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 Moments, Different Scriptures, Uncategorized

the dirt…

Whether you’re a young person who’s just returned from a summer “Youth Camp/Retreat/Conference” experience, or you’re a little older and still reminiscing on those days, there’s a draw to a particular response. It’s natural. The response we often have is “Oh my goodness, that was a great experience in the presence of God, I wish we could recreate these conditions for all of my future experiences!” It’s good for us to know – we’re not the first ones to feel this way. We shouldn’t feel shame for having such a response. When God meets with us in a particular way, the temptation is to connect strongly to that “way”.

When Sarah and I first started dating, she wore a uniquely fuzzy coat. I remember walking her to her dorm on one of our first dates ever, and giving her a hug “goodnight”, wrapping my arms around the fuzziness of that coat. Just a few weeks later, as I was home on Christmas break, I saw a men’s winter jacket that had the same “fuzziness”, and you know I just had to get it. Even far from her, when I wrapped my arms around myself, I was reminded of that hug and looked forward to seeing her again. It’s part of how God has wired us. The neurochemical responses that form long-lasting memories (especially involving music/singing) connected to our “bonding/attachment” experiences can be a blessing.

Today’s lectionary reading from scripture gives us a similar story. Namaan was a commander in the army of Aram, who’d just been miraculously healed by obeying Elisha’s instructions to bathe 7 times in the waters of the Jordan river. He was saturated in these waters of a particular experience and found himself having a renewal and healing as never before. God was faithful, and released Namaan from the chains of disease. Namaan was grateful, and wanted to make sure he had access to this same experience as he went home. In his culture, gods were often tied to particular areas geographically, so it made sense for him to make this request:

“Then Namaan said… ‘please let two mule-loads of earth be given to your servant; for your servant will no longer offer burnt offering or sacrifice to any god except the Lord.” (2 Kings 5:17)

He wanted to bring some of this holy ground home so that any time he desired an experience of this God who met him in the waters of the Jordan, he could. We don’t have the response of Elisha recorded, but I wonder if he looked with compassion on Namaan as he helped him load up some dirt.

Imagine if I returned to campus after Christmas break, so thankful for my new fuzzy coat. Whenever I missed Sarah, I could wrap my arms around myself and be thankful for the warmness of such memories. But how sad it would be, if I was so contented/taken by feeling that coat around me, that I never pursued building a relationship or creating new memories of love together with her. It’s a silly illustration, but I hope you’re seeing the connection. How pitiful it would be if we came home, and tried really hard to replicate the transformational moments, missing out on the God who wants us to be aware of His presence in every moment and every location. God desires that we would not seek special moments with him alone, but abide with Him as He transforms every moment with Kingdom purposes (John 15:5).

We can be thankful for the experiences we have had of God, and even have moments where we wrap our arms around such experiences in the future. We should definitely remember these moments, and testify about them to others as we share what God has done. But let us not pursue the ground we stood on. Let us pursue the God who we met on that ground. The good news is – this is the same God who has promised to meet with us wherever we seek Him. (Proverbs 8:17) In fact, scripture says that God rewards those who seek Him (Hebrews 11:6).

May we seek Jesus and His Kingdom today, taking each step in the knowledge that we are entering a space He desires to make holy…