Provision in the Wilderness

"Then the Lord said to Moses, “Tell the people of Israel to turn back and encamp in front of Pi-hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea, in front of Baal-zephon; you shall encamp facing it, by the sea. For Pharaoh will say of the people of Israel, ‘They are wandering in the land; the wilderness has shut them in.’ Exodus 14:1-3
 
Dear Servants,
 
I'm so blessed to be studying and teaching through the book of Exodus this Lent. While Genesis is the "Book of Beginnings," Exodus is itself a book of firsts in so many ways. God makes His people a nation rather than just a family. He makes them to know Him as the great "I AM" not only as His name but experiencing Himself as "the one who delivers you from bondage." In Exodus the children of Israel know God for the first time as Redeemer! If you've meant to attend this study and got distracted, you still have three weeks. We will take this coming week off (March 22) and meet again March 29 when we will examine chapters 12-18 looking at how Israel is led by Divine Rule. Important to us will be how does Israel learn to discern and follow God to the place and purpose He has ordained for them?
 
I find particularly helpful how God uses the imagery of the abyss in Exodus to teach me about God's provision in the face of what appears to be a dead end. This word was especially important to me when I heard from Harvest Christian Church this last week. Their pastor called to tell me that after a long search, they had decided not to sell us their buildings but instead to put capital resources into improving them for a long-term stay. You may recall that we had presented Harvest with an offer that they had accepted, contingent on their finding a suitable space to move their congregation. They were unable to find a space, so once again we find ourselves with no viable prospect for a building to purchase despite a wonderful start to our building fund and favorable relationships with our banker and architect. How will God provide? Where is He calling us given the property market in Gainesville? I don't know that answer, but I know the God in whom I've placed my trust. I know God through His previous faithfulness, so I know He will be faithful in the future. This is also the testimony of Scripture.
 
Up against the frustration of no progress on our acquisition of a building of our own, I want to relate the joy of a pastoral experience I've recently walked through. Two Wednesdays ago while I was visiting Gainesville Community Ministry, I had just announced to the director, Michael Wright that I couldn't stay for my normal 1½ hour shift because of a pastoral emergency at Shands. As I started to leave, Ms. Ruby saw me and said, "Pastor Farmer, you always come on just the right days." This is usually code for she has a difficult or needy client. Sure enough, I was introduced to an elderly lady who was stranded downtown. She needed a ride back across town to one of the rough apartments off of SW 20th Street just west of I-75. I told her I could give her a ride, but she would have to wait for me at Shands while I visited a patient. And so she did and I found myself crossing town with this very rough-looking elderly lady. It wasn't two minutes before we were talking church and her testimony of coming to Christ.
 
"I'm HIV positive. I used to be a prostitute and crack addict," she said. At which point I said, "Wow, I was just preaching about the woman who cleans Jesus' feet with her tears and dries them with her hair. You must really love stories about how Jesus affected those most outcast in society." She loved that story and continued to witness to her love for Jesus. Then we began to compare the folks she's known. She talked about the HIV clinic and how they saved her life (we shared people we both know in that ministry). We shared about friends we both have in recovery groups, we talked about the work of Created Ministry to Vulnerable Women which got her very excited. We talked about people we both know who live in the poverty and violence of her neighborhood; I shared about the police sergeant from our church who patrols her area. As we got back to her apartment and she walked away thankful to be home, I was thankful to God for Servants of Christ. I praised God that I wasn't just another white, middle-aged pastor with an isolated middle-class congregation, safely detached from people like this women. Sure, all pastors help such people but it dawned on me that everything we discussed related to members of my church family, and their testimonies as people transformed by the Gospel and engaged in their community.
 
Friends, we don't have our own building, we have no sense of permanence in Gainesville. But we have God's promise to go with us into the future, and we have a clear call to purpose - a church engaged with its community. I just left a clergy meeting where one of our speakers challenged us, "If the Church is absent from the community, the community will be absent from the Church."
 
May Servants of Christ's congregation always be present in our community. God bless you as you continue to walk through a Holy Lent.
 
Onward and Upward,
Alex +

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