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South Fellowship Church

Foolish is the New Wise

1 Corinthians 1:18-31 – Foolish is the New Wise: No one wants to be a fool. No one wants to be thought of as unintelligent or unwise. However, in this passage of the scriptures, Paul invites his readers to embrace the foolishness of the cross of Jesus. He challenges us to forsake worldly wisdom in favor of divine madness. He claims that the foolishness of the cross: the fact that God would come as a man, live, die, and rise again; is in fact the power of God. Embrace the absurdity of the cross and step into the abundance of Jesus!

Foolish is the New Wise2020-08-21T07:53:39-06:00

Last is the New First

Mark 9:33-37 & John 13:3 – “Last is the New First” We all want to be first. We all want to be great; we want our lives to have influence and make an impact. It’s fascinating that Jesus doesn’t rebuke people for these desires, in fact, he tells His followers how to be great. His claim is you become great not by stepping over and using other people, but rather by serving them. He claims, “The first will be last and the last will be first. If you want to be the greatest, you must become the servant of all.” What a counter-intuitive paradoxical invitation!

Last is the New First2020-08-21T07:55:00-06:00

Giving is the New Receiving

April 3rd 2015listen to last Sunday’s worship set. Mark 6:30-44 – Giving is the New Receiving. Jesus made some crazy statements, none crazier than “To give is more blessed than to receive.” (Acts 20:35) It’s one of the most counter-intuitive claims that Jesus makes, but it was one of the invitations he gave to those who wanted to follow him. In a very practical way, Jesus taught that your life is more full; not when it’s full of more stuff, but when it’s full of generosity. Winston Churchill echoed these sentiments of Jesus when he said, “You make a living with what you get, but you make a life with what you give.” What might it look like to step into this truth more fully? How might we live differently today if we really believed that giving was the new receiving?

Giving is the New Receiving2020-08-21T07:57:57-06:00

No is the New Yes

April 26th 2015listen to last Sunday’s worship set.

Genesis 2:1-3, Exodus 20:8-11, John 19:30 – No is the New Yes – The invitation to rest and cease from our work is all throughout the pages of scripture; but we live in a fast-paced and production oriented society and its hard to allow ourselves to slow down. It’s easy to become stressed out and burdened by all that we have to do and accomplish. However, Jesus invites us to come to him and find rest for our soul! It turns out, the way to release life’s burdens is through Sabbath, not through striving. Listen as we explore this counter-intuitive invitation of Jesus.

No is the New Yes2020-08-21T08:00:15-06:00

Weak is the new strong: Judges 7

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April 19th 2015listen to last Sunday’s worship set. Judges 7:1-15 – Weak is the New Strong. The testimony throughout the Scriptures is that God shines His strength NOT through human through our power, but through our weakness. I don’t know about you, but its hard for me to admit that I’m weak or that I need help. Explore with us what it looks like to embrace this upside down way of living; where we allow God’s strength to shine through our weaknesses. God is looking for more weak people to display his power through!

Weak is the New Strong – Judges 7:1-15

Let me give you a little bit of background as we jump in feet first today.  The nation of Israel, if you were to look at and sort of chart their history as a people, especially as we’re told it in the Scriptures, could be equated to a roller coaster.  I mean they have some extremely high highs and some extremely low lows and those highs and those lows are often pitted against each other in close proximity.  You get whiplash reading through some of this nation’s history.  They go through seasons of prosperity and seasons of goodness and seasons of following after the heart of Jesus.  And they also go through seasons where they hold God at a distance and say we’ve got this, we’ve got it covered, we don’t really need you….in fact, we’re going to go the exact opposite way and worship idols and build high places, etc., etc.

As we jump into the book of Judges, we are going to encounter the nation of Israel at a season of prosperity, a season of rest.  In fact, at the end of Judges 5:31 we get a little bit of context for the story we’re going to jump into today and it says this: The land had rest for forty years.   This is under the great leadership and ministry of one of their judges whose name was Deborah.  She led the nation well, God’s blessing was on her and for forty years they had a season of rest, of goodness, of prosperity.  You may be able to look back in your own life—I can look back on mine—-and see that seasons of blessing often point me or lead me or sort of haphazardly bring me to the place of complacency.  Can anybody relate?  Seasons of blessings often lead us to this place where we may not say it but really we live it—-God, I don’t know if I need you because things are going pretty well.  I’ve got this nailed!

The nation of Israel, that’s the place that they came to.  And the very next verse, Judges 6:1, reads like this: And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord.  So the season of rest, the season of prosperity, the season of goodness directly leads them to sorta the “Lazy Boy chair” where they put their feet up, pop the recliner out, lay back and…..all of a sudden they’re in this place where they do evil in the sight of the Lord.  And then it says this really strange thing: …and the Lord gave them into the hand of Midian…   That God’s action towards them was I’m going to break you out of this season of complacency, the season of idolatry by bringing a little bit of hardship and a little bit of oppression on you.  We don’t love this about God, do we?  Let’s be honest with each other this morning.  We don’t love that God often breaks us out of seasons of complacency by bringing us into seasons of adversity, but he does.  God gave them into the hand of the Midianites for seven years. The Midianites, you need to understand, this was a prolific, prominent army.  They were a fighting people.  They were well resourced, they were well trained.  They were ready to go and for seven years they did not have much trouble keeping their powerful thumb on the Israelites and keeping them oppressed.  The Israelites were going to the mountains and hide out.  They lived much of this time, these seven years, in fear.  But God is going to bring them a person, a man, to lead them into this next season of prosperity. It’s often cyclical.  They get beat down a little bit, God raises them up as they increase their dependence on Him and then it starts over again.

The person God’s going to bring Israel out of this season of complacency and adversity is named Gideon.  You may have heard of him.  Listen to his resume.  God calls him and hears what he says:  Please, Lord, how can I save Israel?  Behold, my clan is the weakest in Manasseh {So in this tribe that’s not even the strongest tribe in Israel….my tribe, my family is the weakest in that tribe.} …and I am the least in my father’s house. (Judges 6:15)    I’m the youngest, I’m the weakest, I’m the least qualified even of my own family.  And God, you want to choose ME? God, you want to work through me?  Gideon reluctantly takes up this mantle.  This mantle to be the Lord’s chosen person, his leader in this nation.  Gideon had to be a pretty good salesperson, because he is able to recruit—-to fight with him against these Midianites—-32,000 other Israelites.  Now, 32,000 people, untrained and unqualified, with a leader who’s the last and the least, going against the Midianites.  They had about 135,000 people in their trained, well-resourced army.  Now, show of hands.  Anybody want to get in on that???  You look at this at the onset and you look at it through simply natural eyes and you go if I’m a betting man in Vegas my money’s on Midian.  Not on Gideon.  Right?  135,000 vs. 32,000!  Not exactly great odds if you’re a fighting person.

Listen to the way the story continues and this is where we’re going to jump in, chapter 7:1-2:  Then Jerubbaal (that is, Gideon) and all the people who were with him rose early and encamped beside the spring of Harod. And the camp of Midian was north of them, by the hill of Moreh, in the valley.  The Lord said to Gideon, “The people with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand. {Now here’s the thing.  If I’m Gideon, I’m just going to throw a quick time-out to God….I don’t want to question you God, like I’m sure you’re great at a lot of things.  I mean, you are King of Kings, Lord of Lords, you do sit on the throne of the universe, but maybe math isn’t your thing.  Let’s just have an honest conversation, God.  We have 32,000, they have 135,000 and you’re saying there’s too many of us!  You gotta be kidding me!!} ….into their hand, lest Israel boast over me, saying, ‘My own hand has saved me.’     There’s this really interesting principle that weaves its way all throughout the Scriptures.  From beginning to end, we see God inviting and calling people that HE can shine through.  Not people that necessarily have it all together—-which should be great news for us this morning, should it not.  God calls people, not that they have it all together, but people who understand that they don’t and are willing to be used.  Here’s the principle that I want us to wrap our hearts and minds around this morning:  God demonstrates His strength through our weakness.

So you look at one of the great leaders of the nation of Israel, Moses.  Moses leads his people out of Egypt.  Moses has multiple movies made about how awesome he is.  And yet if you go back and read the story of Moses, his claim throughout the whole time is I’m the wrong guy.  I’m a murderer, I’m weak, I’ve got a stutter, if you can bring other people alongside of me, God, that would be awesome, that would be great.  We could accomplish something if you had somebody qualified.

David, arguably the greatest king the nation of Israel ever sees.  Would have been overlooked because his dad didn’t think he was qualified to be in the lineup of people that might be chosen.  Right?  He’s getting Taco Bell for his brothers while everybody else is being paraded in front of Samuel to see who would be the next king. And yet, this is the person that God chooses to work through.  It appears in God’s economy that it is possible to be too big for God to use, but it’s impossible to be too small!  It is you can be too big for God to use, but you cannot be too small.

I was interacting with my Life group around, not this specific passage but another one that made the same point, and we started to really wrestle with this idea that even in the church we don’t like this, do we?  No!  We would much rather take a strength-finders test and a spiritual gift assessment than we would do any sort of reflection on our weaknesses, wouldn’t we?  It’s sorta interesting and I say it sorta tongue-in-cheek, but have you ever taken a “weakness assessment?”  Where you took the test and it’s like wow, you’re really terrible at hospitality.  You should have a few more people over so Jesus can shine through that.  You’re the least welcoming person we know; we’re going to put you at the door Sunday.  You’re so intimidating Jesus has to shine; people will just be turned away.  We don’t like this, do we?  We do not like this idea and if you’re anything like me I often either make excuses around my weaknesses or try to cover them.  So it sounds a little bit like this:  If I were a little bit more intelligent with the Bible, then I’d share my faith.   Because God needs me to be real smart to shine through.  Or, if I was a little bit more quiet, or if I was a little bit more loud, well then God could probably use me….or if my health was a little bit better then I would jump in the game and when it gets there I’m in.  Or, when my circumstances are a little bit different then I’m sure I’ll be a vessel that God wants to use.  And we have this, even in the church, we have this tendency to say strong is better and God works through strong people and people that are able, rather than embracing the Biblical principle that says well actually He loves to choose small, insignificant, broken vessels to shine His glory through.  He loves to!

Listen to the way Paul says this: If I’m going to boast {So he’s in this interaction with a church that he loves, that he helped start.  People have come in after them and they have their Apostle resumes with them and Paul goes alright if you want to play that game let’s play it, but…} If I’m going to boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. {because then you see Jesus and not me.  That’s what I’m going to boast in, he says.} (2 Cor. 11:30)  I say that sort of tongue-in-cheek, have we ever developed a spiritual weakness assessment?  Or have we done a weakness-finder test?  I say that sorta tongue-in-cheek, but I do believe that there’s some absolutely beautiful, power principles about the way that weakness actually positions us better than strength to not only be used by the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, but how to know Him and walk with Him better.  Let me point out three of those that I think come through in the story of Gideon.

Look again with me at verse 2:  The Lord said to Gideon, “The people with you are too many for me to give in to the hands of the Midianites, lest Israel boast over me, saying, ‘My own hand has saved me.”    That word “boast” is key.  It means glory in, or to adorn, or to make beautiful.  Here’s what God wants to do in the nation of Israel and I would propose He wants to do this in our lives, too. To position us, not only for useful for His kingdom, but for joy as we walk with him.  Here’s what he’s doing with the nation of Israel:  He’s bringing them low, to subdue their pride.  All throughout their history, they have this tendency to win a few battles and think they’re awesome.  I mean, I’m so glad we’re so different!  So glad I’m so different.  A few little successes and we start to……the human heart is drawn towards…I’m going to put myself up on that throne…of my life…of the universe!  And the thought goes into our head: If I were God I would do this so much differently and so much better and He could probably stand to take a few notes from me.  Right?  I’m not alone in this, am I?  Here’s what God is saying:  Pride that elevates you will actually destroy you.  Did you know there’s a way to win victory that will actually lead to your defeat?  And it’s a victory that leads us to think I’m awesome, rather than deflecting the glory and praise back to Him and saying He is amazing!  The Scriptures are gonna teach God hates pride.  He hates it because it robs Him of his glory and it robs you of joy.  Because the life aligned with the way God created the whole universe to function has Him on the throne, not us!  Humility for us will either come through an awareness of His divinity OR it will come through humiliation.  You get to choose.  But we will be humbled.  It will either be a humility that comes from realizing He’s God, I’m not OR it will be a humility that comes through humiliation.

I was going through my evening ritual this last week, which includes watching Sports Center.  I saw this video that I thought oh my goodness that perfectly displays what I feel like this passage wants to bring out—–and another package that we’re going to look at in a second.  This is a (video) clip of an Oregon runner who thinks he’s won a race.  At the very end he’s reminded he’s not as awesome as he thinks he is.  (Video–He tries to play to the crowd and gets comfortable and cocky and at the end he gets beat out by someone else!)  The Scriptures are going to make the same point you just saw.  The Proverbs simply say:  Pride goes before destruction and a haughty before a fall. (Prov. 16:18)  I think so many times God longs to reroute our lives to say you’re not as great as you think you are.  Your greatness actually comes…your power actually comes when you’re on your knees understanding you’re not as great as you think you are, rather than when you’re beating your chest going aren’t I awesome.  This is this counter-intuitive, paradoxical invitation of the Gospels and the work and the words of Jesus to say in your weakness you actually find what it means to be strong.

So the Apostle Paul, who arguably had one of the most fruitful ministries the world has ever seen, had an ethereal experience that had the potential maybe to puff him up a little bit.  He had this vision of heaven or was called up into heaven, he doesn’t even really know, and he goes this was so amazing! I was called up into the third heaven and I saw things and I heard things absolutely unspeakable.  And God, in order to sorta balance out Paul’s amazing experience, gives him what Paul calls a thorn in the flesh.  Listen to the way he interprets what God is doing in his life. (2 Cor. 12:7-10)  So to keep me from becoming conceited {Quite literally “puffed up.”}  because of the surpassing greatness of these revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh {I’m not going to unpack all that this means except to say that whatever it was was given by God and Satan was the UPS guy delivering it.}  ..a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.  {So he says this twice.  This is what God wants to do.  I had this experience that may have had the tendency to puff me up and make me go I’m amazing and I’m awesome.  Look what I’ve been a part of, look what I’ve seen, look what I’ve done.  God says in order to use you I’ve got to keep you humble.}  Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me.  But he said to me {This is beautiful if we can get this.  It’s powerful.}  “My grace is sufficient for you.  {Just a quick timeout.  Not just to save you, friend.  That’s what I was taught about Christianity for years and years and years.  God’s grace is enough to save you and then YOU get on with it and work and strive and earn and if you don’t you should feel guilty.  Welcome to the party.  That is not Christianity.  This is Paul writing this.  Listen, even in my Christian journey, in my walk there was something given to me to keep me dependent on Jesus, even in light of all the amazing things that I’ve accomplished and experiences that I’ve had. What was more important to God was NOT to give me great experiences but keep me close to the heart of Jesus.  That was the most important thing that God could do for Paul.}   My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  ….. verse 10 For when I am weak, then I am strong. 

Here’s the deal, friend.  You can either walk in your strength or God’s, but you can’t walk in both.  And a walk with Jesus, a journey with Jesus, a relationship with Jesus….it never gets to the point where we outgrow our need.  If it does, we’ve elevated ourself to a position of pride and we will not see His provision if that’s our position.  We just won’t.  We’ll rob ourselves of it.  I was wrestling with this this week because I go what does that really look like? what does it really mean?  How do we step into this weakness in a way that would honor and lift high Jesus and not just be self-deprecating humility.  Here’s what I sense God saying:  Ryan, even your strengths are only strengths in comparison to people who aren’t quite as good as you at certain things, but in reality how good are you in comparison to me.  I think all we have to do to operate from a position of “weakness or need” is get a picture from the Hubble telescope that reminds us we are……I don’t think God wants to tell us we’re small, He wants to remind us that we ARE!  Nobody in Heaven is going to be saying hey, Paulson, give us a sermon.  We heard you’re awesome.  I know Jesus is preaching on the other stage, but………NO WAY!!  I think operating from a position of weakness simply means that we operate from a position of honesty.  Good self reflection of who we really are in light of Him.  And then it’s being willing to step into that in a communal way, to say I don’t have it all together!  I’m far from perfect.

Last weekend I had an absolutely terrible weekend.  I went to celebrate my grandmother’s life and her memorial, but I came back having seen my uncle battling for his life in a cancer center in L.A. and my grandfather turned 91 and he has dementia—-a brilliant man whose mind is just gone.  I come back going I love you, guys, but I’ve got nothing for you unless Jesus fills me.  I think so many times, I’ll just be honest with you, I try to cover my weakness and cover my need instead of just exposing it. And the beautiful words of Jesus in the Beatitudes….listen to what he says:  Blessed are those who mourn.  And it’s not try really hard to mourn.  It’s not try hard to cry and get upset about things.  We have this kids’ book called Tear Soup where Frog and Toad think of really sad things and they cry into this little bucket and they make tear soup out of it.  He’s not saying make tear soup, that’s not what He’s saying.  I think what He’s saying is be honest about your need, be honest about your pain and in your honesty you’ll find that He is sufficient and He is good.  But if you want to cover it up and you want to pretend like everything’s okay, you will never see his comfort and his provision.  Never will. The key to being comforted is to be vulnerable.

Friends, this is not a place {will you look up at me for a second}…this church is not a place where you need to hide your scars.  You don’t need to pretend like things are okay if they’re not.  In fact, Jesus’ power will be displayed through this body as we go I’m not okay, but praise Jesus, He is!!  And His grace is sufficient for us. That’s why we NEED to continue to have a Celebrate Recovery ministry—it’s not an option for us, I don’t think. Where we can walk in and go I am not okay.  Jesus is and He’s still on the throne and so we’re okay, but my life’s a mess.  Honesty opens me to receive from my community and it also puts me in the place to minister to others.  Have you ever walked away from a conversation from somebody who just nailed it and was awesome and thought I’m so glad I had that conversation.  Somebody who’s prideful and puffed up and actually ministers to you??  I haven’t.  It’s broken vessels that God uses.  Consistently all throughout Scripture and consistently in this church today.  I love the way that Pastor Rick Warren puts it:  “Other people are going to find healing in your wounds.  Your greatest life messages and your greatest ministry will come out of your deepest hearts.”  If we cover those, we prevent the strength of God from flowing through us.

Here’s the way the story continues, verse 3:  Now therefore proclaim in the ears of the people, saying, ‘Whoever is fearful and trembling, let him return home and hurry away from Mount Gilead.'”  Then 22,000 of the people returned, and 10,000 remained.  {Are you kidding me right now?  If God says that to me and I’m Gideon, I’m like so you have another army somewhere that I’m not aware of…because our feeble attempt at victory just walked off.}  And the Lord said to Gideon, “The people are still too many.  Take them down to the water and I will test them for you there, and anyone of whom I say to you, ‘This one shall go with you,’ shall go with you, and anyone of whom I say to you, ‘This one shall not go with you,’ shall not go.” So he brought the people down to the water.  And the Lord said to Gideon, “Every one who laps the water with his tongue, as a dog laps, you shall set by himself.  Likewise, every one who kneels down to drink.”  {So he goes you’re going to make two categories.  There’s normal people and there’s weird people.  It turns out good news/bad news situation for Gideon here.  He gets the normal people.  Bad news is 10,700 of them are abnormal!  The normal people are the ones who go to the stream and pick up the water (to drink from their hands).  That’s how I drink out of rivers.  I never go down to the water’s edge and put my entire head in the water and (slurp sound).  I’ve never done that, but it turns out that 10,700 Israelites do!  And God goes you don’t get the weirdos, they’re all going home.  You get the normal folks who just cup the water and drink it.  Bad news is, Gideon, now you’re down to 300.  Are you kidding me?  Wow! }

Here’s what we start to see. Here’s the beauty and power of weakness: 1) it subdues our pride.  It gets us off of the throne of our life and 2) it increases our dependency.  Wouldn’t you agree that depleted resources always lead to increased dependency.  And anytime we feel like we’ve grown beyond…..anytime I feel like I’ve grown beyond that I feel like my 2-1/2 year old son swatting my wife’s hand away as he goes down a water slide unable to swim.  He’s like I got this, mom!  We’re good! And he’ll scream at the water and go nooooo! He’ll try to hit her hand out of way.  He goes down like a torpedo into the pool that he’s unable to swim in!  And I feel like God goes exactly!  Every time you think you nail it, Ryan, every time you think you got it you just grew further away from actually being in a place where I can use you.  The beauty and power of weakness is that in increases our dependency.  I love the way the great pastor Allister Begg puts it when he says: “If dependency is our goal, then weakness is an advantage.”     I’ll just be honest with you as I see in myself that self-sufficiency often leads me to a place of God deficiency.  When I think I can do it, God’s response is often let’s see it.  Go right ahead and try.  Some of you are in marriage cycles where you are saying God, I can do it.  And He’s going okay, but when it breaks down come back to me.  I love you.  Some of you are in job cycles where you’ve said over and over and over again I can do it, I can do it, I can do it and it just seems like the ground is giving way underneath you.

Here’s what God knows….about his interaction with Gideon and his interaction with us.  The more He takes away, the closer He draws us to his heart.  And the best thing He can give you is himself.  So if He has to take things away, trinkets and shiny things away, in order to draw you closer to His heart, in His goodness and His grace He’s too good of a God not to do that for you.  And so some of us are in the position we’re in this morning and I hope our ears are open to a God who’s saying would you come home.  You’ve tried it on your own.  It’s failed you, but there’s a power in weakness, there’s a beauty in weakness because it leads you back to my throne and to me.  Here’s the thing: In weakness we find awareness that God is at work even when we’re unable to be.  If we have all the strength and all the power we will often overlook the fact that God is working.  Because we have more than enough to eat we very rarely ever pray “give me today my daily bread” with any sort of urgency.  But it’s in that weakness, in that dependency that we start to have an increased awareness.  I’ve talked to so many couples where they go we’ve walked through this insanely difficult season of life and for the first time we really saw God’s hand at work in our marriage.  Why?  Because they didn’t have anywhere else to turn.  The way we are as people is that we will exhaust all of our resources before we turn to Him.  And I think what we’re being taught this morning is simply don’t wait for Me to deplete all of your resources to back to My goodness and grace.  You need me now!!  Every hour you need Me!!  So just come!

It also increases our intimacy…..our weakness.  We’re pushed in and if the pinnacle of Christian maturity is Jesus’ invitation to his church, which it is, abide in me, what’s the best thing you can do as a follower of Jesus….abide.  Know that you’re dependent on the vine as the branch to bear any sort of fruit, not optional, not hey if you run out of resources on your own then run to Jesus, no!  The whole Christian life is found in one word….abide.  Walk with Him, know Him, receive His love, give His love to others, bear fruit.  He goes it’s not Plan A and there’s a Plan B and if you don’t bear fruit that way, you can bear fruit another way.  He goes no, no, no, no, no!  John 15:5 says: I am the vine; you are the branches.  Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.  I’m reminded that I can have the resources in my hand or the resources in Jesus’ hand and I often think I have more in my hands than He does!  I often do…..maybe you’re in the same boat that I am.  I think His invitation this morning to us is don’t be too ashamed of your deficiency to receive His provision.    Run to Him….in an honest, transparent way!  You need healing from a loss of a child, of a baby…..you run to Him!  You need healing from a marriage that hasn’t gone the way you’ve struggled with…..run to Him…He’s enough!  Has the job fallen through….have the kids left….whatever it is….run to Him He’s enough!  He goes my arms are open wide!  I love you!  Welcome home!

Judges 7:9 says this:  That same night {That same night after he lost his next 10,700 men and went from 32,000 vs. 135,000 to 300 vs. 135,000!}  That same night the Lord said to him, “Arise, go down against the camp, for I have given it into your hand.  But if you are afraid  {I love that God makes provision for fear and Gideon takes him up on his provision}  …to go down, go down to the camp with Purah your servant.  And you shall hear what they say, and afterward your hands shall be strengthened to go down against the camp.”  Then he went down with Purah {Which means? He was afraid!  Heck yeah, I’m afraid!  I’m a normal man and you just took away the majority of my army and we’re fighting against somebody already bigger than us…..thank you very much for making this provision for fear.  I get to take my armor bearer with me against 135,000 people.  Thank you, God! Ever felt like that with God, though, where you’re thinking the giants on the horizon are far greater than the resources in my corner?  Listen to what he says.}  And the Midianites and the Amalekites and all the people of the East lay along the valley like locusts in abundance, and their camels were without number, as the sand that is on the seashore in abundance.  When Gideon came, behold, a man was telling a dream to his comrade.  And he said, “Behold, I dreamed a dream, and behold, a cake of barley bread tumbled into the camp of Midian and came to the tent and struck it so that it fell and turned it upside down, so that the tent lay flat.” And his comrade answered, “This is no other than the sword of GIdeon the son of Joash, a man of Israel; God has given into his hand Midian and all the camp.”       Can you imagine Gideon hearing this conversation and going to his armor bearer and going he’s talking about us.  He has no clue we only have 300 men!  Shhh! Go get the rest of the guys!  Are you kidding me?!  He hears this prophetic dream of the enemy saying they’re going to be defeated.  I was struck by the fact that had Gideon had an army equal to or greater than the Midianites, he never would have made 1) that journey and 2) he never would have approached the fight in a way that would have been any different than any other fight you’ve read about.  It’s the depletion of resources and the abundant need that causes Gideon to go alright if we’re gonna win, there’s gotta be a different way.

So here’s the beauty and power of weakness:  not only does it subdue our pride and increase our dependence, but it also stimulates our creativity.  Where you go God, I don’t have the resources to do it the normal way, so You’ve got to show up and You’ve got to make a way.  I always tell people in premarital counseling to embrace seasons of being poor.  I meet so many young married folks that run up credit cards trying to do things awesome, instead of embracing the season that they’re in.  Of saying we don’t have a lot of resources, but maybe, just maybe we don’t need them to have fun and to make some memories and to actually have a season of life that’s filled with God and His goodness and His glory.  I can remember being in college dating (my wife) Kelly where CSU would have these coupon booklets that had “2-for-1” Qdoba burritos in them.  It was one per customer per visit.  Well, Kelly and I made a lot of visits!  I went with my backpack…..I loaded up with these coupon books and riding my bike home I’m like…BOOM!….dates for a year!!  How do you feel about Qdoba again? Awesome!  We were poor, we didn’t have anything and it was one of our best seasons of life.

Depletion of resources often points us in directions that we wouldn’t normally go.  Coming to the end of your rope {will you look up at me for a second?} is not the end of the road.  It’s just the end of what you envisioned your life to look like and be, which is a beautiful position to be in because that’s where God meets you and says: oh, you thought the goal was THIS, but I have so much more for you and if you hadn’t of run on empty you may have never asked the King of Kings and Lord of Lords what He thought.  I’m convinced that God is looking for more weak people to use for His glory.  More people who are in need and understand it that He can use for His glory because that’s who He shines through.  And friend, your greatest asset, the thing that you bring most to the Kingdom of God, may very well be your greatest weakness.  Because those are the things that God shines through.  Those are the areas that God fills.  In his letter to the church at Corinth, Paul writes this:   But we have this treasure {This Gospel treasure. This glory of God, His sufficiency treasure and we carry around this beautiful treasure in these really crazy, normal, everyday bodies.  He calls them jars of clay, earthen vessels.  To show…..so why does God put His glory and power in people like you and me?}  But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. (2 Cor. 4:7)  That’s why! That’s why he chooses to use frail and broken vessels.  I was reminded this week that light is displayed many times out of our weaknesses and the cracks in our life far better than it is out of the strengths of our life.

{Lights were turned off in the sanctuary for demonstration}  Two similarly sized pots.  But one of them has a bunch of holes in it.  And the other one is the way that many of us want to live our life.  We want to live under this sorta false front that we put out for everybody that says everything’s okay.  And when we do that, what we do is we cover some of the greatest cracks that God, in His glory and grace, could shine through.  So I think when God calls the church to honesty, when He says I will work through your weakness because in your weakness I am made strong.  Here’s what He’s saying: You carry around the glory of Christ in your body, in earthen vessels, and the way that His glory gets out is not through our strengths but through our cracks.  We must be willing to say I don’t have it all together and I’m completely imperfect and I’m struggling with sin and I’m struggling with doubt and I live in shame and I live in guilt; there’s a lot of these things that have their claws in me and God says alright when you do that, when you share that, and you stop pretending and playing the game, those are areas not only that I can NOW heal, but that I can shine through!  I long for us to be a place, friends, where we say it’s okay to not be okay.  Because in what we’re doing when we say that is I’ve enough confidence and trust in Jesus to remember that He’s okay and that His grace is sufficient for me.  So I wonder if, in some ways, we’ve been covering our weaknesses and they’re the very things that God wants to shine through.  Because we can pretend like we have it all together or we can be honest and say that we don’t.  There’s a way that Jesus is made much of through our life and it’s saying He’s healed…..the marriage, healed the kids….His grace is sufficient for us.  It wasn’t easy, but I clung to Him with everything I have and I found that He is enough!  To quote the great modern hymn:  “I will not boast in anything; no strength, no power, no wisdom.  But I will boast in Jesus Christ, his power and resurrection!” (In Christ Alone)  I won’t boast in anything, but I will boast in this He is sufficient, He is enough by His grace and His mercy.  I pray that you’ll believe it and that you will step into that life.  The weak is the new strong!

Let’s pray.  So King Jesus we come to you not pretending like we have it all together.  Not pretending like we’re even close to being amazing or awesome or as amazing or awesome as we hope people think we are.  But we come to you…people who are in need.  We never want to grow beyond that, Jesus.  We never want to mature beyond bowing at your throne to find grace and mercy in our time of need, which we freely admit is more often than we like to freely admit.  So as you bring us low, Jesus, in order to exalt us, would you remind us that the position of power is actually on our knees.  Pride subdued, dependency increased, creativity heightened because of the fact that we need You.  And because of the fact that in your people’s need You meet that need with your provision.  We love you, Jesus, and we lift high your name.  In the powerful name of Jesus we pray.  Amen.

Weak is the new strong: Judges 72021-01-18T11:10:50-07:00

Surrender is the New Freedom – Mark 8:31-38

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Mark 8:27-38 – Surrender is the new Freedom. Jesus invited his followers to some things that seemed a little bit crazy on the surface. On one occasion, he told them to lose their life and find what it means to truly live. His point was, the hard you try to hold onto, control, and preserve your life, the less you are actually able to live. Listen as we explore this counter-intuitive teaching of Jesus.

Surrender is the New Freedom – Mark 8:31-38

(Intro Summary – Pastor Ryan retells a story he heard from his English teacher about a good-looking 16-year old boy who had many suitors.  He turned all the suitors down feeling that none were good enough for him.  He was walking near a pond and looked in and saw a reflection of himself.  And found the love he’d been waiting for. This is the Greek myth about Narcissus.  When he tries to grab his reflection, the pond ripples and the image of his face is dispersed.  His image haunts himself for the rest of his life and he eventually dies near the pond.)

I’ve heard it said that Narcissus is the patron saint of humanity.  Not exactly a flattering statement about us as people, but, I would argue, a true one.  And I don’t know if we’ve done ourselves a lot of service in attaching strict clinical diagnoses around that word.  I don’t necessarily consider myself a diagnosed narcissist, but I know that I wrestle with well…..me.  I wrestle with wanting to be at the center of it all.  I think, in many ways, this Greek myth is a representation of the way that sin has distorted us.  The way that sin is distorting our souls….that it haunts us.  God designed us in His goodness and His grace and His glory to be outward focused beings, living in His vast universe in the joy and mercy He designed us for, but, if you read back to the very beginning of the story, Adam and Eve—the first thing they do is—turn from this outward focus, God-directed life and they focus on themselves.  They look into the pond and they go aren’t we beautiful.  Don’t we deserve more than we have?  And from that point on, you and I struggle with looking in that pond, thinking that people should acquiesce to my desires and should serve me and should come around me.  We cave in on ourselves, but in the passage we’re going to look at today Jesus is going to invite us to something better and something more.  It’s a paradox really.  He’s going to invite us to lose ourselves and in doing so find the real meaning behind why we were created by this benevolent, good, beautiful God.  I don’t know about you, but I struggle with that.  I find it a paradox to give up my life and find meaningful existence.  And a paradox is simply that at the onset seems untrue and unfathomable, but once you get inside of it you go it works!  It looks strange from the outside, it feels strange at the onset, but once you live it you’re able to look back and go you know what…that Jesus guy was right.

Mark 8 — Listen to the words and the invitation of Jesus.  Jesus has been walking with His disciples for a number of years at this point and He’s done some miraculous signs.  If you go back and sorta flip through the beginning of Mark you’ll see Him walk on water—does the moonwalk on the lake.  He’s fed 5000 people, He’s just healed a blind man and He enters into this conversation with his disciples.  Verse 27:  And Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi.  And on the way {This is on the way to Jerusalem. He’s walking to His cross.  He’s walking to His death, His sacrificial death for His friends and for people that would follow after Him.}  …..and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?”  {Sometimes people ask a loaded question—this is one of them.  Jesus was essentially saying what’s the word on the street about me?  People have seen me heal, they’ve ate the food that I multiplied miraculously, so what’s the word on the street?  How do they explain the miraculous signs that are coming from me?}  And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.” And he asked them, {Just to invite you into the passage…He asks us all this same question.  Every single one of us has to wrestle with this question that Jesus asks to His disciples.}  “But who do you say that I am?”  {You’re going to have to answer that question at some point. There’s really no grey area in the way that you answer it.  Some people will say—-like the people the disciples refer to—-he’s a good teacher or he’s a prophet or he’s a man of God, but that’s not the way that Peter answers the question.  Listen to what he says.}   Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.”   

This word “Christ” was a word that had centuries worth of baggage and hope and dreams attached to it.  The Christ (Messiah) was the king—the one who would come into Israel and free the Hebrew people from the tyrannical of the Roman empire.  These Romans who would drag their friends and their family outside of the village and really for no reason at all…..maybe they would start some insurrection, but they would put down that insurrection by putting men up on crosses.  And so the people he’s talking to would have seen that happen, would have known friends and family members who that happened to and the hope was the Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed One and the King would come and show up and free them from the reign of these Roman folks. That’s the hope.  So then Peter says, “You are the Christ,” you are the hope of Israel, our freedom has come, you are now about to redeem. Verse 30:  And he (Jesus) strictly charged them to tell no one about him. 

I’ve always wrestled with this, struggled with this because I’ve wondered well, Jesus, your instruction, your invitation to us is to tell everybody to the ends of the earth, but in your Scriptures you seem to keep this a little bit of a secret.  Isn’t that strange?  Yes….and no when you realize that the more word got out about Jesus, the less Jesus was able to be present with people.  So you see him sneaking away to the mountains to pray.  You see him taking his disciples on these little retreats in order to just get away from the crowds.  I think Jesus loved the crowds and loved the people, but also wanted to be known by a few.  So he goes alright, there’s going to be time to share, but, for know, just hold that between you and I.  You’re right, Peter, I am the Christ. Verse 31:  And he began to teach them {So after Peter’s affirmation–You are the Messiah, you are the Anointed One, you are the one who will free Israel–Jesus takes them and I’m sure he said, “Hey, look up at me!  Let’s talk!”  He teaches them.}   …teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.  

THIS is NOT the Messiah that Peter is hoping for!  This is not the “Christ/King” that he’s longing for.  Now, if he would have read back through the Old Testament with a lens looking for this he could have found it, but we often throw stones at Peter for not recognizing that the Messiah must suffer.  If you were to go back and you were to read it in the first century like they did, I guarantee there’s no way we would have seen it either…..at the onset.  We may have seen it on the back end after he raises from the dead.  But looking at it, where he’s looking at it, he’s going no, no, no, you don’t get it—-I said you were the Messiah.  And I(Jesus) told you that you were right! Well, the Messiah is suppose to reign and not suffer.  The Messiah is suppose to put Rome under His thumb, not submit to their way of death!  The Messiah’s suppose to bring hope and you’re telling us you’re going to die?!  To quote a famous philosopher, Charlie Brown, he said, “Winning ain’t everything, but losing ain’t anything.”  And it appears that Jesus is not only entering this for himself, but he’s inviting others to follow him in this way of death.  Here’s what Peter gets right: Peter gets right that God is going to win, that Jesus is going to be victorious, but he has no clue as to the way that this is going to happen.  Through sacrificial, self-giving love, not through ruling power and authority.  {Look up at me for a moment.}  For the last 1600 years, I think followers of Jesus, ever since the time of Constantine, have bitten that same hook, line and sinker.  We think Jesus is going to reign through power and through authority and through having a heavy-handed fist instead of through self-sacrificing, self-giving love.  We wrestle with this.  We would really rather him come and reign, sit on the throne that’s prepared for him by christendom and he says it’s still not my way.  That’s so not the way I rule.  That’s so not the way I reign.  Does God win?  YES!  But the question is HOW does God win? 

Well, the account goes on–verse 33:  And he said this plainly. {That he was going to come and die and be resurrected.}   And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.  {Don’t you love this?!  Any of you that have kids, have you ever been “corrected” by your six-year old?  His world is this small and he says I don’t think you’re right.  I’m still smarter than you for the next year.  Settle down.  This is what Peter does.  He brings Jesus to the side because he’s respectful still of his Messiah and he goes I think you’ve got it wrong!  Now, I want to propose to you that Peter is simply saying what everybody else is thinking.  And here’s how I know this—you don’t have to raise your hand—how many of us have said to God, “God, I don’t like the way this is working out! And God, I don’t think you’re following the script—we had a plan here, didn’t we?  Didn’t you sign off on this?”  Like, I was suppose to get that job.  I was suppose to marry that guy.  I was suppose to get into that school.  It just doesn’t seem like you’re holding up your end of the bargain, Jesus.  You’re not following the script…..that’s all Peter says to Jesus.  And I think you and I have this desire to choreograph and control and so we’ll often say back to God the very same thing that Peter says to him.  Hey, Messiah, Christ, Lord that’s not the way it’s suppose to go.  You’re not suppose to suffer, you’re not suppose to die.  You’re suppose to come and you’re suppose to reign.  But Peter has an idea that God is going to win, he just has no idea how it’s actually going to happen—that it’s going to happen, not through power, but through love; and not through conquering, but through sacrifice; and not through control, but through surrender; and not through self preservation, but through resurrection.  That’s how it’s going to happen.  And Peter is called out—listen to the way that Jesus does this.  Verse 33.}  But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! {Not hey, you got some theological issues there we gotta iron out.  You start to get the picture, the more you read Jesus, that there’s not a whole lot of grey with him.  It’s almost as though you’re either with him or you’re against him.  And he says that to Peter—Get behind me, Satan—well, why is Peter satan?}  ..For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”  {Uh oh!  How many of us just got lumped in with Peter?!  Right here!  I did!  You may be way more holy than me, but I am in with Peter in many ways.  If my mind is set only on me, if I’m looking in the pond and going Ryan, Ryan, Ryan…..I don’t want to suffer, I don’t want to die, I want to preserve myself and my name……he goes no, no, no you can’t do that and walk with me.}

So he invites Peter to something more.  He invites Peter to a life that’s not just based around him, but that’s based around the cross.  That’s based around not just living a great life and getting all the things that we want, but in finding more than we ever dreamed we thought we wanted through laying our life down.  Listen to the way he says this in Mark 8:34—And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone {I don’t know about you, but I love that word!  If anyone who has a clean past would come after me…..if anyone who has these skills and these gifts would come after me….if anyone who..fill in the blank.  How many qualifications do we have?  And Jesus is no, no, no, no, no!  If anyone PERIOD!  So that’s great news for you this morning, because I think you fall into that category.  You might be anyone.  You might think you’re nobody, but I can tell you from the Scriptures you’re “anyone”!  Here’s what he says.}   If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.    He points out this counterintuitive truth that the harder you try to hold on to and define and elevate your life, the quicker it slips through your fingers.  Ever have one of those experiences?  Here’s what he’s saying: Complete surrender is the key that leads to abundant life.  When you lay down your rights, you actually pick up true life.  When you lay down your agenda, you actually pick up true, meaningful life.

I can remember as a middle-schooler being taught for the first time how to water ski.  I was behind that boat and I was getting ready to go up.  They coached you in the boat and then you get in the water and everything changes.  Oh yeah, that sounded great in the boat, but now I’m in the water and my skis are waving to people….. So, I’m sitting there and I’m behind the boat and I’m holding on and they tell you just hold on….it’s gonna feel like you’re gonna die, but then at some point you’ll pop up!  Now, at this point I have two skis on….and my skis….BOOM! pop out from each other, go opposite directions and sure enough I feel like I’m going to die, right?!  Or at least sing real high for the rest of my life!!  At some point I fall forward and I’m just holding on.  In my mind I’m thinking I’m not sure this is what they’re talking about in the boat, right?!  It does feel like I’m going to die, because I can’t breathe.  I’m drinking more water than this lake is gonna produce.  A thought pops into my head—-maybe I’ll be the first person EVER to not only survive this, but to pop up on bare feet and sling out of the water and be like what now??!!  If you’ve ever been there, you know THAT didn’t happen!  I’m being dragged through the water and I hear from the boat, “Let goooo! Let gooo! Let go!”

I wonder if Jesus would say the same thing to us this morning.  Let go!  The things you’re holding onto are killing you!  Let go!  These self-salvation projects that you long for, the way you want to define yourself, it’s killing you.  Let go!  And Jesus would say find what it means to really, truly live.  Let me invite you into His words that He teaches this morning as to how that happens, what that looks like and if you’ll invite me to, what I long to do today, is sort of reach into your soul and say:  Are we really living this?  Because what I’ve found throughout this week is that it’s one thing to memorize this passage and another thing to recite it and it’s a whole other thing to live it.  As I find myself trying to live it out, I find myself failing miserably.  You might too.  Just honest.  But I long to because I know that there’s life in this. Listen to what he says.   And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself…..      This means I check my own interests and my ambitions that are self-centered and that are me-centered at the door. Listen to the way the Apostle Paul writes it to the church of Philippi, he says a real similar thing.  Do nothing {I might propose that if you have your own Bible you circle the word “nothing”…and it might haunt you a little bit.}  ….nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others as better than yourselves.  Look not only to your own interests, but also to the interest of others. (Phil. 2:3-4)  

Wow!  What a difficult, beautiful invitation.  Here’s what Jesus is inviting us to, here’s what Paul’s inviting the church at Philippi to…..one word….. SURRENDER.  This word “life” in the passage in Mark 8 could also be translated “soul”.  It’s the Greek word “psyche”.  It literally means your identity, your personality, your selfhood, or what makes you distinct and what makes you YOU.  We have a number of ways that we try to define that.  In a traditional culture, what makes you you or what makes somebody themselves is the family they have and the legacy that will outlive them.  That’s sort of a traditional culture.  In an individualistic culture that we live in, what makes us us is typically the job that we have.  Try this out:  Ask somebody to tell you about himself. They’re going to answer with I work at…..      Our job that we have, the bank account that we have, the house that we live in, the car that we drive…..things like that, that’s what defines us as an individualistic culture. Regardless of how we define ourselves, they are both, at their core, performance and achievement based ways of saying here’s who I am.  What Jesus is inviting you to is not a free ticket to heaven in this passage.  When he talks about saving your life or saving your soul, he is talking about eternal life, yes, but eternal life that starts today.  This is not a dictation about how to get to heaven.  This is an invitation about how to live in such a way that your soul is free in the way that a benevolent, gracious God designed you to live.  That’s what this is about.

I think if we were to look at the words of Jesus and sorta outside looking in, we would go, you know what, he’s right.  The harder I try to define myself the worse off I become.  Have you ever been around somebody that felt like they had something to prove?  Or you told a story and they had a better one–always.  Have you noticed that people who are trying to be impressive—overly impressive—are very rarely impressive.  It’s the people that are just simply confident in who God’s made them to be that, ironically, are the most impressive people you’ll be around.  Have you ever noticed that people who try to be original start to look like everybody else that’s trying to be original?  I used to walk onto college campuses and all these original people looked the same.  It turns out that the most original thing you can do is simply be you.  And Jesus is saying we long for these things, we build ourselves up and we hope for them so strongly and they aren’t what we’re really looking for.  

In David Lodge’s novel, Therapy, he recounts this interaction or tells a story about an interaction between a therapist and the person who’s a patient sitting in his office.  And he says here’s what I’d like you to do.  I’d like you to take this piece of paper and I’d like you to divide it in half.  On one half of the paper I’d like you to write all the good things in your life.  Just write them down.  And so the patient starts to write down I have a great marriage.  I have a family and we’ve successfully launched our adult children.  I have a job that I love and I have a retirement that’s going to provide for us.  We take a number of vacations and can go really wherever we want.  I have a house I enjoy living in and in a neighborhood that’s pretty nice.  We have a car we enjoy driving.  His therapist looked at him and goes it’s a great list.  On the other side of the paper he told him to write down all of the things that you don’t like about your life.  And the guy writes down one thing:  I’m unhappy most of the time.

Isn’t it true that we can get all the things we think we wanted and still find ourselves lacking and in need?  The teaching of Jesus in this passage is let go of those trinkets and instead of being concaved on yourself like sin has done to us, open yourself up to the gift of God.  In losing your desire, in sacrificing YOUR desire to achieve and to make a name, you’ll find what it means to really, truly, honestly be free!  I love the way that Lucius Septimus Severus, a Roman emperor, said it: “I have been everything and everything is nothing.  A little urn will contain all that remains of one for whom the whole world was too little.”  That’s haunting, isn’t it?  This is the testimony of Solomon all throughout Ecclesiastes:  I have everything I’ve ever dreamed of and I find myself wanting and lacking.  Here’s the way Jesus says it in Mark 8:36—-For what does it profit a man…{or a person. What good is it to gain everything you thought you wanted in the world and yet to have a soul that’s out of balance?  To not be walking in the way that Jesus designed you to walk.  To have this haunting suspicion about this reality that we live in and walk in that stuff will never define us and never make us happy and it will never deliver on the promises it makes.}  Jesus says there’s a better way.  He invites us to replace the place that we put our value.  He invites us, like the Apostle Paul, to say: I’ve been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Gal. 2:20)  Paul’s going to say that that’s the pathway to life.  Through sacrifice.  Through laying my ambition down, ironically.

So let me get into this a little bit, underneath it, and ask us some questions.  What does this feel like?  What does it look like? If you’re able to really truly deny yourself and not need to achieve and beat your chest, you’re able to honestly be present with people.  Have you been with somebody that was so present that you knew they weren’t thinking about something else or someone else?  This is the road they walked.  That we don’t need the approval of others because we have the approval of King Jesus.  That we don’t assess our value based on what we produce, but based on what God said is true about us.  These are people who’ve denied themselves.  Is it not one of the most wonderful things in the world, to be around somebody who does not assess their own value based on what they’ve produced and therefore does not base their value of you on what you produce?  It’s a beautiful thing, is it not?

This is the pathway that Jesus is inviting us to walk down.  I was wrestling with this question the whole time, though:  Does that mean that there is no “me” left?  And I think I’m still staring into the pond a little bit, to be honest with you.  But does that mean that there’s no personality left?  Does that mean there’s no Ryan left?  Does that mean…..God, I believe what you created is good, does that mean that I have to just completely check myself at the door?  Here’s the way that C.S. Lewis brilliantly answers that question: “The more we get what we now call ‘ourselves’ out of the way and let him take us over, the more truly ourselves we become. There is so much of Him that millions and millions of ‘little Christs’, all different, will still be too few to express him fully….Our real selves are all waiting for us in him…until you have given up yourself to him, you will not have a real self.”  So he says coming to Jesus is what allows you to step into more fully the “you” that He designed you to be, but it requires that we let go of the “me” that we long to be.

Here’s the way he goes on.  So he says first deny yourself or submit or surrender yourself.  Next he says this: If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross.    Here’s his next invitation.  Not only surrender, but an invitation to sacrifice.  To take up your cross does not mean to go into your jewelry box and to get your cross necklace out.  You probably know this, but back in the day the cross was an execution instrument.  Many of the followers of Jesus would have seen people attached to Roman crosses and die a brutal death on those crosses.  What Jesus is saying is follow me, not only in surrendering yourself, but in sacrificing your life for those around you.  As I thought about this, though, I think our way we interpret this might be a little bit too broad.  In the context of what Jesus is inviting his disciples to, he’s not telling them that He’s going to make some arbitrary type of sacrifice.  What He’s going to do is that in the face of evil give His life.  What He’s going to do is, with power at His fingertips that He could tap into at any moment, surrender power and conquer evil through sacrificial love, not through a prominent overthrowing of the Roman empire.  Now, my guess is you’re not facing the Roman empire, but…..I do believe that the way that Jesus lays down his power and his rights in favor of self-sacrificial love has something to say to us today.  Especially in a world where we long, Christians long, for political power; we long for a military power and what Jesus says is my Kingdom will come, but not in the way you’ll think it will come.  It will come in your lives personally and in the world at large as we take up our cross and, in the face of evil, lay down our lives in the way of love.  That’s the way it comes.  That’s the way it came and that’s the way it still comes.  Power laid down and rights relinquished are the way that Jesus wins the victory.

Here’s my problem with that.  In order to pick up my cross, I have to lay down my agenda.  I’ll be honest with you, I love my agenda.  I think my agenda’s right.  I think God should follow it sometimes. But in order to pick up my cross, I have to lay down my agenda.  So what does this look like?  Number one, it looks like I forgive those who wrong me.  This is the way to victory.  This is the way that Jesus overthrows the power structures of his day, not through conquering them overtly, but through praying on the cross, “Father forgive them for they don’t know what they’re doing.”  This is the way that Jesus invites his followers to live, because it’s the way He himself lived.  So are there things you’re holding onto, friends?  Because you can’t hold on to the wrongs that people have done against you and carry your cross.  You can do one or the other.   You can’t do both. Jesus could not pray “Father forgive them” from the ground looking up at the cross, He had to pray it as He gave His life in sacrificial love for His enemies who hated him.  As difficult as it feels, it’s the way to find true, honest, meaningful life.

As a backpacking guide, on our trail training, we always use to hide rocks in peoples’ backpacks.  We thought it was hilarious.  You get to the end of the trip and you’re like: hey why are you carrying all this stuff.  You shouldn’t have been doing that extra 20….we loved to do that.  I meet so many followers of Jesus though, they don’t even know they’re carrying stuff.  I think maybe this morning, His invitation is…..and this is a process, it doesn’t just happen overnight.  It’s a process that doesn’t happen one time either.  I think that’s what we struggle with.  We want to make a decision, but what we realize is that this is a minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day decision.  I’m going to deny myself, I’m going to surrender and I’m going to sacrifice and pick up my cross.  

Here’s what he says:  surrender, deny yourself, pick up your cross and then he says follow me.  In order to keep the alliteration alive, I will say “shadow.”  We become a little Christ—-a follower, not an admirer, friends, not an off in the distance look isn’t Jesus beautiful and isn’t he great, but an embracing of the way of Jesus.  Which means that I have to relinquish my control.  If I’m going to follow Him, it means that He is in charge.  Being a follower of Christ is very different than Christ following after you.  What Jesus says is deny self, take up your cross and then follow after me—give over the controls.  We have this debate/argument that goes on in our house almost daily.  My kids sit down and they watch the iPad and argue not only about what we’re going to watch, but who’s going to hold the iPad while we watch it.  How loud the volume’s going to be while we watch it.  And who’s going to sit where.  My oldest son wants to control it ALL!  {I realize he gets that from his mom….just kidding!}

I’ve realized that I’m not all that different and it’s hard for me to lay down my rights and to sacrifice and to give over my control.  Here’s the beautiful thing about saying I’m a follower honestly, truly, in a descriptive sense of Jesus.  I’m following Him.  I don’t have to fix everything in my life.  I don’t have to fix the things that I’ve inherited and I don’t have to fix the things that I’ve caused.  I’m trusting Him.  I’m a follower of Jesus.  He’s the one who fixes, number one.  And number two, being a follower of Jesus speaks into my anxiety and it speaks into my fear, because I have to trust the one who took my sin upon his shoulders.  I must trust that Jesus has my best in mind if he took my sin on his shoulders.  I can’t say I believe that and then believe that He’s powerful and good and is going to lead me to someplace or something or someone that’s going to be a nightmare for me.  I can’t do that.  I have to trust Him.  When sacrificial love grips your soul it frees your heart!  It just does!  Every time!!

So what might Jesus be doing this morning?  What might He be up to in this counter-intuitive, paradoxical invitation?  To find our life as we lose it.  To give up the attempts at saving our life and find what it means to really, truly live.  Well maybe, just maybe, looking into the mirror of self-protection and self-indulgence and really just being our own God, maybe He’s asking us to surrender all those things.  To bring them to His cross.  To remember that we’re not in the driver’s seat—we never were.  To remember that maybe sometimes we’re not even riding shotgun, we’re probably back/middle feet on the hump.  Most of the time.  And to say back to this Jesus:  Because you have your eyes on me, I can take my eyes off of myself and put them on you.  Because you have your eyes on me and you’re good, I have to trust you, you took my sin to the cross, paid for my redemption, sealed my holiness with your blood and I stand righteous before you, and because that’s all true, this morning I can come to you and say:  my whole life—I surrender all!  Not I surrender some and not I surrender most. And in doing so, pick up more than I ever put down.  As I read this passage, I had this picture in my head of my son playing with one of his toy cars.  And me coming up to him and telling him that I have a real car out in the driveway for him.  Here’s the keys.  It’s yours and I just need you to give up that car.  Just let me have that car, I’ll give you a real one.  I think that’s what Jesus is saying in this passage—-give up that little life, surrender it, enter into a way of sacrifice and following and in doing so, pick up more life than you could ever have dreamed!  That’s the invitation, friends!  That’s the invitation to abandon ourselves, to fully abandon and to find ourselves in a divine love that frees us to embrace a life of eternal significance.  That’s His beautiful invitation.  I was reminded of the words of Dallas Willard when he said: “If Jesus knew of a better way to live, He would have been the first to endorse it.”  He does not.  There is not.  This is the pathway to life and in your surrender I pray that you and that we as a church will find more life than we could ever possibly carry on our own.

Let’s pray.  Jesus, we come to you and say we believe, help our unbelief.  There’s something so strange about finding life and laying down our life and yet there’s something so beautifully true about it that resonates in the soul of every human being because it’s the way you designed us to live.  So Lord, if there’s ways we’re trying to preserve ourselves or promote ourselves will you help us deny ourself.  And if there’s ways of power and control we’re trying to hold onto, Lord, we lay those at your feet today and our declaration is wholly and simply we want to follow after you in your way, King Jesus.  Please.  Please.  We love you and we pray that in this surrender, surrender that I believe has power to heal marriages, to transform jobs, to be life giving in every situation in life we find ourselves in…..in THIS surrender, King Jesus, I pray that you will lead us to abundant life.  We love you and it’s in your beautiful name that we pray.  Amen.

      

Surrender is the New Freedom – Mark 8:31-382021-02-16T09:21:59-07:00

Empty is the new full

Philippians 3:10 – the resurrection of Jesus isn’t just an event for us to look back to and believe in, it’s a present power for us to step into. The same power the blew the stone away from the tomb can blow the top off of our lives. Listen as the Apostle Paul explains the power of the resurrection.

 

EMPTY IS THE NEW FULL

I don’t know if you’ve ever felt like that in life—-where the batteries just sorta went out.  Where they just sorta dried up and it was hard to get a charge.  It was hard to find that joy.  It was hard to find that excitement.  You know what’s interesting is that we’ve been able to solve that problem for our bodies, in many ways.  You can go to the grocery store and get a 5-hour energy drink or a Rockstar soda or you can get some Christian “crack” down at our coffee shop, right?!  We’ve solved that problem for our bodies, in many ways, but we haven’t been able to solve it for our soul.  You can go down your Amazon list and look at all sorts of “self-help” books and all sorts of “positive thinking” and yet it seems at times, doesn’t it, that the batteries of life just run out.  But it seems like that can be a fleeting endeavor….to step into, as we perceive, the joy that we were created for and long to walk in.

It’s interesting that followers of Jesus for the last 2000 years have claimed we’ve got a secret source of power. They’ve claimed we’ve stepped into….we know there’s a secret source of power, not just for the body and not just for the mind, but for the human soul.  Something that charges us up. Listen to the way that the Apostle Paul writes it to the church at Philippi.  This is one of the letters he writes from jail.  ..that I might know him {He’s talking about Jesus.  This whole section of this letter is about the absolute wonder and awe of knowing Christ.}  …and the power of his resurrection.   Now, this was written about 30 years after Christ went to the cross, died on the cross, was buried in a tomb, and walked out three days later.  I know you’re thinking a lot can happen in 30 years, Ryan.  While I’m well aware of that, what I would propose to you about the resurrection is from the very day Christ rose, the early Christians’ drum that they beat was our Savior has conquered sin and conquered death. So yes, Paul writes it 30 years later and yes, we’re talking about it 2000 years later, but I want to propose to that for every time in between, THIS has been the message of the church to the point where those who saw this happen….they saw Jesus die on the cross and they met Him after He’d risen from the dead….10 out of 11 of His disciples died for that claim!  A lot of people die for a false belief.  True, I won’t argue with you.  But what I will propose to you is they weren’t dying for a BELIEF, they died for something they SAW HAPPEN!  Big difference!!  Paul’s claim here is the same claim that the church made for the first 2000 years of it’s existence….and for the next 2000….it will claim the same thing! There’s POWER in the fact that Jesus walks out of the grave! Listen to the way one of the early preachers of the church, the Apostle Peter, says it like this: You killed {speaking of Jesus} the Author of life,  {Not going to make you a lot of friends, is it?!} whom God raised from the dead.  To this we are witnesses. (Acts 3:15)   We saw it with our own eyes.

Here’s how I want to say it this morning, because Paul’s going to say there’s power in the resurrection.  Here’s the way I’d like us to look at it this morning:  The empty tomb has the power to create a full life!  In fact, that word “power” that Paul uses there is the word, in Greek–the original language, dynamin.  It’s where we get our English word dynamite.  So picture driving up I-70 and them finally widening the roads up there, right?  And they drill holes and they sink dynamite down in them and they blast the side of the mountain away.  Paul goes okay…okay…okay….that’s the same type of power, if you’re a follower of Jesus, that lives in you.  Same type of power that lives in you!  It literally means “ability or strength,” or you could translate it “energy.”  There’s an energy source that followers of Jesus know, it’s called the resurrection. And resurrection power blows the stone away from the tomb and it has the potential to blow the top off of your life!   It absolutely does!

A few months ago, we played the game that many of us play, where we switch cable every few years.  Because they don’t want to offer us the best deal, so it’s like well, I’m going to go to a different provider then.  So I did that and, of course, I was having trouble with my new provider, so I waited on the phone for about a half hour.  When I finally got to somebody (who was living), they said to me, “Hi, Mr. Paulson.  Thanks for waiting.” {I didn’t know I had options.} “We’re just going to ask you a few questions before we get going here.  Is your cable box plugged in?”  I’m like excuse me while I scream into a pillow!!  I didn’t wait here for a half hour not knowing if I’m plugged in or not!!  That was step one, thank you very much…..I know how to turn on a cable box!  I don’t want to insult your intelligence, today, but I do want to ask you….Are you plugged into this power?  This resurrection power that Paul talks about in the book of Philippians.  That early Christians died for…..they were so convinced of it that they said you can take our life, that’s fine….but we will not recant what we believe to be true about Jesus!

And in Philippians 3, Paul lays out for us some of the things that provide the power that he talks about in the resurrection. Paul’s going to tell us why the resurrection has such beautiful power, starting in verse 4….he’s sorta sharing with us his testimony about the way he used to think about God; and now in light of who Jesus is and what Jesus has done (he shares) the way he now thinks about God.  I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also.  If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more.  {He’s going to beat his chest here a bit and say listen you guys, I’ve nailed it!} circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.   Here’s what Paul says:  I played the religious game faultlessly.  I nailed it!  I didn’t just nail it, but look at my report card—I got all A’s and I graduated Summa Cum Laude!  I did it!  I nailed it!  But it’s relating to God on a basis that God isn’t really interested in being related to on.  I don’t know about you, but I think in a room this size there’s maybe a lot of folks in here that THAT’S the way we relate to God.  We think God has this checklist and if we can tick enough of the boxes and do enough of the right things he’s going to say, “Man, Paulson! I’m really impressed with you today! You stuck the dismount! Beautiful!”  And what Paul says is no, no, no, no, no!  You may have thought this in your head…..I’m “good” enough or I’m a “good” person.  That’s where Paul’s living, man.  He’s living in I’m good enough, I’m a good person, look at me in relationship to other people! Can you relate to that?  Can you relate to that feeling of trying to play the religious game and thinking you’re doing it wonderfully and yet getting to the point in your life where you go it’s just not living up to what it billed as it would deliver.  It won’t deliver!  It doesn’t fill me with joy.  There’s got to be more!

Here’s what Paul says the more is: But whatever gain I had, {however I nailed it in this religious game I was playing} I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.  Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.   If I could summarize it in a nutshell, Paul says there’s something better than playing the religious game, and that something better is simply knowing Jesus.  And that is the power of resurrection.  Part of the power of the resurrection is that RELATIONSHIP is greater than RELIGION.  Throughout the history of the world people have wrestled with how do we relate to God or the gods.  There have been a few threads that have woven themselves throughout all of history as far as what people think God wants from them or what God is like.  People have often viewed God or the gods as temperamental, volatile and angry.  Second thing is that you must appease these gods.  You’ve got to make them happy.  The different gods have different hoops and you’ve got to jump through them.  And if you do this right, if you jump through them right, then they will reward you.  They’ll reward you with rain, they’ll reward with sun, they’ll reward you with babies. There’s a ton of different systems, but at their core that’s what people were saying.   Notice how Paul throws an absolute wrench in the cogs of that religious machine.  He says no, no, no, no, no!!  It’s not about religion.  It’s not about performance.  It’s not about the way we can check all the boxes and do all the things God wants us to.  It’s about what God has done in order to make us right with him…..that’s what it’s about!!  That relationship is better than religion and Paul’s claim is this:  That at the center of the universe there is a Being who does not want you to climb a ladder to get up to Him and to perform a to-do list, but there’s a Being at the center of the universe who’s inviting you to join His dance of love and joy!!  So the performance for Paul is done.

Do you feel like you have to perform for God?  This message is for you!  The power of the resurrection says God doesn’t want your performance, He wants relationship!  And you know this is true!  You can either perform for somebody or you can walk with them.  But if you feel that you have to be on stage, for God or for anybody else, you can’t be real, can you?  And what Paul says is God doesn’t want you with the mask on performing and doing the little ditty you think He wants you to do.  He wants…..YOU!  That’s what He wants.  He wants you.  Plain and simple.  And at the core of the resurrection is an invitation to relationship, and if we miss that we miss it ALL!

He goes on to say:  For his (Jesus’) sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish (garbage), in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.    Here’s what Paul says:  It’s simply by faith that I’ve been made right with God.  That word “righteous” literally means “to be made right,” “to be face-to-face with.”  The route I take to and from work had some construction/roadwork being done on it lately.  They wouldn’t put the signs up though!  How hard is it to put a sign up “road closed,” don’t go this way, Paulson?!  But they didn’t!  So I would get to the end of this road, have to do a u-turn, go back…..I did this for about three days in a row and finally, you’re not getting me today!! I’m nobody’s fool!  A lot of us feel that way with God.  Righteousness means there’s no road closures.  There’s no construction left to be done.  The bridge to God has been completed and the way you walk into it, the way you get on THAT road Paul says is simply by faith.  You’ve gotta understand, here.  Paul’s a shady character.  He’s commissioned the killing of people, he’s commissioned the beating of people, he would say “I am the worst of all sinners!”  But he says it’s simply by faith that I was made right with God.  And this, friends, is the power, the dynamite, of the resurrection!  Not only is relationship greater than religion, but GRACE is greater than your GUILT.

And after Jesus has conquered death and risen from the grave, one of the first things he does is go and meets his friend, Peter.  And Peter has been a disciple of Jesus, he’s been a follower of Jesus for years, but in Jesus’ moment of need, his most significant need, Peter said,  “I don’t even know that guy!”  Because of that he took all of his business cards that said “Disciple of Jesus Christ” and he burned them all and he cashed them in and said I’m going back to being a fisherman.  And Jesus meets him on the shore of that sea.  And He calls him to Himself and, in essence, here’s what He says, Peter, your failure does not define you because I conquered death.  Your past does not define you, Peter, because I took that to the cross and I conquered death and I rose from the grave.  Peter, the cross and the resurrection are proof positive that you are not guilty!!  Listen to the way Paul says it in the book of Romans.  (Jesus) who was delivered up for our trespasses (was also) raised to life for our justification. (Rom. 4:25)    Now that’s a great word, friends.  Because what it means is that because Jesus paid the penalty for your sin on the cross and walked out of the grave, you’ve been made right with God and His grace is greater than your guilt.  I know what your thinking……your going, hey, listen….you don’t know me, Paulson, you don’t know what I’ve done and you don’t know where I’ve been.  I don’t!  And I don’t know how bad it is and I don’t know how shady it is and I don’t know how dark it is, I only know how much Jesus paid for you!  And the Scriptures say he paid it ALL!  You bring all that baggage to the cross and He says as much as it is, my grace is still sufficient for you!  Friends, {look up at me for a moment} if the grave is still empty, His grace is still sufficient!  If the grave is still empty, and it is, His grace still sufficient!  You can’t out sin it, you can’t out run it, you can’t out do it!  It’s STILL enough for you.  So I don’t know what you’ve been through and I don’t know what your past life looks like, I only know that He’s enough!  That His grace is greater than your guilt. 

Paul goes on….still talking about how good it is to know Christ:  (v 10) …that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.   Now, this verse 11 is a little bit confusing because at the onset it sorta looks like Paul is going well, it’s sorta 50-50.  Like I might be resurrected from the dead and I might not. This is sort of a technique that some of the writers of Scripture would use, but what he does is he invites us into the absolute shock and awe of the fact that you and I, by faith, will be resurrected with Jesus.  So he approaches it in humility and essentially throws his hands up into the air and goes I have no idea why or how that’s going to happen, I only believe that it’s true.  I can picture Paul saying I simply can’t believe, God, that you’re that good…Jesus, you purchased my life, you’ve purchased my redemption and I will walk with you, as the psalmist says, “in the land of the living.” (Ps. 116:9)   That’s what resurrection was….IS.  Resurrection is not the belief that you will go to heaven one day, you know that, right?  That’s not what the conviction, the belief, that the early church had about the resurrection.  Resurrection is just what it sounds like…..that your body will be resurrected….that Jesus will breathe life into your dry bones one day.  That you’ll be resurrected…..physical body—material earth.  That was the hope of the early followers of Jesus.  Not ethereal heaven, but physical resurrection.  As the great New Testament scholar, N.T. Wright, says, sort of tongue and cheek: “Heaven is important, but it’s not the end of the world!”   Paul understands that the life of the future, the life Jesus has purchased by His work on the cross, his atoning death and the life that he raised for the justification that you and I now stand in, is presently at work.  But he’s still in jail, right?  Paul’s still in jail.  Paul will eventually die for his faith.

So how do we reconcile this?  This power of the resurrection and yet, he says I know I’m going to walk through suffering and I know it’s not going to be fun all the time and I know it’s going to be difficult.  Here’s what Paul is saying, the power of the resurrection is not only a relationship that’s greater than religion and a grace that’s greater than your guilt, but a PROMISE that’s greater than your PRESENT.  That’s the power of the resurrection.  The power of the resurrection is not that Jesus always improves our circumstances and our situation, but that he seals our destiny.  That’s the power of the resurrection.

I read a while back about this woman who paid $164,000 to live an entire year on a cruise boat.  I mean, just parties constantly, food constantly, entertainment constantly.  And I think sometimes that’s the way we sell “Jesus.”  Hey, come to Jesus!  Put your faith in him.  Hop on the cruise boat…..let’s go.  Paul says no, no, no, please don’t mistake being a follower of Jesus for jumping on a cruise boat. It doesn’t mean that you’re going to live the best life now.  It doesn’t mean that it’s going to all be skipping through a field and strawberries all the time.  It doesn’t mean that.  It does mean this……it does mean that the promise is true and God will be good on it and the promise is greater than your present, that’s what it means.  The suffering that we walk in will meet its redeemer.  That’s what it means.  That without the resurrection of Christ there’s no explanation for suffering and pain and trials in this world, but with the resurrection of Christ what He declares is I’m making all things new.  Yes, even that…..whatever that is in your life.  I’ve redeemed, I’ve stepped into and I’ve taken upon myself.  I love the way Eugene Peterson, the great pastor, puts it: “Resurrection takes place in the country of death.”  This is where God does his greatest work……in our deepest pain.  The suffering we walk in has met its redeemer, the fear that we walk in has meet its hope and the death that we will, one day, experience will be overwhelmed by the life that Jesus has promised.  That’s the power of the resurrection, folks.  That there’s a relationship that’s greater than religion.  God doesn’t want your song and dance…..he wants YOU.  That there’s a grace that’s greater than your guilt.  There’s nothing you could have done that would out sin his grace….NOTHING!  And that there is a promise—resurrection, life with God.  No more crying, no more tears, no more sorrow, no more pain.  The new thing God is doing will one day come and you and I, by faith, will walk with Him in the land of the living!  A promise that’s greater than our present.

I love the way Paul says this in the book of Romans 8:11: If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, {News flash—if you’re a follower of Christ today it does.}  ..he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit.    That will happen in the end in the resurrection.  But you know what’s also fascinating and beautiful, is not only that that will happen one day—and it will—but that it happens.  That it happens!  We see stories like that all the time around here.  Of people putting their faith in Jesus and them speaking life into dead things.  I’d love for you to hear one of those stories today.  This is my friend, Adam Coleman.  He became a follower of Jesus just a few months ago…within the year.  God has been working on his life, changing his life and moving in him.  We have his video, his story. 

Hi! I’m Adam Coleman, husband of Jennifer Coleman, a wonderful woman to whom I’ve been married 11 years. I have two children, Lincoln and Sidney. Religion was more a formality for me when I was growing up.  It wasn’t something I personally evaluated.  I felt I was a good person in my own life without needing to repent and dig into Scripture and believe that I was born a sinner.  One of the things I was most proud of was stopping for people on the side of the road.  I had a perspective that I couldn’t change the world, but I could change one person’s world.  I kinda wanted to defy the notion that I was a sinner and that that was all I could be.  In fact, I kind of wanted to show God that I wasn’t a sinner, which is weird because, in my mind, at that time I didn’t believe there was a God.  But I wanted to prove that I could be good without God.  Around that same time period, I had a very bad, emotional fallout in my own life and I found myself walking along the side of Broadway in the middle of the night.  I was in a very, very bad mental place where I felt like I was done.  At that point I didn’t want to go on any longer.  And in my head, I threw down a gauntlet to God saying that now was the time and if He wanted to prove Himself to me then that was it, because I wasn’t intent on having a day after that.  I’d say about within a minute of me having that unspoken thought in the middle of the night next to a road that had virtually no traffic and certainly no other pedestrians, a car pulled over to the side of the road, rolled down the window and just asked if I needed anything.  The fact that that happened when it did based off of what I was asking for, the terms that were in my head…..at that point I went from an atheist to an agnostic.  I didn’t know what the higher power looked like for me, I didn’t know what I looked like to him, but, at that point in time, I couldn’t question it anymore.  

I started believing God more and more and understanding God, but I kept relying on myself, too.  I had this very, very persistent itch that I was in control.  If a situation was going to get resolved, it was going to be me that resolved it.  And that came to a culmination when I was working at a very toxic job.  It had cost me my peace, my sanity….it was costing me my family.  I didn’t know what else to do.  I ended up losing the job.  In fact, I lost my health to a point where I couldn’t leave the house anymore.  I couldn’t accomplish things and succeed and that was what I based my merit on.  It wasn’t until I was knocked all the way down past zero that I really got started seeing God more clearly.  My wife has been coming to South for a great many years and I would even drop her off at South.  I would drop my children off here for them to go to Sunday School.  I wanted to try to show support.  I would attend.  I got to listen to Ryan preach.  I would just deal with this part that didn’t really matter to me and that part and that part…….and the Scripture….I didn’t really want to hear about that.  Once Ryan started tying it into those greater life lessons, then I got to start to hear God’s voice through that.  It really captured me!  The actual moment where I started to question Christianity more and I started to believe more in the relevance of it was on a specific reading from Psalms.  Psalms 51:10–Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.  Something that I realized when I heard that verse and I almost immediately was in tears after hearing it and thinking about it, was that I’ve been plagued for my entire life with feeling like I wasn’t quite right.  Like I was alone.  Like I just didn’t fit in.  On hearing that Psalm get read in church and on believing that I could be made new, that I could be reborn, that I could be complete….it’s changed me ever since.  What I find in my day to day routine now is just trying to continue building out the clearest picture and understanding I can of who Jesus is and not only what He wants from me, what He wants from all of us.  Understanding that the closer I get to that, the more peace I should inherently have in my soul.  And He’s also been reminding me that whenever I’m full of shnuff, presume I’m the one controlling these things, that I’m the one that accomplishes these things, that’s when my lfe gets rockier again.  It also gets harder to see Him, too.  I’ve been learning over the past year of being a Christian what it means to surrender my own ego, which is the biggest thing that will always get between me and God.  It’s changed me ever since.

The power of the resurrection.  That’s what you just saw.  Did you hear that the relationship is greater than religion?  A grace that’s greater than your guilt, than Adam’s guilt, than my guilt, than anything you brought in here today.  And a promise that’s greater than what you’re currently walking in.  You know what, friends?  All of us will, at one day, find ourselves, if you haven’t already, at that crossroads.  The same crossroads that Paul found himself at.  Am I gonna continue to work at religion or am I gonna have faith?  Am I gonna be a person that trusts in the grace of God or am I gonna try to continue to do it on my own?  The beautiful thing that’s laced throughout this passage is not only relationship is possible with the God of the universe who created you and loved you, but it’s not only possible, but it’s easy.  It’s just by faith.  It simply means turning from your own way and your sin and your check marks of things you think you can do and running to Jesus.  And as we sang in “Grace So Glorious”….all are welcomed home!  This, friends, is the power of the resurrection.  He took my guilt, I get His grace.  He performed my religion, I get relationship.  He took my present, I get His promise. He took my weakness, I get His strength.  He took my despair, I get His joy.  He took my wrath, a wrath deserved for me, and I get His mercy.  He took the beating I deserved and I get His raising.  He took my pain, I get His victory.  He took my punishment, I get His perfection.  He took my helplessness, I get His rescue.  He took my sin, I get His righteousness.  He took my death and I get His life!  This, friends, is the Gospel and I invite you, if you don’t know Him, to step into that power this morning by faith!

As the worship team comes forward, I’m going to invite you to close your eyes and bow your head and just to do some business with God this morning.  I know there’s some in this room when you walked in these doors today, maybe for the first time since last year…..expecting to hear just sorta the same ole thing, singing the same ole songs and maybe, just maybe, God is in a very real way pricking your heart.  Can I say don’t resist it?  Respond to it!  Some of you walked in here thinking that the divorce you walked through has eliminated you from being able to walk with God……can I say His grace is greater than your guilt?!  The things that are in your past—-His grace is greater than your guilt.  Some of you walked in here this morning and you got bad news from the doctor or you have hard things going on in your family, can I speak resurrection over you?  His promise is greater than your present.  That you will, by faith, be raised with Him to walk with Him in the land of the living!  For those of you come in this morning not knowing Jesus, may I invite you to put your faith in Him right now.  To surrender to His love that’s present, that’s beckoning you, that’s wooing you and inviting you to surrender….just like Adam did in his wonderful story…just surrender to that invitation for a new heart.  So Jesus, we come before you this morning and we step into this stream that’s been flowing for the past 2000 years, where followers of yours looked at the empty tomb and thought that if that tomb is empty there’s no reason my life can’t be full.  Lord, for those of us that have played the religious game and we’ve just run out of energy, we turn back to you for relationship.  For those of us who believe our guilt is too much, we run back to you for grace. For those of us walking through the valley of the shadow of death…remember that your promise is greater than our present.  We turn to you and our declaration is that it’s all about you, Jesus.  You and you alone.  It’s in your name we pray.  Amen.

Empty is the new full2020-08-21T08:04:15-06:00
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