Wandering Through Exodus

Friends, I have to come clean about following the bible reading plan I have selected.  Some days the readings are powerful, they bring clarity and strike me in exactly the place I need. Other days, I want to skim. Do I really need to study the lineage? Is it critical that I read again all about the dimensions of the tabernacle? Cubits and the number of curtains, the specifics of the lampstand, the need for acacia wood? C’mon, we all know these passages are not really for us, let’s get to the “don’t worry” parts, I want the “follow me” nuggets. The readings assigned the last few days made my eyes water and my mind wander. With great sighs of martyrdom, I crossed off each reading when “completed” and hurriedly moved on to the new testament. Yet today, when I slowed down and really looked, sure there must be some point I was missing, some truth amidst all the repletion of how to build that tabernacle, it hit me. I stopped groaning so loudly that I was able to hear God speaking to me.

I can admit that I have always wondered about a God who wanted an ornate space in which to dwell, a fancy site to come down from on high to chat with Moses.  Wouldn’t those gold earrings be better given to the poor? A bit showy and wasteful, hard to reconcile with the teachings of Jesus, in my mind. (Yes, I am that person questioning the expensive oil poured out to wash feet.) Then today it hit. God asked the people to offer all the materials to make the tabernacle. The items needed to build it already were in the possession of the people, they merely needed to offer them up to God, share them for the good of all the people. I am sure you already got this, you might be filled with the desire to say, “Duh, Lisa” and I am good with that. I encourage you to say so when next we meet.

Exodus 35.21 says: “Then everyone came whose heart was stirred and everyone whose spirit was willing and they brought the Lord’s offering for the work of the tabernacle” Verse 29 says: “The children of Israel brought a freewill offering to the Lord”   This text is in line with the new testament section I am reading, Matthew 6.19, remember that part about storing up our treasures?  God didn’t want a fancy dwelling for His sake, but for ours, that it might be built with our sacrifice. Lightbulb moment! God knew what each person was storing up, the bits of treasure they hide form their fellow travelers. I get it, they were wandering around in the desert, they relied on the manna and quail that appeared, those gold earrings and fine tapestries were 401(k)s for former slaves. They gave up stability even if it was cruel in order to journey into daily reminders of just how little control they had, how small they were and how big God is.

We too are asked to give our most prized possessions to build His kingdom, we are invited to offer up the treasure we amass, whether it is is our gold earrings or our pride, our money or our artistic gifts, we must give those to the One who gave them to us in the first place. God is in the details of our wealth, our security, our big tv and our artfully arranged book shelves. God wants us to offer up every last bit of what we have in order to build His kingdom. Those gifts are not to make Him bigger, but to make us smaller, to make room for more of Him in us. The people gave according to their abundance and it was more than enough to build the tabernacle. More than enough.  God said share your wealth and I will reside among you. I am embarrassed to say that in countless readings of the later chapters in Exodus, I didn’t get it until now.

Lent has begun, the season of sacrifice. We are asked to wander with Jesus and discover that less is more, that clearing out the clutter of too much chocolate or Netflix or pride creates more room for God. I am searching my soul for those bits I have stored up, for anger and hurts I wear like fine jewelry, for the self-doubt that I allowed others to nurture into robes of splendor. I am doing some soul searching and finding out-dated ideas and too-small dreams that I have held on to in order to justify timid steps into becoming a kingdom builder. I have also found too many bags of chocolate chips hidden in the pantry, but I digress. Or maybe not. Because God is into the details, is in the details.  Skimming over the boring parts of a reading plan or of my day means I just might miss the message. Also, the book of numbers is next… Lord help me.

Re-reading an Old Book, Becoming a New One

It occurred to me that January was the perfect time to begin not an exercise program or a new diet or a resolution to get my home organized again, but to read through the bible again. Last year I joined a reading challenge, something that wasn’t a stretch for me but more a plan to keep track of what I read and I easily met the goal of 52 books. The new year offers many opportunities to set goals to better ourselves but it had been several years since I made the commitment to read the bible each day, something that is probably a given for my fellow Christians. Somewhat sheepishly I will admit that scripture hasn’t been on my “must read” list for several years. I was content to listen each week in church, giving one hour out of 168 to absorb the Word of God and then going about my business. This year though, I have dedicated the first 15 minutes of each day to this practice, following a reading plan I first used in 1996 that ensures I will have covered the bible by year’s end. What I am discovering won’t surprise anyone, least of all those who habitually begin their day with a devotional, who start each year reading the bible again.  The old stories are bringing fresh understanding of our world today, of the ways God wants me to move forward, and clarity to relationships and opportunities. That 15 minutes each day is shaping the other 23 hours and 45 minutes.

With all of my social work and psychology training, I know that children re-experience trauma as they develop, that each new developmental phase into adulthood has them adjusting and making sense of their own stories, to fit into higher levels of thinking and greater understanding of emotions. As a child of God, I need to re-experience the stories shared in the bible anew, my lens has changed, shaped by loss and my steps toward regaining hope. I can truthfully tell you that I figured I knew the books of Genesis and Exodus well enough that a bit of skimming wouldn’t hurt. Instead I have found richness in the lives of some folks that just didn’t seem remarkable in previous readings. The Psalms have always been a source of comfort but now I am underlining different sections, ones that didn’t speak to me directly in the past. The Gospel of Luke has me thinking more about the disciples than ever before. Yes, I am re-experiencing the stories of old friends and finding many new ones, but more than that I am thinking about what the next edition of the bible would say about my life and choices.

What if this is just the first edition, what if the second installment of the story of God’s people is being written even as we speak? Would my life be worthy of mention? Would my story be a cautionary tale or an example of what happens when grace is offered? Will readers 2000 years from now read of my mistakes and think snuggly that they would have of course recognized Jesus as He stood before them, unlike me who misses signs all the time? Will those reading the next edition question why I don’t get that God is speaking to me, that the bush is on fire, that the road is being paved and yet I move forward so fearfully? I whisper “here I am” rather than shout it out? I wonder if my story will be a highlight, an example of caring for the poor and the oppressed. Maybe it will be a tale of one who was given much and yet little return was seen for the Kingdom of God. I am beginning to think a diet plan would have been easier.

Friends, what would the next edition of the bible, the story we are writing with our lives this very day, say about your walk? Give yourself grace if it isn’t the story you want recorded and then start living into your redemption chapter. Maybe you have it all figured out and are pleased with the words on these new pages, yet I encourage you to go  even more boldly into sharing your riches. We each have a story that is being written with every choice we make, will you join me in making today the one worthy of the highlights?


When We Seek to Cover Our Tracks

Luke 22 The Message (MSG)

The Passover Meal

22 1-2 The Feast of Unleavened Bread, also called Passover, drew near. The high priests and religion scholars were looking for a way to do away with Jesus but, fearful of the people, they were also looking for a way to cover their tracks.

3-6 That’s when Satan entered Judas, the one called Iscariot. He was one of the Twelve. Leaving the others, he conferred with the high priests and the Temple guards about how he might betray Jesus to them. They couldn’t believe their good luck and agreed to pay him well. He gave them his word and started looking for a way to betray Jesus, but out of sight of the crowd.


Friends, this has been a heavy week.  The news of the death of Kobe, followed by the realization that his young daughter was lost as well, then more clarification of other children and moms and another dad, the pilot, all tapped into my own grief at the loss of my son and threatened to send me spiraling back to bed, devoid of hope. Next came Holocaust Remembrance day and with it the awareness that 6 million people were lost to us forever, that families were devastated and destroyed and our world will forever be gutted. The weight of loss, the anger at those who chose not to speak up for the marginalized, where could I possibly find hope again? When death comes to those who have achieved greatness and those whose names aren’t know outside of their families alike, the capriciousness of it all leaves me with little reason to believe that one person can really impact the greater good. With our very democracy threatened, seriously, what is the point? Unable to make sense of my grief and despair, I wanted to lay down. Instead, I went to Temple.   As a Jesus follower, seeking out the voice of our local Rabbi may cause many to wonder if  I have lost my way or my mind. It is possible that I have it all wrong, that I should stick with my traditions and not stray from the path that has led me back into hope. Yet I heard the invitation from God to go worship with people who know loss also, who understand how to find hope in the darkest of days, who keep showing up to do the work God has put before them. I want to temple and rediscovered hope.

The scripture readings this week in the book of Luke illustrate again and again that we live in a fallen world, that our basic humanity causes us to put pride over humility, the times we seek our own comfort over the needs of others, how we let our weariness win over doing the next right thing. The chief priests and scribes wanted Jesus gone but didnt’want anyone to know they were pulling the strings behind the scenes. Under the cover of secrecy they conspired to do evil and lured in Judas, a character we often mock as a sellout who could be bought so easily, cheaply. We have people in power today who are also conspiring behind the scenes, who want to alter the course of our country, who want to divide families and cage children and lock up people of color and defund our schools and and and. It is just too much, that people with money and influence can control the rest of us. But the plan always requires a Judas, someone to carry out evil, someone on the inside, someone to take the blame, someone who can be persuaded against all they know to be true. I have to wonder if I am that person? Is the currency used to buy my soul dispair? Can I allow my heart to harden to the needs of those around me, allow it to be starved of hope, crushed by fear and desperation?  I want to be one of the 11 disciples, not Judas, but how tempting it is to close down, shut out, give up, retreat. Such actions are as cheaply purchased as the small bits of silver handed over to the one who would betray God.

I can’t promise to always make the choice to stand up to evil, yet for one more day I said no to hate and hopelessness and I went to temple. I heard a beautiful message about deep hope, a coming together to help carry the load that recognizes the trauma of today and offers support to deal with today.  Not based on some utopian idea that tomorrow will be better, that young people will not die from tragic accidents or from addictions, that people in power will vote for the greater good, that black mothers can let go of fear every time their children walk out the door.  A deeper hope, that we will come together today and do the next right thing, that we will speak up for those who have no voice, that we will refuse to be filled with hate and we won’t sell our brothers and sisters out for shiny pieces of glory or social status.

I want to temple and was reminded that our God gives us a new chance to embrace his children with every sunrise. Together we can restore our deep hope, we can agree to share our heartaches and our celebrations and show up even when we are too tired.  Today I am praying for you all, that you might find the strength to reject the evil being offered. Won’t you pray for me as well? Let us chose today as the one where we seek not to cover our tracks but instead to pave the way so all can travel smoothly.