Sunday, March 16, 2014

Moses, A Long Way From Nothing

He was a hero.  And not just in the Bible but also on the big screen.  But that wasn’t the way his life began.  He was born as the son of slaves, his immediate future looked bleak and short. 
Nobody would have assumed that his name would ever be known outside of his immediate family but ultimately he would assume an honoured spot in the traditions of the majority of the world’s religions. 
His life would be featured in an Academy award winning film as well as a Disney animated feature that also won an Oscar.  And well before he was winning awards on the big screen he was a star on the flannelgraph.  His name of course is Moses. 
This is week five of our Old School Sunday School series.  Each week we’ve been re-telling some of the great bible stories from the Old Testament, and so we’ve discovered new insights from the story of Jonah and the Whale, David and Goliath, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and last week we looked at Daniel in the Lion’s Den.
A generation ago most children grew up hearing these stories in Sunday School and while Cornerstone doesn’t offer a traditional Sunday School program our Children’s ministries on Sunday morning still teach our children these stories, albeit without the flannelgraph. 
For years flannelgraphs were an integral part of the Sunday School experience.  How many of you had never seen or heard tell of a flannelgraph before we started this series?
This history of the flannelgraph grows back over 70 years.  In 1942 a lady by the name of Ruth Overhotzer along with students from Dallas Baptist University launched a magazine called “Child Evangelism Magazine”.  And each issue included a bible lesson with paper cut-outs to be used on a flannelgraph.  And as they say, the rest is history.  It wasn’t long before churches started ordering the magazine so they could use the flannelgraphs to supplement their Sunday School Curriculum.
Someone commented that flannelgraph was the first PowerPoint but that would actually be stained glass windows. 
In most Sunday schools, before the students went to class, there would be the Sunday School Opening and that was when all the children gathered together and sang songs and played games. 
And not just any games but games like “Sword Drill”.  How many people know what a sword drill is?  The kids would hold their bibles and the Sunday School Superintendent would call out scripture references and the kids would race to find the reference in their bibles and then they would jump up and read the verse.  That was how a whole generation learned to find things in the Bible.  This was also the time that children would be recognized for memorizing their memory verses for the week.  And that was how a whole generation learned to memorize bible verses.

Of course both of those were dependent on the children bringing their bibles to Sunday School, which was of course dependent on the children having a bible.  Brilliant concept!
We aren’t going to do a sword drill this morning but we are singing a Sunday School Chorus and Pastor Bayley is coming to lead us in “I am a C-H-R-S-T-I-A-N”
So without further ado let’s look at the story of Moses.  While most people think Moses’ story begins in the book of Exodus it actually begins much earlier than that.  Because there wouldn’t be a Moses’ story without the story of Joseph which is told in Genesis. 
You remember Joseph?  He was the boy with the coat of many colours who was sold into slavery by his brothers; he ended up in Egypt where through a series of events he became right hand man to the Pharaoh.  In that position he was able to take steps to prepare Egypt for a seven year famine that came over the area and ultimately he was able to send for his family to save them from the famine as well.  
Joseph and his family were highly regarded in Egypt.  But that was then.  The book of Exodus picks up the story 400 years later and tells us that Joseph and the seventy members of his family had prospered and multiplied, and then there is a note that says, “Eventually, a new king came to power in Egypt who knew nothing about Joseph or what he had done.”
And the new King, or Pharaoh started thinking about what would happen if the Israelites rebelled, or if they decided to side with the enemies of Egypt.  And there doesn’t seem to be any indications that either of those things were reality, but then again our realities are often determined by how we define them. 
So, the king ordered that all of the Israelites should become the slaves of the Pharaoh to build cities for him, and as the saying goes, they worked them like rented mules. 
But that wasn’t enough so the Pharaoh gave orders that all the baby boys born to the Israelites should be drowned at birth.
But one couple decided that their child wouldn’t be killed and so they hid him for the first three months of his life and then they put him in a basket and set him in the reeds at the edge of the Nile River.  Do you remember when Big Macs came in the Styrofoam boxes?  Angela did a Sunday School lesson at our church in Australia where they made baby Moses out of clothes pegs, wrapped them up and put them in the Big Mac Boxes.  She called them McMoses, but that’s a whole other story.
Well even if you didn’t go to Sunday School you know the story because you’ve seen one of the movies.  The baby is discovered by Pharaoh’s daughter, she takes him home, names him Moses and he is raised in the palace.
And then we don’t hear from Moses for 40 years, until one day the story picks up with Moses seeing an Egyptian beating a Jewish slave and he kills the Egyptian and buries his body in the desert. 
Afraid to face the consequences of his actions he leaves Egypt and settles in Midian where he got married and became a shepherd.  Years later, while tending his sheep God interrupts Moses’ new life by speaking to him from a burning bush, commanding him to go back to Egypt and lead the Jewish people to freedom. 
And while Moses doesn’t jump at the chance eventually he relents, goes back to Egypt and tells the new Pharaoh “set my people free” and again, because of the movies you know the rest of the story.
It was however Golda Meir, former Israeli Prime Minister, who said “Let me tell you something that we Israelis have against Moses. He took us 40 years through the desert in order to bring us to the one spot in the Middle East that has no oil!”
So what is it that we learn from the story of Moses.
Moses Was Given a Gift
The first thing we discover is the incredible gift that Moses was given.  All across Egypt little Jewish boys were being killed.  And Moses had his life spared.  And it wasn’t because of anything he had done.  Maybe he was a cute baby, but there would have been other cute babies. 
But he didn’t just have his life spared; he was adopted into the royal family and as raised as the Son of Pharaoh’s daughter.  
Moses’ survival and his eventual position in Pharaoh’s court was the perfect definition of grace.  Which is getting what you don’t deserve.  Moses did nothing to gain that position; it was his mother and sister who took the risk.  It was Pharaoh’s daughter who took a risk; even Pharaoh took a risk when he welcomed this child into his home.
All that Moses had was a gift; he had done nothing to deserve it.
And most of us are very much like that in all that we are. It was American politician John Raese who said “I made my money the old-fashioned way; I inherited it.” 
For most of us we have inherited what we have, not necessarily wealth but the fact that we were born in a developed country was something we inherited.  We did nothing to deserve it but here we are. 
You may be musical or athletic or artistic, or pretty and if you are then those are gifts that were given to you.  You may have improved them with hard work and practice but you had nothing to do with the gift that was given to you.
You may feel that it was your hard work that allowed you to succeed in life, but it was a gift that allowed you to be born in a country like Canada instead of Haiti or Sierra Leone.
Sometimes as Christ followers we forget that our salvation is a gift, Paul spells it out in Ephesians 2:8-9 God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.
Moses Squandered His Gift  Think of the potential that Moses had to be an advocate for his people.  He lived in the Palace, he was raised as the son of Pharaoh’s Daughter and apparently enjoyed all the benefits that went along with that and yet he seems that he still knew what his roots were.  But there is no indication that he ever spoke up for the people of Israel, no record that he ever spoke out against their slavery or the brutality they had to endure. Instead he simply took what he had as a matter of course.
There is a word for that and that word is “Entitlement.”  When we think we are entitled to everything we have.  If you google the word entitlement you will find that the boomers often speak of “the Entitlement Generation” or “Generation Me”.  And the Entitlement Generation is defined in as; The group born between 1979 and 1994 who believe they are owed certain rights and benefits without further justification. 
And I love the joke about the young college graduate who was interviewing for his first job and  he told the interviewer that he expected to start at $65,000.00 a year, with a company car and four weeks annual vacation.  The interviewer listened to the young man and replied, “How about we start you at $100,000.00 a year, give you six weeks’ vacation and make sure your company car is a BMW?”  the young man replied “You’re joking?”  “Well sure” said the interviewer, “But you started it.”
John Maxwell said “They were born on third and think they hit a triple”
But if there is an entitlement generation it was created by their parents that would be us.   We were the ones who told them they should have it all, we were the ones who insisted that everyone should get an award for just participating, that you weren’t rewarded for effort just for showing up and we were the ones who scolded the teachers when our kids messed up in school.  You understand that by definition not every student can be above average. 
But I don’t think it is limited to a generation, I’ve met plenty of boomers who feel entitled, and plenty of seniors who feel entitled simply because they have lived a long time. 
Entitlement isn’t defined by our age but by our attitude.
When we were on our cruise last month we commented to our waiter one morning about the amount of food that was left on plates and his face clouded over and he said “They act as if they are entitled to simply waste their food and they never realize how lucky they are.”
And it’s not a new problem it was over a hundred years ago that Mark Twain said “Don't go around saying the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing. It was here first.”
In the same way that Moses had the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others we have the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others. 
We need to use the gifts we were given to help others, whether it be our wealth, and understand that compared to the rest of the world we are incredibly wealthy, or our influence on the world stage or just taking steps to protect the environment around us.  If you want to experience entitlement mention to a boomer that they should drive a smaller car to lessen their impact on the environment. 
It so easy to fall into the trap of Cain when he asked of God, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” and if you are asking that question the answer is “Yes”.  That’s why we told in Galatians 6:2-3 Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important.
You will be the one who chooses what you will do with the gift you were given. 
But here’s a hint; Gratitude and entitlement cannot occupy the same space.  As long as you think you are entitled to what you have you won’t be grateful for it.  But once you recognize that it is a gift and start to express your gratitude for what you have you will lose your sense of entitlement.
Let’s pick up the story again, we are told that one day Moses saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew slave and in a fit of anger he killed the Egyptian and buried his body.  Realizing what he had done Moses was forced to flee Egypt Moses Lost It All.  All that Moses had taken for granted he no longer had, he lost it all.  In some ways we might applaud Moses for standing up for the slave but the reality is that he took authority that wasn’t his. 
Every once in a while you read about some who shoots an abortion provider, or a vigilante taking justice into their own hands and it’s the same deal they are taking authority that is not theirs to take.
Moses might have used his influence to save many slaves instead he loses his temper and just saves one slave.  You might say that Moses was a dollar short and a day late in the sudden development of his social conscience.
And so Moses went from being the son of Pharaoh’s daughter to a shepherd in the middle of nowhere.  Actually it was in a place called Midian, but I think the English translation for Midian is “The middle of nowhere.”  And it was there that he met and married the woman who would be his wife, it was there his children were born.  And he settled into his new life as a keeper of sheep.
From the palace to the desert from a future without limits to a future watching sheep.  Wow, but it was Alexander MacLaren who said “God tests His weapons before He uses them, and great men are generally prepared for great deeds by great sorrows.”   And apparently that was the case with Moses.   Because in spite of it all, Moses was Used by God
And it was when Moses was in the solitude of the desert, just him, his sheep and God that God spoke to him.  The story was read for us earlier, how a bush began to burn without actually being consumed and then God spoke to Moses from the middle of the burning bush to reveal his plan for delivering his people from slavery. 
And Moses wasn’t convinced, he couldn’t see past Moses the Shepherd, he couldn’t understand how God could use him and his speech impediment.  But Moses the shephered forgot Moses, the son of Pharaoh’s daughter who had been brought up to lead people.  And Moses would need the attributes of both to fulfil the task that was being set before him. 
 He would need all the leadership abilities that had been instilled in him while he lived in Egypt, after all he was being called to stand up to the leader of a nation and he was being called to be the physical and spiritual leader of millions of people who were rescued from captivity. 
And maybe you are wondering; where did the millions of people come from? I thought back in Genesis Joseph only had 70 relatives?   True enough, but when a man a woman love each other. . .
Actually if those seventy people represented 25 couples and each couple had four children by the time they were 25 then the population would double every 25 year.  And over the span of 400 years there would be 16 generations, each one doubling the previous number.  And so the 70 had the potential to become close to two million.
And so the first part of Moses’ life he was trained to lead people, and the next part of his life he was trained to lead people in the wilderness.  Seriously, what would the son of Pharaoh’s daughter know about wilderness survival?  Probably no more than a shepherd would know about leading a nation.
It’s sometimes easy to look at a story in parts without seeing it as a whole.  The young Moses was way too full of himself to be much good, but on the other hand the older Moses doubted himself so much that he wouldn’t have been much good.  But if you were able to combine them, what a combination you would have.
And sometimes we wonder how God can use us, but the reality is that God can use anyone, and all that we are goes into the package that God is going to use.  But like Moses we need to come to the place that we are willing to be used. 
What is it that God is calling you to do? How will he ask you to change your world?
We haven’t all been called to be Moses, or the Apostle Paul, or Martin Luther, Mother Theresa or Billy Graham but we can all make a difference, and we are all supposed to make a difference. 

It may be as simple as paying $41.00 a month to lift a child out of poverty in a developing country, and you will be able to hear more about that in two weeks when George Canyon is here. 
Jesus’ brother James reminded those who would call themselves Christ Followers James 1:27 Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.  And I would think that hasn’t changed in the past two thousand years. 
But it’s more than simply feeding the hungry.  It may be using your vote to make a difference and it may be using your influence to make a difference.  You understand when you help out with CIA at Feed Nova Scotia or a soup kitchen, you are making a difference in the world.  When a tired family comes home from a long day sitting next to a sick child at the IWK and there is a hot meal waiting for them at Ronald McDonald House, you are making a difference.
When you mission dollars support Kerry and Carol Allison working with homeless teens in Odessa in Ukraine, you are making a difference.  When you help with any of the children and youth ministries at Cornerstone, you are shaping the lives of the leaders of tomorrow.
And on Sunday morning when you reach out to people and make them feel welcome at Cornerstone, you are making a difference in their world.

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