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Monday, February 17, 2014

Are there Characteristics of God’s Nature We Are Not to imitate?

Last week at the Seminary we had the privilege of having Dr. Paul Clark, Director of Worship and Music Ministries for the Tennessee Baptist Convention for our annual Crescent City Praise. As part of the various activities, Dr. Clark had several times to share in classes, but in one particular session that I was attending he shared an insight that every worship leader needs to hear. He shared that there are some characteristics of God’s nature that we should not imitate. {At this point he definitely had my attention.} I will just share a quick summary of his thoughts, but I promise if you will spend some time meditating on these, it will change how you approach ministry.

Only God is omnipotent, all powerful. He is God, you are not. Do not pretend to be, or attempt to be. Learning our limitations is a part of being human and it is a part of maturity.

Only God is omniscient, all knowing. He is God, you are not. Only He knows it all. After a few years it is easy to fall into temptation that we have got it all worked out and know everything we need to know. The truth is the longer that we are in the ministry, the more that we will begin to realize that we do not know it all, and that true humility is a sign of godly wisdom

Only God is omnipresent, everywhere present. He is God, you are not. Life and ministry will make demands on you that would require you to be in more than one place, were it possible. You can’t be; don’t try. We must come to the point that we realize God is big enough to meet the needs of those we love, regardless whether we are there or not.  This is another limitation that we must learn to accept.

Frustration and failure are destined for those who attempt to be omnipotent, omniscient, or omnipresent. This was never in God’s plan for us, but to learn to trust Him to be Who He Is.  There is only one God, and He desires that we allow the nature and character of Christ to be fully developed in our lives: His love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self control.  As we grow in His nature and character we will also grow in our faith and dependence on Him, not try to compete for His power.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

When God Rejects His Leaders

{Numbers 20:2-13} 

2 Now there was no water for the community, and the people gathered in opposition to Moses and Aaron. 3 They quarreled with Moses and said, “If only we had died when our brothers fell dead before the Lord! 4 Why did you bring the Lord’s community into this wilderness, that we and our livestock should die here? 5 Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to this terrible place? It has no grain or figs, grapevines or pomegranates. And there is no water to drink!”

6 Moses and Aaron went from the assembly to the entrance to the tent of meeting and fell facedown, and the glory of the Lord appeared to them. 7 The Lord said to Moses, 8 “Take the staff, and you and your brother Aaron gather the assembly together. Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water. You will bring water out of the rock for the community so they and their livestock can drink.”

9 So Moses took the staff from the Lord’s presence, just as he commanded him. 10 He and Aaron gathered the assembly together in front of the rock and Moses said to them, “Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?” 11 Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank.

12 But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.”

13 These were the waters of Meribah, where the Israelites quarreled with the Lord and where he was proved holy among them.

Before we unpack this passage, let’s review just who Moses was:
– raised in the household of pharaoh, having access to the best education and lifestyle of the day
– God appears to him in a burning bush, speaks to Moses face to face
– especially set aside by God to bring the Israelites out of 400 years of Egyptian bondage
– Used by God to cross through the sea on dry ground, while drowning the Egyptian army
– the intermediary between God and the people,
– first hand witness to the miracles of the manna, quail, and the fact that their clothes did not wear out during the 40 years of the desert
– strikes a rock with the rod that God had changed into a snake and water comes out
– interceded for the people before God
– had received the tablets with the commandments written by the very finger of God, twice
– of whom God, Himself said, that He spoke face to face as with a friend

There is just not another resume in the Old Testament or New, outside of Jesus like that of Moses. No he wasn’t perfect, yet God used him. Yet for all that Moses was and did, one mistake kept him from entering the land that had been promised to him. One. It wasn’t the murder of the Egyptian, or the marrying of a foreign wife. It wasn’t breaking the tablets with the commandments written on them in a fit of anger. What then, was it? That is the subject of Numbers 20: 2-13.

The children of Israel once again find themselves in a position in which they must trust God for the provision of water. This was not the first time. Previously, God has told them: “I will stand there before you by the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink.” So Moses did this in the sight of the elders of Israel.” {Ex. 17:6} But this time, it was different.

Pent up frustration with a complaining disobedient people tempted Moses to assume that he was too important.  When the problems came, they went to Moses. They came in droves, and he became overwhelmed with the load. A restructuring helps and added judges help, but through the trials of desperate needs the people complained about God and Moses’ leadership. There might have been some sense of defense of his ability to lead in the action mentioned in Numbers 20. There could have been a need to show that he, Moses, still had the power to lead by proving that he would bring them water. As for what personal motivations there might have been, we will probably never know, for Scripture is silent. However, God was not silent in explaining to Moses what displeased Him so much that God would cut Moses off from entering the land he as dreamed of for 40 years.

God had commanded to “speak” to the rock; much different that the command to “strike it” before. Notice that even in Moses’ disobedience, God still provides for the needs of the people. God’s will and plan not be thwarted by man. Water flowed, the people drank, and everything on the surface looked fine. However, there was one issue: Moses had struck the rock rather than speaking to the rock. If fact, Moses actually strikes the rock twice. God’s commentary on the situation was quick, austere, and final:  “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.” [20:12] One of the most amazing figures in all the Old Testament drops the ball toward the end of his life and ministry. What is going on? How could God do that?

Stop and think about what God had just said:
You didn’t believe Me enough to just speak to the rock; 
You didn’t believe me enough to regard me as separate, absolutely holy, different than you. 
You did not trust me to provide, even after all the miracles you had seen Me perform. 
Moses, you wanted to have the glory for yourself; you wanted the people to see how big and important you were. 
But, Moses, I share my glory with no one. 
You did not honor me as holy in the sight of those whom you were trying to lead.  
Moses, this is too serious to let slide by; you cannot enter the Promised land. 
Moses, I don’t always do the same thing the same way. Don’t presume to have figured me out. 
I AM God. There is none other.

As a worship leader who serves in front of a congregation, I am painfully aware of the many well meaning church members who appreciate the work and ministry, but who would place you on a pedestal and focus praise and attention on you. Those of us in highly visible ministries are at the constant temptation to allow the fruit of the hours of preparation just go to our ego and heart and miss the real blessing.  Music leadership must work hard at developing the craft, talents and skills to lead and play, yet we must never let the words spoken to Moses get very far from our hearts and seek out the praise of those for whom God has called us to minister.  We must always have an awareness that our obedience and inward lives and character cannot substitute for allowing the Spirit of God to shine through in simple transparency, to trust in Him enough to honor Him as holy.

As James said “Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.” {James 3:1-2} Leadership in the ministry will be judged more strictly. We must be models worthy of following. When leadership stumbles, it does not stumble alone, it causes many to fall as well. Any taking of the glory from Christ so as focus it on ourselves is a form of idolatry. It is a serious matter to God and He takes serious measures to correct such actions.

I am totally at the mercy and grace of God. I am ashamed at how many times I have failed in this area, and even more amazed that God would forgive me, especially when I see that it was just this one time that made Moses loose his position. As I enter the last part of my life and ministry, I want to finish well and one way toward this process is to “trust  enough to honor Him as holy in the sight of His people.” I pray that many would join me in the this prayer that in all we do that we live and lead in such a way that we trust in Christ to honor Him as holy.