Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Don't Come to MY Church Sunday!?

"No Trespassing"

"There is NO Re-entry"

"No Shoes, No Shirt, No Service"

Have you ever seen one of these signs? Have you ever been the victim of one of them?

I'll never forget waiting in a long line to enter an establishment for lunch, only to be told I was not properly attired. (I had on a tie and a cardigan sweater. But a JACKET was required.) I was fuming mad, never wanting to return.

Sounds a little like what's going on in Deuteronomy 23 that reads:

"No one who has been emasculated by crushing or cutting may enter the assembly of the LORD."


"No one born of a forbidden marriage nor any of his descendants may enter the assembly of the LORD, even down to the tenth generation."

Can you imagine us posting such a sign on the door of our church? If your mother and father weren't married when you were born you can't come in. And if you have physical defects, don't bother showing up because you wouldn't be welcome. Can you imagine the groups that would be picketing outside of our building. You and I might even join them!

So what's the deal with such prohibitions? Don't we want EVERYONE to worship the One, True God?!

A hint to this passage may be supplied in verse 14:

"For the LORD your God moves about in your camp to protect you and to deliver your enemies to you. Your camp must be holy, so that he will not see among you anything indecent and turn away from you."

Throughout the first chapters of Deuteronomy, God has taken extreme pains to show the people He is unlike anything or anyone else they have ever known. God has chosen them to be his very own people, his children.

And in response to the choosing, God wants, expects, and even demands the very best we have in return.

I'm so thankful that the prophets in the Old Testament, and Jesus in the New, show us that God has thrown open the doors and delivered the invitation to people of every race and every physical category.

But in our excitement to hear the invitation to everyone, let us not forget that God is holy and calls us to be the same. God has given us the very best and it is the very least we can do to offer our best in return.

Will you give God your best today? Take a moment and ask how you can give God your best at home, at school, at work, and in the world today. Wait silently for a moment, and see if you don't have a response throughout the day or evening about what God would like you to give to Him.

Grace & peace

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

God's Top Three Financial List

If you were God, (always a dangerous and somewhat ridiculous way to begin ANY discussion), and were designing a culture where you were going to go out of your way to bring great financial and material comforts to your people, what would you want the people of that culture to be wary of?

The 15th chapter of Deuteronomy deals with EXACTLY this type of situation. Moses is reminding the people of God's instructions for being a holy, completely different type of society.

Here are is a TOP THREE LIST of God's financial instructions:

1. THERE SHOULD BE NO POOR AMONG YOU (15:4) (The passage goes on to tie this statement to obeying God's commands. And while I can't control others' obedience or disobedience, I can ask myself this question, "How am I doing at wiping out poverty in and around my area?")

2. DO NOT BE HARDHEARTED OR TIGHTFISTED TOWARD YOUR POOR BROTHER (15:7) Sometimes HARDHEARTED or TIGHTFISTED shows up as apathy ("I don't care"). Sometimes it shows up as ignorance ("I don't know what to do") or laziness (and I'm not going to try and find out how I can help.)

3. GIVE AS THE LORD YOUR GOD HAS BLESSED YOU (15:14) If you enjoy the comforts of your own home, your own vehicle, your choice of food on your table, then you have been blessed. Period. God has blessed you, at least in part, so that you might pass some of that abundance on to those in need.

So now maybe you're asking, "Where do I start?" or "How do I begin?" Here are some practical steps.

- Sponsor a child through Nazarene Compassionate Ministries or Compassion International (Build it into your budget monthly. This will be a constant reminder that there are people in the world who are in need.)

- Regularly support your local food pantry with food, clothing, or money (Faith in Action in Chelsea and Eastside Mission in Flint are 2 great organizations, worthy of your hard-earned dollars)

- Consider "random act of compassion" like dropping off a bag of groceries or mailing a gas card to a single mom or a senior citizen on a fixed income

And may God bless your softhearted, openhanded generosity!

Grace & peace

Monday, January 29, 2007

Indiana Jones & Talking to God

"Today we have seen that a man can live even if God speaks with him." (Deuteronomy 5:24b)

In our world, the idea of the holy, the sacred, the so-very-special-that-you-have-to-be-careful-talking-about-it-or-holding it seems foreign.

We talk about EVERYTHING.

To some extent, that openness can be positive. (Someone said that sunlight is the best cleanser, especially when it comes to things like government [or church?]). And so democracy and capitalism have combined to create a culture where everything is open, and, ideally, nothing is hidden. Our entertainment and our information thrive on this concept.

But this openness often leads to casualness with things we ought to take more seriously.

Have you ever seen the Indiana Jones Trilogy? In various scenes of various movies, Indiana is searching for and dealing with things that are more powerful than anyone realizes. In the first movie, it's the Ark of the Covenant. In the third it's the Holy Grail.

We see the power of belief and the understanding of the sacredness of the objects expressed in these 2 stories.

While searching for the Grail, Indiana comes in contact with people who have vowed to protect it, and keep it from falling into the hands of mere profit seekers.

Throughout the journey, Indiana is reminded by his father what a special truth is symbolized by the Grail, (it is believed to be the cup Christ drank from), and that it is not something to be handled carelessly.

In the first movie, some who approached the Ark of the Covenant cavalierly, soon regret it. They open the top, an indescribable light and power explodes out of the box, and all who are looking at it are incinerated. We learn that such sacred things are too powerful or holy for us to toy with.

This is a LITTLE like the way the Hebrews in the Old Testament must have approached God, the Tabernacle, and the sacred objects which were a part of their worship.

They knew that there were particular places they were not to go. They knew there were particular things they were not to do. And they knew that crossing those lines entailed a significant, even fatal, cost.

In the midst of that environment, (Deuteronomy 5:7-21 is the 10 Commandments; the "Thou shall not's"), the people are reminded that there is a balance to be struck.

Yes, God is holy. Yes, His word is to be taken seriously. No, one does not handle the holy things without great care. However...

In seeing Moses speak face to face with God, and in hearing Moses bring God's word back to them, they had learned "that a man can live even if God speaks with him."

May God help us to find that sense of balance between the holy, all-powerful God, and the relationship He seeks to bring close to us.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Will The Real Donkey Please Stand Up?

If I started to talk to you about a talking donkey, you might think I'm referring to the movie "Shrek". But no. (Nor am I referring to "Shrek 2"!)

I'm referring to a story of a man named Balaam (BAY lum).

He was a prophet. (And a rather curious choice at that. Most of the references to him in the New Testament are unflattering, to say the least.) But for whatever reason, God sends His word through Balaam with some regularity, for a time.

In this story, Balaam is being summoned to go and speak to a king. The king is an enemy of the people of Israel. And the king wants Balaam to prophesy a curse upon the Hebrews.

Balaam goes, (even though God initially says NOT TO go). However, Balaam's having transportation trouble. Not with his car or his bike. But with his donkey. His donkey doesn't want to run (or walk).

Apparently, the donkey sees something in the way. (Spoiler Alert: it's the Angel of the LORD in the middle of the road, standing there with a drawn sword.) Good 'ol Balaam doesn't see it, can't understand why the donkey won't move, and gives the donkey a beating.

This happens 3 times. (Balaam apparently is a slower learner than the donkey. However, as you'll soon see, he's NOT the slowest, most stubborn person in the story.) Finally, God opens the donkey's mouth and she asks Balaam, "What have I done to you to make you beat me these three times?...Have I been in the habit of doing this to you?"

Eventually, Balaam sees the situation for what it is, and goes on to the king, with the firm conviction that he can only pronounce blessing upon the king's enemies, which INFURIATES the king.

Several times, the king (who seems even more obtuse and stubborn than Balaam), tries to coerce the prophet to say what would benefit the king (and thereby hurt God's people).

Balaam's response every time is something like this: "Didn't I tell you I must do and say whatever the Lord says?" The prophet can't just make things up or simply say them because the king will pay the prophet to say them.

The king moves the prophet to different locations, hoping the surroundings will change the prophet's word. But no.

The king promises tons of money and riches, hoping this will change the prophet's word. Again, no.

Finally, the prophet has had enough (and apparently, so has God). Because the fourth oracle the prophet gives to the king, not only includes blessing for the enemies. It includes destruction of all of Israel's enemies in this story, and that is what happens shortly. The king just doesn't get it.

It makes me wonder: Who's the donkey in this story?

But that's the easy way out. If I'm to let this story do it's work, I must ask another question: Where, in my life, am I stubborn, rebellious, and just not getting it?

It seems like this would be a great time to pause, and ask God for insight. Then, ask for forgiveness. Finally, this would be a good time to ask for help, strength, and wisdom to learn from my mistakes and not be the donkey in my life's story.

Grace & peace

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

250,000 Snails?

Did you hear the story about the guy who tied a string around his finger to remember something and then couldn't remember why he had that string around his finger?

It reminds us of a fact: we are forgetful. And we need help remembering.

(One of my favorite descriptions of the Bible is that it is the collective memory of the Church. To remember, we need to read it.)

God was so concerned about people remembering that He gave us reminders. The Sabbath, 1 day out of every 7, remind us that this is all God's creation, that He owns it, and we are only stewards. In the New Testament, the Christian Church began to celebrate Sabbath on the Lord's Day (or Sunday), to be reminded of Christ's resurrection from the dead.

Numbers 15:37ff tells about another specific reminder: tassels on garments. Specifically, BLUE tassels.

The tassels were dyed with blue dye.

According to one commentator, "the blue dye was extracted from the gland of the Murex trunculus snail and was very costly." He goes on to tell us that "one chemist estimated that a quarter of a million snails would be needed to produce one ounce of pure dye"(IVPBBCOT).

If 250,000 snails were needed to help turn your tassels blue, you'd remember it, right?

And every time you looked at those tassels, you'd think, "SOMEBODY wants me to remember this."

Remember what? "Remember all the commands of the LORD, that you may obey them and not prostitute yourselves by going after the lusts of your own hearts and eyes...(R)emember...I am the LORD your God, who brought you out Egypt."

So my question to you is this: What reminders do you have in place to help you live the life God created you to live? What new "tassels" might you sew into your life today?

Grace & peace

Monday, January 22, 2007

I Wish I Had a Cloud

Have you ever watched the clouds? Maybe it was a bright, sunny day, with lots of blue sky, and you laid down in a field of green grass, with your hands folded behind your neck, gazing at the formations.

Maybe it was traveling down the road in the backseat of a car, watching the shapes move and change as you sped along.

I remember sitting on the porch of a house in Durango, Colorado. There was a hill just beyond the house where we were staying. And our elevation was so high up, that it seemed the clouds just barely snuck over the top of that hill, surprising me with each second, as they continued to roll overhead.

In the book of Numbers, chapter 9, Moses and the Hebrew children were out in the middle of nowhere. God broke the slaves out of Egypt. That was what everyone had wanted.

But now what? Where do we go from here?

And beginning in verse 15, God guides a cloud. When the cloud moved, the people moved. When the cloud stayed, the people stayed. It became their compass and their guide.

Neither Moses nor his people really knew exactly where they were going. But they DID have the cloud. And if they would keep their eyes on it, God would make sure it would take them where they were supposed to go.

"I wish I had a cloud." These were the words of one of my children. They were responding to a conversation we had regarding making decisions, sensing divine leading, and knowing which path to choose.

(Or maybe those were just the thoughts of a teenager who thought the idea of God sending a personal cloud was really cool, really mystical.)

Do you ever wish YOU had a cloud?

Let me ask you: If you KNEW God was going to send a sign, a sense of His leading, clues to the way you should go, what would you do to find it? How hard would you look to piece things together?

Would you pick up your Bible and work through those ancient words, seeing if they really might come alive?

Would you spend a few minutes in quiet meditation, waiting for thoughts to come into your mind, or impressions upon your spirit?

Would you be willing to seek out other like-minded people who are also looking for the mystical clouds in life? Would you be willing to spend time with them, even if they're in a church!?

What if you already have clouds around you, and you just have to open your eyes and expend a little energy for them to be able to do their work?

May God send clouds into your life today. And may you have eyes to see them.

Grace & peace.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Lamp Snuffers

It was as if God told Moses to take a big, bright, fluorescent, highlighter, and instructed him to mark it on the priest's Job Description.

The oil that was used, according to several commentators, was the best oil available. It would burn for a L-O-N-G time. And that was important because they provided the ONLY light in the holy place.

"(B)ring...oil...for the light so that the lamps may be kept burning continually."

Three times in a span of 4 verses, (Leviticus 24:1-4) Moses is commanded to have the priests keep the lamps lit and tended to CONTINUALLY.

Seems like one of the more basic jobs of the keeper of the holy things: KEEP THE LIGHTS ON!

Seems like it would go without saying, right? Nobody can come in if the lights are off.

Seems like it would be priority one: Nobody can see anything if the lamps aren't lit.

It is true in a church, both literally, and figuratively. If the Light is not shining, if the grace and goodness of God are not evident in us, if the Power and Person of God aren't present, nothing else matters. If the Holy One isn't at the forefront of all we do, if the Holy One isn't being reflected in our everyday lives, nothing else matters.

The same is true in your life and mine. We let so many other insignificant things crowd out the first thing. If the light goes out, who cares how comfortable I am? If my light goes out, what difference does it make how much money I am making? If my light goes out, who cares if my car is new or five years old?

Sometimes the things that snuff out the light are subtle. Gossip (talking about others behind their back), anger, bitterness, unforgiveness, and greed are examples of "lamp snuffers".

In the New Testament, Paul tells us that "You are the temple of God."

So my question is this: What are you doing to keep the lamp burning in your life? What are you doing to fan into flame that which God has started in you?

Grace & peace

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Intentional Compassion

Leviticus is book of instructions. It instructs the Hebrew people how to worship. It instructs them how to remind future generations of their heritage and how God has worked with them in the past. It instructs God's people how to live uniquely in the world and how to be holy.

Within those instructions is an interesting phrase that appears multiple times. When picking grapes in the vineyard (19:10) or harvesting the land (19:9 & 23:22), the instruction is to not wipe the place clean, don't pick up every grape or every single head of grain. Instead, "leave them for the poor and the alien".

Rick Warren has gained international attention with his book "The Purpose-Driven Life". I like the book. I especially like the title.

But before Warren was around, Leviticus was instructing us to be compassionate on purpose.

Our culture rewards the biggest box-office hit, the largest crowds, the most-watched tv shows, most-read books. Restaurants copy the "super-sizing" of meals. Costco and Sam's Club package everything in bulk so we can get the most for the least.

In the midst of all that, I wonder: when do we intentionally leave some behind? Do we ever build into our lives the idea of leaving some for those less fortunate?

This week we had an ice storm in Michigan. Many households lost power. A friend of mine was telling me that they had opened up their home to 2 families, in addition to their own, to share electricity, warmth, food, and hot water. Intentionally compassionate.

Seems like something the people of God ought to be, don't you think?

Grace & peace.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

What's This Have to Do with Me?

I recently saw a billboard that read,

"If you're an educated person, you have read the Bible"

Do you agree? Is that a classic on the must-list for literature?

Right now I'm walking through the Bible in a year with some of my friends. This week we're in the book of Leviticus.

Leviticus is not one of the easier books to read or apply for someone who is simply curious about the Bible, about Christianity, or newer to understanding Judaism.

Along those lines, this week's blogs may be a little different from some of the others. They'll include some background information before we get to the application (see the "What's This Have to Do With Me?" section at the bottom).

There are several things that make Leviticus seem foreign to us. One of the major difficulties is the idea of sacrifice.

The first 7 chapters of this book all have to do with sacrifices or offerings.

Offerings were common among many different religions during this period. However, several ideas the Hebrews had about sacrifices distinguished their ritual from those of other religions.

One such idea was that for some religions, the purpose of sacrificing food to the gods was to provide the gods with sustenance. If your god was hungry, he needed you to bring a sacrifice so he could eat.

Hebrews didn't believe this. (Do we really think the One we worship, the One who created world and all that is in it, needs food from us to feed Him? See Psalm 50:12-13)

What was the purpose of the offerings? Each offering had a different purpose:

BURNT OFFERING - serves as a means to make a request to God. Mercy, victory, forgiveness, purification, or any number of other things the worshiper was getting ready to ask for, would be preceded by the Burnt Offering. If you're getting ready to ask for something, this would be an offering you'd include.

GRAIN OFFERING - "The rabbis considered this to be a substitute of the Burnt Offering for poor people" says one source. It was a "gift" or "tribute" where respect or honor are intended. If you're simply wanting to acknowledge the exceeding nature of God, you're overwhelmed with gratitude, this would be appropriate.

FELLOWSHIP OFFERING - this would often go hand in hand with the Burnt Offering. The Fellowship Offering was primarily to indicate or underscore the covenant, the relationship the worshiper and God are in.
Promises have been made. Allegiances have been sworn. This sacrifice is the worshipers pointing to the covenant and saying, "I remember this. You are my God. I am your person."

This offering also comes with a NO FAT clause: "All the fat is the LORD's" (This offering also prohibits the worshiper from consuming meat with blood still in it).

PURIFICATION or SIN OFFERING - Interesting to note that this section begins with "When anyone sins unintentionally..." (in 4:2, as well as vv 13, 22, 27). This offering restores the relationship between the worshiper and God (and other people, when they have been offended as well.)

GUILT or REPARATION OFFERING - This sacrifice is "designed to address particular categories of offense: breach of faith and sacrilege (desecration of sacred areas or objects)."

(The IVP Bible Background Commentary, Old Testament)

What's This Have to Do With Me?

1. Our Hebrew parents remind us that coming to worship is not something we do nonchalantly or thoughtlessly. It involves preparation and intention.

Do I enter into worship with a sense of planning and preparation or haphazardly and at the last minute? Does God deserve my intentionality or does He simply receive whatever is leftover of my mental, emotional, or social resources?

2. Worship is costly for the Hebrews because more often than not, something has to die, blood has to be spilled. (And even in the Grain Offering, something of value is given away.)

Do you treat worship as something that costs you time and energy and finances and priorities? Or do you try to find a way to worship that doesn't cost anything?

May Leviticus challenge you to examine the way that you worship.

Grace & peace.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Whose Kid R U Anyway!?

It happened again just this morning.

"I can't believe your children are such slobs!" one of us said to the other.

"My children? No, no, these are your children."

We had been moving furniture around and as often happens at such times, we found a items. You know how that is right? An unmatched sock, a remote control, a stray crayon, crumbs, wrappers, etc.

Occasionally in a moment of frustration, we'll try to pawn our offspring onto the other spouse, claiming no responsibility whatesoever. Right.

But did you know sometimes God tries to pawn His kids onto someone else?

Exodus 32:7 shows God abruptly ending a meeting with Moses up on the mountain. "Go down, because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt."
They had made an idol and begun dancing around it, bowing down to it, and praying to it. God tells Moses that Moses' people are about to be extinguished from the face of the earth.

But Moses was not so easily persuaded. In verse 11 he responds to God, "Why should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand?" Moses argues that if other people hear how God wiped out God's people, they'll think it was for an evil intent that God rescued them in the first place.

All this makes me wonder, am I living in such a way that God wants to claim me?

Is my life a living, breathing, walking, talking sacrifice to the One who made me and has reclaimed me?

Or would God like to pawn me off on someone else?

Grace & peace.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Give It a Rest!

"Give it a rest!"

As a parent, I've used those words, or something similar to it on many occasions.

Maybe you've used them in a car, restaurant, or other close quarters. Maybe you've used them when someone or something was repeating a noise, a thought, a word, or an act, over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and...

Sometimes those words can be for our good too.

God told Moses, "For 6 yrs. you are to sow your fields and harvest the crops, but during the 7th yr. let the land lie unplowed and unused. Then the poor among you may get food from it, and the wild animals may eat what they leave." (Exodus 24:10)

Sabbath is good stewardship of the environment and bringing about social justice.

Then He tells Moses, "6 days do your work, but on the 7th day do not work, so that your ox and your donkey may rest and the slave born in your household, and the alien as well, may be refreshed." (Exodus 24:12)

Sabbath is good stewardship of people and equipment.

It was also interesting in Exodus when Moses went up the mountain to meet with God, Moses waited for 6 days. But on the 7th, God appeared.

Sabbath is good for worship.

And when the children of Israel left the comforts of Egypt and wandered in the desert, God provided food, 6 out of 7 days. On the 6th day, they were to save up enough for two days so they wouldn't have to gather on the sabbath. God would provide a double portion, just this 1 day of the week.

Sabbath is good for our faith.

How are you doing at giving yourself and those around you a rest? Do you treat every day just like the rest of the days? Do you take a break, change the pace, give it a rest 1 out of every 7?

Eugene Peterson wrote that as a pastor, it is easy to think our work is "SO IMPORTANT" that we neglect to rest, even though we call the church people to do it. Peterson says that the principle of "sabbath" (resting 1 out of 7), reminds him that the world was here before he was, will be here after he's gone, and will be just fine without him working that 1 day.

I've tried to put that into practice in our household. The kids each have a paper route. (3 kids, 3 routes.) And it is a 7-day-a-week job. But we make sure everyone has a day off. The girls take off Sun. morning. Noah and I go and do the route that day. Noah takes off Sat. AM. The girls get the Sun. inserts bagged, and I get up and do the routes, most Saturdays, by myself.

Sometimes it's no big deal. I'm an early riser and the peace and quiet of the morning can be refreshing for the spirit, the mind, and the body.

But there are other days when allowing them to have a sabbath isn't easy. It would be better for me if I could get one of them up.

Then I remember, "If God rested on the 7th day, the land is supposed to rest on the 7th day, and I've been commanded to let everyone under my roof rest on the 7th day, it's probably more important for them to sleep in that 1 day."

So how 'bout you? How are you doing at giving it (and yourself) a rest?

Grace & peace.

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Getting Ready for God

What is the picture of God you have in your mind?

Is it of a kindly, old, bearded man, sitting in a rocker? Is it of a lovey, dovey, mushy, syrupy sweet guy, always ready with a positive word, affirming your decisions and choices? Is God just another buddy of ours we talk to when things get a little rough?

While the Bible DOES talk about God being loving ("God IS love" and "God so loved the world..."), and He does call people friends several places throughout scripture, this image, taken by itself, is a one-sided, partial picture of Who God is and what God is like. Relationship with God solely based upon this perspective is underdeveloped and only 1/2 baked.

Even Morgan Freeman's portrayal in "Bruce Almighty" dressed in casual vacation-wear, gives a fuller picture than simply All Love, All the Time.

Exodus 19 gives a different picture.

Moses and the people are getting ready to go up to the mountain and hear from God. God wants interaction with the people. (The 10 Commandments are coming, along with some other instructions, in the next chapters of the story of how we are to live. [If you read chapters 20-23, give particular attention to the place of widows, orphans, aliens, and sabbath in God's economy.])

God has recently freed the slaves from their taskmasters and led them through the Red Sea (which was parted in chapter 14). And God has some things He wants to say to His people. But before the people and God meet, God tells Moses there are some preparations that need to be made for this meeting.

- They are to set themselves apart (or consecrate themselves) from the ordinariness of life (v10)
- They are to wash themselves and their clothes (v10)
- They are to observe limits between where they will be standing and where God is going to appear (v12)
- They are to prepare themselves for the meeting (v15)
- They are to abstain from sexual relations between now and the time they meet with God (v15)

Does this mean we have to be perfect before we come to God? No. None of us is or ever will be perfect. I don't think Moses or the people would have claimed this for themselves.

Does this mean we come to God based upon what we do and how thoroughly we have prepared? No. Relationship with God is based upon the fact that God created us, sees our need, hears our cries, and is responding. Again, Moses & the Hebrew children were responding to a God who had liberated them from a 430-year-old curse.

So what DOES it mean? It means that God is unlike anyone else you or I know.

It means God deserves the very best, most heartfelt praise, and whole-hearted devotion we can give Him.

It means if we are willing to take the Person of God seriously, there will be a bit of weightiness and a measure of trembling and seriousness and awe in our interactions with him.

It means that when we have the opportunity to meet with God, we have a chance to be with One unlike anyone else we will ever interact with.

What kind of preparations might you feel led to make prior to your next meeting with God?

For some of us the issue is simply clearing time in our schedule. We can get so cluttered with tasks, responsibilities, rides to games or concerts or meetings for good things, that we forget to take time for the Best.

For others of us the issue may be turning off the music, shutting off the dvd or the tv, and finding a little quiet time by ourselves, away from the computer screen.

For others of us, it may be listening to that still, small voice inside us, telling us to send a card to the family member, make a phone call to a friend, stop by for a visit with that irritating person, or willingly forgive the one who wronged us. Funny how so often God shows up as an unexpected 3rd party in our meetings with other people.

Maybe your preparation is going back and reading a verse or a chapter or a book of the Bible. How long has it been? What might explode off the page, jump start your spirit, or cause your heart to swell?

From my experience, anything you are asked to do, any sacrifice you are called to make, will be dwarfed in comparison to God's presence and arrival at that meeting.

Grace & peace.

Monday, January 8, 2007

Do You Know?

Ever feel like THIS is NOT the way life should be?

Ever feel like AFTER ALL YOU'VE DONE, AFTER ALL YOU'VE GIVEN, you deserve better than

I bet that's how the Hebrew people were feeling in Exodus 1. Think of all they and their
foretfathers had been through. Abraham and the promises and his faithful following,
Jacob's wrestling with God, Joseph kicked out of the family, sold as a slave, falsely
imprisoned, and all the dreams, and finally rescuing the country and moving the family to

Whew! That's enough, isn't it? Time for a rest, right?

"Then a new king, who did not know about Joseph, came to power in Egypt." (1:8)

You get the feeling we're in for a whole new series of events. And you'd be right. Because
now the Hebrew people are slaves. The Hebrews were "oppressed" and "forced labor" for
foreigners. Their taskmasters "worked them ruthlessly". And at one point, Pharoah orders
all of the boy babies to be slaughtered. An attempt to wipe the Hebrews off the face of the
earth, end their culture, write them out of the story.

The thought comes to the mind of the reader: doesn't anyone remember history? Doesn't
anyone remember the previous chapter to this story? Doesn't anyone remember how God
intervened? How the Hebrews were used to SAVE the country, the ancestors of the very
people who are now mistreating us? Doesn't anyone remember Joseph?

No. Not this king. "The new king...did not know about Joseph."

It's like chugging up the next huge hill on a rollercoaster when you were sure the first one
was IT...the hill to be feared, with the huge drop-off, taking your breath away. You pull into
the station, thinking the ride is complete. But now the ride starts up again and you're going
down a whole new set of tracks with bigger challenges than you had faced before.

It's the life of the People of Faith, God's people.

Seems like a bit of a bummer. Seems like a devotional for a Monday.

But even in a story like this, there is a glimmer of hope.

Don't miss them at the beginning of this story. They aren't royalty. They aren't rich people.
They aren't powerful.

They're nurses, midwives really. They help deliver the babies. They refuse to give into the
king's genocidal plan because "they feared God".

I wonder, WHY did they fear God? Could it be that someone had told them the story about
Joseph? Could it be that someone told them that when a famine was coming, it was the God
of the Hebrews who had given them warning?

Maybe so. However they found out, they had some history with God, knew God had a
history with them, and they did what was right.

The king didn't know about Joseph. But the midwives did.

How 'bout you?

Grace & Peace.

Saturday, January 6, 2007

Stay with the Jerk?

"Better to have loved and lost than stay living with the jerk!!"

Better to have loved and lost than to have stayed with the jerk!

So said the bumper sticker.

Of course the original saying comes from Tennyson:

"'Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all."

But the "update" got me thinking, "is there someone specific the driver was referring to? Is this their way of sticking it to their ex?"

There's an interesting story about a brother that had a chance to stick it to his siblings. He had every reason to. They had made fun of him. They had stolen one of his most precious items, given to him by their father. The other brothers had kicked "the favorite son" out of the family.

If anyone had a right to stick it to someone, it was this 1 brother, Joseph, the favorite. If anyone should have been glad to get the jerks out of their life, it should have been him.

And here was his chance. There was a famine back home. Times were bad.

So the brothers had all traveled a great distance to the place where there was plenty of food. When they arrived, they went to see "The Man", the authority who had the power to grant food or deny food; the ability to extend life or to take it from their entire family.

The Man...was Joseph.

The scene was set perfectly. The brothers didn't even know it was him. The years had made him unrecognizable to them. What would he do? How would he get back at them? After seeing all the injustice, you're just about giddy for him to pounce on them.

But Joseph didn't do that. He played it cool. He didn't tell them who he was. Not at first.

But he didn't make it easy on them either. He accuses the brothers of being spies. He sends 8 of the 9 half-brothers that are there home to bring back the 1 full brother to "prove their story", (when in reality he probably just wants to see his brother Benjamin with his own eyes). And he keeps 1 of the brothers as ransom to make sure they return.

At the climactic scene in the whole story, (you REALLY need to read the whole account in Genesis chapters 36, 39-45 because time doesn't allow me to tell you about great scenes like the brothers bowing low, begging for mercy and food to the one they've wronged, and they don't even know it!!) he is ready to reveal his true identity to them, and, you hope, STICK IT TO THEM. This is what he says:

"I am Joseph!!" Alright. Here it comes...

"Is my father still alive?" Well, that's natural. He wants to know his dad is doing. But get ready for payback!

"...Don't be angry at what you did to me for God did it. He sent me hear ahead of you to preserve your keep you and your families alive."

WHAT?! No retribution? No vengeance? No punishment for all the picking on him, kicking him out of the family and making him go through all this pain? (I mean, he didn't speak Egyptian very well! [A.L.W.])

And what's all this "God did it" stuff about anyway??

The Hebrews of the Old Testament had this irritating habit of seeing God behind nearly EVERYTHING. The sun comes out or the rain falls and God causes it. Children are born or a couple is infertile and God is working behind it. Nations rise or nations fall and it is directly linked to divine will.

Now, I'm not saying that everything you experience is directly caused by God. (Even Scripture would argue against that idea when it says "the rain falls on the just and the unjust"; some stuff JUST HAPPENS.)

But I AM saying that maybe there is something going on, Someone at work, behind the scenes, just past our normal ability to see and hear, and it might be worth our while to investigate further.

Joseph did. And what he saw told him that God was at work in the midst of all the injustice he had experienced, all the punishement he had unfairly taken, all the time of separation from his father, all the pain intentionally caused by is brothers. That in all of that, God had not forgotten him, and was actually USING it to benefit those around him.

Joseph saw something else too. He saw that forgiveness on his part would save his father and all of his father's sons. He saw that returning kindness to them would provide life and healing that vindictiveness could never give.

Now, I have to tell you, something within me wants that type of forgiveness when I mess up. Something in me cries out for people to be that gracious and wise when I drop the ball, step on it, and lose it. And I'm guesssing something within you feels the same way.

So what will you do? Will you be willing to love and lose? Or will you stick it to the jerk?

Grace & peace.

Friday, January 5, 2007

Gritty Integrity

Not too many people have had the run of undeserved misfortunes Joseph had:

- Selected as the favorite by his dad, among all his brothers
- Mom dies while giving birth to a younger brother
- Teased and admonished by family because of his dreams
- Sold by brothers into slavery
- Falsely accused by his boss' wife of hitting on her
- Left to rot in prison

But not too many people are able to maintain their integrity in the midst of such persecution:

- His boss "gave Joseph complete administrative responsibility over everything he owned. With Joseph there, he didn't have a worry in the world, except to decide what he wanted to eat!" (Gen. 39:6a)

- Likewise, "the chief jailer had no more worries after (Joseph came under his charge), because Joseph took care of everything. The LORD was with him, making everything run smoothly and successfully." (Gen. 39:23)

- And again, "Joseph was put in charge of all Egypt. And Pharaoh said to Joseph, 'I am the king, but no one will move a hand or a foot in the entire land of Egypt without your approval.'" (Gen. 41:43b-44)

What a lesson for us when things go bad. Will you follow Joseph's example and do what is right, give your best effort, and earn the trust of others, when things are at their worst in your life?

Grace & peace.

Thursday, January 4, 2007

Who Will Hear You?

When was the last time you were DESPERATE? So desperate that you had nowhere to turn and no one to help you?

When was the last time you were in such despair that the ONLY thing you could do was cry or yell "HELP!"?

Imagine a family that is broken up. Imagine this family has a father who has had children by two women. Imagine how much those women DON'T get along. Imagine being the woman that has to leave the home with your little boy, and it becomes easy to imagine despair (Where will I go?), rejection (The father that was supposed to protect us is nowhere to be found), fear (How will I feed my boy?).

The woman, the mother, has a name. It is Hagar. Her son is Ishmael. The father is Abraham. Yes, THAT Abraham, the father of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

As the mother is crying and lost in the wilderness, something happens. Or, put more correctly, Someone happens to come on the scene.

"Hagar...where have you come from and where are you going?" It's the voice of God.

Hagar and God begin a conversation and before it is all over, Hagar goes from being all alone to having a Friend. She now calls this Friend, "the God Who sees me".

One interaction. One conversation. A woman, (a servant woman), of desperation goes from being all alone to providing us with one of the most amazing names for God in all of scripture.

What would you call God today?

Do you know Him as "the God who sees me"?

Grace & peace.

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Have You Ever Read the Bible?

Most of us have formed SOME kind of opinion about the Bible: THE Word of God, or "just a collection of stories," or "written by people".

But beyond that I wonder: Have you ever READ it? I don't mean cracked a Bible and randomly read a sentence or two and then put it away.

I mean REALLY read it.

If not, I invite you on a journey. Begin to read it. Throughout the year I'll be leaving bread crumbs on my journey, little pieces of where I'm reading.

Now I know that New Year's Resolutions are a dirty word to many of us skeptics. A recent survey by John C. Norcross from Univ. of Scranton in PA found that by Feb. 1, about 1/3 of those who set resolutions had failed.

But wouldn't it be great to reach the end of the year and arrive at the summit of this task together?

Here are a couple of suggestions that might be helpful:

- If you're new to the Bible, get an easy-to-read-translation, something that's been written AFTER 1960. Maybe even a paraphrase for your first reading. (A translation attempts word for word communication, while a paraphrase puts it into the words of the author, trying to explain how they see this going along.)

- Don't get discouraged if you get bogged down or lose interest. That's why we're doing the Buddy System. I'll keep leaving those bread crumbs throughout the year, and maybe we'll separate at places on the trail, only to hook-up again at other places. Maybe you'll skip a day or two, occasionally. That's ok. If you slack off a little, allow yourself to jump back in as the rhythym of your life finds interest in a new book. We won't beat you up at all.

- Consider alternative forms of "reading". Maybe hearing it on cd is good for you. I have a friend who types parts of the Bible as she finds the activity helps to stimulate the brain and comprehension. One of my kids has started doing the same thing.

- Learn to live with questions. Sometimes reading the Bible will raise more Q's than answers. That's ok. Would you really want to hear from a God who could be figured out by you or me in ONE READING?!

- Finally, and this is key, whisper a little prayer before beginning. Ask for God to give you a return on your investment of time and energy. Say something like, "I'm not sure how this is going to work out, but I ask you to meet me on the journey" or "Would you show up along the way and every once in awhile surprise me with your Presence?"

You'll be amazed how such a commitment and request on your part will result in God's Spirit responding.

This week I'll be in Genesis. "In the beginning God created..."

What does God want to create in you and your reading?

Several times in chapter 1 we notice God reflects upon His creation: "God saw that it was good."

May God be creating good in your life.

Grace & peace.