Friday, 22 March 2013

God's Ways, Palm Sunday and Fancy Pants

We recently bought our son a pair of khakis.  He calls them ‘fancy pants’.  He’s a country boy.  Give him a gun, a four wheeler, a pair of work boots and plop him in the woods and he’s a happy camper.  Fancy pants are not his thing.  However, potential summer employers don’t look too kindly on faded, ripped jeans and work boots as an outfit worn by a promising candidate; hence, the need for fancy pants.
Oddly enough, said son wore the fancy pants to school this week.  Just because he could.  As I was serving supper that evening, I suggested Mr. Fancy swap his nice pants for something more comfortable while he ate the tomato based supper.  Within minutes of sitting down to eat, my son took fork to plate, and pierced a morsel of food.  The fork slipped and tomato-sauce-covered hamburger flew right into his lap.  He looked at me with a small grin of astonishment and relief that spoke, “How did you know?”   My eyes answered back, without words, “I just know you”.  He smiled, comforted by the protection of foresight.  A whole conversation without words because we just understood each other.  Mothers do that.  We just know our kids, their sounds, habits, glances.  We know their ways.  Intimately.
There’s a verse in the Bible that reminds me of this intimate knowledge, this knowing of someone’s ways.  Ps. 103:7: “He made known His ways to Moses, His acts to the children of Israel.”   There is a subtle difference here that can easily be overlooked, but which can have a great impact on our lives. For eternity.
There is a seeing of what God has done (His acts).  With it comes an intellectual ascent, an acknowledgement of God, even an association with Him (as in, “I’m a Christian, I go to church, and I even sing in the choir”). 
We even give praise to Him for these acts we have seen.  Especially when they benefit us as we go about our well-planned life.  This is a ‘knowing God’s acts’ kind of relationship, and a fickle association it is indeed.  As long as the blessings are coming forth according to my plans; as long as things are working for me, well, praise the Lord, amen and amen!
Like the Israelites who led Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, praising their soon to be king.  It says in Luke 19:37, “[they] began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”  Israel was welcoming in their new king, by whom they hoped to be rid of the pesky Romans and their brutal dictatorship and oppressive taxation.  Israel had big plans for this king, and so they praised him as he rode into town on a donkey.
The fact that Jesus was riding a donkey, and not a stallion, should’ve been their first clue that this kingdom they were ushering in with such enthusiasm was not exactly going to meet their expectations.
By Friday this fickle crowd, who five days earlier praised God for the works they had seen, vehemently yelled in hatred and anger, “Crucify Him!”  By Friday, Israel had realized this king was not the one that fit just so nicely within their plans to be released from Roman oppression; this kingdom was not what they expected.  By Friday, they had crucified him.
They knew His acts, but they did not know His ways.  This knowing of God’s ways, it, by necessity, implies an intimate knowledge, a relationship that goes beyond superficial.  This kind of relationship is not based on what you can do for me, and as long as that is good for me, we’re friends.  It’s a kind of relationship that rests in something deeper, a rock solid foundation that cannot be severed.  It’s the kind of relationship that doesn’t depend on my shifting plans, but on the faithful promises of God.
It demands hope, this knowing of God’s ways.  For with our eyes we see one thing, yet we long and hope for what will be.  And truly that is hard many days in this foreign land as we sojourn.  Our own plans, they fail.  Our dreams, they are often dashed, and if not, then they certainly never meet our expectations.  Trials of this life, they come hard, what with a trail of failures behind us, financial concerns, illness and death hovering like an impending storm, broken or marred friendships, the list could go on.  These trials, Paul says, develop hope.
“...but we glory in tribulations, know that tribulations produce perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope.  Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”  Rom 5:4-5
The question is, in what are we hoping?  Are we hoping to fit God, and all His wondrous acts and works, into our pre-formed little box called “My Well Planned Life”, pull Him out like a wild card in an emergency with a prayer list of to-do’s, praise Him when things are going hunky-dory and curse Him when life throws us a lemon?
Or are we hoping in Him, because He has shown us His ways?   Like he showed Moses, whose face shone with such a glory after being in His presence that he had to veil it in front of the Israelites. 
Is your hope in His ways and will or His acts and your plans?  Is your hope in His Word and its faithful promises, or the word of human wisdom which changes with the seasons? Is your hope in the work of His Son done on your behalf or your own efforts and works which are like filthy rags before this holy God?
Sometimes it’s hard, this knowing God’s ways and clinging to Him with hope. And faith. And love.  Sometimes it’s hard to admit we are wrong and He is right.  But just like in that recent suppertime wordless conversation with my son, God knows when we’re about to spill spaghetti on our fancy pants.  And He cares enough to tell us to change them in advance.  Even though we’ve got other plans and would rather not. 
But in order to hear Him, we need to know His ways.  Intimately.
As we approach Palm Sunday and the shouts of praise from the fickle crowd, let us reflect and search our hearts.  Do you know His ways, or merely His acts?
“In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen, you love.  Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith – the salvation of your souls.”  1 Pet. 1:6-9

Saturday, 9 March 2013

The Road to Uganda

There are exactly 20 days left on this road, before concrete turns to red dirt, and my feet, and the feet of my daughter touch the ground of Ugandan soil, even if it is only for one week.  Twenty days left until I swap turtlenecks for t-shirts, boots for sandals, duvets for mosquito nets, perfume for Deep Woods Off, comfort and the safety that brings for exhaustion and uncertainty. 

Twenty days until my eyes see what my heart has yearned for; my hands touch those I have prayed for.  Twenty days until my hardened, North-American unbelief is broken in the reality of life for most of the world – this is my prayer.
Many ask me if I’m scared.  Nervous.  Perhaps a little crazy.  I can feel my eyes beaming with life when I smile and say Excited is more the word to describe how I feel.
But now I’m getting ahead of myself. 
The Lord has often asked me to stop and look behind me, usually in faithless, fearful, or forgetful days.  To remember where I’ve been, to see where He’s led me, what He’s done.  It’s hard not to give thanks when we sit down to remember, and see our Saviour’s been leading all the way.  And this week the Lord gave me the opportunity to do just that, to look back, see what He has done and where He has brought me. 
A year ago I wrote this post.  Sixty Feet reposted it this week for the purpose of remembrance.  It’s a marker on this road to Uganda which all started with a dangerous prayer.
I was asked to share my testimony to an audience of 300 or so at a fundraising event for Sixty Feet, an organization that ministers to imprisoned children in Uganda in Jesus' name.   This post was that testimony.  As I read it yesterday for the first time in over a year, I stood amazed at what the Lord has done in the short time since that night. 
A year ago, when I stood before that crowd of faces on a cold February night in Atlanta, I couldn’t help but know this story He was weaving wasn’t finished.   At the time it was only a dream and a deep longing in my heart to go to Uganda; it seemed an impossibility that I would ever touch the ground there, nor would my daughter whose heart also breaks for hurting children.   At the time, a 17 year old girl the Lord has put in my life, knew she wanted to go to Uganda also, but knew not how it would ever happen. 
The three of us, I call us Broken (that’s the 17 year old), Fearful (that’s me), and a Mere Child (that’s my 14 year old daughter with a heart much more mature than her age), having a call, a burden, a desire so deep it hurt, but no way to get there.
But there are these precious words that Jesus speaks in Matt 19:26, when his disciples stand astounded at a situation and cannot comprehend how it could be:  “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
One month after I shared my testimony, God did what was impossible for man.  A blessing was bestowed and Broken, Fearful and a Mere Child started down the road to Uganda, following the gentle leading hand of a God who does the impossible.
As I look back over the past year, over the past two years, I can’t help but praise the Lord for what He has done.  What really gets me though, is that this whole journey started with one simple act of love.  It’s almost silly how it started.  One cold, windy day in early May, my daughter and I, joined by a few Sunday school kids, sat at a small table selling cupcakes and lemonade.  We made something like $100 for the imprisoned children of Uganda that day in the parking lot of the small town gas station, while everyone looked at us like we were crazy, many buying, I’m sure, out of mere pity of the fools standing in the cold. 
So simple.  So ordinary; but it was the stepping out of the boat so to speak, the first step of obedience.  And sometimes I find that in the day to day weariness of the ordinary one can lose focus of what God is doing and has already done.  We wait for the ‘big’ moment, but it never comes.  I’m learning (albeit slowly) that it’s in the quiet ordinary moments of life that God moves so gently, so faithfully. 
And it’s in the looking back, not for the longing of being where we were, but in the remembering where we’ve been, that we see our Father’s hand so faithfully upon us, working when we didn’t even know it.  And that is a beautiful picture on faithless days. 
You know that dangerous prayer I mentioned earlier?  He is still answering this prayer, cried one morning when I felt so overwhelmed, so compelled to do something, but completely lost as to what to do.   Lord, here I am. Use me. Take me out of my comfort zone, make me uncomfortable, and put me in over my head. Then I will know it is YOU doing this thing and not me.”
These words have changed my life, my daughter’s life, and the life of a young woman I did not even know when I spoke those words.  Our feet will hit the dirt in Uganda in just 20 days, but I can’t help but know it’s really just the beginning of a life long journey for Broken, a Mere Child, and Fearful.
“Oh, give thanks to the Lord! Call upon His name; make known His deeds among the peoples!
Sing to Him, sing psalms to Him; talk of all His wondrous works!
Glory in His holy name; let the hearts of those rejoice who seek the Lord!
Seek the Lord and His strength; seek His face evermore!
Remember His marvelous works which He has done, His wonders,
and the judgements of His mouth.”  Ps 105:1-5

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

The Ridiculousness of Faith

Last night I happened to walk into the living room while a popular Canadian t.v. host program was finishing up.  I wasn’t paying much attention to it until I kept hearing the word “God”.  When I realized they were talking about a ‘god’, not just cursing, I began to listen.  When I realized they were vehemently mocking God, on national television, I began to feel nauseous.  Then angry.  Then completely heart-broken.

And I have to say it affected my reading time this morning as I read about the bronze serpent in Number 21:4-9.

"They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!”

Then the Lord sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.

The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.”  So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived."

The Israelites, in their seemingly aimless wandering, are fed up with this pointless endeavour, and with the food God has faithfully provided for them, as if they could do something better for themselves.  In his anger against this hard-hearted, unbelieving nation, God sent poisonous serpents (snakes) into the camp.  The people came to Moses, not God, asking him to take away the snakes.  They confessed the fact that their actions were sinful, but notice, they didn’t ask for forgiveness, they just wanted the consequences of their sin removed.

God answered Moses’ prayer, but God didn’t take away the serpents.  Instead He provided a means for those who were bitten to be saved and not die.  If someone was bitten, all they had to do was look to the bronze snake on the pole and they would live.  Simple.

I’m sure it sounded ridiculous to the Israelites.  Something so easy; too simple really.  For how does looking at something keep me from death by poisoning?

It doesn’t.  It’s the faith in the looking that saved them.  It’s the believing what God said that kept them alive.

I can’t help but wonder, when I look at our world today, how many proud Israelites died of snake bites after that day.

How many thought, “That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard of and I’ll look after this wound myself, thank-you-very-much.  I’ll not look like the fool trusting in a bronze snake glance to remove poison in my body!”

The Bible doesn’t tell us the answer to that question, so we don’t know.  However, how many people over the last 2,000 years have rejected the Son of Man who was lifted up on a cross?  All one has to do is look to Him, believe in Him, and one will be saved.  Yet most won’t.

Jesus said, "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life." John 3:14-15

You see, in the desert, a bitten Israelite had to admit he had been bitten by a serpent and that he was going to die and there was nothing he could do about it, as poison seeped further into his system with each heart beat.  
A simple look toward the bronze serpent lifted on a pole somewhere in the camp was all that was needed.  But he’d have to get a little closer in order to see it.  And then people would know he was weak.  How ridiculous anyway, looking at a snake on a pole.  "Never mind, I’ll clean the wound and look after it myself."

Come ahead a few thousand years to Jesus' death on a cross, and his resurrection three days later.  Jesus says, “anyone who believes in me will not perish, but have everlasting life.” 

Believe what exactly?

We have to admit that we, like the Israelites in the desert, have been bitten by a serpent (Satan, through the fall), and the poison, called sin, is seeping through our body and is killing us, and we are going to die. 
With each heart beat we get closer to death, the eternal kind, separated forever from all that is good, and living eternally in and with all that is bad (take your absolute worst nightmare, multiply it by a million, and you might be close – close as in the sun to the moon). 
And there is not one thing we can do about it.  Yet, a simple glance toward the Son of Man lifted on a cross will keep us from dying.  Simple ascent to His words, “Believe in me and you will not die”. 
Yet looking, believing, means we need to get closer.  Getting closer means we need to leave something behind.  And people will see.  They will know now that I can’t really save myself, that I am really weak.   And we all know that is ridiculous.  Especially the part of the Son of God dying on a cross as a criminal to save me.  Seriously, if He was really God, couldn’t He come down from the cross?

That’s what the Pharisees said as they stood and watched Him breathe His last.

If He came down from the cross, he wouldn’t have been able to say, “It is finished.”

But He did say, “It is finished.”  And so it is finished.  Nothing to add.  Nothing to take away.  Complete.

He did say all you have to do is believe.

But it’s the faith in the looking that’s hard.  Because it means giving something up.  It means admitting to something utterly upside down, backward, against the grain.

And sadly, that is just plain ridiculous to most people.
And so they mock Him on national television.  And the audience applauds.
Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do.