September 30, 2012

God in Control

For the past month we’ve been talking about how it feels when your life feels out of control and we’ve discovered that the solution is not tying another knot in the rope, but rather the answer is, often, actually letting go and falling into the loving hands of God. So what would it be like if we let God be in control from the beginning?
Rahab and Peter are Bible people who had their lives changed when they let God take over. When they stepped out of their comfortable zones, they discovered that God was more than able to accomplish more than they expected.
At first, Rahab seems like an odd person for God to use at all. Then you realize that God rarely uses the person we’d choose. Rahab is introduced in the 2nd chapter of the Book of Joshua as a ‘harlot’. She is, it turns out, a woman with a heart for God, though. She hides the Israelite spies and tells them, “I know that the Lord has given you the land…for the Lord your God is he who is God in the heaven above and on earth beneath.” (Judges 2:9-11)
Believing that God was in control led Rahab to act treasonously (in the eyes of those in Jericho). By trusting in God, instead of people, she saved her family’s life (Joshua 6:23). Eventually she married one of the spies and became the mother of Boaz, who was great grandfather of David (Matthew 1:5)! I found this story so intriguing that my book Rahab’s Redemption is based on these few little hints in the Bible. Sometimes we can learn more by reading between the lines to discover the faith of the women in the Bible.
God asks Peter repeatedly to step outside of his comfortable box. One such time is recounted in Acts 10. The Roman Centurion Cornelius is told by an angelic vision to “send men to Joppa, and bring one Simon who is called Peter...” (Acts 10:5). For Peter, a Jewish man, to go to visit a gentile was unheard of. However, Peter himself has a vision and tells Cornelius, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit any one of another nation; but God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean. So when I was sent for, I came without objection.” (Acts 10:28-29)
Peter hears Cornelius’ testimony of his own vision and understands, “God shows no partiality, but in every nation any one who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.” (Acts 10:34-35) He then preaches the Gospel to the centurion and all his family and friends who are converted and baptized.
 
 
Just this week, while reading an online meditation (d365.org), I came to this prayer which gave me pause and, for me, summarized the theme of these past weeks: “God, deliver me today from self-preservation so that I might believe you without reservation. Amen.”
Both Rahab and Peter didn’t consider ‘self-preservation,’ which would have dictated that they remain obedient to the laws of man. Instead they were obedient to the Spirit of God. By being willing to step out in faith, Peter converted an enemy. Rahab had to step out of her comfort zone in order to rescue the spies. In doing that she found welcome and learned the meaning of living a life of faith in God.
May we each listen more to the Spirit that says, ‘Have no fear. Come, follow me’ and less to the little voice that says we have to follow certain rules in order to ‘be safe’ or ‘successful’. Take Paul’s claim as your own, “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7) and live boldly with God in control!
Next time, we’ll start our final series of this Pentecost journey that started with living into the joy of Psalm 100 and learning to Abandon Self to God with Charles de Foucauld. We also saw how ministry grows like a seed and ‘we know not how.’ Each step along the way has been another way of looking at how we can live faith-filled lives with our Loving God in control.

September 23, 2012

Out of Control-When your Rope is Fraying



Last time we shared a conversation between Leah and Moses who both learned that only when they really let go of their agendas was God able to work. Like them we try and try to make ‘our way’ work out. But then we discover we are hanging by a fraying rope and hoping that it doesn’t break, rather like this story:
There was a monastery high on a cliff. The only access was by way of riding in a basket which several monks hauled up to the top. Obviously the ride over the rocky jagged terrain was steep, and in a wicker basket it was terrifying to all but the naively fearless. One visitor, however, got exceedingly nervous. Roughly halfway up he saw that the rope by which he was being hauled was rather frayed and splitting. Shaking in his boots but unable to move, he frantically asked the monk who was seated next to him how often they changed the rope. Thinking for a moment, the monk answered, "whenever it breaks."
Miriam in the Old Testament and the Samaritan Woman in the New are two women who know a bit about frayed ropes and what happens when they break.
Miriam, as Moses’ sister was important to the Children of Israel during the Exodus. You may recall she led the victory dance after the Red Sea crossing (Exodus 15:20-21). However, when she tried to prove who was a better leader and more in control, she found herself exiled outside the camp with leprosy. (Numbers 12:1-15)
The Samaritan Woman (John 4:7-30) had clearly been trying to get her life in order and be in control of it for a long time. Jesus tells her “You have had 5 husbands and the one you have now is not your husband.” She has had extremely bad luck with husbands, for whatever reason. In a world where a woman was dependent on the man in her life, this was not a good thing. In fact, she is reduced to living with a man she isn’t married to in order to get that protection.
Miriam and the Samaritan Woman were looking for power and security in the wrong place. Miriam was angry because Moses seemed to have all the power, and she felt he misused it because he “married a Cushite woman.” She forgot that it was God who was really in control of the Exodus until she and Aaron are confronted by the Lord. “Come out, you 3, to the tent of meeting,” God says. He then reminds them that “with [Moses] I speak face to face…and he beholds the form of the Lord.”
Miriam is reminded that God is in control “when the cloud removed from over the tent, behold, Miriam was leprous, as white as snow.” This dread disease was feared in the ancient world and anyone with it was an outcast. So, she is “shut up outside the camp 7 days…and the people did not set out on the march till Miriam was brought in again.” During that time, she learned to trust God a bit more and to control her pride.
The Samaritan Woman, too, is an outcast in the community. She comes to draw water at the sixth hour rather than in the early morning like the other women of Sychar. Being considered perhaps a pariah (or at least gossiped about as immoral) because of her lifestyle gave her the opportunity to meet Jesus and engage in a theological conversation with him.
First he asks her for a drink, much to her amazement. “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” That a man and a Jewish man, at that, spoke to her at all was cause to be astonished!
Jesus responds by saying he can give ‘living water.’ To her mind living water is running water (like a spring or well) rather than well water and she knows there is not a spring nearby. The woman is confused even more when he announces, “whoever drinks of the water that I shall give will never thirst; the water that I shall give will become a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” She desires this, even though she really doesn’t understand. Jesus goes on to tell her that “true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the such the Father seeks to worship him.”
Both Miriam and the Samaritan Woman encounter God when the frayed rope of ‘being in control’ snapped and they found themselves outcast from their community. I’ll bet there are times you have felt like an outcast, too.
God comes to each of us when we feel that we’ve reach a point of no return-be it a job loss, or health crisis, or faith challenge. Look around-God is right there waiting to give you living water and heal the leprosy. Just today I read a blog post that puts it all in perspective:
“So go get the milk and take out the trash and throw in the laundry and wave giddy to the neighbors because there is a plan and there is a purpose and there is a God in heaven who didn’t just ink you onto the palm of His hands but etched your name right into Himself with nails and He’s hasn’t just got your number, He’s got your heart. He sees you, hidden in Him, and you aren’t ever forgotten because God can’t forget those right in Him. You’ve never missed the boat when you’re holding onto the Cross.
So really — you’ve got to believe it for your 16 year-old-self and 56 year-old-self and for yourself right now: really, it’s all working out okay.
Because God’s writing your story and He never leaves you alone in your story, and His perfect love absorbs all your fear and His perfect grace carries all your burdens, and your story is a happily ever after because Christ bought your happily ever after so you always know how this story ends:
You’re going to be okay.”
(you can read the rest here
Next time we'll look at what can happen when you really let God be in control. For one thing you don't have to worry about the loose ends of fraying ropes that leave us feeling frightened and out of control! 

September 16, 2012

A Conversation with Moses & Leah



What does being ‘in control’ mean to you? Is it having everything planned out? Is it ‘be prepared’, as the Scouting motto encourages? Is it juggling all the parts of your life and making it look effortless? Is it pretending everything is OK, when you are collapsing inside and your world is falling apart? Is it forging forward despite not really knowing where you are going or what’s happening?
Imagine an interview with two Bible people who were good at looking like they were ‘in control’, even when life wasn't going as planned. 
Moses and Leah meet somewhere in the world of imagination:
Leah:    Moses, tell me what does ‘in control’ mean to you?
Moses: I’d have to say it changed over the years. I was raised a prince in Egypt, you know, and power is a great way to stay in control of your life...or at least you can act like you are in control
Leah:    I wouldn’t know anything about power. I did have to be in control of things in our house, though. Everyone expected me to be the one to take care of everything. My sister, Rachel, was the one who had all the fun, while I kept the household running smoothly.
Moses: I suppose my sister Miriam felt the same way. She was older and I never even knew I had a sister until years and years later. While I was living in the palace, she was living the life of a slave in Goshen. 
L:         I often felt like a slave to my family. Perhaps that’s why I made sure that everything was perfect. If I could look around and see the meals made, the loom strung with a new blanket, the water jars full, clothes clean, and all the details taken care of, I knew I was doing my job.
M:        Well, I have to admit that I never gave much thought to how things got done, until my life changed.
L:         What changed?
M:        I learned that I wasn’t the son of Pharoah’s sister. Instead, I was a foundling child, a Hebrew man child who should have been left to die at birth. It changed my entire outlook on life and in trying to defend a fellow Hebrew, I killed an Egyptian.
L:         (Gasps) Oh my! What happened?
M:        I fled for my life. (Pauses) In an odd way, it was the best thing that ever happened to me…
L:         Maybe I can relate. The thing in my life that I thought was the most horrible was when my Father tricked my cousin into marrying me instead of Rachel. She was my sister and Jacob really loved her. However, marrying Jacob turned out to be a blessing. I became a mother and discovered love. I still felt like I had to keep everything running smoothly though, even when it seemed that nothing was going my way.
M:        I married a wife in Midian, while in exile. Zipporah was the daughter of Jethro, a nomad and priest of the One God who took me in and cared for me when I had nowhere else to go. I probably would have died in the desert if I hadn’t stumbled across that well where his daughters brought their flocks. Jethro and Zipporah taught me about the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. But, I have to say that my life felt very different and out of control because I was no longer a prince and could no longer command people to do my will.
L:         As a mother I had new responsibilities and I did them well. No one knew that inside I felt like I had no control over my life. After all, I was married to Jacob so my father could gain 7 years more free labor from him, so he could marry Rachel anyway. Jacob made no secret of the fact that he did love Rachel and only came to my bed when he had to. However, I proved to myself that I was better. I could bear children and my sister could not.
M:        I raged at God even though I had a comfortable life and a family in Midian. They cared for me more than all the people in the palace ever did. ‘Why did you let me live as a prince and then take it all away?’ I asked. ‘What did I do wrong that you punished me?’ I thought that if I carefully put my life back together then God would bless me.
L:         My children were my joy, but, like you, I raged at God. ‘Why do you hate me and allow my sister to be more loved even when I am the mother of Jacob’s sons?’ ‘When will you let me be loved?’ God never seemed to hear me and when Rachel did finally have a son, Jacob set him over my boys. It was too much and in an attempt to be loved by someone, I may have poisoned my sons against their half-brother.
M:        I know how despair can eat away at you. The caravans that passed through Midian told of the ways that Pharaoh mercilessly used my kinsfolk. It was then that I really felt helpless. There was no way an exiled murderer could do anything to ease their burden.
L:         It was only after my sister died in childbirth that I started to understand that neither God, nor Jacob hated me. I took Benjamin and raised him like one of mine, but the damage was done. My sons detested their brother and, as I learned much later, sold him into slavery in Egypt.
M:        God sent me back to Egypt to free the Children of Israel from their slavery. I had to learn to depend on God’s guiding and to let go of trying to control my life. There was no way I could plan ahead for what would happen. I didn’t even know if I would survive returning to Egypt. I was afraid that I’d be arrested as soon as I set foot in the country.
L:         When Jacob learned that his favorite son was killed, we thought by beasts, I gave up trying to keep my life neatly in order. By sharing my husband’s grief I learned that I did not have to have everything perfect or planned out. Eventually we learned that God had a greater plan for Joseph. He came to power in Egypt and through his influence the tribe of Jacob was able to survive a terrible famine.
M:        I have had to learn over and over to let God be in control. On the journey out of Egypt with all the people, whenever I tried to do things in my own strength they failed. It was only when I depended on God that we prospered.
L:         That was something I finally learned, too. Only in my old age was I able to forgive my family and then I was free to let God act through me to help bring reconciliation between my sons and their half brother.
M:        We humans are a stubborn group. If only we were willing to Let Go of our plans and Let God lead the way… I suppose life would be easier, wouldn’t it.
L:         Perhaps it would.

I find that I can relate to both Moses and Leah in the ways they worked to keep up the appearance of being in control-even when they weren't. How about you? Have you ever tried to do things in your own strength and only later discovered that God had something better planned?
Next time we’ll take a look at one more way that we try to keep in control and not let God work through us.

September 9, 2012

Out of Control and Letting Go

Since mid-August this blog has been looking at why “Letting Go and Letting God” is both so hard and so necessary. We reach a point when we cannot go any further in our own strength. Like Joseph and Abigail, in the Bible, we find ourselves at loose ends because everything is unraveling. However, an unraveled place in life can be a perfect place for God to start something new. At other times we feel like we’ve reached the end of our rope. Despite advice to hang on, we must eventually let go. When that happens, we fall into the arms of the Living and Loving God.
Letting go and falling into God’s arms means we are no longer ‘in control’ of our life. That can be pretty scary. Most of us like to maintain the illusion that we are ‘perfectly fine’ and ‘in control’. God doesn’t work that way, though. When our lives are neatly ordered and we are certain that we know the way the road is going, is often the time that something happens and we find that our lives are ‘out of control’. That happened to Esther in the Old Testament and Paul in the New Testament.
A lot of us learned about Esther in Sunday School. She was a young Jewish girl in Babylon/Persia (during the time when the Jews were in exile in that country). King Ahasuerus (Xerxes I) becomes angry with Queen Vashti and on the advice of his counselors gathers all the young women in the area to choose a new queen. Esther was one of them-and her world is turned upside down when she wins the contest and “he made her queen instead of Vashti.” All is going well…until…Haman, one of the kings advisors decides to eradicate all the Jews in Persia. Esther’s uncle, Mordecai, tells her she must intercede with the king to save her people. He tells her “who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14) She has to let go of control of her life in order to save her people.
Paul, also known as Saul, had his life neatly in order, too. He was, as he claims in his letter to the Philippians, “circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.” (Philippians 3:5-6) Paul was the perfect Jew and well respected by his peers. Then God steps in and his neatly ordered life is no longer neat or ordered.
Esther and Paul both encountered events in their lives that left them feeling out of control. Esther says, “Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and neither eat nor drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will also fast as you do. After that I will go to the king, though it is against the law; and if I perish, I perish.” (Esther 4:16-17) In her time of fasting and prayer, Esther finds the courage to take her life into her hands and go to the king. She also finds wisdom in how to deal with the threat to the Jews. (Read the rest of Esther to see how she does it.)
Paul, after his conversion, was blind until Ananias came and prayed for him, “Then he rose and was baptized, and took food and was strengthened.” (Acts 9:18-19) Later in the letter to the Philippians, Paul notes, “I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith.” (Philippians 3:8-11)
Both Esther and Paul discovered what other saints of the faith throughout the ages have learned. They realized that only in Letting Go of control could God really work. They had to be broken in order to allow the Grace of God to shine through.
I recently read a blog post that said in part “I wish I could learn the hard lessons in life without slamming into a wall at 100 mph…but perhaps slamming into a wall shatters the false perfection. Then and only then can God show us the colors and beauty of the pieces of our broken selves…then and only then can God piece them into resurrection.” (I wish I could find the site for you, but I was jumping from blog to blog and it jumped out at me and I copied parts of it into a Word doc without the name of the blog.)
Esther and Paul and many of us have slammed into a wall, or fallen off a cliff, at least once, and discovered that God is there to pick up the pieces and make something even more beautiful out of them.
So, I tell myself, don’t be afraid when life is out of control. God brought beauty to Esther’s life and her courage saved the Jewish people. Paul’s world as a up-and-coming Jewish rabbi was changed into a world traveling evangelist for Jesus Christ. From them we can learn that God is fully in control and can make beauty out of what the blogger called a ‘beautiful mess’.
Paul told the Philippians, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:11) God shines through our brokenness, but the light cannot shine if we are busy holding onto control instead of letting God act.
One way we try to hold onto control is by proving that we can keep all the 'balls in the air'. We'll look at a couple Bible people who worked hard at juggling all their balls next time.

September 2, 2012

At the End of the Rope-Let Go


We’ve all no doubt heard the saying “when you get to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on.” It’s attributed to Thomas Jefferson who may have more than once in his life felt that he was at the end of his rope. After all he had to deal with the Continental Congress over the wording of the Declaration of Independence. Later, as the third President he had to make political decisions and of course there were his dealings with France over the Louisiana Territory. Although he praised the morality of Jesus’ teachings, he could not accept any supernatural intervention in human lives, and believed that each person had to take care of their own destiny.
Tying a knot in your rope is a solution we work out by ourselves and for ourselves, but may not be the one God has in store. Even if Jefferson maybe couldn't accept it, there are times when God steps in and we have to let go of that rope that feels so safe.
I am reminded of the often told joke of the man walking in the mountains who stepped too close to the edge and started to fall. In desperation he reached out and grabbed a limb of a gnarly old tree hanging onto the side of the cliff. Full of fear he assessed his situation. He was about 100 feet down a shear cliff and about 900 feet from the floor of the canyon below. If he should slip again he'd plummet to his death. Full of fear, he cries out, "Help me!" But there was no answer. Again and again he cried out but to no avail.
Finally he yelled, "Is anybody up there?"
A deep voice replied, "Yes, I'm up here."
"Who is it?"
"It's the Lord"
"Can you help me?"
"Yes, I can help."
"Help me!"
"Let go."
Looking around the man became full of panic. "What?!?!"
"Let go. I will catch you."
"Is anybody else up there?"
There are people in the Bible who felt they had to tie a knot in their rope and hang on. Elijah, fresh from his victory over the priests of Baal, finds himself fleeing from the vengeance of Queen Jezebel. “Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’ He answered, ‘I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.’” (I Kings 19:9-10)
Naomi also felt that she was at the end of her rope and that God had treated her harshly. When she returns to Bethlehem, she tells everyone, “Do not call me Naomi, call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went away full, and the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi, when the Lord has afflicted me and the Almighty has brought calamity on me?” (Ruth 2:20-21).
Both Elijah and Naomi thought they were at the end of their rope over a very deep canyon. Tying a knot into your rope only works for so long, eventually you have to either let go or start climbing up the rope. There is one other solution. That is the one that Elijah and Naomi discovered. You can let God take over.
Elijah meets God in the still small voice at the cave on Mt. Horeb and was empowered to “anoint Hazael as king over Aram…Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel; and…Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah as prophet in your place.” (I Kings 15-16)
Naomi finds comfort and a new direction to her life with a new family consisting of Ruth, Boaz and their son Obed. In my book Naomi’s Joy, she tells her family, “I have learned that the One God does indeed answer prayers and heal pain. It was a long journey for me. I was so bitter. The hand of God seemed always raised against me. From the time my father died in the desert, I feared that the Holy One would strike me down for some indiscretion. I struggled to do all that was required and never dared believe that God would care about me. Not even the signs and wonders I saw could convince me that the Almighty cherished the Children of Israel. All I saw were the laws to be obeyed. I dreaded the punishment that I was sure would come…I grew up knowing that the God of Sinai was present. What I did not learn was that I AM was not among us for terror but for love.”*
There have been times when I thought I was at the ‘end of my rope,’ too. Each of us can probably relate. Nothing seems to be going right. There’s not enough money to go around. Health issues come up or job loss or unexpected expenses-the list could go on and on. Desperately we tie a knot in our fraying rope and hang on. Or we try to pull ourselves to the top in our own strength. Paradoxically it is in Letting Go of our own efforts that we can allow God to pull us to safety. Sometimes, though, God requires us to do more than quit struggling so God can pull us up. There are times when we have to actually release the rope and fall into the hands of the Loving God.
Letting go is usually the last thing we want to do. However as Naomi and Elijah learned, falling into the hands of the Living, Loving God is often the only way to really save your life. When you are at the end of your rope and tying a knot into it doesn’t help, listen for the voice of God saying ‘Let go, I’ll catch you.” Then trust that God will indeed do that just as God did for Elijah and Naomi. 
Free fall after letting go of your rope-your lifeline can give you the sense of being 'out of control.' There are other times in life when we feel out of control. As we will discover next time, when life is out of control-God is really IN control. 

*Naomi’s Joy by Cynthia Davis © 2005. Available on Amazon.com or CynthiaDavisAuthor.com