Category Archives: Sermon Notes – 2020

October 4, 2020

Our guest speaker was Matthew Leffler. This was World Communion Sunday.

Mr Leffler spoke on Philippians 3:4-11. Here Paul lists his credentials. Credentials cannot overcome our actions. If a Dr has top notch credentials but he continually misdiagnoses or bungles procedures, you wouldn’t want to be his patient. His credentials do not overcome his actions.

We need to model our lives after Christ. His actions were his credentials

Actions without faith in Christ are NOT the same as salvation. Faith is not the same as belief. Our actions show others our beliefs. To care for those who cannot care for themselves, OR our enemies, is showing faith in Christ.

Shared Responsibility – Sept. 27, 2020

John Robert Wooden was born on October 14, 1910 in Hall, Indiana. He was born into a faithful Christian family that promoted personal strength and community engagement. Upon graduating from elementary school, his father Joshua taught Johnny his own 7-point creed. These were the things his father said he needed to succeed in life.

1) Be true to yourself

2) Make each day a masterpiece

3) Help others

4) Drink deeply from good books, especially the Bible

5) Make friendship a fine art

6) Build a shelter against a rainy day

7) and lastly, pray for guidance and give thanks for your blessings every day.

John Wooden went on to play basketball at Purdue and was the first player to be named All-American 3 times. As head coach of the UCLA Bruins, he won 10 NCAA national championships in 12 years (including a record 7 of those in a row). In this period, he also won a record 88 consecutive games. During his entire tenure, Wooden’s team won 620 games in 27 seasons. This included 4 perfect 30-0 games.

Any coach that followed him knew his secret to success; teamwork. The 5 players that started, weren’t always the most talented, but instead were the ones who best complimented each another. He was known to say, it’s not about who makes the basket, but about who passed the ball.

And his motto was, “The most important player when we win is…all the rest of the team.” Whoever scored the basket was to point to, and give credit to, the person who passed him the ball. Wooden was also known to say, “No one wins unless we all win together.” I think Moses Father-in-law understood this principle very well. Our next two stories clearly teach this principle.

Last Sunday, we followed the Israelites through the desert. And we witnessed their constant grumbling and complaining. To break this cycle, God allowed a little challenge to sideline them on their journey.

As they collected water and rested at Rephidim, the Amalekites came and attacked them. (Exodus 17:8-13) There, Moses instructed Joshua to take some of their best men to go and fight the enemy. Meanwhile, Moses went off to pray to the Lord. While the text is missing, most scholars believe God instructed Moses to raise up his staff as the men fought.

The reason for that interpretation is seen in what happens next. Moses, Aaron and Hur went to the top of a mountain to watch the battle. As long as Moses held up his hands and God’s staff, the Israelites won. Whenever he got tired and lowered his arms, the Amalekites won.

As long as the Israelites saw Moses holding up the staff, they believed God was leading them in battle. The very same way God had opened the Red Sea for their crossing. After a while, Moses got so tired he had to sit on a stone and Aaron and Hur literally had to help hold Moses’ hands up. Joshua and the Israelites fought all through the day until sunset. Finally, they defeated the Amalekites. (Exodus 17:12-13)

Moses understood this to be a clear warning that he was not as strong and capable as he used to be. He was no longer that strapping young man in Egypt who men admired. Now he was in his 80’s and his energy was waning. This concerned him greatly.

Just a note here; it is good to be able to recognize our strengths and weaknesses. Folks who fail to do that, put themselves and others at great risk. But there is also a need to get our priorities straight, this is a lesson Moses would soon learn. 

Shortly after this battle, Moses sent his wife, Zipporah, and his two sons back to visit their grandfather, Jethro, in the desert. Jethro was a priest of Midian and a very wise man. (Exodus 18:2-4)

It is likely that ‘travelers shared stories about what transpired in Egypt’ and so, Jethro already knew about what had happened to the Israelites. I am also sure Moses’ wife and sons did not want to leave Moses’ side, and so they shared their concerns with Jethro.

Upon hearing this, Jethro, his family and servants set out to meet up with Moses and

re-unite his family. Knowing it would be a slow trip, Jethro sent word ahead to Moses that they were coming. Moses had not sent any message before the arrival of his wife and sons to his father-in-law. This probably also raised concerns for Jethro.

As the caravan of people arrived at the foot of Mount Sinai, Moses hugged his wife and kids; but tradition demanded he show respect to his father-in-law. So, Moses greeted Jethro by bowing before him and kissing his two cheeks. (Exodus 18:5-7)

Then Moses and Jethro went into a tent to discuss what had been happening to them and to catch up. Moses went on to share, in great detail, about how God had freed them in Egypt and delivered them from the Pharaoh and his army at the Red Sea. Then he shared their trials in the desert and finally their battle against the Amalekites. This gave Moses an opportunity to vent and to praise God. (Exodus 18:8-9)

Just another note, Jethro was a good father-in-law and he listened intently to Moses. There is no indication he interrupted Moses or tried to question him. Sometimes our greatest gift to another is to give them our full attention.

Finally, Jethro celebrates with Moses. “Praise be to the Lord,” he said, “who rescued you from the Pharaoh and the Egyptians. Now I know the Lord is greater than all other gods, for he punished the nations who mistreated you.” (Exodus 18:10-11)

Then Jethro brought a burnt offering and other sacrifices to honor God. Finally, Aaron and all the elders of Israel came together to break bread with Moses’ father-in-law, in the presence of God. What an amazing example Jethro set. After listening to both the good and bad, they celebrated the victories. (Exodus 18:12)

The next day, Moses took his seat, to serve as a judge for the people. With a nation of nearly 2 million people, there had to be many disagreements. The Bible says they stood in line from early morning until late in the evening waiting to speak to Moses. Just imagine facing this crowd nearly every day! (Exodus 18:13)

Notice, Moses’ father-in-law just watched and took it all in.

Finally, at the end of the day, when Moses sent everyone away for the night, Jethro approached him. Jethro would never disgrace Moses in front of his people, but he had some words to share in private. Jethro said, “What is going on here? Why are you doing this, by yourself?” (Exodus 18:14)

Moses answered, “Because the people come to me seeking God’s will. Whenever they have a dispute, it is brought before me, and I decide how to resolve the issue between the two parties. Then, I teach them God’s instructions and laws.” (Exodus 18:15-16)

Moses father-in-law said, “This is not the way to go about it. You’ll burn out, and so will all the people along with you. This is too much for one man to handle, you can’t do this alone.”

He continued, “Listen carefully, here is my advice, for I know God is with you. Be the people’s representative before God; but not every decision needs to go directly to God or you. So, select some competent men; men who fear God, men of integrity, and men who are incorruptible, and appoint them to listen to the everyday disputes of the people.  

 “They should still bring the difficult cases to you, but they can decide the simple ones themselves. That will lighten your load and ease your burden, because they will share the work with you. If you handle the work this way, you’ll have the strength to carry out whatever God commands of you, and the people will flourish also.” (Exodus 18:17-23)

Now, Moses could have said, “Thanks for the advice but I am doing fine.” Or he could have said nothing and went off to sulk. Instead, he listened and took his father-in-law’s advice. Then Moses talked it over with the Elders and they found capable men to step-in and give Moses the relief he needed. Once he was ‘no longer overworked’, he could again focus on his family.

Balance is so crucial to our work and personal lives. When one gets out of hand, the other often suffers. Jethro was wise enough to see and understand that Moses was struggling and yet close enough for Moses to listen when he spoke.

Everyone should have someone they can go to, who can give them good advice from time to time. Or in this case, someone who knows you well enough, to help you in your time of need. As soon as the tension eased, Jethro headed back home. He did not overstay his welcome, he came to be supportive – and then when things were resolved, he left in peace.

There are several good lessons we can learn from these two stories. First, it is always better to work smarter, not harder. If you believe you are the only one who can do it all; you are only fooling yourself. Workaholics may get the job done but they pay a terrible price somewhere else along the way.

God never intended us to run everything alone. It is better to be part of a team than to simply rely on one person. The reason is, if something happens to them, everything grinds to a halt. But allowing others in, means risking they may not do things our way. The truth is, sometimes we just must let go.

Second, God did not create us with every gift needed to go it alone. Ephesians 4:11-12 reads, “It was him, Christ the Lord, who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.”

And who could forget 1 Corinthians 12:12, “The body of believers is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are varied, they form one complete functioning body.” He goes on to say, every part is needed.

The Bible reminds us, we are partners in ministry. Partners with God and partners with one another. When one person struggles, we all struggle and if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. (1 Corinthians 12:26)

Sometimes when we think about a church, we think of the pastor at the top of the pyramid, overseeing everything. And while the pastor should be approached and ideas should be floated by him or her, the ministry only functions when all members step-up. In fact, Biblically, we see the same principle.

1 Corinthians 3:11 calls Jesus the foundation of the church, and Ephesians 2:20 calls Jesus the chief cornerstone. Both imply that ‘only with a solid base built from the ground up’, will the church survive. The true place in the church for a pastor is to support the building up of God’s church, from the ground up.

In other words, without you, I am a one-man team and teams like that will not last. As you may have heard, there is no ‘I’ in team. The church cannot function without shared responsibility.

Like John Wooden’s 7 Creeds his father gave him when he graduated elementary school, Rev. Robert Fulghum wrote something similar in his book, “Everything I really need to know I learned in Kindergarten”.

He writes,

Share everything. Play fair. Don’t hit people. Put things back where you found them.

Clean up your own mess. Don’t take things that aren’t yours. Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody. And be aware of wonder (To name a few) He ends like this, “And it is still true, no matter how old you are, When you go out in the world it is best to hold hands and stick together.”

Imagine if we could take such simple rules like; being kind to one another, sharing everything, playing fair, forgiving and asking for forgiveness, looking for God’s miracles and sticking together; how much better we as the church would function. Finally, never forget to go back to the source of your strength, which is in Christ Jesus. (2 Tim. 2:1)

If we all played on the same team and complimented one other, I think, we would have a winning team, don’t you?

Your assignment is…to spend some time this week praying and asking questions about where you fit into the church body (Young, old, and anywhere in between). Paul Keller is our Lay Leader. He would like to plug you in, and he has several openings. What gifts do you have that can move the Church forward in Jesus’ name?

Pray about it and act, the Lord wants you to step up. It is an investment worth taking! Do it today.

 “And all God’s people said, amen”

Grumbling in the Desert – Sept. 20, 2020

William Randolph Hearst was a very wealthy newspaper publisher, businessman and politician who lived in Northern California. From a very early age, he developed a love for art and antiques. As he aged, his love for art, statues and rare antiques became an obsession. If he found something he wanted, Hearst would not stop until he possessed it.

During a conversation with another art collector, a very famous painting was discussed, and Hearst decided he must have it. So, he sent his agent abroad to search worldwide for the treasure. After months of investigating, the agent called to say he was having no luck finding it.

Hearst complained, grumbled and demanded the painting be found immediately, no matter the expense. After several months went by, Hearst was fuming and demanded answers.

Finally, his agent reported that the treasure had been found. To further sweeten the find, Hearst learned that the painting wouldn’t cost him a dime. You see, he already owned it. The re-discovered piece was in Hearst’s own warehouse with many other treasures that had never been uncrated.

To grumble, gripe, groan, grouch, mutter, nitpick, bellyache, whine, and complain; describes a chronic human condition that not only affects the person doing it, but it also brings down others. In Hebrew, to grumble is a very animalistic trait like growling or howling that starts under your breath before breaking out.

Grumbling is not just discontent; it is also a slow building of unhealthy emotions. It often leads to gossip, criticism, blaming others and even outright explosive attacks. In fact, in the Bible, it says that God detests it.

In Jude 1:16 we read, “These ungodly sinners who have spoken against the Lord are grumblers and faultfinders; they follow their own evil desires; they boast about themselves and flatter others for their own advantage.” And James 5:9 reads, “Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at your door!”

Last Sunday we left the Israelites celebrating in the desert after God saved them from their enemies by delivering them through the Red Sea. Later, Moses and Miriam wrote a song and she sang it, while they danced and played their tambourines.

I imagine, in the middle of all this celebrating, they must have gotten down on their knees and thanked God. Who wouldn’t, after being rescued from a life of slavery and set free. They were also firsthand witnesses to the power of God; the one who brought the 10 Plagues on Egypt and they saw the miracle as God opening the Red Sea to save them. If that didn’t convince them of God’s love and saving grace, nothing would.

Maybe they even had their own version of an altar call and finally devoted themselves to the Lord. After all of that, you would never expect them to have any doubts or reason to mistrust God again. Right? Think again.

After their celebration, they packed up, and Moses led the Israelites into the desert of Shur. Their supplies were running low and the Bible says, “For three days they traveled in the desert without finding water.”

Finally, they came to Marah, it was a little oasis with a pond. But when they went to taste the water, it had gone bad and it tasted bitter. Immediately the people began to grumble against Moses. Which then led to the complaint, “What are we to drink?”

In the background you can almost here, “We had plenty of water to drink in Egypt. Did Moses drag us out here to die of thirst?” And of course, this was never Moses’ idea, it is God’s plan. So, while they complained about Moses, their real beef was with God. But is often the case, God’s representative takes the heat.

So, Moses goes off alone to pray to God. Then God guided Moses to the location of a piece of wood and told him to throw it into the water. When he did this, the water became sweet and good to drink and everyone was happy.

But God saw the need to give them some instruction and to set up some expectations. He spoke to Moses and then Moses spoke to the people, “If you listen carefully to the voice of the Lord, your God, and do what is right in his eyes, if you pay attention to his commands and keep his decrees, God says, ‘He will not inflict you, with any of the diseases He brought on the Egyptians, for He is the Lord who heals.”

Scripture says that this was a test for the people. Would they listen and trust God or would they turn-away and grumble to one another?

Now, this next paragraph is very important. They set off from their current location and traveled one day to Elim, where there were 12 springs of fresh water, 70 palm trees for shade, and they camped there. This, you see, was God’s plan all along. Had they not complained and waited one more day, they would have had plenty of fresh water!

I imagine the Israelites were not very happy when Moses told them they had to pack up and head back out into the desert. His destination was Mount Sinai, but that was another long walk through a blazing desert. They had already walked at least ‘a month and a half’ (over 40 days) since they left Egypt.

Between them and Mt. Sinai was the Desert of Sin (Zin). Depending on how fast they moved, it would take them 8 to 11 days to pass through it. Even though they had time to rest, this journey would be grueling, and they would have no relief from the heat. Not to mention, they were getting short on food. It didn’t take long and the whole community began grumbling against Moses and Aaron. As they stopped to rest, about 3 or 4 days out, in the cool of the evening, the complaints started.

 “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! At least in Egypt we had pots of meat and could eat all we wanted, but you have brought us out to the desert to starve us to death.” They grumbled, “This is unbearable. This is worse than being in Egypt.” They were missing the good old days…when they were slaves! Isn’t it funny how short our memories are sometimes? Things often look better in hindsight than they were in the past.

Again, Moses went to the Lord in prayer. Then the Lord told Moses, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that one day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions. On the sixth day they are to bring in enough for two days and prepare it, so that they may rest on the sabbath.”

So, Moses and Aaron went and told them what God had said. But they also chastised them. “You think you are grumbling at Aaron and I, but we have no way of helping you. Who are we? Instead you are grumbling at the Lord and he has heard you.

But their grumbling continued, I can just imagine them saying, “Man cannot live on bread alone, we need protein too. Bread and water is not enough!” Again, God heard them and demanded they come near him. Then God’s glory appears to them in a cloud. What did they see? Lightening? Did the thunder shake them to the core?

The Lord said to Moses, “Tell them I have heard their grumbling. At twilight they will eat meat, and in the morning, they will be filled with bread. Then, they will know that I am the Lord, their God.”  

That evening quail came and covered the camp, (so they had meat) and in the morning, there was a layer of something that looked like dew on the ground. When the dew was gone, a thin-white layer of breading was left behind. “What is that?” they asked. Moses said to them, “It is the bread of heaven the Lord has promised you.” When they tasted it, it was wonderful; it tasted like wafers made with honey. They couldn’t get enough!

But the Israelites failed to follow the Lord’s guidelines. Some tried to save the bread for more than one day and it dissolved. Finally, on the 7th day, some, going against God’s command, still tried to go out and get more bread, but it was gone. God was not pleased, and he said to Moses, “How long will they refuse to keep my commands and instructions?” Yet God had mercy on the people.

Finally, it was time to move on. The Israelites broke camp and began walking through the desert again. But it didn’t take long to notice that their water supply was running short. At this point, the Israelites held their tongues and waited on the Lord.

After a couple of days walking in the heat, they arrived at Rephidim. As they set up camp, they noticed there was no fresh water to drink.   That was all it took! Their grumbling quickly turned to anger, and they directed it toward Moses. They demanded water to drink.

Moses responded, “Why are angry with me? Your quarrel is with the Lord and you do not want to put him to the test.” But he could see the hate growing in their eyes. They were working themselves up into a frenzy and if they took to action, things could get very bad quickly.

With biting sarcasm, they said, “Why did you bring ‘us and our animals out of Egypt just to die of thirst in the desert?’”

Frightened, Moses cried out to the Lord, “What am I to do with these people? They are practically ready to stone me.”

The Lord instructed Moses to walk ahead of the people with some of the elders of Israel and take his staff with him. As he came to the rock at Horeb, he was to strike it and fresh water would come out for them to drink. So that is what he did. And again, the people were satisfied. But it was clear that ‘they were far from God’ in their hearts.

Deuteronomy 8:2 reads, “Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these 40 years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. 

“He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feed you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”

The Israelites are in many ways, not all that different from us. When things are going well, and we get what we want, we are happy. But when things aren’t going so well, we feel cursed and we tend to grumble. And it reveals what’s in our hearts; discontent.

What do we do if someone points it out and tells us we are generally unhappy people? We start the it’s not my fault excuses. If only I had more money, if I moved to Hawaii, if there weren’t so many annoying people around me, if God would just give me what I pray for; Then everything would be perfect. It’s not my fault, it’s my situation or someone else’s fault. As someone once said, “It doesn’t matter where you go, your grumbling goes with you until you deal with it directly.”

Paul wrote to the church at Philippi, “I am not saying these things because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living with plenty or in want.” (Philippians 4:11-12)

His answer was to praise God and be thankful for whatever comes his way. That takes humility and total trust in God. Billy Graham once wrote, “Grumbling and Gratitude are, for the child of God, in conflict. Be grateful, and you won’t grumble. Grumble, and you won’t be grateful.”

The friends of Job grumbled and were nearly destroyed. The Pharisees grumbled against Jesus – and they turned into murders.

1 Corinthians 10 tells us that the Israelites were tested by God and they failed. And Paul writes, these things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us.

What went wrong? They saw some of the Lord’s greatest works. He provided miracle after miracle for them. They gave their lives to him and followed him. Yet in some ways, their hearts were just as hard as the Egyptians. They learned it honestly, we might say.

People who spend their time grumbling are too busy doing it to find time to be part of the solution. They are too busy looking in and nursing their emotions. While Humble, thankful Christians look up and around. They trust God and pray for insight. They listen and act.

While the Israelites were complaining, what did Moses do? He went to the Lord and got down on his knees. He listened and trusted God.   Hard times can make us bitter or better. Trust the way of Moses and Jesus; both found their strength in the Lord.

Your assignment is…to turn your grumbling to rejoicing. Be thankful for all you have – instead of worrying about what you don’t have. In this way God softens our hearts – and brings us down to our knees. That is the place where we can begin our kingdom work.

May it be so for you and me.

 “And all God’s People said, Amen”

“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