Friday, May 27, 2016

The Burning Bush: Paying Attention and Asking Questions

I think I have always known the story about how God speaks to Moses through the burning bush.  That's what happens when you go to Sunday School. You hear the same stories over and over until they take on a tone of familiarity. And once you have the basics down, you tend to skim over the details.

Okay, maybe that's my own experience.  

As I'm going through the Bible, I'm trying to see new things, trying to notice the details that the Sunday School teachers may have glossed over in trying to present the story of God and humanity to small children. (By the way, this is in no way critical of my Sunday School education.)

So yesterday, I was reading about Moses and how he was shepherding his father-in-law's flocks in the desert when he decided to take the sheep to new territory. Who knows why he headed off to a new area. Was he bored? What he asking questions about his purpose in life? Was he wondering about the circumstances that had led him from prince of Egypt to shepherd watching someone else's flocks? Was he grateful his life had been saved? 

The Bible doesn't tell us. But it does tell us that he went to the other side of the desert, and while he was there, he saw flames. He went to check them out and discovered a bush burning, but to this was no ordinary fire.  He asks himself why the bush isn't totally burning up. That's what fires do. They burn things up and then they spread. This fire was doing neither of those things, and so he gets closer to check it out.  

And that's when the Special Messenger, the Holy God, speaks to Moses from the center of the bush.  

The rest of the story is pretty fascinating, but this is the part that stood out to me, maybe because I'm always asking myself how I can hear God's direction in my life more clearly. And so this is my takeaway from this short passage.   
  1. Moses goes someplace new. He does something a little out of the ordinary.  We're more likely to pay attention to our surroundings if they aren't completely familiar to us.   
I gravitate to the same places and do the same things the same way.  Not always, but mostly. This lowers my anxiety level and makes me feel in control. I don't have to think about what's new. I don't have to process what I see. I can just be. And while that's probably fine some of the time, if I don't venture into new places, I am probably missing opportunities to hear God's voice speak to me in new ways.  

      2.  Moses is paying attention! He notices something new, and he goes to check it out.  He's got questions, and he wants answers. 

He could have just said, "Hey! that's weird." But instead he moves closer.  I picture him circling the bush, examining it. It's always interesting to note that God doesn't speak to Moses until he approaches the bush. God doesn't call out, "Hey, Moses. Come over here." It's only when Moses moves toward God that God calls his name.  

Much of my life is lived in automatic pilot. I do the same things over and over. Facebook has a feature that reminds users of old posts from the same day. It was freaky how they could easily have been current posts. It's quite possible that I need to shake things up in my life.

Do I want to hear God? 
Do I want to make myself available to be used by him?  Do you? 
Are we more comfortable with the status quo? Why?

What holds us back from venturing into new territory? What keeps us from seeing what's going on around us? What prevents us from looking more closely? Asking questions? 

Of note, I tend to be a little fearful of heading in new directions, and it is reassuring to remember that Moses is too, but God uses him anyway. 

Monday, May 23, 2016

In the Beginning

My world revolves around me. 
It began the day I was born. 
Or perhaps the day I developed consciousness.
It's hard to see it any other way.  
And yet, when I see the world like this, 
I am wrong. 

In the beginning, God . . .
God created the earth. The sky. The stars. The sun.
God created the seas and the sea creatures. The land and the land creatures. 
God created humanity. 

And it was all good.  Until one day, humanity said, "I want to be like God." And then, in an attempt to be like God, humanity started to mess up the goodness. 
  • Eve disobeyed God.
  • So did Adam, but he blamed Eve. And God, who made Eve.
  • Cain killed his brother Abel.
  • Lamech killed someone else.
  • Violence spread, and God decided to destroy the earth.
  • He saved Noah, who did right. Except Noah didn't always do right, and he cursed his son with slavery.
  • And so on. And so on. Through the generations. People destroying the goodness God created. God intervening to set things right. People destroying the goodness God created, and God intervening to set things right. 
The story isn't about me. Or about Eve. Or Adam. Or Noah. Or any of the other people. In fact, when they saw the story as being about them, they totally messed things up. 

This story is about God. His goodness. His love. His mercy. 

Oh yes, I can learn about myself and what I should be doing and how I should live, but it's not my story. I am not the protagonist. And that's so hard because I am the only person whose thoughts I can hear in my head.  

Unless I learn to hear God's voice.  

The more I immerse myself in God's Word, His Scripture, the more I will hear God's voice. Which is kind of weird. But not.

The more I immerse myself in God's Word, His Scripture, the more I will see how God's story is still unfolding and how I can play a role in God's story.  I am not central. God is.  This is HIS story.  I am part of a larger narrative. 

It's not your story either. 
Together, we are part of this larger narrative. 

And so God leads, and we follow. Sometimes faithfully and sometimes not.
And when we get caught up in our own stories, we tend to mess things up.  Like Adam and Eve did. Like Cain did. Like Lamech did.

Ken Wytsma writes, "Life finds its harmony when we're centered on God, walking in faith, and experiencing the fullness of life He designed for us to experience."  

How can we do that? How can we get our eyes off ourselves and refocused on the true protagonist? 

To start with, we can read the story a new way, asking God to show us where He is at work and asking Him to give us power and courage to follow Him.   

It's not about me. 
It never is. 

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Well, it's been about a year. Time to start blogging again.

I should just let this blog go. I don't seem to be able to maintain it for more than a week. Or maybe a month. It seems like there's always something else to write. 

Lesson plans. Power points. Prompts. Handouts.  

And if I'm not writing for my students, I'm grading their papers.  

And if I'm not writing for my students or grading their papers, I'm trying to maintain healthy relationships with my family, my long-suffering husband Duane, my three adult children.  

And when I'm not doing any of those things, I'm tired, and I just don't want to do anything. I just want to shut down my brain and vegetate. Television is good for that.  

But most of my life is consumed with teaching, which I love.  I think I've always wanted to be a teacher. If tomorrow I won the lottery (which you have to play to win, so there's not much chance of that), I would still want to teach. Just not as much as I teach right now.  

The 2015-2016 school year has been brutal for me.  For a variety of very practical reasons, I took on eight classes for the semester. To give some context, five courses is considered full-time.  Eight classes was tough but doable as I only taught two courses and I was only at two schools. Plus, I believed this was a short-term thing and I would have a rest after the semester and Caitlin's wedding because I anticipated that I would have a very light spring schedule with only five classes.

I didn't think I would be back at SDSU again until fall.  Good news--they invited me back. Bad news--now I had eight classes again. This time I had five courses and I was at three schools. 

Long story short, after four weeks, I realized I was in over my head, and because two of the eight classes were short-term classes, I could give one away. I also made the decision at that time to take the summer off. 

And here I am. With a whole summer to breathe. 

I feel like I've been holding my breath for the last year, racing from here to there, trying to be the best teacher I can be, the best mom I can be, the best wife I can be.  

I haven't had time to be the best me I can be. I've lost touch with most of my friends. I've gained six pounds. I've stopped eating healthily. I haven't been to the dentist.  

In the hustle and bustle and the general busy-ness of trying to work to live and then finding out that I'm living to work, I have lost myself. In order to find myself, I need to look beyond myself because honestly, I'm only the best me I can be when I'm in touch with the one who made me.  

Spiritually, I'm worn out. I'm grateful God is gracious and merciful, but honestly, my heart for is not where I want it to be. I remember the days when I eagerly read God's word, when I memorized verses every week, when I joyfully sang along with worship music throughout the day. I felt God's presence throughout the day.  

I remember those days, and I wonder if they were real. And I wonder, if they were real, are they gone? 

By faith, I know that those days were real, and by faith, I know God is a God of restoration. I've been to the empty place before, and God has restored me.  

And I have a summer to breathe.  

Last summer's restoration process (I told you, I've been here before) included a 90-day Bible reading plan. Actually it took me about five months instead of three to get through the Bible, but I'm not sure the number of days matters at all. This was an amazing time of refreshing, of re-centering my life, not on my own crazy, mixed up story, but on God's story.

It was so great that I decided to go through the Bible again this summer.  

A lot of people say that reading the Bible rapidly doesn't allow for transformative meditation, important life change that can only happen when we focus on distinct words from God and intentionally allow them to seep into our lives. They say that can't happen when we are moving through Scripture rapidly.  

While I agree that it is essential to focus on individual passages and even verses and to apply them to our lives, I believe that the other type of reading also has value.  

When we go through Scripture rapidly, we get a sense of the continuity of God's story. We begin to get a holistic sense of what God is doing that can be missed if we only look at a few words.  

Thus, both types of reading have value, and something is lost if we don't prayerfully engage in both styles of reading. 

At any rate, I pulled out the reading plan in order to start today, I printed a copy, and was just about to start reading Genesis 1-12 and Psalms 1-2 when I remembered that last year, about a third of the way through the Bible, I wished I had been blogging my thoughts in response to the readings. 

And so here I am, creating context for what I hope will be a series of blogs that serve multiple purposes.

  • Reflecting on what God shows me about himself or His story or His story and my life allows me to record and remember these things for the future. 
  • Writing regularly improves my writing and inspires me to do more writing. 
  • Committing to a blog keeps me accountable to write and read. Just in case I think about quitting.  
I don't actually think anyone will read any of this, but I always write for an audience.  In a way, writing is a way of teaching, and my imaginary audience is a group of men and women who, for a variety of reasons, are also worn out trying to be the best they can.  They want a deeper relationship with God, but they're not sure how to go about it. They want something, but they're not sure what it is.  

Maybe I'm just writing for myself. It doesn't matter. 
Okay--off to Genesis.