Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Steps of a Journey. . .

Tonight I was getting ready for our monthly church services at the Elkhart County Jail.  I was praying for the Lord to give me words in case I was called to speak.  In my minds eye, an image blossomed of two African boys standing next to one another.  Looking like brothers, they are dressed in loin cloths and little else.  The older one had something, a bead, maybe a small piece of carved wood hanging from a cord around his neck.    The older one is maybe seven years old or so and the other at least two or three years younger.  Their bellies are grossly distorted in the classic form of dire hunger.  Their arms and legs, impossibly frail, cannot seem to support even their malignantly thin bodies.  It's not a static picture.  Flies are buzzing, their noses run. . .Their eyes pierce me. . .

I don't know.  I don't understand.  Why are you showing me this Lord?  What does this picture mean?  A small voice in my head replies, "How did they get this way?". . .It comes to me.  This state that they are in, is not from missing one meal.  It isn't from having too little to eat for a month or even for a year. . .These boys have been chronically underfed their entire lives. . . even before their birth there was never enough to eat.  Undoubtedly their mother was starving before they were born. . .Forget prenatal vitamins, it was an exceptional day when her belly was full once.  Starvation does not happen from any single event.  Their state is the result of a process.

We tend to not like processes.  We want to ignore the journey and focus only upon the destination.  We do not want to go on a diet and exercise more, change our lifestyle to lose weight.  We want liposuction.  We do not want to sacrifice for months and years to save up for the down payment on a house.  We want instant credit, no money down.  We fret that the microwave takes too long to heat our instant dinners.  We want our bread sliced and packaged.  We do not like processes.  We want things quick. . . no waiting required. . .

Read the Bible with your eye and ear open for processes. . .

Genesis 1:1-5
In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.  (2)  And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.  (3)  And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.  (4)  And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.  (5)  And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.

From the very first, God showed us the process by which He created the universe.  Could God have spoken everything into being at once?  Surely He could have, but instead he used distinct stages and steps in the process of creation.

Conversely God's first judgment on the earth was also a process:

Genesis 6:5-7
And GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.  (6)  And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart.  (7)  And the LORD said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repents me that I have made them.

God uses Noah.  He gives Noah the plans for this huge ship.  He tells Noah specifically how to make the ark and how to stock it with the different animals of the world.  This takes somewhere between 50 and 100 years for Noah to accomplish.  Could God have done this immediately?  Couldn't He have put Noah and his family to sleep and awoken them when the judgment was accomplished?. . . but there was value in the process for Noah, for his family and ultimately for all of humanity.

In the construction of the ark, Noah and his sons must have been in awe of its dimensions. . .over 450 feet long. . . 75 feet wide. . .4 1/2 stories tall. . .We with our modern exposure to massively constructed buildings cannot grasp how unbelievably impressive this ark must have been.  It dwarfed any ship built for thousands of years. . . and yet for 10 1/2 months as Noah and his family were held captive by the flood, they must have peered anxiously out the little window in the ark, blown helplessly before the wind of God, over the endless waves. . .How small the formerly hugely impressive ark, built by their own hands must have then seemed.  How somber the thoughts of Noah and his family must have been.  Beneath the blue marching waves lay everything they had ever known.  All their childhood friends, cousins, next door neighbors. . . all landmarks, everything familiar, now obliterated, now all the world dead. . . a vividly strong statement from God. . .punctuated by more than 300 days upon the desolately lonely water. . .the process had a purpose. . .There is always a purpose to the process. . .

Psalms 1:1-3
Blessed is the man that walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful.  (2)  But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law does he meditate day and night.  (3)  And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he does shall prosper.

A powerful favorite passage describing a righteous man.  This passage also speaks of a continuing process. While he might occasionally take bad advice, this man does not make a journey with those of ill counsel.  He may also occasionally sin, but he does not linger on that street.  Yes he may sometimes be critical and negative, but that is not a place where he spends much time.  His attention during both his time of business and while taking his rest is upon the Word of God. . .He is not like a dandelion which in comparison pops up overnight.  He is shown as a tree.  Trees are long lived and slow growing spending long decades coming to maturity.  Insulated from times of drought by their deep roots and favorable place of planting.  He will produce blessing for others in the fruit of his branches.

Time and again we see processes on the pages of the Bible. . . Moses 40 years tending sheep. . . The Hebrew people 40 years in the wilderness. . .The construction of the temple. . . the building of the wall around Jerusalem. . .the felling of the wall around Jericho. . .freeze dried quick solutions are not found. . .processes are important to God.  

As I age I find myself having more appreciation for the process.  No longer am I an instant coffee and store bought bread kind of person.  I enjoy the journey.  I regret flying quickly to a destination as missing something quite important.  There is no way to understand and realize the scale of a trip at 600 miles per hour.  The vastness of the distance involved is lost, if not fully experienced. . .I smile. . .to those who know me, I am a notoriously slow driver. . .In these days of high fuel prices. . .maybe I could travel by horse. . .I would very much enjoy that.

I find that I enjoy the process of making tea: heating the water, readying the leaves, allowing them time to steep, before bringing forth their full flavor. . .I enjoy the process of turning a gluey mass of flour, sugar, salt, water, milk, and oil into a living dough. . .waiting while the yeast grows and causes it to swell and rise. . .then on the the wondrously fragrant baking loaves of bread. . .I savor the drive equally as much as the destination. . .

It comes to me, and this is what I spoke of at the jail this past Wednesday evening, that while our journey to God is a process, it is my experience that it is equally true that a journey away from God is also a process.  I watch men and women come out of the jail. . .both destinations toward or away from God involve steps, stages. . . a process of either growing closer to or more distant from God.

We surely do not come to God in just one step.  We grow and grow as He reveals Himself to us, as He reveals to us those ways in which we displease Him.  When I first came to Him, if He had showed me everything that I needed to work on, I would have been crushed as under an avalanche.  In my walk I have found that I as have success in one area, He reveals something else to me that I need to tend to.  He shows me in servings that are not overwhelming.  He gives me in digestible portions, those ways in which I fall short of what He desires for me.   

 The reverse is equally true.  I am convinced that no one backslides, no one falls away from God in just one isolated act.   I have seen it too often, the cooling of the fire, the gradual drifting and falling away.  On both paths, toward God and away from Him, bad decisions are made.  The journey to God, as much as I might wish it, is not an arrow straight highway.  For me it is a path, that I desire to continually lead in His direction, but in hindsight can be seen to be to have been at times disturbingly wide of Him, but. . .but. . . but any single bad decision of mine, while being a detour, is not necessary to become a final destination.  

Occasionally it may seem as if a person will fall away as if struck by a bolt of lightning.  I think it safe to say that hidden from eyes, a cumulation of small steps were taking place that led to the final break that then became visible to the world at large. . .a journey is built of many steps and the steps have importance.

It is not possible, but could I speak from my present knowledge to my past unknowing, I would urge more awareness and appreciation of, contemplation of and meditation upon the beauty of process.  Every journey is a process.  Every process is important. . .Every step on every journey, another opportunity to discover a facet of God. . .

I thank you my Lord. . .
I love you my God. . .

Dave

No comments: