These are my preaching notes for last Sunday's message. I decided against a manuscript, so I hope you can glimpse the thoughts that were rolling around my head! Be blessed!
Losing Our Big Buts January 14th, 2017
Exodus 3: 1-15
I. I attended a “Kick Start” Retreat earlier this week.
a. Reminded of our collective mission. We have a hurting world that God loves, so much that he sent his Son to die for it. This is our “why.” And sometimes we need to remember “why” we are here in the first place.
b. On that retreat, I was reminded of my calling. You know, each of us has a calling. Each of us has a role to play in God’s mission. Jeremiah writes, “I know the plans I have for you.” Someone once said that God’s plan A is us, and He has no plan B. We’ve been invited to participate in God’s activity, given a role to play. It’s not that God needs us. No, God could transform the world on his own. But he chooses to do it with us and through us. That’s a pretty humbling idea to wrap my mind around! And as I’ve looked back at my personal calling, I see God’s plan unfolding. I still remember the first time my mom asked me about becoming a pastor. No way! They were fat and weird. And I didn’t want to be anything like them. That’s how God began to help me develop sense my calling. It didn’t begin with my desire; it began with a God who was up to something.
c. When I talk about calling, the first person I usually think about is Moses. Now, Moses goes down in history as one of the great Israelite leaders. And he lived a phenomenal life. He’s looked upon as a hero who accomplished the unthinkable, a giant of the faith…But that’s not how Moses’ story began. When we begin to read this story, we find Moses simply minding his own business, seemingly content with a quiet life tending sheep. And had it been up to Moses, he would’ve preferred to live a quiet life and stay out of the limelight. He would’ve let all of his “big buts” stall God’s desire for his life. But God had other plans, because God was up to something. Listen to these words: I’ve seen the misery of my people. I’ve heard their cry. I know their sufferings. And I’ve come to deliver them.
d. Every one of our callings begins with God who is up to something. That’s the nature of calling. We don’t get to choose, but we do get to choose whether or not we live into it. And that calling will always accomplish at least two goals: it will bless others and it will bring God glory. If you’ve ever wondered if you’re on the right path, ask yourself those two questions: Is God glorified by what I do? And Are others being blessed? Sometimes in the midst of that calling there is a deep sense of personal fulfillment, and sometimes in the midst of that calling you want to head back the other way. But if you stay in your calling, one thing is certain: God will grow your faith.
II. As Moses finally wraps his mind around the task at hand, he immediately recognizes that the biggest obstacle to this vision is himself. And like many of us, whether out of humility, unbelief, or fear, Moses begins to process all the reasons why he can’t possible be the man for the job. And all the big buts start to take over.
A. Moses’ first big but sounds a little like this: Who am I? That’s an honest question, and it very well could be a question asked out of sincere humility. With all due respect, Moses isn’t much of anybody quite yet. He could name a dozen others who are stronger, healthier, more spiritually mature who are worthier than he. Who am I? Yet God very gently bypasses Moses’ self-doubts and says matter of factly, “I will be with you.” You see, in the midst of Moses’ doubts, he had forgotten that God was the one authoring this call, and that God would be the one to complete the task through him. Who am I is the question were tempted to ask when God calls us to God-size dream, but the right question to ask is Who is God?
B. Moses’ second but is one I hear quite frequently. What is your name? In other words, I don’t know enough about you God. I don’t have the knowledge, the training, or the experience. When they ask me these questions, what will I say? How many of us have caught wind of God asking us to take a step of faith but we pull back because we fear we don’t yet know enough? I guess the follow-up to that big but would be to ask how much do I need to know before I know enough? A colleague of mine once recalled a story when several members of his church stated that another Sunday school class was needed. When they got the go-ahead, they asked the pastor if he would teach the class and he said no. “You’ve been coming to church for 40 years. You need to take your next step.” Again, God calls Moses to stop looking at what he can and cannot do and instead place his faith in the One who is calling him.
C. Moses’ third big but extends outside of his self and lands on the potential reaction of others. What if they don’t believe me, God? What if they don’t listen? He’s worrying about how others will react. And here’s the thing. Sometimes they won’t respond the way we hope. Sometimes they won’t listen. Sometimes they won’t change. I know we’ve all had this conversation in our heads because we know of the possibilities. Even if we are convinced that God has called us to a specific purpose, there will those who don’t believe and don’t respond. Regrettably, there might even be those who try to prevent us from answering God’s call. But that doesn’t make our calling any less genuine or real. And besides, it’s not our job to convince others. It’s God’s. Essentially, that’s how God answers Moses’ questions. It’s not your job to convince them, Moses. It’s mine. I’ll give them something to believe, but I’m still sending you.
D. Moses makes one final attempt. But God, I’m not good enough. I don’t have what it takes. And the truth is, he doesn’t, and neither do you. He knows that his task will involve public speaking (I’m sending you to Pharaoh), and that’s a problem for Moses because, in his own words, “I’ve never been eloquent and I’m slow in speech.” This is going to be hard calling for Moses to fulfill, as will ours. When we look at what God has called us to do, we’ll see all sorts of reasons why we can’t possibly be the right person for the job. We’re tempted to say we’re not good enough, we don’t have the right gifts, or we’re simply not ready. But God invites us to lose all those big buts and excuses and doubts and to move forward in our faith, believing the same words God spoke to Moses: “I will help you.”
III. So as we prepare to wrap up, let me ask you: What’s the biggest but that keeps you from fulfilling God’s call on your life? And I know there are lots of them. I have them too. But here’s the thing. God is bigger than our reasons for not following. God is stronger than all of our perceived weaknesses. And God wouldn’t have called us if he expected us to fail. Our task, then, is keep our eyes on God. He’s the only way to lose our big buts and become what he wants us to become.
IV. I thought it’d be fitting to end with a quote from one of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s speeches. In his quest for civil rights and equality, Dr. King had his times of doubts and reasons for not moving forward. But convinced that God had called him, and convinced that God would prove faith, he kept marching forward. And this is what he said, “Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. And I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.” (americanrhetoric.com/speeches/mlkivebeentothemountaintop.htm. May our eyes see the presence of God in the midst of all our doubts and fears. Amen.