SINAI SUMMER WILDERNESS ADVENTURES
White-Water Rafting on Dry Land!
July 8, 2018
One of the frustrating observations my wife Valerie and I made in our 5,300 mile road trip a few weeks ago is that most of our nation’s interstate routes are under construction! I kid you not!
Every morning we would set out, all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, for an exciting adventure…only to be deflated by a flashing roadside message board announcing lane closures and delays ahead due to paving and other improvements. And sure enough, traffic would grind to a complete stop-and-go for miles on end.
Why in Sioux City, Iowa they’ve been working on I-29 for seven years with no completion date in sight! No construction going on, just concrete barriers and orange barrels. It’s become a huge speed trap, with cameras replacing state police, taking photos of your license plate as you pass by. How do I know this? I received one of those nice photos in the mail, along with a bill for $100. I discovered that this particular portion of roadway has raised some $18 million for the city of Sioux Falls over the past seven years!
I digress. And my minor inconveniences with slow-downs in no way compares to the abrupt halt the Israelites experience centuries ago on their road trip known as the Exodus.
Yes, I invite you to ponder a couple of Exodus-inspired idioms this morning:
CAUGHT BETWEEN THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP, BLUE SEA
Or, perhaps more accurately, caught between Pharaoh and the deep, Red Sea!
Our Sinai Summer Wilderness Adventure began with God hearing his enslaved people’s cry for freedom. They are living under oppressed bondage in Egypt. To accomplish their deliverance, God needs a good, godly guide. Who does God choose for this monumental task? None other than former Egyptian prince turned Midianite shepherd named Moses. And when Moses balks at the calling due to his speech impediment, God tells him to bring along his slick-talking brother Aaron.
God sends Moses and Aaron to Pharaoh with a simple, forceful message: Let my people go! And when Pharaoh says no, a series of ten plagues are unleashed that demonstrate God’s determination and power:
The Nile River is turned to blood. Frogs, then gnats, then flies are unleashed. Diseases are perpetrated on livestock. The people are inflicted with painful boils, then subjected to damaging hail and fire, then locusts. A fog of darkness envelopes the countryside. And then, God orders the death of each Egyptian firstborn.
That final plague, which God’s people would come to call the Passover in remembrance of God’s angel of death passed over the homes of the Israelites, persuades Pharaoh to release the Israelites. The Israelites hurriedly grab their belongings for their trip out of Egypt, even taking along trays of bread that have not had time for the yeast to be added.
However, as the Israelites are hitting the road eastward out of Egypt, Pharaoh does a face-plant. “What am I doing? I’m an idiot, letting my best laborers go!” And so Pharaoh assembles an army of 600 chariots commandeered by his finest soldiers and they take off in hot pursuit.
Meanwhile, the Israelites have reached a dead end. They are at the marshy shoreline of the Red Sea. In the distance they see the menacing cloud of dust raised by the approaching Egyptian army. And suddenly they find themselves panicked and paralyzed by fear, whining and despair.
They scream at Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? 12 Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!”
We see their dilemma. We feel their pain. They are caught between the Pharaoh and the deep Red Sea. And there appears to be no way out. How could they have been such fools to believe God and Moses?
We would like to believe otherwise, but our faith does not inoculate nor insulate us from life’s tough circumstances.
I’ve had countless persons come up to me over the years complaining, “Burch, I tried that religion thing, and just didn’t work for me. In fact, things seemed to get worse instead of better!” And I tried to somehow gently communicate to them that the Christian life is not like some Nutrisystem plan or some new-fangled yoga program. There are times when your back is going to be against the wall.
What is chasing you right now? Are you between a rock and a hard place? Are you panicked and paralyzed? Is there any hope? I invite you to listen further as we unpack another Exodus-inspired idiom:
IF GOD BRINGS YOU TO IT, GOD WILL BRING YOU THROUGH IT
13 Moses answers the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. 14 The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”
Yes, be still and stand firm! In other words, breathe! Get a grip!
One of the hardest things to do when we find ourselves in a stress-filled, threat-filled situation is to chill out a second and collect ourselves. And yet, it is imperative that we calm ourselves and take stock of the matter.
And then, do not forget, the Lord will fight for you! You are not alone in the struggle. There’s an unseen, eternal force within you, surrounding you, filling you with resilience and guidance. Learn to trust!
But don’t stay mired in the muck of the shoreline. Move on! Yes, God says, 15 “Why, Moses, are you crying to me? Tell the Israelites to move on!” It’s time to step out, get in gear, put trust into action!
Moses does as God instructs. He stretches out his hand. A canyon begins to appear in the midst of the sea as walls of water, buffeted by winds, arise on either side. The Israelites move forward. Can you imagine how surreal, how terrifying, this is? You are walking through the muck of the sea bed feeling the cool mist of columns of water blowing in your face. It’s like white-water rafting on dry land! Talk about an adrenaline rush!
You look over your shoulder. You see the Egyptian war chariots are now at the shoreline you vacated a short while ago. You hear the naying of the horses, the shouts of the soldiers. It’s going to be literally like shooting fish in a barrel, and you’re the mackerel.
But then, you see the chariots miring up in the muck of the sea bed. Moses does as God instructs. He stretches out his hand, and the walls of water come crashing down, swallowing the entire Egyptian army. You have been saved by God’s hand! You are redeemed and released to begin a new life. You are no longer a slave. You are free!
Maybe we’ve never had an Egyptian army pursuing and threatening us. But, nonetheless, we’ve found ourselves in tight, desperate places in our life’s journey where all seemed quite lost.
Back in March my good friend Bill was in a terrible shape. Horrible, unrelenting pain in his gut, bouts of nausea and diarrhea. He’s a tough guy. But he finally ended up in the Emergency Room. Tests revealed a severe case of diverticulitis that was rapidly turning septic. There was no time for a second opinion.
When I got word and showed up in the pre-op area, Bill was freaking out. Screaming at his wife and the nurse. The surgeon had informed him that his colon would have to be sectioned and he would have to wear a colostomy bag for several weeks or perhaps permanently. He was running a fever of 104. He looked at me and screamed, “I’m not doing this. I’m leaving.” And he was climbing off the gurney.
I became pretty forceful. “Breathe, Bill! You need this surgery to live!” “I’m scared. Really scared!” he replied.
“Please let me pray with you.” And I did, assuring Bill that God would be with him in whatever would come. He calmed down over the next few minutes. The surgeon came in to answer last minute questions. Bill said, “Don’t tell me anything else. Just quit talking and get it done!”
The surgeon was inexperienced. The surgery was tedious. But everything turned out well. Bill healed over the next few months. He just had the colostomy reversed a week ago. He is now well on the way to resuming a normal life again.
Yes, Breathe! Trust! Go! When we are caught between the devil and the deep, blue sea we have to strive to believe that if God has brought us to it, God will bring us through it.
Be still and stand firm! The Lord will fight for you! Move on!
Breathe! Trust! Go!
Two passages from the writings of the Apostle Paul speak to me in times that are tenuous:
7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 8 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 2 Corinthians 4:7-9
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28
Certainly our thoughts and prayers, along with those of millions of others around our globe, have been with those 12 young boys and their soccer coach trapped in that dark, water-submerged cavern in the mountains of remote Thailand.
These kids have managed to breathe–calming their nerves and remaining resilient during this harrowing time.
They have been building trust with their rescuers, rebuilding their strength, learning how to swim, believing what they are being told.
And now, they have to go. They have to step out in faith into the darkness with the hope of seeing daylight again.
What an arduous ordeal for all involved!
May we all keep these 13 brave souls in our prayers, trusting that God is working through human minds, hearts and hands to bring them to safety. Amen.