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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MAKE IT PERSONAL

And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39 NLT

white peacock butterflyI recently read a devotion that suggested substituting our own personal anxieties and concerns for the troubles listed by Paul in Romans 8. Perhaps your version would read: “And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither old age nor loss of loved ones, neither cancer nor dementia, neither our fears for our wayward children nor our worries about finances—not even the powers of terrorism and hate can separate us from God’s love. No hurricanes or earthquakes—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Then again, maybe widowhood, heart disease, migraines, foreclosure, floods, stroke, bullies, loneliness, crime, hunger, depression, fires, hard times, debt, anger, betrayal, homelessness, violence, or tornadoes would be on your list. However you fill in the blanks, Paul’s words remain true and bear repeating. Nothing—absolutely nothing—can separate us from God’s love as shown in Jesus Christ.

That God is for us, however, doesn’t mean we have no enemies. In fact, Paul’s words were written to the Roman church, a church that underwent tremendous persecution for the following 300 years. We encounter threats from both physical and spiritual enemies daily. What it does mean is that those enemies, no matter how powerful they are, can’t turn God against us. Because God gave His only son to save us, we can be sure, not just of his unchanging and everlasting love, but of our salvation.

What troubles would you substitute for Paul’s in Romans 8? No matter what they are, rest assured in the promise that the battle is already over and overwhelming victory is ours through Christ our Lord!

What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? … overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. [Romans 8: 31b-32,37b (NLT)]

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STRANGERS IN A STRANGE LAND

Then the Lord said to Moses, “This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob when I said, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ I have now allowed you to see it with your own eyes, but you will not enter the land.” So Moses, the servant of the Lord, died there in the land of Moab, just as the Lord had said. [Deuteronomy 34:4-5 (NLT)]

southern fogfruitWe all know the story: when she could keep him hidden no longer, Moses’s mother put him in a waterproof basket and laid him in the reeds of the Nile where he was found by Pharaoh’s daughter. Moses’ sister appeared, offered to find a wet nurse for him, and Moses and his birth mother were briefly reunited. When he was older, the boy was returned to Pharaoh’s daughter who adopted him. Logically that would have been when he was weaned (around two or three). Unfortunately, with only eleven verses of Scripture about his childhood, there’s no way of knowing how much contact he had with his birth family or what he knew of his Hebrew heritage. Nevertheless, Moses must have been torn by the knowledge that he was living a privileged life in the palace of the man who was mercilessly oppressing his people. A Hebrew boy being raised as an Egyptian prince, was Moses ever fully accepted by those in Pharaoh’s court? Did he feel he belonged or and was he too much of a Hebrew to be considered an Egyptian?

When he was grown, Moses went out “to visit his own people” but we don’t know why. Was he visiting his birth family, supervising some labor, or merely curious? Scripture only tells us that Moses killed an Egyptian he saw abusing a Hebrew slave. The next day, Moses returned again to his people and saw two Hebrews fighting. When he tried to intervene, he was sarcastically rebuffed: “Who appointed you to be our prince and judge? Are you going to kill me as you killed that Egyptian yesterday?” Apparently, Moses was too much of an Egyptian to be considered a Hebrew by his own people!

To escape Pharaoh’s wrath over the homicide, Moses fled to Midian. The man who was too much a Hebrew to be Egyptian and too Egyptian to be Hebrew was now a stranger in a strange land. Although his unique background was perfect preparation for the task given him, Moses didn’t know that. It’s easy to understand why he was so reluctant when God told him that he’d be the one to lead the Hebrews to freedom. What did Moses know of his people and God’s covenant with Israel? He hadn’t even circumcised his son Gershom!

Part of me finds the story of Moses incredibly sad. Having spent a third of his life as an outsider in Pharaoh’s palace, a third as an exile in Midian, and a third as a nomad in the wilderness, he was a man who never really belonged anywhere. Although he was the one who led his people to their home in Canaan, Moses never stepped into that Promised Land; he only viewed it from a distance. Yet, isn’t this what the Apostle Paul was talking about when he gave his examples of faith in Hebrews 11? He wrote of faithful people like Abraham, Isaac and Jacob who, like Moses, only viewed God’s Promised Land from a distance. True faith, however, allows us to see beyond what is right in front of us. We’re all strangers in a strange land because this world is not our home. The Promised Land is not a piece of soil; it is the Kingdom of God and a piece of eternity.

All these people died still believing what God had promised them. They did not receive what was promised, but they saw it all from a distance and welcomed it. They agreed that they were foreigners and nomads here on earth. … But they were looking for a better place, a heavenly homeland. That is why God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them. [Hebrews 11:13,16 (NLT)]

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THE SCARLET CORD

Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see. Through their faith, the people in days of old earned a good reputation. [Hebrews 11:1-2 (NLT)]

red roseRahab is one of the two women Paul lists in his “Hall of Faith.” This woman from Jericho married Salmon, was the mother of Boaz, a great-great grandmother to David, and one of Jesus’s ancestors. Oh—and she was a prostitute who collaborated with the enemy. Yet, Matthew makes specific mention of her in Jesus’ genealogy and both James and Paul speak highly of her in their epistles. Why?

From what Rahab had heard of the Israelites, she recognized their God as supreme. This perceptive woman anticipated Jericho’s defeat and judiciously aligned herself with the winning side when she protected two Israelite spies. After hiding them from the king’s men, she requested the same loyalty to her that she’d given them and negotiated for the safety of her family. As she lowered the men to safety on a scarlet cord, they told Rahab her protection was only ensured if she had that same cord visible on the day of their attack. True to their word, when Jericho fell, Rahab and her family were saved. Was it Rahab’s treason to Jericho that caused Paul to include her in his list or was there more?

After leaving Rahab’s house, the spies hid in the hills for three days before returning to camp and reporting to Joshua. After that, the Israelites broke camp and moved to the banks of the Jordan where they stayed another three days before crossing the river. Once across, the Israelites erected memorials to commemorate their crossing by God’s power. Four days later, the people celebrated the first night of Passover and, at some point, all of the men were circumcised. As the Israelites observed the eight days of Passover and the men recovered from their surgery, the invincible city of Jericho closed its gates and readied itself for battle. Meanwhile, Rahab had waited at least two weeks for the Israelites and her rescue. Did she begin to doubt the two spies and their God? Had she picked the wrong side to support? Did she consider bringing in that scarlet cord and making an alliance with a protector in Jericho? Was she tempted to lose faith in the God of the Israelites?

Eventually, the Israelites set off to conquer Jericho but they didn’t assault the town or lay siege to it. Instead, seven priests blowing rams’ horns led the Ark of the Covenant followed by 40,000 soldiers around the walled city before returning to their camp. For six days, Rahab watched from her window as the army silently marched around the city and then departed without lifting a weapon. Was Rahab’s faith shaken by this strange behavior? Were the men too afraid to attack? What kind of God used such a bizarre battle plan? On the seventh day, when she watched the Israelites parade seven times around the city, did she abandon all hope as she witnessed what appeared to be another day of even more pointless marching? Apparently not; that scarlet cord, the sign of her faith in the God of the Israelites, was still hanging from her window. When the army finally shouted, the walls of the unconquerable city collapsed and Rahab and her family were saved.

The walls of Jericho were leveled by faith in God. Rahab helped two strangers and kept that scarlet cord dangling from her window by that same faith. When God’s plan seems inexplicable or a long time in coming, do we exhibit a similar kind of faith? When things seem at a standstill, when we can’t see His plan, do we despair or do we hang out a scarlet cord of faith in God?

It was by faith that the people of Israel marched around Jericho for seven days, and the walls came crashing down. It was by faith that Rahab the prostitute was not destroyed with the people in her city who refused to obey God. For she had given a friendly welcome to the spies. [Hebrews 11:30-31 (NLT)]

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CLAIMING PROMISES

Tao New MexicoThe Lord said to Abram after Lot had parted from him, “Look around from where you are, to the north and south, to the east and west. All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever. [Genesis 13:14-15 (NIV)]

We were visiting an area church when the pastor referred to the above verse from Genesis in which God tells Abram (Abraham) he can have all that he sees. As the sermon continued, the pastor recited a litany of God’s promises and he seemed to be preaching a “name it and claim it” theology only, in this case, it was more like a “see it and have it” one. Granted, it was the first sermon of the year and the pastor clearly wanted to start 2018 on a high note. Nevertheless, claiming God’s promises and thinking they mean He’ll give me everything I visualize isn’t Bible-based.

Our faith and thoughts do not create our reality. If they did, among other things, I would be two inches taller, a whole lot shapelier, and without a wrinkle or any arthritis. Our faith doesn’t promise to give us what we want; our faith allows us to trust in a loving God who will give us what we need.

It is God, not us, who chooses when and how to bless us or, as in the case of Job, afflict us with trials. Job didn’t suffer for lack of faith; the man was filled with faith and yet he endured the loss of everything but his life. As baffled as Job was by his troubles, he knew that blessings and misfortune are not a measure of faith; the faithful can suffer and the wicked can prosper.

Not every promise made by God in the Bible is a wholesale across-the-board promise to us. That promise to Abram was a specific promise about a particular piece of land. God said nothing about seeing and having boyfriends, better jobs, new businesses, babies, healing, bigger paychecks, larger houses, or freedom from debt. Jesus came to save us from our sins and not from bankruptcy, infertility, illness, bad marriages, poor choices, difficult in-laws, unemployment, demanding bosses, or a host of other life challenges. Moreover, He calls us to sacrifice and deny rather than want and get.

Although God wants our love, worship, faith and obedience, He doesn’t need any of those to operate the universe. As Christians, we believe in the power of faith and prayer but we must remember the real power lies in God and His plan. We’re not God’s customers who can order what they see; we’re His children who thankfully accept what He gives us. Much of what we envision never will be ours simply because it’s not in God’s plan. When we become so intent on seeing what we want, we may miss seeing the blessings we’ve been given or different ones waiting in another direction.

I will continue to have faith and claim God’s promises—the promises of His presence, unfailing love, strength, wisdom, comfort, forgiveness, salvation, eternal life, the power of Holy Spirit, and the peace of God. What He hasn’t promised me is that if I see it, believe it or name it, it will be mine.

 Faith is not the belief that God will do what you want. It is the belief that God will do what is right. [Max Lucado]

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. [Philippians 4:6-7 (NIV)]

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PSALM 88

O Lord, God of my salvation, I cry out to you by day. I come to you at night. Now hear my prayer; listen to my cry. For my life is full of troubles, and death draws near. [Psalm 88:1-3 (NLT)]

zebra swallowtailI woke to yet another cold dreary winter day. Troubled by a variety of concerns and hoping to improve my glum mood, I turned to Psalms. Unfortunately, I made a bad choice in Psalm 88. Written by Heman the Ezrahite, I saw that originally it was to be sung to the tune “The Suffering of Affliction” (which should have been my clue to read no further).

During David’s time, Heman was one of three chief Levites appointed to conduct music in the tabernacle (the equivalent of today’s worship leader). Perhaps he wrote this psalm to console David in his sorrow after the loss of his son but there seems to be nothing consoling about it. The speaker’s life is full of troubles; he considers himself a lost cause and as good as dead. Repulsive and depressed, he’s been forgotten by his friends, feels God’s anger, and asks God why he’s been rejected. Typically, psalms of lament eventually turn from despair to hope and from misery to confidence but there’s not even a glimmer of hope in this one! “Darkness is my closest friend,” are the psalmist’s final words. Although the RSV Bible subtitles the psalm a “Prayer for Help in Despondency,” a far better title would be “Job’s Lament!”

Later that morning, we attended worship at our northern church. The service, an Advent tradition there, was a celebration of the beautiful music of the Christmas season. As I listened to the words of the carols, my spirits lifted. Unlike Heman, this was a worship leader who knew what songs would help the despondent.

With my improved outlook, I thought back to that mournful psalm and realized that, as miserable and depressed as the psalmist was, he hadn’t given up on God. His words were honest—he was wretched and desolate—and yet he knew God heard his complaint. Even though he felt abandoned, he continued to pray which means he knew he hadn’t been forsaken. In fact, knowing his words were not falling on deaf ears, he vowed to continue his prayers. He knew that tears and prayers go together—that his troubles were a reason to talk with God rather than a reason to stop praying

It was the words of John 3:16 that made me finally understand that the sorrowful psalm and the joyful carols were telling me the same thing. No matter how wretched we feel, no matter how distressing our situation, no matter how severe our suffering, we are loved. Unfortunately, faith is no protection from trouble and sometimes we will sink in sorrow. Nevertheless, like the psalmist, we can remain earnest in prayer. Knowing that God loved us enough to give us His only son, we can know He loves us enough to hear our prayers. Even when we feel abandoned, God is with us; Immanuel is His name.

Those who are in trouble of mind may sing this psalm [Psalm 88] feelingly; those that are not ought to sing it thankfully, blessing God that it is not their case. [Matthew Henry]

For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. [John 3:16 (NLT)]

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