The Passage of Authority

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The Passage of Authority

Numbers 27:12–14

Joshua Appointed Moses’ Successor[1]

The Lord said to Moses, “Go up this mountain of the Abarim range, and see the land that I have given to the Israelites. When you have seen it, you also shall be gathered to your people, as your brother Aaron was, because you rebelled against my word in the wilderness of Zin when the congregation quarreled with me. You did not show my holiness before their eyes at the waters.” (These are the waters of Meribath-kadesh in the wilderness of Zin.)

Mark 11:27–33

Jesus’ Authority Is Questioned[2]

Again they came to Jerusalem. As he was walking in the temple, the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders came to him and said, “By what authority are you doing these things? Who gave you this authority to do them?” Jesus said to them, “I will ask you one question; answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things. Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin? Answer me.” They argued with one another, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But shall we say, ‘Of human origin’?”—they were afraid of the crowd, for all regarded John as truly a prophet. So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.”

The passage of authority from person to person is not about passing on skills. It is about passing on values.Tweet: The passage of authority from person to person is not about passing on skills. It is about passing on values.

Moses had been raised in the court of Pharaoh, learned to be a shepherd in the wilderness, and brought the Hebrew people the Law from God’s own voice and hand. No one was going to be able to replace him as a leader with those kinds of experiences and qualifications. Joshua was being raised up to be a good leader, but he was going to be a different kind of leader for a different chapter in the story of the Hebrew people.

There needed to be some kind of connection though. It would have been a very short chapter if Joshua had not followed the same God as Moses. Both Joshua and/or the entire people would have been overwhelmed and overrun without the God that Moses showed them and followed through the Red Sea, as well as 40 years through the wilderness. It was not simply the unique gifts of courage that Joshua had either. It was the effective way that Moses passed on the torch of leadership, which contained the values Moses had learned from God Himself. If Moses had chosen to stay on the pedestal that the people put Him on, their would not have been a second generation of the Israelites. They would have abandoned the vision and mission of being a “royal priesthood” and a “holy nation” and simply become Moabites, Amalekites, or Philistines instead. It would have been easier for them to do so.

So what were those values that Moses passed on to Joshua? The first one and perhaps the most important one was the willingness to ask God for help in anything and everything. Neither Moses, nor Joshua, were afraid to go face to face with God, even though everyone else was. They did it not out of privilege, but because they were lost without Him. They knew they desperately needed God in order to do anything.

Secondly, they trusted God’s advice (except when emotion took over and they tried to make things up themselves). Moses and Joshua valued God’s leadership over them and they let God lead.**Tweet: Moses and Joshua valued God's leadership over them and they let God lead.

Joshua, it appears, had little trouble being accepted as a leader of the Hebrew people. Yet somehow Jesus, his New Testament namesake, had more challenge. Why would the Israelites have an easier time following Joshua than Jesus? Because Jesus did not have the same values as the people He was sent to save. Joshua, as well as the people he led wanted land, food, water, and shelter to start a new life in. He was not terribly picky as to where it would be either. The people in the time of Jesus were looking for similar things, although they were pickier about what location they wanted to be in… but Jesus did not come to give them land, food, water, or a place to make a new home in. He came to transform the world around us by changing us first.

One of the biggest lessons Jesus taught was forgiveness, and he taught that the whole concept of forgiveness breaks down if we want forgiveness ourselves, but refuse to forgive others. No one wanted to hear that, because, in all truth, they did not really value forgiveness. They, and we, all too often desire license to sin, excuse for our sin, and most importantly a way out of the consequences of sin, but we don’t want to stop sinning. We certainly do not want to let others get by with sinning against us, especially if we are not given the same leniency.

The real work of leadership, the kind that outlasts us, is the passing on of values. Joshua had it a little easier than Moses… and both had it easier than Jesus. If we are going to lead in the name of Christ though, we have to be sure we have received His values and are passing them on to those we lead.

What are the values of Jesus?

How are you sharing and passing them on to others around you?

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  1. (Deut 31:1–8)  ↩
  2. (Mt 21:23–27; Lk 20:1–8)  ↩

Grief that Grows

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Grief that Grows

Numbers 20:1–13

The Waters of Meribah[1]

The Israelites, the whole congregation, came into the wilderness of Zin in the first month, and the people stayed in Kadesh. Miriam died there, and was buried there.

Now there was no water for the congregation; so they gathered together against Moses and against Aaron. The people quarreled with Moses and said, “Would that we had died when our kindred died before the Lord! Why have you brought the assembly of the Lord into this wilderness for us and our livestock to die here? Why have you brought us up out of Egypt, to bring us to this wretched place? It is no place for grain, or figs, or vines, or pomegranates; and there is no water to drink.” Then Moses and Aaron went away from the assembly to the entrance of the tent of meeting; they fell on their faces, and the glory of the Lord appeared to them. The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and your brother Aaron, and command the rock before their eyes to yield its water. Thus you shall bring water out of the rock for them; thus you shall provide drink for the congregation and their livestock.

So Moses took the staff from before the Lord, as he had commanded him. Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, “Listen, you rebels, shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” Then Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock twice with his staff; water came out abundantly, and the congregation and their livestock drank. But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in me, to show my holiness before the eyes of the Israelites, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.” These are the waters of Meribah, where the people of Israel quarreled with the Lord, and by which he showed his holiness.

Passage through Edom Refused

Moses sent messengers from Kadesh to the king of Edom, “Thus says your brother Israel: You know all the adversity that has befallen us: how our ancestors went down to Egypt, and we lived in Egypt a long time; and the Egyptians oppressed us and our ancestors; and when we cried to the Lord, he heard our voice, and sent an angel and brought us out of Egypt; and here we are in Kadesh, a town on the edge of your territory. Now let us pass through your land. We will not pass through field or vineyard, or drink water from any well; we will go along the King’s Highway, not turning aside to the right hand or to the left until we have passed through your territory.”
But Edom said to him, “You shall not pass through, or we will come out with the sword against you.” The Israelites said to him, “We will stay on the highway; and if we drink of your water, we and our livestock, then we will pay for it. It is only a small matter; just let us pass through on foot.” But he said, “You shall not pass through.” And Edom came out against them with a large force, heavily armed. Thus Edom refused to give Israel passage through their territory; so Israel turned away from them.

The Death of Aaron

They set out from Kadesh, and the Israelites, the whole congregation, came to Mount Hor. Then the Lord said to Moses and Aaron at Mount Hor, on the border of the land of Edom, “Let Aaron be gathered to his people. For he shall not enter the land that I have given to the Israelites, because you rebelled against my command at the waters of Meribah. Take Aaron and his son Eleazar, and bring them up Mount Hor; strip Aaron of his vestments, and put them on his son Eleazar. But Aaron shall be gathered to his people, and shall die there.” Moses did as the Lord had commanded; they went up Mount Hor in the sight of the whole congregation. Moses stripped Aaron of his vestments, and put them on his son Eleazar; and Aaron died there on the top of the mountain. Moses and Eleazar came down from the mountain. When all the congregation saw that Aaron had died, all the house of Israel mourned for Aaron thirty days.

Acts 13:32–41

And we bring you the good news that what God promised to our ancestors he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising Jesus; as also it is written in the second psalm,
‘You are my Son;
today I have begotten you.’
As to his raising him from the dead, no more to return to corruption, he has spoken in this way,
‘I will give you the holy promises made to David.’
Therefore he has also said in another psalm,
‘You will not let your Holy One experience corruption.’
For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, died, was laid beside his ancestors, and experienced corruption; but he whom God raised up experienced no corruption. Let it be known to you therefore, my brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you; by this Jesus everyone who believes is set free from all those sins from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses. Beware, therefore, that what the prophets said does not happen to you:
‘Look, you scoffers!
Be amazed and perish,
for in your days I am doing a work,
a work that you will never believe, even if someone tells you.’

We behave badly when we are grieving.Tweet: We behave badly when we are grieving. Moses had just buried his sister and the people couldn’t find water. They started grumbling. Well, in all actuality, I suspect they had been grumbling for awhile. Moses just began to notice it more in his grief. Then the people picked up on his irritation with him and began to move from grumbling to quarreling with Moses and each other. I’m sure this was not all over one day without a nearby water source. It was that, in his own grief, they feared Moses would be unable to lead them any longer. They were ready to abandon ship and crawl back to Egypt.

They were throwing a fit. So Moses threw a fit. Instead of following God’s instructions, as he had for so very long, he took matters into his own hands. He struck the rock with his grief and anger instead of speaking to it with his faith. He let doubt rule in his moment of grief, and it would haunt him the rest of his life.

Paul told another story though. He told of the grief experienced by the disciples at the death of Jesus and how their grief was transformed into joy at the resurrection. It did not eliminate their grief and suffering, but it transformed it. Raising Jesus from the dead redeemed all of their suffering by showing that even death does not have the last word.

Everyone suffers. Everyone grieves. For those in Christ, suffering is temporary and joy is everlasting. For those without Christ, joy in this world is temporary at best, but suffering and grief will be eternal. Don’t let momentary grief – no matter how bad it is, take away your hope in the peace and joy that awaits us when God sends His Spirit to raise us from the depths we find ourselves in.

Where have you experienced your most profound grief?

How is God speaking to that grief today?

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  1. Ex 17:1–7  ↩

The Teacher

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The Teacher

Isaiah 48:17–21

Thus says the Lord,
your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel:
I am the Lord your God,
who teaches you for your own good,
who leads you in the way you should go.
O that you had paid attention to my commandments!
Then your prosperity would have been like a river,
and your success like the waves of the sea;
your offspring would have been like the sand,
and your descendants like its grains;
their name would never be cut off
or destroyed from before me.
Go out from Babylon, flee from Chaldea,
declare this with a shout of joy, proclaim it,
send it forth to the end of the earth;
say, “The Lord has redeemed his servant Jacob!”
They did not thirst when he led them through the deserts;
he made water flow for them from the rock;
he split open the rock and the water gushed out.

James 4:11–16

Warning against Judging Another

Do not speak evil against one another, brothers and sisters. Whoever speaks evil against another or judges another, speaks evil against the law and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is one lawgiver and judge who is able to save and to destroy. So who, then, are you to judge your neighbor?

Boasting about Tomorrow

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a town and spend a year there, doing business and making money.” Yet you do not even know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wishes, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil.

The Lord is the Good Teacher, not just because He knows everything but because He teaches us for our good.Tweet: The Lord is the Good Teacher, not just because He knows everything but because He teaches us for our good. He desires our success and well-being, and He wants to teach us what true success really means. This should be one of the easiest concepts to grasp and apply in the Christian life. However, many of us have come to see the role of Jesus as mainly a sacrifice for our sins with some good teaching if we have the time/energy/desire to seek, learn, and live out that teaching. Most of us do not.

Some church leaders get a bit itchy when we focus on Jesus as teacher, as if that somehow takes away from His atoning sacrifice for our sins. I have not been able to follow that logic myself. To me it is one and the same. Jesus lived out (sacrificially) what He taught, and He taught what He lived instead of keeping it selfishly to Himself. To be truly Loving and truly God, He really needed to be both Sacrifice and Teacher.

So, how do we compensate for our acknowledgement of Jesus as teacher and our failure to be His student? We try to supersede His authority by taking on the role of teacher ourselves. We “fulfill our Christian duty” by passing the teaching on to others, often before we ourselves have learned to live it out. We teach fellow church members. We try to teach non-Christians in our lives. We do a lot of teaching our children about what Jesus wants us to do – sometimes for our own purposes. But we do not teach them to learn from Jesus directly. We become the priest figures in their lives, not interceding for their sin, but interceding between Jesus and them.

I’ve experienced both sides of this under the guise of what we sometimes refer to as the gift of prophecy. “God has given me a message for you… He wants you to…” I believe in the gift and power of prophecy, but when we come to lean on that gift as if it were the gift of teaching, we become unbalanced and cease to come to Jesus as teacher.

James taught from a position that had a strong respect for teaching and wisdom. Wisdom stands apart from prophecy because it is teaching that is built to last, rather than the temporary word of the prophet for a specific time and place. Teaching, and teaching wisdom specifically requires greater commitment and greater life transformation. It does not just give us the next direction. It tells us where we are going and what it will look like, so that we begin to be open to the smaller directions ourselves, without relying on a person to be that constant guide for us.

Where do you experience Jesus as the Good Teacher in your life?

What areas of your life are not being actively shaped by Jesus teaching you?

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Ask and You Shall Receive, Whine and You Won’t Like It

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Ask and You Shall Receive, Whine and You Won’t Like It

Numbers 11:18–32

And say to the people: Consecrate yourselves for tomorrow, and you shall eat meat; for you have wailed in the hearing of the Lord, saying, ‘If only we had meat to eat! Surely it was better for us in Egypt.’ Therefore the Lord will give you meat, and you shall eat. You shall eat not only one day, or two days, or five days, or ten days, or twenty days, but for a whole month—until it comes out of your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you—because you have rejected the Lord who is among you, and have wailed before him, saying, ‘Why did we ever leave Egypt?’ ” But Moses said, “The people I am with number six hundred thousand on foot; and you say, ‘I will give them meat, that they may eat for a whole month’! Are there enough flocks and herds to slaughter for them? Are there enough fish in the sea to catch for them?” The Lord said to Moses, “Is the Lord’s power limited? Now you shall see whether my word will come true for you or not.”

So Moses went out and told the people the words of the Lord; and he gathered seventy elders of the people, and placed them all around the tent. Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to him, and took some of the spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders; and when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied. But they did not do so again.

Two men remained in the camp, one named Eldad, and the other named Medad, and the spirit rested on them; they were among those registered, but they had not gone out to the tent, and so they prophesied in the camp. And a young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.” And Joshua son of Nun, the assistant of Moses, one of his chosen men, said, “My lord Moses, stop them!” But Moses said to him, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!” And Moses and the elders of Israel returned to the camp.

The Quails

Then a wind went out from the Lord, and it brought quails from the sea and let them fall beside the camp, about a day’s journey on this side and a day’s journey on the other side, all around the camp, about two cubits deep on the ground. So the people worked all that day and night and all the next day, gathering the quails; the least anyone gathered was ten homers; and they spread them out for themselves all around the camp.

Matthew 18:1–5

True Greatness[1]

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a child, whom he put among them, and said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.

Little children used to be considered less than slaves, today they are treated like small gods.Tweet: Little children used to be considered less than slaves, today they are treated like small gods. Neither of these is what God had in mind.

The Christian faith has added to the confusion by our interpretation of the “faith like a child” example Jesus gave. He did not teach about the superiority of children’s virtue or innocence. He did not tout their imagination or naiveté in believing whatever they were told. He did not expound upon their sponge-like minds that are able to learn things so quickly and eagerly. No, Jesus did not focus on any of the very real strengths of children. Instead, He pointed out that, they were indeed seen as less than slaves, for they had nothing to offer but hungry mouths. They were humble – perhaps not always in attitude, but in the eyes of the culture around them. It was not false humility. It was true lowliness. They were nothings waiting to grow into somethings.

That is how Jesus said we must enter the kingdom of heaven… and don’t miss the last part.

Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.

Mud Day celebration
Mud Day celebration

Unlike the way some of us treat our children, God does not give us anything we ask… even if we say “please”. We cannot charm or connive our wills and ways out of God. Instead, He delights in giving us what we need and teaches us to ask for those things instead of the cravings of our flesh. When we whine and throw a fit, He does not simply try to appease us. He disciplines us, and sometimes He does that but giving us just what we ask for… teaching us a lesson in why we perhaps did not really want it in the first place.

Praying for snow
Praying for snow

Yes, snow days may be fun in the winter (for the kids), but being stuck home for many days gets dull. Making up those days in the summer is even worse. Getting behind in your classwork makes teachers and students grumpy. It doesn’t pay off in the end. Why not just let God be in charge of the weather? Why not let God be in charge of everything else too, while we’re at it.

Do you want to know how to ask for things from God in prayer? Start here.

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  1. (Mk 9:33–37; Lk 9:46–48)  ↩

Craving Control

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Craving Control

Numbers 11:1–9

Complaining in the Desert

Now when the people complained in the hearing of the Lord about their misfortunes, the Lord heard it and his anger was kindled. Then the fire of the Lord burned against them, and consumed some outlying parts of the camp. But the people cried out to Moses; and Moses prayed to the Lord, and the fire abated. So that place was called Taberah, because the fire of the Lord burned against them.

The rabble among them had a strong craving; and the Israelites also wept again, and said, “If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we used to eat in Egypt for nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic; but now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.”

Now the manna was like coriander seed, and its color was like the color of gum resin. The people went around and gathered it, ground it in mills or beat it in mortars, then boiled it in pots and made cakes of it; and the taste of it was like the taste of cakes baked with oil. When the dew fell on the camp in the night, the manna would fall with it.

Romans 16:17–20

Final Instructions

I urge you, brothers and sisters, to keep an eye on those who cause dissensions and offenses, in opposition to the teaching that you have learned; avoid them. For such people do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the simple-minded. For while your obedience is known to all, so that I rejoice over you, I want you to be wise in what is good and guileless in what is evil. The God of peace will shortly crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes:

“Folly is a more dangerous enemy to the good than evil. One can protest against evil; it can be unmasked…. Evil always carries the seeds of its own destruction, as it makes people , at the least, uncomfortable. Against folly we have no defense. Neither protests nor force can touch it; reasoning is of no use; facts that contradict personal prejudices can simply be disbelieved – indeed, the fool can counter by criticizing them, and if they are undeniable, they can just be pushed aside as trivial exceptions. So the fool…is completely self-satisfied; in fact, he can easily become dangerous, as it does not take much to make him aggressive. …we shall never try to convince a fool by reason, for it is both useless and dangerous.”[1]

Bonhoeffer wrote this in the context of the political turmoil in Germany between the World Wars, but I think he reached for a deeper truth that affects us all. His quote about the seeds of evil have been echoed through the ages by others, including a predecessor of His, Mark Twain as well as the contemporary writer Neil Gaiman. I think both of these gentlemen would be considered religious skeptics of one sort or another, but they were able to recognize that evil is generally not the best option. Short term gain often equals long term pain.Tweet: Short term gain often equals long term pain.

Yet, according to Bonhoeffer, there is another thing that may be even worse than evil: Folly. Foolishness. This is actions done without malice, but also without thought or care. These actions are overwhelmingly done in the name of cravings.

Cravings do not come with reasons and rationales, so we do the work ourselves in creating excuses for them. The means of the craving often matters little. It can be food, sex, money, power, popularity, approval, conquest, drugs, or any other act that brings us sensation. Sometimes the sensation does not even have to be pleasurable. Many people overstimulate themselves with numbing drugs like alcohol, in order to stop feeling whatever pain, sadness, loneliness, or boredom, they are presently experiencing.

Patience and craving are archenemies and one will eat the other in our bodies, minds, and souls.Tweet: Patience and craving are archenemies and one will eat the other in our bodies, minds, and souls. Paul, in his letters to Rome and Corinth, and perhaps even more explicitly in Galatians that when we submit to our cravings instead of mastering them ourselves, we become people of discord that breaks up the unity of the community of faith. Instead of obeying the Spirit of God, our cravings drive us to compete against others and take from what they need to satisfy our wants. Craving subverts love, and often changes our attitude altogether so that we trade true love (patient, kind, forgiving, etc.) and begin to call the object of our craving our love instead.

“If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it.” – Genesis 4:7

What cravings affect you today?

How can you master them and free yourself to love God and others unhindered?

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In Lieu of God

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Shrine of Jesus
Shrine of Jesus

In Lieu of God

Exodus 16:31–35

The house of Israel called it manna; it was like coriander seed, white, and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey. Moses said, “This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Let an omer of it be kept throughout your generations, in order that they may see the food with which I fed you in the wilderness, when I brought you out of the land of Egypt.’ ” And Moses said to Aaron, “Take a jar, and put an omer of manna in it, and place it before the Lord, to be kept throughout your generations.” As the Lord commanded Moses, so Aaron placed it before the covenant, for safekeeping. The Israelites ate manna forty years, until they came to a habitable land; they ate manna, until they came to the border of the land of Canaan.

Romans 16:1–16

Personal Greetings

I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church at Cenchreae, so that you may welcome her in the Lord as is fitting for the saints, and help her in whatever she may require from you, for she has been a benefactor of many and of myself as well.

Greet Prisca and Aquila, who work with me in Christ Jesus, and who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles. Greet also the church in their house. Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who was the first convert in Asia for Christ. Greet Mary, who has worked very hard among you. Greet Andronicus and Junia, my relatives who were in prison with me; they are prominent among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was. Greet Ampliatus, my beloved in the Lord. Greet Urbanus, our co-worker in Christ, and my beloved Stachys. Greet Apelles, who is approved in Christ. Greet those who belong to the family of Aristobulus. Greet my relative Herodion. Greet those in the Lord who belong to the family of Narcissus. Greet those workers in the Lord, Tryphaena and Tryphosa. Greet the beloved Persis, who has worked hard in the Lord. Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord; and greet his mother—a mother to me also. Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, and the brothers and sisters who are with them. Greet Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you.

Stained glass.

Crosses.

Elaborate Bibles.

Buildings.

Paintings.

Statues.

For people who believe in a God who is supposed to be omnipresent, we sure make a lot of substitutes for Him!Tweet: For people who believe in a God who is supposed to be omnipresent, we sure make a lot of substitutes for Him! Part of the Protestant Reformation (particularly among John Calvin as well as some of the Anabaptists). They stripped the worship down to its bare boned foundation of Preaching the Word as primary, and Sacrament of Holy Communion, somewhat secondarily. They removed the stain glass, much of the music, the paintings and statues. They did their job so well that most Protestant churches still vaguely see statues as ‘idols’ or ‘graven images’ of which God has forbidden us to make of Him.. Statuary in or around churches is almost always seen as a marker of Roman Catholicism

The Protestant Reformation was not a good time to be an artist. It was a good time to get into the infant industry of printing though. Translating and reading scripture, as well as bible study and commentary on these translations became the new focus. Slowly the painters came back along with the musicians, still maintaining that focus on scripture and scriptural interpretations. It was an attempt to trade things they perceived as getting between them and God for new things that reminded them and brought them closer to God. The intentions were good, but as most experienced artists know, remembrance and connection are very subjective things. They are not one-size-fits-all.

one-size-fits-all
one-size-fits-all

But then, what is?

God is.

We substitute daily personal relationship with God, not by having art or souvenirs that remind us of God, but when we settle for those substitutes instead of using them as temporary handholds to compel us forward to God. Sometimes it is not even objects, it is people we use (as if they were objects) to give us our God fix. Whatever it is, the things themselves are usually not bad. The way we use them is.

What things or people do you keep close to keep you close to God?

What limits do they present on your ability to connect with God?

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Complaining: Venting Out Our Doubt

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Complaining: Venting Out Our Doubt

Exodus 16:2–15

“The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”

Then the Lord said to Moses, “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather on other days.” So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “In the evening you shall know that it was the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, and in the morning you shall see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your complaining against the Lord. For what are we, that you complain against us?” And Moses said, “When the Lord gives you meat to eat in the evening and your fill of bread in the morning, because the Lord has heard the complaining that you utter against him—what are we? Your complaining is not against us but against the Lord.”

Then Moses said to Aaron, “Say to the whole congregation of the Israelites, ‘Draw near to the Lord, for he has heard your complaining.’ ” And as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the Israelites, they looked toward the wilderness, and the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud. The Lord spoke to Moses and said, “I have heard the complaining of the Israelites; say to them, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread; then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.’ ”

In the evening quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat.”

Matthew 20:1–16

The Laborers in the Vineyard

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’

When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

Most of us do not complain well on a regular basis.Tweet: Most of us do not complain well on a regular basis. We lift up petty complaints that dissipate as soon as they hit the air because they have no substance. They are meaningless. They are lies, like the pickup lines used in chat rooms and bars that have no purpose other than getting attention.

Everything is too hot, cold, fast, slow, big, small, or out of balanced for me. I am the most balanced, average individual and if they would just do what I want, they could please everyone. But it never happens. These are the thoughts of a madman with delusions of mediocrity, misunderstanding the majesty of himself as a unique creation of God. We are not alike and we cannot please everyone.

Oftentimes we complain because we do not know how else to communicate. We walk up to a person, make a comment about the weather, and then launch into a series of complaints in attempt to find some common ground with them. It’s a conversational gimmick that has nothing to do with communicating real virtue and values. It’s just playing politics. We lack the boldness to say, “I would like to get to know you better. Tell me about yourself. What is something you really care about?” Instead, we comment about the latest political workings and how we have lost faith in our leaders, waiting to get an amen from our new friend-to-be.

On the flip side, those who truly do have something to complain about… neglect, abuse, torture, rampant generational poverty with no escape… often do not complain but focus more on gratitude for whatever small blessings they may have in their life. Do we spend more time complaining about the flavor or temperature of coffee than we do about starvation? I think we probably do.

Strong complaints about deeply experienced injustice are often not complained about, but instead hid down deep within us. We hear about them, to be sure. In many cases though, we hear about them through a lawyer, a family member, a pastor, or some other community advocate (or professional complainer). The person who puts the complaint into words is not the one to whom it belongs. The real victims sometimes bury the hurt until it festers and they take vengeance into their own hands. Generally speaking, if we are complaining, we still have options and have not become truly desperate yet.

I think if there is one profession that truly sees the transition from complaining to desperate begging, it is probably hospital nurses, and particularly those that work in Emergency and Intensive Care units. Perhaps even more specifically, those who work with children in those areas. Again, the patients are not usually the ones with the complaints… it comes from their parents. When things are just bad, there is plenty of complaining and threats to transfer to another hospital. As things get worse though, and options become scarce, the complaining stops and the begging, pleading, and bargaining process of grief begins. It is no longer just irritation, it is true desperation.

I think the Hebrew people were on their way out of complaints and heading toward true desperation, where the were about to have their needs miraculously met by God. Yet, in their irritation over their present predicament, they found the strength to vent their doubts, putting to rest any questions about what was going on in their hearts. They were living agnostic lives, looking to Moses to solve their problems instead of going to God, whom they feared and may not have entirely believed in. He was too mysterious. Moses was an easier target.

Underneath the parable Jesus taught about the servants in the marketplace is a message about doubt as well. The main lesson we should take may well be that we should be grateful for whatever blessings we are given. However, those who complain still have enough to survive. They have not reached desperation yet. If they had, they would not have been complaining, from a place of power, but begging, from a place of poverty. Their complaints show their doubts in the goodness and justice of God.

Do you complain to God? Do you show your doubts openly to Him and others? Or do you hide them away until things get terribly desperate and you have no way out? I think God is patient and kind to us, even in the midst of our doubts, but I think he prefers us to put away our pretenses and be honest about what they are. “Lord, help my unbelief!” is not a complaint, but a desperate cry for help, in the midst of such doubt… and it is a prayer I believe God honors. It seeks faith and wholeness, not just an opportunity to vent, when in truth we are not willing to do what is necessary to be made well. If we are given what we are promised, it is only the sin of jealousy that leads us to complain about the blessings of others. Complaining may not be a sin, but it will not get us what we want with God.

What do you notice others complaining about the most?

What do you think you complain about the most?

When have you reached true desperation?

How did that experience change your attitude?

What kind of attitude do you need today?

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