Tuesday, December 23, 2008

No Small Thing

The other day, I was helping our youngest son find a page to color in a Bible-based coloring book. As we flipped through the pages, we came to a depiction of Moses and the burning bush. Something struck me as unusual about the picture, so I took a closer look.

The burning bush was there, Moses was there, "authentic" clothing, walking stick, movie-star hair, everything you would expect.

But one thing was a little odd: the expression on Moses' face. The picture showed Moses approaching the burning bush with one hand raised as in greeting, with a grin on his face from ear to ear, as though he had just run into an old friend in the airport and couldn't have been more delighted.

Somehow, I doubted this was Moses' actual state of mind at that moment, and a review of Exodus 3 confirmed my suspicions.

The scene in the text is quite different from the coloring book version. In the text, Moses approaches the bush out of curiosity, is commanded to remove his sandals out of respect for holy ground, and hides his face for fear of being in the presence of God.

Moses does not respond with enthusiasm to the message given to him from the burning bush. In fact, Moses tries everything he can think of to persuade God to go find someone else for this mission of freeing God's people from slavery.

The scene continues with two miraculous signs that terrify Moses: his staff turning into a serpent, which he then has to pick up, and his hand becoming leprous and returning to normal. And, to top it all off, Moses is told he will have the opportunity to threaten the life of Pharaoh's firstborn son.

We know the rest of the story.

Moses' call at the burning bush results in the rest of his entire life being given to the service of God and His people. And this time is not filled with delight. In fact, the hardship far outweighs the pleasure. The burden is heavy, the people are ungrateful and disobedient, and Moses does not always feel the mission is worthwhile.

Yet his work was necessary. He ushered God's people from one point in their history to another.

Still, do you ever wonder whether Moses thought back on that day when he saw the burning bush? Do you ever wonder whether he wished he hadn't seen it, or that he had just minded his own business and not gone to check it out? There were times when he vented to God in exasperation, asking why he was stuck tending to these people whom he had not fathered, and asking God to simply strike him dead (Numbers 11).

Yes, Moses would have had a simpler, probably more pleasurable life had he not responded to God's call. But can you imagine the depth, the purpose, the understanding he would have missed? Apart from his most frustrating moments in God's service, surely Moses understood this.

The point is not to criticize a coloring book.

The point is to remind God's people that it is no small thing to answer His call.

He asks us to be faithful until death. He promises us an eternity of blessing if we will do so. Few believers hesitate about this, but we tend to forget that this requires a different attitude toward this earthly life than most people are willing to have. Eternity has to be more important, even if it means our time here being nothing like what we had planned and wished for.

Moses learned this, even if he didn't yet understand it at the burning bush.

Will God's people today understand what the children of Israel seldom did?

Sunday, December 21, 2008

You Came...Here?

Anyone who has ever moved from one place to another has heard the inevitable questions:

"You're going where?" "Why? What are you thinking?"

It's not always easy for people to understand why someone they care about would choose to relocate. Even if they understand, it's still emotional, with feelings mixed between happiness for a new opportunity, and the grief of knowing how much the person will be missed.

Something interesting can happen on the other end as well.

If you've ever moved from one place to a smaller, less "glamorous" place, some of your new neighbors might very well express surprise that you left what in their minds is a "better" place, to come live in the town they've always called home. While they're glad you're there, and they've welcomed you like family, somewhere in the back of their minds, they're asking, "Why would you come here?"

People are funny. Our hometowns are so great no one should move away, yet at the same time, other places, bigger and better, are so wonderful no one should ever want to leave them and come to our little one-horse town. A lot of this, of course, is in our imagination. Life is life wherever you are.

"You're going where?"

"You came here?"

Two questions asked sincerely by people trying to understand another person's decision. And most of the time, the answer is perfectly understandable once it is explained, and loving people support one another throughout these decisions.

There is a story, however, in which the answers to these same questions aren't so easy to understand.

"The Word became flesh and dwelt among us." -- John 1:14

Never fail to marvel at the fact that He came here. That the Creator became a part of His creation. That He entrusted Himself to the care of two first-time parents with nothing in this world. That He grew up to live a sinless life and gave Himself as the sacrifice to end all sacrifices. That the veil of the temple was torn in two so we could approach God. That He defeated death and rose from the grave. That He sent His Spirit to help us; and that He intercedes for us still. And most of all, that the story is far from over; that He's coming back again.

Who would do this? Is there any other object of faith in this world who can claim anything like this?

What sense could this have made to the angels who announced His arrival? (I Peter 1:12) Can we even claim that it makes sense to us?

Whatever else you do at Christmas time, take time to marvel at what God has done.

Marvel, but more importantly, respond.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Wrong Hombre to Fool With

You see the picture.

A hat like that would be a prized possession by anyone’s standard. In fact, I had one just like it back in my teens, and wore it with pride, until…

One random weekday morning, my brother Samuel was getting ready for school, and asked if he could borrow my Raiders stocking cap for a field trip that day. It was a cold day, and he was going to be outside, so I agreed, and Samuel took my hat.

I went to school that day and never gave my hat a thought. When I got home that afternoon, I breezed straight to my room as I normally did, unloading my school stuff and turning on some tunes.

Just as I was getting settled in, the moment came. Not sure what the deal was, or what the chemistry of that moment was, but for whatever reason, my fuse was unusually short.

Samuel came in, looking forlorn.

“Uh, Dave…I lost your hat. I left it somewhere on the field trip today.”

Oh, no, you didn’t.

I really don’t remember my words. I hope Samuel doesn’t, either. All I know is that I let him have it. Man, I shook the leaves on the trees. Yeah, that’s right. I was the wrong hombre to fool with. One tough sunnuvugun.

Samuel took this tongue-lashing quietly. He just stood there in silence, staring down at the carpet as I strutted past him and out of the room, far more macho than this hat-losing brother of mine would ever hope to be.

I cruised down the stairs and through the kitchen, right past my mom, who stopped me and said, “Oh, David, I need to tell you something before you talk to Samuel today. He lost your hat on his field trip, but I need you to be understanding. He really felt bad about it. He was crying on the way home.”


(Do you remember those old cartoon scenes, when a character realizes he's been a complete jerk, and for just a moment, turns into a skunk, and then back to his normal self?)

Could anyone have scripted this?

My crime became even more heinous when I later learned that Samuel had made a valiant effort to save my precious hat. As his class was about to return to school on their bus, he realized he had left it behind, and insisted the teacher make the bus driver wait while he went back to search for my hat, only to find it was already gone. He had done all he could.

What are the odds? The moment my brother, six years my junior, acted most like an adult, I chose to respond like a child. When the moment called for grace, I refused to be gracious. When a loved one was vulnerable, I was vicious. Just when a point did not need to be made, I took it upon myself to pound it home, and in dramatic fashion.

It was the worst possible response, short of physical violence.

And in contrast: Just when my brother might have felt most justified in fighting fire with fire, he turned the other cheek and absorbed it all.

For everything we understand about the danger of the human tongue, how often do we forget that it's more than a simple matter of the words we choose and the stories we tell?

One of the most revealing tests of our character is the way we choose to treat someone who is vulnerable. What do we do or say when we have the upper hand, and someone else is in a position of weakness? "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy." -- Matthew 5:7

Another test, just as crucial as the first, is our commitment to living out the truth of Proverbs 25:11. "The right word at the right time is like precious gold set in silver." How well do we sense where other people are and what they need?

Don't feel up to the test?

"If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him." -- James 1:5

Or, there is always the world's way: Show 'em how tough you are. Repay any offense. Make sure they know you're the wrong hombre to fool with.

And how will Jesus answer?

"I never knew you."

Saturday, December 6, 2008

What Is Your Beauty?

Ezekiel 16 is one of many unexplored corners of Scripture to most believers.

In this passage, God gives the prophet Ezekiel an analogy for His relationship with His people, Israel. The analogy begins with a passerby discovering an abandoned newborn, left on the ground, unwashed and helpless. The passerby rescues the baby and cares for her, and watches her mature into a beautiful woman He will call His own. The passerby/rescuer/husband gives His beloved everything there is to give, and she becomes famous for her beauty.

If only the story ended there.

Chapter 16, verse 15: "But you trusted in your beauty..."

The rest of the story is a tragic spiral of promiscuity, idolatry, infanticide, and ruin. In the end, God assures Israel that she will ultimately repent of her evil, and that He will provide atonement for it. But there is much pain to be suffered in the meantime, as Israel reaps the consequences of her unfaithfulness to God.

Naturally, the reader's attention is drawn to Israel's conduct, the idolatry that is equated to marital infidelity. This makes sense, because this conduct is what brought about Israel's ruin. But there is something else here, something that preceded the idolatry and unfaithfulness. Something that provided the starting point for all of that:

"...you trusted in your beauty..."

The origin of every evil committed by Israel was the faith she developed in her own beauty. She came to believe she was who she was by her own power, by her own virtue, and that she could continue to have everything she had by her own will, charm, and connections.

She forgot her beauty was a gift from God. She forgot what she was before He came along and picked her up off the ground. She forgot she was nothing without Him.

Once these facts were forgotten, once the prideful seed was planted and took root, the door was open for God's beloved to become no different than her worldly neighbors. In fact, according to Ezekiel's prophecy, she became even more evil than they were.

If only God's people today weren't just as vulnerable to the same mistake.

What gift from God are you tempted to trust and consider your own? Your looks? Your talent? Your charm? Your intellect? Your wealth? Your career? Your rolodex?

What is your beauty?