The Living Bread Life

We are continuing to look at The Boldest Statements Jesus Ever Made.  We are looking at some of those rich and powerful moments when Jesus said:  “I Am.”  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.  Jesus uses that Name at Mission Critical Moments. He doesn’t just claim to be Yahweh; He backs it up with truth and Kingdom Principles.  Let’s look at 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 (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 to 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 disagree with, 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 is the result of what we feed upon each day.  If you can remember only One Thing today, then remember this: 

Your Heart, Life, And Mind Are 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 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 that 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.  First, Look At The Manna Life.

What does this life feel like?  Let’s 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.  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 here was where the problems started.  It produces the same problems today:

  1. They Believed They Were Entitled To It.  They 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.
  2. 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. 
    1. There Is No Sense Of Excitement In The Manna Life.
    1. There Are No Adventures To Explore in the Manna Life.
    1. There Is No Anticipation For Anything Different To Happen In The Manna Life
  3. It’s The Dull Life.  Nothing to inspire the mind or stir up the heart.
  4. It’s The Life That Is Afraid To Get Out Of That Comfort Zone.  It produces its own kind of Comfort that becomes more important than Purpose.
  5. It’s The Life That Is Unwilling To Take The Risk.  Playing it safe is the key to survival for them.
  6. 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.
  7. 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, 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 or a vending machine dispensing what we want.

2.  Now Look At 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 as more than just a presence—He lives in you so that you can grow to become all God sees in you!
  2. 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 everything that God wants.  It’s more than enough for today.  It’s more than enough for tomorrow, and the next day and the next, all the way to eternity.  There is more than enough grace, more than enough mercy, and more than enough love to lead us right up to the very throne of God.
  3. It’s The Life Of AdventureLiving 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. 
  4. It’s The Life Of Exploration.  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’s going down different paths, trying new things.  The only thing we know about the future of this life in grace is that one day, we will end in His eternal presence. 
  5. It Is The Life Of Contentment.  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 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 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.  Since you can’t follow Jesus and stay where you are, here’s a Next Step: 

Select A Verse Or Passage That Speaks About God And Your Relationship With Him—Then Read That Verse First Thing Every Morning And Make It The Last Thing You Read At Night.

Change the verse or passage every Sunday.  Here’s mine for this week:  Isaiah 55:10-11

10 “The rain and snow come down from the heavens
and stay on the ground to water the earth.
They cause the grain to grow,
producing seed for the farmer
and bread for the hungry.

11 It is the same with My Word.
I send it out, and it always produces fruit.
It will accomplish all I want it to,
and it will prosper everywhere I send it.

The Great I Am!

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.  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 be really understood.  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 spoke in both Aramaic and Hebrew.  So when He identifies himself to her, the word He used is Yahweh!  The Eternal Name of God that everyone is to remember!  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.  Five divorces and shacking up with another man.  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.  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.  This woman wasn’t ignorant of God’s promises.  She knew one day Messiah would come.  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 intimately by God.

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!  It wasn’t an accident Jesus was there.  It didn’t just so happen that this woman appeared.  She needed life and Life is what Jesus has to offer.  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.  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 Yahweh can offer us this kind of life—and He does 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.

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.  Only Yahweh, only The Great I Am can put the life of Christ in you.  Since you can’t follow Jesus and stay where you are, here are your Next Steps:

  1. Identity Anything That May Have 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.  It’s the thing that is limiting your potential.  Once you identify it—
  2. 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! 

The Word In Our Feet! When The Times Are Dark!

This is the second and last of the series Getting The Word In Our Feet.  We need, more than anything else in these times of chaos and fear is Direction.  Not just any direction; but a New And Different Direction.  Choosing a direction is not enough.  Choices without action are worthless.

Last week we learned that Any Choice That Doesn’t Come With Action Is Just Wishing And Useless.  That’s what the Old Testament illustration of the Hebrews at the edge of the Promised Land teaches us.  All those over 20, except Caleb and Joshua, never got to live within God’s promise.  Their direction was cemeteries scattered throughout the wilderness.  Now we look at a New Testament story about a single cemetery that illustrates the need for Both Direction And Action.  Turn to John 20:1-9 (N.L.T.)

Early on Sunday morning, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance.  She ran and found Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved.  She said, “They have taken the Lord’s body out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” Peter and the other disciple started out for the tomb.  They were both running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first.  He stooped and looked in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he didn’t go in.  Then Simon Peter arrived and went inside. He also noticed the linen wrappings lying there, while the cloth that had covered Jesus’ head was folded up and lying apart from the other wrappings.  Then the disciple who had reached the tomb first also went in, and he saw and believed—for until then they still hadn’t understood the Scriptures that said Jesus must rise from the dead.

Decades ago, before radar and computer flying, an airplane was somewhere over the Rockies in a fog that went from the ground to way above the clouds.  The pilot came over P.A. and announced, “Ladies and gentlemen, I have some good new and some bad news.  First, the bad news: we’re lost!  But the good news is, we’re 2 hours ahead of schedule.”  This describes the culture we live it; it describes people all around us—2 hours ahead of schedule but lost.

When times seem to be the darkest, people struggle to find the right direction and the subsequent actions that will bring them out of the darkness.  And here is the One Thing you need to remember today and it’s a principle that will always work:  Actions, Not Intentions, Produce The Right Outcomes. The Good News Of God’s Kingdom isn’t about changing our intentions—it is about changing our actions.  It’s not all that complicated.  Intentions cannot produce faith.  Cannot manufacture hope nor deliver us from our fear and despair. 

I can intend to do something all day long and will accomplish nothing.  If you don’t believe this, just trust me on this because I’ve done it enough to be an expert.  Just suppose Debbie asks me to do something before the day is done, I’ll say, “OK, dear, I’ll do it.”  Well, I intend to get that done.  But come the evening, if I haven’t done that, she’s going to get upset at me.

But why?  I mean I intended to do what she asked.  I intended to do it better than she thought I could do it.  Why is she so upset?  I intended to do it.  It’s just unbelievable that she would get upset that I didn’t do that—even when I intended to do it.  Are you starting to get the picture here?

Let’s bring this down to this principle and the passage behind it.  Easter Morning. I don’t know what went through your minds then I read the text. Maybe you thought that Easter’s not here yet.  Lent doesn’t even start until Wednesday.  I still have a couple of days of indulgence left.  

When I read this, I focused on what was happening to the people.  Mary Magdalene RAN to tell the disciples.  The disciples RAN to the tomb.  These folks were RUNNING!  There was motion and movement by these people. The Resurrection got the disciples involved with direction, motion and movement.  They no longer stood still!  Christians are people who Run!  The question for us here and every church is this:  How Can We Get The Word In Our Feet So That We Can Get Motion And Movement On Our Part Into God’s Promises? 

Well you have to understand that there are Sitters and there are Runners.  One of the ways you can sort out people in church is to say they come in 2 types:  Sitters and Runners.  OK, let’s look at each.

1.  First, Let’s Look At The Sitters.

The best way to describe sitters is to image them in a rocking chair, rocking and watching the world go by.  Sitters Are Those Who Are Content With Motion Without Movement And Momentum.  They Have Been Deceived Into Thinking Motion Is Movement When It’s Clearly Not Producing Momentum.

Well, here, let me show you with this rocking chair.  There’s motion, but nothing is really changing.  If you’re not prone to motion sickness, rocking really is relaxing—if you’re into that sort of thing.  There’s activity and motion, but look—this rocking chair is still here.  Am I right?  I’m moving; I’m just not going anywhere. If I turn the rocking chair around, nothing’s really changed—I’m just looking in a different direction.  OK, I’ve changed direction, but I still in the same place.  The only thing that has changed is my view.  I’m not in a different place—I’m in the same place, just a different view.  And nothing has really changed. 

Sitters Are Those Who Are Deceived Into Believing That Because They Are Rocking—There’s Motion—That This Motion Is Enough.  While rocking in a chair may be relaxing and enjoyable it is not accomplishing anything—other than make us feel better about ourselves. 

2.  Now, Let’s Look At Runners.

Runners are different!  They don’t stay in the same place.  And their view is always changing.  Runners have direction and motion—just like the sitters—but runners add the all important element of forward movement.  It Is Movement Not Motion That Always Creates Momentum.  Movement and momentum described what was happening in that cemetery just outside of Jerusalem.  Transformation began when they started running.  Running Produced Movement And That Movement Starting Producing Momentum.

Churches Are Dying Today.  It’s Not Because Of A Lack Of Direction.  Everyone is pointed in some direction.  It’s Not Because Of A Lack Of Motion.  Ever heard the phrase “Going through the motions”?  It’s Because They Have Lost Movement And Without Movement There Is No Momentum.   Remember the rocking chair.  There is always motion—but no real movement or momentum.

There was a runner by the name of Saul of Tarsus, running as hard as anyone against Jesus.  But God grabbed him on the Damascus Road, turned him around, and he kept right on running, this time as Paul the Apostle to the Gentiles!  Give me a church full of runners every time; even if like Saul, they are running in the wrong direction.  

Because when you get runners going in the right direction, things happen!  Communities change for the better.  Families become stronger.  People quit complaining and whining so much.  People meet and follow the real Jesus.  And The Very Foundations Of Hell Tremble And Shake In Fear!  God Wants Runners!

We need to get the Word in our feet and start running!  How?  Well, the Nike commercial says it best: Just Do It!  Don’t talk about it, plunge in with both feet.  The problem with a lot of congregations is that they want a pastor to be successful for them—to do the praying, serving, witnessing and get more members.  But this is not what God has called the pastor to do.  

The pastor is one called out of the life of the church, trained and approved to help you, the lay people do your ministry.  The pastor is not to be a busy body, his job is to get the body busy!  Now, I can back this up with scripture, Eph. 4:11-12—“These were his gifts: some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers for the building up of the body of Christ!”  

Who is the body of Christ? Those outside waiting to be saved?  NO!  You are!  How do we become Runners rather than Sitters?  Allow me to give you a few principles:

  1.  Begin By Being Still. We can’t be running in just any and every direction.  We need focus.  Being still before God gives us the direction to begin running.  Think about Elijah in that cave at Mt. Horeb.  He was running in the wrong direction.  But when he stood still before God, and listened, he found that new direction—and that new direction created Movement And Momentum.
  2.  Don’t Question Or Think About The Direction, Just Run. Try to do a cost or risk analysis on the direction—and Satan will convince you it won’t work.  Think about that day Jesus told the disciples to find something to feed that crowd.  They found a boy’s small sack lunch.  They should have been ready to run—but they did the cost/risk analysis and concluded it wasn’t enough.  If Jesus sends you to do something, then He knows what’s out there and He knows it will be more than enough.
  3. Build Upon Even Small Successes.  Your running doesn’t have to produce things worthy of a page in Guide Posts.  Think about Jesus and the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well.  After discussing buckets and wells, Jesus led her to thinking about the Messiah.  In the world’s economy it was a small success.  When He had her thinking about the Messiah He was able to get her thinking about herself.  And when He got her thinking about herself and The Messiah, she went and told her whole village about Jesus.
  4. Sustain Momentum.  Keep on praying.  Keep on studying The Word.  Keep up the pace.  Keep on living this Life In Grace.  Don’t ever settle in one place of success.  Think about those Disciples after Pentecost.  About 3,000 people were saved.  Hey, that’s a lot.  Time to rest, right?  Wrong!  They kept it up—sharing life together in meals, Holy Communion, praying and growing in maturity.

And since you can’t follow Jesus and stay where you are, here’s your Next Step:

Decide Right Now If You Are Going To Be A Sitter Or A Runner!  

Years ago, someone gave me this poem, called “Sitting By The Fire” and it’s on the back of your sermon notes page:

Sitting By The Fire

He wasn’t much for moving about, it wasn’t his desire,
No matter how hard the others work, HE WAS SITTING BY THE FIRE!
This went on from day to day, he never seemed to tire,
when others were working so hard in the church, HE WAS SITTING BY THE FIRE!
He died one day as all must do, and some say he went up higher,
but if he’s doing what he’s always done, HE IS SITTING BY THE FIRE

Are you a Sitter?  Or will you become a Runner?

The Word In Our Feet: In The Wilderness!

What we need, more than anything else in these times of chaos and fear is Direction.  Not just any direction; but a New And Different Direction.  Choosing a direction is not enough.  Choices without action are worthless. 

And here is the One Thing you need to remember this morning:  Any Choice That Doesn’t Come With Action Is Just Wishing And Useless.  So, for the next two Sundays we’re going to focus on Getting The Word In Our Feet.  It’s about learning to take action.  We are going to look at two stories: one from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament. 

This week it is from Numbers 13.  This is a time when the Hebrew children thought they were lost—feeling unsure and uncertain about the future.  They were wandering in the wilderness, looking for a better land which God had promised them.  But somehow, just like our world, they feel lost, unsure of the future.  I would encourage you this week to read chapters 13 and 14, but for now let’s look at a few verses:

Vs. 1-2“The Lord now said to Moses, “Send out men to explore the land of Canaan, the land I am giving to the Israelites. Send one leader from each of the twelve ancestral tribes.”  

As you may know, this is the story of the 12 spies.

Vs. 17-20“Moses gave the men these instructions as he sent them out to explore the land:  “Go north through the Negev into the hill country.  See what the land is like, and find out whether the people living there are strong or weak, few or many.  See what kind of land they live in. Is it good or bad?  Do their towns have walls, or are they unprotected like open camps?  Is the soil fertile or poor?  Are there many trees? Do your best to bring back samples of the crops you see.”  (It happened to be the season for harvesting the first ripe grapes.)  

The 12 spies go out and Moses tells them what to look for. They spend some time there, and then we find in vs. 25-28

After exploring the land for forty days, the men returned to Moses, Aaron, and the whole community of Israel at Kadesh in the wilderness of Paran.  They reported to the whole community what they had seen and showed them the fruit they had taken from the land.  This was their report to Moses:  “We entered the land you sent us to explore, and it is indeed a bountiful country—a land flowing with milk and honey.  Here is the kind of fruit it produces.  But the people living there are powerful, and their towns are large and fortified.  We even saw giants there, the descendants of Anak!”

Now, that word doesn’t mean much to us, but to that crowd of Hebrews it struck terror in their hearts.   Now the people are not only uncertain, but now they’re terrified and angry!  “What in the world are we going to do?” 

Vs. 30-33—“But Caleb tried to quiet the people as they stood before Moses.  “Let’s go at once to take the land,” he said.  “We can certainly conquer it!”  But the other men who had explored the land with him disagreed.  “We can’t go up against them!  They are stronger than we are!”  So they spread this bad report about the land among the Israelites: “The land we traveled through and explored will devour anyone who goes to live there. All the people we saw were huge.  We even saw giants there, the descendants of Anak.  Next to them we felt like grasshoppers, and that’s what they thought, too!”  

These 12 spies go out, spend 40 days checking everything out, trying to decide if this is where they would like to live—And Forgot What God Said—and they come back with a majority report and a minority report.  The vote is 10-2.

All 12 agree that the land is good, that it’s fruitful, and that it would be a great place to live.  All 12 agree that the cities are strong and well fortified and that the people who live there were like giants.  But 10 Of The Spies Drew A Conclusion That Wasn’t Theirs To Draw—they went beyond what God wanted them to do. 

They said, “We’re whipped!  We can’t do it! We can’t go forward!  They’ll do us in!”  But Joshua and Caleb presents the minority report and says: “Oh yes we can! Let’s go forward. We can occupy this land because God said so!”  So, how do you think the crowd voted?  

With the majority and Number 14 opens that way.  I won’t read on, I’ll just tell you what happens in case you forgot.  God gets disgusted with the whole crowd and decided that a people who have so little faith don’t deserve what He’s giving to them.  

So God says he’s going to let them have it—just give up on them and start with a different people.  Well, this upsets Moses, so he goes into his tent and prays all night, telling God that He is a gracious, loving and generous God.  He also has a little private prayer I call a Public Relations Prayer.  Moses says to God, “If you destroy this people and start all over, others will hear about it and they’re not going to think much of you.”  Then Moses prays for God to forgive them, and God does forgive them.

Then God does something very interesting.  He sets up the first generation gap in the Bible.  God declared, “Everyone over 20, except Joshua and Caleb, I condemn to wondering in this desert for 40 years, there to die.  Everyone under 20, along with Joshua and Caleb, may inherit this land after those 40 years.”  Let’s learn something about Getting The Word In Our Feet When We Are In The Wilderness:

1.  First, Let’s Look At The Minority Report!

The Minority Report can teach us some obvious lessons for the church today and for you here this morning.  

Lesson 1:  The People Of God Are Supposed To Live By Faith!  It doesn’t matter if they are in the wilderness or the Promised Land.  It doesn’t matter whether everything is going well and growing, or whether we find ourselves in adversity and hard times.  Whatever the environment may be that surrounds us, WE are to live by faith.

Lesson 2: The People Of God, Those Who Live By Faith, Somehow Manage To Win In The End, Even If It Takes A Miracle!  God’s people will always manage to win!  Why?  Because the Lord is with them!  No matter how tough the problem, if we will follow God’s directions and trust God’s plan and timing, we can’t help but win!

Lesson 3: We Can Expect To Find Some Disagreements, Even Among The People Of God.  It shouldn’t surprise us that there is a majority report and a minority report. This is quite often the way the people of God operate. We respond differently to the situations life brings us.  But I really like what is said in Chapter 14:24

“But my servant Caleb has a different attitude than the others have. He has remained loyal to me, so I will bring him into the land he explored.  His descendants will possess their full share of that land.”  

What Marks The Difference In The People Of God Is Not What Life Brings And Puts In Their Hands, But What We Bring To Life In Our Spirit And Attitude.

You’ve seen it.  2 people go through similar tragedies, one comes through victorious, the other bitter and defeated.  People Of Faith are to bring into those difficult situations courage, commitment, joy, hope, confidence, trust and love. Indeed, this is a different spirit and that different spirit enables us to go forward against all odds.

2.  Next, Let’s Look At The Spirit Of The Majority Report.

The spirit of the people in the Majority Report is both simple and sad: “Oh, No!  We Can’t Make It!  It’s Better If We Go Back To Egypt!”  The way this type of attitude is expressed today is usually when someone says: “That’s not the way we did it back then!”  Or, “We’ve never done it that way before!”  

There are 2 ways to learn Great Lessons:  Experience And Observation.  Allow me to share nearly 46 years of Experience And Observation as a pastor:  Most local churches have a Back To Egypt Committee.  It may be a large committee or a committee of one.  They may be vocal, or they may sit silently waiting for the right moment to pounce.  

But whenever there is a proposal to go forward in ministry, forward in outreach, inevitably the Back To Egypt Committee stands up and says “Oh, no!  We can’t do that!”  

But you can look forward to the future with confidence and say with Joshua and Caleb, “Because The Lord Is With Us, We CAN Go Forward.” And I thank God, and thank Him often, for those of you who will rise up even as a minority report and say, “Oh Yes We Can Because The Lord Is Us With!”   

Our issues today are rather clear.  Let’s talk first about the Elephant In The Room, General Conference 2020.  Many wonder what’s going to happen.  Some wonder if anything will happen.  What will we look like after May 2020?  But there are more issues and they are just as important.

One issue is our resources, to use our resources to move forward toward God’s Promised Land.  What are our resources?  We have the Gospel and all its power, and that’s a lot.  We have our physical resources of money, talents, and building.  We have the Holy Spirit.  We have each other.  Your faith, commitment, leadership, spiritual service and prayers are resources for this church and should be talked about more than our physical resources.

Another issue is strategy—making decisions on how we will use our resources.  Will we recognize their value or will we go out and bury them?  Once we recognize their value, how and where will we use them for God’s kingdom and His glory?  At this point, this is usually where we disagree.  Now, I believe it’s OK to disagree with each other at this point IF we agree that we are all God’s people and that if we trust God and follow Him, we can overcome any obstacle, and that our main purpose as a church is to make more disciples for Jesus!

For these Hebrews their Canaan, their land of promise, was physical land.  Our Canaan, our land of promise, is Spiritual.  Our Canaan is relating people to Jesus Christ.  What are we doing to bring people into that relationship?  

So what do we do?  Do we listen to the Back To Egypt Committee and give up?  Or do we listen to the Joshua and Caleb Committee and say, “God Is With Us, So Let’s Go Forward!”?  The real issue we are facing is not survival but Mission!  Think about this:  If we focus on survival, we won’t survive.  The Majority Report was about Survival.  The Minority Report was about Mission!  Which Report worked?

Is the Word in your feet?  Getting the word in your feet is a matter of deciding that the Lord is with us and because the Lord is with us, we can more forward, even in the face of giants, because God is the ultimate Giant Killer! 

Because you can’t follow Jesus and stay where you are, here is your Next Step:  Make Up Your Mind If You Want To Go Back To Egypt, Or Move Forward Into The Promised Land.

If you long for the good old days when it was simpler, then you are Heading Back To Egypt.  But, even if it scares the living daylights out you, if your desire is to see The Kingdom On Earth, then make up your mind with Joshua and Caleb:  “Oh Yes We Can Because The Lord Is Us With!”  Then the word is in your feet!

One Resolution: One Secret!

Finally, this series ends today.  Whew!  And you may be a bit, call it “relieved” that it’s ending.  Let’s do a quick review. 

  • Most Resolutions are expressions of the human heart to find Contentment.
  • And we can make One Resolution that will last for the rest of our lives and give us Contentment:  Live A Life Worthy Of The Gospel.  Not the gospel of our best efforts, but The Gospel Of God’s Best Efforts For Us. 
  • It’s not left up to our best efforts to honor Christ, But To Honor Christ By Allowing Him To Do His Best Efforts For Us By Living In And Through Us With The Power Of The Resurrection!

And He Lives In Us And Through Us With The Power Of The Resurrection When We Make 6 Conscious Choices and make them a daily and all day long habit.  The first 5 are:

  1. Live With An Undivided Heart
  2. Be The Community That Has A Pinpoint Laser Focus On The Kingdom Of God 
  3. Find Your Unique Life Purpose.  Your Life Purpose Isn’t About The What You Do, But The Why! 
  4. Be Fully Alive In Jesus And Allow Jesus To Be Fully Alive In You.
  5. Live With Confidence That There Is A Resurrection For You In This Life And The Life To Come!

June 19, 1952 marked the beginning of a legend in television.  On this date Garry Moore hosted the first episode of what would be the hit show “I’ve Got A Secret.”  Contestants would appear on the show that had A Secret.  It might be something unique or unusual.  It might be some embarrassment or it might be something funny.  The four panelists would ask questions and try to “guess” their Secret.  Originally the contestant would receive $20 for each panelist who could not guess their secret and also a carton of Winston cigarettes, I guess because they were the sponsor for the show.  One unusual guest they had was Samuel Seymour who appeared on the show on February 9, 1956 at the age of 96, just two months before his death.  His secret was that as a young child, he was an eye witness to the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.

Maybe it’s just me, but I could imagine the apostle Paul appearing on that show because he had a good secret that the world needed to know.  I can hear Garry telling the panelist, “Paul has a secret that will change every person’s future by changing how they live now.”  The panelists quiz Paul, “Is it some type of vaccine?”  “Yes, but not in the way most people think about vaccination.”  “Is it something you invented or made?” “Oh, absolutely not!” 

“Oh, is it something that has always been around?”  “Most definitely!”  “So it’s something you found.”  “Well yes, but really it found me!”  “Did you find the fountain of youth?”  (buzzer sound)  “No, I’m afraid you’re wrong.”

Do you think that Bill Cullen, Betsy Palmer, Henry Morgan and Bess Myerson would want to know Paul’s Secret?  Would you like to know Paul’s Secret?  Is there really something that will change our future by changing how we live now?  Paul’s One Secret will.  What is Paul’s secret?  Here it is in Philippians 4:11-13 (NLT)

11 Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. 12 I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything.  I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. 13 For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.

Now we come to the last and 6TH Conscious Choice for finding that deep, abiding Contentment and the way we can maintain this one resolution of living a life worthy of the Gospel.  And This Is The One Thing You Need To Remember Today:  Filter Your Life And Your Experiences Through Your Relationship With Jesus. 

Live every moment Through Christ.  Accept every situation Through Christ.  Celebrate every joy Through Christ.  Endure every heartache Through Christ.  Face every battle Through Christ.  Confront every struggle Through Christ!  What does this mean, Through Christ?

I found some practical insights in the word Paul chose in this word “through”.  The Greek word is a simple word, “en”.  It means in, with, by, or through.  It’s a preposition.  Now for those of us who have been out of school for a long time, let’s go back to basic English and the parts of speech.  Miss Stutts, Brenda Pettus and Glenda Weir would be so proud of me right now for even remembering this stuff. 

A preposition links nouns, pronouns and phrases to another word or phrase in a sentence.  Purists of proper grammar often insist that it is unacceptable to end a sentence with a preposition.  Sounds exciting, huh?  But there is more to both the Greek and to the meaning of preposition.

In the rules of grammar, A Preposition Indicates There’s A Relationship That Exists Between The Noun Or Pronoun And The Phrase.  There is relationship happening within the sentence.  Now, are you getting a hint to where I’m going?  In the Greek language this simple preposition has an even deeper meaning.  Not only does it mean that a relationship exists, but It’s An Established Relationship That Carries With It The Image Of A Relationship Of Rest—Not Action—But Rest.

Contentment Is Only Found In A Relationship Of Resting In Christ.  Are you tired of carrying heavy burdens of Grief, Fear, Guilt, Remorse, Bitterness, Resentment, Regrets, Worry, Anxiety To Name A Few? How’s that working out for you, carrying that heavy load day in and day out?  Is hauling that heavy weight around all day really working for you?  Are you ready to admit that it’s not working for you?  Then drop that load and take a rest in Jesus. 

Now my comments about prepositions—especially that word Through.  Cars have air filters, gas filters and oil filters.  The water in your home is filtered and you can add an additional filter for your water.  What is the purpose of filters and why are they so important?  Whether it’s oil, gas, air or water, it takes out the trash and impurities from them.  But the only way they work is for everything to pass through that Filter.  Then the Filter can take out all that junk before it does serious damage.

This is the same principle that Paul is talking about.  To find contentment, to live that life that is Worthy Of The Gospel, Filter Your Life And Your Experiences Through Your Relationship With Jesus

I think this is exactly what Jesus meant when He said, “I will give you rest.”  In order to rest we must stop and let go.  How many times have you said, “I didn’t sleep well last night”?  It may have been because you were restless and you were restless because you didn’t let go.  Jesus invites you to release and let go of all that junk you are carrying around. 

It did not matter to Paul what his circumstances were—hungry or full, hot or cold, well dressed or dressed in thrift store clothes, in good times and in bad times—Paul filtered his life through the relationship he had in Jesus.  Do you do the same?  Or do you choose to hold on tightly to that fear, that pain, that dread?  Why do we choose to carry that heavy load that is absolutely unnecessary?

We carry unnecessary loads because we have Not Learned that We Can Do Anything Through Christ Who Strengthens Us.  Anxiety, fretting, worrying and all that junk comes because we are afraid to trust the relationship Jesus is offering us.  But you can trust the Relationship because of these 3 reasons:

1.  Whatever It Is That You Can’t Handle, Jesus Can!

He calmed the stormed, healed lepers, restored sight to the blind, caused people unable to walk to dance, sent a legion of demons scurrying like cockroaches off a bluff, transformed a corrupt tax collector into a generous servant.

He fed thousands of people with a kid’s lunch sack, stood his ground with the religious bullies of his day, gave hope to a dying criminal, raised Lazarus from the grave, and much more.  Quite an impressive resume’ wouldn’t you say?  Now what is it in you or happening to you that Jesus can’t handle?  You can trust Jesus because He can handle everything in your life.

2.  Whatever It Is That Troubles You, Jesus Cares!

He took care of the taxes for Peter and the others, He wept with Martha and Mary at the grave of Lazarus, He comforted that adulterous woman shamed in public with forgiveness, He wept over Jerusalem just days before His crucifixion,

He made a hero out of a woman who took the risk of breaking all the rules just so she could wash his feet with her tears and anoint them with extravagant perfume, He cared about little children—now what makes you think he doesn’t care about what troubles you? 

You may not understand why some things happen to you, but you can count on this: Jesus Cares About You.  And in the middle of all that pain and unanswered questions, Somehow He Gives Us Comfort And His Comfort Gives Us Rest.

3.  Whatever It Is That’s Too Heavy For You To Carry, Jesus Will!

I know Jesus will carry your load—because He already has.  He carried the cross that was meant for you.  Do I need to say anything else?  The nails that had been forged just for you, Jesus stepped in and said, “I’ll take those nails.” 

And the guilt, pain and condemnation of every sinner?  He Carried That, Too.  Now, tell me, what is the weight that is crushing you that you continue to lay beneath?  What is it that you are afraid to tell Jesus about?  Do you honestly believe He doesn’t know about it?  He handled that burden then on the Cross, and He can still handle it now with Love, Grace, and Mercy.

Why filter everything through Jesus?  Because He gives us the strength—

  • To Overcome Temptations—
  • To Go Through Life’s Difficult Times—
  • Strength To Do What We Have To Do—
  • Strength To Be The Body Of Christ To Do The Things He Wants Us To Do In His Name—Teaching, Reaching, Sharing Are All Done Through His Strength.

I do not want to meddle right now; I want to get personal with you.  In any audience it’s very highly probable that there is some need, some pain, some sorrow, or some shame that is weighing heavy in a heart.  Or maybe you are carrying the heaviest burden of all:  the emptiness that will not go away.  Yours may be the heart that is longing for deep and abiding contentment but you’re restless; you’re hurting; you’re burdened.  The Secret is learning to rest—to rest in Jesus by Filtering Your Life And Your Experiences Through Your Relationship With Jesus.

Because you can’t follow Jesus and stay where you are, here’s your Next Step:

Let go of that whatever it is that you are grasping onto tightly—fear, anger, grief, shame, whatever—and filter it through Jesus.  And the One Secret will not be a secret any longer to you.

There’s a song by David Crowder that hit me hard. The title is Come As You Are. He wrote it based on an old hymn, Come, Ye Disconsolate. Disconsolate is an old word we don’t use anymore. It means to be without comfort, unhappy. You can find comfort, and you can be better than happy–you can be joyful. But it only happens as you filter your life and experiences through Jesus:

6 Conscious Choices and make them a habit.

  1. Live With An Undivided Heart
  2. Be The Community That Has A Pinpoint Laser Focus On The Kingdom Of God 
  3. Find Your Unique Life Purpose.  Your Life Purpose Isn’t About The What You Do, But The Why! 
  4. Be Fully Alive In Jesus And Allow Jesus To Be Fully Alive In You.
  5. Live With Confidence That There Is A Resurrection For You!
  6. Filter Your Life And Your Experiences Through Your Relationship With Jesus

One Resolution: One Hope!

Hope is the sustainer of life.  It’s the motivator for action.  It’s the promise of tomorrow.  Life without hope is like a car without an engine, a jet without wings, a train without tracks.  You just aren’t going to be able to get anywhere.

We are in the 5th week of looking at One Resolution that will give our hearts the one thing it longs for most of all:  Contentment.  The One Resolution that provide deep and abiding Contentment is to Live A Life Worthy Of The Gospel!  Not the “Gospel of Our Best Efforts” but the Gospel Of God’s Best Effort For Us.  It’s not left up to our best efforts to honor Christ, But To Honor Christ By Allowing Him To Live In And Through Us With The Power Of Resurrection!

This Life Of Contentment grows out of 6 Conscious Choices that we make over and over.  Review time for the first four:

  1. Live With An Undivided Heart—Your loyalty and allegiance is to Jesus and His Work in our world.
  2. Be The Community That Has A Pinpoint Laser Focus On The Kingdom Of God—We focus on each other and those who are not here yet. 
  3. Find Your Unique Life Purpose.  Your Life Purpose Isn’t About The What You Do, But The Why!  To reveal God’s love in ways that meets the deepest needs of others.
  4. Be Fully Alive In Jesus And Allow Jesus To Be Fully Alive In You—and the only way this happens is to live with Great Resolve, remembering that our Goal in life is to be just like Jesus in our thoughts, attitudes, words and actions.

In order to reach this Life Of Contentment we need more than a best guess estimate.  Sometimes when we have a problem with our car or an appliance we want to know how much it is going to cost us.  Without a thorough diagnostic, the best they can do is to give us a best guess estimate.  But in this life in grace, we need more than a best guess estimate.  Let’s pick up where we left off last week at Philippians 3:15-16 (The Message)

So let’s keep focused on that goal, those of us who want everything God has for us. If any of you have something else in mind, something less than total commitment, God will clear your blurred vision—you’ll see it yet! Now that we’re on the right track, let’s stay on it.

Many people are drowning today—drowning in grief, drowning in fear, drowning in despair—all because they don’t have the One Hope.  Oh, they had hope, but not the One Hope.  They had hope in the stock market, hope in a political party, hope in that relationship they thought would never end, or hope in their own ability.  And now they have cast their lot with some of the most miserable people in the world—those who have lost hope, and keep looking in the wrong places, or worse—have given up ever finding hope. 

When human hope fails, there is another kind of hope—the One Hope—that does more than sustain us in the wilderness times of our life.  This One Hope enables us to dream again and live again and it’s the one thing you need to remember—Live With Confidence That There Is A Resurrection For You! 

How confident are you of God’s grace?  Do you trust God enough to live in confidence that the grace Jesus showed people like Zacchaeus, the Samaritan woman, that thief on the other cross, Peter, and an overly ambitious Pharisee named Saul is the same identical grace He extends to you?  Or do you believe that it’s another, less powerful grace that He offers you?

Do you believe that the mercy Jesus lavished on lepers, the blind, the possessed, the woman caught in the act of adultery, is the same mercy He lavishes on you?  Or do you think that He shows some other lesser form of mercy on you?  Hope, the One Hope is built on the truth that in Christ God has only One Love that is full of grace and mercy for everyone.  This grace and mercy that God freely lavishes on everyone has a reason and a purpose:  that we become what we were created to be:  an exact reflection of our Creator!  And because we are not yet that complete image of our Creator, that Grace And Mercy Has A Resurrection With Your Name On It!

In 1993 a song written by Jenny Yates & Garth Brooks made its début, and in 1994 made it to #3 on the Country Western charts.  The song was “Standing Outside The Fire”.  The chorus of this song says so much more than I ever could.  It goes like this:  Standing outside the fire, Life is not tried, it is merely survived if you’re standing outside the fire.  This is what life is like without the One Hope—just merely survived.  Like the lyrics from this song, There’s this love that is burning deep in my soul constantly yearning to get out of control wanting to fly higher and higher I can’t abide standing outside the fire.” 

The life God offers us is not found standing outside the fire, outside of the risks.  Sure, there will be times when we get burned by the risks, the fire of stepping outside our comfort zones.  But it’s in the fire of God’s Holy Spirit that we discover what it really means to be fully alive in Jesus and Jesus fully alive in us!  Jesus took the risk, not just in becoming human, but in going to the Cross. 

Yes, he got burned by His creation, but it didn’t stop Him.  Yes, he got burned by the pain of the Cross.  But even that Cross didn’t stop Him.  He went through the fire because He knew, He knew that the Resurrection was in that fire and the only way to reach it was through the trials and sufferings.  And why would He do that?  Because Of His Unconditional Love For Us.  He knew that if He didn’t experience Resurrection we never would.  We have the One Hope that will never let us down because There Is A Resurrection With Our Name On It!  Because of His Resurrection, we can have a Resurrection In This Life and The Next Life.

1.  He Gives Us Resurrection Over Sin

How do you suppose Peter felt when confronted with the truth that not once, not twice, but 3 times he denied Jesus?  Jesus told him he would, but Peter was so confident.  But he did the unthinkable—more than deny Jesus, he abandoned the One who called him “The Rock!”  Then those crazy women came with a tale of Resurrection—and it wasn’t good news to Peter—because Peter would have come face to face with the One he denied. 

Others May Have Been Finished With Peter, Peter May Be Been Finished With Peter, But Jesus Wasn’t Finished With Him. That’s why the angel said in Mark 16:7—Tell His disciples and Peter that He is going on ahead of you to Galilee. You’ll see Him there, exactly as He said.”  The Resurrection came for Peter and 50 days later, Peter helped lead thousands to Jesus.  What The Resurrection did for Peter, it does for us.  We may have given up on ourselves and others may have given up on us, but not Jesus—because He has a Resurrection right now with your name in it!

2.  He Gives Us Resurrection When We Doubt

The epitome of doubt isn’t in the story of Thomas—it’s in the story of a man named Cleopas and his unnamed friend in Luke 24.  Cleopas and his friend are going back home.  There was nothing left for them to do.  By their own admission, they “Had Hoped” Jesus was the Messiah—Had Hoped but now they doubted.  They knew Jesus had been crucified—and even heard the rumor of the Resurrection.  But all they knew for certain was that the tomb was empty—beyond that was only speculation.

They Had Hoped, but now it seems like wishful thinking.  But Jesus takes the time to come to those who were struggling with doubt.  He comes to those who “Had Hoped” but now wondered and doubted.  Why come to Cleopas and his friend?  Because Jesus had A Resurrection and they needed A Resurrection.

3.  He Will Give Us A Resurrection When We Die

He gives us a Resurrection when we sin and when we doubt because He wants us to experience Resurrection when we die!  We do not have to live in fear of death because the only One who conquered death gives us the assurance that we will overcome death.  John wrote in 1 John 5:13—My purpose in writing is simply this: that you who believe in God’s Son will know beyond the shadow of a doubt that you have eternal life, the reality and not the illusion. 

We do not have to face our death with feelings of uncertainty, wondering if we will make it.  You do not have to be afraid to die, you don’t have to be afraid to LIVE!  Because of The Resurrection and God’s unconditional love there is a Resurrection with your name and my name on it.  You can count on God! 

Why can you count on God?  Philippians 1:6—There has never been the slightest doubt in my mind that the God who started this great work in you would keep at it and bring it to a flourishing finish on the very day Christ Jesus appears. 

God started this great work of grace to make you and I what we were created to be:  to be the exact image of Him, to be just like Him in every detail.  But we are not there yet—we are an unfinished project.  But God has no unfinished projects.  One day we will be God’s finished work, and He will step back, look at us and say, “You look just like me!”

God promises a Resurrection then because He gives us Resurrection now!  And because He gives us a Resurrection now, we can count on the Resurrection then.  Your One Hope is this:  There Is A Resurrection For Us With Your Name On It!  When we sin, when we doubt, and when we die, Jesus shares His Resurrection because, well because He’s The Resurrection!

Because you can’t follow Jesus and stay where you are, Here’s Your Next Step:

Bring whatever you “had hoped” to Jesus for YOUR Resurrection today.

One Resolution: One Goal!

We are in the 4th week of looking at One Resolution that will give our hearts the one thing it longs for most of all:  Contentment.  This One Resolution is to Live A Life Worthy Of The Gospel!  Not the “Gospel of Our Best Efforts” but the Gospel of Jesus—God’s best effort for us.  Because it’s all about God’s Grace, it’s not left up to our best efforts to honor Christ, But To Honor Christ By Allowing Him To Live In And Through Us With The Power Of Resurrection! 

Contentment comes by making 6 Conscious Choices every day.  Here’s the first 3:

  1. Live With An Undivided Heart—That’s the One Spirit.  Your loyalty and allegiance is to Jesus and His Work in our world.
  2. Be The Community That Has A Pinpoint Laser Focus On The Kingdom Of God—That’s the One Mind.  We focus on each other and those who are not here yet. 
  3. Find Your Unique Life Purpose.  Your Life Purpose Isn’t About The What You Do, But The Why!  Jesus knew His Why And Ours Is The Same: To reveal God’s love in ways that meets the deepest needs of others.

Now we come to the 4th Conscious Choice.  Turn to Philippians 3:12-14 (NLT)

12 I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection.  But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. 13 No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing:  Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.

Living a life Worthy Of The Gospel is not an accomplishment in our lives where we look back and say:  “There!  I’ve done it!  Got the certificate and T-Shirt to prove it.”  Here’s your 1 Thing To Remember, and your 4th Conscious Choice:  Be Fully Alive In Jesus And Allow Jesus To Be Fully Alive In You. This is to be your One Goal in life.  This Life Of Contentment That Is Worthy Of The Gospel Is A Never-Ending Process.  As with any process, there must be a clearly defined goal. 

Without a clearly defined goal, any process is meaningless and ultimately leaves us frustrated and drained.  Without the right goal in life we become another “Wrong Way Riegels.”  Roy Riegels played football for the University of California Golden Bears.  On Jan. 1, 1929 in the Rose Bowl against Georgia Tech, Wrong Way Riegels picked up a fumble and ran nearly 70 yards—in the wrong direction.  His quarterback had to tackle him before he reached the wrong end zone.  The next play, California attempted to punt the ball out but it was blocked resulting in a safety for Georgia Tech who won the game by one point.

But Wrong Way Riegels wasn’t the only football player to do that.  Jim Marshall was playing for the Minn. Vikings and on Oct. 25, 1964 against the San Francisco 49ers, Jim picked up a fumble and started running toward the end zone.  But there was a problem—it was the wrong end zone.  Once there he threw the ball up in the air and it resulted in 2 points for the 49ers.  Thinking he was going to the right goal line, thinking he was right—Jim became a member of an elite club:  the Wrong Way Riegels Club.

In football this is a very small club, but in real life—membership in the Wrong Way Roy Riegels Club is enormous.  Every day people drag themselves out of bed and push themselves to get that job, that corner office, that higher pay check, that faster car, that bigger house, those latest fashions—all because they believe that is what life is all about. 

Their goal in life is to have more stuff, money and power.  Some people look for a shortcut—they search for the winning lottery numbers, they cut corners, sell their integrity—all in hopes of that big payoff!  But that kind of payoff rarely comes—and those who do find it—find out that it wasn’t all that fulfilling after all.

And it’s not just those who buy into a secular view point that become members of the Wrong Way Roy Riegels Club.  Even among those who have taken their place in the church, the Body of Christ, can join the Wrong Way Roy Riegels Club

To see if your name is listed as a club member, answer this question:  What Should Be The One Goal In Your Life?  Think about it for a moment before you answer. Do you think that the correct answer is:  To Get To Heaven?  If this is your answer, well, how can I politely say this:  Wrong!  Now, before you call the PPR Committee and tell them to get rid of me, stay with me just a moment.

Heaven is The Destination we should be looking forward to, but It Is Not The Goal.  The spiritual apathy and lethargy that is draining the life out of the 21st century church is that God’s people have innocently confused the difference between our One Goal and our Final Destination.  We need to have a clearly defined goal because without The Goal, we may well miss The Final Destination.

The Goal Is To Make Our Life To Look Like, Think Like, Speak Like And Act Like Jesus.  And the only way this happens is when we completely surrender every moment of our life and every fiber of our being so that in our everyday life Jesus is completely living in us and more importantly—living through us.  Oh, is that all?  Been there, done that! 

Oh, really.  Allow me to get personal:  this past week, did you hold a grudge?  Did you refuse to forgive someone?  Did a word roll off your lips that should not have been said?  Did you forget to begin and end every day with prayer?  Did you fail to do anything that Jesus wanted you to do?  I’ll be nice and not call it judging, but did you draw a conclusion about someone based on the way there were dressed or how they acted, or by their skin color?  Did you lose your temper this week?  Did you put your feelings first?  Do I need to go on with more examples?  I know I’m guilty of one or more of these things.

So what does it mean to be fully alive in Jesus and Jesus fully alive in you?  It means that we live every moment, do every task, and speak every word To Honor Jesus.  It means we go and do with His power that lives inside us. It means we face every disappointment and heartache with that confident assurance that Jesus is right here in our pain helping us to cope and heal.  And it means that we do not fret or worry about tomorrow or the impeachment trial in Washington D.C. because God is taking care of us today. 

We Choose To Live In This Moment With Him In Us And Us In Him. We Grow Deeper In Him And He Grows Deeper In Us.  We become hungrier for God.  An hour or 2 here or there is not enough.  We want more, much more.   

OK, so we privately and shamefully admit that we missed the mark last week.  What do we do now?  You have 3 choices when it comes to living your life and finding contentment.

1.  We Can Retire!

We can conclude that we have done just enough to make it to the final destination of heaven and turn in our retirement papers.  We can park it on our favorite pew and look back and realize that while we could have done more, we did more than most.  We can say, “Well, I’ve done my part, it’s time for them young folks to take over.”  Living with this attitude distorts the real image of God.  We see God as the Big Accountant In The Sky who keeps up with deposits and withdrawals, but not the living presence in our lives.  But God’s isn’t the accountant.  So we have another choice:

2.  We Can Resign!

We can look at the shape of our culture and believe we don’t have what it takes to change it. Or we can look back and see how miserably we have failed Him.  So we write out our Letter of Resignation, drop out and surrender to the spirit of failure.  It’s too tough and difficult.  You can feel like you just don’t have the stuff it takes to live this life worthy of the Gospel, so you quit.  And that is the problem:  you are trying to do all this stuff yourself—and by yourself, you will fail. 

When I faced my divorce, I almost did just that.  I typed out my letter of resignation and took out my ordination certificate and tried to figure out what I would do and where I would live.  But the next day God surrounded me with people of mercy, grace and love.  Even then, I still held on to that letter because I still had a choice.  And trust me, it is very easy to resign when we have failed or the task is difficult.  But there’s another choice, a better choice.

3. We Can Resolve!

We can say, “OK, I’m not there yet but that doesn’t mean that it’s over.”  To pursue the One Goal requires, call it resolve or determination or plain old fashion guts—it takes an effort on our part not to give up on ourselves.  Satan Wants Us To Surrender To Defeat, And NOT To God’s Grace And Mercy.  And to this end he will whisper in your ears, shout at you that you just can’t do this—that you are the exception to the rule—that there is not enough grace or mercy with God for you—that you are so small and insignificant that you’re not worth God’s time. 

Listen again to verses 13-14:  “13 No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.

The prize isn’t the streets of gold—it’s not the pearly gates—it’s not the walls of jasper—It’s Jesus!  Now, it just so happens that Jesus is in heaven.  But it’s not the mansions we are to be looking forward to the most—it’s Jesus.  God is offering you more than a street paved with gold—He is offering you a path into His heart.

And because it is into the heart of God—we should never give up.  It’s not always an easy journey to the One Goal, but it is definitely worth the effort.  If You Will Provide The Resolve, The Willingness To Be Fully Alive In Jesus And Jesus Fully Alive In You, God Provides The Grace, The Mercy, The Love And The Power To Get There.

Oh, and Roy?  What happened to him?  He played the 2nd half with determination that kept them in the game even though they lost by 1 point, joined the Army Air Corps in WW II, coached football and started his own successful company.  And Jim Marshall?  In that same game, he caused another fumble that led to the winning touchdown, made the Pro Bowl in 1968 and 1969, and set a record for most recovered fumbles, and was a member of the famous Minnesota Vikings defense known as the Purple People Eaters.  To honor him, they retired his jersey, #70!

Don’t be a member of the Wrong Way Roy Riegels Club.  Strive, Pursue, and Passionately Live for the REAL prize:  Be Fully Alive In Jesus, and Allow Jesus To Be Fully Alive In You.

For this to happen, something must happen in us. And what needs to happen is in the answer to this question, and it’s your Next Step because you cannot follow Jesus and stay where you are: 

What Do I Need To Do To Take Me Into A Deeper And More Intimate Relationship With God?

Maybe your next step is your first step, to stop pretending and get real with God.  Perhaps there is something you have been holding back from Jesus—a bad habit.  Give it over to Him, He’s good at breaking chains.  Maybe you need to start all over—to rededicate your life to Jesus. 

Maybe it’s taking the next step by entering into a covenant relationship with the body of Christ that meets here.  Maybe it’s God calling you to become involved with something we are already doing here.  Maybe it’s God calling you to help start something altogether new.  Maybe it’s surrendering more of your time to Him.  There is a “next step” that each of us can make this morning that will get us closer to the One Goal:  To Be Fully Alive In Jesus And For Jesus To Be Fully Alive In You.

One Resolution: One Purpose!

 1-4 If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if His love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care— then do me a favor:  Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends.  Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top.  Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead.  Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage.  Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand. 5-8 Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of Himself.  He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of Himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what.  Not at all.  When the time came, He set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human.  It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges.  Instead, He lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.

Philippians 2:1-8 (The Message)

We are in the 3rd week of looking at One Resolution that will give our hearts the one thing it longs for most of all:  Contentment.  This One Resolution is to Live A Life Worthy Of The Gospel!  Not the “Gospel of Our Best Efforts” but the Gospel of Jesus—God’s Best Effort For Us.  Because it’s all about God’s Grace, it’s not left up to our best efforts to honor Christ, But To Honor Christ By Allowing Him To Live In And Through Us With The Power Of Resurrection! 

It comes by making 6 Conscious Choices every day.  Here’s the first 2:

  1. Live With An Undivided Heart—That’s the One Spirit.  Your loyalty and allegiance is to Jesus and His Work in our world.
  2. We Need To Be The Community That Has A Pinpoint Laser Focus On The Kingdom Of God—That’s the One Mind.  We focus on each other and those who are not here yet.

Now we come to that Third Key Decision in finding the life of real Contentment.  It is so obvious, yet so difficult for so many people.  And Here Is The One Thing You Need To Remember From Today’s Message:  To Live In Contentment, Find Your Unique Life Purpose.  Few things make contentment more elusive than not knowing our Unique Life Purpose.  And most folks have no idea how to discover their Unique Life Purpose

And I’m about to say could make it even more frustrating.  Your Life Purpose Isn’t About The What You Do, But The Why!  The What causes us to think about The How:  How will we do it?  And The Why is completely ignored. 

Purpose, Your Unique Life Purpose comes out of The WhyWhy Did Jesus Die On The Cross For You?  Why Did He Save You?  And the Pivotal Question is this:  Why Are You Here?

There is a “flip-flop” quality to understanding today’s scripture.  It goes counter to our usual way of thinking.  America is the home of Davey Crocket who conquered the wild frontier and Wyatt Earp who tamed the Wild West.  We honor and value independence, self-sufficiency, strength and the glory of a “self-made” man or woman.  

Surrender is what we did NOT do.  With brains and brawn we became a super power in the world.  “American Ingenuity” is the brilliance that made us great.  Then Jesus comes along to say that strength and intelligence does not make the cut when it comes to Contentment.  He dares to tell us that the way to Contentment is through Him.  And then Jesus has the audacity to tell us that to live with and for Him, and for Him to live in and through us we are to live like a servant.

Then this fellow named Paul comes along and tells us to have the same attitude that Jesus had.  Jesus had no business empire; no college degree; never owned a fancy house; never wore designer clothes; never rubbed elbows with those considered the cultural elite.  How counter-cultural can you get?  We cannot fight, or think or power ourselves into the Life Of Contentment

Former Guideposts editor Arthur Gordon told the story of a kindergarten class he visited where the teacher frequently reminded misbehaving children to stop being a WAM.  The kids straightened up as soon as their teacher pointed out they were being a WAM.  He had to know: What was a WAM?  The teacher explained that WAM stands for “What About Me?”  She was training the children to be less self-centered.  She wanted them to think of others’ needs; not just their own.  

She taught them that no one liked a WAM, a self-centered person who only asks, “What About Me?”  Instead, she was teaching the children to be a WAY, or as she explained it, people who ask, “What About You?”  She was teaching those 5 year old kids about Contentment.

You and I are people of the WAY.  We ask “What About You?”  We get lost and lose our Spiritual Foothold when we become a WAM.  But the life of Contentment is for people of the WAY.  So, are you a WAM or a WAY?

Let me show you what happens when we become a WAM instead of a WAY.  In the 1800’s the train ruled the day.  Owners of railway companies prospered and were called barons.  But the automobile came along and the railroad barons forgot they were in the transportation business.  They thought they were in the train business and most of them went broke. 

The Swiss had dominated time keeping.  At one point they controlled over 50% of all revenues made in watches and clocks.  They made the most precise gears and springs in the world.  Their watches and clocks were perfect.  Then something new happened called the Quartz movement. 

Guess who invented it?  A Swiss man.  But because it had no gears or knobs or springs it was overlooked.  They failed to recognize that they were in the business of helping people tell time not making precision gears.  They lost their dominance in the industry now controlling somewhere about 15% of all revenue.  

If Sports Illustrated magazine understood it was in the sports information business, not the publishing business, we would have the Sports Illustrated Channel, not ESPN.   And folks, if we forget that our Why is to bring people to Jesus, we will also become obsolete.  If we lose our Why by getting distracted with tradition, habit, custom, ritual, or routine, we will go the way of the trains, the Swiss watch makers, and Sports Illustrated.  We must remember our Why.  We must at all costs, fulfill our Unique True Purpose—that comes out of knowing Our Why!

Every person has a Unique True Purpose that God has given to them.  Not for just the few and special; but all of us have a purpose from God that is uniquely our own.  Yours will be what God has designed you to be.  But before we can know the purpose that is uniquely ours, we must be clear about our Why in life.  Without understanding and accepting this Why in life, we will never discover our unique purpose.  And Paul lets us know that there is a Why for every one of us. 

He lets us in on God’s Why for our lives.  He states it in verse 5:  Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of Himself.  He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of Himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what.  

They do not teach this in high school; it’s not offered as a degree in universities; and it’s not taught in graduate school.  Yet this is exactly what God tells us is the key to finding our Unique True Purpose—that comes out of knowing Our Why!  It’s not about money, prestige or power.  It is all about relationship—with God at the very center of our lives.  Our Purpose will be found by discovering The Why.  It’s a 3 step process that Jesus followed as our example.

1.  He Emptied Himself

Jesus, who had it all in Heaven—gave it all up to become one of us!  Unlimited in space, unfettered by time, adored and worshiped by angels and saints—He chose to be one of us.  In becoming one of us He is now limited in space, and bound by time—He allowed people to talk ugly about Him—He allowed Himself to be falsely arrested—and when they couldn’t find a reason to have Him executed, He gave them one. 

Jesus allowed Himself to be publicly humiliated and finally nailed to a Cross as a common criminal to bring back His Image Bearers.  This was His Why and this is to be our Why.  And He could not have done this unless He first emptied Himself into the relationship with Abba!  Papa!  Dad!

And what are you holding on to?  What is it that you have not relinquished into God’s hands?  Is it time?  A habit?  Pride?  Fear?  Is there this one room in your heart that you’ve kept locked up in order to keep God out either because you don’t want to give it up or you’re afraid God won’t love you?  Before we can find that Unique True Purpose for which we are created, we have to let go of everything and to be completely emptied. 

And in that process of emptying ourselves, we also have to let go any and all sense of being self-sufficient.  We have to be absolutely vulnerable before God and in that moment of total vulnerability we have to trust 2 things:  God is always good; and God is pure, complete and unconditional love.

2.  He Accepted His Place

You won’t hear Jesus saying, “Oh, Dad, do I have to become one of them?”  Instead: He took on the status of a slave, became human!  Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process.  Jesus reached out and took on being human because the Father chose it for Him.  It was the Father’s plan to show us that He is not a referee, dictator or stern judge.  God wants us to know that His character is not in the rules and regulations that we think about when it comes to His Kingdom.  God wants us to know that His absolute, all the time, for all eternity character, is Love. 

We do not tell God what is our Unique True Purpose; God tells us!  We don’t inform Him of our Why:  we allow Him to tell us Our Why.  His Purpose for your life will be about what HE can do.  God wants to move us beyond ritual and rules, beyond history and traditions and step into His very character.  This Is Your Why!  Accept that place God has for you where you must rely on His strength and not your own. 

3.  He Surrendered To God’s Plan

Jesus did not just die—He died on the Cross.  The Greek word for Obedient means To Give An Ear To—in other words, Jesus was listening to the Father.  God had the plan and Jesus listened to that plan and surrendered to that plan. 

And that plan was to become the one and only sacrifice that would atone for everyone’s sins so that anyone who wanted could have a deep and intimate relationship with God.  Jesus surrendered so that we can have the relationship that God yearns for us to have with Him, the Father, Abba, Papa, Dad!  The Cross is about bringing people into a relationship with God!

The Why for your life is all about letting this world—your world know that God loves them and yearns to bring them into relationship with Him.  And Here Is Where You Find Unique True Purpose!  The only way our world can know God’s love is when they see us sharing our love for God with others.    Jesus Died So The World Could Know God’s Love—we should live the same way—To Live So That The World Will Know God’s Love For Them!

Your exact Life Purpose is as unique as you are—but each of our Unique Purposes is designed for one thing:  To Help Bring Others Into A Relationship With God, Who Is Always Good And Always Full Of Love.  As much as we are to yearn for God, understand this:  That God Yearns Infinitely More For You And Everyone! 

OK, you know what’s next.  Because you can’t follow Jesus and stay where you are, here’s your Next Step:

Find a way to do something for another person to know that God loves them.  Get personally involved with another life in a way that reveals your Why—To let them know that God wants a relationship with them.  Or is your Why for some other reason?  Give up your Why For The Why That Always Gives You Contentment!

One Resolution: One Mind!

We are in the 2nd week of looking at One Resolution that will give our hearts the one thing it longs for most of all:  contentment.  And remember that this One Resolution is to Live A Life Worthy Of The Gospel!  Let’s look again at our Scripture from Philippians 1:27-30 (NLT)

27 Above all, you must live as citizens of heaven, conducting yourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ.  Then, whether I come and see you again or only hear about you, I will know that you are standing together with one spirit and one purpose, fighting together for the faith, which is the Good News. 28 Don’t be intimidated in any way by your enemies.  This will be a sign to them that they are going to be destroyed, but that you are going to be saved, even by God himself. 29 For you have been given not only the privilege of trusting in Christ but also the privilege of suffering for him. 30 We are in this struggle together.  You have seen my struggle in the past, and you know that I am still in the midst of it.

The Gospel is not about what we can do.  The Gospel is all about what God has done, is doing and will continue to do for us because of His grace.  It’s not the “Gospel of Our Best Efforts” but The Gospel Of Jesus—God’s Best Effort For Us.

And because it’s about God’s Grace, it’s not left up to our best efforts to honor Christ, But To Honor Christ By Allowing Him To Live In And Through Us With The Power Of Resurrection!  There are 6 Key Decisions you must make in order to experience Contentment—the first Key Decision is to have an Undivided Heart for God and what HE wants for our lives.

We have come to that second part of verse 27.  On the surface, this seems to be one of those verses that translators can’t agree on.  Allow me to explain:

  • The KJV—“that ye stand fast . . . with One Mind striving together for the faith of the gospel.” 
  • The NIV—“that you stand firm . . . contending as One (Meaning Person) for the faith of the gospel.” 
  • And in our reading today, the NLT—“that you are standing together with . . . One Purpose, fighting together for the faith, which is the Good News.”

OK, we have One Mind, One Person, One Purpose; Which is correct?  All Of Them!  In the process of translating the ancient texts, it’s not a word by word translation but involves the context of the phrases around each word.  The Greek word used is psychē (psü-khā’) and by itself it means The Soul, that deepest part of who we are. 

It refers to the essence of a person—their mind, their purpose in life, their identity in life.  But more than just the word psychē (psü-khā’) is the phrase Stand Fast, Standing Together, Stand Firm. 

And then there’s that other phrase:  Striving Together, Fighting Together, Contending.  Now we come to the next step in the life that is worthy of the Gospel—Living Together In Community, and not just any community.  And here is the One Thing you really need to remember from today’s message:  That We Need To Be The Community That Has A Pinpoint Laser Focus On The Kingdom Of God.

The community we are called to live in is the community of faith.    Call it the church, the body of Christ, or community of believers—this is where God is calling us to live this life of contentment.  The world says contentment is found in what you can do yourself. 

But that deep and abiding contentment, that contentment which can fill any and every heart is found in our relationships of working together in a common bond.  When we put our life in grace smack dab in the middle of a bunch of other lives in grace, the power of God’s grace intensifies in each of us. 

Don’t put your life in with a bunch of people living by rules and regulations and doctrines.  Put your heart and life in people who know that it’s all about the relationship God gives us in Jesus!  You have a choice:  to be a Pretender or to be a Contender in the pursuit of contentment.

To go at this life of contentment by yourself makes you a Pretender!  You can have all the trappings of success—the job, the house, the car, the toys—but these things will not give you the necessary strength to maintain that One Resolution!

I need others around me who share my passion for Jesus.  You need others around you who live passionately for Jesus.  Wrap it up in a box, take it to the bank and cash it, put it in the display case—Unless You Commit And Invest Time With People Passionate About Jesus, You Will Lose Your Passion For Jesus.

That’s why you need more than an hour on Sunday morning.  I’m talking about developing and nurturing those key relationships that will enable us to allow Christ to live in and through us.  Our greatest desire should be for God and one of the most powerful ways we find and experience God is through the Body of His Son—The Community! 

It takes more than a sign with a name on it to be the Body of His Son.  There has to be a connection, not to rules or creeds, but to that sustaining and life-giving connection to Jesus.  There has been this long running theological question:  Can A Person Be A Christian Without Going To Church? 

One side says, “Sure, because it’s about faith in Jesus’ work on the Cross.”  But that’s the wrong question to ask.  The real question that needs to be asked often is this:  “How Long Can A Person, Who Is Able To Go To Church, Remain A Christian Without Going To Church?” 

And the answer?  “Not As Long As It Takes!”  Why?  Because there’s some tough stuff out there that you just can’t handle alone.  Let me ask you this:  Would you want to go face to face with someone like Terrance Cody alone?  Now, for you unfortunate people who don’t remember Terrance, he played nose guard for the University of Alabama in 2008 and 2009.

Terrance weighed 360+ pounds.  His job was to push aside 300 pound offensive linemen in order to tackle the unfortunate soul who had the football.  And when coaches prepared to play against Terrance they always had at least 2 linemen assigned to the difficult task of blocking him.  Knowing this about Terrance, back to my original question:  Would you want to go face to face against someone like Terrance Cody?  Of course not, unless you have a masochistic personality and love getting beat up.

Listen, there are spiritual forces out there that make Terrance Cody look like a 96 pound weakling and you do NOT want to face them alone.  Their Sole Task Is To Cause You To Lose Your Hope, Lose Your Faith, And Lose Your Joy So That You Lose Your Contentment.  It’s a struggle at times; it’s always a battle to live a life worthy of the Gospel by allowing Jesus to live in you and through you.  That’s why the gift of God’s Grace includes the gift of the Community Of His Son. 

And as Goliath shouted insults at David, your enemy will shout insults at you.  Pretenders in the pursuit of contentment go at it alone. But Contenders For Contentment Surround Themselves With Those Who Have The Same Desire To Live A Life Worthy Of The Gospel Of God’s Best Effort. 

We need each other and we need to be here for each other.  Now, we will not always agree on every little thing, but we can agree on the main thing:  That We Need Stand Together Being The One Person For The Gospel Of God’s Best Efforts

This is the One Mind:  That We Stand Together As ONE!  Here’s how we Stand Together As One Community:

1.  Being The One Mind—In Faith

Being The One Mind In Faith is all about The Cross.  It’s not that we all agree on doctrines or interpretations, but that we all agree that the main thing is The Cross.  The Cross levels the playing field.  No one here is better than anyone else.  Flip the coin over and we see that no one here is any worse than anyone else. 

We are bound together by one common need:  A Savior.  And we are bound together by one common remedy:  The Cross.  Whether we like different styles of music, whether we want different forms of worship really doesn’t matter.  What matters is that we all stand beneath the One And Same Cross with the conviction that This Cross makes all the difference in our lives.  Our connection is to the relationship with God.

2.  Being The One Person—In Witness

Being The One Person In Witness is all about The Gospel!  What if a researcher stumbled across a vaccine that would prevent anyone else from ever contracting cancer again?  Do you suppose that researcher would hide his discovery? 

Do you think he would place it under lock and key and never let the world know about it?  I don’t think so!  He would call a press conference, call all the drug manufacturers, and start the process for FDA approval because that would be good news for the world. 

We have the best news for our world—Redemption And Release.  We add value and credibility to each other’s witness when we show The One Person to our world:  That We Are People Changed By The Love Of God And Are Committed To Sharing God’s Love Together To Our World 

Your life will validate the witness of another and their witness will validate your witness.  When we stand together believing that God’s love is for everyone, that we will not judge or turn our back on anyone and that His love will change everyone who accepts His love, then we make an impact on our world. 

3.  Being The One Purpose—In Action

Being The One Purpose In Action is all about The Mission!  It doesn’t do us any good if we sing, pray and study if there is not subsequent action.  Every Community of Jesus has a God-given Mission and every believer has a God-given mission that will be related to the Mission of our church. 

This is where we will find God’s Vision for this place and where you will find your place in that Vision.  God Does Not Give A Mission Without Also Giving The Means To Accomplish That Mission.  Inside of every one of you is a passion, an ability, a skill and a spiritual gift that is a perfect fit for this Mission.  Some of you will be out front doing this work. 

Some of you will be behind the scenes praying or organizing or sharing your resources for this God-Given Mission.  If I could afford it, I would have bought every one of you a mirror this week and right now have you look in that mirror and tell you:  The Mission Of This Church Is Counting On The Person You See In That Mirror.

To Live A Life Worthy Of The Gospel Of God’s Best Effort You Must Become A Part Of Something Much Bigger Than Yourself—The Citizens Of The Kingdom Of God.  Look around you; go ahead, I said “Look around you!”  We Are Here, In This Place, Because Of The Cross And For Each Other And For Those Not Here Yet. 

Contentment grows in each of us when we become a servant to the people you just saw.  The Kingdom Is Not About You—It Is About Each Other And Those Not Here Yet That We Should Be Inviting Into A Relationship With Jesus.  Jesus makes a promise that you can count on to always be true and never fail:  If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it. (Matt. 10:39 NLT)

Because you can’t follow Jesus and stay where you are, here’s your Next Step:Designate A Fast And Prayer Time at least 3 times a week.  Fasting means giving up something in order to focus on God.  Here are some suggestions for your Fast:

  • Give Up A Favorite TV show
  • If you do social media, give it up for a morning or evening.
  • Give up a meal
  • Give up a hobby
  • Give up watching the morning or evening news
  • Give up something you do regularly or enjoy
  • Then spend that time focusing on God through prayer

Remember One Resolution for the rest of your life:  To Live A Life Worthy Of The Gospel Of God’s Best Effort!

One Resolution: One Spirit!

New Year’s offers for many the opportunity for more than a different life, but stirs in us the longing for a better life.  The human heart is made for something that is better—and that something better is Contentment.  So we make resolutions that we hope will make life better by improving the quality of our experiences.  I thought it would be interesting to see what the top 10 New Year’s Resolutions for 2020 are.  I surfed the web and here is what I found:

  1. Exercise more
  2. Lose weight
  3. Get organized
  4. Learn a new skill or hobby
  5. Live life to the fullest
  6. Save more money / spend less money
  7. Quit smoking
  8. Spend more time with family and friends
  9. Travel more
  10. Read More

Here’s what else I found:  It was pretty much the same for 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, and you get the point.  Now we can download apps that promise ways to help you keep your resolutions.  And we would all agree that it’s easier to make resolutions than to keep them.    Wouldn’t it be great if we could slip on a pair of shoes, take a supplement, join a gym and at the end of the year discover that we kept all our resolutions?  I believe that New Year Resolutions are The Cry Of The Heart For Deep, Abiding Contentment.  When it comes to the issue of contentment, there are 3 things about people and our culture that are true:

  1. Most People are not content with their lives.  In spite of all the promises of hope from the latest trends, advertisements and self-help gurus, most people realize that something is still missing in their life.
  2. Most people feel powerless when it comes to developing lasting and significant change in their lives.  According to a couple of surveys, only 40-45% of Americans even take the effort to make one or more New Year’s Resolutions.  This is down from last century’s high mark of 80%. 
  3. Every human heart longs for contentment.  Even among that 55-60% who make no Resolutions, and among those who say they have given up hope, The Longing Of The Heart For Contentment Never Goes Away.

But what if there was a way to bring that Deep, Abiding Contentment to your life?  And what if there was a way that you could model contentment in a way that would inspire those closest to you to experience that same Sense Of Contentment in their life?  Does that sound good to you?   But wait!  There’s more. 

What if I could show you that to achieve this life that is more than different, more than better, but fills anyone with Contentment, can be achieved with One Resolution, would you be interested?    Not 10, not 5, no, not 3 resolutions, there is only One Resolution that all of us need to make.  Want to know what it is?  Let’s look at Paul’s letter to the Philippians in Philippians 1:27-30

27 Above all, you must live as citizens of heaven, conducting yourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ. Then, whether I come and see you again or only hear about you, I will know that you are standing together with one spirit and one purpose, fighting together for the faith, which is the Good News. 28 Don’t be intimidated in any way by your enemies.  This will be a sign to them that they are going to be destroyed, but that you are going to be saved, even by God himself. 29 For you have been given not only the privilege of trusting in Christ but also the privilege of suffering for him. 30 We are in this struggle together.  You have seen my struggle in the past, and you know that I am still in the midst of it.

According to Paul, the 1 Resolution is this:  Live A Life Worthy Of The Gospel!  “Oh, is that all it is preacher?  Why didn’t you tell me to paint the Golden Gate Bridge; or—Find the cure for cancer; or—Get every nation to sign a peace accord and end all wars; or—Put an end to world hunger; or—Get Democrats and Republicans to put the American citizen first and forget party politics?  I could do that long before my life is worthy of the Gospel!  Thanks for nothing!” 

And if the Gospel was about what we could do and accomplish, then that’s the way we all ought to feel.  We try to do our very best, but then we lose our temper, we lust, we envy, feel jealousy, say a dirty word, become greedy, act harshly, become resentful and are unforgiving.  And we realize that is just not worthy of the Gospel.  But The Gospel Is Not About What We Can Do

The Gospel is all about what God has done, is doing and will continue to do for us because of His heart for us.  It’s Not The “Gospel Of Our Best Efforts” But The Gospel Of God’s Best Effort For Us.  It’s all about God’s Grace; it’s not left up to our best efforts to honor Christ.  We Are To Honor Christ By Allowing Him To Live In And Through Us With The Power Of Resurrection!  We often lock in on that word found in the KJV Conduct.  But remember Paul didn’t write in English.  He wrote in Greek and in Greek, the NLT gives us the best understanding of that word:  Live As Citizens of Heaven. 

This means we live according to God’s ways, plans and purposes that are rooted in His Grace.  And at the heart of Grace is that we allow Him into our hearts and We Rely On His Strength Rather Than Our Own Strength.  And Paul’s letter to the Philippians doesn’t end with that verse.  For the rest of this letter, Paul shows us how to live a life worthy of the gospel by allowing Christ to live in us and through us!  Contentment Is Found By Surrendering Moment By Moment To The Process Of Grace, And Not Giving Up On That Process, Especially When We Mess Up.

And this process is found in ONEOne Spirit, One Mind, One Purpose, One Goal, One Hope And One Secret.  And this process is what we will begin looking at in this New Year.  So, how can we live this Life Worthy Of The Gospel By Allowing Christ To Live In And Thru Us?

It comes by making 6 Conscious Choices every day.  The Process Begins By Living In One Spirit.  And here’s The 1 Thing you need to remember from today’s message:  Contentment Begins When We Think, Speak, Act, React And Make Decisions Based On One Spirit. 

Paul is not talking about the Holy Spirit here, but our spirit.  What Is Your Spirit?  The first response is to say, “That’s the part of me that lives on after death.”  And it is, but I want you to go deeper.  Think Of Your Spirit As That Part Of You That Makes You Think, Speak, Act, React And Helps In Your Decision Making Process.  And this is the real problem.  Without a deep and committed relationship to Christ, we live with A Divided Spirit.  Living life with One Spirit does not happen automatically nor is it easily attained.  Allow me to define for you what I mean by One Spirit:  One Spirit means living each day with an Undivided Heart!  So think of One Spirit as that heart that gives its loyalty to God.

And to help us live with One Spirit, God offers us transformation—A New Spirit—A New Way To Think, Speak, Act, React And Make Decisions.  He offers to help us live with One Spirit that is worthy of the Gospel Of Grace through The Desire To Have That Undivided Spirit.  Here is how to develop this One Spirit. 

1. Have That Unbridled Desire For God’s Grace

Remember that this Process of One, this resolution to Live A Life Worthy Of The Gospel does not depend on your abilities; just God’s grace!  And is there anything better or more reliable that God’s Grace?  Jesus uses 2 powerful human experiences to describe what it means to desire God’s grace:  hungering and thirsting.  Jesus said in Matthew 5:6—Blessed Are Those Who Hunger And Thirst For Righteousness, For They Will Be Filled. 

It’s About An Unquenchable Appetite For God.  It’s not about a Sam’s Club sample taste, or a small Hors d’oeuvre tray.  It is about all that God offers.  And trust that God will provide His grace.  When you get up in the morning have that unquenchable appetite for God.  When you go to bed at night have that unquenchable appetite for God.  And every moment between getting up and going to sleep, have that unquenchable appetite for God.

2. Give Him Your Unrestrained Devotion

Use the word “Devotion” and many think about The Upper Room, Guideposts, Daily Bread or some other devotional material.  Reading these devotional materials are great acts that we need to engage in daily.  But that’s not Devotion.  The Dictionary Defines Devotion As:  Profound Dedication.  It is moving your life in the direction of God.  This movement in the direction of God is best described in Philippians 3:13-14—I focus on this one thing:  Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. 

Whatever it is that you talk the most about, that is your greatest passion, and that is what you are giving your devotion to.  Your Greatest Passion Reveals Your Devotion.  If your greatest passion is football, then your devotion is to football.  If your greatest passion is to be recognized and praised by others, then your devotion is to self.  Devotion to God is choosing to focus on God’s presence.  It means we look for and find God’s presence every day and everywhere.  Make God your greatest passion.

3. Live With Total Determination

It’s easy to give up on dreams when life gets tight.  It’s easy to turn around when life gets tough.  Our world, your culture, is filled with those who would rather quit than fight on—surrender rather than overcome.  To Live In One Spirit Requires Resolve And Determination Because It Is On The Other Side Of The Struggle And Conflict That We Understand What The Life In Grace Is All About. 

It is by going through the tight, tough and difficult places that we really discover just how much God does for us.  Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 4:8-10—We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair.  We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed.  Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies. 

Without Grace, without the Christ of the Cross, our own spirit becomes divided and it’s all because of the problem of sin.  But Jesus has defeated the sin-problem for us by carrying our sins to the Cross.  Contentment begins when we take our relationship with God seriously—By Making This Relationship The MOST Important Priority In Our Life.  Jesus lived with One Spirit—to honor God by allowing God’s heart, the Father’s Presence to live in Him and through Him. 

Remember: You Can’t Follow Jesus And Stay Where You Are.  So here’s your Next Steps:

  1. Do something to show your hunger for God’s Grace
    • Join a Bible study group, maybe 2 groups
    • Begin to read the Bible, just the Bible.  Begin with Philippians
  2. Get directly involved helping people know that God loves them
    • Find a person who has a need, and meet that need
    • Find something happening locally
    • Talk with me about starting something new
  3. Dream of something that only God can do

It’s The Perfect Gift Because It’s The Gift That Keeps On Giving!

1 Nevertheless, that time of darkness and despair will not go on forever.  The land of Zebulun and Naphtali will be humbled, but there will be a time in the future when Galilee of the Gentiles, which lies along the road that runs between the Jordan and the sea, will be filled with glory.

2 The people who walk in darkness will see a great light.  For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine. 

3 You will enlarge the nation of Israel, and its people will rejoice.  They will rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest and like warriors dividing the plunder.  4 For you will break the yoke of their slavery and lift the heavy burden from their shoulders.  You will break the oppressor’s rod, just as you did when you destroyed the army of Midian.  5 The boots of the warrior and the uniforms bloodstained by war will all be burned.  They will be fuel for the fire.

6 For a child is born to us, a son is given to us.  The government will rest on his shoulders.  And he will be called:  Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 His government and its peace will never end.  He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David for all eternity.  The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies will make this happen! {Isaiah 9:1-7 NLT}

We’ve been looking at The Perfect Gift.  Remember I said that The Perfect Gift has 2 essential elements:

  1. First, it has something of the Giver in it.
  2. Second, it meets a need in the receiver.  Now, I need to add one more element that makes a gift The Perfect Gift.
  3. The Perfect Gift Is The One That Keeps On Giving.

Some gifts are made to last only a short time—like a gift card.  Some gifts wear out.  And other gifts?  Well…the are made to hide in the top of some closet.  But The Perfect Gift is the one that the receiver continues to experience for a long time to come.

Often the spirit of Christmas is overshadowed by that spirit of selfishness.  Often that spirit is intentional, but sometimes it is unintentional.  If we are not careful, we will become self-absorbed with our wishes, our wants, our desires, and our own will.  That first Christmas marked the beginning of God plan to ultimate and decisively deliver humanity from those unimportant and self-centered desires. 

God gave This Gift because This Gift can deliver every person from the things that rob and finally destroy their heart and life.  And if you can remember only one thing, this is it:  Jesus Wants Us To Embrace Him As Fully As He Has Embraced Us!

Being a True Disciple Of Jesus is not a casual thing that we do occasionally and at our convenience.  To really experience the living Jesus by receiving The Perfect Gift for our own—Demands More From Us.  To accept the perfect gift does not mean we become inhibited.  To Accept The Perfect Gift Means We Become Inhabited! 

I do not mean this the wrong way or to be considered disrespectful with what I am about to say.  Nor do I mean to downplay this mysterious event of Incarnation—God becoming flesh—because I marvel and am amazed at this breathtaking mystery.  But it is too easy to love the baby in the manger.  Who among us doesn’t love every baby?  We are not called to love and follow the baby in the manger.  God Demands That We Love And Follow The Christ Of The Cross!  Face it, The Cross Is A Tougher Image Than The Manger

Yet this is where Jesus calls us to follow Him.  This is serious stuff because it means total and complete surrender to the Love of God expressed perfectly on the Cross.  Jesus Wants Us To Embrace Him As Fully As He Has Embraced Us.

Christmas Is About The Messiah And Our Acceptance Of And Submission To The Messiah.  Remember what that word “Messiah” means—“Messiah comes from the Hebrew word, Mashiach, meaning “The Anointed One,” or “The Chosen One.”  To be the Anointed, to be the chosen, isn’t an ordinary thing.  In the Old Testament, anointing was reserved for 3 particular offices:  Prophets, Priests, and Kings—offices set aside for God’s purposes.  Jesus As Messiah, Is The Decisive Prophet, Priest, And King.

That first Christmas marks the beginning of The Choice that Jesus made even before time began.  Jesus would enter directly into the fallen mess of creation to reclaim and restore it back to God’s Kingdom.  The Arrival Of The Messiah—The Decisive Prophet, Priest, And King—Ushers In The Most Radical Movement Of God Since Creation.  His arrival is an offer—the offer to accept for ourselves that Jesus is The Messiah—The Decisive Prophet, Priest, And King.  Jesus has been Anointed for 3 Offices:    

1.  Jesus Is The Decisive Prophet.

He’s the Decisive Prophet because He completely understands the mind of God.  All other prophets receive glimpses of that mind.  But Jesus Reveals The Whole Mind Of God Because That Mind Is In Him.  Not only this, but He sees our real mind and heart.  Prophets are also called to show where we are missing the mark.  To make us aware of what we are missing, and how God can and will restore us. 

False prophets fall into 2 overall categories.  First, False Prophets point out where we’re wrong without giving us the True Remedy.  And False Prophets aren’t truthful—they are mirrors of our own imaginations.  They feed us what we want to hear.

He’s the Decisive Prophet because He Perfectly Reveals God’s Heart.  A Heart That Longs For Us To See Our Own Sickness So That He Can Bring God’s Desires Into Our Minds And Hearts.  He shows us HOW we can live the life we are created to live.  Not only is He the Decisive Prophet:

2.  Jesus Is The Decisive Priest.

Jesus is The Decisive Priest because continually He serves in the direct presence of God.  Human priests can only point toward God.  But no priest is closer to the heart of God than Jesus.  He Doesn’t Point Us To God, Because He Is God!

Jesus is The Decisive Priest because He intercedes for messed up and broken people—not the “oh, so righteous” feeling people.  True priests are those who feel for the condition of The Fallen Image Bearers.  The Decisive Priest is drawn to and into the messiness of deceived and broken people.

Jesus Is The Decisive Priest Because He Is Also The Lamb!  No other priest can do what Jesus has already done.  The priests of other religions want you to do something for their “god” before that “god” can do anything for you.  But This Priest, The Decisive Priest Is The One Who Offers For Us, And Is The Sacrifice That Once And For All Delivers Us From Sin’s Power And Dominion.  And Jesus is also Anointed for 1 more office, the Highest Office of All:

3.  Jesus Is The Decisive King!

Jesus Is The Decisive King Because He Is Holy!  Human leaders are guided by other interests.  They are all flawed somewhere.  But He Demands That We Be Holy As HE Is Holy.  He never accepts second place.  He will never play second fiddle.  He will never accept our leftovers.  He’s Jealous and will never share His rightful throne in our heart with anything or anyone else.

Jesus Is The Decisive King Because He Is Eternal.  Every other kingdom, each dominion, and all other authorities will end one day.  They are never final.  Only His Dominion will last.  And He will hold every other authority accountable to Him.  Not only authorities, but each and every one of us.  This ought to be frightening—because it is!  But This Very Demanding King Has Something Else, Too.

Jesus Is The Decisive King Because He Is Full Of Grace And Mercy.  He pours everything about Him into restoring us—WE are the object of His Desires.  And HE and HE alone, should be the object of our desires!  Jesus Is The Decisive King Because He Is, Well, HE IS!  Nothing we say or believe will ever change this fact.  Argue about it.  Deny it.  But Jesus is the King of Kings.

God doesn’t ask us to follow a baby; He calls us to follow the Conqueror of Death and Hell.  Christmas is a great time to remember Easter—because the power that conquered death is the power given to us when we open our heart to Him.  Joy and power are ours when we see for ourselves The Perfect Gift. 

God Loves Sinners Like Us!  It’s useless to give your heart to the child in that feed trough.  Give your heart, mind, soul and strength to the One who first died on the Cross then rose from the dead!  Then rise up in joyful worship!

Joy isn’t just for Christmas or Easter—it’s for every day all day long.  Begin living in and through the Holy Spirit.  Trust, really trust that God will never lead you wrong—He will challenge you—but He will never lead you wrong. 

You may not understand what God is doing—you may not even like what God wants to do—but Christmas reminds it’s the right thing, always the right thing. 

God isn’t interested in the qualified people—He’s Wanting The Least Qualified Because We Are The Ones That He Can Pour The Holy Spirit Into.  Now, here lies the Great Contradiction to the world’s value system.  The world’s value system says that in order to receive, you have to Get All You Can, Grab All You Can, And Then Grip The Can

The value system of God’s Kingdom is that in order to receive, you have to share, help, and love unconditionally.  Have you given your heart to the baby—or have your given your heart to Lord and Savior of all?

No one wants to be on Santa’s “Naughty List” but on his “Nice List”.  Hey, it is doable—when push comes to shove, we can be rather nice at times, nice enough to be on Santa’s “Good” list. 

But let me ask you:  Is Your Name In The Lamb’s Book Of Life?  Before you answer, let me share the truth with you:  You can never be good enough, do enough good, to get in The Lamb’s Book of Life.  It’s God’s Gift, for those who will surrender everything to Him, and follow Him.

Jesus Is The Anointed One:  The Decisive Prophet, Priest, And King! 

There’s something I realized in this week’s preparations, and it made me realize my own failure.  It’s something I should have said every week, but I haven’t.  So, I’ll say it now—and hopefully as long as I am preaching: 

You Can’t Follow Jesus And Stay Where You Are.  Jesus didn’t stay in the manger.  He didn’t stay in Egypt.  He Didn’t Stay In Nazareth.  He Was Always On The Move—And He Still Is On The Move.  He’s Moving Forward Advancing The Kingdom

That’s why each week I offer you The Next Steps.  And here is this week’s Next Step: Where have you settled in your journey? And where is He calling you to go deeper?  The Shepherds didn’t stay at the manger.  The Wise Men didn’t stay at that house.  Shepherds went back to their fields and the Wise Men returned to their homes.  But they weren’t the same.  If you are not sensing the call of The Spirit to go deeper and follow Jesus more closely, then this is your moment to come to this altar, and ask The Perfect Gift to show you how This Gift Keeps On Giving.

THE PERFECT GIFT HAS THE PERFECT NAME!

18 This is how Jesus the Messiah was born.  His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph.  But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit. 19 Joseph, to whom she was engaged, was a righteous man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement quietly. 20 As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream.  “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife.  For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. 21 And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”  22 All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord’s message through his prophet: 23 “Look!  The virgin will conceive a child!  She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means ‘God is with us.’”

Matthew 1:18-23

What’s in a name?  In the tragedy Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare wrote, “What’s in a name?  That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”  Or as Bubba Bussey of Rick & Bubba might say, “Call a skunk a flower and he still stinks.”  What Shakespeare was trying to say that what is important, is who a person is, not what they are called.  If You Can Remember Only 1 Thing, This Is it:  The Jesus We Need Is Not Found At The Manger, But At The Cross. 

We place a lot of emphasis on naming children.  Naming a new baby is a challenging process.  It’s hard to please everybody with a name.  Dad wants a name that will look good on the sports page, like Tua Waddle or Bo Patrick.  Mom selects a fashionable name and insists on no nicknames, something like Catherine or Benjamin or Cynthia.  Grandpa wants to use a hallowed family name from the past, like Horatio or Alonzo.  Aunt Phebe wants a name that reflects her culture, like Tranquility or Greenpeace or Mellow.  It’s a miracle of diplomacy that a name is ever chosen.  We want names that reflect character and potential, and hopefully fit the child.

But Mary and Joseph did not face the hassle of finding a name for their baby boy.  They didn’t have Joseph’s father saying, “You know, you should name that boy after your Great-Great-Great-Great grandfather Zadok.  I don’t know why our family hasn’t used that name more.”  That important matter was decided for them by God, and the message was delivered by an angel. 

Remember the story with me.  Joseph, a local carpenter, is deeply troubled. His fiancée Mary is pregnant, and he knows that he is not responsible.  She says it is the Lord’s doing, but Joseph is a practical fellow. Maybe he fears that she has been raped, perhaps by one of those hated Roman soldiers.

Maybe he thinks that she’s afraid that he will do something rash that will endanger his life.  She refuses to budge from her story. So he has decided to break the engagement quietly in order to limit the public disgrace.  He knows the community elders could have her stoned for adultery if he breaks the engagement.   His heart is breaking because I believe he loves her.

Absorbed in these sad thoughts, Joseph falls into a troubled sleep.  In that troubled sleep, he has a dream.  An angel tells him that Mary is telling the truth.  He is ordered to skip the balance of their one-year engagement, to go ahead and marry Mary right away.  In other words, Let The Gossips Talk! 

Then the angel revealed something else very important—the name of the baby and His title. “You shall name Him Jesus!”  And his title will be the one predicted by the prophet Isaiah some 800 years earlier—“Emmanuel—God With Us.”

The Name And The Title reveal what Christmas is all about.  Yeshua!  In the Hebrew it means God Delivers, Saves, And Rescues!  It’s The Perfect Name For The Perfect Gift for many reasons.  In the light of Advent, allow me to share with you 3 reasons why Jesus is the perfect name:

1.  It’s The Perfect Name For Hope!

There was no prophetic voice for over 400 years.  Heaven was quiet.  God seemed to be silent.  No one stepped forward with a Word from God.  Except for a brief period, they had been under foreign occupation and rule for nearly 600 years.  No voice from heaven and held captive, there was a struggle—the struggle for hope. 

When hope was obscured by years of fear and oppression, God spoke, not with words, but with a baby. John put it this way in 1:14 from the Message:  The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.  We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, generous inside and out, true from start to finish.

Jesus is the perfect name for Hope because He chose, out of His awesome love, To Move Into Our Neighborhood.  What does your neighborhood look like right now?  No, not the one where you house is located, but the one that surrounds your day to day living.  Are you living in the neighborhood of Fear?  Despair?  Chaos?  Confusion?  Addiction?  Loneliness?  Uncertainty?  Depression?  Shame?  Doubt?  Guilt? 

Listen, Someone else has moved into YOUR neighborhood and His name is Jesus—God Delivers, Saves, And Rescues!  He joins alongside us, giving us courage, determination, comfort, strength to move through and power to overcome.  Jesus broke through the silence and oppression then, and He still does it today.  That’s REAL Hope!  When Jesus moves into our neighborhood, there is always Hope!  Jesus Is The Perfect Name For Hope!

2.  It’s The Perfect Name For Joy!

There is a real problem in our culture today—people are wanting happiness, rather than Pursuing JoyThe Difference Between Happiness And Joy Is Clear:  Happiness Is Found In Some THING—Joy Is Discovered In Some ONE!  Happiness is built on the assumption that if we just had “that”—that amount of money, that relationship, that job, that other pastor, if we could get into that clique, if we had that car or that house—then we would be truly happy.  If we just had that Samsung 122” TV, or get that promotion, or get rid of that boss, or that spouse, then we would be happy.  The truth is, sometimes we manage to get those things, and for a time, we’re happy.  But when the new wears off, then we will start looking again for something That makes us happy.

On the other hand, Joy is discovered in Some ONE.  As someone once said, There’s A God Sized Hole In Every Heart And Only God Can Fill It!  Not just anyone, but the one who is named Jesus.  We are created for an intimate relationship with God.  Circumstances change, relationships change, material stuff wears out, breaks down and becomes obsolete, wealth comes and goes, even our health changes over time as I have so painfully discovered. 

But God is going to stay with you through thick and thin, ups and downs.  His Presence, Promises And Power are always Here and This rather than That, is what fills us with joy.  Because He Has forgiven us He can be trusted to be our Lord, because He gives us life now and eternal life later—Now That’s The Perfect Name For Joy. 

3.  It’s The Perfect Name For Love!

Love is more than words, much more.  Truth is—words are a cheap substitute because they lack the 2 key components of real love—the love that God gives.  John wrote in 1 John 3:18-19—Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions.  Our actions will show that we belong to the truth. 

God’s love is expressed in His heart and in His actions.  Words alone are shallow, but love that acts out of the heart is deep, lasting, and powerful enough to transform another person’s life.  Love Without Actions Is Shallow, And God Never Dwells In The Shallow Places, But In The Deepest Parts Of Our Heart.

Jesus set the pattern with His example.  Paul wrote in Galatians 5:13  But Christ has rescued us from the curse pronounced by the law.  When he was hung on the cross, he took upon himself the curse for our wrongdoing. For it is written in the Scriptures, “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” 

In 1873, Father Damien De Veuster voluntarily went to Molokai in the Hawaiian Islands.  Molokai was an isolation island for those with leprosy.  He helped improve their quality of life with a water system, a sanitation system and a clinic.  With help of the local lepers, they build a chapel where services were held every Sunday.  Every Sunday, Father Damien would begin his sermon by saying, You lepers know that God loves you.”  This went on for years. 

Finally, one Sunday Father Damien began his sermon this way:  “We lepers know that God loves us.”  Father Damien had contracted leprosy.  He was so busy taking care of them, he didn’t take the time to take care of himself with a simple task of washing his hands.  Yet he went on loving and serving until his death in 1898.

Jesus did not come in a disguise, He came in Real-Life-Flesh-And-Blood, the same stuff of you and me.  He ran, He played, He skinned his knees, laughed, swam, fished, cried, built tables, attended parties, felt anguish and heartache, laughed at jokes and told jokes.  He understands you because He experienced what you experience.  And why did He do that?  He Did It So That We Could Know That He Loves Us!

I want to take this love He has for you one step deeper.  Jesus does not say, You sinners know that God loves you.  Jesus does not say that, He says something much more, much deeper, with more love.  Jesus says to you and me, We sinners know that God loves us! 

I say this because the holiness of God demands justice—that the penalty for each and every sin MUST be paid IN FULL.  If we do not go to the Cross with our sins, and say, “This is the only place my sins can be forgiven”, then the gift hasn’t been received.  And if God accepts us without going through the Cross, Without the penalty being paid, God no longer remains Holy. 

While on that Cross, as Jesus was suspended between heaven and earth, between us sinners and the Holy God, the penalty of all sins—my sins, your sins, everyone’s sins—was placed on Jesus, and for that moment, Jesus became The Sinner.  Want a verse from the Bible to prove this?  2 Corinthians 5:21—“God put the wrong on him who never did anything wrong, so we could be put right with God.” (The Message)

And He did it for only one reason:  Love!  YeshuaGod Delivers, Saves, And RescuesIt’s the perfect name for the Perfect Gift—Yeshua — God Delivers, God Saves, And God RescuesIt Truly Is The Perfect Name For The Perfect Gift.  Have you accepted the Gift for yourself?  If not, how can you turn away from Him?  Do not give your heart to the Baby in the Manger.  Give your heart to The Man on the Cross.

As we approach Christmas, your Next Steps can be the most important ones of your life:

  • If you have never felt the shame of your sins, felt the despair that comes from the Penalty of those sins, you need to.  To know The Savior is to know we’re a sinner.
  • If you are struggling right now with that penalty—then struggle no more.  God Delivers, God Saves, And God Rescues!  And that, my friends is the Perfect Name for the Perfect Gift!

Finding The Perfect Gift: God’s Gift Is The Best In The Worst Times!

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, are only a small village among all the people of Judah.  Yet a ruler of Israel, whose origins are in the distant past, will come from you on my behalf. The people of Israel will be abandoned to their enemies until the woman in labor gives birth.  Then at last his fellow countrymen will return from exile to their own land. And he will stand to lead his flock with the Lord’s strength, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.  Then his people will live there undisturbed, for he will be highly honored around the world. 5 And he will be the source of peace.  When the Assyrians invade our land and break through our defenses, we will appoint seven rulers to watch over us, eight princes to lead us.

Micah 5:2-5

Today we are in the Second of our Advent Series we’re calling:  Finding The Perfect Gift.  In a season where people should be celebrating God’s gift of love by sharing gifts of love with each other, it seems so many are obsessed with finding that perfect gift.  We think of the perfect gift as the one that satisfies the desires of the heart.  Truth is the perfect gift has already been given; and found by  those who can recognize it:  Emmanuel, God With Us.  And this perfect gift comes to us even in, NO, Especially In The Worst Of Times.

These are difficult times.  Soldiers are still being scattered around the globe trying to bring peace, trying to end terrorist threats.  Washington D.C. who should be leading us forward, is spinning in circles.  For many, maybe even some of you, there is not much joy or hope in this Christmas Season.

On Hampton Plantation in coastal South Carolina, there was an elderly sharecropper, illiterate but very wise.  One of his favorite sayings was this:  If you ain’t in trouble, your prayers ain’t got no suction.”   The Bible declares that our impossibility is God’s opportunity.  God is found at your wit’s end, just when you need Him most, when you have run out of answers and almost out of hope.

The Old Testament prophets were not called in good times.  They were called up by God in times of crises.   Jesus did not visit this planet when we became good enough to receive him. The Bible says, “But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.”  He faced us at our worst, and loved us anyway, all the way to a cross.

If you can remember only 1 thing from today’s message, then this is it:  Those Who Enter This Holy Season With The Greatest Needs Stand The Best Chance Of Encountering The Messiah.  Jesus did not come to the healthy but to heal the sick.  His mission is not to round up the pious, but to draw in the worst.  If you are hurting or lost or spiritually hungry this season, the odds are in your favor that you will encounter Him.

What causes me to believe this?  I got it straight from an Old Testament prophet named Micah.  Here is yet another reason why I loathe what well-meaning editors and scholars have done to God’s Word. One reason is they put misleading “headings” above passages that obscure greater truths. Another reason is their use of the term “minor prophets”. No prophet is minor and neither are their messages. Case in point is Micah.

700 years before Jesus was born in Bethlehem, Micah was called by God to speak His word to the nation of Judah.  Though he was a simple farmer, he was outright fearless.  The national situation was awful:  morals were low, crime was raging, the government was immoral, the courts were corrupt, most organized religion was formalistic and cold, and the dominant religion was materialism.  Sounds just like today, doesn’t it.  To make matters worse, Judah was a tiny nation positioned dangerously between two hostile superpowers—Assyria and Egypt.  

They had as much security as a gambler’s dollar in Las Vegas.  At that critical moment, Micah attacked the nation’s sin.  But he did much more than that.  Inspired by God, he looked out into the future and said:  A Messiah will be born in tiny Bethlehem.  God is going to send someone great to us.  So, don’t despair.  God has good news coming!

Micah and his people could only look forward to the Messiah’s coming at some future date.  But it’s different for us.  We live in the excitement of A Bethlehem Manger, An Atoning Cross, And An Empty Tomb.  What Micah could only promise, we can receive and experience.  Look with me at the specific promises from Micah concerning the Messiah:

1.  In The Worst Of Times, The Messiah Will Restore Us.

If you can handle it, here’s the truth:  We Are All Broken Somewhere.  Somewhere We Need To Be Restored To The Person God Created Us To Become.

Being in a relationship with Him is more than making it a habit of coming to church for an hour or so on Sunday morning.  It’s more than saying before the meal:  “God is great God is good, let us thank him for our food.”  It’s more than saying at bedtime:  “Now I lay me down to sleep.”

  • It Is All About Intimacy—Knowing And Sensing The Nearness Of His Presence. 
  • It’s Living Out The Name Joseph Was Given To Name That Child—Emmanuel-God With Us.  God Offers Us More Than Nice Sounding Words Or Lofty Ideas And Virtues.  He Offers Us The Nearness Of Himself. 
  • And In The Worst Of Times—It Is That Holy Presence That Restores Us Where We Are Broken. 

Now, I’m about to meddle in your life:  What Are You Doing To Cultivate And Nurture That Nearness?  Are you spiritually hungry and thirsty this Christmas?  If so, Jesus wants to be for you The Bread Of Life and The Living Water.  Let the Messiah feed you during this Holy Season and all the seasons afterwards.  Invite him into your life as Savior and Lord.  Allowing God to restore you will be The Best Gift In The Worst Of Times.

2.  In The Worst Of Times, The Messiah Will Lead Us.

Do you feel insecure in this Advent season?  You do if your marriage is less than solid.  You do if your job is at risk.  You might if you or a loved one has a medical problem.  You might if you have lost a loved-one in the last year.  You might if you have had a lot of “stuff” to deal with.

Preacher and writer Dr. James Moore tells a story about a young man whose wife had died, leaving him with a small son.  Back home from the cemetery, they went to bed early because there was nothing else he could bear to do.  As he lay there in the darkness—heartbroken, the little boy broke the silence with a disturbing question, “Daddy, where is mommy?”  The father got up and brought the little boy to bed with him, but the child was still disturbed and restless, occasionally asking questions like “Why isn’t she here?” and “When is she coming back?” 

Finally, the little boy said, “Daddy, if your face is toward me, I think I can go to sleep now.”  And in a little while he was quiet.  The father lay there in the darkness, and then in childlike faith, prayed this prayer:  “O God, I don’t see how I can survive this.  The future looks so miserable.  But if your face is toward me, somehow I know I can make it.” 

That’s what the Messiah came to teach us:  That God’s Face Is Always Towards Us.  Let the Messiah replace your uncertainty this Advent with this bedrock conviction:  God And You Are In This Together.  Nothing can happen that God and you together cannot manage.  Nothing will ever be able to separate you from his love.  That is how He leads us.

3.  In The Worst Of Times, The Messiah Will Be Our Peace.

We need peace!  Inner War and turmoil is everywhere and it spans the globe. Some of the streets resemble a war zone as drugs, greed, poverty, and anger create an explosive mixture.  In America people yearn for inner stillness and the absence of turmoil.  So, they turn to alcohol, drugs, sex and anything else that will help them forget their pain, trouble and sense of chaos.

Peace is not placing a police officer on every street corner and U.N. Peacekeepers in every troubled nation.  

  • Peace comes when Jesus Christ washes sin from human hearts.
  • Peace comes when Jesus opens eyes so that people will see each other as brothers and sisters
  • Peace is a personal friendship with Jesus who said, I give you peace, the kind of peace that only I can give.  It isn’t like the peace that this world can give. So don’t be worried or afraid.  (John 14:27)
  • Listen to how The Message puts it:  That’s my parting gift to you.  Peace.  I don’t leave you the way you’re used to being left—feeling abandoned, bereft.  So don’t be upset.  Don’t be distraught.

During Advent, The People Who Most Often Meet The Messiah Are Those With The Greatest Needs.  It seems that Jesus seeks them out.  Just as Micah declared 700 years before Jesus’ birth, God’s best gifts are given in the worst of times.  

Are you experiencing the worst of times right now?  Do you need strength?  Is it security you hunger for?  Are you longing for a deep and lasting peace?  Ask Him for it. His Nature Is To Give It And So Much More.  The Messiah comes to us offering Himself as our gift.  When we accept the gift of the Messiah, it matches exactly Our Hurt, Our Fear, And Our Need.  When we tie our destiny to this Messiah-King, we can face whatever the future brings, knowing that we are more than conquerors through Christ who loves us.

Knowing the He will restore you, lead you, and give you peace, What are your Next Steps?

  1. Find Ways To Build People Up, Especially Those You Don’t Like.
  2. Seek The Power Of The Holy Spirit And Treat Him As A Real Person Because He Is.
  3. Be A Peace-Maker, Not A Peace Breaker.

Finding The Perfect Gift: A Gift Is On The Way!

1 Think of it this way.  If a father dies and leaves an inheritance for his young children, those children are not much better off than slaves until they grow up, even though they actually own everything their father had. 2 They have to obey their guardians until they reach whatever age their father set. 3 And that’s the way it was with us before Christ came.  We were like children; we were slaves to the basic spiritual principles of this world.

4 But when the right time came, God sent His Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. 5 God sent Him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children. 6 And because we are His children, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, “Abba, Father.” 7 Now you are no longer a slave but God’s own child.  And since you are His child, God has made you His heir.

Galatians 4:1-4 (NLT)

Did you hear about the man who got tired of the Christmas hoopla.  All the frantic rush and the commercialism was disgusting to him.  So, he decided not to go along with the crowd.  Among other things, he decided not to send Christmas cards, feeling that the expense and effort were non-productive.  For the first 10 days of December he felt good about his decision.  But then, as the mail brought him greetings from his friends, he began to feel guilty about not sending any cards.  4 days before Christmas, he couldn’t stand it any longer.  He rushed down to the drug store and grabbed the only box of cards still on the shelf.  He bought them, purchased stamps, rushed home, and addressed cards frantically all evening.  He addressed 49 cards.  He had one card left over which he tossed on the mantle. 

That same evening he drove down to the post office and mailed the cards.  The next day he was walking through the house and happened to see that extra card on the mantle.  It occurred to him that he had addressed and signed all those cards but had not actually read what the card said.  So, he grabbed the card and took a look. This is what it said:  “This cheery card has come to say:  A gift from us is on the way.”

For many, this is that frenzied time of trying to find the Perfect Gift.  This quest creates a lot of stress for many, maybe some of you.  But Advent Season is different.  The whole meaning of the Advent season is this:  God Has The Perfect Gift For Us.  The  reason we offer Christmas gifts to each other is to honor and reflect the only perfect gift ever offered—the gift of God through a Bethlehem baby named Jesus.

What makes a gift “The Perfect Gift”? 

  1. The Giver Puts Something Of Him Or Herself Into It And
  2. The Gift Is Suited To The Needs Of The Recipient.

That’s The Perfect Gift.  And if you can remember only one thing, this is it:  God Has The Perfect Gift For You.  When our loving God was thinking about this sin-scarred world that would be filled with warring, selfish, corrupted people, He had a plan.  God knew that if he sent 10,000 educators, the people would simply become more inventive in their evil.  God could have dropped tons of food to alleviate all hunger, but the people would have hoarded it rather than sharing it.  God could have sent a powerful general to clean up the mess by force.  As soon as the good general was gone, everything would deteriorate to business as usual.

And if you can remember only one thing, this is it:  God Has The Perfect Gift For You.  When our loving God was thinking about this sin-scarred world that would be filled with warring, selfish, corrupted people, He had a plan.  God knew that if he sent 10,000 educators, the people would simply become more inventive in their evil.  God could have dropped tons of food to alleviate all hunger, but the people would have hoarded it rather than sharing it.  God could have sent a powerful general to clean up the mess by force.  As soon as the good general was gone, everything would deteriorate to business as usual.

So, to give the perfect gift, God did not send a general or an educator or even a preacher.  God sent himself.  The late great preacher Wallace Hamilton put it this way, “God Came Walking Down The Stairway Of Heaven With A Baby In His Arms.” 

Paul expressed this message beautifully to the first-century church in Galatia.  Paul said that since the Fall, all people have been slaves to sin.  And we need someone to redeem us, to buy us out of that slavery.  The thing about trying to do enough to atone for our sins, is that it is never enough.  In the process of trying to cover over one sin, we discover that we have another sin to atone for.  And as we try to cover over for that sin, then there is another and another and another, ad nauseum.

We are all slaves to sin.  We are powerless to atone for it, and we certainly are powerless to stop it from happening again and again.  And when the time was both Right And Ripe, God sent the Gift that was prepared for us before the beginning of time.  We celebrate Advent to remember that God has declared: “The Perfect Gift is on the way.”   And we celebrate Holy Communion because we know that His gift has arrived, and is now among us.   The gift of Jesus is the Perfect Gift.  It is an assortment of the most needed items on earth.  Let me mention three:

1.  The Gift Brings Forgiveness. 

(Verse 5) God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children.

Forgiveness is absolutely powerful, life changing and soul-saving When It’s Given By Jesus.  Nothing is more powerful, more liberating and more empowering for us than to know that because of the Cross, Jesus has forgiven us. 

Tony Campolo tells a story that happened when he was about 7 years old.  They were sitting in church.  As the Communion Service was about to begin, the preacher read from 1 Corinthians 11:27, Whosoever shall eat the bread and drink the cup of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.  There was a young woman sitting in front of them who began to cry uncontrollably.  As the plate with the bread was handed to her, she waved in on, then lowered her head in despair, as if there was some sin she couldn’t find relief from.  Campolo said his Dad leaned forward and sternly said in broken English, “Take it, girl!  It was meant for you!”

Sin goes too deep into the human heart for superficial cures.  Only the spirit of the living Christ can free us from sin and teach us to forgive ourselves and others.  It’s a miracle made possible by the Cross that happens each time one of us says to God with all our heart, “I’m so sorry.  I’m not worthy, but please forgive me!”

2.  The Gift Brings A Heart Transplant.

(Verse 6) And because we are his children, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, “Abba, Father.”

We must have a heart transplant.  Not the surgical variety.  I am talking about the change of Values, Attitudes, And Will.  It happens because of Christ living in us.  He takes up residence in the deepest parts of us.  He will never reside in the shallow places of our heart.  He will live only in the deepest places, regardless of what it looks like right now.  Transformation only begins from those deepest places inside our hearts.  Superficial changes are useless.  Only Jesus living in the deepest parts of our heart brings the transformation we must have.

In that presence we find the strength to do all those things we are created to do.  In that presence we find the strength to keep from doing those things we know are sinful and self-destructive.  We have a new heart because we have a new relationship with God!

A Harvard education is wonderful, but it alone will not touch the heart to change our Values, Attitudes, And Will.  You can take all of the Dale Carnegie courses but still not touch the Values, the Attitudes, and the Will.  But when Jesus becomes not only your Savior, but the Lord of your life, He creates a new heart that changes, The Values, The Attitudes And The Will

Paul hits the bullseye when he wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:17:, This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!  Only He changes us from the inside out; and it happens through The Gift.  What we cannot do in or for ourselves He is able to do.  The miracle of the Gift is that when we allow Him, He gives us a completely new heart that changes our values, our attitudes, and our will.

3.  The Gift Brings Eternal Life!

(Verse 7) Now you are no longer a slave but God’s own child.  And since you are His child, God has made you His heir.

Our heavenly reservations were made that moment when we repent of our sins and genuinely Believe In Jesus As Our Savior And Follow Him As Our Lord.  When we dare to step out in faith and claim Jesus as Savior and Lord, we don’t have to wonder where we will spend eternity.  When we die and reach heaven’s gates, our future is secure, because of our faith in Jesus and our love for Him.  The mark of Christ will be visible upon us.  His righteousness will cover us and the gates of heaven will be wide open for us. 

God doesn’t leave us to wonder about or to hope maybe we get it right to get into heaven.  The seal of love is on and there is no doubt, no maybe—Eternal Life is guaranteed and it’s all because one day God said, A Gift Is On The Way.  Why did God do it?  The answer is clear in that most beloved verse in our Bible: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that whoever believes on him should not perish but have eternal life.” And This Truth Frees Us To Live Abundantly In The Here And Now!

People who do not have inner peace have inner war; a war between their selfish desires and the ways of God.  When a person becomes a Follower of Jesus, our personal world changes, because we surrender to Jesus.  The consequence of the surrender is that Jesus sends an inner composure nothing on earth nor in hell can touch. “I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give.  So don’t be troubled or afraid.” (John 14:27)

So, there you have it—and why you need to accept God’s Perfect Gift: forgiveness, a heart transplant, and eternal life.   These are the world’s most needed gifts!  No wonder Phillips Brooks wrote in his Christmas carol, “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”

We celebrate Advent, to remember that God has said that The Gift is on the way.   And we celebrate Communion because we know that His gift has arrived, and is now among us.   The Bethlehem Christ-child, born to die on Calvary’s Cross, is the ultimate expression of love. He is the only perfect gift the world has ever known.  Have you accepted that gift?

This is your homework this week, and the Next Steps as we think about The Perfect Gift:

This Week Answer this Question: “Where is Jesus in these places?”

  1. Your Calendar?
  2. Your Purpose?
  3. Your Desires?

These places reveal if HE is your Lord, or just a crutch. If Jesus has just been a crutch for you, God has a better Gift for you!

A Tailgating Kind Of Thanksgiving!

1 Shout with joy to the Lord, all the earth!
    2 Worship the Lord with gladness.  Come before Him, singing with joy.
 3 Acknowledge that the Lord is God!  He made us, and we are His.  We are His people, the sheep of His pasture.
 4 Enter His gates with thanksgiving; go into His courts with praise.  Give thanks to Him and praise His name.
 5 For the Lord is good.  His unfailing love continues forever, and His faithfulness continues to each generation.

Psalm 100 (NLT)

In the state of Alabama there are 3 topics that must be avoided at all costs when in a group of more than one.  Religion, politics, and football; especially college football.  College football is more than a sport or pastime in our state.  It’s on the level of time travel and quantum physics.  The entire future of the universe hinges on whether their team wins or loses.  But there is something else I’ve noticed about College Football.  There is a sacred ritual that is deeply connected with it.  And that ritual is this:  Tailgating!  Now, for you unfortunate souls who may not be acquainted with this sacred ritual, I am going to give you a quick digest of it.  I would not have enough time this morning to go into the depths of all that this ritual involves.

For the serious fan, you just don’t show up as the gates open up.  You come early that morning and some even days before.  It truly falls into the realm of religious experiences.  You have the altar of fire, otherwise known as a grill.  On that altar of fire, great sacrifices are offered up; things like hotdogs, hamburgers, chicken, pork loins, briskets, steaks, seafood, chicken; you name it.  You will even find some folks celebrating something similar to communion, with the bread and some liquid in a red solo cup. 

Your spot has your team’s liturgical colors along with many signs and symbols of your team.  Everyone is in a great mood.  Excitement abounds and celebrations are everywhere.  And the game hasn’t even started yet.  Now most of you know I think a bit different from most folks.  But I have to ask this question:  I Wonder How Our World Would View The Message Of The Church, If On Sunday Morning People Drove By And Saw Christians Having Tailgate Parties? 

Well, minus certain forms of liquid refreshments.  I mean we could have coffee and tea, orange juice, Pepsi, Mt. Dew, and Coca Colas.  You could have flags with the cross on it; banners with doves on them; music going; people talking, laughing, and full of excitement.  I mean, can you imagine what non-church goers, non-Christians would think?  I can just imagine one of them pulling into our parking lot with looks of bewilderment.  They come up to your tailgating spot and ask, “Uh, what’s going on?” 

So you grab a plate, take some of whatever is on the grill; get them a glass of tea and say, “Jesus is going on!  He loves us so much that He left His throne in heaven to be born just like us.  He grew up to be a common man and as a man, He died on the Cross.  He didn’t have any sins of His own, so He took on everybody’s sins.  Told the Father, ‘I’ll pay the price for them.’  Then Jesus rose from the dead, went back up to heaven and sent back down the Holy Spirit to let us know how much He loves us.  And in just a little while, see those doors over there, they are going to open up and I get to WORSHIP this God who loves me so much.  Man, I can’t wait!”  And then some cheerleaders come up shouting, “Gimme a J; Gimme a E; Gimme a S; Gimme a U; Gimme a S.  What’s that spell?  JESUS!  Who loves you the most?  JESUS!  Who gives you life?  JESUS!  And in the end, who’s gonna win?  JESUS!”  Can you imagine what those who distrust, even dislike the church would think?  Some of you may think I am being irreligious and disrespectful to our heritage and traditions. 

But it seems to me, that the Pharisees thought the same thing about Jesus.    And maybe, just maybe having tailgate parties in the parking lot is a bit extreme, at least for some, but here’s the point God wants us to get, and get it right and it’s the One Thing You Need To RememberGod Wants His People To Be Passionate About This Life In Christ!  Passion for Jesus unlocks the code for having a thankful heart 365 days a year; and 366 days in Leap Years.

For This Life In Christ To Have Any Meaning For Us, And If We Are Going To Share With Others This Life In Christ, Then There Needs To Be A Sense Of Excitement And Anticipation In Us.  It comes from the deep realization that everything God has done, everything God is doing, and everything that God will do for us, through us and in us comes from His unimaginable love for us revealed in this mystery of Grace

God freely lavishes His extravagant and outrageous love for us.   And in return for this mystery of this unmerited favor, all God asks from us is to surrender each moment of our ordinary day-to-day life as an offering to Him.  He doesn’t ask us to earn His love because we won’t.  He doesn’t ask us to understand His love because we can’t.

All God asks of us is that we accept, live in, and share with others His love, and invite others to do the same by telling YOUR story of grace.  Think about it, this should make life exciting.  Yet Sunday after Sunday so many enter God’s sanctuary out of a sense of duty rather that this Tailgating Kind of Thankfulness

When we try to live out the life of grace from a sense of duty rather than this Tailgating Kind of Thankfulness, it zaps the energy right out of us.  And the world sees it and make up their minds, “Well, if that’s what a Christian looks like, I can do without it.”  And So Can I.  And who blames them.  If we walk into the sanctuary looking like we’re mad at the world and walk out relieved that it’s finally over, I wouldn’t want a life like that!  In fact, I’m not settling for that kind of life, and God doesn’t want you to either.

If living this life in Christ has become a burden to you, if you are not excited about this relationship of love and grace, then something has gone wrong, and the key to the recovery of the joy and excitement is found right here in Psalm 100.  The Psalmist tells us that to live every moment with that Tailgating Kind Of Thankfulness, there are 4 elements that are guaranteed to put the zest back into your life.

1.  The First Element Is Delight! 

“Shout with joy to the Lord, all the earth!” (Verse 1)

Here is a worshiper who feels absolutely no sense of duty about worship, but finds Exhilaration In Worship.  Take Delight in the fact that God loves you.  Let His love give you the satisfaction and contentment that is so often missing in action in your day to day life.  To Take Delight In God’s Grace Means We Become Captivated And Overwhelmed By This Undeserved Favor.  Don’t feel bad that God loves you.  Exalt that love.  Relish that love. 

Be happy that God loves you.  Get excited about God’s love.  Some folks say, “Well, I would rather be mature than have a childish excitement.”  Well, God would rather you have childlike excitement because Jesus said the Kingdom belongs to children.  Live every day as if there is an adventure, a discovery awaiting you, because it is!

2.  The Second Element Is Joy! 

(Verse 2)  Worship the Lord with gladness.  Come before him, singing with joy.

Facial expressions tell a lot about a person, and the absence of joy in our faces reveals an absence of love and faith in our hearts.  I know that everything doesn’t work out the way we want.  I know that there are times full of fear and pain, heartache and loneliness.  God doesn’t promise His people they will be exempt from these experiences. 

But God does promise this:  That You Can Count On Him Being With Us Through It All.  It’s easy to whine, it’s easy to be fearful, because that’s what Satan wants us to do.  Every whining moment, every fearful moment, every moment we spend focusing on the pain of what’s happened or worse—what might happen—is a moment we withdraw from God’s presence. 

Joy Is Not Rooted In What Is Happening Around Us, But Rooted In All That God Is Doing In Us, For Us, Through Us And With Us.  Worship Is Meant To Be Full Of Joy.  And worship is not something we do just on Sunday.  Worship means we honor God with our work and recreation.  Our whole life is meant to be an act of worship.  God doesn’t want sad faces in worship.  He wants joyful faces.

3.  The Third Element Is Dependence! 

(Verse 3)  Acknowledge that the Lord is God!  He made us, and we are His.  We are His people, the sheep of His pasture.

The Message puts it like this:  “Know this: God is God, and God, God. He made us; we didn’t make Him.”  As I understand it, the original Hebrew would be something like this:  Yahweh is God, God is Yahweh.  Why is this important?  Remember that Yahweh means “I Am”!  The sovereign God has created us and has chosen to love us and offers to take care of us. 

God wants to be involved in every aspect of your life.  He wants to be with you in every moment; the highs and the lows, the good and the bad, the wonderful and the horrible.  And He wants to do more than BE with you.  He wants to help you, but He can’t until you give Him back that one gift He gave you:  Your free-will.  God will woo you, plead with you, draw you to Himself, but He will not violate your choice to reject Him. 

Allow Him to change your life—to change the things you can’t change or don’t want to change.  The Reason He Changes Our Life Is So That We Can Become Who We Are Created To Be.  Live in the confidence that if you depend on God, He will always be with you, He will always have your best interests at heart, and He will always take care of you.

4.  The Fourth Element Is Gratitude! 

(Verse 4)  Enter His gates with thanksgiving; go into His courts with praise.  Give thanks to Him and praise His name.

To nurture a real spirit of gratitude, you begin with thanking God that HE IS God!  We think thanksgiving means listing all the things God has done for us.  And make no mistake about it—God does so much that is marvelous, amazing and wonderful. 

But before you list all those things, focus on the reality of God.  If we make giving thanks all about what He does for us, we will become fickle.  Sometimes God doesn’t do the things we want or think He should do.  Then we begin comparing our lives to others and feel like we are missing out, and we are convinced that it’s God’s fault.

Focus your heart and mind on God—Who Exists And Dwells In Immeasurable Glory And Holiness—Who Isn’t Just Powerful But ALL Powerful—Who Can Speak A Word And Create—Whose Awesome Presence Causes Angels To Bow In Worship And Lift Their Voices In Praise. 

Be Grateful That God IS God, Because Radiating From The Very Core Of God Is Pure, Unadulterated, Unpolluted Love!  And the object and desire of His love???  You!  Gratitude is lifting our hearts and voices in praise that this indescribably Eternal Holy God has broken into the limitations of our space and time and died for us, so that we might know that of everything God is, above it all is this—He Is Love

And the way we can live in a Tailgating Kind Of Thankfulness is to come to the realization that His love never changes and will never go away.  (Verse 5)  For the Lord is good.  His unfailing love continues forever, and His faithfulness continues to each generation.  Now that you know God’s Love is unchangeable—maybe a tailgate party isn’t such a weird idea.  But better yet, why not surrender your heart, mind, and each moment of your life to Him.  I believe we can reach more people for Jesus here when we claim for ourselves this exuberant, passionate life of Thanks Giving.

And here is your Next Step:

Find Your Voice Of Joy!

Sing a little louder in here—and a whole lot louder out there.  When you look at the culture of society, the culture of politics, the culture of economics—there’s not much joy—if any.  But If You Look To God—Look At Jesus—Watch The Holy Spirit At Work—Now There’s Great Joy—And A Tailgate Party I Want To Join.  How about you?

When Jesus returns one day, He is going to gather all His people into one place. I know that Jesus described it as a marriage banquet. It was an image that the people He spoke to could understand. For me, it’s going to be the Biggest Tailgate Party ever. I want to be there, how about you?

Mason Jars, Flashlights, And God!

(This is the last message in the series, “How To Change The Culture”

9-12 That night, God told Gideon:  “Get up and go down to the camp.  I’ve given it to you.  If you have any doubts about going down, go down with Purah your armor bearer; when you hear what they’re saying, you’ll be bold and confident.”   He and his armor bearer Purah went down near the place where sentries were posted.  Midian and Amalek, all the easterners, were spread out on the plain like a swarm of locusts.  And their camels! Past counting, like grains of sand on the seashore! 13 Gideon arrived just in time to hear a man tell his friend a dream.  He said, “I had this dream:  A loaf of barley bread tumbled into the Midianite camp.  It came to the tent and hit it so hard it collapsed.  The tent fell!” 14 His friend said, “This has to be the sword of Gideon son of Joash, the Israelite!  God has turned Midian—the whole camp!—over to him.” 15 When Gideon heard the telling of the dream and its interpretation, he went to his knees before God in prayer.  Then he went back to the Israelite camp and said, “Get up and get going!  God has just given us the Midianite army!” 16-18 He divided the three hundred men into three companies.  He gave each man a trumpet and an empty jar, with a torch in the jar.  He said, “Watch me and do what I do.  When I get to the edge of the camp, do exactly what I do.  When I and those with me blow the trumpets, you also, all around the camp, blow your trumpets and shout, ‘For God and for Gideon!’” 19-22 Gideon and his hundred men got to the edge of the camp at the beginning of the middle watch, just after the sentries had been posted.  They blew the trumpets, at the same time smashing the jars they carried.  All three companies blew the trumpets and broke the jars.  They held the torches in their left hands and the trumpets in their right hands, ready to blow, and shouted, “A sword for God and for Gideon!”  They were stationed all around the camp, each man at his post.  The whole Midianite camp jumped to its feet.  They yelled and fled.  When the three hundred blew the trumpets, God aimed each Midianite’s sword against his companion, all over the camp.  They ran for their lives—to Beth Shittah, toward Zererah, to the border of Abel Meholah near Tabbath. 23 Israelites rallied from Naphtali, from Asher, and from all over Manasseh.  They had Midian on the run. 24 Gideon then sent messengers through all the hill country of Ephraim, urging them, “Come down against Midian!  Capture the fords of the Jordan at Beth Barah.”25 So all the men of Ephraim rallied and captured the fords of the Jordan at Beth Barah.  They also captured the two Midianite commanders Oreb (Raven) and Zeeb (Wolf).  They killed Oreb at Raven Rock; Zeeb they killed at Wolf Winepress.  And they pressed the pursuit of Midian.  They brought the heads of Oreb and Zeeb to Gideon across the Jordan. Judges 7:9-25 (The Message)

Gideon’s Culture needed to be changed, and only God could change his Culture.  Remember the same holds true today for us.  And now everything is in place that God can use to bring Change.

And never forget that God chose the least and the weakest for this project.  Then He sifted and He tested.  Now the battle that will change everything is about to happen.  I need you to think about all the weapons of war that the Midianites and their allies had.

The Midianites Were The Current World Power And You Don’t Become A World Power Unless Your Weapons Are The Most Powerful Weapons Around.  (Remember This Statement Because We’ll Come Back To This Later!) 

Do you think Gideon and his army had those kinds of weapons?  I don’t think so.  Remember they were a people who had been reduced to starvation.  They had been one of those peoples that the Midianites had been intimidating and plundering.  

If they had the weapons to beat them back, don’t you think they would have already done it?  But they haven’t because they did not think neither themselves nor their weapons were stronger than their weapons.  So They Lived Defeated And Intimidated Life.  But things are about to change.  For the Culture To Change, there needs to be a plan; and what a Plan it is—and it’s absolutely insane to the world.

The Plan is to use a jar, a torch and a horn.  They divide into 3 groups and on cue from Gideon, they smash their jars in unison, raise their torch with their left arm in unison, and holding their horn with their right hand, they blow those horns in unison.  Then, in unison, they shout:  “A sword for the Lord and for Gideon!” 

Excuse me, but I have to ask:  Where’s The Sword?  Left hand holds a torch.  Right hand holds a horn.  They’ve run out of hands.  So where is the sword?  In the belt around their waist.  They don’t need it.  Down in the Valley of Jezreel, there’s panic and pandemonium, chaos and confusion, disorder and disarray. 

They are turning on each other, killing each other and then running away.  And God did exactly what God said He would to Gideon.  “I will fight for you!  It will be so easy, even a caveman can do it!”  300 took on over 60,000 armed only with a Mason Jar, A Flashlight, And God.  And Gideon’s Culture changed through Mason Jars, Flashlights, And God.  Here’s the one thing you need to remember about how to be used for the God-Sized Task of changing your CultureTo change your Culture, it takes a Mason jar, a flashlight, and God.  I’ll explain it like this:

1.  You And I Are The Mason Jars.

God uses ordinary jars.  God could do it without any help from us.  Not a problem for God.  But God chooses to use His Image Bearers.  And He doesn’t choose based on the external measurements.  Admit it:  You think it really takes extraordinary people to be Culture Changers.  That’s because the emphasis is placed on the external measurements.  That’s not how God works.  It’s not the outer appearance that matters—it’s what’s in the jar that matters.

And the jars have to be empty, so that He can fill them with His power. 

2 Cor. 4:7 (NLT)—We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves. 

People who are full of themselves don’t have room for God.  People Who Admit They Are Empty Are The Ones Who Become Full Of God!

Remember that those jars were broken, and we need to be broken.  We have to allow God to use us the way God wants to use us, and not the way we want to be used.  The Broken Mason Jars set God’s Plan in motion.  Without the broken jars, the Plan doesn’t work.

2.  Jesus Is The Flashlight That Will Shatter The Darkness In Our Culture.

 This world will not be changed by force.  Too many wars have proven this true.  It’s all about Jesus and what He is doing in our life. 

John 8:12 (NLT)—I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life. 

Our Culture is just like that Army in the Valley of Jezreel—it’s in total darkness.  What our Culture needs above everything else is The Light!  In the darkness, they are fighting each other.  And WE need to stop fighting each other.

It Is Jesus, Just Jesus, All Jesus! (Say it again!  Say it with me!)  If you want your world to change, let your world see Jesus in you, in your words, your attitudes and your actions!

3. The Horns Are All About God, Not Us.

When Gideon’s 300 blew their horns, it wasn’t about music.  It was an announcement.  Horns had many uses back then, but the most important one was The Announcement—The Announcement that the King was there and had something important to say.  We need to announce to our world that the King of Kings is here and He has something to say, something important.  And what He has to say it this:

Luke 4:18-19 (NLT)—“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, for He has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.  He has sent Me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.”

If you don’t have a message—if you don’t have The Right Message—this Culture will continue to spin out of control; and it will make Chernobyl seem like spilled milk.  The damage continues to mount, and the casualties are piling up. 

But if you follow Jesus—You Have The Message That God Wants This Culture To Hear And To See Through You.  Here’s The Message that Will Change The Culture:

  • No One Has To Live As Sin’s Slave!
  • No One Has To Live In Fear!
  • No One Has To Be Consumed By Hate!
  • No One Has To Stumble In The Moral Darkness!
  • No One Has To Be Chained To What Used To Be!
  • Anyone Can Be Born Again, Have A Fresh Start In Life!

And God wants to use you—your voice and your life—to offer our world the one thing it can never find.  To find what Gideon, his clan and tribe had lost!  And that is Hope! 

God wants to use you to radically transform this Culture into The Kingdom Of God; and to lead people to Jesus and make new disciples.  You don’t have to know the 3 questions to ask a lost person.  You don’t have to memorize the Roman’s Roadmap to Heaven. 

Tell them what Jesus has done in your life.  Tell them what Jesus is doing in your life.  And for heaven’s sake, tell them what Jesus will do in your life; and That He Will Do The Same In Their Life.

Only The Message Of Jesus Will Transform The Culture—And It Is The Only Message That Has The Power To Transform This Culture!  If you don’t think so, then why in world are you even here?

Test time—do you recall what I asked you to remember near the beginning of this message?  Here it is:  They Were The Current World Power And You Don’t Become A World Power Unless Your Weapons Are The Most Powerful Weapons Around. 

The reason churches are not making a difference in the world is because they don’t realize that WE Have The Most Powerful Weapon Around—The Risen Lord Living In Us! 

But don’t overlook what happened just before the battle.  Gideon was still afraid.  Look at Judges 7:10-15—But if you are afraid to attack, go down to the camp with your servant Purah.  Listen to what the Midianites are saying, and you will be greatly encouraged. Then you will be eager to attack.”  Gideon crept up just as a man was telling his companion about a dream.  The man said, “I had this dream, and in my dream a loaf of barley bread came tumbling down into the Midianite camp.  It hit a tent, turned it over, and knocked it flat!”  His companion answered, “Your dream can mean only one thing—God has given Gideon son of Joash, the Israelite, victory over Midian and all its allies!”  When Gideon heard the dream and its interpretation, he bowed in worship before the Lord.  Then he returned to the Israelite camp and shouted, “Get up!  For the Lord has given you victory over the Midianite hordes!”

And we have come full circle to where we started.  It’s about God doing it through you.  And it begins with a relationship that can happen only because of what Jesus did for you and me on that cross.

  • God changed the Jewish world with that Cross. 
  • God changed the Roman world with that Cross. 
  • When darkness swept across Europe, God changed the Dark Ages with that Cross. 
  • When England was dull, stuffy, empty ritual, God changed their world with that Cross. 

And don’t you think He will change OUR world with that very same Cross?  And if you are afraid, God will do for you just as he did for Gideon.  And the Lessons from Gideon, are the Lessons God has for us today.

Here is your Next Step:

Decide today that you are tired of this culture, and that you believe God has The Message that will end your Turmoil, Anxiety, and Unrest that is infecting your culture and the culture around you.

When Not Enough Is Too Many!

Let’s do a quick review.  This series has been about how we can be a part of the God-Sized Task of Changing The Culture, and we are looking at Gideon for our pattern.  Remember the definition of this word Culture:  Culture Is The Attitudes, Values And Morals Shared By People In A Particular Place And Time.

  1. Attitudes shape how we see life
  2. Values determine what is important and what’s not important
  3. Morals declare what is right or wrong

They needed their culture to be changed.  Gideon’s culture was filled with the oppression of the Midianites.  No one was strong enough to stop these marauders, muggers, and murderers.  This was a God-Sized Task.  The Hebrews cried out to God for help and God started looking for the right kind of person for such a God sized task—and it was Gideon.  And here is why: 

1. Rather than Gideon doing it through God, it would be God doing it through Gideon;

2. He got rid of his Asherah Pole, things that he thought gave him power and held power over him.

 3.  Gideon looked for the signs that God would do this through him, and our signs that God will do this through us are the Cross, the Resurrection and the Holy Spirit. 

4.  And last week we hit the pause button for perspective and clarity.  Gideon operated out of his faith rather than through his circumstances—by seeing an opportunity rather than a problem. 

Now we come down to the preparation for battle.  This moment is Crucial; So Crucial That Success Or Failure Lies In The Balance.  And the same holds true for us if we are going to be part of God changing OUR Culture.  Let’s pick up the story in Judges 7:1-8 (NLT)

So Jerub-baal (that is, Gideon) and his army got up early and went as far as the spring of Harod.  The armies of Midian were camped north of them in the valley near the hill of Moreh. The Lord said to Gideon, “You have too many warriors with you.  If I let all of you fight the Midianites, the Israelites will boast to me that they saved themselves by their own strength.  Therefore, tell the people, ‘Whoever is timid or afraid may leave this mountain and go home.’”  So 22,000 of them went home, leaving only 10,000 who were willing to fight.

But the Lord told Gideon, “There are still too many!  Bring them down to the spring, and I will test them to determine who will go with you and who will not.”  When Gideon took his warriors down to the water, the Lord told him, “Divide the men into two groups. In one group put all those who cup water in their hands and lap it up with their tongues like dogs. 

In the other group put all those who kneel down and drink with their mouths in the stream.”  Only 300 of the men drank from their hands.  All the others got down on their knees and drank with their mouths in the stream.

The Lord told Gideon, “With these 300 men I will rescue you and give you victory over the Midianites.  Send all the others home.”  So Gideon collected the provisions and rams’ horns of the other warriors and sent them home. 

But he kept the 300 men with him.  The Midianite camp was in the valley just below Gideon.

There are more people than you can shake a stick at in the Valley of Jezreel.  It was bad enough with just the Midianites; now there are 3 times as many people.  There may have been as many as 60,000 or more in the Valley of Jezreel.  Do you know what the name Jezreel means?  It means “God who sows.”  To the average Hebrew it probably looked like God has sown seeds of destruction against them. 

Be honest, how many of you have felt the same way?  Ever felt like God’s hand was against you?  You wonder to yourself, or even out loud:  “God, where are you?  Don’t you see what’s going on?  Don’t you care how I feel?”  This is where Gideon was emotionally, spiritually, and physically.  He is at the place where God sows and it looks like God has sown the seeds of fear and destruction.

But now he has an army of 32,000 warriors.  They are still outnumbered—at least 2 to 1—but Gideon is cool.  Gideon knows that God is with him and God has given him the signs of assurance and reassurance.  Now he thinks the time has come to act and if Gideon is a real person he probably has some butterflies in his stomach, but that’s OK.  God is with him.  But God still isn’t ready to act. 

If his faith hasn’t been stretched enough, God stretches it some more.  “You’ve got too many warriors.”  The butterflies are probably gone now because his stomach is in a knot.  “Excuse me God, outnumbered 2-1 and there are too many?  Why don’t you trim down their army?  How about making my job a little easier instead of harder?”  Have you ever asked God to make your life a little easier?  But God has a reason.  He doesn’t always tell us His reasons, but this time He does:  “If I let all of you fight the Midianites, then they will brag about how they did it all!”

Have you ever done something for the church that God blessed but you said, “Look at what I did!  This is MY ministry.  I worked hard and look at the results!”  Or have you ever been in a really tight place where you were struggling and thought you were going down for the count but God delivered you?  Instead of giving God ALL the glory, you said, “Man, if it hadn’t been for MY faith and MY wisdom I would have been a goner!  But I got through it!”  We must always be on guard against the temptation to take the credit that belongs only to God.  To help keep them And Us from taking any of the credit, God does 2 things:  a sifting and then a testing. 

1.  First There Is A Sifting

Anyone here know what sifting is?  It’s taking something such as flour and passing it through a sieve or like a wire screen to remove the lumps from the flour.  It’s getting rid of the things that get in the way that thwarts or distorts the intended purpose.  OK, It Gets Rid Of What Messes Up What’s Going On! 

God’s sifting comes this way:  “All those who are timid or afraid, exit stage left.”  That word for “Timid” means to be consumed Not By What IS, But What MIGHT Be.  They haven’t gone into battle yet, but God has guaranteed victory.  But they are consumed by what might be, and what might be?  They might be defeated.  They might be killed by the Midianites. 

And that word for “Afraid” means literally Trembling Because You’re Consumed With What “Might” Be.   And 22,000 left even before God revealed His Glory, Power and Majesty!  I’m going to get really annoying with this question:  Have You Ever Left The Battlefield Before The Battle Started And Missed Seeing His Glory, Power And Majesty?

Here’s my take on this:  It wasn’t their fear of the Midianites and their allies that made them leave.  Their fear wasn’t in the Valley or in their head—it was in their heart.  I Believe They Were Afraid That God Would Not Come Through For Them

Don’t you think Gideon told them about what happened in the pit?  Don’t you think Gideon told them about what happened to the fleece?  Don’t you think that the assurance and reassurance God gave to Gideon that he gave it to them?  I won’t be too hard on the 22,000.  Maybe they thought that God would do it through Gideon, but not through them.  Perhaps they thought ordinary people couldn’t do something like this—only extraordinary people could.

Have you ever felt that way?  That God would use someone else to change the culture, but that He surely couldn’t use someone like you?  Ever felt like there’s too much shame, guilt, or failure in your life?  That’s The Fear!  Fear That God’s Grace Is Not Big Enough For You.  And so you go back home Sunday after Sunday.  But God’s grace IS big enough for you. 

OK, back to the story.  Now Gideon’s army is down to 10,000.  At first they were outnumbered at least 2 to 1, and now they are outnumbered at least 6 to 1.  I would imagine by now that the knot in Gideon’s stomach has eased up, and the butterflies are coming back in.  God has stretched his faith twice.  Now they are ready to fight.  Right?  Wrong!  God tells Gideon, “You Still Have Too Many!”  Gideon thinks it time to fight, but God is still doing stretching exercises.  If I had been Gideon then, I would have been thinking, “Well, now what, God?  The fearful are gone, who else needs to leave?  Excuse me, God, but have you ever heard of Gen. George Custer?” 

2.  Second There Is A Testing

God tells Gideon, “I will test them for you.”  He didn’t tell Gideon to Test them.  God determines who can be used, not us.  That word Test is rich.  It means to smelt or refine.  It’s what a silversmith does before they make their jewelry.  Today that is done through the use of chemicals and electricity.  Back then it was done with heat.  If it didn’t stay in the heat long enough, it lacked quality and was worth far less.  If it stayed too long, it resisted the master craftsman work.  Even though 10,000 were not terrified, they needed to still have other impurities removed from their hearts.  They need a test.

God tests them in a simple way.  He tells Gideon “Tell everyone it’s time for a water break.  Watch how they drink. Put the ones who get down on their hands and knees to drink on one side, and the ones who cup their hands to drink on the other side.  The ones who cup their hands and drink, there’s your army!”  Why this test?  I think I know why.  Those who drink from their hands are alert to what’s going on around them.  They can see more than those who are down on their hands and knees drinking out of the river.

And this same principle holds true today.  We can get down on our hands and knees and moan about how bad we have it.  When we get down on our hands and knees and all we see is our own reflection.  We can’t see God at work. 

Now there are only 300 left.  Start with 32,000 subtract 22,000 timid and fearful and subtract 9,700 clueless = and you have 300 Culture Changers.   And God says, “Now, we’ve got the right number!”  300 versus over 60,000.  Outnumbered 200 to 1.  Do you feel like that in your culture?  You want to witness to others about Jesus but you feel outnumbered and outgunned!  But God does His best work in this kind of environment. 

And Here is the one thing you need to remember: 

God Uses The Sifted And The Tested!

We need to allow God to sift us—to get rid of the timidity and fear that can paralyze us.  What are you afraid of?  What makes you tremble with terror?  You must allow God to sift that stuff, that junk, out of you.  We need to get rid of our pride and arrogance. 

We need to be tested, refined to get rid of the things and attitudes that prevent us from completely trusting in God’s Promise, Presence, and Provision.  We need to be alert and sensitive to what God is doing every day.  And God is at work, we just need to be in a position to see His work. 

Notice carefully what Gideon does next.  He sends the rest home, but before they leave, he takes their provisions and horns.  Why?  Well If They Weren’t Alert To What God Was Doing, Then Leave It For Those Who Are Alert To God’s Activity.  Jesus’ parable in Matthew 25 about the talents wasn’t new.  Here it is in real life—take from the ones who aren’t aware and give to those who are.  Yes, God is gracious and merciful.  He’s always ready to forgive and give us a fresh start. 

But if we are not in tune, in sync with God when God acts, He’s not going to waste what He has given you.  He will give your place, your service, your worship, your gifts to another who IS in tune and in sync with Him.  Now We’re Ready For The Game Plan, And YOUR Next Step:  The Next Steps are the 2 questions that has been filling this place even before you arrived here: 

  1.   What is it in your life that is keeping you from unconditionally trusting The Father?  Allow Him to get rid of the stuff that is getting in the way.
  2.   Are you really alert and aware of what’s going on?  God is looking for those who will always be on the lookout for what God is doing. 

Be honest, are YOU that person?  God is going to change this place and community, even if those who are ready are outnumbered 200 to 1.  It takes absolute and complete surrender to Him.  What Are You Holding Back From God’s Grace That Is Big Enough To Change Your Culture Even If You Are Outnumbered 200 To 1?  Will you allow God to Sift your heart?  Will you accept God’s tests that are not designed to crush you, but to Refine your heart?

Next week it’s all about Mason Jars, Flashlights, And God!

Here’s Your Sign!

Comedian Bill Engvall made a comfortable living for his family through his “Here’s Your Sign” routine.  Just in case you haven’t heard of Bill, allow me to explain.  He talks about some of the not so bright things people do and say.  For example, at an airport the airline had lost his luggage.  He went to the lost luggage department to report it.  The girl at the counter asked, “Has your flight landed yet?”  He replied, “No, princess. I’m having an out of body experience.  I’m just checkin’ on it.  Here’s your sign.”

I moved in 2004 and I was looking for a doctor.  I made an appointment and when it was time to go, I decided to ride my bike.  After waiting, my name was called.  I grabbed my motorcycle helmet to follow the nurse.  As we walked into the hall, she looked at my motorcycle helmet and asked, “Oh, do you ride a motorcycle?”  But before I could reply, “Nope, always wanted one but this is all I could afford.” she laughed and said, “Well, here’s my sign!”

Seriously, signs are very important.  If we are going out of town on vacation, business or family business to a place we’ve never been before we watch the signs.  Signs show us when to stop, where to turn, how fast to safely go.  Can you imagine highways without signs?  That’s a horrible thought. 

Men, we would be forced to ask for directions.  I hate asking for directions because it means either I don’t know how to get somewhere, or I don’t know where I am.  Signs Are For Protection, Direction And Clarity.  Let’s  pick up the story about some signs God knew Gideon needed in Judges 6:33-40 (N.L.T.)

Soon afterward the armies of Midian, Amalek, and the people of the east formed an alliance against Israel and crossed the Jordan, camping in the valley of Jezreel. Then the Spirit of the Lord clothed Gideon with power.  

He blew a ram’s horn as a call to arms, and the men of the clan of Abiezer came to him. He also sent messengers throughout Manasseh, Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali, summoning their warriors, and all of them responded.

Then Gideon said to God, “If You are truly going to use me to rescue Israel as you promised, prove it to me in this way.  I will put a wool fleece on the threshing floor tonight.  If the fleece is wet with dew in the morning but the ground is dry, then I will know that you are going to help me rescue Israel as you promised.”  And that is just what happened.  When Gideon got up early the next morning, he squeezed the fleece and wrung out a whole bowlful of water.

Then Gideon said to God, “Please don’t be angry with me, but let me make one more request.  Let me use the fleece for one more test.  This time let the fleece remain dry while the ground around it is wet with dew.”  So that night God did as Gideon asked.  The fleece was dry in the morning, but the ground was covered with dew.

Gideon has assembled an army to fight the Midianites.  But it’s not just the Midianites this time.  They have come with the Amalekites, and what is called the people of the east.  Now there are at least 3 times as many as before—bullies, thieves, and killers as far as the eye could see.  When Gideon accepted the assignment, it was just the Midianites, and that was more than enough to face. 

Now the threat has tripled.  Gideon does the wise thing, he asks for clarity.  “God, are you sure you want me to still go?  It’s not just the Midianites down there.”  So, Gideon asks for a sign.  He puts a wool fleece on the threshing floor and asks God, “If YOU are really going to do this, in the morning let the fleece be wet and the ground be dry.”  Next morning God makes the dew fall on the fleece but not the ground. 

Good enough, right?  But Gideon needs some reassurance, so he asks for another sign.  This time let the fleece be dry and the ground be wet.  And that’s exactly what happened.  Who says men never asks for directions?  I’ve heard some preachers and teachers criticize Gideon because he asked for a sign and then a second sign. 

Can we talk?  I don’t think this is a character flaw or lack of faith on Gideon’s part.  In fact, today I Highly Commend Him For It.  He is about to engage in the God-Sized Task of Changing His Culture.  Look at Gideon’s culture. 

He does not have scriptures for guidance.  The Midianites were the most powerful army at the time and this time they’ve brought extras.  They were ruthless killers.  But one good thing Gideon did not have was a church full of folks to tell him, “We’ve Never Done It That Way Before!  It costs too much!  It doesn’t match up to what we want to do!  It may bring in people who don’t fit in here!”

Gideon wants direction—not just any direction—he wants Clear Direction.  Gideon needs The Assurance And The Reassurance that he has heard God correctly.  Not one sign, but two.  But don’t overlook what Gideon is seeking.  Words and their placement in a statement is everything.  “If You are truly going to use me…”  Gideon does not ask, “Give me a sign that I can do it.” 

Be honest now, how many times has that been your prayer.  “Lord, if I can do this give me a sign.” I have!  I’ve even asked God to give me one of those huge billboards with flashing arrow signs pointing at it. The Sign Gideon Seeks Is Not About His Abilities, But The Assurance Of God’s Presence.

And if you can remember just one thing today, it is imperative that you remember this:  The Signs That God Will Change Our Culture Are Here—We Just Need To Follow Them.  Did you hear how I phrased this:  I did not say God can change the culture—God Will Change The Culture.  To say our Culture cannot change is the Sign that we’ve lost our Confidence in God.

Gideon will go into battle, Gideon will change his Culture, but only If God Is With Him.  Gideon assumes nothing.  I’m sure at times it felt like it was a dream for Gideon.  And I do not see God getting aggravated with Gideon.  What I See Is That God Answers With The Assurance AND Reassurance Of His Promise!  To change his Culture, Gideon needed the signs.  To change our Culture, we need the signs.  No, not putting the fleece on the ground, but something better. 

God has signs of The Assurance And Reassurance that He is going to change our Culture and That He Is Going To Do It Through Us.  We just need to know the signs, and we need to learn like Gideon, to follow the signs to wherever it is that God leads us.  Gideon only needed 2 signs; but God has given us 3 (1-2-3) signs that He is going to change the Culture through you.  Need a sign that God can use you to change the Culture?  Well, here’s your first sign of the Assurance And Reassurance That God Will Do It Through You:

1.  We Have The Sign Of The Cross

The Cross is more than an ornament in the Church or in our homes—much more.  Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 1:18—The message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed for destruction!  But we who are being saved know it is the very power of God.  We don’t try to reform people to help them become better people. 

We Lead Them To Jesus Where The Cross Transforms Them.  On that Cross evil men did their worst to Jesus.  They thought the Cross would silence Jesus and put an end to the Message.  What they failed to recognize is that The Cross Intended To Silence The Message, Is In Fact THE Message

On that Cross Jesus conquered our biggest problem—SIN!  What we couldn’t do about our sin, Jesus did for us.  He took the penalty for my sin, your sin, everybody’s sin and paid it in full.  Now, if God can do that—and He did—don’t you think He can use you to change the Culture?  That Cross Has Already Changed The World And God Invites Us To Join Him In Changing The Culture.  Need a sign that God will use you?  The Cross—Here’s your sign!  Here’s your second sign:

2.  We Have The Sign Of The Empty Tomb

When all those Mary’s went to the tomb, they didn’t find Jesus in a tomb.  They found an angel with a message.  The message we find in Mark 16:6-7—

“Don’t be alarmed.  You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified.  He isn’t here!  He is risen from the dead!  Look, this is where they laid his body.  Now go and tell his disciples, including Peter, that Jesus is going ahead of you to Galilee.  You will see him there, just as he told you before he died.” 

The message of the Resurrection is that Jesus is always going ahead of us and we will see him.  And what Jesus does is share with us the Resurrection.  He Resurrected the hopes of Mary and Mary and Mary and the other Mary, and Peter and John and Thomas and all of them.  He took on death and made it look like a wimp. 

If He can do that to death, You Cannot Imagine What God Can Do Through You.  To know Jesus as Savior AND Lord is to know the power He has over death.  That power of Resurrection lives in us who are following Jesus.  Paul wrote in Philippians 3:10—I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. 

You Don’t Have To Ask For That Power To Come To You.  That Power Lives In You When Jesus Lives In You.  Need a sign that God will use you to change your world?  The Resurrection—Here’s Your Sign!  And here is your third sign:

3.  We Have The Sign Of The Spirit

There is not a single ability that we all have.  We all have different abilities.  There is not a single talent that every one of us have.  We all have a variety of talents.  There is not a particular spiritual gift that we all possess.  We have different spiritual gifts.  This is the way God designed the Koinonia.  But there is something—rather some ONE—that lives inside of every believer. 

He is the same inside me as He is in you.  He is the same inside you as He is in the person sitting next to you.  Though we have different abilities, different gifts, different levels of maturity—we have living inside us the same Spirit—God’s Spirit—The Holy Spirit.

And Because He Is The Same Spirit, We All Share The Same Result Of The Spirit.  It’s Called The Fruit Of The Spirit.  Listen to how Paul describes the result of His Spirit living in us from Galatians 5:22-23—

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Here’s another one of my personal missions in life.  It’s Not FRUITS Of The Spirit, Meaning Many.  It IS The FRUIT Of The Spirit—Meaning One Single Fruit Produced By The Holy Spirit.

The Sign That The Holy Spirit Is Living Inside Us Is Not In An Ability Or Ministry—It Is The Fruit That Only He Can Produce In Us! Let me repeat this: The Sign That The Holy Spirit Is Living Inside Us Is Not In An Ability Or Ministry—It Is The Fruit That Only He Can Produce In Us! If that fruit Is Growing In Us, it means that HE Is Living In Us.

AND—If HE Is Living IN Us, Then We Can Count On Jesus Living THROUGH Us To Change Our World!  The Sign Of The Spirit Is That We Can Count On God!  Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 1:21-22—“He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.”   Need a sign that God will use you to change The Culture?  The Holy Spirit—Here’s Your Sign!

What is God guaranteeing that is to come?  Oh, yes, most definitely our home in heaven.  But before we get to heaven, there is something else to do.  It’s the reason why we are the Church.  Matthew 28:18-19—Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” 

But before we get our guaranteed home in heaven, we have a God-Sized mission—to change The Culture by making more disciples for Jesus.  The story of Gideon Should Become your story.  The story of Gideon Can Become your story. 

Are serious about Following Jesus?  Then The Story Of Gideon IS Your Story, If You Can Read And Follow The Signs.  Gideon changed his Culture because God was working through Gideon.  And God can change our Culture by working through you.  And here’s your sign:

Do you have the First Sign?  Have you truly asked Jesus to forgive you and believe that His Cross is enough?  If not, then come to His altar because He has a Sign for you. 

If you’ve done this, have you taken the second step?  Do you truly believe that the Power that conquered death is living in you and are you living in and with that power?  If not, come to His altar for He has a sign for you.  If you’ve done the first two, let me ask: 

Are you allowing the Holy Spirit to produce His fruit in you?  In other words, does the Holy Spirit have control of your heart and mind.

And here’s your Next Step.

If You Believe God Is Going To Change The Culture Through You, Then Produce The Fruit!  These are not multiple choice of fruits—but a Single Fruit Produced By The Holy Spirit.

To be qualified for a God-Sized task Gideon has taught us the first 3 lessons:

1.  Only the weakest become the strongest.  God wants the many, the humble, the weakest.

2.  Cut down the Asherah Poles.  Get rid of those things that are holding power over us.  Our confidence and strength comes from our relationship with God—a relationship that comes through Grace, Grace revealed on the Cross.

3.  Follow the Signs—The Cross, The Empty Tomb, The Holy Spirit.  Follow these signs and you can count on God to change your world through you.

Next week we are going to see WHEN NOT ENOUGH IS TOO MANY!

To Change THE Culture, Change YOUR Culture!

(Second message in current message series “How To Change The Culture”

To refresh your memory, this series is about becoming How To Change The Culture!.  Hopefully last week we learned that in order for God to use us To Change The Culture, we have to become the weakest of the weakest. 

One thing that hit me is that we often operate with the mindset that we can Change The Culture and the church by Working Through God.  Allow me to explain what that means:  Working Through God Means We Take Our Ideas And Our Plans And Our Beliefs And Expect God To Bless It And Bring Success. 

The Church is designed a different way.  Rather Than Us Working Through God, The Kingdom Is Designed For God To Work Through Us.  I know this is a subtle difference, but can you see the difference? 

It would not be Gideon doing this through God, but God doing it through Gideon.  This is what Jesus was talking about in John 15 when he describes our relationship as He being the vine and we becoming the branches.  It’s About Yielding To The Presence, Power, And Purposes Of God. The flow is from the Vine going into the Branches. Fruit is produced because of what the Vine is putting into the branches. The branches don’t tell the vine what to do. The Vine defines what the branches do.

Today Gideon shows us the next step in becoming qualified for the God Sized Purpose in life.  Let’s look pick up the reading in Judges 6:17-32

Gideon replied, “If you are truly going to help me, show me a sign to prove that it is really the Lord speaking to me.  Don’t go away until I come back and bring my offering to you.”  He answered, “I will stay here until you return.”  Gideon hurried home.  He cooked a young goat, and with a basket of flour he baked some bread without yeast.  Then, carrying the meat in a basket and the broth in a pot, he brought them out and presented them to the angel, who was under the great tree.

The angel of God said to him, “Place the meat and the unleavened bread on this rock, and pour the broth over it.”  And Gideon did as he was told.  Then the angel of the Lord touched the meat and bread with the tip of the staff in his hand, and fire flamed up from the rock and consumed all he had brought.  And the angel of the Lord disappeared. 

When Gideon realized that it was the angel of the Lord, he cried out, “Oh, Sovereign Lord, I’m doomed!  I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face!”  “It is all right,” the Lord replied.  “Do not be afraid.  You will not die.”  And Gideon built an altar to the Lord there and named it Yahweh-Shalom (which means “the Lord is peace”).  The altar remains in Ophrah in the land of the clan of Abiezer to this day.

That night the Lord said to Gideon, “Take the second bull from your father’s herd, the one that is seven years old.  Pull down your father’s altar to Baal, and cut down the Asherah pole standing beside it.  Then build an altar to the Lord your God here on this hilltop sanctuary, laying the stones carefully.  Sacrifice the bull as a burnt offering on the altar, using as fuel the wood of the Asherah pole you cut down.”  So Gideon took ten of his servants and did as the Lord had commanded. But he did it at night because he was afraid of the other members of his father’s household and the people of the town. 

Early the next morning, as the people of the town began to stir, someone discovered that the altar of Baal had been broken down and that the Asherah pole beside it had been cut down.  In their place a new altar had been built, and on it were the remains of the bull that had been sacrificed.  The people said to each other, “Who did this?”  And after asking around and making a careful search, they learned that it was Gideon, the son of Joash. 

“Bring out your son,” the men of the town demanded of Joash.  “He must die for destroying the altar of Baal and for cutting down the Asherah pole.”  But Joash shouted to the mob that confronted him, “Why are you defending Baal?  Will you argue his case?  Whoever pleads his case will be put to death by morning!  If Baal truly is a god, let him defend himself and destroy the one who broke down his altar!”  From then on Gideon was called Jerub-baal, which means “Let Baal defend himself,” because he broke down Baal’s altar.

God has informed Gideon that he has been chosen to Change The Culture and that He, God, is with him and that He would fight for Gideon.  Now we come to Gideon’s response.  Every time we encounter God requires a response from us.  It is the nature of the Divine Encounter.  Even if we think we’ve made no response, we have made a response.  There’s no way around it.  We either grow deeper into that relationship or we go further away from that relationship.  And growing deeper inevitably requires taking action.

And here is the one thing you need to remember from today’s message: Before The Culture Of This Nation And Our Tribe Can Change, You Must Change Your Culture.

I have parable for you this morning.  There are 5 frogs sitting on a log.  3 of them decide to jump.  How many frogs do you have left?  Is your answer 2?  5-3=2.  Is your answer 0, because if one frog jumps, then all the others will join?  Are you ready for the answer? 

The answer is 5!  How did I arrive at that answer?  Easy.  I never said they jumped, just that they made a decision.  And here is where the church is at today:  We Haven’t Taken The Leap Of Faith Into The God-Sized Purpose Of Changing Our Culture.

With the assurance of His presence and the promise of His power, Gideon acts.  But notice the way he acts.  He doesn’t get his sword and round up an army.  He doesn’t go looking for a fight. 

The truth is that his first response has nothing to do with the problem of the Midianites.  It deals with His Own Personal Culture.  And here’s the first lesson about accepting the mission of this God-Sized Task of Changing The Culture:

1.  Gideon Worships God!

To make sure he has heard everything right, Gideon asks if it’s appropriate to offer worship.  I can just see God in heaven.  He smiled when Gideon said, “I’m too weak!”  And when Gideon asks for permission to worship first, God did more than smile.  He danced!  Those end zone dances you see in the NFL are nothing compared to when God dances. 

So off Gideon goes to prepare the sacrifice for worship.  He cooks a young goat and makes unleavened bread with an ephah of flour, that’s what the KJV says.  An ephah of flour is over a half a bushel.  A young goat and a loaf of bread made from over a half a bushel of flour.  Don’t you get what’s happening?  Remember the first half of this chapter.  Most of their crops have been destroyed along with their flocks and herds. 

They are reduced to starvation.  But Gideon takes a young goat and a half a bushel of flour and with that, he worships God.  He’s not offering God something out of his abundance. 

He’s offering God what is probably the bulk if not all that he has in worship.  Worship Is About Surrender—Surrendering All That We Have And Are To God.  There are 168 Hours In A Week and many think that because they spend 1 hour out of 168 in a sanctuary on Sunday that they have worshipped God.  Time spent in this sanctuary amounts to .59% Of Your Week.  A little over a half a percent. 

Now, would you consider that an acceptable offering to God?  If God is going to Change The Culture of our nation and tribe through us, then worship needs to be an offering of our best—our time, our heart, our energy.  It must be your heart every moment you are awake; the attitude we carry in the home, to work, to shopping, to everywhere!  Worship is about keeping focus on the Presence, Power And Purposes of God.

When Gideon offers this worship, look at what the angel says:  Put the meat and bread on the rock, and then pour out the broth on it.  Now, for Gideon’s world this was ridiculous.  Gideon could have protested, “Look, I slaved over this meal and this is perfectly good soup.”  But he doesn’t.  He does exactly what he is told.  The angel took his staff and touched the offering and fire came from the rock and consumed it all. 

Here’s the Lesson that seems to have been forgotten by so many:  We Provide The Instruments For Worship, But Only God Provides The Fire.  The angel disappeared and Gideon knows he’s been in God’s presence and thinks “Well, I cooked the goat, but now my goose is cooked!”.  But God speaks to Gideon words filled with hope. God’s voice doesn’t boom out from heaven, but in a gentle way God says,  “Don’t Be Afraid!”  And this leads us to the second thing you must understand about accepting this God-Sized Task of Changing The Culture.

2.  Gideon’s Culture Changed Because Gideon Was Changed First.

He names that place Yahweh Shalom—God Is Peace!  Before Gideon could change the culture of his nation, he needed to Change His Own Culture.  Gideon had been afraid and blaming God.  But now Gideon’s heart has been changed.  Even with the fear and all the questions he had, Gideon learns a most important lesson:  He Learns To Trust God. 

In that trust he discovers the Peace Of God.  We are not going to change our nation by forwarding emails and signing petitions or gripping about our leaders.  The Process Of Change Begins With Us.  God changed The Culture but He started with Gideon. 

God can and God will change Our Culture, but it starts with the person you see in the mirror.  Now Gideon is in a position for God to use him.  And God goes right to work using Gideon.  And here is the third a final lesson today about being qualified for the God-Sized Task:

3.  Gideon Had To Cut Down His Asherah Pole.

What’s an Asherah Pole?  Asherah was the Canaanite goddess of fertility.  She was the wife of the god known as Baal.  She was the one they were thinking could bring fertility to the ground—abundant crops—multiply livestock—and cause their wife to produce a lot of children.  These were all signs of prosperity and strength.

The more crops one had, the more livestock and kids one had, the more they thought they were strong.  They believed their strength came from the Asherah pole. 

As Long As They Thought Their Strength Came From The Asherah Pole, The Asherah Pole Held Them In Prison And Bondage.  

So Gideon goes out to do it, but at night.  Why at night?  Because he’s afraid of what the others might do to him.  Now, some of you may be thinking, “Well, there goes Gideon the Coward again!”  But there’s another way to look at this:

Even though Gideon still has some fear issues in his life, it doesn’t keep him from doing what God wants, and as you will see, it will not disqualify him from what God is yet to do. The results are the same.  If you allow fear of this God-Sized task keep you from doing anything, God cannot use you to change The Culture

The Asherah Pole had to come down before he went into battle against the Midianites.   Why?  So that no one would think their strength came from the Asherah Pole, but only from God.  Before They Could Set The Nation Free, They Had To Be Free. 

And what about your Asherah Pole?  Asherah Poles are all around us today.  Oh, they don’t look like the Asherah Poles of Gideon’s day, but they are just as real.  What is your Asherah Pole?  Idols are still present today, they just look different. 

Is your Asherah Pole the desire to be comfortable?  Is your Asherah Pole the desire for convenience?  Is your Asherah Pole what you consider important?  Is your Asherah Pole contentment with complaining and doing nothing, but complain?  Is your Asherah Pole fear?  Anger?  Despair?  Selfishness?  Apathy?

Do what Gideon does:  Cut It Down And Put It On God’s Altar.  God cannot use you to Change The Culture of this nation and church until you cut down your Asherah Pole.  But if you will, God will Change You, Then Change Your Culture And In Changing Your Culture, He Will Change The Culture.

Last week you were given a choice for your next step.  Join up with all the complaining; or give up that anything will ever change; or step up and become the next Gideon.  Here’s this week’s Next Step

1.  You Can Hold On To That Idol, Whatever It May Be.  OR

2.  Cut Down The Asherah Poles In Your Life.  Get rid of those things that are holding power over you.  Your confidence and strength comes from your relationship with God—a relationship that comes through Grace, Grace revealed on the Cross.

HOW TO CHANGE OUR CULTURE! THE WEAKEST ARE THE STRONGEST

Anger, No, It’s Rage—Bitterness—Resentment— Distrust—Disappointment—Levels Of Frustration Rarely Seen In Human History—Melancholy—Gloomy—Despair—Fear—Pained—Sterile—Desperate—Pessimistic—Despondent—Unpromising—Unrealistic Expectations.  These Dark Words speak about our current social, political and moral culture.

In my writing, teaching and preaching, I have found myself using the word Culture. I feel the need to define this word in the way I use it.  I could use big words to define Culture, but  Here’s the short form:  Culture Is The Attitudes, Values And Morals Shared By People In A Particular Place And Time.  Makes sense, right? 

What we see in the news on a daily basis—how politicians are acting in Washington D.C. and Montgomery—how the value system has broken down—reveals a culture that’s twisted and inept at solving the many problems we have.  And we see the same Culture in our own Tribe.  And it got me to thinking:

The new series is How To Change Our Culture.  It takes real Spirit-filled, Spirit led-people to move forward in the way that will radically transform the Culture of our nation and church. 

Unfortunately, many believe that neither our Culture nor our Tribe could ever change.  And the results, well, they are unhealthy and even devastating.  So for the next few weeks I want us to look at the story of one of the most unlikeliest of heroes of Changing The Culture—Gideon. 

His story is another one of those great lessons from the Bible about God changing the Culture Of One Man And A Whole Nation.  His story begins in Judges 6:1-16 (NLT)

The Israelites did evil in the Lord’s sight. So the Lord handed them over to the Midianites for seven years.  The Midianites were so cruel that the Israelites made hiding places for themselves in the mountains, caves, and strongholds.  Whenever the Israelites planted their crops, marauders from Midian, Amalek, and the people of the east would attack Israel, camping in the land and destroying crops as far away as Gaza.  They left the Israelites with nothing to eat, taking all the sheep, goats, cattle, and donkeys.  These enemy hordes, coming with their livestock and tents, were as thick as locusts; they arrived on droves of camels too numerous to count.  And they stayed until the land was stripped bare.  So Israel was reduced to starvation by the Midianites.  Then the Israelites cried out to the Lord for help.  When they cried out to the Lord because of Midian, the Lord sent a prophet to the Israelites  He said, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says:  I brought you up out of slavery in Egypt.  I rescued you from the Egyptians and from all who oppressed you.  I drove out your enemies and gave you their land.  I told you, ‘I am the Lord your God.  You must not worship the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you now live.’  But you have not listened to me.”  Then the angel of the Lord came and sat beneath the great tree at Ophrah, which belonged to Joash of the clan of Abiezer.  Gideon son of Joash was threshing wheat at the bottom of a winepress to hide the grain from the Midianites. The angel of the Lord appeared to him and said, “Mighty hero, the Lord is with you!”  “Sir,” Gideon replied, “if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us?  And where are all the miracles our ancestors told us about?  Didn’t they say, ‘The Lord brought us up out of Egypt?’  But now the Lord has abandoned us and handed us over to the Midianites.”  Then the Lord turned to him and said, “Go with the strength you have, and rescue Israel from the Midianites.  I am sending you!”  “But Lord,” Gideon replied, “how can I rescue Israel?  My clan is the weakest in the whole tribe of Manasseh, and I am the least in my entire family!”  The Lord said to him, “I will be with you.  And you will destroy the Midianites as if you were fighting against one man.”

We find Gideon threshing wheat at the bottom of a wine press.  In ancient times they did not use vats or barrels to make wine.  They would find a fairly large rock formation and chisel out 2 pits.  One of them would be lower and deeper than the other so that the juice from the grapes would flow down.  It was probably 3 feet, maybe more below the ground. 

But Gideon isn’t making wine.  He’s threshing wheat in the lower pit.  Why the lower pit?  So that he couldn’t be seen.  He was scared to death of the Midianites.  They were the local neighborhood bullies.  He’s hiding, hoping they won’t see him. But get this:  his name means Destroyer, Mighty Warrior, Mighty Hero!  This mighty warrior is cowardly hiding from the bullies.  When suddenly an unexpected visitor shows up and calls him by the meaning of his name:  Mighty Hero.

Excuse me, but does anyone other than me see the irony here?  Called a Mighty Hero while he’s hiding from the local bullies.  I mean, the words and the man do not even come close.  They are not in the same zip code, not in the same county, not in the same state, not in the same country. They’re not even in the same universe.

But there is more going on here than just what meets the eye. There is more going on than bullies and cowards.  God has a purpose and a mission, and His plan surprises Gideon and even me. 

Here is where real Culture Change begins, and where our lives can turn around  Here’s the first thing you need to see:

1.  God Is With Him!

But where was Gideon spiritually?  If you listened carefully, he told you where he was spiritually.  “Lord, if you were with us, why are we being bullied by the Midianites?” 

You know what Gideon’s talking about don’t you?  If you’ve ever wondered, “Why is all this happening to me now?”,  under our breath we are thinking, “Well, God, if you really were with me then all this bad stuff wouldn’t have happened to me!”

I know what this feels like. It feels like God have forgotten us or been too busy for us; or simply that we aren’t worthy of God’s presence. When you’re hiding in the pit, when the bullies are threatening you, when it seems like God has forgotten you—He Hasn’t.  Every single thing you go through, God is with you.  He knows every ache and sees every tear and feels every fear because He is with you.  Now we come to the next thing you need to see:

2.  God Has Chosen Him For A God-Sized Task.

God chose Gideon for the task of changing his Culture.  How would God change Gideon’s Culture?  By saving and redeeming them.  God has seen them and heard their cries.  Even though they were not faithful to God and were worshipping other gods, God knew what Gideon’s world needed.  And He Calls On Gideon To Change His World.  And how does Gideon respond?  “Great, God.  ‘Bout time!  Let’s get to work!” 

No!  Gideon’s response was, “You gotta be kidding!  My family is the weakest and I’m the least in the whole family.  Gideon was of the tribe of Manasseh, which was the largest tribe of all.  Many of Gideon’s ancestors fought alongside Joshua with strength, honor and courage.  You know what he’s doing, don’t you?  He’s making excuses!

He’s saying, “Look, Lord. There are people far more qualified that I am.  There are braver people than me.”  If Gideon was right, then where were they?  According to verse 2 they were hiding in the mountain crevices and caves.  But when Gideon says this, it shows that God made the right choice.  For a God sized task, we need someone who knows that they can’t do it by themselves.  Which leads us to our final lesson today:

3.  He Can Count On God To Be With Him Every Step Of The Way.

Look at verse 16:  The Lord said to him, “I will be with you. And you will destroy the Midianites as if you were fighting against one man.”  This is the first good news Gideon has heard in a very long time.  God promises Gideon that it will seem like he is fighting against only one man. 

How could it feel like that?  Because God is going to fight for him.  He’s With Him In The Pit, And He Will Be With Him In The Battle!  Yes, God meets us in our pits but He doesn’t leave us there! 

He wants to lead us out of our pits and into the Kingdom Battle.  But God doesn’t leave us alone on the battlefield.  He is still with us and He Is Fighting For Us!  Think back to the Hebrew children at the edge of the Red Sea, when God said in Exodus 14:14—“The Lord himself will fight for you. Just stay calm.” 

God wants someone who cannot do what He wants unless they are counting on His presence and power.  God chose Gideon, not because he was the smartest and the strongest; because, simple truth is, he wasn’t.

Had Gideon felt like he was smart enough and strong enough to change his culture, he would have failed.  God could change Gideon’s world through Gideon because of his weakness.    God loves to hear us say, “Hey, I can’t do that!  I don’t have what it takes!”  Doubt that this principle of God needing the weakest really works?  Have you ever read the Bible?  Studied the history of the church?

The U.S. Marines have a great motto for a fighting group:  The Few, The Proud, The Marines.  And in their ads they asked, “Do you have what it takes?” 

God isn’t looking for the few, the proud and those who think they have what it takes.  He’s Looking For The Many, The Humble, And The Weakest.  You can only be your strongest when you become just like Gideon—and say to God, “This is too much for me.  I need your strength.”   

Our culture around us needs to be changed.  Countless lives are hiding in fear and living in caves.  God wants to bring them out and deliver them.  But he needs a Gideon, someone who is too afraid to do it alone, too afraid to seek the glory, too afraid to trust anything other than this promise of God:  I am with you!  Are you willing to be the next Gideon?

And the One Thing You Need To Remember Is A Question, Which Is Why I Saved It Until The End—“Will You Be The Next Gideon?”

Changing the Culture in Washington D.C.—that’s a task that we simply cannot do—Yet!  But you can change your Personal Culture.  I’m talking about your Attitudes, Values And Morals.  It’s how you see your personal situations and the situations we are facing as the Body of Christ.  These are serious times.  You choose your Personal Culture.  Your Personal Culture isn’t chosen for you by what happens in D.C. or in church meetings.  It is Chosen BY you.

So Choose Your Next Step Very Carefully:

1. You Can Join In With All The Mess—Complain And Then Blame—And Complain Some More And Then Blame—And Complain Some More And Then Blame. OR

2. You Can Give Up And Hope Jesus Comes Back REAL Soon.  OR

3. You Can Make The Choice To Be The Gideon Our Culture, Our Church Is Urgently Needing. 

These are your only 3 choices—Join Up, Give Up or Step Up.  Which will be YOUR next step? Gideon’s choice about his personal culture changed everything for the nation.

“Be strong.  Take courage.  Don’t be intimidated.  Don’t give them a second thought because God, your God, is striding ahead of you.  He’s right there with you.  He won’t let you down; He won’t leave you.” Deuteronomy 31:6 (The Message)

Step 7—Live With Focus!

This is the very last message in this series about how to become a water-walker.  So, let’s look at that passage one more time.  

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.

Matthew 14:25-32 (NLT)

Let’s do our final review today.

  • Step 1—Get Out Of The Boat.  You will never walk with Jesus UNTIL you’re out of your boat.
  • Step 2—Have The Right Attitude.  There will be challenges —just remember Jesus is with you.
  • Step 3—Discover Your Gift.  This comes out of your giftedness and God gives all of us gifts.  Discover them.
  • Step 4—Use Leverage.  The leverage we use is our weaknesses against the Power of God.  
  • Step 5—Overcome The Fear.  The way to overcome fear is to Rehearse His presence.  Renew your mind.  And Refocus all your attention on Jesus.
  • Step 6—Know That It’s More Hazardous In The Boat Than It Is Risky On The Water.  Water-Walkers will not live in hazardous waste—but they will live in the Risks.

Now, we come to the last step in this series—Living With Focus.  And here is the one thing you need to remember:  You And You Alone Choose Where You Will Focus. It’s your choice.  Your Choice Has Implications Beyond Your Imaginations—Extending Even Into Eternity.

Now, we come to the last step in this series—Living With Focus.  And here is the one thing you need to remember:  You And You Alone Choose Where You Will Focus. It’s your choice.  Your Choice Has Implications Beyond Your Imaginations—Extending Even Into Eternity.

Now, we come to the last step in this series—Living With Focus.  And here is the one thing you need to remember:  You And You Alone Choose Where You Will Focus. It’s your choice.  Your Choice Has Implications Beyond Your Imaginations—Extending Even Into Eternity

Everybody has chosen a Focus—without exception.  Even those who you clearly see are living without a Focus.  Even those who admit their lives are not focused—They have chosen a Focus for their lives—it’s just in the wrong place.  Focus Plays Out Every Day, In Every Moment And Situation.

What happens when we Focus in the wrong place?  We see danger, trouble and problems.  And we open the door to uncontrolled, ferocious fear.  I’ve been saying all along, that water walking is risky business. 

But the only way we can grow in our faith is through taking risks, and risks always involve having the Right Focus because we’re stepping out of our comfort zones into new territory.

This is the way it was for Peter.  He’d been on this lake thousands of times.  But every time he was IN The Boat.  Now he is about to take a stroll ON the lake WITHOUT The Boat.  This is a new experience, a new adventure for Peter.  He has always been comfortable in the boat.  It was his livelihood.  So, Peter takes his leap of faith, and focuses on Jesus, who had just invited him to join him for a leisurely stroll on the water. 

And guess what, Peter actually walks on the water.  As long as Peter kept his Focus on Jesus, he didn’t sink.  But the moment his Focus changed—he immediately sank!

Unfortunately, some people choose to Focus only on the winds and the waves, and so they, like the others, stay in the boat.    Today, I want us to learn how to keep our Focus on Jesus, and thus continue the most exciting adventure ever; an adventure that fills the heart of God with indescribable joy. 

If you are one of those unfortunate people who have chosen to Focus on the negative that has saturated our culture and politics rather than the mission of God—Then Change Your Focus—And It Will Change The Way You See Your Life—And That Will Change Why You Live Your Life

To have be a Water-Walker, it takes the Right Focus.  When you are on the Water, Focus alone determines whether you walk or sink.  We know what happened when Peter’s Focus turned to the waves and the wind.  So let’s look at Peter’s Focus while he was Walking On The Water.  Let’s start with the easiest and most obvious:

1.  Focus On Jesus

When Peter accepted the Opportunity to Walk on Water, His Focus was on Jesus.  Water-Walkers Focus on Jesus.  Water Sinkers sink because they have Focused on the wind and waves—or they have chosen to Focus on the Jesus of their imagination and understanding.  To Focus On Jesus Requires Us To Focus On 3 Truths About Jesus:

Focus On His Nature—His nature is what always comes to the surface.  It’s the way He responds to us.  He responds to us out of and through His unmistakable love.

Focus On His Desires—His biggest desire is to see a different world filled with different people.  The way Jesus fills the world with different people is by Delivering captives—releasing prisoners—filling the hungry and empty with His Resurrection Presence.  Jesus intentionally redeems and restores His fallen image bearers.

Focus On His Character—His Character is that of A Warrior!  Gentle Jesus meek and mild doesn’t exist!  He was meek on the Cross—but He Is The Bold Warrior coming out of the Grave!  He’s not giving up or backing down.  The commitment He had on the Cross—the determination He had in that tomb—and the lengths He goes to get us to turn away from sin and the power of sin in us is His Character.  If we Focus On The True Character Of Jesus—then we will not stay in The Boat.  We will join Him on the Water.

2.  Focus On Your Purpose

Your Purpose Is To Be Involved With What Jesus Is Involved.  Jesus is involved in a lot of things—but it will always be found where people struggle—where people need encouragement.  Put it this way:  Jesus Is Involved With People.  Good people.  Bad people.  Ugly people.  Mean People.  Nice People.  Broken-Messed Up People.

True Water-Walkers accept, even at times with a bit of reluctance—that Real Disciples Of Jesus Are Focused On God’s Purpose For Their Lives.  Water-Walking Is Living In Confidence That Your Purpose Is Both Divinely Given And Worthwhile In Your Life.

God’s purpose for your life is important. Your role in the Kingdom of God is essential and significant.  Focus on Jesus and your life makes a difference in the world.  If You Don’t Believe That, Then You Are Not Focused On Your Purpose, Not Focused On Jesus And You’re Not Really Following Jesus.  When you say that you don’t have much if anything to offer—you’re saying God is lying.

3.  Focus On The Partnership

This is not something we do alone.  Remember what Peter said in the boat:  If it is you, Jesus, then invite me to join You.  It is impossible to sink when you partner with Jesus in your life.  Remember what we said about leverage:  God’s Strength Is Made Perfect Through AND In Our Weaknesses. 

The Partnership with God is simple—bring it all to Him and give to Him all of your weaknesses—all of your fear—all of your excuses about what you can’t do—then Accept From Him, His Strength.  This is what Partnership With God looks like.

The Story Of Every Person God Uses In The Bible Is The Story Of Focus.  Focus is what made Abraham leave his home.  Focus is what made Moses willing to challenge the Pharaoh.  Focus is what led Gideon into battle with only 300 soldiers against 10’s of thousands.  Focus is what drove the prophets to proclaim their message, even when it seemed no one was listening.  Focus is why Peter and the others stood up at the Feast of Pentecost to proclaim the Good News Of The Kingdom of God.  Focus is what led Paul into unknown territory—all the way to Rome.  Focus is what led people like Martin Luther, John Knox, John Wesley, Charles Finney, C.H. Spurgeon, D.L. Moody, Billy Sunday, A.W. Tozer to change their world.

If You Believe Or Even Think That This Culture We Live In Is Beyond Revival—Then You Are Not Focused On The Partnership.

The Bible often uses the term:  “losing heart.”  Losing Heart Is Just Another Way Of Saying Losing Your Focus.  It’s not what we’re capable of doing—it’s about what God wants to do through us. 

Whenever God calls you to get out of the boat, He gives you the power to walk on the water.  He never calls anyone to sink.  Water-Walking Is Not The Conviction That Something Will Turn Out Well, But The Certainty That Something Makes The Difference, Regardless Of How It Turns Out. 

Every person submits to some thing or some one who will be their source of authority.  That authority has control over your mind, heart and actions.  Authority defines your values and your ethics—that moral compass of what is right or wrong, good or bad. 

Who or what is the authority over your life?  Before you give the “I’m-in-church” answer, answer this question first:  “Where Is Your Focus?”  Focus Reveals Who Or What Gets Your Immediate And Primary Attention.

Focus Is About Your Definition Of Authority.  You Determine Who Or What Has Authority Over Your Life.  That source of authority demands your attention—and you will give your Focus to that Authority.  Authority is what influences your decisions.  Authority is where you look for answers and for guidance in the choices you make.  In The Boat, your Authority is the comfort of the familiar—playing it safe—choosing fear over adventure.

Focus defines and ultimately reveals your Primary Priority. Through Focus, we declare that God is real!  Through Focus, we remember that reality is more than what we can touch or see or hear.  It is about the God who is ALL power, ALL seeing, ALL knowing, ALL caring and loving.  Focus Is About Magnifying God—Enlarging Our Understanding Of Who He Is And How He Moves In And Through Our Lives. 

I’ve intentionally left Verse 33 in the reading each week.  The Spirit has been saving it for now.  Listen again to Verse 32 AND Verse 33—

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.

Matthew 14:32-33 (NLT)

There’s a word of tragedy in Verse 33—It’s The Word Of Missed Opportunity, Missed Moments, And Missing The Reason.  Figured out the word?  It’s the first word in that verse:  THEN!  Not during the moment—just THEN.

I’ve heard teachers, preachers and people say, “The rest of the disciples finally understand Jesus, praise God!”  Well…I’m going to burst some bubbles this morning.  They did NOT understand Jesus.  They did not acknowledge Jesus until He stopped the Wind.  Jesus isn’t just the one who controls the wind—He’s The One In Complete Control IN The Storm.

I always try to give you something to try each week.  That’s why I call them Your Next Steps.  I always try to find some Step that will help you put the Scriptures we looked at into some tangible act or decision on your part.

Today’s Next Step is more important than any other Next Step I’ve challenged you with.  How important?  I’m glad you asked.  Here’s how important this Next Step is—Your Future, The Future Of Your Families, The Future Of Your Friends, The Future Of This Place Will Begin To Change—For The Better If You Take It—Or It May Take A Change For The Worse If You Don’t.

It is never too late—and you are never too old to make choices that will become positive changes—in your family, with your friends, in the community—and especially in the Kingdom of God.

If you trust God, make your choice to do this Next Step to see the future change—for you and for others:

If you trust God, make your choice to do these Next Step to see the future change—for you and for others:

  1. You Can Choose To Focus In The Boat. 
  2. Or You Can Choose To Focus On Jesus.

Your choice–and as the Knight said in the movie Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade, “Choose wisely.”

How To Be A Water-Walker: Step 6—Know The Hazards Of Staying In The Boat!

Today and next week wraps up this series.  I’m concerned some of you may be getting seasick from all those waves.  But let’s listen to the story one more time:  Matthew 14:25-32 (NLT)

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.

I’ve thrown out a lot of things so far, and I hope you’ve been keeping the sermon notes pages every week.  But, bear with me as I go over the steps we’ve seen so far in becoming a Water-Walker.

Step 1—Get Out Of The Boat.  To journey through life with Jesus, you have to get out of the boat.  You will never walk with Jesus UNTIL you’re out of that boat.

Step 2—Have The Right Attitude.  The right attitude is to accept that there will be challenges as we walk on the water with Jesus.

Step 3—Discover Your Gift.  Walking on water comes out of your giftedness and God gives all of us gifts.  It’s up to us to discover them.

Step 4—Use Leverage.  The leverage we use is our weaknesses against the Power of God.  Water-Walking was out of Peter’s wheelhouse, and it’s out of ours.

Step 5—Overcome The Fear.  Fear is that demon the keeps us from living the life God gives us.  The way to overcome fear is to Rehearse His presence.  Renew your mind.  And Refocus your attention on Jesus.

I’ve said that no message in this series is more important than any other.  But then I did say that Step 3—Discovering Your Gift, was the pivotal message because without the Gift we never leave the boat.  Well, today’s message isn’t any more important than the others—and I can’t call it pivotal.  Today’s Message is Mission Critical.

Mission-Critical is a term that comes from the business world.  Mission-Critical is a task, service, or system that if it failed or was disrupted, an entire operation or business to grind to a halt.  It is required to continuing operations.

Today’s one thing you need to remember fits this definition—it is Mission Critical:  It Is Risky To Walk On Water But It’s Costly To Stay In The Boat. 

Anytime a gift is given, the recipient must choose to respond to the gift in 2 ways.  The first way says, “This gift is so valuable it can’t be risked.”  It’s like keeping china in the cabinet, afraid to use it.  Those who follow this way believe that when the gift is brought out into the open, things may not always go well.  The gift may not be appreciated; or it may even get broken.  Taking the gift out of the box is always a risk.

The second way says, “This gift is so valuable it must be risked.”  Those who follow this way understand that if the gift is not brought out of the box, it will never be used at all.  To leave the gift in the box is to thwart the desire of the giver.  There is no tragedy like the tragedy of the unopened gift. 

Remember God Has Given You A Gift.  All that time in high school I thought knowing Verb Tense was a waste of time.  I’m using the Past Tense Form.  Past tense means that it’s already happened. God Has Given you a gift and with that gift He’s given you a choice—to take the gift out of the box and use it.  Or leave it unopened, unused in your life.

Peter put it out there—the possibility of becoming a Water-WalkerIf it’s you, call me to you!  Peter chose the second way.  Peter didn’t ask for a guarantee that he would walk, just the opportunity.  Peter took the Risk.

The ones who stayed in the boat chose the first way of accepting a gift.  They did not want to risk brokenness or failure.  They valued safety over growth.  The ultimate adventure in faith was something they were content to watch from the sidelines.  The Ones In The Boat Didn’t Want To Be Passed By, Just Passed Up

They were afraid of the Risk of stepping out of the boat, but they were oblivious to the cost of staying in a boat.  Here’s the tragedy of the unopened gift: 

It Is To Have Lived Your Life Waiting For Life To Begin; Thinking Life Is Somewhere Off In The Future.  It Is Mission Critical Now For You To Take The Risk Of Getting Out Of Your Boat

Think about the Risks those first disciples took in following Jesus and the Kingdom after Pentecost.  They risked alienation, torture and death.  They knew it might well be uncomfortable following Jesus.  But it was a choice they would make again and again and again. 

How, then did we get the idea that following Jesus is meant to be comfortable.  People In The Boat Represent All Who Ask For A Promise, But Not A Call; Who Seek A Guarantee But Not A Mission. 

There will always be that element of Risk in stepping out of the boat to follow Jesus.  But…there are even great hazards by staying in the boat.  Most people when faced with the choice of stepping out of the boat or not base their decision on the risks that are outside the boat. 

But they never consider the hazards of staying in the boat.  Well, we’ve talked about the fears of walking on the water—but we need to look carefully at the hazards of staying in the boat.  There are 3 Hazards of staying in the boat.    

1.  The Danger Of Following A Counterfeit Jesus.

The Real Jesus offers you the forgiveness of your sins—a brand new heart—a life with divine purpose—His Living Presence—and Eternal Life—all as His Gift to us.  But it comes with a price.  WE have to surrender completely to Him.  All sense of self-efforts—surrendered.  Living by your feelings—gone.  It’s the choice to die to self—daily and moment by moment.

The Counterfeit Jesus offers you none of that.  In fact, Counterfeit Jesus insists that you keep your ego—your selfishness—your feelings.  The Counterfeit Jesus wants you to focus on how you feel and that what you believe is Truth—regardless of any other Authority.  You alone, can determine what is Truth—what is right—what is wrong.

The Counterfeit Jesus promises you Comfort.  He releases you from accountability for you choices and actions.  In The Boat is where you find this Counterfeit Jesus.  Redemption without turning away from sin.  Power without using it for the benefit of others.

The Danger is that we create the delusion of security and open the way to an implosion of self, family, community and culture.

All of us give our lives to something.  Between this day and your last day, you will give yourself to something.  The only question is: What Will You Give Your Life To?  Will It Be Worthy?  Giving your life to the Counterfeit Jesus undermines the true you.  The second hazard is this:

2.  The Perils Of A Meaningless Life.

The meaning of life In The Boat is about Self Preservation and Self Protection.  It’s that age old question of “What’s In It For Me?”  The more we think of Life as being something that is All About Us, the less meaning life has For Us.  We miss the real purpose and meaning of life.

The Boat keeps us focused inwardly, never outwardly.  Focused inwardly we make ourselves the center of the universe—where dreams become nightmares—where vision becomes darkness—where hope is crushed like a bug.  Life is meaningless in the Boat.  Why?  Because Jesus isn’t there.  We are left to self-destruct—and lose all the power—all the wonder—all the beauty of life as it is meant to be lived.  The third hazard is worst:

3.  The Menace Of A Corrupted Heart.

It doesn’t matter how good we think we are—the truth is our heart is corrupted.  Why did you think Jesus told Nicodemus that he had to be born again—born from above.  At the very core of everyone—that includes me and you—is the DNA of Adam and Eve—whose heart wanted more than God—they wanted to BE God.

The Corrupted Heart wants to use God for their desires rather than for God to use them for His Desires.  The Corrupted heart sees moments for self-advancement, not for the greater purpose of the Kingdom of God.  The Corrupted Heart uses and misuses people for their own self-gain.

The Corrupted Heart keeps us away from God’s Grace.  The Corrupted Heart leads us into an eternity without our Loving Father—without the One who loves us the most.

Our lives are not about self-preservation and fulfillment, but are to be acts of stewardship.  Your life, what you do with what God have given you, is a matter of supreme importance.  

Use your imagination this morning:  Image your life is over.  You’re ushered into a small room with 2 chairs, one for you and one for God.  There’s a DVD player and TV, and God puts in a disc that has your name, and this title:  What Your Life Might Have Been.  Imagine watching all that God might have done with your life if you had let him. 

You Have No Idea What Your Potential Is—Until You Realize It Is Far More Hazardous In The Boat, Than It Is Risky On The Water.  The Boat will create Hazardous Waste in your life.  This waste prevents you from the Life God has purposely designed just for you.

Your Next Step:

Get Rid Of The Hazardous Waste In Your Life So That God Can Fill Your Life With His Life.  The Hazardous waste is found in the things you are clinging to—rather than walking on the water with Jesus.  What Are You Clinging To

  • The good old days?
  • Fear?
  • Doubt?
  • Guilt?
  • Imaginary guilt? (Guilt he’s already taken away)
  • Personal comfort?
  • “Come back Jesus and end all this mess”?

Is your life meaningless?  Has the restlessness of your heart brought you to the realization that what you have isn’t an empty heart, but a corrupted heart?  If so, then get out of The Boat.  You were not made for the boat—you are made to walk with Jesus.

Step 5: Water Walkers Overcome The Fear

Today we are going to talk about the elephant in the room.  It’s the one thing that was in The Boat that we haven’t focused on.  Without exception, every person in The Boat had this because The Boat was full of it.  I’m sure you know what it was, so let’s look again at our story for this series from Matthew 14:25-32 (NLT)

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.

What would you guess would be the most common command in Scripture?  It is not to be more loving.  That is at the core of God’s desire for us, but that is not His most frequent command.

It is not about don’t worship other gods, even though He wants our undivided devotion.  The single command that occurs most often is this:  Don’t Be Afraid!  We are all probably familiar with FDR’s famous quote after Dec. 7, 1941:  “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.  It was actually a paraphrase from a much earlier quote by Henry David Thoreau:  “Nothing is so much to be feared as fear.”

If you can remember only 1 thing from today’s message, it is critical that you remember this: 

Fear Is The Demon That Keeps You From The Life God Is Giving To You. 

Life inside the boat isn’t the normal life for a follower of Jesus.  Water-Walking isn’t for the elite or the few.  It’s the life that God gives to every Disciple, every Follower of Jesus.

When Jesus came in human flesh, it was an all-out Declaration Of War against the Evil One who took control of God’s Image Bearers by deception.  And in This War, and it is a War, God has chosen to recruit those who will engage The Enemy.  His recruits?  His Image Bearers!  That’s Us!  And the way to engage in this Spiritual War is to get out of the boat.  But…

Fear is the number 1 reason why people refuse to get out of the boat.  So we need this command all the time.  Lloyd Ogilvie notes there are 366 “fear not” verses in the KJV Bible—1 for every day of the year, including one for leap year. 

Now these disciples experienced fear twice—first in the face of the storm, and then in the face of Jesus walking on the water.  Peter faced fear a third time, when he turned his attention back on the storm. 

Fear disrupts faith and becomes the biggest obstacle to trusting and obeying God.  Fear will sink us faster than anything else, even the threat of death.

Why does God command us not to be afraid?  Fear doesn’t seem like the most serious vice in the world.  It never made the list of the 7 Deadly Sins.  No one ever receives church discipline for being afraid.  So why does God tell us to stop being afraid more often than he tells us anything else? 

I strongly suspect that the reason isn’t that God wants to spare us emotional discomfort.  In fact, He usually He says it when He wants people to do something that will lead them into greater fear.  I think God says, “Don’t be afraid” so often because fear is the Number 1 reason human beings are tempted to avoid doing what God asks them to do.

At its simplest form, fear is an internal warning cry that danger is nearby and we had better do something about it.  It motivates us to take action and remove ourselves from whatever is threatening us.  Fear can be a good thing—it keeps us from stepping out into heavy traffic, or touching live electrical lines.  I’m not talking about that kind of fear.  I’m talking about the fear that makes our spirit a prisoner and keeps us from the design God has for our lives. 

It is the kind of fear that hurts us by keeping us from trusting God.  Trust and fear have been battling each other for the human heart—and your heart—for a long time.  Eventually one or the other will win. 

Think about your life.  Where is Jesus calling you to jump to Him with reckless abandon?  And at this very moment, which is winning the battle?  Where are you?  In or out?  When we allow fear to win the battle, the losses are high.  First of all, let’s look at what you lose when fear wins out over trust.

1.  There Is The Loss Of Worth!

Why are so many people who claim the name of Christ lack that sense of self-worth when we have every reason to have that sense of self-worth?  When you face a difficult situation, do you approach it, take action, and face it head on; or do you avoid it, wimp out, and run and hide?  The Enemy want us to take the easy way out. 

Fear Strips Away Your Dignity And Without Dignity There Is No Self-Worth And When There Is No Self-Worth There Is No Confidence In Us To Face That Fear.  Living in fear kills our inner sense of confidence. 

2.  There Is The Loss Of Destiny!

If you live in fear, you will never experience the potential that God has placed in you.  Remember, Growth Always Involves Risk, And Risk Always Involves Fear.  If you are waiting for some ironclad guarantee that everything will work out perfectly, if you are waiting for all the risk to be removed, you will stay where you are—and stagnate. 

Fear of failure holds us like a prison.  You have a Divine Destiny; a potential God has in you.  But it’s your choice on what to do with it

If fear holds you captive, you will lose that Divine Destiny—and that is a price that is too high to pay.

3.  There Is Also A Loss of Joy!

Have You Ever Met A Deeply Joyful, Chronically Worried Person?  Fear destroys joy!  Live in fear, and you will know the pain of constant, chronic anxiety.  Giving in to fear is a joy-killer.  It will make your imagination run toward the negative:  “What if bad things happen?  What if I’m misunderstood?  What if I don’t succeed?  What if I preach a bad sermon?”

When You Live With A Fear-Perspective, You Give Those Things The Power To Rob You Of Joy Right Now.  You and you alone give fear its power.  When you live in fear, the power of “what-if” becomes overwhelming., and you go through life without joy.  And finally,

4.  There Is A Loss Of The Sense Of God’s Presence.

Fear whispers to us that God is not going to take care of us.  It tells us we are not really safe in his hands.  Simply put, Fear Says That God Isn’t Available FOR You.  He’s too busy or you’re too weak, too worthless for God to take an interest in you.  When you believe that God isn’t available to you—you will not draw from His presence the strength and power you need.  Fear causes us to distort the way we think about God, and makes us unavailable to God.  Fear makes us live as though we serve a semi-competent god. 

Fear dominates our need for security, and herein lies the problem.  Fear Cannot, By Its Very Nature, Will Ever Give Us A Single Shred Of Security.  Fear holds us tighter than any rope or chains.  It will flood your heart and mind with doubts and anxieties.  There will never be any peace in your life, and no real security, until you hear the voice of Jesus say:  “Come on!” and then, get your feet wet.

So, how do we overcome this demon of fear?  Let me share with you 3 things you can do so that God can defeat your demons of fear:

1.  Rehearse God’s Presence Every Day

This is something you do BEFORE you find yourself in the boat in a storm.  Rehearsal is what you do before the start.  This is what you do at the beginning of your day.  And do it more often if you need it:

  1. Acknowledge Who He Is!  Revelation 1:8
  2. Remember That God Is Always With You! 
  3. Remember The Moments Full Of His Love, Grace And Mercy.  Psalm 77:11
  4. Affirm Who You Are!  Romans 8:16
  5. Ask God To Search Your Heart!  Psalm 139:23-24

2.  Renew Your Mind All Day Through The Holy Spirit

Focus on your thinking.  Your thinking influences how you see your circumstances, your culture and people you encounter.  That’s why Paul said in Romans 12:2—“Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.  Changing your thinking is an intentional and continual decision on your part.  Here are some things that can help:

  1. Read or listen to the Bible throughout the day.
  2. Listen to or sing in your heart some of your favorite music about God’s faithfulness, grace, mercy and love.
  3. Read or listen to writers who inspire and challenge you.
  4. Before you made a choice, act or speak, ask God to help you see the moment the way HE sees it.
  5. Have Conversations With God all day long—we call it prayer.

3.  Re-Focus Your Heart In That Moment

If you haven’t been doing the previous 2 things, this will likely be impossible for you.  Now, look at Peter’s third encounter with fear—he saw the waves and felt the wind.  That became his new focus.  But…but when he realized what was happening because of that new focus—he calls out to Jesus.  He was afraid in the boat—but he overcame that fear by calling out to Jesus.  And the fear from the storm? 

He Overcame That Fear By Calling Out To Jesus.

Later on Paul put it this way in 2 Corinthians 4:18— So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.

So, Here Are Your Next Steps:

  1. Name What Frightens You The Most.
  2. Ask Jesus To Take It Away—He Will, You Know.
  3. Name One Thing You Would Try To Do For God’s Kingdom If Fear Wasn’t An Issue—Because It’s Not.

Remember, you will never be totally free from fearful thoughts, but you do not have to give that fear any power—God will always be with you.  Even if you sink, the Original Water-Walker will be there to lift you up in love and without condemnation.

How To Be A Water-Walker: Use Leverage

Today we’re going to talk about Leverage.  But before we do, let’s look at our theme passage again from Matthew 14:25-32, but this time I want to share it with you from The Passion Translation:

25 At about four o’clock in the morning, Jesus came to them, walking on the waves! 26 When the disciples saw him walking on top of the water, they were terrified and screamed, “A ghost!”  27 Then Jesus said, “Be brave and don’t be afraid. I am here!”

28 Peter shouted out, “Lord, if it’s really you, then have me join you on the water!”  29 “Come and join me,”  Jesus replied.  So Peter stepped out onto the water and began to walk toward Jesus. 30 But when he realized how high the waves were, he became frightened and started to sink.  “Save me, Lord!” he cried out.

31 Jesus immediately stretched out his hand and lifted him up and said, “What little faith you have!  Why would you let doubt win?”  32 And the very moment they both stepped into the boat, the raging wind ceased.

Before we dive into looking at the principle of Leverage, let’s back up and do a quick review from last week.  We talked about that process of discovering and uncovering your giftedness for the Mission of The Kingdom.  Here’s what the process looks like:

  • God’s Gift Produces Great Joy.
  • God’s Gift Requires Gritty Determination To Use It.God’s Gift Produces Great Joy.
  • Your Gift Will Far Exceed Your Abilities.
  • Surround Yourself With People Who Have Godly Wisdom.
  • Align Yourself With People Who Pray.
  • Start Using The Scientific Method of Trial And Error

OK, on to Leverage.  I know I just heard some of you thinking, “What does Leverage have to do with being a Water-Walker?”  Good for you thinking like this—I’m glad you asked because it’s the next step in overcoming fear and getting out on the water with Jesus.

Let’s start with a definition of Leverage.  This word is used in a lot of different contexts, but let’s go back to the scientific principle of Leverage and move from here:  “Leverage changes the amount of force needed to move an object.  It reduces the strength required to move a much heavier object.”  This principle is applied in finance, business and politics.  But there is a spiritual application to the concept of leverage that needs to be explored.

Like most things in The Kingdom Of God, spiritual applications and principles work in Backwards Logic.  Here’s a few: 

  • In Order To Live, You Must Die;
  • In Order To Find, You Must Lose;
  • In Order To Receive, You Must Give;
  • In Order To Rise Above The Crowd, You Must Serve The Crowd.

Now let’s apply the Backwards Logic of The Kingdom to Leverage.  Spiritual Leverage Reduces The Influence Of The Stronger Object.  Think about moving a rock that weighs 3 times more than you.  You take a lever, find the right pivot point and even though you weigh 3 times less, you can move that rock.  Your weight and the weight of the rock remains the same.

In Spiritual Leverage, the weaker you become, the weaker the object becomes, until you are stronger.  What I’m trying to say is that whatever is in the way of you stepping out of the boat to become a Water-Walker, becomes weaker as you become weaker.  Insane!  Am I right?  Does this really make Logical Sense to us?

And this leads me to The One Thing You Need To Remember From This Message, And It’s Not My Idea, But the Apostle Paul’s:  God’s Power Works Best In Our Weaknesses. 

In case you forgot, Paul had been pleading with God to take away some unknown “thorn in the flesh”.  It didn’t happen—instead God revealed something more powerful that Paul needed—and so do we.  2 Corinthians 12:9— “My grace is all you need.  My power works best in weakness.”  This was God’s answer—3 times.

Most people love the hear stories about the powerful God we serve.  But herein lies the problem:  That information alone is not enough to create courageous human beings.  I can receive tons of information designed to assure me that God’s power is sufficient.  But the information alone does not transform my human heart. 

In order for such a transformation to take place, we need to learn how to apply Leverage—using one force to move what seems to be an immovable object.  If you want to know if you are living outside the boat, then ask yourself this question, and ask it often:  What am I doing now that I could not do apart from the power of God?  It’s clear, the only way Peter could stay afloat was if God took over.   

When we risk using our Spiritual Giftedness, we can know the joy of being used by God.  But we have to trust before we act.  We see this over and over again in scripture.  Moses had to trust that God would part the Red Sea.  Gideon had to reduce his army from 32,000 to 300 before God would bring the victory.  Naaman had to wash 7 times in the water before he was cured of leprosy.  The loaves and fish had to be relinquished before they were multiplied.  The seed has to be planted in the soil and die before the harvest can happen.

Most of us have an area that might be called our “Spiritual Comfort Zone,” which is the area we feel most comfortable trusting God.  When God calls us to go beyond our spiritual comfort zone, we begin to feel nervous or uncomfortable.  We would prefer not to go outside that zone until we feel better about it.   

You have to follow the Path of God, which requires us to admit our weaknesses and inabilities.  Pay close attention to Peter’s Statement:  “Lord, if it’s really you, then have me join you on the water!”  It’s those 5 words:  “have me join you”—it’s the words of weakness and inability.  Most folks don’t have the problem of being too weak—though that is what they say.

The problem is many are often Too Strong.  What God told Paul is the same thing He wants us to hear:  “My grace is all you need.  My power works best in weakness.”  Where do we need to Leverage our weaknesses so that God’s Power works the best?  There are a lot of points and places, but think about these as a start in your life.

1.  Leverage Our Points Of Our Fear!

Step out of the boat at the point of your fears.  Why?  Because He wants us to overcome them through His Power, and not be intimidated and defeated by them. 

For example, one of the most exciting adventures in life is helping another person find God.  What keeps us from getting out of the boat evangelistically?  Fear!  But on the other hand, look at the upside potential.  We might actually be part of God’s redemptive purpose on earth.  But if I wait until I feel like I’ll be 100% effective, I will never step out of the boat to help someone surrender to Jesus. 

What, exactly are you afraid of, spiritually?  Bring those fears to God and God will provide His Power.  But, if you never admit your weakness of fear, you will never know His Power.  Secondly,

2.  Leverage Our Points Of Frustration!

Sometimes people in Scripture get motivated to trust God in remarkable ways when they become frustrated with the brokenness of a fallen world.  We see it in David when he couldn’t stand any longer the insults of Goliath.  We see it in Elijah when he could stand the idolatry of Ahab and Jezebel. 

In the world today, it is at the point where we are frustrated by the mess our culture is in and that sense of what God desires.  To fix that gap between what is and what God desires should motivate us to action for a cause that is greater than ourselves.  It may be your frustration with political systems that abuse people.  It may be your sense of frustration that there are so many homeless people.  It may be your frustration with the loneliness the elderly often feel when placed in a skilled nursing facility.  Whatever it is that makes you feel frustrated, take your weaknesses to bring about change and allow Him to fill you with His Power.  Thirdly,

3.  Leverage Our Points Of Compassion!

Being A Water-Walker Means We Move Towards What Breaks Our Heart.  Compassion is expressed in our actions.  Jesus certainly modeled this for us.  Scripture says that many times when Jesus looked at the crowds, seeing their deepest needs, He was filled with compassion. 

When was the last time you took a serious compassion risk?  Jesus did it all the time.  He touched lepers, ate with tax collectors, associated with prostitutes; all these were a part of His calling—they were why He came!  For you it is working with Christian Center of Concern, Delivering meals on the Third Saturday, or coming up with an idea that Shows Compassion To Those Who Need It, Not Those We Think Deserve It.  Finally,

4.  Leverage Our Points Of Prayer!

Real-life stories of Water-Walkers are always stories about prayer.  There is something about getting out of the boat that turns people into Intense Pray-Ers.  They live each moment of each day with the conviction that they cannot accomplish things without God’s help.

Paul prayed—3 times—about his thorn in the flesh.  And all 3 times, God’s answer was the same—“My strength works through your weaknesses.”  Peter’s Prayer Request Was To Join Jesus On The Water.  So tell me this:  What’s Your Prayer Request For Yourself?  Is it about yourself?  Is it complaining about the shape of our culture?  Is it wanting Jesus to come back now to get you out of this miserable culture? 

Water-Walking is not about the great thing you will do.  It is about the great thing God longs to do with you through his powerful grace in you.  But first you have to Leverage Your Weaknesses!  It’s more than getting your feet wet.  Those in the boat had wet feet—Peter had wet feet—the difference was Peter Leveraged His Weakness By Bringing It To Jesus AS He Walked On Water.

Well, I’m down to your Next Step.  For some of you, this Next Step may well be the most painful moment of your life.  It’s a moment you’ve been putting off—or you’ve been living in denial. 

Tell God Your Weakness. 

  1. It could be pride that is keeping you from getting out of the boat and into a relationship with Jesus.  You’ve been playing the church game, and you don’t want anyone else to know.
  2. It may be fear that is holding you in the boat—fear of failure—or just maybe your fear is the fear of Truth—that if the truth of your life becomes public knowledge, you’re afraid that those closest to you will be ashamed of you and turn away from you.
  3. It may be shame that’s keeping you in the boat.  It may be a private shame of something you once did—or a public shame that everyone knows about.  It may be a lifetime of shame—of doing the wrong thing—making the wrong choices.
  4. It may be doubt that keeps you off of the water.  You don’t want to admit it, but you seriously doubt you could ever be a Water-Walker because, well because Jesus couldn’t help you be that Water-Walker you’ve been hearing about.
  5. Or it may be the worst weakness of all—You Have No Weaknesses.  Arrogance is your weakness and you don’t even know it.

Here is what I’m asking you to do this morning.  Leverage Your Weakness.  If one of these, or any of an infinite number of weaknesses is yours—take that weakness to the right place. 

Bring it to The Father—tell Him all about it.  Then listen…listen to what HE says about your weaknesses—“My grace is all you need.  My power works best in weakness.”

I’ve asked you not to focus on Peter’s sinking—but think about it now.  When Peter started sinking what did he do?  He Leveraged His Weakness By Crying Out To Jesus.  And Immediately—Immediately Jesus Saved Him!  Leverage Your Weakness By Bringing It To God, And The Grace Of God Becomes Stronger Than That Thing That Is Keeping YOU In The Boat

How To Be A Water-Walker: Discover Your Gift!

Let’s read the story again for this series from Matthew 14:25-32 (NLT)

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.

Sometimes, in our desire to serve God, we make rash judgments.  We rush into action rather than seeking permission.  Even though I’ve been challenging you to get out of the boat, we don’t engage in Water-Walking for the sake of Water-Walking.  We are talking about choosing Extreme Discipleship Over The Desire For Comfort.  We have to understand something from Matthew’s account.  Peter is not in charge of this Water-Walking ExperienceJesus Is In Charge

Even though he looks before he leaps, when he gets permission, he takes his leap of faith.  That Leap Of Faith Was One Of The Defining Moments In Peter’s Life.

Sometimes when we feel life is boring, or we feel like life is passing us by, we can make a rash decision that is not in line with God’s call for our lives.  We can make risky decisions that are short-sighted and absolutely dumb.  But When Jesus Calls Us By Name, It’s To Join In Walking With Him On The Water.

In this Series, I hate to say this is the most important one of all—because it’s not the most important one.  But today’s message is the Pivotal Message; your notes are on the front and back.  Miss this one and the previous 2 mean nothing; and the remainder will not help you become The Water-Walker God empowers you to be!

This leads us to the one thing you need to remember from this message:  It Isn’t The Emotional High Of Being A Water-Walker That Motivates Us—It’s The Desire To Engage The World For The Kingdom Of God Using His Spiritual Gifts. 

Our Gifts For The Mission Only Work While We Walk On The Water.  Every person is gifted by God, through the Holy Spirit for The Mission of the Church.  The Mission of the Church is to do exactly what Jesus did:  To engage the world for the Kingdom of God.  Jesus did that with His Words, Attitude, and Actions. 

One morning after a daylong session in Capernaum of healing and casting out demons, Jesus left.  But the people looked for him until they found him and begged him to stay.  But Jesus told them, “Look, The Father sent me to tell the world about The Kingdom, and that’s what I’m going to do!”  (Luke 4:43)

The way we join in The Mission is through the use of the Spiritual Gifts God gives to everyone.  Question:  Do you believe the Bible is God’s Inspired Word?  It’s what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 12:7—“A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other.”  Help each other do what?  To Engage The World FOR The Kingdom Of God

Sometimes we try to barter with God by saying we want to know what the gift is before we make up our mind to become a Water-Walker.  But it doesn’t work that way.  You have to unconditionally trust the Lord Of The Gift

At this point we should lay out a principle that is to be understood and accepted:  Everyone Is Gifted To A Mission And Ministry.  It’s not just pastors and missionaries and teachers and exceptional people.  God Gifts us all in different ways.  You need to be able to recognize The Gift that God has given you.  Here’s some easy ways to recognize The Gift:

1.  Your Gift Reflects God’s Image.

Let’s begin with a profound theological question:  What Does God Do All Day?  If we were to answer this question with one word, what would that word be?  A great insight into this question is found in the very first book of the Bible, in the very first chapter.  The word would be:  Work!  God is at Work.  For 6 days, God is at WorkAnd On The 7th Day, He Only RESTS, Not Retires.  God forms us with His very own hands to join Him in the Work.  When Jesus came to earth, he Worked.  First as a carpenter, then as the Messiah, God’s anointed one!  And then as The Conqueror Of Sin and Death.

You Are A Piece Of Work By God.  You were made in God’s image.  You are created to Work, to create, to lead, to study, to organize, to heal, to cultivate—to do something that engages the world for The Kingdom Of God. 

In Discovering Your Gift, It Will Say Something About God By Reflecting God’s Image.  This means that you must get to know Him personally and deeply.  Knowing God more deeply helps you know Your Gift.  You experience God for yourself.  Your Gift will reflect God’s image.  Here’s a second way to recognize Your Gift:

2.  Your Gift Is Essential To The Work Of The Kingdom Of God.

When my kids and grandkids were little we bought them gifts, and the 3 words I dreaded most were:  Some Assembly Required.  Inevitably, there would be a few parts left over, lying alone and not in the finished project.  I always thought the factory just put some extra parts in there because someone just slipped up and put useless parts in there—parts not needed for completion of the project. 

But this is not how God works.  He does not make spare parts.  You are not spare parts.  You Have A Purpose—A Design That Is Central To God’s Dream To Engage The World For His Kingdom.  God has given you talents, longings, and passions.  God knows how to use those talents, longings and passion along with your Gift in order to engage this culture for The Kingdom. 

In the movie “Blues Brothers,” John Belushi and Dan Ackroyd were ex-convicts on a trip.  They were trying to raise money for an orphanage.  Anytime they were asked about their work, their standard response was: “We’re on a mission from God!”  Here Is The Story Of Your Life:  You Are On A Mission From God.  And your mission is essential to the vitality of the Kingdom and key to God’s purpose for creation.  And the third way to recognize Your Gifts is this:

3.  Your Gift Is Something You Discover, Not Something You Choose.

You did not arrive on earth with your Gifts pre-developed.  You arrived with a little warning:  Some Assembly Required.  The word ‘vocation’ comes from the Latin word ‘vocatio’ meaning ‘a calling, a being called.’  Discovering your mission involves careful listening.  God is the Call-ER and we are the Call-EE. 

So how can we discover this Gift, this call?  I’m not going to give you a magic formula to discover your gift—because there is no magic formula.  But, as Nick Saban is fond of saying, there is a process that we have to buy into or it doesn’t work.  Let me share what this process involves, in no particular order—but you will go through all of them:  Let’s consider these your Next Steps:

God’s Gift Produces Great Joy.  Think about it this way:  have you ever received a gift from someone where you smiled and said, “That is exactly what I’ve been wanting!”?  But inside your mind you’re thinking, “What a hideous gift!  What were they thinking?”  Don’t say anything in case that person is in this room.  You hide it in the back of a closet and only get it out if you know they are coming to your house or you’re going to see them.  But God’s Gift for you always brings feelings of great enjoyment.  But there’s more. 

God’s Gift Requires Gritty Determination To Use It.  Here’s why:  The Enemy doesn’t want you to use that Gift and will try to prevent you from using it.  Why?  Because He Fears You When You Operate Out Of Your Gift Rather Than Out Of Your Ability.  If Satan doesn’t fear you, it’s because you’re still in the boat. 

God’s Gift Fills You With That Sense Of Urgency And Necessity.  The word “necessity” comes from 2 Greek words that mean “intensity” and “ache”.  When You Discover Your Gift, There Will Be An Intense Ache Inside You When You Are Not Faithfully Using Your Gift.

Your Gift will far exceed your abilities.  Remember that Gifts are about what God does through you rather than what you do for God.  Your Gift is Spiritual not natural.  Use your abilities for the Kingdom, but do not neglect your Gift.

Surround Yourself With People Who Have Godly Wisdom. These people will help you identify your Gift because they are also in tune to listening to God.  They can help you name your Gift and help you use your Gift.

Align Yourself With People Who Pray.  In discovering your Gift and in using your Gift, you need to be surrounded by Prayer Warriors.  People who frequently pray are in frequent conversation with God.  Remember, Satan is afraid of you when you use your Gift—so we need the Hosts of Heaven’s Armies all around us.

Start Using The Scientific Method.  I know that sounds so unspiritual.  But if you are still having difficulty identifying your Gift, the Scientific Method helps.  In case you may have forgotten, the Scientific Method is Trial And Error.  Try using a Gift to see if it works in you; try more than once.  If it doesn’t work, try something else.  According to a legend, Thomas Edison made 1,000 unsuccessful attempts at inventing the light bulb.  When a reporter asked, “How did it feel to fail 1,000 times?” Edison replied, “I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.”  Did Peter know he had the Gift to Walk On Water?  I don’t think so.  But he had to try, otherwise he would have never known—and neither will you.

Your Gift Is Found By Listening.  When you have truly listened to God, you heart will drive you to use that Gift and step out of the boat.  Spiritual Gifts Are Designed To Work On The Water, NOT In The Boat

Giftedness is different from abilities, skills, and your wheelhouse.  You need to use Your abilities, skills and wheelhouse here.  But Giftedness is different.   It Originates From Outside Us—Works Its Way IN Us—So That THROUGH Us We Engage The World For The Sake Of The Kingdom Of God.  But it takes a surrender of what you know—in order to find out what God knows.

Peter knows, at least he should know—that this is outside his abilities, skills and definitely not in his wheelhouse.  The Gift God gives you is to make you into more than you could ever become—to do more than you ever thought you could do.  But it is never beyond what God can do—through you!

We’re Not Gifted To Work FOR God, But We Are Gifted To Work WITH God.  Remember, you are on a mission from God.  And it’s yours—yours to discover—yours to claim—and yours to live!

We’re Not Gifted To Work FOR God, But We Are Gifted To Work WITH God.

How To Be A Water-Walker: Have The Right Attitude!

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.

Matthew 14:25-32 (NLT)

Today we are in the 2nd week of our series on being a Water-Walker.  Last week we discovered that the first step is to get out of the boat.  And the way to do this is to recognize God’s presence, live in extreme discipleship, and actually step out of the boat.  Remember, your fears will tell you what you boat is. 

I hope you didn’t walk away last week thinking that being a Water-Walker is a Cake-Walk.  It’s not easy.  And here is the One Thing You Need To Remember: We Must Be Stretched And Challenged To Walk With The Original Water-Walker.  It’s not about living with the absence of fear.  Water-Walking is about confronting our fears, not to be controlled by our fears, and above everything else, it is about not missing our own personal Encounter With God.

This is a great story, but we’ve mistreated Peter’s part, especially us preachers, me included.  We tend to focus on Peter’s sinking a bit too much sometimes.  But it really hit me as I was preparing for this series, that phrase In The Boat.

Those guys in the boat praised Jesus, for calming the storm, Because They Missed The PointThe Theophany Wasn’t In The Calming Of The Storm; It Was In The Walking On The Water!  We criticize Peter for sinking, but don’t forget that the rest of them were still In The Boat

Water-Walkers sometimes sink.  Occasionally we fall flat on our faces.  Listen, I am convinced that our greatest obstacle to Extreme Discipleship is found in our fear of failure.  If you never want to fail at anything, then do nothing at all.  But even at that, you’re still a failure because you’re not living up to the potential God sees in your life. 

There is an element of risk and danger in Water-Walking.  I want us to look at Having The Attitude Of A Water-Walker.  Attitude is so important, Because Your Altitude In Life Is Connected To Your Attitude In Life

For example, think about the person you love the least.  Name that person—it may be a family member, in-law, ex-spouse, your boss, neighbor, co-worker; probably someone who wounded you. That’s how much you love God, and you will never love God any more than you do that person.  Your Attitude towards God, and attitude toward others are connected and you cannot disconnect the two.

As I said last week, Water-Walking is risky business, and we had better make sure we enter this journey with both eyes open.  Let’s look at the Attitude Of Water-Walkers.  First of all:

1.  Water-Walkers Expect Problems!

So, Peter goes to the side of the boat.  The other disciples are watching closely, In The Boat.  They’ve seen Peter shoot off at the mouth before.  They wonder how far he’ll take this thing.  He puts 1 foot over the side.  I imagine he’s gripping the side of the boat with white knuckles.  Then he slides the other foot over.  Now what? 

Peter Does Something Spiritual.  He Lets Go Of The Boat.  He completely gives himself up to the power of Jesus.  For a moment, it seems like there’s no one there but Peter and Jesus.  Peter is delighted!  Jesus is thrilled with his disciple:  Like Master, Like Disciple.  Then it happens. 

Peter saw the wind and the waves.  Reality sets in, and Peter asks himself, “What was I thinking?”  He realized he was on the water in the middle of the storm without a boat—it terrified him!  But nothing has really changed.  The storm should have come as no surprise.  It’s been there all along.

What happened was, Peter’s focus shifted from the Savior to the Storm.  But we all understand that, don’t we?  We set out with high expectations, but them wham!  The storm comes.  Opposition, setbacks, obstacles—they should have been expected because face it, this world’s a pretty stormy place.  When Peter started sinking, who did he call out to?  The guys in the boat or Jesus?  We Can Get Out On The Water Because We Know That If We Start Sinking, Jesus Is There To Help Us.

Some people will never get out of the boat because of the storm.  But if we know ahead of time there will be a storm, we can brace ourselves for it.  Prepare for it by keeping our focus on the Savior and not the Storm!  If you get out of the boat, you will face the Storm.  But we have to remember:  We Never Face The Storm Alone! 

There’s always another Water-Walker with us, the Original Water-Walker!  Everything worthwhile in life is risky!  But if you don’t take the risk, you slowly die of boredom and stagnation.

2.  Water-Walkers Accept Challenges As The Price For Growth!

Now we come to a part of the story you may not like very much; I don’t care for it much myself.  The Choice To Follow Jesus—The Choice To Grow—Is The Choice For The Constant Recurrence Of Challenges—Difficult Challenges.  You’ve got to get out of the boat a little every day.  Let me explain. 

The disciples get into the boat, face the storm, see the Water-Walker, and are afraid.  Jesus said, “Don’t be afraid.”  Peter braces himself, asks permission to go overboard, sees the wind, and is afraid all over again.  Do you think that’s the last time in Peter’s life that he will experience a challenge?

Here is a deep truth about Water-Walking:  The Challenges Will Never Go Away.  Why?  Because Each Time I Want To Grow, It Will Involve Going Into New Territory, Taking On New Challenges.  Each Time I Do That, I Am Going To Be Stretched, And So Will You.  The challenges will never go away as long as we continue to grow.  That’s great news, right? 

You don’t have to worry about those challenges.  Challenges and growth go together like macaroni and cheese.  It’s a package deal.  The Decision To Grow Always Involves A Choice Between Risk Or Comfort.  This means to be a follower of Jesus you have to renounce comfort as the ultimate value in your life.  It’s human nature to value comfort over risk.  Do you know the name of the bestselling chair in America?  La-Z-Boy!

Not Risk-E-Boy, not Work-R-Boy, but La-Z-Boy.  We have a name for people who vegetate in front of the TV:  Couch Potatoes.  The other disciples could be called “Boat Potatoes.”  They didn’t mind watching, but they didn’t want to actually do anything

And today, Millions Of People Could Be Called “Pew Potatoes.”  They want the comfort associated with a shallow spirituality, but they don’t want the risk and challenge that go along with truly following Jesus.  Jesus is still looking for people who will get out of the boat. 

Our Choices Between Risk Or Comfort Grow Into A Habit.  Every time you get out of the boat, you become a little more likely to get out the next time.  It’s not that the fear goes away.  You realize that it does not have the power to destroy you.  And finally:

3.  Water-Walkers Master Failure Management!

As a result of seeing the wind and giving in to fear, Peter began to sink into the water.  So here is the question:  Did Peter Fail?  Before you answer that question, allow me to share some insights I have been discovering about failure, because we will be talking a lot about that in the coming weeks. 

Failure Is Not An Event, But Rather A Judgment About An Event.  Failure is NOT something that happens to us, or a label we attach to things.  It Is A Way We Think About Outcomes.  Here’s good example.  Jonas Salk is credited with discovering the polio vaccine.  Are you aware that it took him over 200 attempts before he successfully discovered the polio vaccine?  200 attempts without success, would you dare call Dr. Jonas Salk a failure?  Would you say he failed 200 times?  I think not.

OK, back to Peter:  Did Peter Fail?  OK, maybe his faith wasn’t strong enough—wait, his faith was strong enough; he was walking on the water.  OK, then, he took his eyes off of Jesus to look at the storm, and he sank.  But did he really fail?  Here’s what I think: 

I Think There Were 11 Bigger Failures Sitting In The Boat.  They Failed Quietly, Privately, Unnoticed, Unobserved, And Uncriticized.  Only Peter knew the shame of public failure.  But Peter knew two other things, things the 11 did not experience: 

One:  Only Peter Knew The Glory Of Actually Walking On The Water.  Be it ever so brief a moment—but he knew what it felt like to do something that was made possible only by the power of God.  Peter Knew He Didn’t Do; It Was A God Moment.  It was a defining moment that went with him for the rest of his life. 

Number Two:  Only Peter Knew Glory Of Being Lifted Up By Jesus In A Moment Of Desperate Need.  Peter knew in a way that the others could never have known, that when he sank, Jesus would be there and was completely adequate to save him. 

Notice carefully in the story, Jesus spoke to Peter BEFORE they go back into the boat.  His words to Peter were between just the 2 of them (and if that’s the way Jesus handled it, who are we to criticize someone in front of others?).  They couldn’t know that, because they never got out of the boat!  Failure Occurs When We Choose To Stay In The Boat—To Choose Our Comfort Over The Risk!

Now, let’s tie all this together.  It was Peter’s attitude to risk failure that helped him to grow.  When he was out of the boat, as long as he looked at Jesus, he was a Water-Walker.  When he looked at the storm, he was a water-sinker. 

But Peter learned an invaluable lesson—He Understood His Dependence On Faith Much More Deeply Than He Would Have If He Had Never Left The Boat.  This is what those In The Boat missed.

Jesus is still looking for people who will get out of the boat.  Why risk it?  Here’s why:

  1. It Is The Only Way To Real Growth. 
  2. It Is The Way True Faith Develops. 
  3. It Is The Only Alternative To Boredom And Stagnation That Causes People To Wither Up And Die. 
  4. The Water Is Where Jesus Is At! 

The water may be dark, wet, and dangerous.  But Jesus is not in the boat.  What about you?  When was the last time you got out of your boat?  God uses real-world challenges to develop our ability to trust in Him, not reading great books or listening to awesome sermons. 

We tend to seek a world of comfort where we can maintain the illusion of control.  But then, God passes us by, and shakes up everything.  The call to get out of the boat involves crisis; at times failure; that call is made in the presence of fear; and sometimes it leads to suffering—but that calling is always to a task too big for us.  But there is no other way to grow faith and to partner with God. 

It’s risky getting out of the boat, and you can do it with the right attitude.  But to have this right attitude, You Have To Take These Next Steps.

  1. Pray Right Now, This Prayer:  “Jesus, I Have Complete and Unconditional Confidence In You And None In Me.”  Pray this prayer right now.  Don’t close your eyes.  Look up and imagine you are looking God right in His eyes as you pray it.  Now make this your attitude.  If you fail, then you’re not worried because you will count on Jesus, just like Peter.  Jesus will always be in the water with you.
  2. Do Something Spiritual—Get Out Of Your Boat And Help Another Person See Jesus In You.  This is the only way you will ever be known like Peter—and like Jesus—A Water Walker.