Picture of Pastor Carlson

Sermon delivered March 28, 2009 by Pastor Paul Carlson

McDonald Road Seventh-day Adventist Church

McDonald, Tennessee

Biblical quotations are from the English Standard Version, ESV, unless otherwise noted. Divine pronouns and titles are capitalized.

The Ultimate Life Insurance

Romans 8:37-39

(RealAudio available)

Security! Do you have security? Or peace of mind!  Do you have it?

Comedian Jack Benny had a skit which illustrated how we Americans place money ahead of everything. In the skit he’s walking down the street when suddenly he’s approached by an armed robber saying, “Your money or your life!” And there’s a long pause in which Jack does nothing. And then the robber impatiently queries, “Well?” To which Jack replies, “Don’t rush me, I'm thinking it over.” — sermon illustration e-newsletter (www.esermons.com).

Reader’s Digest also recently chimed in on this same theme with a parable to illustrate American greed. As a stockbroker gets out of his BMW, another car slams into the door, shearing it off, and when the police arrive, the stockbroker is extremely indignant. “See what that idiot did to my beautiful Bimmer?” he shouts. “Do you know what this car cost?” “Sir,” says the officer, “you’re so worried about your car that you haven’t even noticed that your left arm was ripped off.” The stockbroker takes a look at where his left arm was and screams, “Where’s my Rolex?!” —Readers Digest, April 2009.

Well those illustrations are both funny and sad about how we Americans tie money too closely with our sense of security and peace. However, a different kind of illustration illustrates the same thing.  Not so funny.  A more recent anecdote.

When Bernard Madoff, the now-convicted investment manager, recently came to the courtroom to plead guilty to cheating nearly 5 thousand investors out of billions of dollars, that federal courtroom was packed with angry people.  There was so much public fury over Madoff that he had to wear a bullet proof vest.  Why do people care so much about money that they might commit a crime of revenge?  Is money really where they’re getting a sense of security?  Of course, even if some have misplaced priorities, having peace of mind and a sense of security is on everyone’s mind.

Most of us know someone who has lost a job because of the unstable economy.  We hear or read the news of thousands of people losing their jobs each month.  And millions of dollars from people’s retirement savings are just gone, not just because of the recession, but because of scandal.  The number of home foreclosures shot through the roof, and many Americans are sick with no medical insurance.

And speaking of insurance, marketers of insurance would like to sell you security and peace of mind.  In 1981, Americans spent an estimated 1 hundred million dollars on life and health insurance alone, for peace of mind.  But in 2007, worksite sales of life and health insurance totaled 5 billion dollars.

Rumblings and earthquakes cause earthquake insurance to pick up in California. Floods cause people to purchase more flood insurance.  It seems that many Americans think that the mountains of money paid for premiums will give them the peace of mind, the sense of security, that they need.

Speaking of security in difficult times, a young man in a third-world country dreamed of being a hero for his oppressed people and providing them freedom from fear.  Well, doesn’t everyone dream of doing something significant like that, of making a difference in their world? Don’t you?

He was no exception. Because of family connections, he was enrolled in the best military schools and he received the best education. And he rapidly excelled, quickly developing a reputation for excellent military leadership. 

But as he got older, he was beginning to be anxious to do something significant for his people. He actually believed that God wanted him to be a hero, a rescuer of his oppressed countrymen from an anti-God government.  His nerves reflected his deep anxiousness, an unbending bravery. The adrenalin was pumping through his body as he anticipated his imminent task and mission.  “When would be the right time?  How and under what circumstance can I be the warrior that God wants me to be?”  The injustice and the oppression of his people were only fueling the growing fire of resentment inside him.

So in that state of mind, traveling one day, he sees a government guard beating up a fellow countryman.  Anger and frustration seemed to unleash all that pentup anxiety as he thinks, “I’ve got to do something! Now is the time.  Now!” The gleaming knife already in his hand seems to come alive, and so quietly, swiftly, he runs behind the oppressor and thrusts his knife in. And then, with the object of his hate limp and motionless, he quickly drags the body away and buries it.

Over the next few days, our “hero” was thrown into a world of unknowns.  Fleeing into the wilderness, it was the darkness of night that now haunted this once confident victor, now a guilty, frightened refugee. Where could he go? Whom could he trust?

Does that violent scenario sound like something that could occur in the terrorist-ridden Middle East today?  Could it be something from Afghanistan or Iraq? Or how about straight out of the Holy Bible?

Eventually this young man named Moses came to the home of his future father-in-law Jethro and became the keeper of his flocks. And it’s here that Moses watches the sheep, surrounded and sheltered by the mountains.  Dwarfed by the towers of rock and stone that seemed impregnable, he stands in awe of the majesty of the Most High God.  Seeming to be standing in the very presence of God Himself.  Overshadowed by God’s protective power.  His pride and self-confidence fall away and it’s here that Moses learns a major lesson.

I invite you to open your Bibles to Psalm 91, and verses 1 and 2.  In fact, we’ll be looking at the rest of Psalm 91 as well, so please keep your Bibles open.  I’ll be reading from the New King James version. Psalm 91, verses 1 and 2.  “He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High will abide under the shadow of the Almighty.  I will say of the LORD, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress; My God, in Him will I trust.’”

As I have reflected on the 16 verses of Psalm 91, I have come to the conclusion that they are more than just trite, pious words. No! They are the confessions of a man of God who had seen God’s work in his own life. And therefore, he wanted to reassure God’s people of the ultimate life assurance in God and from God.  Who is this author?  Well, we can’t be absolutely sure, but Jewish tradition says that it was quite possibly Moses who wrote the Psalm.

So this morning, as we remember the assurance of faith in God’s care, especially in these difficult, unstable, insecure times in which we live, let’s imagine that Moses was the author, and delve into Moses’ background to find the meaning of the Psalm from his own experience.

I’d like to imagine him sitting on a rock underneath the deep azure sky near Mount Pisgah. At this time in his life, near the end of his journey, his hair is white, his skin is wrinkled, and yet his eyes are clear and confident.  Those warm and wise eyes radiate hope and peace and strength.  And he has a lot to say to encourage his people so that they will not be discouraged by the attacks of the enemy.

So he shares the lessons of his own experience. He writes to keep his people trusting and doing God’s will, even in difficult, unstable times. And as a result, Israel and all of us would learn just how secure is the one who trusts in the Most High.

Well now let’s fast forward to the next major episode in Moses’ memories. That is 40 years after fleeing into the desert, Moses finds himself before Pharaoh again, this time with God’s request to let Israel go.  But this Pharaoh is a proud king, an indignant pontiff, and the more Moses asks the question, “Let my people go,” the command, the request, this Pharaoh gets stubborn, more and more as time goes by.

And so Moses persists with his request, like a broken record.  God says, “Let My people go.”  And one by one the plagues find Pharaoh more determined to say “NO.”  The hail and thunder devastate the cattle, the sheep, the oxen and the horses, all except for Israel’s cattle.

And more plagues come. And Moses keeps trusting his Commander-in-Chief.  Pharaoh keeps saying “No”.  Moses keeps saying, “God says, ‘Let My people go’”, and finally Pharaoh and his kingdom are warned that all the first-born sons of Egypt will die by the hands of the destroying angel.

The Israelites prepare for the night as directed, sacrificing a lamb and putting some of the blood on their doorposts.  And midnight chills the Israelites’ blood as one shriek after another shatters the night, while Pharaoh and his people clasp in horror the lifeless hands of their oldest sons.

And then out into the darkness, the great mass of the Israelites quickly march into the desert south of Goshen toward the Red Sea.  And as they travel, an eerie pillar of fire lights their way through the dark night.   During the next day and the days afterward, as they travel in the fierce heat of the desert, that same cloud guides them and mercifully shelters them from the angry sun.

And what are Moses and Israel learning?  As God protected them from the plagues and from the heat of the desert, they learn what it is like to not  fear the powers of nature, or the enemy.

Look at verses 3 through 6.  “Surely He shall deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the perilous pestilence.  He shall cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you shall take refuge; His truth shall be your shield and buckler.  You shall not be afraid of the terror of night, nor of the arrow that flies by day, nor of the pestilence that walks in darkness, nor of the destruction that lays waste at noonday.”

And then Episode 3 takes place very quickly.

Back in Pharaoh’s palace, you see a proud, angry and embarrassed king wants his slaves, his property back.  He wants revenge.  And so he assembles the best army and the best team of chariot drivers.

At the camp of the Israelites at the edge of the Red Sea and hemmed in by the mountains, trapped as it were.  Was that by God’s design?  I wonder if it was.  And there, trapped, the frightened people can see the clouds of dust kicked up by the horses and the spinning chariot wheels.  And they see the flashes of swords and spears reflecting in the sun.  Death is coming their way.  They know it.

The people begin to lash out at Moses for leading them to the slaughter.  Moses sees the limp hands hardening into fists.  He hears the angry voices rising in complaint.  “Moses led us out here to die.”  In reply, Moses responds with a booming voice: “Stand still, and see the salvation of God.”

Even as he speaks, mysteriously, the pillar of cloud that guided them rises up over them and passes behind them, just as night is coming on.  And it settles between them and the oncoming army, leaving the Egyptians confused and disoriented in the darkness.

The last rays of the sun gone, light from the cloud now shines only on the camp of the Israelites.  And Moses stretches out his rod and the lapping water of the Red Sea begins to pile up on either side, and the watery walls getting higher and higher, outlining a path that the light from the cloud illuminates as far as they can see.  Men and women with their children, their goats and their flocks and their sheep and all their possessions in hand; all Israel steps out and begins to follow this newly dried pathway through the Red Sea. 

It takes most of the night.

Just as they arrive on the other side, the sun begins to come up, and the Egyptians decide to charge through the same pathway in hot pursuit.  Just as they get about halfway through, lightning and thunder changes their minds and sends them back, reeling and frightened as dogs.

Before they can get back, Moses again stretches his rod out and then the piled up waters hiss and they roar downward, smashing their prey.  Afterwards, lifeless bodies are all that remain.

Yes, God miraculously protected Moses and Israel from their enemies. And what did they learn? Look at verses 7 and 8.  “A thousand may fall at your side, and ten thousand at your right hand; but it shall not come near you.  Only with your eyes shall you look, and see the reward of the wicked.”

Moses could even sum up his experience in verses 9 through 11.  Because you have made the LORD, who is my refuge, even the Most High, your dwelling place, no evil shall befall you, nor shall any plague come near your dwelling; for He shall give His angels charge over you, to keep you in all your ways.”

I believe, another way for us to say that today might be this.  If we make the Most High our refuge, no harm will ever prevent us from following God’s will.  Neither can any disaster brought by man separate us from our God.  Isn’t that the most important thing?

And I’d like to imagine God adding His voice in agreement to all of what the author of Psalm 91 is writing.  Verses 14 through 16.  Because he loves me, says the Lord, I will rescue him.  I will protect him for he acknowledges My name.  He will call upon Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him and honor him and show him My salvation.” Isn’t the most important thing that we know our God so well that we trust Him no matter what?  And I believe that’s important in this day and age in which we live.  The financial crisis, many people think it might lead right in to the time of trouble.  And we begin to think of the dangerous times that are right ahead of us and we worry ourselves to death.

It seems to me that Moses learned by experience what Paul wrote many years later in Romans 8.

I’d like to invite you to open your Bibles again to that passage which we read for our scripture reading.  Romans 8, verses 37 through 39.  Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Where or from whom do we get our peace and our sense of security? God is our peace! God is our security!

And it’s even more important in these last days to recognize that.  So today, I want to recommit myself to trust in the Lord for my own security and my own peace. He is the Rock, the ultimate life assurance.  Whatever trouble comes our way, whatever we have to go through, our God can deliver us so we never have to be afraid of doing His will.  God takes care of His own.

What do you think?  Will you join me in recommitting your life to trust in God?  Will you?  Raise your hands if that’s what you want to do.  Let’s remember, God is our security.

And let’s sing as our closing song, hymn number 5 hundred 29, “Under His Wings, I Am Safely Abiding”.

Our gracious God and our Saviour Jesus Christ.  We wish to recommit our lives to You in trust.  In trust and in faithfulness to You, for You are worthy of that trust.  May Your grace and Your love and Your truth shine upon us, we ask, and bless us through Jesus. Amen.

 Hymn of Praise: #608, Faith Is the Victory
Scripture: Romans 8:37-39
Hymn of Response: #529, Under His Wings

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McDonald Road Sermon transcribed by Steve Foster 4/20/09