SINAI SUMMER WILDERNESS ADVENTURES
God’s Guide for the Journey
June 24, 2018
On our recent trip out west, Valerie and I made a quick one-day jaunty thru Yellowstone National Park. That is a most futile thing to do, since Yellowstone is the size of the state of Delaware. However, we were able to hit some of the highlights, including Old Faithful, and almost get hit by some of the other highlights-as we were trapped in a herd of buffalo on one of the parkways! A mother of a baby bison was giving me the evil eye!
I told my wife that if we ever visited Yellowstone again, it would be neat to do one of those backcountry, weeklong wilderness adventures – one of those expeditions that takes you up thousands of feet in altitude into the passes and canyons, hiking off the trail and off the grid. They have outfitters that lead such expeditions-for a couple thousand bucks they’ll pilot you into the neverlands of the national park…providing you with a tent, 3 meals a day of high energy granola bars and lots of bear repellent!
My wife adamantly countered, “No, thank you! I’ll stay in the 5-star Old Faithful Lodge where they provide you a gourmet meal and massage after a day of touring in the yellow bus!”
Anyway….all of this got me to thinking...If I ever went on such a wilderness adventure, what would be my expectations of the guide leading the journey? What would be the attributes that would make for a trustworthy wilderness guide?
Well, first of all, I would desire for he or she to possess an innate curiosity about their work. I would want them to have an infectious, positive attitude toward exploring, always looking for new sights and experiences to share with the folk they are leading.
However, it goes without saying that I would like for them to have familiarity with where they are leading us. It would be good and assuring if they knew the territory well so they wouldn’t be taking us off a cliff or down into a den of grizzlies.
And, yes, it would be nice if they led with a good dose of humility – treating the nature around them with respect, acknowledging the One who created it all, and also refusing to be condescending toward greenhorns like myself.
As I pondered the qualities of a good, godly wilderness guide for the backcountry of Yellowstone National Park, it occurred to me that these same qualities are what God is looking for when he seeks a good, godly guide for a much different wilderness adventure…an adventure that will hold eternal implication for all of history!
Our God is an awesome God…and he is a liberating God! The Bible chronicles two major liberating events of history: The one we are quite familiar with – the cross and resurrection of God’s Son, Jesus Christ, that frees us from sin and death.
The other liberating event takes place several centuries prior and involves the ancestors of Jesus. It is known as the Exodus, when God frees the enslaved Hebrew people from bondage in Egypt and then sustains them on a generation-long journey to the Promised Land.
And to accomplish this leading of a people to and thru a wilderness on this long journey, God needs a good, godly guide. Who will God choose for this monumental task? Let’s read the beginning verses of Exodus 3:
One day, Moses was taking care of the sheep and goats of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian, and Moses decided to lead them across the desert to Sinai,[a] the holy mountain. 2 There an angel of the Lord appeared to him from a burning bush. Moses saw that the bush was on fire, but it was not burning up. 3 “This is strange!” he said to himself. “I’ll go over and see why the bush isn’t burning up.”
4 When the Lord saw Moses coming near the bush, he called him by name, and Moses answered, “Here I am.”
God is looking for a good, godly leader who possesses…
And God finds this person in a Midianite shepherd named Moses.
Moses is a naturally inquisitive fellow. He lives a nomadic life herding sheep in a harsh desert-like environment. He is attuned to his surroundings, always searching for oasis springs, patches of grassland. He guards his sheep against predators day and night. He pays attention. And he notices the mysterious in the mundane of everyday life.
I confess to you that it is both amazing and sad the number of times I commute back and forth from Mt. Sidney to Harrisonburg and never even recall one thing I saw along the way. Do you have that problem?
God surrounds us with so much beauty here in this Shenandoah Valley and often we never even notice it. That’s a sin.
Moses pays attention. And yes, this 80-year-old fellow is attentive to the promptings of God!
God encounters Moses through the medium of a bush that is aflame but not consumed—kind of like those fake gas logs in our fireplace. God can indeed use some bizarre methods to get our attention!
And once God has Moses’ undivided attention, he tells Moses this:
5 God replied, “Don’t come any closer. Take off your sandals—the ground where you are standing is holy. 6 I am the God who was worshiped by your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”
Moses was afraid to look at God, and so he hid his face.
7 The Lord said:
I have seen how my people are suffering as slaves in Egypt, and I have heard them beg for my help because of the way they are being mistreated. I feel sorry for them, 8 and I have come down to rescue them from the Egyptians.
I will bring my people out of Egypt into a country where there is good land, rich with milk and honey. I will give them the land where the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites now live. 9 My people have begged for my help, and I have seen how cruel the Egyptians are to them. 10 Now go to the king! I am sending you to lead my people out of his country.
Now, why would God choose an old 80-year-old backwoods, boondocks Midianite shepherd named Moses to rescue his people from bondage in Egypt?
You see, Moses not only possesses curiosity…he also has…
A good, godly guide knows something about the land and the people he or she is dealing with.
One of the major reasons for God choosing Moses to lead his people out of slavery in Egypt is that Moses can speak the language of the Egyptian folk. He is not just a lowly shepherd…40 years ago he lived the life of an Egyptian prince.
Yes, Moses’ father-in-law may be Jethro, but Moses is no Bodine! He is intelligent, sharp as a tack—trained in the Pharaoh’s finest prep schools generations ago. He is extremely literate and well-versed in the history and customs of the Egyptian people. And God can put such knowledge to good use.
Moses has the unique ability to not only navigate the harsh landscape of a wilderness environment, but to also command respect in the intricate channels of the highest levels of Egyptian government.
There’s nothing that can substitute for the familiarity gained thru experience.
Consider a hard-headed, dim-witted young man named Hank. Rather than spend time learning the ropes of the landscaping business from his father, Hank decided to launch out and set up his own one-man contracting business.
His first landscaping job was at a farmer’s home, blasting out some humongous tree stump with dynamite. Hank didn’t want to appear the rank amateur that he was, so when he met the farmer he feigned a casual kind of nonchalance and expertise.
Since the farmer was watching his every move, he went to great length to measure out the fuses and set the dynamite, as if he knew what he was doing. The problem was he didn’t really know how much dynamite he needed to do the job. When everything was set, he breathed a prayer that he had packed enough dynamite to do the job, yet not blow them to kingdom come.
The moment of truth came. Hank tried to look confident as he glanced at the farmer. He pushed the plunger. Lo and behold a stump rose 10 feet in the air with a resounding boom, arched magnificently towards the farmer’s Chevy pick-up, and landed smack dab on top of the cab, demolishing it!
To Hank’s utter surprise, the farmer appeared more amazed than angered. He told Hank, “Son, you didn’t miss it by much—just a couple of feet! With a bit more practice you’ll be able to land those suckers in the truck bed every time!”
You can’t fix stupidity, but sometimes you can get by with it.
But that’s not good enough for God.
If you’re going to accomplish a monumental task, it helps to be familiar with the people and the purpose you’re dealing with. God chooses Moses as a guide because he possesses such familiarity.
Curiosity…familiarity… and yes, a final attribute of a good, godly guide:
When God presents Moses with the challenge of rescuing his people, does Moses respond like some brash, swashbuckling super hero? No!
11 But Moses said, “Who am I to go to the king and lead your people out of Egypt?”
12 God replied, “I will be with you. And you will know that I am the one who sent you, when you worship me on this mountain after you have led my people out of Egypt.”
There is extreme reluctance on Moses’ part. He realizes his limitations. He is no public speaker. He has a speech impediment. He mumbles worse than Ward Burton.
But even worse, he has a rap sheet. You may wonder how Moses ended up living the ordinary, docile life of a nomadic shepherd in the backwoods of the desert? Well, 40 years prior, Moses came across an Egyptian master beating a Hebrew slave. And Moses ruthlessly terminated that Egyptian, and then hid his body in the sand. And for 40 years Moses has been a fugitive…a murderer on the run.
But in spite of all these personal flaws and deficiencies, Moses is willing to obey the call of God. He acknowledges God is God and he is not. He will do as God leads. God is able to use such humility in a mighty way.
When God commissions Moses to lead the Hebrew people out of Egypt, God knows he is choosing someone who has the ability to see beyond the horizon, to behold the bigger picture of God’s purposes in the world. Moses can go face-to-face and toe-to-toe with Pharaoh. And he has the leadership ability to lead God’s people out of Pharaoh’s bondage.
They will be a heartbreaking, manna raking, bellyaching, idol making, faith-faking, no giving-all taking bunch of mutinous brats at times. But God knows Moses is the one who can rein them in and keep them on course to the Promised Land. And God will give Moses the faith to look beyond the horizon of what is toward the future of what can be.
Moses is God’s chosen guide for the journey to and thru the wilderness.
What wildernesses might God be calling you and me to lead someone through?
I often hear of some heartwarming accounts in my rounds as a volunteer chaplain at Sentara RMH: There was a young woman who died a while back at the hospital.
Susan had no family, but she had a friend–a kind, elderly gentleman, Jim, who dared to reach beyond selfish compulsion to walk with her in that wilderness of the valley of the shadow of dying.
They were complete strangers to each other 9 months prior when she first learned she was going to have to undergo surgery for a heart condition. Jim lived in an adjacent apartment. One day, out of the blue, Susan introduced herself to him in the stairway and asked him if he would feed her cat while she was in the hospital. He agreed.
Susan would not come home again. For nine months she battled constant complications–going back and forth from the hospital to the nursing home rehab center.
An embittered, disaffected former Catholic, a curmudgeonly old widower, now an agnostic recluse, Jim swore he would never get involved in anybody’s problems again. He broke his promise to himself. He visited Susan. They became friends.
Susan trusted Jim. He took care of her cat. He took care of her monthly bills–and when her rent and utility payments came due and her unemployment benefits had run out, he would not allow them to evict and vacate her apartment. Jim took money out of his own pocket and paid the bills. Because of his caring efforts, Susan never lost hope that she might be one day be able to return home.
When Susan’s courageous struggle was at the end of its final chapter and they removed the life support that Sunday afternoon, Jim was there by her side as she gently let go of the tether of this world and took hold of the hand of Jesus. Susan died in God’s hope, knowing she had a friend. And Jim found what it meant to walk alongside someone in the midst of a long wilderness, guiding them to that hope. That wilderness adventure made a profound and enduring impact upon his life.
Yes, God is still seeking Moses-like people in this world…folk who will answer the call to be a guide to others journeying in the wilderness, helping them to find liberation from the hope-defeating circumstances of life.
Will you be such a godly guide for God?