Move On

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Tell the Israelites to turn back and encamp near Pi Hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea. They are to encamp by the sea, directly opposite Baal Zephon. Pharaoh will think, ‘The Israelites are wandering around the land in confusion, hemmed in by the desert.’ And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them. But I will gain glory for myself through Pharaoh and all his army, and the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord.” So the Israelites did this.

When the king of Egypt was told that the people had fled, Pharaoh and his officials changed their minds about them and said, “What have we done? We have let the Israelites go and have lost their services!” So he had his chariot made ready and took his army with him. He took six hundred of the best chariots, along with all the other chariots of Egypt, with officers over all of them. The Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt, so that he pursued the Israelites, who were marching out boldly. The Egyptians—all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots, horsemen and troops—pursued the Israelites and overtook them as they camped by the sea near Pi Hahiroth, opposite Baal Zephon.

10 As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them. They were terrified and cried out to the Lord. 11 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? 12 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!”

13 Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. 14 The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”

15 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on.

Exodus 14:1-15 (NIV)

Back in the day when almost every house had a phonograph of some form, it was common for records to skip or get stuck in an endless loop. The cause could be food or drink being spilled on the record, or a scratch forming due to the record player being bumped while playing, or possibly a particle being in the grooves of the record. When these times would arise, there were a few options available to the listener. You could gently nudge the phonograph or the arm holding the needle. You could remove the record and gently clean it. Or you could purchase a repair kit and attempt to fix the issue. A person had to do something because losing part of a song or being caught in an endless loop was not acceptable.

As the Israelites journeyed from Egypt to the new land which God had promised them, they quickly got caught in an endless loop of fear and complaining. The portion of their journey which we find in Exodus today presents one of those times of fear and complaining. After leaving Egypt, God instructs Moses where the people are to encamp. God says that Pharoah will pursue them. Pharoah and the officials change their minds about letting the Israelites go so they pursue them. The Israelites shout out in terror as they see Pharoah and his army approaching. They complain about  being led out of Egypt. Moses assures the people that God will protect them. God has Moses tell the people to stop crying out and move on.

There are times in our lives when God needs to deliver to us the message given to Moses to deliver to the Israelites. We can become like the Israelites, caught up in a loop of fear and complaining. We need to be told to just move on. Continually crying out for relief does not always lead to improving our situation. Instead, moving forward can alter our circumstances enough to provide new opportunity and new hope. Thank goodness we have a God who is eager to lead us out of our ruts. Thank goodness we have a God who will send someone to bump us out of an endless cycle of fear and complaining.

Released

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

Romans 8:1-4 (NIV)

The amazing work of the organizations which rescue and rehabilitate animals is something to be celebrated. When a television show broadcasts stories including the moments one of these animals are released back into their natural habitats, it is heartwarming to watch. As an observer, a person can only imagine the sense of freedom and exhilaration the animal must experience at the moment of release.

The passage from the letter to the Roman believers speaks of being released. This release comes through the actions of Jesus Christ. Christ releases us from the law of the flesh, the law which we who are flesh could not fulfill was fulfilled when the Son became flesh and offered himself for all sin. This law of the flesh is fully met in the flesh of Christ. We are released from any condemnation and placed within the law of the Spirit. We are set free from the law of sin and death. We now live according to the Spirit.

Having the truth in this passage revealed to us should cause a feeling of freedom and exhilaration within us. Like the rescued and rehabilitated animals mentioned above, we have been given a new lease on life. The fear of being condemned had been removed. What has held us and created a deadly situation for us was destroyed by Christ. Let us live our life in the Spirit, free from the power of sin and death.

He Is Alive

We are over halfway through the Easter Season as we celebrate the 4th Sunday of Easter. Today I invite you to consider what it may have felt like to be one of Jesus’s disciples on that Easter morning. After all which they had witnessed, many had scattered. A small group had sheltered and hidden in fear of being rounded up for a similar fate as Jesus experienced. Today’s song carries us inside one of the hiding places early in the morning after the sabbath. 

What would have been your fear?

How would you have responded to Mary’s story?

When you saw Jesus, what would your thoughts have been?

What causes you to fear about being known as a Christ follower?

Faith on the Water

35 That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” 36 Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. 37 A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. 38 Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”

39 He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.

40 He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

41 They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”

Mark 4:35-41 (NIV)

One spring day when I was in college, a friend invited me  to join him on a sailboat which students could check out from our college’s recreation department. I had never been on a sailboat before but thought it would be fun to be on the lake. After getting the boat from the recreation shed, we carried it to the lake and proceeded to get out on the water. The sun was shining and there was a gentle breeze. I followed my friend’s instructions as we tacked and jibed across the lake. We were in the middle portion of the lake when the breeze died. Since it was a beautiful afternoon, we decided to just float until the breeze returned. Then we noticed some dark clouds moving towards the lake from the west. Having no oars with us and being a few thousand feet from any shore, even farther from where we began, I started becoming worried. My friend assured me that the wind would return before the storm moved in and we would get back. Short bursts of wind allowed us to move some but still did not get us close to shore. My friend now became concerned and we began to paddle with our hands. The storm was approaching as we paddled. Right before the rain began, we made it close enough to shore to get out of the boat. We tugged it along by rope until we reached the college. I learned what it is like to be on the lake with an approaching storm.

We hear of a storm when the disciples and Jesus are in a boat on the Sea of Galilee in today’s passage. The disciples became fearful as the waves and wind increased. Jesus is not concerned as he sleeps in the boat. The disciples wake Jesus who promptly commands the storm to calm. Then he asks the disciples why their faith did not alleviate their fear. They were amazed by his power.

Having faith in my friend’s sailing ability led me to go out in the boat with him. My trust in his abilities waivered as the storm approached while we stranded one the lake. It is easy for us to have faith when everything is going well and as planned. Our faith can waiver though when an impending storm comes into our lives. We can question the Lord’s ability to keep us safe. During such times it is important for us to recall the many times we have been kept safe by the power of our Lord. Remembering these times will assist us in strengthening our faith. The Lord truly does have the ability to keep us safe in the storm.

Anticipated City

22 I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. 23 The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. 24 The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. 25 On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. 26 The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it. 27 Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

Revelation 21:22-27 (NIV)

Traveling is an enjoyable pastime of mine. I enjoy going to new cities and locations. Exploring a city where I have not previously been is exciting. There have been many times.in which I have discovered amazing aspects unknown to me. Also, since I enjoy history, I am happy when I encounter historical sites and/or learn the history of the location. Anticipating a trip, and what I may discover, fills me with great joy.

Today in our passage, we are given a glimpse of the anticipated Holy City. In John’s vision, he tells us about the city. This city has the Lord as its temple and light. The gates are never shut because there is nothing to fear. People of the nations will bring the honor and glory of the earth into the city. No one, on nothing, deemed impure by the Lord will be allowed into the city. This is John’s vision, not because he has been there but through the power of the Spirit he has been able to see this anticipated city.

Like John did so many years ago, we anticipate our arrival to the Holy City. We desire a place where fear does not exist any longer. Fear is banished because the Lord is the light which dispels the dark aspects of life that cause fear. We expect such glory and honor to be present that we anticipate being prompted to worship and praise the Lord. Nothing will hinder our entrance into this great city where the welcome sign is always on. This is a trip which I eagerly await, why not accompany me.

Shelter

The Lord is my light and my salvation—
    whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life—
    of whom shall I be afraid?

When the wicked advance against me
    to devour me,
it is my enemies and my foes
    who will stumble and fall.
Though an army besiege me,
    my heart will not fear;
though war break out against me,
    even then I will be confident.

One thing I ask from the Lord,
    this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
    all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the Lord
    and to seek him in his temple.
For in the day of trouble
    he will keep me safe in his dwelling;
he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent
    and set me high upon a rock.

Then my head will be exalted
    above the enemies who surround me;
at his sacred tent I will sacrifice with shouts of joy;
    I will sing and make music to the Lord.

Hear my voice when I call, Lord;
    be merciful to me and answer me.
My heart says of you, “Seek his face!”
    Your face, Lord, I will seek.
Do not hide your face from me,
    do not turn your servant away in anger;
    you have been my helper.
Do not reject me or forsake me,
    God my Savior.
10 Though my father and mother forsake me,
    the Lord will receive me.
11 Teach me your way, Lord;
    lead me in a straight path
    because of my oppressors.
12 Do not turn me over to the desire of my foes,
    for false witnesses rise up against me,
    spouting malicious accusations.

13 I remain confident of this:
    I will see the goodness of the Lord
    in the land of the living.
14 Wait for the Lord;
    be strong and take heart
    and wait for the Lord.

Psalm 27 (NIV)

The winter months remind us how fortunate we are to have houses in which we live. The winds and elements can be brutal this time of year. Our houses provide protection from whatever the weather may be like, not only in winter but throughout the entire year. The house in which we dwell also offers a sense of safety for us. We have less to fear from those who wish to do us physical harm or attempt to steal our belongings when we are secure inside our house. For those who do not have a house, they are susceptible to the ravishing weather extremes or those who would bring harm upon them. Fear is a constant part of their lives.

The psalm for today speaks of the protection which is found in the Lord. In reading this psalm, one can understand the desire and request made in verse 4, a request to live in the shelter (house) of the Lord throughout life. The reason for such a request is the knowledge that with the Lord is protection. Being with the Land also presents the opportunity to learn the correct way to live and remain safe.

The house, apartment, condominium in which we dwell provides protection for our physical selves. Living in the shelter of the Lord provides protection for our spiritual being. Like the psalmist we are led to give thanks and have confidence in what the Lord  has provided for us both physically and spiritually. We must also be mindful of those who, for whatever reasons, do not have access to these two forms of shelter. Wherever, and however, we maybbe able to increase access, our mission should be to make it so.

Be grateful for the shelter of the Lord and work to increase access for all people.

Shocking News

26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called[a] the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37 For no word from God will ever fail.”

38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.

Luke 1:26-38 (NIV)

With the introduction of streaming news sources, experts tell us that we are becoming numb in regard to news which would have shocked us in the past. There is no longer a barrier to obtaining all types of news. We hear of violence and disaster from every corner of the world in very visual and graphic detail. This has even entered mainstream television shows such as all the CSI series, the FBI drama shows, and case file shows like Dateline or 20/20. The bizarre and brutal seems commonplace to many of us. Being shocked by news of the world around us is now a rare occurrence. The only time when we are shocked and tempted to call something impossible is when it seems to not fit our scientific and world understanding.

At the time in which Mary and Joseph from the Bible would have existed there was more of a shock factor. Their shock factor was different than ours because it was not based on scientific knowledge but on observation. They understood their world based on what they had observed. Spiritual understanding and acceptance was more common then than in our time period. Aspects which they observed but could not explain often were credited to God’s work, or in other cultures the work of many gods. Even with this acceptance though, Gabriel’s words to Mary were initially shocking. The angel announced to her that she would conceive a baby, not just any baby but the Son of God. The English word used in Mary’s initial response may be misleading. Mary asks Gabriel how this can be since she is still a “virgin.” When we hear the word today, we associate it with not having sexual intercourse yet in a person’s life. However, the Greek word translated here can mean “young woman”. Either understanding still lends itself to seeing that Mary was shocked by Gabriel’s news. If the second translation is preferred, the shock may be caused by Mary’s view that she was too young and immature to be the mother of the Son of God. This was going to be a huge responsibility which she may have felt was more than she was prepared to assume. Though initially shocked, she accepts this duty as a servant of God.

When the Lord calls on us to do something, the news may be shocking. We easily can come up with many reasons why we are the wrong candidate, just like Moses did (see Exodus 3). The responsibility can seem to us to be too great for our abilities. We may not see how whatever God’s request could ever work out. Fear and a sense of inadequacy may lead us to attempt to decline. But we need to remember Mary’s story. Remember the promise that “the Holy Spirit will come upon (us) and the power of the Most High will overshadow (us).” We must recall Gabriel’s words, “no word from God will fail.” Then, like Mary, we should respond as the Lord’s servant, “May your word to me be fulfilled.”

Stand Firm

When Ahaz son of Jotham, the son of Uzziah, was king of Judah, King Rezin of Aram and Pekah son of Remaliah king of Israel marched up to fight against Jerusalem, but they could not overpower it.

Now the house of David was told, “Aram has allied itself with Ephraim”; so the hearts of Ahaz and his people were shaken, as the trees of the forest are shaken by the wind.

Then the Lord said to Isaiah, “Go out, you and your son Shear-Jashub, to meet Ahaz at the end of the aqueduct of the Upper Pool, on the road to the Launderer’s Field. Say to him, ‘Be careful, keep calm and don’t be afraid. Do not lose heart because of these two smoldering stubs of firewood—because of the fierce anger of Rezin and Aram and of the son of Remaliah. Aram, Ephraim and Remaliah’s son have plotted your ruin, saying, “Let us invade Judah; let us tear it apart and divide it among ourselves, and make the son of Tabeel king over it.” Yet this is what the Sovereign Lord says:

“‘It will not take place,
    it will not happen,
for the head of Aram is Damascus,
    and the head of Damascus is only Rezin.
Within sixty-five years
    Ephraim will be too shattered to be a people.
The head of Ephraim is Samaria,
    and the head of Samaria is only Remaliah’s son.
If you do not stand firm in your faith,
    you will not stand at all.’”

Isaiah 7:1-9 (NIV)

Life can bring some challenges which appear extremely overwhelming. We can look at a big challenge with great fear. A sense that we are going to be unable to overcome this challenge can overtake us. When these types of challenges confront us, we may choose to flee from it rather than stand our ground. In some situations retreat is the wise survival choice. At other times, we are called to stand firm and push our way through the challenge.

Our passage from Isaiah presents a challenger for the king and people of Israel. They learn that King Rezin and Pekah are planning to attack them. Naturally, fear quickly overcomes King Ahaz and the Israelites. God sends Isaiah and his son to tell Ahaz to not be afraid. Isaiah tells the king to remain firm in his faith because the Lord will not allow them to be successfully attacked.

Isaiah’s message is good for us when we may feel attacked or are facing a difficult challenge. Encouragement to remain standing in our faith can assist us in overcoming our fear. Knowing that we have a Lord who will overcome whatever we face provides strength during a challenging time. While the outcome of each battle may not appear successful to us, the final outcome will be successful because the Lord is in control. So stand firm in your faith during life’s challenges for the Lord has already made you victor in the most important battle.

Afterlife Truth

13 Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. 14 For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. 15 According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 (NIV)

I have had the privilege to assist families and friends when someone who they are close to has died. I call it a privilege because being with individuals at such an intimate time is not something everybody gets to do. When you work with people who are grieving the death of an individual, you often see their raw emotions. A person in my position would usually get a good indication how someone perceives death, resurrection and the afterlife. Grief is a very individualistic emotion and never the same twice. Those who trust in the Lord’s promise of the resurrection and an afterlife in God’s presence grieve but you also notice a sense of hope in their response to death.

Paul writes to the believers in Thessaloniki regarding resurrection, ascension and hope. He states that he wants them to understand the truth of the resurrection so they can grieve with hope. Paul tells these believers that when the Lord shouts the command, there will be a voice of an archangel and the sound of God’s trumpet call. At this time those who have died will be resurrected and join the Lord. Then those still living will also join the Lord. Living and dead will be united in the presence of the Lord. This assurance brings hope and not fear.

There are limited details in Scripture regarding our death and resurrection. We tend to fear what we do not know or understand. However, if we listen to the promises of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels, we know that our earthly life is not the only life. Death is not an ultimate ending, we continue. God has provided a way that when our earthly life ends, we begin our spiritual life fully in God’s presence. Paul speaks of the day when our earthly body becomes our resurrected body and is rejoined with our spirit. This truth gives us hope in the face of our mortality.

Remain Focused

22 Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. 23 After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone, 24 and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.

25 Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.

27 But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

28 “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”

29 “Come,” he said.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”

31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”

32 And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. 33 Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

34 When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret. 35 And when the men of that place recognized Jesus, they sent word to all the surrounding country. People brought all their sick to him 36 and begged him to let the sick just touch the edge of his cloak, and all who touched it were healed.

Matthew 14:22-36 (NIV)

Have you ever climbed a tall ladder or hiked up a steep cliff? When I have done either of these types of activities, I am usually fine until something occurs which causes me to think about the risks I am taking. If the ladder shakes too much or something causes me to look down and off the side, panic and dread can easily set into my mind. The only way I can avoid this is by remaining focused on my ascent. Maybe you have had similar experiences.

Peter can definitely relate to these feelings. Jesus had just fed the crowd. He sends the people home and the disciples out on a boat. He goes by himself up a hillside to pray and probably deal with the news of John’s death. When the sun begins to rise, he walks on the water to join the disciples in the boat. Fear overcomes those in the boat at the sight of Jesus walking on the water. They assume it is a ghost since people cannot walk on water. Jesus tries to calm them but Peter puts out a challenge to prove it is Jesus. Jesus accepts the challenge and  tells Peter to join him on the water. The journey for Peter begins well until he loses focus and panics. Jesus saves him but is disappointed. Peter began to sink because he took his focus off of Jesus and let his fear of the risk overwhelm him.

Peter’s struggle is easily our own. Many of us have heard and accepted Jesus’s invitation to come. Our start appears to go well at first. Then something causes us to lose focus and the reality of the risk of following Jesus ends our progress. We begin to let our fears and worries overcome us.

Jesus reminds us to maintain our focus on him. He stands ready to reach out his hand to keep us afloat when we think the risk is overwhelming. Jesus calls on us to have faith that he can and will keep us safe. The risk is worth the effort.