Tag Archives: Moses

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January 12, 2014 · 13:14

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January 10, 2014 · 15:26

Coming Down the Mountain

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December 4, 2013 · 12:45

Sermon preached on 25 August 2013


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Sermon preached at Dumfries Northwest, Sunday 25 August 2013: God NOW!

Psalm 147:1-11 – Scottish Psalter 1650 (ACapella)


(concluding part of a three part series on “God NOW!”)

Speaking to Moses, God is recorded as saying: YOU SHALL SEE MY BACK, BUT MY FACE SHALL NOT BE SEEN.

These words are to be found in the Book of Exodus, Ch. 33, verse 23.

You shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.


I rather like the story of the man who went to an old friend to ask for a loan of money without collateral and interest free.

The friend didn’t exactly jump at the idea, saying that their present friendship wasn’t close enough to justify such a claim on it.

‘How can you say that to me? ‘ asked the hopeful borrower……..

…..’We were boys together.  I once saved you from drowning.  I got you out of trouble with the cops when we were teenagers.  I helped you get started in business.  I persuaded my cousin to marry your sister’

‘Oh’ replied the friend, ‘ I remember all that.  What bothers me is – what have you done for me recently?’

What have you done for me recently?..

The question bothers a lot of people about God.  What has he done for us lately.  What is he doing for us right now?

We live in an age of flux and change, turmoil and upheaval.  Some say it’s a time of world hope perhaps, but in our society, there’s a real sense of spiritual and moral decline and decay.

Some look back to a golden age when God’s face, as it were, was obvious to behold in the religious and cultural climate of the day.

For example, I was recently reading again about the glory of the 16th century.  The Reformation burst like a star over Europe producing theological giants like Calvin, Luther, Knox – men who were obviously in tune with God and his purposes.

The Renaissance reached its flowering in men like Michelangelo, Leonardo, Shakespeare.

It was a time when the hand of God was obviously at work shaping a society of beauty, glory and majesty.

Yet – that’s only part of the story: for many people, God’s face was not to be seen.

There were rumours that the end of the world was near.  Rumours that a great Spanish fleet was poised to invade these shores.

And men and women slept uneasy in their beds at this prospect, the prospect of being conquered by the devil himself in the person of the cruel Spaniard.

What was God doing then?  Where was he?

We think, for example, of the glorious voyage of Columbus as the 16-Century neared.  God was believed to be directing him to seek a new and promised land.  But we learn that as the little ships sailed out into the unknown, hardened old sea dogs wept on the decks, convinced that they would fall off the edge of the earth.

Where was the all-powerful God to protect them and encourage them?

Martin Luther was the great hero of the Reformation – yet what a struggle for faith he endured.  Luther was frequently troubled by fears and uncertainties.  On occasion, he even doubted the very existence of God.

For so many people the 16 century was not the God directed era some consider it to be – it was for many the end of all that was good, proper and Christian – perhaps, in the eyes of some, an age abandoned by God!

In hindsight, we see how wonderfully God WAS working there, but many in the midst of it could not see God’s hand at all.

And so it has been in other periods of our history; and so it is with ours in the opinion of so many of us.

But God has never abandoned us.  And he has certainly not abandoned these times.  He is at work today as ever he was.

The 147th Psalm (which formed our Call to Worship this morning) is one of the greatest statements in the Bible about the activity of God.

Do you remember how every verse begins with a verb in THE PRESENT TENSE.  Each verse sets forth some aspect of God’s activity NOW

We are shown a God who has not only done great things, but who DOES great things.

The Psalmist tells us that the God who created all nature provides for the needs of the individual.

Jesus Christ came to tell us about such a God and make him known to us.

The Teacher of Galilee used many figures of speech to convince people of God’s personal concern for them.

He said – The very hairs of your head are all numbered…You are of more value than many sparrows.

His parables often reveal God’s concern for the individual, so that the shepherd leaves the 99 and searches for the one which is lost and the woman looks for one lost coin, and the Father for the lost son.

The Good Samaritan story is about a one-to-one situation, as is that of Dives and Lazarus.

Remember how last Sunday we thought about Jesus taking his disciples through a dangerous storm on the lake to an unfriendly shore for the sake of one deranged man whom society had banished.

And, in some ways, most poignant of all, there is the account of the woman who touched Jesus in the crowd.  Jostled by thousands, Jesus knew the difference between the general and the particular.  He knew when a person needed him.

Then there was poor blind Bartimaeus on the roadside near Jericho, crying out to Jesus in his desperate need.  We are told simply and dramatically that ‘Jesus stopped’

Nor should we forget the phrase in the 4th Gospel: ‘The disciple whom Jesus loved’  You couldn’t have anything more particular than that!

But the doubter in us says – all that was in the past……to quote our text: ‘We see God’s back; but his face isn’t seen’

‘What is he doing for us NOW.  What has he done for me lately?’

There can be only one answer: God may have done more for you than you can imagine, if your life has really been open to him.

Have you ever thought that the forces which in recent months befriended you, protected you, guided you, gave you the so-called ‘lucky break’ may, in fact, have been God at work?

‘Daddy Longlegs’ is the story of a girl in an orphanage who was befriended by an unknown benefactor.  In the film, Leslie Caron plays the girl and Fred Astaire the bachelor who has taken an interest in her.

Throughout her childhood and youth, he acted constantly for her welfare, but always keeping his identity a secret.  Although she often met him, she didn’t know his true identity.  She thought of him only as a shadow that she had once seen cast from an open office door.

It is a picture of people whose lives have been nurtured, whose mistakes have been buttressed and whose achievements have been shaped by someone in the shadows who has no name.

God IS present and active in our lives and we don’t always  know it.  This is what God has done for us lately.  This is how he acts.

Give thanks the to the One who is the LIVING God who is with us NOW and always – even to the end of the World


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Ain’t Necessarily So


It Ain’t Necessarily So Lyrics 

by George Gershwin
Buy album CD: Porgy & Bess-Hlts

It ain’t necessarily so
It ain’t necessarily so
The t’ings dat yo’ li’ble
To read in de Bible,
It ain’t necessarily so.

Li’l David was small, but oh my !
Li’l David was small, but oh my !
He fought Big Goliath
Who lay down an’ dieth !
Li’l David was small, but oh my !

Oh Jonah, he lived in de whale,
Oh Jonah, he lived in de whale,
Fo’ he made his home in
Dat fish’s abdomen.
Oh Jonah, he lived in de whale.

Li’l Moses was found in a stream.
Li’l Moses was found in a stream.
He floated on water
Till Ol’ Pharaoh’s daughter,
She fished him, she said, from dat stream.

Well, it ain’t necessarily so
Well, it ain’t necessarily so
Dey tells all you chillun
De debble’s a villun,
But it ain’t necessarily so !

To get into Hebben
Don’ snap for a sebben !
Live clean ! Don’ have no fault !
Oh, I takes dat gospel
Whenever it’s pos’ble,
But wid a grain of salt.

Methus’lah lived nine hundred years,
Methus’lah lived nine hundred years,
But who calls dat livin’
When no gal will give in
To no man what’s nine hundred years ?

I’m preachin’ dis sermon to show,
It ain’t nece-ain’t nece
Ain’t nece-ain’t nece
Ain’t necessarily … so !

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July 16, 2013 · 12:03

Eternity Envy

05/30/2013 15:55   By JONATHAN ROSENBLUM

I think most would concede that the haredi world is the largest repository of a heedless attachment to Torah, far removed from any worldly calculation.

Haredi demonstration against IDF enlistment legislation in Jerusalem, May 16, 2013
Photo by: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post
In response to the Church of Scotland’s adoption of the “An Inheritance of Abraham?” report, a veritable potpourri of reasons for rejecting the Jewish claim of a historical connection to the Land of Israel, the ever brilliant David Goldman offers one of his startling aperçus: “The most successful Christian communities embrace the State of Israel, while the least successful abhor it.”
The Church of Scotland certainly falls into the latter category. Since 1956, the Church of Scotland has shed two-thirds of its members, and continues to lose them at a rate of 5 percent a year. (Ironically, in happier times for the Church of Scotland, it was a hotbed of Christian Zionism. A 19th-century Church of Scotland cleric coined the phrase, “A land without people for a people without a land.”) The same observation applies to the Church of England, another fast-fading religious establishment.
Less than 40% of Britons say they believe in God, and more British Muslims than British Christians attend weekly religious services.
Like the Church of Scotland, the Church of England has increasingly descended into mindless political correctness. Israel has often borne the brunt of that political correctness in the form of resolutions for disinvestment.
The religious energy in America has shifted dramatically from the old mainstream churches – Episcopalians and Presbyterians – towards evangelicals. Here too, Goldman’s observation holds up. Both the Episcopalians and Presbyterians have passed disinvestment resolutions in recent years (though the Presbyterians’ was subsequently rescinded). Meanwhile the evangelicals have proven to be the most stalwart supporters of Israel, often citing the biblical verse, “And I will bless them that bless you, and curse him that curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
(Genesis 12:3) GOLDMAN CONNECTS his observation about failing religions to another: anti-Semitism is correlated with declining national groups.
Europe’s most prominent anti-Semitic party at present is Hungary’s Jobbik Party, the thirdlargest in the country. And Hungary’s fertility rate today is a paltry 0.83 per woman, the lowest in Europe.
But fertility rates well below the replacement level characterize the entire continent. The UN projects, for instance, a Russian population of 115 million in 2050, an astounding 30 million fewer people than inhabited Russia in 2000. (In Scotland, the number of births per year is half of what it was in 1950, and the number of babies born to married couples one-fifth.) Meanwhile, Muslim birthrates remain high across Europe. Native Europeans, then, can already smell the death scent of their own self-extinction. And those intimations of their own national mortality put them in a foul mood towards the Jews.
Goldman quotes the German-Jewish thinker Franz Rosenzweig on the fear of impending death at the national level: “Just as every individual must reckon with his eventual death, the peoples of the world foresee their eventual extinction… Indeed the love of the peoples for their own peoplehood is sweet and pregnant with presentiment of death… Thus the peoples of the world foresee a time when their land with its rivers and mountains still lies under heaven as it does today, but other people dwell there; when their language is entombed in books; and their laws and customs have lost their living power.”
But why should those “presentiments” be taken out on the Jews or the Jewish state? Because the Jews are the exception to the otherwise universal rule of civilizational rise and fall. As Michael Wyschograd observes, “Israel is beyond the ‘laws’ of history. It is not subject to the rise and fall of other peoples and empires, a fact which causes angry philosophers of history (i.e. Arnold Toynbee) whose schemes Israel undermines to refer to it as a fossil.”
Only one people has shown itself immortal: the Jews. As Mark Twain observed in his famous essay “Concerning the Jews”: “The Egyptian, the Babylonian, and the Persian rose, filled the planet with sound and splendor, then faded to dream-stuff and passed away; the Greek and the Roman followed, and made a vast noise, and they are gone; other peoples have sprung up and held their torch high for a time, but it burned out, and they sit in twilight now, or have vanished. The Jew saw them all, beat them all, and is now what he always was, exhibiting no decadence, no infirmities of age, no weakening of his parts, no slowing of his energies, no dulling of his alert and aggressive mind. All things are mortal but the Jew; all other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?” To see the Jews return to their ancient land, once more speaking their ancient tongue, and still observing their ancient law must be particularly grating to Europeans who can already foresee another people dwelling in their land, speaking a different language, and having sacked a once proud culture.
THE TWO Western countries most consistently supportive of Israel in the world today are the United States and Canada. The US is by far the most religious of the developed countries.
Two-fifths of Americans attend services weekly, and only 18% never worship. By contrast, more than half of Britons never attend church, and only one in eight does so weekly. That religiosity correlates highly with attitudes to Israel. Americans favor Israel over the Palestinians by nearly five to one, while Britons view Israel negatively by a ratio of nearly four to one.
The ruling Conservative Party in Canada has its political base in the country’s West, which is also the most religious section.
Birthrates and religion are closely linked, as Mary Eberstadt details in her new book, How the West Really Lost God. (Contrary to popular impression, religious affiliation also correlates positively with educational levels.) In the more religiously oriented urban complexes of America, the likelihood of a woman having children, measured in terms of the number of children under five to women of childbearing age, is 15%-30% higher. Those who believe in a beneficent deity, who created the world with a purpose and is bringing it towards that purpose, it would seem, want to be connected to that future through future generations.
Those who remain optimistic about the future have less cause to envy the people of Israel their eternity. Compared to Europeans, Americans have always been an optimistic people. As an old Russian adage has it, “A person who smiles a lot is either a fool or an American.” And it does not hurt that the most vital segment of the American and Canadian religious communities are those groups who see in Israel’s existence not a cause for envy but proof, as Goldman puts it, that the “God of the Bible is a God of kept promises.”
TWAIN ASKED: What is the secret of the Jews’ immortality? The Talmud likens our miraculous survival to that of a solitary sheep existing among 70 wolves.
Moses told Pharaoh, in the name of God, at their first meeting, “Beni bechori Yisrael – Israel is my son, my firstborn son.” The Talmud attributes those terms of endearment to the fact that Israel would in the future stand on Mount Sinai and utter the words “Na’aseh v’nishma – We will do, and [then] we will understand.” The Children of Israel were taken out of Egypt on account of their future acceptance of the Torah, and they are protected to this day by virtue of their connection to the Torah.
In that light we can understand our sages’ comment that Sinai is from the language of sina (hatred). Sinai is the source of our immortality, and that immortality causes the hatred of us.
“Na’aseh v’nishma” denotes not just the acceptance of Torah, but a particular form of acceptance – one made oblivious to all the rational calculations of the world. The Talmud relates that a Sadduccee once saw Rava learning Torah with such intensity that he did not even notice that he was sitting on his hands, which were dripping blood. The Sadducee charged Rava with being the member of an ama peziza – a heedless, uncalculating people – just like his ancestors, who accepted God’s commandments without first knowing what they were.
Rava acknowledged the charge, for in that reckless passion for Torah lies the secret of Jewish eternity. No Jewish community that has cut itself off from Torah observance and study has ever survived for long.
Passion for Torah learning is not a birthright.
It is not an automatic consequence of being born into a haredi home or of attending yeshiva.
But I think most would concede that the haredi world is the largest repository of a heedless attachment to Torah, far removed from any worldly calculation.
Can there be a greater national service – guaranteeing our national survival – than that performed by those who attain that level? ■
The writer is director of Jewish Media Resources, has written a regular column in The Jerusalem Post Magazine since 1997, and is the author of eight biographies of modern Jewish leaders.
some comments on the above article:
  • Stewart Cutler That tweet shows an amazing lack of understanding of the complexity of Israel’s political and religious situation and its ‘relationship’ with both itself, its neighbours and the rest of the world.

  • Irene Munro: I find it hard that the author holds up America as a moral paradigm. Obama supports abortion and this author gives fertility rates as a sign of blessing. Israel’s abortion record is not admirable  89% of third trimester abortion requests are approved in Israel – in many countries such late term abortions are totally illegal. in Israel a minor can legally have an abortion without having to notify the parents. There are better arguments to support the land issue and supporting Israel’s right to the land.
  • Maureen Jack What do I think?  It’s nonsense.  Desmond Tutu is just one Christian who is very critical of the actions of the state of Israel.

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Goodbyes – some thoughts for Ascension Day

It’s often very difficult to say ‘goodbye’ – especially if it’s a member of the family or a close friend who is going away for a while.  Railway stations, airports, bus stations and ferry terminals can be pretty awful places at times.

There are many ‘goodbyes’ in the Bible…..

  • We’re going to start with that grand old man Moses who led the children of Israel out of captivity in Egypt through the wilderness toward the promised land.

Moses at the end of so many years of service to Israel, is not allowed by God to enter the promised land.  He looks back at what they have done together, then he looks forward, and bids them farewell.

He says goodbye to his people – ‘Happy art thou, O Israel’ he cries, ‘A people saved by the Lord.’

He knows that God has protected them in the past, and has no fears for their future – for he knows they are in God’s safe keeping.

  • Then there is Jacob, a very elderly man.  What a long and exciting life he has led; what a man he has been.

Then had come the loss of his son Joseph, whom he had believed had been killed.  But years later, Joseph, now a great man in Egypt, was reunited with his family.

In his old age, Jacob moved with his entire household down to that strange land to settle there.  He lived in Egypt, but his heart was still in his homeland of Palestine.

Even as he lay dying and said his goodbyes, he begged that his body should be taken back and buried in the land he loved..

  • Then there is the parting between Jonathan and David. 

Jonathan was a prince, the son of King Saul, and David was a shepherd boy, and they became very close friends.  But David was perceived as being a rival to Saul, so the King forced them apart.  They met secretly to say goodbye, embraced and wept.


Then Jonathan said these last beautiful words:

    ‘Go in peace…the Lord shall be between thee and me…forever’

They had to part, but in their love of God, they would always be one.

  • There is the parting between St Paul and the elders of Ephesus 

The old Apostle, having done his work in these parts, is on the way back to Jerusalem.

He knows that he is running into danger, and, therefore, says goodbye to his friends.  Even grown men at such times can break down in tears, so Paul asks them to stop as they are making things harder for him.

How these Christians really did care for one another.

  • And lastly we come to the story of Christ saying goodbye to his friends at the time of his Ascension

It should have been a terrible occasion.  Here was Jesus whom his disciples had known so wonderfully, and who had changed their lives forever, now going away from them.

Here was the one who had brought God into their lives in a real and living way, now saying his goodbyes.  What a blow that should have been.

But when they parted, the disciples went back to Jerusalem, ‘filled with great joy’ as we heard.  ‘Filled with great joy’ Why?  Because they had his promise that although it was goodbye and an end of meeting together in the old way with him before their eyes, it was the beginning of his being with them in a new way.

He would be with them, in spirit, always.  And not just with them, but with us too.

  • In our lifetime, there are many goodbyes and some of them can be hard, even painful.

Imprinted in my mind most vividly is my beloved wife asleep on her death-bed – just a matter of hours before she died.  I bent over her, kissed her on her forehead and said “Thank you; I’ll see you again soon enough somewhere, some time. You’ll be safe”

We never have to say goodbye to Jesus, he is with us forever.

Remember what he said ‘ I am with you always, even to the close of the age’ And he is, as king of kings & lord of lords – and in that we can all rejoice.

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You’d Never Believe It!

Little Johnny was in Sunday school and his mother came to collect him. “Wow!,” exclaimed Johnny as he settled himself in the car, “that story of Moses and all those people crossing the Red Sea was something!”

“Tell me all about it,” said his mother. “Well, the Israelites got out of Egypt, but Pharaoh and his army chased after them. So the Jews ran as fast as they could until they got to the Red Sea. The Egyptian Army was getting closer and closer. So Moses got on his walkie-talkie and told the Israeli Air Force to bomb the Egyptians. While that was happening, the Israeli Navy built a pontoon bridge so the people could cross over. They made it!”

The woman was shocked, and asked, “Is that the way they taught you the story?”

“Well, no, not exactly,” admitted Johnny, “but if I told you the way they told it to us, you’d never believe it.”

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In the story of creation as described in the Book of Genesis, we read about Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit, something which had been specifically denied them. Knowing that God is searching for them, they attempt to hide.

It is a scene perhaps reminiscent of the childhood of many of us when we had done something that we were not supposed to and we literally hid from our searching parents. Finally God finds them, as we know that He will, for, after all, where can we go to hide from God? God asks them why they are hiding. Do you remember the response that Adam gave: “Because, I was afraid.”

I think this very poignant story reminds us that fear is so basic to who we are as humans, it goes all the way back to the beginning of time. To be human is to experience fear.

In Germany in the Harz Mountains is a particular peak that is called the Brocken.

For centuries it was a place of dread, because of stories of a giant who lived on its top.  These stories were verified by many travellers through the mountain range who had claimed to have seen him.

Then someone discovered this about the giant: he was only seen at sunrise and sunset… when the sun’s rays were horizontal.

Also – only when the Brocken was free of cloud.

What, of course, had been perceived to be a giant was only a magnified and distorted image traveller himself.

How often we tremble at our own reflections & flee at our own shadows.

Perhaps the most surprising fear of many people, and one that we do not like to address is the fear of God. It is the fear that God is not really on our side. It is the fear that God will put us out on a limb and leave us.

It is not a new idea. One of the great fears of the ancient people was that God would fall asleep. Can you imagine such a thing? When the prophets of Baal could not get their Gods to rain down fire on the top of Mt. Carmel, Elijah taunted them: Maybe your God is asleep, he said. On the other hand, the Jews took great comfort in the fact that the God of Israel neither slumbered nor slept.

Over and over again the message of the Bible is fear not. When Abram took his family to the Promised Land he feared that he was turning his back on everything he knew, his security for the unknown. God spoke to him: Fear not Abram, I am your shield and your reward will be great

When the Jews stood at the Red Sea and could see Pharaoh’s chariots coming on the horizon, they cried out that they would all be slaughtered. Moses said to them: Stand still, fear not, and see the salvation of the Lord.

When the angel of the Lord came to Mary and said that she would bear a child, she trembled with fear. What would become of her? Said the angel: Fear not Mary, for you have found favour with God.

Fear not! It is how we would like to live.

Into what kind of a world have our children been born?  We look around us and we often despair, when we see what kind of a society we live in and what kind of a planet we inhabit.  A dangerous and often desolate place.

There is much to be fearful about around us in this day and age.

But so there was also when the Gospels were written.

To anxious people in our day, Christ says, as he has said down trough the centuries to countless other fearful folk: “Do not be afraid; be of good courage!”

Regardless of what happens, God never deserts us.  And as Christ says, “Remember, I am with you always, even to the end of the world.”

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