Monday, September 22, 2008

I've Never Noticed That Before

Ever had one of those “I’ve never noticed that before” moments? You drive down a street you have traveled hundreds of times and see a building decades old that seemed to appear overnight. You discover a new feature in something you own that was standard equipment when you bought it. You admire a painting on a wall that has tied the room together for years. A new freckle is discovered on your spouse they swear was there when they were born. I’ll stop the examples there. It frequently happens to me. I think I must miss a lot.

That moment of surprise and discovery happens often for me with the Bible. It did again this week when I was preparing for the privilege of issuing the ordination charge to Dr. Rick Hess, professor of Old Testament at Denver Seminary. I was traveling through that familiar dramatic passage in 1 Samuel 3. Most of my attention usually goes to the powerful drama of Samuel hearing God’s voice and not recognizing it. I am inspired when Eli mentors him to respond: “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.” Suspense heightens when God speaks to an attentive Samuel and gave him visions that changed his life and the world around him. It is all so inspiring and powerful. It is what every destiny-shaped heart longs for.

The dramatic and familiar can easily distract, or at least monopolize our attention. An exquisite black and white Ansel Adams image might be missed if hung next to the explosive color of a Picasso painting. Verse one became like an Ansel Adams hanging next to the Picasso-colored events of the passage.

“In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions.”
1 Samuel 3:1
The call of God on an individual and community is always unique and contextual. It is always intensely personal and unapologetically Missional. Samuel’s call began with a powerful statement about the context of his call.

“In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions.”

The implication is clear: where the word of the Lord is plentiful, visions abound. People see with new eyes and are compelled to respond in ways they would otherwise have never envisioned.

God’s Word was never meant to be a book of religious regulations or a record to preserve or imprison people in the past. The Word of God bears witness and calls people to the creative and redemptive nature, character and purposes of God. Genesis begins with creation out of God’s Word. Revelation ends with the new creation. In between is the unfolding, never-stagnant, always dynamic narrative of God’s call on His people to live the Kingdom vision for the sake of all nations. Even when they were uprooted and displaced in exile, God called His people to His Word-inspired vision:

This is what God the Lord says—
he who created the heavens and
stretched them out,
who spread out the earth with all that springs from it,
who gives breath to its people,
and life to those who walk on it:
“I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness;
I will take hold of
your hand.
I will keep you and will make you
to be a covenant for the
and a light for the Gentiles,
to open eyes that are blind,
to free captives from prison
and to release from the dungeon those who
sit in darkness.
“I am the Lord; that is my name!
I will not yield my
glory to another
or my praise to idols.
See, the former things have
taken place,
and new things I declare;
before they spring into being
I announce them to you.”

Isaiah 42:5-9

Jesus’ arrival, life, teaching, death, resurrection and ascension were all rooted in His preoccupation with the Kingdom of God. It is also what the Spirit’s arrival at Pentecost was all about - fulfilling the promise that old people will dream dreams and young people will see new visions of God’s unfolding redemption.

In these days, the word of the Lord is rare; and there are not many visions.

Inside the church, there is an all-to-common preoccupation with survival by trying to polish old visions. Outside the church, the word of the Lord is rare, leaving a vacuum filled by false idols, promises and forms of security. The breaking news stories and bold headlines of the last week announce the repercussions of their failure to deliver.

In these days, the word of the Lord is rare; and there are not many visions.

How are we rooting ourselves in God’s Word in a way that moves beyond information to transformation through Word-inspired visions? How are we engaging God’s Word in a way that compels our best dreams for when we are most fully awake? How attentive are we to God’s voice that His Word is frequent and His visions are plentiful?

God’s call on each of our lives, and all of us together is urgent, personal and unapologetically Missional. It is to live out His Word-inspired visions in such a way that a watching desperate world might sit up, take notice and say:

“I’ve never noticed that before.”

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