SERMON: Mothers (Exodus 1 & 2; 1 Samuel 1 & 2; 1 Kings 17; Matthew 1 & 2)
The importance of the place of women in the church cannot be overstated. Indeed, over the centuries, and even in the pages of the Old Testament, women have had a very important part to play in the life of the worshiping community. Furthermore, in many churches today, where men are conspicuous by their absence, it is only because of women that some of our churches have remained open.
With that in mind, what I’d like to do, today, is to look at four cameos of some of the important women in the bible. And because it’s Mother’s Day, this Sunday, I thought I’d pick four women, all of whom were mothers.
Now some mothers will tell you that it’s not easy bringing up children. After all, there are so many things over which they have no control. And some mothers would suggest that it’s much harder bringing up children now than it’s ever been. But I’m going to suggest, today, that life and motherhood has never been easy. And I think the stories that I’ve chosen demonstrate that all too well.
B. FOUR MOTHERS
1. Jochebed (Exodus 1 & 2)
Now the first mother, is a mother who feared for the life of her new born son. Her name was Jochebed. She lived about three and a half thousand years ago in Egypt. And she not only came from the priestly side of the Jewish race, but she was a devout believer in God too.
Jochebed’s dilemma was that the Israelite population had grown so large, that the Pharaoh at the time considered her race a threat to the existence of the Egyptians. As a consequence, he ordered that all Israelite baby boys be thrown into the River Nile and be drowned.
Now you can imagine what effect that would have had on Jochebed, particularly when her baby was born, and it was a boy. Jochebed would have been frantic. She would have been desperate to preserve the life of her baby in any way she could. And that was precisely what she did.
For three months she kept her baby hidden. She built a papyrus basket and coated it with pitch and tar, and placed it among the reeds of the river. And she gave her daughter, Miriam, the job of keeping watch over her brother—but from a discrete distance.
However, the thing that Jochebed feared most, happened. The baby was spotted, and by Pharaoh’s daughter. But here the story has a twist. Because the princess decided not to have the baby drowned, but to keep it for herself. So the princess named the baby Moses, and sought out among the Israelites someone who would make a suitable nanny. Then, through the devious manipulation of Miriam, Jochebed was summoned to the princess and was asked to nurse the child.
Jochebed, then, a mother who feared for the life of her child, and went to extraordinary lengths in order that her baby could survive. And she was finally blessed with caring for her own child. And, may I add, was paid for the privilege.
2. Hannah (1 Samuel 1 & 2)
The second example is about a mother, who nearly wasn’t a mother at all. She was a woman who was desperate to have a child, but was simply unable to conceive. Her name was Hannah.
Now Hannah lived a little over three thousand years ago, in the hill country of Ephraim. She was one of two wives to a man named Elkanah. And whereas the other wife had produced him children, Hannah was quite barren. A point her rival was only to eager to rub in.
However, Hannah was a woman who was devoted to God, and each year journeyed to Shiloh for the annual sacrifices. One year, however, her rival had provoked her so much, that when she went up to Shiloh, she made a vow to God: “Almighty LORD, if only you would look upon the misery of your handmaid and remember me. Do not forget your handmaid, but give her a son. I will give him to the LORD all the days of his life. No razor will come near his head.” A quite extraordinary, and desperate plea. And yet, as the story goes, God honoured her prayer, and Samuel was born.
Now, after Samuel’s birth, Hannah stayed home and nursed the boy. But when he was three or four years old, she took him to Eli the priest at Shiloh, where he began his service to God, just as she had promised. Then each year, at the time of the annual sacrifices, she went up to Shiloh, having made him some clothing, and visited her son.
Now you may think, with me, that with Samuel being born it would have been hard to give up her son. It would have been very easy to renege on her vow. And maybe it was. But the record shows that Hannah not only willingly gave up her son to Eli, but she rejoiced in God for the privilege. And, what’s more, this Hannah, who was unable to have children, was then blessed by God with another five children—three sons and two daughters.
3. The Widow of Zarephath (1 Kings 17)
The third example is a mother who struggled with poverty, particularly regarding having enough food to eat. The woman’s name, we don’t know, but she was not an Israelite, and she lived in what we would now call Lebanon. What we do know, is that she was a widow, and that she lived in a coastal town called Zarephath some three thousand years ago. We also know she had one child—a son—and that she had great faith in God.
Now she faced a great predicament in life. Her larder was almost empty, and she had only enough flour and water left for one more meal for herself and her son. After which she expected that they would both starve to death. On top of that, however, she’d been told by God to expect a visitor—Elijah—and that she was to provide a meal for him.
Well, you can imagine her dilemma. She didn’t have enough food for herself and her son, let alone any visitor. And, so when Elijah arrived she told him of her dilemma. But Elijah told her not to worry about her food supply, but to have faith. He told her that if she obeyed God, then her jar of flour would not run out, and her jar of water would not run dry.
Now, that seems to me, to be a pretty hard test. Because it was not just her own welfare she had to consider, she also had that of her son’s. But she was a woman of faith. And having been told by God what was expected of her, and having been reassured by Elijah of the outcome, she did as she’d been asked. And as had been promised, she was blessed with two jars—one of flour and the other of water—that did not run out. Plenty of food for her, her son, and whatever visitors would come their way.
However, if the widow thought her troubles were over, she was very much mistaken. Her son became ill and died. Well, you can imagine the widow was distraught, She’d already lost her husband, and now she had lost her only child. Her son was the only thing she had in life. However, even though we don’t know why he died, a second miracle occurred. Because using Elijah as his instrument, God restored her precious son to life.
The widow then, even in dire poverty, was blessed by God with an abundance of food, and the restoration of her son back to life.
4. Mary (Matthew 1 & 2)
And the final mother, I want to mention today, is someone who seemed to face it all. If anything was going to happen, it would happen to her. Of course, this mother will be the most familiar. Because. it’s Mary the mother of Jesus. But a woman of great faith too.
Now imagine a girl as young as twelve or thirteen being told she was about to become pregnant. Now she wasn’t married, and in the culture of her day she should have been treated as an outcast. It may be surprising, then, that at the news of her pregnancy she rejoiced. She praised God.
Imagine too a very young mother with child—a child who would have been two years old at the most—fleeing to Egypt for the child’s safety, because Herod thought he was a threat to his throne.
Imagine a mother, on the way home from a visit to Jerusalem, realising that her twelve-year-old boy was missing (Luke 2:41-42), only to find that Jesus had been left behind in Jerusalem.
Imagine too, the mother of (a now) grown up son, who couldn’t get near him, let alone talk to him, because of the crowds around him (Luke 8:19-20).
And imagine a mother, standing at the foot of a cross, whilst her own son—her own flesh and blood—was being crucified in front of her very eyes (John 19:25).
Imagine it. Yet Mary was a woman who had been blessed by God. Indeed, she had been only too willing to be used by God as part of his salvation plan. Yes, over the years, she may have wondered precisely what all that meant, and whether she was mistaken. But at the resurrection of her own son she would have been blessed, not only in the salvation that Jesus brought, but in knowing that she had allowed God to use her to bring salvation to the world.
Four cameos, then, of four mothers. Four mothers who would, and did anything for their children. And four mothers who have shown that being a mother, indeed, has not always been easy.
Having said that, however, it seems to me that there at least three common denominators in our four stories today. And common denominators that go outside the norm of being a woman, a mother and raising children.
1. The Importance of Faith
And the first is that each of our cameos was a woman of faith. Each relied on God for guidance and help in their daily struggles. And to be honest I don’t know how any of them would have coped without that.
Without God’s intervention: Moses would have been drowned, Hannah would have remained childless, the widow and her son would have starved to death, and Mary would not have given birth to the saviour of the world. Having faith, then, does make a difference.
Now not all of us are going to be asked by God to do such great things. Nevertheless, leaving aside the importance of faith regarding salvation itself, these four women show us the importance of having faith in a God we can depend on, and who can help us through the traumas of life.
2. Obedience to God
Secondly, each of our cameos shows what it means to live a life of obedience. And just as life in this world, may not always be easy, neither is the life of obedience to God.
When God calls us to a life of obedience, he doesn’t tell us it will be an easy road. Indeed, it may involve much hardship as well.
Jochebed had to go to great pains to make sure her baby was safe. And she had to live with the consequences of being found out. Hannah committed her son to a life of devotion to God—a life which would take him as a very young child away from her constant presence. The widow of Zarephath had to decide who she was going to feed—whether to feed her visitor, or to look after her own, and her son’s, needs. And Mary faced with the prospect of being a single mother—in a culture very hostile to such situations—had to decide whether to obey God, or to take the easier path.
The Christian walk, then, contrary to what some believe, is not always easy. And it certainly doesn’t guarantee a trouble free life. On the contrary, the things God asks us to do can be very challenging. And they will test us, to whom we truly belong.
3. Rewards of God
And thirdly, each of our cameos demonstrates that not only is God about salvation in the next life, but he is into rewarding the faithful in this life too.
Jochebed was rewarded with a boy who was not drowned like all the others. Indeed she was given him back to care for and bring up. Hannah was rewarded, not only with the birth of Samuel, but with five other children as well. The widow, was given plenty of food for both herself and her son, to cover their future needs. And when the son died, he was returned to her—restored to life. And Mary was rewarded by becoming one of the most important players in God’s salvation plan.
Three things then which reflect that life isn’t easy, that motherhood isn’t easy, and that the life of faith isn’t easy either. But they also reflect the idea that the faith does make a difference. And not only did it make a difference to the lives of our four cameos, but it would then go on and make a difference to other people’s lives too.
As you can see, then, the place of women, including mothers, is very important in the context of a community of faith. And let no one tell you otherwise.
Now, today, we’ve seen four mothers, who in their own ways were all put through the wringer. But four mothers, who came out the other side stronger and better equipped than ever before. And the reason they came out stronger and better equipped was that they were all women of faith. They all had God on their side, leading and encouraging in some of the most difficult of circumstances. And they were all rewarded for their faith.
Whether you’re a mother or not, then, faith in God does make a difference. It may not mean that we’re immune to the things of this world, and all the things that it throws at us. But it does mean that we don’t have to face those things alone.
It also means that we can all make a difference, just like Jochebed, Hannah, the widow of Zarephath, Mary the mother of Jesus … and the many other women of faith, past and present who are too numerous for me to mention now.
Posted: 2nd May 2017
© 2017, Brian A Curtis
BIBLE STUDY: The Laws of Moses for Today. 1. The God of the Exodus (Exodus 3:1-5; 12:3-13; 13:3; Deuteronomy 7:1-2; 18:9-14)
Ask any group of people ‘Who is God?’ and you will get a variety of responses. Some will say that he is real while others will deny that he exists. Even among those who believe in his existence, some will say that he is the creator, redeemer and sanctifier active in the world today, while others will say that he doesn’t really care, having abandoned his creation long ago.
So who is God and what does he say about himself? Why did the Israelites (with friends) abandon their homes in Egypt, to risk a perilous journey into the unknown? And, importantly for us, is this the kind of God in whom we can put our trust?
Group Discussion: Who is God?
Personal Reflection: What does God mean to me?
When God appeared to Moses, he gave him his name, ‘YHWH’ (often translated as LORD or Jehovah). He had heard the plight of the Israelites in Egypt and had come to rescue his people.
Read: Exodus 3:1-15
1. How does God reveal himself to Moses? Why did he approach Moses in this way? (vv. 1-6)
2. What had God come to do, and why? (vv.7-9)
3. What did God expect Moses to do? Comment on Moses’s reaction. (vv. 10-15)
GOD TO THE RESCUE
God sent Moses and Aaron to Pharaoh in the hope of persuading him to let his people go. And, as an indication of his power, he gave them signs to perform and, later, plagues to inflict. The tenth and final plague was on the firstborn of all Egypt—men and animals alike.
Read: Exodus 12:3-13; 13:3
4. What was involved in the celebration of the Passover? (12:12-11)
5. Why were the instructions for the Passover so detailed? What would have happened if the people had decided to do things their own way?
6. The firstborn Egyptians were to be killed and the firstborn of the Israelites were to be saved. (12:12-13). What opportunities had God given the Egyptians to let the people go?
THE PROMISED LAND
God didn’t just rescue his people from slavery in Egypt. He used Moses to lead his people to Mount Sinai, and eventually to the land he had promised to Abraham and his descendants.
Read: Deuteronomy 7:1-2; 18:9-14
7. What did God command his people to do when they reached Canaan? (7:1-2))
8. Why did God command it, and was it ‘fair’ on the inhabitants on Canaan? (18:9-14)
9. The God of the Old Testament is often criticised as being a God of war. But to what extent do his commands demonstrate the love of a father for his children?
The God of the Exodus is described as a God who cares for and listens to his people, he makes promises and keeps them, he judges unbelievers, and he rescues his people even in the most extraordinary circumstances.
10. Is this the kind of God that you believe in?
11. When you call out to be rescued by God, to what lengths do you expect God to go?
12. How obedient are you to the God who loves you? How much should we be expected to live with consequences of our mistakes?
Posted 18th September 2019
© 2019, Brian A Curtis
DEVOTION: Spreading the Load (Exodus 18: 1, 5, 15-27)
And yet, when we read the story of Moses in Exodus, we learn that even someone like Moses—who tried to be there for everyone—just couldn’t do it. Not only that, it was obvious he couldn’t do it. And even his father in law, within twenty-four hours of his arrival, could see that. Which is why Jethro suggested a way forward that was not only in Moses’s interests, but in the people’s interests too.
And what Jethro suggested was to create a sort of pyramid of carers. With Moses at the top, others underneath, and even more underneath them, and so on.
Now it’s interesting that these days “experts” tell us that one person cannot care properly for any more than eight to twelve people. And, yet, the formula that Jethro came up with, was that there should be “officials appointed over the people of thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens.” In other words, there should be one person appointed for every ten people.
Now this passage talks only in terms of people being appointed judges, to settle disputes. But if that kind of formula is required for the appointment of judges, then to expect one person to care for more than ten people—as well as doing a lot of other things besides—really doesn’t make sense. And, of course, that has great implications for the way we model our churches today.
So, what should our model be of the church? Well, we too may well need more people who are prepared to care for the people. We too may well need more people to ease the burden of the leaders of the church. And we too may well need more people to put their hands up, and say, “Yes I am willing to help.”
Fortunately for Moses, he got that help, and because of that he could take the people on a journey that might not otherwise have been possible. But have we got the people who are willing to help too?
Posted: 7th April 2017
© 2017, Brian A Curtis
SERMON: The Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17)
1. Rules in General
It seems, sometimes, that we have rules on just about everything.
We have rules for sport: how the game is played, and what a player can and cannot do. Of course the purpose of having rules in sport is quite sensible, otherwise different players would be playing different games.
We have rules about living—some good, and some bad. And whilst is can seems, sometimes, that our laws are made so that our law makers and legal profession can argue, generally they are there so we can live by a common code—so we can all live by the same standards. And so that a degree of fairness, justice, and equity can come into play.
We also have rules which are there for our own well-being. Like road rules, safety regulations, and the like. Rules which are intended to make sure that we remain healthy and safe.
Of course, sometimes, it may seem as though we’ve got too many rules. And that it would be nice, just once, to be able to do something without all the restrictions that are placed upon us. But whilst we may feel like that from time to time, the rules are there (or should be) for our benefit and for the benefit of all.
2. God’s Rules
And, of course, if we were to think that rules were a creation of man, and of man only, we would be quite wrong. Because God has rules too. In fact he was the instigator of rules. And perhaps the most important set of rules that he made, is what we have recorded for us in the book of Exodus—the Ten Commandments.
B. A STANDARD FOR PEOPLE OF FAITH (20:1-2)
So what I’d like to do, is to look briefly at those commandments, particularly in regard to their meaning for us today. But with two reminders:
The first is that as Christians we are a people of promise. We cannot get to heaven or have a proper relationship with God by simply trying to keep the Ten Commandments. And as we are about to discover, they are impossible for us to keep anyway. The only way we can have a relationship with God is through faith in Jesus Christ.
The second reminder, however, is that God only gave his people the commandments, after he had come to the rescue of his people (20:2). They were rules for the faithful and were never intended as set of rules—as a Do-It-Yourself guide—to get to heaven.
Indeed, the Ten Commandments were given not as a standard in which people could save themselves, but as a standard to be sought, from a people who already enjoyed a relationship with God. And that’s a very important distinction.
C. THE TEN COMMANDMENTS
1. A Call to Worship Only God (20:3)
And the first commandment, “You are to have no other gods except me,” is a call to worship only the God who has created us and redeemed us. The Christian faith is an exclusive faith. It doesn’t tolerate the addition of other beliefs. That’s why Jesus himself said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).
In this commandment God states an intolerance to the worship of other so-called gods. It is him, and him alone, who is to be worshipped. But then, it wasn’t any other god who had rescued his people from Egypt. And it wasn’t any other god who sent Jesus to die on the cross for us either.
2. A Call to Portray Accurately the Nature of God (20:4-6)
The second commandment, “You are not to make an idol for yourself,” is a call to take seriously the nature of God. Now it is often thought that this prohibition relates to carved images of wood or stone, of other, but false, gods. And of course, there is an element of truth in that. However, the original understanding of this commandment was not in regard to the portrayal of other (false) gods, but rather of the making of images to portray God himself.
As far as God was concerned, when he chose to reveal himself to his people in Old Testament times, he didn’t appear in the form of any shape or thing. He appeared only as a voice. And that was a deliberate act on his behalf.
His objection to images of himself, therefore, was that they could not possibly portray him accurately. They would express a static picture of him, rather than illustrate the dynamic nature of who he really is. As consequence any image presented would be totally inadequate, and the image would be totally false.
Of course, this may put rather a different light on our understanding of the use of images. After all, we live in a different age, and we are used to seeing images of God. In modern times we have images of God in paintings, in statues, and the like. And regarding the human form of Jesus, that maybe OK, but in regard to the Father, the creator himself, that may not be acceptable to God at all.
Indeed, we need to ask the question, “Do these images paint a picture of a static two-dimensional God, and consequently portray a false image? Or do they portray the dynamic God, the true God, the God who he really is? And to that the answer is “No!”
3. A Call to Uphold God’s Name (20:27)
The third commandment, “You are not to use the name of the Lord your God in a worthless manner,” is a call not to misuse God’s name. The commandment doesn’t mean we aren’t allowed to swear oaths (or promise things) in the positive sense—that wasn’t the intended meaning of the command. But it does mean, that God takes a very dim view on defiling his name or swearing falsely in his name.
As far as God is concerned his name is holy. It represents who he is, in all his magnitude. And we are, consequently, to uphold the sacredness of his name and all it stands for.
As a result, any use of his name intended to inflict evil upon another person, is to be totally rejected. Which in our modern situation, must mean, that even swearing in God’s name regarding an enemy—whether a personal enemy or an international terrorist—should be strictly rejected.
4. A Call to Remember God’s Eternal Covenant Relationship (20:8-11)
The fourth commandment, “Remember to keep the Sabbath day holy,” is a call to remember the special relationship that we have with our creator. We have six days to do all we have to do, but on the seventh . . . Well it’s not just a reminder to cease work, it’s a reminder to keep the day holy.
Three times in this commandment there is a command to observe the Sabbath. And why? Because the day of rest is a reminder of the relationship that God had with his creation, grounded in creation itself. Six days did God labour, and on the seventh day he rested.
We need time out from the routine of life. And we need time as a community to be with God our creator and redeemer.
Now our world may be very different from that of the world of about 1500 BC, when the commandments were given. And as Christians we tend to celebrate the Sabbath on a Sunday (and not a Saturday) to recall each week the resurrection day of Jesus Christ. Regardless of that, however, the principals are still sound. We still need a day of rest, and we still need, as a community, to spend quality time with God.
5. A Call to Honour the Place of the Family (20:12)
The fifth commandment, “Honour your father and your mother,” is a call regarding the place of family life. Of course, lying at the heart of this commandment was the practice, by some, of kicking one’s parents out the family home when they could no longer earn their keep, or provide a useful contribution to the family’s existence (and that may be an issue that is very relevant even today). But it also says much about the need to prize highly the family unit, as the basis of the structure of society, and as part of the divine order.
The importance of the family unit in society is essential in terms of teaching, disciplining, nurturing, and providing care and support.
Of course in our culture, the place of the family is not held in such high esteem. But regardless, as Christians, we are called on to show respect for the place of the family in society, part of which is to show care and affection for our parents.
6. The Call to Preserve the Sanctity of Life (20:13)
The sixth commandment, “You are not to murder,” is a call to preserve the sanctity of life. No man has the right to take life, whether by accident, by vengeance, by retaliation against another killing, or because of personal feelings of hatred and malice.
As far as God is concerned, acts of violence are strictly forbidden. “You are not to take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people. You are to love your neighbour as yourself. I am the Lord” (Lev 19:18) God said. And as a consequence we are to reject out of hand the right of any person to take the law into their own hands out of a feeling of personal injury.
7. A Call to Maintain the Sanctity of Marriage (20:14)
The seventh commandment, “You are not to commit adultery,” is a call to maintain the sanctity of marriage. The need for both the husband and wife to be faithful to each other is paramount.
If the instruction for children is to honour their parents—with the emphasis on the importance of family life as the basis of society—then this command cuts through to the basic elements—the husband and wife—from which the family unit derives.
This command, however, is not just against debasing the family unit. It is about the need to nurture the whole husband-wife relationship on which the family unit is founded.
8. A Call to Preserve the Sanctity of the Community (20:15)
The eighth commandment, “You are not to steal,” is a call to preserve the sanctity of the community, and the rights of the individuals that make up that community.
At the time, it probably had more to do with stealing people—kidnapping—rather than the stealing of possessions. However at its basis is the need to keep the community intact, and to preserve the rights of its members. And at the heart of the commandment is the issue of secrecy—the act of taking by stealth, misappropriating, or manipulating events to reach the desired goal.
Now none of these are attributes should be present in the Christian community. Because the Christian community should be represented by openness and honesty and the need to jealousy guard the rights and needs of its people.
9. A Call to Guard the Reputation of Others (20:16)
The ninth commandment, “You are not to provide false testimony against your neighbour,” is a call to guard the reputation of others. In the days when a man could be put to death as the result of someone standing up in court and making a false accusation, this commandment was very important. And it was directed primarily towards guarding the basic right of people against such false accusations.
Interestingly however, this commandment does not say that you should never lie. But it does say that you should never lie when it will affect another man’s life.
As Christians, then, we are to be on constant guard to protect others against abuse of this kind, whether accidental or deliberate. And we should be on our guard against avoiding even idle rumours, which could cause someone injury.
10. A Call to Keep our Desires in Check (20:17)
And, the tenth commandment, “You are not to set your desires on anything in your neighbour’s house,” etc, is a call to keep our desires in check, particularly, when the object of our desires belongs to someone else.
Now this isn’t just a commandment about the emotional response of wanting something that someone else has got. This is the emotion, which is followed up with the deed—the putting into practice of obtaining something that belongs to someone else.
And the function of the list that follows in this commandment, is to make sure that there is no doubt about the all-inclusive nature of the things that shouldn’t be ours. There is to be no ambiguity regarding another person’s property. In short, nothing that belongs to someone else should be the object of our means of possession.
So at the end of our brief summary of the Ten Commandments, we can ask the question, “Who can keep the Ten Commandments?” And the answer is, “Absolutely no-one.” Indeed no-one is capable of keeping even one of these commandments, let alone all ten. The Ten Commandments are more than a simple set of ten rules. They incorporate ten principles which no-one is able to keep.
But then that is why they were given to a people who had already received God’s salvation. They weren’t rules for people to keep in order for them to be good enough for God. They were rules (ideals if you like) that were given to the faithful as something to strive for. And that is a very important distinction.
Indeed, God expects his people to strive to meet his standards. And perhaps nowhere better do we see God’s standards described than in the words of the Ten Commandments.
In today’s world there are rules for just about everything. Rules regarding the sport that we play, rules about how we should live—which hopefully should be fair and equitable—and rules which try to keep us safe.
However for the people of God who have already received his salvation, we have some rules from God as well. We have the Ten Commandments—ten principles which are goals to achieve and which in reality are impossible for us to keep.
In the Ten Commandments we have God’s guide on how he expects his faithful to live. They are ten principles which if kept would ensure healthy living—both of ourselves and of our community. Our challenge, then is to take seriously the principles in those ten commandments, and, with God’s help, strive to reach the goals.
Posted: 18th February 2020
© 2020, Brian A Curtis
SERMON: Celebrating the Harvest (Exodus 23:16)
Harvest time is an opportunity to consider the variety of God’s provision. It’s a chance to thank God for his abundant goodness to us—for some of the basic things he provides for us for daily living and our continued well-being. It’s also a chance to acknowledge just some of the things God provides for our daily needs.
And yet fruit and vegetables and cereals are only one thing that he provides. We also have so many other things of which to be thankful:
As the creator, God has given us life, the land we walk on, and the air we breathe. He has given us companionship—family, friends, and neighbours. He has given us the sun to keep us warm and the rain to help things grow. He has given us animals, flowers, and plants to care for and delight in. He has given us everything we can see and touch—the visible and the tangible—and even things we can’t see or touch as well.
As the preserver, God continues to show that he is concerned with our continued existence. He looks after our physical and spiritual well-being. And he is constantly walking with us through the good times and the bad. He hasn’t just created the world and abandoned us but wants to be with us, involved in every facet of our living.
And as our redeemer, God has shown that he will go to extraordinary lengths to make sure that we have a good and healthy relationship with him. He always tries to keep the lines of communication open. And his concern is so great that he even let his son die in our place, just so that this could be possible.
All in all, no matter what our dreams and ambitions, no matter where we are in our walk with him, God has demonstrated time after time that he does care, that he wants to look after all our needs, and that he continues to provide for us, far more than we could ever imagine or ask. Indeed, we have much to be thankful for.
The question that we can ask ourselves today, then, is: “Do we always accept that God wants to look after our needs? And are we always thankful for the things that God provides?”
Well in terms of us accepting that God wants to look after all our needs and the trust that we have that God will provide, which of these biblical stories do we identify with the most?
1. The Exodus
In the story of the Exodus, God’s people were freed by God from slavery in Egypt. And yet at each sign of things going wrong in their lives, they forgot the lessons of the past where God had come to their rescue. And they moaned, and they called out to Moses “Why did you bring us here, we were better off where we were.” God’s people didn’t show much faith in God at all.
2. Return from Exile
Hundreds of years later, the people returned from exile in Babylon. They’d been rescued again but they were still moaning. They’d still forgotten all the things God had done for them. And they didn’t show much trust in God either.
3. The Reaction to A Healing (Mark 5:1-21)
And when Jesus cured the man who had been demon possessed—and the now demon-possessed pigs ran down a bank into the lake and were drowned—did the surrounding people put their trust in Jesus? No! They were more concerned about their farms and what he might do to their own livelihoods. And they simply told Jesus to go away.
When it comes to the matter of accepting that God wants to look after our needs, then, God’s people have not always had a very good track record. Now of course, these were just some of the more negative examples of lack of trust. However there are some more positive ones too.
5. Job (Job 1:21)
Because Job was tested by Satan to renounce his faith (and some terrible things happened to him). But despite everything, his response was, “I came naked from my mother’s womb, and naked I will return. God Almighty has given and God Almighty has taken away. May the name of God Almighty be praised.”
6. Paul (2 Corinthians 11:23-29)
And the Apostle Paul, who for his faith faced prison, being flogged, was near to death on a number of occasions, was given thirty-nine lashes, was beaten, stoned, shipwrecked, left cast in the sea, went without sleep food and drink on many occasions, and was continually putting his life on the line. And yet despite everything his trust in God remained firm.
So, the first question we should ask ourselves is: “With all these examples, good and bad, when it comes to a matter of trusting in God, which of the stories do we identify with the most?”
But that’s only half of the equation. Because it’s not just a matter of accepting that God will come to our rescue, the others side of it is whether we are thankful for what God provides as well.
And, again, which stories do we identify with the most?
1.Adam (Gen 4:24)
Adam, in the Garden of Eden, was told that he could eat of any tree, except one—the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. And yet what did he do? He wasn’t content with what he had been given, he wanted something else. And so he ate of the forbidden fruit. Of course, for his pains he was kicked out of the garden—the garden that had supplied all his needs—and from then on, he had to labour hard for his basic needs.
2. Naaman (2 Kings 5)
Naaman, a commander of the army of King of Aram, had leprosy. Now he was sent to the prophet Elisha to be healed. But when Elisha told him to dip himself seven times in the river Jordan, he walked away in disgust. He was expecting a miracle—certainly something more spectacular than just dipping himself seven times in the Jordan. And it was only when his servants indicated to him how silly he was being, that he went down to the Jordan, did as he was told, and was cured.
3. The Ten Lepers (Luke 17:11-19)
Jesus, returning from one of his trips to Jerusalem, met ten lepers. And he indicated to them that if they had the faith they would be healed. He told them that they should go to a priest so that their healing could be verified. And so they went on their way. But when they discovered that they were healed, were they thankful? Well we don’t know. But we do know that only one of them returned to Jesus to give thanks.
So, when it comes to a matter of thankfulness, God’s people have had a very chequered history too. However, again, not all of God’s people have shown such a spirit of ingratitude.
5. David (Psalm 7)
King David, on the run from his enemies—and recognising that he had made some terrible mistakes and that his dilemma was at least partially self-inflicted—set aside time to be with his God (even on the run). He recognised that God had helped him in the past. And even though he could not see the end to his current dilemma, he not only trusted God to resolve the issue, but gave thanks to God for whatever solution would be coming his way before it had even happened.
6. Peter (Luke 5:1-11)
And Peter, the fisherman, who had just spent all night trying to catch fish—and had returned home unsuccessful—well, he was taken out fishing by Jesus again (and to the most unlikely place and at the most unlikely time of day). But as a consequence of his obedience, Peter caught far more fish than his boat could possibly carry. And Peter’s reaction to God? Well it even went beyond just being thankful. Because Peter actually broke down as he considered himself unworthy to be in the presence of his Lord and God.
So the second question we should ask ourselves today then, is: “With all the examples of thanksgiving, the good and the bad, when it comes to a matter of thanking God, which story do we identify with the most?”
Because harvest times can be reminders that not only should we trust God to meet our needs, but that we should also be thankful for all that he provides as well. God might not always deliver in the way we would like, or even understand. But he does deliver.
And the more positive examples of response to God, do show that not only can we depend upon God for our needs, but if we do that then he will bless us abundantly too.
After all, Job lost his children, his servants, his flocks, and he was stricken down with a painful skin disease. In addition he was surrounded by his wife and (so-called) friends who called on him to curse God for his situation. But Job refused. Job remained steadfast; he remained loyal to his God. And he was determined that despite everything God would minister to his needs.
And that is exactly what happened. When the rhetoric of his friends had grown old, and Job had shown that he was determined to remain loyal to his God, God appeared to Job. And God not only met his basic needs but blessed him with riches, far more that he had ever had before and probably more than he could ever have dreamed of.
The Apostle Paul, despite all that had occurred to him up to that point, was determined to go on. Not only was he determined to remain loyal to his God, but he was determined to spread the word about the Christian faith wherever God would allow.
However, as an itinerant speaker, he was totally dependent upon God for his day to day needs. He hoped that he might get to Rome so that he could tell the Romans about Jesus, but he was never certain he would actually get there.
And yet that is exactly what happened. God not only provided his basic needs—as he continued his missionary journeys—but he blessed Paul with a trip to Rome as well. Now Paul may have been there under house arrest, but that didn’t matter because he was able to use that house freely and for the sharing of the gospel too.
David’s dependence upon God—and his thanking God in advance (despite being still on the run)—also bore fruit. God rescued David from his pursuers, and many years and enemies and blessings from God later he died in bed in old man.
And Peter… Well after Jesus picked him up off the beach, and even after many mistakes, including some real blunders, Peter, for his faith became one of the great leaders of the early Christian Church.
And these things happened to all of them because of two things: Firstly, because all four acknowledged that God wanted to provide for their needs. And, secondly, because all four were thankful for what God provided. God’s provision may not have always been in the way they had wanted or expected, but they accepted that God often knew better in that regard—and better than they could possibly imagine.
And if those four people were blessed by God because of their trust in God and their willingness to give thanks, then imagine what the same response would do for us too.
Today we can thank God for the harvest. (And, in a sense, this is minor league in terms of the things we need to be thankful about). However it is a very healthy practice none the less. Because it gets us in the habit of examining ourselves and reminding us of the need not only to trust in God to meet our needs, but to appreciate and give thanks for the things that he provides.
So, if we ever get to the stage of doubting, of wondering whether God is real, or questioning the adequacy of God’s response to our needs, then I suggest we should remember people like Job, Paul, David, and Peter. Because we can remind ourselves just what God has done for people who do trust in him, and what he has done for people who are truly thankful.
Posted: 8th August 2020
© 2020, Brian A Curtis
BIBLE STUDY: The Laws of Moses for Today. 2. Other Gods (Exodus 23:23-24, 32-33; 34:15-16; Leviticus 26:1; Deuteronomy 6:4, 14-15; 12:29-31; 29:16-18)
The people of this world worship many gods—some local, and others worldwide (and beyond). But are all gods equal? Most main-line religions are exclusive—including Christianity—but even Christians have ‘conversations’ and mix with people of other beliefs. Furthermore, the adoption of practices associated with other religions is widespread.
Indeed, I have known Yoga to be taught in a rectory (with all the division that that caused in the church). I have also known someone who progressed through the ranks of ‘secular’ Karate to explore its more spiritual side.
But in the church, should this be so? Indeed, in the context of living in a secular society, what demands of our Old Testament God should we be applying to our Christian lives today?
Group Discussion: What should a Christian’s attitude be to other religions and practices today?
Personal Reflection: Am I involved in practices associated with other religions?
The world in which the Israelites lived was full of other gods. Indeed, it was not unusual for the master of the house to have a cupboard or niche in which his ‘household gods’ were placed. But God was determined that was not the way for the Israelites.
Read: Exodus 23:23-24; 32-33
1. What did God command the Israelites to do (or not to do)? (23-24)
2. Why was God so opposed to the gods of the Canaanites? (33)
3. What snares do we face living amongst peoples of other faiths?
There was a reason for God opposing the worship of other gods. It would turn people away from him.
Read: Leviticus 26:1; Deuteronomy 6:4, 14-15
4. God commanded that his people should not make idols etc., (or more properly, ‘worthless’ idols). What was he suggesting that the idols could or couldn’t do? (Leviticus 26:1)
5. God described himself as ‘one’ (Deuteronomy 6:4). What does that suggest?
6. God is often described in the Old Testament as being a ‘jealous’ God (Deuteronomy 6:15). What do you understand by the term ‘jealous’?
Despite excluding other beliefs, many people still see the merit of adopting practices that are (or have been) associated with other religions. Yet God was very clear in his instructions to the Israelites.
Read: Exodus 34:15-16; Deuteronomy 12:29-31; 29:16-18
7. Why did God warn of the dangers of associating with people of other beliefs? (Exodus 34:15-16)
8. The worship of other gods may be wrong, but does that mean that we cannot use their practices in our own worship of God? (Deuteronomy 12:29-31)
9. God required the expulsion—and even the death penalty—for those who engaged in other beliefs and their associated practices (Deuteronomy 29:16-18). Why did God demand such a severe punishment?
Living in a secular country means that Christians are surrounded by beliefs which are described in Old Testament terms as abominations to God.
10. What beliefs and practices associated (or previously associated) with those beliefs are you aware of today?
11. Can it be said that any former religious practice has been totally divorced from its religious origins?
12. What steps do you take to ensure your faith (and the faith of your church) is free from the influence of other religions?
Posted 25th September 2019
© 2019, Brian A Curtis