Wild Wanderings – pt 2 – Mistrust

Part 2 – Mistrust

**This is part two of a Lenten Series called “Wild Wanderings” recapping lessons with my students at iLuminate Youth at Hanfield UMC. Last week we explored our radiant transformation as evidence for encountering God’s miraculous power. We continue building on that foundation here.**

Our operative definition for faith is “choosing to believe in something we cannot see or don’t understand,” and there can be no doubt that God is invisible and beyond understanding. Despite that, millions of people the world over claim some adherence to a deity or multiply deities. There can be no verifiable evidence in the sense of scientific proof for God, but the entire idea of faith belies a need for evidence (though it would be encouraging!). However, so many of the believers of various world religions claim undeniable experiences that it’s hard to dismiss the idea of God altogether.

For us, in a Christian church drawing its line to the Methodist denomination, belief in the God of the Judeo-Christian tradition is taken for granted. Belief is not the same thing as truly trusting that the miracles, myths, legends, testimonies, and reports of God’s action in our world are actually true. Belief alone is different than trusting that despite the evil at work in our world there is both a current and prophesied hope for the reconciliation of all peoples and things to each other and the pure righteousness of God. Belief will not guarantee that I will live as though God is real, alive, and still active in our world and lives. Belief is not trust.

Relationship builds trust.

If we look at Scripture we see within the covenant God made with the nation of Israel upon its exodus from Egypt that God was interested in a back-and-forth relationship with Israel, not just a one-sided obedience. The people were divinely rescued from slavery, divinely carried to safety, and divinely provided for in the wilderness – God was intent on participating in relationship with the people. From the get-go, if God is God in all love, holiness, justice, righteousness, grace, etc, we must acknowledge our lack of standing before the Majesty – Lev 15:31 sets this up: “their impurity would defile my Tabernacle that stands among them.” In the midst of repeated covenantal requirements for Israel to obey, we see the heart of God behind them – that we would become reunified with God, holy as God is holy.

Through the people’s lack of investment in the relationship they did not build foundational trust with Him. A flash-in-the-pan of miraculous outpouring proves nothing because this on its own does not cause belief, though it can inspire it. Trusting faith is built as we repeatedly respond to the God who is miraculously acting on our behalf.

Because Israel did not stay in relationship with God (pray, follow, seek, crave, etc) they did not trust God. Because they did not trust God (that the power displayed on their behalf was for their benefit, that the God who acted on their behalf desired their return to God’s loving arms, that this relationship was reciprocal and required their obedience) they did not hold up their end of the covenantal bargain.

There are multiple ways that the Israelites failed in their obedience. Keep in mind, Ex 40:34-48 describes how God’s presence was continually with them in the Tabernacle when they made camp and in the cloud over them as they travelled. These people literally walked with God everywhere they went, but it is apparent that we can still ignore and deny His presence even when it is immediately beside us.

As the nation journeyed from Mt Sinai towards Canaan to enter the land God had promised them, Numbers 11 describes how the people got bored with the Heavenly manna God provided every morning. They wanted meat, and they even took the time to complain loudly to Moses that (although they had been slaves) at least in Egypt they had fish and meat when they wanted it. The sin of the nation here is that they did not trust God’s goodness or providence for them – they wanted meat instead. In the story Moses reminded God they needed enough to feed the over 600,000 soldiers and their families when God replied, “Has my arm lost its power (11:23)?”

God provided enough quail to feed the people many times over. Remember the foundation of the covenant was relational restoration with God which would have made them holy as they held up their end of the bargain. However, God had already provided manna on a daily basis. The people did not need the quail and their indulgence in it was a lack of trust in God – those who ate it died in their impurity.

One might think that this act alone would re-re-re-remind the Israelites who they’re in covenant with (the Creator of the Universe, Holy God). In the very next chapter Aaron and Miriam, Moses’ brother and sister, additional leaders in the nation, revealed their own lack of trust in God. They complained about wanting Moses’ kind of spiritual power (completely denying it is God’s power in Moses and not Moses’ own power). As a result, she got leprosy (but after following the purification rituals was cleansed).

Three strikes, and you’re out. Israel made it to the edge of the Promised Land, but they wanted to be really sure. Numbers 13 describes the journey of the 12 spies that were sent to investigate the land. Though the fruits of the land were as plentiful as promised, the people were bigger than expected, they had a fresh test: trust God and enter the land or run? 10 of the spies recommended running while Joshua and Caleb attempted to get the people to faithfully walk into Canaan.

At this point the fake news of the day won and the people rebelled against God and Moses’ leadership – there were not going to enter the Promised Land and even threatened to stone to the two truth-tellers, Joshua and Caleb. God boomed from the cloud and the people quieted down really quickly, but Moses prayed and interceded on their behalf to ask God not to plague them. God spared them, but this act of mistrust in God earned them a severe punishment. For each of the 40 days the spies spent in the land the nation would spend one year in the desert wandering. In fact, this ensured that the adults of the rebellious generation would pass away before the nation entered, because their faithlessness had been proven enough thus far in the journey.

Is that enough? Does that not prove that if God makes a promise, a covenant with us, that trusting Him and holding up our end is better than not?

The problem is that God’s children here were acting like.. children. So the next morning after this punishment was announced (and a wise, duly chastened child might come back to mommy or daddy with a handmade apology card and even try messing up the kitchen to fix breakfast-in-bed and prove their apology and love) the nation of Israel loaded up and headed…towards Canaan?! They didn’t do exactly what God said – they doubled down in their sin and thought they could just savvy their way back into God’s good graces. Savvy is not the same as obedience! Moses came to them and pleaded (essentially), “You idiots! The Tabernacle and the Ark of the Covenant are still here. Don’t do it! The whole reason you’re in trouble is for not listening to God!”

He actually said, “Do not go up into the land now. You will only be crushed by your enemies because the Lord is not with you (Num 14:42).” He then tells them if they go to the Promised Land the inhabitants of the land will chase and/or slaughter them…which is exactly what happens when they don’t stay with God’s presence.

This Lent, this season of fasting and attempting to get back in touch with God, this time of acknowledging our own wild wanderings and attempting to have them redeemed, let us remember a few things.

1) God’s arm has not lost its power, even today.
2) The fact that we exist and breathe indicates
His already miraculous involvement in our lives
3) Regardless of how difficult the circumstances may be
(especially because we usually make the circumstances poor ourselves),
it is better to begin trusting God and stop going our own way
4) Sin is an act of rebellion against the covenant with God,
and mistrust is the first step on that journey

The question I asked the students: Do you come clean when caught in sin, or do you double down?

The solution is to simply stay with God’s presence. The formula is tried and true, but rarely practiced – crucify the ego (be humble), pray, read God’s word, look for opportunities to love others and serve. That first step is the trouble – humbling ourselves to acknowledge our sin, ask for forgiveness, and stop doing the stupid thing, is such a key (as the people of God ignored repeatedly in our story today). So I challenged the students to find somebody more spiritually mature than themselves – a friend, pastor, sibling, parent, teacher (just somebody they trust) – and confess a sin, then ask this person to pray with them asking God for forgiveness.

We are in this journey together – each of us are simply trying to find a way out of the wilderness of sin and separation from God. Life is hard enough without willfully compounding our problems as the ancient Israelites did. Rather, let’s pursue God together, and when we do find glorious moments of His presence, let’s not willfully leave. None of this will be able to spark belief in God, but hopefully something has helped strengthen your trust in God and lead to a stronger degree of faith.

Go with GOD,
Jeff

Advertisements

Wild Wanderings p1

28161640_1306479336165488_3343685419258692557_o

Part 1 – Radiant Obedience

Have you ever wished there was a way to pull out of the rat race and collect yourself? When you do find that time, is anyone able to know or see the evidence of it in/on you?

In the Christian Church there is a tradition of reckoning the year a little differently than the usual calendar. Advent, leading up to Christmas, begins the Christian year which follows with Epiphany then Lent leading to Easter and so on. We are currently in Lent – a season of pondering, reflection, and self-denial to continue becoming our best selves.

The tradition derives from the desert. In the Bible the desert is not only a very real place and situation to survive through – it also becomes a metaphor for trial, suffering, and a potential place to meet God. This year for Lent I am hoping to help our students meet God, but first we must get to the desert.

Our first lesson of Lent began with the Israelites receiving no end of miraculous help from the Lord to deliver them from slavery in Egypt. In return, God simply asked for obedience – God is the Almighty, humans are mere creations. God is refreshing the promise with His people to lead them out of Egypt back home to Canaan. Exodus 13:11 begins with Moses, their leader, reminding the children of God, “This is what you must do when the Lord fulfills the promise he swore to you and to your ancestors…”

God’s promises are conditional, and their fulfillment is reliant upon our obedience.

As miracle after miracle delivered them out of slavery, it would seem a no brainer that the witnesses and beneficiaries of God’s awesome might would unquestioningly follow the law to the letter! Just days after they literally crossed a sea on its dry seabed, however, the children of God were doing what so many children do best… complaining. Moses plead to God on their behalf and continued leading them home to the land that had been promised to them.

At Mt Sinai they stopped for a rest and for the covenant between God and His people to be fully realized and sanctified. While Moses was up on the mountain for 40 days and 40 nights, one would hope the rest of the people were preparing themselves to meet God? Praying and fasting as their leader was doing up on the mountain? Perhaps even preparing for a journey to their new homes? No – the people convinced the 2nd in Command to build them an idol to a false God.

What was it God wanted? Obedience. Rather than put in the hard work to see their long-term promises of God fulfilled, the people wanted short-term satisfaction. One of the ideals of Lent is that our short-term satisfaction is usually less fulfilling than God’s long-term promises, so in this season we often will put aside our short-term satisfaction for that deeper goal – a fast.

For what purpose?

Moses received the Ten Commandments from God during that initial 40 days on the mountain, but as he saw the idol worship of the people he threw the tablets down and shattered them in his anger. As usual with anger, consequences occur for the angry. In yet another act of power from God, Moses is forgiven and pleads for God’s continued presence with the nation – which God immediately answers. If Moses would stand in a certain place in a certain way and not look at God too soon (this all requires obedience), then Moses would actually see God on the mountain as He passed by Moses. “But you may not look directly at my face, for no one may see me and live (Ex 33:20).” Meeting God is not without challenge or consequence, yet not all consequences are negative.

Moses met God there, chiseled a new set of tablets, received the fresh law from God, and spent another 40 day fast on the mountain (that’s 80 days total receiving nourishment from God rather than eating human food, and nearly a quarter of a year for the people without their leader present). When he finally returned to the people what Moses did not realize was, “…that his face had become radiant because he had spoken to the Lord (Ex 34:39).”

He was transformed.

My question for our students: Does anybody know that you’ve spent time with God?

We so often want out of the race of life, a break where we can simply let our guard down and be ourselves without proving anything to anyone. This time is not the same thing as concerted time with God, and likewise will not yield the life transformation so many of us are seeking. One breeds short-term satisfaction while the other brings fulfillment on a soul-level from God.

Yet, even meeting with God has conditions, much like His promises of blessing. We want the results, but are we willing to do the work of obedient faithfulness, seeking results on God’s terms?

This Lent, I do want freedom for you. I do want a chance for you to catch your breath. However, I want us to experience truer transformation from God. I am not yet who God envisions for my destiny, even as God already loves me. I am not yet done with sin, even as God continues to purify and sanctify so that I may one day see sin only in my rearview mirror. I am not yet the obedient child God desires (more like a petulant teen most of the time), yet God still offers miraculous intervention and forgiveness as He did for Israel.

This Lent, will I join those people in the desert by patiently waiting for God to move (devoting ourselves to prayer, Scripture, worship, etc), or will I join those people distracting themselves with idols (money, entertainment, tech, etc…)? After this season of preparation, when we celebrate Resurrection at Easter, will I come out of the desert radiantly transformed due to God? Or will I appear no different as before, albeit with the pain of resentment in my eyes for not having met God?

It all hinges on our obedience to God’s urging, teachings, and Scripture.

He IS present with us as with the Israelites. He IS working miracles on our behalf. He IS bringing us into a promise that we cannot imagine! He IS ready to transform us. Each of these things happen on His gracious terms in direct proportion to our obedience as Moses modeled.

Follow God, and we will be radiant. Scripture, prayer, fasting, serving others in Christ’s name. A time-tested formula to pursue long-term promises from God rather than short-term satisfaction.

We’re in this together; let’s help each other. Your good is my good, and I will continue seeking your good in every way I can. If you don’t hear it from anyone else this week, I love you. See you Sunday. And let’s seek radiant transformation together, this Lent.

 

An illustration:

 

Part 1 of 6.

(Story summary of Exodus chapters 13-34. Direct quotations from NLT.)

Towards A Theology of Play

20170824_141511.jpg

Towards a Theology of Play

There is plenty of research and writing about the need for enjoying one’s Sabbath time. After a summer of driving my students hard towards a better understanding of God (believing that what we think about God determines how we act and live our lives) by exploring His attributes I wanted to give them a Sunday “off” at youth group. The purpose was less to explain the need for a Sabbath and have one (though we did) than to simply hope to redeem time off for these students. I’m a parent – I wish my son wouldn’t like to almost exclusively play (to my chagrin I realize my cultural conditioning in that statement). On the other hand, our culture makes much of work and commitments while making fun of those who seem to spend their time playfully. The generation coming up is perhaps more stressed than at any other time in history!

Despite this, I’m gaining a bit of a bookish reputation with my new youth group. Since I got here in April we’ve played a few games, but I find this to be a far less important aspect of youth group than helping teach our students a more vibrant faith (Vibrant faith is contagious, disciple-making faith). I’m having fun, I make our youth meetings fun even while we’re doing lessons, and I’m hearing from most all of these students that it is a direction they’re quite pleased with. Let’s be real though, many students come to youth group simply for a breather from “life” and to have some fun in the midst of their busy lives, especially now that school has started.

This past Sunday we had a game night. There was junk food galore, board games spread around, foosball upstairs, some football tossing outside, and an impromptu dodgeball game targeting those of us gathered at the different game tables. We had a blast. With about fifteen minutes left, though, I pulled them aside for a “Gotcha!”

Promised Play

Rather than playing (ha!) into cultural stereotypes glorifying work to the demonization of play, I wanted to help redeem the idea of play for our students and give them an ordained view of playtime (in community).

Psalm 104 celebrates the glory of God’s creation and the diversity of His creativity. Specifically, vv 24-26 speaks of something (Leviathan) created for play! Indeed, you can’t look at some of the creatures in our world and not see a playful Creator God!

Continue reading

Cosmic Resurrection – Lesson Recap, 4/9/17

So often I think we Christians sell ourselves short around Easter and the resurrection. Don’t get me wrong, I love Reese’s Eggs (get behind me, Satan!), surprising our son with some Easter bunny gifts, and worshiping together with God’s people on the day that exemplifies a Christian’s reason for existence.

We so often hear people at Church talk about Christ dying for our sins, willingly suffering in our place, or rising again on the third day. I think we’re missing the forest for the trees here. Yes, Christ did those things, although we could debate each of them till we’re blue in the face with different theories of atonement or how the harrowing of Hell looked (it’d make a great movie!). As Bunny says in Rise of the Guardians, “Easter is new beginnings, new life… Easter’s about hope.” So often we still focus on Christ’s suffering and forget that it points our way forward… it changes everything. I wanted to attempt to help our students get beyond the suffering or even just personal resurrection – hopefully after this lesson they can begin to see that God’s work is so much bigger than their own eternity even while tying in the definition of faith.

I began our lesson with this fantastic clip from The Skit Guys:

Our Risen Savior: Peter and John on Easter Sunday Video « The Skit Guys

In this clip at least, Peter and John represent two worldviews, neither necessarily wrong or right. Peter presents a more worldly, business-like view: this is the problem, here are some solutions, let’s get it done. Christ is missing, we disciples can go recover His body, and GO! John appears to be less of a do-er and more of a thinker: Christ is missing, but did He give us clues about this and does it mean anything deeper?

By the end of the video both are putting the pieces together of the breadcrumb trail that Christ left them: parables (The Kingdom of Heaven is like…), lessons (I will rebuild this Temple in three days), and encounters (This day you will join me in paradise)… He is who He said is, the Messiah, and He is Risen!!

So what is faith? How do we go from a purely earthly understanding of the problem to something more mystical and unseen? For the purposes of our time together, faith will be defined as: Believing in something we can’t see or don’t understand. Shortly after this video could have taken place, all the Disciples were gathered together and Christ appears in their midst (Poof!). Thomas, now called Doubting Thomas because of these infamous words, said that he wouldn’t believe Christ was resurrected unless he could put his hand in the wound in Christ’s side and his finger in the holes in Christ’s wrist. Christ obliges in this moment and Thomas finally believes. Then Jesus told him, You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me (John 20:29, NLT).”

Nearly two millennia later, faith is all we have to go off of – faith in God, faith that Scriptures passed down are still what God intended, faith that the events recorded happened at all, etc. This isn’t entirely preposterous; we hold faith in many things – that the light switch will turn on the lights, that the air we breathe is clean enough to survive, that the drugs the doctor is injecting us with is actually for our benefit, that… the list could go on. Just because the origin of our faith resides in the ancient past does not mean it must be any less true or actual. So, can we, as a group, believe that Christ did come back from the dead? Yes?

So what is the significance of that?

We first looked at 1 Peter 1:3-6, NLT:

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is by his great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Now we live with great expectation, and we have a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay. And through your faith, God is protecting you by his power until you receive this salvation, which is ready to be revealed on the last day for all to see.

So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while.

Followed by 1 Corinthians 15:12-23, NLT (especially focused on 17-19):

16 And if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. 18 In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost! 19 And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world.</p>

So because Christ is risen we have great “expectation” and hope in Him – we are no longer guilty of our sins because of gracious forgiveness, our salvation invites us into paradise with Christ as with the thief on the cross, and we have another life to look forward to after this one is over.

The 1 Cor passage referenced above concludes by mentioning death entering the world through Adam and being defeated a new Adam, Christ. This calls to mind the perfected state and intent of our Creation in the Garden, but we rebelliously told God we didn’t want that. To this day the struggle plays out in our every day lives when we’re told not do “the things” and insist on coming back to them again and again “like a dog to its vomit” (Jesus, what a gruesome metaphor!). “Beyond the reach of change and decay” lies a promise that will not be broken and that our sinful ways cannot corrupt. Why? Because Christ rose! There’s that personal resurrection piece that must be mentioned on Easter, but it’s such a small part of it! Our sin in Adam corrupted all of creation like a cancer that begins in one cell and eventually ravages the entire body, so did our sin eat away at the Good Creation we were so long lovingly crafted to be. Christ’s resurrection and defeat of death does so much more – it promises the defeat of the death of ALL of Creation, and the resurrection of the world! Yes us, but we are specs of sand for what God is interested in resurrecting!

One final passage, from Revelation 21:1-5, NLT:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.
I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”
And the One sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!”

Yes, Easter is about our forgiveness and resurrection into paradise someday, but that’s such a small piece of the story! If that is all we care about we’ve missed so much of what Christ implored us to learn (Love God, Love Neighbor, Make Disciples)…frankly it’s selfish!! And as God is so self-giving, Christ so self-less, Holy Spirit so self-sharing, how can we call ourselves children of God and still act so selfishly to think the cross and empty tomb are just for me? The defeat of death and the resurrection of Christ are only the first indications of a much a larger promise!! The entire world will be made new and Heaven (God’s presence) will be with us on this ball we’re currently living on! Earth will be renewed and resurrected! The cosmos will be redeemed from the disgusting disregard with which we have treated it (insert landfill, strangled fish, and oil spill photos here…). If Easter is only about us we’ve missed the point. Is your faith big enough to understand Easter isn’t really for you at all? It is for all of us and more! God is interested in resurrecting! The whole cosmos will be made new! If your idea of God isn’t able to work cosmic resurrection, it may not be a big enough (or orthodox) view of God!

The students are always given a practical piece of homework – this week, because of your faith and the promise implicit in the resurrection of Christ, be an agent of renewal to someone this week that you don’t normally associate with. Find somebody walking around like a zombie, a person living life as though life’s over, somebody dead in their spirit, and try to breathe new life to them. Maybe they just need a smile or a Polar Pop. Maybe they need a friend to talk to them or better yet to listen. Maybe they need someone to stand up for them. Maybe their home life is dangerous and they need a safe place (your house?). Whatever the case may be, if you call yourself a Christ-ian, then do something Christ-like and work to defeat the little deaths that surround us every day.

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Go with GOD.
If you don’t hear it from anyone else this week, I love you.