Monday, April 07, 2008

The First Principle

Exodus 15:22 – 16:8

The First Principle

“Spirituality” has become the main search for Americans. This topic sells more books than diet and self-help books combined. American Christianity has become a smorgasbord of all sorts of spiritual practices and exercises. There is a deep longing for more. We want more than an experiential theology of “worship” popular in the more charismatic element of the American church. We want to connect with God in a meaningful, authentic, and personal way.

But to enjoy a deeper life, a Christ-life, we must have a solid foundation. Scripture teaches us truth that cannot be replaced by an experience, tradition, or reasoning process. (See the Wesleyan Quadrilateral which argues for a basis of Scripture informing experience, tradition, and reason.)

“Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” [Proverbs 4:23]

If I were to ask you what is the first principle in the Bible... the very first foundational truth about being God’s people, what would your answer be? Fact is, we just read it in Exodus 15:25 – 26.

Let’s look at the situation. The people has just celebrated crossing the Red Sea and total victory over Egypt. Verse 22 says, “Moses led...” This is what is known as a “gloss.” The KJV says “So Moses brought...” Maybe the best way translation is the ESV, which says, “Then Moses made...”

It’s easy to loose sight of the journey when we are enjoying a victory. Sadly, in three days march the people when from “And when the Israelites saw the great power the LORD displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the LORD and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant.” [Exodus 14:31] to “So the people grumbled against Moses, saying, "What are we to drink?"” [Exodus 15:24]

Three days, that’s roughly the difference between Sunday a.m. kudos for a great sermon to Tuesday night’s board meeting. It’s all the difference between the cross and the empty tomb. Three days is a very long time to change an attitude.

Notice the word “grumbled.” It has been translated “murmured” and “complained.” It means “to stop (usually over night); by implication to stay permanently; hence (in a bad sense) to be obstinate.” [Strongs] Not only was there the sound of the complaining but it was a symptom of a heart attitude.

“Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” [Proverbs 4:23]

This is the record of the third and fourth time the people grumbled against God... and took it out on Moses. Let’s see what’s really happening here:


            A.        God leads us into the desert to make us His people.


                        1.         The desert is a place where there are no distractions, it’s the place where God led His people to test them.


                                    a.         They had gone from victory to disappointment when they were “trapped” between the Red Sea and the Egyptian chariots. There is nothing like self-preservation to get us complaining. (God had told them His idea was bait the Egyptians and end their threat permanently... see Exodus 14:1 – 4. The people did not listen... see Exodus 14:10 – 12)


                                    b.         They went from disappointment to rejoicing when the crossed the Red Sea on dry land and the Egyptians didn’t make it through.


                                    c.         They went from the comfort of victory to the disappointment of thirst. They hadn’t learned their lesson...


                        2.         There seems to be the fact that any lesson you don’t get, you will get again and again... until you do.


                                    a.         You can’t move to step two until you have the first step down.


                                    b.         (Ill.) In college on summer, our college hosted a group meeting. I was attempting to play “ping pong.” Notice the main word “attempting.” One of the visitors offered to give me lessons on how to play. We started with my mechanics. Anyway, our college ping pong champ noticed the lessons and came over started to heckle my teachers strange methodology. After he became a major distraction, the grandmother type finally allowed our champ to play her. Needless to say, he lost 21 – 0. He never saw one of her serves and her returns had so much spin on them he was always swinging on the wrong side of the table.


                                    c.         Once again, the people are tested... will they TRUST God?


            B.        God uses legitimate concerns to test us.


                        1.         Notice the water was “bitter.” That’s another way to say it tasted bad.


                                    a.         (Ill) One of the places I lived in growing up filtered their water through “potash and lime stone.” I have no idea what that is but it tasted so bad it was considered undrinkable. My Great Uncle had a well, the water smelled like rotten eggs.


                                    b.         The “bitter” water was not satisfying. It would sustain them but it would not satisfy them. (It’s how many of us practice our “spirituality.” We turn our nose up at what will sustain us...)


                                    c.         Food and water is so basic that if we don’t have those, nothing else will matter.


                        2.         While water and food was the flash point, it was not the real issue.


                                    a.         Spiritual matters are often disguised in physical ones. Like the couple that fights over money. It typically is not about the money, its about control, or fear, or deep philosophy.


                                    b.         Anger, disgust, and despair quickly formed in response to the need.


                                    c.         Attitude of the heart is the real issue.

“Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” [Proverbs 4:23]


                        3.         Notice they seem to be enduring through the same lesson (with different details).


                                    a.         Unless you get the basics down, unless you get step one down, nothing else will matter much.


                                    b.         (Ill.) of learning to play ping pong at college from a grandmother. Our school ping pong champ challenged her but she didn’t want to play only teach. His attitude finally got to her... they played. Well at least she did. He lost 21 – 0. He never saw her serves and the spin on her returns had him swinging wildly. Funniest serving of “crow” I’d ever seen.


                                    c.         We crave, expect, and seek our own good. Then we complain when what we get does not live up to our expectations... God comes and has to humble us to get our attention.

(Ill.) A cartoon of a quiz show. Two contestants. One is a person, the other depicts “God.” The score: person zero, God 3 billion...


                                    d.         God said: “In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions.” [Exodus 16:4b] God wanted a special people who would represent Him and impact others for Him...


            C.        God is looking for four things: “The First Principle.” [Exodus 15:26]


                        1.         “Listen carefully.”


                                    a.         There is a new test that is supposedly at least 80% accurate in predicting if a child will develop Autism. Give the child something to do, when the child is absorbed in the activity, call their name.


                                    b.         God wants people who will “listen carefully.” If you cannot, or don’t want to listen, or are distracted by what the world is saying, there is no spiritual practice or exercise that will fill that void.


                                    c.         Listening is a skill. Jesus was concerned that we learn it and used it.

“He who has ears, let him hear.” [Matthew 11:15, 13:9, 13:34, Mark 4:23, ... tag line to the seven church in Revelation]


                        2.         “Do what is right.”


                                    a.         “Volition” is the ability or power to uses your own will.


                                    b.         When you willfully do something you know is not right or fail to do what you know is right, that is called “presumptuous” sin. (This is the context of our church verse!)

“Who can discern his errors? Forgive my hidden faults. [13] Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me. Then will I be blameless, innocent of great transgression. [14] May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.” [Psalm 19:12 – 14]


                                    c.         The sequence: willful sin rules over us... we become slaves to willful sin... inability to exert will to resist.

“It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, ... if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance...” [Hebrews 6:4a, 6a]

“If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left.” [Hebrews 10:26]

“No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him. ... This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother.” [1 John 3:6, 10]


                        3.         “Pay attention.”


                                    a.         The people’s problem was their attention was not on God... it was on their discomfort and need.


                                    b.         The spiritual discipline is to pay attention to God’s commands and decrees (principles).

(Ill.) When we first got our dog, I took him out for “attentiveness training.” Basically you put the dog on a 15 foot rope and walk in a square for about three days... (15 minutes if you have a smart dog). As you get to the corner of the square, you give a sharp whistle. The idea is to get the dog’s attention. When they dog hears the whistle, it knows to look to see what you are doing. Those who know my dog, know that didn’t work.

This last summer he tore my shoulder up and I had to have surgery right after Christmas. Jason suggested a “Gentle Leader.” I purchased one, put it on the dog and watched him try to get it off... The show was worth the price of the contraption. We’ve taken him on two walks. On the second one, he saw the “Gentle Leader” and put his nose in because he loves to walk. If you didn’t know the dog, you would be impressed how well “trained” he is walking beside me. He now pays attention...


                                    c.         Pay attention to God’s commands. To pay attention to them, you must first know them. Without knowing them, your spiritual quest/journey will go astray.


                        4.         “Keep all... decrees.”


                                    a.         Again, to keep them, you must know them. (BTW, “God helps those who help themselves” is not one of them...)


                                    b.         The real issue here is “trust.” If we do not trust that God knows the master design, that God can read the blue prints, that God has engineered life to work a certain way... then we will “make this up as we go.”


            D.        Ultimately the pattern of grumbling eventually exacts a heavy penalty.


                        1.         It caused Moses to disobey God at a critical moment.

“So Moses took the staff from the LORD's presence, just as he commanded him. [10] He and Aaron gathered the assembly together in front of the rock and Moses said to them, "Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?" [11] Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank.

 [12] But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, "Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them."” [Numbers 20:9 – 12]


                        2.         Its contagious nature of grumbling cost the people their dream.

“But the men who had gone up with him said, "We can't attack those people; they are stronger than we are." [32] And they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored...” [Numbers 13:31 – 32]

That night all the people of the community raised their voices and wept aloud. [2] All the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron, and the whole assembly said to them, "If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this desert! [3] Why is the LORD bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be taken as plunder. Wouldn't it be better for us to go back to Egypt?" [4] And they said to each other, "We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt. [Numbers 14:1 – 4]

“The LORD replied, "I have forgiven them, as you asked. [21] Nevertheless, as surely as I live and as surely as the glory of the LORD fills the whole earth, [22] not one of the men who saw my glory and the miraculous signs I performed in Egypt and in the desert but who disobeyed me and tested me ten times-- [23] not one of them will ever see the land I promised on oath to their forefathers. No one who has treated me with contempt will ever see it.” [Numbers 14:20 – 23]


                        3.         Grumbling is ultimately a symptom of unbelief.

“So, as the Holy Spirit says: "Today, if you hear his voice, [8] do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the desert, [9] where your fathers tested and tried me and for forty years saw what I did. [10] That is why I was angry with that generation, and I said, `Their hearts are always going astray, and they have not known my ways.' [11] So I declared on oath in my anger, `They shall never enter my rest.'” [Hebrews 3:7 – 11]

“Who were they who heard and rebelled? Were they not all those Moses led out of Egypt? [17] And with whom was he angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the desert? [18] And to whom did God swear that they would never enter his rest if not to those who disobeyed? [19] So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief. [Hebrews 3:16 – 19]

***** Time to be honest with yourself. Do you grumble? Spread bad reports? (It’s called gossip.) React to things in anger?

Here’s the cure: First, trust God for your salvation. Second, learn the Bible so that it directs your attitudes and behavior. Third, establish the reflex that when something goes wrong... go to God.

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