John Powell used to carry his elderly mother up and down the stairs of their home in Chicago. Every time, she would grab onto the banister while he was carrying her up or down the stairs—and hold on to it so tightly that he couldn’t move her.
He would explain, quote Mama, you have to let go of the banister or we can’t move.” and she would look at him with distrust at admit, quote I’m afraid you’ll drop me.” to which John would come back with, quote Mama, I’m going to drop you right now. One I count to 3 , I’m going to drop you!” then she would let go, and they’d go two more steps, at which point she would grab on again.
Sometimes you just want something to hold onto. Like John Powell’s mom, there come times when you’re scared and all you want is something to hold onto.
That’s what we’re going to talk about this week, for part two of our series how to get through what you’re going through. Let’s start with a quick recap from last week, which sets the scene for this week on holding on and letting go.
We’re following God’s people of old from back in the days of their exodus: they’ve been set free from slavery in Egypt, they are on their way toward the promised land, and for longer than they expected, they find themselves in an in-between time period this series is about how to navigate this in-between time, where we feel like kids on a long road trip wondering, “How much longer?”
Tests we answer by putting our experience in the context of the three phases in spiritual growth
- Confident faith
- Challenged faith
- Living faith
The confident faith phase is typically when you first come to faith in Jesus. The Bible starts to come alive. You begin to realize and believe and feel that God loves you, that he loves to hear from you, that he has blessed you with the whole family in the local church, and that your daily work has newfound purpose. Confident faith
That first phase, which corresponds to puppy love among newly dating couples, at some point transitions to phase two, which is challenged faith. A high schooler heads off to college and the challenge is whether you will connect with a Christian student fellowship. The challenge phase is when questions arise and the question is do you chase down satisfying answers or fall away from faith? In marriage, challenged faith times are when your vows are tested , your expectations don’t match what’s happening, and so the challenge is whether you will get help and do the work tord a growing marriage, or walk away.
In the challenged faith times, you may feel like God isn’t listening to your prayers. You feel like your obedience isn’t paying off. And you long for a fresh experience of God and the joy you felt in the past period challenged faith. Everyone faces it.
The third phase in spiritual growth is what we are calling living faith. Living faith does not have answers to everything, but it is faith that Israel, tested, and true. All of us want that kind of faith. Here’s the truth: the only way to get there is by going through the challenging times period and this is one of those times.
All of that that sets the stage for this week, as we pick up their story in exodus chapter 32. Go ahead and open your Bible or Bible app there, to exodus 32. In there in between time, when they were trying to figure out how to get through what they were going through, they just wanted something to hold onto. Moses is up on Mount Sinai while the nation dash sized traveling group weights down below, not knowing how long he will be, uncertain when they will get going. So in there in between time, here’s how the chapter opens:
When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered gathered around Aaron and said, new quote come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt at Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him””
Exodus 33 2:1
Sometimes, you just want something to hold onto. So Moses older brother Aaron capitulates to the mob mentality that is quickly amping up. He asks the people to hand over the gold jewelry the Egyptians had given them as they left, he melts them down, and he uses a tool to fashion their gold into a God, an Idol in the shape of a calf period now catch what he says to the people:
These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.” – Exodus 3 2:1
What’s this about? There’s a clue in what you have seen in every ancient Egyptian statue.
They all have the same thing in common: their noses are broken off like you see here. This is deliberate destruction. And the reason they were all damaged was because the ancient Egyptians believed that the essence of a deity could inhabit an image of that deity. In their thinking, then, damaging the nose destroyed that God’s strength. Without a nose, the statue dash spirit couldn’t breathe, effectively killing it.
How does that help us understand what the Israelites did here? Having just come out of Egypt, there they are thinking like Egyptians. They fall for the lie that what they need is more than God. They feel the need to add another God. They were looking for something they could hold onto that would help them get through what they were going through.
They knew that no cow had led them out of slavery. They knew that the blood of a blameless lamb had caused God’s judgment to pass over them at Passover, an amazing foreshadowing of what Jesus would do on the cross for us. They knew that no calf had saved them. But they still had a whole lot of Egypt in them. So Aaron gives in. He adds a bit of something that they could hold onto that isn’t God. And then sadly, the guy who is supposed to lead them in spiritual truth adds
Tomorrow there will be a festival to the Lord. – Exodus 32: 5
So which is it? Of festival tuakau, or a festival to the Lord? In the ancient near East, the calf was as Pagan symbol of virility and strength. At calf Idol was commonly part of the throne for their gods. Those gods were associated with success, money and power which are still common idols today.
They wanted something they could hold onto. That is the fundamental definition of an idle: it is God plus something else. Idolatry is holding on to something else that implies God alone is not strong enough, God alone is not wise enough, God alone is not caring enough, God alone is not close enough. So we add something that we can hold onto. But before long, that’s something that you’re holding onto gets a hold on you. That is the nature of how idolatry functions.
American idols are all around us, but they are hard to spot. In America, we just about worship success, wealth, physical attractiveness, youth, and fame. And so our celebrities and so our idols are celebrities, the Uber rich, the young and beautiful, and the extremely successful. If it works, we think, it must be right. Not necessarily. If it draws a big crowd we assume, it must be best. Definitely not always the case.
The story of Jenny
It is always easier to spot the idols in someone else’s culture. It is very hard to see our own idols. I was in Singapore during grad school for a study of churches in several Asian nations when we met Jenny. Jenny owns a hair salon in one of the high rise apartment buildings in urban Singapore. She was part of the church we were based from, and God was moving in her heart. She came to recognize that there were idols in her life, and she asked us for help in getting rid of them.
So one night after the salon closed , she opens the gate back up and invited us in. She admitted that she was frightened about removing her idols. But she wanted to do it. She wanted to get back to fully trusting the Lord. We prayed with Jenny, and then she began going through the salon, removing a wide range of expressions of God plus something else she could hold onto. There was a God shelf near the cash register with a Buddha statue, where fresh fruit would be placed as an offering, and where incense would be burned. You have seen these in Asian restaurants and maybe never gave it a thought period to you, it’s just some kind of decoration. But to the one who installs a God shelf, it is an attempt to get business success by by manipulating the spiritual realm.
Hidden above the ceiling tiles were sacred strings. Throughout Asia we saw people buy and then burn what they call hell money, believing that when they burn it, that money goes to their dead parent grandparent and so on
Jenny eventually had a sizable pile on the concrete sidewalk outside her shop. What could burn, she set on fire the ceramic Buddha statue, she hesitantly took a hammer to and all while resident watched suspiciously from their balconies all around.
Jenny was scared before she removed her idols. She was happy and lighthearted after she removed them. Idols are real, not in being real gods, but in there real power over people. Even good things, when we hold onto them too tightly, can steal that trust we are meant to place in God alone.
Tim Keller, in his book counterfeit gods, offers three ways to identify idols:
- Where do your thoughts go to when there is nothing demanding your attention?
- How do you respond to unanswered prayers and unfulfilled hopes? If you go into deep despair or uncontrolled anger, you may have just found an Idol.
- What are your strongest emotions? In our most painful emotions, we find our idols embedded. What are the deeper motivations, needs, or desires that when unmet for you, elicit your strongest responses?
How about you? What are you going through, where you are tempted to find something else to hold onto?
A lot of people are going through a relational desert right now dash you’re feeling lonely.
Others are going through a financial desert, Indiana has lost nearly 70,000 jobs last year.
Others are going through a mental and emotional desert these days, and they are unable to see a counselor in person. Indiana’s family and social services administration say addiction hotline call rates have shut up 700% during the pandemic.
College students are going through a desert of unmet expectations, picking up pre-packaged meals in takeout containers and then eating them socially distanced from their peers. That’s not normal. For a college student, that’s a desert experience
How about you? What are you going through lately? And in that desert experience, what are you holding onto? How are you making it through what you’re going through? Brent and Kim bones are white church members who found themselves in a drawn-out desert experience awhile back. We have asked them to share their story, telling how they got through what they were going through. Give a listen.
Whatever it is you’re going through, God wants to give you what you need to make it through. His help will come from answering two questions period
Two big questions in the in-between times
- What do I need to let go of?
- What do I need to hold onto?
Are there any substitutes or add ONS that you have grabbed onto in order to ease the pain or frustration, that you need to let go of?
The universal sign of surrender is hands up, hands raised in the air. I’m going to ask you to do something that may feel odd, but it’s demonstrative. If there is something God is nudging you to let go of, go ahead and surrender it, raising your hands in the air before God.
You don’t have to do the motion, but if God is nudging you, it will help you to physically respond to the Holy Spirit. Before you can surrender, you have to let go of what is in your grip. Will you surrender right now? Will you let go of what you have been holding onto that God is calling you to release? Will you trust the Lord?
And then the second big question for these in-between times period what do you need to hold onto?
What do you need to let go of?
And what do you need to hold onto, to get through what you are going through?
Let me give you a suggestion. Those two hands you are holding up to surrender, letting go of what God is trusting you to let go of? Use those same two hands to hold on to two things.
- God’s presence
- God’s people
Hold on to God’s presence through any of the following.
Uplifting, godly music. Take advantage of the worship songs we post each week. Take time to chase down great Christian music during the week. God gave us music as an emotional outlet and a way to recharge, a powerful way to do so. Hold on to God’s presence through worship songs.
Hold on to God’s presence through getting outside for a walk in nature, even as little as a walk around the neighborhood. We are not meant to stay inside all the time.
Hold on to God’s presence by joining the through the Bible in a year private Facebook group, where we have a Bible reading plan that you can jump in on anytime, including today. If you start today, right away you will be reading about the kind of fruit The Holy Spirit wants to develop produce and grow in you. Greater love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control period join us! In that private group, you can hold on to God’s presence by interacting with what you are seeing in God’s word, by asking questions, and by encouraging others and their Bible reading. So with one hand, hold on to God’s presence.
And then with your other hand, hold on to God’s people. How can you do that during a pandemic? Here are several ways. Pick one and try it this week.
You can hold on to God’s people by texting someone to set up a phone time period catch up. Ask how they’re getting through what they are going through. Offered to pray for them. And reciprocate.
You can hold on to God’s people by joining or starting a small group. You can join the women’s group that meets by zoom every Monday evening. Valerie gelwicks does a great job keeping women connected with God’s word and connected with one another in that group adding their texts with one another throughout the week.
If you want to host a new group, let me know and I will make sure you have the coaching you need to lead with confidence and competence. I oversaw small groups at the church I came from, where we grew from 13 to 31 groups. So we can get you the coaching you need to thrive as a small group leader.
And finally, you can hold on to God’s people by inviting someone to assume lunch or dinner. 1 white church family called in two pizzas for delivery, one to their house and another to a friends. Then they hopped on zoom for half an hour to catch up! One of our college students and I did this recently. It was great to catch up and hear what they are learning. More than an hour away, they are just a click away.
Here’s the point. During this time when it is wise and consider it to be physically apart for each others good, it is critical that you take the initiative to hold on to God’s people , to pursue fellowship, to not let your heart and passion for God and God’s people grow cold.
We all need something to hold on to make sure you let go of what you need to, and hold on to God’s presence and God’s people because that is how we are going to get through what we are going through
Allow me to pray for you, would you? Maybe you want to raise your hands in that posture of surrender as we pray, showing the Lord the posture of your heart, and your trust in him.
Father, many of us are going through our own desert experience. It’s lonely. It’s painful period it hurts. It’s scary. It’s frustrating. And so we cry out to you. God, I ask that you give us the courage not to hold onto cheap substitutes or add ONS. Give us strength to get through what we’re going through, to learn from it, to grow from it, to trust that even in our darkest moments, you are here with us, walking with us. Please let each one know that you are here with us. Please show up so that we can hold on to you and to one another period Amen.
I’m so glad you joined us for white church online this week! And I’ll bet you know someone else who could use a good word on how to get through what they are going through. So do them a favor and share this service with them. Where glad to bring yChurch to your family and friends anytime, anywhere, wherever they are.