Exodus 3:1 – 10
Bill Belichick is head coach of the American football team the New England Patriots. He is considered the best football coach of this generation and one of the best NFL coaches of all time. He became coach of t New Eng Pats in 2000, and in those 17 years he has led the Patriots to the Super Bowl seven times, winning the Super Bowl five of those times. No coach has ever won as many Super Bowl titles as him. Three times he has been named National Football League coach of year.
But things were not always so rosy for coach Belichick. Before coaching the New Eng Patriots, Belichick was head coach of the Cleveland Browns for five years. He had a losing record during four of those five yrs. In 1995 he fired as head coach of t Cleveland Browns after his team won just five games & lost eleven.
Losing a job under any circumstances is hard to deal with, but it is especially difficult when you were let go not because of an economic downturn or the company simply needed to reduce its workforce, but because you did not meet the expectations. You did not perform. That can cause a loss of confidence and a questioning of one’s worth.
But if one chooses, that failure can lead to a time of personal reflection, which can inspire some necessary changes. For coach Belichick, that failure caused him to evaluate and change his coaching style. In January of 2000 he was given a new opportunity when the New England Patriots hired him as their head coach. A new call led to incredible success.
From time to time we all need a new opportunity, a second chance. For we all have made mistakes. Perhaps we’ve failed as relates to our career. Or we’ve blown it in our marriage. Maybe we’ve had moral setbacks. It could be we haven’t measured up academically. Probably there have been times when we’ve gotten off course in terms of God’s will for our lives. But in spite of our failures, God so patient with us.
Scripture makes it abundantly clear that God specializes in giving fallen servants a second chance. Just look at Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Rahab, David, Peter, Paul, etc. Apart from Jesus, you won’t find a person in Scripture who was not flawed and whose resumé does not include times of failure. But God is not nearly as interested in our past failures as He is in our future potential. If we are willing to learn from our mistakes, and if we are yielded to the transforming work of God’s Spirit in our lives, God will bring new and exciting opportunities our way. We will hear His call yet again.
So let me encourage you, do not write yourself out of the script because of your past. No matter how you have failed, do conclude that you are now of no use to God, or that God is not interested in you. For that is not the message of Scripture. Just when we feel useless because our failures, God’s call comes to us afresh. We see this so clearly in life of Moses.
Recall from last week Moses grew up in t Pharaoh’s court where he received the best education and finest training available that time. But as he grew older, Moses began to identify with his own people. Scripture doesn’t tell us how that change came about, but somehow it did. One day Moses saw an Egyptian taskmaster beating one of the Hebrew slaves. Moses became so angered by this injustice toward one of his own people that he killed the Egyptian. Moses hid the body in the sand, but somehow word got out that he had murdered an Egyptian. When the Pharaoh found out he sought to kill Moses for he saw how one who was residing in his royal court was now siding with the Hebrew slaves.
So at around the age of 40, Moses fled for his life. He went to the desert of Midian where remained for another 40 yrs. There he married and had two children. For 40 years he tended the flocks of his father-in-law. Not very exciting for one who spent the years of childhood and early adulthood surrounded by the material comforts and royal lifestyle of the Pharaoh’s court. From the prince of Egypt to an anonymous shepherd in desert.
But while they were not exciting years – in fact, were probably pretty dull and monotonous – those 40 years in the desert were crucially important for Moses. For certain changes had to take place in Moses before he would be ready for the monumental task God had for him. He needed to grow in character. He had to get his anger under control, for he was right in opposing t Egyptian taskmaster who was beating the Hebrew slave, but Moses was completely in the wrong when in anger he murdered him. Moses was beginning to sense that he was to do something to aid his fellow Hebrews, but he needed to learn to wait on od to receive God’s instructions, for God’s work must be done God’s way, not necessarily the way that makes the most sense to us.
Beyond these things, Moses needed to learn the ways of the desert. The time would come when Moses would have to lead the Israelites in the desert for yet 40 more years. Growing up in Pharaoh’s court Moses knew nothing about surviving in the desert. And so the many years Moses spent in the desert of Midian were not wasted years. They formed a significant aspect of his education and transformation. He was able to grow in character. He learned to depend on God instead of his own scheming. And he learned how to live in the desert. As we saw last week, we should not despair when we have to endure desert times. They may be difficult or hard to understand, but with God nothing is wasted.
Finally the day came when Moses would have to start putting all this education, training, and transformation to good use as God gave him a second chance, an incredible opportunity. We read of it in Exodus 3:1–10.
Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the desert and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight – why the bush does not burn up.”
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 t place where you are standing is holy ground.” Then he said, “I am the God of your father, God of Abraham, t God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.
The Lord said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey – the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”
On one ordinary day in desert, Moses received a fresh call from God. And it’s important to note that this was just an ordinary day. When Moses got up that morning, he didn’t sense that this would be any different than the countless days he had spent herding sheep in the desert. He didn’t have a vision in the night, with an angel telling him, “Pay attention tomorrow, because God has something special for you.” Moses wasn’t on a spiritual retreat or attending a conference on discerning God’s will.
No, it was just another day with his sheep in the desert, just like every day for the past 40 years. That’s the way God usually operates; He breaks into the routine of our ordinary days.
T disciples were by the lake mending their nets. Nothing out of the ordinary about their day. But then Jesus came walking by, called them to follow, and nothing would ever be ordinary again. But think how easily these disciples could have missed this God-moment. Jesus was still unknown, just starting His ministry. The disciples easily could have dismissed the invitation of Jesus and said something like, “Can’t you see we’re busy here with our fishing. We can’t step away from our jobs. We have to make a living, you know!”
Fortunately, the disciples were not so locked into their little world and their plans and simply their routine on this ordinary day that they missed how God was directing their lives and their future.
We need to live each day with the expectation that God may have something important for us this day. We must beware of the rut of thinking we know what each day will bring – or will not bring. It’s so easy to think this is just another day in Kuala Lumpur, another day at the office, another day at home with the kids, another day at school. Been there, done that, and now I’m going to do it again. It’s just the same old thing. No, every day has possibilities.
God first put international ministry on my heart when I was a university student. It happened on an ordinary day. I attended a Christian university and we had chapel every Tuesday morning. Chapel was not required, but I almost always attended.
That morning I was not expecting to hear a message from God specifically for me. It was just an ordinary day and an ordinary chapel service, like I had experienced countless times before. There were usually a few announcements at the beginning of the service. Announcements – that’s about as ordinary as you can get! I didn’t hear God’s message to me during the sermon, or during a powerful exposition of God’s word, or singing an inspiring song of worship. No, just during the announcements.
The vice president of the university announced he had received a letter from a mission organization inviting university students to take either a summer or a whole year and work with one of their missionary families somewhere in the world. I never ever considered doing anything like this, but instantly I knew that was for me. I can’t explain it; I just knew in my heart God was speaking to me, and I needed to follow up, which I did, and I spent the next year overseas doing mission work. My whole life changed on an ordinary day listing to an announcement.
When we think we already know what the day will be like and become locked into that mindset, there is a good chance we will miss something new that God would bring our way. For God is the living God. God is the God of today. And any day God may break into our ordinary routine with a word of encouragement, a new sense of direction, a fresh touch of His grace, a new opportunity.
Not that it will necessarily happen every day. But if we are open to the possibility that God may come to us, speak to us, or direct us in some way then we will surely miss it. Every day has the possibility of some kind of fresh encounter with God. It may be life changing, as it was for me in chapel; or it may be something just for that day. But for that day it is important!
On this ordinary day God used a burning bush to get Moses’ attention. I suppose God could have used any number of ways to get Moses’ attention, but God chose to use something as simple as a burning bush. Moses would have seen burning bushes before in the desert, but this time it was unusual because the bush was not consumed by the fire. Typically in the desert, a bush would be very dry and if for some reason it caught fire it would be reduced to ashes in no time at all. But that didn’t happen this time; the bush remained intact despite the flames.
When Moses noticed this unusual sight, that the bush was on fire but it did not burn up, it says in vs. 3, “So Moses thought, ‘I will go over and see this strange sight – why the bush does not burn up.’” Or a more literal translation is, “So Moses said, ‘I must turn aside now and see this marvelous sight.”
Vs. 4 continues, “When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, ‘Moses! Moses!’” It’s crucial to note that sequence. God sought to get Moses’ attention by means of the burning bush, but only after Moses dropped what he was doing and went over to see what this was all about did God speak to Moses. Only when Moses turned aside did God then go on to reveal His purpose to Moses – that he was to return to Egypt and lead the Israelites out of their slavery. To turn aside simply means we stop for a moment to consider what is before us, what God is saying to us.
I wonder how many times we have missed a message from God simple because we did not take a moment to turn aside so we could be receptive to His voice. How often have we missed an encounter with the Lord because we were too busy or too preoccupied or whatever to stop what we were doing and like Moses, to turn aside in that moment to go over to see what God was doing, to give our attention to God in that moment or that situation.
Now there are some Christians who think that God is always speaking to them, sometimes with messages for everyone else. They’re always saying, “The Lord told me this,” and “the Lord told me that.” We need to be careful of that.
But we don’t want to be like Jacob either in t passage we read in Gen. 28. After his dream he realized, “The Lord was in this place and I was not aware of it.” God is always with us and speaks to us in lots of different ways, but we can easily become so preoccupied with other things that we’re not even aware of His presence and we cannot hear His voice.
There are lots of ways God tries to get our attention. Sometimes it’s through tragedy – serious illness, loss of a job, terrible accidents, natural disasters, and so forth. I’m not suggesting that God causes all such things, but certainly God works through them. Sometimes it takes a tragedy or disappointment to get our attention, to get us to slow down and examine our lives. At such times God may want to speak to us, to tell us that we’ve gotten off course in terms of our lifestyle, our goals, our use of time, or the place we’ve relegated God to in our lives.
And yet how often people try to move through such experiences totally oblivious to the word God has for them. The goal is to just get through the difficult experience as quickly and as painlessly as possible. They never turn aside to listen to God, to hear His message for them in that moment.
But it’s not only through tragedy that God seeks to get our attention. God also works through the joyous events of life. Consider the birth of a child. Those of you who are parents know the sheer wonder of that. To think that – to speak plainly here – a microscopic sperm and egg that came forth from your bodies resulted in a new human being. That is absolutely mind-boggling. Being a part of that kind of event points us back to God our Creator, the author and giver of life. And it should draw us closer to God in gratitude for the gift of life and in worship of God for His wondrous ways. Yet how many people never turn aside in that special moment to recognize the presence of God, or to hear the voice of their Heavenly Father calling out to them, to be refreshed in their spirit by this miracle of God? Unfortunately, far too many.
G has surrounded us with the beauty of His creation. But when we drive through the majestic mountains, or witness a dazzling sunset. or when we note the intricate beauty of a flower, do we take a moment to turn aside to appreciate not only the the beauty of the gift but also the kindness and generosity of the Giver who has blessed us with these beautiful gifts?
Ps. 19:1 states that the heavens declare the glory of God. The creation itself reminds us there is a Creator. We are not alone in the universe, and we are not here by accident. Every day we can behold God’s glory, power, and wisdom through the world He has made – if we turn aside to appreciate it and reflect on the One it points to.
We may have a burning bush experience in a conversation with a friend. Bill Hybels is the founding pastor of Willow Creek Community Church near Chicago. It’s one of these mega-churches with about 20,000 people attending. That in itself doesn’t mean much, but literally thousands of people have come to faith in Christ through their ministry and they have had a huge impact on their community and on churches throughout the world.
That wasn’t always Bill Hybels’ dream. His father was a very successful business owner, and it seemed logical that one day Bill would take over the family business. But one day, when he was about 18 or so, he had a conversation with an older Christian man. Hybels writes the man said to him:
“So, Bill, all the signs seem to be pointing to you heading into your family’s business. And while that’s a fine choice to make, I have a question for you. What are you going to do with your life that will last forever? I have no doubts about your making money and racking up a ton of achievements. You’re a bright kid who will probably set records in whatever you choose to do. I’m just curious what you’ll do that will outlive you and all those earthly accomplishments. What are you going to do to serve people – because people are the only commodity that makes it to the next life, you know.”
Hybels could have just dismissed the man’s comments. After all, why should he let some older gentleman mess up his life’s plans? But it was a burning bush moment, and the young Hybels had the good sense not to dismiss the conversation. The conversation held him captive the rest of the night. When he returned home and went to his bedroom, he said it was if God was right in the room repeating the man’s words. Hybels writes he sensed God whisper to him, “What are you going to do with your one and only life? What difference will you make for eternity? Faster cars, more cash and toys – none of those will make it beyond your grave.” That was a key moment in Hybel’s life. God got his attention through the penetrating words of the older man. Fortunately Hybels turned aside to hear the voice of God through the words of this man.
God wants to get our attention even right now, during this worship service. And yet how easy it is to come to worship and never turn aside to focus on what God is saying or to grasp what God is doing? We can easily fall into the rut coming to worship just out of routine with no expectation at all of encountering God. We simply go through the motions of worship without really entering into it, without engaging our hearts and minds in what we are doing. Or we come and we are preoccupied with what we’re going to do this week or who’s playing football later today or who we need to talk to after the service or whatever.
There may not be a bush burning in our midst right now, but God is here nevertheless, for He has promised to be with us as we gather in His name. What an incredible opportunity we have! So it’s vitally important in worship that we turn aside from all activities and worries and whatever would sidetrack us to focus on God.
We need to turn aside from all these other things so we can behold His greatness as we sing His praises, so we can hear His message as we listen to His word, so we can be encouraged by His Spirit as we spend time in prayer, and so we can be refreshed by His love in the Lord’s Supper as we remember how Christ died in our place. If we consciously turn aside to God, He will meet us and renew our faith.
And we don’t always need a “burning bush experience,” some specific event that happens to turn aside and meet God in some way. We can turn aside, and we should turn aside each and every day. Simply taking 5, 10, or 15 mins at some point in the day, pulling ourselves away from the routine and the demands and the schedule, and then reading and reflecting on a chapter from God’s Word and spending a few moments in prayer – that is an essential way of reconnecting with God and experiencing His presence, of letting God speak to us through His word and by His Spirit.
Moses could have ignored the burning bush. He could have stopped for a second, concluded, “Oh, that’s interesting,” and then just gone right on with his business of tending the sheep. And then he would have missed a life-changing encounter with the living God. He would have missed a future full of purpose. He would have missed the reason for his existence. Fortunately, Moses had not had his senses dulled by 40 years of the same routine in the desert. Rather he turned aside to behold something new, and in the process he not only encountered God, but also received a fresh call from God.
That can be our experience as well. Regardless of our past failures, if we are willing to learn from our mistakes, to repent of our sin, and entrust ourselves to the gracious, transforming power of God, He will bring new opportunities our way.
And if we live each day with a sense of expectancy, with eyes open and spirits sensitive to God’s voice, we will hear God speak to us again. It may be a life-changing call, as true for Moses, or it may be something more simple, such as, “Write a note of encouragement to a friend who is going through a difficult time.” Or, “Take 30 minutes and visit that person who is lonely or discouraged, to be a listening ear or an encouraging voice.” Or maybe it won’t concern something we are to do, but God just wants to encourage us in our faith or touch us afresh with His love.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861)was an English poet, and in one of her poems she wrote these words:
"Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries."
Let me encourage you this day and every day, to turn aside to behold the presence and hear the voice of your Heavenly Father.