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God is all about results
Exodus 6: I will rescue you…I will redeem you…I’ll be a God to you.
After centuries of slavery and under increasing oppression the descents of Abraham are ready for some action from God. Their hope is likely quite modest. Maybe the Lord’s going to engineer a little bit less of a workload from their Egyptian taskmasters for them, or maybe there’ll be an improvement in living conditions. The thing is that they have the attention of the Almighty now and he has his own agenda that includes such big ticket items as “rescue,” “redemption,” and making them “his very own.” When God delivers people he does it in a big way. This is no patch up job so that they can somehow hobble on. Big things, things they can’t even imagine, are going to happen. That’s how it is when he saves us. I come to him, lost in my sins. My prayer is a modest one, like: “Lord, I just want to feel better” or “Just help me make it through this situation and I’ll be okay.” He says, “I will rescue you…I will redeem you…I’ll be a God to you.” The result is more wonderful than I ever imagined.
Take Away: When the Lord does something there are no half-measures about it.
Big events with small beginnings
Exodus 5: Does this look like rescue to you?
The journey from slavery to freedom will not come without a struggle. Pharaoh’s known as the leader of a country with a world class economy and he intends to keep his free labor force. He also likes getting his own way. Mix all that with his having a hard, dispassionate disposition and we have a recipe for a long struggle. Moses eases into the negotiations by asking that the people be given three days off for worship and Pharaoh responds by increasing the workload on the people. The result is that Moses is disappointed and the Hebrew people are upset with him for making life harder on them than it was before. Of course, this is the first step in what will be an epic deliverance. For now though, the whole thing feels like a pitiful failure. The thing is that most great events have less than stellar beginnings. For instance, there’s the story of the founding of my own nation which is filled with several “one step forward and two steps back” situations. Or consider the story of the Wright brothers and human flight. A person watching their early efforts might have concluded that they were crazy rather than visionary. In the passage before us today, Moses appears to have totally failed in his mission. However, he has one thing going for him that assures a positive outcome: the Lord is with him. What has happened thus far may not look like much of a rescue mission, but the Lord is just getting started.
Take Away: Great miracles often begin with what seems to be pitiful failure.
The best thing to say to God
Exodus 4: God got angry with Moses.
Later on we’re told that Moses is the most humble man alive and knowing that I tend to cut him some slack when he keeps backing up on God’s call on his life. However, when I see the Lord getting angry in the face of all his objections I realize that humble or not, Moses is treading on thin ice with the Almighty. The Lord is appearing to Moses in a burning bush with the promise that, in spite of the king’s opposition that Moses will lead the people out of Egypt. Moses wants the Lord to give him a Name to use when he goes to the Hebrews and the King. The Lord obliges. Moses wants some kind of sign that will convince Pharaoh that it’s the Almighty he’s dealing with. The Lord gives him not one sign but three. Then Moses adds that he doesn’t want to actually do any of the talking and wants the Lord to name a spokesperson other than himself. At that point, he’s nearly found the end of God’s patience. The Lord promises Moses that he’ll give him the words to say and everything will be okay. When Moses persists in wanting someone else to do his talking for him, he nearly blows the whole deal with God. However, the Lord is merciful and tells Moses he’ll use his brother, Aaron, as spokesman. This, my friend, is a lesson in how not to deal with God. It’s not that exchanges with the Lord shouldn’t be open and honest. However, they should also be reverent and trusting. The best answer to God is just two words, “Yes, Lord.”
Take Away: The only reasonable response to the Almighty is: “yes.”
Exodus 3: You’re standing on holy ground.
Out in the wilderness Moses finds himself in the Presence of the Lord. It’s instructive to note that Moses didn’t go out to that place on a spiritual retreat in an attempt to find God. Instead, the Lord finds him, getting his attention in a unique, unforgettable way. It’s the Lord who calls out to Moses as he called out to Adam and Eve in the Garden and as he will call out to the boy Samuel many years hence. Moses is shocked to hear his own name being called out from that burning bush and he instinctively draws closer. However, the Lord stops him, telling him to remove his shoes because he’s now on “holy ground.” Obviously, it’s the Presence of the Lord in that place that makes, what would otherwise be just dirt, into something sacred. In many cultures today, shoe removal is an act of respect or reverence. The command that Moses remove his sandals isn’t a brand new idea to Moses; it’s just that he’s in a holy place and at first, didn’t realize it. It should come as no surprise that the Lord likes to come into our lives in unexpected ways! He’s been doing that since the very beginning. At first, I may miss what’s happening altogether but as soon as it dawns on me that God has come close, I’m to reverently respond; realizing that, what I thought was common has been sanctified by his presence.
Take Away: Where ever I encounter God that place becomes for me, holy ground.
Exodus 3: The bush was blazing away but it didn’t burn up.
I love the story of Moses’ encounter with the Lord. He’s spent 40 years living apart from his own people, tending sheep. The idea of running into God out there in the wilderness must be the farthest thing from his mind. He sees smoke on the horizon and goes to investigate. As he gets closer he sees that it’s just a lonely bush that’s ablaze. The thing is, the fire isn’t consuming the bush and has a source of fuel that Moses can’t see. He’s about to find out that the bush is ablaze with the presence of the Lord. I doubt that Moses thought about it, but that bush is doing the very opposite of what he did. When he was younger he burned with compassion for his enslaved kin. However, these years in the wilderness have quenched that fire. Unlike the bush that keeps on burning, he settled for a life in exile, leaving his fellow Hebrews in slavery in Egypt. When I act on my own, doing what I think is a good idea, I tend to run out of energy. After all, I’m drawing on my talents and abilities and it doesn’t take long for me to run dry. However, when I live in the Lord and allow his Holy Spirit to be my Guide and my Source, well, I’ve tapped into the Power Source that’s never exhausted. Lord, let the fire of your Presence burn in my heart today.
Take Away: If I’m going to be used of God I need to allow him to be my power source, otherwise I’m bound to fail.
It’s God’s story
Exodus 2: God listened…God remembered…God saw…God understood.
The story of the Bible is God’s story. He’s the central player. In the book of Exodus we have the major, dominating figure of Moses, but he isn’t the star. The Exodus story is about God. It’s he who listens to their cries, remembers his promise to Abraham, sees their need, and understands their plight. And it’s he who acts. Decades earlier, when Moses tried to take on the role of deliverer, things didn’t work out. Now, God takes on that role. When the story of the deliverance of the Hebrews from Egypt begins, it starts with God in a burning bush and not Moses killing an Egyptian. Today, I want my story to be God’s story. I’d rather play a small part in his big story than have the leading role in a one man play.
Take Away: It’s about my cooperating with God, not about him cooperating with me.
Exodus 1: He killed the Egyptian and buried him in the sand.
Moses is thought of as the grandson of the king, but he’s raised by the woman who’s secretly his own mother. On one hand, he’s an Egyptian and a member of the ruling class at that. On the other hand, he’s a Hebrew, condemned at birth, a member of a nation of slaves. Sooner or later he has to decide who he is. That day comes, even though his expression of solidarity with God’s people is quite flawed. First, he kills an Egyptian who mistreats a fellow Hebrew. He then tries to be a peacemaker between two Hebrews who are having a fight. There’s no question in his mind or in the mind of Pharaoh which side he’s on and soon Moses finds himself fleeing for his life. I’ve heard some sermons about how Moses should have waited for God to call him to be the liberator of his people and that, had he done that, it would have saved him four decades of leading sheep. For all I know, those sermons are right on. Still, I’m taken today with the need to decide early on which side one is on. Moses is likely mistaken when he kills the Egyptian, but his decision to cast his lot with a nation of slaves rather than be a member of the Egyptian royal household is courageous and ought to be appreciated by all who read the story. I’m glad that early on in my life the Lord spoke to my heart and that, right then, I decided to say “yes” to him without over thinking what such a response might mean. Today, I won’t give Moses a “thumbs up” on what he did but I’ll certainly give him credit for why he did it.
Take Away: Sooner or later we need to decide what side we’re on…and the sooner the better.
The last word
Exodus 2: Take this baby and nurse him for me. I’ll pay you.
Moses is not only born into slavery, he’s also condemned at birth. In a callous effort to stem the booming population growth of the Israelites Pharaoh has ordered the execution of all boys born to the slaves. When his mother can hide him no longer Moses is placed in a small basket that will float and hidden among the reeds along the river. His older sister Miriam is given the task of watching over him from a distance. Apparently, the idea is to hide the baby by day and then retrieve him at night. In a surprising twist that is characteristic of the Lord’s work, it’s Pharaoh’s own daughter who discovers the baby. Then, making things even more delightful, quick thinking Miriam offers to find a nanny for the baby. She goes directly to her mother who’s given the job. Instead of seeing her baby murdered, Moses’ mom is paid to raise her own son who’s now under the protection of the house of Pharaoh! I love stuff like this and, apparently, so does God. He loves taking impossible situations and turning them upside down. As I read this story today I’m reminded that God always has the last word even in the darkest of nights. In my life, it won’t be the writer of my obituary who’ll have the last word – it’ll be him.
Take Away: God has the last word even when everything seems to be going wrong.
Living between the promise and the blessing
Exodus 1: They made them miserable with hard labor.
Centuries earlier the Lord spoke to Abraham and made wonderful promises to him. Abraham’s descendants will number as the stars in the sky and they’ll have a land to call their own. When Jacob follows his son Joseph’s direction to relocate everyone to Egypt, the Lord promises to go with them and to bring them back to the Promised Land. Now, Abraham, Jacob, and Joseph are all dead and while the promise of a multitude of descendants is being fulfilled, the people with the Promise are enslaved in Egypt. Generations are being born into slavery, living and dying having never known freedom. It occurs to me that being on either end of the process is the place to be. Living between the promise and the blessing isn’t nearly as much fun. At the beginning there are thrilling encounters with God; dramatic experiences filled with expectancy. At the end, of course, is the thrill of obtainment; God’s Word being made real. In the middle, though, is uncertainty; hanging in there when the circumstances tell us to surrender. The thing is that much of life is lived between the promise and the blessing. For instance, there have been many generations of Christians since Jesus promised to come back. They’ve lived their lives believing in that which remains unseen. The only prescription for dealing with living between the promise and the blessing is continued trust. Today, I’m reminded that the Lord has made certain promises to me and, even though I don’t yet see the blessing, I chose to trust in him as one who is always faithful. I build my life on that firm foundation here between the promise and the blessing.
Take Away: Most of life is lived between the promise and the blessing; it’s no wonder that God places such high value on faith.