Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Don't Be Afraid of Giants

As I continue trying to make my way slowly through the Bible, I am finding that I have never read - or at least never really considered - large portions of the Old Testament. I find that it can be difficult reading, full of references to unfamiliar places, lists of names and detailed instructions on the creation of the temple, types of sacrifices, etc. But, I am also getting a lot out of it and finding it relevant to my life.

In the Book of Numbers, the Israelites reach the Promised Land and send twelve leaders to explore it and to report back on what they find. Numbers 13:1-20 After forty days of exploration they return and report that the land is all it was reported to be - "a land flowing with milk and honey." Numbers 13:27 But, they report that the people who live there are giants and that their towns are large and fortified! Numbers 13:28 "We can't go up against them! They are stronger than we are!" Numbers 13:31

Only Caleb and Joseph argue the other side, making a speech that I would do well to give to myself every now and again:

"The land we traveled through and explored is a wonderful land! And if the Lord is pleased with us, he will bring us safely into that land and give it to us. It is a rich land flowing with milk and honey. Do not rebel against the Lord, and don't be afraid of the people of the land. They are only helpless prey to us! They have no protection, but the Lord is with us! Don't be afraid of them!"

Numbers 14:7-9 But the Israelites, still untrusting and complaining that they would have been better off as slaves in Egypt, don't only ignore them, they talk of stoning Caleb and Joshua! Numbers 14:10

For any who do not know, or who do not recall, as a result of all of this, there begins the forty years of wandering the wilderness - and, with the exception of Caleb and Joshua, all those who were twenty years or older at the time die without ever making to the Promised Land. When the people hear that this is to be their fate, they try to make a quick apology and move on into the land, but because the Lord was not with them, they are driven out. Numbers 14:39-45

But, my point in writing today has to do, once again, with learning to trust God. How often are we the Israelites, putting our trust in God, right up until the point that we face giants? Then we balk and allow ourselves to be ruled by fear. We start trying to find our own solution to the problem. We doubt. Oddly, at the very time that we should be putting our trust in God to continue to lead us and protect us, we don't. We all have our personal giants that we meet on the path that God has laid before us. Whatever they may be, the key is remember that it is the path that God has laid before us. He has taken us to where we are, and He will take us past (or through) whatever stands in that path. It is then that we should remember Caleb and Joshua who saw the giants, but stayed strong in their faith and put their trust in the Lord. "Do not rebel against the Lord, and don't be afraid of the people of the land. They are only helpless prey to us! They have no protection, but the Lord is with us! Don't be afraid of them!" Numbers 14:9

Friday, March 6, 2009

Elevator Theology

While I am not sure, I am willing to bet that most of the people that read this blog are people who know me. That likely means that you either live, or lived, in the Washington, DC metro area. So, you know that DC is not like most other cities in at least one major respect (no, I am not looking for the fact that the citizens of the District re-elected Marion Barry as Mayor after he was caught on tape in a sting operation). There are no tall buildings in DC. If you spend most of your life in this area, you don't even really think about it until you go to another city. Then you see things that you don't see in DC.

Things like elevators with television screens showing news headlines, the weather and advertisements. I had only really noticed these in other cities where the elevator ride to the 30th floor, or 67th floor, or whatever, may actually take a while. Since you are trapped in the little moving box with a bunch of other people and everybody knows that it is not socially acceptable to actually say something to someone that you do not know on an elevator, there is nothing else to do. Everyone just kind of stares directly ahead looking at the doors anyway. And even that can be awkward. After all, everybody knows that even making eye contact in the reflection in the elevator doors is not socially acceptable. So, somebody came up with the idea of giving everyone something to look at - and to sell advertising. So, now, everyone stands in the elevator with their heads looking up to the elevated screens learning the word of the day, or some factoid, or the stock prices.

Well, in my new office building in DC, we have those screens in the elevator. My office is on the 11th floor, which is the top floor of the building. I have not timed it, but the elevator ride cannot take more than thirty seconds on most trips up and down (I know, I know, it would be healthier if I took the stairs - but then I wouldn't have this to write about!). That is usually time enough to get two little tidbits. This morning in the elevator, for example, I learned that there are between 40,000 and 100,000 mountain goats in the United States and that the House passed a bill yesterday that would let bankruptcy judges unilaterally alter the terms of mortgages.

By now I suspect that the few of you that are still reading are wondering where in the world I am going with this. So, I will get to my point.

I think in a lot of instances we are getting too comfortable with just getting things in tiny little bits: Facebook status updates; news in the elevator; Twitter; skimming the headlines. And I think there are a lot of times that this same thing applies to exploring and developing our faith. We want it easy, we want it quick and we want it convenient. Maybe we will show up in church, but there are a lot of other things going on, so the service better not run over. Oh yeah, and the preacher better not drag on and on. Share the Word, make the point, and move on.

The problem is, if our faith is supposed to be alive and we are always to be growing in our faith, how can we be doing those things without a deeper level of commitment? Without truly rolling our sleeves up and getting into it? Over the last year I have moved to a point where I take time to read the bible, or a devotion, or something, almost every day and I regularly spend time talking about faith issues with friends. I'm not saying this to shout my own praises or say look at how good I am - far from it. I am sharing it because I believe that it has moved me forward in my faith. It has helped me to actually incorporate this all into my life.

In Chapter 5 of the gospel of John, Jesus heals a man on the Sabbath. The Jews question and challenge him. Among the things that Jesus says in response is this:

You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.

John 5:39-40 (NIV).

I know that quote seems a little out of line with my point. But I do not think it is. Jesus is not condemning them for studying the Scriptures. That, of course, is a good thing, an excellent thing even. Instead, I think this passage demonstrates that what Jesus is concerned about is the inability to do what needs to be done to bring the Scriptures into life. To take it to the next level.

It is not the Scriptures themselves that bring us eternal life, it is the relationship with Jesus. We need to do what needs to be done to develop that relationship, to nourish it, and to have it be a part of who we are. To have Jesus as our constant companion. I know that I couldn't get there by only doing this in bite-sized versions on Sunday mornings. A relationship with Jesus is about more than a quick fix. I think church is an important part of that relationship - it is a time we set aside to worship. But, I encourage everyone to look for ways to take another step - to strengthen and grow that relationship.

Have a great weekend everyone!