Together: 4 Reasons We Need Each Other

“I felt like I was trapped in a sunless garden where the flowers are all dead.” Those are some words I used to describe my depression experience back in 2002. If you are going through a depression, I’ve been there. In fact, I battle it almost on a daily basis and at CCC there is no stigma around mental illness.

As I reflect back on that dark night of the soul, I think about this question: What caused my depression? Several things. But one thing came to light when I was having a meeting with my pastor.

As a pastor, I’ve a pastor. In our faith community that person is called our district superintendent. At the time of my depression, the district super intendent was a man named Clarence St John, a man of about 70, with a soft spoken voice and a caring heart. Clarence came to visit me because I told him I wanted to quit the ministry. He was going to try and talk me out of quitting. He brought another man with him named Jerry who was a pastor of a large church, and who invested a lot in younger leaders. We talked for a while, and then Pastor Clarence lovingly pointed out a blind spot I had that I was unaware of. At the office building right next to the Byron bowling alley we met and He pointed to the other pastor and said, He is the best connected pastor I know. He then pointed to me and said, You are the least connected pastor I know.

His words penetrated my heart. He was right. I was so busy working at this church and taking care of my family that I failed to carve out time to connect with other pastors. I was a long ranger, and I think that’s one of the contributing factors that led to my depression.

Can you relate today? Are you a lone ranger? Are you living by the philosophy of rugged individualism? Are you wrestling with intense loneliness?

Psalms 102:6 I am like a desert owl, like an owl among the ruins.

Notice very carefully that the psalmist feels like an owl in the dessert. The owl is all alone and in a dessert. Owls do not belong in the desert. Also notice he’s among the ruins. Are you like that owl today? Alone. Among ruins- your life is quite broken today. You feel like you do not fit where you are.

Some of you are experiencing the feelings of loneliness as a single person and you’re afraid that you’re going to be alone for the rest of your life. You wonder, will I ever find someone to love me? Some of you used to go to the office and work. While you were there you would socialize and get to know other people. But now you work from home and don’t have a social outlet. Some of you are grieving a relationship that has been lost. Maybe this person came to church and you were really close to them, but after the pandemic you don’t see them anymore. Some of you are alone because some hot button issue has divided you from someone you love. Maybe you have a different political opinion or a different opinion on the vaccine and as a result this person wants nothing more to do you with you. Perhaps you are grieving your kids going off to college in a few weeks.

Do you feel so alone that you self-medicate with alcohol or food? I read once that only 10% of men have a close friend, someone who you could call at 2 a.m. and they would be there for you. I don’t know what the percentage is for women, but I’m sure there are women who’re dealing with loneliness as well. What do you do when you feel like that owl in the desert?

To answer that question, I want to encourage you to look to the second book in the Bible.

Exodus 17:8-16

While the people of Israel were still at Rephidim, the warriors of Amalek attacked them.

Put yourself in the place of the Israelites. As you look at your day planner, it is going to be a normal day, or so you think. Eat a healthy breakfast- luck charms and mountain dew, drop the kids off at school, go to work, eat dinner-sardines and onions, go to bed by listening to one of Pastor Steve’s messages. That’s how you think the day will go, and then out of nowhere you’re attacked by a vicious enemy. This is what happened to the Israelites.

The Amalekites were the descendants of Amalek, a grandson of Esau. They were a nomadic tribe that lived in the desert region of the dead sea. They made their living by invading other settlements and stealing from them. They were basically career criminals who killed for pleasure. One of the great insults in Israelite culture was to call someone a “friend of Amalek.”

Moses commanded Joshua, “Choose some men to go out and fight the army of Amalek for us.

This is the first Joshua is mentioned in the Bible, and he will go onto one day become Moses successor.

Tomorrow, I will stand at the top of the hill, holding the staff of God in my hand.”

So Joshua and his men are going to fight the Amalekites and Moses ad Aaron and Hur are going to go to the top of the hill to hold the staff of God in his hand – up in the air.  What is that all about?

15 Moses built an altar there and named it Yahweh-Nissi (which means “the Lord is my banner”).

A banner was a standard or flag that an army would hold up as it went into battle. And when Moses said he would hold the staff of God in the air, that was symbolic of him making the Lord his banner. saying that the Lord is our strength and power.

Some of you can relate to the Israelites. What is your banner? Where are you placing your trust? Whose strength are you depending on? Your money, your smarts, your family name, your wits, or are you like Moses? Have you made the Lord your banner, and are you trusting in him, declaring the battle belongs to the lord. The battle belongs to the lord. The battle belongs to the lord.

What happened next?

10 So Joshua did what Moses had commanded and fought the army of Amalek. Meanwhile, Moses, Aaron, and Hur climbed to the top of a nearby hill.

I want you to notice something very important: Joshua and his army went off to fight a seen enemy; Moses and Aaron and Hur went off to fight an unseen enemy. Joshua and his army went off to fight a physical fight, Moses and Aaron and Hur went off to fight a spiritual one. Whatever battle you are facing today, there is a seen component to it and an unseen one; there is a physical aspect to it and a spiritual aspect to it.

Also notice, Moses did not climb the hill alone. He had Aaron with him – his brother, his spokesperson, and the first high priest of Israel. He also had a man with him named Hur that we don’t know much about.

11 As long as Moses held up the staff in his hand, the Israelites had the advantage. But whenever he dropped his hand, the Amalekites gained the advantage.

Now what did his uplifted hands represent? The Lord is our banner. The Lord is our strength. The Lord is our power. As long as his hands were up, symbolizing faith and dependence on God, the army was winning. As soon as his hands lowered, they were losing.

Please listen carefully. I want you to make a very important connection. Do you see that what happened in the spiritual realm – whether his hands were up or down- affected what happened in the physical ream? Are you aware that what happens in the spirit realm affects the physical ream? Often behind physical realities are spiritual ones. Now the opposite can be true as well. What we do in the physical realm can affect the spiritual realm as well. Those two realms are connected.

12 Moses’ arms soon became so tired he could no longer hold them up.

One of the things I love about this verse is that it reminds us that Moses was human. When we think of Moses we can think about all the great things God did through him like Part the red sea, and put him on a pedestal. This verse helps us to take him off this pedestal and remember that all the people in the Bible, and all the people listening to this message are human, we get tired, weary and wore down.  So what happened when Moses got tired?

So Aaron and Hur found a stone for him to sit on. Then they stood on each side of Moses, holding up his hands. So his hands held steady until sunset.

What I want you to see in this scene is that what Moses could not do for himself, Aaron and Hur did. They were strong when he was weak. What if Moses would have climbed the hill alone? The battle would have been lost. Are you losing that battle because you’ve climbed the hill alone?

As a result, Joshua overwhelmed the army of Amalek in battle.

As the result of teamwork – Moses and Aaron and Hur fighting in the spirit realm and Joshua and his army fighting in the physical ream – the Israelites won the battle and defeated what would have seemed liked an impossible foe. In fact, if you could put yourself in the shoes of the people back in that day, and if you would have heard that the news that the Israelites defeated the Amalekites you would have thought, it’s a miracle. God is at work. For Israel to win this battle was proof that they had divine assistance because in their own strength they would have been no match for the Amalekites.

With all that in mind, today I want us to all ask ourselves this question: Who is your Aaron and Hur?

In other words, are you fighting the battle alone? Have you climbed the hill alone? Or are you fighting the battle in community? Do you have an Aaron and Hur who will be strong when you are weak if the bottom drops out…if you get bad news from the doctor…when you lose your job…when your spouse says, I found someone else… who is your Aaron and Hur?

Why does this message matter? Let’s think about when God created the world. In Genesis 2, God looks at all he had made and said it is GOOD. Think of the beauty and bounty of the garden of Eden, the lush plants, the variety of animals, the humans he has made in his own image, and the says all those things are good. There is just one thing that is not good, what?

Genesis 2:18 It is not good for man to be alone.

Current research confirms what God says to be true. Did you know that loneliness affects:

  • Our brain health.  For example, did you know 64% of the risk of Dementia is increased by the feeling of loneliness.
  • It affects our physical health. “It has been shown in studies that people who live lonely are more vulnerable to an early death caused by heart attacks, strokes or other complications than those individuals who are living with their family.”
  • It can decrease your life expectancy. “In a research on older people, those older persons who reported feeling loneliness, isolation or rejection, were more prone to chances of dying Even though they were living with their families. So it was concluded that relation between loneliness and health disorders also exist.”

Today I want to share with you four reasons to make it a priority to find your Aaron and Hur. And to do that, I want us to switch birds, we’re talking about Canadian Geese now. Specifically, I want you to think about them flying above you in that V formation. I suggest that we could learn a lot from those birds on why we should make it a top priority to find our Aaron and Hur.

  1. We are stronger than me.

Picture that V formation of the Geese. Did you know that when the lead bird flaps its wings, it creates an updraft for the bird right behind it? As a result, a goose can fly 72% longer when it is in the group than if it were to try and do it alone. Think about how Aaron and Hur lifted up Moses hands when they grew weary; their combined strength was greater than his individual strength.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

  • We can share responsibility

When the lead goose gets tired, it rotates to the back of the formation and a new goose takes the lead. They share responsibility. Notice how when it came to fighting the Amalekites, Joshua had a responsibility – to fight the physical battle, and Moses and Aaron and Hur had a responsibility – fighting the spiritual battle. How does this apply to our church family?

We are a group of people who are working and praying to see Jesus the talk of the town. And I want to ask all of us this question: are we doing our part? In most churches, a few people do most of the work and the majority of people don’t do anything. Well, what if we all just did one thing?

  • We can encourage one another.

One of the things you will notice is that the geese honk as they fly. This is to encourage the goose in front of them to keep up their speed and momentum. Are you lifting others up with your words or tearing them down? Let’s be an Aaron and Hur to others and life them up with daily encouragement.

One way you can do this is the apply the BEST acronym in your relationships with your loved ones: B-believe, E-encourage, S-support, and T-trust. Are you an Aaron and Hur to others by being an encouragement to them?

  • We can help each other out when we are not doing well.

So think again about those geese flying in the V formation. Did you know that any time a goose gets sick or wounded and falls out of formation, two other geese drop out of formation with him, and they follow him down to help and protect him. They stay with him until he is able to fly again or until he dies.

Here is your assignment: Find some Aaron and Hurs. Let me give you a few thoughts on how:

  1. Join a process group. What is a process group? It’s a small group of people who get together to connect and do life together. You don’t have to be a Bible expert to go. Is God asking you to Join a process group?
  2. Pick up your one thing. One of the best ways to feel connected in our church is to serve or volunteer. These ministry teams like the worship team or the host team can often become like a process group.
  3. Initiate the invite. Don’t sit back and wait for other to come to you, go to them. Would you like to have coffee?
  4. Reconnect with an old friend. And tell them you have no other agenda than to get to reconnect. You are not going to try and sign them up for a network marketing, etc.

It’s been a while since I’ve talked about my three dogs. The back dog is Bear, and he’s 14. He’s a German Shepherd and Retriever mix. He can be a social butterfly but he’s also content to sit by himself. The big dog with the brown skin is Brock. Brock is our reserved, laid back dog. He likes to lay in the sun and snores when he sleeps. The only thing that makes Brock passionate is food. The dog with the darker face is Bennet. Brock and Bennet are brothers. Bennet is very clingy, needy and enmeshed. If you are sitting down and not petting him, he will make your life difficult until you do pet him.

Some of you may be wondering why we have three large dogs. Well, a couple years ago, Bear was all alone and his health was really going downhill. We thought we didn’t have much time with him. So we thought, what if we get two dogs that can grow up together, and let Bear influence them before he dies. Well, something surprising happened when we got the two dogs, Bear came alive. He perked up. And honestly he has more energy than the puppies have.

What gave Bear new life? Companionship! He finally wasn’t alone anymore. It is not good for man or dog to be alone. He didn’t find his Aaron and Hur but he did find his Brock and Bennet. Do you have some life giving people in your life? If not, I want you to make it a priority to find them.

The Peace Prescription

I remember one time I was setting up for our annual business meeting, and a new guy who happened to come to attend said smugly, “I came to this meeting because I wanted to see a good fight.” I’m the exact opposite of that guy. I don’t like conflict, disharmony, and division. This past year and half has been challenging for me because there have been all these hot-button issues causing division in our world. One person and they told me there were having to plan two Christmas celebrations because two sides of the family were at odds because of the social distancing rules. You have very strong mature Christians who are for the vaccine, and then you have other strong mature Christians who are opposed to it. You have strong mature Christians on the side of the church that should have been closed down, and then you have strong mature Christians who believe it should not have been closed down.

All these issues put wedges in many relationships, and social media adds fuel to the fire. People say things online that they would never say in person. When I think of all the conflict in the world, I think of a magnet that my mom and dad had on their fridge when I was growing up. It had two little kitties on it and the caption said, why can’t we all get along? Do you ever think, why can’t we all just get along? One of the main reasons unchurched people don’t come to church is because they think Christians are always fighting each other.

I have a gasoline can up here and a bucket of water. With all the conflict, hate, division, and disharmony in the world, what would Jesus want us to do? Would he want us to add fuel to the fire of division, or would he want us to add water? Let’s see. Today we are continuing our series on the beatitudes.

What are the beatitudes? Someone has called them the “Be Happy” attitudes, because you will be blessed if you do them. Another word for blessed is happy. These 8 attitudes are like 8 rungs of a ladder, leading to Christlikeness. The next beatitude that we are going to study today is:

Matthew 5:9 God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God.

In a culture of conflict, division, and disharmony, Jesus wanted his followers to work for, pray for, and believe in peace. Are you a peacemaker or a division causer? Listen to how seriously God takes this.

Titus 3:10 If people are causing divisions among you, give a first and second warning. After that, have nothing more to do with them.

That is how seriously God takes unity. He says if people are causing division, give them a few warnings and then have nothing to do with them. If you are a follower of Jesus of Nazareth, you are to work for, pray for, and believe for peace. You are to add water to the flame of division, and not fuel. Why? God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God. Jesus has commissioned us to be peacemakers in a world of division. Therefore, today I want to ask the question: How can we be an instrument of peace in a world of division?

Today I want to share with you a peace prayer and a peace plan. Let’s go over the peace prayer. Specifically, What are the three phrases of the peace prayer?

1. God of peace. The first part of the peace prayer is to recognize that we worship a God of peace.

Romans 15:33 The God of peace be with you all. Amen.

2 Corinthians 13:11 11 Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.

Hebrews 13:20 Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep. 

These verses teach us about the character and nature of God, that He is a God of peace. The next phrase of the prayer for peace is:

2. God of peace, fill me with your peace. We serve a God of peace, and as Christians, we are united with Christ.

1 Corinthians 1:30 God has united you with Christ Jesus.

Ephesians 2:13 But now you have been united with Christ Jesus.

These verses teach us that we are united with Jesus. As a result of this reality, as we walk with him and relate to him and trust him, he will transfer peace into us. That is why it is important to ask him to fill you with His peace. These verses confirm this:

2 Thessalonians 3:16 Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you.

Galatians 5:22-23 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

Peace is a fruit of the spirit. As we relate to Christ, he will transfer his peace into our hearts.

In a sense, peace is a matter of maturity. The more mature you are in the Lord, the more of an instrument of peace you will be. The Holy Spirit fills us with peace as we are unified with Jesus.

The third part of the peace prayer is:

3. God of peace, fill me with your peace, so I can be an instrument of peace. We worship a God of peace, and as we abide in Him, He will fill us with His peace. He gives us His peace so that we can be a peacemaker in this world of conflict. We are to go into our workplaces, our neighborhoods, and our families with a bucket of water, not gasoline, and pour the living water of Christ onto the fire of division in our land.

Hebrews 12:14 Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness, no one will see the Lord.

A major attribute of a holy person is that they are peacemakers. Would you join me in praying the PEACE Prayer: “God of peace, fill me with your peace, so I can be an instrument of peace in his world of division.”

What I shared with you is a prayer I want you to pray all week. Now I want to share with you the PEACE plan. It is a five-step process for working for peace in a relationship that may be divided. Are you at odds with someone today? How do we add the living water of Jesus to that fire of division? I want to get practical and share the five-step peace plan that the Lord gave me years ago.

Pray. If you’re in conflict with someone, pray. Talk to God before you talk to that person.

Ephesians 6:10-12 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, it’s against evil spirits in the dark realm. In other words, often the root cause of our divisions is evil. The devil loves to sow disunity among God’s people. It is so important to pray is because that is our best weapon against spiritual warfare.

Another thing I would encourage you to pray for is for God to help you see your part in the conflict. This past week I listened to a Christian divorce attorney talk about a book she had written called, “Before You Split.” The thesis of the book is that many people think the solution to their marriage struggle is to split. But then once they do, the grass is not as green on the other side as they think it will be.

She gave the example of 80% of people who move to Hawaii move back within a year. They think Hawaii will make them happy, but when they move there they realize they brought the source of their problems with them – themselves. She said in virtually all of her interactions with people going through a divorce, they point the finger of blame to their spouse. And maybe their spouse is 95% responsible for the divorce, but we need to own our 5%. If you’re in a conflict with someone, ask the Lord to show you what your part of the conflict is. The E in the Peace plan is:

Empathize. If you’re in a conflict with someone, your temptation will be to go and set them straight. To go and argue your case. Is that the way of a peacemaker?

James 1:19 My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.

God says that if you’re in conflict with someone there is a sequence to communication: be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. As one person said, we need to first seek to understand the other person and then be understood. So if you are in a conflict with someone and you’ve prayed about it, the next step is for you to go and listen to them. While it’s frustrating and hurtful that they don’t listen to you first, my response would be, the mature one goes first.

Let me give you some tips on how to listen well. When you listen, look the speaker in the eyes. Don’t try to change them by saying, “you shouldn’t feel that way, others have it so much better than you.” Avoid giving solutions unless they ask for them. Take off your Mr. Fix-It hat. A great question to ask them is, “do you want to me give you advice or just listen to you?” Be a validating witness; “what I heard you say is that you are under a lot of stress and that makes a lot of sense with all you got going on in your life.”

Seek to understand them, even if that means you disagree with the details. Look for the kernel of truth in their message that you can own. When people share their side of a conflict, often I can get defensive. Being defensive is another way to assign blame. The healthy thing to do is to look for even the slightest kernel of truth you can own and confess. “You’re right, I did dishonor you in public. I take responsibility for that. I can see how that would have hurt you. I would have been hurt too if I were in your shoes. I will work to not do that again, will you forgive me.”

Your basic message to them is: Talk to me. I want to hear more about your thoughts and feelings so I can understand you.

Let me ask you a very important question: who do you need to give a good listening to? Who do you need to apologize to and say, “I’ve done a very poor job of listening to you? I want to change that because God tells me to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry, will you forgive me.” In 2 Timothy Paul is writing to young Timothy about how to be a leader in Gods church and he says: “A servant of the Lord must not quarrel but must be kind to everyone, be able to teach, and be patient with difficult people.” Are you kind to those you disagree with? Are you patient with difficult people?

Admit wrong. If you’re in conflict and you’ve prayed about it, listened to the other person, and realized that you’ve hurt them, then you need to apologize to them. I want to share with you something called the Genuine Apology that I learned from Dr. John Gottman. It has the following ingredients:

  • For example, “I take responsibility for acting out of line when I was angry. It was wrong. If I would’ve been treated that way, I would be upset as well. I’m committed to changing and won’t do it again.”

The next part of the PEACE plan is the C, which stands for:

Communicate. So you’ve prayed about the conflict. You’ve asked God to help you see your part. You listened to the person and tried to be a validating witness. You gave a genuine apology, and now it’s your turn to share your view, thoughts, or feelings. I want to encourage you to use something known as the gentle start-up. It is a script for sharing criticism with someone else.

“I felt___________________ when you did _____________________ what I would want is ___________________________ and I appreciate this about you __________________.”

“I felt angry when you forgot our anniversary and what I would want is for you to remember it and what I appreciate about you is that you are open to hearing my frustrations.” “I felt sad when you criticized me in front of our friends what I would want is for you to share your criticisms in private and what I appreciate about you is that have always been there for me.” “I felt happy when you made the bed, and I want you to continue making the bed and I appreciate you helping around the house.” “I felt depressed when my dog died, and what I would want is for you to empathize with me, not try and fix me, and I appreciate you listening to me.”

Explore. Now you explore options. You realize that the solution is probably not your way, or their way, but our way.

Ecclesiastes 4:9 Two are better than one.

Try asking, can we come up with a joint solution that’s better than what one of us could come up with alone? One of the ways to do this according to John Gottman is to explore these two questions: what are my flexible needs, and what are my inflexible needs. Take time explaining these to each other and listening to one another.

I remember Tammy and I did this exercise about finances and we realized we had more in common than we thought. I share with her my flexible needs and inflexible ones. She sought to understand my view. She shared her flexible needs and inflexible ones and I sought to understand them. I became curious about them. And then we realized where we could compromise and come together.

Philippians 2:4 Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.

In closing, I want us to think about what wisdom looks like from God’s perspective.

James 3:17-18 But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace-loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and the fruit of good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere. And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness. 

Wisdom is peace-loving, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy, and plants seeds of peace. Are you a wise person in God’s eyes?

We live in a deeply divided world. As followers of Jesus, we are called to represent God, who is a God of peace. As we relate and respond to Him, He gives us His peace to make us peacemakers in our world. When we encounter a fire of division, we can add gasoline to that fire or the living the water of Jesus.

Praying the peace prayer can help get us on track: God of peace, fill me with your peace, so I can be an instrument of peace in this world of division. The PEACE plan can be used to resolve difficult situations: pray, empathize, admit wrong, communicate, and explore options.

Imagine with me if we daily asked God to fill us with His peace, so we could be an instrument of His peace in our divided world, if asked God to help us see our part in creating the conflict, and if we became great listeners. Imagine if we were not defensive and instead looked for the kernel of truth we could own and confess. Imagine one day hearing these words from Jesus, well done thou good and faithful servant. You were a peacemaker in a divided world and I am proud of you for representing me well.

A Transformed Heart is a Pure Heart – Pastor Amy

At our house in Kasson, next to the sliding glass door, we found a small amount of mold on the ceiling. So what did we do? We painted over it! A month later the mold showed up a little bigger than before. What did we do? Well, we painted over it again. A couple of months later, the mold returned even bigger than before. Bummer. We finally called a contractor to come and take a look. We found out that an animal had made a whole in our siding and the rain was coming in. The contractor found out the root of the problem. He cut the molded dry wall out and replaced it so the area was renewed, clean and fresh.

That is typically how we try to solve problems in our own lives. We put paint over or put a band aide on the problem and don’t bother to tear out the dry wall or to stop the squirrel. Who has time for that? We like to try to hide the spot so no one else can see the underlying problem. We just want to paint over the mold instead of getting to root of the problem, to make things look better on the outside. Do we have time to repair the mold by figuring out the root of the problem?

We are going through the sixth Beatitude, Matthew 5:8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” This speaks to my heart. Does this verse mean that I need to cleanse myself from actions that are impure because Jesus said Blessed are the pure in heart? I know, right now I am not pure in heart. So how will I see God?

Do you think that you’ve been living in the dark or stuck in your past? Remembering bad moments causing you to have mold in your life. Unable to become pure in heart. Are you just trying so hard to not show everyone else the issues that you’re struggling with? Are you saying: I have tendencies I’m ashamed of? There are thoughts that I have that would be terribly embarrassing if admitted them. I have anger issues. I have anxiety. I have addictions. My parents never showed me the love that I needed. I don’t know who I am.

Jesus is so concerned with the heart that he says, “Blessed are the pure in Heart.” God does see our heart and those things that we are so ashamed of.

1 Samuel 16:7 “Man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

We want to know what is means to be pure in heart and what is means to be able see God. We don’t want to just continue paint over things in our lives anymore. We need to get down to the root problem and start to see how to be pure in heart.

The Greek word for “pure” is katharos. Katharos means to be “clean, blameless, unstained from guilt.” Jesus refers to believers as the branches and to Himself as the vine. For a vine to produce fruit, it must be pruned. Those who are truly “pure” are those who have been declared innocent because of the work of Jesus and who are being sanctified by His pruning.

The Greek word for “heart”is kardeeah. Kardeeah refers to the spiritual center of life. It is where thoughts, desires, sense of purpose, will, understanding, and character reside. To be pure in heart means to be blameless in who we actually are.

Being pure in heart involves having a singleness of heart toward God. The pure heart is marked by transformation and an uncompromising desire to please God in all things. It is more than an external purity of behavior: it is an internal purity of soul. A purity of the soul is forgiveness. Jesus wants us to drop our sins off at the cross and ask for forgiveness. This way He can purify our soul. So, blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

You need to have a pure heart by cleaning off your own “eyeglasses” so you can see God. Jesus takes us through the process of forgiveness so God can transform our lives. You need to go through the process of finding the root of the problem in order to forgive.

Being able to see God doesn’t mean you can physically see Him. It is like the wind. We do not actually see the wind, but we can clearly see the evidence of the wind blowing. We see where the wind is blowing so we know where God needs us to be to do for Him.

When you focus on God you do start seeing Him move and do all sort of things in your life. Focusing on Jesus cleanses your “eyeglasses,” so you’re able to look differently at your life.

We all have different “lens” through which we perceive our lives. We might have scratched glasses, mud on our goggles, very dark sunglasses, or make a pair of glasses that look so very nice to others but hide our faults. So how do we become pure in Heart to see God?

The only way we can be truly pure in heart is to give our lives to Jesus and ask Him to cleanse us. Psalm 51:10 says, “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” God is the one who makes our hearts pure – by the sacrifice of His Son and through His sanctifying work in our lives.

Being pure in heart means to be dedicated to God to His purposes. It’s not for own wishes. It means that you’re set apart for God. I live for God and I do what He wants me to do. I surrender to Him. God so wants to transform me so I can see through His lenses. He wants me to have a new different perspective on my life. “Love the Lord you God with your whole heart, soul, mind and strength. Showing mercy, compassion, forgiveness.” This is purity of the heart, being devoted to God.

Let God fill you with Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness and self-control. Clean out at the root of problems and the outside will be shine. We need the inside cleaned but we are not surgeons. How do we do this? God is the only one that can change our heart, but we can forgive and He will transform the heart.

Remember the mold on the dry wall grew bigger and bigger as we put off cleaning it. Once we realized that the squirrel was the root of our problem, we were able to have the contractor fix the ceiling. In the same way, Jesus can fix the root problems in your heart to renew you and make you pure. Lay your heart down at the alter and surrender to the Lord.

Fill Me, Holy Spirit – Pentecost Sunday

How many of you have ever been at home when the power goes off? Instantly your house feels like a ghost town. The fans stop blowing, the TV turns off, you hear the beeps of the electrical items shutting down. Is it possible that the same thing can happen to us? We can become fatigued, tired, and lack energy. We think to ourselves: I don’t have anything more to give.

I remember one Sunday morning I was tired. For some reason, I stopped on the way to church and bought an energy drink. I don’t usually drink those but I was desperate. After I drank it I felt like I was going to jump out of my skin. I could not concentrate. I never have done that. 

Have you ever reached for something outside of yourself to fill a void, to give you power and energy? 

Let’s face it, many people today are tired. They feel like the power has gone out of their lives. Are you one of them? If you could describe your inner state would you use words like ‘lifeless,’ ’empty,’ and ‘spent?’ Can you relate to the person who said, “I lack vitality. I find myself vegging for hours in front of the TV, binging on Netflix, and eating gallons of ice cream. I am going through the motions in life, and have to drag myself through the day. Where did my passion and energy go? “

Where do we turn when the power has gone out of our lives? A group of people who could relate to the need for power was the disciples. They walked with Jesus, learned from Jesus, and saw Jesus do all these miracles. Then Jesus was crucified, buried, and rose from the dead. He then showed himself to the disciples in his resurrected body. While he was in his resurrected body, Jesus pointed out to the disciples that if they were going to work successfully for the kingdom of God, they were going to need the help of the Holy Spirit. Notice what Jesus tells them: 

Luke 24:49 “And now I will send the Holy Spirit, just as my Father promised. But stay here in the city until the Holy Spirit comes and fills you with power from heaven.”

Just as you have to wait for the power to come back on in your house, the disciples were instructed to wait until God filled them with His power. Are you aware that there is an eternal power source out there that you can tap into? Or would Jesus say about you what he said of some religious people of his day: 

Matthew 22:29 “Your mistake is that you don’t know the Scriptures, and you don’t know the power of God.”

Note carefully the last part of that verse: You don’t know the power of God. Do you? 

So Jesus tells the disciples to wait upon God to fill them with power from on high, and as they were waiting in an upper room when something happened.

Acts 2:1-4 On the day of Pentecost all the believers were meeting together in one place. Suddenly, there was a sound from heaven like the roaring of a mighty windstorm, and it filled the house where they were sitting. Then, what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on each of them. And everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other languages, as the Holy Spirit gave them this ability.

This was a historical event that happened many years ago, that we, along with Christians all over the world are celebrating today: Pentecost Sunday. Why is it called Pentecost Sunday? “Pentecost” translates to “the feast of harvest.” This was an annual Jewish feast or holy period. It commemorated the end of the harvest which fell on the 50th day after the Passover. This was the holiday being observed in Jerusalem when the Holy Spirit came in power upon the disciples. What happened on Pentecost Sunday? It was when God gave His power to the church through the Holy Spirit. The Church of Jesus Christ was birthed with the power of the Holy Spirit on that day.

Who is the Holy Spirit? Francis Chan called the Holy Spirit “the forgotten God.” Often we talk about God the Father and God the Son – Jesus, but we don’t talk about God the Holy Spirit. Let me share with you some fundamental truths of Christianity:

1. We believe in God. 

2. As Christians, we believe in a trinitarian God. The Trinity is one God existing in three Persons. God the Father, God the Son (Jesus), and the God the Holy Spirit. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are all God. 

Genesis 1:26 gives us a glimpse into the trinitarian view of God when it says, “Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’” Circle those words: ‘God said.’ Do you see how it is one God? Then circle that phrase: ‘Let us.’ God is one, in three persons. 

3. God’s spirit can influence my spirit. 

John 4:24 God is spirit. 

God is spirit, and you have a spirit as well. As a human being, you are a spirit, that has a soul, and lives in a body. Your spirit is you. It is what makes communication with God possible. It is what lives after you die. Your soul is your will, emotions, and personality. Your body is the outer part of you. 

1 Thessalonians 5:23 May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul, and body be kept blameless at the coming of our LORD Jesus Christ.

God’s spirit can pour His life into our spirit. God’s spirit can have fellowship with our spirit. God’s spirit can guide our spirit. God’s spirit can influence our spirit. We can have spirit-to-spirit fellowship with God.

Ephesians 5:17-18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.

The author is saying, think about how alcohol can control someone when they’re drunk. God says to not do that. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit. In other words, let the Holy Spirit of God control your spirit.

4. I am sealed by the Holy Spirit at salvation. 

2 Corinthians 1:21-22 Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and has anointed us is God, who also has sealed us and given us the Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.

In the ancient world people commonly branded or marked personal possessions, such as sealing letters to identify the owner. When you and I become Christians, God seals us with His Holy Spirit. He puts the Holy Spirit within us signaling to others we belong to Him. So if you are a follower of Jesus, if you are a genuine Christian, God’s spirit lives within you. 

5. I am filled with the Holy Spirit after salvation. 

If you read the book of Luke, you will see that Luke uses the phrase, “filled with the Holy Spirit,” eight times. What does it mean to be filled with the Holy Spirit? Well, just as you can fill a bathtub with water, you can be filled with the Holy Spirit of God. Think of a balloon. When we become Christian God breathes His Holy Spirit into us. You have the Holy Spirit living within you. But we are instructed to not only have the Holy Spirit living within us, we’re instructed to seek the filling of the Holy Spirit.

Let’s go back to Eph 5:18 where it says, be filled with the Holy Spirit. It means: be continually filled. It is an ongoing activity. Why do we need to be continually filled with the Holy Spirit? We leak! Are you filled with the Holy Spirit today? If not, I want to encourage you to pray this prayer this week: “Fill me, Holy Spirit.”

Has the power gone out of your life, like the power going out in your house? If so I want to encourage you to wait for the power to come back on by waiting on God to fill you with His spirit. How do we become filled with the Holy Spirit? I want to share with you three steps to experiencing a personal Pentecost.

1. Believe in the promise of power. 

One of the most enriching things we can do as followers of Jesus is find God’s promises in the Bible and believe them. As we read the Bible, we look for God’s promises and stand on them. We have the attitude of, “God said it, I believe it, that settles it.” With that in mind, I want you to understand that God promises that He will fill you with His Holy Spirit. That was promised way back in the Old Testament, the time before Jesus. 

Joel 2:28 And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions.

Note the word: ‘afterward.’ The Prophet Joel sees a day in the future when God will pour out His Spirit on all people. Did he say He will pour out His spirit on some people? No. All people. Now here’s what’s so cool: on the day of Pentecost, Peter connected the dots; he connected what was happening to what was predicted way back in the book of Joel. 

If you feel like the power has gone out in your life, I want to encourage you to remember the promises in the Bible that God will fill you with His power. Declare it. “God, you said that you will fill me with your divine power. You said it, I believe it, and am waiting for it.” Please pray this prayer all week: “Fill me, Holy Spirit.”

Many of us remember the late Billy Graham. He was a chaplain to the presidents and preached to millions of people around the world. Where did his power and effectiveness come from? Many years before he was the famous pastor he was on a mission in the British Isles and came across a man named Stephen Olford. Billy sensed that Stephen had something he didn’t. There was a spiritual electricity in him that Billy wanted. Billy said in his own words: “He had a dynamic and exhilaration about him I wanted to capture.” 

So Olford decided to spend two days with Billy and teach him about what I am talking to you about today. That the Holy Spirit can come upon you and fill you with his power. As he was tutoring Billy during the day on the power of the Holy Spirit, Billy was still conducting services at night that had very minimum results. Olford described the results of Billy’s services as, “The crowd was small, passive, and to Billy’s invitation (to receive Jesus), unresponsive.” He was not seeing much spiritual fruit. 

Billy and Stephen sought God in prayer and at one point Billy Graham cried out: “My heart is so flooded with the Holy Spirit. I have it. I am filled. This is a turning point in my life.” What effect did this encounter with the Holy Spirit have upon his ministry? That night, Olford said, when the service started for some unknown reason the place was filled with people. And when he gave the invitation for people to receive Christ, practically everyone in the building rushed forward to receive Jesus. 

Stephen Olford went home that night and sat at the kitchen table, talking to his Dad, and said, “Something has happened to Billy Graham. The world is going to hear from this man.” The world did hear from Billy Graham. Why? He was filled with the power of the Holy Spirit. Here is a picture of him preaching to a crowd of 2 million people in Seoul, Korea. 

God has not likely called you to preach to millions of people like he did Billy Graham. But he has called you to make a difference for Christ in your sphere of influence. What if you quit trying to do it in your own strength? What if instead, you realized that God wants to pour His power through you. You are like a pipe. You are connected to the source, and God’s power flows through you to others. 

As you look at the picture of Billy Graham speaking to all those people, what if it’s not about Billy Graham? What if he is simply the pipe (the instrument) through which the Holy Spirit is pouring his power to touch all those lives? And what if God wants to pour His power through you to touch your coworkers, neighbors, and friends. 

How do we experience our own person Pentecost? First, we believe in the promise of power. Secondly, we:

2. Seek the promise of power. 

So Jesus tells the disciples to wait upon God for power before they do their mission and that is what they do. About 120 of them are waiting upon God in a place called the upper room and notice what happens: 

Acts 2:1-4 When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

What we see in this text is that the early disciples were seeking the power of God. Just as you wait for the power to come back on in your house, they were waiting upon God to fill them with his power. How often do you wait upon God to fill you with his power? Think about how we wait in line to buy something at the mall. Or we wait in line to get a seat at a restaurant. Or we wait in the grocery store checkout line. How often do you wait upon God to fill you with His power, crying out: “Holy Spirit, fill me.” If you want to experience a personal Pentecost:

  1. Believe the promise of power
  2. Seek the promise of power
  3. Experience the promise of power. 

One of the neat things about Pentecost is that it reminds us that we are not to try and live the Christian life on our own strength. We are to seek God’s strength. Something you will see as you read the Bible is that God’s spirit moved upon people and enabled them to do wonderful things. For example: 

Judges 6:34 Then the Spirit of the Lord came on Gideon, and he blew a trumpet, summoning the Abiezrites to follow him.

The spirit of the Lord came upon Gideon and empowered him.

Judges 14:19 Then the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon him. He went down to Ashkelon, struck down thirty of their men, stripped them of everything and gave their clothes to those who had explained the riddle. Burning with anger, he returned to his father’s home.

Do you see how the spirit of God came upon Samson and enabled him to do amazing, superhuman feats? On the day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit came upon Peter and he gave a sermon through which 3000 people came to Christ. What if God wanted to do something similar through you? You may be thinking, God couldn’t do anything special through me. He can do it through other people, but not me. If that’s your attitude, you are saying more about your belief in God than yourself. God specializes in doing supernatural things through ordinary people who simply walk with Him and rely upon Him.

Martin Luther King Jr was thrust into the national spotlight during the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Many of us remember his famous: I have a dream speech. And as we watch his stirring speeches, we might think he was a confident, fearless leader. That was because of an experience he had with the Holy Spirit. The date was January 27th, 1956. He was ready to give up. He was receiving up to 40 death threats a day, and he wrote this about the state of mind he was in: 

“I was ready to give up. With my cup of coffee sitting untouched before me, I tried to think of a way to move out of the picture without appearing a coward. In this state of exhaustion, when my courage had all but gone, I decided to take my problem to God. With my head in my hands, I bowed over the kitchen table and prayed aloud. The words I spoke to God that midnight are still vivid in my memory. “I am here taking a stand for what I believe is right. But now I am afraid. The people are looking to me for leadership, and if I stand before them without strength and courage, they too will falter. I am at the end of my powers. I have nothing left. I’ve come to the point where I can’t face it alone.”

 At that moment, I experienced the presence of the Divine as I had never experienced God before. It seemed as though I could hear the quiet assurance of an inner voice saying: “Stand up for justice, stand up for truth; and God will be at your side forever.” Almost at once, my fears began to go. My uncertainty disappeared. I was ready to face anything.”

The power of the Holy Spirit came upon him and filled him with his power to lead the civil rights movement. Do you need a kitchen table moment with the Holy Spirit? Do you need to confess your fear and anxiety, depression and sadness, anger and bitterness to God and ask Him to siphon out those things and fill you instead with His spirit?

Christmas Evans was a welsh pastor in the late 18th century. One day he was riding his horse to conduct a service when the Holy Spirit convicted him to his cold heart. So he pulled his horse off to the side of the road, found a secluded spot, and poured out his heart to God. In his journal he wrote about what happened next:  

“I waited before God in brokenness and sorrow for three hours. Finally, a sweet sense of His forgiving love broke over me, and I received a fresh filling of the Holy Spirit. As the sun was setting I walked back to the road, found my horse, and rode on to my appointment. The following day I preached with so much new power, to a vast gathering of people on a hillside, that revival broke out and ultimately spread through all of Wales.” 

Do you need to do what Christmas Evans did, slow down to be with God, and get alone with God to connect with His power? Here’s an assignment for you this week: have a Christmas Evans meeting with God. Get alone with God and wait upon Him to fill you with His spirit. Cry out to God these words: “Fill me, Holy Spirit.” Be willing to invest some time in seeking God.

What if we didn’t have to try and go through life in our own limited power? What if we could be filled with the higher power of the Holy Spirit and be energized by his spirit? What if we prayed a simple prayer this week and believed it with all our heart: “Fill me, Holy Spirit.”

The Power of Vulnerability

Today we are starting a new series called, “8 Attitudes to Live By.” In it we will be studying a portion of Jesus’ most famous sermon, the Sermon on the Mount. The portion we are going to study is called the Beatitudes. They are called the Beatitudes because each of the eight statements begins with the word “beatus,” which means blessed. In other words, Jesus is saying that you will be blessed in God’s eyes if you do these things. When I think of these eight attitudes I imagine a ladder, and each of the eight rungs enables us to climb higher in Christlikeness as we live by these attitudes.

I’d like to share a story that happened many years between two philosophers, Plato and Socrates. Plato admired the elder Socrates and wanted to learn from him. “How can I become as wise as you?” Plato asked.

Socrates came up with an idea. He walked his pupil down by the sea with its blue water and crashing waves. He slowly walked Plato out into the water. First it came to knee level, then waist level, then chest level. Finally, Socrates grabbed Plato’s head and forcefully held it under the water. He let Plato up for a few seconds as he gasped for air, and then held it under the water again. “What are you doing?” exclaimed Plato when he was let up for air.

“I am teaching you how to be a wise as me.”

“By trying to drown me,” asked Plato.

“No, I want you to understand this important truth: When you desire wisdom like you desire oxygen, you will become wise.”

One of the truths this story teaches is the importance of seeking wisdom. It also highlights another deep human need: the need for oxygen. How does this relate to the beatitudes? The first attitude teaches us that in the same way our bodies needs oxygen, our spirits needs communication with God to live.

Matthew 5:3 Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Someone who’s poor in spirit is in touch with their deep need for God. In fact, the Bible teaches that a person can be alive physically while being dead spiritually. If a person is not in a relationship with Jesus, they are dead spiritually. A person who is poor in spirit realizes this, that they need God like they need oxygen.

Again, think about what would happen to our body if you did not get oxygen. Brain cells are destroyed after 4-6 minutes without oxygen. When the flow of oxygen to the brain is completely cut off, a person will lose consciousness within 10 seconds. The same thing happens to your spirit, when it’s disconnected from God it withers and dies.  

That is why Jesus begins his famous sermon on the mount by teaching us that just as our body needs oxygen, our spirit needs relationship with him. In fact, The Eerdmans Handbook to the Bible summarized what it means to be poor in spirit by saying, “The truly blessed ones are those who recognize the spiritual poverty of self-reliance and learn to depend wholly on God.”

Now what does this definition not mean? It’s not talking about material possessions or wealth.  It’s not saying, blessed is he who is poor in pocketbook. It’s saying blessed is he who is poor in spirit. We are truly blessed, said Jesus, when we realize that our spirit needs communion with God the way our bodies need oxygen.

Now think about what it means to be spiritually dead. There’s a sense of, “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.” They may buy a new car thinking it will make them feel alive, and it does, until the first bill. They find a new relationship thinking it will make them feel alive, which it does, until the first fight. They get a new house thinking it will make their heart feel alive and it does, until the first mortgage payment is due. Why don’t these things ultimately satisfy? Because what they are really looking for is God, who can bring their dead spirit to life.

John 6:63, “The Spirit gives life . . .”

In other words, the spirit of God can give life to our dead spirits. Do you need the Holy Spirit to do that for you? C.S. Lewis said it this way: “God made us: invented us as a man invents an engine. A car is made to run on petrol, and it would not run properly on anything else. Now God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other. That is why it’s just no good asking God to make us happy in our own way without bothering about religion. God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it’s not there.”

Jesus taught that blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Now what Jesus is talking about here is an attitude, or posture. Think about how your body can be in different postures – standing, seated, kneeling. An attitude is a posture of mind. What is the proper attitude for a follower of Jesus? I need God the same way my body needs oxygen. My spirit will wither and die apart from Him.

Some people are not aware of their need for God. They are in a spiritual state the Bible calls pride. What does it mean to be proud in spirit? Let’s take a moment and talk about the difference between being poor in spirit and proud in spirit:

Poor in Spirit:

  • I need God
  • I’m dependent on God
  • I rely on God
  • I need God’s help
  • God is my main though

Proud in Spirit:

  • I don’t need God
  • I’m independent of God
  • I rely on myself
  • I don’t need God’s help
  • God is an afterthought

Does the amount of time you invest in prayer reveal that you are dependent on God, or independent on God? Is your spirit filled with faith because you rely on God, or is it filled with fear and worry because you rely on yourself? Does the amount of time you spend searching the scriptures reveal that you think you need God’s help, or you don’t need God’s help? Where is God in your thoughts and affections? Is he at the top of the list? Or is more towards the bottom of the list?

Psalms 10:4 In his pride the wicked man doesn’t seek him; in all his thoughts there is no room for God.

In this verse God is describing a person who is consumed with their own lives: they work hard all week. They volunteer at the fire hall, have hobbies like volleyball and pool league, they take the kids to their events and sometimes they feel like a taxi cab. As they go about their life, they don’t think about God because frankly they don’t think they need him. Their attitude is, “I’ve got this on my own.” They don’t pray. They don’t worship.

Question: are you proud in spirit or are you poor in spirit? A person who is poor in spirit may have the same activities in their life, but they do those things in a different way. They rely upon God’s strength. They pray. They worship at church. Their attitude is: If it’s to be its up to Christ working through me. Are you proud in spirit or poor in spirit?

Speaker Mike Benson tells how one night, as his family was finishing dinner, his eight-year-old daughter left six green beans on her plate. She normally ate her veggies, and Mike did not usually allow this sort of thing to bother him, but this night he was irked and said to her, “Eat your green beans.”

She replied, “Dad, I’m full to the top. I could not eat another bite.” Mike knew that night they were having her favorite dessert, pumpkin pie squares.

“How would you like a double helping of pumpkin pie squares with two dollops of whipped cream on top?”

“That sounds great!” she responded as she pushed her plate back, ready for dessert.

“How can you have room for a double helping of pumpkin pie squares with two dollops of whipped cream, and not have room for six measly green beans?”

She stood up tall out of her chair and pointing to her belly said, “This is my vegetable stomach. This is my meat stomach. They are both full. Here is my dessert stomach. It’s empty. I am ready for dessert!”

Is it possible that some of us have done a good job feeding our work stomach, our hobby stomach, our material stomach, but our spiritual stomach is empty? Why? It’s not a priority for us because we don’t think we need God’s help, we think we can make it through life on our own strength.

Psalms 42:1 “As a deer longs for flowing streams, so I long for you, God.”

With all that in mind, how can we apply this truth to our life? What do we do with it? What difference does this truth make? How can we put this truth in to practice in our daily life? I want to encourage you to remember three words. And these three words are so important. In fact, they are what unite all of us who are followers of Jesus Christ, at one time in our life, all of us who have are followers of Jesus have done these three words, what are these three crucial words?

Ask for help! Someone who is poor in spirit knows they need God’s help, and asks for it. A Christian is someone who at some point in their life have reached up to God and said: help.

What unites us all today? That we have perfect lives? No. What unites us is that we all recognize we are broken and need God’s help. This is hard for many people. Think about how men are known for not stopping to ask for directions. Why? We don’t want to admit we need help. We would rather go in circles that put down our pride and ask for help. But our leader taught us that we need stop throughout our day and ask for help.

Matthew 7:7 “Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you.”

Earlier Jesus had taught his disciples the model prayer of the Lord’s prayer. Here is teaching them that their Heavenly Father welcomes prayer. In fact, Jesus urges them to pray continuously and persistently. Keep on asking. Keep on Knocking. And if we do this, good things will come our way, because our heavenly Father delights in giving us good gifts through prayer. One of the signs of a person being poor in spirit is that they pray a lot. Why? They know they need God’s help. Does your lack of prayer show you are proud in spirit, or does your abundance of prayer show you are poor in spirit?

I want to show you a series of pictures and as they pictures are put on the screen ask yourself, what do all of them have in common:

What do all those pictures have in common? The people in them are expressing their poverty of spirit by asking for God’s help in prayer. To be poor in spirit you need to express vulnerability. Victory comes from vulnerability. The poor in spirit are vulnerable with God and others. They are not afraid to share the reality of their lives. This is counter-cultural because for most of our lives we have been taught that vulnerability is wrong. Jesus teaches us another way. He teaches that we are blessed when we are vulnerable, because vulnerability leads to spiritual victory. In other words, when we recognize our need for God’s help and ask for it- we get it. He helps us. God helps those who know they need it and ask for it. So let me have you take a little quiz of the spirit: “I know that I need God’s help (and others) and am willing to lay down my pride and ask for it.” How much do you feel this statement applies to you?

Have you ever looked at a to-do list and felt like you’ll never be able to get everything done? The list ends up almost discouraging action it because it’s so overwhelming. That’s how I felt when we were getting our house ready to sell and the home inspector gave us a list of things to fix. As I looked at this list, I felt like getting it all done seemed overwhelming and impossible. Some of you mechanical people might think it’s not a big deal, but you don’t know my gifts, or should I say, lack of them. You’re looking at someone who is severely mechanically challenged. If we have a mechanical problem at my house I have three options: pray, ask my son Dalton, or ask my wife.

As I looked at all these things I needed to do to the house it stressed me out, so I prayed about it. As I prayed I felt like the Lord told me to do something I didn’t want to do: ask for help. I didn’t want to ask for help. Why? Pride! These were some of thoughts that went through my mind: I don’t want to ask for help because I should be able to do this on my own, I don’t people to see how I hadn’t always been a good steward of my house, and people might think less of me. I was fearing being vulnerable. What if I ask for help and they say no and they look down on me. After all, I’m Pastor Steve, I shouldn’t need help, I should have it all together.

I kept going back and forth. I knew asking for help would be a good idea, but I didn’t want to because of my pride. It was like a tug of war with in me. By the grace of God, I was able to put down my pride and ask some friends of mine for help. And to my surprise they didn’t look down on me, they already knew that I was helpless when it came to mechanical stuff! We enjoyed fellowship as we did these projects together, and what looked like an overwhelming mountain was done in no time when I obeyed God, put down my pride, and asked for help.

Let me ask you a question that I want you to really ponder: where do you need to set aside your pride and ask for help? Where is God asking you to put aside your pride and ask for help? Do you need to put down your pride and admit that your marriage is struggling and go see a marriage counselor? Mental illness? Physical illness?

Imagine with me the freedom we might experience if we finally owned up to the fact that we are incomplete in ourselves and we need God. Like our body needs oxygen, our spirit needs relationship with God. Imagine the pressure that might fall from our backs as we quit thinking life is a do-it-yourself project and started seeing it as a “with-God” way of life. Imagine the help we might get if we were vulnerable enough to ask for it. Imagine the exciting possibilities that our future could hold if we moved into being dependent on the Lord.

Are you poor in spirit? Do you recognize that just as your body needs oxygen, your spirit needs God?

Or does your calendar and lifestyle show that in your heart of hearts, you don’t think you need God. If that’s you and you want to be poor in spirit, I encourage you to ask the Lord to make you aware of your deep need for Him.

Let me speak for a moment to those of you who are afraid to be vulnerable and admit your need help. You have a problem or struggle in your life, and God is asking you to put down your pride and ask for help, but you are afraid of what others will think. Can I give you a little tip: what others think is none of your business. All that matters is what God thinks. If you live to please others, you are heading for trouble. Maybe the Lord is bringing something to your heart right now; I want to ask you to pray that God would help you put down your pride so you can ask for help.

Lord, I know It would be wise for me to ask for help in this area, but I am afraid to be vulnerable. Please give me the courage to follow your will and put down my pride and ask for the help I need.

Easter Message: Liar, Lunatic, or Lord?

Imagine if someone walked onto this stage and said, “I am God. I can forgive sin because I am the Messiah. Feel free to worship me and pray to me.” How would you respond if someone made claims like that? About two thousand years ago, a Jewish man named Jesus of Nazareth made these claims about himself. Jesus claimed that he was God incarnate. There were several unique ways he let people know that he was God. In the book of Exodus we see Moses asking God for His name, and God responds,

Exodus 3:14 God said to Moses, “I am who I am.  This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’”

Circle those words: “I am who I am.” Another word for that phrase is Yahweh. It was such a special name that a devout Jew would not even pronounce it. Those who wrote it would first do a special ceremony before they wrote it. Now notice something that Jesus said in John 8:58:

John 8:58  “Very truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!”

What was Jesus doing here? When he called himself “I AM,” a Jewish person would have known exactly what he was doing. He was claiming to be Yahweh, God. The next unique thing about Jesus is that he accepted worship. In the Old Testament it’s forbidden to worship anyone but God.

Exodus 20:1-5 And God spoke all these words: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them.”

Yet if you read the New Testament you will see examples of Jesus accepting worship from people:

Matthew 28:17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.

Matthew 8:2 A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”

Kneeling was a form of worship. This man came and knelt down before Jesus. After he stilled the storm the Bible says:

Matthew 14:33 Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

As humans we are to worship God; since Jesus accepted worship, he was putting himself on the same level as God. The next unique thing Jesus did to state his identity was to teach people to pray in his name. Who do we pray to when we pray? God. And yet, Jesus taught us to pray in his name, again putting himself on the same level as God.

John 14:13-14 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.

So think about this: Jesus of Nazareth claimed to be God, accepted worship like God, and told people to pray to him as if he was God. So the million dollar question is, was Jesus God? Or was he a liar and self-deceived?

Some people think that Jesus wasn’t the son of God, but he was a good moral teacher. However, it’s hard to put him in that category because how can you call him a good person if he made claims like ‘I am Yahweh, pray to me, worship me,’ when it wasn’t the truth? He wouldn’t be a good man, he’d just be a good liar.

Bono, the lead singer of U2, one of the most successful rock and roll bands of all times said, “I think it’s the defining question for a Christian: who was Christ? And I don’t think you’re let off easily by saying, ‘a great thinker,’ or ‘a great philosopher.’ Because actually, he [Jesus] went round saying he was the Messiah. That’s why he was crucified. He was crucified because he said he was the Son of God. So, he either, in my view, was the Son of God, or he was nuts.”

A bit later, the interviewer is direct: “Therefore, it follows you believe he was divine?” And Bono is clear in his response: “Yes.” Bono believed that Jesus was God. What about you? Do you think he was God, or a liar, or self-deceived?

CS Lewis, a former atheist who became a follower of Jesus, once said, “Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.” If Christianity is that important, it would be wise to think about the person which Christianity centers around: Jesus of Nazareth. Are there any good reasons to believe that Jesus was God?

1. His fulfillment of prophecy.

Imagine if someone who was living in the 1500’s had predicted that Community Celebration Church would be at this very location in 2021. Imagine if they also predicted that we would be known as the donut church and have a pastor who told bad jokes. Would you be impressed? I would. To be able to accurately predict an event hundreds of years before it happens would be miraculous.

This is what happened to Jesus. If you read the Old Testament, the part of the Bible that is written before Jesus birth, it predicted many things about Jesus before he was born. All these prophecies were written about him before he existed.

Could it be a coincidence that Jesus fulfilled a few Old Testament prophecies? However, it wasn’t just one prophecy he fulfilled, it was three hundred of them. Jesus fulfilled over three hundred prophecies. Is it possible that he read the Old Testament and saw what it said about him, made a to-do list, and then fulfilled those prophecies? The problem with this theory is that many of the things that were prophesied about him he had no control over, like where he’d be born and how he’d die. All of these prophecies that he fulfilled point to the fact that he was more than a mere man. The next reason it is reasonable to believe Jesus was who he claimed to be is:

2. His sinless and miraculous life.

When we read about the people who knew Jesus best, they spoke about his stellar moral character. Peter, one of his disciples, said this about him:

1 Peter 2:22 “He committed no sin and no deceit was found in His mouth.”

That is the kind of reputation this man from Nazareth had. Now compare and contrast that to others who claimed to be the messiah, for example, think of David Koresh. He was the leader of a cult named the Branch Davidians. Back in 1993, their compound was raided by the government. The followers of David Koresh called him the “sinful messiah” because it was blatantly obvious to them that he had many flaws.

That wasn’t the case for Jesus. His followers and those closest to him described him as sinless. Perhaps this is a reason that Time Magazine called Jesus, “The most persistent symbol of purity, selflessness and love in the history of western Humanity.” In addition to his sinlessness, he was a miracle worker. Think of all the miracles that Jesus performed: turned water into wine, walked on water, multiplied bread, opened the eyes of the blind, made the lame walk, cast out demons, healed the multitudes, and raised the dead to life.

Josephus, a 1st century historian, outside of the Bible, wrote, “About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man. For he was one who performed surprising deeds and was a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. He was the Christ.”

Notice how Josephus notes that Jesus was more than a mere man: “if indeed one ought to call him a man.” Notice also how he said that Jesus did “surprising deeds.” Another word for that is miracles. So here is someone outside the Bible testifying that Jesus was performing miracles. 

Question: how could a normal person live a sinless life and do all these miracles? Well, his sinless life and miraculous deeds point to the fact that he was more than a mere man, he was God in human flesh. The final reason it is reasonable to believe that Jesus was who he claimed to be was:

3. His resurrection.

Today we have been talking about this Jewish man from the 1st century who claimed to be God. He also made quite a prediction about his life.

Matthew 16:21 From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.

Did you see how Jesus predicted that he would die and be raised from the dead? So the question becomes, did the resurrection actually happen? If the resurrection happened, it validates that Jesus was God and it teaches us that we don’t have to fear death, because at the resurrection death was defeated. But if it didn’t happen, it proves that Jesus was not God. Christianity rises and falls on the resurrection.

Lee Strobel was an atheist and a writer for the Chicago Tribune. One day he came home and he finds out that his wife has become a Christian. He freaks out. He thinks that Jesus is in the same category as the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy. So he thinks, I’ve got to show my wife that this is a hoax. So he asks his friend, who is a Christian, ‘where would I start, if I wanted to disprove Christianity?’ He said, ‘that’s easy. Start with the resurrection, because the Christian faith hinges on it.’ So he went out and did his research to disprove the resurrection, and in the process he found all this evidence that it actually happened and eventually became a follower of Jesus.

That friend of Strobel’s was right, Christianity hinges on the resurrection. Listen to what Paul said when it comes to the importance of the resurrection and the Christian faith:

1 Corinthians 15:13-17 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead . . . And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.

The moral of the story according to Paul was: Christianity rises and falls on the resurrection! So here is the question, if Christianity rises and falls on the resurrection of Jesus, are there any good reasons to believe it actually happened?

Professor Thomas Arnold, the author of the three volume work the History of Rome, a man who held the chair of modern history at Oxford, wrote: “I have been used for many years to study the histories of other times, and to examine and weigh the evidence of those who have written about them, and I know of no one fact in the history of mankind which is proved by better and fuller evidence of every sort, to the understanding of a fair inquirer, than the great sign which God hath given us that Christ died and rose again from the dead.” This scholar believed that the resurrection actually happened and validated what Jesus said about himself.

Dr Simon Greenleaf was a royal professor of law at Harvard University. He wrote a three volume work called A Treatise of the Law of Evidence. The rise of Harvard law school to prominence was accredited to Dr. Greenleaf. 

Dr. Greenleaf looked into the evidence when It comes to Jesus death and resurrection, using the same laws of legal evidence used in the courtroom, and came to the conclusion that there is more evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ than there is for just about any other event in history. Dr. Greenleaf believed that the resurrection happened and validated what Jesus said about himself.

J. Warner Wallace was a forensic detective who specializes in cold case investigations. As an atheist he looked into the claims of Christianity. Specifically, he looked into the question: Did Jesus really rise from the dead. As he looked into this ultimate cold case, he came away utterly convinced of the truth of the resurrection. Wallace concluded: “The resurrection is reasonable. The answers are available; you don’t have to turn off your brain to be a believer.” This former atheist who is a cold case detective believed that the resurrection happened and validated what Jesus said about himself.

Francis Collins is an American physician-geneticist who discovered the genes associated with a number of diseases and led the Human Genome Project. He is director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland, United States. He has been elected to the Institute of Medicine and the National Academy of Sciences, and has received the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the National Medal of Science. He began examining the evidence of the Jesus’s history and resurrection with the intention of strengthening his atheism, but his journey resulted in his conversion.

Two thousand years ago, a man from Nazareth made all these claims about himself, that basically he and God were equal, and then he backed up those claims with a fulfilled prophecy, a sinless, miraculous life, and the resurrection. Because of this, many people have decided to make him their leader and savior.

I typed this question in google this week: Who is the most influential person of all time? Here was the top five: Jesus of Nazareth, Leonardo Da Vinci, Nicola Tesla, Marie Curie, and Albert Einstein. Notice who tops the list? This man from Nazareth. There are over 2.2 billion people who follow him. Why? Because he was more than a mere man, he was God in human flesh. And he is alive and active in the hearts and lives of his followers.

As we come to the end of this message, let me ask you a question: Who is Jesus to you? Liar? Lunatic? Lord? Maybe you have never really thought about it. But today God has spoken to your heart and you realize that there is something to this Jesus. If you want to begin a relationship with him, I want to encourage you to pray this prayer of faith with me:

“God, I know that I am a sinner. I know that I deserve the consequences of my sin. However, I am trusting in Jesus Christ as my Savior. I believe that His death and resurrection provided for my forgiveness. I trust in Jesus and Jesus alone as my personal Lord and Savior. Thank you Lord, for saving me and forgiving me! Amen!”

How to Share Your Faith

I was standing at the front door at church last week when a man came up to me and handed me something. He looked around to make sure no one saw him. I felt like I was in a James bond movie. When I opened the bag my eyes got as big as bowling balls. It was a Long John donut! I wasn’t quite sure what to do with it because I was afraid I might be ambushed. 

I went and asked one of my most trusted advisors what to do. They weren’t much help, so I decided to do a good deed and give the donut to another person, so they would be ambushed and not me. Wasn’t it nice that the man shared a donut with me? Since we were kids we’ve been taught to share. And did you know that as followers of Jesus, we’re supposed to share our faith with others? In Matthew 28, he gives his disciples something called the Great Commission, when he says: 

Matthew 28:18-20 “Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” 

Picture Jesus saying to you, “Sally, Jim, Joe – go make disciples of all nations.” It’s not just a command for missionaries, it’s a command for disciples, and we are modern-day disciples. Sharing our faith is called evangelism and basically means sharing the good news of Jesus with others. What struck me is the fact that we will be able to do many things in Heaven, but the one thing we will not be able to do is to share our faith with others. Perhaps that’s one of the main reasons we’re here now?

Now, this does not only apply to us as individuals but us as a church. Last week we shared with you our process as a church. Why do we exist as a church? We desire to be a safe place to be in process and a place where everyone realizes they are in process. None of us have arrived. 

Now I know what some of you are thinking, you are thinking, oh brother another message on evangelism. I need to become someone I am not to reach people I don’t even know. Wrong. I want to talk to you today about how you can share your faith in a natural way. And the way to do that is to discover your evangelism style. 

How many of you have ever taken a personality test, like Myers Briggs? What you discover when you take a personality test is that we are all different. For example, my wife and I are opposites when it comes to personality. What are at the top of her list are at the bottom of my list. And vice versa. Now let me tell you what happens when I try to be her. I am miserable and do a really bad job of it. And the same would happen if she tried to be me. 

Some of us think that in order to share Christ with others, we have to become someone we are not. Wrong. Today you are going to discover your unique style of sharing the love of Jesus with others, and it is going to set you free to be you and influence people for Christ in a way that is natural for you. 

Now before I share the 6 styles with you, I need to give credit where credit is due. I used to be a table coach at a yearly conference where we would help church planters start churches. And it was in that material that I learned these 6 styles. Today I want to share with you how to share your faith in a way that is natural to you, and the way to do that is to discover your evangelism style. 

1. The Direct Style

If you have ever studied personalities, you will know that certain people have a very direct personality type, and they like to share their faith in a direct way as well. Some characteristics of the direct style include: 

  • In conversations, like to approach topics directly without “beating around the bush.”
  • Don’t shy away from challenging someone when it seems necessary. 
  • Do not have a problem confronting my friends with the truth even if it strains the relationship. 
  • Think the world would be a lot better place if people would stop being so sensitive about everything and just speak the truth! 
  • A motto that would fit perfectly is: “Make a difference or a mess, but do something.” 
  • Sometimes get in trouble for lacking gentleness and sensitivity in the way you interact with others. 

If this sounds like you, then you’re probably the embodiment of the Direct Style. Peter was a direct type of person. He was very assertive and direct. In fact, at one point in the Bible, Jesus tells him what his mission is. And He says, “Never, Lord.” Can you imagine trying to correct the Son of God? At another time, some enemies came to take Jesus away, and Peter took out his sword and was ready to cut the guy’s head off.  

Another example of the direct style comes from the show Seinfeld. In one of the scenes Elaine asks her boyfriend, “Do you believe in God?”

“Yes,” her boyfriend replies.

Elaine asks, “Is it a problem that I’m not religious?”

“Not for me,” her boyfriend answers.

“How’s that?” she asks.

Her boyfriend says, “I’m not the one going to hell.”

Her boyfriend is probably the direct style of evangelist. And maybe you are too.  

Let me give you a little caution if you are this style: mix a little grace in there with your truth. Jesus was full of grace and truth, and those of us who are the direct style might want to try and add more grace into your faith sharing, more kindness, more being nice. 

2. The Intellectual Style

  • Have a hard time getting out of a bookstore without buying a bunch of new books that will help me to better understand what people are thinking.
  • Tend to be analytical and logical. 
  • In conversations, you naturally key in on questions that are holding up a person’s understanding or progress. 
  • Enjoy discussions and debates on difficult questions. 
  • Often, when listening to teachers or TV commentators, mentally (or even verbally) argue with their positions and logic. 
  • Like to get at the deeper reasons for opinions that people hold. 

If you respond, “That’s me!” to these six statements, then you are representative of the Intellectual Style. When I think of an intellectual style of sharing their faith I think of Paul. 

Paul was a towering intellect. He was well educated. He was tutored by one of the most well-respected teachers of the ancient world. And as you read his letters, particularly the one to Romans, you will see a very logical letter- it almost reads like a lawyer presenting his case in court.  

Or think about Paul in Acts 17, going into the synagogue and reasoning with people why Jesus had to suffer and rise from the dead. 

A more modern-day example of someone with the intellectual style is CS Lewis who was a former atheist who became a follower of Jesus. If you remember we did a church-wide study on him a while back, and when he wrote, he writes with intense logic. Why? He wanted to show people the logic of Christianity. 

Can you relate to Paul and CS Lewis? 

Are you an intellectual style of evangelist? You are inquisitive, analytical, and logical. You don’t want to just blindly take a leap of faith… You want to look into the evidence. You are like Thomas: Show me the scars, and then I will believe.  

On a side note, I have been talking with a young person recently who grew up in Christianity and has walked away from it. I asked him what his biggest pet peeve about Christians was and he said, “bad arguments.” In other words, as he was struggling with his faith, he would ask people questions, and they would give pat answers like, you just need to pray about it. And one of the things I have learned from this young man is that we all need to be ready to share the reasons we believe what we do. 

Whether you are an intellectual style or not, I want to encourage you to study so that if a person asked you why you believe that you do, you could give them an intelligent answer. Tip: people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Are you trying to win an argument or show love to someone? 

3. The Testimonial Style

  • I often speak out of my personal background or experience to illustrate a point that I am trying to make.
  • I often identify with others by using phrases like, “I used to think that too” or “I once felt the way you do.”
  • When I talk around the locker room or the drinking fountain, people really listen.
  • I intentionally share my mistakes and struggles with others when it might assist them in considering solutions that could help them.
  • People seem interested in hearing stories about things that have happened in my life.
  • I am still amazed at how God has worked in my life, and I would like others to know about it.

If, after hearing these characterizations, you exclaim, “That’s me!”, then you most likely are the embodiment of the Testimonial Style. A good example of the testimonial style of sharing your faith is found in the book of John. In chapter nine of that book, there is a story about a blind man that Jesus heals. 

Now this man was known by probably everyone in that small village as the blind man. He was blind since birth. And he might have sat outside of the local grocery store begging from people as they passed him by. But one day, he was no longer blind. Jesus healed him. And when people asked him what happened, he didn’t argue with them. He didn’t give them a detailed theological treatise on what happened. He simply said: “One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!” This is the difference Jesus has made in my life! 

One of the things you will see in advertising is personal testimonies. People will say about a product or service, “I tried it and it works.” Why? Because personal testimonies are very effective for getting a message across. Are you the testimonial style of evangelist? Do you have an experience with God, where He touched you and changed you? If so, share it with others. In fact, we are commanded to share our testimonies with others. 

Acts 1:8 “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere-in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Notice carefully that we are called to be a witness. A witness is simply someone who shares what they experienced. Side note: It’s important to point out that effective testimonies don’t have to be dramatic. I think one of the most powerful testimonies is a person who has always known Jesus and has walked faithfully with him. Whatever your story, remember it is a part of God’s story, and He wants to use it to reach others. 

4. The Interpersonal Style

  • I am a “people person” who places a high value on friendship. People have commented about my ability for developing deep friendships. 
  • I would rather delve into personal life issues than abstract theoretical ideas. 
  • I prefer discussing a person’s life before getting into the details of their beliefs and opinions. 
  • I enjoy long talks with friends, and it doesn’t matter much where we are or where we’re going. 
  • People generally consider me to be an interactive, sensitive and caring kind of person. 

Does this all sound like you? If so, then you are the embodiment of the Interpersonal Style.

When I think of this style I think of Matthew the tax collector. After accepting Jesus’ call to become one of His followers, he didn’t abandon his pre-Christian friends. Instead, he tried to show them the love of Jesus. He held a party and invited them to join him. Luke 5:29 says, “Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them.” 

Unlike those who utilize the other approaches we’ve examined, Matthew didn’t confront or intellectually challenge them, nor is there any mention of his telling them the story of what had happened to him. 

Rather, he relied on the relationships he had built with these men over the years and sought to further develop their friendships. He invited them into his home. He spent time with them and ate with them. He did all of this because he genuinely cared about them, and he wanted to influence them toward considering the claims of Christ.

When I think of this kind of evangelism, another example comes to my mind. Ron was distant from God. He tried church but was turned off by the judgmental eyes he encountered. One summer he was hired to work at a lumber yard in California. His co-partner was a skinny, pale teenager named Joe who was a believer.

As they worked together eight hours a day, they bonded. As the trust between them got stronger, Ron started to ask Joe questions about God and the Bible. Joe listened, was kind, and never pretended to know all the answers. As the trust continued to be built, Joe had Ron over to his house. They had dinner and Ron got to meet his family. As the summer was winding down, both Ron and Joe knew that their time together was winding down also.

As they walked out to the car to say their parting words, Ron, with his tattooed arms, wiped the tears from his eyes and put his long hair in a ponytail and said, “A lot of people have tried to tell me about Jesus, but Joe, you’re the first person who has shown him to me.”

Do you see how Joe loved Ron and developed a relationship with him, and out of that relationship he influenced him for Jesus? Maybe this is your style of evangelism. Some would call this approach: friendship evangelism. 

You are gifted at building relationships, and as people get close to you they recognize something is different about you, and ask you why? 

 Caution: Avoid valuing friendship over truth-telling. Presenting the gospel may mean causing friction in the relationship, but it must be done.

5. The Serving Style

  • I see needs in people’s lives that others often overlook. 
  • I find fulfillment in helping others, often in behind-the-scenes ways.
  • I would rather show love through actions than through words. 
  • I have found that my quiet demonstrations of love and care sometimes help people open up and become more receptive to what I think. 
  • I think the world would be a better place if people would talk less and take more action on behalf of their friends and neighbors. 
  • I tend to be more practical and action-oriented than philosophical and idea-oriented.

If you have responded, “That’s me!” to these six statements, then you are representative of the Serving Style.

Acts 9:36 “In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (which, when translated, is Dorcas), who was always doing good and helping the poor.”

Tabitha was well known for showing the love of Jesus through acts of kindness. Specifically, she made robes and articles of clothing for widows and other needy people in her town. She served people, and that opened them up to what she had to say.  

A more modern-day example would have been Mother Theresa who served those dying kids in Calcutta. She was definitely a servant evangelist. Are you a servant evangelist? They serve, sacrifice, and give of themselves. And this opens others up to what they have to say. Steve Sjogren in his book Conspiracy of Kindness says: 

Whenever people see the love of God in action, a hot button is touched deep inside them. I’m convinced they feel God’s presence and see that he’s real even though they usually don’t know how to respond. Some people seem to even hear something audible from the Lord when we serve them.

On a hot day in Cincinnati, Joe Delaney and his eight-year-old son were in the backyard playing catch. As the two lobbed the ball back and forth, Joe could tell something was on Jared’s mind. Finally, he asked, “Dad, is there a God?”

Joe didn’t know what to say. A string of trite answers raced through his mind. In the end, Joe opted for honesty. “I don’t know, Jared,” he replied as the ball landed solidly in his glove.

Jared dug a little deeper. “If there is a God, how would you know Him?”

 “I really have no idea, Jared. I only went to church a couple of times when I was a kid, so I don’t know a lot about these kinds of things.”

 Jared seemed deep in thought for a few minutes as the game of catch continued. Suddenly, he headed for the house. “I’ll be right back,” he yelled over his shoulder. ” I have to get something.” Jared soon returned with a helium balloon fresh from the circus along with a pen and an index card.

 “Jared, what in the world are you doing?” Joe asked.

 “I’m going to send a message to God—airmail,” the boy earnestly replied.

 Before Joe could protest, his son had started writing. “Dear God,” Jared wrote on the index card, “if you are real and if you are there, send people who know you to Dad and me.” Joe kept his mouth shut, not wanting to dampen his son’s enthusiasm. This is silly, he thought as helped Jared fasten the card to the balloon’s string. But God, I hope you’re watching, he added to his silent petition. After Jared let go of the balloon, father and son stood with their faces to the sky and watched it sail away.

 Two days later Joe and Jared pulled up to car wash that a local church was doing. “How much do we owe you?” Joe asked as he neared the line of buckets, sponges, and hoses.

 “It’s free,” one of the men told him “No strings attached.”

 “Really!” Joe exclaimed. He seemed intrigued with the idea of getting something for nothing. “But why are you doing this?”

 “We just want to show you God’s love in a practical way.” The person said. It was as if that simple statement opened a hidden door to Joe’s heart. The look on his face was incredible. 

“Wait a minute!” he practically shouted, “Are you guys Christians?”

 “Yeah, we’re Christians,” the man replied.

 “Are you the kind of Christians who believe in God?”

 “Yes, we’re that kind of Christians.” After directing a big grin at Jared, Joe proceeded to tell the story of releasing the helium balloon with its message only days earlier.

“I guess you’re the answer to one of the strangest prayers God’s ever received,” Joe said as he hugged his son. 

Are you a servant evangelist? Perhaps your share God’s love best by sacrificially serving people. Caution: Be ready to share your why. In other words, when you serve people that touches a nerve in them and they will wonder why you do it. Be ready to share your Jesus story with them. 

6. The Invitational Style

  • I enjoy adding or including new people in activities I am involved in. 
  • To be honest, I often watch for situations in which someone “better qualified’ can explain concepts to my friends. 
  • It is not unusual for me to attend special events or concerts and bring along a car full of friends.
  • I tend to watch for worthwhile events to which to bring people, such as enriching seminars, retreats, classes, or church services. 
  • I am always looking for a good match between the needs and interests of my friends and various books, classes, and programs that they would enjoy or benefit from. 
  • A highlight of my week is when I can take a guest along with me to a helpful learning event, including church.

Is this a good description of who and what you are? Then it’s probably safe to say you have Invitational Style. A good example of this is the Samaritan woman. The Samaritan woman had three things going against her: (1) she was a Samaritan, (2) she was a woman, and (3) she was living an immoral lifestyle. Back then, any one of these would be enough to disqualify her from being taken seriously by society. But do you think that stopped Jesus? No. Jesus talked to her, and It didn’t take long for the woman to realize that the man she was talking to was no ordinary Jewish teacher. His prophetic insights and authoritative answers convinced her of His claim to be the Messiah.

 So what did she do? She immediately went to her town and brought a bunch of people to the well to hear Jesus for themselves. Verses 28-30 says, The woman went back to the town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ?”

Then they came out of the town and made their way toward him. This simple invitation resulted in Jesus staying in their town for two days. Many of the woman’s friends declared, in verse 42, “Now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.”

People with the invitational style of evangelism simply invite people to come to church with them or come to a process group with them. For example, we have been encouraging all of you to invite someone to church for Easter. Caution: Just because you invite people doesn’t mean you don’t need to be ready to share your faith when they ask you. 

Today we have talked about the six styles of evangelism: Direct, Intellectual, Testimonial, Interpersonal, Serving, and Invitational. We’ve talked about how to share our faith with others in a way that is a natural to you as breathing. Reminds me of a story. Before we left for Cozumel in January, Miracle and I were at a Kwik Trip in Rochester refilling. The dogs were with us. And this guy came up to us and started to talk about our dogs. You could tell he was a dog lover. He told us that he had just lost his prized dog and was really hurting. He asked if his wife could pet our dog, he thought it might be healing to her. I said of course. 

Last Friday I was at the dog park and we ran into that guy, and he had his new little puppy. (ppt). and we talked quite a bit, and as he left, he came up to me with tears in his eyes and wanted to shake my hands with me for letting him pet my dogs that day. God used it to bless him. What struck me was that my dogs showed the love of God to that family and they did not have to become something they are not, to do it. The same is true of you. 

Today we have gone over 6 different ways to share our faith and my prayer is that this new understanding would cause you to be intentional in sharing Jesus with others in your unique way. Imagine if we left church today empowered by the knowledge that we don’t have to become someone we’re not to share Jesus with others. But rather we can share the love of Jesus in a way that is as natural to us as breathing. Imagine if we became intentional about sharing our faith. While others sit and complain about the darkness in our world, we focus on the solution- sharing Jesus with our neighbors, coworkers, and friends. Imagine if we started to pray for our neighbors, coworkers, and friends. That they would come to know Jesus in a personal way. Imagine people coming up to you in Heaven and saying, thank you for sharing Jesus with me. 

A Church In Process

Jeremiah 1:13 Then the LORD spoke to me again and asked, “What do you see now?” And I replied, “I see a pot of boiling water, spilling from the north.”

In this passage, God is showing Judah that He will be sending judgment on them by allowing Babylon to attack. When I think of a boiling pot, it reminds me of our world. If you slow down and reflect on the state of our country, seems like many people are boiling with anger, hatred, fear, and division.

One of the things I’ve noticed is the increase in anger. People are angry over many issues, and if you’re not on their side of the issue, they’ll chew you out. People are angry over the pandemic and how it was handled. If you read a person’s post on social media, sometimes you wonder if that’s the same person you thought you knew. Have you recognized the anger in our country? Are you angry? 

In addition, it seems like our country is boiling with hatred. As I read the newspapers and look at the things people put on social media, it seems like there’s a lot of hatred in our world. Listen to this quote: “You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.” (Author Anne Lamott) Did you know that there are over 1000 groups in America that are classified as hate groups? Is your heart filled with the poison of hatred for someone today? 

Another thing boiling in our country is fear. “More Americans are afraid than ever,” said one article. Many can relate to AE Housman who wrote: “I, a stranger and afraid, in a world I never made.” Does that describe you? “Fear is on the rise,” said an article I read, explaining that people are afraid of things like corrupt government, not having enough money for the future, and a loved one dying. 

The main thing that’s astounded me is all the division in the country. It seems like everywhere you go there is a “us vs. them” mindset. “Division, not unity, will mark America in 2021 and beyond,” said an article. So we’re living in this pot boiling with anger, division, hatred, and fear. And this is the pot our children and grandchildren are being born into. Just pause for a moment and let that sink in.

Are you ok with that? I’m not. It’s not right. Can anything be done? Margaret Meade once said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” I agree. So what can we do? We can put a Band-Aid on the problem, or we can get to the root of the issue. Henry David Thoreau said, “For every thousand hacking at the leaves of evil, there is one striking at the root.” How do we move beyond the leaves and get to the root of the problem in America? I think Bill Bennett, former secretary of education, hits the nail on the head when he says: 

I submit to you that the crisis of our time is spiritual… What afflicts the US as a nation is the corruption of the heart and a turning away of the soul…. Nothing has been more consequential in the unraveling of our society… than large segments of the American society privately turning away from God… And to turn things around…there must come a widespread personal, spiritual renewal.

In other words, according to William Bennet, the remedy for the boiling pot is Jesus. If there’s going to be change in the world, it must start with change in the human heart, and only Jesus can change the human heart.

Ezekiel 36:26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.

The hope for the world is what we are doing at CCC, creating a safe place to meet Jesus and allow him to transform their hearts by pulling out the hate and giving them love, replacing division with unity, removing fear by giving faith, and replacing anger with peace. With that in mind, that Jesus is the hope of the world, we need to understand that Jesus does his work through the church. Therefore, today I want to share with you our strategy as a church. We dream of a day when the front page news isn’t about hatred, anger, division, and fear – it’s about love, faith, and hope because Jesus is on the move. How do we see Jesus become the talk of the town? 

Today we are going to share our strategy for that, and we call it The Process. We say it every week: “we desire to be a safe place for people to be in process and a place where everyone realizes they are in process; none of us have arrived.” If we’re in process, what is The Process? We try to explain it by using a baseball diamond because for a baseball player to score a run, they need to go all the way around the bases. There is a sense of process, moving from base 1 to base 2, and so forth. I need to give credit to pastor Rick Warren, who I got this idea of the baseball diamond from. We call The Process the ABCs. The A in the ABC’s stands for:

1. Accept the Invitation

Matthew 11:28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” 

Circle that phrase, “come to me.” What a wonderful verse on what it means to be a follower of Jesus. A follower of Jesus is someone whom the Lord calls to be in a relationship with Himself. If that person accepts the invitation, they enter into a relationship with the Lord. Notice that salvation begins with God inviting you to walk with Him in life. He extends His hand of grace to you, and you need to receive it by faith. 

Romans 10:9 “ If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” 

Have you done that? Have you received by faith God’s offer of grace? When you do, God’s Spirit comes to live in you, and He forgives you of your sins and gives you a new start. After you believe, you are baptized as an outward sign of an inward commitment. After baptism, you then commit to being a member of your church. A member is someone who is committing to their local church. Rollo May was an American existential psychologist and author of the influential book Love and Will. Note something May once wrote: 

I identified a few people who seemed to overcome serious addictions to alcohol and other drugs, and I asked them what had helped them turn their lives around so dramatically. 

All of them described some sort of spiritual experience. They kindly acknowledged their appreciation for the professional help they received, but they also made it clear that this had not been the source of their healing. 

What had healed them was something spiritual. It had to do with turning to God.

Have you had this spiritual experience of being born again? If so, that’s the first base in our baseball diamond, and your next step is to move to second base, the B, in our ABC’s:

2. Become an Imitation

Your next step is to grow in Christlikeness, to develop Christlike character. In other words, your role now is to grow spiritually, which means to become like Jesus in your attitudes, actions, and lifestyle. 

1 John 2:6 Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Jesus did.

Jesus did not just come to die on a cross for us, he came to be our role model, our example. Once we begin a friendship with him, we seek to become like him, loving the way he did, connecting to the Father the way he did, telling each other about God the way he did. Have you made Jesus your role model? 

Many people falsely believe that when they put their faith in Jesus they just wait around to go to heaven. No. Once you begin a relationship with Jesus, you take an apprentice role where Jesus teaches you how to think and live like him. Practically speaking, how do we become like Jesus?

  1. Pray: We talk to Jesus. Prayer is talking to God and letting him talk to you I call prayer spiritual oxygen. It is to our soul, what air is to our body. We become like Christ as we talk to him and allow him to talk to us. 
  2. Principles: We learn God’s principles, or commandments as we read his love letter to us, the Bible. The main way God talks to us is through his love letter. So if we want to hear from God, we would be wise to read his love letter. 

Process groups: Another tool God uses to grow our soul is process groups. What are they? They are small groups of people who get together to support one another, learn from one another, and be there for one another. If you’ve never joined one, you don’t know what you are missing, and here is why: Christianity is not a religious event, it is a relational community. 

What are the ABCs? We accept the invitation to walk with Jesus, then put effort into becoming like him, and make an effort to belong to his family, because as one person said: “Christianity is not just about believing in Jesus, it is about belonging to his family.” Do you feel like you belong here? If you want to feel like you belong, here are the two best things you can do are volunteer and join a process group. 

Let me talk to those of you who’ve accepted Jesus and you are putting effort into growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus. What is your next step? If you’ve accepted Jesus as your leader and savior, and are putting effort into growing Christlike character, your next step in the ABC’s is: 

3. Contribute to the Ministry

Who does what in our church family? What is my role as a pastor? What is your role as a church member? To answer this let’s look at:

Ephesians 4:11-13 And [His gifts to the church were varied and] He Himself appointed some as apostles [special messengers, representatives], some as prophets [who speak a new message from God to the people], some as evangelists [who spread the good news of salvation], and some as pastors and teachers [to shepherd and guide and instruct].

In this passage, Jesus is talking about the church, and he spells out who does what in the church. Note that he says that he’s given certain gifts to the church: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. Why has God put those gifts in the church? Many people in America would answer that the pastors and prophets are put in the church to do the ministry. To preach the messages. To visit people in the hospital. To lead services. To teach classes. If you were to ask the average American who does what in the church, I am convinced they would say, the pastors do the ministry and we the attenders and members receive the ministry. But is that what the Bible teaches? Let’s keep reading. So God has given gifts to the church; apostles, prophets, evangelists and pastors and teachers because: 

Ephesians 4:12 [and He did this] to fully equip and perfect the saints (God’s people) for works of service, to build up the body of Christ [the church].

The pastor’s role is to equip (prepare, empower, train) the laity so they can do the ministry. The pastor’s role is not so much to do the ministry, as it is to train the laity to do the ministry. I know that this is a huge paradigm shift for many of us. It goes against everything we’ve always thought. It’s kind of like when we used to think the earth was flat, and if you went too far you’d fall off. 

In fact, for many of us, this is how we’ve always thought the church should be. Imagine going to a Twins game and we see all those people in the stands, cheering, eating popcorn, drinking cola. And on the field there are about nineteen people diving, hitting the ball, and throwing the ball, actually playing the game. Many Christians see the church as a spectator’s sport; I come and sit in the crowd and watch as others minister to me.

The Bible teaches that he has placed gifts in the church like pastors and teachers to coach the church. To equip the people to minister to each other and the community. Do you have an American view or a biblical view of the church? 

Here is my challenge: if you’re not currently serving or volunteering, would you consider it? Would you go up to one of our staff members or email us and say: I want to get off the stands and get into the game? Some of you may be thinking, I’m so busy, why would I want to volunteer at the church? Remember the boiling pot. The church is the hope of the world. I’m not the only one who believes this. Let me tell you about someone else who did. His name was Peter Drucker. If you’re a student of leadership and management you’ve probably heard the name Peter Drucker. He‘s considered the Father of American Management. He invented the philosophy of management by objectives. Towards the end of his life, he said he wanted to spend the remaining time of his life doing the things that were the most meaningful. What were those places he wanted to invest his time? 

There’s only really a couple of places in all society that have the power to transform human lives. Local churches, 12-step programs, and a few not-for-profit agencies. If you think about it, that’s the only place where lives are really changing anymore. I’ve already made my decision that for the remaining years of my life, I’m going to give myself, my expertise, and my resources toward the organizations that can transform lives.

Did you get that? The guru of modern management and leadership said that the places where lives are being truly changed are: churches, recovery programs, and non-profits. Just think: by investing your resources and talents in a place like CCC, you are investing your life wisely according to Drucker. 

Let me speak for a moment to those of you who are retired. In our society, we’ve been scripted to think that retirement is about taking life easy. But let me remind you, there is no retirement in the Bible. You can retire from a job, but you don’t retire from the kingdom of God. Come to the office and say, I want to volunteer, and we will find stuff to keep you busy. 

Psalms 92:14 They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green.

By bearing fruit in old age, spiritual fruit, you stay fresh and green! God wants us to bear fruit even in old age. If you’ve accepted Jesus as your leader and savior, are putting effort into growing Christlike character, and are using your talents and treasures to contribute to the ministry of the church, your next step, the D in the ABC’s is: 

  1. Deliver the Message

As the church, Jesus has given us something called the great commission which says: 

Matthew 28:18-20 “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

What Jesus says that we have to be willing to leave our comfort zones and to go and share the gospel message with others. Think about who led you to the Lord. Someone shared the message of Jesus with you or invited you to church. Think about the impact that had on you and your family. What if you were to pay it forward and share the Jesus message with someone else, or invite them to church. 

Guys, we have the greatest message in the world, the remedy for the boiling pot, let’s not keep it to ourselves. Who is God asking you to invite to church? Let’s not let the world’s greatest message become the world’s greatest secret. As we come to the end of this message, let me end by saying: 

1. Make the ABC’s your life purpose. 

Some of you are out there and you wrestle with, what is my why? Why do I exist? What is my purpose? What if you made the ABCs your life purpose? “My purpose is to accept the invitation to follow Jesus, become an imitation of Jesus, contribute to his ministry and deliver his message to this world.” Now that will give you a sense of purpose, and imagine the satisfaction it can give. It reminds me of Hal Thomas, a CEO of Corban Communication, who said:

My marriage is stronger since it is not based on the things of this world. My relationships are stronger since they are not based on these things. My walk with God is more real because we have seen Him use us to supply what others need. Nothing in the world can satisfy one’s desire more than God literally using you to build a church in a small village, bring food to an orphanage, or bring a doctor to a sick person. I have seen each of these happen. I have seen God working through me…My path is a path of sharing, building, and providing for those God chooses for me to help. He has given us a company that generates resources for that purpose. 

Knowing that I am right in the middle of God’s plan for my life is the most exciting aspect of being alive that I can ever imagine.”

What is your next step? Is it to receive the invitation and begin a friendship with Jesus? Join a process group? Tithe? Invite someone to church this Easter? Is it to adopt the ABCs as your life purpose? 

Have you ever been to a mall and seen those large maps of all the stores with the start to indicate, “you are here?” It helps you make sense of where you are and get where you want to go. Today’s message is like that little arrow. Hopefully, it has helped you identify where you are in the ABCs and what your next steps are. Your job now is to take the next step. Ask the Lord what your next step is, and then take it.

We talked about our world being like a pot boiling with anger, division, hatred, and fear. The only remedy is the message of the gospel, because the only way to transform the world is to transform the hearts of the people, and only Jesus can do that. So my challenge to you is to get out of the stands, and get on the field and invest your only life in the hope of the world – the mission and great commission of Jesus. 

Red Sea Rule #10: Don’t Forget to Praise Him!

Do you feel stressed, tired, and irritable? You think, of course, I do, we had Daylight Savings yesterday and I lost an hour of sleep! I’m not referring to that. I mean in general do you feel stressed, tired, and irritable? If so, reminds me of a Louisiana hothead who was so enraged that he hadn’t received his COVID-19 stimulus check, he set his mom’s shed on fire. Marvin Smith Jr. was squabbling with his mother over the federal payout when he intentionally ignited her shed. Witnesses told deputies Smith was inside the shed moments before smoke and flames began billowing from it, officials said. He then fled. The Sheriff’s Office later busted Smith, who was armed with a knife. He was booked into jail on an arson charge among other crimes.

When I read that story, it reminded me of what a stressful season of life we’ve been living through in the past two years. All that stress we’ve gone through has caused people to do things that are out of character for them. Are you one of them? How has this stressful season affected you? For some of us, it has caused us to become tired. For others, it has caused us to be angry. Have you noticed how angry people are? For others, it has caused us to be irritable and fly off the handle at others.

For many of you, things have changed at work. Things have been restructured and downsized, so now you’re doing the work of 2 people, and you’re twice as tired when you go home at night.

Some of you have been in constant worry about if you will still have a job in a few months. And all that worry has sapped your energy. Because as one person once said, a day of worry is harder than a week of work.

How has the stress of this pandemic affected your family? Listen to what one article said in the New York Times: “Stressed, Tired, Rushed—A Portrait of the Modern Family.” That was the title of the article. It goes on to say: “Working parents say they feel stressed, tired, rushed and short on quality time with their children, friends, partners or hobbies…” In short, families feel stressed and tired. Individuals feel stressed and tired. Workers feel stressed and tired. Where do we turn for strength, when we feel stressed and tired?

Today we are concluding our series called: The Red Sea Rules. For the past 10 weeks, we’ve been studying Exodus 14, when we read about God delivering the Israelites through the parting of the Red Sea. And today we are going to explore how the Israelites responded to that miracle. Let’s see.

Exodus 15:1-2 Then Moses and the people of Israel sang this song to the Lord: “I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; he has hurled both horse and rider into the sea. The Lord is my strength and my song; he has given me victory. This is my God, and I will praise him—my father’s God, and I will exalt him!

How did the Israelites respond when God delivered them? They sang a song of praise to God. Did you know that this is the first recorded song in the Bible? I want to zoom in on one part of the song, notice this verse: “the Lord is my strength and my song.” (Exodus 15:2) The Israelites praised God by declaring that he was their strength and their song. 

As we follow Israelite through the rest of their journey that becomes their theme song. The Lord is my strength and song. As we follow them, we will see them be led 40 years through the wilderness as a judgment of their unbelief and stubbornness. But during that time God miraculously provided for them. He provided them with Manna from heaven to be their strength. And Moses was very determined to teach the people that they did not make it through the wilderness on their strength, rather they made it because of the Lord’s strength. Their mantra was: the Lord is my strength and song. Imagine if that was our mantra: The Lord is my strength and song. As we continue further in the book of Psalms it says:

Psalms 18:1 I love you, Lord, my strength.

Psalms 28:7 The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me. My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise him.

Do you see the theme? The Lord is my strength. After the Red Sea miracle, their anthem was the Lord is my strength and song. And that was the theme they carried with them. Imagine when we get up in the morning, and we are fighting rather get up or not, imagine if we sang out, the Lord is my strength and song, and we got up. Imagine if it is at the end of the day, and we’ve one more thing to do, but we feel too tired to do it. Imagine if we said to our self, the Lord is my strength and song, and we did it. Imagine if when we get home and we’ve to make dinner for the family and we feel zapped of energy we sang out: The Lord is my strength and song, and God gave us the energy to do so.

You say, but Steve, that sounds great. But I am really tired. How do I become like the Israelites and make the Lord my strength and song? Here is the answer: if you want the strength of the Lord, you need to slow down to be with the Lord! Check out this verse in Isaiah 40:28-31:

Have you not known? Have you not heard? The everlasting God, the LORD, The Creator of the ends of the earth, Neither faints nor is weary. His understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the weak, And to those who have no might, He increases strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, And the young men shall utterly fall, But those who wait on the LORD Shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, They shall run and not be weary, They shall walk and not faint.

In other words, as we wait upon the Lord, he becomes our strength and song! From that passage, we can learn to have the strength of an eagle, how to be an eagle Christian. So how do we become an eagle Christian?

1. Discover a heavenly vision!

Now think of the eagle. It is 29 to 42 inches long, can weigh 7 to 15 pounds, and have a wingspan of 6 to 8 feet. Eagles were created to fly in high places. What’s true of eagles is true of you. You were born to soar. God created you and he does not create junk. You’re His divine masterpiece, and he put you on this planet to make a significant difference in His story. You’re a part of the story of God, he has a role for you to play in it. In short, God has a vision for your life, do you know it? Do you know what it is?

Maria Stenvinkel, a corporate consultant from Sweden, asked 65 people from around the world, “What’s your greatest fear in life?” As you might expect, people mentioned the fear of “dying alone” or of “losing my job.” But of these 65 people, at least 14 (more than 1 in every 5) expressed a different fear: Living a life without purpose or meaning. Listen to their own words:

My biggest fear is never taking a risk to find my true calling. – Anthony, New York City

My greatest fear is to go through life living small but not realizing it until it’s too late. – Rebekka, Stuttgart, Germany

My greatest fear would be missing out on my purpose here on earth. … I know I have a purpose that I am not yet serving. – Danielle, Sacramento

To go through life without leaving a positive mark. – Luciana, Sintra, Portugal

My greatest fear is regretting all that I didn’t do, as I lay in my hospital bed as an elderly man. – Ralph, North Brunswick

What was their fear? Running with the turkeys, not flying with the eagles! Do you have a godly vision for your life? Do you believe that God can do something significant with your life? Or do you tell yourself: I am no smart enough, educated enough, young enough. Guys, as Henry Blackaby says, if you think God cannot do great things through you, that says more about your belief in God, than it does about you.

Because the Bible I read teaches that God uses ordinary things:

· He used a deceiver like Jacob to become the father of the Israelite nation.

· He used a slave like Joseph to save his family.

· He used a shepherd like Moses to lead the Israelites out of the bondage of Egypt.

· He used a farmer named Gideon to deliver Israel from Midian.

· He used a homemaker named Hannah to be the mother of Samuel.

· He used a shepherd boy named David to be Israel’s greatest king.

· He used a slave girl named Esther to save her people from a massacre.

· He used a tax collector named Matthew to be an apostle and gospel writer.

· He used a fisherman named Peter to be a leader of the early church.

· And he used a teenage peasant girl from Nazareth to give birth to the savior of the world.

Henry Blackaby quips, “An ordinary person is who God most likes to use. Paul said that God deliberately seeks out the weak things and the despised things because it is from them that He can receive the greatest glory. Then everyone will know that only God could have done it. If you feel weak, limited, ordinary, you’re the best material through which God can work.” You say, God has great plans for other people, but not someone like me.

Jeremiah 29:11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

God says he has a plan for you, a vision, a future. Do you know his plan for you? Now, why is it important to have a heavenly vision? Here is why: Where there is no hope in the future, there is no strength in the present. If you want more strength in the present, you need to seek and discern God’s will for your life. So get alone with him, and ask him: Lord what is your will? And then once you find it out, adjust your life to what he says. The next way to have the strength of an eagle is….

2. Soar on heavenly winds.

Now one of the things we all experience in life is fatigue. The Bible teaches that even young men will grow tired and weak. Have you accepted that reality in your life? I will grow tired and weak. My strength is limited. We’ve been led to believe we can do it all and have it all. We can’t. We are limited, we are human, and as a result, we need God.

For example, one of the things that I have been adopting in my life is a weekly sabbath. What is that? It is a day that is devoted to rest, worship, and play. No work is done. But I have started doing a weekly sabbath and it has been such a blessing to me. Do you know how excited you’re to go on vacation? I feel that way the night before my sabbath. What led me to start obeying the sabbath? One thing was admitting my limitations. I grow weak and weary, and I need one day to rest, worship, and play each week.

Have you come to grips with your limitations? We need to come to grips with our limitations. We will grow weak and tired that is not something to be ashamed about- that is a part of being human. So what do when we are tired? The Bible says those that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. What does it mean to wait upon the Lord? It means: If you want the strength of the Lord, you need to slow down to be with the Lord! Now, this does not mean to sit around and do nothing. But rather it means as one person said: meditating on His character and His promises, praying, and seeking to glorify Him. 

Now let me say something very important: many times when we pursue the vision God has for us, we can be tempted to shortcut our relationship with the Lord. That is a huge mistake. Don’t get so caught up in pursuing the vision that you lose sight of the one who gave you the vision. Don’t get so caught up in pursuing the promise that you lose sight of the one who gave you the promise. Don’t get too caught up in pursuing the goal, that your sight of the one who gave you the goal.

Let’s review. How do we get the strength of an eagle:

  1. Discover your heavenly vision
  2. Soar on heavenly winds
  3. Experience a heavenly journey

One of the key things I want to point out in this verse is that it says, God will renew our strength. What does that mean? When an eagle grows old, they fly high up into the high places & they lose all the feathers. They stay there until their feathers grow back. They become renewed! In other words, as we wait upon the Lord, he renews our strength- he grows the feathers back. Warren Wiersbe explains what the word renew means: 

The word “renew” means “to exchange,” as taking off old clothes and putting on new. We exchange our weakness for His power (2 Cor. 12:1–10). As we wait before Him, God enables us to soar when there is a crisis, to run when the challenges are many, and to walk faithfully in the day-by-day demands of life. It is much harder to walk in the ordinary pressures of life than to fly like the eagle in a time of crisis.

Did you get that? When we wait upon the Lord, we exchange our tiredness for his strength, our anger for His peace, our fear for His faith, our melancholy for His joy! We exchange what is in us for what is in Him. How can we make the theme of our life: the Lord is my strength and song, the theme of our life? We wait upon God, and as we do, we exchange our finite strength for His infinite strength, and just as the eagle rides the wind and circle higher and higher toward the sky, without effort. She just spreads their wings and the wind carries the eagle soaring through the sky. The holy spirit will do the same thing as we wait upon him.

How do we apply what we’ve been talking about today- if you want the strength of the Lord, you need to slow down to be with the Lord! We need to understand that as CS Lewis says: “God made the human to run on himself.” Like gasoline fuels a car, God is our fuel. God fuels our spirits as we focus on him. With that in mind, I want you to carve out some time to allow God to fuel your tank. What might you do at the time? The 4 Rs:

1. Relax. When you come to your fueling time, try to relax and quiet your mind. Maybe take some deep breathes. Ask God to help you be fully present with him, not worried about something over there.

2. Read. Read a section of Scripture. Read until you feel God’s taught you something. I am on a daily reading plan. It’s not how much you cover but what does God say to you? When God speaks to you, you stop and you think about it.    

3. Reflect. I’m talking about, you meditate on the scripture. How do you meditate? With the verse that God spoke to you about: SOAP it.

Scripture: John 3:16

Observation: God loves the entire world, not just those in church

Application: I will help my neighbor next time it snows by shoveling their driveway

Prayer: Father, you’re good, I need your help to become more loving to those who don’t know you. They matter to you, helps them to matter to me. Capture my neighbor’s heart. Thank you in Jesus’ name amen.

Request: This is your prayer time. Make your requests. A simple but powerful template to use for prayer is WOW- SORRY-THANK YOU- PLEASE:

  • WOW- Praise God. You’re holy. You’re Kind.
  • SORRY- Forgive me for my hidden faults
  • THANK YOU: Thank you for dying on the cross for me, even though I did not deserve it.
  • PLEASE: Please bring healing to grandpa

What have we learned today? Life can be stressful and taxing. We will grow weak and tired. But we don’t have the stay that way because we can wait upon God and as we do, he renews our strength, and as we do, we can go through life, singing- the Lord is my strength and song.

Imagine if we would be able to soar through life as an eagle Christian, knowing that if we slow down to be with Jesus, we will obtain the strength of him. Imagine if we made it priority #1 to be with Jesus, and wait on him because as we wait upon him, he renews our strength. Imagine if the priority of our day was slowing down to be with Jesus, by reading His word, reflecting on it, and then making our request to God. And we practiced what Pasto Phillip Brooks taught:

Do not pray for easy lives; pray to be stronger people. Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers; pray for powers equal to your tasks. Then the doing of your work shall be no miracle, but you shall be a miracle. Every day you shall wonder at the richness of life which has come to you by the grace of God.

Source: Phillips Brooks. Leadership, Vol. 12, no. 2.

Red Sea Rule #9: View Your Current Crisis as a Faith Builder for the Future

In 1984 one of my favorite movies came out. See if you can guess what it was from these hints: Mr. Miyagi, Danielson, Cobra Kai, the crane kick. If you guessed The Karate Kid, you’re right! In the movie, a scrawny 16-year-old boy named Daniel moves from New Jersey to California. Daniel starts to become bullied by this group of karate pupils who call themselves the Cobra Kai, who’s teacher taught them the philosophy of no mercy, strike hard, and strike first. One of my favorite quotes happens when Miyagi is discussing the Cobra Kai with Daniel and he says, “there are no bad students, only bad teachers.” 

After being bullied over and over, Danial starts to feel overwhelmed and very scared. Just when Daniel is at the end of his rope, Mr. Miyagi comes into his life to mentor him. Mr. Miyagi starts to teach him karate in a very unconventional way, making Daniel do chores like painting his fence, painting his house, and waxing his floor. Daniel comes to a point where he thinks, “Miyagi isn’t teaching me karate, he’s just using me to do chores!” What Daniel doesn’t realize is there was a higher reason for the chores Miyagi gave him. He was actually using the movements in those chores to teach him karate. When Daniel lost his temper and yelled at Miyagi about the work, Miyagi said, “paint the fence.” Daniel made the motions out of reflex, and Miyagi showed him how that motion could block kicks. He told Daniel to wax the car and showed him how that move could block a punch. 

Have you ever felt like Daniel? Maybe you’re going through a difficult season and it’s one thing after another and you say, “Lord, why is all this happening?” Maybe when you became a follower of Jesus, you thought you were going to witness miracles and live in a “mountain top experience,” but instead, you’re still living the same daily grind. Maybe you got married with huge expectations, but both of you have drifted apart. What do you do when life events don’t make sense and you can’t see how they fit into God’s grand story? 

If that’s where you’re at, I have a precious Bible verse to share with you, Jeremiah 18:6, which says: 

“Can I not, O house of Israel, deal with you as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel.” This verse tells us that God is using our current events and situations to shape us. Just as a potter shapes the clay, God uses the events of life to mold us into His image. 

I remember being in a prayer session regarding my church ministry with the Lord and I felt like I heard Him say, “Steve, you’re so focused on outer fruit, what about inner fruit?” In other words, I was focused on the church growing and making a difference in our community (outer fruit), but my inner fruit, the fruit of the Spirit was lacking. I sensed the Lord telling me that He was using the outer fruit to shape my inner person. As followers of Jesus, we are like clay in the hands of God, and He is molding us and shaping us for the future. Difficult times are not wasted because God is using them to develop us. Our Red Seas are not necessarily divine punishment, often they are divine education. The valleys we go through are not at all useless! They are used to build our character and faith for the future. 

A book called The Making of a Leader suggests that it’s helpful to look at life from a long-term perspective, as if each day is a chapter in a massive novel. Is it possible that God is using this present chapter to prepare you for a future chapter? As you go through life, God allows events to come into your life to prepare you for future events. I remember a song we used to sing in church when I was growing up: 

               Have thine own way, Lord! Have thine own way! 

               Thou art the potter, I am the clay. 

               Mold me and make me after thy will, 

               while I am waiting, yielded and still. 

Are you aware that as a follower of Jesus, you’re in the hands of the divine Potter? Are you aware that God is molding you and shaping you for something in the future? The events of your life are not coincidences. Coincidences are just God’s way of remaining anonymous. The events of your life are carefully orchestrated by God to cultivate Christ-likeness in your soul. Like clay in the hands of a divine potter, we are in God’s hands. 

Our text today comes from Exodus, when the Israelites are stuck between the Red Sea and Pharaoh’s army. The Lord delivers them by splitting the Red Sea so they can walk through it. What happened next? 

Exodus 14:30-31 That day the LORD saved Israel from the hands of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians lying dead on the shore. And when the Israelites saw the mighty hand of the LORD displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the LORD and put their trust in Him and Moses His servant.

Here’s what I want you to see. The Israelites had been in a very stressful, dangerous situation. However, God used that situation to build their faith and trust in Him. He led them in it for a purpose. Why is an attitude like this important? Why is it wise to remember that we are like clay in the hands of the potter? 

1. It helps us see the purpose in our pain.

As human beings, we have a deep need for purpose. There was an experiment done once where a man was paid an enormous amount of money to repeatedly dig holes and fill them in. After digging a hole, he’d have to immediately fill it in with all the dirt he had shoveled out. This man quit within a week. Why? There wasn’t any purpose in the work. Do you feel like you’re just digging holes in life? If you’re a Christian that’s not the truth. God is molding you and shaping you in ways you don’t understand. Why do I know that? Because God says it in His Word. We may not feel it or see it, but we need to believe it.

2 Corinthians 4:16-18 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

This verse teaches us that God is doing something eternal during our momentary struggles. What He’s doing far outweighs all the temporary struggles we wrestle with. 

2. It will help us not give up.

When you’re going through a difficult season, Satan will tempt you to give up, quit, run, and try to escape your situation. But if you know that God is shaping you and molding you, it will help you keep going. When we speak about the importance of our why, I think of a boxing match in 1990 between Mike Tyson and James Buster Douglas. Tyson had 42-1 odds to win, so people thought it was impossible that Douglas could win. Except that he did. What happened is that Douglas’ mother died right before the fight, and so he fought the match in memory of her. After winning he looked up to tell his mom he won for her. He had a higher reason for fighting. 

James 1:2-4 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. 

Do you see that verse? God is maturing me and educating me through these trials. Even when life is bad, God is up to something good. God is up to something good in my life. I don’t see it, but he says it, so I believe it. 

3. It reminds us of what we are in control of. 

Philippians 3:1 Whatever happens, my dear brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord.

Note the words, “whatever happens.” Most of what happens is out of our control. Spiritual growth is surrendering what you cannot control over to God. At the same time, it is displaying self-control in what we can control. We can control our choices, attitude, and faith. That’s why Paul says, “whatever happens, which most of it, I can’t control, I give to God; no matter what happens I choose to rejoice.” Pastor Chuck Swindoll, once wrote: 

“The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life.

 Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what others think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness, or skill.  It will make or break a company… a church… a home.  The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past… we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude… I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it.”

And so it is with you; we are in charge of our attitudes.

4. It helps us show grace to others; they are still being molded and so am I. 

One of the things we often say here is: we’re all in process. We are all in the process of being molded by God. If we’re all in process that means the other person that is bothering you is in process as well. When you understand that they’re in process like you are, it helps you give them more grace. 

5. It will test: am I moldable? Am I shapeable? Am I available? 

Imagine the clay trying to jump out of the Potter’s hands. Sometimes I think we’re the same way, we try to jump out of God’s hands and think we know the plan better than Him. No, stay in His hands; it might hurt, but a few chapters down or at the end of the book you will understand what He is doing. Here is another way to think of it. How many of you like math? I was never naturally good at math so I remember having to work especially hard in college on it. I remember taking this college algebra class that I had to study so hard for sometimes my brain would hurt. One of the things I learned is that you have to take algebra before you can learn calculus or any other advanced math. 

Imagine if we had an attitude of learning algebra before calculus towards our Red Seas. What would that look like? The difficult situation you’re going through right now could be your algebra. What you may not realize is that God is using that season to get you ready for a higher level of spiritual growth, which could be thought of as calculus. What if that season of pain you’re in is a doorway you have to walk through to get to a higher level of spiritual understanding? What if it’s a step you need to take to go to a new summit of spiritual strength? What if it is a path you need to walk through to make it to a higher peak in spiritual maturity? 

Back in 2002, I went through severe depression. I remember feeling like a burned-out candle. I felt like I had no life in me. My wife saw that I was not interested in things I was before and encouraged me to seek help. I went to a doctor and they told me I was in severe depression and got me started on treatment. If I put myself in those shoes of 20 years ago, at the time I thought I was going through the worst time of my life. I could relate to the person who said, my life is so filled with sorrow I don’t know if I can face tomorrow. I thought that I was going to be this way for the rest of my life. 

Eventually I got better. And not only that, what I learned in that difficult season has helped me get through many other difficult seasons. For example, for the first few months of Covid, I really struggled. I remember washing my hands almost obsessively. I remembered worrying about what if I or a loved one got Covid. I worried about the economic effect this would have on the church and our jobs as Americans. I was a mess. But here is the good news, this depression didn’t bring me down because of what I learned back in 2002. 

Last summer I felt the Lord led me to do a series on Stigma free at CCC, where we talked about breaking the stigma when it comes to mental health. And then last fall I was asked to speak around the state to pastors on emotional health and mental health. A few weeks ago, I spoke to the newly credentials pastors about it. While I was there, I was asked to speak at this woman’s conference next year and will be speaking this spring as well. 

When I think back to 2002, it was as if I was learning spiritual algebra, I was learning how to cope and manage anxiety and depression. And once I made it through my spiritual algebra class, they went to the next level of calculus, and God used me to teach people around the state. Now as a side note, if you’re wrestling with a mental illness like depression or anxiety, please do not suffer in silence. Reach out and talk to someone. You can talk to me. It’s ok not to be ok. We have a mental health support group that meets on Monday night. Please get help. There is no shame in mental health struggles, you did not ask for them, just like any other sickness. Please reach out and don’t suffer in silence. When we go through seasons of difficulties, we need to see ourselves like clay in the hands of a divine potter and know that God is shaping us for something in the future. 

I know He tries me… only to increase my faith. ~J Hudson Taylor

How can we apply this lesson? We’ve been talking about the fact that we are like clay in the hands of the potter. So what are five ways that God molds us and shapes us, according to Pastor Andy Stanley? 

1. Practical Teaching. One of the ways God grows us and molds us is by using pastors and teachers to teach the word of God. Are you putting yourself in the Potter’s hands, by regularly coming to church and sitting under the teaching of God’s word?

Romans 10:17 Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.

2. Private Disciplines. One of the most important lessons I could tell you when it comes to God molding and shaping us is that we cannot make ourselves grow. However, we can choose to use certain tools, and when we use them, God pours His grace into us and that is what grows us. What are the spiritual growth tools? 

  1. Bible Reading
  2. Prayer
  3. Worship Services
  4. Process groups
  5. Service

3. Personal Ministry. Now, this is one of the truths we need to learn the most. Why? When people think about growing spiritually, they think about sitting and soaking. I come to church to learn. I come to receive. I come to get fed. And guys that is part of the growing, I would call it the diet part, but you also need exercise. Diet and exercise. How do you exercise your faith? Do you have your one thing? Are you apart of a ministry in our church? Are you serving in a ministry? Do you have a self above service mindset or a service above self mindset? 

Last week I saw a young lady that I always see at Subway in Kasson. And I saw a bunch of teenagers with her. As I talked I found that one of the girls from our church, was inviting all her friends I would guess there were five other young people with them. And she told me, “I am going to invite all my friends,” I was so impressed with this young lady, because do you see how she was exercising her faith by inviting her friends. 

4. Providential Relationships. One of the things God uses to grow us and mold us is by bringing providential relationships into our life. This is where God brings someone in your life to mold and teach you a lesson. If we think back to the Karate Kid at a very difficult time of this life, Miyagi came into Daniels life and acted as a surrogate faith and taught him Karate. In a similar way, God brings people into our lives to teach us and mold us. 

5. Pivotal Circumstances. We have studied pivotal circumstances for the last nine weeks, looking at how God molded and shaped Israel through the Red Sea experience. In the same way, God allows us to go through difficult times to shape us. Often, as one of my friends says, it’s a million-dollar experience you wouldn’t pay ten cents for.

What have we learned today? As you think about the movie the Karate kid, Mr. Miyagi was molding and shaping Daniel. Similarly, God is molding and shaping you. Like clay in the hands of the potter, God molds us and shapes us for the future. 

In closing, Let me share with you one of my favorite quotes on how God molds us and shapes us:  

First, He brought me here, and it is His will that I am in this strait [i.e., hard] place: in that fact I will rest. Next, He will keep me here in His love and will give me the grace to behave as His child. Then, He will then make the trial a blessing, teaching me the lessons He intends for me to learn and working in me the grace He means to bestow. Last, in His good time He can bring me out again — how and when He knows. Let me say that I am here by God’s appointment, in His keeping, under His training, and for His time.