Reverend Dr. William H. Curtis

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They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!”

Numbers 21:4-5 NIV

Moses didn’t want to do battle with Edom, so he had the Israelites travel around. However, after recent victories against the Canaanites, Israel didn’t want to backpedal around Edom en route to the promised land. The Israelites were so overly confident that they gave into arrogance.

Not knowing how to conquer impatience, the Israelites set out from Mount Hor to go around Edom. The people grew irritable as they traveled and grumbled, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!”

Israel believed that backtracking was unbearable. Their ethic was that they could never move forward going backwards. They believed that their victory over the Canaanites gave them momentum and energy to conquer their way to the promised land. They had forgotten that God was the one who had done all of the fighting. They had forgotten that their strength was in their faith.

They had tasted the sweetness of victory and the sweetness of the promised land.

But, when we start complaining, the complaints just keep on coming. We tell God that we don’t like the path that He has sent us on, and then we start to think that we don’t like the mana that God gives us to sustain us every day.

This text begs us to consider whether our faith has room to listen when God tells us not to move. Faith can call for immediate action and radical obedience, but more often, our faith calls for us to go against what we want to do. There are times when our faith makes us go backwards over territory that we have already covered or reengage relationships that we had decided to sever. Faith will sometimes ask us to hold our tongues when speaking seems more natural.

Faith is easy when it calls for an immediate action. But it is hard when it makes us stand still.

Israel is not at all confused about God’s will. They know what they heard. God said, “Go around.” The path through Edom was blocked by God, but impatience can frustrate our interpretation of God’s will. Impatience can make us complain about God as if we had completely forgotten that the whole reason we are where we are is because God came and got us and freed us from bondage.

It is almost incredulous to suggest that we are complaining about our struggles in the wilderness when God rescued us from bondage. We all have impatience, but our faith in God has to be stronger than our impatience.

Luke 14:25-33

German pastor, theologian, and Nazi dissident, Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote in The Cost of Discipleship: "The followers of Jesus for His sake renounce every personal right…. If after giving up everything else for His sake they still wanted to cling to their own rights, they would then have ceased to follow Him.” The life of discipleship can only be maintained as long as nothing is allowed to come between Christ and ourselves.

In Luke 14, Jesus has been addressing the multitudes and has given them an invitation to sit at the table of God. He invites those that He is dining with to follow Him to deeper levels of sacrifice and spiritual surrender. However, He tells them that they may not want to accept this invitation if they are only accepting it on emotional enthusiasm. Jesus does not at all mind sharing how unapologetic He is about the kind of loyalty that He demands from those who would follow Him.

He makes it clear that anyone who comes to follow Him but refuses to let go of everything and everyone else, cannot be His disciple. If we are not willing to surrender whatever is dearest to us, we cannot be Christ’s disciple.

We often talk about Jesus being loving and caring and nurturing, but we must also remember that, sometimes, He will put us at risk to show us our gifts and our calling. He will make us lose in order to gain. He will let us fall in order to prove that He is a protector. He demands that we anchor our loyalty to Him alone.

If Jesus were invited today to preach to you, and told you that He is willing to offer you salvation, but you have to be willing to put your relationship with Him first, before your family, before yourself, and before anything you hold dear, would you jump up and run down the aisle, knowing how badly we know we need Jesus?  Or, would you choose not to do so because you have other priorities?

This is a hard extension of divine invitation. Many in the crowd that day missed the hook that framed the invitation that Jesus was extending. Jesus was fellowshipping with them so that He could invite them to become a disciple rather than a guest. Guests have no demands made of them. Guests do nothing more than whet their appetites. There are no chores, duties, or sacrifices required to be a guest.

We can’t love Jesus and stay a guest. And, we can’t walk with Jesus and continue to have priorities that we place before Him in our lives.  When we make the decision to follow Jesus, we are entering into a covenant to become more than a guest, and we must be prepared for the sacrifice and spiritual surrender that this decision requires.

One day, after Moses had grown [into adulthood], it happened that he went to his countrymen and looked [with compassion] at their hard labors; and he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his countrymen. He turned to look around, and seeing no one, he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. He went out the next day and saw two Hebrew men fighting with each other; and he said to the aggressor, “Why are you striking your friend?” But the man said, “Who made you a prince and a judge over us? Do you intend to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?” Then Moses was afraid and said, “Certainly this incident is known.”

When Pharaoh heard about this matter, he tried to kill Moses. Then Moses fled from Pharaoh’s presence and took refuge in the land of Midian, where he sat down by a well.

Now the priest of Midian had seven daughters; and they came and drew water [from the well where Moses was resting] and filled the troughs to water their father’s flock. Then shepherds came and drove them away, but Moses stood up and helped them and watered their flock. When they came to Reuel (Jethro) their father, he said, “How is it that you have come back so soon today?” They said, “An Egyptian saved us from the shepherds. He even drew water [from the well] for us and watered the flock.” Then he said to his daughters, “Where is he? Why have you left the man behind? Invite him to have something to eat.” Moses was willing to remain with the man, and he gave Moses his daughter Zipporah [to be his wife]. She gave birth to a son, and he named him Gershom (stranger); for he said, “I have been a stranger in a foreign land.”

Exodus 2:11-22 AMP

One day Moses witnesses an Egyptian beating a Hebrew slave, and he jumps in abruptly. Thinking that no one is around, he kills the Egyptian and buries his body in the sand. The next day, he witnesses a fight between two Hebrews and steps in. When he goes to rebuke the aggressor, he responds, “Are you going to do to me what you did to the Egyptian?” Moses knows now that his secret is out.

When Pharaoh hears about it, he makes up his mind to kill Moses. When Moses runs to avoid being killed, God plants him in Midian, which in Hebrew means ‘the place of strife.’ God metaphorically arrests Moses and keeps him in Midian for forty years. He does this in order to recalibrate the gifts in Moses that have gotten him into trouble.

Moses runs to Midian and sees the seven daughters of Jethro being chased away from the well by shepherds. Moses steps in and protects the rights of these women. The seven daughters then run back and report to Jethro what has happened. Jethro invites Moses to join his family and gives Moses Zipporah in marriage. Now Moses has shepherding responsibilities for Jethro’s sheep.

The trajectory of Moses’ life is propelled forward by these episodes where we can see Moses’ raw, immature potential that keeps getting him into trouble. The liberator that he will be, forty years later during the Exodus, was the same liberator who looked both ways before killing the Egyptian task master and burying his body in the sand.

We can see the progress of Moses’ maturity. When he defends Jethro’s daughters from the aggressive shepherds, he is more mature, but not as mature, wise, and seasoned as we see him forty years later when he is mediating between grumbling Hebrews.

Later leadership has to start as raw potential. Moses’ potential that resulted in a man buried in the sand and scared Hebrews gets him dropped in forty years of exile. But, this is necessary character and faith building for Moses so that he could stand before Pharaoh forty years later.

We can’t ignore the raw potential that messes up our neat little lives. When God draws our attention to his purpose for our lives, it does not start out perfectly mature. God perfects our raw potential, even while it messes stuff up as it grows. God is slowly bringing us to recognition of His purpose for our life.

Now He was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. And behold, there was a woman who had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bent over and could in no way raise herself up. But when Jesus saw her, He called her to Him and said to her, “Woman, you are loosed from your infirmity.” And He laid His hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and glorified God.

But the ruler of the synagogue answered with indignation, because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath; and he said to the crowd, “There are six days on which men ought to work; therefore come and be healed on them, and not on the Sabbath day.”

The Lord then answered him and said, “Hypocrite! Does not each one of you on the Sabbath loose his ox or donkey from the stall, and lead it away to water it? So ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has bound—think of it—for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath?” And when He said these things, all His adversaries were put to shame; and all the multitude rejoiced for all the glorious things that were done by Him.

Luke 13:10-17 NKJV

Freeing yourself is one thing, but claiming ownership of that freed self is another.

This woman in the text, despite her infirmity, decided that she was going to church. This 18 year condition now has her bent over and unable to straighten up, but she is still in church. Maybe she goes to church because of her infirmity. Maybe she hopes that something there will change her condition.

The rabbi at the synagogue must respect Jesus enough to turn over preaching and teaching to Him for that day. Things must have been going well, too—until Jesus abruptly beckons for the woman to stand, and He publicly heals her. The synagogue pastor doesn’t want to express his disdain to Jesus. Instead, he does what many of us do. We take it out on the people who we think are not as strong.

He turns his frustration towards the congregation. He tells them that they have every other day of the week to work towards wholeness, freedom, and liberation. They can be healed and released from their infirmities on any day but the sabbath. The rabbi doesn’t have a problem with Jesus delivering the woman. His problem is the day on which the deliverance takes place.

Jesus uses this opportunity, however, to ask a question. He says, if you have an animal tied up and it needed to drink water, you would untie it and lead it to drink, wouldn’t you? The question is rhetorical. They knew the answer was, emphatically, “Yes.”

Jesus makes it clear that it is more important that He responds to the woman tied by an infirmity, who needs to be led to wellness and health. The people are amazed, and glory breaks out in the synagogue—both for Jesus, the liberator, and for the woman, the liberated.

That’s the story. We could go home if we wanted. But there is still tension in the text. This tension is between Jesus and the rabbi. The rabbi had willingly turned the control of his service over to Jesus. When you turn that control over to Jesus, what do you expect? After all, rumors are spreading that wherever Jesus goes, people are getting healed. Demons are being confronted. He is displaying power and performing miracles.

What did he expect Jesus to do? Did the rabbi expect Him to tone down the rhetoric? Not offer healing? Resist setting anybody free?

When we turn our lives over to Jesus, His presence frees us from our bondage. He can change our boundaries, mature the immature parts of our personalities, and change our attitudes.

For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.

1 Timothy 4:8 NIV

Paul is teaching Timothy how to avoid being swept up in Satanic-led teaching. At the time, there were many who were leading Christians away with false spiritual teachings. Their cunning teaching seduced those who were attempting to seek the truth. It seduced them because it sounded enough like ancient scripture. Even today, these teachings are awfully believable to the gullible mind. 

Paul uses the two most popular examples of apostate teachings that are trapping people. First, these apostates were teaching people that they should not get married, so as to preserve their whole selves for God. This is clearly false teaching, as God not only instituted marriage but also ordained it as holy. Secondly, these apostates were teaching against eating meat because of the Jewish law prohibiting certain types of meat consumption. However, Paul taught that Christ has freed us from the law and freed us to receive anything if it is received with thanksgiving.

Paul brings these up to highlight the apostasy that is running rampant in the church, and Paul wants young Timothy to minister in this tense environment. Paul says to Timothy, ‘Fight these preachers, by standing unashamed and declaring scriptural truth.’

If we are not careful, the temptation to believe the popular can overcome us. We cannot let what everyone else thinks to be true to become our truth. Just like Timothy, we can stay Godly by staying in training. We must stay spiritually surrendered and deeply prayerful. We must also exercise our faith for the purpose of growth, just like an athlete exercises their body.

Like Paul says, athletic training for the body has some value. It helps us journey through life on this side of the veil. But we must think about our relationship with God as spiritual training. Not only is it beneficial for the here and now, but it is also valuable for our life beyond. 

This forces us to ask the question: “What are we training for?” It’s bigger than asking, “How has God been blessing you?” Instead, “How has God been training and exercising you?”

This is not about favor or blessing. This is about being more Godly. When we are strong enough in our training, we won’t be pulled away by false teachings. We will know the difference between spiritual half-truths and the real truth in Christ. When we have trained ourselves up, we can experience resurrection freedom, and we can say that Christ has set us free.