Saturday, March 27, 2010

Which Will It Be: Egypt or Promised Land?

The story of the Israelites leaving Egypt is a story that we can relate all relate to…leaving Egypt means leaving slavery. What things once enslaved you? I was enslaved to many things that held me and kept me in bondage for a great number of years. But then my day of Exodus came when God called me out from my own land of Egypt and brought me into the Promised Land.

Egypt for me meant searching for love in all the wrong places, it meant filling the emptiness in my life with alcohol and drugs. It was really an empty, meaningless life. I am so thankful for the day that my red sea was parted, when my next-door-neighbor invited me to go to church with her. It was then that I saw the mighty hand of God part the waters that would lead me to a better place. Leaving Egypt was the best thing that ever happened to me. You would think its how the Israelites would feel as well.

Sure, once they actually crossed the red sea there was a great deal of celebrating that took place. Many of us, when we left behind our Egypt probably experienced something similar. We had something to celebrate! We were once slaves but now we were free! However that celebration would die out quickly for some of them. Suddenly there would be a longing to go back to Egypt. What? How could that be? Why would anyone want to go back to slavery? The problem was that many times the Israelites only remembered the “good” things. They would fail to remember what it was like to be enslaved. It is sad to see this happen but it does with many people. They are like Lot’s wife who can’t help but look back at what they left behind.

For some people it is almost immediately after their deliverance from Egypt that they desire to go back to their old life. In Exodus 15:20 Miriam brings out a timbrel and the women begin dancing. They have just witnessed a mighty act. God not only delivered them but parted the red sea and caused the Egyptians who pursued them to drown. Yet in Exodus 15:24 just four verses after we read about the dancing, the people already begin to complain. This reminds me of the parable of the sower and the seeds. In Matthew 13:18-23 we read about the seeds of rebirth in Christ that are planted and what happens. When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is the seed sown along the path (Matthew 13:19). The seed doesn’t seem to stand a chance. Any seed that is sown “along a path” can’t take root. The Israelites, who immediately began complaining just after their deliverance, is like the seed planted along the path.

Even when the Israelites complained and longed to back to their Egypt, God would provide for their needs. He wasn’t willing to give up so easily on their longing for slavery. He knew that they could enjoy freedom in a way they had never before experienced. But they were so foolish at times and yes, there were times that God allowed them to have what they wanted but made it so that they wished they had never complained. Some would trust God throughout the entire journey but others would not. Time and time again there is “murmuring” and “complaining” or some type of rebellion taking place. Discontentment is something that can easily settle in our hearts unless we guard against it.

It can be easy to long for the “old life.” We remember the “good times.” We forget about the enslavement part of our old life, our Egypt, and we fool ourselves into thinking it was a better life. Thankfully some who return to Egypt quickly realize the error of their ways but others remain in Egypt. It is very sad to see.

I can honestly say that I have never once longed for my Egypt. Once I was delivered, once I was set free I never wanted my old life back. It was nothing but chaos, strife, unrest, and disappointment. My promise land is peace, assurance, contentment and satisfaction in a life I would never trade.

Where are you at? Are you in the promise land and fully enjoying it? Or is there a part of you that longs for Egypt? Do you really want to be enslaved or do you want to enjoy the freedom that is found in Christ? Will you be like the Israelites who finally made it to the place God had for them or will you get lost in the journey, destroyed along the way? Don’t look back. Egypt has nothing for you. Look ahead to the promise land and all the goodness that God has in store for you!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

From Here I Am to Who Am I

Moses has been in my mind the past couple of weeks. Between reading about him in my Bible reading time and watching the 2006 version of “The Ten Commandments” I have been soaking him up like a sponge.

Last week I talked about the burning bush and how it represents God’s calling on our lives. The story of the burning bush doesn’t end with Moses responding “Here I am.” No, there is much more to the story that we can learn from.

God begins to lay out His plan. Every calling on our lives has a specific plan to it. We may not necessarily get the layout but there is one. Moses had a rare opportunity to hear that plan directly from God. God told Moses that He had heard the crying of His people, the Israelite slaves, and that He was going to rescue them. Moses would be part of that rescue. He was going to bring them to a place of milk and honey, as opposed to the slavery and cruelty they had been enduring. It would be Moses that would lead the way.

Some would like to chastise Moses for the way he responded. He did not respond favorably to what the Lord had presented him with. But how often do we do the same? God asks us to do something that either we don’t want to or we don’t think we are equipped to do. Think about it. “That’s all God? You mean there isn’t something grander or greater that you want me to do?” “Work in the nursery?” “Stay home and raise my children?” “Take a job making minimum wage?” There is an endless list of possibilities when it comes to God calling us to a task that we don’t think much of.

Then there are the plans that He has for us where we don’t feel equipped. That is exactly how Moses felt. He said, “Who am I?” Who am I that I should… You can fill in your own blanks. What is God calling you to do that you are questioning?

Here’s what I find especially interesting about all of this. The same man who said, “Here I am” was now saying “Who am I.” Isn’t that just like us? Here I am God, use me! Here I am God, send me! But then when God gets ready to do it, we question Him. Suddenly we ask, “Who am I?” We aren’t much different than Moses!

So Moses presents his “Who am I” argument and God makes it clear. He won’t be doing this alone. No, God never sends us to a place where He expects us to do it on our own. He goes with us. He would go with Moses. Not only did God tell Moses that He would go with him but that He would also provide a sign that God was the one who had sent him. Once the people were delivered from Egypt, Moses would worship God on the very same mountain that the burning bush was on. What a plan! Who wouldn’t jump at that, right?

But we know the story. Although God knew the time of deliverance would come, that Moses would lead the Israelites out, it wouldn’t happen for a long time and not until Moses would go through quite a few tests…not just with the Egyptians but with the complaining Israelites as well. God may have a plan for us but to get there, we may need to go through a few tests.

So God has laid it all out. He will go with Moses, the sign will be there and so Moses should be ready to move, right? Wrong! Moses isn’t done questioning God. He now wants to know what he should tell the people when they ask who has sent him to them. Plain and simple God says to tell them that “I AM” has sent Moses to them.

Moses still isn’t convinced. He asks, “What if they don’t believe me?” Not only are the “Who am I?’ questions obstacles that we create but so are our “What if”” questions. God lays it out but all we can think about are the “What ifs.” “What if this doesn’t work out God?” “What if we don’t financially make it?” “What if I’m stuck doing this forever?” “What if I don’t like it?” and the list goes on and on.

God is so patient with Moses. I often remind myself that if He can be that patient with Moses, then surely He can be so patient with me! God tells Moses to throw his staff on the ground and it turns into a snake! Moses runs from it but then God tells him to pick it up. He does and it turns back into a staff. God isn’t done yet, though. He then tells Moses to put his hand inside his cloak. He does and when he takes it out, it’s leprous like snow. He sticks his hand back inside and this time when he takes it out, it’s restored. Pretty cool!

One would think that Moses would be chiding himself for ever asking the questions and say, “Okay God, I’m ready!” But he doesn’t. No, he goes on to express how he has never been a very eloquent speaker. He still isn’t convinced that God has called him to the task. Now he is seeing nothing but his flaws and weaknesses. Are you spending more time looking at your flaws and weaknesses? Are you making excuses for not stepping out? That’s really all that Moses was doing, making excuses.

Yet again God is so very patient with Moses and explains that it is God who makes man to talk. He would be the one to help Moses speak. If God can turn a staff into a snake and make a hand leprous, surely He can help Moses speak!

By this time Moses has gone from “Here I am” to “Who am I?” to “What If?” to now pointing out his flaws and weaknesses. You would think it would end there. Wrong again!

Now Moses gets to the real heart of the matter. “O Lord, please send someone else to do it.” The truth is that from the very beginning Moses had no interest in God’s plan. He didn’t want to do it. It didn’t matter what great signs God would provide, the miraculous things He would do to prove Himself…Moses didn’t want to be the one to do it. He was probably content to stay in the place he was at, happily married and tending his sheep. He had left Egypt and the last place he wanted to be was back there.

Well God’s patience finally runs out. Take that to heart. God can get to a point where we have done so much questioning, made so many excuses, tried so hard to get out of His plan for our life that we can make Him angry. I don’t know about you but that’s not a place I want to be.

God tells him that his brother Aaron will be the one to speak for Him. God would still use Moses but not to the full measure that He had intended. Think about that. How would things have turned out differently if Moses had not asked God to send someone else? I can’t help but wonder if it would have been easier to get the Israelites out of Egypt if only he had trusted God from the beginning.

What have we possibly missed out on because we refused to go along with God’s plans? Who has been put in the place that was originally intended for us? At the time Moses had no idea the incredible things that would take place—the parting of the Red Sea, the intimacy he would have with God, receiving the Ten Commandments and so much more. If he knew, I bet he never would have questioned and argued with God so much. What about you? What have you been questioning God about? Have you been arguing with Him? Don’t miss out on a single God moment by trying to wiggle your way out. Let God be God and do His work in you.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

What Is Your Burning Bush?

Some of my most favorite Old Testament stories are those that took place during the life of Moses. From the time he was placed in the Nile River in order to save his life, to the time he passed away are hundreds of lessons and insights that we can learn from.

One of those favorite stories is the burning bush. Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the desert and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up (Exodus 3:1-2). It may seem difficult to understand how the story of the burning bush could apply to our lives. However, I believe that every one of us have a burning bush. The burning bush represents the calling that God has on our lives.

God may not be calling to us through the hedge in our front yard but He is calling to us all the same. He has a plan for every single one of us. God is looking for a response. When Moses saw the burning bush and heard a strange voice calling his name, he could have easily run away. That’s probably what I would have done had my bush called out to me. But instead Moses responded, “Here I am.” Here I am. There is a song called “Here I Am” that has some amazing lyrics:

Sometimes Your calling comes in dreams
Sometimes it comes in the Spirit’s breeze
You reach for the deepest hope in me
And call out for the things of eternity.

But I’m a man of dust and stains
You move in me so I can say

Here I am, Lord send me
All of my life, I make an offering
Here I am, Lord send me
Somehow my story is a part of Your plan
Here I am

Just as the calling God has on our lives is unique, so is the way that we will discover it. God works in some amazing ways. But sometimes God also works in the simplest ways. In fact, too often we are looking for the experience. We want the experience of having something amazing happen…like a fiery bush with the voice of God booming from within it. In search of the experience, we miss out on hearing God’s voice in the simple, ordinary ways of life.

The second verse in the song “Here I Am” says:

When setbacks and failures, and upset plans
Test my faith and leave me with empty hands
Are You not the closest when its hard to stand?
I know that You will finish what You began

Moses had an interesting beginning. He should have been killed along with all the other Israelite boys that had been slaughtered. Pharaoh ordered the killing of the slaves’ baby boys but Moses’ mother had another plan. She risked her life, the life of her husband and children and Moses when she put him into a basket and sent him down the Nile River. Even sending him into the river was risky because of crocodiles. But God would finish what He had begun in the life of Moses.

The final verse of the song “Here I Am” goes this way:

Overwhelmed by the thought of my weakness
And the fear that I’ll fail You in the end
In this mess I’m just one of the pieces
I can’t put this together but You can

Keep in mind that Moses’ burning bush experience was during a weak moment in his life. Up until then he had been running from everything. He had run from the life he was born into, as an Israelite slave. He had killed an Egyptian and ran to save his life from punishment. He had run from his upbringing as an Egyptian prince. He ran from his home and everyone he knew.

He was not at some high point in his life when God spoke to him through the burning bush. We sometimes get that wrong, too. We think that we have to be in a specific place in life, on top of things and already prepared for what God has. Most often God chooses us when we are least prepared. This song reminds me so much of Moses and the burning bush. He would eventually realize that although he was overwhelmed by the thought of his weakness…although he was terrified of failing God…although he was just one piece in a big pile of mess…he knew that in the end it would be God who would put it all together and make it work.

There is really so much more to this burning bush story that I could go on. So I will leave you with this for now…but next week I will continue with the lessons that can be learned from the story of the burning bush. Now think about it…what is your burning bush?

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Are You Full of Holes?

I have been reading the story of Moses the past few days. He is considered to be one of the Bible “greats.” His life is a truly amazing one. But I think what I can relate most to is how real he was. To me he is like the Old Testament version of Peter. He loved the Lord but he also had his moments where his temper would overtake him. In fact, it got him into trouble on more than one occasion.

I find it interesting that although Moses was allowed such intimacy with God…although he would be the man to lead the Israelites out of Egypt…although he would see God’s awesome power displayed again and again…he had yet another “flaw” besides his temper. He questioned God a lot. From the moment God called him, he seemed to question God’s plans. He questioned if he was the man to do the job, he questioned his ability to speak and to lead the people of Israel. It didn’t matter how many miracles God had shown him, he still questioned God quite a bit. I actually find that comforting.

How often I have questioned God and then later felt bad for doing so. I think sometimes we try so hard to be super-spiritual that we miss out on the lessons to be learned when we mess up. Yes, there are lessons to be learned when we have messed things up. Without those lessons we couldn’t really be refined. I would rather be that imperfect person who is loved enough by God to be corrected, than so high and mighty that God can’t even do anything in me. I want to be penetrable and the only way I can be is to have some holes…holes in my soul…holes in my heart…holes in the places that only God can really fill. If I block those holes, I block his work.

I guess I just want everyone to realize that even the great men and women of the Bible had faults. They had weaknesses. They messed up. They were full of holes and like us; they needed to be filled with the love and grace of God. I think we need to really get this for two reasons. The first is so that we stop beating ourselves up. God isn’t requiring perfection from us. The guilt we battle with is not from Him. Secondly, I think we need to get this so that we can stop looking at others and expecting perfection from them. We need to stop being so judgmental and condemning. We need to stop focusing on their flaws. God can use anyone.

One of my favorite verses is found in I Corinthians 1:26-28: Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are.

Think about Moses again. He was all of those things yet God used him. Do you realize the impact your life can have on the world around you when you really get this? It gives you a whole new sense of what God can do in anyone. Many years ago these verses helped lift me out of the despair I used to feel over the person I was. Why would God ever use me, I would question. I don’t question that anymore. I don’t question it because I earned a PhD in perfection. I didn’t even earn a PhD in confidence. No my confidence is in the Lord.

So why would God do this? Why would He choose the so-called unwise, those without influence, the foolish, the weak, the lowly, and the despised? Would you? If you had to choose your mate, your children, and your friends would these be the type of people you would intentionally choose? Aren’t you glad that God isn’t like us? I know I am! It goes on in verse 29 to explain why God would choose these types of people: …so that no one may boast before Him. If we already had it together, we wouldn’t need God. We would be boasting about how “together” we are. I don’t know about you but I have nothing to boast about. All that I am and hope to be is because of Him. Full of holes? Good! That means God can begin to fill them!