Sunday, September 16, 2007

The Focus of Force. . .

Reading the chronicles of the Old Testament and knowing some of the history of the Jewish people is in many ways like reading a real life fairy tale. To my knowledge no other people on earth can lay claim to such an intricately recorded history of their beginnings. The whole story is impossible to imagine without continual divine blessing and intervention:

1. Abraham called out of his homeland for parts unknown. . .
2. Sarah giving birth decades after menopause. . .
3. A tiny family group, maybe 70 persons, adding servants and slaves, maybe a couple of hundred in all, called into a completely foreign culture and country. After 400 years of servitude they not only have not been absorbed into the new culture, but they have maintained their traditions, wonderfully prospered, and have grown into several millions of people. Formerly slaves, this people is given days and weeks to prepare for their departure and are sent off, against the will of the Pharaoh, taking with them the great riches required to establish a country of their own.
4. Now after wandering in a desolate place for some 4 decades, this people again thrives. . . not being able to plant crops, not having any infrastructure of a normal society, living a nomadic existence in a difficult environment, again they not just survive, but thrive.
5. They arrive at their 'promised land' to find it filled with other peoples whom they must conquer. They find it surrounded on three sides by blood sworn enemies. The fourth side being the sea. Again, they not only survive, but hugely prosper, after time building the richest kingdom known on earth. Gold was so plentiful that silver was thought to be nothing. (1 Kings 10:21)
6. Their kingdom has been destroyed numbers of times, this blessed, chosen people have been dispersed to the four corners of the earth for not just centuries, but millennia. They not only survive, but again they prosper. Still surrounded by blood-sworn enemies, no natural resources to speak of, terribly mistreated almost everywhere they have been dispersed to, some 1850 years after the fall of their promised land to their enemies, again they have a country. It is spoken of as a place where the desert has bloomed. This tiny people, maybe one tenth of one percent of the worlds population, dominate so many areas of leadership of our world, completely out of proportion to their physical numbers on the earth. The Jewish people are known and frankly hated for their leading roles in the world of finance, business, entertainment, publishing, science, etc. etc. etc.

In some ways we as Christians are like the Hebrews. We are mere pilgrims in this life, visitors journeying through this land on our way home. This is not our country. This is not our land. We are strangers here. In some ways we are following a similar path to the Hebrews, originally looked upon as a blessing, generations have passed, memories have faded, there has been a death, a change of leadership and where the old Pharaoh originally valued us, now increasingly we are despised. What lessons can we gain from studying the ways of the Hebrew people that might be applicable to our own lives?

One of the first things that stand out to me is that the Jews did not waste their time fighting against the underlings whom they were in contact with on a day to day basis. It is not recorded that the Jews revolted at the individual brick making facilities, went on strike or rioted against those oppressing them. Pharaoh came against the Hebrews by trying to ensure that their babies did not survive childbirth. The Hebrews mounted no active opposition of their own to this terrible plan of Pharaoh's to kill the Jewish baby boys, but indeed Pharaoh's plan raised up the very source of the Hebrew's liberation. Through the pressure of Pharaoh to kill Hebrew baby boys, the baby Moses was in faith floated on the Nile by his mother and came to be given an education and experiences in the household of the leader of a great nation. This was designed by God. This was invaluable to him in his later calling by God to lead the Jewish people.

So much is unsaid and understated in the Bible, but these Hebrew people were such a cohesive cultural unit. It is very hard to imagine just how closely knit they were. They were willing to be led, to repeat they did not act independently. I've read different numbers, but somewhere between 2,000,000 and 6,000,000 were in the Jewish community. Conveniently for illustration purposes Indiana has approximately 6,000,000 people in it. Now I want to ask you, what in the world could you promise, what could you say that would ever get even a few thousand, or even a few hundred of the millions of people in Indiana to follow you to another country or state? What if you promised to lead the people, to a promised land, a place of free health insurance, no income taxes, a minimum $40,000/year job, but. . . but. . . but don't forget all this is sight unseen. The Hebrew people were unhappy in Egypt. Surely they were being mistreated, but Moses had no proof of anything in the way of a better life where he was leading them and yet it, read this and think about it. . . is not recorded that any of the Hebrews stayed behind in Egypt. That is truly amazing. That is a miracle in of itself.

When Moses initially came to Pharaoh with his request or demand that they be allowed to leave, there was force of these millions of Hebrews behind Moses words. This must have been why Pharaoh was so reluctant to let Moses have his way. This was the basis of Pharaoh's hardened heart that God spoke of. God's hardening of Pharaoh's heart, the basis of Pharaoh's fears took the 400 years that the Hebrews were in Egypt to make them into a highly cohesive people. Something that is adhesive sticks to other things. Something cohesive sticks to itself. . . It was this stick-togetherness of the Jewish people that put force behind the words of Moses. . .

Exodus 7:1-3
And the LORD said unto Moses, See, I have made thee a god to Pharaoh: and Aaron thy brother shall be thy prophet. (2) Thou shalt speak all that I command thee: and Aaron thy brother shall speak unto Pharaoh, that he send the children of Israel out of his land. (3) And I will harden Pharaoh's heart, and multiply my signs and my wonders in the land of Egypt.

If Pharaoh had thought that only a few of the Hebrews would follow Moses into the desert, there would never would have been an issue about it. If Moses were only leading a few hundred or even a few thousand people into the desert, who would really miss them. This wouldn't have even rated a little footnote in the history of Egypt. After all it was Pharaoh's trying to reduce their numbers that started everything in the first place, but the power that Moses had was twofold. He was a man chosen by God. Moses had the great power of God behind his words, in manifesting the great plagues against the Egyptians and secondly he had the power of the Hebrew's willingness to follow him. Plagues of Egypt contributed to this second power. It was not only Pharaoh who saw these terrible miracles being done to the Egyptians. The Hebrew people also were watching and these miracles further increased the Hebrew people's willingness to be led.

Whenever force is concentrated, its effectiveness is greatly compounded. I can push against you with all my weight to no effect. If I place the palm of my hand on your shoulder and lean against you, You can merely slightly adjust your stance to resist my weight and thereby resist and stand as an obstacle in my path all day long. I am ineffective in getting you to move. The force of my weight is distributed over the surface area of my hand. It is not concentrated, but if I now take a pencil, or a knife point, or a compass tip and with only a tiny force, not my whole weight, but only the force of a few ounces concentrated at the tip of something sharp and you will not lean against me to resist. You will begin backing away from my concentrated force. You are not able to resist the concentrated force.

With concentrated force, even hardened steel is no impediment to me. I can push all day, for an entire lifetime with all my weight against a steel door blocking my path or I can concentrate my force and with a drill in hand bore right through whatever obstruction is in front of me. . . Most every boy discovers the magic of the concentration of force by a magnifying glass. A little piece of glass, merely an inch or two in diameter, gathers the gentle sunlight, concentrates its force, and will melt a piece of plastic or blacken and start a leaf or a piece of paper on fire. . .

This is the concentration of force that I am speaking of, the cohesiveness of this Hebrew people has allowed them through the ages to exert force to achieve ends of their own and survive in circumstances that would be impossible otherwise. There is a great lesson to be learned here for our own lives and for our own ministries. . .

The principle behind this concentration, is the gathering together from a large area and redirecting into a small area. There are so many ways this concentration can be effective in our lives. . .

In our time and energy

The Hebrews for their entire existence have been surrounded by enemies. Where ever they have resided, through all of history, there have been those who wanted to destroy them on every side. They have not allowed this to distract them. They have not allowed this to dilute their attention. In fact I believe that it is likely that it is their hostile surroundings that has been the lens that has kept them focused as a people. They have been forced to take a bit of their time, a bit of their energy away from other frivolous and unimportant things and focus it upon the problem of surviving in the midst of a hostile land. They have not only survived. This application of focused force has allowed them to thrive. . .

Look at people who achieve great things, the Olympic athlete for example. They take bits of time and energy from all the other aspects of their life and redirect it. . . refocus it on their desire to excel at a particular talent. They take time normally spent say watching TV, they take time from recreation and often even sleep less. . . they wake up early and go to bed late in order to concentrate this time into working to improve themselves in a particular area. This focus and drive results in feats and abilities that are astounding. We are not all going to be Olympic athletes, but the principle is the same. Take a bit of time from all your other diluted activities, from unimportant distractions and focus this time on devotions to God, to prayer, to memorizing scripture, to ministering to and praying for your family members or neighbors or co-workers that you want to see saved. Choose a task and apply yourself to it. Focus yourself on a particular spiritual goal and watch the miracle of concentrated spiritual energy.

In our money and finances

Not too long ago I read the story of a little old lady who died and left an estate worth millions of dollars to the college that she had graduated from decades before. People who knew her, family members were in shock. This was a huge surprise, totally unexpected, totally out of the blue. If I remember correctly she was merely a school teacher. She was no investment banker or company CEO. Just a little old former school teacher, who for her entire life did not fritter away her money, but every extra penny that she had, she invested in the stock market. She left an estate worth millions of dollars by concentrating her money, focusing her finances into one area alone. . . This principle to whatever degree you have the discipline for, is available to you and I. The effects can be breathtaking and it doesn't have to be some huge huge sacrifice. Again just the sunlight from a little two inch piece of glass, can start a fire. . . $1 per day, the price of a cup of coffee, for probably most of us, it would not even be noticeable in our household budgets, a few coins in the pop machine at work each day. . . multiplied by say 200 members of Life Tabernacle church. . . add up to $73,000 in a years time. . . $730,000 in 10 years time. WOW!!! What could the building fund do with that? The power of compounding focus, I'm not talking sacrificial giving, a mere slight concentration of effort and the results are amazing. I've been in church for 7 years. If I, if we had started giving like that in the year 2000. . . where would we be today?

In our loyalty and support for our leadership

This is the least tangible of the things that I will speak of this morning, but its intangibility does not lessen the impact. The force of a hurricane is in its wind. You see the waves of a hurricane and their great power. They are impressive, but the waves are not the source of a hurricanes power. The gentle heat of the ocean's water causes the air to rise. The rotation of the wind, the circulation of the hurricane focuses the rising air. It acts as a lens, directing the wind, concentrating its force. The wind is intangible. The wind is invisible, but it is the wind that has the power. It is the wind that moves the water.

It is the force of our support and our concentrated loyalty to our leadership that will allow our church to accomplish what God desires for us. God has a destination in mind for us. We must be disciplined and dedicated to our leadership for God's plan to come to fruit. The purpose of the plagues of Egypt was not to impress Pharaoh or merely to display God's power. The purpose of the plagues of Egypt was to get the Hebrew people out of Egypt and into the promised land, but this was not any power that Moses had. This was not even a power that God had. The power to accomplish this resided in the Hebrew people's willingness to be led. This willingness to be led gave Moses, gave God the power to lead. The power to lead does not come from the top, but is granted from the base, from the people. The power to lead is not demanded, it is commanded. Individually it seems like such a slight thing, each Hebrew merely made a commitment in their heart to follow where Moses led. . . regardless of where Moses led. . . to take one step at a time, to place one foot in front of the other following Moses and it took them all the way from Egypt to the land of milk and honey. . .

There was huge power in the focusing of that individual force. The power of their decision is still effecting us today. The decision of those individual ancient Hebrews to follow Moses (they didn't know where they were going), but to follow him where ever he went, to have trust in him, to have faith in him led them out of Egypt and into the promised land. This decision is the basis of our faith today and the power of this decision is available to us today.

We have the power to accomplish great things in many aspects of our lives, in our ministries, in our church. . .We are not powerless, but things that we allow to distract us, things of the world, these things take away from us. They dilute our effectiveness. They are scratches on the lens of our focus. Focused, the gentle heat of the sun concentrated in a magnifying lens can start a raging fire. . . Focused, the gentle heat of the sun on the water is the source of a hurricane's power. . . Focused, the price of a can of pop each day, compounded by time and numbers. . . can completely pay for a new church. . . Focused, obedience. . .commitment. . . support. . .loyalty. . . to our man of God can take us on a grand journey. . . the destination of which we can only dream of. . . it can take us into a promised land. . .

Dave Stokely