23 Mar 2015
There's a story of a Scottish discus thrower from the nineteenth century. In the days before personal trainers, he developed his skills by himself in the Scottish highlands near his village. He made his own iron discus from a description he read in a book. What he did not know was that the discus used in competition was made of wood with an outer rim of iron. The discus he made was solid metal and weighed three or four times as much as the ones used by his would-be competitors. This committed Scotsman marked out in his field the distance of the current record throw for all of Britain and trained day and night to be able to match it. For nearly a year, he labored under the self imposed burden of the extra weight. He became very, very good. He reached the point where he could throw his iron discus the record distance, maybe farther. He was ready. He traveled south to England for his first competition. When he arrived at the games, they handed him the regulation wooden discus, which he promptly threw like a tea saucer, like we'd throw a Frisbee. He set a new record,
a distance so far beyond those of his challengers that no one could touch him. He thus remained the uncontested champion for year after year after year. From that moment on his life had a defining image: "Train under a great burden and you will be so far beyond the rest of the world you will be untouchable."
Each one of us has a story that tells us who we are. Every life is defined by a narrative. There was a time when our culture had such a defining story. The hours of the day were marked by the ringing of church bells. We lived Anno Domini - in
the year of our Lord. Our role models were the lives of the saints. When we left we said, "God be with you," which we have today compressed into our word, "Goodbye."
But today's role models are movie stars and sports celebrities. Our greeting is "Have a nice day." Oh, once in a while a story will come along, like the terrible tragedy or a terrorist threat, and pull us all together for a moment or two. Or we find a kind of "togetherness in cheering for a sports team.
I don't know about you, but I yearn to hitch my itty bitty life to some grand story that makes every moment throb with meaning and purpose and excitement and adventure. I've found that story for me in the pages of this book - the Bible. This book tells me the hunger in my heart corresponds with the reality of the universe. That's why I like the name of our radio programme - Word Alive.
There's a God who wants to enlist you and me to join him in loving, redeeming, and restoring the world. And this God comes to you the same way he came to an aimless wanderer named Moses centuries ago.
To meet this God is to discover why you're alive and on this planet. So how
big an adventure are you up for today? Are you ready to stop watching other people's reality shows and star in one of your own as one of God's everyday heroes?
Let's step into God's story today as we continue a series of messages on the foundational event of the Bible, God leading the children of Israel out of Egypt.
Thank you for joining us for today's Word Alive with Dr. Derek Stringer and I'm Jane Moxon - I'll be commenting from time to time.
Derek has been teaching from the life of Moses and explaining how we can encounter God today and get His direction for our lives making it significant and of value.
Here's Derek -
And thanks for your help Jane.
Have you ever been reluctant to take a call? I think we've all have been there, especially now that many of us have caller ID on our phones. Have you ever gotten a call, looked at the ID and then were reluctant to take the call? I am so thankful for the ex-directory in England because I think every salesman in the country knew when I sat down for a meal. They would decide - "that's the time we're going to call Derek Stringer."
Incidentally, someone has come up with a list of twenty responses to use with these telemarketers. I like several of them, but one is my absolute favourite and one of these days I'm going to get up the courage to do it.
It suggests: Tell the telemarketer you are busy at the moment and ask him if he will give you his home phone number so you can call him back. When the telemarketer explains that they cannot give out their home number, say, "I guess you don't want anyone bothering you at home, right?" When he says, "Yes", then you say, "Me neither!"
Let's face it -- we've all had calls at times that we just didn't want to take, and we were reluctant to answer. I want us to consider the fact that sometimes we're reluctant to answer the call even when we know that it's God who's doing the calling.
I want to talk a little bit about what it means to be called by God.
As we study God's call of Moses at the burning bush, we understand that God doesn't call us the same way that he called Moses, but he does call us.
In fact, you may recall that the Greek word for church is "ekklesia". It literally means, "the called out." We are the called out people of God. Peter said, "You areÃ¢â‚¬Â¦.his own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light."
I know that this broadcast will reach people who make no claim to be Christians. And I want you to understand that God is calling you this very day, calling you to make the decision to become a child of God.
Many who listen to this broadcast are Christians whom God is calling to greater heights of service. There are things that God wants you to do for him. There are people that God wants you to talk to. God is calling you to proclaim the praises of Him who brought you out of darkness and into the marvellous light.
As we look at the call of Moses, I want you to consider how God is calling you.
We're going to look at the first part of Exodus 4.
When I say "Moses," what comes to mind?
The old Hollywood Movie with the piercing blue of eyes of 'Moses' Charlton Heston standing before the throne of 'Pharaoh' Yul Brenner? When we glamorize Moses we create distance between ourselves and him. The more distance you put between yourself and any Bible character, the less help the character provides us in our life before God. The real Moses?
He was probably a lot more like Charlie Brown. In one of my favourite Peanuts cartoons Lucy says, "Life, Charlie Brown, is like a deck chair." "Like a what?" he says. "Haven't you ever been on a cruise ship, Charlie Brown? Passengers
open up these canvas deck chairs so they can sit in the sun. Some people place their chairs facing the rear of the ship so they can see where they've been. Other people face their chairs forward. They want to see where they're going. On the cruise ship of life, Charlie Brown, which way is your deck chair facing?" Charlie thinks a minute
and says: "Gee, I've never been able to get one unfolded."
Ever feel like that? Like people all around you are going somewhere in life and you can't even unfold the deck chair?
Yet as the curtain rises on the man who will become the most important person in the Bible, second only to Jesus, Moses is a foot-dragging loser. Moses had it made
in Egypt, then killed a man and fled for his life. Ever since, he'd been going nowhere. What do you say to someone 80 years old who doesn't know what he wants to be when he grows up? (Someone has said the reason adults are always asking children
"what are you going to be when you grow up?" is because we don't know ourselves and we're looking for suggestions.)
Moses was tending his father-in-law's sheep - not even his own - in the desert of Midian. He squinted out across the parched landscape in search of shrubs for the hungry animals and noticed a bush on fire that did not burn up. As he came closer to investigate, suddenly a voice spoke to Moses out of the fire. Moses' mouth fell open at a bush ablaze with God: "I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians."
You'll recall from our past couple of lessons that Moses is at the burning bush.
God has revealed to Moses his sacred name - I AM, Yahweh - and God has announced that he has chosen Moses to go to tell Pharaoh to let His people, the Hebrews, go.
Then Moses answered and said, "But suppose they will not believe me or listen to my voice; suppose they say, 'The LORD has not appeared to you.'" So the LORD said to him, "What is that in your hand?" And he said, "A rod." And He said, "Cast it on the ground." So he cast it on the ground, and it became a serpent; and Moses fled from it.
Then the LORD said to Moses, "Reach out your hand and take it by the tail" (and he reached out his hand and caught it, and it became a rod in his hand), that they may believe that the LORD God of their fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has appeared to you."
Furthermore the LORD said to him, "Now put your hand in your bosom." And he put his hand in his bosom, and when he took it out, behold, his hand was leprous, like snow. And He said, "Put your hand in your bosom again." So he put his hand in his bosom again, and drew it out of his bosom, and behold, it was restored like his other flesh.
Then it will be, if they do not believe you, nor heed the message of the first sign, that they may believe the message of the latter sign. And it shall be, if they do not believe even these two signs, or listen to your voice, that you shall take water from the river and pour it on the dry land. And the water which you take from the river will become blood on the dry land."
Then Moses said to the LORD, "O my Lord, I am not eloquent, neither before nor since You have spoken to Your servant; but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue." So the LORD said to him, "Who has made man's mouth? Or who makes the mute, the deaf, the seeing, or the blind? Have not I, the LORD? Now therefore, go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall say."
But he said, "O my Lord, please send by the hand of whomever else You may send." So the anger of the LORD was kindled against Moses, and He said: "Is not Aaron the Levite your brother? I know that he can speak well. And look, he is also coming out to meet you. When he sees you, he will be glad in his heart. Now you shall speak to him and put the words in his mouth. And I will be with your mouth and with his mouth, and I will teach you what you shall do. So he shall be your spokesman to the people. And he himself shall be as a mouth for you, and you shall be to him as God. And you shall take this rod in your hand, with which you shall do the signs."
God comes to Moses with a job to do. I want you to understand that when God has a job he wants you to do, he doesn't ask you; he tells you. He doesn't extend an invitation; he gives a commission. God said to Abraham, "You go to this place I will show you." He said to Elijah, "Go, present yourself to Ahab." Jesus said to his disciples, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature."
But now the call of God comes to Moses and Moses doesn't want to answer the phone. And I can understand a little bit of what Moses is thinking. Have you ever been asked to go back to the place of your absolute greatest failure? I would imagine that everybody can think of a place or think of a person that frankly you wouldn't mind if you never saw that place or that person again. Because it brings back a memory of a time when you blew it on a scale you don't even like to think about.
And when we don't want to do something, we tend to make excuses, and that's exactly what Moses does here. Let's look at some of his excuses and as we do so, we're going to notice that we're still making the same excuses today.
The first excuse Moses made was, "I don't have any credibility."
He said in verse one, "What if they don't believe me and they say, 'The Lord did not appear to you"?"
Now Moses' question may seem to be valid, but it's actually a denial of God's clear promise - because if you look back in chapter 3, verse 18, God said, "The elders of Israel will listen to you" and Moses says, in essence, "Yes, but what if they don't?" Now that shows you what failure can do to a man's thinking. If we have tried and we have failed, it has a way of inhibiting us, it has a way of paralyzing us for years to come. In Moses' mind, he was certain that he was damaged goods. There was no way that he could ever go back to the Hebrews and effectively exercise any authority in their eyes. He says, "Lord, you've got the wrong guy. I've got no credibility with those people."
Now God graciously recognizes what Moses is worried about and the difficulty he's facing. So what God says is, "All right, Moses, here's what we're going to do. I'm going to give you some authenticating miracles so that you can be convinced that you do have my credibility and you can be a man they can listen to."
The first thing God says is, "Take that staff and throw it down." So he did. It became a snake and the Bible says that Moses ran away from it. Now there's finally one thing that Moses and I have in common. If we see snakes, we both run away from them. I do not understand people who want snakes for pets.
Snake experts will tell you that most snakes are not poisonous, and you can tell the 'pit vipers' - they're the poisonous ones - they have these little pits behind their snouts. I remember hearing that for the first time and thinking, "You idiot! I don't ever intend to be close enough to the face of a snake to see if he's got pits!" You don't take any chances. You see a snake, you run.
Now God knows exactly what he's doing with Moses. He's got to deal with Moses' fear. So that thing becomes a snake. And then what did he say next? "Pick it up by the tail." You don't do that to snakes! But God said, "Pick it up by the tail." And Moses obeyed. And it turned into a staff.
Then God said, "Put your hand in your cloak."
And Moses did, and when it came out it was covered with leprosy. You need to remember you couldn't cure leprosy in those days. Leprosy was fatal. You don't think Moses was afraid? What's God doing? He's teaching Moses, "Listen, the things that you think are deadly are nothing in my hands. Like Pharaoh. The things that frighten you don't need to frighten you. You don't need to be afraid."
And God says, "Moses, you don't need to promote your authority. You just need to report and represent my authority." God has all the credibility he needs to deliver people from their bondage. You and I don't need to worry about credibility. Sometimes I make the mistake of thinking, "There's nothing I can say that will change this person's life. Who am I that he should listen to me?"
Folks, the authority's not ours. It's God's. We're just his ambassadors. We need to go and tell people what God said they need to hear, and God's got enough credibility to take care of both of us.
Paul said to the Thessalonians, "For this reason we also thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God."
And so, the second excuse. He said to God, "I don't have the ability."
Verse 10, "O my Lord, I am not eloquent, neither before nor since You have spoken to Your servant; but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue."
It's strange that Moses should say that, because Stephen said in his sermon in Acts 7 that Moses was powerful in speech.
So either Moses didn't want to admit his ability, or Moses had forgotten about his ability, or maybe after 40 years in the desert, he felt like he lost that ability. But at any rate, Moses is absolutely persuaded, "God, you've got the wrong man. I don't have the gifts. I don't have the ability."
And it sounds as if Moses is being very humble. "Lord, I'm just not good enough."
He said the same thing back in chapter 3 when God said to Moses, "I'm going to send you to Pharaoh," and Moses responded in verse 11, "Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?"
Now that sounds very humble, doesn't it? I hear Christians say the same thing all the time, "I'd love to teach a church class, but I'm just don't have the ability." I'd love to do this or do that, but I just don't feel qualified." And that sounds so very humble.
After all, doesn't the Bible say we shouldn't think of ourselves more highly than we ought to think? I want you to learn something. Be careful not to confuse the virtue of humility with a spirit of inadequacy that causes us not to do God's will.
Now we're supposed to deny self. So if you're talking about a humility that denies self, that's good. But if you're talking about a humility that denies God's ability to use you, that's not real humility. But that's what we often do. We often refuse the call of God under the guise of humility, when that's not what it is at all.
When Moses says, "I don't have the ability", this is not Moses being humble. This is Moses displaying a lack of faith. And again, God's patience with his servant is amazing to me.
So God says to Moses in verse 12, "You go, and I will help you speak and I'll teach you what to say."
Well - I want to make three quick points here about our feelings of inadequacy.
When Moses said to God, "I'm not eloquent, I'm not a very gifted speaker", do you think God went, "Oh, I forgot. Somebody pull up the file on Moses." If you say, "God, you shouldn't choose me because I've got a lot of weaknesses", well then who in the world is he going to choose? Who doesn't?
Paul wrote, "We have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us."
Let's admit it, we're all clay pots. Let's just admit our inability, don't hide it, but let's not be paralyzed by it. God knows our weakness when he calls us.
You can search the scriptures all you want, but you're not going to find one time in the Bible where God gives a call and then he says, "Now you're on your own."
When he said to Abraham, "Go to the land" he said what? He said, "that I will show you."
When Jesus said, "Go into all the world" he said what? He said, "I will be with you always."
This whole matter of saving the Israelites doesn't depend on Moses' eloquence or his lack of it. It depends on the presence and the power of God. God says, "Moses, you may not have all the answers, but you've got me, and that's all you need."
God does not ask the impossible, it just seems that way if you try to do it without God. But - and this is very important -- God usually chooses to supply the ability only after you've stepped out on faith to answer the call. You say, "God, I can't do that because I don't have the ability." God says, "Well, I'll give you the ability." And we want to say, "God, you give me the ability, and then I'll go do it." God says, "No, that's not how it works. You go do it, and I'll give you the ability."
Let me give you an example of what I mean by that. I wonder how many times I've stood outside a hospital room knowing that someone inside was suffering, needing a word of comfort. And if I waited outside that room until I felt adequate, I would never go in. But I pray, "God help me to say what needs to be said" and you step in by faith and you find that when you act by faith, God will not let you down. But if you wait outside the door and say, "I'm not going in until I have something profound to say" you'll never go in. And so, what God often does is to say, "I know you don't have the ability, I know you're just a clay pot, but if you'll obey me, if you'll step out in faith, then I will not let you down."
I believe the key to self-confidence is to have the right view of God-confidence. Paul said, "I can do all things." now that's self-confidence. But that's not what he said. He said, "I can do all things through him who strengthens me." It's not humility to deny that God can use you. Rather, it's a blatant insult to his grace.
Now God's been patient with Moses. Moses has had some legitimate concerns. "Lord, I don't think I have any credibility." God says, "I'll deal with that." "But Lord, I don't think I have the ability. God says, "I'll deal with that, too."
Then look at what Moses said next: "Lord, please send someone else to do it."
After all the legitimate concerns are met, Moses finally just blurts out the truth. What he said was, "I don't want the responsibility." It's a good plan, Lord. The Hebrews need to be delivered. Pharaoh needs to be confronted. It's a great plan, but find somebody else to do it.
By the way, have you ever noticed that all of us want to serve God, but most of us want to do it in an advisory capacity? We're quite willing to sit back and tell God how it ought to be done. Now God has been willing to work through all the specific objections that Moses has had, God has been patient, but the Bible says that finally the Lord's anger burned against Moses.
And I think the reason that God was angry is because basically Moses was saying, "God, you told me you're going to be there for me, you told me you're going to give me the authority I need, you told me you're going to be speaking through me, but I just don't think that's going to be enough." But even in his anger, God was gracious to Moses and gave him Aaron.
Let me ask a question -- why do you think God was so patient with Moses, and why is God so patient with us when we act the same way?
Now one answer is obviously because he loves us. But I think there's another answer.
I think it's also because he loves the people whose prayers he's calling on you and me to answer. Have you ever thought about that? Have you ever thought about the fact that the reason that God is calling you is because somebody else has been calling God?
Back in Exodus chapter 2, the Hebrews were calling out to God, and God was concerned and he heard their prayers, so God turned to Moses and said, "I've a job for you to do."
And I wonder how many times God has called you and said, "OK, I've got a lot of people praying for someone to help them, someone to teach them, and so I'm calling on you to do something about it. I'll give you the ability. I just want you to go be my messenger." And you were reluctant to answer the phone. You had all sorts of excuses ready as to why you couldn't do it. Be assured that God is patient, but don't take his patience as an inability to see through our flimsy excuses.
Moses said, 'Oh, come on now, be sensible, not me, I'm a terrible speaker. They'd never listen to me. And God said, 'Oh, for crying out loud, OK, I'll use your brother to help with the speaking.' And Moses led God's people out of disintegration.
And Jonah said, "Oh, come on now, be sensible, not me. I'm not the type.' And after a rather unexpected vacation in the fish just thinking things over, he talked to God's people and led them God's way.
And Zechariah said, "Oh come on now, be sensible, not me. My wife and I are too old to have any kids." And God said, 'Oh shut up. And he did shut up. For nine months. And John was born, and the way for the Christ was opened up.
And I heard a child say, "I can't serve God. I'm too young.'
And I heard a boy say, "I can't serve God, I'm not good enough.'
And I heard a woman say, 'I can't serve God, I'm not skilled enough.'
What is it that God's calling you to do? I heard once about a fellow that was going to preacher training school. They were sending them out on weekends to preach in different churches. He was asked to preach at this one country church with just a few old people but he felt it was beneath his considerable skills. He made the mistake of actually making that comment out loud. It seems there was a young lady who overheard him and she said, "You know, the world's a better place because Michelangelo never said, "I don't do ceilings."
Think about it.
This world's a better place because Noah never said, "I don't do animals."
Because Abraham never said, "I don't do travelling."
Because Ruth never said, "I don't do mothers-in-law."
Because David never said, "I don't do giants."
I'm glad Paul didn't say, "I don't do correspondence."
I'm glad Jesus never said, "I don't do crosses."
And I think the world would be a better place if God didn't hear, "I don't doÃ¢â‚¬Â¦" quite as much.
Paul wrote, "We have such trust through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God."
God's only option is to use clay vessels. That's all he's got. And thinking about the audience for Word Alive, I'd say there's nothing but clay vessels that listen. It's simply a matter of whether or not we're willing to allow God to work through us.
I love the story that is told of the famous Polish pianist, Padarewski, who went on to become prime minister of Poland. He was touring the United States, and was going to give a concert one night. There was a mother who was trying to get her little boy interested in the piano, so she bought tickets to hear this master pianist. The show was supposed to start at 8:00 and prior to that people were standing around and visiting. This mother didn't realize that her son had slipped away. Imagine her shock when she heard and saw her son at the piano playing "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star." As the story is told, Padarewski walked out in his tux, sat down beside the boy and whispered, "Don't stop playing". He put his left hand out and played some bass notes, put his right hand out and started playing, and he made this beautiful sound out of "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star". I want you to see that this describes so well what God does with you and me.
God says, "What do you have in your hand? A staff? Give it to me." And when God calls, you just give him whatever you've got in your hand. And once you allow God to use your life, he does things with it you would never dream possible.
Maybe you need to respond to God and say, "OK, here I am. I want to follow you. I want to serve you. I want to dedicate my life to you. No more excuses, no more delays. Just what do you want me to do?"
Dr. Derek Stringer is our Bible Teacher here on Word Alive - and this is a Good News Broadcasting Association production.
My thanks to Jane Moxon - and my thanks to you for being with us today.
Please join us again next time as we continue to explore the life of Moses and how we can encounter God today.
That's Derek Stringer and Phil Critchley has been our Producer. From all here at Good News Broadcasting Association - we send you our greetings. Good-bye and God bless.
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