A moment of Complaining

Photo by Elina Krima on Pexels.com

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, and his mercy endures forever. Psalm 107:1

From Mount Hor the Israelites set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; but the people became impatient on the way. The people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food.” Then the Lord sent poisonous serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord to take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.” So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live. Numbers 21:4-9

You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ– by grace you have been saved– and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God– not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life. Ephesians 2:1-10

Jesus said, “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.” John 3:14-21

There are times when it is difficult to see God’s mercy in our lives and the world. Life can be relentless in its struggles. March 28th will mark a whole year since Montana’s stay home directive was put in place. As the year unfolded and the guidelines shifted and lifted, we have struggled to make sense of many things. The past 12 months have genuinely been–a wilderness time. This is the 4th Sunday in Lent, and today’s OT reading offers us an opportunity to reflect on the perspective of God’s people in the wilderness as well as our perspectives in this wilderness of our time.

There is an authenticity to the readings in the Old Testament. They are raw and honest about the messiness of humanity. We witness in today’s reading people who are frustrated, hungry, and unhappy. And I can’t help but recall reading in Exodus Chapters 15,16, and 17, another time when the Israelites were complaining about the water, the food, and Moses’s leadership. In Exodus, Moses spoke to God on behalf of his people, and they received water, food, and a place to rest.

Now, here again in today’s scripture, they are complaining. However, this time the Israelites are not only complaining about Moses; they complain about God and his provision for them. They are shortsighted as they focus on the wilderness’s difficulties and fail to recall how bad the situation was in Egypt that God delivered them from.

The ability to see God’s mercy, as he responds to the complaining by sending a poisonous serpent, is challenging. But as we read on, we see God’s desire was for his people to recognize their poor behavior and ask appropriately for help. Moses prays for his people, and God, in His mercy, offers a way out.

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, and his mercy endures forever.

Do we recognize God’s mercy in our lives, or are we complaining about the circumstances in which we find ourselves?
The truth is, life is hard, and there are many justifiable reasons to complain.
I have been known to complain. When I complain to God, it sounds like this…” Really, God, this is what today is going to look like? Really, This is too hard; I can’t.”
I think these scriptures may be telling us there is a right and a wrong way to complain.
Venting our frustrations and blaming is the wrong approach. It is a toxic approach and harms us as well as those around us.
It promotes complaint competition that can send a whole conversation spiraling.
Complaining changes our perception of the world, shifting our focus to disappointments and causing us to miss the blessings.
Complaining helps rewire the brain into negativity- bias where negative thoughts will come more quickly and easily than positive ones.
This bias promotes pessimism, and pessimism is known to be unhealthy both physically and mentally. Complaining also kills creativity and creates a victim mentality. When we see others as the reason for our troubles, we fail to look at our own actions and behaviors. It becomes more challenging to seek possible solutions.

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, and his mercy endures forever.

It may not seem merciful that God sent the serpent, but it did get the Israelites attention. They shifted their focus and could see more clearly.

So what is the proper way to complain?

  1. We must be sure we are not the problem. The Israelites were so focused on being angry they did not see what they needed to change.
  2. Be specific about your need, not your disappointment. God delivered his people from Egypt. Of course, he will care for them in the wilderness. Though it may not look the way they thought it should.
  3. Be realistic. There is a big difference between need and want. What we desire is not always what we require.
  4. Be sure to ask the right person for help. Complaining to each other rarely does good. Moses knew the correct approach and, in love, would speak to God on their behalf.
  5. Speak your feelings. Feelings are real, but they are not the truth. Adding, “I feel” validates where you are without telling your brain things won’t or can’t change.

Life is hard. But when we shift our focus away from the things that are causing discomfort to the God whose mercy endures forever, our perception of everything changes. Instead of seeing only our difficulties, we see the way through them.

What we don’t want to miss is the message we hear in Chapter 2 of Ephesians,
“—By grace, you have been saved—.” “God, who is rich in mercy…made us alive together with Christ and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.”

Our faith in Jesus Christ brings us out of the darkness into the light. In the light of Christ, we can see clearly. Jesus also spent time in the wilderness. It is during this time of Lent that we reflect on his time of suffering. He, too, must have found it arduous to make sense of the situation he was in. “He was in anguish, and his sweat was like great drops of blood.” He prayed for God to take this responsibility from him, and yet in obedience to God’s will and for our sake, he did not waver.

We don’t want to miss John’s message to us in the Gospel.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life.” Eternal life- what does this mean? Endless life, indestructible life, imperishable life, immutable life, undying life, everlasting life, boundless life, perpetual life, lasting or existing forever, without end or beginning. This is the life our God wants for us. Nothing that comes our way can change this gift that is offered. God has given us a way out of our suffering in the gift of Jesus Christ. His desire is that we trust and believe.
We may not have the ability to make sense of what has happened and is happening in our lives and our world. We do have a God who is rich in mercy is showing us the way through it.

So perhaps I should add to my conversation of “Really God?” this prayer.
“You, God, are eternal, and this moment is not. I will go where you lead me, but please, do lead me.”

It is for the gift of Jesus Christ, who leads the way that we should.

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, and his mercy endures forever.

A moment scattered

“Do you now believe?” Jesus replied. “A time is coming and in fact has come when you will be scattered, each to your own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me. “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:31-33 (NIV)

A paradox, being alone and not alone simultaneously. I have only once before personally encountered such a time. In 2006 during hurricane Katrina, southern Louisiana scattered, across the country. Though families moved apart and friends became geographically distant, there was a unity to the New Orleans area that was a strong thread. It was this thread that tied the people together and helped them heal.

Once again, I find myself scattered, separated from family and friends. This time that scattering is global, and it seems no one will escape unaffected by this scattering. We are directed to stay in our homes and keep our distance from each other, which has left many of us alone, a bit lost, and somewhat afraid. The followers of Christ must have felt then similar to how we are feeling now. Separated from the routines they had become accustomed to, a bit lost without Jesus, and afraid, not knowing for sure what is coming next.
I am so deeply moved by Jesus’ prayer in John 17. In a longing plea with God, he speaks on behalf of those he loves. He knows that they will feel alone and lost, and he pours out his concern for them. He does not request that they are removed from the circumstances that will cause them pain. He pleads for protection that the pain will not overtake them. He asks that they are set apart from the suffering. The way to set them apart is once again paradox. He pleads for unity, that those he loves and all who share in that love be made one with Himself and God.

“I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them, I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
“Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.
John 17:13-24  (NIV)

In this present moment, when we are scattered to our homes, separated from our routines, a bit lost, a bit afraid we are also united in our desire to not let COVID-19 overcome us. There are many stories of people reaching out in safe yet powerful ways to keep others from feeling lost and alone. We share each other’s burdens and lift each other’s hearts. We are separated but we are not alone.
We are united by Jesus’ prayer on our behalf, our unity is sealed by his death, and the glory of this Divine Unity will shine across the globe as we celebrate the Resurrection of our Redeemer.

We are no longer scattered.
Peace.

A moment of unlimited access

silhouette of trees and mountain under blue starry sky
Photo by Sindre Strøm on Pexels.com

For me, this week is the best part of Christmas.  The advertisements are slowing down, the need to shop has all but stopped, and most of the returns and exchanges have been made.  And with a deep and glorious sigh, I now have time, time to rest in the Christmas season which will not officially end until January 6th.  Growing up in New Orleans I think I took Epiphany traditions for granted.  January 6 was an important day! It was, sadly,  time to take down the Christmas decorations, but it also marked the beginning of Carnival season and my favorite treat the King Cake.  Over time, as with many traditions, the significance of Epiphany has developed into something much more precious.

It is during this time that we reflect on the Magi, also known as the Wise Men, and the Star of Bethlehem.   The wise men, traveling across the desert, saw a star.   Knowing the Old Testament prophecies, understanding the stars, and recognizing that this one was new and in motion, they would have been compelled to investigate.  Faithful to the promises made in history they would seek the Messiah, the Anointed One, the Savior.

When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy.   Matthew 2:10 (NRSV)

As they entered the house and saw the child with his mother Mary, their reverence and adoration brought them to their knees.  So much hope led them to this place, and in this moment they were given a miraculous gift.

The gift of unlimited access to the love of God was given.

In my mind, it is as if time stood still.  King Herod, the wily and efficient ruler and a cruel tyrant, is forgotten and all the love that is God radiates in the room where the Christ child rests in his mother’s arms.

If we are wise, faithful to the promises and follow the light, we too are given unlimited access to the love of God.

Your word is a lamp to guide my feet
    and a light for my path.   Psalm 119:105 (NLT) 

January 5th “Twelfth Night” by tradition I will add the “Three Kings” to my nativity in preparation for Epiphany.  I will pause and contemplate the power in the moment when they saw the star, in the moment when they first laid eyes on the child, the Messiah, who was promised to the people of God, and in the moment when they fell to their knees and worshiped him.   I will take out my Bible, and I will remember that we to have been given a guiding light.   I will recognize that we too have been given unlimited access to the Love of God.  I will let time stand still for a moment, and I will offer my reverence, adoration, and gratitude to, Christ, Emanuel, God with us.

​A moment for questions

beach-close-up-desert-207071.jpg

So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”  A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.”   John 20:25-27 (NRSV)

As many of us do, I live with a heart like Thomas, asking “show me.”  What specifically am I asking for?  In the Bible, there are many stories where the proof is shown.  Am I asking to see the wounds of Christ? Am I seeking a burning bush, a rainbow or to be swallowed by a whale until I have an understanding?  Maybe really I am just asking for some clarity.  How important is it that I believe in God and Satan or burning bushes and rainbow promises.  It doesn’t seem likely that we will ever have the privilege of the certainty that Thomas received.  So, what can we be sure of?

Perhaps more important than certainty is being able to recognize love and hate and to know that good and evil do exist.  We may never see a burning bush, hear the audible voice of God, or be swallowed by a whale.  But we can recognize the power of love, the peace that comes after a storm, and the push of our conscience to follow our gut.  Sometimes the stories in scripture frustrate me because the literal interpretation makes them implausible.  The intended message, however, is not.

When I see the sadness in the world, I think “There can’t be a God,” and the despair I feel brings me back to the story of Thomas. The disciples gathered in a house after his death.  They were full of the desperation they must have felt for the loss of Jesus and the leadership they had come to rely on.   Jesus entered and in the act of love and understanding showed Thomas his wounds and offered comfort.

The absence of God leaves despair, and the presence of God brings peace.  That is clear enough for me.  God is Love.  Jesus shows us what love looks like.  By our loving each other and bringing comfort and peace and we remove doubt and despair.