They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

Pack Your Tambourine

Aaron’s sister Miriam was a prophet. She took a tambourine in her hand. All the women followed her. They played tambourines and danced. Miriam sang to them,
  “Sing to the Lord.
    He is greatly honored.
  He has thrown Pharaoh’s horses and their riders
    into the Red Sea.”
Exodus 15

One of the best devotions I have heard in a long time was given while we were in Egypt, reliving and tracing the Exodus story.  Scott Heare, a pastor from San Antonio, Texas, began the devotion time by telling a story that occurred when his wife was in labor with their second child. Expecting a normal delivery with no problems, the Heare’s were suddenly in deep trouble. Without warning, the baby’s heart beat dropped dramatically and the wife’s blood pressure skyrocketed. As the doctors and nurses scrambled to handle the situation, Scott began to fervently pray and ask God to intervene in their situation. Immediately, as he began to pray, God began to give him a peace, that despite the graveness of the situation, everything was going to turn out fine. Despite having some harrowing moments, the doctors were able to stabilize the situation and the Heare’s were able to rejoice with a normal, healthy baby. Scott then said that all of us have had or will have moments in our lives when our backs are up against the wall and the situation will look hopeless. In moments like these, our only hope is to turn to and rely on the God of Heaven to intervene on our behalf. When the crisis passes, then we can rejoice in God delivering us and bringing us out of our tough situation.

Scott then related the story of the Israelites crossing the Red Sea, with the Egyptians breathing down their necks. From night to morning, the situation went from hopeless to a miraculous rescue at the hand of the God of Israel. The Israelites stood on the bank, with dead Egyptians lying on the shore, and praised God and sang and danced. Then Miriam pulled out a tambourine and began to lead the women in singing and dancing and praise to the Lord for what he had done for them.

What in the world was Miriam doing with a tambourine? When the Israelites left Egypt on Passover, they left in great haste. They just had time to grab a few necessary items and leave. They were headed out to the desert, a place that they had not been before, and the Egyptians were sure to follow. A tambourine, you would have thought, would have been pretty low on the list of priorities of things to take with you.

Miriam, though, packed her tambourine! She sensed that there would be time coming in the future where there would be occasion to rejoice and sing and dance! Although she didn’t know where she was going, or how it would turn out, she was counting on God to miraculously provide! We worship a God who provides a place to dance, even in the midst of the toughest circumstances. Wherever you go, whatever tough situation you find yourself in, God will be with you! Don’t forget to pack your tambourine!!

Background for the Use of Yeast in the Passover Celebration

“That same night eat the meat cooked over the fire. Also eat bitter plants. And eat bread that is made without yeast.
— Exodus 12:8

“Always remember this day. For all time to come, you and your children after you must celebrate this day as a feast in honor of the Lord. It is a law that will last forever.

“Eat bread made without yeast for seven days. On the first day remove the yeast from your homes. For the next seven days, anyone who eats anything that has yeast in it must be cut off from Israel.
— Exodus 12:14-15

Here’s something that you might not have known about yeast as it is used in the Passover story. If you will remember in Exodus 12, God told the Israelites to prepare bread without yeast as part of the meal they were to eat the night before the death angel passed over their houses. Then he says in vs. 14 and 15, to keep this as a lasting ordinance from now on. For 7 days during the Passover Season, they were to completely remove yeast from their houses and not to eat anything with yeast in it.

Here’s the part you might not have known; using yeast to make bread was an Egyptian invention and was used extensively there even before Joseph was sold into slavery in Egypt. Beer was a staple drink for the Egyptians and they also ate leavened bread. Yeast was needed to produce both the beer and the bread. If you took away yeast, to a person in that time period, you were symbolically taking away the food and drink that the Egyptians were providing. So to a Jew, to take away yeast was to take away Egypt. God set up the Passover ceremony to remind the Jews to keep Egypt out of their lives. Don’t go back that way anymore, he was saying. Yeast is the picture of Egypt. Yeast symbolized everything that was evil about the Egyptian civilization and what they had done to the Hebrews.

The Feast of Passover is designed to get Egypt out of us. It was not just a little game they played with the kids, it was serious business.  It is a reminder of all that Egypt is, the sin and bondage that creeps into our life, as the year goes on. God wanted the Israelites, and us, to be faced with the concept of yeast every year and what it represents. He used it to remind them that sin (Egypt) should not be a part of their lives and to make a conscious effort to get rid of it… Yeast, in almost every instance in both the Old and New Testament represents sin (Mark 8:15, 1 Cor 5:7-8, Galatians 5:7-9, etc…). This should also say to Christians that we should never serve bread made with yeast in our communion meals. This paints the opposite picture that God was trying to communicate when he said to the Israelites so long ago, “No Yeast (No Egypt)” in your lives.

Related Posts:

Blueprint for Messiah: Found in Exodus

God of Second Chances; The Story of Onesimus

Homework: First Read Colossians and Philemon

While we were in Turkey, we went to the un-excavated site of the ancient city of Colossae. Located at the base of the huge Cadmiz Mountains and on the Lycos River, it was a major city around 500 B.C. By the time of the Common Era, though, it had lost its significance and was a much smaller town compared to its close neighboring cities of Laodicea and Hierapolis.  It was known for its good supply of cold, good to drink, water.

The church in Colossae was a house church, founded by Epaphras. Epaphras had been led to Christ by Paul while Paul was preaching in Ephesus (Coll 1:7-8). Epaphras then carried the gospel back to these three neighboring cities where he grew up. Most of the people in the church here at Colossae were Gentiles.  They met in the home of Archippus and Apphia (Philemon1:1-3).  Paul never came to Colossae as far as we know, but wrote these two letters in response to some problems that were coming up with these new believers. Epaphras went to Rome, where Paul was a prisoner, and talked to him about the problems back in Colossae.  Paul responded by writing the letters and sending them back with Tychius and Onesimus (Colossians 4:7-9).

While in Colossae, I heard the story of Onesimus, a slave, and his master Philemon. Onesimus, it seems, had messed up and had most likely stolen something from his master and then ran away.  He evidently knew about Paul, because he went to him, all the way to Rome, to ask for help. While there, Onesimus became a follower of Christ and a disciple of Paul.

Paul wrote the letter to Philemon to ask him to forgive Onesimus and take him back. Although, what Onesimus had done was punishable by death according to Roman law, Paul said, “He is a changed man.” Paul said, “I’ll pay you for anything that he owes you.” Paul told Philemon, “don’t just take him back as a slave, take him back as a brother”. “Give him another chance, I promise he will not disappoint.”  An interesting point is that the name Onesimus means, “Useful”. Paul, using a word play in Greek, was saying that although Onesimus was once useless, I guarantee that he now is useful (Philemon 1:11).

Here is the other great part of the story. Evidently, Philemon takes Onesimus back and forgives him and takes him as a brother. Church history records that Onesimus later became a bishop in the church at Ephesus! He was the first bishop to start collecting all the books of the New Testament and organizing them. What if Philemon hadn’t forgiven him? What if Paul hadn’t taken him in and introduced him to Christ? What if Onesimus hadn’t been given a second chance?

Who do we need to free up and give a fresh start to? Or, are we the one who needs the slate wiped clean? Who is the Onesimus in your life that you need to forgive and let them start over? Aren’t we glad that we serve the God of the second chance?

Who Gets the Credit

You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your forefathers, as it is today.
— Deuteronomy 8:17-18

A rabbi once said,” the resume of a follower of YHVH should be very short.”

While visiting Egypt’s pyramids and temples, we saw picture after picture written on stone that told the common people that Pharaoh was responsible for all the good things that happened in life.  He made the Nile flood so that the crops would grow, he provided for the harvest, and most importantly, he handed out justice to Egypt’s enemies. Pharaoh alone was in charge and he was the one you looked to for security and blessing.

When God led the Israelites into the desert, after freeing them from Pharaoh, He was in charge.  They had to count on Him for direction, for food and water, and for protection against their enemies. For forty years, YHVH alone was the sole provider for the needy Israelites.

After YHVH took care of them and led them through the wilderness and took them to the Promised Land, He had trouble with them trying to do things on their own.  They wanted to take credit for their abundant provision and protection from their enemies. (Deut 8:17&18)

When you get to the Promised Land do you still give God credit for what happens or is it by “your strength” and “your power” that good things happen? “I landed a really good job”, or “I was sick last week, but now I am better”, or ” I got straight A’s on my report card last semester” are all typical statements that we make without thinking of the source of all our blessings. It is easy to count on God when you are in the desert and you can’t begin to do it by yourself.  But, when things go smoothly, it doesn’t take us long to try to handle it ourselves and take the credit. This is just a little something to think about the next time you are in a situation where God blesses you with something. Give Him the credit!