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Faith's Teachable Moments - By Pastor Thomas Engel

I know we are in the middle of Lent and are approaching Easter.

But, I hope you don’t mind that I begin with a Christmas illustration.

Do you remember Ralphie in A Christmas Story? It’s the movie where Ralphie, a young boy, wants a BB rifle for Christmas.

The tension in the movie is, of course, his mom who says, “No, because you will shoot your eye out.”

In a scene that just fills out the movie, Ralphie has been listening to a radio program with Ovaltine as a sponsor.

A commercial builds up a mystery that only by ordering a decoder that you will be able to solve the mystery.

Ralphie orders the decoder. Everyday he looks in the mailbox, and he has huge disappointment each day that it does not come. One day the decoder arrives, and he runs into the house. He grabs a pencil and paper, and then, he locks himself in the bathroom.

His little brother is pounding on the bathroom door, but Ralphie yells, “Go away” as he anxiously wants to solve the secret code. He goes letter by letter.

Finally, he gets the message. It says, “Drink Ovaltine.”

Ralphie says, “Oh man, is that the secret message?”

In total disappointment that the message’s content was just an advertisement, he opens the door for his poor little brother who has been holding it for several minutes.

I feel Ralphie’s disappointment. I use to watch commercials for action figures. I begged to get them for my birthday, and when I got them, I was so disappointed in them. I couldn’t get the action figures to do the daring feats that I saw them do in the commercials.

As we get older and experience more of life, we find that a lot of what’s in life does not turn out as we expect.

You order a new cookbook and expect dishes that will tantalize your taste buds, but the recipes are bland, and after a few bites, you decide to order a pizza-that actually happened to me.

You are looking for the most perfect get-away-from-it-all vacation spot. At the travel agent office, you pull out pamphlets from the rack. The pictures of the beach are tropical and serene. When you get there, you find that the beach is surrounded by an industrial park-that actually happened to me.

You go online and order clothes that will make you look like the coolest in the latest trend in fashion, but you open the package and see that the material is as coarse as burlap-that actually happened to me.

Looking back at your life, what percentage of it has turned out as you expected?

But maybe that percentage is hard to calculate because you have learned to accept life as it comes.

I still played with the action figures, I tried another recipe in the cookbook, I made the best of my little beach, and I wore the burlap-like-material clothes around the house.

Are you one of those people who makes lemonade when life dishes you out lemons?

Are you like Frank Sinatra who sings in the song, “My Way,” “Regrets, I’ve had a few, but then again, to few to mention?”

Are you a person who doesn’t look back, but you are always looking forward?

After all, we learned from Lot’s wife who turned into a pillar of salt after she looked back at Sodom.

God’s command to not to look back was so that those fleeing Sodom would not be caught up in its destruction.

As people of faith, we are meant to be forward moving people, for God always has blessings for us with each step that we take.

We know the story well of how Moses lead the Nation of Israel out their bondage of slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land.

Also, we know how the people complained about their long journey to the Promised Land as they wandered in the wilderness.

It’s that wilderness wandering that will get us every time. We want the straightest and most direct route to our destinations and goals.

We don’t like spinning our wheels and using up our time going in circles.

But, if we are always going in straight lines with no stops, we are not learning much. It’s when we are going in all kinds of directions that we have many points that can make for learning things that we weren’t expecting.

Although a teacher is best to have solid lesson plan to make for a good day of learning. When a subject comes up that was not expected, a teacher will use that time as a teachable moment. Those unplanned learning opportunities are often moments of an epiphany that brings a bright light to our minds.

Those moments can go deep when we are starting to look at something in a new way.

In the wilderness, God was preparing the people to be His unique people in the Promised Land.

But the Nation of Israel were a stubborn people who liked to complain. They could only see as far as the end of their noses.

God did provide for them in the wilderness, but they looked back and thought they had it better in Egypt.

Isn’t that just so human? When we don’t get what we expect, we look back at the past, even if the past was horrific, and want to go back to it, for anything is better than this present moment.

We say, “Those good old days.” The past has some good times, but if we think about them as they really were and not with rose colored glasses, we have to admit that they had their problems, too.

For the Nation of Israel, the past had whips and hard labor in Egypt. Did they really want to go back to those times, or could they have faith in God who knew best for them?

It was all a matter of living by faith. This wandering were all moments that God was using to teach His people to trust in Him.

In moving forward into our next moments, we need to learn to trust that God will always be blessing us in the way that He knows is best for us.

As humans, we have no idea in this life what is next for us, but God as our holy divine creator does know all of our steps.

God is wanting us to have faith in Him that He will provide for us every step of the way.

I have a little concern with the saying, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” It’s not that I’m against positive thinking, but we need to accept some situations as they are.

Going back to those points in life that we would rather not stop at, we know that they are hard, but they are teachable moments.

If we are rushing through the “bad” times, we might be missing an important lesson.

At times, we need to feel the full weight of the time that we are in, even if it’s far from what we want.

I mean who wants time out in the waste land of life? I’ve been out in the waste land of life, and I’ve literally screamed to God, “Hey, let me move on with this. I’m not sure what lesson you are trying to teach me, but I will learn it. Just get me out of here, for I don’t have forty years to be wandering in this mess.”

I’m pretty sure that is not the best conversation to be having with God, but again, who likes wandering in the wasteland?

We do know the story of how the Nation of Israel did learn their lesson to live by faith and trust God for everything.

They got to the Promised Land.

How about our story? Do we know the ending? Where are we going? How will we end up?

It’s true that we don’t know all the specifics of our lives as we go along, but we definitely know the ending of our story.

Not to a spoiler of the ending of your story, but I can boldly say how each of our stories will end.

We will end this life with a beginning to an eternal life in heaven.

This news gives us a direction in this life. Since we know that heaven is ours, we can move with boldness about here on this earth with all of its issues and problems knowing all will finally work out.

We can expect problems in this life that can get us going in circles, but we can also expect help a long the way.

As people of faith, we can always expect forgiveness of every sin that Jesus won for us by his death on the cross.

This forgiveness puts away all shame and guilt. We have a new starting line each day that can move to a life living in God’s good will for us.

As people of faith, we can always expect that God will come to us with His Word that brings light to the darkness of this world, so we can see Him as our Father who loves us, His beloved children.

This past year, as we have seen stay-at-home orders and restrictions that have closed St Philip’s doors at times, God has been sure to come to us with His Word that lifted us up in every difficulty.

In a way, I understand the people wandering in the wilderness. Forty years is a long teachable moment.

But, God had an important lesson for them to learn-to trust in Him for all things.

We, too, have our teachable moments. If you are like me, you want to go through them rather quickly.

But, God wants depth, so we at times need to circle back and learn until we get that depth or stay in something for longer than we would like, so we get all that we can out of it.

God wants us to be people of depth, and what is that depth? A deep trust in Him for all things.

So, for your next teachable moment as long or as intense as it might be like this past of year of a pandemic, we get through learning to trust in God above all things and who always gives us every good thing in Christ Jesus as He surely has done this past year and will do this coming year.

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