Remember the Goodness of the Lord

When God interacts with Moses he says that He is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. When Moses questions whether Israel will believe, He has sent him, God tells Moses to tell them “I AM has sent you.” What follows is a story that echoes for generations within Israel about remembering who God is and what He has done in the context of their present circumstances.

With each new circumstances Israel seems to suddenly forget God’s goodness. They get caught at the red sea, and suddenly forget all his miracles in Egypt. They get hungry in the desert while forgetting His constant provision. They freak out when Moses is gone for a little while, and decide to give a golden calf they made with their own hands credit for their salvation. The list goes on, and with each new big event God regularly call a timeout to say, “Hey, this thing I am doing. Pay attention. Build a monument about it. Pile up some rocks. Tell your children and children’s children what I did here. Remember me.”

That’s always easier said than done. We just struggle with it. Sometimes we can’t even bring ourselves to sing those songs of praise on a Sunday morning when doubt and uncertainty creep into our minds.  Why is it so difficult to remember the goodness of the Lord? Time and time again we are placed in a difficult or disappointing situation, and forget all the other times just like it where God came through. Sometimes we didn’t even recognize his faithfulness at the time. That is how hardship works there. We often don’t recognize his faithfulness in the moment when we don’t get that opportunity we were hoping for.

Let’s tale the crossing the Red Sea as an example. God deliberately guides Israel into what appears to be a trap. They are stuck with a body of water on one side, and Pharaoh’s army on the other. They see know way out of this. Why would God do this? wouldn’t it have just been better to leave them in Egypt? What a cruel trick. God’s just says, “Wait for it.” He separates the waters, and lets them walk across dry land while crushing Pharaoh’s army. Here is the thing though, it was impossible for Israel to understand the reason for the whole event at the time. They were in a panic. God saw the bigger picture though. He saw a few mean years later from Israel enter a city called Jericho. A city that looked formidable on the outside, but who were trembling with fear because they heard about the nation of Israel and their God who defies the very laws of nature for them in battle. It took 40 years of wandering around in the wilderness to be made aware of that fact.

I don’t always understand when I am in a difficult situation. On many occasions, it has taken time for the meaning of hardships to reveal itself. In those moments, I am reminded of the goodness of the Lord. So why would I once again worry when a new trial faces me? Is it simply in our human nature to forget? I suppose that’s possible. It would explain why God was so determined to constantly have Israel reminds itself of their goodness. Adam and Eve in a moment of weakness forgot God’s goodness doubting His words just like enough to take a bite of fruit. The truth is that I don’t entirely know why it is so easy for us to forget the goodness of the Lord. All I know is we do. This means we must be forever vigilant. Constantly on guard. We must constantly be preaching to our soul. We must always tell the core of our being to have courage. We must tell ourselves to continue to do good. To keep the faith. The reaping will come if we do not lose heart.

So, I sit here on a Sunday morning with not much left to say except if there is anyone else out there who struggles with remembrance, know that you are not alone as you are joined in company by a forgetful young man. That is why I write this though. Perhaps remembrance is more than just telling yourself what god is doing. Perhaps it is telling each other. Corporately reminding each other of the goodness of the Lord. So today I will go to church, and when my heart grows faint and struggles to raise its voice, I will be surrounded by a community who will raise their voice for me. Then my heart can finds its voice again, and I will remember the God who parts the seas.

Christmas: Do Not Fear

I may have written some similar type of thoughts like this post before, but it has just been on my mind increasingly more and more this Christmas. When you listen to the Christmas story year after year you sometimes start to have different aspects to it that jump out to you. There is a lot to be said for reading all the parts of the Christmas story in Scripture the whole way through in one sitting. Sometimes you get a bigger picture on things.

There has been on phrase that has jumped out to me over the last few years. “Do not be afraid.” Angel’s keep giving that statement whenever they go meet someone within the Christmas story. It is one of the first things out of their mouths. “Don’t freak out now. There is no reason for concern.”

I used to think they said this just because it would be very intimidating to see an angel in all its glory. While I do think that is part of it, I have begun to wonder if there is more to the story than that.

Let’s back up briefly. The last book of the Old Testament is Malachi. Malachi kind of ends a downer. It talks about how God’s people need to be faithful to Him otherwise there is a consequence. The consequence is judgment. God’s people have the threat of a curse looming over their heads. They took that threat seriously. They tried to follow the law obsessively for fear of further judgment. The final verse says “And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.” That word curse is actually a really heavy word for destruction. It is the kind of language God uses in action against sin. It’s ugly. I can’t say for certain, but I think there were some people out there who were just kind of waiting for the lightning to strike down on them.

Now picture being visited by a powerful and intimidating angel. You would freak out. You just would. I bet some though, “This is it. We didn’t obey well enough. God has gotten sick and tired of this. We are goners. This is our global flood. I’m not going to make it out of this.” Imagine then hearing those three words, “Do not fear.” One of those scenes has the angel continue on to say “I bring good news.” God is not reaching down on this earth to enact that curse. He is not coming out to seek vengeance, but he is coming down to deal with sin, and he is going to deal with it on his terms.

To really summarize it, what angels are saying is “Don’t panic. The story isn’t going to end with judgment.” I think that is what blows my mind about the Christmas story for me. So much silence, waiting, wondering, and even fearing over what was to come. Suddenly God comes in to say that the story is only at the halfway mark. We are just about to enter into the second act.

That story is still being told to us now. Our stories don’t need to end with judgment. We don’t need to fear because God presented a third act to the story. It is where resurrection and redemption have the final say. It is a chapter where man feared God had come to wage war, but instead came to bring peace.

Following the call wherever it leads

We fear change. I have often wondered why that is. What about change do we fear? We often say it is an issue of stepping outside of our comfort zone, but I have never been very convinced. I step outside of my comfort zone all the time, but still I have this inherent fear of change. This phenomenon eats away at me.

Two years ago I made some big changes in my life. I packed all of my belongings and moved out to Kansas for my first job as a youth pastor. I was fresh out college, engaged, and ready to embark on a new adventure. It was intimidating and scary. It was full of change. It was also exciting. There was something about being part of an adventure bigger than myself that is appealing. I think we all long for an adventure. I think it is a trait God has given all of us. It may take longer for others to discover this hunger for adventure, but it is a quality that is rooted in all of us.

It’s been two years since going down that new part of the road of adventure. The funny thing about the road we are on is it often has twists and turns that we never see until we arrive at them. My family and I have found ourselves at one of those turns. Every turn means change. God’s called us down one direction of the road that will change things drastically for us.

Yesterday I announced my resignation as a youth pastor here in Kansas. God has called me away to go to seminary to continue my education. It is a new time of change. It is a new adventure. It is both bitter sweet. Sweet in knowing I am following God’s leading, but bitter in leaving behind relationships and ministry I have invested in here.

In the back of my mind there has been this element of fear though. Change is coming, and that is always unsettling. I do not believe it is the change itself that brings fear though. I believe it is one the change shows us about ourselves that gives us fear. Change always exposes us. It always has a way of highlighting our flaws and struggles. Change always tells us how far we really have to go. It reminds us of the progress that remains to be made. It reminds us that no matter how far down this road we go, we still need to continue to go down it even farther. Perhaps the biggest thing change reminds us of is that all of this is so temporary. Simply facing the possibility of change can show all of these things.

I’ve written a lot on here lately about trusting on God, and following His leading even when we may not know all the details. It is that constant balance of being responsible, but also being willing to let God work. When this latest big change started to come into focus I began to get nervous. I played the what if game. What if I fail at this. What if I’m not cut out for higher education? What if people feel betrayed by my leaving? The what if game never ends with you winning. A possible door began to open for this feeling of God’s movement to become a reality. After praying and waiting on the Lord it seemed like there was an opportunity, but there were still risks. Following God always requires risk.

I was hesitant. I wanted to look before I leapt, and I was not all too confident about what I saw when I looked. It took my wife to remind me how we had felt God at work in our lives and began praying for clarity. We prayed for Him to keep our eyes open when He gave use the opportunity to move forward with the desire He placed on our hearts. We took the wisdom of an old professor in waiting on the Lord. The waiting went on for some time. During that time we wondered what God was trying to teach us while we were waiting. I think my wife and I would both now tell you the lesson was simply just to wait on Him. So we waited.

My wife had to remind me all I had been saying and writing lately. This was clearly God at work. This was clearly where He was leading us. I couldn’t live in fear of the what ifs. I couldn’t live in fear of my potential failures. I couldn’t live in fear of leaving behind the things that we cared about here. So I move forward boldly with my family. I move forward to face a road that has its own fair share of unknowns. I leave grateful for the opportunities I have had here. I leave appreciating what I had here, but moving forward for a new adventure. I’ll let that hunger for adventure drown out my fears again today.

No, it really isn’t the change itself that is scary. It is what the change forces you to face. Change forces you to face yourself. It dares you to ask one simple question.

It all truly comes down to this simple question.

Do you trust God?