Posted in Different Scriptures, Different Thoughts

Lectionary Ramblings – 4/26/23

One of the passages from the Lectionary today is Exodus 24:1-11. The title is “Moses and the elders eat with God”. Right away I smile at this passage, because I enjoy eating and I love God. This can only lead in a good direction.

Right away I ask myself, “Who are Nadab and Abihu again?” Oh that’s right, they’re Aaron’s first sons. They were among the first priests there when the first sacrifices were made in Leviticus 9. How exciting it would have been as “the glory of the Lord appeared to all the people” and they shouted for joy and fell facedown. Although it sounds like the whiplash of holy reverence was too much for Nadab and Abihu. They were big fans of the “shouting for joy”, but not big fans of the “falling facedown”. Which is to say they were so attracted to the high they experienced in God’s presence, they seemed to forget the commands of their Holy God. In Leviticus 10 we see them filling their censers with incense and fire. I can imagine them being so excited to “keep the party going”, they completely neglected why they were there in the first place. In response, fire came out from the presence of God and consumed them. After their death, Moses says effectively, “Well…God did say this would happen.” Their father Aaron remained silent. (Leviticus 10:3)

Yet here, the kids are still okay, and joining this important meal. We don’t often think of these “70 elders”, but they were leaders used by God to help Moses share the load of leading God’s people. But before we get to hear what’s happening, the author reminds us Moses had come and told the people all the ordinances/law, and the people responded with one voice, “All the words that the Lord has spoken we will do.” Then Moses wrote the words down, made an altar with 12 pillars (for the 12 tribes), then sacrifices were made. Blood was used to cover the altar, then half of it was saved in basins. He reads the covenant words again. The people repeat their words aloud. Then – gross, Moses takes the remaining blood and splashes it all over the people.

How often do we acknowledge the bloody aspects of covenant language? It’s not a world we live in, nor have we lived in it for a long time. We make promises and commitments all the time, but we also break them or change our mind – and have gotten quite good at making such a break seem altruistic at times. But here we are reminded – commitments that echo the Loving Faithfulness of God are not ones that we should take lightly.

So we join the present moment again, where Moses, Aaron, Nadab and Abihu are joined by the 70 elders going up to the presence of God. I imagine there’s at least a little fear and trembling, as they are humbly honored to have been invited. Do we feel at least a little of this humility today when we enter into our times of worship? It’s probably important to purposefully attune to this heart in response to His invitation.

“They saw the God of Israel.” This is a tough one, because we know from so many other scriptures that no one can look upon the fullness of God and survive. So we can only wonder how God would have appeared to them in these moments. How often might God appear in our world still today, unknown to us? We know that “under His feet there was something like a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness.” What in the world? This is wonderful for our imaginations, and it must have been awe-inspiring for those who came that day. I believe the realm where God exists fully is right here in our midst – though presently unseen. Not “up in the clouds”. I wonder if God appeared in a survivable physical form, and His realm where He stood was visible to them as well. Some Jewish traditions even believed the original tablets God gave Moses the commands on were hewn from this same beautiful blue. Though if this were true, surely writers would have noted the remarkable color again.

“And they all had a wonderful meal together.” Not dying, of course. God allowed them to survive this meal together. Perhaps this was Jesus – the bodily fullness of God. God in the flesh. Maybe this was the same person Jacob wrestled with in Genesis 32:30. They ate and drank. Later, Moses would head up to the mountain to meet with God, but today we allow ourselves to simply sit with this moment. We’re invited to join this divine banquet, noticing where the common ground becomes dazzling blue in the presence of God.

Which details are your mind and heart drawn to?

May we recognize the blue beneath our feet, as we go in the name and presence of Jesus today…

Posted in Different Thoughts, Uncategorized

A Woman of Prayer

Sometime in the early-middle of my serving as one of the pastors in Decatur, Illinois, there was a woman who impressed me in the area of prayer. We were hosting an “All Night Prayer” at Moundford Free Methodist Church. We weren’t a giant congregation, and many people had other commitments, families to care for, or work that prevented them from coming. But we knew it was important, and so planned to spend most of the night in the sanctuary, or walking from room to room praying over the ministry that happened there and the lives/homes of those involved as they came to mind.

Confession: I’m a morning person. When I stay up late, I drift off easily unless I’m doing something active or with a lot of people. Suffice to say, I was challenged by my abilities to stay awake around 11:30pm as we slowly walked through the church, saying and whispering prayers that came to mind. Yet in the midst of these things, I was challenged all night long by the presence of this older woman, Velva, who was almost 100 years old and seemed like she’d just drank 2 Red Bulls of prayer. She had obviously drank deeply from the wells of God’s Love, and was living from a continued gratitude for all He had done in her life – and an urgent heart that wanted her family and friends to know this same hope and love she’d discovered.

As the years went forward, her heart and prayers never abated. Even when she stopped leaving her home as much, she would text me her prayers once in a while. She prayed for our family as we fought to bring our daughter home from the DRC. She prayed for our family as we decided to become missionaries. I remember visiting her not long after we made that decision, with our daughters at her home. She prayed with us, told us how much she loved Jesus, and showed us some of her paintings. She was not only an artist, she was worshiping actively by connecting to the creative heart of her creator. It was obvious that she had tapped into deep wells of His Love and life, and it just oozed out of her whenever you were able to connect.

At one point, she asked if she could paint a specific scene for us – and what we might want. Sarah and I thought for a while, and then described the kind of scene we’d love to have her put onto canvas for us. It wasn’t long before she messaged that her artwork was ready, and we should come pick it up. Of course it’s beautiful, inspiring, and very much as we’d described to her. On the back, she’d even written for us to remember “From Velva….Age 103”. What a beautiful gift, and it hangs in my office today.

Velva’s painting, along with the final text message she’d sent me.

As we went to Hungary, I made sure she understood we could still keep in touch. She would text me (thanks iMessage, for helping people stay connected on the other side of the world easily!) and ask how the ministry was going, how the family was doing, or just to tell me she was praying for my “sweet family”. I would try to send her pictures of natural beauty that reminded me of the nature scenes she painted. We both agreed – His creation was beautiful, and deserved to be paid attention to.

I never knew when her text messages might arrive, especially when we lived in Hungary. Because of the time difference, sometimes they’d arrive in the middle of the night for me. But I always smiled when I’d check my phone, and see all the heart emojis, praying hand emojis, and a few words to remind me our family was in her prayers, and asking me to affirm, “Isn’t the Lord good??” Yes, He is good, and His Love endures forever. Our frail human bodies, however, do not. It didn’t seem like it could ever happen, but on February 25th, 2023, Velva finally went home to be with Jesus fully. Now she is with the Father, waiting for the completion of all He has in store at New Creation.

I am so thankful for Velva. For her prayers, and for the ways she encouraged and loved our family – even from a distance. I want to encourage you – reach out to your missionaries, your overseas friends, and the people who come to your mind and heart. It doesn’t take much – just a few emoji’s and a reminder “You’re in my prayers today. Remember you are loved.” Know that you are loved yourself as well, and take a moment to notice the beauty of God’s creation – even if it takes a while to find it. It’s worth noticing.

I smile, imagining that perhaps God would hand Velva the paintbrush for some grand sunset, and whisper “Here…you do this one…”

Posted in Different Scriptures, Different Thoughts

A Word of Love

The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us…” (John 1:14a)

      During this season of Advent, we purposefully pay attention to the way God reveals His Love for us by sending His Son, which John refers to as the “Word” of God. Literally the “theo-logos”, the theology of God, which is Love. There are so many things we can say about this – and so many things have actually been said, written, and sung. Many of the words have been beautiful. Some of the words are more reflective of the commercialization of the holiday season overall. Yet still – so very much has been put into words. (This is often why I write poetry.)
I remember when our kids were infants (or still learning English). They would quietly mumble, make all kinds of noises, or even wail to vocalize the thoughts and emotions churning within.  Often as I held them, or sang near them as they slept I would sing the words of Irving Berlin’s “Just One Way to Say I Love You” which ends with the lines:

“I love you, and yearn for the day –
the day when you’ll say ‘I love you’.”

      Sure enough, when they became old enough to speak (and ask a million questions), there would be those melt-worthy moments when they would choose, unprompted, to say “I love you.”  It meant so much, and even as they’re teenagers now – still does.

I also remember some of the final conversations we had with my dad.  I remember how thankful I was, while living and serving in Hungary, to be able to fly to Michigan during his final moments.  Even in the midst of chaotic lock-downs and makeshift hospital procedures, I was allowed to sit with him.  I told him I loved him, and felt the squeeze of his hand letting me know he could hear me.  It meant so much to be able to put my words out there, and for them to be received in love.

Wanting to share a specific word, and to have it received by others is a human experience that reflects the heart of God who shares His Word. We see this heart and desire reflected, for better or worse, in the millions of social media accounts & blogs (this one included).  In the past, I’ve often written off the desire to “go viral” or build up large amounts of followers as one that could never have redemptive roots or ends in mind.  But as we focus on how “The Word became flesh…”, we can begin to see how all of these words flowing from so many minds and hearts are a global testimony that by its’ very existence, proclaims the God whose heart we have been created to reflect.

Before this is used as a theological defense for pursuing a career as an “Influencer” however, I would suggest that every good thing can be twisted and dis-ordered.  Every word that we share finds itself ordered rightly only when/as it is offered in submission to the ways and Kingdom of “The Word” which is Love.  This will not always (or usually) result in applause or an increase of followers.  In fact, scripture warns that we may often expect the opposite (Luke 6:26).

Still, in the gracious heart of a Father God who listens to our collective voices, we can imagine something similar to a Father who holds His infant.  He is so very patient and kind, as our words are not always reflecting of His nature or His invitation.  The baby cries, often unintelligibly, for that which she knows not.  She simply wants to know her needs are met, and that she has a source of comfort available.  He patiently sings to her in response, “I have Loved you, and yearn for the day – the day when you’ll say ‘I Love you’.”

I pray God grants me even a portion of such a heart, as I long to Love those He loves, as He Loves…

(Happy Christmas & Christmas-tide to you and yours. May we receive & join the Living Word.)