Heroes: Moses

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You know, it's kind of interesting that we're here on Memorial Day weekend, and we're talking about heroes from the Bible, and that we've given our Volunteer of the Year award to one of our heroes in our church. I wanted to just tell you as we begin our conversation this morning, just about kind of what my day looked like yesterday morning…three heroes that I encountered.

About two and a half years ago there was a local pastor in our community, and I was running from one building to the other in our last facility. I was in a rush, and I was running out, and I looked out in the parking lot, and I saw this pastor who doesn't attend our church, and I was kind of surprised to see him parking, so I walked over there to say hello to him. As I was saying 'hi,' he went over to the passenger side and opened up the door, and he helped this lady come out of the door.

She was an elderly lady, and he said, "I just want to introduce you to her. She is part of the local homeless ministry at Winterhaven, and she called my church and said that she would like to be picked up. She looked up in the phone book and found our church and asked for a ride. So I went and picked her up." I kind of just realized that he was kind of looking at me in the eyes hoping that I was going to read between the lines. He said, "I kind of realized that she may probably fit in a little better at your church than mine." I said, "Well…sure."

So I walked over to Linda and I welcomed her. And just as I was talking to Linda and getting acquainted with her, Norma McKellip, our Volunteer of the Year, was walking by. I said, "Linda, I want to introduce you to Norma. She teaches the Sabbath School here at our church." Norma said, "Sure, I'll take you over to our Sabbath School." And over the last two and a half years Norma has been picking Linda up every week and bringing her to church. In the end stages of her cancer, she was doing her laundry for her, and taking her to her appointments.

Yesterday was one of the bizarre funerals that I have done in the last 12 years, and I was very, very grateful that one of our church members, Norma was right there at that funeral to help me during that time. So Norma, I just want to thank you for being one of our heroes here in our church. I really appreciate it, and appreciate your ministry.

Then after that I drove over to a hospice in Rockville, and I visited somebody in our church community who is dying at the last stages of cancer, and as I was this close to her and I was praying with her and reading Scripture and just hugging and kissing her as she was sharing her last breaths with me. I kind of just realized just the heroic things that she had done in her own life. Victoria is her name. There she was sitting in a hospice, dying and passing away by herself, and the rich life that she had lived also.

I hopped in my car and drove over to Suburban Hospital and met with one of the young people in our church who is an Iraqi veteran…had just come back from a tour of duty about five months ago and was in a horrible accident. As I was praying with him I couldn't help but to think about the heroes in our church who continue to love on people in this church community who are often forgotten. So I just want to say thank you to our church members for making this church a place where everybody can belong, and that God sees no differences. He just sees wonderful human vessels, and I just appreciate the ministry of our congregation.

Well as we begin in the middle of our sermon series called Heroes, we're examining the life of Moses. The life of Moses is filled with stories of triumph and tragedy. Moses allows us to see a superhuman side of heroes while also looking at the low points of a leader as well. You know the local news and the national media are consumed with focusing on the failures of leaders. It's not very often that you hear about leaders and what good things that they are doing. We only find out the news of when a leader has fallen, when a leader has messed up. We look into the expose of their life to see how they can be chastised and publicly discredited for making decisions.

A couple of people in the news recently were Lord John Brown, the CEO of BP, British Petroleum, who recently stepped down from being the CEO because of moral failure that he had made. President Bush has been criticized for his decisions regarding the war in Iraq. As we look at different leaders we realize that very often, we only criticize what we disagree with them rather than looking and focusing on the good things they've been able to do.

The definition of a leader is somebody who has a following. You follow me? Or has the ability to influence others. The definition of a follower is somebody who agrees with a leader or moves in the same direction of a leader. There are a lot of followers who don't agree with the leader, but they are still moving in unison with the leader. Often it is just because we just kind of move in the same direction; we're following the crowd without realizing whether or not this was somebody we should follow or who we should take seriously. You see it's a careful balance between the leader and the follower. It requires trust. It requires vision, and it requires a sense of cooperation.

When we were living in Southern California, my wife and I would go to the beach as often as we could. We would hit the beaches, and one of the things that I always enjoyed doing was going on bike rides on the beach. So I would go to Rej and say, "Hey, why don't we rent some bikes and go biking." My wife would always say, "You know I hate biking. It's just too much…it's already hot out here, and I don't want to get any sweater." And I would say, "Why don't we rent tandem bikes?" Now guys, it's with a lady. It's all good, okay? You know, my wife was worried that if I were to say today that I really enjoyed tandem biking that you guys would lose some respect for me. So I have to say that I did it because of her.

So when you are on a tandem bike…you know what a tandem bike is, right? There are two people on the bike, and there are all these wheels and there are two seats and that requires great, great cooperation from the person who is in the front and from the person who is sitting in the back. Well I would always be in the front, and I would usually always do most of the pedaling if my wife would just kind of look around and you know, handle on there.

One of the biggest complaints that Rej would have was that when I went over bumps or humps on the sidewalk I never gave her a warning. Since she couldn't see above me because I am taller than her, and since she couldn't see around me because I'm wider than her, she would start complaining. So I would sit in the front and start steering and what would happen was I would have to tell her, "Oh, there's a bump coming." Or, "I'm going to be turning and making a right turn very quickly because there's a trash can in front of me." Or, "I'm going to be slowing down, hold on tight!" But often times there were times when I just didn't tell her, and that was when it caused a lot of problems.

Well you see, just like tandem bicycling, leadership and followers have to be in tandem with each other. The leader needs to be the one who is looking out ahead and looking at the vision and knowing where their head is, but they also need to be communicating and telling their followers what they are seeing. The leader needs to be also the one who is doing a lot of the pedaling in the front, but the leader has to be able to give directions and be communicating, telling the follower what is going on in the future. Otherwise you're not working in cooperation.

Well, what happens when you're not in cooperation? What happens when a leader fails to lead, and what happens when a follower decides not to move in the right direction? You see, we're all leaders and follower in this room. If you are a parent, you are the leader of your home. If you work in an office, you have some followers who you are leading. If you are working in the office, you may be the follower who may be following the boss, or the person in charge. But every one of us are followers or leaders in some way. Every one of us has a place in our lifetime where we need to make a decision whether or not we want to continue to lead or whether or not we want to continue to follow.

Take a look at Hebrews, chapter 13. I have to tell you, in this sermon series that we're preaching, you have to really bring your Bibles with you, okay? Hebrews, chapter 13, it says in verse 7, "Remember your leaders who spoke the Word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever." You know, this is a pretty high, tall order to be a leader. It says, "Remember your leaders who spoke the Word of God to you and consider the outcome of their life and imitate their faith."

So leader…you know when people read these passages of Scripture, they think very often that the Bible is only talking about pastoral leadership. When the writer of Hebrews was writing this passage there weren't pastors that existed at that time. So what it is saying is that if we are followers of Jesus, we are automatically leaders of the Christian faith. So what that means is that in every way that we lead, we need to lead in a way that people are able to imitate our own faith.

What does that mean for parents? What does that mean for school teachers? What does that mean for nurses? What does that mean for leaders and followers in our congregation? Are we leading in such a way that it will allow others to imitate the way that we act? We often talk about modeling leadership. We model leadership so that other people can see how it is done, so they can imitate our actions.

So let's take a look at this passage of Scripture in Exodus, chapter 32, "When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, 'Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don't know what has happened to him.' Aaron answered them, 'Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me.'

So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron. He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, "These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.' When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of the calf and announced, 'Tomorrow there will be a festival to the Lord.' So the next day the people rose early and sacrificed burnt offerings and presented fellowship offerings. Afterward they sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.

Then the Lord said to Moses, 'Go down, because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt. They have been quick to turn away from what I commanded them and have made themselves an idol cast in the shape of a calf. They have bowed down to it and sacrificed to it and have said, 'These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.' 'I have seen these people,' the LORD said to Moses, 'and they are a stiff-necked people. Now leave Me alone so that My anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.'

But Moses sought the favor of the Lord. He said, 'Why should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, 'It was with evil intent that he brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth'? Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people.

Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, to whom you swore by your own self: 'I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky, and I will give your descendants all this land I promised them, and it will be their inheritance forever.' Then the Lord relented and did not bring on His people the disaster he had threatened."

Take a look at verses 1-3. It says, "When the people saw that Moses was so long coming from the mountain they gathered around Aaron and said, 'Come, make us gods who will go before us.'" The first point that I want to share with us today is that it is easy to fall back into old habits. It is easy to fall back into old habits. And for leaders, for parents, for people who lead other people, we think that we're doing a great job or we're spending a lot of time leading them into a direction, we take them around corners, we've gone up hills and down through valleys and we've brought them around and what happens the moment that we turn our back on the people that we are inclined to lead? It's very easy for people to go back into where they once were.

Are you following me? It's very easy to do that. You can have the greatest mountain top experience with God, but it's very easy to turn back around. People wonder, "What happened? I saw this person going to church. They were leading our Bible study. They were the Path Finder Director of our congregation." And within a couple of days they have made a decision that affected their life.

You see often times it doesn't have to do with a long road into revelry. What it has to do with is we forget very easily, and we turn our backs to God very, very quickly. For leaders we need to continue to remember that it is our responsibility in our homes and our practices to continue to help people to remember who God is.

Now let's remember the context of the story. Turn to Exodus 24. It's not like Moses left and went out to see God in Sinai by himself, and he just went secretly and no one had any idea where he was. It says, the Bible says, that Moses went, and he took two of his servants as well. Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and 70 elders of Israel…they all went to go worship God.

After a week of worshipping God, God said, "Moses, come up a little bit higher, I want to spend some time with you." So the 70 elders and the four other people who were with God, knew and saw Moses leave and depart, and they knew…Moses didn't write a little note that said, "You know, I'll be back, I'm sorry I had to leave in such a rush." They saw him physically leave up to the mountain in the presence of God.

What I want to share is that often times a leader can be communicating with God, and often times the leader can be having a great relationship with God. We can be in Bible study, and we can be having the greatest time of our lives with God, and yet other people are falling backward. I can't tell you how often people will come to me and say, "I don't know what happened in my life, I was so close with God and everything around me just fell apart." We often think that if we are only with God then everything will get better. That's not true. Sometimes we can be in the mountain tops with God, and yet life around is going to the pits.

The second thing that I want to share with us today is that when we are in the presence and we are leading other people, one of the things that leaders must do is to establish a ministry of presence. Say that with me…ministry of presence. A ministry of presence, you see often times, and I'm not saying with God, but often times we are up in the clouds, up here, and we're involved in our work and our careers, we're involved with some of our goal setting. We're involved with education, and we're so far up in the clouds that we are unable to see what's going on down here.

So often we're so up in the clouds, and we're really excited with our educational track, and we're really excited with how things are going professionally and yet we're not realizing what's going on in the family. We're so up in the clouds, and we know that wonderful things are happening with our profession, but we haven't realized that our marriage has fallen apart. Ministry of presence.

I remember when I was working at Columbia Union College, Dr. Scriven who was the president at the time…he would say this phrase all the time, he would say, "Kumar, one of the greatest things that a leader can do is have a ministry of presence." What does that mean? He's says, "You know, you can sit behind you desk. You can make phone calls, you can write e-mails, and you can send out letters, you can send thank-you cards, but a ministry of presence means that you need to physically be there."

So I remember when the basketball team was playing and having championships, Randy, Dr. Scriven was right there cheering them on in his suit and tie. When the Acro-Airs gymnastics team was there, and they were doing their flips and cartwheels, I knew this man had a lot more things to do and needed to be in his office, but he came out and had a ministry of presence. Every single chapel when we had worship together, he was the first one there to worship to make sure the front row…to make sure that everyone saw that he was there modeling and had a ministry of presence.

In our home as parents, in our businesses, in every part of our lives what we need to ask ourselves is…do I have a ministry of presence as a leader? Moms and dads, when your kids are playing basketball on the weekends, are we just running off trying to do errands and do our own things or do we have a ministry of presence? Dads, when you're wondering why your daughter is choosing guys that you can't believe that she would choose, did you have a ministry of presence? Moms, when you are wondering what's going on and your kids aren't doing well in school, did you have a ministry of presence in the home? Because often times, we have to be able to get ourselves out of the clouds and into the presence of the people in our lives.

Can we do a quick self-assessment? Is everybody doing okay here? Little worried. The other thing that we should just think about is…another way of saying the ministry of presence is just to say get out of the cloud. Chapter 32, verse 9 says, "I have seen these people," the LORD said to Moses, "and they are a stiff-necked people." You know when God starts name calling you're in trouble. "They are a stiff-necked people. Now leave me alone so that My anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation."

God was so angry, He was so frustrated that what He was willing to do was to just basically take the covenant that He had made with three other generations and rip it up. And He said to Moses, "Moses, I'm giving you a great deal. I'm going to burn these people to a crisp, and I'm going to start over with you." Now if I was Moses I'd be like, "You know, that's a pretty good idea. I've been here in the wilderness with these folks, this has been horrible. I want to get rid of them too. And why not? Like, no one will ever know about Abraham, or Isaac, or Jacob. They're only going to know of me." I mean that's a great legacy to begin.

The third point that I want to share with you is that God still punishes His people. Oh, it got silent in here. You see, we live in an age where prosperity messages are abounding. We live in an age where pastors are scared to tell their flock or their church members that God still cares about you and sometimes He punishes you. We live in the age where we say, "God never allows calamity into our lives, if it is it's just the devil doing it to you." Here's a perfect example my friends, where God still punishes people that He loves. And for parents, it's very to easy to understand why we punish, isn't it? It means that we still love that child, but in order to redirect them, you need to punish them. It doesn't mean that you punish them forever; it means that you punish them so they will get the point and be redirected.

Here, God is saying…and let's take a look at Genesis, chapter 6, very quickly. Genesis chapter 6, verse 5…this is the story of the flood. It says, "The Lord saw how great man's wickedness on earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. The Lord was grieved that He had made man on the earth, and His heart was filled with pain." Here's an example of God saying, "Man, I wish I never did that. I wish I never made them. These people…they are not doing what I hoped that they would do." "So the Lord said, 'I will wipe mankind, whom I created, from the face of the earth…men and animals, and creatures that move along the ground, and birds of the air, for I am grieved that I have made them.'"

And then verse 8, what does it say? "But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD." Take a look over back in Exodus 32. It says, "But Moses sought the favor of the Lord our God." The next point that I want to share with us today is that leaders can change God's mind. Did you hear that? Leaders can change God's mind. You know, it's our role as leaders, it's our role as spiritual leaders, it's our role as parents, it's our role to help usher in and help God…what's the point of having intercessory prayer? Why do we pray? If we pray, God already has all the answers. He knows where He's going.

It's our purpose to pray to say, "Lord, I'm praying on behalf of that person. I hope that You will bless them. Lord, I know where they're going and the decisions that they are making. I hope that You will bless them and change their life's direction. Lord, I know that they're going through a terrible time and maybe you're punishing them, but Lord, I take it upon myself. Lord, my child is moving in this direction, and I need help." If it's not the leader's role to help change God's mind you see…that's what free will is for. It's our role as leaders and as Christians to continue to pray to God and go before God and say, "Lord, I'm coming on behalf of this person."

This last Thursday, during my men's study group, we meet at seven in the morning, and we were looking at a passage of Scripture from Ephesians, chapter 6. Paul says in verse 20, "For which I am an ambassador in chains, pray that I may declare it fearlessly as I should." We were talking about the role of what an ambassador does. You know an ambassador is somebody who represents one country to another, right?

But an ambassador as well not only represents the interest of a country, but the ambassador also says, "You know what, I know we're planning on making some decisions, we may be going into war, let me give you the context of where the other country is going and what they're doing. Before you make a decision, let me help you know what they're doing."

It is different from being an ambassador to Switzerland to being an ambassador to Baghdad, right? We need to be able to understand the context of how we're representing. The role of the ambassador is to a mouthpiece and to represent for other people. The role of the prophet is to be a mouthpiece and represent for other people. The role of the leader is to do the same thing, and that is that we represent on God's behalf. So when we take a look at this passage of Scripture, and we look at the life of Moses, one of the questions we need to ask ourselves is, "How well are we leading?"

Take a look at verse 19, it says, "When Moses approached the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, his anger burned, and he threw the tablets out of his hands, breaking them to pieces at the foot of the mountains." A lot of people have asked, you know, why didn't God go after Moses for taking the Ten Commandments and breaking it down? My response is, "What Moses did was a little step better than what God was planning on doing originally."

Then it says, "He took the calf they had made and burned it in the fire; then he ground it up into powder, scattered it on the water and made the Israelites drink it." I love that. Isn't that what you want to do often? When you're angry at people? Can you imagine just grinding it up into powder and saying, "Drink this!" And yet God calls us as Christians to continue to love each other even when we have failed each other.

The question that we need to ask ourselves, the take away today that we need to ask ourselves is, "What kind of leader am I?" In the home that I'm in, in the circumstance of life that I fit in, am I leading people in a way that they want to follow? Am I modeling my faith to others? Am I being the kind of leader in my home, am I being the kind of leader at work, am I being the kind of leader in my church, where other people want to imitate the way that I live?

My prayer is that as we go through these hero stories, that we will continue to put and connect the dots and see where God is calling our church and each one of us here today on how to lead and how to follow in a graceful way.

Today, O God, as we come to the conclusion of this time together, we can't help but to know that you are a God that loves us no matter how badly we mess up. Lord, there are some of us here in this room who have led people, we've led our spouses, we've led our children, we have led organizations, and we have failed miserably!

Lord, I just want to thank You for the story of Moses, for reminding us that this long journey is not over, and that God, what we want to do is to ultimately follow You, the One that is so worthwhile imitating. So let our lives be patterned after You, O Lord. Let our lives be filled with grace. Let our lives be filled with love. In Your name, Amen.

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