Stiff necked people

Opening Prayer

We thank you lord to be able to gather here today as your church, your chosen people in fellowship sharing in your goodness and love. We ask Lord that you allow yourself to be known to each of us, personally as only you know each of our hearts, our needs and our faults. Allow us to hear and see you alive working in our lives and the beauty of loving a life for your glory. Help us to not just know you. But to love and trust you alive and working in our life. Amen    

Have Ever felt distant from God. Like he’s finished with you. Moved on so to speak. Had your time or turn of help. Perhaps forgotten about. Are you feeling this today. That your relationship with him. just doesn’t feel as solid as it should or had been before. Or perhaps your still waiting for that moment when you actually feel it. Where you actually see Christ and his love in your life.

Well, you’re not alone. I have felt it before. I have felt it recently.  I’ve also noticed that when I feel this distance, I find it harder to pray, harder to read scripture, and harder to be a Christian producing the fruits of the Holy Spirit. even my prayers feel like they are harder to start and say, and I find myself thinking more about me. I start to focus on self-worth and self pleasure. More effort goes into how I should be living my life in accordance with the worlds ways and my needs. My glory. The old Testament reading for this week is from Exodus. We pick up just after Moses parted the sea the Egyptians were swallowed up by the water. Exodus 14:31 And when the Israelites saw the mighty hand of the LORD displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the LORD and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant. Sand songs and worshipped him. We have all had these moments. When life is good.

Thank you God. Baby born. Passed a test. New car. Dentist visit that wasn’t that bad.

The passage is humbling as several days later even after the Israelites witnessed this act of God with their own eyes. They began to grumble to Moses about having no water.  God then provided them water. A short time later again they grumbled saying in Exodus 16:3 NIV – The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the LORD’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.” They would rather be dead now….

What I am getting at, is that we, as humans have a natural ability to become distant from God. Even when we declare our faith and follow him. I have said it before that Being a Christian in today’s world is hard. Sickness around us. War around us. Not knowing what lies ahead. And it was just as hard for those Israelites who actually witnessed God’s hand. I can appreciate how hard it is for us.

Therefore if being a Christian and staying close to God is hard and takes our obedience, our action and effort on our part.  

Newton’s Third Law: Action & Reaction. His third law states that for every action (force) in nature there is an equal and opposite reaction. Being distant from God takes no effort at all and in fact is easier for us to do and in so doing widening the gap. Sometimes so wide that we can’t see our Christ and Saviour in our life anymore.

A Gap, ever so easy to fall into and get lost in. A bit of trivia for you. Researchers suggest the Exodus event occurred 2000 years before Christ’s resurrection. Looking at today’s date, it’s a similar distance of time from Christ’s resurrection to today. 2000 odd years. As humans and followers of Christ, I wonder how our attitude has changed. We believe in a God until life causes us to grumble. What do we do now. What do you do when life causes us to grumble.

When we grumble It allows the consumption of worldly pleasures so much more attractive and tempting and like Stephen mentioned last week. Even though his love for smith’s crisps may satisfy his hunger for a week, it won’t sustain him, you or me and he will grow weary from it. Just like a love of money. A love of power and popularity.

But take confidence and strength from those Israelites. Even in their grumblings. God still provided for them. Mana from the sky for them . Christ the bread of life that sustains us. Our creator doesn’t keep track of all the times we turn away. Forget about him. Question him. He knows our hearts are easily swayed and easily resist the spirit.

The disciple Stephen in Acts 7:51 NIV – before he was stoned to death called out to the world around him “You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit!

I want us to focus on the phrase stiff necked. To be stiff-necked is to be obstinate and difficult to lead. The Term was created by early farmers to describe an ox that refused to be directed by the farmer’s ox goad.  When a farmer harnessed a team of oxen to a plough, he directed them by poking them lightly with a sharp spike on the heels or the neck of the ox, to make them pick up speed or turn. An ox that refused to be directed in such a way by the farmer was referred to as “stiff-necked.” A stiff-necked animal (or person) refuses to turn their head in order to take a different path. From the creation of man with Adam’s sin in the Garden, to the grumbling Israelites to the Pharisees, we see we have a natural ability to want to do life our own way and a mindset to believe we know better than god and readily question his plans for us and others.

Like the Ox who is being prodded in the neck by a farmer to turn left to avoid the hidden muddy ground ahead that could lead to its death. No matter how many times it is prodded the Ox still has to decide to turn. Just like us. God promises to guide us in our lives if we simply just chose to maintain our personal relationship with him. He pleads with us to not be stiff-necked: “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you. Do not be like the horse or the mule, Which have no understanding. But must be controlled by bit and bridle. Or they will not come to you” (Psalm 32:8–9).

Prayer here is the answer for us in our grumblings and our stiff necks. It is one of the simplest and life changing acts of our faith. Yet one that can be daunting and scary and for some, seldom performed because of a myriad of personal reasons developed to suit there mindset. Easily put off for later. Not now I’m to tired. Or perhaps. I don’t know what to say. Or how to start.

When we are distant from God. It is not him who has moved. It is you. One road leads home. A thousand lead into the wilderness. C s Lewis.

Do you know what pleases our creator. Our Saviour. Prayer! 

Jeremiah 29:12-13 NIV, Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. [13] You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.

Don’t put it off. Your prayers please God. Pray often.

My relationship with my daughter klaire who is 15 going on 21, has been distant of late. ….On Friday night. Well, Saturday morning at 1am. My phone rang. It was her in England. Hi dad, sorry, I’m a scared and afraid right now. I just want to stay on the phone with you. I was a father more than willing to answer her. Help her and just be on the phone with her. To provide her with a comfort and peace.  In that moment. In 2 different places in the world. We were close. There was no distance between us. It just took klaire the decision to call for the distance to vanish. Not worrying about time zones. Or if I would be awake or if I would be there. It took her action. The rest looked after itself.

Just like your God. Pick up the phone and call him. He is ready and waiting. Make the decision to call. The rest will look after its self. Hi God it’s me. I’m angry right now because. I’m worrying right now because….I’m thankful right now because.  

We can get so caught up in out own lives. so stiff necked. That was my problem. A few weeks ago. I forgot that the key to my happiness wasn’t obtaining or doing anything worldly. Of I late remind myself daily. Even questioning my ability to write a message for today. The answer I found was to live my life to glorify my God. It started with a prayer. Hi God, I don’t feel happy. please help me glorify you in my life.

How can we glorify God when we are just trying to glorify ourselves. Our own desires and wants.

Who doesn’t like making someone else truly smile. We all are here glorifying God in our cuddle hellos and chit chat. Take that out into to the world. your kindness. Your compassion. Your wisdom. Your experiences to help those going through tough times. And most importantly your prayers. Your prayers for strength and courage.

Romans 14:7-9, For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone. If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.

Of note. In reference to the exodus story discussed at the beginning. The reason why the sea had to be parted in the first place. Exodus 13:17-18 NIV – When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter. For God said, “If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.” 18 So God led the people around by the desert road toward the Red Sea.⁠ I want you to take comfort that God doesn’t give us what we can’t handle. God is in control, and his plans are for good. For his glory, not our own. He acts in our best interests. He has been doing this for 4000 years. We may not see at the time why or ever know why some things happen. Just like those Israelites. But by accepting and trusting in our triune God. We find peace and a hope that is real. A real answer to our grumblings and our stiff necks. We find and are given a way to wake up in the morning and confront the day in front of us, not knowing what may happen, but willing to try our best and handing over the rest. Amen.

Prayer

Lord, as we prepare to leave today, I ask you to lead us through our prayers. Help us with our ability to be stiff and necked and grumble at our lives. Guide us to you, Lord, giving us each a thirst to pray to you. A thirst to know more about you and want to be close to you. Help us, Lord, to see that to live a life for your glory is a life that offers and provides us with true joy, peace, and love.  

Benediction

The Blessing of God’s glory Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.—Ephesians 3:20–21