Be Right With God- Or Wrong With Everyone Else

Be Right With God—Or Wrong With Everyone Else

The life and legacy of Moses

Dr. Jim Denison

Exodus 20:1-6

Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? was the most popular show on television a few years back, with as many as 33.6 million viewers. It looks like a simple game, but I discovered personally that if you don’t play by the rules, you cannot win. At the game’s peak of popularity, its producers advertised a phone number which viewers could call if they wanted to qualify as a contestant.

Out of curiosity, I called the number one night. I knew the answer to the question which the recording asked. But I got flustered and didn’t push the buttons on the phone in the right order. I broke the rules. And so, sadly, I couldn’t play.

When did you last play a game? Chess, cards, golf, basketball at youth camp (a big mistake I made this week)—they’re all the same in one respect: every game requires rules. The rules do not exist to frustrate the players, but to enable the game. Those who make and enforce the rules are not trying to hurt the participants but help them.

In the same way, the Ten Commandments are “rules of the game.” These ten principles tell us how life works, and how to live if we want to live well. They are guideposts along the road, designed to keep us out of the ditch. They are road signs pointing the way home. They speak to life’s most crucial subjects—God, ambitions, religion, stress, parents, enemies, sex, possessions, lies, and lust.

These two weeks, we’ll consider the first four commandments as we learn to relate to God; then we’ll explore the last six commandments as we learn to relate to ourselves and each other. We’ll be vertical these weeks, horizontal the next.

Join Moses on the mountain

The precise location of the mountain where God gave Moses the Ten Commandments remains open to question. A mountain known as Gebel Musa is the place preferred by most historians. It rises to an elevation of 7,363 feet, and forms part of a sandy plateau roughly two miles long and half a mile wide. There is more than enough room for two million people to camp there. The plain is itself some 4,000 feet above the Mediterranean Sea, with the mountain towering another 2,200 feet overhead. It is a huge granite peak, altar-shaped and awesome.

On this mountain or one like it, God inscribed two tablets. He wrote on both sides of each. If these tablets were 27 inches long by 18 inches wide, the 172 Hebrew words of the Ten Commandments could easily have been inscribed on them.

Moses shattered these tablets in rage when he descended from the mountain and confronted the idolatry of the people. God then made them again. Moses eventually laid them in the Ark of the Covenant, the sacred box carried before the people for centuries and eventually placed in Solomon’s Temple.

When the Babylonians destroyed the Temple in 598 B.C., they likely took the Ark and the Commandments it held. Most historians speculate that it is buried somewhere in modern-day Iraq, while some believe that Jeremiah took it to Egypt to prevent theft by the Babylonians and still others believe it is buried somewhere on the Temple Mount. The latter is my guess, believing that the Jews would not have risked traveling with the Ark, or losing it to the Babylonians.

While the Ark is lost to us, the words it contained are not. Imagine it: an obscure tribe of Egyptian slaves plunges into the desert to hide from pursuit, and emerges with a code of ten laws which are still authoritative today, 34 centuries later. A depiction of Moses and these Ten Commandments adorns the courtroom where the Justices of the Supreme Court meet, deliberate, and lead our nation’s legal system. These ten principles are still the foundation stones of moral and legal systems the world over.

We don’t need to find Mount Sinai to live by the words God recorded there. As you study this week’s text and prepare to teach its truth, you join Moses on the mountain of God. And you continue his crucial work of giving the word of God to his people.

Who comes first?

Our text begins, “And God spoke all these words” (Exodus 20:1). What follows is not based on human rules or principles, laws to be changed by the voters or the legislators they elect. The Author of these commandments is “the Lord your God” (v. 2). He is “the Lord,” the Hebrew word YHWH—the holiest name of God, meaning the One who is, who was, and who ever shall be.

And he is “God,” the Hebrew word “Elohim—the typical name for the Creator God of the universe. Note that he is “the Lord your God”—this Deity is personal. No Buddhist would say, “Your Buddha,” or a Muslim “your Allah.” But we can know this God personally, as we might know “your wife” or “your husband” or “your children.” He is the holy Creator of the universe and all time, who is yet our personal God.

What does he want of us? Here is his first commandment: “You shall have no other gods before me” (v. 3). It is categorically impossible to overstate the significance of this statement of monotheism and worship.

Remember that the Hebrews have just come from Egypt, where the people worshiped Ra, Phthah, Osiris, Isis, Horus, the animals, and the pharoahs. And they were going into polytheistic Canaan, the land of Baal, Ashtoreth, Asherah, Molech, and Dagon.

Their own ancestors had made the Tower of Babel, to make themselves God. Joshua had warned them, “Long ago your forefathers, including Terah the father of Abraham and Nahor, lived beyond the River and worshiped other gods” (Joshua 24:3). This would be their tendency as well. In fact, they would make and worship the golden calf even as YHWH was giving this command to Moses on the mountain above.

Branded By My Stupidity

Branded By My Stupidity

John 3:9-16

Dr. Jim Denison

What’s the last really dumb thing you did? Mine was just a week ago. I was playing tennis, straining for a backhand, and jammed the end of my racket into my knee. Here’s the funny part. I use a Wilson racket, with a “W” on the end. I hit my knee so hard, part of the “W” was imprinted on the bruise. Branded by my own stupidity.

Later it occurred to me—most of my pain is similarly self-inflicted. Occasionally I suffer through no fault of my own. But usually I can take at least partial credit for my problems.

Here’s the good news: God won’t brand us for our stupidity. He’ll forgive every sin we confess, wipe the slate clean, and grant us his gracious mercy.

But here’s the bad news: I believe in his grace so much that it is easy for me to take it for granted. It is easy for me to continue to sin, knowing I can confess whatever I do wrong and be forgiven. It is easy for me to lapse into a life which misses the joy of Jesus, the power of the Spirit, the purpose for which I am made, a life in which I presume on the grace and mercy of God. I don’t want to live that way. Neither do you.

There’s a remedy for our problem. It’s called the “doctrine of the atonement.” We’ll discover the three non-negotiable steps to eternal life. We’ll see what it cost God for us to be forgiven and saved. We’ll learn why this doctrine is the most important in all of Christianity for those of us who are branded by our own stupidity.

Accept the uniqueness of Jesus‘ life

Our text begins: “No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man” (v. 13).

“No one.” No exceptions or contradictions. “Ever,” without conditions or loopholes. Except the “Son of Man,” Jesus’ favorite title for himself. Only he has gone into heaven, and then come from heaven to earth. Jesus and Jesus alone.

On the eve of his crucifixion he said it again: “I came from the Father and entered the world; now I am leaving the world and going back to the Father” (John 16:28).

He was not just a prophet or priest, not just a religious pioneer or spiritual teacher. He was and is God come to earth: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning” (John 1:1-2). He is God.

No other religious prophet or leader ever made this claim, because none came from heaven to earth. Not Moses, or David, or Isaiah; not Buddha or Mohammad or Confucius; not Socrates or Plato or Aristotle. No other religion even claims that their founder came from heaven to earth.

The first step to eternal life is to accept this fact, to accept the divinity, the uniqueness of Jesus Christ. Believe that he is Lord, for only then will you make him your Lord. Only then will you trust the salvation he came to give. In a pluralistic world which believes that all roads lead up the same mountain, accept the uniqueness of Jesus.

One of my friends here at Park Cities is especially acquainted with my directional handicap, the fact that I seldom know north from south or the right direction from the wrong. In compassionate encouragement he gave me a cartoon the other day. It pictures one boy saying to another, “We went just about everywhere on our vacation. Then my dad finally asked for directions.” I’m grateful for such empathetic support.

Jesus didn’t need directions. He knows where he is taking us. He is the only person in human history who has been where we all want to go, and can take us there now.

On a trip, the only truly reliable guide is the person who has been where you are going. It’s even better if he will then take you there himself. And Jesus will.

Perhaps the most famous words C. S. Lewis ever wrote are these: “I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God; or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to” (Mere Christianity 55-6).

Admit the necessity of his death

Jesus continues: “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up” (v. 14).

“Lifted up” refers to his crucifixion to come: “‘I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.’ He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die” (John 12:32-33).

Note that he said, “the Son of Man must be lifted up.” This was not an option, the tragic end to an otherwise remarkable life, just one way the story could have turned out. This is why he came, and what he must do.

On the Sunday before his death he said, “What shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour?’ No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour'” (John 12:27). He chose to die: “I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord” (John 10:17-18).

For Whom Should You Vote?

For Whom Should You Vote?

John 3:1-8

Dr. Jim Denison

My title may have caused some of you to wonder if I’m going to endorse a presidential candidate today. I could do that if I wanted our church to lose its non-profit status, and if I wanted to violate the church-state separation essential to Baptist theology and American religious life. So I don’t think I will. Besides, I have another election in mind. One with even larger significance than the debates and campaign of these days. One which will effect every one of us long after the 2004 election is history.

We’ll hear today from two candidates, each presenting his own spiritual platform and hoping for your personal vote. Two of the wisest men of all time, engaged in a debate as current as this week’s news.

Meet the candidate for “good”

Our first candidate is described by his contemporaries as a short, squat, ugly little man with strangely-staring eyes. He is also considered by his peers to be the wisest man who ever lived. Historians usually trace our entire Western culture back to him. You know him as Socrates. He will speak to you now.

Good morning, and thank you for your invitation to speak today. I have but one point to make: your happiness depends on you. You can discover life’s highest value, its greatest good. You can learn all you need to know to accomplish your goals, to fulfill your dreams, to become what you were put on this earth to be. You can do it.

Here’s how: know thyself. The unexamined life is not worth living. But by examining yourself, by correct thinking and learning, you can become anything you want to be. There is an objective Good, and you can know it.

My student Plato put it this way: by right thinking you can escape this world of shadows and know the world of perfection. His student Aristotle claimed that by the right use of logic and reason, you can know that perfect world.

Those who followed them disagreed as to the best way to know the Good, but they all believed that you can do it.

In my ancient world, one group said that ceasing our desires is the way to happiness, while another movement disagreed, claiming that pursuing right pleasure makes us happy. Still another movement claimed that objective knowledge doesn’t exist, so if we’ll cease to seek such knowledge we’ll be happy. Yet another told us to align our lives with Reason and Fate to find happiness.

Many since my time have added their opinions. Immanuel Kant said duty for duty’s sake is the purpose of life. Friedrich Nietzsche told you that the will to power is basic to human fulfillment. Most of your American scholars believe that the greatest good for the greatest number of people produces happiness.

But we all agree: you can choose to be happy. You can accomplish your goals and fulfill your dreams. You can do it.

Abigail Adams, wife of your second president, said it well: “To be good and to do good is the sum of human purpose.” Your Thomas Jefferson may have said it best: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” You have a right to be happy. And you can seize that right, fulfill that dream.

Most of your countrymen agree. Ninety three percent of you say that you are your own determiner of moral truth. Most of you know that humanity is basically good, that we may sin but that doesn’t make us sinners. We’re good, and we can know and do the good. To be good and to do good is the sum of human purpose.

If your religion helps you to be good and do good, all the better. If coming to church, reading the Bible, praying, doing church work helps you be a better and happier person, by all means be religious. Of course, you know that your faith is just your faith. You have no right to force your beliefs on anyone else. So be tolerant, be good, and do good. This is the sum of life.

Meet the candidate for God

Now let’s meet our other candidate, a Jewish businessman, political leader and scholar named Nicodemus. He is one of the most dynamic and successful people we’ll find anywhere in the biblical world. An astounding resume, Exhibit A for “success” as our culture defines it. Let’s hear from him.

I am pleased to address you today. Our moderator was kind, but accurate. I did actually have everything my society and yours deem important for success. I was everything my opponent wants you to be. Here’s my story.

I was powerful—in fact, I achieved more power than it is possible to possess in your society today.

My name meant “conqueror of the people.” Clearly my parents envisioned great power for their baby boy. Imagine naming your infant son Napoleon or Alexander the Great. I was born with a gavel in my hand, bred for success, raised to conquer.

And I fulfilled my parents’ wildest dreams and fondest hopes. How many of you want your son or daughter to be President of the United States? A member of the Supreme Court? A Senator or Representative? I did all that and more.

As your Bible says, I was a “member of the Jewish ruling council” (v. 1). This group was known as the Sanhedrin—70 men who constituted the Supreme Court of our nation. We possessed ruling authority over every Jew anywhere in the world. We were the court of final appeal. Even the High Priest was subject to our rulings.

If your nation had one ruling body which combined the power of the Supreme Court and the House and Senate, and possessed authority over the president and the military, that body would be our Sanhedrin. And I would be one of its members. There was no more powerful position in all the land. If power can find God, I should have found God. And yet I didn’t.

God Will Give The Victory

God Will Give the Victory—

But You Must Fight the Battle

The life and legacy of Moses

Dr. Jim Denison

Exodus 14-15

A commitment to the cause of freedom was made by those we will remember in this study. They risked their lives, their families, their entire nation and its survival. And our Judeo-Christian faith heritage is the result.

Where has God rewarded your faith commitment in the past? Think of the last time you trusted his word with your time, finances, ambitions, or relationships. Did he prove himself faithful to you? Where is he asking you to trust him with significant faith today? Even when Pharaoh is behind you and the Red Sea before you, the Lord of the universe is beside you. He may be all we have, but he is all we need.

When you can’t see his hand, trust his heart (Exodus 14:1-20)

There are times when we don’t understand why we’re where we are. We’ve been faithful to God as we knew his will, but hard times have come anyway. A pastor friend of mine looked forward to years of travel and study after his retirement, but died just a few months after beginning this much-anticipated chapter of his life. His widow still wonders why God led them as he did.

Another pastor friend has struggled greatly in a church he knows the Father called him to lead. His previous ministry was filled with joy and success, and he wonders why God has directed him to this place of struggle.

We sometimes find ourselves between an army and a sea, and wonder why. One of my favorite Christian songs includes the words, “When you can’t see his hand, and you don’t understand, trust his heart.” The children of Israel learned its truth, the hard way.

An unlikely route

When God led his people out of Egypt, he did not take them down any of the established roads of the day. He could have selected the “way of the land of the Philistines,” the short route along the Mediterranean coast to Canaan. However, this route was usually used by armies invading Egypt, and thus was heavily guarded.

The Lord could have led his people down the route further south, “the way of Shur” (Genesis 16:7). But this was a caravan route which ran to central Canaan, and would have been heavily guarded as well. Had the Israelites made their exodus down either of these roads, they would have encountered not only the military strength of Egyptian frontier outposts but also fierce opposition from Canaanite armies in the southern part of that land.

And so the Lord led his people in a way none before or after would choose: a road which ended at the western shore of the Red Sea. The exact spot is unknown to us, but the events which occurred at this location would change the course of Western history.

A feared enemy

Not long after the Hebrews left the land of their slavery, the mightiest army known to man came after them (Exodus 14:5-9). Pharaoh understandably interpreted their unusual direction to mean that they had lost their way and failed to find the roads eastward to Canaan (v. 5). Seeing a quick opportunity to regain his slave labor force, he dispatched his soldiers for what he assumed would be an easy military campaign against an unarmed foe.

The chariots he sent after Israel were drawn by two horses; one soldier drove the chariot and held the shield, while the other fought with arms. Their horses were bred for just this purpose. These armed chariots enabled the army to run down any infantry or people on foot. There was no place to hide, and no way to defend themselves. Imagine tanks against unarmed civilians, a Tienamen Square with predictable results.

The Hebrews were understandably terrified (vs. 10-12). They mocked Moses: “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die?” (v. 11). “No graves” is the double negative in the Hebrew, literally translated “no graves at all.” The charge was ironic, given the Egyptian propensity for pyramids and tombs.

Then they claimed that they had earlier asked to be left in Egypt (v. 12). There is no biblical record that they said this to Moses when their freedom was close and welcome. Critics always emerge when times are hard.

A trusted friend

In contrast to the fearful terror of the Hebrews, their leader evidenced remarkable faith in their Father and provider. He urged his people to make three decisions, each of them valuable in any crisis. First, “do not be afraid” (v. 13a). Choose not to be paralyzed with fear. Second, “stand firm” (v. 13b). Choose not to retreat from the crisis at hand. Third, “be still” (v. 14) and wait for the power and protection of God.

He promises his “deliverance” (v. 13), a word sometimes translated “salvation”—here it is meant in the literal sense of saving their lives. Later God’s people would come to understand that this deliverance is also spiritual and eternal.

And so the Lord protected the nation until he was ready to provide his final and total victory (vs. 15-19). The pillar of cloud may have used a desert whirlwind, but obviously acted in supernatural ways. Likewise with the pillar of fire, sometimes explained as volcanic activity but also inexplicable apart from supernatural agency.

God’s will never leads where his grace cannot sustain. In a crisis, be sure that you are where God wants you to be. And trust that he will stand at your side.

Stake your life on his word (Exodus 14:21-31)

Now, with the future of the nation in the balance, Moses made a fateful decision. He would not flee from the Egyptian army in retreat, disgrace, and defeat. Nor would he engage in military assault and certain annihilation. Instead, he would choose faith in the God who had brought them this far.

And the Lord proved himself worthy of such trust. The “strong east wind” which came over the Red Sea was no accident, as it appeared the precise moment when Moses “stretched out his hand over the sea” (v. 21). God had already proven his control of this wind with the plague of locusts (Ex. 10:13). Now he would show this power on an even greater scale.

God Will Lead- But We Must Follow

God Will Lead—But We Must Follow

The life and legacy of Moses

Dr. Jim Denison

Exodus 11-13

Ronald Reagan’s death was a national event, as it should have been. What was it about him which made such an obvious and enduring impact on our country and people? His role in ending the Cold War and Soviet Communism is well known and appreciated, of course. His leadership in simplifying government and standing for moral decency was significant and inspiring.

But his optimistic charisma may be the first impression people recall from his presidency. Remember the eloquence of his words and spirit, the kind and gracious way he comforted the bereaved, and the confidence with which he challenged the nation and her leaders. Commentators and historians speak often of Mr. Reagan’s connection with the American people. He was someone we felt we could trust.

We all need people whose character we trust and whose leadership we can follow. Those who feel they cannot trust anyone are often subject to emotional distress and significant depression. At a formative time in her history, the nation of Israel found such a Person they could trust with their lives, families, and futures.

The Passover event was to them what the crucifixion and resurrection are to us—the pivot-point of God’s history with humanity. Lessons learned from this event would make and mold the Jewish mind and spirit, and the Western worldview through them.

Where in your life do you need someone to trust this week? What decision requires more wisdom than you possess? What problem is larger than your resources? Where do you need to know God’s protection and providence? The One who freed his enslaved people from the mightiest power on earth now stands on your side. Are you on his?

Passover and the people of God

The Passover event culminated nine other judgments brought by the hand of God against Pharaoh and his people. At each point, it teaches God’s people valuable spiritual lessons as we learn to trust this God as our Lord.

Trust the timing and power of God (Exodus 11:1)

As our text opens, the Lord makes clear the fact that what will transpire comes directly from his hand: “I will bring one more plague on Pharaoh and on Egypt” (Exodus 11:1a). The Passover plague was no accident of nature or environment—it was the direct work of the Sovereign Lord of the universe.

This event would reveal not only his power but also his providence: “After that, he will let you go from here, and when he does, he will drive you out completely” (v. 1b). God knew exactly what Pharaoh would do, for the future is the present with him. And he was right: “During the night Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and said, ‘Up! Leave my people, you and the Israelites!'” (Exodus 12:31). We can trust the timing and power of God, for they are always for his glory and our good.

Ask for what you need (Exodus 11:2-3)

When the Lord first called Moses to lead his people from Egypt, he promised that the Egyptians would provide all that the nation would need (Exodus 3:21-22). He kept his side of the arrangement, favorably disposing the Egyptians toward the Hebrews and Pharaoh’s officials and people toward Moses. Now Moses must do his part in leading his followers to ask for all that God meant to provide for them (Exodus 11:2).

These articles would provide economic resource for the nation, but primarily serve as means of worship. (Tragically, they later used some of this plunder to make and worship Aaron’s golden calf; cf. Exodus 32:2). James chastised his readers: “You do not have, because you do not ask God” (James 4:2). John Wesley was convinced that God does nothing except in answer to prayer. So it was that his people were to trust him to provide for them through their Egyptians neighbors. So it is that God still meets all our needs in his own will and way (Philippians 4:19). But we must ask and receive in faith (Matthew 7:7-11).

Follow God as he directs (Exodus 11:4-10)

Next, Moses and Aaron were to go before Pharaoh with the message and warning of this impending judgment. He could not be a God of both justice and mercy unless he gave the Egyptians opportunity to repent of their rebellion. He used Moses to describe precisely what would happen if they refused his will. Only then could he act according to that purpose.

It has been said, “Don’t get ahead of God—he may not follow.” But it is equally true that we must not get behind him. And the latter is more our tendency than the former. So often God must wait on his people to step out by faith, so he can act in power. How many times I have hindered his effectiveness through my life by my own lack of trust in his will. Is there a faith step which God is asking of you this week?

Prepare to see the hand of God (Exodus 12:1-28)

Pharaoh has been warned—now God’s people must be prepared. With some of previous plagues Pharaoh at first relented, then refused to allow the people to leave. He might (and in fact did) do the same with this last plague. So the people must be ready to leave Egypt immediately.

With the Passover, the Lord inaugurated a new calendar for his people. Its first month would be this Passover month. This was the spring time, March-April to us; the Jews would call this month Abib and later, Nisan. Their year would begin with this event, as did their nation.

The people were to find a lamb for the sacrifice, year-old males without defect (Exodus 12:5), then slaughter them at twilight. They next used a hyssop branch to place some of the lamb’s blood on the sides and tops of their doorframes. Absent this preparation, the death angel would take their firstborn as well as the Egyptians’ (v. 13).

God Will Meet Your Needs

God Will Meet Your Needs—But First You Must Ask

The life and legacy of Moses

Dr. Jim Denison

Exodus 16-18

As I write this commentary from my study in Dallas, Texas, I have just been to church in England. The Methodist Church of Great Britain has started the Internet’s first virtual church: I was able to slip electronically into a worship service, sit in a pew, listen to a sermon, and participate in conversation.

The “church” still has some problems to work out—one user named himself “Satan” and began cursing at the pulpit, and the first “live” sermon was interrupted when the minister’s computer crashed. But organizers believe their effort has enormous potential. Only seven percent of Brits regularly attend church services, but 68,000 visited the Church of Fools in its first two days.

Churches these days are more intentional about meeting the needs of their members and communities than ever. According to recent surveys, the number of Americans who claim no religion has doubled in the last ten years. More and more congregations are trying new strategies to interest and attract unchurched people.

D. L. Moody was right: the message must never change, but the method must always stay relevant. Entrepreneurial, creative ministries and worship services have a significant role to play in reaching the unreached.

The problem with need-centered innovation, however, is that we can learn to rely on our methods more than the message. We can trust our creativity, our new programs and strategies, our buildings and resources. But only the Holy Spirit can change a life, convict of sin, convert sinners, transform homes, or do anything else which is eternal. Only God can meet the deepest needs of our hearts and lives.

What needs are most obvious in your life this week? In the hearts of those you will teach this Sunday? Are you tempted to bring your hurts to God only after you have been everywhere else? To ask him to bless your solutions rather than seeking his? To seek his guidance only after yours has failed?

Even the omnipotent God of the universe cannot give his children that which they will not receive. The Hebrews learned faith lessons we still need to remember today, if we would welcome by faith the help and hope our Father longs to give. For each event there is the complaint of the people, the provision of God, and the principle for our lives today.

Turning bitter water sweet (Exodus 15:22-27)

Four principles will guide God’s people to trust his provision for our needs. The first teaches us how to find God’s help in transforming pain to promise, making bitter waters better. It may be that you are dealing with a painful family conflict, a dead-end work environment, or a debilitating physical challenge. How can God transform and use our present frustrations for his glory and our good?

The complaint

The Desert of Shur (also known as the Desert of Etham, Numbers 33:8) was located in the northwestern part of the Sinai peninsula, just east of the Red Sea. It was not unusual for a travel to wander for days there without finding water. For this reason, travelers typically kept to the road by the Mediterranean Sea, or used trade caravan route to the south.

But as we saw in the last study, such a travel route would have led the Israelites into organized opposition from the Egyptian military outposts and Canaanite guards. And so the Hebrews began their travels across an arid region where water was difficult if not impossible to find.

There may have been two million people in this exodus. After three days, their stores of portable water have run dry. And three days is the longest our bodies can typically survive without water. Their families and livestock are in danger of dying from dehydration in the hot sun and arid climate.

So the people “grumbled” (the word means to murmur or complain) against Moses: “What are we to drink?” They found a spring (known as ‘Ain Hawarah today), but its waters were too bitter to drink. And so their spirits turned as bitter as their water.

The provision

God knew their need before they did. He did not bring them this far to leave them. He knew precisely how he would give them the water they must have. And he showed his provision in a miraculous way.

“Moses cried out to the Lord” (v. 25), which is exactly what we must each do when the need arises. Moses didn’t try to solve the problem himself, or ask God to bless his decision. He went to the Father first, as his consistent response to trouble (cf. Exodus 15:25; 32:30; 33:8; Numbers 11:2, 11; 12:13; 14:13-19).

And God gave him a divine answer: “the Lord showed him a piece of wood. He threw it into the water, and the water became sweet” (v. 25). This may have been a barberry tree, often used by modern Arabs to cover the mineral taste of the bitter spring at ‘Ain Hawarah and make its water palatable. Whatever means he used, God provided for their need by his grace.

The principle

Here is the lesson God wanted his people to learn: “If you listen carefully to the voice of the Lord your God and do what is right in his eyes, if you pay attention to his commands and keep all his decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord who heals you” (v. 26).

The Lord further proved his provision by leading the people to Elim (called Wadi Gharandel today, seven miles to the south of ‘Ain Harawah), where they could camp near abundant water. He could have brought them to Elim first, meeting their need in this natural way. Instead, he chose to turn the bitter water sweet to demonstrate his provisional power to his people.

Jesus made the same point to his disciples: “Do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:31-33).

Honor God- Or Dishonor Yourself

Honor God—Or Dishonor Yourself

The life and legacy of Moses

Dr. Jim Denison

Exodus 20:7-11

The Third Commandment states, “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name” (Exodus 20:7). As with the other commandments, “you” is plural, so that this commandment applies to every one of us, with no exceptions.

“Shall not” shows that this is a commandment, not just a suggestion or principle for life. It is as important to God as the commandments not to murder or commit adultery. This is crucial to God.

“Misuse” means to take his name “in vain.” The word means “groundlessly, emptily, without basis,” and includes frivolous, insincere, or unjustified use of the name of God. Its original context was legal in nature. When a person testified before the elders or council, he was to speak “in the name of God.” This was something like our oath “to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God.” The commandment was not to promise truth “in God’s name,” then lie or deceive.

Who to honor

“The name of the Lord your God” is the central phrase of this Third Commandment. Jewish people associated the “name” of a person with his or her basic identity. For this reason, biblical characters were often assigned names to describe them. (“Esau” means red, because he was red-headed; “Isaac” means laughter, because Sarah laughed when God said she would have a son.)

And so the “name of God” deals of his basic character and identity. To speak of the “name of God” was to deal with his very nature, being, and person. For this reason, the names of God in the original biblical languages were sacred to the Jewish people. Each of them said something important about God.

YHWH meant “the One who was, is, and ever shall be.” This name showed that God is eternally the Lord.

“God” here is “Elohim,” literally “the God of gods.” This says that he alone is God, above all other deities worshipped around the world. In a day of polytheism and henotheism (each country had their own god), he alone is the God of the universe.

“El-Elyon” (Genesis 14:22, Deuteronomy 32:8-9) means “God most high,” showing that God rules the world today.

“El Shaddai” (Exodus 6:3) means “God Almighty,” and shows that he has all the power of the universe, and we have none.

“Pahad” means “the One to be feared” (Genesis 31:42; 1 Samuel 11:7). We are to approach him with awe and reverence.

“Adonai” (Isaiah 6:1) means “Lord of all,” the one who reigns.

“Jehovah-Jireh” (Genesis 21:22; 22:14) means “the Lord who provides” for our every need.

“Jehovah-Tsidkenu” (Jeremiah 23:6) means “the Lord is our righteousness,” so that we can be holy and righteous only as he makes us so.

“Jehovah-Shalom” means “the Lord is peace” (Judges 6:24), pointing to the fact that only God can give us peace.

These are just some of God’s names in the Scriptures. As you can see, the “name of God” describes his character, identity, person. In other words, the name of God means God himself. Consider some examples:

“O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” (Psalm 8:1).

“May the LORD answer you when you are in distress; may the name of the God of Jacob protect you” (Psalm 20:1).

“Sing to God, sing praise to his name, extol him who rides on the clouds—his name is the LORD—and rejoice before him” (Psalm 68:4).

“He provided redemption for his people; he ordained his covenant forever—holy and awesome is his name” (Psalm 111:9).

“The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe” (Proverbs 18:10).

“A scroll of remembrance was written in [God’s] presence concerning those who feared the LORD and honored his name” (Malachi 3:16).

“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name” (Matthew 6:9).

“Whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me” (Matthew 18:5).

“Where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them” (Matthew. 18:20).

“Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19).

“‘Father, glorify your name.’ Then a voice came from heaven, ‘I have glorified it, and will glorify it again'” (John 12:28).

“These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31).

“Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

“The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name” (Acts 5:41).

“The Lord said to Ananias, ‘Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name'” (Acts 9:15-16).

“God exalted him to the highest place and gave him a name that is above every name, 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).

“Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17).

“Then I looked, and there before me was the Lamb, standing on Mount Zion, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads” (Revelation 14:1).

“On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: ‘King of Kings and Lord of Lords'” (Revelation 19:16).

Here’s the point: to misuse God’s name is to misuse God, to abuse him, to slander his character and reputation. This issue was so important that the third commandment is the only one of the ten with an immediate threat of punishment. It stands to reason, then, that we would want to know how to keep this commandment—what it means to dishonor God’s name, and to honor it.

Pledging Allegiance On Our Knees

Pledging Allegiance on Our Knees

1 Peter 2:13-17

Dr. Jim Denison

“If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.” I learned the truth of that maxim in a new way this week.

I wrote the sermon for this weekend earlier in the week, continuing our series on knowing that we know him. Then I was part of our prayer group which meets each week at 6 a.m. on Thursday; you are all invited, and would be blessed by being part of this special time together.

I asked our group to pray for America in light of the imminent elections, and happened to turn to today’s text as part of my request. As we were praying together, I sensed the Holy Spirit speaking to me. I was to set aside the sermon I had prepared, and write another one. One which would teach us the word of God specifically regarding the circumstances of these days.

So our publications ministry called the printer, changed the sermon title and text, and here we are.

I would introduce our conversation in this way. The “Pledge of Allegiance” has been much in the news since an atheist named Michael Newdow brought a suit in 2002 seeking to remove the words “under God.” We’ll not honor his request today. With the phrase preserved, there are two ways to say the Pledge—one with a comma between “one nation” and “under God,” the other without it. Let’s say it both ways.

First, with the comma: “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands—one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” This way separates our unity and our spiritual lives.

Now let’s say the Pledge again, removing that comma: “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands—one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” I checked—this is the official way to recite the Pledge. Let’s learn to say “one nation under God” and mean it. How can we make the pledge true in our country and in our lives? And why does the issue matter so very much?

Match verbs and nouns

There is much more in our text than we have time to examine in detail this morning. So let’s drill down into those parts which relate especially to us and our country on this momentous and historic weekend.

“Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake” (v. 13a).

“Submit”—place yourself under the authority of another.

This is an imperative in the Greek—a command, not an option.

The command is in the present tense, an ongoing commitment

Do this “for the Lord’s sake”—not because the authorities in question deserve your loyalty, but because God requires it. Not because you like or don’t like the administration, or the person elected this Tuesday, or the government. But because you love the Lord.

“To every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors” (vs. 13b-14).

“Every authority”—again, no exceptions or qualifications; whether you voted for them or not.

The “king” would be Caesar to Peter, the president to us.

“Governors” would be their regional authorities, exercising the power of the Empire; they would be local and state officials to us.

“Show proper respect to everyone” (v. 17a).

Again, a present tense imperative—a daily command to obey.

“Respect to everyone”—allegiance, positive encouragement; not slander but support wherever you can. If Peter could do this with Nero, Americans can do this with our president and our leaders.

How? “Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king” (v. 17b).

Love each other—don’t fear one another.

Honor the king—don’t fear him; and you don’t have to love him.

Fear God—reverence him alone.

Now, how do we do all three? How do we love America, honor our leaders, and fear our Lord?

We vote. We exercise the right eight million Cubans do not have, just 90 miles south of our country. We exercise the freedom more than a thousand Americans have died to give those in Iraq and Afghanistan. Let me be blunt: there can be no excuse for every American of voting age not to vote. Long lines are no excuse—I cannot stand them, but I stood in one. Whether you are especially attracted to one candidate or the other is no excuse. Believing that your vote is not needed is wrong—if the 2000 election taught us anything, it is that 537 votes can elect a president. And it is irrelevant—it is your responsibility to vote.

So we vote, and we pray. We pray because we love Americans, because we honor our leaders, and because we fear God. Now, how can we pray best? How can we pray so that God can bless America?

Pray for America to be “one nation”

If the polls are to be believed, Americans are more divided in this election than in any in recent memory.

538 electoral votes are in question; Mr. Bush or Mr. Kerry must win 270 votes to achieve the presidency. Commentators are now discussing options never mentioned in my lifetime.

What happens if the vote is tied, 269-269? The states each get one vote in the House of Representatives, with 30 of the 50 aligned with the Republican Party. What if no candidate achieves a majority of electoral college votes? The newly-elected House of Representatives chooses the next president.

What happens if the election is contested legally? Both sides are preparing extensive legal teams in case the election results mirror those of 2000. That’s how divided the country appears to be.

We’re divided, and distrustful. Concerns about possible voter fraud are mounting.

As many as 58,000 absentee ballots mailed in Florida may never have reached the voters who requested them.

Colorado is investigating the fact that 3,700 have registered to vote in more than one county this year.

A lawsuit has been filed by two servicemen in Iraq and Kuwait to allow them more time to vote.

The Worst Words In All The Bible

The Worst Words in All the Bible

Matthew 7:21-23

Dr. Jim Denison

Janet has been out of town this week at a writer’s conference, so I’ve been cooking. So far we’ve had Italian, Chinese, and Mexican—whatever we can order in or eat out. Janet used to cook and stock the refrigerator if she was going to be gone, with sticky notes telling me how long to heat up everything. But when she returned, everything was precisely where she left it. She’s learned better.

She’s lucky if I’ve brought in the mail once or twice, and maybe even run the dishwasher. I am domestically challenged. She married me out of pity, and not much has changed.

If you don’t know how to do something, it’s important that you know someone who does. Someone who can fix your roof or your car, someone who can perform your surgery or calculate your taxes.

These days we’re working with the subject, “Knowing That You Know.” We’re learning how to be sure that we know God and that he knows us. Because none of us knows how to get to heaven. None of us knows how to get our sins forgiven, our hearts transformed, our lives filled with joy and peace and purpose. If we think we can do all that ourselves, today’s text is for us.

So far we’ve learned what salvation is. Today we’ll learn what it is not. And why the subject is crucial beyond all description.

Don’t trust in right words

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (v. 21).

“Lord” translates kurios, the Greek word for “master.” The Romans required their subjects to bow the knee before a bust of Caesar and say, “Caesar is Lord,” “Caesar kuriou.” Jesus’ followers refused, saying instead, “Jesus is Lord,” “Jesu kuriou.”

To say it twice is to give the word intensity. The Jews didn’t use superlatives like we do—they repeated words for emphasis. The idea here is “really Lord” or “Lord of Lords.”

“Not everyone” shows that some who say this will enter the kingdom of heaven.

To say that Jesus is your Lord is to say that he is your Master, your Savior and King. This is precisely the profession of faith we make at baptism: “Jesus is my Lord.”

“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13, quoting Joel 2:32). But “call on” means more than words—it reflects trust, commitment, reliance.

And not everyone who uses these words means them like that. Not everyone who knows the right words knows the right Lord. If you say you’re a Rotarian, you probably are. If you say that you support President Bush or Senator Kerry, you probably do. If you say you’re a Christian, you may or may not be.

In our culture, a “Christian” is a good person who believes in God. Most Americans don’t even know that there’s more to the term than that. Most don’t even know that they need to ask Jesus to forgive their sins and become their Savior and Lord. Most use “Christian” without any concept of its biblical meaning.

C. S. Lewis likens the word to “gentleman.” At one time, “gentleman” referred specifically to a man who was part of the landed gentry, a landowner who occupied a specific place in society. But over time the word evolved to mean a person who acts as a “gentleman” once did, who conducts himself with decorum and dignity. And now the word applies to everyone, whether we own land or not. It’s gone from nobility to bathroom doors.

In the same way, “Christian” originally meant “little Christ,” one who follows and imitates Jesus. It was a pejorative term, and was applied only to those who had experienced a personal relationship with Jesus.

Today “Christian” is an ethical term which refers to good people who believe in God. So nearly everyone says that the word applies to them. In that sense, nearly everyone in America calls Jesus “Lord, Lord.”

Raise your hand if you say you’re a Christian. Now be warned—this text may be about you.

Don’t trust in right works

Next Jesus lists the two most persuasive religious actions a person could perform in his day: prophecy and miracles. First, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name?”

Again the right words, “Lord, Lord.”

For the right purpose: “in your name.”

“Prophesy” in the Bible doesn’t mean to foretell the future so much as it means to forth tell the word of God.

Jesus means here what we would call “preaching.” He’s referring to people like me—a pastor, a Sunday school teacher, a seminary or college professor, a spiritual writer, someone who communicated his word through their words. He’s warning us that we can speak his words in his name, and not know him. Just because I’m your pastor, speaking these words to you today, don’t mean I know him.

A new pastor saw a meeting at his church one evening. He asked a man walking toward the sanctuary what it was about. The man said, “I’m just a visitor, but I came at the invitation of a friend. They’re meeting to pray for the spiritual conversion of their new pastor.” He came into the meeting, and gave his heart to Christ.

Not everyone who preaches or teaches God’s word knows God.

Jesus continues: “…and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?”

Again, “in your name,” for his glory and credit. “Drive out demons” refers to exorcism of evil spirits. “Perform many miracles” means just what it says—healings and unexplainable physical phenomena.

Apparently it’s possible to drive out demons without knowing Jesus. Apparently it’s possible to be involved in miraculous healings and works without knowing Jesus. I could be an exorcist or a faith healer without knowing Jesus. I could lead the lost to Christ, build great churches, do great mission work, lead great benevolent and Christian institutions, but not know Jesus.