We began a new series at Gateway Church in Austin.
This week, Ted Beasley shared at Gateway North, Kenny Green shared at Gateway Central, and I shared at Gateway South on “The Response.”
Listen to my message here:
Discuss ways to apply the message here:
Next Steps for your life group or family dinner.
Notes from our message are here:
There’s a longing in all of us for more, to risk more, but too often we resist or give up.
We’ve been challenged to do a 60 day, all-out, holding nothing back experiment to encounter the Living God in a new way. We are forming a new habit of being aware of God’s presence to stay connected and willing to do what He says.
More on the 60 60 Experiment (Soul Revolution App) here.
Let’s review our progression so far in this series, this is kind of the map of our encounter with God.
Step 1, was accepting God’s offer of a fruitful life, intimacy with him. If we just try to stay connected to him, we’ll experience relationship and freedom.
John 15:5: I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.
Then last week, we saw Step 2 in relationship is listening for God’s voice. God speaks through his Word, other people, a quiet voice, even dreams. He reveals what he would like us to do.
Step 3 is where the plot thickens, and where, quite frankly, most Christians politely bow out of the Encounter. It’s when we decide whether or not we’re going to obey.
Consider Jesus’ words in John 14:
If you love me, you will keep my commandments. (vs. 14) Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. (vs. 21) Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. (vs. 23) Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. (vs. 24)
Real faith calls for a response. James, the brother of Jesus, couldn’t put it any more bluntly:
In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
– James 2:17
God initiates with us. He speaks to us about what he would have us do, and frequently what he asks is challenging. And then comes our part – to show through obedience that our faith and trust in him is alive.
Author Henry Blackaby calls this moment of choice a Crisis of Belief.
Over 25 years ago, Blackaby created his own 60-60 program called Experiencing God, and over 7 million people participated in it and discovered how a relationship with God works.
Here are the four points of this framework:
1. An encounter with God requires faith.
And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.
– Hebrews 11:6
From the outset, we see that a relationship with God is different than the one we have with humans. We relate to them through shared experiences, quality time, physical touch, human language. The medium for relating to God includes some of those things, but it’s basis is faith. And without this faith, it’s impossible know God, to feel him, to stay connected to him throughout the day.
What is faith?
Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. – Hebrews 11:1
This is one of the hardest verses in the New Testament to translate into English. It’s not so much a definition of faith as a description of how faith works. That word “confidence” is probably better translated “guarantee.” Faith makes us certain are we that we will receive what God has promised, that it is as though it is already real.
Two castaways stand on the beach of an island staring off into the distance. One guy sees open sea to the horizon. The other guy sees a large ship coming to rescue them. The second guy has binoculars. Faith acts as the binoculars. That phrase, “assurance of what we do not see” is a way of amplifying this concept.
Faith is a way you choose to see what’s happening in your world – that God is real and that his promises of goodness to us are real and will come to pass somehow in the future.
Paul says, We walk by faith, not by sight. (2 Cor. 5:17)
The first truth of the mechanics of a relationship with God is that an encounter with him requires faith.
#2 Encounters with God are God-sized.
To give you a chance to live your faith, to build trust with him, God puts opportunities in front of you that are probably too big for you to comfortably handle on your own. After we get that description of faith in the first verse of Hebrews 11, he spends the rest of the chapter telling stories of big faith tests God put in front of characters from the Old Testament. One of these is Moses.
Watch in Exodus 3 how Moses lives out the dance steps of faith.
Now Moses was tending the flock . . . and he led the flock to the far side of the desert and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.” When the LORD saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!” – Exodus 3:1-4
The year is approximately 1250 B.C. As far as the recorded history in the Bible is concerned, it has been over 500 years since anyone has heard anything from God. And even that message had been mysterious – God had spoken to a man named Jacob and promised that one day an entire nation would emerge from his lineage and that God would bless them and give them a home land. But the Israelites had been languishing in slavery in Egypt for generations. And now, out of nowhere, Moses is surprised by a God-sized encounter from a burning bush. We usually speed right over this passage and say, “Oh yeah, God talks to people. God’s just telling Moses what to do.” But you have to consider, given the religious climate of the first several millennia of human civilization, how strange it is to have an encounter with God.
Most of the religious systems of the ancient world did not allow for humans to interact with a being as powerful as God. People just didn’t run into God. Gods in the ancient Sumerian and Egyptian civilizations were unapproachable and predictable. But religion is different in the Bible. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and now Moses, were the first humans since the dawn of civilization to be approached by God for a personal relationship. And when he reveals himself, he asks for faith. He frequently gives a God-sized request, a challenge to live out our faith in way that isn’t completely comfortable.
Here’s the faith step God asks Moses for.
And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt. – Exodus 3:9-10
God says to Moses, “Moses, Go to Pharaoh. He is the most powerful man on earth. Tell him to release his primary slave labor force to be free to worship a God he does not believe in. Then, Moses, go and convince the stubborn, chicken Israelites to walk confidently from their captors into the desert where there is no food or water. Get ‘er done, Moses.”
Do you know what Moses says there in Exodus 3? “Here am I, Lord, send Aaron.”
This is an extreme example of a God-sized encounter. Nevertheless, God calls people like you and me to trust him, to join him in his work. Jesus says:
My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working. – John 5:17
God is always doing something around us, and he invites us, as part of this faith relationship, to join him in the work. And, because it involves faith, it’s often not easy. For Moses it was a burning bush.
Consider these modern day burning bushes:
- For us the invitation is more often when we see a need. (I know that family down the street is going through some hard times. Maybe I should leave a Walmart gift card anonymously on their porch.
- Sometimes it’s when you read a Scripture. (Philippians 4 said not to be anxious, but to make my requests known to God. Maybe God wants me to pray for his will in this situation I keep worrying about.)
- Sometimes it’s when God impresses a thought on your mind. (I can’t stop thinking about my sister-in-law. Lord, I haven’t spoken to her since Christmas, do you want me to reach out to her?)
All of these encounters are God-sized, not that they involve some enormous sacrifice, but because they “interrupt your regularly scheduled programming” and ask you to do something for God that may be out of your comfort zone. You know him by joining his work.
#3 What you do in response to God’s invitation reveals what you believe about God.
Moses eventually gets it right, but his first response to God’s offering to join his work reveals something about Moses’ faith.
But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” – Exodus 3:11
Excuse #1: Surely you’re not talking to me.
Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?” – Exodus 3:13
Excuse #2: God, if I do this, I’ll look like an idiot.
Moses answered, “What if they do not believe me or listen to me and say, ‘The Lord did not appear to you’?” – Exodus 4:1
#3 Lord, what if I do what you say and I fail?
Moses said to the Lord, “Pardon your servant, Lord. I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.” – Exodus 4:10
#4 God, what if you are asking me for more than I can do?
But Moses said, “Pardon your servant, Lord. Please send someone else.” – Exodus 4:13
Not one of Moses’ finer moments. And for every objection that Moses puts up, God brings an answer. You can read them there in the text. God’s going to have to teach him about faith. There’s often a crisis of belief, a hard decision about whether or not I’m really going to trust God when he offers relationship to me.
We want to do the 60-60. We want to hear and respond. We see some way God’s at work, and we want to join him. But there is opposition from within – the enemy, temptation from the world, and the flesh.
Faith means I acknowledge my need for God’s help, but I fight through the excuses.
God’s Response to The Excuses
Let’s fight through Moses’ excuses. God asks you to do something, but the Flesh hits. How do you combat it?
- “Surely you’re not talking to me!”
Sometimes you get a sense of something God wants you to do – maybe apologize to your child for an unkind word you said yesterday, maybe encourage someone at the office, maybe sign up to be a greeter on once a month on Sunday mornings at Gateway. And often the first roadblock the flesh throws up is, “Is feeling from God, or is it from me? Scripture says to err on the side of believing it’s from God.
Paul says the following:
Do not quench the Spirit. Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil. -1 Thessalonians 5:19-22
God speaks, so don’t quench the Spirit. Don’t ignore. Assume he’s talking to you, but be smart about it. Test the prompting.
- Is it consistent with Scripture?
- Does this require courage?
- Is this selfless?
- If the answer to those three is “Yes,” then you should follow through.
2. “If I do this, I’ll look like an idiot.”
Sometimes God will prompt you to do something that may seem ridiculous at first. Are we more concerned with following God or what others think of us?
3. What if I do what you say and I fail?
God said to Moses, you do the willingness, and I’ll do the wonders. If God asks you to be obedient, then the outcomes are his department. Sometimes you never even get confirmation that what he asked you to do actually had any effect. But the process of you following through, pulls you closer to him. Last excuse of Moses’ flesh and ours when we get a prompting from God:
4. What if he asks me for more?
What if I start listening and responding, and everything changes? What if he wants me to give up my career or my comfortable suburban lifestyle or my girlfriend? What if he wants me to move Afghanistan and live in a tin house and be a missionary? Will he just keep asking for more until I am spent?
The answer to that is no. He doesn’t want to rob you of joy or destroy who you are. Will he keep raising the stakes of faith? Definitely!
Paul says in Romans 12 that he gives us the right amount of challenge and the right amount of faith, and for every one of us, that amount of faith is different:
I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith. – Romans 12:3
Every time God gives you a mission, he will correspondingly give you enough faith to follow through.
This is the sacred dance of faith:
- God prompts you.
- You respond in willingness.
- He increases your faith, and then he works miracles.
Once you are willing to do push through the resistance of your faith, spiritual life starts to become this amazing adventure where you feel close and you are doing things with him you never thought possible. What you do in response to his voice speaks volumes about where your faith is.
The formula of faith from Experiencing God, the explanation of how faith works concludes with this summary statement.
#4. True faith requires action.
Moses does the whole faith dance with God. And what’s truly interesting to me about the burning bush story is that God acknowledges that faith is hard. We feel, but can’t touch. We know he’s near, but often he seems just around the next bend in the road, around the next corner. Close enough to believe, but illusory enough that our flesh never shuts about how weird this all seems.
So God makes a promise.
God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’” – Exodus 3:14
The name I AM, which we believe is the name Yahweh, is perhaps the greatest mystery in the Bible. The name clearly is a verb, not a noun, and it is God’s self-description of himself. It is an archaic form of the verb to be. I WILL BE THERE (with you).
At his core, God is. He lives out a promise that he will be with us. He will be with Moses before the mighty Pharaoh, he will walk with the Israelites into the wilderness, he will go with me into me even though I tried to the 60-60 last week, and he will be by your side throughout your work week, even at your point of doubt.
Maybe you haven’t felt God in any profound way for a long time, but maybe what you are missing is that he wants to speak to you in the small, ordinary, common moments of your life. Your job isn’t to be perfect. It’s faith. It’s a simple willingness to respond to what he asks you to do in faith. See what happens.