Tag Archives: moses

Leading the Unleadable

“Then Moses summoned Joshua and said to him in the presence of all Israel, ‘Be strong and courageous, for you must go with this people into the land that the Lord swore to their forefathers to give them, and you must divide it among them as their inheritance.  The Lord Himself goes before you; He will never leave you nor forsake you.  Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.'” Deut. 3:17-8

Moses tells Joshua, in front of the entire nation of Israel, to be courageous as he enters the promised land with the Israelites. The spies have told them all about the giants who made them “appear as grasshoppers in their eyes.”  All along the forty year journey they’ve heard rumors of the mighty warriors in that part of the world.

But when Moses tells Joshua to be courageous he doesn’t mention any of that.  He doesn’t tell Joshua about the struggles of combat to come; he doesn’t fill him with confidence for mighty victories against his foes; Moses doesn’t allude to Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizites, Hivites, Jebusites or even mosquito bites.  The only “ites” mentioned are the Israelites!

Moses says, “You must go with this people…” [emphasis mine]  In essence, “You’re not getting the cream of the crop, my boy; Joshua, you’re not getting the Dream Team; you’re getting the people that God choose for the Promised Land.”  Joshua had been with Moses since “back in the day.”  He knew what the Isrealites were like.  He was witness to the murmuring, disputing and back-stabbing.  Moses was simply reminding him that leadership, Godly leadership, is about loving people where they are, but loving them too much to leave them there.

As leaders we would do well to heed Moses’ words to Joshua.  God doesn’t always, in fact He rarely, sends us the most talented, qualified, disposed or temperamentally equipped people to lead.  Want proof?  Look at who Jesus called as disciples.  It would be a challenge to find a more motley group in any church today.

Leading the most talented group isn’t really leadership, is it?  Did Chuck Daly really coach the original Dream Team in the 1992 Olympics?  He didn’t call one single timeout during the entire tournament.

Real leaders love the unlovable and lead the unleadable.  Rather than plead with God to send us better followers maybe we should pray that He nurture us as better leaders.  When preaching on marriage many of us say that husbands and wives can know that they are married to who God intended because that’s who they are already married to, so divorce is not an option.

The same holds true for us as leaders.  God intends us to lead those that are with us…now and those that He will send to us in the future.  Too often, we are quick to dismiss (sometimes right out the door) those who God has sent to us for a course correction (our course, not theirs.)  We may do it with what we call tact or even grace, but we know in reality that it was actually a “peacable” divorce (see “A 21st Century Church Epidemic” by Bob Hostetler).  It usually sounds, like “That’s not what God has called us to, but I’m sure that there’s a church down the street that will fit you.”  “At my last church we used to…” and “That’s not how we do it here,” are just different verses of the same song.  It’s just possible that God has sent someone with a different approach from ours because God needs us to get out of our rut.  It’s simply institutional arrogance to say that the strength of “our” church is measured by who we “send”, but assume that God wouldn’t send someone from another church to us.

OK, followers, now it’s your turn.  There was a reason that the Israelites were there.  They needed to hear the message, too.  They needed to hear the tacit communique’, “Lighten up, people.  Sometimes it’s no picnic leading you to the wide open spaces.”  Ironically the following message was written to Jews in the New Testament, “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority…obey so that their work will be a joy, not a burden…” (Hebrews 13:17) [emphasis mine]  When was the last time that we, as followers, made a leader’s work “a joy?”  It doesn’t say, “go along to get along;” the word “joy” is explicit.

Of course, if we all don’t think more highly of ourselves than we ought…well, that’s another blog.

What’s Wrong with this *&$%^!# * Rock?

“The Lord said to Moses, “Take the staff…speak to the rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water…then Moses struck the rock twice with his staff…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.” Selected excerpts from Numbers 20: 7-12

This story takes place in the last year of wandering for the Israelites. Forty or so years earlier God had brought water out of a rock (Ex. 17). This is the second time God commanded Moses to take his staff to a rock. This is the same staff that God caused to bud as proof of who He had chosen to lead the Israelites (Num. 17). This is also the same staff that is “to be kept as a sign to the rebellious.” Its purpose was to “put an end to their grumbling against” God so that the Israelites wouldn’t die.

At first glance it seems a bit harsh that God would ban Moses and Aaron from entering the Promised Land. In fact, tucked away in this second story of the gushing rock is the phrase “So Moses took the staff from the Lord’s presence, just as He commanded him.” But, this was only partial obedience and partial obedience is disobedience. Moses relied on his traditionalism when he thought he was standing on tradition established by God* (see below). Another way to say it is that he was practicing religion of God when he needed to trust his relationship with God.

I’m not sure if Moses and Aaron panicked. They probably did to some extent. I would have. They were coming to the end of their bizarre odyssey. The end was in sight, the Promised Land was just over the horizon. But, the whining, petty, ingrate Israelites were about to blow the whole deal…again. They needed to be put in their place or another sentence of forty years would be handed down.

All Moses and Aaron had to do was point to the budding staff and say, “hush up, now!” That staff was given by God for specifically this type of situation. I don’t know if they forgot about it or if they didn’t believe it would work or what…but, they didn’t use the tool God had given them. I could write about what happens when leaders don’t use the tools God give them, but that’s not where I’m going. I could also spend several paragraphs writing about what happens when leaders work out of their frustration. But, what I want to explore is how we, as leaders, try to recreate what only God can create.

The first gushing rock was a great success to be sure. The Isrealites were faced with overwhelming odds: starvation, dehydration, an impending battle. God specifically told Moses to strike the rock and, voila, it gushed water. This was immediately followed by a great victory of the Amalekites. Why wouldn’t Moses think the same formula would work again? So, he woops up on the rock. In fact, he hits it a second time. Maybe it was out of anger that Moses took his wind up and went, “wap-wap” in quick succession. But, I suspect it went more like this…

Back when God spoke to Moses at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting all Moses heard was, “Take the staff…to the rock.” In his heart Moses most likely said, “OK, God, I remember what we did last time. I’ve got it from here.”

Whoa…wait just a minute. “What we did last time? There was no we there, Lone Ranger.” Back in “Gushing Rock I” God said, “I will stand there before you by the rock.” God was already at the rock…He had already primed it…He had already done the work. Moses could have tripped and fell with the staff hitting the rock and it would have gushed water.

Now at “Gushing Rock: The Sequel” I suspect Moses stormed over to the rock and took a hefty whack driven by his frustration with the Isrealites. He probably heaved his chest, raised his arms in triumph and waited for his moment of glory for recreating the wonderful climax of Gushing Rock I.

Nothing happens…cue crickets chirping in the silence of the dessert.

Not even a bubble of water seeped to the surface of the rock. But, maybe Moses’ frustration with God was starting to bubble. “I did exactly what we did last time! Why don’t you have my back, Mr. Burning Bush Great I Am!!! I’ll show you all!” There may have even been a torrent of “bowling words” as Mr. I’m Slow of Tongue spit on his hands and, just like Mighty Casey at the Bat, took his back swing and whooped up on the rock a second time. It was probably out of pity for the poor rock “that never did nothin’ to nobody” that God brought forth water.

Before we look down our noses at the pitiful sight of Moses getting the tongue lashing he deserves from God (Num. 20:12) we need to take a look in the mirror. As leaders how many times have we witnessed God do something great in our ministry? It might have been a spiritual breakthrough. For me, as a worship leader, it most often takes the form of a great moment in a worship service; one of those moments when you can feel the Spirit of God sweep over the room like a hurricane and the pastor comes to the pulpit to go straight to the invitation/alter call/decision moment without a sermon. People rush the altar. Repentance breaks through; revival breaks out. It was probably even during one of those otherwise mundane moments in the service when only God can split open the rock and let His spirit gush all over the people. We relish the moment giving Him the glory for doing something only He could have done.

Until the next time we think we’re in a similar situation. Then we get all full of ourselves and try to formulate it. “What was it I said to create that moment, what song did we sing that spoke to people, what did we do to convict people like that, what was it about us that encouraged so many?” we search frantically for the formula. Then we get frustrated with ourselves, the people and God when the formula doesn’t work. For goodness, sake! What are we thinking? We’re trying to do what only God can do. We’re trying to be God! For reasons we can never understand, because our thoughts are selfish and, therefore, are not God’s thoughts, He created that moment for that time for His purpose and His glory. It’s not our business, right or even privilege to recreate it. But, God is doing a new thing…not old things.

It’s what I call “glory hijacking.” And we all try it. We need to stop. We’re not God and He’s not just a great big us. Our job is simply to stand next to The Rock and let Him be God. We need to learn to obey; do what He says…nothing more, nothing less.

Then watch the water gush. It’ll be like drinking water from a fire hydrant…um, more like Niagra Falls.

*”Traditionalisms are the dead faith of the living. Traditions are the living faith of the dead.” The first half of this quote is attributed to Jaroslav Pelikan in his book “The Melody of Theology”. However, only the first have can be attributed directly to him. The second half remains attributed to my favorite quotist, anonymous.

Starbucks and a Weekend at Bernie’s

“From now on the Israelites must not go near the Tent of Meeting, or the will bear the consequences of their sin and will die.” Numbers 18:22

The Tent of Meeting was kind of like Starbucks for God and Moses. It’s where they met to discuss, chat, chew (burn) the fat, etc. Okay, I’m bordering on sacrilege. The point is that the Tent of Meeting is where God was manifest for the Israelites. Moses was allowed in to the Tent to be with God, the Levites were allowed within proximity of the Tent. Everyone else? Stay away!

Why? Because God’s presence reveals sin. God’s holiness publicizes those things that were hidden in shame. The glory of God shines a spotlight on just how dirty and nasty human deeds really are. Proximity to God let’s out the secret that we’ve all tried to deny; that is, we’re really dead.

We might act like we’re alive. We party and celebrate, act joyful, commiserate with friends. We fill our lives with things that fool us into feeling like we’re alive, even vibrant. Our check book registers and credit card statements are filled with purchases of wide screen TVs, cruises to the Med, dinners at the finest restaurants. But, they’re all just illusions of life. We all know it but are too prideful to admit…we’re dead. In spite of all the things we do to feign life we’re really empty, nasty, dirty carcasses.

Rather than being alive, we’re actually just puppets; lifeless marionettes manipulated by an unseen and ruthless puppeteer. Or maybe like poor Bernie in one of my favorite movies “Weekend at Bernie’s” (the first one, not the sequel). Like Bernie, we’re just used to perpetuate the illusion of life. Who is the puppeteer? Who’s pulling the string and manipulating through the charade of life? Satan, Lucifer, the father of all lies.

“Wait a minute, Joe,” you might say. Go ahead say it. “There are at least two problems with saying we’re dead. First, what if we just don’t go near God? Or second, isn’t that a rather vindictive god you’re describing?”

The cool part is both are perfectly valid questions and both have been answered with the same name. For the first point, God is here and we can’t get away from Him. And I don’t mean just metaphysically. God coming to earth to be with humans is what separates Christianity from all other religions. All other religions base “salvation” on us bringing ourselves to life; on us working our way to heaven. But, in Jesus, God came to us. And, because God came to us in the person of Jesus then His presence in the world revealed the dirty little secret that it was filled with death.

Second, God knows that we’re dead. He knows what we we’re deceived out of or may have discovered about ourselves but wouldn’t acknowledge. We can’t make ourselves better, we can’t evolve, we don’t improve…duh, we’re dead. Dead doesn’t get better. And, that breaks God’s heart. He created us to be alive. He created us as life. So He came in the person of Jesus.

There’s a common misunderstanding amongst us humans. It seems to cross the boundary between denominations, the divide between Christian and non-Christian, nationalities, philosophies, etc. That is, many people, I would argue, the majority of people believe Jesus’ mission in life was to make sick people better. Mentally sick people, morally sick people, physically sick people; the mis-belief is that He came to heal us. Or maybe to forgive us; to gloss over our sin. While it is true that He came to do all of those things, they were just to reveal who He is and as a means to an end.

No, Jesus came to bring dead people back to life. In the person who reveals that we are dead is also the breath that brings us back to life. In one fell swoop God did one of the most compassionate and kind things in all of history. He exposed our condition and broke the lie of Satan. No, broke isn’t strong enough. Vaporized, obliterated…I don’t think there is a strong enough word, but you get the idea. That is, we’re dead and we need of Savior. In that same fell swoop, He did the most kind and compassionate thing in all of history and that is that He gave us a way to life. And, He did it through the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Now, take a look at the check register and credit card statement. Re-examine the party schedule and social calendar. What does our life in Jesus look like? It’s not the view of an old rotting carcass anymore is it? The smell is sweeter, the colors brighter, the music more harmonic, the dancing more vibrant. Isn’t it good to be alive?

That’s why worship!

The Law of Conservation of (Spiritual) Energy

“At midnight the Lord struck down all the firstborn in Egypt…”, “…Pharoah summoned Moses and Aaron and said, ‘Up! Leave my people, you and the Israelites! Go, worship the Lord as you have requested.'” Exodus 12:29 & 31

Ten plagues it took for Pharaoh to change his mind: blood, frogs, gnats, flies, dead livestock, boils, hail, locusts, darkness, death of the firstborn.

A few days ago I wrote that the reason Moses asked for the people of Israel to be let go was to go in the desert to worship (“Worship in the Desert“). Repeatedly God told Moses to make that request of Pharaoh. Repeatedly God let Moses in on the fact that He would harden Pharaoh’s heart and that the request would be denied. But, Moses dutifullyconfronted Pharaoh knowing full well that it was a fool’s errand.

For those of you that follow my blog you know that I have a category of posts about scripture passages that are confusing to me or, frankly, I just “don’t get.” It doesn’t meanthat I don’t accept them as the inerrant word of God, but I just don’t understand why God put them there…yet.

This is one of them. Ihave a hard time figuring out why God would purposely harden someone’s heart. I canconsider it in my head, but my heart doesn’t quite wrap all the way around it. I understand, intellectually, that God used all of the plagues and the deliverance of the Hebrews from them for His glory, but my heart feels there must have been a better way. Obviously, there wasn’t a better waybecause if there was God would have done it that way. But,something nags at me that there must be more. I want justa glimpse of God’s thinking. I echo the words of Einstein, “I want to know God’s thoughts, the rest are mere details.”

And then, there it is. Einstein…physics…a piece of the puzzle. Particularly, the law of conservation of energy. Itstates that energy may neither be created nor destroyed. It simply becomes a different form of energy: kinetic may become potential or heat become light, but energy cannot be created from nothing or annihilated to nothing.

God wanted the Hebrews to be free. While some biblical scholars don’t believe they were slaves in the traditional sense of being owned by individual slave owners, the Hebrew words used to describe them and their forced labor certainly implies a sub-human status in Egyptian society. Based on the Egyptians’ treatment of the Hebrews it’s not difficult to imagine them being regarded as possessions or tools as oppossed to living, breathing beings.

In short, the Egyptiansregarded God’s chosen people equallyuseful either alive as forced-laborers or dead as fertilizer for their crops. Let’s go with the latter, for now.

If we regard the captive Hebrews as lifeless possessions exploited at the whim of the Egyptians, then freedom for them toworship inthe desertmeant “life” to them. In fact, inExodus 6:6 God says, “…I will also redeem you with an outstretched arm…” Redeemed here is “ga^al” which could be translated as”to redeem individualsfrom death.”

Are you still with me? Life is free…life ispassionate…life is energy. Life without freedom…life without passion…life without energy is, at the risk ofbeing obvious, dead. According to the law of conservation of energyif the Hebrews were to be set free from captivity, to come “alive”, then someone had to die. In this case, it was the firstborn of the Egyptians; in particular the firstborn of the King or Pharaoh that had to die.

Now, I know that this doesn’t answer my initial question of why the first nineplagues were necessary, but it does help with why the last one was. In order forsomeone to be free to live (spiritually), someonemustdie (spiritually).

If we jump into Mr. Peabody’s Wayback Machine and speedfrom the Old Testamentto the New Testament we find the same law of physics applies. Only now it’s God’sSon, the Firstborn ofThe King,thatdiedso that others could be free to live. And, Jesus’ passionate love for us was so full of”infinite energy” that His death was more than enough in exchangefor the life of every man, woman and child in the world! But, He had to die so that wecould live. And, we get to die to ourselves so that He can live through us. Jesus didn’t come to make people better, He came to bring dead people to life (please see earlier”Worship in the Desert“regarding “have to” and “get to”) .

And, “Jesus-life” is freedom. Before He brings us to life we’re just dead, possessions being exploited by some slavemaster: lust, drugs, porn, money, power, status, control…whatever it is it keeps us dead, it keeps us captive so that we can’t “go to the desert to worship the Lord.” Someone had to die so that I could live. Jesus was that someone. He died so that I could be free to worship.

That’s “why worship.” Worship isn’t to set me free; it’s because I amfree. “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” Free to worship!