January 16, 2013

Mouthpiece for God

I got a kick in the pants this past fall when, with our women's Bible study, I read through the first five books of Scripture. I love returning to Joshua and Caleb and their faith in the face of uncertainty; God used their example to confirm our call to church planting. But this time, I tracked more with Moses. I watched him endure trials, extreme leadership challenges, and the endless complaining of the Israelites. I saluted him for overcoming insecurities with faith and for consistently trusting God to meet the needs of his people even when his own siblings came against him. I also marveled at his intimacy and companionship with God.
And then, after all that consistent faithfulness, Moses didn't get to enjoy the Promised Land. Do you know the story? The Israelites were being their usual whiny, complaining selves, griping at Moses and Aaron because they're thirsty. Moses went to God for help and, ever so patiently, God told him how He would provide for the people: Moses should take a rod in his hand, speak to a rock, and watch the rock yield water.

At this point, Moses has for years led a grumbling people. They haven't appreciated him. They probably haven't sent him thank you notes or gifts during Patriarch Appreciation Month. Instead, they have really taken it out of him: relying on him to give them counsel, depending on him to convey God's instructions to them, demanding at times for a different leader.

So, with the people crying for water and having received an answer for God, Moses gathered everyone together and shouted at them: "Hear now, you rebels! Must we bring water for you out of this rock?" He strikes the rock twice, water flows, and everything shifts. You rebels? Must we bring water? Striking the rock instead of speaking to it?

What has Moses done? He has only struck the rock instead of speaking to it, but it is disobedience. He has misrepresented God before the people. God did not call them rebels and He did not express frustration at them for wanting something to quench their thirst. Any frustration expressed is Moses's alone. Moses, the mouthpiece of God, has shown the people that God is annoyed, frustrated, and unmerciful.

The consequences were swift and cut deep. God said to Moses, "Because you did not believe Me, because you did not hallow Me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore you will not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them."

I got kind of indignant at God when I got to that part of the story. I looked at the scales, one side heavy with faithful deeds and consistent leadership, the other barely registering a wrong. It didn't seem fair. I wanted God to overlook Moses' mistake because I want God to overlook my sin in the face of my years of service to Him.

There was the kick in the pants. God's response to Moses said so much: my sin is not inconsequential, past obedience is not present obedience, and it really, really matters how I represent God to others. Like, really.

In the end, although He didn't let him off the hook for his disobedience, God was gracious to Moses. Before Moses died, God took him up on a mountain so he could get a good view of the Promised Land.

For us, too, there is grace. But we are not playing games here, and we certainly aren't the big, important leaders we sometimes think we are because of all we've done for Him. As believers and as leaders, we are each a mouthpiece for God. May we humbly represent Him as He is: gracious, merciful, and forever patient. And Lord.

The countdown continues! Only 16 more days until the book releases.