LIFE IS A MAZE(ing) | God’s Voice or Bad Pizza | John 10:1-21 | Week 7

Read the daily devotionals that go with this sermon

Subscribe to the weekly podcast on iTunes


If you have questions regarding this sermon you can request the PDF

LIFE IS A MAZE(ing): God’s Voice or Bad Pizza?     John 10:1-18     (2nd Service)

If you really packed the guys in, you could probably get 15 people in one of those boats.  These guys were pros and they’d been on this sea hundreds of times in their lives.  They’d been there in the middle of the night because some of the best fishing happened in the middle of the night.  As they started to go across that 13 mile journey from one end of the shore to the other in the Sea of Galilee, a huge storm just came out of nowhere and started buffeting against their boat.  You can imagine wind and waves and water rushing to your face.  You couldn’t see anything anyway since it was pitch dark; three in the morning by this time.  Inevitably, the question had to come up, because all the disciples would have been asking it:  Whose idea was it that we cross the lake in the middle of the night?  You guessed it!  Jesus’s idea.  You wonder if there was a conversation that happened back and forth:  Man, we’ve been trusting that guy with an awful lot, is he trustworthy, because it certainly seems like this little boat is going down?   It was at that point that they looked out, and shining through the darkness looked like a ghost.  A ghost!  Out of the darkness comes a voice:  Take heart!  It is I!  Do not be afraid!    If you’re one of the disciples, you might have shouted back: That’s easy for you, Jesus!  You’re not the one seeing the ghost, or somebody walking on water!  Either way, it’s a bit frightening!    Take heart it is I, do not be afraid. (Matt. 14:27)  The next thing that happens is shocking.  I for one am so glad…..Peter gets a bad rap, but I’m so glad Peter’s there.  Any time you start to get down on Peter, just remember, he’s one of only two people that have ever lived that have ever walked on water!  So don’t slam him too quickly.  We wouldn’t have nearly the humorous stories we have in the Bible if it weren’t for Peter.  Lord, if it’s you, if it’s really you….I know that you’ve said it’s you, but if it’s you command me to come out on the water.  Come.  Come.  Not…Peter, I want to assure you this is Jesus of Nazareth, Messiah, the long-awaited King of Israel.  Here’s my ID.  Here’s my driver’s license.  Let me give you just a few things only you could know about, Peter.  I want to assure you it’s me.  None of that.  Just…..come.  I can imagine Peter getting up on the edge of this little 15-person fishing boat.  Pitch dark.  Wind. Waves. Getting ready to step out of the perfectly good boat, that seems to be holding up, even in the midst of the storm, into the middle of the sea.  I wonder if he’s thinking as he’s stepping out, “How sure am I?  Sounds like your voice, but I’m not so sure.”

We know the end of the story, but think of the questions running through Peter’s mind as he’s stepping out of a perfectly good fishing boat, in the middle of the night, in the middle of a sea that’s raging.  Jesus, is that you?  Is it really you or did we eat bad pita?  Did I really hear your voice or is it just my voice?  Or maybe it is a ghost!  I don’t know.  Nobody else in the boat seems to be jumping out, just Peter.  I think this story speaks to our modern predicament, because I think there’s two questions Peter has to wrestle with, there’s two questions we have to wrestle with:  1) In light of my current life, my situations, the challenges, the opportunities in front of me, what is God saying to me?  2) How do I know it’s God….and not just bad pizza?  How do I know it’s God and not just me?  Discerning God’s willis grounded in hearing God’s voice.  If you’ve been coming here the last view weeks, and you’ve been engaged in this message series we’re doing called “Life is A Maze(ing),” you know we started out by saying that we hear God’s voice only through surrender.  We hear God’s voice when we hear God’s wisdom.  We hear God’s voice through the inner confirmation, the Spirit’s work in our life.  We hear God’s voice through opened and closed doors and through circumstances and God’s provision.  Today I want to talk about the question that’s probably in most of your minds.  Okay, yeah, yeah, yeah, all that stuff’s really good, Ryan, but how can I know FOR SURE if God is actually speaking?  Or if I’m just hearing my own thoughts and my own voice, or somebody else’s voice, or maybe I just ate something that didn’t agree with me and I’m hearing voices!  How do I know if it’s God’s voice or if it’s mine?

This man named John walked up to Mother Teresa while she was praying for people.  He asked her to pray for him and she said, “I’d love to pray for you.  What do you want me to pray for?”  He said, “I would like you to pray for clarity.”  She said, “No.”  He responded, “Mother Teresa, you’ve had clarity your whole life.  Look at the way you’ve followed God and the way that you’ve served God and the way that you’ve loved God.”  Mother Teresa responded and she said, “I have never had clarity; what I have always had is trust.  So I will pray that you trust God.”

What I don’t want to do is make it seem like, at the onset of our time together today, that I’m going to give you the sure-fire way to always know that you have heard from God, beyond a shadow of a doubt.  What I do want to do is to teach you what the Scriptures say and how you can have confidence that you have, in fact, heard from God, and that you can have enough confidence to step into it and experience it and see for yourself, whether in fact it is God speaking or maybe….you just ate some bad pizza.

John 10:1-6. Jesus is going to teach his disciples, and those listening in, how they can hear God’s voice and have confidence that it’s him.  Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber.  {He’s saying that if you hear the voice of Jesus, it’s got to come in the way that the Father said it would come; he’s pointing to himself.}  But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep.  To him the gatekeeper opens.  The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.  When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.  A stranger they will not follow, buy they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.  This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.  

Jesus makes a few important statements in these few verses.  Number one, God is speaking.  Number two, we can learn how to hear.  It’s not a given, but we can how to hear.  The enemy would love to undermine either one or both of those statements:  Either that God is in fact speaking, or that you and I can learn how to hear.  Here’s the truth of the matter that Jesus wants to draw out, God is speaking and we should expect to hear.  We should EXPECT to hear.  We live in a God-bathed world.  In Acts 17:26-28, Paul is teaching the philosophical elites of his day in the Areopagus and listen to what he says to them: And he (God) made from one many every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, {So God decided where you would be born.  God decided what family you would born into, what time period you would be born.  You go okay, why would God have such a unique hand in all of those things, and Paul goes just wait, I’ll tell you.}  that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. {In some translations it’s like ‘that they would grope for him.’  Like looking for him in the dark.}  Yet he is actually not far from each of us, for “In him we live and move and have our being”; as even some of your own poets have said, “For we are indeed his offspring.”  He’s closer than breath.  Take that in for a moment.

Father Richard Rohr says: “We cannot attain the presence of God.  We’re already totally in the presence of God. What’s absent is awareness.”  Friends, lean in for a moment, this is not intended for the spiritual elite.  This is not intended for the pastors and people that work at a church.  This is intended….to hear the voice of God is God’s desire for every single apprentice of Jesus.  Every single person.  That we would expect to hear his voice and learn how to hear his voice.

In a recent study, they found out that teenagers, in our day and time, have a 30 percent higher hearing loss than teenagers in the ’80s and ’90s.  Thirty percent higher.  What they found is that it’s primarily because of the way that we put speakers into our ears and pump volume into our brain.  There’s probably a more scientific way of saying it, but…….that’s the bottom line.  Likewise, theologian Jan Walgrave said: “Our age constitutes a viral conspiracy against the interior life.”  It’s not just our physical hearing that we’re losing.  It’s our soul hearing, it’s our heart hearing.  God is not speaking any quieter, we’re just having a harder time hearing because of the assault that we do on our own souls in the digital age.

The question you might be wrestling with is okay, well, why is it so hard to hear God?  I’m going to try not to get lost in the weeds here.  Here’s five reasons why it’s hard for you and I to hear God.  1) Sometimes it’s hard to hear God because God is hidden.  Intentionally so.  We read this in the Scriptures that there are moments where God pulls back.  He’s not absent and he’s not playing hard to get, but there are things that he will teach us through absence that he cannot teach us through presence.   So for moments, and maybe seasons, in our life, it’ll feel like God is silent.  God may even BE silent in order to refine our faith and teach us in the depth of our soul something that he could not teach us through his presence.  2) God is often silent—I hope you don’t take this the wrong way—because we are narcissistic.  It’s not that God is silent actually, it’s that we have a hard time hearing him because we come to him with our agenda.  God, here’s all the things I need fixed.  God, here’s all the things that are broken.  Hear me, God genuinely does want to hear those things, but when we stand before God, preoccupied with self, we see very little of what’s actually there.  If all I see is me and my need, I miss out on the vast landscape of all that God might want to do.  Even our searching of God’s will is often motivated by ego and self-interest.  So let’s just call it what it is.  3) Pragmatism.  Friends, this is the air that we breathe.  If it works, it’s good; if it doesn’t work, it’s not good.  If it works, it’s worth our time; if it doesn’t work, it’s not worth our time.  Here’s the problem with that when it comes to relationship with God:  Very rarely is there a direct correlation of your ‘return on investment’ between time spent with God and something that’s yielded out on the other end.  Many of us have given up on trying to hear God’s voice, because it hasn’t produced what we hoped it would produce and in our pragmatic age we go, I’m out!  Thomas Merton was once asked what’s the greatest spiritual disease?  His answer?  Efficiency.  Dallas Willard said: “Our failure to hear His voice when we want to is due to the fact that we do not in general want to hear it, we want it only when we think we need it.”

Fourth—Hurry.  As one theologian said: We have a hard time hearing God not so much because of our badness, but because of our busyness.  The other night we had a family night and were watching “Survivor” as a family.  I had been over at the seminary Monday and Tuesday and preaching and teaching there, so I was in work mode during family night.  I’m sitting on the couch and trying to watch a little, but I’m mostly working and trying to figure out what I’m going to say this morning.  I am on the couch cranking away.  Kelly and I go put the kids down and when I get back to the couch I pop my laptop right back up and start working again.  I glance over at Kelly and get that look that only a wife can give to a husband, like, you’re in trouble.  I ask, “What’s up?”  She says, “Nothing,” which you know doesn’t mean nothing.  I at least looked over the top of my laptop and asked, “What’s going on?”  She said, “You’re like in a totally different world.  You missed time with us.”  I wonder how many times, if we were to glance at God, he’d give us that look like, seriously?  That’s more important than me?  Hurry can cause us to miss some of the most beautiful things in our life.  Catch this with me, friends.  I’m a pastor and prone to hyperbole, but I do think we’re in the most busy and frazzled generation that has ever existed.  Or at least one of them.  We are busier than ever—lean in for a moment—and we are more bored than we’ve ever been.  We are more busy and more bored than we have ever been.  We are going, going, going, going, and we have this sneaking suspicion in our souls like we are not doing nearly enough.  Something in us is broken.

Finally—Sin.  In the same way that an argument with a friend or a spouse can cause you to sort of miss each other….have you ever had those seasons where you’re going man, we’re just missing each other?  Or maybe you’re in a fight and it’s just hard to hear each other.  When we live in will defiance against the way and shalom of God—catch this—it’s hard for us to hear from God.  If we don’t want his will and we don’t want his way, we shouldn’t expect to hear his voice.  As St. Teresa of Avila said:  “The interior castle of our souls is under attack.”

We should expect to hear God, but we should also admit that there are some challenges in front of us, yes?  So the question becomes:  How do we learn to hear his voice?  John 10:3 — To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.  Kenneth Bailey, the great New Testament scholar and teacher in Lebanon for four decades, says that there’s this picture that Jesus is painting that’s lost on us city folk.  When a shepherd would lead his flock of sheep to a watering hole, typically there would be six or seven flocks at that same watering hole because water was scarce in the desert.  They would gather around these watering holes.  He started to ask questions about how do the shepherds now which sheep are theirs and how do you keep the sheep separate.  Someone said to him, “You don’t need to keep the sheep separate.”  All the shepherd has to do is step back from the flocks at the watering hole, play his little flute, or do his shepherd call, and HIS sheep know his voice.  They follow.  It’s rightfully pointed out that sheep are some of the dumbest animals to live on the face of the planet, but they got one thing going for them, they know their shepherd’s voice.

You can learn your Shepherd’s voice also.  You can learn how to listen.  Question: Did the sheep always know this shepherd’s voice?  No.  Bailey tells the story in his book, The Good Shepherd, about a sheep that was transferred from one shepherd to another.  It took the sheep about three weeks of being anxious.  Every time the shepherd called, this sheep’s four legs would just shake until he finally—about three weeks—started to recognize okay, that’s my shepherd’s call, that’s what my shepherd’s voice sounds like.

We assume, incorrectly, that if God were to speak to us, we would know what his voice sounded like.  We wouldn’t, unless we’ve learned it.  In the same way—-you can read the story in 1 Samuel 3—-Samuel’s a kid in the tabernacle and Eli is the old priest, at this point in time.  Samuel starts having these dreams that wake him up in the middle of the night.  He starts going to Eli asking if Eli had called him.  It happens three times until Eli finally says what might be going on, I’m not sure, is you might be hearing from God.  He didn’t know it was God’s voice.  He had to learn how to be attentive to the voice of God.

We’ve got to learn the same thing, so how does God speak?  I want to draw out three primary ways God speaks.  These all come from the Scriptures.  One, God speaks within.  This might be through a prompting from the Spirit.  This story comes from a friend, Matt.  He says, “I was praying about what God would have me do in response to Family Promise.” (The one we hosted last time.)  He said he got the sense that God said bake a loaf of bread.  So he did.  He baked a loaf of bread.  God, what do you want me to do with this loaf of bread?  I just want you to give it to Lydia (who runs Family Promise).  Okay, I’ll give it to Lydia.  One of his points was man, we can talk about God’s will being moving across the country.  We can talk about God’s will being starting a new business.  We can talk about God’s will in a relationship. Certainly God’s will influences, impacts all of those things, but it can be as simple and every day as bake a loaf of bread.  Prompting from the Spirit.  Or have you ever had this sense, as you’re going through your day, I need to send so-and-so a text message.  Or I need to give him a call.  Sometimes you act on that, right, and sometimes you ignore it.  Part of what I want to do today is say, “Don’t ignore it!”  The only way to know if it’s God speaking to you is to actually step into that moment.  Because we learn God’s voice by experience.  From experience of him speaking to us from within.  Remember, God is at work within to work and to will according to his good pleasure. (Phil. 2:13)

His Spirit, friends, is powerful.  Listen to what it says the Spirit of God does in our hearts and in our lives.  Just for clarification, when I say ‘within,’ it doesn’t necessarily mean an audible voice.  It could be an impression, it could be a hunch.  It could be…God, I think this is what you’re doing, I’m going to step into it.  Here’s what the Spirit does.  The Spirit teaches.  The Spirit counsels.  The Spirit gives words when we don’t have them.  The Spirit brings things to remembrance.  He convicts.  Most of these things probably happen in inaudible ways, but certainly very real ways.  Don’t diminish real to audible.  Please!

Second, how does God speak?  So there’s a prompting from the Spirit within.  Second, from without.  There’s three primary ways that God speaks from outside of within.  Number one is through the Scriptures.  And the other two are way, way down the list.  So please hear me.  The number one way God speaks to us, that is not just from his Spirit that lives inside of our lives, is through the Scriptures.  But also, he speaks through creation.  We started our Call to Worship with Psalm 19:1-3 — The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.  There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard.  Yeah, so creation.  Then through other people.  You might be here at church and somebody has a prophetic word for you.  Or somebody just has a word of encouragement for you.  Or you sense….I just think I need to go say something to that person.  It can be a way that God speaks.  But Scripture is the primary way.  Listen to Frederick B. Meyer:  “The written word is the wire along which the voice of God will certainly come to you if the heart is hushed and the attention is fixed.”

You may be following along on the outline in the service guide.  Can I just invite you to turn it over?  I’d encourage you to take this home with you.  This is called “Steps for Practicing Lectio Divina.”  Simply a way of reading the Scriptures that the church has used for generations.  But it’s a way to read the Scriptures that might be a little bit different than you’re used to.  There’s three primary ways people read the Scriptures.  Number one, people read the Scriptures and they study the Scriptures.  You have commentaries out.  You have word studies out.  What does this word mean?  How does this fit with the bigger story of God?  We’re doing theology as we’re reading the Scriptures.  Typically, as westerners who are entrenched in rational enlightenment thought, we think that’s the only way to read the Scriptures.  It’s not.  Second way to read the Scriptures is what I would call the flyover approach.  You just read them to sort of get them in your soul.  You’re not studying them though.  This is like Bible in 90 Days.  If you do the Bible in 90 days, you’re not studying the Bible.  You’re reading the Bible and there’s a difference.  Both are good in their place.  Third, there’s an approach ancients have used called Lectio Divina (Sacred Reading), where they just simply read the Scriptures in a way, not where they stand over them to try to figure out what they say, but where they stand UNDER them to say, Jesus, what do you want to say to me through them?  Where we read the Scriptures, but maybe more importantly, we let the Scriptures read us.  We ask the Spirit to draw things out.  It’s the Spirit of God within interacting with the Scriptures of God without that make this beautiful, beautiful explosion in our lives.

Finally, around.  Within–Spirit.  Without–oftentimes Scripture, creation, or people.  Around.  This is simply the circumstances of every day life.  I love the way Liz Ditty put it in her wonderful book, God’s Many Voices:  “A circumstance can be any connection of events that is not easily explained, and those occurrences tend to spark wonder or excitement.  Scientists and saints alike are fascinated by coincidences, but they think about them differently.  Coincidences are just as often an invitation to prayer as they are an answer.”  So, God, I’ve been praying about this and this thing came into my life, and God, I’m not exactly sure what to do with it.  So, Jesus, show me.  Is this you speaking?  Or is this bad pizza?  Which one is it?

With all of this…..a pastoral word for you.  Oftentimes we will step into a situation and it will become clear to us that—or at least we’ll think—we’ve heard God’s voice wrong.  Then we start to think, “Well, if I heard God’s voice wrong here, I haven’t ever heard God’s voice right ever.”  I just want to tell you, how insane would relationships be if your friend said something to you and you misunderstood it, and then started to think well, I’ve never understood anything you’ve ever said then.  No, no, no!  Communication….we can hear wrong.  God doesn’t say things wrong, but we can often be in a place where we just hear what we want to hear.  It’s not really his voice.  But that shouldn’t stop us from seeking to learn, through experience, how to know when God is speaking, so that we can, like his disciples are intended to do, hear his voice and respond to his call.

John 10:4-5 — When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.  A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.  If you read through this whole text, there’s going to be three characters that also have voices that aren’t of God.  Strangers. Thieves. Robbers.  They can either be—in this text—of secular institutions or they can be religious voices, that are saying this is what God is like, this is what the way of God looks like.  Jesus says they’re thieves, they’re robbers, do not listen to them.  You’re my disciples, I’m your Good Shepherd, don’t let them take you astray.

The question becomes then, not only are we expecting to hear God and learning to listen, but we also need to learn how to discern.  God, what’s your voice and what’s the voice of another?  Jesus seems to think that’s really, really important.  Early followers of Christ had this approach to the spiritual life that they referred to as the “discernment of spirits.”  Here it is in 1 John 4:1-2 — Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.  By this you know the Spirit of God: {How do we know if something’s the voice of God, or just bad pizza, or bad theology, or a thief, or a robber, or a stranger?} every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God.   What does the voice do with Jesus?  What does the prompting do with Jesus?  What does the hunch do with Jesus?

It’s interesting, when they train federal agents to try to detect counterfeit money, they actually don’t show them counterfeit money.  They show them the real thing…..over and over and over and over and over and over and over, until they’re able to go, “That’s not real! Not because I’ve seen a bunch of fake money, but because I know what the real thing looks like.”

So what does the real thing look like?  What does the real voice…..will the real voice of Jesus please stand up? There’s three things:  Matthew 7:28-29.  And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.   You might write down the word “quality.”  There’s a certain weightiness to the voice of God.  When God speaks to us, there’s just something about it that carries a different type of weight than other voices or our own thoughts.  Here’s the way E. Stanley Jones puts it:  “Perhaps the rough distinction is this: The voice of the subconscious argues with you, tries to convince you; but the inner voice of God does not argue, does not try to convince you.  It just speaks, and it is self-authenticating.  It has the feel of the voice of God within it.”  So we may just have this sense like, we just can’t shake what we’ve heard.  There’s a weightiness to it.  There’s a beauty to it.

Second — But the wisdom from above{The wisdom that’s from God, which is the only kind of wisdom.} is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, {Don’t you love this?  God’s wisdom is open to reason.  Test it out.}  full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. (James 3:17)   There’s a sense of confidence and joy and peace when God speaks.  Lean in for just a moment, please, because I feel like in our cultural moment, as we’ve seen a bunch of pastors at large churches fall, there’s part of me that goes how did we miss it?  There voice never sounded gentle.  It sounded harsh.  It sounded condemning.  It didn’t sound like the voice of Jesus.  Jesus’s voice is not the voice of a bully!  He’s not threatening.  He’s not coercing.  Even when he draws out something in your life that he’s inviting you to change, it’s not……   When the Spirit speaks to us, the Spirit does not condemn.  That’s the voice of the enemy.  When the Spirit speaks to us about something that’s off in our life, it’s a voice of conviction, and it carries with it an invitation…..here’s where you’re going wrong, here’s where you’re going off, REPENT, change your mind, change your life, believe that the kingdom of God is at hand and you can enter into it any moment you want to.  But it’s not….you’d better.  It’s not the voice of fear.  It’s not the voice of coercion.  Even when we talk about repentance, there’s a type of godly grief that produces repentance and leads to salvation or healing.  There’s also this worldly grief, the voice of the enemy that just leads you to this cul-de-sac of guilt and shame and death.  Hear me, God’s voice is not the voice of a bully.  God’s not going to crowbar you into doing something that you don’t want to do.  He’s the Good Shepherd, he’s just going to stand in front of you and go there’s a better way.  You want that way?  I’d love to lead you to that way.

The rest of the text is number three.  John 10:11 — I am the good shepherd.  The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.    When the wolves come, the good shepherd doesn’t flee.  The good shepherd sacrifices.  The good shepherd loves.  The good shepherd knows your name!  He doesn’t call you ‘hey, guy,’ or ‘hey, gal,’ or ‘pal’…..it’s Ryan, I’ve got a word for you.  So there’s a content that God’s voice carries with it.  So quality.  There’s a spirit of gentleness.  Then there’s a content.  God’s voice always sounds like Jesus, leading us to abundant life.  The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.  I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.  (John 10:10)    That’s his desire for you.

In summary, Jesus’s voice sounds like weighty, wise, beautiful, gentle love.  It doesn’t sound bullish.  It doesn’t come at you from a place of fear, or shame, or worldly guilt just to make you feel bad instead of leading you to life.  If it doesn’t align with the way and the words of Jesus, it’s not the voice of God.  It’s a little bit of a litmus test for you.

You may be going, alright, Paulson, what do we do with that?  Here’s three things:  Stop.  I know, based on schedule, that’s harder for some than others, but I think A.J. Sherrill says it really, really well in his book Quiet:“Stillness is the forgotten teacher within a society of perpetual movement.”  One of the things you can do in revolt against a cultural moment that says more, more, more, more, more is just stop and embrace silence.  Embrace solitude.  Carve out times to read Scripture, not with agenda but just to hear the voice of God.  Practice Sabbath.  Maybe it means going for a walk by yourself, or with your family, or with some friends, and just talking to Jesus as you talk to each other.  Stop.

Second — Receive.  If you want to till the soil of your soul to hear from God, can I invite you to embrace a posture of gratitude.  God has been ridiculously generous to you.  You can go yeah, but here’s all the things that have happened in my life.  I get it, but just for one moment do this.  {Ryan takes a slow deep breath.}  It’s grace. It’s all gift.  Yeah, things didn’t turn out perfectly and yeah, there were some people who were evil to you.  I hear you, and I don’t want to minimize that, but there are the fingerprints of God, and love of God, and goodness of God, has been chasing after you every single day of your life.  Pause, recognize it, it will open your heart and your ears to hear the voice of God like nothing can.

Finally — Go.  Stop. Receive. Go.  All throughout this text we see Jesus saying, “My sheep hear my voice and then they follow me.”  They just don’t hear me and go Jesus, wonderful, great, awesome, so glad you’re speaking.  No, they follow him.  They follow him even when it’s a dark night, waves are beating against the boat, rain is coming down.  Peter’s on the edge of the boat and he hears this one word…..come.  Peter goes here goes nothing.  I don’t know if it’s his voice, but there’s only one way I’ll know.  Yep, that was Him.

As we end our series, Life is A Maze(ing), I just want to carve out a few moments for you and for me to just say God, we don’t want to just hear a message about hearing from you, we actually just want to posture our souls to hear from you.  I’m going to lead us through a Lectio Divina, listening God-esque experience.  I just want to give you a gift of just being quiet, being still.  Let’s just say Jesus, we expect that you’re speaking and we want to learn to hear.  Would you help us identify your voice and the voice of the others?  Please.  Amen.

LIFE IS A MAZE(ing) | God’s Voice or Bad Pizza | John 10:1-21 | Week 72020-08-21T08:42:01-06:00

LIFE IS A MAZE(ing) | All the Feels | Matthew 26:36-46 | Week 6

Read the daily devotionals that go with this sermon

Subscribe to the weekly podcast on iTunes


If you have questions regarding this sermon you can request the PDF

LIFE IS A MAZE(ing): All the Feels    Matthew 26:36-46       (1st Service)

February 13th, just this last week, flight 5763 took off from the Orange County Airport on its way to Seattle.  It didn’t quite make it there, because over the High Sierras, it hit what you might refer to as a little bit of turbulence.  One of the passengers reported that, along with the flight attendant, the drink cart hit the ceiling of the aircraft.  Another passenger said that the plane did not one but two nosedives, sort of ninety degrees down.  Just imagine being at 34,000 feet, cruising altitude, having your plane, that’s sailing through the air, immediately doing a ninety degree nosedive, and the flight attendant next to you in the air.  Five people were injured.  The plane had to land in Reno and didn’t make it to Seattle because five people had to be hospitalized.

If you’ve ever been in a situation of turbulence, either in an airplane or in life, you know that you don’t just have thoughts in your head that affect the way that you interact with that situation.  Your whole body gets into it, doesn’t it?  If you were to take your pulse, it would be elevated, would it not?  Your palms might be a little bit sweaty.  You might be yelling things uncontrollably.  My parents were in a turbulent situation in an aircraft and somebody grabbed the hands of the people next to them and started praying “The Lord’s Prayer.”

We are holistic beings.  Our bodies get into it when we are in situations like that.  It may not just be extreme situations, like an aircraft that might crash in the High Sierras.  Our body gets into also maybe walking through these doors on a Sunday morning.  We have a little bit of anxiety and our heart starts to beat quicker, doesn’t it?  Or maybe you know you have to have a conversation with somebody and you’ve got to pick up the phone and call them instead of just texting them.  Your hand shakes a little bit, doesn’t it?  Or maybe you’re at work and you just sense this invitation from God—that person needs to know about the hope you have in Jesus.  You start to sit on your hands a little bit or you start to get a little bit distraught.  But it doesn’t just happen in your head, does it?  It happens in your body.  Or maybe you get a phone call from the doctor and the situation isn’t what you thought it would be; not the news you hoped you’d hear.

I think sometimes, in circles of Christians, we want to minimize the role that our feelings and our emotions play.  The reality is that we are ‘feeling’ beings.  Every single one of us.  We have emotions.  There are emotions attached to what God is doing in our life.  I don’t know if you noticed this, but in the series where we’re talking about God’s will, last week we talked about what’s in our heart, our desires, what we want.  Today I want to pivot a little bit and say what happens when God does something we DON’T like and what happens when God does something we DON’T want?  Even our body starts to go I don’t want this and I’m not choosing this.  What do we do then?

I was reminded of the Apostle Paul.  He’s heading back to Jerusalem after his missionary journey.  He knows that he’s heading towards probably what will be his death. There are well-intentioned followers of Jesus in Caesarea and they grab him and listen to what they say to him in Acts 21:13.  They tell Paul that if he goes to Jerusalem he will be in chains and enslaved, and that it won’t end well for him.  This is how he responds:  Then Paul answered, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart?  For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” And since he would not be persuaded, we ceased and said, “Let the will of the Lord be done.”  It’s easy for me to read passages like this and take the emotion out of it.  Paul is surrounded by people that he loves.  They’re saying, “Don’t go!  Please don’t go!”  And he says why are you breaking my heart?  Just let me go.  I know I’m going to my death.  The Spirit of Jesus told me that too.

How do we handle when God has us walking down a path that we wouldn’t choose and we don’t like?  Let’s be honest, that’s life sometimes, isn’t it?  There’s a number of things that would happen in our life and we’d go, “God, if your world was perfect like your heaven is, this wouldn’t be the case right now.”  Death wouldn’t be the case.  Sorrow wouldn’t be the case.  Pain wouldn’t be the case.  But that’s not the world we live in.  We live in a world where we’re often taken to places and we go, I don’t want this and I wouldn’t choose this.  I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of church being a place you have to pretend you want things you don’t.  I’m tired of church being a place where we have to pretend we’re not afraid because we know we’re not suppose to be afraid, but what happens when you’re afraid?  What do you do then?

If you have your Bible, I’d invite you to open to Matthew 26, because what we want to do this morning is take our cue from Jesus.  It’s always a great place to start.  If we’re going to live in the way of Jesus with the heart of Jesus, let’s look at what Jesus did with these feelings of ‘I don’t like this’ and these emotions that started to rise inside of him.  Matthew 26:36-46 — Then Jesus went with them {With his disciples.  He’s just gotten done the Passover meal.  This is the night Jesus is going to be betrayed and taken to the authorities.}  to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.”  And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled.  Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.”  And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will but as you will.”  And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping.  And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour?  Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation.  The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”  Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.”  And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy.  So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again.  Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Sleep and take your rest later on.  See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.  Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.”

If you were to go back and study this text, what you’d see, front and center, are three emotions that Jesus wears on his sleeve.  The first is sorrow.  Sorrowful even to the point of death, the text says.  It’s this picture, in the original language, of being engulfed in grief.  Like a tsunami that just washes over him of despair.  Second word: troubled.  If you go and look in the original Greek language, it’s this word that means anxious.   You could imagine Jesus in the garden bouncing his knee a little bit.  Maybe biting his bottom lip.  That’s not the picture we have of our Messiah, is it?  He goes I’m troubled.  I’m stressed.  This word isn’t in there directly, but I think we can get it pretty easily when we read through the Scriptures…..I think he’s frustrated with his disciples.  I mean, he’s like, you guys, come on!  You can’t stay awake with me one hour?  Let’s not be too hard on the disciples, grief is hard, isn’t it?  Sorrow’s hard.  Sometimes it’s easier to sleep through it than it is to engage it.  And that’s not a knock on people who need to sleep a lot in seasons of grief, that’s just how we deal with it.  I get it.  I probably would have fallen asleep too.   Let’s be honest, you would probably have too.

He’s sorrowful.  He’s troubled.  He’s frustrated.  What does he do with his emotions?  It’s interesting, if you’ve been around church at all, my guess is you’ve probably seen at some point, this real convenient train that tells you what to do with your emotions.  Here’s what it says:  The front of the train is FACT.  Middle of the train — FAITH.  The caboose is FEELINGS.  Oftentimes we’ll be in church and go that’s right, that’s how it should be.  Well maybe, but is that the way it actually is?  Or life is a little more complicated than that?  Are there seasons where emotion is out front and the pain is so thick and the hurt is so prevalent and instead of feeling like, “Well, I’m going to make this decision based on fact and faith and then feeling,” I think we feel a little more like, “No, I’m trapped in a glass case of emotion!” {Will Farrell, Anchor Man}

It’s not quite as simple as we’d like to make it out to be, is it? In the garden, the night that Jesus is betrayed, as he’s praying….yeah, certainly he knows the facts and certainly he has faith, but his feelings aren’t something that are lagging behind as though there’s some inhumane attachment to his journey to the cross, they’re right out front.

There’s been a number of heresies that have risen up in the church over the years.  One was in the second century.  It was called Docetism.  Another in the fourth century called Apollinarianism.  Both of these heresies had at their core this lie:  Jesus was less than human.  Lean in for a moment, it’s a lie and it’s actually the exact opposite of the truth.  Jesus wasn’t less than human.  Jesus wasn’t the least human person to ever live.  Jesus was actually the most human person to ever live.  Our journey as followers of Jesus is not become less human, it’s actually to become more human.  Christian spiritualityis grounded in the full range of our humanity, which includes our emotions.

What is an emotion?  Without getting too scientific, here’s what an emotion is:  A thought that we have in our mind that’s linked to a sensation.  We have this thought that’s linked to a sensation that often elicits three things.  It triggers something inside of us so that we respond to it, or we have an experience and then we have a response.  So, when I get a phone call and the news isn’t good, my mind has a thought—my mind does something with that—that elicits some sort of trigger inside of me.  I experience that thought—I don’t necessarily detach myself from it, I’m fully in it—and I have a response to it.  That’s an emotion.

So to say that emotions are sort of at the back, they’re just the caboose…..we’re far more integrated than we often give ourselves credit for. But, emotions can be uncomfortable, can’t they?  We have to do something with them, and here’s four things we often do with our emotions.  I’d like to propose to you, after this, that there is a better way.  We can be directedby our emotions.  They’re at the front and we just follow them.  Have you ever been around someone in adolescence; sometimes they’re directed by their emotions.  That’s not a knock on anybody in adolescence; your brain is right there.  That’s part of the development of your frontal lobe.  Eventually we’re suppose to grow out of that so we’re not just directed by our emotions.  Second, we have a tendency to detach.  This would be like an eastern philosophy, an eastern spirituality.  The thought at the core of eastern spirituality is often every pain we experience in life is a result of a desire unmet.  If we can get rid of our desires, than we can get rid of our pain.  So, push it away.  Secularism’s response is to distractourselves.  Have you ever wondered why the entertainment industry is so huge?  We need to do something with what’s going on inside of us, even in our physical body, so let’s see another movie, let’s binge another show on Netflix, let’s go out to a really nice dinner, let’s try to forget about it.  Or, here’s what we’re really good at in Christian circles….let’s displaceAll things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to his purpose.  God is in the process of renewing and restoring all things.  It’s all going to turn out okay, just keep moving forward.  Put one foot in front of the other.  Get the facts out there.  Is all that stuff true?  It’s all true and it’s all really, really helpful in its season.  But if we try to go there too soon, we actually start to circumvent the work God actually wants to do in our life.

Here’s the truth of the matter.  Here’s what you see with Jesus in the garden.  We don’t discover God’s will by ignoring our feelings, but rather by engaging them healthily.  Our journey as followers of Jesus, our journey as spiritual beings, is not different than our journey as human beings.  They are intricately intertwined.  As Pete Scazerro brilliantly put in his book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality:  “It’s impossible to be spiritually mature while remaining emotionally immature.”  That is worth holding onto.  We do not grow beyond our emotional maturity.  If you found yourself bumping up against a glass ceiling in your spiritual growth, may I suggest to you that you have some work to do in THIS area.

What’s the work that we should do?  Let’s look at Jesus.  Let’s let him by our teacher.  Let’s let him by our guide.  Look at what he does in Matthew 26:38 — Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death…”  What does he do?  He steps back.  He probably takes a deep breath.  My guess is he asks this really important question:  What’s going on inside of me?  What’s that feeling?  What do I call that?  Sorrow.

It shouldn’t surprise us that Jesus has emotion.  All throughout the Scripture, we see God being an emotional being.  Exodus 20:5 says God is jealousfor you.  Jeremiah 30:25 says God has anger.  Jeremiah 31:1 says that God feels love.  Hosea 11:8 says that God feels compassion.   Luke 10:21 — Jesus is full of joy.  Wouldn’t you love to see someone do a painting of that picture…Jesus brimming with joy?  The platonic god is the stoic, unmoved mover.  The God of the Bible is distinctly emotional.  He’s in it.  He cares.

Like many followers of Jesus, I picked up somewhere along the way that almost all feelings are unreliable and they can’t be trusted.  I think most followers of Jesus have this conviction—I don’t know where we picked it up—that we don’t have permission to feel or express our emotion.  They’re just in the back of the caboose and they need to stay there.  When we minimize our emotions and feelings, we actually create a wall between ourselves and God and others.  You know this.  If you’re in a marriage or friendship with somebody who has a hard time expressing the way that they feel, it can feel cold, can’t it?  Why would we think that’s what God would want for us?

Saint Augustine, who may not strike you as an in touch with his emotion type of guy, said this: “How can you draw close to God when you are far from your own self?  Grant, Lord, that I may know myself that I may know thee.”  Can I invite you as we talk about discerning God’s will and there may be seasons where He leads us into things that we would not choose, that we nameour emotion.  That’s what Jesus does.  We name it.  This is what’s going on.  This is that sense that I have inside of me.

When we were in our Daily devotional writing team a few weeks ago talking about this passage, our worship pastor said to me, “It wasn’t until just a few years ago that I realized that I had more than two emotions: happy and sad.”  I thought yeah, that’s for most of us, isn’t it?  Happy. Sad. There’s a number of people doing research right now on our emotional spectrum, but Brene Brown came out with a list, recently, of core emotions.  We probably all have felt these on some level.  Love. Belonging. Joy. Gratitude. Vulnerability. Empathy. Excited. Happy. Surprised. Curious.   Some we may not like quite as much:  Shame. Guilt. Humiliation. Embarrassment. Fear. Scared. Overwhelmed. Sad. Hurt. Disappointed. Frustrated. Jealous. Worried. Anxious. Judgmental. Disgust. Lonely. Blame. Grief. Regret.

Dan Allender and Tremper Longman, in a book they wrote, said: “Ignoring our emotions is turning our back on reality.  Listening to our emotions ushers us into reality.  And reality is where we meet God.”  I would say, reality is the only place you meet God.

There is great power in naming your emotion.  When I say naming your emotion, what I mean is an invitation to sort of step back from what’s going on inside of you—even on a biological level—and to go okay, so I’m anxious.  But here’s what I wouldn’t do right away: I wouldn’t say I’m anxious and I shouldn’t be anxious.  What does that do?  It actually makes you more anxious.  Try it sometime.  I’m anxious and I shouldn’t be anxious and now I’m anxious about being anxious, in addition to what I was anxious about in the first place!  Sort of like trying to get patience by being more patient.  Good luck!  So, if we step back for a moment and go, well, I’m anxious.  So that’s there.  Jesus, what do you want me to do with that?  What do you have to say about that?

There’s massive power in naming our emotions.  Ironically, there’s more power in not naming them, but it’s not the kind of power that you want.  It’s the control over you that just seems to steer and guide your life.  Have you ever gotten really angry about something really small and wondered where in the world did that come from?  My hope is you had the courage to step back and go, something’s not alright in me.  My guess is that you were…..remember those splash pad water parks where the water shoots out?  My guess is that you were holding down the hole of one emotion and thinking, “I’m not going to feel that.  I’m not going to go there.”  Eventually, it starts to squirt out in other places.  Welcome to being human.  We always do something with our emotions, whether we displace, or distract, or let them direct us.  We always do something with our emotions, and true spirituality {lean in} is engagement with ourselves, with God, with his world, not as we wish it were, but as it actually is.  So we have the boldness and courage to name what’s going on on the inside.

Here’s what Jesus says next:  “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” And going a little father he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me.”   Let’s stop there.  Does Jesus know the journey he’s on?  Yes, he’s already told his disciples a number of times, hey, I’m going to Jerusalem and I’m about to die.  They’re like, wait, what?  We thought you were the Messiah.  So does Jesus know the journey he’s on?  Yeah, and yet, he says, “If it’s possible, let this cup pass from me.”  What’s he doing?  I thought a lot about that this week and what I don’t think Jesus is doing is saying, “I’m out.”  I’m out of the mission.  What he is saying is I’m so committed to the mission, but if you are taking suggestions for the methodology, may I suggest the cross may not be the most pleasant way.  So he’s saying to his Heavenly Father, “I don’t want to control this situation, but if you’re open to influence, if you’re open to suggestions, I’ve got a few.”  He goes to his Father and he simply presents his request.  That’s what he does.

Let me ask you a few questions:  Does God hear our requests?  Does he answer?  Let me ask it this way:  Does prayer change things?  I was reminded of this scene from Shadowlands, a depiction of C.S. Lewis’s life.  Anthony Hopkins plays C.S. Lewis in this film.  Lewis’s wife, Joy, has just found out that she’s going into remission and his friends are saying Lewis has been praying hard and God is answering his prayer.  Lewis answers:  “That’s not why I pray, Harry.  I pray because I can’t help myself.  I pray because I’m helpless.  I pray because the need flows out of me all the time; waking and sleeping.  It doesn’t change God, it changes me.”  Sounds really good.  It doesn’t change God, it changes me.  I’m a huge C.S. Lewis fan and read everything I can get my hands on by C.S. Lewis.  Does the Bible say that prayer changes us and NOT God?  Or maybe that there’s more going on than that.  Let me invite you to a few texts:  You’ve probably prayed this during an election at some point.  It’s 2 Chronicles 7:14 — If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray…..then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.    Did you know there are more “if-then” statements attached to prayer in the Bible than to any other thing?  Try this one on for size (Daniel 10:12) — Then he said to me, “Fear not, Daniel,{This is an angel talking to Daniel.}for from the first day that you set your heart to understand and humbled yourself before your God, your words have been heard, and I have come because of your words.   Wait! What??  An angel is released to come to Daniel’s aid—catch this, the Bible says it really, really clearly—because of your WORDS!    When you come to the elders and we anoint you and pray over you, we’ll pray this verse over you:  James 5:16 —  Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.  The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.  In the Greek, it’s literally, the energized (enegero) prayer has great enegero.  There’s this play on words going on.  The energized prayer has great energy.

I don’t know if prayer changes God, but it certainly changes things.  It changes our world.  E.M. Bounds said it like this—a great author who wrote a lot on prayer:  “God shapes the world through prayer.”  Do I understand that dynamic exactly?  No.  Anybody that tells you they do…..run!  We want a one-to-one relationship like we do with a diet.  If I do this than I’ll lose a little bit of weight.  If I work this exercise plan, I’ll get stronger.  We want prayer to work like that and it just simply doesn’t.  But please hear me, when you read through the Scriptures, what you’re going to find is that God, in his sovereignty, has chosen to respond to the prayers of his people.  Your prayers matter.  Darrell, when you guys gather every single Wednesday night and pray—6:30; Watchmen Prayer team prays—it matters!  Does it change you?  Absolutely!  Anybody who spends any amount of time praying knows it changes you.  I’m just saying that’s not all it changes.  I’m saying the Scriptures say that’s not all it changes.  God’s not a static, unmoved mover; that’s Plato’s god.  That’s not the God of the Scriptures.

Maybe this week your practice is……..Pray!  If you haven’t spent any time praying, maybe you just start with five minutes in the morning.  Pray a psalm.  Pray any of the psalms.  They give language to the full spectrum of human emotion.  That’s one of the reasons they’re there.

We know from the Scriptures that prayer does something, but we also know that there are times when prayer doesn’t seem to do anything….like this instance with Jesus.  Or at least not what we want it to.  There’s this caveat in Jesus’s prayer, and I often thought this caveat as sort of a copout, right?   Nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.  Have you ever been in Christian circles where people were like, don’t pray that!  That’s a show of non-faith!  If you pray your will be done, it’s just saying you don’t have faith for him to do what you actually asked him to do!  Here’s a question:  If you knew God was going to answer every single one of the prayers that you prayed with an affirmative, would you pray more or less?  How many of you have a list of prayers you’re grateful God didn’t answer?  Most of them have female names attached to mine, from my teens!  No, no, no, we don’t have the full picture.  Nancy Leigh DeMoss said it like this: “God’s will is what we would choose if we knew what God knows.”  It’s what we’d ask for.

Karl Barth called this “nevertheless”; he said this is “the defiant nevertheless.”  Where we say to God, alright, here’s what’s going on in the inside.  I’m going to name it.  And then naming it, I’m going to ask you what you want me to do with it.  I’m going to present my request.  If you’re open to suggestions, here’s what I’d love to see.  Ultimately, God, I’m going to chooseyour kingdom.  This is Jesus’s prayer that he taught his disciples to pray, that we said this morning, isn’t it?  Your kingdom come and your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  We need to pray that God’s will would be done, that his kingdom would come, because there are places that if God’s will is that we forgive our enemies….   If God’s will is that we love those unlike us….   If God’s will is that we release our anger and release our lust, there’s moments where God’s explicit will is not being done in our lives and in our world.  So Jesus says well, pray for it, because prayer matters.  It positions you to receive from God and it makes ripple effects in the world that you will never be fully aware of.

Please hear me on this:  Your will be done.  You’ll often hear people say things like: God’s will is the safest place to be.  Just don’t tell that to Jesus!  Because for him, it was a cross.  God’s will.  It’s not the safest place to be, but it’s the most significant place to be.  It’s the most beautiful place to be.  It’s the best place to be.  To say to God, God, I’m choosing your kingdom.  You do know that the entry into the Christian life is an invitation to take up your cross, right?  To take up your cross.  To die to yourself.  It doesn’t mean the more miserable you are, the more happy God is.  It doesn’t mean the more miserable you are, the more in God’s will you are.  It doesn’t mean you should disregard your personhood, your unique gifting, your wiring, who God has made you to be.  And it doesn’t mean that the godly, good desires that you have should be completely ignored and should be completely put off.  It actually means the opposite.  Jesus goes on to say:  ….take up cross daily and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. (Luke 9:24)   Their life will be healed.  They’ll become more fully alive as they die to the kingdom of self and live to the kingdom of God.

Here’s the ethos of kingdom of self:  It’s ruled by self-interest.  By grasping.  By achievement.  By effort.  By independence.  By holding.  By being willful.  Clenched fists and closed hearts.  Hard and brittle.  And just begrudging determination.  The kingdom of God is ruled by love.  By releasing.  By gift.  By consent.  By interdependence.  By releasing.  By willingness.  By open hands and soft heart.  Malleable.  Transformation before God.

I hope you’re asking the question:  In the battle internally—even an emotional battle that often rages—how in the world do I choose the kingdom of God over the kingdom of self?  I’m going to give you three things.  You choose it by having a different perspective.  God, there’s more going on.  I don’t understand the whole picture.  I will choose to believe that if I knew what you knew, I would want what you want.  Second, we know that we can grieve, which is an emotion, but not as people who do not have hope.  Because God is weaving together—this is peace—the frayed edges of our life and our world to make it into a mosaic, a masterpiece.  You don’t have to like it along the way, but you can know that it’s happening, and it can help you say I’m going to lay my life down that I might find true life.  Finally, please don’t miss this:  Know that you stand in the place of divine love and goodness and God’s favor over you.  You will never choose God’s kingdom unless you first are convinced of God’s love.

I’m going to play a song that caught my heart this week.  When I first became a follower of Jesus, I absolutely loved Rich Mullins.  I was on a run last Friday and I had this line from this song pop into my head.  I don’t know where you’re leading me, unless you’ve led me here, where I’m lost enough to let myself be led.  I went, “That’s it!”  I went back and Googled it.  The song is called Hard to Get.  It’s a song about Gethsemane, but I think more than that, it’s a song about God and it’s a song about you and me.  Here’s the deal:  If you’re in that moment, that season of Gethsemane.  If you’re saying to God, I’m sorrowful, I’m troubled, I’m frustrated, there’s things going on inside of me that I don’t know what to do with, I just want you to hear me say as clearly as I can, this is a safe place to name the darkness in your soul.  It’s there.  Name it.  But it’s hard to live in Gethsemane.  We live there until we name it.  When we name it, we start to get free to say God, I don’t like this, but I’m going to move forward; whatever forward means, I’m going there with you.  That’s what Jesus does.  That’s the way this passage of Scripture ends — Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.

I hope this ministers to your soul. {Ryan calls a few elders forward to help pray with others.   Song “Hard to Get” by Rich Mullins is played.}

LIFE IS A MAZE(ing) | All the Feels | Matthew 26:36-46 | Week 62020-08-20T16:36:27-06:00

LIFE IS A MAZE(ing) | Listen to Your Heart | Philippians 2:12-13 | Week 5

Read the daily devotionals that go with this sermon

Subscribe to the weekly podcast on iTunes


If you have questions regarding this sermon you can request the PDF

LIFE IS A MAZE(ing): Listen to Your Heart (?)   Philippians 2:12-13     (2nd Service)

I can remember when I was freshman in college and went and purchased the album that song (Obsession) is off of.  It was written by Martin Smith, but recorded by David Crowder.  I remember lying in my bed in my dorm room at Colorado State, having my Discman next to me.  I was listening to the song and thinking to myself, “My heart does burn.  Jesus, I want you.  Closer than my skin, yeah.”  All that stuff Crowder’s singing, I want it.  I was going onto high school campuses and telling people about Jesus; people that didn’t want to hear about it…it didn’t matter to me.  My heart burned.

Around that same time, I started to want a Jeep CJ-7.  My heart burned for that too.  I went out and bought one, not knowing anything about car mechanics and having zero propensity for repairing anything.  It was a 1985 CJ-7 and it didn’t have a hardtop (just a soft top) and soft doors.  I remember driving away thinking, “This is my freedom.”  I was on my way home—it was a 45 minute drive from where I purchased the car to my parent’s house—and one of those Colorado thunderstorms formed.  I was in this Jeep with no top, living it up, when a thunderstorm of epic proportions came right over my head.  It was a deluge!  I remember getting absolutely destroyed by this thunderstorm, and people in cars next to me were absolutely laughing.  It was coming down so hard I had to pull over and I had this thought almost immediately, “Not everything my heart wants is good!  Not everything my heart wants is worth wanting!” because I wanted this….and maybe I shouldn’t have.

We’re in a series where we’re talking about discovering God’s will, and today I want to ask the complex question: Can you trust your heart?  Before you answer that, can I tell you any simplistic answer to this question should be rejected.  I think that Michael Scott and Dwight Schrute, from “The Office,” do a really good job at drawing out this tension — Michael: My heart says no.  Dwight: Your heart is a wonderful thing, Michael, but it makes some terrible decisions……….Save your heart for love, and use your brain for business.

I was looking back through church history.  One of my favorite theologians is Martin Luther, primarily because of his work on the book of Galatians, just breathtaking.  He’s the father of the Protestant Reformation.  I mean he nails his “95 Theses” to the Wittenberg door and launches the movement that most of us in this room are a part of today!  And yet…..and yet, especially later on in his writings, he is a raving racist, hates the Jewish people.  Was Martin Luther good or bad?

King David writes some breathtaking psalms.  He’s a poet, man.  O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. (Ps. 63:1)   Good or bad?  Good.  Psalms 40:8 — I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.  Good or bad?  Good.  David delighted also in Bathsheba; with a name like Bathsheba you know she was hot!  David sees her bathing on the top of a building and says she looks good, calls for her, brings her over, sleeps with her, gets her pregnant.  He knows she has a husband so that’s not good.  He’s away at war, so David brings him back.  He won’t sleep with her.  Sends him back to war so that he’s killed.  Good or bad?  Bad!  David — Good or bad?  Uh-huh.

You?  Me?  Good or bad?

In a now infamous interview, the then sort of pedestrian Walter Isaacson—he’s come to be one of the best biographer’s of our day—was interviewing Woody Allen.  Woody Allen said: “The heart wants what the heart wants.”  How many of you have heard that?  Yeah, that’s a famous line in our culture, but most people don’t realize what he was talking about.  Isaacson was pressing him a little bit about the romantic love relationship that he (Allen) had with his partner’s adopted daughter Soon-Yi.  What he said was, “The heart wants what the heart wants” and sometimes the heart wants to be romantically involved with your adopted daughter.  That’s the genesis of that quote.

So many of us who follow the way of Jesus have been around church, we hear this and go yeah, exactly, that’s what the Prophet Jeremiah said in Jeremiah 17:9 — The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?  For most of us, that’s the end of our theology of our heart.  It’s deceitful!  It’s wicked! It’s bad! It’s wrong!  We should reject our heart.  There’s no way that our internal….that sort of internal voice, the spirit, the conglomeration of everything that’s inside of us, our heart….there’s no way that we should listen to that.  What happens when your heart wants to be generous?  What happens when your heart wants to do what’s right?  What happens when your heart wants to follow Jesus?  We just sang a bunch of songs about our hearts being drawn to God….what about then?  Most of us, I think, have an overly simplified view of the heart—it’s either good or bad.

Whenever people point out this verse, I just want to remind them that the heart is deceitful above all things is not the end of Jeremiah’s diagnostic about our hearts.  He continues to write about the heart.  He goes on to prophesy about the New Covenant — For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts.  And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.  (Jeremiah 31:33)   If you read the same promise in the book of Ezekiel 36:26-27, what Ezekiel says is God is going to give you a new heart.  If you are a follower of Christ, if the Spirit dwells in you, just lean in for a moment, you have a new heart.  You do!  You may have moved some old furniture into it, but you have a new heart.  You’ve been renewed, you’ve been restored.  So let me ask the question again–Should we trust our heart when it comes to decision making?  Is the heart trustworthy?  Well, it depends.

Let me sort of unpack with you what the Apostle Paul says. Turn to Philippians 2:12-13.  Paul’s writing to a church that he helped plant at Philippi.  Many of us have ingrained in us that our heart is wicked, our heart is evil all the time, which, I think, would suggest that we would have a propensity to use reverse psychology on ourselves.  If it’s wicked and I know I shouldn’t want what I want, then I’ll not want what I want so that God will actually give it to me and then I’ll be okay.  But, good news, you don’t have to do that, verse 12.  Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you,  {For it is GOD who works in you.  For it is GOD. Who. Works. In. You.}  both to will and to work for his good pleasure.  Will you turn to the person next to you and say, “God is in work in you.”  And then turn to the person on the other side and say, “God is in work in me.”  Yeah, yeah, yeah, this is what the Apostle Paul is pointing out, that God is at work WITHIN, guiding us toward His will.  God is on our side, working in us and working for us.

Jesus took the Spirit’s work inside of you so seriously that in John 16:7, he looked at his disciples and said, “Guys, I know you’ve grown fond of me.  Guys, I know we’ve walked together for three years, but I’m going to leave and I’m going to go to my Father’s side and it’s better for you that I leave, because if I don’t leave, the Advocate, the Spirit, the One who’s at work within, won’t come.”  Jesus thought it was so important—the work that the Spirit would do in your life, sitting right here in 2019, would be so powerful, that it would be even better than if He were here.  Soak that in for a moment.

When you are seeking God’s will, you are not working in opposition to God.  You’re not.  You’re working in partnership with Him.  Actually, your spiritual formation is a partnership, a divine partnership, between you and God.  We’re called to cooperate with the Spirit’s work within us.  Lest we think this is easy, that we sit back and enjoy the ride, the Apostle Paul writes in Galatians 5:17, to people who have a new heart, mind you — For the desires of the flesh{That’s the old furniture you moved into your new heart.} are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, {This is all happening inside of you.  This is why we can’t answer the question simplistically — Are we good or are we bad?  We’re a battle zone!}  for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.  Paul creates this anthem:  Stay in step with the Spirit.  Live in the Spirit.  Paul’s suggesting that just because God is at work in you doesn’t mean the battle is over.  Au contraire, the new heart is actually the invitation TO war, not the end of it.  God’s at work within.

If this is the case….if there’s this against and this opposed , all happening within us…..sort of the picture of the angel and the devil on our shoulders, may not be all that far off, right?  The question I think we should probably be asking is how do we partner with the work God wants to do in us?   If the Spirit’s at work within me, how do I partner with what the Spirit wants to do, because I believe that God is the author of life and the giver of every good thing and He has good in store and I want to get on board with His agenda?  That’s a great question, I’m glad you asked it, because Paul actually addresses that.  Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence…   He’s writing to a church that he’s not physically present with, hence the letter, and he’s giving them some encouragement.

Paul, an apostle of Jesus, has this mind set.  Obedience for disciples is not optional.  It’s not advanced Christianity.  It’s not for the super-spiritual elite.  It’s for anybody who would say I want to live in the way of Jesus with the heart of Jesus.  For those in the first century, they would have had this understanding that when you become an apprentice to somebody, whether it’s to a cobbler or to a blacksmith or to a rabbi, you had three goals:  1) To be with that person.  2) To become like them.  In your character, to become like them.  3) To do what they did.   With.  Like.  As.  Before Paul talks about any of the internal workings of our soul and following the way of Jesus, here’s what he wants to say—Church, look up at me!  Do you want it?  Do you want His way?  Do you want His way when it conflicts with your way?

It’s interesting, because despite what you may have heard, Christian spirituality is NOT about the crucifixion of desires.  It’s about the focusing of desires.  It’s about the alignment of desires.  In fact, Buddhism is more about detachment from desires.  Christianity is about the fulfillment of deepest desires.  What Paul wants to do before he goes anywhere else is he wants to say before you follow your heart, before you trust your heart, test it!  Test it!  Do you really want the things of God?  This is David’s prayer that we started our service with.   This is Psalm 139:23-24 — Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me…   David is suggesting that there are some desires in him that he might not even be aware of that would be pulling him away from the way of God.  So he’s going, God, I’m positioning my life before you.  You see me, you know me…..show me.  Show me what’s there.  I think we’re conditioned with evangelicalism that God’s going to show us a bunch of junk.  He might show you some of that, but I want to suggest to you that if you don’t see any good, you aren’t listening well enough.  If He doesn’t show you anything that’s beautiful, and true, and noteworthy, sit longer!  Our conditioning is I’m Jeremiah 17:9—I’m wretched, I’m wicked—and what Jesus is over you is you’re Jeremiah 31:33, sit longer.  Come on, church, sit longer.

David’s disposition is God, search me and know me, because I want to see if there’s any way that I’m off.  I was reminded this week of Polonius’s line in Hamlet, where Polonius says, “To thine own self be true.”  If you’re familiar at all with Shakespeare’s Hamlet,you know that Polonius is the moron.  Polonius is the guy that’s the fool in the story.  We may not want to be true to ourselves all the time.  There may be times God wants to show us something good and beautiful, and there may be times God wants to show us something that’s off.

This morning, I want to give you some language to try and diagnose what’s going on in your heart.  I want to give you some tools that may help you along the way, because there are times that our heart aligns with the kingdom and then there are times when it’s off.  There are times when we operate out of our wounding.  We operate out of our pain.  We operate out of a twisted desire.  The reality is those things are really important because as Thomas Merton said: “Life is shaped by the end you live for. You are made in the image of what you desire.”  If you don’t like Thomas Merton, for whatever reason, all he’s doing is rephrasing Psalm 115:8, talking about those who make idols — Those who make them become like them; so do all who trust in them.  Our affection determines our direction.  That’s what they’re both saying.

So, what do we do?  When we approach God, knowing that He’s working in us and having this sort of dance between there’s good and there’s bad in me, there’s beauty and there’s some things that are off in me, what do we do?  Here’s some of the language people have used over the ages.  They’ve used the language of ordered and disordered desires.  You have both in you.  The ordered desires are the things that are good and beautiful and true.  They’re the things that point us out, that cause us to love, that cause us to be generous, to be sacrificial, to live what we have written on the wall—in the way of Jesus with the heart of Jesus.  Those are ordered desires.  They come in alignment with who God is and what God’s doing.  You also have some disordered desires in your life.  We can point those out a little bit easier sometimes.  But those are the things that suck me into myself.  They cause me to operate out of selfishness rather than selflessness.  They don’t add vitality to life, in fact, they leach it away because they take me out of the way of love that I was designed to live in, that you were designed to live in.  Ordered desires and disordered desires…..you have both.

You might be asking, where do these disordered desires come from?   If we’re created by God (you were), designed by God (you are), where do these disordered desires come from?  The Scriptures would say in Ephesians 2 that they come from three areas.  They come from the world, the flesh, and the Devil.  That’s its diagnostic of why your heart is under attack.  The world.  Have you noticed there are times when the world would propose a direction that’s just so commonplace that it becomes like the air that we breathe?  Like greed or maybe lust.  Fear.  These are so common, they’re in our every morning newspaper.  The world that we live in sort of tries to coerce us away from the way of Jesus.  But there’s also something going on inside of us that can lead us away.  Lest we think we’re completely evil or completely wrong, a lot of our flesh that pulls us away from God is birthed in wounds.  It’s birthed in pain.  It’s birthed in things that didn’t turn out the way that we wanted it to….we prayed for something else and something different happened and we started to carry this conviction—it might sound like this in the back of our head….we begin to believe that in order to be safe, I need to protect myself.  We begin to believe that we need to pretend in order to be accepted.  We begin to believe that in order to be loved, we’ve got to produce.  These are our fleshy, distorted desires.  Then you add into that the spiritual component of the fact that you have a very real enemy for your soul who would love to steal, kill, and destroy everything that God wants to do in your life.  This is us!  We are complex beings.  We are complex creatures.

Before we just move on from that, an important pastoral word I want to give you is that those distorted desires didn’t come out of nowhere.  Underneath every single distorted desire—hear me on this—is a God-given good desire.  In fact, I’d be so bold as to say it like this:  Genesis 1 precedes Genesis 3.  Genesis 1: It is good precedes Genesis 3: It is broken.  So it is good precedes it is broken.  Chronologically AND anthropologically.  In chronology and anthropology.  It means it comes first.  Goodness comes first in the story and goodness comes first in YOU!  You’ve never met somebody who didn’t have goodness of the Imago Dei(image of God) imprinted on their soul.  Every distorted desire is first a good desire and it’s a God desire.  Sometimes it’s our wounding, and sometimes it’s our pain, and sometimes it’s our situation, and sometimes it’s the Devil, and sometimes it’s our flesh—-it gets twisted.  But hear me on this, it’s good before it’s bad.  I love the way James Bryan Smith put it: “We are made in God’s image, with original goodness, which cannot be marred by our sin.  But we are also made in God’s likeness, which we can distort every time we choose to sin.”

Friends, I would love us—would you lean in for a moment?—to become the kind of church and the kind of followers of Jesus who, instead of starting our story of what God is up to in Genesis 3, start it in Genesis 1.  After all, that’s where it starts!  So let’s just start it there.  Instead of starting with original sin, let’s start with original goodness and original blessing.  That’s where the Scriptures start.  I think this truth could fundamentally change the way that we view ourselves and the people around us.  What happens if we refuse a complex understanding of our own soul?  What happens if we think we’re all good? We might make some really terrible decisions.  Your heart is a beautiful thing, but it makes some bad decisions.  But what would happen if we thought that we were all bad?  We would doubt the greatest light God is giving us.

So, if you’re looking for a practice this week, can I encourage you, do your best, as you have a decision to make and you have desires that swirl around in your soul, maybe take a step back from all those things and try to name what’s your deepest desire?  Not your strongest desire.  Not the one that’s on the surface.  Not the one that’s manifesting.  What’s your deepest desire?  What’s underneath that anger?  Is it justice?  Is it respect?  What’s underneath the lust?  Is it longing for love?  Is it longing for intimacy?  Dig a little deeper.  Do a little bit of work.  You deserve it.

If testing the heart is about naming things that are swirling around inside of us, this next phase is about allowing God’s presence to reshape those desires.  It’s allowing God’s presence to reshape those desires.  Listen to the way Paul does this (Phil. 2:12) — Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, workoutyour own salvation    {It’s interesting that Paul says work out your own.  It’s not your job to work out someone else’s, work out your own and let the Spirit work out the other person’s.}  with fear and trembling,  {Please notice, he does not say work FOR your salvation.  He says work OUT your salvation.}   for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.    So, who’s working?  You or God?  YES!  Yes!  You are.  And God is.  We’ve become so afraid of a work’s based salvation that we’ve forgotten that the invitation to the spiritual life is actually a partnership between you and God.  As Dallas Willard so poignantly puts it:  “Grace is not opposed to effort, it is opposed to earning.  Earning is an attitude.  Effort is an action.  Grace, you know, does not just have to do with forgiveness of sins alone.”   Like, certainly grace is about forgiveness, but grace is about everyday empowering for you to work it out, because God is at work within.

He says we do this with fear and trembling.  We’re not afraid of God.  We know this from Romans 8:15 and 1 John 4.  We do not have to fear God, but we do have this sense of holy reverence and sacredness and awe that the decisions we make actually matter.  They matter.  We not only test our heart, but we also trainour heart.  We work it out.  We can work it out because God is at work within.  Paul’s encouraging the Philippian church to a participatory spiritual formation.  We do our part and we trust that God does his.  Actually, let me say it more specifically.  We do our part, and then we get to experience, first hand, that God always does his.  He always does his.

What’s our role in training our heart?  What do we do?  I’m going to do my best to keep this succinct.  I’m going to give you my best summary of Saint Ignatius’s methodology for spiritual discernment.  I think Saint Ignatius was one of the most brilliant writers the church has ever seen; when it comes to spiritual discernment, he was way ahead of his time.  His thesis is you can do nothing to your own heart by willpower alone.  When our desires are disordered, like we just talked about, it creates an environment inside of us that we naturally do not like.  This is called desolation.  Especially for those who follow the way of Jesus and have the spirit of God living inside of them, have you ever made a decision that you know was going against the way of God and it felt like someone was punching you in your soul?  So desolation is the spiritual turbulence that’s really a loss of sense of connection with God.

I can remember when I was a high school pastor at a church in Aurora, and I started to sense that God was leading me to become a college pastor somewhere.  I started to look on job boards.  There was about a handful of jobs that seemed like they fit, both in job descriptions and theological convictions of the church.  I put my resume in at each of those.  I got a call back from a church in Memphis.  I said to Kelly, my wife, “I got a call back from this church in Memphis.”  She said to me, “I don’t want to live in Memphis.”  I said to her, “But they have great barbecue.”  I am digging deep for a reason and she’s like I’m not moving somewhere because of their food.  I’m like dang it!  Being the good husband I was, I decided to go to the interview.  I got on this plan—I kid you not!—I had a little bit of a cold, but only the divine intervention of God could explain what happened next.  The plane took off and my ears exploded and I could not hear a dang thing.  They flew all these candidates into this hub in Dallas and they interviewed us there for a few hours then sent us home.  I went to the wrong concourse because I couldn’t hear what they were saying.  I showed up and I was dialed in; they must have thought I was the most attentive person in the world.  I’m trying to read their lips.  I didn’t even know if I was answering the questions they were asking.  I told them that my ears had exploded and that I was Jonah running away from God.  Got back on the plane, flew home, landed, was able to hear just fine.  Kelly said to me, “How did the interview go?”  I said, “I went deaf and I don’t think God’s leading us there.”  That church called me back and said, “Hey, we know you couldn’t hear anything, but we really like what we heard.  Would you be willing to come to Memphis to go through the second round?”  I had this internal desolation in my soul.  And I said, “Sure.”  NO!

Then there are ordered desires that lead us to this other place.  This place where….we might explain it like we just have a sense of peace.  We underplay that, friends!  If God is at work within, we should be attentive to those things.  We shouldn’t write them off.  The Spirit is at work.  If you have a sense of peace that seems to align with the way of Jesus, why not assume it’s from Jesus?  We have gotten so conditioned to assume that if we want something, God couldn’t want it for us.  We immediately write those things off because they’re in line with our desires, even though God’s working on our desires to conform them to His, and sometimes they do and we go no, it couldn’t be God.  He wants my life to be terrible.  I know it’s God if I’m only doing something I don’t want to do.

Consolation and desolation.  What do we do with that?  In desolation, what do we do when we just have this oh God, I’m not sure what to do with this thing?  I don’t have peace about this.  It seems like I’m curving in on myself.  What do we do with it?  Here’s our practice:  We bring the desire before God and ask him to work on it.  This is the only place true transformation happens.  We ask Him to work on it.  When we bring our desires before God, we try first to test our heart—to distinguish between what our strongest desire is (that manifesting desire) and what our deepest desire is.  Then we bring it all.  We receive, openhandedly, the Spirit’s guidance and conviction.  John 16:13-14 promises that the Spirit will convict in righteousness and sin and will lead you and guide you.  Do you believe that?  Third, we remind ourselves that willpower and law is inefficient, but the Spirit is power and life.  Fourth, we refuse in moments of desolation to go back on decisions we made during times of consolation.  When we make a decision when we have peace and we’re connected to God and feel like we’re hearing God’s voice, in moments of desolation we don’t go back on those decisions.  Fifth, Ignatius would suggest that seeking out companionship and spiritual friendship is really important.  Finally, he says then do the next right thing.  I added ‘that has nothing to do with your decision.’  Whatever the next right thing is in front of you.  Oftentimes, God will start to speak to that decision indirectly as you walk in His way with His heart.  If that doesn’t work, repeat.  I would add a side note: If you’re in a moment of desolation, try your hardest to resist making decisions.  You wait on God.  And you go through this process and ask that He’d speak.

If you’re in consolation, praise God!  Here’s your process:  1) Tell God how you feel and thank him.  2) Store that moment away in your memory so you can return to it when things get tough.  I hope you have a “consolation bank” in your heart and mind.  3) Use the energy you feel to further your deepest desires.  4) Let the surplus energy fuel the things you don’t like doing, and do them.  Step into them.  Enjoy seasons of consolation, you’re close to the heart of God.

Finally —  For it is God who works in you, both to will (to want) and to work (to actually put your hand to the plow) for his good pleasure.  Lean in for a moment, when you have tested your heart, and when you have trained your heart, you CAN and SHOULD trustyour heart.  There’s this space of revelation inside of you, the Spirit is actually, really, truly speaking to you.  That’s what the Scriptures say.  Oftentimes, we are so lazy, spiritually, that we’re waiting for a word from the OUTSIDE, instead of fighting for a word on the INSIDE.  And God says, “I’m at work….WITHIN!”  When it comes to making decisions, our heart and our surrendered affections might very well be one of the greatest guiding lights we have.  We’re just so conditioned to completely ignore it.

Here’s the deal, friends:  Test your heart.  Train your heart.  Then….trust your heart.  I mentioned this already, but we’re so conditioned to think if I want something, God couldn’t possibly want it for me.  But what we fail to realize is that our desire for God doesn’t originate in us, it actually originates in God and God’s desire for us.  He’s wired this into us.  So the challenge is to learn to be attentive to what’s going on on the inside AND attentive to the heart of God.  After all, I think Saint Augustine nailed it when he said, “Love God and do whatever you please; for the soul trained in love to God will do nothing to offend the One who is Beloved.”

If you think that God wants your life to be miserable, I have great news for you!  This may be the best news you ever hear.  YOU’RE WRONG!!!  In fact, 1 Timothy 6:17 says — …..God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy.    What’s his desire?  His desire is that we enjoy it ALL!  Everything from food to taste buds, his design. Creation to vistas, his design.  Friendship to love-making, his design.  And his desire is that we would enjoy it all in its rightful place, surrendered, first and foremost, to him.  It’s all his idea, and he wants to teach us how to enjoy it.  Regardless of how much we try not to want, we are wanting people.  It’s who we are.  The question isn’t whether or not we want, the question is whether or not we want what’s good for us.  Test it.  Train it.  And then, trust it.   God longs not just for your obedience, he actually deeply wants your fulfillment.

It’s amazing, because on this Sunday we get the chance to celebrate the table.  It’s on this table that we actually have a collision of desires.  Think about this.  Every time we come and we gather around these tables—that followers of Jesus have gathered around for two thousand years—we have a collision of desires taking place in one meal.  We have God’s desire that he says is definitively, eternally for you.  He wants you.  The table reminds us not just that God loves you, but it reminds you that God likes you!  So much that he wants to be with you.  And he wants to be with you so much that he’d give his own body and own blood in order to make that happen.  But the table is also a collision of his desire with our desire.  When we take of this cup and eat of this bread and proclaim his death until he comes again, we align our hearts and say, “God, we want what you want.”  We want your way, because we believe you’re good, and we believe you’re beautiful, and we believe you’re true.  And when you want that, you aren’t wanting something that God doesn’t want for you.  You are wanting something that God is working inside of you to want.  When you come to the table this morning, come wanting.  Come hungry.  Come restless, knowing that our hearts only find their rest in Him.  Come and be filled, by this God who says, “I want you and I invite you, want me.”

Jesus, we do.  We come this morning, with all of our desires, we don’t put any of them aside. Except to surrender them down to you, but we own them, they’re ours.  If they’re disordered, would you work them out?  If they’re ordered, would you help us own them, celebrate them?  As we come this morning, would we be reminded that your desire is for us, and if we desire you too, we’re aligning with what you’re working in us. So thank you, Spirit.  Do your work, we pray.  In Jesus’s name.  Amen.

LIFE IS A MAZE(ing) | Listen to Your Heart | Philippians 2:12-13 | Week 52020-08-20T16:35:07-06:00

LIFE IS A MAZE(ing) | Discerning Doors and Detours | Acts 6:6-10 | Week 4

Read the daily devotionals that go with this sermon

Subscribe to the weekly podcast on iTunes


If you have questions regarding this sermon you can request the PDF

LIFE IS A MAZE(ing): Discerning Doors and Detours  Acts 16:6-12

Last weekend as the elders were headed up to Estes Park for our retreat, our middle school group was also heading up to a retreat at Buena Vista.  They had left at 5:00 p.m. and were heading up 285 and there was a sign over the road that said, “Road Closure in Fairplay,” which isn’t a good thing if you’re headed to Buena Vista.  Through a few radio calls back and forth to the various vans, they decided to take a little bit of a detour.  They eventually found themselves at Wadsworth and Chatfield, right near where they left from!  From there, they headed up I-70 to miss the road closure and what was suppose to be a two-and-a-half hour trip up to the mountains ended up being a five hour excursion.

Isn’t it interesting how we spend most of our lives trying to avoid situations like that and they’re the very things that stick with us?  Have you ever thought about that?  The perfect trip isn’t usually the one you remember the details of, it’s the one that was a total mess.  You remember that trip where nothing went right?  Wasn’t that great?!   We spend a lot of our lives trying to figure out what’s the right way to go and what’s the right thing to do.  It’s oftentimes in those in-betweens, in those detours, in those closed doors, that life actually starts to come alive.  That’s why we’ve called this series “Life is A Maze(ing).”  Because it is!  It’s both.

A number of years ago there was an app that came out for your phone called the Waze App.  You load this app and it tells you where the traffic is, and it also tells you the quickest way to get from Point A to Point B, taking into account all the traffic jams and all of the detours.  It even has on here where policeman are stationed!  Don’t download it now!   I thought to myself, so many of us want a Waze App for life, don’t we?  We want a way to avoid those detours.  We want a way to avoid those closed doors.  Most of us, when we think about God’s will, what we have in mind is God being the divine Waze App for our life.  When we think about God’s will for our life, we typically think about wide-open doors, smooth sailing, success at every turn.  If we could just get God’s will then everything would fall in line.  Isn’t that what we typically have in mind  when we pray for God’s will?  God, show me what your will is……I don’t want to encounter closed doors.  I don’t want to encounter detours.  I want it to be smooth sailing because you’re a good God and that must be what you have for me.  Right?  The only problem with that is……the Bible!

If you have your Bible, open to Acts 16.  Because it’s true, life doesn’t often turn out that way, and if it hasn’t turned out that way for you, I just want to maybe gently remind you this morning, you are not alone.  If you were here a few weeks ago, we did a message on Acts 15.  We sort of laid out this triangulation of how to figure out where God might be leading and where God might be moving.  We looked at what I called the most important decision the church has ever made, at the Jerusalem Council.  That was in Acts 15.  After that, Paul, and his running mate Barnabas, make a plan.  They make a plan to go and take this news and the good news of Jesus to a number of churches.  This is their secondary missionary journey.  They’ve already done one missionary journey and their plan is to go back and visit the churches that they had planted and started and to encourage them.  Well, before they leave, Paul and Barnabas have a split, so Paul is going without Barnabas.  He’s running on the plan that they had together enacted.  Here’s what we read (Acts 16:6-7) — And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia.  And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them.

So Paul comes up with this plan.  You can maybe imagine them drawing in the sand.  Who knows how they planned exactly where they were going to go.  Then we’re going to go here.  Then we’re going to go there.  Then we’re going to preach the gospel to that church, and then we’re going to encourage those people.  Oh, remember that couple and how they came to faith?  Oh, I can’t wait to build into their life!    They have this plan and they start going. {Shows map of route.} As they cover just a little bit of ground—they started here in Antioch.  They get to a certain point and they hit a closed door, they hit a detour.  Follow me here—Paul’s plan was to go where this purple line goes.  He wanted to go to Ephesus originally, most people think.  Instead he goes and follows this green line.  He walks an extra, roughly, four hundred miles!  Just to get to Troas, that he never intended to go to.  Can you imagine?  We get upset about a minor delay in an airport or having to reroute to go a different direction because of a closed road.  Can you imagine walking over four hundred miles, adding months to your journey, going to places you didn’t know anybody?  Paul’s plan is completely out the window!  How many of you find a little solace in that?  Me too.  I think one of the things we learn through the life of the Apostle Paul is that navigating doors and detours effectivelypositions us to live faithfully.

Let me just….spoiler alert….most of the lives in this room are not going to turn out the way we draw them up.  Most of our journeys will involve closed doors.  Some of them will be really, really painful.  Most of our lives will involve detours, things that we never saw coming.  In fact, if your life has already had some detours and closed doors, will you just raise your hand?  If you’re younger and your hand’s not up in the air yet, I just want you to look around.  The statistics say this is coming for you!

The really interesting part is if you go back and read Acts 9, Paul had this immensely clear calling from God.  You are going to be the voice to the Gentiles.  You’re going to carry the gospel into new regions, into new areas.  He had this uber clear calling.  Everything else was foggy.  We might have a similar thing, right?  We might have this calling…..if we’re a parent, our calling is to raise kids that honor Jesus and that grow in his love and his mercy and his goodness, but the how of that is different, isn’t it?  Is it homeschool?  Is it private school?  Is it public school?  Who knows!  We know that we’re called to be a prophetic voice into our political sphere, but the political landscape and climate, it’s difficult to figure out how to do that.  To do it well.  We know we want to serve Jesus, but can we do that better as a businessman in Denver or as a missionary in Africa?  For many of us, the calling is really, really clear—-God, this is what you’ve invited me to do.  This is who you’ve made me to be.  This is what you’re calling me to step into.  But the details are foggy, at best.

Here’s the big idea this morning:  You and I, we have got to learn how to navigate doors—closed doors, open doors—and detours with grace, if we’re going to walk with Jesus effectively.  Because they’re coming for you and they’re coming for me.  But God often uses—you’re going to see this in Paul’s life—confusion in order to clarify direction.  He often disorients you, before he reorients you.  You’ve probably sensed this.  Before there was a season of clarity, there was a season of questioning.  We see this in the Apostle Paul’s life.  He had a plan.  Let me show it to you (Acts 15:36).  Coming out of the Jerusalem Council — And after some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us return and visit the brothers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.”   That’s the plan.  Let’s do that.

Here’s my question: Was the plan from God?  It didn’t play out the way Paul thought it would.  Was the plan from God?  I see the confusion on your face.  I don’t know.  Certainly the way it played out, we could look at it and go well, in hindsight, yeah, this is exactly what God was doing and this was exactly where God was leading.  Did drop the plan into Paul’s heart and give him a direction to run in that He knew he was going to redirect?  We don’t know.  We only know that Paul did not execute on his original plan.

It’s interesting, when you read through the Scriptures, there’s this line in Revelations 3:8 where God says, “See I’ve set before you an open door.”  But he does not say, “I’ve set before you a finished script.”  I’ve set before you an open door.  For some of us though, he set before us a few open doors.  Door 1.  Door 2.  Door 12.  Door 13.  That’s where life gets really hard, isn’t it?  There’s not just one door that’s opened, there’s two or three or twelve or twenty doors that are open.  That’s where life gets really, really difficult.  Walter Kaufman, a Princeton professor, coined the term “decidophobia.”  Decisions are hard, aren’t they?  Decisions are really hard.  They wear us out.  It’s easier to be told what to do than it is to have to make a decision, isn’t it?  Because we know that when it’s our decision, we’re on the line.  We have no one else to blame.  We can’t look at anyone else and go, “It’s YOUR fault I’m in this position.”  We have to hold up the mirror and go, it’s…..God’s fault.  Which we often do, right?  It’s MY fault!  But choosing comes from the core of who we are.

It’s interesting, when the Apostle Paul is praying for the church at Philippi—a church we’ll talk about in just a moment—he says this:  It is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment…. (Phil. 1:9)    He’s going, here’s the deal, Church, you’re going to have to make decisions.  You’re going to have to decide between Door 1, Door 2, Door 12, Door 14, and my prayer for you, Church, Paul says, is that you will have discernment—wisdom, spiritual insight from Jesus—as to where to go and how to walk.  That’s his prayer for his church.  Not that God would direct every single one of their decisions, but that they would have discernment, and that they’d be able to make wise choices.

In the Q&A that Aaron and I did a few weeks ago, one of the questions we got and answered was this:  How do you discern if you heard from God right on the way you should go?  For instance, I made a decision because I believed I had heard from God and it did not turn out right.  How do I know if it was from God?  That’s a great question!  You can listen to the Q&A if you want to know the answer, but I will just say, I believe Paul felt the exact same way.  God, I felt like I heard from you.  All I’m seeing is forbidden to go preach the gospel, detoured by the Spirit of Jesus.  Here’s the principle I think we start to draw out from this — If you’re seeking direction from God, this is a great principle to follow:  Gountil you get a no.  Of all the doors that are open to you, choose the one that you think honors best the story that God is telling in your life.  Choose the one, that as you lay it before Jesus, you sense Him inviting you into, and know that you might not be right and go at it full speed and trust that God can open a door just as easily as He can close a door.  Go until you get a no.  It’s sort of like a boat.  If you’ve ever tried to turn a large boat when it wasn’t moving, you probably recognized that it doesn’t turn all that well.  But you get it moving in a direction and it turns a lot easier, doesn’t it?  Paul’s other option, and your other option, is to STAY until you hear from God clearly….this is exactly the plan.  But that’s not what Paul does here.  If it were, we’d have to say he originally heard from God wrong.

Paul isn’t praying for open doors, he has many of those, he’s stopping at closed doors.  There’s a huge, HUGE difference.  Hitting the roadblock was the way that God directed the Apostle Paul on his second missionary journey, and it is a NOT inconsequential mission that he’s on.  One of the things this account asks is will we be stubborn, will we hold onto our plan at all costs, or will we say God, you lead and God, you direct?  If you’ve ever watched a long piece of grass sway in the wind, you know that it’s alive based on it’s flexibility.  But when it dies, it becomes rigid; it’s unable to blow with the wind.  It just cracks.  It breaks.  It becomes brittle.  It’s true in nature and it’s true for humanity too.  The alive life is the life that’s flexible.  It’s willing to say to Jesus, as hard as it is sometimes, I’ll receive this no as your redirection.

If you’re looking for some practical tools to say alright, go until you get a no, let me give you just three.  A few practical tips.  1) See what your options are and write them all down.  2) Start moving in a direction.  Move in a direction that aligns with the heart of God and seems to be in line with who he’s created you to be.  3)  Accept closed doors with grace and allow them to redirect.

I just had to put this in here since I’m a child of the 90’s.  It reminded me of a Boyz to Men song.  {Ryan sings.} Although we’ve come // to the end of the road // And I can’t let go // It’s unnatural // You belong to me // I belong to you.   You guys hung me out to dry.  In my mind I saw you guys rise up to go Boyz to Men with me and it didn’t happen.

Look at this with me:  They went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia.  And when they had come to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them.  How many of you wish there were more details?  What happened?  How were they forbidden?  How did Jesus speak to them?  Was it just this sort of like internal feeling, this hunch, this nudge?  When we sense Jesus speaking to us, leading us in a direction, was it the same for them, or did they have the audible voice from heaven?  I want to know.  I did a little bit of research and found we don’t know!  But here’s what it could be.  We know that at this point in history there’s a prohibition against preaching the gospel in the city of Ephesus.  We also know that there’s a prohibition against even entering into Bithynia.  I don’t know whether that’s the way God redirected or not.  Paul didn’t seem to care about those kind of limitations in other parts of the Scripture, just saying.  But we don’t know.  That might be how God redirected.

It could have been a prophetic word from someone, that’s sometimes the way God directed Paul.  It could have been that internal leading from the Spirit.  We don’t know.  And I think that’s intentional, because if we did know, we’d probably go, this is the way God does it…..all the time….every time.  But sometimes we just know, don’t we?  Here’s what we start to see as we follow Paul’s path—He starts to trust that God’s provisionfollows God’s direction.  If you’re following along in the outline, would you just circle the word “follows?”  Follows God’s direction.  Most of the time, at least in my life, he calls me to step into the water before it parts.  Most of the time he calls me into the fog before it becomes clear.  Most of the time it’s not laying out the map going alright, Paulson, this is exactly the way it’s going to play out all the time, every time.  No, most of the time there’s this sense of God, I’m not sure if this is what you’re doing, but I’m going to step in.  I might step in and I might hit a closed door.  Or I might step in and the door might open, and if it opens, God, I know you’re moving, I know you’re leading, I know you’re guiding, it’s your provision that’s following your direction.  That’s what Paul does.

I love the way John Ortberg puts it in his great little book on discovering God’s will:  “Faith is not about me getting what I want in my outer world; it’s about God getting what he wants in my inner world.”  So we sometimes encounter these closed doors, don’t we?  The question we have to ask is how will we respond to these.  God, if your provision follows your direction and you don’t provide, where does that leave me?  What if we stopped only pray….and we could pray this prayer….what if we started adding to our prayer, not just God, where are you leading? God, what are you doing? God, what should I do in this given situation?  But what if we started just simply listening?  And just asked…..what do you want to say?  My agenda’s off the table.  Jesus, what are you stirring?  What do you want to say?

When we look at these closed doors, there are some moments, aren’t there, where God doesn’t provide and it leads us in a certain direction?  I just got this sense, as I was preparing for this message, that as your pastor I can’t gloss over that.  I can’t give you the churchy answer that if you just trust Jesus than everything’s going to turn out exactly the way that you want it to.  Because some closed doors are really, really painful, aren’t they?  The closed door of the marriage that ended.  There’s no easy answer for that.  The closed door for the job that you didn’t get when you thought, “Alright, God, you give me this job and then we’re going to not only be set financially, but we’re going to be able to be generous to the people around us and this is going to glorify your name and lift you high,” and that door was closed.  Or maybe it’s the healing that you prayed for, that you begged for, that you say God, please come through.  The answer was no.  I just want to say that if we weren’t a church that would be willing to enter into that pain, you shouldn’t be here because that’s real life.

I asked Dan and Kerry Elliott to share their story of closed doors.  Dan’s one of my favorite people in the whole world, one of the most godly people I know.  He and Kerry have faced some closed doors in their life.  I want you to hear their story.

DAN: Well, we’ve been married over 43 years.  We’re going to come up on our 44th this summer.  KERRY: You remembered.  DAN:  I DID remember.  We’re Dan and Kerry Elliott.  We’ve been coming to South, it almost seems like forever.  But it’s not.  I think I’ve been on staff a little over twenty years.  At present, I’m the pastor of community care.  I love doing that.  Hey, and you were a great teacher!  KERRY:  So I do love children and I love being with kids and that’s kind of my passion.  DAN:  We had no doubts whatsoever that we’d probably have a typical family.  But then it was shortly after seminary when we went back to Lancaster and planted a church that we really started planning to have kids.  KERRY:  But five years past, so we began to do some infertility testing to see what was going on.  DAN:  Kerry went through a few surgeries.  We got pumped up with all kinds of hormones, but nothing materialized.  KERRY:  There was a point there when he said, “I declare you infertile, because there’s nothing more we can do.”  After two surgeries and lots of infertility drugs, the diagnosis was not pregnancy but breast cancer.  DAN:  I really struggled with God, at times, during that.  I felt like I so much wanted to protect her.  I so much wanted to intervene.  I couldn’t do anything.  It was one thing for us to try to have children and be told no, it was another thing to realize that wow! because we were trying to have children, possibly I could have given my wife cancer.  Who knows?  I was kind of ticked at God during that time.  That was an intimate struggle.  I knew He would be there.  I knew He wasn’t going to leave me.  I knew He wasn’t going to turn His back on me just because I got angry at Him, but I needed to vent.  KERRY:  Walking through that closed…..that was definitely a closed door.  Then we knocked on the door of adoption.  DAN:  We kind of heard from the adoption agencies, at that point, that we were too old.  We were rejected by many of those agencies.  Being a pastor, having relationships with people…..yeah, there were three different adoption situations that became available.  And we found ourselves on a roller coaster, because all three of them fell through.  KERRY:  So there we were again with another door closed.  DAN:  And that hurt.  KERRY:  It really hurt.  There’s a saying:  When God closes a door, He opens a window.  That feels trite to me.  I would rather say:  When God closes a door, He opens an avenue for trust.  Like a pathway for trust, to lean into the unknown, because that’s exactly where we were.  I continued to teach because I still loved teaching, still loved kids, but then another very respected friend that we highly regarded as a godly man had a vision.  He told us that yes, God was going to give you a child and it was going to be a girl.  He said, “I hesitate to share this because I don’t share visions that often, but you’re going to name her Grace, because she’s going to be God’s gift of grace to you.”  That was another plan, another path we thought God was leading us down.  Okay, God, you’re going to do it.  We heard from somebody we really respect.  Time passed and that didn’t happen.  DAN:  One time we were with the students here at South on a missions trip to Mexico.  I preached the sermon, and in the context of the sermon, I think you shared your testimony.  The whole church came forward afterwards and laid hands on us and prayed.  KERRY:  The pastor’s wife put her hand on my stomach and whispered in my ear, “Go home and get your nursery ready.”  So you see, there’s been a lot of very well-meaning and intentional people in our lives who thought, too, that God was going to open that door.  But he did not.  I don’t usually say, “God will open a window for you,” because I don’t….  The windows he opened were breast cancer and infertility for us.   Those were the doors, the next windows.  Someone told us once, here at South, who had lost a child, that the saying that God has a wonderful plan for your life really should be that God has a plan for your life that will make you wonder.  I thought, yeah, that’s true and that’s okay, because we don’t see the whole picture.   DAN:  I remember that there was one good, good friend here at South that just said, “I just want you to know that your identity is not in having children.”  That hit us.  I think that was a gift, because we were feeling very broken, like we were incomplete.  Kerry’s teaching just went to a whole new level when she came to grips with that.  Some way it makes us deeper.  Some way it gives us more compassion.  KERRY:  Okay, we’re going to walk through this, and we’re going to wrestle with it, and we’re going to be sad and we’re going to be angry, but DO. NOT. LEAVE. US.  That’s the promise you gave us:  You will not leave us and you will not forsake us.  One of the ways I saw that work out with kids is that after I had my cancer at school, and I was teaching and shared honestly with the kids that it was a struggle and there were tears.  I had no hair and they got to see my bald head.  The next year, one of those kids came back to me and said, “Mrs. Elliot, my mom has cancer this year, and guess what I told her?  I told her she can trust you.”  That just made my day because that’s what I wanted them to hear, that this is the God who can be trusted, even in the hard things.  DAN:  There’s something about our relationship….it’s become stronger, definitely stronger.  KERRY:  We’ve walked through infertility and cancer together, twice.  I’m a twice cancer survivor.  We’re infertility specialists now, because that little path will not ever happen now. That is what has drawn us together.  I really believe that.  {They kiss.}  DAN:  Love you. 

{Huge thank you to Dan and Kerry for inviting us in.  Thank you to Aaron for putting that together.  Aaron said he asked one question and Dan and Kerry shared their story for 45 minutes.  Aaron was so emotional he couldn’t ask another question!}

No nice bow!  I love that anthem in their life — God can be trusted, even in the messy stuff.  It stirred up a few questions in me.  Number one was how do we move forward when we’re frustrated with God, because the door we so desperately want opened is closed?  I think one of the things that’s beautiful about Jesus is that he can handle our brokenness and he can handle our pain.  You don’t need to pretend you’re happy about something if you’re not.  This just in—He already knows.  Dan is one of the most kind, gentle, spirit-filled men I’ve ever known, and he said, “I was angry with God.”  Yeah!  It doesn’t mean you don’t trust Him, in fact, your anger might be because you trust Him.  You can admit it.  Second, you can also remember His love displayed in the cross and resurrection for you.  Everything that comes into your life—closed doors, open doors, detours, redirections—have to pass through the cross and His love for you.  I don’t have an answer for why some prayers get answered yes and others get answered no.  There’s no simple formula for that.  That’s part of God’s divine sovereignty and wisdom and His plan, and I don’t know it.  But I do know His love.  That I’m confident in.  That I will stand on.  Some days that’s the ONLY thing I can stand on!   And you and I can also trust his providence even when we’re frustrated with his guidance.

That’s the first question.  The second question is how do we know when it’s time to persist and buckle down, and how do you know when it’s time to redirect?  We’ve all probably heard the story of J.K. Rowling going to twelve publishers with Harry Potter in her hand.  She got turned down all twelve times!  Good thing she didn’t hear my sermon, right?  How do we know when it’s time to keep knocking on that door.  Jesus tells the parable in Luke 18:1-8 about a persistent widow who annoys a judge enough that he finally says, “Alright, fine!  I give in!”  How do you know when it’s time to keep going come on, God; please, God; God, this is in my heart; God, I long for this; God, I want this; God, please open this door?  And….when’s it time to move on to a new door?

I think….I think that Paul and his journey maybe doesn’t answer the question directly because there’s no pat answer for that—this is what you do in every situation—it’s more a disposition of wisdom.  We can see the way it plays out in Paul’s life, and I think that might actually be a false dichotomy between persisting and redirecting.  Here’s what we see in his life.  (Acts 16:8-10)  So, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas.  And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.”  {Tradition along the line has come to think that that was Alexander the Great.  Who knows?}  And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God has called us to preach the gospel to them.  If you look and see where this journey is taking them…..   This is where they reached the closed door to go into Bithynia, which is in the northern region.  Here’s Troas and eventually they get all the way over to Philippi.

They have this vision; we all want the vision, don’t we?  God, lead us through the vision.  Guide us through the vision.  That’s an okay thing to pray for.  In fact, do you know God is still using dreams and visions to change the spiritual landscape of the world?  A recent study that was done of Muslims who are coming to faith in Jesus, showed that around a quarter of them come to faith in Christ because they see a vision of Jesus in a dream, quoting Scripture and inviting them in.  So pray for it!  But here’s the thing, even if you get it and your heart isn’t right before God, you will not follow it.

So the bigger question isn’t whether or not you get the vision, it’s whether or not you’re ready to (as Paul does) immediately go.  It’s this surrendered life that we talked about in the very first message.  Often, we’re really not searching for God’s will, we’re looking for a way to be relieved of our anxiety over having to make a decision.  Or, what we’re looking for is the assurance that the future is going to turn out okay.  We really, most of the time, don’t want God’s will, we actually want assurance.  What if you did the next right thing?  Regardless of what it was and how small it was, sometimes the door isn’t marked glamorous, most of the time it’s just marked obedient.  So what if you just honored a commitment?  Or bit your tongue?  Or resisted the temptation to be a jerk?  {I’m just talking to me!}

But what if…what if….at the porch of that closed door, here’s what Paul does.  This is why I think it might be a false dichotomy between redirecting and persisting, because here’s what he does.  He remains devotedduring his detours.  And in his in-betweens and in his ‘God, I didn’t plan it this way,’ if you continue to read, what you’re actually going to find is that Paul’s devotion during his detours is the reason that the church in Philippi is planted.  It’s the reason that the gospel is heard by the continent of Europe, for the very first time that we are aware of.  It’s Paul saying I didn’t plan this closed door, but I will be faithful in the in-between.  I had my plan, but, God, you have yours, so I’m going to continue to follow you, I’m going to continue to walk with you in the in-betweens.  Listen to what happens (Acts 16:11-12)  So, setting sail from Troas, we made a direct voyage to Samothrace, and the following day to Neapolis, and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony.  We remained in this city some days.    Yeah!  And there they met Lydia.  And Lydia was one of the main funders of his entire mission venture.  Lydia became one of the leaders in the early church.  Lydia was an in-between!  Detour!  Not on the map, not on the plan.  Main player in the gospel.  He’s devoted even in the in-between.

Just so we don’t think that God’s will means assurance of ease, he says this in 1 Corinthians 16:9 — But I will stay in Ephesus until Pentecost, for a wide door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.    Does anybody wonder how Paul knew if the door was wide open or if he was about to get his face beat in?  Which one is it, God?  And sometimes God is like…..YEP!  Welcome to the life of faith.  So lean in for a moment, because some of us might feel like you’re in the in-between, but I just want to remind you, even if you’re in between, you’re always somewhere.  You’re always somewhere.  What does it look like to be fully present even if we’re not where we want to be?  The in-between isn’t a time to give up, it’s a time to press in, friends.  We keep moving while we’re waiting.  It’s an illusion to think that you’ll ever be standing still in life.  There’s always ebb and there’s always flow and there’s always movement.  Do you know why?  Look up at me!  Because you’re alive!  If we don’t find God in the in-betweens, I fear that we will never actually find God at all.

Your circumstances actually shape the type of opportunities that you have.  But there are always opportunities.  Even in jail, Paul has opportunities!  In our time and space, we want to wait for passion to lead us.  What if we just brought passion to where we were and trusted that God would direct us?  You know what I loved hearing from the survey we did a few weeks ago about our church is that this is the kind of church we have.  We have a church where people have said, “I’m going to live into my passion regardless of where I am and what I’m doing.”  We asked, “How many of you are serving somewhere outside of South Fellowship Church?”  Almost 40% of you said, “Oh yeah, I serve somewhere in my community.”  I LOVED hearing that!  We have people serving in community organizations at their schools.  We have people that serve in support groups and ministries, like AA.  We have people that serve in missions and charity work.  We have people that serve with homeless and rescue mission ministries.  Whiz Kids.  Clubs and programs.  Community outreaches like GraceFull Café, Food Bank, and Family Promise, and Love INC, that serve with other churches!  Awesome!!  That serve their family and friends.  That serve refugees.  That serve international programs in the U.S.  I read this and went praise be to God that we have a church that isn’t just waiting for the staff or elders to develop a program for them to jump into, but they’re going this is my passion, this is my heart and I’m going to do it.  You know what that’s called?  Being the church!!  And it’s a beautiful picture of this….man, sometimes opportunity doesn’t mean going to a new place.  Maybe it means finding new and unrecognized opportunity in an old place.

If you feel like God’s leading you to a certain thing….great!  What does it look like to be faithful in the in-between?  Before having kids, maybe it’s serving in Kids’ Ministry.  Before getting married, maybe it’s becoming the kind of person that loves well.  Before becoming a missionary, maybe it’s living missionally.  What does it look like to be faithful in the in-between?

I love that God said no, you’re not going to Asia, Paul.  I do not want you to preach the gospel there.  And then later on in the same missionary journey, where does Paul find himself?   In Asia.  Planting a church in Ephesus; you can read about it in Acts 19.  It wasn’t that God said no, it was actually that He said not yet.  He doesn’t always say that, but, in this instance, He did.  We can hold onto the dream but trust God with the timing.  The reality is, friends, that closed doorsoften lead to opened opportunities.   My conviction is this:  As we serve faithfully on the porch of closed doors, there will be other doors that begin to open.  Maybe not the ones we planned and maybe not the ones we wanted.  God’s plan for us may not be the wonderful life that we imagined; it may be a life that makes us wonder.  But I believe it will also be a life that makes us drink deeply and say, “I can’t believe you love me this much!”  The greatest door—hear me on this—has already been opened.  It was God’s no to his son that opened to a door to a yes to all of humanity.  It was God giving his very self for you and I that opened the way for relationship with Him, that we can have confidence (like Dan reminded us) that Your love will never let me go.  Regardless of what opened doors, closed doors, redirections, or detours I encounter, your love will never let me go.  That door, friends, is open, and is open to you today and it frees us to say oh, even my fear and my shame can’t stand when I stand in your love.  Amen?  Amen.

{Ryan gives baptism instructions}

Jesus, there are times when we are so confident we know exactly what you’re doing, and then there’s the rest of life, where we wonder a little bit and we don’t know.  I just get this sense, Jesus, that’s the space of faith, to step into that unknown with you, knowing that you love us, knowing that you’re good, and being unsure of a lot of everything else.  Father, I pray that you will help us be the kind of people that navigate closed doors, opened doors, and detours with grace that we might live faithfully and abundantly.  Lord, when we encounter those closed doors, as painful as they are, would you allow us to be honest with you, surrounded by others that would love us and care for us, and that we continue walking knowing that we don’t know how that road ends and what you’ll do in those in-betweens.  Thanks for being faithful in the in-betweens, Jesus.  Amen.

LIFE IS A MAZE(ing) | Discerning Doors and Detours | Acts 6:6-10 | Week 42020-08-20T16:33:49-06:00

Life is A MAZE (ing) | A Holy Hunch | Acts 15:1-29 | Week 3

Read the daily devotionals that go with this sermon

Subscribe to the weekly podcast on iTunes


If you have questions regarding this sermon you can request the PDF

LIFE IS A MAZE(ing): A Holy Hunch     Acts 15:1-29

It’s a bit of irony that some of the greatest movements in the history of the church have been birthed out of some of the sharpest disagreements.  Some of the things we celebrate most started off as…..well, a fight.  They started off as people on two sides of the aisle unable to come to a conclusion and having very different opinions about the way that things should progress.  In Acts 15:1-2, we see one of those situations.  But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, {The brothers—the church in Antioch) “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.”  And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the other were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question.  What follows, in Acts 15, is what we will refer to as the Jerusalem Council.  It was one of the church’s first ever business meetings. You didn’t want to miss a business meeting in the early church though.  Some business meetings ended with your teachers being sent on the very first ever missionary journey.  You don’t want to miss that one.  This one you didn’t want to miss either.  This Jerusalem Council, this church business meeting, actually set the trajectory for the New Testament church.  I think what’s decided in Acts 15 is the biggest decision the church has ever made.

Can you just imagine what this 300 mile—probably fifteen to twenty day journey—was like?  What do you talk about on the way up to Jerusalem from Antioch?  Three hundred miles.  Paul.  Barnabas.  Some other people.  There might have been some men there that had a vested interest in what this council would decide.  Do I have to have a surgery to be part of the church or not?    That’s part of what’s being decided here.  But at the core of what they’re going to figure out at the Jerusalem Council is what does it really mean, at a very base level, to follow the way of Jesus?  What does Jesus ask of us?  Is it Jesus AND Moses?  Is it Jesus AND surgery?  Is it Jesus plus fill-in-the-blank, whatever law you want to fill in from the old covenant?  Is it Jesus plus or is it just Jesus?  That’s what they’re going to figure out.  A three hundred mile journey and they walk into this meeting where they’re going to make the biggest decision the church has ever made.  Here it is in verse 5:  But some believers who belonged to the part of the Pharisees rose up {Notice: These are believers who are part of the party of the Pharisees, so they got a little residual, okay?}  and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them {Gentile believers who have come to faith in the Jewish Messiah, his name is Jesus.}  and {This is a big ‘and.’} to order them to keep the law of Moses.  

Let that sink in on you for a moment.  This is a huge decision.  If you are grateful that you can eat ham sandwiches and enjoy bacon with your eggs, this decision matters.  If you’re grateful, as a man, that we do not need to perform surgeries in order for you to be part of the membership of this church, you should be grateful for this council.  If you’re grateful that you can wear clothes with more than one type of thread in them; that you can eat shellfish; that we don’t stone disobedient kids any longer, you should be really grateful for this council.  If you’re grateful that we don’t have animal sacrifices right up here, you have a vested interest in this.  This is a HUGE, HUGE decision.  It’s the most important decision the church collective, I believe, has ever made.  They were deciding what we’re going to do today, what we’ve done for the last 2000 years, how do we interact with the law of Moses?  Jesus plus?  Jesus and?  Jesus above?  What does it mean, at a very base level, to follow the way of Jesus?  This is an important decision, yes?

In a series where we’re talking about God’s will, what I’ve decided to do…..I may have mentioned this last week, but originally I said this was going to be a three week series and then I started getting into it more and I thought, “That’s stupid.”  It seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and us, to extend this series.  Over the next few weeks, I’m going to do a few case studies about how did people discern God’s will?  It’s the most important decision the church collective ever made.  How’d they make it?  What did they do?  Because maybe there’s some things we can learn when we’re looking at important decisions that will shape our future, from how they made this decision.  So, Acts 15.  What we’re going to see is that the church is going to enter into a process.  What does not happen is that God does not, somehow, just speak a direct word to the church leaders.  They don’t go into a prayer closet, come out, and say, “God spoke to me and this is what we’re suppose to do.”  If that’s how this had played out, they certainly would have written that.  Let’s step back for a moment—When we are trying to make difficult decisions in our life, isn’t that usually how we expect that God’s going to speak to us?  He’s just going to give us a direct word and then we’re going to be able to make a decision and move forward.  The only problem with that is that doesn’t happen every time, does it?  I’ve met so many people who are paralyzed by their perceived silence from God that they just can’t move forward and make a decision.  What I want to say to you is oh, oh, if it FEELS like God isn’t giving you a direct word, a direct guiding word, for your situation, you’re in great company!  The church made the biggest decision it ever made without a direct word from heaven.  That should scare us a little bit also, but it’s simply true.  Discovering God’s will—what we’ll see in Acts 15—is often, not every time, sometimes there is that direct word, I don’t want to write that off.  But it’s often more of a process than it’s instantaneous.  It’s often more of a process of discovery, a journey of discovery.  It’s often like God takes our hand and starts to SHOW us rather than just tells us.  It’s often a journey.  A journey of discovery.  A journey that the Bible refers to simply as the life of faith.

I was a backpacking guide for Young Life for four years (late1990’s-early 2000’s).  I absolutely loved my time in the outdoors.  One of the very first training they did with new guides was navigation training.  They would take us with these paper things they called maps—this was before GPS was a big thing—and we go into the wilderness and we would do something called triangulation.  You’d get to an open meadow where you could see a few peaks around you, and from where you were standing, you would shoot a bearing with a compass and figure out what angle, what degree you were at, and then physically draw a line on the map from that peak all the way down the map.  Then you would have another peak and shoot another bearing and you’d draw a line all the way back from that.  And you’d do it on a third peak and draw the line all the way back.  It would look similar to .  You know what it never gave you?  It never gave you your exact location.  It gave you a ballpark.  If you’re triangulating and you were right in the middle of a lake on your map, you knew you were off, right?  Unless you were on a boat.  But, it gave you sort of like a ballpark.  It was way more art than science.  At least it felt that way.

I want to give you, this morning, three bearings to shoot.  Three bearings that the early church shot.  Where they tried to discern God, what do you have for us here?  God, where are you leading?  Where do you want us to go?  When we’re making the biggest decision the church collective has ever made, what are some of the things we take into account?  What are some of the bearings that we shoot in order to figure out where we are, in order to figure out where we’re going?  Let me show you what they did.  Acts 15:6-12.  This is what we refer to as the Jerusalem Council.  The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter. {So you get the picture—There’s believers that have traveled 300 miles from Antioch.  There’s believers from all over Jerusalem.  They’re all gathering in order to seek God to figure out what do we do with the law of Moses and circumcision?  Is it a part of what we believe as followers of Jesus and what we do or not?}  And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe.  And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. {Now, if you want to read what Peter’s talking about, you can read about it in Acts 10 and 11.}  Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? {He’s talking about the Mosaic Law.}  But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”  And all the assembly fell silent, and they listened to Barnabas and Paul as they related what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles.

God gave them, the Gentiles, these non-Jewish people, the Spirit of God just like he gave to us.  He cleansed their hearts through faith, just like he did for us.  Only they didn’t have to go to the Temple.  They didn’t have to present some animal sacrifice.  They didn’t have to go through the Day of Atonement.  They didn’t need to slaughter the bull.  God just met them in their messiness exactly where they were at, no surgeries, and gave them the Spirit of God and cleansed their hearts.

Paul jumps in and goes, oh man, the signs and wonders God is doing amongst the Gentiles, because he’s just returned from a missionary journey where he saw all of this take place.  {If you want to read about it, it’s Acts 13 and 14.}  He goes, you guys, it’s unbelievable what God’s up to.  It’s really interesting, when they try to seek what God’s will is, what his path forward is, what’s the very first thing the church does?  They say well, God, what are you up to?  How are you moving?  You’re at work in people’s lives.  The Spirit’s being poured out in the lives of people that aren’t Jewish.  Essentially they go, well, who are we to argue with God?  This is a great line of thought.  If You think it’s a good idea, we think you’re pretty smart!  We want to get on board with what You are doing.  I think that’s the first bearing we’ve got to shoot:  God, where are you active?  God, where are you moving?  {Slide: Recognize the activity of God.}

I don’t know if you’re aware, but we have an email address set up that’s just [email protected].  There’s two reasons we have that set up.  One is because, as a staff, there are moments where we will need to dig into that story box in order to remember why we do what we do.  You serve our souls when you do that, as a staff, as an elder team, as leaders.  It helps us to see that God’s doing something great here.  But here’s the other reason, we want to get on board with what God’s doing.  Our goal as a leadership team, our goal as elders, our goal as staff, is not to create a movement of God.  Our goal is to get on a surfboard and ride the wave that He has created.  And those are two very different things.  When we hear stories that God’s moving, God’s working, this is what God’s doing in my life, we go, well, that’s a wave that we want to surf.  How do we resource that?  How do we get on board with that?  Even if it’s not something that we came up with.

I love this—in Mark 9:38-41, the disciples come up to Jesus and they tell Jesus, “Hey, Jesus, you’re going to be really ticked off because there are people driving out demons and they’re not with us.”  Jesus is like, well, that sounds terrible.  Why would they be driving out demons?  He goes no, no, come on, you guys, if they’re not against us, then they’re with us.  They want it to just be there thing, but oftentimes God works in wider areas.

Think about it for a moment—the activity of God in YOUR life.  Think of how many things in your life you didn’t choose.  You didn’t choose when you’d be born.  You didn’t choose where you’d be born.  You didn’t choose the family you’d be born into, good or bad.  You didn’t choose your wiring.  You didn’t choose how smart you’d be.  You didn’t choose the first language that you’d speak.  You didn’t choose the things that would get you fired up.  Those are all sort of built into you.  So lean in for a moment….when we talk about the activity of God, we’re not just talking about the activity of God out there.  We certainly are.  But what about the activity of God in our own lives?  How do we become students of our own life, because we aren’t bound by our history and our stories, but we aren’t free to push it to the side either.  Every decision, or any decision, you make is simply the next chapter in your story.  It’s not a new story altogether.  Most of the time, God’s will in our lives, just like it did in the Jerusalem Council, moves along the contour lines of what God has been up to and what God has been doing.  Very rarely—I’m not saying never—is it a complete 180 turn.  Maybe you start to ask yourself this question, it’s a great diagnostic question—recognizing the activity of God in our life, what decision, which choice—out of the myriad of choices—this thing that I’m wrestling with, this thing that I want to discover God’s will in, which choice allows you to live most consistently with how God has been writing the story of your life?

I used to think it was just God’s divine comedic humor and it’s partially that, but when I was a senior in college, I had two jobs that I didn’t want to have.  One of them was I worked in an early learning daycare center at Colorado State.  The other was that I worked at a Starbucks as a barista.  Fast forward ten years and I am a lead pastor of a church that has an early learning center and owns a coffee shop!  Here’s the deal, guys, I’m not that smart.  I’m not!  I kicked against those as hard as I could.  God was writing the story.  It’s not that everything falls in line like that, but if God is the author of the story, none of the pieces are outliers.  Let me say that again:  If God is the author of the story, none of the pieces are outliers.

Flip over to the back of your insert in your bulletin.  I believe Aaron Bjorklund’s dad, Phil, who’s been a missionary and worked with college students for most of his career, came up with this really neat tool called “Stones, Wires, Fires.”  It’s a great way to try to figure out God, what have you been up to in my life?  God, how are you moving?  How are you working?  Stones are the milestones, the things that we’ve walked through in our life.  Those big moments.  Some of them are good and some of them are painful.  Like I said, we don’t get to ignore any parts of those.  These things shape us—the good things and the bad things.  Please hear me on this.  Those events SHAPE us, but they do not have to define us.

Wires are the way that you’re wired, the things that you’re naturally good at, that maybe came easy to you.  Don’t think just in academics, think in relationships too.  Some of you guys are very wired to be relational connectors.

Fires—These are the things that get you fired up.  These are your passions.  You may have noticed that not everybody shares your passion.  If you’re a passionate evangelist for your passion, you want everybody to get on board with it.  Our ideal image of ourselves—hear me on this—is intricately connected to our deepest passion.  We will never know our true self, unless we can name that which we are most passionate about.   So some questions might be:  What moves me deeply—good or bad?  What do I enjoy doing?  Where do I find the greatest pleasure and the greatest joy?  Who or what do I love?  What breaks my heart?  Because God’s will goes along with God’s work.

The Jerusalem Council goes let’s ask some simple questions:  What’s God doing?  He’s pouring out his spirit and he doesn’t seem to care about whether or not you keep the law of Moses or don’t.  His spirit’s coming!  Here’s the way it continues in Acts 15:13-18 — After they finished speaking, James replied, {Most people think James was the leader of the Jerusalem church (the early church in Jerusalem), brother of Jesus, until he was killed in 62 AD.  But James, Jesus’s brother…..by the way, he wasn’t a believer until Jesus rose from the dead….which is probably what your brother would have to do to convince you he was God.}  “Brothers, listen to me.  Simeon has related how God first visited the Gentiles, to take from them a people for his name.  And with this the words of the prophets agree,   {This is not going contrary to what God said he would do.  This is actually very much in line.}   just as it is written, ‘After this I will return, and I will rebuild the tent of David that has fallen; I will rebuild its ruins, and I will restore it, that the remnant of mankind may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who are called by my name, says the Lord, who makes these things known from of old.’   So, Simeon stands up and goes, hey, shouldn’t we have been sort of like expecting this?  Didn’t God say and he quotes some obscure passage from Amos (9:11-12) that there’s a ton of debate about what that actually means, whatever it means.  They are saying that it’s being fulfilled right there.  That’s the lens.  Regardless, of what it actually means, what he’s saying is happening, he’s going we should have been expecting this.  It says it right in our prophets.  It honors the promise and it honors the pattern of the Scriptures.  That’s the second bearing — We align with the teaching of the Scriptures.

The first bearing is God, where are you at work?  The second bearing is God, we know it’s not your will to do anything that’s against your way.  So does it align, does it fit, with what we know of your personality?  Does it fit with what we know of your character?  Does it fit with what it says in your Scriptures?  But if you’re an astute student of the Scriptures, you’re going…..which ones?  Can I give you my heart a little bit?  As a college pastor, I saw so many young believers get into a philosophy class, a religion class, at a secular school—maybe even Bible school—and they started to actually wrestle with the Bible.

The problem with believing the narrative “the Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it” is what the Bible says.  Which parts do we align with?  That’s the question we should be asking.  It’s far to simplistic to say we just believe it all.  We believe that it is all true, but we don’t do it all.  YOU don’t do it all.   Let me just throw a few out there.  Whoever curses his father or his mother shall be put to death. (Exodus 21:17)   Anyone killed your kids because they disobeyed?  I’m guessing you don’t have perfect kids and most of them you didn’t kill.  That’s there, I can go chapter and verse.  The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it.  What about…..this is one of my favorite ones — When men fight with one another and the wife of the one draws near to rescue her husband from the hand of him who is beating him and puts out her hand and seizes him by the private parts, then you shall cut off her hand.  Your eye shall have no pity. (Deut. 25:11-12)   First of all, was that really an issue that needed solving?  Second of all….   Let’s just go to something that’s easier.  Okay, you can only wear clothes that have one type of thread, one type of fabric, in them. (Leviticus 19:19)   We’re all guilty.  Bacon. Shellfish.  Where do we stop, right?

If you’re going well, Paulson, you’re sort of eroding the foundation that I stand on…..you’re welcome!  Because you stand on faulty foundations.  Our students do too.  If you’re a student here, if you’re going off to college, if you are at college, you’re going to encounter this.  What’s your answer?  What do you do with it?  The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it.  No, it doesn’t!  What they decided at this council was both in line with the big story that God was telling, but it was divergent, it was….this is the next chapter, this is the next phase, this is something that God promised that he would do that’s NEW.  What they decided means—-please, hear me on this, this is important—-that all of the Bible is true, but it doesn’t mean that it’s all applicable to us.  Which is why you can eat bacon.  Which is why you don’t stone your kids when they disobey.  Which is why you’re wearing the clothes you’re wearing.

If I’m tracking with the tone in the room….I’m not saying that I am.  These are just the questions I had when I studied it.  Okay, well, Paulson, here’s the bearing we’re suppose to shoot.  Align with the Scriptures.  Which ones?  What do you mean?  Glad you asked that.  Here’s what the Apostle Paul writes.  He’s wrestling with these things.  Here’s what he writes in Romans 13:8-10 — Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.  {Fulfilled the law! Presumably in its entirety.}  For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word:  “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  {They’re summed up.  If you pull that thread of “love your neighbor,” the entire law is going to be attached to that one.}  Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.    Love God.  Love people.  This is the New Covenant, friends.  THIS is what we are called to align ourselves with.  The early disciples were convinced, they were all in—we’ll see in just a moment—that love was the intent of the entire Old Covenant.  So they didn’t point back to the Old Covenant to say, this is the way we need to organize our lives, these are the laws we need to keep.  They actually pointed to Jesus.  They went if we keep this one, we keep all of them.  That’s our goal.  Let’s keep that one!  In doing so, we keep them all.

Does this minimize the law of God?  I think it clarifies it.  It reveals the heart of what God intended to take place.  What do we align with?  {Look up at me for a second.}  We align with Jesus.  That’s who we align with.  I said this before and I’ll say it again:  Never, never, never break the first commandment in order to keep a secondary commandment.  That’s our lens.  Love God, love people.  These are primary.  If I have to break those in order to keep another one….DON’T!  Questions: Does is honor the dignity of people?  Can I love God and do this thing?  Is it spreading the net of God’s love wider?  These are the questions we should be wrestling with as New Covenant followers of Jesus.  This is what it means to bring our lives into alignment with the Scriptures.

Acts 15:6-7; 19-21.  This is the third bearing, okay?  The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter. {What matter? Whether or not we should keep the law of Moses and be circumcised.}  And after there had been much debate….  {Scoot forward to verse 19.}  Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, {What a great line!} but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood.  For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues.

Here’s what starts to happen.  You have a debate.  You have judgment.  It’s my judgment, my logical brain says we should do this.  Eventually, verse 25, says they come to one accord.  Not all business meetings end like this, but here’s what they do.  The third bearing is:  What does the community of saints think?  We’re not going to make this decision on our own, with our head buried.  Certainly, we’re going to seek God, but also seek God’s people. What do they think?  {Slide: Seek out wise council.}   They debate.  Do you know what a debate requires?  It requires that people are on opposite sides of the aisle.  A debate requires that people have information, and based on that information, they have formed an opinion that differs from other people.  Debates demand—we haven’t seen this a whole lot—that those people that are informed and have come to different opinions actually start to talk to each other.  {I know, it’s crazy!}

There’s this really interesting movement.  I mentioned a few weeks ago I read a book called The Coddling of the American Mind.  In academic circles, there is this movement if somebody writes a paper that others don’t agree with, there’s massive energy put towards calling that person to redact the paper.  Take it back.  Say you didn’t mean it.  What use to happen, in academic circles, is there would be a rebuttal.  Here’s where you missed it.  Here’s what you got wrong.  Now it’s like where feelings are hurt, we need you to redact that.  We’ve lost the ability to debate.  It’s not just outside of the church, friends.  We’ve lost the ability to debate inside the church, to do it well.  Some of the times over the last few years that I’ve been most embarrassed to be a follower of Jesus is when one follower of Jesus writes a paper or a book and says here’s what I believe about this issue, and other followers of Jesus are like…..YOU’RE OUT!  Think of how easily that could have happened here.  You believe that?  You’re out!  We’ve done it this way for how long?  We believe this for how long?  When was the last time you changed your mind about something you believe?  I’m convinced that the future of the church rests on our ability to engage and debate differing opinions without demonizing people and without casting stones.  May the best, most biblical idea win!  Even if it’s not what you think is best.

Just a few tips for calling on wise council.  In order to get people to speak into your life, you need to invite them to.  In order to consistently invite people into your life, to speak into your life and have them do it, you need to receive what they tell you, humbly.  Seek it and receive it well.  Here’s what I’m not saying though, because number two is just as important as number one.  Not all advice is created equal.  You could receive something humbly, think about it honestly, and go, “I’m not sure I agree with that.”  Here’s my lens of whether or not I trust what somebody’s telling me — I decide based on their love for me.  Does this person care about me?  If I disagree with them will they be gone?  Is our relationship based on me accepting their advice?  If so, no thanks.  I base it based on their lifestyle.  Do you want the kind of life that person is living?  Here’s the deal: People typically give advice that’s in line with who they are.  Do you want your life to look like theirs?  If not, I wouldn’t take their advice, or maybe tell them to take it first.  Here’s what I don’t try to do.  This is so hard, you guys.  I try not to make my decision based on whether or not I like what they say.  That’s not a part of it.  If we’re asking for collective wisdom, we might find out we’re wrong.

Here’s what we have:  We have these three streams — God’s activity out there and in our lives; the teachings of the Scriptures, primarily the way of Jesus; and wise council.  When you draw all of those back, after you sought those things out, eventually you’re going to go, I think, I think, that I’m sort of in this area and what it looks like to move forward in God’s will means moving in this direction.  Do you know what the most interesting thing to me is?  What the church leaders say BACK to the church at Antioch, verse 22 — Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, {Quick insert here.  This term ‘seemed good’ is going to end up three times in the discussion.} with the whole church, to choose men from among them and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas.  They sent Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leading men among the brothers, with the following letter: “The brothers, both the apostles and the elders, to the brothers who are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia, greetings.  Since we have hears that some persons have gone out from us and troubled you with words, unsettling your minds, although we gave them no instructions, {He’s referring to saying you need to keep the law of Moses and be circumcised.} it has seemed good to us, having come to one accord, to choose men and send them to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.  We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who themselves will tell you the same things by word of mouth.  For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements.   {The most important decision the collective church has ever made, they made based on what ‘seemed good’ to them and to the Spirit.  That’s what they’re saying.  We’ve triangulated.  This is what seems good.  What seemed good?}  that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality.  If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well.  Farewell.” 

They didn’t say hey, here’s the Mosaic Law, do it.  They picked out a few commands that were central to keeping the unity of the church.  That’s what they did.  They said do these.  You’ll do well if you do them.  Farewell.  There was no clear word spoken from heaven, you guys.  But there was a clear leading.  There was a clear leading, and that’s how they discerned the will of God in the most important decision the church has ever made.  It seemed good to the Holy Spirit…..and us.  Let’s roll.

I don’t know what decisions you’re facing in your life right now, but can I propose—this is way more art than science—that you run them through this grid:  God, where do I see you working?  Where are you at work?  God, what does it look like to live in the way of Jesus with the heart of Jesus?  How do I align with where you’ve been leading us in the Scriptures, that trajectory that continues to go forward today?  What does it look like to ground my life in that?  Finally, God, you’ve brought some people around me…..the church is typically called the spiritual direction.  You’ve brought some people around me to speak into my life, to sort of point me in a way, to ask great questions, to try to help me discern where you are moving.  God, what are those people telling me?  And well, God, it looks like I might be here and it looks like you might be leading me forward there.  What decisions are you looking at?  I’m just going to give you a moment to think on that.  What might it look like for you to run it through this grid?

I want to just carve out a moment here for you because my guess is you’re going to go running out of here, and you might have these notes, but you’re going to go on with your day.  What’s that decision that you’re going, God, I so long to know what you want me to do?  Maybe you’ve even been asking for a long time and it seems like heaven’s silent.  I just want to tell you, heaven isn’t silent.  There are invitations all around you.  Shoot these bearings.  See where God might lead you.

I’m going to end with two things:  Number one, I’m going to invite you….throughout this series, we’ve had people ask some really, really good questions.  This Tuesday, Aaron and I are going to do a live Q&A on Facebook; it’ll be posted afterwards on our website.  If you have questions that you’d like me to try to answer, I would love to do that.  You can send your questions to [email protected].  I would genuinely be very grateful if you’d send those in.  Secondly, if you were here last week, you know that we did a survey and we’re going to hand that out if you didn’t have the chance to complete it last week.  Our leaders, our elders, our staff would be so grateful if you’d take the time to fill that out, because, like I said, seeing where God’s moving right now, will help us chart the course forward…..it seems good to the Holy Spirit AND us to do this.

Jesus, give us wisdom.  Help us hear you and each other clearly.  Lead and guide.  Maybe in ways we didn’t think you’d lead and guide.  Lord, help us be faithful to follow.  It’s in your name that we pray.  And all God’s people said…..Amen.

Life is A MAZE (ing) | A Holy Hunch | Acts 15:1-29 | Week 32020-08-20T16:32:32-06:00

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

Read the daily devotionals that go with this sermon

Subscribe to the weekly podcast on iTunes


If you have questions regarding this sermon you can request the PDF

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the daily devotionals that go with this sermon

Subscribe to the weekly podcast on iTunes


If you have questions regarding this sermon you can request the PDF

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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