Go North!

“Finally ADONAI said to me, ‘You have been going around this mountain long enough!  Head north, and give this order to the people.'” (Deut. 2:2 CJB).

We circle the same problems, the same bad relationships, even the same places in a continuous circle to nowhere.  Addiction and other behaviors trap us on a never-ending wheel that seems to speed up the more we resist.  Only God’s intervention can help us break the cycles that lead us to spiritual death.  The only way to move on is to head in another direction.

We know what it is like to hold on to people, places, and things that weigh us down.  No matter how hard we try to swim away, the anchor of pain and regret refuses to let us go.  We look up to God and cry out, “Help me Lord, for I am drowning!”  Left to our own devices, life’s challenges appear too overwhelming.  And so, we continue to circle a mountain of despair.

“Enough!” cries God, “You have circled this craziness long enough!  Free yourself and follow me.”  And hearing the promise of the Divine Presence, we find the courage to forge a new path; a new way of being in the world.  We learned all the lessons possible on this journey, and so we step out in faith to rediscover dreams that once seemed impossible to achieve.  With each step, we become aware that with God, all things are indeed possible.

Today I will try to break free of the troubles that keep me from rising to my highest potential and embrace sacred arms which point me in the right direction.  Each day I am given a chance to reclaim my relationship with God and move away from the circles and spirals of despair.  Holy light illumines my path, and the grace of the One Most High guides me in the right direction.  He, the Almighty leads, and I follow. And so equipped with the love of God, I head North.

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Commissioning Our Leaders

Thursday’s reading contained some more laws, but nestled in the pages of Chapter 27 lies the first transition of power, the new leader of the Hebrew people (Num. 27:18-21). In the text, God directs Moses to appoint Joshua as the new person in charge after Moses dies. The priest, Elazar the son of Aaron, the brother of Moses, formally acknowledges Joshua’s leadership, and thus begins the transition of power. A new era in the history of the people of Adonai starts with a blessing.

I remember my ordination as if it was yesterday. All three District Superintendents Donna Tebrink, the conference lay leader, lay hands on me as Bishop Bledsoe spoke the words of holy orders challenging me to “Go and Make Disciples.” The moment proved surreal and sacred, set apart as something to remember. All of the years of hard work, traveling back and forth to Denver every week for three years and continued wondering if I had what it took to lead the children of God to a new land.

We all know what it is like to hear that still small voice and respond, “Here I am. Send me” (Isa. 6:8 ESV). God’s voice is alive, and many times the problems of the world drown out the sound of the divine. Our job is to be still for a brief moment so that we can hear our Savior calling to us, wooing us into a holy relationship. We are called to return to right relationship, to redeem our hearts and minds from the most painful of places.

Commissioning comes in all shapes and sizes, and the road to the laying on of hands is not an easy task. The path is full of twists and turns, but if we stay faithful, we see the celebration of our God’s amazing handiwork. The calling, placed on our lives by God, breathes fresh air into a world that needs to experience hope and joy. We serve our community and our God and live into the reality that with God all things are possible.

Today I encourage you to share your call story. As you share, monitor how you feel as you tell someone how God pulled you up and led you through the murkiest of waters. If anyone would like to share their personal journeys, please feel free to stop by the church and take a moment to tell me what God did, and continues to do, in your life. Such stories are legendary and full of sacred nuggets of God’s blessings.

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God Gave Me a Sign!

When Caeleb came into the world, there were some concerns regarding breathing due to a few complications during pregnancy.  Cazandra developed gestational diabetes, and further medical issues increased the chances of health risks for the baby.  To protect both mom and child, her obstetrician suggested hospitalization.  Both Caz and I were a little frightened, but we trusted our medical team.  The dedicated staff of doctors and nurses kept my wife’s best interest in mind.

One night, while I visited the hospital, Cazandra’s water broke and just like that, she faced surgery.  We knew that “MacDonald the Younger” would be delivered by C-section.  While we waited for final instructions, a nurse came into the room and told us that Caeleb had a very strong chance of needing assistance breathing when he made his entrance.  The doctor would most likely deliver the baby and take him out of the room to help him breathe.

I felt a surge of nervousness run through me.  What did the nurse mean?  Problems with breathing?  As my fear began to seep into my bones, I glanced over at an open Bible that my wife placed on her tray table.  Doing a quick scan of the open page, my eye caught a verse that made me freeze in place.  “But I’ll bring my servant Caleb into the land that he explored, and his descendants will possess it because he has a different spirit, and he has remained true to me” (Num. 14:24 CEB).  The room seemed to fill with the presence of God, as I knew that he would be fine.  When the medical assistants took me to see him, they told me that he did not require one breathing treatment.  Somehow, I knew before this process all started that God left me the gift of His word so that I would remember perfect assurance.

I had no clue that our medical future would take us down many roads.  Sometimes we could not see one foot in front of us.  In moments of weakness, I think of the beautiful text from the Book of Numbers, and realize that our amazing God gives us what we need, when we need it.  I sought reassurance, and He led me to faith.

My prayers for this week include remembering, and giving thanks, that God blesses me with a light that transcends all of our difficulties.  Faith replaces doubt, and hope casts out fear.  So, in the middle of all the laws and instructions regarding the building of the tabernacle, there are hidden nuggets to remind us of God’s providence.  And all that the Holy One requires is trust in divine leadership, piercing the darkest of places.

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God Leads, They Follow!

The Torah is not for sissies.  The reading proves difficult, and the names get more difficult to pronounce with each passing chapter.  Sometimes I feel like saying, “Help me Obi-Wan Knobie.  You are my only hope.”  Leviticus brought law after law, while the Book of Numbers chronicles in great detail the building of the tabernacle.  I think a carpenter would find it difficult to keep up with God’s instructions.

The text invites us to look past the ordinary part of our reading and into the message God reveals to us through the care that He displays for His children.  Look at the tiny intricacy that our Creator demonstrates when fashioning the place that they came together to have time with Him.  Each piece was woven into the next part, fashioned together with every detail displaying another layer of love that our Father shared with the ancient people of Israel.

God takes the same care in our creation.  Our bodies, temples imagined and formed in the imageo Dei (image of God), display the care put into our own creation.  The psalmist says it best, “I praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”  Everything about us longs to connect with the hands that molded us together and ignited the spark of sacredness into our DNA.  We can run away all we want, but we can never escape the real reason we were put on this planet; to love and to serve our God.  Until we embrace our destiny, we will never know what it is like to be whole.

And so, we pick up our tents out of the deserts of our lives and follow the one who led us out of bondage.  We remember the love that held on to us and reminded us that we were in foreign lands until our God delivered us to our right places.  The journey is full of surprises, but nothing can compare to finding our way home.

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I Have a Question, God!

He may eat the bread of his God, both the especially holy and the holy; only he is not to go in to the curtain or approach the altar, because he has a defect – so that he will not profane my holy places, because I am ADONAI, who makes them holy.” (Lev. 21:22-23 CJSB).

In the reading today I kept stumbling upon the word “defect.” At first, I kept reading as if the people were speaking about their fellow brothers and sisters, but that was not the case. God was speaking to Moses. How could this be? How could the Creator of the universe speak so harshly against His perfect creation?

As my blood continued to boil, I decided to look at other versions to find out if the word “defiled” is standard across the different translations. According to both the Interlinear Bible and the NRSV, the Hebrew word is not “defect,” but “blemish.” So, the assumption that God created flawed human beings (physically speaking) does not appear to be accurate. In the cultural setting of the day, to have a blemish proved to be a reliable indicator of infectious disease. Perhaps the importance of the laws mentioned in Chapters 21-23 of Leviticus is to only allow those who are free of disease to touch or prepare anything so to prevent spreading leprosy and other maladies.

I breathed a sigh of relief until I remembered Lev. 21:17-20. The medical issues listed are not infectious diseases but are chronic issues many people face throughout their entire lives. How do we reconcile this passage? It seems very unfair and lacks compassion and understanding. I do not think this section of the Bible would go over well on a poster at a football game. There has to be some explanation as to the exclusion of some of God’s children.

One thought might be that the job of being a priest required mobility issues that might have been impossible for those living with the chronic conditions mentioned in the text. Other positions might be better suited to their abilities. Whatever the job, everyone may find a place to offer the best of their talents and loyalty to God. This is the highest goal of humanity.

Maybe the most essential part of the scripture is to realize that all of us are not capable of working in every ministry. What if the things mentioned are not all physical, but refer to a spiritual condition? We should not serve as counselors if we are blind to the verbal and non-verbal clues that others make known while in suffering. How can we run to our brother’s or sister’s side, when we cannot see their needs? Someone else is better suited for the job.

This is a challenging passage to even attempt to understand. I hope that no one finds this post offensive. I am trying to hold myself accountable to the text and pray that I may glean some knowledge regarding God’s providence. My anger is probably due to my sons’ bleeding disorders (hemophilia), and how as an advocate for my children, I have trouble with any language, scripture or not, that appears limiting and unfair to those who live with chronic conditions.

Maybe this portion of scripture reminds me to not limit my answers to “no,” but to expand the possibilities for others to serve the One, who brings hope to all of us. If someone is not capable of serving in a certain way, let us guide them to another. As the hands and feet of Christ, it is up to us to help discover talents.

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Here a Law, There a Law!

I have to admit something right off the bat.  The Book of Leviticus is not the most engaging book in the Bible, but it does paint a fascinating picture of life and relationship with God in the ancient world.  It is very easy to get mired down in the specific laws and consequences for disobedience.  What caught my eye was the harsh treatment that occurred for failing to adhere to the strict practices.  Don’t observe the Sabbath and the punishment is death.  That is pretty severe.

When looking at the religious landscape of the day, it might be a little clearer to see the purposes for maintaining such a stringent covenant with the people of God.  The chosen people were expected to be a light in the wilderness; a reminder that the Great I Am leads them and guides them through every situation.  Therefore, the children of Adonai were to live in a new relationship with each other and with their creator.  By holy living, the world would see the glory of God and be transformed bringing all life back to the one who designed the universe.

We as Christians continue the mission of the ancient church.  We are a city on a hill; a people who are disciples of the Christ.  Expectations of holy living include being in a right relationship with God.  This consists of a way of ordering our lives so to model how Jesus lived among us.  Our rules harken back to the Torah (first five books of the Bible).

The difference between the ancient people and us is that we recognize that it is impossible to follow the rules on our own resources.  We need the spiritual power of God to help us, and so we place our faith in Him.  The power of Christ; who offers us grace when we fail to be an obedient people.  In our confessions to God, there is no need for blood sacrifice, for Christ freely gave himself to allow us to be restored back into right relationship with God and each other.

Today, let us remember that our ancient brothers and sisters in faith began a journey through a wilderness of uncertainty and doubt to enter the promised land.  Their story is our story.  We know what it is like to walk in the deserts of fear and sorrow, only to discover the riches of Christ.  May your path be illuminated by the One, who guides us to everlasting life.

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He Made…Sustaining Life

The notes from Exodus 38:1-31 of The Complete Jewish Bible informs us that “This entire chapter is laid out in a specific poetic fashion.  Every first word of a verse uses the same structure.  It is formed from the word asah, meaning ‘to make,’ ‘form,’ or ‘fashion.’  To the Semitic ear, reciting verses with such a continual and rhythmic structure helps greatly in the memorization of Scripture.”

We lose the poetic order in English.  To me, the text is mired down in details, and I struggle to keep up with the flow of the writing.  This should be that high and remember to build the altar this high:  Weave fabric together that is this color while sewing this color to cover the holy place.  Do what?  Build what?  I get confused.

Perhaps the message to remember is the importance of intentionality.  God’s grand design for us is created in order; taking that which is chaos in weaving and building together beauty.  All of what we do should be sweet smelling incense to the Lord.  Fashioned as he designs.

I hope to structure my life in such a way that my worship be filled with purpose and meaning.  It is not sporadic as if I am giving God my leftovers.  No, my time is my offering to the Holy One, carefully fashioned in a way that calls me to be still and know that God is God.  Out of commitment, a sacred relationship grows.  We renew the promise to seek the divine presence out, discovering the eternal while in the presence of the mundane.

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Remember the Sabbath

“The people of Israel are to keep the Sabbath, to observe Sabbath through all their generations as a perpetual covenant.  It is a sign between me and the people of Israel forever; for in six days God made heaven and earth, but on the seventh day he stopped working and rested.”

     In our society, the meaning of the word Sabbath seems to disappear into a place where we have a chance to catch up on chores or work that eluded us in the previous week. The thought of rest morphs into a time to run a few extra laps on a perpetual wheel that never seems to stop. How can we remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy when our lives are filled with business? There must be a way to stop and be still and focus on our amazing God.
     As a father, husband, and pastor, I know what it is like to keep moving. This needs to get done, and that deadline needs to be met. It seems impossible to find a way to stop and observe the brilliance of the Holy One. Sabbath? It is a great idea, but difficult to put into practice.
     Once I had the opportunity to have dinner with a doctor friend who is Jewish. Somehow, the conversation turned to the understanding of Sabbath. He told me that he attended a synagogue that uniquely welcomed the start of a time of rest. Everyone made a circle around the altar and danced. For my friend, this was out of his comfort zone, but he got lost in the realization that the congregants welcomed in a new time by which they turned away from the hectic pace of the working world and connected with God.
     I hope that Sunday mornings are that way for us. Six days we can work and do daily chores, but on Sunday we are transported for the day to a place, a form of living that reminds us that the God of Creation demands that we stop and reconnect with Him. His language in the verses mentioned serves as a mandate to honor rest. How else can we be restored? Even phone batteries run out of juice is we don’t charge them up.
     Jesus retreated to commune with God. For Him, he needed Sabbath like he needed air. Let us follow the example of the Christ and take the most precious give we can give to another person, time. My prayer for all of us is that we honor the Father and return home every week to worship, rest, and be made whole.

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Gripe, Gripe, Gripe!

God delivered the people of Israel and what do they manage to do? Gripe about their circumstances. Never mind that Moses, with God’s help, led the people out of bondage. Everyone safely crossed the sea and witnessed one of, if not the most remarkable miracles ever known. They wanted steak, and they wanted it now. Many complained that it would have been better to stay in Egypt than die in the wilderness. In short, gratitude was not the leading practice of the day.

The undercurrent that I hear in the Exodus chapters is fear. How will I survive? Where can I eat? What if?…… While the natural propulsion is to read with complete shock, I don’t believe we are that different than the ancient Hebrews. We witness God’s incredible presence over and over again, only to return to a place of skepticism.

God calls us to come out from under the rocks that leave us hidden from the world, captured by fear. Let the Holy One feed you and give you living water to quench your thirst. We may be in the wilderness sometimes, but the God who delivered us from slavery still leads us to green pastures and quiet waters.

Today, may I continue to walk in the light and celebrate the joy of the Lord, who is my strength. No griping allowed, only shouts of hope. Let us remember to search for the Lord with our whole heart and soul and as we seek out God, may our heart remain set on the riches in which we give thanks. Praise be to our amazing God.

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God, the Creator of All

“God answered him (Moses), ‘Who gives a person a mouth?  Who makes a person dumb or deaf,  keen-sighted or blind?  Isn’t it I, Adonai?'”  (Ex. 4:11 CJB).

Those of us who either have or are caregivers for those with chronic illness know what it is like to feel as if we are the cause of our loved one’s affliction. We said or did something wrong, and because of our sins, our punishment is relegated to those closest to us. Guilt overwhelms us and leaves us spiritually paralyzed. We ask ourselves, “What have I done God, that my dear one must face every day with his/her affliction?” This question reverberates over and over in our brains until we cannot hear the truth that everyone is created in the image of God.

I’ve moderated many groups of those with bleeding disorders. Because the genetic marker is on the X-chromosome, hemophilia is passed through the mothers DNA. Newly diagnosed families handle the shock in different ways. It is my experience that a mother feels a tremendous amount of guilt while a father is frustrated because he cannot fix the problem. It is out of his control.

Enter the fantastic verse from Exodus. While Moses attempts to make every excuse known to man why he should not be the one who returns to Egypt to free the Hebrew people from slavery, God says, “Hold up Moses! What is going on with you? I made everybody, including those who have every kind of disability. I even created those with every type of chronic illness known and unknown (I insert the word hemophilia).

Hear this, let us be very careful in who we call whole and healthy. To God, there is no difference between any of us. The Creator did not make a mistake when we were fashioned together in the womb of our mothers. Everyone one of us is made in the imageo Dei (image of God). As such, we are all perfectly designed. Each of us created with a spirit longing to sing praises unto our God.

This day, let us live with purpose knowing whose we are. Seek out the God of our understanding and sit in silence, giving thanks to the Creator. Chronic illness may change how we live our lives and relate to the world, but they can never keep us from living out our purpose in a society that cannot fathom how we can live in a state of joy always and everywhere, giving thanks to our amazing God. Amen.

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