You Feed Them, There is Enough

I’m not sure when the “holiday season” starts these days. Is it mid-September when I actually saw Christmas items on some store shelves? Or maybe right after Halloween? In any case, it’s probably by the time Starbucks releases their long-awaited holiday-themed merch. When the holiday season does finally begin, two things come to my mind: meals and giving. In both cases, whether we’re hosting a meal or preparing gifts, we naturally ask our selves the question: “Is this enough?

That question has permeated all of human history, including the history told in the Bible. And far too often, the world seems to shout back at us, “No! There’s isn’t enough!” And this is what makes Jesus’ life so baffling. In particular the fateful evening when he fed thousands of people using only enough for a few.

Having just been given the news of his cousin’s brutal and unjust execution, Jesus retreats, no doubt to grieve. But his grief would have to wait as thousands of needy people call on him. Led by compassion, he serves them until nightfall, when his friends state the obvious: they’re hungry, so let them go get dinner. Jesus’ responses are legendary:
“You give them something to eat.”
Surely in some disbelief, they remind him they have only enough for themselves. Then his second response:
“Bring it here to me.”

The rest is, as they say, history. So what was Jesus seeing that the disciples weren’t able to see? In short, that God created a world in which there is enough. The key is learning to experience it, and then give it away.

Jesus’ view of the world apparently resembles the Genesis 1-2 world: a world of overabundant resources, given by a loving Father. But that view was corrupted when the man and woman were deceived by the serpent. Remember, his deceptions were not generic, but rather laser-focused. First, he would plant the seed of mistrust: “Did God really say you could not eat…?” When that fails, he would plant the seed of envy: “That’s just because God didn’t want you to actually be in charge, to actually have the final say in your own life. I thought he put you in charge, but I guess not…” Mistrust and envy make a wicked fruit, and human beings have been eating it ever since.

But Jesus insists on undoing those lies and showing people the greater truth–a truth that will set us free from mistrust and envy, free to give of the overabundance of God’s world … free to give as God gives. Here are six basic principles I’ve gleaned out of today’s story, and the Bible overall:

Our Creator provides what we need. I know it sounds too simple, but this is where it starts.  This is step one in telling the serpent to slither away! But do we really live like we believe it?  Do we live like God will provide despite the circumstances, like he did through Jesus and Moses before him — bread to a hungry people in a remote place?  (If you noticed that coincidence, good job; you’re supposed to notice it!) 

Our Creator provides differently than the world expects. God might give us SOMETHING quite different than what we expected.  How many testimonies include the phrase, “I never expected this to happen, but…” God might give TO SOMEONE who is different than we expected.   Finally, the toughest one: God might give to someone MORE OR LESS than he gives you.  Part of trusting God is refusing to judge what God gives, and to whom he gives it.

Our Creator does not guarantee that we’ll understand his provision. Back to the garden we go!  The sin Adam and Eve commit is grounded in the hubris that comes with insisting that the Creator of the cosmos operate only at a level that we understand, or even more, that we approve of!  But a so-called “god” whom I can fully comprehend is truly just a figment of my imagination.  

Our Creator does guarantee that we will be an instrument for his provision. Yes, there is an intentional similarity between God provided bread in the desert with Moses and bread in this remote place with Jesus.  But there is one crucial difference. In the Sinai desert, the manna appeared each morning on its own.  But in the new covenant, the bread doesn’t just appear. God’s people give their own, and God multiplies it.  Same God, same gift — new method. Why would God choose this method?

Our Creator does not need our money, but insists on our trust. In the words of Bono, “The God I believe in isn’t short of cash, mister.”  Of course he isn’t.  What God desires from us is our heart.  The greatest commandment is not “Love the Lord with all your money.”  It is, “Love the Lord with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength.” But here’s the thing.  The one who created our heart, mind, soul, and strength, knows exactly what guides them. And so Jesus taught… 

Our Creator gave us hearts that go where our treasure is. Note the order.  Most fundraisers will try to appeal to your heart, so that you will then send your treasure that way.  But Jesus teaches the opposite. Your treasure doesn’t go where your heart is — your heart goes wherever you send your treasure.  

You want to invest your heart in things that pass away?  So did Adam and Eve. But if you want to invest in that which will never pass away; if you want to take part in miracles; then listen to Jesus, as he says “Bring what you have to me.”  And watch him multiply it, not only for others, but your transformation as well.

For reflection:

  • Make a simple, bullet-pointed list of that which God has provided for you. Include material and non-material provision. Does anything surprise you?
  • Of that which God has given you, what can be used to provide for those around you? Again, include material and non-material things.
  • God calls us to be wise stewards of what we’re given. Are you giving to others (church, charity, etc.) in a way that you feel is wise?
  • The feeding of the give thousand also calls us to be ready to give in a way that feels risky, even ridiculous. Do you ever give in a way that feels like this?
  • What is one thing you could do to take a step out of “safe giving” and toward faith-informed “risky giving?”
  • If your heart goes where your treasure is, do you manage your wealth in a way that directs your heart toward God, what God cares about, and God’s promise to take care of you?
  • What is the interplay between providing for yourself, providing for your loved ones, providing for others in need, and relinquishing control of all your providing in the hands of God?

Six Hazards to Avoid on the Discipleship Pathway

I have recently been reminded of an important characteristic of being human — we are designed to practice and learn new skills. My main hobby and fitness regimen is Taekwondo, and for the past two weeks we have been practicing the fundamental steps of what’s known as a 540 spin hook kick. I would demonstrate it for you, but…I’m still practicing. Suffice it to say that I’m having to re-learn how to use my body in an entirely new way!

It has been a good reminder that in addition to practicing new skills, we can also grow mature in those skills (proven by my teacher doing the kick like it’s no big deal). But ironically, sometimes it is our mastery itself that can become an obstacle to growth. Sometimes, to grow we must unlearn what we thought we knew and begin again.

“Dear Younger Me:  You won’t spiritually mature just because you are a Christian.  It takes practice to learn how to walk the pathway of discipleship.  And sometimes, you must forget what you think you know and start learning all over again.”

This series is based on the idea that we can share the wisdom we’ve learned through experience. While wisdom is often associated with a kind of deep knowledge, it also includes the idea of skill. In fact, the Hebrew word translated “wisdom” can also mean “skill.” So, to be wise is to be “skilled at life.” And to build skills, we have to practice.

Paul knew this. In this letter to the Ephesians, he spends the first half reiterating the heart of the Gospel — that by God’s grace we are re-created in Christ, into new lives. Here are the Gospel basics from ch. 2:1-10

  • We were all once dead in our sins;
  • But because of his great love for us, God made us alive with Christ;
  • For it is by grace we have been saved, through faith;
  • It is the gift of God, for we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus 

And so, because by God’s grace we are given new life in Christ, we are called to a new way of living. The second half of Paul’s letter, chapters 4-6, get into those details. And that latter half begins with Paul’s eloquent description of the process of living this new life as we grow toward maturity. That process is like a pathway on which we are called to journey. It is not always smooth, of course. It has hills and valleys, caverns and caves, and there are many hazards to trip us up along the way. So here are six pathway hazards to avoid, and alternatives to do instead, as you walk with Jesus.

1. Reject excuses — Accept your gifts

There’s a difference between excuses and obstacles. Obstacles legitimately stand in the way of something. But an excuse is a false obstacle we create to let ourselves off the hook.   Instead, take an inventory of what God has given us — limited though it may seem at times — and say “with these gifts, I’ll move forward in my walk with Jesus.”

2. Leap over fear — Trust the process

Fear is based on our inability to know the future.  Like on a high ropes course, you may have seen others go before you, but still be wondering, “What if my rope is the first one to break?!”  When it comes to following Jesus, similar fears can trip us up. “What will my friends think? What if I look weird?  What if I don’t understand it? ” But instead of letting fear trip you up, trust the process and the sisters and brothers who have gone before you.

3. Beware of comfort — Find peace in discomfort

Everyone loves a comfy set of flannel PJs or new slippers.  But to learn or grow in anything, actually, requires a degree of discomfort.  Jesus actually did promise that we could have peace.  But comfort?  He actually promised we’d have the opposite.  So if we want to grow, we need to find peace in being (at least a little) uncomfortable. 

4. Sidestep blame — Take responsibility

One of the greatest recent changes in the institutional church is the realization that its primary role is to do what Paul says right here in 4:12: “to equip Christ’s people for works of service.”  When the institutional church is seen as the primary “doer” of ministry, it’s all too easy to blame the church for my own lack of spiritual growth: “The reason I’m not growing is because the Church isn’t doing something for me.”  But when we take responsibility for being functional, contributing members of the Church as Christ’s living Body, then we’ll begin experience spiritual growth.

5. Refuse passivity — Lean into the “hill” 

Passivity can actually lead to blame, because it’s characterized by having something done to me or for me — rather than an active pursuit.  If discipleship is like a pathway, then when that pathway goes up a steep hill, passivity will stop me or even make me fall backward.  It happens. We call it “backsliding.”  The alternative is to lean into the hill, and actively pursue spiritual maturity.

6. Resist riding others’ coattails — Walk your own walk.

This is a common experience in a community.  For example, it’s common in a marriage for one spouse to be spiritually maturing, while the other spouse basically tags along.  And what about kids?  As kids grow up, it’s easy for them to ride the momentum of mom’s or dad’s faith without growing into their own faith.  But as a professor of mine once said, “God has no grandchildren.”  You can’t inherit your parents’ faith.  And for that matter, God also has no in-laws; you can’t marry into the Body of Christ either.  So rather than trying to ride someone else’s coattails — vicariously applying their spiritual growth to ourselves — take one step at a time and walk your own walk with Jesus.

A couple parting thoughts:
1) Don’t try to think your way into spiritual maturity any more than you think your way into playing the piano, cooking a 4-course meal, or doing a 540 spin hook kick. You’ll only know what you need to practice when you start to practice.
2) It’s okay to try something in discipleship and realize it’s not helping you grow. It’s not a test, it’s a learning process. Let that thing go and pursue another avenue of growth with Jesus.
3) Visit UPPC.org > Pathways to see what discipleship opportunities there are for you in our local body. It’s updated every quarter. In the meantime, engage with the teachings on Sundays, online, or by listening to our weekly podcast Bible Jazz.

For reflection:
– When you think about someone being “spiritually mature” what kind of person do you envision?
– Do you have a way of measuring your own growth in spiritual maturity? Or does the goal seem too foggy to move toward?
– We teach that there are four discipleship fundamentals: Scripture Fluency, Active Prayer, Intentional Community, and Acts of Service. Do you have room to grow more mature in any of those?
– If you’re ready to get active in your own growth as Jesus’ disciple, do you know what your next steps are? Do you know where to find guidance?

In peace,
MM

“Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin” and Other Lies I’ve Loved

This series, “Dear Younger Me…” is based on the wisdom we’ve learned through experience that we wish we could have known earlier. Half-truths definitely fall into this category, and Pastor Aaron started the series by addressing several. This week, we’ll look at two more.

  1. God said it. I believe it. That settles it.” When I Googled this phrase, not only did I not have to completely type it out because Google auto-completed it for me, but I also got 6.8 million hits. Turns out it’s so ubiquitous, there’s a whole retail industry jumping on the bandwagon of this sentiment. You can even make your point while your make your dinner!

    The primary problem with this sentiment is how it oversimplifies scripture.

    Deut. 23:12-14 is rarely preached about these days, but 140 years ago it was highly relevant as churches debated the pros and cons of installing indoor plumbing in their church buildings. Besides being sort of funny to think about, it points to the need to always interpret scripture. And to interpret scripture means to incorporate some details into our lives while laying others aside, depending on what is relevant, helpful, meaningful, etc.

    It’s so tempting to believe that we can easily see “what God said” that gives our arguments a final KO punch, but scripture simply does not function that way. Even when we believe that scripture is divinely authored, we also acknowledge that it was penned by people (inspired though they may have been) in a literary and historic milieu which clearly influenced them. When we oversimplify scripture as though it were written in a vacuum, and especially when we pay attention only to passages that support our beliefs, we take the risk of (1) becoming lazy in our engagement with scripture, (2) weaponizing it to harm others, (3) assuming that we are the final authority on what scripture means and how to apply it to all people, at all times.

    It would be more helpful if the apron, coffee mug, or bumper sticker read: “God said it, I read it, then thought about it, wrestled with it, did some research, learned several points of view, prayed about it, and now I have an idea of how it ight matter in the world today, but I’m still learning.” But it might not sell many coffee mugs…
  2. Love the sinner, hate the sin.” This one sounds so right, doesn’t it? What’s interesting is that Jesus never said it. We know that Christ came to save sinners. And we know God so loved the world… But Jesus didn’t say to “love the sinner.” He said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” He said “Love one another.” He even said, “Love your enemies.” Why would he not add that we should also “hate the sin?”

    Probably because Jesus knew human nature even better than we do. The moment we believe we are able to love the sinner while hating the sin, we begin to put ourselves right back on that judgment seat, noticing the speck in our neighbor’s eye while ignoring the 2×4 sticking out of our own faces. That is to say, we give ourselves permission to pass judgment on what other people do, and even more destructively, who people are.

    Now, to be sure, the Bible is clear about sin we must denounce: injustice, greed, idolatry, covetousness, etc. The point we’re making here is to not let ourselves fall into the habit of examining others’ sin while ignoring ours. So before we consider what it means to “love the sinner and hate the sin,” let’s start with this saying: “Love your neighbor no matter what — despite the fact that you are a sinner.”

For reflection:
– What are your initial thoughts about these two sayings? Do you agree or disagree that they are “half truths?” What is your reasoning?
– Why do you think it is so tempting to simplify what scripture says, or to read selectively? What challenges does scripture present that most people would rather not face?
– How do you go about showing love to a person whom you believe is making sinful choices, but in a way that does not outwardly condemn that person?
– How do you strike a balance between striving to be Godly, teaching Godliness to your community, while at the same time not passing judgment on people?

In it with you,
MM

Dear Younger Me: Stop Believing Half-Truths

What if you wrote a letter to your younger self? What age would you write to? And what wisdom would you share? The Bible actually has an entire genre of books called “Wisdom literature.” And much of the time, we know it is better to learn wisdom earlier rather than later. But it’s never too late.

So Pastor Aaron began this Fall teaching series with some foundational wisdom: stop believing half-truths. Half-truths need to be challenged because they are particularly deceptive. And frankly, that makes them more likely to be life-taking rather than life-giving. This was certainly the case with the serpent’s deception in the Garden. The way half-truths can steal life from people is not only something we know about intellectually; we experience the brokenness they create through our own experience and our pastoral relationships as well. So let’s look at THREE half-truths, what’s wrong with them, and the whole truths that answer them.

Half-Truth #1: “Everything that happens is God’s will.”
To get started, we have to get real about the need for biblical interpretation. The truth is that many theological positions can be supported by cherry-picking scriptures out of context (also called “proof texting.”) And to be sure, the sovereignty of God is undeniable in scripture. But so is the brokenness of the world, to which God responds with healing. Psalm 10:14, 17-18 proclaims that God is both King and the encourager of the afflicted. How could the affliction also be thought of as “God’s will”? The whole truth is: Whatever happens, God is sovereign, and able and willing to redeem it.

Half-Truth #2: “God helps those who help themselves.”
Perhaps one of the most destructive half-truths, one Barna survey found that 80% of respondents believed this saying was one of the ten commandments! And yet it never appears in the Bible. Paul wrote to the Thessalonian church that those who do not wor do not eat. But that principle alone cannot be taken out of the context that those early Christians had become lackadaisical because of their belief that Jesus was coming so soon that their daily work did not matter. It is not a universal principle for all people in all times. By contrast, Psalm 18:6, 16 reminds us that when we are in distress, we need not “help ourselves,” but can call on the Lord and he will hear us. The whole truth is: God expects us to participate in this life but always gives grace and mercy.

Half-Truth #3: “God won’t give us more than we can handle.”
People usually mean well when they say this trying to encourage a suffering person. But the irony of the logic is that if it’s true, and we are actually finding we cannot “handle it,” it makes us the problem! It adds insult to injury, implying that in addition to our suffering, it’s our own fault if we can’t handle it. The truth is that there are numerous afflictions we cannot handle, which is exactly why God designs us to live in community. Moreover, the phrase “God gives” anything may be erroneous right off the bat, offering the bad theology that any affliction we experience is in fact God’s will, and he will afflict us right up to the point we’re about to break. (See half-truth #1.) The whole truth is: God will help us handle all the adversity we face.

For reflection:
1) These half-truths are usually shared with the best intentions. Have you ever shared them with someone? How does the idea that they are only half true make you react?
2) Have you ever been suffering and had someone share these half-truths with you? How did you react.
3) Understanding the Bible is difficult because it requires education and interpretation. Where can you go to get help interpreting the Bible so you understand it better?

Many blessings,
MM

Moses: “Like No Other”

We’ve been dwelling in Moses’ life as told through the book of Exodus since springtime, and it has been a very rich journey. And now we arrived at the foot of Mt. Sinai, where Moses will receive from God perhaps what Moses is most famous for: the Ten Commandments.

So, so much has been written about the Ten Commandments, and even more has been presumed. You might see them outside a courthouse, or tattooed on someone’s arm. They are part of the foundation of western civilization, whether we’re aware of them or not. So let’s take a couple of moments to recap what Pastor Jim Mead taught us today.

What the Ten Commandments are NOT:

  • They are not a set of moral principles. Frederick Buechner said that principles are what people have in place of God. The Ten Commandments are the opposite of that — they are the foundation by which respond to God’s love and join into covenant with God.
  • They are not a pathway to God. Take a look at verse 6: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” Do the Commandments begin with expectation? Or do they begin with grace? The relationship always begins with God’s gracious willingness to advocate for people, even to rescue us. And this did not change when Jesus came on the scene. Jesus fulfilled the covenant relationship with the Father, showing us what it means to respond to God’s grace by loving God with our heart, mind, soul, and strength. That love can be expressed through following his “torah,” or instructions.

So what ARE the Ten Commandments?

  • They are instructions to live as we are designed. Human beings, made in God’s image (see Gen. 1:27) are designed to function in particular ways. We aren’t fish. We aren’t elephants. We are human beings. That means we are designed to live in ongoing connection (“relationship”) with the living God, and with each other in mutually loving community. But living as designed is a choice God allows us to make (not true for other creatures, right?) An aspect of God’s image in us is our ability to choose to live contrary to our design. The problem is that just because we choose it doesn’t mean it works. For example, if you drove a 2002 Toyota Tundra (like Jim does) you could operate it as designed, or not. By design, you’d change the oil, rotate the tires, and get occasional tune-ups. Against design, you might ignore those needs, or even try operate it as a boat (which would work, but only for a couple seconds.)
  • They are the foundation for our part of a covenant relationship with God. Like wedding vows, life gets more complicated than the few scenarios we recite on our wedding day. If wedding vows had to list every possible challenge we’d face in our covenants of marriage, the ceremony would last months! Instead, our vows outline the foundations of our covenant, the range of life experience in which we’re committing to partner with each other. After all, we get married because our spouse is “like no other.” Just as God is “jealous” for us, since God is like no other, too. The wedding day is a foundation for the marriage, just as the Ten Commandments are the foundation for the covenant we live with God. Some people resent the idea that God would have expectations of us. But would it be a living, loving relationship if God expected nothing of us?
  • They foreshadow God’s grace as revealed in Jesus Christ. Jesus claimed to fulfill God’s Torah (again, “law” or “instructions”) the way the Israelites were supposed to have done, but couldn’t. Jesus doesn’t do away with it or revise it. He fulfills it, on our behalf, in his own life. And the life God designed us to have is fulfilled in Jesus, too. Jesus lived as we can live. His death conquered the sin and death that separates us from God. His resurrection seals God’s promise that we are made for everlasting life. The Ten Commandments are the day-to-day foundational expression of the greatest commandments, as taught by Jesus:
    37 “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

For reflection:
– Have you heard of the Ten Commandments before? What has been your impression of them?
– What do you think about the idea that God has expectations of us?
– Have you learned anything new about the Ten Commandments? What do they reveal about God’s character?

Many blessings,
MM

Moses: Fear vs. Experience

(Today’s message summary was submitted by Lisa Woicik, who gave the message at UPPC on July 21, 2019. Watch it at UPPC.org!

It doesn’t take long after the Israelites leave Egypt before they face what looks like impending death.  Camped at the edge of the Red Sea, they look up and see Pharaoh’s army fast approaching them.  Trapped between Pharaoh’s army and the Sea, they respond, as any of us would – with panic!  Yet, Moses’ response is calm, confident in God’s deliverance. 

Does this seem like the same Moses who seemed to fear and doubt everything God asked him to do (see Exodus 3-5)?  Only a few weeks have passed since Moses let fear get the best of him and questioned God’s intent to help Israel (Ex. 5:22-23).  Now, when death seems to be knocking at the door, Moses is outwardly calm and confident.  How can that be?

When we look at this story, it is helpful to remember that Moses was still human.  He felt fear and panic just like the rest of us do. The difference between the Moses at the Red Sea and the Moses of Exodus 5 is that Moses now had experienced God’s faithful provision at least 10 times.  With each plague that God brought upon Egypt, God told Moses what would happen, Moses followed God’s instructions, and Moses saw God fulfill what was promised.  

Repeatedly experiencing God’s faithful provision allowed Moses’ trust in God to grow stronger.  Just like we trust that the sun will rise tomorrow because we don’t know of a time when it hasn’t done so, Moses’ faith in God grew stronger every time he witnessed God’s provision.  Because Moses was confident in God’s provision, he was able to set aside his fear in that moment and calmly do what he needed to do so that God could deliver the Israelites to safety.  

1.      How have you experienced God’s provision in your own life? 

2.  Have you ever had a moment when you were in full panic mode?  What did that look like?  What brought you out of it?  

3.      When is fear a healthy response?  What does unhealthy fear look like? 

4.      What is happening in your life now that seems unbearable?  How might you be able to practice setting aside your fear and take the next step trusting in God’s provision? 

Blessings,
Lisa Woicik

“In the Dark till I Met the Light”

Today was special at University Place Presbyterian Church — the children’s choir known as the Alleluia Singers put on their first musical theater production: Nic at Night by Kathie Hill. It was a wonderfully creative way for our community to gather, worship, and hear God’s word in a new way.

Nic at Night creatively tells the story of the pharisee, Nicodemus, covertly meeting with Jesus one night. This densely packed theological passage in the book of John contains one of the Bible’s most memorable proclamations:
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

In the story, some local kids take notice of this high-status teacher sneaking around at night trying to meet with Jesus, who though a rabbi is garnering a reputation for going against rabbinical tradition, and even breaking God’s law. Nicodemus meeting with Jesus surely would have been frowned upon by his contemporaries.

In the process, Nicodemus learns as much about himself as he does about Jesus. In a moving solo, he sings the song “In the Dark” and admits:
“I was in the dark till I met the light; my cold, cold heart turned to Jesus Christ. I was in the dark, still my eyes could see, that even in the dark He was loving me.”

If only we all could meet with Jesus face to face! And yet, because of the Holy Spirit, we can meet with the risen Lord and know Jesus in a personal way. There are numerous opportunities for this, and I want to highlight a few:
Alpha will meet in the Wayside Cafe on Sunday evenings 6-8pm starting June 16 through July 28 (with a one-day Saturday retreat on Aug. 10 and a concluding session on Aug. 18).
ConneXions is a mid-size group that explores together what it means to put our knowledge and faith into action and lifestyle. They meet every Sunday at 9:30.
– There are several others through the summer, including women’s group The Well, men’s group True Men, and several weekday Bible studies. Find out more at UPPC.org “Pathways.”

May the beginning of your summer be a blessed season! We’ll continue our series on Moses next week!

In Grace,
MM

Moses – Murderer, Fugitive…Prophet?

“Will all the world’s oceans wash this blood
Clean from my hand? No, instead my hands
Will stain the seas scarlet,
Turning the green waters red.”
— Macbeth, Act 2 scene 2

William Shakespeare had a remarkable gift for translating mere concepts into emotional realities.  In the above scene, Macbeth is suffering from the guilt of killing his king in order to take over the throne.  We all understand the intellectual concept of guilt; these words of Macbeth help bring the experience to life. 

Sometimes we forget that before he became a hero and the greatest prophet and priest of ancient Israel, Moses himself personally experienced this kind of guilt (Exodus 2:11-15). He had committed murder.  He had hidden the evidence.  He was on the run from the king.  We can only imagine his thoughts and feelings as he ran from the luxury of his adoptive royal family and off into the desert.  What will he do now?  Will he ever see his friends and family again? What must God think of him — the same God who had rescued him as a baby — now that he is a man?  Moses’ guilt and shame cannot be underestimated.  

In that moment, Moses could have never foreseen what God had in store for him. He knew he was a murderer and fugitive, but he could not have known he would one day be God’s prophet and lead the Hebrews to freedom. He could not have known just how true it is that God reveals redemption through broken people.

One of the fundamental revelations in the Bible about God is that God shows mercy to sinners. God is so often remembered only for the portrayals as wrathful, but anyone familiar with the Bible will remember that God has mercy even on the world’s first murderer, Cain, by offering him protection. God has mercy on Abraham, who is lauded for his faith but still made many mistakes. God will have mercy on Moses, though he cannot see how. And in the 21st century we sometimes take for granted God’s supreme act of mercy, when he destroyed sin and death on Jesus’ cross.

But God’s mercy does not spare us the hard lessons, as God shapes us through our failures. Surely Moses had been shaped by God’s mercy toward him when he asks God to extend the same mercy to the impatient Hebrews. And of course we don’t always enjoy that shaping. Jesus referred to it with the metaphor of a plant being pruned so that we will bear more fruit. Ouch. But we know that failure is one of life’s best teachers, so it stands to reason that God would utilize our failures to help us mature.

In those painful moments, it’s crucial to remember that God’s plans for us are far greater than we can imagine. Sitting by that well in Midian, looking down at his guilty, murderous hands, being chosen by God to lead the Hebrews to freedom was probably as far from Moses’ mind as the east is from the west. But this is also the distance from which God is willing to remove our sins from us (Ps. 103:12). So putting our faith into action as we work through our guilt and shame can sometimes be as simple (though not easy) as gritting our teeth and remembering what God has done for us in the past, including the distant past through people like Moses.

For reflection:
1) Can you recall a time when guilt was weighing you down? Did you work through it? How?
2) Guilt for wrong actions can often transform into a sense of shame, which says, “There is something wrong with me.” Are you wrestling with self-messages of shame? Are any of those messages undeserved?
3) God never appears in today’s passage, just as God doesn’t appear in 2:1-10. Does it encourage you to know that sometimes God may not be obviously present, and nevertheless working behind the scenes?
4) We often feel paralyzed by our own guilt — has it ever occurred to you that God’s will is in no way disabled by our guilt?
5) Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, Christians believe that sin itself has been put to death (2 Cor. 5:21). While we still live repentant lives, how does this once-for-all act of Jesus change how we think about guilt?

Many blessings,
MM

Moses: By Faith

Our Lent series on repentance led us to Easter, where Jesus’ resurrection promises the forgiveness of sins, but also the believer’s entry into an entirely new world. So it’s fitting now to begin a new teaching series on Moses, who is perhaps most famous for his role in leading the Hebrews to a new land.

The New Testament book called “Hebrews” helps Christians understand our faith in the much, much broader context of the stories of “the ancients” — our predecessors in faith. In particular, Hebrews 11:23-29 recounts some of the most memorable moments of Moses’ life of faith. But many of us have not taken much time to consider what the ancients have to teach us. Rather, the modern mindset is often reversed, beholden to the assumption that what is younger and newer has more to offer than what is older and time-tested. This reversal of logic is fed by the ubiquitous consumerism in which we live, which preaches that it’s our right to have our unique needs met, and it’s our right to have whatever is new and updated.

Still, we know what it means to recognize the impact of those who have gone before us — those who had to live by faith in a future they would never see. Consider the experience of looking through an old family photo album. These aren’t just people in weird clothes or with odd hairstyles. You’re looking into the eyes of our mothers and fathers, our recent ancestors who were then experiencing as much uncertainty (or more) as we are now. Reading stories of the ancients is like looking at the family photo album of our faith. And Moses is in a lot of the photos.

Moses’ faith was so influential that he is one of only two people who lived during the Old Testament period and then also appear in the New Testament, when Jesus meets with him and Elijah on the mount of transfiguration. Moses’ faith was so influential that Jewish people to this day retell the story of the exodus from Egypt, which Moses led under God, during Passover. Moses’ faith was so influential that it helped him persevere being hotly pursued by the most powerful army in the world. Moses’ faith was so influential that thousands were saved from bondage, thousands would come to know themselves as God’s people, and eventually through Christ countless billions through the centuries would become adopted daughters and sons of the most high God and be set free from the bondage of sin and death.

And ironically, Moses didn’t even physically make it to the land God promised his people.

For the next 17 weeks, we’re going to journey with Moses. We’re going to see what his story can tell us about our own stories, how his faith sets the stage for our faith, and how his life became the archetype for Jesus, who is the “pioneer and perfecter of faith.”

For reflection:
– Can you think of something an ancestor of yours did that you still benefit from? (Example: a great-grandparent that immigrated to the U.S.)
– Can you think of something you are doing now that is setting the stage for a future you may never see?
– When you think of Moses, what are the first things that come to mind?
– When you think of Moses, does anything distasteful or unpleasant come to mind?
– What does it mean to you, to “live by faith?”

Many blessings,
MM

Re:Lent – Recreate

Sometimes, we need to be reminded that there is truth about the world that we simply cannot yet see.

This week, Pastor Aaron recounted a (hilarious) story of a rigorous backpacking trip with his family and some friends. The 9-mile hike to the lake was grueling and Aaron honestly told us that several miles in, he was ready to quit! Of course, the group persevered and discovered, when the tree line parted in front of them, the grand beauty of the mountain lake. And they were able to enjoy a couple of days of heaven-on-earth.

“The worst thing is not the last thing.” –Frederick Buechner
Jesus’ disciples had just endured the worst thing they could have imagined — not an uphill mountain hike, but an uphill death march to Jesus’ crucifixion. For centuries, Christ’s followers have tried to imagine what it would have felt like to see the one they called Teacher, Master, and Friend betrayed, shamed, and executed. No wonder, then, that they all had to process Jesus’ resurrection in their own way. The gospel of John spends ample time on a disciple named Thomas, and the way he responded to the news: “So the other disciples told [Thomas], ‘We have seen the Lord!’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe'” (John 20:25).

The question is: what did Thomas really need? Was he doubting the news the way we typically think of doubt? Or was Thomas a pragmatist, unable to simply take his friends at their word (and a seemingly outrageous word at that!), and instead wanting to experience this news first-hand? In any case, Thomas’s realistic view of his world is one that most moderns like ourselves can certainly empathize with. We live in a post-Enlightenment, “scientific” age that claims everything we can know and need to know is attainable by way of empirical evidence and sensory experience. Many of us are like Thomas. So we can learn, as he had to learn, that there are truths (even facts, gasp!) about the world we inhabit that we have not nor cannot apprehend without God’s gracious revelation.

This is why Thomas utters such a profoundly repentant statement when Jesus does give him the gift of first-hand experience. Having touched Jesus’ wounds with his own hand, Thomas said: “My Lord and my God!” Is there any more profound way of turning away from trying to occupy a place of omniscience and turning toward the freedom of faith?

This Easter, and really every day of the year, God invites us to new experience of the resurrection life Jesus began, and therefore to a much larger vision of the paths that each of us are walking along. Jesus even gave a blessing to you and me, and countless people that would follow him in the years to come: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29). What is that blessing? It is to have our vision widened from the small and temporary kingdoms of this world, to the large, eternal, and life-giving reign of God as we await the completion of the new creation begun in Jesus’ resurrection.

For reflection:
– In what ways are you like Thomas today, facing obstacles to your belief in Jesus’ resurrection?
– Beyond intellectual “faith,” what obstacles might be standing in your way of letting go of your vision for your life and beginning to learn about God’s vision for your life?
– Is there a relationship in your life that needs to be reconciled?
– Is there a disappointment in your life that you need to confront God about?
– Is there a wrongdoing you’ve committed that you need to confess and be free of?

May you know new life this Easter!
Pastor Mike