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So far Ryan Paulson has created 364 blog entries.

Imaginative Exercise | Exodus 34:6-7

The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” Exodus 34:6-7

Have you noticed there are certain times when the term LORD is in all caps in your Bible? Read through Exodus 34:6-7 again. “The LORD, the LORD” – it’s capitalized two times in a row. Why would the Bible do that? Sometimes when we write an angry email, we put it in all caps just to let the reader know we’re angry. Is that what’s going on in these cases? Is God angry?

No, it’s actually something far more significant and beautiful. When we read the word Lord, we view it as a title. The “Lord of the Manor” was someone who had control over the house. But when the scriptures capitalize LORD, they want us to know they are NOT referring to a title. The scholars who worked on the translation want us to know that they’re translating the word ‘Yahweh,’ which isn’t a title; it’s a name.

Which begs the question, why does God need a name? Isn’t ‘God’ good enough? There are a few reasons God needs a name. First, he’s personal. I don’t refer to my wife as “wife,” I call her “Kelly.” We have a relationship and calling her by her title just doesn’t quite feel right – it lacks intimacy and is impersonal. Secondly, in ancient times, the term ‘god’ (Elohim), was a generic term because there were innumerable Elohim. That’s why when God sends Moses to Pharaoh, he says, “Who should I say sent me?” Notice God doesn’t reply, “Tell him God (Elohim) sent you.” Why? Because Pharaoh’s follow up question would have been, “Which god?” So God says, “Tell him I AM (Yahweh) sent you.” God needs a name because there were other spiritual beings who also used the title ‘god.’

When Yahweh appeared to Moses and told him his name in Exodus 34:6-7, he goes one step further; he tells him what he is like. Yahweh gives Moses a brief but complete picture of his character. Yahweh is merciful and gracious, he’s loving and faithful, he’s forgiving and just. A God who was compassionate and slow to anger was a unique vision of God in the ancient world. The gods of Egypt were to be appeased, feared, and kept at an arm’s length. The best thing most ancient people could hope for from the gods was that they’d leave them alone. Yahweh was telling Moses that he was completely different – in the best of possible ways.

When Jesus steps onto the scene, he completely embodies everything Yahweh told Moses was true about his nature. Read through this passage again and meditate on the character traits again today. Try to get a picture of that God in your mind. Are there any ways that view of God conflicts with the picture of God in your mind?

As a side note, if you’re looking for a book on this subject, God Has a Name by John Mark Comer is excellent!

By Ryan Paulson

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Imaginative Exercise | Exodus 34:6-72019-07-22T16:35:18-06:00

Pray Scripture | Psalm 107:23-32

Some went out on the sea in ships;
they were merchants on the mighty waters.
They saw the works of the Lord,
his wonderful deeds in the deep.
For he spoke and stirred up a tempest
that lifted high the waves.
They mounted up to the heavens and went down to the depths;
in their peril their courage melted away.
They reeled and staggered like drunkards;
they were at their wits’ end.
Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble,
and he brought them out of their distress.
He stilled the storm to a whisper;
the waves of the sea were hushed.
They were glad when it grew calm,
and he guided them to their desired haven.
Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love
and his wonderful deeds for mankind.
Let them exalt him in the assembly of the people
and praise him in the council of the elders.

Psalm 107:23-32

In Jonah 2, Jonah modeled an ancient form of prayer. The Jewish people viewed and used the Psalms as a prayer book. They would pull from the language and experiences of those who had gone before them to give voice to their life with God. The psalms are helpful because as Eugene Peterson says, “every human emotion is expressed in the psalms.”

Yesterday we pulled from a few different Psalms to form a prayer. You can also use the Psalms as a jumping off place for your own prayer, letting them shape the themes of your prayer.

Let’s practice it together using Psalm 107:23-32. I’ll give you my words in between sections to model the methodology.

23 Some went out on the sea in ships;
they were merchants on the mighty waters.
24 They saw the works of the Lord,
his wonderful deeds in the deep.

Jesus, I know that the original readers viewed the sea as a place of chaos – a place of deep fear and uncertainty. They saw you work in that place. I’ve seen you work there too. Jesus help me remember a time when you came through for me amidst uncertainty.

25 For he spoke and stirred up a tempest
that lifted high the waves.
26 They mounted up to the heavens and went down to the depths;
in their peril their courage melted away.
27 They reeled and staggered like drunkards;
they were at their wits’ end.
28 Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble,
and he brought them out of their distress.

Jesus, I see that it was the moment of fear and chaos that caused the people to call out to you. I’m not sure that’s often what we need. Jesus, even if there’s nothing catastrophic going on in my life today, help me see and surrender to you. If there are places in my life that I’m spiritual apathetic, help me see them. I want to wake up. I want to be changed.

29 He stilled the storm to a whisper;
the waves of the sea were hushed.
30 They were glad when it grew calm,
and he guided them to their desired haven.
31 Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love
and his wonderful deeds for mankind.
32 Let them exalt him in the assembly of the people
and praise him in the council of the elders.

Jesus, you have stilled some of the storms in my life. Even though there are still some storms that rage, I don’t want to lose sight of your past faithfulness. Thank you for your unfailing love. Thank you for your redemption. Thank you for your guidance.[Take some time to praise God.]

That’s the idea behind using a Psalm as a platform for prayer. As you consider diversifying your prayer life, maybe this could be a practice you incorporate into your spiritual rhythms on a more regular basis.

By Ryan Paulson

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Pray Scripture | Psalm 107:23-322019-07-22T16:35:20-06:00

Solitude | Genesis 12

Now the Lordsaid to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Genesis 12:1-3

There is something at your core, one thing that is most important to you. However, it can be hard to identify it. We often only see it when we think we’re losing it. It’s only when our pride is compromised that we see our longing for approval. It’s only when we lose big that we see our need for success. It’s only when the bank account is drained that we see our desire for security. The storm has a way of excavating what’s underneath all the fluff and words, exposing what’s really at our core.

The storm unearthed Jonah’s identity. Notice the sailors ask Jonah four questions: “What kind of work do you do? Where do you come from? What is your country? From what people are you?” However, Jonah only gives them one answer: “I am a Hebrew and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” I’m a Hebrew. That’s the most important thing to Jonah. He also adds that he worships Yahweh, but only as a subset of his ethnic identity.

You have to wonder why Jonah has a careless attitude toward the storm. The sailors struggle and sacrifice, trying to lightened the boat and get to dry land, but Jonah sleeps soundly. Jonah doesn’t care if he loses his life and he doesn’t care if the sailors lose theirs. Could it be that he views them just like the Ninevites? Could it be that they aren’t like him? We’re not sure, but this scene of Jonah is a rebuke of Jonah for not caring about the whole ship, about the sailors, about God’s creation.

As a Hebrew, Jonah had a clear calling. It was found in his own scriptures in Genesis 12:2-3,

2 “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you;
I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.
3 I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

Jonah was blessed and chosen by God that he might be a blessing to all the peoples on the earth. All the peoples – including the Ninevites and the sailors. Somehow his allegiance to the Hebrew people trumped his calling as a Hebrew.

As followers of Jesus, we are called into this line of blessers. We are called to be for all of humanity; that’s at the core of our identity as Jesus followers. We are Christians before we are Americans or Africans. We are Christians before we are Republicans or Democrats. We are Christians before we are Presbyterians or Baptists. We are Christians first and primarily; everything else is a distant second. Jonah gets that order wrong and it shapes the way he views himself and all the people around him.

Spend some time alone in quiet today. If you consider yourself to be a Christ follower, is that at the core of your identity? If something else is there, repent. Ask Jesus to be your Lord and (re)pledge your allegiance to him.

By Ryan Paulson

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Solitude | Genesis 122019-07-22T16:35:21-06:00

Lectio Divina | Jonah 1:1-3

The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.”

But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord. Jonah 1:1-3

Lectio Divina is a Latin phrase that means “Divine Reading.” It’s a methodology for reading scripture developed by St. Benedict designed to help the reader hear from Jesus through the scriptures. Lectio isn’t about studying the scriptures as much as it’s about learning to listen to the scriptures and to be attentive to the overtures of the Spirit as one reads.

Before you being reading, take a moment to stop and still yourself before God. Pay attention to the thoughts swirling in your head. Bring them before the Lord and lay them at his feet. Try to be attentive to his presence with you. Ask God to give you an openness to hear from the Spirit. Take as long as you need.

Read the passage slowly, allowing the words to resonate and settle in your heart. Enter into the scene in your imagination remembering it is a God-given gift. Envision the scene. Carefully watch the people. Listen to how they interact.

The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: 2 “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.”
3 But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord.

Question: As you picture the scene in your mind, what is something that stands out to you?

Read the passage slowly a second time. This time, also listen with the ear of your heart for a word, phrase, or detail of the story that rises to the surface or stands out to you. Let the Spirit bring it to you.

The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: 2 “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.”
3 But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord.

Question: What word or phrase stands out to you? Why do you sense this word or phrase is standing out?

Read the same passage slowly one final time.

The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: 2 “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.”
3 But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord.

Question: What do you sense Jesus’ invitation to you might be through this passage? Is there something you sense Jesus calling you to do in response to what he said to you through this passage?

By Ryan Paulson

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Lectio Divina | Jonah 1:1-32019-07-22T16:35:22-06:00

Trust Your Heart (Redefine Trust) | Philippians 2:12-13

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Philippians 2:12-13

In an interview conducted by Walter Isaacson, Woody Allen famously quipped “the heart wants what the heart wants.“ It’s a famous saying that is often repeated, but very rarely do people understand what Allen was referring to. Allen was discussing his romance and love affair with his adopted daughter Soon-Yi Previn. In Allen’s case, what the heart wanted was something that many would argue was horribly inappropriate and completely wrong. This is one situation that highlights the potential danger of following your heart.

Should we follow our heart? That’s a complex question. The answer is: it depends. It depends on your heart. The prophets were clear that the promise of the New Covenant was a new heart. A heart that wanted to follow God; having the law written on it and the Spirit dwelling in it (Ezekiel 36:26-27). The early followers of Jesus never imagined that this new heart would mean we wouldn’t struggle with sin. In fact, it was this new heart that would help us engage the battle. The Apostle Paul wrote, “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.” (Gal. 5:17) The new heart and the power of the Spirit allow us to fight the battle of life and faith victoriously.

Over the past two days we’ve walked through a way to approach discerning the internal rhythms of our heart through testing the heart and training the heart. When our heart has been made new through the Spirit and we have tested and trained it, we can trust our heart. The reality is we are heart-driven affectionate-guided people – whether we want to be or not. We always make decisions in line with what we want. Jesus didn’t come to eliminate desires, he came to transform them. As a follower of Jesus, trust the Spirit is at work in you. Surrender your wants and desires to his leading and his work, and then follow your heart. When it comes to making decisions, our heart and surrendered affections may be one of our greatest guiding lights.

Spend some time today thinking about what you really want. Peel the layers back and dig as deep as you can. What do you find? Is it in line with the kingdom of God?

By Ryan Paulson

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Trust Your Heart (Redefine Trust) | Philippians 2:12-132019-07-22T16:35:24-06:00

Go Til You Get A No | Acts 16:6-10

And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. Acts 16:6-7

In 2013, Google bought Waze for $966,000,000. Waze is an app that works on smartphones and tells you the quickest driving routes to get where you’re going. The price was so high because there is a huge market for helping people avoid traffic and detours. As human beings we hate being delayed, we despise setbacks, and we want smooth sailing. So, it makes sense that an app that can help us avoid roadblocks is extremely popular.

I wonder if the Apostle Paul wished he had Waze. Two times he gets to a place where he can go no further. The scriptures say that he was “forbidden from going to speak the word in Asia” and that they attempted to go to Bithynia, but “the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them.” Those two detours cost Paul many miles of walking and more time on the road. Do you think Paul was frustrated? Do you think he was confused? He had a plan and it was falling apart beneath him.

Paul was an Apostle and he was unsure of God’s plan. I love that because I think his experience is one many of us can relate to. How many of us have come to the end of the road and been unsure of our next step? However, there’s something more going on in this passage that we shouldn’t miss. Hitting the roadblock was the way God directed. Paul didn’t wait too leave until he heard the whole plan from God; he started to move and trusted God would direct and redirect as necessary. I think Paul’s philosophy could be summarized: Go until you get a no.

You don’t need to wait to move until you know God’s full plan. You will probably never fully know his will, but it will be revealed as you walk with him. Assuming you don’t know his full plan, what’s one step in the direction of love that you can take today? Take it.

By Ryan Paulson

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Go Til You Get A No | Acts 16:6-102019-07-22T16:35:26-06:00

Canaanites | Matthew 15:21-23

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21 Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. 22 A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.” 23 Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.” Matthew 15:21-23

To say the Canaanites were Israel’s enemy is  an understatement. They occupied the Promised Land, the same land God told Abraham would be his. They literally stood in the way of the promise God has made. However, the Canaanites didn’t just stand in the way of the promise, they stood in stark contrast to the way of Yahweh. They were a people who didn’t appreciate justice, had no interest in walking humbly, and scoffed at the thought of seeking God.

When we understand how hated the Canaanites were, the disciples’ expectations of Jesus begin to make more sense. A Canaanite woman had approached Jesus and asked him to heal her daughter. The disciples responded, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.” (Matthew 15:23) Sure, that makes perfect sense. She’s not a part of their tribe. She’s part of the competition to God’s plan. She’s on the outside.

Jesus’ response shows that the disciples missed an important component of being his follower. They missed that the tired ‘us versus them’ categories were being done away with. The Israelites under Moses had those categories, but the disciples were being called into an older and greater promise. In Genesis 12:2-3, God made a promise to Abraham:

2 “I will make you into a great nation,

   and I will bless you;

I will make your name great,

   and you will be a blessing.

3 I will bless those who bless you,

   and whoever curses you I will curse;

and all peoples on earth

   will be blessed through you.”

“All the peoples on the earth will be blessed through you…” even the Canaanites. Even this woman. The Canaanites who were distinct enemies of God’s people were also part of God’s mission and they were being called into God’s kingdom. The disciples wanted to send the enemy away, but Jesus envelops the enemy in his love.

The cultural context and the language used makes it hard for us to see, but this passage is actually about Jesus breaking down barriers and extending love to people the disciples wish he’d walk past. What group of people do you wish Jesus would send away? What group do you wish was quieter and less influential? Picture them in your mind – and now picture Jesus welcoming them and now picture Jesus welcoming them, listening to them, and granting their requests.

By Ryan Paulson

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Canaanites | Matthew 15:21-232019-07-22T16:35:27-06:00

Mission Critical | Acts 15:1-5

But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question. So, being sent on their way by the church, they passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, describing in detail the conversion of the Gentiles, and brought great joy to all the brothers. When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they declared all that God had done with them. But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses.” Acts 15:1-5

Have you ever stopped to think about how many decisions you make on a daily basis? A study concluded we make somewhere around 35,000 decisions every single day. That makes roughly 2,000 decisions per hour (that you’re awake) or one decision every two seconds. Decisions really do make up the fabric of our lives. As Haddon Robinson said, “We want to make right decisions, for we realize that the decisions we make turn around and make us. As we choose one end of the road we choose the other.”

However, not all decisions are created equal. There are some decisions that carry more weightiness than others. We don’t typically pray about what shirt we’re going to wear, but we do pray about things we deem more important – like how to navigate a difficult relationship, which job to pursue, or which apartment to rent. When it comes to life-altering decisions, what grid should we use? The scriptures don’t give us a checklist, but they do give us a series of stories and real life experiences that can serve as a framework for us to use.

Acts 15 recounts arguably the most important decision the church has ever made. It’s the story of the Jerusalem Council where church leaders decided Jesus followers were not bound to the Mosaic Covenant. Throughout this narrative, there is a decision making grid that is espoused.

  1. See the trajectory: does the decision I’m considering align with the way I see God working in my life and in his world? Every decision we make is the next chapter of our story, not a new story.
  2. Compare for consistency: does the decision I’m considering honor the commands given in the scriptures and the life Jesus called us to live? If it’s contradictory to God’s commands under the New Covenant, it’s not God’s will.
  3. Seek out collective wisdom: what do people I respect think about the decision I’m considering? Have I sought out godly advice?
  4. Ask God: in Acts 15:28 it says, “it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us…” As the church leaders did the previous three steps, they were praying and asking God to confirm the direction – and he did! There was no clear word from heaven, but there was a clear leading from the Spirit.  

Following the steps outlined in Acts 15 doesn’t guarantee we’ll always find God’s will, but they are tools for seeking God’s direction in a way that has worked for people of God in the past. So, what decisions are you facing? Choose one big decision and lay it over the grid presented; ask Jesus what he might want to say to you.


By Ryan Paulson

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Mission Critical | Acts 15:1-52019-07-22T16:35:27-06:00

LIFE IS A MAZE(ing) | Guidelines and Guardrails | Ephesians 5:1-21 | Week 2

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LIFE IS A MAZE(ing): Guidelines and Guardrails   Ephesians 5:15-21

Last week we started a series we’re calling “Life is A Maze….ing.”  We’re talking about discovering God’s will.  It’s these questions we all have —- What job should I take?  What city should I live in?  What relationship should I pursue?  We all have these questions, don’t we?  God, what do you want me to do with my life?  If you’re God, and I believe that you are, and you have a plan, and I believe that you do, how do I align myself with it?  We spend a lot of time, and we might lose a lot of sleep asking that question?  At times it can be laborious and at times it can be a little bit annoying to go God, I just don’t know.  That feeling of ‘I don’t know’ is also the very feeling that makes us feel like we’re alive.  If we did away with that, if we knew exactly what to do at every moment and time and we were just robots being controlled, life wouldn’t be nearly as amazing as it is.  The reality is that God has given us choice.  He’s given us freedom.  If you came last week, that’s why you’re back today, because you believe that your choices matter.  You have the ability to choose between a myriad of different options and what you do with your life.  If you didn’t believe that, you wouldn’t be here today.  If I didn’t believe that, I wouldn’t be giving this sermon!

We’ll talk about this each week because we want to give a little bit of framework.  Last week, we said that if you were to read through the Scriptures, you’re going to find three different types of wills of God.  You can’t go through a single passage and find these, you need to sort of dig and mine a little bit.  Let me give you the first one:  It’s God’s sovereign will.  That’s the ‘thus saith the Lord,’ this is going to happen.  God is in heaven and he does whatever pleases him, the psalmist says.  But that’s different than saying ‘everything that happens is God’s will’ or ‘that God wills everything that happens.’  Within his sovereign will, God says to some things, I’m going to give you freedom.  You’re going to have to use your brain.  It’s not a decoration.  It’s not a hood ornament for your life.  You should actually use it.  We’re going to talk about that today.  Within God’s sovereign will there’s a lot of freedom.  We said last week:  God gets everything he wills, but he doesn’t get everything he wants.  There are some moments that God says to us, I’ve given you free choice and you’ve chosen to go one direction, but I wish you would have done something else.

The second type of will of God is his moral will, or this is the way that you should live.  These things are wise.  We’re going to talk about that today.  The third will of God is the individual will.  Most of the time when we ask God, what’s your will for my life? we’re talking about his individual will.  Where should I move?  What job should I take?  When should we retire?  What relationship should I pursue?  Should I say yes or no to this proposal?  What should I do, God?  That’s his individual will.  This morning, I want to talk about the way that his moral will and individual will for our lives converge.  I want to do so and talk about two things:  first, your calendar and second, your soul.  Those two things are actually way more connected than we often think they are.

It’s interesting, if you were to read through the gospels—and I’d encourage you to do that sometime this year—and made a note of everywhere Jesus asks a question and you were to write those questions down, here’s what you would find.  Jesus asked, roughly, 300 questions that were recorded in the gospels.  That’s a lot of questions.  The first phrases of Jesus ever recorded are a question.  The last phrase of Jesus, on the cross, is a question.  Three hundred times.  What’s also interesting is that Jesus was asked 180 questions in the gospels. Now, that wouldn’t have been uncommon for a rabbi to be asked questions.  Rabbi, what should we do?  Which direction should we go?  How should we live?  Some of the questions Jesus asked people were…..Why do you call me good?  What are you so afraid of?  What do you want me to do for you?  If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?  Do you want to get well?  What do the Scriptures say?  How do you read it?  Do you love me?  He asked 300 questions!  It feels like my dinner table sometimes!  Jesus was embracing his inner-childlike faith…..lots of questions.  He was asked 180 questions and some of them were real important questions…..What must I do to inherit eternal life?  Of the 180 questions that Jesus was asked—as best as I could read it and way smarter people than me read it—he answered….    Try to guess how many of them he answered directly.  FIVE!  180 questions asked , five directly answered.

I’m just going to throw it out there—if we are expecting that Jesus would interact with us differently than he interacted with people as he walked this earth, maybe we’re off.  Let me put it a different way—when we ask God a question, maybe in response we should expect a question rather than an answer.  That reframes the question about God’s will pretty significantly, doesn’t it?  We start expecting that God would ask us a question that would help lead us…   Jesus didn’t ask just haphazard questions, he asked questions that helped lead and guide people to wisdom.  He helped them discover the answer.  When someone asks you a question, you’re on the playing field of life, aren’t you?  If they tell you the answer, you can be a passive spectator.  But when you’re asked a question, things change, don’t they?  That’s why the best rabbis, the best teachers, they led people to conclusions that somewhere deep down inside they already knew, they just needed a little help uncovering.

What if….what if….what if….I’m just going to throw it out there….what if we started to expect that Jesus would ask us questions rather than give us answers?  What if our interaction with God about what his will is today aligned way more with the way that he teased out his will in Scripture?  Instead of what we wish he would do.  Let me give you one example.  This one fascinated me as I stumbled across it again this week.  Saul of Tarsus is persecuting the living daylights out of the church.  God meets him in a bright light on the road to Damascus.  Listen to what Jesus says to Saul (Acts 9:4-6) — Saul, Saul, stop persecuting me!   {Wait, that’s not what he says, is it?  He asks him a question.}  Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?    Maybe there’s a dialogue that happened, I don’t know.  Eventually he gives a command….Go into town, you’re going to find a guy….   But notice, God doesn’t give him all the information right there.  He just gives him one more step.  But that step begins with a question.  Maybe we should start to expect that God would interact with us the same way that Jesus did with the apostles, the disciples, that God did with the Apostle Paul on the road to Damascus.  What if we started to believe that God was way more interested in leading us towards wisdom than giving us answers?  It would change our discussion about God’s will, would it not?  I’m going to argue today that it would align us far more with what we find in the Scriptures than some of the magical incantations that we sort of long for when we enter into this discussion about God’s will.

So, Ephesians 5:15-17.  We’re going to look at and dissect a text of Scripture where the Apostle Paul—the same Paul that got asked a question that eventually introduced him to Jesus—is going to lead this church in a pursuit of finding themselves in God’s will.  Look carefully then how you walk {or how you live}, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.  Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.    Notice what Paul does….he directly connects wisdom with the will of God.  Don’t be unwise….he’ll use two different terms, foolish, but no, no, no, align yourself with the way of wisdom, because that’s what God’s will is.  God’s will is wisdom.  Or maybe we can say it like this, this morning:  God’s will is grounded in God’s wisdom.  I don’t think you actually need the qualifier ‘God’ in front of wisdom.  I think you can just say God’s will is wisdom.  Because all wisdom is God’s wisdom.  Because wisdom is simply alignment with reality.  That’s what it is.  Maybe best summarized by the famous theologian Dwight Schrute (character from The Office) — “Whenever I’m about to do something, I think: ‘Would an idiot do that?’ And if they would, I do not do that thing.”   Wisdom in a nutshell is not doing what an idiot would do.  That’s what Paul just said, let’s close in prayer.

What is wisdom?  Wisdom is concerned with reality.  Wisdom is concerned with the way that the world actually works.  Wisdom notices the difference between things.  Wisdom is the ability to take a project to the finish line.  Wisdom is practical, it’s pragmatic.  Wisdom is able to observe cause and effect—when this happens, that also happens.  The Proverbs are filled with all sorts of pithy wisdom insights.  Here’s a few from the Proverbs:  When you’re lazy, you’ll be lacking in money.  A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.  If you wake your neighbors up early, you’re going to have no friends.  These are all pithy bits of wisdom from the Proverbs.  Wisdom is the ability to choose the right path, at the right time, to say the right thing at the right time.  Wisdom is NOT information.  Wisdom is NOT intellect.  Wisdom is boots on the ground, living in the world God has created, in the way that God has wired it to work.  That’s what wisdom is.  Which is why I’ll go back to this incidental point that I think is fairly important—you don’t need ‘God’s’ in front of wisdom.  If it’s just alignment with reality, I’d argue if it’s wisdom, it’s God’s.  Which begs the question: Do we want wisdom?  Do we want wisdom?  Do we want God’s wisdom for our finances?  Do we want God’s wisdom for our sexuality?  Do we want God’s wisdom for our relationships?  Do we want God’s wisdom for the way that we live?  Do we want God’s wisdom if it means “our” wisdom is off?  Do we want it if it grates against some of our desires?  Because at times, it will.

There was a moment in time when wisdom was in vogue.  All of the famous people in the world would write about wisdom.  They’d write about the way that the world works.  These are the names that we still know: the Aristotles, the Platos, the Socrates.  They were trying to unpack wisdom.  They were trying to say this is the way that the world actually works.  I don’t think we live in a day or time where wisdom is as popular.  Desires are popular, but wisdom….I don’t know!

Paul is saying there’s a path, a road, that is wise.  It is the way that the world actually works, and then he says there’s a path that is unwise, it’s foolish, and YOU get to choose which road you walk.  Every moment of every day.

The year was 1857.  There was a man by the name of Alexander Dawson.  He was charged with building a lighthouse on the coast of Australia.  He began looking for site that would be suitable to host his lighthouse.  Unfortunately, Alexander Dawson was way more interested in the ease of building a lighthouse than he was of the functionality of said lighthouse.  He picked a site that was close to a rock quarry.  The only problem with the site was that it was a terrible place for a lighthouse.  Listen to this:  When the Pilots Board went out to verify the location Dawson chose, they found that the site was not visible from the required approaches.  They also found that Dawson’s map suffered from “discrepancies so grave that it would be impossible to decide whether position(s) marked on the map actually existed.”  The board also suspected that he chose the site solely because it was closer to the quarry and he planned to obtain stones from there.  Despite the glaring deficiencies and disagreement by a majority of the board, for reasons not known, the chairman of the board authorized the construction of the lighthouse.  For the next three decades, more than two dozen ships banged into those rocks, right on the coast, and met their Maker at the bottom of the ocean.

This is a picture of anti-wisdom.  Dallas Willard said: “Reality is what you run into when you find out you’re wrong.”  This is anti-wisdom.  It’s all over, you guys.  Let’s do some cultural diagnostics on our situation, some anti-wisdoms of our day and our time.  Like rugged individualism.  This is part of our anti-wisdom, isn’t it?  I can do this on my own.  I’ve got this.  Maybe hedonism is an anti-wisdom of our day.  I’m just going to chase that next thing, that next high, next pleasure.  Materialism—If I get enough, if I get bigger, if I get brighter, shinier, newer, then I’ll be okay.  These are all examples of Dawson’s lighthouse, and there are numerous ships at the bottom of each of those lighthouses.  Some of you may go I’ve got one there.  It didn’t work out.

That’s why what Paul is writing is so important.  What he’s going to do is tease out two really big pieces of wisdom that Jesus calls his followers to walk in.  Let’s look at what they are together.  Here’s what he says (Eph. 5:15-16) — Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.  The word ‘time’ that he uses there is this Greek word kairos.  It means opportunity.  It means seizing the moment.  Imagine Robin Williams standing on a table telling his class ‘carpe diem.’  Seize the day!  Make your lives extraordinary.  Paul’s just echoing the same sentiment.  Wisdom recognizes that there will be opportunities that have a time limitation on them.  Wisdom is able to step into those moments because we’re ready.  We’re ready to seize that day, to step into that moment.  As the psalmist writes in Psalm 90:12 about wisdom — So teach us to number our days {God, help us to recognize that one day we will be no longer here on this earth.}  that we may get a heart of wisdom.  I think Paul would echo back and go yeah, yeah, yeah, and within these days that we do have, God’s going to bring opportunities our way and we have to be ready to step into them or else some of them might pass us by.

What is wisdom?  Well, it’s choosing to seize opportunities and maximize influence.  Or maybe just write this down:  Decide that I’m not going to waste my life!  That’s what Paul’s longing for.  He longs for us to live the kind of life where we don’t look back on it at the end and go I wish I would have, or I think I could have, or I might have.  Bonnie Ware, now a famous Australian nurse, was working in palliative care, which helps to give dignity to people as they’re dying.  She started to ask her patients, what are some of your regrets about your life?  She wrote what is now a famous work where she summarized those things.  The top five regrets people had about there life were:  1) I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.  2) I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.  Dramatic pause.  3) I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.  4) I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.  5) I wish that I had let myself be happier.

What Paul wants to say to this church is listen, if you want to align yourself with God’s will, you’ve got to live in the world as it actually is, not as you wish it were.  That’s wisdom.  Part of wisdom is being ready to step into these moments that have time stamps on them.  They’re not going to last forever.  As I tried to dig through the New Testament and figure out what this actually looked like, there were three things that just jumped off the pages to me.  What does this look like to actually live this kind of life?  First, it means that we prioritize today over tomorrow.  That may sound strange because the Scriptures are not anti-planning, but they are strongly grounded in the present moment.  In fact, it shocked me as I did this study about God’s will, so little of God’s will discussed in the Scriptures is about what’s coming in the future, and so much of it is about how we live right now, TODAY!  I loved Aaron’s song — I’m going to choose to follow you and the rest is going to work itself out.  That’s a New Testament summary on how to live in the will of God.  In fact, the New Testament uses very strong language for people that say well, I’m going to do this in the future.  Listen to James 4:13-17 — Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and makes a profit” —- yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring.  What is your life?  For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.  Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”  As it is, you boast in your arrogance.  All such boasting is evil.  So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.    He’s going let’s talk about God’s will.  Do you know the right thing to do?  Not tomorrow.  Not in a week.  Not in a year.  Right now.  God’s will is now.

I don’t know about you, there’s so many barriers to being present in a moment, aren’t there?  I think the two main ones are the past and the future.  We get caught in the guilt and shame and regret of the past, don’t we?  Or we get caught in the anxiety and fear of the future.  Both of those—that tug of war—has the ability to paralyze us and like U2 said we get stuck in a moment and we can’t get out of it.  That’s why I’m so grateful that at South we have recovery groups and care groups.  Listen to these four groups that are coming up.  If you feel like you’re stuck in a moment and can’t get out of it, Celebrate Recovery meets every Tuesday at 6:30 pm.  Grief Share meets Fridays.  Divorce Care meets Tuesdays.  We have a pornography addiction group that’s starting.  Look up at me for a second.  I can’t tell you how grateful I am to pastor a church where we say we are not going to turn a blind eye to some of the things that are a little bit messy, but are destroying our souls and feel like we can’t get healthy from them.  We will be a church that meets those things head on and speaks the light of the goodness of the gospel into them.  If we don’t, who will?  These are all “today” steps, right?  If you know the right thing to do and you don’t do it, well, it’s sin.  If you know you should get help and you don’t….

Here’s the second thing:  We’ve got to choose faith over fear.  I love the way Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, says—-Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on.  Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. {Your problem with anxiety is actually that you’re not aware enough of the world you live in.  You’re not paying attention.}  Are you not of more value than they?  (Matt. 6:25-26)  Living in wisdom means choosing faith over fear, and choosing faith over fear means that we believe two things—according to Jesus.  First, we believe that God is powerful, that God is good, and that God is loving.  This is wisdom.  Good, powerful, loving.  Secondly, we believe that WE have immense value to this good, powerful, and loving God.  That’s what Jesus says.  At that point we’re freed to actually walk in his way.

Finally, what does it look like to seize opportunities, to maximize impact?  Well, we’ve got to choose impact over ease.  Have you ever recognized that the path of least resistance very rarely yields the most influence?  It’s those hard conversations that actually bring something out of them, isn’t it?  It’s that hard decision that you make where you have to give up some things that actually births some fruit, some beauty, some love, some meaning in your life.  I think, in order for us to step into the way of wisdom, we’ve got to get over our addiction to ease and comfort.  We just do.  All throughout the New Testament the writers of the Scriptures are going to talk about this.  They’re going to say things like — For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.  (1 Peter 2:15)  You’re going to step into moments that aren’t going to be easy and you’re going to have an impact there.  Or 1 Peter 3:17 — For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will…    Sometimes it might be.  So part of our grid for what is God’s will and what isn’t God’s will cannot be does it sting, does it hurt?  Because maybe that’s what he has for us, because he’s way more about impact than he is about comfort.

I was told a story about someone from our church, after she came to the Won’t You Be My Neighbor? series, where we talked about stepping out and neighboring.  She said it took me a while, Ryan, but I finally hosted a tea for a bunch of the women in my neighborhood.  She said I had people in my house that lived near me, but we hadn’t really talked.  There was just these great conversations.  I just want you to know that we’re listening.  I loved it!  Impact over ease!  What’s easier?  Just close the garage door, huddle down.  Impact is saying no, no, no, come on in, I’ll invite you into my life and around my table.  I ran across this anonymous quote: “A ship in a harbor is safe, but that’s not what a ship is built for.”  Come on, come on.

What if we just take a moment and imagine that Jesus was asking us some questions — What are you planning on doing tomorrow that you could do today?  Why are you so afraid?  I always imagined that that was a rhetorical question when Jesus asked it in the gospels.  What if he actually expects an answer and a dialogue?  It’s not why are you so afraid, you idiot.  Why are you so afraid?  Let’s talk about that.  I’m afraid because of what people will think about me.  Maybe Jesus responds with another question, “Uh huh, and then what’ll happen?”  Well, then they’ll think poorly of me.  Yeah, and then what will happen?   Well, then……I don’t know.  I guess then I’ll think I’m not as good.  Uh huh, and then what?  And then what?   Maybe Jesus wants to help you get to the actual core of the issue, rather than running from a shadow.  Maybe Jesus wants to ask you are there places in your life that you’re choosing ease instead of impact.

Look at the way Paul continues. {I’m going to admittedly fly through this part and I apologize.}  He says this in Ephesians 5:18 and it’s the second piece of wisdom that he wants to give that aligns us with God’s will — And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, {That’s just seeking after a filling from pleasure, from hedonism.} but be filled with the Spirit.  This is an imperative—be filled with the Spirit.  It’s a command.  But it’s passive.  It’s an imperative—do this!  Passive—you can’t do this!  Anyone notice some tension there?  It’s position yourself to be filled with the Spirit, because when you position yourself to be filled with the Spirit, God will fill you with his Spirit.  Right?  On our Monday video that we release that goes along with each of the messages, I’m going to unpack the difference between the filling of the Spirit and baptism of the Spirit.  We don’t have time today other than to say there is a difference.  Baptism of the Spirit is something that happens upon belief for every believer, one time.  But the filling of the Spirit is something that happens and CAN happen over and over and over again.  What Paul says is you can be a follower of Jesus and not be filled with the Spirit.  That’s possible.  You’ve got to actually put your life under the reign and rule of Jesus, open yourself up, ask for it and he will deliver it.  I always tell people when we talk about the filling of the Spirit that it’s not about how much of the Spirit we have, it’s about how much of us the Spirit has.

Implicit within Paul’s command here is that we’re all empty vessels looking to be filled.  Whether it’s filled with pleasure or may be filled with the desire to run away.  We’re all empty vessels, every single one of us.  That’s not a Christian thing, that’s not a secular thing, that is a human thing.  Paul says what you fill your life with will determine whether or not you’re walking in wisdom.  Think about it, the constancy of getting drunk on wine is actually a desire to run away from reality, is it not?  It’s I don’t want to take the world as it is, I actually want it in another way.  It’s anti-wisdom.  Paul pushes back against that, first addressing our calendar, then second addressing our soul.  He says reject grasping for fulfillment and receive filling.

Catch this….the Spirit’s filling always leads to the Spirit’s leading which always bears the Spirit’s fruit.  So, filling, leading, fruit.  What filling of the Spirit cannot be is a mindlessness.  It can’t be a chaotic, impulsive….  It’s actually way more thoughtful, way more—to use a term that’s popular, but I believe has a Christian backing to it—mindful of the world that we live in, way more aware, far more clarity—to be able to say God, I want to walk in your way.  When that happens, Paul says okay, here’s what you can expect.  You can expect love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.  That’s what it looks like when it comes out of us.  I love that Paul says be filled.  Maybe his readers knew more about it than we do, I doubt it.  He doesn’t give an equation.  He doesn’t say like, do this to be filled.  It must mean that it’s not all that difficult.  Maybe if we want it, and ask for it, and release the things that we’re carrying in its place, then maybe we should just expect that it happens.

He says I’m not going to tell you how to get it, but I’ll tell you what it looks like.  (Eph. 5:19-21)  ….addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.    Addressing one another.  So when you’re filled with the Spirit, there’s this outward blessing.  You make melody in your heart to the Lord.  There’s this upward praise.  Have you ever been around somebody that’s just whistling a hymn or a song all the time and you’re like, you need to settle down, or finish the song?  Have you ever been around somebody like that?  It’s just one phrase….   There’s just something in their soul, right?  And God goes yeah, yeah, that’s my will for you.  Giving thanks….there’s this inward gratitude.  Giving thanks to the Lord for everything in every situation.  It seems like all encompassing, doesn’t it?  It’s suppose to.  Outward blessing.  Upward praise.  Inward gratitude.  You want to know what God’s will looks like for your soul?  THAT’S what it looks like.

Here’s what I want to do.  I just want to give you a few moments to ask yourself some questions.  What I’d like you to actually do is imagine that Jesus is asking these questions.  This is just some time to think before you go running out of here, because we’ve said some things like God’s will is God’s wisdom or God’s will is wisdom.  What’s the wise thing to do based on the reality of the world?  Paul goes here’s the wise thing to do:  make the most of your opportunities and be filled.  That can happen.  So here’s a question:  What are you planning to do tomorrow that you could do today?  Maybe you just see the face of Jesus and he asks you, why are you waiting?  What if you just saw his eyes….those loving, piercing, faithful, good eyes asking you this question:  Why are you so afraid?  And not in a condemning way, but in a way that he really expects your answer.  Why are you so afraid?  Maybe imagine him asking yeah, and then what? after you answer.  And then what?  Maybe you imagine him asking you:  Why not take the harder road?  What’s holding you back from really stepping into this moment?   Maybe some questions about your soul—What are you pursuing?  What do you want?  Imagine the Messiah saying to you….what do you want?  Really?  What’s in your heart, what do you want?  Maybe a gentle follow-up question from him would be:  What are you hoping to get out of that?  Or maybe he goes Dr. Phil on you and says how’s that working out for you?  Maybe he asks sort of a painful question or a beautiful question, depending—What type of fruit do you see coming out of your life?  What do you see?  Maybe he asks what do you want to see?  Maybe he says man, do you think it’s time to reach out for help?

Jesus asks 300 questions in the gospels.  He was asked 180.  He answered 5 of those directly.  Maybe his goal for you is to help you uncover the answer you already know.  And maybe he wants to do that by asking you some questions.

One of the things I wrestled with all week, and maybe you do too, was hey God, what about those times in my life—and they are more than I’d like to admit—that I’ve chosen the path of foolishness, of anti-wisdom…what about then?  I just sense him saying Ryan, that’s what Romans 8:28 is all about.  I’m able to work all things together for good.  Like, I can even weave those bad, terrible decisions into a path that says this is going to be for your good, for your beauty, for your life rather than your death.  I’m able to take those.  Don’t choose those paths intentionally, but I’m God and I can even take those things and weave them together.  Maybe his last question for you today—if that’s the place you’re in—maybe he says to you…do you believe that?

Jesus, our prayer is that you would help us believe, help us hear, help us be attentive, not just to the answer we’re looking for, but for the question you might be asking.  It’s in your name that we pray.  And all God’s people said….Amen.

LIFE IS A MAZE(ing) | Guidelines and Guardrails | Ephesians 5:1-21 | Week 22020-08-20T16:31:30-06:00

LIFE IS A MAZE(ing) | Stars and Knees | Romans 12:1-2 | Week 1

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LIFE IS A MAZE(ing): Stars and Knees    Romans 12:1-2          (1st Service)

How many of you thought that was a Christmas song that we just sang during our offertory? Here’s a little pastoral rebuke for you:  It’s actually not.  It’s not a Christmas song at all.  It’s a song about a season that actually begins today.  Christmas technically ended yesterday, and today we begin a season in the church calendar called Epiphany.  Epiphany comes from a Greek word that means “to manifest” or “to show” or “to reveal.”  It’s the day where the church comes together and celebrates the magi.  They were sort of pagan stargazers who came and worshipped King Jesus.  There weren’t three of them; there were probably multitudes of them.  They brought three gifts, though, and that’s where we probably get the idea of “We Three Kings.”  Just a nerdy, anecdotal side note:  The Church celebrated Epiphany for hundreds of years before it ever celebrated Christmas.  We started, as a Church, celebrating Christmas because of some heresies that arose that said that Jesus wasn’t really fully man; he was actually sort of a spiritual being.  The Church said no, no, no, no, no, it’s so important that Jesus was actually born of a woman, we’re going to start celebrating THAT day.  We call it Christmas now, but for hundreds of years before the Church ever celebrated Christmas, it celebrated Epiphany.  Today.  The revealing or the showing of the Messiah.

If you have your Bible, open to Matthew 2:1-2.  {This won’t be our main text for today.} After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?  We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”  I’ve thought about that this week as I’ve been dwelling on this transition from Christmas, and the celebration of incarnation, to Epiphany, the celebration of the revealing of the Messiah.  I don’t know about you, but I’d love to have a few more stars in my life.  Wouldn’t you?  I would love to have a star over…..hey, here’s the city you’re suppose to live in.  In fact, let’s get more specific, why not a star over the house you’re suppose to rent or buy?  Or, how about a star over….here’s the job that you’re suppose to take.  Or, how about a star over the date you’re suppose to retire.  Let’s get a star for that, God!  Why don’t you deliver on that one for us?  Or, here’s a star over the person you’re suppose to marry.  I haven’t gotten a whole lot of stars in my life.  What about you?

There’s some tension when we read this story about Epiphany, about these wise men following a star.  There’s so many stars out there, God, I’m not sure which one I’m suppose to land under.  Right?  It seems as though the magi get this real specific calling from God, and it just feels like our lives are a lot more ambiguous than they are specific, doesn’t it?  Very rarely has God ever been all that clear as far as his direction for me.  ONE time I got ONE star in my life.  ONE!  And it’s actually one of the reasons I’m standing here.  I’ve told this story a few times, but as we jump into a series about discerning God’s will, let me tell you the one time I felt like I heard God speak to me really, really specifically.  It was about two years before I ever landed at South Fellowship.  I woke up in the middle of the night.  I had a dream that was so specific and so vivid that I woke my wife up to tell her about this dream, because I’m not the dream guy.  I don’t have a lot of dreams; I don’t remember many of my dreams.  I woke her up (two in the morning) and I said, “Babe, I just had this dream that I’m the pastor of a church that meets in strip mall.”  I laid out the color scheme for the inside of South Fellowship Church and I said, “It has a ton of fake plants in it.”  Good night, I love you!  Now, I didn’t think about that dream for two years.  I just thought man, that’s a weird church and what a weird dream.  Two years later I started to get this sense from God that maybe He was inviting me to step into a senior pastor role somewhere.  I didn’t know, I just had this sense.  I jumped on Denver Seminary’s website, looked at their job board, and one of the postings on there was for South Fellowship Church.  One of the very first things it said in the description of the church is “Church that meets in a strip mall.  I got here and there were over seventy fake plants in the lobby.  I’ve since dispensed of most of them, you’re welcome!  And the color scheme was exactly the way it was laid out in my dream!  I didn’t say anything to the Search Team until after because I didn’t want to play that trump card of “God told me.”  I had this confidence that God had told me, so I didn’t need to tell them.

I’ve had one star.  I’ve made million of decisions without a star.  You probably have too.  There’s some fear and trepidation around that, isn’t there?  If God does have a will for us, we want to know what it is, don’t we, but so often it seems like we’re sort of shooting in the dark.  I think one of the things that the magi show us, one of the things this story of Epiphany shows us, is that there’s a star over the thing that’s the most important, but over a lot of other things there’s a whole lot of freedom.  God puts a star over “Jesus is Lord” and then calls us to walk by faith.  I think Haddon Robinson, the great preacher, expresses it well:  “We want to make right decisions, for we realize that the decisions we make turn around and make us.  As we choose one end of the road, we choose the other.”  Let’s just call it what it is….it can be nerve-racking to know that we have freedom, that our choices matter.  And that there’s very rarely a star over where we’re suppose to go or what we’re suppose to do or what job we’re suppose to take.  Fill in the blank.  Will you lean in for a second?  The fact that life is a maze….I think that’s one of the things that makes life amazing.  I don’t know that we’d want to know everything that happens in the future.  I don’t think we’d want a God that just controlled every little piece of our life.  I actually think that this is a way more beautiful story—it’s difficult to navigate, I get that—but I think it’s what makes life amazing.  When we go to the Scriptures and we try to figure out God, what’s your will for my life?  Have you ever done that?  Have you ever gone to the Scriptures and said, “God, what’s your will for my life?” and sometimes we play Bible roulette and we pick a verse and go boom! that’s God’s will for my life—-just make sure you’re not reading about Judas.

How do we figure it out?  That’s what we’re going to be talking about over the next three weeks.  Before we even start talking about God’s will for our life, though, let me give you a framework to understand when we talk about the will of God in the Scriptures, what are we talking about?  There’s three different types of God’s will in the Scriptures.  The first is God’s sovereign will.  This is the will of God that cannot be thwarted, that will happen no matter what, whether you cooperate with it or not, that’s irrelevant.  God’s going to get it done.  The psalmist will write in Psalm 115:3 — Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him.   

So, let’s hit timeout here for a moment.  I want to give a pastoral impartation to you, because a lot of people misunderstand this to be everything that happens in life is God’s will.  You lose a child…..well, it was God’s will.  You lose a friend in an accident….it’s God’s will.  You go through a divorce….it’s God’s will.  It’s interesting because we start looking through the Scriptures and we some things that are really clearly not God’s will.  God is in heaven and he does whatever pleases him.  Sometimes it pleases him to let you decide.  And that still goes under the big umbrella of God’s will.  Let me say it like this:  Everything that happens is within God’s will, but God does not will everything that happens.  Does that make sense?  So there’s a lot of space…a lot of space, which is why this series is even necessary.  If we didn’t believe that, these three weeks would be completely irrelevant.  Think about that for a moment.  The question of “what’s God’s will for my life?” would be completely irrelevant if we didn’t believe we had some freedom of choice.  If it’s just going to happen regardless then don’t come the next two weeks.  Save yourself some time.  No, no, no, everything that happens is within God’s will, but God does not will everything that happens.  God always gets what he wills, but he doesn’t always get what he wants.  Let me give you an example.  Jesus is heading towards Jerusalem.  He gathers his disciples, looks over this hill that looks down into Jerusalem and here’s what he says:  Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed {…how I’ve wanted it.  Hear the Father Shepherd-heart of God.}  to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. (Matthew 23:37)    You were not willing!  This is what I wanted, but I willed that there be freedom and you chose a different way.  You weren’t willing.

We’re not fatalistic.  As followers of Jesus, we do not believe that every single little thing is already predetermined.  Over the break, my kids and their cousins started to watch the movie “The Greatest Showman.”  There’s this song in the movie:  What if we rewrite the stars?  Say you were made to be mine // Nothing could keep us apart, You’d be the one I was meant to find // It’s up to you, and it’s up to me, No one can say what we get to be // So why don’t we rewrite the stars?  Maybe the world could be ours tonight.  As followers of Jesus, we’re not some superstitious the stars determine everything about our lives.  We’re also not the kind of people that say, “God controls everything about our lives.”  We’re the kind of people that say no, no, no, no, God has a will and within his will he has given us freedom.  {Lean in for a moment.}  That’s why instead of controlling us like robots, God has given us a…..brain!  It’s not just a decoration!  He really wants us to use it.  So the second will of God is his moral will.  We’re going to talk about this next week.  It’s Jesus’s revealed commands given in the new covenant, to followers of Jesus, that the Bible teaches us how we ought to live and what we ought to believe.  But, this moral will—we might call it the way of wisdom—doesn’t always answer the question Who should I marry? What job should I take?  When should I retire?  Which house should we buy? Should we make this transition now?  It doesn’t answer some of the questions that a lot of you are asking?

So there’s a third will in the Scriptures.  We’ll call it God’s individual will.  Now let me do a little corrective here, if you’ll give me the space.  I was a college pastor for five years.  I can’t tell you how many young adults I worked with that wanted to know who God wanted them to marry.  There’s this prayer: Help me find the one!  Like this mythical unicorn one!  This one person that God has designed for me to marry.  That sounds really romantic and maybe feels good if we make vows and stuff like that.  The only problem with it is logic.  Have you ever thought about that?  If there is one person that God designed for you to marry, what if somebody else marries them?  What if those people have babies who were never part of God’s plan?  That only has to happen once in the history of the universe for that theory to go out the window, right?  A lot of times we’re looking for the bulls-eye for this, and I think God, a lot of times, says to us, “There’s no star, so why don’t you decide?”  There’s a way to sort of narrow down who you should marry, and we can talk about that over the next few weeks, but you’re never going to know for sure that this is EXACTLY the ONE….the mythical unicorn one.  Do you know how I know Kelly’s the one?  I married her.  That’s how I know, you’re welcome.  I know it’s unhelpful, but the same applies for jobs.  The same applies for where we live.

So if God’s will doesn’t mean those things, you might be asking, what in the world does it mean?  What does it mean?  That’s a great question.  Over the next few weeks, that’s the question we’re going to be tackling together.  Not only What does is mean? but How do we align our lives so that we can know God, it seems like this is where you’re leading, it seems like this what you’re up to?  Today, I just want to talk about packing for this journey.  I just want to talk about our approach to the journey of finding God’s will.  Next week I want to talk about the compass….how do we sort of get heading in the right direction?  Then week three, I want to talk about the map, and I want to talk about forks in the road, and I want to talk about life that often feels like a fog, and in a real practical way, how do we make decisions.

Today is about the approach, so flip over with me to Romans 12:1-2.  If you’re wondering was that all intro….. yeah!  This is one of the passages, and there’s very few of them, in the Scriptures that talk about God’s individual, unique, specific will for our lives.  You ready?  Here’s what the Apostle Paul writes to the church at Rome:  Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.  Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then {If you have your own Bible, circle the word ‘then.’  If you have an ESV version, it’s ‘that.’  If you have a NASB, it’s ‘so that.’  It’s this causal statement.  Then.  Then.  And you might say only then.}  you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—-his good, pleasing and perfect will.

I spent a lot of time this week thinking about that word ‘then.’  It’s only necessary that Paul put that little causal statement, that little phrase, in there, because he wants to connect everything that came before, in those first two verses, with this sort of outcome then.  And after you do these things, then you’ll be able to know what God’s will is.  A lot of us go to ‘God, I want to know what your will is,’ but we’re not willing to go with his then.  We’re not willing to put into practice the first part that he says actually leads to the second part, the part that we really want—God, what do you want me to do?

If I were to summarize everything that comes before this word then in one word, my word would be surrender.  Surrender.  So we’ll say it like this this morning:  We discover God’s will as we surrender our lives, not as we discern the stars.  You don’t live like the magi.  You don’t look up in the stars and find something over the place that you’re suppose to live, the house that you’re suppose to buy, the job that you’re suppose to have, the person you’re suppose to marry.  Very rarely.  Sometimes that happens, but very rarely.  But what Paul says is no, no, no, no, it’s not discerning the stars, it’s actually surrendering your life that positions you to know what God’s will is.

I think of Father Abraham; he’s a great case study on God’s will.  Genesis 12:1, we hear his call:  The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.”  This is Abraham, surrender.  Abraham, live by faith.  If I were Abraham, I would want to say, “Hey, God, why don’t you just tell me the land we’re going to and then I’ll go there.”  You may have noticed this in your life….I’m starting to realize it more in mine….God is way more into ‘show’ than he is in ‘tell.’  I want him to tell me, he wants to show me.  Telling is something we can go and we can control and we can do.  Showing is something that happens in the present, in a moment.  It’s not something we can sort of chase after.  It’s Abraham, one step at a time, day after day after day after day.  I’ve been challenged, I’ve been corrected, by this passage, and it’s coming to this realization that I want understanding, but God wants trust.  I want to know all the ins and outs and all the forks in the road and where to go.  God says yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, we’ll get there and when we get there I will show you.  Maybe my showing you will say, “You decide.”

It’s the same thing we read in Proverbs 3:5-6.  Many of you have this put to memory, but let me just point out that there’s a progression here.   Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him   {Trust and submit.  I’ll just call it surrender.}  and  {You could maybe even say ‘and then’….}  he will make your paths straight.    As you trust, as you surrender, he straightens out your path.  Paul is setting up the dominoes and the last one that falls is ah, and then you know God’s will.  We want to fast forward through the process.  This morning is primarily about saying to us that knowing God’s will is predicated on a life of surrender.

Let’s just dive into this text, because it’s really beautiful and brilliant what the Apostle Paul does here.  He’s going to walk us through “what does this actually look like, to live a life of surrender?”  What does that look like? I think, as we start 2019, that this might be a really, really good place to start a new year.  What does surrender look like?  Here’s what he says first (Romans 12:1a):  Therefore  {Now, if you take notes in your Bible, circle that word therefore and then off to the side 1-11.  What Paul’s saying is in light of what I said in chapters 1 through 11, here’s what you do.}  Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy…  In the Greek, it’s actually ‘mercies.’  Like overflowing, abundant, so good.  Here’s the thing, if we want to surrender and understand what God’s will is, the first thing we’ve got to do is remember.  We’ve got to look back.  We’ve got to view God’s mercy.  Paul’s not just saying that as a suggestion, he’s calling the church.  Therefore, as you view God’s mercy that I’ve laid out for you in the life, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus for you, atonement of your sin, life with God, Spirit indwelling, made alive, made sons and daughters of the King—as you think about that, God’s faithfulness becomes your foundation.  If we’re going to have any prayer understanding what God’s will is for our life, we must first be confident of his mercy over my life.  I will build my life upon your love; that’s what Paul is saying.

We explore God’s specific will for us, his individual will for us, as we stand on his redemptive purpose fulfilled in Jesus over us.  And only then.  That’s the only ground to stand on in exploring ‘God, what’s your individual will for me?’  It’s God, I know this, I know that you’ve come, I know that you’ve given yourself in love.  I know that you’ve conquered the grave, that death has no sting. I know because of the life, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, that you are good through and through.  Okay.  Now.  Now, let’s start exploring….God, what’s your individual will for me?  The reason this is so important is because there will be things that will come into your life that do not feel good.  Our default might be, if we don’t view God’s mercy regularly, to think that God is bad.  Paul wants to guard against that.  He wants to cut us off at the pass.  He wants to say no, no, no, no.  Love is the lens, God is love, there’s no time that God is NOT love, and there’s no way that the cross and resurrection can be true if God is not good.  So view God’s mercy regularly.  We use the terminology here—-I’ll use the term often—-preach to yourself.  Remind yourself of it.  It’s simply just a way of saying view God’s mercy regularly. Paul’s suggesting that we cannot know the plan of God if we’re, first, not convinced of the mercy of God. {Write that down.}  We can’t know the plan of God if we’re not first convinced of the mercy of God.

Here’s where he goes next.  …in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. (Romans 12:1b)  Discipleship to Jesus, Paul would say, rules out just cognitive assent.  You can’t just have a theological, intellectual awareness.  You can’t just have a warmed, inner soul.  Our obedience affects every piece of us.  It affects every piece of our humanity.  “Love so amazing, so divine, demands my life, my soul, my all.”    My all!  I think the Apostle Paul would say….Commit!  Commit because your life is your worship and your life is God’s workshop.  It’s as you commit and as you walk with Jesus that you start to be transformed more and more into his image.  We’re transformed as we move and as we follow, not just as we sit and as we study.  Although those things are great. They’re just not enough.

This is really interesting and I’m going to be intentional about not going too far down a rabbit trail here.  I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice…  For every single one of Paul’s old covenant, Jewish believers, they would have thought…..well, temple.   Paul’s talking about an animal that we bring, and sacrifice and kill so that we can be okay with God.  Most scholars think the book of Romans was written in 57 AD, which means that the temple was still standing in Jerusalem.  There were still people taking animals to be sacrificed.  There were still people who thought ah, we’re made right with God based on the blood of this goat, the blood of this bull, these doves.  We’re made right with God based on the animal that we bring.  Notice, Paul is not making a minor shift in approach, he’s saying God’s not interested in your bulls, even though they’re still doing these sacrifices.  God’s not interested in your goats.  You know what’s interesting, if you were to really read through the prophets, what you’d find is that God was never really all that interested in those things.  What’s he interested in?  Your life!  Your whole life.  Your heart.  Your body.  Your soul.  Your mind.

So he says the life of a Christian is one of a living sacrifice.  We are on the altar, as it were.  It’s similar to marriage.  Marriage is standing before an altar and it’s standing on an altar.  June 1, 2002, I stood before an altar before my friends and family, before God, and said “yes” to Kelly Hester.  What’s even more surprising is that she said “yes” to me.  And I said “no” to everyone else.  Marriage is as much about a “yes” as it is about a “no.”  That’s the picture that Paul’s painting here.  It’s a “yes” to the way of Jesus.  This “yes”……if you could summarize it.  Give me some handles, Paulson, what does this “yes” mean.  Let me give you one handle, let me give you one word.  Let me make it as simple as I possibly can.  Jesus did.  Here’s the one word……LOVE!  That’s the altar you’re on.  As a follower of Jesus, the altar you are on is…..I choose to love.  Paul didn’t mince words at all.  Here’s what he said in Galatians 5:6 — For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value.  {You can even say all those sacrifices?  No value.} The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.  So, if the faith in Jesus that you have doesn’t express itself in love, it’s not the kind of faith God’s interested in.  Paul made it really simple, he’s going here’s the lens.  Jesus would say the same thing in John 13:34 — A new command I give you:  Love one another.  As I have loved you,, so you must love one another.   As I have loved you….in the same way that I’ve loved you, love one another.  That’s the marching orders.

I read this book by Andy Stanley recently that just messed with me, called Irresistible.  In it, he makes the point that before the church ever had a Bible, it had a command….LOVE.  And it changed the world.  Walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and given himself up for us (Ephesians 5:2). Husbands, love your wives just as Christ has loved the church and gave himself up for her (Ephesians 5:25).  Forgive one another just as God in Christ forgave you (Ephesians 4:32).  The church was obsessed with this just as life.  Just as Christ.  That’s the altar you’re on.  Implicit within the imagery of an altar means that there may be things that God calls us to that we wouldn’t naturally choose.  It may not be—to sort of go back a few weeks—our strongest desires sometimes.  But I think that if we drill down enough, it might be our deepest.  We’ll talk about that a little more next week.

If we truly want God’s will, then obedience to the way of Jesus is not optional.  There it is.  If we truly want God’s will, obedience to the way of Jesus—a committed life—is not optional.  So I guess we should decide if we really want it, because death to self and taking up the cross IS the pathway to life.  And there’s no other.

Finally, Romans 12:2 — Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  You notice that in this verse, it suggests that conforming to the pattern of this world happens naturally, but transformation takes intentionality.  Conforming to the pattern of the world happens naturally, you just have to be in the world and you’re conformed to it.  But transformation ONLY happens intentionally.  We are so concerned, oftentimes, with the map that sort of tells us where we should go and what we should do.  Should I take a left here or a right here?  Should I pursue this work or that work?  Should I do this or pursue that?  I think there are some maps that we should be way concerned with, but they’re not those maps. They’re actually the maps you and I have in our mind.  I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but neuroscientists have actually studied this and have found that neurons that fire together, wire together.  So we have a pathway in our mind that says oh, when I’m wronged, here’s how I respond.  When I don’t get my way, here’s how I respond.  When people wrong me, here’s what I do.  When I want some pleasure, here’s where I go.  How many of you saw some of your neural pathways show themselves over this break when you spent time with your family? It’s one of the best ways to see them.

What neuroscience is showing us is that the longer you practice an action and are reinforced by what it gives you, the stronger that pathway becomes.  Those things are really, really hard to break, but they’re not impossible.  You can, through intentional discipleship and reformation of habits…..that’s why forming a habit takes anywhere from 20-40 days, but you can start to rewire your brain.   Paul, thousands of years before neuroscience ever figured it out, told us to do that.  He says renew your mind.  I love this because viewing God’s mercy is about our heart, it’s about our affection.  Committing our lives is about our body.  Renewing is about our mind, because the map in your mind determines the course of your life.

Reprogramming is a process.  As Karl Barth said, it IS repentance.  When Scriptures talk about repentance, this is what it’s talking about.  The way that I’m thinking about this thing is wrong.  It’s why on the wall you’ll see six words that are our values.  It’s why one of our values is practice.  We believe that the maps we have in our brain will determine the way that we live and the road that we walk, and that those things, in order to conform to discipleship and apprenticeship to Jesus, need to be rewired.  So I read this quote to you every sermon I preach the first of the year.  If you’re anticipating it, I didn’t want to disappoint.  It’s by D.A. Carson:  “People do not drift toward holiness.  Apart from grace-driven effort, people do not gravitate toward godliness, prayer, obedience to Scripture, faith, and delight in the Lord.  We drift toward compromise and call it tolerance; we drift toward disobedience and call it freedom; we drift toward superstition and call it faith.  We cherish the indiscipline of lost self-control and call it relaxation; we slouch toward prayerlessness and delude ourselves into thinking we have escaped legalism; we slide toward godlessness and convince ourselves we have been liberated.”  I’ll revisit this in 2020, January 5, 2020.  But, it’s so true.  It’s what Paul writes:  Don’t be CONformed, be TRANSformed.  Implicit in what he says is every single one of us is being formed.  We’re either being CONformed or we’re being TRANSformed.  Formation and spiritual formation isn’t a Christian thing, it’s a human thing.  What Paul is saying is surrender your life under the lordship of Jesus and be transformed.

I’m going to give you a moment to pause, but you have a blank that says “My practice for this week…” or maybe it’s even this year.  What is it?  How are you going to actively say, God, I want to rechart some of these maps in my mind so that they conform more into the image of Jesus, so that I see Jesus and I’m transformed and my actual brain starts to change, and my body starts to change, and I actually start to live in the way of Jesus with the heart of Jesus.  Maybe you download YouVersion and you walk through the Bible this year.  Or maybe, if you go that’s way too big, just do the New Testament.  Start with the New Testament and read it through in a year.  I promise you can do that.  I’ll put some resources online with this message, but one of them would be Lectio Divina….to start reading the Bible in a way that actually asks God to speak to you rather than just knocking it out.  Maybe you use the Prayer of Examen this year, to say Jesus, I just want to start rethinking the way that I’m thinking, and in order to do that I need to think about what I’m thinking about.  That’s a lot of thinking.  Maybe this year you read “The Daily,” our daily devotions.  There’s a web address on the bottom of your outline that’ll walk you through how to sign up.  It’s a video on Monday that I do that walks you through how I got what I got when I preached.  The next few days are devotions that hopefully feed your soul, then Friday is a spiritual practice that we encourage you to undertake, to just say Jesus, I just want to open up to your grace that I believe you’re pouring out.  Sign up this year.  Dive in.

Don’t miss this, what Paul is saying is that if we want to know God’s will for our lives, we’ve got to start thinking differently.  If you’re one of those people that looks for a word for 2019 and maybe you don’t have your word quite yet, what about the word “remember?”  Or maybe the word “commit.”  Or maybe the word “renew.”  Just an idea.

Here’s how Paul closes:  Then {So as you remember and as you commit and as you renew, then and ONLY then..} you will be able to test and approve {That word is one word in the Greek and it literally means “to show something is acceptable and good because you’ve put it to the test.  I would maybe translate that as then you will experience and enjoy what God’s will is.}  what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.    Why can you test and approve it?  Because you’re in it!  We don’t search for God’s will.  As we remember, commit, renew, we actually get to write a Yelp review of his will.  Oh, it’s good!  It’s good!  It’s pleasing!  It’s perfect!  I think Paul is saying that God’s will isn’t something we find; it’s something we find ourselves in!  As we lay down our lives and as we walk with him and as we become disciples, apprentices of the way of Jesus, his heart, his way, we go oh, I’m in it!  I’m in it!  I love this quote by Wendell Berry.  The character in one of the books he wrote says this:  “Often I have not known where I was going until I was already there.  I have had my share of desires and goals, but my life has come to me or I have gone to it mainly by way of mistakes and surprises.  Often I have received better than I deserved.  Often my faintest hopes have rested on bad mistakes.  I am an ignorant pilgrim, crossing a dark valley.  And yet for a long time, looking back, I have been unable to shake off the feeling that I have been led—make of that what you will.”   Friends, it’s not a searching the stars….it’s a bowing the knee.  That’s how we find God’s will.

We’re going to celebrate the table this morning.  As we do that, we’re going to open our lives back up to Jesus and say Jesus, all we have and all we are is yours.  It’s that posture of surrender that actually opens us up to taste and see that he’s good.  The table is open to anyone who’s a follower of Jesus.  Followers of Jesus are people who say yeah, I’m going to remember, I’m going to commit, and I’m going to renew.  As you come this morning, would you come with a posture of your life being…my knee is bowed to Christ as King.

Jesus, as we come, we’re not searching out the stars, we’re bowing our knee, believing that you’re good, that you love us, that you’re calling us to live in the way of Jesus with the heart of Jesus.  Even as we come today, rewire our mind that we might live more in your way.  It’s in your name we pray.  Amen.

What Makes the Difference? | Psalm 119:18
Life Abundant | John 10:10
No Condemnation | Romans 8:1,6
A New Beginning | 2 Corinthians 5:17

LIFE IS A MAZE(ing) | Stars and Knees | Romans 12:1-2 | Week 12020-08-20T16:30:24-06:00
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