I frequently listen to people say “no” to God. They refuse to get involved, or they resign from active service, they retire to inactivity, sometimes they just go AWOL. It’s not new – the Bible records the stories of several who have looked God straight in the eye and said, “Get someone else.” Their reasons were as varied and unique as the individuals who expressed them. There are some common threads in their stories – discouragement, self-doubt, rebellion, failure, pride. I feel drawn to tell their stories, because their stories are our stories. But stamped over every letter of resignation is the resounding REFUSED. “Resignation refused” – God relentlessly pursues his people and calls them to service. Do we have the heart to listen to his call to us?
It had been a long time since God’s people had remembered they were God’s people. 400 years they had labored under Egyptian slavery – Exodus 2:23-25 During that long period, the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God. God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them. God remembered. It was time to call them back to himself. As I read the OT I see periods of time when God leaves his people to themselves to manage life and make a mess of it and come (many times tragically) to the realization of how much they really do need him. If you want to see that scenario played out in panoramic style read the book of Judges. It would seem that God has to prepare us to get our attention.
God chose this moment, this place, this person to begin. From out of a bush on a mountain in the middle of nowhere, God chose to speak to a shepherd named Moses. If it had been a long time for God’s people, it had certainly been a long time since Moses had been in the presence of royalty – God has to tell him to take off his shoes, for this is holy ground.
Holy ground? (I hope someday to make the trip to the Holy Lands to walk where they walked, see where they spoke. Until then, I depend upon the descriptions of those who have been.) Throughout the land of Israel are shrines and cathedrals and temples standing in out of the way places like a shore in Galilee, a well near Sychar, a tomb outside Jerusalem – (Bill Humble said if they could figure out how to build a shrine over the top of the Sea of Galilee where Jesus walked on the water, they would begin construction tomorrow.) We have always had a fascination with places where historical events took place – they take on a hallowed significance – we travel there to stand where they stood, to see if we can feel what they must have felt.
This was holy ground. Not because of the significant geography or the unique bush that grew there – but because of God’s presence. Because God burst on to the scene and into his life to call him, this was holy ground. Moses stands before God face to face – and that’s his problem – he’s standing. Moses has to be reminded that in the presence of God you belong on your face with your shoes off.
God begins by telling Moses: now is the time, this is the place, and he is the man. He says in vs. 10, “So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”
I guess we shouldn’t fault Moses too much – after all, he responds probably just like you or I would – “Who me?!”
But Moses doesn’t stop there – he continues to offer excuse after excuse, arguing with God that he has the wrong man.
Let’s take a moment and listen in –
3:11 “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”
3:13 “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The god of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?”
4:1 “What if they do not believe me or listen to me and say, ‘The Lord did not appear to you?’”
4:10 “O Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.”
4:13 “O Lord, please send someone else to do it.”
The bottom line here is trust – in whom is Moses trusting? Himself or God? Any time we find ourselves arguing with God, it is a matter of trust. Have we / will we put our lives into God’s hands and trust him, or will we continue to try to work things out on our own?
There is some real value in doing a self-evaluation – taking a good hard look at yourself. But for some folks that self-assessment is pretty discouraging. They don’t like what they find – and rather than being a thoroughfare for self-improvement and growth, it becomes a roadblock they have to clear away before they can go any further. That is precisely what Moses is struggling with isn’t it?
Moses is struggling with poor self-esteem. Now, understand – I’m not using this term in the modern, whiny psycho-babble way that says, “Poor me, my parents didn’t raise me right and I never had a chance.” Instead, I’m saying Moses has gone through a series of events that depleted his ability to see himself as God sees him. Think about Moses at this point in his life:
· Raised as royalty, but in the blink of an eye, he became a fleeing fugitive.
· That was 40 years ago – 40 years in the desert, tending sheep, working for his father-in-law, not even owning his own flock.
· Now he’s 80 years old – people don’t start new careers at 80. Besides, he’s a hunted man in Egypt (grudges die slowly.)
Now, Moses could be shirking responsibility – or he really could be thinking, “I’m not good enough.” And you know what? Moses is right. The very thought of speaking for God – of leading God’s people to freedom… “It wouldn’t intimidate me!” But it should.
God’s call is not based on Moses’ abilities, but on God’s power working through Moses.
Illustration – Napoleon’s horse
The story is told about the time Napoleon’s horse got away from him. An alert private jumped on a horse and chased down the general’s horse, and when he presented the reins to Napoleon, the ruler took them, smiled at the private and said, “Thank you, Captain.” The soldier’s eyes widened, he straightened up, saluted and snapped back, “Thank you, sir!” He immediately went to the barracks, got his bags and moved into the officers’ quarters. He took his old uniform to the quartermaster and exchanged it for that of a captain. By the general’s word, he became a private-turned-captain. He didn’t argue, he didn’t shrug, he didn’t doubt. He knew that the one who had the power to do it had done it. And he accepted that.
The truth is, Moses wasn’t worthy of the job to which God was assigning him. But it wasn’t Moses’ abilities or deservedness – it was God’s and God had chosen Moses to be his instrument.
Moses found that arguing with God doesn’t get you very far – God doesn’t take no for an answer. Moses went and the writer of Hebrews chronicles his achievements as one of the great men of faith – By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward. By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible. By faith he kept the Passover and the sprinkling of blood, so that the destroyer of the firstborn would not touch the firstborn of Israel. Heb. 11:24-28.
And a great faith it was, but it was molded and pounded and shaped through the furnace of God’s discipline – a fire kindled first in a burning bush on Mt. Horeb – the mountain of God.
So, do you hear God’s call to you today? What kind of material does he have to work with in your life? Or are you too small, too old, too quiet, too timid, too something to believe God could use you?
The truth is, we don’t have to travel back to Mt. Horeb and visit that place where God spoke to Moses from the burning bush. God doesn’t need a burning bush on a mountain – any old bush will do – in fact, your bush will work just fine – he calls us daily into his presence in order to send us out into his service.
Some of us remain inactive and unconcerned and excuse ourselves from anything more than a casual convenient religion. And sometimes it is because we don’t think we have anything to offer. Our egos have taken such a battering that we don’t see how God could possibly use our miserable lives. Maybe like Moses, we respond to God’s call by excusing ourselves – “God, you’ll just have to get someone else to do it. After all, I’m just not worth much to you.”
Worth much?!? He paid the dearest price ever paid for your life. He let his one and only son’s blood be shed on the cross of Calvary to buy the rights to your services. (Do you marvel at the salaries paid by professional sports teams for players? No professional sports team owner has ever paid more for a pitcher, or a quarterback or a point guard than God paid for you. Paul wrote, “You are not your own; you were bought at a price. So glorify God with your body” (1 Cor. 6:19). Or in Eph. 2:10, “For we are God’s workmanship ...”
Valuable? He has empowered you with a royal commission – not as a servant, but as his personal ambassador – “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors…” (2 Cor. 5:20).
What could possibly motivate you to say yes? Guilt? Duty? Only one thing, really – when you yourself have experienced God’s grace, you can’t help but share it with others – take a page out of Paul’s own life – “For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace is not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them – yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me” (1 Cor. 15:9-10).
God doesn’t make busy work. The work he calls you and me to is vital. He sends us to our neighbors and friends and relatives with a message – come to God, obey his word, receive his grace.
Do you hesitate to say yes to God because you just don’t have much to offer?
Illustration – Ben Hooper
Fred Craddock, while lecturing at Yale University told of going back one summer to Gatlinburg, Tennessee, to take a short vacation with his wife. One night they found a quiet little restaurant where they looked forward to a private meal - just the two of them. While they were waiting for their meal they noticed a distinguished looking, white-haired man moving from table to table, visiting guests. Craddock whispered to his wife, "I hope he doesn’t come over here." He didn’t want the man to intrude on their privacy. But the man did come by his table.
"Where you folks from?" he asked amicably. "Oklahoma."
"Splendid state, I hear, although I’ve never been there. What do you do for a living?” "I teach homiletics at the graduate seminary of Phillips University."
"Oh, so you teach preachers, do you. Well, I’ve got a story I want to tell you." And with that he pulled up a chair and sat down at the table with Craddock and his wife. Dr. Craddock said he groaned inwardly: Oh no, here comes another preacher story. It seems everyone has one.
The man stuck out his hand. “I’m Ben Hooper. I was born not far from here across the mountains. My mother wasn’t married when I was born so I had a hard time. When I started to school my classmates had a name for me, and it wasn’t a very nice name. I used to go off by myself at recess and during lunchtime because the taunts of my playmates cut so deeply. What was worse was going downtown on Saturday afternoon and feeling every eye burning a hole through you. They were all wondering just who my real father was. When I was about 12 years old a new preacher came to our church. I would always go in late and slip out early. But one day the preacher said the benediction so fast I got caught and had to walk out with the crowd. I could feel every eye in church on me. Just about the time I got to the door I felt a big hand on my shoulder. I looked up and the preacher was looking right at me.
‘Who are you, son? Whose boy are you?’ I felt the old weight come on me. It was like a big black cloud. Even the preacher was putting me down. But as he looked down at me, studying my face, he began to smile a big smile of recognition. ‘Wait a minute," he said, "I know who you are. I see the family resemblance. You are a son of God.’ With that he slapped me across the rump and said, "Boy you’ve got a great inheritance. Go and claim it."
The old man looked across the table at Fred Craddock and said, "That was the most important single sentence ever said to me." With that he smiled, shook the hands of Craddock and his wife, and moved on to another table to greet old friends. Suddenly, Fred Craddock remembered. On two occasions the people of Tennessee had elected an illegitimate son to be their governor. One of them was Ben Hooper...a man with a great inheritance.
Isn’t it amazing what God can do with a nobody?