Reverend Dr. William H. Curtis

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Then the LORD said to Moses, "Tell the Israelites this: 'You have seen for yourselves that I have spoken to you from heaven: Do not make any gods to be alongside me; do not make for yourselves gods of silver or gods of gold. "'Make an altar of earth for me and sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, your sheep and goats and your cattle. Wherever I cause my name to be honored, I will come to you and bless you. If you make an altar of stones for me, do not build it with dressed stones, for you will defile it if you use a tool on it.

Exodus 20:22-25 NIV

What God wants for us can make us uneasy. These are the jagged edges of God’s will. These jagged edges make us consider other sides of humanity. They call for sacrifices in our lives. They call for changes in our expectations and understanding. God will put us in front of challenges, and it will almost seem as if He has stepped back and said, “Fight with everything you have. Only after you come up short will I step in.”

These jagged edges of God’s will exist to show us that if we walk by faith, not by sight, that God will always bless us. But to do this we must make sacrifices. We must be uncomfortable. We must look at life from angles that we wouldn’t ordinarily. When our wants don’t match God’s will, our obedience must trump our desires. 

We haven’t grown spiritually mature until we can take our sharpened tools, stand in front of God’s uncut altar, and realize that our tools aren’t enough. We must look to God and say, I can’t do this on my own. I need you to do it for me.

Each of us knows what it is like when we have tried to go our own way and do our own thing. Even when we fail, we can be glad that God’s grace has given us another chance to come back to His altar.

Modern religion is trying to shape a spirituality that works God. We can’t put that much faith in our tools. Our maturity and growth and wisdom can prove the strength and durability of our tools, but our tools are never strong enough to work God into doing what we want, simply by our determination or force of will. We cannot lift our tools to shape the stone of God’s will.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “Being a Christian is less about cautiously avoiding sin than about courageously and actively doing God's will.” It takes courage to worship at the altar of a God that we can’t work. Sometimes we may have to walk away from what we want the most or walk towards what we want the least.

Don’t try to shape God because of how uncomfortable His jagged edges can make us feel. We shouldn’t try to use our determination or our intelligence to try to stop the bleeding because He knows that revelation and transformation come through the blood.

We also pray that you will be strengthened with all his glorious power so you will have all the endurance and patience you need.

Colossians 1:11 NLT

Paul wrote this letter to the Colossians as an answer to their questions about Christ’s divinity. And his answer was that he was going to pray. Paul’s response was not a weak one. It was the best response to the threats and challenges that the church in Colossae was facing.

Often, when people around us say that they will pray for us, they mean that they will think about us for a few minutes and then go on with their lives. This well-wishing style of prayer has soured our attitudes towards prayer. Even in the case of the Colossian Church, we may think that Paul could have done a lot more.

But Paul understood the power of prayer. He believed that prayer was the only response to the circumstances before him, and prayer is still strong enough to respond to the circumstances that life brings our way.

One of the problems that we have, as modern Christians, is that we don’t understand prayer. For many of us, prayer is a wish-granting service run by God. When we don’t see our wish granted, we begin to look for a word from a prophet or we become angry with God. But are we also ignoring the basics of prayer? Prayer is not a weak response to a threat. Prayer is an active practice of being present with the Lord. It reveals that we believe that Jesus sits at the center of our universe. It affirms that He is an active participant in our daily journey. He walks with us, talks with us, and tells us what we ought to know.

Prayer is a faith building act. It isn’t about getting what we want from God or paying lip-service to the hurting people in our lives. Prayer puts us face to face with God and asks us to examine ourselves. In the humbling presence of God, we can find strength in His glorious power and gain all the endurance and patience that we need. 

They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!”

Numbers 21:4-5 NIV

Moses didn’t want to do battle with Edom, so he had the Israelites travel around. However, after recent victories against the Canaanites, Israel didn’t want to backpedal around Edom en route to the promised land. The Israelites were so overly confident that they gave into arrogance.

Not knowing how to conquer impatience, the Israelites set out from Mount Hor to go around Edom. The people grew irritable as they traveled and grumbled, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!”

Israel believed that backtracking was unbearable. Their ethic was that they could never move forward going backwards. They believed that their victory over the Canaanites gave them momentum and energy to conquer their way to the promised land. They had forgotten that God was the one who had done all of the fighting. They had forgotten that their strength was in their faith.

They had tasted the sweetness of victory and the sweetness of the promised land.

But, when we start complaining, the complaints just keep on coming. We tell God that we don’t like the path that He has sent us on, and then we start to think that we don’t like the mana that God gives us to sustain us every day.

This text begs us to consider whether our faith has room to listen when God tells us not to move. Faith can call for immediate action and radical obedience, but more often, our faith calls for us to go against what we want to do. There are times when our faith makes us go backwards over territory that we have already covered or reengage relationships that we had decided to sever. Faith will sometimes ask us to hold our tongues when speaking seems more natural.

Faith is easy when it calls for an immediate action. But it is hard when it makes us stand still.

Israel is not at all confused about God’s will. They know what they heard. God said, “Go around.” The path through Edom was blocked by God, but impatience can frustrate our interpretation of God’s will. Impatience can make us complain about God as if we had completely forgotten that the whole reason we are where we are is because God came and got us and freed us from bondage.

It is almost incredulous to suggest that we are complaining about our struggles in the wilderness when God rescued us from bondage. We all have impatience, but our faith in God has to be stronger than our impatience.

Luke 14:25-33

German pastor, theologian, and Nazi dissident, Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote in The Cost of Discipleship: "The followers of Jesus for His sake renounce every personal right…. If after giving up everything else for His sake they still wanted to cling to their own rights, they would then have ceased to follow Him.” The life of discipleship can only be maintained as long as nothing is allowed to come between Christ and ourselves.

In Luke 14, Jesus has been addressing the multitudes and has given them an invitation to sit at the table of God. He invites those that He is dining with to follow Him to deeper levels of sacrifice and spiritual surrender. However, He tells them that they may not want to accept this invitation if they are only accepting it on emotional enthusiasm. Jesus does not at all mind sharing how unapologetic He is about the kind of loyalty that He demands from those who would follow Him.

He makes it clear that anyone who comes to follow Him but refuses to let go of everything and everyone else, cannot be His disciple. If we are not willing to surrender whatever is dearest to us, we cannot be Christ’s disciple.

We often talk about Jesus being loving and caring and nurturing, but we must also remember that, sometimes, He will put us at risk to show us our gifts and our calling. He will make us lose in order to gain. He will let us fall in order to prove that He is a protector. He demands that we anchor our loyalty to Him alone.

If Jesus were invited today to preach to you, and told you that He is willing to offer you salvation, but you have to be willing to put your relationship with Him first, before your family, before yourself, and before anything you hold dear, would you jump up and run down the aisle, knowing how badly we know we need Jesus?  Or, would you choose not to do so because you have other priorities?

This is a hard extension of divine invitation. Many in the crowd that day missed the hook that framed the invitation that Jesus was extending. Jesus was fellowshipping with them so that He could invite them to become a disciple rather than a guest. Guests have no demands made of them. Guests do nothing more than whet their appetites. There are no chores, duties, or sacrifices required to be a guest.

We can’t love Jesus and stay a guest. And, we can’t walk with Jesus and continue to have priorities that we place before Him in our lives.  When we make the decision to follow Jesus, we are entering into a covenant to become more than a guest, and we must be prepared for the sacrifice and spiritual surrender that this decision requires.

One day, after Moses had grown [into adulthood], it happened that he went to his countrymen and looked [with compassion] at their hard labors; and he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his countrymen. He turned to look around, and seeing no one, he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. He went out the next day and saw two Hebrew men fighting with each other; and he said to the aggressor, “Why are you striking your friend?” But the man said, “Who made you a prince and a judge over us? Do you intend to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?” Then Moses was afraid and said, “Certainly this incident is known.”

When Pharaoh heard about this matter, he tried to kill Moses. Then Moses fled from Pharaoh’s presence and took refuge in the land of Midian, where he sat down by a well.

Now the priest of Midian had seven daughters; and they came and drew water [from the well where Moses was resting] and filled the troughs to water their father’s flock. Then shepherds came and drove them away, but Moses stood up and helped them and watered their flock. When they came to Reuel (Jethro) their father, he said, “How is it that you have come back so soon today?” They said, “An Egyptian saved us from the shepherds. He even drew water [from the well] for us and watered the flock.” Then he said to his daughters, “Where is he? Why have you left the man behind? Invite him to have something to eat.” Moses was willing to remain with the man, and he gave Moses his daughter Zipporah [to be his wife]. She gave birth to a son, and he named him Gershom (stranger); for he said, “I have been a stranger in a foreign land.”

Exodus 2:11-22 AMP

One day Moses witnesses an Egyptian beating a Hebrew slave, and he jumps in abruptly. Thinking that no one is around, he kills the Egyptian and buries his body in the sand. The next day, he witnesses a fight between two Hebrews and steps in. When he goes to rebuke the aggressor, he responds, “Are you going to do to me what you did to the Egyptian?” Moses knows now that his secret is out.

When Pharaoh hears about it, he makes up his mind to kill Moses. When Moses runs to avoid being killed, God plants him in Midian, which in Hebrew means ‘the place of strife.’ God metaphorically arrests Moses and keeps him in Midian for forty years. He does this in order to recalibrate the gifts in Moses that have gotten him into trouble.

Moses runs to Midian and sees the seven daughters of Jethro being chased away from the well by shepherds. Moses steps in and protects the rights of these women. The seven daughters then run back and report to Jethro what has happened. Jethro invites Moses to join his family and gives Moses Zipporah in marriage. Now Moses has shepherding responsibilities for Jethro’s sheep.

The trajectory of Moses’ life is propelled forward by these episodes where we can see Moses’ raw, immature potential that keeps getting him into trouble. The liberator that he will be, forty years later during the Exodus, was the same liberator who looked both ways before killing the Egyptian task master and burying his body in the sand.

We can see the progress of Moses’ maturity. When he defends Jethro’s daughters from the aggressive shepherds, he is more mature, but not as mature, wise, and seasoned as we see him forty years later when he is mediating between grumbling Hebrews.

Later leadership has to start as raw potential. Moses’ potential that resulted in a man buried in the sand and scared Hebrews gets him dropped in forty years of exile. But, this is necessary character and faith building for Moses so that he could stand before Pharaoh forty years later.

We can’t ignore the raw potential that messes up our neat little lives. When God draws our attention to his purpose for our lives, it does not start out perfectly mature. God perfects our raw potential, even while it messes stuff up as it grows. God is slowly bringing us to recognition of His purpose for our life.