DID YOU HAVE A MOSES?

They forgot God, their savior, who had done such great things in Egypt—such wonderful things in the land of Ham, such awesome deeds at the Red Sea. So he declared he would destroy them. But Moses, his chosen one, stepped between the Lord and the people. He begged him to turn from his anger and not destroy them. [Psalm 106:21-23 (NLT)]

corkscrew swamp sanctuaryOur small group is studying personal evangelism and the study guide suggested writing a note of gratitude to the person or persons who helped point our way to Christ. After all, the single greatest gift any of us can give someone is an introduction to Jesus. Since mine was a gradual journey and, other than my mother, no one immediately came to mind, I skipped this simple step. After finishing the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, I’m reconsidering.

While reading through the story of the exodus, I was struck by the Israelites’ ingratitude. When they made and worshipped that golden calf, God threatened to destroy all of them but Moses interceded; although 3,000 died, the nation survived. When God cursed Miriam with leprosy for her rebellion against Moses, it was Moses who interceded for her and begged God for her healing. When the Israelites failed to believe God’s promises and refused to enter Canaan, an angry God threatened to destroy them with a plague. Again, it was Moses who interceded and saved them. Frankly, by that time, I would have been tempted to tell God to kill the whole lot of them!

When a contingent of 250 Israelite leaders confronted Moses and Aaron with false accusations and complaints, an angry God again threatened to destroy them all. It was Moses and Aaron who fell on their faces and pled with God not to judge the whole nation for their sin. After Moses told the people to move away from the rebels, the ringleaders were swallowed by the earth and God’s fire consumed the others. The next day, instead of thanking Moses for saving the rest of them, the people accused Moses of being responsible for the previous day’s deaths. An angry God told Moses and Aaron to move away from them so that He could consume the ungrateful mob. Yet again, Moses and Aaron fell to the ground in prayer and supplication. Seeing a plague starting, Aaron filled a censer with incense and ran into the crowd to stop the plague by atoning for their sin. Apparently slow learners, when the Isarelites grew impatient and again spoke against God and Moses, the Lord sent poisonous snakes among them. Once again, Moses prayed for the salvation of his people and saved the day.

For over forty years, Moses led a thankless lot of “stiff-necked” people through the wilderness and continually interceded on their behalf to God. Although we read of Moses leading them in offering thanks to God, we never read of any of them thanking Moses for his service. The Israelites mourned for him when he died but it seems they never thanked him when he lived.

Many of us had a Moses and Aaron, more likely several, who led us on our faith journey through the wilderness into the Promised Land—the Kingdom of God. While I can’t single out one specific person who pointed the way, I remember several people who welcomed me when I felt ill at ease, loved me when I felt unlovable, encouraged me on difficult parts of my journey, offered guidance when I started to lose my way, lifted me when I began to fall, challenged me to be all that God wants me to be and, like Moses, interceded for me in prayer. I thank God for them but, today, I also thank them. Did you have a Moses and Aaron who led you into the Promised Land? Have you thanked them?

None of us got to where we are alone. Whether the assistance we received was obvious or subtle, acknowledging someone’s help is a big part of understanding the importance of saying thank you. [Harvey Mackay]

Through the angel who appeared to him in the burning bush, God sent Moses to be their ruler and savior. And by means of many wonders and miraculous signs, he led them out of Egypt, through the Red Sea, and through the wilderness for forty years. [Acts 7:35b-36 (NLT)]

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ACCEPTING AMENDS

God blesses those who are merciful, for they will be shown mercy. [Matthew 5:7 (NLT)]

Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn others, or it will all come back against you. Forgive others, and you will be forgiven. [Luke 6:37 (NLT)]

beach sunflowerYesterday, I wrote about making amends; today, I write about accepting them. In Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son, the young man realizes the error of his ways, returns to his father, admits his failure, and is forgiven. Although the son offers to act as a servant, his father doesn’t ask for amends or acts of penance; rather, he welcomes him back as an honored son. It’s a beautiful story about God’s redeeming grace and forgiveness. Like any good story, however, there’s conflict—the prodigal’s older brother. When he returns from working in the fields to the feast celebrating his brother’s return, he becomes angry and resentful. The parable concludes with the father’s explanation that the celebration is because, “He was lost, but now he is found!”

If, instead of a parable, this was a true story, what would happen next? Even with his father’s forgiveness, the boy still would face the consequences of his foolishness; having already gotten and squandered his money, there would be no inheritance when his father died. Although making amends wasn’t necessary for the father’s forgiveness, a truly repentant son would want to find a way to make things better. Perhaps he would work extra hours in the fields, help the homeless or counsel rebellious young men. While the boy’s relationship with his father was restored, I doubt the relationship with his elder brother mended so easily.

The older boy rightfully resented all of the extra work required of him during the prodigal’s absence, but there was more to his anger. He’d watched his father walk out to the gate each morning to wait hopefully for his younger son’s return, only to see his father return crestfallen each evening when he didn’t show up. He’d heard his father’s sobs when news of the prodigal’s disgraceful life reached his ears. When famine hit the land, he saw his father pace in the middle of the night as he worried how his younger son would survive. He knew his father, having given so much money to his younger son, was having financial difficulties. He’d seen the toll his brother’s abysmal behavior had taken on the entire family and wanted to see his brother chastised rather than given a party. He wanted to see him in sackcloth and ashes rather than wearing the best robe in the house. His brother deserved punishment and humiliation rather than a celebration. Being forgiven just shouldn’t be that easy!

As sinners, we should try to make things right with the people we’ve offended. Yet, in the prodigal’s situation, whatever he did to make amends probably would never be enough for his elder brother. Unable to understand his father’s amazing grace, rather than apologies or amends, the older boy wanted retribution. Nevertheless, as offended parties, we don’t get to choose how apologies are offered or amends are made, nor do we get to withhold our forgiveness if we’re not satisfied. When someone comes to us with a repentant heart and asks forgiveness, we can’t demand the type and amount of humble pie he must eat before getting it. We just have to forgive.

We are to forgive so that we may enjoy God’s goodness without feeling the weight of anger burning deep within our hearts. Forgiveness does not mean we recant the fact that what happened to us was wrong. Instead, we roll our burdens onto the Lord and allow Him to carry them for us. [Charles Stanley]

Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you. [Ephesians 4:31-32 (NLT)]

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APPROVAL RATINGS

Obviously, I’m not trying to win the approval of people, but of God. If pleasing people were my goal, I would not be Christ’s servant. [Galatians 1:10 (NLT)]

rabbitsI’d just returned from the dentist’s when their email arrived asking, “Would you recommend us?” Thinking the question theoretical, I answered in the affirmative only to be taken to hyperlinks for both Google and Facebook to do just that. The following day, I got a longer survey regarding my visit. It again asked if I would recommend his services and requested use of my name in a testimonial. Clearly, my dentist wants the approval of his patients.

Like my dentist, we all want to be noticed, liked, approved, applauded and endorsed but, unlike him, we don’t employ a company to do surveys for us. Nevertheless, we tend to measure approval in other ways—the quantity of Christmas cards sent or received, “friends” on Facebook, hits on the website or likes on the posting. Approval is determined by the number of invitations extended or accepted, memberships (and offices held) in various organizations, honors awarded, and followers on Twitter or Instagram. We judge admiration on the number and expense of gifts received, the reviews on Yelp or Trip Advisor, the size of the obituary and the length of the line to pay condolences.

In the comic strip Calvin & Hobbes (drawn by Bill Watterson), there were several instances (usually after having been disciplined or given a chore) in which the precocious Calvin informed his father that his approval ratings were dangerously low (especially with six-year olds and stuffed tigers). To Calvin’s surprise, his dad seemed unconcerned about his approval ratings’ ups and downs. This comic strip father knew that a parent’s purpose wasn’t to gain his child’s approval. Would that other parents were so wise!

We all seek approval but by whom? Like Calvin’s dad, our job is not to please our children; nor is it to please any other person. Jesus warned us that we can’t be servants to both God and the world (its wealth, possessions, fame, popularity, status, or praise). Our job is to please God; His approval rating of us is the only one that truly counts! When we try to please both the world and God, the interests of our two masters eventually will collide. When that happens, and it will, whose approval will we seek—man’s or God’s?

For we speak as messengers approved by God to be entrusted with the Good News. Our purpose is to please God, not people. He alone examines the motives of our hearts. [1 Thessalonians 2:4 (NLT)]

No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. [Matthew 6:24a (NLT)]

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WHY JOIN?

The community continually committed themselves to learning what the apostles taught them, gathering for fellowship, breaking bread, and praying. Everyone felt a sense of awe because the apostles were doing many signs and wonders among them. There was an intense sense of togetherness among all who believed; they shared all their material possessions in trust. [Acts 2:42-44 (VOICE)]

Locarno-Madonna del SassoWe’ve left our old church and have been house-of-worship hunting. At first, it was like trying various hotels once a week to discover one of good quality with the right character, location and features for us. Having found a good prospect, we returned several times, signed up for a community service opportunity, and joined a Bible study. Now, it’s more like we’re renting a house; we’re meeting the neighbors, becoming familiar with the community and getting an idea of what a long-term stay would be like. Nevertheless, we’re still just temporary residents and have no ties. As we settle into this new church, however, our prayer is that it will feel enough like home that we’ll want to join it, which is a commitment somewhat like buying a house (but without the mortgage and closing costs.)

Why should we bother to join a church? Couldn’t we continue as Christians-at-large and just visit churches? There are over 85 Christian churches in our town alone, so we’d have plenty from which to choose. Why not remain a renter and just drop our tithe into whatever basket is passed that morning?

There’s a big difference, however, between renting something and living in a home we own. In a nightly rental, we really don’t care about the mud we’ve tracked into the room, the burnt out light bulb, the coffee stain on the rug, or the people in the next room. Even when renting a house, as long as everything works, we aren’t concerned about the aging appliances, the armadillo digging under the deck, or the grubs in the grass; we can always move on elsewhere. It’s only when we buy the house that we become committed to it, our neighbors, and the well-being of our community. Because the house’s future is tied to ours, we invest our time, love and money; we look not just to today but also to tomorrow.

Church membership, like owning a house, is a commitment and one that means far more than maintaining a building. It’s a commitment to worship regularly, serve one another, spread God’s word, study, fellowship, pray for each other, uphold doctrine, be held accountable, and ensure its future for the next generation. Commitment is what keeps us caring for the homes we own and it’s what keeps a church functioning.

When we buy a house, we get a building but, when we join a church, we get much more than that. We get a ready-made family—a group of people who share the same foundation and love of Christ. And that, more than anything else, is why we’ll join the church that’s right for us once it’s found.

Why should you join a church? Because by committing yourself in that way you will help to fulfill your purpose as a Christian. It seems pretty obvious from biblical metaphors of building stones and body parts that the Christian life was not meant to be lived alone. You, as a Christian, were designed and created by God, not for a life of individuality and self-will, but to fill a niche in the spiritual building called the church. [Jim Elliff]

They were unified as they worshiped at the temple day after day. In homes, they broke bread and shared meals with glad and generous hearts. The new disciples praised God, and they enjoyed the goodwill of all the people of the city. Day after day the Lord added to their number everyone who was experiencing liberation. [Acts 2:46-47 (VOICE)]

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AND EVIL BEGAT EVIL

swamp (string) lily - corkscrew swampAs you know, long ago God instructed Moses to tell His people, “Do not murder; those who murder will be judged and punished.” But here is the even harder truth: anyone who is angry with his brother will be judged for his anger. Anyone who taunts his friend, speaks contemptuously toward him, or calls him “Loser” or “Fool” or “Scum,” will have to answer to the high court. And anyone who calls his brother a fool may find himself in the fires of hell. [Matthew 5:21-22 (VOICE)]

While Satan’s presence is easy to see in malevolent acts like terrorism, genocide, slavery, torture and human trafficking, he’s usually far more subtle. That we don’t expect his presence in our emotions and actions works to his advantage and we don’t see him when he comes slithering into our lives. Like a trickle of water seeping through a foundation crack, he oozes in without our noticing and, before we know it, he’s settled into the La-Z-Boy and made himself at home in our hearts.

Evil is anything that contradicts the nature of God and it includes immorality, pettiness, deceit, envy, maliciousness, unforgiveness, hatred, slander, hypocrisy, covetousness, and corruption. Unfortunately, those evils are harder to recognize and far more likely to be in our hearts than genocide, murder or even adultery.

The enemy doesn’t care who he captures and the more the merrier as far as he is concerned. Rebekah and Jacob let him into their hearts when they plotted to deceive Isaac into thinking he was blessing Esau when actually blessing Jacob. Esau’s reaction to their deception allowed the enemy entrance in his heart when he decided to kill his brother. Their story illustrates how evil has a way of begetting more evil.

After recently witnessing some of the enemy’s destructive work, I’ve had righteous indignation at the way innocent people were hurt. Unfortunately, I’ve also had some very unrighteous anger and ill will. There’s a fine line between disappointment and disgust, indignation and fury, and making things right and retaliation. I found myself hoping for disaster to strike the wrongdoers and have caught myself disparaging and despising them. The enemy has used my anger to open the door for malice, unkindness and even gossip. His evil is just begetting more of the same.

Somehow, during Jacob’s twenty year absence, Esau managed to empty his heart of bitterness and anger at his brother; Satan lost that battle. If, however, I allow anger to continue brewing in me, he’ll be able to put another notch on his belt. Anger, spite, contempt, disdain, condemnation—they all diminish me and the Christ within me. That I’m angry on someone else’s behalf or that the other people’s sins have harmed people while mine have harmed no one (but me), is of no matter. My thoughts have been evil and the only option is to capture them, send them packing, and seal the cracks that allowed them entrance. I’ll do that by conforming my thoughts to God’s will and allowing His love and forgiveness to rule my heart.

Never let evil get the best of you; instead, overpower evil with the good. [Romans 12:21 (VOICE)]

We are demolishing arguments and ideas, every high-and-mighty philosophy that pits itself against the knowledge of the one true God. We are taking prisoners of every thought, every emotion, and subduing them into obedience to the Anointed One. [2 Corinthians 10:5 (VOICE)]

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A MATTER OF PERSPECTIVE

When I was with the Jews, I lived like a Jew to bring the Jews to Christ. When I was with those who follow the Jewish law, I too lived under that law. Even though I am not subject to the law, I did this so I could bring to Christ those who are under the law. When I am with the Gentiles who do not follow the Jewish law, I too live apart from that law so I can bring them to Christ. But I do not ignore the law of God; I obey the law of Christ. [1 Corinthians 9:20-21 (NLT)]

raccoons - Corkscrew swamp sanctuaryLike the rest of the east coast, Florida had a cold spell last week. With a temperature of 40, the weatherperson warned of a windchill of 36. Cautioning about the hazardous weather, she suggested that small children and animals stay indoors. That same morning, our son’s family in the north woke to -4 with a windchill of -20. For them, it was just another cold winter morning. They calmly bundled up the kids and walked them to school as they do every day. What a difference of perspective 1,400 miles makes!

How we view the world around us often depends on how it affects us. We were enjoying the antics of a pair of raccoons as they dug in the water for snails and crayfish when we heard, “Where’s my rifle now that I need it?” Stunned by such a negative reaction to what was an “Aha!” moment for us, we turned to look at the speaker who explained his vehement reaction to these engaging animals. To this farmer from Iowa, raccoons are masked marauders who wreak havoc with his corn crop and in his hen house. One person’s pleasure easily can be another’s pain in the neck! Where we saw two of God’s delightful creatures, he saw only destructive pests and I had to concede he made a good point.

Before meeting Jesus on the road to Damascus, the Apostle Paul was a devout Jew. As a Pharisee, he carefully abided by every one of the Torah’s 613 commandments. Gentiles, however, didn’t abide by the restrictive Jewish laws. They shaved their beards with a razor, didn’t recite the Shema (a Jewish prayer) twice a day, didn’t wear tefillin on their heads and arms or have tzitzit on the corners of their robes, made no distinction between kosher and non-kosher, and didn’t follow a host of other rules about food, work, and clothing. When Paul met with them, he didn’t go into their homes and tell them how wrong they were. He didn’t insist they keep kosher, add tassels to their robes or put mezuzahs on their door posts. Knowing that Christ had freed the Jews from the Torah’s regulations, the only law about which Paul was concerned was the law of Christ. Understanding the Gentiles’ different point of view, Paul respected it and lived their way with them. On the other hand, Paul also respected the perspective of the Jews. Having always followed the strict ritual observances of the Torah, he knew they’d be disturbed to see him break from any of them. When with the Jews, Paul followed their traditions, probably recited the Shema, and refrained from eating pork, shellfish, or milk and meat together. That didn’t make Paul a hypocrite—he openly admitted the way he changed behavior depending on his company. It simply meant that, rather than being judgmental, he respected others enough to look at things from their viewpoint. With each group, he found common ground in Jesus Christ. When we take the time to see the world from someone else’s perspective, we might just learn something; I know we’d be better evangelists!

Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some. I do everything to spread the Good News and share in its blessings. … So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Don’t give offense to Jews or Gentiles or the church of God. I, too, try to please everyone in everything I do. I don’t just do what is best for me; I do what is best for others so that many may be saved. [1 Corinthians 9:22b-23, 10:31-33 (NLT)]

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