Saturday, August 27, 2011

What's That in Your Hand?

1Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. 3Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” 4When the LORD saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” 5Then he said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” 6He said further, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God. 7Then the LORD said, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, 8and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. 9The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. 10So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.” 11But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” 12He said, “I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain.” 13But Moses said to God, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” 14God said to Moses, “I am who I am.”£ He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I am has sent me to you.’” 15God also said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘The LORD,£ the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you’: This is my name forever, and this my title for all generations. 16Go and assemble the elders of Israel, and say to them, ‘The LORD, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, has appeared to me, saying: I have given heed to you and to what has been done to you in Egypt. 17I declare that I will bring you up out of the misery of Egypt, to the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, a land flowing with milk and honey.’ 18They will listen to your voice; and you and the elders of Israel shall go to the king of Egypt and say to him, ‘The LORD, the God of the Hebrews, has met with us; let us now go a three days’ journey into the wilderness, so that we may sacrifice to the LORD our God.’ 19I know, however, that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless compelled by a mighty hand.£ 20So I will stretch out my hand and strike Egypt with all my wonders that I will perform in it; after that he will let you go. 21I will bring this people into such favor with the Egyptians that, when you go, you will not go empty-handed; 22each woman shall ask her neighbor and any woman living in the neighbor’s house for jewelry of silver and of gold, and clothing, and you shall put them on your sons and on your daughters; and so you shall plunder the Egyptians.” 1Then Moses answered, “But suppose they do not believe me or listen to me, but say, ‘The LORD did not appear to you.’” 2The LORD said to him, “What is that in your hand?” He said, “A staff.” 3And he said, “Throw it on the ground.” So he threw the staff on the ground, and it became a snake; and Moses drew back from it. 4Then the LORD said to Moses, “Reach out your hand, and seize it by the tail”—so he reached out his hand and grasped it, and it became a staff in his hand— 5“so that they may believe that the LORD, the God of their ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has appeared to you.”  
Criticism is a pretty common human event.  Most of us participate from time to time.  An elderly lady had taken a flight to visit her daughter.  The flight had been a little turbulent; it was nothing compared to the bumpy, rough landing.  When the plane mercifully came to a halt, passengers began deplaning.  The pilot was standing in the doorway as the little white-haired grandmother made her way to the exit.  Tell me, young man she asked, was that a landing, or did we get shot down?
Moses felt the sting of criticism throughout his leadership of the children of Israel.  Each time Moses went to visit Pharaoh to tell him to let the people go, Pharaoh made the conditions for the slaves worse.  Before they even left Egypt the people were unhappy.  When they finally got under way there was:
·       fear at the Red Sea,
·       complaints about the menu of manna, and
·        downright rebellion once they got to the mountain of God. 
Sometimes the life of a leader under scrutiny is less than a picnic.
Now, the whole idea of getting release from Egyptian bondage was so that God’s people could go in freedom and possess the Promised Land…so they could serve God. 
   I want to talk with you about accepting God’s will for your life.  Some folks are negative about God’s will; some are fearful, but the overwhelming evidence of the Bible is that God’s will is good for us.
5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. 6 In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.            Proverbs 3:5 - 6 (NRSV)
For us, the question is never, should I do God’s will, or is God’s will good…the real question is, how can I KNOW God’s will! 
To help us with this I want to share with you three MUSTS in knowing the will of God, so that we can be people who not only hear the Word of God, but people who do the Word and (therefore) the will of God.
Must #1.  Desire to Understand
Moses knew he would never understand anything about following God if he chose to be uninformed about God.  Today we have the same choice.  To be informed about God means we must study God’s Word.  Moses had a burning bush, but that is not the way the Lord chooses to reveal Himself these days.
15Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth.   2 Timothy 2:15
That “word of truth” is the Bible, God’s Holy Word.  Many folks have said to me, I read, but I don’t understand.  One Bible promise I have come to love and appreciate – because I am a simple person who needs help – is that God is willing for me to understand His word:
5If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you. James 1:5(NRSV)
Allow me to sum up this desire to understand God’s will – if you really want to know God and begin to understand His leading for your life, you must spend time in His Word. 
Friends, to say that we believe the Bible, love the Bible and are willing to live by the Bible is nonsense if we do not take the time to study it.  To say we have a desire to understand His will for our lives, yet we do not undertake to study the Word which should govern our lives is not being totally honest.  Genuine desire to live for Jesus is worked-out by people who dig deep in the rich soil of God’s truth!  Must #1 is a desire to understand His will.
Must #2.  Divine Encounter    
A divine encounter with God is something that is born of a willingness to cooperate with God’s word discovered.  Moses was eagerly seeking God, and God still calls people who are willing to listen and respond. 
Moses found himself on holy ground.  I believe that people who are willing for a divine encounter can still experience holy ground, because God reveals who He is to us on holy ground!
Where is this holy ground?  I heard one speaker put it this way:  Holy ground is whenever you're in agreement with the Lordship of Christ.[1] 
   Now, there is a lot of truth to be gotten from God’s Word when you’re standing on holy ground.  You can’t do it all in one day, or even in a lifetime.  God never intended for you to settle everything.  Often He begins leading you in one direction, and then reveals more of His plans which take you in a slightly different direction.  The key to following the Lord’s will is to stay close to the source, and be willing for the changes in direction.
   How are we to be willing?  With the desire to understand there often comes a divine encounter, which leads to:
Daring Beginnings
   One of the most dreaded (and often despised) words in the English language is “change”.  People don’t like it. 
·  Adam and Eve didn’t like the new arrangements when they had to leave the Garden of Eden. 
·  Peter didn’t want to hear the Lord Jesus say that there was going to be a cross and a tomb.
In the words of Moses, Change stinks!  Consider what happened when God told Moses that he was being sent back to the land of his birth – the land where he was wanted for murder – so he could tell Pharaoh to give up 3 million slaves – Pharaoh’s property, Pharaoh’s bread and butter.  If ever there was a daring beginning, this was it, and Moses looked around for some committee ruling to get out of it!
1Then Moses answered, “But suppose they do not believe me or listen to me, but say, ‘The LORD did not appear to you.’” 2The LORD said to him, “What is that in your hand?” He said, “A staff.” 3And he said, “Throw it on the ground.” So he threw the staff on the ground, and it became a snake; and Moses drew back from it. 4Then the LORD said to Moses, “Reach out your hand, and seize it by the tail”—so he reached out his hand and grasped it, and it became a staff in his hand— 5“so that they may believe that the LORD, the God of their ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has appeared to you.”Exodus 4:1-5 (KJV)
The significance of God’s provision for working out His will in the life of Moses cannot be over-stressed; the mission could not be denied.  Moses had more crises of belief down the road, but after earnestly seeking to understand God’s will, a divine encounter with the Word of God, and the doorway opened to a daring new beginning with God, Moses was never the same.
The question before the house today is no different – what’s that in your hand? 
·  Are you eager to understand the will of God for your life?  If not, perhaps the first order of business for you is to turn aside to see this marvelous bush that still burns today.  You don’t have to go to Mt. Horeb, the bush is a cross.  After two thousand years, the flame of salvation is still lit.  The resurrection is God speaking to our hearts saying, come, all of you that are weary, burdened-down and at the end of your rope…this is my offer of rest for your soul.
·  Are you eager for a divine encounter…the offer still stands.
·  Are you eager for a daring new beginning? 
What’s that in your hand?  God has equipped you with the most unique qualities that He needs in His kingdom, starting with unique fingerprints, a gift of faith, and an offer to go along with you all the way through this life. 
What’s that in your hand?  It is His offer of grace…Just say yes!
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen!

[1] Jeanette Clift George, quoted at Pastor’s School, Billy Graham Crusade, Orlando, Fl, 1983

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Satan or Saint?

Peter is the consummate enigma.  There is ever the "good news - bad news" air about him.  He was the great apostle, making the declaration, "Thou art the Christ;" He was the wimp in Pilate's yard, denying he'd ever seen Jesus.  Peter thundered on Pentecost day, seeing thousands added to the church; he trembled with fear over his reputation when the delegation from Jerusalem found out he'd been eating with Gentiles.         
Why such a roller-coaster spiritual ride?  It's hard to say, except for the two side-observations on this text:
A.  Jesus called Peter "son of Jonah."  His father may not have been named Jonah, but rather Jesus is playing on the name, unmasking the character of Peter.  Just like Jonah, Peter was to have a career of incredible failures and mountaintops.
B.  Peter became the spokesman for the disciples.  His leadership was not attributed to brains, but heart!  Jesus declared that Peter had a heart in tune with God (16:17).  The other apostles observed what others thought about Jesus (cp 16:14)...but Jesus needed a leader who wasn't a follower when it counted most.
This text displays great spirituality, human dullness, and God's mercy...all in the same lovable, bumbling and magnificent apostle, Peter. 
The aspect of this incident that makes it so very relevant for you and me is that we see ourselves in the humanity of Peter.  We see:
Saint Peter - In touch
13Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”  14And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”  15He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”  16Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”  17And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah!  For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.  18And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.  19I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”  20Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.  
Jesus searched the hearts of the disciples.  They gave Him an answer (v.14).  But Jesus probed deeper, "Who do YOU say I am?"  It didn't take Peter long to make his announcement.  Although this was not the first time the subject of Jesus' divinity had come up, this response was the most definitive.  Peter said, "YOU are THE Christ, THE SON of THE living God."
The great debate of verse 18 has always been - Did Jesus mean Peter would be the foundation of the church?  In at least one way, YES!  Peter was the first one to make his profession of faith.  Old Simon was the charter member of Jesus' church.  It was his leap of faith that opened the books, and Jesus laid some pretty heavy responsibility on Peter to be the leader of the early church (16:19). 
More accurately Jesus was not referring to Peter’s character as the foundation for the church; that character was fickle or short-sighted at best!  Rather, Jesus was referring to Peter’s confession – the truth that Jesus was indeed Messiah – THAT would be the bedrock upon which the church would be built and stand!
Having a heart in tune with God provided the power that the early church needed to turn the world upside-down.  Jesus said (16:18) that the gates of hell would not prevail.  Gates keep things out or in....Jesus was saying, "I'm going to preach to the captives in Hell - those gates can't keep me out...But in three days, those gates aren't going to keep me in either!"  Beloved, if the gates of Hell can't keep Jesus penned-in, they're not going to hold the church either...Jesus said so!
Now, Peter wasn't always a saint, sometimes he came "crossways" with Jesus' plan, and he was:
Satan Peter the Adversary
21From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.  22And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord!  This must never happen to you.”  23But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!  You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”  
The name "Satan" literally means "the adversary."  Peter spoke from the heart, but sometimes the Lord just wants us to sit, and listen to Him, and keep our mouths shut.  That was never Peter's strong suit.  Jesus said, "I'm going to be killed, and then raised."  Peter reacted; Jesus rebuked him. 
There's an interesting lesson in this exchange.  Peter was interested in keeping Jesus healthy.  He'd left a fishing business and family behind to stake it all on following this carpenter from Galilee.  It just didn't sound like a good thing for the leader to die.  What would happen to the movement then?  What Jesus said to Peter unmasked the fact that Peter was more interested in his own agenda, and what would happen to him, than following Jesus.  Hence the lesson: 
When we leave revealed heavenly truth for the comfort of human reasoning, we become a stumbling block for the kingdom.
You and I do it all the time.  We pray, "God, I don't like this thing that is happening to me.  Change it."  Like Peter, we tend to instruct God rather than listen for the instructions He is trying to give.  Sometimes we just need to hush-up!
There is redemption in this however.  Jesus said to Peter, "Get behind."  Like Peter, we need to learn the lesson that Satan has always tried to push God towards HIS plan/agenda.  God has always said, "No…following is done from behind; I do the leading here." 
We have a choice in the church.  When we are demanding our rights, our way, our plan, we are not following, we're out front.  Jesus said to Peter, "Get behind, get in line; I will lead, you follow."  If we follow as God's children, God will bless.  When we insist on our own ways we often pay the price - lost spiritual power - lost blessings.
We've seen the great spirituality of Peter, as well as his spiritual dullness, but note the mercy of God as Jesus shares the great principle of following...
Changing devils into saints
24Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  25For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.  26For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life?  Or what will they give in return for their life?  27“For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done.  28Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”
One of the principles of the kingdom is that everything works the opposite of the way the world sees things.  If you want to be first, serve.  If you want life, die to self.  If you wish to receive, give. 
Peter had made an important connection with heaven in recognizing the divinity of Jesus.  He'd made the incredible blunder of thinking he would change Jesus' mind about the cross.  Now Jesus laid-out for them the one consistent demand of discipleship:
There is no such thing as serving two masters.  If you will be a follower of Jesus, you must give up your own life.
The disciples knew what Jesus was saying.  Twenty years before there was a rebellion against Roman authority in a little town called Sepphoris.  It was only about 4 miles from where Jesus lived.  A man named Varus, a farmer of Galilee, organized the farmers of the area into a rebellion army.  They attacked and killed all the Roman soldiers of the garrison at Sepphoris.  Rome sent in the armies, and disbursed the armies of Varus, about 10,000 men.  Most of them went back to farming.  But the Romans captured about 2,000 of them. 
The historian, Josephus, records that they were going to teach the rebels of Galilee a lesson not to be rebels.  They took them, one by one, along the road out of Sepphoris, and crucified them.  They would put one on a cross, and then walk down the road until almost out of sight, and then crucify another.  They went in every direction out of Sepphoris, all over Galilee, until they had each of the 2,000 rebels on crosses. 
As you walked the roads of Galilee you were never out of sight of a crucified rebel.  None were allowed to be taken down.  They were to rot there on the crosses.  If anyone took one down, another Galilean citizen would take his place.  Jesus was about 10 years old when this happened.  He knew the cost of carrying crosses and still He says it to you and me today:
“If any want to become my followers,
let them deny themselves
and take up their cross and follow me…”
What does it take to change an adversary to a saint?  Everything you've got.  Are you willing for this?  Are you really willing to step up and offer your life in exchange for His?  That's Jesus’ plan; that’s Jesus’ demand if you would be His follower.
He is coming back.  I pray that you have answered Jesus' question, a most personal question:  Who do YOU say that I am?  If you haven't, DON'T BE AFRAID...DO IT!              In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen!