Sermon Series: Lord, I want to be better

Numbers 21:4-9

4 They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; 5 they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the desert? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!” 6 Then the LORD sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. 7 The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the LORD and against you. Pray that the LORD will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. 8 The LORD said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” 9 So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, he lived.

Verse four begins by stating “They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom.” The Nation of Israel was following the path and course God had laid out for them. Instead of going through Edom, God lead the people around Edom. God rarely takes or leads us directly to our destination. There are times when God changes our course partially, completely, or lengthens our journey. We can only surmise why God does what God does, but we will never fully know. When we take a moment to reflect on how far we have come we are able to see that in some instances we were not ready for what we would have faced. In other instances God saved us from things that might have completely discouraged or destroyed us. Either way, one of the questions we must come to terms with as we follow God along, is it more important when we arrive at our destination or that we arrive at our destination? If we choose the later then we must be poised to accept whatever we face and willing to deal with everything that comes our way. If we choose the former then we need to just settle down and make the best of the journey. If it seems as though God has lengthened or is lengthening your journey let me encourage you, you are in some good company. Jacob agreed to serve Laban his uncle for seven years for the opportunity to marry Rachel, but he was tricked into serving for 21 years. Joseph was about 17 when he received God’s vision for his life, but he did not realize the vision until he was about 30. God called Moses when he was 40, but did not use him until he was 80. David was first anointed to become king at about 16 and he did not receive his appointment until he was 30. As you can see, if God has lengthened or is lengthening our journey we are in some good company.

“But the people grew impatient on the way.” Because God rarely leads us directly to our destination we have a tendency to become unsettled at different points along the way. Why would people become impatient with God? One reason is because we want to get to our destination. If I know I am going some place I want to get there. The hardest part of any journey is getting there. Time, though, is a relative term. Too long for some is not long enough for others. Some are able to take long rides in stride. While they are admiring the scenery there are those who are getting antsy wondering, are we there yet? Last summer Jill and I decided to drive to Deerfield, Florida about 45 minutes from Fort Lauderdale. The estimated time of the trip was about 23 hours. It took us about 28 hours. When it seems like the journey is taking too long we look for someone to blame. Common sense, reason and logic say, there has to be a reason why it is taking so long.

Jesus said, “First take the plank out of your own eye and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” As you and I look for reasons why, let us always begin with self. If there is something wrong in my relationship with my spouse, children, or significant other, before I point fingers at them – I need to take the plank out of my own eye. If I am having problems on my job, in my community or home, before I try to label anyone else as the source of the problem – I need to take the plank out of my own eye. In every situation where it seems as though things are not working out as planned before we accuse God or others we need to examine the role we have played and our contribution to causing or creating the problem. Jesus said, “Then we will see clearly.” The people of Israel did not do this. Instead, they blamed God and criticized the provisions God made for them and criticized Moses’ leadership. It is interesting that the same people who lift up and highlight our flaws often act and present as though they are flawless.

One of the problems with standing in judgment of anyone is the same light we use to shine on others and highlight their faults and shortcomings will at some point be shined on you and I. When it comes to criticizing God, let us not forget that God does not owe us anything. Whatever God does, God does it out of love for His people. The Nation of Israel thought they deserved better. What exactly does I deserve better mean? Better is a comparative term. So when we say we deserve better what are we really saying, I deserve better than what? Do we mean better than what I have or am getting right now? A more salient question is what are we doing to get better? They say if we keep doing what we have always done, we will get what we have always gotten. In order to get better we have to do something different than what we have or are doing. Better is an entirely different level and requires a different level of effort, work and commitment. Are we ready to put in the effort, do the work and make the commitment to get better, or are we going to keep complaining and criticizing until it happens?

The people wanted what they had before, or something close to it, but what they did not understand was that God was moving them toward better. It takes time to get to better, because achieving better is a process. Before we can get to better we need to stop wanting and desiring what we had and learn how to appreciate what we have. One of the blessings of struggle is we learn how to appreciate success, achievement and the things we have worked to acquire. Struggle teaches us how to be grateful for whatever we have. When we get to better we are able to look back and say thank God for the struggle because in the struggle I discovered that it was by God’s grace that I made it through.

Jesus made a distinction between sheep and goats. Sheep need to be led and by nature are followers. Occasionally one or two will wander off and the need arises to go get the wanderers and bring them back to the herd. Goats on the other hand are totally ungovernable they get into all kinds of places they have no business getting into and generally do whatever they want to do. I personally have never seen a sheep tied up, but I have seen goats tied up. One of the reasons God raises up shepherds is to lead His sheep. The term pastor means shepherd or one who guides and leads. You will never see more than one shepherd per flock because when sheep get direction from more than one source they get confused. Everyone in God’s kingdom has a role and God expects that we operate in our role. If we operate in our role the ship will sail smoothly and we will get to better sooner rather than later.

I have also never heard a sheep telling a shepherd, hey, “We should go this way or that way.” Yet we do it all the time. Everyone has an opinion on the direction we should go in and the best approach we should take. What we fail to take into consideration is God only expects us to operate in our appointed role and do our job. The time it takes to critique and criticize what someone else is doing is time away from focusing on what we should be doing. God expects us to do our job and not criticize how someone else does his or her job. The people were very critical of Moses and his leadership. God speaks to every person and it would be presumptuous of us to try and play God by telling others what and how they should do what God has called them to do.

Another point to consider is that when we criticize the man or woman of God that God has appointed over us we are in-effect criticizing God. There were two experiences I had that hammered this point home. First, when I was about 18 and still serving in the church I grew up in a very contentious exchange occurred during a congregational meeting between one of the deacons and the pastor. About three to five minutes after the deacon said what he had to say to the Pastor in front of the congregation he suffered a stroke and died about five days later. Some years later when I was in another church I did not like the direction the Pastor was leading the church in and I shared with another Pastor my displeasure and intent on voicing my feelings to the Pastor. A very good friend of mind, who was also a Pastor at the time, said to me in no uncertain terms, “When God is ready for you to be a Pastor God will give you a church and you lead them, until then learn how to follow.” I sat down and learned how to follow.

“The Lord sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died.” God released the same venom that the people had spewed against Moses to come back and bite the people. Every choice you and I make has attached to it a consequence. Everything that we say, everything that we do and put out into the atmosphere triggers some other action and response. Very often the things we experience are the result of things we have said or done. The treatment we receive from others is a by-product of the way we have treated others. My nephew is giving me some of the things I gave to my father. God is using my sister to pay me back for some of the things I did to my mother. The thing about consequences and retribution is that it does not always come from the one we offended, but from other sources and is usually multiplied. In other words, what we get back is usually worse and more than what we put out there.

The way we overcome bad choices is by making better choices.

1. Recognize that any choice we make based on what we think, want, and how we feel is probably not going to work out well for us and we should avoid it at all costs – the people did what they wanted and paid for it with their lives

2. Change your mind and attitude about where you are and what you have. Learn to be grateful wherever you are and for whatever you have, because the alternative can be much worse. Sometimes something is better than nothing and nothing is better than something – the people had to repent, that is change their mind and attitude, their situation did not change until they changed

3. Look up to God in Christ and not down on what God has provided. We must recognize that all things, all of our provisions, blessings, strength and power, salvation, healing and deliverance all come from God in Christ. The Psalmist said, “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the Lord who made heaven and earth.” If we can keep our eyes fixed on the giver we will never look down and become dissatisfied with the gift

The bottom line is that we will become impatient and even dissatisfied with some of the things the Lord give us and some of the places the Lord leads us. However, we cannot allow our impatience or dissatisfaction with God or others to lead us into making a bad decision. Instead, we need to exercise gratitude and thanks to God for taking the time to think about us in the first place. We need to be thankful to God for the good and the bad. We thank God for the good, because God is good and every good gift comes from God. We thank God for the bad, because it is the bad that helps us to appreciate the good. We need to also remember that for as bad as things are they could always be a whole lot worse. The children of Israel did not realize how good they had it until their choices came back to bite them. And even though the consequences of their choices proved deadly, God showed them His grace could overcome our poor choices.

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