2014 – Arches National Park, Utah
Exodus 14: The Israelites walked right through the middle of the sea on dry ground.
The crossing of the Red Sea is a vivid, unforgettable event. We don’t need Charlton Heston and the magic of Hollywood to picture for us something spectacular happening. Moses lifts his staff over the waters and the wind begins to blow, splitting the sea. Then, after a night of waiting, the order is given to move out and over 600,000 people walk through that canyon of water, arriving safely on the other side. The rest of their lives they’ll remember that experience, and well they should. Big events, powerful evidences of God, don’t happen every day, although this generation of Israelites is going to see way more than the rest of us. I’ve never seen the sea part or anything else that could be labeled “spectacular.” However, I’ve experienced some personal encounters with the Lord that have shaped my life. No, I’m not going to write about them here…they’re my precious memories and not for public consumption. However, like those Israelites of old, I warmly remember them and they have defined my life. I don’t need to see daily miracles to keep on believing but I’m both thankful for and humbled by what I have seen and experienced.
Take Away: Our personal divine encounters may not be as spectacular as those in Scripture, but they define our lives.
Lost Maples State Park, TX – 2006
Did I do that?
Exodus 7: The magicians of Egypt did the same thing by their incantations.
Have you ever wondered about the “miracle contest” that takes place between Moses and the sorcerers of Egypt? Moses throws his staff on the floor and it turns into a snake. Pharaoh summons his sorcerers and they do the same thing. This scenario is repeated when the plagues begin and the water of the Nile is turned to blood and then in the plague of the frogs. It’s only in the third plague that the sorcerers are stymied when they can’t produce gnats by their incantations. I know the Source of Moses’ miracle working ability but how do the sorcerers do it? This is one of those situations in which the Bible makes no effort to answer our question. All we’re told is what happens in this contest; not how it happens. I’ve always been inclined to think that they do it by sleight of hand. After all, it appears that they’re given advance warning each time. I can picture it now: “Hey, there’s a guy down at the river that’s turning water into blood, how can we do that?” Some experienced old faker says he has just the thing and off they go to duplicate Moses’ miracle. However, I’ve just been thinking of another explanation. Maybe they’re the most amazed people present when their efforts produce a miracle. You see, the Lord says he’s going to harden Pharaoh’s heart. What better way to do that than, when he sees an obvious God-caused miracle take place, he sees his own sorcerers duplicate it? I’m not sure of this understanding of events, but I’d sure like to have seen their faces when their staff’s became snakes.
Take Away: We’d better trust God because sometimes we can’t believe what we see with our own eyes.
2014 – Mesa Verde National Park, CO – Shiprock in New Mexico
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.
2014 – Sumner Lake State Park, NM
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.”
2013 – Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania
Genesis 18: Sarah laughed within herself.
It’s been a long journey not only in distance but also emotionally and in time. When Abraham says he’s heard from God and that they’re to relocate Sarah’s likely both concerned and excited. The promise of bearing a son fills this barren woman with sweet anticipation. The journey has taken much longer than she ever thought it would. Twenty-five years have passed and the excitement and anticipation has given way to weariness and disappointment. Now Abraham has the nerve to tell her he’s heard from the Lord again and that the promised child will be born in about a year. She laughs and it isn’t the laughter of joy. Instead, we hear a hard, brittle laugh – laughing at the impossible. This, though, isn’t the last time we hear laughter from Sarah. A year later, we hear her laughing again and this time it’s the laughter of one who’s had a miracle of God happen in her life. This is such a happy occasion that the miracle baby is named “To Laugh” or “Isaac.” Here we see that God loves surprise endings, jokes with good punch lines. And his laughter is not silliness or useless. God loves to bring about happy endings. What laughter does he want to produce in my life today? As I trust him and cooperate with him, he’ll accomplish good things and bring a smile to my face.
Take away: The Lord delights in surprising us with good things.
Sometimes God answers right now!
Acts 12: The house was packed with praying friends.
Herod decides it’s time to put the followers of Jesus in their place. He murders one of them, James, brother of John. Then he arrests Peter, intending to publicly execute him. However, Herod has heard some of the stories of miracles and he well remembers how the body of Jesus somehow escaped the tomb so he assigns sixteen guards to the fisherman. Two are actually chained to him. Meanwhile, the Church prays like it’s never prayed before. God hears and sends an angel to rescue Peter from the jail and the clutches of wicked Herod. Poor servant Rhonda gets the laugh line every time this story is told. She gets so excited that their prayers are answered that she leaves Peter standing in the street. I’m sure she laughed about it herself in the years to come. When God answers prayer like that, in such a surprising and timely way, even the most faith filled prayer warrior might get a bit confused. I can just imagine years later as various people who were present at that prayer meeting gather with friends for prayer. Someone brings a seeming impossible request, maybe with a bit of defeat already mixed in. That’s when one of those prayer warriors from this passage speaks up. “Don’t count God out. Why, I remember a time when Peter was being guarded by sixteen soldiers….” Everyone already knows the story but no one wants it to stop. Answered prayers feed faith. We need to cherish some of the really good answers and draw strength from them. In fact, we need to use them to encourage those who need a “faith-lift” as they pray over some difficult situation.
Take Away: Answered prayers feed faith.
John 6: He said this to stretch Philip’s faith. He already knew what he was going to do.
Those living around the Sea of Galilee are going crazy for Jesus. They follow him from place to place and when he isn’t around he’s the topic of conversation. Jesus is a celebrity. When Jesus sets up shop on a grassy hillside near the lake, the crowd swells to thousands. It’s at this point that Jesus calls Philip over to ask him where they can buy food to feed this huge number of people. Philip, practical to the core, quickly does the math, responding to Jesus that even if there was a bakery nearby that there’s no way that they can buy enough bread for this crowd. In an aside, the gospel writer tells us that the Lord already has a plan and that they only reason he asks this question to Philip is for Philip’s own benefit. Philip, though, at least at first, misses the lesson altogether. He quickly estimates the size of the crowd, considers the cost of bread, and comes up with a figure of 200 silver pieces which, rather being enough to pay the cost of actually feeding the people, would at least give them a bite to eat before going home. Apparently, Philip is a fine bean counter. He’d probably have been a better choice for treasurer than Judas! Still, Jesus knows what he’s doing. He knows that Philip is a practical person and that he needs to learn to trust the Lord to meet needs beyond his resources. Know what? I think I’m Philip and maybe you are too. I’ve sat in church board meetings in which the first response to everything wasn’t “Do you think this is what the Lord wants us to do?” but, instead was, “Can we afford it?” Philip needed to have his faith stretched. We practical people do too.
Take Away: We need to be people of faith first.
Awe, Mom, not yet!
John 2: This isn’t my time. Don’t push me.
Jesus begins his public ministry, calling disciples and preparing for all that’s to come. However, there are also some family concerns. For one thing, there’s a wedding invitation for him and his new disciples. Apparently, the groom is a relative of Jesus and not only is Jesus there but so is his mother. The banquet is a big deal and when the wine starts to run low the groom and his family are in jeopardy of losing face because of it. It’s their job to provide the refreshments and to run out of wine is unthinkable. Mary, the mother of Jesus, realizes what’s going on and turns to her son, telling him to take care of it. Jesus declines to help, saying, “Mother, this really isn’t any of our business and I need to keep a low profile right now.” His response flows off his Jewish mother like water off a duck’s back. In fact, she doesn’t even respond to her Son. Instead, she looks to the nearby servants and says, “Do whatever he tells you to do.” With that, she walks off, returning to the wedding party. Jesus is, of course Lord: King of kings. He’s also his mother’s Son. If there’s a passage that illustrates the humanity of this God-man I think it’s this one. He’s not ready to start working miracles, but if that’s what his mom wants, well, he’ll do it for her. Aside from this being the inspiration for a Mother’s Day sermon that’s bound to get rave reviews from all the moms in attendance I don’t know what to do with this observation. Still, I think it adds a whole new dimension to the story.
Take Away: It’s important to remember the humanity of Jesus.
When Jesus shows mercy
Luke 18: Jesus! Son of David! Mercy, have mercy on me!
On the outskirts of Jericho a poor blind man spends his day listening for the sound of footsteps that he might beg for some loose change from some passing person. On this day, though, voices raised in excitement are drawing near and he begins shouting out the question, “What’s going on?” Finally, someone responds, “Its Jesus of Nazareth, the miracle worker. He and his disciples are coming this way.” The blind man begins shouting at the top of his voice, “Jesus! Son of David! Mercy, have mercy on me!” Several tell him to be quiet and the sound of the crowd nearly drowns him out anyway. He shouts all the louder, “Have mercy on me!” Then, a calm, authoritative voice is heard. Jesus is right there in front of him. “What do you want from me?” he asks. The blind man answers, “Master, I want to see again.” “Okay, do it,” Jesus replies. Light, color, and movement flood in as sight is restored. As I read this story, I’m the blind man. Life is empty, desperate, and hopeless. Then, Jesus passes by. In my own words, I shout out “Have mercy on me!” And he does. Thank you, Lord, for your light giving mercy in my life.
Take Away: Its mercy we need and its mercy we receive from the Lord.