07-14-2013 message by Pastor Rich Doebler
We were camping recently with our daughter and son-in-law, Brian, who was wearing a T-shirt from their church in the Cities. It had a slogan on it: “No perfect people allowed.”
I like that. If you want to be part of that church, you have to face three things right up front: (1) You’re not perfect—you still have room for improvement…you definitely have room for improvement. (2) If you think you’re perfect—this isn’t the church for you. (3) No one here is perfect. So if you come, you can’t complain too much; you have to be forgiving and patient with others who (like you) are not perfect.
And if you have to criticize, you need to give constructive criticism, building others up, not tearing others down.
It’s similar to what we say around here—our purpose as a church is to help each other “take the next step on our spiritual journey.” We know none of us have “arrived.” We know we are all a work “in process.” We know we all need to grow spiritually. We all know we’re still on a journey.
So we’ve been talking the last few weeks about growing—growing in both our understanding of spiritual gifts and our use of the gifts in ministry.
To help us understand gifts better, we’ve looked at various people in the Bible: Thomas, Mary and Martha. Today we’re looking at the life of Moses who had both strengths and weaknesses. Just like the others—and just like you and me.
Even though Moses lived thousands of years ago, some things never change. He was a flesh-and-blood human being who did what humans do: he made mistakes, he had some success, he laughed, he cried, he lost his temper, he felt tired and burned out—just like you and me.
I’m sure you can relate to some of his experiences. You’ve gone through similar things; maybe you’ve felt the same kind of emotions he felt. Let’s start at the beginning and recap some key events in Moses’ life.
There was a time when his people, the Hebrews (or Israelites), were slaves in Egypt. The Egyptians began to fear the Hebrew population was growing too large and becoming too strong, so they began to oppress them with forced labor, hoping they wouldn’t join their enemies.
They made their lives “bitter with harsh labor” and “worked them ruthlessly” (Exod 1:14).
Then Pharaoh added a new policy to oppress them even further: infanticide—he ordered all the newborn Hebrew boys to be put to death—by throwing them into the Nile River (1:22).
And that is the cruel world Moses was born into! Those were the challenges he faced from the beginning.
(Exodus 2:1-4) 1 Now a man of the tribe of Levi married a Levite woman, 2 and she became pregnant and gave birth to a son. When she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him for three months. 3 But when she could hide him no longer, she got a papyrus basket for him and coated it with tar and pitch. Then she placed the child in it and put it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile. 4 His sister stood at a distance to see what would happen to him.
What would happen to him? Let’s watch from a distance, like his sister, to see a few of the things that happened in Moses’ life. If we allow God to speak to us through Moses’ story, I believe we’ll discover some valuable insights about our own lives. Let’s see what happens!
First off, Moses was rescued from terrible circumstances—as God ordained it, he was pulled out of the water by Pharaoh’s own daughter! She named him “Moses,” which sounds like the word “drew out.”
Moses was rescued from Pharaoh’s plan to kill him (along with all the other baby boys). Moses had nothing to do with his own rescue. He was a baby! Moses was rescued from Pharaoh because God had another plan for him.
There are still “Pharaohs” in the world today—forces that would sabotage or thwart God’s plan for you. The world’s plan is not God’s plan! The devil’s plan is not God’s plan! Pharaoh’s plan is not God’s plan! What they have in mind for you is not what God has in mind for you!
So don’t listen to the devil…to the world…to Pharaoh! Don’t let difficult circumstances, disadvantages, or setbacks limit your future or define your life.
God wants you to rise above all that. Maybe you were born into a troubled home. Maybe your father was absent—abandoned the family. Maybe your mother was an alcoholic. Maybe your parents couldn’t afford another baby. Maybe they were young or weren’t even married.
Maybe you never felt loved at home. When he was a young boy, a friend of mine (Wilf Kent) was walking outside his house. He happened to pass beneath the kitchen window at just at the right moment to hear his mother inside say, “I never wanted him. I wished he’d never been born.”
Do you know what that was? That was Pharaoh’s plan to defeat that young boy. That was the devil’s plan to destroy his spirit and undermine his future. And my friend carried the weight of that ugly pronouncement for years—until by God’s grace he was pulled out of that plan.
God wants you to experience a “Moses”-type of rescue. God wants to pull you out of the life the world offers, out of the plan the devil has. God wants to rescue you from the problem you’re in.
1. God has a plan for you. The devil wants you discouraged and defeated; God wants you to win—to overcome! Moses couldn’t rescue himself. He needed God’s help—and so do we.
To live God’s way, we need to be rescued from the circumstances or troubles that the “Pharaohs” of this world use to hold us down or undermine our future.
God rescued Moses. He put him in the royal palace; he gave him phenomenal opportunities. God arranged it so Moses was raised with rank and privilege, educated by Egypt’s finest scholars. Moses enjoyed all the advantages of being the adopted son of Pharaoh’s daughter.
But Moses blew it. He missed his golden opportunities. Why? Because he tried to take matters into his own hands. He squandered the advantages God had given him. It happened like this.
(Paraphrase Exod 2:11-15) 11 One day, after Moses had grown up, he went out to where his own people were and watched them at their hard labor. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his own people. 12Looking this way and that and seeing no one, he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. 13 The next day he went out and saw two Hebrews fighting. He asked the one in the wrong, “Why are you hitting your fellow Hebrew?” 14 The man said, “Who made you ruler and judge over us? Are you thinking of killing me as you killed the Egyptian?” Then Moses was afraid and thought, “What I did must have become known.” 15 When Pharaoh heard of this, he tried to kill Moses, but Moses fled from Pharaoh and went to live in Midian, where he sat down by a well.
Moses saw an injustice (that was good), but then he determined he could handle the situation on his own (that was not good). He tried to push things too fast—in his way, in his time. He wasn’t content to wait for God’s timing, for the right moment.
Moses wanted to protect and rescue his people from their Egyptian masters, but trying on his own, things quickly spun out of control. He killed a man…and he still hadn’t earned the trust of his own people.
Moses blew it—and so do we. That’s the next lesson to learn from Moses…
2. We’re not perfect.
We all make mistakes. We all “blow it” at some point in our lives. Sometimes in our zeal and enthusiasm we get ahead of God. Other times in our fear and caution we lag behind. We may miss God entirely and try to fix things in our own way—and in the process only make a bad situation worse.
Pharaoh put a price on Moses’ head, and he had to run for his life. He hid out far away in a land called Midian. Hiding from his past. Hiding from the consequences of his mistakes.
Like Moses, some people end up “running away.” All their lives they try to escape from the consequences of their past—the pain, the shame, the frustration… Prison. Abortion. Bankruptcy. Fired.
God specializes in helping imperfect people. God specializes in grace—to give you a second chance…
Let me tell you about John. He was given a second chance.
As a young man in the 18th century, John became first mate on a slave ship—the cargo they carried were human beings. Soon, John became captain. He commanded at least three voyages bringing slaves from West Africa to the Americas. He kept them chained in dark, dismal conditions down in the ship’s hold. He brought them to be sold on the auction block into a cruel life of slavery and no freedom.
But when the grace of God touched John, he left the slave trade. He began to study God’s Word. After some time, he was accepted as an Anglican minister. You know him today as John Newton, the one who wrote the song, Amazing Grace. Later in life, he joined William Wilburforce in campaigning against the slave trade in the English parliament.
When you know a bit about John Newton’s early life, his mistakes and sins, the wrongs he committed, then the words to his song become even more powerful: Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found—was blind, but now I see.
Like John…like Moses, we’re not perfect, but God specializes in grace—to give you a second chance …or a third…or a fourth…
Moses became a fugitive in hiding, living incognito out in the sticks, far away from Pharaoh and the long arm of Egyptian law, running from his past—instead of fulfilling God’s plan.
We can’t say for sure, but it seems (before his mistake) that Moses was poised to be the next Pharaoh to rule Egypt. Instead he wandered on the far side of the Midian wilderness, watching sheep for 40 years.
His gifts lay dormant for years! His education, training, and experience in the Egyptian court weren’t intended for herding sheep. In the wilderness, his gifts were being wasted, unused—they lay dormant and untapped. Which brings us to yet another lesson from Moses…
3. We have untapped potential.
I’m afraid we often live beneath our potential. Our bad choices lead to consequences. Because of sin and mistakes, we put ourselves in dead-end situations—going nowhere. Spinning our wheels. Existing, but not really living. Wandering in the desert instead of fulfilling our call.
God has given us spiritual gifts and abilities—but he doesn’t want our gifts sitting on the shelf, unused, lying around dormant. God wants us to pick them up, dust them off, and put them to good use.
How many Christians are “couch-potato” Christians? Think about it—if I sit around, watching TV, guzzling pop and snacking on Cheetos, what happens? If I hardly budge from the couch and the only exercise burning up my energy is moving my elbow, lifting Cheetos from the bowl to my mouth, you’d think I would have all sorts of energy, right? Instead the opposite is true.
If you sit around—whether on the couch or the backside of the desert (it makes no difference)—and you become lethargic and unmotivated. Sit around long enough, and you’ll barely have the energy to pull yourself up off your rear end and stagger upstairs to bed!
Gifts and abilities—given to you by God to fulfill his plan—were not intended to lie around dormant. God wants you to stop wandering aimlessly in the wilderness.
God wants you to fulfill your call. God wants you to tap into the potential he has given you! But perhaps some of you feel like Moses felt.
One day, while watching the sheep, he encountered an amazing sight—a burning bush that did not burn up. When he went to check it out, God spoke to him from within the bush. God told him he had heard the cries of his people in slavery, that he was going to rescue them, and that he wanted Moses to be the one to go to Pharaoh and bring the people out. (Exod 3:1-10)
But over the past 40 years, Moses’ confidence had wasted away to nothing. By the time God met him at the burning bush, Moses was thoroughly convinced he was a total failure.
Even if he believed in God, he no longer believed in himself. He felt he had nothing at all to offer. Moses was afraid to try anything new. He was afraid of Pharaoh. Afraid of failure. Afraid of rejection. He seemed to be afraid of life in general.
Moses had all kinds of excuses. He doubted himself: “Who am I?” (Exod 3:11); he doubted God: “Who are you?” (3:13); he worried: “What if they don’t believe me?” (4:1); he complained: “I don’t have the necessary skills” (4:10)—Why call the person who is “slow of speech” to argue a case before the Supreme Court in Washington?
God answered every one of Moses’ questions, but in the end, Moses still tried to avoid God’s call: “Send someone else” (4:13). Have you ever said something like that to God?
4. We are inadequate. Like Moses, we deal with doubt. We may feel ill equipped or unprepared.
And just like Moses, we tend to make excuses. We get our eyes off the Lord (his strength and provision) and look instead at the overwhelming task or the intimidating circumstances. We worry about what people might think or say instead of trusting God. Our imaginations undermine faith in what God can do!
God wants to lift us up out of our sense of inadequacy. To instill us with a fresh burst of God-confidence (not self-confidence). God addressed Moses’ issues, and he can deal with ours as well.
God believes in you—that’s why he calls you. He also knows you, that you are human—that’s why he equips you!
Well, you know the basic story. Moses eventually agrees and goes. He confronts Pharaoh and, ten plagues later, he leads the Israelites out of Egyptian bondage, headed toward the Promised Land. Things don’t go according to plan, however, and they wind up wandering in the wilderness for 40 years.
All that time, Moses has to put up with cranky people. They complain and belly-ache and stir up trouble. Eventually, Moses reaches the breaking point. He tries taking too much on himself. He sat from morning till evening, day after day, all day long, listening to all their problems.
His father-in-law saw what was going on and warned him: “…What you are doing is not good. 18 You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone.” (Exod 18:17-18)
If we take on more than God intended, we may wear ourselves out.
5. We “burn out.”
Moses certainly burned himself out. So his father-in-law advised him to teach God’s ways but also to share the load with other leaders. Moses did, and things improved.
But Moses had this independent streak—a personality that kept taking matters in his own hands. One time he became impatient with the people. He lost his temper and hit the rock instead of speaking to it, as God had instructed (Exod 20:11).
Another time he became so discouraged that some think he was suicidal: “If this is how you are going to treat me, [he said] please go ahead and kill me—if I have found favor in your eyes—and do not let me face my own ruin.” (Num 11:15). Moses wished he were dead.
It’s not hard to burn ourselves out—to come to the end of ourselves and use up our resources. Especially if we take on too much or do our own thing or take matters into our own hands. We can easily exhaust ourselves—emotionally and spiritually. We get drained. Wasted. Worn out.
But if God can keep a bush burning…we don’t have to burn out!
Moses discovered that one time when the people were attacked by an enemy. Moses sent men to fight while he stood on the hill with the staff of God in his hands, overlooking the battle field.
As long as Moses held his hands up to God, the Israelite army gained the upper hand. When his arms grew tired and came down, the army was pushed back.
The army couldn’t do it on their own; they needed Moses lifting his hands up to God. But Moses couldn’t hold up his hands on his own; he needed help. So Aaron and Hur came to help him. They sat him on a rock; then one stood on one side while the other stood on his other side, holding his hands up… (Exod 17:8-12)
“Thus his hands were steady until the sun set” (v 12, NASB).
In the same way, we need each other—we need strengths and gifts of others to help steady us “until the sun sets”—as long as it takes.
If we function in the area of our spiritual gifts, we can avoid burn out. The church has a problem, however, when 20% of the people are doing 80% of the work—even though they are 100% gifted.
We need to come alongside each other, to hold us up, to encourage us, to minister, to give us strength in our weakness.
Do you feel burned out? Have you come to the end of your resources? Do you feel inadequate? Do you have gifts and potential lying dormant, unused? Have you been running from your past? Living with the consequences of your sin and your mistakes? Do you need to be rescued?
Come to Jesus! This is your burning bush. This is your time to stop making excuses; this is your time to say yes to God.