Monthly Archives: January 2014

Soaked in Transformation

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My 5th-grade daughter is working on a presentation about Germany for school, which I’m loving because I lived there during high school and have a bunch of memorabilia she’ll be able to use—including a six-inch chunk of the Berlin Wall. The more I help Megan, the more I realize how much has changed in the past thirty years.

After World War II, rule of Germany was divided by the four occupying nations: the US, Britain, France, and the Soviet Union. The nation was formally split into two in 1949. Forty-one years later—on October 3, 1990—there were massive celebrations as Germany was once again united under one flag. Fireworks flew over the famous Brandenburg Gate in Berlin; borders that had been closed for a generation were suddenly opened; East German-made “Trabant” cars puttered across those borders and onto the West German autobahns (where they got in the way of the zipping Mercedes and BMWs!).

But there were fears, too. A unified Germany would be the largest economy and second most populous nation in Europe (behind Russia). The differences between East and West were stark and, to some, seemed insurmountable. As one example, more than 90% of households in the West owned a car in 1990, compared with less than 60% in the East. Today, nearly a quarter century later, many differences still remain, especially economically.

The reunification of Germany provides a fitting metaphor for the transformation God works in our lives. There are events that take place to pave the way; in Germany, it was the “Peaceful Revolution,” the removal of the Hungarian border fence, and a crack in the Berlin Wall; in our lives, it may be a conversation with a friend, a crisis, or a class we take that raises new questions. Then there is an event, the official day of unification for Germany or the moment we “say yes” to Jesus and invite him to lead our lives. Finally, there is the day-by-day process of transformation that God works as we submit our wills to his, obey his commands, and seek to know him more and more deeply. It is a process that never truly ends.

While there have been a few momentous occasions in Germany over the past twenty-three years, most of the changes have been small, incremental steps. For someone who has “said yes” to Jesus, one of the next small, incremental steps on the journey of transformation is to be baptized. Like the celebrations at the Brandenburg Gate on October 3, baptism is a sign, symbol, and celebration of what has already happened in the life of a Christian.

Let the party begin!

Sabbath: Trust and Rest

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After 400 years of slavery, they were finally free. It had taken some doing – infestations of frogs and insects, illness and agricultural devastation, and ultimately death – but God had rescued his people. He had brought them out of Egypt, he had made a way across the sea (on dry land, even!), and he had wiped out the pursuing enemy. Now he was leading them to their own land. Unfortunately – from the peoples’ perspective, at least – the path led through the wilderness.

Imagine the scene: over a million people, driving flocks and herds of livestock, carrying all they owned on their backs or on carts, walking into the barren Arabian wilderness. No paved roads, no rest areas, no fast food restaurants, and watering holes that are few and far between.

At least in captivity there had been comfort in the familiar and the certain. Beneath the whips of their oppressors, the Israelites still knew there would be food and water at the end of the day. In the wilderness, though….

Less than a month into the journey the grumbling began. What’s amazing to me is that God heard the grumbling and provided what the people wanted – water and food. I’m pretty sure He planned all along to provide those, but the people didn’t know the plan and so they didn’t trust Him to provide. And when he did “rain bread from heaven,” the people didn’t recognize it. In fact, when they saw what he provided—which looked like “a flake-like thing, fine as frost” on the ground—they asked, “what is it?” Or in Hebrew, “manna?”

How like me that is. I trust God to provide, as long as I know ahead of time how he’s going to provide. I trust him to take care of me, as long as he does that in a way I’m familiar with. I trust his timing, as long as it doesn’t take too long!

Exodus 16 tells the story of how God provided bread and meat for his people as they traveled in the wilderness. Here the idea of Sabbath is introduced, a day of rest. But Sabbath is not only about rest; it is about trust. It is about trusting God to provide, in his way and in his time. And Sabbath is not only about resting from work; it is about resting from worry.

Jesus said,
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28–29, ESV)

To rest is to trust God. To trust God is to rest. Neither is easy. Both are necessary.