Whew! What a weekend! My kids are gone (Clayton made it to Ukraine & Emily is at Hume Lake) and I am exhausted. My friend Lauren and I had a “mini-vacation today and went to the beach. It was super fun and ended with a Key Lime cupcake at Sprinkles which was TDF!
I have several older posts which I never published so you will need to look backward in the next few days to see them. For now I am working backward!
Sunday I had the odd sensation that it was 10 years ago and I was in ministry. Tired. Working hard to get the task finished well. Loving people. Serving, fully spent and filled simultaneously. But it wasn’t long ago! It was this weekend and I was helping out at church, on a time clock, feeling guilty and hindered, yet blessed to be stepping up to the plate and pinch hitting, no matter how out of practice I am! I was trusted with the junior high and high school students who didn’t go to camp.
The summer theme is “The Hunt”, God’s relentless pursuit of an intimate relationship with his creation; Ezekiel 34:11 says, “For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I, myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out.” I was asked to focus on the example of that pursuit by the example of Abraham and the Israelites. So here is what I said, in a nutshell (without the personal jokes and stories) :
1. God Wants Relationship
The entire history of God’s relationship can be summed up in one word – Hesed. Hesed is the Hebrew word for lovingkindness, mercy, devotion, reliability and commitment. This word often gets translated as love but that is too narrow of a definition. Hesed is the consistent, ever faithful, relentless and unrestrained, lavish and extravagant one way love of God. God is actively pursuing a repair for our broken relationship with him. His pursuit of Abraham is a great example. Can you imagine? Abraham was living in a town in the middle east called Ur when God Almighty tears apart the heavens, taps this one man on the shoulder and whispers I love you. I want to be your friend. Then this Holy God makes a covenant, a promise and a bond which shows His intention and activity to redeem us. There are at least 6 covenants in the Bible. This is first with one man to redeem the whole earth through Abraham’s offspring.
Scott wanted me to use the story in Genesis 22 of Abraham being asked to sacrifice Isaac. I have this image from my picture Bible as a kid of this father with a Duck Dynasty beard towering over his helpless child with a big knife. I was not sure why we needed such a morbid method to test our faith. I was very baffled that God would come up with such an idea and that Abraham would agree to such a violent act. I still wonder at times, even though I can see the symbolism with the sacrifice of God’s only Son, Jesus. What I can say is that God wants the kind of relationship that is personal and committed. Of all the times, places, and families God chose you. He chose me. It is a friendship that does not demand all the answers but recognizes that each day is a gift and an adventure. Tested faith grows that relationship as we lean into his Hesed.
2. God Takes Initiative
God is not an idea. He is a person that we get to know better and better. Moses is a great example . He knew who God was – His sister Miriam (the real hero of the story …haha) saved him as a baby. He knew his heritage in spite of growing up in Pharoah’s house. We know this because he saw the mistreatment of a Jewish slave and killed the Egyptian. Then he ran for his life into Midian, which is not even on a GPS! He settles down there into a new rhythm. He gets married, raises kids and takes up shepherding. Forty years after hiding out, Moses is not looking for God at all. He wakes up on day 14,600 and expects it to be just like day 14,599. But it is not a “normal” day. God does something unusual to meet Moses and Moses finds himself looking at a burning bush.
Look at Exodus 3:1-6.
Now Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian, and he led his flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God.2 And the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. 3 And Moses said, “I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.”4 When the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.”5 Then he said, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” 6 And he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.
What I want you to see is actually a tiny part of the story. God catches Moses up into His bigger purposes of redemption of His people but look at the last part of verse 6. Moses knew God but was afraid. Now fast forward another 40 years! Look at Ex. 33. God took the initiative. He pursued Moses. Moses went from being afraid to looking at God to not wanting to go anywhere without Him. He spoke face to face in an intimate friendship. For each of us, that is the joy of a relationship that God wants and begins with each of us!
11 The Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. When Moses turned again into the camp, his assistant Joshua the son of Nun, a young man, would not depart from the tent.
12 Moses said to theÂ Lord, “See, you say to me, ˜Bring up this people, but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. Yet you have said,˜I know you by name, and you have also found favor in my sight.
13 Now therefore, if I have found favor in your sight, pleaseÂ show me now your ways, that I may know you in order to find favor in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people.
14 And he said, “My presence will go with you, andÂ I will give you rest.”
15 And he said to him, “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here.
16 For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us,so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?”
17 And the Lord said to Moses, “This very thing that you have spoken I will do, for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.”
18 Moses said, “Please show me your glory.”
3. God chases after us and won’t let go – EVER.
We could look at any number of stories of the Israelites to get this point! No matter what God did for them, they did not “get it” because it wasn’t on their terms. They were never convinced of God’s Hesed because things had not gone their way! Just like them we often tell God how to help us rather than trusting him that he knows best. The question they asked over and over was “How have you loved us?” The very existence of the people of God is the clearest evidence of the Love of God – in spite of themselves, their sin, their enemies!
God often doesn’t get the credit for His Hesed! We don’t even notice it! Think about the Israelites and some of the ways God showed them how he loved them:
- He chose them to be a kingdom of priests
- He gave them the Bible and the world a history book, as well as the temple, the land, prophets, covenants, Jesus.
- visual signs
- protection and care
- unbroken promises
- answered prayers and blessings
And yet they never saw God’s active and everlasting initiative. Have you ever learned a new word and then all of a sudden you hear it all the time, when you never had before? You notice something that was there all along, but you were not aware of it? That is what the people of God could not see and what we often are in danger of doing as well. We don’t recognize God’s hand in our lives. We want His choices to be what we choose. We sin and rebel and ignore and live entitled lives, yet God keeps chasing us and forgiving us and showering us with His Hesed.
Turn to Philippians 3 and listen to this cheesy illustration. Imagine that you are on a trail backpacking and you fall off the side and happen to grab on to a branch. You are hanging on for dear life, when your rescuer shows up (Jesus) and he reaches over and grabs on to your arms. He tells you to let go of the branch and grab onto him so he can pull you to safety. The rest of your existence is dependent on you letting go and grabbing on to him so he can save you. That is exacting what Paul describes in Philippians!
12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take holdÂ of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
The people of God did not recognize God’s pursuit because it wasn’t the way they wanted it. Isn’t that just like us too? Life everyday is a chance for us to show that God is central to our lives. We are living stories of how the Holy breaks into our world, shows up in relentless pursuit, chases us, hugs us, changes us. Most of us tend to see things out of our control as an interruption and yet while we were yet sinners, while we were hanging on for dear life God shows up and says, “hang on to me. I am not ever letting go of you” ! Jesus took hold of us first and he is never letting go!
God wants a relationship – a personal friendship and he takes the initiative and then he never lets go! Wow!