BECOMING A DIFFERENCE MAKER
FACE TO FACE WITH GOD
PASTOR ED YOUNG
MAY 23, 1993
A friend of mine is a boxing agent and a couple of years ago, he called me and asked me if I had ever been to a professional boxing match and I said, “No, but I’ve always wanted to.” He said, “This Wednesday night, four tickets at the will call. I’ll see you. I’ll be at ringside. You sit on the twentieth row.” “That’s fine with me. Thanks a lot, Robert.”
Wednesday rolls around. I am at the boxing match having a great time watching these guys really go after it. I see my friend at ringside looking around and he sees me. He leaves ringside and walks up to the twentieth row. He sits down beside me and says, “Ed, what do you think?” I said, “Robert, this is something else. These guys are monsters. They are quick. They are fast. They are in shape. I’m having a great time.” He said, “How would you like to go against one of these guys face to face?” I said, “Excuse me? You mean in the ring? No, Robert.” He said, “No, no, no. Would you like to see how hard they really hit? Would you like to experience what it’s like?” I said, “Okay. I’m a risk-taker. Let’s go.” He goes, “Get up.” I said, “What? Where are we going? The match….” He goes, “Get up.” We go behind the arena into the locker room where one of his fighters, 6’4,” 235 lbs., is preparing for the match. He’s getting his hands taped. He has the hood over his head, glistening with perspiration, and I’ve never in my life seen a guy throwing that many punches that fast who’s that big.
Then Robert, my friend, goes, “Ed, stand right here behind the punches. He won’t hit you. He has great control.” I said, “Now, Robert, come on. The guy is getting ready to fight. He’s going to be walking to the ring with the guy who just fought Tyson. No!” “Come on, man. Come on.” So I stand there, and ladies and gentlemen, this boxer, because his agent told him to, was throwing punches about four inches from my face. The wind was blowing [swishing sound] like this and I stood there for a couple of seconds and I said, “Robert, I get the picture. Thank you.” It was a great experience. I’ll never forget what he said. He said, “Ed, isn’t it great to go face-to-face with a pro boxer and experience that?” I said, “Yes. It really, really is.”
We love to experience things, don’t we? Especially this generation. We don’t just want to hear the music; we want to feel it, the vibrations, the experience of it. You look at a car ad. It doesn’t say, “Just buy this car.” It says, “Purchase this automobile and you will have the ultimate driving experience.” Most husbands are in the delivery rooms with their wives because their wives want them to experience childbirth. Even video games, they have the helmets now and the whole thing surrounds you. You want to experience the game.
We have this desire for experience, a God-given desire, and I believe the greatest desire that we have is the desire to experience God. In fact, people ask me often, “Ed, let’s cut through all the fog. How can I have a personal encounter with God? If God’s really out there, if He’s real, how can I know He’s real? How can I hear Him speak to me? How can I connect with God?” And that’s a great question. Today we have a great answer because through the life of Moses, I want you to notice four realities of experiencing God. And I’ll promise you something. If you notice these four realities of experiencing God, when you leave this tent, you will know how to really have that intimate relationship with Him and your desire, your thirst, will be quenched because all of us are asking ourselves this question, “Can I know God? How do I really feel Him?”
Take your Bibles and turn to the book of Exodus, Chapter 3. I’m in a series entitled, “Becoming a Difference Maker,” and we’ve been looking at the ultimate difference maker, Moses. Briefly, let me pave the way for this particular slice in Moses’ life to bring us up to speed. Moses was born into Hebrew slavery and he was not born at a very good time. In fact, the Hebrews were the slaves of the Egyptians and Pharaoh wanted to curb this Hebrew baby boom so he told the midwives, “When you see a male child being born, take the male child and throw the male child into the crocodile-infested Nile River.” So it was not a great time for Moses to be brought into the world.
He was spared. He was hidden, and miraculously Moses, this son of Hebrew peasants, was adopted by Pharaoh’s own daughter. So overnight, Moses moved from life as a peasant to life in the palace. Designer robes, the best education, he was a leader. The Bible says he was such a handsome man, people would stop and look and say, “Wow! What a hunk!” He had it all. He was even a general of the Egyptian army and the guy was a Hebrew!
One day, he’s forty years old and he looks at the situation and he thinks, “I can deliver my people from Egypt. Even though I am supposed to be the next Pharaoh, I can start delivering them now from this slavery.” He sees an Egyptian whipping one of his brethren, a fellow Hebrew. Moses looks to the left, he looks to the right, and then he kills the Egyptian. He hides him in the sand and thinks no one will find out, but as the desert winds blow, the Egyptian’s toes begin to stick up from beneath the sand. People find out that this future Pharaoh has killed an Egyptian, and now this future Pharaoh becomes the ultimate fugitive.
So what does Moses do? He does what most of us would do—
when he’s being chased, he runs. He runs and he runs and he runs out to Midian. You know where Midian is? The Sinai Peninsula. The desert. The wasteland. And as I read about Moses, I’m thinking, “Oh, it’s over. Lights out. That’s the ballgame.” Here’s a guy that had it all. The best education, the best life, leadership, looks, and now he’s in the desert.
The Bible says Moses, this difference maker, spent forty years in the desert. Now he’s eighty years old. And day after day, you know what Moses is doing? He’s a sheepherder. Ph.D. from University of Egypt, a sheepherder. Worth billions and billions of dollars, on the front of the Egyptian Fortune magazine, a sheepherder. And the Bible says in Exodus 3:1, not only was he in the desert for 40 years, he had to work for his father-in-law. Whoa! Double punishment. So look at Exodus 3:1 and read along with me silently, “Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro (not Bodine) his father-in-law.” Moses was eighty years old, but not only was Jethro his father-in-law, but he was a preacher. Moses had a tough life. “And he led the flock to the far side of the desert.” Here’s Moses again. He’s on the back side of the desert, leading his flock.
I want you to circle the term “desert.” The word “desert” in the Hebrew means “to speak.” God has to lead you and he has to lead me to many deserts in our lives in order to speak to us. We can react to a desert in three ways. The pride way. “God, I don’t need this desert. Come on. Why am I here?” The impatient way, “Come on. Come on. I’ve had enough; I’ve been here for a day. Let’s go, God. Show me what you want me to do.” Or the mature way, the way Moses handled it.
Moses was faithful in the little things. Although he was trained for the major CEO boardroom leadership capacity, he’s there being faithful, tending the sheep, taking care of his little family. Many of you are in the desert right now as I speak. Your marriage could be in the ditch. A relationship is on the rocks. Maybe your career plans have become slam-dunked. An illness, a sickness, a tragedy. You’re in the desert and you’re wondering, “God, why am I here?” Let me make this statement. God did not cause the desert to happen. He doesn’t say, “Ha! Ha! Ha! I’ll be the cosmic killjoy and kind of move you into the desert right here.” He allows desert situations to happen in order to what? Speak to us. And the question is, are you listening to God? Are you experiencing God?
Here’s the first reality of experiencing God. You want to have a personal encounter with Him? Here’s the first reality. God initiates a love relationship that is intimate and personal with you. God initiates a love relationship that is intimate and personal with you. You hear people say now and then, “Well, he found religion. She found God.” That’s not true. The Lord Jesus Christ is the hound of heaven. He pursues us. He pursues us. It’s more or less like we turn and say, “Okay. I give in.” And God uses good times, bad times, events, situations, so many things in order to get our attention because He wants us to understand the love. You see, we matter to God. We matter so much to God that He initiates, He pursues this love relationship.
Five mornings a week in my life, I get up at about 6:15 a.m. and here’s my mission. I have to get up without waking Lisa. I tiptoe without disturbing LeeBeth, our six-year-old daughter, and without disturbing E.J., our 19-month-old son, who is really a daddy’s boy. I turn and I walk down the steps and I make my way to the kitchen and I make some thick, strong coffee, like I like it. Then I turn and again have to tiptoe without much noise into the living room. I close the door (these are glass kind of doors), and five mornings a week, I sit there in my living room and I study for two hours of uninterrupted time.
I told Lisa, “Lisa, I will be with the children, they can interrupt me now and then, but please give me those two hours.” Here I am yesterday, I’m studying. Saturday morning, 7 a.m., that’s when E.J. gets up. When E.J. gets up, Lisa picks him up out of the crib and she walks down the steps. It’s her mission to try to move E.J. past the living room so he won’t see me, because once he sees me it’s over! Sure enough, he sees me, and E.J. had had some granola and yogurt and broccoli and chicken (it was in his hair, face, outfit) and he comes to the door, “Dada.” He starts banging on the door. I try to act like I don’t see him because I’m really into the message, into studying. He keeps on.
So finally, he pushes the doors open—you’re talking about someone who pursues a love relationship—pushes the door open and walks over to me. He has a baseball in his left hand, a basketball in his right hand and walks over to me. The he puts his head down on my lap, gives me his two basketballs, and gets all this stuff over me—yogurt, green beans, etc. And this happens day after day after day after day. Yesterday, he was picking up a baseball and throwing it at my head a couple of times.
That’s kind of the way God pursues us. He is relentless. You take E.J. and put him in the high chair. He’ll get down and try to get me, try to talk to me, try to connect with me, and that’s God in your life and in my life. The questions is, have we said, “Yes, God?” Have we opened the door of our study and allowed Him to come in and connect and love us? The first reality of knowing God. Remember, God is a pursuing lover.
There’s a second reality, though. God uses the ordinary to speak to us in extraordinary ways. Still in Exodus 3, let me read Verse 2, “There (in the desert) the angel of the Lord appeared to him (that’s Moses) in flames of fire from within a bush.” There’s the initiation. There’s the pursuit. Moses didn’t say, “Well, here am I, okay, I’m going to find you God somewhere in the bush.” God appeared to him.
Now, skip down to Verse 4. “When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look….” Here’s the situation: Moses is going down the path he’s been down hundreds of times with his herds of sheep (he didn’t even own the sheep, remember, his father-in-law did), and he sees a bush on fire. Now, spontaneous combustion happens now and then in the desert and Moses had probably seen this before, but the thing that got his attention was that the bush was not burning up. It was there in perfect and pristine condition, not burning up, and it got Moses’ attention. Then the Bible says Moses walked over to it. And when the Lord saw Moses walking over to it, that is when He spoke to him.
God uses the ordinary to speak to you, to speak to me in extraordinary ways. God first of all has to get our attention, doesn’t He? He didn’t all of a sudden say, “Hey, Mo! That’s right, Mo. You!” He didn’t do that. He got Moses’ attention—being out in the desert, seeing the burning bush—and then He spoke to him. God gets our attention. He gets your attention. He gets my attention. And He sends us a personal invitation day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year. The problem is that our spiritual mailboxes for most of us are jam-packed full of personal, engraved invitations from the Lord Himself, but we never check the box. All you’ve got to do is check the box and look at God’s love letters to you and you’ll go, “Wow! You want me to do this? You mean…? God, I can’t believe it. God, you’re going to speak through me?” When you see and when you come across ordinary things, ask God to allow you to be sensitive to hear Him speak to you in an extraordinary way.
This principle was hammered in my life when I was 17 years of age. I had just moved from Columbia, South Carolina, to Houston, Texas. I was sitting with a friend of mine on his couch, looking at a yearbook, a typical thing. I turned to the basketball section, my favorite sport, and I see the typical basketball poses, you know, guys playing basketball. One of these pictures, though, of a guy dunking the ball, caught my eye. I don’t know why it caught my eye because I’ve seen thousands and thousands of pictures of people dunking a basketball. In fact, I’ve been dunked on probably thousands and thousands of times myself. So I see this picture, and below the caption read (I can still see it in my mind), “Phil Elders slams one home.”
That’s not very profound, is it? The guy really wasn’t up that high. And I looked at that picture, and I said out of the blue, 17 years of age, and I was not some spiritual giant, but I said this, “Russell, is this Phil Elders guy a Christian?” He goes, “No, Ed. This guy has no idea about God, church, that God loves him.” I said, “Well, no big deal.” I’m 17 years of age.
Ten years later, I’m 27. I’ve gone to Florida State; I’ve gone to HBU. I’ve got my Master’s. I’m ordained to the ministry. I’m working in our church in Houston, and I’m walking along one of the football fields going to coach at some little league team and this guy walks up to me and goes, “Ed, there’s a guy who’s been playing ball in the gym. He’s a great player.” And I said, “You’re talking about Phil Elders?” He said, “Yes, I think the guy is named Phil.” I hadn’t seen the guy. I hadn’t met the person. I remembered the name for some reason out of an ordinary, typical yearbook, and I got to know Phil. Phil was away from God and God was able to use a sinner like me to share what it meant to love Christ and have a personal relationship with Christ. Phil Elders gave his life to Christ. His wife was an alcoholic. In fact, Lisa and I went out with them one night and she got drunk in front of us. She became a Christian after Phil became a Christian. She dropped alcohol; did not have a drop, has not had a drop in five years. Her parents—her dad is a top CEO in Houston—both accepted Christ; they were agnostics. Her sister and her brother both accepted Christ due to this one man. And his brother and his brother’s wife all came into a personal relationship with Christ.
Do I tell you that to say, “Oh, Ed, man, you are a great spiritual giant. Boy, I’m glad our pastor does that. He’s just a mighty man.” Is that why I’m saying that? No. I’m saying that because during that time of my life, for some reason, I was sensitive to the Holy Spirit of God and I heard the Spirit of God speak to me through an ordinary black and white picture in an extraordinary way. I forget everything. I can barely drive to my house right now. I have a tough time recalling my phone number, and to recall a name like that ten years later!
How many times, though, has God wanted to speak to you. He’s trying to speak in ordinary events, but you can’t hear His voice because you’re so concerned about self. [Hums “What makes me look good, what makes me feel good, what gives me pleasure, that’s what I want.”] That’s what Moses dealt with for forty years until he was out in the desert.
That brings us to the third reality of knowing God, and listen to me very carefully on this particular quote. This quote is from Henry Blackaby. The third reality of experiencing God: “God reveals to us what He’s about to do.” Are you following me now? God reveals to His people what He’s about to do; and that revelation, God’s revelation, becomes our invitation for us to join us in His work.” I’ll say it one more time. God reveals to you and to me what He’s about to do. “Hey, yo. I’m getting ready to work here.” And this revelation becomes our invitation to join in with God.
When I prayed about this church three years ago, I didn’t know should I pastor this church, a brand new church, a couple of months old. God showed me as I prayed on a hill one day out here, “Ed, I’m getting ready to work. In fact, I’m already starting to work in a mighty way. If you want to, you can join in on the party. You can jump in my ride. You can cruise with me.” You see, God’s working everywhere. He really is. He’s working everywhere. You’re saying, “What?” He’s working everywhere. And all He does is He says, “Here’s my revelation and my personal invitation to join me. I made you to join me. I fashioned you to work for me.” If you’ll do it, that’s when life will click. That’s when you’ll have meaning, confidence, purpose, power. It’s not easy, but that’s what God wants us to do. And He did the same thing in Moses’ life.
Look at Verse 8, Exodus 3. God tells Moses, “Moses, I’m getting ready to work now. Hello, Moses. The burning bush.” And Moses says, “God, here am I.” God says, “Moses, here’s what I’m getting ready to do.” Look at Verse 8, “Moses, I’ve come down to rescue them (that’s the Hebrews) from the hand of the Egyptians.” “Moses, I’m getting ready to deliver your people from the Egyptians, and I want you to join in. In fact, Moses, I want you to lead.” Moses goes, “What, God? Who am I? You mean you want this 80-year-old man who is working for his father-in-law, living in a desert state of mind, to leave this place?” “That’s right, Moses. I want you to do it and the only way you can do it is through me.”
You know what Moses’ major problem was? He was too strong. That’s right. He was too strong, and Moses could not be used in a mighty way until he saw how weak he really was. He ate at the king’s table. He rode in the king’s Porsche chariot and now he’s in the desert. God has him flat on his face and you watch how God uses him. “Moses, I’m getting ready to work now,” and Moses has the opportunity to join in.
Look at Moses’ response in Verse 10, Exodus 3. God’s saying, “So now, go, I’m sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites out of Egypt. But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” And God said, “I will be with you.” We don’t need anything other than that, do we? If God tells you, if God tells me, “I’m going to be with you,” He’s going to be with us. We don’t need any extra cash or clothing or status. If God’s with us, He’ll give us the strength, He will give us the power to do it, and Moses in a mighty way, did it.
I’m going to show you a section of Scripture that’s a very profound section. Don’t turn there due to time, but write this down, Amos 3:7. It says, “Surely the sovereign Lord does nothing without revealing His plans to His servants.” You see, understanding what God’s about to do is more important than saying, “God, I’ll do this and this and this for you.” The third reality of knowing God.
There’s a fourth reality. God’s invitation to join Him in His work requires—here’s the catchword, here’s the difficult part—requires major adjustments in our lives. If I’m going to join in God’s work, I’ve got to make major league, big-time adjustments in my life. Moses had to make an adjustment. Earlier in his life he wasn’t willing to make the adjustment. “Hey, I want to have one foot in the palace and one foot with the peasants.” Now God says, “You’ve got to make adjustments.” So Moses had to pull his two kids out of Midian High School. He had to leave his father-in-law, which wasn’t that tough. He had to leave the desert—he’d been there for forty years, his home.
He’s eighty years old now! He’s kind of doing the Geritol thing. He’s saying, “God, now wait a minute,” and he had to leave and make a long, long journey all the way to Egypt. Can’t you imagine what people were saying when they saw Moses coming in? “Hey, there’s Moses. Remember the guy who killed the Egyptian.” They were telling everyone; freaking out.
You can’t stay the same, I can’t stay the same if we’re going to go on with God. You cannot remain the same, I cannot remain the same if I’m really going to join in God’s work and move on with Him. I’ve got to make adjustments—adjustments spiritually, adjustments financially, adjustments in my thought life, adjustments with relationships, adjustments in how much I go to church, adjustments with how much I pray. And God will give us this strength if we let Him, if we let Him. Moses did it and he is a difference maker.
Let’s get relevant, because I want to give you three quick ways that you can experience God on a day-by-day basis. First, remain moldable. When I was at Florida State, I majored in the Fine Arts and we used to work with clay. If the clay was mine, I would take the clay and begin to sculpt and mold it into a certain instrument. We’ve got to allow the Lord to take us as clay, and mold us and shape us. Now when you mold and shape the clay, I’m sure the clay is thinking, “Ow! Ooh! Ah!” But if the clay will stay with you, you mold it, you work it and then it’s a beautiful instrument, a statue or a vessel. And as we just heard in song, we’ve got to have our vessels emptied of self before God can put His power in and really use us. We’ve got to remain in the potter’s hand, and the potter is the Lord. Remain moldable.
Number two, realize that you’re weak. Realize that you’re weak. We can make a rhyme out of it. If you realize that you’re weak, God will allow you to hit your peak, and that’s true. Moses realized his weakness. He did. He was weak. You know what God likes to do? You know what God really likes to use? Ordinary people. Ordinary people. You see, we put too much emphasis and too much applause on, “Oh, look at those leadership character qualities. I’m sure he could run any major corporation right now in this century.” He’s an ordinary guy. God used him in an extraordinary way because he said, “God, I unclench my fists. I give you the ball. I give you the reins. You take control of me.” The Bible says in James 5:17, Elijah was an ordinary man. It also says in Acts 6:13, Peter was an ordinary guy, used, though, in extraordinary ways.
Here’s the third way, and don’t miss this way, on how to experience God on a day-by-day basis. We have to enter into a personal relationship with Jesus. Everything in life comes from this absolute. Jesus is the hound of heaven and we’ve got to respond to the hound of heaven, and the motivation is love. It’s not rules. We shouldn’t say, “Oh, it’s Sunday; I’ve got to go to church.” If that’s your motivation, don’t go to church. Or, “I’ve got to read the Bible. Oh, man. If I read it today, God will bless me. Let me see—Proverbs 31:19.” Or “We’d better pray because it’s a good example for the kids. God is great, God is good, let us thank Him for our food. Amen.”
Our motivation should be love. Love. Whenever we grasp the fact of the unconditional love of God, that we matter to Him, that He loved us so much He sent His only Son to pay the price on the cross for everything we’ve ever done wrong. When we understand that, we cannot wait to read our Bible, we cannot wait to tell people about Christ, we cannot wait to express our love to Him in every realm of our lives, and the reason I want to live a holy life is not because of all these rules (can’t do this, can’t do that). That’s not it; it’s because I love God too much to stumble. I love Him too much. I love Him too much, and I pray that our motivation is love.
Have you responded to the love of God? God wants to meet you right where you are. He met Moses right in the desert. He wants to meet you right where you are. Not where He wants you to be; right where you are. But you say, “I’ve got to take care of 1, 2, 3, 4, and then I can come into the relationship with God.” No. He wants you now. Won’t you join in? Won’t you go face to face with God? Won’t you experience Him? Because your life will never be the same. [siren goes off in the background] And the sirens will go off and the alarms will go off [laughter] and you’ll think, “I can’t believe this life. I’m living for Jesus Christ.”