Moses: “Like No Other”

We’ve been dwelling in Moses’ life as told through the book of Exodus since springtime, and it has been a very rich journey. And now we arrived at the foot of Mt. Sinai, where Moses will receive from God perhaps what Moses is most famous for: the Ten Commandments.

So, so much has been written about the Ten Commandments, and even more has been presumed. You might see them outside a courthouse, or tattooed on someone’s arm. They are part of the foundation of western civilization, whether we’re aware of them or not. So let’s take a couple of moments to recap what Pastor Jim Mead taught us today.

What the Ten Commandments are NOT:

  • They are not a set of moral principles. Frederick Buechner said that principles are what people have in place of God. The Ten Commandments are the opposite of that — they are the foundation by which respond to God’s love and join into covenant with God.
  • They are not a pathway to God. Take a look at verse 6: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” Do the Commandments begin with expectation? Or do they begin with grace? The relationship always begins with God’s gracious willingness to advocate for people, even to rescue us. And this did not change when Jesus came on the scene. Jesus fulfilled the covenant relationship with the Father, showing us what it means to respond to God’s grace by loving God with our heart, mind, soul, and strength. That love can be expressed through following his “torah,” or instructions.

So what ARE the Ten Commandments?

  • They are instructions to live as we are designed. Human beings, made in God’s image (see Gen. 1:27) are designed to function in particular ways. We aren’t fish. We aren’t elephants. We are human beings. That means we are designed to live in ongoing connection (“relationship”) with the living God, and with each other in mutually loving community. But living as designed is a choice God allows us to make (not true for other creatures, right?) An aspect of God’s image in us is our ability to choose to live contrary to our design. The problem is that just because we choose it doesn’t mean it works. For example, if you drove a 2002 Toyota Tundra (like Jim does) you could operate it as designed, or not. By design, you’d change the oil, rotate the tires, and get occasional tune-ups. Against design, you might ignore those needs, or even try operate it as a boat (which would work, but only for a couple seconds.)
  • They are the foundation for our part of a covenant relationship with God. Like wedding vows, life gets more complicated than the few scenarios we recite on our wedding day. If wedding vows had to list every possible challenge we’d face in our covenants of marriage, the ceremony would last months! Instead, our vows outline the foundations of our covenant, the range of life experience in which we’re committing to partner with each other. After all, we get married because our spouse is “like no other.” Just as God is “jealous” for us, since God is like no other, too. The wedding day is a foundation for the marriage, just as the Ten Commandments are the foundation for the covenant we live with God. Some people resent the idea that God would have expectations of us. But would it be a living, loving relationship if God expected nothing of us?
  • They foreshadow God’s grace as revealed in Jesus Christ. Jesus claimed to fulfill God’s Torah (again, “law” or “instructions”) the way the Israelites were supposed to have done, but couldn’t. Jesus doesn’t do away with it or revise it. He fulfills it, on our behalf, in his own life. And the life God designed us to have is fulfilled in Jesus, too. Jesus lived as we can live. His death conquered the sin and death that separates us from God. His resurrection seals God’s promise that we are made for everlasting life. The Ten Commandments are the day-to-day foundational expression of the greatest commandments, as taught by Jesus:
    37 “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

For reflection:
– Have you heard of the Ten Commandments before? What has been your impression of them?
– What do you think about the idea that God has expectations of us?
– Have you learned anything new about the Ten Commandments? What do they reveal about God’s character?

Many blessings,

Moses: “Delegate or Suffocate”

In 2001, I knew an older gentleman in Beflast, Northern Ireland named George. One day, George approached me after a sermon I gave and said, “That was a good sermon, Mike. There is one thing though…” He leaned in: “You’ve got to get your hands out of your pockets! It makes you look like a lazy man!”

Safe to say I don’t think I put my hands in my pockets up front for a long time after that. George really valued being known as a hard worker, and that “Protestant Work Ethic” is very much part of the American landscape, too. It’s just that, no matter hard hard a person works, they cannot do all the work alone.

In Exodus 18:13-27, Moses had been given a specific task by God — to judge God’s instructions and teach them to the people. But the line waiting for his counsel was dawn-to-dusk and ran round and round the block! He needed help, and his father-in-law Jethro knew it. Taking Jethro’s advice, Moses shared his responsibility with capable, trustworthy, God-fearing people, and together they could accomplish that specific task. God’s will is discerned and lived out in devoted community.

This means a few things:

  1. Living God’s will requires various responsibilities. Like a symphony or sports team, the task is shared (in this case, discerning and living God’s will) but the responsibilities can vary. Moses had the responsibility of oversight and final accountability to God. The other judges had responsibility over varying numbers of people. And don’t forget the people — they had the responsibility of actually obeying the counsel they were given!
  2. Living God’s will requires cooperation. It’s one thing to know your responsilbility. But it’s another to harmonize yours with others’ so that you act as a single unit. There are two key points of view on this:
    – Moses/Leader: Sometimes you’re the one in charge, and cooperating with others’ responsibility means (a) sharing control, and (b) trusting.
    – Judges/Cooperative Team: Sometimes you’re not in charge, but you’ve been asked to take on some responsibility. To honor God in that, the team must (a) say “yes” (not much can happen without that), (b) have a team attitude (a begrudging ‘yes’ can be worse than a ‘no’!) and (c) maintain perspective on the larger goal. This last one is key. The “God-fearing” men that Moses needed to choose would have to maintain the perspective that their job as judges wasn’t actually about them, and it wasn’t about Moses. It was about God and blessing the Israelites with God’s will so they could live the abundant lives God wanted them to live.

Here’s the great news (thank Jethro!) When we live God’s will as a devoted community, “everyone will go home satisfied.” That includes the people receiving the counsel and the ones giving it. It’s not God’s will that some people get served while the servants go home exhausted, burned out and cynical. Burnout isn’t righteous; it just gives us a chance to feed our egos. Rather, God’s will is that we share in the responsibility of governing the world in such a way that there is balance, health, and satisfaction.

For reflection:
1) In what ways do you play Moses’ role, as the one in charge? At home? Work? Church? Elsewhere? What challenges do you face as one in charge?
2) In what ways do you play the ‘judges” role, as the one being entrusted with responsibility? At home? Work? Church? Elsewhere? What challenges do you face as the one being given responsibility, but not ultimately in charge?
3) Jesus also entrusted people with responsibility — what can we learn about the character of God by today’s passage, or in the many other ways God expects people to share the responsibility of living out God’s will?

Many blessings,

Moses: Water, Whiners, and ‘What is it?’

Oh boy — this scripture seemed pretty straightforward at first, but as I delved into it I discovered so many treasures! Let’s jump in…

The Israel-ites (that is, descendants of “Israel,” a.k.a. Jacob) are safe. Phew! God has rescued them from certain death at the hands of Pharaoh and/or drowning in the Red Sea. Moreover, God has provided for them for the last month and a half in the wilderness. He purified water for them, will teach them so they can live disease-free, and led them to an oasis (Exodus 15:22-27). But here’s the thing about hunger — today’s hunger makes yesterday’s food seem a long, long way off.

The Israelites’ anxieties rise back up to the surface in an irrational accusation that Moses and Aaron have fooled them and are planning to kill them all (Ex. 16:3) And God answers their anxiety with still more provision! He will “rain down bread from heaven” he promises. And there are three reasons for his provision that we can learn from this passage.

  1. God provides in order to test us. This is not quite as “lovey-dovey” as I would have hoped. It’d be nice to read something like “I will provide because y’all are just so awesome.” But that’s not the first reason God gives. He provides for them to “see whether they will follow my instructions, or not” (16:4). While it might not look good on a Hallmark card, it does make sense. Whenever we’re given resources, we have a responsibility to consider how to use them. It’s like when I got my first credit card — would I spend within my means? Or would I test the limits? The choice is ours.
  2. God provides in order for us to know him. The Hebrew word for “knowledge” (yada‘) refers to a whole-self kind of knowledge that includes intellectual awareness, but especially experiential knowledge that we gain as a process. In fact, it’s ironic that God wants them to “know,” and their response to the gift (manna) is “What is it?” They don’t “know”! But God doesn’t need them to “know” what it is. God wants them to gather it, eat it, and live! Their “knowledge” of God will result from putting their faith into action, regardless of their understanding.
  3. God provides in order to sustain us. Thank God that he knows how we are formed; he remembers that we are dust (Ps. 103:14). And what provision! The Israelites are afraid that everyone will die, but God’s response is that “Everyone is to gather as much as they need” (16:16). Not only would they get enough, but it would also be tasty! The manna was said to have tasted like honey. And meat? What an indulgence! Throughout history, only the privileged get meat. But here, this ragtag group will eat the same abundance they ate in Egypt, but with an added treat — FREEDOM.

For Reflection:
– Describe a time when you felt God had provided for you. What did God provide? Was it enough?
– When God provides for us, how might we “take the test” and use that provision to follow in his instruction?
– Describe a time when you felt pangs of need. What did you need? How did that need make you feel?
– When you’re waiting on God to provide, how might you remain open-minded to the notion that God’s provision might perplex you, (that is, make you say “What is it?”)
– Are you willing to be perplexed in your walk of faith? Willing to lack understanding but follow Jesus’ anyway?

Many blessings,

Moses: Fear vs. Experience

(Today’s message summary was submitted by Lisa Woicik, who gave the message at UPPC on July 21, 2019. Watch it at!

It doesn’t take long after the Israelites leave Egypt before they face what looks like impending death.  Camped at the edge of the Red Sea, they look up and see Pharaoh’s army fast approaching them.  Trapped between Pharaoh’s army and the Sea, they respond, as any of us would – with panic!  Yet, Moses’ response is calm, confident in God’s deliverance. 

Does this seem like the same Moses who seemed to fear and doubt everything God asked him to do (see Exodus 3-5)?  Only a few weeks have passed since Moses let fear get the best of him and questioned God’s intent to help Israel (Ex. 5:22-23).  Now, when death seems to be knocking at the door, Moses is outwardly calm and confident.  How can that be?

When we look at this story, it is helpful to remember that Moses was still human.  He felt fear and panic just like the rest of us do. The difference between the Moses at the Red Sea and the Moses of Exodus 5 is that Moses now had experienced God’s faithful provision at least 10 times.  With each plague that God brought upon Egypt, God told Moses what would happen, Moses followed God’s instructions, and Moses saw God fulfill what was promised.  

Repeatedly experiencing God’s faithful provision allowed Moses’ trust in God to grow stronger.  Just like we trust that the sun will rise tomorrow because we don’t know of a time when it hasn’t done so, Moses’ faith in God grew stronger every time he witnessed God’s provision.  Because Moses was confident in God’s provision, he was able to set aside his fear in that moment and calmly do what he needed to do so that God could deliver the Israelites to safety.  

1.      How have you experienced God’s provision in your own life? 

2.  Have you ever had a moment when you were in full panic mode?  What did that look like?  What brought you out of it?  

3.      When is fear a healthy response?  What does unhealthy fear look like? 

4.      What is happening in your life now that seems unbearable?  How might you be able to practice setting aside your fear and take the next step trusting in God’s provision? 

Lisa Woicik

Moses: Hardened Heart and Passover Lamb

Once Moses confronted Pharaoh, things started to move quickly. Moses warned Pharaoh that God would plague the land if he didn’t let the Hebrews go. He would eventually give Pharaoh not three, not five, but TEN chances to do the right thing. But rather than the plagues softening Pharaoh’s heart, his heart became “hard” and he would not relent. The “hardened” heart is also translated “heavy” (think hard like stone, which is also heavy) which even the Egyptians believed meant that Pharaoh was “unjust.” In fact, their belief system also said that he would be condemned in the afterlife according to the heaviness/hardness of his heart.

The tenth plague is indeed the most disturbing — the death of the firstborn of Egypt. As we read this story, we need to avoid any sort of “Enlightenment arrogance” by which we judge the goodness or badness of the story based on our understanding of right and wrong. Rather, we must defer to the culture of the day, as well as the fact that Pharaoh had been duly warned nine times beforehand, and even warned that this tenth plague would mean the death of the firstborn. And still, he did not relent.

The death of the firstborn sets the stage for the first Passover, which is one of the most important annual holidays celebrated by Jews to this day. So it was no coincidence that Jesus, who of course was Jewish, chose the Passover meal to explain the meaning of his own impending death. He took the familiar elements of bread and wine, used in the Passover meal, and transformed their meaning to reflect his own body and blood, as he would stand in as the once-and-for-all sacrificial lamb, whose death would mean freedom not from worldly oppressors only, but from the ultimate oppressors — sin and death. And not only for a particular people, but for the entire world. Now, Christians worldwide still celebrate that last supper and its meaning through the sacrament of Communion, also known as the Eucharist or the Lord’s Supper.

For reflection:
– Do you celebrate the Eucharist/Communion/Lord’s Supper? If so, describe your tradition.
– It can be hard to imagine the same God who creates life also destroying it. Is it possible to bring our struggle with this aspect of God directly to God in prayer?
– If a “heavy/hard heart” was the symbol for injustice then, what might be a symbol for injustice today?
– What kinds of events/experiences can soften a person’s heart?

In Grace,

Moses: 10 gods, 10 plagues

Pastor Aaron has a friend in Chicago who slow cooks a prime rib for 14 hours every year for Christmas dinner.  But one day in February, he got his natural gas bill, which was for more than $3000!  Turns out the outdoor natural gas for his barbecue had been running since Christmas Eve — for two months. 

This kind of rude awakening, after having done what you think you’re supposed to do, must be a glimpse into the kind of disappointment Moses and Aaron experienced after they initially confronted Pharaoh in Exodus chapter 5: ““Lord, why have You brought trouble on this people? Why is it You have sent me?” (v.22).

Have you ever prayed like this?  “Lord, don’t you care?  Don’t you care about the hostility in our country?  How long will extremists kill, and children suffer?  Where are you when my own family is falling apart?  What kind of God are you?”

God’s answer to Moses is a repeated promise, starting in chapter 6 verse 1: “Now you will see…”  What follows is the story of the ten plagues, starting in chapter 7.   What is especially interesting is the context of Egypt’s religious culture, and the way Yahweh’s plagues addressed their various gods.

In the plagues, Yahweh demonstrates lordship over the entire world, from the supply of the Nile to the fertility symbolized in frogs. The ninth plague, darkness, is the penultimate showdown between Moses, perceived to be a nobody, and Pharaoh, the most powerful person in the known world. Moses spent forty years thinking he was somebody, then forty years learning that he was a nobody, and his final forty years realizing what God can do with a nobody (D.L. Moody).

Even today, our battle is not against flesh and blood. What would Moses say to us today, when our expectations are disappointed? Would he encourage us to take part in God’s “long game,” encouraging us to trust in God’s eternal perspective rather than our own short-term point of view? Even today, we could ask, “Why would God allow Israel to suffer more after Moses obeyed?” But even that question presumes that we know how God should operate. We inadvertently presume we know best, especially from the darkness of our own suffering. And we may not be able to comprehend God’s activity in our lives. But what we can do is trust. “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for” (Hebrews 11:1-2). This is also what Jesus is commended for (among other things) as he can empathize with our disappointed prayers. Jesus, who asked for God to spare him his suffering, just before the troops came to arrest him.

Do you ever give yourself the time to contemplate that God is at work even though you may not perceive it? Do you ever give yourself the time to ask, “Do I really trust?” It can be a frightening question, but it is the question of the faithful.

For reflection:
– What struggles have you had that made you wonder if God was present or cared?
– Did you find the ability to trust?
– If you did, how did you find it?
– If you did not, how did you cope?
– Do you know someone struggling to believe that God cares, or even exists? How do you relate to them?

In grace,

Moses: Our Call, God’s Power

The actual, burned up bush from my yard.

In my entire life, I have never been near a burning bush. I really haven’t. I mean, campfires, maybe. I’ve seen some brushfires from a distance. But just last week, only a day after revisiting Exodus 3 and Moses’ “burning bush moment,” I was stunned when my next-door neighbor accidentally set aflame a bush that borders our properties. A real-life burning bush right at my house! But alas, this bush did burn up. And the only voices I heard were my neighbors’ and the firefighters.

Moses, on the other hand, did have a dialogue with God, which began in ch. 3 and continues in Exodus 4:1-17. In this passage, Moses has three more issues with the calling God is giving him.

#1: Authority. “What if they don’t believe me?” Moses asks. It’s basically a question of authority. Moses has a valid concern that the Israelites would not recognize that he has any authority over them or Pharaoh. They have no earthly reason to trust that Moses was sent by God. And funny enough, God agrees! So he gives him the grace of three signs to validate his calling. God shows Moses that his calling is defined by God’s authority.

#2: Ability. “I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.” After God shows Moses how God would display His authority, Moses skillfully changes the subject to his lack of ability to speak well. Literally, the Hebrew means “I am heavy of mouth.” What a sensory image of how Moses experienced his limited ability! But God answers again, with this echo of God’s own name in Moses exact point of weakness. The Hebrew literally reads: “I am with your mouth” (the NIV reads “I will help you speak.”) God shows Moses that his calling is reliant on God’s ability.

#3: Action. “Please send someone else.” Finally out of arguments, Moses reveals his real feelings. He just doesn’t wanna. Maybe he’s scared, maybe he’s stubborn, and maybe a bit of both. But Moses doesn’t want to act. He easily forgets that God isn’t telling Moses to be in charge; he is telling Moses to be obedient. God is the one who initiated this exodus plan, and God would be the one to enact it. And Moses learns that his calling is enabled by God’s action.

And it’s a good thing, too. Later, God would send a “new Moses,” Jesus Christ, who would perform signs and wonders, pass through the waters, and suffer in the wilderness, just as Moses did. But Jesus would do more than lead people out of physical slavery in a nation — he would lead people out of spiritual slavery in sin and death. And his calling was empowered by the Father’s authority, ability, and action.

For reflection:
– Have you ever felt “called by God” to do something? What was that like?
– “Calling” can mean a lot of things; what do you think it means in the context of following Jesus?
– Have you ever felt called to something and not been able to say “yes”? Why not?
– Is it possible God is calling you to something in which you have no authority? No ability? Are hesitant to act?

Many blessings,

Moses – The Burning Bush

Fire. There’s just something about it. I mean, sure it is an essential ingredient in the creation of what we call “human civilization,” and sure we know what it is scientifically. But there’s still something mysterious about it that deeply resonates with us. Maybe this is why God’s presence appears in the form fire.

Until this point in Moses’ “origin story,” God has appeared pretty much as a passive, distant character. Only at the end of chapter 2 does God appear to be active, but in the background of the story. Here, in Exodus 3, God appears powerfully on the scene. So powerfully, in fact, that God becomes the main character of the story.

When God appears to Moses in the burning-but-not-consumed bush, he tells Moses to remove his sandals because Moses is standing on holy ground. The presence of God is sacred, or set apart, from the ordinary. So the inevitable day-to-day grime that appears on the bottoms of our shoes has no place there. It’s a reminder that even though God wants to be near us, and even to be known by name, our proper posture toward God is one of deep reverence (what the Hebrew calls “the fear of the Lord”).

So what is it about God that we revere? Of course there are the “qualities” that we read about like omniscience and almightiness. But look at what God is doing here. God sees… God knows… God is concerned… God has come. God’s compassion and action for oppressed people inspire our reverent awe.

What follows is a dialogue between Moses and God that is among the most memorable in the Bible. Moses asks questions and God answers. Moses’ hesitation about the task God is calling him to do is palpable. But Moses becomes for us one of scripture’s most powerful examples that if you want to know God, you have to go with God.

The concept of “personal conversion” has a precedent in scripture, but combined with the staunch individualism of our culture it can lead to a “personal religion” that is indifferent about the state of the world. But Pastor Aaron put it best when he said “Salvation is a full contact sport.”

For reflection:
– Think back: have you ever experienced a sense of “calling?” Would you say it was God calling you? If not, where did the calling come from?
– Tell the story: If you have had an experience of calling, what was it?
– Look forward: Are you in a season of change? In what way might God be calling you now?


Moses – A Broken Shepherd in the Desert

It’s a long way up from the Nile delta to the Midian wilderness — about 7,000 feet! Some historians say it would have taken Moses a month to get there on foot as he fled certain death at the hands of Pharaoh, which would have been his punishment for killing an Egyptian.

Ironically, as Moses ascended toward Midian, he descended in the social ranks, from a prince of Egypt to an insignificant shepherd — someone Egyptians at the time would have believed to be beneath dignity. But Moses stood up for another injustice, this time toward someone other than his own people — Midianite shepherd women. Eventually Moses was able to marry and start another life…a life that would become his first forty years in the wilderness.

Though now a foreigner in a foreign land, Moses had already grown up as an outcast in Egypt. His name in Egyptian means “son” but was usually affixed to a father’s name also. But Moses did not know his father, so “Moses” indicates being a son without a father — doubtlessly a source of great pain for him.

Oftentimes, pain leads to one of two basic outcomes. Pain can breed resentment in our hearts. It can isolate us, tempting us to believe that no one understands us. Pain can tempt us to long for the greener grass we are sure is growing in other fields. Pain can even tempt us to believe that God has abandoned us, or that there is no God in the first place. But pain can lead elsewhere, too. Pain can strengthen us, similar to the way hard work strengthens our muscles. That which removes our comfort (like resistance) can actually result in strength rather than weakness! Pain can also cultivate perseverance, humility, discipline, and faith. Okay, I’ll do it — I’ll quote the movie Star Trek V. Captain Kirk is tempted to let an alien force remove all of his life’s pain (including the death of his son), but Kirk wisely insists: “I want my pain. I need my pain!”

Within a month, Moses’ entire life had changed, and not in a direction he would have wished. We can only wonder how often he thought back on his crime of passion. We can only wonder at the pain of letting go of the dreams of his young adulthood. And while God had not “forced” Moses into this challenge, God would be willing to shape Moses within it, and even teach Moses how to lead a stubborn flock in the wilderness (he had no idea whom he would lead later in his life). Moses would learn that just because life is hard doesn’t mean something is wrong.

In a world that tries to sell us easy answers and quick fixes, are we willing to dwell in our own wilderness long enough to let God shape us there?

For reflection:
– Have you ever had a season of “wilderness”? Tell someone the story.
– What has been your experience of pain, and what was its result in your life?
– Are you in a painful wilderness right now? Do you have someone you trust to talk to about it?
– If you have a story of being strengthened as the result of pain in your life, whom do you know that could be inspired by your story?

Many blessings,

“In the Dark till I Met the Light”

Today was special at University Place Presbyterian Church — the children’s choir known as the Alleluia Singers put on their first musical theater production: Nic at Night by Kathie Hill. It was a wonderfully creative way for our community to gather, worship, and hear God’s word in a new way.

Nic at Night creatively tells the story of the pharisee, Nicodemus, covertly meeting with Jesus one night. This densely packed theological passage in the book of John contains one of the Bible’s most memorable proclamations:
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

In the story, some local kids take notice of this high-status teacher sneaking around at night trying to meet with Jesus, who though a rabbi is garnering a reputation for going against rabbinical tradition, and even breaking God’s law. Nicodemus meeting with Jesus surely would have been frowned upon by his contemporaries.

In the process, Nicodemus learns as much about himself as he does about Jesus. In a moving solo, he sings the song “In the Dark” and admits:
“I was in the dark till I met the light; my cold, cold heart turned to Jesus Christ. I was in the dark, still my eyes could see, that even in the dark He was loving me.”

If only we all could meet with Jesus face to face! And yet, because of the Holy Spirit, we can meet with the risen Lord and know Jesus in a personal way. There are numerous opportunities for this, and I want to highlight a few:
Alpha will meet in the Wayside Cafe on Sunday evenings 6-8pm starting June 16 through July 28 (with a one-day Saturday retreat on Aug. 10 and a concluding session on Aug. 18).
ConneXions is a mid-size group that explores together what it means to put our knowledge and faith into action and lifestyle. They meet every Sunday at 9:30.
– There are several others through the summer, including women’s group The Well, men’s group True Men, and several weekday Bible studies. Find out more at “Pathways.”

May the beginning of your summer be a blessed season! We’ll continue our series on Moses next week!

In Grace,