Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Story #6: Grace Found in the Desert

While mistakes are inevitable, they are not predictable. 16 years of age, marked my first accident. I had just dropped off a friend following an all day high school track meet, when I pulled out to cross an intersection. I got a few feet out when my front bumper collided a BMW 4-door sedan. The noise and the impact sent my senses into overload. What had just happened? My mind went numb. How could this happen? I tried to create scenarios in my mind that left me innocent and not at fault. They must have been speeding... Why did that guy motion for me to go... There had to be another explanation that would exhonorate me.
As creative as my mind could get, I couldn't escape the fact that I had caused the accident. Inadvertently of course, but it was my fault. I was guilty No matter what type of spin we want to attribute to Israel's wandering through the desert for 40 years, the reason they found themselves in this position was they had made the mistake and rebelled against the Lord, when He told them to take possession of the Promised Land. Was it lack of Faith... Yes. Was it fear of what they saw... Yes. Was it their poor upbringing in Egyptian slavery or poor leadership from 10 of the tribal leaders (A bad apple mentality)... YES, YES, YES!!!. We can put a lot of reasons, labels and descriptions on their behavior, but God called it as it was... rebellion. I find myself doing that as well sometimes. In an attempt to mask my sin and rebellion, I try to label it... hoping that a new name might cover up the true identity. BUT, when its all said and done, sin is sin. We have to own our choices, behaviors and mistakes. We can't cover them up from God, He see all. However, he does provide a new pathway, called GRACE. Grace can be described in the way my father handled that accident back in 1989. The cop that came to the scene contacted my father who came to the accident (dropped off by mom). I was a nervous wreck and was concerned about his response. As he approached me, he must have seen my dis-shevled face. His first question was, "Are you okay?" He didn't focus on the damage to our car, or the totaled BMW (yes it was totaled). He wanted to know how I was. After making sure I wasn't hurt, he asked me to tell him what happen. I really don't remember much after that. The details have become a fog through the years. However, I do remember how that night ended. When everything had taken its course, it was time to go home. My father turned to me, "Ready to drive home?" What kind of punishment was that? "No way!" I responded. Dad replied calmly, "The longer you wait, the harder it will get. You can do it. I'll be in the car with you." It was that statement, "I'll be in the car with you," that caught my attention. Grace not only tells you it will be okay, it also gets in the car with you. My dad didn't take control, or make me feel like an incompetent drive... HE SAT IN THE CAR WITH ME all the way home. This is grace, and God responded to Israel. Although they had to deal with the consequences of their rebellion, God never left them in the desert. He went with them. In essence, God got in the car with them! Israel found grace in the desert.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Story #5: Where Does God Hang Out?

It was perhaps the greatest opportunity ever. God tells Moses that he wants to come to his people and dwell right in the middle of their camp. Not on the outskirts. Not in the ‘burbs. But right in the middle of where they were living. You might wonder, “What preparations would a people need to make for God to live in their midst?” Would it be like getting ready for weekend guests or someone special coming to dinner? You feel compelled to make sure your home looks as good as possible. You want to make a good impression and you want your guest to feel welcome. God anticipated the question and told Moses what needed to be in place for his coming. First, he wanted to be close to them but there was the problem of sin that created a breach between them. So God provided Moses with instructions about the practice of sacrificing, offering a covering for the people’s indiscretions before a Holy God. Sin is serious stuff, not to be taken lightly, and the sacrifice of unblemished animals was necessary to give the people a picture of sin. Second, he wanted to stay close to them. Moses was given the blueprints for the building of the Tabernacle. It’s a big word for “tent.” A portable place of worship. Kind of a mobile Motel 6. And he wanted to camp out right in the middle of where they were camping. God wanted to be close to his people. But he also wanted them to be close to each other. So he declared a third thing to get ready. He gave them Ten Commandments concerning relationships. The first four commandments focus on how we are to demonstrate our love to God. The second set of six have to do with how to show love to other people. In seeing these relationships of love it was God’s desire that people would come to know Him too. Jesus said the same in John 13:34: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another. . . By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” God gave the Israelites guidelines so that, when they sought to live by them, other nations would see them as different and know that they were God’s people. God gave us Jesus so that, when we live like him, others will know that we are his people. WHERE DOES GOD HANG OUT?... For those who know him, God took care of our sin through the sacrifice of Jesus. He tabernacles (lives) in the souls of those who have drawn near to him. Could it be then that the degree to which we are obedient to him in this command to love each other is the degree of his presence we will find among us? It could be our greatest opportunity ever.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Story #4: A Way Out!

In Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, there is a rescue scene which finds Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Chewbacca, & Hans Solo trapped in a garbage pit. The walls begin to compact with the risk of crushing our would-be heroes. Panic ruled as they tried to “Stop the Walls” from crushing them on both sides.
What do you do when you feel the wall of difficulties and threats closing upon you on all sides? You need only ask the Israelites. Behind them was a life of back-breaking work and slavery. Ahead of them was a life in the land of Promise. Behind them was the fierce army of a fanatical Pharaoh coming towards them. Ahead of them was a wall. Their obstruction was made of water. Your “wall” may be a fear of failure. Or maybe it’s a lack of confidence that has grinded your progress to a halt. Or it could merely be too many problems that have piled up in front of you at the same time. And you have no clue which one to tackle first. So you stopped. And you aren’t sure if there is a way over, around, or under this imposing impediment. At this point many people panic. Anxiety courses its way through the body, atrophies the movement muscles, and rigor mortis overtakes their resolve. Eyes which once had clear focus now only focus on the wall just inches away. But some look elsewhere. The Israelites looked to Moses. They began belting him with blame. Have you done the same? Blame the boss. Blame a co-worker. Blame your dog. Blame God. Maybe even blame yourself? Blame all you want but the wall remains. While the Israelites were body punching Moses, he opted to look elsewhere. His options? He could have looked at the enemy’s army. He could have looked at the ungrateful people he led. He could have looked at the wall of water spread out before him, sat down, and given up. Instead he looked to God. And God opened an unlikely route through the wall of water. Safely on the other side, the very wall that had halted their steps closed in on and covered the sources of their fears. The very name of the book where we find this story serves as a reminder when we face our “walls.” “Exodus” has a literal meaning “the way out.” And in case you might have missed it, the way out was not a better job, a different spouse, or a victim mentality. No, the way out is God. Next time you find yourself up against a wall try looking to him. (Ex. 1-7, 10-17).

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Trading in Your Dreams for Another’s

People nearing mid-life often crash into some startling and unexpected observations. For instance, we all dreamed big dreams when we were younger. But as we move at a break-neck pace through our twenties, thirties, and forties, we eventually slam head on into the realization that some of our dreams will never be realized.

 That observation throws some people into a mid-life crisis. Some don’t make it that far with their aspirations, having already given them up somewhere along the way. Some run into conflict that makes them weary and they settle for less. Still others make bold decisions to trade one dream in for another.

That’s what Joseph (in the Bible) did. Talk about dreams! He had some big ones. At seventeen he dreamed his ten older brothers would bow down to him. It’s enough he dreamed that dream. What makes it worse is that he told his brothers about it. The older brothers already had issues with the younger son. Their father favored Joseph. He had even given him a valuable, multi-colored coat. That’s the modern-day equivalent of a parent of four teenagers giving one an iPhone and the other three a stack of quarters each for a pay phone (assuming they could find one on their travels).

The brothers banded together and tossed the dreamer in a ditch, eventually selling him into slavery at the first opportunity. The next thing Joseph knew he was waking up in Egypt. From there his life was a rollercoaster thrill ride. One minute a slave. The next in charge of an Egyptian official’s house. The next in prison. The next in charge of the prison. Then he found himself in front of Pharaoh, called upon to interpret the leader’s dreams. With God’s help he was able to warn Pharaoh he would have seven years of abundant crops that he should be put in storehouses in anticipation of seven years of famine. Recognizing his wisdom, Pharaoh put Joseph second in command of all of Egypt. And because of God’s personal involvement in his life, he was was able to save his family. The same family that God was building into a nation. Joseph was in position to bring his family to Egypt and give them the most fertile land to work. And it was definitely fertile. In the time they were there they were “fruitful and increased greatly” (Exodus 1:7). Joseph could have lost his life getting caught up in the details of his life, chasing his dreams and desires. Instead, he chose a better story. God’s story.

You can do the same. If your life’s dream has stalled, look to God. If your dream now realized is not all you thought it would be, look to God. He can give you another dream. A better one, not according to the world’s standard but God’s criterion. Just like Joseph’s. Then you’ll have a story to tell.