Shepherds, Shopping Carts, and Seat Assignments

Clearly I am not a prolific blogger. It’s been awhile since my first entry, even though I’ve known for several weeks what this blog was to be about.

Then the other night, a dear friend of mine taught on a bit of text from Exodus 3 and the frame for this blog was provided in that familiar passage about an oft alluded-to Hebrew.

“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.'” (Exodus 3:2, 3 NIV)

This was the bush in which the previous sentence records “the angel of The Lord” appeared to Moses. But that’s not why Moses turned aside to see the bush. He hadn’t heard a voice, hadn’t been warned that he was on holy ground yet. There’s no record of his getting goosebumps or his being drawn by some unseen force. Rather, in the course of an ordinary day tending sheep for his father-in-law on the backside of the desert, Moses saw something strange and went to check it out.  And history records the incredible result of that seemingly inconsequential decision: An entire nation delivered from centuries of slavery to one of the most powerful kingdoms on the planet. All because a shepherd broke stride.

Earlier this summer, I felt God impress me to listen closely to him and to respond to his voice instantly. I know, we should always be listening to God, but this felt different. I knew he meant something specific. So I went to Walmart. Not to test this out, mind you, but just because I wanted some stuff (notice I didn’t say needed; that’s another blog entirely).  I remember feeling happy, even thinking “Hey, God, I’m ready for whatever you say today.”

Now, I’m not a surly grocery shopper. (I reserve my surliness for cars going slower than I in the fast lane. Also another blog entirely.)  I’m usually cheerful and considerate while picking out my food and beverages, and that day was no different. I was nearing the end of my list when I turned down the frozen food aisle. There, in the middle of the aisle, at an unnecessarily obtuse angle, was a very large woman on a motorized cart, its small basket piled high with things she surely knew better than to eat. She appeared to be intently studying even more designed-to-give-you-heart-disease foods. [Note: If you are large and/or need a motorized cart, hang in here. I’m not small, I don’t always eat right, and I’m as vulnerable to cart-worthy wear and tear as the next person.]

Silently self-righteous and slightly annoyed, I went to maneuver around her when I was urged somewhere in my ready-for-whatever-you-say-today head to see if she needed any help. I dismissed the thought, almost casually. As my cart passed behind hers, I felt prompted again to check to see if there was anything I could do for her. Nope, I thought. And again I heard His voice, as I neared the end of the aisle. This time, I acquiesced. Sort of. I made a deal with myself that I would follow through if she were still sitting there when I came back around, as I had to go back a few aisles to pick up something I had forgotten.

Here’s a surprise: I came back by that aisle and didn’t even think to glance over. But as I neared the main aisle, Cart Woman passed in front of me. She was talking to a store employee who was keeping pace with her. And this what I heard her say: “Thank you! I don’t know what happened. Suddenly, it just wouldn’t go, but it’s working fine now!”

Did you catch that?
So did I.
Apparently, her cart “wouldn’t go”…until I failed the test.

Deflated, I headed for the checkouts where I silently apologized to God, asked for another chance, felt like poop.

Fast forward a few weeks and I am headed home from Portugal after visiting my daughter and son-in-law there. Leaving my daughter was painful. Since she and her husband will soon be moving to Mozambique, I don’t know when next I’ll see her in person. The difficulty of that parting was exacerbated by the fact that my youngest daughter at home in the States had needed an emergency C-section to save her son’s life during my very first night in Lisbon (ironically, on the same day her sister-in-law was put on bed rest with her and my son’s third child). So she and her husband were camping out in a NICU waiting room, caring for their premature first-born without what I perceived as my essential presence. And in a few months they’d be taking this little miracle to live in Asia. I realized that day in the Lisbon airport that impossible distances, painful partings, and long flights had become my new normal.

But there was no time to wallow in that. Though I was respectably early, when I got to the counter the airline was closing check-in for my flight. I was inexplicably given an upgrade in seating and rushed to security; several minutes later, I was sent to the front of an impossibly long passport line by the same airline employee who had given me the seat upgrade (how did he get to this terminal before I did?). Thanks to this, I managed to board in plenty of time; others on the same flight were still in line. Then–after flight attendants finally convinced the couple beside me to trade with the couple behind me–I ended up seated next to a chatty American couple [Note: I don’t particularly like chatty, especially when I’m feeling sad and pensive, which I was] whom I had already run into several times in my odd Lisbon airport journey and with whom I had hoped I would not be seated. Does anyone else hear that voice in my head?

I waded politely through the murky on and off conversation with the talkative wife and, sporadically, her self-absorbed husband. Mr. Seat Companion had, it turns out, injured his leg at the airport and couldn’t be seated adjacent an exit door, thus the swap that resulted in my predicament. I’d been a happy camper before becoming an epic fail that day in Walmart. On this gloomy day, I was an epic fail waiting to happen. Still, I prayed silently for an opportunity to “redeem the time.” I learned a bit about them and they about me, but mostly I thought he was terribly bratty for his age and she was too ditzy sweet for her own good. By the time the flight was nearing an end, I still had no idea why God had gone to such lengths to orchestrate this unlikely grouping.

Then I-need-more-ice-bring-me-another-beer spoke up. After the pilot announced our final approach, he commented loudly that he was glad to be back in the US where people would understand what he was saying and wouldn’t look at him funny when he spoke.  Did I mention we were on an international flight? With dozens of people who speak English quite well as a second language? Yeah. Maybe I was just supposed to pray for this guy.

Or maybe not. “Kimberly,” he was looking at me now. Oh, gosh. I don’t want the people around us to hear him say anything else insensitive. But here it comes…”Why do you think God did that whole Tower of Babel thing–you know, the languages?”

And there it was. The bush was on fire, but it wasn’t being consumed. It was God’s moment. I broke stride. I turned aside.

I’ve studied and taught on that passage of scripture quite extensively, and love to share what I’ve learned. Since we were nearing our gate, my friend got the short version, as did all those nearby who understood English. He and his wife thanked me warmly, genuinely when I stood to exit. And this time I didn’t have to tell God I was sorry or beg him for another chance. In fact, another chance came on the very next flight.

But that’s for another blog entirely.

“In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.” (2 Timothy 4:1, 2 NIV) 

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Surrounded by Shoelaces

Genesis 14:22 records one of my favorite OT passages: But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “With raised hand I have sworn an oath to the Lord, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, that I will accept nothing belonging to you, not even a thread or the strap of a sandal, so that you will never be able to say, ‘I made Abram rich.'”

Basically, Abram told the king he wouldn’t take so much as a shoelace from him.

High five!

This text records an exchange between a recently victorious Abram (he wasn’t known as Father Abraham yet) and a grateful king of Sodom who was offering our hero the spoils of war. With a mere 318 of his own men, Abram had just defeated the four kings who had routed the armies of Sodom, Gomorrah, and three other kingdoms. Abram pursued them, overcame them, and recovered all the goods they had seized from Sodom and Gomorrah.

Impressive feat, but why bother?  Abram was clearly not a fan of the notoriously wicked kingdoms he had avenged. And he wasn’t even close to as powerful as they were.

The short answer is that Abram had a dog in that fight. His nephew Lot had been captured during the gruesome battle, and it would have been dishonorable, even inexcusable of Abram to do nothing about his kinfolk’s desperate situation.

Rewind: It would have been dishonorable, even inexcusable of Abram to do nothing about his kinfolk’s desperate situation.

Nevermind* that this nephew had been greedy and ungracious in an earlier property-rights issue. Nevermind that this nephew had made some unwise choices regarding his lifestyle and allegiances. Nevermind that Abram was outmanned and outnumbered.

Abram was Lot’s nearest kin, his only hope. His only hope. No one else was coming for him; there was no plan B. If Abram had stayed home that day–as any logical person would have because any logical person would know if the armies of five kings couldn’t beat the armies of four, 318 men sure couldn’t do it–we would likely have heard the last of Lot. But Abram was not a logical man, thank God! And I don’t mean that vainly. Really, thank God.

And God is not a logical God. If he were, I’d still be in captivity. Instead, when I got caught up in battles I had no business being anywhere near, he sent my next of kin to rescue me: Jesus. That’s right, what Abram did for Lot was a foreshadowing of what Jesus did for us.

It was also a foreshadowing of what we do/should be doing (pick one) for others, without regard for how they’ve treated us in the past and without the they’ve-made-their-bed-they-can-just-lie-in-it** posturing.

You see,  I was once the dog God had in the fight, and now I have a dog or two in the fight myself (or ten or twenty or…goodness, who let the dogs out?!!) And I will overtake and overcome (see Luke 10:19) the opposition. Do I pray about it? No. I pray for it. “About it” usually means I’m going to kill time until the situation changes; “for it” means I’m ready to change the situation. Do I count the cost? No. The price has been paid. And what do I get out of the deal? Nothing. And everything.

Here’s the nothing: The church was created for the kingdom that is not of–as in having no relationship with–this world. But an alliance here, a partnership there, and before you can say pillar-o-salt the church has bound itself to the cursed kingdom of Sodom. When denominations make policy decisions based on what is politically expedient, when congregations choose mission fields based on worldly resources, when individuals base charitable contributions on a nation’s economic health, we lose. We walk away from the battlefield with 30 pieces of silver and just enough shoelace to hang ourselves.

But here’s the everything:”‘What is mankind that you are mindful of them, a son of man that you care for him? You made them a little lower than the angels; you crowned them with glory and honor and put everything under their feet.’ In putting everything under them, God left nothing that is not subject to them” (Hebrews 2: 6-8).

Abram wasn’t so much refusing a reward as he was recognizing that the king of Sodom had nothing to offer him. And so it is with us. Let Satan keep his spoils. Let us keep our not-so-much-as-a-shoelace word.
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* For those of you with hyper-correctness issues: I know this is technically not a word, but I like it this way. And I’m probably just a decade or so ahead of its etymological evolution.

**My mother loved to use that bed-making maxim on me when I was being difficult until one day I smarted back: “But you taught me how to make it!” Food for thought. And no insult to Mom, who was just doing her job.