20170227

The Wasted Years

The worldling blesses God while he gives him plenty, but the Christian… trusts him where he cannot trace him, looks up to him in the darkest hour, and believes that all is well.

― Charles Haddon Spurgeon

Scripture: Exodus 10.3-4

Moses and Aaron went in to Pharaoh and said, “Thus says the LORD, the God of the Hebrews, ‘How long will you refuse to humble yourself before me? … For if you refuse to let my people go, behold, tomorrow I will bring locusts into your country.’”

Reflection: The Wasted Years
By Steven Dilla

A swarm of locusts was like a stock market crash for an agrarian society. The swarms descend in an instant—destroying wealth and spiraling entire economies into what could turn out to be a sustained downturn.

Even today, the devastation from just one attack can mar swaths of land. The largest locust swarm on record devoured 198,000 square miles (17% larger than the state of California) and contained 12.5 trillion insects.

In Scripture, the long term destruction from locusts is referred to as “wasted years.” Months of preparing, planting, and cultivating were laid waste. For Egypt it was a direct result of their hardheartedness, and an attack on their god Isis, who was believed to protect from such plagues.

For Israel, who faced their own locust attacks, the locusts were believed to be tangible reminders of the devastation caused by sin. Years lost to disobedience, brokenness, and rebellion.

God’s character is revealed in how he responds to wasted years. If he were spiteful his response would be callous—a cosmic, “I told you so.” If he were overbearing he would make the  devastation worse.

Instead, and in the face of all that is lost, God is graceful. “I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten,” God promises through the prophet Joel.  It’s a promise that requires divine intervention—for what man can restore what is lost in his darkest hour?

“It is a great wonder; but he is a God of wonders, and in the kingdom of his grace miracles are common things,” Charles Spurgeon told his London congregation in 1886.

In some ways the joy, hope, and renewal found in Christ result in a restoration here and now. Faith in Christ results in a tangible change to the way we engage in the world. In other ways we await the full restoration of all that has been lost. For then our tears will be wiped away, our pain relieved, our brokenness restored, our hearts made whole again.

Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons

May you be blessed by the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Reading
Exodus 10 (Listen – 4:44)
Luke 13 (Listen – 5:02)

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20170224

What The Plagues Really Destroyed

The only way we can avoid the true God is to fabricate a false god that’s controllable.

― Timothy Keller

Scripture: Exodus 7.14

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Pharaoh’s heart is hardened; he refuses to let the people go.

Reflection: What The Plagues Really Destroyed
By Steven Dilla

It is the job of the Holy Spirit to dismantle everything which we trust more than God. Anything less would be unloving if God is as good as the scriptures reveal him to be. The Egyptian plagues attest to this.

The Nile is Egypt’s most valuable natural resource. The ancients would have trembled when it turned to blood in the first plague. Hapi, the father of Egypt’s gods (and god of the Nile itself), would have been believed to have lost control.

Each plague systematically defeated another of ancient Egypt’s gods. The idols’ lack of control was exposed. Their efficacy to restore life was unveiled.

The gods Heka, Geb, and Khepfi were shamed by the plagues involving insects. Apis, Menvis, and Hathor were defeated by the plague of livestock. Thoth, the god of health, proved powerless while Egypt writhed in the pain of boils. Nut and Isis were revealed as impotent through the plagues of hail and locusts.

The plague of darkness was a fierce warning—Yahweh had overpowered Ra. Arguably at the top of Egypt’s gods, Ra was the god of the sun and a central figure in ancient Egyptian worship.

Even then, Pharaoh would not concede.

The final plague is an extension of the previous, a darker darkness. Each of Egypt’s firstborn would have been dedicated to Ra, and Pharaoh’s son was considered an incarnation of Ra himself. The death of the firstborn was a brutal and crushing end to the empty gods they placed their trust in.

Idolatry always destroys our greatest joy. Our commitment to our idols cuts away at the people and things which matter most in our lives. Each idol delivers a silhouette of the real experience—and their falsehood can be as difficult for us to see now as it was for Egypt to see then.

In comparison to Egypt’s gods, modern idols have names which sound normal—approval, pleasure, comfort, power, control—but they act the same. We draw our identity from them. We arrange our lives around them. And, at our time of greatest need, they abandon us.

Prayer: The Cry of the Church

Lord, have mercy on us. Christ, have mercy on us. Lord, have mercy on us.

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Reading
Exodus 7 (Listen – 3:29)
Luke 10 (Listen – 5:40)

This Weekend’s Readings
Exodus 8 (Listen – 5:07) Luke 11 (Listen – 7:11)
Exodus 9 (Listen – 5:31) Luke 12 (Listen – 7:42)

 

20170223

The Pain of Being Forgotten

Our vision is so limited we can hardly imagine a love that does not show itself in protection from suffering. The love of God is of a different nature altogether. It does not hate tragedy. It never denies reality. It stands in the very teeth of suffering.

― Elisabeth Elliot

Scripture: Exodus 6.9

Moses spoke thus to the people of Israel, but they did not listen to Moses, because of their broken spirit and harsh slavery.

Reflection: The Pain of Being Forgotten
By Steven Dilla

It’s intensely painful to be forgotten. When we’re forgotten professionally it costs the accolade of others: the promotion we hope for, or the compensation we’ve earned. In friendship and dating, it launches a restless search for a reason. In divorce, it cuts to the deepest parts of the soul. In disease, like Alzheimers and dementia, it destroys dreams, lives, and families.

The book of Exodus begins in the darkness of being forgotten. In a matter of a few generations, Israel went from saving Egypt to being enslaved by them. They toil and suffer—ultimately coming to believe that even God has forgotten.

Being forgotten is a fruit of the fall. It’s a condition of a broken world that people can cease to be mindful of others who are made in the image of God. It’s no wonder God’s words to Moses are the words of someone who remembers—who holds close—the cry of his people. “I have seen… I have heard… I know… I have come to deliver…”

When the authors of scripture say God remembers someone they are not contrasting it to God’s forgetfulness, but the the world’s. The book of Exodus chronicles God’s remembrance of Israel alongside their pain of being forgotten by Egypt.

Evil has no regard for our wellbeing of the world. Yet God remembers. It was the Son of God’s hands which were nailed to the cross because God refused to forget us—even in our sin. It was his body that would be bruised and broken so that we could be known.

The true and greater exodus is found in God’s redemption of his people. The forgetfulness of the world may wound us deeply, but it cannot diminish in the least the vibrant life and work of Christ in our lives. In him we are remembered. In him we are restored. In him we are loved in a way the transience of this world cannot take away.

Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons

Behold, God is my helper; it is the Lord who sustains my life. — Psalm 54.4

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Reading
Exodus 6 (Listen – 3:56)
Luke 9 (Listen – 8:05)

 

20170222

The Worthy King

Sinai stands significantly midway between liberation from Egypt and settlement in Canaan. Liberation was not an end in itself.

― Christopher Wright

Scripture: Exodus 5.1

Afterward Moses and Aaron went and said to Pharaoh, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Let my people go, that they may hold a feast to me in the wilderness.’”

Reflection: Of God and State
By Christopher Wright

The People of God begin this period as an oppressed ethnic minority within a very powerful imperial state. The demand of Yahweh confronts Pharaoh: ‘Let my people go that they may worship/serve me.’ A state which denies freedom to those who wish to worship Yahweh finds itself Yahweh’s enemy.

The God who, in the patriarchal narratives, had shown himself to be transcendent in the sense that he was neither bound to, nor very impressed by, the greatest of human imperial civilization, upholds the right of his people to freedom of worship in the midst of a state with other gods, including the pharaoh himself.

His demands go much further than the spiritual right of freedom of worship. Egypt was engaged in civil discrimination against Israel as an ethnic minority on the grounds of political expediency, playing on public fears and claiming to act in the public interest. They were engaged in economic exploitation of this pool of captive labour. And they were guilty of gross violation of normal family life through a policy of state-sponsored genocide. On all these fronts Yahweh demanded and then achieved the liberation of his people.

In the course of events, the state, which had professed ignorance of who Yahweh is, learns his identity and his power in no uncertain terms. Indeed the process of Egypt’s move from ignorance to acknowledgment of Yahweh is undoubtedly one of the sub-plots of the narrative (*1).

The claims of Pharaoh and the other gods of the state must bow to the fact that Yahweh is God as much over Egypt as over Israel, his own people. The climax of the song of Moses, after the sea had sealed the reality of Israel’s deliverance, celebrated that Yahweh is king, for ever; and not, it was implied, Pharaoh.

*Excerpt from Christopher J. H. Wright, The People of God and the State in the Old Testament.

*1 – Notice the train of ideas through the following texts: Ex. 5.2; 7.5, 17; 8.10, 22; 9.15, 29; 14.18, 25.

Prayer: The Greeting

My lips will sing with joy when I play to you, and so will my soul, which you have redeemed. — Psalm 71:23

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Reading
Exodus 5 (Listen – 3:15)
Luke 8 (Listen – 8:09)

 

20170221

By Means of a Struggle

The proud person always wants to do the right thing, the great thing. But because he wants to do it in his own strength, he is fighting not with man, but with God.

― Søren Kierkegaard

Scripture: Exodus 4.10

But Moses said to the Lord, “Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue.”

Reflection: By Means of a Struggle
By Steven Dilla

In an interview conducted shortly before his death, philosopher Carl Jung expressed:

To this day God is the name by which I designate all things which cross my willful path violently and recklessly, all things which upset my subjective views, plans and intentions and change the course of my life for better or worse.

The very notion of God is disruptive. (Though Kierkegaard would have challenged Jung—the struggles we face because of faith are substantively different than those we face simply because we are human.)

Perhaps God simply disrupted Moses’ agenda. Or—and this seems to be the way the authors of Scripture would lead us—God disrupted Moses’ view of himself and his understanding of what has value in the world.

In other words, God’s confrontation with Moses did not end at the burning bush. Each step forward challenged Moses’ framework, chipped away at his pride, and opened his life to possibilities that could not have been considered when the journey began.

When the Scriptures introduce God’s Spirit they use the word pneuma—breath—not static, but dynamic, filling as well as emptying, something we lose track of regularly despite its steadfastness. The journalist Alec Wilkinson reflects:

My hope in life is eventually to be wise. Wisdom, so far as I can tell, is the capital one collects from years of endeavor and failure, of sadness and joy, from an attentive engagement with life, that is. The melancholy element of this arrangement, of course, is that each advance is exchanged for an hour or a day or a year in one’s life….

I have spent a good part of my life trying to reconcile the way I was raised, and the person I was raised to be, with the person I hope to be, which has involved facing thresholds that the psyche insists be crossed. The crossings are often forbidding, at least to me, and require faith and can only be managed by means of a struggle. I expect to run out of time before I finish.

The Call to Prayer

Be glad, you righteous, and rejoice in the Lord; shout for joy, all who are true of heart. — Psalm 32:12

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Reading
Exodus 4 (Listen – 4:17)
Luke 7 (Listen – 7:14)