OT Reflections

OT Reflections: Kicking the Can Down the Road

Progress.  It's a tough concept; but it's always the goal ... maybe.  What does progress look like?  Or to answer my question with another question, what does the word 'traditional' mean?  Or how about the word 'contemporary?'

These are all words that have different definitions according to different people.

When the Israelites crossed the Red Sea, progress was finally made for the nation of Israel.  Finally, the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were on their way to the Promised Land after a long stay in Egypt complete with a harrowing escape.

But through it all, they grumbled.  A lot.  To Moses.  To Aaron.  To one another.  To God.  God carried them through many great obstacles as a way to build up their faith, but when ever things got difficult, the Israelites doubted.  And they disobeyed.

Because of their doubts, the generation of Israelites who led the charge out of Egypt would not be allowed to see the Promised Land.  The nation of Israel would wander, though they would be led by the Lord, for 40 years - until the generation of disbelievers passed away.

There's much to glean from the story today, but I find it particularly relevant as we look at a UMC, particularly in the US,  that appears to be in a wandering period.

What makes me say we're wandering?

The denomination isn't growing in the US, its home base.

The wandering of the Israelites began with unfaithfulness, so where is that we haven't been faithful that got us to this place?  Maybe right here:
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him, but some doubted. Jesus came near and spoke to them, “ I've received all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that I've commanded you. Look, I myself will be with you every day until the end of this present age.”
Gospel of Matthew, 28:16-20
As the church doesn't grow, and in some places refuses to, the church wanders.  The thing for us, however, is that it doesn't appear that we have a 40-year sentence over our heads.  In fact, we don't have 40 years to waste.  The UMC today can't afford to kick that can down the road for the next generation to clean up.  And it's happening from General Conference all the way down to the local church.

In worship at another faith community a couple of weeks ago, I heard the pastor pray, "Lord, we pray for our children to have faith, but we also pray for our faith to have children."

Look around at your faith family ...Are you wandering?  What will you do about it?

OT Reflections: The Kenosis of Moses

My wife and I have been on a journey the last several months together as we've taken on a "Bible-in-a-year" challenge.  While we've had to take a break for a day or two here and there, it's been fun and insightful to be on this journey together.

There's a lot to be said for dwelling and praying upon specific passages of prayer, but there's also a lot to be said about reading it quickly as well.  Reading the Word in three to five chapters per night can really give one a sense of the narrative of the Bible.  Sure, there's the occasional monotonous evening (Deuteronomic case laws, anyone?), but on the whole I've found it exciting to read the Word this way.

As we've gone through this, there are certain passages that hit an emotional note with me as we read and struggle through the story of our ancient Israelite brothers and sisters.  But for me, as for many, the story of Moses stands above the rest.  This passage comes from the end of Moses' journey:

Then Moses hiked up from the Moabite plains to Mount Nebo, the peak of the Pisgah slope, which faces Jericho.  The LORD showed him the whole land:  the Gilead region as far as Dan's territory; all the parts belonging to Naphtali along with the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, as well as the entirety of Judah as far as the Mediterranean Sea; also the arid southern plain, and the plain - including the Jericho Valley, Palm City - as far as Zoar.
Then the Lord said to Moses:  "This is the Land that I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob when I promised 'I will give it to your descendants.'  I have shown it to you with your own eyes; however, you will not cross over into it."  Then Moses, the LORD's servant, died - right there in the land of Moab, according to the LORD's command.  The LORD buried him in a valley in Moabite country across from Beth-peor.  Even now, no one knows where Moses' grave is.  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.
Deuteronomy 34:1-9 [CEB]

Can you imagine this?  120 years old, and Moses was still going strong, still pouring out his all in the name of the Lord as for his nation of Israel.  For the Lord, he became leader of his people - its priest (along with Aaron, to be sure), its judge, its jury,  its advocate, its general.  He never rested.

The heart-wrenching part, is that through one moment of weakness in drawing forth the water from the stone his way (and not the Lord's), he wasn't to set foot in the Promised Land.  And yet, even though he knew that, he lead his people.

I'll say that again ... He knew he wasn't to set foot in the Promised Land, and still he lead is people to it.

When we speak of the kenosis of Christ, we most often look at this passage from Paul's letter to the Phillipians:

Adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus:
Though he was in the form of God, he did not consider being equal with God something to exploit.  But he emptied himself by taking the form of a slave and by becoming like human beings.  When he found himself in the form of a human, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
Philippians 2:5-8 [CEB]
So what is this kenosis?  In our Christian terms, we're speaking of Christ's self-emptying (kenotic) love.  Not only did he come to earth in human form, but on the way out of his earthly existence - at his death - he emptied his Spirit out onto us.

But where as the King of Kings was a young adult when he poured out his love on to all of us for the redemption of the world, Moses was at an age when most people take a seat.  Actually he was more than twice the age of someone who takes early retirement.

Which begs the question, when do we get to stop moving for the Lord?  When do we get to sit down and rest?  When do we get to stop pouring ourselves out for the good of the Kingdom?  When do we get to sit back and back-seat drive for the sake of tradition?

Reading the story of Moses makes me ever thankful for the ones who have gone ahead of me and have pulled me a long with them.  I give thanks to God for the ones full of the Lord's wisdom who lay their hands on me as if I'm Joshua, anointing me to get the people moving onward.  It makes me thankful for my grandparents and parents who've never taken a break from serving the Lord.  I give grateful thanks and praise for those members of my choirs and bands who won't quit after decades of faithful service.  I pray for the many pastors I've had that have blessed me with their mentoring spirits.

Our associate pastor, a grandma (though you'd never know it to look at her), came to lay the Word on us in worship wearing her running suit, proclaiming the Gospel - "I'm not too tired to run for Jesus!"  That's the word I want to pass on to our struggling UMC congregations.  And I want to ask, "Are you struggling because you've forgotten that we're called to pour ourselves out again and again for the Lord?  Have you forgotten that we were given the Spirit of the Lord to pass on, not to keep for ourselves?"

When we empty ourselves out into others for the Glory of the Lord, the Lord will fill us up again.  And again.  And again.