Wednesday, April 29, 2015

April 26, 2015 Failure Isn't Fatal - Lessons From the Life of Moses

The Biblical character of Moses has been portrayed many times in film – most recently by Christian Bale in Exodus:  God and Kings – but the most enduring image of Moses is that of Charlton Heston in Cecil B. DeMille’s classic The Ten Commandments.  Heston’s portrayal of Moses is certainly one of great strength, as he fearlessly challenges the Pharoah of Egypt and confidently leads the Hebrew people out of their captivity.

Years ago, my older brother Ed, who is also a minister, and I had a conversation about Moses and the Exodus.  We were in school and a professor said something that I wasn’t sure about so I talked to Ed about it.  In the course of our conversation he told me I was wrong in the way I viewed the parting of the Red Sea and Moses and that I ought to read the Bible and not depend on movies for my information.  I thought he was wrong, and told him so, because I had seen the movie The Ten Commandments, so I knew exactly how it happened.  But then I read Exodus and found the movie was wrong and so was I.

The cinematic Moses is generally portrayed as strong, confident, articulate, and powerful.  The reality, however, is far more complicated.  When reading the story of Moses we find a very conflicted human being, especially in relation to the call that God placed upon his life.  In this week’s Scripture reading, which contains selected verses from the longer story of Moses’ meeting with God at the burning bush, we find not a confident, assertive Moses, but a man who was not at all interested in becoming the leader of the Hebrew people.

As you read through the passage, note the number of times that Moses seeks to make excuses for why he is not the person for the job God offers to him.  In 3:11 we find the excuse of a lack of self–confidence.  In 3:13 Moses worries about the response of the people, that they might doubt God.  In 4:1 he worries that the people will not believe God has sent him as their deliverer.  In 4:10 Moses worries that his speech impedement will hinder him as a leader.  And finally, in 4:13, Moses simply dispenses with the excuses and asks God to send someone else to do it.

3:4 When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!”  And Moses said, “Here I am.”
“Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.”
Then he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.”
10 So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”
11 But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”
13 Moses said to God, “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?”
14 God said to Moses, “I am who I am.  This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’”
4:1 Moses answered, “What if they do not believe me or listen to me and say, ‘The Lord did not appear to you’?”
10 Moses said to the Lord, “Pardon your servant, 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.”
13 But Moses said, “Pardon your servant, Lord. Please send someone else.”

Moses, like Peter and David, was a person who had his share of failures, and we’ll look at a couple of them this morning.

Moses failed to believe in his own worth as a child of God.
In seeking to excuse himself from God’s call Moses said this – I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.  Moses had some kind of speech impediment, but we don’t know what it was.  People can be tough on those who struggle in any area of life.  I had some speech difficulties when I was younger and I had to endure some ridicule for it, and I didn’t like it.  Moses was raised in the house of Pharaoh, so I’m not sure anyone made fun of him, certainly not within earshot, but when he fled from Pharaoh’s house it might have been different.

We can be hard on one another, can’t we?  Perhaps it’s because we want to raise ourselves up that we put others down, or perhaps it’s because we can’t appreciate ourselves so we can’t appreciate others, but we can be very hard on ourselves and on others as well.

I was reading an article the other day that was very hard on certain groups of people.  It purported to be written from a Christian perspective but said that certain groups of people could not be considered children of God.  How absurd!  Everyone is a child of God.  Everyone.  It’s no wonder that we must endure some of the struggles we have among humanity, because we can’t even recognize the simple truth that every person is a child of God. 

Moses could not see himself, I don’t think, for the valuable child of God that he was, which put him in the company of many, many other people.  I sit and listen to people all the time, in one way or another, express sentiments that tell me they cannot accept that their life has value and that they matter.  It’s so tragic that life – and other people – wears us down to the point that we cannot appreciate the fact that we are a cherished child of God.

Moses failed to trust God.
In Numbers 20:1-12 there is an interesting story about Moses striking a rock to bring forth water.  The actions of Moses in striking the rock bring God’s prohibition of him entering the Promised Land with his people, which seems rather harsh in relation to his actions.

Numbers 12:20 says But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.”

Trust.  That’s a tough word, isn’t it?

I’ll tell you this – it’s not always easy to trust God, is it?  It’s not that God is untrustworthy; it’s that we have a difficult time turning over control of our own destiny to anyone else, even God.

I have realized that, over the years, I have become far more likely to try and hold my destiny in my own hands and far more likely to turn it over to God.  When I was younger, I was more willing to trust God with my life and my future.  I like to think that I still do, but when I am honest with myself – which is not always often – I have to admit that I work very hard to keep control over my life.

Moses failed to trust the people God had placed under his care.
I really thought hard about this point, because it hits a bit too close to home for me.

Moses received a visit from his father-in-law, who observed that Moses was wearing out himself and the people under his care because he was trying to do everything himself.

Exodus 18:13-23 –
13 The next day Moses took his seat to serve as judge for the people, and they stood around him from morning till evening. 14 When his father-in-law saw all that Moses was doing for the people, he said, “What is this you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit as judge, while all these people stand around you from morning till evening?”
15 Moses answered him, “Because the people come to me to seek God’s will.
16 Whenever they have a dispute, it is brought to me, and I decide between the parties and inform them of God’s decrees and instructions.”
17 Moses’ father-in-law replied, “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.
19 Listen now to me and I will give you some advice, and may God be with you.  You must be the people’s representative before God and bring their disputes to him.
20 Teach them his decrees and instructions, and show them the way they are to live and how they are to behave.
21 But select capable men from all the people—men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain—and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens.
22 Have them serve as judges for the people at all times, but have them bring every difficult case to you; the simple cases they can decide themselves. That will make your load lighter, because they will share it with you.
23 If you do this and God so commands, you will be able to stand the strain, and all these people will go home satisfied.”

I had a visit like that not too many months ago, when someone came to me to try and talk some sense into me.

Moses’ father-in-law recognized that Moses needed to stop trying to do everything himself.  I think what was really going on was that Moses did not trust the people.  It wasn’t that he was so self-giving; he was controlling to the point that he could not let go of anything so that others could be a part of the ministry.

To the defense of Moses, the people under his care were not always easy, and he may have had good reason not to trust them.  They are often described as stiff-necked, stubborn, and combative.  But that wasn’t an excuse for Moses to fail in his trust of them.

Moses was in a place of very important leadership, and his leadership was suffering – and the people were suffering – because he could not relinquish his control and allow others to become part of the ministry.  Ministry does not expand when we fail to trust people; instead, ministry suffers and will contract.

As hard as it can be to trust God, it can be even harder to trust people, but trust them we must.

On a wall of the orphanage, in Calcutta, India, founded by Mother Teresa, was written the following –
People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.
 If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives.  Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies. 
Succeed anyway.
If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you. 
Be honest and sincere anyway.
What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight.  Create anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous. 
            Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, will often be forgotten. 
Do good anyway.
Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. 
Give your best anyway.
In the final analysis, it is between you and God. 
It was never between you and them anyway.

Dealing with people is no picnic.  People can be difficult and untrustworthy, but we must trust regardless.

Failure.  It’s a part of all of our lives, but it does not have to define who we are.  In fact, we could say that Peter, David, and Moses would have been lesser people and examples had they not suffered failure.

Whatever failures burden your life, allow God to transform them into strengths in his miraculous manner.

No comments: