Exodus 13: Process in the Promise

Exodus 13: Process in the Promise

As I sat down to write this afternoon, my entire being felt like a chaotic jumble of Christmas tree lights.  Let me explain for those who are incredibly organized: there are some of us who, no matter how neatly we wound last year’s Christmas tree lights before putting them into storage, will open boxes this holiday season and find mysterious squirrels have somehow made nests of our strings of lights. Our hot chocolate will grow cold as we wrestle to unwind them, and midway through the fiasco we may just chunk them over the fence into the neighbor’s yard and go buy new ones. What began full of Christmas cheer or spousal bribery to feign happiness will end in us all deserving coal come the 25th of December.

I can imagine that this feeling of chaos, unsettledness, and a mixture of excitement and nervousness is universal just as the desire to feel settled and centered within ourselves is also universal. I can imagine that on the night of Israel’s emancipation there was an atmosphere of chaos as an entire nation plundered and fled in mass exodus. It is within this place of great transition that God enters in with a command for Israel.

Exodus 13 begins with God’s call for Israel to consecrate every firstborn child and animal to the Lord: to acknowledge, set aside, and redeem whatever was first to open every womb in Israel as rightfully belonging to God. As a mother, the reminder that my little one belongs to the Lord every day of his life is inspiration to pray diligently, trust God fervently, and steward my child’s heart well. God and I argue often with one another over who loves Samuel more, and God wins every time. The most challenging aspect of parenting for me is also the most beautiful: parenting with open hands.

God continues to remind Israel to tell their children of how the Lord had redeemed them. He rescued them “with [or by] a mighty hand” and he tells them so four times within this chapter. God wanted to be clear that Israel’s rescue was not haphazard or insufficient, but that He had rescued them with strength, sufficiency, and might. God establishes the Feast of Unleavened Bread so that Israel could remember and teach future generations of their liberation from Egypt. It was crucial for Israel to remember who God was and what God had done so mightily for them so that they could trust God’s capability and faithfulness in the future. God wanted the future generation of Israel to know that the same God who delivered them from Egypt would bring them into Canaan with the same powerful hand.

Maybe I am alone in this, but I so often want God to act immediately. I want the fulfillment of the promises immediately. I want the healing or provision of God immediately. I want the answer or wisdom immediately. I wrestle with impatience, which is probably why imaginary squirrels make nests in my Christmas lights each year (stupid sanctifying rodents….). While God does act and operate in the immediate at times, He most often acts in the process. God loves process. He is all about the process, the way of bringing something about rather than the thing itself. This is true in my own life, but also in Israel’s story. Israel was given a promise of God – that He would deliver them and bring them into the promised land – but there was a process in delivering Israel and now a process in bringing them into the promised land.

In verses 17-22 Moses explains how God led them the long way “of the wilderness toward the Red Sea” rather than sending them the direct route through the land of the Philistines. God does not leave Moses hanging in suspense as to His reasoning; Israel was not ready for the inevitable war that would come should they walk through the Philistine’s backyard. Interestingly enough, Scripture tells us that Israel came out from Egypt “equipped for battle” and yet God knew they were not ready for war.

God knew His people then and He knows us now. He knows how prone we are to want to fight battles in our own strength, only to find we are ill-equipped for war. God wanted to distance Israel from Egypt holistically as He drew them closer to Him in the wilderness. He would spend decades preparing Israel for war by teaching them to trust and rely on Him consistently for their victory and provision.

Sometimes the fulfillment of the promise of God in our lives is immediate, but most of the time there is process within the promise. God is a God of promise, but He is also a God of process. The wilderness seasons of our lives are not pointless, nor are they punishment. The wilderness was Israel’s training ground for war. The wilderness was vital for Israel’s freedom and for the fulfillment of the promise of God to bring them home.

Perhaps you are emerging from Egypt, you feel pumped and equipped for battle, but God’s about to take you into a wilderness season to really prepare you to take hold of the promises He has given you. Do not waste your wilderness.

Perhaps you are in the wilderness and feeling lost and listless; frustrated by what seems to be the delayed fulfillment of God’s promises to you. Be honest with God about your feelings and frustrations. Do not look back towards Egypt. Believe that there is purpose in the process that brings you into the promise.

Perhaps you are seeing the fulfillment of the promises God has given you; your harvest is rich from the fruit of your wilderness season. Speak that life-giving encouragement to those around you who are emerging from Egypt or wrestling in the wilderness; pour it out like water on to dry, desperate ground.

In every season may we remember the God who leads us with a strong hand into the place of freedom, into the place of promise.

-a

Exodus 12: A Lowcountry Grief

Exodus 12: A Lowcountry Grief

The rain transformed into steam that rose from the sidewalk as quickly as it fell from the sky. The grey moss clung to the low hanging branches of historic trees that seemed weary from fighting gravity. The distinct smell of marsh, salt air and body odor hung faintly in the air; a reminder that no amount of deodorant could save you in such oppressive heat.  The low country is beautiful in the most enthralling and nostalgic of ways, but today the humid air was thick with bittersweet memories.

We gathered in the old Presbyterian church (I say “old” because it has been there for as long as I can remember) like sweaty sardines packed in a tin. I briefly wondered, as I always do on summer days in the South, why I bothered to wear makeup or straighten my hair. As I surveyed the sanctuary, I quickly realized I was not the only woman mentally asking herself those questions. The melody of “Amazing Grace” flowed from the pianist’s fingers as the familiar words rolled off my tongue. We gathered to remember, to celebrate, and to grieve my uncle, now a witness to the fulfillment of our hope in the Gospel.

There are things I think I will never understand this side of eternity. Diseases like ALS and cancer, which have stolen beloved family, or cases of horrific injustice and trauma that have intersected with my story serve as some examples. Words and stories I read in Scripture that make me question the love, justice, and grace of God exist for me as well. Some folks are comfortable with allowing unanswered questions to hang in the air, others feel the need to fill the space of uncertainty with some rationale or platitude. I fear I fall often into the latter category, becoming the very individual that irritates the snot out of me. When I read chapters such as Exodus 11-12, in which Moses details how God hardened Pharaoh’s heart and wiped out one nation’s entire generation of firstborn children and livestock, I struggle with liking God. I want to know why He hardened Pharaoh’s heart, so that even if he wanted to change his mind towards Israel and grant them freedom, he was rendered incapable. I want to know why Pharaoh’s son and every firstborn in Egypt had to suffer for Pharaoh’s stubborn refusal to set Israel free. These are unsettled questions that have hypothesized answers and yet they hang in the air of uncertainty. The older I grow, the more comfortable I am with unanswered questions and the bolder I become in expressing them, but I still think they are for the birds.

My kind husband humored my persistent questions on this passage this afternoon. He sacrificed his hope of a quiet lunch as I interviewed him, curious to know his thoughts. “God gave Israel an out that He did not give Himself,” he said midway through our conversation. “He passed over the homes with blood on the door posts, but He did not pass over His Son.” God experienced what every parent who lost their firstborn the night of the Passover experienced; and while I do not understand the fullness of His ways, I cannot allow the uncertainty to negate what I know to be true. That in moments of inexpressible grief, tremendous loss, and deep sorrow there exists a God who can identify with our emotions and experiences because He has not spared Himself from them. That we can gather to mourn the loss of a life well-lived and yet simultaneously rejoice in the reality that he is whole, complete, and more fully alive than ever before because God did not pass over Himself.

The beauty of the Gospel is rich and complex; extending into our deepest places of grief in the truest form of empathy. While we wait with expectation and hope for the day when our limited minds can comprehend the divine, we can rest in the uncertainty with a God who has experienced every weight and emotion we carry. We can grieve with the raw honesty that dwells deep in our bones and know that we are fully seen, wholly loved, and held by a God who gave His Son to restore for us all that is broken.

-a

Frayed Edges & Squeezy Packets

Frayed Edges & Squeezy Packets

If you were to ask me how I have been doing over the last week, the first response to roll off of my tongue would be “Good!” My second response, the one to really close the convincing case for the state of my wellbeing would be, “I’m fine!” Neither would be that honest or accurate in describing the state of my soul, or my mind, or my physical body though.

I struggle to admit that I am not doing well because I often feel I have no reason to be unwell. I have a great life: I am healthy, my family is healthy, we are able to pay our bills, we are loved and celebrated and cherished. I am so thankful when I recall all that makes my life so rich and so full. Yet during weeks like this past week, that glimpse of my life goes from inspiring thankfulness to conjuring up shame. Shame because I am anxious, so anxious that I struggle to make decisions or complete tasks. Shame because I am angry, so angry because I am pushing those I love most farther away in fear. Shame because I am so exhausted I can barely listen to one more babble, which sounds more like yelling at the moment, or deal with one more middle of the night wake-up call from the nursery. Shame because I cannot enjoy my beautiful baby boy because I am so overrun with insecurity. Shame for having so stinking much yet feeling discontent. Shame for believing that I should know better than to fall for these damn lies. Shame.

It is one thing to say, “It is okay to not have it all together.” It is another thing entirely to be content in living out that truth; in genuinely believing that it is okay for your life to be scruffy, messy, disorganized, and imperfect. And not just that you left a few dishes in the sink or a pile of laundry on the bed – for some of you Type A folks, that is huge! – but that you can silence the voice of the accuser in the deepest, most overwhelmed parts of your soul with the reality “It is okay to not have it all together.”

It is okay to not have it all together. It is okay that your toddler either throws all of your thoughtfully prepared food on the floor or spits all of it out – surrender to the squeezy packet. It is okay that dog hair and mud are still covering your floors even though you have tried to clean them on a daily basis – put the broom down. It is okay that your washer has held a load of clothes for a few days – rev that sucker back up again. It is okay to dip that dark chocolate straight into the peanut butter jar – go ahead and double dip. Maybe these scenarios and more have occurred in my house this week. The problem is not saying “It is okay” – the problem (for me anyways) is believing it.

Believing that I am loved by God no matter what I do or do not do. Believing that I am enough as a woman, as a wife, as a mother, as a sister, as a daughter, as a friend because He says I am enough, because He has redeemed me and declared my value worth the death of Christ. Believing that every aspect of my personality, even the introverted, overly anxious, perfectionist parts, have all been intentionally woven together in a way that uniquely displays God’s image to the world. Believing that He loves the very parts of me that I find most unlovable. Believing that His compassion towards me is sufficient grounds for me to extend compassion to my weary, wounded soul. Believing that He took a sufficient beating for me on the cross so that I can stop beating myself up over my shortcomings. Believing that He is God and I am not; that I do not have to have it all together because He always has and always will.

Feeling frayed is not the same thing as being unthankful. May we give ourselves permission to address the frayed nerves, the threadbare soul and the worn out heart strings from the well of compassion that Father God has towards us. Then may we extend that kindness and compassion to one another in the warmest encouragement: It is okay for us to not have it all together, because we know the One who does.

-a

Plagues, Purposes, & Promises

Plagues, Purposes, & Promises

Last week we took a closer look at the fourth chapter in Exodus, which concluded with Moses arriving in Egypt and the people of Israel worshiping God for answering their cries for freedom. Today we are going to look briefly at the next six chapters in Exodus and extract a few principles and themes:

In Exodus 5 & 6 Moses and Aaron speak to Pharaoh and request freedom for the Israelites. Pharaoh’s response is exactly as God told Moses it would be. Pharaoh claims he does not know the Lord and refuses to let Israel go free. Pharaoh increases his oppression of Israel by making their work nearly impossible. Moses blames God for not holding onto His end of the bargain, even though events are progressing exactly as God said they would. Israel despairs and complains. Moses slips right back into his habit of elevating his weaknesses over God’s ability, power and character. All the while, God continues to remind Moses and Israel who He is and His ability to fulfill the promises He has made to them.

In Exodus 7 we begin to see that God’s purposes for bringing plagues upon the Egyptians were not just to show His power to Israel or to punish Pharaoh’s hard heart, but to show Himself to Egypt. God wanted the Egyptians to know Him as the only living God. This is so important because God’s heart was not to punish Pharaoh but for Pharaoh to know Him and turn to Him in repentance. Moses and Aaron do exactly as God commands them without question; moving from a place of insecurity to a place of complete trust and faith in God. They continue to perform miracles and signs for Pharaoh to demonstrate the authority given to them by God. For example, in Exodus 7:10-13 Aaron casts down his staff before Pharaoh as it turns into a serpent. This miracle is replicated by Pharaoh’s magicians as their own staffs turn into snakes. Yet God’s miracle swallows up counterfeit magic tricks as Aaron’s serpent swallows up all of the other snakes. (Can I just say this passage gives me the heebeegeebees?!) As much as Pharaoh and his magicians wanted to discredit these acts of God, they could not explain them away. Over the following chapters we find the magicians unable to replicate certain plagues, starting with the plague of gnats, and acknowledge to Pharaoh God’s existence and power. Pharaoh repeatedly refuses to listen to even his most trusted advisers, as he continues to lead from a place of stubbornness even at his nation’s expense.

Over and over again in these chapters we read a repeated phrase, “As the Lord had said.” It is mentioned three times in Exodus 7 alone. Anytime phrases are repeated in a passage of Scripture it is a good indication that God wants us to hear a specific message. In this case, it is that God is faithful to His word and trustworthy. His consistency in warning Moses and Aaron of Pharaoh’s future responses established a firm foundation of trust that enabled them to act with greater confidence in the Lord.

As God continues to send plagues to Egypt from Exodus 7-11, His heart is consistently for Pharaoh, Egypt, Israel, and the surrounding nations to come to know Him as God. We can observe how generational cycles of fear and paranoia in the royal family are cultivated and culminate in this one Pharaoh’s hard, fearful heart.  What we see in Pharaoh as a leader is an incredibly stubborn heart that knows nothing of humility, of repentance, or of the value in listening to wise and trusted counsel. We witness this leadership style lead to destruction, death, and plunder of his family and his people. It would be easy to look at God as a terrible god in this story for plaguing Egypt, but in reality they had a terribly selfish, fearful and stubborn leader who at any point could have let Israel go, sparing his country and arguably blessing it with a future ally, yet refused to put the good of others above his own greed and lust for power. Please do not miss the reality that Pharaoh’s narcissism led to his country’s destruction, plunder, and to the death of many (including his firstborn son).

In Exodus 7:16, God tells Moses to request the following from Pharaoh, “Let my people go, that they may serve me in the wilderness.” Not only did God want to bring His people into the promised land, while making Himself known to the world, He wanted to show Israel how to serve Him in the wilderness. God understood that how Israel served Him in the wilderness would set the tone for how they would live and serve Him in the promised land. The wilderness would not be a coincidental season in Israel’s story, but an essential time of God shepherding, teaching, and building intimacy with His people.

As we close, I hope we take home two truths: 1. God’s heart is that we may know Him. His heart is for us, not against us; for us to live in relationship with Him, in freedom, and not in bondage to fear or greed. 2. How we serve God in the wilderness sets the tone for how we live and serve in the place of promise. The wilderness seasons of our life are not punitive nor pointless; they are the fertile soil in which our roots grow deeply into the heart of God, producing nourished fruit in the promised land.

Until next week,

-a