One Resolution: One Purpose!

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.

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 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 Need To Be The Community That Has A Pinpoint Laser Focus On The Kingdom Of God.

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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!

Jesus Wants Us To Embrace Him As Fully As He Has Embraced Us!

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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!

The Jesus We Need Is Not Found At The Manger, But At The Cross.

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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!

Those Who Enter This Holy Season With The Greatest Needs Stand The Best Chance Of Encountering The Messiah.

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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!

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!

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(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!

God Uses The Sifted And The Tested!

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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!

The Signs That God Will Change Our Culture Are Here—We Just Need To Follow Them.

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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!

Must Change Your Culture.

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(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.