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. 

Spending Some Time with Amos

by Alexei Laushkin

If you follow the Protestant world much, you’ll undoubtedly be aware that Mainline Protestants will use the Old Testament and the Prophets to justify all sorts of public policy positions. I can remember being at an event early in my vocation and it was an evening service, the Prophet Amos was being read. We came to some powerful lines, Amos 5:24:

But let justice roll down like waters,

and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

The immediate solution, free third world nations from their debts and obligations. That was the application to Amos 5. Let justice roll down like waters, free a wide range of actors from debt. Hallelujah.

I was recently back into Amos and had a very different take. I am very concerned with matters of justice and I think the scripture is too, but the narrative of Amos isn’t what you might think, although it does follow that what is happening in the life of the people of God ought to match their actions, no doubt about that, and in such a realm thinking about justice seriously and even arriving at certain conclusions is within the realm of prudential judgement. I.E. you could read the text and advocate for a progressive policy solution, but if that’s all you did with the scripture you’d be missing a lot.

Let’s take a longer section. Amos 5:6-15:

Seek the Lord and live,
lest he break out like fire in the house of Joseph,
and it devour, with none to quench it for Bethel,
O you who turn justice to wormwood
and cast down righteousness to the earth!
He who made the Pleiades and Orion,
and turns deep darkness into the morning
and darkens the day into night,
who calls for the waters of the sea
and pours them out on the surface of the earth,
the Lord is his name;
who makes destruction flash forth against the strong,
so that destruction comes upon the fortress.
They hate him who reproves in the gate,
and they abhor him who speaks the truth.
Therefore because you trample on the poor
and you exact taxes of grain from him,
you have built houses of hewn stone,
but you shall not dwell in them;
you have planted pleasant vineyards,
but you shall not drink their wine.
For I know how many are your transgressions
and how great are your sins—
you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe,
and turn aside the needy in the gate.
Therefore he who is prudent will keep silent in such a time,
for it is an evil time.
Seek good, and not evil,
that you may live;
and so the Lord, the God of hosts, will be with you,
as you have said.
Hate evil, and love good,
and establish justice in the gate;
it may be that the Lord, the God of hosts,
will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.

Imagine if you will the character of the people who are oppressing the poor, neglecting them, and essentially going about their day to day life as though nothing has happened. They don’t know that they are doing this, it doesn’t occur to them that their day to day actions have any bearing on the poor. It’s doubtful that the core audience knew what the Prophet was saying.

Consider some other passages of Amos. Here’s Amos 8:11:

Behold, the days come, saith the Lord GOD, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD

God is angry with his people, they are so out of step with his ways, that the possibility of finding those ways are being dried up before their very eyes. He is so disgusted with their slackness and inability to see how unjust their practices have become that their prayers and their worship has become unbearable to hear. It would be like listening to someone’s prayers and thinking it was just babble.

God’s people don’t know this, but God is very upset with how out of sync they are with his purposes.

God’s Justice

When many American Christians think about God’s justice, they think of Sodom and Gomorrah, his wrath or the plagues in Egypt. Meaning they think of punishment. Someone is wrong and will be punished.

Yet the picture in Amos is very different. There is a dearth of God’s ways, compassion, kindness, self-control, humility, people seeking the God of people outside of their economic or social group, people seeking after holiness in body (sexually) and spirit, people cultivating love and deep affection. These things are absent and so God is gently feed-up with everything.

God can no longer work with his people so calamities must come in order to see if the experience of hardship might produce better fruit.

The dynamics are so strong that Amos has a word of caution to those who see these things. Amos 5:13

Therefore the prudent keep quiet in such times,
    for the times are evil.

Let’s not even begin to talk about what this might mean for the present day church. After all the council of Amos is wise, it is prudent to keep quiet in such times.

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. 

On Forgiveness

If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven. (John 20:23)

These are words of life. Not just words that express some ideal, these are words to put the nature of sin in oneself to death by. We are to be marked by mercy, by grace, by our forgiveness.

When we begin to delve deeply into this passage on forgiveness we begin to feel the weight of our obligation before God and each other. As we dig into this passage, we can no longer carry the words that we are more prone to carry. Words of indifference. The indifference that characterized the grave act of sin between Cain and Abel, when Cain murdered his brother, ‘am I my brother’s keeper?’

We realize that in the new reality, the new covenant, the life that starts and finishes with the author of life,  forgiveness is not a concept to just be past over. Left for the unskilled and the uninterested parts of our life to attend to.

When Jesus says to ‘seek first the kingdom of God,’ he means seek first, make it of primary importance. The first thing you think about when you rise, the last thing when you sleep, and in the countless moments throughout the day orient your lives towards God and God’s ways. If you try you’ll find how hard it is to live this life, and it will drive you to repentance and from repentance and mourning into the grace of his forgiveness. When we experience that kind of forgiveness we dare not hold the debts against those who have sinned against us. We forgive and repent so that no root of bitterness might take root. There is no time for merriment apart from God, taking a break from his ways and only returning to them for prayer. There is no full way of being human apart from the life of faith.

Seek first the kingdom, means to be deeply inwardly changed. To have the wellspring of life transform you. Not to change yourself, but to have God do work that only He can do. It’s not simply the absence of sin and evil but the presence of Life and even Life evermore.

Before the Children of God are sent off to the wilderness there is this interesting promise in the Book of Exodus:

“He said, ‘If you listen carefully to the Lord your God and do what is right in his eyes, if you pay attention to his commands and keep all his decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord, who heals you’ (Exodus 15:26).

The healer, the great physician, the God who does not change his character, his love or his nature. For in him we live in light ineffable.

Forgiveness removes us and our hurts from the center of the brokenness that we experience in our lives. Our need for forgiveness from God, reorients our experience of others. We are no longer the center of our own pain and wrongs committed on us, but instead we see ourselves as a fellow beggar in need of daily manna from heaven. It’s a type of humility that says if I were in the situation of another, I know that my character apart from God is of such a quality where I may have very well done the same. It makes us live into the reality that the only good things in this life are truly gifts from above, that apart from God we can do nothing.

So instead of things to be consumed, relationships become the gift of a good God. The maintenance and commitment of such a relationship depends on the Lord working in the relationship itself. If we are others oriented the Lord can use that to bring some remarkable and family like dynamics with those we love and are in relationship with. Apart from that we can still practice peace, patience, kindness, and the heavenly and holy fruits in all our relating, even if it is simply for a season.

Forgiveness is a balm that brings us into the reality of the frailty of others and our own frailty. True forgiveness frees us from ourselves and orients us back to the well-spring of Life which is Jesus.