Friday, April 26, 2013

Day 18: Pharoah's Heart became hard."

Day 18: ‘Pharaoh’s heart became hard and he would not let the people go.’ Exodus 8:32.

From Chapter’s 7 through 11 in the Book of Exodus, eleven times we read some form of these words, ‘Pharaoh’s heart became hard’. Eleven times! These chapters are of course from the ten plagues sent by God upon Egypt to prove to Pharaoh that the God of the Israelites demands their freedom. Ten plagues in all and all because Pharaoh’s heart was hardened to the will of God and to the welfare of God’s people

                If I am honest with myself I too have a hard heart many times and it causes bad things to happen. My bad experiences, my hurts, my difficulties taken together can harden my heart toward God, his direction and will for my life. My heart also becomes hardened to people in my life who hurt, harass and even simply annoy me. Maybe worse of all my heart has become hardened toward those whom I have been called to love such as my family, parishioners, and the least of these in society.

                The tragedy of hardened hearts are two fold. First are broken relationships. Marriages do not fail overnight. It is often a progression of little steps. A harsh word here, lack of follow through there, you know how it often goes. Until one day the marriage is over and the couple wonders how they became so distant and hard hearted toward one another. Sadly the same is true with God when we harden our hearts. We begin so close and one day we find ourselves distant wondering if we will ever be close again.

Second, the result is God’s will can not be accomplished. Think of it as a football team who is fighting with each other and not understanding and anticipating each other’s play calls or actions on the field. The result will be a team that can not accomplish their goals of moving down the field and scoring touchdowns. So too with us and God if we are not in communication, in strong relationship with God, we can not hear, reside in or accomplish God’s will.

                Hardening our hearts inevitably leads to broken relationships and broken roads. But the Good News is that with God all things are possible. God gave pharaoh nine opportunities to soften his heart towards his will and his people before the final plague that resulted in his son’s death. God never stops trying and never gives up on us. Yes there are consequences in our lives due to the hardening of our hearts, but even in our brokenness God is always attempting to soften our hearts. It is never, ever too late to soften our hearts. Our future may now be different, but God can and will bless it wherever we are.

All we need to do is to say yes to God; the easiest and hardest action toward God that we will ever do.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Day 16 Moses: Born to Lead or shaped to Lead?

The story of Moses is about God freeing his people, of fulfilling his promise of giving them their own land and making them prosperous and free. But it is also about leadership. It is about a man shaped by God to lead the people of Israel to that freedom and homeland that God promised. If you look at the story of Moses’ upbringing it is so obvious that his leadership later in life was directly impacted by his early life, his early struggles, his early blessings, his early sins and his time in the desert.

                Moses was prepared for leadership simply by the life he was born into through no fault of his own. Growing up in the court of Pharaoh would have made him familiar with the pharaoh himself and how to deal with him. He knew the Egyptian law and the Egyptian God’s. Yet he was also a Hebrew and knew he was a Hebrew. This helped him understand both world’s. Because of this Moses was not quite of either of the worlds. To the pharaoh, he was still an outsider and the Hebrews he was a sellout. So in many ways he was isolated and had to be his own person. This too prepared him for leadership in that he had to trust in God’s call and his gifts for that calling. He could stand apart and yet identify with the people he was called to lead and with those they needed to be freed from.

                Moses was also shaped by his time in the desert herding sheep. He knew the trials of the desert, how to read the topography, where to find shelter, water and food. He knew the safety of a harsh and barren land. By learning to guide sheep in the desert he learned to guide people as well.

                God shaped Moses to be the leader of His people simply by the life he led before called by God through the burning bush. How has God shaped you? How through the unique gifts and experiences in your life can you serve God. For God has certainly gifted you and he has certainly shaped you. Seriously think about it. Like Moses you were made for a purpose and God has shaped you for that purpose throughout your life. Now prayerfully ask God what his purpose is for you and do it! God has been shaping you to do it your whole life.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Revenge or forgiveness, the future of His family, his people, his nation is helld in the balance

Joseph meets his brothers: Genesis 42

How do you face those who harmed you? This was the question Joseph faces when his dreams come true and his brothers bow before him begging for food in a famine. The scene actually plays out the way we often dream about when we think of those who have harmed us. We want them to bow down to us with their fate in our hands. We dream of meeting out justice for the harm that was done to us. Joseph lives out this dream and holds the lives of his brothers in his hand.

Today we read about the meeting of Joseph and his brothers, we read that Joseph wept at the weight of the moment. But what we do not see yet is what he does with the lives in his hands. Though he weeps, Joseph is confronted with the ultimate dilemma we actually face every day. Do we live for revenge or do we live to forgive?

The Christian answer is to forgive, but in my experience this is amazingly difficult. Sometimes forgiveness takes a lifetime because of the deepness of the pain. Sometimes the harm is ongoing and we are still currently being victimized. Sometimes the pain and the anger is all that we have to hold onto in the world. Sometimes the person who hurt us in no way deserves our forgiveness because they are not sorry. Forgiveness is really, really hard.

                 I believe this is why Joseph wept. I believe the weight of the choice before him and the struggle of his heart brought the weight of the world upon him. Looking into the eyes of his brothers he had to ask himself if he could see beyond the hurt and see how God plan was bearing itself out in not only himself, but also his brothers.

            So what about us. Can we look beyond the pain and offer forgiveness. In tomorrow’s reading we will see that God’s plan of the Israelites blessing the world can not happen without Joseph’s forgiveness of his brothers. So how is God wanting to move in your life, in our church, in this world through forgiveness. I truly believe that the way God works most perfectly is through forgiveness. It is the center of His love for us, the center of the work and person of Christ, the center of all salvation History.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Covetousness and righteousness: Joseph and his brothers


I never had much growing up and boy did I know it! I hear lots of stories about people growing up poor but never really knowing what that meant. That was not me. Maybe it was my personality. Maybe my perceptions. Maybe it was the way I was made to feel. Whatever it was I did not like it at all and it really shaped me as a person. Even today I struggle with covetousness with what God has given to others and not recognizing the gifts God for the gifts he has already lavished on me.

Reading the story of Joseph I read a story of jealousy and covetousness. I read a story of brothers competing for the blessing of a Father who clearly and vocally favors another. I read a story of anger and destruction because of the damage that comes from coveting what belongs to another.

I have a theory about coveting. It goes a little something like this. Apart from having no Gods before me and making no false idols, the admonition of no coveting is the most important of the ten commandments. “Why whatever do you mean Fr. Rob? I don’t think coveting is as important an issue as stealing, lying, adultery and definitely not murdering.” Oh yeah? So tell me, would you lie, steal, commit adultery and murder if you did not covet? If you truly did not covet what belonged to your neighbor you would have any need to lie, steal, lust or murder. That is it. Simple. No coveting translates into contentedness with what God has given you and joy with God’s blessing on others.

Our story of Joseph and his brothers, at one level, is the story of covetousness and the resulting destruction that inevitably follows. But in a more profound way it is the story not of covetousness, but of righteousness. It is the story of God’s amazing nature in that what Satan meant for evil (covetousness, adultery, lying, stealing) God uses for Good. All things are under God’s divine control even if evil gets inflicted upon us, God transforms it and changes it into something more amazing than we could have ever imagined. To save his family from starvation and fulfill God’s promises for descendants more numerous than the stars in the sky, God took a slave boy and made him the king’s right hand man.

If he has a plan it is going to get done. So trust in God’s plan even when everything goes to Potiphar(pun intended) and remain righteous to His purposes and promises for your life.

Tomorrow’s reflection will be on ‘What You meant for evil, God will use for Good’ and the bombings in Boston at the marathon.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

God heard Ishmael's cry, but tested Abraham

God Heard Ishmael’s cry but tested Abraham: a reflection on our Day 8 reading from Genesis 21:1-22:19.

I know that if you are reading this devotion you have already moved on from the Birth and ‘Sacrifice’ of Isaac’ and are reading today about Jacob and Esau. Most of you know I was on retreat for four days and I dedicated myself to this retreat and did not have the opportunity to blog. However during my retreat I still read my bible for the E100 challenge and I was struck powerfully between God’s Blessing of Ishmael, His testing of Abraham and the dramatic difference between God’s response to the two.

                Ishmael was the offspring of Abraham’s disobedience to God’s promise. Abraham and Sarah, though responding to God’s call to go into a new land and to initially trust in God’s promise to make their offspring as numerous as the stars in the sky, basically lost trust. Yes Abraham trusted God and it was counted to him as righteousness. Yet the trust in those promises was strained as time went on and Abraham in fear of his own safety allowed his wife to be taken as a wife by another and then attempt to have a child with a woman who was not his wife.

This is just a wandering thought, but maybe Abraham’s lack of trust had the consequence of straining his relationship with God and God needed to find a way to reestablish that trust. Though incomprehensible to us God accomplished this by asking Abraham to give back the very promise that started it all.

On the other hand God’s response to Ishmael was to have mercy. The text does not say he was testing Ishmael or his mother, but that he heard his cry and had mercy. This tells me that God is a redeeming God. He did not cause Ishmael to be cast out, he did not cause the trauma that was placed upon him. But God looked down on him and had mercy.

Oh how I behave like Abraham and need God’s blessing like Ishmael. I need the redemptive power of God to come upon me and fulfill His promises. Yet in my own disobedience am I really prepared to receive what God needs to give to me to bless me and fulfill His promises for my life. Am I really ready to see the true consequences that my lack of trust in the fulfillment of God’s promises are in my life and the lives of those whom I dearly love.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Building for ourselves or building for God

My friends I will be away on retreat for the next four days and will be blogging again beginning Monday. Enjoy:

Building for ourselves or for God

Pride cometh before the fall. Or more specifically from the Proverbs 16:18, "Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.” When I read the story of the Tower of Babel the word that came out to me the most was the word ‘Ourselves’. “Come let us build OURSELVES a city with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for OURSELVES’.

I was reminded in my reading that there is a complete difference between building something for ‘ourselves’ and building something because God called us to the task. The first focuses on us, the second upon God. Over and over and over again in the Old Testament we read of pride creating broken relationships. This has come in many forms from Sampson, to King Saul, King David and beyond. All these people began with God on their lips and in their hearts. They began with the intention to Glorify God. Yet in their success they began to think too much of and for their own glory.

When we are called by God to a task or to build His Kingdom, be wary that it is our pride that often gets in the way and derails God’s plans. God led Joshua and the Israelites to victory in the battle of Jericho and then immediately sent Joshua to Ai to defeat that city as well. As Joshua gathered three thousand men to assail the city, God stopped Joshua and said ‘take only three hundred with you. This way when you are victorious with only three hundred men you will know that it was not by your strength or ability, but because of me and your obedience to my call.

Challenge: Think of ways in which we declare that instead of working obediently for God’s glory and his calling we have built up a Tower for ourselves and for our own name. If you find anything give it over to God and pray for his direction and his glory to be made manifest.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

God's discipine and God's promise: Genesis 8 & 9

          Parenting is really, really hard work. Tonight we had to put our oldest girl (almost 4) to bed without any of her night time privileges. No books, no game, no bed time snack. This has been the most grievous repercussions we have placed upon her in her almost four short years. And you know what; it was really, really hard to do. All Amee and I wanted to do was hug her and give her coveted ‘privileges’. There was lots of crying and not the crocodile tears kind, true heartfelt crying. You know the kind of cry that says I don’t understand, I am so sorry please let me have my privileges. I asked her over and over if she know that I loved her, but that her behavior towards her mommy lost her all her privileges. She tearfully asked me how she could get them back and I had to tell her that tomorrow she would have them back, but tonight there was no way to earn them back. She simply needed to go to bed. If you are a parent you know how hard it is to punish your children, but you also know that standing firm is the responsibility of a parent so to teach our children the need for proper boundaries.

The story of the flood is the story of discipline, but it is also the story of salvation. It is a story of destruction, but also a story of restoration. It is a story of promise and a guarantee that the punishment for our sins will never lead to destruction as long as we return to God. We made a promise to Rose that tomorrow would be a new day, that her privileges would be restored. The rainbow is God’s promise of restoration. It is his parental promise that though our sin has repercussions, it will never change His love for us or his desire for us to be in a right relationship with him and with his creation.

Think today about God’s grace, but also about how we respond to that Grace. Especially when that grace looks more like punishment than freedom. So how will we respond to God’s grace? How will Rose respond to Mommy and Daddy’s grace. We hope with the understanding that the boundaries we set are in order to give her freedom and life and in so doing give us all the proper boundaries to be in a right and loving relationship with one another.

In Christ,

Fr. Rob+

The rippling effect of brokenness and sin and the redeeming power of God, Genesis 3 & Genesis 6:5-7:24

This morning as I looked out upon the pond in my backyard, I noticed how still the water was. By mid-morning the wind has usually kicked up and created waves, but often in the morning the surface of the water is like glass. As I looked out upon the water what I believe to be a fish came up from under the surface and created a little splash. Ripple in the water moved quickly from the spot of the disturbance and soon the whole area of the pound was moving. What once was as smooth as glass was riddled with ripples.

In our readings yesterday which Sin entered the world through Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden we see the ripple effect of Sin on God’s beloved created. So much so that by the time we get to Noah in Genesis Chapter six we read that, “Every Inclination of his (man) heart was only evil, all the time.” The result being God’s plan to destroy all living things. Not just people, but all living things because His heart had become ‘grieved’ by what he had made.

The truth of sin is that it has repercussions. Often these repercussions harm ‘innocent’ people whom we never intended to harm. We may believe that sin is personal and no one’s business but our own, but no matter how much we try to deny it sin hurts others around us. It has repercussions. Bad things happen to good people because of us.

The deepest tragedy of sin is brokenness. Brokenness of relationships, brokenness of people, brokenness of dreams and vision, a brokenness of God’s creation.

The Good news though is that God has provided a way to heal us of this brokenness and even more importantly a way to heal us of our sin. It all has to do with the child of the woman in chapter two who will crush the serpent. Jesus is the answer to sin. We will see later in the story of Noah that wiping creation out is not the right solution. Sin will always be present. The answer is Jesus. The answer is trusting in the power of Eve’s offspring to crush sin and Satan under his foot. The answer is forming a relationship with God through Jesus and allowing this relationship form all our other relationships and form ourselves.

Thank you Jesus for the work of the cross to overcome sin and death; which are the wages of sin. May we ever vigilant in knowing the repercussions of our sins, ever trustful in the work of Jesus Christ to return us and all creation toward a right relationship with God, and ever joyful in God’s healing power in our lives and in this world. Amen.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Day 1: Genesis 1:1-2:25 In the Beginning

Day 1 of the E100 challenge:

In the Beginning…Thus starts the Bible. In the Beginning! I can not tell you how glad I am that that the Bible doesn’t start with, “Once Upon a Time…” That would make it sound like a fairytale, a story that though fun to read and to hear is not true or real. In the Disney Animated feature Brave, the heroine Merida’s mother is teaching her the importance of history. When Merida responds to an important legend in their clan’s history with a flippant, ‘That’s a nice story’. Her mother irately responds that, ‘Their not just stories, Merida. They are Legends and legends ring with truth!”

C.S. Lewis writing about the importance of myth to the Christian story and its truth says this,

“In the enjoyment of a great myth we come nearest to the experiencing as a concrete what can otherwise be understood only as an abstraction … When we translate we get abstraction – or rather, dozens of abstractions. What flows into you from the myth is not truth but reality (truth is always about something, but reality is that about which truth is), and, therefore, every myth becomes the father of innumerable truths on the abstract level. Myth is the mountain whence all the different streams arise which become truths down here in the valley; in hac valle abstractionis ["In this valley of separation"]. Or, if you prefer, myth is the isthmus which connects the peninsular world of thought with that vast continent we really belong to. It is not, like truth, abstract; nor is it, like direct experience, bound to the particular.”

So as we read the creation ‘Story’ at the very beginning of the Bible in which we see God creating the world in six days we might ask ourselves is this the beginning of ‘The Greatest STORY ever told’? Or is it something more. Is it myth? I believe the creation story is the myth God uses to help us understand in our limited way the truth of how he created all things. As Lewis states Myth is the father of innumerable truth.

What we are reading this morning is the truth and this truth illuminates our understanding of the whole Bible. God created this world and created us in His image to be stewards of this world. God created this world through the work of the Holy Spirit. God ordered this world according to His plans and purpose. God made mankind to be in right relationship with him and each other. All which God created is Good. These are just a few of the truths we receive from the Creation ‘story’ first two chapters of the Bible.

Question to prayerfully consider:

How does God guide us into knowing His Truth?

Fr. Rob+

E100 Challnge devotions

E100 Bible Challenge!

Hello St. Luke & St. Peters friends,

If you are reading this you have chosen to take the E100 Challenge through Scripture Union and read the breadth of the Bible in 100 days. This is a program of Bible reading that is intended to give you a broad understanding of the Bible, it's important themes and events.

You have also decided to take the extra step to see what your pastor might be thinking about in regards to the bible passages we are reading together. For this I thank you and pray that my comments on our readings will be both helpful and illuminating. It is my intention to offer devotions on three or four times of our readings each week.

I invite you not to just read this blog but to comment on them in the comment section with your own thoughts on the readings we are sharing in reading together.

May God bless you in your Bible reading over the next 100 days.

In Christ,

Fr. Rob+