Have You Seen Any Burning Bushes Lately?

Making a difference in the world.

Have You Seen Any Burning Bushes Lately?
Photo by Max Kukurudziak / Unsplash

Are you comfortable?

Take a moment to think about where you’re sitting. Do you sit in this spot often? Is it your favorite spot? Are your surroundings familiar?

In this moment, are you comfortable?

We like comfort. When I get home at the end of the day, I take off my shoes and change into comfortable clothing. Carla and I have our favorite spots on the couch and enjoy lounging and binging Netflix. Maybe you can relate.

When I’m comfortable I’m relaxed. Calm.

Yet, throughout the Bible we’re confronted with stories of people called to get uncomfortable. God sends Moses a burning bush and tells him to go and liberate the Israelites. Moses protests, complaining that he is the wrong person for the task. Yet God persists and eventually Moses agrees to go and visit Pharaoh.

Later in the Bible, Jesus’ entire ministry shows that getting uncomfortable is the way to connect with people. Not only does Jesus spend a majority of his time with people considered by the religious leaders to be unclean and unworthy, he takes on the role of a servant and washes the feet of his Disciples.

After Jesus’ resurrection, he visited the Disciples to deliver one final message. He didn’t tell them to live out the rest of their days in relaxation, He told his disciples to go.

16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshipped him, but some doubted. 18 Jesus came near and spoke to them, “I’ve received all authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to obey everything that I’ve commanded you. Look, I myself will be with you every day until the end of this present age.” Matthew 28:16–20 (CEB)

Jesus returned and left his disciples with one final message, which has become the mission statement for the church over the last two-thousand years: Go and make disciples.

Jesus’ message doesn’t work if we want to remain comfortable.

The church — not just First United Methodist Church of Orlando but the global church — has gotten comfortable. We’ve settled into our favorite spot and developed ministries and programs that are familiar. Safe. Calm.

Instead of following Jesus’ mission to go and make disciples, we’ve set up shop and hoped any would-be disciples come to us. We come to worship and small groups, enjoy the time, and then head home to live the remaining 142 hours of our week.

Jim Harnish, in his book Make a Difference, equates a church worship service to the pre-game locker room pep talk.

Our experience in worship is like the team gathering in the locker room before going onto the field where the real game will be played. What we do inside the church is intended to equip us to be the agents of God’s love, grace, justice, and peace on the outside.

Are we equipping ourselves to be God’s agents outside these walls?

Are we even willing to walk onto the field?

Last week a United Methodist church, just a few miles down the road, closed it’s doors. In his comments in the Orlando Sentinel, our District Superintendent said it’s time to refocus on our mission.

“The intent is to get back on mission, which is making a difference in the community,” said Bob Bushong, who has been district superintendent for the Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church for three years. “We have gotten away from that.”

Bob says that we have gotten away from the mission of making a difference in the community. Not the one church that closed, but all of us.

It’s easy to get comfortable and expect people to come to church but Jesus told us to go. If churches don’t embrace the call to make a difference in their community, more and more will close their doors.

God, using a burning bush, told Moses to liberate the Israelites from Egypt. Moses, thinking he was completely ill-equipped, protested. Moses complained about being a poor speaker. He told God he was the wrong person for the job. Moses complained and came up with every excuse imaginable until he eventually gave in and agreed to take on God’s task.

Later in Jim Harnish’ book, Making a Difference, he asks what would have happened if Moses said no to God. Harnish posits that God would probably have sent a burning bush to someone else, drawing their attention until they agreed to the mission.

God’s insistent command to Moses was, “Get going!” The only question was whether Moses would be the one to do it. But if he had not obeyed the call, Moses would have missed his opportunity to be a part of God’s transforming work in this world.

If we stick to what is comfortable we’ll miss the opportunity to be a part of God’s transforming work in this world. We’re at a turning point. Will we put on our comfortable clothes and sit down in our favorite spot? Or will we go and focus on the mission, making a difference in our community?

The Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church is encouraging all congregations to develop Fresh Expressions. These are fresh and different ways to go and make disciples. It is a call find new ways to make a difference in our community.

These new ideas might be uncomfortable. They might require us to go into our communities. They probably won’t be easy. They’ll require us to spend money. We’ll have to take a risk on something untested. They might not all be successful. But like Moses, we need to acknowledge the burning bush and accept God’s mission.

Jim Harnish explains if we open our eyes we’ll start to see modern burning bushes all around us.

With Christlike eyes open to the world around us, we look then for the place where our strengths, talents, and availability connect with that need.

Have you seen any burning bushes lately?

Harnish shares the story of Trinity United Methodist Church in Gainesville, who saw a burning bush in the form of an anti-Islamic demonstration at a nearby church. Instead of ignoring the hatred, Trinity UMC created a movement for peace and reconciliation to show what the message of the Gospel is really about.

Have you seen any burning bushes lately?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a pastor and theologian at the time Hitler started rising to power. Bonhoeffer saw a burning bush when he saw the way the Nazi regime treated Jews. Bonhoeffer got uncomfortable and tried to rally the church in opposition to Hitler and the Nazi party. He wrote, “the most urgent problem besetting our Church is this: How can we live the Christian life in the modern world?”

Have you seen any burning bushes lately?

A decade ago Sarah Rosenburg visited the Dominican Republic on an exploratory trip. She saw a burning bush in a small village outside Santiago, where children were not being educated due to poverty. She developed a ministry that built a school and began working to change the community. Today, Renewed Hope Missions has a school and has graduated 49 classes of preschoolers into the the community, providing hope to an entire generation of children.

Have you seen any burning bushes lately?

If we do start looking at the world with Christlike eyes it will be hard to ignore the burning bushes all around us:

  • You might see a burning bush in the oppression of the LGBTQ community.
  • Maybe there’s a burning bush calling you to serve the plight of refugees, forced out of their homes due to war, poverty, or violence.
  • Perhaps you see a burning bush to care for those trapped in a cycle of mass incarceration within the for-profit prison industry.
  • Maybe you see a burning bush talking about the food desserts that communities experience due to lack of fresh produce and groceries.
  • You might see a burning bush calling you to find ways to develop community for those that live and work downtown.
  • Maybe there’s a burning bush in the middle of your neighborhood waiting for you to take notice.

Have you seen any burning bushes lately?

In the poem From ‘Aurora Leigh’, Elizabeth Barrett Browning explains that burning bushes are all around us. God is trying to communicate with us, keying us into the mission.

Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees takes off his shoes,
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.

The thing about burning bushes is they are not easy to confront. God asked Moses to liberate an entire population from slavery in Egypt. That was an ENORMOUS task. Of course Moses tried to come up with every excuse imaginable. The job wasn’t going to be easy.

As Bonhoeffer said, we need to determine how we’re going to be the church in the modern world. Instead of picking blackberries, we need to acknowledge burning bushes and develop Fresh Expressions of ministry. Like Moses, we need to put our excuses aside and accept God’s mission to go and make disciples. This is how we will make a difference in our community.

Have you seen any burning bushes lately?

Think about this question. What message is God trying to send you? Let’s no longer worry about our own comfort and instead start talking about the new ways we can make a difference in our community.

God has equipped all of us to be agents of love, grace, justice, and peace in the world. We’re sitting here in the locker room, focusing on the game about to be played. We each have the ability to see a burning bush in the community and develop a Fresh Expression of ministry. We’ve just got to open our eyes and step onto the field.

Justin Cox Justin Cox

Justin Cox is a donut-loving, word-writing, nonprofit consultant based in Orlando. He also runs The Writing Cooperative on Medium. Come say hello!