Wild Wanderings p1

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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.)

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Unity

The Church loves talking about the Prodigal Son – the redemption, forgiveness, and celebration are irresistible. How often do we examine the older brother and repent of our contributions of dis-unity in themodern Church? This message is a call to Unity.

Preached on 7/2/17 at Hanfield UMC.

Out of fuel, but not out of luck

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“When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.
Leviticus 19:33-34 ESV
http://bible.com/59/lev.19.33-34.ESV

There are many things that will embarrass a man and wound his pride. Some men are more susceptible to this wounding than others, especially one they are somewhat deficient in the traditional “Manly Arts”. Of course I am referring to myself and anything mechanical – I’m a legitimately smart fellow, but machines confound me. Specifically, I am able to drive my truck, but I am not able to work on it.

As I was closing in on my target, a Mr. Fuel truck stop in Foristell, MO near St. Louis, I ran out of diesel with 2.8 miles to my target. With embarrassment and burning shame on the shoulder of I70W, I pressed my Onstar button amidst the whoosh of passing racecars traffic the honking of mocking horns. A gentleman from a local shop brought out my diesel and promptly left. Much to my surprise and confusion, my truck wouldn’t start. “Oh great Google, how do I start my truck after running out of fuel?”

As it turns out, my GMC Sierra has a hand pump on the fuel filter to run the diesel the 8-10 feet from the fuel tank to the filter. When it runs dry it spells bad news and takes awhile to re-dampen the works. So I get out the manual, call Pastor Brent (a master mechanic in his past life), and get dirty under the hood. Two hours later, I still have not succeeded – the wizardry of mechanical magic eludes me, even with the disembodied help of Google, Pastor, and the truck manual.

I finally just breakdown (my heart, not the truck) and beg God for this truck to start. As usual, I was asking for the wrong thing. After two and a half hours on the side of the interstate, but within half a minute of my prayer, a good Samaritan finally stops to see if I need help. Who happens to be a Christian. And who also happens to be the owner of an auto shop with a full time diesel mechanic. Who also happens to be in town on the Labor Day holiday instead of out partying.

We end up not being able to get the truck to start on the shoulder (all of our efforts drained the battery), but it’s OK says Dennis Harris, my knight in shining armor angel, because he’s got a tow truck and will pull me to his shop and work on it first thing in the morning. In the meantime, would I rather he put me up in a hotel or allow he and his wife to host me for dinner and stay in their spare room?

“Lord, I just wanted the truck to start. I’m not ungrateful, but staying with strangers goes against all conventional wisdom! Why won’t it? Why could I not? Why am I faced with this choice? I hate being indebted to others, but now I’m forced between a rock and a hard place. What do I do?”

“Why are you even asking? Allow Grace to be administered to you. Without complaint, please.”

“Again, Lord, you’re right. Please crucify my ego once again.”

As I sit here in the waiting area of Harris Automotive and Tire (please patronize this wonderful business if you have any automotive needs in the St. Louis area, http://harrisautoandtire.com/) I am struck by a number of things.

1) Americans prefer self-sufficiency. Receiving Grace is hard and pricks our pride.

2) Dennis and Tanya thought they were blessing me, but actually felt blessed by helping me.

3) Being forced to helplessly receive Grace reminds us of what Christ did for us and how helpless we are in the face of His Divine Grace.

4) I thought giving Grace was hard, but as it turns out receiving is by far the more difficult task.

5) I wonder about all those our churches are attempting to reach. Does it feel as awkward for them to receive free Grace and love? Rather than getting frustrated as the givers, ought this make us even more gracious and compassionate with them?

6) When giving Grace, don’t just give a little. Give till it hurts. Dennis and Tanya had to take my word for it that I was a pastor, let alone a good citizen. Regardless, they took me in, fed me, took care of my truck, drove me to and fro, and didn’t ask for anything in return.

7) When your fuel light dings and there’s a headwind coming at you, there’s less fuel left than you calculated.

I’m so grateful to serve a God who knows what we need and cares little for what we want. I wanted my truck to start. He knew I needed to learn even more about Grace and ego and the giving & receiving of blessings. In this case I ran out of gas, but not of luck. Thank you, Lord.

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What do you think? What lessons have you learned about Grace? Feel free to comment and share.