Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Isaiah's Call: Never Worthy


Next, let's look at the call of Isaiah found in Isaiah 6.  This is a different call than those of Abram and Moses.  This isn't a person walking through a desert.  In this passage, Isaiah is telling us about a vision he had of God.  It is majestic and other worldly.  And yet Isaiah's response is very human.  Read verse 5:  "And I said, 'Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!'"

What is God's response to this statement? A seraphim approaches him with a hot coal, and touches it to his lips. See verse 7:  "And he touched my mouth and said, 'Behold, this has touched your kips; you guilt is taken away, and your sin atones for.'"

There are a couple of things I notice here.  First, the cleansing of guilt and sin comes before Isaiah has a chance to either hear or answer a call.  He doesn't earn this 'salvation' by his actions or ascent.  God just acts.  This is grace.  This is the grace that we receive, every day.  We don't always see it; we never earn it, but it is there.

Secondly, our sin is no excuse for not responding to God.  God approaches us where we are (remember?) and God knows who we are, even to the darkest and most secret parts of us.  And yet God calls.  And God prepares us.  

We are never worthy. And yet we are called.

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Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Moses' Call: No Excuses


Let's look next at the call of Moses - Exodus 3:1-4:7.  I imagine you know this story.  Moses is walking and sees a bush that is burning but is not being consumed.  

First of all, look at verse 3:3 - "Then Moses said, 'I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.'"  That tell us something about call.  To hear God's call, we have to be willing to turn aside from what we are doing and look.  Listen.  Participate.  One might say that Moses couldn't help but see a bush on fire that wasn't burning up, but think about how much attention you have to pay to something that is burning to notice that it is burning, but not being consumed.  This requires some attention.  It might not be obvious.  And, I daresay, our calls are not nearly as dramatic as a burning bush, most of the time.  To hear God's call, we have to turn aside, and pay attention.

So once Moses approaches, and listens, he is not as eager as Abram was.  Moses offers many excuses:
  • 3:11 ButMoses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and  bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”
  • 3:13 But Moses said to God, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The  God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his  name?’ what shall I say to them?”
  • 4:1 Then Moses answered, “But suppose they do not believe me or listen to  me, but say, ‘The Lord did not appear to you
  • 4:10 But Moses said to the Lord, “O my Lord, I have never been eloquent,  neither in the past nor even now that you have spoken to your servant; but I  am slow of speech and slow of tongue.”
  • 4:13 But he said, “O my Lord, please send someone else.”
After each of these questions and excuses, God answers.  God participates in this conversation.  God does not blow out the burning bush and abandon Moses to his questions and doubts.  He answers them.  

I love Moses last, probably exasperated, comment.  "O my Lord, please send someone else."  The answer to that plea was no.  God sent Moses.

I think this tells us that call is sent in relationship.  A call is not usually a plunking down of an assignment with no interaction with God.  If you have doubts and questions, God wants to hear them, and God wants to respond.  Your doubts do not disqualify you.  

And no matter how much we want God to find someone else, we each have a call.  Even if we say no, we still have a call. Maybe it changes with circumstances, but God will not leave us alone.  We have a call to answer.  

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Monday, November 18, 2019

Abram's Call: God finds us



Let's spend a few days thinking about call.  I recently taught a class in the Western district concerning lay servant ministry.  As I wrote the outline for the class, I started with a few call stories.  I think each of them can tell us something different about how God, in relationship with us, calls us to ministry.

Review Genesis 12:1-9.  This is Abraham's call (Abram at the time).  Verses 1-3:
Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2 I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

As a sidenote, the blessed to be a blessing concept is one of my favorites from the book of Genesis.  It is the motivation for our call.

If you read all of this passage, you'll see that God calls, and Abram goes.  He picks up what he has, and his family, and he leaves where he lives, heading out, following God.  Abram lived in a city in what is now possibly in Turkey - although there is not consensus about this.  He traveled to the land of the Canaanites - even ending up in Egypt at one point.  The Canaanites lived in what is now Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, southern Lebanon, and southern Syria. No matter how you look at it, or where you place ancient cities, Abram traveled.

And yet, at each place, God found him.  At each place, God was there.  

God comes to us where we are.  Where we are geographically; where we are spiritually; where we are emotionally; where we are physically. God calls us - finds us - values us - wherever we are.  And when we say yes, when we obey, we will find that God travels with us.  God does not leave us alone in a foreign land.  

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Thursday, November 14, 2019

Perspectives: Light from below


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Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Quotes and a Plan


I am seeing a lot quotes on social media like the ones that follows:
  • I am not in control, but I am deeply loved by the One who is
  • If it were possible for me to alter any part of his plan, I could only spoil it
  • Go will only give you what you would have asked for it you knew everything he knows (Timothy Keller)
I've spoken before about what I think is a danger of quotes, especially those used on social media.  We read them, and we like the cleverness of them, and we are comforted by some part of them, so we repost - and maybe we believe, without really thinking about what the clever quote says.

Lately, I've been really seeing the ones about God's control and God's plan.  I think we are comforted by these kind of thoughts, because we know we are not in control, and we want SOMEONE to be in control.  Do you think that these comforting cliches ignore the idea that we (and everyone around us) has free will? Do you think they lead to the belief that if something horrible happens, we shouldn't question it, because it is part of God's plan that we do not understand?

I still go back to the book The Will of God by Rev. Leslie Weatherhead.  This small book that is a series of sermons preached after World War II talks about the will of God, and God's plan.  God has a plan - an ultimate plan for the good of God's creation.  Because we have free will - and that is part of how we were created, I think - we interfere with God's plan.  The ultimate plan will eventually succeed, but in the meantime, we are mistaken if we think what humanity does - or even just chance - is God's plan.

These quotes are only comforting until you actually think about them.  Then they fall apart, don't you think?

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Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Gratitude


Still thinking about yesterday's post...

I was watching a video on Youtube; the woman speaking was wearing a t-shirt that said "Gratitude is the best attitude." Normally I would say that something short and catchy like that that rhymes couldn't possibly be true - that it boils down any truth so much that the truth boils away, leaving a sludge of rhyme and catchyness that can trick us into believing it is true when it really is only emptiness.

But I think there is truth in this phrase.

Sunday in worship Terry said, "You can't be resentful and loving at the same time." (Or something close to that.). 

Can you hold resentfulness and gratitude in your hand at the same time? Life is complicated, so I can't say anything is true all of the time, but I think most of the time, if we are resentful, we have no room left for gratitude.

And if we are grateful, then we can be loving, forgiving, and generous.  Gratitude opens us up to beauty and kindness - both seeing it and offering it.

Maybe gratitude is the best attitude.

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Monday, November 11, 2019

What is the role of attitude in life?


What is the role of attitude in life? How does how we approach life change our lives?

A couple of days ago I was in a hotel at their free breakfast bar.  I picked up my coffee and spilled it.  The woman standing next to me (I had never met her before) grabbed napkins and started helping me to clean up the mess.  A couple of previously clean paper coffee cups had been splashed, so I tossed them to the trashcan and missed.  She laughed, and said, "Your day is off to a bad start."

My response: "My day has started by meeting a very nice person."  It just popped out of my mouth, unthought.  

Attitude: how we see what is in front of us.  A positive attitude doesn't change that I spilled my coffee.  It did open my eyes to the helpfulness of a stranger.  

Do we only see the negative? Or do we open our eyes among the negative to find the positive? And what difference does that make?

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Thursday, October 31, 2019

Perspectives: Open Doors


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Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Role of Attitiude in life


What is the role of attitude in life? How does how we approach life change our lives?

A couple of days ago I was in a hotel at their free breakfast bar.  I picked up my coffee and spilled it.  The woman standing next to me (I had never met her before) grabbed napkins and started helping me to clean up the mess.  A couple of previously clean paper coffee cups had been splashed, so I tossed them to the trashcan and missed.  She laughed, and said, "Your day is off to a bad start."

My response: "My day has started by meeting a very nice person."  It just popped out of my mouth, unthought.  

Attitude: how we see what is in front of us.  A positive attitude does change that I spilled my coffee.  It did open my eyes to the helpfulness of a stranger.  

Do we only see the negative? Or do we open our eyes among the negative to find the positive? And what difference does that make?

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Tuesday, October 29, 2019

David and Bathsheba


At the beginning of the Sunday school lesson I mentioned yesterday, the teacher read from the material that the author called the story of David and Bathsheba one of rape.  The teacher was started by this, and had never thought of it before.

Read the story.  It is rape.

Most of my notes following are based on the comments in my study Bible (The New Interpreter's Study Bible) which I highly recommend.
  1. David is standing on his roof, and he sees Bathsheba bathing.  She is probably in an inner courtyard bathing - a totally normal thing for a woman of her day to do. 
  2. He sees that she is beautiful, and he finds out that her husband is away.  David sends people (more than one messenger) to get her, and to bring her to him.
  3. According to Tikva Frymer-Kensky, another telling sign about the situation is that the Scripture does not say he loves her. "For him it is enough that she is beautiful."
  4. He knows she is married, and that to give into the temptation as he desires, is to commit adultery.  Adultery is a serious transgression in David's time.  Again, according to Frymer-Kensky, "...all subjects belong to the king.  And whatever the king desires should be his."
  5. She came to him, and he lay with her.  She is alone; her husband is away.  She has been summoned by the king.  She has no choice, and no power in this situation. 
When choice is taken away from someone, the action of "laying with her" becomes rape.  She can't say no.  

Which brings us back to the original statement.  Why was the Sunday school teacher surprised? I think, in our culture, and in our Bible study, we see the man's action as "men will be men" or "boys will be boys."  Bathsheba, in our culture, is often seem as a temptation - she must have wanted David to send for her.  Its purity culture as seen in some modern evangelical churches.

Let's stop blaming Bathsheba when we don't have any evidence that she was to blame.  Nathan speaks the truth.

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Monday, October 28, 2019

Psalm 51


In Sunday School a couple of weeks ago, we read Psalm 51.  The background is an assumption (I'm not sure it is accepted by scholars) that the Psalm was written by King David after Nathan came to him to tell him he had committed adultery (more on that later) with Bathsheba:

Here are a couple of questions for you regarding the Psalm.
  1. "Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and one what is evil in your sight...."  (verse 4a)  My study Bible says, "the harm done to others is by no means overlooked.  All sin, however, affects one's relation to God."  I understand that all sins affects one's relationship with God, but I'm not entirely certain that I see that the harm done to others is not overlooked.  Nathan certainly tried to make it clear, but this verse doesn't reassure me that David "got" it.  What do you think?
  2. "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me." (verse 10).  The Sunday school teacher said this mean that David's heart - and sinners' hearts - are dirty, and they need to be made clean.  Is that what it means?  I wonder if the sinner's heart is broken instead of dirty.  Go on to verse 17b: "A broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.  Doesn't our heart break, sometimes, when we realize how we have sinned and hurt others?  Maybe this is evidence of David's repentance. I think it could be our song of contrition. 
And I'm probably being too picking.  Nit Nit Nit.

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Friday, October 25, 2019

Perspectives: Creativity





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Thursday, October 24, 2019

Ancient vs Modern


Look at yesterday's quote again:
Stories are not waiting to be molded to fit our experience.  They are waiting for us to take the risk of entering their world of the story and be changed by it.  (Peter Enns and Jared Byas)
The quote is at the beginning of the book Genesis for Normal People.  The authors are attempting (and doing a good job) to convince us, the reader, that Genesis is an ancient story.  We can't just walk into the story with our own expectations - our modern view of the world - and then twist the story to fit what we know.

What difference does that make? Think for a moment how much difficulty we can have understanding the experiences of someone of a different age: the Millennials vs the Greatest Generation, for example.  They seem to speak different languages, have different life expectations,  approach situations differently.  That doesn't mean that have different values - they love their children, they value generosity, they want to serve.  Their cultures in time are different, though, and that makes stepping into a different generation's story difficult.  

Extend that thought to 3000 or 4000 years.  Why do we ever expect that we can walk into a biblical story and just have it fit our viewpoint?   Look at it through the eyes of those to whom it was written and the meaning changes. The story has a different life transforming effect.  

Why is that so hard for some of us to understand?

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Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Sharing the Adventure


Thinking about stories, still:
Stories are not waiting to be molded to fit our experience.  They are waiting for us to take the risk of entering their world of the story and be changed by it.  (Peter Enns and Jared Byas)
I was moving through Facebook the other day - going down the rabbit hole - when I stumbled across a video of a sermon.  The sermon was based on the story (parable) we call the Prodigal Son.  The point the "pastor" was determined to make was that the story did not include the mother.  Where was she? Was she out getting her hair done? Why wasn't she home where she belong?

Grr.

Setting aside my disgust with this twist on a sermon, think for a moment about the story.  I wonder if the pastor had ever taken the risk of actually entering the story and allowing himself to be changed by it.  He certainly seems (to me) to be trying to mold the story to his own purposes.

If you are a preacher, this is a temptation. You have something you want to say, and you'll use the Bible to support your idea.  Instead, we are called to enter the story, and then share with those listening our adventure.

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