Thursday, January 4, 2018

Announcements and Encouragements

Hello again, fearless readers, and Happy New Year to you! I am thankful that you did not give up on this blog after the long journey of Advent, and am excited to launch into new things as we begin 2018.

First, a special announcement: Burning Bush Communities is officially recognized as a 501c3 organization by the IRS! (Thank you Lord!) We received the IRS determination letter in the mail just a few days before Christmas, and we are very thankful to have that process done with! For those who are not familiar with it, the 501c3 designation allows people to write off their taxes for what they give to your organization, so it is very helpful in fundraising. AND, applying for the 501c3 is an absolute beast!

 Second, a word of encouragement!

While we all shake our heads and claim we're not making resolutions for the new year (we don't want to be "those" people!), I know many of us secretly harbor plans, intentions and ambitions to better each year at a variety of things. And that's a good thing! However, we are hesitant to claim these goals as "resolutions" because we know the track record is bleak. The overwhelming majority of resolution-makers fail to make it a third of the way through the year with their new plans. If you are a long time gym member, you know how this goes: January is crazy busy, February is better, and by March we're back to normal. Changing habits and routines is hard work, and changing character is even more difficult.

Yet, God is all about transformation. If you read the stories of scripture you can't help but see a constant call to transformation, of people, families, tribes and nations. There is no point where God is not trying to get a group of people to take further steps on their journey, and that always means change. I think most of us get this intuitively, because we do see that change would be good for us... that's why this whole "resolutions" thing happens.

So our situation is this: we do want change and we need transformation, but it's not going to be easy. While this may seem obvious it is imperative that we accept this truth. If a faithful life is a life of transformation, a faithful life is a hard life. There's just no way around it. And the only way we can get to the destinations we hope for is by embracing the hardship. The sooner we can get rid of those romantic notions of waking up a different person one day through some special magic the better we'll be.

One of my favorite stories related to this topic is the story of the Israelites entering the wilderness after escaping the Egyptians through the Red Sea. You know the story: the were slaves, God sends Moses to free them, lots of plagues happen, then they escape through the Sea and celebrate. And then they get to the wilderness . . . and everything hits the fan. Check it out:

Exodus 16:1-3
The whole congregation of the Israelites set out from Elim; and Israel came to the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had departed from the land of Egypt. The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”

Classic. They miraculously escape from slavery, entirely through God's provision, and then, a little over a month later (about how long our resolutions last!) freak out because God hasn't provided the meals they were hoping for! 

As easy as it is to ridicule the Israelites in this story, I believe we should be cautious here. More often than not, when it comes to transformation we follow the same pattern. It sounds great, we get off to a great start . . . and then its hard! We don't have our old familiar comforts- so we throw in the towel.
So here's my encouragement to you: go ahead and prepare yourself for the wilderness! It won't be easy. The Israelites, believe it or not, did not go back to Egypt, and you don't have to go back either. Here are a few things that helped them keep moving forward; thing that I believe you also will need if you are to make it through the wilderness of change:

1. Community 
The Israelites were in it together. They could lament together, they could encourage each other, and they could find strength to keep up with each other when they wouldn't do it for themselves. The journey of transformation is best made in community.

2. Communion
No, I don't mean bread and wine specifically. I mean time and space to be in God's presence. The Israelites were able to continue with their journey because they had the presence of God with them (and especially the manifestation of God at Sinai). This means time in worship, in silent meditation, or devotional reading, or any of the variety of ways that God calls us into his presence. It is through our time of communion that we are reminded that whatever we are leaving behind, or changing from, is not an ultimate reality and does not provide ultimate satisfaction; only God can provide those things. This allows us to loosen our grip on those things we are leaving behind and move forward.

3. Vision
The Israelites were given the vision of a better life (e.g. the promise land) by Moses, and needed constant reminding of why they were on their journey through the wilderness. Likewise, if we are to make big changes in our life we need a clear picture of why we are changing and what we are changing for. It must be a compelling vision to keep us going through the difficulties that we'll face. And to go back to that community thing, we often need others to remind us of it when our own vision grows blurry.

So... be encouraged on this journey! If you are already feeling the strain of transformation, that's okay. The hard stuff was going to come sooner or later. Let's go ahead, accept it and make sure we have what we need to overcome it: a community, a vision and time and space for God to empower us with his presence.

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