Ethos | Renewal | Jeremiah 29:1-14 | Week 6

ETHOS: Renewal     Jeremiah 29:1-14

If you’re new with us, we’re in a seven-week series called “Ethos.”  We’re looking at the values, dreams, and hopes we have together as a community of faith, as we seek to live in the way of Jesus with the heart of Jesus.  This week we’re talking about renewal, next week we’re going to be talking about roots, the last in our series.

A few weeks back, my wife took our two boys to a mother-son event, so I got the chance to take my daughter out for a little daddy-daughter date.  We went out to dinner together and came back to the house to watch a movie of her choice.  She picked the newer “Beauty and the Beast.”  We were having a great time watching it together.  About three-quarters of the way through the movie, the boys and Kelly came back home so we stopped the movie and everybody went to bed.  We stopped it at this very tension-filled moment, where the Beast had told Belle that she was allowed to go and help her father.  He released her from the captivity she was in.  So, you have Belle, who’s free, then the Beast, who it seems like, is going to keep on living as the Beast for the rest of his existence.  I thought, what a terrible story that would have been if that’s where the movie ended.  If the movie ended with Belle being freed and she’s happy to go and do what she gets to do and back to her normal life, and the Beast is still the beast.  There’s something in us that wants the Beast to be redeemed, isn’t there?  There’s a reason the movie doesn’t end in that place.

What I started to realize is that if you ended the story in the wrong place, you often get the wrong meta-narrative of what’s going on.  I think a lot of us have ended the gospel story in the wrong place.  I think most of us, when we talk about what God is up to and has been up to, we have a two-part story in our mind.  We have the reality, in our mind, that there’s been a fall and that sin has entered the world and that humanity is fractured.  And we have in our mind, the reality of what Jesus has done on the cross and the resurrection and that we have been redeemed.  That’s where our gospel story ends.  It’s as though Belle has been freed from the Beast and we get to run free, but the question is. . .what happens to the rest of the world?  The reality is, friends, you don’t live in a two-act story.  That’s not the story that God is telling.  The story God is telling actually has four acts.  The first is creation.  Our story about what God is up to begins in Genesis 1, not Genesis 3.  God creates and it’s good.  Humanity falls because of sin.  Jesus redeems.  But God’s work does not end at the cross.  It does not end at the resurrection. God is still up to something in the world, right now, today.  If we can’t recapture our vision of a four-act gospel—-creation –> fall –> redemption –> restoration—-I think it’s going to hurt us, as followers of Jesus.  As Bobette Buster said: “Narrative is our culture’s currency; he who tells the best story wins.”

I believe we have the best story as followers of Jesus, but our story is not fall –> redemption.  Our story is creation —> fall —> redemption —> restoration.  God is still moving and God is still at work in our world, and the end of our story is the heavens declaring, “Behold, look!”  And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” (Rev. 21:5)   So the question isn’t just how do we enjoy salvation?  The question must be, for those who follow the way of Jesus, walking in his way with his heart, how do I participate in what God wants to do in restoring his world.  It’s certainly broken, but he loves it dearly.

If you have a Bible, turn to Jeremiah 29.  I think the prophet Jeremiah gives us a little bit of a picture of what God would have us to do as followers of Jesus, as we live in a world that longs for renewal.  Jeremiah 29:1 — This is the text of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the surviving elders among the exiles and to the priests, the prophets and all the other people Nebuchadnezzar had carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon.  Quick time out.  Let me give you a little bit of context.  Here’s what’s going on — Jeremiah is living back in Jerusalem and he’s sending word through two men to go and give the king of Babylon a letter.  On their way there, these two men are called to stop in this exile camp to deliver a word from God to the people who are in exile.  Imagine that you’ve been taken from your home.  Imagine that you’ve been distanced from everything and, maybe, everyone that you love.  People around you speak a different language, eat different types of food, and have different rituals and symbols, and an entirely different lifestyle.  As a people of God, you get a letter from God; what would happen in your heart?  Probably you’d lean in a little bit, right?  Oh, God’s going to move.  God’s going to tell us He’s on our side.  God’s going to free us.  God’s going to work.

It’s important the way we process what we would assume God would say to those in exile, because the entire letter of 1 Peter is written to followers of Jesus and they are called “elect exiles,” people who aren’t quite home.  Who live in a world that doesn’t quite fit with their ethos, with their DNA, with their dreams, and their hopes.  They’re sojourners, they’re wanderers, they’re waiting.  If you opened (saw) your news app this Friday, you were reminded that you’re an exile.  Yet another school shooting.  I don’t know about you, but I just. . . .one, I lament.  I grieve.  I also, I just. . . .this isn’t a political comment, this is just reality and common sense that it seems to me that the only non-option should be continuing to do what we’re doing, because it just doesn’t seem to be working.  Can we get more creative and try to solve a problem that’s literally killing our kids?  That’s a side note, but it was a reminder that the world is not as it should be.

The question becomes what do you do when you’re in exile?  What do you do when the world that you live in doesn’t quite fit the way that you hope, and the way that you dream, and the things that you long for, and the things that you pray for?  What do you do?  Jeremiah 29:4-9.  Here’s what you do, or at least, here’s what the exiles in Jeremiah’s day stuck in Babylon were called to do.  This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon:  “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce.  Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters.  Increase in number there; do not decrease.  Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile.  Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”  Yes, this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: “Do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you.  Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have.  They are prophesying lies to you in my name.  I have not sent them,” declares the Lord.   Now, this is not what the exiles would have hoped to hear.  They would have hoped to hear that God is on the move and he is going to release them.  If you keep reading, he says, “I will bring you back, but it’s going to be seventy years.”

Now, let’s take a step back from this text and ask a few questions.  Have we heard this story before?  Have we heard this commandment from God. . . .plant a garden and be fruitful and multiply?  Yes, we’ve heard it from Genesis 1 and 2.  There is an original commissioning that God gives to humanity. . . .be caretakers of the earth, be fruitful and multiply.  It’s as if God would say to those in exile, the world is not the way they hoped it would be, or the dreams that they had have sort of failed and gone into oblivion.  He’s going, I am not letting up on my original mandate for humanity.  Continue to work, continue to follow.  There is restoration that God wants to bring about through your life for his world.  Every exile has to wrestle with this question:  Are we going to throw our hands up in the air and just hope and wait?  Or, are we going to link arms with what God wants to do in a fractured, broken world?  Are we going to be like Belle and run away from the Beast, or do we believe that God has a plan even for the Beast?  The reality is, friends, that we are not, we are NOT, called to be passive observers of reality.  We are, however, called to be active participants in renewal.  {Screen:  We aren’t called to be passive observers of reality, but active participants in renewal.}

Jesus did not just save us FROM something, he saved us FOR something.  This is the testimony of the Scriptures all throughout.  In Matthew 5:14-16, in the Sermon on the Mount, which we’ll start studying in a few weeks here, Jesus says:  You’re the light of the world.  He’s saying this to people who are living in the kingdom.  You’re the light of the world, don’t put your light under a basket, let it shine, he says.  Before that he calls them the salt of the earth.  In Ephesians 2:8-10, the Apostle Paul writes to the church at Ephesus and says:  For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—-and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—-not by works, so that no one can boast.  For we are God’s handiwork {Literally, in the Greek, it’s the word ‘poiema,’ or poem, or song.  You are God’s poem, you’re his song.  The conductor is moving his church, are you listening?} created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.   So, friends, lean in for just a moment, because the end of the story is NOT ‘aren’t you glad Jesus has saved you?’  That’s part of the story, it’s not the END.  The end of the story is that Jesus has redeemed you in order to release you to be agents of reconciliation—people of hope, people of love, people who long and fight for justice, people who hold out mercy.  People who allow their hearts to get broken with the things that break God’s heart and then assume that God doesn’t want us to sit on the sideline and just pray, but maybe assume that God wants us to be the answer to some of our prayers.

So the question becomes what is this calling to be people of renewal?  What does it look like?  Three things it looks like — a new vision, a new attitude, and a new perspective.  A new vision. . .look at what the prophet Jeremiah says.  Verse 4.  Actually this phrase is going to show up twice.  This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile…   He’s going to say it again, just in case you missed it.  He carried them there.  If you’re an Israelite, you’re going, hey, God, we’re like your chosen people.  We’re intended to be a light to the nations.  It’s really hard to be a light to the nations when we’re under the thumb of the nations.  How exactly do you want us to work this out?  One of the temptations for religious people has always been to embrace this sort of “us versus them” type of an attitude.  Typically, what the prophets and diviners to the nation of Israel in exile was, “God’s going to get you out.”  God’s going to come and he’s going to free you and this thing is going to burn down.  Justice will be served.  Does this narrative sound familiar at all?  God’s going to free you and destroy everything else.  It should, it’s still a popular misconstruction of the gospel in our day and our time, right now.  No, no, no, no, no.  It’s not God’s going to get you out of this place, it’s God’s got a plan for you IN this place.  That’s the story that God is telling through Israel.  Not only that, He has a plan for the way exile will be the crucible for their faith.  It’ll be the thing that forms them.  The disappointing situation.  The lack of home and rootedness. . . .they’d just go, oh gosh, we long for you to work, God.

Here’s what God would say to us to be people of renewal in a place of exile.  Instead of longing for a new place, we embrace a renewed purpose. (vision)   Wherever you are. . . .it may not be your choice, but it is God’s place.  {Let me say that again.}  Wherever you find yourself, it may not be your choice, but it is God’s place.  So don’t seek to be removed too soon, seek renewal within.  Within the marriage that feels broken and irreparable.  Be a person who says, God, you’ve got a purpose in this.  At the job that just feels like it’s not going anywhere and you just want to continue to move forward and jump to the next thing, don’t do it prematurely.  Those who flourish in whatever comes next are first those who are faithful where they are.  And they battle to feel God’s presence.

We live in a world, don’t we, where we’re always looking for what’s next.  If we’re in high school, we’re looking to graduate from high school.  If we’re in college, we’re looking at what’s next after we graduate from college.  If we got that job after we got out of college, we’re looking for when we can get the next job.  If we have the next job, we’re looking for when we can retire.  If we have retired, we’re going, what now, God, what do you want me to do now?  We’re always looking for what’s next.  If we’re single, we’re looking to be married.  If we’re married, we’re looking at when we have kids.  If we have kids, we’re looking at how to care for the kids, and then how do we get them out of our house, and then how do we get them back out of our house, right?  What if we were people who said instead of looking for a new place, we’re going to be confident that God has a purpose for us right here and right now.

It may not be a new place physically.  I asked my friend Eddy Squire….  Eddy has had a difficult life.  He was sexually abused as a child, by multiple people, multiple times.  Just a few years ago, his life sort of hit a brick wall and fell apart.  For the last two years, he’s been doing work with God and with counselors to try to repair the broken, fragmented pieces of his life.  During this same time, the #MeToo movement started to rise up in our culture, where there were other people saying I’ve walked that same road and I know that same brokenness.  Eddy started to ask this question:  Well, #MeToo’s great, but what happens after #MeToo?  Where do people go to find healing after they say yeah, I’ve been through that dark night of the soul also?  Eddy just sensed this prompt from God to start a nonprofit that he’s going to call #MeTooWhatNow, to help people who are coming out of that same place and saying I’ve walked that road.  That is not a place that Eddy would have ever chosen to be.  You’re probably in a place where you have some things in your life where you’d say, “I wouldn’t choose this either.”  The question is not whether you would choose it, the question is how are you going to use it?  How will you partner with what God wants to do to bring about beauty from brokenness?  You can check him out on YouTube, #MeTooWhatNow; his organization is just starting to get rolling.  And maybe more than checking it out. . . .PRAY!  Pray that God would use him to be a voice of hope for many who are still hurting.  God says, I’ve got you there.  You wouldn’t choose it, I’ve got you there.  So instead of looking for a new place, embrace a new purpose.

Look again at verse 5 with me (Jeremiah 29:5).  Build houses and settle down; {Like, put the tents away, you’re not just camping here. You’re going to be here for a while, get used to it.  Don’t you love it?  God says selah, chill out, settle down, Israel.}  …plant gardens and eat what they produce.  The soil in Babylon is different from the soil in Jerusalem.  Different things grow in Babylon than what grows in Jerusalem.  Can you imagine the Israelites tilling that field, and just under their breath murmuring, “I can’t believe we’re going to have to plant whatever, fill in the blank.”  I can’t believe we’re going to be eating THIS!  I can’t believe we’re hearing this language the entire time.  I can’t believe God wants us to build our houses right here, when it seems like there’s a better life over there.  Why not, God, just come through and rescue us and bring us back?  That’s what we’re really longing for.  What God says instead is plant a garden, get a Babylonian cookbook, and start getting to work!  It’s as though God is saying listen, instead of being a critic, choose to be a contributor.  (attitude)  Instead of talking about all the stuff you don’t like, choose to be a contributor.  I love the way Eugene Peterson said it:  “The aim of the person of faith is not to be as comfortable as possible, but to live as deeply and thoroughly as possible — to deal with the reality of life, discover truth, create beauty, and act out love.”  That’s really good!

The question becomes well, Paulson, aren’t we suppose to be critical of some things?  To that I say well, sure.  We’re suppose to be discerning.  The church is called to be a prophetic voice, that when we see things that do not go in line with the heart of God, we’re suppose to speak out and we’re suppose to speak up.  {But look up at me.}  If all we do is speak, we do not live out the heart of God.  The church is known to be a clanging gong or resounding cymbal, because love has hands and feet attached to it.  We cannot simply say something’s wrong and go, good luck with that!  That’s called deconstructionism.  Deconstructionism is easy!  You can do it from a blog.  Reconstruction—bringing hope and renewal—is hard work.  It’s ‘dirt under your fingernails’ type of partnership with the Spirit.  God does not call us to deconstructionism, he calls us to renewal.

I was wrestling with this because I’m like, well, planting a garden doesn’t feel like all that spiritual of a thing.  Shouldn’t they be out telling people about Yahweh?  And yet, planting a garden is this partnership with God, isn’t it?  It’s a partnership with the dirt he’s given us.  We take our ingenuity and creativity and God’s natural resources and they come together to create something beautiful.  That’s what we’re called to do all over the place, you guys.  We have done a massive disservice, as the church, in telling you, congregation, that here’s the way you serve God.  There’s three ways you can serve God — You can be a pastor, you can be a missionary, or you can tell people about Jesus at the job that you have for forty hours of the week.  That’s it.  Throughout the church’s history, we’ve had a way better story than that.  It’s a story that has one word attached to it and it’s the word ‘vocation,’ or calling.  Vocation is simply our call to bear the image of God faithfully by living with God for the world.  Let me tell you this.  If you have a job that doesn’t require you to come to THIS building or to be a missionary out there somewhere, you still have a mission from God.  It’s not just. .  . .it IS. . . .but it’s not just to gather people around a water cooler and tell them about Jesus.  It’s to do a really good job at whatever you’re doing.  It’s to be an active participant in the common good in society.  It’s not just gather around a water cooler, it’s to create space where clean water is more available to more people in the world.  These are all part of the same calling, and if we sequester life with God to what happens on a Sunday morning or to a few little vocations or occupations, we’ve missed the point.  God would say to you and I, all of life, ALL of life, is what He wants from us.  Every little piece of your life matters.  If you create a business, create a great business.  If you work as a school teacher, love people well at school.  Teach them whatever subject you’re called to teach them and do it in a way that reflects ‘God loves you.’  If you’re an electrician, man, don’t burn down houses, right?  That’s part of your vocation.

But the big idea is. . . .man, how do we. . . .it’s so easy to be critical, isn’t it?  I can find out a hundred things that are wrong way easier than I can find things that are right.  I can find a hundred things that are wrong and find it hard to step into being a solution.  I’ve friends named Neil and Hannah Levers.  They started to sense this calling from God, a few years ago, to be people who actually, instead of just being critics of the refugee crisis that our world is in right now. . . . .and news flash, our world’s in a refugee crisis. . . .instead of just saying that this is about politics, they had this perspective that this is about people.  They started to ask God, God, what would you have us do?  How would you have us step in. . . .not to be critics, but to be contributors?  I wanted you to hear a little piece of their story today.  This is Hannah and Neil Levers.

{Video}    Neil:  I mean there were 2500 hundred people in this camp while we were there.  Before we were there, in the initial influx of refugees and even now, there’s 7500 people.  So in the same camp, what we saw was 2500 people.  There’s now 7500 people there.  If you look at a map, people are coming from Middle Eastern countries, people are coming from Africa.  There was even a couple of guys from Sri Lanka.  There was a group of guys I met from Pakistan.  We’re in the worst refugee crisis since World War II.  The Lord put something on our heart that we need to step out.  Stepping out, the Lord stirs in our hearts and as we get to see the Lord moving in that, it totally stirs our heart more to want to do more.  

So, I’m Neil Levers and this is Hannah Levers.  We’ve been coming to South two-and-a-half years.  It started with taking the Perspectives class.  There was one guy that came—I think he came from Frontiers—that spoke about refugees, I think specifically, right, along with a topic.  Shortly after or before that, I don’t remember exactly when, I ended up having a hand injury where I lost portions of my fingers.  That was a pretty traumatic experience.  Through that, God just really showed his presence in my life and being able to have hope through a traumatic situation.  Refugees go through really traumatic situations and God really stirred that in my heart and I wanted to build a ministry in some form or fashion.  We ended up going on a trip with CRU (Campus Crusade for Christ) to Greece.  That happened within a month.

Hannah:  My journey was a little different in the sense that I was not as there in the beginning.  The Lord wanted me to walk forward with Him, and He changed my heart as we continued walking forward in that way.

Neil:  Definitely, my situation and her situation is not the same as refugees, and even between refugee and refugee or immigrants, their story’s not the same either.  We can know, even having gone through difficult situations that the Lord is present.

Hannah:  One time when I was doing the nail polish with the ladies, most of us were just doing the fingernails.  One lady wanted her toenails polished.  In sandals.  Dirty feet and all of that.  I know it’s not water, but I felt like the Lord was like, I want you to pray for this lady right now that sees this as though you are serving her as though you’re washing her feet and be Jesus to her in that way.  Even though it was just blue toenail polish.

Neil:  When coming back and processing it with the Lord in a month.  Really just not wanting that to be it.  We want it to continue.

Hannah:  We had friends that went on the trip with us to Greece, that we became friends with while we were over there, and they had invited us to come and meet some of the refugees that they have met that are living here in Denver.

Neil:  We didn’t know the refugee situation coming into the U.S. in general, as well as specifically in Denver.  There’s people from all over right here in our backyard.  We got challenged.  That couple actually challenged us to be able to co-lead another trip with them overseas.  But in addition to that, asking if we would want to get involved with refugees here in Denver.  We think that’s a great opportunity to be able to continue what we’ve learned.  And then also to be able to go on a trip overseas, as we’ll be going to Jordan at the end of June.

Hannah:  It’s just spending time with them.  They want friends, just as much as we want friends.  They want to be loved and cared for.  The ends of the earth are coming here.  We’ve been able to go and minister, and we’ll again be able to do that when we go to Jordan, but also being able to minister to people here.  The ends of the earth are here.  As I step out in obedience, there is a joy that. . . .there’s no other. . . .I don’t know how to describe it.

Neil:  But it has opened my eyes immensely to a lot more of what the Lord sees.   {Video ends.}

You know what I love about that story?  Here’s the reason that it gets me jazzed up.  What did NOT happen was that Neil and Hannah sort of read a story and they said this is something that we should be involved in.  They did NOT come to my office and say, “Ryan, we need to do this.”  What they did was come and meet with me and said, “Listen, our heart is breaking with this, and we want you to walk alongside of us as we step into where we feel like God is calling.”  We’re not asking the church to create a program.  We’re just asking for you to support us and pray for us and dream with us about what God might in this world.  And I thought, what a beautiful picture of people whose hearts are breaking, who God’s Spirit lives inside of them and they say God, we want to partner with you in the renewal that you want to bring in your world.  We’re not going to wait for South Fellowship Church to start a program, we’re going to follow the Spirit of God.  To that I say YES and AMEN!  Because there’s no way, as a church, that we could start programs for everything that you’re passionate about that God is calling you to step into.  Our role is to equip the saints for the work of the ministry and then to release you to say to God, God, what is your Spirit uniquely asking us to do in light of this?  We want to move from, not a place of criticism, but to a place of contribution.  You may not be in the place where you’re like Neil and Hannah, where you have the freedom to go and do some of these things, but wherever you are {Listen to me.}, you can make this movement from “I’m critical” to “I’m contributing positively to a change.”

Finally, here’s how Jeremiah ends the section (Jeremiah 29:6-7) — Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters.  Increase in number there; {Exile is for increase, not for decrease.} do not decrease.  Also, seek the peace the prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile.  Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.    This is a unique vision for how the world comes to a place of flourishing and, as a church, what we should actually, really be praying for.  Our prayer should be not God, would you make South Fellowship Church prosper, but God, we want to see Littleton prosper, we want to see Centennial prosper, we want to see Denver prosper, we want to see Colorado prosper, we want to see the U.S. prosper, we want to see your world prosper.  We believe we are not a disconnected entity from the organism that we call this community around us, but that we are uniquely and distinctly a part of it, so we flourish WITH it. . . . .not apart from it.

God is challenging his people to slaughter three mindsets that get us stuck.  The first is tribalism.  This is an ‘us versus them.’  We’re going to push them so we can be lifted up.  God goes that’s not the way it works.  The second is individualism, so we’re just going to focus on us.  The third is narcissism, where we’re going to use everybody else to feed ourselves.  God goes that’s not the way that flourishing and renewal works in my economy.  Instead of focusing individually, start thinking communally.  (perspective)

So here’s a really good place to start.  What are the issues that you see in our culture, in our day, in our time, in the place where you live, that break your heart?  What are the ‘ought nots’ that you sense?  Like, this ought not be.  Then we start praying, God, how would you call me to be a contributor to a solution?  Maybe it’s things that are going on in schools, or with law enforcement, or in health care…   Wherever your passion is we start asking this question, God, how can we see our community start to flourish?  Then we step in.

Let me share one more story before we end.  The Saturday before , our lobby was packed with round tables and little teacups on them.  Royal Family Kids ministry hosted their annual fundraising tea at our church (like they always do).  Royal Family Kids is a ministry that ministers to foster care kids between the ages of 7-11.  Every summer they put on a summer camp for foster kids.  They bring people there and they have sponsors, and they have counselors.  For some of these foster kids, it’s an eye-opening experience because they’ve never been in a place with people who are walking through a similar thing.  They get this feeling like I’m not in this alone.  There’s other people who are walking this same road with me.  Randy Brannberg, Janet Brannberg and Gina Higgins have been serving this ministry and partnering with them for over a decade.  They’ve seen amazing things happen.  They just had this sense that this ought not be, so we want to partner with God in what he wants to do in the lives of these foster kids.  I asked them what their favorite part of this camp was and here’s what they said.  They sing a few songs throughout the week, but one of the songs they sing always changes towards the end as they see the kids spirits start to lift.  Here’s a portion of the lyrics of that song (singing about God):  I will change your name // You shall no longer be called wounded, outcast, lonely or afraid // I will change your name // Your new name shall be confidence, joyfulness, overcoming one // Faithfulness, friend of God, One who seeks My face.   Friends, that’s renewal, that’s hope.  That’s people saying God, this breaks our heart, this breaks yours, and we want to step in and not just pray — prayer’s really, really important — but God, we want to be a part of the good news and great love that you want to bring into the lives of these kids, so how can we play a part?

You know what I love is that Randy and Janet and Gina didn’t say, “Hey, South Fellowship Church, you should start a program for this.”  There’s already a great program for it.  But did you know what?  It’s not the church starting a program.  {Look up at me for just a second.}  YOU. ARE. THE CHURCH.  If you start something, if you do something, WE do something.  It’s this prayer, God, we want to be a part.  We believe your story is four parts:  creation, fall, redemption, and restoration, and we want to play a part in what you’re doing in the final two acts of your play with everything that we have.  Followers of Jesus have had this anthem that’s really two-fold.  We want to be people who share the good news, that Jesus is King.  By his life, death, burial, and resurrection, he has conquered sin and conquered death and that there is hope in him.  We are people who passionately share good news.  We are people who live, in every crack and crevice of our lives, in our vocations, in our spirituality, in the way that we live in our homes, we are people—and the church has always been known—who live with great love.

I did not tell you those stories today for you to go, man, those people are awesome (although I think they’re amazing).  I told you those stories today for you to ask yourself one simple question:  God, what stirs my heart that breaks yours?  What stirs my heart that also breaks yours?  And God, how would you want me to step in to what you’re doing in the restoration and renewal of your world?  Would you ask yourself that question today?  Don’t leave without wrestling with it a little bit.  God, what’s my part in your grand story?

Would you stand up with me as we close our time together?  I’m going to read a statement.  I hope these statements at the end of each of these values messages would start to shape our community.  I want to read it first for you and over you and then I want us to read it together.  Listen first and let it sink in a little bit.  As South Fellowship, we will be a community committed to joining God in his mission of renewal.  We will share the good news of Jesus and live out the great love of Jesus.  We will work and pray for the good of our homes, neighborhoods, city, and world.   To that I say yes and amen.  Because the end of the story of Beauty and the Beast is actually that Belle gets released and then she comes back.  Her love for the Beast transforms him to become the prince that he was.  May our love for our city transform it, friends.

Jesus, we want to be that kind of people who partner with you, who aren’t just passive observers of reality, but that we’re active participants of renewal.  So, Lord, the things that break our hearts, and break yours, would you give us the wind in our sails to step in?  Maybe in really little ways, maybe through an encouraging note to somebody, or maybe through financial support of somebody, or maybe it’s a trip that we take.  In a ton of different ways, would you give us creativity in how we can step in with the amount of time that we do have.  Lord, we love you and we are so grateful that this is a four-part story.  We want to be part of your restoration of all things.  It’s in your name that we pray, Jesus.  And all God’s people said. . . .Amen.

Ethos | Renewal | Jeremiah 29:1-14 | Week 62023-06-27T13:08:03-06:00

Ethos: | Wholeness | Mark 1:21-28 | Week 3

ETHOS:Wholeness Mark 1:21-28

How many of you like scary movies? I love scary movies; I grew up watching scary movies. My wife and I, on date night, many, many times have gone to the theater to see a scary movie. I don’t know, it’s something really interesting. One of the most well-known scary movies of all time is a movie that came out in 1973 with a little actress named Linda Blair. The name of the film is called “The Exorcist.” The film cost $8 million to make, but since 1973, it’s made over $1.2 billion, through box office, DVDs, all those sort of things. Isn’t that interesting? It’s pretty wild and scary. Normally, when talking about a film as an illustration, I would show you a clip from the film… I do want you to see what this girl looked like. She’s a little possessed girl who did some crazy stuff. I didn’t want to show you an actual still , so I’ve hand drawn a representation of what she looked like. {Shows stick figure with Ryan’s head!} Now THAT, friends, is scary!!

Why do scary movies hold such intrigue with us? Why do scary movies freak us out? I think part of the reason is, psychologically, we watch a movie like this and our brain sort of imagines…. If the writers and actors do a great job, you can get sucked into the story and start imagining that you’re there. Or you take it one step further and you start saying, “What would it be like if this really happens?”

We’re in a series called “Ethos,” and we’re exploring who God made us to be as a church, who we’re becoming. It’s several weeks because we think it’s so important to get really clear about who we are. The first week, Ryan talked about our new mission statement — Helping people live in the way of Jesus with the heart of Jesus. Last week he started with the first value, presence; sitting in and being in God’s presence. This week I’m going to talk about the value of wholeness.

I know you’re wondering how in the world does this tie to “The Exorcist?” I’m really glad you asked that question. I want to look at a story, today, in the Scriptures, in the gospel of Mark. It’s a pretty crazy story, but I think the story will help frame our perspective, or really, the perspective of Jesus, about this value of wholeness. Turn to Mark 1.

A little bit of backstory — The gospel of Mark was written by John Mark. It’s largely believed to be one of the earliest gospels written. A lot of scholars talk about this fact that it’s from an eyewitness account. There are a lot of other scriptural writings that weren’t in real time, but this is an eyewitness account. It was written in the late 50’s/early 60’s. . . .kinda in between Elvis and the Beatles, just to give you a little bit of…. No! Two thousand years ago, okay?

There’s two interesting things about Mark that I just want to frame with before we get into it. The first one is Mark moves really fast as a book. If you are ADD, this is the book for you! Boom! Boom! It moves quickly. In fact, the word ‘immediately’ is used around 73 times in the gospel of Mark. He just cuts to the next thing. Mark is always giving us the very bare bones, this is what you need to know and then this happened, and then this happened. It’s more like an action movie. The gospel of Luke, on the other hand, slows down and talks a lot about emotion and feeling and lots of facts. It’s more like a romantic movie. As a matter of fact, I think Luke is the author of the screenplay for “The Notebook.” Mark was a no nonsense sort of guy and he’s saying, “I’ve got to share with you what really happened and cut right to it.

So the first thing is that it’s fast moving. The second thing is he uses picturesque language. He uses really beautiful language, it’s really descriptive. A lot of the words that he uses are loaded with meaning; there’s the word and then there’s the meaning behind the word and he’s using that to paint a really vivid picture of what’s going on. Most English translations don’t usually do a great job of that, so I’m going to borrow, today, from a translation called The Voice that is a little more picturesque and still captures the true intent of the meaning. He’s also one of those guys who doesn’t say a lot of words, but when he does say something, we should pay attention because it’s really, really important.

Mark 1 — What we’re seeing here is the beginning of Jesus’s earthly ministry. It starts out in verse 14 with Jesus calling the first four disciples, which are Simon, Andrew, James, and John. These guys are fishermen. He goes to them and says, “Hey, drop everything and follow me!” And they did it! Have you ever thought that that was a little bit bananas? If someone came to you and said, “Hey, lay down everything you own and come follow me,” would your posture be like, yeah, okay, cool? Probably not. I’d be having some conversation around pay, how many vacation days I get, what are the benefits, could I see the company financials? I need to vet this thing. These guys did not do that. He said, “Come follow me,” and it’s intriguing that they cut right to that and it’s the beginning of Jesus’s ministry. I think it’s really interesting that the story we’re about to dive into comes off the tails of Jesus calling his disciples. It’s an important detail, don’t forget that.

These four disciples are following Jesus and they come to this town called Capernaum. It was a village on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee. The first thing he does, after calling them as his disciples, is he goes to the synagogue to teach. The synagogue is like a little church. Maybe there were fifty people, maybe a hundred, we don’t know, but he shows up at this gathering of people. Often, synagogue leaders would invite a visiting teacher to teach that day. Jesus walks in and he sits down and begins to teach. That’s where I want to pick up today, Mark 1:21-28. We’re going to go through this story together and then I’m going to just pull out a couple of observations, from this story, about wholeness, that I think are going to help us, both individually and as a church, in our journey.

I’m going to be reading from The Voice. Your translation is probably pretty similar, but one reason I like this is because it’s a good translation and it’s a combination of scholars and poets and artists. They were thinking of the exact words. Like, if this word in Greek means this, how can we most effectively put it on the page? And here’s what we got. They came at last to the village of Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee; and on the Sabbath Day, Jesus went straight into a synagogue, sat down, and began to teach. The people looked at each other, amazed, because this strange teacher acted as One authorized by God, and what He taught affected them in ways their own scribes’ teachings could not. Just then a man in the gathering who was overcome by an unclean spirit shouted. Unclean Spirit: What are you doing here, Jesus of Nazareth? Have You come to destroy us? I can see who You are! You’re the Holy One of God. {Side note — Why is it in Christian depictions of biblical stories 1) Jesus is always blond-haired, blue-eyed? 2) Why is it all the demons, Satan, sound like Gollum? Why do they do it? And why does everybody speak in a British accent?! I don’t know, but I told you Mark is a great book for ADD. Back to the story.} Jesus (rebuking him): Be quiet, and come out of him now! The man’s body began to shake and shudder; and then, howling, the spirit flew out of the man. The people couldn’t stop talking about what they had seen. People: Who is this Jesus? This is a new teaching—and it has such authority! Even the unclean spirits obey His commands! It wasn’t long before news of Jesus spread over the countryside of Galilee.

What a story, huh? Is this something you see everyday in your life? Probably not. It’s unbelievable. For a lot of us, reading a story like this makes us wrestle. We didn’t grow up four hundred years ago. We grew up post-Enlightenment, which means that our skeptical brain is on every time we read a story like this. I know a lot of people who’d read a story like this and go, “Well, that didn’t really happen.” Or they immerse themselves into. . .well, let’s really get down into what really happened here. I think the question we ask often is what do we do with the story? A lot of us look at a story like this, and because we’re smart, thinking-type people, we don’t know what to do with it. What’s interesting is that four or five hundred years ago, pre-Enlightenment, people would read this story and you know what they would say happened? A guy was demon possessed and he sat up and challenged Jesus. Whether we like it or not, we read with modern eyes and our skeptical brain sometimes has trouble with this and sometimes we can get stuck. Or, we can get so focused on the mechanics of what technically happened in this passage that we miss hearing what God has to say about this. The truth is what really happened here is not in unanimous agreement throughout the centuries. Even the early church fathers disagreed on how to read this passage. Some commentaries tell us to take it literally. It says Jesus taught, this man stood up and called him out, the Bible says it, I believe, that settles it. Others say it’s a metaphor, it didn’t really happen, there’s principle behind the text. Yet others say this man was having some sort of mental illness, or having some sort of problem with his thinking or something. The thing is we could get really caught up in all that, like, was it literal? I don’t know, I wasn’t there. Was it metaphor, is there some story behind the story? Probably. Did the guy have some sort of psychological issue? Who knows? I think if we get hung up on that we might miss an opportunity to hear what God is saying to us. As we continue to look at this story, I think maybe another question we should ask is what is the point of the story, and what is God saying to us today? So we’re not caught up in how crazy and out there it is and miss what the Spirit wants to say and do in you and I today. Make sense?

Now, can you imagine a scenario where this happened in our church community? I’m up here teaching, or Ryan’s up here teaching, and someone stands up and starts speaking to us in Gollum’s voice. Can you imagine what that would be like? That would be weird. For most people it would be pretty weird and scary. And I imagine for those people back there it probably WAS pretty scary. They were trying to figure out what in the world was going on. Today, I want to dig into the story a little bit and just dig out a couple of observations from this test to help us see what really is going on and what we can learn from the gaze and the posture of Jesus about wholeness.

When I first started looking at this text and I started asking myself what was really happening here, first I thought it was about how much authority Jesus had. Jesus is establishing his authority, right? The very first thing he did was call his disciples, and then he went in and he had this amazing demonstration of power and authority, right? Notice how the people respond when he does have this display of power. Verse 22: The people looked at each other, amazed, because this strange teacher acted as One authorized by God, and what He taught affected them in ways their own scribes’ teachings could not. I know you guys can relate to this, because I know right now you’re amazed at my teaching! I can see it on your face! Seriously, though, Jesus started to teach in a way they weren’t used to. Most people, when they came into teach, would come in and they would open the Scriptures and read from it. Then they would say, “You’ve heard it said…” and would give you a list of what rabbinical tradition had to say. They would tell you what the commentaries had to say. The authority that they had did not come from them, it came from the rabbinical tradition. Jesus gets up. . . .we see this throughout Scripture, him saying, “You’ve heard it said, but I say to you….” What is he doing? He’s claiming God’s authority, his own authority. That had to blow their minds when he did that.

So, he was speaking with authority and then this guy stands up and he’s shouting at him. He responds quickly and decisively and he says, “Be quiet, and come out of him now!” He didn’t spend a ton of time talking about it or trying to figure out the theological implications of what was happening with this guy. No, he cut right to it and said, “Come out, right now!” He spoke simply and with authority and the demons obey. So we could look at these two examples and say clearly this passage is all about Jesus establishing his authority. And that’s pretty cool, because who doesn’t like Chuck Norris pound on the bad guys? Jesus steps in, he does his thing, end of story, right? Well, yes, I do think we can see from this passage that Jesus is demonstrating his authority. Mark’s cut out a lot of the fluff and goes from calling disciples to demonstrating authority. But I don’t think that’s the biggest takeaway. I think the biggest takeaway isn’t that He has authority, but rather what His authority is used for. Make sense?

Some people who are leaders have their authority rooted in fear and manipulation, or what someone else said, or a degree, or something like that. What I think is remarkable about the authority of Jesus is that it’s so evidently rooted in love. His authority is rooted in love. Our gaze looking at this story is as a western outsider 2000 years later looking in, reading it in third person. To really understand the heartbeat of God, to figure out what living in the way of Jesus with the heart of Jesus looks like, what if we shifted our understanding of this text to see it not from an outsider’s perspective, but from the perspective of Jesus. Isn’t that how we should read all of Scripture, from the lens of Christ? So if we shift our perspective from the sort of spectator who’s cheering Him on, we’d push pass this low hanging fruit of whether it was real or whether it’s metaphor and we’d see what Jesus was really looking at. That’s what I want to look at for just a few moments this morning.

What was Jesus looking at? He was looking at the MAN who was possessed. It’s easy to look at the surface, the presenting thing. This was a guy that others had judged. They’d likely judged him and condemned him and put labels on him. Every time he started speaking, they’d say, “Well, that’s just crazy Joe.” I don’t see that. I don’t see Jesus doing that. No, Jesus looks at this guy out of love and He speaks with authority, not just to show that He’s some bad guy or not just calling this guy a horrible person, He was pushing beyond that because His authority has its roots in love. Because of that, Jesus wasn’t content to let this affliction, this thing that had befallen this guy. . . .He wasn’t content to let him sit in that. His entire ministry, the very, very beginning of his ministry, starts with a move to show that He has the authority of God and that with great power He would choose to begin the work of restoring people to wholeness. That’s powerful. He displayed it with humility and love to restore people toward wholeness.

The first observation we can take away from the story this morning is that Jesus uses His power to bring wholeness. He could have built himself a house, he could have done all these things like Bruce Almighty, right? He could have given himself cars, and a huge giant swimming pool, and lattes all day, and all these sorts of things. But what’s remarkable about the Kingdom of God that Jesus talked about is that He didn’t focus on any of those things. There’s was no like. . . .let me focus on material possessions. . . . . or, I want you all to look at me. It was demonstrated through humility and love, and pulling others towards wholeness. That’s why the Kingdom of God message is so powerful. Most other rulers would come on the scene with power and with dominion and with force to make some sort of display, but the way of Jesus is rooted in love. Because love is one of the primary attributes of God, He’ll always act in a loving way. That’s really good news, isn’t it? We don’t have to worry that Jesus somehow will forget that He’s suppose to be rooted in love, and that someone has to stand up and go, “Hey, remember that whole love thing?” Yeah, yeah, let me get back to that. I should un-smote those people. Jesus doesn’t do that. He’s always led by love.

One thing we can learn from this passage is that despite our shortcomings, despite our brokenness, Jesus has this ability to look passed those labels and that stuff and see our potential, to see who God’s created them to be. We don’t always do that do we? Sometimes when we look at other people we judge them for what we see on the outside. ALL of us do that and have done that at some point. There are no exceptions to this whatsoever. We live in a world that loves to label things. Part of it is physiological, it’s our need to understand if it’s safe or not. So we look at someone and ask, “Are you a Republican or are you a Democrat?” Are you married or are you single? Are you broken or are you whole? Are you gay or are you straight? Are you….All these sorts of labels to try to bring understanding. Sometimes that’s helpful, but most often those labels aren’t. Too often we get stuck with labels that describe where we are right now, not where God’s calling us to go. I think that’s really dangerous.

The view of Jesus here is looking beyond all that stuff. He’s always moving and redeeming and working to restore people to wholeness. When we were praying about these values and trying to determine what are the values we’ll say describe who we most are as a community? this one jumped right to the top: wholeness. We see this consistent pattern of Jesus in the Scriptures meeting people where they are and calling them to wholeness. Remember the woman caught in adultery and everyone wanted to kill her? Jesus talked with her and commanded her to go and sin no more. He didn’t tell her she was terrible and gave her thirty-two reasons. He said, “This is who God’s called you to be,” and he pointed her toward wholeness.

To help us understand a little bit about what wholeness is, I think it could be helpful to give you a little bit of what that container is, what is wholeness. I think there’s some words we can use to give some parameters of what wholeness is. I’m going to give you seven words, there may be more, but this is to get us going. What is a whole human being? Jesus models for us what a whole human being looks like, in at least seven areas. There’s our physical self—that’s our bodies. There’s our emotional self—that’s our feelings, the way we process feelings. There’s our mental self—the way we think. Our spiritual self—the way we hear from and relate to God. Our relational self—the way that we relate to others. Our financial self—the way that we manage our money, the way that we steward the gifts that God’s given us. Lastly, our vocational self—the way that we leverage our gifts, and our wiring for the goodness of God, to live into our vocation.

It’s fascinating that in the story we see Jesus model, so quickly, moving someone toward wholeness. That’s one of the reasons we’re so committed to this idea of helping people live in the way of Jesus with the heart of Jesus. We so believe that Jesus is pulling us toward wholeness that we want to care about the whole person. Living in the way of Jesus with the heart of Jesus looks a lot like that. It looks like growing in those things. Make sense?

Imagine Jesus looks out to the crowd and this man stands up and he’s broken and something else is controlling him completely. I don’t know if he literally had a demon. The amazing thing is Jesus looks out and He sees this guy who’s got this affliction. Jesus immediately demonstrates that He has power over those things that aren’t whole. So if you look at that list and sort of do a self-inventory and go, man, there are parts of that that I’m doing great, and there are parts of that that I’m stinking at, Jesus has the power over those things. There’s no part of you or me that he can’t help. There’s no part of you or me that he doesn’t desire to bring back into wholeness, the way that he originally created us to be. The bottom line is Jesus’s authority is rooted in love. He’s not content to let us remain in our brokenness. Yes, he has power and authority, but he leverages that to bring wholeness. That’s the first observation from this passage.

The second observation about this is the journey toward wholeness is often real easy!?! True? NO! That is not true! It’s often really hard. This story looks like Jesus spoke to this guy and BAM! everything’s good and the guy was whole. We don’t know if he was completely whole, we just know that one part of him was what Jesus spoke to. He could have weighed 1000 pounds, he could have had broken relationships in his life, he could have had a billion dollars of debt, we really don’t know. We DO know that Jesus spoke directly to this demon and the demon comes out. But remember how back at the beginning I said that Mark uses really vivid language? I wanted to go back to that for a second because I think the language he uses is intense and powerful. Jesus speaks to the demon and the demon doesn’t go, “Okie dokie,” and pop right on out and head on out of town. That’s not what we see in verse 26. The man’s body began to shake and shudder; and then, howling, the spirit flew out of the man. That’s pretty vivid. If you have a teenager, you know what this is like! If you ask your teen to do something, they begin to shake and then shudder, and then they start howling. Right? This is where the Greek is really descriptive and something you DON’T see in the English is that the Greek implies that it literally tore him as it came out. It tore him, it damaged, it wounded, it did something on the way out. How many of you have ever been fishing and you got a hook caught in your skin? When you take the hook out of your skin, is it like a super clean break? If it were, the fish would never stay on the hook, do you understand what I’m saying? If you get a fishhook in you, it’s going to hurt coming out and it’s going to leave a mark. The Greek is very clear in this that as this demon left him, it left a mark and it did not go easily. And probably what came out of him left some kind of lasting side effect.

Now did Jesus heal him completely afterwards? I don’t know, the Scripture doesn’t tell us that. Mark just gave us what he thought were the most important details here. But when I see this passage, I see that Jesus intervenes and speaks to the darkness and the darkness leaves, but it was violent and physical towards Him and it left with a shriek. The truth is that the journey towards wholeness is often very painful. It can be jarring. Why? It’s because taking steps towards wholeness means that those seven areas of our life that we. . . . .instead of like playing little spiritual Christians where we talk about Jesus and talk about the Bible, now we’re talking about our physical selves, our financial selves, our relational selves, and our emotional selves, it means that we’re shining a light in parts of us that we don’t want to look at all too often.

This is the time of year when people realize that they’ve paid for four months of gym membership….. They made a commitment going into this year, I’m going to eat right, I’m going to exercise 27 times a day, and I’m going to have an Atlas body by May 20th. Then too many of us look at our bank statement and go, “I have paid for four months of gym membership and I have been one time.” Why is it so hard? Why don’t we do more on that? Well, if you’ve ever tried to lose a bunch of weight and work out, you know how hard that can be. For our muscles to get strong, what has to happen to them in order for growth to happen? They have to tear. What does tearing cost? Pain. Financially, if you’re struggling with debt or you don’t make enough money, there’s going to be a price. You’re going to be working extra hours, maybe working two jobs, or selling everything but the dog and the kids, doing whatever it takes. . . . .losing sleep, time with friends and family, and on and on it goes, so you can get what you ultimately want, which is wholeness. But you’re only doing those things temporarily so you can take steps toward wholeness.

Emotionally, sometimes when we have to change the way that we feel or process our feelings or look at the way that we think, that is hard. It takes a lot of work, and sometimes, when we start digging into our emotional selves, it can feel violent, it can feel painful, it can feel jarring. Relationally — someone once said you’re the sum of the five people you spend the most time with. Think about that. The five people you spend the most time with influences the person you are. Sometimes, if you want to move toward wholeness, you realize, “I’m hanging out with some people who don’t push me toward wholeness.” Sometimes you have to make a hard decision — I’m not going to hang out with those people anymore, I’m going to choose different people to hang out with, and there’s a cost. It can be real painful.

The reason most people don’t take the steps to become whole. . . . .they’re really good at one of those or pretending at some of those. . . . but really becoming vulnerable and looking at the deep stuff is because it takes a lot of work to get there and it’s hard. I just believe that we have to be a church that’s so committed to this idea of helping people live in the way of Jesus with the heart of Jesus, that we don’t just take one part of them to account. Discipleship, growth, and all those things have to take the whole human being into practice. If we’re not asking one another how our marriage is, or how we’re doing relationally, or how we’re doing financially, or if our job is feeding us and we feel like we’re on mission, we’re on point. . . .if we’re not asking those questions and all we’re asking if we’ve memorized certain parts of Scripture, we’re not fully doing it.

And that’s not the way we see Jesus doing it. We see Jesus helping people become whole human beings. It’s hard. I wish I could take a ‘wholeness pill.’ If they sold that at Whole Foods, I would be driving over there right now getting a wholeness pill and popping it right in. The truth is we don’t gain a bunch of weight overnight, we don’t get into a bunch of debt typically overnight, our marriages don’t fail typically overnight, so why do we think we can walk out of those things overnight? I wish sometimes that the brokenness in me, the stuff that I have to contend with, that Jesus would just speak to it and it would just magically go way. I don’t know about you and your experience, but, historically, that’s not happened in my life. Amen?

A few years ago, I was going through a really rough season in life. I was just having to process a lot of stuff. There was some personal stuff I was contending with, and a lot of baggage from childhood that I was staring at. I started doing a lot of reflection and I realized that in my 20’s I spent so much time trying to be the person that I thought everyone else expected me to be. Has anyone else done that? All of us have done that! That was my identity, who everyone else expected me to be. Did you know that when you try really hard to be who everybody else wants you to be, it’s really hard? It takes a lot of work. I was emotionally numb in my 20’s, and I got married and I had kids. Starting to turn into my 30’s, I thought, “There’s gotta be more than this. I’m tired of feeling like I’m wearing someone else’s underwear.” That is not a good feeling! I started doing some work and took some assessments and personality profiles, and started going, oh my gosh, for the first time in my life I’m reading things that describe who I feel like I am inside. It was a cool journey. I was looking at all this stuff and going, well, here are my strengths, and here’s how I’m wired, and what my profile is, and all these sorts of things. There wasn’t really a lot of pain in that because it was just giving me a clearer picture of who God made me to be. That’s really, really cool! Then life happened and I went through this really difficult season. We all go through the pain, don’t we? I went to this therapist and talked about what was going on. The second session, I’ll never forget, she looked at me and she kind of smile and she said, “I get the idea that you see going to therapy as project.” I was like, “You are smart! You, my friend, are very perceptive!” Here’s the $90! She did say, “I get the feeling you think you should be able to knock out these issues in two to three sessions, is that correct?” I’m like, “Again. . . .you clearly are worthy of a license to counsel people because you are very in tune with me at this time.” It sounds funny saying it now, but she sat back and put her fingers together and smiled and said, “We’ll see.” Seven years later, I still call her and we still talk.

Here’s what happened — I told you a little bit about the way that I felt in my 20’s, and I had come into this discovery about my wiring and all these things, but they’re all these things that had impacted me from life that had contributed to brokenness to me that I couldn’t even see. It was very painful, because she held up a mirror to me and just showed me all of these ways that I thought about myself, that I thought about other people. It was literally so bad. . . .I have this voice, we call it the ‘monster’ voice that was telling me how terrible I am, how worthless I am, what a loser I am, and all these kind of things. Literally, if I were in a meeting and I had to get up and go to the bathroom, I would just hold it for hours, because I assumed that if I’d leave the room everybody would be talking about how much they hate me, and what a loser I am, and why is this pathetic loser on our team? It’s kind of funny, but it’s true. I’ve met hundreds and hundreds of people throughout the years that have that little voice that’s talking to them that’s saying, you’re worthless, and you’re pathetic, and you’re not good enough. Every person is this room has heard that voice that says, “You’re not good enough.”

Just like that man in the Scriptures, people probably condemned him or they gave him that little label. We’ve all felt that way. In therapy, I realized that I had to slog through this. I had to do a lot of work, and I’m still having to do that. Sometimes when I’m stressed that voice comes up again, but now I recognize it and go, wait a second, this seems off. Sometimes it gets me for a little bit. It’s this idea of changing the way we think and the way we behave that’s very, very hard to do. There is no magic pill. There is no magic pill to get you into the best shape of your life. There’s no magic pill that fixes your marriage or changes the way that you think, it’s by slogging through it. You know what it is? By putting one foot in front of the other and making a choice toward wholeness in those seven areas.

So when I look through this story and ask what can we learn from this, the things that I see clearly are that Jesus was committed to wholeness. In fact, his authority is rooted in love and he’s not content to sit and let us remain in our brokenness. I also learned that sometimes this journey toward wholeness is really painful. You might be sitting here today going, yeah, I hear you. I’ve been trying really, really hard and I’m just not getting there. All of us, the first of the year, put out these ridiculous resolutions. Do you know what resolutions do for most people? They set up the tee to bring shame upon ourselves at some point in the next few weeks. Why do we do that? That’s not the pattern of Jesus. Jesus looks beyond that stuff and says here’s one thing I’m going to tackle right now. And if you’re sitting here this morning and you’re thinking like, man, I’ve been trying really hard to lose weight, or I’m trying to fix my marriage, or all these sorts of things, you just need to know that Jesus is not content to let you sit in your brokenness. He’s intervened. The Spirit of God is working constantly to pull you toward the image of God that is within you, the ‘imago Dei.’ It’s still there. It might be marred or broken by sin and shame and guilt, but Jesus is not content to let you sit in it. It’s just that sometimes we don’t have perspective. Sometimes God is moving in all these ways and we don’t see it until later.

In the midst of that season I was talking about, it was the most painful season of my life. . . .navigating through that season. I wish that there were another way, but I will tell you this, just as the song the team was singing earlier, it’s in the season of pain that we grow the most. It’s true. I’ve got enough grey in my beard now to say it’s there because I’ve been through some things. I will just tell you that I sometimes wish there were another way, but just like Jesus huddled in the garden and prayed, Lord, if there’s any other way…. But there wasn’t, and he faced it, and he modeled for us what being a whole human being was all about. Toward the end of this story, people see this, and they saw the things that happened and their minds were blown. They were astonished.

I once heard someone say that we can’t all relate to one another’s successes. If I see a 22-year-old, college football athlete get a million dollar signing bonus to play football for some team, I can’t relate to that at all. But when someone is honest and vulnerable about their pain, about the gap between where they are and what wholeness looks like for them, people can relate to that. We can’t all relate to one another’s successes, but we all can relate to one another’s pain. I think when we open ourselves up to be vulnerable, people listen. We think about people far from God, and we just talk about how great everything is, the Bible says this and so everything’s fine, and we don’t ever open ourselves up to say I’ve got some work to do, they tune out the message of grace. But when we say I’m struggling with this, when this is difficult. . . .statistically, our marriages aren’t any better than somebody who doesn’t follow Jesus. Why is that? When we open up to be vulnerable and to talk about those things, people pay attention, and when God starts redeeming things in us and moving us toward wholeness, people pay attention to that. They’re intrigued by that. The more we open ourselves up to let the Holy Spirit mold and shape us, and move us into the person God created us to be, the more we work to take steps to help others do that, the more others will see and say, “I don’t know what that is, but I want that!” It’s awesome!

Here’s my hope: That we’d be a community filled with people who are devoting their lives toward helping others become who God has created them to be. That we’d be the kind of community that would look beyond the surface presentation, that would drop the labels, would stop saying clearly the person is mired in this and this. . . .that we’d look beyond that and say this is who God made that person to be. If we’d adopt a curious posture, instead of a judgmental posture, and listen and go, Holy Spirit, what are you saying about this person. I know it’s never just the thing they present with, right? Usually there’s something deeper. I’d dream that we’d be that kind of community, that would look beyond the surface and would pull people toward wholeness.

At our baptism a couple weeks ago, we had a number of people baptized from our Celebrate Recovery community. Celebrate Recovery is a gathering. . . .it’s really a tribe within a tribe. It’s a gathering on Tuesday nights at 6:30, where people are welcome to come with their hurts, habits, and hangups. Did you know something? Every person in this room has a hurt, habit, or hangup. It’s a comfortable, safe environment for people to come and say I’m broken and I need some work. There are people with all different kinds of afflictions–some are recovering from drugs or alcohol, others are recovering from the way they think, others are working through physical issues, but on and on. One of the things I love about Celebrate Recovery is it gives people freedom to come in and look at the seven things and journey toward wholeness in community. A couple weeks ago when we had baptism, I saw three or four people who are part of that Tuesday night CR group get baptized. Do you know what happened when they did that? It wasn’t that they’re like I’m completely whole and everything’s perfect. They were actually incredibly vulnerable with this church community to say I’m working through my stuff and I’m so thankful for what God is doing, the grace of God and how it’s impacting my life that I’m going to get baptized in front of the whole church to identify with the grace that I got from Jesus Christ. I think that’s really beautiful, friends. I think that’s a picture of what churches should be. I love that that’s here and I love that there’s so many people in a part of this church who so understand this idea of wholeness that it’s changing how they choose to live their life. From the things that they eat to the way that they think to the types of relationships they’re in, and the people that they’re caring well for. I love that we see this so much in our church.

I love that we have a food bank that feeds a ton of people every Saturday morning. But there are volunteers all throughout the week that are sorting food and taking care of things. Why? To help people take a step toward wholeness with food, so not going without. I love that we see people befriending single moms who are really struggling and helping them have a more whole life and taking care of their kids in a more holistic way. I thinks that really beautiful.

My prayer, friends, is that even when the journey is hard, we’d remember that the gaze of Jesus extends beyond our stuff, beyond the façade, the shell that we’ve all built, to the person that God created us to be, and the good work of Jesus is calling people toward wholeness. I’m thankful that God continues to do that today.

Now the hard part: I’m going to ask the question—What about you? I’ve talked about this guy in the story, I’ve talked about Jesus, I’ve talked about Celebrate Recovery and Food Bank, and some great things that were happening in our community, but if Jesus were here teaching today and he were to gaze out across this crowd and his eyes were to meet you, would your first instinct be to know that his first gaze would be looking beyond your brokenness into your potential? A lot of us would answer that as no. Some of us need to consider that that little voice inside that says we’re not good enough, we’re not worth it is not what we see in Scripture. The real gaze of Jesus goes beyond our stuff, beyond the mess to the person that God’s created us to be. Maybe for some of us here today, we need to receive grace. Maybe this story is to help us see that Jesus looks at us with arms open wide.

I’m going to put those seven areas, parts of our life, back up on the screen. These cumulatively work together to make a whole human being. I want you to take a little self-inventory as you look at those. If Jesus were here today teaching and he gazed at you. . . .if a part of your life, maybe in one of those areas stood up and shouted, “Who are you? Have you come to get rid of me? What do you want with me?”. . . . .if some part of your life were to stand up and respond to Jesus in that way, which part or parts would that be? For some of us, it’s that physical part of our life. We’re not taking care of our bodies well. For others, it’s financial. We’re not managing our money well, we’re not stewarding the gifts that God’s entrusted us with. For others, it’s relationships that are standing up going, I need some help here, in my family or in my relationship with others. For others, maybe it’s vocationally. Maybe some of us in this room are in dead-end jobs and we feel no sense of life or purpose as we go to work. Why? Why not take a look at that? I’m going to ask you to think about that. It might be helpful to take a picture of this slide or write it down, so you can chew on it this week. Say to God, “God, I know you’re committed to wholeness. You’re not content to just let me sit where I am.”

I’m going to ask you to think about two questions, this is your reflection, your practice this week. What areas of your life are less than whole? Think about that. Out of those seven things, what parts of your life are less than whole? Not all of us are a perfect 10 in all of those. If we are, check your pulse because you’re probably not alive any more. Right? We all have room to grow and to work. The second question I’ll throw out in a second. For me, I know when I want to tackle something like I’m going to physically get in the best shape ever. I start working out like crazy, just go nuts. Then in like three days in I hurt myself because I’m overdoing it. I think the question is: What’s A step that you can take? That’s the second question: What could you do this week to take a step toward wholeness? You’re not going to be whole in all seven of those things. For some of us, we’re whole in a couple of these and we’re doing terribly in three or four of them. It’s going to vacillate through life. Some seasons you’re doing really, really well in one and not in another. Then you’ll go work on that and then the first one lacks. The goal of this is not to introduce this idea of guilt and shame of I just can’t get there. The goal is am I taking A step toward progress? That’s the work the Holy Spirit is pulling us toward. Maybe it’s getting on a written budget, or maybe it’s choosing to eat healthy, or to stop telling ourselves those negative thoughts, or to spend more time investing in our family. Whatever it might be, I want you to remember that Jesus’s authority is rooted in love, and he always sees the best in us, and he’s always committed to pulling us toward wholeness.

I’ll give you a couple of moments to reflect on these. I’m going to ask our elders to come up. At the end of every gathering we have our elders come up front and invite you to come up for prayer. The band’s going to sing one final song, and I just want to encourage you to come up during the song and ask for prayer.

Ethos: | Wholeness | Mark 1:21-28 | Week 32024-06-12T16:22:23-06:00
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