Monthly Archives: March 2017

Let the Plagues Begin

Sometimes the things God is trying to accomplish in His Redemptive Plan are hard to understand and hard on those whom He uses. This week we look at the struggles of Moses answering the call of God to go and be used to set Israel free from the enslaved Egyptians. Moses was still hurting 40 yrs. later after being banished because of murder. He is on the back side of Mount. Horeb, probably feeling that his life basically is over except just playing out the shepherding thing. When God calls Moses, he tries to make as many excuses as he can; all of which is rejected by Jehovah. Finally, in the anger of the LORD, God says he will use Aaron as the spokesman, but Moses will still be the man God will directly talk to. At this point there are probably many of us who think because of our past sin, that God can’t or won’t use us. – the truth is God will use broken vessels to show His grace and mercy more readily than someone who has not been wayward in their walk. Now this does not excuse us from our sin and need for repentance; but God is the one who puts us on the shelf, not us! Also we read through the 10 plagues that God brings on Pharaoh and the land. There have been many that have read through this section of Exodus and felt “compassionate” for Pharaoh. The hardening of his heart by God is often felt to be unfair. A careful reading will expose to the reader, that initially Pharaoh had a hard heart, and that after plague of the Boils, does God harden Pharaoh’s heart. God is omniscient – He knows our thoughts and intents of our hearts. The rebellion and refusal to listen to Moses/God was in the heart of Pharaoh already. If we are not careful we can think that God did the same thing to Esau and Judas, but the individual has the choice to respond to the Lord – Pharaoh chose to reject God and thus endured the Plagues. There is a very clear pattern to how Pharaoh reacts to the plagues. During the first three, because they didn’t affect people or the palace, he pretty much just passed them off. This became especially true when the wizards and magicians were able to duplicate the plague. In fact the first time Moses request permission to go in the wilderness and worship [odd for they don’t do a good job of worship when they are in the wilderness] the labor of the Israelite people is increased for now they had to go get the straw to make the bricks. Needless to say, initially the Israelites were anti-Moses.  With the many plagues [10] Pharaoh doesn’t seem to get that God will reign supreme. As the plagues progress, there is a pattern of trying to negotiate with God/Moses on leaving. It is interesting that Moses kept saying let us go three days in the wilderness to worship. I am not sure just how far all the people, livestock and such could go in three days. So the intent was much more than just a go and come back – they wanted to leave permanently. Obviously Pharaoh was not willing to let his workforce just take off. This story of how God delivered Israel out of Egypt is a story that will be remembered by Israel all of its days. The point that God said He would be known and glorified throughout the world because of His great power displayed in releasing Israel from Egypt. This point was spread wide because in the Promised Land, Rahab and others knew/heard about God’s power and that He was with the Israelite people. So the point of being glorified through Pharaoh came true completely.  One final thought – Pharaoh was always in crisis of belief mode – when the crisis was in full swing, he would try to negotiate the release; but when the plague subsided; he would revert back to his hard hardheartedness. We are the same way – while a crisis is raging we cry out to God for help; but when it is over or manageable, then we become dependent on our own abilities to manage the situation. This could be a reason why God has to put drastic things in our lives to get our attention.

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Escape From Egypt

In Exodus we find an event that would become the journey out of bondage for Israel, but a spiritual journey for all of us to escape the clutches of evil. It is a paradox that Egypt has become bondage for Israel, when previously it was a place of refuge from the famine. Some 460 years have passed since God gave Abraham the promise of a Promised Land. I do not know what the meaning for the wait to come back out of Egypt was all about. It could be that Israel had to get to the point of willing to leave. This can and has been us in our own journey. In times of famine all of us have embraced the “things of this world” to overcome the hardships of life. But if we find our comfort in these “devices” as a believer it can become paralyzing. We do know also that the fulfillment of the Canaanites was not yet accomplished – Gen 15. Just as we know that God has not sent Jesus back for His Church because the fulfillment of the “times of the Gentiles” has not been completed. Romans 11:25. In this 460 years Israel has grown from a mere family to a multitude of approximately 1.6 – 2.3 million people. This would be quite an undertaking to move that many people.

Enter into the saga Moses. The scripture tells us that a King or Pharaoh who knew not Joseph rises to power. We read about the fear of Egypt concerning the growth of Israel and the fear that Israel will side with Egypt’s enemies should the time come. Too many Israelites! SO commands were given to kill all male babies. This is ironic for in China today the opposite is held true. There they only want male children. Obvious for their own work force. The evil here is exterminate anyone that might threaten the Pharaoh. We have the same thing when Herod tries to destroy any possible King of Israel in Matthew 2. Please capture this principle early in this book – Egypt is Evil; Egypt is Sin and Egypt is Satan.  For the man without God, Satan/sin desires to keep him incarcerated and shackled by sin and guilt. The forces of Evil/Egypt will not willing let people go. Satan does not want to lose his imps; yet he does not want man to overpower him either. Sin and Satan wants to keep us in chains to do his evil bidding. For a person to come to freedom, he must be set free through the deliverance of God. The ten plagues are reflective of the great length that God went to to defeat Satan. It is quite interesting that Israel always seems to find itself back in Egypt. The Patriarchs seemed to travel there routinely. The Believer once he or she has been set free from the bondage of the taskmaster, often finds that they are re-shackled by sin and guilt. Satan and sin are readily waiting for all returning slaves! Do not be one!

The deliverer – Moses had to be secretly saved from the cruel edict of Pharaoh, ironically, Pharaohs daughter “saves” the deliverer from the Nile. This begins the training period of Moses. He is taught all the tactics of war and educated in every imaginable art and science. Yet the bible tells us that he elected not to enjoin the comforts of Egypt, but chose to identify with his people. Preparation time is a lonely time. Yet, the timing by Moses in killing the Egyptian and then another 40 years on the backside of the desert herding sheep were for the event of the Exodus. We should not hurry or begrudge the preparation time of our Lord. He knows what tools and skills we need to do the job He needs us to do.

In chapter three, the many and varied excuses offered by Moses just doesn’t matter to the Father. He chose Moses, prepared and developed Moses, now it was time for Moses to do what God had prepared him to do. We are all incapable of doing the work, but God will prepare and develop us for His task. Moses would need to know all the arts and tactics of Egypt – know your enemy; but also know how to shepherd stiff-necked people, hence the sheep training. God doesn’t waste anything in our development. Hey Moses what is that in your hand?

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The Law of Inertia

The Law of Inertia – An object at rest will remain at rest unless acted on by an unbalanced force. An object in motion continues in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force. This law is often called “the law of inertia” – Isaac Newton In previous articles to this magazine I have used the word Revivalization. I use this word to identify that both spiritual revival and leadership structure are necessary for revitalization to occur. In the process of developing a revitalization strategy, the Team must look beyond the “Turning Around” point of the Church. It has been said that to turn around a huge ship it takes quite a bit of water; the same can be said with a dying or declining Church. Once the revitalization effort has begun its “turning” it has to keep the momentum or it can easily return back to a listless position. Momentum is very important within any organization; for a lull can be detrimental to all that was previously accomplished. Since we all know that change is unwelcomed, if there is a hint of stabilization before the revitalization process is complete, there will be none accomplished except wasted effort. Once a church is moving, it must keep moving. Revitalization has at its heart two key principles: 1st – Create a sense of urgency and 2nd – Create an atmosphere of change. A church must embrace its true condition; but knowledge of this does not mobilize the Church to do anything. The Revitalizationist like an artist must draw a new future to be embraced. While most of the plan and implementation is to bring a Church back from extinction; there must also be incorporated in the process, an extension of keeping the Church moving. This action can be simple as establishing an evaluation interval for course correction of previous actions. Part of the process I have incorporated is while establishing a Strategic Plan for “turning the boat”; we also establish a Long range Planning Team. This Team will take into account those actions implemented and will if necessary bring forth course corrections to achieve the original goals. But Revitalization is more than turning the boat around; it must also include how to get the “boat to move up-stream”. A Church/boat can be turned eventually; but that doesn’t mean it is moving, it could after turning around, then be caught flowing down stream, which only means it is in greater danger going down stream backwards.

In the Strategic Process, the Church must have clearly established goals and actions. These actions necessarily need to be accomplished over a period of time. Normally most experts say 5-7 years. Too fast a change can have the effect of no change. Revitalization takes time; we have all heard this over and over. But there can be a “push” to “get it done” that just puts too much at one time on the congregation. We have heard that we must have small wins to create a willingness to make bigger changes. Use the Wins to keep the Church moving. Once the Church has made the turn from drifting and declining, a great amount of effort has to be expended to get it to go upstream. As with a boat, it will take a lot of horsepower to move the boat forward; this is just as true for the Church. While the Strategic Process is at work, the congregation must be Strengthened. The Spirit of Revival can be this catalyst. Just as Nehemiah had the task of building the Temple Walls, he had to motivate the people to build. Nehemiah had an Ezra to help him “renew the spirit” of the people. As a consequence the “people had a mind to work” and the walls were complete in 52 days! [Nehemiah 6:15] People forget quickly what God has done. If Revitalization is going to be successful, the Church must believe again in the power of Jesus.

While the task of building the Wall was accomplished; there was so much more that needed to be done. This is likewise true in Revitalization. This is where the Long Range Planning Team [LRPT] comes in to the picture. Establishing a LRPT will act as the fuel for the engine to travel up stream. The goal of Revitalization is never just to turn the boat around! There must be in the Strategic Process the answer to the question – “Where are we going?” The LRPT establishes the course to get to the new destination. These course plans will have to be long, medium and short term. A typical format would have a 3, 5 and 10 year outlook of plans and actions to be accomplished. Now word of caution; this LRPT is an on-going process; it is part of the new DNA of the Church. The Church faltered because it “had arrived” so to speak and quit. To prevent the cycle from recurring, develop a continuous course. To do this when the 3 year plan has been implanted, the 5 year now becomes the 3 year and the 10 year plans become the 5 year. This means there is a new 10 year plan to be envisioned, and the subsequent cycle continues. Obviously, a church cannot continue to build building and the like, so the LRPT must include things like new staff positions, church planting and missions’ involvement. As a Revitalizationist, we must also be visionaries. We cannot be content with bringing a Church back from the depths of decline and death; we must enable them to become healthy and reproductive; and all of this will take time; a lot of time. When I read about Churches that have been Revitalized, it usually includes a long-termed pastor and on-going leadership and shepherding of the Congregation. This is why the Long Range Planning Team is important, it sustains the initial movement to head the right direction; but also provides the enthusiasm to stay on the journey. Happy Sailing!

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The Intermission

This week we have come to the end of Genesis, but it seems more like an intermission. Like the break between major acts in a play or musical. When we conclude this book of Beginnings, we have Jacob [Israel] having moved to Egypt and having lived there for some 17 years before his death. The dreams of Joseph have been true and acted out according to God’s plan. Joseph’s rise to high level in Egypt has enabled his to position his family – all 70 of them into a fertile land called Goshen; separated from the Egyptians and able to live out their culturally unique lifestyle. Joseph has saved his family, Egypt and surrounding nations from certain starvation. Now, we know that God the Father was at work to save Israel; but many were the benefactors because of His grace and mercy. The intermission as I call it will last some 460 years; just as Elohim had told Abraham in Genesis 15:13. This is quite a break from the story, but nevertheless now the last time God will have a great intermission. The time between the Testaments will be a 400 year silent period. I wonder what the purpose was for such a long period? There are times in our personal life where it seems that God may not be speaking. This times of “silence” can and are often very disturbing for us. We have an expectation that God should be speaking all the time. I have had many such times in my life, of which I was unnerved because they occurred. I had to learn that the silence doesn’t mean something is wrong or right, it is just a time of silence. The doubt comes to us when the “silence” happens that we have done something to offend our Lord. I have had to remind myself that with my earthly father, he didn’t always get up in the morning and tell me that I was his son. I already knew that I was his son, and really didn’t need daily affirmation. However, many believers struggle is God hasn’t somehow affirmed to them continually that they are “sons” of God. Why do we need these words of affirmation all the time? The flesh, human nature or lack of self-confidence? I am not really sure. I do know that we like to be reassured that everything is okay in our relationships – to the point that we want to hear it from people. Think of this, women like to hear the “I love you’s” from their husbands, and if they don’t it unsettles them. SO they ask “Do you love me?” Nothing has changed, but silence is troublesome for us.

I have to admit I wonder about those extended periods in the Bible where nothing was going on [well at least written about] and the people who lived during that time. We will find out in Exodus of the harsh living conditions the people had to endure. From a position of such favor, to one of jealousy and heavy burden. *****Note, I do understand that the time in-between the Testaments was very busy from a worldly standpoint – God was at work preparing the world for the right conditions that would maximize Jesus’ ministry – Galatians 4:4. I would suppose the same must be said about the time in Egypt. Times of ease are often times of apathy and falling away – such as life in USA. Israel had a good life while Joseph was in charge, they would not leave such a “great situation” on their own. In fact we find that even as hard and difficult it was to live in Egypt – the people constantly wanted to return to such a life. God was blessing and preparing Israel for the next significant chapter in His Plan. Good times are enjoyable, but difficult times are for growth. [James 1:2-5]

So if you find yourself in a silent period of your walk with the Lord, enjoy it and get prepared for the Lord is about to do something that you will need all your strength for. Isaiah 40:31 – key verse in learning how to wait on the Lord. Trouble is none of us like to wait!

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Right Man, Right Time, Right Place

Genesis 41-45 has Joseph in the house of Potiphar and Pharaoh. While we know the deceit and deception of his brothers put him there, a strong message is found in the phrase, “and God was with Joseph.” Surprisingly enough Joseph does not appear bitter or revengeful about the lot life has given him. In each situation, we find that Joseph rises to the top, primarily because God was with him, but also a faith that Jehovah is stronger than anything life can throw at us. After the dreams in prison, Joseph spends another 2 years. SO much for an early release for good behavior. Forgotten by the Cup-bearer, Joseph waits, yet in his waiting, he rises to being in charge of the prison. Dreams come again to the narrative, this time it is Pharaoh who has the dream. ****Note dreams do not always come true, nor are they  necessarily from God. Special time, special place. We have the Holy Spirit at work in us to discern the path of our lives. Cows and Corn – seven fat, seven lean. Feast and famine times. On with the story, Joseph is second only to Pharaoh for the rule of Egypt. Point here is that Joseph has to be in place before the problem occurs. God has Joseph in the right place at the right time for all the right reasons. God is going to do a work to get Jacob [Israel] to Egypt – this in itself is a fulfillment of Genesis 15, when God says to Abraham that his people will spend 400 years in Egypt. Well it makes sense that they would have to get there to get called from there. God’s plan is right, God is at work – He is still at work today even when we don’t necessarily recognize it. Joseph has been in Egypt for 13 years, he is now 30 years old. He has married and is entrenched into the Egyptians culture.

The famine comes – Jacob and family need food, so begins the saga of back and forth with the sons of Israel getting food and the manipulation of Joseph. It is interesting that even though it has been 13 years since the deception of Joseph’s death to Jacob, the brothers have not forgotten it. In fact when things go awry, the first thing they think of is the retribution for their evil done to Joseph. Eventually, the ploy to get Benjamin to Egypt and the indictment that the brothers are thieves. The dreams of the dreamer come true, twice the brothers fall on their face and bow to Joseph. I wonder what he thought when it happened? Jacob is not beside himself, not only has he lost Joseph, Rachel – now Benjamin is in jeopardy of being lost. It is good to see some of the brothers step up – Simeon and Judah to try to spare their father the agony. As the story develops Joseph reveals himself to his brothers – not sure that was a great time for them. Their sin obviously still haunts them. At the revealing – Joseph tries to console the distraught brothers and prove his love for them. This isn’t a “what goes around, comes around story.” It is a story of love and compassion in-spite of deliberate and malicious dealings.

Joseph is gracious and compassionate, in-spite of life, family and circumstances. He had a faith in the Father, that didn’t waver in the difficult times. I really don’t know how I would respond. The point of the narrative about Joseph, brothers and the events – God is at work in us to bring us through His plan for our lives and for His purpose in others. The “it’s all about Me syndrome” is not found here. How many of us even now find ourselves in a precarious position that seems unfair and ungodly? Are we willing to let the father in heaven “work out in us, what has been worked in?” Jacob in the end is rejoined with Joseph – and lives out a life of comfort because for a time he had to let his child go so that he could do the work of God. Are we willing to allow God to use us, or family and situation for His greater glory instead of our own immediate comfort?

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