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A Discussion of Messianic Judaism, the Emerging Messianic Jewish Paradigm, and Related Leadership Issues from the Preoccupied Mind of Rabbi Stuart Dauermann, PhD.

All Contents ©2004-2007 Stuart Dauermann - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Turning Our Disasters into Doorways

(This is a Sermon on the Parasha for Shabbat Hol HaMoed Pesach. It concerns a crisis in the life of Moses, not entirely unlike the crises some of us face from time to time.)

12 Moses said to the Lord, "See, You say to me, 'Lead this people forward,' but You have not made known to me whom You will send with me. Further, You have said, 'I have singled you out by name, and you have, indeed, gained My favor.' 13 Now, if I have truly gained Your favor, pray let me know Your ways, that I may know You and continue in Your favor. Consider, too, that this nation is Your people" (Shemot/Ex. 33)

Even though we are the people of God, and even were we great servants of God like Moses, this does not mean we will not encounter negative, painful, scary, and trying times and conditions. Here, Moses feels he can no longer deal with his circumstances: he just can’t take it any more.

Notice, he is not flipping out over some glitch, a stressful life, or a dysfunctional marriage. Certainly, not because he is having a bad hair day. It is a measure of his holiness that what bothers Moses is that the people of Israel have fallen into idolatry. He is undone by the fact that his people have built for themselves a golden calf and spiraled down into orgiastic rites because they couldn’t deal with the stress of his being away atop Mt Sinai for forty days and forty nights. He is upset because his own brother was complicit in this disaster. Moses is undone, destroyed, depressed . . . and over something really big.

We too will encounter situations, periods, conditions in life which leave us feeling decimated, and discouraged, whether over matters small or really big. Each of us, even the best of us, may well be called upon to face situations that drive us to our limits and beyond.

At such times, what can we expect of God? This is the issue I wish to examine with you in today’s consideration. I think it may help us all to adopt Moses’ requests and God’s promises found here a template for our own perspective.

14 And He said, "I will go in the lead and will lighten your burden." 15 And he said to Him, "Unless You go in the lead, do not make us leave this place. 16 For how shall it be known that Your people have gained Your favor unless You go with us, so that we may be distinguished, Your people and I, from every people on the face of the earth?"
17 And the Lord said to Moses, "I will also do this thing that you have asked; for you have truly gained My favor and I have singled you out by name."

Verse 14 tells us one promise we can claim: God tells Moses “I will go in the lead and lighten your burden.” Knowing that he does so for us, no less than for Moses, should be for us a source of reassurance, of protection, and of provision. Of course, we should all endeavor to be people with Moses’ kind of unflinching devotion to God, walking in the fear of Him all our days and in all our ways. And if we will but stumble along, in some measure seeking to honor the God whom Moses honored, we will recognize that the promise of the Divine Presence is the answer to our need, and give thanks as Moses did. In fact, that thankfulness will be a characteristic of our lives.

Moses goes beyond that to ask God for more—not just a deeper knowledge about him, and not even just companionship, but intimacy. Let’s look at this for a moment.

To know about God is a wonderful thing—the knowledge of who He is, the knowledge of His mighty works, the knowledge of his attributes, as some schools of religious thought speak of him, and of course, the knowledge of His Word, these are in themselves great things. But beyond that is companionship—knowing that this God is with us, experiencing in some measure that He is Emmanuel, God with us, on the Emmaus roads of our lives, that through the Holy Spirit, he has come to be with us—that he is our companion, this is wonderful, splendid and glorious. And certainly, one could argue that this brings a deeper, or at least different level of satisfaction than that prior and utterly foundational level, knowledge about God. In a sense then, one could say that the first level is knowledge about God, and the second level, a sense of companionship in the knowledge that God is with us.

But beyond this is a third level--knowing God, that is, intimacy with him. Moses speaks of this as “let me behold your Presence,” of which God says, "You cannot see My face, for man may not see my face and live!” Moses is asking for the deepest of intimacies with God. I don’t think I am being merely cynical when I say that it doesn’t often occur to most of us to even aspire to such a thing. We are usually too preoccupied with other, far lesser things.

And if I am right in my suspicions that our level of knowledge of God is woefully deficient, perhaps one reason is that we do not crave his nearness. But for those who will diligently seek God’s Presence, even in the midst of their dark nights of the soul, God’s promise and response to Moses may become ours as well: We may not quite see his face, but he will take us deeper, draw us closer, into greater intimacy with Himself.

18 He said, "Oh, let me behold Your Presence!" 19 And He answered, "I will make all My goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim before you the name Lord, and the grace that I grant and the compassion that I show. 20 But," He said, "you cannot see My face, for man may not see Me and live." 21 And the Lord said, "See, there is a place near Me. Station yourself on the rock 22 and, as My Presence passes by, I will put you in a cleft of the rock and shield you with My hand until I have passed by. 23 Then I will take My hand away and you will see My back; but My face must not be seen."

But note this: Moses is still stuck with his situation. The Israelites remain a burden. And we are likely to be required to continue confronting our own burdens as well. But although the conditions of his life are unchanged, but the condition of his life is revolutionized. And so may it be for us, if we will take our eyes away from our situation, and truly seek the face of God.

Finally, in our parasha, we see how God provides guidance.

1 The Lord said to Moses: "Carve two tablets of stone like the first, and I will inscribe upon the tablets the words that were on the first tablets, which you shattered. . . .
4 So Moses carved two tablets of stone, like the first . . . (Shemot/Ex. 34).

Even if we must walk through difficult situations, we may always count on God’s willingness to provide us guidance as to how we ought to deal with them and conduct ourselves. He provided Israel with Torah, with covenant stipulations and guarantees. The word Torah is more properly “guidance,” than anything else—it is instruction that points the way we should go.

In the midst of our sometimes trying lives, the burdens we must bear, our sometimes irksome and difficult responsibilities, God promises guidance to those who truly seek it. Ya’akov/James says it this way in the Newer Covenant,

2 Regard it all as joy, my brothers, when you face various kinds of temptations; 3 for you know that the testing of your trust produces perseverance. 4 But let perseverance do its complete work; so that you may be complete and whole, lacking in nothing. 5 Now if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives to all generously and without reproach; and it will be given to him. 6 But let him ask in trust, doubting nothing; for the doubter is like a wave in the sea being tossed and driven by the wind. 7 Indeed that person should not think that he will receive anything from the Lord, 8 because he is double-minded, unstable in all his ways (Ya’akov/James 1).

What many miss is that this wisdom, this guidance, is promised to those undergoing trials. This is a promise for people like us facing circumstances like those Moses faces here—trying, burdensome circumstances. We must tend to our hearts, and ask of God within the context of a well-aimed life and mindset. We must seek to be done with being double-minded, ambivalent about seeking God, uncertain of His trustworthiness, and undecided about seeking to walk in his ways. We must aim our lives like an arrow, following his guidance as to where we should point ourselves.

In our trying circumstances, God provides us with an opportunity to go deeper, to find him going before us and with us, to grow in knowledge about him and his ways, in the certainty of his companionship and the surprising revelation of his nearness and intimate involvement in our lives.

Our trials remain with us. They continue to be trials, perhaps scary and painful, the kinds of things that wear us down, and that we would so much prefer to avoid. If we will take our trials as a spur to seek him earnestly, God may not change our conditions, but he will change our condition.

Through seeking, encountering, and discovering God in new ways, we can find him turning our valleys of disaster into doorways of hope.

May it be so for you. May it be so for me.

God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that in due time he may exalt you. Cast all your anxieties on him, for he cares about you (1 Peter 5:5-6).

Seek the LORD while he may be found, call upon him while he is near; 7 let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon (Isa 55:6).

A few questions for you to ponder as you go your way:

(1) What kinds of stresses, life situations are you preoccupied with right now?
(2) Stepping back and looking at your own level of preoccupation, is there an immaturity, self-centeredness, or tendency to self-pity which needs to be overcome?
(3) In these stress areas, have you implemented the best wisdom you know in dealing with them, and if not, why not?
(4) Are there any promises from God, perspectives from Moses, matters for prayer arising from our study of this passage that particulary impress themselves upon you at this time? If so, what new action, practice, or decision are you going to implement as a result? Why not pray about that now?