A Vine of Grapes

September 23, 2022

Numbers 13, 14

Before we leave Moses, I would like to ponder one more story.  Moses was told by God to send some men to explore the land of Canaan that God was going to give to the Israelites.  Moses chose 12 men, one being Joshua who became the leader after Moses and another being Caleb.  These twelve men went forth to explore.  “When they reached the Valley of Eshkol, they cut off a branch bearing a single cluster of grapes. Two men carried the cluster on a pole between them.”  That was a huge cluster of grapes! A branch of a vine produces such a great blessing that it took two men to shoulder and carry.  Wow.  The blessing from the promises of God are that proportionally bigger than the bush that was not consumed, the staff that became a snake, that was held out over the Red Sea, that hit the rocks and that was the means of symbolizing God’s blessing as Moses obeyed.  Blessings are so much bigger than we can imagine! 

         God asks, “What’s that in your hand, Moses.”  What is in your hand, Reader?  It may only look like a tree or even part of a tree but when combined with the promises of God, it becomes a blessing that needs two people to carry.  12 spies returned with that cluster of grapes hanging from a vine but of those 10 could only focus on the size of the challenge they were going to face.  They became “grasshoppers” in their own eyes.  Two, Joshua and Caleb, focused on God’s blessing and begged the people to trust God.  The people grumbled yet one more time.  Consequently everyone over age 20 died in the wilderness and never saw the Promised Land.  The people wandered 40 years more.

     The life of Moses challenges me to consider if I focus on the trees and branches in my life to bring me blessings or if I focus on the seeming impossible situations facing me and then grumble rather than turning to God.  Lord, help me never to grumble about your ways and help me wait for the blessings.


“The Staff and the Rock”

September 22, 2022

Genesis 17:1-7

“Massah and Meribah”

The Israelite community continues their journey through the wilderness and again they find no water.  They do not seem to remember the lesson of Marah from yesterday.  The people quarrel with Moses, demanding water and accusing him of bringing them into the wilderness to kill them.  How short our memories are!!!  They have forgotten the slavery of Egypt.  They have forgotten the miracle of Marah.  They have forgotten the palms of Elim.  They are focused on their problems that have become insurmountable.  In despair and pain Moses turns to God, “What am I to do with these people?  They are almost ready to stone me.”  Moses is scared too.

         God tells Moses to go before the people with some elders and take his staff and stand before the rock at Horeb.  Numbers 20:1-13 records a similar incident.  Again the people are grumbling because of no water.  God tells Moses to take his staff and stand before the rock and speak to the rock this time and it will give water.  Moses is angry though.  He takes the staff and hits the rock twice.  Water flows but Moses has not trusted God and not honored him.  Moses will not enter the Promised Land as punishment.  Again it is called Meribah for arguing with God.

         The staff is not the source of the miracle! God is.  Often we think because God worked in one way then he will do the same thing again if we have the same problem.  God is not predictable that way nor controllable.  Our spiritual disciplines do not produce the relationship but are a means of relationship.  Some days the words of Scripture jump off the page and seem to directly apply to our situation but other days it is like reading a foreign language.  Some times of prayer are deep and comforting while others feel like God is busy and doesn’t have time for us.  Each moment is a new adventure with God.

         We see yet again that God is willing to work to resolve a problem but the people are still going to Moses and not to God. Moses is praying but applying an old procedure to meet a new situation that looks similar. 

         As we face our challenges today may we turn to God with eyes and ears and hearts open to see fresh ways to experience God’s power.  Blessings.


“Marah and Elim”

September 21, 2022

Genesis 15:22-27

            26 He said, ‘If you will listen carefully to the voice of the Lord your God, and do what is right in his sight, and give heed to his commandments and keep all his statutes, I will not bring upon you any of the diseases that I brought upon the Egyptians; for I am the Lord who heals you.’

Moses raised his staff and the Red Sea parted and the Israelites crossed over into the wilderness, the Desert of Shur.  They traveled for three days without water and came to the water of Marah.  Marah means bitterness.  Most of us know the feeling of bitterness.  When things don’t go the way we think they ought and we feel betrayed, it is so easy for our mouth to spout off words that perhaps should not have been said.  Or perhaps we break down and cry and have a genuine pity party feeling alone and vulnerable.  We are convinced we will die.  Genesis says the people “grumbled.”

         Moses cries out to the Lord.  Moses is accused and held responsible for the lack of water.  The people are grumbling and the leader is feeling cornered.  We have two pictures here and only you know which is more typical of how you respond to betrayal and disappointment.  Do you accuse and grumble or do you turn to God in prayer?   God opens Moses’ eyes and shows him a piece of wood.  Not a whole tree, just a piece of wood.  Moses throws it into the water and the chemical reaction turns the water sweet.    

         The picture that comes to my mind is a person who is being yelled at by a grieving person or even by an angry child.  Sometimes a lecture is not needed.  Just a hug.  Perhaps the simple words, “I love you” or “I’m sorry” will break the lie that the other is rejected and alone. Bitterness cripples.  Paul says in Hebrews 12:15,  ‘15 See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springs up and causes trouble, and through it many become defiled.”  A small piece of wood was thrown in the water and many hearts were changed and refreshed.  God can use little things in the hands of ordinary people like us to sweeten the bitterness another is experiencing.

         The people then came to Eli where they found twelve springs and 70 palm trees and they could camp, drink and refresh themselves.  God’s promises and his ways lead to life and refreshment.  Grumbling is a rabbit hole we don’t want to go down.  Let’s pray and give our disappointments and feelings of betrayal to God!


“Staff.2”

September 20, 2022

Exodus 6-11

Moses does go to Egypt, staff in hand, and confronts Pharaoh.  He throws the staff down and it becomes a snake but Pharaoh’s magicians can do the same trick.  He holds the staff over the Nile and the water turns to blood. Plague 1.  Pharaoh does not repent.  Moses has Aaron, his brother holds out the staff and frogs cover the land.  Plague 2.  Pharaoh does not repent.  Aaron uses the staff to strike the dust and gnats cover Egypt. Plague 3.  Pharaoh does not change.  10 plagues ruin Egypt before Pharaoh lets the Israelites go.        

         Moses saw a burning bush that was not consumed.  Moses carried a staff that could become a snake and when combined with God’s word brought plagues.  I wonder if Moses did not struggle with doubt and   discouragement?  Sometimes we do everything we think God has requested of us and life does not get better.  The miracle does not happen.  For all the times we forgive that wayward child, the child still turns a back to us.  For all the prayers for healing, the cancer grows.  For all the forgiveness we offer, the spouse walks away.  That does not even touch situations like war, famine and politics.  Bad things happen to good people and life is unfair.  That does not mean God is not at work.

         Moses does not give up during these plagues.  He does not throw his staff away or look for a shinier one.  He does not stop talking to God. We know the ending to that part of the story but Moses does not.  We do not know the ending to our story.  Like a tree that looks pretty much the same from same from day to day, often the situations we are immersed in feel like a slow growing tree.

         Today you may be facing a problem that just is not resolving. Maybe using the image of the tree can stimulate some prayers for how to water the situation, how to add a bit of manure, or how to trim.  Think creatively but never doubt that God is working through ordinary people like us and with ordinary tools like a staff.  Blessings.


“A Staff”

September 19, 2022

Genesis 4:1-5

“What is that in your hand?”

God chose a slave turned prince turned criminal turned shepherd turned 80 years old – Moses – to shine through and deliver the Israelites from their slavery in Egypt.  Not only was Moses old and had a complicated past but he sees a bush that shines with fire but is not consumed. Moses turns aside to check it out and enters a conversation with the Holy.

         God gives Moses an assignment.  Return to Egypt and tell Pharaoh to let the Israelites go.  The movies present Moses as a man entering into the presence of Pharaoh with a mission.  We might now say that Moses is “on fire.”  We use the idiom “on fire” to talk about literal burning or about a burning sensation as “my throat is on fire,” or to complement someone who is performing very well as in “he is really on fire tonight,” or it can even be used to talk about someone looking sexy.  Moses was focused, “on task,” ”on fire!”

         But there is first a give-and-take conversation between Moses and God.  Moses is not so sure he is the man for the job and tries to convince God to choose someone else.  Moses is wanted for murder and realizes return to Egypt will be problematic.  God lays out the plan but then God challenges Moses.  “What is that in your hand?”  Most has an ordinary staff, not even a whole tree, just a piece of a tree.  God did not need a whole tree, only the piece that Moses was used to using.  He tells Moses to throw it down and it becomes a snake.  He tells Moses to pick it us and it returns to being a staff.  This staff will be held out over the Red Sea, will hit a rock and be used in various other ways.  Moses only had to be willing to let God use him and his staff.

         I suspect often we think God wants to use the talented, the trained, the gifted or perhaps the wealthy.  But more likely God delights in using ordinary, broken people like you and me to work amazing acts that display his character.  He asks only one question, “What is that in your hand?”  While in Kenya, my friend visited her neighbor who had absolutely nothing in her house.  The woman had just returned from walking miles to fetch firewood and had yet to walk to haul water so could not offer her guest a cup of tea.  The woman begged my friend to accept a piece of firewood as a thank you for the visit to.  What do you have?  A smile, a glass of cold water, an email affirmation, a hug, a listening ear?  We all have something, perhaps not a staff, but something God can use.  We just have to be willing.  Blessings.


Shine

September 17, 2022

Exodus 3

Yesterday we pondered Moses and the burning bush.  Moses is caring for his herds and sees a bush that is on fire but does not seem to burn up.  He turns to check it out and God speaks to him, changing his life.  The Holy is able to shine through ordinary people like us, through ordinary objects like a bush, through ordinary experiences like a dream.  So many songs speak to the transformative power of love.  I love Josh Groban’s song “You Raise Me Up.”  The song might point to the love of a friend that encourages you to reach beyond yourself or to faith that enables you to try tasks greater than you thought yourself capable of.  In 1987 Graham Kendrick wrote this worship son that was voted tenth in a 2005 survey in the United Kingdom.  The bush in the Moses experience is ordinary but when used by God, it shines in a way that changes the world.  We are ordinary but God can use us.  Please enjoy this song today.


“the Bush that didn’t Burn”

September 16, 2022

Exodus 3

Then Moses said, ‘I must turn aside and look at this great sight,

and see why the bush is not burned up.’

400 years have passed since Joseph went to Egypt.  His father Jacob and his brothers and families followed and found refuge during a great famine.   In Egypt they grew to a great nation that created an immigration crisis.  Would the growing subculture take over?  We know how threatening the refugee crisis today and the posing challenges.  Pharaoh resolved the threat by making the descendants of Jacob into slave workers.  We now read the story of Moses that has been made popular in Hollywood. 

         Jacob’s name was changed to Israel when he returned with his many sons from serving his uncle.  His descendants were known as the Hebrews.  Moses, as a Hebrew child, was raised in the Pharaoh’s home (another story) but had to flee.  He reorganizes his life, marries and becomes a herdsman.   One day he sees a bush that is on fire but does not burn and decides to investigate.

         Moses sees the fire of God shining through this bush that does not burn and his life changes.  Sometimes we have life changing experiences that cause us to see life differently.  A driver signaled for me to cross the street as he was talking in his truck and not ready to move.  But the accelerator jammed, rammed me, throwing me into the air to land on my head.  I was not hurt.  The next morning I experienced color in a whole new way and I experienced God in a new way too.  I should have been killed according to spectators.  The bush should have been consumed by the flames.  Moses didn’t walk by but noticed.  And so Moses became the leader that led the people of Israel to the Promised Land.          In yesterday’s reading God spoke through a dream that used a tree.  Today’s story God speaks through a bush that should have burned.  God speaks to us through the ordinary objects in our life, even through us as we yield to his desires in our lives.  When we see something extraordinary, do we pull out our cameras for a picture, a selfie, or do we pause for a moment and listen for God’s voice.  A rainbow appeared minutes after the Queen died and many found great comfort in it.  Let us pray today that we will be aware when God is speaking to us in “the bushes that don’t burn” in our lives.


“”The Dream Tree”

September 15, 2022

Genesis 40

         Jacob had twelve children.  Judah was his fourth son by his first wife and Joseph was his first son by his second wife but was born after a long struggle with infertility so much younger than his older brothers.  Jacob loved Joseph as his favorite and that caused problems, sibling rivalry and jealousy.  The older brothers resented Joseph who had dreams he freely shared and interpreted as meaning he would rule his older brothers.  The brothers sold Joseph into slavery to Egyptians.  In Egypt he was falsely accused and thrown into prison.  In prison, he used his gift for interpreting dreams when the cupbearer and the baker for pharaoh were in prison with him.  The cupbearer dreamt of a vine with three branches that bore fruit whose juice the cupbearer gave to the pharaoh.  Joseph interpreted the dream to mean that in three days the man would be restored to his post.  He was!

            “14 But remember me when it is well with you; please do me the          kindness to make mention of me to Pharaoh, and so get me out of      this place.” Was Joseph’s request.

         The cupbearer was restored to his position but he forgot Joseph.  It was not until later when the Pharaoh had a dream that no one could interpret that the cupbearer remembered Joseph and recommended him to Pharaoh.  The Pharaoh’s dream predicted seven years of plenty to be followed by seven years of famine.  The Pharaoh was so impressed by Joseph, he put Joseph in charge of managing the agriculture of Egypt.

         Often we don’t remember our dreams.  Just because those three branches spoke to three days, does not mean every time we dream about branches they symbolize days.  Nor is every dream a vision or message from God.  The Holy Spirit does speak to us and lead us into deeper truths and sometimes chooses to communicate through dreams.  And often speaking to others about those things that are troubling us in our souls is a wise choice.  Many people keep a journal of their dreams. 

         Joseph gave credit to God for speaking through Pharaoh’s dreams and for giving him the interpretation.  His gift shot him into leadership and resulted in Jacob’s family moving to Egypt during the famine where they lived for 400 years and became a nation.  That is another story, though.

Today, let us spend time thanking God for speaking to us, sometimes in dreams!  Thank you Lord.  Help me to pay attention and give you the credit!


“The Walking Staff Speaks”

September 14, 2022

Genesis 38: 18, 25

            “25 As she was being brought out, she sent word to her father-in-law,          ‘It was the owner of these who made me pregnant.’ And she said,          ‘Take note, please, whose these are, the signet and the cord and the        staff.’”

Jacob, grandson of Abraham, had 12 sons.  The fourth son, Judah, by his first wife married a local woman of a different “tribe” and had three sons.  The first died without giving children to his wife Tamar who was then given to the second son who died and so she was promised to the third son.  But Tamar realizing that her plight was dismal took matters into her own hands. 

         This story is important because Jesus is of the tribe of Judah and Tamar is one of the four women mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus.  Tamar dressed like a prostitute and enticed Judah, taking his staff, his chord, and his seal as surety that Judah would send a goat to pay for her service.  Tamar became pregnant with twins, twin boys.  It was reported to Judah who was going to have her stoned as a harlot.  Tamar produces the seal, the chord and the staff as proof of the paternity of the babies.

         The staff identified Judah as the father.  The staff “spoke” to the duplicity of the situation.  This week I watched BBC report on the ceremonies in Scotland honoring the death of Queen Elizabeth II.  The camera focused on the mace of silver and gold that had been given by the Queen to the Scottish parliament as a symbol of their relationship.  We use walking sticks for hiking and they are a bit personal.  As an elder I use a cane sometimes.  It becomes part of me and necessary for when I am tired and need support.  Every young warrior a had a wooden “rungu”, a mace shaped stick with a large knot on the end that was decorated and represented him and was used to kill snakes or defend from enemies.  The Scottish mace had a name and represented the Queen’s authority and love for Scotland.  Judah’s stick identified him as the “author”, the father of the pregnancy.  That staff put Tamar in the genealogy!

         Perhaps you do not have a staff you use for hiking in the mountains or walking on the beach but I would suspect you have some sort of “walking stick” you lean on when tired.  Staffs are useful but we lean on friends, on chairs, or other items when we need help.  What would your own personal staff look like?  What truths would the staffs in our lives testify to, I wonder.  I pray it does not bring up memories of unjust beatings but brings images of comfort and justice.  We all have times when we need something or someone to lean on.  I would suggest that Christ is our most reliable walking stick and he always sees the good.


“Poplar and Almond Branches”

September 13, 2022

Genesis 30: 37-43

Abraham had Isaac and Isaac had Jacob.  Jacob was a twin, the younger twin.  I have twin boys so I love the very real stories of sibling rivalry between these two brothers.  They were fraternal.  Esau was the red, hairy one, interested in the outdoors.  Jacob, the younger twin, was born grabbing his brother’s heel so was named “the grabber,” and he was an inside person.  True to his name Jacob deceived his brother out of the blessing of the first born and had to flee across the desert to his uncle.  He is deceived by his uncle and ends up with two wives whom he paid the bride price for by working.  Jacob made an agreement with his uncle.  All the solid colored sheep and goats would be the uncle’s and the speckled and spotted and streaked ones would be his.  Jacob took poplar and almond branches and cut strips in them and placed the stripped branches in front of the water holes so that as the animals mated they saw the stripes and bore striped young.  Jacob became rich in herds.  Tension is mounting.

         As Jacob’s herds increase, the uncle becomes jealous and feels wronged.  Jacob makes a plan with his family to flee to his home country and it is at this point that Jacob shares, Genesis 31:10-13, that he had a dream where he finally gives God the credit for the breeding plan. God had seen the injustice Jacob was experiencing.  The poplar and almond branches were not magic but were symbolic for a wise breeding program God gave Jacob.  A geneticist could explain this better but the point is not that good breeding strategy produces good herds.  I think the point is that God sees the injustices we suffer and can use something as small as a branch of a tree to direct the path of our lives. 

         Perhaps it seems insignificant at the time but the small choices we make have ripple affects that impact history.  Perhaps it is like an earthquake in Hawaii starting a tsunami wave that hits the coast of California.  Or perhaps the decision to help a stranger or forgive an offense bears results we are unaware of.  Small actions that may seem unimportant but which are done in obedience to God, may often result in blessings we cannot even imagine now.  The science behind the act may not make sense but the presence of God makes a difference.  May we faithfully listen for that still, small voice that nudges us in a direction that will eventually bless many.  Thank you Lord for speaking into our lives and seeing!