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From “A Stick” into the “Staff of God”

Filed under: Blog — Pastor David Dec 28, 2012 @ 4:17 pm

 The story of Moses is an account of one of the greatest leaders of the Old Testament!   It has been said of Moses that for 40 years he learned to be important. Then for 40 years he learned to be unimportant. Then for the last 40 years he learned what God can do with someone who is not important. This journey of Moses’ leadership is the story of how God takes a “weak stick” and turns it into a “powerful scepter” that commands nations and becomes a divine channel of power.

During Moses’ first 40 years he became acquainted with the world of power and of dominating men.   He was the prince of Egypt and commanded thousands of slaves as well as the entire population of free Egyptians. Here Moses was in reach of the scepter of Pharoah, a “rod of iron” seemingly unbreakable.  He was second in line to the throne. To have that rod of precious metals in his hand was to visualize his potential. He was a man of power in the most powerful nation of his world. He knew fame, victory in war, and achievements that were recognized by the whole nation. It was a world of success, wealth, and comfort for him. Many in our world today seek such a life, the lifestyle of the rich and famous. However, for Moses, this only left him empty. Once he realized he was really a Jew, the identity crisis of this knowledge changed everything for him. He was motivated to help these poor victims, seeking to deliver them from the unjust slavery that had been forced upon them. His heart’s passion was revealed as he is seen trying to rescue a helpless Jew from being killed during a confrontation with an unjust Egyptian supervisor. This confrontation ended in that supervisor’s death since the supervisor would not back down. This shocking event was misrepresented and misunderstood by the Egyptians and the Jews alike. Moses was accused of creating a revolution against the king and trying to take command as a self-appointed “leader” over the Jewish slaves. The king sentenced him to death. His life of power and wealth ended in what looked like a failure to all those who watched him.

Moses then became a fugitive and was forced to enter the world of obscurity where he became a wanderer in the empty Midian desert. This quiet life was the exact opposite of the former 40 years. Here he picked up a stick to manage the sheep of Jethro (not even his own sheep). Dealing with sheep was offensive to the sophisticated and powerful Egyptians. This had become Moses’ fulltime occupation. To do this job he had to have a stick from the unimpressive and unimportant desert. The stick was with him all the time. He used it to defend the sheep, guide the sheep, stop the sheep from hurting each other, and for numbering the sheep. This stick symbolized his identity as a despised shepherd. It’s message…“You do an unimportant job in an unimportant place and you are an unimportant person.”

After 40 years of living in this world of unimportance, Moses had the well-known burning bush encounter (Exodus 3-4). There God called him to deliver the Jews from the all-powerful Egyptian king and nation, truly an impossible mission by all human measurements. As God was recruiting and preparing the reluctant Moses, Moses pushed back with the question, “What if the Jews do not believe You sent me? How can I convince them?”  He was pondering his unimportance, his lowly status, and his lack of any type of military power. Why would the Jews follow him?

 

God’s answer was, “What is in your hand?”  Moses responded, “A stick.” God was getting ready to explode Moses’ mindset and feelings of unimportance.  “Is that all it is, a stick?” Then God commands, “Throw it down.” I can imagine Moses saying, “Why? How is that going do anything?” Here Moses was being mentored to obey even when you do not understand. Once Moses obeyed what God said, the stick was transformed into a lethal snake. Moses ran away from it. That snake terrified him!  God commanded him to pick up that snake.  Next Moses was being trained to obey even when full of fear. When he picked it up,  it was transformed back into a stick but with a new identity.!  This was no ordinary stick, it was “the staff of God!”

Something very powerful had just happened that may be hidden to the 21st century reader. The snake was the symbol of power in Egypt. The Pharaoh, the king, wore the cobra on his head. The cobra was engraved and represented in many of their tombs to show the power of the one buried. Moses’ stick was the very instrument that would defeat the powers of Egypt, both natural and spiritual. Bible teacher Burton commented, “The Egyptians despised shepherds; and now, it was to be a shepherd’s staff that would humble and overthrow the all-powerful enemies of God’s people. The might and glory of Egypt would be humbled and destroyed by it, yet it was merely an instrument in the hands of an instrument (Moses) of God!” Did you get that? “An instrument in the hands of an instrument.” This stick was an object lesson as to what God was doing in Moses’ life. His image as a despised shepherd was being transformed into the image of one who would overcome and overthrow the greatest powers on earth! But there was only power when under the authority of God. Moses must first obey God even when he does not understand or when he may be full of fear. But when he did that, his life would be full of spiritual power demonstrating the very power of God!

The lesson here is worth noting. Obedient leaders are channels of greatly needed spiritual power and insight. What unleashes this power? Obedience! The challenges to obedience are two: needing to be fully informed first before obeying and secondly raw fear. These two attitudes stop many leaders from following the sometimes frightening call of God. Consider the attitude of needing the vision fully explained before we do it. If we have this attitude then I ask, “Who would marry anyone with this stipulation? Who would have a child? Or work for a company? Or move to a new city? Etc.” It is impossible to know all the details before any adventure. If former men had done that, there would be no progress until this day!  The church of Christ would still be in the upper room in Jerusalem! Why? Because everything accomplished is the result of risking and having the courage to try something new before they were comfortable or secure or even understood what may happen afterward. As someone has asserted, “Decide to do it and let the chips fall where they will.”

The second challenge followed in reaction to what Moses’ obedience created, a living snake with lethal potential. It seems out of control. It seems to be something that will destroy rather than build. Moses liberated between 2 and 3 million people! He will be responsible for feeding them and giving them water in the barren and hot desert. What God sometimes unleashes can be scary. But God reminds the leader that his obedience keeps it under control. This can be a huge comfort to a leader when his church grows too fast, or when people are excited to do small groups, or when they are asked to speak in front a king, or president. Keep doing what led you there, obey!

Stay focus on the simple formula God gave Moses: God speaks, we obey. That was how Moses led a nation through the wilderness for 40 years, and it will be the same formula for success in our leadership as well.

Father, we thank You for speaking to us. Forgive us when we feel we must have an explanation before we will do what You say. Forgive us when we let fear stop us from obeying You. We do believe that You speak to us and we ask that You please help us when we allow other influences to slow us down in our response. May our “obedience of faith” please You as we go forward and do what You have called us to do… to truly lead our people in accomplishing Your plan and purposes. In Jesus Name, Amen.

A Leader’s Job: “Preach the Word”

Filed under: Leadership — Pastor David Dec 11, 2012 @ 3:24 pm

“(The preacher) stands in Christ’s stead; his message is the Word of God; around are immortal souls; the Savior unseen, is beside him; the Holy Spirit broods over the congregation; angels gaze upon the scene, and heaven and hell await the issue. What associations and what vast responsibility.”  Matthew Simpson in Lectures on Preaching

The job of every leader is to communicate the vision and purpose of the organization to their followers. People under a leader must hear from the leader regarding what to do, how to do it, and why to do it. The leader gives them this direction from his public and private communication to them. Without this, the company or school, the business or venture will die. How much more is this true of the church of Jesus Christ! We need our preachers to point the way as never before!

Sadly, many today think that preaching is outdated and needs to be replaced with more effective forms of ministry. I do not deny there are other parts of ministry that yield abundant fruit and lift the church to great heights, like the small group ministry that multiplies or the mentoring of upcoming leaders. But what about preaching?  Is its usefulness over, as some educators suggest? One description of modern day preachers said, “They are a bland composite of a person who is congenial, an ever ready to help boy scout, the darling of the old ladies and as sufficiently reserved with the young ones, as a father image for the young people and a companion to lonely men; as a glad-hander at teas and civic club conventions.” (Kyle Haselden). This friendly man may be liked but his influence will not spark transformation nor uproot the dominion of evil and cause the movement of God’s kingdom to transpire. Just being nice will not change our country. He must preach the word with conviction and power!

Preaching is a God-given task that men down the centuries have been given as a means to bring change to their world. Moses, Samuel, the prophets, Jesus Himself, and His apostles all used this calling with great effectiveness. Not one of them took the job lightly but realized it carried with it the weight of eternal decisions.  This is why apostle Paul urged his upcoming replacement, Timothy,  to “preach the Word” (2 Tim 4:2). This counsel is timeless, for it comes to the present day as authoritative as it was in the first century. After all, just two verses prior to this exhortation was the statement, “All scripture is inspired by God and is profitable”, yes, “profitable” or beneficial, to expose sin (rebuke), provide a path for healing and restoration (correction), and a lifestyle of obedience (training in righteousness), in short, it transforms lives not just informs the listeners!   One of the upmost scholars on preaching, Haddon Robinson, commented, “A power comes through the preached word that even the written word cannot replace.”  Every spiritual leader can attest to the truth of that statement when they have participated in meetings where God’s Word changed the direction of their church or their individual lives by a single sermon preached!

What type of preaching gets the job done? That is a big question, bigger than one article in a magazine. But let me start the journey with you in how the apostles would answer that question. “Preach the Word.” What is the “Word”? It is the 66 books of the Bible. Each author had been given their message from God. That message had a specific point it was making. We must respect what the author meant to say. That is called “authorial intent” in theological circles. What it means is we declare and preach the message that the author intended in his book. So Moses had a point in Genesis, Exodus, etc. and we must find that point by hard and diligent study (see 2 Tim 2:15 to affirm the apostles hard work in doing the same).

The author’s intent is all important. We cannot make the Bible say what it never originally did not say or meant. What did the author intend? Answering the question of the authors intent leads me closer to what he meant even though I may never truly know the exact meaning he had in mind. If this was possible, there would not be disagreements about the meaning among scholars today. So we see that even with as hard as we work at this, there is still the reality of human error. Let this make us more humble, teachable, diligent, and careful as we preach this Word.

The other side of this process is that the Bible itself is a revelation from God and must be revealed to us by illumination as well. The Holy Spirit uncovers the message to our minds and applies that message to our hearts and lives. Jesus’ promise was, “He (the Holy Spirit) will teach you (plural) all things”(John 14:26). While we wrestle to understand the author’s original intention we also find the reality of the meaning as the Holy Spirit makes it clear and certain to us. While there are areas of truth we may disagree on, there are many areas of truth we all agree on. They are called the primary truths as opposed to the secondary, or the essential versus the non-essential. On essential truths we preach with unity boldly and without reservation. But on the non-essential truths we go about that with greater latitude and reasonableness of spirit.

Both sides of preaching (bold or cautious, primary or secondary truth) are part of the whole in the simple command to “preach the word.” Both sides fulfill a needed missing component from our lives in the church. We need the bold sure declarations and the careful human opinions to shape our approach as we preach this Word. Sometimes we unerringly point to the truth while other times admit we are not sure what God meant or what the author meant as we teach. This does not ruin our faith but, rather, it deepens it as we mature. We recognize that there are parts of what we know and preach that are huge foundational stones on which to build, while there are still areas of truth we do not fully understand.

The preacher is a man with weaknesses and frailties yet he declares the truths of God’s Word. This is a powerful combination. Weakness yet strength, limited insight yet sure that God is true, we know and yet we have much to still learn. We are bold and humble, reckless and cautious all at the same time. While we preach a Christ that will never fail, we admit we are mere men and can fail at any time. In this spirit let us “preach the word”!

Father, I thank You  for giving us an inerrant guide and unfailing witness to lead us throughout life until we meet You one day. I also thank You for making us so dependent that without You we are nothing, we learn nothing and can do nothing of eternal significance. Allow us to grow and mature, to be bold and gentle in how we teach this amazing Book You have given us. May we faithfully preach Your message and what You want said and stay away from preaching our own thoughts. May we let Your point be made.   For the glory of your Son, and in His name we ask it. Amen.