And, So it Ends…

Labor Day has come and gone. School is back in full swing. Mornings are chilly. Summer is officially over. (As cool and wet as the past three months have been, I'm not sure summer ever officially came this year!)

I joked with a few people last week that Labor Day weekend was a "Home Improvement Marathon" at the Vander Wells. Wendy and I spent Labor Day weekend attacking the "to-dos" that have been on the list for far too long.

New garbage disposal installed….check (thanks to Chad for helping).
Wallpaper on the basement stairway stripped…check.
Paint basement stairway…(first coat) check.
Replace warped tile next to oven…check.
Kitchen reorganized…check.
Lawn mowed…check.
Brush hauled away…check.
Flower bed weeded…check.
Window wells cleaned and covered…(3 out of 5, anyway) check.
Start scraping the paint off the garage…check.

Not bad, though it feels like just the tip of the iceberg (doesn't it always?).

And, along the way, we spent time with family at Lake Ponderosa and had dinner with friends. We even took some time to rest and watch the U.S. Open. Not bad at all.

Labor Day is over. Hello autumn.

Chapter-a-Day Exodus 9

Time out. But when Pharaoh saw that the rain and hail and thunder had stopped, he kept right on sinning, stubborn as ever, both he and his servants. Exodus 9:34 (MSG)

Last night we were having dinner with our friends and, while the adults attempted to enjoy a little table conversation, the little ones were being less than obedient. The table conversation turned to memories of being small and knowing that your parents were engaged and distracted by their guests. You just knew that their eyes and ears were not going to be as sharp, and chances were likely that you could get away with more than normal.

Even as adults, we act like children before our Father God. Pharaoh was humble and contrite as long as God's punishment had him in a national "time out." Yet, when the "time out" was over and Pharaoh perceived that God's eyes were no longer on him, he was right back to his disobedient ways.

God, give me a heart that's pliable and soft. Mold it, through seasons of repentance and correction, and continually transform me to be more like you – even when I sense that no one is watching.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and Ken Wilcox

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Chapter-a-Day Exodus 8

Warning signs. But Pharaoh became stubborn once again and wouldn't release the people. Exodus 8:32 (MSG)

My wife and I enjoy watching the show Amazing Grace on TNT. The storyline revolves around an extremely broken, rebellious, hard living woman played by Holly Hunter (the show reveals her in all of her broken humanity; it's definitely for mature audiences only). She is given a "last chance angel" named Earl who is trying to help restore her faith in God before it's too late. While I have a lot of theological issues with some of the writers' perspectives, the show raises all sorts of interesting spiritual issues that most television shows completely ignore. The basic question of the storyline is also an interesting one. Is there a point at which a hard-hearted, unrepentant person crosses the spiritual point of no return?

I thought about that his morning as I read about Pharaoh's stubborn heart. It's easy to point fingers at Pharaoh, but how many times has my heart been stubborn? How many times has God tried to teach me a lesson or push me to grow and my stubborn heart refuses to give in to God's obvious plea? How many warnings signs has God posted along the journey that I've completely ignored?

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and upturnedface

Chapter-a-Day Exodus 7

Yet Pharaoh was as stubborn as ever—he wouldn't listen to them, just as God had said. Exodus 7:13 (MSG)

Back when I was in college I had a boss who said that he read through the Bible every year and it was "different" every time. "Not because the Bible changed each year, but because I changed each year," he explained.

The last time I read through the book of Exodus was several years ago. Since then, I've had a lot of experiences in the corporate world and have become a business owner. So, it's interesting to read about the negotiations between Moses and Pharaoh from the perspective of workforce management. Pharaoh had good reason to be stubborn. The Hebrews were cheap labor, and as we all know the Egyptians were known for their rather over-the-top building projects. The idea of letting them take a three-day weekend would wreak havoc on national productivity. Letting them leave the country would be an economic disaster. Pharaoh's stubborn heart may have been a spiritual problem, but it also was grounded in economic and political expediency.

Obedience to God often sends us swimming against the tide of political correctness, worldly wisdom, and popular opinion.

The river of God flows upstream

Chapter-a-Day Exodus 6

Superhero not. God addressed Moses, saying, "I am God. Tell Pharaoh king of Egypt everything I say to you." And Moses answered, "Look at me. I stutter. Why would Pharaoh listen to me?" Exodus 6:29-30 (MSG)

If find it interesting that Moses has been unpacking his whole "I stutter" excuse for three chapters running (who knows how many months or years these chapters cover). It's a great picture of how doggedly we like to cling to our hang ups, insecurities, issues and excuses. 

Growth doesn't always happen overnight. Despite our fantasies to the contrary, God does not typically transform people instantaneously in to spiritual superheroes. We don't get bit by a supernatural spider and suddenly become Godly-man. Even the "superheroes" wie think of in the Bible were transformed over time (and the maturity process never stopped). We see Moses "in process" through these early chapters of Exodus, but there are others.

David killed Goliath in an instant, but how many years did he spend alone in the desert with his sheep, learning to use his sling against predators? Saul had a "Damascus Road" experience, but we forget about the years he spent studying and growing before his ministry started. The apostles stood boldly in the face of persecution, but before that they spent three years scratching their heads, fighting amonst themselves, and even denying that they even knew Jesus.

Like any journey, there are times we'd much rather just "arrive" at the destination. However, even those we consider spiritual giants had to grow into their sandals.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and ortizmj12

Chapter-a-Day Exodus 5

Where the mountain-top experience begins. Moses went back to God and said, "My Master, why are you treating this people so badly? And why did you ever send me? From the moment I came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, things have only gotten worse for this people. And rescue? Does this look like rescue to you?" Exodus 5:22-23 (MSG)

I grew up in a family of swimmers. I started swimming competitively when I was nine and swam year-round through my freshman year in high school. If you were to look back in the Vander Well family scrapbooks, you'd see medals from city, district and state swimming meets. You'd find many blue ribbons from winning various events. There are certificates of acheivement and  a high school letter from when I made varsity my freshman year.

What you won't see in those scrapbooks is a snapshot of me at the age of eight, screaming in fear because I just knew there was no way I could swim across the width of the pool without drowning. You won't see family videos of me groaning about getting out of bed at 5:00 a.m. in the summer to make early morning practice. Nor will you find framed pictures of me crying in defeat, screaming in pain from mid-lap charlie-horses, and frustrated at getting beat out for a spot on the top relay team again.

We tend to think of Moses walking down the mountain with the Ten Commandments. We think of him parting the Red Sea in triumph. We picture him standing defiantly and triumphantly before Pharaoh. Reading the actual story reminds us that before any of those victorious mountain top moments came to be, there were moments of frustration, doubt, pain, fear, and confusion.

Mountain top experiences generally begin standing in a valley staring up at a long, hard climb.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and Gone-Walkabout

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