Anxious Nights Between Destruction and Chaos

Scripture Focus: Exodus 14.19-20
19 Then the angel of God, who had been traveling in front of Israel’s army, withdrew and went behind them. The pillar of cloud also moved from in front and stood behind them, 20 coming between the armies of Egypt and Israel. Throughout the night the cloud brought darkness to the one side and light to the other side; so neither went near the other all night long. 

Reflection: Anxious Nights Between Destruction and Chaos
By John Tillman

The crossing of the Red Sea is dramatic, but it was not an instant miracle. The waters did not rush backward in seconds or in dramatic slow-motion. We do not know exactly what it looked like but we do know that it took all night long for the waters to be blown back and the path to dry out. 

During the night the people were protected by the pillar of cloud and fire, which brought them light and their enemies darkness. Despite this, the night must still have been one of sustained tension and anxiety as the wind blew and the waters slowly parted and dried up.

The imagery of the Red Sea crossing reflects parts of the Genesis creation account and establishes God as the ruler over creation. Many in the ancient world viewed large bodies of water as symbols of chaos. It is this kind of watery chaos and darkness that is depicted in Genesis when God’s Spirit is hovering over the waters before causing dry land to appear. (Genesis 1.2)

To part the waters for Israel, God’s Spirit sends an “East wind” that blows on the waters through the night, exposing dry land. An “East wind” did not necessarily blow from the East, as we would think of it. 

In Hebrew climatology, different types of winds came from the four corners of the Earth. Wind from “the East” was associated with dryness. It was a wilderness wind that destroyed vegetation. On this night, the wilderness wind brought order to the chaos of the sea, driving it back and drying the land beneath. From the chaos of the sea and the wilderness wind, God brings order and a highway to salvation.

In our lives, we may spend many anxious nights facing chaos. We may wait in tension and darkness, needing a miracle. Chaos may block our way, with destruction only steps behind us.

God is with us in these times. 

We have no pillar of cloud, but we have the guidance and protection of his Word. 
We have no wind to blow across the chaos, but we are filled with the wind of the Holy Spirit that brings order to our chaotic hearts and minds. 
When we face turbulent, chaotic waves, we have the foundation of Jesus Christ upon which to make our stand and the footsteps of the Savior in which to place our feet.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
I will confess you among the peoples, O Lord; I will sing praises to you among the nations. — Psalm 108.3

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Exodus 14  (Listen -4:46)
Luke 17 (Listen – 4:22)

Read more about Jericho’s Wall
The lesson of Jericho’s wall is…if we are unfaithful, we too will face God’s wrath and no wall will stand in its way.

Read more about Captivity, Exile, and Exodus
The formerly oppressed, became oppressors. The formerly abused, became abusers. Israel became Egypt.

Attending God’s Lessons

Scripture Focus: Exodus 13.8-10, 19
8 On that day tell your son, ‘I do this because of what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt.’ 9 This observance will be for you like a sign on your hand and a reminder on your forehead that this law of the Lord is to be on your lips. For the Lord brought you out of Egypt with his mighty hand. 10 You must keep this ordinance at the appointed time year after year. 

19 Moses took the bones of Joseph with him because Joseph had made the Israelites swear an oath. He had said, “God will surely come to your aid, and then you must carry my bones up with you from this place.”

Reflection: Attending God’s Lessons
By John Tillman

Pharaoh was not the only one learning about God through the Exodus. The Israelites learned about him as well.

At this point, God had not revealed much about himself. The only thing Israel knew about God was that he was the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. There was no prophecy or communication from God recorded in scripture other than Joseph telling his brothers on his deathbed that “God would surely come” to help them.

Through their liberation from Egypt and their time in the desert, God became Israel’s teacher. His curriculum taught the people about himself and about who they were meant to be. God described his liberation in relational terms, calling Israel, “my firstborn son.” When he liberated them, part of his purpose was deepening and expanding this relationship. 

God is a creative instructor. Taste, sight, smell, repetition, touch, hearing—the God who designed senses engaged all of them in multisensory learning experiences. The elaborate festivals, feasts, and ceremonies of worship set the Israelites apart from other cultures and simultaneously taught them about the nature of God, their relationship to him, and their unique identity and mission. 

Israel in the desert was attending the most creative spiritual education program designed. Attending holds two meanings. One is physical presence. One is mental attention. In every sense of the word, may we attend the lessons of our sojourn.

In our desert sojourns and everyday life, God desires to teach us about his identity and ours. If we attend to his lessons, the Holy Spirit can engage every sense, every moment, every touch, to turn us more into the likeness of his Son, Jesus Christ.

Many things can help us learn and pass the lessons to the next generation. The season of Lent, which we are in now, and other elements of the church calendar aid us in orienting our lives to the story of the gospel through the year. Weekly gatherings are an important part of our connection to our faith community and fellow believers. Daily practices of Bible reading, prayer, and other spiritual disciplines make our relationship to God personal rather than distant.

Through daily practices, we are to be filled with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is both living water and flame of fire within us. He sustains our life and fuels our passion for God and care for others.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Those who are planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish in the courts of our God. — Psalm 92.12

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Exodus 13  (Listen – 3:30)
Luke 16 (Listen – 4:27)

Read more about Cultivation Must Be Learned
Spiritual wisdom and knowledge, like agricultural knowledge, must be passed on, with its seeds, from one generation to the next.

Read more about Fasting and Feasting
As we engage in feasting or fasting, during the season of Lent and beyond, may we not grow secure in legalistic, moralistic rules, but stay insecure, relying on God.

Beneath the Cross of Jesus — Lenten Hymns

Scripture Focus: Luke 15:3-6
3 Then Jesus told them this parable: 4 “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? 5 And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6 and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’”

Reflection: Beneath the Cross of Jesus — Lenten Hymns
By Jon Polk

In her childhood, Elizabeth Clephane took a keen interest in poetry. As a teenager, she first revealed some of her own compositions to her sister. She drew from a vivid imagination, utilizing imagery, both biblical and natural, as displayed by one of her familiar compositions, the hymn “Beneath the Cross of Jesus.”

Beneath the cross of Jesus
I fain would take my stand,
The shadow of a mighty rock
Within a weary land

A home within the wilderness,
A rest upon the way,
From the burning of the noontide heat
And the burden of the day.

Using beautiful, comforting images of home and rest to describe the cruel, brutal cross reveals the compassionate heart of this lovely servant of God.

Elizabeth Clephane was born in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1830, daughter of the county sheriff. She was frail and in poor health for most of her life and died at the young age of 38 in the nearby town of Melrose.

Even though frail, she was known to have a cheerful outlook on life and spent most of her short years helping the poor and ailing. Elizabeth and her sister contributed much toward charitable causes to benefit the poor, even going so far as to sell their own carriage and horses to give the proceeds away.

She found meaning in life by giving herself for the sake of others in need, reflecting the light of Christ’s love.

Content to let the world go by,
To know no gain nor loss
My sinful self, my only shame,
My glory all the cross.

In Clephane’s famous narrative poem, “The Ninety and Nine” (later set to music by evangelist Ira Sankey), the compelling reason for her compassion is clear in the retelling of Christ the Shepherd pursuing the one lost sheep. “Lord, whence are those blood drops all the way? They were shed for one who had gone astray.”

The season of Lent reminds us that not only do we find rest in the cruel cross of Jesus, but his sacrifice compels us to give our own lives away for others. The “ninety-nine” may not need our care as much as “the one.”

Elizabeth Clephane made a difference with her brief life by giving it away. Her hymns were mostly published posthumously, with the editor describing them, “Written on the very edge of life, with the better land fully in view of faith, they seem to us footsteps printed on the sands of time, where these sands touch the ocean of eternity.”

Elizabeth was so beloved by the people of her community, the townsfolk gave her the nickname, “the Sunbeam.”

I take, O cross, thy shadow
For my abiding place
I ask no other sunshine than
The sunshine of his face.

Music: Beneath the Cross of Jesus by Indelible Grace Music
Lyrics: Beneath the Cross of Jesus from
Poem: “The Ninety and Nine”

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
Show me your ways, O Lord, and teach me your paths.
Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; in you have I trusted all the day long. — Psalm 25.3-4

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Exodus 12:22-51 (Listen – 7:31)
Luke 15 (Listen – 4:19)

Read more from Jon Polk: Come Ye Sinners, Poor and Wretched
Lent purposefully reminds us that we are mere dust, that without the work of Christ and the grace of God, we are all sinners, poor and wretched.

Read more about Involving Christ
Christ is lovingly interested in helping, lovingly interested in knowing, lovingly interested in being involved in our embarrassments, difficulties, and failures.

Idol-Destroying Plagues

Scripture Focus: Exodus 9.13-14
13 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Get up early in the morning, confront Pharaoh and say to him, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, says: Let my people go, so that they may worship me, 14 or this time I will send the full force of my plagues against you and against your officials and your people, so you may know that there is no one like me in all the earth.

Reflection: Idol-Destroying Plagues
By John Tillman

We have become jaded with the phrase “unprecedented” regarding the developments of the past year and have often seen catastrophes “of biblical proportions,” which is typically a reference to the Egyptian plagues.

The plagues are intentional, not random. They are God’s frontal assault on the Egyptian pantheon.

When we think about ancient gods and religions, we often think about them too mystically and “religiously.” There was no such thing as the separation of religion from public life in ancient times. Pantheons of deities were just a part of normal life — ordinary and practical. One example in the New Testament is paying taxes.

The tax the Jewish religious leaders questioned Jesus about was seen as a religious act. The coin was stamped with “Caesar is Lord.” Polycarp, would eventually be martyred for refusing to repent of saying “Jesus is Lord” instead of  “Caesar is Lord.”

Making direct analogies from the Bible to our experiences today is not typically helpful or wise. One way this is damaging is analogizing leaders as being similar to leaders in the Bible. Too many leaders and teachers, hailed as being like Moses or other biblical leaders, have abused those mantles. On the negative side, too many leaders have been falsely slandered as being like Pharaoh, Jezebel, Judas, or other wicked individuals.

Another way analogies are damaging is when we make false equivalencies with our modern struggles. We may feel like we have experienced the plagues but we really have not! 

It can, however, be helpful for us to look for patterns of sins or behavior that apply to ourselves, seeking the guidance and conviction of the Holy Spirit. May we partner with the Holy Spirit and determine how “plagues” can show us our over-reliance on earthly things. What we have suffered in 2020 and the first months of 2021 may not be a direct judgment from God, however, we can still examine whether idols or unhealthy patterns of our lives have been exposed as weak, useless, ineffective.

What has been destroyed? Confidence in supply chains? Trust in the market? Faith in human leaders? Belief in our own control and self-sufficiency? To what degree should we have been trusting in these things?

The plagues systematically and categorically destroyed everything that Egypt trusted in and worshiped. If we fail to tear down our idols, may the pantheon of all we trust above God fall to idol-destroying plagues.
Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
I call with my whole heart; answer me, O Lord, that I may keep your statutes.
Hear my voice, O Lord, according to your loving-kindness; according to your judgments, give me life. — Psalm 110.145

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Exodus 9 (Listen – 5:31) 
Luke 12 (Listen – 7:42)

This Weekend’s Readings
Exodus 10 (Listen – 4:44), Luke 13 (Listen – 5:02)
Exodus 11-12:21 (Listen – 9:08), Luke 14 (Listen – 4:36)

Read more about Idolatry of Identity

Old Testament people reverenced household gods for prosperity, wealth, and identity. Today we reverence household brands. It’s unclear which group is more deceived.

Read more about Balaam’s Success
No matter what sins or idols we are tempted with, may we approach God humbly, seeking repentance and redemption through Christ.

Cultivating Daily Bread

Scripture Focus: Luke 11.11-12
Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?

Reflection: Cultivating Daily Bread
By John Tillman

What we think of as “daily bread” in affluent cultures is wealth beyond imagining in much of the world. Our lust for affluence has only grown more sharp-fanged since Richard Foster wrote about it in Celebration of Discipline in 1978:

“The lust for affluence in contemporary society is psychotic…because it has completely lost touch with reality. We crave things we neither need nor enjoy…Where planned obsolescence leaves off, psychological obsolescence takes over. We are made to feel ashamed to wear clothes or drive cars until they are worn out. The mass media have convinced us that to be out of step with fashion is to be out of step with reality.”

Our disenchantment with prayer does not come from asking our Heavenly Father for bread or a fish or an egg, and him refusing. Our problem comes from asking our Heavenly Father for snakes and scorpions and then being upset when we don’t receive them.

Daily bread includes not only that which sustains our physical life but that which sustains our spiritual life. Daily bread refers to a daily need for God and purposely highlights the need for spiritual disciplines that are required for us to grow in faith. 

Bread was a common symbol in Jewish culture of God’s Word and of spiritual nourishment and spiritual health. The purpose of food is growth and healthful energy. Our health and spiritual energy will be affected by our spiritual diet.

When it comes to our spiritual diet, we too often rely on packaged and processed foods eaten with little thought or art in preparation. In many ways, our spiritual health will benefit if we live less as spiritual content consumers and more as spiritual subsistence farmers—eating out of our own garden. 

What maintains our spiritual health? The spiritual food we eat.
What are we eating? We eat what we have reaped.
What are we reaping? We reap what we have sowed.
What are we sowing?  We sow the seeds we cultivate.

We pray that you will use the reflections we bring you each day to plant, tend, and cultivate God’s Word in your life.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Behold, God is my helper; it is the Lord who sustains my life. — Psalm 54.4

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Exodus 8 (Listen – 5:07) 
Luke 11 (Listen – 7:33)

Read more about Cultivation Means Tending
The seed of the woman, Jesus himself, is our salvation and we plant this seed in our own hearts.

Read more about Daily Bread for Others
Praying for daily bread includes an acknowledgment of our need for intentional connection with God and cultivation of his Word into our lives.

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