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Category Archives: Preaching

What can we learn about the death of Moses?

Deuteronomy 34 recounts the final days of Moses’ life and the unusual circumstances of his death. The chapter provides us with three key lessons along with a fitting summary and epitaph.

Moses died the way he lived (1-5). The last thing Moses did on earth was climb a mountain. The summit of Mt. Pisgah reaches a height of 4,500 feet above the Dead Sea. Not too many 120 year old men can climb a mountain almost a mile high and live to tell the story. Many of us huff and puff just going up the stairs. We take the elevator. Yet here was Moses, 120 years old, scaling the heights. Maybe climbing Mt. Pisgah was part of Moses’ bucket list.

Verse one is a fitting metaphor for Moses’ life. Moses was continually climbing. He wanted to change things for the better. He wasn’t content with his people being slaves in Egypt. He wanted to deliver them from bondage and bring them back to the Promised Land.

During his lifetime, Moses lived by the promises of God. He died believing those same promises. From the top of Mt. Pisgah, Moses could see all the land God had promised to give the people. Though Moses would not set foot in the land, he saw it as a real destination, a real possession. He was confident that God would keep his promises and bring Israel into the Promised Land.

Moses lived in God’s presence and he died in God’s presence. Moses’ last moments on earth were spent in intimate fellowship with God. At some point during the panoramic tour of the Promised Land, perhaps God said, “It’s time, Moses. Come on home.”

Moses died at the right time (5-7). My aunt, Charity, taught second grade Sunday School into her mid-80’s. She had to stop when she was losing her hearing and couldn’t hear the children say their memory verses. That wasn’t the case with Moses. For a man his age, he was unusually healthy. He had no outward signs of disease. By all normal indications of health and fitness, Moses’ death was untimely.

From our perspective, Moses died too young. He still had work to do. Israel had not yet entered the Promised Land. Moses was still needed. Yet we know that Moses died according to God’s plan. Everything ended just as God arranged it. We can take comfort in the fact that God not only knows our times, he knows the end of our times. God has arranged the details of our lives, and even the day of our death.

My mother, father, and brother are all buried in Southern California, but in three different cemeteries. When Carol and I were in Southern California three years ago, we visited each one of their graves so that I could pay my respects, and reflect on their lives. You cannot do that with Moses. He died in an unknown way and was buried in an unknown grave. Only God knows the location. That is probably a good thing, because we would have turned it into a shrine, another Mecca.

No one is indispensable (8-9). When the time of mourning was complete, the people of Israel needed to get moving again. Moses’ life may have ended, but God’s plan did not. God had promises to keep and Israel had places to go.

Moses knew he was expendable. Based on the instructions he had received, Moses knew that God’s plan would continue. So, according to Numbers 27:12-23, Moses trained his successor, Joshua.

God’s plan does not depend on anyone for all time, but for all to serve him at a certain time. God gave Moses a task to accomplish. He was faithful to carry it out.

Epitaph & legacy (10-12). Moses was unique among all the prophets of Israel. No one enjoyed a relationship with God like Moses did. He introduced a new era into the history of God’s people, the Age of the Law. As impressive as his accomplishments are, the most important thing about him was his relationship with God. He. Knew. God. And he wanted others to know him as well.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on October 15, 2017. It is part of a series of sermons on the life of Moses. Click on the link to download a copy of this week’s bulletin which contains an outline of the message.

 
 

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.

 

There is No Room for Tolerance

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.

 

Are you prepared to meet with God?

If you knew that (the mayor, the governor, the president, favorite sports hero, movie star, TV celebrity, etc.) was going to be in church next Sunday, how would you prepare? If you knew that GOD was going to be in church next Sunday, how would you prepare?

Exodus 19 describes how Israel met with God at Mt. Sinai. Through their example, we see four principles that can help us prepare to enter God’s presence. We should prepare our mind, heart, and will before we enter God’s presence. We must be ready to listen, obey, and honor him.

Three months after leaving Egypt, the nation of Israel arrives at Mt. Sinai (1). They will spend the next 10 months in this location. We have the impression from Hollywood movies that Moses only made one trip up the mountain. If you read the text closely, you discover he made seven trips up and down.

Before you meet with God (1-15), ask yourself:

Am I willing to obey? (3-8). After reminding the nation how he delivered them from bondage in Egypt, God explains an “if … then” responsibility. “If you obey … you will be my treasured possession.” Israel would be exalted above all other nations and have a unique priestly role of representing God to the world. The people respond enthusiastically, “Yes, we will obey.”

Am I ready to listen? (9). God is laying the groundwork for communication. However, he would not reveal new truth if the people were not going to listen to him.

Have I prepared my heart? (10-11, 14). God orders the people to wash their clothes, separate from any impurity, and even fast from normal marital relationships in order to set themselves apart for God. While we “come as you are” to God for salvation, we should cleanse our hearts to meet with him in worship.

Do I respect God’s presence? (12-13). Israel was to maintain a secure and sacred distance from the mountain of God. They were close enough to hear God speak to Moses but were to wait until Moses relayed God’s instructions to them. Sadly, we have lost this sense of reverence for God and treat him casually or flippantly. A shallow view of God leads to a shallow life.

God came down to meet with his people (16-20). It was not Moses who went up; it was God who came down. God descended in thunder, lightning, and an earthquake. It was a display of his majesty and glory. Moses later went up after God invited him.

God came down to establish a healthy fear of the Almighty (Exodus 20:20), to communicate written instructions for his people (Exodus 24:12), to reveal his word to his people (Exodus 31:18), and to reveal the design for the tabernacle (Exodus 25:8-9).

To meet with God, we need a place where we can go daily. We should ask ourselves the four questions to make sure we are prepared. We need to Scriptures since that is where God has revealed himself. We need a journal to record what we are learning.

Prepare your mind, heart, and will before you enter God’s presence. Be ready to listen, obey, and honor him.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on September 10, 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.

 

Trials, Tests, & Training Wheels

I am a fair weather biker. I have a 45-year-old ten speed bicycle I ride a couple days a week when the sun is shining. I don’t ride in the rain and certainly not in the snow. On days or seasons when the weather doesn’t cooperate, I find other forms of exercise.

My typical biking route is a 6.3 mile circuit in my neighborhood. I don’t aspire to ride in the Tour de France simply because I don’t have time to train for such a race. I content myself with riding for exercise. To be a serious, competitive biker requires graduated training over a long period of time.

The same is true of spiritual growth. In Deuteronomy 8:2, God explained how he used tests during Israel’s years in the wilderness to help them grow and mature.

And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not.

Scripture explains that God uses trials to teach us about himself and to test our commitment. Exodus 14-19 covers a span of three months. The Passover occurs on the 14th day of the first month (Exodus 12:18). Israel leaves Egypt and encounters an obstacle at the Red Sea a few days later (Exodus 14). Three days after the Red Sea, they arrive at Marah, where the water is bitter (Exodus 15:22). On the 15th day of the second month, the people complain about the lack of bread and meat (Exodus 16:1-2). One week later, they complain about the lack of water (Exodus 17:1). A few days later, Amalek attacks (Exodus 17:8). A few days after that, Moses’ father-in-law Jethro arrives to give him some career advice (Exodus 18:1). They arrive at Mt. Sinai three months after leaving Egypt (Exodus 19:1).

At each location, God tested Israel. He uses the trials to reveal something new about his character and attributes. He uses the events to see whether or not Israel would be obedient. He uses the trials to help Israel grow up and mature. The nation progresses from God fighting for them to the nation fighting with God’s help.

 

1 2 3 4 5
Scripture Exodus 14 Exodus 15:22-27 Exodus 16:1-36 Exodus 17:1-7

Exodus 17:8-16

Problem

Enemy at the Red Sea Bitter water No food No water Enemy attack
Attitude Fear Grumbling Grumbling Doubt

Confidence

Test

God fought for Israel God tested Israel God tested Israel Israel tested God Israel fights with God’s help
Insights about God The Lord is my strength The Lord who heals The Lord your God God is present among his people

The Lord is our banner

Lesson to learn

Depend on God for victory Depend on God for health Depend on God for daily needs Believe that God is present and cares for you

Depend on God for victory

What has God been teaching you recently? How has he been testing you? What do you need to do to learn the lesson and move forward?

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on August 27, 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.