Archive for the ‘Christ-centered preaching’ category

If my daugher were a Pharisee…

August 15, 2007

Some reader is going to think, “Doesn’t this guy know that women couldn’t be Pharisees? Sheesh! He’s going to get quite the comment from me…” Well, yes, and good for you. Pharisaism was disdainful of the ability of women to learn, thus Paul’s groundbreaking libertarian, “Let them learn!” in 1 Timothy 2 (contra the idea that Paul was himself misogynistic). OK, we got that out of the way… but I still want to use this analogy, because she’s my daughter, the apple of my eye, and I want the best for her… and sometimes that means I act like I wish she were a Pharisee.

I’ve often heard parents remind each other, “We don’t want to raise them to be Pharisees, after all!” By this is usually meant that we don’t to be overly strict, that we shouldn’t be insisting on dress or behavior that is wildly different than the culture – that we don’t want them to be “fundys”. It’s a wrong-headed view of Pharisaism.

If my daughter were a Pharisee (just go with the analogy):

-) She’d try her hardest to be obedient in every situation

-) She’d love the rules we gave her, and she wouldn’t mind at all if they were not the same as those of her peers. One of her favored rules would be, “Honor your father and mother.”

-) She’d love to excel, especially in academia; her study habits and disciplines would be above reproof, and her scores at the top of her class

-) She wouldn’t hang out with the “wrong sort”; I wouldn’t have to worry about bad company corrupting good behavior

-) This would all be a matter of the heart for her, not simply superficial compliance while being observed. No “Eddie Haskill” observance here (you’ve probably got to be advancing well in years to get that reference).

-) She’d have a reputation for integrity and trustworthiness.

-) You’d all like her and praise her and compliment her mother and I on our excellent parenting skills.

Parents: anyone want to raise a Pharisee or two?

Of course, it would all start to go sour when she told us she couldn’t care for us in our old age because her gifts were dedicated to the temple.

But it would seriously be sour from the beginning, for there are a couple more bullet points to make:

-) She would try her hardest, straining every spiritual muscle she had, to be all that she could be…and she would be doing it all without Jesus.

-) She would believe firmly in herself. This is not a good thing. Her place of worship would be the temple of “I’m my own God” that was erected by Adam and Eve and has been enlarged and renovated in every generation since.

-) Some of the most fearful curses Jesus uttered would hang above her soul.

-) At the insistence of Jesus that he, that God alone must have her worship, she would join the cry of “Crucify him!”

I weep to write this.

I pray for her soul.

And I ask forgiveness from the God of grace for the many times that I have raised her as a Pharisee.

Taking time to press the gospel of Jesus Christ to the hearts of our children takes time. “Just do it” can be a shortcut – a shortcut that ends in devastation.

“Just grow up. You’re acting immature.”

“You’re smarter than this. Start living to your potential.”

“You need better habits. Better disciplines. I’m going to show you how you can develop them: (sometimes followed with “one way or another; you want to do this the easy way, or the hard way?”).

“If you lie, people won’t be able to trust you. You’ll be a liar. Do you want that?”

Look what I’ve done. I’ve told her that she can be strong enough, that she can be her own savior, and to live in fear of the perceptions of others, and to satisfy them. Legalism. Soul-destroying.

The gospel enters and says, “You can’t do this. You need a Champion, a Rescuer, a Divine Helper. Look, there’s Jesus! Look what He has done in our place! See what that means now as we live out our life in him. We’re weak, but we have a great Savior! What does his grace mean for this in our life? He will help us here. Let’s trust him, and ask his help to live this out…”

But our heart naturally resists the gospel, which tells us our problems are deep-seated because of sin, and our hope is wholly other than ourselves. And telling the gospel takes time. And so we often settle for, “Get through it best you can now, relying on your self. We’ll talk Jesus later.”

And just as I have (God forgive me!) done this with my daughter, preachers do it with their congregations.

And when we give people rules for living and advice and tips on how to do it better, and we don’t seat them deeply in the work of God in Jesus Christ, we are growing a congregation of Pharisees.

Today, when evangelicals speak of “Pharisees”, the usual present-day analogy is to stuffy, arrogant religious leaders. But I’m afraid the brush paints much wider. It covers multitudes of earnest, serving, community-building, honest, dedicated church members, longing to be ever more obedient, ruing their remaining sin, trying their hardest to be strong and good.

May God help us.


Niké theology

August 14, 2007

Niké made “Just do it” a recognized slogan. It almost seems many preachers and counselors ought to wear T-shirts with Niké logos, and pulpits – like NASCAR racers — ought to sport the Niké brand name.

“Have courage (or “faith” or “hope” or “peace”; fill in the blank). You can do it. Here is some equipment to help you: 8 Really Wonderful Ideas to Unleash Dormant [Courage] in Your Life. Do this. And this. And this. Stop doing that. And that. Then do this. You’ll be [brave] in no time!”

Just do it.

“Our members are drifting. What should we do?”

“We need to take them through this “How To” study. It will teach them How To grow (or “love” or “have a better marriage” or “develop faith”; fill in the blank).”

“I’m tired of taking them through How To studies. Why can’t they learn to learn how to How To on their own?”

“They’re just sheep. We need to teach them to learn.”

“OK. So there’re two programs. We’ll do a How To on how to How To, and then they’ll do a How To on how to develop [blank]. Two new programs ought to hold them for a while! There’s lots for them to start doing. I hope they’ll do it.

How often has a counselor secretly wanted to scream this during a counseling session?

I feel so awful. I keep reading these magazines (or “lying to my boss” or “wasting my time”; fill in the blank). I know I ought to stop, and I really want to stop, and I really try to stop, but I …


I seriously intended to start reading my Bible every day, but I just got caught up with [excuse]. I know I should do it, and I really want to do it, I don’t want to be the kind of person that doesn’t do it, but I…


Of course, the reason it isn’t shouted at the counselee is because that just wouldn’t be nice, or sensitive, or helpful. The fact that it is legalism is not considered. Nor that it is a legalistic answer to a problem created by legalistic striving. The counselee is aware of the law that condemns their sin, they are aware of their guilt, they know what behaviour is required of them, and they are seeking — at some level, no matter how pitiful — to get there. But their idols are intact, their striving is Christless, and the best outcome they can get from “Niké theology” is to be a more accomplished legalist, a refined and acceptable legalist, a sincerely trying legalist — a Pharisee.

Actually, there are several things wrong with “Niké theology”. It seeks to empower change by addressing the will directly, without reference to the motives within the heart – the “affections” as Edwards spoke of them. Until these heart-inclinations are changed, until the idolatrous affections are killed by the “Expulsive Power of a New Affection” (a must-read article), no real change can occur. “Niké theology” doesn’t undertake any deconstruction of our idols or the cultural “powers” at work.

And it doesn’t declare the news of the Great Rescuer who has accomplished for us, in his life, death, and resurrection, all that we simply could not do.

Yesterday I wrote about the three kinds of legalism. This is the 3rd kind. It is the teaching of rules and principles without teaching the gospel, without seeing what the Saviour has done and is doing. It leaves people digging deeper into themselves, trying harder, and hoping in the power of these new tools and suggestions and steps we’ve given them. As Mark Lauterbach has recently written (in an article that should be completely read and committed to heart):

“If people leave my preaching confident in the rules and principles I have given them, I have preached a false Gospel. If they leave the room confident in the faithful grace and power of the Savior to work in them as they seek to obey — I have preached the Gospel.”

I was once at a church where the guest speaker was a Christian who had served his country in the Vietnam war, and had suffered terrible things there, and had triumphed with courage and grit and stubborn refusal to give up. His was an amazing, wonderful story and he was an amazing, wonderful man. He was inspiring. He left us all desperately believing we could be more than we had been. As people left the service, they spoke of how they had been convicted of not trying hard enough, inspired to try harder, and how they were certain their lives had been changed.

Changed into better Pharisees, perhaps.

Because, in other words, they left steeped in legalism. “Power” without gospel. Effort without a Saviour. A heart determined that I will be all I can be, not I am nothing apart from Jesus Christ, and all I can be is in Him.

The gospel challenges our idolatries – one of the greatest of which is simply self. Legalism creates a form of obedience but leaves the idolatries intact. Sometimes this can be extremely subtle, both in individual life and in the body life of the church. Tomorrow I’ll try to bring that to more light with my post “If my daughter were a Pharisee.”

‘Til then,

Cast your deadly “doing” down—
Down at Jesus’ feet;
Stand in Him, in Him alone,
Gloriously complete.

If that tweaked your interest, read the whole hymn (you may want to mute your speakers first).

Give me Jesus or I perish

August 8, 2007


“Come, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and he who has no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food.”
(Isaiah 55:1-2)

The food market was a collection of tables in the midst of the town square. It was a congested place, with buyers pressing their way between tables piled high with this foodstuff or that, displayed at its best in hopes of attracting a buyer’s attention. Behind the tables merchants stood, shouting their wares, “hawking” their goods, voices raised to drown out the shouts of the competition. It was a raucous, boisterous, crowded place.

But the buyers were emaciated.

Starving, they would move from table to table, desperately throwing down hard-earned coins so they could hungrily sample this food or that. While there were exclamations of delight from place to place, each exclamation drawing an excited crowd, it appeared that buyers never left the marketplace satisfied, or full. They kept milling about and buying and eating, but growing increasingly hungry, and thirsty, and desperate. For all that was sold in the marketplace was cardboard cutouts, scented wax, and beautifully tinted empty bottles.

A new merchant appeared in the midst of the square; his name was Trew. Trew set up a table that overflowed with baked goods and milk and wine and cool, clear water. He began to shout, “Stop buying what is not food. Come here! Come and eat! Come and drink! Bring no money, all is already paid for! Come, buy for free, eat and drink to your heart’s content! No limit, no fineprint, no conditions. Fine wine, fine food! Come, eat and drink! Come!”

Some people looked at him suspiciously. Others noticed that the bottles were plain, and the table old and worn, and so they disdained him. Some offered money, but when it was refused they became angry and stomped away. But some came, gingerly and doubtfully at first, and tasted…and took more and ate again…and ate, and drank…and were satisfied.

For the first time ever. Satisfied. It was good. It was very good.

They looked around at others, and saw that some would not come because Trew’s bottles were plain. So some got together and painted some very nice bottles for the wine and the water. They set the bottles up next to the table and offered them at a nice discount. It was a popular idea, and the bottle-painting business took off, and soon people clamored for the Trew-water and Trew-wine in the nice bottles, and the demand was high, and people rejoiced, and they called the bottles Trew-Bottles and sold them next to Trew’s table and people didn’t notice that they were empty bottles, for they were beautiful, and they were Trew-Bottles! And Trew still shouted for people to “Come and drink!” but some found only Trew-Bottles, and they were excited, but they were not satisfied.

And so it was reported that Trew’s water and wine did not satisfy.

Others took pity on Trew’s poor table, and decided to make a grand covered stand that could be placed near Trew’s table and would look solid and majestic and beautiful, and would attract people to come and shelter in its cover. Within the stand they placed pictures of Trew’s food, and of happy and satisfied people eating Trew’s food, and there were signs directing people to Trew’s table. Many people came, and they “Oohed” and “Aahed” over the pictures, and some went to visit Trew’s table, but others stayed and enjoyed the shade and the pictures of food and drink. They called it the Trew Stand, and so many people came that they had to make it bigger and bigger, and the sounds of sawing and hammering drowned out Trew’s voice, and few visited Trew’s table anymore, but many came to the Trew Stand. Dignitaries would visit Trew Stand and stand upon a special platform and talk about Trew’s food, and tell people that it was very, very good.  Celebrities testified to the wonderful satisfaction they’d found in Trew’s foods.  Seminars were given as to the best ways to enjoy Trew’s food and drink.  Committees were formed to make new Trew Stands in other areas of the marketplace, so others could enjoy hearing about what Trew’s food was like.  And crowds listened.  They  were given Trew Bottles if they were thirsty, and pictures of Trew’s food if they were hungry, and scented wax Trew Food Souvenirs.

But they were not satisfied.

And so it was reported that Trew’s food did not satisfy.

And some would come hungry, searching for the man in the marketplace who offered bread and milk and wine and water without price. And they found many who would talk about Trew’s food. They found choirs who would sing about Trew’s water. They received Trew Guide books and Trew Maps and Trew Foodbags; they found Trew Stands and Trew Bottles and Trew Baskets and Trew Shoes and Trew Shades. But they did not receive Trew’s food and they were not given Trew’s water or wine, and they were hungry, and they grew hungrier.

They cried out, “Where is the food? Or is it a sham? We are hungry, and we are not satisfied!” And they would be admonished for such an attitude, and told that they should love Trew food and Trew water, for it was all that could satisfy. They were taken to a special area of the Trew Stand where they could be taught to appreciate Trew food, and could draw pictures of what it might look like to them, and could color each other’s pictures.

And some died within sight of Trew’s table, but had not found it.


Give me Jesus, or I die.

Give me the gospel, or I perish.

I don’t need you to be hip or relevant. I don’t need advice on how to eat, nor do I need to be admonished that I should love Jesus, and advice on how to love him more. I don’t need descriptions of what people who love Jesus should look like. I don’t need you to dress him up or make his gospel more attractive. I need you to bring me to him in the gospel, to open his glory before my hungry soul, to press the water of life to my thirsty lips.

Sirs, we would see Jesus.

Jesus Storybook

August 6, 2007

I’ve got quite a few books, but one of my all-time favorites is this one… and I admit it’s aimed at a slightly younger market 🙂


It’s “The Jesus Storybook Bible” written by Sally Lloyd-Jones, and she really “gets it”. As she says, “every story whispers His name”. We read this at home and my wife and I are constantly as delighted as our daughter is. If you want a very quick primer on Christ-centered, gospel-centered Scripture, get this book.

Until then, here’s one of our favorite portions, reprinted here with the kind permission of both Sally and Zondervan (author and publisher). It’s the book of Isaiah distilled into one letter. I think it’s amazing. Enjoy!

Title: Operation Rescue

Dear Little Flock,

You’re all wandering away from me, like sheep in an open field. You have always been running away from me. And now you’re lost. You can’t find your way back.

But I can’t stop loving you. I will come to find you. So I am sending you a Shepherd to look after you and love you. To carry you home to me.

You’ve been stumbling around, like people in a dark room. But into the darkness, a bright Light will shine! It will chase away all the shadows, like sunshine.

A little baby will be born. A Royal Son. His mommy will be a young girl who doesn’t have a husband. His name will be Emmanuel, which means “God has come to live with us.” He is one of King David’s children’s chidren’s children. The Prince of Peace.

Yes, Someone is going to come and rescue you! But he won’t be who anyone expects.

He will be a King! But he won’t live in a palace. And he won’t have lots of money. He will be poor. And he will be a servant. But this King will heal the whole world.

He will be a Hero! He will fight for his people, and rescue them from their enemies. But he won’t have big armies, and he won’t fight with swords.

He will make the blind see, he will make the lame leap like a deer! He will make everything the way it was always meant to be.

But people will hate him, and they won’t listen to him. He will be like a Lamb – he will suffer and die.

It’s the Secret Rescue Plan we made – from before the beginning of the world!

It’s the only way to get you back.

But he won’t stay dead – I will make him alive again!

And, one day, when he comes back to rule forever, the mountains and trees will dance and sing for joy! The earth will shout out loud! His fame will fill the whole earth – as the waters cover the sea! Everything sad will come untrue. Even death is going to die! And he will wipe away every tear from every eye.

Yes, the Rescuer will come. Look for him. Watch for him. Wait for him. He will come!

I promise.


From “The Jesus Storybook Bible” by Sally Lloyd-Jones, pp.146-149

Gospel: News or Advice?

August 5, 2007

I’m not sure who originated the worthy saying that the gospel is news, not advice, but I recently heard Tim Keller make some comments on the idea that were very helpful. They were in his message “What does Gospel centered ministry look like?” given at the Gospel Coalition meetings earlier this year. Keller credited D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones with describing it this way: when a King takes his troops off to do battle, and then sends word back to the city, the kind of word sent back depends on what happened in battle. If the King won a great victory, he sends back news — exciting, celebratory news. There may very well be some strategy and re-ordering of troops included in the message, but it’s thrust will be “Good news! We won!”

However, if the King has suffered a loss, the word coming back will be advice and strategy — “Move troops here! Bring in the supplies! Send more equipment!”, that sort of thing.

As Keller did, so do I find this clarifying. Are our sermons filled mostly with advice — strategies for spiritual growth, helps on dealing with this issue and that, ethical exhortations, etc. — or do they begin with the Great News of what Jesus has accomplished? The gospel enters our life with the good news that, although we cannot live out the life we know we should, Christ has accomplished victory on our behalf, and now we can respond with life by grace.

Nothing here tells us that advice or exhortation has no place in the message; quite the opposite. They follow, they naturally and biblically must follow, the dynamic proclamation of what Christ has done to secure our lives.

Is the victory — Christ’s, not mine — heard in your preaching?

Missing Christ even in the gospels

August 1, 2007

Sinclair Ferguson writes this, in “Preaching Christ from the Old Testament”:

…(If my own assessment is correct) many sermons from the Gospels — where the focus is explicitly on the person of Jesus – never mind from the Old Testament, are far from Christ-centred.

How is this possible? The preacher has looked into the text principally to find himself and his congregation, not to find Christ. The sermon is consequently about ‘people in the Gospels’ rather than about Jesus Christ who is the gospel. The real question the preacher has been interested in asking and answering, is not ‘How do we find Christ in this Gospel?’ but ‘Where am I in this story? What have I got to do?’ Even although an entire series of such sermons on a Gospel is preached (as in the lectio continua method), we will not necessarily have communicated the basic life of Jesus. Instead we have been given an exploration of the human condition.

So there is a confused mindset here that raises a deeper question than, ‘Is there a formula that helps us to preach Christ from the Old Testament?’ The more fundamental issue is the question, ‘What am I really looking for when I am preaching on any part of the Bible? Am I really looking to tell people what they are like and what they must do —that is, am I really stressing the subjective and the imperative — or am I talking about Jesus Christ himself and the gospel? Do I stress the objec­tive and the indicative of the gospel in the light of which the subjective and imperative are to be considered? After all it is not the subjective (my condition) or the imperative (respond!) that saves or transforms people’s lives, but the objective and the indicative of God’s grace received subjectively in the light of the imperatives of the gospel.

I’ve been struck by his comment that too often we run first to “where are we in the text?” I think this is true. So often we take a text, and ask, “How will this minister to my people” rather than, “What is God telling me about Himself here?” This mistake leads us, despite our best intentions, to a man-centered trajectory, rather than a Christ-centered trajectory. We will wrestle faithfully, earnestly, prayerfully, sincerely with the text, and still end up preaching what is not there, because we were moving the wrong way when we encountered it.

Dr. Crane on Exodus

July 30, 2007

The following is part of a note I sent to a friend with whom I was discussing Exodus 14:13: “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. The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.” A discussion on Christo-centric thinking ensued, and over the course of many days. At one point, I sent him this note:

I was thinking about these things, and it suddenly struck me, like a bolt from heaven!, that I’d heard Frasier Crane comment on this topic. I poured through the old Seattle station records, and found this transcript:

Frasier (in most mellifluous voice): Hello, caller. I’m listening.

Male Caller (in frustrated, angry voice): I’m going to knock some heads together! Somebody’s going to get flattened, I tell you. I’m tired of all this crap! I’m not going to take it any more!

Frasier: Easy, Caller. What’s the source of your anger?

Caller: Everything! Things aren’t going so well at work, you know, and every day I think I’m going to be canned. My wife is more interested in hanging out with her girlfriends than me, and now my daughter is flunking out of college. I work and work and work and nobody’s satisfied. There’s no pleasing anybody. I’ve tried marriage counseling, I’ve gone to work seminars, and I’ve talked to my daughter ‘til I’m blue in the face, and nothing is changing! My world is falling apart, and I’m going crazy! I work 80 hours a week to please my boss, and then I drive 10 hours to help my daughter move dorm furniture around, and my wife says I’m not available to her! So I go to counseling with her, and what a waste of time that is – no offense, doctor!

Frasier: None taken.

Caller: I don’t know what else there is to do. I don’t know who I am any more. I can’t sleep, I can’t eat; everywhere there are voices hollering at me to do more! I feel like I’m not doing enough, but I can’t get the voice out of my head! I want to explode, and I think somebody is going to get hurt. What do I do?

Frasier: It sounds to me like maybe you shouldn’t do anything.

Caller (screaming): What the [bleeped] do you mean, saying that? Don’t you care about my problem? What kind of [bleep bleep bleep] therapist are you?

Frasier (calm, soothing, unflappable): What I’m saying is that you’re in danger of losing yourself in all the noise of all you are doing. You need a break. You need the world to take a time-out. You need to recover you.

Caller: (pause) Yeah, that sounds good.

Frasier: There’s too much noise in your life right now. Doctors, bosses, family, everybody is shouting at you. You can’t hear your inner voice. You can’t listen. So, here’s what to do: unplug your computer, turn off your Blackberry or leave your cellphone on the table. Take the weekend off. Go find a raft on a lake. Let the only noise you hear be the sound of the Beachboys. Breathe. Reflect. Listen to yourself. Get in touch with a higher power if you believe in one. Reconnect.

Caller: That sounds REAL good.

Frasier: And when you get back, make sure you don’t turn all the noise back on. Tell your boss you’re not available 24/7. If you don’t have Caller ID on your phone, get it. Go back to therapy with your wife, but tell her you also need a golf game or two, and a quiet night of jazz with a nice aperitif (or, if you prefer, beer, pizza and football) to match every therapy session. Keep your life quiet. Take time to “know thyself” and then “to your own self be true.”

Caller: Thanks, doc. That’s the best advice I’ve ever had. You’re great. You’ve probably saved my life; you’ve surely saved somebody’s.

Frasier: (pleased but o so humble voice): You’re welcome, and thank you. Who’s next, Roz?

S____, I thought this was not too bad. I envisioned asking Frasier to come and speak at our church. I think lots of people would be pleased, and most of them would think it was pretty cool. Not everyone, of course; there are always some cranky folks no matter what. Some nit-picker would ask if we even knew if Frasier was a Christian. We just can’t escape people like that.

But I got to thinking that maybe your text says something MORE. Maybe Moses (maybe God) was trying to tell us something that even Frasier doesn’t get yet. I got to wondering what that might be. So I asked my friend Rabbi Kirschenhblum. He wrote me back the following note:

Tom, thanks for asking. The passage you asked about, “Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord” is one of the most blessed passages in the Torah. I used it just the other day when I was speaking to a dear woman in our community, who was in immense grief. She had just lost her husband, a strong man of faith, and her 10-year old son in a car accident. She was broken, and confused, and even a bit angry. She said, “Why would God allow this to happen? Why? Why?”

My heart went out to her. She’s in the midst of tremendous calamity, and nothing makes sense. I shared with her that that is how Israel felt when God made them take a seeming wrong turn and they ended up backed up against the Red Sea, facing death and ruin…why? But Moses knew that God had been about proving Himself from the beginning, as One to be trusted, and the bringer of Salvation. All is never lost! Believe! It may not make sense now, but our God leads us like a shepherd. I gave to her some comfort from Psalm 77:

I cried out to God for help;
I cried out to God to hear me…

When I was in distress, I sought the Lord;
at night I stretched out untiring hands
and my soul refused to be comforted…

Has his unfailing love vanished forever?
Has his promise failed for all time?

…Has God forgotten to be merciful?
Has he in anger withheld his compassion?”

…The waters saw you, O God,
the waters saw you and writhed;
the very depths were convulsed.

The clouds poured down water,
the skies resounded with thunder;
your arrows flashed back and forth.

Your thunder was heard in the whirlwind,
your lightning lit up the world;
the earth trembled and quaked.

Your path led through the sea,
your way through the mighty waters,
though your footprints were not seen.

The pain is real, the doubts are natural. But we must not forget that God is leading, in oft mysterious ways where is footsteps cannot be traced. But he is still there, and the waters will part for us, and dry land will be there for us.

If I were in your pastor’s shoes, my eyes would run rivers for the pain and the tears his flock know. Surely many tragedies and calamities will be represented. Through my tears, I would urge them that God is good, that He is wise, and that He is to be trusted as One Who WILL rescue them. Without a doubt, they will know His deliverance. I would urge them to faith that does not fail.

Well, S____, I like Rabbi Kirschenhblum, and he did not disappoint. I imagine asking him to speak at our church, and I think he would go over even better than Frasier. He is such an empathic, compassionate man, and his faith is so great. I know people would be comforted, I know they would be encouraged, I know that tears of joy would follow the cries of pain. I think he might get an ovation. I don’t know if people would think he was cool, but I know they’d feel moved, for sure. And they’d go out wanting to trust God. This is a good thing, surely.

But I still got to wondering. Is there perhaps, even more? I mean, it was good and true, but shouldn’t we “Christians” be talking about “Christ” a little bit? But what would that mean, from this old passage? I thought maybe I was being ridiculous, but I wasn’t sure. I wished there was somebody I could ask who would know the WHOLE STORY.

My sleep was very troubled, as I pondered this issue. I tossed and turned and sweated (too much). But when I finally dropped off, I had the most wonderful dream!!! Moses himself came to speak with me, and explain what he had written!!!!!!! It was amazing! It was worth all these exclamation points! Here’s how it went:

Me: You! You’re…you’re….you’re MOSES!

Moses: Yea.

Me: Pardon?

Moses: Don’t you speak Hebrew?

Me: Umm…can you speak English? Not for me, you understand, it’s, umm…for my friends that might listen to this dream. Yeah, it’s for a friend…

Moses: Sure!

Me: Man, it must be awesome to be you! The things you’ve seen! The things you’ve done! The plagues, the Red Sea, thunder on the mountain, the 10 commandments…

Moses: Yeah, I guess.

Me: What do you mean? You don’t sound very enthused. Your life was amazing!!

Moses: Not so much as you think. The stuff people get all excited about wasn’t really where it was all at, you know what I mean?

Me: No, I don’t think I do? You mean you don’t think that when you saw Israel go through the Red Sea on dry ground, and then Pharoah’s army swallowed up…you don’t think that was the most amazing thing? You made up a song about it, right on the spot!

Moses: O, don’t get me wrong. It was extremely cool. In the moment, it was absolutely exhilarating. But it kind of dwindled out in perspective…

Me: What do you mean?

Moses: Well, think about Israel. 40 years later, when God took me up on Mt. Pisgah to show me all I could see before I died, the only two adults left that had walked through the Red Sea were Joshua and Caleb. Everyone else was dead….and I would be too, before we crossed into Canaan. Looking back from that perspective…it seemed a little, I don’t know…a little less, I guess. Do you know how many funerals I attended in those years? It was horribly, bitterly crazy.

And then I looked across the river to the Promised Land, and it was good and all, don’t get me wrong…but it was just land, and I knew it was soil that a lot more of them would die on. And I knew there’d be other enemies besides Egypt; what was the point of burying Pharoah in the Red Sea if Cushan Rishathaim and Eglon and Sennecharib and Nebuchadnezzar were just waiting in the wings, you know what I mean? There’s always another Pharoah. Somebody needed to do a bigger Rescue than that one there at the Red Sea. Somebody needed to do a rescue that would snatch them from EVERY Pharoah, and from death and dying.

Me: Well, err…

Moses: And that mess of a nation, they all said they’d obey God’s law, but the first thing they do is build themselves a golden calf and worship it! Unbelievable! They needed Rescuing all right; they needed rescuing from Egypt, and they needed rescuing from the desert, but most of all they needed rescuing from themselves! What was the point of it all?

Me: But, but…

Moses: And then, many years later, God raised me from the dead so I could have a chat with His Great Rescuer! He took me to another mountain, and brought Elijah, too, and I met the Saviour, the Messiah-Prophet, face to face! Now, THAT was amazing! He wanted to talk about the Exodus again…but you know, he wasn’t asking for advice or anything…we were just talking about how incredibly gloriously beautifully AWESOME it was going to be when he struck down every false power, tackled the devil and threw him down in his own den, and destroyed even death!! Yeah!! Now THAT’s awesome! You wanna talk excitement? He’s the ticket, believe me! He delivers a land that’s more then geography on a map, and he is the only Rescuer who has already defeated the powers that enslave and imprison us. He’s God, and He comes with God, so He can actually make the law live in the heart, not just in stone. And His hope is forever, man!

When I talked with him, the whole place was alive with electricity and glory and brilliance…’cuz He’s the real thing. It’s all about Him, man!

Me: Umm…like, what do I do with this?

Moses: Ya gotta understand where the real power is. We came out of Egypt, and we thought we were so good…but we had wagonloads of idols, we weren’t really any different than the nations we went through. Everyone has an ULTIMATE, right? Everyone is trusting to SOMETHING. We need to understand how useless those pitiful idols are. Break down the idols of the heart. And then see where there hope is, in times of distress and trouble, and even beyond the worst of them! See the Salvation of the Lord! See that Jesus has already gone through the Red Sea for them, and they can follow him safely! Then we trust God because we know Jesus!

We know that we can trust Him in the deepest and blackest of our Red Sea experiences, because He’s already gone through the Great Final Red Sea, and come out victorious on the other side. We can plant our feet in His footsteps, because we know He has trampled on all the powers that were against us.

If I were in your pastor’s shoes, I’d tell people to SEE the salvation of the Lord. It’s easy to focus on cancer and death and grief and betrayal and injustice and violence because they are immediate, and real, and horrible, and frightening. But teach the people faced with these things to SEE that Jesus has met the power behind them all, and triumphed. That He has thrown down the powers that stood against us, triumphing in the cross (Col. 2). That He has won through to life, so that, although they might not escape cancer or betrayal, they know they need not be defeated by them. There is hope in a victory already accomplished! And get them to understand the greatest Rescue of all: the Rescue of their own souls from the futility of useless idols to serve the God of Life! Tell you pastor to “Let my people go, that they might worship!”

Get them to see His glory, and believe his love and power! It’s amazing, I tell you! Apply Jesus to the motive of living, and watch lives change. He’s an amazing Rescuer!

Me: Can we talk more?

Moses: You betcha!