1 Corinthians 10 The Message (MSG)

10 1-5 Remember our history, friends, and be warned. All our ancestors were led by the providential Cloud and taken miraculously through the Sea. They went through the waters, in a baptism like ours, as Moses led them from enslaving death to salvation life. They all ate and drank identical food and drink, meals provided daily by God. They drank from the Rock, God’s fountain for them that stayed with them wherever they were. And the Rock was Christ. But just experiencing God’s wonder and grace didn’t seem to mean much—most of them were defeated by temptation during the hard times in the desert, and God was not pleased.

6-10 The same thing could happen to us. We must be on guard so that we never get caught up in wanting our own way as they did. And we must not turn our religion into a circus as they did—“First the people partied, then they threw a dance.” We must not be sexually promiscuous—they paid for that, remember, with 23,000 deaths in one day! We must never try to get Christ to serve us instead of us serving him; they tried it, and God launched an epidemic of poisonous snakes. We must be careful not to stir up discontent; discontent destroyed them.

11-12 These are all warning markers—danger!—in our history books, written down so that we don’t repeat their mistakes. Our positions in the story are parallel—they at the beginning, we at the end—and we are just as capable of messing it up as they were. Don’t be so naive and self-confident. You’re not exempt. You could fall flat on your face as easily as anyone else. Forget about self-confidence; it’s useless. Cultivate God-confidence.

13 No test or temptation that comes your way is beyond the course of what others have had to face. All you need to remember is that God will never let you down; he’ll never let you be pushed past your limit; he’ll always be there to help you come through it.

14 So, my very dear friends, when you see people reducing God to something they can use or control, get out of their company as fast as you can.

15-18 I assume I’m addressing believers now who are mature. Draw your own conclusions: When we drink the cup of blessing, aren’t we taking into ourselves the blood, the very life, of Christ? And isn’t it the same with the loaf of bread we break and eat? Don’t we take into ourselves the body, the very life, of Christ? Because there is one loaf, our many-ness becomes one-ness—Christ doesn’t become fragmented in us. Rather, we become unified in him. We don’t reduce Christ to what we are; he raises us to what he is. That’s basically what happened even in old Israel—those who ate the sacrifices offered on God’s altar entered into God’s action at the altar.

19-22 Do you see the difference? Sacrifices offered to idols are offered to nothing, for what’s the idol but a nothing? Or worse than nothing, a minus, a demon! I don’t want you to become part of something that reduces you to less than yourself. And you can’t have it both ways, banqueting with the Master one day and slumming with demons the next. Besides, the Master won’t put up with it. He wants us—all or nothing. Do you think you can get off with anything less?

23-24 Looking at it one way, you could say, “Anything goes. Because of God’s immense generosity and grace, we don’t have to dissect and scrutinize every action to see if it will pass muster.” But the point is not to just get by. We want to live well, but our foremost efforts should be to help others live well.

 

God had called on a reluctant and under-confident Moses and given him the task of taking the Children of Israel out of captivity.

Moses trusted God. Moses had to confront Pharoah to ask for the Israelites to be granted their freedom. Despite nine plagues being visited on Egypt, it took the last one, the death of the first-born children , for Pharoah to finally agree to let the Israelites go.

When Pharoah changed his mind and sent his army after them, God saved them by parting the Red Sea to let them cross over and then when the army followed , God drowned the chasing soldiers by letting the waters roll back.

God had delivered them from many years of captivity and hard labour in Egypt and put them on a journey to the Promised Land, the land flowing with milk and honey.

Moses was the right man for the right time and he was accepted as their leader. Their future looked bright and promising and so much better than what they had experienced in Egypt   BUT……just hours after leaving the shores of the Red Sea after seeing the Egyptian army drowned, the moaning started….

For forty years Moses had to contend with leading these people -God’s chosen people – who were also the most ungrateful, fearful, sin-loving bunch of people you could ever meet!

God had shown them his power and proved his presence was with them.

Despite the whinging, God continually provided for them. He provided manna from heaven and water from the rock so that they would have all that they needed on their journey.

He showed the way by sending a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. Not only could they feel God’s presence, but they could see it every day and night.

These ungrateful people even said that they wished that they were back in Egypt – in slavery – so at least they could eat better food! They took God’s kindness, God’s deliverance and spat it back in his face.

Nostalgia is a powerful thing. It makes you look backwards wearing rose tinted spectacles. Things were always better.
Things were not always better, but we love to paint a better picture of the past. We don’t always get the details right as we are focussing only on the good and the positive things. We can give distorted accounts of events from our past solely down to whether we enjoyed them or not. How many times have you said “Those were the days!” ?

The Children of Israel had forgotten the horrific life they had as slaves to the Egyptians. Can you imagine what it’s like to be someone’s possession, having to do whatever they asked you to do? Not having your freedom? It must have been so demeaning, yet the Children of Israel blocked out those memories and thought about their stomachs instead.

They had also forgotten the way in which God had saved them. God had literally plagued Pharoah and the rest of Egypt into releasing the Israelites.  That past had already been forgotten. All that they were concerned with was the immediate present they had also forgotten the promise of the future.

Their present day was not what they had imagined it to be, so they moaned and whinged to Moses. God didn’t want His people going back to Egypt. God had a plan which involved the Promised Land and he was going to make sure that the Children of Israel got there.

It wasn’t nostalgia alone that held them back. The way they thought wasn’t just being nostalgic for the stuff of the past, their minds and their hearts had given in to sin.

This sin was preventing them from moving forward. They wouldn’t let it go so they couldn’t possibly move forward.

SIN is an old fashioned word, one which people laugh at a bit now. It’s a proper OLD SCHOOL church word. SIN.

However sin is as much of an issue with god’s people today as it was so many years ago for the Children of Israel.

I am a sinner. I do things that God doesn’t want me to. I do things I regret. I am as capable of sinning as I am of doing what God wants. It’s my choice. Sometimes I am convicted of these things. Why would I feel conviction and regret about my own sin? It’s because I know that God isn’t happy by the things I think or do which He would prefer me to let go.

Fortunately, God is a forgiving God. If we confess our sin he is willing to forgive.

God’s plans don’t involve us taking our sinful nature with us on our life’s journey. We have to leave behind anything that will slow us down in order to go forward in God.

God is also a jealous God. He declares that himself later on in the book of Exodus (ch 20 v 5). He does not like it when we put stuff in the way of our relationship with him. This is something we can all be guilty of.

Back to the wilderness….

Can you imagine how God must have felt when He saw the Children of Israel worshipping a golden calf? No wonder he called them a “Stiff-necked people”! After all he had done so that they would be released they moaned, whinged about their bellies and turned away from the very God who had brought them out of slavery.

Sin was the barrier between the Israelites and their God. They turned to golden gods because of their lack of faith.

Despite all they had experienced they turned their back on the Strong Deliverer who had saved them from Egypt.

Lesson one. Our faith needs to be strong.

In times when our faith is tested we need to be hard enough and strong enough to rely on God and put our faith first.

Our heart is where God lives. His holy spirit lives in us when we give our lives to God. We need to guard our hearts and keep our minds and our hearts in the knowledge and the love of God.

Philippians 4:7 says this

“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Are we at peace with God? Are we doing what God wants?

Are our minds ready for the journey God has for us? Are we being transformed by the renewing of our minds? Remember that verse? It crops up every time I speak to you!

Romans 12:2 

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

I spoke to you all before on the Wilderness period. I was even thinking of dusting off the last talk on this subject and doing it over again – I would probably have gotten away with it too!

But I know that there is a reason why we need to look again at this period in time, and so I’m doing it again!

Our hearts are important to us. Not only do they keep us alive but in the more poetic sense, they are where our emotions and our soul is. The thinking processes we go through involve both our head and our heart. Our mind is controlled by our emotion. How we deal with life is governed by our emotion as well as our logic.

You see the heart of every problem is the problem in the heart.

THE HEART OF EVERY PROBLEM IS THE PROBLEM IN THE HEART.

Proverbs 23:7 says it like this: As a man thinks in his heart so is he!

If we don’t acknowledge the fact that the Holy Spirit is in our heart then we are ignoring the process which has released us from being slaves to sin – just as the Israelites ignored the process which had released them from captivity in Egypt.

We don’t give Florence the food she wants all the time. Rachel and I love chips. You have seen the Facebook posts and the disappointment we sometimes get when we look forward to a bag of chips and they turn out to be awful! We don’t live on chips however – they are a treat once in a while. We need to eat vegetables and fruit and the good stuff which will give us the energy we need and avoid stodge which will make us fat and slow us down. Our arteries shouldn’t be hardened by what we put in our bodies. It’s exactly the same with what we feed our spiritual selves. We need to make sure that our hearts are not prevented from functioning in the way that God wants them to. We need to make room in our hearts and heads for the Holy Spirit.
It’s not just about being nice – there are many people in the world who are nice. It’s about doing what is right in God’s eyes.

This also means that we can’t dip in to being Christians as and when we feel like. We need to make a commitment to God which lasts as long as we live.

Our Christian journey is not just an event, it’s not just about the time we declare our faith in Jesus or get baptised, it’s a process that continues from that point onwards.

This is why we are here today. Part of the process is about spending time with each other as an act of collective worship. We became brothers and sisters. We are family. We are a church working together like different parts of the same body.

We are a growing church. We are not a complete church and we’re not a perfect church. We are a good church though!

But as much as I think that this place is a great church and as much as I love all of you here it is important that we, as brothers and sisters, don’t become complacent and put our feet up and relax.  As a church we do tremendous work but that work isn’t easy to achieve. It takes a lot of graft and effort and sweat!

Like our own personal journey as Christians we as a church together need to avoid the easy route.

We need to tackle the difficult conversations and ask searching questions of one another.

As a family – which is what we are and is another old sermonette I have delivered here in the past – we need to coax and cajole and encourage and lift up and support each other through all times, good and bad.

We celebrate together when times are good, we cry with each other in the times of loss or heartache but we need to ensure that SIN is not coming between us and the role that God wants us to play as part of his Church family.

We need to ensure that our hearts are right for God.

We need to ensure our hearts for our brothers and sisters are right.

We need to ensure our hearts for our community are right.

The children of Israel were so impatient for their process to be over with, they lost heart. They lost focus on progress. They let their situation get to them. The wilderness was and still is a tough place to prosper but it wasn’t meant to be the place where they remained. God never promises us an easy life. But he does promise that he will never leave us. His plan goes past when our human bodies live until. He has a plan that involves a time we can’t even imagine. His plans are eternal. This is what we believe and what we live for.

The Israelites had lost their belief, they had lost their faith in God to get them to the end of the journey. This would have severe consequences for them later in their journey.

So when they got from the Red Sea to Mount Sinai, Moses was receiving God’s new laws – a pretty big thing! – and because he was gone so long the Israelites turned to a new god. They got impatient – they lost their faith. They even creditted their escape from Egypt to this golden calf! It’s ludicrous! They had lost the plot! As it said in the reading earlier, a sacrifice to an idol is a sacrifice to nothing, or worse, to a demon. They were glad of their deliverance, they were fed and watered they were being led by God but thought that they could have it both ways.

It’s important to remember that we can’t have it both ways.

Moses was hearing this: 

 “I am the Lord your God, who rescued you from the land of Egypt, the place of your slavery.

 “You must not have any other god but me.”

At the same time the Children of Israel were worshipping a golden cow.

God would have been well within his rights to have done away with them there and then. But God is a god who loves us all unconditionally. He keeps his promises and he keeps the camera rolling.

We have all sinned and not put God first in our lives. We are all guilty of putting obstacles in between ourselves and God.

The call on Moses to lead his people is a calling we all have. We need to be the Moses to the people who don’t have God in their lives. We need to show them the way in which God wants us to live not just by talking about it but by living it out. We also need to realise that with God (and quite often Nigel too!) that there is no way of escaping what we are asked to do.

We can’t be fearful as Christians.

The Children of Israel’s last stumbling block was the fear of the people who were living in Canaan.

The spies who were sent to the promised land reported back but only Caleb and Joshua were ready to take Canaan. The others spread rumours and fear. They frightened the Israelites with talk of tall men who made them feel like grasshoppers by comparison!

Fear stops us in our tracks. We can’t go on if we’re afraid.

Not knowing what is ahead is an everyday occurrence for us. We get nervous in new scenarios. Remember the first day at Secondary school? Remember the rumours of heads flushed down toilets and scary teachers?
Starting a new job can bring a similar fear.
Losing a job can be equally as frightening. We lose track on the fact that God has laid our days out before us. Psalm 139 v 16 says

“Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth; all the stages of my life were spread out before you, The days of my life all prepared before I’d even lived one day.” 

Why do we forget that the god who has brought us through everything that we have experienced so far is not going to continue to be with us in the future? Isaiah 41:10 says:

“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

Why do we let fear hold dominion over us?

Jeremiah 17:7 says “But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him.”

Is our confidence and trust in the Lord?

Do we fully trust that the Lord who delivered us from the captivity of our sin will deliver us to freedom in Christ Jesus?

We must leave our old selves behind and not live for what we want but place our confidence in God who leads us onward through our own periods of wilderness.

We mustn’t crave the life we had before we were delivered from sin. The old self is dead.

Ephesians 2 says this:

“It wasn’t so long ago that you were mired in that old stagnant life of sin. You let the world, which doesn’t know the first thing about living, tell you how to live. You filled your lungs with polluted unbelief, and then exhaled disobedience. We all did it, all of us doing what we felt like doing, when we felt like doing it, all of us in the same boat. It’s a wonder God didn’t lose his temper and do away with the whole lot of us. Instead, immense in mercy and with an incredible love, he embraced us. He took our sin-dead lives and made us alive in Christ. He did all this on his own, with no help from us! Then he picked us up and set us down in highest heaven in company with Jesus, our Messiah.”

Paul says that it’s a wonder that God didn’t lose his temper and do away with the whole lot of us. This is where God’s mercy has and love kicks in. We are more fortunate than many of the Children of Israel who didn’t get to the Promised land.

What does today’s message mean for us today?

We need to stay away from our old selves.
We can’t think as the world thinks.
We can’t be bound by our past.
We need to allow the Holy Spirit to take up residence in our hearts and allow those pure hearts to control our minds so that they can be renewed.

Sin shouldn’t bind us any more as Jesus has died on the cross to remove the stains of sin so that we are free of sin.

We need to ensure that we are not putting anything in the way of us and God. We may not be tempted to smelt gold and make idols but what are the other things that we put in the way to distract us from living the life that God has planned for us? Have we got that determination to live solely for God?

And finally are we allowing fear to hold us in our wilderness? Are we not confident that God will continue to send the fire and cloudy pillar as he did for the Children of Israel?

We may have heard Cwm Rhondda being sung in Twickenham yesterday but the hymn which reflects thejourney of the Children of Israel is as apt now as when it was written.

Jehovah is our guide in the barren land.

We not only live in, but our names are engraved on his powerful hand.

He will continue to feed us the bread of heaven.

The crystal fountain is open to us all. And as we are reminded in John4:14, “… those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.”

Those healing waters are the same waters that we are baptised in, making us new creations. 2 Corinthians 5:17 “ This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!”

The fire and cloudy pillar may not physically appear to us but we are assured that God is guiding our paths when we trust on his word. He will lead us all our journey through because he is a strong deliverer!

When we get close to the end of our journey, our anxious fears will subside when we place our cares onto God. Death has died, Hell has been destroyed and we are promised the Canaan, the promised land, which to us is eternal life in heaven.

Here is a simple Prayer:

Thank you Father God that you are the author and the finisher of our faith.

Help us all to run a good race unhindered by doubt, confident in our faith, untroubled by sin and oblivious to fear.

Help us to cast our burdens onto Jesus so that we can run our race and not get held back in the wilderness.

Help our lives reflect what we know in our hearts so that our ways and your ways are the same. Draw us closer to you so that we are of the same mind.

Thank you for making us new creations. Thank you that our old sinful selves are gone and are buried.

Give us fresh confidence in you so that we can live our lives boldly. Take away all the fear that can hold us back. We ask these things in Jesus name.

Amen.

Thank you for reading and have a great day.

Joel Steed