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Exodus 24: Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it as the people listened. They said, “Everything God said, we’ll do. Yes, we’ll obey.”
Things are coming together for this nation of ex-slaves. They’ve been delivered from the bondage of Egypt, are receiving constant guidance from the Lord who is also providing their needs. Now the rules for living have been laid out. Soon, God, Himself, will write out the basics on tablets of stone. To their credit, the people are ready. They pledge themselves to obedience. Now, you and I know that this isn’t going to work out. God’s faithfulness to them will be contrasted by their failure to keep the Covenant. Still, God isn’t setting them up to fail. In this Covenant we see all the potential for success. Their failure in breaking the Covenant is what stops the plan from being a success. Hundreds of years later God will initiate another plan. You know it: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son….” Once again, and in an even more complete way, everything’s in place for success. And, once again God’s part is perfect. In fact, he’s even gone so far as to provide us the grace to make the same commitment they made. Now, Heaven awaits our response to the New Covenant.
Take Away: We have every reason in the world to live victorious, godly lives.
What an offer
Exodus 19: Everything God says, we will do.
The miracle at the Red Sea has provided a deliverance that will be remembered forever. However, what’s about to happen is intended to form these newly freed slaves into a people of God. They’re camped at the foot of Sinai and the Lord is stating his plan for them. If they’ll listen obediently to his words they’ll be a unique people on the face of the earth: a kingdom of priests who enjoy the blessings of the Almighty. The elders of Israel immediately respond that “everything God says, we will do.” I know that I’m standing at the beginning of what will be a long, failure-filled journey. They won’t even break camp at Sinai before there’s a massive spiritual failure. Still, if I stop looking ahead and simply consider this exchange, I’m impressed by what I see. First, The Lord’s making the wonderful, amazing promise of connecting their lives to his. They don’t deserve it but in an amazing act of grace the offer is made. Second, they say “yes.” Again, I know that many failures are coming, but in this time and place, when God offers them this unlikely partnership, they respond with just the right answer. In spite of the fact that I know things aren’t going to always work out as they should I also remember here that had they said, “No” the story would end here and now. In saying “yes” to God they open the door to an unprecedented relationship with him. To some extent, all human beings receive this same offer from the Lord. We can respond that we’re not worthy or that it’s too hard or that we’re likely to fail. Know what? He already knows all that. Still, the offer is there. When the Lord calls my name, I can respond no better than these ancient Israelites did: “Everything God says, we will do.”
Take Away: I can’t do better than saying the “big yes” to the Lord.
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.”
What God knows
Genesis 22: Now I know…
Jehovah gives Abraham the most difficult task possible. The old man is to follow the example of the pagans of the area and offer his son as a sacrifice. As unbelievable as it is Abraham never doubts that this is God’s command and acts in painful obedience. If the Lord doesn’t stop him when he does, well, we’d probably have another Old Testament resurrection story. It’s at this point that the Almighty says something that gives us an amazing insight into the attributes of God. Three words: “Now I know….” Those aren’t big words for me to say about myself – there are many “now I know” moments in my life. But for God to say it – wow! In these words I get a glimpse of what it means for God to have created human beings with genuinely free will. At the Creation he made us, at the same time, like himself and “other” than himself. At certain times and at some levels, even our Creator is unsure of what we’ll do. Understand this: God is never at a loss as to what to do in response to what we do. In this case, the Lord has a preferred action for Abraham and he comes through with flying colors. Still (and I know I can’t prove this) I’m convinced that the Lord has already considered what he will do and how he will do it if Abraham’s performance is somewhat less than stellar. In this case we have the very best result possible because Abraham fully cooperates with the Lord God.
Take away: Sometimes the best way to partner with God in what he’s doing in this world is to listen carefully to his voice and then act in obedience even if we don’t understand it all.
Genesis 12: God told Abram, “Leave your country, your family, and your father’s home for a land that I will show you.
When I was younger there was nothing I liked better than taking a trip and our young family often hopped in the car to go and see something new. Then, I ended up traveling for a living, sometimes being gone weeks at a time. That, for me, cured my wander-lust and when that period of my life ended I emotionally overcompensated and became a homebody for several years. These days, I’m back to traveling again, but I confess that I still like the comforts of home. I’ve come to realize that it’s possible to be too comfortable. Sometimes, God has things he wants to do in my life: transitions he wants to take me through. He has something better for me, yet I hesitate. “Lord, it isn’t all that bad right here – if it is all the same to you, I think I’ll just settle down here in this place of comfort.” It makes perfect sense to me – but to fail here is to miss something much better he has for me. When Abraham obeys the Lord in the call to begin a journey into the unknown, he’s about to leave the comfort of home and set out on a decades-long journey. There are going to be some big bumps in the road but the destination the Lord has in mind for him is going to make it all worthwhile. What’s true for this, the first Patriarch, is true for you and me too: God initiated trips are always worth taking.
Take away: Don’t get too comfortable and miss out on something better the Lord might have in store.
Fighting the right battle
Genesis 6: Noah did everything God commanded him to do.
We Christians sometimes rush out to fight the wrong battles. When I read the story of Noah and the flood I’m not supposed to come away with a scientific understanding of how the flood happened. I’m not supposed to whip out my calculator and try to figure out how many animals and provisions the ark would carry or study geology to prove there was really such a flood. Instead, I’m to see that God has a plan to redeem humanity and that he’ll go to whatever extreme is necessary to get that done. I’m also to appreciate Noah’s obedience in spite of the seeming unreasonableness of his task and his being alone in accomplishing it. Now, that isn’t to say this event is to be filed under the heading of “parable.” Just the details of the construction of the ark and the clear references to locale mark this as a historical event. The take away, though, isn’t my charging off to prove the story is true or sharpening my debate skills so I can conquer the “unbelievers” with stories of gopher wood on Mount Ararat. Instead, I’m to see God at work, redeeming humanity. I’m to be impressed at what the Lord can do with just one obedient person and be challenged to obedience in areas of my life that are beyond my understanding. Rather than fighting battles on the scientific front, a wiser use of my energy is to deal with the eternal spiritual issues of this event.
Take away: It’s easy to get caught up in battles and miss the main points.
The bottom line
1Thessalonians 5: If he said it, he’ll do it.
When Paul first preached the gospel at Thessalonica he made it quite clear to them that not only is Jesus coming back, but that they can be ready for that sure event. Both of these things are absolutely true, facts that can be taken to the bank. He also told them in no uncertain terms that the date of the Lord’s return is quite uncertain. No secret codes reveal the date. We’re sure he’s coming but we’re in the dark as to when. What’s left? In the words of Jesus, we must “be ready.” Paul reminds them of that as he closes this short letter. As I live my life in the Lord, trusting in him and cooperating with him, he makes me “holy and whole” and keeps me “fit for the coming of our Master, Jesus Christ.” The bottom line in any discussion concerning the Second Coming is that, while we don’t know when it will happen, we can be (and must be) ready for it. So I pay attention to the things that matter: prayer, cooperation with God, showing compassion, staying away from “anything tainted with evil.” I don’t know “when” but I’m reminded in this passage that I do know “how” to get ready and stay ready for Jesus to come back.
Take Away: The most important thing in life is being ready for the sure return of Jesus Christ.
Paying attention to the big deal of life
Ephesians 5: Observe how Christ loved us.
So what does a thoughtful, genuine Christian life look like? What examples are good ones for me to study and then apply to my life? Paul says the place to start is by looking upward. As a child of God I study his behavior, doing all I can to make true the proverb, “like Father like son.” If I want to see those attributes “with skin on them” I look to Jesus. Whatever I see in Jesus, I attempt to copy into my life. And what do I see? I see extravagant love. Out of love my Lord gives of himself without reservation. He doesn’t use God for his own purposes. Rather, he reflects the loving compassion of the Father in all he does. The Apostle says that I get chances to live like that. Opportunities to love selflessly come my way and I need to make the most of those opportunities. Some folks miss that boat and rather than filling their lives with Christ-like love they let other things dominate their lives. I understand the problem. Everyday a thousand voices cry out to me. Like carnival front men they invite me to try their game. If I’m not careful, I wander off into their diversion. Today, I’m reminded that love is the thing. When all is said and done in my life, the big deal will be love. Have I loved God with all my heart and soul and mind? Have I loved my neighbor as myself? This passage reminds me to “make the most out of every chance I get.”
Take Away: Love is the thing.
Wandering in the wilderness
Ephesians 2: You’re no longer wandering exiles.
We know the story of how under the leadership of Moses the children of Israel refuse to enter the Promised Land and end up wandering in the wilderness for 40 long years. In this passage, Paul describes the Gentiles as also wandering out in the wilderness, separated from God. Now, thanks to Jesus, the way into the Promised Land, the “kingdom of faith,” has been provided. Everyone is invited, both Jews and Gentiles, to make the crossing into that place of peace, at home with God. The reason, of course, that the children of Israel even make that long detour in the first place is that they didn’t trust God. Having rejected him, they turned away to the misery of the desert. For the Gentiles, the situation’s a bit different. Because of Jesus they’re experiencing their first opportunity to come to God and they’re taking full advantage of it, coming in by the thousands and tens of thousands. For those who respond, the wandering days are ended and the days of spiritual abundance have begun. On a personal level I’ve seen more than one respond to what Jesus has done. They’re rewarded with new, everlasting life for their decision. Sad to say, I’ve seen a few who have opted for the wilderness instead. Decisions have been made, priorities have been set, and they’ve followed the road out into the desert. Happily, God is the God of Second Chances. At some point, I hope and pray that they’ll find themselves once again at the point of decision. I sincerely pray that at that time their wandering days will end.
Take Away: Jesus provides us all the way to God.