MENU

Pinnacle Presbyterian Church

Echoes Blog

Genesis 19:17
When [Angels of the Lord] had brought [Lot and his family] outside, they said, “Flee for your life; do not look back or stop anywhere in the Plain; flee to the hills, or else you will be consumed."

We read these words from Genesis as instruction to Lot’s family as they leave the infamous cities of Sodom and Gomorrah just moments before the destruction of the two cities. Despite the angel’s warning, we read just nine verses later in v. 26, “But Lot’s wife, behind him, looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.” 

Throughout the years there has been lots of debate about Sodom and Gomorrah, but we often gloss over what happens to Lot’s wife. I mean God went to the trouble of sending His angels to wake up Lot and his family and get them out of the city, before he brought judgment upon it, and then just nine verses later God turns Lot’s wife into a pillar of salt simply for looking back. I don’t know about you, but this has always struck me as strange.

Two weeks ago we spent the week in Navajo, working along the people who live there. It was during our time at Navajo that this passage started to become clearer to me. Let me explain. During our trip, we heard some of the stories of the Navajo people. How their holy people told them that they should settle between their four holy mountains. How for thousands of years they had everything they needed. Then the European’s came and brought disease and stole land that belonged to God. We heard stories about how the early settlers took the land where the Native American’s lived and how in an effort to tame the savages, the United States government took young boys out of their homes and sent them to boarding schools, “Indian Schools,” so they could be taught English and become more American.

We also learned the same government that took children from their homes and punished them for speaking their native language, 80 years later needed the Navajo and their language to win WWII. Some say if it wasn’t for the Navajo Code Talkers, the U.S. might not have won the war against Japan. After WWII, when a Navajo was asked why they helped the government that took so much from them, one Code Talker responded “I did it because this is my country.”

It is hard to hear about the past atrocities of the Navajo people as a European descendant and not feel a sense of shame of guilt. It would not have surprised me if there were Navajo people who, at the sight of our group, were hostile or showed resentment towards us. However, this was not the case. While we were there, we felt nothing but love and hospitality. So how do people who have had such terrible things done to them by the “white man” and our government not hold a grudge? Because they don’t look back!!

The Navajo people don’t believe in looking back, but rather to the future. One person said, “we can’t change the past, and we can’t change what happened to our ancestors by your ancestors, but we can change how we treat each other today and in the future, so let’s show each other love and respect.” This isn’t just something they talk about; it is part of who they are as Navajo. In fact, they have buildings called Hogans. These are the traditional building of the Navajo people and now used for ceremonial purposes. As you enter a Hogan, you enter the door and turn left. If you want to leave you, must walk around the entire Hogan and exit on the left, signifying the importance of never looking back and always moving forward. 

As we spent a night in a Hogan, it hit me how the Navajo way of life was much more “Christian” than the “Christians” who came and took their land, killed their food supply for fur and tried to wipe out their culture. As Christians, we spend a lot of time looking back, like Lot’s wife. We think about the people who wronged us, the “unforgivable” things we have done, or opportunities missed and it consumes a lot of our time and energy. There is something about the past that allows us to justify things in the future. How many of us have thought, “I did this, because last week/month/year, so and so did that to me?” 

I sometimes think, good or bad, we long for the past, like Lot’s wife, because it is what we know. The future can be scary, as it is full of uncertainty, but it is also full of hope and new beginnings. One thing, of many, I learned this past week is that to follow Christ, our hope must be in the present and future and not in the past. Despite the fact that many of us want to live in the past, we can’t change it, all we can do is move forward. 

Looking forward is part of the Navajo culture. It is who they are. It is because of this hope in tomorrow that allows them to forgive in a Christ-like manner. I encourage you to not to look back, but keep your eyes looking forward, to the hope that is Jesus Christ. If you need to let go of a past hurt or past sin so you can focus on the future, do it! Jesus tells us to lay our burdens at the foot of the cross, and He will deal with them, He will take away our burdens so we can live in the hope that is Jesus Christ because living with hope is how we should live life. 

To pay bills one summer during college, I drove truck for a fireworks company in Portland. In those B.I. days (Before iPhone), I carried a pocket New Testament wherever I went, to help me memorize. One day I tossed a pile of invoices on top of that little blue Book on the desk, and my boss went ballistic. “How dare you put anything over the Word of God?!” The man had never read the Book, mind you, but he was scandalized.  I’m not normally quick on the draw (always a sub-par trash-talker, actually, now envious of my sons’ knack for rapid repartee); but that morning I didn’t hesitate to deadpan: “Paper and ink.”

It may sound crass – even blasphemous, from a Bible guy. It did to my boss. But I’m still proud of that moment, because when Isaiah the prophet said,

The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever. (Isaiah 40.8)
and,
As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth…so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose...  (Isaiah 55.10-11)

– when Isaiah said these brilliant things about God’s word, he wasn’t talking about a tome or a scroll. Nothing like our Bible existed in his day. When he pictured the word of God, it was something that happened, not a book.

Isaiah’d been hearing family stories for as long as he could remember. He knew God spoke to Abraham and Sarah to start a people and through Moses on Sinai to shape that people. God told Samuel to anoint David as King of Israel, and God spoke through Nathan the prophet to bring him back down to size when he overreached. Isaiah may have heard that God started everything with words – “Let there be light!” The word of God for Isaiah meant nothing less than the speech of a God whose words work.

Near the end of the first century, a Christian man sat down to the impossible task of writing Jesus’ story. No book could contain Him, and so the author’s disclaimer: “If I were to write everything Jesus did, all the libraries in the world couldn’t hold it!” (John 21.25)  But how to start – where to begin? He prayed…and thought…and then wrote these sentences: 

In the beginning was the Word. And the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the Beginning with God. All things were created through Him… And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we beheld his glory... (John 1.1-3, 14)  

Christians believe that God loved us enough to show us God’s self in this One. Many of us wonder where to start with the Bible. It’s never a bad choice to start with the gospels – the words about the Word. After Jesus, everything else falls into place.

Seek the Lord and Live

Seek the Lord and Live
~ ... Amos 5:6a


The great Russian writer Leo Tolstoy told of the day he was so overcome with depression that he considered suicide. On this day he went off for a long walk, trying to find an answer to life… unable to find real meaning in the things he was doing at that time. In his desperation, he went back to the house and, as a last resort, began to pray. Tolstoy then wrote this:

So then, why look I further? The reason I can't help thinking of God is because God is here, and the reason life takes on meaning when I think of God is because God gives life meaning. This is what I'm looking for. This is it. I will seek God and live.

Jesus said, “Seek (and keep on seeking) and you will find." (Matthew 7:7). The question worth asking ourselves is: What are we seeking? There are any number of worthwhile and desirable goals to which we can aspire (as well as a long list of vain pursuits that vie for our attention). From time to time it is helpful to take inventory of your lives, order our priorities, and discern what really matters to us. As we recognize with Tolstoy that God gives life meaning, indeed that God is life, may we join our prayers with the Psalmist:

“O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you;
My soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you,
In a dry and weary land where there is no water.”
~ Psalm 63:1

 

My cousin, Eric, writes a column for some small town newspapers in Northern Minnesota where he muses about small town life, including church life. In one of his columns, he tackles the subject of church dinners, commenting “I choose church dinners by food rather than doctrine. Meatball suppers always tempt me. Ham never fails. Turkey is fine, but barbecue of any sort will lure me for sure. I regard lutefisk as a toxic substance. Let's hope terrorists never get a hold of it, because they could paralyze the entire country. I take long detours around lutefisk suppers just to be safe.”

Breaking bread together is a rich tradition in our Christian faith. I was strongly influenced by studying with the community of St. John's Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota. The Abbey is founded on the Rule of St. Benedict where “hospitality is the way we come out of ourselves. It is the first step toward dismantling the barriers of the world. Hospitality is the way we turn a prejudiced world around, one heart at a time.” Based on the Benedictine Rule, everyone at the abbey—everyone--is received as Christ.

I believe hospitality to be one of the foundations of our life together and a profound act of caring. Imagine how we would benefit from always receiving each other as if we were receiving Christ. Hospitality is part of our culture at Pinnacle Presbyterian, and warm welcome has become a core value of our SAGE group where we break bread every Wednesday for our noon meal.

Jesus himself broke the bread, shared it, and said, “This is my body broken for you.” At our church meals, we do this in remembrance of Him, and we become the incarnation of the Body of Christ.  Warm welcome is our table grace.

 

 

Enthusiastic Faith

Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.
~ 1 Corinthians 12: 27

Last week at Pinnacle we hosted our first week-long Leadership Academy for upper elementary aged children. We spent time in the classroom studying the traits of successful leaders. The kids focused attention on Bible study and different kinds of prayer. We enjoyed some team-building activities and fun lunchtime together. The kids had opportunities to go out into our community to put their newly acquired leadership skills in action packing food for starving children at Feed My Starving Children and providing a few days of VBS for the children at a local homeless shelter. On Friday afternoon as we closed the week, the children sat in a circle and shared their reflections. When asked to name the highlights of the week, every student mentioned our mission projects almost exclusively.

We can all learn a lot by observing our church’s children. They have enthusiastic faith. They are accepting and forgiving.  And, as we saw last week, they live to serve.  As I watched kids engage with their faith, I am reminded that I, too, can enjoy such an unbridled relationship with God. I just need to stay out of my own way and keep my eyes focused on what really matters. If I let myself, I can be such an amazing piece of the “body of Christ” both at church and in His Kingdom.

In fact, as I reflect on a couple of years in the ministry at Pinnacle, the times I remember as the most special are the times I was part of engaging children and families in becoming God’s hands and feet. I loved those times when church was not an event or even a place, but was us serving as one Body in Christ. My faith grew the most when I was a part of something bigger than me. As I move on to new ministry opportunities, I will take these special moments and use them in continued service to God. I also know that God remains very much at work in the ministry at Pinnacle and have faith that our children will grow to new heights in their collective and individual walk with Christ. As Kingdom builders, we can both continue in God’s hands, doing God’s work as one church, one body in Christ. I know our paths will continue to cross, merge and grow in the years to come.  “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28.