When Faith Causes Problems
When Faith Causes Problems
Our faith stands on knowing that God does what He will do in His name.
Afterward Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said, "This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: 'Let my people go, so that they may hold a festival to me in the desert.' "
Pharaoh said, "Who is the Lord, that I should obey him and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord and I will not let Israel go."
Then they said, "The God of the Hebrews has met with us. Now let us take a three-day journey into the desert to offer sacrifices to the Lord our God, or he may strike us with plagues or with the sword."
But the king of Egypt said, "Moses and Aaron, why are you taking the people away from their labor? Get back to your work!" Then Pharaoh said, "Look, the people of the land are now numerous, and you are stopping them from working."
That same day Pharaoh gave this order to the slave drivers and foremen in charge of the people: "You are no longer to supply the people with straw for making bricks; let them go and gather their own straw. But require them to make the same number of bricks as before; don't reduce the quota. They are lazy; that is why they are crying out, 'Let us go and sacrifice to our God.' Make the work harder for the men so that they keep working and pay no attention to lies..."
... The Israelite foremen realized they were in trouble... they found Moses and Aaron waiting to meet them, and they said, "May the Lord look upon you and judge you! You have made us a stench to Pharaoh and his servants and have put a sword in their hand to kill us."
Moses returned to the Lord and said, "O Lord, why have you brought trouble upon this people? Is this why you sent me? Ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has brought trouble upon this people, and you have not rescued your people at all."
Then the Lord said to Moses, "Now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh. Because of my mighty hand he will let them go... I am the Lord. I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as God Almighty, but by my name the Lord I did not make myself known to them. I also established my covenant with them... I have heard the groaning of the Israelites, whom the Egyptians are enslaving, and I have remembered my covenant."
Dr. Boris Cornfeld was a Jew who lived in Russia during the early years of Communism. Although he was a brilliant, able, informed, and literate young man, he made a mistake. During the great purges of Stalin, he chanced one day to make some kind of political remark. No one knows exactly what he said. Perhaps it was a remark calling into question the absolute wisdom of Stalin or a similar statement. But for some reason, he was immediately arrested and transported to a concentration camp in Siberia.
And there a remarkable thing happened to his life. Over the months in his cell, he found he was rich in one commodity—time. And he reflected on the roots of his life. He came to see that Marxism—Communism—did not hold the answer to life's deepest needs. He became a prison doctor, and at just that time, God brought across his path a devout Christian who shared gently, quietly, but repeatedly, about Jesus Christ.
At first, it was absolutely out of the question for Boris Cornfeld to turn to Christ. For two hundred years the Russian Orthodox Church has persecuted his Jewish people, and he could not turn his back on his Jewish heritage and the atrocities of the church.
But his friend persisted, and soon the power of the gospel found a lodging place in his heart. He found himself reciting the Lord's Prayer to the other prisoners as he treated them for medical reasons. Finally, Christ broke through and he quietly but definitely gave his life to Christ, feeling for the first time an overwhelming peace.
But a concentration camp is a dangerous place to live a Christian life. Boris began to live for Christ anyway, in every way, every day. He had watched orderlies steal food from dying prisoner patients, so he began reporting them at the risk of his own life. He began refusing to sign the certificates stating that prisoners were in good enough health to be put in solitary confinement when he knew it would kill them. And he began to share his faith with his patients.
One evening, the doctor was sitting by the bedside of a young man on whom he had performed surgery for cancer of the intestine. As the boy moved in and out of consciousness, the doctor began to share his witness about what Christ had done in his life. The feverish young man would listen to him, as he faded in and out, and Boris stayed by his bed long into the night telling the boy about his faith.
Later that night, the young man heard a commotion in the adjoining room. He found out the next morning that Boris Cornfield had been clubbed to death by the guards in the concentration camp.
Boris' faith had brought him problems—to the point of death. But the young man to whom he witnessed that night was Aleksandr Solzhenitzyri, the prize-winning Soviet dissident now known the world over. Was Boris' faith worth the problems it caused? Solzhenitzyn would say yes.
But would we? If we were honest, we'd have to admit that when our faith sometimes causes problems in our lives it is altogether confusing. We're not taught that believing will cause problems: we're taught that it solves problems. But it seems that both of these statements are true, to a very real extent.
In fact, there are times, especially for new Christians, that believing has created more problems than it has solved. Even though we may know that faithfulness to God brings long-term dividends—in spite of the fact that it may bring short-term pain—we still find it surprising when our faith causes difficulties in our lives.
The Message of Moses
Moses would confess to that. Fresh from the experience at the burning bush, he went to confront Pharaoh. And there he found rejection not only from Pharaoh but also from the very Hebrew people he was supposed to deliver. Moses, the eighty-year-old, tongue-tied shepherd, found that faithfulness to God brought him expected problems but also unexpected ones. How could he have guessed the people he was to free would turn on him?
Sometimes we know in our hearts that we are doing what God wants us to do. We can just feel the leadership of God in our lives. But then We begin to hit brick wall after brick wall. The pharaohs of this world don't understand. And what may be worse, the very people we're trying to communicate with, to help, aren't accepting us either.
These are the two major causes of problems when we choose to live our Christianity on a daily basis. It was that way for Moses, and it is still that way for us.
Yet, whether we believe it or not, we are promised that when our faithfulness causes problems, God's faithfulness will see us through.
Moses found that to be true—but not before he had experienced his share of frustrating problems. Part of Moses' story in particular tells of God's promise—and helps us understand how to cope, just as Moses did.
Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said, "This is what the Lord the God of Israel says, 'Let my people go so they may hold a festival to me in the desert.' "
Pharaoh said, "Who is the Lord that I should obey him and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord and I will not let Israel go."
They tried again, but Pharaoh just shrugged them away. The Pharaoh (probably Ramses II) knew all the gods that counted in his world. In fact, he was one of them, according to the way Egyptians believed. He had descended from 3000 years of divine ancestors. His very name meant the "one who is born from the sun god." At that time there were more than eighty major deities in Egypt. Someone once said that if it flew in the air or slithered in the mud or swam through the water, the Egyptians worshiped it.
Ramses told Moses that this god Jehovah hadn't made his list. He knew the sun god and the river god and the frog god but not this Jehovah God. So why should he heed his wishes?
Ironically, within a very short time Pharaoh would be the most informed man in his nation on who Jehovah God is! But at that moment, Pharaoh, supreme ruler in the secular world, didn't even recognize the God Moses represented and neither was he impressed by His people.
Pharaoh would have measured the Hebrew people's God by how successful the people were. It only made sense. That was the way of the ancient world. And so, the Egyptians thought, since they were the most powerful nation on earth, their gods obviously were the most powerful. If the God of these Hebrew slaves wanted to impress Ramses, He'd have to do better with this nation of slaves.
But there's nothing unusual about that, is there? The same is true today. Yet God always seems to choose the foolish things of this world for His work to shame the wise, as Paul puts it in 1 Corinthians.
I've been reading a certain major news magazine weekly for over twenty years, ever since college. I read it almost cover to cover. And I've noticed that every time there is a story about evangelicals, the tone is quite condescending. According to the way most of these news stories portray us, you'd think we were all mindless religious fanatics unworthy of consideration. That tone used to bother me quite a bit.
But now I understand the situation and it doesn't bother me as it once did. That magazine is a thoroughly secular and humanistic publication. If it ever started to compliment evangelicals something would be very wrong!
You see, the fact of the matter is that the secular world, the unbelieving world, does not recognize God or the people who serve as His body. In fact, secularists are usually quite surprised at our audacity, our way of looking at everything in this world quite differently.
Ramses was dumbfounded by Moses' audacity. Ramses' mission in life, it seemed, was to build bigger and bigger statues, mainly of himself. He was one of the greatest builders in history. The British Museum in London holds just one of the gigantic statues of himself he built. Ramses had to have bricks; he also had to have slave labor to make as many statues as cheaply and as quickly as possible. How dare this scruffy Moses ask for his slaves to stop making the bricks for his important work just so they could go make some burnt offerings and have a feast in the desert? Didn't this Moses understand what was really important?
The same goes for people involved in a purely secular lifestyle. It must seem audacious for us to interrupt them in their day-to-day living to remind them that God wants a word with them. They need to know there is something out there more important than building bigger and better statues to themselves!
I remember being with a group of people who were witnessing door-to-door in a suburb of our city. We ran into a fellow whose reaction to us wasn't so much anger as amazement. "Why do you people go around doing this?" he asked. How could we answer in any way that he would understand? His frame of reference was totally different from ours so there was no way he could view our efforts as anything but unusual.
We Christians face rejection from the secular world because, just as in Pharaoh Ramses' day, the world does not understand the agenda of faith. God's agenda was worship. Pharaoh's was to get on with the business of building. Surely these people were using their so-called religion to get out of work, Ramses must have thought. This religion of theirs is nothing but irresponsibility. It's childish and lazy. He knew what really counted. And that's the way it is with many of the people in our world. I remember one man in particular who looked me in the face and said, "Why would a man like you waste your time as a minister when you could be doing something productive with your life?"
The day I stopped being thunderstruck at the world's lack of understanding was the day I began to understand the tension between a faith that causes problems and a faith that resolves them. There is a peace that comes with understanding that we're on a different agenda than the secular-minded world. We cannot expect them to understand us, but we can understand them.
The People's Reaction
Yet, what do we do when, like Moses, the difficulties come not from the thoroughly secular world, but from the people we are trying to help—even from those who claim to believe as we do?
Moses found out that it was one thing to be rejected by Pharaoh, but it was quite another to be rejected by the very people whom God had sent him to serve. I wouldn't have blamed Moses for thinking he was one for three in the success department. He struck out as a baby when he was sent down the river in a basket. He struck out again at forty when he tried to do the right thing the wrong way—attempting to help his people yet killing an Egyptian. And now, here he was at eighty, coming back for the third time feeling as if he were going to strike out again.
Do you remember what happened? All Moses' effort caused Pharaoh to proclaim that the lazy Hebrew people would not only have to make just as many bricks as before—but without any straw! They would have to go out and work doubly hard obtaining the raw materials themselves for the bricks. The Hebrew foreman walked up to Moses and Aaron and said, "May the Lord look upon you and judge you. You have made us a stench to Pharaoh and his servants, and you have put a sword in their hands to kill us."
"Why did you even get involved with this?" the foreman was asking Moses. It seemed he had only made things worse. Surely, Moses was upset. He must have thought that at least the Hebrews wanted an exodus before he got involved. Now it appeared they didn't want anything. The people he was trying to help, who seemed at first to want his help, now were cursing him for making things worse.
Many of us know the feeling. How can things get worse before they get better when we do things in the name of our faith? It's part of the Christian experience more often than not. We get involved, we give ourselves, we take a stand with people or for people, and just because we're being obedient to God, everything begins to crumble.
I remember the first time it happened to me. It was my first pastorate in a tiny little church in a poor part of Waco, Texas. There was a woman who had moved from the north into a big, ramshackle house on one of the streets in our neighborhood. She needed every kind of help in the book: food, clothing, and money to get the house's utilities turned on. And on top of everything else she had a sick baby. It seemed I poured my life into ministering to her. I took food to her, transported her baby to the county clinic (sitting with her for hours there), and then I arranged for her utilities to be turned on. I did all the things I thought I was supposed to do. And yet, when I went by there on the next Sunday morning to ask her to come to our church, she nearly pushed me off her porch, saying, "I never want to see you again!"
What's going on, Lord? I remember wondering. I got involved to help and now I've been misunderstood and rejected.
When faithfulness brings problems we may quickly find that our only resource is in a renewed cry of prayer to the living God. That's what Moses did. He went back to square one. He went back to God, saying in essence, "Lord, why have You brought trouble upon Your people? Is this why You sent me? Ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak in Your name, he has caused trouble for me and for them—and You haven't rescued either of us. Why did You get me involved in this? Why is all this happening?"
It's almost as if Moses was reminding God what they had talked about at the burning bush—how Moses had given God some very good excuses why the whole idea wouldn't work.
And then God gave him the answer. God told Moses that He was waiting for Moses, and everyone around him, to run out of every other resource other than the living God. "Now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh," He explained to Moses. "Because of My mighty hand, he will let them go. And because of My mighty hand he will drive them out after he himself has cried out to Me."
It's as if God was telling Moses that He was waiting until everyone found out that Pharaoh is not the resource—God was. Some of the Hebrews at the time thought they were going to pull off the exodus by "committee."
The Israelite foremen had gone and appealed to Pharaoh (and the word "appeal" here is the very word that is usually translated in the Old Testament as "prayer to God"). The "committee" of Hebrews at this point felt God was unpredictable and capricious, while Pharaoh was predictable and steadfast. But through all of this, they began to realize that it was actually the opposite. Pharaoh was the fickle one, while God was steadfast. If there was to be an exodus, they were going to have to trust the Lord Jehovah.
We're in the Picture, Too
Don't we see this truth in our own experience? How many times have we had to reach the end of our own resources before we remembered to trust in God, the one steadfast resource of our lives? We're all in need of a spiritual exodus day by day. When our faith causes difficulties, our first response is to fall back on our familiar resources—people, things, self—and only when these do not help can we truly lean only upon God for our needs.
I like what Dwight L. Moody said about Moses in this connection. Moody, not a very erudite man, had an unusual insight into the scripture. He said that Moses spent forty years in the king's palace thinking that he was somebody; then he lived forty years in the wilderness finding out that without God he was a nobody; finally he spent forty more years discovering how a nobody with God can be a somebody.
And he was right. When Moses and the people found out they were nobodies without the resource of God, that's when the exodus began.
But beyond this recognition, there is more we will receive when our faithfulness brings problems. We will receive renewed personal assurance. God promised faithfulness to Moses based on nothing but God's faithfulness to His own name. Over and over, when God explained to Moses what to say and do, He told Moses to say, "I am the Lord," to remind the people that his power and trustworthiness were based on His own name alone. "... Then you will know that I am the Lord." Over and over, Jehovah uses the phrase in conversation with Moses. If you remember, up to this time, the name of God had been called into question. Pharaoh had taken God's name lightly, daring to ask, "Who is this Jehovah?" And so God stated that He would do all He was going to do because "I am the Lord."
There won't be an exodus because Pharaoh's heart changed. His heart will never change. There won't be an exodus because the Hebrews stopped being fickle. They will always be fickle. There won't be an exodus because Moses is a brave, courageous Reader. Moses will stammer all his life. There will be an exodus for only one reason, and that is: "I am the Lord."
The biggest promise we have as we live this life of faith is not that the Pharaohs of our secular world will change, or that the people we try to help will change. The only reason we are assured any victory at all over these problems is not that God's people are suddenly constant and never fickle, but because God is faithful to His own name. God's name in Christ is written all over us. And the same faith that resolves our problems will be the faith that is victorious over the problems—because we are God's in God's name.
Suppose I tell my little boy that we are going to take a walk after dinner and we'll have a good time—then I don't do it. The world will not stop. But a little boy's world will be different because the one he calls father, "Daddy," would be remembered for something said and yet not done. Yet our faith stands on knowing that God does what He says He will do in His name. Jesus, from the cross, cried, "My God, My God! Why hast Thou forsaken Me?" Those words hung heavy over the borrowed tomb where they laid Jesus' dead body. And yet on that third day, out of faithfulness to His very name, Christ was resurrected, forsaken no more. Our hope is built on that faithfulness.
Our own weaknesses will ebb and flow. But God has declared He will be faithful to His own name and those who live and act under that Name. So, when all other resources fail, when our Christian gestures seem to cause nothing but problems from our secular surroundings, from those we try to help, or even from our fellow Christians, the one thing we must keep in mind is that our faith is constant and timeless because our truest Resource is everlasting and persevering.
Our personal assurance is clear: If we endure, our faithfulness will be rewarded and the results will be worth the difficulties.
Growing Pains of the Soul.