March 22 – Mountaintops – Mount Sinai

Read Exodus 19:1-20:21

This encounter with the Divine at Mount Sinai was a memorable one.  God wanted to makeMount Sinai an impression on His people when He gave them the Law (including the 10 Commandments).  He used visual effects…lightning, a thick cloud, fire, and smoke. He made loud sounds like thunder claps and trumpet blasts. This would be a day that they would long remember.

And then, He gave the commandments.  There are some that describe how people should relate to Him.  Give Him first place in your life.  Don’t worship objects made by man.  Use His name in an honoring way.  Be sure to take time for rest and refreshment.  Commandments like these were to define how we honor God.

Meanwhile, there were other commandments that tell people how to treat one another.  Treat your parents with honor.  Don’t kill others.  Be faithful if you are married.  Don’t take things that belong to other people.  Don’t lie about others.  Be careful not to be jealous.  These directions from God help us to know how He wants us to treat others.

The giving of those commandments was so awesome and terrifying that the people asked that God stop talking (20:19).  They were so moved by the experience that they later vowed, “Everything the Lord has said we will do.”  (Ex. 24:3)

But it was only a handful of chapters later (chapter 32) that they were already violating one of the Ten.  They had constructed an image/idol!

This points out two important realities:

  1. In spite of our good resolve, no one of us can keep the commandments of God.  In fact, the very purpose of the Commandments is to point out our sin and to direct us to Jesus (Gal. 3:23-25).
  2. Mountaintop experiences are great.  They are often a place of clear vision and great resolve.  But the carry through of commitments made is not so easy.  We do well to develop safeguards like accountability that help to ensure the realization of those commitments.

Steve Kern

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March 21 – Mountaintops – The Mountain and Moses’ Hands

Read Exodus 17:1-16

Admittedly, the Bible specifically describes the elevated real estate as a hill and not as a mountain.  Nevertheless, something happened there that was worthy of notice…

The battlefield perspective on what transpired that day might have led one to believe that the armies were fairly evenly matched.  Joshua and his men fought against the Amalekites.  It seemed at times that the Amalekites had the advantage.  At other times, Joshua and his army were winning.  In the end, of course, the Israelites prevailed and Joshua and his men overcame the enemy.

Moses' handsBut there is more to life than the obvious, the visible, the physical, or the strength of men and women.  There was more to the outcome of this battle than two comparable armies at war, with one in the end demonstrating a better strategy, greater endurance, or more agility.  On a hill overlooking the battle were Moses, Aaron, and Hur.  At their disposal, they had the staff of God and a rock.  Together, the three men labored to ensure that the hands of Moses (presumably holding the staff) were held high.  You see, there was a direct relationship between the position of Moses’ hands and what happened on the battlefield.  But let’s take it a step further.  Verse 16 tells us that those “hands were lifted up to the throne of the Lord.”  Those hands were indicative of the prayerful intervention of Moses on behalf of Joshua and his men.  God responded as Moses, Aaron, and Hur prevailed in “prayer.” There was a battle behind the battle.

Scripture gives you repeated insight to the reality of that battle, the role that God plays, and the importance of prayer.  Unfortunately, it is very possible that the average follower of Christ moves through life as if outcomes depend exclusively upon him/her.  Such people necessarily hone their skills, double their efforts, and perfect their strategies.  They rise early, stay up late, and worry often.  But by acknowledging the battle behind the battle…one fought in prayer…and by recognizing the invisible warrior…the God of the universe…you can rest in knowing that it isn’t up to you!

In what situation should you prayerfully acknowledge that now?

Steve Kern

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March 20 – Mountaintops – Mount Horeb

Read Exodus 3:1-22

The life of Moses is divided into forty-year segments.

For the first forty years of his life, he lived as a Jewish/Egyptian.  Raised in the home of Pharaoh with the corresponding privileges, he was different from the enslaved people of God.  And yet, he understood his true identity and had a heart for his people.  But his concern for God’s chosen nation was not understood by them and placed him at odds with Pharaoh himself.  So, after forty years, he fled.

Once in Midian, he married, had a child, and settled into a quiet life as a shepherd.  But that forty-year portion of his life drew to a close with the events recorded in Exodus 3.Mount Horeb

It was there, on a mountain called “Horeb,” that Moses had a divine encounter.  It all began as he witnessed something that defied his logic and prior experience.  He saw an angel in the midst of a burning bush.  Even though the flames burned, the bush remained unchanged…it did not slowly burn up.  This was a holy ground moment.  It was one worthy of removing sandals and remaining at a distance.  It was an encounter with God.

On that mountain, God expressed His calling to Moses.  This quiet shepherd in the Midian wilderness was to be one used of God to lead His people out of slavery and back to the land God had promised.  This mountain was the location where God answered questions and gave reassurances that He really could use this man who had fled for his life forty years earlier.  In spite of Moses’ objections and perceived weakness, God would manifest miracles that would result in the return of the nation.  It was on this mountain that God also revealed Himself as the great “I AM.”  He is not a “has been” or a “will be.”

Though you have not had a Mount Horeb, burning bush experience, if you are a Christ-follower, you are no less called!  You are called to be holy (1 Pet. 1:16).  You are called out of darkness and into light that you may proclaim His greatness (1 Pet. 2:9).  And with this calling, you are assured of the very presence of I AM in the person of the Holy Spirit who empowers you to exercise your calling.

Steve Kern

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March 19 – Mountaintops – Mount Gilead

Read Genesis 31:1-55

My wife and I dated long distance for the first two and a half years of our relationship.  In a day without e-mail, Facebook, texting, or even good long-distance calling plans, our communication was largely through handwritten letters.  In those letters, we would often seek to encourage one another with Bible passages.  I can remember citing Genesis 31:49:

“May the Lord keep watch between you and me when we are away from each other.”  (v. 49)

Mount GileadNow, I look back in embarrassment at that!  As I read that verse in its context, I discover that it was a part of a covenant between Jacob and Laban in the hill country of Gilead, in which they expressed their mistrust in one another.

Indeed, the two of them were interesting characters.  Jacob had his own history of deception.  He had taken his brother’s birthright at a vulnerable time in Esau’s life (Gen. 25).  Later, he had stolen his brother’s blessing through a conniving plan that he and his mother had put together (Gen. 27).

But Jacob met his match in Laban.  Jacob wanted to marry Laban’s younger daughter.  In exchange, Jacob agreed to serve his father-in-law for seven years.  Through a convoluted series of decisions made by Laban, however, Jacob had given twenty years of his life in service to dear old dad.

Now, it was time to part ways.  God had made it clear that Jacob was to take his family and his flocks and return to the land promised to his father Isaac and grandfather Abraham.  And so they snuck off.  Soon, Laban caught up with them.  With what must have been tense words, Jacob and Laban made a rock pile that was designed to remind them of the conditions for a covenant:

  • Jacob was to mindfully care for Laban’s daughters and not marry any others.
  • The stones were to serve as a boundary between the two.  Neither was to pass over into the land of the other.

This “mountaintop” experience in the Bible certainly does not fit well into a stereotype of incredible encounters with God.  It does, however, point to an unfortunate reality.  Some relationships require the establishment of healthy boundaries.  We need incredible wisdom in identifying which relationships those are and what boundaries are both protective and biblical.

Steve Kern

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March 18 – Mountaintops – Mount Moriah

Read Genesis 22:1-24

Abraham had left Haran decades earlier with a promise that must have sounded almost too good to be true.  He would inherit land.  He would be the father of a great nation.  And his descendants would become the source of blessing to others.

But shortly after seeing his new real estate for the first time, famine forced him to a neighboring country.  And, as to his descendants, Abraham and Sarah just couldn’t seem to conceive.

Finally, twenty-five years after receiving the promise, with both of them beyond the age of normal child bearing, their son, Isaac was born.  He was a miracle and the fulfillment of a promise.  But then came God’s instruction that would seem to contradict all of those years of struggle and anticipation:

“Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”  (v. 2)

Every time I read those instructions, my fatherly instincts kick in.  How could God ask that of any father?  How could any father follow through?  As if to magnify the difficulty, God further describes Isaac as “your only son.”  He was the son of promise that God had in mind decades before.  God goes on to describe Isaac as the one “whom you love.”  Abraham’s attachment to this lad was indescribable.

How could Abraham ever follow God’s instruction?  By faith.  That’s what it says in Hebrews 11:17-19.  Mt. Moriah, you see, was a place of faith.

But Mt. Moriah was also a place of provision.  If God had promised an outcome and commanded an action, He must have a plan that can be trusted.  You see, the instruction He gave Abraham was only a test.  Instead of Isaac, the ram caught in the thicket became the sacrifice.  God provided a substitute…much as He did when Christ went to the cross for us.Mount Moriah

And that’s where we see the events on Mt. Moriah on that day as also a foreshadow of
things that were yet to come.  God, our heavenly Father, would take His one and only Son, the Son whom He loves, and sacrifice Him so that we might live forever with Him.

(By the way, Mt. Moriah eventually became the site on which Solomon’s temple was built.)

Steve Kern

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March 17 – Mountaintops – Mount Ararat

Read Genesis 8:1-9:17

There is something about mountains that attract our attention.  Their towering majesty seems to provide an almost magnetic draw for many.  Others are not just content to be near them, admiring their beauty from a nearby valley.  These people feel the need to be in them as part of the mass, or even on them as one looking out at the valleys below.  I have been near, in, and on three different mountain ranges in my life:  the Rockies, the Smokies, and the Alps.

But our 21st century fascination with mountains is not unique.  The Bible describes several mountains that came to have special, historical and spiritual significance.  It seems that God often chose mountains as the location for significant milestone events.  Over the next several days, we will explore many of these in more details.

Mount AraratThe mountains of Ararat are among the first peaks to capture our attention on the biblical skyline.  Located in present-day Turkey near the Iranian and Armenian borders, these mountains provided not only the catcher’s mitt for the ark, but also the backdrop for some important instruction from God.  This instruction included:

  1. A new promise – God promised to never again destroy the entire earth with a flood (9:8-17).  As a visible reminder of this precious covenant, God has given us the rainbow.
  2. A renewed command – Once again, God told Noah and his family to be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth (8:17, 9:7).  From the very beginning God had placed great value on procreation and the populating of the globe He had created (Gen. 1:28).
  3.  A new diet – Up to this point, men and women seem to have only enjoyed a vegetarian diet (Gen. 1:29).  Starting at Ararat, however, God gave man the freedom to eat meat as well (Gen. 9:3, 4).
  4. The roots of government – It was first at Ararat that God gave Noah and his family the responsibility for punishing wrong.  While God would later outline more specific laws that men and women were to adhere to, here He clearly identifies murder as a punishable offense.

Though thousands of miles stand between us and Ararat and thousands of years have passed since those events, we still live in the shadow of those instructions given.

Steve Kern

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March 16 – Transformation Testimonies – The Thief on the Cross

Read Luke 23:32-43

As long as there is still life, it’s not too late!

There were three men who hung there that day.  Each of them had grown up in his own family.  Each of them was known by others beyond their family…whether by reputation and word of mouth or by personal encounters.  The man in the middle…well, he was different.  He was an innocent man.  Both Pilate and one of the men hanging at his side had recognized that there was no reason for His execution (Lk. 23:4, 14, 41).

But, the other two?  Their story is different.  The gospels don’t give us an full description of them and their past.  We know them only as “criminals” (v. 32).  Matthew describes them as “rebels” (Matt. 27:28, 44 also translated in the NASB as “robbers”).  But whatever their crime(s), one of them admits that the punishment was fitting with the crime.  They had done something worthy of capital punishment (v. 41).  As they hung on either side of this Man whose reputation as a religious man, bitter insults were the only thing that came to mind…for both of them initially (Matt. 27:44).

Thief on crossIf you were a family member or loved one for either of these two men, would you have been in the crowd as the nails were pounded deep and the crosses were swung into their vertical positions?  Doubtful.  Even if you had come initially, would you have been able to stay till the sad end?  Probably not.  You would likely want to avoid the memory of having that visual image of a last desperate breath drawn.

But you would have missed it!

You would have missed the repentant cry!  You would have missed the extension of grace!  You would have missed the promise of paradise!  You would have missed a smile of peace in the midst of agony!  You would have missed life transformation in the dying moments of a man’s life!

Is there anyone you know that you have written off?  Anyone whose life has seemingly spiraled out of control?  Anyone who, in your mind, will never turn to the Savior and experience life change?  Don’t give up.  Keep reaching out.  Keep offering the gracious forgiveness of Jesus.

As long as there is still life, it’s never too late!

Steve Kern

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