Category Archives: 2015-03

Pastor’s Pen for March, 2015

When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, ‘What is it?’ For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, ‘It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat.  (Exodus 16:14-16) The book of Exodus tells the story of the Israelites’ journey from slavery in Egypt through the wilderness in search of the Promised Land.  It is a story of the hardships and frustrations they endured, and of the many times they were on the verge of giving up and rebelling against Moses’ leadership.  But each time they felt like God had abandoned them, something wonderful would happen that showed them that God was still with them and providing the resources they needed to continue their journey and reach their destination.  The verses above refer to one of those special moments when they discovered that God had provided an unexpected food source for them.  We commonly refer to this strange dessert-bread as “manna” but that name actually means “What is it?” That original meaning is worth remembering.  It is a reminder that God’s resources are not always recognized for what they really are.  If Moses hadn’t been there to help them appreciate the value of this unfamiliar substance, they would have overlooked it and either starved or returned to captivity in Egypt.  But once their fear was allayed, they realized that their situation was not as desperate as they had originally thought. This was a lesson they had to learn over again during their time in the wilderness:  God will lead them and provide for them if they will put more trust in God than in their own wisdom, power, experience and abilities. That lesson is just as important for us today as it was for the ancient Israelites.  Nowadays, churches all over the country are in decline, and church leaders are desperate to find ways to sustain and revive them.  They are as frightened as the Israelites were in the wilderness about the bleakness of their future.  The familiar “foods” that previously “fed” them are no longer available, and institutional starvation and death seems imminent. But what if, like the Israelites, God’s providential resources are already right in front of us?  What if our problem is that we don’t recognize them because they’re not the same as we’re used to?  What if we look around us and all we can say is “What is it?”  What if our mistake is to seek to feed our institutional hunger with our own resources rather than God’s?  We think that more money or more people will save us and restore the church to its previous condition.  But the food God is offering is different, and we don’t recognize it.  It isn’t food to return us to the Egyptian captivity of yesterday, but to feed us for our journey to the land of promise and freedom.  Instead of buildings, bucks and bodies, the food God will nurture the church with is with a new sense of divine purpose.  The future of the church is people who are passionately pursuing God’s dream of a new society that is unlike anything they’ve ever known before -- a society of dreamers that seeks to let God build relationships among them that are more just, loving and compassionate than the world has ever achieved on its own -- a society that discovers God’s providence in the midst of life-threatening hardships, and finds God giving us new life even while dying on a Cross. The future of the church in our world today depends on our readiness to ask “What is it?”  What is the source of hope and strength and nourishment that God is offering us in the midst of our most desperate situations?  What is the gift that God will reveal to us as we hover on the edge of giving up?  What is that Holy Spirit that enabled the impoverished, persecuted church of the first century to expand at the fastest rate in history? That is a question we must ask over and over and over again, kneeling together in the presence of the only One who can give us the answer.  I hope we have to humility to do it and the spiritual discernment to hear God’s answer!                                     -- Duane