In the video series and book we’re following, Dare to Dream, Pastor Mike Slaughter is helping us define our BHAG – our Big Hairy Audacious God-Purpose.
Last week, we looked at how Moses stumbled into a conversation with God in the burning bush. In that moment, everything changed for Moses. After a huge moral failure and then many years of life on the run, just when he thought he had retired, God had a huge purpose for Moses. Out in the middle of nowhere, when he least expected it, God got his attention and changed his course. God does that. You thought you were done, but God had other ideas.
This week’s chapter of Dare to Dream is called, “Lose Your Big Buts.” I prefer to say… Lose your excuses! Here is this week’s video…
Do you have a favorite excuse for not doing something you know that you should? I confess, I have trouble with making the time to exercise. Too many other important things to do! And I confess, I’ve found excuses sometimes to avoid things that God might want me to do.
The bush is still burning as God speaks to Moses and Moses gets his mission, his marching orders, his purpose.
Exodus 3:7-15. 7 Then the Lord said, ‘I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, 8and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. 9The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. 10So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.’ 11But Moses said to God, ‘Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?’ 12He said, ‘I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain.’
13 But Moses said to God, ‘If I come to the Israelites and say to them, “The God of your ancestors has sent me to you”, and they ask me, “What is his name?” what shall I say to them?’ 14God said to Moses, ‘I am who I am.’ He said further, ‘Thus you shall say to the Israelites, “I am has sent me to you.” ’ 15God also said to Moses, ‘Thus you shall say to the Israelites, “The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you”: This is my name for ever, and this my title for all generations.
The bush is still burning when Moses asks, “But who am I?” Great question that countless people have asked themselves, asked other people, asked God. Given any kind of remotely daunting situation, I’ve asked that of myself. We’ll come back to that question. In spite of whatever Moses thinks of himself, it doesn’t sound like God is going to take no for an answer. Listen to how God moves through his purpose; listen to the logic of God. Speaking from the bush, God says…
I have observed the misery of my people.
God is not blind to what is going on. God sees misery. Maybe you think God just doesn’t notice the pain that any of us are going through. Then God says…
I have heard their cry.
God is not deaf. God listens and God cares. What did God hear? Their cry. God was waiting by the phone for some contact!
I know their sufferings.
God doesn’t just see and hear; God knows. God has empathy. God is there with the suffering. God knows.I have come down to deliver them.
God doesn’t just see and hear and know, God acts. God enters the picture. If you look back in the story, the Hebrew people were invited guests of the Egyptians during the time of Jacob and Joseph. Now they are slaves; captives with no way out. When things seem most hopeless, God comes; God becomes present.
I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them
God names the oppressor – these are not mystery villains. It’s the Egyptians. They have a name. These were real people in real history.
As I’ve mentioned, workers just dug up a colossal statue of one of the Pharaohs that Moses might have known. Ramses the Great built huge buildings and conquered a lot of people. God came to save the Hebrew people at the height of Egyptian power and culture. They were a formidable enemy.
God’s people still have enemies. I know you know that people in so many places experience misery and oppression. These enemies can be named. Hunger, illness, emptiness, addiction, depression, hopelessness. It’s as close as next door. No, it’s closer. There is someone in the room who is experiencing some kind of misery; you can count on it. They wonder if God is watching, if God is listening, if God knows. The answer is yes, and remember, Moses was not in such a good place himself when God says…
So come, I will send you.
The people God loves are oppressed by a huge enemy and someone needs to go. That’s you, Moses.
Scripture doesn’t mention if Moses asked God to repeat that. I’m sorry, voice coming out of the bush, I thought I just heard you say, “I will send you.” Send me? You can’t be serious. Until 30 seconds before, Moses wasn’t even aware of God.
God gets it and in spite of Moses’ lack of previous theological engagement, and lack of deep spiritual content, God still had a purpose for Moses, and God has a purpose for us, a purpose for St. Paul’s. Moses is not the world’s idea of an ideal leader and he knows it. None of us are perfect ambassadors for God. So Moses has a logical reaction.
But Moses said to God, ‘Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?’
That’s the first excuse Moses offers up to God to get out of the thing that God needs him to do. Who am I? He looks in the mirror and asks, “Who do you think you are?”
Until that moment with the burning bush, he had no relationship with God and a lot of good reasons to tell God to find somebody else.
I hope the church is listening, because we all do this. I know I’ve done it. Too much asking Who do you think you are? Anybody who does any kind of good work for God has had to get past that question. Who do you think you are? That’s Satan’s challenge to anyone who’s thinking about dreaming a Big Hairy Audacious God-Purpose.
But “Who am I” is overruled by I AM. I’ve got to think that God turned up the volume and the bass a little bit when he says…
I will be with you.
I will be with you. God says – yes, Moses, I’m sending you, but this is my project and you won’t be doing this alone.
But Moses said to God, ‘If I come to the Israelites and say to them, “The God of your ancestors has sent me to you”, and they ask me, “What is his name?” what shall I say to them?’
God then says the most profound thing ever spoken in any language.
God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM.’ He said further, ‘Thus you shall say to the Israelites, “I AM has sent me to you.” ’ God also said to Moses, ‘Thus you shall say to the Israelites, “The LORD, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you”
God’s purpose to create and preserve a nation of people has is now moving on from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob through Moses, whether he believed in God or not, whether he thought he was capable or not. No excuses. I Am is in charge.
This is something we need to keep in mind as we form our own mission statements and think about the purpose of our church.
About 1,400 years later, it’s no accident that Jesus says, I am the light of the world; I am the bread of life; I am the good shepherd; I am the way, the truth, and the life; I am the resurrection and the life. Who is Jesus? I AM.
When we believe he rose from the dead and make him our Lord, God comes to live in us through the Holy Spirit. How does the Spirit come to the first believers? Flames of fire, giving them words of salvation to speak to lost people, people who need to understand that God knows and God cares. God sees the need of people in Manheim, turns to St. Paul’s church and says, “So come, I will send you.”
Every week, our Dare to Dream book gives questions guiding us toward defining our purpose. Here are our questions so far:
Where do you see the greatest need around you in your neighborhood, your community, and your world? How can you meet that need? We are “created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” (Ephesians 2:10).
What struggles in your life have you had to overcome? How have those struggles defined you? God uses difficult moments in our lives to shape us and make us more useful in the lives of others.
What tightly-held excuses keep you from living God’s dream for you? Take some time and write a prayer asking God to remove your excuses. List your excuses in the prayer.
Last week, I shared a little bit about about being a new Christian, just graduated from college, thrust into an urban middle school to teach art. In the moment, for me, that job was about having enough money to eat. My goal at the time was to be a serious artist, and to that point, I had actually had some success. In the year or two before I took that job, my artwork (mostly silk-screen prints) was hanging in a lot of “juried competitions” in galleries and museums. I remember having a piece accepted in a show in Boston and one of my former college professors saying to me, “Congratulations. You know, that’s about as good as it gets. Not too many shows beyond that level of competition.” After feeling awesome for about 10 minutes, I felt a huge let-down. That’s all there is?
On the other hand, I was getting enormous fulfillment from the conversations I was having with kids in the youth groups I was running. They were becoming believers and growing in faith. So I left teaching to join the staff of Youth for Christ, which meant raising support for my salary. My family thought I was crazy to do it, but I resigned my teaching job and jumped in. I had 3 summer vacation months to raise $12,000. Half-way through the summer, I had $600 – pledged by our church.
One day, I was invited to a businessmen’s Bible study. As we did introductions around the table, I explained what I had been doing (teaching art) and where I was going (ministry with kids). Not long after I got home, the phone rang. I businessman named Greg was calling to say that he had been impressed by what I said and was wondering if I still needed support. He was hoping that he could contribute the rest of the $12,000 I needed. For the two years I worked for YFC, I had two financial supporters – our church and Greg.
Privately, I had been debating the idea of graduate school and had assumed I’d be heading off to get an MFA (Master of Fine Arts) degree. But I was open to whatever God would do. Then the phone rang again. Greg was wondering: “Wouldn’t you be better equipped to do this ministry work with a seminary degree? Go pick a seminary and we’ll pay.”
A few years after I graduated from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Massachusetts, Greg passed away. The family asked if I would help conduct his funeral. At the service, I learned that there were several of us whom Greg had quietly supported. Only God knows how far the ripples have spread, how many people have been influenced because of his generosity and support.
Do you know the Serenity Prayer? God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
I have my own version: God grant me the courage to challenge the things I cannot accept; the vision to see where God needs me to go, and the wisdom to know God is with me.
God, we thank you for the freedom of our relationship with you. We are amazed that you choose to love us just as we are. You sent Moses to the Hebrew people to lead them and you sent Jesus to us. Now help us follow him, for the sake of those who come after us. Help us be the people you called us to be. Send us, and help us show our world that we carry in us a loving, merciful God. Amen.