Category Archives: Sermon Notes – 2020

“You call this an Exodus?” – Sept. 13, 2020

This is a true story (told with permission),

In the late 1990’s, Cindy took a youth group on a mission work trip to Alabama. It had been an uneventful trip so far and they were making good time. As they approached the Kentucky river, Cindy carefully studied her map for the fastest, most direct route. There were a few different bridges they could take but most took them far out of their way.

As they began a long descent to the river, there was a sign that read, “Road Ends”. According to the map, there was a bridge or certainly a ferry at the location they were headed, so they continued winding their way along. Then, there was another sign and another, but Cindy had faith that there would be a way across.

As they came to the river, the road dipped and disappeared right into the water. There was no dead-end sign or barrier. Fortunately, she stopped in time! Making the best of a bad situation, they stopped to eat their picnic lunch before backtracking to a highway that would take them to a real bridge.

It would have helped to have a GPS but of course, they were not available back then. Except for being embarrassing, the group only lost some road time. But it was a lesson Cindy would never forget, in part, because the youth group loved to remind her of what happened. The lesson is, that it is good to pay attention to the signs around us, they just might be right!

In some situations, getting off track and ending up at a dead-end can have awful consequences. That is very similar to what happened to the Israelites as they left Egypt. The only difference is that God placed them at the dead-end; where they were between a rock and a hard place. Or some might say, they were between the devil and the deep blue sea.

Last Sunday, we heard about the 10 plagues God brought upon Egypt because of the Pharaoh’s unwillingness to let God’s people go. After the death of the firstborn sons, all of people of Egypt and the Pharaoh were anxious to expel the Israelites from their land. It is often called ‘the night where no one slept’ because of the horrible wailing of the mothers and families.

Just after midnight, Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and said, “Hurry up! Leave my people and our land, you and the Israelites! Go, worship the Lord, as you have requested. Take your flocks and herds and go. But, before you do, bless me.” (Exodus 12:31-32)

After all of this, the Pharaoh has the gull to ask for a blessing. Can you believe that? I imagine Moses and Aaron did it, hoping it might make the transition out of Egypt easier. Meanwhile, the Egyptians were pressing the Israelites to leave as soon as possible. They feared everyone might die if the Lord of the Israelites was displeased any further.

Whenever Cindy and I go on a trip, lists are made in advance to make sure we don’t forget anything. And our departure time is usually delayed a little as we go over last-minute details. And of course, there is always one last bathroom visit.

The Israelites didn’t have that luxury. All the Egyptians wanted them gone first thing next morning.

There was no time to rest or finish last minute details. Even the bread they made, which was usually left to rise over night after adding yeast, had to be cut short. They packed up the unleavened bread and all their clothes, along with all the silver and gold they could carry.

As the sun rose, the Israelites gathered to walk out of Egypt. The Bible says that there were 6 hundred thousand men on foot, plus women and children. We also know some other slaves and foreigners went with them. Scholars suggest that there could easily have been 2 million people plus animals. (Exodus 12:37) Mind you, they are leaving a city to walk into the desert.

My guess is that some were overjoyed to finally be leaving Egypt. They remembered the hardship and loss. Others looked out at the desert and then looked back in concern. How could so many travel safely with so little food and water. This was a mixed blessing for them, at best.

The Israelites had lived in Egypt for 430 years. (Exodus 12:40) They did not know any other way

of life. The truth was; many had put their faith in Moses alone. He was the one talking to the Lord. During the next part of the journey, God was going to reveal himself to all the Israelites. They would see his power and glory on full display.

God had instructed Moses to head south and east, from Rameses to Succoth. (Exodus 12:37) It would have been shorter to travel through the Philistine countryside, but God knew the Israelites might return to Egypt rather than fight another army. (Exodus 13:17)

One interesting note: Moses first had to collect the bones of Joseph to take with them as they left. Joseph had instructed the Israelites to do this for him before he died, if they ever left Egypt. (Exodus 13:19) Finally they were ready, and they marched out of Egypt. Steadily they advanced, day and night until they came to Succoth and made camp. 

From here, God lead them farther south to Etham, where they again camped. Scripture says,

“By day the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light. That way they could travel non-stop.” (Exodus 13:21)

Then the Lord did something strange, he instructed Moses and the Israelites to go back up north to camp near the sea. (Exodus 14:2) Imagine the conversations around this decision. They were very satisfied moving as far away from Egypt as possible. Why travel back up toward their enemy?

God explained to Moses, “Pharaoh will think the Israelites are wandering around the desert in confusion, lost and bewildered. So, when Pharaoh hears this, it will embolden him, and he will pursue them. But I will gain glory for myself by defeating Pharaoh and all his army, and the Egyptians will know I am the Lord.” (Exodus 14:3-4)

I’m thinking, after 10 horrible plagues surely the Egyptians have not forgotten the power of the Lord. So, what is going on here? Verse 5 fills in the back story. After the Israelites left, Pharaoh’s officials began to grumble. ‘What were they going to do now with no slaves to build the city? Who would do all the manual labor?’

Pharaoh joined in, “What have we done? We have let the Israelites go and have lost our slaves!” Immediately he called upon his best soldiers. He called up 600 of his most elite chariot drivers along with many other soldiers in chariots and they set out in hot pursuit. (Exodus 14:5-7)

Meanwhile, the Israelites were making themselves comfortable camping near the sea. I imagine some of them were trying to comprehend God’s plan here. He had led them to a dead-end in the desert. Before them, to the east was the sea, to the north was a strong enemy fortress, to the south, an empty blazing desert and to the west was Egypt.

If the Egyptians came after them, they would be trapped with no possible escape. My guess is, that they figured God knew what he was doing, he had led them here. So, they thought they would be ok. But it must have felt like they were exceptionally vulnerable. Strategically it made no sense.

Yet this is exactly were God wanted them! His plan was, to bring Pharaoh’s army to complete ruin and really solidify his place with the Israelites. If there was any doubt in their minds that the Lord was fighting for them, it would be gone after his amazing rescue. They would soon witness His saving grace, by the very hand of God.

Chuck Swindoll writes, “All of the sudden the Israelites hear something in the distance. Thunder? A storm on the Horizon? As they looked back, they saw a cloud of dust rising, drawing nearer. That is when they realize what it was; it was an approaching army of horses and chariots. And it was a large army. Word traveled fast, “Pharaoh’s coming! It is going to be a massacre!”

Exodus 14:10b-12 reads, “They were terrified and cried out to the Lord. Then they said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves left in Egypt that you brought us out to the desert to die? What were you thinking? Didn’t we say to you back in Egypt, Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians? It would have been better for us to serve them there than to die in the desert!”

You see, there were only 2 options here; to die fighting or to be captured and returned to Egypt and placed in bondage again. And no one in their right minds would attempt to fight Pharaoh’s elite soldiers.

But we have got to give some credit to Moses. He doesn’t know what God’s plan is, but he knows enough not to question God. Moses answered, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and we will see how the Lord delivers us today. The Egyptians we see today, we will never see again. The Lord will fight for us; we only need to be still.” (Exodus 14:13-14)

Then Moses went to God privately in prayer and cried out for help. We know that by the words that follow. God said, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on. Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the water so that the Israelites can go through the sea on dry ground. Then I will embolden the Egyptians so that they will go in after them. And I will gain glory through the death of Pharaoh and all his army.” (Exodus 14:15-18) 

Now, get this, God himself is going to provide cover for the Israelites. Scripture says, “Then the pillar that was leading them, moved behind them, separating them from Pharaoh’s army. Throughout the night, the cloud brought darkness to the Egyptians and light to the Israelites.” (Exodus 14:19-20)

“Then Moses stretched out his hand and staff over the sea, and all that night the Lord drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land. Since the waters were divided and there was no mud, it made it easy for the Israelites to pass through, with a wall of water on their right and on their left.” (Exodus 14:21-22)

Imagine walking through water, maybe 6 stories high on each side in the deepest part of the sea. Apparently, it took all day and much of the night for those 2 million people to cross over. Then at about 2 or 3 am, the pillar of dust disappeared, and the Egyptians pursued the Israelites through the waters.

That is when God began to whip-up the winds again and water leaked out turning the dry ground to mud. The wheels were wrenched off some of the chariots and the soldiers immediately knew they were in trouble. They said, “Let’s get out of here fast! The Lord is fighting for them against us.” (Exodus14:25)

But before they could leave, God told Moses to raise his hand with the staff in it over the water, so that the sea would flow back and cover the Egyptians, their chariots and horses. The Egyptians panicked but it was too late, they were swept away and lost. None survived in the sea. (Exodus 14:26-28)

Exodus Chapter 14:31 ends like this, “And when the Israelites saw the mighty hand of the Lord 

that defeated the Egyptians, and so the people feared God and put their trust in Him and in Moses His servant.”

After the shock of seeing all the Egyptian soldiers killed, some of the dead bodies washed up on the shore, the Israelites moved on. Eventually Moses and Miriam wrote a song of celebration for all the people to sing and to remember how God delivered them. And in the end, God received all the glory.

The story of the Exodus clearly shows us who is ultimately in control. And it is meant to give us hope during trials and tribulations. Where humankind sees a dead-end, God sees possibilities and potential. Even death, which seemed like the ultimate end, was defeated by Jesus. The angel Gabriel said it best to Mary the Mother of Jesus in Luke 1:37, “For nothing is impossible with God.”

That is because God is good, and he loves all he has created. Which leads me to wonder, how many of you feel like you are stuck at a dead-end with no hope? Dealing with an ongoing illness, a job that feels like it is draining the life off you, or a relationship that feels hopeless and meaningless? How many are feeling lost, trapped, and alone because of the pandemic?

Don’t give up! Pray for guidance and trust in the Lord. Maybe this seemingly barren, place where you feel trapped is just a short-term situation (in the scheme of things) that will lead others to see the glory of God. Our Lord can make the wilderness blossom, make dry ground burst into a spring, and turn sorrow to Joy.

Your assignment is…to reach out to another person this week who is feeling hopeless or alone. It isn’t hard to find someone who feels trapped or boxed in. And share with them Good News about a God who loves them and can create a way through anything that we would call impossible.

For there is nothing is impossible for our Savior!

 “And all God’s people said, Amen”

Blessings and Curses, Passover and Plagues – Sept. 6, 2020

In Stephen King’s 2009 Science Fiction novel ‘Under the Dome’, the small Maine town of Chester’s Mill finds itself cut off from the rest of the world by an invisible barrier they call the dome. Inside the dome, things go from bad to worse as the air becomes increasingly polluted, there is very little good clean water, animals die from lack of water and heat, crops wither and their health deteriorates. Along the way, tempers flare and people turn on one other.

Add in a few problems with insects and darkness (which is probably in the book) and you almost have a retelling of what happened to the Egyptians during the 10 plagues. Steven King is a United Methodist and he often uses Biblical references in his stories.

Last Sunday we followed Moses and Aaron into Egypt until they finally arrived before the Pharaoh. They delivered God’s message to let his people go so that they could worship God in the desert. Unfortunately, this only made Pharaoh more upset and bordering on rage.

So then, Pharaoh ordered the Egyptians to continue making bricks but without straw, a nearly impossible task. Moses was beside himself. Soon the Israelites would turn on him. This led Moses back on his knees in pray to the Lord.

“Why, O Lord, why have you brought trouble upon this people? Is this why you sent me? Ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has brought trouble on this people, and You have not rescued Your people at all.” Exodus 5:22-23

Then the Lord spoke to Moses and said, in so many words, this is part of my plan. “Now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh: because of my mighty hand, he will let them go”, in fact, when I am done, “he will drive them out of his country.”  Exodus 6:1

God declares that he remembers the covenant he made to their ancestors, and he will deliver his people. He continues, “Therefore, say to the Israelites: ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment.” Exodus 6:6

As he was told, Moses reported God’s word to the Israelites, but they will not listen to him. They were discouraged and were receiving much harsher treatment from the Egyptians.

Have you ever prayed to God for relief, but things only got worse? Have you trusted someone to help you, only to be disappointed in their results? You prayed for a blessing but instead felt like you were cursed. That is exactly how the Israelites were feeling. Things were better before Moses came along. And where was their God?

Chuck Swindoll writes, “Moses felt as low as a slug’s belly.” I love that visual! Moses wondered, is this because I fumble my words? And where do we go from here? He did his best, but he was unable to turn the tide. What do you do when everything is out of your control? He prayed for guidance.

Chuck Swindoll writes, “That is when God rolls up his big sleeves and said, step back out of the way a moment, and watch me work.” Now, God could have just cut to the chase and cursed Pharaoh, causing him to suffer so much that he would probably relent, but he did not. Why?

By the time God is done, there will be no doubt who God really is.

This will leave a mark on Moses, the Israelites, the Egyptians, the Pharaoh and endless generations that follow. God is laying a foundation that will be retold, inspire awe (holy fear), and respect forever. You want to know if I am the God of the universe? What this and remember!

God knows the ways of the Pharaoh, he knows how this will progress, it will go from bad to worse. God knows how stubborn the Pharaoh is, because he knows his heart. You see, the Pharaoh believes himself to be a deity and so God knows that he will not give up until he is completely humiliated and defeated.

Have you ever met anyone like that? I have. I remember some kids in school who were bullies and they would not back down until they were beat down. Historically, I imagine you can name some past dictators who were made from the same cloth.

Just a note here, while the battle seems to be between Moses and the Pharaoh, the real battle is between the Lord and the so-called gods (small g) of Egypt. This is an epic battle that transcends all time.

Back when I was young, James Bond would fight to stop the villains from trying to take over the world. Today, our kids love Superhero movies. They fight villains to stop the destruction of the universe. But God’s battle is for the hearts and minds of his people.

The Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “When Pharaoh says to you, perform a miracle, then say to Aaron, take your staff and throw it down before Pharaoh, and it will become a snake.” Exodus 7:8-9

This is the first step or the first display of power. Pharaoh likes parlor tricks; he believes in magic. So, Moses and Aaron do as God tells them. Aaron throws down his staff and it becomes a snake. Then the Pharaoh called upon his sorcerers and Magicians to do the same. Only when they did it, Aaron’s snake / staff swallowed all the others.

While this shows that Moses and Aaron do have some power backing them up, Pharaoh was unmoved. His heart became hardened. He was unimpressed; just as God had predicted. Now it is time to ratchet things up.

God tells Moses to, “Go to Pharaoh in the morning as he goes out to the river. Confront him on the bank of the Nile and take in your hand the staff that was changed into a snake. Then say to him, The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, has sent me to say to you: Let my people go, so that they may worship me in the wilderness. But until now, you have not listened. 

“This is what the Lord says: By this, you will know that I am the Lord: With the staff that is in my hand I will strike the water of the Nile, and it will be changed into blood. The fish in the Nile will die, and the river will stink; the Egyptians will not be able to drink its water.’” (Exodus 7:15-18)

In Egyptian mythology, the god of the Nile was called Hopi. The Nile river was central to everyday life from water to drink, to fishing, cooking, cleaning, and to bathing. And here is the thing, God turned all of the water to blood; even the water in jars and wooden buckets. This was a crushing blow, but the Pharaoh was again unmoved.

Just to be clear, many of the plagues appear to have been naturally occurring phenomena that at times afflicted ancient Egypt.

Scientist have found a type of Algae that can turn rivers red and cause the water to be spoiled. But you must understand, this is the perfect storm. God’s plagues reach far beyond what can be explained.

The 2nd plague was frogs. With the river contaminated, they came into the city and overwhelmed it. The 3rd plague was a swarm of gnats (lice). They were everywhere, in their ears, eyes, noses; they couldn’t keep from swallowing them if they opened their mouths. Have you ever taken a hike in the woods and been overwhelmed with bugs? This would be horrible.

These first 3 plagues affected everyone in the city and beyond. The Israelites were crying out to God and Moses for relief. So here is what God did, it is like he put an invisible dome over the city and said, “On that day I will deal differently with the land of Goshen, where my people live; no swarms of flies will be there, so that you will know that I, the Lord, am in this land. I will make a distinction between my people and your people. This miraculous sign will occur tomorrow.”  (Exodus 8:22-23)

So then, the 4th plague of Flies, the 5th plague the death of the livestock, the 6th boils on the skin, the 7th the horrific large hail storm, the 8th the swarm of locusts, and the 9th the complete darkness, only fell on the city of Egypt. God blessed the Israelites and gave them some relief.

During these terrible plagues, at times the Pharaoh would give in, but after reconsidering, he hardened his heart repeatedly. Also, each of the plagues was a smack in the face of the Egyptian gods. Pharaoh was raging and demanded Moses leave the city. Moses agreed. But the final battle is yet to be waged.

We know what was going on with Moses and the Pharaoh, the question is, what was going on behind the scenes? As the Israelites watched, they had a newfound respect for Moses, and they were worshiping God like never before. They were praising, they were amazed, and dancing in the streets.

But things were also changing in the city. Pharaoh’s credibility was pretty much gone. Exodus 11:3 reads, “The Lord made the Egyptians favorably disposed to the Israelites, and Moses himself was highly regarded in Egypt by Pharaoh’s officials and by the people.”

If you don’t think this toasted the Pharaoh’s cookies, think again. With every plague, every time Pharaoh took a hit, his cold heart turned to stone. He was backed into a corner and was not going down without a fight.

In the Egyptian book of the dead, there are instructions for preparing a body for burial and what they believed happened in the afterlife. They believed that after you died, in the afterlife, the God of the dead would weigh your heart to see if you were just or unjust. The goal was to be light-hearted. So, the heart was weighed on a scale against an ostrich feather. If the heart was too heavy, it was devoured by the god of the dead. You see, the only way for the Pharaoh to break the heaviness of his heart was to defeat the God of Israel, he had too much to lose by giving up. So, he dug in his heals for the final battle; the battle over life and death.

 “Now the Lord had said to Moses, ‘I will bring one more plague on Pharaoh and on Egypt. After that, he will let you go from here, and when he does, he will drive you out completely.’” Exodus 11:1 God gave Moses the words to say and he then he went to see the Pharaoh.

Standing before Pharaoh Moses said, “This is what the Lord says: About midnight I will go throughout Egypt. Ever firstborn son in Egypt will die, from the firstborn son of Pharaoh, who sits on the throne, to the firstborn son of the female slave, who is at her hand-mill, and all the firstborn of the cattle as well. 

 “There will be loud wailing throughout Egypt—worse than there has ever been or ever will be again. But among the Israelites not a dog will bark at any person or animal. Then, you will know that the Lord makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel.” Exodus 11:4-7.

God then instructed Moses to tell his people how to escape the coming of the Angel of Death. They were to slaughter a lamb, prepare a meal to be eaten and then use the blood of the lamb to smear on the sides and top of the doorframe so that the angel would Passover their homes.

You know the rest of the story, just as God said, during the night, the angel of death came, and all the firstborn of Egypt died. Pharaoh was more than happy to see them leave then. He had been defeated by God at every turn and so had the Egyptian gods.

Some people ask, “How could God do that? How could he be so cruel?” Others might say, “God gave the Pharaoh and the Egyptians every opportunity to relent but they refused, so they brought it on themselves.”

Here is what I see as the lesson we should learn. God wants to offer you blessings not curses.

Amid those horrible plagues, God had mercy on his people, when they cried out to him. He listened and acted with grace.

James 4:2-3 reads, “You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” It concludes like this in verse 6, “Scripture says, ‘God is opposed to the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

Each of us is called to examine our hearts and minds for all our hidden motives. If we call on God with a deep faith, a pure heart and an obedient nature; God wants to rescue and bless us. And he will do it in his time and his way.

I cannot tell you why things happen or how long they may go on. But I can point you toward the one who can help. Jesus was our final sacrificial lamb who took away the sin of the world.

(Read John 1:29; Hebrews 9:15; or 1 John 2:2)

Seek to know him, accept him and make him Lord of your life. Then, trust him and remain obedient to him and not the things of this world. If you remain faithful, I believe he will bring more blessings than trouble upon your life.

As the Israelites ate the Passover meal, we will eat together the Holy meal that Jesus instituted in a few moments. This bread his body, this juice his blood. Take a few moments now, before we begin, to prepare yourself for this blessed meal. 

And all God’s People said, Amen

“I have heard My people’s cry” – Aug. 23, 2020

In the movie ‘The Truman Show’, Truman Burbank, played by Jim Carrey, believes his life is no different from anyone else’s—until he notices peculiar things happening, like instances that repeat every day. Then he gets suspicious ‘that something strange is going on’.

What he doesn’t realize is ‘that every second of his life’ – from the day he was born has been telecast live to the entire planet. He is the star of The Truman Show, the most popular television show in the world, which broadcasts every aspect of his life around the clock.

From the moment he wakes up until he goes to bed at night, the world ‘eavesdrops’ on Truman’s life through the aid of 5,000 hidden cameras.

The Truman Show deals with a lot of issues related to;

do we really have control over our own lives, is there an all-knowing, all-loving, all-powerful and ever-present God ‘out there’. And does God really know us, hear us and care about us.

In a scene near the end of the movie, Truman has discovered ‘his world is not all it appears’. He is about to find out his whole life has been broadcast to the world. The director, Christof, is trying to explain the situation – and let Truman know just how much he cares about him.

Christof says, “Truman, I’ve watched you your whole life.  I saw you take your first step, your first word, your first kiss.  I know you better than you know yourself.”

I don’t know about you, but ‘it is a little frightening to think that my entire life has been watched’. I mean, every single second.

While it is true that many parts of our lives are watched by someone; our parents, siblings, friends, children and the public; It is hard to imagine anyone watching everything down to the smallest detail. Or imagining that God knows our every thought.

Yet, there is also something ‘comforting’ in knowing that we are never alone. No matter what we go through, every-time we cry out, God is always there.    Psalm 139 records these words,

You have searched me, Lord, and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; You perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; You are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is ‘on my tongue’ Lord, you know it completely; You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me. Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?

If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, If I settle on the far side of the sea, even there – your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.

If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,”
even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”

While Moses did not have access to the Psalms, I think he understood this. But, if he was unsure or had any doubts, that was about to change.

In a past sermon I shared the story of Moses and the burning bush.  While Moses was out was the flock, he came upon a bush that was burning but was not consumed. There, he encountered the living God. Through the years, Moses believed in God and prayed to him, but he had never heard God speak.

God proclaimed the space as Holy Ground and had Moses take off his sandals. Moses was terrified and he hid his face. My guess is that he was afraid God was going to strike him down. Instead, God had a plan to rescue his people and Moses was to be a vital part of it.

But before we address God’s words to Moses, I want us to get a clear picture of why this is happening. In 3 places, scripture gives us ‘the behind the scenes view’. ‘We know’ what motivated God to approach Moses.

In Exodus chapter 2 verse 23-25 we read these words, “The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help, because of their suffering in slavery, – went up to God. God heard their groaning and he remembered their covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. So, God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them.”

Then in Chapter 3 verse 7-8 we read, “The Lord said, ‘I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So, I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians’.”

Finally, in Chapter 3, verse 9 he repeats himself again, “And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them.” So now, he intended to address the problem.”

Just hearing those words must have been great news to Moses. His heart had been breaking for the Israelites. Finally, God was going to step-in and take care of things. Let’s break that down a little bit. 

First, hear the Good News; God heard their cries for help, God remembered his covenant, God has seen their misery – and God knows and understands what they have endured. For anyone who ever said, “Does God hear me? Does God listen? Does God care? Does God even know what I am going through? The answer is Yes!

Repeatedly, the Lord was reassuring Moses, that he had been monitoring the situation. Church Swindoll writes in his book about ‘Moses: a man of self-less dedication’, these words,

 “I’ve been watching the situation. I’m aware of what’s happening. I’ve seen my people weeping at night. I’ve heard the crack of the whip and the cries of the little ones. I’ve seen the bodies alongside the road or flung into the Nile – like so many beasts of burden. None of it escaped my notice”. He concludes, “I have seen it all and heard it all and now it is time to do something about it.”

For all of those who suffer and call out to God, he is there, he never left you. He hears and knows what we go through. He understands and he will deliver his people. ‘We only have to trust in him’.

Jeremiah 29:11-14a reads, “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity.”

That is wonderful news! Yet, here is the question, you see, I am only human with such limited vision, my question is, “Why God?  Why did you wait so long?”

You may recall that the Israelites have been in captivity for nearly 400 years. It is like the gap between the Old and New Testament – 400 years. What took God so long to respond?

He heard the cries, knew what the people were going through… God, couldn’t you respond sooner? Is there something here we are missing?

I have seen my parishioners in pain and suffering, in loss and strife. I feel ‘a little like Job’, don’t we all? I am not complaining, I have had it pretty good. Yet it pains me to see others struggle and suffer. And my family has not been exempted from that list!

I get that God’s eye is on the sparrow and he watches over me. I know that God knows how many hairs are on my head. (although they are not as hard to count as they used to be) Psalm 147 reminds me “Great is our Lord, his understanding has no limit.”

But I have to be honest, sometimes it is hard for me to just accept that “God knows, God remembers, God hears, and God understands.” I want more…don’t we all?

It is humbling, confusing, taxing, painful – and human. So much is out of our control. So, what choice do we have? We must trust God like the Israelites did in captivity. We need him and we want him near. I am glad God hears us and we must learn to trust completely in his plan, even when it makes no sense to us.

But now God has a plan. God says he has come down to rescue his people. How will this great feat happen? God instructs Moses to go for him and tell Pharaoh to set his people free. “What? Who me? Are you serious? Who am I? Who is going to listen to me?” I thought you were handling this God.

What if the Pharaoh asks who sent me? What do I say? God replied, “I am who I am”. In Hebrew that translates ‘I will be what I will be’. In other words, I am not going to give you a name.

Having God’s name might give him a false sense of power and authority. Again, God is saying trust me, I got your back. But for Moses, that isn’t quite enough. He continues to try to get out of it or change God’s mind. Moses had 4 excuses and finally asked God to simply get someone else. But God will not let him off the hook.

God’s words of assurance are these, “I will be with you.”

They might sound familiar, they are the same words Jesus spoke to his disciples just before he left, “And surely I will be with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:20

 I have to wonder, were these the last words God spoke to Jesus before he left heaven to come to earth, “I will be with you.”

Psalm 56:9 reads, “When I call for help, then shall my enemies turn back: this I can be sure, for God is for me.”

Psalm 50:15 reads, “And call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me.”

And Psalm 145 reads, “Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise.” And later adds, “He fulfills the desires of those who are awed by him; he hears their cry and saves them.”

And these words ‘can also be found in Psalm 145:13, “The Lord is faithful to all his promises – and loving to all he has made.”

Throughout scripture and all time, God ‘has been faithful’, and he has kept his promises. If he says he will look out for us, he will!

Finally, I want to end with the covenant God made to his people. God said, I remember my covenant to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Here is the covenant, it can be found in Genesis 12:2-3; “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.

I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

While I wish we had ever answer, could explain every problem and understand every issue, we cannot. We are only human. Instead, we must point others to God and trust in his provisions. ‘Believe God’ when he says, “I am always with you.”

Like Moses and the disciples, – with the power of the Holy Spirit, ‘we will find’, – it is enough. He hears, He remembers, He sees, and He understands. And in the end, – He delivers.

Your assignment is…to take some time this week and journal about the times you were ready to give up – and then found, that God came through for you. It may take some time to remember, so don’t give up too quickly. Also include other peoples’ stories of God’s deliverance.

Then, when times get tough, pull out that journal to help carry you through future long, difficult days. Sooner or later those words will be a blessing to you.

“And all God’s People said, Amen”

An Alien in a Foreign Land – Aug. 16, 2020

Hans Christian Andersen was born April 2, 1805 in Denmark. When he was a boy, his father, who was an elementary school teacher, read ‘The Tales of the Arabian Nights’ to him. Hans also loved the stories his father would make up about elves, animals, and fairies.

Hans wanted to be a singer and an actor but found himself drawn to writing after his voice changed. Although he was writing at the age of 14, he would not sell his first story until he was 24.

Hans went on to become a prolific writer of plays, novels, travelogues, and poems. Yet Hans Christian Andersen is best remembered today for his children’s fairy tales. These fairy tales were written over a period of some 37 years and have been translated into more than 125 languages.

Some of his most famous fairy tales include “The Emperor’s New Clothes“, “The Little Mermaid“, “The Little Match Girl”, “The Snow Queen“, “The Ugly Duckling“, “Thumbelina” and “The Princess and the Pea”.

At the age of 67, Anderson fell out of bed and was severely hurt. Many believe he never fully recovered from his injuries. But it was shortly after, as he was getting a check-up, that the doctor found that Anderson had liver cancer.

Over the next two years, as his health deteriorated, Hans Christian Anderson decided to prepare for his own funeral, because he did not want it to be a burden on his wife.  So, he hired a local musician to compose music and a march for the funeral.

Well aware that many of his readers were children, he told the musician, “Most of the people who will walk after me will be children, so make the beat keep time with short steps.”

Hans Christian Anderson understood his audience, his people, and all good leaders must do the same. That was the lesson that Moses was about to learn by living in the desert in Midian.

Moses, as you might recall, was rescued by one of the daughters of Pharaoh, when his basket was pulled from the Nile river. He was raised as royally in the palace. He was given the education of a prince of Egypt and he excelled at most everything.

But deep in his heart, he knew something was wrong. Moses knew he had more in common with the Hebrew slaves than the Egyptians. This would lead to his downfall.

In a past sermon, I shared how Moses’s anger got the best of him, when he witnessed a Taskmaster cruelly beating a Hebrew slave. Then, after he confronted the taskmaster and killed him, Moses tried to hide his body in the sand. Of course, it did not take long to discover the truth.

So, Moses became a fugitive from justice, and he ran for his life. He had no support from the Hebrews since he had been brought up in the palace. They did not recognize him as a Hebrew or as their deliverer.

So, Moses sought refuge with the Midianites. They were distant relatives of Abraham and they lived in the desert, which is in modern day Saudi Arabia. Moses first encountered them, at a well, where he stopped to rest. Wells were the center of life in the ancient Middle East. It was like stopping at a Starbucks for refreshment.

It was there, that Moses happened upon the seven daughters of Jethro, the Midian priest. The daughters were drawing water from a well to give to their flock.

Jethro was also known by the names Yitro and Reuel, in the Bible. Reuel means ‘friend of God’. Jewish mid-rash records that when Reuel renounced his idols and multiple gods for the one true God, he was excommunicated by his former community. That is why he and his family lived alone in the desert.

Having only daughters, they ended up taking care of his sheep. On this particular day, a rough group of neighboring shepherds torment the maidens and threaten to take their water.

These men were rude and lazy, not wanting to draw the water themselves. So, they bullied their way in and started to drive off the sister’s flock. Yet Moses, just like in Egypt was incensed by their behavior and he decided to step in.

In Egypt, Moses was used to giving orders and being in charge, so he quickly took control of the situation. He jumped up and backed off the other shepherds by force or by his sheer authority. But we must also remember, in their culture, it was not uncommon to treat women with disrespect or even like slaves.

So, I don’t think Moses was doing this to protect the weaker sex as much as out of a sense of righting an injustice. In other words, I do not think Moses was doing this to impress the young women or to obtain a wife.

Going one step further, after he scared off the bad shepherds, Moses agreed to see the women back to their father’s home. As you will see again, it is out of a very innocent frame of mind, he had no hidden motive.

When the sisters arrived back at their father’s home, their father asked them, “Why have you returned so early ‘today?’” This is our first indication that the mistreatment the sisters received at the well was far from uncommon.

They answered, “An Egyptian rescued us from the shepherds. He even drew water for us and watered our flock.”

“And, where is he?” Reuel asked his daughters. “Why have you let him leave? Invite him in for something to eat.”

Having taken the daughters safely home, Moses had then turned and left them. One commentator writes, can you hear the desperation in the father’s voice? “Sweetheart, why would you let an eligible bachelor go? Hurry, go find him!”

The daughters tracked Moses down and he agreed to return for dinner. But Reuel had more in mind. After a good dinner with fine wine, Reuel makes Moses an offer. He says he can use a man to help, so he offers Moses a job and ultimately a wife. And with no better plans or ideas, Moses agrees to stay on.

Thus, begins the second phase of Moses’ life. Most scholars divide Moses life into 3 parts; 40 years in Egypt; 40 years in the desert of Midian and 40 years returning to Egypt leading the exile and returning to the desert. He died at the ripe old age of 120.

Rev. Dwight L Moody, the great American Evangelist said it this way,

The first 40 years, Moses learned to be somebody.

The next 40 years, Moses leaned to be a nobody.

And the final forty years, Moses learned to help everybody.

And it is true that the first 40 years, Moses was treated like royalty. He ate the best foods, wore the best clothes and had servants at his beck and call. He had the finest education and knew how to take charge. But few of those things would serve in well in the desert.

Over the next 40 years, Moses would need to learn how to lead sheep, how to have patience, how to survive on very little; and how to find water and food in the desert. These were skills that would come in handy on the third leg of his life’s journey.

Moses had to go from a place where he was powerful, respected, knowledgeable and privileged to a place where he would learn humility and basic survival. He went from royalty to obscurity almost overnight. From Prince to Pauper!

To be honest, Moses needed both sets of skills to lead his people to freedom. As a good shepherd, Moses needed to know how to serve as well as lead.

The bad shepherds, you see; they knew more about greed then how to lead. They knew how to take but knew nothing about compassion. When times got tough, they knew how to run away, and they would even do it at the expense of their own flock. (Ezekiel 34:1-3)

God was preparing Moses the same way the military prepares its men; he had to break Moses down to re-build him for his next role as deliverer.

Any Jewish Rabbi or scholar will tell you that the number 40 has great significance throughout the Bible. It represents a time of change, transition, renewal, testing, preparation or tribulation.

In Genesis chapter 7 we have 40 days and 40 nights of rain during the great flood. Moses has 40 years in the desert at Midian and 40 days and nights on Mt. Sinai receiving the law. Of course, the Israelites wondered in the desert for 40 years and Jesus fasted and prayed for 40 days and nights in the wilderness. And that is just the beginning, you can look up more.

My point here is, for Moses to change and be prepared for the work God had for him would take time. And it isn’t because God needed the time; Moses did. Moses needed to know what it was like to be a servant and a slave to truly understand his people. Taking care of sheep will do that for you.

The same is true for all of us. Before we can do all the great things God has planned for us, we need to go through some pruning. Sometimes we must go through the fire or take a lowly position. Many times, we must humble ourselves because it is hard to understand another until we have walked in their shoes.

Moses knew how to be heroic, strong, intimidating, powerful, demanding, forceful and intolerant but what he lacked was understanding, patience, humility, compassion and love. That is what he learned out in the desert by becoming an alien in a foreign land. 

As the years passed, no one recognized the old man tending the sheep in the desert. The prince was gone and now a shepherd existed in his place. A good shepherd, mind you, but not the Great Shepherd, who we know as Jesus.

It is easy to be impatient when we want to get on with our lives. We do not like the down times or times when we find ourselves in the wilderness. But maybe, just maybe, it is a time of preparation. Soak it in. Be patient and learn. Your time will come.

Which brings us back to today. The Corona Virus is taking us out of our comfort zones. For some it is a time to move closer to Jesus, for others it is a time to question our faith. What is this time of change and preparation stirring in you?

Your assignment is to read, Matthew 4:1-11; it’s the temptation of Jesus. Pay attention to how the master used his time in the wilderness. While he was weak, he was strong. How can we learn from him to handle the challenges we face today?

Again, Matthew 4:1-11. Read it and apply it to your own life.

                                                                        “And all God’s People said Amen”

The New Prince – Aug. 9, 2020

Back in 1990’s, when DreamWorks announced that they were re-making the movie ‘The Ten Commandments’ as an animated musical, most people laughed it off. But ‘The Prince of Egypt’ went on to gross over $218 million worldwide in theaters. And has since that time made them billions on home sales.

Who would have guessed that the story of Moses re-told would become one of the greatest non-Disney animated films of all time? And many scholars claim it is more accurate than the original ‘10 Commandments’. Yet, there are still a few details that miss the mark; but we will come back to that in a moment. First, I want to begin with another story…

Karl Wallenda was a famous high-wire walker and founder of ‘The Flying Wallendas’ they were a daredevil circus act, which performed dangerous stunts, often without a safety net. Karl’s specialty was walking on a thin wire that was stretched between 2 tall buildings.

On March 22, 1978, Karl was scheduled to walk between two skyscrapers in San Juan, Puerto Rico. He had done similar feats many times before, but on this particular day there was some disagreement in the family about whether he should go ahead with the show. It was a gusty, windy day, in fact, the winds were clocked at more than 30 knots between the high-rise towers that Karl intended to cross.

Though it was stretched tightly between the city’s two tallest buildings, witnesses said you could see the high wire actually vibrating in the wind. Still, Karl had never canceled a show before, so he decided to go ahead.

As he inched along the wire, holding tightly to the long balancing pole, a sudden gust hit his body and tilted him sideways. He struggled for balance, but it was clear he was in trouble. Onlookers saw him fight for control, then plunge to the street below, smashing into the roof of a truck.

High wire experts tell us that they rely totally on the balancing pole. It’s the key to their survival. As Karl Wallenda once said himself, “The pole is your safeguard, you can almost always keep your balance with the pole.” Yet, experts also say, there are times, on rare occasions, when it is necessary to drop the pole, and grab the wire. Of course, when an acrobat must let the pole drop, that’s seen as an admission of failure. So, for a famed acrobat, letting go, even if it means saving your own life, can be exceedingly difficult.

In his split-second decision to hold on to that balancing pole in the wind, Karl Wallenda made a fatal mistake. And he held on to the pole, falling with it clutched in both hands, all the way down to the ground. In other words, he was killed because he couldn’t let go.

We have all heard the expression that sometimes, you have to let go and let God handle things, right? But when is it the right time to do that? And what exactly does it mean to let go?  That brings us to the story of Moses’ parents.

Hebrews 11:23 records these words, “By faith Moses’ parents hid him for 3 months after he was born, because they saw he was no ordinary child, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict.”

But to understand why they are considered heroes of the faith; we must go back to the book of Exodus to get their entire story. It actually begins before Moses was born. Chuck Swindoll writes that Moses was ‘Born after Midnight’, or in other words, in the darkest, most desperate time in history. The current Pharaoh was a tyrant. He was cruel and paranoid.

The Hebrew people had been living in Egypt since the time of Joseph and they had been fruitful and multiplied. As their ranks grew, the Egyptians became nervous. On top of that, many Egyptians saw the Hebrew sheepherders as inferior or sub-human. In an attempt to control them, the Pharaoh commanded his army to force them into hard labor at low pay. Over time, the pay was dropped, and they simply became slaves.

Yet, they still were having children and their families flourished. Many of the Hebrews believed that this was ‘all part of a pre-ordained plan’ that God had shared with Abraham.

In Genesis 15:13-14 the Lord said to Abraham, “Know for certain that for 400-years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there. But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out or be led out with great possessions.”

As the Hebrews imagined and shared that God would soon send a deliverer to help them escape their oppression, the Pharaoh heard this and became infuriated. If oppression and slavery could not slow down their breeding, he devised another awful plan.

Last Sunday, we heard what happened with the midwives to the Hebrews, Shiphrah and Puah, refused to kill the baby boys. Frustrated and angry, Pharaoh issued a new decree, “Every male child that was born to the Hebrews was to be immediately cast into the Nile to drown” or be eaten by the Crocodiles. (Exodus 1:22)

Imagine hearing these words announced, while you were pregnant. That is exactly what Moses’ parents heard. Exodus 6:20 tell us that Moses’ parents’ names were Amram and

Jochebed and they were Levites.

In fact, we know that Moses was the third born child. His sister Miriam was the oldest at around 8-10 years old. And his brother Aaron was 3-years-older than Moses. Wanting to protect the child, they probably delivered the baby alone at home. In many ways, it wasn’t much deferent than delivering a sheep. Yet, one look at the child told them that he was special. There is an ancient Chinese proverb that says, “There is only one beautiful child in the world and every mother has it.”

The same word God spoke about his creation, when he called it good, was spoken about Moses. In other words, God approved. This child was unique, a special delivery and a future deliverer. So, Moses’ parents decided to hide the newborn. Imagine trying to keep a new-born baby quiet, all the time. And they did it for 3 months, but then things changed. So, what changed?

In an early journal, by a man named Josephus, he wrote that the Egyptians came upon a cruel plan to find the newborn baby boys. When the Pharaoh realized that not all the boys were being found, he commanded the soldiers to walk down the streets with Egyptian mothers and their crying babies.

Often when one baby cries, others also cry. And it appears as though the plan worked. In fear, Jochebed came up with another plan. She had Amram create a wooden ark, like a basket and they covered it with a type of black tar to keep it afloat. Then she took the box, with her daughter, down to the banks of the Nile River to place it in the water.

Here is some background on the Nile. It is considered the longest river in the world at 4,258 miles long and it is 2 miles wide in some places. The Nile is also shared by 11 countries. And it is the home of Africa’s largest crocodile. They often weigh in at 1,650 pounds and are about 20 feet long. National statistics tell us that up to 200 people die annually in the jaws of those crocs.

Now, imagine if you can, I sure cannot, placing the baby in that basket, pushing it off, letting it go and walking away. What kind of mother does that? The answer is none! At least not like that. Jochebed had planned this all out very carefully. She knew the place where the daughters of Pharaoh came to take their ritual cleansing baths. She knew the timing and that this part of the river was blocked off from crocodiles.

Scripture says that Moses’ mother carefully placed the child in a covered basket in the reeds along the bank. Then, Miriam watched to see what would happen, after her mother left.

Imagine the emotions, the feelings Jo-ka-bed had as she placed him down and backed away. Imagine being her as she left her son there alone in the water. Yes, Miriam is watching from a distant place on the shore, but she, his mother had to let him go. She had to walk away. She didn’t just release him, she was a woman of faith, and she let him go and trust her God.

She had no idea, if the woman who found her child would throw it back in the river or keep him. Pharaoh had about 60 daughters; she couldn’t predict which one would show up that day.

But she knew that the Egyptians believed that the Nile had magical properties and that they worshiped it. Besides, what choice did she have? Keeping her son in her home threatened her entire family. They could all be killed if the soldiers found this older baby in their home. It was a no-win situation.

The thing about letting go is…it feels like giving up. To let go is surrender. We really don’t like to do that, do we? We want to control or determine our own destinies. But we cannot, at least not completely. Sometimes we can make better choices but sometimes, like Karl Wallenda on that high wire, – sometimes the winds of change are against us.

Someone once said that ‘the difference between letting go and giving up is in having faith in the one who you release it to. Jochebed knew that letting go ultimately meant trusting God and placing her son into God’s hands. And that was her only choice. She controlled what she could and left the rest to God.

Advice columnist Ann Landers once wrote, “Some people believe holding on and hanging in there are signs of great strength. However, there are times when it takes much more strength to know when to let go and then do it.” 

I cannot imagine giving up a child for adoption, but some people do. And in truth, some need to. That if you ask me, would take courageous faith. Or for someone who cannot have children but let’s go and trusts God, that is remarkable faith.

Scriptures then says, as Miriam watched from a distance, sure enough, a daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the Nile with her attendants. The young princess heard the baby’s cry and saw the basket. Then she sent one of her servants to retrieve it.

Once the basket was opened, Pharaoh’s daughter saw the baby boy and her heart melted. Tradition tells us that this daughter; either had no child, was barren or had lost her husband. But what seems to be true was that she like other Egyptians worshiped the Nile and she believed this child was a gift to be cherished. So, she took him as her own.

But there was a problem, she could not feed this child naturally. As she and her attendants began to discuss this, Miriam saw her chance. She came forward and said, “Shall I get one of the Hebrew women to nurse the baby for you?”

“Yes, go,” Pharaoh’s daughter answered. And so, Miriam went and returned with her own mother, Jochebed. Imagine, Moses’ own mother became his attendant. Not only that, she was his paid legal guardian until he was weaned; which meant she was able to care for him until he was 3 or 4 years old. Ultimately, she had to let him go a second time, to be raised by the Pharaoh’s daughter. Was the second time worse than the first? We can only imagine.

But it is never easy to let your kids go…to kindergarten…to college…on a date…or to move out. The truth is, they don’t really belong to us, they belong to God. They are simple a gift to us, for a time. Some have less time than others. 

Hebrews said that by faith, Moses’ parents were commended for trusting in God more than fearing Pharaoh’s punishment. They believed that despite the situation going on all around, that God was still good. They trusted God, even to the point of rebelling against an unjust law.

It was no accident that Moses was found by a daughter of Pharaoh who would love him. It was no accident that the timing was right and Jochebed was able to nurse her son. It was no accident, that this child would grow up with a stutter, and be considered no threat to the Pharaoh. No accident he would still get the finest education money could buy. And it was no accident that God would use Moses to speak for him and led God’s people out of Egypt when he was 80.

The Bible never really tells us to let go and let God; at least, not to the point where we just give up. Instead, it tells us to trust God and to surrender to His will. That is different. Maybe some of us today are feeling like we are walking on a high wire and the wind is blowing. Maybe poor decisions have brought us here or maybe, life just happened beyond our control. It does that sometimes. After we have done all we can, sometimes it is time to let go of what we are clinging to and reach out for God. That is not giving in or giving up that is simple common sense.

The life Moses would live and the journey he took would lead him to become, the new prince of Egypt and God’s future deliverer. We are all called to believe, even when we cannot see.

Your assignment is…find out what you are clinging to, other than God and let it go. Trust in God’s Will for your life and remember to pray for wisdom and insight. The road we are on seldom goes where we planned but puts us where God needs and wants us most. Trust and believe!

“And all God’s people said, Amen”