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Exodus And Acts February 17, 2014

Posted by michaelnjohns in Uncategorized.
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Daily Affirmation: I’m on my way out of Egypt. I’m free to choose my path, and I freely choose whatever direction God chooses for me. If I follow God and put Him first, I will reach the Promised Land. He directs my steps and makes the way plain.

If you know me, you know what a boatload of ridiculous crap I think that kind of affirmation is. If you know me, you know I don’t believe in the say it and you’ll see it “gospel.” If it were so, I would have $42M by now. After taxes.

But I’ve been thinking about Exodus. When the children of Israel packed up all of their stuff and a bunch of jewelry and gold from Egypt (Exodus 12:35-36), they took their flocks and herds (12:32) with them and left. And for 40 years they were guided by a cloud by day, to protect them from the sun’s rays while they traveled, and a pillar of fire by night, to protect them from the desert cold. The people of Israel forgot they had a bunch of livestock soon after they had left Egypt, and they complained in chapter 16 that there wasn’t any food. So God gave them quail and manna.

Oh, that was hard work. They had to go out and bring in the groceries that were left on the ground for them to pick up. Frosted flakes and roasted quail. I’ll bet quail tastes like chicken. They ate frosted flakes until they reached Canaan, where they could just go in and conquer. And then, because they sinned and didn’t have any faith, instead of going in and taking the land on the first go-around, they ate manna for 40 years while the earlier generation died off, except Joshua and Caleb, who demonstrated faith at the earlier approach.

The people complained at Marah and God fixed the water so they could drink it. The people complained at Rephidim, so God gave them water there as well. God gave them victory against Amalek and the other Canaanites in battles. God demonstrated his faithfulness to protect and provide for Israel, those 40 years. And then the manna stopped. But the protection lingers on.

On to my present day quest for my own Canaan. Or heaven. Or whatever. I’m on a road, metaphorically, pursuing dreams and a life and hopes, and seeking direction. Sadly, direction isn’t something that’s obvious. God doesn’t hand us a road map and say, go this way. And He doesn’t send an angel with a guiding cloud or fireball, but wouldn’t that 1) be really cool and 2) freak people out?

All the children of Israel had to do was just follow, and ask. But no, they wandered, disobeyed, and complained. And the signs were obvious. Plagues in Egypt, Pharaoh’s army drowned, The sea parts and they all go across on dry land, manna and quail from the sky (they get to keep their sheep and cattle and goats for special occasions), and a ready guide in the pillar of fire and the cloud. There it is, go follow it.

If I’m on a road it would be nice to have some obvious signage indicating I’m on the right road. But there are no roadmaps to the Christian walk, only a few dubious clues about how our hearts should be, but not how the less obvious directions are to be found. Looking back, sure I see where God was providing direction and support. But right now, in the middle of the present season of darkness, I see no pillar of fire. There IS manna and quail, provided by certain people so that we don’t go hungry. There is a tent (it’s a house, but please allow me to continue in the wilderness metaphor) over our heads and a warm safe place to sleep at night.

I’m rambling. I’m wandering. The wilderness of my soul is scattered with scars and reminders of past battles. Some I’ve won. Others, I’ve survived. Barely. Sometimes I wonder if I’m just still a slave in Egypt, and daydreaming of the trip to the Promised Land.

My wife stays, evidence of the care of God. We need additional provisions and resources, so I’m told, “just find a new job,” to get more money. “Just,” as if it were that easy for a person with my weird quirky qualifications and skill sets. When the signs point to a church, or when my resume Providentially lands into the hands of the deacon board of the right place, I will gladly go. It will be the first place that calls, because I haven’t had a call about my resume since I graduated from Seminary, and that was when my resume was out there and hopeful. Now that I am not hoping, and I’m no longer promoting myself via ministerial resume, it will be an act of Providence.

On the other side of the job search lies the secular realm. I’ve gotten by on the provisions of others because nothing I have looked at or accepted has taken me beyond the prospect of “entry level.” If I take another entry level job or lateral move that should be a promotion, I will never make any career progress that any would consider a success, least of all myself. I have kids who will graduate to college soon, and would also like to retire at some point.

On Sunday, I appreciated a thought provoking message regarding Simon the Sorcerers’ heart condition. Glossed over pretty quickly were the words of Acts 8:13, which says, “Simon himself believed and was baptized.” The effect of the Holy Spirit seems minimized by the apparent lack of a heart-change in Simon in spite of his faith. With the text being inspired, and with his immediate request for prayer, there is no doubt in my mind that he was a Christ-follower, and not just for the show. Although, I do see that he is asking for prayer there vs. praying for himself. I wish we knew more about where Simon went after his pleas for prayer. The motive isn’t disclosed- one wonders if he felt as though he doesn’t have the right as a believer to pray for himself, or felt as though Peter, cast as a type of Moses, would be better able to successfully intercede. And then we don’t hear any more about Simon. There isn’t a miraculous and spectacular death as evidence of his unrepentance, nor is there a ministry (that we know of) founded by him as evidence of fruit of his repentance.

Simon raised, in my heart, a number of questions. By many, I am told to network to find a job. But what of networking in ministry as a form of self-promotion- Is it the same as “simony?” What about people who leave a smaller ministry to join a larger one to gain more income or power instead of growing the home-ministry? I question the heart motives of this kind of people too. And what about controlling personalities who are already in positions of ministry, lording it over others? And, (of lesser significance) what does God think of Televangelists?

I have seen my share of all these, and wonder how this kind of operation finds its’ way into and continues to profit in ministry. I know that a good looking resume, a flashy smile, classy clothes and smooth talk, is frequently favored- apparent credentials and claimed skills, over actual qualifications, at least in the secular world. It would seem that God should rather select candidates whose hearts were right rather than allowing a good looking resume to find its way to the top of the stack? The guy in dirty blue jeans and work boots frequently holds more credibility to me than the slick talker in the suit. (James 2) But it takes discerning effort to see behind the suit. And I know many pastors who are nothing but slick talk in a silk suit. How did they get their positions?

I’ve seen good candidates overlooked (back in SC and NC I knew a few) in favor of the more showy people. I knew people whose hearts had a real burden for God, who were prevented from serving in their best capacity, by controlling pastors or deacons who held them back by holding a churchly, judgmental lack of forgiveness over their heads, or who wanted to promote their friends. And I have to say that I would understand if my friends felt a little bitterness about being rejected, but instead they continue to serve, although some went to different churches, at least the last time I checked in. When they left, I waited to hear the sermon from I John 2:19, and I sometimes heard it.

When I came to Indiana I put a resume out there, in faith that I had come to conquer and find myself a place of success and peace, a Jerusalem (Translated, “city of peace”) to found for myself. I left the resume out there for a while, to see if God would choose to put me to work in that way. But He didn’t back then, and after I quit the self-promotion, I haven’t really advertised my M. Div. I’ve listened to and read other sermons, and relating to Matthew 25:25. They make me ask, is it burying a talent to say, I’ll just wait and see if God calls, and until then I’ll just volunteer and serve at a church somewhere? Where is the balance between, that doesn’t hide the gift but doesn’t show it off in a self-promoting way? People who know how to find a job tell me to “sell myself.” It doesn’t feel right. Ministry skills like preaching and teaching shouldn’t be “for sale,” they’re supposed to be “for hire,” (Luke 10 and I Timothy 5) and worthy of their wages.

When I see the roadmap, the guiding pillar of fire and cloud, I’ll know I’m on the right track. And when I reach the Promised Land, I know the smallish, but graciously provided, manna and quail will stop, and I’ll have to go to the store. We don’t really have any flocks or herds or jewelry or gold or silver left from our stay in Egypt. I mean North Carolina. I’ll look back on this test and see the Hand of God protecting us some ways, scarring me in other ways. And when I’m in heaven, the reasons for the scars and the risk that my spirit would become bitter will become clear. But until then, I feel the weeds crowding in, the bitterness creeping around my heart, as I become more tired of everything over time.

Maybe God can just pick me up and put me back on the path. That would be a “Good Shepherd” kind of thing to do. And maybe God can help me gather enough manna for today, because I’m just bone weary of looking for it and never finding quite enough even for today. Maybe God can actually use me in some way, as it relates to the abilities and credentials He has provided. Maybe I can earn a living at it, as “the laborer is worthy of his hire.” Maybe it can be done without making me flash some tacky neon sign over my head saying “I’m special, look at me! Pick me, pick me!” like Simon did in Acts 8. Until then, I hope my hope isn’t completely snuffed out.

Waiting. Hoping. Dreaming. And aging. I’m a Shepherd’s sheep, feeling more than a little lost and alone, scared, hungry, cold, and being cut up by thistles. HELP! Find me, Lord! I’m a Workman’s tool on a shelf, rusting from lack of use. Use me, Lord! I’m handling this season pretty poorly in my heart. So I’m Simon, but I’m not even able to buy my way into ministry by “simony.” The bitterness and sin are creeping in and surrounding me, clawing at my soul. God, please forgive me and fix me, since obviously I’m broken.

If you think of me, I’d appreciate it if you’d pray for me too. This is a hard season, a difficult battle, and I fear I’m losing it. So as Simon asked Peter to pray, I’m asking you. Sometimes it feels like the manna and quail aren’t enough, and I wonder if my neighbor took my share so I can’t find enough. Somebody already rustled my cattle and sheep, but that’s another story. Some Divine Directions and Promised-Land progress would be great.

I don’t want to buy my way into ministry, and I really don’t want to sell myself into anything either. I want to be picked, to be used correctly, and to be led, watered and fed like The Good Shepherd (John 10) treats His sheep in Psalm 23.

God, please fix this, or help me figure out the road map so I can do Your will. Help me to choose to do what is right, and not just do what is desperate. And, thanks for the quail and manna.

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Comments»

1. Cole - February 20, 2014

I’m definitely adding you to my regular prayer list. Stay strong. It is okay to doubt, but right now it is important to keeping listening for his voice or a door to open or a knock on the door you hope for. I share that prayer, brother.


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