THE LIVING BREAD LIFE!

Your Heart, Life, And Mind Is Being Fed By Either The Manna Life Or Living Bread Life.

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(This is the second in the message series “YAHWEH! THE GREAT I AM”

We are continuing to look at The Boldest Statements Jesus Ever Made.  We are looking at some of those times when Jesus said:  “I am.”  Last week we looked at the Story of the Woman at the Well.  But remember that Jesus never said “I Am” because He didn’t speak English.  He would have spoken Hebrew and the word he would have used was Yahweh.  Yahweh is the name God revealed to Moses.

It is God’s eternal name, His name for all generations to remember.  It was illegal to use that word in public, yet Jesus used that Name when He revealed himself to that woman. Claiming to be Yahweh, He backs up that claim with another moment when Jesus uses His Eternal Name.  It’s found in John 6:32-51 (The Message)

32-33 Jesus responded, “The real significance of that Scripture is not that Moses gave you bread from heaven but that my Father is right now offering you bread from heaven, the real bread.  The Bread of God came down out of heaven and is giving life to the world.” 

34 They jumped at that:  “Master, give us this bread, now and forever!”  35-38 Jesus said, “I am the Bread of Life.  The person who aligns with me hungers no more and thirsts no more, ever.  I have told you this explicitly because even though you have seen me in action, you don’t really believe me.  Every person the Father gives me eventually comes running to me.  And once that person is with me, I hold on and don’t let go.  I came down from heaven not to follow my own whim but to accomplish the will of the One who sent me.

39-40 “This, in a nutshell, is that will:  that everything handed over to me by the Father be completed—not a single detail missed—and at the wrap-up of time I have everything and everyone put together, upright and whole.  This is what my Father wants:  that anyone who sees the Son and trusts who he is and what he does and then aligns with him will enter real life, eternal life.  My part is to put them on their feet alive and whole at the completion of time.”

41-42 At this, because he said, “I am the Bread that came down from heaven,” the Jews started arguing over him:  “Isn’t this the son of Joseph?  Don’t we know his father?  Don’t we know his mother?  How can he now say, ‘I came down out of heaven’ and expect anyone to believe him?”

43-46 Jesus said, “Don’t bicker among yourselves over me.  You’re not in charge here.  The Father who sent me is in charge.  He draws people to me—that’s the only way you’ll ever come.  Only then do I do my work, putting people together, setting them on their feet, ready for the End.  This is what the prophets meant when they wrote, ‘And then they will all be personally taught by God.’  

Anyone who has spent any time at all listening to the Father, really listening and therefore learning, comes to me to be taught personally—to see it with his own eyes, hear it with his own ears, from me, since I have it firsthand from the Father.  No one has seen the Father except the One who has his Being alongside the Father—and you can see me.

47-51 “I’m telling you the most solemn and sober truth now:  Whoever believes in me has real life, eternal life.  I Am The Bread Of Life. Your ancestors ate the manna bread in the desert and died.  But now here is Bread that truly comes down out of heaven.  Anyone eating this Bread will not die, ever.  I Am The Bread—Living Bread!—who came down out of heaven.  Anyone who eats this Bread will live—and forever!  The Bread that I present to the world so that it can eat and live is myself, this flesh-and-blood self.”

Have you ever thought about how images of bread are used in our ordinary day to day life?  “That’s the best thing since sliced bread.  He’s rolling in the dough.  Hey Dad, I need some bread, (meaning money).  Their bread isn’t buttered on both sides (meaning they lack common sense).  Man, he’s toast.”  In Middle Eastern culture, and Mediterranean culture, eating bread together is a sign of friendship and connection.  Bread is a symbol for life.

When it comes to people’s spiritual lives, they will be living either the Manna Life or the Living Bread Life.  There is a sharp distinction between the two.  There is no confusion about which life we are choosing the live.  And make no mistake about it; it is our choice whether we live the Manna Life or the Living Bread Life

Let’s find something we can all agree on:  We have no control over some things that come our way in life.  There are some things that happen to us that are absolutely beyond our control.  Does everyone agree with this?  I didn’t say we liked it; just that it happens.  Now, my next point is something that you may dislike even more, but it’s the truth:  We Do Have Control Over How We React To Those Times.  How We Live Each Day And Our Reactions To Life As It Happens Come Out Of The Life That Is In Each Of Us. If you can remember only one thing today, then remember this: 

Your Heart, Life, And Mind Is Being Fed By Either The Manna Life Or Living Bread Life.

One life never satisfies and the other will always satisfy and see us through anything that life throws our way.  Let’s see the difference by setting up today’s passage.  The day before Jesus had fed a large group of people with a young boy’s sack lunch of 5 barley loaves of bread and 2 fish.  Now Jesus and the 12 are on the other side of the lake, and the people have come to Jesus again.  This time they are seeking a sign.  They wanted a sign from Jesus before they would accept Him as Messiah.  They pointed out the Moses had given them Manna as a sign that God was with them.  Now they want Jesus to give a sign that God was with Him. 

OK, excuse me, but He has turned dirty water into the most extraordinary wine, healed every disease put before Him, cast out demons, opened eyes and ears, and gave voice to those who could not talk.  And added to all that, He taught the Kingdom principles with authority, like no one else ever had.  And NOW, they want a sign?  Jesus doesn’t waste His time or their time.  More than a sign, Jesus talks about life through the images of Manna Life and Living Bread Life.  Think about the differences. 

1.  What Does The Manna Life Look Like?

What does this life feel like?  Well go back to the time when God gave them Manna.  It appeared every morning on the ground.  Each family could pick up enough for just 1 day, and no more—except on Friday.  Then they could pick up enough for 2 days.  It never lasted longer than that.  Any thing left over would be ruined the next morning, so they would have to go out and pick up more. 

Every meal was the same.  The husband or kids never asked “What’s for supper?”  It would be manna casserole, manna pot pie, manna sandwiches, manna stew, manna soup—and for dessert it was always manna cake.  I mean, there was not a whole lot of variety to their meals.  And they had to do nothing to do to get it.  They didn’t have to trade or buy or barter for it.  Every morning, day after day after day, there it was.  And every morning, whatever was left in the jar was ruined.  And here was where the problems started.  It produces the same problems today:

  1. They Believed They Were Entitled To ItThey did not have to buy it and it was always there every morning.  They begin to feel like they were entitled to it.  Few things are worse than living every day with a sense of entitlement—that life owes you something simply because you are breathing and alive.  Living With That Evil Spirit Of Entitlement Will Remove From Your Heart Any Sense Of Gratitude.  Oh, for sure, at first they were grateful.  But after only a few weeks of it, things changed.  First, they always expected it to be there,
  • They Got Tired of it.  But can you blame them?  The same meal day after day after day is enough to make them want something else.  This is what the Manna Life is like.  It’s waking up every morning to the same routine. 
    • There Is No Sense Of Excitement In The Manna Life.
    • There Are No Adventures To Explore in the Manna Life.
    • There Is No Anticipation For Anything Different To Happen in the Manna Life
  • It’s The Dull Life.  Nothing to inspire the mind or stir up the heart.
  • It’s The Life That Is Afraid To Get Out Of That Comfort Zone.  Comfort is more important than Purpose.
  • It’s The Life That Is Unwilling To Take The Risk.  Playing it safe is the key to survival for them.
  • It’s The Life Spent In Waiting And Then Wondering Why They Never Experience The Great Victories In Life.  Now mind you, they haven’t sought great victories, they’ve never engaged in the battle—but they expect great victories and are disappointed.
  • And For Church People, It’s The Life Sitting In The Pew Sunday After Sunday, Who At Best Think It Is Enough, And At Worst Think This Is All There Is To It.  They never get to experience the surprises of God’s presence, God’s grace, and God’s activities.  And sadly, they never experience the joyful surprise of being used by God to touch another life and watch God change that life. 

It’s routine life, and nothing is more boring, nothing is more unfulfilling, and few things make a life more ungrateful, than the Manna Life.  These people around Jesus thought they wanted the Manna Life.  But Jesus did not come to bring the Manna Life, but something so much better.  He came to bring them and us the Living Bread Life.  Jesus is much more than a free lunch—more than a vending machine dispensing what we want.

2.  What Exactly Is The Living Bread Life?

What does it feel like?  Look like?  Allow me to sum it up for you. 

  1. It Is The Life That Is Deeply And Intimately Connected To Our Heavenly Father Through Christ Living In Us.  It is living your life with the assurance and confidence that Jesus actually lives in your heart—lives in you so that you can grow to become all God sees in you!
  • It’s A Life That Is Abundant In Power, Love And Grace.  There is more than enough of Jesus living in the heart of every believer to accomplish anything that God wants.  It’s not just enough for today.  It’s enough for tomorrow, and the next day and the next, all the way to eternity.  There is enough grace, enough mercy, and enough love to lead us right up to the very throne of God.
  • It’s The Life Of Adventure.  When the Hebrews would wake up each morning in the wilderness, they didn’t have to look far to find the manna—just go outside and pick it up.  But Living Bread Life calls us into an adventure where we trust in Him to provide what we Cannot See Or Even Imagine.  God wants to take you on an adventure in life where nothing is bland or dull.  It’s the life of excitement knowing that Jesus lives in you, and that He is going to use you in ways you never imagined. 
  • It’s The Life Of Exploration.  It’s going down different paths, trying new ways.  The only thing we know about the future of this life in grace is that one day, we will end in His eternal presence.  So every day offers us the opportunity to find that God is always doing something new.  It’s exciting to be a part of what God wants done.  God is anything but predictable when it comes to how He works in this world.
  • It Is The Life Of Contentment.  Let me tell you something about real life.  There will be times of abundance in our life.  And there will be times of scarcity.  There will be times when all of our ducks are in a perfect row and all marching to the same beat.  And there will be times when the ducks will scatter in all directions.  There will be times when the sailing is smooth as silk.  And there will be times when it will feel like we are on a monster roller coaster.  But the one thing about the Living Bread Life is that in every condition and situation, we will learn to be content—that we are at peace with God, self and the world. 

The only source of life for all of this—comes through the only thing—rather the only ONE—who will be present in both extremes and every point between them.  I’m talking about Jesus living in your heart.  You know He is the one who blesses us far more than we deserve.  And you know He is the ONLY one who will stand with us to strengthen us and guide through the rough waters and over the steep mountains.

We can choose to accept the Manna Life with all its hollowness.  Or we can choose to accept The Living Bread Life with all its Hallowedness—by inviting Jesus, The Living Bread, into our hearts.  For someone here today, this may be the very first time for you to invite Jesus into your heart.  For the rest of us, it’s our time to renew our decision by inviting Jesus to go deeper into our hearts.  Just bread on the table will leave us hungry again.  But the ONE who dares to call Himself YahwehLiving Bread, can and will satisfy our deepest hunger and deepest thirst.

Next Steps

  1. Come Up With An Idea Of A Way We, As A Church, Can Get To Know People Around Us.
  2. Come Up With An Idea Of How We Can Connect Other Churches Around Us In Order To Do More For The Kingdom Of God!

The Great I Am!

The Deepest Longing Of Every Human Heart Is To Be Near To God

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This is the first in my Lent Series “YAHWEH!”

For this Lenten Journey, I want us to look at the most profound statement ever made by Jesus while He was here in our human form.  Throughout Lent we are going to be in John’s Gospel looking some of the “I-Am” sayings of Jesus—those moments and situations where He identifies Himself in a very specific way.

Let’s lay the groundwork for today’s passage before I read it to you.  Moses had this unbelievable encounter with God.  We call it “The Burning Bush” story.  God tells Moses to go back to Egypt and inform them that God has appointed him to lead them to the Promised Land.  But before Moses agrees, he wants to know who it is that is sending him.  They will want to know who has sent him, so Moses poses the question:  “Who shall I tell them sent me?”  And in that moment God reveals His true Name:  I Am Who I Am!  In Hebrew, the word is Yahweh!  And God goes further with this statement:

This is my eternal name, my name to remember for all generations.

Why am I telling you all this?  Because without this knowledge, nothing that we look at this season will make any sense.  We are going to journey through Lent by looking at certain moments when Jesus says, “I Am”.  The first one we need to look at is from John 4:4-26 (N.L.T.)

He had to go through Samaria on the way.  Eventually he came to the Samaritan village of Sychar, near the field that Jacob gave to his son Joseph.  Jacob’s well was there; and Jesus, tired from the long walk, sat wearily beside the well about noontime.  Soon a Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Please give me a drink.”  He was alone at the time because his disciples had gone into the village to buy some food.

The woman was surprised, for Jews refuse to have anything to do with Samaritans. She said to Jesus, “You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan woman. Why are you asking me for a drink?”   Jesus replied, “If you only knew the gift God has for you and who you are speaking to, you would ask me, and I would give you living water.”

 “But sir, you don’t have a rope or a bucket,” she said, “and this well is very deep.  Where would you get this living water?  And besides, do you think you’re greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us this well?  How can you offer better water than he and his sons and his animals enjoyed?”  Jesus replied, “Anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again.  But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again.  It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.”  

“Please, sir,” the woman said, “give me this water! Then I’ll never be thirsty again, and I won’t have to come here to get water.”  “Go and get your husband,” Jesus told her.  “I don’t have a husband,” the woman replied.  Jesus said, “You’re right! You don’t have a husband—for you have had five husbands, and you aren’t even married to the man you’re living with now. You certainly spoke the truth!”

“Sir,” the woman said, “you must be a prophet.  So tell me, why is it that you Jews insist that Jerusalem is the only place of worship, while we Samaritans claim it is here at Mount Gerizim, where our ancestors worshiped?”  Jesus replied, “Believe me, dear woman, the time is coming when it will no longer matter whether you worship the Father on this mountain or in Jerusalem. 

You Samaritans know very little about the one you worship, while we Jews know all about him, for salvation comes through the Jews.  But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth.  The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way.  For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.”

The woman said, “I know the Messiah is coming—the one who is called Christ.  When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”  Then Jesus told her, “I Am the Messiah!”

We need be begin our journey with boldest statement ever made by a human being.  Jesus tells her:  I AM!  For what I am about to say, some would want to tar and feather me and run me out of town, but I’m going to say it.  Jesus did not say “I Am”.  Now, you look confused.  “Preacher, you just read that Jesus said I Am.”  But Jesus did NOT say I Am—because He did not speak English.  Jesus would have been able to speak in both Aramaic and Hebrew.  So when He identifies himself to her, the word He used is Yahweh

The Name That God Told Moses Would Be His Eternal Name, The Name That People Would Identify As None Other Than The God Of Abraham, Isaac And Jacob.

Can you imagine the shock on this woman’s face when Jesus identified Himself as Yahweh?  It was a name so sacred that Law prohibited its use in public.  No human being since Moses was allowed to use that name.  And no one dare named their child Yahweh!  Yet this is the name Jesus calls Himself.  What were the first thoughts running through her mind? 

“Is he crazy?  Has he been out in the sun too long?  Is he playing mind games with me?  Is he mocking me because I’m a Samaritan?”  Whatever her first thoughts might have been, they didn’t stay long.  Somehow she knows His words ring true, so she runs back into Sychar with the news, telling everyone she can find:  “I’ve found Him!  I’ve found Him!”  And the people may have laughed, “Who, husband number 6?”  She catches her breath, “No, no, I think I’ve found Messiah!  I just know He must be Messiah!” I know it says she asked a question:  “Could He be the Messiah?”, but it’s not a question of doubt.  Hers is the question of hope.  And here’s the one thing you need to remember today:

The Deepest Longing Of Every Human Heart Is To Be Near To God!

Hers may have been a tarnished hope, or it may have been a secret hope that no one could see in her life.  But somehow, deep down in her heart, there must have been that hope that God would come near to her to satisfy the deepest longings of her heart. 

As we make our Lenten Journey, we need to know that we are going to find that same longing in our heart—to see and experience the nearness of the One, True and Living God.  And we can count on Jesus being that just for us, as He was for her!  And it is all because of The Name:  Yahweh!  Jesus is Yahweh and here’s why:

1.  He Is Yahweh Because He Looks For Us

Jacob’s Well was the place ordained by God for this woman.  He Has A Place Ordained For You, To Meet Him Face To Face, For You To Surrender Your Life To Him.  And Jesus planned it out for that moment when she would be coming to draw water.  As Jesus and his entourage arrives at Jacob’s Well, Jesus announces, “Guys, I need to stop and rest; besides it lunch time.  Tell you what, go into town to McDavid’s and get you something to eat, and bring me back a #7 combo.  I’ll just wait right here.  Now, go on guys.”  Have you ever wondered why Jesus sent them ahead while He stayed behind?  Well, I have and I’ve come to this conclusion.  If there had been several of them with Jesus, that woman probably would have stayed away.  But just one man there, it’s not as threatening to her.  Jesus wanted this moment with her.

He had been looking for her and the time was right.  And He looks for us.  There are God-ordained moments where He is looking for us.  He is looking for us to have this special relationship with Him.  God wants us to have more than a mental knowledge about Him.  He longs for us to give Him our hearts.  But God-ordained moments go further than for us to become a Christian.  There are God-ordained moments to comfort us, encourage us, strengthen us, and to take us deeper into this relationship with Him.  And you never know when they will appear.  This woman came in the middle of the day; not the usual time to draw water.  And God may surprise you with ordained moments because He is always looking for us. 

2.  He Is Yahweh Because He Knows Us

Everyone in Sychar must have known this woman.  5 divorces and shacking up with another man?  She must have been the talk at all the hair salons.  They looked at her and saw someone who couldn’t keep commitments.  They saw someone who had no morals.  They saw someone whose only contribution to the community was to keep the gossip lines hot.  They saw her as dirtied and all messed up. 

The women of Sychar always went to the well early in the morning, but she would not have been welcomed then.  They saw everything that was wrong with her.  They thought they knew her.  But there was so much about her they could not see because they had made up their minds about her.  But Jesus knew there was more to her than what was on the surface. 

Only God, Only The One Whose Eternal Name Is YAHWEH Can See Into The Deepest Recesses Of The Human Heart.

He sees the secret sins we hide from others.  He knows the dark secrets we keep pushed down deep.  But He knows more, much more.  He knew what she was truly longing for, and He knows what we are longing for.  Because He knows us, He knows what it will take to bring that hope alive in us.  This woman wasn’t ignorant of God’s promises.  She knew one day Messiah would come.  And though it may have been a weak hope, there was the hope that Messiah would come to save her.  Listen to your heart; your heart knows it wants to be known deeply and loved intimately by God.  Yes, He knows our flaws and sins, but He also knows the real you—the one waiting to be born, waiting to be released upon this world and into God’s Kingdom.

3.  He Is Yahweh Because He Offers Us Life

At Jacob’s Well this God-Ordained moment was for one single purpose:  To Bring Real Life To This Dirty, Broken Woman! Nothing Can Give Us The Life We Long For, Only Jesus.

Some people settle for a life of thrills, but there are never enough thrills.  Some settle for a life of wealth, but there’s never enough wealth to hold off the fear of losing it all.  And some settle for a life of respectability—but they are hollow and empty inside.  This woman was looking for life through one relationship after another.  But none of them satisfied the cravings of her heart.

Nothing in this world can give you real, abundant, lasting, eternal life.  This is something only God has—Jesus is Yahweh because only HE has the life that we hunger for.  Only He has the life that will survive the ups and downs of life here on earth.  Only He has the life that can hold up under the fiercest storms.  Only Yahweh can offer us this kind of life—and He offers it as The Gift. 

He and only He paid the price necessary to take away the dead things of our life, and put in their place Life.  It’s not just any ordinary life, but the most extraordinary life of all—His Very Own Life.  In this Lenten Journey, in your life journey, remember that There Is A Name For All Generations To Remember

It is His Eternal Name, Yahweh and He is looking, looking for you because He knows you. He knows you need more than an ordinary life—but the most extraordinary life of all.  Paul nails it when he describes this life in Galatians 1:27

And this is the secret: Christ lives in you. This gives you assurance of sharing his glory.

Only Yahweh, only The Great I Am can put real and abundant life in you—That life is Him In You!

Next Steps

  1. Has anything robbed you of hope?  The news?  This controversy going on in our Tribe?  Guilt?  Some fear, named or unnamed? Crushing grief that you keep holding on to, that you never completely give over to Jesus?  Feelings of inadequacy?  Or, how about despair, that you’ve given up on something, something very important?
  2. Give whatever that is up.  Give it up to Jesus.  Make it your offering to Him.  He’s not looking for only the good things to offer Him, He wants the pain, the burdens that you carry to be given over to Him.  You don’t have to keep carrying them because He carried that weight, while on that Cross!
  3. If you have given Jesus your heart, then declare this truth every day, all day long:  Christ Lives In Me.  When you doubt, say it:  Christ Lives In Me.  When you are afraid, say it:  Christ Lives In Me.  When that thing you gave up that was robbing you of hope starts to weigh on you again, say it:  Christ Lives In Me. 



Give Up The Guilt! 

Romans 8:1-4 (NLT)

1 So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature.  So God did what the law could not do.  He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have.  And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit.

There’s nothing worse than a guilty feeling, is there?  Maybe you can go back to a time when you were younger, and you were just waiting for Mom or Dad to find out what you had done.  You wanted to avoid that conversation more than anything else in the world, but you knew it was coming.  Perhaps recently or in the past you made a mistake at work that was just inevitable someone was going to notice, and you’d have to answer for it. And then, once someone uncovers your mistake then you have to live with the fact that whatever discipline comes down on you because of that, it is your fault and if you had just not done that one thing, you could have avoided all of the bad from that situation that is now in your life.

By nature we live under a cloud of guilt because we’re born knowing that there is a God, a God that demands a perfect life from us.  We also know that in so many situations we have failed to live up to his perfect ways.  So there we sit, like a child waiting for Mom and Dad to see the destruction that one marker can make on freshly painted walls, hoping the day of punishment never comes.

But in this situation, it is so much worse because we’re not talking about being grounded from TV for a few nights; we’re talking about our soul’s eternal welfare.  And if you can remember only 1 thing tonight, this is it:  Jesus Paid It All For Our Deliverance From Sin!

These words in chapter 8 are a continuation of that thought in chapter 7.  Paul has just wrestled with his own inclination to sin in the famous words of Romans 7:15-19 “15 I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate. 16 But if I know that what I am doing is wrong, this shows that I agree that the law is good. 17 So I am not the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.  18 And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature.  I want to do what is right, but I can’t. 19 I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway.

Paul finds himself continually facing sin because of the sinful nature that dwells in him.  He can’t get rid of it, despite feeling like an alien part of himself.  He wants to be freed from it, but can’t be.  And guilt keeps hanging over him.  And it hangs over us.

Despite all of that, though, Paul says clearly and confidently, “So now there is no condemnation.”  So what happened?  The law didn’t lose its bite; God didn’t stop caring about sin. The difference is that So there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

How does Jesus do that?  What is so remarkable about what He did on the Cross that it causes God to remove the Guilt and then the power of sin over us?  We still can’t overpower sin.  God still demands holiness.  How does the guilt go away?

Allow me to share with you 4 insights into why we can give up guilt.

  1. He Suffered In Our Place

For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin so that we could be made right with God through Christ. 2 Corinthians 5:21 (NLT)

Jesus became our substitute.  Anyone here ever watch Major League Baseball?  In the American League there’s this person called the Designated Hitter.  He doesn’t play any position in the field, just bats.  Why?  Because pitchers are not known for being good hitters.  They are paid to throw strikes, not hit home runs.  So the Designated Hitter takes the place of the pitcher in the batting order.  I know this is not a good analogy—but it is an image of what happened on the Cross.

We need to be punished, every one of us, for our sins.  Punishment isn’t being put on probation or writing 500 sentences that says, “I will not do that again.”  It’s receiving the wrath of the Holy God and then separation from Him.  This is exactly what Jesus did for us.  And the thing is, Jesus had the choice—to accept this or walk away.  And as mind-blowing as this is—The Father had a choice.  He could have stopped this whole thing—and been well within His authority.  Guilt is taken away because Jesus carried it for us while on that Cross.

  1. He Breaks The Curse Sin Has Over Us

21 I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. 22 I love God’s law with all my heart. 23 But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind.  This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. 24 Oh, what a miserable person I am!  Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? 25 Thank God!  The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord.  (Romans 7:21-25 NLT)

The Curse is that knowing that no matter how hard we try, we keep messing up.  It’s a constant battle where we lose again and again and again.  None of us are good enough, strong enough to resist the power of sin in us.  The curse of sin is that it reminds us of our failures.  It points out again and again where we mess it up.

Oh, we may win a skirmish or 2 along the way.  Who knows, you may win enough skirmishes with sin to make you say, “Hey!  Know what?  After looking at how other people are living, I’m not so bad.”  Sure, everyone here looks better than Charles Manson.  And if being better than Charles Manson was the standard?  Hey, we got this.  But it’s not about comparing our lives with someone else’s life.

You will always find someone who appears worse than you, and you will always find someone who is better than you.  The measuring standard for us is to be just like our Creator.  Sin shows how much we miss that mark, because sin’s curse prevents us from being Holy.  By dying on the Cross, Jesus delivers us from the curse that we can never be good enough.  Jesus is good enough—for God and for us!

  1. He Reconciles Us To God

19 For God in all his fullness was pleased to live in Christ, 20 and through him God reconciled everything to himself.  He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of Christ’s blood on the cross. (Colossians 1:19-20 NLT)

In the Greek, there are 2 different words that are translated RECONCILE.  One word is “katallassō” and it describes an exchange, such as currency.  It describes a transaction that produces the same results on both sides of it.  But the word here in Colossians is “apokatallassō” and it means to restore completely.

In this “transaction” it is God who is providing the means and the process.  There isn’t some kind of ladder of things to do that you climb up to get to God. There is only one way—that’s Jesus and He is able to fully reconcile a man to God.

All we bring into this act of restoration is to accept God’s offer.  Since God has taken away the barrier to peace with Him through Jesus dying on the Cross.  Where’s the guilt?  It’s Gone!  Gone with the Blood of Jesus!  One more thing:

  1. He Breaks The Power Of Sin In Us

14 He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross. 15 In this way, He disarmed the spiritual rulers and authorities.  He shamed them publicly by His victory over them on the cross. (Colossians 2:14-15 NLT)

Every person born after The Fall of Adam and Eve was dominated and controlled by sin.  Adam and Eve did not foresee that consequence, but Satan did.  And until the end of everything we now know, it will remain this way.  But Jesus broke sin’s power by nailing my sins and your sins to the Cross.

Jesus and only Jesus breaks the chains that sin puts on all of us.  We remain the prisoners of sin until we allow Jesus to set us free.  We are now free to live righteously.  We are free now to pursue the life of Holiness—where we honor and glorify God through Holiness of Purpose, Holiness of Heart, Holiness of Spirit, And Holiness IN Community.  It’s both personal holiness AND social holiness.  Redeeming our hearts and redeeming society by pursuing love, hope and justice.

In the end the Roman authorities and the Jewish council wanted Jesus dead.  He was a political, social and religious trouble-maker.  But what made the death of Jesus more significant than the countless other crucifixions carried out by the Romans and witnessed outside the city walls by the people of Jerusalem?

Jesus was far more than a political, social and religious radical. The death of Jesus was part of a divine plan to save humanity.  The death and resurrection of this one man is at the very heart of the Gospel of The Kingdom.  For followers of Jesus, it is through His death that their broken relationship with God is restored.

(For a bit of context, worshipers at the Good Friday Service were given a nail to take home with them.  For my readers, I want you to find a nail, any size will do.  Remember that nail represents what really held Jesus on that Cross.  It was our sins that held Him there.  Think about that kind of love as you look at that nail.  Friday is dark.  But God has an answer to that Friday!)

Slide19

 

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

 

GIVE UP THE QUICK FIX!

Romans 5:1-5 (NLT)

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. 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.  We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. 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:

Endurance Development

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.

Step 2:

Character Development

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:

Expectation Development

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.

Love Development

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.

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.

Give Up Mediocrity!

(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)

 

Revelation 3:14-22 

14 Write to Laodicea, to the Angel of the church.  God’s Yes, the Faithful and Accurate Witness, the First of God’s creation, says:

15-17 “I know you inside and out, and find little to my liking.  You’re not cold, you’re not hot—far better to be either cold or hot!  You’re stale.  You’re stagnant.  You make me want to vomit.  You brag, ‘I’m rich, I’ve got it made, I need nothing from anyone,’ oblivious that in fact you’re a pitiful, blind beggar, threadbare and homeless.

18 Here’s what I want you to do:  Buy your gold from me, gold that’s been through the refiner’s fire.  Then you’ll be rich.  Buy your clothes from me, clothes designed in Heaven.  You’ve gone around half-naked long enough.  And buy medicine for your eyes from me so you can see, really see.

19 “The people I love, I call to account—prod and correct and guide so that they’ll live at their best.  Up on your feet, then! About face!  Run after God!

20-21 Look at me.  I stand at the door. I knock. If you hear me call and open the door, I’ll come right in and sit down to supper with you. Conquerors will sit alongside me at the head table, just as I, having conquered, took the place of honor at the side of my Father. That’s my gift to the conquerors!

22 Are your ears awake?  Listen.  Listen to the Wind Words, the Spirit blowing through the churches.”

As we continue looking at what we need to give up for Lent and beyond, today’s challenge is Give Up Mediocrity!  Do you feel stuck in space and time?  Then the culprit is more than likely mediocrity.  And if you are comfortable or enjoying being stuck in space and time, then there is no doubt about it, you are living in amplified and magnified mediocrity.

What’s the definition of mediocrity?  I’m so glad you asked.  It’s The Quality Or State Of Being Only Ordinary Or Moderate Quality; Neither Good Nor Bad; Barely Adequate; The Consequence Of Being Average And Not Outstanding.

Maybe the synonyms for this word will bring the meaning into focus:  undistinguished, commonplace, everyday; run-of-the-mill.  It comes from the Latin that means “half-way up the mountain”.  It was used to describe a mountain climber who made it half way up a mountain, but then came back down.  Mediocrity Is Just Being Average, Or As Jesus Put It In His Message To Laodicea, “Lukewarm”.

We can decide that we are going to move beyond mediocrity and do something new.  But pastor and writer Carey Nieuwhof said this in his series “Doing Time”:  “The reality is this:  That you still bring ‘you’ into anything new that you do.”

Several years ago, the Gallop poll asked this question:  How Engaged Are You At Work?  Engaged means they feel a sense of connection with their work and they are committed to doing the best they can.  71% responded they were Disengaged.  Of the other 21%, 12% were on Facebook and 17% were playing Candy Crush.   No, I made that part up.  The truth is only 21% were engaged in their work; meaning they are connected to their work and have the desire to do the best job possible.   Answer this question:  How Engaged Are You?  At work?  With Community?  With Family?  In God’s Kingdom?

I wonder if we have theologized our way into mediocrity.  I agree that the Spirit does the work and often works in spite of ourselves.  But, have we relied so much on that theology that we don’t even try to do our own work and mission with a sense of being engaged because we have a theology that says, “Hey, God works even if we suck”?

Isaac Newton’s first law of motion is an object will remain motionless or uniform in motion unless acted upon by an external force.  People are a lot like that—motionless or going through the motions until acted upon by some external force.  So, if you can remember only 1 thing from today’s message, this is it:  Mediocrity Is Destroyed When Your Heart Is Fully Engaged With Life.  There are not enough cosmetics to cover over this curse of mediocrity.  No plastic surgeon is skillful enough to remove the scars created by the life of mediocrity.

Mediocrity is what provides the fuel for selfishness and that selfishness promotes that vile and wicked spirit of consumerism!  Consumerism is a leach.  Leeches attach themselves to other lives and sucks the life right out of them.  There are 3 key symptoms of Mediocrity:

One Symptom Of Mediocrity Is Procrastination

Life can lose its sense of urgency.  When you do, your priorities change from putting first things first, to putting yourself first.  It becomes easier and easier to push God’s agenda aside.  Procrastination is the failure to remain attentive to what God is doing and what God is wanting to be done.   It is setting aside God’s desire for glory for our personal convenience. This is one reason why Mediocrity is a curse and fails to glorify God.

Another Symptom Of Mediocrity Is Lethargy

When I talk of lethargy, I mean a serious condition in which you literally don’t get anywhere in life.  The lethargic person is that person who Greg Groeschel calls a “Christian atheist”—claiming to be Christian but living as if God doesn’t exist.  I found this interesting about that word lethargy.  It comes from the Greek word meaning “forgetfulness”.  It’s forgetting what is most important in life.  Lethargy is the failure to take it upon yourself to take action in your life and make the best of it.  So you become just average.  Mediocrity is a curse because it doesn’t change what’s wrong in your heart, and you fail to glorify God.

The Third Symptom Of Mediocrity Is Timidity

Timidity is the failure to trust God with all aspects of your life.  Timidity finds all kinds of excuses, great sounding excuses why you cannot excel in life.  Timidity promotes that false humility which excludes you from what God wants to do with your life for your community.  Accepting average for and from yourself closes the door to the renewing work of the Holy Spirit.  Because Mediocrity promotes that false humility, it fails to glorify God.

Think of being mediocre and being lukewarm as one in the same—because they are.  This was the problem at Laodicea.  Doing just enough to feel good about themselves while sinking down like they were in quicksand; and that will literally crush our lives.  An ordinary life never experiences the extraordinary Grace of God.  So how can we break free of being just average?  Well, may I suggest you begin doing what Jesus told the church at Laodicea to do?  3 critical decisions you need to make for God to break you free from Mediocrity:

Step 1:  Commit Your Life To Holiness

Vs. 18a—Buy your gold from me, gold that’s been through the refiner’s fire.  Holiness is found by living each day within The Virtues Of God.  And Paul gives us a practical but challenging way to live in these Virtues in Philippians 4:8—Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.  When you fill your mind with these things, your words and actions become Holy and YOU become Holy.  We live by the things we think about. Step 2:

Step 2:  Decide To Live Righteously

Vs. 18b—Buy your clothes from me, clothes designed in Heaven.  God wants to make us righteous and He does by giving us the righteousness of Christ.  Then God wants us to live righteously—to live in the right way.  Paul describes this in Colossians 3:12-13—So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you.  Treat people the way Jesus treats them.  Help people the way Jesus helps them.  Let every decision be what is right—not what is easy or convenient. Step 3:

Step 3:  Become Engaged With God’s Mission

Vs. 18c—And buy medicine for your eyes from me so you can see, really see.   God’s Mission is clear in 2 Corinthians 5:19-20—God put the world square with himself through the Messiah, giving the world a fresh start by offering forgiveness of sins.  God has given us the task of telling everyone what He is doing.  We’re Christ’s representatives.  God uses us to persuade men and women to drop their differences and enter into God’s work of making things right between them.  We’re speaking for Christ himself now: Become friends with God; he’s already a friend with you.  Average and ordinary simply does not cut the mustard when it comes to the Mission of God.  If you are not bringing people to Jesus, you’re failing in the Mission.  It takes extraordinary people—and you will become extraordinary when you are filled with the Holy Spirit and allow The Spirit to equip and empower you for God’s Mission.

Do you feel stuck in space and time?  Then the culprit is more than likely mediocrity.  And if you are comfortable or enjoying being stuck in space and time, then there is no doubt about it, you are living in amplified and magnified mediocrity.  And you make God nauseated.  Don’t be lukewarm!  Be cold or hot, but don’t make God nauseated.

Give It Up: Fear

(Part 2 of my Lent Series “Give It Up’)

Matthew 14:22-33 (N.L.T.)

22 Immediately after this, Jesus insisted that his disciples get back into the boat and cross to the other side of the lake, while he sent the people home. 23 After sending them home, he went up into the hills by himself to pray. Night fell while he was there alone.

24 Meanwhile, the disciples were in trouble far away from land, for a strong wind had risen, and they were fighting heavy waves. 25 About three o’clock in the morning Jesus came toward them, walking on the water. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the water, they were terrified. In their fear, they cried out, “It’s a ghost!”

27 But Jesus spoke to them at once. “Don’t be afraid,” he said. “Take courage. I am here!”  28 Then Peter called to him, “Lord, if it’s really you, tell me to come to you, walking on the water.”

29 “Yes, come,” Jesus said.  So Peter went over the side of the boat and walked on the water toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the strong wind and the waves, he was terrified and began to sink. “Save me, Lord!” he shouted.

31 Jesus immediately reached out and grabbed him. “You have so little faith,” Jesus said. “Why did you doubt me?”  32 When they climbed back into the boat, the wind stopped. 33 Then the disciples worshiped him. “You really are the Son of God!” they exclaimed.

In case you missed last week, our Lent Series is about this question:  What Do I Need To Give Up And Not Pick Back Up After Easter?  We are looking at things that we need to give up for more than 40 days.  Most things that we give up for 40 days are shallow when we know we can pick them back up again at Easter.  And we should know that God is never pleased with shallow sacrifices.  We should always be looking for those places in our lives that God wants to cut away, to prune.  Truth is, we don’t; so, Lent is a great time to refocus and maybe, just maybe we can engage in this Spiritual Discipline every day, not just at Lent.  Today’s “thing” we need to give up is Fear.

I’m not talking about those healthy fears—like being afraid of poisonous snakes, walking across busy highways and dangerous animals.  Certain fears can protect us from harm.  I’m talking about those fears that imprison us and deny us the ability to enjoy life.  There’s a technical term for those kinds of fear:  Phobias

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Have you ever wondered when the emotion of fear first entered God’s creation?  When was the first time Adam or Eve knew what it felt like to be afraid?  Well, I know the answer:  After They Had Sinned!  We read in Genesis 3:10—He replied, “I heard you walking in the garden, so I hid. I was afraid because I was naked.”  We never find prior to that moment, Adam or Eve ever being afraid; not once!  To know why they were afraid, you need to remember the temptation they faced:  To become their own god.  That was the promise and the lie from Satan.  “Eat this and you will be just like God.  That’s why He doesn’t want you to eat it.  He doesn’t want the competition.”  Take a moment to think about what scares you.  I’m not talking about flying in a plane or snakes or bugs.  Think about some of the more serious issues of life.

  • Fear Of Failure. Fear of failure is the thought that failure defines us. Some think it is for the rest of their life; but it doesn’t have to. They take no risks and cower down in their comfort zones.
  • Fear Of Rejection. Fear of rejection creates the desire to win the approval of others. You focus more on pleasing others than God, and usually end up either pleasing neither one and become miserable.
  • Fear Of Being Alone. Fear of being alone causes you to engage in dangerous behavior and take on toxic relationships. Those living by the fear of being alone are swallowed up by wrong choices and people.
  • Fear Of Being Discovered. Fear of being discovered creates a fake self. It’s the fear others will stop loving you if they knew the truth about you.  It manifests itself with that judgmental attitude of pointing out the faults of others.
  • Fear Of Change. The fear of change is rooted in the need to be in control. That desire to be in control comes out the very same reason Adam and Eve ate that forbidden fruit—to replace God with self. Change may, and probably will involve you giving up control of the issues you feel like you must control.

Think about those disciples in that boat in that storm.  We’re not talking Carnival Cruise Lines.  There was barely enough room for those 12 men.  Now there are fierce winds and big waves.  They are literally stuck in that storm.  It’s not unreasonable that they are afraid.  There’s a good probability that Peter had friends who went out one night to fish but were never seen again.  It is a frightening situation and getting worse.  It’s not abnormal when we face the storms to be afraid. It’s what we do with…

If you can remember only one thing, remember this:  The More Energy That You Put Into Trying To Stop Fear, The More Energy Fear Has To Use Against You.  Living in fear makes you guilty of idolatry.  Fear that controls us becomes the idol that you serve.  Remember last’s week’s 1 thing:  Whatever You Permit To Remain In Your Mind, You Promote With Your Life .

Whatever you promote with your thoughts, attitudes, words and actions is the expression of your idol.  Your Fear will become your idol.  What can we do when faced with those unsettling and scary moments that come against us?  You can’t tell someone, “Oh, grow up!  Stop being afraid!”  Telling someone to NOT be afraid is like telling a cat, “Stop acting like a cat.”  It just won’t happen.  Instead do these 3 things to control your fears:

1.   When Afraid, Stop

The thing about fear is that it doesn’t want a little bit of our attention—it wants it all!  Fear pushes us to do something, anything to try to calm it.  As we do something, the fear grows stronger, so we do more.  It’s a never-ending and vicious cycle.  But no amount of activity or actions we take will ever calm that fear.  Here’s the fine print that fear doesn’t want you to see:  Fear Disappears As We Rest In God.

Instead of thinking about it or trying to stop it, remember what David wrote in Psalm 46:10—“Be still, and know that I am God!”  For most of us, being still is the hardest thing to do in the face of fear.  It goes against our grain and the logic of the world.  But when you stop and are still before the presence of the Great I Am, you’re draining the strength that fear has over you.  Fretting and anxiety just doesn’t work in the presence of God.  The longer you are still before God the less control fear has over you.

Think about the time when the Israelites were in that frightening moment of the Red Sea in front of them and Pharaoh’s army behind them.  What did Moses tell them?  Exodus 14:14—“The Lord himself will fight for you.  Just stay calm.”  Perhaps David remembered that when he wrote in Psalm 37:7—“Be still in the presence of the Lord, and wait patiently for him to act.”  It’s not always easy, but train yourself to stop when fear presents itself.  Wait for God’s timing.  God’s timing is just right because God loves you.  This leads to the second thing you need to try:

2.  When Afraid, Love

When you give fear power and control over you, it elevates YOU to the top of  the importance ladder.  When life is all about you, it’s impossible to love God or any others.  Fear tells you one thing only:  “God doesn’t love you.  He’s holding out on you!”  Every time you allow fear control, you are echoing fear’s lie:  “God doesn’t love me!”  But He does, and your fear doesn’t change this truth.  Fear knows that if you doubt God’s love for you, then it has you in its grip.

But try this instead:  Remember How Much God Loves You.  Fear will say, “Well not very much.  Just look at you.”  But you tell fear, “Jesus left the glory of heaven for a smelly stable.  He faced temptations and endured being misunderstood.  He suffered at the hands of the Sanhedrin and the Romans.  He died on that Cross for me!  He rose from the grave for ME!  And He is coming back for ME!”  God never stops loving you even when you don’t love Him.  Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 8:9—You know the generous grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty he could make you rich.  Even your punishment was put on Jesus, that’s how much God loves you.  Fear is disabled when we start caring more about others than ourselves.  When we love others with our actions, fear loses its control over us.  And one more thing to try:

3.  When Afraid, Trust

Let’s get back to our passage today.  It’s been a scary time for them, and it appears to them that Jesus has forgotten all about them.  They are afraid and more than the boat sinking, they are spiritually sinking.  But someone looks out and they have a tough time believing what they are seeing.  Someone is walking on the stormy waters.  It must be a ghost!  But listen to Jesus’ first words to them.  He didn’t chastise them for their lack of faith.  He said:  “Don’t be afraid,” he said.  “Take courage. I am here!”  The Greek can also be translated, Don’t be afraid.  ‘I Am’ is here!  The Greek word for “I am” is the equivalent word for the Hebrew word “Yahweh”– the name God revealed to Moses!

Take control of that fear because you trust in His presence to make the difference in your life.  And now Peter wants to be sure it’s really Jesus.  So, he says, “Lord, if it’s really you, tell me to come to you, walking on the water.”  Notice what Peter doesn’t say.  “Lord, calm the waters and then invite me to come to you.”  He says, “Lord, if it’s really you, tell me to come to you, walking on the water.”  So Jesus invites Peter to walk on that stormy sea.

Now what’s Peter going to do?  The waves are high, the wind is strong, and everyone knows you can’t walk on water.  What do you think the other 11 were thinking about Peter?  Probably, “Well that is about the dumbest thing Peter has ever said!  This is not going to end well for Pete!”  That’s what fear says. But Peter steps out of the boat and goes toward Jesus.

He trusted Jesus, and it worked.  And when Peter started listening to fear again and started to sink, what does he do?  Does he call out to fear to save him?  Does he call out to the guys still in the boat?  NO!  He calls out to the only who he knows will be there for him, especially when he fails!  He Calls Out To Jesus Because He Can Trust Jesus To Reach Out And Take Him By The Hand.  And Jesus saves him.

And what Peter learned, you need to remember:  Trust Him Because He’s Trustworthy.  He’s Proven That There’s Nothing, Absolutely Nothing He Will Not Do For You.  His promise rings true from Matthew 28:20—“And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”  He’s true to His word.  The Greek word “always” means “for each individual”—none are excluded!

And how is it with you?  Is fear controlling you?  Then you’re holding on to an idol and not to Jesus.  Jesus will not share you with anything else.  He gives His all for you and will not accept anything less than your all for Him.  To anyone and everyone who is afraid, Jesus has something to say:  “Don’t be afraid, ‘I Am’ is here!”  Will you be still, love and trust the only One who loves you enough to die for you?  If you are living in fear, only Jesus can break those chains.  It’s your choice; intimidated by fear or living in Christ.

Give It Up: Frustration!

(Note:  This is from my Lent Sermon Series Give It Up.  Each week I am speaking into the things that we need to give up for more than 40 Days, but for the rest of our lives.)

Lent is traditionally a season when we give up something for 40 days.  And nearly all people take it back up at Easter.  That’s the rules, right?  How many times have you said, or heard it said, “I can’t wait until Easter then I can eat chocolate, eat ice cream, get fast food, get back on Facebook.”  The list goes on and on and on.

Something I either read or heard had this take on giving up something for Lent:  “Have we really given that up if we know that on Easter we can take it back up again?”  To be truthful I cannot remember the source.  While it may seem pious and holy to “give that up” for Lent, truth is if we take it back, then we really have not given it up.

As I was thinking about the series of messages for Lent I could not shake that question:  “Have we really given something up if we know that on Easter we can take it back up again?”  As I prayed this verse came to me from John 15:2—“He cuts off every branch of Mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and He prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more.”

So, what if instead of giving up something we like as a temporary sacrifice we decided to give up the things that are really harmful to us as Disciples of Jesus?  Not just for the 40 Days Of Lent, but maybe we could give up those harmful things forever.  So this is what we are going to do.  Knowing that God is going to cut off the dead branches and prune the fruitful branches, we going to look at this question:  What Do I Need To Give Up And Not Pick Back Up After Easter?  Let’s look at the first thing we can give up for Lent and beyond:  Give Up Your Frustrations.  Let’s look at Luke 9:38-42 (NLT)

38 A man in the crowd called out to him, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son, my only child. 39 An evil spirit keeps seizing him, making him scream.  It throws him into convulsions so that he foams at the mouth.  It batters him and hardly ever leaves him alone. 40 I begged your disciples to cast out the spirit, but they couldn’t do it.”

41 Jesus said, “You faithless and corrupt people!  How long must I be with you and put up with you?”  Then he said to the man, “Bring your son here.”

42 As the boy came forward, the demon knocked him to the ground and threw him into a violent convulsion.  But Jesus rebuked the evil spirit and healed the boy. Then he gave him back to his father.

Frustration, as defined by the dictionary is:  the feeling of being upset or annoyed, especially because of the inability to change or achieve something.  A deep chronic sense or state of insecurity and dissatisfaction arising from unresolved problems or unfulfilled needs. 

How many of you ever get frustrated?  That’s a silly question!  Here is a better  one:  What gets you frustrated?  When people don’t keep commitments?  (Here in Sheffield we have a major train route and often those trains block 2 or more major crossing points and is a hot button topic here.)  The trains blocking Douglas Ave. and Montgomery Avenue?  Forgetting things?  That shopper checking out and she is just talking to the cashier rather than paying and going on?  Why do things like these frustrate you?

Frustration often leads to this question:  How Long?  How long is asked 53 times in the Bible.  Sometimes it is people who asks, “How long?”  Sometimes it is God who asks, “How long?”  Even Jesus asked that question twice when dealing with people.

But there is a deeper and darker side to frustration when left unchecked.  When things don’t change, when people don’t change it makes us angry at first.  Unchecked anger leads to bitterness.  And when bitterness is unchecked it leads to something far worse than frustration—it leads to the Deadly D—Desperation.  Who among you loves allowing Desperation to drive your life?  And if you can remember only one thing from today’s message, this is it:  Whatever You Permit To Remain In Your Mind, You Promote With Your Life.

Let’s think about Frustration as more than waiting at the railroad crossing.  Think about the spiritual frustration you feel deep in your heart.  What if, mind you I’m only asking “What If”—What If for the season of Lent we give up living in frustration?  After all, we have that unlimited supply of God’s Love, Grace and Mercy.  So what causes us to be spiritually frustrated?  Let’s list a few causes:

Trying To Live By The Rules Of Others.

There will always be people who want to tell you how to live your life.  There will always be those who want to prescribe appropriate Christian conduct.  We are told that we can’t be a true Christian unless we dress the right way, sing the right kinds of music, read the right kind of Bible, belong to the right brand of church, abstain from a carefully selected list of vices, become baptized in a certain fashion, read our Bible for a certain length of time, and be willing to criticize others who don’t believe such things. Number 2

Trying To Copy The Experience Of Others.

We Get Spiritually frustrated when we spend our time comparing our experience to the experience of others.  The problem with experiences is that they are unreliable.  People have different experiences because they have different personalities.   When our focus is on experience we have become disconnected from the head.  In other words we are no longer under the control of God; we are controlled by the things and people around us.

Being Unhappy With Your Circumstances.

When you think life is unfair—guess what?  Life is unfair.  When you permit that sense of unfairness to remain in your mind and heart, you can find lots of reasons to verify and justify that thought.  When you think that life has dealt you a bad hand, when you believe that God has forgotten or is mad at you—life becomes frustrating because nothing really changes inside us.

Refusal To Deal With Sin In Your Life.

Sin is what gets in the way of our connection with God.  Even though “sin” is not a popular subject in our culture it still exists, and it exists in all of us.  When there is sin that you haven’t repented of and given up, it denies you the life that your heart wants, and that creates frustration.

Living By The Standard Of Perfectionism.

Perfectionism is trying to be in control of your life, the lives of others, and your circumstances.  Ever dealt with a perfectionist?  Here’s a great definition of a perfectionist:  someone who takes great pains, and gives them to others.  Nothing is ever good enough and nothing is ever enough, when we try to get everything, or everyone, perfect.  The result is that your goals always going to be out of reach and it ends in frustration.

This is just a small sampling of things that cause frustration.  Frustration becomes just another thing that controls our lives rather than the Heart and Mind of God.  So how do we give up our frustrations and not take them back up after Easter?  5 Precise Steps:

  1. Ask Yourself, “Did I Cause It?”

Galatians 6:7—“ You will always harvest what you plant.”  We are frustrated by many things in life because we bring them on ourselves.  I wrote an article once on this—Seeds Live Truthfully.  You can’t plant beans and expect strawberries.  If your frustration is the result of your choices and/or actions, the stop looking for someone else to blame and take the blame yourself.

  1. Ask Yourself, “What Can I Learn From It?”

Romans 8:28–“And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.  There are many bad things in the world, but God will cause all things work together for our good if we love and follow Him.  Remember it isn’t automatic that God makes something Good out of something bad.  Sitting in that pew this morning does not mean that The Good God promises is automatic.  This promise is for those who unconditionally love God and are willing to do what He wants.  God can even take the negative and turn it into a positive if we let him.  Use irritations as an opportunity to become more like Christ.

  1. In The Situation, Thank God. 

1 Thessalonians 5:18–“Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.  You don’t have to be thankful FOR a bad situation, but you can be thankful IN a bad situation. That situation may be a blessing in disguise.  God is at work.  God does not waste moments, like we do.  Instead of whining and complaining, Thank God IN the moment, if for no other reason, His past faithfulness to you—and it will remind you of His faithfulness now.  If you can only stop and see what God could be doing for you in that frustrating moment, it changes everything.

  1. Ask God To Fill You With His Love

1 Corinthians 13:5–“Love does not demand its own way. It is not irritable…”  I love how The Message translates this:  “Doesn’t force itself on others, Isn’t always “me first,” Doesn’t fly off the handle.” We get irritated because we think everyone and everything must revolve around us.  News Update:  The universe does not revolve around you!  Love concentrates on the other person.  Inward focus promotes selfish attitudes and behaviors.  And selfishness produces the attitude that others exist to serve you—and when they don’t, Frustration!  You will stop your frustrations by experiencing love for that person and see God’s love in that situation.

  1. Make It A Point To See The Big Picture.

Romans 12:1–“And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.”  Listen again to how The Message translates the last part of this verse:  “Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him.”  We are living for the Lord.  We are investing in eternity. Our direction comes from the Word of God, not the preferences of people.  The Big Picture is that God invites us in to the most unimaginable adventure—that of restoring His creation and ushering in The Kingdom.  We need to see the big picture.  We are living for the Lord.  We are investing in eternity. Our direction comes from God, not human preferences.

Living in frustration gives the power to direct our lives to other things and people rather than to Christ.  We focus in the wrong place.  We put our focus on external behavior rather than the heart.  What we permit in our minds we promote with our life.

It is much easier to not play cards than it is to deal with bitterness in the heart.  It’s much easier to blame banning prayer in schools than it is to invest time with the stranger in our own gates.  It is easier to tell someone “You don’t need to drink” than it is to admit we have chosen the Old Wine rather than the New Wine of the Spirit.  It is easier to give money than to have a servant heart.  It is easier to have an experience than it is to be submissive before the Lord.

When we get frustrated we need to remember how Jesus responded to frustration.  He expressed it.  He didn’t deny it.  Frustration is part of the human experience Jesus shared with us. Moses got frustrated. The prophets had times of frustration.  Even God feels frustrated.  To be frustrated and deny it is dishonest and unhealthy. I’m not saying it is OK to tear into everyone around you when you’re frustrated.  But we need to admit we are frustrated.   Frustration and anger are not inherently sinful. It all depends on what we do with those emotions.  To be frustrated and deny it is dishonest and unhealthy.  I’m not saying it is OK to tear into everyone around you when you’re frustrated.

So, what are your Next Steps that will be healthy for you?

  1. Make Sure You Are Trusting Jesus For Your Salvation.
  2. Stop Measuring People By Your Expectations And Preferences.
  3. Look Beyond systems and experiences of this world and focus on Jesus.

So think back to the last time you experienced frustration, and be honest:

Did that situation change as the result of your frustration?

Didn’t think so…..