Perspective of Abundance

Read Exodus 16:11-18

There exist many times in life when two opposing views present themselves. These views are usually based upon our perception. Is the glass half full, or is it half empty? This question is often quoted to show the concepts of pessimism and optimism. We also eventually realize that life generally resides somewhere in the middle of opposing views.

In the familiar passage for today, we see this challenge of contrasts. The Israelites are seeing their lives solely from the perspective of what they do not have. This perspective leads to complaining and an amnesia in regards to all which the Lord has given them. God shows the people abundance in quail and manna. They had all that they needed, and an abundance remained.

We can often have a perspective like the Israelites. We look at the world around us, complaining about all the things we do not have. Quickly, we can forget what we have thanks to the love, grace, and mercy of our Lord. All of which we truly need is provided by our God, and there is an abundance to share with others. Let each of us strive to achieve an attitude of abundance. If we succeed, it might just lead to less complaining and more gratitude.

Equipping the Called

Read Exodus 3:7-14

Have you ever been asked to do something for which you feel underqualified? Maybe you have not had enough training or any training for the task. You lack the confidence in your knowledge or abilities. You politely refuse but the person who is making the request will not accept an answer of no from you. The next step you take may be to ask clarifying questions so you have some sense of understanding and authority as you endeavor to complete the assignment.

Moses had a feeling of inadequacy. During his encounter with God in the burning bush story, we find a conversation which may be familiar if you were in a situation like was described above. God has told Moses that after seeing the Israelites’s misery, God is sending Moses to Egypt to lead the people to a wonderful land. Moses points out that he lacks any authority to approach Pharoah and demand the release of the Israelites. God assures Moses that God will be with him. Then Moses brings up the concern that he also lacks any authority with the Israelites so they may not follow him. God instructs Moses to tell the people that God, Yahweh, I AM has sent him. God gives everything Moses needs to do what needs to be done.

The lesson of Moses is valuable to us when we are given a task by God. Unlike Moses, most often God chooses the voices of people around us to call us. Others come to us requesting that we take on a role, a responsibility, or a task. We may feel inadequate to respond in the affirmative but if this is a God call, we will be equipped. One of my favorite sayings in regard to doing God’s work goes something like this, “God does not call the equipped, God equips the called.” Whatever we need to fulfill a calling by God will be supplied by  God.

Humble Beginnings

Read Exodus 2:1-10

The birth of a newborn is an absolutely amazing experience. The lives of the parents change dramatically. In many situations the birth signals a new beginning with an endless amount of possibilities. One, or both, of the parents may wonder what is in store for this new life. Maybe this child will become President of the United States or the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Perhaps this new one will be the scientist who discovers a cure for cancer or the physician who perfects a spinal cord regeneration surgery. This baby might become the person who writes the box office success which remains on Broadway for fifty years or the painter who created a masterpiece that hangs in the Louvre one day. The possibilities are endless no matter the circumstances of the beginnings.

Our passage for today comes from Exodus and tells the story of a child’s beginnings. The Israelites were living in Egypt after having fled famine in their native land. The opportunity came from the unfortunate selling of Joseph into slavery by his brothers. (But that is another story to tell.) Over time the leadership of Egypt changed and the Israelites became servants and workers for the Egyptians. They were considered by the Egyptians to be second class. Social rules were established to keep a separation between the two groups of people. Into this, a baby boy is born. His Hebrew mother saw a bleak future for him so she arranged a plan to have Pharaoh’s daughter find him. The plan worked brilliantly and Pharaoh’s daughter adopted the boy. She gives him the name Moses.

From one of the humblest beginnings, a powerful servant leader of God’s people emerges. Moses’s story is truly amazing as he rises and falls in stature, only to rise again. The story of Moses’s start serves as a reminder to us that no matter the circumstance of our birth or the events of our lives, we are capable of having a meaningful impact on the lives of others. We may not become the leader of a nation which we deliver out of captivity but we still can be a part of changing the direction of someone’s life. We may be the one who inspires someone else to alter the course of a nation. The possibilities are endless and timeless.

No matter how your life began or what events have shaped you, remember what you do today can be the most world  altering act for others. In God, there is always greatness in each one of us. Today may be the day in which you change history. Seek what the Lord has planned for you today whether you feel worthy or not.  Moses’s mother did.

Complaining

Read Exodus 16:1-3

Are you more of an optimist or a pessimist? When given a challenge, do you see it as a problem or an opportunity to learn? For many of us, it often depends on the specifics of the situation as to where we fall along the line between these options. During times of challenge and struggle, the temptation to look back and view our previous circumstances in a grandiose way is real.

This passage regarding the Israelites occurs in the midst of their journey from Egypt to the Promise Land. God had appointed Moses to be their liberator and guide. The people had suffered under the current Pharaoh which led them to cry out to God for help. God sends Moses to negotiate the release of the Israelites and when that fails God allows Pharaoh and all of Egypt to suffer until Pharoah relents. Then God protects and saves the Israelites when Pharoah pursues them. Now they are in a location where food is scarce, the weather is uncomfortable and they are becoming weary of the journey. As people are prone to do, the Israelites begin complaining. They blame Moses for all of their woes. They view their time in Egypt to have been much better than their current circumstances. They forget the suffering which they had experienced while in Egypt.

We can often fall into the same trap which the Israelites did in the story of their exodus. Our memories can be altered by our current circumstances. The “good old days” in our memories often remove the negatives of our situation in those times. Instead of being grateful for what God has done to bring us where we are, we complain about the challenges which we now face. Our memories fail us about how we begged God for help and now we ridicule the help which we have received.

Each step of our journey contains positives and negatives. We have an opportunity to grow with each challenge facing us. Our God is with us on the journey, ready to assist whenever needed. Let us be grateful for each step of our journey. Let us remember how the Lord has taken us from where we were to where we are now. Trust that the Lord is already preparing us for the next step. May complaining be transformed into rejoicing.

Move On

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Tell the Israelites to turn back and encamp near Pi Hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea. They are to encamp by the sea, directly opposite Baal Zephon. Pharaoh will think, ‘The Israelites are wandering around the land in confusion, hemmed in by the desert.’ And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them. But I will gain glory for myself through Pharaoh and all his army, and the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord.” So the Israelites did this.

When the king of Egypt was told that the people had fled, Pharaoh and his officials changed their minds about them and said, “What have we done? We have let the Israelites go and have lost their services!” So he had his chariot made ready and took his army with him. He took six hundred of the best chariots, along with all the other chariots of Egypt, with officers over all of them. The Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt, so that he pursued the Israelites, who were marching out boldly. The Egyptians—all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots, horsemen and troops—pursued the Israelites and overtook them as they camped by the sea near Pi Hahiroth, opposite Baal Zephon.

10 As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them. They were terrified and cried out to the Lord. 11 They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? 12 Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!”

13 Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. 14 The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”

15 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on.

Exodus 14:1-15 (NIV)

Back in the day when almost every house had a phonograph of some form, it was common for records to skip or get stuck in an endless loop. The cause could be food or drink being spilled on the record, or a scratch forming due to the record player being bumped while playing, or possibly a particle being in the grooves of the record. When these times would arise, there were a few options available to the listener. You could gently nudge the phonograph or the arm holding the needle. You could remove the record and gently clean it. Or you could purchase a repair kit and attempt to fix the issue. A person had to do something because losing part of a song or being caught in an endless loop was not acceptable.

As the Israelites journeyed from Egypt to the new land which God had promised them, they quickly got caught in an endless loop of fear and complaining. The portion of their journey which we find in Exodus today presents one of those times of fear and complaining. After leaving Egypt, God instructs Moses where the people are to encamp. God says that Pharoah will pursue them. Pharoah and the officials change their minds about letting the Israelites go so they pursue them. The Israelites shout out in terror as they see Pharoah and his army approaching. They complain about  being led out of Egypt. Moses assures the people that God will protect them. God has Moses tell the people to stop crying out and move on.

There are times in our lives when God needs to deliver to us the message given to Moses to deliver to the Israelites. We can become like the Israelites, caught up in a loop of fear and complaining. We need to be told to just move on. Continually crying out for relief does not always lead to improving our situation. Instead, moving forward can alter our circumstances enough to provide new opportunity and new hope. Thank goodness we have a God who is eager to lead us out of our ruts. Thank goodness we have a God who will send someone to bump us out of an endless cycle of fear and complaining.

Repurposing

Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.”

When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!”

And Moses said, “Here I am.”

“Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.”

Exodus 3:1-5 (NIV)

Repurposing of items has become a true decorator’s unique talent. If you watch HGTV, many of the shows which involve an aspect of interior design feature at least some amount of repurposing. There even was a television show, Flea Market Flip, which features two teams who are given money, three projects and an hour to shop. The teams repurpose their purchases before bringing them to a flea market to sell. The team which achieves the largest profit is the winner. Taking something and changing it for a different use is creative. This may be done for economical reasons or to achieve a certain goal.

The Lord repurposes items regularly. Jesus takes bread and wine from the Passover meal and repurposes them to assist believers in remembering the giving of his body and blood. In the passage for today, God repurposes two items, a bush and the ground around the bush. God uses the bush to get Mose’s attention and for a communication tool. The ground is used to raise the significance of the words God would share with Moses. By transforming the ordinary, a holiness becomes attached to the items. The unique presence of the Lord at these times is what causes the ordinary to become holy.

This continues even today. A Bible is just a book with pages and words until we invoke the presence of the Spirit into our reading of it, then it becomes Holy. The elements of bread and drink are ordinary food items until we request the presence of the Lord at the table and then they become a Holy remembrance. The water is an element which comes from a sink tap until we seek the Lord’s blessing on it and then it becomes a symbol of sins washed away and a seal of acceptance into the family of the Lord. The place where we sit or stand is like any other until we acknowledge the Lord being present then it becomes a Holy place of retreat, learning and rest. The Lord can also repurpose our work and make it Holy work. 

Look for God’s repurposing in your life.  Then take off your shoes because you are standing on Holy ground.

Spiritual Library

Every day when I take my daily walk, I walk past a playground area near my home. On one side of this playground is a little lender library which seem to be appearing throughout neighborhoods all across the country. These are a great addition to our neighborhoods. If you are not familiar with this concept, they are small wooden boxes with a door which has a glass inset and shelves. People place books they have already read into these and if a child or adult is looking for a book to read, they can go pick out one and take it home to read. People are encouraged to add a book if they take one and/or return the book after they are finished reading it. Some of these can be very creative in the size and shape which they take.

As I was walking today, I glanced over at the little lender library. A question came into my mind. If I were to create a lender library for someone wanting to grow in faith, what would I include?

When I designed curriculum for young individuals wishing to confirm their faith and be commissioned as members of the congregation, I had a list of items which I felt were important for them to know. I have never been a huge proponent on memorizing Bible verses or other faith documents but I thought there were a few vital pieces which required memorization. My goal was that if the person was ever in a situation where they needed guidance, one of these items might surface in their mind and be a tool which could be beneficial.

So here are the items which I found to be important and which I would include in my spiritual lender library:

  • A copy of the Lord’s Prayer – This prayer provides a template for those new to, or struggling with, prayer. It provides the basic focus of prayer and can be a launching pad to our own prayers.
  • A copy of the Apostles’ Creed – Like the Lord’s Prayer, this creed is a template for articulating a person’s faith. This can also serve as a summation of the beliefs which underlines the faith which has existed for centuries. Someone exploring what Christians believe can look at this creed for a basic understanding and a basis to start creating questions which can be explored with other believers and on their own.
  • A copy of Matthew 6 – So the person can understand where the basis for the Lord’s Prayer originates and place it in context.
  • A copy of Exodus 20 – Here a person can gain insight into what has come to be known as the Ten Commandments. These words provide a basis for how we are to respond to God and our relationship with God. Contained here also is the understanding we are to have regarding our relationships with other people in our lives.
  • A copy of Luke 15 – This chapter from Luke’s gospel contains the story of the prodigal son. This is a story of selfishness, forgiveness, reconciliation, and love. I find this story important enough to be one that if a person cannot remember anything else, this story is the one that remains. My reasoning is that we all experience times of wanting to break out on our own and explore possibilities. We make mistakes and choices that are not beneficial for us. We eventually realize that we need to return “home” and hopefully in a more humbled state than when we left. This story reminds us that our Lord stands waiting for that return. When we do return there is not judgment but instead an outpouring of love and reconciliation which is like attending a magnificent banquet in our honor.
  • A copy of Matthew 28 with verses 16 through 20 highlighted – For anyone wishing to know what a believer in Christ is supposed to do with their life, this passage answers the question. Frequently known as the Great Commission, this passage tells every person that in whatever way fits their skills and abilities, they are called to go and share their story along with what they have learned in their faith so far.
  • A copy of 1 Corinthians 11 with verses 23 through 26 highlighted – Here we find one copy of the words used in the institution of holy communion. Holy communion is one of the key sacraments in the Christian Church. Realizing that words used for this portion of a worship service were randomly chosen but have their basis in Scripture helps to strengthen their meaning.
  • A copy of Matthew 22 with verses 24 through 40 highlighted – Jesus’ response to the question of “what is the greatest commandment?” is found in these verses. Christianity is often given the same criticism which is applied to Judaism – it is just about rules. In Jesus’ response, it is made clear that our faith is not about following rules as much as it is about loving God and loving one another.

This would be the start of my spiritual lender library. What would you place in yours?

Enough?

When is enough enough?

This seems to be a question which infiltrates all aspects of life. The onset of consumerism since the Industrial Age has led to a viewpoint that a person can never have enough. In the Spring 1955 edition of the Journal of Retailing, Victor Lebrow who was a marketing consultant wrote:

Our enormously productive economy demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfactions, our ego satisfactions, in consumption. The measure of social status, of social acceptance, of prestige, is now to be found in our consumptive patterns. The very meaning and significance of our lives today expressed in consumptive terms.

Victor Lebrow

The added desire for instant gratification to this consumerist approach to life has created the dynamic of scarcity. People often look at life and say that “we do not have enough to…” A feeling of scarcity leads to hording, greed, and even violence as we strive to protect what we have or get what we do not have. Yet, perception and reality do not always align.

As a Christian, I am not immune to this battle for “enough.” Throughout the Christian Bible ample verses and stories speak to this dilemma. One is  found in the Hebrew Scriptures located in the story of the Hebrew journey from Egypt to the promise land. The people had been complaining to Moses about not having enough food to eat and how it was so much better back in Egypt. Moses was tired of their constant whining and blaming him for their plight. He decided to take the matter up with God and God made a promise to provide plenty of food for the people each day. You can find this story in Exodus 16. God did provide manna (a flaky substance) and quail every day. Clear instructions about the collection of this food were given:

Everyone is to gather as much as they need. Take an omer for each person you have in your tent.

Exodus 16:16

No one is to keep any of it until morning.

Exodus 16:19

Initially the results turned out wonderful.

And when they measured it by the omer, the one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little. Everyone had gathered just as much as they needed.

Exodus 16:18

Yet, the fear of scarcity set in and so…

However, some of them paid no attention to Moses; they kept part of it until morning, but it was full of maggots and began to smell.

Exodus 16:20

Jesus also tried to deal with this battle of scarcity dduringhis ministry. He incorporated the idea of having enough for each day in the prayer which he taught his disciples, a prayer which today is known as the Lord’s Prayer… “Give us today our daily bread.” (Matthew 6:11)

From these examples, we come to see that we are provided with exactly what we need each day. We actually have an abundance of what we need. Now this may not mean we have everything which we want but there is a clear difference between “want” and “need.”

Yet, we tend to live in the attitude of scarcity and not one of abundance. We say things like…

“If I only had more time, I could get my work done and volunteer.”

“If I only had more money, I could pay my bills and give to support those with food insecurities.”

“If I only had more (fill in the blank), I could (fill in the second blank).”

According to Sentier Research as quoted in an article on seekingalpha.com, the median income in the United States in June 2018 was $62,175. Compare this with the country of Burundi which had a median income of $730. Some would have to argue that a majority in the United States could not claim scarcity in income. All of us know that money alone is not a gauge of abundance. Similar examples can be identified in other measurable aspects such as material goods, opportunities, skills, education, and environment. This is not intended to say that individuals in the United States which lack this abundance are not present. Median means that there are many who are below the numbers listed above. Nor am I arguing that there should be guilt associated with abundance. My point is when we adopt an attitude of scarcity, we tend to forget the abundance which is available to us.

This attitude does not confine itself to our personal lives. Our corporate experiences are infiltrated by this attitude as well. It seems natural since if we as individuals focus on scarcity, the groups which we are members of will also look through the lenses of scarcity. Whether it be government, organizations, or even the church, comments and approaches linked to a view of scarcity seem to be the modus operandi. A long list of reasons why something cannot happen is much more common than a list of ways to make it happen.

An attitude of scarcity results in us saying why we cannot do something. An attitude of abundance shows us why we can.

I encourage each one of you to adopt an attitude of abundance. See how this might change your perspective on life and thus, your life as a whole.