Friday, March 2, 2018

Thunder and Lighting

Reading through Exodus this Lenten season, the one that I have been continually reminded about is the power of God. God shows his power in the miracles that he gives Moses to perform, in the ten plagues that he sends on the Egyptians, and the parting of the Red Sea. Our reading the other day brought us to Sinai and the giving of the ten commandments. These two passages caught my attention: 

And as the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him in thunder. (Exodus 19:19 ESV)  
Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off  and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.” (Exodus 20:18–19 ESV) 

I love that line "God answered him in thunder"! I imagine being in the camp below the mountain. It had to be pretty frightening! What the text describes as God coming down on the mountain sounds like a volcano erupting. If you have never witnessed a volcano erupting, it is pretty spectacular and a little scary. When I lived in Guatemala, I could see three different volcanoes from my house, two of which were active. When they would go off, you could see it, hear it, and even smell it. It was quite a sight to behold. That is the picture I get when I think about these verses. No wonder the people were great with fear when Moses comes down!

We struggle sometimes with the idea of God's power for two reasons. Often in the church today we teach one of two extremes about God's character. Either it's a "hell fire and brimstone" where God is angry at you or it is a "God is all love", with no judgement of sin. Now, before we continue lets clarify a couple of things. Does God get angry,? Yes, sin angers God. The Bible is clear on that. Is God love? Yes absolutely! God is the pure embodiment of love. I mean John 3:16, come on. God loves, but he does not tolerate sin. Now that we have that out of the way, let's get back to his power. We talk so often with children about God being our friend, and in evangelism, we talk about God loving us and desiring to have a personal relationship with us (neither are bad things). But I think it can lead to us missing part of God's character. We serve a God who is powerful, a God who is not bound by anything. I am reminded of the quote from C.S. Lewis' book "The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe":

“Aslan is a lion- the Lion, the great Lion." "Ooh" said Susan. "I'd thought he was a man. Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion"..."Safe?" said Mr Beaver ..."Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you.”

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Wise ol' Jethro

Having studied Theology and Biblical studies in both college and seminary I often find myself looking for the hidden deep treasures of scripture (both a noble and needed pursuit). So I love it when I am reading the Bible and come across a really practical section of scripture. That is one thing I find so very interesting about scripture is that it contains both the practical and the deep truths. The passage we read last night contains a great practical lesson in leadership.

I will let you read it for yourself:
[14] When Moses' father-in-law saw all that he was doing for the people, he said, “What is this that you are doing for the people? Why do you sit alone, and all the people stand around you from morning till evening?” [15] And Moses said to his father-in-law, “Because the people come to me to inquire of God; [16] when they have a dispute, they come to me and I decide between one person and another, and I make them know the statutes of God and his laws.” [17] Moses' father-in-law said to him, “What you are doing is not good. [18] You and the people with you will certainly wear yourselves out, for the thing is too heavy for you. You are not able to do it alone. [19] Now obey my voice; I will give you advice, and God be with you! You shall represent the people before God and bring their cases to God, [20] and you shall warn them about the statutes and the laws, and make them know the way in which they must walk and what they must do. [21] Moreover, look for able men from all the people, men who fear God, who are trustworthy and hate a bribe, and place such men over the people as chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens. [22] And let them judge the people at all times. Every great matter they shall bring to you, but any small matter they shall decide themselves. So it will be easier for you, and they will bear the burden with you. [23] If you do this, God will direct you, you will be able to endure, and all this people also will go to their place in peace.” (Exodus 18:14–23 ESV)

Jethro comes to visit Moses and sees how he goes about his work and offers some great advice! Delegation! Jethro tell Moses to delegate, he tells him specifically how to do it. Can you imagine the line to see Moses before he began to delegate? We think the DMV is bad! Think about waiting in line all day to get Moses to settle you dispute and you finally get a few people away and he closes up shop for the day! As leaders we need to learn to delegate. Now, there is a difference between delegation and laziness. Laziness says, "I'll let other people handle all this so I can relax and not work". Delegation says, "I am going to let others help so I can focus on the main part that I need to be working on so we can all accomplish our goal."

There are some keys though we must follow if we want to delegate effectively. 1) Remember you are the leader and must accept full responsibility for how your team performs, no passing the blame if someone drops the ball. 2) Make sure those to whom you are delegating are capable of the task that you give them. 3) Don't micro manage. Let you team work! 4) But be prepared to step in if needed. 5) Make sure you focus on your part and lead by example.    

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

What is your Egypt?

It has been a few days since I have had time to write. I am a Student minister and this last weekend we had a student conference and then my wife and I had to travel out of state to take care of a few things for our adoption. Needless to say I am behind a few days but instead of trying to catch up we will just jump into where we are today (a day behind if you are following along with us in our Lent study.)

We jump forward into Exodus 15. God has sent the death angel and inaugurated Passover. Moses has lead the Hebrews out of Egypt. Pharaoh changes his mind again and chases after the Hebrews, God parts the Red Sea and now we come to the Hebrews starting their trek to the Promise Land. 

The grumbling of the Hebrews is a constant theme of the Exodus. It happens over and over again. You would think after a while it would have sunk in that God had them, but it doesn't and we get the cycle repeat multiple times. In chapter 15 we see it starting and in 16 verse 3 it says:

and the people of Israel said to them, “Would that we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” (ESV)

We read that and think "wow, really?!" They would have rather died a full slave in Egypt than been free (they would argue die of starvation free but that would not happen). Now I have never been enslaved to anyone, but I cannot imagine its a "good" life. In fact in Exodus, God says that he heard their "groans". I don't know about you but when I groan its not usually associated with a good thing. But I do know what it is to be focused on circumstances and look at the past with rose colored glasses and forget all the bad. It is easy to criticize the Hebrews, especially after reading about the plagues and the miracle at the Red Sea. How could they forget these awesome things that God has done?

But are not you and I the same way? When our belly gets hungry, bank account gets low, we lose our job, our children lose their minds, our family or friends hurt us, that thing we had replaced God with on the throne of our life lets us down, do we not forget what God has done for us? Oh how often we get bogged down in our current circumstances and miss the big picture. We forget that we serve a God that has brought us out of our own Egypt. But when times get hard and life doesn't go how we planned we can be just as quick to forget. We want to get back to what we can control. When the Bread of Life calls us to something bigger than ourselves how quick we are to beg for bread when our stomachs start to rumble.

I am reminded in the Gospel of Matthew chapter 7 Jesus says, "If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!" God tells us following Him will not be easy and it is okay for us to pray and ask God for provision. But let us not long to go back to when we "thought" we were in control. Let us not forget what He has done for us.


Wednesday, February 21, 2018

But the heart of Pharaoh was hardened.

From the very beginning God told Moses that Pharaoh's heart would be hardened. As you read through the account in Exodus you see that phrase over and over. In just a quick search I found 19 times in the first 14 chapters of Exodus that it is said of Pharaoh. Ten of those times it specifically says that God was the one that hardened his heart. I have always wrestled with this, why would God continue to harden Pharaoh's heart, essentially keeping him from repentance (there a couple of instances that Pharaoh does say that he is the one who has sinned and in one of those agrees to let the people go but changes his course and refuses once the plague is removed). 

I think there are a few things here as to why God did this (I don't have the time or the space here to go into to a full theological explanation so we will keep it short). The first goes back to what we talked about a few days ago. God wanted to engrain in the mind and the hearts of His people that He was THIER God. He went to war with the gods of the Egyptians (Pharaoh was also seen as a god in Egypt) and came out victorious, leaving no doubt in the Hebrews that the was truly the supreme Lord of all. I am sure during their time of slavery that some of the Hebrews had began to wonder if God had forgotten about them. God used the hardness of Pharaoh's heart to remind his people that: 

I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment. I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the LORD your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. I will bring you into the land that I swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. I will give it to you for a possession. I am the LORD. (Exodus 6:6–8 ESV)

The second thing that God used Pharaohs hard heart for was to bring judgement on Egypt. The Egyptians had enslaved the people of God. The treatment of the Hebrew people by the Egyptians was clearly not good as God says to Moses that He heard the cries of His people. The plagues inflicted massive economic and personal damage on all of Egypt. 

While it can still be hard to understand why God would harden Pharaoh's heart to the point of the tenth plague. We must understand that God is God, we are not and will never fully be able to understand His ways. We also must keep in perspective that God is sovereign and has a purpose for everything He does. 


Tuesday, February 20, 2018

"This is the finger of God"

Yesterday's Lent reading brought us to the beginning of the plagues. There were a few things that stood out to me as I read a story that I was very familiar with from the book of Exodus. But there was one in particular that I had not seen before. Before we get to that verse we need a little context. With the first two plagues (Nile turns to blood and invasion of frogs) Pharaoh's magicians and sorceress were able to replicate the plague (at least enough for Pharaoh to believe that his gods could combat this assault by the Hebrews God). But then we read this in Exodus 8:18–19:

[18] The magicians tried by their secret arts to produce gnats, but they could not. So there were gnats on man and beast. [19] Then the magicians said to Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God.” But Pharaoh's heart was hardened, and he would not listen to them, as the LORD had said. (ESV) 

Again with this plague the Egyptian magicians tried, like with the first two, to replicate it. But they couldn't. With all their earthly knowledge and dark arts, they had no answer. The only thing that they could tell their ruler was that it was "the finger of God." This exact term is used later in Exodus when God carves the ten commandments into stone and again in Luke when Jesus cast out demons by "the finger of God". In other places in scripture various author refer to God's hand in reference to both his power and protection. But getting back to the text, there was no explanation and we see the command of the Lord starting to take hold of Pharaoh. Of course, his heart would be hardened because God was not finished with his judgement of Egypt (for their treatment of His people) or showing His power and deliverance to his people (so they would know that He was their God and they were His people, Exodus 6:7).

The world still operates like this today, they have an explanation for everything. We can show the power and beauty of God in nature, the moving of God in history, even the work of the Lord in our own life and often through one way or another people will try and explain it away. Often, we want to stand up and argue, to "prove God right" (as if He needed our help). There is a time and place for us to use persuasive arguments on moral, historical, and scientific issues. But sometimes I think when it comes to sharing Jesus with some people (especially those that we have a relationship with and can continue to share) that we need to simply love, continue to share the gospel, and there will come a time when they run out of explanations and we will be there to lead them to the one who is the answer.


Saturday, February 17, 2018

You will know.

I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the LORD your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. (Exodus 6:7 ESV)

Have you ever come through a storm of life and the only way you made it through was because of Jesus? Reflecting back on my life, I can summon to mind more than a few times like that. It may not have been a life or death situation. Maybe it was a season of life that was full of stress and unexpected trials, but you came through it stronger in your faith and closer in your relationship with the Lord.

Reading in Exodus 5 and 6, Moses and Aaron go to Pharaoh and relay to him the message of the Lord. Instead of Pharaoh heeding the Lord's command, he rejects it and increases the burden on the Hebrew people. As I am sure you can imagine, this makes the Hebrews resent Moses. After all, things weren't "this bad" before Moses showed up. But then God says to Moses, "But the LORD said to Moses, “Now you shall see what I will do to Pharaoh" (6:1) and then "and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment." (6:6).

I wonder what would have happened if the first time Moses walked into Pharaoh's court and demanded the Hebrew people be let go, he would have let them leave? Would David still be writing about the deliverance from Egypt in the Psalms? Passover certainly would not be celebrated as there would not have been a first "passover" of the death angel. Would the victory have reflected on Moses' negotiating skills and leadership rather than on God's power? The people would not have left with the riches that were placed upon them by the Egyptian people as the made their way out. Would they have known the true power of God?

Reflecting back on my life again, I wonder if God allows us to bypass the easy way out so that we can know He is the LORD our God. Does the storm rage on with Jesus asleep in the front of the boat so he can then stand and say "peace be still" and the wind and waves obey? Does Lazarus die so Jesus can bring the dead back to life and show people God has power of death and the grave? Are you in a situation that seems hopeless? Are you wondering what you have done to deserve such hardship? Maybe, just maybe, the situation that you are in is going to seem hopeless until our Sovereign, miracle-working, all-powerful God steps in and delivers you from it. Then you will look back and know that the He is the LORD your God.


Friday, February 16, 2018

The Inadequacy of the Called

Last nights reading brought us to the call of Moses, a familiar story to students of the Bible. God comes to Moses in the form of a burning bush and instructs him to return to Egypt. The task that the Lord gave to Moses must have surely felt overwhelming. Returning to his place of birth. Returning to his people. Returning to a place that he left as a wanted man. From the text we see that Moses was not only concerned as to what he will say to Pharaoh but also how he would convince the Hebrews that he had truly come on behalf of the the Lord. Many of Moses' excuses seem to come out of honest humility. Place yourself in Moses' sandals for a moment. Sure, at one point you were a member of the royal court of Egypt but now you are a simple shepherd of Midian. The Lord tells you to go and instruct one of the greatest leaders of the known world to allow his entire workforce to leave?! I don't know about you but I would have felt massively inadequate. But regardless of the origin of the excuses that Moses gave to the Lord, they did not sit well with the Lord. In fact, the text states that God's anger was kindled against Moses. Moses main excuse was that he was not an eloquent speaker, to which God responds, "Then the LORD said to him, “Who has made man's mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the LORD? Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak.” (Exodus 4:11–12 ESV) God answers Moses' questions by simply telling him to go and that He would take care of the rest.

How often do we, like Moses, hear the command of the Lord to go and instead of rushing to what the Lord has called us to do we sit and make excuses of why we are not qualified to do so. Sure the task may beyond what we thing we are capable of on our own but God has not called us to go on our own. You and I can always come up with excuses as why to not follow the Lord in the calling he has placed on our lives. There have been plenty of times in my life when I have told the Lord, "there is no way, I'm not smart enough, qualified enough, outgoing enough, charismatic enough, etc." Most times it truly comes out of a sense of humility (sometimes stemming from self doubt), not from a desire to not follow the Lord. However, it is still a revelation of the lack of faith and lack of trust in the God that has called. In the great commission in Matthew 28:20, Jesus tells his disciples, "And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” In Jeremiah 1:7-8, God says to a young Jeremiah, "But the LORD said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’; for to all to whom I send you, you shall go, and whatever I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, declares the LORD.” I am sure you have heard the quote, "God doesn't call the qualified, he qualifies the called." That is basically what He says to Moses here, "you just go and I'll take care of the rest." He is still telling that to us today.

I had the opportunity to put this into practice today. I had to make a couple of hospital visits today. Hospital visits make me a bit nervous. I am always concerned that I'm not going to know what to say or not going to be able to carry the conversation and have to encounter the dreaded awkward silence. But before I got out of the truck I prayed that God would give me the words to say. He reminded me that I was not there to minister to them in my ability but I was there to express His love to them by showing compassion and letting them know that they were being thought about and prayed for in this hard time. In both instances I was able to sit, listen, and pray for two precious people who are going through a hard time with a loved one. I left feeling blessed, because I was able to simply be a conduit of God's love. That is what God calls us to do, to be a conduit, allow him to minister to other through us. What has God called you to do that you are still offering up excuses about?