Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Project Love--April--Love the World

Well May is almost over, and soon it will be time to update you on what has happened with Project Love for the month of May.  So before I do that, I should probably fill you in on what happened in the month of April!

Our church-wide project for April was the Nicaragua Smile Project, which our church has done before in years past.  However, we did it a little bit differently this time around.  The goal of this project is to create little shoebox sized gift boxes for children in Nicaragua.  Usually, our church just asks a family to prepare and donate an entire box (or more!)  However, this year, the project was done a little bit more as a corporate effort.  There were sign-up lists for all the different types of supplies that would be needed to create these boxes, and instead of creating an entire box, we were asked to sign up for a certain supply (or more!) and bring those.  Then, at the end of the month, on a Sunday afternoon, we scheduled a packing party, where we could come together as a church to pack each of the boxes with the donated supplies.  I thought this was an interesting and effective way to participate in creating the boxes together as a church family.  Unfortunately, I was unable to assist in the actual packing of the boxes, as there was a flood in Little Rock that weekend.  Seriously.  There were torrential rains that afternoon right about the time I was ready to leave my apartment to go to the church building.  Thankfully, it slacked up enough for me to make it to church that evening.  (But the rains continued, even to the point of several major roads being closed the next couple of days!)

The theme for the month of April was “Love the World”, which was appropriate since April is usually our missions emphasis month at PV.  Our devotional guide for the month talked about the fact that missions is not the ultimate goal of the church, but rather, worship is.  Missions is temporary, but worship will be forever.  Worship should actually be both the fuel and the goal of missions.  The goal of missions is for everyone to be able to know the Lord and worship Him in gladness.  Also, worship is the fuel for missions, because it is a person’s own passion for the Lord that drives them to share His message with others.  Below are a few discussion questions on this topic:

1.        Explain the sentence, “Missions exists because worship doesn’t.”
          Missions exists because there are some people that still don’t know of God’s greatness and worship Him.
2.       How does “Missions” begin worship?
          Missions begins worship in two ways.  More people will worship Him as they are taught and come to know Him.  Also, the missionary is worshiping by obeying His commands an teaching others about Him.
3.       Do you see a correlation between your passion or God and your zeal for missions?  Why or why not?
          Yes, because it’s when I focus on God and His greatness that I’m less worried about myself and am more likely to focus on serving others.
4.       Do you think PV’s corporate worship in our building affects our missionaries in other countries?  Explain.
         Yes.  It is out of our corporate worship that we are moved to do God’s work, which includes the support and encouragement that we offer to missionaries around the world.
5.       How would you define “missions”?  How does that definition apply locally and globally.
          I think of missions as joining God in his redemptive work of setting the world back to rights, to fixing everything that’s gone wrong with this creation.  Globally, that can mean teaching others who have never heard of Christ.  Locally, most people have at least heard of Christ, so the job is a little different at home.  Mission, locally, can involve whatever it takes to serve others and bless them in the name of Christ…anything that we can do to draw them closer to Him.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Prayers of the Bible, Part 5--Joshua

I think Joshua might be one of the most-easily overlooked figures in the Old Testament--especially considering the role he played in leading Israel during their conquest of the Promised Land.  Sure, there's the story of Jericho, with the marching around and the horns and the walls come tumbling down.  And there's also the "Choose this day whom you will serve..." speech (one of the best, in my opinion).  But that's usually the most we hear of Joshua  I feel like he kind-of fades in Moses' shadow.  And sure, he's got his own book named after him, but let's be honest--much of that book is filled with descriptions of families with unpronounceable names taking over territories with unpronounceable names.  Riveting.  However, there are a couple of instances in Joshua's life, a couple of his prayers worth taking a look at.

The first is in Joshua chapter 7.  Israel has just crossed over the Jordan River and begun their conquest of the Promised Land.  They began, of course, in Jericho, with a victory over this great city, a victory that was so unusual and so unlikely, that it left no doubt in anyone's mind--they did not earn this victory.  It was handed to them by God.

Next on the map, the Israelites moved to the city of Ai, where they expected their God to certainly give them another victory.  After all, He's promised to give them this land, and they've learned enough of this God to know one thing--He keeps His promises.  Beyond that, Ai is a smaller city than Jericho.  The spies that came back from Ai told Joshua only a couple thousand men could go in and take Ai.

So imagine the disappointment and confusion and frustration when the Israelites do not, in fact, take Ai.  Rather, the men of Ai killed some of the Israelites and pursued them for some distance!  Scripture says, "the hearts of the people melted and became as water.  Then Joshua tore his clothes and fell facedown to the ground before the ark of the Lord, remaining there till evening.  The elders of Israel did the same, and sprinkled dust on their heads.  And Joshua said, 'Ah, Sovereign Lord, why did you ever bring this people across the Jordan to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites to destroy us?  If only we had been content to stay on the other side of the Jordan!  O Lord, what can I say, now that Israel has been routed by its enemies?  The Canaanites and the other people of the country will hear about this and they will surround us and wipe out our name from the earth.  What then will you do for your own great name?'"

There are some noteworthy elements in Joshua's prayer.  First, he physically expressed his grief at what had just happened by his actions, with his torn clothes, lying facedown before the Lord with ashes on his head.  Also, we see some very familiar phrases here as Joshua, like Moses, questions the Lord's actions and, once again, appeals to God's nature and His great name.  I can't help but think that when people are truly concerned with His glory, He is so moved to action.

Joshua does use one phrase in here that breaks my heart a little, as he says, "If only we had been willing to dwell beyond the Jordan!"  He's saying, in essence, "If only we had been willing to settle for less than God has planned for us"--indeed--"for less than God has promised us."  That's just tragic, because what Joshua doesn't see is that the Lord hasn't broken that promise to them at all.  Rather, it is one of Israel's own number who has sinned and brought defeat upon them.  That's the main lesson I take from this prayer of Joshua's:  it is okay to question the Lord's actions and to appeal to His nature and His mercy.  But remember, when you do, that, like Joshua, you may not know the whole story.  Regardless of what has happened, God has not broken His promise to you, and He doesn't want you to settle for anything less than what He's promised.

The other important prayer of Joshua's is found in Joshua chapter 10.  The background on this is that the Israelites foolishly were tricked into making a treaty with the people of Gibeon, who live in the Promised Land.  The Israelites failed to consult the Lord on this--and it was against His instructions to make treaties with those who lived there--but since the Israelites had made a covenant, they were bound by it.  So when their friends the Gibeonites are under attack, the Israelites are required to go fight for them.  In this battle, the Lord fights for the Israelites; in fact, scripture says He sends large hailstones, so that  more of their enemies were killed by the hailstones than by the sword in battle.  It's during this battle that Joshua prayed, "O sun, stand still over Gibeon, O moon over the Valley of Aijalon."  Joshua was not afraid to pray for something big, and the Lord listened.  From this prayer of Joshua is a reminder that the God who created the heavens and the earth and everything in them is an unimaginably big God, and He's the One who hears our prayers.  Don't be afraid to ask Him for big things.  He's listening.  And He may just give what you're asking.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Prayers of the Bible, Part 4--Moses (cont.)

I don't watch much TV at all, but last Saturday night--Easter weekend--I caught a very short portion of a very, very long movie on television.  That movie was none other than "The Ten Commandments", starring Charlton Heston.  I remember as a kid watching that movie at my Nanny's house, as she, at some point, had made a VHS recording of it when it came on TV.  (Besides the fact that it was Easter weekend, I also thought the timing was nice, as last week marked the 9th anniversary of my Nanny's passing.)  To be honest, I have to say...I had forgotten how absolutely cheesy that movie is!  It kind-of made me laugh a little bit...

However, when we take a look at the actual Biblical account of the life of Moses, the person we find within those pages was quite different than the one that Charlton Heston protrayed.  Moses was a humble man who became a strong leader because he relied on His God.  His task was not easy, and he even sometimes questioned what the Lord was doing.  But he knew who God was, he knew that God keeps His promises, and he desired for the Lord to be near to him and his fellow Israelites.  Moses was anything but cheesy.

The task that the Lord gave to Moses is not one that I would willingly sign up for, and it is abundantly clear that Moses struggled with it from time to time.  Honestly, reading some of those passages, when he questions--even accuses--the Lord and the Lord's actions, makes me a little uncomfortable.  Towards the beginning of Moses' task, when he first returns to Egypt, he is frustrated, because the neither the people of Israel, nor the Pharaoh of Egypt, will listen to him.  In fact, after he first goes to Pharaoh, the Israelites slavery becomes even more difficult, as they are required to make their bricks without straw, and the Israelites seem to blame this on Moses.  Moses, in turn, seems to blame this on God, as he accuses, "O Lord, why have you brought trouble upon this people?  Is this why you sent me?  Ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has brought trouble upon this people, and you have not rescued your people at all."  When God answers Moses and sends him back to Pharaoh, Moses' retort is, "If the Israelites will not listen to me, why would Pharaoh listen to me, since I speak with faltering lips?"

Regardless of Moses' perceptions and accusations, the Lord did, in fact do what He said He was going to.  He delivered His people from Pharaoh.  But the Israelites seemed to have quickly forgotten about this, as they are wandering through the desert.  They complain about everything, and when they are angry with Moses because of a lack of water to drink, Moses complains to the Lord, "What am I to do with these people?  They are almost ready to stone me!"  Again, despite the fact that the Lord provides water for His people to drink and manna for His people to eat, they continue to complain, next about a lack of meat to eat.  This time, Moses just seems to let the Lord have it, as he asks Him, "Why have you brought this trouble on your servant?  What have I done to displease you that you put the burden of all these people on me?  Did I conceive all these people?  Did I give them birth?  Why do you tell me to carry them in my arms, as a nurse carries an infant, to the land you promised on oath to their forefathers?  Where can I get meat for all these people?  They keep wailing to me, 'Give us meat to eat!'  I cannot carry these people by myself; the burden is too heavy for me.  If this is how you are going to treat me, put me to death right now--if I have found favor in your eyes--and do not let me face my own ruin."  The Lord does not answer Moses harshly, but He does assure Moses that He will provide the people with meat "until they loathe it."  When Moses questions God's ability to do this, I do think God's reply to him is worth remembering:  "Is the Lord's arm too short?"

Really, though, Moses knew better.  He knew that the Lord's arm was, indeed, mighty to accomplish His tasks.  He knew what kind of God that He followed, and similarly to Abraham, he often appealed to the nature of the Lord and to His Great Name.  On two separate occasions when the Israelites disobeyed God--when they worshiped a golden calf, and when they did not have faith enough to enter the promised land--Moses did exactly that.  The Lord was angry with the people;  He was ready to destroy them and make Moses into a nation.  Each time, Moses' response was something to the effect of "O Lord, why should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand?  Why should the Egyptians say, 'It was with evil intent that he brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth'?  Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people.  Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, to whom you swore by your own self:  'I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and I will give your descendants all this land I promised them, and it will be their inheritance forever.'"  On another occasion, when a few people rebelled against the Lord, Moses asked of God, "O God, God of the spirits of all mankind, will you be angry with the entire assembly when only one man sins?"  Very important, it seems, that in each of these instances, the Lord listened to Moses, and he did not bring the great punishment that He had intended.

Through all of this, I love the fact that Moses wants to know God and have a relationship with Him.  He loves his God.  You might miss it, amidst all the accusing and the questioning and the pleading.  But let's not miss a very important conversation that Moses has with the Lord, in Exodus 33:  "Moses said to the Lord, 'You have been telling me, "Lead these people," but you have not let me know whom you will send with me.  You have said, "I know you by name and you have found favor with me."  If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you.  Remember that this nation is your people.'  The Lord replied, 'My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.'  Then Moses said to him, 'If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here.  How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us?  What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?'  And the Lord said to Moses, 'I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name.'  Then Moses said, 'Now show me your glory.'"  The most astounding part of this situation is that right after this conversation--the Lord shows him His glory!

Now, there are several things that I can take away from these passages of scripture.  The first is that I can be doing exactly what God is telling me to do, and the results may not immediately be what I am expecting.  That's a frustrating feeling, and based on the interactions between Moses and the Lord, I feel comfortable voicing those frustrations to Him--He already knows how I'm feeling anyway.  But it would be wise of me to learn that He works on His timetable, not mine.

Secondly, I can always remember that the Lord's arm is never too short to keep His promises.  Whatever He says He is going to do...I can guarantee that He will.  Yet He is also willing to listen and forgive.

Finally, I get the feeling that I can't underestimate the importance of being in the Lord's Presence...and of having His Presence accompany me.  Moses would've rather died than try to go forward in life without God.  Moses wanted to know that the Lord was pleased with Him, and He seemed to equate that with the Lord's Presence going before him.  Likewise, as Christians, the Lord is pleased with us, because God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Christ, and through Christ to reconcile to Himself all things.  This, the apostle Paul says, is an incredible mystery, but one that has now been revealed...that is, Christ--God's Presence, in us!