Excuses to Obedience

This past weekend, I went with our LOHF (Leaders of Hope Fellowship) on a retreat to Jasper. It was an opportunity to bond as a group and teach them a few things about living for God through purpose and service. As part of our weekend, we went on a hike just outside the town. The Valley of Five Lakes was recommended by a member of the church at which we were staying. Being a little older and not in the ideal shape, she said the hike fairly easy. She thought it was about 6 km long and would take an hour or two.

When we got to the entrance, we looked at the map and discovered it was only 4.5 km long. That didn’t seem too bad! But as we went out, I discovered it was more challenging than I expected. There were many steep spots which require us to traverse over exposed roots and rocks. My knees were burning and my heart felt like it was going to explode! About half-way into the adventure, I decided to try a different path that took us around all the lakes. The original 4.5 km hike turned into a 10+ km hike. I discovered that I was not prepared for this kind of ordeal.

Thankfully, in the end, it turned into a great opportunity to spend time with the teens as well as a new couple in our church. Did my knees hurt? Yes. Did my ankles hurt? Yes. Was I prepared for all the challenges? No. But I can look back at it and say, “It was well worth the effort and ‘suffering!'”

I think there are many who are unprepared for the things in life whether they be good or bad. Look at all the people who have won a significant amount of money in a lottery. In the end, many of them regretted winning as it led to the destruction of families and for some, a deeper level of poverty than they experienced prior.

In Exodus 3, we read about God’s call to return to Egypt and lead the Hebrew people out of captivity. How did Moses respond? He began by questioning his ability to carry out the assignment. And as Moses and God interacted around the burning bush, Moses “assailed” God with a myriad of excuses hoping he could get out of the task much like we do when asked to do jury duty.

But when you look at his excuses, they expose an inner crisis that I think each of us regularly deals with in our relationship with God, especially when He asks us to do something. So today, I want us to ask ourselves, when God calls, how do we respond?

One of the major excuses Moses uses is himself. When God called Moses to go back to Egypt and free His people, he was roaming the desert as a shepherd. In essence, Moses was in self-exile. He had killed an Egyptian which was witnessed by other Hebrews so in fear, he fled. It is there in exile that God meets him in a burning bush.

When Moses asks God “Who am I?”, it seems he had already settled on an answer: I’m a nobody. Though he was a Hebrew by birth and though he had the opportunity to grow up in Pharaoh’s court as a prince of Egypt, he didn’t think he was worthy. Now forty years later, he had no reason to believe he could go back and that they would listen to him or accept his help. He had no influence with the Egyptians and no respect from the Hebrew people. To top it all off, he was now a Midianite shepherd by vocation, and shepherds were considered an abomination by the Egyptians and unclean by the Jews. In his eyes, he had no worth… he was a nobody.

Our church is preparing to have our annual VBS program this summer. As part of the decorations, our children’s pastor got a set of blow up planets to hang from the ceiling. As we were hanging them, I noticed that Pluto was still a part of the set. I’m not sure if you remember, but Pluto has lost its place among the giants of our solar system.

Back on August 24, 2006, the International Astronomical Union voted to strip Pluto of its planetary status, defining it instead as a “dwarf planet.” The demotion was part of a shake-up in the Union’s galactic guidelines. To qualify as a planet, a heavenly body must now “orbit the sun, be large enough to assume a round shape, and clear the neighborhood around its orbit.” The third requirement disqualifies Pluto, which is surrounded by objects of similar size and characteristics.

“It’s disappointing in a way, and confusing,” said Patricia Tombaugh, ninety-three, widow of Clyde Tombaugh, who first discovered Pluto in 1930. “I don’t know just how to handle it. It sounds like I just lost my job.”

Like many people today, Moses likely struggled due to his background and how he expected to be perceived by others. He came up with a lot of excuses, many of them we still use today. But with God, our perceived shortcomings are in reality opportunities for God to show His power and faithfulness in and through us. We can try to use things like our ethnic or cultural heritage, our past mistakes, our low social status, or any other one we can think of, but as many excuses we can come up with, God always has a response.

In Moses’ case, God reassured him. He promised His presence, vowing to bring Moses back to the exact spot where he stood. And true to His word, God fulfilled that promise.

When you step back and look at their entire dialogue, you realize it comes down to Moses’ unwillingness to carry out God’s command. In effect, he asked God, “Isn’t there someone else You could send?” His question seems astonishing after all God’s promises and signs God presented to him. And the Scripture says Moses’ statement sparked the Lord’s anger.

For those here who are parents, think about how we feel when our children disobey. We can only imagine how God must feel when we contradict His clearly revealed will for our lives.

I was reading a story about a little girl who discovered the secret to making mud one day, which she called “warm chocolate.” After her grandmother cleaned up the mess, she told little Larissa not to make any more chocolate.

The little girl soon resumed making her chocolate, saying sweetly, “Don’t look at me, Nana. OK?” Nana, being a little codependent, agreed. Larissa continued to work the mud, but three times she said, “Don’t look at me, Nana. OK?”

“Thus the tender soul of a little child shows us how necessary it is to us that we be unobserved in our wrong,” writes Dallas Willard, a professor in the School of Philosophy at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles and author of numerous resources on spiritual formation.

Anytime we choose to do wrong or to withhold doing right, we choose to hide as well. It may be that out of all the prayers that are ever spoken, the most common one — the quietest one, the one that we least acknowledge making — is simply this: Don’t look at me, God.

Did you know this was the very first prayer spoken after the Fall? God came to walk in the Garden to be with the man and the woman and called, “Where are you?” “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid,” Adam answered, “so I hid.”

In other words, “Don’t look at me, God.” How many of us say the same thing, “Don’t look at me, God.” Doing God’s will is ultimately a matter of obedience. We may have concerns as we consider God’s directives, but in the end, the choice is ours. Only one question remains: “Will we obey?”

When God addressed all of Moses’ excuses, Moses decided to obey God’s call. This resulted in the Israelites’ liberation from slavery under one of the most powerful empires of the ancient world.

If God calls us, our response should be obedience. We can be like Moses and try to make excuses about our pasts, our shortcomings, whatever. But when we obey God’s commands and find our confidence in Him, there is no limit to the good He may accomplish through us.

Singer, Rita Coolidge said this: “Too often, the opportunity knocks, but by the time you push back the chain, push back the bolt, unhook the two locks and shut off the burglar alarm, it’s too late.” Our excuses are like the chain, the bolt, the locks and the alarm and by the time we deal with them, the opportunity is lost.

As Christians today, our identity is found firstly in Christ. Our past is just that…the past. When God calls us to serve Him, we will often find ourselves “over our heads.” But when we rely on God, He gives us all we need to complete that which He calls us to. In closing, I want to encourage each of us that instead of giving God excuses, simply trust Him. He promises His power and provides gifts, talents, and abilities to those who trust Him. We may not be fully prepared, but God is and will prepare us to fulfill the tasks He has called us to…


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