Don’t Deviate

I hate it when I am driving somewhere and I have to deviate from my normal route. This past week has been a series of annoying deviations on the small island where I live. Utility poles are being replaced on the tiny, twisting three-mile road that connects us to the rest of the Outer Banks. This has caused a lot of delays, as we have to stop frequently to share a single lane with oncoming traffic. The turn lane onto this road from the busy by-pass has also been closed, causing a lot of confusion. Am I allowed to turn right from the straight-through lane? Do I have to go through the intersection and turn right at the next road, and then back-track? I just want to get home!

God understood that people needed pretty straightforward directions to follow, so he sent a list of ten very direct commandments to keep us on the straight and narrow. If you can manage to stay in the lanes of these laws, your life will be blessed. You will be keeping your part of the covenantal relationship that gives God the authority to be God, while you acknowledge that you are not God. Pretty simple, right?

The Encyclopedia of the Bible explains it this way:

The Ten Commandments can be seen only, like the rest of the law, against the background of the Covenant; this in turn rests on the salvation-history of the Exodus. Other codes within the law are basically an expansion and application of these principles to various facets of life, rather as the NT epistles apply the truth of the Gospel. Thus the Commandments became the root of all subsequent Israelite morality as well as of religion.

But we are prone to wander (as the hymn writer says) and prone to leave the God we love. We deviate from all the good things that God has prepared for us every time we chase after temptations and titillations that are unholy and unsafe. We replace God with the gods of self-interest, pleasure, lust, and distraction.

Deuteronomy 28 (Common English Bible) 

1 Now if you really obey the Lord your God’s voice, by carefully keeping all his commandments that I am giving you right now, then the Lord your God will set you high above all nations on earth. All these blessings will come upon you and find you if you obey the Lord your God’s voice.

14 Don’t deviate even a bit from any of these words that I’m commanding you right now by following other gods and serving them.

“Don’t deviate even a bit!” Could Moses have been any more forthright than that?

While the Israelites struggled with the wood, stone, and metal-cast gods of the non-Hebrew people around them, we struggle with different gods of our own making. The list is endless, and the truth is, anything that you put in a place of priority over your relationship with God can become your god. Sports, greed, social media, pursuing wealth, substance abuse, and even cheating on your taxes can harm your relationship with the Lord. These deviations make us fall to the wayside and lead us down paths that are harmful and wrong.

Where is God calling you to align yourself once again with the heart of the covenant? Your relationship with God is cursed when you deviate from the Word and break the rules. We all just want to get home…is it time to turn around?

Straight and Narrow by Kathy Schumacher

Life’s Too Short

Life’s too short.

How many times have you heard that or said that in a lifetime?

Life’s too short, so eat dessert first.

Life’s too short to stay angry at your spouse.

Life’s too short, so spend the money now for that trip you’ve always wanted to take.

Life’s too short to be miserable all the time, so change your situation.

In a Psalm written by Moses, we see this theme in a different context. In his view, life’s too short and then you die. In the meantime, all we get to do is experience God’s wrath and anger. Now that’s a sobering and discouraging thought! According to this, we toil and trouble all of our lives and in the end, we just fly away. Yikes!

But focus on the first and the last verses of this Psalm:

Psalm 90 (New Revised Standard Version)

Lord, you have been our dwelling place
    in all generations.
Before the mountains were brought forth,
    or ever you had formed the earth and the world,
    from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

This is beautiful language. The image of God being our dwelling place in all generations is a word of comfort. From everlasting to everlasting, God is God and we are his! In the midst of toil and trouble, remembering that God is GOD (and we are not) helps tremendously.

You turn us back to dust,
    and say, “Turn back, you mortals.”
For a thousand years in your sight
    are like yesterday when it is past,
    or like a watch in the night.

For all our days pass away under your wrath;
    our years come to an end like a sigh.
10 The days of our life are seventy years,
    or perhaps eighty, if we are strong;
even then their span is only toil and trouble;
    they are soon gone, and we fly away.

Moses appropriately calls attention to the “life’s too short” conundrum and brings a certain focus to the situation. It begs the question of what you intend to do with this too-short life. Can you answer that today? Life IS too short. How are you going to number your days wisely? What changes should you make?

Moses reminds us that God is angry when we sin and are disobedient.

11 Who considers the power of your anger?
    Your wrath is as great as the fear that is due you.

So in this too-short life, we need to count our days and use them well. In this too-short life, we should seek wisdom and righteousness. Having acknowledged the anger that follows sin, we should strive every day of this too-short life to walk in holiness. Life’s too short for regrets.

What are you doing with your too-short life? Spend it well.

12 So teach us to count our days
    that we may gain a wise heart.

Life’s Too Short to Miss a Single Sunset by Joe McGraw

Son of a None

Have you ever let your anger get the better of you? I have. It happened on a day when I had not had much sleep for weeks due to raising two small children while being a full-time seminary student and working part-time at a church. On that morning I allowed my exhaustion to turn into anger. The five-year-old defied my directions to get ready for school and was having tantrum of her own. Between the two of us, it was the perfect storm in the house that morning. I had no patience and she had no self-control. So the part where shoes had to be put on or the bus would be missed became a WWE wrestling match. We rolled around on the floor as I tried to cram shoes on flailing feet as she wailed in protest. Because I was bigger, I won. She made the bus on time.

IMMEDIATELY guilt became the second challenger in the ring and in no time at all, it gave me a one-two knock out. I was miserable when I realized that I had allowed my anger and frustration to be the way I touched my child before sending her off for a long day at school. So after I dropped the three-year-old off at preschool, I drove to the school and asked the teacher if I could speak to my daughter in the hall. I’ll never forget the crushing humility of being on my knees and apologizing for how the morning had gone. I told her that Mommy was sorry for her angry hands.

In typical kid-fashion, my child hugged me and told me it was all right. She had forgotten all about it and was so happy to see me in school, and would I come in the room so she could show me off to her friends? I learned a great lesson that morning and never again did I let my frustration and anger be expressed in my hands. My voice, yes, but never my hands.

Today’s lectionary passage ends the Moses saga that we have been following for months. The great leader who singlehandedly brought a huge nation from slavery in a foreign land to the Promised Land has died.

The leadership reins are now passed to a young fellow named Joshua. All we know about him is that he is the son of Nun and that Moses had “placed his hands on him.” The first fact is a big nothing. Being the son of Nun was akin to being the son of none. But the second statement is everything. The “placing of hands” is an indication of the conference of power, an anointing of a kind, and a visual statement to the nation that this is the new leader who has been chosen not only by Moses, but by God.

Kings are empowered this way. Popes and Bishops receive their authority by a laying on of hands. Even local pastors feel the hands of the church’s authority on ordination day.

Deuteronomy 34 (Common English Bible)

Moses was 120 years old when he died. His eyesight wasn’t impaired, and his vigor hadn’t diminished a bit.

Back down in the Moabite plains, the Israelites mourned Moses’ death for thirty days. At that point, the time for weeping and for mourning Moses was over.

Joshua, Nun’s son, was filled with wisdom because Moses had placed his hands on him. So the Israelites listened to Joshua, and they did exactly what the Lord commanded Moses.

How are you using your hands today? Do they communicate gentleness and love, or anger and hostility? Can your hands be employed to confer kindness to someone else? What would God do if you gave your hands and your heart completely over to him?

Do this right now: lay your hands palms up in your lap, and pray for God to use them for his purposes. May the work of your hands be pleasing to the Lord this day and may they be anointed with love always.

A New Day by Bev Mineo

Pay Attention

Being around young children can be exhausting for a number of reasons. Their energy, their craziness, the noise, your worry over their safety…it can wear you flat OUT. One of the main reasons that kids are exhausting is that they want you to watch everything they are doing every minute of your wakefulness. Who has not spent an afternoon “relaxing” at the pool with children only to realize you’ve read the same paragraph of your beach novel eighteen times because they kept yelling for you to look up and watch them?

This, my friends, is why God created nap/quiet time on the eighth day.

Moses’ call to action came about in the same manner. Here he was, minding his own business and his father-in-law’s sheep, and suddenly God demanded his full attention. “MOSES. MOSES. MOSES. LOOK OVER HERE. WATCH THIS, MOSES! WATCH ME DO THIS TRICK. ARE YOU WATCHING? MOSES? MOSES?”

Instead of the tenth cannonball into the pool, God sent Moses a much more subtle sign…a burning bush.

Exodus 3 (Common English Bible)

3 Moses was taking care of the flock for his father-in-law Jethro, Midian’s priest. He led his flock out to the edge of the desert, and he came to God’s mountain called Horeb. The Lord’s messenger appeared to him in a flame of fire in the middle of a bush. Moses saw that the bush was in flames, but it didn’t burn up. Then Moses said to himself, Let me check out this amazing sight and find out why the bush isn’t burning up.

I have to wonder what God had been doing prior to the burning bush to get Moses’ attention. Did he tap Moses’ shoulder? Clear his throat? Create a great wind in the desert? Yet somehow Moses was unaware of God’s presence right up until the bush burst into flames but didn’t burn up.

Where is God trying to get your attention? We know with great certainty that God was present with Moses before this moment. God had protected Moses from infanticide by hiding him in plain sight with Pharaoh’s daughter. God saved him again when Pharaoh tried to kill him and then helped him safely escape to the place where he found his wife and security. God was always with Moses. Yet somehow in this particular moment Moses was preoccupied to the point that it took a burning bush to get his attention.

When the Lord saw that he was coming to look, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!”

Moses said, “I’m here.”

This begs the question of our own preoccupation as well. Is God trying to call you into action and you are simply not seeing the signs? Are you looking the other way due to your reluctance to respond to what he might ask you to do?

Then the Lord said, “Don’t come any closer! Take off your sandals, because you are standing on holy ground.” He continued, “I am the God of your father, Abraham’s God, Isaac’s God, and Jacob’s God.” Moses hid his face because he was afraid to look at God.

Are you hiding YOUR face because you’re afraid to see where God may be sending you?

Then the Lord said, “I’ve clearly seen my people oppressed in Egypt. I’ve heard their cry of injustice because of their slave masters. I know about their pain. I’ve come down to rescue them from the Egyptians in order to take them out of that land and bring them to a good and broad land, a land that’s full of milk and honey, a place where the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites all live. Now the Israelites’ cries of injustice have reached me. I’ve seen just how much the Egyptians have oppressed them.10 So get going. I’m sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.

Moses did not want this job. He did everything he could to get out of it but in the end Moses was the one to bring the Hebrew people safely out of slavery in Egypt.

As you consider where God might be calling you to action, remember Moses. Don’t make God send you a burning bush. Lay aside your objections and say yes. You just might be the one that God is using to deliver somebody from oppression and injustice today.

Maybe it’s you he’s trying to save.

Pay attention!

Where God Leads You by Teresa Silverman

Would that….

Do you ever get weary of people who simply refuse to bend to your point of view? Are you flat worn out with those who show blatant disregard for your political perspective? How about the ones who are on the opposite side of your stand on everything that is happening in America right now? Tired of it?

Oh, would that everybody might think just like me!

You are in good company. Consider Moses. His task was to lead his people out of slavery to a free and promised land. He was handed a set of behavioral guidelines that were intended to be nothing less than a blessing of protection to the community. Had the people simply bent to his perspective, taken the stand that he took, and shown respect and regard for the ways he was leading them, they all would have gotten along and even prospered.

But no.

People are people are people, and there will always be division, polarization of thought, obstinance, and downright pig-headedness. The freedom they received the moment they emerged from Pharaoh’s tyranny went straight to their heads, and straight through their hearts. The end result was disobedience.

Numbers 11:24-30 (The Message)

24-25 So Moses went out and told the people what God had said. He called together seventy of the leaders and had them stand around the Tent. God came down in a cloud and spoke to Moses and took some of the Spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy leaders. When the Spirit rested on them they prophesied. But they didn’t continue; it was a onetime event.

26 Meanwhile two men, Eldad and Medad, had stayed in the camp. They were listed as leaders but they didn’t leave camp to go to the Tent. Still, the Spirit also rested on them and they prophesied in the camp.

God sent his Spirit from Moses to the others in order for their leadership to be spirit-filled and shared. Shared leadership that is unified should be the goal of every organization, administration, church, ecclesiastical body, and institution. When leadership and vision are shared, the entire structure is strengthened. One message emerges, unifying the community in purpose and mission.

27 A young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp!”

28 Joshua son of Nun, who had been Moses’ right-hand man since his youth, said, “Moses, master! Stop them!”

The two who were given the gift of prophesy from God had not been with the original seventy. This instantly became an us-verses-them situation for some. But Moses saw it differently. Moses was keenly aware that the Spirit came from God, and its power was not predicated on who the recipients were or where they were located.

29 But Moses said, “Are you jealous for me? Would that all God’s people were prophets. Would that God would put his Spirit on all of them.”

Would that all God’s people were prophets.

Would that all people might have the Spirit and thereby be unified.

Would that all leaders would lead.

Would that all Christians would speak against injustice and inequality with one voice.

Would that…

But people are people are people.

And so we pray and actively seek God and his Spirit to come upon us as we gather and wait. When people who are called by God’s name humble themselves and pray, God will heal our land.

May we act justly, love mercy, walk humbly, and be healed.

We need another Pentecost.

Mountain Serenity by Scott Brown