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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.

 

Russia 2018 ministry trip

I have been invited to return to Russia in 2018 to continue the process of helping train and equip pastors and young leaders. When I was there in March, several asked me to return to teach the book of Revelation. That is the plan for the upcoming trip. Click on the image below to open a pdf file of the trip proposal and details. Please pray that God provides all we need and more besides for the trip.

 

Don’t be a knucklehead

If I did something stupid while growing up, someone would comment, “Don’t be a knucklehead!” As a pastor for 31 years, there have been times when I was tempted to use that phrase to describe someone.

According to the Urban Dictionary, a “knucklehead” is someone of questionable intelligence. It doesn’t generally mean the person is stupid but rather that they are smart enough but still engage in stupid actions.

I came across a biblical example of a knucklehead in the book of Isaiah in the Old Testament portion of the Bible. In Isaiah 30:1-2 and 31:1, the prophet pronounces judgment on those who rely on the world rather than on God.

Isaiah 30:1–2 – “Ah, stubborn children,” declares the Lord, “who carry out a plan, but not mine, and who make an alliance, but not of my Spirit, that they may add sin to sin; who set out to go down to Egypt, without asking for my direction, to take refuge in the protection of Pharaoh and to seek shelter in the shadow of Egypt!

Isaiah 31:1 – Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help and rely on horses, who trust in chariots because they are many and in horsemen because they are very strong, but do not look to the Holy One of Israel or consult the Lord!

According to Scripture, a knucklehead tries to solve their own problems rather than turn to God for wisdom. They try to clean up their life and break an addictive pattern of behavior in their own power rather than admit they can’t do it and seek help. A stubborn, obstinate person presses harder in the same direction instead of acknowledging their approach doesn’t work. A knucklehead shifts blame onto others rather than admit their responsibility. They focus on self-improvement instead of confessing their sin and asking God for forgiveness. They hold onto past hurts and nurse grudges rather than releasing the pain and forgiving the offender. They go through life and problems alone rather than seeking accountability and encouragement from a trusted friend. They try to make a bargain with worldly resources instead of submitting to God.

If any of these statements describe you, stop being a knucklehead. Turn to God, consult his plan, and find refuge in his strength. Perhaps I need to follow my own advice and stop my knuckleheaded ways.

 
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Posted by on August 4, 2017 in Bible Study, Character, Scripture

 

Risking it all on blind trust

Book Review: Fatal Trust: A Novel, by Todd M. Johnson

Fatal Trust is the latest novel from the imagination of Todd M. Johnson. It is a well written, fast paced legal thriller about a lawyer in Minneapolis. The author begins with the final scene in the drama but then leaves the reader hanging at the end of the chapter. He then jumps back in time to lay out the foundation for the story and continues to build the tension towards the climax.

The book is focused on Ian Wells, a young, ambitious Minneapolis attorney who is struggling with building his legal practice while also caring for his mother who has Alzheimer’s. As his stress is building, he is presented with a simple, but unique new case. A client asks him to evaluate whether three men qualify to receive the proceeds of a nine million dollar trust by determining if any have been involved in criminal activity during the past 20 years. Ian’s fee for a week of work will be $200,000.

While the job seems too good to be true, Ian wants to turn the offer down. However, he desperately needs the money. Along the way, he gets pulled into a mystery linking the trust funds to a spectacular unsolved crime in Minnesota history. Ian soon finds himself caught between his clients and the U. S. Attorney’s Office and his simple job is now threatening his life.

Outside of Ian’s legal assistant who sings “Amazing Grace” while she is scared or under stress, the book has no discernable Christian content. It is simply an enjoyable, entertaining story.

Disclosure: I received this book free from Bethany House through the Bethany House Blogger Review Program http://bakerpublishinggroup.com/bethanyhouse/bookreviewers. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review.

 
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Posted by on August 3, 2017 in Books

 

The upside & downside of aging

Earlier this year, I turned 62 years old. That meant I was eligible for the National Park Service lifetime Senior Pass. Turns out getting older does have a benefit.

Since the price was going up from $10 to $80 at the end of this month, I went to Springfield Armory (the closest park to us) on Monday to pick up the pass. With the price going up, there’s been a run on the passes and they were out. So I put my name on the Rain Check list. They called yesterday to say the pass was in, so I headed back to pick it up.

However, neither of the Park Rangers I spoke with on Monday or Tuesday asked to see my drivers license to make sure I was actually 62. I guess that means not only am I a senior, but I look like a senior.

😉 Oh well. I’ll still enjoy the pass.

 
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Posted by on August 2, 2017 in Fun, National Parks, Personal growth

 

Embracing failure

I came across two statements on failure today. One was in a comic strip and the other in a novel. Both emphasize the importance of embracing failure, albeit for different reasons.

“In order to welcome redemption, one must first embrace the utter hopelessness of failure. For how can a man look for rescue unless he knows he is truly lost?” Stephen R. Lawhead in Pendragon (Pendragon Cycle, Book 4).

Until you admit you are a sinner, you cannot be saved. Until you confess your sins, you cannot be forgiven. Until you acknowledge your weakness, you cannot receive God’s provision.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9–10)

Perhaps failure, or at least acknowledging and embracing it, should become our signature move.

 

 
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Posted by on July 31, 2017 in Quotes, Scripture, Zits

 

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.