Monday, August 26, 2013

Everyone Loves a Story Part 4 - Welcome Home!

“Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Then he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God. (Genesis 3:5-6)

To continue in our story from last week of Moses and the burning bush—as we look at verse 5 we hear God saying to Moses, "Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” I never stopped to think about this verse before. After all, it's not a complex statement—stop right there and take off your shoes because this is holy ground. What more could we really learn from that?!

As the group looked at this part of the story, our storyteller asked us why would God say "Stop right there. Don't come any closer." One person suggested that God was protecting Moses from the heat of the fire which tells us that God is a protective God. Another person said that God is a holy God and Moses was a sinner and therefore couldn't come into the presence of a holy God since Jesus hadn't yet come to bridge the gap by his sacrifice. Yet another thought was that when God calls us, we don't have to come to him, because he comes to meet us where we are. He was telling Moses, "wait there, I am coming to you" so to speak. Someone said that taking off your sandals on holy ground in Moses' culture was a sign of respect the way we in the U.S. might dress up in our Sunday best to go to church.

The most awesome revelation came when it was noted that in the Middle Eastern culture it is normal for people to take off their shoes before entering a person's house. We were told that is done for reasons of hygiene and out of respect for the host. When we followed that line of thinking through, we wondered if perhaps God was, in a way, inviting Moses into his home.

What an incredible thought! God inviting us into his home! Now you might say that the path we took to get there is kind of a stretch. But wasn’t God, in a way, inviting everyone into his kingdom, his home, when Jesus instructed us to go make disciples of all nations and baptize them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? Wasn't Jesus' sacrifice and resurrection the act of God throwing open the door of his home to all of us, beckoning us to come in and greeting us with an embrace of grace and welcome.

Think about this with me for a moment—God has invited each and every one of us into his home but here is the even more unbelievable part—he invites us not as guests, but as children. We need not hid our face in fear. Yes he is the God of the Universe. He is all powerful, eternal and holy, and he has invited us into his Presence. He invites us into his home, not just to visit, but to stay for all eternity. He engrafts us into his family and we are his beloved children. This is the realization I want to hold onto always—that God invites me, just as I am, into his home and his life as his own precious child. I don't know about you, but I can't know this and not be overwhelmed by tremendous joy and gratitude!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Everyone Loves a Story Part 3 - Don't Put Out the Burning Bush!

Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.” When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!” And Moses said, “Here I am.” (Genesis 3:1-4)

In Genesis 3, we see the story of God calling out to Moses from the burning bush. There were so many wonderful insights of who God is and how he wants to relate to us from this story that I had to split it over the three weeks. We will look at verses 1-4 today, verses 5-6 next week and verses 7-12 the following week.

The first insight I want to share is Moses' response to seeing the burning bush. As our group put ourselves in the story, we talked about how courageous and curious Moses was. Here he was leading his flock presumably to better grazing land when he sees a most unusual sight—a bush on fire that isn't burning up. When asked to consider all the options Moses had to choose from in reacting to this sight, the group began listing things like running away and taking the flock in the other direction, assume it was just a normal dried up bush that would burn out and go about his business, and even beating out the fire with his clock or throwing sand on it to put the fire out. But Moses doesn't do any of these things. He goes over to see what this strange sight is and finds God waiting there for him.
As I considered this, I realized how, too often, I have approached God's calling on my life with those other options first—I run away in fear of the unknown. I forget that God's plan for me is not to harm me but to prosper me with hope for a future. No matter what that unknown future is, my God will bring me into it by his hand and power and I will rejoice at his glory with awe and amazement. Yet I let my insecurities and doubt lead me in fear the other way.

Sometimes, I'm so involved in my plan, my agenda, my responsibilities, that I don't see or hear God calling me—I ignore him. I miss the opportunity to be immersed in his Holy Presence. Too often, especially when I "know" what I'm doing, or when I am attending to business as usual, I'm not looking for those divine appointments with God and so I miss out on them. From now on, I want to do a better job of watching for where God is pulling me aside out of the ordinary to meet with him, maybe even to be taken from my daily routine and placed into a whole new reliance on God—a whole new expression of obedience and love.

The option that made me laugh was that Moses could have chosen to try to put the fire out. How often do we beat out the fire of faith by failing to pray, to be in God's Word and worship God on a regular daily basis? How often do we think we know better and pour sand on the flame of God's desire and leading in our personal lives and in our faith communities? And yet, God will not hold that against us. He waits for us to reply, "Here I am."

Oh God, let me not be so engrossed in my daily routine that I miss your calling. Let me not run away in fear but come into your Presence with courage and eager anticipation. Let me not put out the fire of my faith, but Lord, fan the flames of my spirit to seek you and your will always. Amen.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Everyone Loves a Story Part 2 - Sinners One and All

I heard a wonderful story: At dawn Jesus went to the temple again where a crowd of people gathered around him so he sat down and began to teach them. The teachers of the law and Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery in and stood her before everyone gathered there. They said to Jesus, "Teacher, we have caught this woman in the very act of adultery. In the law, Moses commands us to stone such a woman. What do you say?" (They were using this as a trap in order to have a basis of accusing him) Jesus bent down and began writing on the ground. When they asked him again, he straighten up and said, "Let he who is without sin throw the first stone." Then he bent down and began writing on the ground again. At this, they began to leave one by one, the elders first until only Jesus was left alone with the woman. Jesus straightened up and said to her, "Woman, where have they all gone. Has no one condemned you?" "No one, sir" she replied. "Then neither do I condemn you. Go and leave your life of sin." (John 8:1-11)

The one thing that struck me about this story that has never occurred to me before happened as I placed myself in the woman's sandals as she watched each person drop their stone and walk away. I pictured the scattered mob milling around the temple quietly in the shame of conviction brought to light in their hearts by the Holy Spirit as they eagerly watched out of the corner of their eye to see what Jesus would do. Knowing that he should, by all rights, pick up a stone and throw it at her, they were secretly wondering if there was grace to be found for her...and them.

As I watched this through her eyes, what I realized is that in this moment of complete humiliation and conviction, as the crowd dissipated, she saw the church as it truly is—a gathering of sinners. Often, when I'm in a gathering of my brothers and sisters in faith, I feel insecure and unworthy to interact with them—especially when I am fortunate enough to be in a gathering of those people of the faith whom I have come to admire. I only see my failings and compare them to the righteousness and courageous faith of those I look up to and forget that every one of them falls short of the glory of God just as I have.

As the woman watched the crowd thin, the burden of her humiliation lessened as those who walked away carried some of it away with them. By allowing them to take stock of their own position with God, Jesus was allowing the crowd and the woman to see how very much alike they were. When I joined the fellowship I’m in now, I thought everyone was better than me—more holy, with their lives more together and their faith secure. I thought if anyone really knew me or how scripturally incompetent I was and the doubts I had or that I was divorced once and heading for another one— they would look down on me or worse, suggest that I might be happier in some other fellowship. (Of course, that was just another one of the enemy’s lies.) Over the years, I’ve come to know some of them personally and I can tell you that they are just as messed up as I am.

Back in our story—the adulterous woman’s humiliation was converted to humble gratitude as the only One who had the right to throw a stone, chose instead to give her life and purpose (leave your life of sin behind.) As a sinner and a woman of faith, it is not my place to judge but to come along side and help bear the burden of others, to bring others to Jesus not to be condemned (as the Teachers of the Law and Pharisees did) but to receive the grace I myself have received from the only One who has the right to condemn and the power of forgive. And I guarantee 100% that when anyone, no matter who they are and what they have done, approaches Jesus in repentance—he will always, always, always choose to forgive.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Everyone Loves a Story Part 1 - Invisible No More!

At the New Wilmington Mission Conference (which you can read about in “Just Another Missionary), I had the opportunity to study the bible in a new and interactive way that God used to provide incredible insight and blessing which I want to share with you. So for the next five weeks, I will be sharing with you what I learned when I heard Scripture for the first time told to me by a wonderful storyteller as a story—a story in which we were able to step into and see and hear through the characters’ eyes and ears. I experienced Scripture through their perspective, their point of view, and received God message in a whole new way. I pray God blesses you anew through these old familiar stories.

Invisible No More!
Today, I heard a story that brought some very raw and unhappy feelings up in me. Jesus is on his way
to heal the dying child of a well-respected leader of the community when a woman who has been suffering for twelve years from bleeding, a social outcast because of her condition, sneaks into the crowd accompanying Jesus hoping to touch just his coat. After spending all she had on doctors who put her through who knows what kind of first century medical procedures in hopes of a cure and having that hope dashed time after time she decides, in desperation, to hope just one more time and seek out Jesus.

This is where the oh-so-familiar pain of loneliness rose up into my chest and my throat. I know too well from my childhood experiences what the loneliness of being a social outcast feels like and I know the pain that welled up in that woman's heart, even as she maneuvered her way through the crowd of neighbors and town folk, of being so alone and lonely in a crowd of people who at best ignored her and at worst chased her away from their company. She touches Jesus' clothes and immediately she is healed—the bleeding stops. This is what she had hoped for!

Did you ever wonder why she didn't just go up to him like everyone else and ask for healing? Why instead did she try to slip in and out of the crowd unnoticed? While we can't know for sure, my bet is that after a dozen years of being told she was a worthless, unclean sinner, irrelevant to God and society - she believed it. Why would Jesus bother with her especially when he was on his way to do something of such importance as healing the dying child of a prominent citizen? In her whole world, she wasn't worth the time or attention of anyone and she certainly wasn't worthy of Jesus' attention…or so she thought.

At once Jesus knew that power had gone out from him and he stopped, turned around and sought her out. "Who touched me," he asks. Seriously, Jesus! There is a crowd of people pressing in against you and there is a dying child who needs you now and you want to waste time with this. Who in this crowd didn't touch you?! That's what the disciples wanted to know.

Yet Jesus was most definitely serious. He asks again and keeps looking until the woman comes forward to confess that she is the one he is looking for. As she falls at his feet, she is trembling with fear—fear of attention, because in her world, attention equates only to degrading, hurtful remarks and threat of physical harm and fear of retribution for coming into their midst and "spreading her unclean cooties." But Jesus doesn't call her out to rebuke her, or even to take back his healing which some might say she stole from him, but to commend her for her faith and complete her healing by restoring her place in the community.

This is the part of the story that I love. He says to her, "Daughter, your faith has healed you." Daughter! Imagine with me for a moment being this woman and the first kind word you hear in twelve years, and possibly your whole life, is God calling you "child." No longer are you insignificant, invisible, unwanted and unworthy, but now you are recognized and confirmed as God's precious child. In this one word, he restored her dignity and bestows upon her a relevance far greater than anyone else in that crowd possesses. Her pain, physical, social, and spiritual, was important to Jesus. Even though he was a holy man, a well-known rabbi whose reputation of healing and teaching with authority preceded him—even though he was on a very important errand—her woes, her concerns, were important enough to him that he stopped and gave all his attention to her and her alone in the crowd of people that moments ago, didn't even know she was there.

Here's what I am walking away with—Jesus loves me and I should never be afraid to approach him with anything, with everything, no matter what it is. I'm not inconveniencing my Savoir or diverting God's attention from something more worthy or important. God is never too busy for me. If it's important to me—it important to him because I am important to him. I matter to God. I am loved and accepted for who I am and he will always respond to me seeking his holy presence and healing touch with open arms of grace and compassion and with his undivided attention.

You can read this story for yourself in Mark 5:24-34