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Thursday, 24 May 2018

Exodus 4 Moses Uncertain and Unwilling

It’s important to stop and reflect on your relationship with Jesus regularly. Are you still trying to figure out who Jesus is, or maybe you believe in Jesus but you’re still trying to figure out what that means in your life. Have you come to the place where your faith is growing but you still like having control in your life, so it’s like Jesus is the passenger in your car while you drive or hopefully your relationship with Jesus is like in the Carrie Underwood song where Jesus has the wheel and you’re trusting him completely on where he’s leading you and who he’s calling you to be as his follower.  Ask yourself, “Is there anything I would tell Jesus ‘No’ to?” This can give you some insight into where you’re at with Jesus.
I remember when I was 18 that Pastor Nutma suggested to me that I should consider going into ministry and I laughed. How can God use a high school dropout, a navy vagabond, a pretty rough and coarse guy as a pastor. No way. I didn’t qualify and I didn’t want to, I’d seen how some people treated some of our pastors, so why would I want to experience the same thing. Deep down it was about trusting Jesus. I’d seen a lot of hurt, a lot of rotten things happen, plenty of unfairness and I often couldn’t see or understand where Jesus was or why he would allow unfair stuff to keep on happening.
Moses is kind of in that spot. Moses ran away from Egypt because he had tried to protect on of his people from a brutal slave master, but God hears the groans of the people and their cries for help and is concerned for them. God has just met Moses by grabbing his attention through a burning bush that was burning up. He introduces himself to Moses as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. God has been rather quiet the past 400 plus years, but now shows up to tell Moses to go to Pharaoh and tell Pharaoh to let the Jewish people go free and leave. This will not make Pharaoh happy; the Jewish people are his slaves and workforce for all the work the Egyptians didn’t want to do.
Moses isn’t so sure he wants to do this. Look at Moses’ life: he’s put in a small boat in the Nile shortly after birth, taken by an Egyptian princess, raised in the Egyptian palace by Pharaoh’s daughter and yet still feels a connection to his people and probably subtle racism by the Egyptian court, but when he goes to defend a Hebrew slave and kills a guard in order to protect him, the Hebrews want nothing to do with him, so Moses ends up taking care of sheep for 40 years and now God tells him to go back to Pharaoh, probably his former uncle and tell him to let the Hebrews go. Then to top it off, God tells Moses, “I’m going to harden Pharaoh’s heart so he’ll say no but go and tell him anyway to let my people go.” An impossible task from a God who has been really quiet for over 400 years and where was God while all this other stuff was going on in Moses’ life.
Moses comes up with a bunch of excuses for not accepting this call from God, “What if they don’t listen to me or believe me, what if they say that you never really came to me and think I’m crazy?” Why all the excuses? I think because Moses isn’t sure he really trusts God, he’s not convinced that God is going to show up when things get tough, and Moses has no real desire to put himself in danger for people who probably aren’t going to believe him anyway. God gives Moses 3 signs, turning Moses’ staff into a snake and back into a staff again, tells Moses to put his hand in his cloak and the skin turns leprous and God restores it again, and finally God tells Moses that should the people not believe, to pour water on the ground and God will turn it into blood. But Moses isn’t convinced, “I’ve never been eloquent, I’m slow of speech.” It doesn’t matter if Moses actually has speech issues, it’s basically just an excuse to not do what God is telling him to do.
There are so many people who are crying out in the night, not sure of how they are going to get through the next while. They don’t even know if there is anyone out there who sees or hears them as their chains wrap around them tighter and tighter. Perhaps their families are hurting, or they’re slaves to their desires and addictions, or poverty or illness, or maybe it’s hopelessness that’s filled their lives. God hears their cries, he sees their situations and he calls us to help them find freedom from the chains that hold them, he calls us to go to help them find the freedom that can be found in following Jesus.
What are some of the excuses you’ve used for not paying attention to Jesus’ call to go make disciples? You’ve heard some of mine, I was a high school drop out, navy vagabond. When the call into ministry came back in my early 30s, my excuses changed, “I can’t afford it because I have a family now, my wife married a baker, not a pastor, it will take 8 years of schooling.” But there were also the memories of stressed out pastors leaving, of having roast pastor for Sunday lunch, and my parents would be unhappy because I would be taking away Joyce and the grandkids. But even before being called into ministry, I remember being challenged by Pastor Gerrit to share my faith in Jesus with people in my life and show them what it means to follow Jesus and I came up with excuses like, “I don’t know what to say, what if they have questions I can’t answer, I’m afraid, you never taught me what to say, I don’t want to, it’s not worth the hassle.”
Pastor Gerrit was gentle but firm, he told me I didn’t trust Jesus enough, I was too concerned about myself and not enough about the people Jesus cares for. He told me Jesus will give me what I need to share my faith. The trust comes because of Jesus’ great love for me and the people around me, love that leads him to the cross to make things new, to bring new life into my life and into the lives of the people around me by offering forgiveness and grace and the gift of eternal life with Jesus. Jesus has chosen us to share this great love with the world, and through living out this love, changing our communities into little kingdoms of heaven that keep growing and spreading. Moses was chosen to bring new life for his people, to bring hope by letting the Jews know God hears them and is starting a new work in the world through them, just like Jesus uses us today.
Jesus doesn’t send us without any help. After his resurrection, Jesus returned to heaven to send his Spirit who reminds us of Jesus’ teaching, gives us the words to say, guides us and helps us recognize what Jesus is already doing so we can join him in his work of renewing this world; partnering with us in making new disciples and deeper disciples. We can trust Jesus to give us what we need to continue his work here. When Stephen in Acts 7 testifies before the religious leaders about what God is doing he talks about Moses, “At that time Moses was born, and he was no ordinary child. For three months he was cared for by his family. When he was placed outside, Pharaoh’s daughter took him and brought him up as her own son. Moses was educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and was powerful in speech and action.Moses had a hard time trusting, but God comes through, just as Jesus comes through for us. It doesn’t mean everything will go the way we want it to, it doesn’t mean life is always easy when we trust his way for us; it does mean that Jesus can and will do amazing things through us to save and bless others when we trust him completely and place him in the driver’s seat of our lives.

Friday, 11 May 2018

2 Corinthians 4 Jars of Clay

There are many people in the Bible with many moral and faith issues whom God uses to accomplish his plans in order to save his people. These are ordinary people who struggle with sin, depression, doubt, fear, lack of faith and more and yet because of who they are, God used them to bring his son Jesus into the world so that Jesus could take our sin and punishment to the cross because we’re unable to make ourselves acceptable to God, no matter how hard we try. Jesus loves us and offers us forgiveness and eternal life with himself and calls us to follow him and trust in him alone, to obey his call on our lives. The amazing thing is that Jesus knows that we will mess up again and again, and still he chooses us to build the kingdom of heaven here on earth.
Paul’s writing to the church in Corinth, an economic and political center in Jesus’ time. Just before this passage, Paul calls them “a letter from Jesus written by the Holy Spirit in their lives for the people of Corinth,” just like we’re letters from Jesus written to the people here. Who they are, who we are, is important because it’s through who we are as ordinary people that Jesus shines light and hope into the world. The thing that always blows my mind is that Jesus uses plain ordinary people like us to carry out his plans and build his kingdom here. Paul now moves to a different image to describe who we are, the image of people as clay jars where God is the potter who creates and shapes us.
Paul talks about not losing heart. Jesus is the treasure, the glory of God’s glory that lives us through his Spirit. Yet this doesn’t mean that life’s always easy. Allowing Jesus to shape our lives, to be his light to the world often comes at a cost. Paul is up-front about the cost of following Jesus, “For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.”
Paul uses the image of jars of clay to describe us. Jars of clay are common, ordinary and yet extremely useful for storing almost anything, including treasure, though there are some which are beautiful pieces of art. Just like life, when you’re working with pottery, things don’t always turn out as expected, but even these can be used to create beauty when they’re broken up and then used in creating mosaic tiles or art pieces. Even the pieces that are left over and seem useless can be broken up and placed in the bottom of planting pots to help with drainage or placed on pathways to create variety.
Clay jars, while they are durable, are also vulnerable to cracking and being broken. That means many of us/most of us are likely to be cracked pots in one way or another. There are many things in life that can crack us. Paul acknowledges that we can feel hard pressed, perplexed, persecuted and even struck down at times, creating cracks, sometimes painful cracks in our lives. Paul wants us to understand that Jesus gives us strength in life and that whatever we accomplish comes from him and not ourselves. When the times come when we wonder how we can go on because of loss, hurt, struggle, betrayal, and sin, we can be assured that because of Jesus, we’re not crushed, not consumed or in complete despair because he never abandons us nor allows us to be destroyed.
The picture of God shaping his people as a potter shapes clay is common in the Bible. One of the clearest image comes from Jeremiah 18, “This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Go down to the potter’s house, and there I will give you my message.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him. Then the word of the Lord came to me. He said, “Can I not do with you, Israel, as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, Israel.” God is the creator, an artist and he takes pots that are mishapen and reworks them into new jars to be used to store his treasure of grace, the treasure of Jesus’ Spirit and the glory of the kingdom of heaven. Paul reminds us of this in Ephesians 2:10, For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
The events of our lives shape us, and when they create too much brokenness in us, Jesus comes offering healing and hope; the potter reforming the clay again, echoing Isaiah 64:8 Yet you, Lord, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.” One of the big cracks in my jar is anger and depression. my wife Joyce can tell you that she has seldom seen me express really deep anger because God has led people into my life who offered hope, who helped my see the importance of controlling my anger by focusing on Jesus and how he is able to give me the ability to change my perspective on things so that my anger is more manageable. They taught me to recognize and focus on the blessings all around me and to live out of a spirit of gratitude. My cracks have been filled in, though they are still there, just not as prominent anymore thanks to Jesus and the people he has placed in my life.
The struggles in life shape us so that not one of us is like the person next to you because our life experiences are different. Because each of us is different, just like each clay jar is unique, Jesus is able to use these differences to be a blessing to different people around us. Our cracks can actually be how Jesus uses us to reach others to provide hope and guide them into a relationship with Jesus. As Paul writes at the beginning of his letter, Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.”
My sister died in a car accident at 18, after the funeral one of the women in the church came up to mom and simply hugged her. She was the mother of a classmate of mine who had died in a car accident with a train when we were 18 years old. She understood the suffering my mom was going through and could comfort her in a way that no one else could. As Paul says, our nicks and cracks help us comfort others with similar cracks because we’ve experienced Jesus’ comfort during our suffering and can now offer Jesus’ comfort to others. It’s like someone who has gone through a divorce can walk alongside someone going through a divorce in a way that I could not. But I can walk alongside someone whose child has cut or attempted suicide because Joyce and I walked that pain with a couple of our children and we understand the fear, guilt, and horror of getting the call from the police to get to the hospital as quickly as possible.
We’re all cracked pots in one way or another and Jesus uses our cracks to bless others by allowing him to shine through us, to bring healing by using us as his hands, voice and arms if we allow him to do so. You can be how God reshapes someone else’s soul and heart if you open your life to allowing Jesus to use you. You can change another person’s life, you can change a community; you have that power because of Jesus. We all carry the life of Jesus in us because of the resurrection, this is the hope we offer, of new life, of a changed reality because of Jesus’ love. “Therefore, we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.”

Thursday, 3 May 2018

2 Samuel 11 David: Lust and the Murderer

My #MeToo story. I had a really good husband and he was close friends with our King David, we even lived next door to the palace. Uriah, my husband was in the military and one spring he went off to lead his men against some of our enemies, but the king, his friend stayed home for this campaign. Usually the king would lead his men, this is why they admired him so much, but this time King David didn’t. No one thought much of it, but one afternoon I went to bath on the roof of our home because it was warm out and I had just finished my time of the month. An hour later a messenger came from the king to come to the palace. Then I discovered that he had watched me bath. I felt violated that he had disrespected me this way.
Then it became much worse, it took me into his private chambers and told me to undress so he could see me unclothed again. I began to cry, but he insisted and after I was undressed he took me to his bed and began touching me all over, and then he slept with me. I felt so ashamed and dirty because the only man who had ever touched me before was my husband, and now the man that me husband admired and considered a close friend had just violated me. But this isn’t the end of the story, I became pregnant because of what the king had done to me and I’m not sure about everything that happened next, but the story ends with my dear husband Uriah dead and the king claiming me as another one of his wives after the official time of mourning was over. What makes some men look at us as just things to use?
David and Bathsheba, a story of sex and power, of deep betrayal and callous disregard of other’s feelings and rights. This is a story of the abuse of power and betrayal of the most intimate kind, a story of David being a king just like the kings of the nations around him, focusing on his wants and desires instead of his people and who God calls him to be. David creates huge amounts of hurt and damage to Bathsheba and Uriah, but also severely damages his position as king and in his relationship to God. We focus on Bathsheba, because we’ve turned this story into some kind of a twisted love story because Bathsheba becomes the mother of future King Solomon, because Jesus comes from the line of David and Bathsheba, but it’s no love story, it’s a story about a king with deep flaws, with large cracks in who he is. It’s about abusing trust, something that is way too common, even today. Some people believe that they are so special that they can do whatever they want to anyone they want and it’s alright because it’s all about them.
Jewish rabbis teach that this is a story that contrasts the immoral and flawed King David with the moral and upright man of strong character Uriah. David has slept with Bathsheba, Uriah’s wife and now she is pregnant and David is faced with a decision: what do I do now? David decides to try to hide what he’s done and calls Uriah home from the battlefield. David hopes to get Uriah to sleep with Bathsheba so that everything can be hidden. Now Uriah is no simple soldier, he is one of David’s 30 mighty warriors, heroes who stuck with David even during his time of exile and persecution by King Saul. These are the warriors who were willing to risk their own lives so David could become king. Uriah is such a trusted warrior and friend that his home is next to the king’s palace, a place of honour and respect.
This is where the contrast comes: David betrayed Uriah and now tries to hide his sin. He calls Uriah home to get a report on the men and how the war is going, and then encourages Uriah to spend the night with his wife. The expression, “wash your feet” meant sleeping with his wife, but Uriah sleeps with the servants because of his loyalty to his men in the field. When David asks him why he didn’t spend time with Bathsheba, Uriah says to David, “The ark and Israel and Judah are staying in tents, and my commander Joab and my lord’s men are camped in the open country. How could I go to my house to eat and drink and make love to my wife? As surely as you live, I will not do such a thing!” David then gets Uriah drunk to weaken his loyalty to his men, but Uriah drunk still has more principles and a better character than David and in the evening Uriah sleeps again on his mat among the servants; he doesn’t go home. Now David arranges with Joab, his field commander, to make sure that Uriah gets killed in one of the battles because Uriah’s faithfulness to his men is too strong. This is in contrast to David’s lack of loyalty to him. David’s response when Joab lets him know that Uriah died in battle is basically, “Ah well, these things happen.” A callous cruel response. The problem is that these things don’t just happen, David planned it all out.
This is one of those stories that echoes forward to Jesus and one of the echoes is how he too was betrayed by someone close to him, one of his twelve disciples Judas who also deliberately planned out a betrayal of Jesus because Jesus wasn’t acting how Judas wanted him to, to claim the throne of David in Jerusalem. This leads Jesus to the cross, where Jesus claims kingship over all creation as he defeats death itself in order to bring healing and wholeness into creation again. Jesus' kingship is one of justice and hope, of healing and faithfulness rather than betrayal and hurt. The cross brings forgiveness, even for betrayals such as David’s and Judas’. But it’s not a cheap or easy forgiveness where we just say, “Oops, sorry, won’t do that again.”
God sends the prophet Nathan to confront David with what he’s done and who he’s becoming. It’s not just the extreme wrong that David has done, it’s about how what he did shows who David has become: a king in the image of other earthly kings instead of becoming like the king of heaven and earth who has called his followers to love him above everything else, and to love his neighbour as himself, and to show mercy, fight for justice and to walk humbly with God. When David’s confronted with who he’s become and how he’s destroyed the lives of people he’s called to protect, David is changed, he confesses, and more importantly, he repents, he changes and begins working on becoming who God has called him to be.
The cross calls us to confession and repentance, to a searching of our souls and hearts to see how we might have also betrayed others, hurt others because we want to be gods of our own lives, focusing on our own wants and desires instead of Jesus’ call to follow him and partner with him so that God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven. The cross confronts us and calls us to focus on our character, on who we are and whether we allow what we say we believe about Jesus to actually shape who we are as his followers. The cross also brings forgiveness and grace for the sinner and healing to the one sinned against. 
Psalm 51 is David’s confession and reveals his repentant heart. “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge… you desired faithfulness even in the womb; taught me wisdom in that secret place…  Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me… Then I will teach transgressors your ways, so that sinners will turn back to you… My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.
Faith is about our beliefs about Jesus actually being lived out. Faith is not just knowledge, it’s about how our knowledge of Jesus and the relationship we have with Jesus shapes our character and our relationships; ultimately it comes down to obedience in becoming who Jesus calls us to be as his followers: people shaped by grace, mercy, forgiveness, desiring justice, fighting against oppression within our cultures, creating communities of health where people are able to flourish; all summed up in Jesus’ command to love God above everything and to love our neighbour as ourselves. It's about humility and working towards reconciliation with those we've hurt, admitting our fault and asking for forgiveness. It may not come, depending on how much you have hurt, but the effort needs to be made and the person hurt is the one who sets the boundaries then. 
It’s about loving our neighbours so much we want them to have a relationship with Jesus too because we believe that they will be better off knowing Jesus, that they can find healing and hope from Jesus. Jesus went to the cross so that one day when he returns there will be no need for such a movement, but he has placed us here to begin to create that place right now, right here where he has placed us as his church, his bride.