Recalculating: When You Don’t Change Direction!

When We Follow The Directions But Without The Heart Of God—We Become The Refuser Of Festivities—And The Consumer Of Blessings

Rate this:

Advertisements

We are looking at the process of discovering God’s vision for you and this church, to discover God’s purpose for this place.  To do this, I want us to look at a couple of examples we need to learn from:  Jonah and Esther.  Today, let’s look at Jonah 1:1-5

 1 The Lord gave this message to Jonah son of Amittai: 2 “Get up and go to the great city of Nineveh.  Announce my judgment against it because I have seen how wicked its people are.”

But Jonah got up and went in the opposite direction to get away from the Lord.  He went down to the port of Joppa, where he found a ship leaving for Tarshish.  He bought a ticket and went on board, hoping to escape from the Lord by sailing to Tarshish.

4 But the Lord hurled a powerful wind over the sea, causing a violent storm that threatened to break the ship apart. 5 Fearing for their lives, the desperate sailors shouted to their gods for help and threw the cargo overboard to lighten the ship.  But all this time Jonah was sound asleep down in the hold.

If You Can Remember Only One Thing, This Is It: When We Follow The Directions But Without The Heart Of God—We Become The Refuser Of Festivities—And The Consumer Of Blessings.

When God gives us a Recalculating Moment, He does so to transform us into what can only be described as Becoming Peculiar People.  In other words—to stand out from everything else.  Always to be different from the world.  But sometimes God’s Recalculating Moment is for us to be different from the Religious Culture.

Don’t you want to be a peculiar people?  The phrase is Peter’s, from the King James Version of 1 Peter 2:9: “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a Peculiar People; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” 

In Greek, the phrase A Peculiar People means “a purchased possession”—something that uniquely belongs to God, acquired at great cost.  We are to be Holy Oddities—Sacred Misfits. You can’t make heads or tails of us unless you bring God into the equation.   But we’re going to look at one way to not be peculiar.

It’s the story of Jonah.  When I was a child in Sunday School, I heard the story of Jonah from the perspective that here is a hero of the faith.  At first, he didn’t want to go—in fact he would rather die than go.  But God showed grace in the form of this big fish.

Jonah changed his mind and would go.  The Hero, right?  Wrong.  Jonah refused God’s Recalculating Moment at first.  Eventually he followed God’s Recalculating Moment, but he did so without The Heart Of God.  Jonah shows us that it’s not enough to simply change direction.  Here’s the Lessons he teaches:

1.  Jonah Was A Prophet Who Wanted Nothing To Do With God.

Jonah—his name means dove.  Ironic, isn’t it?  Jonah’s name doesn’t fit his heart nor his attitude.  Biblically, the dove was a sign of hope and peace.  In the Old Testament, Doves represented hope, renewal, grace, beauty, innocence, swiftness, sacrifice, peace and good news.  In the New Testament, the dove is one of the principal symbols of the Holy Spirit—a sign from Heaven.  Jesus instructed his followers to be “harmless as doves.”  

Hope.  Renewal.  Grace.  Beauty.  Innocence.  Spirit.  Swiftness.  Sacrifice.  Good News.  Peace.  Jonah is none of this.  Jonah’s no dove!  He’s a hawk, a vulture.  Jonah’s a harbinger of judgment, a conjurer of despair, and a herald of bad news.  He’s a scrappy, noisy, crow!  And that’s the point.  Jonah is a prophet that wants nothing to do with God.  He’s an evangelist who wants nothing to do with the lost—except to see them punished and banished. Jonah Is A Portrait Of Those Who Were A People Of God But Who Have Lost The Heart Of God.  

He’s a picture of a person who is Christian in name only—not in character, conduct, or conviction.  He is an example of what happens to many Christians and many churches—we get turned in on ourselves, self-satisfied, self-indulgent, and happy to let the world go to hell.  Jonah avoids sinners.  When that’s no longer possible, he crusades against them, picketing their towns.  

He first tries to ignore their existence, then he protests against them, and then he seeks to annihilate them altogether.  If I had to identify the primary question that drives the Book of Jonah, it’s this:  Will Jonah Ever Learn To Be A Dove, Not Just In Name But Also In Heart?  And that’s the question the church must continually wrestle with: Will We Ever Learn To Be Christian, Not Just In Name But Also In Heart? This is Lesson 1 from Jonah.

2.  Jonah Rejects God’s Word.

The Book of Jonah begins with a miracle—God speaks to Jonah.  But Jonah resents and resists the word of the Lord, finding it to be a mighty inconvenience.  It doesn’t fit into his plan.  It doesn’t meet his expectations.  It doesn’t agree with his beliefs.  But the word comes anyway.  

The miracle is that the word of the Lord still breaks in on those who have long given up listening for it or attending to it; it still comes to those who have not hungered and thirsted for it for years—if ever! 

The word that comes to Jonah is firm and fixed:  Go. Jonah is to proclaim the Word of the Lord to Nineveh.   Nineveh was the capital of the blood thirsty Assyrians.  They are the enemy.  Jonah is called to go to the enemy.  But the crucial thing is how God sees this enemy.  

First of all, He sees they are wicked. In fact, their wickedness has come up before God and reached a tipping point in heaven.  God’s had enough; He’s going to act.  

But notice the second thing God sees in Nineveh—she is a great city.  Her greatness is not just in sheer physical size.  The Hebrew word used in the text means more than magnitude.  It speaks of importance and weightiness.  Nineveh’s greatness is her potential—if only she turned from her wickedness. 

Unless We See People, Towns, Cities, Cultures, Civilizations, Neighbors, And Strangers As God Sees Them, We Will Never Experience God’s Heart For Them.  If all we miss seeing their greatness, we’ll miss their potential, and the dreams God has for them.

3.  Jonah Runs Away From God.

Jonah only sees Nineveh’s wickedness and refuses to see her potential for greatness, so he runs away.  He is called to something too hard, so he flees.  This is where the story gets interesting.  Jonah doesn’t just flee the call of God or sidestep his assignment; he tries to escape God’s presence. Verse 3: Jonah…went in the opposite direction to get away from the Lord.  

Jonah is more than disobedient—he’s practically an atheist!  Jonah wants to live as though God does not exist—or at least as if God has no claim on him.  Those Who Have A Jonah Heart Want God’s Blessing But Want Nothing To Do With Either God’s Purposes Or Presence.  Jonah is not a worshiper—he avoids God’s presence.  He’s not a follower—he avoids God’s call,.  Jonah is a Consumer Of Blessings.

This Jonah heart is in each of us.  We all face a constant temptation to demand God’s blessing but avoid obedience and service.  Entire church communities can have a desire to seek God’s blessing, but not His Face or His Kingdom. Entire churches are sometimes preoccupied only with What’s In It For Me.  

Entire churches are tempted to be consumers but not worshipers or followers.  When that happens, everyone is impoverished. The church—which is to be the very body of Christ in the world, becomes just another country club—bored, snobbish and flabby.  The world that so desperately needs the gospel of Christ is left to stew in its own juices.  When A Church Craves God’s Blessing But Shuns His Presence And Avoids His Purpose—It Has Lost Its Heart For God.

Let’s finish the story, and see why Jonah isn’t a hero. Jonah flees, but he doesn’t get every far.  He books passage on a ship bound for Tarshish—a city at the edge of the known world.  Here’s something I learned just this week about the name Tarshish.  According to the New Unger’s Bible Dictionary, Tarshish is a Phoenician word from the Akkadian meaning Smelting Plant Or Refinery.  In biblical times, metals were obtained from the ore by fire.  He’s trying his best to get as far away as he possibly can. 

But Jonah jumps out of the pan and into the fire.  God Pursues Jonah Through A Storm, Still Wanting Jonah’s Heart The sailors on the boat force Jonah to confess his identity, and they discover that he’s the source of the trouble.  

At Jonah’s request, they throw him into the sea.  Jonah is suicidal.  God sends a large fish to swallow Jonah whole.  Three days later, the large fish spews him up on the shore.  Jonah, duly chastised, heads to Nineveh and does his duty.  He only does it because the pain of God’s chastisement is greater that his desire to run away.  

He preaches fire and brimstone and then goes and camps on the outskirts of Nineveh, waiting for God’s fireworks to fall on the city and its people.  But something strange takes place.  The king of Nineveh hears Jonah’s message, and he’s broken in his heart.  He puts on sackcloth and ashes and calls on the city to fast, pray, repent, and trust God’s mercy.  The entire city turns to God, and God shows mercy.  And Jonah couldn’t be more miserable.  

Jonah is a representative of a class of people we meet in the pages of Scripture, in the drama of life, and in the pews of our churches.  He is a Refuser Of Festivities.  He misses the grace of God and lets bitterness take root.  Like the older brother in the parable of the Prodigal Son, he won’t join the party; he won’t live in grace.  

God is involved in an extravagant, surprising, mercy-drenched business—seeking and saving those who are lost, throwing feasts once they’re found—but Jonah and his ilk sit on the sidelines and sulk about how hard God is on them and how soft he is on everyone else.  They stew about things taken away from them, and things they never wanted others to have that God has given to them without measure. 

In C. S. Lewis’ story, The Silver Chair, a selfish little girl named Jill asks the great lion Aslan—the story’s Christ figure—if he eats girls.  Aslan responds, “I have swallowed boys and girls, men and women, kings and kingdoms.”  And here is an even more interesting question: Has He swallowed you? 

How are you handling God’s Recalculating Moments in your life?  With joy?  Or with the resentment of Jonah?

Your Next Steps:

  1.   Remember that to follow God’s directions, we have to change our direction.  And to change our direction, we need to bring along the right attitude.  What needs to change with your attitude?
  2.   It’s done by putting aside our fear of failing or the uncertainty of how it will happen.  Don’t wait for someone else to step up.  It’s time for you to step out.

And There Was A Loud Wailing And Crying!

It was early yesterday afternoon when I first noticed it. The sound was at first faint and distant. But it grew louder and louder, deafening even. I quickly recognized it as the sound of people wailing and crying. Between the wails and the cries was the sound of moaning. I wondered, “What’s going on? Did the rapture happen and I missed it? Are hyper-Calvinists right, and I wasn’t one of the chosen?” I didn’t have a clue as to the cause–just the wailing and the crying, and the moans as they were trying to catch their breath.

Then last night, I discovered the reason when I checked in on my Twitter account: Facebook and Instagram were DOWN! Oh dear Lord! Is this a sign of the apocalypse? I reflected for a moment, thinking about the deafening sounds in the hills and hollows around our community. Suddenly, clarity came to me, and I began to understand what all those people were crying, wailing and moaning about.

The world was missing out on how important they are.  The world wouldn’t know what they ate for lunch; the mean people they encountered, the times they didn’t get their way.  In short, their small, selfish world imploded on them. They were no longer the center of the universe. It was as if a black hole had swallowed them up. They felt insignificant because they couldn’t tell how many liked their latest post. Self-esteem plummeted like the Stock Market.

But the most disturbing cry I heard was from those who self-identify as “Christian”.  They were moaning, “Oh, dear Lord, sweet Jesus, how can the world know how much I love you?  I can’t ‘like’, ‘share’, ‘type amen’, ‘copy and paste this as my status’.   Merciful God, how can they know I’m not ashamed of you if I can’t like, share, type amen, copy and paste this as my status?  Sweet Jesus, what am I going to do?  How can I let the world know about you, my friends (some of whom I’ve never met, but they are my FB friends) won’t be able to see I’m a Christian!  Please, Jesus, heal Facebook and Instagram.  The world needs to know You, and how can it if I can’t like, share, type amen, copy and paste this as my status?  If you can’t heal Facebook and Instagram, then Jesus just come on back.  There’s nothing I can do for you anymore.”

Now if this all sounds sarcastic to you, then please, let me assure you, IT IS! Sarcasm is one of my spiritual gifts, although the Holy Spirit is probably scratching His head right now wondering, “When did I give Randy that gift?” OK, so Facebook and Instagram crashed yesterday. I would like to think that it was caused by the Holy Spirit (now I can’t give you any Scripture to back this up) to get people to rethink about their life–especially those who self-identify as “Christian”.

I know I’m a day late and a dollar short, but may I give you wailers, criers, and moaners some advice? The next time Facebook and Instagram crashes, calmly remind yourself that you are not the center of the universe. Oh, that realization will hurt and hurt deeply. But when the truth dawns upon you, you will find a lot more calm and peace in your life.

And to you who self-identify as “Christians”? Try this to let your friends and the world know you are a Christian. Be kind to everyone. Help anyone and everyone you can. Volunteer at the local food bank. Help sort clothes that were given to help those in need. Get to know your neighbors. Listen. In other words, let your attitudes and actions announce you are indeed a Christian, not your posts.

Facebook and Instagram crashed. The world did not end. Jesus hasn’t returned, yet. And the hyper-Calvinists are still wrong. So…..Love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to HIM! And you can live without Facebook and Instagram….

Give Up Going Through The Motions!

  1 Corinthians 11:23-26 (The Message)

23-26 Let me go over with you again exactly what goes on in the Lord’s Supper and why it is so centrally important.  I received my instructions from the Master Himself and passed them on to you.

The Master, Jesus, on the night of his betrayal, took bread. Having given thanks, He broke it and said, “This is my body, broken for you.  Do this to remember Me.”  After supper, he did the same thing with the cup:  “This cup is my blood, my new covenant with you.  Each time you drink this cup, remember me.”

What you must solemnly realize is that every time you eat this bread and every time you drink this cup, you reenact in your words and actions the death of the Master.  You will be drawn back to this meal again and again until the Master returns. You must never let familiarity breed contempt.

The definition of familiarity is: “close acquaintance with or knowledge of something or someone; or to a feeling of comfort and closeness with someone or something.”  Familiarity can lead to know someone or something so well and in such a way as to cause you to lose your admiration, respect and sense of awe.  That is unhealthy familiarity.  One of the synonyms of unhealthy familiarity is presumption.

And we end up simply Going Through The Motions.  And this is something we need to give up for good.  And if you can remember only 1 thing from tonight’s message, this is it:

We Need Healing From The Spirit Of Familiarity With God If We Are To See The Power Of God In Our Lives.

This was what was happening in Corinth.  And it can just as easily happen to us as it did the Corinthians.  We cannot treat God as nothing and at the same time expect Him to do something for us.

But when we honor His name, honor Him for who He is and reverence His name, He will do greater and mightier things in our lives than ever before.  When we honor His name He honor’s us with His presence and power.  Honoring God’s name also means to honor the Body of Christ—the Church.

The problem is that we have turned the church into our dwelling place instead of His dwelling place.  Our voice, opinion, will and desires are bigger than God’s.  We worship self more than we worship Him and yet we desire Him to do something big in our lives.

Tonight we remember the Sacrifice Jesus made for each of us and everyone else.  And it’s time to ask ourselves some hard questions:

  • Do you want to get God’s attention and to have Him look deeply into our lives?
  • Do you want to walk in the power of The Holy Spirit?
  • Do you want God to come through in our lives, and nation?
  • And do you want to see the Real Fire of Revival burning in your life, in your communities and nation?

If your answer is yes, then you must avoid growing too familiar with who God is in our lives.  This means we change our attitude towards God and honor His name above everything else.  The Church today is not experiencing a tangible presence and power of God simply because of  the “spirit of familiarity” that is sweeping through the hearts of men and women in Churches around this nation and especially in our own Tribe.

There are some obvious dangers of going through the motions—of allowing that vile spirit of familiarity control our minds and hearts.  There are 5 dangers when we simply go through the motions:

  1. Familiarity Causes Us To Look At What Worked In The Past To Copy And Then Recreate It. This is a deadly way in regard to the Kingdom of God because the Kingdom of God is always advancing into the new thing. {Isaiah 43:18-19} “Forget about what’s happened; don’t keep going over old history.  Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new.  It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it?  There it is!  I’m making a road through the desert, rivers in the badlands.  Holy Communion is not just about looking backwards—it’s all about looking forward to the future!
  2. Familiarity with God causes us to lose the respect and fear for the Lord. Fear of the Lord isn’t terror—it is living in awe of Him—His Glory, Power and Wisdom.  Awe and Reverence is what creates our hunger for God’s Wisdom {Proverbs 1:7} “Start with God—the first step in learning is bowing down to God; only fools thumb their noses at such wisdom and learning.   When we lose that respect and fear, we close the door to learning from God.  Like concrete, we get set in our way.  When we get set in our ways, then we do not respect His ways.
  3. Familiarity with God, causes us to lose respect and honor for the Body of Christ. We disrespect and dishonor the Body of Christ when we make it more about us and less about Him. {Mark 11:17}.  “And then he taught them, quoting this text:  My house was designated a house of prayer for the nations; You’ve turned it into a hangout for thieves.”   Jesus rebuked the people who had turned the house of God into a market place because of their familiarity with God.  Familiarity reduces the church to an institution and museum rather than a living movement of God’s power.
  4. Familiarity with God prevents the Holy Spirit from working effectively in us and in the church. Inevitably familiarity creates presumption, and presumption leads to assumptions, which is a slippery slope when it comes to the ways of God.  It will lead to the most terrible place for anyone who considers themselves a Christian—The Place of Taking For Granted.  {2 Timothy 3:5 NLT} “They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly.”  This was what was happening at Corinth.  They were using this Sacred Meal as a party for just themselves.  And God was left out.

 How we can stop going through the motions?

  • Live each day by the word of God. {Psalm 119:105 NLT} “Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path.” Life gets complicated. The world offers the wrong advice.  Even our own minds trick us.  But God’s Word is dependable.  Whatever we face—His Word will guide us.
  • Spend time with God in prayer. {Psalm 42:1-2 NLT} “As the deer longs for streams of water, so I long for you, O God. I thirst for God, the living God.  When can I go and stand before him?”  Prayer is that glass of cool water for our thirsty heart.  Prayer is all about taking in the Holy Presence of God.  Too many treat prayer like it’s the Divine Vending Machine—insert money, make your selection of what you want.  Receive item.  Prayer is intentionally focusing your attention first and foremost on God Himself, not what we want or need.  And God will always amaze us with His presence because He is always showing Himself in fresh, new ways.
  • Come to Church with an expectant heart. {Numbers 14:9} “Just don’t rebel against God! And don’t be afraid of those people. Why, we’ll have them for lunch! They have no protection and God is on our side. Don’t be afraid of them!” This is from that moment after God promised them the Land in front of them.  But they wanted to go back to slavery.  They didn’t expect God to move.  Every Sunday people walk into churches expecting nothing powerful to happen—and it usually doesn’t.  When we walk into this place expecting God to show up, He does.  And now we can walk out there expecting God to show up and He will.
  • Give Yourself to the Mission of God. {Matthew 28:19 NLT} “Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” Our identity and purpose is found only in the Mission of God.  God gave Adam and Eve a Mission in the beginning.  He gave Noah a Mission.  He gave Abraham a Mission.  He gave Samuel a Mission.  He gave Elijah a Mission.  He gave The Prophets a Mission.  He gives us the most important mission of all—helping people see Jesus.
  • Desire God above everything else. {Matthew 6:33 NLT} “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.” There is nothing physical in this building that you must have for life. There is absolutely nothing physical out there that you must have to experience real life.    What we need cannot be seen with the natural eye.  It is only found through the heart.

These symbols of bread and wine, are nothing—mean nothing—until we stop going through the motions of doing.  This is our moment to proclaim the greatest event in all of human history—God becoming human—dying for us—so that we can be made right with Him!

Slide25

 

What’s A Martyr?

Martyr

We urgently need more martyrs today!  Can you imagine the revival that would happen in the U.S. if “Comfortable Christians”, Tenured Pew Sitters, Churchians and others who are more focused on their little piece of the church than the Kingdom of God would embrace J.D.’s challenge?

Give Up That Too Small God!

(Note:  This is the third in my Lent Series “Give It Up!”  It is about the things we need to give up and not take back up at Easter)

 

 

 

2 Kings 6:8-17 The Message

One time when the king of Aram was at war with Israel, after consulting with his officers, he said, “At such and such a place I want an ambush set.” 9 The Holy Man sent a message to the king of Israel:  “Watch out when you’re passing this place, because Aram has set an ambush there.”  10 So the king of Israel sent word concerning the place of which the Holy Man had warned him.  This kind of thing happened all the time.

 11 The king of Aram was furious over all this. He called his officers together and said, “Tell me, who is leaking information to the king of Israel?  Who is the spy in our ranks?”  12 But one of his men said, “No, my master, dear king.  It’s not any of us.  It’s Elisha the prophet in Israel.  He tells the king of Israel everything you say, even what you whisper in your bedroom.” 13 The king said, “Go and find out where he is. I’ll send someone and capture him.”  The report came back, “He’s in Dothan.”  14 Then he dispatched horses and chariots, an impressive fighting force.  They came by night and surrounded the city.

15 Early in the morning a servant of the Holy Man got up and went out.  Surprise!  Horses and chariots surrounding the city!  The young man exclaimed, “Oh, master! What shall we do?”

16 He said, “Don’t worry about it—there are more on our side than on their side.” 17 Then Elisha prayed, “O God, open his eyes and let him see.”  The eyes of the young man were opened and he saw.  A wonder!  The whole mountainside full of horses and chariots of fire surrounding Elisha!

How Big Is Your God?  This question is the one I wanted to open this message with today.  I allowed it to float around and started developing more thoughts around it—until—until the Holy Spirit screamed at me:  “Have you lost your ever-loving mind?  That’s the wrong question to ask!”  Then He gave me the right question:

Is Your God Too Small?  What fueled this question for me is from a book written by J.B. Phillips called Your God Is Too Small.  It’s interesting that God brought me back to this book.  J.B. talks a lot about the “modern church”.  By the way, J.B. is not one of those young skinny-jeans-wearing preachers who doesn’t understand preachers do better wearing a suit, or even better wearing a robe.  What makes this unique is that J.B. wrote this book in 1953—modern church of 1953.  And now, I see this book as prophetic, for many of the issues he raised in 1953 that were tumors in the church are 65 years later, full-blown malignancies in the church of 2018.

Slide15And if you can remember only 1 thing from today’s message, this is it:  One Of The Problems Of Church Today Is That Many Have A god That Is Too Small.  God cannot be reduced to what we want him to be.  The God we envision, in some ways, will always be too small.  And when your god is too small on any level, that god in whom you believe is not the true God.

Putting it this way:

  • If your god’s job description reads “Make my life more comfortable and easy.”—Then your god is too small.
  • If your god says things to you like, “Don’t take a risk, just play it safe.”—Then your god is too small.
  • If your god operates on your time-table, if you are in control of his calendar—Then your god is too small.
  • If your god’s job is to obey you, by doing what you want when you want him to do it…if your god is a genie that exists to grant your wishes—Then your god is too small.
  • If your god is a white guy that has a closet full of suits and ties… if your god always wears a white robe, looks old and has a long white beard—Then your god is too small.
  • If your god loves Americans more than Muslims—Then your god is too small.
  • If your god is always saying “Come” but never says “Go”…if he always says “Learn” but never says “Do”—Then your god is too small.
  • If your god never wrecks your schedule, or messes up your plans, or never asks you to do something that’s not in the budget—Then your god is too small.
  • If your god needs a certain president in office to achieve his plans and purposes for this nation—Then your god is too small.
  • If your god has never filled your eyes with tears because of his grace and left you breathless because of his power—Then your god is too small.
  • If your god always agrees with you…if your god likes only the things that you like….and dislikes everything that you dislike—Then your god is too small.
  • If your god always thinks that your opinion is the most important one… that the decisions of the church should fall in line with your opinions—Then your god is too small.
  • If your god is OK with you spending just an hour or so a week with him on Sunday in church—Then your god is too small.
  • If your god doesn’t convict you to speak up when you know something is wrong, or he says, “Oh, it’s OK to remain silent. They won’t listen to you and it will make it hard on you, so I’ll just have to work around them.”—Then your god is too small.
  • If your god is OK with you withholding his tithes and your offerings because you don’t like the preacher or like a decision the church made…if he is OK with you giving to a designated fund rather than the operating fund—Then your god is too small.
  • If your god looks at your sin of lust or greed or gossip or whining and says, “Oh, that’s no big deal. You’re better than most.”—Then your god is too small.
  • If your god says you’re too messed up, too broken, too guilty, too poor, too ignorant, too young, too old to make a difference—Then your god is too small.
  • If your god fits nicely into a box—then that’s not God. And if you would take the time to look inside that box, you will find that God is not there because God Doesn’t Do Boxes.

Today’s scripture is about a man whose God wasn’t too small.  Elisha knew that God would never fit into any of our human boxes.  Here’s the story.  The King of Aram had been trying to ambush the army of Israel, but every time, Elisha would warn the King of Israel.

If you were commander-in-chief of an army, and your enemy knew everything you were doing, what would you think?  “There’s a spy among us!”  Logical, right?  And you know what happens to spies.  But his military leaders quickly reveal the real problem—it’s Elisha.  When the King of Aram finds out its Elisha making the problems, he sets out to find him and capture him.  He finds Elisha in Dothan and surrounds the city one night.

That next morning, Elisha’s servant goes out and sees the city surrounded.  He did not know what to do.  In his mind, the situation was hopeless.  But God has something else in mind.  When you think there’s nothing that can be done about a situation, God has something else in mind.  But to see God’s “something else”, you must choose what kind of god you are going to give your heart to—the god created by your minds or the God who created you.  In today’s story, there are 3 things you need to learn from Elisha to help you give up your god that is too small:

1]  Elisha Remembered The Mantle.

What’s the Mantle?  Glad you asked.  The Mantle was the Mantle of Elijah.  It was like a cloak and it represented 2 eternal truths:  Authority and Power.  Elijah had the Authority and Power to speak on God’s behalf and to do what God wanted done.

Before God took Elijah into heaven, Elisha made a request:  to have a double portion of the Spirit that lived in Elijah.  Elijah said he could have it, only if he was with him when God came for him.  And Elisha was there.  As Elijah was carried into heaven by the Chariot of Fire, his mantle fell to the ground and Elisha had a choice:  give his heart to a god that was too small or pick up the Mantle. He chose the mantle of Elijah. When he looked at the mantle, he remembered that the Authority And The Power was still there.

Our mantle is the promise of the authority and power of the Holy Spirit!

We carry into our daily lives the Mantle of The Holy Spirit—that God promised would bring power and authority, dreams and visions—to everyone.  Young and old, men and women.

Gods that are too small have no such mantle of power and authority for anyone.  Only the Holy Spirit brings that, and only to those who have that desire to be filled with the Double Portion.  You then live in and live out what the Holy Spirit wants—not the things you want.

2]  Elisha Kept The Vision

He saw the Chariot Of Fire take Elijah into heaven.  He knew the plans and purposes of God.  He knew what the King of Aram was doing.  He could not go to the kitchen without Elisha knowing what kind of sandwich he ate, whether it had mustard or mayonnaise, lettuce and tomato.  Elisha even knew what kind of bread was used.

Elisha wasn’t worried when the news came, “We’re surrounded”.  He saw the Chariot of Fire take Elijah into heaven, and he never lost sight of that Chariot of Fire.  It was a Chariot of Fire, not a Prius.  He wasn’t worried about the enemy’s army, he knew that the was surrounded by the Hosts of Heaven’s Armies.  The sight of Elijah being carried away stayed with him, even in the tough times.

God’s Vision Is Always Something You Cannot Do Without Him.

When you follow gods that are too small, they give visions that are too small.   Gods that are too small give visions of things that you can accomplish with your intellect, your abilities and your strength.  In other words, small gods give you projects to complete.  It takes Fire, Authority and Power to live in and through His Vision.

3]  Elisha Lived In Confidence

Elisha saw the army of Aram around the city—but Elisha saw more.  He saw the Hosts of Heaven’s Armies!  He knew the battle did not belong to the one who had a powerful army.  He knew the battle belongs to the Lord of Hosts who has ALL power at his side!

Elisha Wasn’t Concerned About His Physical Circumstances Because He Had Confidence In His Spiritual Circumstances.

He knew those hills around him were alive with the presence of God.   This is the kind of faith that sustained Elisha and so many others.  And it’s the faith that will sustain you in times like these.  The challenge of faith is to see that the hills around your life are alive with the Living Presence of God!

Gods that are too small will never give you confidence about your future when the enemy surrounds you.  Your focus will be on what’s wrong or what’s missing, rather than seeing your situations through faith.  Hebrews 11 says that faith is trusting and having confidence in what isn’t seen with the eyes or understood by the mind.

There’s a simple rule of human behavior that states: What You Take Seriously, You Treat Seriously.

Today I have my conception of God.  That conception is different from when I was a kid, different than when I was saved, different than when I started to preach, even different from 5 years ago.  And hopefully, will be different in another 5 years.  My understanding of God must change as I discover more and more about Him.  When my concept of God becomes static, that there is nothing more I need to know about Him, then my god is too small.  So, I keep growing…

And now you must choose:  Have you given your heart to a god that is too small?  Or have you given your heart to the True God who is more than all other gods combined.  Life is not always simple, but this issue is simple.  For Lent, give up your small god.

The hope for your communities does not lie in who occupies the pulpits nor who sits in these pews, but in Who occupies your hearts and minds with the double portion.  And that is a choice that only you can make.

The High Price Of Following Jesus!

Slide2

DisclaimerThis I have noticed, not all of the “Hard Sayings” of Jesus are hard because they are difficult to understand what He means.  Speaking for myself, I find many of them hard—not because they are hard to understand—they are hard because they are easy to understand.  The difficulty is in what they demand if we are going to really going to be saved.  Such is the case in today’s passage, Luke 9:57-62 (NIV)

57 As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”  58 Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”

59 He said to another man, “Follow me.”  But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”  60 Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”

61 Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.”  62 Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”

OK, let’s go ahead and apply the First 2 questions when dealing with the tough things Jesus said:

  1. Is It Possible?
  2. Is It Consistent With The Principles And Message Of The Kingdom?

We are dealing with 3 separate situations but there is a single answer for all 3 situations.  It’s found in Matthew 16:24-25 (NIV)— Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.”  Jesus lived out this model of following God and He expected no less from anyone who followed Him.  So, the answer to both questions is YES.  This means it’s a Word we need to take literally because it has authority over us.

Slide10 I am so very thankful that Salvation is Free.  It’s pure Grace that delivers you and I from the penalty of sin.  And it’s pure Grace that delivers us from the dominion of sin because God gives each one of us who trusts in the Cross of Jesus a new heart—literally a new life.  This new life comes with the promised indwelling of the Holy Spirit who helps us resist Satan’s attempt to bring us back under the dominion of sin.

And it would be much easier if following Jesus was only about getting saved, then just wait for the trip to heaven.  Don’t you agree?  Just go to the local terminal, find your gate, have a  seat and just wait for them to call you flight number and take you home.  But it’s not; there is much more.  Jesus came in a time when getting to heaven was all about keeping rules and rituals.  The problem with keeping rules and rituals is that they do not fill the heart with what for which we are created—That Relationship and Partnership with God.

And many people who listened to Jesus realized this, because their hearts longed for more.  This concept of being saved by The Gift of God, wonderful!  No more worrying about the Rules and Rituals.  So people came running towards Jesus, wanting this wonderful Gift.  And in today’s passage, we find 3 typical people wanting this Gift but without the cost of authentically following Jesus.

Slide11

Think about this:  What good is wanting salvation without the cost of following Jesus?  A word missing from church today is a big word like mahogany:  DISCIPLESHIP.  This is a word that invokes the response from the movie The Princess Bride where Montoya Inigo says to Vizzini who frequently says “Inconceivable”— “I do not think it means what you think it means.” 

 

Here’s the definition of DISCIPLESHIP—“It Is The Process Of Learning, Applying, And Sharing With Others The Teachings Of Jesus.”  Learning for yourself, Applying to yourself before Sharing with others is what marks the difference between those who are “Christian” in name only and those who are Christian in heart, mind and life.  Salvation is free, but Discipleship is costly.  Here is why it’s Costly:

1]  It Costs Personal Comfort

As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”  Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”  (Vs. 57-58)

Here’s a man like us.  He wants to follow Jesus.  Promising idea, right?  And immediately Jesus challenges him where we all live:  At the level of comfort.  You work hard to be comfortable; if you have a family, you work hard for them to be comfortable.  And many want to be comfortable following Jesus.  But Jesus isn’t offering us Comfortable.

I’m thinking about David when God’s avenging Angel was about to destroy Jerusalem.  David had ordered a census and the reason was David wanted to know how many men there were available to fight.  After all, David is a Warrior, and a warrior needs to plan.  But there’s a problem:  David hasn’t consulted God about it.  God gives David an option on his punishment and David chooses 3 days of an angel of devastation.  As that angel gets close to Jerusalem, David wants to intercede for Jerusalem and offer God a sacrifice, in hopes of finding mercy and grace with God.  The farmer Ornan offers David his plow for the fire and oxen for the sacrifice and all for free.  But David responded, “No, I insist on paying you for it. I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.”  Unfortunately a lot of people who occupy the pews only want to sacrifice to God what costs them nothing.

You must give up personal comfort—to try even at the risk of failure.  Jesus is demanding and following Him is even more demanding.  Discipleship means we risk everything for Jesus.  Right now, I’m thinking about our Mission Team Leader, Shelley Jones.  Before she retired she was a computer programmer.  Everything was about 0’s and 1’s–the binary code make it predictable.  But as Mission Team Leader, she will tell you, she is way outside her comfort zone—but nonetheless, she’s engaged in Discipleship.  You can’t follow Jesus in your comfort zones.

2]  It Requires Immediate Commitment!

He said to another man, “Follow me.”  But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”  Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”   (Vs. 59-60)

The traditional view of this part is that his Dad wasn’t even dead yet.  So, it’s just an excuse to postpone.  “Jesus, as soon as my Dad dies, I’ll follow you.”  This makes Jesus sound less harsh.  But in the Talmud, their Bible and Book of Discipline (for you United Methodists) rolled into one stated:  “He who is confronted by a dead relative is freed from reciting the Shema, from the eighteen benedictions, and from all the commandments stated in the Torah.”  The Shema is like their pledge of allegiance and it comes from Deuteronomy 6:4-5

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.

The 18 benedictions were their prayers at morning, midday and evening, so they were relieved of praying.  And they were released from obeying all the commands in the Torah.  In other words, according to the rules and traditions, nothing is more important than a funeral.  But Jesus shocks this man and the whole crowd.  Jesus says, “Nothing is more important right now than The Kingdom of God.”  Jesus is saying that the old way of doing things is long gone.

John McNeill, a well-know preacher in Scotland during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s tells this story.  He was scheduled to begin a series of meetings in England.  His father died in Scotland on the day the services were to begin.  He was told that it would be OK to cancel the services, everyone would understand.  But hear John’s reply:  “This same Jesus stood by me and seemed to say, ‘Now, look.  I have you.  You go and preach the Gospel to those people.  Would you rather bury the dead or raise the dead?’ And I went to preach.”  There are no excuses for postponing your discipleship—learning, applying and sharing the Good News!

3]  It Involves Unlimited Commitment

Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.”   Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”  (Vs. 61-62)

Jesus wants you to make up your mind.  There is a strong trend in our culture to want “Jesus Lite”.  A cartoon showed a church building with a large billboard in front that proclaimed:

Slide18

It’s not unique to our time; we clearly see it when Jesus walked His creation.  People were always looking for an easier way to get into heaven.  Following Jesus Lite can make you feel better about yourself, but it does not make you a Christian and it will not bring transformation to your culture.

Each of these men had an excuse—the last 2 were more direct.  Did you catch the words that are the 3 Most Telling Words Of All?

First Let Me.

In trying to have a relationship with Jesus, do you have a First Let Me?  What is your “First Let Me”?  Your excuse?

Slide19