The Bush Is Still Burning (Part II)
During the Middle Ages members of the carpenters’ guild began to construct their doors out of different sized panels so that the shape of a cross was formed near the top and an open Bible was formed near the bottom. Such symbols were a reminder to both the carpenters and the homeowners that their labor was done unto the Christ who gave them life.
And our consideration in this study is how we, too, can make our labor Christian, how we can affirm, as did Moses, the Lord’s high calling of us all to vocational Christian service.
So far we have studied Moses’ unique birth, the vocational burden he began to sense early in his life, the quiet years of preparation, and God’s direction through the burning bush. Now, let us press on to a fifth touchstone in Moses’ vocational journeys, and that is Moses’ willingness to take a new direction in his career.
Willingness to Take on a Second Career
Up until the burning bush Moses had been a Hebrew, an Egyptian prince, a murderer, a fugitive from justice, a shepherd in Horeb, and a family man. But, now, at the burning bush, God calls Moses to a serious vocational change. He would become an emancipator calling the Jewish nation out of the most powerful nation then on earth. He would become a lawgiver at Sinai, and the author of the first five books of the Bible.
Moses’ response to God’s commission in the burning bush is interesting. He at first refused. “Who am I to do this?” After all, he was eighty years old! “Send someone else!” Surely God did not think an elderly desert shepherd could accomplish such a task. And then, pointing to his deformities, Moses whined, “I’m not a good talker! I stutter.”
And God got angry with Moses. And He said, “Who made man’s mouth?” Here God does a really extraordinary thing. He takes personal credit for creating in us what we sometimes consider flaws or deformities. God tells Moses that it was Him who created Moses’ stuttering tongue!
Isn’t it a comfort to know God made us with all of our abilities as well as our liabilities? And still God calls us believing we’ve got what it takes to get the job done to which He calls us. Yet we have a hard time coming up to the level of the Lord’s confidence in ourselves. For as surely as God looks at what we’ve got going for us, we look at what we’ve got going against us.
When the Lord called Jeremiah to prophesy to the nation, Jeremiah refused, saying, “I’m too young!” (Jer. 1:6). When God called Gideon to the military service of the nation, Gideon refused, explaining, “I don’t come from an important enough family” (Judges 6:15). When God called Isaiah to preach, Isaiah said he could not do it because he was too sinful, his lips were unclean (Isaiah 6). When God called Sarah to motherhood she laughed and assured God she was just too old for the task (Gen. 18:12). And it is still so today!
When the Lord begins to redirect our vocations we more often than not refuse His bidding, preferring the seeming safety and security of our little desert flock at Horeb. Moving brings such change! It is fraught with terror and fear of the unknown and the need for trust. And besides all that, involvement with people and Egypt is bound to bring criticism and conflict. “No, God, I think I’ll just sit tight here in Horeb. Find someone else to do the job.”
Yet many people have found God redirecting their lives in mid-career. Peter was a fisherman when Jesus called him to build the church. Saul was a rabbi and tentmaker and court judge when Jesus called him to vocational evangelism. Barnabas was a Cyprian landowner when Christ redirected his steps into missions. When the American Civil War broke out, Ulysses S. Grant was a ne’r-do-well alcoholic harness shop manager in Ohio who rose quickly to the rank of general, and later became President of the United States. Harry S. Truman was a soldier, clothier, judge, senator, vice-president and President. Ronald Reagan was a sports announcer, actor, union president, governor, radio editorialist, and President.
Multiple careers are nothing new! They are as old as Moses, as new as Reagan! Where is it written that we must do for the rest of our lives what we are doing right now? Second and third careers are normal. In fact, in the gospel they are even expected.
God Equips One for His Calling
Moving beyond Moses’ eventual willingness to assume a new career, let us consider how God equipped Moses for his new role.
You’ve no doubt watched those James Bond spy movies where the special agent is called to MIS headquarters and briefed on the new mission he is to undertake. Then he is taken into the next room and equipped with all manner of special gadgets for the task ahead. He’s got exploding cigarettes, guns that shoot backwards, radios hidden in cigarette lighters and a car that can double as a submarine.
Likewise, God never calls us to do that for which He does not adequately equip us. Moses had spent forty years in the court of Pharaoh getting to know Egyptian ways. He’d spent another forty years learning how to live in the Sinai desert. And on top of all this special training God asked, “What is that in your hand?” Moses replied it was but his shepherds’ staff. “Throw it down,” God ordered. And when he did the staff became a snake and Moses fled from it. “Now, pick it up again,” God asked. And Moses did. And it become a staff once more. Yet no more did Moses call it his staff. It was “the rod of God.” And it was his primary tool in judging Egypt with plagues and convincing Pharaoh to let the Hebrews go.
So effective was the Lord in equipping Moses for the task that Exodus 7:1 says Moses became as a god to the Egyptians. He could out think, out maneuver, out wit the best of Pharaoh’s magicians and even the Pharaoh himself.
The good news is that God is still calling people to his service today. And His equipping is still just as thorough and supernatural. With the Spirit of God in us we can preach or show mercy or administrate or heal or pray effectively or encourage or even do miracles all as the Lord wills.
Take “Moose” Smith as an example of this type of divine equipping. He grew up singing in a rock n’roll band. He learned well how to make music, woo a crowd, and drive home his message. So, when Jesus called him and opened his mind to the Scriptures, Moose’s worldly skills became other worldly! And now, nobody can speak a crowd’s language, make music, and lead a person to Christ like Moose. God has irresistibly equipped him! And He will you as well for whatever task He calls you.
A Team Player
Another lesson one may learn from Moses’ vocational odyssey is that our work is not accomplished alone, but by a group effort.
When Moses left Horeb for Egypt, he did not travel alone. He took his wife and two children along to minister with him. And he also paired himself with Aaron who was to act as his spokesman. Later, in the wilderness, the people brought their differences to Moses for judgment. And there were so many of them Moses had trouble seeing them all. His father-in-law Jethro saw what was happening and rebuked Moses, “Are you the only wise man in Israel? Pick out from among the tribes elders and let them judge the people so that only the hard cases are brought to you. Otherwise you will wear yourself and this people out with their coming to you alone.”
Others on the team that made the Exodus prosper were Miriam with her songs to inspire the people, innumerable hunters and gatherers, and folks like Bezalael and Oholiab, skilled craftsmen who constructed the tent of meeting.
The Exodus, you see, was a group effort. It was not a vocation Moses accomplished alone. It was a corporate venture, the successful operation of many faithful vocations serving God and people together.
It would have been so easy for Moses to succumb to the temptation of excessive individualism and to have struck out on his own. After all, the children of Israel turned a five-day march into a forty-year journey with all their grumblings and disobedience. Certainly Moses would have been justified in saying, “I’ve had it with you bunch of wishy-washy people! If you want to go back to Egypt, get! If you want to rot in the wilderness, rot! Me? I’m moving on for better things in the Promised Land! So long!”
But Moses stayed with the group. He wouldn’t individualize the Exodus. He refused to personalize his vocation. He stuck it out with God’s people patiently teaching those about himself and us today that God’s people are not cattle to be driven, but people to be loved. Humans aren’t people to be stepped on to get where you’re going; they are people to take with you. They are not idiots, incompetents to be endured, but responsible trainees to be enjoyed.
There is much in our egotistical, empire building, age of excessive individualism to be learned from Moses. So many of us today have the Elijah complex, “I, only I, am left to serve God!” So we set off like the Lone Ranger on our white horses to accomplish justice and salvation all by ourselves.
The poet John Donne wrote, “No man is an island entire of himself.” Even the Lone Ranger had his Tonto, Jesus had his twelve, and Paul his Timothy, Silas, Barnabas, Aquilla and Priscilla. And it surely must be that our labors be within a community context today as well.
Years ago I worked a summer with Bill Glass doing evangelistic crusades. And the biggest thing I learned from him was that effective evangelism is not one man at a microphone giving a convincing talk to a big crowd. Mr. Glass has a team that goes before him advertising, organizing counselors, arranging for meeting halls and enlisting financial and prayer support.
One night, just before the service, Mr. Glass turned to me and said, “Would you like to see the real force behind this crusade?” And he took me to the basement where I found nearly 200 people on their knees praying for the effectiveness of the evening. Smiling, Mr. Glass said to me, “Stephen, who couldn’t succeed with a team like this?”
And so it was with Moses. He was not alone, but as a team player with Aaron, Jethro, the elders, Miriam, Oholiab, Caleb, and a host of others. And it is still so today. I cannot be who I am and do what I do without you. And you cannot be who you are and do what you do without me. We are a team. And we really do need each other!
Yet another element in Moses’ vocational journeys is that of failure.
There is a tendency for us to study the lives of great people and see their successes but miss their failures. We see the heroic but miss the human misery.
For instance, when you think of Moses’ career, what comes to mind? His wielding the rod of God in Pharaoh’s court, the Exodus, the parting of the Red Sea, Mt. Sinai and the law, and his authoring the first five books of the law. And each of us gets excited by such and prays, “0 God, I’d love to live such a life!” But also note that along the way to such glorious vocational triumphs were such failures as when Moses lost his temper at the waters of Meribah, Aaron’s golden calf, the broken tablets of the law, a widespread desire to return to Egypt, the people’s refusal to go in and fight the giants in the Promised Land, and Israel’s military defeat at Hormah.
Mark this well: There is a lot of failure along the way toward success. You might have won the baseball game but there were errors, bad sportsmanship, and strikeouts as a part of the effort. And so it is with life.
Would it help you to know that Arctic explorer Richard Byrd crash landed on his first two solo flights? John Wesley had a bad marriage. Napoleon graduated forty-second in his military class. Thomas Edison tried over 300 filaments before he found one that would work in a light bulb.
In the late 19th century, Lord Kelvin, president of England’s Royal Society of Science, said, “Heavier than air flying machines are impossible.” He also said, “Radio has no future.” And “X-rays will prove to be a hoax.” In 1936 Sir Winston Churchill said, “Atomic energy might be as good as our present day explosives, but it is unlikely to produce anything very much more dangerous.” In 1956 Sir Richard Woolley, noted British astronomer, said, “Space travel is utter bilge.” Or how about what happened at Universal Studios back in the 1950’s. On the same day Burt Reynolds and Clint Eastwood were both fired because they couldn’t act and there was no money to be made off their films!
Great men and women fail. No doubt about it. Every biography is pockmarked with failures: Generals lose battles, politicians lose elections, athletes lose games, teachers lose their jobs, and authors fail to get published. But the common quality they all share is a refusal to quit when disappointment comes.
And that is what made Moses’ so successful. Not only was he God’s man, burdened, prepared, equipped, and a team player. He was also persistent. When he got knocked down, he got right back up and tried again. When he was defeated, he refused to quit. He simply tried again.
And it will hold us all in good stead if we realize that life is a mix of some hits, some runs, and a lot of errors. And it is persistence in overcoming failures that brings on success.
And, now, a final touchstone from the vocational pilgrimage of Moses, and that is his human frailty.
Deuteronomy 3:23 following, tells the story. Moses is aged now, 120 years old. He has brought the Children of Israel to the edge of the Promised Land. And God summons Moses atop Mt. Nebo from where he can see the Jordan River, Jericho, and even the mountains surrounding the area that was to become Jerusalem. Moses is itching to lead his people into the land. But God refuses to permit it. He is angry with Moses for his temper tantrum at the waters of Meribah. Moses begs. And God says, “I will hear no more of it!” And the brilliant career of the desert shepherd of Horeb ends just short of its goal as Moses “goes the way of all flesh” and is buried in an unmarked grave.
Great people and their careers, you see, are never quite so great as we first think. All people, both great and small could see farther than they could go. Each knew frustrations, temper, limits, unrealized dreams, and, yes, ultimately death. And each, as did Moses, left plenty of work for the next generation of Joshua’s to undertake.
Jimmy Carter served as a Naval officer, peanut farmer, state senator, Georgia governor and U.S. President only to see so many of his dreams of world peace and justice go unaccomplished. His desire for a second term was even thwarted by the Iranian hostage crisis which cost him reelection.
King David in his last years wanted nothing more than to build a temple of worship for God in Jerusalem. But God forbid it, saying it would be left for his son to accomplish. And the most David could do was to gather up the building materials.
Robert E. Lee won a string of daring military victories at Fredericksburg, Bull Run, and Chancellorsville. But ask him what happened at Malvern Hill, Gettysburg and Appomattox.
Ernest Hemingway died leaving an unfinished novel. And the names of composers who died leaving unfinished symphonies are too numerous to mention. Gilbert Stuart died leaving us his unfinished portrait of George Washington. And many a businessman has so departed leaving that last deal, that last merger uncompleted.
Disappointment, unfulfilled dreams, unrealized potential are all a portion of our lives as frail human beings. And it is something we each must learn to live and die with. We are dust. And to dust we shall return.
In Channing Pollack’s play, The House Beautiful, the hero lies dying and speaks these words to his wife: “I’ve been a failure, Jen. I’ve wound up right where I started.” She in turn seeks to console him: “It’s a great thing to wind up where you started if you’re holding a fort, your home, or your soul.”
Moses started the Exodus from the wilderness and his life ended in that same wilderness. But he held the fort, he held his family together, and he held his soul. And even though he died with unrealized dreams he died in harness, a man faithful to God’s vocational claim upon his life.
John Calvin said it so well. “There is no work however vile or sordid that does not glisten before God.” Tinker, tailor, soldier, spy, the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker, businessman, teacher, preacher, homemaker, missionary, mechanic-God has need of them all. And if it is a person’s desire to know the will of God as to one’s labors, suffice it to say that the Lord is God enough to find a way to show it to you. Just take any job, work it as a ministry unto Him and His, and He will surely lead you on from there!
God, what are you doing in your world today? May I do it with you? For Christ’s sake. Amen!