Tuesday, February 28, 2023

God's Standards

It's hard to understand what is happening in the Old Testament when God starts to favor Israel and cast out the other nations before them. For the longest time, one of the complaints has been that God seems to like one peoples more than another, so He moves heaven and earth for them. And if that's the case, then is it true that you can be a good person and still experience the curse simply because God loves someone else more than He loves you? 

It's scary to think about. It's not the kind of God we would want to worship. How could we ever know where we really stand? How could we know whether we are loved or really loved? Whether we are one of the peoples He would move heaven and earth for...or one of the peoples He would just...move? 

Thankfully, God leaves no doubt about why He's casting out the peoples He's casting out: they're sinners. 

They are a people who live contrary to the way that God desires for humans to live. They are a people who worship in perverse and profane ways, who worship gods other than Him, who do despicable things - the very kinds of things God tells His people not to do. And when He tells His people not to do them? He says plainly that these are the very same things He's casting these other peoples out of the Promised Land for. 

Even when God casts His own people out of His own community, He's clear about why. He says plainly what it is that makes them unclean and why being unclean isn't compatible with being in His community. 

Never is it because He "loves this person more." Never is it because "so-and-so is just a better human being." No, it always goes back to God's standard for living and the ways that persons are not holding their end of that covenant. 

So we don't have to worry about whether we're loved or really loved: we are truly loved, and God is - and always has been - very clear about His love for His people and His standard for the way we ought to live. 

Monday, February 27, 2023

God of the Poor

Do you ever feel like you don't have anything to offer God? Like there's nothing valuable enough in your life to bring to give Him? 

There is a sad truth in many of our churches where persons believe that the church is for the "haves," but not for the "have nots." Where persons believe that what they have to offer is less-than, is small, is too little to be meaningful. Sadly, we have too often fed into this by making the poor among us our projects, reinforcing the belief that you are not a member of this church; you are an outreach of this church. 

But God isn't like that. Never has been, never will be. 

From the very beginning, God made certain that there was something for everyone to bring to His presence, whether they were wealthy landowners or indentured servants or homeless persons living on the streets. 

When God gives His commands for what kind of offerings His people are supposed to bring, look at the way that He structures it. He says, "This is the offering that you are supposed to bring. If you can't afford this offering, then bring this one instead, and it will be received just the same. If you can't afford that offering, then bring this one instead, and it, too, will be received just the same." 

In my last reading, I counted in some places three economic levels of offering that were all equally acceptable to God for fulfilling the requirement of the sacrifice, depending upon what your station in life was. Now, remember, all of these persons were entering the same Promised Land. All of them were traveling toward the same Canaan. Even so, God is still mindful of the fact that living in the same land doesn't mean everyone will have the same resources or the same successes or the same provisions. The nature of human society is simply that they won't. 

So God makes a way for everyone to, at the very least, have the same standing before Him. 

Do you ever feel like you don't have anything to offer God? Well, my friend, that's just not true. Whether you have very much or have very little, God has already made it clear that what you have to bring is just as lovely, just as pleasing, just as perfect as what anyone else has. 


Friday, February 24, 2023

God of the Evening

And there was evening...and there was morning. Today. 

There were a lot of ways to become unclean in the Old Testament, including many things that are impossible to avoid as a human being. And it was not just humans who became unclean - everyday things could also become unclean, just by touching the wrong things or being touched by the wrong persons. Israel spent a lot of their time trying to become clean again. 

And how exactly did that happen? 

It happened when they did exactly what God told them to do - go and wash, perform this ritual, sprinkle this blood, etc. But it didn't happen exactly then. See, you had to wash, or wash the item, or perform the ritual or whatever, but you would only be made clean again at evening, when God made you clean again. 

Evening was the time that everything in Israelite society was reset. It was the beginning of the day, not the end of it like we know it to be. It was the time when all things were restored, right at the moment when it looked like everything was shutting down.

But that's precisely the point - at the time when everyone and everything was returning to the home for the night, God would cleanse His people and send them home. It's the same idea as not keeping your neighbor's coat overnight; he might need it. God did everything He could to make His people clean by evening, so long as they followed His commands, so that they could be inside, warm, and with loved ones when darkness fell. 

Oh, how this wraps around my heart. Oh, how it gets me. Because I know the darkness, and I know the shame, and I know what it feels like to feel unclean and to desperately long for nothing more than to just. go. home. And by God's great mercy, we can. 

They say His mercies are new every morning, and that's great. And in our world, it seems true. But the Old Testament reminds us that His mercies are actually new every evening, before the darkness falls. 

Thursday, February 23, 2023

God of the Unclean

One of the most common misconceptions about God is that He only wants us when we're clean. He only wants us when we're pure. He only wants us when we're praying three times a day, reading our Bible, going to church. Too many have said that they can't possibly come to God because they aren't "good enough" to do it yet. 

Too many spend their entire life on the sidelines, thinking they are just a couple of good decisions - a couple of hard-fought victories - away from "deserving" God. 

Which is why the ceremonial anointing of the priests, all the way back to Aaron himself, is such an encouragement. 

God gives us this elaborate ritual that is meant to anoint the priests into His service. It starts by putting the holy clothes on them and bringing them into a holy place. Then, they are to offer sacrifices for their sins and purify themselves before Him so that they can be inducted into His service. 

Read that again - it starts with coming into His holy place and then purifying themselves. 

That means that at the moment that these men stand before God to offer themselves into His service, at the moment that they come into the holy place, at the moment that they put on the holy clothes...they are not clean

They are not atoned for. They are not forgiven. The errors of their ways have not been sacrificed for. They have not been washed clean. At the moment that the priests come before God to be anointed, there is nothing holy about them except for the place in which they are standing. (Well, yes, and the inherent dignity that comes with being a being created in the image of God, of course.) 

Nowhere in the Bible does God ever say, "Go out into the people and find me the best, most righteous, most prepared individual that you can. Find Me someone who doesn't need My forgiveness so that I may have someone to work with." That's not how God works. 

He works with the unclean, then cleans them up. He works with the called, then anoints them. He works with the unrighteous and turns their hearts. 

If you think you're not "good enough" to come to God, remember: Aaron (yes, that Aaron - after the show in Egypt, after the blossoming staff, after the golden calf, after all of it) came to God dirty and stood in the holy place and became the first in a long line of priests. 

And that's exactly the kind of thing God is still doing. 

So just come. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

God of Accidents

God is more gracious with us than we are with ourselves. Or with each other.

One of the things that I love about God's law is how it makes space for the humanity in all of us. It does what we often can't (or won't) do in that it makes provision for the times when we're going to mess up without meaning to. God knows there is such a thing as an accident. 

Throughout His law, He keeps reminding us of this. There are offerings you bring when you've done something wrong, then there are offerings you bring when you have done something you didn't even mean to do that is wrong. There are offerings you bring because you know you've made a mistake somewhere, even if you haven't identified it yet, and there are offerings you bring when you become aware of the sin you've committed without even knowing it. There are cities that you can run to if an accident results in someone's death, so that you cannot be killed in revenge for something that you didn't intend to happen - the Scriptures say, for example, if you're chopping wood and the ax head flies off the handle and kills your friend. That's an accident, and God has made provision for that. 

It's not something we're very familiar with any more in our world: accidents. We believe that everyone is in control of their actions at every point in time, and any time anything at all happens, we immediately start looking for someone to blame. We look for someone to hold accountable. The ax head flies off its handle and kills your friend? It might not be your fault, but many in our world would be quick to say it's time to sue the ax manufacturer. Their product was clearly defective, and if they'd just done their job better, this wouldn't have happened. 

On one hand, maybe that's true. Maybe the ax was poorly made. In a disposable world that doesn't seem to take as much pride in the quality of its products, and with a workforce who has dubbed phrases like "quiet quitting" and "bare minimum Monday," it's easy to think that someone, somewhere, was negligent, and this is their fault. 

On the other hand, accidents do happen. Just by nature of our being human. We know this because we cause accidents in our own lives all the time. And sure, sometimes, we beat ourselves up over them. We think about the tiniest little things that we could have or should have done better, what we should have been paying more attention to, that might have prevented it, but deep down in our core, we know that we can't stop everything from happening. Sometimes, things. just. happen. Even with the utmost of diligence over our own lives, things still just happen. Accidents are real. 

God's Word reminds us of this. And not only that, but it reminds us of grace. God already knows that accidents happen, and He's already made a way for us through them. 

And if God has done this for us, don't you think it's time we do it for ourselves? And for others?  

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

God Welcomes

We live in a world of distinct opposites: black/white, hot/cold, new/old, inside/outside. When we think about outside, we think about the other side of the door, the place where nature is, a place that is largely unbounded - a free-for-all. Inside, on the other hand, is secure. It is a place with walls and doors and this thing we call "welcome." 

Because when you're inside, you've usually been invited there. 

(Fun story: I was sitting in my living room one day many years ago when a woman walked in my front door with a hearty, "Hey!" and then looked around about 2/3 of the way through my living room and realized she had walked into the wrong house.) 

But this is exactly what makes the design of God's Tabernacle so stunning. 

The Tabernacle, and later, the Temple, of God has always been starkly divided. There was the "holy place," where the priest would make his sacrifices on behalf of the people and burn the incense and lay the bread on the table. There was the "most holy place," where the Ark of the Covenant was kept, the Mercy Seat sat, and the presence of God filled the place in smoke and fire. Then, there was the courtyard, where all of the non-priest persons of the people of God gathered for worship. 

There was the inside, the really inside, and the outside. And to the casual observer, it can look like God certainly built His house to live in and then kept His people in the yard - outside. 

Look again. 

When God gives Moses the design for the Tabernacle, and when the whole thing is finally set up, there are curtains surrounding even the courtyard. There are curtains dividing God's yard from the open field around it. There is a barrier that is part of the very design...that makes even the outside, inside. 

Because when you come to God, there's no such thing as outside. 

God has always been a God who welcomes us into His space and who comes to share ours with us. God is a God who has always been near to us, who has wanted to live and breathe and walk with us as much as He possibly can. God is a God who crossed the heavens to come to earth and who spent His ministry in living rooms (among other places) and going to the outside to welcome others in. 

It's too easy for us to think that we are stuck in the yard. That we're stuck outside, just waiting on an invitation to come closer. That God burns with His holiness in the Most Holy Place and we are destined to forever be two steps removed from there, too far away to really understand what that smoke and fire really is. But...we're not. We're right there in the thick of it; we always have been. 

With God, there is no outside. He wove a bunch of heavy curtains to make sure we understood this very thing. Even what looks like the outside is inside.  

Monday, February 20, 2023

God Draws Near

For the first time in Israel's history, while they are wandering in the wilderness, God takes a census. He wants a count of who is among His people, how many they are, how old they are. Of course, God knows all of this already, but it's part of the bigger story He's telling in this scene. 

And whenever Israel takes a census, starting with this one, it costs the people something. Every person who is counted is required to bring a monetary offering to the Lord - it's counted among the buyback cost. 

To some, this doesn't seem fair. God wants His people counted, then He "punishes" them monetarily for existing? He charges them a fee just because they are part of His people? For those who have doubts about God, this is exactly the kind of evidence they are looking for that God doesn't really care about His people as much as He pretends to; He's just like everyone else - out for His own gain. He wants to see what He can get from His people. He's...duplicitous, at best. 

But look at what God does with the money that is collected from this census, from this first census in the middle of nowhere: He uses it to build His Tabernacle. 

God takes the money that is collected from the Israelites who are counted and are "just existing," who are "charged just for being alive," and He uses that money to fund the building of the tent where He will dwell among them. He uses it to build His own house in the very place where they are already living.

That's what's so cool about God. He takes our offering and uses it to draw near to us. He uses what we bring to come closer to where we are. When He calls upon us to give to Him, to offer something of ourselves, that is the very thing that makes it possible for Him to dwell among us.

And dwell among us, He does.  

Friday, February 17, 2023

God Protects

Israel came up against some pretty big enemies on their way into the Promised Land. God said He would drive out their enemies in front of them, a little bit at a time so that they could take the land and fill it without having to clear it all over again from overgrowth and wildlife. Still, the people knew that the armies in front of them were formidable. 

And, let's just be honest - they didn't do a fantastic job of completely ridding the land of these peoples anyway. Plenty of remnants remained. 

Then, God gave them a command: three times per year, you will all come and assemble at My meeting place for worship. Three times a year, you will leave your homes and your fields and your livestock and your cities and you will come together in one spot to worship. 

It doesn't sound like a great plan. A people who have had to fight their way into the promise in the first place are probably not inclined to leave their captured land vulnerable, with all their best stuff in it, to go worship somewhere else. What's to keep their enemies from retaking their cities when they leave? What's to keep the remnant peoples from coming back and burning everything to the ground? What is the guarantee that if they all come together to worship, they will even have homes to go back to? 

God is. 

Because in the same breath that God tells them they must gather three times per year to worship, He also says this: and when you do, no one will try to take your land from you

No one will even try. No enemy will come against you while you humble yourselves in worship. While you're vulnerable, you won't really be because God Himself will be protecting you. 

Sometimes, the security we think we have in our land can keep us from coming wholly and humbly to God. We like our stuff. We like our homes and our fields and our livestock and our vineyards and our stuff. We don't want to put all of that on the line to come to God. 

The good news is that God says we don't have to. God says that when we come, when we obediently come in worship, we don't have to worry about what happens to our home. We will have a place, even when we leave it, because God says that no one will come to take it from us while we're out doing the next faithful thing. 

Do you believe that?  

Thursday, February 16, 2023

God of the Worker

There's a too-sad standard of service in today's Christian life, and it's this: "whoever is willing." 

Churches post notices all the time - whoever is willing to help _____, it really needs to be done. Or we need volunteers to _______.

It's not very often that we stop to ask whether the willing are the most able or whether they are the most gifted or whether they were even called to do that sort of work. In our packed-busy, no-second-to-spare, self-oriented society, it's hard enough to find the willing; we can't trouble ourselves with any of these other questions. If we did, we're certain nothing would ever get done. 

So the "willing" keep showing up and keep doing and keep giving, and then, we've got two problems: we've got a lot of stuff that's being done by persons who aren't being blessed by doing it, so they're burning out quickly, and we've got a lot of persons who don't know what earthly good their heavenly hearts are. 

I know what you're thinking: Aidan, the light bulb in the sanctuary just needs changed. God doesn't have to call someone to do that. 

Doesn't He? 

There are persons among us who get tremendous value out of working with their hands. There are persons among us who are good at tasks exactly like this. There are persons in your congregation right now who noticed that burned-out light bulb three weeks ago and it's literally been on their heart ever since that they should step up and change it, but they aren't sure who to ask for permission or how to go about it. And then, you send out a message that says, "Hey, if anybody has a few minutes, this light bulb really needs changed," and now, you've got seven persons stepping up who have changed light bulbs at their own house for years and think it probably can't be that hard, so they do it because it needs done, but meanwhile, Joe over here has had it in his heart for weeks. The light bulb gets changed, someone starts grumbling in their heart because they're five minutes late to Wendy's and the line is ridiculous now, and Joe is discouraged because he thought he finally had something he could do for the Kingdom of God, but he missed out on this one, too. 

When God gave Moses the design for the Tabernacle, He also told Moses exactly who in the camp He was gifting to do the work. Now, there were plenty of Israelites who knew how to weave, plenty who knew how to work with metals, plenty who could follow a blueprint. They had all been slaves in Egypt; they had certain skills. But there was no call out for "whoever is willing." 

No, God had a specific person in mind. 

He still does. 

Yes, even to change a light bulb.

So the message of today is two-fold: first, we ought to be looking around us for the person God has called to the work that needs done. And second, we ought to be looking inside us for the work God has called us to do. 

Because when God has a work to do, He equips, blesses, and calls the worker to do it.

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

God's Presence

Offerings were prominent in Old Testament worship. (And lest you think they are completely obsolete now, remember that the only way we can understand what Jesus did on the Cross is through our understanding of the sacrifice and what it means.) 

In the culture in which we live, it's hard to understand what's happening here. We have lost sight of worship as an exchange between the people and God. We have lost sight of the fact that when we worship, God is truly with us. Sure, we say things like that, but in practical terms, most of us have never experienced it. Or...we think we haven't. We feel a lot of times like we're just throwing our worship into the air and hoping something sticks somewhere in the heavens and maybe one day, God will tell us if it did. And if not, well, at least we were there. 

So that's the impression that we push upon these Old Testament passages when we read them. We get this idea that Israel just kept bringing all of these sacrifices, all of these offerings, and burning them on the altar and if they were lucky, some of the smoke - the aroma pleasing to the Lord - would waft its way up into the heavens and satisfy God for the time being. We get this idea that Israel would come, slaughter an animal, burn it, maybe eat part of it, and then go home without ever knowing if God was really there or not. 

But look at what God tells His people. In Exodus, just after He's finished explaining all of the sacrifices an what they mean and how they must be brought and offered, He makes a promise to Israel: whenever you bring an offering, I will meet you there. 

Whenever. Every time. No matter what you bring. No matter if it's a sin offering, a burnt offering, a fellowship offering, a bread offering, whatever it is - when you bring it to the Lord, He promises to meet you there. 

The same is true even today. Whatever offering we bring, whenever we bring it, God meets us at the altar. Every time. 

This ought to change the way that we worship. It ought to change the way that we live. It ought to change the way we that we think about how we're offering our lives to Him. Because every single time that we do, every single breath that we give back to Him, He meets us there. 

What would it mean to you to know that?  

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

God Prepares

Too often, when we read about the Exodus, we think that Israel just walked out of Egypt en masse, with the blessing of the Egyptian people (who were tired of the plagues), and that this giant blob of holy-ish people just poured into the space between captivity and Promise and spilled out into Sinai. They were all, we figure, just sort of following Moses, not sure exactly of where they were supposed to go except to know that they were heading Jordan-ish, starting with a impasse at the Red Sea. 

And then, we figure that by the time they are about to actually cross that Jordan, they have figured it all out, assembled themselves into military units, and they just sort of storm toward Jericho, pots blazing. (Joke...kind of.) 

But there's one little sentence in Exodus that ought to stop us in our mental images, in all the ideas we have about how Israel must have pulled this off. Because Israel didn't just pull this off; they had help. 

God says plainly, "I am sending an angel ahead of you to prepare the way." 

Such a small sentence. So easy to read right past. So easy, in a day in which we don't really "believe" much in angels and in which we have some really warped ideas about what angels might mean if they do exist, to just ignore this. To read it like a nice sentiment on a Hallmark card, the kind of sappy thing that religious persons say when they don't really know what they're saying or ought to say or whatever. An angel. Yeah, sure. That sounds like God. 

But it does sound like God. 

Sometimes, I think we don't give God enough credit for all of the preparation that He does in our lives. We think that He calls us and then, we're supposed to just go storming in. We're supposed to just move and blaze the trail as we get there. We believe that maybe He opens doors, but we're supposed to go busting through them like they're still in the way. 

That's not God. That's not what He does. More often than not, what God is doing for us is exactly what He was doing for Israel: He's preparing the way. He's sending an angel ahead of us to make ready our path. To open those doors. To weaken those walls. To instill in those people that something holy is upon them. 

How would it change your life - your faith, your courage - if you believed that God was still doing this? Not just for His people, but for His person - for you? How would it change the next step you take if you knew that God had already sent an angel to prepare the way?  

Monday, February 13, 2023

God's Law

As Israel stands on the edge of the wilderness, torn between the Promised Land and Egypt, God calls Moses up onto Mount Sinai and gives him the law that Israel is to follow. It starts with the Ten Commandments, yes, but He also provides law for how to bring sacrifices, how to live with one another, how to handle property and belongings disputes. There are even rules for sexual relations, ceremonial cleanliness, skin diseases, and mildew. 

Since that time, men have been trying to figure out what all of these laws mean and how we're supposed to apply them to this or that situation. In fact, that's the big beef with the Pharisees - they had "codified" all this law into hundreds upon hundreds of tiny little commands to "clarify" what God meant when He gave the law in the first place. 

But none of that is necessary. 

Notice what God doesn't say in His law. God doesn't say that He's given us the foundation and that it's up to us to figure out how to apply it. God doesn't say that this is just the starter law and that the rest of His instructions will come later. God doesn't say that we should invest our time in decoding and re-coding what He's said so that we can make sense of it and know what He really meant when He spoke on that mountain. 

No, what God says is, "Here is what you must do. This." 

Simply this. The law is complete as it was given to us. The law is whole as God spoke it. The law specifies all of the things that God cares about in the way that we live and move and have our being. If it's not in the law that God actually spoke, it's not in the law. Period.

And this is what I love about God. No matter how much we have convinced ourselves otherwise, there is no mystery in what God desires of us. There's no guessing, no figuring it out, no having to decipher or decode or anything. God spoke, and He meant what He said, and this is what He desires of us. Plain and simple. This is how we are supposed to live. 

Honestly, when we read a law that includes what to do if there's a spot of mildew on a single brick in your home, how could we ever think that God left something out?  

Friday, February 10, 2023

God of the Covenant

Fairly early on in the story of Israel, something remarkable happens: God instructs Moses to write things down for the people. 

In an age of widespread literacy like ours, especially at a time when almost all of our communication is written down in some form (many of us text instead of talking face-to-face, even), this doesn't seem all that remarkable. But when we think about the entirety of human history, we know that there were many eras when the written word was only for the learned. It was only for the elite. It was only for those who held positions of power in society and thus had been required to know how to read and write. 

Almost everyone else depended upon the learned to tell them what the written word not only said, but meant. 

Yet, here was God, giving His people a written word, and not just for them. This written word, He said, was to stay with them forever, being protected in the Ark of the Covenant for all generations of Hebrews to draw upon its wisdom.

But also, Israel was never to touch the Ark of the Covenant, so this written-down thing was to remain hidden in plain sight forever. 

It's not unlike a contract that we may sign today. We enter into a contract, and we file it away. We put it somewhere safe because we know it binds us to the persons and the situations with which we signed it, but it doesn't govern our day-to-day. We do what we're supposed to do; we trust the other person to do what they're supposed to do. We only pull that contract out when we believe the other party has broken it. 

Israel has never had a need to pull that covenant out of that box. Never. 

That's what I think is so cool about the whole thing. God writes down this covenant for a people who might not ever be able even to read it, who would have to rely on someone else to even tell them what it says, let alone what it means, and then He goes on to be so good of a God that they don't need to read it anyway. They don't need to look at it. They can keep it tucked safely away in a box covered with mercy because there's just not ever a real concern that God is breaking it. 

He is as good as He said He'll be. All the time. 

Thursday, February 9, 2023

God of Rest

Israel grumbled in the wilderness. A lot. One of the things that they grumbled about was not having anything to eat. So God sent them this heavenly food called manna, which appeared on the ground every morning and gave them just enough for the day. 

If you want to know what manna was, well...you're not alone. Even the Israelites didn't know. In fact, the word "manna" is Hebrew for, "What is it?" 

Nevertheless, it showed up every morning as faithfully as the dew, and Israel was given the instruction to go out and gather as much of it as they needed for the day. They could not keep any for the next day or it would be covered in maggots and worms by morning and they'd have to throw it out anyway. 

Except for the sixth day. 

On the sixth day, Israel was to gather enough manna for that day and the next, the Sabbath - the day of rest. On the seventh day, they would wake up with manna in their jars and no maggots, no worms. Just that good heavenly deliciousness. Early on, a few tried to wander out to find manna on the open ground on the seventh day, but there was nothing there; if it wasn't in their jar already, it didn't exist. 

This was important in the wilderness days, but it's also important now, as we live our lives in this world of constant busyness, afraid to slow down or to stop lest we miss out on something or the world passes us by or we find ourselves in some kind of want. 

See, the lesson of the seventh day manna, both then and now, is that God provides for our rest. He does. God prepares our lives to embrace the rest that He has not only prescribed for us, but commanded us. 

Just as the world didn't stop on the seventh day just because God rested, so the manna doesn't run out on the seventh day just because it doesn't appear with the dew. 

This is good news for our weary souls. This is good news for those of us afraid to stop. This is good news for those of us desperate to stop, but unsure of how we could ever actually do it. We can do it because God has already provided for our rest. God has already given enough to make sure that we can stop for a time and breathe...and still eat. God has given us manna for the seventh day. 

All we have to do is look in our jar.  

Wednesday, February 8, 2023

God of the Long Way Round

When we remember that Israel wandered in the desert on their way out of Egypt, we remember, too, that it was because of their sin and disobedience. It was because they kept grumbling and turning their hearts away from God, so He waited to give them the Promised Land until their hearts were ready for it. 

That is true. 

But it isn't the whole truth. 

If we read the story again, we see that God never intended to take Israel straight from Egypt to Canaan, at least not by the shortest, most-direct route. He always planned to take them the long way around. 

Because, He said, He knew that when they came to certain places, they were going to face certain enemies. He knew what those enemies would bring against His people, and He knew how captive His people's hearts still were. They simply didn't have a lot of fight in them, and His Word plainly says that He knew that if He took them by the shortest, most-direct route, they would lose heart the first time they had to fight, and they would give up on themselves, give up on Him, and turn back to Egypt (even more quickly than they actually did). There was no way He was going to lead His people into a fight He knew they weren't ready for. 

The same is true for you and me. 

We want our lives to go in a straight line. We want to take the shortest distance between here and there. When we hear God speak a promise over our lives, we want to get there as quickly as possible. 

But God often knows more than we do - about the journey and about our own hearts. He knows sometimes that if He takes us the shortest, most-direct way to the promise, we're going to encounter enemies we aren't ready for. We're going to run into things we're not prepared to deal with. We might get discouraged and decide that the promise isn't really for us...or maybe it's really not so good after all. We might turn back. 

God knows how much fight you have in you, and He's not willing to put you up against something you're not ready for. Not even on the way to His promise. 

So if you're taking the long way around right now, I know it's frustrating. But what if God is doing that on purpose...and for your good? What if He's taking you to the promise while keeping you from a fight?  

Tuesday, February 7, 2023

God of Far Places

Sometimes, we're tempted to think that God doesn't speak to us when we're not where we're supposed to be. If we know that God has called us somewhere, or that God has made a promise in our lives, then we sometimes think that God is done talking to us until we get there, until we make it to the place to which He has called us. 

If you're Israel, then, and you're stuck in Egypt, it's easy to think that there's a massive distance between you and God, too. That God lives somewhere in Canaan and until and unless you can get back there somehow, you'll never hear from Him again. 

Now, imagine that you're Moses, and you aren't even in Egypt. Remember, Moses grew up in the palace of the Egyptian leader, but when he became a man, he ran into some trouble with both Egyptians and Israelites after he thought he did the right thing, and he found himself exiled even from exile! He was out in the fields of a close-but-far-away place with his father-in-law, tending flocks and herds. And he must have been thinking that he, for sure, would never hear from God again. He must have been feeling the tremendous distance between himself and the Lord who is now two places removed from him. 

Enter the burning bush.

This is precisely what I love about God. It doesn't matter how far from home we are, how far away from the promise, how lost in the wilderness, how enslaved in a foreign land...God still comes to us. God comes to talk with us wherever we are, and when He does, He doesn't chastise us for not being in the promise yet; He reminds us of the promise He has for us. He tells us this isn't it. And He shows us that He's making a way to get us there. 

When I'm far from home, far from where God wants me to be, when I can't figure out what's going on or how my life got here, I need this scene from Exodus. I need to know that God is like this. I need to see Him traveling not just to Egypt, but to the place that's even outside of Egypt, to talk to a guy like Moses. 

Because maybe, just maybe, it means that He'll travel to a place like this to talk to a girl like me. 

Monday, February 6, 2023

God of the Ordinary

If we pay attention when plagues start breaking out across Egypt, it doesn't look like God is doing much of anything at all. Sure, it sounds weird, in some cases. It sounds horrible. It's not something that we would want to live through. But when we look at the first several plagues that God brought upon the land, and even Egypt's reaction to them, they're pretty ho-hum. 

They're ho-hum because the magicians of Egypt are able to do the exact same things. 

Blood for water? We can do that. Frogs everywhere? We can do that, too. Every time Moses raises his walking stick and acts in the name of the Lord, the leading magic men of Egypt wave their wand and do the same thing. (It has always been interesting to me that more frogs in a land already covered with them is considered a victory, but I wasn't there, so okay.) 

At every turn, Moses calls on the name of his God, and Egypt responds by saying, "So? Your God isn't doing anything all that impressive." 

But He will. 

This is an important reminder for us as we seek to journey our way through this world. Most of us want God to do the incredible. We want Him to do the miraculous. We want Him to show His power unmistakably, and for good reason - He is, after all, God; we want Him to act like it. 

The reality, though, is that most of what God does in our lives is actually pretty ordinary. Most of what God does doesn't look all that special. In the eyes of the world, it's pretty ho-hum, even when we can recognize it as a definitive act of God. 

We get a promotion, but so do thousands of other persons. We have a baby, but so do thousands of other couples. We make ends meet this month, but so do thousands of other couples. The world looks at the things that we give God credit for in our lives, and they don't get it. The world is doing just as much for its people; culture, community, life as we know it is just as capable of those things. This world just looks at us like those Egyptian magicians and shrugs its shoulders. "So? Your God isn't doing anything all that impressive."

And a lot of the time, we can agree with that. We'd have to agree with that. From the outside looking in, it doesn't look like God is doing anything all that impressive. 


He will.

Friday, February 3, 2023

God's Promise

Moses is frustrated. He's fed up with life in Egypt, with the way that the Egyptians are treating his people - even though he grew up in an Egyptian palace. He knows the innerworkings of the so-called kingdom, and he's just not impressed. He knows the deliverance God keeps talking about, but nothing is happening. He doesn't know what to believe in any more, what to trust. He wants to believe that God is good, but there's just so much that he doesn't understand. 

And he says so. 


Moses just calls out God, right there. He stands there and says, "God, what are You doing?" 

Many of us are afraid to do this. We think it means that we don't have any faith. We think it means there's something fundamentally wrong with us. Most crippling to us, we think that if we ever dare ask God what He is doing, He's going to go off on us. He's going to yell and scream and smite and put us in our place. We're afraid that God is going to be angry with us and condemn us. Or, at the very least, be disappointed in us and turn away from us. 

But that's not the response God has to Moses. God does not condemn him, nor does He turn away. 

Rather, God answers just as plainly as Moses has asked: I'm keeping a promise. 

I'm keeping a promise that I made long ago, one that I'm certain you have heard of. When I made that promise to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, I meant it, and this is how that promise looks right now, right here. You are the next step in My keeping that promise to these people; you are the next person I am working through. And this...is going to be great. Trust me. 

And how can you not trust Him when He reminds you in a single breath not only of His past faithfulness, but His present presence? 

When we don't know what's going on, we can still trust that it is something good. Something that will be good because God is working it. And we can trust that He's working on His promise, the promise He's made from the very beginning of all things - that we will be His children and He will be our God. 

And, well, that's enough for me.  

Thursday, February 2, 2023

God of Big Spaces

If we're guilty of anything, it is of living lives that are too small for God. 

When I say something like this, there's an immediate nervousness that trickles through our bones. Oh, no, we think. This isn't gonna be one of those things where we talk about God calling us to remote village in Tonga and our having to uproot our entire lives and do something really extreme, is it? 

No. It's not. 

I just mean that sometimes, we dream too small. We get this idea in our heads that God has one thing for us in our lives, and we spend our entire lives looking for that one thing, and we try to wrap our entire lives around that one thing so that there is this massive hedge of protection around one very small space that we are willing to call "holy," and then we spend our entire lives trying to live in that box...all the while claiming that God has put us there. 

This is only enhanced if we ever do any geographical study of the history of God. If you've done any looking into geography, you know that in the grand scheme of things, Israel is a pretty small place. This land of Canaan that God promised to give to His people is not a massive stretch of land. It can seem like God is maybe trying to just nestle His people into somewhere beautiful and safe, somewhere small enough to have a strong hedge of protection around it.

But that's not what the Scriptures say about Canaan, no matter how we interpret the map. The Bible says that the Promised Land was a land "with a lot of room." A lot of space. Space to grow, to expand. It even tells us in another place that God told His people He would drive out the other nations slowly, only as quickly as His people could actually move into the land, so that it wouldn't become overgrown with vegetation and wild animals and have to be re-cultivated. 

It looks small on the map, but Canaan was no small place. It was big and spacious with lots of room. 

So if you find yourself in a life right now that's so small that you can't spread your wings and grow, I'm telling you - your life is too small. God never made your box that little. 

And if that's where you are, it's time to step out into the bigger promise, into that place that God is calling you. A place where there is "a lot of room." 

Because that's what God really has for you.  

Wednesday, February 1, 2023

God, Our Faithful Shepherd

As Jacob lay dying in Egypt, he started thinking back over the course of his life. And what a life it was. He was born into strife with his brother, favored by his mother, not-favored by his father, promised the rights of the firstborn, sent away into exile for his own safety, duped in a foreign land for twenty years, had to wrestle with God at the river, finally came home to see his father (Isaac) before he died, settled into a land a prospered, lost his most beloved son, gained a new beloved son, and was finally uprooted again to go to Egypt, of all places, where he was a foreigner, but he was also reunited with a son he thought was dead. 

What a life. It's exhausting just writing it, and those are only the highlights. (Or lowlights. Or whatever.) 

Then, on his deathbed, Jacob says something interesting. He acknowledges with thankfulness that the Lord, like a good shepherd, has led him all the days of his life. 

All of them. 

The day when he stole his brother's birthright and had to flee home. 

The day when his long-lost relative lied to him the first time. 

The day when his long-lost relative lied to him the second time. 

The day when his long-lost relative lied to him...you get the point. 

The day when he feared for his life while traveling, knowing he was going to see his brother for the first time in twenty years. 

The day when his son was thrown into a cistern, then sold into slavery, and his coat was brought back covered in blood. 

The day when his family ran out of food and he wasn't sure whether they could even survive. 

The day when one of his sons didn't come back from Egypt. 

The day when his sons told him the Egyptian leader was asking for him. 

Every single day, Jacob said, You, O Lord, led me like a good shepherd. Every single one of them. 

Even the bad ones. 

And when I read that, I am struck by the faith. I am struck by what it says. Because I think what it says, among other things, is this: 

God doesn't take a day off. Ever. 

Like a shepherd, He lives with us. He moves with us. He guides us. He drinks with us. He eats with us. He sleeps with us. He doesn't lock us into a hedge of protection overnight and go home; He leads us every day, every moment. His life is so intertwined with ours that it simply is. He doesn't take a day off. He can't. 

After all, most of us are far more like sheep - far dumber - than we'd freely admit. 

We need Him.