Month: January 2015

Into Egypt

Genesis 46:2-4a

“God spoke to Israel in visions of the night and said, ‘Jacob, Jacob.’ And he said,
‘Here I am.’ He said, ‘I am God, the God of your father; do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you a great nation there. I will go down with you to Egypt…’”

Surely I’ve read this passage before, but I guess I never read it closely enough to see the irony of it. God tells Jacob not to be afraid to go down to Egypt, because that is where God will make him a great nation. He also promises to go with Jacob.

Now, this instruction comes during the famine and the time of Joseph’s power directly under Pharaoh. But you may also know that Egypt is where the Israelites are later made slaves. It is from there that Moses is called to “deliver” God’s people from the Egyptians and their tyranny. And yet, knowing that all of that is to come, God tells Jacob not to be afraid, for God himself would go with him.

Do you see what this means? It means that, if we are obeying God’s call and direction in our lives, then we don’t need to be afraid of the outcome, even if it is unfavorable in some ways. It is still God’s will and plan, working all things together for good for those who love him.

Here’s a kind of off-the-wall illustration, but I think it will make this scripture stick. I’ve wanted for some time to donate one of my kidneys. You’re asking why, and honestly, that is a topic for another post. What is important now is a concern that a friend brought up, namely, “what if you donate a kidney now and then someone close to you needs one someday?”

My answer was and is that God knows whether or not someone close to me will need a kidney transplant someday. He also knows whether or not another one will be available at that time. Even if the answers are yes and no, respectively, if God calls me to donate a kidney to someone who needs it NOW, then I don’t need to fear the scenarios that may play out in the future. God is with me now, and He’ll be with me then. And He will fulfill his promises, for He is faithful. Our job is to discern God’s will and obey (easier said than done, I know). It is His job to accompany us into our Egypt, and to supply all of our needs once we get there, according to His riches and glory.

May you, and may we, go where He sends us without fear.

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Through Eyes of Compassion: Leah

The story of Jacob’s family represents the epitome of dysfunction. You almost have to read it for yourself (Genesis 29:31 – 30:24), but the gist of it is that Jacob’s wives—Leah and Rachel—along with the servants of each woman, are for years engaged in a fertility contest of sorts. They try to one up each other by any means possible or necessary. Why?

Well it all goes back to the fact that Leah was Jacob’s first wife, but not his first choice. And while Leah was fertile, she was not loved by her husband. She spent years trying to earn his favor and his love by bearing him one son after another—six sons in all. We might, at first glance, be tempted to judge Leah for attempting to manipulate Jacob into loving her. We might condemn her for foolishly attempting to secure Jacob’s affections through childbearing. But recently, God gave me fresh eyes to see this woman.

Interestingly, Leah means tired, or weary. What a fitting name for someone who has tried so hard and so long to be enough for her husband—to be good enough, beautiful enough, fruitful enough. Leah would never earn Jacob’s love. But truly, one must consider whether love that is “earned” is really love at all. Isn’t that what makes God’s love so profound, after all—that we could never earn it ourselves?

So now, when I see Leah, I see her heart—a heart that, very simply, is ever longing for love. Sadly, she kept looking for it in the wrong place. And I wondered, if I had been Leah’s friend, how would I have prayed for her? Seeing her in this new light, I think I would have prayed something like this:

Lord God,

Only you know the depth of your love for Leah.
Only you know how priceless she is to you—
so priceless that you would sacrifice your beloved son to ransom and redeem her soul.
She’s been looking for love in all the wrong places,
looking for significance outside of your will,
and trying so hard to be enough apart from you.
Help her to see that you are enough for her…and that, in you, she is enough.
No matter what the world tells her, she is loved by you.
Bring her peace and contentment in the knowledge of this
profound and inexplicable love.

In Christ’s name and for His sake,

Amen.

 If you recognize Leah in someone you know, feel free to pray these words over her (or him, as the case may be). If you recognize her in yourself, please accept them as my prayer for you. And be blessed.

Draughts

1 Corinthians 10:16 (MSG)

When we drink the cup of blessing, aren’t we taking into ourselves the blood, the very life,
of Christ? And isn’t it the same with the loaf of bread we break and eat?
Don’t we take into ourselves the body, the very life, of Christ?

 Ephesians 5:19-20 (MSG)

Drink the Spirit of God, huge draughts of him. Sing hymns instead of drinking songs! Sing songs from your heart to Christ. Sing praises over everything, any excuse for a song to
God the Father in the name of our Master, Jesus Christ.

This past Sunday, as I approached the communion table, I did what I always do. I pulled a piece of bread from the loaf and moved to dip it in the bowl of grape juice. But like always, I hesitated momentarily. Was it to reflect on the gravity of the moment? Or to thank God for his gift of salvation? No. Instead, I was calculating my ‘dipping depth’ in such a way that I would avoid a soggy, dripping piece of bread. Pure sacrilege, I know.

And in that moment, with songs of praise and worship playing around me, it hit me. This was a metaphor for the Christian life—at least the way many of us are prone to live it. Think about it. We want a taste of what God has to offer us, but we always seem to want just enough.

  • We sing along with the songs during worship, but we don’t let the lyrics really permeate our hearts.
  • We talk about God at church and at home—but not at work, not at the gym, not out with friends.
  • We wave to our neighbors in passing, but we don’t truly get to know them or let them get to know us (or our God).
  • We serve dinner at a homeless shelter once a year (or once EVER), but we don’t reach out to build relationships with the people there.
  • We pray for healing, but don’t accept the form of healing that God sometimes gives.

I could go on and on, but I think you get the picture. And I think you could probably add a few more examples to this list yourself. We want to dip our toes into the waters of salvation, but we don’t want to dive in. But God doesn’t want us to dabble in our faith. He wants us to live it fully, proclaim it, and let it change us. Ephesians 5:19 instructs us to “drink the Spirit of God, huge draughts of him.” Do you know what that means? It means to drink of the Spirit in huge doses, gulps, or swallows.

How appropriate that this observation occurred to me on Baptism Sunday, when Christians of all ages and walks of life were making this declaration: “I’m all in for Jesus!” And I thought, What about me? Am I really living all in for Him?

Are you?

Bring Your Friends

Mark 2:2-5 

“A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. They gathered in such large numbers that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. Some men came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man,
“Son, your sins are forgiven.”

 Tijge’s Sunday school lesson last week focused on Mark 2:2-5, and the paralytic whose friends brought him to see Jesus. For days afterward, Tijge asked us questions about the story. Why couldn’t they use the door? Why did he have bad muscles? Why was the house crowded? Why did he need a mat? Over and over he would ask, trying to understand the story. He even built a diorama of the scene using various toys around the house. It was interesting to see how, even for a three and a half-year old, this story is compelling.

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When teachers speak on this passage, they typically speak of Jesus; or of the crowds; or of the paralytic. But once I heard a message that focused on the four friends that brought the paralytic to Jesus, and the teacher challenged audience members to be the kinds of friends that would do the same.

Awhile back, I considered this passage in light of Ecclesiastes 3:11. You see, sometimes I get so caught up in MY journey that I forget about those around me. But we should live not just with a focus on ourselves and our eternal destiny, but also on others. If God has set eternity in the hearts of ALL men, then we should seek to help others recognize and follow that longing in their own hearts; and in so doing, bring as many others with us as possible—to the cross, to Jesus, and to heaven.

And so I ask: Am I that kind of friend? Are you?

 

Honor

1 Peter 5:5
“Clothe yourselves with humility toward one another.”

It’s New Year’s Day. Florida State has just suffered a humiliating loss to Oregon. Then the announcer comes on the air stating that 70% of the FSU players headed straight for the locker room without congratulating their opponents. I was appalled. I was glad to see that Jameis Winston was one of those who remained and accepted defeat with dignity. That is what I would expect from a team leader and Heisman Award winner.

In the aftermath of this disappointing scene, I’ve read several excuses for the players’ swift departure from the field. I read somewhere, for instance, that the players on both teams were asked prior to the game to exit the field quickly after the game, in order to allow for the trophy presentation. But as a coach or a player, I personally would have refused the request. And since 30% of the team chose to stay, it seems that would have been an option for the other 70%.

I read an interesting perspective by Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel (January 2), wherein he wrote: “Good grief, this isn’t Little League Baseball where it’s traditional for teams to form a line and shake hands.” But I have to disagree. Is there typically a physical line-up? Maybe not. But in my experience watching college football, there’s usually kind of a mosh-pit style gathering at midfield, where players from both sides do shake hands and congratulate one another. And you know what? Even if Mike’s right and this practice isn’t as common as the rest of us think, maybe it SHOULD be.

Sportsmanship should be the hallmark of college athletics—along with any other athletics, for that matter. It demonstrates honor and humility, both of which are great character traits that should be instilled in athletes through their participation in sports. So how do we instill those traits when things like this happen? Here are a couple of ideas that come to mind for me, in relation to this particular instance:

  • If I’m in a leadership position with the Seminoles (a coach, a team captain), I’m standing at the tunnel directing players back on to the field to congratulate the victors on a game well played.
  • If I miss the players there, I’m going into the locker room and sending them back out.
  • If I’m a coach, and players refuse to demonstrate sportsmanship, I’m going to bench them. They won’t play again until they write a sincere letter of apology to the opposing team.
  • As a coach, I’m writing a public letter apologizing to the other team and to the fans on behalf of my players and promising to do whatever it takes to rectify the problem.

But I think we should be starting earlier, when kids are playing at a “little league” level. So I have some plans for how I will encourage sportsmanship for my own kids when they start to get involved in sports or other competitive pursuits:

  • I’ll be a positive role model to my kids by not making sports out to be more important than they are. I will foster a “winning isn’t everything” attitude. I won’t fight with the referees or the coaches or the other parents in the stands.
  • If my kids refuse to shake an opponent’s hand or congratulate them, if they act like “sore losers,” they’ll be grounded. And they won’t play again until they write a letter of apology to each and every member of the opposing team.

So who’s with me? Let’s make sure that our athletes are known for their sportsmanship, and the level of honor they display while playing the game.Lj Baseball Helmet 1