Monday, July 20, 2015

Hard to Hide

He looked this way and that, and seeing no one, he struck down the Egyptian and hid him in the sand (Exodus 2:11-15).

He thought he was safe there. 

In Midian Moses had found the kind of obscurity that allowed an outlaw to live a normal life.  There he had embarked on his career as a shepherd, married the daughter of the local priest, and started a family.  His son’s name might have reflected something about how Moses regarded life in Midian: Gershon means “I have become an alien in a foreign land.”

Every time the boy was introduced, people heard, “I don’t belong here.”  And that might have been exactly how Moses felt. 

The Illusion of Distance

Moses wasn’t sure where he belonged. For most of his life he had been cocooned in Egyptian royalty.  His aristocratic upbringing hadn’t prepared him well for life in Midian – but that unfortunate incident in which he murdered an Egyptian task-master changed everything.  Moses was a wanted man back in Egypt and Midian seemed as good a place as any to settle. 

What Midian offered Moses was distance: Distance from one of the biggest mistakes he had ever made; distance from his past; distance from his failure; distance from threat and shame.  In Midian Moses thought he was safe.

How strange then that in the far side of the desert, in a remote and hardscrabble place, God shattered Moses’ illusion of safety and obscurity.  Near Mt. Horeb – a word that means “desolate” – God shrunk the distance that Moses had tried to put between himself and Egypt, between the man he used to be and the man he had actually become. God found Moses in that barren, distant place. There God spoke words that would change Moses’s plans and redefine his identity and force him from hiding.

God Finds Us          

The story of Moses’s early life is full of failed attempts at hiding. Moses’s mother tried to hide him among the reeds in the river when he was a baby. That didn’t work. Pharaoh’s daughter found the baby. Later, as a young man. Moses killed and Egyptian and tried to hide him in the sand. That didn’t work either. The deed was known among the Hebrews. Forced to Midian as a fugitive, Moses tried to hide among the flocks in a backwater place. Again, nice try – but even in that place after forty years, Moses was found.    

Try as we might, it’s hard to hide from God. God did not put you on this earth to hide. And the work it takes to conceal and cover up is not worthy of your life. 

God has a way of finding us.  A colossal lapse of judgment may ruin your plans, but it doesn’t disqualify you from being a part of what God has planned for you.  In those moments when you’re no longer sure who you are, God knows you right down to your fingerprints.  When you’re busy getting distance from something that’s in your past, God is getting you ready for something yet to come. 

There’s no place you can be or go to that will put you beyond God’s reach.  When you’re not giving God a second thought, God finds you and speaks purpose and direction into your life.  The challenge of everyday is simply being ready to hear.

 “Where can I go from your Spirit?  Where can I flee from your presence?  If I go up the heavens you are there.  If I make my bed in the depths you are there.  If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.” Amen. (Psalm 139:7-10)

Friday, July 17, 2015

Break Up Your Fallow Ground

He who has ears to hear, let him hear (Mark 4:9).

I can’t remember the last time I used the word “fallow.”

Since the most natural context for the word is agricultural, and since I don’t work the land for a living, I’m not sure I’ve ever used the word at all. Not that my daily activities preclude incorporating the word “fallow” here and there. It just sounds odd, out of place.

I attend a fair amount of meetings, most of which are spoken of with other adjectives. Meetings are said to be productive, informative, boring, long - the list goes on. Never have I left a meeting and said, “That was a fallow meeting.” No, fallow belongs most comfortably to the earth. It is a truly dirty word.

Fallow ground is ground that holds promise. The earth has been plowed but not seeded. The dirt is prepared but nothing has been planted. The potential for growth and life is present, but nothing has been sown there. And so it is with our heart.

A Nagging Question  

The parable of the sower, or the soils if you prefer, is the only parable that Jesus explains. For Jesus to follow his story with a small group seminar on what the story means is very helpful. Jesus unpacks the images, showing us how each soil reflects something about how people receive the proclamation of the Kingdom.

As helpful as Jesus’s explanation is, it leaves me unsettled. The story seems to suggest that some people will never understand. Mathematically speaking, only one-fourth of those who hear will bear fruit or manifest evidence that God’s word is actively making a difference in their life.

That Jesus quotes Isaiah 6:9-10 doesn’t make things any simpler. Some folks see but never truly see. They hear but never understand. And that’s that.

So will the other three-fourths of people who hear the gospel, the good news, just never get it? Can a resistant hard-packed heart become fertile ground for the word of God? This question nags at me.

The Work and Miracle of Hearing

If Paul was right in telling us that we were all once dead in our trespasses and sins, lifeless and unresponsive until God in mercy made us alive, then the answer to that nagging questions has to be ‘yes’ (Eph. 2:1-10). Every heart was once hard-packed, unyielding as concrete. That God’s word ever brought forth life in us is a miracle. A work of Grace. A valley of dry bones standing up in ranks like warriors (Ezek. 37).

Through the prophet Hosea God urged his people to “break up your fallow ground.” Prepare yourselves and sow what is good and right in order to reap a harvest that is good and right. How are we to do this? How do we get to work cultivating the soil of the heart?

Three Things to Do

First, get honest about the condition of your own heart as it is today. Are you resistant or hostile to God’s word? Are you open, but not deeply rooted, withering in the slightest adversity or affliction? Is your heart crowded with anxieties and desires for other things, drawn to world rather than the word?

Second, get serious about engaging God’s word. Open your Bible and read it. Engage the word in community through a small group or a class. Engage the word in worship as it is proclaimed week by week. Make a plan, set aside time, and get after it.

Finally, get started by asking God to do what only God can do. Begin with a simple prayer: “God, give me ears to hear whatever you want to say to me through your word.” 

Heed the prophet. “Break up your fallow ground, for it is time to seek the Lord, that he may come and rain righteousness upon you” (Hosea 10:12). You can’t bring forth life by your own efforts. You cannot make it rain. But you can prepare the ground.

Grant to us, O God, the miracle of hearing. Bless your word and let it find good soil in our hearts and lives. And make us ready to do the work of preparing the ground, expectant and eager for you to speak life into us through Jesus our Lord, in whose name we pray. Amen.