Lent 2013: Some Other Beginning’s End

As we have done throughout previous Lenten and Advent seasons, we are again blogging through the Lectionary readings in this Lenten season. This year, however, due to our travels in Central Asia, we have asked a number of guests to blog for us. These guests are individuals who are influential in our lives and work. We're honored to share this space with them-and with you–in this season of reflection.

An Old Testament reading from the book of Joshua.

While the people of Israel were encamped at Gilgal, they kept the Passover on the fourteenth day of the month in the evening on the plains of Jericho. And the day after the Passover, on that very day, they ate of the produce of the land, unleavened cakes and parched grain. And the manna ceased the day after they ate of the produce of the land. And there was no longer manna for the people of Israel, but they ate of the fruit of the land of Canaan that year.

— Joshua 5:10-12 (ESV)

And, now, the end has come. At least that's how it likely felt for the Israelites. They have been traveling–a journey that should have taken weeks at worst–for years. An entire generation has died. They've changed leadership. And, now, the end has come.

Well, sort of.

There was a pop song (Closing Time by Semisonic) that had the line, “every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end.”

And, that's where we find the Israelites.

They have entered the land. Canaan. The land to which God had promised to bring them. They've made it. The Jordan has been crossed.

But, this isn't really much more than some other beginning's end.

Years earlier (Exodus 15), they were wandering in the wilderness–that's far too nice of a word, they were in the desert. And, as we often do, they were concerned with their bellies.

“We're hungry,” they whined.

“You brought us out here to starve to death,” they accused.

Now, at this point in the journey they had been on the road all of a few weeks. While they didn't know it, they would have forty plus more years of this trip. But, nevertheless, they complained.

So, God agreed to rain bread down on them every night. They didn't know what it was, so they called it “What is it”. And, that was what they ate for the next forty years. Everywhere they went, every morning–except the Sabbath, because God wanted His people (and us) to worship Him by resting–it rained “What Is It”.

Later, they complained about the bread, and God sent them quail. So, here they are, roaming in the desert eating–literally–from God's hand. Bread and meat.

And, now, they've crossed the Jordan. They've entered that fertile land of milk and honey. And, God stopped sending “What is it”.

They ate of the fruits of the land. A new beginning at some other beginning's end.

There are so many times in our lives where we have eaten at the hand of God. Where He has miraculously fed us from His table. Yet, there comes seasons when God allows us to eat of the fulfillment of the promise.

We, too, at the fulfillment of the promises of God to us, eat of the fruit of the land. A new beginning at some other beginning's end.

There many years later, in that Promised Land into which Joshua has led the people, Jesus stands at a table. Arms opened and palms up–the posture of prayer in this part of the world–and says, “Do this in rememberance of me.”

A new beginning at some other beginning's end.

And, now, we find ourselves like the Israelites being fed from the hand of the Messiah. Proclaiming His death anew, as Paul put it, each time we remember our Messiah over the table.

Longing with each bite of bread and each sip of wine for the Messiah to come again and rescue us from life.

Life that's hard.

Life that isn't fair.

Life that often leaves is screaming: “What is it?”

And, this is where I sit tonight. Thinking–and praying–for friends and family in the thick of it. Not quite at the end of an old beginning. Still eating the manna in the desert. Screaming to God: “What is it?!”

A set of new grandparents fighting a battle with cancer.

A girl struggling to understand how to forgive that which seems unforgivable.

A young mother in pain from a back injury.

A worker mourning the death of a colleague in another distant land.

A couple trying to hear what their next steps should be after being asked to leave a nation to which they have given their lives.

A family with a newborn baby born with many complications that is spending more time in doctor's offices and hospitals than anyone should have to spend in a lifetime.

A family mourning the loss of a child who died way too young.

A group of women who gather as a home fellowship and pray for their husbands to come to be followers of Jesus.

A man who is feeling the tug of Jesus to leave the nets, the boats, and the fish to follow Him to a distant shore.

And, I pray that in the midst of their deserts they clearly feel in their hand the hand of the Father who walks beside them.

I pray that their eyes are opened to seeing the work He is doing.

I pray that their ears hear His gentle voice saying, “just hang on.”

I pray that the Kingdom will come.

I pray that they will cross their Jordan River, will take a deep breath and will eat of the fruit of the land.

And, there in that moment of joy, that they will find some other beginning's end.

The bread and the wine at a Passover Seder

The bread and the wine at a Passover Seder

 

Lent 2012: 2.1 — The Lord of the Broken

Throughout Advent, we posted blogs each week based on the Lectionary Readings for the previous Sunday. It was truly an awesome experience to travel through Advent with the universal church by praying, meditating, and responding to those texts. We loved it so much, we thought we’d do it again throughout Lent.

To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul; in you I trust, O my God.  Do not let me be put to shame, nor let my enemies triumph over me.  No one whose hope is in you will ever be put to shame, but they will be put to shame who are treacherous without excuse.

Show me your ways, O LORD, teach me your paths; guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.  Remember, O LORD, your great mercy and love, for they are from of old.  Remember not the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways; according to your love remember me, for you are good, O LORD.

Good and upright is the LORD; therefore he instructs sinners in his ways.  He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way.  All the ways of the LORD are loving and faithful for those who keep the demands of his covenant.

— Psalm 25:1-10 (NIV)

David is in such a beautiful place in this Psalm.

The place is repentance.  Humility.  In need of grace.

David picked up the broken pieces of his soul and lifted them as an offering to the Lord whom he trusted.  We see a readiness in his desire to know the Lord’s ways, His paths, His truth.  As a faithful shepherd himself, he also takes the role of a sheep and trusts the Lord to be Shepherd.

Are we ready to release our position as leader and allow God to lead and teach and reveal and guide and instruct?

Do we trust Him and put our hope in Him to know what is best for us?

Are we ready to retrieve the pieces of our souls from those who have broken and shamed us and in our place of humility and need for grace, to turn fully to our Father and lift that brokenness to Him?

He loves us.  He is faithful.  He is true and right.  He is gracious.  He protects us.  And He sees you, not according to your sins and rebellious ways, but according to His love.  He is good!

 

Lent 2012: 1.3 – Forgive me, as I have Forgiven Them

Throughout Advent, we posted blogs each week based on the Lectionary Readings for the previous Sunday. It was truly an awesome experience to travel through Advent with the universal church by praying, meditating, and responding to those texts. We loved it so much, we thought we’d do it again throughout Lent.

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; so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when your judge. Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place.

Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice. Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity. Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will turn back to you. Save me from bloodguilt, O God, the God who saves me, and my tongue will sing of your righteousness. O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise. You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you do not despise. — Psalm 51:1-17 (NIV)

David. The “man after God’s own heart” has really dropped the ball. In 2 Samuel 11:1-12:25, we get the story that leads us into this Psalm. That story, in a word, Bathsheba.

David, a king who was supposed to have been with his army, stays behind. Neglects his people. Allows selfishness and pride to take over. In a few short verses of 2 Samuel 11, he has broken several of the 10 Commandments.

Adultery? Check.

Lie? Check.

Murder? Check.

Covet? Check.

Things are in a rough place. Nathan, the prophet, comes and tells David exactly how bad things are.

Then comes David’s response — our text for today. “Have mercy on me, O God,” David cries. Psalm 51 takes us through the process of forgiveness.

Realization

David realizes the extent of his sin. Not that breaking four commandments is worse than breaking one, rather that David has said to God, “I don’t want to be in relationship with you right now.” He has realized that he is not in that relationship any longer, and he wants to be.

Repentance

David repents. Yet, his repentance was more than a mere, “I’m sorry, God, please forgive me.” David calls out, “Create in me a clean heart (mind, will, and emotions)!” Clean my mind! Clean my will! Clean my emotions! So often we view repentance as a simple, “I’m sorry.” Yet, repentance is a complete turning away from the thing that took you away from God, and turning toward God. Sin says, “I don’t want to be in relationship with You right now.” Repentance says, “I want to be in relationship with You so much that I will completely turn from that which I left relationship with You to pursue.”

David repents.

Righteousness

God responds to David’s repentance. He responds by granting David righteousness–right legal standing and right relational standing. God and David are back in relationship. Yet, it’s not just a relationship that says, “David, you are now legally ‘OK’ with Me.” Rather, righteousness goes further than that, and says, “You are now legally ‘OK’ AND we are back in relationship.” As we highlighted a couple of weeks ago, “Righteousness is to be put in both a right legal standing and a right relational standing with God. Right legal standing makes us citizens of the Kingdom. Right relational standing makes us children of the King.”

Restoration

One more really amazing thing happens in this process. David is restored. Not just his relationship with God, not just his pure heart, not just restored in trust, but also the joy that comes from relationship with His King and His Father. Restoration.

Here’s where we miss the boat on forgiveness. We’re all about letting people who say to us “I don’t want to be in relationship with you right now”, realize that they’ve done wrong. We have no issues when they repent of their wrong. And we’re even pretty well ok with bringing them into “right legal standing” with us.

Yet, our interest in placing the person who has wronged back into a right relational standing is proportional to the level of hurt they caused. And, we have little to no interest in restoring “trust” (we say really ridiculous things like, “You have to earn it”). Finally, when it comes to fully restoring the joy of the relationship, we won’t even put that on the table.

Nevertheless, we will pray, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” Thankfully, Father says, “I don’t work that way.” Father says, “I will completely restore you in righteousness, in joy, and in trust.” Imagine with me a world that works in the way of the Kingdom. Imagine a world that says, “I will forgive in EXACTLY the same manner that David was forgiven.” Imagine a world where forgiveness is not conditional, and where trust is not negotiable.

David.

The law breaker. Realizes his state of being out-of-relationship. Repents and turns himself completely back toward relationship. He is placed into a right legal and relational standing with His Father. Finally, he is restored in trust, joy, and position.

And, then, he has a testimony and an obligation to share it. Just as we do! When God has done something as wonderful as this, we are compelled to shout it from the rooftops!