red light, green light

My family lived on a cul-de-sac off another cul-de-sac, which meant that all the kids in the neighborhood played together in the street without really worrying about traffic. Four families on our block had kids around the same age, including ours, and so my brother and I grew up playing outside, not sitting in front of the tv or playing video games. We played every imaginable game and sport – we transformed the swing set in the backyard to our salvation from the lava below, we acted out Power Rangers episodes and movies where we had to escape from monsters, and we threw together boxes and tape and rigged up hockey goals and free throw lines for basketball. Remember the game “Red light, green light”? I remember being WORN OUT playing that one. We would run ourselves ragged playing outside until the street lights came on, signcaling time to say goodbye to our friends and go home to each of our houses for dinner.

When I went on my trip to Uganda in college, our team taught the kids lots of games and songs from when we were kids, and this was definitely a game we thought they would LOVE. But upon explaining, we received blank stares.

HELLO, Americans, the stoplight image is not a familiar one to children in Kabale, Uganda.

Let’s try that one again. We taught them the same game as  “Coooooooooooooome…….STOP!” which resulted in hours of running and laughing and ex. The basis of that game is that you really commit and you follow that leaders’ instructions to run and then to stop with all the energy you’ve got. You genuinely run as FAST as you possibly can and then try to the best of your ability to halt to a complete standstill when the STOP command comes. As adults, we rarely commit to expounding energy at this rate without the benefit of competitive sports or the promise of reward at the end. Just running and stopping in a game with no winner isn’t really on our radar.

In the book of Numbers, the Israelites are playing red light, green light with God. The story goes:

On the day that the tabernacle was set up, the cloud covered the tabernacle, the tent of the testimony. And at evening it was over the tabernacle like the appearance of fire until morning. So it was always: the cloud covered it by day and the appearance of fire by night. And whenever the cloud lifted from over the tent, after that the people of Israel set out, and in the place where the cloud settled down, there the people of Israel camped. At the command of the Lord the people of Israel set out, and at the command of the Lord they camped. As long as the cloud rested over the tabernacle, they remained in camp. Even when the cloud continued over the tabernacle many days, the people of Israel kept the charge of the Lord and did not set out. Sometimes the cloud was a few days over the tabernacle, and according to the command of the Lord they remained in camp; then according to the command of the Lord they set out. And sometimes the cloud remained from evening until morning. And when the cloud lifted in the morning, they set out, or if it continued for a day and a night, when the cloud lifted they set out. Whether it was two days, or a month, or a longer time, that the cloud continued over the tabernacle, abiding there, the people of Israel remained in camp and did not set out, but when it lifted they set out. At the command of the Lord they camped, and at the command of the Lord they set out. They kept the charge of the Lord, at the command of the Lord by Moses.” (Number 9:15-23, ESV)

When the presence of the Lord moved, the people moved. When it stopped, they stopped. They camped in that place until the Lord moved again. And mind you, they weren’t the jolliest of campers about all of this, but they had a leader, Moses, who trusted and followed God and interceded on behalf of the people. I desire to follow Jesus this way. In the desert, to trust and obey, to pick up and move my emotional campsite wherever God takes me. And I still have a long way to go. But when I think about the way that God calls us to follow, it is never simply to believe something – there is always action that results. I think I am much better at believing and much more fearful to invest in that as action. When we submit our plans to Him, it takes trust and perseverance and ACTION – He will make your path straight and then you have to WALK it!

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)

Green light.


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