Sunday, October 21, 2007

Burning Bushes (Part 3)

We have been considering how Christians today subscribe to the Culture of Choice instead of walking by faith (see this post for the start of the discussion).

The first aspect we examined was in the life of Abraham. From the Scriptures we understand he was a man who was regularly addressed by Jehovah. Another aspect that comes to mind is the Parable of the Talents.
"His master replied, 'You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.

-- Matthew 25:26,27

In the Parable of the Talents, we see a master giving three different servants different amounts of money before going away. When he returns, they each report their activities with the money entrusted to them. For this discussion we focus on the response to the last servant. This servant took the money and hid it. He didn't just marginalize the gift, he actually covered it up, removing even the possibility that it could be used! The response from the master is strong and direct.

In this parable we are given clear indication that along with our salvation the gifts we receive from our Savior are intended to be put to good use. That use can be a overt, risky, sacrifice. That use can be more passive and conservative. But it must always involve a commitment, a whole devotion to a potential outcome and willingness to lose everything for what we might gain our Lord.

None of the servants were given specific direction. Only the gifts. Only the talents. How they each proceeded was their own choices, their own individual commitments. And even those who were more passive and conservative were rewarded for their willingness to commit. Only the one who did nothing was cut off. That servant was waiting for his burning bush, the opportunity to get a return for his master without risk to himself.

When we are walking by sight and not faith, focused only on finding flaming fauna, we disrespect the gifts of our Father. Out of love for our Savior we should diligently search and study the Scriptures, pray for His guidance, and commit to His Will in our lives. Commitment is an activity.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Burning Bushes (Part 2)

Two stories in particular come to mind when we consider how Christians today subscribe to the Culture of Choice instead of walking by faith (see this post for the start of the conversation).

The first story is about Abraham. Like many God-followers from Scripture it is easy for us to discount their faith because it seems they were given such clear direction from on high. If God provided them burning bushes, voices from clouds, bright lights, or still, small voices, it is no wonder they walked steadfastly in His Will! If I ever get stopped on the road by the Angel of the Lord wielding a flaming sword, I doubt I'll have a problem listening and taking the words to heart.

The LORD, the God of heaven, who brought me out of my father's household and my native land and who spoke to me and promised me on oath, saying, 'To your offspring I will give this land'-he will send his angel before you so that you can get a wife for my son from there.
. . .
Then the servant took ten of his master's camels and left, taking with him all kinds of good things from his master. He set out for Aram Naharaim and made his way to the town of Nahor.
. . .
Then he prayed, "O LORD, God of my master Abraham, give me success today, and show kindness to my master Abraham.
. . .
Before he had finished praying, Rebekah came out with her jar on her shoulder. She was the daughter of Bethuel son of Milcah, who was the wife of Abraham's brother Nahor.
. . .
Without saying a word, the man watched her closely to learn whether or not the LORD had made his journey successful.
-- Genesis 24
This part of the story starts with God speaking to Abraham about a wife for his son. Abraham then has to send a servant, who has to make his way across the country with a caravan. There is no specific destination, just a general hand-wave of a region in which to end up. Once there, the servant has to figure out how to actually go about choosing the wife. He begins this with prayer. The critical part to draw attention to is that after praying first and then seeing the results of the prayer is he still proceeds to watch her closely.

Even given such clear direction from the Lord about a wife, notice how there was a whole host of things that had to be done for His Will to work itself out the way we interpreted it would. Some of the activities required Abraham to work through another person (the servant). It also required that Abraham have faith that God would guide the servant independently, far from home. The servant also needed faith that the options would be presented and one would be both acceptable and the clear choice.

As we examine many of the stories and parables found in Scripture, especially those that speak so definitively about His direct involvement, it is possible to see how much faith was also required. The plant erupting in flames might provide a reassurance of His Will, but by itself it is insufficient.

Consider that at any time, the servant could have totally punted. He could have just settled on the first girl he came across, or have been less diligent in testing and examining his initial choice. Abraham could have inadequately prepared the servant (ten camels!) or been less restrictive in his instructions. Each aspect of this unfolding Will required a faithful response, a full commitment from the participants. They had to give up other choices to follow His Will (no more touring the countryside with camels for the servant, Abraham had to trust the servant wouldn't squander the gold, would bring back an acceptable girl, etc.).

When you do come across a bush that's burning, how do you keep walking by faith? Considered another way, how do you figure out which direction to head when the landscape around you is devoid of any bushes, enflamed or otherwise?

So we know we can't get sucked into the trap of always trying to leave our options open. We also know our choices do matter, and we are expected to choose something. In the follow-up we'll discuss why we can't just reject all the choices completely and wait on solely on the shrubbery to ignite.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Burning Bushes (Part 1)

Commitment is making a choice to let go of our other choices.

In any situation it might mean other things as well, but the impact of commitment is that it closes off our options. This is what makes commitment so hard. Especially in the choice-driven culture of today.

Whether you are struggling with pursuing a relationship, your education, a job choice, or any major decision, our tendency today is keep our options open as long as possibly. We don't want to commit, we don't want to give up our choices. As Christians we overlay this sense of deliberation with the Will of God.
Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
-- Romans 12:2

Unfortunately, it is all too easy to use this passage as a crutch; allowing us to withhold our commitments; refrain from making choices. After all, we wouldn't want to make decisions without waiting to really know His Will, would we? And so we wait. We flip-flop and ruminate. All with the excuse that until, like Moses, we see a bright burning bush illuminating His good and perfect Will, we aren't jumping into anything.

The main issue I have with waiting for a burning bush comes back to another of message from Paul which concerned our walk (as many of his messages did, gotta luv it!).
We live by faith, not by sight.
-- II Corinthians 5:7

Aha! Herein is the crux. If we are walking by faith, we must be committed. I take this to mean that most of the time we won't be getting burning bushes to just light our way. If we were guaranteed to each get a burning bush, then where's the exercise of faith?

If we are walking by faith, we must feel our way along with a general sense of what He has called us to do, and filling in the gaps as we stumble along. By faith we choose, by faith we walk, by faith we make commitments which reduce our choices.

How then can we know in what direction to stumble? By prayer and meditation, studying His word, being in the world, and serving those around us. When we are only focused on watching for a burning bush, we take our eyes of His Word, we fail to listen for His Voice.

In my follow up, I'll take this a little further.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Without Ceasing

This past week or so I've been focused on supporting some friends who lost a loved one. As I reviewed conversations in my mind each day preparing for the challenges that the morrow would bring, I found that a recurring theme presented itself. Oddly enough it was more evidently in the older than the younger. They questioned if there was more that could be done. More prayer. More faith. More [insert your religious ritual or tradition here].
Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: "In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared about men. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, 'Grant me justice against my adversary.'
"For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, 'Even though I don't fear God or care about men, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won't eventually wear me out with her coming!' "
And the Lord said, "Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?"
-- Luke 18:1-8
In our world of weights and measures, blame and finger-pointing it is so very, very easy to view our Lords justice in a similar fashion. Then by extension we treat our relationship with Him with the same lopsided scales we use in our relationships with others.

There is no requisite number of prayers, there is no magic measure of faith, there is no transaction that can be constructed, no matter how ambiguously that will influence the will of our Father. People aren't saved because we prayed 400 times instead of 399. Prayer is not a hand grenade or a game of horse-shoes. It is not a game, not a purchase, not a currency.

At least one point for this parable is to show us that our God who IS just is so vastly different then our human measures. The judge in the parable is wicked; he only helps the widow to shut her up! My Father hears every utterance of my mind, each time, every time, regardless of the atrocious weakness of my faith.

All this is not to discourage our devotion to prayer. Absolutely not! At the conclusion of the parable we are reminded that the Son of Man will come and will then determine if He finds faith on earth. One of the greatest expressions of our faith is prayer. This is why we are commanded to always pray and not give up. When the Lord returns he will find us praying without ceasing.

More than just diligent obedience it is worth remembering that prayer is one of the most tangible ways our faith is exercised. It is our conversation with our Lord, the way we build our relationship with our Father. Not as a currency, not for a transaction or to bring influence. Simply because there is no place we'd rather be than conversing with our Savior, especially in those moments of hurting.