Exodus 16: Turning back

Dear church,

A pastor friend of mine emailed the other day with a sad story. His large church had suffered a big hit during the COVID-19 pandemic. He said only 40 percent of his church attenders had returned to their in-person gatherings. Another 25 percent, he figured, were engaging with the church online.

“And 35 percent are AWOL,” he wrote. That means they are missing, and no one really knows where they are.

My friend was rightfully disappointed about this. As far as anyone knows, 35 percent of his church are no longer hearing the gospel each week. They are no longer going to small groups and Sunday School classes. They are no longer singing the songs of the faith. They no longer are joining with their brothers and sisters in Christ in prayer.

Thirty-five percent of the body of Christ – maybe a leg and an arm – is gone. Those who are gone will suffer. And so will those who remain. That’s 35 percent less spiritual encouragement, material support, and evangelistic influence. 

I do not want to say all those “AWOL” church members have lost their faith and no longer are Christians. We don’t know that. But when when one stops attending church gatherings, he or she automatically begins to move in that direction. The Christian life grows more vibrant the more one engages with his or her church family, and the Christian life begins to weaken when one cuts himself or herself off from that family. 

And so we rightfully should be concerned for those who have forsaken their church families, even in this time of pandemic.

We also ought to be aware of our natural proclivity to fall back into our old habits and to desire the things of our old way of life. “We sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full.”

The Christian walk demands something of us. We are saved by grace alone, certainly. But spiritual growth takes discipline. It doesn’t just happen by some magical formula. We don’t rise out of the baptismal waters looking and sounding like Saint Augustine or Mother Teresa or Billy Graham. 

No, we move from milk to solid food (1 Corinthians 3:1-2). And if we don’t take either, we will starve. 

And so we have to be intentional in our pursuit of these things – of the wisdom and the Word of God. If we aren’t intentional, we will fall back into our old ways, whether we like those old ways (as the Israelites seemed to) or not. 

So what does it mean to be intentional? Certainly, it means attending church gatherings (Hebrews 10:24-25). It also means reading God’s Word each day and maintaining an active prayer life. Other practices could be added to that list. 

The main thing, though, is that we continue forward in the faith. The apostle Paul said, “But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way …” (Philippians 3:13-15).

I love this passage. Notice that the mark of maturity to Paul was not spiritual perfection. Rather, it is an understanding that the “one thing” we always need to do is to strive forward in our walk with Christ. The spiritually mature Christian simply keeps doing this no matter what. It’s not complicated, and it’s not difficult. 

The Hebrew people weren’t doing this in Exodus 16 as they grumbled and longed for Egypt. The 35 percent of AWOL church members aren’t doing this now. 

But we can. Just keep moving forward in the faith. Pursue practices that help you to do this. Never give up. Understand that sometimes our walk with Christ will be a long slow slog in a desolate wilderness. The mature among us will keep going even still. 

Today is Sunday, so I hope you can spend some additional time in God’s Word today. As you consider Exodus 16, be sure also to read John 6. These two passages are interconnected. Think about the concepts of bread and manna and leftovers and food that perishes and food that endures to eternal life. Think also about what it means in both passages to grumble and turn back.

God bless!

Chris

Exodus 15: Grumbling

Dear church,

The wilderness became a sanctuary of suffering. In that desolate place, God’s people would learn to put their hope in him alone. 

They would get thirsty and hungry. To whom would they turn? Only God could do these things. Forty years later, they would emerge as a people refined by trust. 

Of course, it was a difficult season, and they people frequently failed. Just keep reading. Their first failures already have emerged – on the shore of the Red Sea with the Egyptians closing in on them and now here in Exodus 15. They were thirsty. 

“And the people grumbled …”

Do you grumble? My guess is that you do, at least from time to time. Will God really take care of us? We need food and clothing and shelter. We want positive relationships. We want financial security. We want peace in our land. Where is God in this? 

We might grumble about these and a million other things. In a sense, we still are in the wilderness as God’s children, waiting for our full entrance into the Promised Land. And if this is the case, we are still in a season of training. This is where we learn. The desert wind might kick dust in our eyes. Get used to it. 

God told Moses to throw a tree – a log – into the water and it would become good to drink. Think here about the cross, or tree, of Christ.

Yes, God will provide for his children, for you and for me. Let’s learn to trust him. And let’s give up our grumbling.

Chris

Exodus 14: Baptized

Dear church,

When you read this text, think about the other parts of the Bible talk about the story of the Israelites passing through the Red Sea. If you start looking around the Bible, you’ll find numerous examples. 

The one that most stood out to me was the apostle Paul’s description in 1 Corinthians of what happened to the Israelites in this story: “For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ” (1 Corinthians 10:1-4).

Paul takes this story and puts Jesus Christ squarely in the middle of it. The passage through the Red Sea is linked to baptism. 

At least one ancient commentator, a man named Ambrose, saw some symbolism here: The people of Israel followed the pillar of light, which was symbolic of Christ, the light of the world. And as the people followed the pillar of light into the sea, they were followed by the pillar of cloud, symbolic of the sanctifying presence of the Holy Spirit. 

The symbolism is rich. Some modern Christians don’t like to break the story down in ways like this. They say it is kind of fanciful, and oftentimes I don’t disagree. But I think this particular reading is valuable because it does provide us a biblical picture of baptism. 

Read Romans 6:1-4. We enter into a kind of death in baptism – like the Hebrews entering the Red Sea. But, like in 1 Corinthians 10, we “pass through” the sea of death by following Christ. And the Holy Spirit then enters our life and sanctifies us. 

This fits pretty well with what apostle Peter said at Pentecost, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). Peter linked baptism to the reception of the Holy Spirit. 

I point this out to you to encourage you to read attentively, especially as we enter into this section of Exodus, which contains some very valuable pointers to Christ.

Chris

Exodus 13: Firstborn

Dear church,

Our car was getting a little work done to it, and I was sitting in the mechanic’s lobby. I wasn’t alone. Several of us were loitering there, waiting longer than any of us thought we’d wait.

So often this happens. We think we will just be in and out. But then we’re not. We’re stuck waiting. 

One man in particular seemed to struggle with this. He would sit for a little while, and then he would get up and pace the room. Then he would go to the bathroom. Then he would disappear down the hallway. When he came back, someone else had taken his seat. He lost his seat, I would say, about three times during his long wait. It didn’t seem to bother him. He would just pace some more. He had a restless energy to him.

I tell you this because sometimes we can be restless spiritually. There can be times in our lives where we simply cannot sit still. We roam about looking for things that can spark our interest spiritually – different types of music or prayers or churches or preachers or spiritual disciplines.

None of this is wrong. Variety can help spice things up. But there are times we might wonder whether our spiritual life is vibrant enough. And we keep trying new things. We pace the room.

But the biblical picture of God’s people is that of the firstborn. The firstborn of Israel were to be consecrated to God. They were to be given over to him. “Whatever is the first to open the womb among the people of Israel … is mine.”

Israel came to see itself as the firstborn (Isaiah 44:2; Jeremiah 31:9). Read Isaiah 43 when you have time. The firstborn is redeemed and ransomed by God – protected through difficulty and precious in God’s eyes. 

The act of consecrating their firstborn was intended to be a constant reminder to Israel that they had been consecrated by God as his firstborn.

Of course, all of this is founded upon Christ – the actual “firstborn” of God (Romans 8:29; Colossians 1:15, 18; Hebrews 1:6). The sacredness of Israel and the church is built upon the sacredness of Christ. 

He was the firstborn of all creation before Israel or the church came to be. We are brought into the family through faith in the true firstborn Son.

In watching that restless guy in the mechanic’s shop, I was reminded of our need to rest in our identity as God’s children. After we put our faith in Christ, we may rest in Him. 

Spiritually speaking, we can grow restless, and we might wonder whether we are being faithful enough or morally upright enough – whether we are doing our Christianity well enough.

In those moments, we ought to rest in the eternal nature of Christ, which we are brought into when we put our faith in Him.

Chris

Exodus 12: A night of watching

Dear church,

“Why do people like Starbucks?” My daughter asked me this as we pulled into the line of cars that wrapped around the Starbucks store. She’d had an early swim practice, and we were on our way home.  

It was her fault we were in that line, eight cars back, waiting to order a caramel Frappuccino – whatever that is. She had won a gift card to Starbucks after a successful swim meet. “Can’t we spend it now?” she asked. And I’m too soft sometimes when it comes to these daughters of mine.

And now we were waiting. The line was so long, I barely got off Grand Avenue as I joined it. I wondered about all these people who made a morning ritual out of the Starbucks drive-through lane. I prefer to make my coffee at home – because I don’t like lines and we live 45 minutes away. And I’m a cheapskate. 

I suppose the differences are pretty minimal. I stand and wait in the kitchen and listen to the coffee pot bubble. It usually is still dark outside, and I pay attention to the smell. There’s nothing like the smell of coffee in the morning. 

These are daily habits that come to be part of our lives. We don’t even think about them most of the time. And yet a day doesn’t seem to progress in the right fashion without our rituals. 

You have your daily rituals, too, if you care to think long enough about them. 

Of course, some rituals have more meaning than others. Your daily Bible reading is not simply a physical fix, like a morning coffee run. 

Other rituals have spiritual significance for our lives, too. “On the first day of the week, when they were gathered together to break bread …” (Acts 20:7).

The church decided upon the first day of the week for their gatherings because that was the day of the week on which Jesus rose from the dead (Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:1-2; Luke 24:1; John 20:1). A weekly ritual was established to recall the moment when Jesus set his disciples free from slavery to sin and death. 

It has a lot of similarities with the Passover celebration. “This month shall be for you the beginning of months … This day shall be for you a memorial day … so this same night is a night of watching kept to the Lord by all the people of Israel throughout their generations” (Exodus 12:2, 14, 42).

The people were brought out of slavery, and they took pains to remember it. And so do we when we gather every Sunday to break bread. 

This is not just a weekly or yearly fix, like my morning coffee. It is a ritual that causes us to remember the mighty deeds of the Lord. We bind ourselves again to Jesus Christ and that singular moment when the tomb opened up and the first dead man was resurrected to eternal life. It was a moment when slaves were freed.

But we do wait in this Sunday ritual of ours. It is a ritual of waiting, of proclaiming the Lord’s death until he comes (1 Corinthians 11:26). We look backward, and we look forward. 

Chris

Exodus 11: Midnight

Dear church,

“There shall be a great cry throughout all the land of Egypt.” Not a household would be left unscathed. The dead would be brought out in the morning. What did they do with all the bodies?

This is the carnage of plagues. Death and mayhem come with them. 

But this seems, sometimes, like too much. Did God really have to strike down all the firstborn in every house? So much innocent life was taken away. No one deserves such a thing, surely.

I read and pondered this and worked on a splinter I’d found in my finger. 

It was an unfortunate splinter – right on the tip of my pointer finger. It was Sunday morning, and I needed that finger to play the piano. The splinter came while moving firewood into the church building. You never know when you’ll get snagged.

I didn’t notice it at first. It was just a little painful, but it was painful enough I knew something foreign was in there, practically hidden from view. We know our bodies. We usually are good judges when things aren’t as they should be. 

So I worked at it. But it was too small. I picked and pulled. You know how it is. Once you find a splinter, you can’t leave it alone.

“There shall be a great cry throughout all the land of Egypt …” Maybe God should have just taken the Pharaoh out instead. The rest of the Egyptians seemed to be coming around to the idea God was serious about freedom for the Hebrew people. Without the Pharaoh, perhaps the other leaders in the nation would simply release the slaves. 

The big first aid kit in the church building has a splinter removing tool, something I’d never seen before. It’s a disposable piece of metal designed for just the problem I had. So I went to work with it. I kept picking at that splinter.

It’s never OK to take innocent life. We know that. God surely knows that, too. This harsh tenth plague gives skeptics something to point at, something to needle God about. Maybe the God of the New Testament is a little nicer than this Old Testament God after all.

I kept working on that splinter. And then … success! Finally. It’s amazing how small a splinter can be to cause such discomfort. All I had to do was keep working at it.

I kept picking at God about that “great cry” and the lives lost in Egypt and the bodies piled up. It’s not right. I know that. You know that. …

I don’t think God knows that. 

Something idolatrous creeps into us when we begin to judge God, when we find some uncomfortable thing in his actions or in his Word and we start to pick at it, trying to remove it from our sight. 

It’s idolatrous because we’ve opted to put our righteous thoughts and feelings above God’s. The creature becomes the judge of the Creator. 

God told Job, who also liked to pick and pull, “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?” (Job 38:2 and following). That’s what we speak when we are around God – “words without knowledge.” 

And the apostle Paul warned us about this. “But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?’” (Romans 9:20).

Idolaters put something else over against God. They declare their wisdom to be infallible. God must fall in line.

But God thoughts are higher than ours. His purposes are good.

And while we do not have the right to take human life, God does. The Creator can do whatever he pleases. After all, it is his creation. 

We are left either with faith or the lack of it. Christians trust God can take life and still be good and morally pure. We also are left with the reality that human life is not innocent. We ought not to venture into conversations with God about who deserves what. 

My splinter was gone. I put a band-aid on my finger. I decided to quit picking at God, too. 

Chris

Exodus 10: Sacrifice

Dear church,

The Israelites would not leave Egypt without their livestock. Moses said the people needed their animals – “that we may sacrifice to the Lord our God.” The worship of God required sacrifice – to give fully of oneself to him, to bring him gifts, to seek atonement for sins.

Keep in mind, the exodus preceded the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai, so Israel’s sacrificial system had not yet been formalized. And yet, the people saw a need for sacrifice.

For centuries now, progressive Christianity has sought to take the sacrifice out of the faith. Some Christians want to make Jesus’ death for our sins into some kind of example of kindness rather than substitutionary. But Christianity is empty without sacrifice, and so is the cross.

The apostle Paul wrote, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures …” (1 Corinthians 15:3).

A critical step in our walk with Christ is recognizing who he is and what he did for us. He “died for our sins.” This is what we come to believe as Christians. If we don’t believe we have sins or that Christ died in our place for them, then we are believing a different gospel that does not come from the Bible or the testimony of the apostles. 

We can’t take the sacrifice out of the Christian faith. God’s people still are well aware of the need for sacrifice. When we move into freedom from sin and death, we do so with Christ. We don’t leave him behind. And we are thankful for his sacrifice that covers all.

Chris

Exodus 9: Power

Dear church,

A group of congresspeople last week asked the president to relinquish his sole authority to launch nuclear missiles at our nation’s enemies. 

That’s pretty interesting. One of the things that has made the president of the United States so powerful is his ability to drop nuclear bombs on people. We sometimes say the president “has his finger on the button.” That is, he’s got his finger on the button that authorizes nuclear strikes. 

In this story about the president’s nuclear authority was a picture of a military man carrying the “nuclear football” that travels with the president everywhere he goes. It’s been this way since President John F. Kennedy. 

Smithsonian Magazine called the nuclear football “the closest modern-day equivalent of the medieval crown and scepter – a symbol of supreme authority.” Inside is not a big red button, apparently. Rather, there’s a communication device that can confirm the president’s identity and enable him to communicate with the Pentagon in cases of national emergency.

It’s called the “football” because an early nuclear war plan was code-named “Dropkick.” And Dropkick needed a “football” in order to operate. And so a military officer carries the “football” around with the president everywhere he goes. Only the president has the authentication codes to activate it and begin the process of implementing a nuclear strike.

The congresspeople who have suggested the president be relieved of that sole authority believe “vesting one person with this authority entails real risks.” Their suggestion is somehow to bring other people to the table when the president is faced with a decision about whether to launch a nuclear strike. For instance, perhaps the president should act in agreement with the vice president and speaker of the house, or he should work with a special committee in congress set up for that purpose. 

Why is this so important? It is because launching nuclear missiles is a big deal, a potentially earth-ending big deal. 

It also is important because we Americans, at least, don’t like anyone to have too much power. When we see power being accumulated by any one person or group of people, our first instinct seems to be to figure out ways to put a check on that power. 

It is a system that has worked beautifully since the beginning of our country. The three branches of government provide checks on each other. Not any one of them has supreme control – unless it’s the president with the “nuclear football.”

And in the rest of our society, we see this kind of mentality playing out. For instance, Silicon Valley and Big Tech have accumulated a lot of power in our country. They have the ability to control the flow of information in our country and, as we know, information is power. And so certain groups and people rightfully have called for a check on this power that the big technology and communications companies have.

When we find big power, we look for ways to bring it in check. This is part of the American way. Democracies operate like this because power, in a democracy, is supposed to be spread out among the people – the voters. This all makes perfect sense to us. We’ve known this, at least in our subconscious, our entire lives.

When we encounter texts like Exodus 7-10 – about the plagues in Egypt – we encounter a power struggle. But this power struggle is different because God is involved. And God always wins.

In Egypt, Pharaoh seemed to have all the power. He held the Hebrew people in captivity. He managed the work of the magicians and sorcerers whom we understand to have had some sort of demonic power. And, of course, Pharaoh controlled the judicial system and the economy. He was a powerful man.

And then Moses walked into the room. 

“Thus says the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, ‘Let my people go, that they may serve me. For if you refuse to let them go and still hold them, behold, the hand of the Lord will fall with a very severe plague …” (Exodus 9:2-3).

As we read this, we can know something right off the bat: Pharaoh was not going to let the people God go. God already had told Moses this. God had a plan and a purpose, and he had power over Pharaoh, too. 

“You shall speak all that I command you, and your brother Aaron shall tell Pharaoh to let the people of Israel go out of his land. But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and though I multiply my signs and wonders in the land of Egypt, Pharaoh will not listen to you. Then I will lay my hand on Egypt and bring my hosts, my people the children of Israel, out of the land of Egypt by great acts of judgment” (Exodus 7:2-4).

And so the plan already was set. Pharaoh was going to reject the command to let the Israelites go, and God was going to lay his “hand” on Egypt. God was going to show his power. Already by the time we reach Exodus 7, God had brought four plagues on Egypt – water turned to blood, frogs, gnats, and flies.

This was the hand of the Lord that had fallen on Egypt. The phrase the “hand of the Lord” is used multiple times in Scripture, and it frequently describes, as you might expect, God’s mighty power. I would like to draw your attention to one of those instances in 1 Peter 5. Peter urged the church, 

“Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you” (1 Peter 5:5-6).

When we are faced with the hand of God – his absolute power – we seem to have a couple of ways to respond. We can be proud. We can resist. We can reject what God is doing or trying to say to us or trying to convince us of. This, of course, is how Pharaoh responded.

The alternative is to humble ourselves. We can recognize our own tiny-ness in relation to the Almighty God. We are not in control. He is. 

In recognizing God’s power and authority – an authority that has no checks and balances – we also recognize that God calls the shots. All the shots. He’s in charge of matters of life and death, of blessing and cursing. God is in complete control.

He demonstrated that to Pharaoh: “But the Lord will make a distinction between the livestock of Egypt, so that nothing of all that belongs to the people of Israel shall die” (Exodus 9:4).

Here, God was making sure everyone knew there were some people who were his – and they would receive his blessing. When the animals began to drop dead, it would be obvious it was not the Egyptians who had the blessing of God. Rather, it was the Israelites. Pharaoh knew this. He sent people out to see if it was true. And it was. “Not one of the livestock of Israel was dead” (Exodus 9:7).

God was in complete control, and he was demonstrating that with these plagues. God was going to bring out his people – a people who had been mistreated.

We see this in the sixth plague, the plague of boils. God told Moses and Aaron to take handfuls of soot from the kiln and to throw it in the air. Those kilns were important for the economy of Egypt. Part of me wonders whether they were the same kilns used in the brick-making activities of the Hebrews. They had been ordered to make bricks, and they had been told to do so in ever more harsh and demanding ways (Exodus 5).

If these are the same kilns the Israelites used, it would make quite a picture. Moses and Aaron threw soot from those kilns into the air – the byproduct of the injustice against God’s people. And the Egyptians, who had benefited from that slave labor, were infected with boils. God was setting things right. He had the power to do so.

Another interesting note emerges from this plague, and, again, it is about power and the struggle for power. The magicians of Pharaoh who had been trying to match Moses and Aaron plague for plague were suddenly unable to stand because they were so infected by boils. Demonic powers and human trickery cannot stand under the mighty hand of the Lord. God wins every power struggle.

God was demonstrating his eternal power – a power that cannot be matched and that cannot be resisted.

Before the seventh plague, God told Pharaoh that he could have wiped Pharaoh out. “For by now I could have put out my hand and struck you and your people with pestilence, and you would have been cut off from the earth” (Exodus 9:15). 

In other words, God could have ended the nation of Egypt. He could have killed them all, Pharaoh included. That would have been an easy way to set Israel free. But God didn’t do that. Why?

“But for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth” (Exodus 9:16). 

We see here the reason God was doing what he was doing and the way in which he was doing it. God specifically selected Pharaoh to bear the brunt of his wrath. God even hardened Pharaoh’s already-hard heart so God could continue to demonstrate his power. 

“But for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power.” God wanted Pharaoh to see it. What a scary proposition. “I have raised you up, to show you my power.” It should have sent chills into Pharaoh’s bones.

But this wasn’t a demonstration of power merely for Pharaoh. God wanted the world to know it, “so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth.”

The aim of this display of power is this: Worship. God wants to be worshipped by all the earth – not just by the Hebrews or by Pharaoh or by the Egyptians, but by everyone. All the earth. 

God has a plan, and it is for all to worship him. This is why God brought the Israelites out of Egypt. And this is why God sent Jesus Christ to die on the cross. 

The apostle Paul said in Philippians 2: “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11).

We are to worship Jesus like there is no other one to worship. Every knee will bow. Some of those who bow may do so unwillingly and regretfully. Pharaoh, I suppose, would fall in that category. But he will bow. And so will we. 

God’s purpose is to demonstrate his power so that he might be worshipped by everyone.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the ultimate display of God’s power. God raised Jesus from the dead. For much of human history, death seemed to have the final say. No one escapes the power of death. And so the ultimate moment of power was when Jesus walked out of that tomb.

Again, God demonstrates his power so that he might be worshipped by everyone. We worship because to worship God is go grab hold of life, because only God is capable of granting life – and new life.

In the Book of Revelation, the disciple John saw Jesus. “When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, ‘Fear not, for I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades’” (Revelation 1:17-18).

Jesus holds the keys to death. He makes a way through death. When we see his mighty power and we proclaim his name in faith, we are granted eternal life. Jesus makes a way for us to where our hearts desire to go.

God’s displays of power, then, are not designed primarily to bring death, although that might be how it seems in the case of the ten plagues of Egypt. But instead, God’s displays of power are geared to bring life. Remember, we ought to humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God (1 Peter 5:6). As we humble ourselves, we are granted life. 

Of course, sometimes we don’t humble ourselves. We exalt ourselves. The danger is in our efforts to curb the power of God – or to create checks on Him. Sometimes, we might act as if we were members of Congress wanting to take the “nuclear football” from the president. “Vesting one person with this authority entails real risks,” we might say.

So we seek ways to put checks on God’s power in our lives. For instance, we read God’s Word, and then we read the latest self-help guru. Or we listen to our nonbelieving friends down the road. Or we trust our sentiments and preferences. 

We harden our hearts. We know God’s power, but we don’t live as if we do. 

In our church this year, we are going to have some discussions about gender and sexuality and the relationship between men and women. We’ll talk about God’s creation and how he ordered the universe and families and his church.

And one of the temptations people have when addressing these issues is to forget God’s unilateral and unshaking authority. We want to insert ourselves and our desires, our sentiments and modern sensibilities, into the equation. But God is in charge. He created the universe, and we did not. 

It calls for humility on our part. And faith. And we can expect God’s blessing as we obey him.

Chris

Exodus 8: Frogs

Dear church,

I wonder if one of the problems in our country is our refusal to draw lines. 

I was thinking a bit about abortion last week with the passage and immediate challenge of South Carolina’s “heartbeat bill” – and our reading about the baby boys of Israel being thrown into the Nile River. Human life is precious to God.

And so I started to think about our unwillingness to draw lines. 

In the abortion debate, many people are unwilling to clearly delineate when life actually starts – at conception, heartbeat, viability, birth, etc. The point in time in which life begins becomes a moving target. And so our culture struggles to draw the line. Some people don’t want to offend other people, and some care about certain rights more than others. And so no lines are drawn.

The Bible, of course, indicates life begins at conception. God knits human beings together in the womb (Psalm 139).

I wonder if this refusal to draw lines is becoming a real problem in our culture. For instance, the idea of subjective morality has become pretty commonplace around us. What’s right for you may not be right for me, and that’s OK. “To each his own,” we say. We won’t draw lines, even though there is an absolute right and wrong in the moral realm.

The president of the United States recently refused to draw moral lines about human rights abuses in China. It’s about cultural differences, he said.

And then we come into the issue of sexuality and gender. What is a holy relationship? Are there real differences between men and women? Can a man actually become a woman? You’ve heard plenty about this already, I’m sure. 

We don’t want to draw lines. And our culture seems to be collapsing into chaos. We are punished by the very things by which we sin. 

Perhaps that’s the point I’ve arrived at for now: We are punished by the very things by which we sin.

Our refusal to draw hard lines between right and wrong leaves us confused and unsure. And we are growing weak as a nation.

The Egyptians had a god of prosperity and fertility named Hepat. When they created images of this god, he looked like the head of a frog. 

And so came the second plague sent by God on the land of Egypt. They were punished by the very things by which they sinned. Their idolatry came back to bite them – or at least to croak at them. 

This ought to make us think carefully about our own sin histories. Have you fallen into pride or lust or an insatiable desire to control things? Have you fallen into greed and covetousness? What about deceit or the fudging of the truth? What about holding back from God?

Are there any ways those sins and sinful tendencies have come back to haunt your life?

Even for his children – those who have accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior and who are living by the fruit of the Spirit today – God offers his discipline for our good (Hebrews 12:5ff).

I used the word “punishment” above, but it also could be “training.” We are trained by the very things by which we sin. The difference is in where we put our hope and in our understanding of ourselves as children of God who are being sanctified.

The Pharaoh, of course, rejected all of this. And there were still eight plagues to come.

Chris

Exodus 7: Digging for water

Dear church,

Water symbolizes life. This is probably a universal symbol because all cultures understand the importance of water. Without it, life cannot be. 

The search for water on Mars and other planets is, therefore, a critical one. Scientists can know a lot about a place if they can find water. Life might be possible if water is present. If there’s no water, there can be no life.

The Nile River was thought by the Egyptians to be a manifestation of their god Osiris. The river was something to worship. Meanwhile, the Hebrew baby boys had been thrown into that river years earlier. When you think about it, it already was a river stained with blood.

It is fitting then what God did – this first of the ten plagues – in taking the Egyptians’ symbol of life and turning it into a symbol of death. Dead fish rose to the surface. Nothing could live there. And the Bible says, “the Nile stank.”

Perhaps there is an element here of, “You reap what you sow” – the blood of the baby boys bubbling to the top and cursing their Egyptian rulers. 

Faced with a horrible predicament, the Egyptians began to dig. They sought fresh water along the banks of the river. I imagine it was a desperate time, shoveling out holes in search of water.

What the Egyptians did not know and what they refused to understand was that God is the source of all life. The frequent references to water in connection with God and with Jesus Christ are meant to keep this clearly in focus for us (John 4:10; 1 Corinthians 10:1-4).

But this doesn’t stop people, including ourselves sometimes, from digging. The things we rely on for life, outside of God, sometimes turn into something less than that. And yet we forget sometimes that life originates and is sustained by God and no amount of digging will help us. 

Only faith will do.

The Egyptians had deified material objects. They lived in a world of idolatry. They were running in the wrong direction. They were digging in the wrong direction.

Are you? There is plenty of water.

“If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water’” (John 7:37-38).

Chris