Exo 15:22-27 | Defenses Against Discouragement

Text: Exodus 15 By Ron Dunn
Open your Bibles to the Old Testament, to the book of Exodus, chapter 15, and I want to begin reading with verse 22 and read through the end of the chapter, verse 27. You know the context. They have just had a marvelous deliverance from Egypt, and they have just come through the Red Sea episode. In the first twenty-one verses you have the song of Moses and the Children of Israel as they praise the Lord for all He has done. Then in verse 22, we pick up and read:

So Moses brought Israel from the Red Sea, and they went out into the wilderness of Shur; and they went three days in the wilderness, and found no water. And when they came to Marah, they could not drink of the waters of Marah, for they were bitter; therefore the name of it was called Marah. And the people murmured against Moses, saying, “What shall we drink?” And he cried unto the LORD; and the LORD showed him a tree, which when he had cast into the waters, the waters were made sweet: there he made for them a statue and an ordinance, and there he proved them. And said, if thou wilt diligently hearken to the voice of the LORD thy God, and wilt do that which is right in his sight, and wilt give ear to his commandments, and keep all his statutes, I will put none of these diseases upon thee, which I have brought upon the Egyptians: for I am the LORD that healeth thee. And they came to Elim, where were twelve wells of water, and threescore and ten palm trees; and they encamped there by the waters.

Mention has already been made this week of the alarming statistics among Southern Baptists that each year 1,000 of our ministers leave the ministry. I read a report of a preliminary study a few weeks ago as to the causes of this defection from the ministry among our ranks. One of the primary contributing factors, especially among younger ministers, was discouragement and disillusionment. I believe that one of the most effective weapons that the devil has ever forged against a believer is the weapon of discouragement.

Jack and I were in a Northwest city a few weeks ago in a conference where several churches had come together to sponsor it. As we talked to pastor after pastor this is what we heard: Our greatest problem here is discouragement. Our pastors are discouraged; our people are discouraged. We need somehow to be lifted out of this mire of discouragement. This week here in New Orleans I have talked to several, and I’ve had more than one pastor mention to me, “You know the greatest thing I have to fight here in my particular location in the city is discouragement.” We are in the minority where we are, and it is so easy to get discouraged.

This is not something that simply afflicts preachers, music directors, and other staff workers; it is something that afflicts every Christian. I believe that my greatest battle with the enemy is at the point of discouragement. My greatest times of weakness have come through discouragement. My greatest times of unbelief, panic, and fretfulness have come through discouragement. When the devil seeks to try to thwart the purpose and work of God in the lives of believers, I think his number one weapon is the weapon of discouragement and disillusionment.

We sometimes have an inadequate view of the Christian life. We don’t know what to expect, and when something happens that knocks us off balance, it destroys our spiritual equilibrium, and we find ourselves plunged into despair and discouragement.

This week has been a time of victory for a great many folks, not only those of you who have come in response to the invitation and gone to the prayer room, but others as well.. God has ministered to your life. I guess you might say that we are sort of on a spiritual high tonight. God has met us, and God has blessed, and many of us have had some difficulties resolved, and problems solved, and some sins forgiven. Many of us come to this place tonight with a new commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ. Now, if we don’t know what to expect next week after this conference is over, we will find ourselves the helpless victims of discouragement.

As I read through the Israelites’ experience as Moses takes them through the wilderness, I find there a classic record of discouragement. If there was ever a man that had a right to be discouraged, it was Moses. I get a lot of comfort from Moses. I’ve never pastored that large a congregation, and anytime I had anyone murmuring and complaining, and I began to feel sorry for myself, I thought about Moses who had upwards of three million people griping at him all at once. You know, that encourages me. Moses was a man who lived on the edge of discouragement and disillusionment. These stories are rich in their instruction because the Bible makes it very clear that the things that happened to them have happened to us as examples, and they are meant for our instruction and edification.

I want to talk to you tonight about defending against discouragement. As I’ve already intimated, I think that one defense against discouragement is knowing what is going to happen. If you know there is going to be a jolt, you can brace yourself for it. You can learn to roll with the punches. Most Christians find themselves wallowing in self pitying discouragement because they didn’t know what to expect. They didn’t know the route that God would take them in accomplishing his purpose, and leading them to the land of promise and fullness. I want us to look at this strange little incident as Moses brings the people to the waters of Marah, and see their reactions–and see God’s reactions. We are going to learn how to defend against discouragement.

Moses was a man who had completely committed his life to God. The Bible makes it clear that he had given up the riches of Pharaoh; he had given up the palace; he had given up everything for the reproaches of Christ, to suffer for Christ. here was a man who had had a tremendous spiritual experience, and had started out with the glow of victory on his face. And yet, he met one difficulty after another and was always living at the point of discouragement. There are three great spiritual principles of life:

1. If you are going to defend against discouragement, you must understand that the greatest successes of life are often followed by failure.

Now you will miss the impact of this little story if you ignore its context. They had just passed through the Red Sea. They had seen the Red Sea come together and drown the Egyptian army that was pursuing them. And the people stood on the shore and watched as the waves washed the dead bodies of their Egyptian taskmasters up on the shore. I can imagine that they walked around looking at the bodies and said, “Ah, I recognize him. Yes sir, he was the one who whipped me. He was the one who made me make bricks the hard way. I recognize him. He’s dead; I’ve been liberated from that old Egyptian taskmaster. And as they surveyed the scene, and all those dead Egyptians, they felt that liberation surge through their soul and Moses began to sing, and Israel began to sing. I wish we had time tonight to just read those first 21 verses of Chapter 15. It is absolutely amazing. Listen to just one or two of the things they say. In verses 11-13:

“Who is like unto thee, O LORD, among the gods? Who is like thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders? Thou stretchedst out thy right hand, the earth swallowed them. Thou in thy mercy hast led forth the people which thou hast redeemed: thou hast guided them in thy strength unto they holy habitation.”

Look at verses 17 and 18: “Thou shalt bring them in, and plant them in the mountain of thine inheritance, in the place, O LORD, which thou hast made for thee to dwell in, in the Sanctuary, O LORD, which thy hands have established. The LORD shall reign forever and ever.”

Boy, if you had walked in on that service, heard that singing and shouting and praising, you would have thought here are people who have arrived. They have it made. All their trials are behind them. With faith like that, with confidence like that, nothing can stop them. And in three days they are wallowing in failure! Three days later they find themselves in a place of bitter waters, and they immediately forget everything they had previously said. “I thought the Lord was going to reign forever and ever. I thought there was no god like your God. I thought he was going to lead you into the land and establish you an inheritance, and here you are now murmuring, grumbling and griping to Moses because you are afraid you are going to die of thirst.” One of the greatest spiritual principles of life is this: the greatest successes of life are often followed by failure, and if you don’t realize that, you are going to be plunged into despondency and discouragement.

I think about Elijah on Mt. Carmel. Has ever a man experienced a greater victory than when he sees the heads of those 450 prophets of Baal roll like crushed eggs down the hillside, and the heavens open and God baptizes the earth in water. Elijah standing on Mt. Carmel—what a great success! And yet, a short time later you find him running from Jezebel and whining under a juniper tree like a whipped pup, wishing God would kill him.

I think about the Israelites as they entered into Canaan, going to Jericho, marching around the city once a day for seven days, and then on the seventh day seven times. Victory was so easy. All they had to do was just to have a little pre-celebration parade and do a little shouting and blow a few trumpets and the walls came tumbling down. Then in the next chapter, we find Ai where they flee before the people.

I think about Simon Peter and the night that Jesus asked, “Who do men say that I am?” Everybody gives their opinion, and then Simon Peter opens his mouth and something right comes out. He is as surprised as everybody else. He says, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus says, “Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.” You have been the recipient of divine revelation. What a momen! What success! Simon has been singled out by God to receive a revelation that none of the other disciples had really accurately and fully received.

And what so often happens is that when you have one great spiritual experience, you get to thinking that makes you an expert in all things spiritual. And the very next moment, Jesus is saying to the same man, “Get thee behind me, Satan, you don’t understand the things of God at all.” Success followed by failure.

What happens when this occurs? When I left the pastorate a year ago to get into this work, I thought I was doing what God wanted me to do. I had been at that church for nine years, and God had blessed in a marvelous way. I’ve never had a pastorate in which I loved the people so much, and felt they loved me. We were as one, and there was sweetness and harmony, people being saved, the church growing—and God just manifested himself. And yet for the previous two or three years I had felt God gradually easing me out of that position into this kind of ministry. And so I just naturally knew that if a man is willing to give up that kind of situation, that kind of pastorate, and do God’s will, that everything was going to be roses. So I left that church, and the first two or three months were the worst I’ve ever had in my life. The first church I went to after that meeting was the deadest church I’d ever been in in all my life. And the next church was just as dead. And the next church was dead. And the next one was just as dead. I began to think, “Well, I wonder where I missed God?” Perhaps I miscalculated. Perhaps I misread the will of God. I must have sinned somewhere along the way, or else I wouldn’t be experiencing this.

I think the first thing that happens when we find ourselves in bitter waters is we begin to say, “I wonder where I got off track; I wonder where I missed God. Surely this is not the will of God.” But, it is. The interesting thing about this was that Marah was on the map that God was leading them by. God led them right to that place. The Bible says that Moses led them, but if you read on, you’ll find that God was leading them through Moses.

I want you to understand tonight, that when you arrive at a situation–it may be your next pastorate–it may be your next Sunday School position, or it may be the next day that you arrive at the place of bitter waters. This does not mean you are out of the will of God; it probably means that you are right smack dab in the middle of God’s will. Do you know why? Because he uses this failure to prove us. It says that He proved them there. I thought they had been proved at the Red Sea. They had just had a marvelous demonstration of the omnipotence of God at the Red Sea, but folks I want you to understand tonight that you do not grow and learn to trust God at Red Sea sensational miracles.

God doesn’t test his people and prove his people in miraculous happenings like the Red Sea. He tests them and proves them when they are up against the daily routine of life. And what so often happens is that if we have a marvelous, cataclysmic, ecstatic experience, walking about three feet off the ground, we think we are equipped for anything that comes along. But miracles never produce faith. And you can have one Red Sea experience after another, but that’s not the training ground for living for Jesus Christ. The training ground is when you wonder where your next drink of water is coming from.. That’s the testing. And God led them to the bitter waters to see if they had learned anything at the Red Sea. Sure enough, they hadn’t learned much. And God is going to test you. If this week you have had a great experience, I don’t mean to assume a pessimistic attitude, but if you have a great experience with the Lord this week, get ready. He is going to test you—at the point of that experience. And sometimes, often, the greatest successes of your life will be followed by failure.

He led them there not only to prove them, but it says He also leads us to these places to purify us. He made a statue, and an ordinance, and a commandment. He said, “All right, I don’t want you to get the idea that you are spiritually superior to the Egyptians, The same plagues, the same diseases I put on the Egyptians I will put on you unless you come to the place where you hearken to my Word, where you obey my Word, and where you do everything I tell you to do.” The experience of failure was to purify those people of their spiritual satisfaction and superiority and to reveal to them the murmuring and distrust and disbelief that was in their hearts.

I find that there are times when it is easy to praise the Lord, easy to trust God, and then I find God leading me to some bitter waters, and it is not so easy to praise Him, to trust Him. God is purifying me, but He is doing something else. He is also preparing me. If you read over in the next chapter, you will find they come to another situation in which they don’t have any food, and they are worrying now about hunger. Every time God leads you through one of these experiences, it is in order that he might prepare you for more intense struggles, for greater battles, and equip you for winning greater victories. The first thing to remember is this: the greatest successes of life are often followed by failure.

2. The greatest services of life are often followed by forgetfulness.

It is so hard to believe this. Here was Moses who led them out of Egypt under the mighty hand of God; who when they were stuck at the Red Sea, obeyed God; and it was Moses, the man of God, who raised his hand and wielded the rod of God and parted the waters and delivered the people. You would think they would remember that, but the very moment they get into a tight situation, what do they do? They forget! And they began to accuse Moses, and blame Moses, and murmur against Moses. The greatest services of life are often followed by forgetfulness.

Now, friend, I want to tell you something. You need to get to ready to be unappreciated. There is nothing that will discourage you anymore than being unappreciated, and having people forget. There is something about human nature that can, in a moment, forget a record of faithful service. Some years ago I had a very dear pastor friend. He had taken this church when it was just a little, struggling church. When they were barely able to pay him a decent salary, he stayed there. And was faithful.. There were times when I would say, why don’t you take a day off. He said, no, there is so much to do. He labored so. I would visit him, and he would be pouring over the Word of God, trying to feed the people the Word of God. He was up at five o’clock nearly every morning studying the Word—a faithful preacher of the Word. He was there seven or eight years. One week he went to a revival meeting, and one cantankerous, carnal Christian member of that church told somebody that he believed the pastor is involved in the tongues movement. He wasn’t. I knew him. When he came home, the church was ready to run him off without a hearing. I could not understand it. Here is a man who for eight years had given faithful, dedicated service, and in one moment they forgot about it. It is amazing to me how a man’s ministry can be wiped out because one carnal, backslidden person says something and people believe it.

Friend, you are going to be unappreciated many times in your Christian life. Regardless of how faithful you are, there are going to be periods when all of your services are followed by forgetfulness. What do you do in a situation like that? Let me offer two or three suggestions:

1) Don’t take it personally. If you will check over in chapter 16, you’ll find that God says in verse 8, “And Moses said, This shall be, when the LORD shall give you in the evening flesh to eat, and in the morning bread to the full; for that the LORD heareth your murmurings which ye murmur against him: and what are we (Moses and Aaron)? your murmurings are not against us, but against the LORD.

And it is to the eternal credit of Moses that he never took those murmurings personally. You are going to be in deep trouble if you take things personally. You need to remember the Word of the LORD to his servant: they have not rejected you, they have rejected me. I am an ambassador for Christ and God beseeches us in Christ’s stead. I stand in Christ’s place. I am his representative. When people reject me, I must not take it personally. It will make you bitter and resentful. You’ll start whining in self pity. Don’t take it personally.

2) Don’t take it out on the people. I want you to know that Moses exercised great self-control. You never find him turning against the people and saying, this is your fault, and you don’t appreciate me.. He never took it out on the people. What do you do?

3) You take it to the Lord. He cried unto the Lord. And there are two kinds of people in this building tonight. There are those who complain, and there are those who cry to the Lord.

And the Bible says that when he cried to the Lord the Lord showed him a tree and told him to throw it in the waters. And when he threw it into the waters, those bitter waters were made sweet. I want you to notice that the tree was there all the while, but Moses didn’t recognize it. God had to show it to him. In the midst of your worst time, in the midst of your most bitter experiences, if you will, instead of complaining and griping and taking it personally, cry to the Lord, He will show you something that will make it sweet. And he will move into your life in an unexplainable, mysterious way and show you how to make that experience sweet.

The thing that really struck me though is not so much that they forgot Moses, but that they forgot God. You read back through that hymn, and in the first verses of chapter 50, and they talked about God’s power to deliver. Yet, now they are whining and worrying about a loss of water and bitter water. The greatest services of life are often followed by forgetfulness.

One last word…

3. The greatest shortages of life are always followed by fullness.

Look at verse 27: And they came to Elim, where were twelve wells of water, and seventy palm trees; and they encamped there by the waters. The greatest shortages of life are always followed by fullness. I want you to notice that the Bible says they kept going, and they came to Elim. You are going to meet obstacles and opposition. The devil is going to wage spiritual war against you, and threaten you with disillusionment and discouragement. But in the midst of that just keep going—trust God, obey God. Regardless of how dismal it looks, obey God. You say, what if I don’t feel like obeying God. Obey God! What if I don’t feel like praying? Pray! What if I don’t feel like studying the Word? Study the Word! Just keep on obeying God, keeping his statutes, doing everything God says. Just keep on following. Keep on moving. For right over the hill, there’s Elim.

When a man or a woman keeps on moving, and keeps on trusting God in the midst of bitterness, he will always bring you to Elim where there were twelve wells (one for every tribe) and seventy palm trees (that’s one for every elder). Listen, a while back they didn’t have any water all except the bitter. Now, each tribe has its own Artesian spring bubbling up out of the ground. Every elder has his own palm tree. All they needed was water, but God gave them shade. The Lord always gives you more than you expect. They didn’t need the shade, but God said, I’m going to throw in something extra. I have found the Lord always gives me more than I am expecting—always gives me more than I am looking for.

The thief on the cross said, Lord, one day when you come into your Kingdom way off yonder in the future, please remember me. Jesus gave him more than he expected. He said, today shalt thou be with me in paradise. He always gives you more.

One of my favorite verses is Revelation 3:20 where Jesus says, if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me. The thing that I like most about it is this: Jesus said, when I come in, first of all, I’ll sit at your table, and eat what you have. Then he says, I want you to sit at my table and let me feed you for awhile. I’ll sup with you, and then you sup with me. I’ll come in as guest, and I’ll become the host, and I’ll feed you for awhile. God always gives us more than we can give him. They came to Elim, where there were twelve waters.

Have you ever noticed how many times the people of God are running out of necessities? In John, chapter 6, they were having an outdoor meeting, and didn’t have any food. People began to pass out from hunger. One little boy had a little lunch that his mother had evidently packed for him that day. The disciples began to moan and groan and wonder what in the world they were going to do. Jesus distributed that bread and those fishes after he had blessed them. When they finished, they took up how many baskets? Twelve baskets full. That’s one for each disciple; even Judas had his own basket full of bread. For awhile, they had nothing. They were at the point of pain from hunger, but they obeyed the Lord Jesus. They obeyed as ridiculous as it may have seemed. They obeyed and ended up each one with his own basket of bread.

I’ve tried to imagine what Moses must have felt like when God told him to throw that tree in the water. That seemed like a foolish thing to do. The water was already bad enough without throwing a tree in it. I can imagine the Israelites saying, now, look at Moses. Here we are dying of thirst and he’s over there throwing trees in the water!

The ways of God are past finding out. I stand absolutely amazed tonight at the pathway that God leads us. I have to tell you that when I started out giving my life to the Lord, and to preach, and try to do his will, I never in my wildest nightmares imagined some of the bitter waters he was going to lead me through. And there have been many times, folks, when I have been discouraged and despondent. There have been two periods in my life when I have tried my best to leave the ministry. I tried to quit. I have never doubted my call to preach. There have been times in my younger life when I wondered if I was saved and doubted my salvation. I’ve never doubted that God called me to preach. I’d take second best in life. But God locked me in, shut every door. Folks, I have no choice but to preach. I can’t do anything else. It is preach or starve. Do you know why? Because when I started out, I didn’t know what to expect. I somehow thought that surrendering to God and being filled with the Spirit was a vaccination that God gave me that made me immune to problems, difficulties and troubles. And that if I just stayed faithful, and clean and pure, everything would be rosy.

God would lead me to bitter waters. There he would prove me. I would fail the test. Do you know what happened? They failed the test. In chapter 16, he leads them to a place where there is no food, and they fail the test again. And forty years in the wilderness is simply God giving those folks the examination over and over again until they passed it.

I thank God tonight that he never abandons his purpose. He can never be frustrated in his will. God has a plan for my life, and he is not going to abandon it. He will keep on giving me the examination until I pass. You never flunk out. He just keeps giving you the test over and over again. Listen, I want to pass the test the first time and save myself a lot of trouble.

I want you to see the cycle. There was success followed by failure. There was service followed by forgetfulness. There was shortage followed by fullness. All right, everything is all right again. They’ve come to Elim, and they camp there. Plenty of water—each tribe has it’s own well; each elder has his own palm tree to sit under. But, friends, they didn’t stay at Elim. And you never stay at Elim. They moved on, and in chapter 16, it says that once again they murmured against the LORD. Success followed by failure because they came to a place where they had no food, no bread. Service was followed by forgetfulness. They murmured against the Lord again. And shortages followed by fullness because God fed them abundantly. That’s the cycle. If you’ll read the history of Israel you’ll find that’s the cycle again and again and again. Because God is leading us in order to teach us to trust him.

And all those days and months, even years, I spent discouraged and disillusioned and despondent, I wish I had just known that I was in the way and God was leading. There are some of you who dread going home tonight because things aren’t right at home. You may feel the presence of the Lord here, and the moment you step over the threshold, it will all dissipate and die on you. You dread not having a service like this to come to tomorrow night because you don’t know if you can make it without it. That’s why you are so discouraged. Listen, God leads you that way in order that he might teach you to trust him. The greatest testing of faith, friends, comes in just the daily needs of life. God is not going to mold you, and make you, and finish you into that finished product this week. And if you think that he is, or you think that he has, oh, friend, you are in for one big shock. The devil is going to defeat you with the weapon of discouragement. This is not the test this week. This is not the proving this week. Tomorrow is the test. Next week is the test—when God leads you to the waters of Marah, and they are so bitter you can’t stand it. That’s the test. That will be your golden opportunity to demonstrate that what God did last week in that conference was real in your life.

© Ron Dunn, LifeStyle Ministries, 2006

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 . . .

Exo 15:22-27 | Defenses Against Discouragement

Exodus 15:22-27

Intro: Each year 1,000 SBC ministers leave the ministry. One major cause is discouragement. It is an OCCUPATIONAL HAZARD. Discouragement is one of the most effective weapons Satan has forged against believers.

Some leave the ministry; others, the ministry leaves them.

Cause: Things don’t work out as we expect, as we think they ought to. If we know what to expect, we can brace ourselves, roll with the punches.

Moses is a qualified speaker on the subject. He was a man facing discouraging situations and his life ended on that note.

Our text reveals some things we can expect in the service of the Lord.


The context is important–the preceding verses record the great praise hymn of victory; then immediately there is FAILURE.

THIS IS A PATTERN IN SCRIPTURE: Jericho followed by Ai; Elijah on Mt. Carmel, then whining under the juniper tree; Peter’s confession followed by Jesus’ rebuke; even Jesus: His baptism and anointing, followed by 40 days in the wilderness..


Surely, Moses and the people thought the worst was behind them.. .they thought their only enemies were the Egyptians.

Usually, when this happens, we think we have missed God; gotten out of His will. But Marah is on the map! God LED them to the bitter waters.

WHAT DO I MEAN BY FAILURE? A bitter experience.., when you can’t get it down and keep it down. Anything that’s tough to swallow. When the sweetness and ease is gone out of it. That which was once refreshing and sweet but becomes bitter.

Discouragement destroys our resistance and makes us vulnerable, susceptible to other spiritual ills, attacks of the enemy…such as unbelief, critical spirit, cynicism, murmuring against God and people.


1.   To Prove Us. vs. 25 “And there He proved them.” Note the word “there”. WHERE? There! Where’s there? AT MARAH. Prove: To test so as to discover..

Note that it was not at the Red Sea they were proved. God’s approval doesn’t come from the sensational Red Sea experiences, but from the daily experiences of life, like where the next drink of water is coming from. Sad to say, some come through the Red Sea with flying colors only to fail at Marah.

God was wanting to see if they had learned to trust Him. MIRACLES DON’T PRODUCE FAITH….Rich Man and Lazarus…  “If they believe not Moses and the prophets neither will they be persuaded though one rose from the dead.”

2.   To Purify Us. The statutes and commands were meant to purify us. The Israelites were liable to the same diseases of the Egyptians. They needed to be purged of pride and complacency. God sometimes treats us as though we were Egyptians.

3.   To Prepare Us. He wants to make us TRAVELWORTHY. . ..for greater trials and battles and victories. No man is prepared to travel till He has learned to trust God in the Marahs of life.


Again note the context.. some of the things they said about the Lord and His servants.

1.   We Forget the Lord.

2.   We Forget our Leaders. Prepare to be unappreciated! The example of Christ: the same crowd that shouted Hosannas one day were shouting “Crucify Him” a few days later.

Some suggestions:

(1) Don’t take it personally. In Ex. 16, God makes it clear that they are murmuring against THE LORD!. We are His ambassadors.. .We are in Christ’s stead. “I had a bad experience so I quit.”

It will make you bitter and cause you to wallow in self-pity.

(2) Don’t take it out on the people. It is to Moses’ everlasting credit that he didn’t chuck the whole thing right there. Some preachers take out their frustrations on the people in sermons, etc.

(3) Take it to the Lord.. .There are those who complain to each other and there are those who cry to the Lord.

“And God showed him a tree…” If you will cry to the Lord, He will show you a way to make the bitter waters sweet. The tree was there all the while, but Moses couldn’t see it. God will use something right under your nose to sweeten the situation.

Throw it in the water: “But Lord, the water’s bad enough as it is…” God sometimes does it in a peculiar way.


“They came to Elim.” There were 12 wells of water, one for every tribe, 70 palm trees, one for every elder… they didn’t need the trees. That was a bonus.

The miracle of the loaves: 12 baskets left, that’s one for each disciple.

HOW DID THEY GET TO ELIM? They kept going, kept following, kept obeying. When you don’t feel like praying, pray. When you don’t feel like obeying, obey.

They were just 5 miles from Marah–WHAT IF THEY HAD QUIT? You may be about to give up. Elim may be over the next rise. You’ll be glad you didn’t give up. How terrible to die just a few feet from Elim.

When we cannot see our way,
Let us trust and still obey;
He who bids us forward go,
Cannot fail the way to show.

Tho the sea be deep and wide,
Tho a passage seems denied,
Fearless let us still proceed,
Since the Lord Himself doth lead.

Night with Him is never night,
Where He is, there all is light;
When He calls us why delay?
They are happy who obey.