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Praise and worship service
Exodus 15: Who compares with you in power?
When Moses tells the people to “stand still” he’s more right than wrong. While it’s true that they need to “move forward” in response to what God is doing, it’s still God who provides their deliverance. They don’t exactly “stand still” but they never raise a hand in their own defense. It’s God who provides the victory. Now they’re celebrating. Moses leads the way with his song of victory: “Who compares with you among gods, O God? Who compares with you in power, in holy majesty, in awesome praises, wonder-working God?” Moses turns their hearts in the right direction. Even more than being about victory over the army of Egypt, this celebration is about God at work in their world. Obviously that victory is no small thing. Still, God’s incomparable, powerful, majestic, wondrous work is the real reason to celebrate, whether it has to do with Pharaoh’s army or not. After all, this is God’s story even more than theirs. In my life there are many good things to celebrate, but beyond all that is the Reason behind the good things. I’m glad to join Moses in this praise and worship service.
Take Away: Celebrate the good things but don’t forget to celebrate the Giver of those good things.
Head ‘em up – move ‘em out.
Exodus 14: Moses spoke to the people…“Stand firm and watch God do his work…God said to Moses: Order them to get moving.”
Behind them is the army of Egypt, moving in to destroy them. Before them is the Red Sea, impassable. What are they to do? Moses has great faith, “Stand still and see…” what God will do. That sounds good. They have pretty much stood still through the plagues and God took care of everything. Surely Moses is right and God will do it again. But God has other ideas. Even as the people of Israel had a part in the Passover by following God’s directions, now they have a part in this final victory over Egypt. The Almighty says, “Don’t stand still…move forward.” As they obey the command to move, God acts and deliverance comes. There are, indeed, times to “stand still.” To do otherwise is to attempt to be our own deliverers – something that’s bound to fail. At times like that we simply wait on the Lord. However, there are more often times to “get moving.” To do so is to act in faith that God is with us and that he has given us a role to play in our own salvation.
Take Away: Don’t be guilty of standing still when God is saying, “Move out.”
Cooperating with God
Exodus 12: The Israelites then went and did what God had commanded Moses and Aaron. They did it all.
Emancipation day is coming. After generations of slavery God is about to keep his promise to “rescue and redeem” them from the bondage of Egypt. The deciding event will be one of fearsome judgment. Death is coming. However, death will not visit every home in the land. The Israelites must to follow explicit instructions if they’re to escape the terrible events of that night. A lamb is to be slaughtered, cooked, and eaten. Some of the blood, mixed with hyssop is to be smeared on the door posts of their homes. As a result, the death angel will “pass over” their dwellings. They listen and obey – “they did it all.” In so doing they become a part on their own deliverance. Most of what needs to be done is accomplished by the Lord but they must cooperate by taking this action. Well, you know where this is going by now. God has acted to deliver me from slavery to freedom. He has done the vast majority of what must be done. Still, he has instructions for me to follow. I must respond by cooperating with the Almighty if his perfect will is to be accomplished in my life.
Take Away: How can I best cooperate with God today?
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.
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.
The “rest” for the people of God
Hebrews 4: The promise of “arrival” and “rest” are still there for God’s people.
In the Old Testament story of the people of God we read of their deliverance from Egyptian slavery. By God’s hand they triumph at the Red Sea and not long after that come to the Jordan River with the promise that this is to be their land of rest. Once they possess Canaan they’ll be home at last. However it doesn’t work out. The people refuse to trust God and, because of that, are sentenced to a lifetime of wilderness wandering. The writer of Hebrews uses that sad story to tell his readers that the Lord calls his people to a “rest experience” in their relationship with him. After deliverance from sin, there’s a “Jordan River” crisis in which believers are to trust God to give them rest from the inner struggle and freedom to love him with all their heart and soul and mind. The failure of the people of Israel is a real possibility for the believer: to doubt the extent to which the Lord can deliver his people from the bondage of sin. To fail here is to turn back to the wilderness and to experience the spiritual journey as a constant struggle with failure and sin. To believe God and trust him with all of one’s life is to cross the Jordan and enter into a deeper spiritual life of freedom and liberty. “The promise of ‘arrival’ and ‘rest’ are still there for God’s people.”
Take Away: The Lord not only forgives our sins – he also delivers us from that sin.
Do it again, Lord
Habakkuk 3: Do among us what you did among them.
The prophet of God has the heart of a psalmist. As I started reading Habakkuk and saw his reverent complaint to God I was reminded of the Psalms of complaint in which the writer pours his heart out before the Lord. Now, as Habakkuk experiences God in a fresh way, his words remind me of the Psalms again. He pens a psalm of his own in which he recounts God’s past deliverance and looks to a day of restoration. His opening lines: “Do among us what you did among them. Work among us as you worked among them” is the prayer of many of God’s people through the ages. In this case, Habakkuk is specifically thinking of the deliverance of his ancestors from Egyptian bondage. However, through the centuries, many have looked back to great movements of God: revivals, healings, and other times of special blessing and prayed this prayer. In my life there have been times of extraordinary blessing, some so private and precious that I seldom speak of them. However, I mention them to the Lord, thanking him for what he did and marveling at his grace to me and, in the spirit of Habakkuk, ask the Lord to “do it again.” It’s unhealthy to spend our lives talking about the “good old days” but we should allow those times of special blessing to remind us of what God can do and to encourage us to seek his best for in our lives in this day and in these circumstances.
Take Away: There are times when we do well to revisit past blessings and allow those blessings to encourage us to expect renewed blessings of God in our lives.
Daniel 6: God…closed the mouths of the lions.
Daniel’s political enemies might have conspired to have him thrown into the den of lions but they couldn’t control the lions, themselves. God sends an angel to do that and his man survives unscathed his night with the big cats. The king is relieved. After all, it was his gullible foolishness that caused all of this in the first place. He’s ready to acknowledge the power and authority of Daniel’s God. Darius then turns his attention to the conspirators and their families. He has them all thrown into the lion’s den. God’s angel has already departed and they come to a horrible end. As I read this I’m reminded that Daniel represents God in a wicked and heartless regime. Nebuchadnezzar, it seems, had a genuine change of heart. Darius, on the other hand, has been impressed and humbled by Daniel’s God and from now on he will treat Daniel’s God with respect. In other words, Darius’ experience was not nearly as personal as was Nebuchadnezzar’s. Daniel prospers under Darius and then under Cyrus. Apparently, neither of these two become worshipers of the Lord but they respect Daniel and his God. We Christians have something to learn here. If possible, we want people to become believers; to join us in worship of the only one worthy of worship. However, we may not always see that happen. In some cases the best we will see is that others will decide we and our faith have earned their respect. Hopefully, that will be a first step to something more for them, but that decision is out of our hands.
Take Away: Live in such a way as to influence people for the Lord – if nothing else, to earn their respect and to cause them to respect the one we worship.
He’s still in the fire
Daniel 3: I see four men, walking around freely in the fire.
A “theophany” is the appearance of God in human forum, specifically in the Old Testament. Abraham and Jacob and Moses have such encounters and then there’s this incident: three men are tossed into the fire, but the king sees four. I understand that there are theological reasons to hesitate here, but I’m glad to hide behind the “devotional” aspect of my writing and leap wholeheartedly into this fire! The Hebrews are being executed because of their faithfulness to the Lord. Then, in the fire there’s a fourth man who, even the pagan king, can tell is “God-like.” On this day Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego experience a “theophany.” They meet the Lord in that furnace and he protects them from the fire! The furnaces of life might scare me to death, but it’s in those places that I find one who’s not only unafraid, but is in complete authority. Since he’s God he can appear in whatever form he wants, and because he’s God there’s nothing that’s going to happen to me there that he does not allow and can’t see me through.
Take Away: There’s nothing that can happen to us that the Lord doesn’t allow and that he can’t see me through.