What Can A Table Waiter Teach Us About Our Faith?

Please open up your Bible as we get ready to learn: what can a good table waiter teach us about our faith? According to David Timms, author of “Sacred Waiting,” there are two ingredients of good waiter or waitress:

1. Presence. A good waiter, first of all, is present with the customer. They check up on the customer. The customer doesn’t have to look around and wonder where they are. The second characteristic of a good table waiter or waitress is:

2. Service. A good waiter or waitress serves you. When you need something like a fork or napkin they get it for you. They take your order and then bring that order to you- A Monster burger, Large plate of fries, and a diet coke.

So what are the characteristics of a good table waiter or waitress: They are present with you, and they serve you. What does it mean to be a Christian? What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus? As a follower of Jesus, what are we to do?

Presence. Like a good waiter is present with their customer, we have the great privilege of walking through life in the presence of Jesus. A great example of this is found is Genesis 5:24: “…Enoch walked faithfully with God…” Enoch walked faithfully with the Lord for 300 years. The word “walk” here refers to a steady, ongoing relationship with God, where he grew closer to God each year. He didn’t come to church on Sunday and go home and not talk to the Lord untill the following Sunday. He walked and talked with God every moment of every day.

One day as Enoch was walking with God on earth, God transported him to heaven before the flood, just as the church will be raptured to heaven before the tribulation begins. When I think of Enoch’s walk with God, I think of something that William MacDonald once said: “To walk with God is the business of a lifetime, not just the performance of an hour.” Are you walking with God as you drive, as you work, during your hobbies? Imagine if at the end of your life, it was said about you: “Bill walked faithfully with God all his life. Jenny walked faithfully with God all her life.”

The first opportunity of being a follower of Jesus is to walk with God on a moment-by-moment basis.

When I think about walking with God, I think of our church’s mission. We call it the Process and we read it every Sunday. “We desire to be a safe place for people to be in process and place where everyone realized they are in process. None of us have arrived.” So what is the process? We call them the ABC’s.

  • Accept the invitation of Jesus
  • Become an imitation of Jesus
  • Contribute to the mission of spreading the love of Jesus to our world. 

Notice the A in the ABC’s: Accept the invitation of Jesus. Now what is His invitation?

Matthew 11:28-30 “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Notice carefully that the invitation is to come to Him. When we come to Him, we accept the gift of salvation that He offers us, and we begin a lifelong relationship with Him. Notice the phrase: Come to me. When we give our life to Jesus, we put our faith in Him. Christianity is not about rules, religion, or rituals, it’s a relationship with God through Jesus.

Notice the phrase: all who labor and are heavy laden. In order to begin a relationship with Jesus we must admit that our life is burdened with Sin. We must admit that we have broken God’s law. In short, a life apart from God weighs us down.

Notice, “I will give you rest.” When we admit our sins and believe in Jesus, He gives us a gift called Grace. We can rest from trying to earn our way into Heaven, because His grace shown on the cross is our ticket to a relationship with Him. Are you resting in God’s grace, or are you still trying to earn your way into a relationship with Jesus?

“Take my yoke upon you.” We’ve probably all seen a picture of two oxen yoked together. When we enter into a relationship with Jesus, we become yoked to Him. Isn’t that amazing? You’re not alone today. If you are a follower of Jesus, you are yoked to Jesus.

“Learn from me.” As we walk with Jesus through this life while being yoked with Him, we learn from Him. We are His disciples. A disciple is a learner.

“For I am humble and gentle.” Note carefully that Jesus is described as humble and gentle, in contrast to the Pharisees who were harsh and proud. Are you like Jesus, humble and gentle? Or are you like the Pharisees who were harsh and proud?

“You will find rest for your souls.” In other words, we can move from being restless to rested because we are yoked with Jesus. When we are yoked to Jesus we can rest from worry, because we know God is in control. When we are yoked to Jesus we can stop trying to earn God’s approval, because we know we are already love by Him. When we are yoked to Jesus, we can rest from trying to get our identity from our figure, our finances or our family – because our identity comes from being yoked to Christ. If you have come to Jesus and turned your life and the care of it over to Him, you are yoked with Jesus.

You say, I feel so alone. You are not alone. You are yoked with Jesus. He is your constant companion. Now maybe you have been ignoring your constant companion, but make no mistake about it: you are yoked with Jesus.

Imagine if we went through out our day with an awareness of God’s presence. Imagine if we prayed our way through the day. Imagine if we saw worship not just on Sunday, but moment-by-moment. Imagine if it was said about you and me what was said about Enoch – that we walked faithfully with God. Now since you are yoked to Him, talk to Him all day long!

1 Thessalonians 5: 17 “…pray continually…”

How do we pray continually? It doesn’t mean you have to close your eyes when you drive. What it means is that we carry on a continual conversation with the Lord as we go through the day. A good example of this is Brother Lawrence, who was a lay monk who lived in France in the early 1600’s.The lay monks did all of the hard work of the monastery. Brother Lawrence was older when he became a monk, and suffered constant pain from a war wound which had left him partially lame. He was assigned to work in the kitchen, which he hated.

Brother Lawrence was totally miserable.  He was convinced that God was punishing him for all of his past sins by making him work in the kitchen. Then one night in his prayer time he broke down,  accepted his lot, and reconciled himself to God’s will.  From this time forward he consciously tried to walk before God in faith with humility and love. Brother Lawrence determined to live his entire life as an expression of his relationship with God, and he began to do everything out of love for God instead of duty. He focused his attention on God moment-by-moment.He is quoted to have said, “The time of business does not with me differ from the time of prayer, and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in great tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the blessed sacrament.”

The monks who lived with Brother Lawrence noticed the difference in him, and the word began to spread. People from surrounding villages came to visit with Brother Lawrence about his secret, which he called “the Practice of the Presence of God.” One of those people was the Abbott of Beaufort, who kept notes on four conversations and fifteen letters he and Brother Lawrence exchanged. After Brother Lawrence died, the Abbott published these notes under the title: The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence.

Just as a good waiter is present with the customer, we are to walk with God on a moment-by-moment basis because we are yoked with Him, and since we are yoked with Him, we talk with Him as we fold the laundry, walk the dog, or drive to work.

The first characteristic of a good waiter is Presence. The second one is Service. A good waiter is present with the customer and then take the customer’s order and fulfills it. It is the same in our walk with God. As we walk and talk with God through the day, He will give us assignments. Now here’s where many people in our culture have it wrong. They think God is here to serve them. God is here to make my life comfortable, happy, and rich. We act as if God is here to serve us, do what we tell Him to do, and when He doesn’t we get mad at Him. He is not here to serve us, we are here to serve Him. In fact, in the Lord prayer don’t we say: “Thy will be done, Thy kingdom come….” A great example of walking with God and serving Him is Jesus himself.

John 5:17-19 “In his defense Jesus said to them, ‘My Father is always at His work to this very day, and I too am working…’”

God is at work all around you. He’s not just at work in this building, He’s at work at your work in your neighborhood, at your school. One of the benefits of this pandemic is it taught me that church is not limited to this building. Did you know we have an individual who lives in New York and considers this her church home? God is at work all around us, not just in the four walls of this church.

“Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.”

So Jesus knew that God the Father was at work all around him. As he walked with his Father, he would watch to see where the Father was working and then join Him. As you walk with God, you’ll see where He’s at work and then your role as a table water for the Lord is to join Him in what He’s already doing.

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 to our life? How do we be like Enoch and walk faithfully with God? Please take out your phone and go to the notes section. Once there I want you to write down a Pocket Prayer, then save this prayer to your phone’s lock screen. So when you pull up your phone, this prayer is the first thing you see. I want you to do an experiment this week and pray the Pocket Prayer all day long. What’s the Pocket Prayer? I learned this from Pastor and author Max Lucado:

Father.

You are good.

I need your help.

They need your help.

Thank you in Jesus name.

Amen!

Here is what I want you to do this week: Whenever you have a problem or a stressor, pray this prayer. Let’s say you are feeling anxious over Covid. What do you do?

Father. You remind yourself that you are walking through life with your Heavenly Father. You’re not alone, you’re safe in His arms.

You are good. Lord, thank You that You’re a Good Father. You are for me, not against me. You are Jehovah Rophe, my Healer. In You I live and move and have my being.

I need your help. Lord, I am experiencing pandemic fatigue. Please encourage my heart. Please find a cure for Covid.

They need your help. Lord, I lift up those who are battling this disease. I pray that You would give the doctors wisdom in treating it.

Thank you, in Jesus’ name. Lord, I ask all of this not on my merits but the merits of Jesus Christ and his shed blood for me. Thank You for carrying this burden for me. Thank You for going to work on this prayer request. I trust You.

Amen!

Ok, let’s try it. What’s a problem you are facing? What’s a challenge that is keeping you up at night? Repeat after me: “Father… you are a good…I need your help…Thank you in Jesus name. Amen.” Now you’ve just asked God to help you with that problem. You are no longer facing it alone. Your role now is to go and serve Him. As you serve Him, you might start thinking about your problem, and that’s when you tell yourself, “wait a minute, I cast it on the Lord. I am not going to worry, I am going to worship. Lord thank You for being at work in this situation, I trust you.” So you go on with your day, and another problem or challenge comes along. What do you do? You look at your phone and go through the Pocket Prayer: “Father… you are a good…I need your help…Thank you in Jesus name. Amen.” Your get home after work, and a problem and challenge comes up, and you say, God it is me again. “Father… you are a good…I need your help…Thank you in Jesus name. Amen.” You say Steve, if I do this, I will be talking to God all day long. Isn’t that the point?

1 Thessalonians 5: 17 “…pray continually…”

Let’s review. What can a table waiter teach us about our relationship with Jesus? A good waiter is present with you and serves you. In a similar way, our purpose in life to walk with God and be present with Him, and as we walk with Him, He will tell us what we are to do to serve Him.

Imagine if we prayed our way through the day because we are yoked with Jesus. Imagine if talking and walking with God was not just a Sunday thing, but a moment-by-moment thing. Imagine the peace we might experience if whenever a problem, worry or difficulty came our way, we look at our phone and prayed the pocket prayer!

God, I lift up your beloved flock at CCC. Please capture and captive their hearts. O God, help us to walk with you on a moment-by-moment basis. Lord, forgive us for often going through out day and neglecting to even acknowledge You. Please help us not believe the lie that we’re too busy for You. Help us to combat the lies of the devil that say we are too busy for our devotions, our worship, and praying to You.

Lord, as we walk with You and talk with You, open our eyes to see what You want to do through us. Forgive us for seeing You as our servant, and help us to see ourselves as Your servant. O God, remove selfishness from our hearts that says we are here to be served, and instead help us to see ourselves as Your servants. Father, you are good. I need your help. The people of CCC need your help. Thank you, in Jesus’ name.

Maybe today you are far from God. You don’t know Him, you know about Him. Maybe you once walked with Him, but know you are apart from Him, and you can sense Him pulling on your strings saying, “come to Me. Come to Me.” If that is you, please pray this prayer: “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!”

Does My Enemy Deserve God’s Love? Sermon Transcript, November 15, 2020

We’ve been in a series called: God allows U-turns. We are studying the Old Testament book of Jonah where we learned that God called Jonah to go and share His message to the people of Nineveh, but Jonah disobeyed God and ran away from his calling. Why did he disobey God? He had contempt in his heart for the Ninevites. It’s as if he felt they didn’t deserve God’s grace. Through the series we’ve been asking the question, who is your Ninevite? Who is God calling you to love, and you’re running away from them because you don’t think they deserve it? Is it someone of a different religion, someone of a different race, someone who offended you, a relative who hurt you, a neighbor who back-stabbed you, or someone else?

Do you’ve a person or group in mind? Perhaps, like Jonah, you’re running away with contempt instead of running towards with compassion. If that’s you, I’ve got good news for you: God allows U-turns. Imagine if instead of despising our Ninevites, we followed the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:43-47 “You’ve heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” 

This week we will continue our series by looking at chapter 4 of Jonah. Before we get there I want to share a story with you. Once there was a young man who went to his dad and said, “Dad I don’t want to wait until you die to get my inheritance, I want it now.” Basically he was saying, ‘I love your money more then you.’ Surprisingly, his dad gave him his inheritance. The young man jumped into his green Ford Escort and headed to someplace like Las Vegas. He partied and had a great time there, walking into all the bars and saying, “drinks are on me!”

Eventually, the money ran out and he found himself at rock bottom. He decided to go back home, but he wasn’t sure if his dad would take him back because of how he treated his dad. As he heads home and was driving up the driveway, he’s surprised to see his dad waiting on the front porch. He had been waiting for him to come home the entire time. When he saw his son, he ran to him and gave him a big hug and said, “we’re going to throw a party because my son was lost, but now is found!”

What I just shared with you is a modern twist to one of the most well-known Bible stories, the story of the prodigal son. But what many people don’t realize is that it’s actually the story of two brothers. In fact, the story of the prodigal son could be called the story of two lost sons. So let’s now meet the second brother, the elder brother. Let’s read how the elder brother responded when his younger brother came home after living a reckless life:

Luke 15:25-32 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’  The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends.But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’ ‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you’re always with me, and everything I’ve is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.'”

Do you see how the elder brother’s attitude with his father was transactional? ‘Dad, I’ve been doing this for you, you owe me.’ It’s as if he was doing the right  things to have leverage on the dad. Notice that he’s so angry, he doesn’t even claim his brother. He says, ‘this son of yours.’ Do you see his contempt?

This story is like a 2 act play. The first act is the story of a young man who was alienated from his father because of his badness. The second act is the story of a young man who was alienated from his father because of his trust in his own goodness. In short, the two sons, the younger and the elder, illustrate two ways that we can be alienated from God. What are the two ways we can be alienated from God?

1. The path of the younger brother. The younger brother in this story illustrates the sinners and tax collectors of Jesus’ day. Tax collectors were Jewish citizens who purchased the right to collect taxes in a specific area of country for the Roman government. They were hated and looked upon as traitors by their fellow citizens. They were the lowest of the low in people’s minds in this day and age. So the path of the younger brother is those who are alienated from God because of their badness. Timothy Keller says that younger brothers are often led by the philosophy of self-discovery. They have the attitude of, “I’m the only one who can decided right and wrong for me. I’m going to live as I want to live, and find my true self and happiness, no matter what God says.” In short, if it feels good, do it.

2. The path of the elder brother. The elder brother represents being alienated from God by moral self-righteousness. Their attitude, according to Keller, is: “’my moral righteousness makes me right with God.’ They have pride in what a good person they are. They do good things to gain leverage with God.”

The story of the prodigal son illustrates two ways we can be alienated from God, the path of the younger brother and the path of the elder brother. Here’s the shocking part of the story: the younger brother went into the feast, which represents heaven, but the elder brother didn’t. The prodigal became right with the father, but the elder brother didn’t. This would have shocked the original hearers. They would have gasped when they heard the way this story ends. “The drug addict is right with God, and the Sunday school teacher is not.” When Jesus told this story of the two lost sons he had a specific group of people in mind, the pharisees. And the pharisees were elder brother types. In fact, look what the Bible says right before the three stories of lost things (the lost coin, the lost sheep, and the lost sons):

Luke 15:1-2 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

So the pharisees were complaining that Jesus welcomed sinners and ate with them, and to the elder brother types he tells these stories. Note carefully that Jesus’ ministry attracted younger brother types. You might say, ‘there are so many sinners that come to CCC.’ I hope so, because that’s the kind of folks that Jesus’ ministry attracted. In fact, what we often find in the gospels is that Jesus was compassionate and truthful to younger brother types, and very hard on elder brothers.

In a nutshell, what’s the difference between younger brothers and elder brothers? Younger brothers have a gift-based, grace-based relationship with God. Why did the younger brother get to go in the party? He did nothing to earn it, he simply accepted his father’s gift. Elder brothers have a work-based relationship with the father. In other words, they think, I will be accepted by God if I do all the right things. If I do all the right things, God owes me. Since they work for their relationship with God, they get all worked up when others are not working as hard as them to earn God’s love. Which camp are you in today?

Let’s discuss the traits of elder brothers according to Tim Keller. (As a side note, I want to give credit to Tim Keller, who taught me a lot of this in his wonderful book, The Prodigal God). What are the traits of elder brothers types?

  1. A deep anger

Elder brothers are often angry people.  They have a deep anger simmering inside them.  They’re like the elder brother when the story didn’t go his way, they get angry. 

The younger brother goes off and waste’s all the money. The elder brother thought the younger brother should be stoned or condemned. Instead, the father was throwing a party for him. The Bible says this about the elder brother: “The older brother became angry and refused to go in.” Luke 15:28 Elder brothers get very angry when things don’t go their way.  Are you an elder brother?

  1. Elder brothers have a transactional faith.

An elder brother is someone who does good to gain something. They do good with strings attached, to gain leverage with God. They think, “I am good, so my life ought to be good, comfortable, and going very well.”  And then when things don’t go the way they want, when God doesn’t do what they think He should, they become angry.

Do you get angry at God when He doesn’t do what you want Him to? Are you living a moral life to gain leverage with God? And do you get mad when God blesses those who are not as moral as you?

  1. A joyless and mechanical obedience.

Elder brothers often look like basset hounds.  They have long faces as they obey and serve God. They are good people. They do all the right things. Yet there is no joy in their service. Theirs is a joyless, mechanical servitude. Listen to the elder brother. He said, “Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders.” Luke 15:29

Note the key word, “slaving.” All these years I’ve been slaving for you. Are you saying, ‘Lord, You owe me because I’ve served in the nursery for 25 years, been faithful to my spouse, tithed for many years, and helped those in need? God, I’ve done those thing, and now You owe me. And then so-and-so over there gets blessed by You, and I’m holier than them, God you make me so angry.’

Why are they so joyless, mechanical, wooden? Because they’ve never experienced the true feeling of being forgiven. They don’t think they need God’s forgiveness because they’re such a good person.

Imagine if you were a million dollars in debt, and someone came along and paid that debt for you. Would that cause you to be joyful? It would for me. Elder brothers are often joyless because they don’t think they have any debt when it comes to their relationship with God, because they’re such good people.

Former younger brother types are often the most joyful people you’ll meet, because they know they had a huge debt and God forgave them. For example, one of my favorite groups of people to hang out with is people from the recovery community. Often they’re so enthusiastic about Jesus. Why? They’ve hit the bottom, and Jesus forgave them and set them free. They are so enthused because of what Jesus has done for them, and their enthusiasm is contagious.

While younger brothers are often joyful in their service to Christ because they realize how much of their debt has been forgiven, Elder brothers are often joyless in their service because they’ve never felt what it’s like to be forgiven of their spiritual debt.  Why? You can’t forgive someone of the debt they don’t think they have. 

  1. A coldness towards younger brother-types

Elder brothers are often infected with what is called spiritual elitism.  They think they’re “one-up” on younger brothers. They feel like they’re so superior and mature that younger brothers don’t deserve to breathe the same air as they do. They look at others with an attitude of contempt. They think, ‘I’m so much better than those rotten sinners over there.’ They are judgmental, holier-than-thou, types of people. In short, they’re infected with the spiritual virus of pride.

What is pride? Arrogance, vanity, or conceit, which leads to self-righteousness. Here is what C.S. Lewis said about pride: According to Christian teachers, the essential vice, the utmost evil, is Pride. Unchastity, anger, greed, drunkenness, and all that, are mere fleabites in comparison. It was through pride that the Devil became the Devil: Pride leads to every other vice. It is the complete anti-God state of mind.

Here’s why pride is the worst sin, according to Lewis:

1. A proud person has to be “better” than everyone else.

2. A proud person is never satisfied.

3. A proud person craves power.

4. Pride makes you God’s enemy.

5. Pride makes you vulnerable to the Devil.

6. You can be blind to your own pride.

When I think of the danger of spiritual pride, I think of a story in Luke.

Luke 14: 9-14 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I’m not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

Now this man had an elder brother spirit. He has his head in the ground. Are you like this proud pharisee today? My prayer is that the holy spirit would move you to be more like the second person in this story.

“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’”

This man new he wasn’t good enough on his own to be made right with God, and he knew he needed God’s grace and mercy. He was poor in spirit. While the proud man was looking around to see how much better he was than others, this man was not looking around; he just knew he needed God’s grace.

Which man are you more like? The proud man or the humble one.

And now for the shocking part of the story: the good man is not justified, but the tax collector, the worst of the worst back in that day, was made right with God. This wasn’t because he was good, but because he confessed his badness and was forgiven by God.

“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

The fifth characteristic of an elder brother is:

  1. A lack of assurance of the Father’s love

Elder brothers are actually very insecure people. They’re never quite sure of the Father’s love.  Notice this trait in the elder brother in this story: you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends.” Luke 15:29 Why are they so insecure? Well, if you believe you’re saved by your good works, how do you know when you’ve done enough?

What are the signs of this elder brother trait being insecure in the love of the father?  I suggest three:

1. Every time something goes wrong in their life they wonder if it’s a punishment.

2. Irresolvable guilt. They can’t be sure they’ve  repented deeply enough, so they beat themselves up over what they did.

3. A lack of intimacy with God in their prayer life. They may pray a lot of prayers asking for things, but not sense his love.

The 6th characteristic of an elder brother is:

  1. An unforgiving, judgmental spirit.

One of the things that’s very evident in the elder brother is that he doesn’t want to forgive the younger brother. He has an unforgiving, judgmental spirit. When I think of the elder brother I think of a quote by John Ortberg: “Why does Christianity produce so many stone throwers?” Elder brothers are stone throwers.  They stand high upon their proverbial soap box of moral superiority and judge and condemn those dirty, rotten sinners.

There is a very interesting book entitled Unchristian. The thesis of this book is that Christianity has a perception issue with the younger generation. In other words, when many people think of our faith, they have a bad taste in their mouth. One of the issues the younger generation struggles with the most is that they perceive us as being judgmental. They see us as acting like we’re perfect, being holier-than-thou. The authors define being judgmental as: “to point out something that’s wrong in someone else’s life, making the person feel put down and excluded.”

Lee Strobel, best-selling author, likes to tell about a scene in the show the Simpsons.  Homer Simpson is talking to his fundamentalist neighbor. He asks him where they’ve been.  He hasn’t seen them in a few days.  The neighbor says, “We went to a Christian camp to learn how to be more judgmental!”

Are you a proud, judgmental Christian?  If so, think about this scripture: “For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:22-23 Note that phrase: “There is no distinction.”  What does that mean?  It means that whether you’re a pastor or a lay person, a mature Christian or a baby Christian, a Sunday school teacher or a drug addict, we all fall short of God’s glory. 

Let’s review: so far we’ve talked about two ways of being alienated from God. The path of the younger brother and the path of the elder brother. The elder brother had a works-based relationship: I do good to gain leverage with God. The younger brother had a gift-based relationship: I’m accepted by God because of His grace, and I obey Him not to earn His love, but because He already loves me.

Now some of you might be thinking, I thought this was a message on Jonah? Today we’re concluding this message on Jonah by looking at chapter 4 of Jonah. As we do, I want you to think about this question: does Jonah’s action in chapter 4 align with the younger brother or elder brother?

Let’s jump into chapter 4 and see. In the last chapter of the book of Jonah, we come across a moping, angry prophet. Why is he upset? He’s upset because God showed mercy to someone he thought didn’t deserve it – the Ninevites. This sounds kind of like the elder brother, doesn’t it? God asks Jonah a very penetrating question: do you have the right to be angry? Do you have the right to be angry when God shows His mercy and grace to your Ninevite? Do you have the right to be angry when God shows mercy to a younger brother in your life? Didn’t He show mercy and grace to you?

So Jonah sits down on this high point overlooking the city and mopes like a child because God didn’t send judgment on Nineveh. It’s a hot day. This hot wind would have come off the Arabian Desertand could easily have been more than 120 degrees Fahrenheit in the sun. God made a plant grow and it provided shelter for Jonah. Possibly the castor oil plant, a gourd that grows quite rapidly in hot climates. This plant grows to a height of 12 feet and has large leaves.

God then sent a worm to destroy the plant. Jonah is beside himself in anger when the plant died. Afterwards God spoke to Jonah’s elder brother spirit and basically says, “You cared more about this plant and yourself, then the infinitely valuable souls of Nineveh. They didn’t deserve my grace, but neither did you.” That’s what makes grace, grace. It’s unmerited favor. If you earned it, it’s not grace.

As we come to the end of this message, I want to encourage you to examine your heart. Do you have an elder brother spirit? Are you infected with pride? Are you mad at God that He shows grace to someone you don’t think deserves it, possibly your enemy?

Let me take a moment and address the younger brothers here today. Perhaps you’ve run away from your Heavenly Father’s house and chased the good life, and you’re longing to come back to God but you’re wondering if He will take you back. The answer of the story of the younger brother is a resounding yes. In fact, what do all followers of Jesus have in common? There came a point in their life where they drop to their knees and cry out to God, “help. I can’t do this on my own. I’m poor in spirit.” Have you come to a moment like that? Perhaps today is your day?

You say, what does it mean to be a follower of Jesus? This past month I’ve been sharing the difference between religion by self-effort (elder brother types) and grace through faith (former younger brother types).

Prayer of Salvation: “God, I know that I’m a sinner. I know that I deserve the consequences of my sin. However, I’m 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!”

The God of Second Chances – Sermon Transcript, Nov. 8, 2020

We’ve been in a series called: God Allows U-Turns. We are studying the Old Testament book of Jonah. We learned that God called Jonah to go and share His message to the people of Nineveh, but Jonah disobeyed God and ran away from his calling. Why did he disobey God? He had contempt in his hearts for the Ninevites. It was as if he felt they didn’t deserve the grace of God. We have been asking this question: Who is your Ninevite? Who is God calling you to love, and your running away from them, because you don’t think they deserve it? It could be someone of a different religion, someone of a different ethnicity, someone who has offended you, a relative who hurt you, a neighbor who backstabbed you, etc.

Do you have a person or group in your mind? Perhaps you’re like Jonah, you’re running away with contempt instead of running towards them with compassion. If that’s you, I have good news for you: God allows U-turns. Imagine if instead of despising our Ninevite, we followed the words of Jesus:

Matthew 5:43-47 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?”

That’s where we’ve been in this series, and this week we continue by looking at Jonah chapter 3. To do that I want to share with you my favorite parenting quote: “The days are long, but the years are short.” This quote reminds me of how fast our kids grow up. Some of you have young kids and you think, they’re not growing up fast enough. Just wait, they’ll be grown up in the blink of an eye.

My son is a sophomore in college and my daughter is a sophomore in high school. As I think about them spreading their wings, I wish I could have a second chance at something. When my kids were younger, a spent a lot of time with them, but mentally I was still working, thinking about church problems or challenges. There’s a part of me that wishes I had a second chance to be more mentally present as they were growing up. Have you ever wished you could have a second chance at something? Have you ever wished you could have a do over at something? Have you ever wished you could push rewind on life, go back and do things differently?

Maybe you made a decision that you really regret, and you wish you could have a second chance to make a better decision. Maybe you’ve wasted a lot of life pursuing things that don’t last and you think, I wish I could do a do over. Perhaps you wish you could have applied yourself better in school, or taken better care of your health, or pursued Jesus earlier in life, or handled your finances better.

A few weeks ago we talked about how God called Jonah to go and preach to the city of Nineveh. How did Jonah respond? He ran away from God’s call. And Jonah eventually got reconnected to the lord in the belly of a great fish. Now think about Jonah. He was a prophet, a man of God. A prophet in the Old Testament was an inspired messenger called by God to declare His will. And yet Jonah disobeyed God. Now because he disobeyed God, God gave up on him, right? Let’s see.

Jonah 3:1 Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.”

Note carefully that phrase: The Word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time. God was giving him a second change, and do you know what that teaches me? We worship a God of second chances. I don’t know about you, but that greatly encourages me. I need second and third and fourth chances. Can anyone relate? In fact, James 3:2 says: “Indeed, we all make many mistakes.” As someone who is a recovering perfectionist, that verse gives me hope. It reminds me I’m not perfect, along with all of you today.

We all make many mistakes. You say, I messed up my first marriage, my opportunity to witness to that person, how I treated my kids when I was stressed, my response to that situation, my devotional time because I wasn’t giving God my full attention. If you’ve blown it, you’re in the same boat as Jonah who blew his first chance at ministering to Nineveh, but here is the good news: God gave Jonah a second chance. We worship a God of second chances. Where do you need a second chance?

Let keep reading: “Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh. Now Nineveh was a very large city; it took three days to walk through it. Jonah began by going a day’s journey into the city, proclaiming, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.”

God gave a Jonah a second chance to communicate his message to the people of Nineveh. Notice it says that it took three days to walk through it, from one end of it to another. For those of you who enjoy history, you’ll be blessed to know that the city of Nineveh was rediscovered after 2500 years of obscurity. Here is what they found: according to Sir Austen Henry Layard, who chronicled the rediscovery of Nineveh, the circumference of Greater Nineveh was “exactly three days’ journey,” as recorded in Jonah 3:3 (A Popular Account of Discoveries at Nineveh, New York: J. C. Derby, 1854, p. 314).

What’s the point? Archaeological findings backed up what the Bible said about it being a three day journey to walk through Nineveh. Now this is not an isolated case. In fact, Paul Little in his book, “Know Why You Believe,” wrote: “More than 25,000 sites showing some connection with the old testament period have been located in Bible lands.” Do you see what I am saying? The Bible will say, Such and such place existed and some people will think, that is a myth. And then someone will be digging and discover something that backs up what the Bible said. This place did in fact, exist. According to the late Millar Burrows, of Yale University, “On the whole … archaeological work has unquestionably strengthened confidence in the reliability of the Scriptural record. More than one archaeologist has found his respect for the Bible increased by the experience of excavation in Palestine. Archaeology has in many cases refuted the views of modern critics.”

Not only was Nineveh a large city, but it was also densely populated. According to Biblical scholar Warren Wiersbe there were about a million people in Nineveh and the surrounding areas. It was a city of great walls and towers. Nineveh was also known as a city of sin. The people who lives there were ruthless and cruel towards their enemies. The main sin of Nineveh was violence. Let’s keep reading: “The Ninevites believed God. A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth. When Jonah’s warning reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. This is the proclamation he issued in Nineveh: ‘By the decree of the king and his nobles: Do not let people or animals, herds or flocks, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. But let people and animals be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.’”

Now the good news is that the people of Nineveh repented after Jonah shared God’s message with them. And one of the ways they demonstrate their repentance is by calling a national fast. What was the result? “When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, He relented and did not bring on them the destruction He had threatened.” I could focus on many things from Jonah Chapter 3, but I want to go back to this theme: we serve a God of second chances.

Think about this, when God asked Jonah to go to Nineveh the first time and preach, Jonah disobeyed God and ran away. God could have washed His hands of Jonah and used someone else, but God didn’t give up on Jonah. Instead, He sent a storm which caused Jonah to be thrown overboard, and sent a fish which swallowed him. In that fish, Jonah reconnected with God, and God gave him a second chance. God did not give up on Jonah, and I want you to here this today: God has not given up on you.

You say, but I’ve made so many mistakes. Join the club. That’s what it means to be human. Please don’t misunderstand me, I’m not saying we can take advantage of second chances by  intentionally disobeying God. As we’ve learned in Jonah’s story, there are consequences to disobeying God.

God uses imperfect people, because those are the only kind of people available. In fact, think about all the imperfect people He used in the Bible: Noah got drunk, Abraham was too old, Isaac was a daydreamer, Jacob was a liar, Leah was ugly, Joseph was abused, Moses had a stuttering problem and murdered someone, Gideon was afraid, Samson was a womanizer, Rahab was a prostitute, Jeremiah and Timothy were too young, David was an adulterer and a murderer, Elijah was suicidal, Jonah ran from God, Naomi was a widow, Job went bankrupt, John the Baptist ate bugs, Peter denied Christ, the disciples fell asleep while praying and abandoned Jesus, Martha worried about everything, the Samaritan woman was divorced 5 times, Zacchaeus was too small, Paul was a terrorist, Timothy had stomach issues, and Lazarus was dead!

Some of you are new to our church, and you’re trying to decide if this is the perfect church for you. If you’re looking for the perfect church, it will no longer be perfect once you attend because you’re not perfect and neither am I. Our church is not a perfect church, because you and I are here. In fact, as the pastor of this church I’ve never claimed to be perfect. I’ve said, “don’t put me on a pedestal, put me on your prayer list!” Why have I shared my humanness with you over the years? Firstly, because it’s more honest to admit I’m not perfect. Secondly, I read a quote many years ago that stuck with me: “If you want to impress people, talk about your strengths. If you want to influence people, talk about your weakness.” I would much rather influence you towards making Jesus your savior than try to impress you. I’m not a great person, but I serve a great God and His name is Jesus and He is a god of second chances and He is a god who uses imperfect people like me.

Some of you have been led to believe that God has given up on you. Maybe you’ve walked away from the Lord, thinking that God has given up on you. If that’s what you believe, that’s not the voice of the Lord, that’s Satan’s voice. We serve a God of second, third, and fourth chances. Do you know why I know that? Because if God would give Jonah a second chance, He will give you a second chance. In fact, here is how one Bible scholar described Jonah: “proud, stubborn, disobedient, unfaithful, a grumbler, and altogether a bad-tempered, cantankerous old curmudgeon—this was Jonah.”

If God gave him a second chance, who’re you to think God won’t give you a second chance?

As we continue our study of Jonah, I want you to be reminded that the book of Jonah is known as the  “gospel of second chances.” Why? Because in it God gave Jonah a second chance, illustrating to us that he is a God of second chances.

One of my favorite stories about second chances is the story of a man who lived in Georgia. He had a beautiful family but didn’t treat them well. He hadn’t grown up, he was still acting like a boy – coming home late at night drunk and beating his wife and children.

One night he abandoned his family for the big city. He stole money from his wife’s savings, then took a bus to the big city, into a new life. He joined some and started a new business. For a while he enjoyed his life, sex, gambling, drugs, the works.

Months passed. Years passed. His business failed, and he began to engage in criminal acts, ending up in prison. Towards the end of his sentence, he began to miss home, his wife, and his family. Finally he decided to write a letter to his wife, to tell her how sorry he was. and that he still loved his wife and children. In that letter he wrote, “ I will be on a bus this Saturday coming through town. If you want me to stop, please tighten a yellow ribbon on the big banyan tree in the center of town. If there’s no ribbon on the tree, I will understand, and continue on my way to Miami.”

Finally the day arrives. He was very nervous. He did not receive a letter from his wife. He didn’t know whether his wife received a letter or even if she read the letter, or if she would forgive him. He took a bus to Miami, Florida, who passed his home. The whole bus heard about his story, and they told the bus driver, “Please, pass through the White Oak, go slowly … we have to see what will happen!”

His heart pounded as the bus approached the center of town. He did not dare raise his head. Finally he saw the tree. He did not see one yellow ribbon, he saw hundreds of yellow ribbons! The entire tree was covered in yellow ribbons.

Do you feel like that husband who’s made all these mistakes and you’re wondering if God will want you back? I believe this is Gods answer to you:

Here is the message of Grace: God doesn’t have just one ribbon on the tree, He has hundreds of them displayed for you to see.

Titus 3:5 He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of His mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.

Do you see how this verse teaches that we don’t save ourselves by our own righteous efforts? We’re made right with God by what He’s done. For the past few weeks I have been trying to hammer home the difference between religion by self-effort and salvation by faith.

Which path are you on today? Perhaps it’s your day to move from religion by self-effort to salvation by faith. Perhaps your spirit can sense that God is extending His hand of grace to you, and you’re going to reach out and make Jesus the foundation of your hope.

Did that man deserve a second chance with his wife? No. But he got it. Why? Grace. And just as he saw a tree filled with yellow ribbons on it, God has a tree of yellow ribbons on it for you as well. Will you reach out by faith and receive the grace He is extending to you today? If you would like to put your faith and hope in Jesus as your Lord and savior, please pray this prayer with me:

Prayer of Salvation: “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 Respond in Hopeless Situations – Sermon Transcript, November 1, 2020

Last week we started a series called, “God Allows U-Turns.” We are studying the Old Testament book of Jonah. We learned that God called Jonah to go and share His message to the people of Nineveh, but Jonah disobeyed God and ran away from his calling. Why did he disobey God? He had contempt in his hearts for the Ninevites. It was as if he felt they did not deserve the grace of God. Last week we asked, who is your Ninevite? Who is God calling you to love, and you’re running away from them because you don’t think they deserve it?

Who is your Ninevite?

1.     A difficult person

2.    An ex spouse

3.    Those of different political persuasion

4.    LGBTQ

5.    Someone who has hurt me

6.    _____________________

Do you have a person or group in mind? Perhaps, like Jonah, you’re running away from them with contempt instead of running towards them with compassion. If that’s you, I have good news for you: God allows U-turns. Imagine if instead of despising our Ninevites, we followed the words of Jesus:

Matthew 5:43-47 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in Heaven. He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?”

I want to ask you a question: how do you train a flea? I heard once about a man who put a flea in a jar with a lid. The flea would try to jump out of the jar, but after hitting its little flea brain on the lid, it started to jump lower. Eventually the man took the lid off and the flea could have jumped out, but it learned in its mind that it could only jump so high so it didn’t even try. It’s as if that little flea had given up hope. Have you lost hope like that flea?

Many years ago I read a book about learned helplessness. What is learned helplessness? As I remember, it’s when a person has tried over and over to make a situation better with no results, so eventually give up hope that their situation can improve and learn to not even try. They have learned to be helpless. Are you in a state of learned helplessness? Have you lost hope that things can and will get better? Are you like that little flea, after trying and trying for so long, you’ve given up? I think many people in America are experiencing learned helplessness. Did you know that in a recent survey 80% of Americans think things are “out of control.” Are you one of them? Feeling that things are out of control can be learned helplessness in disguise. Are you in need of hope today?

A person who could relate to learned helpless was Jonah. As you know, last we talked about how Jonah ran from the calling of God. God called him to preach to Ninevites, and Jonah said, “no thank you” and ran the other way. His disobedience had consequences. As he was on a ship trying to flee from God, God sent a storm and the people on board found out that Jonah was the cause of the storm and threw him overboard. As he’s trying to keep his head above water and not drown, he’s swallowed by a fish and stays there for three days and three nights.

Now with in the belly of the fish, Jonah said these key statement: Jonah 2:7 “When my life was ebbing away…” Note that word: ebbing away. The words ebbing away means: to recede; to subside; to flow back. In this context of the story of Jonah, when Jonah says his life was ebbing away it means he was losing hope.

Now think about where Jonah was when he prayed this prayer. He was in the belly of a fish, and maybe he initially had hope. But maybe as the minutes turned into hours and the hours turned into days, he thought, there is no hope. Can you relate to Jonah today? Have you lost hope? Is your life, health, or marriage ebbing away?

Here’s the question: where do you turn when your hope is ebbing away and you’re entering into the land of learned helplessness? Let’s see where Jonah turned. In Jonah 2:7 we read, “When my life was ebbing away, I remembered You, LORD, and my prayer rose to You, to Your holy temple.” If you don’t get anything else from this message, I hope you get this: When you lose hope, pray to the God of hope!

Romans 15:13 tells us, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Note carefully that the God we serve and worship is a God of hope. As followers of Jesus, our hope is in Christ, His goodness, His abundance, His love, His sufficiency. The foundation of our hope is not circumstances, it’s Christ. The foundation of our hope is not other people, it’s Jesus. The foundation of our hope is not our wits and smarts, it’s God. The lesson from Jonah is: When you have lost hope, pray to the God of hope!

In fact, if you read chapter 2 of the book of Jonah, it’s basically a prayer of Jonah’s written down. Let me read it to you: “In my distress I called to the LORD, and He answered me. From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help, and You listened to my cry. You hurled me into the depths, into the very heart of the seas, and the currents swirled about me; all your waves and breakers swept over me. I said, ‘I have been banished from Your sight; yet I will look again toward Your holy temple.’ The engulfing waters threatened me, the deep surrounded me; seaweed was wrapped around my head. To the roots of the mountains I sank down; the earth beneath barred me in forever. But You, LORD my God, brought my life up from the pit. When my life was ebbing away, I remembered You, LORD, and my prayer rose to You, to Your holy temple. Those who cling to worthless idols turn away from God’s love for them. But I, with shouts of grateful praise, will sacrifice to You. What I have vowed I will make good.”

What do we learn from Jonah? When we have lost hope, we pray to the God of hope. What is your hope source? Where are you looking for hope? My prayer is that your hope source is God and His Word.

When I think about making God our hope source I think of the words of Jeremiah in Lamentations. The Holy Spirit wrote two books in the Bible through the prophet Jeremiah, Jeremiah and Lamentations. The book of Jeremiah predicts the destruction of Jerusalem. The book of Lamentations looks back on when Babylon killed, tortured and took captive the people of Jerusalem. Lamentations is known as the Book of Tears. It was in this setting that Jeremiah wrote:

“Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, ‘The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for Him.’ The Lord is good to those whose hope is in Him, to the one who seeks Him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. ” Lamentations 3:21–26

What was the foundation of Jeremiah’s hope? His circumstances? How life was going? How his stocks were doing? No! Jeremiah’s hope was in God. When you have lost hope, pray to the God of hope! With that in mind, I want to share with you now two hope filled prayers that I get from this passage:

  1. Lord, search me and cleanse me.

So Jonah is thrown over a boat and is trying to keep his head above water. Then he’s in the belly of a fish for three days and nights. It was in there that he lost hope. Question: What led to him being in that situation? Disobedience. Like Jonah, is it possible that the reason you’re going through what you’re going through is because of disobedience?

Now please do not misunderstand me. I am not saying that if we are experiencing a storm in our life, we brought it upon ourselves. Many times it’s just a part of living in a fallen world. But sometimes we are in a difficult situation because of our disobedience.

One of the key themes that I want to impress upon you is the importance of making God and His words the foundation of your life. I am encouraging you to daily get into the Word of God. When you read the Word of God, Rick Warren says there are 9 things to look for. He puts them in the acronym: SPACEPETS.

·  Is there a SIN to confess? Does God’s Word make you aware of something you need to make right with God?

·  Is there a PROMISE to claim?

·  Is there an ATTITUDE to change?

·  Is there a COMMAND to obey?

·  Is there an EXAMPLE to follow?

·  Is there a PRAYER to pray?

·  Is there an ERROR to avoid?

·  Is there a TRUTH to believe?

·  Is there SOMETHING for which to praise God?

You may want to take that list and paste it in your Bible. I want you to notice that the first item: is there a sin to confess? If you’re in a difficult situation like Jonah, I would encourage you to pray Psalms 139:23: “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.” When you have lost hope, pray to the God of Hope.

  1. Lord, help me to trust You.

If you’re in a difficult situation, is it possible that God is doing something behind the scenes that you’re not aware of? Think for a moment about Jonah being swallowed by a fish. Why did that happen? Was it just a coincidence? Think about this: many people in Nineveh worshiped a false God named Dagan, a fish god, depicted as something like a mermaid – half man, half fish. He was also depicted as a man wearing a fish. So get this: Jonah came from the belly of a fish to minister to people who worshipped a fish god. Do you see the sovereignty of God?

I can just see Jonah getting up in front of a group of people to share the message of Jesus, and the people are checking their watches. They are looking on their phones what the score is. And then Jonah says: “For three days and nights I was in the belly of a fish.” And all the people all of a sudden looked up, leaned forward and hung on every word he said.

I am sure that as Jonah was in the belly of the fish, he had no idea that God was going to use that experience to help him gain credibility with a group of people who worshipped a fish God.

When you have lost hope, pray to the God of hope and ask Him to fill you with the ability to trust Him, even when you don’t understand. For example, many years ago I went through a severe depression. It was like I was trapped in a sunless garden where the flowers were all dead. I remember I was hurting emotionally so bad that sometimes it was hard to breathe. I had a hard time making it through the day and the only thing I wanted to do was sleep. It was as if I was looking at the world through dark glasses. I remember thinking, will I ever feel good again?

Fast forward 18 years later. One of the things the Lord had been laying on my heart is that we want our church to be a safe place for people who wrestle with mental illness to find healing. So last May I did a series called “Stigma-Free at CCC.” In that series, we talked about breaking down the stigma of mental illness. As I shared my experience with the church, people came up to me and said, “Steve, because of your vulnerability I reached out and got help and I’m doing so much better. Thank you.”

Now not only that. At the end of Summer, I was asked to speak to groups of pastors around the state, on mental health. So starting in November through may, I will be going around the state from time to time sharing with them about mental health and how to break the stigma in their churches.

Here is what I want you to get: If I had never gone through the darkness of depression, I would never be helping people the way I am. My experience is my credentials to help others. And as I was going through the storm, I had no idea that God was going to use it for his glory one day.

Romans 8:28-29 tells us, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.”Now that verse does not say that all things are good, they aren’t; but God can bring good out of all things. God uses Jonah’s disobedience for good. He has a fish swallow him, and that gives him credibility to share the message with people who worship a fish God.

You say, I can’t see any good coming out of this situation. This is where faith comes in; just because you can’t see the good that will come out doesn’t it’s not there. You can’t see it, but God can. Often what God is doing during the difficult times is building our character to match Christ’s. In fact the next verse says, “For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.” The good that God often brings out of our difficulties conforms us to the image of Christ. In other words, God often uses trials and difficulties to develop our soul. If you’re going through a difficult time I want to encourage you to ask God to fill you with trust. What you’re going through is not worthless. God is working, preparing you to share your message with others so you can say the three magic words: “I’ve been there.”

What have we learned today? When we have lost hope, we pray to the God of hope. Romans 15:13 tells us, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” As a Christian our hope is not in the economy, our circumstances, or other people; our hope is in God.

Some of us are anxious about this election. And this election is very important. I want to encourage you to vote and vote according to Biblical principles. However, I want you to think about something I read this week: our hope is not in who we send to the white house, but who was sent to the cross. 

In this series on Jonah we have been asking the question, who is your Ninevite? Who do you think doesn’t deserve the love of God? With the upcoming elections and general craziness of the world in mind, I want you to think about what the president of Christianity Today, Timothy Dalrymple, said:

“Pandemics come and go. Battles are fought and forgotten. Political powers pass in a blink, and nations rise and fall like the grass beneath the withering sun. The Word of God endures into eternity, and those who are joined to Christ will outlive the mountains and the seas. Politics and culture are not unimportant, but neither are they the hope of the world. Love requires that we engage in public life for the good of our neighbor, but it also requires that we show our neighbor the grace of Jesus Christ.

So what can we do in this painful and perilous moment to reflect the grace of Jesus? We can demonstrate in our behavior that the eternal things remain eternal. We can lift up the wounded and speak hope to the fearful. We can be quick to listen and slow to speak. We can conduct ourselves with humility, compassion, and grace, showing kindness where it is least expected. We can honor the inestimable worth in each and every person and invite them with us into life everlasting.

Perhaps we can even do what is most countercultural when the culture is soaked through with hatred: tell someone on the other side of the aisle that we love them and demonstrate it in our deeds.”

So imagine that little flea. He’s tried to jump out of the jar for so long, but after banging his head so many times, he gives up hope. Have you lost hope like that flea? If so, pray to the God of hope and allow Him to remove the lids that are keeping you from being all you can be in Christ.

With all this mind let me ask you a question: have you made Jesus the Lord and foundation of your life?  Have you been born anew? Have you been washed clean? I learned something very cool about Jonah this week.  When Jonah was vomited up by the fish after three days, he would have been bleached white from the acids in the fish’s belly. When I learned that I thought, what a great picture of salvation. God wiping away the stains of our sin, and making us clean, bleach white.

Do you need that today? Do you need to be cleansed? Salvation is not based on what you do, but in putting your faith in what Christ has already done for you. Perhaps it’s your day to move from religion by self-effort to salvation by faith. Perhaps your spirit can sense that God is extending His hand of grace to you, and you by faith are going to reach out and make Jesus the foundation of your hope. If you want to do that today, please pray this prayer with me.

Prayer of Salvation

“God, I know that I’m a sinner. I know 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!”

God Allows U-Turns! October 25, 2020

Many of you may remember my dog Cupcake. She was my severely obese, flop-eared beagle. Cupcake loved two things: food and hunting. To express her love for food, I remember how no matter where she was in the house, and no matter what time it was, if you open the fridge Cupcake would be by your side. It’s as if she had an alarm hooked up that would wake her in the middle of the night if the fridge was open, because when it was open, she was there.

In addition she loved hunting. As a beagle, she had this bad habit of getting on a bunny trail and then running away from us. One time we were in this field out by Oslo and she got away from us. We could hear her barking in the distance, and we as a family were all running trying to call her back. “Cupcake come here! Cupcake come back! Cupcake if you come back I will give you chocolate cake!” All to no avail, she wouldn’t come back. As we were running, we heard a gunshot. And guess where our mind went. Cupcake has been shot. Oh no, how are the kids going to handle it. But then we soon heard her barking, and we felt relief and caught up with her. Now this was not an isolated event, Cupcake had a bad habit of running away from us.

Today I want to ask the question: are you like Cupcake? Are you running away from something? What are you running from? Did you know that about a 100,000 kids run away from their home each year? What are you running away from today? Maybe you’re running away from your marriage. You’ve gone through a tough time in your marriage, and you don’t feel love for your spouse anymore, and you are thinking about running away from your spouse. Maybe you’re trying to run away from your feelings by medicating them with substances. You use the bottle to run away from your feelings. You use drugs to make you feel free of the pain. Maybe you’re trying to run away from your past. You’ve tried to act like something never happened, but it did happen. You don’t want to discuss what happened, you want to dismiss it like it never happened. Maybe you’re running from the truth. You know the truth, but you don’t want to acknowledge it. You would rather believe a comforting lie then the painful truth. Maybe you are running away from a problem. You’re starting to feel the heat and instead of leaning into the problem and asking God to help you solve it, you’re running away from it. Can I ask you a very important question: What are you running away from?

Someone who could relate to running away is the prophet Jonah in the Old Testament, and today we are starting a 4-week series on the book of Jonah and we are going to learn how Jonah ran away from the Lord and His call. God called Jonah to do something, and instead of obeying the Lord, Jonah ran away from God’s call. Jonah was a runaway. He ran away from his heavenly Father’s call. What are you running away from?

So let’s jump into chapter 1 of Jonah. Imagine the scene. One day Jonah got directions from the Lord to go and preach to Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, the most powerful nation in Jonah’s day. How does Jonah reply? He disobey God’s call and goes in the opposite direction of Nineveh. Imagine if God called you to go and preach in Rochester, and instead you go the direction opposite direction to Dodge Center, that’s basically what Jonah does. Why?

Well, let’s try to walk for a moment in Jonah’s shoes. How would he have seen the Ninevites? A modern day example might be how some of us see Isis or maybe Al Qaeda. Imagine if God called you to go and preach to Al Qaeda or Isis, or perhaps someone who abused one of your kids. That is how Jonah felt towards the Ninevites. He had contempt in his heart towards them. Nineveh was his enemy and they were known for their ruthless treatment of captives, their godlessness and their violence. I mean if you came upon some of the people of Jonah’s day, they might have had the following bumper sticker on their car.

So God tells Jonah to go and preach to the Nineveh but instead of obeying God’s call, Jonah ran in the opposite direction. In fact, he boarded a ship and headed to Tarshish, which was about 2000 miles from Nineveh and in the exact opposite direction. The fact that Jonah boarded a ship to run away from Nineveh also gives us a clue as to how much he hated Nineveh. Again if we could enter into Jonah’s mind, the people back then saw the sea as fearful, the great unknown, the place where mythical sea monsters and chaos abounded. And yet Jonah would rather go into the sea, which he was afraid to death of, then go preach to the Ninevites. Are you beginning to see how he felt towards Nineveh?

As he is on the ship running away from the Lord’s call, the ship encounters a dangerous storm. I am sure they saw: dark clouds, the high waves, the ship rocking back and forth like a bobber in the water. The sailors on the ship became very afraid and Jonah shared with them that the reason the storm happened was because God was bringing judgement on him for his disobedience. The sailors eventually threw Jonah in the sea where he was swallowed by a great fish. And the last verse of chapter 1 says:  “And the LORD appointed a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the stomach of the fish three days and three nights” (1:17). As you can see from chapter 1 of the book of Jonah, Jonah ran away from the Lord and his call. What are you running away from?

With all that in mind, today I want us to examine what we can learn from this fleeing prophet. Specifically, today I want to talk to you about three realties of spiritual runaways.

Reality 1: We have a choice!

As human beings we are free moral agents. With our freedom we can chose to obey God or disobey him. How do we know what God wants us to do? He speaks to us. The main way He speaks is through the Bible. When you open the Bible, God opens his mouth. If you are not in the daily habit of reading your Bible, you don’t know what you’re missing. As you read the Bible, you’re not just reading a book, you’re coming face-to-face with the Author of the book. As you read it, God opens your mind and heart and reveals things to you. He pours love and joy in your heart. You encounter God as you read His Word.

For example, on Monday morning I went into my devotional time anxious and empty. When I left my devotions, I felt as if God had given me His peace and filled me with His spirit. Now to be transparent with you, that doesn’t happen every time I do devotions. But it does happen. Now one of the verses the Lord to spoke to my heart about was Acts 8:29: “The Spirit told Philip, ‘Go to that chariot and stay near it.’” Now here is what ministered to my heart: God directed Phillip what he should do and where he should go. Do you get anxious about the future? I do. But God spoke to my heart that day: ‘Steve, you don’t have to figure out the future, you just have to stay close to me today, and I will guide you into the future.’

Now think about the state of our world. There is a lot of anxiety over the future. How long will this pandemic last? What about the elections? What about the civil unrest? Many people are experiencing Pandemic Fatigue, are you one of them? Are you wondering what the future will look like and confused about what you should do? Here is what this verse tells me: We don’t have to worry about tomorrow, we just have to stay close to Jesus and He will whisper the cues and guide us. Doesn’t that take a lot of pressure off? God speaks to us through what has been spoken in His Word. As you pastor, I want to encourage you to daily drink from the foundation of God’s Word.

So God speaks to Jonah and tells him to go to Nineveh to preach, and Jonah uses his free will to disobey God. He runs away from God’s call. Why did he run away from God’s call? He had contempt in his heart towards Nineveh. Question: who are your Ninevites? Who has God commanded you to love, but you think they don’t deserve it? What person are you running from that God is calling you to love?

A few weeks ago, Drew Berryessa came to speak to us about how to react to the sexual diversity we encounter in our day and age; specifically, how we as follows of Jesus should respond to the LGBTQ community. Why did we invite him to speak? My goal was this: That we would grow in love and compassion for those who might struggle with a different sin then we do. My goal is that we would be a safe place for people who wrestle with those issues to come and experience the love of Jesus. My goal is that people with that sin struggle would be able to say about us: We know you don’t agree with you our lifestyle but you still show us love and we are drawn to that.

For many Christians, people in the LGBTQ community are their Ninevites. We act as if their sin is the worst sin, as if these folks don’t deserve the love and grace of Jesus. Like Jonah, we run away from these folks with contempt instead of running towards them with compassion. Now your Ninevites may not be from the LGBTQ community, they may be someone of a different political persuasion. I want you to think for a moment about this question. Ask God to reveal the answer to this question to you:

Who is your Ninevite?

1.     A difficult person

2.    An ex-spouse

3.    Those of different political persuasion

4.    LGBTQ

5.    Someone who has hurt me

6.    _____________________

Jonah did not believe the Ninevites deserved the grace of God. Who are your Ninevites?

The second reality of running away from the Lord is . . .

Reality 2: Our choices have consequences.

God gives Jonah an assignment. Jonah runs away from God and away from his duty. What was the result? I want you to notice that as Jonah disobeyed God the trajectory of his life became a downward spiral. There were severe consequences for disobeying God – he almost lost his life when he was thrown overboard on that ship. Why was he treading water in the middle of a sea and in danger of drowning? He disobeyed God. What is the moral of the story? There are consequences for disobeying God.

Do you remember as a kid when you disobeyed your parents they would give you a time out or maybe spank you? Why did they do that? Because they wanted you to realize there are consequences for disobedience. If we sow disobedience in our life, we reap consequences. The devil wants us to believe it’s not a big deal to disobey God. That is a lie. When we disobey God we experience consequences, and yes God will forgive you if you ask Him to and repent, but He may not take away the natural consequences that come with disobedience.

With that in mind, let me speak to you for a moment about our slogan: “Come as you are.” What does that mean? What doesn’t it mean? First of all, it means that you don’t have to clean up your act before coming to church. Now what doesn’t it meant? I can disobey God because I can just come as I am. No! Once you come as you are, Christ gets a hold of your heart and He will transform you in His image. This doesn’t happen in a day, it happens daily over time.

Let me give you an example. Let’s say you set the goal of becoming physically healthy so you join a gym. You show up to that gym out of shape. You are beginning the way you are. But hopefully in 6 months you are not the same as when you started. The goal is to reach a new level of health and fitness. “Come as you are” means we don’t wait until we’re “spiritually fit” before attending church. We show up and allow the Holy Spirit to coach us and grow our spiritual maturity. “Come as you are” does not mean we have permission to wallow in our disobedience. Does that make sense?

When we disobey God there are consequences. In addition, we’re not the only ones who experience those consequences; other people experience the consequences of our sin as well! Do you remember how the Lord sent a storm to bring judgement on Jonah while he was on that boat? That didn’t just affect him, it affected those sailors who were on the ship with him. As a result of Jonah’s sin, other poeple suffered in the storm as well. What storms have others experienced as a result of my sin and yours. Let me have you think about something: if you are running away from the Lord’s direction, have you thought about how your disobedience will affect those around you?

One of the principles I refer to is the 10-10-10- Principle: I ask, what will be the consequence of this choice in 10 minutes, 10 months, and 10 years? If I disobey God here what will be the consequence I 10 minutes, 10 months, and 10 years? If I obey God here, what will be the consequence in 10 minutes, 10 months, and 10 years?

Hebrews 11:25 He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin.

Notice very carefully that God says sin is pleasurable. That’s why we do it. But it’s only pleasurable for a season. If we go back to the 10-10-10 Principle, it might be pleasure about for 10 months, but in 10 years it will bite you.

The third reality of running from God is:

Reality 3: God uses storms to redirect us.

First Jonah hears direction from the Lord to go to Nineveh. He disobeys God and heads in the opposite direction. He runs from the Lord and God pulls some divine strings to redirect him.

God sends this great storm and the sailors throw Jonah overboard, and he’s swallowed by a great fish. One commentator said that there’s a very good chance that the fish dropped him off at Joppa, the place where he started from. That was the Lord’s way of giving him a do-over.

One of the things I love about the Lord is that He allows U-turns. A U-turn is when you’re driving down the road and you realize you’re heading in the wrong direction, and you make a U-turn to go in the opposite direction. I have good news for you today: God allows U-turns.

Now the Biblical word for a U-turn is repentance. What is repentance?

The word repentance in the Bible literally means “the act of changing one’s mind.” True biblical repentance goes beyond remorse, regret, or feeling bad about one’s sin. It involves more than merely turning away from sin. Eerdmans Bible Dictionary includes this definition of repentance: “In its fullest sense it is a term for a complete change of orientation involving a judgment upon the past and a deliberate redirection for the future.”

In short, repentance is a U-turn of the mind that leads to a U-turn in our actions. For Jonah, repentance would have looked like this: he would have changed his attitude towards the Ninevites and realized that he didn’t deserve the grace of God any more than the Ninevites. But that is what grace is: unmerited favor. And his U-turn in his mind would have led to a U-turn in his behavior. He would later go to share the love and grace of Jesus to the Ninevites.

Do you need to make a U -turn today? If so, I have good news for you: God allows U-turns. The lesson of Jonah is that God often allows storms to tell us to make a U-turn. Has God ever used a storm in your life to get you back on track with Him? I love the quote of CS Lewis: “Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

God often allows difficult situations in our life to get our attention. It’s His megaphone so He can say, “You’re heading in the wrong direction!” Where do you need to make a U-turn in your life? Where are you running from the Lord? Maybe you’re hooked on pornography and God is telling you to make a U-turn and leave it behind. Maybe you have disdain in your heart for those with different political opinions and God is asking you to make a U-turn and quit demonizing them. Maybe God has pointed out to you today that you have a Ninevite – someone in your heart that you think is not worthy of His grace, who maybe hurt you, or who lives a lifestyle you disagree with, or who votes differently then you. I want you to think deeply about a certain Ninevite in your life. Let’s gets specific. Who are your Ninevites?

  • A difficult person
  • Those of different political persuasion
  • LGBTQ
  • My ex-spouse
  • ________________

Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal this person to you. With that person in mind, listen to these words of Jesus:

Matthew 5:43-47″You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?”

I don’t know about you, but I can’t love my enemies on my own strength. But here’s the good news of the gospel: as you abide in Christ and He abides in you, He will give you the love to love your Ninevite. I want to invite you to pray this prayer with me: Lord, you love _______________. Help me to love them. I did not deserve your grace, and neither do they. Thank you for your grace.

So here is my closing question: Who is the Ninevite that God is calling you to love and you are running from them? Here is good news: God allows U-turns. Imagine with me for a moment if our love for people was not based on how they treated us, but based on our connection to Jesus. Imagine if we had a bumper sticker on that back of our vehicle:

Who is a Ninevite in your life that God is calling you to love? Who is a person that God is asking you to leave behind your contempt and show compassion for them?

What is Success to You? Sermon Transcript, October 4, 2020

Have you heard this story about Charlie Brown? He took his bow and arrow and shot it against the wall. Then he went over and drew a target around where he hit. Lucy asked him why he did it that way and he said, “because this way, I never miss.”

Today I want you to think about the target of your life. What are you shooting for? Are you shooting for something specific, or are you like Charlie Brown – driftless, aimless, lacking purpose, hoping you hit something? Have you ever wrestled with the question, what on earth am I here for?

Another way to ask this question is, what does success mean to you? How do you know if you are successful? The dictionary defines success this way:

  • the accomplishment of an aim or purpose
  • the attainment of fame, wealth, or social status
  • a person or thing that achieves desired aims or attains fame, wealth, etc.

Have you ever sat down and thought about your own definition of success? Or have you just adopted the prevailing view handed down to you from others?

Some of us just adopted the view of success being about money, materialism, and possessions. We think more of those things will make us more successful. We look to Hollywood and Madison Avenue for our definition of success. But today I want to give you an assignment: I want you to take your Bible and ask the question, “What is my definition of success?”

With that in mind, today I want to share my personal definition of success. I am going to take the manhole cover off and share what success means to me personally. My personal definition of success is: Success is trusting God and doing your prayerful best at whatever He asks you to do! I want to know take a moment and dissect that definition.

1. Success is trusting God.

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. One of my favorite Bible verses is 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. 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 take the wheel of my life. 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.”

Someone once said that we will either surrender to Christ or chaos. How true. My life often feels out of control when I try and control everything. But when I sit back and relax in the Sovereignty of God, I feel more peaceful. I feel much more peaceful when I trust God by praying and doing the serenity prayer in my life:

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.

If we go back to Proverbs 3:5-6, notice that God tells us to trust, but He doesn’t tell us to understand. Why? There are many things in life we will not understand. In fact, Deuteronomy 29:29 says, The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law. This verse says that there are two boxes of things – secret things and revealed things. The secret things belong to God. In other words, there are things we won’t understand. Those things belong to the Lord. This is where trust comes in. “Lord, I don’t understand why this is happening. Lord this hurts. Lord, I don’t know why You are allowing this in my life but I trust You.” In fact, even when you are hurting you can say to the Lord, “I don’t like this, I don’t want this, but I trust You and know that You are up to something good in my life.”

Romans 8:28 tells us, And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. This verse does not say all things are good. They aren’t. But God can bring good out of all things. We just need to trust Him. We need to trust in advance what will make sense in reverse.

You say, Steve, how can God bring something good out of my tragedy? I just lost my job, I lost my loved one, I found out my spouse was cheating on me, I found out we have to declare bankruptcy. If you are experiencing a difficult trial in your life, think of 2 Corinthians 4:17-18 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.

Do you know what that verse is saying? If you are struggling today or experiencing an extreme trial, it’s not meaningless. God is doing something with you in the eternal realm, and you may not be able to see it or feel it, but I pray that God will help you believe it. “God you are up to something good, even though my life seems so bad.” Are you trying to understand everything or are you trusting God?

I love this verse in Psalms 131:1 My heart is not proud, LORD, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me. That verse says that there are something that are too wonderful for me. In other words, there are some things beyond my understanding and that is where I need to trust God.

The first ingredient of success is to trust Him. To walk through life with a trusting relationship with Him, knowing that you won’t always understand. I am reminded of the story of John Kavanaugh, the brilliant ethicist, who 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.”

When he asked her why she said, “Clarity is the last thing you are clinging to and must let go.”

She went on to say, “ I have never had clarity, what I have always had is trust. So I will pray that you will trust God.”

Think about how often we pray for clarity. “Lord, I want all the answers. I want the blueprint for the next 10 years. I want clarity.” But it’s possible that God is saying to some of you, ‘you just need to let go and let me, trust me, even when you don’t understand.’Today I am encouraging you to not just adopt the prevailing definition of success, but rather to think about what success means to you. I have defined success as trusting God and doing your prayerful best at what ever God asks you to do. The second part of my definition of success is,

2. Do your prayerful best as whatever God asks you to do.

The first key ingredient to success is trusting God; let go and let God. Now does that mean we’re to be passive and do nothing? I remember reading once that in our walk of faith, we can go to two extremes. The first extreme is called “practical humanism.” This is where we adopt the attitude that if it’s to be, it’s all up to me. It is thinking and acting as if there is no God. It’s all you and dependent on you. Are you falling into the trap pf practical humanism?

The other extreme is called “pious irresponsibility.” This is where we think, I don’t need to do anything, I just need to trust God. I don’t have to go to work, God will provide. I can sit on the couch and watch soap operas all day, eating Doritos and drinking prune juice and God will provide. Are you falling into the trap of pious irresponsibility?

When I talk about trusting God, I am not saying we should sit around and do nothing. No, we have a part and God has a part. Letting go and letting God means trusting God with the outcomes He sends, but doing your prayerful best to fulfill your responsibilities as best you can. Let’s consider the phrase “prayerful best.” I think if you are doing whatever God asks you to do, and you can look in the mirror at yourself and say, I did my prayerful best today, no matter what the outcome, in my book, you are a success.

When it comes to this part of my definition of success, I need to let you now that a major influence on my definition of success was the late John Wooden, the coach of the UCLA Bruins. Under his leadership, UCLA won 10 national championships in 12 years. Many consider him the greatest coach ever. As I studied his life, I was impressed that as a man who experienced so much success, he defined success very differently from most people. To him, success was not about winning championships. He actually did what I am encouraging you to do today; he sat down as a young man and coined his own definition of success for his life: success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best you are capable of becoming.

To Coach Wooden success was not about the score, it was about effort. It was not about comparing yourself to others. It is doing your best to be the best you can be. In other words, no matter what the score was, if he could look at his team and tell they were doing their best, in his book, they succeeded. Other times his team might be beating another team easily but he could tell they weren’t putting their best effort forward. Even if they won, he would consider it a loss because to him success was doing your best. I adopted this view of success in my life. If you are doing your best at what God has asked you to do, you are a success in my book.

Ecclesiastes 9:10 Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might. Here is how I have applied this to me work as a pastor. When I was younger in the ministry, I would compare myself to other well-known pastors. I wanted to be like Billy Graham, or Chuck Swindoll, or Charles Stanley. But Coach Wooden’s definition of success taught me that success is about taking my unique gifts and talents and being the best pastor I can be. Do you see the difference?

Some of you are out there thinking, “I want to be more like so and so. I want to be as good a mom as her. I want to be as good a provider as them.” No. Be the best you can be. Galatians 6:4 instructs us, Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else. Do you see how God tells us not to compare? If you’re comparing yourself to someone else you are disobeying God.

If you’re in the business of comparing yourself to others, you are in a no-win situation. Why? First of all, you will always find people that you are doing better then, and that will lead to pride. When you compare yourself to others, you will always find people who are doing better then you, and that will lead to discouragement. Either way, pride and discouragement, you’re dead in the water. So don’t compare yourself to others, but never stop trying to do the best you can.

John Wooden taught his players that success was giving their all to be all they could be, that success was doing their best. I decided to add the word “prayerful” to my definition. The reason prayer is so important is because if you don’t pray about what you’re doing, you can be the best at something that is out of the will of God. Could you imagine climbing the ladder in life, giving it your all, sacrificing, working, toiling, and then one day getting to the top and realizing it was leaning against the wrong wall? That is why prayer is so important. Through prayer, God will tell us which ladders to climb.

John 15:1-5 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the Gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit He prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 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.”

Now in this passage, Jesus is the vine and we are the branches. Branches get their life as they stay connected to the vine. Notice that Jesus told His followers to abide in Him, or stay connected to Him. That is what prayer is all about, staying connected to Jesus. Jesus says that if we do that, we’ll bear much fruit. “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.” As we abide in Christ, he will show is which ladders to climb, and then we can do our prayerful best to climb the ladders God ask us to. That is success to me. Success is trusting God and doing your prayerful best at whatever God asks you to do.

Today I am ending my mini-series on the election and politics and government. Some of you are thinking, praise the Lord! How does my view of success relate to the election? I think we are to do our prayerful best to vote in a way that glorifies God. We are to do our prayerful best to promote our candidate. But once the election is over and the person is in place, I think we need to trust God.

One of the metaphors that has always helped me is that in life there is a lower story. In the lower story, we do our prayerful best to obey God and serve others. The lower story is about the everyday happenings of our life, the daily grind. At the same time the lower story is going on, there is also an upper story. This is what’s happening in God’s plan that we don’t always see our understand. The upper story is the story that we can’t see. However, the Bible teaches that as we are living out the lower story, God is working in the upper story. For example, think about this Christmas Bible text:

Luke 2:1-7 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken, so everyone went to their own town to register. Now as he issued this decree in the lower story, he had no idea that this action was a part of the upper story. In other words, God was using Caesar Augustus’ actions in the lower story to fulfill His plan of the Savior being born in Bethlehem.

In a similar way, we need to do our prayerful best to fulfill our responsibilities. At the same time, we need to let go and let God and trust His outcomes. This definition of success is a great way to approach the upcoming elections. We do our prayerful best and trust God with the outcome. How, specifically, do we do that? I want to encourage you to vote for the glory of God. How?

1. Pray and ask God to give you wisdom on who to vote for.

Proverbs 2:6 For the LORD gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding. He will give us wisdom as we vote to glorify Him, if we ask Him to.

2. Make the Bible your compass.

Psalms 119:105 Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path. Imagine walking in the dark and you can’t see the path, but if you turn on a flashlight you can see. God’s word is like that flashlight, it will guide you as you vote. As you are about to vote, ask, which candidate best stands with biblical principles.

3. Trust God with the outcome.

For some of us we are going to be really happy after the election. Others may not like who got elected. Either way, God is sovereign, so trust Him.

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. God never commanded us to understand everything because we won’t. But He did command us to trust Him. Are you trusting God? Success is trusting God and doing your prayerful best at whatever he asks you to do.

In closing, I want us to pray one of my favorite prayers on trust. There’s a lot going on in our world, and it’s easy to move out of a trust mode and into a catastrophizing mode. Let’s instead trust God and do our prayerful best. Would you join me in praying this prayer?

Father,
I abandon myself into your hands;
do with me what you will.
Whatever you may do, I thank you:
I am ready for all, I accept all.

Let only your will be done in me,
and in all your creatures –
I wish no more than this, O Lord.

Into your hands I commend my soul:
I offer it to you with all the love of my heart,
for I love you, Lord, and so need to give myself,
to surrender myself into your hands without reserve,
and with boundless confidence,
for you are my Father.

~ Charles de Foucauld

Stronger Together! Sermon Transcript, September 20, 2020

We’re in an election season. Are you aware of that? When I drive by my neighbors’ houses, some of them have signs on their lawns showing which candidate they’re endorsing. I often get text and phone calls trying to urge me to vote for a certain person. When I watch TV and listen to the radio there are ads, and at the end of it the candidate says, this is (They say their name), and I approve this message. I’ve had some very spirited conversations with people about which candidate they are voting for and why they think I should vote their way. One of the privileges of living in America is that we have the opportunity to vote for our leaders, so my question today is: what is the proper attitude of a Christ follower when it comes to politics and government? Should we as Jesus followers avoid politics, or should we immerse ourselves in it?

Now before I go further, I know some of you have checked out because you’ve washed your hands of politics. You’re like the guy who went up to a grave at a cemetery and the epitaph read: “Here lies honest man and a politician.” The guys said to his wife, “I didn’t know you could fit two people in one grave!” Others of you are thinking, ‘why are we talking about this in church?’ Well, talking about politics in church is like talking about sex. It can be an awkward conversation; however, we need to remember that God established sex as well as government. We need to try and see it through His lens.

If you’re new to our church you need to understand that we have a high view of the Bible. We see it as God’s inspired Word, the inerrant Word of God. We believe that it’s purpose is to guide us on life issues such as: how we raise kids, how we love our spouse, how we manage our money, and how we vote and are involved in government.

Now some of you get tense when I mention politics. I would ask a favor of you: be like a parachute. A parachute works best when it’s open. Try to keep an open mind. Here’s what I am going to do today: I will share my views with you; they are what I understand the Bible is saying about these issues. However, I know I am imperfect and there are many things about this topic that I don’t understand. Maybe you can teach me something, I would love to hear your side. Let’s have a dialogue instead of demonizing each other for disagreeing.  Is that a deal? It’s been said that there are two things you don’t talk about: politics and religion, and I’m going to talk about both today. Don’t you envy my job? One last comment. Politics can really divide people, but let’s not do that here. We’re in a series called Stronger Together, so let’s not let our political differences divide us.

Recently I had a conversation with a person who I’m very close too, and I learned they’re voting for someone different than me. We shared our views and why we believe what we do, and then I went out and slashed their tires. I’m kidding! We agreed to disagree, and didn’t demonize the other person for seeing things differently. I know that in a church our size there are going to be people who vote differently from each other. We see issues from different perspectives. My prayer is that we would all balance courage and consideration that we would have the courage to share our view and the consideration to respect those who see things differently.

               With all of that in mind, today I want us to consider how we think about politics and government. We all have a worldview. Our worldview is our lens of reality. I want us to take out our view of politics and ask, does our view of politics align with the Bible’s view. Specifically, I want to talk to you about five wrong views of politics. Now I need to give credit to Dr. Wayne Grudem, he’s one of my favorite theologians and I got many of my thoughts from him. What are five wrong views about politics?

Wrong View 1: Government should compel religion.

The first wrong view is that government should compel people to follow a certain faith. A good example of a country who does this is Saudi Arabia. They have laws that compel people to follow Islam. And those who fail to comply with these laws face severe consequences from the religious police.

Now here is why that view is wrong. God has given us all a free will. We cannot compel people to follow any religion. They must choose for themselves which faith they will follow. For example, many of us have kids that were raised in a Christian home. You brought them to church. But they have decided to do life without Jesus. If you could, you would force them to follow Jesus, but you can’t. Why? God has given all of us a free will. Here’s the point: if parents can’t force their kids to follow a particular faith, why should government be able to?

               When it comes to government’s role about faith, let’s look at Matthew 22:20-21 “and he asked them, ‘Whose image is this? And whose inscription?’ ‘Caesar’s,’ they replied. Then he said to them, ‘So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.’” The Jews were required to pay taxes to support the roman government. On the coins of that day was the picture of Caesar. Someone asked Jesus if they should pay their taxes and Jesus says, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” This verse says that for a Christian there are two boxes- the box of government and the box of faith. Wayne Grudem says it this way:

There are…“…two spheres of influence, one for government and one for the religious life of the people of God. Some things, such as taxes, belong to the government, and this implies that the church should not try and control these things. On the other hand, some things belong to peoples religious life, and this implies that the civil government should not try and control these things.”

The first wrong view is that government should compel people to follow a certain faith. Next,

Wrong View 2: Government should exclude religion. 

This view says that there should be no influence on government from religion. One of the main problems with this view is that the Bible gives many examples of people of faith making a difference in government. A classic example of this is Daniel, who was the advisor to two Babylonian kings and two Medo-Persian kings. He was second in command in one of the most pagan governments. Note carefully that God used Daniel to be a light in the government of his day. His godliness and integrity caused him to find favor in a very ungodly place, and yet he still stayed faithful to God. One person says this is a lesson we can learn from the life of Daniel: “As Christians, we are called to obey the rules and authorities that God has put in place, treating them with respect and compassion; however, as we see from Daniel’s example, obeying God’s law must always take precedence over obeying men.”

Now here is my question for you today: Is God daring you to be a Daniel? Is He calling you to be a light for Him in government? Think about how God calls people to be a light for Him in many places: Schools, business, church, and even government. The next wrong view of politics is…

Wrong View 3: All government is evil and demonic.

Let me ask you for a moment to take out your view of government and ask the question, how do you see it? Some people think all government is evil and demonic. Now let me be clear about something: people in government can be influenced by Satan, of course, but so can people in the church, schools, or hospitals. let’s take a moment and look at a few passages and see if they back up the view that government is evil.

Romans 13:1-4 Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.

Note a few things:

  1. If someone is in authority, God has allowed that. Now we are going to dive into this passage more next week to understand it. But notice carefully that God says that the governing authorities have been established by God.
  2. We are to be subject to our governing authorities. The only exception is if they’re leading us to disobey God.
  3. Notice that verse 4 says governing authorities are servants of God.

Does this passage back up the view that government is evil and demonic? No, just the opposite. It was established by God and the people who work in it are his servants and are meant to punish evil and applaud what is good. The next wrong view of government and politics is…

Wrong View 4: Do evangelism, not politics.

Some people believe that Christians should focus only on evangelism and leave politics to other people. In other words, Christians should not be involved at all in politics or government. If that’s the case, let me ask you a question: doesn’t Jesus call us to be the salt of the earth? And he asks us to salt all of the earth, and that includes being salt for him at school, hospitals, business, and government. For example, one command of God is to love your neighbor. One of the ways to love your neighbor is by praying and working for laws that provide help for the vulnerable among us – the poor, the homeless, the exploited, the unborn.

Now before we go any further, let me give a warning called “Heart Projection.” God has given each of us a certain passion. For some of us, our passion is:

  • Evangelism. We live, sleep, and dream about evangelism.
  • Discipleship. We live, sleep, and dream about discipleship.
  • Stopping abortion. We live, sleep, and dream about protecting unborn children.
  • Stopping sex trafficking. We live, sleep, and dream about stopping sex trafficking.
  • And some of us have a passion for politics. We live, sleep, and dream about politics.

Here is what heart projection is: God has given me this passion, so I assume you need to have this passion as well, and if you don’t you are a bad Christian. But here’s what we need to understand. God has given us all different passions so everything can get done. If we all had the same passion, some things would not get done. We need to understand that we are the body of Christ. Some of us are an ear, some of us are the feet, some of us are the heart. This means we all have different roles and passions in the body.

A great example of this is two men who really have influenced my life. One is the late Billy Graham, and the other is Dr. James Dobson. I have told you many times how Billy Graham is one of my ministry heroes. Another man who deeply influenced me is Dr. James Dobson, the founder of Focus on the Family. I grew up in a Christian home and would often here Dr. Dobson on the radio. I’ve read his book and gone to some of his seminars. But here’s the thing: Billy Graham focused on evangelism and didn’t say much about politics, while Dr. Dobson focused on building strong families and got more involved in the political realm. Was one right and other wrong? Or did God give them different passions so that everything got done?

Some of you have a passion for politics, that is great. Other of you don’t. You have a different passion like evangelism, kids ministry, or discipleship. Why? So that everything would get done in the body of Christ. Let’s avoid heart projection. The 5th wrong view of politics is….

Wrong View 5: Do politics and not evangelism.

These folks would say, we need to focus on changing laws and culture and not bother with evangelism. One of the movements that had this emphasis was the “social gospel.”

Let’s review. I have shared with you today 5 wrong views of Government and faith.

  1. Government should compel people to follow a certain religion
  2. Government should exclude religion
  3. All government is evil
  4. Do evangelism, not politics.
  5. Do politics, and not evangelism.

These are five wrong views. So what is the right view when it comes to a Christian’s role in government and politics? Let me read it to you: Matthew 5:13-15 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.”

Let’s take a moment and dive into what we can learn from the metaphor of salt. How did people back in the Biblical day view salt? First of all, salt was very valuable. Did you know wars have been fought over salt? The Greeks thought salt was divine, or godlike. The Romans said nothing was more valuable than the sun and salt, because in a day without refrigeration, the only way they could preserve meat was to salt it. During Roman times, soldiers were paid in salt. In fact, did you know that we get the word salary from salt? The ancient word for salary was “salt-money.” This is where we get the phrase: they’re worth their weight in salt. Lastly, salt is a key component of life; we all have about of 120 grams salt in each of us. It’s necessary for our bodies to function, muscles to work, blood to circulate, and food to digest. That’s why sick people get saline (salt solution) infusions. So when Jesus said to his disciples they were the salt of the earth, he is saying we are very valuable to the health of our community, city, neighborhood, workplace, and nation. Our role is to flavor our world for Jesus.

I remember reading once that even the most introverted person will influence 10,000 people in their lifetime. Are you aware that you’re influencing people? The question becomes, are you influencing them for Jesus? We are called to be salt and light for Jesus in this world. What would change in your life if you began to see yourself as salt and light for Jesus? You get up in the morning and think, Lord, let your light shine through me at my workplace: as an educator, as a law enforcement officer, as a nurse, as a government worker.

How do we as Christians relate to government and the election? We are to be salt. We are to salt and season it for God’s glory. Some of us are called by God to be more involved in it then others, and that’s OK. One of the ways we can flavor our world for Jesus is to vote in a way that glorifies God. I would never tell you how to vote. Instead I would say, vote in a way that glorifies God. 1 Corinthians 10:31 So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.You say, how do I vote to glorify God?

  1. Pray and ask God to give you wisdom on who to vote for.

 Proverbs 2:6 For the LORD gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding.

 See how that verse says God gives wisdom? He will give us wisdom as we vote to glorify Him, if we ask Him to. 

  1. Make the Bible your compass.

Psalms 119:105 Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.

Imagine walking in the dark and you can’t see the path. If you turn on a flashlight you can see. God’s Word is like that flashlight, it will guide you as you vote. 

  1. Trust God with the outcome.

Some of us are going to be really happy after the election. Others may not like who got elected. Regardless, God is sovereign so trust Him. 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.”

 As we come to the end of this message, let us remember our message series. We are stronger together. It is very possible that you are sitting next to someone who may have a different view of politics then you do. I would encourage you that if that’s the case, have a dialogue with them, don’t demonize them. As we come into this political season I want to pray the prayer of Jesus over us as a church so that we will be stronger together in a world that is very divided.

John 17:20-23 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

Processing Life Together! Sermon Transcript, September 6, 2020

By Pastor Cameron Baker

Watch the message on our YouTube channel here!

What a unique time we find ourselves in! Not only do we have a pandemic, we have an election year, hurricanes from the ocean, and we have land hurricanes. There are so many different things happening it’s enough to make your head spin. We’ve had to adjust how we do church in a big way. I’m the IT person here at the church, so I’ve had to learn how to effectively live stream which includes learning new devices and lots of troubleshooting. Things have changed, but God has been faithful.

Our last sermon series was on Unity. The world will inevitably be divided but we need to stand united as a Church to preach the Gospel, the good news of salvation in the name of Jesus Christ. Last week Steve talked about finding courage in the Word of God during scary times. For the next couple weeks I want to highlight an important aspect of our faith that unites us and contributes to courage: community. We’re called Community Celebration Church after all, and we want to be a vibrant community of believers that shines bright for Jesus in dark places and times. 

We have kept a very simple and clear vision throughout the life of our church; we want people to accept the invitation of salvation, become and imitation of Christ, and then contribute the love of Christ to their world. This morning and next Sunday I want to talk specifically about becoming and imitation of Christ and some of the opportunities you have to do that here at CCC. 

Before we get into that, I want to give a personal testimony about a process group I joined a year ago which has changed my life. CCC has a young adults group for ages 18-35 called In Process.  We meet on Tuesday nights at 6:45 and Pastor Amy’s house. When I joined it was exactly what I needed.  I was a year out from my divorce and was experiencing a severe lack of relationships. There is a book written by Henry Cloud called “People Fuel,” and in that book he explains the need for healthy human relationships, and I really didn’t have any. I wasn’t getting any relational fuel, my tank was on empty, and it was beginning to wear on me. But the first night of joining the group I immediately felt my relational fuel being filled up. I can truly say that the friends I have made in that group are some of the best friends I’ve ever had, and I look forward to going to the group every night we have it. It’s amazing what happens when believers get together to have fellowship and prayer around God’s word. 

If you’re feeling disconnected and like you’re running on empty, I strongly encourage you to join a process group immediately. Now more than ever we need to be encouraging fellowship with other believers. I realize that’s not as easy with a pandemic going on, but that’s where technology comes in. If you’re not comfortable meeting in person we have all kinds of opportunities to meet virtually over Zoom. 

I have a strong sense that there are a lot of people who are feeling extremely isolated right now. Your relational tank is on empty and you need to refill it. I can’t think of many things better than a good process group, where you get together, dive into the Bible, fellowship and pray together, be yourself, find support, and encourage others who are going through the same things.

Maybe you feel like you’re stuck home alone with all the Covid stuff going on. Well, we have a process group starting called, “Not Home Alone.” We all need this, it’s extremely important for our mental health especially during this Covid season.

Unfortunately, during this pandemic, we have seen and unprecedented spike in mental health issues and suicide. We as a church are fighting back with an amazing mental health support group called Rejoice and Resilience, and we will be highlighting that a little later. There is no doubt in my mind that we need healthy Christian relationships now more than ever, which brings us to the passage that I want to take a look at with you this morning. We’re going to be looking into the book of Acts. This the first book after the Gospels which tell the story of Jesus life, death, and resurrection. The book of Acts tells us the story of how the early church started and then spread all throughout the Roman Empire. I want to break down Acts 2:43-47, but before I read it I want to give you context for the passage. 

It’s so important to understand the context for any Biblical passage.  So often you can miss important things and sometimes even misinterpret Scripture if you don’t take time to understand what the surrounding passages are saying. So what’s happening here in Acts 2? The chapter starts off with the Holy Spirit descending upon the believers at a Jewish festival called “Pentecost.” There were 120 believers in a room praying when suddenly there was a sound like rushing wind. What looked like tongues of fire descended upon the people who were praying and they all started speaking different languages as the Spirit enabled them. Needless to say it was pretty amazing. The noise was so loud that a huge crowd of Jews from all over the world who were in Jerusalem at the time heard it, and came running to find this group of people speaking their native languages. There was confusion, some people were apparently saying that it was just because they were drunk, but Peter and the other Apostles stepped forward and said it’s way too early to be drunk, it’s only 9 in the morning. Then Peter goes on to the preach to this huge crowd and by the power of the Spirit 3000 people are saved. The church grows from 120 to 3000 members in a day. 

That brings us to the passage I want to focus on this morning. The header for this passage in the New Living Translation is this “The Believers Form a Community.” This is one of my favorite passages since it gives us some great insight into important aspects of the early church. Some people act as if the early church was perfect and say, “we need to get back to the early church” as if that was the ideal time. While the early church did a lot of things right, they weren’t perfect at all.  Just read the letters Paul wrote to the church in Corinth and you will get a pretty good picture of how imperfect it could be. 

But here in Acts 2:42-47 we get this amazing image of what the early church did right that prepared them for the trials they faced and enabled them to spread the gospel through the entire world. I’m going to read the New Living Translation because it was specifically translated to read easier out loud.

All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (included the Lord’s Supper) and to prayer. A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had.  They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. They worshiped together at the temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people and each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.”

Three times in this short passage he says, “All the believers.” Then he says they met together, worshiped together, met in homes, shared their meals, and added to their fellowship. I get the impression that they were a tight knit community don’t you? If we break down verse 42 we see 4 main things they did right.

Verse 1: They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching. Where did the apostles’ teaching come from?  Jesus Himself. That was the great commission that Jesus gave to them, to go and make disciples by teaching them all He had taught them. So first, they were devoting themselves to the teachings of Scripture.  That’s a huge part of our process groups: the teaching of Scripture, whether it’s about finances or parenting, we want to focus on the teaching of the scripture.

The second thing mentioned is the word “fellowship.” I really want to break this down because I believe it means more than what we usually think of. This is actually a term that Paul used often but it only occurs at this one point in the books of Acts and Luke. This is because the books of Acts and Luke were both written by Luke and were usually distributed together. I think this word can best be defined as “sharing life together.” 

The Greek word was used in a secular sense to sometimes mean sharing goods, close association, communion together. “Sharing a meal together” is another way it was used. The early church came together and truly shared life together with one another. They opened their lives up to each other and did life together, more than just going to the temple or religious gatherings. They met in homes and shared everything they had. That’s what our process groups are about, processing life together. 

The third thing that Luke mentions here is that they shared meals including the Lord’s Supper. Now this is something I can really get behind, getting together and eating. There is something special about getting together and sharing a meal, and the Lord’s Supper was a little different back then. They did not get together and just have little wafers and tiny glasses of juice. It was like a legitimate party, like huge feast.

One thing we always do as a part of our young adult group is have a meal, whether we grill out or just get pizza from Casey’s. Shoutout chicken bacon ranch! I have to say I have grown spiritually and physically from my process group. Side note, I have also had to incorporate much more cardio into my gym training. 

The final thing the early church devoted themselves to was prayer. Now I love to eat, but I have to say that prayer was a massive reason why the early church did so well. Prayer is how they were able to overcome extreme persecution, navigate disagreement, and remain united when the world and spiritual forces of evil were trying to rip them apart. They devoted themselves to praying together. 

I could speak for an entire year on prayer and still not scratch the surface of how important it is or all the different reasons why we pray or different types of prayer. It’s literally one of the biggest, most important topics in our relationship with God, and it’s a huge part of our communication with God. For the purpose of this Sunday morning I want us to just see that it’s one of the four things that Luke decided to include in his description of the early church community. Let me read verse 42 one more time to just recap those four things again:

“All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s supper) and to prayer.”

I started off the sermon today talking about our ABC’s vision. We want people to accept the free gift of Salvation, become and imitation of Christ, and contribute Christ’s love to their world. I said today we were going to be focusing on becoming and imitation of Christ, and I believe verse 42 of our passage today gives us a good starting point to do that. Remember it says this: “all the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer.”

So the application question this morning is this: are we doing that in our community? I can honestly say before I joined my small group, I wasn’t doing these things. God designed us to be a part of community. I felt disconnected, my relational tank was on empty. I was not devoting myself to the scriptures with other believers and I was not doing life together with other believers. I was not sharing in meals with other believers, I was not devoting myself to prayer with other believers.

The application this morning is very simple. I believe one of the most effective ways for you and me as people who attend this church to become an imitation of Christ is to join a process group and do what the early church did. Remember it said: all the believers. Don’t you think “all” meant “everyone?” They all devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, the teaching of Christ, to fellowship, to sharing in meals, and to prayer. 

How do we do that? Let me say it again: join a process group. Yes, it’s important to come on Sunday mornings and meet all together, but I think it’s equally important to meet in a small group as well so you can do life with people. Prayer together with them, have fellowship, and let’s not forget share a meal!

I want to close with some inspiration. We are facing a tough time right now I do not want to make light of it. But if you study church history you will see that the church has faced many tough times. Just a couple chapters after this passage we see that the church was persecuted so hard that they were scattered from Jerusalem. Before Paul was converted he was on a rampage, arresting Christians and having them either stoned or thrown in prison. During the Roman empire before Constantine, the Romans would often round up Christians and kill them. The story of the church has not always been smooth sailing. 

But the early church not only survived, it thrived. It exploded, in fact. Now, here we are 2000 years later and there are believers all over the world. The Bible is the most printed and purchased book of all time, and continues to be year after year. Christianity is by far the largest noncompulsory religion on the face of the planet.

Many of you have found life and peace and hope in Christ; why? I think a key factor is found in our verse for today: “All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s supper) and to prayer.” Now we are going to do one of these things right here. We are going to share in the Lord’s Supper.

How to be Courageous in an Uncertain Time! Sermon Transcript, August 30, 2020

How many of you have seen the movie, “The Wizard of OZ?” It’s the story of Dorothy and her dog Toto, who find themselves in a strange land after a tornado hits their house in Kansas. They meet a good witch who tells them that if Dorothy can get to the Emerald city and see the all-powerful wizard of OZ, he can help them find their way back home. On her way to the Emerald city, she makes some friends and one of those friends is the cowardly lion. Remember him? When Dorothy first meets him she says in a stern voice, “You’re nothing but a great big coward.”

“You’re right. I am a coward. I haven’t any courage at all,” responded the lion with tears running down his cheeks and his voice trembling.

Have you ever felt like the cowardly lion? Have you ever sensed that fear is driving your life? Have you ever wished you had more courage? Many people today are afraid. We are living in an age of anxiety. When I talk to people, there is a sense of anxiety about what our new normal will be. When we think of the future, we’re not quite sure what it will look like or if we will like it. Maybe you’re afraid of going back to school. What will school look like because of Covid? You know it will be different, but you are not quite sure how different. Maybe you have a deep addiction that is destroying your life but you’re afraid to ask for help. You are afraid of your little secret being found out. Maybe all your friends are doing things that are not Christ-like, and you’re feeling the temptation to cave into their peer pressure, and you need courage to stand for your Christian principles. Are you, like the cowardly lion, in need of courage today?

Today we are going to talk about how to be courageous in an uncertain time. Let’s first define what courage is:

  • the ability to do something that frightens one
  • strength in the face of pain or grief
  • the choice and willingness to confront agony, pain, danger, uncertainty, or intimidation

Here is my definition of courage: Courage is feeling the fear and doing it anyway, because God told you to. So courage is not the absence of fear, its doing what God told you to do even if you are afraid.

Now someone who was in need of courage was a guy by the name of Joshua in the Old Testament. Joshua was facing a huge challenge. First of all, he had the task of leading 2 million people to enter and conquer the Promise Land. Could you imagine the pressure of trying to lead 2 million and you don’t have e-mail, smart phones and the internet? In addition, these people could be stubborn, whiny and difficult. Guys, leading 2 million people would have been a giant challenge.

Next, he was Moses’ successor. Could you imagine the pressure of trying to fill Moses’ shoes? Could you imagined how often he was compared to Moses? I’m sure that he heard this often: “but we always did it this way when Moses was the leader. Moses did it this way, why are you doing it that way?”

Just like how we’re facing an uncertain future today, Joshua was also in need of courage. Are you in need of courage today to:

  • To face that problem instead of act like it is not there.
  • To do the right thing when it would be expedient to do the wrong thing
  • To get help when you would rather act like you don’t need it
  • To take a step of faith and do what God has told you to do even though you are afraid.

How do we find courage in such a scary time?  

I invite you to turn to Joshua 1:1. The book of Joshua is in the Old Testament, and it explains the conquest and settlement of the Promise Land, the land of Canaan, by the Israelites under Joshua’s leadership.

Joshua 1:1-9 After the death of Moses the servant of the LORD, the LORD said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ aide: “Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them-to the Israelites. I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses. Your territory will extend from the desert to Lebanon, and from the great river, the Euphrates-all the Hittite country-to the Mediterranean Sea in the west. No one will be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them. “Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”

When I think of that passage, I think of a courage fountain. Imagine being able to drink from a fountain that gave you courage. I believe this passage is a courage fountain so let’s drink from it. Specifically, I want to share with you some courage principles:

Principle 1: We must step out in faith and receive our land.

“Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them – to the Israelites. I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses.” Notice very carefully that God tells Joshua that He is giving them a gift. He is giving them the Promise Land.  

“….get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them – to the Israelites. I will give you…”

In this passage, God says He is about to give the people the Promise Land, however, that does not mean they are to do nothing. God’s role was the giver, their role was to step out in faith and obey Him.

I have a 10 dollar bill up here and imagine if I said, I want to give you this gift. Do you have the gift? No. Why? You have to reach out and receive it. It’s the same thing in our walk with God. He has gifts for us, but we need to step out in faith and receive them.

Many of us today are living in the land of fear, and God is saying, I have a land of courage for you to dwell in. But will we get to the land of courage by doing nothing? No, we need to possess the land of courage by doing what God tells us to do. God has a part, and we have a part. Where do you need to exercise faith and receive what God wants to give you?

For example, maybe you’ve identified some unhealthy patterns in your life that you want to get rid of and God says, I want to help you heal, but you need to go see a counselor. But you say, I don’t want to admit I am weak. I don’t want to admit I have issues. That is one option. The other option is to face the fear and do it anyway because God told you to. This way you are stepping out in faith to receive what God has promised to give you.

The next courage principle is…

Principle 2: Trust in God’s promises and leave the details to Him.

In this passage, God gives the people a promise. He says He’s going to give the Israelites the land, but He does not give them the details. If you study the Bible you will see that often God would tell people to do something but not give many details. For example, think about this passage in Matthew 4:18-22

As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him. Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

Notice the details that Jesus gave the early followers – He simply said: Follow me. Are you willing to follow Jesus even if He doesn’t give you many details? You say, but Steve, I want a detailed map. I want step 1 and step 2 and step 3. But if God gave you that, you would probably rely on the map, not Him! Now sometimes God gives us a map, but often He simply says: I am your map. In other words, don’t worry about you will do tomorrow, just stay close to me today, and I will guide you, one step at a time.

When we grasp this it gives us courage for an uncertain time. We may not know what tomorrow holds, but God does and as we stay close to Him He will guide us one step at a time. We can stop worrying and instead walk closer and trust deeper in Him. Have you made Jesus your map during this uncertain time? Lord, I don’t know what tomorrow holds but that’s OK. I am just going to walk with You and trust You to guide me into Your future.

Principle 3: Remember the source of Joshua’s greatness.

Joshua is about to take on this momentous task of leading the Israelites in the Promise Land, and God says to Joshua: “As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.” What we see here is God telling Joshua the source of Moses’ greatness. What was the source of Moses’ greatness? God. What made Moses such an amazing man of God? God did. The story of Moses is not the story of Moses doing great things, but God doing great things through him. And God is telling Joshua, as I was with Moses, so I am with you. In other words, Joshua, the same God who did great things through Moses can do them through you.

And guess what? The Bible says that Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever. The same God who worked through Moses and Joshua is with you and can work through you. You say, I am facing such a big challenge there is no way I can overcome this. You’re right, you can’t; but Christ in you can. In fact, I want you to adopt the attitude of Philippians 4:13, I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

Let me ask you a question: are you living with the awareness of God’s presence? Courage is not the absence of fear; it is the presence of God that gives us the courage to move out in spite of our fear. You say I can’t face this uncertain future, Covid, the election, the riots. You can’t, but the same God who did great things through Moses and Joshua can do great things through you, His obedient servant.

Principle 4: God tells Joshua that he needs courage, and then He tells him where to get courage.

“Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them. Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.”

The Word of God is our courage fountain. When we get into the Word of God, God’s courage gets into us. Notice that word “meditate.” What does that mean? The opposite would be skimming the Word. We are not to skim the Word, we are to dive deeply into it.

Let me ask you a question: what sets your mood? Is it the evening news? If the evening news is setting your mood, turn it off, and get into the Good News of Jesus. Let the Word of God set your mood.

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

If you want faith, if you want to have a spirit that is filled with deep trust in God, you need to get into the courage fountain. You need to drink deeply from God’s Word. You say, but when I watch the news and see all the bad things happening in this world – the pandemic, the riots, the hurricanes – it seems like things are out of control, aren’t they? No. This pandemic did not take God by surprise. Though He may not have sent it, He allowed it. Even when things seem to be falling apart, they are really falling into place. In fact, look at Revelation 1:3:

Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.

Now this passage comes from the book of Revelation, the last book of the Bible. The book of Revelation reveals future events. It is a preview of upcoming attractions. And what is neat is that this passage says we will be blessed when we read about these end time events. Why? They remind us that things are not out of control. God is flying this plane to a predetermined course. Do you see how reading the Bible and understanding that God is in control gives you courage?

How can we apply this lesson to have more courage? I want to give you a two options to apply this lesson. First, join a process group. Remember earlier we talked about how God tells Moses that if he wanted courage, he would need to mediate on God’s Word? The Hebrew word translated “meditate” means “to mutter.” It was the practice of the Jews to read Scripture aloud and talk about it to themselves and one another.

Deuteronomy 6:6-9 These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

God wants us to talk about His Word. One of the best ways to do that is to join a process group where people talk about the Bible and Christian principles. I know that some of you are thinking, I don’t want to join a Bible study. I don’t know much of the Bible. But that’s what Bible studies are for, to help you learn! That would be like saying, I don’t want to go to a gym because I’m not in good shape. That’s why you go to a gym, to get in shape. We go to Bible studies not because we know it all, but because wherever we are in our spiritual journey we want to know God more. I want to encourage you to ask the Lord to give you the courage to get involved in a process group. We will have some that meet in-person and over Zoom. They are an amazing way to meditate on God’s Word, and as you do God will give you courage.

The next way to apply this lesson is to get into the Word of God. As you know this is back-to-school time of year. I know that back-to-school may look differently this year. But what if we all hit the book this year, just as we tell our kids to hit the books. What if we made it our goal to immerse ourselves in the Word of God and ask Him to give us His courage.

Now one of the things that is coming up this year is the election. I want to encourage you to be an informed voter and remember your vote counts. You say, but Steve, how do I vote? I would never tell you who to vote for. But here is what I would encourage you to do. Look through the issues and ask, which candidate is standing with God’s Word most closely. Vote for the candidate who is, in your judgement, standing with God’s Word. In other words, make God’s Word your compass as you vote and ask for His guidance on who to vote for.

Now let me speak for a moment to those of you are not familiar with the Bible and have no idea of what to do when it comes to getting into the Word of God. Let me give you a detailed plan: “21 Days to Courage.”

  1. Make a 21 day check list and make a commitment to get into the word of God for the next 21 days. It takes about 21 days to make a new habit and put this check list next to your bed to keep yourself accountable.
  2. Get the Life Application Bible/ NIV or NLT.
    1. What’s neat about this Bible is that it has notes to help you understand what you’re reading.
    1. At the back is a Bible reading plan. Follow it. As you read it, at the bottom are notes to help you understand it and apply to your life.
  3. When you read your Bible passage for the day, listen for God to speak to you heart. When He does, S.O.A.P. it.
    1. Scripture – What is the Scripture God spoke to my heart through?
    1. Observation – What stood out to me in this passage?
    1. Application – How can I apply this to my life?
    1. Prayer – Turn the passage into a prayer.

Are you like the cowardly lion today in need of courage? God tells us to be strong and courageous. How do we do that in such a scary time? Well, keep this in mind: Joshua was Moses’ assistant for many years. How did he learn to lead? He walked with Moses and learned from Moses’ example.

Think about this: God wants to be your Moses. He wants you to walk with Him and He has given you this book to mentor you through life. We are living in a scary time. We don’t know what the future holds, but God does, and He promises to walk with us and guide us as we lean on Him and make His word our compass. If we do that we don’t have anything to fear.

So may you be strong and courageous. May you remember that as God was with Moses and Joshua, He is with you and will never leave you nor forsake you. May you be strong and courageous by meditating on God’s word day and night. And may God move you from being like the cowardly lion to a courageous one in Him.

Is Your House Divided? Sermon Transcript, August 23, 2020

Did you know there’s a competition called The World’s Strongest Man? These giant men get together and do all these strength feats to see who is the strongest. They perform feats like:

  • The atlas stones: five heavy round stones increasing in weight in the range of 220–350 pounds (100–159 kg) are lifted and set on platforms
  • Vehicle pulls: they literally pull huge vehicles like semitrucks
  • Hercules Hold: the athlete stands between two hinged pillars, gripping handles that prevent the pillars from falling to the side. The pillars are held for the longest possible time
  • Traditional strength competitions like the dead life or squat

Now think about how physically strong these men are. For example, this is a picture of Hafthor Bjornsson.

He is about 6’9 and last May he deadlifted 1,105 lbs. It is the new world record.

Another strongman is a guy named Brian Shaw who’s about 6’8, and he has won The World’s Strongest Man competition about four times. He is a giant of a man.

So I want you to get the image of guys like Hafthor Buryson and Brian Shaw getting together and have a competition to see who is the strongest. It is the battle of strength.

When I think of that contest between those men to see who is the strongest, I think about a contest going on in the spirit world.  How forces of evil and forces of light are at battle with one another. Are you aware that according to the Bible, there is more than the material world? There is a spiritual world. And in this world, forces of good and forces of evil are battling.

Now this should not surprise us because we see this theme all the time on TV and in the movies. I once read that the primary theme of movies is good versus evil. Think about all the show and movies where the theme is good vs. evil, such as: 

  • Lucifer
  • Supernatural
  • Avatar
  • Avengers
  • Star wars

Why are there so many movies with good versus evil as the theme? Is it possible that we as humans are drawn to those movies because instinctively we know the give us a glimpse into true reality? With that in mind, today I want to examine how this spiritual warfare affects unity and how spiritual warfare leads to disunity. To do that we are going to dive into a text in the book of Luke.

Luke 11:14-28

Jesus was driving out a demon that was mute. When the demon left, the man who had been mute spoke, and the crowd was amazed. But some of them said, “By Beelzebul, the prince of demons, he is driving out demons.” Others tested Him by asking for a sign from heaven.

Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them: “Any kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and a house divided against itself will fall. If Satan is divided against himself, how can his kingdom stand? I say this because you claim that I drive out demons by Beelzebul. Now if I drive out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your followers drive them out? So then, they will be your judges. But if I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.

“When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own house, his possessions are safe. But when someone stronger attacks and overpowers him, he takes away the armor in which the man trusted and divides up his plunder.

“Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.

“When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first.”

As Jesus was saying these things, a woman in the crowd called out, “Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.”

He replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the Word of God and obey it.”

In this passage, we are brought face to face with the reality of spiritual warfare. Notice how it talks about demons and evil spirits. Now this is not the only time it talks about these things in Luke. It’s a pattern. In fact, in the book of Luke the words “demon” and “demons” occur sixteen times. So according to the gospel of Luke, true reality involves the presence of the devil and demons in our world. Does your worldview match the Word? Does your lens of reality include the supernatural? Or are you living as if the material realm is all there is? 

As followers of Jesus, we desire to be like Jesus and see things the way he does. Jesus saw true reality this way – this world is a battleground between forces of evil and forces of light.

 When it comes to the devil and demons, I think we can go to two extremes. The one extreme is where there’s a devil under every rock and behind every corner. The other extreme is where we act like there is no such thing as the devil. The balance is to have a healthy respect for Satan, to know his tools, but to put your focus on God, because even though Satan is strong, God is much stronger. In fact, Satan is like a firecracker, Jesus is like an atomic bomb X infinity, when we compare strength. Does your view of reality include this concept of spiritual warfare? That there is a battle going on in the invisible realm?

I think a good example of the demonic is germs. We can see germs with our unaided eyes, yet they’re real and can make you sick. In a similar way, there are evil beings in our world and they can have an influence on our life.

Ephesians 6:10-12

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

Note carefully that as followers of Jesus, we are in a battle with rulers, authorities, powers of the dark world, and against spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

Let’s jump back to our passage. In our passage today there is a contest between a strong man (Satan) and a stronger man (Jesus). The imagery here is warfare. It’s the image of two men battling over a castle estate. Notice how it says that the strong man (Satan) is armed. Verse 21 says, “When a strong man, fully armed…” This refers to the tools of Satan, his tricks and methods for influencing us. Let’s take a moment and think about three tools that Satan uses to attack us.

Tool 1: Lies

Satan is a liar. I am convinced that his number one tool against us is deception. His power is in the lie. If he can get us to believe a lie, he has us.

John 8:44

You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.

One of the most important spiritual truths I have learned in my life is that Satan can put thoughts in my mind and make me think they are mine. Satan plants seeds of deception in our minds, and if we believe them, we are sunk.

  • God doesn’t love you. He can’t be trusted.
  • You need to earn God’s love.
  •  You don’t have any gifts. Others have gifts but you don’t
  • You are a mistake. You are worthless.
  • Your life isn’t worth living, why don’t you end it.

Matthew 16:23

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.”

Is Jesus calling Peter Satan? No. He is calling out the source of peters thoughts: Satan. When a thought comes into your mind, you need to filter it. Ask, is this true? Does this align with God’s Truth?

Why? I am convinced that Satan can slip thoughts into our mind and if he can get us to believe them, he has us. We need to take our thoughts captive and make sure they align with the Truth of God’s Word.

2 Corinthians 10:5

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 we need to take every thought captive. Why? They may be enemy thoughts. Has Satan deceived you? Are you caught in the cobweb of his lies?

Tool 2: Accusations

In our text today Jesus does a miracle. Some of the people accuse Him of doing the miracle in the power of Satan. This reminds me of one of the tools of the devil: accusation. In fact, one of the things Satan is called in the Bible is, “the accuser of the brethren.”

Revelation 12:10

Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: “Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Messiah. For the accuser of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down.

Did you see that? Satan accuses us day and night before God. Are you listening to his accusations, or are you listening to God’s truth?

Tool 3: Division

We have been in this series on unity now for quite a while, and as we come to the end of it, I want you to realize that when there is division in your family, or division in your relationships, Satan is usually behind it. One of his favorite tools is division. In fact, notice how in this passage Jesus talks about a house that is divided. Question: Is your house divided? Has your house ever been divided? If so, I want you to pause and ask the question, what is really going on here? If God could give you insight into what is happening in the spiritual realm, you would see the presence of demons, stirring up things.

(Let me give you one of my favorite illustrations of how Satan caused division. Person A and Person B are talking. Person C is behind person A and hits him. Person B thinks it is person A and they start to argue.)

When you find division in your relationships, I want you to remember that the other person is not the enemy. Your enemy is the devil, and he loves to get us to think the other person is the enemy when he is the true enemy.

So let me ask you  question: Does your view of reality include this spiritual warfare reality?

In fact, notice that in our text, we see a strong man guarding the castle and his goods. The strong man again is Satan. And yes, the Bible calls him the god of this world. He has a lot of influence in our world system. But notice how a stronger man, Jesus, invaded Satan’s territory, destroyed his armor and weapons, and claimed his goods.

And this reminds us that as Christians were to be on the offensive. Sometimes as Christians we can have a separated from the world mindset. We can hunker down into our Christian enclaves, our Christian bubbles. But just as Jesus was on the offensive, I think we need to be as well. We need to not try and isolate ourselves from the dark world, but rather go into it and be a light.

John 17:18

As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.

Note carefully that God the Father sent Jesus in the world to be a light, and now Jesus is sending his disciples into the world to be a light. I think about our vision of seeing Jesus the talk of the town. How is that going to happen?

Imagine if every Sunday when you left church, you have the attitude of God is sending me into my neighborhood, my workplace, my family to be a light for Him. Imagine if when you drove out of our parking lot, you had the attitude of: I am now entering my mission field.

Let’s review. True reality, according to Jesus, is that earth is a battle ground between forces of evil and forces of light. And Satan is strong, but Jesus is much, much stronger.

So how do we apply this lesson? What differences can this lesson make in our life? I want to encourage you to memorize and apply this quote: EM Bounds said, “Prayer is not preparation for the battle, it is the battle.” How do we overcome the power of evil? How do obtain victory in our spiritual life? How do we keep on keeping on when we are in the midst of a satanic attack? We move forward on our knees. Through prayer we obtain God’s power to overcome the enemy. Our power as human beings is no match for Satan’s power. He is much too clever and deceptive for us. However, when we pray, we put our hand in the hand of God, and Satan’s power is no match for God’s power.

Matthew 12:28

But if it is by the Spirit of God that I drive out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.

Note carefully that the spirit of God will drive out demons. Do you see that? In other words, in this spiritual battle we need to use spiritual weapons and one of the most important spiritual weapons is prayer.

I remember reading a story about a person who came out of the Satanic church. Someone asked him what the Christian’s greatest tool is to overcome evil. What can a Christian do that has the biggest impact on Satan and his church? And this man guy said: prayer.

Prayer is not preparation for the battle; it is the battle!

Let me give you an amazing illustration of this. I read that 99% of couples who pray together stay together. Now why would prayer be so important in marriage? Because the devil likes to divide marriages. He loves to make the husband think his wife is the enemy, and he loves to make the wife think the husband is the enemy. But when couples pray, they obtain the power of God, and God reminds them that they are on the same team, and the devil is the enemy, not their spouse. Prayer is not preparation for the battle; it is the battle.

Some of you are asking, how do I pray? Remember that prayer is not complicated. It’s simply talking to God. When you talk to God, here are 4 things you can talk to Him about: wow, sorry, thank you, please.

  1. WOW

When you begin your conversation, start by focusing on what is Good about God. Praise Him. Focus on how big He is.

Psalms 34:1

I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth.

  1. Sorry

The next thing to talk to God about is your sins. Ask Him to examine your heart, and see if you have fallen short of His glory. Why is this important? If you are a Christian and there is unconfessed sin in your life, that can break your fellowship with God. It can put a wedge in your relationship. I’m not saying that it causes you to not have a relationship, but it damages it. And once we confess our sin and repent of it, our fellowship with God is restored.

Psalm 66:18

If I had cherished sin in my heart, the LORD would not have listened.

Do you see how unconfessed sin in our heart can affect our communication and fellowship with God?

  1. Thank you

Another thing to talk to God about is what you are grateful for. In other words, have an attitude of gratitude. Talk to God what you are thankful for.

1 Thessalonians 5:18

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

Note carefully that it’s not God’s will for you to be thankful for all things, but in all things. Count your blessings.

One of the things that I have on my nightstand next to my bed is a gratitude list. Every night before I go to sleep I try and write five things I am grateful for in that day. Why? I want to develop a thankful heart.

  1. Please

Now we talk to God about our needs. We bring before the Lord our problems and struggles and we ask for His help and guidance. We cast our burdens on the Lord because He cares for us.

One tip I would give you is when you have a prayer request, link it with a promise of God. Let’s say you are struggling financially. So you say, Lord, please provide for my finances. You said in Philippians 4:19 and my God shall supply all my needs according to His riches in glory.

Now think about our vision as a church. We want to see Jesus the talk of the town. Our vision is not so much what happens in this building, but what happens in our community and around the world. What if we started to regularly pray for our neighbors? What if when we went for walks, we prayed for the houses we walked by? What if when we dropped our kids off at school, we prayed for revival in our schools? What if when we went to work, we prayed for our coworkers? What if through prayer, we were to see Jesus the talk of the town.

Earlier I talked to you about the World’s Strongest Man competition. I talked to you about guys like Hafthor Bjornsson and Brian Shaw competing to see who is stronger. In our text today, we see a competition between a strong man (Satan) and a much stronger man (Jesus). It reminds us that we live on a battle ground where forces of darkness are battling forces of light. The forces of darkness are armed with three tools:

  • Lies
  • Accusations
  • Division

Satan loves to divide families and church families. Let’s not let him do that. Let’s overcome him in the strength of Jesus Christ by prayer because prayer is not preparation for the battle; it is the battle!