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"Steppin' Time: Taking Initiative"

July 28/13 Ps.106:16-31 (Is.59:15-20, various)


A woman walking across a parking lot saw a car without a driver slowly rolling toward her. She sprinted toward it, opened the door and pulled the emergency brake, bringing the car to a jarring halt. As she got out, she saw a man approaching her. "Well, I stopped that car!" she announced with pride. The man said, "Yeah, I know.I was pushing it."

It can be a good thing to take initiative - sometimes. The woman intervened after jumping to a conclusion without grasping the details of the situation. So nowadays people often err on the side of caution, we're reluctant to get involved or take action. Bystanders have even stood by and watched crimes and beatings occur because they don't want to get involved or incur liability. But as John Stuart Mill observed, "Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing." When SHOULD we get involved? Our slothful, lazy nature would hold us back, but there are situations that warrant intervention.

If you've watched the old Disney film Mary Poppins, the words "Step In Time" may bring back the memory of Dick Van Dyke (or "Bert") and fellow chimney sweeps performing invigorating choreography on the rooftops of London. Part of the effect was that they were all performing the dance steps in unison, altogether. But to "step in" to a situation for God's sake may require going AGAINST the crowd. In today's Scripture passages we find individuals stirred by the Holy Spirit to step into the gap and do what was necessary to confront evil.


Psalm 106 and Isaiah 59 recall various ways the Israelites set themselves up as targets of God's wrath. If we look around today, we can see similar factors in our culture and even in ourselves.

1) Ps 109:16 "In the camp they grew ENVIOUS of Moses and of Aaron, who was consecrated to the Lord." Numbers 16 tells of the rebellion of the Levites Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, along with 250 other prominent Israelite men who resented the leadership of Moses and Aaron. 16:1 says they became "insolent"; it's easy to become disrespectful of authority and chafe under somebody else's leadership, supposing you could do the job better. But God showed He had indeed appointed Aaron as priest and Moses as spiritual leader by causing the earth to open up and swallow some whole, and fire (perhaps lightning) to blaze forth and incinerate others.

2) Ps 106:19 "At Horeb they made a calf and worshiped an idol cast from metal." But God had commanded that they have "no other gods" before Him, and that they not make idols to bow down and worship (Ex 20:3f). Yahweh had delivered them from slavery in Egypt and so demonstrated His power and right to be worshipped exclusively. Today it's easy to look around and see plenty of idols people worship - cars, trucks, tractors and combines (if you're a farmer), the latest household appliances and electronics; even going deep into debt to buy a new home before you can afford it. Payments on such items can start to take over your life, make you work two jobs, cause financial pressure and fighting in a marriage.

3) V20 "They exchanged their Glory for an image of a bull, which eats grass." They traded in the beauty and transcendence of a holy invisible God for a pile of metal in bovine form. Do you discount God too quickly? Do you appreciate Him in the full splendour of His radiance, lovingkindness, goodness, and faithfulness? Would you give Him up in order to have sex, success, satisfaction through food, endless cruises? The apostle Paul seems to echo the Psalmist's language when he writes in Romans 1(21ff), "For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him...Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another.They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator..." Are you exchanging, short-changing God, passing Him up for something more immediately pleasurable? Paul's presentation heads into a discussion of aberrant sexuality. When God's gone, people's desires turn to what will give peak bursts of pleasure - no matter how shameful or degrading the activity.

4) Ps 106:21"They forgot the God who saved them, who had done great things in Egypt..." As religious observance declines in our country, it shows people are forgetting God. Even as Christians it's a temptation to skip church in favour of the beach once in a while because the latter is more "fun". But when God has blessed us with 7 days in a week, is it too much to acknowledge Him with just one? Even a couple of hours of one, at that! Woe to those for whom Christ died but who turn their backs on their Saviour. The author of Hebrews (10:29) writes, "How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?" Don't forget the God who saved you.

5) V24 "Then they despised the pleasant land..." After the 12 spies brought back their report, including a huge cluster of grapes demonstrating Canaan's fertility, the people refused to take possession of it because they were afraid of the inhabitants. Numbers 14:11 God asks Moses, "How long will these people treat Me with CONTEMPT?" Those are strong words - "despise", "contempt". You can get kicked out or fined for being "in contempt of" an earthly human court - how much more if you despise God's gifts or treat Him with contempt?

6) V24B "...they did not believe His [God's] promise." To not believe is a major problem; God made us spiritual beings with a capacity to trust Him, but sometimes people won't trust or believe in Him, but put confidence in themselves or man's devices. Hebrews 11:6 reminds us, "And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him." John (1:12) tells us it's to those who believe in His name, who receive Him, that God gives the right to become children of God.

7) V25 "They grumbled in their tents..." How easy it is to become discontent and grumble! Numbers 14(2) the Israelites' response to the spies' report: "If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this desert!" They start to talk about stoning Moses and Aaron. Then in Numbers 16 we find the grumbling about their leadership, and Korah's rebellion. In the New Testament James warns, "Don't grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged.The Judge is standing at the door!"

8) V25B they "did not obey the Lord." Obedience means the wheels are moving, connected by the transmission to the motor of faith: without obedience, your faith isn't effective, it's not going anywhere. Obedience is the proof faith is really alive. Obedience is so basic it can become THE major battle-ground in parenting with even a two-year-old. In the church we put a lot of emphasis on faith and believing, but the New Testament highlights the importance of obeying if faith is genuine (Jas 2:14ff). In Romans 1:5 Paul says he understands his mission is "to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes through faith." And Peter maintains that Christians have been chosen "for OBEDIENCE to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by His blood." Have you been obedient this past week? Is there a gap between your life and lip?

9) V28 "They yoked themselves to the Baal of Peor..." This was a god associated with sexual immorality and fertility rites. Number 25(1-3) "...the men began to indulge in sexual immorality with Moabite women, who invited them to the sacrifices to their gods.The people ate and bowed down before these gods.So Israel joined in worshiping the Baal of Peor.And the LORD's anger burned against them." In our media and our culture, sex is a strong draw to get people off track, worshipping the wrong things - pleasure, pornography, having one's body convey just the right image. The local news reported this week that chlamydia is the leading reportable disease in Huron County, ahead of campylobacter (which is associated with diarrhea) and influenza. Chlamydia is a sexually-transmitted bacterial infection that can cause serious, permanent damage to a woman's reproductive organs, including a result of infertility. It can be spread from an infected woman to her baby during childbirth. It's estimated that 1 in 15 sexually active females aged 14-19 has chlamydia, and many carriers don't realize they have it (wanna play 'romantic roulette'?).

10) V29 "They provoked the Lord to anger by their wicked deeds..." The root verb here means "to be angry, be vexed, be indignant, be wroth, be grieved..." Are we even conscious our sins have that effect upon God? When we see them in our entertainment, do we laugh at that which provokes God? The Lord who is holy does not ignore or dismiss sin, He takes it seriously.

11) Isaiah 59 lists three additional things we do that raise God's ire. 59:15 "Truth is nowhere to be found..." Some content that, if you have enough money, you can find a qualified expert somewhere that will say what you want them to say. Yes you DO have to check out what you read on the internet - false or misleading information is out there. But that doesn't mean it's excusable to just wave our hand and say, "It's all relative." There is still such a thing as objective truth. Satan is the father of lies, so we have to check things out, both by hard evidence (for starters - is it just fiction or hearsay?) and by our Scriptural yardstick, the Bible. Jesus promised if we abide in His word, we would know the truth, and that would set us free (Jn 8:32).

12) The middle part of Is 59:15 states "whoever shuns evil becomes a prey." In society, or the classroom, if you resist going along with the crowd that's tempted and stand up for what's right, for God's standards, are you praised - or preyed upon? Do you become criticized, ostracized, demonized? Recently our daughter was forced to withdraw a blog that put forth a view based on godly principles, because the comments were so caustic. Shun evil, but get ready to take some flack.

13) V15 concludes, "The Lord looked and was displeased that there was no justice." In high-profile cases, sometimes lawyers can help get guilty clients (if they're caught and convicted) off the hook or with reduced sentences due to plea bargains; in small cases, sometimes a victim has to endure injustice because they don't have the means to hire a lawyer, don't qualify for legal aid, etc. The province of Quebec has had cases of corruption at the level of provincial and municipal politics - kickbacks for construction projects, and so forth. God is a just God and cares for the needy and oppressed (Deut 32:4; Ps 35:10).

So, just in review, although I've pulled these characteristics of culture out of Psalm 106 and Isaiah 59, do they reflect to some degree our culture today? Envious; worshipping idols; exchanging God's glory for something less; forgetting God; despising what God's provided; not believing God's promise; grumbling; disobeying; joining with gods of sexual immorality; provoking God by wicked deeds; hiding truth; preying on those who shun evil; and preventing justice. Our fallen nature tends in that direction - a collision course with divine wrath.


Scripture honours heroes of the faith who didn't sit back and let evil run its course. God's people bravely dare to step up to the plate, to step in and intervene when evil threatens.

Psalm 106:23 mentions one such hero: "So God said he would destroy them-- had not Moses, his chosen one, stood in the breach before him to keep his wrath from destroying them." NLT: "But Moses, his chosen one, stepped between the Lord and the people.He begged him to turn from his anger and not destroy them." He stepped in - into a very dangerous, highly-charged confrontation. How did Moses plead for the people? Did he win over God's support based on their goodness? Nothing of the sort! In Exodus 32:11-14 you can see how Moses "stepped in" - he prayed basing his petition on God's own qualities, promises, and honour. Egyptians might accuse God of bringing His people out with evil intent; Moses reminds god of His promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to multiply their descendants.

V30 recalls that when a plague broke out because of the Israelites committing sexual immorality worshipping the Baal of Peor, "Phinehas stood up and intervened, and the plague was checked." NLT: "But Phinehas had the courage to intervene, and the plague was stopped." Phinehas action was actually quite dramatic - grabbing a spear, he followed the man who'd sinned so blatantly by defiantly taking a Midianite woman into his tent in front of the whole assembly; Phinehas impaled them both at once! The Lord commends Phinehas "because he was zealous for the honour of his God and made atonement for the Israelites." (Num 25:13) If and when WE intervene, it's important to be doing it for the right reasons - not out of our own anger or sense of self-righteousness or to draw attention to ourselves, but to honour God.

Isaiah 59 describes the Lord Himself as intervening when culture has degenerated. Vv16-17 "He saw that there was no one, he was appalled that there was no one to intervene; so his own arm worked salvation for him, and his own righteousness sustained him. He put on righteousness as his breastplate, and the helmet of salvation on his head; he put on the garments of vengeance and wrapped himself in zeal as in a cloak." V20 "The Redeemer will come to Zion..." And we understand Jesus was doing that - God Himself the Almighty Creator stepping into history to do for humans what we couldn't do for ourselves - provide the necessary atonement for our sins.

In Matthew 14(14), when Jesus lands, He steps ashore, has compassion on the crowd, and heals them. In Mark's version in 6:34, Jesus lands, has compassion, and begins teaching many things. He "stepped into" the needy crowd and started helping, saving, making whole the broken, bringing God's truth to our understanding. Then at the arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane in John 18(4), we read: "Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to him, went out [stepped forth] and asked them, "Who is it you want?"" Bravely, voluntarily, as a substitution presenting Himself to those who would crucify Him.

Fast forward a bit to the book of Revelation, a scene near the end of time. John the writer is weeping and weeping because no one can be found who is worthy to open the scroll in the hand of the Almighty - a scroll symbolizing the final execution of God's perfect justice. Is all life just random and meaningless? Will the bad guys win in the end, or will there be justice, a point to existence?

John records in Rev 5:6-7, "Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders...He came [He 'stepped forth', if you will] and took the scroll from the right hand of him who sat on the throne."

You can also point to several women who 'stepped in' to intervene at crucial moments in the history of God's people. Rahab risked her neck by hiding the spies who were in a tight spot at Jericho (Josh 2:4ff). Jael used subterfuge and a tent-peg to put an end to an oppressive and powerful enemy general (Judges 4:18-21). Abigail delivered all the men of her household from extermination, intervening before David with appeasing gifts when her husband Nabal had acted foolishly and denied David's men the wages they deserved (1Sam 25:18-31). Queen Esther boldly stepped into the king's courtroom to intercede for her people who were under official orders to be exterminated, risking her life because unless he held out his sceptre to her, her own life would be forfeit (Esther 4:11, 5:1f). What a "gutsy" move! Mary in brave faith received the angel's commission to become our Saviour's mother, whereas the father of John the Baptist (by contrast) had faltered at believing the news of his own son's miraculous birth (Luke 2:20, 38). And when Paul preached his first sermon in the continent of Europe, it was a woman named Lydia who responded to his message and even opened her home to host the missionaries and become the meeting place of the new church (Ac 16:14f). So there are many women as well as men who "stepped in" at the right time; they showed bold initiative in co-operating with God's wise plans to deliver His people.


Can you see the parallels between society back when Moses and Phinehas stepped in, and our society today? Will you be bold like Esther and Lydia and so many others in Scripture who responded to God's bidding to intervene for the sake of righteousness, and on behalf of the needy? What's holding you back from "stepping in" in concert with Christ's Kingdom?

The apostle Peter reminds us, "To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps." (1Pe 2:21) He stepped forth from His heavenly glory to become God incarnate, stepping out of the boat to heal and teach, to meet those who would betray and arrest and torture Him - to save YOU and me from our sins! He suffered for us that we might follow "in His steps".

A few years back, Jim McNulty was a detective constable in Scotland. He went online one day to report that a London officer had been killed in the line of duty and two others injured. On reading this, comrades from other countries wondered why bulletproof vests hadn't worked. McNulty explained that the government doesn't provide vests for police officers in Great Britain. Las Vegas Police Lt.Dennis Cobb immediately responded via email offering his spare vest. Within days McNulty was deluged with messages from police all over the United States and Canada offering their vests, which were due for replacement but still effective. A few weeks later, an initial shipment of 30 vests was transported free of charge to London's Heathrow. Since news of the program broke, thousands more vests have been sent to Britain. McNulty said, "All the officers here are absolutely astounded at the lengths their fellow officers in the United States have gone to for them." (Michele D. Kinnamon: CompuServe Magazine)

That Las Vegas officer (and then many other officers) showed initiative by offering their own vests for the British police. Jesus stepped forward and went to great lengths to "get us covered" with something that would keep us safer eternally than even a bulletproof vest - His sinless blood. Let's share such fabulous rich grace with others! Let's pray.