My personal Egypt?

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One of the simple pleasures in life for me was to complete Highlights for Children magazine’s Hidden Pictures puzzle. These days, however, I’m not looking for a wooden spoon, a toothbrush, or a pencil in the puzzle of life. Instead, I’m searching for understanding, for peace, and for balance.

Balance in life continues to puzzle me. Take our 168-hour week, for example, then deduct about six hours a night for sleep and it leaves 126 hours. Nearly half of that, 60 hours, is devoted to my career, which I enjoy and appreciate. That leaves about the same amount of time for family, then finally about six hours a week for faith. That seems rather unbalanced to me. Do you find yourself in a similar position?

I tell myself that there is meaning and purpose in work, in supporting my family, paying the mortgage, the bills, putting food on the table, and clothes on our backs. I also tell myself that perhaps the work is part of God’s plan for me. It certainly is way, way better than being out of work, as so many are these days.

Yet with so much time dedicated to career, I feel like I’ve become something of a slave to money and society’s expectations—not like the Israelites in Egypt, but limited in the freedom to pursue faith-based activities.

A Bible.org article (https://bible.org/article/your-work-matters-god) suggests that I may be making a false distinction between God and the secular. The article says, “It’s an improper way to view life as divided between the sacred and the secular. ALL of life relates to God and is sacred, whether we’re making a business presentation or changing soiled diapers or leading someone to faith in Christ. It’s unwise to think there are sacred things we do and there are secular things we do. It all depends on what’s going on in our hearts.”

The article quotes Ephesians 6:5-8: “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but like slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free.”

I may always wrestle with the faith-family-work balance issue, but if work is a gift to us from God, then the puzzle pieces of my life begin to fit better. And that helps me refocus and begin to see my life’s “hidden picture,” which now looks less like an 8 ½ x 11-inch rectangular page in a magazine, and more like that of a face—the face of Jesus!

 

Balaam Last Breath (3 of 3)

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I want to quickly write about something I decided NOT to talk about in my sermon. Why?  Well, because I had to ‘tie things up’ in this last sermon of the series. Please feel free to listen to the actual sermon and write any comments or questions you may have here in this location. However, as I said, I want to bring up another point not discussed in the sermon…

I want to stay with the character of Balaam. We learned in the second sermon about his profession. He is a ‘diviner’, a sorcerer, a soothsayer, a future teller. It appears that he has by the end of the 22nd chapter “found God” (although I would say that God found him). As we work into the 23 and 24 chapter of Numbers, he seems to fulfill the role of a full-fledged prophet. Fighting against the ‘outsiders’ of Moab and not simply refusing to curse the people of God, but even uttering one of the most profound blessings in the Hebrew Bible.

It would seem that this story could be lifted up as the epitome of ‘salvation’ stories. The stereotype of a life turned around. But it isn’t…it hasn’t…

Where it appears Balaam is left in a good place in the eyes of God and the Israelites by casting down on the people of God multiple blessings (as opposed to curses), that is not the end of Balaam’s story. It appears that Balaam ended up turning his back on the people of God. He was killed (Num 31:8) by the Israelites for something referred to as the “Peor incident” (Num 31:6). Balaam, though he once blessed the Israelites at one time…he is referred to in the rest of Biblical history as an insult to good God-fearing people everywhere. There are commentaries and online bible studies that project what it was that he did to reverse he status….but it is all conjecture….we just don’t really know.

So the question is obvious, is he in the good graces of God? How can he be such a good and powerful prophet and then be killed by the same people he blessed? What does this mean for you and I? What does this say about God? Prophets? God’s people?

We’d like to believe that Balaam continues his life blessing God’s people in some single line trajectory towards a Godly man…but he doesn’t…what are we to think?

Balaam Part Deux (2 of 3)

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Balaam-1On Sunday we continued with part two of our three part series on Balaam and his talking donkey…Shrek style. In Numbers 22:28 we have a scene that reminds me of nothing other than Shrek the movie…a very strange leap to make when reading the book of Numbers.

What I found interesting about the story (up to about verse 40 anyway) in this second addition to the series was not the hard-to-believe human language that came from the mouth of a donkey but the person of Balaam himself. It turns out that Balaam in his name (which means foreigner and a “person without a people”), in his occupation (a ‘diviner’ or a seer, sorcerer, soothsayer – an occupation and practice explicitly deemed unacceptable to God), and in the view of the angel of the Lord Balaam may be in some way an adversary to God (22:32 uses the Hebrew word for adversary or ‘satan’ in a way that is a bit unclear). In every way the teller of this story want the reader to understand that Balaam is about as far outside of the Covenant of God, the People of God and you can possibly get in a written story…he simply is the opposite of what God’s people, the Hebrew people, are supposed to be…

And yet…God finds him…God talks to him…God uses him…

How many of us feel ‘unworthy’ to be called “child of God”? How many of us know for a fact that our actions are unacceptable to God? How many of us feel like we are butting heads with God in our lives (in a manner of speaking)? How many of us feel as ‘outside’ as Balaam looks to be?

Yet…God…uses…Balaam.

Among many many many many possible messages in this story, at least one is this. There is no distance away from God that God cannot cross. There is nothing that we can do that keeps God from finding us. There is not one of us that God cannot use for his purposes. Even if it means God has to use a talking animal to get our attention…

Balaam’s Talking Donkey (Part 1 of 3)

Text for the day: Numbers 22-24Balaam-1

Points to Notice:

1. Balaam is NOT a Hebrew, Israelite, Jew. He is outside of the covenant yet God still speaks directly to him.

2. God tells Balaam EXACTLY what to do and strangely still gets “angry” with Balaam and opposes him (22:22)

3. Story is told from the perspective of someone OTHER than the Israelites.

4. Even when we get clear direction from God, God is still a mystery to us.

How has this message spoken to you today? What other thoughts do you have about this text? Questions?

School Shooting

Psalm 22:1-2

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest… 

 
Today, this is the cry of the people in Newtown, CT and beyond. If you haven’t heard, you soon will. There was yet another school shooting. This time at an elementary school. I honestly do not know the details and I’m not sure that I care other than this: innocent people are dead. Children…innocent children are dead…
 
I can’t imagine what those parents, teachers, friends, school employees, first responders, etc are feeling. All I know is that when I heard the eye-witness account of a kindergarten boy on the news this afternoon I began to cry. I watched a president lose his grip on his emotions as he spoke about the loss of the lives of such young children. I couldn’t wait for my own kids to come home so I could KNOW they were safe. I found myself asking where in all of creation was God? Why does this senseless stuff happen? How can God be good and still allow this!?! Has God forsaken us? These people? Those parents? The children?……….
 
Honestly, I’m about to say what the ‘experts’ tell us pastors to be careful of…what I am about to say is this: I have no idea why this stuff happens. It isn’t right. It isn’t fair. It isn’t becoming of a God that we claim loves, accepts, redeems, and restores. Where is the restoration in this? Where is the love? The reality is I have no idea why this kind of thing happens….but it does…it just does…
 
The Psalm goes on to say that no matter what our experience of life is, God does get us through. Unfortunately God doesn’t promise us an easy life, a life without pain, loss, suffering, or grief. God only promises that ultimately the grace of God prevails. The last verse of this Psalm says: 
 
Psalm 22:31
They will proclaim his righteousness, declaring to a people yet unborn; HE HAS DONE IT!
 
Regardless of our experience of life, whether our lives are easy or hard, smooth or rocky, lived on mountain tops or deep in valleys, we have a God that actually DOESN’T forsake us, a God that isn’t far away, that does hear our groans and our cries. Our God does ultimately save, redeem, restore and resurrect. 
 
I ask us as a community of God’s people to pray for the families, the parents, the children, the first responders, the teachers and everyone involved that I’m likely forgetting. Pray that they experience God in their midst. Pray that their grief doesn’t consume them. Pray for God’s guidance in the work that must be done moving forward. I ask that we simply pray….