Is God Here?

Can you think of a time in your life when things were so chaotic that you wondered “Is God here?“ A death, divorce, terminal diagnosis, a national event like 9/11, or anything currently happening in America might cause you to ask such a thing. Anytime we sustain a shock to our system we are tempted to question God’s presence and activity.

Such was the case with the struggling Israelites as they made their way across the desert. Tired, hungry, thirsty, and exhausted, they quickly forgot how God had just delivered them from certain death in Egypt. They voice their fear that they might be looking at certain death in the wilderness:

Exodus 17 (The Message)

 1-2 Directed by God, the whole company of Israel moved on by stages from the Wilderness of Sin. They set camp at Rephidim. And there wasn’t a drop of water for the people to drink. The people took Moses to task: “Give us water to drink.” But Moses said, “Why pester me? Why are you testing God?”

But the people were thirsty for water there. They complained to Moses, “Why did you take us from Egypt and drag us out here with our children and animals to die of thirst?”

When they looked at their immediate circumstances, it indeed seemed as though God was absent. Their thirst and exhaustion were the only things they could see. Any hope for the future based on the deliverance in their past was wiped from their minds. Desperation set in.

Have you ever been in that kind of wilderness where all you could see was pain and despair and you forgot how God had loved you through your wilderness wanderings in times past? It is easy to forget.

Moses cried out in prayer to God, “What can I do with these people? Any minute now they’ll kill me!”

5-6 God said to Moses, “Go on out ahead of the people, taking with you some of the elders of Israel. Take the staff you used to strike the Nile. And go. I’m going to be present before you there on the rock at Horeb. You are to strike the rock. Water will gush out of it and the people will drink.”

You see, the people hadn’t arrived at their final destination yet. They needed to keep moving forward. They needed to be obedient to God’s call to become his people and follow his way. They needed to have a smidge more faith. God was trying to lead them out of their thirst and into a land flowing with milk and honey…they just needed to keep moving forward.

6-7 Moses did what he said, with the elders of Israel right there watching. He named the place Massah (Testing-Place) and Meribah (Quarreling) because of the quarreling of the Israelites and because of their testing of God when they said, “Is God here with us, or not?”

Where is God telling you right now to just keep moving forward? What circumstance has you so momentarily paralyzed that you have forgotten his goodness to you in the past?

God goes before you. If you look up with the eyes of faith, you are sure to spot him there on the rock where the waters of peace, hope, justice, and consolation await. Is God here with you? You betcha.

And the People Will Drink by Michelle Robertson

Pandemic Promises

Think back to everything you know about God’s promises. Perhaps you can even claim a time in your life when you were the beneficiary of one of his promises. The list is endless.

For me, the biggest promise made in the Bible is when Jesus told us that he would never leave us. He explained to his disciples that he was simply going ahead to prepare a place in heaven for us and then reminded them (and us) at his departure that he is always with us “even unto the ends of the earth.”

This morning’s Psalm is a great reminder of an Old Testament promise that God made to us after the Great Flood. You may remember from your Sunday School lessons that when the flood waters receded, Noah saw a rainbow in the sky. God explained that he put it there as a reminder of his promise that he would never again destroy the earth.

Hold that thought in your heart as we read Psalm 105. This Psalm recounts the miraculous delivery of the Hebrew nation through the Red Sea with Pharaoh’s army close at their heels. God delivered them from slavery and deposited them in the Promised Land. He lived up to his earlier promise that they would not be destroyed.

What promise can we claim from this in regard to the pandemic?

Psalm 105 (New Revised Standard Version)

O give thanks to the Lord, call on his name,
    make known his deeds among the peoples.
Sing to him, sing praises to him;
    tell of all his wonderful works.
Glory in his holy name;
    let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.
Seek the Lord and his strength;
    seek his presence continually.

I hope that the pandemic has brought us enough of a “pause” as we’ve followed stay-at-home orders to seek the Lord and his strength. This has been something I have tried to do in my personal discipleship….to seek his presence continually. How are you doing with that?

Remember the wonderful works he has done,
    his miracles, and the judgments he has uttered,
O offspring of his servant Abraham,
    children of Jacob, his chosen ones.

Then he brought Israel out with silver and gold,
    and there was no one among their tribes who stumbled.
38 Egypt was glad when they departed,
    for dread of them had fallen upon it.

Egypt was GLAD when they left! The might of the Lord was so great, they were relieved to be rid of Israel from their land. God provided light, food, and water for his people in the desert.

39 He spread a cloud for a covering,
    and fire to give light by night.
40 They asked, and he brought quails,
    and gave them food from heaven in abundance.
41 He opened the rock, and water gushed out;
    it flowed through the desert like a river.
42 For he remembered his holy promise,
    and Abraham, his servant.

43 So he brought his people out with joy,
    his chosen ones with singing
.

What does this say to us, a pandemic people? It tells us that this time of sickness WILL END. It reminds us of God’s mighty power to deliver US, his people. It reassures us that at the appointed time the virus will be wiped clean from the earth and the pandemic will be over. Thanks be to God!

God always remembers his holy promises. Let us come out with joy and sing to the Lord.

God Keeps His Promises

The Back to Egypt Committee

Every institution has one. It is typically self-appointed and is often the first group of folks to greet the new boss on the first day. Stakeholders of a sort, they want to be sure that (1) nothing changes, (2) traditions are honored, (3) the new leader respects the culture of the institution, (4) it is understood that THEY represent the culture of the institution, and (5) nothing changes.

When the institution is the church, this group is fondly referred to as the “back to Egypt committee.” Let’s read Exodus 16 and see where that nickname comes from.

Exodus 16 (Common English Bible)

The whole Israelite community complained against Moses and Aaron in the desert. The Israelites said to them, “Oh, how we wish that the Lord had just put us to death while we were still in the land of Egypt. There we could sit by the pots cooking meat and eat our fill of bread. Instead, you’ve brought us out into this desert to starve this whole assembly to death.”

In Moses’ new appointment to the Church of the Wilderness Whiners, he had to contend with the self-appointed leaders who expressed a wish to go back to Egypt where they had been enslaved and abused for years. “BUT we were fed MEAT there! We could eat our fill of bread in Egypt! Why, oh why did you bring us to this desolate land to start a new life of freedom? We wanna go back to Egypt and die!“

Friends, the people were HANGRY.

The next part of the story is a reminder of how gracious, loving, and caring God is. It’s a good thing I’m not God, because I wouldn’t have had this much patience. Would you?

Then the Lord said to Moses, “I’m going to make bread rain down from the sky for you. The people will go out each day and gather just enough for that day. In this way, I’ll test them to see whether or not they follow my Instruction. On the sixth day, when they measure out what they have collected, it will be twice as much as they collected on other days.” 

Our good and gracious Father responds with not only food to meet their immediate hunger, but a proper lesson in depending on God for all of their needs. See what he did with the sixth day? He provided a double portion for the next day, which was the sabbath.

So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “This evening you will know that it was the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt. And in the morning you will see the Lord’s glorious presence, because your complaints against the Lord have been heard. Who are we? Why blame us?” Moses continued, “The Lord will give you meat to eat in the evening and your fill of bread in the morning because the Lord heard the complaints you made against him. Who are we? Your complaints aren’t against us but against the Lord.”

Notice that Moses does a little blame-shifting here. He says that even though he is the leader who brought them this far, it’s not really his fault. Of course, we clergy-folk never do that! Except for when we blame the internet/sound/tech feed, or the District Superintendent, or the rules of our denomination. Or that time we pointed accusingly at the bishop for making us preach on controversial issues, or outed the loud church member who actually was actively trying to undermine our authority. Or when…..OK, we clergy people sometimes shift blame as well. Leadership means shouldering the responsibilities of everyone’s decisions and quietly trying to remain gracious and patient through the consequences.

Listen, negotiating life in the desert is hard on all of us. Remember this when you are in a situation that is changing all around you. LIFE IN THE DESERT IS HARD ON EVERYONE. The pandemic has certainly proved that.

Then Moses said to Aaron, “Say to the whole Israelite community, ‘Come near to the Lord, because he’s heard your complaints.’” 10 As Aaron spoke to the whole Israelite community, they turned to look toward the desert, and just then the glorious presence of the Lord appeared in the cloud.

This is possibly the best part of the passage. “They turned to look TOWARD the desert, and just then the glorious presence of the Lord appeared.” This is just one of many times in scripture when we are promised that when we look for God with our whole heart, we will find him. Even in the desert places.

Change is inevitable. Change is all around us. We can never go back, but God is out in front, leading us into our future. We will all be painfully aware of this as we attempt to re-gather for worship at some point.

11 The Lord spoke to Moses, 12 “I’ve heard the complaints of the Israelites. Tell them, ‘At twilight you will eat meat. And in the morning you will have your fill of bread. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God.’”

So quit your complaining! Take it up with God. He hears our grumbling and whining and he provides. God is truly good to us, much more than we deserve. No matter what desert you are in right now, the glorious presence of the Lord is already there, right with you. Just turn and look for him.

The Glorious Presence of the Lord by Michelle Robertson

Slaying the Leviathan

I have been fascinated by the word Leviathan ever since I was a child in Sunday School and heard it for the first time. According to Merriam-Webster, a Leviathan is defined as a sea monster defeated by Yahweh in various scriptures; a large sea animal; a totalitarian state having a vast bureaucracy; or something large and formidable.

Formidable, like a two-year-old having a tantrum. Or a pandemic. Or a terminal diagnosis. Or an angry church member.

I was surprised to see the way Leviathan is used in this Psalm. Here we see a playful image of a sea creature splashing around and romping among the ships. What a delightful picture!

Psalm 104 (Common English Bible)

Lord, you have done so many things!
    You made them all so wisely!
The earth is full of your creations!
25 And then there’s the sea, wide and deep,
    with its countless creatures—
    living things both small and large.
26 There go the ships on it,
    and Leviathan, which you made, plays in it!

I love this twist of meaning. It serves to remind us today that no matter what large and formidable thing is confronting us, it is all under God’s command, and he can turn something threatening into something placid in an instant. Indeed, everything and everyone waits for God for sustenance, fulfillment, and even life itself.

27 All your creations wait for you
    to give them their food on time.
28 When you give it to them, they gather it up;
    when you open your hand, they are filled completely full!
29 But when you hide your face, they are terrified;
    when you take away their breath,
    they die and return to dust.
30 When you let loose your breath, they are created,
    and you make the surface of the ground brand-new again.

Did you need to be reminded today that God is in control of his creation, even when everything you see seems to be saying otherwise? I did. Viruses, riots, protests, fear, violence, hatred, judgment, slander…all of it falls under his power and purview. Yes, it seems large and formidable to us. But God touches the mountains and they smoke.

31 Let the Lord’s glory last forever!
    Let the Lord rejoice in all he has made!
32 He has only to look at the earth, and it shakes.
    God just touches the mountains, and they erupt in smoke.

So let us sing to the Lord and be pleasing to him, and him alone. And may he slay the Leviathan in your life, whatever that may be. Rejoice in the Lord, always.

33 I will sing to the Lord as long as I live;
    I will sing praises to my God while I’m still alive.
34 Let my praise be pleasing to him;
    I’m rejoicing in the Lord!

Spouting Leviathan by Karen McCauley

Use Your Mannas

Breakfast was a thing when I was a kid. Nobody had ever heard of (or would have approved of) “intermittent fasting,” this new, cool way to describe skipping breakfast. No, indeed, the first sensation of the morning was the smell of toast (Oh God, I miss the smell of toast!) and the sweet scent of Cream of Wheat doused with a spoonful of sugar and drowned in whole milk. This was the manna of my childhood, the sustenance that enabled me to walk close to two miles in New Jersey winters to school, (Uphill! Both ways!) and the provision laid out by my mother that communicated love with every bite.

It seems that biblical manna was not too far off from the breakfast mannas we grew up on. More Frosted Flakes than Cream of Wheat, it was a sweet, crunchy coriander-like substance that appeared on the ground in the mornings when the Israelites were immigrating through the wilderness toward a promised future. When they began to complain that the food provided in their slavery in Egypt was better than starving, God whooped them upside the head with grace and provision. He is a much better parent than the rest of us.

Exodus 16 The Message (MSG)

16 1-3 On the fifteenth day of the second month after they had left Egypt, the whole company of Israel moved on from Elim to the Wilderness of Sin which is between Elim and Sinai. The whole company of Israel complained against Moses and Aaron there in the wilderness. The Israelites said, “Why didn’t God let us die in comfort in Egypt where we had lamb stew and all the bread we could eat? You’ve brought us out into this wilderness to starve us to death, the whole company of Israel!”

4-5 God said to Moses, “I’m going to rain bread down from the skies for you. The people will go out and gather each day’s ration. I’m going to test them to see if they’ll live according to my Teaching or not. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they have gathered, it will turn out to be twice as much as their daily ration.”

The manna rained down, and quail was also provided. Just your basic meat and bread meal, home delivered by the Lord himself. He was doing home delivery meals before home delivery meals were cool.

God was trying to teach them to depend on him, so he only provided enough for one day at a time, with twice as much given on the sixth day so they didn’t have to work for it on the Sabbath. If the people gathered too much and tried to hoard it, it turned smelly and wormy over night. That’ll teach ya!

This manna appeared like a fine dew on the ground, and God instructed them to go and gather it. Because it was a substance completely of heaven and never before seen on earth, they called it man-hu, a Hebrew word that roughly translates into whatizit?

I think God provides whatizits all the time. Bread from heaven rains down on us daily, but we are too busy complaining to notice. The sun rises every morning bringing warmth, but we’re focused on the cold front and the low temperatures. A baby is born, a miracle unto itself, but exhausted parents reminisce about the sleep they don’t get anymore. A husband comes home with a gift that isn’t quite right, and the wife focuses on the imperfection. A wife prepares a meal and burns the broccoli, and the magnificent pork loin is overlooked. A worker with paycheck in hand spews his discontent over his coworkers every day after work, ungrateful for the job that provides said paycheck. We do it all the time. WE LOVE TO COMPLAIN.

People, use your manners. Better yet, use your mannas. Everything you have is a gift of God. Your home, your work, your family, your food…there is nothing you possess that isn’t a part of God’s grace and provision. Quit thinking it’s all about you and your abilities. Where do you think those abilities came from? We would be nothing without God. God provides, and we receive.

A few years ago I spent the night at our church volunteering in our homeless ministry. These people are wandering in the wilderness of NOTHINGNESS. The ministry itself is their manna, and they are completely humbled and grateful for warmth, a blanket, a meal, and a smile. As I was settling into my cot, complaining about the discomfort of a cot, one of our guests came over to me and asked me if I like fresh pineapple. I do. I love fresh pineapple. She went to the guest room and returned with a fresh pineapple for me. I was shocked, and tried to refuse. She had purchased a pineapple that day and the store was having a “buy one, get one free” deal, so she wanted me to have her free pineapple. It meant the world to her to give a gift to the pastor, so I accepted it.

Manna. Bread of heaven. Whatizit? It is you, giving away your pineapple so that someone can share the sweetness of the sustenance God provides you. Go and be someone’s manna today, and let grace, mercy and gratitude rain down on you.