I wonder if you’ve ever asked yourself a question and had it roll around in your mind so many times that it almost came to the point of being of vexation to you. Pondering a question you couldn’t answer. I had that happen to me a few years ago and I like to study the subject of leadership, and I know how important vision is to leadership, and one day I started asking myself the question “what precedes vision?” What is it that happens in the heart of a fired up Christ follower that moves her or him into action, that gets them up off the couch, that gets them moving toward addressing a great cause or need in this world? Vision comes later, you know, that’s when you’re putting the strategy and painting the picture of the future for the followers, but where does it all begin really? What is it that inspires anybody to do anything with regard to achieving good in this world?
While I was tossing that question around in my head, I was reading a part of the bible that some of you are familiar with. It’s out of the Old Testament area of the bible and it was about Moses who in fact was a great leader, and Moses one day went out to see where his own people were working. Moses, you know, was a Hebrew. He was a Jew. He’d been raised in Egypt, however, by the Pharaoh’s daughter, he was educated there, he was accustomed to the privileges of growing up in Pharaoh’s family. But he knew he was Jewish and in those days, the Jews were in Egyptian captivity and the Egyptians had subjected the Jews to merciless labor. So Moses decides he’s going to go watch his own people labor and the story says that while Moses goes out to watch the people labor, the Jews labor, he saw an Egyptian beating, physically beating a Jew.
Now I want to stop for a moment and ask a question I hope that most of you can answer. I wonder when’s the last time any of you saw up close and personal a physical beating. I’ve only ever seen one in my life. It happened when I was in high school. It happened so fast I couldn’t stop it until it was almost too late. I had a locker mate, just a few locker doors down, he was putting his books away, one of the largest kids in the school came by, knocked the kid’s books out of his hands and said pick them up. And when the kid bent over to pick up the books, this older violent man said terrible things while my student friend was picking up those books and when he got them back up in his arms so that his arms were busy and he could not protect himself, within just a couple of seconds, this bully kid wound up and hit my locker mate in the face, three or four times, so fast, again those of us standing around – we didn’t know it was going to happen and it happened so fast we couldn’t react quickly enough to stop it. And I will never forget the sound of breaking teeth and the visual of blood splattering up on the locker behind this kids’ face. I’ll never forget looking down and seeing the blood splatter on the white terrazzo floor and it was one of the most unnerving up close things that had ever happened to me in my life. When we finally figured out what was going on and what his intent was, we dropped our books and we hauled this kid off, the other guy, but by that time it was too late. A lot of damage had been done to our locker mate. Those sounds and that sight has stayed with me all my life and it sickens me to this day.
Well Moses is watching what I watched that day in high school. He’s watching an Egyptian, probably with some instrument of cruelty and he’s beating a Jew to death, at least that’s what we’re led to believe. And Moses watches it for awhile and then he can’t stand it anymore. And he decides to defend his fellow Hebrew brother. And so he jumps into the fight and he winds up fighting this Egyptian soldier to the death. He defends himself and his friend and eventually the one who started the fight died. It says in the scriptures that Moses buried him in the sand.
In the same section of scripture, the very next day, Moses goes out again and he’s going to watch the people who are working again and this time he sees two Hebrew’s, two fellow Jews and they’re in a fight and they’re beating each other. Moses runs up to them and hauls them off each other and screams why! Why would you do this?! And its one thing if those in authority over us are beating us and it’s a terrible thing, it should never happen, and here we are of the same country, don’t fight with each other, Moses says. And I think Moses just saw all of the oppression and frustration going on in the lives of the enslaved Hebrews and it was about all he could stand but he stopped that fight.
A few frames forward, Moses encounters the burning bush and it was at that burning bush that something happened that would change Moses forever. The scripture says in Exodus 3:7, God speaks to Moses and says “I have seen the misery of My people in Egypt.” Moses you think you’ve seen some bad stuff, you’ve seen some oppression, you’ve seen some beating and blood shed, I have seen it from heaven. I have seen the misery of My people in Egypt and I have heard their cries. I am concerned about their suffering and I’m going to rescue them. Then verse 10 of Exodus 3, “And I am going to use you. I am going to use you to do it.” Now listen to me very closely. If you get nothing else from what I say in this service, please get this. I think what’s really happening is that God is saying Moses what you saw that day in the physical violence, which made you so unbelievably frustrated and angry, what you saw and heard that day that frustrated you on earth, I saw all of that in heaven, I heard that suffering, I heard the cries and I can’t stand it in heaven either. I’m stirred in My spirit and I’m going to intervene, clean up this mess on planet earth, but I’m going to use you to do it in part because I see a passion in your life. I call this concept holy discontent. When a Christ follower sees some injustice in society and it wrecks them. It bothers them. It upsets them internally and they say I just can’t stand watching that and then the whisper comes from God. Here we are in heaven and we hate it, too. The power of God and the power of the frustrated one on earth, maybe that’s supposed to give life to something new to solve that problem.
Let me come at this a totally different way. In my day growing up in the United States, all kids my age watched a particular cartoon. The celebrity on this particular cartoon was a sailor guy named Popeye: Popeye the sailor man. Do any of you remember his girlfriend’s name? Olive Oil, I’m impressed. I’m very impressed. And she was something, wasn’t she? She made men whistle and dogs bark. But sometimes in some of these episodes, someone would threaten the well being of Olive Oil. Popeye would be easy going about it until the point when it started to look ominous and if it started to look like something terrible was going to happen to his beloved Olive Oil, then Popeye would feel his blood pressure rise and his pulse would race and then he would say a phrase that got embedded in the language of almost everyone my age in the United States growing up watching this show, he would get to that point where he would say “that’s all I can stands, I can’t stands no more.” And then he would open up a can of what vegetable? Spinach and he would eat it in one big gulp and it would turn his forearms into weapons and then he would crush the opposition and he would save Olive Oil from distress. And at the end he would say “I’m strong to the finish because I eat my spinach. I’m Popeye the sailor man.” I’m very impressed with the intellectual rigor of the home crowd. That famous line, “that’s all I can stand, I can’t stand anymore.”
Moses couldn’t stand seeing fellow Hebrews being oppressed and beaten. He just couldn’t stand it. Now I ask you a question that I’m going to ask you several more times before I close this sermon. And I’m dead serious about it. What can’t you stand? What, when you see it in this world, wrecks you? What when you see it on television, when you see it in the community, when you see it in the inner city, when you see it at school, when you see it around a church, when you see it in business, what is it that you can’t stand and affects you perhaps more than it does anybody else but you know it affects you deeply. And did it ever occur to you that your holy discontent might be precisely the kind of discontent that Moses experienced, expressed to God and that God joined him in to liberate an enslaved group of people?
Think of King David. King David used to bring food to his brothers. While his brothers were on the battle field, there was a giant named Goliath who was trash talking God day in and day out, trash talking the holy God. It didn’t bother David’s brothers, it wrecked David. David said how can you stand this? He’s blaspheming our great God. And one day he said that’s all I can stand’s, I can’t stands no more. And he gets a sling shot and he runs full speed, he’s going to go at the enemy. He doesn’t even know how it’s going to come out but that’s all he could stand. He couldn’t stand anymore. I think of Martin Luther King in the United States, 50 or 60 years ago. He can’t stand the whites only signs on the drinking fountains, the bathrooms, he can’t stand that blacks are always pushed to the back of the bus and back to the educational opportunities, back of the employment and housing lines, and finally there came a holy discontent in him to the point where he said in the privacy of his own soul, that’s all I can stand, I can’t stands no more. And he knew that his activism would probably cost him his life and in fact it did, but his holy discontent wouldn’t let him live otherwise.
I was on the board of World Vision; it’s a fantastic organization that feeds starving children in the name of Christ. I was on that board for many years and that’s where I heard the story of the founder of World Vision. A business guy from this area, actually, who was over in a far away place, monitoring a food line where a lot of little kids were being fed and it was a very hot day, and there hadn’t been much food and this man named Bob Pierce is going along the food line and he sees some of the tiny little children keeling over, some were fainting, many were dying right there in front of his eyes. And he gets all upset and he runs to the front of the food line and he says you have to serve the food faster! And that’s when the people at the front of the line said we have no food. He said what? Said we’re out of food. And he looked back at this whole line of kids and that was his Popeye moment. He stood there and he said that’s all I can stand. I can’t stand no more. And he got on a plane and he flew back and he and some buddies started raising money for starving children and that gave birth to an organization called World Vision, which now feeds millions of starving children in the name of Christ, and all of that great work that’s going on all over the world now can be traced back to a single guy at a single point in time who says that’s all I can stand, I can’t stand anymore. And heaven met him at that time, said we can’t stand it either. Let’s go.
I look back at my own life. I grew up in a church I couldn’t stand. I’m not saying they weren’t great people, but we were this ingrown little group of people who wanted to sing our hymns, and stay close to each other. There were people far from God whose lives were falling apart and they were a nine iron golf shot away from our parking lot at our little Dutch church. We never lifted a finger to reach them. We were the quintessential, comfortable, convenience oriented casual Christians who met to meet, who then took seven days off and met to meet again. And it did something terrible in me. Later on in my life, I was introduced to a professor of theology who described how a church ought to be, what a New Testament Acts II church should be, he told me about the power and the beauty and the potential of a local church and when I juxtaposed what I had seen all my life into what should happen, I just remembered well that’s all I can stand, I can’t stands no more. I have to give myself to the planting and the development of an Acts II church if it kills me because I can’t stand the dissonance and the not knowing might this work, let’s see.
May I ask you again, it’s more important than asking me. What can’t you stand? What is it when you see it, it hurts you more than it hurts your spouse or your kids; you lay awake nights more about it more than other people do. What is it? Is it racism, is it homelessness, is it abused children, is it extreme poverty, is it AIDS, is it immoral business practices, is it businesses that operate unethically and treat their customers poorly? Is it the sick that don’t receive care? Is it under challenged young people who are drifting further and further from God? Is it a dysfunctional church? What is it? It’s very important that you figure this out because it could very well be what wrecks you is supposed to lead you to that that’s it, I can’t stand it anymore Popeye moment, where then heaven and earth get fused together and that firestorm of frustration in you gets ignited by the powers of heaven and you’ll move forward in ways that will change the world.
Let me give you four quick observations about this holy discontent thing and then I’ll close you in prayer. First: while it is important for Christ followers to have a social conscience about everything that’s wrong in this world, there is a unique holy discontent that God probably means for you to prioritize. By that I mean when all of us watch CNN, when we’re reading the newspaper and we understand that what’s going on in certain parts of Africa and a hurricane in another part of the world, some of the problems in the inner city, if you have a conscience at all, and it’s a conscience that’s been softened by Jesus Christ, these things should affect your heart and they should cause some movement and even some check writing or maybe some volunteering but I make a distinction between those kind of general heart touching needs in this world and that unique kind of need that just breaks you inside, where you go that one I can’t stand watching. That one’s my assignment to solve. That one I think God is wired me up to address and to give the rest of my life to, either vocationally or a-vocationally. Please take the time to differentiate from all the needs in the world what is your unique holy discontent.
My second observation on this is if you try doing that for awhile and you say well one of those just doesn’t come to my mind that easily. I try but I can’t identify it and my piece of counsel to you on this is don’t give up too soon. Don’t give up too soon. I tell particularly Christian leaders who I’ve talked to about this kind of thing before, maybe you need to change environments, visit other ministries or churches, go to certain hospitals or inner cities. Venture in places where you’ve never gone before. Serve in an AIDS clinic. Built a Habitat for Humanity House. Do something that exposes you front and center. I mean get your hands dirty to the needs of this world and don’t be surprised as you do this with open hands before God, if He doesn’t actually just grab a hold of you at some point and say this is it! This is what you can’t stand and I’m going to use you powerfully to rectify this situation for the rest of your life.
Here’s a third, rather counterintuitive piece of counsel for you regarding holy discontent. When you find it, and you start to act on it, feed it. Feed your holy discontent. By that I mean if perhaps your holy discontent is the plight of the poor. Then slowly increase your exposure to people who are caught up in the cycle of generational poverty. Get around it in fresh ways. Smell and feel and be reintroduced all over again to the horrors of global poverty and the kind that young people die in every single day. It probably comes as no surprise to you that my major holy discontent is dysfunctional and dying churches. They drive me crazy. It doesn’t bother me so much when I drive by a business outfit that tried a new product for a year or two and that didn’t work so they’re going to sell the building. You go by a hot dog stand that didn’t work out and so the for sale sign’s on it. I know that happens and I don’t wish that on anybody but it doesn’t wreck me. When I go by a church that was once filled with people where the activity of God was dynamic and transforming, where God was changing lives and marriages were being brought together and kids were finding Christ and the work of God was really happening, but then something happened or someone left, some problem occurred and the church started to go down and down and then there was that day when they held the last board meeting and they decided to shut the lights out and put a for sale sign on it. I’m telling you friends, I drive by churches with for sale sign’s on them and it wrecks me. So one of the ways I feed my holy discontent is several times a year I go to churches mainly in the underdeveloped world that are really struggling. I just came back from a group of them in Ghana and in Nigeria and in Egypt and so churches that have to meet in little hovel places where they’re fighting resistive governments and so when I meet with these church leaders and oh does that fire me up to want to bless them and help them, train their leaders and flow resources to them. Whatever your holy discontent is, make sure you get around it enough that you feed into it the kind of firestorm of energy that God will use and reuse to bring resolve to this someday.
The last thing I’ll say about your holy discontent is that as you give your life to this make sure you don’t lose hope along the way. Working in areas of holy discontentment can take a lot out of you. Martin Luther King came to the point of total exhaustion many times as have many other leaders who have given themselves to try to make something right in the world that’s gone way wrong. It’s very important that you keep hope alive, that you feed your soul so that you live with a faith based optimism so that your shoulders are erect and so your followers can sense your God based optimism and they kind of keep going, following you and the effort. You know what happens when people lose hope.
One of the most difficult funeral services I’ve ever done in my life was my son’s best friend, not that long ago, who was killed in an automobile accident. And the family of the young man who was my friend’s son are wonderful, wonderful people. Some of the finest people I know, but they’ve never been close to God. And this was by far the biggest tragedy in their life. They had no pastor to turn to, no Christian friends to turn to really, so I did the funeral. It was one of the toughest I’ve ever done. When we were at the cemetery and we were lowering that young man’s body into the ground, the father of that son who was being lowered into the ground, got up off his chair in front of the casket and started to seek me out because I had gone to stand by my family, maybe ten or fifteen yards away. And he couldn’t find me right away and he was walking all over and people wondered what was he doing and you know he eventually found me and he walked right up to me, a business guy, not given to emotion, and he threw his arms around me and he said words I’ll never forget. He said “Bill it just can’t end like this.” What was he saying? Life can’t end with death and then no hope. Life makes no sense if there’s not a resurrection and the possibility to be reunited with my son someday. It just cannot end like this. I didn’t know what to do but the spirit of God led me, I kept my arm around him, I went back from the casket and I said “Clark’s dad has asked me if I would say one more prayer before we go.” And he sat back down and I prayed a prayer that was unpracticed, of course, and spirit led; I couldn’t assess any other power to what came out of my mouth for about three minutes but it was a prayer all about hope: The power of hope, the power of Christ, the power of knowing that you can live after you die. The power of knowing that with the spirit of God at work, things in this world can be different and tomorrow can be a lot better than today.
One of the reasons I’ve loved the Hour of Power for almost four decades is if there’s one television show I can count on receiving hope from, it’s been this particular television show and this particular congregation. You have no idea the hope that you’ve inspired and why so many people click on that button, they’re looking for hope; they know it can’t end like this.
Now in my final words, I say to you unashamedly our ultimate hope is not in a religion, it’s not in a program, its not in a creed, its not in a bunch of religious hoops, our ultimate hope is in a person. The person is Jesus Christ. He is who He said He was. He did what He said He would do. And He loves you and His hand is extended to you. And no matter where you’ve been, what size hole you’ve dug for yourself with sin and wandering, He’ll reach in, He’ll take you and He’ll lift you out and He’ll walk with you toward a different future and toward a different eternity. But that’s where hope comes from. That’s who the originator and the sustainer of hope in this life is Jesus Christ and I commend Him to you this day. Let’s pray:
God help us discover what our holy discontent might be. Might You join us in it and together might we fix so much of what’s broken in this world. Keep our eyes and our hope on the hope giving one, Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray, and everyone agreed and said, Amen.