I was sitting in a room with a bunch of ministry friends at the UNCO West 2013 conference. In a discussion facilitated by the wonderful Shannon Meacham we gathered to talk about and brainstorm ways that worship could be more creative and meaningful. We bandied about all sorts of ideas. We discussed formal dress over casual dress. We discussed how to involve hymns, modern praise, various instruments, congregational involvement, the theology behind our worship styles and everything in between. Then, my good friend Tripp Hudgins started talking about an interaction he had with a member of his church. They were talking about worship when the member dropped what I would respectfully consider a worship “grenade”. According to Tripp, this member said:
“There’s a burning bush in our service and we don’t even know it.”
I wrote that little nugget down in my notebook. I put a few asterisks around it and double underlined it. If I had a red pen available I probably would have drawn a big circle around it or if I was feeling a little artistic may have drawn some flames. This little sentence has buried itself deep between my ears and will not let go. It stuck with me because I know that I will often miss the “burning bush” in a service. For a refresher, lets look at the book of Exodus where this image of a burning bush shows up.
Moses was taking care of the flock for his father-in-law Jethro, Midian’s priest. He led his flock out to the edge of the desert, and he came to God’s mountain called Horeb. The Lord’s messenger appeared to him in a flame of fire in the middle of a bush. Moses saw that the bush was in flames, but it didn’t burn up. Then Moses said to himself, “Let me check out this amazing sight and find out why the bush isn’t burning up.”When the Lord saw that he was coming to look, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!”Moses said, “I’m here.”
Exodus 3:1-4 (CEB)
In the story, Moses is out tending his father-in-laws sheep when he comes across a bush that was on fire but was not burning up. Seeing the bush, Moses is drawn to it and decides to go check “this amazing sight” out. Once he gets close, the voice of the Lord calls out to Moses from the bush and Moses responds accordingly. Moses had a choice to investigate the burning bush or dismiss it as an exception.
How often do we and miss, or refuse to see the glory of God burning in our midst?
Like I said before, I know I have done this a lot. I have been in a few church services where I’ve silently critiqued the pastor or worship song choice. I have also spent an inordinate amount of time looking at the stage setup, sound system, musical instruments and dress code of everyone on stage. Sometimes I have spent a whole service looking at anything and everything but the “burning bush.” Sometimes I spend more time questioning the theological soundness of a sermon than actually trying to grasp what the pastor is trying to get across.
I have missed the “burning bush”. And in missing the “burning bush” I have not taken the risk to come closer and actually hear the voice of God. This is so easy to do in our Western/American culture where we often go to churches looking for specific “goods’ and “services” rather than relationships and God. We often look for good children and youth programs, a decent sounding worship band, people who dress the way we think we should dress in Church and a pastor who is engaging and charismatic (but not too challenging). When we are not able to find those things we may just walk out the door and find a replacement church that we feel can meet our needs.
We walk out the door, past a burning bush, having never actually taken the time to draw near, investigate and listen.
The burning bush definitely did not fit Moses expectations of a bush that was burning. There was a fire, but the bush was not consumed. How often do we dismiss something because we expect or desire certain results? We might look at a sanctuary and decide that it is not oriented to our exceptions so we walk out. We might listen to a pastor and decide he did not preach in the way we like so we check out. We might see that the church reads from a Bible translation that we are not used to so we speak out.
What if…what if we stopped disregarding the exceptions to our expectations and took the time to investigate? What if we opened ourselves up to be surprised in a church service? What if we did not come to church to be comforted and confirmed, but we came to be amazed and challenged? What if we came expecting to find a burning bush in our midst?
A bush that burns, but is not consumed. A flame that speaks the words of God. Words that call out to us when we draw near. Then, once we’ve drawn near we may begin to hear God’s voice and hear his desires for his people.
Hear God’s desire to save his people.
Hear God’s anguish for his people.
Hear God’s love for his people.
Hear God’s challenge for us to free his people.
There’s a burning bush here. Do you see it?