Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Story - Chapter 8

This period of Judges is indeed an odd time in the history of Israel. You have this on-again-off-again relationship between Israel and God. In a way it reminds me of my high school or college days when boys and girls would date, then break-up, get back together, etc. For some couples you really never knew if they were a couple or not. One moment they'd be holding hands walking blissfully around campus and then next they'd be vowing to talk to the other never again.

It all reminds me of the title of a recent movie, It's Complicated! We really want a relationship with God but there are so many variables, so many issues that complicate the matter.

There are times when the relationship seems to take so much maintenance you wonder if it's worth it. There are demands on my time, sacrifices I must make, expectations I must live up to, other girls that seem more compatible, and the list goes on. When you think about it, it really is amazing that any man or woman finally makes the commitment to one person. But we do, and maybe that's the key - to finally make a commitment.

We make the commitment realizing that there will always be times when someone else seems more appealing but also realizing that there is real value in being a one-woman-man, or in this case a one-God-man. We realize that at times we may want to abandon God but because of the commitment we stand by our God! And usually things get better. The bad times pass. We expect ups and downs and hang on to our relationship with God because we know that in the long run a committed relationship far outweighs flitting back and forth from god to god.

As a nation Israel never seems to be able to make that complete connection with God. They're like that couple in college that you never know if they are together or not. And because of that their national life is topsy-turvy - a confusing mess of blessing and curses. And so it is with so many lives. Because we fail to make a clear-cut commitment to God we never experience the consistent blessing of a committed relationship. A relationship with God, or for that matter any relationship, is a complicated matter, but when we finally make the commitment then the complications disappear.

This chapter in The Story reminds me that until I make that commitment then my life will mirror this period in the history of Israel. I'll just have an on-again-off-again relationship with God that will be marked by anxiety and inconsistency. I must choose to make the decision to be a one-God-man and then I will consistently experience the joy and peace of a committed relationship with God.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Story - Week 7

As you read through these stories of plagues and conquests it's almost as if you are reading some mythical account - like the tales of King Arthur or the adventures of Harry Potter. You may even think that some of these stories belong in the latest edition of Ripley's Believe It Or Not. Some of these events seem almost too far-fetched to be actually true. There's the temptation to question the historicity of these events. And certainly some have.

But whoever wrote the book of Joshua leaves little notes that seem to serve as witnesses that these are real events. Names and events have not been changed. These things really happened and you can verify the events yourself. Consider these little clues:

Joshua set up the twelve stones that had been in the middle of the Jordan at the spot where the priests who carried the ark of the covenant had stood. And they are there to this day. - Joshua 4:9

But Joshua spared Rahab the prostitute, with her family and all who belonged to her, because she hid the men Joshua had sent as spies to Jericho—and she lives among the Israelites to this day. - Joshua 6:25

He hung the king of Ai on a tree and left him there until evening. At sunset, Joshua ordered them to take his body from the tree and throw it down at the entrance of the city gate. And they raised a large pile of rocks over it, which remains to this day. - Joshua 8:29

That day he made the Gibeonites woodcutters and water carriers for the community and for the altar of the LORD at the place the LORD would choose. And that is what they are to this day. - Joshua 9:27

At sunset Joshua gave the order and they took them down from the trees and threw them into the cave where they had been hiding. At the mouth of the cave they placed large rocks, which are there to this day. - Joshua 10:27

• If you question whether or not the Jordan River was parted, go there and look at the stones set up that day. They're still there!
• Want to know about what happened to Jericho? You can just ask Rahab. She's still around.
• Doubt if the sun really stood still? Ask a Gibeonite on his way to deliver water.
• That victory over the confederacy of kings, there's proof. Go to the cave where they were hiding out. The rocks used to trap them are still there.

The book of Joshua represents itself as a historical record of real events that can be verified!

The same question of fact or fiction has also been raised against the events of the New Testament as well. Can the gospels be trusted? Are all those stories just myths created over time?

Peter responds to that accusation with these words:
We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. - 2 Peter 1:16

John has something to say about this as well:
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. 2 The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it. - 1 John 1:1–2

These events really took place. God has acted. Heaven has broken through to earth. Believe it or not!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Week 6 - Wandering

I must admit -- sometimes I am a pessimist, and after reading chapter 6 of The Story it doesn't help! Seems that at every turn the people are messing up, making God angry, and suffering some catastrophic plague. I feel like I'm on a treasure hunt like Indiana Jones in some dark cave and seeing corpses of men who have failed all around me. The secret traps have fallen them all. If they couldn’t do it then how do I expect to make through the twists and turns of life?

Am I, are we all, doomed to failure?

But in the darkness of these wandering years I spy a few glimmers of hope.

Joshua and Caleb!

When everyone else seems scared and faithless these two are beacons of hope!

"We can do it"
"Let's not be afraid"
"God is with us"

When it seems like the darkness of doubt has overwhelmed everyone these two make me believe that perhaps failure is not the only option. Certainly an option that many have chosen, but not the only option!

And then there's this unsung hero, Phinehas. The grandson of Aaron impales a Jewish man and a Moabite woman who are apparently flaunting their immorality right there in the Hebrew's camp. For his courage, God calls off the plague brought on by their idolatry and immorality and Phinehas is hailed as an up-and-coming star!

Not all is lost. There is hope. It can be done. We don’t have to perish in the wilderness.

The glass may be half empty during the 40 years of wandering but Joshua, Caleb, and Phinehas fill up my cup just enough to believe that I can make it to the Promised Land!

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

The other day I sat down on the couch to watch a movie and realized I had four remote controls for the task! One for the television, one for the DVD player (which I really didn’t need, but grabbed anyway because it seems I always need the one I don't pick up), one for the cable box, and one for the game system that accesses the movies. Another time I had plopped down on the couch (where there is barely any room with all the remotes spread out) and couldn't access the movie provider and realized that my wireless internet connection wasn't working! So I had to get up and reset the router hoping that would resolve the problem.

What's worse is trying to watch television at someone else's house. Have you ever been asked to turn on a friend's television and a cold sweat comes over you when they hand you the remotes? There's a one in a thousand chance that I'll be able to figure it out.

When did watching television become so difficult? It has become so complicated that sometimes it's easier just to give up!

Reading through Chapter 5 in The Story I realized that there was a lot missing. It includes the Ten Commandments but simply summarizes all the other laws with a brief little paragraph. Now, I'm not bashing this edition of the Bible but just want to point out that the Law was very complicated. That's why many people bog down in their Bible reading when they come to the book of Leviticus. It's just so complicated it's easier just to give up!

I think the Jews felt my frustration as well. Some, like the Pharisees, became masters of the remotes. They knew all the right buttons to press and even added a few new ones of their own. But many seemed to get lost in all the details of the Law, especially when the Pharisees made religion even more difficult than it had to be.

So I find it very comforting when an expert in the Law comes to Jesus and asks him what is the greatest commandment it. What button is most important? Which remote should I always have at hand? What command says it all?

Jesus' simple reply is, "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

He takes all the Law and boils it down to two commandments! Wow.

I think a lot of people give up on religion because they see it as this complex system of rules and regulations. They think of church and God and a cold sweat overtakes them because they know there's a one in a thousand chance that they'll be able to get it right. Some think that a relationship with God is just too complicated when in actuality Jesus says it's quite simple.

Christianity doesn't necessitate an advanced degree. It doesn't require hours of training. You don’t have to know ancient languages. You don’t have to memorize tricky words. All you need to do is love God and love those around you. Now, we all know that's not an easy task, but at least we can get a handle on it!

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

The Story - Week 4

Complain, complain, complain!!! Of all the themes in this week's reading one that stood out to me is how often the people are complaining.

As the story begins we find them crying out about the slavery. This is a good complaining. No one should be happy being in slavery to a godless master. No one should settle for an existence that has no real eternal purpose. Sometimes complaining is a virtue.

But after God acts the complaining goes from good to bad!! When things get even tougher after Moses confronts Pharaoh they really let Moses have it! Why was Moses confronting Pharaoh? To get them some relief so they wouldn't have to complain so much. Did they think the problem would just go away without a little effort?

Then (well after a few miracles and plagues) deliverance comes and you'd think the complaining would stop. But nooooooooooo! More complaining. When they are trapped between the Red Sea and Pharaoh's ensuing army they complain. They even remind Moses that he should have left them alone to serve the Egyptians! "Who asked you to save us anyway?" is their refrain.

They're in the wilderness for three days … THREE DAYS … and start complaining because they can't find water. "If only we died in Egypt," is their new cry! They grumble, they whine, they second guess, they rebel. Complain, complain, complain!

There's good complaining and bad complaining and Israel has become a master at the latter!

Am I a good complainer or a bad complainer?

It's easy to be a bad complainer, even in church! There's always a reason to whine and grumble - the parking is terrible, the pews are uncomfortable, the service is long, the audio-visual is messed up, church members are insensitive, the preaching is … let's not even go there!!!

Here's my conclusion. Life is tough, there will always be challenges, there will always be a reason to complain. My feet will be sore, my back will hurt, my soul will become weary whether I'm in slavery or liberation. Let's give them this, liberation wasn't as easy as they thought it would be. But isn't liberation better than slavery? Isn't it better to endure difficulties knowing you're going somewhere rather than just suffer with no goal in life?

I do need to complain when I am not living out God's purpose in my life, but then, when he gives me a purpose, a journey, then stop complaining and get on with task at hand -- no matter how difficult it may be.

On my journey I may get parched, I may be surrounded by enemies, I may get discouraged - but God help me not to complain. Help me never long for those days, perhaps even easier days, when I had no purpose. Lord, set me on my path and give me the strength to walk with purpose and courage (and as little complaining as possible)!