40 Years in Midian

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(This is not a picture of Midian. This is a picture of Colorado. Because Colorado is pretty.)

Moses was, arguably, the most honored man to have ever lived. He alone was invited into the Almighty’s presence and called His friend; he experienced a kind of intimacy with God that, if we are honest with ourselves, both inspires and terrifies most of us. He was God’s friend. But he didn’t start that way! His eventual success in fulfilling God’s whole plan for his life is encouraging – inspiring – overwhelmingly full of hope to me, but not because he succeeded. It is all these things because he failed.

Can you imagine being born into Moses’ circumstances? Intended for death from the first breath of life, spared by the courage of a mother and the protection of God, hand-delivered by God into the palace of the very people who ordered your death – and spared, and spared, and spared again. Given back to the courageous mother for a little while, long enough for her to tell you over and over again what a miracle you are, then taken back to the palace to be told you were a gift from the gods, used as leverage, pampered and educated and prepared to be one of the greatest men in the world. By the age of 40, he had clearly decided who he was going to be. Maybe his birth mother told him it was his purpose; maybe his mother or a mentor had suggested it was his fate (believing he would use the Israelites to stage a mutiny and rule Egypt, perhaps?); or maybe the circumstances of his life convinced him, but he knew. He was Israel’s deliverer. He would save them.

Now the bigger problem: they did not know this was his intention. Whose side was he really on, anyway? Would he ally himself with the Egyptians who had raised him, or the Israelites who had birthed him? To save them, he needed their allegiance; for their allegiance, he needed their trust; for their trust, he needed to do something – anything – to help them. So he killed a man, an Egyptian man, a man who abused them.

And thus began his failure.

First of all, he killed the coward’s way. He waited until the man was alone, until no one would see, and buried his body in the sand while he thought no one was watching. And he learned immediately what all cowards must learn eventually; someone is always watching.

(For the record, I’m not condemning cowards; understand, I am one. That’s what’s so exciting to me about all this.)

The rumor must have made it to the palace fairly soon. There were plenty of people seeking Pharaoh’s favor, and to be the messenger delivering the news of the black sheep’s misdeeds, the Hebrew prince, well, that would surely be rewarded, no? Moses did not have the courage to find out.

He ran. He ran from everything – the confrontation, the consequences, the expectations of his mothers, the failure – his failure, his failure to be anything extraordinary at all. He ran to Midian. For forty years he hid tending sheep and soaking in his failure, like meat in a marinade, pulling it into himself until it saturated him with disillusionment and belief in his inadequacy. He pulled together what little hope for a fulfilling life he had left – a wife, children, a job that put food on the table – and he just gave up.

Moses gave up. MOSES gave UP! Can I get a hallelujah? I am not the only one who’s ever felt this way, folks. PRAISE THE LORD.

God let him wallow there for FORTY YEARS. Forty! I tell you what, you know if he’d had any hope left at the beginning, he certainly didn’t by the end.

Now I don’t know about you, but forty years would be long enough to convince me that if God even had saved me for a purpose, He must’ve given up on me, too. And then, when Moses was so thick with his failure and shame that he could have never gone back, he met someone.

One part relief from the burden of saving Israel, ninety-nine parts shame and disappointment, wallowing out in the desert just trying to forget, and then there he stood, in front of a flame-filled bush that was not burning up, hearing a voice he thought would never have a reason speak to him now. A whole lifetime had gone by – the man was 80 years old – and there he was, making his excuses to the Most High God, telling Him all the things he had told himself for forty years in the desert: You don’t want me. I am not good enough for You.

But God did want him. Not someone like him, but him exactly, and not him forty-one years ago, puffed up with his own importance and driving after his own glory, but him now, filled with his own insignificance, resigned to spend the rest of his life herding sheep.

Somehow, that made him ready to lead arguably the greatest event in Israel’s history (barring the birth of the Messiah): the Exodus.

There must be something about herding sheep that uniquely qualifies a man to lead a nation. Israel’s two greatest leaders, David and Moses, were both trained this way. Maybe it’s because sheep are so stupid. Maybe it’s because they’re so stubborn and wayward, and maybe those are all the same thing. Or maybe it’s because they all look alike to everyone except their shepherd, who recognizes them as individual, gentle creatures who only need a little guidance, care, and protection to be peaceful and happy and devoted and free.

Or maybe, just maybe, it’s because sheep can so quietly be abused: “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.” (Luke 16:10) A shepherd spends most of his days alone, with no one to hold him accountable if he doesn’t try his hardest to fight off that lion or that bear. It’s not his fault if he wasn’t fast enough to kill the wolf, or if he didn’t see the sneaky little lamb who wandered away from the flock. He had ninety-nine others to watch, after all.

But the good shepherd does notice the missing lamb. The good shepherd never says, “better a few sheep than me” when a wolf attacks. Why? Because a good shepherd knows the differences in all of their faces, and it’s not just a few sheep. It’s Black-Eyed Susie and Fluffy and Mary-Lou, who nuzzles his hand every morning and curls up on his lap at night. He loves them all differently and fully like you or I would if we had a hundred dogs, and he’d miss Fluffy’s bleating-before-the-sun-is-up every morning no matter how much it annoys him. So he’d step between them and take the wolf down.

In sum, a good shepherd is selfless, generous, gentle, protective, full of integrity, and wise. Hey, I would vote for him. Wouldn’t you?

Apparently God agrees. And more than that – everything that had happened in those forty years in Midian while Moses was wallowing in his worthlessness – every little sheep he hunted down and every hungry wolf he fought – it all had its purpose. PRAISE. THE. LORD. Because most days, I feel like I’m all alone out there in the desert, tending sheep.

His time in Midian did mold Moses into exactly the man God wanted him to be. It gave Moses the two-ears, one-mouth kind of wisdom that the Israelites desperately needed in their escape. It stripped from him reverence for his own importance, and replaced it with reverence for the God by whom he was important. It turned his eyes above him so he did not even see if his feet touched the ground because it didn’t matter; God could make him fly. (He didn’t, but He could have. I’m just making a point, people.)

It made him a friend. Of GOD.

Maybe, just maybe, after all my failures, I can still be one, too.

Maybe God hasn’t given up on me.

HALLELUJAH!

 

 

 

 

 

God’s Trash, Part 2

Trash Part Two“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.” Romans 8:1-2

Let’s sum up Part One: YOU are NOT God’s trash! You read all about this in the previous post, yes?

Great.

Now for the less comfortable part: next time you go to church, look around you. Find a face that said an unkind word, or a person who flaked when you really needed them to come through. Find that person who makes you feel six inches tall and the one who always flies off the handle over nothing. In short, find me, and all my counterparts. And hear what that verse has to say:

They are not God’s trash.

Let this one sink in, my dears.

They are NOT God’s trash.

Stop trying to throw them away!

You’re right. You’re right, okay? They’re broken. Every last one of them, and yes, their brokenness has affected you (and others!) in unpleasant ways. They hurt you, and that was wrong. That is wrong. You’re right! There is something wrong with them.

That’s why they’re here.

Take a look at the rest of them, too, the ones you haven’t tried to throw away yet, and understand, if you stick with them long enough, their broken parts will hurt you too. That’s why they’re here, too – that’s why we’re all here. We’re here for Jesus because we desperately want to be healed, to be fixed. 

I would like to insert a little aside here, just so we’re clear: not everyone who walks through the doors of a church belongs to Christ. Not even everyone who serves on a deacon board or plays guitar on the stage or gives large amounts of money to the church belongs to Christ. The verse says, “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” God knows who is who. Jesus told us how we can know, too: “ A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. …Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.” (Matthew 7:18&20, for full context read Matthew 7:15-20, or just Matthew 5-7. It’s, you know, pretty really good.)

An aside to my aside: when I say “fruit,” I don’t mean “works.” I don’t mean you will know who they are by how many starving children they support (a good thing to do, don’t get me wrong). I’m talking Galatians 5:16-26, fruit of the flesh vs. fruit of the Spirit. Read it. Memorize it. It’s how you’ll know.

Now, what I’m saying applies to people who, when you examine their whole lives (and not just their broken pieces and sour moments), show growth in things like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control. Not perfection, mind you. Growth. However small it might be – and it might be smaller in some than others!

Now I know that sometimes church leaders have to make really, really hard decisions to ask particularly abusive or caustic people to leave the local church, and that is biblical. Don’t hear me say it isn’t. But asking a person to leave the local body for a time is different than trying to throw them away for eternity, ya feel me? And since most of us are NOT called by God to be those church leaders at present, what say we let those who ARE called handle it, no? God bless them with His wisdom.

Two steps back to the main path, and, go! Back to what I was saying.

…What was I saying?

Oh, yes. Why we’re here, etc, etc. Folks, we’re here for Jesus. In the end, that’s all. Okay? That’s all. “‘Sir…we would like to see Jesus.'” (John 12:21)

When someone from church hurts one of us, instead of getting all bitter and surly about it, let’s all try this: praise God. Praise the Almighty, Eternal, All-knowing God for His perfect wisdom in wooing those hurtful people to church so He can have a talk with them. Let me tell you, honey, they’re in the right place. Pray they’ll listen, and then answer their prayers by listening yourself. And praise God again, because He knows what each of us needs.

Romans 14:4 says it like this: “Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.”

PRAISE. THE. LORD.

Let’s decide, as the body of Christ, to let God throw away His own trash. I think He’s big enough to handle it. Let’s let the artist decide if the brush has lost too many bristles to be useful, no? The fact of the matter is that God has decided to keep us – all of us. He went to the greatest possible lengths to recover us from the dump so He could save us forever, and He’s been meticulously restoring us ever since. He sent His Son, then His Spirit. Glory, hallelujah! Praise the Lord, we are redeemed.

Praise the Lord.

God’s Trash, Part One

God Trash

“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.” Romans 8:1-2

I heard this verse in a sermon a couple weeks ago, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it ever since. The pastor who was teaching just kind of skimmed over it, since he had plenty of other things to say and this particular verse can be a little “old news” to many of us.

Now, I’ve heard this verse a time or two in my life. By “a time or two,” of course, I mean somewhere in the thousands upon thousands of times. I was made to memorize it, once, so it’s one of those that has played on loop in my brain.

For some reason, though, this time it didn’t slip by unnoticed as it usually does. This time, it began to loop again, and I started thinking: what exactly is condemnation, anyway?

We all know, don’t we. Don’t we? It’s a word we use a lot, so we ought to, I suppose. It’s one of those words like integrity and holiness that forms what some have dubbed “Christianese” because you hardly hear them outside of a religious or moral context. If, like me, you’ve grown up hearing these words and speak them natively whether you really understand them or not, you probably feel (as I did) that you’ve got a pretty good grasp.

I find it helpful, though, to pause sometimes and look for words outside their biblical context. As the pastor continued to teach on other parts of the passage, my (confession alert) attention…er…drifted a bit, and instead I pondered the meaning of “condemn” outside of moral meaning.

The meaning that stuck out to me most was this: we “condemn” old buildings that are no longer worth what it would cost to fix them. They are no longer fit for the task for which they were made, so we demolish them. We turn them to rubble. We throw them away.

To throw away. Simply put, that is what condemn means. It means something is no longer valuable enough to save, so it is simply discarded. Abandoned. Left to rot, and eventually, pass away. It’s trash.

Put into the context of this verse, then, this is what I heard it say:

To you who choose Jesus as your Savior: You are not God’s trash.

Are you hearing this? I don’t think you heard what I just heard. Listen again:

YOU are NOT God’s trash.

BELOVED OF GOD, STOP TRYING TO THROW YOURSELF AWAY!

I just about jumped out of my skin when I heard that. We do, though, don’t we? We all get into these doldrums where we think, “I fail so much. I’m too broken. God just can’t use me anymore.” And what is His answer? Stop trying to take out my trash!

Here’s the truth, folks: we’re right. We are broken. In any but the Master’s hands, we are useless. But as it turns out, it’s not the tool that does the work; it’s the craftsman. And God is so good, He can even use tools as broken as we are. He is so intelligent, He can even find ways to use our broken parts to do His bidding.

I had a professor in college who was burdened with the arduous task of teaching me technical theater, a.k.a how to use tools. Poor fellow. Anyway. One of the topics in his class was painting sets, and for it he had us help him paint a particular set he was working on. Now, folks, understand – I am now twenty-nine years old, and I still can’t quite color in the lines. Again, poor fellow. Anyway. The reason I bring this up is that he had an old paintbrush that had lived long enough to be missing most of its bristles. One might think, then, that is was nearly worthless to him, hence it would make an excellent training brush for us newbies who might destroy it. This was not the case. That brush was his prized possession, the trick of his trade. That brush could paint irregular, natural looking lines that perfectly mimicked wood grain, or the bark on a tree, etc., like no other brush could. He didn’t let us touch it.

See where I’m going with this?

What if – let’s just say what if – God can use broken tools, too?

What if He really is that good?

What if God is such a perfect craftsman that He can not only use you in spite of your brokenness – oh, here’s a thought – but because of it?

Let’s talk Moses for a moment (more on him later – what a fellow!). Moses gave God the same speech you and I’ve been delivering, and whad’ya’know, he was even kind enough to write down God’s answer. It went something like this (from Exodus 3:10-4:17, dramatically and somewhat irreverantly paraphrased for full understanding. Read the original first. It’s better.):

God: Go tell Pharaoh to let my people go.

Moses: What, me? I’m a nobody!

God: That’s okay, I’m coming with you.

Moses: Who are you?

God: I’m THE somebody!

Moses: Cool…but they’re never going to believe I met You.

God: Watch this! (performs crazy miracles) See? Trust me, they’ll believe you.

Moses: Okay, fine, that’s pretty cool, but I’m not eloquent enough. I talk slow.

God: Seriously? Who do you think made your mouth, man? Hint: I DID. Do what I say and I’ll make sure you say it right.

Moses (whining): PLEASE send someone else!

God (losing it a little)(understandably): FINE! Your brother will speak, but only what you tell him to say, all right? I’ll tell you, and you tell him.

[End scene]

If Moses was a paintbrush, he’d be telling God he’s lost too many bristles, and God would be telling him that’s perfect. See, when the tool is broken, it makes it all the more obvious that it’s the ARTIST doing the work. That’s what God was trying to make Moses see – it was never about Moses and what he could do. Moses kept saying, “But God, I can’t!” And God just kept saying, “I know you can’t, but I CAN!”

It was never about Moses. It’s not about you, either.

So here’s an idea: what if you stop telling God all the ways He can’t use you because you’re just too broken (frankly, dear, He knows), and listen to how, in His brilliance, He can use you instead?

Hmm. Really think about that.

YOU are NOT God’s trash.

If you believed that, how might the world change?