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Moses and Me: Listening to God January 13, 2014

Posted by michaelnjohns in Uncategorized.
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It was quite the journey of faith, that led me to leave Indiana, drive to North Carolina, enroll at seminary, and ultimately complete the requirements for a Master Of Divinity degree. Sometimes the road was easy, and sometimes it was hard, but God allowed it to come to pass. And He allowed me to pass those requirements.

It was quite the journey of frustration and hopelessness in the first few years that followed. I had a wife, and then kids, and I kept trying to talk to church leadership teams in the hope of finding a job at a church. They would ask, “Are you a good fit for the ministry need we have?” And I would answer that I would do my best, just as I have done as a volunteer up to this point. They would ask, “Does your wife support your ministry, and does she play the piano?” almost in the same breath. Of course she supports my ministry. Neither one of us plays the piano, but I am willing to learn. I had lessons a long time ago. I even have a guitar, but with no money for lessons for either instrument, I haven’t picked them up. On the guitar I have a few chords I can play. Not enough.

I had successes. As a Sunday school teacher I enjoyed watching the class grow as friends brought friends to learn. As a volunteer Minister of Worship, I had done an internship for seminary and watched the church grow. I had developed as a writer and worship coordinator. The Christmas presentations were great, because I had a group to encourage who did a good job. The A Capela Christmas cantata was amazing because they trusted me to lead them out of their comfort zones and to something that ended up being great. I led a retreat with college kids, asking them what God’s dream was for their lives, and for my life. I helped them and prayed with them as they assessed their spiritual giftedness, and mused about what God wanted them to do. My resumes were out there, bait I hoped would land me a job where I could be paid to serve God with the gifts and abilities he had equipped me with.

I interviewed when I found out about an opportunity. But eventually I gave up and just got an 8 to 5 job. My wife, my family, friends, home churches and a few surprise donors had kept me supported until I finished my studies. But churches did not offer me any paid ministry positions. We joined here and there, and they were more than content that I would do the work as a volunteer, not realizing the impact of their passive ostracizing.

My heart hurt that I wasn’t able to do work that I loved, and earn money doing it. So I set those dreams aside, kept my day job, and volunteered anyway. Sometimes the dream would come up again. There would be an opportunity to serve, or to speak, and I would hope again, only to be disappointed again. I read the Bible and write about the experience. People need to hear what the Bible says, but I can’t get my foot in the door. They don’t want to hear it from me as a paid regular. They want to hear it from a comfortable pew, with a comfortable voice, or from someone who would do it for free.

So begins my drift into the wilderness. I drift from God because I was set up. I’m a sharpened tool that’s in the shed, hanging from the wall, feeling rusty and dull because God isn’t providing the opportunity. I’m in debt because there’s not enough money to pay bills and put food on the table and meet expenses and pay for finance emergencies. I’m frustrated with myself for not having the stamina to keep going. I’m frustrated with God, still waiting on the right opportunity. I struggle against feelings of bitterness against God, and against the churches that didn’t call me, or the ones who used me, without offering to support the worker who feels he’s worthy of his hire, until I felt dried up inside. And then Sunday came.

I went to church, played my viola in rehearsal, taught the second graders, played again for worship although at times my heart ached to sing with more than just my instrument. And I heard the Voice. It was coming out of our pastor, but it wasn’t the pastor. He was talking to me. He said that sometimes we are reduced to subsistence, and it’s hard. I never heard the explanation because that part just made me mad and I closed my ears. And I heard the Voice again. The pastor reached a point in his sermon that stuck in my ears and rattled into my heart, and…

God help me if the dream isn’t trying to wake up again. God help me more if it is.

The text is Exodus 3:10. When he read it, he was staring straight at me. “So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.” Really, God? Are You talking to me?

Instead of an explanation, or provision, I had that verse. And I see, that just like me, a lot of Christ followers are nominally following, struggling and doing what they think is their best, and they are drifting, and not realizing they are slaves, back in a metaphoric Egypt. I’m no Moses, but I get that I’m not supposed to protest. It’s kind of the dream. I want to serve. And I don’t have specific directions yet. But I know what I’m supposed to do to do now, to start. I’m writing it down. Again. Maybe God will allow me to share it.

People will say they aren’t slaves. But the average employed American works 40 or more hours a week. Add your commute time and stress. Nielsen says we spend another 34 or more in front of the TV. The average unemployed American watches more. You spend at least an hour a day watching commercials. You can function on 6 hours of sleep a night, but studies show repeatedly we should get 7 or 8. Add your computer or digital devices, video games and other entertainments. Add shepherding your kids and making sure homework is done and grades are more than adequate, and chores are done. Add your housework, if you do housework. Kids, add your homework and the big project that’s due. Add time with your family, if you spend time with your family. Kids, when your parents call your name do you come bounding to them to see what they want, or do you eye-roll and yell back, “WHAT?!” If you don’t help with chores, who takes out your trash, washes your dishes and your laundry, vacuums, cooks… Kids, if you don’t help with chores, someone is slaving for YOU.

Adults, don’t tell me that time spent with family and in-laws is a joy for one and all. WebMD.com reports a study that found more heart-related deaths on Christmas day than on any other day of the year. Second highest was the day after Christmas. Time with family can be stressful, if these studies are right. http://women.webmd.com/news/20041213/deaths-peak-during-holiday-season-study-shows And on the day after Christmas, the boss wants us to go back to work right away instead of resting from the stress of all that family time, the big get together that we slave to make perfect, but that always ends up with the normal fighting between, or bullying from, in-laws or siblings or spouse.

So we slave to drive; we slave to work. If we are managers, at times we drive others at work like they are slaves. We slave to watch TV; we begrudgingly allow ourselves to rest 6 hours a night when we’re not suffering insomnia, and we medicate all our symptoms. Before you know it, we’re slaves to our medication.

And people say they’re not slaves. It was the Nile back in Israel’s time, it’s denial for the modern generation.

For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. There is a consequence for every action, or inaction, that we take. If you’re not a slave, then God bless you, but most of us slave every day in some way. Or.

Is work a joy that you love to drive to every day? Is your commute a fun trip, listening to entertaining banter or music on the radio, waving at your fellow commuters as you pass (and not the common commuter’s salute)? Does the work pass so quickly that you hardly realize your shift is over? Do you come home to a loving, supporting spouse and reasonably well-behaved children? Kids, do your parents strike a perfect balance between helping and encouraging you to find your way in life and succeed, and protecting you? Or do they veer to one side and ignore you, or to the other side and treat you like a baby? Adults who work, do you come home to an orderly and well-kept house? If you do enjoy all of this peace and joy, tell us how it’s done, and where we can get in on the deal. Most people are slaves, and I can’t imagine that Christ followers have it much different. But if the Bible is true, we can. If the statistics are right, we don’t.

George Barna, who’s got a statistic for everything, says we do a little better if we go to church. But about half of all marriages end in divorce. The statistic for evangelicals is 60% for believers who don’t go to church, and 38% for believers who do go to church. It’s still almost 40 percent. http://www.startribune.com/lifestyle/118101934.html
Moses had words for people who ended up getting divorced. According to Matthew 19:8, Jesus taught it was “because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning.” In the beginning, God had a plan for marriage to work out and for hearts to be soft before him. And sin creeps in and hardens us or our spouses, hardens our hearts, and either our heart blows up literally, or metaphorically, life blows up in our faces.

I’m not saying that life only has stress when we have sin. “Life,” said one of my favorite teachers, “is a series of tidal waves.” The storms are going to come. In North Carolina, it’s worse in a hurricane when you’re living in a tent than in a hurricane resistant house. In Indiana, it’s worse in a tornado if you’re in a trailer park than in a brick home or an underground shelter. It’s what you build with. It’s what you build on, that makes life’s storms more bearable, or sometimes even unnoticeable except to look at the window and say, “Oh. Look. It’s raining.”

One does not simply wake up one day and decide, I’m going to have an affair, divorce my wife, get into huge debts, disrespect my parents, fail my classes, vandalize someone’s property, steal some stuff that isn’t mine, or kill someone. All sin is progressive. We drift. I drift. We ride on waves of emotions and stresses and circumstances and irritants and distractions, and wake up and find ourselves in our circumstances. The prodigal didn’t wake up one day and decide to get a job feeding pigs and earning a bare survival. He drifted there, after the money dried up.

I feel pretty sure that I’ve already spent my 40 years in Midian. I’ve got a wife and kids. And a Master Of Divinity. And I, and my people, many of them Christ followers, are living as slaves in Egypt. There are some of my people that are slaves to their idols and their fake gods, and aren’t even aware that there is a Christ, so I need to get the word out about Him and how He sets them free as well. How do I, and my people, get set free from their slavery and on the journey toward the Promised Land? I’m no Moses, but I’m still willing to be used by God. I trust that if He sets me free from my own slaveries, and lets me encourage you and you to encourage me, with our Pharaohs and our false gods, the things we have allowed to creep in to enslave us, that we can walk, by the millions, to freedom now, and to ultimate blessings in the Promised Land, whenever we get there.

Just like with Moses, when they left their slavery behind, there was a thread of resistance from the Pharaoh, trying to drag them back to their enslavement. Expect it. For most of us it’s that drifting. Just like with Moses there will be times of discouragement. Expect it. But if Barna is right in his statistics, most people can weather that kind of storm with a team of supporters encouraging their success. Look around you. This is your team. And just like with Moses, whoever your spiritual leader is, he’ll face times when he’s discouraged. Expect it. And like with Moses, when you come alongside and raise up his hands and arms to help him out, you and he will see victory. Don’t let him get to the point of Moses, so frustrated at the grumbling and murmuring that he lashes out at the support system, or at God. Encourage him.

The New Testament teaches us to love one another. To encourage one another. To worship with one another. The list goes on and on, but it’s do-able. It’s like God’s marching orders to battle, which paradoxically, gives peace. http://www.heartlight.org/articles/201003/20100312_oneanother.html
And these are the signposts on the road to our spiritual freedom, and on the roadmap to the Promised Land. Let’s get there.

I drifted away, through my own discouragement, anger, frustration, hopelessness, and disappointment. But Exodus 3:10 was a re-summons for me to try again, and to serve. I need to tell people what He says in His Word. Some will listen and some will not. But His words are words of life and freedom. He is the way. So He will lead the way.

Jesus, Lead me where You want me to go. Of course I prefer the mountains over the valleys. But I want to follow You.

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