humility

In Over Our Heads

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THIS MESSY LIFE: CHILDHOOD - PART 3

In Over Our Heads
Sunday, September 29, 2019
Exodus 1:8-14

Now a new king came to power in Egypt who didn’t know Joseph

Exodus 1:8

It’s easy to look at Israel’s slavery in Egypt and see ourselves through the eyes of their eyes as victims of oppression. We too are “God’s people” and so we have a long history of seeing ourselves as the oppressed rather than the oppressor. Societies and governments do not typically bend toward a “Christian worldview” and in most places throughout history, God’s people have found themselves in the minority.

Over the last century in America, however, we have been living in what Gil Rendle calls “an aberrant time” (Rendle, Quietly Courageous). This period of Christian prosperity was not typical in light of the overall history of God’s people. Though that time is rapidly ending, most people over the age of 30 at least have a strong memory of a time when what we considered “Christian moral values” ruled the day. God’s people were thriving, until they were not.

And so it was with the people of God in Joseph’s day. Joseph held the second highest office in the land and as a result, his brothers flourished under Pharaoh and increased in number as the twelve tribes of Israel expanded. By the time we get to Exodus, however, we find a new King in power who did not know Joseph.

“The Israelite people are now larger in number and stronger than we are. Come on, let’s be smart and deal with them. Otherwise, they will only grow in number. And if ware breaks out, they will join our enemies, fight against us, and then escape from the land.”

- Exodus 1:8-10

It seems from this introduction that the enslaved Israelites are not the only ones “in over their heads.” In fact, the only reason they were enslaved to begin with is because the Egyptians felt threatened by the presence of so many foreigners in their land. The new Pharaoh inherited what he considered to be a serious immigration problem. His solution, put them in slavery for Egypt’s benefit and discard (i.e. kill) those who are no longer useful to us. What empires may view as a sign of political strength, scripture interprets as Pharaoh’s weakness and eventual downfall. Egypt was in over their heads in how to deal with the Israelites, not because God’s people posed a genuine threat, but because they were overwhelmed by fear of “the other.”

Yes, we must always empathize with those who like Israel, find themselves oppressed and enslaved. We must always stand with Moses who, by God’s guidance and strength, leads the people out of slavery to a land of promise.

Yet we must also be very careful, for history has a way not only of repeating itself, but also turning things on their heads. The oppressed, if not careful, may themselves become the oppressors. Later in Israel’s history we will see how they build armies of chariots, marry for the sake of political alliances, worship idols, and even enslave others. They would become the very people they once despised, and the consequences would be detrimental.

No matter how much we may want to see ourselves as the victim in need of God’s salvation through a religious and political hero like Moses, perhaps we must first consider why we feel that we are in over our heads. Are we truly being oppressed, or are we perhaps more like Pharaoh, overwhelmed by how much everything is changing around us and afraid of those who are different? If this is the case, perhaps our call is not to vengeance and war, but to humility and peace, lest we too inflict harm against the “sheep of other flocks” (John 10:16) whom God loves and ourselves become enemies of the very God we claim to love.

May we not become so arrogant in identifying ourselves among God’s chosen that we forget God’s promise to Israel’s enemies… to Egypt and to Assyria:

On that Day, there will be a place of worship to God in the center of Egypt and a monument to God at its border. It will show how the God-of-the-Angel-Armies has helped the Egyptians. When they cry out in prayer to God because of oppressors, he’ll send them help, a savior who will keep them safe and take care of them. God will openly show himself to the Egyptians and they’ll get to know him on that Day. They’ll worship him seriously with sacrifices and burnt offerings. They’ll make vows and keep them. God will wound Egypt, first hit and then heal. Egypt will come back to God, and God will listen to their prayers and heal them, heal them from head to toe.

On that Day, there will be a highway all the way from Egypt to Assyria: Assyrians will have free range in Egypt and Egyptians in Assyria. No longer rivals, they’ll worship together, Egyptians and Assyrians!

On that Day, Israel will take its place alongside Egypt and Assyria, sharing the blessing from the center. God-of-the-Angel-Armies, who blessed Israel, will generously bless them all: “Blessed be Egypt, my people! . . . Blessed be Assyria, work of my hands! . . . Blessed be Israel, my heritage!”

Isaiah 19:19-25 (The Message)

Spiritual Strength

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SPIRITUAL - PART 2

Spiritual Strength
Sunday, May 5, 2019
Acts 9:1-31

Ananias countered, “Lord, I have heard many reports about this man. People say he has done horrible things to your holy people in Jerusalem. He’s here with authority from the chief priests to arrest everyone who calls on your name.”

The Lord replied, “Go! This man is the agent I have chosen to carry my name before Gentiles, kings, and Israelites.

Acts 9:13-15

Our culture greatly values strength. We put a lot of stock in power, control, and victory. The weak often find themselves on the margins and if someone finds themselves in a low place, the most common advice people will give is to toughen up or grow a thicker skin.

Spirituality, for many people, is a source of strength. There is something empowering when we tap into sources of power and strength beyond our own understanding. The first few steps of any 12 Step recovery program involve admitting that we are powerless and that we need rely on a higher power for the strength to overcome whatever addiction we may be trying to break through.

Yet in our text today, we find two very strong individuals brought to their knees by an encounter with the Holy Spirit. A genuine “spiritual experience” with God may indeed give us strength, but that spiritual strength comes first through vulnerability and humility.

Saul is a great religious leader feared by anyone who would challenge his authority or teach against his understanding of God. He stood over Stephen with approval as the people stoned him for blasphemy because of his faith in Jesus Christ as Lord. He was on his way to Damascus to destroy the Jesus movement in that community. He was indeed a strong and powerful man.

Ananias was also a strong man. In spite of such great persecution from people like Saul, he continued faithfully proclaiming the Gospel and following the way of Christ. His understanding of the Spirit’s voice indicates a strong prayer life and a strong faith.

Two strong men with completely opposite beliefs about God and about the nature of Jesus and neither are willing to back down. An unlikely pairing to say the least. The thought of a friendly meeting between Saul and Ananias so soon after the stoning of Stephen might be comparable to Osama Bin Laden and George W. Bush sitting down for tea the week after 9/11.

Yet when each encountered the Holy Spirit, they were humbled. Saul was blinded before the Lord and became physically weak and dependent on his servants and even on his Jesus-following enemies. Ananias was challenged in his desire for self-preservation and in his understanding of who could truly be saved by God’s grace. Could there be mercy and forgiveness for one as evil and opposed to Christ as Saul, who even now was on his way to Damascus to kill Ananias and all of the believers?

Both had to admit that they were wrong about Jesus and about God’s will. Both had to admit that they had something to learn from each other and that God’s love was far greater than the hatred and fear that stood as an unbreakable barrier between religious leaders like Saul and the followers of “the Way” of Jesus.

The spiritual strength granted to both Saul and Ananias to humble themselves, set aside their fear and animosity, and sit down at the table together resulted in unprecedented church growth among the Gentiles across the known world along with the writing of nearly half of our New Testament Scriptures. This simple act of spiritual strength, of listening to God and listening to one another’s stories, quite literally changed the history of the world.

Spiritual strength is always about the strength to love… especially the unimaginable strength of loving our enemies. This kind of love demands the strength of humility, vulnerability and risk. At the bottom of this post, you will find a link to one of my favorite books, “Tea with Hezbollah.” While none of the stories in this tale involve the kind of radical conversion that Saul experienced, they do teach us a lot about what it means to sit at the table with our enemies, to humble ourselves and to risk everything just to listen to each other. And out of these humble and vulnerable conversations, the strength of the Holy Spirit shines through.

Click here to listen to entire sermon series - “SPIRITUAL”


A modern day reflection on sitting at the table with our enemies…