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.

Red Sea Rule #8: Trust God to Deliver in His Own Unique Way

When I was a teenager, I knew everything. My parents and most adult new nothing, compared to me. I knew how to be cool.  I listened to Walkman’s, Played my Rubik’s cube, and my Atari. I knew how to dress cool. I wore my parachute pants while chewing big league gum. I knew how to look cool.

The other thing my parents didn’t know when I was a teenager is that I knew how to be a better parent then them. For example, my parents wanted me to come home at a certain time; what they didn’t know is that I knew everything so I could come home at any time. My parents also wanted me to work hard on school, but that they didn’t know is that football skills were going to being me to the NFL. They wanted me to keep a clean room, but what they didn’t know is that since I was going to make it to the NFL, I would hire people to clean my room.

Of course I’m exaggerating quite a bit, but how many of you can relate to that phase when we thought we knew everything and our parents knew nothing? Maybe your kids think you don’t know anything? Maybe when you give them advice, they give you that blank stare, probably thinking, “Dad, what do you know?” Maybe they tell you what to do because they just read it on Snapchat, or they tell you that your style is way out of date and you look like you’re from the 1970’s, when the Earth was created.

I remember when I first became a pastor, I made a list of nineteen things my pastor was doing wrong. Even though I’d never been a pastor, I knew how to do it better than my pastor who’d been doing it for 25 years. He didn’t preach right. He didn’t pray right. He didn’t greet people right. I really wanted to teach him how to be a better pastor despite never having been a pastor myself. I really thought I knew better then him.

Here is what I want you to think about: is it possible that we’re doing the same thing I did with my parents and pastor to God? Is it possible that we’re looking up at God and saying, “God, I could do a better job than you! You should have done it this way? I know what is better for humans then you do?

Is it possible that as people of faith, we sometimes acts as if we know better than God like Jim Carrey in Bruce Almighty? We act like faith is telling God what to do. And what we lose in the process is the fact that faith involves mystery. ‘Mystery’ is defined as, “something that is difficult or impossible to understand or explain.” Does your faith involve mystery? Does it include the fact that as a believer in Jesus Christ, you won’t always know what, why, or how long?

We’ve been in a series called the Red Sea Rules where we’ve been talking about how the Israelites were trapped. In front of them was the Red Sea and behind them were the ruthless killers of Pharaoh’s army.

Exodus 14:21-22 Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and all that night the Lord drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land. The waters were divided, and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left.

Imagine if the Israelites had a strategy meeting on how to get out of their predicament. How many of you think they would have planned for this miraculous and unexpected act of God? When we’re in a difficult place, we would be wise to trust God and believe He can rescue us. The “how” is God’s department, not ours! Our department is to trust Him.

Please don’t misunderstand me, I’m not saying we shouldn’t plan or come up with strategies, but that many times when God delivers us, He does it in a way we couldn’t have dreamed of. That shouldn’t surprise us because He says in His Word:

Isaiah 55:8 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD.”

This verse is saying is that when you need God to do something in your life, think: how do I think He’s going to deliver? When you come to your answer, realize that it’s probably going to look completely different.

This reminds me of a book I read on creativity. The book said that one of the greatest creative questions you can ask is, what’s the second right answer? Often we struggle with tunnel vision and assume there’s only one right answer, and we miss other possible solutions. What if we started asking, what’s the second right answer? In other words, when we’re asking God to deliver us, we assume He’s going to do it the way we imagine it. But God will do it in any way He chooses, and He often surprises us.

Today we are talking about Rule #8 in the Red Sea Rules book: trust God to deliver in His own unique way. What’s the point? God doesn’t have a cookie cutter way to deliver us. He uses a customized way of delivering people for each occasion. Let’s learn to embrace the mystery of what God is going to do when we are facing our Red Sea. How is God going to deliver me? I’m not sure, but I’ll trust that he can and one day will. “How” is God’s department! Reminds me of a story about Jesus:

John 13:1-7 It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

In this story Jesus is expressing love for his disciples by washing their feet. What happens next? Peter is having a hard time understanding it. So Jesus tells him: “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” Why is it important that we understand this truth? We’ll being going through life and one moment everything’s great, and the next we’re blindsided by something bad. We can choose to lose our serenity by worrying, stewing, and fretting, or choose to have the attitude of, “I have no idea what is going on, but later I will.”

Here at CCC we have a vision called The Process. The Process is our spiritual plan on how to help people grow in their relationship with Jesus. We use a baseball diamond to teach The Process. At 1st base, we want to see people accept Jesus as their leader and savior and then come to our membership class. On 2nd base, we want them to become like Jesus in their character and habits, so we teach about how to grow spiritually. And on 3rd base, we want them to find their spiritual gifts and use them to serve in the church. Home plate represents how we want them to learn to share their faith and use it to build spiritual friendships with others.

Today we are focusing on #2 base, becoming like Jesus in attitude and character, and learning to have faith like Jesus. At many times in our life he says to us, “you won’t understand right now what I am doing, but one day you will.” In other words, he is telling us to embrace mystery, and trust him, even when we don’t understand.  This is an amazing attitude of faith for a believer. If we:

  • Struggle with why God allowed one person to be voted in and not the other. We can think: I may not understand right know what God is doing, but I will later.
  • Struggle with why that relationship has ended, we can think: I may not understand right know what God is doing, but I will later.
  • Struggle with why Texas had to go through what they are going through, we can think: I may not understand right know what God is doing, but I will later.

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.

What is that saying? When we go through difficulties, we may ask, “what’s going on? God why are you allowing this?” This verse teaches us that even though we don’t understand, God is up to something good and is doing something eternal in your soul.Think of it this way: imagine you went to a gym and you knew nothing about muscles or working out. You went to a class and after the class you’re extremely sore and in pain. So you quit going to the gym. One day the instructor of your class and asks, where you been. You say, I quit going because it hurt afterwards. “That’s good!” says the instructor, and you promptly hang up the phone and never go back.

Was the instructor right? Yes. When you life weights, your muscles tear, heal, and become stronger. God says life is like that. You go through life and are hurt, you don’t know what is going on. But God says, “like a muscle that’s torn becomes stronger, I’m doing something in your pain that one day you will realize is for your good.”

Now please do not misunderstand me. This isn’t easy and some of you are really in pain. I’m not saying this as a cliché, but this is what the Bible teaches. And honestly, I don’t understand right now how this can be because of some of the situations you are facing. But let’s remember one day we will understand. And until then let’s keep leaning into God to carry us.

If you are a going through a hard time, and I think Jesus would say: “You don’t understand right now why you have that pain, but later you will and it is for your good.” I’ve often said that faith is trusting in advance what makes sense in reverse. In other words, in the beginning we often don’t know why such and such is happening, and we don’t know how to respond. We need to choose faith. We need to believe: I don’t understand what God is doing in my little story, but I will later understand how He was using my little for His bigger story.

Now here is how I explain it: my personal definition of success is trusting God and doing my prayerful best. Here’s how I do that practically: I try to do my prayerful best at fulfilling my responsibility and what God says in His word, and then I leave the results and outcomes to God. The outcomes are in His control, what I am in control of is, did I pray about it and do my best? And if the outcomes aren’t what we want, what do we do? We trust that God is doing something that we might not understand until later.  

Is there room in your faith for mystery? Or do you think that as a follower of Jesus, you should know everything? Let me share with you a quote I read recently:

Today astronomers have come down on the side of believing that galaxies and galaxy clusters are pregnant with some sort of exotic material that is invisible to us—they are calling it dark matter.

And dark matter isn’t even the most astonishing thing modem astrophysicists have discovered about gravity. Astrophysicists have discovered another mystifying reality—they call it dark energy. All told, astronomers have concluded that dark energy comprises some 68 percent of the total universe and dark matter, about 27 percent. That means only 5 percent of the entire universe is visible to us! In other words, everything we call scientific knowledge is based on but a pittance of what there is to know about our world. Ninety- five percent of it is hidden from us. Even with all of our advances our science is 95 percent in the dark about the universe it seeks and claims to understand…”

Source: Michael Guillen, Amazing Truths (Zondervan, 2016), pages 59-60

About 95% of your universe is a mystery. Think about how much we can learn about our brains. One person said that our brain is so complex it can’t even begin to understand itself.

Psalms 19:1 The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands.

If we want to get to know God better, we study His creation. Now if 95% of creation is a mystery, what does that teach us about God? He is a God of mystery! That is why I am teaching today that to be a follower of Jesus we need to embrace mystery.

Proverbs 3:5-6 Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to Him, and He will make your paths straight.

Note carefully that in this verse God tells us to trust Him with all our heart. This applies to what we are learning today. Embrace mystery. Embrace the facts that there are things happening in our world that we don’t understand. What do we do with that stuff? We surrender it to God. We surrender our situation to God, and realize there are things we don’t understand now but later we will.

…and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him…

So to have serenity:

  1. We trust God. We let go and let God. He doesn’t tell us to lean on our own understanding, but to lean on Him.
  2. We focus on what we can control. We can control whether or not we submit to Him. The only thing we can control is ourselves:
    1. Our attitude.
    1. Our self
    1. Our faith

A good analogy to understand Proverbs 3:5-6 is ballroom dancing. Are any of you familiar with it? Tammy and I really enjoy it. When we first started dancing, we had some intense moments of fellowshipover who was going to lead and who was going to follow. Then the leader of the class spoke up and said the best words I think I’ve ever heard: “in dancing, the man is the leader.” We did well once Tammy understood I was the leader on the dance floor.

In your relationship with God, are you trying to lead the dance, o are you allowing God to lead? Someone once said guidance means, “God, You and I dance.” He’s the leader. Your job is to trust in Him, and you may not know what His next step is, you just follow Him. Are you trying to lead the dance, or are you trusting Him to lead?

How do we apply this? Pray the full version of the serenity prayer:God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference. Living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time, accepting hardship as the pathway to peace. Taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it. Trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His will. That I may be reasonably happy in this life, and supremely happy with Him forever in the next. Amen.”

Tullian Tchividjian tells the following story about trying to deal with the pain of his parent’s unexpected divorce:

I remember going to see [the Christian counselor] Larry Crabb, who was [a colleague of] my father. “How’s your mom and dad doing?” Larry asked. “Larry, I don’t know what to do. Seriously. I feel like my whole world has been turned upside down. I don’t get this. It’s excruciating.” Larry said something remarkable. He could see that I was trapped in the prison of Why, banging my head against the bars. He said, Tullian, listen to me: The “why” is none of your concern. This is not your burden to fix or figure out. You are not responsible for your parents’ relationship or their reputation, or even your own reputation. Those are in God’s hands, and his ways are his, not ours. When it comes to God’s will, the sooner you can get out of the conjecture business, the better. If you don’t go to your grave confused, you don’t go to your grave trusting. Painful as it is, this situation gives you an opportunity to show them grace, to love them in their brokenness in a new way. Which is precisely what Jesus has done for you and continues to do for you.” Larry preached the Gospel to me that day, and it made all the difference.

Imagine with me if we were to embrace mystery when it comes to God. Imagine the peace and joy we might experience if we allowed Him to be the lead dancer and we simply followed His lead. Imagine with me the serenity we might experience if we truly believe we don’t have to understand everything right now. Because someday, when He choose, we will. Imagine with me if we could teach our kids to do their prayerful best and trust God with the results. Imagine with me that when we are in a difficult time, we could hear the words of Jesus, “you don’t right now understand what I am doing, but one day you will.”

Red Sea Rule #7: Envision God’s Enveloping Presence

I have in one hand a normal blanket and an electric blanket in the other. What’s the difference between the two? A regular blanket can keep you warm by insulating your body, preventing your heat from escaping. On the other hand, an electric blanket not only insulates you but also uses electricity to produce heat. When I use the electric blanket, I can sense and feel the outside power flowing through it by the heat it produces. 

Just as there are the two kinds of blankets, there are two kinds of people. Some people are walking through life trying to stay warm on their own strength – the normal blanket. They use phrases and philosophies like, “if it’s to be it’s up to me,” and “pull yourself up by the bootstraps!”

On the other hand, some people walk through life helped by an outside power. We are connected to Jesus by the Holy Spirit, and His warmth, divine help, and power is fuel us. We have attitudes such as, “if it’s to be it’s up to Christ working through me,” and, “I will ask God to help.” Here is my question to you today: are you living more like a regular blanket or an electric blanket? Are you relying on your natural abilities or Jesus’ supernatural power? 

We’re continuing our series on the Red Sea Rules about how the Israelites were trapped between the Red Sea and the armies of Pharaoh. Moses had to remind the Israelites that they weren’t facing the Egyptians on their own strength, but with divine help. Let’s jump into the story. 

Exodus14: 19-20 Then the angel of God, who had been traveling in front of Israel’s army, withdrew and went behind them. The pillar of cloud also moved from in front and stood behind them, coming between the armies of Egypt and Israel. Throughout the night the cloud brought darkness to the one side and light to the other side; so neither went near the other all night long.

Now to understand this text you need to understand a fancy word: Theophany. What does it mean? A theophany is a visible appearance of God. Now notice the phrase: Angel of God. Who is the Angel of God? “The Angel of the Lord is a theophany, an appearance of God in physical form.” What is that all about? The Bible teaches that God is spirit. 

John 4:24 “God is spirit, and His worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

In other words, a theophany is when the invisible God makes Himself visible. We see three theophanies in this story as God leads the Israelites by a pillar of fire, a pillar of cloud, and appearing as an Angel of God. For example, look at: 

Exodus 13:21-22 By day the LORD went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night. Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people.

When it talks about the Angel of God, the pillar of fire, and pillar of cloud, it’s saying that Israel wasn’t alone as they faced the Red Sea. God was with them. His presence was present with them. If you don’t get anything else from this message, I hope you get this: if you are a Christian, God’s presence is present with you. 

Things may not always turn out the way you want. Trials and tragedies may come into your life. People may abandon you and disappoint you. But remember this: God’s presence is present with you. He said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” But think about this: when Israel faced the Red Sea, they weren’t facing it alone. Like the electric blanket has an outside power helping it, we have a higher power who walks with us and helps us, and that higher power is from God’s Holy Spirit. 

Zechariah 4:6 So he said to me, “This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty.

In this text, an Angel speaks to Zerubbabel and teaches him how the Holy Spirit works. What he says is that, as followers of Jesus, the Holy Spirit lives in us and does great works through us. Like oil flowing through a pipe, the Holy Spirit flows through us as we face our Red Seas and does what only He can do. For example, I used to work at the Apache Mall at a store called St. Paul clothiers. One night after closing up the store, I came out of the building to see a car pull up and two big guys jump out. After a very brief discussion they made it clear they were here to intimidate me. 

Why were they trying to intimidate me? Because I was dating one of the guy’s former girlfriends, and he wanted her back. Not only did I not give her back, I married her. As they were trying to intimidate me, I felt faith and boldness rising up in me all of a sudden. I literally felt touched by God, and He gave me an unnatural boldness. It was as if I felt like an electric blanket that had just been plugged in and turned on. 

As a result, even though it was in a very scary situation, I didn’t feel fear. I felt boldness. I sensed the presence of God was with me and would protect me. And the neat thing is that even though this event started out as confrontational, by the end of it I was witnessing to those two guys and praying for them. Similarly, God was trying to get the Israelites to remember that as they faced the Red Sea, they weren’t alone. The power and presence of God was with them, just as God’s presence was present with me.

Let’s think more about thepresence and power of God. Remember how God walked with Adam and Eve in the garden. If we go back to the beginning we will see that Adam and Eve had close fellowship with God in the garden. But then they disobeyed God, and God cast them out of His presence. Since that time, our sin stops us from being in the presence of God.

Psalm 66:18 “If I regard wickedness in my heart, the Lord will not hear.”

If we are in the practice of deliberately disobeying God, God does not hear our prayers. Notice I said, “a practice.” This is talking about a person who abides in their sin and does not repent. It’s not a one-time sin, it’s someone who continually sins and does not want to stop it. This kind of lifestyle can break fellowship with God. That is why it is so important to confess our sins and ask God to help us repent of them. 

But here is the good news: when we put our faith in Jesus Christ and are born anew, the Holy Spirit comes to live in us. As a result, we become a temple of the Holy Spirit. The presence of God is within us, in the form of the indwelling Holy Spirit. In other words, just as the Presence was with Israel- the theophany- the presence of God is with us through the indwelling Spirit of God. What does that mean? “The indwelling of the Holy Spirit is the action by which God takes up permanent residence in the body of a believer in Jesus Christ.”

Have you ever just thought about how, as Christians, we have the higher power of Jesus Christ in us and working through us. Like the electric blanket, we have divine electricity flowing through us and abiding in us. For example, notice what Jesus said to his disciples: “He lives with you and will be in you.” (John 14:17) As modern disciples that applies to us as well. 

Ok, so we have the indwelling Spirit within us. But as Dwight Moody used to say, we leak. Think of a balloon filled with air, it leaks right. That is why we need to continually pray and read God’s Word, which is how God fills us with His Spirit. 

Ephesians 5:18 “Be filledwith the Spirit.”

Do you want to hear some good news? God’s presence is present with you, through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.So with that all in mind, let me share with you a few principles of his presence in your life: 

1. His presence Goes with you

Exodus 33:14 The Lord replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”

The Lord did not say, ‘my presence might go with you. There is a good chance it goes with you.’ No, He says, my presence will go with you. As Gary Collins said, “Being a Christian is walking through life with an awesome, almighty, holy being who is acquainted with all your ways, tender, forgiving, guiding and compassionate.” 

2. His presence is a foretaste of Heaven

Psalms 16:11 You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.

One person wrote this about that verse: “David speaks of a joy that only the righteous can know a joy that is but a foretaste of a far greater and everlasting joy when we see the Lord’s face in the glory to come.” Someone has said, “heaven is a world of love where God is the fountain.” On earth God gives us a taste of His love by enveloping us in His presence from time to time, and that is a foretaste of what heaven’s like. For example, this past week I was teaching to newly credentialed pastors in the cities. We had a worship time before I spoke and in that time, I could sense being in the presence of God. I knew that He touched me. Afterwards, I felt refreshed and renewed. It was amazing. I believe that was God giving me an unusual dose of His presence, reminding me of how wonderful heaven will be. It reminds me of something CS Lewis said: 

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 is just no good asking God to make us happy in our own way without bothering about religion. God cannot give us happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.

3. His presence helps us to make the right choices. 

Psalms 139:7 Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?

The answer is “NO.” Now that’s encouraging in one sense; no matter what you’re facing today, GOD IS WITH YOU. It also gives a sense of accountability. Why? Where ever you go or do, God is with you. 

A few years ago I went to my 25th class reunion with my wife. It was great seeing those faces I hadn’t seen in a long time. As I was talking to some of my classmates across the room, my wife was talking by the bar. And there was one of my classmates who was standing by my wife, and she heard the guy say: “I better go talk to Steve before I get drunk.” 

In other words, because I was there, a pastor, he did not feel he could get drunk in my presence. Let me ask you a question: if I was always with you, would you maybe make different choices? Here’s what I want you to remember, I am only a human saved by the grace of God. But God is always with you, even as those pornographic sites came upon on your computer, as you’re about to take that drink, or as you’re about to gossip. Might you make a different choice? 

Now before I go any further, I want to clarify something. I am not saying we should be afraid of God being with us, that is why we don’t sin. But rather I hope our motivation is: I love God, and I don’t want to hurt him because I have done something he told me not to do. Do you see the difference in motivation? 

4. His presence fills our hearts with peace. 

1 John 3:19 This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in .is presence.

God’s presence is present with you and His presence fills us with peace and rest. I want us to think about a story in the Old Testament, in the book of Judges. It’s the story of a guy named Gideon. Gideon is living in a very difficult time. His own people, the Israelites, were living to please themselves. They were engaging in idolatry, and disobeying God. As a result, God took His protective hand off them. And they were being oppressed by the neighboring nation – the Midianites. For seven years, the Israelites had their crops ruined and cattle destroyed because of the Midianites. 

When I think of Gideon, I think of someone who would not have been voted most likely to succeed. His name meant means “cutter” or “cutter of trees,” and he belonged to an undistinguished family. We might say it this way, he was born on the wrong side of the track. 

When we come upon him in our story, he is doing something quite odd. He is threshing wheat in a wine press. Yes, I said a wine press. As you can guess, you don’t normally press wheat in a winepress. Threshing wheat normally takes place in a large, open space. The thresher tosses the grain in the air, letting the wind blow away the chaff. So why is he threshing wheat in a small, enclosed winepress? He is afraid of the Midianites. I am sure that as he thrashed his wheat, he might have constantly looked over his shoulders. And it was in this state, locked in a cave of internal fear, threshing wheat in a winepress to hide from his adversary, that God touches this unlikely farmer on the shoulder and says, I want you to deliver my people. 

Now get this when God says this is Gideon, he’s acting like a coward. But that is not how God sees him; God talks to Gideon and says these memorable words: “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.” (6:12) Would you circle that phrase: “mighty warrior.” That is how God saw Gideon. So others saw him as a coward, God saw him as a mighty warrior. Is that how Gideon saw himself? No. He saw himself as a nobody from nowhere. Gideon’s assessment of himself did not match God’s assessment of him, or others. Does yours? 

After the Angel gave Gideon his assignment notice how he responds: “Pardon me, my Lord,” Gideon replied, “but if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us?” If God is with us why did my spouse leave me, or why did I get fired, or why did I get this illness, or why am I in constant pain?

Where are all his wonders that our ancestors told us about when they said, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian… “Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.” God, you picked the wrong guy. I am from the wrong family and I am the least of my family, I’m the black sheep, the least smart, and I’m not athletic or a good student.

Do you see how Gideon’s assessment of himself does not match God’s? Gideon sees himself as a nobody from nowhere; God sees him as a mighty warrior. Some of you see yourself as a nobody from nowhere, but God sees you as a mighty warrior! Some of you see yourself as a loser when God sees you as His child. Some of you see yourself as a mistake when God says you are fearfully and wonderfully made. Some of you see yourself as an accident of birth when God sees you as the crown of His creation. The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.

I read a quote this week that was so good. Listen to this: “God sees our possibilities through the lens of His power; He does not limit them by the breadth of our weakness. The smidgeon of strength that Gideon has, coupled with God’s presence beside him, is sufficient to rout the entire Midianite army.”

me + God’s Presence= ALL THINGS ARE POSSIBLE

What have we been talking about today? God is with us. His presence goes with us. His spirit abides in us. So what do we do with this knowledge? How do we apply it to our everyday life? Let’s practice rule #7: Envision Gods enveloping Presence. What can you do to remind yourself that God is with you? Some ideas could be walking into work and opening the door to remind you that Jesus is entering with you; when you have your headphones on reminding yourself to keep your ear open to heaven; say a simple phrase throughout the day, such as “God is with me.”

Richard Foster, in the book, Celebration of Discipline, writes about using our imagination to pray to God. I call it “Palms Up and Down.” Let me read to you what he says: 

Begin by placing your palms down as a symbolic indication of your desire to turn over any concerns you may have to God. Inwardly you may pray, “Lord, I give you my anger toward John. I release my fear of my dentist appointment this morning. I surrender my anxiety over not having enough money to pay the bills this month. I release my frustration over trying to find a baby-sitter for tonight.” Whatever it is that weighs on your mind or is a concern to you, just say, “palms down.” Release it. You may even feel a certain sense of release in your hands. After several moments of surrender, turn your palms up as a symbol of your desire to receive from the Lord. Perhaps you will pray silently: “Lord, I would like to receive your divine love for John, your peace about the dentist appointment, your patience, your joy.” Whatever you need, you say “palms up.” Having centered down, spend the remaining moments in complete silence. Do not ask for anything. Allow the Lord to commune with you, to love you. If impressions or directions come, fine; if not, fine.

Imagine if we walked through life with the awareness that just as the electric blanket has outside power in it, we have an outside power inside of us called the Holy Spirit. Think about all the people in this community that are walking through life alone. You live with them, you work with them, and you are neighbors to them. What if you were to be able to communicate to them, that God loves them, and wants to walk with them through this life. What if you were to simply invite them to begin this journey of walking with God at CCC. A simple invite could change their life. In closing let me remind you of: 

Exodus 33:14 The Lord replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”

Repeat after me: God’s presence is present with me! Now some of us are out there and we say, I am like the first blanket. I have not asked God to come into my life and fill me with his presence and power. I would like to, what do I do?  

Romans 3:23 “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” 

All have fallen short of God’s standards. All of us, including and especially me. Sin is an archery term. You shoot the bow and miss the target. That is sin. We have missed the target of our life. 

Romans 6:23 “For the wages of sin is death…” 

Specifically, this is talking about spiritual death or separation from god. However, that verse continues with:

Romans 6:23 “…but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” 

In short, we deserve death, but because of a gift, we can receive eternal life. And here is the cool thing, eternal life doesn’t happen in heaven. It happens the moment you receive Christ in your heart. Imagine if I said I will give you a free gift of 100 dollars. Do you have it? No, you need to reach out and accept it. God’s salvation is like that, he is extending it to you, but you have to reach out and receive it by faith. 

Romans 10:9-10 “That if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.”

If you would like to do that, please pray this prayer with me: 

Lord Jesus, I need You. Thank you for dying on the cross for my sins. I acknowledge that I am a sinner, and I am separated from You. Please forgive me. I receive You as my Savior and Lord. Thank You for forgiving my sins and giving me eternal life. Please take control of my life. Make me the kind of person You want me to be. Amen.

Red Sea Rule #5: Stay Calm and Confident, and Give God Time to Work

The Israelites are stuck. The Egyptians are pursuing them with six hundred chariots, the tanks of the ancient world. The Israelites were filled with fear as they looked back. In front of them is the Red Sea, and they are just as afraid of it as they are of the Egyptians. Let’s think about the Red Sea for a moment. 

1 Kings 9:26 King Solomon also built ships at Ezion Geber, which is near Elath in Edom, on the shore of the Red Sea.

In other words, the Red Sea was a port for Solomon’s large ships. That means the Red Sea would have been a large and deep body of water. It wasn’t like the water at the Mantorville dam. The Red Sea is 169,113 square miles long, with an average depth is 1600 feet, and 9970 feet at its deepest part. Do you see how intimidating this would have been for them? Here is also something we need to understand about the situation that the Israelites found themselves in:

Exodus 12:37 The Israelites journeyed from Rameses to Sukkoth. There were about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides women and children.

Scholars believe that with women and children included, there would have been about two million people trapped between the Egyptians and the Red Sea. So for all these people to cross it, the parting in the water would have been several miles long. From the Israelites’ perspective, they were facing an impossible situation. 

How did they respond to this challenge? The Israelites were afraid and lacked trust in God, so they panicked. But Moses stood up and gave them hope by telling them:

Exodus 14:13-14 Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”

Moses tries to get the Israelites to quit focusing on how big their challenges are and start focusing on how big their God is. He was saying without God this is impossible but with God all thingsare possible. As we wait for the Lord to act, He will do the impossible on His timetable, not ours. God works for those who wait upon Him.

Isaiah 64:4 For since the world began, no ear has heard and no eye has seen a God like you, who works for those who wait on Him!

Today we are looking at Rule #5 of the Red Sea rules: stay calm and confident and give God time to work! Notice the phrase: “give God time to work.” Why? Because God works for those who wait upon Him. 

Psalms 37:7 Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for Him.

J. Hudson Taylor once said, “I am waiting on thee Lord, to open the way.” So Moses gets up in front of a terrified group of people and says, “don’t worry, worship God and wait upon Him to make a way when there seems to be no way.” Now, where would he have learned this? Where would these deep words of wisdom come from?

One day when Moses was grown up, he came upon an Egyptian man killing a Hebrew man. Moses seethed with anger and killed the Egyptian, and buried him in the sand. The next day he came upon two of Hebrews fighting and says to one of them, “why did you strike your companion?” One of the Hebrew men said, “are you going to kill me too?”

Moses was stunned. “They know,” he thought to himself. Eventually, the news of Moses murder reached Pharaoh, and he chased Moses towards the Red Sea. When the Pharaoh chased Moses, Moses fled to a desert called Midian. The word “desert” in the Bible is used to refer to a place of preparation, waiting, readiness, and listing for God’s commission. God was preparing Moses in the desert by teaching him to wait upon God. Moses spent 40 years in the desert. When writing about Moses’ years in the desert, one person wrote, “Moses learned that the desert was his true calling in life. He saw his main calling in life to wait upon God and listen to Him.”

Is it possible that when Pharaoh was pursuing the Israelites, Moses thought back to what he learned in the desert? He learned to wait upon God there, and that’s why he said, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” He was teaching the people that God works in you, for you, and through you as your wait upon Him.

I remember talking to an elderly pastor who pastored a very large church, and I asked him how he did it. He said, “I pray and obey!” In other words, he waited upon God. Have you learned to wait upon God? Think about some of the other people in the Bible who waited on God: Noah, who walked with the Lord 480 years, and then God told him to build the ark. And did you know it took Noah 120 years to build the ark? He had to wait upon God. Abraham and Sara were given the promise of a child being born, and then had to wait twenty-five years before Sara gave birth. 

One of the clear teachings of the Bible is that good things come to those who wait upon God. Let me give you a few ways to wait upon God. Think about your stomach muscles, called abdominals, or abs for short. When you think about how to wait upon God, I want you to think of ABS. 

  • Abide in Him. 
  • Believe in Him. 
  • Serve Him.

Let’s explore this in more depth. If you want to wait on God, you need to:

1. Abide in Him. John 15:4-7 tells us, Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.

To “abide” is to live, continue, or remain; so, to abide in Christ is to live in Him or remain in Him. 

It is the realization that we need to make our relationship a priority. It’s walking with him and talking with him. One of the things that I have learned is that our most important relationships need constant watering, they need priority time. It’s easy to take them for granted. It’s easy for us to let them get leftovers when they need the most attention. That is what it means to abide in Him. To give the most important relationship in your life the most time and love. Are you abiding in Christ, or giving him leftovers? 

2. Believe in Him. If I could describe the Christian life in one word it would be this: trust. As Christians, our role in life is to trust God. Proverbs 3:5-6 says, Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; 6in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.

The word translated “trust” in verse 5 means “to lie helpless, facedown.” It pictures a servant waiting for the master’s command in readiness to obey, or a defeated soldier yielding himself to the conquering general. In other words, it’s letting go of control of your life, and saying, God, I invite you to be the leader of my life. I surrender myself to your leadership. I let go and let you be the leader of my life. 

A story that I tell over and over is the one about Mother Theresa. John Kavanaugh, the brilliant ethicist, went to India to meet with Mother Theresa for clarity and to find out what he was to do with the rest of his life. When he met Mother Theresa she asked him, “what can I do for you?” “Pray that I have clarity,” he said to her. “No,” she said, firmly. I will not do that.” He asked her why. “Clarity is the last thing you are clinging to and must let go of.” She went on to say, “I have never had clarity, but what I have always had is trust. So I will pray that you will trust God.” 

3. Serve Him. 

The essence of waiting on God is like being a table waiter. What is the essence of a good table waiter? They are present with you during the experience. You don’t have to look around and think, are they going to come and fill my water? A good waiter is present with you, and they serve you by getting your order for you. As Christians, we are table waiters for the Lord. We are to walk through life in His presence, and as we do He will give us assignments, and then we serve Him by doing them. The best example of waiting on the Lord comes from Jesus himself. David Timms summarizes the essence of Jesus earthy life: “His life was a constant experience of the Father’s presence, and a constant responsiveness to His leadings.” 

How do we apply this lesson to our lives? If you are facing a Red Sea or wanting to get ready for one that might come someday, I want to encourage you to ask which of the three is God asking you to focus on now: Abiding, Believing/Trusting, and Service. Does God want you to abide more in Him? Is He asking you to put more effort into building your relationship with Him? Does He want you to work in praying your way through the day? Does He want you to read the Bible more? Perhaps God is calling you to trust Him more. You are so focused on understanding and He wants you to trust Him instead. Maybe He is asking you to serve Him more. Maybe He wants to use you in a ministry at church, or service in the community. Maybe He wants you to move from an attitude of serving yourself to serving others. 

I want you to ask the Lord which of the three ways He wants you to wait upon Him in your Red Sea.

The other day I had an appointment to see a doctor, and when I checked in, guess where they sent me: the waiting room. So I walked over to a chair and sat down. I looked around and one guy was sleeping, another person was reading a book, another person seemed anxious because they sat there, maybe nervous about the visit. So I began the process of waiting for my name to be called. Are you in God’s waiting room today? Is God testing your patience? If so I pray that the Lord would give you the faith to believe that good things come to those who wait upon Him. 

If you’re in the waiting room, you could get your Bible out and work on your ABS. Imagine if in those seasons in life when we’re in God’s waiting room, we worked on our abs by abiding in Christ by talking to Jesus in the waiting room; believing in Jesus to leave room for him to act; and serving him by praying and obeying. I want to end with my favorite quote from this chapter: “This is what the Biblical phrase wait on the Lord is about: Committing our Red Sea situations to Him in prayer, trusting Him, and waiting for Him to work.”

Red Sea Rule #4: Pray

We’ve been in a series where we’ve been looking at a time when the Israelites were in a difficult situation, Exodus 14. In front of them was the red sea, and they were terrified by the sea. Behind them was the approaching enemy – the Pharaoh and his imposing army.  They were stuck in an impossible situation. However, the Bible says what’s impossible with man is not impossible with God.

We’ve been using Robert Morgan’s book, “The Red Sea Rules,” as our study guide for this series. Through the Israelites’ story, we’re learning 10 strategies for overcoming difficulties in life. The rules we’ve covered so far are “Realize that God means for you to be where you are,” “Be more concerned for God’s glory than your own relief,” and “Acknowledge the enemy but keep your focus on God.” Today we are going to look at Rule #4: Pray by looking at the value and simplicity of prayer. So let’s dive into the story in Exodus 14: 8-10:

The Egyptian army had many horse soldiers and chariots. They chased the Israelites and caught up with them while they were camped near the Red Sea at Pi Hahiroth, east of Baal Zephon. When the Israelites saw Pharaoh and his army coming toward them, they were very frightened and cried to the LORD for help.

Note carefully what state of mind the Israelites were in. They were terrified. Why were they terrified? Someone explained to me that the Israelites were extremely afraid of the water, the Red Sea. Going into that sea was about as bad as facing the Egyptians, and the Egyptians were coming after them with 600 chariots. These chariots were like the tanks of the ancient culture.

How did they respond? They prayed and cried out to God for help. They knew that couldn’t get out of this situation on their own. They needed God’s help. I want you to notice that when they were afraid they prayed. They talked to God about their fear.

In my years of studying prayer there is something very important I’ve learned: it can be easy to see prayer as a spare tire. The Israelites in this story do not see it that way, but it can be easy to fall into the wrong mindset about prayer: it’s something that’s not used most of the time, except in emergencies or as a last resort. Most of the time you don’t use it.

In the book the Red Sea rule, Robert Morgan write this thought provoking quote:  “Some situations offer just two options: Panic or pray.” If you are facing a Red Sea today, are you choosing to panic by trying to do things in your own strength? Or are you choosing to pray, and let God help you part those waters for His glory? Some of you are out there and your thinking, I am in panic mode Steve, how do I move from panic to peace?

Don’t see prayer as a spare tire. Look at it as an oxygen tank. It’s your connection to God. Just as you breathe in the oxygen through a tank, let God breathe His life and power into you through your close, intimate walk with Him. See prayer as your link to God’s power.  

What is prayer? My favorite definition of prayer comes from a man who knew how to pray. In fact, it’s reported that Mary Queen of Scotts once said: “I fear the prayers of John Knox more than all the assembled armies of Europe.” John Knox defined prayer as, “A familiar and earnest talking to God.” If you know how to talk to a person, you know how to talk to God. I read about one guy who put a chair across from him as he prayed, reminding himself that Christ was with him and communicating with him. Prayer is talking to God in a familiar way – it’s something you regularly do, and in an earnest way – it’s something you are sincere about. You put your heart into it.

What does the word earnest mean? Earnest is defined as, “resulting from or showing sincere and intense conviction.” Note carefully that when people prayed in the Bible, they prayed earnestly, with a firm conviction that their prayers were making a difference.

James 5:17 Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years.

Why did Elijah pray earnestly? He had a deep seated conviction that prayer was effective.

James 5:16 The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.

In other words, the more earnest the prayer, the more effective the prayer. Let’s not treat prayer like a spare tire! Are you in a regular habit of praying earnestly? If not, I want to encourage you to pray that God would convince your heart of the power of prayer.

If one person prays and it makes a difference, think about how much a group of people praying does.

Matthew 18:20 For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.

If two or more people are gathered, God promises to be there. Think about that: God IS here with us today, because 2 or more are here in his name. Let’s go back to our text today:

Exodus 14:10 When the Israelites saw Pharaoh and his army coming toward them, they were very frightened and cried to the LORD for help.

Circle: “they cried for help.” This was a community prayer meeting. It was a group of people praying. There is a verse in the Bible that says, “two are better than one.” I think it applies to prayer. One person praying is amazing, two people are super amazing, etc. I want to encourage you to have prayer meetings, where you have more then one person praying, for example:

Pray with spouse, or significant other!

I would encourage you to first of all, pray with your spouse and family. I have met spouses who are afraid to pray in front of their spouse. They are afraid of being inadequate. I want to let you know if that’s you, you’re not alone. I’ve heard this from others. I would encourage you to be you, and talk to God with your spouse.

Pray with family!

I would encourage you to have family prayers. Just pray together with each other. Maybe read some scriptures or have a good devotional book.

Pray with the prayer team.

I would also encourage you to make use of the people who stand up here after the service to pray with you. Your break though may be in the other side of someone praying with you. You can also send prayers to the church office and they will give it to the prayer team to pray over.

Pray with other believers.

We all go through difficult times. During those times call other believers and have them pray with you for the situation. I can honestly say that I’ve gone through some desperate times in my life, and I’ve seen miracles come out of prayer sessions. The Bible teaches that when it comes to prayer, there’s strength in numbers.

I want to encourage you to see prayer as your link to God’s power, perspective and presence. Now why do we pray? It works, but it’s also a command from Jesus. Why? God tells us to pray! And he tells us to not give up on pursuing God. In fact, in Matthew 7:7 Jesus tells us to prayer when he says: “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.”

Circle that phrase: “Keep on asking.” Asking in this context means that a person has enough humility to come to God and admit their needs. In other words, to get help from God you need to be humble enough to ask for it. You need to put down your pride and come to Him with a humble heart because one of the clear teachings of the Bible is that God is compelled by our humility and repelled by our pride. He is moved to help us when He sees us relying on Him and being dependent on Him. However, He is repelled by our pride. When we, by our attitude or behavior say, “God, I don’t need you,” He honors that request. 

Next circle that phrase: “Keep on Seeking.” Seeking here refers to a person who prays and actively seeks God’s will. What we learn here is the contrary to popular belief, prayer is not a passive thing. It’s an active communication, where you actively seek God’s will. Now where do we find God’s will? God’s Word is God’s will. The Bible is God’s will written down. So part of prayer is searching the scriptures to find God’s mind on an issue.

Next circle that phrase: “Keep on knocking.” This refers to praying and being persistent. To pray and keep praying, even if it appears like nothing is happening. To pray and not give up. Someone has called this practice praying through. You pray through until you meet with God. You pray through until you receive His peace. You pray through tell you obtain His guidance. Think of this, Jesus us invites us to talk with him, to rely on him, to do life with him! Are you accepting his invitation to plug into his oxygen tank, or are you instead seeing him as a spare tire?

I said I had two goals for today’s message: to move us onto seeing the value of prayer and to seeing the simplicity of prayer. Let’s talk now about the simplicity of prayer. Some of you are out there and you are new to prayer, and you are thinking what do I talk to God about? I am convinced that many of you already know what to talk to God about and don’t even realize it. Let me share with you what I mean:

Luke 11:1-4 One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “LORD, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” He said to them, “When you pray, say: “‘Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation.'”

Out of all the things the disciples could have asked his advice on, they asked Jesus to teach them how to pray. Why? They linked the power in Jesus public life – his miracles, his compassion – to his private prayer life. His outer power came from his inner connection and communication with the Father. Jesus gives the disciples a list of things to talk to God about:

  1. Father. As you pray, notice that Jesus tells them to focus first on who you are talking to. You are talking to your heavenly father.
  2. Hallowed be your name. We ask here that God would help us represent him well so though our life his name would be hallowed and honored.
  3. Thy kingdom come. We ask that God would rule and reign in our lives. We surrender our life and care of it over to Jesus.
  4. Thy will be done. We pray that God would share us his will in our life, and we know that his will is in the Bible.
  5. Daily bread. We pray that God would provide our needs not greed’s. We share everything with him. Knowing nothing is too big or little for God.
  6. Forgive us our trespasses and we forgive others who trespass against us. We pray for forgiveness. We confess our sins to God. And then we forgive those who have sinned against us.
  7. Lead us not into temptation and deliver us from evil. We pray for protection against the devil. We ask God to help us be aware of the traps the devil has set for us.
  8. For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory. We end our prayer by praising him and praying above all that God would be glorified today.

Isn’t that amazing. If you know the Lord’s Prayer, your know what to talk to God about. So let’s apply it, I will model how to use the template in a prayer session:

Our Father – thank you for being my heavenly Daddy and Papa.

Who art in heaven – thank you that you have the big picture of heaven and at the same time are as close as a daddy.

Hallowed be thy name – Lord, I want to represent you well today, in that meeting at work. Help me to do that.

Thy kingdom come – Lord, please capture my heart today in deeper dimensions. Capture my spouse’s heart.

Thy will be done – Lord I am not sure what to do in that work situation, please guide me and direct me.

Give me my daily bread today. Please fill me with your energy I have been tired lately.

Forgive me of my trespasses – forgive me for talking about that person behind their back in the lounge.

As we forgive those who trespasses who have trespassed against us – Lord what that person did hurt and was wrong, however I choose to forgive them as you have forgiven me.

Lead us not into temptation and delver us from evil – Lord, make me aware of the traps Satan has set in my life. Protect my family from accident, injury, sin and sickness.

For thine is the honor and glory. Lord, help me to live for your glory and honor. I praise you for your honor and glory.

Amen.

If you know the Lord’s Prayer you know what to talk to God about. Imagine if we see prayer not as a spare tire but an oxygen tank for our soul.

It was 1986, and the world was crashing around David Green. In the offices of his multimillion-dollar hobby and craft business, Hobby Lobby, he read the bad news: the bank was ready to foreclose on the product of years of his life and labor. He wasn’t alone. The oil boom in Oklahoma had gone bust, and the over-extended banks were failing. Many business owners in Oklahoma City had already closed their doors in defeat and declared bankruptcy.

But the Green family knew where to turn for help in a crisis. Although the foreclosure of the business was the worst thing they could imagine, they came to see it as a defining moment in their business and spiritual lives. “I know I prayed prior to that time,” David Green says, “but that’s when I got really serious about it.”

He tells how the space beneath his desk became his prayer closet. He would crawl under his desk in his corporate office and seek God’s help. And God gave it. It was God’s response to those prayers for their business that the family believes pulled the company out from under looming bankruptcy and set it on its feet again.

Imagine if we regularly and earnestly talked to God. Imagine if we prayed with others because when it comes to prayer, two are better then one. Imagine the peace we might experience. Imagine if we saw prayer as our greatest privilege.

The Red Sea Rule #3: Acknowledge the Enemy But Keep Your Focus On GOd

I was in a far away and unfamiliar land. In front of me was this large wall-like thing, as I was floating in the middle of the water. I had dealt with sharks before on this trip to Cozumel and then I looked behind me and these two large fish were swimming towards me as fast as they could. So put yourself in my place. I felt trapped. In front of me was this wall. Behind me were these two large fish was coming towards me, and then out nowhere this is what happened.

This is a picture of me swimming with the dolphins. You say, didn’t you say you dealt with sharks on the trip? We did, have you went shopping in Cozumel, the salespeople are like Sharks. They see you coming towards their shop and they swarm around you like sharks.

As I think back on that day, it was as if I was stuck. I front of me was a wall and behind me came these two large fish.

Have you ever felt stuck, and there seemed to be no way out? In front of you might be a wall, and behind you sense that evil is pursuing you. Have you ever faced a situation that seemed so overwhelming you felt like giving up? Have you ever faced and obstacle that seemed so insurmountable that you said, what’s the use of even trying?

Some people who could relate to that situation are the Israelites and if you would please take out your Bible and turn to Exodus 14 we will continue our study of this inspiring story. Let’s imagine we are in this story.

One day Pharaoh, the ruler of Egypt, who was considered a God to his people, saw that the Israelites, his enemies, were fleeing. So he got the troops ready and they pursued Israel with around 600 chariots. These chariots were like the tanks of the ancient culture. They had two people on them, one to drive and one to fight. Imagine being the in the Israelites place. They are caught between a mountain and the sea. And they look back and then enemy has almost caught up with them. They start to complain to the leader, Moses, why didn’t you leave us in Egypt? We are going to die here. Do you see how they could relate to you if you have ever been in a situation where you felt stuck?

As you know we are in a series called: The Red Sea Rules, about a book written by Robert Morgan. In this series we are going to study the story of the Israelites being trapped by the Red Sea and Pharaoh’s army and learn 10 God-given strategies for overcoming difficult situations. In the series we have already talked about the first 2 rules:

  • Realize that God means for you to be where you are.

If you are in a difficult place today realize that the Lord has either placed you there or allowed you to be there for reasons you may not know until you get to heaven. Does this rule give us permission to disobey God? Of course not, God is against sin because he knows that our sins will hurt him and you. But here is the good news of God, he can use the wrong roads to get us to the right place.

  • Be more concerned for God’s glory than your own relief.

Often when we go through difficult waters, we ask: Why God? Why am I here and how can I get out of here as fast as possible? Lord, how can I get out of here? What if we asked a more God centered questions: not God how can I get out of here, but God how can I glorify you in here? (How can represent you well in this situation, so when people see how I handle this problem, you are glorified?) Today we are going to go over rule #3: Acknowledge your enemy, but keep your eyes on Jesus.

In this story the Israelites are being pursued by an enemy. Who is the enemy? Pharaoh and his army. Just as Pharaoh pursued Israel, we have an enemy who is pursuing us if we are Christian and that enemy is named Satan. Who is Satan? A lot of you have heard stories about Satan but let’s look into who he really is. Satan is a creation of God. He was once God’s chief angel, known as lucifer. But he became filled with pride and wanted to be on God’s level. God cast him out of family and one third of the angels went with him, and they are called Demons. He is the leader of evil and opposes the people of God, and the purposes of God. He is especially associated with deceit, temptation and testing, through which he attempts to deflect believers from obeying God.

Now let me park here for a moment because in all my years of studying the Bible one of the most important truths of the Bible is that Satan is a liar and his most powerful tool to use on us is to plant a lie in our heads, and we accept that deceitful lie, and when that happens he has us.

 Like a spider who makes a spiderweb, we can got caught in a web of Satan’s lie.

I remember growing up on a farm and I would often see insects caught in a cobweb, have you seen that? Now the spider web it one of God’s unique creation. This is how it works: “Spiders lure insects by using the mutual ‘electrical attraction’ of their web to their prey, new research has revealed. Flying insect’s wings create an electric charge which in turn acts as a magnet for the spider’s web – sucking them to their doom in the sticky silk.” In a similar way, Satan has the ability to attract us into this web and then we are caught, and he wants to steal kill and destroy us. Now when I read that I know many people think of this verse only physically- he wants to kill my body, he wants to steal my stuff. No, it is also other areas of your life: he wants to kill my faith, he wants to steal my identity. What spider webs has he planted in your life?

For example, Back in 2002, our church had gone through a very difficult time and I was questioning my capability of being a pastor. I was convinced that the church no longer had confidence in me as a pastor. My basic fear was: You, Steve, are not adequate enough to be a pastor. I was so convinced of this that I asked for a vote of confidence of the members, and basically I asked at the congregation to says: Yes, we have confidence in Steve as our pastor, or No, we do not have confidence in Steve as our pastor. The count came back at 97%. 97% of the congregation had confidence in me.

Now what stood out to me is that I was absolutely convinced I was inadequate and just about stepped down. What had happened? I believe Satan had planted a lie in my mind: because the church had gone through a hard time, I was a bad leader. I took the bait of Satan, hook, line and sinker. I was caught in a cob web of his lie, are you? Here is what I would recommend:

  • Identity the lie, and ask if there is any evidence for it?

One of the reasons I asked for the vote of confidence was to see if what I was telling myself was true. After I did, I could see I was believing a lie. I had evidence – 97% confidence.

  • Ask yourself if what you believe is backed up by God’s Word

Remember when Jesus was in the wilderness and being tempted by Satan? Satan would tell him, if you are a son of God you must do so-and-so. How did Jesus respond to the lies of Satan? He said, it is written. In other words, he filtered Satan’s lie with Gods truth. One of the things our church is known for besides bad jokes is coffee and donuts. And yes, I am sorry we can’t have donuts. But we do have coffee. Now think about when you are making your coffee, you have a filter which allows the water to go though, and filters out the coffee grounds. In a similar way, God’s Word is our filter.

The enemy says to you, you are not adequate. You say, is that what God says? You see Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” The enemy says, you are all alone. You look to the Bible and you see that God says, “Lo I am always with tell the end of the age.” The enemy says, God cannot use you because of all the bad things you did in your past. You filter that thought through scripture and you see 1 John 1:9 “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

Where do we find God’s truth? It is written. In the Bible. Please take your thoughts captive and filter them to make sure they align with God’s truth. So please think about what you are thinking about. Don’t automatically accept the thoughts that come into your mind as true, challenge them. Why? They could be enemy lies. 2 Corinthians 10:5 says, “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”

Notice it says we need to take every thought captive, why? They may be the enemies thoughts. In Matthew 16:23, Jesus is talking to Peter and says something very unique, Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” Was Jesus calling Peter Satan? No, he was recognizing who was planting of the seeds in peters mind- get behind me Satan, you are influencing Peters thoughts. So with all that in mind, do you realize that if you are a Christian you have an enemy and his name is Satan. Do you realize that just as the Israelites had an enemy, you have an enemy?

In fact, listen to what Paul wrote about the battle we find ourselves in. Ephesians 6:10-12 “A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.”

Note carefully that God says as followers of Jesus, we are in a daily battle with evil forces. In fact, demons are like germs, we cannot see germs with our naked eye, but no mistake about it, they are real and can do a lot of damage to us, if we are not aware of their schemes. Just as we battle germs in the invisible realm and we battle dark spirits in the heavenly realm. Think of the old saying: Wash your hands and say your prayers because germs and Jesus are everywhere!

Charles Williams writes: “For our contest is not with human foes alone, but with the rulers, authorities, and cosmic powers of this dark world; that is, with the spirit forces of evil challenging us in the heavenly contest.”

Does your view of reality include the notion of spiritual warfare, that we are in a cosmic battle with Satan and his foes? Do you realize that this life is a battle ground? And we are on the side of good, and there is another side called Evil. Do you realize that the reality behind what we see is that there is an invisible battle going on between forces of evil and forces of light. In fact, think about this: what is the number one theme of movies: good vs evil? Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Avengers. Why are those the #1 theme of movies? Is It possible that intuitively we know is that behind all we see is a battle we do not see – good vs evil?

Now when it comes to our battle with Satan we can go to two extremes:

  • We ignore Satan and act like he is not real.
  • We give him more credit than he deserves. We focus on Satan and we acknowledge there is a God but our real focus is on the devil.

That is what we are talking about today. Red sea rules #3 is; We acknowledge the reality of the devil, but we don’t focus on him, we keep our focus in God.

So let’s get back to the story. The Egyptians are pursuing Israel and they are trapped on the banks of the red sea, in a similar way, we have an enemy who pursues us as well, in fact, Charles Spurgeon says it this way: “The great tyrant has not forgotten you, and he has designed your capture and enslavement.” Like a spider spinning its web to trap its prey, Satan customizes weds to trap you and me. We need to acknowledge this, however, we need to keep our focus on God’s, not the little spider called Satan. Compared to God, Satan is like a little spider, while God is like the Empire State Building. Robert Morgan teaches the exact opposite: ”We are to Acknowledge Satan’s activity in our life, but keep our focus on God.”

One of the ways we can avoid being caught in his lies is to be aware of 4 times we are most vulnerable to his lies. What are those 4 ways? What are the 4 times when we are most vulnerable to his lies?

Hungry: When we are hungry, we are more vulnerable to temptation. Now this is not just referring to physical hunger, it is referring to spiritual and emotional hunger. When you are hungry, you are susceptible to look for food outside the will of God, because often sin is meeting a legitimate need in an illegitimate way. Proverbs 27:7 says, “One who is full loathes honey from the comb, but to the hungry even what is bitter tastes sweet.”

What is that verse saying? When we are lacking affection from our spouse, we are more vulnerable for seeking affection from someone who is not our spouse, and that something that is bitter, or contrary to God’s will, will taste sweet for the moment.

One of our weekly chores as human being is shopping for groceries. One of the tips they tell you is to eat before you go shopping. Don’t shop on an empty stomach. Why? When you are hungry, everything looks good. If you are hungry for affection, companionship, and connection you need to be aware that you are more susceptible to temptation at a time like that then normally. Be aware.  Another time you are susceptible to temptation is when you are…

Angry: Ephesians 4:26 says, “In your anger do not sin. Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry. And do not give the enemy a foothold.” Note that is does not say, anger is a sin. It’s says, in your anger be careful not to sin, because anger gives the devil the code to enter your heart. So don’t let anger simmer, because it gives the devil and foothold in your life.

Lonely: One of the enemies’ tactics is to get us isolated. Because when we are isolated, we are more vulnerable. There is strength in numbers. One of the greatest lies of the enemy is your all alone. You are the only one who is going through this. I am all alone, quarantine, Zoom. You are not alone. God is with you. And try not to isolate yourself. Build a supportive net to support you, like joining a process group.

Tired: To understand this vulnerability, think of a bucket. Imagine a bucket that is empty. If that bucket is your emotional energy, let me ask you a question: How full is your bucket? When our bucket is empty, when we are emotionally, physically and spiritually spent, we are more susceptible to the temptations of the devil. One of the wisest things we can do to indirectly keep ourselves being vulnerable to temptation is to make sure our buckets are full in the Lord.

Now before I go any further, let me give all of us a warning. Some of you are out there, and you are thinking Steve, I am in a good season, therefore, I can just sit back and coast. No. Just because you are not currently facing a severe attack from Satan right now, Does not mean a difficult season is not coming. In fact, if things are good, This is the times to prepare your spiritual weapons for the upcoming attacks of Satan.

In fact, I love the quote by Phillip Brooks: “Someday, in the years to come, you will be wrestling with the great temptation, or trembling under the great sorrow of your life. But the real struggle is here, now…Now it is being decided whether, in that day of your supreme sorrow or temptation, you shall miserably fail or gloriously conquer. Character cannot be made except by a steady, long continued process.” You build up your spiritual muscles today, for the upcoming attacks of the enemy. It like the old saying: When did Noah build an ark, before it rained.

How do we apply this? I want you to take inventory and ask are you dealing with any of the HALT attributes? Are you hungry? Are you angry? Are you lonely? Are you tired? If so, confess it and then say the pocket prayer for that HALT attribute all week. “Father you are good, I need your help. I am lonely. Thank you in Jesus name for being my constant companion. Please send some healthy people into my life. Amen.”

Imagine if all of us were aware of the reality of spiritual warfare. But instead of making that our focus, we focused on God who is like the Empire State Building and Satan is like a little spider, comparatively speaking. Let’s acknowledge our enemy but keep our eyes on Jesus.