Ever met a childrearing expert? No, I’m not talking about the ones you find in a grandparent’s home who, through the tears of experience, the counsel of the Scripture, and the travail of prayer have poured themselves into their children to the point that they have reaped a heritage of godly adults who have risen up and called them “blessed.” No, I’m not talking about the legitimate experts, I’m talking about the ignorant ones.
You’ve met them. They are those people who have never had kids and may not have even been married but who know with metaphysical certainty exactly what you should be doing with your own kids. Someone very close to me used to be that kind of an expert. That’s right! He knew precisely what people were supposed to do when raising their kids and he wasn’t stingy. He loved to share that with others and he did so . . . regularly. Have a child who watched too much T.V.? Here’s what you should do. Have a kid who listened to the wrong kind of music? Take away their CD player (ok this was a few years ago). Have a kid with a smart mouth? Well, then, you obviously weren’t raising them right and he could tell you what you needed to change.
That all played out pretty well until, well into his 40's, he actually got married and had a child of his own. It’s amazing how things changed. As his son grew up, he did something I never thought he would do. He stopped giving advice! Metaphysical certainty was replaced by teachable humility. You might ask him a question, but that certainly didn’t mean he knew the answer and he might not even hazard a guess. He was an expert no longer, but he certainly was much easier to live with! What made the difference?
Well, it’s a principle that really works in all of life. It even works in your spiritual life. The principle is simply this: EXPERIENCE CHANGES PERCEPTION. That’s right. The things I experience change the way I view the world around me. Experience changes perception.
And, really, it changes more than perception. In truth, the right kind of experience can materially change you. It happened to the Psalmist in Psalm 34. There it says
I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul shall make its boast in the Lord; The humble shall hear of it and be glad. Oh, magnify the Lord with me, And let us exalt His name together. I sought the Lord, and He heard me,
And delivered me from all my fears. They looked to Him and were radiant,
And their faces were not ashamed.
Now what is being described here is one of those life-changing experiences. Here the psalmist calls on you and me to praise the Lord, but it is not a hum-drum, “just-because-it’s-Sunday” worship service. No! This worship experience is life changing. You know that because of v5. It says that in the middle of their worship, “They looked to Him and were radiant, and their faces were not ashamed.” When it says “they looked to Him and were radiant,” that probably looks back to Moses who used to go into the presence of Jehovah and, when he returned from that meeting, his face glowed so much that he had to wear a veil over his face so that others could look at him. The experience of God’s presence materially changed him. He radiated the glory of God. The psalmist says, in essence, those who look to God will radiate . . . they will shine.
But what does that mean, exactly? What does it mean to say that those who look to God are radiant? Well, it’s explained in the second part of the verse. It says, “and their faces were not ashamed.” The essential change is in their confidence and in their ability to trust God. Coming into the presence of God materially changes the worshiper so that he is filled with the confidence required to absolutely trust God with the circumstances of his life.
Is that something you need? You may hae come this morning in complete despair. Your hanging on by a thread and you have all but given up. What you face is so overwhelming that you are taking every anti-anxiety pill you can swallow, reading every Bible verse you can read, listening to every worship song you can pull up on your Mp-3, but nothing seems to help. You’re on the bottom and you wonder if you’re going to make it. You’re not even praying anymore because it all is just too much effort. When I talk about having absolute confidence in God, it almost sounds like I’m mocking you, but at the same time, you wistfully wish you had it. Listen! Experience can change your confidence.
And maybe you’re here this morning and you’re not in complete despair, but you’re certainly in doubt. You haven’t given up and you still listen to your friends talk about God’s deliverance, but all the promises and verses and well-wishing of friends can’t shake the terrible sense of dread inside. The stray cat of worry keeps winding her way through your legs. You’ve chased her away time after time, but she keeps coming back. Listen. Experience can change your confidence.
And then there are those of us who are on the other side of the coin, you might say. We’re not in despair or doubt because we’re in deliverance. God came through! The diagnosis was reversed; the cure came; the child returned; the check arrived in the mail. You’re celebrating and I am glad that you are happy, but you need to hear something about all that confidence you’re feeling right now. If it’s the result of any circumstance in your life, be careful. That circumstance will ultimately let you down. Only the presence of God can give you radiance. Experience can change your confidence.
What exactly do I mean when I say that? Well, I want to explain it this morning by talking to you about three men in the Bible who had this experience. I want to show you how this experience with God gave them confidence. The first one of these men is Moses. His experience with God gave him:
DIVISION 1: THE CONFIDENCE TO LEAD
It was an unlikely proposition. Moses himself would have told you, in fact, he did tell God that very thing. When God called him to lead after Moses had made such a mess of his life, He told God to call someone else. Why? Well, Moses attributed it to his lack of speaking ability, but that lack hadn’t stopped him when he had tried to take control back in Egypt by killing and Egyptian. No, it wasn’t his lack of speech that stopped him, it was his lack of confidence. He had been shattered by his failure and now all he wanted out of life was to wander aimlessly behind a pack of sheep.
You remember the story. God turns Moses into a leader, and Moses doesn’t forget that his power and his confidence come from God. That is clear in one particular incident in his life. God is angry with the Children of Israel. While He has been giving His law to Moses, they have been falling into the very worst kind of idolatry and immorality. Moses intercedes for the people and God spares their lives, but then something interesting happens in Ex 33:1-3:
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Depart and go up from here, you and the people whom you have brought out of the land of Egypt, to the land of which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, ‘To your descendants I will give it.’ 2 And I will send My Angel before you, and I will drive out the Canaanite and the Amorite and the Hittite and the Perizzite and the Hivite and the Jebusite. 3 Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; for I will not go up in your midst, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.”
Here’s the plan: Because God knows that the children of Israel are rebellious, He tells Moses that He’s going to send His angel with them, but He’s not going with them because He just might strike them dead if they rebel again. Now that hits Moses like a ton of bricks. He knows that he’s not capable of leading these people. He doesn’t have it in him. It is only the presence of the Lord that is sustaining him. That’s why he replies in 33:15:
15 Then he said to Him, “If Your Presence does not go with us, do not bring us up from here. 16 For how then will it be known that Your people and I have found grace in Your sight, except You go with us? So we shall be separate, Your people and I, from all the people who are upon the face of the earth.”
Moses knew that his ability to lead the people didn’t come from himself, it came from God. Moses would meet with God face to face and the Bible says that something very powerful would happen. Look at 34:29
29 Now it was so, when Moses came down from Mount Sinai (and the two tablets of the Testimony were in Moses’ hand when he came down from the mountain), that Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone while he talked with Him. 30 So when Aaron and all the children of Israel saw Moses, behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him. 31 Then Moses called to them, and Aaron and all the rulers of the congregation returned to him; and Moses talked with them. 32 Afterward all the children of Israel came near, and he gave them as commandments all that the Lord had spoken with him on Mount Sinai. 33 And when Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil on his face. 34 But whenever Moses went in before the Lord to speak with Him, he would take the veil off until he came out; and he would come out and speak to the children of Israel whatever he had been commanded. 35 And whenever the children of Israel saw the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses’ face shone, then Moses would put the veil on his face again, until he went in to speak with Him.
Listen! Something powerful happened in those meetings with God! There was an experience with God that made Moses literally glow. There was power released in that meeting that changed Moses on the inside, and it worked itself out into his face. He radiated the glory of God and I tell you it was that experience of God’s presence that made this very ordinary man extraordinary! How else could he have led several million people across a desert for forty years. It was his audiences with God that gave him the confidence to lead!
You see, Christian, we take one of about three pathways to leadership. Some of us trust our own abilities and presume to lead. We examine our resumes, lean on our experience, fish for the optimum opportunities and strike out in the power of the flesh. That may temporarily work out ok in the business world. After all, there are plenty of self-made millionaires who definitely are not believers. But in the work of the kingdom, human ability destroys much more than it ultimately builds up. Trusting one’s own ability never brings success in the spiritual realm.
Some trust their own abilities and presume to lead and others don’t trust their own abilities and refuse to lead. These believers know that they don’t have the strength to do the job and they may feel they even lack the natural ability necessary to good leadership, so they run from the opportunites they have. As a result, kingdom work goes lacking and their lives are unfulfilled. The truth is, both of these approaches are wrong. In the first case, pride destroys. In the second, timidity intimidates. But there is a third way.
You see, spiritual leadership isn’t trusting our own abilities and presuming to lead or not trusting our own abilities and refusing to lead. NO! It is trusting HIS ability and FOLLOWING to lead. And how do you do that? Well, you do it the way Moses did it. You must constantly and consistently experience the presence of God.
And if you don’t know the Lord today, you really only have two choices, not three. You will either rely on your own natural abilities and lead or give in to intimidation and be a “timid Timothy.” Without the Lord in your life, you’re stuck with only what your own effort can produce. Wouldn’t you like to know the power that comes from an audience with God? Wouldn’t you like to know the thrill of leading beyond your own natural ability? Wouldn’t you like to be part of something that’s so much bigger than the next sale or the next job? It only comes from an audience with the Lord. When I have an audience with Him, I gain the confidence to lead.
Simon Birch (a movie based on the novel A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving) is the story of a 12-year-old boy named Simon Birch who, despite his physical handicaps, believes God has a plan for his life. Simon was born tiny and with an abnormally small heart. He was expected to die within the first 24 hours of his life. He surprises everyone, though, when he lives to be an adolescent.
A disappointment to his parents and the target of many childhood pranks because of his miniature size and odd-sounding voice, Simon has every reason to question his self-worth and purpose for living. But he embraces his condition and believes that God will use him in a unique, possibly even heroic, way.
Joe, Simon's best friend, doesn't believe in God, and he is not the only one who doubts that God has a plan for Simon. His schoolmates mock him relentlessly, believing his assertions are one more indication of his strangeness. On one occasion his Sunday school teacher hurriedly tries to hush him so he won't "frighten" the other children with his musings.
The small town's forlorn minister also doubts that God could have a plan for small Simon Birch. In a poignant conversation between Simon and the minister, Simon asks, "Does God have a plan for us?"
The minister hesitantly replies, "I like to think he does."
Simon enthusiastically says, "Me, too. I think God made me the way I am for a reason."
The minister coolly states, "I'm glad that, um, that your faith, uh, helps you deal with your, um, you know, your condition."
"That's not what I mean," Simon states. "I think I'm God's instrument. He's going to use me to carry out his plan."
Dumbfounded by Simon's confidence, the pastor says, "It's wonderful to have faith, son, but let's not overdo it." With that he waves for Simon to leave, shakes his head in disbelief, and whispers with an air of cynicism, "God's instrument."
A short time later Simon is riding with his classmates in a school bus traveling down an icy road. Suddenly the bus driver veers to avoid a deer, loses control, and the bus plunges into an icy lake. Everyone in the front of the upright bus quickly evacuates out the door, but Simon and a handful of other students in the back of the bus are trapped as the bus begins to sink.
Simon takes charge. He opens a window and commands his classmates to climb out. Last of all, Simon escapes through the window.
In the hospital following the accident, Joe assures Simon that all the kids are all right. Simon asks, "Did you see how the children listened to me because of the way I looked?"
Joe, with tears in his eyes, replies, "Yeah."
With satisfaction, Simon says, "That window was just my size."
"Extra small," Joe utters with a smile.
A few seconds later, Simon dies, knowing that God used him. But what Simon doesn't know before he dies is that because of his unwavering faith, his friend Joe now believes in God.
Some 20 years later, standing at Simon's gravestone, Joe says,
I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice, not because of his voice or because he was the smallest person I ever met?but because he is the reason I believe in God. What faith I have, I owe to Simon Birch?it is Simon who made me a believer.
That’s leadership, leadership that comes from a unique dynamic relationship with God. That experience with God gives you a confidence to lead. And it also gives you
DIV 2: THE CONFIDENCE TO OBEY
He was discouraged. After the bright promise of his king faded, he had no hope that things could improve. His depression orginated from dreams unrealized. He thought his king would really make a difference, after all, he had unbelievable skill when it came to leadership. No king since Solomon had amassed the military that Uzziah built, nor brought the peace and prosperity Uzziah brought. He had hoped that things might be changing.
But then came the pride and rebellion. The same king, who at one time offered such promise, petulantly presumed to offer his own sacrifice. Judgment fell immediately. The promise of greatness ended in a leprous sweat. And then, Uzziah died.
Isaiah was in the temple, perhaps feeling absolutely abandoned by God. Who would rescue his nation. Who would have the tenacity and the spiritual power to tell the people the truth? But then came a blinding flash of light. In one awestruck moment, Isaiah is crushed to his knees overcome with fear. He feels faint from sensory overload. Before Him in blinding radiance is Jehovah, the train of His robe filling up the temple. Around him are oceans of sound as many voices cry out “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God /almighty; the whole earth is full of His Glory.”
Isaiah feels as if he’s coming apart at the seams. He knows he’s about to die. Ordinarily reserved, perhaps, he begins to confess his sin. They come pouring out, unprompted from his inner being:
“Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, The Lord of hosts.”
The Lord cleanses Isaiah from his sin, then God, the Almighty, asks Isaiah a question. He asks in v 8: “Whom shall I send and who will go for us.” Now, I think that before this encounter, there would have been silence after this question. I think before Isaiah saw the Lord like this, he might have replied, “God, I’m not here, send somebody else.” But that’s not what Isaiah said. Will you look carefully in your English translation at v 8. What did Isaiah say? “Here am I, send me.” But look very carefully. You’ll notice that the word “am” is italicized. In this case, that means that the word “am” was supplied by the translators. It is not in the original text. Literally it says in Hebrew, “Here, I!! Send me!” It’s almost like Isaiah is the impatient magic show attendee when the magician asks for a volunteer from the audience and people are waving and bouncing up and down saying, “Over here, yeah! Right here! Pick me, pick me!”
He is now begging to go. Why? Because a real intimate, personal encounter with Christ gives you confidence to obey. Hannah Whitehall Smith said, “Perfect obedience would be perfect happiness if only we had perfect confidence in the power we are obeying.
Why is it that we lack that perfect confidence? Why is it that we hesitate to obey? In the first place, its because of our doubt. We hesitate between two opinions, not really sure what we should do. We think God might be leading in a certain direction, but we’re not sure, or we’re waiting for absolute certainty, or at least enough certainty to allow us step out. But that’s just the problem: There are no “slam dunks” in the Christian life! God doesn’t write His will in the clouds for us to read, at least He’s never done that for me. I always enter any course of action with at least some seed of doubt. And some of us allow that doubt to stop us.
For others of us its not doubt, its disability. That is, we think we’re not able to do what God is calling us to do. God says, “Preach” and we say, “I can’t.” God says “witness” and we say, “I’m scared.” God says “teach Sunday School,” and we say “I don’t know enough.” God says, “Disciple another believer,” and we say, “I don’t think I could.” And we live in the fear of our diability, and we let that fear stop us from obeying.
For others of us the problem is not doubt or disasbility its desire. We’re pretty sure of what God’s is calling us to do, but we jsut don’t want to do it. We’re like Moses was when God called him, we make our excuses and then tell God, “Go find somebody else.” We know that obedience is risky and obedience means sacrificing what I want to do what God wants and that’s something we lack the desire to do.
May I tell you this morning that answer for doubt, disability, and desire is one thing: An encounter with the very presence of Christ.
Muslims view entering heaven as an act of justice. God stacks your good works against your bad works and, if the good outweighs the bad, you get in. For that reason, no muslim ever knows for certain if they’re actually going to heaven unless . . . unless they die in Jihad, that is unless they strap on explosives and kill a few infidels. That’s their one guaranteed ticket to heaven. Their obedience is a forced sacrifice which may cost them their lives.
An Iranian-born man was a militant Muslim trained by Hezbollah. While on a trip to Malaysia, he was arrested and jailed—which only fueled his passion for his religion. He taught Islam to the other prisoners. Every ten days he read the Koran cover to cover. Over time, he even developed extraordinary spiritual powers, including the ability to inflict curses on people. But one day this man had a terrifying vision of Satan coming for him. Without really knowing why, he cried out, "Jesus, if you are true, show me yourself!" Before he finished his sentence, everything was back to normal. "But that was not my conversion," the man says in the video. "That was the beginning of my confusion." He kept asking himself, Why would Jesus help a Muslim?
For two weeks he fasted and prayed, asking God, "What is the way you want me to follow?" No answer came. Then, just when he decided to give up and go his own way, the presence of God filled his cell. He was confronted with God's holiness and had a crushing sense of guilt. He was sure he would die. Over and over he cried, "God, forgive me! God, forgive me! God, forgive me!" It was then that he felt a touch on his shoulder, and a voice said, "I forgive you." The man says in the video that in that moment, "I physically felt forgiven." Still, he was concerned. The Koran says no one can know they are forgiven till they die. With that in mind, he asked, "Who is this God who forgives now? Who are you?"
The voice replied, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life."
The man didn't recognize those words so he said, "What is your name?"
"Jesus Christ," the voice said.
At this point in the video, the man begins weeping. "Eighteen years have passed," he says, "but I still can't forget his love, his mercy. … I am forgiven!" You see, his obedience now comes not because he is intimidated into it by his fear, but because he is driven to it by that personal encounter with Jesus Christ.
Listen! People who radiate the glory of God are those who have been in His presence. They are changed by that presence. They gain confidence to lead and confidence to obey. Last of all they find
DIV 3: THE CONFIDENCE TO FAIL
Now I know when you hear that, you go, “huh?! What does confidence have to do with failure?” Well, I want to talk to you for just a moment about the best kept secret of the Christian faith. That’s right! You read about it over in 2 Corinthians 4. Paul is explaining to the Corinthians why, when they have the truth and they preach the truth, they are still rejected. He says that the minds of those to whom they preach are often blinded by the god of this world. In other words, sometimes, they do not have success. Sometimes they fail.
But, even when they fail, Paul says that they do not lose heart. In v7 he says:
7 But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. 8 We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed— 10 always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. 11 For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.
That’s amazing confidence! It’s one thing to strut when the job comes through and the check arrives. It’s one thing to dance when the diagnosis is good and the spouse comes back. It’s quite another matter to be confident when you are hard pressed and perplexed and carrying around the dying of the Lord Jesus in your own body. Where do you get confidence when nothing’s going right.
Well, for the answer you have to go back to chapter 3. There Paul says this in v 12
Therefore, since we have such hope, we use great boldness of speech— 13 unlike Moses, who put a veil over his face so that the children of Israel could not look steadily at the end of what was passing away.
You remember from our first point that Moses would go into the presence of God and, after he came out, his face would glow with the radiance of the glory of God, so much so that he covered his face with a veil. That veil served two purposes: On the one hand it made it easier to look at him because without the veil, looking at his face was hard because it was painfully bright. The other reason is that the glory of the law, which Moses represented, it says here was fading away. The law was to be replaced by the fullness of the Spirit. Paul draws this contrast more clearly down in v. 17
Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. 18 But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.
Now, those of us, you and me, who have the Holy Spirit of God living in us come into His presence and we with unveiled face behold the glory of God and we are transformed into that image and because we have this experience, even in the middle of our failure we say with Paul in chapter 4, verse 1, WE DO NOT LOSE HEART! WE ARE CONFIDENT EVEN IN THE MIDDLE OF FAILURE!
I know there are some of you who are going through some terrible things right now. Just when you think, “It’s bad, but at least it can’t get any worse.” Guess what? It get’s worse! And how do you have a radiant life when you face the surgeon’s knife or the banker’s foreclosure notice or your spouse’s rejection or a dauthter’s rebellion? How can you be confident even then? It’s the presence of the Lord. I come into His presence and with an unveiled face I behold as in a mirror the glory of the Lord and He transforms me and He gives me confidence!
Sheila Walsh, singer, author, and former co-host of the 700 Club, says in Leadership journal:
In 1992 my life hit the wall. One morning I was sitting on national television with my nice suit and my inflatable hairdo, and that night I was in the locked ward of a psychiatric hospital. It was the kindest thing God could have done to me.
The very first day in the hospital, the psychiatrist asked me, "Who are you?"
"I'm the co-host of the 700 Club."
"That's not what I meant," he said.
"Well, I'm a writer. I'm a singer."
"That's not what I meant. Who are you?"
"I don't have a clue," I said, and he replied, "Now that's right, and that's why you're here."
And the greatest thing I discovered there is sometimes some of God's most precious gifts come in packets that make your hand bleed when you open them, but inside is what you've been longing for all your life?to be fully known and fully loved.
I measured myself by what other people thought of me. That was slowly killing me. Before I entered the hospital, some of the 700 Club staff said to me, "Don't do this. You will never regain any kind of platform. If people know you were in a mental institution and on medication, it's over."
I said, "You know what? It's over anyway. So I can't think about that."
I really thought I had lost everything. My house. My salary. My job. Everything. But I found my life.
I discovered at the lowest moment of my life that everything that was true about me, God knew. After I'd been there about three weeks, I remember asking the doctor if I could go to a church service. Two nurses went with me, and I sat at the back of this little Episcopal church in Washington, D.C. God spoke to me through a priest I'd never met before, hymns I'd never sung before, passages I don't remember reading before. But the words of that old hymn described me perfectly: "Nothing in my hands I bring. Simply to thy cross I cling."
Jesus knew the worst, and he loved me. What a relief to know the worst about yourself and at the same moment to be embraced by God. It's so liberating to reach the end of yourself.
Listen, that’s exactly what some of us need to do today. We’ve been afflicted. We’re burdened. And the worst thing about it all is that we are distant from God. Here’s what you need to hear: Jesus knows the worst about you and He loves you. What a relief it is going to be for you to know the absolute worst about yourself and at the same moment be completely embraced by God. O listen! The greatest liberation you’ll ever have will be to reach the end of yourself and turn yourself completely over to Him!