No Excuses

I stood at my desk in the headquarters building about 16 years ago basking in good news. I just received a coveted Air Force assignment and was on my way to eventually commanding a squadron. The news was so good people were coming by my office and congratulating me. I thought to myself, all this hard work has paid off. WOW! I’m finally realizing my career dreams. And then it happened. What happened? In just a few days, just after someone came by my office to talk about my good fortune, I took the associated paperwork out of my overhead cabinet and as I was reading it over again, I immediately knew it was never going to happen. How did I know? I felt the Holy Spirit come over me with a conviction that God was calling me into full-time ministry. At first, I remained very quiet. Even though I didn’t talk about it, even with my wife, I reasoned with God using “if, and, but” to frame my excuses. “If” I can just wait until I finish my Air Force career. “And,” after all, this is the only kind of work I’ve ever done and I’m good at it.  Please don’t take away the opportunity for me to realize my dreams. “But” I have a son in college and another one starting this year, so I need the financial stability and the extra money.

Let’s break this down. “If” is a word that typically signals that we are trying to negotiate with God. This is especially true if the word “I” follows the “if.”  “And” is an attempt to add to why we don’t want to do what God is calling us to do. It is an effort to add to the list of compelling reasons or evidence why we should do what we want to do instead of what God is calling us to do. “But” signals rebellion and is a way of framing the fearful impact of God’s calling on our life.  Hmmm. As if God didn’t know what He is doing and how it will work out.  In this instance, when “but” is followed by “I” you can be assured that your focus is on you and not God. By in large, any use of these words, as they frame an excuse for rebellion or disobedience, when responding to the biblical commands of Jesus or His calling on our life, are self-centered and disrespectful to the person and authority of God.

You may be thinking, well pastor I’ve never been called into full-time ministry.  So how does this relate to me? Don’t be fooled.  Everyone is called into ministry of some sort. Even before I tried to excuse my way out of full-time ministry, years earlier I tried excusing my way out of teaching a young couples Bible study. Now remember, everyone is commanded to be a witness (Acts 1:8), to make disciples (Matthew 28:18-20) and to use our spiritual gifts (1 Cor 12, Romans 12) to build up the body of Christ. I said things like, “If only I knew more about the Bible. “And, I don’t have any experience. “ “But I am not ready for this.” “But I am not gifted to teach the Bible.” How about you?  How are you framing your excuses with God?  Maybe something like this? “If I could only . . .”  “And, besides, I have to . . .” “But I am afraid of . . .” “But I don’t understand . . .” “But I am not ready to . . .”  At times, I shamefully admit, I’ve been self-centered and rebellious. I had to learn to take my eyes off me and focus directly on Jesus.  I’m making progress but God is still working on me.

Remember the story of the rich young ruler in Mark chapter 10? Here is an excerpt to jog your memory.  MK 10:21 And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.”  In short, Jesus is telling this young man that nothing can come between him and his devotion to Jesus if he wants to follow Jesus. Nothing. Not our job, family, hobby, dreams, money or possessions can come between us and Jesus. Nothing at all at any time. No excuses.

Well, I finally exhausted my excuses and came to my senses. At this point I was also physically and emotionally exhausted. For that matter, spiritually exhausted. Besides that, troubled in my spirit as if I’d been running from God. Well, maybe because I was. And, I might say, when I finally surrendered it felt so peaceful and my spirit was lifted. After all, selfishness and disobedience lead us on an exhausting journey. As a result, a couple of weeks after this journey began, I sat down with Cheri and told her about God’s call on my life. Thankfully, and not surprising, she was sympathetic and supportive even though neither of us had any clue about what was to come. I spent the next couple of months submitting paperwork for retirement from military service and making plans for taking steps toward full-time ministry. And, as you might imagine, I had to listen to people tell me all the reasons I needed to continue with my military career. For that matter, I received a lot of encouragement to chase my dreams. Besides, for the most part, they couldn’t fathom turning away from such great career opportunities for ministry. What?  Is he crazy? How did I eventually respond? I submitted; God’s assignment is the best assignment.

All in all, there is a particular verse in scripture that is not only a call to surrender but is known as the ultimate excuse buster. I can say that it has busted my excuses on a number of occasions. What is that verse, pastor? LK 9:23 And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.  Jesus clearly defines the path for following Him. The first thing we must do is deny ourselves. That means, do not even consider yourself. Whether it is when we read a command in scripture or when the Holy Spirit comes on us with a conviction for a specific calling, we deny ourselves, and say yes to God. Second, it says to take up his (your) cross daily. What does that mean?  It means to surrender your life for following Christ if necessary. Besides, the original disciples gave up their lives and many that came after them gave their lives proclaiming Christ throughout the world. Lastly, following Jesus means to make Jesus our life. We join Him in His mission and live a lifestyle that reflects His character.

A Work in Progress,

Pastor Gene