Jos 01, 02 | The Real Thing

Text:   Joshua 1, 2

A victorious life is not a superior brand of Christianity reserved for the elite of the elect. It is the normal life for every Christian. It isn’t bestowed upon some because they are spiritual, it is given to all because they are saved!  Too many Christians are struggling to win a victory that has already been won.  It was won 2,000 years ago. The Christian life is a victorious life and anything less is a cheap imitation of the real thing.  Jesus said, “I came that they might have life, and might have it abundantly.” (John 10:10 )

It will help if we understand that the Christian life can be divided into two stages–the Red Sea stage and the Jordan River stage, with a wilderness in between. What the cross is to us, the Red Sea was to Israel . It was the symbol of their redemption, their deliverance from the bondage of Egypt by the mighty hand of God. They looked back to the Red Sea as we look back to the cross; they celebrated the Passover as we celebrate the Lord’s Supper.

But it wasn’t enough to get them out of Egypt . Moses reminded the people in Deuteronomy 6:23, “and He brought us out from there ( Egypt ) in order to bring us in, to give us the land which He had sworn to our fathers.” The purpose of their redemption wasn’t realized until they entered the land of Canaan . And to enter that land they had to cross the Jordan River . Then and only then would the redemptive purpose of God be fulfilled.

This may surprise you, but Canaan never symbolizes heaven in the Bible. Church hymns may say that, but the Bible doesn’t. There were giants in Canaan –there are no giants in heaven. There were battles to be fought in Canaan –there will be no battles in heaven. God’s people sinned in Canaan –in heaven all traces of sin will be erased.

Canaan represents the fullness of salvation, the fullness of blessing, the possessing of our possessions. Canaan was when God redeemed Israel for, just as victory is what God saved us for. He brought us out that He might bring us in. Many Christians are out but not in. They, like those spoken of in I Corinthians 10:5, die in the wilderness without ever experiencing the life of fullness in Christ.

The Old Testament described Canaan as a land flowing with milk and honey, a land of luscious clusters of grapes and pomegranates and figs. The New Testament describes our Canaan as:

Peace which passes all understanding (Phil. 4:7);

Joy unspeakable and full of glory (1 Peter 1:8)

Blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ (Eph. 1:3)

More than conquerors through Him who loved us (Rom. 8:37 ).

Are you in?

The first nine verses of Joshua tell us three important things about the life of victory:

Every place on which the sole of your foot treads, I have given it to you… Be strong and courageous for you shall give this people possession of the land which I swore to their fathers to give them. Only be strong and very courageous; be careful to do according to all the law… be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go (Joshua 1:3-9)


Recently I heard someone refer to the victorious life as “an emphasis.” It is not one emphasis in the Christian life; it is the Christian life. That’s why I use the terms, “Christian life,” and victorious life”, interchangeable.

Escape from servitude in Egypt was not God’s goal for His people. He took them out of Egypt in order to bring them in to their own land, the land He had promised them. Generations before, God had made this promise to Abraham as Abraham stood looking over the strip of land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River ?

Lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward; for all the land
which you see, I will give it to you and to your descendants forever (Genesis 13:14,15).

Freedom from Egypt was only the first step. Until they occupied Canaan they would not experience God’s complete rescue operation.

In the same way, God’s goal in saving us is not to get us out of hell and into heaven–that’s just a bonus The real goal is for us to experience all that He has promised us in Christ. This is not an incidental emphasis in Scripture, but its heart. Listen to Paul speaking to the Roman Christians: “For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son…” (Rom. 8:29 ) To the Ephesians Paul revealed the goal of salvation in these words:   … He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be hold and blameless before Him…” (Eph 1:4). Not a word about hell or heaven there.

Paul wrote to the Christians at Colossus: the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations; but has
now been manifested to His saints.. .which is Christ in you, the hope of glory (Colossians 1:26 , 27).

In all God’s dealings with you, He has been leading you up to His goal–the full release of Christ in you. That is your only hope for a glorious life.

Paul makes another point about victorious living in his second letter to the Corinthian church. “But thanks be to God, who always leads us in His triumph in Christ” (2 Cor. 2:14 ). It is possible for a Christian always to be victorious. Since the Lord Jesus can give you victory for a minute, He can give you victory for an hour; if for an hour, then for a day. If He can give you victory for a day, He can day by day give you victory for a lifetime. Anything less than always triumphing in Christ is less than God’s desire for you.

But wait a minute. Does living in victory mean we no longer sin? Not at all; but it does mean that we learn to depend upon Christ for every aspect of our life. We live in His strength, not our own. We serve His desires, not our own. We live for His glory, not our own. And when we sin, instead of plunging into despair and guilt, we trust His cleansing blood to wash it away an restore us to that sweet fellowship. We become supersensitive to sin, and when the Holy Spirit convicts us we immediately deal with it.

The best way to define the victorious life is to describe it, so let’s examine some of its ingredients.

(1) We enter into God’s promises. The promises of the bible become experiential instead of merely theological, God’s promises to Joshua were definite. He told the Israelites the land was theirs; they needed only to act–act with strength, courage, and obedience. And the promises made generations earlier were fulfilled before their eyes I’m afraid many Christians look at the promises of God as I looked at the Sears catalog as a boy. When I was about ten I spotted a .22 rifle in the catalog and I had to have it! It cost twenty-five dollars, but it might as well have been a thousand. Knowing it was beyond my reach, I would get out the catalog, turn to the page that displayed the picture of “my rifle”, and dream. No wonder the catalog is called “the wish book”. To many Christians the Bible is just that–a wish book. They read the promises with enthusiasm and shout “Amen” when they are preached from the pulpit, but never really expect to see them fulfilled in their own lives, but the Bible is not a wish book; it is a faith book. And for those who by faith cross over into victory, all the promises of God become real.

(2) We experience Gods presence. One of the promises God made to Israel and repeated often in this chapter is “I will be with you.” They would experience His continuing presence. God would be real to them. When I was in seminary, I read a sermon by R. W Dale, the famous preacher of Birmingham , England, in which he said, “Christ is as real to me as the chair on this platform.” I thought, “Wouldn’t it be great to be able to say that and mean it!” I knew Jesus wasn’t that real to me, but I longed for Him to be. But, praise the Lord, when He answered my desperate cry for help, one of the first things I experienced was the overwhelming awareness of His presence. Jesus became more real to me than any chair on any platform.

(3)  We exercise God’s power. God promised Joshua, “No man will be able to stand before you all the days of your life” (Joshua 1:5). He was telling Joshua that no man could prevent Israel from reaching their God-appointed goal. Joshua would have the power to do everything God asked him to do. When the original spies went into the land, they cowered like grasshoppers before the giants of Canaan . But Caleb, standing on God’s promises, declared the giants would be bread for them. “Pass the peanut butter! We’ll make sandwiches with them.” And a generation later, as Israel acted in God’s power, they found Him spreading a banquet table for them. God’s power gives us victory over the giants in and around us. We become not only giant-defeaters but also giant-eaters!

Resurrection Power: “I pray that.. .you may know. .what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe.., in accordance with the working of the strength of His might which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead….” (Ephesians 1:18-20). Think of it! The same power that raised Jesus from the dead is made available to every believer. You’re facing a problem. Which is easier–solving that problem or raising a dead man from the grave? The answer is obvious If God can raise one from the grave, He can do anything. You have resurrection power residing in you.

Reigning Power: “. . . Those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One Jesus Christ” (Rom 5:17 ). God has made kings of of slaves and princes out of paupers. And notice, the verse says “in life,” not in heaven. He’s not talking about the “Sweet Bye and Bye” but the “Nasty Here and Nod’.

Released Power: “and for this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me” (Col. 1:29). The life of victory means that I no longer labor according to my strength but according to His. My ability is no longer measured by my power but by His. Throw the word “impossible” out of your vocabulary. You can do anything and everything God wants you to do. There is nothing that can prevent you from being exactly what God wants you to be. No wonder it’s called the gospel–good news!


Victory is not only God’s goal for the Christian; it is also His gift to the Christian. “Every pace on which the sole of your foot treads, I have given it to you, just as I spoke to Moses” (v.3). Notice the tense: “I have given,” not “I will give.” It was already theirs. God had given the land with all its riches to His people before they even saw what it was like.

Understanding that the victorious life is a gift already given us by God is essential. this means victory is assured. There is no reason why every Christian cannot live a life of victory, because it is not attained by struggling and striving. It is part of your birthright, as a child of God. You don’t have to make peace with failure or come to terms with defeat. The victory of Christ is yours for the taking.

God’s people are often slow to believe this–slower even than non-Christians. In chapter two of Joshua, Rahab, an insignificant citizen of the soon-to-be conquered city of Jericho , said to the spies:

I know that the Lord has given you the land… For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the red Sea.. .And when we
heart it, our hearts melted and no courage remained in any man any longer because of you; for the Lord your God, He is God in
heaven above and on earth beneath (Joshua 2:9-1 1).

The enemy knew they had lost before the Israelites knew they had won! They had more faith in the power of God than God’s people.

Since victory is a gift from God, it is already accomplished. Before Joshua led the people into Canaan , God said to him, “I have given it to you.” Though the land was occupied by the enemy, it was God’s and He had given it to His people. every step Joshua took was on conquered ground. And that’s what the life of victory is–walking on conquered ground. Christian, every step you take today will be on ground conquered and controlled by our Lord Jesus Christ.


After going to great lengths to say the victorious life is a gift, you may think I am contradicting myself when I say it must be gained, but the Scripture holds to both concepts. God told Joshua He had already given them the land–but that they would have to possess it, and that would require strength and courage. although the gift was absolute, it had to be appropriated. There was something for them

This same idea is made clear by Jesus in Matthew 11:28,29. First He said, “come to Me and I will give you rest”; and then He said, “You shall find rest.” Well, which is it–does He give it or do we find it? Both. By simply coming to Christ we receive rest, but there is a second rest (comparable to the life of victory) that we find only by taking His yoke and learning of Him. Rest is given, but rest must be gained. There is God’s side of giving an man’s side of gaining.

How do we gain it? What is our part? Three things are mentioned in chapter one of Joshua.

(1)  The victory is gained by faith. Joshua was to take God at His word and start walking. And that’s what faith is–acting on the word of God. “This is the victory that has overcome the world–our faith” (1 John 5:4). We exercise faith when we acknowledge that the victory has already been won for us by Christ and thank Him for it. We don’t go out to victory– we go out from victory. Face each new day with this attitude: “Lord, thank You that every problem I meet today has already been overcome by You. Every temptation I confront today has already been put down by You.” But if you meet the day hoping you can remain strong and true, determined to do your best for Jesus, you will fail miserably. Victory isn’t doing your best for Jesus; it is Jesus doing His best for you! You have no victories to win; Jesus won them all. Rely upon Him.

(2) The victory is gained by following. God told Joshua: Only be strong and very courageous; be careful to do according to all the law. .do not turn from it to the right or to the left, so that you may have success wherever you go .(Joshua 1:7).

Here is God’s formula for success. God was actually telling Joshua that success in the forthcoming venture depended upon him. You say, “I thought it depended upon the Lord.” It does, but the Lord can give us that success only as we follow His instructions.

The word translated “law” means “directions”, and that’s what god’s law is –divine directions on how to put together a successful   life.

(3) The victory is gained by fighting. When the people left Egypt , God could have taken them by a direct way straight into Canaan , but He led them by a circuitous route instead. God deliberately made the journey longer. Why? The explanation is recorded in Exodus 13:17:

Now it came about when Pharaoh had let the people go, that God did not lead them by the way of the land of the Philistines, even though it was near; for God said, “Lest the people change their minds when they see war, and they return to Egypt.”

They weren’t ready to fight, and entering Canaan would take courageous fighting men, so God postponed military confrontation until they were ready.

The land of fullness is occupied by the enemy. We will not go in unopposed. Spiritual warfare is the order of the day. When we move into our victory Have you noticed that while in the wilderness, Israel didn’t fight a single battle (except among themselves)? Only when they entered Canaan did they encounter warfare. That is significant.

Again, this doesn’t contradict the fact that victory isn’t won by our struggling and striving. Although we much fight, we fight in the power of the Lord; we are to be strong in the Lord; we are to put on the whole armor of God that we may be able to withstand all the attacks of the enemy (Eph. 6:10 -17)

But understand this: there will be conflict and confrontation. The ship of Zion is a man-of-war; not a luxury liner, at times it is easy to pray and praise the Lord; at others it is an intense struggle. We want always to read the bible with ease and enjoyment but sometimes only rigid discipline makes it possible. When our flagging faith falters, our enthusiasm wanes, and our bodies tire, we will need the whole armor of God to throw off the attacks of our adversary.

When a person first becomes a Christian, it often seems everything is easy for him. He witnesses, prays, read the Bible with radiant and tireless enthusiasm. Temptations seem not to exist. God, as He did for the Israelites, is leading him in the easy way. He is not yet ready to fight. When he is suddenly besieged by difficulties, he becomes frustrated and confused and wonders what went wrong. At this moment Satan may take advantage of his predicament and accuse him of total and terminal failure, trying to convince him that God has surely abandoned him. But God has not deserted him~ He has merely enrolled the new Christian in basic training in order to get him ready to fight.

The first victory for Joshua was an easy one. No intense struggle took place at Jericho . The people simply marched thirteen times around the city played their instruments, and shouted; and the massive walls disintegrated. The ease with which Jericho was conquered was remarkable. but the other victories weren’t that way. They had to fight and fight desperately. Don’t assume because of Jericho that you will need only to shout a little and stage a pre-battle victory parade for the walls of spiritual opposition to flatten before you. As you mature in your victory walk, the hand-to-hand and face-to-face combat suggested by Ephesians 6 will more often be the case.

This life of victory is God’s goal and gift for every believer, already accomplished by the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. But that doesn’t mean that every Christian automatically experiences this victory there is something for us to do. We must appropriate what god has made available.

Jesus invited all who were thirsty to come to Him and drink. He doesn’t force our mouths open and pour it down us. We must do our own drinking. The fountain is waiting; come and drink.

©Ron Dunn, LifeStyle Ministries, 2002

Deu 08 | The Ministry of Failure

Text: Deuteronomy 8

The Book of Deuteronomy, as you know, is a book of remembrances…and Moses is rehearsing with God’s people all the things that God has done for them and in them during the past years. And he says,
“All the commandments which I command thee this day shall ye observe to do, that ye may live, and multiply, and go in and possess the land which the Lord swear unto your fathers. And thou shalt remember all the way which the LORD thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee, and to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep His commandments or not.
And He humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know; that He might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the LORD doth man live.”

And then he goes on to describe what perhaps could happen to them after they have entered the land and have forgotten the goodness of the LORD. He says in verse 14…
“Then thine heart be lifted up and thou forget the LORD thy God, which brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage; who led thee through that great and terrible wilderness wherein were fiery serpents and scorpions and drought, where there was no water; who brought thee forth water out of the rock of flint; who fed thee in the wilderness with manna which thy fathers knew not that He might humble thee and that He might prove thee to do thee good at thy latter end.”

Some time ago on a late Saturday night I needed to make a trip to the super market…it’s one of these super markets that stays open twenty-four hours a day. I was a little bit hesitant to go because of the way I looked. This was a Saturday and I had taken that day to catch up on all of those “handy-man” jobs that I’d been letting go around the house. I hadn’t shaved all day. I hadn’t combed my hair. I had on some old dirty jeans and old leprous tee-shirt and some old soiled and crumbling tennis shoes and I just didn’t look like the respectable pastor of the local Baptist church and I certainly didn’t want to meet anybody in that condition. But I thought that no decent person is going to be going to the grocery store at midnight and so it won’t hurt if I run up there and pick up a few things that we’re going to need in the morning.

So, I did. And you know how you’ll do in that situation. You’ll look straight ahead…neither to the left or to the right lest your eyes meet somebody that you don’t want to meet. Now, I was standing at the checkout stand and I was aware of somebody behind me but you know, I paid little attention to it and when the lady finished ringing up my purchase and sacked it and handed it to me and when I turned to walk out, standing behind me was one of my members…one of the ladies in my church. And she looked at me for a minute…she looked me up and down…and she said, “Bro. Dunn!” She said, “I didn’t recognize you.” And then she made this very interesting statement…she said, “You know, I’ve never seen you without a shirt and tie on.” And she said, “I didn’t recognize you without a suit on.”

And I got to thinking about that after awhile…as soon as I could get away. I thought, “Now that lady has been in our church for seven or eight years…been there Sunday morning, Sunday night, a lot of times on Wednesday night and yet, she didn’t recognize me out of uniform.” I began to wonder what she’d been looking at all those years when she came to church. I don’t suppose she ever looked at my face. I guess she just looked at my suit or my tie. I was wondering if perhaps some night she might be just driving down the street and see one of my suits on the side of the road and say, “Well, there’s one of Bro. Dunn’s suits.” But maybe she might meet me on down the road hitchhiking and wouldn’t even recognize me.

You know, they do tell us that one of the best disguises a person can wear is a uniform because you have the tendency to notice the uniform rather than the face. And these people that you see in unexpected places you don’t recognize because you are accustomed to seeing them in certain ways and in certain places.

Now, I was this woman’s minister, and yet she failed to recognize me because I didn’t look like a minister. And you know what? There are a lot of ministers that God has that He sends our way to minister to us that we fail to recognize because they don’t look like ministers are supposed to look.

Do you get what I’m saying? There are a lot of things, a lot of ways, a lot of means that God uses to accomplish His purpose in my life, and yet, many a time I miss God in those situations. I fail to recognize this situation as a minister of God because it doesn’t look like what I think a minister ought to look.

You know we have a tendency to believe that we can always correctly evaluate everything that happens to us. I mean, we know a blessing when we see one. And we know a curse when we see one. But I’m finding, and I think perhaps you are too, that sometimes kings come to my door dressed as beggars and princes as paupers and many a time blessings come wrapped in the rags of a curse. Sometimes sorrow is the disguise that a real joy wears. And many times you and I will miss the ministry in our lives because we’re looking for God to minister to us in a certain specified way.

I want to talk to you tonight about one of these ministers that God sends our way to work His purpose in our lives, to bring us to where He wants us to be. I call it “the ministry of failure.” And I have no doubt that my message will be relevant because there’s not a person here that has not experienced failure. Every Christian experiences it sooner or later. Some of us seem to live in the same house with failure all the days of our Christian life.

But, I want you to know tonight that one of the most effective ministers that God has to work in your life is the minister of failure. Now, I’m going to make a statement and I’m going to bring the Scripture out in a moment, but I want to make this statement… God not only allows us to fail, but there are times when the Lord actually maneuvers us into a situation of failure…when the Lord actually negotiates for our failure, because that is the only way He can teach us a lesson He’s been trying to teach.

Have you ever found that sometimes the Lord adds some verses to the Bible that you just know weren’t there before? You know, you read the Bible, and you read it, and you read it, and you think you’ve read everything in it and one day you pick up a familiar passage of Scripture and you see something that’s never been there before. You just know the Lord’s kind of inserted it while you were asleep.

Well, that’s the way I feel about Deuteronomy 8. And not long ago I was reading this passage and I saw a phrase in it that I’d never noticed before. And it’s the phrase found in verse 2…Moses says,
“And thou shalt remember all the way which the LORD thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness…”

Now, when you talk about the forty years of wilderness, you think of failure. The people of Israel had come to Kadesh-Barnea. God had given them the promise that if they would just believe Him and obey Him they would cross over into Canaan…and by the way, Canaan never represents physical death…notwithstanding the good old hymns that we sing. Canaan in the Bible never represents heaven and Jordan never represents physical death. Canaan in the Bible does not represent heaven. There were giants in Canaan. There are no giants in heaven. There were battles to be fought in Canaan. There are no battles to be fought in heaven. There was failure and sin in Canaan. There are no failure and sin in heaven.

Canaan, not representing physical death or heaven, does represents what we might say is heaven on earth. Canaan represents everything that God saved us to be in this life. Canaan does not refer to the sweet bye-and-bye…it refers to the sweet here and now. That’s where God expects us to live.

And Moses says in Deuteronomy 6 that God brought them out of Egypt in order to bring them into Canaan. The reason that God led the people out of Egypt was not simply to get them out of Egypt, but to get them into the Land of Promise…into the land of fullness…where they could live in the full promises of God and be everything that God wanted them to be, and I want you to understand tonight that when God saved you He did not save you simply to get you out of hell…nor to get you into heaven. He saved you in order that you might experience in your everyday life everything that God wants you to be in the Lord Jesus Christ. And Moses said, “He brought us out that He might bring us in”…but when the people had the opportunity to enter in they made a mistake. They disbelieved God. They disobeyed God. And you know the story…for the next forty years, they wandered in that wilderness.

Now, I had always assumed that that forty years was forty years of failure and that’s a right assumption. But, I had also assumed that that forty years was simply aimless wandering and was wasted time and wasted experience. But, I want you to notice the phrase that caught my attention. Moses says, “Thou shalt remember all the way which the LORD thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness.” Notice, He led them while they were in the wilderness. And in verse 15, he says He led them through that wilderness and fed them while they were in that wilderness. And He did that Moses says in the latter part of verse 16…“to do thee good at thy latter end.”

I like that! And that is the way you can sign everything that God lets come into your life…that He might do thee good. God led them in that wilderness experience in order to accomplish something in their lives He could not otherwise accomplish. And suddenly I began to realize that those forty years in the wilderness were not wasted years…were not aimless wanderings…but that even though they had failed at Kadesh-Barnea…even though they had disobeyed and disbelieved God, yet God did not abandon them nor did He give up in His purpose. But He continued to lead them those forty years in the wilderness in order to do them good…in order to accomplish in their lives something He could not otherwise accomplish.

And I know I’m speaking to people tonight perhaps right now that are living in the wilderness. You’d have to, if you were honest, say, “Preacher, I’m in the wilderness. I’ve come to a point in my life where it looks as though I’m wandering aimlessly. For awhile in my Christian pilgrimage, everything was going smooth, everything was going as I felt it ought to go, but something happened…a series of circumstances fell upon me and it just seems like I’ve lost my direction…I’m experiencing ‘spiritual vertigo’…I’m disoriented. I don’t know whether I’m up or down. I don’t know whether God’s alive or dead. I don’t know whether He loves me or doesn’t love me and it seems that everything I do just turns to ashes and I’d have to say honestly tonight that I’m in the wilderness.”

Well, I have good news for you. God never wastes time and He never wastes experience. And if you believe in God and if you belong to God and are one of His children, I want you to know that everything that comes to pass in your life God uses to perfect His purpose and plan in your life. And I believe that one of the most effective ministers that God has sent my way is the minister of failure. And God has done some things in my life through failure that I know tonight He could not have otherwise done.

And so, Moses said, “God led thee these forty years in the wilderness.” Why? He mentions several things that God sought to accomplish by that wilderness of failure and I just simply want to share them with you tonight.

Why does God let us go through the wilderness? Why does He allow us to fail? Why are there times when God even actually negotiates for our failure?

God uses failure to empty us of pride.

Look at verse 2…
“And thou shalt remember all the way which the LORD thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness,” WHY? “…to humble thee…” and he says the same thing in verse 16… “who fed thee in the wilderness with manna, which thy fathers knew not, that he might humble thee…” Verse 3 says, “And He humbled thee…” In other words, God led them into the wilderness…WHY?…to humble them and He did it!

First of all, God uses failure to empty me of pride. Now, man’s basic sin…you might say the original sin of the universe is the sin of pride. And God’s toughest task in your life is to humble you and to empty you of your pride…to bring you to the place where you recognize that you can’t handle life by yourself…you can’t even handle yourself by yourself…and God has to bring you to the place where it seems as though He pulls the rug from under you and you fall flat on your face! I was studying the Book of Proverbs not long ago and that very familiar verse where it says to lean not unto thine own understanding but trust in the Lord. The Hebrew word translated “trust” has the idea of falling flat on your face…of lying helplessly face down on the ground. That’s a pretty good description of what trust is…of God bringing you to a place where you have no alternative than to trust Him.

I want to tell you something that I believe. I believe a man will never trust God until he has to. A man will never trust God until he has to. You see, there is something about man that is basically self-sufficient. He likes to think he can handle it himself. And God is forced to bring us into circumstances and situations where we have to confess, “I cannot handle it.” The old theologians used to have a phrase that I think is a tremendous one… They called it “being shut up to faith.” That’s where God hems us in a corner where the only way out is up. And I said, and I really believe this with all my heart that I’ll never trust God until I have to. You see, as long as I have another trick or two up my sleeve I’m going to use it. As long as I’ve got a back door, as long as I have a fire escape…as long as I have some other plan, some other gimmick, I’m going to use that. And if God is going to bring me to the place where He wants me to be…and that is absolutely dependant upon Him…He must first of all destroy my faith in myself.

Now, I know that we say that we have to be confident and we have to have faith in ourselves, and I understand that to a certain extent, but what I’m trying to get you to understand tonight is…as long as I’m trusting in myself, I’ll never trust in God.

This was Moses’ problem when he started to deliver Israel forty years earlier, back yonder when he saw the Egyptian arguing with one of the Israelites. You know, it’s interesting for me to notice that when Moses thought he was qualified, he wasn’t. And yet, when he thought he wasn’t, he was. Have you ever noticed that? Forty years later after spending those years in the back side of the desert, God says, “Alright Moses, I’m ready now to use you to deliver My people,” and Moses gave excuse after excuse why he wasn’t capable. He said, “Lord, the only experience I’ve had is bad experience, and I’m not eloquent and I have no authority, and people won’t listen to me…Lord I just can’t do it.” And God said, “You’re just the man I’m looking for.”

Now, the sad thing is that it took God forty years to get Moses to the place where he no longer trusted in himself. You say, “I want to learn to trust God…I want to be everything God wants me to be…” Well, you must understand that sometimes that is a painful process and the process is that God has to bring about circumstances in your life to empty you of your pride.

Now, this pride takes two forms. I’ve already been talking about one of them…it’s the pride of self-sufficiency…the pride that says, “I can handle this situation myself.” By the way, let me just insert this. In all the family counseling that I have done I have found that one of the big problems, that one of the big barriers to overcome is a man who is the head of the family insisting that he is sufficient in himself…that he’s able to handle the situation and to handle every circumstance in himself. And I repeat…one of God’s toughest tasks in your life is to convince you that you are not sufficient…that you are not capable of handling life’s situations all by yourself, and God will lead you into failure, my friend, in order to empty you of the pride of self-sufficiency.

One Sunday morning, we had a young man saved in one of our morning services. He came forward during the closing invitation and pronounced his faith in Christ. I presented him to our fellowship and introduced him and told them that this young man had come to take his stand for the Lord Jesus Christ and as I did once in awhile, I would allow this person just to share what the Lord had done for him. And this particular Sunday morning, I said to this young man, “Tommy, is there anything you’d like to say? Is there anything you’d like to just share with this fellowship that God has done for you?” And that young fellow stood up there and thrust out his chest and said, “Yes sir, I want you to know, Preacher, I feel great. I feel great and I’m never going to lose this feeling.”

Well, I knew he would. You know, I knew that feelings don’t last and they’re fickle and fleeting and I said, “Now, Tommy, it’s great that you feel as you do, but don’t lean on that feeling…don’t trust in that feeling…you’re not always going to feel like that.” He said, “Oh, no Preacher, I’m always going to feel just like this. I’m never going to lose this feeling.”

Well, we went back and forth like this for a few minutes and finally I decided to let it drop. I didn’t think it would look good for the pastor to have a fight with a new convert and I said, “Alright, God bless you, Son.”

Have you ever noticed there are some things only experience can teach somebody? About three weeks later, this young man…he didn’t actually walk into my office, he dragged himself into my office…chin on the floor, practically. And he said, “Pastor, can I see you?” And I said, “Well, sure, what’s the problem?” He said, “I think I’m lost.” And I, you know, was gracious enough not to ask him what had happened to that feeling… But, it was hard. I had to bite my tongue. My tendency was to say, “Would you come to church next Sunday morning and let me tell everybody…” No.

But, I said, “Well, Son, tell me what happened.” And you know what happened? He failed! He failed in his Christian life! He failed in his obedience to God! And suddenly when he did that, he lost that glorious, glowing feeling and he was plunged into despair because he thought he was self-sufficient in himself.

Now listen. I think one of the Lord’s biggest problems in His earthly ministry was Simon Peter. I get a lot of encouragement from Simon Peter, because I’m about as stubborn as he is and you are, too, in the things God is trying to teach you. Have you ever noticed that Simon Peter was always the first one to speak up on any occasion? All he needed to encourage him to talk was two ears that would listen. And Peter was always the spokesman for the crowd and sometime he got himself in a great deal of trouble.

I heard a man say the other day, “Peter was always wondering why he couldn’t walk straight while he had one foot in his mouth.” Well, you just can’t maintain your balance when you have one foot in your mouth.

Anyway, if you follow carefully the career of Simon Peter, you’ll find that Jesus, most of the time, was trying to teach Simon Peter this very point…that Simon had not arrived…that he had not achieved…that he was not sufficient and Jesus was constantly trying to empty Simon of his self-sufficient pride. And on the eve of His crucifixion, Jesus made a prophecy. He said that the disciples would forsake Him and that of course was Simon’s cue. And he began to speak and this is what he said… He said, “Lord,” and I’m going to paraphrase it a little bit. He said, “Lord, I understand what you’re saying and I know that the rest of this bunch is of the sort that’ll leave You, but I want You to know, Lord, You can count on me. I’m not going to forsake you, Lord. I’m willing to go to prison with You. I’m even willing to die for you.” Isn’t that a pretty fair paraphrase of what Peter said?

I wonder if that discouraged Jesus. Three and a half years of ministry and Simon still had not learned! Now, listen carefully to what Jesus says… I told you a moment ago that sometimes the Lord negotiates for our failure. Here it is. Jesus said, “Simon, Simon, Satan hath desired you that he may sift you as wheat, but I have prayed for you and when you are turned again, when you get straightened out from this mess, that you will be able to strengthen your brethren.” Now, the word translated “desired”… “Satan hath desired to have you…” is a word that means “to obtain by asking permission.”

Do you know what Jesus was saying? He was saying, “Satan hath asked permission to get hold of you and turn you inside out and I have given it.” Now, that’s really encouraging to me in one aspect. It says to me that the devil can’t touch me without the permission of the Lord Jesus. He cannot do it! God has built a hedge about me and the only way the devil can touch me and get to me is if the Lord Jesus gives His permission. And He was saying, “Simon, there’s only one way you’re going to learn.” And by the way, he learned. If you’ll follow his career you’ll find he never again had a problem with self-sufficient pride. God taught him something through his failure He could not teach him any other way. And I say to you tonight that there are some things in your life…whether it’s home life, business life, church life, personal life…there are some things God is not going to be able to teach you apart from failure. He’s going to have to manipulate you into a situation where you’re faced with failure to empty you of your self-sufficient pride. And He said, “When thou art turned again…” which meant that Jesus knew that Simon was going to fail, but when he failed and learned the lesson of that failure, then he would be competent for ministry. He said, “…then you’ll be able to strengthen your brethren.”

And the Lord had to negotiate with the devil for the failure of Simon in order for Simon to learn that lesson to be emptied of his pride. By the way, right along this line…and I really didn’t mean to get into this, but since I’m in the neighborhood, we’ll visit it for awhile…of the devil’s touching God’s people…have you ever read the Book of Job? Do you know the story of Job?

Well, you know as you read that, you need to remember something. Who initiated that conversation about Job? Who brought up Job’s name? God did! The devil reported to God on a certain day. I don’t know how he got there, but anyway he was there in God’s presence and God initiated that conversation! And He said, “Have you considered My servant, Job?” That sort of makes me wish God wouldn’t do any bragging on me to the devil. He said, “Have you considered my servant, Job…there’s not a man like him on the face of the earth.” And the devil said, “Yeh, but the only reason he serves you is because it pays. Everything’s going well. Everything’s going easy. You’ve blessed him. He’s healthy. If you were to lift that hedge and let me get hold of him, he wouldn’t serve you.”

And you know, that’s a good question. Are you serving God tonight simply because everything’s going well? What if everything in your life were to fall to pieces and you were to lose your health and you lose your family, would you still serve the Lord? The devil asked God a question, “Does Job serve God for naught?” He’s saying, “A man won’t serve God for nothing. A man serves God for what he can get out of Him.” That’s a pretty good question.

And you know, it’s interesting. As I read that, Job never one time gave credit to the devil. If you read the Book of Job, you’ll find that never one time Job referred to the devil. As a matter of fact, the Bible refers to Satan’s affliction of Job as “the hand of God touching Job.” And I want you to know tonight that sometimes what the devil wants to do to me just somehow or another fits right into God’s plan.

The devil wanted to turn Peter inside out and sift him as wheat and Jesus said, “Well, you know, I think that would be good for him and I will give you permission to do it.” And God will use failure to empty us of our self-sufficient pride.

But not only of the pride of self-sufficiency…He also uses failure to empty us of the pride of self-satisfaction. Look at verse 3…
“And He humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know…”
In other words, God did such a work in their lives as to deprive them of certain resources and things they were depending upon and made them cry out, “Lord, I’m hungry.”

Have you been brought to that place? When I begin to move into an area…just like this week…when we come to a Christian Life Conference…you know, one of the primary things I pray for is I say, “Lord, make them hungry.” See, a man won’t eat if he’s not hungry. And you’ll never discover the resources of God until God first of all puts you in a situation where you’re hungry for Him. And the only way you can be hungry for what God has is for God to deprive you of what you’ve been feeding yourself on.

Many of us have been complacent and self-satisfied with our lives and our spiritual progress and before God can spur us on and bring us to His fullness, He has to work in our lives in such a way that we cry out for God to meet our needs.

So, the first thing is that God uses failure to empty us of our pride. You know, I just have to mention that the same God that makes you hungry is the same God who feeds you. You know, the only time God makes me hungry is not to mock me…not to make fun of me…not to see me writhe in hunger pains…but in order that He might feed me…and He said He fed them with manna that they did not know nor did their fathers know.

And I find that when God finally gets me to the place where I cry out, “Lord, I’m desperate! I’m hungry to have what You have…” I find that the Lord meets that need in the most unusual circumstances and ways. He feeds me from unknown resources. And have you found, Christian friend, that sometimes God meets your needs from the most peculiar resources? And from the most unexpected ways imaginable?

God uses failure to expose us to the wickedness that’s in our hearts.

Look again at verse 2…
“…the LORD thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee, and to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep his commandments, or no.”

And He says the same thing in verse 16…
“…that He might prove thee…”
And if you’ll read in Exodus 15 and in Exodus 16, you’ll find that on different occasions, God arranged adverse circumstances in order to prove His people. The word “prove” means “to discover what is present by means of a test…to expose what is present by means of testing”.

Now, God said that He led them through this wilderness to prove them…to expose what was in their hearts…whether they would keep God’s commands. Now…it wasn’t that God wanted to find out what was in their hearts. God knew. He wanted them to know what was in their hearts. And friend, God knows what is in your heart. He knows whether or not you’re going to keep His commandments. He knows that! But, you don’t know it.

If you’ll go back, you’ll find that when Moses was making preparation to go up on Mt. Sinai to get the Law, Israel made a boast. Here was their boast, “All that the Lord God says unto us we will do…everything God tells us to do, we will do.” They thought, in their hearts, was total obedience. They didn’t know that idolatry and terrible sin was in their hearts, and God used that failure to expose them to the unknown wickedness that was in their hearts.

We can go back again to Simon Peter. That was one of the accomplishments of his failure. If you had sat down with Simon Peter as Jesus attempted to do and tried to convince Peter that lurking in the darkness of his heart was denial of Christ and cursing, he wouldn’t have been convinced. And by the way, when it says that Peter swore, it doesn’t mean that he cursed like we think of cursing, but it means he took God as a witness that he didn’t know Jesus. That’s even much worse. It means that he called God in heaven to bear witness to his statement that he didn’t know Jesus and Jesus tried to convince Peter. He said, “Peter, in your heart, there is deep wickedness.” Peter said, “No, Lord. It’s not there.” And the only way that Jesus could prove to Peter what was in his heart was by letting him fall into that failure.

Now, Jesus said, “Out of the heart are the issues of life.” Did you know tonight that in a man’s heart, even though he is saved, there is the possibility of every kind of evil? I don’t know how many times I’ve had men whose homes, because of infidelity, are breaking up, have come to me and said, “Preacher, I don’t know. I’d never believe that I would do something like this.”

Well, I want to tell you something. If there is sin and there is that wickedness in my heart, I want to know about it. If I have a tumor growing in my body, I want to know about it. I want it to be exposed. I want something to happen to expose to me the sickness that’s in my body, so it can be treated before it kills me. And you see, when God lets us go into failure, God is really being merciful to us because He is exposing to us some things in our lives so that we can deal with them and get God’s treatment and God’s help in those areas of our lives.

You would never have been able to convince Simon Peter…and there are some things in your life tonight that you don’t know are there. There are some things…some potentials in your heart that you don’t know are there. I’ll tell you exactly what will happen. God will arrange a set of circumstances and you’ll react to those circumstances and you’ll say, “I didn’t know that was there.”

You know, when Christians get behind the wheel of an automobile, they take on a different character. Something happens to an American when he gets behind the wheel of an automobile…you know, he grows horns and fangs and he doesn’t drive his car, he aims it at the enemy. I’ve joked about that as a sermon illustration, because frankly, that’s never been my problem. Really, I’ve always been cool and collected behind the wheel. But you know, one day not too long ago, a situation happened where God exposed to me what was in my heart and I’ll just use this as an illustration.

My wife and I were getting ready to go to Europe for a conference and we were leaving the next day and we needed an additional suitcase. It was on a Monday and I had staff meeting and I didn’t have time to have a staff meeting and go over in Dallas and search for the right kind of suitcase, so I decided that what I could do was to take all the men, five of us on the staff, and we would go in my car and we would “staff” on the way…you know, talk on the way, and I’d kill two birds with one stone.

Well, we went at lunch time. We went over to one of these big shopping centers where the place was that I needed to go and you know how crowded…all the ladies and men on their lunch hour buying things and parking and doing all of this…well, there just wasn’t a parking place available. You know what a parking place is, don’t you? That’s a space the size of your automobile on the other side of the street. There were plenty of places on the other side of the street, but as I would turn around and come back, they’d be gone!

So, I was just cruising about 5 miles an hour, just waiting for somebody to back out. I was conscious by looking in the rear view that there was a fellow behind me that was not looking for a parking place…he just wanted to get out of there. I could see in the rear view mirror his growing impatience…poking along behind me and he was looking for a chance to pull out ahead of me…but I couldn’t let that bother me…I was looking for a parking place. All the time, my staff and I were talking about spiritual things, you know.

So, in a moment, there was an open space and this fellow behind me gunned his engine and swerved around me and as he swerved around me, he blew his horn two or three times and shook his fist at me. Well, you know what I did? I just blew my horn back and shook my fist back at him and said, “Same to you, brother!!” And immediately when I said that, I remembered I had my staff with me.

The least the Lord could have done was to let that happen when I was alone, so I could have at least saved face. Now, that’s a silly thing, but what I’m saying to you is this…I thought I had control of my temper and I thought I was a very patient, understanding, forgiving person. And you know what? God exposed something in my heart that I didn’t know was there and I began to deal with that thing.

What I’m saying to you, friend, is this. Everyone of us has potential problems and I’ll be honest with you tonight. The breakup of any home could have been prevented if a man or woman had listened to what God had been saying to them through failure. No home breaks up immediately, overnight. There are always warnings. Isn’t that true? Haven’t you been able to see some warnings in your own life…some things happening and you thought, “Why, I never thought I’d do that. I never thought I’d feel this way. A year ago I wouldn’t have thought that. A year ago I wouldn’t have said that.” What’s God doing? He’s allowing you to fail in order that He might expose to you some potential, deadly dangers in your life, so you can deal with them.

God uses failure to educate us as to the true values in life.

I believe one of my greatest problems and one of your greatest problems is a wrong system of values. We place values on the wrong things and God has to patiently educate us and teach us what really counts in life and you’ll find this in the verse 3…
“And He humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know…”
WHY? “…that…” – that’s a purpose clause – “…that He might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the LORD doth man live.”

Now, folks, that’s one of the greatest statements in all of the Bible. Man does not live by bread only. But he lives by the Word of God. Now, this is so relevant to the Israelites because one of their primary complaints was lack of food…lack of bread. And God was trying to teach them that a man’s life is not sustained by bread…but by the Word of God.

You know, that’s literally true! God could keep you alive without bread. Bread here symbolizes all of the material, physical things that we need to sustain life. Now, God is pleased to use bread and air and food and water as the means of keeping us alive but, friend, He doesn’t need to do that. I mean, you can eat the right kind of food and get the right kind of exercise and join the health club and jog two miles every day, but when God says that it’s time for you to die, you’re going to die.

And I tell you this much. If God wanted to keep you alive for forty years without ever eating a drop of food or drinking a drop of water, He could do that if He wanted to…I mean, He’s going to do that in eternity. You don’t think we’re going to sit down to steak and potatoes, do you? A man is kept alive by the Word of God. In other words, he is saying this: The source of a man’s life is God, not the means that God uses to keep us alive.

Now, the importance of seeing this is this…if I look upon bread as the source of my life, as the source of the meaning of my life, as the source of fulfillment in my life, then I’m going to work for bread. But, man doesn’t live by that. Man’s life…its source…its substance…comes from the Word of God.

I have found and I believe it more tonight than ever before…the goodness of God is that God is always with me…in good times and bad…in hard times and easy…when I’m spiritual and when I’m not spiritual…when I’m obedient, when I’m disobedient…God is with me. And God’s chief purpose in my life is to bring me to the place where I recognize that the greatest good in life is to know Him and to feel His presence and to serve Him and to worship Him and honor Him.

And I tell you, folks, sometimes the only way God can teach us that is through failure…the ministry of failure. I hope you learn to recognize that minister. He doesn’t always come dressed up nice and neat in a suit and a tie. Sometimes he’s not a very pleasant character at all to meet. But, he is just as surely a minister of God as your pastor who stands behind the pulpit on Sunday morning.

© Ron Dunn, LifeStyle Ministries, 2005

Exo 03, 04 | Has God Forgotten About Me?

Text:  Exodus 3 and 4

Open your Bibles this morning to the Old Testament, the book of Exodus, chapter 3.  We are going to begin by reading the first six verses from Exodus 3, and we will be reading some verses out of chapter 4.  This is a very familiar story to most of us.  It is one of the great events in the history of God’s working with his people.
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 the place where you are standing is holy ground.”  Then he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.”  At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.

I wonder if you have ever felt that maybe God has forgotten where you are.  Have you ever had the feeling that perhaps God had forgotten all about you?  I have a suspicion that is the way Moses must have felt.  It is ironic that this chapter opens with the words and Moses was tending his father-in-law’s sheep in the back side of the desert.  Freely translated, that is the boondocks of the desert.  Oh my goodness!  What happened to that young man of promise?  What happened to that young man with high and lofty ambitions?  What happened to that man who was so thoroughly trained and prepared for great things?  Raised in Pharaoh’s palace, educated in the finest of institutions, a man destined for greatness.  Here he is in the back side of the desert, tending sheep.  What happened?
He did what he thought was right.  You know the story.  One day he saw an Egyptian abusing a fellow Hebrew so he slew that Egyptian and buried him in the sand.  Then one day he saw two Hebrews fighting, and he tried to intervene.  They said are you going to do to us what you did to that Egyptian?  Who made you a prince over us?  Who made you our boss?  Moses learned that his murder had been found out, so he left.  Here he is.  40 years!  My goodness, all that promise, all that expectation, all that enthusiasm.  Here he is, forgotten.  I wonder if you have ever felt that way.

I wonder if you might feel like some men in our church felt a few years ago when after giving 20 and 25 years of faithful loyal service to a company, the company suddenly one day said you are through.  We are downsizing, keeping only the younger men.  You wonder what happened to all those years of faithful and loyal service.  In the midst of it all, I was serving God.  And now here I am.  Has God just forgotten about me?  Maybe you are a woman who married her knight in shining armor to find out that he was not a knight.  Nor did he own shining armor, and you’ve been living for years now in an abusive relationship.  You wonder has God forgotten where I am.

There are some ministers who have asked that question.  They surrender to the ministry with such high expectations.  They went through all the training.  Now they are out in the back side of some lonely desert.  Nobody knows them, and they seem to be forgotten not only by God but by friends.  I think sometimes single parents, especially a single mother who is trying to raise children and work.  She wonders what has happened to my life.  What happened to all the promise?  What happened to all the prospects?  Has God forgotten me?

I want to talk to you about meeting God in unexpected places and at unexpected times. I want to be honest with you.  I’ve never tended sheep.  I’m not a shepherd.  I can’t put that on my resume:  I spent five years being a shepherd.  It seems to me like a dull, boring job following a bunch of dumb sheep around for forty years.  I somehow imagine that when Moses woke up that morning, he had no expectations of anything being any different.  He got his staff and went out, trudging along.  What does a man think about?  What is there left to think about after forty years of that?  He must know that desert like the back of his hand.  How boring!  The day is not filled with expectation.  He is trying to think of a good reason to get up.  I think the last thing Moses was expecting that day was to see a burning bush.  That must have been a joy.  You would look for anything to relieve the boredom.

Here he is going along, going through his daily routine.  All of a sudden he sees this bush.  I imagine he knew that bush.  He probably passed it every day for forty years.  He looked at it and it was on fire!  Some have tried to explain that away by saying it was just the way the sun was hitting it.  There are always people who try to explain away godly things.  No, the bush was on fire.  Moses was a veteran out there.  He wouldn’t be fooled by an apparition.  He turned aside to see.  When he turned aside, suddenly a voice spoke to him.  Moses!  Moses!  That’s the first time anybody has called his name in a long time.  He says here I am.  God said take your shoes off.  Don’t come any closer for you are standing on holy ground.  Then he identified himself.  I am the God of your father.  He met God, and his whole life was changed.  He discovered that during the forty years when he thought God had forgotten him, that God had not forgotten him.  All along God knew right where he was.

I think one of the most encouraging things to me about this story  and other stories similar to this in the Bible is that no matter how much I may have failed or feel a failure, and no matter how much my enthusiasm may have drained away because of the boredom of life or because of the twists and the fate of life, GOD KNOWS WHERE I AM.  He has not forgotten me.  I could meet him, and he could meet me in an experience that would transform my life at any moment.

I.  A willingness to see the supernatural in the natural.
I think for us to qualify for this kind of encounter there are certain things that need to be true.  First of all, in order for us at any moment to meet God, any moment for God to come and save us out of our drudgery, delivery us from our meaninglessness, there has to be a certain (I’m not sure the best way to say this.) willingness to see the supernatural in the natural.  There has to be a certain curiosity of life, a sensitivity to things that you don’t expect.  I think you have to be willing to see the extraordinary in the ordinary, to see the divine in the daily.

I came up with a phrase awhile back.  I have a hard time.  I’m like Moses.  We’ll get to that in a moment.  Moses said he had a hard time speaking.  Those of you who have heard me a lot know that I sometimes don’t get these words just right.  I’ve practiced, and I am going to try and hit it the first time.  In trying to express what I feel, and trying to express what I am trying to say, I came up with this phrase:  terminological rigidity. I believe it got it the first time.  Honey, did I?  Great!  Of course, I’ve practiced.  I know I’m pushing the envelope.  Terminological rigidity, what do I mean by that?  We come up with a definition of something or a certain terminology, and every definition, all terminology has limits, boundaries to it.  So if we define something, then we commit ourselves to that definition.  We are so rigid that if anything happens outside that definition, then we ignore or deny that it has happened.  Do you understand what I’m getting at?  We say it has to fit within this definition.  It has to fit within our preconceived notion of what it is, or it is not real.

When comes to this idea of worshiping God, of meeting God, of experiencing God, that many, if not most, of us believe that these encounters have to come within the four walls of a church.  More than likely, they have to occur at some worship service.  There has got to be a choir there; no doubt about it.  You have got to have good music.  There has to be somebody officiating, like a preacher or somebody.  Within the strictures of that is when you are going to hear God.  That is when you are going to meet God.  The rest of the week is all secular, run of the mill.  If you are going to meet God, it’s going to be here so we discount everything outside church.

I’ve always been intrigued by the fact that when those two men were on the road to Emmaus, Jesus joined them and they didn’t recognize him at all.  They had a lively conversation, and their hearts began to catch fire.  When they got to their house, they bid this stranger to come in and break bread with them.  So he did.  When they saw Jesus and recognized who he was, it was when he was simply breaking the bread.  It wasn’t when he was feeding 5,000.  It wasn’t when he was raising Lazarus from the grave.  It wasn’t when he was healing the ten lepers.  It was in a normal routine of daily life.  When he broke the bread, they saw him in that ordinary, dull, mundane experience.

I’m going to confess to you this morning that I’ve had some great encounters with God in church services, but I believe the greatest and the most life changing encounters I’ve had with God have been outside the four walls of a building.  They have usually been when I am alone and the last thing I was expecting was for God to break into my life.

The reason I say that I believe it requires a certain curiosity, a certain sensitivity, willingness and openness to see these things is that if you read the text carefully, it says that when God saw Moses turn aside, then he spoke to him.  I have an idea that when Moses caught a glimpse of that burning bush if he had said how about that, (I’m busy.  I’ve got my job to do.  I don’t have time.  I have to keep on my schedule.  I have too many things to take care of.  I don’t have time.) I don’t think God would have called after him, chased after him.  God saw that Moses took the time to turn aside, he refused to be preoccupied with the mundane affairs of life.  In the midst of that daily routine there was a burning bush.  There was something that captured his attention, drew him, and he yielded to that drawing.

You say, preacher, I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a burning bush.  No, I haven’t seen a burning bush either, but I have a burning bush within me, and it’s called the Holy Spirit.  Do you mean to tell me you have never experienced those times when suddenly there was a burning in your spirit for something more.  It’s indescribable and un-definable, but there was a longing, an aching, but you were too busy, too preoccupied to check it out.  I think we have missed many a burning bush because of our preconceived ideas and our too busy schedules.
As a matter of fact, I have an idea we ought to always go around barefooted.  I’m not going to do what one preacher did.  I was in a service, and the preacher asked us to take our shoes off, literally take them off.  I didn’t mind the smell, but it burned my eyes terribly.  I’m not going to ask you to do that.  There is a sense in which we ought to always walk barefoot because we are always walking on holy ground in God’s presence.

In the most unexpected ways, and in the most unexpected times, God may be speaking to you, and may be calling to you.  You may have an encounter with him.  But you’ve got to be sensitive enough to respond to that burning, and open to believe that God can speak to you supernaturally out of the absolute natural and mundane of our lives.  Most of us don’t live brilliantly exciting lives.  Most of us just live normal lives.  Your life is just normal enough not to ever have a movie made about it.   That’s the way most of us are.

Something else that really blessed me about this is that God meets us in a very personal way.  Even though we are a congregation this morning, when God meets us and we encounter him, it is in a personal way.  It was personal because he called Moses by name.  He said, Moses!  Moses!  And Moses said, here I am.  But as I read there was something else that struck me.  I don’t think in all my times of reading this story it has ever struck me like this before.  In verse 5 God is going to identify himself.   “Do not come any closer,” God said. ”Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.”  Then he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.”

We are accustomed to him saying I am the God of your fathers, meaning Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  Notice that is not what God says.  I think here Moses needs a real personal touch.  After all he has been out of circulation for forty years.  So he says I am the God of your father, your dad.  Then he says the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  I wonder why he said I am the God of your father.  I believe it is because Moses needed that personal touch at that moment.

My Dad died in 1990.  It is a strange thing that ever once in awhile, usually when I am in Oklahoma or Arkansas, I’ll meet somebody, an older gentleman, who will come up and say I knew your dad.  Your dad and I were good friends.  I knew you when you were just a little boy.  Preacher, what does that mean?  I don’t know. It touches me.  The minute this man says I knew your dad.  He was a good man.  I don’t know.  Suddenly there is an intimate connection built between that stranger and me.  It suddenly makes me want to listen and learn more of what he knew about my father.  Moses is there, banished to the backside, frustrated in utter failure.  God is saying to Moses, you may have forgotten me, but I am the God that your dad served, your father knew.  That’s when Moses hid his face.

First of all, for us to have these encounters in unexpected places, there must be that certain willingness to see the supernatural in the natural, to believe that God can divinely speak in the daily routine.  I believe there is something else that is required.

II.  A certain reverence for God’s character and who God is

God said Moses, don’t come any closer.  It’s one thing to be curious, but don’t get too familiar.  I may be the God of your father, but that doesn’t mean you can rush into my presence with your shoes on.  That’s a caution for all of us.  I know you, Moses, and I know you by name, but don’t get carried away.  There is still a difference between us.  I am the infinite, and you are the finite.  I am the Creator, and you are the creature.  Take your shoes off.  And Moses hid his face for he was afraid to look upon God.

A certain reverence, respect and awe for God’s character.  I’m afraid that is something greatly missing in our generation.  I think in our attempts to become more personal with God, perhaps in worship and in other ways (and this is the emphasis nowadays for our worship to be more personal.  I believe that with all my heart.) we need to understand that there is a difference between being intimate and being familiar.  You still don’t treat God in a casual, cavalier, familiar way.  There still has to be that awesomeness.

He hid his face because he was afraid.  You know this.  You’ve been told this a dozen times.  When the Old Testament talks about fearing the Lord, it’s not talking about being scared of the dark, or something like that.  It means you have a certain awe and reverence and respect for God.  That’s the idea.  So you are careful where you walk, and how you walk.  It is that kind of awareness.  Moses didn’t jump up and down and shout when God spoke to him.  He hid his face.

It’s like John on the Isle of Patmos.  He was another man who could well have thought that God had forgotten him.  God didn’t know he was exiled on the Isle of Patmos.  What happened to all my years of faithful service?  Has God forgotten all about me?  I’m in exile now, forgotten about.  Suddenly Jesus the resurrected, glorified Lord appears to him.  What does John do?  Does he strike up the band?  No, he falls on his face as though he were dead.

When Peter was out fishing, and they weren’t catching any fish, Jesus said why don’t you try casting on the other side?  There is nothing worse a fisherman hates than to have a non-fisherman giving advice on how to fish.  Here was a carpenter’s son.  He was on the shore.  How long have you been fishing?  All night!  Caught anything?  Don’t ask that question.  If I’d wanted you to know, I would have told you without your having to ask.  No, I haven’t caught anything.  Well, why don’t you try on the other side?  And Peter did, and brought in this huge net of fishes.  What did Peter do?  He ran to shore and said let’s give three cheers for Jesus.  No.  He fell on his face and said depart from me, O God, for I am a sinful man.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not saying that you and I are always to be super serious and solemn in the presence of God in our worship.  I’m not saying that at all.  But I think you understand that what I am getting at is that if you and I are to meet God and have an encounter with God, if God is to speak to us, I believe there has to be in our hearts and in our lives a quality of respect and reverence and awe of God.  The ground was not holy because the bush was burning.  The ground was holy because God was there.

III.  All such encounters with God result in a certain responsibility in God’s cause.
I think first of all, there must be this sensitive spirit, this willingness to see the supernatural in the natural, willing to hear God speak out of a bush.  Secondly, I think there is required of us a certain reverence and respect for God.  The third thing I think this story tells us is that all such encounters with God result in a certain responsibility in God’s cause.

You don’t meet God just for the sake of meeting God.  You will notice that it says in verse 10 of chapter 3:  So now go.  I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.  In other words, God says there is a purpose behind this.  There is a mission behind this.  There is something you are to do.

He goes on to detail further in chapters 3 and 4 exactly what Moses is to do, and what he is to say.  He said you will serve God in this mountain.  In other words, I am meeting you, and we are having this encounter, not just to make you feel good, and not to make you feel warm and fuzzy.  There is something that I have for you to do.  I want to tell you something, folks.  Moses has been missing for forty years.  He had given up on any expectations of doing anything.  Let’s face it.  His best days were gone.  He was no longer a young man.  He is 80 years old now.

God has something he wants you to do.  There is a place where you fit in the community of Christ, the body of Christ, and God has destined it.  You are not going to escape it, and he is not going to forget it.  You can make all the excuses you want to make as Moses did.  The Bible says in Ephesians 2:10 that God created me unto good works which he has before preordained that I should walk in them.  In other words, long before I was born in eternity past, God already knew what I was to do.  He had a place picked out for me.  Success in life is not making a lot of money, or the other things by which we measure success, but it is finding out what you were created to do and doing it.  That’s success.  And God is not going to let you escape if he has, as the Scripture says, preordained you for good works.  You are going to walk in them.

I like Moses making all these excuses.  The thing is that Moses more than likely put his shoes back on after this experience.  Why?  Because there was something to do, places to go, things to do.  He went back to his father-in-law and said I’m quitting and going back to Egypt.  I am going to lead my people out of Egypt.  What I probably would have done was to stay right there by the burning bush and started a church called The Burning Bush Fellowship.  Everybody come to the burning bush!  This is where God is—right here.  That’s probably what I would have done.  No, he left that place.  Burning bushes serve their purpose, but you don’t make holy places out of them.

I want us to look at these excuses.  They are familiar to us, but to me it is funny.  I think a screenwriter or playwright or someone could make a hilarious comedy out of this.  In Exodus 3:10 he says, So now, go.  I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.  But Moses said to God, Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?  This man has lost a lot of his ambition.  He has lost a lot of his pride.  He may be that God needed to consign Moses to the back side of the desert to kind of temper him down just a little bit.  Here is a man who resorted to violence.  He was quick tempered and said I am going to do the work of God and do it this way.  He was wildly enthusiastic and impetuous and slew that Egyptian.  Maybe he needed 40 years in the back side of the desert to calm down.

Do you remember when Jesus had breakfast with the disciples in John 21?  Of course, Jesus is not going to take the natural route.  He sees Jesus on the shore.  He’s not about to wait for the boat.  He leaps off the boat and swims.  That’s just Peter.  Jesus doesn’t question him right then.  Have you noticed?  They sit down and eat breakfast.  I think he is giving old Simon a chance to calm down.  Calm down, Peter!  I’ve got some things I want to say to you.  You are going to have to calm down a little, son.  Let’s eat, and then we’ll take a stroll.  I want to ask you if you love me.

Maybe the reason God has assigned some of us to our desert is because we just needed time to cool off, calm down, be tempered, become mature.  The interesting thing is that every time Moses makes an excuse, God answers it.  There is no excuse.  He makes excuse after excuse.

Look at Exodus 4:10 for a minute.  This is his last excuse.  Moses said to the LORD, “O Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant.  (He is saying God, I have never been eloquent and nothing has changed since you have been talking to me these past ten minutes.)  I am slow of speech and tongue.  (I’m like that Dunn preacher that is going to come along.  I stammer and can’t say things well.  I’m just not a talker.  I can’t express myself, and I’ve always had trouble.  Lord, I can’t speak.)
Look at verse 11.  The LORD said to him, “Who gave man his mouth?  Who makes him deaf or mute?  Who gives him sight or makes him blind?  Is it not I, the LORD?”  (I don’t think I’m going to go any further with that.  That’s a pretty bold statement, isn’t it?  Preacher, are you saying God makes people deaf and dumb and blind?  I don’t know.  I’m just reading what it says.  Basically, it says to me that God not only knows where I am; he knows what I am.  He knows my imperfections, my inabilities, my inadequacies.  Every excuse I bring to God why I can’t do this, God meets it.

Here is the thing that captivates me about this particular incident.  The Lord admits that Moses is slow of speech, and maybe he has some speech impediment.  God admits that.  He doesn’t say Moses you are just making excuses.  In verse 12 he says, “Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.”  But Moses said, “O LORD, please send someone else to do it.”  Now, we are getting to the truth.  All those excuses basically boil down to Lord, just let somebody else do it.  God said I’m not going to do it.  I foreordained you and you are in my grasp.  I’ve captured you in my net, and I am not going to let you go.

The Lord’s anger burned against Moses, and he said okay you are slow of speech, but what about your brother Aaron?  I know he can speak well.  He is already on his way.  Both of you will be happy when you get together.  I will give you the words you will speak to him, and he shall speak for you.  The thing of it is God did not heal Moses’ problem.  He did not solve or take away Moses’ speech impediment which is what I would expect him to do.  This is what you and I would expect God to do.  Lord, if you want me to do something, if you have something for me, then you are going to have to change me, give me new gifts, new abilities, take away these inadequacies.  God said no, I’m not going to do that.  I know what you are.  I made you like you are.  But I have something over here that will compensate for your lack. Everybody lacks.  Nobody has every gift.  Nobody can do everything.  Everybody lacks, has certain deficiencies.  What does God expect from me?  Don’t worry.  Aaron is on his way.  Not only did you think I had forgotten about you, but you thought your brother had forgotten about you.

Whatever lack, or inadequacy, I have, there is no excuse.  God compensates for that.  There’s an Aaron for every Moses.  To sum up, God meets us just where we are.  Moses did not have to get out of the desert and get back into the palace before God spoke to him. God spoke to him right where he was.  We fancy sometimes that is we get everything in our lives straightened out and back to where it ought to be, then God will speak to us.  No, God speaks to us right where we are.  He speaks to us in the desert.  He speaks to the prodigal son in the pig pen.  That’s why we sing that song, just Just As I Am, I come.  God meets you right where you are.

You have got to have a certain curiosity and sensitivity, maybe not here in the four walls of this church, but maybe tomorrow on your dull job God may grow (it sounded like Ron said “throw” a burning bush) a burning bush and he may speak to you.
Would you bow your heads . . .

Gen 12:01-03 | What Does It Mean to Live By Faith?

Text: Genesis 12:1-3

I read a story about a little boy who, on his first day in the first grade, desperately wanted to impress his parents. So on his first day in the first grade, he had one of the upperclassmen teach him part of the multiplication tables. After supper that night, the little boy stood up and said, “Two times two equals four.” And his mother and father were so amazed and surprised—here was their little darling on his first day in the first grade, and he was already multiplying. What they had always suspected was now made true—their little darling was a budding genius. While they were standing there, beaming with pride, thinking they have a genius on their hands, the little boy looked up at them and said, “What’s a two?”

Have you ever been in that situation? I have. I’ve found out that you can sound like you know a lot more than you really do. I think that’s true especially in the church, especially for those of us who have grown up in the church. We hear phrases and words and become familiar with them, and we naturally use them. However, we’re not always certain what those words and phrases mean.

One of those words, I think, is the word faith. I don’t know of any other thing in the Christian life that has such an air of mystery about it as does this concept of faith. I can remember from the earliest days of my ministry when I was in awe of people who were men or women of great faith. I remember reading biographies of men like Praying Hyde and George Mueller, those who were well-known for their faith. There was some special aura about those people who lived by faith.

I learned those words and phrases just like you did. I knew I was “saved by faith,” and I knew I was supposed to “live by faith.” People would tell me, “You just need to trust God”—so I would trust God. And people would say, “You’re just going to have to believe God for this”—and so I would believe God for that. But the truth of the matter is, many times I wanted to say, “What does it mean to believe God? What does it mean to trust God? I know the word and the phrase. I know that I’m supposed to do it, but when you get right down to it, what is involved?”

What does it mean to walk with God? What does it mean to live by faith? What does it mean to step out and trust God in a situation? I think many of us, like that little boy, would like to know what belief is. What do you do when you’re trusting God—do you dress differently, wear sackcloth and ashes, fast, pray?

When I was in school, I was never good at math, and I’m still not. I find math, algebra, fractions, geometry and all that to be a foreign language. I really had a hard time because it’s always been hard for me to follow abstract directions. I’m a concrete person, an image person, and I don’t do well looking at abstract directions. When it came to math, I had a hard time understanding. But if the teacher would turn to the blackboard and work out a problem step-by-step so I could see it, then I could begin to understand it. When she took the abstract and put it in a concrete form, then I began to understand it better.

I think that’s one of the reasons Manley Beasley has been a blessing in my life over the years because he has been an image of what it means to live by faith. It has been a blessing for me to watch him and see how he does it. I think most of us are that way when it comes to these matters. The Lord understands that, and He gave us a person in the Bible that demonstrates to us step-by-step what it really means to trust God and to walk by faith. I’m talking about Abraham.

In Romans chapter four, Paul was talking about Abraham and that experience with Isaac and how Abraham believed God. When he came to the end of that chapter, Paul summed it up by saying, “Now not for his [Abraham’s] sake only was it written, that it was reckoned to him, but for our sake also, to whom it will be reckoned, as those who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead,” (vv. 23, 24, NASB). Paul was saying that God has recorded all the acts of Abraham in this manner of walking with Him, not just as a matter of historical record, but so you and I could look at it and observe it and believe as Abraham believed. If you and I believe as Abraham believed, then you and I will receive as Abraham received.

I want us to look at the three crises in the life of Abraham, when God dealt with him in a decisive manner to bring him to the place where God wanted to him to be.

CRISIS #1—Let Go of the Land
Genesis 12:1-3

We’ll begin with Genesis 12:1-3. This is the first time where the name Abraham occurs in the Bible, except for a genealogy in the eleventh chapter. But as far as we know, this is the first time God ever spoke to Abraham; this is where the whole business started.

Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go forth from your country, and from your relatives and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you; and I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and so you shall be a blessing; and I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (NASB)

Notice the words of separation (“go forth…”) and the words of direction (“to the land…”) in verse one. The first words God spoke to Abraham were “Get out. Leave. Go somewhere else. Turn your back on what you now have. Separate yourself.” I believe that the real essence of faith is simply letting go of one thing so the Lord may give us something else. In this matter of growing in grace and walking with God, there is always the element of letting go of one thing so you may take hold of something else.

God came to Abraham and said, “I want you to get out of the country in which you are now living. I want you to separate yourself from your kindred and from your father’s house.” In other words God was saying, “Abraham, I want you to let go of everything in your life that means security and identity to you. I want you to let go of all that you have so that I can give you a special country.” God had a land He wanted to give Abraham, but He could not give him the Promise Land until Abraham let go of the land he had.

I’m convinced that the thing that keeps God from giving us all He wants us to have is the fact that our hand is tightly clenched around something we’re not willing to let go of. In growth, the matter of letting go is always involved. The only way to grow up is by giving up. That’s true, not only physically, but also spiritually. All the days of your life, you’ve grown by giving up certain things—you have to give up the bottle, the diapers, the toys eventually. We call those people who are not willing to give up those things immature.

You have to give up in order to grow, and it’s not always easy. In fact, sometimes it’s painfully hard. Jesus said that “for this cause shall a man leave his father and mother and be joined unto his wife, and they shall be one flesh.” You have to give up a home in order to make a home. Unless we give up now, we can never grow up into what God wants us to be.

When God came to Abraham, it must have startled him because God had not laid any real foundation with him. All of a sudden, it seems, out of the clear blue sky, God spoke to Abraham, and the word He said was so difficult—get up and leave your country; withdraw yourself from your family, from your kindred and from your father’s house. Now what was God doing here? Basically, I think God was doing two things in the life of Abraham. I think He does the same two things in your life and in my life.

1. God is seeking to isolate us.

God wanted to make a new race out of Abraham. He wanted to fashion Abraham according to His own image, but He could not do that where Abraham was. God needed to draw him out and isolate him so that He alone could be the shaping influence in Abraham’s life.

I have no doubt that what God is constantly trying to do in our lives, in a sense, is to isolate us so that we will not be conformed to this present evil world, but be transformed by the renewing of our mind. Paul said to the Corinthians, “Come out from among them and touch not the unclean things.” I’m not saying that you and I should become isolationists or withdraw from the world and live in the mountains somewhere. But there is a very real sense that God is wanting to draw us out of the world so He can be the shaping influence in our lives.

If God wants to start a new work in my heart, He has to start it in a situation where He has me all to Himself. God knows that He cannot do all He wants to do with you and me as long as we are living under the powerful influence of this world. I like the way Philips translates Romans 12:2—“Do not let the world around you squeeze you into its mold.” It brings out the power that is exerted on us by the world. I tell you the truth: you and I are constantly under pressure to be squeezed into the mold of this world. There is tremendous pressure on us all the time to conform to this world’s standards, to act like the world, to live by the ideals and standards of the world. But you can never do that if you’re going to walk with God. You have to leave where you are and come to where God is.

2. God is getting us to walk in the unknown.

The thing that impresses me most about this is that God didn’t tell Abraham where he was going. I often wonder how he broke the news to Sarah. Abraham’s relationship to Sarah must have been a lot different. He came to Sarah one day, and he said, “Sarah, pack; we’re leaving.” “Where are we going,” she asks. “I don’t know.” “How long will it take us to get there?” “I don’t have any idea. A voice from heaven spoke to me today and told me to leave all of this—this country, my father’s house, our kin—and go out in the country and become nomads and live in tents.” Now what would you do if your husband walked in and made that announcement to you. That’s exactly what Abraham did.

God is saying, “I want you to go into a country that I will show thee. I want you to walk with Me in the midst of mystery. I want you to trust Me even when you don’t know what’s going on. I want you to trust Me even when you don’t know what’s happening in your life. I want you to trust Me even when you don’t have the slightest idea where I’m taking you. I want you to be willing to walk with Me, even in the unknown.” I believe that you cannot miss this aspect of faith and understand what it means to walk with God.

I used to wonder why God didn’t tell Abraham where he was going. I think I know. If God had told Abraham where he was going, then Abraham would have kept his eye on the destination. However, if God is the only one who knows where you are going, then you’re going to have to keep your eye on God. If you are following someone, and he’s the only one who knows where you’re going, you’d better work to keep him in sight. I’m convinced that God did that with Abraham so he’d have to keep God in sight. I believe that’s why God doesn’t always lay out everything for us. God doesn’t always tell us in advance what He’s doing in our lives, so that we have no choice but to keep our eyes on Him.

There is an interesting story in the Old Testament in the Book of Exodus about Moses. When Moses brought the people out and they came to the wilderness and they came to Mount Sinai, Moses went up the mountain to get the law of God. I like what the people said; they were so confident. They said, “Now Moses, you go up there on the mountain and find out what God wants us to do. Then come down and tell us, and we’ll do everything God says.” They were so confident, so arrogant. By the time Moses got back to them, they had already broken everything God had given them to do. They were dancing around this golden calf, and I love what Aaron said about it. Moses said, “What in the world is going on?” Aaron responded, “I don’t have the slightest idea. Everybody came and brought me gold rings and bracelets, and we threw them in this fire, and out came this golden calf! I don’t have any idea what happened.

Moses goes back up to pray for the people, and God has had it. He says to Moses, “Don’t pray for this people; I’m going to start all over with a new people.” Moses begins to pray one of the most interesting prayers in the Bible. He says, “God, You can’t do this because You promised them You would lead them into a land. If You do this, You’ll be breaking Your word. And not only that—You’ll be causing Your enemies to mock You.” Then Moses said this: “Lord, if You cannot forgive them, then blot me out of the book which You have written.” The Bible says God changed His mind and didn’t do what He intended to do to the people. He heard the prayer of Moses and told Him to go back and lead the people.

I don’t believe Moses was all that ready to lead the people. He had enough trouble with them and needed some encouragement, and Moses made a strange request of the Lord. He said, “Lord, show me Your face; show me Your glory.” I think what Moses was saying was, “Lord, I need to see You from the front; I need to know You upfront. If I’m going to lead this people, it would help if I knew where we were going and what You were all about. I want to know from the front what’s going on and where we’re headed. It would help me a lot to lead this people if I had that kind of assurance.” And God said to Moses, “You can’t do that. No man can see My face and live. I’ll put you in the cleft of the rock and put My hand over your face. As I pass by, I’ll remove My hand, and you’ll see Me from the back.” And that’s what God did.

And that’s the only way you and I ever see God in this life—from the back. We only see Him in retrospect. We only really see God when we look back over the path from which we have come. I don’t even have the slightest idea where I’m headed tomorrow, and you don’t either. There have been a million times when I thought I had certainly missed God somewhere. I’ve said, “I don’t understand, Lord, how all this can be in Your will because this path I’m on is so crooked and hilly. It has so many traps and snares on it. Lord, it’s so dark, and half the time I’m stumbling around like I’ve lost my way. I must have missed You somewhere.”

But every once in a while, I look back over my shoulder at the path behind me. It’s as straight as it can be; there are no traps or hedges or thorns. It’s well-lit and I think to myself, “Is that the path I just came over? It sure didn’t look like it then.” When I look back over past experiences, I can see the path clearly, and God is everywhere. I see God in retrospect. I’m convinced that’s the way you and I have to live this life. Most of the time, we don’t see God clearly out in front of us. We don’t always know where He’s leading us, but we can turn around and look back and say, “Yes, of course; the Lord led me every step of the way.” And so the issue of faith is whether or not I’m willing to travel under sealed orders and let God keep my destination to Himself.

CRISIS #2—Let Go of Ishmael
Genesis 17

God made a covenant with Abraham. He told Abraham that He would give him and Sarah a son through whom all the nations of the earth would be blessed. That covenant was the basis for everything God did in Abraham’s life. So they walked away with this promise in their heart: Sarah would bear Abraham son, and through that seed, all the nations of the earth will be blessed. There was only one thing wrong. Sarah couldn’t have children; she was barren. Years went by, and they didn’t hear anything from God. So, Sarah came up with the “solution” that Abraham would have a child by her handmaid, Hagar. Moses did that, and Ishmael was born. When Ishmael was born, Abraham and Sarah were satisfied that the promise of God had been fulfilled. All of a sudden, when Ishmael was about fourteen years old, God spoke to Abraham again. He picked up right where He had left off, as if no time had passed, and continued to talk about Sarah bearing a son.

Then God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be here name. and I will bless her, and indeed I will give you a son by here. Then I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.” Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said in his heart, “Will a child be born to a man one hundred years old? And will Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” (vv. 15-17, NASB)

All of a sudden God spoke. That voice thundered out of heaven, and Abraham did exactly what you ought to do when that happens—he threw himself on the ground and worshiped the Lord. So there he was, doing the right thing. He fell on his face and worshiped God. But while he was down there worshiping God, he did something else—he got the giggles. He laughed in his heart. It’s just like when you were a child in church, and you got tickled about something. You knew that you weren’t supposed to laugh out loud because if you did, your mom and dad would get you, so you tried so hard to hold it in. That’s what happened to Abraham. He didn’t want to laugh, but God had just said the most ridiculous thing he had ever heard in his life. God had said that Sarah would be the mother of many nations, and Abraham just couldn’t believe it. So he said in the next verse, “O God, that Ishmael might live before You!”

What’s happening here? Abraham was telling God that Ishmael was the answer and the son of the promise. What you and I have to remember is that as far as Abraham was concerned, the promise of God had been fulfilled for fourteen solid years. Every day as he watched Ishmael grow up, Abraham knew in his heart, “This is it.” He loved that boy with all of his heart, and God spoke for the first time in twenty years as if Ishmael didn’t even exist. Basically, Abraham was saying, “God, just do it my way.”

What is Ishmael? Ishmael is where your vision collides with God’s vision. Ishmael is your version of the will of God—your dreams, your plans, your ideas. The Lord was saying, “Abraham, if you are to have a child of promise, you must let go of this child. Just as you had to let go of the land to get the Promise Land, so you’re going to have to open your hand again and let go of Ishmael if you’re going to have Isaac. I cannot do My work in you as long as you are grasping and hanging on to Ishmael. As long as you insist on doing it through Ishmael, I can never have My way with you. Let go, and grow up by giving up.”

Faith is a matter of leaving and losing and letting go so that God may give us what He has for us. It is never easy to give up Ishmael. It’s easier to leave the land than it is to Ishmael. All of us have our plans, our visions, our dreams. We picture a certain kind of home and family and job. One day God comes along, and He goes against the grain of that and says, “No, that’s not My will. Ishmael is not Mine. Ishmael is the work of the flesh—your idea of how to do God’s will. Ishmael is your contribution to the work of God, not Mine. You have to let go of Ishmael—of your dream, your vision, your plan.”

I don’t like change. I am an incurable old-fashioned type of person. I don’t like to say goodbye to one era of my life and walk into another. I don’t like to close chapters or give up dreams. I don’t like to shut my eyes to the visions I’ve had. I don’t like to let go. I want to cling to the past and my childhood visions and dreams. I want life to turn out like I planned years ago. When God comes to me and tells me to let go of a portion of my life or a dream or a possession, I find myself crying out, “O God, let Ishmael live before You. God, do it my way. I can’t bear to give up my own dream or vision. Lord, do it my way.”

But you have to let go of Ishmael. All of us have our plans, but they don’t always match the will of God. God can’t bring me what He wants me to have as long as I am clinging to my way. God has something else far greater than I can ever imagine, but I’ll never know it if I’m grasping that one thing.

Abraham tried to get God to see reason. He delicately tried to steer God in a more sensible direction. He wanted to go with the plan that made more sense and seemed to be a sure thing. It’s easier for us to trust God when we have a guarantee that we can see and touch. As a Christian and as a church, you are in trouble when you start banking on the sure things. God doesn’t always come to you that way.

The first time we are introduced to the name Isaac is in this passage. We find that it wasn’t Abraham or Sarah who named the boy, but it was God. Isaac means laughter. Abraham was on his face, laughing at God, and God said, “Let’s name him Isaac, so that every day you look at him, you’ll remember that you laughed at Me. Every time you call his name, you’ll remember that you laughed at Me.”

Crisis #3—Let Go of
Genesis 22

Now it came about after these things that God tested Abraham, and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” And he said, “Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah; and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you.” (vv. 1, 2, NASB)

This is the last great crisis. This is where Abraham’s faith grows up. Isaac was probably seventeen years old and had become the apple of Abraham’s eye, the treasure of his heart. Everything was running smoothly and wonderfully when God spoke again out of the clear blue sky. He spoke with a more shattering tone than He had before.

Abraham was over one hundred years old, and you’d think he had passed all the tests. But there he was in his old age, and God wasn’t finished yet. I think that’s true in our lives. I do not think there is any time in life when we’ve done it all and said it all. The truth is, sometimes the older we get, the tougher the tests and the greater the sacrifices and the bigger the stakes. But aren’t you glad that God didn’t start out with that test. He waited until Abraham was old enough, mature enough and strong enough. I do not believe that God will ever test you in any way that you are unable to bear and pass. God takes us step-by-step, stage-by-stage, and doesn’t give us more than we can handle.

To understand this stage in Abraham’s life is to understand the highest level of spiritual maturity that a person can ever experience. It’s one thing to leave the world behind and give up sin and all that is outside the will of God. But it is another thing to so divest ourselves of all possessions and rights, that even that which is of God, we are willing to let go of.

When Paul was caught up in the third heaven as recorded in 2 Corinthians chapter twelve, he saw things that were not lawful for a man to talk about. It did something to Paul to have that kind of vision and experience. So Paul said there was given to him a thorn in the flesh. Do you know why God gave that thorn to Paul? He says it in chapter twelve: “And because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh.” Paul was in danger because God had blessed him so much, and he was being filled with spiritual pride, so God gave him a thorn in the flesh. That which was jeopardizing Paul’s blessings was the fact that Paul had been blessed so much. The thing that was jeopardizing Paul’s usefulness was the fact that he had been used so much.

Sometimes we can’t stand good things; we can’t stand blessings. They do something to us. When my brother and I were cleaning out my dad’s things after his death, we found a quote that my dad had written—“Say not you know another person entirely until you have shared an inheritance with him.” You know, my dad was smarter than I thought he was. I’ve seen families fall out over sharing an inheritance. You don’t always really know yourself. When you don’t have anything, you’re not all that worried about it. But when you start having stuff, then you really get nervous about it and start looking out for your share to make sure you’re being treated fairly. Sometimes it’s not the sin that does us in, it’s the blessings. Sometimes it’s not the empty pews that kill a church, it’s the full ones.

The greatest test for Abraham was not letting go of the land or getting rid of Ishmael, it was letting go of Isaac. Isaac was perfect; he stood for all that was right and sure. Yet God was saying to Abraham, “I don’t have all of you there is to have until I have Isaac.”

Some years ago, we were going through a difficult time in our family. Kaye and I were talking about it, and I said what I thought was spiritual and humble: “The only thing I’m really worried about is the effect this may have on my ministry.” And Kaye said, “Whose ministry?” And I thought back to the Wednesday night before when I preached out of Corinthians where Paul talked about the ministry we have received, and I made a big deal out of it being God’s ministry. There is nothing that bugs me more than to have Kaye or God re-preach my whole sermons to me!

A young man came to me one day and said, “Brother Dunn, I have surrendered myself to God. I’ve given everything up to God, and I’m willing now for God to use me.” I said, “Are you willing for God not to use you? Are you willing to be just for God alone while everyone else gets the accolades and the big churches and the recognition?” God doesn’t have all of us until He has Isaac—the thing in my life that is most perfect and right and of God, the thing that is essentially good and blessed. But it can become for me an idol and a possession.

Possession isn’t ownership. Abraham possessed Isaac, but he didn’t own him. There is nothing that you and I can say we own; it is all given to us as a stewardship. We possess it, but we do not own it. The danger comes when we start thinking as if we own it. One of the first pieces of advice given to me as young pastor was strange, and I just laughed when I heard it. A very old pastor who had been in the ministry for many years said to me, “If the treasurer of your church ever gets to acting like it’s his money, you need a new treasurer.” Hold all things loosely. If you get to thinking you own them, you’re in trouble.

Every time God had asked Abraham to do something up until now, He had attached a promise to it. If you leave that land, I’ll give you another land. If you give up Ishmael, I’ll give you Isaac. But in this last test, there was no promise attached. I believe that the ultimate in walking with God and trusting Him comes when you don’t need the promise of reward to obey Him; you obey Him because He’s worth obeying and love Him because He’s worth loving.

When Abraham left his land, God gave him a new land. When he let go of Ishmael, God gave him Isaac. And when he offered up Isaac to kill him, there was no promise given to Abraham. But, many years later, Jesus Christ stood and said, “Abraham rejoiced to see my day and was glad.” I believe that day on the Mount of Moriah, God pulled aside the curtains of eternity and let Abraham see the real Isaac that would come one day.

We all know that Isaac didn’t die, and it was never intended that Isaac should die. But somebody did die on that mountain—it was Abraham. He died to Isaac, and that’s what you and I must do.

Gen 12:01; 17:18; 22:2 | Necessary Losses

Leaving, Losing and Letting Go

Text: Genesis 12:1; 17:18; 22:2

Losing is a necessary part of living. We grow up by giving up. That is the message of Necessary Losses, a book by Judith Viorst about the things we must leave, lose and let go of in order to grow– loves, illusions, dependencies, impossible expectations.

When we think of loss, we usually think of loss through death, a tragic loss of someone we love. But not all losses are tragic. Loss can be a promotion rather than an interruption, for the road to maturity is paved with renunciation. We must leave our childhood to enter adulthood. We must let go of illusions if we are to grasp reality. A man must leave his father and mother and cleave unto his wife, says the bible. You can’t cleave if you don’t leave. We leave home to make a home.

This is especially true of the Christian life and the story of Abraham portrays it vividly. From God’s first call to His final promise, faith was for Abraham a “letting go” in order to “take hold.” To live out the purpose of God, he incurred necessary losses–leaving, losing and letting go.

A Land to Leave

God’s first word to Abraham was, “Get out of your country, from your kindred and from your father’s house, to a land I will show you.. .So Abram departed as the Lord had spoken to him” (Genesis 12:1, 4).

Leaving the land meant that Abraham was to abandon all natural roots, to disentangle himself from any and all present ties, to leave the things that gave him security and identity. Abraham would become a nomad, a sojourner, a pilgrim—- an exile.

When God calls us to Himself, He also calls us from the world. No longer a part of this world, we are in the world, but not of it. As He did with Abraham, God calls us to leave behind the worldly pressures that keep us from being what He wants us to be. He isolates us so that He alone may be the influence that shapes and molds our life.

God has a new land for Abraham, but he must leave the land of the present to obtain the land of the promise. Abraham must leave the known for the unknown, he must live in the “not yet”, and find his reward in something he might never live to see.

The emphatic tone of Abraham’s life is found in the words, “I will show you,” (Genesis 12:1). These words define the nature of the Christian pilgrimage —  it is trusting in the midst of mystery. And every command of God is an echo of the original call. “I will tell you,” is the theme song of sojourning saints.

This “pilgrim posture” has become a fossil of an earlier age. We are too much at home in Egypt. We have trimmed the corners of our convictions so we can “fit in”.

Are we willing to travel under sealed orders? Can we leave the future to God and allow Him to plan our itinerary? We often pause on the edge of obedience and look across the divide, trying to discern the consequences of our obedience in advance. But we cannot walk by faith until we walk away from sight.

A Love To Let Go

Abraham’s next crisis of faith is recorded in Genesis 17. Part of God’s covenant with Abraham was the promise that he would be the father of many nations, but after ten years in Canaan there was no son because Sarah was barren. In a carnal attempt to fulfill the promise of God, Abraham, at Sarah’s suggestion, fathered a son by Sarah’s maid, Hagar. As far as Abraham was concerned, this son, Ishmael, fulfilled the promise. The problem was solved and for 14 years Abraham thought Ishmael was the promise!

Until God spoke to Abraham again, renewing the promise that Sarah would bear him a son: “I will bless her and also give you a son by her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples shall be from her” (Genesis 17:16). When Abraham heard that he “fell on his face and laughed and said in his heart, ‘Shall a child be born to a man who is one hundred years old? And shall Sarah, who is ninety years old bear a child?”’ (verse 17). Abraham laughed. He couldn’t help himself: the idea was ridiculous. He laughed because he didn’t believe. And we know Sarah did not believe because when she heard the news she laughed too. If a ninety-year old woman discovers she’s going to have a baby, there are any number of things she might do —  but laughing is not one of them.

And then we hear Abraham plead with God: “Oh, that Ishmael might live before You!” (verse 18).

What is Abraham saying?

First, he’s saying, “Lord, be reasonable.” This is incomprehensible to Abraham, so he recommends a more believable course of action. After all, Sarah is a very “iffy” proposition whereas Ishmael is a certainty. Let’s go with a sure thing.

Second, he’s saying, “Lord, do it my way.” Ishmael is a symbol of man’s attempt to take matters into his own hands. Ishmael is Abraham’s contribution to God’s redemptive purpose in the earth. Ishmael is our version of the will of God, our cherished vision. Ishmael is where the will of God and the schemes of man collide. And one must go.

Again, Abraham is expressing what all of us have felt at times.; Lord, this is not what I imagined my life would be. This is not what I had in mind when I entered the ministry. This is not what I dreamed of for my children.

Because of Isaac’s prominence, we forget that Abraham loved Ishmael with all his heart. He was, for Abraham, the realization of all God’s promises.

We all have our Ishmaels and it is painful to let then go, but go they must, Isaac cannot come until Ishmael is gone.

A Life To Lose

Losses may be necessary, but some are easier to take than others. Abraham now faces his greatest loss, recorded in Genesis 22: “Now it came to pass after these things that God tested Abraham, and said to him, “‘Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.”’.

“And He said, ‘Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains which I shall tell you”’ (Genesis 11:1,2).

I can understand why Abraham had to leave his country. I can even understand why he had to let go of Ishmael —  he was Abraham’s idea, not God’s.

But Isaac was God’s idea. It was God who insisted that Ishmael be driven out in favor of Isaac. If Isaac dies, then everything that has happened since God first called Abraham has been a meaningless, cruel joke. Isaac is the only channel through which the promised greatness of Abraham’s seed can be fulfilled.

But from the very first words of God’s command we know God does not intend Isaac to die. “God tested Abraham.” It was a test (although Abraham did not know this), and Abraham passed it: “And He said, ‘Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me” (verse 12).

Isaac was not meant to die on that mountain —  but someone died. And I’m not talking about the ram caught in a thicket; I’m talking about Abraham. Abraham died that day — he died to Isaac. Until God had Isaac He did not have all of Abraham there was to have.

The good thing, the best things, the things God has given to us can become idols. Since I know preachers better than I know anyone else, I can say that we preachers sometimes make an idol of the ministry — our ministry, and many a church building has been raised as a monument to ministerial ego rather than to the glory of God.

In every godly life there is an altar, and if God is to be on the throne of our life, Isaac must be on the altar. God’s gifts are gifts of pure grace. They are not ours by right or title, but by the grace of God. The Lord giveth, and the Lord can take away.

When we lay our Isaac on the altar we acknowledge that possession isn’t ownership. We may possess Isaac but we don’t own him. The same is true of our health, our family, our occupation, even our life. Possession is not ownership — therefore, let us hold all things loosely.

At the beginning I said that losses are necessary for growth, that we let go of one thing so we can take hold of another., We grow up by giving up.

Necessary losses do not diminish us, they enhance us. They do not make us poorer but wealthier. They are not acts of judgement or chastisement. They are acts of love —  and of growth.