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Category Archives: Scripture

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.

 

Heaven is for good people

Heaven is for good people, or so we want to believe.

We see this belief portrayed in comic strips like Broom-Hilda. God lets the good people in but closes the gates to the really bad people.

We see it in our own attitudes. We believe that God grades on a scale. If your good deeds outweigh your bad deeds, you get into heaven. But if your bad deeds are greater, well, then you go to that other place (that is, of course, if you believe in hell.) We are skeptical of a deathbed, jailhouse conversion. Could God really save _______?

We even see this attitude in some of God’s servants. The book of Jonah in the Old Testament tells the story of a prophet of God who did not want to preach repentance to the city of Nineveh precisely because he knew God was gracious and would forgive them if they repented. He thought they did not deserve God’s grace.

Contrary to popular belief, heaven is not for good people. Heaven is for sinners who have been forgiven. Romans 5:8 explains that Christ died for us while we were his enemies. “…but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Ephesians 2:8-9 tells us that salvation is not earned or deserved. It is a free gift of God’s grace. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

Heaven is not for good people. Heaven is for those who acknowledge their sins, seek God’s forgiveness, and enjoy the free gift of his grace.

 

 

 
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Posted by on October 2, 2017 in Heaven, Scripture, Theology

 

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.

 
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The place of refuge

 
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Posted by on September 26, 2017 in Scripture

 

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.

 

The Power of God

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.

 
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Posted by on September 22, 2017 in Quotes, Scripture, Theology