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The Man Who Didn’t Miss The Signal

Genesis 3:1-10

It was the night of April 14, 1912. The U.S. ocean liner, the “Californian” was about 1,500 miles east northeast of Boston in the midst of a sea voyage which had begun in England. The second officer on board the ship was Herbert Stone. Just before midnight, a seaman reported to Officer Stone that he had seen a large, fast-moving steamer pass in the darkness, and that he had signalled the other ship, but there was no response. Stone notified the Captain and the Captain asked him to make contact with the other ship using the Morse lamp. The attempt was made but there was no response. During all of this time, the “Californian” was stationary in the seas. The Captain had decided to anchor for the night because there had been radio warnings of icebergs in the area and he did not want to encounter them in the darkness. After midnight, Officer Stone saw several white flares shot up into the night sky. He reported once again to the Captain. Now the white flares were in fact distress signals, but neither Officer Stone nor the Captain so interpreted them. You see, in those days, the way you signalled for help was by the use of the radio, and there was no report from the “Californian” radio room of any distress signals. Therefore, Officer Stone and the Captain dismissed the flares as a harmless fireworks display from the great passenger liner. But the reason there had been no report from the radio room was that the young radio operator, on his first cruise, had fallen asleep. The air about the “Californian” was full of distress signals, but none of them were picked up. So the “Californian” sat still in the water just ten miles away from the sinking “Titanic”!

It’s a very tragic thing to miss the signals. That’s why today I would like for us to think about Moses, the man who didn’t miss the signal of God in his life; and about how in responding to the signal, he blessed himself and all the world. And also, I would like for us to think about our own alertness to the signals God is sending into our lives. Let’s begin here…

First, I want us to remember that when God sends His call into our lives, He gives us a confirmation.

Moses was tending the flocks of his father-in-law, Jethro, in the wilderness of Midian. There, one day, he encountered a burning bush. Now that in itself was not unique. In the hot, dry conditions of that place it was not uncommon for spontaneous combustion to occur, causing a bush to burst into flames. What caught Moses’ attention was that this particular bush was not consumed by the flames. So he stepped aside to see this strange sight. Then he heard the voice of God saying to him: “Moses, do not come near. Take off the shoes from your feet for you are on holy ground.” Here’s the point. Moses would never have had this dramatic encounter with God if he had not taken the time to turn aside and see, if he had not been alert to the signal.

So many times in the midst of the humdrum experiences of our lives, God comes to us but we miss Him because we are so busy taking care of the sheep or whatever other responsibilities may be ours. We miss the signals of God. I cannot tell you how many times individuals have come to me and said: “I am trying to discover God’s will for my life, but somehow I can’t seem to find the way.” And I realize as I talk with them that they are so wrapped up in their own lives that God’s signals just can’t get through. So I ask you: Are you awake, are you alert to God’s signals in your life?

James Chalmers was. James Chalmers was sitting in Sunday School one day and a letter was read from a missionary. The teacher then set the letter aside and said: “I wonder if there is a young person here who would be willing to serve Christ on the mission field.” That sentence was a burning bush moment for Chalmers and he went on in time to write some great chapters of missionary history in the South Pacific.

Or go back with me to the year 1913 and see a young man, in his thirties, seated at his desk in Europe. The young man possessed a Doctorate in music, a Doctorate in philosophy, and a Doctorate in medicine. On the desk was a little booklet which had come unsolicited through the mail. The booklet was published by the Paris Missionary Society. He picked it up, leafed through it, and read one of the articles entitled: “Needs of the Congo Mission.” The bush began to burn. When he finished reading, he said: “Lord, I’m coming.” He decided right then and there to spend the rest of his life as a missionary to Africa. He started a jungle hospital at a place called Lambarene—and from that day on Albert Schweitzer proceeded to astonish and shame and challenge the whole world. He didn’t miss the signal. He stopped to see the burning bush, and the glow of it never left him.

Or think of that day not many years ago when a Montgomery, Alabama black woman named Rosa Parks was just too tired to go to the back of the bus, so she sat down in the front. It was a burning bush moment, for when Rosa Parks sat down, Martin Luther King stood up. Thus began what was to become one of the great civil rights movements in American history. It happened because King was ready to turn aside at the burning bush time and thus encounter God’s will for him.

We all—sooner or later—we all have those kinds of burning bush moments. Maybe it will be while listening to the words of some sermon, and your heart will be warmed within you, and you will make some commitment in your life. Or maybe it will be in the embrace of a friend in a time of bereavement, and you will make some deep promises in your heart. Or maybe it will be when you are struggling against some temptation, and you have the experience of God moving into your life to help you defeat that temptation and you resolve to turn your life around. Or maybe it will be something else, but there will be the burning bush moments in our lives. Watch for them. Be alert to the signals God is sending into your life.

Secondly, I want us to remember that when God sends His call into our lives, He gives us a commission.

He not only gives us a glow—He gives us a goal. He not only ignites us with His power, He assigns us a task to do for Him. That’s what happened to Moses. There at the burning bush, the first thing Moses heard was, “Take off your shoes for this is holy ground.” But the second thing he heard was this: “Moses, I am going to send you to Pharaoh to set my people free.” You see, when you become sensitive to God, immediately you become sensitive to other people.

Last summer, I had the privilege of visiting the Vietnam Memorial in Washington. It was for me a gripping experience. It is made entirely of slabs of highly-polished black marble. On those slabs are inscribed the names of the more than 50,000 Americans who lost their lives in Vietnam. As you stand and look at the monument, the first thing you see is yourself. Your own image is reflected with crystal clarity in the shiny black stone. But then—and it is an amazing experience as it happens—your eyes begin to change focus and the seemingly endless names become dominant in your vision. You lose sight of yourself and you see the names and you think of the service and the sacrifice. That’s what happens when you encounter God in a burning bush moment. First you see yourself, but then you see yourself in the service of others.

The Scriptures tell us that all of us—not just ministers—but all of us are called by God, and all of us are given by God gifts which are to be used in His service. He never asks us to do anything in life without giving the gift, the ability to do it. Those gifts are listed in the Bible in at least four different places.

Do you, for example, have the gift of prophecy? That’s the gift of explaining God’s Word in a way in which people are convinced. Do you have the gift of service? That’s the gift of being able to love someone else with such tenderness that they don’t feel that you are meddling in their lives. Do you have the gift of teaching? That’s the gift of being able to share the information of the faith in a winsome way. Do you have the gift of exhortation? That’s the gift of being able to lead those who are confused to a sense of clarity in their lives and those who are depressed to a peace of mind and a joy of heart. Do you have the gift of giving? The Bible says that some people are actually gifted by God at making money, but God’s Word to them is that they are to work as hard as they can, to earn as much as they can, in order to give as much as they can. Do you have the gift of giving? Or do you have the gift of mercy? That is the gift of being able to minister in a special way to the hurt and wounded of this world.

Well, there are many more gifts. There are four lists of them in the Bible. But have you looked seriously at those lists and then to look at yourself in terms of those gifts in order to understand what God is calling you to do for Him in your life? If you haven’t, please do.

There was a time in the ministry of Martin Luther King when overwhelmed with the sense of despair and uselessness and defeat, he was alone in the kitchen of his small home. He paced back and forth. Finally he slumped down in a chair and buried his face in his hands on the kitchen table and through a rush of tears, he prayed: “O God, I have nothing to offer. I have no power, no ability, nothing.” Then the Spirit of God said to him—and he wrote it down so that we who come after him might remember—God said to him: “Stand up for righteousness! Stand up for faith! And I will give you what you need to set my people free.” God never calls us to serve Him without also giving us what we need to do it.

Thirdly, I want us to remember that when God sends His call into our lives, He gives us a companion.

He gives us Himself. First, He said to Moses: “Take off your shoes.” Next he said to Moses: “Set my people free.” Then He said to Moses: “And I will be with you.” First the glow, then the goal, then the gift of His glorious presence in our lives—That’s the way God works.

Moses argued with God. He didn’t think he was ready to take on the task. There’s a refreshing honesty in that. But God gave him what he needed. And here’s the point: I don’t believe that God would have been with Moses as He was throughout the rest of his life if Moses had refused to go. The Bible teaches us in Matthew 28 that we are to go into all the world to make disciples of all nations. Then it says: “Lo, I am with you always.” Lo, I am with who? Lo, I am with those who £0. God’s presence, you see, is promised to those who discover His will and then move out in service to the world. You see, our God is a God who never lets us go. God is a God who never lets us down. And God is a God who never lets us off.

Since I have mentioned Martin Luther King twice, I close with him now.

I suspect that many of you, most of you maybe, back during the 1960’s were aware of the march led by Martin Luther King from Selma, Alabama to Montgomery. It was in all the news. But what you may not have been aware of was the fact that for more than a week prior to that march, King and those who were to march with him spent hour after hour, day after day, in prayer, in study of the Scriptures, and in more prayer. They were desperately seeking confirmation of God’s will, because they felt that they might die on that march. Then they heard the voice of God say “Go.” On the day of the march, they assembled in Selma and moved through the downtown area right to the river, which is just at the edge of the downtown area, to the Edmund Pettus Bridge. On the other side of the bridge there was the sheriff and a small army of police dogs and deputies with billy sticks. The sheriff called out: “Turn back.” And King said: “We’ve come too far to turn back now.” Then he and those who were with him proceeded to kneel down in the middle of the highway and began to pray for God to be with them. It was then that the dogs were released and the deputies waded in swinging their billy sticks so that those praying people were knocked about the highway like little rag dolls. But what no one counted on was that the television crews were there, and their cameras were running—and America saw what happened in that place…America—where we do still believe that this is the land of the free…  America—where we do still believe that every human being under God is precious in the sight of the Almighty. Oh, we don’t always do a good job of living up to it, but we do still believe it. And that day as America saw those praying people knocked about the highway, everything suddenly began to change. I believe—and I think history ultimately will underscore this—I believe that that day signaled the beginning of the end for the practice of segregation in this land. Why? I believe it was because there were hundreds of people who didn’t miss the signals of God.

Please, my beloved…

Don’t miss the signals of God in your life. Look for the burning bush moments in your own experience. Give yourself to prayer and the study of Scripture in seeking confirmation of God’s will for your life. Give yourself to the discipline of determining your spiritual gifts and how God is commissioning you to use them in His service. And last of all, best of all, give yourself to living for Jesus Christ every single day, for He will be with you every step of the way…

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