BECOMING A DIFFERENCE MAKER
THE GREAT ESCAPE
PASTOR ED YOUNG
JUNE 13, 1993
This past weekend I at10ded the Youth Beach Retreat in Panama City, Florida, with about 100 high school and junior high students. We had a wonderful time! Wednesday afternoon I was walking on the deck of the pool during free time, a seventh grade boy in the pool goes, “Ed, why don’t you come in swimming, man?” I could tell by the look in his eye he had some ulterior motive. He wanted to play “Dunk the Pastor.” I thought to myself, “I’m 32 years of age. I weigh about 175 pounds. He maybe weighs 120. No problem!” So I jump in and I’m talking to this guy and suddenly I look around, I’m surrounded by 10 of the most muscular guys on our trip. All these guys bench-press over 200 pounds, and they wanted to get me. I tried to escape. I looked this way and that way. I was surrounded. They grabbed me and they took me kind of like this, “One, two,” and I said, “Oh no. Here comes three.” And as they threw me across the pool (they thought this was really funny), they grabbed my skinny little ankles and I [swishing, garbled sounds] and they kept doing it over and over again [laughter]. It looked like WWF Wrestling, the Macho Man just body-slamming someone.
Do you ever feel like you are surrounded in your life? You come across a situation relationally, vocationally, spiritually, ethically, morally, and you’re surrounded. You look to your right. You look to your left. You look straight ahead. You look behind you and everything is caving in. You’re going through a major league crisis. What do you do? Where do you turn? How do you get out of this predicament? This morning we’re going to meet a group of people who were surrounded. Their names—you might’ve heard of them—the children of Israel. We’re going to see how the children of Israel dealt with big-time pressure. They were surrounded like most of us will never be surrounded.
Take your Bibles and turn to the book of Exodus. Exodus 13. The second book of the Bible. Exodus 13, and let me briefly set the stage for our study today. God asked Moses, the ultimate difference maker, “Moses, I want you to go and ask Pharaoh to let my people go.” Moses, born into Hebrew slavery, reared in Egyptian royalty. Now he’s coming back as a leader of the slave nation. He has to walk into the Oval Office of Pharaoh and look across the beautiful desk at a man whose position he was supposed to fill if he’d stayed with the Egyptians. Moses had to say, kind of like the song goes that Al Benson sings about, “Pharaoh, Pharaoh, let my people go. Yah! Yah! Yah!” Pharaoh said, “No! I’m not going to let these people go. Are you kidding me, Moses?” Then God sent 10 plagues. I’m talking about 10 tough plagues. The plague of blood, the plague of frogs, the plague of gnats, the plague of flies, the plague of livestock, the plague of boils, the plague of hail, the plague of locusts, the plague of darkness, and the plague of the firstborn. Then Pharaoh does a quick time-out, “Moses, Moses, I will let your people go. They can go to this Promised Land you’re talking about. In fact, Moses, here are some gifts, here are some possessions. Take these with you.”
Sure enough, the Hebrews are gone. Four hundred and thirty years of slavery, they finally leave, and they start this exodus. You’re talking about excitement. You’re talking about adventure. I’m sure these people were fired up! Something interesting happens, though. You’d think that God would take them on a short, little jaunt to the Promised Land. It was only about 150 miles away! However, God had a different agenda. God took these 2.5 million people the long way. And I’ve discovered something. Of10times, God leads me, He leads you the long way because it’s the best way.
Exodus 13:17, “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.’” Doesn’t that sound like God? If we could see what God does in our lives day after day, how He protects us, how He keeps us away from situations we think are the best. He does it because He knows exactly what we can take, exactly what we can comprehend, exactly what we can withstand in our lives, and He knew His people like the back of His hand and He led them in kind of a weird way. In fact, here are the people, they’re leaving Egypt and they’re thinking, “Okay, it’s Promised Land City. I can’t wait.”
Then God turns them around. They do a 180, and then Verses 17 and 18 say He leads them near the Red Sea to a place called Baal Zephon. It’s a cul-de-sac. In other words, God has put His people, 2.5 million people, in a cul-de-sac. What do I mean by cul-de-sac? Facing them are mountains that they cannot cross. To the left they have deserts. If they take a trek into the desert, it’s lights out. To their right, the Red Sea. They are in a tight and difficult situation. They are in a major league jam, and I’m sure those people started to say, “Now, wait a minute,” especially those who had a great sense of direction. They pulled out their AAA road maps, “Moses, what are you doing, Moses? We’re going back towards Egypt. What’s the deal? Let’s get it together, Moses.” And Moses said, “I’m following the cloud. I’m following the Lord. You stay with me.”
When a dilemma comes my way, when a crisis hits me, I usually do something very spiritual, “HELP!” and that’s what the children of Israel did. They began to whine and moan and cry out to God. Then after they called for God’s help, they went to the second stage of a dilemma. They began to criticize and complain. I can picture a Hebrew housewife with her right hand on her hip going, “Let me tell you something, honey. I knew we shouldn’t have followed Moses, and it’s your fault,” and they started going back and forth and back and forth and back and forth.
We like to criticize people, especially in leadership. We’re all the same way. We would have done the exact same thing the children of Israel did. We would have gone, “Come on, Moses. What are you doing? You don’t know what you’re talking about!” A cul-de-sac. A cul-de-sac. Could you be in a cul-de-sac right now? Could you be in a crisis situation? Because everyone in this room, you’re in one of two different locations. You’re either out of a cul-de-sac or you’re in a cul-de-sac.
We have to understand two critical concepts about a cul-de-sac. First, cul-de-sacs are inescapable. Cul-de-sacs are inescapable. As we drive on this journey called life, we’re going to run into cul-de-sac after cul-de-sac after cul-de-sac. We can’t dodge the cul-de-sac. We can’t put the car in reverse and move out of the cul-de-sac. We’ve got to live in a cul-de-sac. I faced a major cul-de-sac with my wife, Lisa, and daughter, LeeBeth, sixteen months ago when the doctor told us our 19-month-old son had neurofibromatosis. You’re talking about being rocked. I said, “Now, God. Wait a minute. I’m your man. I’ve dedicated my life to the ministry and now you’re going to go and do this?” I said, “God, help me!” And I began to criticize. Then, though, God began to do a major work in my life and Lisa’s life. A cul-de-sac. You can’t escape it.
Here’s another critical concept about a cul-de-sac you’ve got to understand. In the cul-de-sacs, we are the most vulnerable. You’re the most vulnerable in a cul-de-sac. Satan will use that and he wants to use it to defeat us, while God, on the other hand, wants to take the cul-de-sac and deliver us. The option’s up to you. The option’s up to me. We either go God’s way or we go the evil one’s way. The Israelites were right here on the edge, right here on the brink. Which way would they go?
This past week, Stan Durham, our minister of music, and I were flying from Atlanta, Georgia, to DFW Airport and I sat down by a lady in her late thirties. Stan was on my left; she was on my right. The plan takes off and I do what I always do when I fly. I released the tray table, it plops down, I pull out my legal pad, and I began to write this week’s sermon. I have a weird way of writing things and studying; it’s called the mind map. I won’t get into this, but see all the colors? It looks like a weather map. It’s a weird-looking deal. And I had all my crayons out because I was an art major at Florida State University. This lady, she goes, “Excuse me, sir. May I ask what you’re doing? Is this some kind of coloring contest?” I said, “No. I’m preparing for a message.” She said, “About what?” I said, “This gentleman and I, we are pastors. We are ministers.” She goes, “No, you aren’t.” I said, “Yes, we are.” Then she said, “You don’t look like pastors.” Stan and I both said, “Thank you. Thank you very much.”
She began to ask me about the message and I had a chance to talk to this lady, Stan and I did, about the Lord. She said, “Tell me, what are you talking about Sunday?” I said, “We’re talking about cul-de-sacs. We’re talking about being in a pressure situation.” I talked briefly about the children of Israel and this and that. She began to kind of tear up and she said, “I’m in a cul-de-sac right now. This is wild. God must have had you guys sit here. Would you mind if I shared with you about this problem I’m dealing with?” I was really pressed because I had to preach four times this week, but I said, “Yes,” because I felt led to talk to this woman. She began to share with Stan and me how she was involved with a married man at work. She was a very successful businesswoman, and the gentleman she worked for, they were involved in a relationship. She said, “What do I do? I want my life to end. I’m depressed. Anxiety. My world is caving in. It’s falling apart. What do I do?”
We both said, “First of all, you’re committing cosmic treason before God. I don’t care what the situation is, sex outside of marriage is wrong. It’s wrong. You need to understand this point. Point number two, I would quit the work—I don’t care how much money you’re making, it’s not worth it—and seek employment elsewhere.” Then we talked about the grace of God, the forgiveness of God, and how Stan and I would pray for her. Cul-de-sacs are real. This caving-in stuff is happening all over the world and there are people right now dealing with drug addictions, maybe a relationship that’s not pure and holy, maybe a thought problem. You’re dealing with dishonesty. Financially, things are falling apart. Where do you turn? What do you do?
I want you to look at Verse 13 in Exodus 14 because Exodus 14:13 reveals to us four treasures that God wants us to find in a cul-de-sac. Four treasures that God wants you to find, that He wants me to find, in the cul-de-sacs of life. Remember the name of the place they were camped? Baal Zephon. That’s the place where the Hebrews were living for a couple of hours. You have the mountains, you have the Red Sea, you have the desert, and now the Egyptians are closing in. They are tired of being alone. They’re tired of their servants being gone. Their lawns aren’t being manicured. The trash isn’t being picked up. Downward mobility is tough for Pharaoh. And now everyone is pressing around the Israelites. Baal Zephon—Baal means “God,” Zephon means “hidden treasure.” In other words, God brings us to a cul-de-sac to show us His hidden treasures. You’re saying, “Ed, I feel the Egyptians right now in my life.” God wants to show you four hidden treasures.
What does the Word of God tell us in Verse 13? Take your pen or pencil out and circle four phrases. The first phrase to circle in Verse 13, “stand firm.” Moses answered the people, after they were complaining, “Do not be afraid; stand firm…” And here’s the first treasure: Stand firm; don’t squirm. You’re involved in a cul-de-sac and want to squirm. We want to try to do it ourselves and get away from it and God says, “Stand firm.” I call that crashing through quitting points. We must have endurance. We must have strength. And when you’re standing firm, there’s going to be fear involved.
If you’re not experiencing fear in your life in some way, shape, form, or fashion, then you’re not attempting a thing for God. Neither am I. Fear is out there, but God instructs us to stand firm, to dig in, to plant our cleats in saying, “Okay, God. I’m in the cul-de-sac. You show me your hidden treasures. Show them to me, God.”
About 10 years ago, I was snorkeling off the coast of Florida and I was cruising along looking for sand dollars on the bottom of the ocean floor and I see something reflecting off the ocean floor. It’s red. I dive down and it is a giant box. I’m thinking, “Treasure. Unbelievable! Twenty-two-year-old secures treasure.” I try to take the box up. I couldn’t do it. My brother dives down and we both drag the box under water several yards; it took us about 30 minutes. We finally get the box to the beach, open the box and we think “Treasure. Big time money. This is it.” A tool box! A bunch of tools.
Now, you know I’m not very mechanical. I was excited for Lisa because she got the tools. My wife is very mechanical. I’m not, and I still have those tools today in my garage and Lisa uses those tools when she helps me around the house and I help her. [Laughter] Every time I use the tools I think about the treasure. Here we are, we’re kind of floating along in this cul-de-sac. We’re in a crisis situation. “God, what do we do?” And if we’re sensitive, we’ll see God’s treasure. We’ll dive down, take God’s treasure from the bottom, open it up, and it will be tools to see us how to get out and through and escape this crisis. How about your life? Are you standing firm or are you squirming?
The second phrase to circle is “see.” See it right there? Stand firm and you will “see” the deliverance of the Lord. You’ll see it. See, don’t flee. Stand firm, don’t squirm. See, don’t flee. We look for a way out, don’t we, instead of a way through? When people start to press us, whenever things start caving in, “I want to get out of here!” We try to run, kind of like my dog, Dominic. He’s 11 years old. When he sees an opening in the gate, if I just turn my head to the right, he’s gone. He’s out of there. We run instead of saying, “God, you’ve put me here for a reason. You want to show me something. You want to preach to me. You want to communicate with me. You want to connect. God, I’m open. I want to see your deliverance.”
If we hang in there and stand firm, we will see God’s deliverance because He will take us through. But the biggest enemy that Christians face is right here, the watch. We want everything to work on our time, don’t we? “Okay, now. It’s been five minutes, God. Come on. Let’s go. Move ahead! I’m ready to get out of the cul-de-sac. Let’s start the engine up and move out. Come on. Come on! The Egyptians are pressing, God. Come on.” And God says, “In my timing; stand firm. Watch out.”
Then He gives us the third treasure. See the word “fight”? The Lord will fight. Circle that phrase. Allow the Lord to fight, don’t try to do it on your own might. The last part of the verse there. You don’t try to fight. Don’t try to fight. Let the Lord fight. If we try to do it in our own might, in our own strength, we’ll run into trouble. What if the Israelites (I’ve thought about this)—once the Egyptians started closing in on them—what if they saw their armor reflecting in the sun, what if they’d said, “Well, I’ll show them. I’m just going to take it in my own hands. I’m going to….” They would have been wiped out. Massacred. And I think about situations where I have blown it time and time again. Things happen. A crisis hits me and I’m going to get the last word in. “Yes, God. I hear you, but I’m going to do this because this is the right thing to do,” and you hammer someone and then “Oh, I shouldn’t have said that. If only I’d stood firm. If only I’d just stepped back and seen what God was doing. If I had allowed the Lord to fight the battles for me.” Sound familiar?
There’s a fourth piece of treasure. Circle this last phrase. “Be still.” Be still and don’t ruin the deal. Stand firm, don’t squirm. See, don’t flee. Let the Lord fight; don’t try to do it with your own might. Finally, be still and don’t ruin the deal. What does the Bible say in Psalm 46:10? “Be still and know that I am God.” Be still and know that I am God. In other words, if I am still before the Lord, and especially in a crisis situation, God will reveal Himself to me in a powerful, powerful way. In a powerful way. The Bible says in 1 Corinthians 10:12, a direct word to us, the Bible, says, “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.”
People tell me all the time, “I was in this situation. I just couldn’t help but fall. Everyone was doing this and I just kind of threw courage out the door and I began to squirm and I began to flee and Ed, even if you were there or some other pastor or leader or Christian, they would have fallen, too.” What does the Bible say? That God will not let you, He will not let me, be tempted beyond what we can bear. Does that mean we can go out and frequent areas where we will fall into sin? Does that mean that the men here can go to the topless bars and see if they’ll stumble there? It doesn’t mean that. We don’t get involved in areas that will cause us to compromise what we believe in our holiness before God. But even in areas where we’re trying to live holy and pure and righteous lifestyles, Satan will come in and try to hammer us day after day after day after day.
Most of us are looking for a way out because we don’t like the “E” word, endurance. We hate endurance, especially our society today. Endurance. “Wait a minute? You mean I have to stick with something for a while even if I don’t like to crash through a quitting point?” We like to cruise well before we get to a quitting point. If we kind of have a quitting point coming up, “Well, I’ll see you later. I’m going somewhere else. I’m going to dispose of this relationship or move here or move there.” We would rather indulge in the sin and say, “Well, I’m just too weak.”
What happened to our people, the children of Israel? Here’s what happened to them. The pressure began to squeeze them and Moses took the rod of God, stretched it out before the Red Sea. The Red Sea parted and Moses and the children of Israel walked on the ocean floor, walls of water to their right and to their left. When they got on the other side, they looked and here comes Pharaoh and he’s flying with the whip, “I’m going to get you, Moses!” They’re closing in and then Moses takes the rod of God, puts it over the Red Sea. Chariots can’t swim. And God delivers the children of Israel.
You see, God wants to do that in your life, folks, if you’ll let Him, if you’ll operate on His timetable, and not go before Him. If you won’t say, “God, you go ahead and bless me, but let me act first.” Treasures, hidden treasures in times of crisis will be there for you. Won’t you dive down, take the box ashore, open it up, and begin to use the tools? Because God will give you a way, He’ll give me a way of escape.