Now when the Lord spoke to Moses in Egypt, 29 he said to him, “I am the Lord. Tell Pharaoh king of Egypt everything I tell you.”
30 But Moses said to the Lord, “Since I speak with faltering lips, why would Pharaoh listen to me?”
Most flat tires occur Monday mornings and Friday afternoons, statistics show. Why these particular times?
Real flat tires? Or unverified reports of flat tires? All I know is Monday mornings are when most people don’t want to go in, and Friday afternoons are when most people don’t want to go back.
Sometimes excuses can be deadly serious. In the medical profession, John Banja did a very careful study showing that that the medical field features a disproportionate amount of rationalization to “covering up” errors. Common excuses in the study were:
- “Why disclose the error? The patient was going to die anyway.”
- “Telling the family about the error will only make them feel worse.”
- “It was the patient’s fault. If he wasn’t so (sick, an addict, etc), our error wouldn’t have caused so much harm.”
- “Well, we did our best. These things happen.”
- “If we’re not totally and absolutely certain the error caused harm, we don’t have to tell.”
- “They’re dead anyway, no point in blaming.”
The Bible is littered with excuse-makers, starting off with Eve claiming it was all the serpent’s fault. With Adam claiming it was God’s fault because the “woman you gave me” caused him to sin. That’s two real fast.
Excuse number 3 was found when Cain had no idea what God was talking about when he came asking about Abel. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” No one put me in charge of my brother. I’m not responsible for him, God, so why do you ask me about him?
Abram had plenty of excuses when it came to him lying about his beautiful wife—“I thought the Egyptians would kill me and if they thought she was my beautiful sister they would let me live.” So in Genesis 12 he rationalized lying to the Egyptians to save his life and make his wife available to be a girlfriend.
Joseph’s brothers offer excuses, but the top excuse maker in the Bible is the author of Genesis and Exodus, Moses. He puts his own excuses on display in a way that shows his humility. Moses is an excuse factory but he’s also admitting it and this is one of the reasons why I think the Bible is the Word of God and Jesus is alive and well because if I were Moses, I wouldn’t have been this transparent about my excuses. The text today gives a good one.
30 But Moses said to the Lord, “Since I speak with faltering lips, why would Pharaoh listen to me?”
I want to stop and take a Sunday to address this since Moses has made 7 excuses so far and has put excuses in the mouths of almost every major character in his writings so far—when you are studying the Bible and you come across repetition, it’s intentional. It’s the author saying that this is important to pay attention to this, it’s important for the original audience, preparing to enter the Promise Land, to hear this. Especially since the first time God’s people stood on the border of Israel, what did they do? That’s right. Excuses. “The people are too big, we are like insects to them!”
The Bible isn’t trying to teach a modern idea of rationalization or excuse making. But it does give examples of how individuals deal with emotional conflict or internal or external stressors by concealing their true motivations for their thoughts, actions, or feelings through the elaboration of reassuring or self-serving but incorrect explanations.
Sometimes for us, it’s intentional. If you drink too much alcohol or stay up late on Sunday night so that when you wake up at 7am on Monday, you feel sick so you call in sick to work that day—that’s intention. You didn’t want to work so you intentionally created a situation where you would be sick.
Sometimes it’s unintentional. You aren’t planning on lying about yourself or circumstances, but when the opportunity to save face comes up, we choose a lie rather than the truth. We make an excuse that is self-serving rather than tell the truth and obey God and love our neighbor.
Excuse making can be so artful that you lose track of exactly what’s happening. Some of us can shoot an arrow and then go and draw a bullseye around it so quickly that it looks like nothing is wrong. But just because you are good at it doesn’t mean making excuses and rationalizing isn’t a huge moral problem.
Why don’t we invite neighbors to dinner? Or find ways to invite people to church? Or do family worship more regularly? Or read our Bible’s more regularly? Or pray more? Or learn to play a musical instrument or brush up on our French? Or finish the notes I’m supposed to be working on for a Bible project? Or do my job as clerk of the Presbytery better?
For most of us, our answers to questions like these involved excuses.
Psychologists tell us we have four choices when confronted with the reality that our beliefs and sense of right and wrong are in tension with our actual behavior.
- Rationalize away the behavior (e.g., It doesn’t matter what I do, it’s just a drop in the bucket”),
- Deny responsibility for our behavior (e.g., It’s not my role to do this”),
- Distract ourselves from the dissonance itself (e.g., “I’ve got other things to think about right now), and, finally
- Change our behavior (e.g., “I will take the time right now to address this issue until it aligns with my beliefs”).
That’s where God steps in. So many of the excuses we see from Genesis and Exodus and throughout the Bible are excuses given to God himself. Adam, Eve, our first parents give these justifications of themselves to God himself. In the NT Jesus talks about this often.
Jesus called people to follow him, But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’ Luke 14:18-20
To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” Luke 9:59-72
Rationalize. Deny. Distract. Change. Those are your choices when it comes to lining up our beliefs, God’s Word, and our behavior.
What does God call us to do today? To admit it.
Why lie to ourselves? Why not just own up to the discrepancy and recognize who we really are by the choices we’re making? It’s our choices that demonstrate who we really are. We’d prefer to believe something very positive about ourselves (a pro-environmental attitude for example), so when we act opposite to it (failing to make a pro-environmental behavioral choice), we don’t want to face that this choice now defines us. Instead, we strategically reduce the dissonance by lying to ourselves. This is living in bad faith. It’s hypocrisy.
It makes us feel guilty, inauthentic, and we take these bad feelings out on everyone around us.
We can’t escape that this is about human choice. Our life is in chaos because we refuse to turn it over to God. Will we turn to God, in surrender and in faith, or will we keep floundering in our own power, drowning in our defensiveness? Fighting everyone who tries to help?
It’s about a simple choice. Jack Miller said it like this:
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9 Recognizing and confessing sin is a normal part of the Christian life. God didn’t declare us righteous because of Christ and then leave us to wallow in sin. Rather, he has an ongoing strategy for us that involves getting rid of more and more sin. It’s like living in a dim room that appears clean, and then pulling up the shades or turning on the light, only to see that it is really dusty and dirty. Even though the room feels dirtier now than before, the dirt was there all along. When we walk in the light of the Lord and struggle to love people, we begin to see more things wrong with us. What’s more, the devil says, “There’s no hope for you. God couldn’t love somebody as bad as you.” The truth is that all along you were this bad, this messed up, and this selfish. It was only as the light came in that you saw all these problems. This is a signal, not for despair, but for hope! Don’t be depressed by what you see, but rather learn to own up to your sins by faith and disown them by confessing them.
Own them by confessing them to people, and disown them by confessing them to God.
I’ll tell you the one thing that has stopped me from more effective repentance and more effective destruction of my excuse making. Tell me if you identify with this—I let myself be distracted by the sins of others. My emotional life was dominated as a child by the sins of my parents. And I let this tendency to ignore my own sin and focus on the sins of others probably even guide me into the pastorate—because here I can focus on your sins and get paid for it.
Parents, you experience this? Kids, you experience this? Those of you who stay angry at Trump or Pelosi or Putin or Big Sugar—do you experience this by focusing all your moral outrage on someone else, it leaves little for yourself?
In Exodus, the solution is not deistic self-improvement or a religious effort. It’s not self-loathing or self-exaltation. But it’s God exaltation—God getting the glory for his rescue of them and us, and then we behold that glory in these stories and in the changes lives around us—and when we see that, we have two choices—respond in spastic fear like an Egyptian or in jaw-dropping awe like a child of God. When you hear God’s work through these stories, culminating in the greatest story of Jesus’ once-for-all sacrificial death for his people, a child of God will respond with joy and gladness in Jesus and momentary grief for his sin, and then flee to Jesus who restores us, body and soul.
Let me be more concrete. In the face of God’s revelation of his once-for-all rescue of his elect, faith in the God of Scripture demands a response. We can’t keep delaying delaying delaying without deep guilt and remorse and the disciplinary hand of God. And then we feel bad when that happens and then use that as an excuse. How about this. We admit our sin, renounce it, publicly if needed, and then run from the factors that tempt us to repeat it. When we fail, if we fail, we repeat that cycle of owning and disowning and destroying the factors that tempt us to return to sin.
Today is a day of repentance. Whether you fast or cry or pray or get on your knees, I don’t care. But let this be a day of repentance from the excuses that brought great harm on God’s people in Genesis and Exodus and still does today. Go to God, lay it all down at his feet, own and disown your sin, and see what a dramatic lightness you feel inside, that I feel inside right now, as I know God is giving me repentant faith and things are about to change. God give us change and more, give us Jesus. Give us your Spirit. Rushing wind, blow through this church and cleanse us so we might tell the truth about you and ourselves and our circumstances to one another and that then Jesus, the way the truth and the life, will be so much more beautiful in our midst. Amen.
JC Ryle, Reformed Anglican said, The benefits [the Lord’s Supper] confers, are spiritual, not physical. Its effects must be looked for in our inward man. It was intended to remind us, by the visible, tangible emblems of bread and wine, that the offering of Christ’s body and blood for us on the cross, is the only atonement for sin, and the life of a believer’s soul. It was meant to help our poor weak faith to closer fellowship with our crucified Savior, and to assist us in spiritually feeding on Christ’s body and blood. It is an ordinance for redeemed sinners, and not for unfallen angels. By receiving it we publicly declare our sense of guilt, and need of a Savior – our trust in Jesus, and our love to Him – our desire to live upon Him, and our hope to live with Him. Using it in this spirit, we shall find our repentance deepened, our faith increased, our hope brightened, and our love enlarged – our besetting sins weakened, and our graces strengthened. It will draw us nearer to Christ.
So come and dine today, all who are hungry for him.
“If an egg is broken by an outside force, life ends. If broken by an inside force, life begins. Great things always begin from the inside. Great things always require us to be broken.”