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Category Archives: Numbers

Don’t Be a Striking Failure

A woman once came to evangelist Billy Sunday and tried to rationalize her angry outbursts. “There’s nothing wrong with losing my temper,” she said. “I blow up, and then it’s all over.” “So does a shotgun,” Sunday replied, “and look at the damage it leaves behind!”

When you read through the books of Exodus and Numbers, you discover that Moses had a lifetime problem with anger. At the age of 40, he killed a man (Exodus 2:11-12; Acts 7:22-24). At the age of 80, he stormed out of Pharaoh’s presence in hot anger (Exodus 11:8). A few months later, he got fed up with the people of Israel and broke the tablets of the law in an act of uncontrolled fury (Exodus 32:15-19). At the age of 120, he lashed out at the nation of Israel and struck a rock in anger. This last event reveals that unresolved anger erodes character, dishonors God, and leaves lasting and painful consequences (Numbers 20:2-13).

After 40 years of leading the nation of Israel, the constant quarrels and complaints wore Moses down (Numbers 20:1-5). The people complained about the food (too boring), the water (not enough), the travels (too long), and the hardships (too many funerals). Someone once said that listening to complaints is like being stung to death by a mosquito.

Somewhere along the line, Moses stopped listening to God. He sought God’s counsel (5). God’s glory appears (6) and the Lord gives Moses three specific instructions: take your staff, gather the people, and speak to the rock (7-8). Initially, it appears that Moses is going to obey (9). However, after being in God’s presence, seeing his glory, and hearing God’s instructions, Moses deliberately disobeys God’s commands.

Moses becomes resentful and judgmental (10a). He lashes out verbally at the people—“You rebels!” He sets himself up as judge and condemns them.

Moses becomes proud (10b). “Shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” He acts and speaks like he will perform the miracle all by himself.

Moses disobeyed God’s command (11). Instead of speaking to the rock as God instructed, Moses lashes out at the rock and strikes it twice. Even though Moses lost control, God in his grace provides water for the people.

Moses’ disobedience revealed a lack of trust (12a). When you know God’s will and instructions and deliberately move in another direction, you are telling God, “I do not believe your plan is best.” It is unbelief and a lack of faith.

Moses’ actions dishonored God (12b). Through his actions, Moses stole the glory from God and took it for himself. He elevated himself rather than treating God as holy.

Though anger can be forgiven, it may leave lasting and painful consequences (12c). Because of his actions, God tells Moses he will no longer lead the people into the Promised Land. While it sounds like a harsh punishment for one act, it is really the culmination of a lifetime of uncontrolled anger. It also demonstrates that leaders are held to a higher standard.

It is not enough to merely control your anger. You must strengthen your character by committing yourself to obey God at every stage.

“Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:19-20).

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on October 8, 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 Cutting Edge of Criticism

We are surrounded by critics. Charlie Brown has Lucy. Movies had Siskel & Ebert. Restaurants have Anton Ego. Even the Muppets have Waldorf & Statler. Critics send anonymous notes and sometimes howlers. Some critics say it to your face while others whisper behind your back.

A study of the life of Moses provides an excellent example of how to respond to criticism. Moses was criticized by his siblings, Miriam and Aaron (Numbers 12), and by Korah and some of Israel’s leaders (Numbers 16).

Rather than be surprised, we should expect criticism. Sometimes it comes from those closest to you, such as family members (12:1). Sometimes it comes from those who are part of your leadership team (16:1-3). I’ve had my share of critics. You have yours as well. Whether criticism is just or unjust, it is part of life.

Because criticism is often accompanied by fog, we need to determine the real issue. Miriam’s attack appeared to be legalistic and possibly racist (12:1). In reality, she was jealous of Moses’ position (12:2). Korah’s comments sounded spiritual (16:3). In reality, he and his friends were ambitious (16:9-10). As you search for the grain of truth in a pile of sand, remember that jealousy and resentment may lie beneath the initial complaint.

Rather than reacting impulsively, take time to pray so you can respond appropriately (16:4). Moses fell on his face before God prior to challenging Korah.

Determine when to be silent and when to speak up. Moses did not respond to Miriam and Aaron’s complaint (12:3). Moses laid out a challenge to Korah to determine once and for all who God would speak through (16:4, 8, 12, 16). Keep in mind that not every problem needs to be fixed; not every need is a mandate; not every criticism needs to be answered.

Let God defend you. When the whispers begin, remember that God hears (12:2). God can deal with your critics much more effectively than you can. God punished Miriam with a disease (12:4-10) and sent an earthquake, fire, and plague to address Korah’s rebellion (16:20-35).

Pray for those who criticize you. Moses demonstrates the heart of a shepherd by interceding for Miriam (12:13) and for the nation of Israel (16:22, 46-47). Regardless of what they say or how they treat you, be a blessing to those who want to harm you.

While we cannot avoid critics and criticism, we can choose whether or not we will respond in a godly manner.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on October 1, 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.

 

Oh, for crying out loud!

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.