On this Post-Election Day, ask yourself this question. Maybe this song will help you choose how you will build your life.
I remember back when (dear Lord, I’ve turned into an old coot!) the gas lines in 1974. For you who haven’t a clue of what I’m talking about, and for those who forgot about it, I’m talking about “The Great Gasoline Shortage of 1974. I admit that even as a teenager I was frustrated with the long lines. But there is an even greater shortage today, this very moment–and that is the shortage of Graciousness.
Maybe I need to define Graciousness since there is so little of it going around. You may notice (hopefully!) that you can hear that word Grace! There are a lot of ways of defining Grace, but my personal favorite is this:
Unmerited and unconditional kindness and favor extended to everyone.
As a people and as the People of The United States of America, it seems that the majority have forgotten both the value and importance of Graciousness. Please, for the sake of this Republic and for the sake of the human race, Be Gracious! And in the morning and all day long, Be Gracious! Then on the next day, and the day after that, and the day after that, and the day after than, and. . .hopefully you get the point. And the point is BE GRACIOUS!
Usually I post my Sunday message scripts, but here is from yesterday’s message, via Facebook Live:
What we need, more than anything else in these times of chaos and fear is Direction. Not just any direction; but a New And Different Direction. Choosing a direction is not enough. Choices without action are worthless.
And here is the One Thing you need to remember this morning: Any Choice That Doesn’t Come With Action Is Just Wishing And Useless. So, for the next two Sundays we’re going to focus on Getting The Word In Our Feet. It’s about learning to take action. We are going to look at two stories: one from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament.
This week it is from Numbers 13. This is a time when the Hebrew children thought they were lost—feeling unsure and uncertain about the future. They were wandering in the wilderness, looking for a better land which God had promised them. But somehow, just like our world, they feel lost, unsure of the future. I would encourage you this week to read chapters 13 and 14, but for now let’s look at a few verses:
Vs. 1-2—“The Lord now said to Moses, “Send out men to explore the land of Canaan, the land I am giving to the Israelites. Send one leader from each of the twelve ancestral tribes.”
As you may know, this is the story of the 12 spies.
Vs. 17-20—“Moses gave the men these instructions as he sent them out to explore the land: “Go north through the Negev into the hill country. See what the land is like, and find out whether the people living there are strong or weak, few or many. See what kind of land they live in. Is it good or bad? Do their towns have walls, or are they unprotected like open camps? Is the soil fertile or poor? Are there many trees? Do your best to bring back samples of the crops you see.” (It happened to be the season for harvesting the first ripe grapes.)
The 12 spies go out and Moses tells them what to look for. They spend some time there, and then we find in vs. 25-28—
“After exploring the land for forty days, the men returned to Moses, Aaron, and the whole community of Israel at Kadesh in the wilderness of Paran. They reported to the whole community what they had seen and showed them the fruit they had taken from the land. This was their report to Moses: “We entered the land you sent us to explore, and it is indeed a bountiful country—a land flowing with milk and honey. Here is the kind of fruit it produces. But the people living there are powerful, and their towns are large and fortified. We even saw giants there, the descendants of Anak!”
Now, that word doesn’t mean much to us, but to that crowd of Hebrews it struck terror in their hearts. Now the people are not only uncertain, but now they’re terrified and angry! “What in the world are we going to do?”
Vs. 30-33—“But Caleb tried to quiet the people as they stood before Moses. “Let’s go at once to take the land,” he said. “We can certainly conquer it!” But the other men who had explored the land with him disagreed. “We can’t go up against them! They are stronger than we are!” So they spread this bad report about the land among the Israelites: “The land we traveled through and explored will devour anyone who goes to live there. All the people we saw were huge. We even saw giants there, the descendants of Anak. Next to them we felt like grasshoppers, and that’s what they thought, too!”
These 12 spies go out, spend 40 days checking everything out, trying to decide if this is where they would like to live—And Forgot What God Said—and they come back with a majority report and a minority report. The vote is 10-2.
All 12 agree that the land is good, that it’s fruitful, and that it would be a great place to live. All 12 agree that the cities are strong and well fortified and that the people who live there were like giants. But 10 Of The Spies Drew A Conclusion That Wasn’t Theirs To Draw—they went beyond what God wanted them to do.
They said, “We’re whipped! We can’t do it! We can’t go forward! They’ll do us in!” But Joshua and Caleb presents the minority report and says: “Oh yes we can! Let’s go forward. We can occupy this land because God said so!” So, how do you think the crowd voted?
With the majority and Number 14 opens that way. I won’t read on, I’ll just tell you what happens in case you forgot. God gets disgusted with the whole crowd and decided that a people who have so little faith don’t deserve what He’s giving to them.
So God says he’s going to let them have it—just give up on them and start with a different people. Well, this upsets Moses, so he goes into his tent and prays all night, telling God that He is a gracious, loving and generous God. He also has a little private prayer I call a Public Relations Prayer. Moses says to God, “If you destroy this people and start all over, others will hear about it and they’re not going to think much of you.” Then Moses prays for God to forgive them, and God does forgive them.
Then God does something very interesting. He sets up the first generation gap in the Bible. God declared, “Everyone over 20, except Joshua and Caleb, I condemn to wondering in this desert for 40 years, there to die. Everyone under 20, along with Joshua and Caleb, may inherit this land after those 40 years.” Let’s learn something about Getting The Word In Our Feet When We Are In The Wilderness:
1. First, Let’s Look At The Minority Report!
The Minority Report can teach us some obvious lessons for the church today and for you here this morning.
Lesson 1: The People Of God Are Supposed To Live By Faith! It doesn’t matter if they are in the wilderness or the Promised Land. It doesn’t matter whether everything is going well and growing, or whether we find ourselves in adversity and hard times. Whatever the environment may be that surrounds us, WE are to live by faith.
Lesson 2: The People Of God, Those Who Live By Faith, Somehow Manage To Win In The End, Even If It Takes A Miracle! God’s people will always manage to win! Why? Because the Lord is with them! No matter how tough the problem, if we will follow God’s directions and trust God’s plan and timing, we can’t help but win!
Lesson 3: We Can Expect To Find Some Disagreements, Even Among The People Of God. It shouldn’t surprise us that there is a majority report and a minority report. This is quite often the way the people of God operate. We respond differently to the situations life brings us. But I really like what is said in Chapter 14:24—
“But my servant Caleb has a different attitude than the others have. He has remained loyal to me, so I will bring him into the land he explored. His descendants will possess their full share of that land.”
What Marks The Difference In The People Of God Is Not What Life Brings And Puts In Their Hands, But What We Bring To Life In Our Spirit And Attitude.
You’ve seen it. 2 people go through similar tragedies, one comes through victorious, the other bitter and defeated. People Of Faith are to bring into those difficult situations courage, commitment, joy, hope, confidence, trust and love. Indeed, this is a different spirit and that different spirit enables us to go forward against all odds.
2. Next, Let’s Look At The Spirit Of The Majority Report.
The spirit of the people in the Majority Report is both simple and sad: “Oh, No! We Can’t Make It! It’s Better If We Go Back To Egypt!” The way this type of attitude is expressed today is usually when someone says: “That’s not the way we did it back then!” Or, “We’ve never done it that way before!”
There are 2 ways to learn Great Lessons: Experience And Observation. Allow me to share nearly 46 years of Experience And Observation as a pastor: Most local churches have a Back To Egypt Committee. It may be a large committee or a committee of one. They may be vocal, or they may sit silently waiting for the right moment to pounce.
But whenever there is a proposal to go forward in ministry, forward in outreach, inevitably the Back To Egypt Committee stands up and says “Oh, no! We can’t do that!”
But you can look forward to the future with confidence and say with Joshua and Caleb, “Because The Lord Is With Us, We CAN Go Forward.” And I thank God, and thank Him often, for those of you who will rise up even as a minority report and say, “Oh Yes We Can Because The Lord Is Us With!”
Our issues today are rather clear. Let’s talk first about the Elephant In The Room, General Conference 2020. Many wonder what’s going to happen. Some wonder if anything will happen. What will we look like after May 2020? But there are more issues and they are just as important.
One issue is our resources, to use our resources to move forward toward God’s Promised Land. What are our resources? We have the Gospel and all its power, and that’s a lot. We have our physical resources of money, talents, and building. We have the Holy Spirit. We have each other. Your faith, commitment, leadership, spiritual service and prayers are resources for this church and should be talked about more than our physical resources.
Another issue is strategy—making decisions on how we will use our resources. Will we recognize their value or will we go out and bury them? Once we recognize their value, how and where will we use them for God’s kingdom and His glory? At this point, this is usually where we disagree. Now, I believe it’s OK to disagree with each other at this point IF we agree that we are all God’s people and that if we trust God and follow Him, we can overcome any obstacle, and that our main purpose as a church is to make more disciples for Jesus!
For these Hebrews their Canaan, their land of promise, was physical land. Our Canaan, our land of promise, is Spiritual. Our Canaan is relating people to Jesus Christ. What are we doing to bring people into that relationship?
So what do we do? Do we listen to the Back To Egypt Committee and give up? Or do we listen to the Joshua and Caleb Committee and say, “God Is With Us, So Let’s Go Forward!”? The real issue we are facing is not survival but Mission! Think about this: If we focus on survival, we won’t survive. The Majority Report was about Survival. The Minority Report was about Mission! Which Report worked?
Is the Word in your feet? Getting the word in your feet is a matter of deciding that the Lord is with us and because the Lord is with us, we can more forward, even in the face of giants, because God is the ultimate Giant Killer!
Because you can’t follow Jesus and stay where you are, here is your Next Step: Make Up Your Mind If You Want To Go Back To Egypt, Or Move Forward Into The Promised Land.
If you long for the good old days when it was simpler, then you are Heading Back To Egypt. But, even if it scares the living daylights out you, if your desire is to see The Kingdom On Earth, then make up your mind with Joshua and Caleb: “Oh Yes We Can Because The Lord Is Us With!” Then the word is in your feet!
This Wednesday I’m wondering about. . . faith; more exactly, Where Is The Faith In God Today? Clarification is in order: By the word FAITH I am talking about unconditional and unlimited trust in God–in God’s ways, timing, and most of all, in His Word to us, The Bible.
While the Church is supposed to be the one who leads the way in understanding and living in and by Faith, it seems that this huge corporation called AT&T® has a better grasp on Faith. Maybe you’ve seen this commercial:
For many who wear the name “Christian”, they think Faith is a set of beliefs and creeds. That is the context in which they use and apply Faith. If you are one of them, how can I say this??? You missed the boat. The plane has already taken off. You’re playing solitaire with a deck of 49 cards. Too many won’t believe until they see it. But AT&T® understands the power of Faith.
“A lot of people say I’ll believe it when I see it. But I’ll tell you what. They got it backwards. Because there are certain things in life that you can only see when you first believe.” Whoever wrote this script must have read at some point in their life Hebrews 11:1–“Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see.”
In the midst of this political chaos, if you do not believe there is a way forward for us as a nation, then you don’t have Faith. If you think your vote, your voice, your life will never make a difference, then you don’t have Faith. And for my United Methodist friends, if you think the future of our Tribe is gone, then you don’t have Faith.
Too many are living each day with those sleep masks, blind and oblivious to what God is doing right smack dab in the middle of all this messiness. Without Faith you are doomed to your petty, minuscule world and you will end up looking like and acting like that nameless Speaker of the House did last night.
On the other hand, there are certain things you cannot see until you first believe. Faith empowers and emboldens people to see beyond the immediate to what can be when we cooperate with God. Think about those 10 lepers who approached Jesus. Man! Talk about messiness. And Jesus had the audacity to tell them, “Go show yourselves to the Priests and get your certificate of clean health so you can be reunited with your families and communities!”
Now get this–they were STILL lepers. The signs of leprosy was all over them. The “rule” was you had to be clear of leprosy, now make sure you get this part, BEFORE YOU GO TO THE PRIEST FOR YOUR CERTIFICATE OF HEALTH! But these lepers didn’t go by the “rule”; while they were still messy lepers they acted as if they were already healed. They couldn’t see themselves healed until they believed they were healed.
And how did that work out for them? Well, they got a clean bill of health from the Priest. They were reunited with families, friends and communities. And it was all because they knew that certain things couldn’t be seen until they believed. And if you believe this nation, your state, your family, your community, and your church is doomed–then it’s time for Faith. Not faith in yourselves, but FAITH in Jesus who said…
17 The scroll of Isaiah the prophet was handed to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where this was written: 18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, 19 and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.” 20 He rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the attendant, and sat down. All eyes in the synagogue looked at him intently. 21 Then he began to speak to them. “The Scripture you’ve just heard has been fulfilled this very day!”Luke 4:17-21
If you can’t see this happening in our time, take off that sleep mask and start living out your FAITH!
Welcome to another Saturday Story. Today’s story is from several years ago; it was such a powerful moment that I still remember it as if it occurred yesterday. Listen to it, and maybe Dad has something to say to you…
TODAY IS NOT THAT DAY
Ernie was a retired sheet metal worker. He and his wife Bettye had retired to Scottsboro. They never had children, so they “adopted” kids of all ages, including me. Both spent many hours serving Jesus at Randall’s Chapel (no, that church wasn’t named after me!). Ernie served Jesus in so many ways. Teaching, leading committees, the men’s group, serving in whatever way he was asked. Needless to say, this pastor fell in love with them.
Ernie was the epitome of an “active member”; but I and several others noticed Ernie didn’t have his usual level of stamina. Ernie noticed it too, so he went to his doctor to find out why. After several tests, Ernie was given the diagnosis of ALS (I refuse to call this evil disease by the name of one of baseball’s greatest players).
Word reached me of this diagnosis. As “pastor”, my job was to give him and Bettye words of encouragement and wisdom. This wasn’t my first encounter with someone dehumanized by ALS. I knew what Ernie’s future would look like. The day after his diagnosis I was going to “visit” with them and share those “words of encouragement and wisdom”. And as I sat in my office that morning, I struggled to find any such words. But it was my “job” to do it, and honestly, I felt like a failure because I simply couldn’t find the right “words”.
Just then (remember that “just then” or “it just so happened” are usually God prepared and ordained moments) I heard Ernie come in. He stuck his head in my office and asked, “Bro. Randy, do you have a few minutes, I need to talk about something.” Of course I had time, I always have time for a good friend; but this time my mind is in panic mode. I still didn’t have those words of “encouragement and wisdom”. In my heart I said, “OK, Holy Spirit, you’re going to have to do the talking because I don’t know what to say!”
And my, oh, my did my Friend, the Holy Spirit, do some talking. But it wasn’t me doing the talking–it was Ernie. “Randy, I know you heard about my diagnosis. And I need you to understand that one day I won’t be able to teach the Sunday School class. One day I won’t be able to be involved in the men’s group. One day I won’t be able to serve this church. One day I won’t be able to do all the things I love doing around here.” And what Ernie said next is still with me.
With a love and fire in his eyes he said, “But today is not that day! I’m going to continue to do all the things I’ve been doing. Whatever you or this church needs me for, I’m here! I know that day will come, it’s just that Today Is Not That Day!” The words of encouragement and wisdom wasn’t meant to be shared by me; that Holy Moment was given to Ernie.
And Ernie kept that Sacred Vow. He kept on working and moving forward with Jesus. And a little over a year later, that day finally came. Bettye asked me to do the funeral service. And the message I shared? It was the very same one Ernie shared with me that morning in my office. Ernie prepared his own eulogy and funeral message: Today is not THAT day to give up. God is with you every step of the way. And on that sad day, God’s Grace abounded.
We all face difficult, even terrifying moments in life. The temptation, even the urge to give up can seem overwhelming. I know, I’ve faced many such moments. And in those moments, I see Ernie, sitting across my desk. He’s smiling and saying to me, “Now Randy, you know Today Is Not THAT Day!”
Whatever it is that you may face in life; whatever you ARE facing right now that is overwhelming you with the feeling of helplessness or hopelessness and you want to give up; remember my good friend Ernie’s words: Today Is Not THAT Day! Ernie lived with the confidence that whatever the future held, HE was held by God and was secure in that knowledge.
God’s Power Works Best In Our Weaknesses.
Today we’re going to talk about Leverage. But before we do, let’s look at our theme passage again from Matthew 14:25-32, but this time I want to share it with you from The Passion Translation:
25 At about four o’clock in the morning, Jesus came to them, walking on the waves! 26 When the disciples saw him walking on top of the water, they were terrified and screamed, “A ghost!” 27 Then Jesus said, “Be brave and don’t be afraid. I am here!”
28 Peter shouted out, “Lord, if it’s really you, then have me join you on the water!” 29 “Come and join me,” Jesus replied. So Peter stepped out onto the water and began to walk toward Jesus. 30 But when he realized how high the waves were, he became frightened and started to sink. “Save me, Lord!” he cried out.
31 Jesus immediately stretched out his hand and lifted him up and said, “What little faith you have! Why would you let doubt win?” 32 And the very moment they both stepped into the boat, the raging wind ceased.
Before we dive into looking at the principle of Leverage, let’s back up and do a quick review from last week. We talked about that process of discovering and uncovering your giftedness for the Mission of The Kingdom. Here’s what the process looks like:
- God’s Gift Produces Great Joy.
- God’s Gift Requires Gritty Determination To Use It.God’s Gift Produces Great Joy.
- Your Gift Will Far Exceed Your Abilities.
- Surround Yourself With People Who Have Godly Wisdom.
- Align Yourself With People Who Pray.
- Start Using The Scientific Method of Trial And Error
OK, on to Leverage. I know I just heard some of you thinking, “What does Leverage have to do with being a Water-Walker?” Good for you thinking like this—I’m glad you asked because it’s the next step in overcoming fear and getting out on the water with Jesus.
Let’s start with a definition of Leverage. This word is used in a lot of different contexts, but let’s go back to the scientific principle of Leverage and move from here: “Leverage changes the amount of force needed to move an object. It reduces the strength required to move a much heavier object.” This principle is applied in finance, business and politics. But there is a spiritual application to the concept of leverage that needs to be explored.
Like most things in The Kingdom Of God, spiritual applications and principles work in Backwards Logic. Here’s a few:
- In Order To Live, You Must Die;
- In Order To Find, You Must Lose;
- In Order To Receive, You Must Give;
- In Order To Rise Above The Crowd, You Must Serve The Crowd.
Now let’s apply the Backwards Logic of The Kingdom to Leverage. Spiritual Leverage Reduces The Influence Of The Stronger Object. Think about moving a rock that weighs 3 times more than you. You take a lever, find the right pivot point and even though you weigh 3 times less, you can move that rock. Your weight and the weight of the rock remains the same.
In Spiritual Leverage, the weaker you become, the weaker the object becomes, until you are stronger. What I’m trying to say is that whatever is in the way of you stepping out of the boat to become a Water-Walker, becomes weaker as you become weaker. Insane! Am I right? Does this really make Logical Sense to us?
And this leads me to The One Thing You Need To Remember From This Message, And It’s Not My Idea, But the Apostle Paul’s: God’s Power Works Best In Our Weaknesses.
In case you forgot, Paul had been pleading with God to take away some unknown “thorn in the flesh”. It didn’t happen—instead God revealed something more powerful that Paul needed—and so do we. 2 Corinthians 12:9— “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” This was God’s answer—3 times.
Most people love the hear stories about the powerful God we serve. But herein lies the problem: That information alone is not enough to create courageous human beings. I can receive tons of information designed to assure me that God’s power is sufficient. But the information alone does not transform my human heart.
In order for such a transformation to take place, we need to learn how to apply Leverage—using one force to move what seems to be an immovable object. If you want to know if you are living outside the boat, then ask yourself this question, and ask it often: What am I doing now that I could not do apart from the power of God? It’s clear, the only way Peter could stay afloat was if God took over.
When we risk using our Spiritual Giftedness, we can know the joy of being used by God. But we have to trust before we act. We see this over and over again in scripture. Moses had to trust that God would part the Red Sea. Gideon had to reduce his army from 32,000 to 300 before God would bring the victory. Naaman had to wash 7 times in the water before he was cured of leprosy. The loaves and fish had to be relinquished before they were multiplied. The seed has to be planted in the soil and die before the harvest can happen.
Most of us have an area that might be called our “Spiritual Comfort Zone,” which is the area we feel most comfortable trusting God. When God calls us to go beyond our spiritual comfort zone, we begin to feel nervous or uncomfortable. We would prefer not to go outside that zone until we feel better about it.
You have to follow the Path of God, which requires us to admit our weaknesses and inabilities. Pay close attention to Peter’s Statement: “Lord, if it’s really you, then have me join you on the water!” It’s those 5 words: “have me join you”—it’s the words of weakness and inability. Most folks don’t have the problem of being too weak—though that is what they say.
The problem is many are often Too Strong. What God told Paul is the same thing He wants us to hear: “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” Where do we need to Leverage our weaknesses so that God’s Power works the best? There are a lot of points and places, but think about these as a start in your life.
1. Leverage Our Points Of Our Fear!
Step out of the boat at the point of your fears. Why? Because He wants us to overcome them through His Power, and not be intimidated and defeated by them.
For example, one of the most exciting adventures in life is helping another person find God. What keeps us from getting out of the boat evangelistically? Fear! But on the other hand, look at the upside potential. We might actually be part of God’s redemptive purpose on earth. But if I wait until I feel like I’ll be 100% effective, I will never step out of the boat to help someone surrender to Jesus.
What, exactly are you afraid of, spiritually? Bring those fears to God and God will provide His Power. But, if you never admit your weakness of fear, you will never know His Power. Secondly,
2. Leverage Our Points Of Frustration!
Sometimes people in Scripture get motivated to trust God in remarkable ways when they become frustrated with the brokenness of a fallen world. We see it in David when he couldn’t stand any longer the insults of Goliath. We see it in Elijah when he could stand the idolatry of Ahab and Jezebel.
In the world today, it is at the point where we are frustrated by the mess our culture is in and that sense of what God desires. To fix that gap between what is and what God desires should motivate us to action for a cause that is greater than ourselves. It may be your frustration with political systems that abuse people. It may be your sense of frustration that there are so many homeless people. It may be your frustration with the loneliness the elderly often feel when placed in a skilled nursing facility. Whatever it is that makes you feel frustrated, take your weaknesses to bring about change and allow Him to fill you with His Power. Thirdly,
3. Leverage Our Points Of Compassion!
Being A Water-Walker Means We Move Towards What Breaks Our Heart. Compassion is expressed in our actions. Jesus certainly modeled this for us. Scripture says that many times when Jesus looked at the crowds, seeing their deepest needs, He was filled with compassion.
When was the last time you took a serious compassion risk? Jesus did it all the time. He touched lepers, ate with tax collectors, associated with prostitutes; all these were a part of His calling—they were why He came! For you it is working with Christian Center of Concern, Delivering meals on the Third Saturday, or coming up with an idea that Shows Compassion To Those Who Need It, Not Those We Think Deserve It. Finally,
4. Leverage Our Points Of Prayer!
Real-life stories of Water-Walkers are always stories about prayer. There is something about getting out of the boat that turns people into Intense Pray-Ers. They live each moment of each day with the conviction that they cannot accomplish things without God’s help.
Paul prayed—3 times—about his thorn in the flesh. And all 3 times, God’s answer was the same—“My strength works through your weaknesses.” Peter’s Prayer Request Was To Join Jesus On The Water. So tell me this: What’s Your Prayer Request For Yourself? Is it about yourself? Is it complaining about the shape of our culture? Is it wanting Jesus to come back now to get you out of this miserable culture?
Water-Walking is not about the great thing you will do. It is about the great thing God longs to do with you through his powerful grace in you. But first you have to Leverage Your Weaknesses! It’s more than getting your feet wet. Those in the boat had wet feet—Peter had wet feet—the difference was Peter Leveraged His Weakness By Bringing It To Jesus AS He Walked On Water.
Well, I’m down to your Next Step. For some of you, this Next Step may well be the most painful moment of your life. It’s a moment you’ve been putting off—or you’ve been living in denial.
Tell God Your Weakness.
- It could be pride that is keeping you from getting out of the boat and into a relationship with Jesus. You’ve been playing the church game, and you don’t want anyone else to know.
- It may be fear that is holding you in the boat—fear of failure—or just maybe your fear is the fear of Truth—that if the truth of your life becomes public knowledge, you’re afraid that those closest to you will be ashamed of you and turn away from you.
- It may be shame that’s keeping you in the boat. It may be a private shame of something you once did—or a public shame that everyone knows about. It may be a lifetime of shame—of doing the wrong thing—making the wrong choices.
- It may be doubt that keeps you off of the water. You don’t want to admit it, but you seriously doubt you could ever be a Water-Walker because, well because Jesus couldn’t help you be that Water-Walker you’ve been hearing about.
- Or it may be the worst weakness of all—You Have No Weaknesses. Arrogance is your weakness and you don’t even know it.
Here is what I’m asking you to do this morning. Leverage Your Weakness. If one of these, or any of an infinite number of weaknesses is yours—take that weakness to the right place.
Bring it to The Father—tell Him all about it. Then listen…listen to what HE says about your weaknesses—“My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.”
I’ve asked you not to focus on Peter’s sinking—but think about it now. When Peter started sinking what did he do? He Leveraged His Weakness By Crying Out To Jesus. And Immediately—Immediately Jesus Saved Him! Leverage Your Weakness By Bringing It To God, And The Grace Of God Becomes Stronger Than That Thing That Is Keeping YOU In The Boat
John 20:24-29 (NLT)
24 One of the twelve disciples, Thomas (nicknamed the Twin), was not with the others when Jesus came. 25 They told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he replied, “I won’t believe it unless I see the nail wounds in His hands, put my fingers into them, and place my hand into the wound in His side.”
26 Eight days later the disciples were together again, and this time Thomas was with them. The doors were locked; but suddenly, as before, Jesus was standing among them. “Peace be with you,” He said. 27 Then He said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and look at My hands. Put your hand into the wound in My side. Don’t be faithless any longer. Believe!” 28 “My Lord and my God!” Thomas exclaimed. 29 Then Jesus told him, “You believe because you have seen Me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing Me.”
- Doubt can be called the leprosy of faith, eating away at our hearts until we are unable to sustain that life-giving faith.
- Doubt can be called a thief, robbing us of the truth of God’s unfailing grace.
- Doubt can be called blindness, causing us to believe that God doesn’t love us.
- Doubt can be called demoralizing, making us feel unworthy to ask God to forgive us.
- Doubt can be called deafening, denying us the ability to hear God calling us to His Heart.
- Doubt CAN Be All Of This WHEN We Refuse To Acknowledge It And Deal With It In The Presence Of God.
This leads me to the one thing you need to remember:
Knowing About Jesus Is No Substitute For Knowing Jesus In Our Heart.
It seems that after I turned 50, a lot of my notions and ideas began to change, and one of them is about Thomas. When someone doubts something, we often say, “Oh, don’t be such a doubting Thomas.” Doubting Thomas. What a moniker to be stuck with nearly 2,000 years later. Now I have come to a different opinion of Thomas.
Some of it has come out of my own personal experiences, and some of it has come by reflecting more on the Scriptures without the usual and typical comments people make about him. I have found that Thomas’ strength comes out of what WE call—His Doubts.
Be fair to Thomas. He wasn’t there the first time Jesus appeared to some of the disciples—the same disciples who Doubted the report of Mary and the other women. And don’t make a big deal about him not being there. The scriptures do not say why he wasn’t there.
Maybe the others sent him out to Burger King for some food, or to Publix for some groceries. They were afraid of the Sanhedrin, but it was Thomas who said, “Let us go to Jerusalem with Jesus that we may die with Him.” He’s not afraid of the Sanhedrin, send him out. And we don’t know When Thomas was back with the other disciples. And it doesn’t matter When he came back. Point is, He Came Back!
Now they are telling him, “We saw Jesus and He’s alive! Isn’t that great Thomas?” And Thomas should believe them, right? After all, these guys believed the women’s report from the cemetery. I mean, James and John were fishermen and we all know fishermen never lie.
And there’s Matthew who was a tax collector and everyone knows how truthful and honest tax collectors are. And there’s Peter telling the same story and we all know how reliable and stable Peter is. And Mary Magdalene is saying the same thing, and everyone knows she’s always been the sanest person around. I mean, with these kinds of witnesses, Thomas should be saying. “All right! I just knew Jesus would do something else!”
But Thomas doesn’t say that. His response to all these witnesses is: “Unless I see . . . I won’t believe it.” I have come to like Thomas and even more—I love his response. Of all the things said by them after the resurrection, Thomas makes the most profound statement of all. His Heart Is The Heart Longing For Faith. He does not want to be known as the doubter. His heart wants to believe in the deepest way possible.
So I have sat in the class taught by none other than Thomas, and I want you to join me as Thomas teaches us some powerful lessons about what it means to be a Real Disciple of the Risen Jesus! Don’t call him the Missing Disciple. Simply mark the role of who is there and who is not present. Don’t read more into this than what’s here.
Sure, he may have had his doubts about why Jesus had to die, but so did all the others. They have been on a roller coaster ride. One day Jesus is hailed as King, and a few days later called a criminal.
Each of them had their own notions about what Jesus should do. Each of them was weighed down with the traditions they had been taught about the Messiah. And Jesus met none of their expectations or traditions. It was bound to be disappointing. But none of them seem to say what they are feeling. None of them seem to be willing to deal with their doubts.
Only Thomas has the courage And The Faith to deal with his doubts. And here is the first lesson Thomas teaches us:
1. Doubting Can Be The Most Fertile Ground For Faith To Grow.
When We Seriously Deal With Our Doubts Before God, It’s Ripe For Growth. Why do you try to hide your doubts from God? Do you honestly think God doesn’t know when you doubt? Life can be tough and there can be lots of things that make us question our faith and even question our God’s goodness and love.
A child is stillborn. A promising high school student dies in an automobile accident. A trusted spiritual leader falls flat on his face. Someone’s son commits suicide. A faithful leader and servant in church dies from ALS. My Mother suffered from dementia. Bad things, horrible things happen to good people.
So we seek God’s counsel. We pound on the doors of heaven but there’s no answer. But because of the seed of faith that God put in us, we keep on pounding. And It Is Faith Making Us Pound On Heaven’s Door Because We Know There’s No Other Place Where We Can Find The Answer. It is in these moments that our faith can grow the deepest—when we know that we can keep coming back and that God will not stop loving us. Where else can Thomas turn with these doubts?
Their word about the Resurrection is not enough for Thomas.
Their experience does not satisfy the hungering and thirsting of his heart.
Thomas is living out one of those beatitudes: Blessed Are Those Who Hunger And Thirst For Righteousness For They Will Be Satisfied! In my imagination, I can just see Jesus doing a fist pump when Thomas makes that declaration and saying, “He gets it! I’m proud of Thomas! Just look at that hunger of his!”
So Thomas says out loud for everyone to hear: “Unless I see the nail holes in his hands, put my finger in the nail holes, and stick my hand in his side, I won’t believe it.” And if you are paying attention, you will hear the second lesson from Thomas:
2. You Can’t Live On The Experiences Of Others!
Some people never get close enough to God, they never surrender their heart completely—in order to have a faith story about God in their life. They Want Just Enough Of God In Their Life To Feel Comfortable In Their Complacency.
They listen to the stories of others and protect the traditions and say “This is enough! This is all I need!” And Those Without That Genuine Experience Will Fight For Those Traditions More Than They Will For The Message And Ministry Of Jesus Christ. Our culture is sick to death of precious traditions and ancient stories. They told their story. But Thomas wanted more.
And the good news for those witnesses is this: They Were So Genuine, So Convincing That Thomas Wanted That Same Presence In His Life! No Bible stories about Jesus for Thomas, no sir! He wanted the real presence. And our culture wants none of the traditions and ancient stories—
But They Do Want A Genuine, Authentic Story Of What Jesus Is Doing Right Here And Now In Relationship With Us.
The Greek word for I see is eidō. It means more than to see with the eye. It Means: To Cherish. To cherish means we recognize the real value. There are many things we cherish which have little or no monetary value. But they are important to us because they have personal meaning.
Resurrection Had To Have Personal Meaning For Thomas Or It Was Nothing.
To cherish the Resurrection, it must have personal meaning for us. Thomas wanted the relationship, not the Cliff Notes and not the Readers’ Digest version. And if you are paying attention to Thomas, you now know the third lesson he teaches us:
3. He Stayed Until Jesus Came To Him!
Even with those doubts Thomas stayed with it for 8 days. And because he did, he was there when Jesus came again.
Our Doubts Never Disqualify Us From The Relationship God Seeks To Have With Us. And Our Doubts Do Not Disqualify Us From Serving God.
Thomas chose to hang in there, to wrestle and struggle and seek for himself the reality of the Risen Lord. His hunger for God couldn’t be satisfied with “their” story—he knew that the only way his hunger would be satisfied is through HIS own story.
Personally, I would rather go into battle with 1 Doubting Thomas than 100 comfortable pew sitters. There are too many sitting in churches this morning who want an Easy Faith, so easy even a caveman can do it. They want it to be neat and tidy. But life isn’t so neat and tidy, and Jesus understands this.
That’s why Jesus came back 8 days later for Thomas, to bless Thomas with His presence. Some people look at verse 29 and think Jesus is chastising Thomas: “Why couldn’t you believe without seeing?” But most of the ancient manuscripts do not use Thomas’ name. The pronoun used by John can be plural: Jesus said to THEM. Literally it says: “Blessed are they, believed, and now you (plural) are blessed; yet no less blessed those be who believe in my resurrection, without the evidence.”
Now I understand: the blessing is equal for Thomas and the others and for us. Their blessing is not greater than ours, nor is ours greater than theirs.
The Blessing Is In Coming Face To Face With Jesus.
And if you are struggling to believe, then remember Thomas:
He Stayed Until Jesus Came To Him, And Jesus Did. And Jesus Will Come To You.
Sometimes life can be a real mess and the upheaval can feel like an erupting volcano. What do you do when life is like that? What do you do when there are more questions than answers? What do you do when the neat answers don’t fit the messy questions?
Be a Doubting Thomas. It’s looks like this:
- Refuse To Settle For Neatly Packaged Answers That Rarely, If Ever, Satisfy The Heart.
- Don’t Be Content With What Someone Else Says About Jesus.
- Yearn For Your Experience—Know That The Force And The Power Of Resurrection Can And WILL Have Meaning For You!
- Have That Unquenchable Thirst And Appetite To Cherish The Living Presence Of Jesus Himself.
Our culture isn’t interested in our traditions or stories told of long ago. But they are interested in and are hungry for a relationship. Be a Thomas—and hang in there, because Jesus is coming to you. A lot of people know ABOUT Jesus, and that is good—But…It…Is…Not…Good…Enough!
The Gospel insists and demands that you KNOW Jesus personally. Have you been struggling? Doubts can only lead to growth when we bring them into the presence of God.
The Good News about bringing our doubts to God is this: Jesus is coming for you, and He’s coming with the blessing. Will you accept Him today?
- Do You Know More About Jesus In Your Head Than You Have Experienced In Your Heart? Then today is the day like Thomas had—to experience the Risen Lord and fall in love with Him—and His beauty. To give up WHAT you know, for the One who knows you and desires for you to know Him!
- Are You Having Any Doubts About The Future About This Place? Thomas was looking for a future with Hope And Promise. He would not have found it unless he brought it to Jesus. When he brought those doubts to Jesus, everything changed. I’m asking you to bring your doubts about the future of this place to Jesus. It changed the outlook of Thomas—it will change your outlook, too!
Life With Jesus Is About Stepping Out In Faith And Giving Him Complete Control Of Our Life Regardless Of How We Feel.
The term, “Playing It Safe” is about avoiding the risks, even if the risks might lead to a greater result. We do so for 1 of 2 reasons. One is that we choose a more cautious approach because we are afraid of the other result—failure. The other reason is because some simply are not willing to pay the price of complete surrender—i.e. selfishness. So, we settle for something less, much less. There is a fine line that exists between being courageous and being foolish.
Our problem is we call it “risky” when we make our resources primary and God’s resources secondary. Usually, but not always, when we face the choice between what is risky and what is safe, we will give in toward playing it safe.
And many people, especially when it comes to church, prefer playing it safe over taking risks. Why? Because isn’t that what it means to be a Christian? Doesn’t God want us to be safe from harm and evil? Absolutely He wants to keep us safe from evil.
But I am concerned that we’ve taken being safe too far, especially when it comes to following Jesus. Following Jesus isn’t about playing it safe; It’s About Taking The Risks! In the desire to play it safe we have mistakenly thought that God wants us to be comfortable. But What God Wants From Us Is Faith.
In the Blueprint For A New You we started at the beginning with changing from thinking in an entirely human perspective to thinking with the mind of Christ. Last week we uncovered the next step: that we need perspective to go along with this new way of thinking. We need Jesus to open our eyes in order for us to follow Him into the work of The Kingdom. Now comes action—specifically taking action that comes out of our faith.
If you can remember only 1 thing this morning, then remember this: Life With Jesus Is About Stepping Out In Faith And Giving Him Complete Control Of Our Life Regardless Of How We Feel.
Playing it safe is looking at our abilities and resources then making our decisions. But where is the faith in that? Faith leads to more. Faith in the atoning work of Jesus on the Cross is required for us to be saved. There is more to faith.
Faith isn’t a trophy we put on a shelf and say to our friends, “See that faith? Yep, that’s when God saved me from my sins and gave me a new life. I keep it there to remind me how gracious, loving and good God was to me. Yep, I dust it off every week.”
But faith does so much more. Faith isn’t just for our salvation. It is for our daily walk with Jesus, and this daily walk requires that our faith grow and expands. The Life Of Faith Isn’t About Feeling Safe But Being Confident In Whatever It Is That God Wants Us To Do.
In this Blueprint For A New You, there comes that moment when we must Step Out In Faith! Never has this been more important than at this very moment. This place, and this movement of Wesleyan Awakening hinges on answering this question: Will You Play It Safe Or Take The Risk Of Stepping Out In Faith? Or will you retreat to some moment in history when it was safer and easier to follow Jesus? To help us understand what it means to Step Out In Faith, turn to Isaiah 43:1-2 (NLT):
But now, O Jacob, listen to the LORD who created you. O Israel, the one who formed you says, “Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine. When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you
Did you hear those words: deep waters, rivers of difficulty, fire of oppression? Pardon me, but does that sound safe? Maybe it’s just me, but that doesn’t sound safe. And did you notice what God said about those times?
He didn’t say “If” you face those moments, but “When” you are in those places. When the waters run deep, When rivers are turbulent, When the fire rages—we step out into those risky places because we are not alone in those moments.
But we do tend to forget that He is with us. So, we choose to avoid risks at all costs. And the price we pay is too high! To Step Out In Faith means we know that in the risky moments, God is with us. He said He created us, and He created us FOR those moments.
The Hebrew word for “created” doesn’t mean just the story found in Genesis. It means To Create With New Conditions And New Circumstances. The New Condition is that God has made us a totally different person. The New Circumstance is that He now lives IN us.
Our New Condition is that we are now Formed By His Hand To Join In His Purpose Of Restoring Others and this New Circumstance is that The Holy Spirit Lives In Us For That Purpose. Now more than ever, we need to remember God’s promise through Isaiah. When the challenge is great and the risks are high, remember His promise.
1. When You Go Through Deep Waters, Think About Moses (Exo. 14)
God called Moses to lead His people out of bondage in Egypt. Remember in Egypt that Moses’ first attempt at being a leader failed. In Egypt, Moses is a man wanted for murder. When God calls him to go back, he offers all kinds of excuses, but God doesn’t let go. He has created and formed Moses for such a time as that. So, Moses takes the risk. He had no idea what would happen, only that God was with him.
After some plagues, Pharaoh agrees to let them go, but changes his mind and sends the army to go bring them back. God has led them to the Red Sea. Behind them is the army to take them back to bondage. In front of them is the Red Sea and not a bridge or boat in sight. Moses is about ready to panic, but God reminds Moses of His presence. They go “through” the deep waters of the Red Sea, and the Egyptian army tries but doesn’t make it.
If you remember the story, it tells us a wind divided the water so they could cross over on dry land. That “Wind” Was The Holy Spirit—The Same Holy Spirit That Comes To Live In Us With The Presence Of Jesus.
There are many deep waters we face—and the greatest risk we face is being the Body of Christ in this world. When you face your deep waters, remember that God has given you the wind and breath of the Holy Spirit. He Has Created And Formed YOU For Such A Time As This.
2. When You Go Through Rivers Of Difficulty, Think About Peter (Matt. 14)
Jesus had sent the disciples on ahead to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, but He stayed behind because He needed His “safe place” to get away for a time. During that night journey, an enormous storm came up. It looked like they would sink and drown.
But through the storm someone said, “Look, someone is walking on the water. It’s a ghost!” But Jesus said, “Oh pipe down, guys, it’s ME!” Peter wants to be sure that it’s really Jesus, so he said, “Well, if it’s really you, invite me to join you out there.” And what does Jesus do? He invites Peter to take a walk, not on a calm sea, but a stormy one. Do you remember what Peter does?
(And don’t say “He sinks”!) He steps out of that boat, and really walks on that stormy sea. The preacher, teacher and writer, John Ortburg, is right. To follow Jesus, we have to get out of the boat, because Jesus isn’t in the boat. Jesus invites us to join Him in an adventure.
Jesus Calls Us To Go Into Those Places Where It Is All About Him. He doesn’t call us to a set of rules or traditions; He doesn’t call us to the safety of a bank account, home, family, career, or some other thing. He calls us to be in relationship with Him and working with Him in what He is doing. When the river is turbulent, take the risk of joining Jesus in what He is doing.
3. When You Walk Through The Fire, Think About Shadrach, Meshach, And Abednego (Dan. 3)
The Israelites had been carried into exile. Daniel, along with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were blessed by God with wisdom. King Nebuchadnezzar recognized their talents and appointed them to leadership positions. Some of the local guys were jealous, so they convinced the king to construct this enormous statue with the order that when the theme song was played, everyone was to bow before that idol.
But Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refused and were hauled in before the king. He gave them one last chance to worship an idol or be thrown into a fiery furnace. And in that defining moment of decision—play it safe—or—take the risk—they said:
“Look, King, no disrespect intended. We worship only one God, and that statue isn’t Him. And about that furnace, our God has the power to protect us even there. (Here’s the great part.) But even if He doesn’t deliver us, if He whispered in our ears ‘Guys, this is gonna hurt’, we will not bow down to this or any other image. So, go ahead and throw us in.”
Well the King got mad and put that furnace on super high, and had them bound and thrown in. And once in there, an unbelievable thing happened. The only things that burned were their captors and the ropes. Once inside they didn’t see 3 being burned up, but 4 freely walking about—IN that fire. God did not send some kind of force field to keep the flames away. He showed up in that furnace and said, “Mind if I join you?”
Whatever the risk is for faithfully following Jesus, count on Jesus being right there with you. Those times when the heat is on for you to show Jesus to our world, count on Jesus to see you through it. The risks He calls us to take, will at times look like it will destroy us. Outside the furnace, no one else saw God but Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. But Inside That Furnace, Everyone Could See God. Not outside the furnace, but inside the furnace is where others could see God.
Life with Jesus isn’t about playing it safe, where we can control everything. Life With Jesus Is About Stepping Out In Faith And Giving Him Complete Control Of Our Life Regardless Of How We Feel. Stepping out in faith means that we really, I mean REALLY trust in Jesus. If we can see it with our physical eyes, touch it with our hands, and understand it with our natural minds, then it’s nowhere near faith.
Faith is about giving up control—control of trying to save yourself, to be good enough by yourself—to be smart enough by yourself, to be strong enough by yourself—in order to totally trust God with everything, I mean every detail and every part of your life.
Trust Him—when the waters are deep—when the rivers are difficult—and when the furnace is hot!
We’re talking about Faith. Remember what it says in Hebrews 11:1 about Faith—
Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see.
Young’s Literal Translation puts it this way: “And faith is of things hoped for—a confidence; of matters not seen—a conviction.” With this as the definition of Faith, answer these questions this week and consider it your homework:
- Where are you showing Faith in your life? Remember that faith isn’t when you know the outcome, but when you have confidence that God is there with you.
- What are you NOT willing to do either because of your fears, or you are unwilling to pay the price? The fear of failure and selfishness prevents us from experiencing the power of Faith.
- Is there some change that might happen in this church that makes you nervous or uneasy or that you simply do not want to see happen? Church, as we have all known it, is changing. It will never be the same, But It Will Be Better. God is prepared for this moment. But to see it, you have to make a commitment to it—and that’s where faith comes in.
Well, here we are at the end of this semester. I pray and hope that you are able to see with clarity the fallacies of these 5 Plans. I would be remiss and a failure to be a good professor if I did not give you the correct answer to the question: How Do You Get Into Heaven? Now, there are some other ways out there, but I think they will fall into one of these 5 plans. So, what’s the answer to the question, How do we get into Heaven? Remember my earlier disclaimer—this might be offensive to some. If you’ve been reviewing your notes as I instructed you to do, you will now remember from the first lesson that this question is really the question of your heart: How Do I Get Into A Relationship With God? With no further ado, let’s look at the correct answer:
We do it like Jesus said to Nicodemus—and here’s the plan: To Get Into Heaven, We Live In A Relationship With God Now! And here is how Jesus says this relationship happens, the only way the relationship happens: Be Born Again
Anyone here ever heard of the expression Born Again Christian? This phrase falls into the category of Repetitive Redundancy. It’s the same thing as saying “Christian-Christian”. If you’re a Christian, you’ve been Born Again. If you’ve been Born Again you’re a Christian. You don’t have to say it both ways. Here’s a diamond of Truth: You can’t be a Christian if you’ve never been born again. Not now—not ever! But if you have been born again–born from above–born through the Grace and Mercy of God–you are a Christian, or as I prefer to say–A Real Follower Of Jesus!
This was the source of confusion for Nicodemus. Do you know what Nicodemus’s name means? Conqueror of the people—but Nicodemus is the one conquered by this single thought. And this is the one thing you need to remember today: You Cannot Have A Relationship With God Until You Are Born Again! We need to be conquered by the same thought that conquered Nicodemus–the conqueror of people. Until we have been conquered—our egotistical pride has been conquered—our feelings are conquered—our ways of thinking are conquered—heaven will always be out of reach—and so will God be out of reach.
None of these 5 very human Plans will cause anyone to be born again. So, how are we born again? It’s 3 simple steps that defies human logic and destroys human ego.
1. We Die! Die to all that you have been. If it’s your goodness, then die. If it’s your sense of failures, die. If it’s you sense of worthlessness, die. If it’s your fears, die. Being born again is all about starting all over in a new way of living in relationship with God. Philippians 3:8-9—
8 Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ 9 and become one with him. I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith.
Until you die in this moment and die to all your past moments you can never live in this Relationship with God. This is what it means to Confess our sins—that God is right about us being sinners.
2. Be Born By The Water. Not the waters of baptism, but the water of the Word of God. Paul was writing to Ephesus about how husbands are to love their wives. But it’s also about how God loves us and what needs to happen in us.
Ephesians 5:25-26—For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word.
This is what repentance means and looks like. We turn away from that old life and into the new Life. We let the Word of God go to work in our daily life—doing what the Word says do—avoiding what the Word says don’t do. You allow the Bible to shape your life from this moment forward. What God’s word says to do and not to do cleanses us and liberates us from our default setting–that of being hostile towards God.
3. Be Born By The Spirit. The Spirit is the one who creates the new heart that fills you with new desires, new passions, new strength, new gifts and a new purpose for your life. It’s the only power for people who are Born Again. People who are not Born Again only want the form but not the power.
2 Timothy 3:5 (TPT)— They may pretend to have a respect for God, but in reality they want nothing to do with God’s power. Stay away from people like these!
This is what walking by faith means. This is what it looks like to live a life IN the Grace of God. You look towards and listen to the Holy Spirit. This is the power of God that you need to be at work in you. It is the Power that you need UNTIL the Head Master gives the Final Exam. Read what Paul wrote in Galatians 3:3
How foolish can you be? After starting your new lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort?
At that moment of The Final Exam, He will see you as you are–covered with the blood of Jesus and clothes in both His righteousness, and your life of honoring Him–if you have been born again. The Final Exam has only 2 questions:
1. Did you trust in Jesus so that your sins could be taken away? Did your trust come through Confession (admitting you’re a sinner) and repentance (meaning you choose to turn away from your old sinful life in order to live life as He intends)?
2. Did you join in with God’s work of redemption and restoration by living in His Power as you loved the least, the last and the lost? It is the Holy Spirit that both empowers and equips you for this task–the very task you are created for.
Get ready for the Final Exam by practicing–practice living in the Presence of Jesus so that you become the Presence of Jesus in this fallen and sinful world. At the risk of sounding like your piano teacher: PRACTICE! PRACTICE! PRACTICE!
And remember…love God with ALL your heart. Love others the WAY He loves you. And make sure ALL the glory goes to HIM, The Head Master and Keeper of your hearts!
Romans 5:1-5 (NLT)
1 Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. 2 Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory. 3 We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. 4 And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. 5 And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.
When life does not go as planned—forget that, let’s call it like it is—when life derails us with stresses and pressures, as humans we tend to want the Quick Fix. We want it over as quickly as possible and to get back to some form of “normal”.
I have before you THE QUICK FIX BOX! What’s in this box will fix anything and everything. If the problem you have cannot be fixed with what’s in here, then it simply cannot be fixed. And what’s in THE QUICK FIX BOX? For only 3 easy payments of $29.95 you can find out. But there’s more. I’ll reduce it to 2, that’s right 2 easy payments of $44.92. But wait, there’s more. For the first 100, because you know we can’t do this forever, I’ll double the offer—that’s 2 QUICK FIX BOXES for the price of one. Just pay a separate process and handling fee of $29.95. Here is what’s inside The Quick Fix Box—1 roll of duct tape, 1 pack of zip ties, and an assortment of bungee cords. Order yours today & mention the word QUICK and I’ll throw in free delivery to your doorstep!
Sometimes quick fixes work. It was 1986, I was serving near Haleyville. A friend in Cullman County asked me to come over and preach for a revival. It was Friday, the last day. I was going down Highway. 278 near the Cullman County Line. I was behind a slow driver and when I finally came to a straightaway, I pushed the accelerator to the floor to pass them. Suddenly it started misfiring and sputtering. The temperature gauge was moving the wrong direction and steam was starting to come out. I pulled over at an old country store, hoping they might have one of those flexible hoses I could buy that would fit. They didn’t. But in my toolbox, there was a roll of duct tape.
I taped the leak, added water, and did lot of praying. Stopped in Cullman at a parts place, purchased the correct hose and a gallon of coolant in case that night I didn’t make it home before my quick fix wouldn’t work in longer. Well, to make a long story short, I drove my truck for 3 more weeks before I decided to do the repair, and it still wasn’t leaking.
I tell this story because that while duct tape, zip ties and bungee cords may work as temporary, even long-term quick fixes—they do not work in the Spiritual Journey we take as followers of Jesus. And if you can remember only 1 things from today’s message, this is it: Life Is Not Easy, But It Is Good.
The temptation to follow the path of The Quick Fix always seems desirable. Isn’t the quick fix backed up by one of the most basic rules of geometry? The shortest distance between 2 points is a straight line. The quicker the fix, the better we think we will be—but we’re not. While we want the quick, God’s best teachings are rarely, if ever, found there.
In that Wilderness Time, Jesus understood that The Quick Fix is a temptation. The 3 Quick Fixes that Jesus faced were Physical: to satisfy His personal need of hunger rather than God’s mission for him—turning stones into bread; Emotional: use Sensationalism to win over the people’s hearts rather than challenging them; and Spiritual: Compromise the Truth to make it easier rather than calling people to the Life of Holiness. Jesus rejected all 3 Quick Fixes because He knew that none of them would really solve our most serious problems and our deepest needs.
Our most serious problem is sin—broken inside and alienated from God. Our deepest need is forgiveness and redemption. The problem and the need are met in one place—at the Cross of Jesus where His life was offered in our place. Our part is to have faith—to trust in the work of Grace on the Cross to make us right with God.
And as Paul says, this is great joy for us! I cannot understand people who say they have given their heart to Jesus, but their face and their voice looks and sounds like they have given their hearts to Satan. I’m not judging, I’m just looking at the fruit, OK? But I think most of us can agree it’s a moment of astonishing joy to invite Jesus into your heart. But…but what about all those moments afterwards?
What Debbie and I are facing doesn’t lend itself to much joy. Add to that what our family is dealing with concerning my Mother, there’s not much joy in it either. Truth is, there’s a lot of hurt and frustration that comes from being hurt and helpless. Yet there is this truth from Jesus, Himself in John 16:33—“Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows.” “You will have” is in the indicative mood—the indicative mood means that it’s a matter of fact. Not maybe, not possibly, not even probably—trials and sorrows, the pressures of life—they are going to happen.
When they come—and they will come—your natural tendency is to look for the Quick Fix. The desire of the mind and heart is to get out of it as quickly as possible. But this desire to give into the temptation of The Quick Fix does not solve the problem—it postpones the inevitable—and the inevitable always comes back with a vengeance and the real problem becomes much bigger.
So how should we handle the pressures, the trials, the sorrows that happen to all of us? Well, long before Nick Saban developed and polished “his process”, God already had His Process in place. Give up The Quick Fix for something far better—the process of The Holy Spirit living in you. Here’s step 1:
Vs. 3—We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance.
Sept. 4, 1987 is a splendid example of endurance. Henry Dempsey and his co-pilot Paul Boucher for Eastern Express were flying a small commuter plane from Lewiston, Maine to Boston, Mass. Not long after takeoff they heard a rattling sound from the back of the 15-passenger plane. Henry handed off the controls to his co-pilot when he investigated the noise. As Henry reached the rear of the plane they encountered turbulence and Henry fell against the rear door, which wasn’t closed properly. Immediately it opened, and Henry was sucked out of that door but managed to hold on to the stairs. Co-pilot Paul saw the indicator warning of an open door and immediately declared an emergency and landed at Portland, Maine. He also notified the coast guard that the pilot had fallen from the plane and they started a search and rescue. 10 minutes later to everyone’s amazement, Henry was still holding on, half inside the plane and half outside, upside down. His head was only 12 inches from the runway. Henry managed to hold on in spite of 190 mph speed with only minor injuries. Rumor has it that it took ground crew about 10 minutes to pry Henry’s hands off that ladder. That’s endurance—the ability to hang-on when it would have been easier to give up. Here are some guides to help develop endurance.
- Accept The Unchangeable. In real life, sometimes airplane doors aren’t closed good; unfair things happen; problems arise. Think about a pearl. Pearls happen as the result of the irritation from a grain of sand. The oyster begins the process to produce that pearl, all from an irritation.
- Adjust To Obstacles. Plans inevitably will change. Think of it like this story. A young naval officer took his first command, it was a destroyer. One night he saw a light and sent out a radio command, “Alter your course 10 degrees.” He heard the reply, “You alter your course 10 degrees.” The young commander was irate and said, “This is a destroyer and I am a Navy Commander.” He heard the reply, “This is a lighthouse and I’m the lighthouse keeper.” Don’t let the changes in your plans blind you to lessons you need to learn. Detours are full of surprises of God’s grace.
- Abide With Patience. The late Margaret Thatcher, former British Prime Minister, once said, “I am extraordinarily patient provided I get my own way in the end.” Abiding is living in your connection to God. You’re not alone in those difficult moments. Learn to lean and rest on The Father. He will sustain you through anything you are facing.
- Affirm The Presence. God is always with you. He is guiding you, sometimes teaching you, sometimes empowering you, always encouraging you. It’s the world that tells you to give up—never God! No matter how much pressure is on you. The Grace that puts us right with God, is still present in the pressures, problems and trials we face.
Vs. 4a—And endurance develops strength of character
God is more concerned with your character than He is with your comfort. He is more concerned with your holiness than He is with your happiness. He is more concerned with you as a person than He is with your possessions. God is getting you ready for your inheritance. Your possessions will not go with you–but your character—and your holiness—who you are as a person will go on. And if you are a Christian—you will live in God’s Kingdom–forever and ever amen! There are 5 key qualities that God looks for in your Character:
- Compassion. Compassion is more than an emotion; it’s love in action. 1 John 3:18—“Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions.” You can have success everywhere else in your life, but when you fail to show compassion you’re a failure in God’s eyes.
- Consistency. God is looking for consistency over conformity. Proverbs 10:9—“People with integrity walk safely, but those who follow crooked paths will slip and fall.” Character is built over the long haul—consistently reflecting the life of Jesus.
- Cooperation. It’s all about recognizing your place in the bigger picture of The Kingdom. Philippians 2:3—“Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves.” God is more concerned about how well you work with others than what you do on your own.
- Commitment. Jesus doesn’t care for a Sunday afternoon stroll in the garden. Luke 9:23—“If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me.” Jesus didn’t like fans when He walked creation in human form and He hasn’t changed His mind. You must commit whatever circumstances or situations you face.
- Courage. Courage is fear under control. 1 Corinthians 15:58—“So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.” God is looking for people who are willing to stand up for the Kingdom of God over everything else.
Character is developed and revealed in all 5 traits. Not 3 out of 5, or 4 out of 5. This is the Character God wants from His people. Step 3:
Vs. 4b—character strengthens our confident hope of salvation.
Henry Ford once said, “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.” Ephesians 3:20—“Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.” Expand Your Expectations! The word expand means to enlarge or spread out. The word expectation means eager anticipation. When you expand your expectations, you are enlarging your anticipation.
The more you anticipate the movement of God and His Holy Spirit, the more you will do, even in the face of demanding times and disappointments. Expand your expectations of yourself. Expand your expectations of this church. Expand your expectations of who God can use. Expand your expectations of the ways God will move. Then and only then will you see God move in ways well beyond what you think. Step 4.
Vs. 5—And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.
If you desire your love for God to grow, then spend time—a lot of time focusing on how much God loves you. 1 John 4:10—“This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.” It’s not God loving the good and lovable people. It’s about God loving the bad and unlovable—and that’s you and me! The Quick Fix circumvents opportunities to experience how much God loves us. You can trust that God’s love is good because HE is good. Whatever pressures life brings your way, know that God’s love will bring you through it.
The Gospel is not about us having enough or doing enough to appease God. The gospel is about what we have received from God in Christ to live in a way that pleases him.
Quick fixes lead to counterfeit Christianity–where “formalities” replace the integrity of faithful living. Faith does not count what it will cost or the rewards they might receive, but serves God willingly and joyfully, then trusts God with the outcomes.
The gospel is about what we have received from God in Christ, and it’s then about the sometimes slow, but sure ways that God teaches us to live in a way that pleases him. And this is the only way to find peace in the middle of pressures and problems.
(This is part 2 of my current sermon series called “The Hard Sayings Of Jesus”)
Let’s go ahead and get the disclaimer out of the way:
OK, we are looking at the hard sayings of Jesus. Let’s briefly go over again how Jesus communicated the Truth. He told stories/parables about Kingdom Truth. He spoke some things with authority—in other words, things we need to take literally. But then Jesus sometimes used hyperbole—over exaggeration. And there is a process that we can use to determine is Jesus speaking literally or using hyperbole. 2 Steps:
- Is It Possible? If it’s not possible, then it’s hyperbole.
- Is It Consistent With The Message And Principles Of The Kingdom? Jesus never contradicts Himself. If it contradicts the Message and Principles of the Kingdom it is hyperbole
If the either answer is NO, more than likely Jesus is using hyperbole. But if the answer for both questions is YES, then Jesus is speaking literally with authority. Let’s look at another of Jesus’ hard sayings. It’s found in Matthew 7:21-23 (NIV)
21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”
If you can remember only one thing from this message, it must be this: Good People Do Not Get Into Heaven. This is what Jesus is really saying here. Some of those who say “Lord” do not get into heaven. These are good, moral and honest people. This isn’t the thieves, murderers and liars. These are the people who talk a good game. Some even go the church more than at Easter and Christmas. So, is Jesus serious here? OK, let’s apply the 2 questions and determine is it a hyperbole or an authoritative word:
- Is It Possible?
- One of the many times that Jesus spoke harshly to the Pharisees, who were by our world’s definition good folks, was a parable; a sinner and a Pharisee went to church. The Pharisee talked about how good he was—the tax collector wept for how bad he was. And Jesus said in Luke 18:14—“I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God.”
- The first time Peter and John were arrested they said to the really religious people in Acts 4:12—“There is salvation in no one else! God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved.”
- Think about this: Is it possible to do a lot of good things without Jesus being your Savior and Lord? It happens every day.
- Is It Consistent With The Message And Principles Of The Kingdom?
- Jesus said after the conversion of Nicodemus the Tax Collector in Luke 19:10—“For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.” Lost meaning no heaven.
- And Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:8-9—“8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—9 not by works, so that no one can boast. Heaven is a gift not a reward.
Since the answers are both yes to our “litmus” test, then we need to see this as a literal authoritative word that we need to obey and follow. If we think about it, Jesus is sounding really hard on this issue of good people not getting into heaven.
But shouldn’t our goodness, our good deeds, even our good thoughts count for something? I mean, it’s not like we’ve committed murder or been physically abusive to others. It’s not like we’ve been chronic or pathological liars. For the most part, we’ve not used any power we might have to our advantage. We pay our taxes, express gratitude, and from time to time we help others.
Then why isn’t this enough? I mean, we have been known on rare moments to apologize when we’ve done wrong. We helped our neighbor a few times. Shouldn’t this be enough? To our normal and natural thinking, sure—it’s enough. If we do more good things than bad things—hey! We should be able to get in. Makes human sense, doesn’t it. After all, it’s good enough for the bank—if we put in a little more than we take out—it’s all good. It works in accounting, but not at judgment. Why doesn’t it work at judgment?
Because Heaven Isn’t A Reward For Good Behavior But The Result Of Being Righteous.
The Kingdom is God’s realm. And entrance into that Kingdom is dependent upon righteousness. Now how righteous are we to be? Jesus said in Matthew 5:20 (NIV)—“For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” How righteous were they? Well, they were as righteous as a person could get on their own. They had come to be the epitome of human achievement in religion. They were obsessed with religious function. As far as the people around them knew, they were exceedingly righteous.
They seemed to do all the right things like praying and giving and fasting. They seemed to have all the right standards like not murdering and not committing adultery and making sure they kept every meticulous element of the law. It appears they were the ones who were exceedingly righteous and yet the righteousness that Christ demands must far exceeds theirs.
God requires a righteousness that is beyond a person’s capacity, a divine righteousness that comes from God, a standard that none of us are able to accomplish. Nothing is more dangerous than thinking that if we sincerely believe the right things, then that makes us a true Disciple of Jesus. So why can’t good people simply get into heaven?
1) The Problem Of Sin
Romans 3:23—“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” We are all flawed somewhere, broken deep inside. John Wesley called it “Original Sin”. We have inherited from Adam and Eve that broken nature. It’s just waiting for the right time to come to the surface and take over our life.
The Greek word for sin means to miss the mark. We miss the mark when it comes to personal holiness. We miss the mark when it comes to judging others. We miss the mark when it comes to showing grace and mercy. We miss the mark when it comes to doing the things that God wants done. Not all the time, mind you—but we do miss the mark of what God wants of us and from us.
Sin is serious because of the penalty—death and separation from God. In James 2:10—For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. The Law of God is one single Law. Just because someone put as the heading “The Ten Commandments” doesn’t make it 10 separate laws. When we break God’s Law, we become broken from the relationship we are designed to experience. All us of are broken somewhere—and we cannot fix it.
2) The Issue Of Holiness
1 Peter 1:15-16—“But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” Our God exists as complete and absolutely perfect holiness. We were created to be exactly like Him—but remember point One—Sin! When compared to the holiness of God, Isaiah said in 64:6 that our best acts are nothing but filthy rags.
We are made in His image so that we can reflect His Image. God is absolutely Holy and since we are infected with sin, there is no way we can stand before or in the presence of God. Heaven exists in pure and inexplicable glory where nothing of sin can exist or remain. Being good is different from being Holy. Being good is acting nice to others for the most part. Being good is acting joyful for the most part. Being good is acting grateful for the most part. Being good is going to church on most Sundays. Being good is reading your Bible for the most part. Being good is helping someone from time to time. Being good is paying the bills on time. Being good is NOT telling someone what a moron they are. Being good is doing our best even though we have flaws and faults.
The issue for God is not about being good but being Holy.
Being Holy is being exactly like God in every detail.
No exceptions and no exclusions. Holy is being sinless, and we already established that every single one of us is a sinner. Heaven is God’s realm; it belongs to Him and Him alone. And He is the one who determines what it takes to get it.
3) The Need For Righteousness
Romans 4:3—What does Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”
Righteousness means at the core, being in right standing with God. But because of sin—plain and simply stated—we are not in the right standing with God. And we never will by our best efforts. So God had a plan—that plan was for Jesus to live the Perfect Life and them become the perfect sin-offering by placing upon Himself every sin of every sinner. In doing so, He paid the price was should have been ours to pay—separation from God. Then, if we do as Abraham did, believe that His sacrifice alone atones for our sins and removes it from being our responsibility to pay—then God forgives us and puts us in that right relationship.
Righteousness is received in two acts. The first one is done by God and the second one is done by us.
Righteousness is first imputed, then righteousness must be imparted.
Imputed Righteousness comes when we put our faith in the redeeming work of Jesus on the Cross. It’s faith in God’s gift of forgiveness. By Grace—Through Faith
But Imputed Righteousness is only the beginning. Righteousness must also become that Imparted Righteousness. Imparted Righteousness is what we receive from God in those moments we actually get it right. It’s the reason for: “Well done, good and faithful servant.” It happens when we give up our ways for the will of God. It happens when we get involved with what God is doing. It happens when we live out the what someone called The 4 GREATS.
- The Great Invitation—deny yourself, pick up your cross and follow Jesus
- The Great Love For God—with all your life
- The Great Love For Others—putting their needs ahead of your own
- The Great Commission—leading people to Jesus
Getting into heaven isn’t about being good. It is about being connected to the One who IS Completely Good. So, how do you get into heaven? It’s by obeying. Listen again to verse 21: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” What is that Will Jesus is speaking about?
- Confess And Repent: Confess doesn’t mean name all your sins. Confess means that you agree with God’s perfect judgment that YOU are a sinner. Repent means then to turn away from that old life and follow Jesus into the New Life.
- Trust And Believe: Trust that God will provide everything you need and believe that He will never give up on you.
- Surrender And Follow: Surrender your will and Follow His Will.
- Learn And Do: Be a disciple and learn what Jesus is teaching. Then do the things you have learned. In other words, obey Jesus.