Moses: “Delegate or Suffocate”

In 2001, I knew an older gentleman in Beflast, Northern Ireland named George. One day, George approached me after a sermon I gave and said, “That was a good sermon, Mike. There is one thing though…” He leaned in: “You’ve got to get your hands out of your pockets! It makes you look like a lazy man!”

Safe to say I don’t think I put my hands in my pockets up front for a long time after that. George really valued being known as a hard worker, and that “Protestant Work Ethic” is very much part of the American landscape, too. It’s just that, no matter hard hard a person works, they cannot do all the work alone.

In Exodus 18:13-27, Moses had been given a specific task by God — to judge God’s instructions and teach them to the people. But the line waiting for his counsel was dawn-to-dusk and ran round and round the block! He needed help, and his father-in-law Jethro knew it. Taking Jethro’s advice, Moses shared his responsibility with capable, trustworthy, God-fearing people, and together they could accomplish that specific task. God’s will is discerned and lived out in devoted community.

This means a few things:

  1. Living God’s will requires various responsibilities. Like a symphony or sports team, the task is shared (in this case, discerning and living God’s will) but the responsibilities can vary. Moses had the responsibility of oversight and final accountability to God. The other judges had responsibility over varying numbers of people. And don’t forget the people — they had the responsibility of actually obeying the counsel they were given!
  2. Living God’s will requires cooperation. It’s one thing to know your responsilbility. But it’s another to harmonize yours with others’ so that you act as a single unit. There are two key points of view on this:
    – Moses/Leader: Sometimes you’re the one in charge, and cooperating with others’ responsibility means (a) sharing control, and (b) trusting.
    – Judges/Cooperative Team: Sometimes you’re not in charge, but you’ve been asked to take on some responsibility. To honor God in that, the team must (a) say “yes” (not much can happen without that), (b) have a team attitude (a begrudging ‘yes’ can be worse than a ‘no’!) and (c) maintain perspective on the larger goal. This last one is key. The “God-fearing” men that Moses needed to choose would have to maintain the perspective that their job as judges wasn’t actually about them, and it wasn’t about Moses. It was about God and blessing the Israelites with God’s will so they could live the abundant lives God wanted them to live.

Here’s the great news (thank Jethro!) When we live God’s will as a devoted community, “everyone will go home satisfied.” That includes the people receiving the counsel and the ones giving it. It’s not God’s will that some people get served while the servants go home exhausted, burned out and cynical. Burnout isn’t righteous; it just gives us a chance to feed our egos. Rather, God’s will is that we share in the responsibility of governing the world in such a way that there is balance, health, and satisfaction.

For reflection:
1) In what ways do you play Moses’ role, as the one in charge? At home? Work? Church? Elsewhere? What challenges do you face as one in charge?
2) In what ways do you play the ‘judges” role, as the one being entrusted with responsibility? At home? Work? Church? Elsewhere? What challenges do you face as the one being given responsibility, but not ultimately in charge?
3) Jesus also entrusted people with responsibility — what can we learn about the character of God by today’s passage, or in the many other ways God expects people to share the responsibility of living out God’s will?

Many blessings,
MM

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From Pseudo to Authentic Friendship

We tend to throw certain words around pretty loosely.  Words like “awesome,” “super,” and “totally.”  We totally use language to communicate our super awesome ideas.

Another such word is “community.”  Like many concepts, there is nuance and variety to this word, including a spectrum of types of community that can range from “pseudo-community” to “authentic community.”  In our heart of hearts, we long for the latter.

When Jesus put together his closest followers, we see the beginning of a community characterized by unprecedented, powerful experiences of God that bonded the twelve of them as friends. They also argued and competed with each other.  But they also learned to be reconciled and trust each other.  Just as Jesus called that community together, and as scripture describes authentic friendship, God is calling us to authentic communities of friends today.

But we know that many friendships are pseudo-friendships, relying on superficial agreement rather than authentic connection.  Pastor Aaron introduced us this week to a concept from the late great Scott Peck, who claimed that in order to move from pseudo-friendships to authentic ones, we have to be willing to enter and endure what he called the “Tunnel of Chaos.”  Sounds fun, right?

This is the process of “getting real” with one’s friends, facing conflict, asking hard questions, and being vulnerable.  Many people enter the tunnel but just as quickly claw their way back to the safety of pseudo-friendships.  But those who can initiate or accept an invitation into the tunnel are willing to take the necessary steps toward authentic friendship — a sister or brother whom one can trust and rely on in a way that only authentic friendship makes possible.  A fulfillment of our deep longing for true community.

For reflection:

  1. Is there someone in your life with whom you’d like to initiate more authentic connection?  What simple act could you take to invite that person into the tunnel with you?
  2. Have you ever been invited into more authentic friendship?  Did you accept, and what was your experience?  Did you decline, and what has that been like for you?
  3. God is always ready to empower us — Consider praying this week specifically for God to guide you and empower you to risk entering into a more authentic friendship.

In Grace,

MM

Overcoming Fear & Prejudice

“God, I thank you that I am not like sinners.”

This paraphrase of the words of “prayer” from the Pharisee character in Jesus’ parable, found in Luke 18:9-14, can be called a lot of things.  Pompous.  Arrogant.  Proud.

Prejudiced.

This word, which denotes passing premature judgment on someone, is a buzz word in our culture.  In the case of this Pharisee, his prejudice is obviously about other people—he doesn’t know those sinners, right?  But he is also acting as his own judge, ironically letting God know, “Hey, you can take the day off!  It turns out I’m innocent!”   For him, apparently it’s easier to put on the armor of prejudice than it is to face the reality of his own brokenness.

Turns out we can be prejudiced about others, and even ourselves, just like this Pharisee character.  But judgment about others and ourselves is reserved for only Jesus Christ: “The Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son” (John 5:22).  Paul offers an ingenious explanation of this in his letter to the Corinthians:

“I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me.” (from 1 Cor. 4:1-5)

The good news is that this means we are free to befriend the whole world.  Think of it — when we meet people who are different than ourselves, even if those differences contradict our values and beliefs, we can still be free of passing judgment on them.  Moreover, we can be free of any judgment others may pass on us.  Finally, we can even be free of judging ourselves, which we ultimately lack the wisdom and objectivity to do, just as we lack those qualifications for judging others.

Of course we are still told to be wise and discerning: “Judge correctly” (John 7:24).  But it is possible to exercise unprejudiced discernment, which takes everything into account without presuming to pass final judgment on anyone.  And it opens the door to worldwide friendships.

For reflection:

  1. Have you ever been constrained by prejudice?  Either prejudice you hold about others, or vice versa?
  2. Have you ever had a prejudice about people that you later were able to overcome?
  3. In what ways does fear lead to prejudice?
  4. Character takes practice — what can you, or someone you know, do to practice living without fear or prejudice?

Many blessings,

MM

 

Pitfalls and Antidotes

“A friend loves at all times,
    and a brother is born for a time of adversity.”  (Proverbs 17:17)

This morning Pastor Aaron shared an article from the Boston Globe on a new threat to middle-aged men: loneliness.  And if people who are middle-aged struggle with loneliness, it appears the challenge increases the older we get.  According to one study, about 1/3 of all adults in the US over 60 are living alone.  Over 80?  There’s a 50/50 chance you’re living alone.

It’s tragic that in seasons that bring some of life’s greatest adversity, so many people are going it alone.  There are several pitfalls to real friendship.  But the good news is that there are also answers.

  • Pitfall: Fair-weather friendship.  If, as the proverb says, a brother or sister is born for adversity, then why do so many feel alone at those very times?
    • Antidote: Exchange convenience for commitment.  We all need to have friends who do this, but we all have the ability to be those friends, too.
  • Pitfall: Busyness.  “Haste leads to poverty,” says Proverbs 21:5.  Overscheduling is a huge cause for nominal friendships because it friendship requires the time to walk life’s journey together.
    • Antidote: Set it and forget it.  Hey, if we’re going to live highly scheduled lives, why not schedule time for friends, too?  Don’t wait for that time to just appear — make it a priority.  Set it in the calendar, and when the time comes, enjoy it!
  • Pitfall: Lack of initiation.  When you were a kid, did you ever try to play on the teeter-totter with someone who didn’t do their part?  You just ended up sitting there…not teetering or tottering.  One-sided friendships can be like that.
    • Antidote: Recognize and respond to ‘bids.’  Bids are the little ways people indirectly ask for attention and validation.  Kids say “Mom, watch!”  Friends might say, “Dude, check this out.”  Giving our attention is a great way to take friendship initiative.
  • Pitfall: Conflict avoidance.  Proverbs 27:6, “Wounds from a friend can be trusted.”  No one like conflict, but they happen.  And a friendship that can’t address them is likely to stay superficial.
    • Antidote: Ask for feedback and insight.  Even when we’re not in a time of conflict, we can open the door to constructive input from our friends.  If they are in fact the ones who know us best, their insights should be valuable to us, even if it hurts a little bit to hear it.

For reflection:

  1. Which of the four pitfalls are familiar to you?
  2. Do any of the antidotes seem challenging?
  3. What do you think are some causes and solutions to the problem of loneliness?

Many blessings,

MM

Befriend the God Who Befriends You

There are lots of ways to create friendships.  But there are lots that don’t work very well, too.  Last week we looked at digital, transactional, and one-dimensional friendships that tend to fall short of the kind of real experience of knowing and being known.

But really, all friendships will fall short unless they are built on the only foundation that lasts.

When we read scripture, we enter into a dynamic interplay between our pursuit of God, and God’s pursuit of us.  But really, God’s pursuit of us is where everything begins:

  • “Where are you?” (God to the man and women in Genesis 3:9)
  • “You have searched me, Lord, and you know me” (Psalm 139:1)

When we realize that God is reaching out to befriend us long before we’re able to reciprocate, it changes not only how we relate to God, but how we build even our own identities.  “Our true identity is found not in what we do for Christ, [but] in our belonging to Jesus as a beloved daughter or son” (Pastor Aaron, Sunday 9/23).

The danger in not realizing this profound truth is that if we don’t receive the friendship that God freely offers, we will try to find it in others.  Other who, frankly, can’t give us what we truly need.  How many dysfunctional friendships exist because of the impossible demand of a love that only God can give?

If God loves us and pursues us, how can we receive it?  A primary way is to meditate on those scriptures that remind us.

  • We are the “apple of His eye” (Psalm 17:8)
  • We are “Abba’s children” (Romans 8:14-16)
  • We are a “crown of His splendor” (1 Peter 2:4, 5)
  • We are the “temple of God” (1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19-20)
  • We are His “friends” (John 14:21; 15:15)

For reflection:

  1. Can you carve out 10-15 minutes of time in each day this week to dwell in the fact that God loves you?
  2. How do you think coming to an experience of God’s befriending love for you could improve your current relationships?  Be as specific as you can in your reflection.

 

Many blessings,

MM

Destruction and New Creation

Paul gets real about hostility,  destruction, death, and new humanity.

Last week we saw in the first chapter of Ephesians 2, Paul laying the groundwork for understanding how all the variety of the human race can be unified in Jesus Christ.  We have in common our sinful disposition, God’s love for us, and our invitation to be part of God’s purpose.

In the second half of this chapter, Paul reiterates the division between first century Jews and Gentiles, almost as if to emphasize the power of reconciliation in Christ.  The reality is that the differences between peoples have historically created hostility between them.  Like, duh.  Read any history book.

Maybe that’s why Jesus didn’t just teach us to try and get along.  He didn’t suggest shaking hands and making up.  On the cross, Jesus’ death tore down the curtain in the temple, the division between us and God.  Consequently, the division between persons is also torn down and reconciliation made possible.  Jesus “destroyed” the barrier and put hostility “to death.”

For reflection:

  1. How many examples can you think of in history, where differences between peoples created hostility?
  2. If Jesus destroyed that which divides us, why do even Christians still experience hostility based on our differences?
  3. What kinds of steps must we take to live into our identity as a “new humanity” in Christ?
  4. Should the Church be leading the culture in celebrating the variety of human culture while still living in unity and peace?  Why or why not?

Many blessings,

MM

 

A Remembering Community

Paul’s instruction about taking the Lord’s Supper

“For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you…”

With these words, Paul is explaining to the early Christians in Corinth something of primary importance for life and faith: the Lord’s supper.

The Hebrew context here is crucial.  Jesus didn’t choose his elements at random.  He ordained this sacramental meal for the Church from that time until today in the context of Covenant.

Through the history of God’s people recorded across the entire biblical narrative, a pattern emerges.  God makes promises.  And people fail to remember (see Hosea 11:1-2 for how God perceives our forgetfulness).

It is no wonder then that when Jesus introduced the bread and the cup as the new covenant in his body and blood, he commanded that we “Remember.”

Of course, remembering that for which Jesus died — the forgiveness of sin and reconciliation to God — also (ironically) means we can forget.  We can forget the sins that so easily ensnare, and celebrate the liberation Christ won for us!  After all, God in his omniscience is described as effectively “forgetting” that which has led us astray and embracing us, whom he loves so dearly (see the story of the lost son for a powerful image of this).

We come together as the Christ-community and express his love in many ways:  worship, song, prayer, learning, serving, laughing, crying.  When we gather as the Christ-community, we enact that for which the Lord’s Supper stands.  We are doing this in remembrance of Him.

For reflection:

  1. Have you ever experienced the Lord’s Supper (a.k.a. Communion or the Eucharist)?  What was your experience like?
  2. Have you ever forgotten something that you knew you should have remembered?
  3. When someone in our close community forgets something important (like a birthday) what is that experience like?  Why?
  4. Some people think ceremony or tradition is superficial or unnecessary in a  community.  But Jesus clearly knew that ceremony was essential.  What do you think?
  5. What intentional steps can you take this week to “Remember” Jesus’ good news each day?

Many blessings,

MM

The Story of the Covenant

Deuteronomy 6:20-25

It’s interesting how knowing more about our past informs our present, and even our future.  When I was in high school, I didn’t understand why the study of history was interesting; it seemed like a bunch of irrelevant black-and-white photos and phrases like “Federal Judiciary Act of 1789.”  Ugh.

Thankfully, I later learned more about how history impacts the present, and that intersection is really where knowing our history becomes not only interesting or relevant, but crucially important to our identity and future.

And Moses knew this.

That’s why he commanded the budding nation of Israel to never forget who they were.  As J.A. Thompson notes: “The original covenant [with Moses at Mt. Sinai]…was not simply an event of the past which concerned Israel’s ancestors only, but was the concern of Israel in every age.  The original Israel held within it all later Israelites.”*

What’s interesting is that, anticipating the need to “pass the baton” of nationhood from one generation to the next, Moses gave instruction about how to explain the “stipulations, decrees and laws” of the people.  The answer: Learn our story.  Tell our story.  

The connection between ancient Israelites and today’s worldwide community of Christians is, of course, Jesus Christ.  Jesus fulfilled the original covenant, and thus established a new covenant in himself, rather than in the Law.  Those who are in Christ therefore also share in the story of the covenant people, all the way from the beginning.

For reflection:

  1. What are some of the stories from your personal life that still inform who you are today?
  2. What do already know about the Bible and the story it tells?
  3. What do you still need to learn about the Bible?
  4. Learning and telling the story of our faith is always done better in COMMUNITY.  Are you connected to “Group Life” at UPPC?

 

 

 

 


*J.A. Thompson, Deuteronomy: An Introduction and Commentary, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove: IVP, 2008) 128.

Between Two Fires

There are two things every human being needs:

Belonging and Purpose.

In John 21:7-17, after having denied even knowing Jesus only a few nights beforehand, a despondent Peter goes fishing with a few friends.  And because of the overflowing grace of Jesus, Peter and his friends are stunned to experience Jesus, now alive in his resurrected glory, cooking breakfast for them on the shore.

What follows is one of history’s most…awkward exchanges.  Jesus asks Peter three times, “Do you love me?”  (Note: if you have to be asked three times, you must not be showing the love too well.)  Of course, these three times echo the three times Peter had denied Jesus just a few nights earlier.  Jesus is reinstating Peter as an apostle.

Jesus is taking a dead relationship and resurrecting it, by giving Peter a renewed sense of belonging and purpose.

Even in this moment, Peter must have felt like a fraud.  He knew what he had done, and how he had failed.  But if we’re honest with ourselves, we should all feel like frauds to some extent.  All have fallen short of the glory of God, Paul reminds us, so we rely on the grace of God for giving us a seat at his table.  Because of Jesus, we know we belong.

But belonging is just the beginning.  Belonging exists to strengthen and empower one’s purpose.  One doesn’t belong on the football team just to talk about football, or on the fire department just to watch movies about fires.  Jesus gives Peter his purpose: “Feed my sheep.”  Because of Jesus, we know we have purpose.

For reflection:

  1. Where do you find a sense of belonging and purpose?
  2. Do you see yourself as having the ability to help other people find belonging?
  3. What role can you play in helping others find purpose?
  4. The apostles catch 153 fish — far more than they needed in that moment.  What does that tell you about God’s plans for the world?

Blessings,

MM

 

 

 

Lent Prayer Guide, week 6

Week 6, March 25th, Palm Sunday and the beginning of Holy Week

The Cross of Christ: The Treasures that Come from Suffering

Silence

Close your eyes and take five deep breaths.  In this moment of silent time, let your daily concerns fade into the background of your mind.

 

Pray

(Pray the following slowly, intentionally, and in silence)

Loving God,

I am just beginning to realize how much you love me.

Your son, Jesus was humble and obedient.

He fulfilled your will for him by becoming human and suffering with us.

I ask you for the desire to become more humble

so that my own life might also bear witness to you.

I want to use the small sufferings I have in this world

to give you glory.

In your grace, strengthen my life by the example of Jesus.

He was never apart from you, and knew the treasures for which he died:

The salvation of this world you love.

Help me to feel how close you are.

To remember the treasures you promise in spite of suffering,

and to live in union with you.

Amen.

 

Read

(Read the following passages slowly, intentionally, and aloud)

 

Matthew 26: 6-13

6 While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of Simon the Leper, 7 a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table. 8 When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked.9 “This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.” 10 Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. 11 The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. 12 When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. 13 Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”

 

Romans 5:1-8

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we[a] have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we[b] boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we[c] also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

21 They preached the gospel in that city and won a large number of disciples. Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, 22 strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” they said.

 

Reflect

  1. It is easy to consider the “waste” of the extravagant material value of the perfume the woman anoints Jesus with.  Why did Jesus defend her choice to use it the way she did?
  2. What does Jesus’ reaction tell us about the value of money from God’s point of view?
  3. What does this memorable event tell us about the “treasures that come from suffering?”
  4. Early Jesus followers knew full well that their lives would entail hardships.  What kinds of hardships might you endure as a Jesus follower in your context today?

 

Read

(Read the passages above again, aloud)

 

Pray

(Pray the prayer above again, intentionally, and now aloud)

 

Action

What can you do, this week, to courageously endure a hardship for Jesus’ sake, remembering the treasures that Jesus promises those sufferings will lead to?

 

About Lent: Lent is a season during which we remember the significance of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.   This guide is designed to be a guide for those who wish to wholeheartedly enter into the story behind Lent, just as Jesus’ disciples did.  You may have been following Jesus for decades.  You may have never set foot in a church.  At the foot of Christ’s cross, none of that matters.  All that matters is that God gave his only begotten Son to save the world.  To save this town.  To save you.

For the season of Lent, I’m going to pause my normal routine of summarizing and reflecting on the sermon, and offer this resource for guided prayer and scripture reading.  To use this guide, simply follow the instructions for each part, giving yourself enough time to absorb the content and enter in with your body, mind, and spirit.