We find ourselves in the fourteenth chapter of Exodus, verses ten through fifteen. The main character in the story is Moses. If you use your sanctified imagination, you can see him. To many, he looks like a young Charlton Heston (1923-2008). He was the one God selected to liberate the Jews from Egyptian rule. You remember the story. After a series of plagues, the Pharaoh released his slave labor. It must have been an exciting day for God’s Chosen People. They were urban people, who were about to begin a rural life. Everyone was enjoying their freedom until our story. Suddenly, the mood changed. The people had made it as far as the Red Sea. Most eyes were on that body of water in front of them. However, someone looked behind them and saw the Egyptian army coming. They knew what had happened. Pharaoh had changed his mind. He had sent his army out to bring them back. What started off as a great day quickly turned into a very bad day. There was nowhere to turn. The waters of the Red Sea were in front of them, and the Egyptian army was behind them. They were in a hopeless situation. However, this is the truth. This is not really a story about a group of Jews who lived thousands of years ago. It is really a story about our time.
Have you ever found yourself in a hopeless situation? It may have been the time you children’s marriage was staggering. You tried to ignore the signs for years. You prayed they would have what you have, a happy marriage. The problem is your grandchildren tell you about all the fighting. You have a front row seat to a bad drama. It may have been the time you flunked out of school. The program was harder than you anticipated, and you just didn’t have time to study. Flunking out of school is embarrassing enough but now then student loans have come due. It may have been the time you tried to sell your house. The appraisal revealed what you have known for a long time. You owe more than your house is worth. It may have been the time you were pulled over at that the DUI check point. Have you ever been in a hopeless situation?
Could it be your church is in a hopeless situation? There are many mainline Protestant churches in hopeless situations. It has been your family church for generations. It was where your grandparents sang in the choir. It was where you were married. It was where your children were baptized. It was where you learned about Jesus. The stained-glass windows still shine as bright as ever, but the future of your church seems dim. You remember when the pews were filled, but now the pews sit empty. You remember when the offering plates bulged, but now they welcome a measly collection. No one complains about the noisy children because there are no children. The only ones who remain are bald and gray. You spend your time talking about the good old days because the future is too difficult to face. Everyone who remains knows the truth. The end is near. No one wants to close a church, but it is your only option. It is true of many churches, and it is true of many individuals. Each one of us has stood on the shore of the Red Sea with the Egyptian army in hot pursuit. You can’t go forward, and you can’t go back. You are in a hopeless situation.
In this blog, I want to talk about the three ways the Jews handled their hopeless situation. They handled their hopeless situation poorly so they will act as our negative examples. This is what they did. They looked back. They were consumed by self-pity, and they blamed others. Those things did not change their hopeless situation. There is no other way to say it: they were paralyzed with fear. I hope that is not your story. They did not move forward until they were encouraged by Moses in verses thirteen and fourteen and by God, Himself, in verse fifteen. Unfortunately we live in times when many are paralyzed by fear. For this reason, I want to break down the Hebrews negative behavior.
Do you know of anyone who can’t go forward because they keep looking back? That is what the Hebrews did. Look at the text with me. The Egyptians were coming, and things were looking bad. What did they do? They remembered a time when life was better. In two verses, 11 and 12, Egypt is referred to five times. Slavery looked good next to death. They looked back to Egypt and remembered the good old days. When was the last time you recalled the good old days? How often do you recall the good old days? Is it possible your good old days are preventing you from fully living today?
On September 6, 2012, the most sinister character in the history of Cleveland sports died, Art Modell (1925-2012). I remember that day. I know this is wrong, but I have to say it. At his death, it was hard to hear nice things about him. He was the one who moved the Browns out of Cleveland after the 1995 season. I will never forget hearing the announcement on the radio. It seemed impossible. The Browns were leaving! My heart was broken, and I could not understand why. How do you own the Cleveland Browns and lose money? How do you fill an 80,000-seat stadium each week and lose money? How do you walk away from a fan base that supported the team after decades of losing? I did it all. I bought the shirts. I bought the tickets. I bled orange. I sat in the Dog Pound before it had a name. I believed someday they would turn it around. I was a devoted fan, but on the day, Art Modell moved the Browns I stopped caring. (I am sure Art Modell does not need a sweater where he is spending eternity!) His death reopened those old wounds.
On the first family gathering after Art Modell’s death, I started lecturing my family about the ills of the old fool, Art Modell. My youngest daughter, Anna who was 22 at the time, looked at me and asked two questions. “Who is Art Modell?” “The Browns left Cleveland?” Suddenly I found myself being the person I never wanted to be. I was living in the past. Do you know what God was telling me? Stop looking back and move forward. When you live in the past you miss today! Could it be you are living in the past? Does someone need to tell you to move forward?
Do you know of anyone who can’t move forward because they are consumed with self-pity? That is what the Hebrews did. Look at the text with me. Verses 11 and 12 are coated with self-pity. They say, “They said to 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? 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!” Have you ever been frustrated because your life isn’t on schedule? How many pity parties have you thrown for yourself lately?
Did you know there are guidelines for holding a proper pity party? According to the internet, so you know it is true, there are four things you need for a proper pity party. I am not recommending these things, but this is what is required for a top rate pity party.
2. Lounging Gear
4. Music, movies, or journaling
There is only one problem with a pity party. They don’t change anything. Wearing comfortable clothes doesn’t change the facts. Eating until you explode won’t change the facts. Drinking till you pass out won’t change the facts. Being absorbed in your favorite entertainment won’t change the facts. As a matter of fact, it may make things worse. Self-pity is only a distraction. Don’t invite God to your pity party because he won’t attend. God expects you to deal with your problems; God expects you to move forward. Do you know of anyone who likes a good pity party? Do you like a good pity party? Does someone need to tell you to move forward?
Do you know of anyone who can’t move forward because they are so busy blaming others? You know the slogan: it is hard to soar like an eagle if you are surrounded by turkeys. That is what the Hebrews did. Look at the text with me. Listen to verses 11 and 12 again, “They said to 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? 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!” What are the Hebrews doing in those two verses? They are blaming Moses for their situation. If Moses hadn’t taken them out of Egypt, then they would not be in this difficult situation. Do you know of anyone who is having a difficult time taking responsibility for their own lives? Do you know of anyone who blames others for their difficult situation? Do you know of anyone who blames others for their limitations? Is it possible you have blamed others in your time hardship?You know it is true.
One of the most known stories in the Bible is the story of Adam and Eve. They were living in the Garden of Eden. They had everything they needed to be happy, and they only had one rule. You know the rule. Eve broke the rule first and then encouraged Adam to take a bite of the apple. When God discovers their innocence is lost, he confronts them. Do you remember what Adam did? Adam blamed Eve. Do you know of anyone who blames others for their actions? Do you know of anyone blames others for this difficult situation? Has anyone ever blamed you for their difficult situation? Have you ever been paralyzed by fear? As any preacher will tell you, fear has a way of paralyzing us, but faith has a way of mobilizing us. The choice is really yours. You can be paralyzed by fear, or you can move forward trusting God.
Do you know of anyone who trusts God and moves forward? The story does not end with the Jews perishing on the shores of the Red Sea. The story ends with the Jews moving forward and passing through the Red Sea as God holds the water back. If they would have not moved forward trusting God, then they would have missed the blessings God had in store for them. If it is true of them, then it is true of us. Psalm 20:7 says, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord.
Janez Rus (1914-2001) was paralyzed by fear. He went into hiding in his sister’s farmhouse in May of 1945. He hid because he was afraid. During the Second World War he had been part of the Nazi party. He was afraid his party’s activities would lead to his arrest. He stayed in hiding for years and didn’t come out until he was discovered in 1977. That means he hid for thirty-three years. That means he lost thirty-three years of his life! He missed everything because he was paralyzed by fear and failed to trust God. Let me ask you one more question. How much of your life are you wasting because you are paralyzed by fear? I implore you to trust God and move forward. American evangelical Bruce Wilkinson (born 1940) once said, “Dependence upon God makes heroes of ordinary people like you and me!”