Saturday, January 27, 2007

Move On!

After weeks, I am still musing in Exodus 14. This is the chapter in which the Israelites have begun their exodus from Egypt, but now find themselves hemmed in by the sea and the desert with Pharaoh's troops in hot pursuit. Of course, we all know that God miraculously delivers them in the end. I want to focus, however, on their initial response to this frightening situation in the hours before they see God move on their behalf.

In verse 8, the Bible tells us that at the beginning of their exodus the Israelites were "marching out boldly." Isn't this the way we always start out when God has spoken something new to us to do that requires an active faith response? We have a fresh word in our hearts, we're brimming with confidence and faith that God is in control, and we march out boldly. It often seems there's a divine ease in beginning, at least once we overcome the initial inertia that plagues many of us.

That's before we hit the wall. Israel hit a wall. Verses 10-12 describe their response to the very LARGE wall that they hit.

As pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians marching after them. They were terrified and cried out to the Lord. They said to Moses, "Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? Didn't we say to you in Egypt, 'Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians'? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!"
One look at the sea before and Pharaoh's armies behind was all it took for them to go from "bold" to "terrified." Suddenly Pharaoh looked big and God looked small. In that moment, a life of servitude under the status quo seemed infinitely preferable to, well, certain death. But this very point is where the rubber of adversity meets the road of faith. The Israelites had forgotten one thing: they forgot Whom they were serving and Who had led them by His own sublime, divine design to this perfect place of impossibility. Their problem wasn't the sea and the Egyptians at all, because God had their back on that situation. Their problem was their fear and reticence to leave the safe familiar for the scary unknown.

How much easier it is to stay in the place, at the level, with the things we are familiar with than it is to strike out into the great unknown of pursuing our dreams and destinies! Many of us have been in a season for some time when we have faced our own walls, our own Red Sea and pursuing Egyptians. It has been very difficult, not only to see the way forward, but even more so to see that the benefits of moving forward will outweigh the cost. If we remain in "Egypt", we can stick with familiar challenges that we have figured out how to deal with. There we can continue as we always have, with neither too much cost, nor too much benefit. In other words, we can simply maintain the status quo. This is what the Israelites wanted to do.

Yet, throughout God's church He has been speaking that this is a season to strike out boldly and pursue dreams and destinies. Most of you have sensed this in your own hearts. He has repeatedly given His assurance that if we will strike out, there will be provision and fulfillment and fruit IN THIS SEASON, not in some distant and undefined future, as it has seemed in the past. I see God's grace and blessing and provision like those nets full of balloons they often have at conferences or arena-sized celebrations. God's net is loaded with balloons of blessing, ready to drop. He's just waiting for someone to pull the string of faith to release them on us.

Pulling the string requires us to trust God like never before and to "march out boldly" in the direction of our dreams. But it doesn't follow that this is a hard thing. In the past season it may have seemed hard. No, it WAS hard. Now, however, God is so eager to meet us in this divinely ordained time that we needn't fear stepping out of our Egyptian comfort zones into the Great Unknown. The Promised Land is there waiting for us. And when we arrive, it will be so worth every step of faith we have taken in the dark, however small or tentative, every tear we have cried, every wall we have scaled and every prayer we have uttered. Soon we will sing along with the Israelites:

"I will sing to the Lord,
for he is highly exalted.
The horse and its rider
he has hurled into the sea.
The Lord is my strength and my song;
he has become my salvation."

In fact, for a great time of worship, go ahead and dance and sing the whole Song of Moses in Exodus 15. We might as well get in practice. Let's move on!

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Where's the Cloud?

I'm still gleaning juicy tidbits from Exodus 14. Just found a very encouraging morsel about God's constant guidance and protection--even when we can't see Him.

But back up for a moment to the end of Exodus 13. The Israelites have just begun their exodus from Egypt, and God has provided them a means of guidance in their journey. In verses 21 and 22 it says:
By day the Lord went ahead of them by a pillar of cloud to guide them on
their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they
could travel by day or night. Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the
pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people.

Great. But then they notice that the Egyptian armies are coming after them. Since they are trapped at the edge of the Red Sea, they panic and start accusing Moses of bringing them out into the wilderness to die. They think its all over. But that's when God instructs Moses to raise his staff over the sea and says he will part the sea for them to cross over. Then something interesting happens that I've not noticed before.

In verse 19-20, it says:

Then the angel of God, who had been traveling in front of Israel's army,
withdrew and went behind them. The pillar of cloud also moved from in
and stood behind them. . . .

Put yourself in the Israelites' position at this point, especially those at the front of the crowd where the cloud had been. The Egyptians are closing in quickly, there's nothing but sea in front of you, and now your promised means of guidance has left, right when you needed it most. Many of them must have felt at first that God had abandoned them. Can you imagine their despair? (Judging from their initial response when they first saw the Egyptians, I'm not sure they were moving in a whole lot of faith that God would come through for them.)

As usual, however, God had method in His apparent madness. Verse 20 explains. It tells us that He moved to the rear in order to place Himself (in the cloud) between the armies of Egypt and Israel, and that throughout that night, the cloud brought darkness to the one side and light to the other side so that neither came near each other all night long. In reality, what they probably saw as God's abandonment was actually His sure defense. He placed Himself as a buffer between them and their deadly enemies, simultaneously making the way dark for those enemies, but giving light to His people in the midst of their ordeal.

How many times in our own lives, in those dark nights of the soul or simply in perplexing circumstances, has it seemed that God was nowhere in sight and strangly silent? And how tempting it is during those times to listen to the whisper of the enemy telling us that we have been abandoned in our need.

Oh, no. It is during those times that God is our greatest champion. It is at those times that He stands between us and our enemies, protecting us from all harm and giving us light while confounding them in darkness, and preparing us for a great victory.

All that night, the Lord sent a strong wind that pushed the sea back, making a dry highway for the Israelites to cross over. Throughout that very dark night, God was preparing their path of escape and ultimate victory. That same path proved the way of utter destruction to their enemies. Darkness to the one, light to the other.

Thank God for these wonderful illustrations of his ways. The pillar of cloud moved from where the Israelites thought it was suppposed to be. But in so doing, it provided protection from their enemies until God completely delivered them--and completely destroyed that enemy forever. We can trust Him in the dark times when we can't see or feel him to do the same for us.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Trapped with No Hope for Escape is the Best Place to Be

I've been getting a lot out of Exodus 14 lately and want to write a few entries about it. This is the chapter where God splits the Red Sea for the Israelites exodus from Egypt.

At the beginning of the chapter, the Lord tells Moses to tell the people to "turn and camp before Pi Hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea, opposite Baal Zephon; you shall camp before the sea." It sounds like they had some forward momentum going, and then the Lord tells them to turn back and camp at this particular spot. This piqued my interest to see whether there was some spiritual meaning to the words Pi Hahiroth, Midgol and Baal Zephon.

From my brief research, it looks like these words are simply geographical locations. That was disappointing, until I realized the significance of that geographical position. At that particular place by the Red Sea, the Israelites were trapped. This fact was not lost on Pharaoh, who sent his armies out after them with a vengeance.

Why would God do something like this to His people when they were on their way to freedom in their Promised Land? Verse 4 has the answer: ". . .and I will gain honor over Pharaoh and over all his army, that the Egyptians may know that I am the Lord." His purpose was to display His glory as God, and in the process, completely destroy Israel's enemies. It doesn't get any better than that.

Of course, the Israelites didn't know this and weren't exactly full of faith at this point. All they could see was Pharaoh's chariots closing in on them, and they were scared to death. They thought they were going to die. Incidentally, they were REALLY mad at Moses for getting them into this mess, too--a good topic for another post. For now, it's important to note that, although they were terrified and in a real pickle, their situation was by God's design. Not for one moment was God surprised, nor was anything out of control. He had set them up in a perfect place to receive a spectacular miracle from His hand, to His glory and their own eternal benefit.

Verse 13 reports Moses telling the people, "Do not be afraid. Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which He will accomplish for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall see again no more forever [emphasis added]." If they had not been trapped as they were and had had even the smallest way out on their own, perhaps by running from the Egyptians, they would have taken it, and missed their miracle. And they would forever after have had to look over their shoulders to see if Egypt was in pursuit. As it happened, God was able not only to get the Israelites out through the Red Sea, but He completely destroyed the enemy armies in the process. The Egyptians were not going to pop up again later. They were gone forever, never to be a concern for Israel again. This is God's way.

When we read this story, knowing the end in advance, it's easy to be critical and wonder why the Israelites didn't trust God and got in such a panic. But how often do we do the same thing in our own life situations, when our view is blocked by our own God-designed traps? God help us to see Him in the trap, and to rejoice in trust, knowing our miracle is about to happen. And may He get all the glory.

Monday, January 01, 2007

January 1, 2007 - Happy New Year!

The first day of a new year seems like the perfect time to begin blogging, so here I go. Might as well start with some reflections on the old and new years.

I can't pretend that I am sorry to see the old year go. I think of it as a "bad year." In reality, 2006 was just like life in microcosm--great highs and great lows, punctuated by a lot of nondescript times. So although I'm not sentimental about its passing, I am certainly grateful to God for the good things of 2006, and for the growth that the good and the bad produced in my life.

When I look forward into 2007, I see challenges. Some of these will be thrust upon us by by life and world events, some offered to us by God to accept or reject.

In regard to this first type, I enter the new year with a subtle and unusual sense foreboding regarding events on the world stage. I have a strong sense of history, and usually look at trouble in the world with the attitude that the world has survived many crises and that "this, too, shall pass." But this year, I just sense that we may see some natural and/or geo-political troubles of an in-your-face nature that will shake us and force us to deal with them very directly. Right now, most Americans seem to be in denial about the threats we face from radical Islam, for example. More on that later. Suffice it to say that we need a wake-up call, and I pray that it our dullness won't necessitate another 9/11, or worse, to make us see reality. I just feel that we need to, as the Bible says, be sober, vigilant and gird our minds for action in the year ahead.

That brings me to the second type of challenge mentioned above, the one put to us by God. For weeks now, I've been feeling strongly that God wants to pour out on his people fresh grace and favor for three things in particular: physical healing; financial and material provision for the things he's called us to do, individually and as the church; and overcoming spiritual, mental, and material obstacles to achieving those things that we know we are called to do, but haven't been able to do in the past. This applies to both life accomplishments and character deficiencies and sin patterns. The challenge lies in whether we will take what He is offering to us. It's as if He is saying, "If you will just put your toe in the water in faith, I will part the waters of your Red Sea, and you will pass through it with ease." This may sound cliche, but it's a fresh thing, in which the proverbial "faith as a grain of mustard seed" will truly move the mountains in our lives, our churches, and even our nation. God not only will respond to our faith, He is eager respond to our faith in a big way. He's not asking for much, just faith evidenced by a small step in the direction of our dreams and toward engagement of our foes.

So if we meet the scary and difficult challenges that the world thrusts upon us by taking up the wonderful challenge that God is offering us, 2007 has the potential to be our finest hour. God is giving us a special window of opportunity to overcome with a divine ease, by grace through faith, our personal demons and gain forward momentum toward our God-given goals, as individuals and as the church. For our nation and its difficulties, this is a chance for the church to carry a torch of faith, courage and resolve for our fellow citizens and the world to follow. As the old hymn says, "Let courage rise with danger."

Am I looking forward to 2007? Absolutely. It may not be our easiest year ever, but it can certainly be our most glorious. How wonderful it will be, on January 1, 2008, to look back and thank God for all He has done in and through us, and to lay our victories at His feet.

Places to See