Monday, February 22, 2016

Leaders Fail When They Just Try To Please


Moses Blames Aaron And Aaron Implies It Was Magic!
Exodus 32:21-24: Then Moses said to Aaron, “What did this people do to you, that you have brought such great sin upon them?” And Aaron said, “Do not let the anger of my lord burn; you know the people yourself, that they are prone to evil. For they said to me, ‘Make a god for us who will go before us; for this Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’ And I said to them, ‘Whoever has any gold, let them tear it off.’ So they gave it to me, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf.’”
Moses’ question of Aaron is most interesting. The people must have acted in a way that either enticed or coerced Aaron in having to do something. And Aaron in turn brought great sin ‘upon’ them. The idea here may be one of “Aaron, you should have known better.” Or, perhaps Moses was implying, “How could you be so weak?” More likely, it was Moses not believing what he saw and the anger it stirred within him. Or, even “How could you do this to our God Almighty?” It doesn’t really matter what his thinking was here. What we need to note is that oftentimes leaders become weak if they do not stay in tune with God as much as they should. And it only takes the influence of the Enemy working through others (sometimes insiders in our own camp or family or church to have us stray off the course we know God has for us. But notice also that while the people may have committed sin by seeking another ‘god’, Aaron was the one who brought ‘great’ sin upon them by giving the idol to them. There is an awesome responsibility on leaders to do the right thing even when the crowd is demanding something different.
And then Aaron starts his own defense argument. He implores Moses (whom he recognizes as his authority or at least superior, even though they were brothers by birth) to not be angry. Moses was expected to understand Aaron’s reaction, for he too knew the people and how “prone to evil” they were. The fact that someone under you, or in your care, is prone to evil does not mean that you as their leader are to abet it. In fact, it is even more reason for the one acting as a leader to do the right thing.
As far as the people were concerned, Moses being out of sight, meant he was also out of mind. People have trouble having confidence in an absent leader. We only need to consider how the Cubans felt about Fidel Castro who had not been seen in public for so long due to his health, before he appointed his brother, Raùl, as President out of necessity; or to think of the importance that one’s past attendance and voting record seems to be when running for office again. People need their leaders to be visible rather than hiding in offices or off on vacation for too long. And that’s just for human leaders. Think how people must feel towards God, a Spirit, that they do not see, when they may not have the relationship with Him that accepts Him for Who He is. No wonder they -- “a stubborn people” -- wanted a ‘god’ that they could see and feel to worship.
When we consider the humanity of Aaron, we can understand his weakness. Clearly to bring about temporary peace, he wanted to please them. And it was that desire of pleasing, rather than truly leading, those he was responsible for that made him more of an ‘entertainer’ at that moment and stopped him from being the leader he needed to be. I wonder how many so-called Christian leaders could fall into that category these days?
But here’s the icing on the cake. Aaron had the audacity to tell Moses whom he must have at this point out of stupidity taken for a fool, that when he threw all the gold into the fire, “out came this calf”. Really? That’s what you’re going with Aaron? Was the fire so hot it affected your mind?  That’s not what verse 4 said happened – it says Aaron fashioned it with an engraving tool into a molten calf. So much for his claim of magic. But all that just shows us how ridiculous we can get to be sometimes when we try to defend ourselves in circumstances where there just is no defense – we were wrong and it would be best to admit it, take our consequences, and do all we can to never fall prey to the same thing again.  (It’s those consequences we deal with next.)


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Saturday, February 20, 2016

Now It's Moses' Anger That Burned


Now It’s Moses’ Anger That Burned
Exodus 32:15-20: Then Moses turned and went down from the mountain with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand, tablets which were written on both sides; they were written on one side and the other. And the tablets were God’s work, and the writing was God’s writing engraved on the tablets. Now when Joshua heard the sound of the people as they shouted, he said to Moses, “There is a sound of war in the camp.” But he said,
“It is not the sound of the cry of triumph,
Nor is it the sound of the cry of defeat;
But the sound of singing I hear.”
And it came about, as soon as Moses came near the camp, that he saw the calf and the dancing; and Moses’ anger burned, and he threw the tablets from his hands and shattered them at the foot of the mountain. And he took the calf which they had made and burned it with fire, and ground it to powder, and scattered it over the surface of the water, and made the sons of Israel drink it.
Moses has succeeded in changing God’s mind. God was not going to destroy His people. Israel’s leader could now take the two tablets God had personally written and given him and return to the people below, picking up Joshua (who had not been invited all the way up to meet with God as Moses had) on his way down.
As they get closer to the base of the mountain, the younger Joshua hears a lot of noise coming from the camp below. He assumes it to be sounds of war, either victory or defeat, and shares his thoughts with Moses. The commander-in-chief may have been older, but he was also more experienced. He remembered what God had said to him concerning the need for him to return at once to the people, for they had “corrupted themselves” (see verse 7 of this same chapter 32). So he told Joshua that what they were hearing was neither the sounds of victory nor those of defeat, but the sound of singing. Normally that would have been a good thing and I am sure Moses and Joshua, after their solemn trek up the mountain, would have loved to have been welcomed by joyous and celebrating people. We often get caught up in celebrations that we might be better off not to be part of. To someone who listens to what God says to him, chooses to serve God and God alone, as Moses had, the source of celebration should and will often trump participation in the celebration itself.  Such was the case for Moses.
You will remember God had told him that the people had corrupted themselves, but not how they had done it.  So, as soon as he saw the golden calf, his own anger burned inside him, to the point where he was so furious that he actually shattered the tablets that God had asked him to bring down to the people. Israel had broken their covenant with God by idolatry and immorality as they substituted a golden calf for God. Moses then melted the golden idol, ground it into powder, and as Robert Jamieson suggests, sprayed its dust on the water system from which the Israelites drank in the camp, thus making them drink it. David Guzik suggest he did this for three reasons:
1.     to show that this "god" was nothing and could be destroyed easily
2.     to completely obliterate this idol, and
3.     to make the people pay an immediate consequence of their sin.
Matthew Henry suggests that Moses was trying to prove to the Israelites that they had ‘betaken’ themselves to a god that could not help them. And so it is often with us when we sin. God has to allow things to happen in our lives which will fulfill all these reasons Moses may have had in mind for doing what he did. God has to show us through life’s experiences that what we were pursuing in sin really was wrong, had no real, lasting, or meaningful value; He works to obliterate the sin in our lives so that it no longer can have any influence on us; and in the process, there is usually an immediate consequence, one often imposed by society or those we love, consequences through which we have to suffer and survive. In the end, God is saying to us He alone can bring us what we really need and what we really want and no other god – be it a person, a political ideology, wealth, fame, or pleasure -- can give us that.


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Monday, February 15, 2016

How To Influence Others -- Moses' Style


Moses Stars As A Defense Attorney and Influencer
Exodus 32:11-14: Then Moses entreated the Lord his God, and said, “O Lord, why doth Thine anger burn against Thy people whom Thou has brought out from the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians speak, saying, ‘With evil intent He brought them out to kill them in the mountains and to destroy them from the face of the earth? Turn from Thy burning anger and change Thy mind about doing harm to Thy people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Thy servants to whom Thou didst swear by Thyself, and didst say to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heavens, and all this land of which I have spoken I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.’” So the Lord changed His mind about the harm which He said He would do to His people.
Have you ever had to entreat God? The Hebrew word for this action is ‘chalah’ and it is translated in many ways from its root, namely, to be or become weak, sick, diseased, grieved, or sorry. It is easy to see how Moses must have felt weak and sick after hearing God say what He had said about destroying His people. There is no doubt in my mind that Moses also felt distressed for his people and very apologetic on behalf of the Israelites.
But Moses didn’t stop there. He refused to sit by idly let God do what even God Himself really did not want to do. (There are times when we must act and intercede in situations – with men, and before God.) He was a leader and a leader knows how to plead on behalf of his people. He also had a brilliant mind and he used it in his entreating of God.
What We Can Learn From Moses In Influencing People
First, we could say that in essence, he subtly corrects God who had, in His anger, accredited Moses bringing up “his” people from Egypt. He gives the people back to their rightful owner, God Himself. Moses reminds God that, “They are Your people and You brought them up from Egypt.” That takes guts. God may have been angry when He had said what He had, but above all, God is ‘truth’ and He would want us to stand up, even to Him, for the truth. Here was Moses correcting God, but in love and devotion – a very model of how God would want us to correct others with the truth.
Second, Moses appeals to God’s greatness reminding Him that He did all this with “great power and with His mighty hand”. And in the process he was affirming his continued love for God, and his continued belief in His authority. Again, Moses continues to demonstrate the process for influencing someone positively – tell the truth; and appeal to their their positive attributes (sense of worth and contribution).
Third, Moses appeals to God’s sense of honor and he does so in three ways. First, he points out what the Egyptians may think of His actions of “evil intent” were He to destroy His people after bringing them out of the land of Egypt. Moses knew God did not want to give His enemies any reason to glory over what took place when in fact God fully intended for His people to become a great nation. Second, Moses appealed to God’s love for the fathers of Israel – Abraham (a ‘friend of God’ forever – 2 Chronicles 20:7), Isaac (the son of promise – Galatians 4:22,23), and Jacob (born in answer to prayer – Genesis 25:21 and who saw the heavenly ladder – 28:10-19). How could God turn His back on them now? And third, Moses appeals to God through His personal promises made and words uttered with respect to making their descendants as the stars in the heavens.
The fourth key factor in the approach that Moses used to influence God was that none of his arguments were about himself. Moses had no personal vested interests in influencing God in this way.  While it would have been very difficult to go down from the mountain and tell the people they would be destroyed by God, Moses remembered how God had protected him so many times in his life, and he realized that if God really intended to start all over with him and keeping the covenant that had been made and broken by the Israelites, God could do it and keep Moses safe. But he didn’t care for that. He wanted God to be true to His character and His true love and desires for His people, Israel. (Many times we step in to influence people but we have a real conflict-of-interest.  That is why third-party mediators are often more successful than family members when it comes to influencing.  And maybe why friends are more influential than family.
So let’s summarize Moses’ approach to influencing another person:
-- sticks to the truth
-- appeals to the good in the one he wants to influence
-- appeals to their sense of honor
-- he had no personal vested interest in the outcome.
And Moses succeeded. The Bible says, “So the Lord changed His mind.” Amazing, but possible. Can you change God’s mind? Well, Moses did. And I believe there may be times when we can – that is what entreating God in prayer is all about.


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Sunday, February 14, 2016

God’s Anger Burned, He Wanted Solitude



Exodus 32:7-10: Then the Lord spoke to Moses, “Go down at once, for your people, whom you brought up from the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves.  They have quickly turned aside from the way which I commanded them. They have made for themselves a molten calf, and have worshiped it, and have sacrificed to it, and said, ‘This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt!’” And the Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and behold, they are an obstinate people. Now then let Me alone, that My anger may burn against them, and that I may destroy them; and I will make of you a great nation.”
In the previous segment, we left the people eating, drinking, and “getting up to play” the Bible says. All of which was fine except for the circumstances under which they were doing so – celebrating their worship to a god represented by a man-made calf fashioned with gold. God was watching from above where He and Moses had been meeting at the top of Mount Sinai. He had enough; He had to speak – as He always does, one way or another – when we have pushed His buttons beyond the allowable limits.
So God tells Moses to go down to the people “at once” because they are in great spiritual danger. We often think of God being outside of time and He is, but here is more evidence that He can get involved in our timeline – “Go down at once”. There is a time God is saying, through His words to Moses, for us to act immediately. When our fellow believers or our family is getting to the point where their spirituality or faith is in danger, we need to act “at once” – be it through fervent prayer on their behalf or be it through wise counsel and/or positive intervention.
You will remember back in Genesis that man was fashioned in the image of God. So when God here in speaking to Moses refers to the children of Israel, as “your people”, we can see in Him one of the characteristics He has endowed us with – legitimate or what we may call righteous anger. God was so angry with the children of Israel, that He in essence, for that moment, had disassociated Himself from them because of their idolatry. To the point I might add that He was willing to give Moses the credit for bringing them up from the land of Egypt. Poor Moses, this is not what he had bargained for.
The people had indeed as God points out, “corrupted themselves”. They had “quickly turned aside” from His commandments. There is no reference here to the “devil made them do it”. When we stray from God’s commandments, it is our choice, our decision, and there is no one else to be blamed for it. Just as our relationship with God is personal, so too our failure to keep that relationship whole is our doing, no one else’s.
And God doesn’t just stop at that observation. He goes on to call the Israelites an “obstinate people”. That’s a fascinating word and well worth looking up in any dictionary. Bottom line is that it means stubborn and unyielding even when presented with logical evidence and argument. How disappointing that must have been to God. How disappointing must it be to God when, thousands of years later, He gave His only begotten Son to die in their place and people today still are “an obstinate people” refusing to see His love for them.
We come now to a very difficult passage for some of us. God tells Moses that He wants to be left alone, but not to cool off. He wants to be alone in order to let His anger really set in (to boil) to the point that He would be able to destroy the very people He so dearly loved. What’s all that about?
We need to remember that these people were in covenant with God. And from God’s perspective, they broke the covenant. Sinning against God is not a uni-directional action. There will be a reaction. At a minimum we evoke God’s anger. And sometimes there are direct consequences of our sin, not because God wants to punish us, but because breaking His laws often have natural consequences. For example, if we steal, ultimately the authorities will lock us up. We cannot blame God for that.
Secondly, we need to ask ourselves whether or not God had any intention of breaking His covenant with the children of Israel? I believe He had every right to given that they had violated the terms of the agreement. But did He really want to? I do not think so and perhaps that is why God brings Moses back into the equation in a very roundabout way. He tells Moses that He would destroy the people and make a great nation out of Moses and his descendants. As a minimum, what we have here is a further testing of Moses’ true character. All he had to do to end up with a greater legacy than what he did end up with, was to say, “Okay, God, let’s do it.  I’m prepared to be your man in that decision which you are making in your anger.” But as we soon will see, Moses did not do that.
Thirdly, we need to remember that Moses was writing this account of Scripture and he only had human terms or language with which to describe the actual experience he had had with God. As such it is difficult for us to understand what was fully in the mind of God and in the intent of His words.
Finally, perhaps we can argue as some do that God was really inviting Moses to interfere, to save the people from God’s wrath. We do not know. But we do know this, if our God wanted to destroy the people of Israel, He could have. And if He had no intention to do so, He would not do so, no matter what Moses did or did not do. God had then and has now the right to do whatever He wants. And He also has the right to show His anger and His disappointment in whatever way He wants. I would not want to base my eternity on anyone with any less authority and power and dominion than what God has. Our God is not a golden calf.


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Saturday, February 13, 2016

The Golden Calf


Moses Is Missing, So Make Us “a god”


Exodus 32:1-6: Now when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people assembled about Aaron, and said to him, “Come, make us a god who will go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” And Aaron said to them, “Tear off the gold rings which are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” Then all the people tore off the gold rings which were in their ears, and brought them to Aaron. And he took this from their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool, and made it into a molten calf; and they said, “This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt.” Now when Aaron saw this he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a feast day to the Lord.” So the next day they rose early and offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play.
In the minds of the people at the foot of Mount Sinai, Moses took too long to return to them from his meeting with God. They were impatient. Impatience leads to grumbling and grumbling often leads to seeking out other grumblers. That’s exactly what happened until enough of them got together to do something about how they felt. They gathered around Aaron and demanded some action. In fact, they even stipulated what that action would be.
They wanted to make for themselves “a god” that would lead them forward. This would indeed have been contrary to God’s Law (Commandment no. 1 out of the 10). However, if I understand the sequence of events correctly, the people had not yet received the tablets that God had given to Moses. So, their error was not in breaking that particular law so much as it was their forgetfulness of Who it was that had led them so far. In fact, they even erred in thinking at this point it was “this Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt” rather than the Lord. And now this “man” is missing and they didn’t know what had “become of him.”
How many times have men and women pursued a ‘religion’ based on a man rather than on the God of the universe? Then when that man fails, disappears, or dies, they are left with nothing. Or, as in the case of the Israelites, they fall into sin, building their own god.
Now what is surprising is the reaction of Aaron, whom we think should have known better, given all that he had experienced at the side of Moses, his brother. And remember that Aaron was the “high priest”.  Sometimes, we need to question what our senior clergy do if we know it is not right before God.  Aaron had witnessed God’s mighty power to save through all the plagues that Egypt suffered and through the escape from Egypt including the crossing of the waters and the destruction of their pursuers. Yet, he blows it. Angry crowds have a way of causing even good men to blow it. Robert Jamieson suggests the word ‘about’ in verse 1 should really be thought of as ‘against’. They were arguing with Aaron and he had to act, perhaps even out of fear.  
One of the most memorable teachings of Bill Hybels that I picked up while listening to him and reading his books was that as leaders we need to “stay the course”. That does not mean that you bull-headedly never change your mind or ever realize that you have made an error. But it means that if you have made a decision based on facts, and a biblical principle, then you stick with that, no matter what winds blow at you. And that includes times when other members of your team are saying, “Come on, let’s be nice; let’s be ‘real Christian’ about this and let ‘them have their way’.  There will always be those that find conflict or disagreement difficult and they will appeal to your so-called ‘spiritual’ side to change your mind.  My position in some of these cases is that if God led you to a position in the first place and it’s based on solid biblical teaching, then stick with it. That does not mean you don’t show respect and care and even love for the other person, you do and that’s very important. But you do not condone their action and you do not give in on the biblical principle God has led you to uphold, at any cost.
Aaron was not willing to pay the cost. Nor was another man thousands of years later. Herod, was almost persuaded to believe Christ. God had somehow worked in him to determine that Christ was not guilty of breaking the Roman law and thus should be set free, but he chickened out because of the pressure of the crowd. The real test of a leader, especially a Christian one, is to be able to “stay the course” when the crowd starts to roar.
So well-meaning Aaron comes up with a solution to the demands of the people. He tells them to gather all their jewelry that the Egyptians had given them before they were led out of Egypt and freed from slavery by God. Interesting that it was on God’s instructions (Exodus 11:2) that Moses, His representative, directed them to acquire these items from the Egyptians. Interesting also that the text indicates the jewelry was also worn by ‘sons’. So maybe we need not be so quick to condemn those men (some in our churches) who have chosen to add some jewelry to their ears. With all this gold Aaron had melted down, he personally fashioned a golden calf.
What followed must have been (from a human perspective) a great disappointment to God. His chosen people worshipped this calf idol and made it the god of Israel, giving it credit for bringing them up from (or out) of the land of Egypt. If that is not a slur to the Lord, I don’t know what is. And yet many of us still do that today in the way we live – we give our brains, our creativity, even chance, or hard work credit for any good that has happened in our lives, forgetting that it is God Who allows it all to happen and in many cases, orchestrates it.
You would think that by now Aaron would have realized his mistake, but he did not. Instead, when he saw the celebration and the return to happiness of the people, he encouraged them by building an altar and proclaiming a holiday. But he called the holiday a “feast day to the Lord”. How mistaken could he have been. Perhaps no more so than how mistaken we often are when we mix the things of the world with our worship of God Almighty. And the next day, the people made their offerings and feasted. You can see the fallen ways of man in the closing two phrases of this passage: “. . .  and the people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play.
God does want us to eat, drink, and play but it’s how we get there and why we do so, that I believe is more important to Him. In fairness to Aaron, we may want to consider that in his mind, the people were not breaking off from their belief in Jehovah, but rather simply following a 400-year example that was modelled by the Egyptians. They constructed idols to represent the objects of their worship. So Aaron introduces a “feast day” as had been held by the Israelites in days past – even as late as the Passover Meal they had before escaping from Egypt.


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