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.

Leading the Way

 After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ aide: “Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them—to the Israelites. I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses. Your territory will extend from the desert to Lebanon, and from the great river, the Euphrates—all the Hittite country—to the Mediterranean Sea in the west. No one will be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them.

“Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

Joshua 1:1-9 (NIV)

Being placed in a leadership role can be scary. Depending on the size and scope of the organization, there can be times when the role may be daunting. The health of the organization may add to the burden of leadership if there are issues of concern. Transitions within the organization and/or its direction can also create leadership challenges. Many times there is no playbook on how to navigate these situations. Insight from other leaders and the organization’s 

own governance documents and policies may be of some assistance. Leaders can often feel alone. Leaders can experience high levels of stress accompanied by a multitude of concerns. A sense of inadequacy for the leadership role to which the person has been called can enter her/his thoughts.

A leadership transition is occurring in today’s reading from Joshua. Moses has died and his assistant, Joshua, will become the new leader of the Israelites as they enter the promised land. The Lord is giving Joshua instructions as the new leader of the Israelites. The Lord tells Joshua as the people cross over the Jordan that they are to strictly follow the law Moses gave from God. Success will come by following what God has said. God reminds Joshua to be strong and courageous in his leadership. God promised Joshua to always be with him.

These words must have been important to Joshua because he was dealing with a multitude of issues at the time. Moses was Joshua’s leader and mentor. Joshua probably assumed that Moses would be the one to lead the Israelites into the new land and help them to become established but now Moses was dead. Joshua quickly goes from being an assistant to being the leader of a rather rebellious group of people. Even though Joshua had watched Moses as he led by God’s guidance, there was no handbook to follow outside of God’s commands. God gives Joshua the pep talk and assurance which Joshua needs to be a leader of people entering a new land.

We may not be called upon to lead people into a new land but the Lord’s words are still helpful to us. Whether we are called to  be a leader of a large or small organization, or to be the leader in our own house, these directions from the Lord apply to us. It is important that we use God’s commands and Jesus’s teachings as our guides in navigating life’s journey. Knowing that the Lord has promised to always be with us wherever we go provides the confidence we need to face whatever may lay ahead of us on our journey. So let us go boldly into each day whether that day we are leading or following. The Lord has given us guidelines to follow and a promise of being present with us wherever we journey.

Give Thanks

Be careful to follow every command I am giving you today, so that you may live and increase and may enter and possess the land the Lord promised on oath to your ancestors. Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years. Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the Lord your God disciplines you.

Observe the commands of the Lord your God, walking in obedience to him and revering him. For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land—a land with brooks, streams, and deep springs gushing out into the valleys and hills; a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil and honey; a land where bread will not be scarce and you will lack nothing; a land where the rocks are iron and you can dig copper out of the hills.

10 When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you.

Deuteronomy 8:1-10

Today our nation pauses to give thanks for all the abundance and positive aspects of our lives, This particular year has been a very difficult one for our nation and our world. The global pandemic has touched every one of us in some manner. In addition to the effects of the virus, we have witnessed all forms of disasters. The economy has taken a heavy hit with a record number of unemployed and hundreds of small businesses, and even some long-existing corporations, closing or declaring bankruptcy. Our country has experienced violence, protests, and a very contentious election cycle. This year’s events could easily cause people to ask what there is to be thankful for as we reflect. Yet we are not the first group to encounter a year of significant hardship and pain. Folklore indicates that after a year of death and great hardships in the New World, a surviving group of Puritan settlers held a festival of thanksgiving in their new land. The story even includes an invitation to Native Americans who had provided the newcomers with skills that aided in their survival. These settlers gave thanks for what they had been given which allowed them to live.

In today’s  passage, the Israelites are preparing to arrive in a land which God had promised them. Moses speaks to them about their journey through the wilderness. He reminds them of all which God had done for them during this leg of their journey. He tells them to keep God’s commands as a response of thanks to God. Then Moses speaks to the people about their entrance into a land full of abundance. Again, he tells them to keep God’s commands in this new land. He instructs them to offer praise to God for this land of abundance once they have been filled. They had experienced many years of hardship and God provided during those years. They would experience a land of great abundance which God has provided now. Moses makes it clear that God’s giving in both situations should give reason for the people to offer thanks both in praise and in action.

Now we pause for one day, like many generations before us in this land and others throughout the world. During this year’s hardships, God has provided. Through people reaching out to assist during a natural disaster, God provides. In the dedicated service of healthcare workers, emergency responders, teachers, grocery store employees, delivery drivers, restaurant employees, and countless others, God provides. The hundreds of researchers and health science departments who have worked tirelessly for answers, God provides. This is when we must take time to reflect on God’s abundance and offer our thanks in praise and action.  We have even more reason to do so when life is difficult. 

Pieces of the Picture

After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.

Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”

While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”

When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.

As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

10 The disciples asked him, “Why then do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?”

11 Jesus replied, “To be sure, Elijah comes and will restore all things. 12 But I tell you, Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but have done to him everything they wished. In the same way the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands.” 13 Then the disciples understood that he was talking to them about John the Baptist.

Matthew 17:1-13 (NIV)

Jigsaw puzzles have always been an enjoyable pastime in my family. My father used to spend hours putting puzzles together on our dining room table. He passed his love of working on puzzles on to me. Recently, my oldest son has also begun putting puzzles together. There is something satisfying about the process of working on jigsaw puzzles. Taking the time to look at each of the pieces in order to see how the piece might fit with the others helps to slow life down a bit. When you put the final pieces into the whole, you gain a sense of accomplishment. Each time I work on a puzzle, I am amazed how the final picture turns out after combining hundreds or thousands of pieces.

In the passage which we read today, we see the putting together of pieces to give a picture of Jesus. Jesus decides to reveal the picture to three of his closest disciples. When Peter, James, and John join Jesus on the mountain, they see the light of glory encompassing Jesus. This provides a piece of the picture. Jesus is more than a teacher, healer, and compassionate person, there is something divine here. Then they see Moses and Elijah standing beside Jesus. Why Moses and Elijah? They are two pieces of the picture of Jesus. Moses represents the Law and Elijah represents the prophets. Both the Law and the prophets point us, and the Jews, to the Messiah. Next the disciples hear a voice which indicates, “This is my Son, whom I love, with him I am well pleased.” The voice, attributed to the Father, provides another piece of the picture. The voice affirms Jesus as God’s Son. Combining these pieces and understanding how they fit together gives us a picture of Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God.

Like putting together a jigsaw puzzle takes time and patience, constructing our picture of Jesus is the same. Scripture provides us with pieces which we must examine and determine how they fit together. When we are able to witness the picture coming together, excitement quickly fills us. We can also share the picture with others and encourage them to put together the pieces for themselves.

Enough?

When is enough enough?

This seems to be a question which infiltrates all aspects of life. The onset of consumerism since the Industrial Age has led to a viewpoint that a person can never have enough. In the Spring 1955 edition of the Journal of Retailing, Victor Lebrow who was a marketing consultant wrote:

Our enormously productive economy demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfactions, our ego satisfactions, in consumption. The measure of social status, of social acceptance, of prestige, is now to be found in our consumptive patterns. The very meaning and significance of our lives today expressed in consumptive terms.

Victor Lebrow

The added desire for instant gratification to this consumerist approach to life has created the dynamic of scarcity. People often look at life and say that “we do not have enough to…” A feeling of scarcity leads to hording, greed, and even violence as we strive to protect what we have or get what we do not have. Yet, perception and reality do not always align.

As a Christian, I am not immune to this battle for “enough.” Throughout the Christian Bible ample verses and stories speak to this dilemma. One is  found in the Hebrew Scriptures located in the story of the Hebrew journey from Egypt to the promise land. The people had been complaining to Moses about not having enough food to eat and how it was so much better back in Egypt. Moses was tired of their constant whining and blaming him for their plight. He decided to take the matter up with God and God made a promise to provide plenty of food for the people each day. You can find this story in Exodus 16. God did provide manna (a flaky substance) and quail every day. Clear instructions about the collection of this food were given:

Everyone is to gather as much as they need. Take an omer for each person you have in your tent.

Exodus 16:16

No one is to keep any of it until morning.

Exodus 16:19

Initially the results turned out wonderful.

And when they measured it by the omer, the one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little. Everyone had gathered just as much as they needed.

Exodus 16:18

Yet, the fear of scarcity set in and so…

However, some of them paid no attention to Moses; they kept part of it until morning, but it was full of maggots and began to smell.

Exodus 16:20

Jesus also tried to deal with this battle of scarcity dduringhis ministry. He incorporated the idea of having enough for each day in the prayer which he taught his disciples, a prayer which today is known as the Lord’s Prayer… “Give us today our daily bread.” (Matthew 6:11)

From these examples, we come to see that we are provided with exactly what we need each day. We actually have an abundance of what we need. Now this may not mean we have everything which we want but there is a clear difference between “want” and “need.”

Yet, we tend to live in the attitude of scarcity and not one of abundance. We say things like…

“If I only had more time, I could get my work done and volunteer.”

“If I only had more money, I could pay my bills and give to support those with food insecurities.”

“If I only had more (fill in the blank), I could (fill in the second blank).”

According to Sentier Research as quoted in an article on seekingalpha.com, the median income in the United States in June 2018 was $62,175. Compare this with the country of Burundi which had a median income of $730. Some would have to argue that a majority in the United States could not claim scarcity in income. All of us know that money alone is not a gauge of abundance. Similar examples can be identified in other measurable aspects such as material goods, opportunities, skills, education, and environment. This is not intended to say that individuals in the United States which lack this abundance are not present. Median means that there are many who are below the numbers listed above. Nor am I arguing that there should be guilt associated with abundance. My point is when we adopt an attitude of scarcity, we tend to forget the abundance which is available to us.

This attitude does not confine itself to our personal lives. Our corporate experiences are infiltrated by this attitude as well. It seems natural since if we as individuals focus on scarcity, the groups which we are members of will also look through the lenses of scarcity. Whether it be government, organizations, or even the church, comments and approaches linked to a view of scarcity seem to be the modus operandi. A long list of reasons why something cannot happen is much more common than a list of ways to make it happen.

An attitude of scarcity results in us saying why we cannot do something. An attitude of abundance shows us why we can.

I encourage each one of you to adopt an attitude of abundance. See how this might change your perspective on life and thus, your life as a whole.