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Posts Tagged ‘Israelites’

lead by exampleIs this cultural or simply part of human DNA? We seem to continually repeat our mistakes over and over again. And unfortunately, I see this both on a national and international level as well as in my own micro-world.

When that whole generation had passed away, another generation came after them who didn’t know the Lord or the things that he had done for Israel. . . . [And] then when the leader died, they would once again act in ways that weren’t as good as their ancestors’, going after other gods, to serve them and to worship them. They wouldn’t drop their bad practices or hardheaded ways. [Judges 2:10, 19, CEB]

The learnings from one generation to another are not happening. Parents are not telling or did not tell their children about the work of God in their lives in an authentic way; instead, they pass this job to Sunday Schools and Vacation Bible Weeks. In my mind, not only do we fail to tell the Bible stories, we a) water them down to make them PG and b) we don’t personalize them. Every story has a message for humanity. Every story has a message for me and my family. The Bible is not Disney World.

Miracles require effort and devotion, faith and trust. They require accessibility and openness.

I know some people have disagreed with me about telling our children about my past, particularly the darker side, but I have always felt  it was important for them to know that I am a different person today because of my faith, and that essentially, my lifestyle before Christ would have led very quickly to illness and death.

But I also think about our church and how we depend so heavily on our charismatic pastor and we are not raising up leaders to serve with him so that we don’t follow the footsteps of the Israelites who only succeeded while a particular leader was in place. It is everyone’s responsibility to tell the story, to walk the walk, to lead and train and grow. As the pastor tells his story, we must also tell our own.

authenticityOne of the ways to do this is mentoring (or discipleship). I have generally avoided this practice because it sounds so daunting, to take on a tenderfoot on the journey, to help someone else grow, to embrace him/her as family. I’m already struggling with my own adult children after all, how can I take on another, and what if I fail? But here’s the truth: all I have to do is “bring them along” when I go and do. I can’t pretend to be more than I am (nor should I assume I am less). New believers learn by being around old believers. New leaders step up when they watch old leaders in every day life, every day challenges, every day decisions, every day blunders.

Jesus didn’t turn on the leadership persona or the faith role just when the disciples were around. He lived and breathed what he knew. He healed because he could. He told stories because they meant something to him. He expressed mercy and grace because that was part of his genetic code.

We do not have to be infallible to demonstrate love and grace. In fact, authenticity goes farther. Mistakes confessed give hope to those who believe they are not worthy or that they are “too late” to change or that they can’t change. Our frailty revealed is courage demonstrated.

Generations ahead are depending on us now.

 

 

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promiseWhich is it? When we say we will do something, when we agree, when we say yes, is there power in it? Three months after their exodus from Egypt, they arrived at Mt. Sinai and before any commandments were given, before any rules were laid down, God said this:

Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation”. . . . [and they answered] “We will do everything the Lord has said.” [Exodus 19:5-6a, 8b, NIV]

It’s a similar response that a bride and groom make to one another. Sometimes the answer is “I do” and sometimes the answer is “I will,” but in both cases, they are responses to a question that might be something like this, “will you have ‘so and so’ to be your wedded husband/wife, to live together after God’s ordinance in the holy estate of matrimony; will you love him/her, comfort him/her, honor and keep him/her, in sickness and in health, and forsaking all others, keep yourself only for him/her so long as you both shall live?”

And God  basically asked the same of the Israelites. Will you obey me fully and they said we will.

But they did not. They thought they could. They thought they would. But they did not. And for this reason, for this “fail,” the history of these people was changed forever, yet again. And Jesus asked for no less, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” [Matthew 22:37-40, NIV]

And did we? We did not. We do not.

It’s not rocket science, this living within the parameters of God’s plan: love, obey, trust, believe. And why don’t we? I can say we are still like Eve and Adam. We want more than what God offers. We believe we know better. We believe we might miss something if we agree to this small world. I see myself kicking against the limitations I perceive God has made against me, not seeing that following with abandon, in trust, opens the world to me. I must let go to have. I must give to receive. The paradox continues.

Today, God is still asking me, will trust God to be God in my life?

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poor with usSo the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great terror and with signs and wonders.He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey;and now I bring the first fruits of the soil that you, Lord, have given me.” [Deuteronomy 26:8-10a]

I am no different from my kids when it comes to appreciating what God has done for me.

It makes me so furious when I feel I have given and given and given so much to my children and they barely seem to appreciate it. Instead, they seem to have developed an attitude of expectation as though they deserve more and more. I’ve created a monster that rears its ugly head almost daily asking, “What have you done for me lately?” (like in the last hour).

But am I any different? Just like the Israelites really, who were miraculously whooshed out of Egypt after a series of plagues and deaths that bypassed them and only affected the Egyptians; after escaping through the parting waters of the Red Sea; after manna from heaven and water from a dead rock . . . still it was not enough to sustain their belief. They could not even wait for Moses to come down from the mountain before they created their own golden God who would give them license to do whatever they wanted to do.

When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. [Deuteronomy 8:10-14]

I have become equally complacent with the blessings of God. I have lost sight that I live in a land where anything is possible, where water comes out of faucets (both hot and cold), where food is purchased with the swipe of a plastic card, where heat comes out of slats in the floor, where travel is in a car, where clothing is bought and given away in the same year, where illness is an inconvenience and going to work every day is often tedious and renders a justified “mental health day.”

Spoiled believer. I am. Spoiled by the blessings. Giving thanks at a meal is a ritual with little authentic appreciation of the cost to others.

Forgive me Father for my callous and blind day to day living without earnest thanksgiving. All you ask is that I give back some of it for the sake of others, an offering of “first fruits” from the harvest, a tithe from my income, an acknowledgment of your provision. I give but I am cavalier. I donate but not the best part.

Forgive me Father. Keep me mindful this day. And the next day. And the next. Order my day, show me the way.

 

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After 70 years, when Jewish exiles returned to Jerusalem and the Second Temple reconstruction was completed and dedicated by the shedding of much animal blood, they celebrated the Passover, eager to seek God through their age-old rituals and traditions. They were home.

Ezra 6:21
So the Israelites who had returned from the exile ate it [Passover lamb], together with all who had separated themselves from the unclean practices of their Gentile neighbors in order to seek the LORD, the God of Israel.

What is my first order of business upon returning home from a long absence? Although I have no hard and fast religious practices to resume, I am anxious to get back into my routine. There is comfort in the familiar. I am happy to greet my dogs and take them outside. I peruse the mail, I make a cup of tea.

There are very few things that I can only do at home and yet, when I do, I am more contented. I can pray anywhere, but when I sit in my favorite chair, I fall into a quick communion with Christ. I can read scripture when I am away, any access will get me there, but my well-worn black leather Bible still comforts me by feel and sound, as the thin pages crackle.

Returning to church after a time away is also consoling with the familiar music and warm engagement with friends. For me, even my work, which can feel redundant and tedious sometimes, breathes into me when I walk through the door, breathes welcome.

There are amazing stories of families who have been separated by years and years through political insanity, such as the Berlin wall that divided East and West Germany or the Iron Curtain or the North Korean Demilitarized Zone, still active today. But when those barriers came down, families found one another again and fell upon each other joy and weeping. The touch of a beloved one.

Even I, when I met my half sister (who lives in Estonia) for the first time in 1996, we embraced fiercely, for we were bound by blood, the same father, and it sustained us. On the same trip, I met my aunt, my mother’s sister for the first time, and her heart exploded when we clung to each other. I was in foreign lands where I did not speak the language well, where homes were completely different from my own, where the culture had suffered from the cruel and powerful through communism, and yet, I was also home.

In May of this year, I will be retracing my steps and re-uniting again my half-sister and aunt. And my heart craves for that time together.

This is a type of longing that God wants me to have for the Holy Spirit every day.

“Come away, my beloved . . . ” [Song of Solomon 8:14a]; come home.

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Kingdom Within by Raymond Andrews

Jesus speaks innumerable times about the kingdom of God, what it’s like, where it is, and what it means to His followers. But it is in Hebrews where we are reminded that this is an unshakeable (indestructible) kingdom: eternal and purified by fire (and blood).

Hebrews 12:28-29
Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.”

Over the past few years, as I have methodically read through the New Testament and looked for personal applications, I have become more and more secure in my belief that this kingdom of God is not of the 3-D world we can see and touch but it is in that “other” reality – that place within, that place outside our senses, that place of Holy Spirit, that place that defies logic and that place which was opened to humankind through the mediation of the Christ/Messiah whose act of sacrifice tore the veil asunder [Matthew 27:51].

I try to imagine the power and glory that was on Mount Sinai, where the Israelites fled from Egypt and stood to hear from their God, what they should do next. And from there, they wandered the desert, carrying the “glory of God” with them in the Ark of the Covenant. And finally, with King David and his son, Solomon, the great temple was built in Jerusalem and the ark was given a final resting place in the Holy of Holies [II Chronicles 7:1], where only the high priest could enter once a year. This is all symbolic and intentional.

Now, the Messiah comes, the veil is torn, the ark is opened and all of this glory is placed within the kingdom and we are invited to participate in it through the Christ.

Is this not worthy of awe and reverence?

Despite all the horrendous things the Church may have done throughout the centuries, the cathedrals they built to immortalize our King make sense. I know they were not built in a righteous way, the poor were taxed and unholy deals were made with the rich, but there is a breath of God that remains in these places even today.

Whenever I visit a city that has a cathedral, I want to go. I want to walk through and sit and be silent there. I am awed in these places.

Of course, there are nature locations that give the same feeling: water falls, canyons, hot springs, lakes, oceans, forests, mountains… just to name a few.

As much as I enjoy contemporary Christian worship, there is a part of me that misses the wonder, the intense quiet, and the Holy Presence that permeates high church worship.

If I could describe that kingdom within me (which is impossible) but perhaps, just a color, a shape, a smell, a sound: what would it be? I don’t know. I just don’t really know.

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I do it all the time. I start a diet, lose weight, and then go back to my old eating habits. I order my space and vow to keep it that way, and before I know it, it’s trashed. I judge someone, ask for forgiveness, and judge again. Am I so weak? I am.

Galatians 4:9
But now that you know God—or rather are known by God—how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again?

What is the draw of the old way? I guess if I were an alcoholic or drug addict, I would be drinking and shooting up again. It’s destructive behavior and yet it’s familiar. It’s crazy-making [Albert Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.] It’s the path of least resistance.

I am the Israelites in the desert who complained about the new way and wanted to go back to Egypt and slavery: they thought that would be better than their current struggle in the present time [Exodus 16:1-3].

Is it forgetfulness or is it mindlessness? Or both? When God brings change into my life, I am so happy and full of energy. I am clear headed and I see the big picture. I am focused. I am motivated. But once I reach a certain plateau in the process, it’s like hitting a wall. There is no movement forward. I lose track of those initial feelings and strength. Oh, I might try to climb the wall for a bit, I might even try to walk around it. But my drive to persevere is sucked away and I am left with my old self for company.

I say mindlessness because it feels like the opposite of mindfulness. It takes mindfulness to stay aware of the Christ Spirit within and without. It takes effort. It is a special type of wakefulness.

When I was in acting school I learned how to walk a tightrope in our circus class. The clue to tightrope walking is maintaining a focus on the end of the rope, the junction point. As soon as I would take my eyes off that point, I would lose my balance. As I tried to do more complicated maneuvers, it became harder and harder to maintain that focus. My little life is not much different.

Put me back on the tightrope today, with Christ ahead, my focal point.

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me,
Christ in the eye that sees me,
Christ in the ear that hears me. (St. Patrick)

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Back in the day, particularly for the Israelites, the Law was everything. The law was their standard, their crutch, their security, their hope. Why a curse? Because no one could follow every jot & tittle of the law, and for this reason, they participated in the rituals of sacrifice and atonement. That was the point. The Messiah was promised to be the ultimate reconciliation.

Galatians 3:10
And all who depend on the Law [who are seeking to be justified by obedience to the Law of rituals] are under a curse and doomed to disappointment and destruction, for it is written in the Scriptures, Cursed (accursed, devoted to destruction, doomed to eternal punishment) be everyone who does not continue to abide (live and remain) by all the precepts and commands written in the Book of the Law and to practice them.
[Amplified]

This was the proposed road for the Israelites. For them to accept Jesus as the Messiah, they had to accept one final sacrifice as efficacious and complete. To accept the Messiah and then go back to the old way, was restoring the power of the curse.

The second leap for the Jews who accepted Jesus as the Messiah was to accredit the blessings of Abraham (once relegated to their people alone) to the Gentile believers. The exclusive club was no longer a matter of birthright, history, or ancestry.

A single act reboot the system.

As a believer, I am confessing that the work of Christ is the restoration act between me and God. Where the door was closed, it is now open. I may enter the realm of God, the divine. I may participate in holiness. I am permitted to be in relationship . . . not because of what I have done (or not done) but because of who “He” is, that is, the Christ/Messiah for the world.

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