On Saturday, we visited the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY, with a group of friends from church. It was a beautiful day and an enjoyable visit.
The story is told about a Russian Jew who immigrated to Israel during the Soviet period, which was a rare occurrence. When he landed at Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv, a reporter met him. First, the reporter asked, “How was life in Russia?” The new emigrant replied, “I do not complain.” The reporter asked a second question, “How was the housing situation in Russia?” The man replied again, “I do not complain.” The reporter posed another question, “What about working conditions?” Again, the man replied, “I do not complain.” Exasperated, the reporter demanded, “If you don’t complain about life in Russia, why do you come to Israel?” The Russian retorted, “Because in Israel I can complain!”
We don’t consider grumbling or complaining to be an issue. It is not found on the list of the 7 deadly sins. There are no support groups like Grumblers Anonymous or 12 step programs to free you from an addiction to complaining. Not only do we not see it as a problem, we believe we are entitled to grumbling and complaining. In fact, we think it is our God-given right.
In contrast, Numbers 11 describes why complaining is a problem and why God deals with it so severely. The chapter points out that when we complain, we are a self-centered, ungrateful, jealous rebel. Rather than complain about what we don’t have, we are to give thanks for what God has provided.
After spending one year camped at Mt Sinai, Israel breaks camp and starts to move (Numbers 10:11, 17). Following God’s leading, the nation marches for three days (10:33-36). And the complaints begin (11:1). “Life is so hard!” “Do we have to eat this again?” “I’m so overworked!” “I’ve been replaced!”
Complaint #1: “Life is so hard!” (11:1-3). In the absence of vision, people complain about petty issues. When we get our eyes off of God, we complain about our problems and misfortunes. Our complaining ultimately reveals an attitude of rebellion against God. Consequently, God brings judgment against a critical spirit.
Complaint #2: “Do we have to eat this again?” (4-9, 18-20, 31-33). Complaining is an infectious disease. It spreads from a few people on the fringes to the nation as a whole and ultimately infects Moses and Joshua. In large part, it stems from idolizing the past which causes us to lose sight of what God is doing in the present. Rather than thanking God for his provision of manna, the people pine for the “good-old-days” of slavery in Egypt when food was plentiful. Again, complaining reveals an attitude of rebellion and rejection of God. It also demonstrates that a blessing that is not appreciated can turn into a curse.
Complaint #3: “I’m so overworked!” (10-17, 21-25). If a leader constantly listens to the complaints of his followers, he will eventually turn inward and implode. That certainly happens to Moses as he complains to God about “I” and “me.” He loses sight of God’s presence and power. God’s response is to offload some of Moses’ responsibility to others, which means Moses now will share both the responsibility and the credit with others.
Complaint #4: “I’ve been replaced!” (26-30). Joshua becomes jealous when he sees others are doing Moses’ ministry. Moses is able to break the cycle of complaining by keeping his focus on God.
We need to keep in mind the instructions of the apostle Paul in Philippians 2:14-16.
Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.
This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on September 24, 2017. It is part of a series of sermons on the life of Moses. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.
It never ceases to amaze me how various parts of Scripture all dovetail together to communicate the same theme. I am preaching this Sunday on Numbers 11. I am teaching Awana T&T next Wednesday on “God is All-Powerful.” I am also studying Jonah for our next elders & wives Bible study. All three point to the power of God.
In Numbers 11, Moses listens to the complaints of the Israelites and begins to doubt God’s ability to provide for Israel’s needs. God rebukes his lack of faith with the statement, “Is the Lord’s hand shortened? Now you shall see whether my word will come true for you or not” (Numbers 11:23).
In the Awana lesson, God’s power is displayed over nature (Jesus calming the storm, Matthew 8:23-27), sickness and disease (Jesus healing a blind man, John 9:1-12), and death (Jesus being raised from the dead, Matthew 28:1-8).
In his commentary on the book of Jonah, Dr. Charles L. Feinberg explains why the story of Jonah is often rejected.
Ridicule has especially centered around the swallowing of Jonah by the fish and his preservation in it. The root of the difficulty is the denial of the miraculous. But if we exclude the miraculous from our Bibles, how much of it do we have left? And more important, what kind of a God do we have left? It is nothing less than shortsighted unbelief to think that the difficulty is solved by the removal of this miracle from the book of Jonah.
Scripture speaks volumes about our almighty God, for whom nothing is impossible. As Dr. Feinberg so rightly pointed out, if we remove all the miracles from the Bible, we don’t have much left, and we certainly don’t have a God worth following. No thing and no one is more powerful than our God.
Learn to express your needs and concerns in a positive manner, rather than merely whining and complaining. Much easier said than done. 😉
Book Review: Ordering Your Private World (Revised and Updated), by Gordon MacDonald
I was introduced to Gordon MacDonald’s work back in the mid-80’s when Ordering Your Private World was first published. I was in graduate school at the time, driven by my pursuit of education and starting out in ministry. His words were encouraging and helpful in laying a foundation for a sustainable ministry. Now that I am in my 60’s and have been in ministry for 30+ years, his revised and updated version of the book is even more helpful.
The principles of the original book are still in place—learning to manage your time, scheduling time for study, prayer, reflection, spiritual disciplines, thinking, and rest. They emphasize the importance of building your life from the inside out rather than merely focusing on skill development. The difference is that MacDonald now writes as a man in his late 70’s with a much broader and deeper level of experience. His words take on even greater importance knowing that they have been lived and practiced for decades.
The book now includes a study guide written by Leslie H. Stobble. It will aid in implementing the author’s suggestion of using a journal to help record your insights along the way. The book is well worth reading and rereading.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers <http://booklookbloggers.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.
We seem to think that tolerance is the ultimate virtue. We fail to understand how dangerous tolerance can be. Too much tolerance can:
- Result in a loss—If your football tolerates the other team and allows them to score, it will cost you a game.
- Cost you money—If a manufacturer doesn’t follow the specified tolerance in machining a part, it will cost extra when they have to machine it a second time.
- Compromise your health—If you tolerate cancer cells in your body, you won’t have long to live.
- Kill millions of people—The British government’s policy of appeasement towards Adolf Hitler helped contribute to the Holocaust and the death of millions during WWII.
What is true physically is also true spiritually. Exodus 32 explains that God is graciously intolerant of sin. We should be as well.
By way of background, Moses prepared the nation of Israel to hear from God (Exodus 19). God spoke the 10 Commandments in the hearing of all the people (20). The people were frightened by the voice of (20:18) and asked Moses to speak with God and then relay the information to them (20:19-21). God communicates the law to Moses (21-23) and Moses passes it on to the people (24:3). The nation reaffirms their commitment to be obedient (24:3-8). Moses, Aaron, and the leaders worship in God’s presence (24:9-11). Moses and Joshua go up on the mountain (24:12-13), leaving Aaron, Hur, and the elders in charge of the people (24:14). Moses spends 40 days on Mt. Sinai (24:15-18) receiving the plans for the tabernacle and the practice of worship (25-31).
No sooner was the ink dry on the contract, the people of Israel walked away from God and broke the first three of the 10 Commandments (32:1-6). Less than six weeks after receiving the 10 Commandments, the people begged Aaron to make them a visible god. He satisfied their desire by crafting a golden calf. Based on the people’s response, he did a good job. He also made an attempt at syncretism by suggesting they worship the Lord while bowing before the idol.
When we do what is popular rather than what is right, we fall into sin. When we choose convenience over commitment, we fall into sin. When we forget who God is and what he has done for us, we fall into sin.
When it comes to sin, God is graciously intolerant (32:7-14). God explains to Moses what the people are doing. Unless Moses intercedes, God will rightfully destroy the nation. Moses reminds God that Israel is his people and that his reputation is at stake.
We should be graciously intolerant of sin (32:15-29). Moses breaks the tablets of the law to signify that Israel had broken them. He burned the idol, ground it into powder, and made the people drink the concoction. This symbolized the powerlessness of the idol and made the people feel the pain of the consequences.
Moses confronted Aaron about his lack of leadership. Aaron responded by blaming the people (“You know how they are”), Moses (“If you weren’t gone so long”), and everyone but himself (“The golden calf just magically appeared”).
Moses drew a line in the stand to determine who was still committed to obeying God. The Levites responded and were God’s instruments in surgically removing the instigators of the rebellion. While it appears harsh that 3,000 men were killed, consider that it was only 3,000 out of 2-3 million people.
We should intercede for other people (32:30-45). Moses goes back up the mountain to intercede for Aaron and the nation of Israel. He even offers to die himself in exchange for God sparing the rest. God rejects Moses’ offer and explains that he will be fair in his punishment.
How’s your tolerance level? Do you have any golden calves you need to get rid of? Any areas of compromise where you are crossing lines you know should not be crossed? Are there any sins you’ve become far too familiar and comfortable with that need to be gotten rid of?
If the answer is “Yes” to any of these questions, stop what you are doing and repent. Turn to God and seek his forgiveness. Just like Aaron, you can be forgiven and restored. But don’t wait, thinking you can avoid God’s judgment.
God is graciously intolerant of sin. We should be as well.
This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on September 17, 2017. It is part of a series of sermons on the life of Moses. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.
I went for a drive and hike with Rik Martin & Joe Trevathan, two men at First Central. Rik introduced us to the Busby Trail in the Savoy Mountain State Forest, the Hoosac Tunnel, lunch at the Cold River Café, and numerous back roads and scenic drives in the Mohawk Trail region of Western Massachusetts. It was a very good day.