Living in Exodus

by Alexei Laushkin

The Exodus is a pivotal moment for the people of God. They are rescued from Egypt, where their lives were filled with slavery, toil, and oppression and they make it to the desert on the way to the promised land.

And what do they encounter? They encounter their hearts which are filled with self-slavery, self-toil, and self-oppression. They exchange the hardship of Egypt for the hardship of their own inner life.

And this inner life provokes them against God even in the midst of great blessing, and God having known and foreseen His people’s sin waits and tests and sees if they will repent and turn.

For that is open to all of us who know the mercy of God, to turn towards him during the times of trial and great difficulty, especially as we are often deeply caught up in our own sin. We turn, he responds.

Yet instead of turning and even while being daily provided for and being rescued from enemies far stronger than them, they wrestle with God.

The God who single handedly freed them from Egypt now keeps them in the desert for 40 years.  You can almost hear echoes of the famous hymn lines:

Born to wander Lord I feel it, born to leave the God I love

Every since Genesis God has been in the process of reconciling with his people. First we have Noah, where God provides a rescue plan, an ark, and a covenant.

Than we have Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Jacob is one of the more interesting of the old Patriarchs, for he steals his brother’s birthright and is hounded by his conscience. Jacob is the father of Israel, and he wrestles with God, wrestling with his identity and God’s promises, wrestling with how he has made and what he wants and what God wants of him.

Jacob is  a man like us, unsure and wrestling with the sin within.

You see, since Genesis we are waiting for restoration, we are waiting for Jesus.

Jesus enables a restoration from our fallen nature of sin into the glorious freedom of the children of God. He is our justification from living like Jacob at his worst, or David at his worst or ourselves at our worst, to where Adam was before the fall. He restores and heals our fallen nature. Not all at once (though justification is all at once) but through a process.

Through a journey, into the wilderness. 

The wilderness was a time of testing for the people of God. Would they wait, would they stay focused even while everything was provided for, would they be content with trusting God’s goodness.

The desert tested God’s people, remove the comfort from a man and he’s lifted with a heart that is miserly, desires that are unmet, and a total lack of contentment.

Perhaps you yourself have felt these desert moments. These times when God seems absent, though he may be providing your every need, where your heart seems to wander and get lost in its own discontent.

God’s people having been rescued from Egypt, are in the desert. Their memories quickly fade, they begin to question Moses, they know God is with them, but what sort of God lets us wander aimlessly, when do we get to become like the Egyptians great and strong, instead of weak and dependent, a wandering nation.

Can you hear some of the dialogue of what might have been desired and yet what was experienced.

Yet God’s rescue plan for humanity is playing out in this same desert. His trying of character, as in the days of Abraham, so in the days of Noah, so in the days of Moses, is there no one who will follow me? Is there no one righteous to be found?

Why is God asking these sorts of questions of humanity? Like waters in a desert stream is the man who can trust in God despite his circumstances. You see our ultimate rebellion was to trust in ourselves, and so we reap what we sow. But when we trust in God even if nothing good occurs we reap a rich inner harvest for this life and the life to come.

Consider the very lives of Abraham, Noah, Jacob, Moses, and David. Where any of their lives simple? Where they not harassed, constantly facing danger and toil, and yet the Lord God delivered them from all these challenges, temptations, and tribulations.

Blessed is the heart of a man who is stayed on God and knows Christ as his true dependence, whatever he may face in outer oppression (matters of Justice) or inner oppression (matters of the heart). For both can derail a man from trusting God in his wilderness, and yet dependence, and yet blessed is the main whose heart remains focused and steadfast whether he sees oppression from without and from within.

Alexei Laushkin is Vice-President of the Evangelical Environmental Network,  a Board Member of the Kingdom Mission Society,  and writer of the Foolishconfidence blog. His views are his own. 

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On Mercy

by Alexei Laushkin

Mercy is about patience. The patience of God really more than our own. Consider God’s standards of mercy. He patiently waits. Consider these words from 2 Peter 3:8-9:

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance

Now consider the words of Jesus in the gospel of Luke. Luke 13:6-9:

Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’

“‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.

The profound waiting and mercy of God. He will wait to see if life can come from this tree (us) and this soil (our circumstance). Yes he does discipline, yes he does allow for difficulties, but the overarching character is mercy. Even what he allows and the discipline itself is meant for us to do something else. For us to display some other characteristic than the ones we are so prone to.

Consider 1 Samuel. Salvation and rescue is going to come through Samuel, and the young boy is born to a barren woman. A very minor person. What is happening here? Don’t we see the echoes of the Virgin Mary, or Sarah.

God is searching the earth to see if any have sought after him. And in the anguish of infertility he finds a woman whose heart is open, who is zealous to be used. Though her story seems so small and insignificant, her life would be integral in God’s work of bringing  back his people to himself in the midst of gross infidelity and waywardness.

Consider the Mercy of God

In a few chapters into Samuel, Israel will be defeated, though they had the ark of the covenant in their midst when battling the Philistines. This will be a watershed moment. A moment so shocking that the very identity of the nation will be thrown into question.

And yet, the story we are to follow isn’t the calamity (which is significant to awaken the people), but the broader story of the clearing of corrupt leadership and the establishment of Samuel and eventually of Saul (who would prove unfaithful) and David.

A high-mark of God’s faithfulness and his work among his people is around the corner, and yet the calamities are necessary to make the story and life of David even possible.

The mercy of God isn’t about getting what we want when we want it, it is about seeing the broader story of how God turns wayward hearts back to him. As with Israel so with us. We are wayward in our tendencies and yet God will use the circumstances of life and his goodness to make the possibility of restoration and faithfulness possible again.

His ways are not our ways, nor our his thoughts, our thoughts, but we can be assured just as he was and is faithful to Israel that he will be faithful to his bride the church, and that he will even more like a tender shepherd be with each of us, as he arranges the circumstances of our lives in such a way where faithfulness and holiness, and mercy can take root. For all these stories are ultimately about our dependence on Christ and our seeming inability to see where we need to depend more deeply or see where we have not done so at all.

Alexei Laushkin is Vice-President of the Evangelical Environmental Network,  a Board Member of the Kingdom Mission Society,  and writer of the Foolishconfidence blog. His views are his own. 

Making Time for God

How do you make time for God? Many Christians have a great desire to spend time with God, but it never seems to translate to action. Sometimes, we convince ourselves that we lack the time; other times we are simply unsure of where to start or even how to cultivate the desire for a devotional/prayer life.  We catch ourselves saying, “I wish I could start the day with an hour of prayer, but given my commitments that’s not very realistic,” or “I know I want to spend time with God but where do I start?”

Without guidance the whole issue of how to develop a prayer life can become bewildering.

So how does one go from barely reading scripture or praying; to spending a robust amount of time in prayer, reading, or reflection of some sort?

The simple, one word answer: repentance. A devotional life begins with needing to cultivate some desire for it. The surest way to cultivate an honest desire for God is repentance. You might ask, “Repent? For what?”

For everything, more specifically repent for our lack of desire for a devotional life. You may want to choose some phrases to help. Many Christians use the Jesus Prayer. “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner.” But other phrases from scripture or like in spirit can be easily used. A few examples:

  • The wages of sin is death.
  • Give an account for your management of the household.
  • Remember from what you have fallen, repent and do the works you did at first.

Cultivating a prayer and devotional life is a bit more akin to being serious about going to the gym or getting into physical shape. At first it’s going to be slow and hard work. You aren’t going to want to develop a prayer life. Instead you’ll find it comforting to go back to old patterns rather quickly. That’s why repentance is crucial. Repentance brings us back to our unwillingness to really cultivate our faith. The process of developing a prayer life will humble you and that sort of humbling is a key ingredient for living a life of faith.

After repentance you need to choose some set course of study or rule (set form for study). This is probably the hardest thing to do, especially in an age that values spontaneity and experience, at some point all of that feeling has to give way to a decision. The good news is that there are a lot of things one could do. There’s the Book of Common Prayer (here‘s an easy to use online version)  which has very set prayers for morning and evening. There’s also a whole host of audio prayer devotions, and scripture readings. Here is an audio devotional from the Jesuit tradition and here is a long listing of options from http://www.biblegateway.com.

Some elements that are worth looking for as you decide where to start. Look for something that has some scripture to work through or think about. Look for something that you will do in repetition. This is a key point. In the beginning your prayer/devotional life can’t really survive off of spontaneity. If you have to start with five minutes a day, twice a day, than that’s what you do. Like weight lifting start at something you can repeat and explore from there. A prayer life is something you cultivate and develop; it doesn’t just happen because you want it to.

You aren’t going to go from nothing to a robust devotional life in a short period of time. Realize that patience will be a key ingredient to cultivating a life of faith. So you are looking for something to build on.

Practice. Not just doing the devotion, but implementing the ideas and truths in scripture in your daily life.  Faith without works is dead. Devotion without practice won’t build up a life of faith. The scriptures have to be infused in your day to day life to strengthen your faith. It’s not enough to think about theology and about prayer and about scripture, integrate them with specific people and specific circumstances and you will find that your understanding of scripture and desire for a devotional life grows.

Faith comes by hearing and doing. A devotional life comes with cultivating a desire for it by living out what we learn.

The Absence of God

We hear of the glories and goodness of the presence of God. Even if we reject that presence, it often says much less about God than our own sinful impulses.

But what about the absence of God?

In the movie The Tree of Life there is a prolonged scene featuring a sermon in the book of Job. The priest says, don’t you know the absence of God in troubled times when his back is toward you is also an experience of him? Man is but a grass, the grass is here for a short season and fades away. But the Glory of God endures and remains unchanged. His Power, Majesty, and Mystery inspires reverence. Where were you when he formed the stars? Can you show him your great works of life and creation?

In truth, the reality of God is not conjured up by piety, hard work, the keeping of certain morals, no the reality of God is constant and always present. When he feels far off, when he feels near; when we have a great experience of him, when we have never had an encounter with him. He remains one in the same.

Faith is the hope for things unseen. When we have no experience of God we must by faith seek to know him. We must pray that he would meet us and that he would give us the humility to see him for what he is.

When God feels absent, He is often very close.