Thursday, June 20, 2013

Closer to the Fire

There is nothing like a spectacular, enormous, radiant bonfire on a cold fall night. It draws people to its warmth and light; it creates a unique fellowship. However, sometimes we are afraid to get too close, lest we become too warm or catch our clothes on fire.
Our relationship to God can be like that. We may want His presence, but from a safe distance. It is easier to stay where we are, content with a bit of God’s warmth, but not wanting too much of His fire. After all, we could be radically affected!
         In “Three Dollars’ Worth of God,” Wilbur Rees suggested that we want God, but only to a certain degree and in a limited amount, like buying just enough gasoline to go so far. God keeps calling us closer, so that He can fill us full of Himself. He aims to revive us, change us, and light the fire in our hearts.
Exodus 3:1 describes an ordinary day, in which an ordinary man was tending his father-in-law’s ordinary sheep, looking for ordinary pasture in an ordinary place. This man had failed forty years earlier. He had killed a man and then fled from Egypt to Midian. Now he was eighty years old, perhaps resigned to his ordinary life. Not only was the land of Midian dry, parched, and empty; so was he. But after four long decades of this mediocre existence, one day he met God.
Nothing prepared Moses for what would happen that day, the day that God would break His silence. He gathered Jethro’s sheep, and began his work. He led the flock to Horeb, the mountain of God, also known as Mount Sinai. He had no idea that, in the future, God would give water to His freed people there (Ex 17:6) and grant them His commandments and law (Ex 19-20). After the exodus God would transform that ordinary mountain with His presence and light the fire.
But first, perhaps as a prelude to that event, God took an ordinary, dry, thorny, common bush, and He set it on fire. The bush was not the tallest, or the most perfect, or the most deserving. But when God set it on fire, it became extraordinary.
Moses was curious, struck by the fact that the bush did not burn up. What if he had not noticed? What if he had been too busy pursuing his sheep in all directions to turn toward it? What if he had been, as we may be today, watching his favorite TV show, caught up in his retirement, or rushing to meet a pressing deadline? What if he had missed the bush?
He wanted just to take a closer look, but God wanted to set him on fire and send him back to Egypt. He was curious, but not committed. Sound familiar? Moses may have wanted, as we may want today, to be in attendance at the big event, but not to give all his attention to it.
It was only when Moses turned toward the bush that the LORD called to him (Exodus 3:4). What about us? What wonderful things does God want to tell us in the Scriptures? What great mission or plan does He have? But how can He reach us, if we will not turn toward Him? We will never hear Him if we are pointed in the wrong direction.
Revival can come to our lives, our families, our congregations, and our nation, but only when we meet God. We must turn toward the flame and draw closer. Otherwise He can do nothing with us, and He will look for others. When we do personally encounter God, when we hear His voice calling in Scripture, six things will happen.
First, we will bare our feet and bury our faces (Ex 3:5-6). Put yourself in Moses’ position. Feel the heat, hear the voice, and sense the majesty of God. Tremble before Him in your emptiness. Fall before Him in reverence. Know your place because you know His place. Surrender the throne of your heart to the almighty, transcendent, holy God. Wherever you meet Him is a sacred place, so act accordingly. How could we treat worship casually? How could we approach God comfortably, when we have met God at the bush?
Second, we will hear the lost crying through His ears (Ex 3:7-10). God said regarding the captive Israelites, “I am concerned about their suffering (Ex 3:7).” God finds irresistible the cries of humble, penitent, miserable people. Do we? He not only feels our pain; He calls us to feel His pain for others. He sent the Christ when we were helpless and ungodly (Rom. 5:6-11); now He would send us to others in similar circumstances. How can we ignore the lost, the poor, and the homeless, when we have met God at the bush?
Third, we will see our excuses through His eyes. It is hard to imagine an eighty-year-old man arguing with a bush, is it not? Even worse, how could a man challenge the LORD God? Nothing has changed. God still calls. We still resist with our ifs, ands, and buts.
Moses objected, saying, “Who am I (3:11-12)?” It is as if Moses was the one to save Israel! He had failed in his earlier efforts to do so (Ex 2:11-15); he might hesitate to try again. But this was not about Moses; it was about God. “I will be with you.” Surely Moses would agree to go now. But it was not so.
Moses went from asking, “Who am I?” to asking, “Who are You (3:13-15)?” God responded: “I AM WHO I AM.” The names Yahweh and Jehovah are taken from the Hebrew verb used here, hayah (“to be”). Jehovah is also taken from this name. To meet God is to know His nature. He is the eternal, the unchangeable, the ever-faithful, the invincible God. He would rescue Israel because He had promised Abraham that He would (Gen. 15:12-21). How could Moses object further?
Yet he did. He asked, “What if they won’t (4:1-9)?” and, “What if I can’t (4:10-12)?” God insisted that He would work through the staff Moses held in his hand. That staff was as ordinary as the bush, until the presence of God came into it. If God could do that with a staff, what could He do with Moses? If Moses would meet God, he would see the answers to his excuses. So would we. We would bring to God what is in our hands - our possessions, our relationships, our time, and our strength - and God would do the extraordinary.
Moses’ “I can’t!” would become “God can!” when he met the LORD. His lack of eloquence (or possibly his speech impediment) would pose no obstacle for the One who made him. God can use the blind, the deaf, the mute, the young, and the old, but only if we will come close to Him and ask Him to light the fire.
Yet Moses still hesitated. He asked, “Who else is there (4:13)?” Before we become too upset with Moses, let us ask ourselves: “How do we respond to God’s call for more preachers, missionaries, and personal evangelists?” As long as we keep asking, “Who else is there?” we are right there, at the bush, arguing with God.
How did God react to this last resistance? Read Exodus 3:14 and note that His anger burned against Moses. God had been so patient in dealing with one excuse after another. No more. At first it was the bush that was burning; now it was God’s anger. How can we presume upon the mercy of God and refuse His mission? How can we avoid His wrath if we do not obey His will?
Fourth, when we meet God we will infect and excite His people (Ex 3:16-17). Elders, preachers, deacons, and the entire congregation must see the fire, catch the vision, and commit themselves to God’s mission. When there is division in the church, someone is standing too far from the fire.
Fifth, we will confront His enemy (Ex 3:18). How could Moses have imagined, when he first saw the bush, that God would send him before Pharaoh? We, too, must meet God and put on His whole armor; when we do, we will take our stand against the devil’s schemes (Eph. 6:10-18).
Sixth, only when we meet God will we experience His deliverance (Ex 3:19-20). Ultimately, God would stretch out His hands on a cross at Golgotha to provide us freedom from bondage and death. When we put our faith in Christ and are baptized, we meet God and rise to live a new life. In that new life, we must draw near to God’s flame again and again. Then He will light the fire.
As a country song says, “Life is not tried, it is merely survived, if you’re standing outside the fire.” Wherever you are in your walk with God, take a step closer to the fire. You will never be the same again.

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