Powerful Passages, Pt. 5
The God Who Gets to Us
Study Guide, October 30, 2016
Pastor Clay Olsen
There are many things we grow accustomed to in life without stopping to really learn more about? For example, like: Why do stars twinkle? Technically, the reason that stars twinkle is because of ‘stellar scintillation’. Stellar scintillation just means that stars twinkle when we see them from the Earth’s surface because we are viewing them through thick layers of moving air in Earth’s atmosphere. In other words, as their light travels through the many layers of the Earth’s atmosphere, the light of the star is bent or refracted many times and in random directions . And this random refraction results in the star ‘twinkling’. (And ‘twinkle, twinkle little star’ sounds a lot better than ‘scintillating, scintillating, little star…how I wonder what you are?’)
Plus, stars closer to Earth’s horizon appear to twinkle more than stars that are overhead, and this is because the light of stars nearest the horizon has to travel through more air than the light of stars overhead and so is subject to more refraction or bending or ‘twinkling’.1
How about another thing we are accustomed to, like our blue sky? Why is the sky blue? The sky is blue because some light travels in short ‘choppy’ waves and other light travels in long waves. And blue light waves are shorter than others, like red and yellow light waves. And once again, our atmosphere scatters light, and since the blue light waves are shorter they get scattered the most. Thus, the blue sky!
Now, when the Sun gets lower in the sky, the light travels through even more atmosphere. And the blue light gets super scattered then, so much that the reds and yellows show up more, since they scatter the least. And sometimes the sky really glows reddish because other particles of dust and other vapors reflect the reds and yellows and violets the most.2
Again, we get accustomed to seeing twinkling stars and blue skies and sunsets and such. But one time something happened that was so unusual that this person did stop to ask what it was all about. And his question was, “Why is this bush burning, but not burning up?” You know what we’re talking about right? Ex 3:1-3- “One day Moses was tending the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian. He led the flock far into the wilderness and came to Sinai, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a blazing fire from the middle of a bush. Moses stared in amazement. Though the bush was engulfed in flames, it didn’t burn up. “This is amazing,” Moses said to himself. “Why isn’t that bush burning up? I must go see it.” NLT
Granted, this Bible story is one that many believers have also grown accustomed to. But what if twinkling stars, blue skies, and burning bushes had more in common than we thought? What if we recall what the Psalmist reminded us about what God is doing through twinkling stars and blue skies? Ps 19:1-4- “The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display His craftsmanship. Day after day they continue to speak; night after night they make Him know. They speak without a sound or word; their voice is never heard. Yet their message has gone throughout the earth, and their words to all the world.” NLT
Just like God is using the twinkling stars and wondrous skies to speak to people and just like God used the burning bush to get to Moses, God comes to us in both the common places and strange places. Granted, He had a special assignment, a special mission to reveal to Moses, but the point is, we need to keep listening for and looking for God in all of the places we are. God is trying to get to us both through what we consider common, like the stars of the heavens, and even through what we would consider uncommon; like burning bushes. Or we could say, whatever kind of times we are in, God is trying to get to us, to speak to us, and to assure us that He is with us in them and even going through them with us.
It’s like how He assured Moses, that He was going to see Moses and His people through the struggles they were in. Moses and the people had imagined all their walls had sort of caved in on them, but God was still at work on it and on their behalf. It’s like God reminded us all later in Jer 29:11- “For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.” NASU And remember something very important: ‘A future and a hope’ doesn’t just provide hope for the future; it also provides ‘help in the present’.
In our lives there can be burning bushes of amazement, and there can be burning bushes of afflictions. Elizabeth Skogland, in her book Coping, describes the severe problems with depression experienced by the famous 19th Century preacher, Charles Haddon Spurgeon. He was called ‘the Prince of Preachers’ and became Pastor to one of the largest churches in London at the age of nineteen. He published over 3,500 sermons and authored 135 books before his death at age 57. Thousands of people came to hear Spurgeon preach. His ministry was deep and profound, yet countless times he struggled with a severe heaviness of heart. His depression and poor health often kept him away from the pulpit. In the days of his greatest preaching at the Tabernacle, Spurgeon was often afflicted and even thought of quitting, because he felt that his illness was diminishing his effectiveness as a minister. Fortunately the leaders of his church felt differently. They preferred Spurgeon with all of his frequent absences to any other minister. And so he stayed. Yet, his swollen hands and tired body made him an old man while he was still young.
Depression was a major component in the life of this great man of God. It was like a bush that didn’t burn up. God didn’t cause this burning bush, but God came to Spurgeon through it and assured him that He was with him in it, and made him triumphant in spite of his trials of this burning bush of ill health.
Speaking of this burning bush of health, Joni Eareckson Tada, has been paralyzed since her teenage years. Her paralysis has been like a bush that doesn’t burn up. God didn’t cause this burning bush either, but He has promised to be with her in it and through it. And Joni has said that her hope is not only in her future, it’s in her present, too…in the here and now. She said, “God proved to me that I, too, can have fullness of life now. I have friends who care. I have the beauty of the outdoors. Though I can’t splash in the creek or ride horses, I can enjoy being outside and my senses are flooded with smells and textures and beautiful sights. The peace that counts is an internal peace, and God has lavished that peace on me. And I realize that I haven’t been cheated out of being healed…I’m just going through a 40 year delay. After my death, I’ll be on my feet dancing.” God has gotten to Joni Eareckson, even in this burning bush of paralysis.
Or maybe, it’s the burning bush of prayer. You have been passing through the waters of trials, and through the fires you have prayed, but you don’t understand what’s going on. But instead in the midst of the bush God says: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine! When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, Nor will the flame burn you. For I am the Lord your God…Since you are precious in My sight, Since you are honored and I love you…Do not fear, for I am with you…” Isa 43:1-5 NASU
God promises to be with us to uphold us. He promises that although we suffer, we will not be broken, and that He will never forsake us, and that we will endure because His grace is sufficient for us.
And yet maybe it’s here that this burning bush is really puzzling, because it’s the bush of ‘understanding’. Brothers and Sisters, the ‘want to understand’ has been an unseen stumbling-block in the spiritual walk of many believers, particularly this inclination to only respond to what we first understand. Granted, it ‘s a natural inclination in us all, this ‘want to first understand’ before we respond or obey. Strangely enough, our want to understand is kind of like medicine; the right dosage of it can be good and healthy, but an overdose can have really bad effects on us. Even Job, a man of righteous and great maturity asked God ‘why’ sixteen times about what was going on with his sufferings. It’s interesting that God didn’t answer Job’s ‘why’ to give him a better understanding about the issue of suffering, for what Job really needed was to gain a better understanding of ‘Who’; ‘Who’ was still sovereign even over a broken world of suffering; ‘Who’ was going through the suffering with Him; and ‘Who’ was going to make sure that Job would triumph over all these tragedies.
It’s strange, you know, how people tend to think that they respond to the degree that they understand. That is the stumbling-block. People understand that certain eating habits will be either healthy or unhealthy for them, but they often continue bad eating habits anyway. People understand the laws of the road or laws of the state, but they often break laws anyway. So no, people do not necessarily respond to the degree that they understand – rather they respond to the degree that they ‘fear’, and respect, and, reverence, and love.
It’s the same in our relationship with God. God does not command us to understand Him, but He does command us to fear Him. He doesn’t command us to understand His ways, but He does command us to obey Him and to walk in His ways. Deut 10:12-13- “Now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require from you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him, and to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the Lord’s commandments and His statutes which I am commanding you today for your good?” NASU We fear the Lord in His Godhood and we love the Lord in His Fatherhood. And we will respond to Him to the degree that we fear Him and love Him, even if we don’t understand all the ‘why’s about it all, or about all that’s going on in our lives. Plus, remember this: our peace is not found in understanding of ‘why’, but in our trusting in ‘Who’…and in responding and obeying ‘Who’ the Creator and Redeemer of our life is and trusting in the fact that since God understands what He is doing in and through our lives, we can rest in that.
Remember, this is the God who was willing, at great cost, to enter into our suffering. To Moses, Yahweh said, “I have seen the affliction of My people – and I have heard their cry, I know their suffering, and I have come down to deliver them.” This is a God who is not detached, not silent, not unfeeling about the hopes and fears of His people. This is a God who feels, cares, who will go to great extremes to get to you. Remember, He went to the cross for you. The Bible reminds us that while we were His enemies, He died for us…how much more now will He love and care for us as children of God?
And yet, we know that we still live in a world of thorn-bushes. But remember, it’s when you’re near the thorn-bush that God gets to you. Just when things are getting real tiresome, when the routine of it all is weighing on you, when the responsibilities and pressures are really beginning to prick you, maybe even when you least expect it, that’s when you notice the burning bush – and you realize that God has been right there with you all the time, trying to get to you, and wanting to help you.
That’s how it was with Moses, and in many ways, that’s how it will be for us, from now on and throughout this life – there will be burning bushes we won’t understand. And you will either go away from the bush in confusion and discouragement, or in commitment and determination, as did Moses. This difference will be – if you recognize God in it and obey His voice through it, realizing it’s the voice of our God and Father who is trying to get to us because we get to Him.