Moses – The Burning Bush

Fire. There’s just something about it. I mean, sure it is an essential ingredient in the creation of what we call “human civilization,” and sure we know what it is scientifically. But there’s still something mysterious about it that deeply resonates with us. Maybe this is why God’s presence appears in the form fire.

Until this point in Moses’ “origin story,” God has appeared pretty much as a passive, distant character. Only at the end of chapter 2 does God appear to be active, but in the background of the story. Here, in Exodus 3, God appears powerfully on the scene. So powerfully, in fact, that God becomes the main character of the story.

When God appears to Moses in the burning-but-not-consumed bush, he tells Moses to remove his sandals because Moses is standing on holy ground. The presence of God is sacred, or set apart, from the ordinary. So the inevitable day-to-day grime that appears on the bottoms of our shoes has no place there. It’s a reminder that even though God wants to be near us, and even to be known by name, our proper posture toward God is one of deep reverence (what the Hebrew calls “the fear of the Lord”).

So what is it about God that we revere? Of course there are the “qualities” that we read about like omniscience and almightiness. But look at what God is doing here. God sees… God knows… God is concerned… God has come. God’s compassion and action for oppressed people inspire our reverent awe.

What follows is a dialogue between Moses and God that is among the most memorable in the Bible. Moses asks questions and God answers. Moses’ hesitation about the task God is calling him to do is palpable. But Moses becomes for us one of scripture’s most powerful examples that if you want to know God, you have to go with God.

The concept of “personal conversion” has a precedent in scripture, but combined with the staunch individualism of our culture it can lead to a “personal religion” that is indifferent about the state of the world. But Pastor Aaron put it best when he said “Salvation is a full contact sport.”

For reflection:
– Think back: have you ever experienced a sense of “calling?” Would you say it was God calling you? If not, where did the calling come from?
– Tell the story: If you have had an experience of calling, what was it?
– Look forward: Are you in a season of change? In what way might God be calling you now?

Blessings,
MM


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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

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

 

 

 

God’s Timing is Perfect

Luke 19:1-10

The life we are living is a gift.  Even though life has its “ups and downs,” even the chance we have to experience life had to have been initiated as a gift long before we could have understood it or contributed to it.

And there is a narrative arc that extends from before you were born until this moment, and what links that narrative together is Grace.

The grace of God is manifest to us in three ways, the first of which is known as “Prevenient Grace.”  It refers to the ways God was at work in our lives before we could have had an awareness of him.  We might see that grace as we look back in reflection, but at the moment we couldn’t have recognized it.

In the story of Zacchaeus, the tax collector was eager to get a glimpse of Jesus.  But what led him to that state of mind?  How did he feel when he realized that Jesus already knew who he was and had plans for him before they even met?

For reflection:

  1. Can you link 3-5 events in your life story together to see how they led you to where you are today?
  2. Life can be really tough; can you see the work of God’s grace in your story even in the most difficult chapters?
  3. If your story is one of God’s grace, what can you infer about the lives of others you know?  What about strangers?  Enemies?
  4. If God has been at work throughout your life, what does that mean about your present?  Your future?

Stories are meant to be shared — if you’d like to share some of your story, you’re welcome to in the comments!

Many blessings,

Mike