Are You Settling Or Moving Forward?

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(We have all heard about the “faith of Abraham”, right?  Read Hebrews 11:8-10 in case you need a refresher course.  What follows next is an excerpt from today’s message.  I realize that it’s a bit different, but I’m OK with that.  Looking forward to your comments.  Happy New Year!)

I need to make a confession to all of you this morning.  As many times as I have read and studied, taught and preached from the story of Abraham, there’s a part of his story that I have missed.  In Genesis 12 God calls Abraham to leave Haran and head out to the Land of God’s Promise.  The part I have been missing is from Genesis 11, verses 31-32.  It is connected to the Story of God’s Promise to Redeem and Restore His fallen Image Bearers.  It is a connection I never made until this past Tuesday. And don’t blame it on the flu.  Here are the verses:

31 One day Terah took his son Abram, his daughter-in-law Sarai (his son Abram’s wife), and his grandson Lot (his son Haran’s child) and moved away from Ur of the Chaldeans.  He was headed for the land of Canaan, but they stopped at Haran and settled there. 32 Terah lived for 205 years and died while still in Haran.

I have no idea why the editors of the first official Bible put those 2 verses in chapter 11.  These 2 verses go with the story in Chapter 12—the Promise of God to redeem and restore the fallen Image Bearers.  God gave The Vision to Terah and Terah set out following that Vision.

There’s a tragedy in the life of Terah that’s so very clear when our eyes, mind and heart are open to it.  “He was headed for the land of Canaan, but they stopped at Haran and settled there.”  Terah was heading into God’s future, to The Promised Land but Terah stopped at Haran and settled there.  I don’t know why—maybe it was simply easier to settle in Haran rather than to keep on that journey.  Maybe he changed his mind and decided it was too risky.  Or maybe Terah simply wanted to be comfortable.

What have you settled for instead of God’s Promise?  As tragic as it was for Terah to settle for Haran instead of The Promise, the worst tragedy for Terah is Verse 32:  “Terah lived for 205 years and died while still in Haran.”  If Terah had died while headed towards The Promise, there would be no tragedy.  The tragedy was he died while still in Haran, the place he substituted for The Promise.

The Bible tells us that Terah lived for 205 years—more than enough time to settle in The Promised Land.  If Terah had not settled for Haran, then we would have read this morning about the Faith of Terah instead of the Faith of Abraham.  Terah settled in Haran and died there instead of moving into God’s Promised Land.  Let this thought sink in:  He Died Where He Settled.  Terah settled for some second best.

But God doesn’t give up on His Promise to Redeem And Restore His Image Bearers.  When Terah settled on Haran, God chose another for the Promise—Abraham.  The Vision was now given to someone else.  And I believe God still works this way.  If we refuse to follow God’s Vision by settling down at our Haran, then God is going to take the vision away from those have settled for some Haran, to those who are willing to trust God, who will live out the Going Without Knowing Faith in God.

The lesson Terah teaches us is this:  Don’t settle for Haran when The Promise is in front of us.  When We Stop Trusting, We Start Rusting.  The Promise Of God Is Not Found Where We Settle, But Where We Leave Everything Behind And Live By Faith.

When I read this passage from Hebrews, there are 3 questions that challenge me, and should challenge you:

 1. “Will I Give Up Everything To Follow Jesus?”

Slide21Everything means, well, everything—nothing held back, all in. But when we say, “I trust you God, but I’m not doing that; I trust you God but I’m not giving up this; I trust you God but I’m not going there; I trust you God but I’m not changing what’s important to me”, it’s no longer a trust relationship and it’s not faith.  It becomes a negotiation; and God is not a negotiator.  You cannot know the depths of this relationship until you stop negotiating with God and begin trusting Him.  And beside this, you do not want to negotiate with God.  You will lose every time!

2. “Will I Give Up What Makes Me Feel Comfortable And Secure?”

Slide22All of us have things that make us feel comfortable.  That’s why it’s called “Comfort Zones”.  There is little risk and no challenges, in our Comfort Zones—and neither is Jesus.  What things are in your Comfort Zones?  Better yet, when it comes to the direction God is calling us into, what makes you uncomfortable?  Jesus does provide us Comfort—but it’s never meant to make us Comfortable.

 

 

Think for a moment about Jesus in the Upper Room on that night when He would be arrested. Jesus was calm—He held it all together—but I think He was in great discomfort.  Did Jesus find Comfort?  Absolutely, He’s deeply connected to The Father.  Was Jesus uncomfortable with the task in front of Him?  Absolutely!  Look at what happens after they leave that Upper Room and that Olive Press became His altar.  All those “uncomfortable feelings” poured out of Him.  Do you think He was “comfortable” facing the Cross?  Was the cross “comfortable” as He hung on it?

What I am trying to say is this: It’s OK to feel uncomfortable, even uneasy, when following Jesus because Faith is never found in our Comfort Zones.  If we wait until it feels safe or we feel like we can succeed, then it’s NOT faith NOT trust, NOT love.  It’s just another one of our projects.  Jesus isn’t interested in our projects—only our absolute surrender.

3. “Will I Choose Today To Go Deeper With Jesus?”

Slide23Trust is like a swimming pool.  I know, I know, you’re thinking I’m the only one who could come up with that analogy.  If you think about it, it makes a whole lot of sense—and it’s the truth.  Most swimming pools have 2 ends—shallow and deep:

First, there’s the shallow end. It’s the end where our feet touch that solid bottom and our head is above the water.  It takes no effort on our part to keep our heads above the water.  Unfortunately, this is where many seem to want to live their faith—where it takes no effort to keep their heads above the water.  It’s safe on the shallow end, but here’s the truth:  Jesus is not found on the shallow end.

Then there’s the deep end. The deep end is where trouble may happen.  It takes an effort to keep our heads above the water.  It’s not always safe on the deep end.  Things may happen, and we go under.  But here’s the other Truth:  Jesus is always found on the deep end.  And Jesus isn’t interested in helping us just keep our heads above the water.  He wants us to walk on top of that water—like that night when Jesus called Peter out of the boat.

Now some of you may be thinking, “Well, I could walk on the water at the shallow Slide24end of the pool, too.” You could, but you won’t—because you know your feet will touch bottom and your head will stay above the water.  God called Abraham to the deep end, where he would drown unless he held on tightly to God.  Faith is Trust, and Trust only happens in the deep end.

 

Which end of the pool will you live in starting today?

 

#6. Self Reliance

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(This is the fifth in a 10 part series.  Number 5 will be released tomorrow.  If you are just starting to read this series, you will need to start with Top 10 Things That Are Killing The Church! first, then #10: Choosing Religion Over Relationship;  #9 Ignoring That We Are In A War;  #8: Wrong priorities; and finally read 7: Cookie Cutter Attitude before reading this one)

Self Reliance, now that doesn’t sound all that bad, does it?  Isn’t it a good thing to be Self-Reliant?  Look at the definition:  “reliance on one’s own powers and resources rather than those of others.”  You’re not a burden on anyone or a drain on any system.  Shouldn’t that be a good thing?  Yes, in one real sense, Self Reliance is a good thing.  In farming Self Reliance means that you figure out how to be profitable year in and year out.  For a corporation it can mean sustainability.  All of these can be good things in the right situation and environment.

But like all good things, they can be abused.  I am not suggesting that anyone needs to become dependent on the government as the only means to have the basics of food, shelter and clothing.  But I’m not writing about economic self-reliance.  The context is looking at the Top 10 things that are killing the church.  Self-Reliance has definitely deserved its spot at #6.  Hang with me just a little bit longer.  Let’s look at Proverbs 3:5-12 and from The Message it goes like this:

Trust God from the bottom of your heart; don’t try to figure out everything on your own.

Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; he’s the one who will keep you on track.  Don’t assume that you know it all.      Run to God! Run from evil!

Your body will glow with health, your very bones will vibrate with life!
Honor God with everything you own; give him the first and the best.
Your barns will burst, your wine vats will brim over.

But don’t, dear friend, resent God’s discipline; don’t sulk under his loving correction.  

It’s the child he loves that God corrects; a father’s delight is behind all this.

The NIV puts it this way:  Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.”  After nearly 2,000 years of history, suddenly there are those in the church who think they have this thing called “church” and “Christianity” all figured out and no longer need those ancient and outdated things of the past.  Here is how I see Self Reliance being played out to the harm and even death of the local church.  I will start at the top with the most damning and damaging and work my way down the list.

First, there is a lack of Biblical Authority.   The tried and proven true values of the Bible are being traded in for a new set of values that, well, just makes more sense for today’s times than those of the Bible.  There’s this group that promotes this within the church.  They call themselves “Progressives”.  They insist that their views are more in line with God’s standards.  In fact, they proclaim, that thanks to Jesus, things once considered wrong and sinful, well those definitions of sin are just outdated biases and prejudices of a long gone generation.  People are free to pick and choose which parts of the Bible best fits them and the parts that don’t fit–just ignore them as cultural bias and a lack of understanding of the real world.  Without true Biblical Authority in us and over us, we end up choosing our own way and they simply leads to chaos.  Wasn’t that the real temptation in the Garden of Eden put before Adam and Eve?  I realize that some people misread the Bible because they bring their personal biases into it.  But that does not negate that the Bible still has authority over us in matters of personal holiness, individual integrity and how we are to live as God’s people in this fallen world.

Second, there is a lack of understanding the nature and work of the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit comes to bring us the power we need become more like Jesus and to be the hands and feet of Jesus in our current world.  I still believe we need spiritual power.  I still believe we need spiritual gifts.  And I still believe we need that fruit which only the Holy Spirit can produce.  But so many today, too many today want to lean on their abilities, human knowledge and human training.  Fewer and fewer people live with that sense that God is actually living in them THROUGH the presence of the Holy Spirit.  Without the Holy Spirit, we are like those disciples who tried to cast out that demon but failed.  To their credit they did ask Jesus why they failed.  And Jesus replied to them that they needed more prayer and fast.  In other words, put themselves in those positions where we become more keenly aware of the Holy Spirit and rely on Him with His power and abilities over our powers and abilities.

And third, there is the desire by some in the church to be in control of what happens in or through the church.  They have either been self-appointed authorities or they inherited that position because their family has always been in control.  Self Reliance says that WE determine the who, what, where, when and the how of the Mission of the Church.  The Mission of the church is defined by those places where God is already at work.  But too many want to be in control of the Mission, not messy people, places and organizations.  Self Reliance says we are smart enough to figure out on our own what should or should not be done.  Focus in inward and we have already seen what happens when churches turn inward.  The focus is on survival of the church rather than the transformation of the world through the life, death and Resurrection of Jesus.  Self Reliance means that WE get to be in charge and that is exactly why many churches continue to experience decline.

Look again at that definition of Self Reliance:  “reliance on one’s own powers and resources rather than those of others.”  Throw the Bible out.  We are wise.  Keep the Holy Spirit outside because we are smart enough and strong enough to take care of ourselves.  And we are quite capable doing this “church” thing, we so God, just take care of others things  We’ve got this!

No, we don’t; it’s got us.  Got us in a mess.  Got us confused.  Got us bewildered.  Got us lying–lying that we are much happier and stronger through Self Reliance.  Until we learn to let go and trust God to guide us through this thing called life, until we quite thinking we are strong enough to handle it–we will never seen the transformation of the world, and the Kingdom of God will not be seen, at least in the areas around the western local churches.

self-reliance Faith in ourselves just leads to more disappointment and more emptiness for us.  Until we align our lives to the authority of Scriptures, until we are filled with the power and gifts of the Spirit, and until we stop trying to be in charge and control–we will never make a lasting impact on the world.

God is calling us to become involved in something much bigger than any of us, even all of us, could ever imagine.  But as long as we leaning on self, we will continue to miss it every day and all day long.  Growth happens when God is given complete and total control of our hearts, minds and lives.  Jesus never promoted self-reliance.  To the control, He INSISTED on Surrender and Self-Denial.  We can’t grow the church; heck we can’t even sustain it.  But God can and God will.  Give up that you can make everything better.  Let Him make everything better by first making you new.

Love God with all your heart; love others the way Jesus loves you; and make sure all the glory goes to Him!