Sunday, May 23, 2010

Journeys and Destinations

Exodus 15:1-13 “Then sang Moses and the children of Israel this song unto the LORD, and spake, saying, I will sing unto the LORD, for he hath triumphed gloriously: the horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea. The LORD is my strength and song, and he is become my salvation: he is my God, and I will prepare him an habitation; my father's God, and I will exalt him. The LORD is a man of war: the LORD is his name.
Pharaoh's chariots and his host hath he cast into the sea: his chosen captains also are drowned in the Red sea. The depths have covered them: they sank into the bottom as a stone. Thy right hand, O LORD, is become glorious in power: thy right hand, O LORD, hath dashed in pieces the enemy. And in the greatness of thine excellency thou hast overthrown them that rose up against thee: thou sentest forth thy wrath, which consumed them as stubble. And with the blast of thy nostrils the waters were gathered together, the floods stood upright as an heap, and the depths were congealed in the heart of the sea.
The enemy said, I will pursue, I will overtake, I will divide the spoil; my lust shall be satisfied upon them; I will draw my sword, my hand shall destroy them. Thou didst blow with thy wind, the sea covered them: they sank as lead in the mighty waters. Who is like unto thee, O LORD, among the gods? who is like thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders? Thou stretchedst out thy right hand, the earth swallowed them. Thou in thy mercy hast led forth the people which thou hast redeemed: thou hast guided them in thy strength unto thy holy habitation.

It makes sense to talk about Journeys and Destinations at this time of year. Being the long weekend, many are travelling to cabins and cottages to open them up for the summer. I remember as a kid travelling from our home in Bramalea, Ontario to Huntsville, 2 ½ hours north to my mom’s parents house - a cottage on a wonderful lake. For a little guy that was a long trip. At the end would be a private sandy beach, a great lake with swimming and fishing, cool moss to run around on, birch trees providing wonderful shade. But there was that necessary confinement in the back seat looking for the bridges and markers that said you were almost there.

There are at least 2 distinct ways of taking trips. The first emphasizes the destination. We want to go to Victoria Island. We get on a plane, and in a few hours we arrive at the island’s airport. You arrive for a business meeting or to visit family. You get there, get it done, then return home glad to be back to the routine you left behind. The second emphasizes the journey itself. We get our maps from CAA and after a couple or three days of travelling we board the ferry to the island; after we have spent time in the Rockies and Banff, in the Okanogan Valley and Vancouver, camping and spending time exploring what lies between us and the destination. Sometimes the first way needs to happen. Sometimes the second way should happen, but we don’t bother. The second way is harder and longer. It breaks our routines. You learn things along that journey; most of them good, but sometimes a breakdown occurs. It costs more, because of the greater time you are away from home longer - you eat out and sleep at camp sites or motels. You can also take this scenic route and not learn anything. Some people will hop the train and just watch the scenery whisk by.

Several thousand years ago the nation of Israel went on a journey. They had been trapped in the land of Egypt by a ruler who turned them into slaves. They cried out to God and He sent a deliverer by the name of Moses. God used Moses to get His people free and so they left. As they were leaving we find that the Egyptians gave them gold and jewellery, an unexpected blessing as they entered the wilderness. They left what was known for the unknown.  They were headed for the Land promised to Abraham so long before. Some people on that trip had one thing in mind - the destination. The stuff they experienced on the way was just inconvenience until they got to where they were going.  I expect comfort was one of those things they valued. They couldn’t stand living out of a suitcase, with no mailing address. It is interesting to note that many individuals throughout the Scriptures had no permanent address. Adam and Eve had to leave their home, evicted, though that was pretty much their fault. They went into a big unknown world to make a life for themselves. Abraham was called out of his country to a place he didn’t know. Many of the prophets had no real home, wandering and spreading the message of God. Mary and Joseph had to flee to Egypt for a couple years.  Jesus had no place to lay his head during His itinerant ministry. Paul wandered all over the known world - his suitcase was his home.

So off Israel goes, to the Promised Land. First stop is Mount Sinai. Moses has to pick something up, a map as it were. The moral map that Moses was after would guide them along the way. This was a major step to the Promised Land, something they couldn’t skip. The nation of Israel went from bondage and slavery, to freedom following God. And what did they do? First they complained about the taste of the water. They walked out into the desert and immediately were thirsty. They came to a place of bitter waters - the water was sick. The first thing they did was let fear control them and complain. They just crossed the Red Sea, the waters parted so they had dry land to cross. The Egyptians followed and were drowned. They saw the power of God move them out… and they were afraid of where He moved them. Here at the bitter waters, God healed the waters and then God led them to the springs of Elim. Then Israel complained about the food. They were hungry - where would you get enough food for a nation when you were in the middle of the wilderness? God provided Manna. The only thing was they had to gather it day by day. God only provided what they needed that day so they had to learn to trust Him. A bit further along they complained about being thirsty - they weren’t even at Mount Sinai yet and already bang, bang, bang they have grumbled and complained 3 times, many wanting to go back to Egypt. What did God do? He provided water from a rock. Moses called that place Massah and Meribah because they quarrelled with himself and wondered if God knew their problems. Finally they got to Sinai, and while Moses was gone talking to God they made a golden calf. Now, if it was me, I would hope I would have acted differently. Do you get that sense of kids asking, “Are we there yet?” The kids all pile out of the car as they reach the first gas station and continue to find faults. The whole way you had people grumbling and murmuring. You had people questioning Moses’ leadership. These people just wanted to get where they were going. It seems that they would have preferred bondage and slavery to God’s presence.

They missed the lesson of the water at Elim. Moses said in Exodus 15:26, “If you will give earnest heed to the voice of the LORD your God, and do what is right in His sight, and give ear to His commandments, and keep all His statutes, He will put none of the diseases on you which He put on the Egyptians; for God says, “I, the LORD, am your Healer.”” They missed the lesson of the manna. When they were hungry He provided something that tasted like wafers and honey. Until they went to the Promised Land, manna was there - day in and day out. Even though they wandered for 40 years in the wilderness, some 1.5 million people, they never went hungry. God was their Provider. They missed the lesson of Meribah, where God showed them in the midst of testing He was there. He was their Comforter. The worst of it all was that by the time they got to the edge of the Promised Land, they were too afraid to go in. The land was all they hoped it would be but the people, the obstacles in the land were too big. The promise of God was extended to them and all they had to do was reach out and take it. What a crazy story of people trying to get somewhere, but never arriving. The only reason for failure was their lack of faith in the God who had done so many miracles in their midst.  At one point we read that God said He would destroy the people for the 10 times they failed to trust Him. Isn’t it interesting that 10 is the number of plagues God placed on Egypt before Pharaoh would let the people of God go? Here at the Promised Land they themselves turned their back on God 10 times.

And so we are on a journey, both as individuals and as a community of Believers. As individuals we are on the road to glory, to the revealing of who God is in our lives. God changes us day by day into the likeness of Jesus, revealing Himself to us and the world around us. As a church God takes this motley group, if I may say, and uses us to accomplish His purpose in this place. We are all travelling to the Promised Land, to the place where we will be in His presence, a place we can call home. And we haven’t arrived yet, but we have a choice. We can choose to look only at the destination and let the journey pass us by. In so doing, we will miss much of His blessing, for He leads us with His presence today like He led the nation of Israel through the wilderness. As a Church we need to be a people of the journey, of God going before us and we following His lead. Let the destination worry about itself. We will cross the Jordan River in due time, but in the mean time, let us see the miracles of God’s healing and provision and comfort in our midst.

Let us learn the lesson of the bitter waters that God can heal. Over the last 15 years as a church we have lost many friends. We have made bad decisions that cost us fellowship. But we have also seen God heal in our midst, so let us call Him Healer; let us recognize our mistakes and our brokenness and ask God to heal.. Let us trust Him with our lives, our loved ones’ lives. Let us not just trust God for our physical lives, but our spiritual lives that are worth so much more. God heals us spiritually. Eternal life is what happens to us when we are healed of the sin problem. So let us not be like the children of Israel and grumble about things that we feel are obstacles or aren’t right. God will make all right. He is our Healer, and anything that is out there against us, pulling us down, strangling the life out of us has no power here. God is the Healer and He will heal us.

Let us learn the lesson of the manna, of trusting God for all we need. He is our Provider. Day in and day out He has promised to provide for us. Jesus said to seek first God’s kingdom and that He will look after the rest. There may be things that come against us so we look poor, we look hungry, and the future looks bleak. But God, our Provider, Jehovah Jireh, is faithful and will not leave us hungry. We are the Bride of Christ! How can we say He will neglect us and leave us and not provide? Those are the lies of the evil one, and they have no power here. Spiritually you have a feast with the Master Chef of the universe at your disposal every day. Rest in Him. You don’t need to store up treasures here on earth. We don’t need to protect our bank accounts, our savings, our building, our stuff. None of that really matters because we know the God who owns the cattle on a thousand hills. Would you rather have onions on the banks of the Nile back in bondage, or rib steak in the presence of God almighty? It doesn’t look so much like a wilderness with God at the helm, does it?

And let us learn the lesson of the dry times. When we are tired of the journey, when we are parched from the stuff of life and the winds of change, let us go to God who is our Comforter. We are so short sighted sometimes. We look at what is in front of us and think that is all there is. God is so much bigger than the here and now, than these things we have around us. We see a rock, but God sees a fountain of life. We see empty chairs but God sees room for us to grow and reach out. We need to stop our striving of trying to be more than we are in our own strength, of trying to be things that we are not. It is not us that is so great, but our God, and who is bigger than He? God is in us right now, in the details in our lives. As we rest in Him, He will come and comfort. He will come and change us; He will do that work that transforms us. We will go to Him weak and heavy laden and He will give us rest.

Learn the lessons of Israel’s past: Don’t grumble, but step out in faith and praise God. Don’t doubt and fear, but surrender all you are to Him, trust in Him, and He will give you the victory. And when God says go, go; you don’t want to be wandering in some desert for 40 years because you weren’t willing to step out in faith. Know this: we are not only on a wonderful journey together, you and me, with God; but we are entering our Year of Jubilee. I look forward to sharing with you next week what God has said about that!

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