"Stand a Little Taller"#87-37
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on May 10, 2020
By Rev. Dr. Michael Zeigler, Lutheran Hour Speaker
Copyright 2020 Lutheran Hour Ministries
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Text: Exodus 18
"Yes, Mrs. Jackson," I said to my second-grade teacher.
"You have a special visitor."
"A visitor? Who is it?"
It was my dad.
Now you've got to put yourself in my shoes, in my size seven, 1980s, Velcro shoes. If your dad comes to your school to visit you in your class and you're in junior high, that's embarrassing. That's mortifying. But if your dad comes to visit when you're in the second grade, you feel like you are the most important person in the universe. And my dad came, and it wasn't just my dad, it was my dad with his video camera. Now in those days, dads didn't take videos with their phones. They didn't even carry phones. They took videos with shoulder-mounted equipment and a little eyepiece that functioned like a periscope. So in walks my dad with his vintage RCA Camcorder mounted on his shoulder, and the second-graders are going out of their mind. It was like a one man video crew for a History Channel documentary, and he came to visit me. And if you watch that documentary—if you went into my parents' attic and pulled the VHS tape out of the box and had some way to play it—you would see that I was standing a little taller that day.
Have you ever had someone come visit you at your school? And I don't mean some poor substitute. I mean somebody special to you, somebody who means something to you. How did that make you feel? That person, they didn't even have to do anything. They didn't even have to say anything. All they had to do was just be there with their gravitas, and they dignified you. They dignified the moment. It made you sit up a little straighter, stand a little taller, and that's how Moses felt that day. That day when he heard that his father-in-law, Jethro, was coming to visit the camp.
Now Moses, remember he's the guy that got appointed to bring the children of Israel out of slavery in Egypt. And we first get introduced to his father-in-law, Jethro, back in Exodus 2. Moses killed a man, and was on the run from Egypt, away from Pharaoh. And he comes to stay in the household of this pagan priest named Jethro—Jethro and his seven daughters. And Moses was content to stay in Jethro's household.
And in time Jethro, he gives his daughter Zipporah to Moses in marriage, and they start a family. Flash forward 40 years. And Moses has spent the last several months leading this people out of Egypt. He has led them through the wilderness, and they've gone long stretches without food and water, and they were ready to kill him at one point. And then there was this battle: the army of Amalek comes to attack them, and they got to fight for their lives. And Joshua's down there leading the battle, and Moses is up on the mountain, and he's got the staff of God in his hands and he's raising up his arms. And whenever he keeps his arms up, the people of Israel, they're winning. And whenever they start to droop, they're losing. And Moses, his arms are getting tired. And Aaron his brother comes with their sidekick, Hur, and they're holding up Moses' arms all day and into the night. And Israel wins, and they come into the camp at the mountain of God in the wilderness, and Moses is exhausted. But he is as psyched up as a second-grader, because his father-in-law, Jethro, is coming to visit.
Listen to how it goes in Exodus 18.
Then Jethro, the priest of Midian, Moses' father-in-law, he heard all that God had done for Moses, and for His people, Israel, and how the Lord had brought Israel out of Egypt. Now Jethro, Moses' father-in-law, had received Zipporah, Moses' wife, after Moses had sent her on ahead with her two sons. One of the sons was named Gershom, which means sojourner. Moses had said, "I have become a sojourner in a strange land." And the other son was named Eliezer, which means "God is my help," for Moses had said, "My father's God has become my helper. He saved me from the sword of Pharaoh."
So Jethro came, together with Moses' two sons and his wife, and they met Moses in the wilderness where he had camped, near the mountain of God. Jethro sent word ahead to Moses saying, "I, your father-in-law, Jethro, am coming to meet you, together with your wife and her two sons." And Moses met Jethro, and he bowed down to the ground, and he kissed him. And the two men, each of them, asked about each other's wellbeing, and they went into the tent. And Moses declared to his father-in-law all that the Lord had done to Pharaoh, and to the Egyptians, for Israel's sake, and about all the hardships they had met along the way, and how the Lord had saved them.
And Jethro delighted to hear all the good things that the Lord had done for Israel, and how He had saved them from the hand of the Egyptians. And Jethro declared "Blessed be the Lord who has saved you from the hand of Pharaoh, and from the hand of the Egyptians, and has saved the people from the hand of the Egyptians. Now I know that the Lord is greater than all other gods, because He did this to those who treated Israel arrogantly." Then Jethro, Moses' father-in-law, brought a burnt offering and other sacrifices to God, and Aaron came with all the elders of Israel, and they ate bread with Moses' father-in-law in the presence of God—in the presence of God.
And it happened the next day, Moses went out and took his seat to serve as judge, as leader for the people. And they stood around Moses all day from morning till evening. And when his father-in-law saw what Moses was doing for the people, he said to him, "What is this that you are doing? Why do you alone sit as judge, and all these people, they stand around you from morning till evening?" Moses answered him, "Because the people come to me, to seek God. Whenever they have a concern, it is brought to me, and I decide between one person and another, and make known to them God's decrees and instructions."
Jethro said to him, "What you are doing is not good. You, and all these people who come to you, you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you. You cannot bear it alone. Now listen to me, and I will advise you, and God be with you. You must be for the people, before God, and you bring their concerns to God, and teach them the decrees and the instructions and show them how they are to live, and the duties they are to perform, and choose capable men, men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain. And appoint them as leaders over thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens, and let them serve as judges for the people at all times, and have them bring the great matters to you, and the lesser concerns they can decide for themselves. Now that'll lighten your load because they'll share it with you. You do this and God will direct you, and you will be able to endure. And all these people, they will go to their place in peace."
And Moses listened. He did everything his father-in-law told him to do. He appointed leaders for the people, officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens, and they served as judges for the people at all times. And the great concerns they brought to Moses, and the lesser concerns they decided for themselves. And Moses sent his father-in-law on his way, and Jethro returned to his own land."
Imagine your father, or your father-in-law, comes to your work, and you spend the whole day showing him all the important things that you do. And the first thing he says to you is, "This is no good. Let me give you some advice." How would you react?
And you've got to put yourself in Moses' sandals. He's no spring chicken. He's 80 years old. He spent the first 40 years of his life being educated and trained in the court of Pharaoh, king of Egypt. And then he spent the next 40 years of his life getting hands-on wilderness survival training as a shepherd. And for the last few months he's been the appointed agent of God to topple the most powerful empire in the world, and then to lead a group of complaining people through the wilderness, through battles, with limited supplies of food and water. That's quite a track record. And yet Moses responds to criticism graciously. He's open to the idea that maybe the way he's doing things right now isn't the best way to do them. There's this character portrait of Moses captured in the book of Numbers 12:3. It says, "Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth."
A few years ago, I heard a man named Jerry Schemmel speak. Jerry had been the play-by-play announcer for the Denver Nuggets and later for the Colorado Rockies. When I heard him speak, the main thing he talked about was a defining moment in his life. Jerry had survived a plane crash. July 19, 1989, Flight 232 crash landed, killing 112 passengers. But Jerry survived, and he wrote about it. He told his story in a book titled Chosen to Live.
And Jerry talked to us that night about how he believed God had chosen him to live, and not just survive a plane crash, but to truly live, to live through God, and for God, and in the presence of God. And Jerry's up there talking. And he is radiating this humble, purposeful gratitude, that God had saved him, not just to survive, but to truly live. Jerry talked like a man who's been in the presence of God.
You and I were made for that, to live in the presence of God. When you look around this world and you see problems. And you look in your heart, and you see more problems. And the Bible tells the story of how this came to be. And it makes the claim that the source of all our problems is that humankind has turned away from the presence of God, for some poor substitute. And when you do this, it does bad things to you. It corrupts you. And so to save us from this hell God shows a peculiar people to be present with, the people of Israel. But Israel, as it turned out, was just like the rest of us. And they kept looking for substitutes for the living God. And even when God Himself became the Word of God, the presence of God, the Son of God: Jesus, when He came, they looked for a substitute. And it was the most religious, the most powerful among them, that wanted something else, wanted someone else. And Jesus kept insisting that that for Him there was no substitute. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. And because He kept insisting on this, they had Him crucified. And even those who were following Him and trusted in Him, when He was dead, they went back to looking for substitutes.
And then God raised Jesus from the dead. And when He did so He opened up the way for you, for your old self, your corrupted self, your worst self, to die in Him. So that a new self, your best self, could come to life in Him, in His presence. And the way to this life is called Baptism into the death and resurrection of Jesus. The power of this life is the Spirit of the risen Jesus. The walk of this life is called faith, and the people that you walk with, that's called the church.
What does this life look like? It looks like Moses in Exodus 18. You live in the presence of God, and it'll change you. He will change you. God changed Moses. People could see it. He radiated this aura. Now you've been around somebody like that, somebody who just radiates this aura of peace, a person of presence. When I was in the military, I worked for an officer who could bring peace simply by being there. She had this aura; she gave off these vibes of calm and confidence, and when she was there in the room, we were like, "Yeah, we can do this. We got this." And that's the kind of person Moses was. He gave off these vibes of a man who's been in the presence of God, and people wanted to be around him.
But God does not want to limit His presence to just one person. Besides, a merely human person cannot handle that kind of pressure. Moses, even Moses, would crack under the pressure. And many prophets and priests and kings of Israel cracked under the pressure of it. It wasn't until God Himself came, Jesus, true God, and true Man, and He does not limit God's presence. He shares it, and because of Him you can turn away from your substitutes, and come into His presence, and He will pour the Spirit of the living God into you.
And then you and I, we will be able to say with the apostle Paul, "We have this treasure in earthen vessels so that we might show that this surpassing power is not from us, but from God." And you'll be able to say with Paul, "I have been crucified with Christ. I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live now in the body, I live by faith, in the Son of God who loved me, and who gave Himself for me." And then you will bring people into the presence of the living God simply by being there—because Jesus has come to be your Substitute. He lives in you, and you make me want to stand up a little taller.
Would you pray with me?
O Lord, blessed is the one who comes into Your presence. Blessed are those whose strength is in You. They go from strength to strength as they appear before You. And so hear our prayer, be our sun and our shield, that we might walk up rightly through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Note: The Lutheran Hour is produced for the ear and designed to be heard. If you are able, we encourage you to listen to the audio at lutheranhour.org. It includes emotion and emphasis not reflected in the transcript.
Reflections for May 10, 2020
Title: Stand a Little Taller
Mark Eischer: Bringing you the assurance of God's presence and the power of God's Word during these days of uncertainty, you're listening to The Lutheran Hour. For free online resources, archived audio, our mobile app, and much more, visit our website, lutheranhour.org. Now, back to our Speaker, Dr. Michael Zeigler.
Mike Zeigler: Thank you, Mark. On July 19th, 1989, Flight 232 crash landed at Sioux City, Iowa. Of the 296 passengers onboard, 112 died in the crash. 184 survived. Jerry Schemmel, whom I mentioned in today's message, was one of the survivors, and he tells the story of his experience in his book Chosen to Live. Thank you for speaking with me today, Jerry.
Jerry Schemmel: My pleasure, Michael. Thanks for having me.
Mike Zeigler: So Jerry, after the crash, you write in your book that you continued your career in sportscasting. You went on to broadcast for the Denver Nuggets for 18 seasons and with the Colorado Rockies for 10 seasons. What was something that you loved about broadcasting?
Jerry Schemmel: The energy and the excitement, the emotion of being in a game. For me, it's just fun. I think especially in the NBA, baseball's a little slower as we know. But the NBA is an energetic, enthusiastic, physical type of game, and there's a lot of energy in the building, and I enjoyed that, number one. What I enjoyed more, I think, was being the eyes of that listener. Them not being able to experience that energy and that enthusiasm and all the crowd and all that, but I could be their eyes and I could portray that, I could paint the picture for them. So that was a great challenge for me. I enjoyed being in that environment, but I especially enjoyed describing that environment, people couldn't see it.
Mike Zeigler: Channeling that energy.
Jerry Schemmel: Yeah. Yeah, exactly.
Mike Zeigler: Now, Jerry, I mentioned that I had seen you speak at a conference about five years ago, and then I've also looked through your book, Chosen to Live. And in that book you share that after this plane crash of Flight 232, you personally struggled with a feeling of uncertainty about the future and even a sense of life's meaninglessness. But during that time, you also shared that your wife spoke these words that that had such an impact on you. She told you at one point, "I get my strength from God." Why do you think her words had such an impact on you?
Jerry Schemmel: That was really the only thing that made any sense to me because I was grasping. I was looking for something to hold onto, something to come out of depression and all this stuff that I was going through after this crash. And she said that something, I think the timing of it, the words, her history, her background, our relationship, that all came together at one point in that statement where I thought—you know what—I'm going to sit up and finally listen to my wife after 10 months of this plane crash when I was definitely tuning her out before that.
Mike Zeigler: As I read your book, you make it clear again and again, as you said, we don't have the answers, you know that God's will is a mystery and so often beyond our understanding and it's not our place to explain why God permits tragedies in our lives. But at the same time, you make it clear that you believe that God has used this tragedy for good. Now, I'm wondering as people now in this coronavirus time and in the aftermath of it, in this pandemic, and they look for direction and they look for meaning in life, what would you want to say to them?
Jerry Schemmel: I think God has a message in this for everybody and the message might be different for everybody else. It might be He's trying to pull us closer to His Son through this or He's trying to mend a relationship or He's trying to get us to start to take advantage of things in life or take them for granted. I think there's a message for every single person through this pandemic as the whole world has been affected by it. It's almost unprecedented. There is something there that God is up to. I think it's different for each one of us, but I think it's our job as well to try to figure out what that is. Eventually, we might not see it right away, but eventually we hopefully will see something God has given to us here.
Mike Zeigler: I remember in the talk that night I heard you five years ago, and maybe this isn't an answer to "Why did I survive?" but at least to this larger question that all of us ask of "Why am I here?" as I recall, your clear answer was that "to serve the Lord. This is why I'm here, to give my whole life in service to Him."
Jerry Schemmel: Yeah.
Mike Zeigler: What new insights—now it's been 30-plus years since this crash, you've been serving the Lord in that time—that have you learned in this long walk still that the Lord has given you?
Jerry Schemmel: I think it comes down to this, Michael, it comes down to, I'm here to give God glory, number one, and point people toward His Son. So I look back at this crash now, and it took me a while to get here; I look back at the crash, and I see God saying to me, "Jerry, I finally got your attention. It took (like you said) 30 years and a plane crash, but I finally got your attention. And now that I have it, I want to tell you about my son. And more importantly, I want you to spend the rest of your life telling other people about My Son." I think that's why I survived that crash, so I can do this, so I can talk with you and tell other people about His Son.
Mike Zeigler: Well, thank you for answering that call, Jerry. It's been a delight to talk to you. You stay safe there in Colorado, and God bless you.
Jerry Schemmel: All right. Okay, thank you very much. I enjoyed it. Thanks for having me on.
Mike Zeigler: All right, take care.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"At the Lamb's High Feast We Sing" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)