vision, just to the border of her divine imagination, and starts planning and plotting what goes where, who gets what, how this whole thing is about to go down. And in the matter of a very short period of time, everyone among her knows what is theirs, even though none of it actually belongs to any of them yet. 

Imagine what it would do to your life to have this kind of vision of faith. Imagine what you could do if you could see the way that Israel sees. If you took ownership of what is only right now promised, but you believed so wholly in that promise that you started picking out decorations for your new digs. 

That's essentially what Israel is doing. "Here are your borders. Start dreaming about what you're doing to do in them." And the tribes are picking out curtains and buying houseplants and painting signs. They're finding doo-dads to hang on their fences and organizing their lives around wells they didn't dig and harvests they didn't plant, and it's not wishful thinking. It's not a pipe dream. It's not just for fun, like maybe it will all just happen for them some day. 

It's faith. In a promise. Made to them by God. For things they cannot see yet, that push on the edges of their own imaginations, but they believe it.

What do you believe? 

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

A Faithful Word

It's not long after Israel makes their treaty with the foreign, deceitful people that they realize their mistake. It becomes apparent that these men have lied to them, have tricked them into believing something that isn't true, and the people immediately regret not asking the Lord for His guidance. 

And it's not long after that that the people of Israel encounter this deceitful people in their march into the Promised Land. It's time to take on their city, to wage battle for their towns. What should the people of God do?

It's tempting to say that it doesn't matter what they promised this people. Any promises, any deals, were made under false pretenses. This people lied to them, and God had given them very clear orders about the peoples they would encounter in this particular area. So it makes sense to say that the people themselves knew this was going to happen and even their best efforts were not enough. Maybe if they hadn't lied...but there's no reason at all to keep your word to a liar. 

Unless, of course, you are by nature a covenant people. 

And this is Israel's problem. She is a covenant people. Her entire existence, her very blessing, her everything rests on her ability to keep up her end of a deal. Sure, it's true that her primary covenant is with God, but if you're a covenant people, can you really start picking and choosing when and where you live by your word and when and where you don't? 

Once you start that, then it's far too easy to say that maybe you don't have to keep your full word to God. Maybe there are some areas that your covenant with Him doesn't cover. Maybe there are some times that it's okay to not be entirely faithful. 

Maybe other peoples hear about this and start to think they can figure out how to play you. You're a covenant people, sure, but now, it's known you are not always faithful. And if you're not always faithful, then maybe here's another case where you don't have to be. If you're a people trying to save your lives, the hypocrisy of a covenant nation seems like an open door for negotiation. 

It just raises a lot of trouble when you start to redefine what it means to be, at heart, a people of your word. 

So when the advancing Israelite armies encounter this people who lied to them and tricked them into a treaty, what do they do? They live by their word. They take this people as slaves, make them servants...but let them live. They do what they've promised to do, even though it wasn't what God originally wanted them to do. 

He would rather they had asked Him for His wisdom. He would rather they had inquired about His plan. He would rather they had brought their impressions to Him and let Him shed light on their dark places. But since they didn't and they went ahead with their own way, what God desires most from them now is that they be a people according to His heart - and that means being a people of their word.

Sometimes, the best thing you can do is make a decision to be faithful to God now, no matter what unfaithful decisions brought you here. You've made mistakes. You've foolishly rushed in and done things based on what you know, without thinking about what you don't know. But there's one thing you can know for certain that never changes: you are a covenant people, because you have a covenant God. 

And if you are a covenant people, the most faithful thing you can do now is keep your word. No matter what someone else did. Even if they're liars. Even if they're fakes. Even if they're frauds. Even if they talked you into doing something God didn't approve of, you can do something now that He does. You can be His people. 

Keep your word. 

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

A Little White Lie

Yesterday, we looked at how dangerous it is to make decisions without asking God, for we can only ever act on what we know and never on what we don't know. And the truth is that with our limited understanding, we can convince ourselves of a lot of things - justify a lot of things - that maybe we couldn't justify if we truly knew what God knows. 

It's why we have to ask Him.

Take the example we often used in one of my philosophy courses. Students were asked whether lying is wrong. Of course, lying is wrong; I've written on this before. It is wrong because it is based on the characteristic of God that is Truth. If God is truth, then un-truth is wrong. Plain and simple. But ask students if it is ever okay to lie, and they can come up with all kinds of justifications and circumstances where it would probably be okay.

The most famous one of these is Nazi Germany. If you were a sympathizer in Nazi Germany and had a Jew hiding under your floor boards, is it okay to lie to the Nazis when they come knocking on the door? Is it okay to deny the presence of the Jew in your house in order to save his life from the evil regime that seeks to take it? 

Unhesitatingly, overwhelmingly, we'd say "yes" to this. Yes, it is absolutely okay to lie in this situation. But here is another one of those situations where we only know what we know and we cannot fathom what we don't know. What we don't know may change the entire situation. 

What if, for example, this one Jew that you were hiding was an ingenious Jew, a mastermind at concocting schemes and playing them out? What if this Jew is the one that would be able to dig a tunnel or build a contraption or devise a plan to get thousands of other Jews safely out of the concentration camps...and all he has to do is get there himself to do it? What if he's the one who will save others, but you were limited by your own knowledge of knowing what you thought you knew about him, so you lied to save him? 

Now, all of a sudden...is it okay to lie to protect a Jew in Nazi Germany? Is it okay to lie if, in saving that one, you condemned thousands of others, for no other reason than that you did not know what you did not know? 

It's getting sticky, isn't it? This is exactly why we always have to pray, even when it seems so obvious, and ask God what He sees that we don't see. We have to ask God for eyes to see what we don't yet see or, at the very least, for the wisdom to remember that there is more than our human minds have so far comprehended. 

Israel made a treaty with a neighboring nation that God had told them not to make a treaty with, all because it seemed obvious in their eyes who these people must be. But God knew who these people were...and Israel never asked Him. 

At some point, all of us will stand before God, and we will see all the things that we never saw, learn all the things that we never knew, and we will repent for some of the decisions we made. We will cry out and say, Lord, how did You let me make such a decision? It was disastrous! I can see that now. 

And the Lord will simply look at us and respond, "You never asked Me." 

Let us, then, be a people who ask Him. Even, perhaps especially, when it seems so simple. 

Monday, April 8, 2019

What You Don't Know

At any given time, you only know what you know; what you often forget is what you don't know, what you can't possibly know. And that means that every decision you make, no matter how good it seems at the time, is based only on a partial understanding...unless you ask God to show you what you can't see. 

A good reminder of this happens in Israel as they press toward the Promised Land in the early chapters of Joshua. A few early victories have only intensified the fear of the peoples who live in the land, and one of those peoples concocts a devious plan - they dress themselves in dirty, torn clothes, pack up some stale food, and walk a few miles to meet the advancing Israelite armies. Their plan is that they will convince Israel that they are a people from far, far away - a people that Israel won't encounter in battle for a long, long time - and sign a peace deal, essentially surrendering themselves as servants in order to save their lives. 

So their long-bearded men show up in tattered rags, covered in dirt, breaking bits off of stale bread, and they present themselves to Joshua and the people, begging for mercy and for a deal. And Israel seems to know there's a possibility that something sly could be afoot; they even call it out. "How do we know this isn't just a scam? That you aren't just a people from right around here trying to fool us?" And the visiting people point out their beards, their clothes, and their bread as evidence.

Good enough. Israel makes a treaty with them, ensuring this people to be their servants in exchange for their very lives, without asking God whether or not that's a good idea. Without asking this God who has been telling them all along to march forward and destroy everyone. Without asking this God who sees more of the land than they do, who knows more of the plan than they do. 

And then, of course, they find out that this people is not from far, far away but rather, from very, very close. Though God would have had them destroy this people, now, they can't. They've made a deal without knowing what they were getting into, and now, they're bound by it.

They are, after all, a covenant people. They live by their deals.

It's the same story we live out all the time - we only know what we know. We never know what we don't know. Sometimes, we may have an inkling of what we don't know, but we don't know enough about what we don't know to really understand that we don't know it. And what we see before our eyes seems simple enough to us. After all, do beards, rags, and bread lie? Do dust and dirt and weariness lie? 

We move forward based on what we know, without stopping to ask God whether or not what we know is enough. Whether or not our eyes might be lying to us. We don't ask this God who has been guiding us all along the way. We don't ask this God who sees more than we do. We get ourselves into some great, big, giant messes because we're sure of what we know...without ever asking God, who knows more than we ever could, about what we don't know. 

The question, then, to ask ourselves when making any decision is not, "What do I know?" What we know is quite plain. It's right there before our eyes. But we have to remember that our eyes are deceiving, and they may be lying to us. The question we have to ask ourselves before we make any decision is, "What do I not know?" We know what we're thinking about; what are we not thinking about? We know what we see; what do we not see? We know what we know; what do we not know?

And if there are things that we aren't thinking about, things that we're not seeing, things that we don't know, then we have to be willing to stop and ask Someone who is thinking, seeing, and knowing. We have to ask God, even when it seems plain and simple to us. Even when it seems obvious.

Lest we get ourselves into a deal we were never intended to make, but now, we have to keep. We are, after all, a covenant people. We live by our deals. 

Friday, April 5, 2019

Tucked Away

Israel stormed into the Promised Land with great victory, confirming the worst fears of the inhabitants of the land - that the Lord was really with them and there was nothing for the people to do to defend themselves. But it doesn't take long before things start to look a little different.

Before Israel gets soundly defeated in battle.

The people are stunned, on both sides. Israel doesn't know how they lost so badly after winning so big, when she knew that the Lord had given her that city, too, and the people of the city couldn't believe they had pushed back and defeated Israel - the Israel. And in fact, you kind of wonder if this early defeat changed Israel's entire trajectory, if it emboldened the other nations and put more fight in them. If other peoples took this defeat as a sign that maybe Israel wasn't all she was rumored to be. She could be defeated, and well, gosh, maybe other peoples started to think they were just the people to defeat her.

But Israel's defeat had nothing to do with the strength of other nations; it had everything to do with the sin of a single Israelite. (Remember when we recently looked at how one man's sin affects the entire tribe? Here's another example of that.) Achan had taken plunder from the battle that he wasn't supposed to have. He had used it to increase his own wealth. And he had buried it in his own house. As long as he was holding onto his sin, Israel didn't stand a chance against her enemies.

An assembly of the nation was called and the people were divided by tribe, then by clan, then by family, then by man until it was narrowed down and revealed that Achan was the source of their great defeat. Achan had come to the assembly, as any dutiful man would, knowing what the assembly was about, knowing that he was the guilty one (perhaps hoping he was not the only guilty one), knowing it was likely that he was about to be singled out in front of the entire community. 

And when he was, he confessed. He plainly admitted what he had done. He even told them where they could find the contraband in his tent, where exactly he'd tucked it away under the dirt. But it's worth noting here that he didn't bring it with him. He didn't offer it up willingly. If the people - if God - wanted it, they'd have to go get it. 

He was going to confess, but he wasn't going to surrender.

Isn't that the way we do it? Isn't that the truth about all of us? Pushed to it, we'll confess what we've done. We'll tell you exactly what our sin is. We'll hang our heads in shame and talk about how sorry we are for the damage we've done, for the hurt we've caused, for the pain and trouble that's come out of our wrongdoing. We'll speak until we're blue in the face, even get some tears rolling down our cheeks for good effect.

But we won't surrender. We won't bring our sin with us and lay it down. We won't give up what we've got. We won't really change how we act or what we're doing with our lives. If the people - or God - want that, well, they'll have to go get it. 

They'll have to invest the energies to dig through our lives, to turn over our floors, to push through our doors and pull it all up by the roots. They'll have to pursue us to the place where we live, where we can't get away from them any more. We make it so hard to actually elicit any real change in our lives, even though we're so good at being confessional with our language.

What if it wasn't that way? What if we were better at surrender? What if we let our words drive our hearts into change? What if we let our confession spur our true repentance? What if we were more than sorry?

What if we brought our contraband with us to our confession and laid it down before God and before the community? What if we showed, rather than just said, how sorry we are? 

We might just restore more than ourselves. 

(Note: after Achan and his contraband were destroyed, Israel went on to conquer the people who had just driven them back, securing their places once more as victors.) 

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Part the Waters

As Israel makes entry into the Promised Land, taking on first the city of Jericho, they find themselves with another body of water to cross. 

Now, you would think that if you were the men of Jericho, you would see this water as a bit of a blessing, and as an opportunity to confront your enemies while they are in a weak spot. Crossing water wasn't easy, and all the warriors of Israel are going to have to find a way to break through before they can even think about waging war against Jericho. It seems to me that if Jericho wanted to get the upper hand, and get it early, they would go out and set up their armies near the edge of the water...and wait. Then pick off Israel one by one as they drag their weary, wet bodies back onto land. 

Except, of course, that this isn't the first time that Israel has encountered seemingly-prohibitive waters. Challenging waters. She remembers well that when she came out of Egypt, her first barrier was the Red Sea. And it's likely that Jericho remembers this, too - and what happened to the enemy soldiers who pursued Israel at the water. 

Yeah, they all drowned. 

And it turns out that God's history with Israel at the water will repeat itself here on the outskirts of Jericho. As the armies of Israel prepare to cross the river, the tribe of priests takes hold of the Ark of the Covenant and carries it forward. As soon as they step into the waters, the waters pull back and pile up somewhere way up river, just as the Red Sea had. As long as the Ark stands in the middle of the riverbed, Israel's whole army passes through on dry ground. 

So much for wet, weary soldiers. Israel's coming for Jericho strong, courageous, and confident. And all of the rumors that Jericho had heard about the favor of God for His people were just confirmed while they looked out over their walls and saw the waters part once more. 

It's a great story. Absolutely, no doubt, hands-down a great story. We love to read about the power and provision of a God who parts the waters. 

But that's really only half of the story.

Yes, we have a God who parts the waters, but we have to remember, too, how the people move. We have to pay attention because this is crucial for our own lives, for what we're praying to God for, for what we long for from Him. It's crucial for us to be able to recognize what God is doing for us. 

Because, you see, in the first case, God parted the waters for the people on their way out of Egypt. But in the second, He parted the waters for their people on their way into the Promised Land. 

It's not, then, just that God parts waters, as cool and wonderful as that is. It's also why God parts the waters for you. It's not just what He's leading you through; it's what He's leading you to. It's about whether you're on your way out...or on your way in. And we shouldn't confuse the two, lest we find ourselves mired in places God has made a way out or running from those where He's made our path in. 

So where is God leading you? Through what? ...and why?

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

A Cave Outside Jericho

As Deuteronomy closes and Joshua opens, Israel goes from the edge of the Promised Land right into the heart of it. And it all starts at a little place called Jericho, where Joshua sent a handful of Israelite spies to encourage the people. 

The entire town of Jericho knew what was up. They had seen Israel camping on the edge of their city for quite some time, waiting on the day when they would move in. They knew that the Lord was with these people; they'd heard rumor of His strength and provision. After all, word had had forty years to reach their ears. And the arrival of a band of Israelite spies did not escape the men of the city.

They knew what was going on, and they armed themselves and came to the house of Rahab, the prostitute. The spies had found shelter here, and favor with Rahab (who was wagering for a little favor of her own with them), but the men of Jericho were not wrong - if they could soundly defeat the small band of spies, they might just send terror through the whole camp of Israel and spare their lives and their livelihoods from sure destruction. 

But Rahab was onto them and tucked the spies away before lowering them out a window in the wall and sending them on their way. When she did, she told them - go and hide out in the caves out in the far-away region until the men of Jericho give up on finding you and come back here. That way, you'll be safe.

So that's what they did. The spies of Israel ran to the cave outside of Jericho and hid themselves. 

For three days.

You may or may not be aware at this point that we are firmly in the church's "three day" season. We're coming up on Easter, where we find ourselves for three days in another cave outside of another town. This time, Jerusalem. This time, Jesus. 

And that's why I bring this story up. Because it's easy for us to read about the Israelite spies going into the Promised Land, being lowered out a window, and tucking themselves away in a cave until the enemy stopped pursuing them and think what a nice story that is and how it shows good insight on the spies' part, knowing where and how to hide themselves before going back to Israel. And we might even think about what the rest of Israel might have been thinking when their spies did not return for three additional days. Were they dead? Had they been captured? What did the men of Jericho do to them? 

But when we put this in the context of another three days in another cave outside of another city, it takes on an entirely new meaning, and we start to see the pattern that God is developing. Because Jesus, too, was sort of like a spy; He was sent to give the people a glimpse of another way to live, just as the spies in Israel were supposed to paint a picture of life in the Promised Land. He was the Promise, overflowing with abundant life the way the land flowed with milk and honey. He was put into a tomb in a cave outside of Jerusalem for three days while the enemy, death, pursued Him. 

And we might even think about what the rest of the faithful might have been thinking when Jesus died on that cross. Was He dead? Had He been defeated? What did the men of Jerusalem do to Him? Where is our Savior now? 

Interesting, isn't it?

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Thunder

If we want to understand more about the lightning of God, which is His love, then we need to know a little bit about the thunder, too. For never in the world as we know it is there lightning without thunder. 

Yesterday, we saw Moses reminding Israel that God brought lightning out of His right hand because of His great love for them, and we know that it must be true. For only love cuts light through darkness, makes a way in the storm, ignites a fire - all things that we know that lightning does. Even when it seems like a power play, we know that God does what God does out of the depths of His love. 

We know it even better when, after the lightning, the Lord speaks. Hence, the thunder.

When you look at thunder in the Bible, you see quickly a pattern developing: thunder is the noise that the people hear when God is speaking directly to someone in their presence. Someone within earshot hears the voice of the Lord speaking, but the rest of the camp just hears thunder. 

This was the case when Moses was on the mountain, and it's actually why the people so quickly deferred to his leadership. They heard the thunder and knew that the Lord was speaking to him, and it was such a powerful noise that they trembled before it and decided they did not want the Lord speaking directly to them. It happened when Saul/Paul was blinded on the road to Damascus; he heard the voice of the Lord, but those traveling with him just heard thunder. 

What if it's still happening today?

I know, I know. We've taken all the fun out of thunder by "explaining" it with our scientific notions. Thunder follows lightning because light moves faster than sound, so the force of the light pushing through the dense air creates a sort of sonic boom that is then heard as thunder. And if you listen closely, you can determine how far away the storm is by calculating the amount of time between the flash of lightning and its subsequent thunder. 

Yawn.

What if thunder is still the sound of God speaking to His people? What if every time you heard thunder, someone, somewhere within range, was hearing the voice of God Himself? What if what they were hearing was an answer to their prayer? What if it was a word for the community? What if it was an affirmation of all that God is, of the greatness of His love?

It's not too far of a stretch to say that in the same breath that God cuts through the darkness with light, He speaks a new word to someone listening. We know that He does. It is the pattern of our faith, not just in the stories that we have in the Scriptures, but in our own stories. Every time our darkness is lifted, it's replaced with a new word from God for living redeemed. Every time the power of God shows up, so does His love. Every time His right hand moves, His heart speaks. 

It's love. 

Moses was right. It's absolutely love. 

In lightning and thunder, of all things. 

Monday, April 1, 2019

Lightning

As spring settles in, I am struck by the image of lightning in the Bible. We're nearing the end of Deuteronomy, as Moses is giving his final words to Israel before his death, and he says something quite interesting about who God is. He says, 

The Lord came from Sinai and appeared to them...and came with ten thousand holy ones, with lightning from his right hand for them. (Deut. 33:2)

A footnote in the CSB indicates that the word here translated lightning is meant to indicate the "fiery law," and we know well the imagery of God's right hand, where his power and glory sit. And it would be easy for us perhaps to think that this is yet another show of God's strength, that it was meant to invoke fear in the Israelites - fear leading to obedience. Here's God, showing off again, reminding His people of His power and authority over their lives with the lightning cracking through the clouds, shaking the earth with its thunder. 

But look at what Moses says directly next: 

Indeed he loves the people.

Uhm...love? Two seconds ago, we were terrified. Scared. Startled by the sheer power of a God who throws lightning through the dark skies. Meekly submissive to His "fiery law," a law so heavy a burden that no one could properly bear it. A law with so many rules, so many things we have to do to obtain righteousness - obtain, not achieve, for who could ever achieve such a thing? We simply earn it through our obedience and by God's great mercy. 

And now, love? This lightning is love? 

It's so hard for us to understand, to comprehend, to wrap our minds around the idea that God's power is love. We're so used to power being used for so much less, being wielded as a weapon in our world. We're used to leaders and those in authority who misuse their power for their own gain, who flaunt it just because they can, who take every opportunity to remind us that they are over us, that they are the ones with authority, that they make the rules and heaven help them, they enforce them. We're so used to power being used to keep us down. 

Yet here we are with a God whose power is love, who uses His power for our gain, who never flaunts it but always offers it with a reminder of who He is - not the God that we fear, but the God that we love because He first loved us. He doesn't use His power to keep us down; He uses His power to light us up, even in the darkest places. It's a storm of grace, of mercy, and of tender care, meant to remind us who God really is. 

He is our Lord, our Lover, our Light and our Redeemer. Our Lightning.