Friday, March 2, 2012

Escaping Our Excuses - Exodus 4

First read Exodus 4:1-17.

    We’ve all used excuses a time or two, and sometimes they’ve even been true.  This week I scoured the internet to find some of the worst excuses of all time.  These are the top ten excuses people gave for missing work or school.
10. I'm still drunk from last night.
9. I am stuck in the blood pressure machine at the pharmacy.
8. I tried to dye my hair blonde, but it came out green!
7. I won't be able to come to work next week.  We’re trying for a baby, and the doctor     says next week is the best chance.
6. The train had a flat tire.
5. My boyfriend has a 111 degree temperature (44 celsius). 
4. I can’t come to school today because my brain is full.
3. Please excuse Henry for being late. He was stuck in the bathroom without any toilet     paper.
2.  [This one is the runner-up for being crazy but true.]  Her cat was bleeding all over the     place.  An abscess in it’s belly exploded.  But the vet really helped out and wrote     her an official excuse: “Please excuse Sheryl for being late to work today. Her cat     had a hole in it.”
1. [This one gets the grand prize for the follow-up plan.]  I was playing fetch with my     dog, and the ball took a bad hop and broke a window.  When I went to check out     the damage, I stepped on a big piece of glass and cut my foot really bad, so I     can’t work today.  ...  The trick to making this excuse stick -- he put a pebble in     my shoe for the next couple of work days to remind him to walk gingerly due to     his "stitches."

    We all have excuses.  Some are better than others, but we all have them.  Sometimes we use them to get out of work.  Sometimes we use them to make up for our failures.  Sometimes we use them to avoid God. 
    Here’s the thing about our excuses.  We think they are going to get us what we want.  But in reality, our excuses just form traps to keep us in our selfishness, irresponsibility, or unhealthy lifestyles.  If we want to really be free, we have to escape our excuses.  Our excuses keep us stuck in the status quo, but God calls us into the adventures of the unknown future. 

    In our passage today, God is calling Moses to take a special place in God’s mission of redemption.  Moses has a comfortable life as a shepherd in Midian.  Moses has married the daughter of a powerful leader, and he has a son.  But God is calling him to step out into the unknown territory of God’s mission in the world.
    Moses’ three responses in today’s text are very similar to the excuses that we use.  Let’s work through them one by one.

    Moses’ first excuse was: People won’t understand.  What will everyone else think God?  God if I follow you, people will think I’m crazy.  God, if I do this thing that is counter-cultural, other people just won’t understand. 
    Moses’ first concern today isn’t that Pharaoh won’t listen.  He’s concerned that his own people won’t listen to him.  “What if they won’t believe me or listen to me?  What if they say, ‘The LORD has not appeared to you’?” (4:1).
    Here’s the interesting part of this story.  There is no guarantee how people will respond.  Even God says, “If they do not believe you or pay attention to the first sign, they may believe the second.  But if they do not believe these two signs or listen to you,” then do this other sign (4:8-9).  If we keep reading in the story, we see that sometimes the people believe Moses (4:31), and sometimes they don’t (5:21). 
    The basic truth here is simple.  Other people’s response does not change our responsibility.  Other people may be faithful or unfaithful.  Other people may understand or misunderstand.  Other people may work with us or against us.  But God still calls us to be faithful.
    The “people won’t understand” excuse feels like it frees us from a socially difficult task.  However, it actually makes us slaves to the opinions of others.  If we live in fear of what others will think, then we will never love and create and live in the freedom of true children of God.  If we limit ourselves to the capacity of others to understand our actions, then we are building a very small box for our world.
    Listen to the freedom in this poem that was posted on the wall of Mother Theresa’s bedroom.  Matt has read this to us before, but it bears repeating.
People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered.  Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish ulterior motives.  Be kind anyway. ...
If you are honest and sincere, people may deceive you.  Be honest and sincere anyway. ...
The good you do today will often be forgotten.  Do good anyway.
Give the best you have, and it will never be enough.  Give your best anyway.1

    God calls us to his mission of loving redemption.  If you follow God into freedom and redemption, people won’t always understand.   Follow God anyway!  The alternative is a small, unkind, bitter, closed-off life.  It’s far better to be free and open and loving and kind and good.  Who cares if they don’t understand if we’re living that kind of beautiful life!?!  Other people may not understand, but God will.

    Moses’ second excuse is just as common: I’m not good enough.  “O Lord, I’m not very good with words.  I never have been, and I’m not now, even though you have spoken to me.  I get tongue-tied, and my words get tangled” (4:10).  Some people think that Moses had a speech disorder.  Other people speculate that he may simply have been out of Egypt so long that he had forgotten how to speak Egyptian well. The Hebrew here simply says Moses had a “heavy tongue.”
    I think we can all resonate with having a heavy tongue - especially as we try to speak in a second language.  We know what we want to say - but - we - just - can’t - get - the - words - to - come - out - right. 
    There are 1001 ways in which we might feel “not good enough.”
I don’t speak English well enough.
I don’t speak Korean well enough.
I’m not smart enough.
I’m not brave enough.
I’m not pretty enough.
I’m not holy enough.
I don’t know enough about the Bible.
I’m not old enough.
    God calls us to his mission of loving redemption, but we say, “Sorry, God, I’m not good enough.”  Here’s the beauty of God’s call. 
God’s mission doesn’t depend on our goodness.  God gives us his goodness.
God’s mission doesn’t depend on our power or ability.  God gives us his power.
God’s mission doesn’t depend on our love and unselfishness.  God gives us his love.
    Absolutely, we aren’t good enough.  We are weak, broken, selfish sinners.  It’s true.  If God’s mission depends on us, our whole world is in big trouble.  But there’s good news.  Jesus came to our broken world and lived a perfect life.  He died and was raised so that we can share his life.  Now, if we will just admit our sin and brokenness and trust in God’s love and goodness, then God can fill us with all of his power and goodness and love.  Then, we become “wounded healers” joining with God in this great mission of redemption. 
    If we stay in the world of “not good enough,” our lives become either a downward spiral or a stagnant pool.  But if we trust in Jesus and escape that excuse, we find out that God loves us completely - exactly as we are.  Then, we are set free to share his love with others in our daily tasks and in leadership roles in the church and in dramatic movements like mission trips to Bangladesh.  We aren’t good enough, but God is.

    Moses’ last excuse may be the most common of all.  It’s somebody else’s job.  Of course, Moses puts it more politely and with more desperation: “Lord, please!  Send anyone else!” (4:13). 
    We can go through life walking past God’s calling.  That’s not my job.  That’s not my calling.  Somebody else will do that.  Somebody else will take care of that.  See you later!   Moses had a load of excuses, and his final “excuse” was just a desperate plea that God ask somebody else. 
    It reminds me of the story of the four people:  Everybody, Somebody, Anybody and Nobody.
There was an important job to be done
And Everybody was asked to do it.
Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it.
Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did.
Somebody got angry about that because it was Everybody's job.
Everybody knew that Anybody could do it,
but Nobody realized that Somebody wouldn't do it.
And Everybody blamed Somebody
because Nobody did what Anybody could have done.2
    If we live the world of the “somebody else” excuse, then, everybody waits on somebody to do something that anybody can do.  In the end - pardon the grammar - nobody does nothing!  The “somebody” else excuse makes us slaves to our own sense of irresponsibility.  “It’s not my job!”  But the problem is that every other guy is saying the same thing. 
    God calls us out of that land of blah, into the land of free and joyful work for the mission of redemption.  God calls you!  Yes, you.  You have a role to play - in your family, in your school or workplace, in your church, in your world.  We need you.  God wants to work in you and through you.  God can’t work through somebody else like he can work through you.  We need your voice, your hands, your mind, your heart.  We need you.  Our world needs you.  God’s great and beautiful mission of loving redemption needs you.  This is your burning bush.  We may want to send somebody else, but God wants to send us!

    Our excuses sound like the path to freedom.  They sound so good.  We think they will give us the freedom to relax, to be ourselves, to rest easy, and to enjoy life.  But our excuses are actually part of our chains.  Our excuses keep us stuck in the old ways of worrying about what others think, wallowing in our own self-pity, and hiding from own responsibility and callings.  Our excuses hide us from joy and real life. 
    This season during Lent, my prayer for us is that God will set us free to join him in his great mission of loving redemption.  Jesus died for us.  Jesus lives for us.  We can be free of our sin and excuses.  We can be forgiven and transformed, and that mission is powerfully beautifully good -- better than all our excuses. 

    I’ve been thinking about a poem Arnelle Hellbling wrote in meditation on Exodus 2.  It’s called “Deliverance.”
I did not know that petulance would smolder into searing loss, nor that flames of
     earthly sorrow rampage beyond the flesh and torch the soul.
I did not know that soul-fire can condense all human anguish into one consuming
     cry for You, Lord. Only You.
I did not know, but God knew.
And in His presence, peace and hope and comfort wrap me, hold me in divine
     embrace. On wings of music, healing light - More than delivered from,
     delivered to.
I did not know! But God knew.   

    God’s redemption is more than deliverance from our sin and excuses.  God delivers us to his love and peace and presence.  Let God deliver you.
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