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Category Archives: Moses

Following God … to a Dead End

Have you ever felt like your life hit a dead end? You were heading in the right direction. You were making good progress in your marriage, career, relationships, etc. And then without warning, everything went off the rails. You came to a sudden, inexplicable, jarring halt. You couldn’t go forward and you couldn’t go backwards. Regardless of your best efforts, you were stuck.

That was the dilemma the nation of Israel faced when they found themselves trapped between the Red Sea and the armies of Egypt (Exodus 14). Before they could go forward, they needed to learn some new lessons about who God is and what he was going to do on their behalf.

God often places us in situations where we have to rely on him (1-14). On those occasions, God displays his glory so that we might know him better.

God led Israel into a cul-de-sac in order to demonstrate his glory (1-4). With armed fortresses to the north, the desert to the south, the Red Sea to the east, and the armies of Egypt advancing from the west, Israel was at a dead end. God led them into this problem so that they might know him better.

It appeared that Israel’s enemies had gained the upper hand (5-9). A few days after the Passover, Pharaoh changes his mind about allowing the Israelites to leave. He dispatches 600 of his best chariots and armed forces to bring them back. It appeared that he had them trapped in a geographical cul-de-sac.

Rather than rely on God, Israel reacted in fear (10-12). They weren’t merely afraid, they were greatly afraid. They were in full blown panic mode. Like many of us, they cried out to God and then blamed the leadership (Moses) for their predicament.

God wanted Israel to depend on him (13-14). God gives them four commands—fear not, stand firm, see the salvation of the Lord, and be silent. Like Israel, we tend to do just the opposite. We are afraid, run away, don’t look for God, and complain to everyone around us. In so doing, we miss what God is doing.

When we trust God, he fights our battles for us (15-29). Contrary to human wisdom, God instructs Israel to move forward (15-18). God then moves to stand between Israel and her enemies (19-20). During the night, God opens a path through the Red Sea (21-22, 29) and then destroys the Egyptian army when they try to pursue Israel (23-28).

Seeing God at work should cause us to trust him and to worship him (30-31).

There are four life lessons I take away from this account. (1) It often takes dead ends to break lifetime habits. God often has to bring us to the end of ourselves and our resources in order to truly change and transform our lives. (2) When you have nowhere else to turn, trust God. Far too often, trust in God is viewed as a last resort. (3) If God is to get the glory, he must fight the battle. If I can do it myself, I will take the credit. (4) Red Seas open and close according to God’s timing, not ours. God’s timing is always best, but it is always different from mine.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on August 13, 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.

 

The shortest distance between two points is a zigzag

From the earliest days of geometry, we’ve been taught that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. However, that is not always the case in real life.

I go to Russia once a year to help train leaders. I fly from Boston to Amsterdam to Moscow to Anapa. During the first week, we meet in Tsibanobalka. Then we drive twelve hours to Elista in the steppes region of the Caucasus Mountains. You have to go the roundabout way to get there.

When it comes to spiritual growth, the shortest distance between two points is often a zigzag route. While God might take us from “A” to “B,” he often does it by way of “M,” “F,” “Q,” “V,” and “D.” We see a graphic example of this in Exodus 13:17-22.

The most direct route from Egypt to the Promised Land was the coastal route along the Mediterranean Sea. However, that was also the military road of the Egyptians. It was dotted with military fortresses and led directly through the land of the Philistines. Having recently escaped from 400 years of slavery, God knew that Israel was not ready to battle. At the first sign of conflict, they would turn tail and run back to slavery in Egypt.

In light of that, God took Israel on a zigzag route that was especially designed for them. They needed lessons that God had in store for them at Mt. Sinai. In the same way, there are times in our lives when we are not ready for God’s plan.

If you compare this to parenting, what parent in their right mind would give a three-year-old the keys to the car? No, you give a three-year-old a big wheel. Then you graduate them to a two-wheeler with training wheels. When the time is right, you take off the training wheels. Later, you let the kids drive the Autopia cars at Disneyland. When they turn 15 ½, they take drivers training to learn how to drive properly. Once they pass their drivers’ license test, then you finally let them drive by themselves.

As parents, we grow our children gradually. In the same way, God grows us gradually. Exodus 23:27-30 provides an interesting perspective. God says that he will help Israel “little by little . . . until you have increased.” Perhaps God will give you an assignment that stretches your character. You learn patience or compassion. Then God puts you in a situation that helps you gain new skills—job skills, life skills, ministry skills. Maybe God then stretches you and expands your network of contacts. Finally, God gives you an assignment that stretches your faith¸ teaching you to depend on him for strength.

God takes us on a zigzag path that is designed for our growth. Along the way, he provides encouragement. For Israel, that encouragement came in the bones of Joseph and the cloudy/fiery pillar that led them in the wilderness.

The bones of Joseph reminded Israel of God’s providence and his promises. 400+ years previously, Joseph told his brothers who passed it down through the generations that God would visit them and come to their aid. God would keep the promise he made to Abraham to return Israel to the Promised Land. When that time came, Joseph did not want to be left behind. By taking Joseph’s bones with them on their exodus from Egypt, the people demonstrated their confidence in God’s word.

The cloudy/fiery pillar reminded Israel of God’s presence and his provision. The pillar never left Israel. It demonstrated God was always with them. But the pillar also led Israel. It went before them and guided them through the wilderness.

Over 2,000 years ago a young Greek artist named Timanthes studied under a respected tutor. After several years the teacher’s efforts seemed to have paid off when Timanthes painted an exquisite work of art.

Unfortunately, he became so enraptured with the painting that he spent days gazing at it.

One morning when he arrived to admire his work, he was shocked to find it blotted out with paint. Angry, Timanthes ran to his teacher, who admitted he had destroyed the painting.

“I did it for your own good.  That painting was retarding your progress.  Start again and see if you can do better.”

Timanthes took his teacher’s advice and produced the Sacrifice of Iphigenia, which is regarded as one of the finest paintings of antiquity.

30 years ago, I was pursuing a Ph.D. with the hope of teaching in a university or seminary. Every door I knocked on was closed and remained that way. Instead of academia, God kept me in the church, first as an associate pastor and later as a senior pastor. It was only this past spring when God opened the door for me to become an adjunct professor at a Christian college. I now blend church ministry with college teaching.

In bringing believers to spiritual maturity, the shortest distance between two points is a zigzag. It may not make sense at the time, but in hindsight we can sometimes see what God was doing.  Along the journey, God will remind us of his good intentions through his providence—he will come to our aid; his promises—he keeps his word; his presence—he is with us; and his provision—he will guide us.

If you are anything like me, your spiritual journey will have surprise twists, dangerous turns and an incredible destination. The Adventure is Just Beginning!

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on August 6, 2017. (The title and outline were borrowed with permission from Dr. Donald Sunukjian.) 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.

 

There is a Redeemer

Church historian Clair Davis describes the Christian life as a “combination of amnesia and déjà vu.” He says, “I know I’ve forgotten this before.” In other words, as we follow Christ we keep needing to learn the same lessons over and over because we keep forgetting them. And each time it happens, we suddenly remember that we have had to relearn these very same lessons before.

Of all the things that God wanted Israel to remember, the most important was their exodus from Egypt. God sent plague after plague against the Egyptians, culminating with the death of the firstborn, until finally Pharaoh agreed to let God’s people go. It was a rescue to remember.

To make sure that his people would never forget their salvation, God gave them a special memory aid: Passover, and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. This feast was meant to be an annual celebration.

To understand the flow of Exodus 10-11, it helps to see it as a combination of narration and explanation. The author tells the story and then periodically steps back to explain what happened. Narration (10:28-29), explanation (11:1-3), narration (11:2-9), and explanation (11:10).

Moses tells Pharaoh six facts about the final plague. There will be one more plague (11:1). It will happen at midnight (11:4). All the firstborn in Egypt will die, both people and animals (11:5). It will be a time of national distress, never experienced before or after (11:6). However, Israel will be protected (11:7). Afterwards, the exodus will begin (11:8).

In Exodus 12:1-20, God gave Moses instructions about the Passover (12:1-14) and the Feast of Unleavened Bread (12:15-20). The Passover lamb was to be a perfect, one-year-old lamb (12:5). The event would occur on the 14th day of the month at twilight (12:6). The blood of the slain lamb would be spread over the doorposts and lintel of each Israelite home (12:7). The meat was to be roasted (12:8-9) and eaten completely, saving no leftovers (12:10). The meal was to eaten in haste, ready to leave at a moment’s notice (12:11). The angel of death would move throughout the land, sparing only those families who had the blood over their door (12:12-13).

Behind the instructions for the Passover is the concept of OBEDIENCE. There is no magic in the day, time, or procedure. There is no merit in the blood of the lamb. The question was, Would Israel follow God’s instructions and place their faith and trust in his provision?

After Moses communicated the instructions to the people (12:21-27), they bowed down and worshipped (12:27), and obeyed the commands (12:28).

The events unfolded exactly as God foretold. After Pharaoh’s own son died (12:29), he summoned Moses and Aaron and told them to leave the country (12:30-32). The exodus officially started (12:33-42). The chapter closes with instructions about how to celebrate the Passover in future generations (12:43-51).

I find it fascinating to compare the Old Testament Passover with the cross of Christ in the New Testament.

Principles

Old Testament Passover

New Testament Passover

Instruction to sacrifice

“Take a lamb . . . and kill it.”

(Exodus 12:3, 6)

“Behold, the Lord of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29)
Condition of sacrifice “Your lamb shall be without blemish.”

(Exodus 12:5)

“. . . the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.”

(1 Peter 1:19)

Application of sacrifice

“. . . take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses.”

(Exodus 12:7)

“And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

(Acts 4:12)

Reason for sacrifice “I will execute judgment.”

(Exodus 12:12)

“And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.”

(Hebrews 9:27)

Result of sacrifice

“When I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you.”

(Exodus 12:13)

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

(Romans 8:1)

Remember the sacrifice “This day shall be for you a memorial day.”

(Exodus 12:14)

“Do this in remembrance of me.”

(1 Corinthians 11:24, 25)

“For Christ, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed.” (1 Corinthians 5:7b)

(Chart adapted from Walk Thru the Bible Old Testament Live Event)

Like Israel, each one of us must make the choice as to whether or not we will obey God’s instructions and place the blood of Jesus over the doorposts of our hearts.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on July 30, 2017. It is part of a series of messages on the life of Moses. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

The Plague of a Hard Heart

The comic strip Prickly City poses some questions many of us struggle with.

These questions most definitely lie behind the events described in Exodus 7-10, the first nine of the 10 Plagues.

As you read through the Bible, you discover four eras of great miracles—Moses & Joshua, Elijah & Elisha, Jesus & the Apostles, and the two witnesses in Revelation 11. The first and the fourth eras were heavy in judgments on the earth. Following each of these wrath-storms, God ushered in a new era of peace and a deeper relationship with himself.

The most pressing “Why?” question surrounding the plagues is, “Why were the plagues necessary?”

God predicted the plagues (Exodus 3:19-20). Rather than being an afterthought or reactionary move, the plagues were part of God’s plan and strategy explained to Moses at the burning bush.

Pharaoh’s nature required the plagues (Exodus 5:2). Pharaoh was stubborn and hard hearted. He had to be convinced and learn the hard way to submit to God’s plan.

The plagues were judgments on the gods of the Egyptians (Exodus 12:12). Each one of the plagues was aimed at a god or goddess worshipped by the Egyptians. Together, the plagues demonstrated that Yahweh was the only God worthy to be worshipped.

The plagues affected all the Egyptians. The whole nation suffered as a result of Pharaoh’s callus, obstinate response to the Lord.

The plagues were designed to redeem Israel from slavery so that they could serve and worship God (Exodus 7:16; 8:1, 20; 9:1, 13; 10:3, 7-8, 11, 24, 26).

The plagues were designed to convince both Israel and the Egyptians of God’s presence (Exodus 6:10-12; 7:4-5; 10:2).

God’s grace is evident in the plagues. The plagues occurred over a period of 9-10 months. The first one occurred in July/August when the Nile rises. The seventh plague occurred in January when barley ripens and flax blossoms. The prevailing east winds in March or April brought the eighth plagues. The tenth plague occurred in April. The long period of time, with intervals in between gave the Egyptians more than enough time to repent.

Here are several principles to keep in mind as you consider the 10 plagues: (1) When God judges, he is thorough. (2) It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (3) Don’t reject God’s warnings. (4) When God blesses, he holds nothing back. (5) God protects his people, even in difficult times.

God demonstrates his power so that people might know him and worship him.

This is the synopsis of a message delivered at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on July 23, 2017. It is part of a series on the life of Moses. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

How’s your hearing?

When I experienced vertigo in 2009, the doctors ran a number of tests trying to determine the cause of my affliction. One test by an audiologist revealed that I have some hearing loss due to working in a steel fabrication shop for seven years and not wearing ear protection.

Some people lose their hearing due to disease. Some grow hard of hearing due to the process of aging. Others, like myself, experience hearing loss due to negligence.

What is true physically is also true spiritually. In Exodus 5-6, Pharaoh and the nation of Israel are both hard of hearing. Pharaoh’s problem stems from a hard heart while Israel’s problem is traced back to discouragement from a lifetime of affliction.

Exodus 5 begins with Moses and Aaron presenting their request to Pharaoh that the Israelites be allowed to leave Egypt to worship Yahweh in the wilderness. Pharaoh responds by saying, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, and moreover, I will not let Israel go.” Pharaoh refuses to acknowledge God’s existence and authority. He chooses not to listen to God’s commands.

After initially believing God was going to deliver them (Exodus 4:29-31), the people of Israel became discouraged when Pharaoh not only rejected their request but made life even more difficult (Exodus 5:4-9). When Moses tries to encourage them to remember God’s promises, “they did not listen to Moses, because of their broken spirit and harsh slavery” (Exodus 6:9).

Pharaoh was hard of hearing because of pride. Israel was hard of hearing because of discouragement. Pharaoh wouldn’t listen because he wanted to be in charge. Israel wouldn’t listen because they had given up. Pharaoh chose not to listen because he thought he was bigger than God. Israel chose not to listen because they thought that God didn’t care. Pharaoh refused to obey God’s voice. Israel refused to believe God’s voice.

How’s your hearing? Do you listen for God’s direction? Do you follow his instructions? Do you believe his promises? Do you obey his commands?

How’s your hearing?

 
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Posted by on July 17, 2017 in Bible Study, Exodus, Moses, Personal growth

 

That’s the last straw!

Despite the claims to the contrary, life does not necessarily get easier once you become a Christian. It gets better, yes, but it can often get harder after you put your faith in Christ.

A young couple goes to the mission field, taking their small children with them. Despite constant opposition from unsaved parents, they settle in a remote village. Not long after they arrive, one of the children contracts a rare, life-threatening disease, forcing them to return home. Their parents respond, “See, we told you not to go!”

A woman refuses to date a man who is not a Christian. Now she is waiting for the right man, but no one calls. An employee refuses to work on Sundays and gets laid off three months later. A pastor starts to teach the Bible, but rather than growing numerically, his congregation begins to shrink.

You put your faith in God, you believe him for great things, you strive to be obedient, and yet life still goes sideways. When you reach the last straw, remember God’s promises. That is the lesson God wanted Moses to learn in Exodus 4:29-6:13.

“We believe” (4:29-31). Moses and Aaron met with the leaders of Israel and presented God’s plan to them. They present the miraculous signs. The people believe God’s promises and worship him.

At this point, we expect the orchestra music to swell to a crescendo as success follows. However, things will go from bad to worse to worser.

“Let my people go” (5:1-5). Moses and Aaron meet with Pharaoh to deliver God’s instructions. Rather than give the people time off for worship, Pharaoh responds with an air of indifference and an attitude of defiance. He tells them to get back to work.

“Increase the work load” (5:6-14). Not only does Pharaoh send the people back to work, he increases their workload. Forced to gather their own supplies, they now have to work harder to meet their quota of bricks.

Pharaoh’s disrespectful demands starts a three-round cycle of the blame game. The people initially blame Pharaoh (5:15-19). They stressed their loyalty to Pharaoh and he accused them of laziness. The people then blamed Moses (5:20-21). If he had left well enough alone, they wouldn’t be in this mess. Having nowhere else to turn, Moses blames God (5:22-23). Moses accuses God of not keeping his promises.

Oftentimes, God waits until we reach the end of our rope before he steps in. Until our eyes are fixed on God, we will not be able to endure the days when life goes sideways. When we are finally ready to depend on God completely, he tells us, “Watch me work” (6:1-8). God reminds Moses four times, “I am the Lord” (6:2, 6, 7, 8). He also says, “…see what I will do …” (1). “I will deliver you” (6:6), “I will have a relationship with you” (6:7), and “I will give you a home” (6:8).

Unfortunately, the trials of life have made the Israelites hard of hearing (6:9). Moses now faces the challenge of whether or not he will choose to obey God’s command and accept his assignment (6:10-13).

Life often gets harder after we trust God. When we reach the last straw, we must remember God’s promises.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on July 16, 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.

 

Where’s your focus?

“Until your eyes are fixed on the Lord, you will not be able to endure those days that go from bad to worse.”

Charles R. Swindoll, in Moses: A Man of Selfless Dedication

 
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Posted by on July 13, 2017 in Moses, Quotes, Scripture