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


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