First in series: The Book of Exodus
IT’S DIFFERENT WHEN GOD FEELS RELIABLE (INTRODUCTION TO EXODUS)
My wife has a masters in Early Childhood Education, and when she was in school she would regularly come home and get me in conversation about fascinating insights into human development
Everytime the experience would be like: this explains EVERYTHING... about life… it’s all so clear!
The insights of course did not actually explain EVERYTHING…
But maybe you’re like me and when you learn a new idea and it feels so true to you, you go through a love-affair with it for a time being.
You’re just so perfect.
I understand all of life now because of you.
I just… I... love you... so much.
Eventually the passion dies down, and I come back to reality
OK, it doesn’t explain EVERYTHING
But it is super helpful!
Anyway, one such super helpful idea we talked about (actually Nader who spoke last week here referred to it too) is “Attachment Theory”
Which, among other things, is about how reliable a child experiences a parent/primary caregiver to be
If a child has experienced their parent to be generally present, responsive, caring, engaged with them, then they are said to have “good attachment”
For me, this is about my routine of dropping my son off at daycare
It’s a sort of “temporary de-tachment”
There’s almost always tears and shouts the first several times, and that was certainly the case with my son
It’s really hard - you start to wonder: am I a bad parent?
But that’s where attachment theory is helpful
It tells me that, eventually, if there’s “good attachment” children are able to build up a confidence that their parent always comes back to pick them up… to “re-attach”
They can’t explain it of course, but they learn to operate out of trust, and the drop-off becomes less traumatic
Because they “view” their parent as reliable
So I’m really intrigued by applying attachment theory to the connection we feel with God
We might highlight Jesus favorite way to address God, calling him “Father” - he assigned to God the role of ultimate parent.
As though a key thing for Jesus was drawing people's attention to the parental nature of their relationships with God.
To, what we today might call, the state of our attachment with God.
In this way, Jesus seemed to be asking people:
Is your deep-down, honest-with-yourself view of God that he is reliable? that he is trustworthy? That he is like a good parent, who, if he drops us off at daycare, we are confident he will be coming back?
This is very different than what I report to be my view of God when asked.
This is NOT “what I say I believe”, this is “what I unthinkingly feel"
That which would show itself unfiltered if you were a three year old being dropped off at daycare
No matter our religion, our beliefs, our theologies, so much of all of our lives will pose to us the question:
Is there really a higher reliability or trustworthiness that I can look to?
Is there really a good God? - not just abstractly, but concretely, a God who will be good to me, to person X, to person Y…
So much of life poses this question because so much of life includes challenging and hard and confusing things.
The sorts of things that feel so arbitrary, so cosmically unfair, maybe "just so damn hard” that we think:
If there is a God at all, that God must be aloof, disinterested, absent, or not powerful enough to do anything about this
If we’re skeptical of faith, maybe it’s this question that keeps us away, or holding faith at arm’s length but no closer
Or if we are (or have been) a person of faith, maybe it’s this question that is the most enduring and maddening struggle of our lives… the puzzle piece that just won’t seem to fit!
We are not bad people when we wrestle with this question!
It makes so much sense that we would! Because we’re human!
And every human ever in history has experienced or will eventually experience challenge and hardship…
They are a part of life
Transition to a new season of life - moving, starting school, starting a job, losing a job, leaving friends, having to make new friends
Trouble in a relationship - we’re fighting now more than ever before
An illness or death in the family…
Or perhaps an illness or health-scare of our own
The chaos of a natural disaster - the flooding in Louisiana or the earthquake in Italy
An identity crises - life is not what I thought it was, I am not who I thought I was
I often wonder if the greatest threat that challenges or hardships in our lives pose to us
Is not necessarily the challenges or hardships themselves
But the way their impact on us can tear down our confidence that God, that anything is reliable or trustworthy
Because what makes these parts of our lives bearable is hope - that they won’t be the end of our story
Hope that good will return to us, and that we can find peace and rest now even as we wait for that…
That God is reliable to see this through.
What makes the unavoidable challenges and hardships of life bearable is when, as adults, we find ourselves living like the well-attached child who trusts their parent will return to pick them up from daycare at the end of the day
The beautiful thing I’ve learned and what I want us to come away with today is this: it is NOT up to me and you to make ourselves feel God to be reliable like this
(Although we might be prone to assuming the burden is on us, as Americans who are supposed to be self-made women and men that “pull ourselves up by our bootstraps”)
Rather, God takes the responsibility on himself
And of course a good God would!
We would see the parent that lays the responsibility of building good attachment on their 3 year old’s shoulders as cruel! (And digging their own grave!)
A good parent takes the responsibility of building good attachment with their children on his or her self
When we become aware of God doing this for us, everything changes, in the best ways.
When God honestly, deep-down feels reliable and trustworthy to us
We receive life, including its challenges and hardships, with an ease and peace and hope and joy
We become resilient
We can access a deep, true happiness or content, even in the midst of sorrow or awful circumstances
I’ve shared with many of you before, my first-ever introduction to faith was this sort of thing:
I experienced God come to me and give me unexplainable calm & hope after I lost my mom to cancer when I was 15 years old
Well, this is what we are jumping off of as we start a new series of talks at BLV today.
We want to spend the next number of weeks inviting God to show himself reliable to us in various ways by going through a particular book in the Bible.
Exodus - which has some really famous portions
It begins with the story of the great Hebrew hero Moses
It has the most grand story of the whole Old Testament - the liberation of the Hebrew people from slavery in Egypt (the plagues, the crossing of the Red Sea)
It has the Ten Commandments… (don’t worry, Kyle’s look at the Ten Commandments in a few weeks will be sans-Charlton Heston)
And then, interestingly, the bulk of the book is about the now-freed-but-not-yet-settled Hebrew people wandering through the deserts of modern day Iran, as they move toward a land God has promised them
What we think we will find in going through Exodus together is insight after insight into the reliable and trustworthy character of God
And maybe the most attractive thing about the way the narratives of the book of Exodus were developed and written down and and passed-on generation to generation by the Hebrew people is how they resonate with, and never brush aside, that deeply human struggle --
That life’s challenges and hardships can so often lead us to believe God is NOT reliable or trustworthy…
And that, when we are in such a place, it is not as though any of us can just flip a switch to start feeling something different
And so, as we continually encounter throughout the book of Exodus the message that "Life is different when God feels reliable”
That will never feel to us trite, or like a pat-answer
Rather, it will feel to us like a wonderful parent taking upon themselves the responsibility for building good attachment with us
What a gift!
The students of human behavior and development among us might tell us: if God truly is our ultimate parent (as Jesus suggested) there is no greater gift we could be offered
The point in Exodus that we might see as setting up this theme for the first time, so the rest of the story can build upon it, is when God speaks to Moses in the episode known as the Burning Bush
Maybe you’re familiar
After somewhat miraculously making it through childhood as a Hebrew boy in the courts of the Egyptian Pharaoh (when all other Hebrews in Egypt are slaves), the privileged young Moses witnesses an Egyptian cruelly treating a fellow Hebrew, and he kills the Egyptian in anger as his eyes are opened to the oppression his people are experiencing
He ends up on the run from the law, and then lives out much of his life in the deserts away from Egypt.
He settles down with a wife and a job tending sheep for his father-in-law, presumably trying to forget his past and the plight of his people
But then one day he sees a bush that appears to be on fire but is not burning up. He goes over to see it, and God speaks to him.
As we read the record of what God says, I want you to think about Moses’ state of attachment with God
What would you guess it is?
What do you think Moses’ knee-jerk, gut-instinct view of God is at this point in his life, having gone through what he has gone through?
My guess is that Moses was just as human as us… and he might be struggling to see God as reliable.
[God] said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob...
“I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. 8 So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey—the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. 9 And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. 10 So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”
So we have Moses
No longer young… Middle-aged, disenchanted, or maybe tortured is a better descriptor
Likely struggling with his attachment to God, not at all sure God is reliable
But then God speaks to him
And there is not an ounce of criticism in God’s words toward Moses
There is no “you’re having trouble believing in me? that’s kind of on you, dude"
There is no trite encouragement to: just trust in God!
There is only understanding and kindness
I have seen your misery
I have heard your cries
I have come to rescue you
Your job is just to put yourself in position to experience what I will do.
I (God) am taking responsibility for this. Your people (and you, Moses) will not be left alone in your suffering.
I want you to experience the hope and peace of feeling me reliable and trustworthy, so I take that burden upon myself.
Now, to be sure, putting yourself in position to experience what God will do can take some risk and effort
After this message from God, a conversation between Moses and God commences, as Moses — in the classic mold of true heroes — did not at all see himself as someone right or worthy for the task God has for him
So, in Moses’ case, putting himself in position to experience what God will do involved some significant real-life risk-taking
Facing his demons and going back to the land he’d fled
Confronting the Pharaoh of Egypt - the most powerful man in the known world
Leading his people
And, as we’ll see later on in Exodus when we talk about the wanderings of the Hebrew people in the desert after God freed them…
If we willfully avoid making efforts to put ourselves in position to experience God’s promise to show himself reliable... if we experience God making us a promise but then spurn his offer...
The stakes of such choices are high and very real
There is, apparently, no quicker road to misery and hopelessness and feeling like life is small and like we never have enough… more on that in a few weeks
But, for now, all this to say,
While God takes the responsibility for the heavy lifting of building up our confidence in him
We do of course have a part to play in the experience of our own life
We have to be willing to check out the burning bush, listen to the voice, and stay in the conversation even if it is taking us out of our comfort zone
After my mom died, I basically floated through existence for two years not sure if anything in life could be relied on,
And then I had my first ever spiritual experience when I ended up on a retreat hosted by a church that a friend of mine went to
I’d never been a praying person before, but my friend and his friends were nice (not at all a given in high school!)
On that retreat it felt like God came to me, a kid who had no idea how to grieve the death of a parent, and took it upon himself to shape my view of life and of his character in a way that would serve me going forward
Like talk about a tipping point for a young person - I was at one!
Was I going to become a “cynical, emotionally-shut-down, unwilling to believe in anything” adult… Or was I going to end up on track toward something better?
In that place, I felt like God assured me: you are not crushed. Your life is not over.
Feeling God consider me that way, meet me in that way, having never been a praying person in my youth… that just built in me at a foundational level such a trust that God IS reliable
I didn’t have to come to him the right way, or discover the formula to his “mysterious ways”
He came to me. He thought it important to stop me from floating through life any further without any belief in anything
After that experience, I felt: this is all very new, but of course I want to keep putting myself in position to continue to connect with this God
When my brother died suddenly a little over a year ago...
Again, I felt God spring into action on my behalf
Taking the responsibility upon himself
By this time I’d now been a praying person for over a decade, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t need God to come to me again
And he did. Again and again last year as I prayed, I felt God saying to me: this is so terrible; I’m heartbroken too... but you are not going to be crushed. I am with you, and I will see you and your family through this
So I wonder if, to your mind, you’re experiencing any challenge or hardship right now?
Have you had to face death or loss or grief or tragedy recently?
Or is there anything leaving you feeling like nothing in life can be relied on?
So often of late I feel like I’m in conversations with people where their work is doing this to them
Like: my job is killing my soul… I feel exhausted all the time
Or are you transitioning to a whole new season of life?
Starting a new job?
Are you a bit like Moses, and the plight of a particular people group (maybe your own) weighs on you?
And sometimes you want to run away from it all because it just feels so big and overwhelming?
Whatever it is for us
These things will shout out at us that God is not going to be there to pick us up from day-care at the end of the day
This is part of our human experience
But what if God understands that, and wants to make it his own business to help YOU develop good attachment with him -- and develop a resilient and hopeful outlook on life
If that sounds like a welcome opportunity at all to you, in a moment I want to give us a chance in prayer to put ourselves in position to experience God doing that for us…
I’ll guide us through it, and have us each on our own pray something to the effect of “God, I invite you to take responsibility for my view of you”
And if something seems to be happening for you internally while we do that, a couple suggestions…
First, ask God to show you what it looks like for you to continue to put yourself in position to experience him doing this for you
It’s one thing to experience this in a time devoted to prayer
But what does this look like in your daily life?
What does this look like when you wake up in the morning and maybe don’t feel like getting out of bed?
What does this look like when you get some bad news in the middle of a workweek and that’s making you feel hopeless and like God doesn’t exist?
For me, all those years ago, it was as simple as: starting to go to church regularly… maybe that feels obvious, but it wasn’t to me; I’d never done that before
Second, can I encourage you to have someone from our prayer team this morning pray with you?
After I finish praying over all of us, we’re going to enter into a time of song… something spiritual communities have done for centuries to slow down from the pace of life and encounter God at an emotional level.
You can engage in whatever way feels best to you. Maybe it is singing along (we’ll have the lyrics up on the screen here). Or maybe it is just sitting back and letting the music hit you.
And, as we are doing that, this morning’s prayer team will be in the back. Any of them would love to pray with you if you’re feeling any kind of sense that God might be speaking to you -- whether you’re feeling that right now or at any point while we’re singing together.
Having someone pray with you gives you another set of antennae for sensing what God might offering to you, and hey, you never know, maybe that’s something life-changing today
The people on our prayer team are trained and safe folks; no one is going to make you feel uncomfortable or give you unasked for advice, and everything you share is confidential.
So if you will stand with me