Cow Tipping

calfWell, of course it sounds silly today… I can’t imagine praying to a cow made from melted down jewelry any more than you can.  But in the wilderness life gets tricky, and things weren’t so simple for God’s people.  Worshipping a golden cow wasn’t as weird to them as it would be to us today.  It was similar to things their old friends may have pursued- like so many, they’d do anything that might get them what they wanted.  The Egyptians prayed to Apis the bull-god, and others worshipped Baal, who was sometimes portrayed as having a bull’s head.  Each promised prosperity in its own way.

As we’ve been studying Exodus, we can see how the Israelites might have strayed from God during this time (chapter 32).  The Lord had been so visible, so present before: God had saved them from plagues, brought them from Egypt and parted the sea to rescue them.  After all of that, it felt weird to be unaware of exactly what God was doing… God seemed so distant. They knew that the Lord was on the mountain talking to Moses- but down in the valley, it was easy to forget it as they went about their lives.  Before Moses even brought down the commandments, one of which was that they should not to worship idols, the people had become frustrated and impatient.  And so they chose to ‘forget’ God.

When you feel like you haven’t heard from God in a while, or when you aren’t feeling as close to God as you’d like, what do you put your energy into?  When you are having a tough time, where do you turn?  Do you ever try to ‘reign in’ your life by mimicking what your friends are doing?   You aren’t alone.  It was God’s own chosen people who begged Aaron, “Come, make us gods who will go before us” (Exodus 32:1).

What is your golden calf?  On what or who do you lean?  Do you dive into your career, social distractions, team fandom, or the perfect looking world on TV?  Does it really sustain you, or are you left feeling emptier than before?

Golden calves look different today than they did back then.   In the wilderness in which we wander, things are tricky and complicated too.  The Israelites would have thought us crazy to lust after other people’s lives, or lose ourselves in our children’s activities, or to ignore our God in the quest for what we imagine is the ‘ultimate’ success.  But aren’t we?

Consider your golden calf… we’ve all got one.

 How can change your focus back to God?

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Toppling the Tablets

In late September, someone tipped over a Ten Commandments monument on display in front of one Washington, D.C. non-profit’s headquarters.

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Two warring perspectives on covenant with the living God:

The core of the Hebrew law, the Ten Commandments, on prominent display

OR

Toppled tablets, law-side down in the dirt.

From the perspective of a disciple of Jesus Christ, the Decalogue, or “Ten Words,” present a foundational statement of God’s direction and expectation for human life. These commandments are signposts guiding us — NOT primarily to follow rules but to live selflessly with and for God and one another.

A crucial question of covenant faith is NOT “Are God’s commandments on display on your lawn?” BUT “Is God’s Word and Way on display in your life?”

Jesus stresses that these ten words for living are faithfully summed up:

“Love God, love neighbor.”

So then, while it would never cross our mind, hopefully, to vandalize some religious marker, each time we dishonor God or disregard neighbor, we are actively engaged in tablet toppling.

Embodying the love of Jesus Christ, however, makes a statement that “bears all things, believes all things hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends” (I Corinthians 13:7-8)

Such Christ-powered and possible love withstands the world and cannot be toppled.

loving

Eew, What is it?!

Someday will we remember our struggles with fondness, seeing God's gifts?

Someday will we remember our struggles with fondness, seeing God’s gifts?

Have you ever prepared a meal for someone, taking the time to try a new food or preparation method, only to have your dish met with  a turned up nose and the question, “What is it?”  You can just hear their reservation, their unspoken thought: “I’m not eating that.

That’s pretty close to the reception the Israelites seem to have given God’s gift of manna in Exodus 16.  Even after God saved them from slavery, the people complained, “If only we had died in Egypt, where we sat and ate our fill.”  Even after God provided for their needs,  sending food from heaven, the people’s response to the manna is, “What is it? (which is what manna means in Hebrew)”   They didn’t dance and smile as it rained down, like so many Sunday school coloring pages have taught us through the years.  They poked at it, and seem to have been less than enthusiastic.  3000+ years later, we think they were silly.  Who turns down manna?!  But when we look back at our own lives, we have to stop and wonder…

What gifts from God have we turned our noses up at?

What gifts were we unsure of?

What gifts have we been downright unhappy to receive?

How did it work out?

I interned one summer at a tiny church, far from anywhere or anyone I knew.  I wasn’t looking forward to it.  I knew that God had let me there to pursue my pastoral calling, but I resented it.  “There’s no friends here!  There’s no fun! There’s not even cell reception!”  I whined and protested to anyone who would listen.  “I didn’t sign on to be a nun- I’m not looking for the cloistered life!”

But that summer, the things that I was most unsure of, most annoyed to receive, were gifts given to me by God.  There were no friends my age- so I made friends of all ages, and I deepened my relationship with and reliance on the One whom I’d pledged to serve.  There was no fun- so I walked, and prayed, and thought.  I found joy in small things, and I learned to enjoy an afternoon doing something quiet and alone.  There was no cell reception outside of the cemetery on the top of the hill, and, it turned out, that was just fine.

For the Israelites, for me, and likely for you as well, God’s gifts come in many forms, but God’s provision is right for us.  Sometimes it takes a long time to go from, “What is it?” or even, “What the heck!” to “Thanks be to God!” or, “Now I get it!”  It took Israel about 40 years. The good news is that no matter how long they are in coming, no matter how hard-won our thanks are, God is there to receive them, just as God was beside us in our frustration.  We must remember: our good, loving God cares for us, often in incredible and unexpected ways.