South Fellowship Church

We Are South | Exodus 35


Subscribe to the weekly podcast on iTunes

Fill out the form below to have a PDF with more information sent to you


We Are South | Exodus 352019-08-26T21:21:08-06:00

The Church That God Empowers | Acts 20: 17- 38 | Mike Romberger

The Church That God Empowers | Acts 20: 17- 38 | Mike Romberger2019-02-18T00:45:10-07:00

Labor Day Sermon | Ditch Digging | 2 Kings 3

This week’s Announcements

Great is His faithfulness, is it not?  Yet we live in a world that, at times, feels like it’s falling apart.  Like you, I’ve been watching the news over the last few weeks, tracking this Hurricane Harvey that has crashed into the Gulf Coast.  {It was named after one of our elders here, Harvey Shepherd.  I’m just joking.}  Over the last week, we’ve seen this storm drop 27 trillion gallons of water!  Can you imagine that?  It could fill the Houston Astrodome 85,000 times with water!  We’ve seen 72,000 people rescued.  Try to wrap your mind around that number.  72,000 people that have been rescued from harm’s way.  In Harris County, where Houston is located, they’ve seen 136,000 buildings flooded.  That is remarkable!  And not in a good way.  In a tragic way.  Yet, if you’re following along, you also see these beautiful stories of the human spirit that emerge out of the darkness.  Have you seen some of these?  We have a couple in our church that sent out an email to their small group saying, “My cousin is nine plus months pregnant, she’s going into labor, and they are in the flood zone.”  She went to bed on Saturday night.  There was a few inches of water.  It was starting to rain Sunday morning.  She woke up, was going into labor, and there was two to three feet of water in her front yard!  She went to one of her neighbor’s in the apartment complex.  They said, “Hey, since you’re on the first floor, if you need to give birth (up a floor) in my apartment, you can do that.”  Another neighbor had a father who worked for the fire department.  The fire department deployed a dump truck to come and pick up this family.  So, in the midst of a story where you see tragedy striking everywhere, you also see God at work in some pretty remarkable ways.  The dump truck took Greg and Andrea to the hospital and she had the baby there, safely.  It was the work of this community.  They actually linked arms to get her into the dump truck to take her to the hospital.

What a beautiful picture of God working something beautiful and something good out of tragedy.  In many ways it’s the picture of the lives that you and I live.  We can continue to work and we can continue to put effort into sending supplies down to Houston (and I think we should), but if the rain doesn’t stop, no amount of supplies is going to help.  It’s this tension that we live in, isn’t it?  We’re called to do our part, but we also know that God has to do His part.  God has to show up, and God has to move, and God has to work, otherwise, all the work that we do is pretty fruitless.

So we live in this tension as human beings, knowing that we’re called to step into the game and also knowing that God needs to show up too for our work to mean anything.  It’s the position that the Israelite community found themselves in 2 Kings 3:1-20.  The nation of Israel was in this precarious predicament.  They’d split in between the northern and southern kingdom.  The northern kingdom was in a transition of leadership.  Ahab was a terrible king, and he died and his son Jehoram took over.  He wasn’t any better.  It was at this transition that one of the people that they had defeated decided that they weren’t going to pay up on the tax that they owed him.  It’s the story as old as time—-one nation owes another nation 200,000 sheep and they don’t pay up. {Maybe not as old as time.}  They had a 100,000 sheep that they owed them, 100,000 skins of ram and they decided not to pay.  Jehoram decides he’s going to go to war with the nation of Moab.  He goes to the southern kingdom of Israel, Jehoshaphat, and he recruits the southern kingdom of Judah to come with him.  Jehoshaphat and Jehoram team up.  They decide together that they’re going to go drag Edom into this also.  On their way down to Moab they take a circuitous route and they pick up Edom on their way.  You have three nations going to war against Moab.  {It was sort of like if you were in high school and decided to swing by a friend’s house and then go to a movie.}  It cost them seven days, however.

They find themselves—-three nations, three armies—-in the middle of a desert, marching and marching and they run out of water.  That’s where they decide (you may relate to this), you know what we should do?   We should ask God what he thinks we should do.  Have you ever been in this place where you’ve made a number of decisions—some of them good, some of them bad—and you get to a certain point and go well, our backs are against the wall, so we might as well do the last thing on our list and let’s ask God what he thinks we should do. Let’s check in with God.  That’s what they do.  They reach out to one of the prophets, his name was Elisha. They ask Elisha what he thinks they should do.  2 Kings 3:13 — And Elisha said to the king of Israel, “What have I to do with you?  Go to the prophets of your father and to the prophets of your mother.”  {Quick timeout.  Ahab had replaced Yahweh as God and he had put Baal in his place.  He had set up statues and idols to Baal and the entire nation’s worship was directed to Baal.  What Elisha says is, “You have a God.  Go ask him what he thinks you should do.”  You’re calling on me now that you’re in a tough spot.  I see how it is.}  But the king of Israel said to him, “No; it is the Lord who has called these three kings to give them into the hand of Moab.” {Essentially he’s throwing himself a little pity party here.  We’re in this desert and we’re going to die.} And Elisha said, “As the Lord of hosts lives, before whom I stand, were it not that I have regard for Jehoshaphat the king of Judah, I would neither look at you nor see you.  {He goes, hey, luckily for you, you’re surrounded by good company.  Jehoshaphat is a fairly good king, so because you’re with him, I will answer your question.  I’ll answer your hope for hearing from God.}  But now bring me a musician.”  {I love this.  If I’m going to hear from God, I need some background music.  Can you imagine that?  He brings out somebody with a harp and he goes, “No, I was thinking more jazz.”   Maybe a pianist.}  And when the musician played, the hand of the Lord came upon him.  And he said, “Thus says the Lord, ‘I will make this dry streambed full of pools.’  

If you have the ESV, that’s the way verse 16 reads.  If you have an old 1984 NIV, if you have it NASB, if you have a King James Version, it reads very differently.  In fact, let me show you the way it reads in some other versions.  (NASB) — And he said, “Thus says the Lord: ‘Make this valley full of trenches.’    Like, start digging.  In the King James Version — And he said, Thus saith the Lord, Make this valley full of ditches.  Actually, in the Hebrew, I think this is a better translation.  The idea that yeah, God’s going to move, but the nation of Israel is called to pick up a shovel.  They’re called to dig some holes.  They’re called to create some space that the blessing of God, the rain from God, would then come and fill.  It’s this picture of, in many ways, life as a follower of Jesus.  We’re in this tension, aren’t we?  We’re called to do our part, we’re called to step in, but every person in the room knows this, if God doesn’t show up, it’s fruitless, it’s useless.  Here’s what God wants to press on the nation of Israel.  He wants to press on them that preparation to receive His blessing will allow them to walk in His power.  God could bring all the rain in the world, but if there isn’t a pool to hold it, it’s not going to be useful, right?

It’s the same picture of the nation of Israel when they’re freed from slavery in Egypt.  They walk out and they cross through the Red Sea.  God parts that miraculously and says to them, “Now it’s time to go and walk into the Promise Land.”  I know that there’s giants there, and I know it’s going to be difficult, and I know it’s going to hard, but He challenges them, follow me, there’s blessing that awaits.  What do they say?  No!  It’s too much. They’re too big.  We can’t follow you there, God.  God was ready to pour out His blessing, but they weren’t prepared to receive it.  Here’s my question for you—Is your life ready?  Are you positioned, that if God should bless, you would be ready to receive?  Let me ask this—As a church, if God should bless, are we in a position, are we ready, to receive?   I shared this with our staff team last week, because I’ve just got this sense that we’re in a season of ditch digging.  That we’re in a season of getting ready for wherever God’s leading us next and whatever He has for us. We’re not exactly sure what that is, we just know that we’re digging some ditches.  You may be in your own life too.  You may be digging some ditches.  You may be getting ready, or prepared, to receive God’s blessing so that you can then walk in His power.

You know what this passage is going to do through a narrative, through a story?  It’s going to unearth for us what it looks like to prepare.  What it looks like to be ready.  In case God should bless….and this just in: He’s a really good God and He loves to bless his people.  What does the life prepared to receive God’s Spirit, God’s power, look like?  We’re going to spend the next few minutes talking about what it looks like.  Let me give you just a few things from this text.  Look back at 2 Kings 3:9 with me.  This is the way that this story (and ours, too) starts.  So the king of Israel went with the king of Judah and the king of Edom. {Remember, you have this triad of nations and armies together, marching towards Moab.}  And when they had made a circuitous march of seven days, there was no water for the army or for the animals that followed them.  Then the king of Israel said, “Alas! The lord has called these three kings to give them into the hand of Moab.”    Here’s where he’s at—he’s done!!  He’s in the desert with no water and his summation of what’s going on in their life is we have been brought out here to die.  They’re desperate.  Do you want to see God move mightily in your life?  Come to a place of desperation.  Come to a place of dependence.  That’s where the nation of Israel comes to.  They embrace this posture…of listen, God, unless you show up and unless you move, nothing is going to happen here except death.  That’s it!  That’s our lot.  Unless a miracle happens, unless a movement happens, unless You come and unless You shower us with water, we are going to die in this place.

Here’s the reality, friends…will you look up at me for just a second?  We all live in the exact same position with less drama.  We all live in the position…God, unless you show up and unless you move, nothing good happens here.  You can even write this down—If good comes out, it’s because God shows up.  You can look back and every blessing comes from the Lord.  But if God shows up, then good comes out; if good comes out then it’s because God showed up.  The apostle Paul understood this well.  He said this about being a minister of the new covenant and what it means to be a new covenant Christian —  But we have this treasure (gospel, grace, power) in jars of clay, {Why does God put the gospel, His power, in people like you and me?  Frail, broken, needy people.}   to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. (2 Corin. 4:7)   God loves to display his power through broken vessels.

That’s exactly where the nation of Israel is.  The good news for you and for me, this morning, is that God does some of his best work when his people’s backs are against the wall.  When we’re at the place of ‘I have no idea how we’re going to pay this bill,’ ‘I have no idea what we’re going to do with this child,’ ‘I have no idea fill-in-the-blank’….   God’s going okay, you have no idea, but I’ve got a plan and I’ve got power and I do some of my best work when my people’s backs are against the wall.  The nation of Israel’s back was against the wall when they saw the Red Sea part.  Their back was against the wall when the Jordan River stopped flowing.  Their back was against the wall when they’re circling around Jericho.  Their back was against the wall when their supposed Messiah was in the ground….and he walked out.  God loves displaying His power through our dependence. That’s what he does.  That’s what he does in this situation.  But it’s not a dependence that is distant from the action.  It’s not a dependence that just sits back and hopes.  I say this with all due respect, it’s not even a dependence that just sits back and prays.  It’s a dependence that prays, and listens, and moves, and steps in. The next passage of Scripture says it well —  Thus says the Lord, ‘Make this valley full of ditches (trenches).’ (2 Kings 3:16)

If you’re going, well, Paulson, I don’t think it actually says that.  I think it’s saying the Lord is going to fill up the pools.  Fair enough.  Fair enough, but here’s the way the apostle Paul recounts his mission:  I planted, {I tilled the ground.  I threw seeds in.  And then Apollos came after me and….} Apollos watered, but {in this mysterious way, we did this work…} but God gave the growth. (1 Cor. 3:6)  God showed up and made something of our work.  See, we are called to work.  We’re called to participate with God, and His Spirit, in what He’s doing in our lives, in our community, in His world.  We are CALLED to link arms with one another, and we’re CALLED to dig ditches.  The problem is that sometimes it just feels like a hole, doesn’t it?  Sometimes you can work and it just feels like a hole.

I can remember one of the first sermons I ever gave—I was working with Young Life, in Ft. Collins.  We had done a lot of promotion on this high school campus where we were sharing the gospel with high school students.  We were having club one night and we decided we were going to do two things:  1) We were going to give a talk about sin and redemption.  We agreed we should do that and that it was a good idea. 2) We were going to pair it with the gallon challenge.  If you’re not familiar with the gallon challenge, here’s what it is.  You try to drink one whole gallon of milk in one hour.  We were going to give a prize to whoever could do it.  This just in—nobody can do it.  We do all this promotion; we’re going to give away prizes.  We’re so excited because students are going to hear the gospel and they’re going to get to meet Jesus.  We started our club and played all these fun games and a bunch of students showed up; there were 60-70 kids, which, for us, was huge at the time.  We started the talk and at the same time, we started the gallon challenge.  Here’s the thing with the gallon challenge—it feels right, and it feels good, and it feels like victory is within sight….for like the first half hour. So right when I get to this point about Jesus…..like, I’ve painted this picture about despair and sin and everybody’s like, oh man, this is terrible.  I about to invite them Jesus, students start vomiting!  Like it’s their job.  We thought it would be a good idea to have all the twenty students doing the challenge on this catwalk that went right above where everyone was sitting listening to the message.  I kid you not!  This seemed like a good idea.  This seemed like brilliance.  This seemed like the Spirit’s move, at some point.  Something moved…it was not the Spirit, I can assure you.  I’m like, guys, look up at me.  People were {vomiting} into these bags….   Sometimes it just feels like you’ve dug a hole.

So, it can be hard, I get it, when God says dig a ditch.  We can say hey, we tried that and it didn’t work.  He’s like, “I don’t think you sought me on that one.”  Or we can say, “Hey, this ground has been dry for years.  Are you sure?”  The invitation to the life that God fills with blessing, through preparation and releases to walk in His power, is not only defined by a posture of dependence, but by people who work with diligence.  You were given a small shovel when you walked in.  Will you get it out for me?  Here’s what I believe is God’s invitation to us today — to be a community full of ditch diggers.  To be people who say back to God, “God, we are going to participate with you in the work that you are doing in our families.”  We are going to participate with you in the work that you are doing in our community, this church.  We are going to participate with you in the work that you’re doing in your world.  I don’t know if you know it, but this is part of our calling as followers of Jesus.

Let me clarify for you real quick.  Here’s what the shovel does NOT represent—-some self-salvation effort that you get to put in.  The shovel does not represent that you’re in a deep hole and now you’ve got to dig stairs so that you can get yourself out.  The shovel does NOT represent you making a way on your own. The shovel does not represent salvation in any way, shape, or form.  Here’s the beauty of the gospel—- you WERE in a pit, you WERE in a hole, and instead of throwing you a shovel and saying start digging your way out, the King of kings and the Lord of lords stepped in and brought you out.  That’s the good news.  Here’s what the shovel is for—the shovel is represented in this story as creating space that the King of kings and the Lord of lords fills.  It’s creating space….we go God, we’re going to dig these trenches; God, we’re going to throw this community party; God, we’re going to create some new life groups; and we’re going to ask that you fill them up.  We don’t know what his plan is.  You might say, “Yeah, one of my ditches I’m digging right now is I’m feeling isolated and I know that I’ve bought the narrative lie of individualism and I’m going to join a Life Group.”  I would love to tell you that God will always fill that ditch up with water.  I don’t know that he will.  It might be miserable.  But I do know this, if you don’t dig the ditch, He can’t bring the blessing.  At least you can’t hold it if He brings it.  It’s a way to create space that God would fill.

Listen to the way the apostle Paul says this to the church at Corinth:  Therefore, my beloved brothers, {He’s just pleading with them.  He’s just talked about resurrection in the entire chapter of 1 Corinthians 15 and here’s his conclusion.} be steadfast, {It’s this picture of not getting off course, in the Greek.  It’s knowing where you’re going and staying on target.}  immovable, {Literally, firmly grounded.}  always abounding {Above and beyond what you’re called to.  So, steadfast: determined, and knowing where you’re going.  Immovable: firm, and unshakable.   Abounding: more than is asked of you.  Then he tells you what he’s talking about.}  …in the work of the Lord… (1 Cor.15:58)    We’re dependent people, but it doesn’t mean we just sit on the sideline and go well, God’s got to show up for this to go anywhere, so we might as well just wait for Him to show up.  No, no, no, no.  If this is going anywhere, God’s gotta show up and He invites us to pick up a shovel and to dig a ditch, that when He does show up, we can have a way to catch His blessing. Always abounding.  Working hard. Because here’s the thing — God’s power is typically displayed through human obedience.  You look at the revivals that break out over the course of the history of the church, and what you’ll find is people being obedient to follow the way of God.  You’ll find people praying.  You’ll find people seeking the Lord.  You’ll find people selling their stuff.  You’ll find people digging ditches, because He loves to display His power through people who say, “You’re my God! I’m going to partner with You in what you’re doing.”

Digging a ditch is simply creating space that we ask God to fill.  If God would have brought the blessing and there weren’t any ditches, it would have just run eventually into the ditches.  God says no, no, no, no, I don’t want to just bring the blessing, I want you to catch the blessing.  I love the way that Charles Spurgeon, the great preacher, said it: “‘Make this valley full of trenches’ is an order which is given to me this morning for the members of this church; {And I believe it is for us too.} make ready for the Holy Spirit’s power; be prepared to receive what he is about to give; each person in his place, make this entire church full of trenches for the reception of the divine waterfloods.”  Man, I don’t know about you, I hear that, I read that and I go, man, I want to dig a deeper trench.  I want to hope for more from our great God.  I want to expect that He’s going to show up, and I want to expect that He’s going to bless, and I want to expect that He’s on the move.  

Here’s the question, if I were you, that I’d be asking—What does it look like to dig a trench?  Not metaphorically speaking, but in real life. What does it look like?  Here’s what it might look like personally—carving out some space and some time to meet with God.  It might look like reading the Scriptures.  It might look like praying. Those things in and of themselves are good, but they don’t have the power…..the power comes when God inhabits those things.  And He loves to inhabit those things.  You get up in the morning early and you spend time in the Scriptures, you spend time praying.  You decide to carve out some time for solitude and silence, just to listen to God.  You’re digging a ditch.  You’re asking that He would fill it.

We have ditches in our life relationally too.  Some of your marriages need a few ditches dug.  God could bring blessing on your marriage, but it’s so cold and it’s so stale that it would just run right off of it.  A ditch might be saying, listen, I’ve been harboring this bitterness for a long time.  You want to dig a ditch?  Here’s three words that will help you dig a ditch.  I. Forgive. You.  It’s a ditch.  God, I don’t know what you’re going to do with this, but I’m going to step out, and I’m going to be vulnerable, and I’m going to ask that you fill up this space.

You want to know what parenting is?  It’s digging ditches.  Anyone want to say amen?  Some of the ditches fill with water.  Some of them haven’t yet.  When we discipline, we’re digging a ditch.  When we love, we’re digging a ditch.  We’re creating space that we pray and beg that the Spirit of God fills.  That’s what we’re doing.

Corporately?  We’re digging some ditches.  We’re throwing a community party next weekend.  I hope you come. I hope you invite somebody to come with you.  That might be a ditch that you’re digging.   Signing up for a Life Group might be a ditch you’re digging.  Here’s what the Scriptures will say though — Whatever work that’s done in partnership with God, it’s not in vain.  Literally, it’s not empty.

The story continues (2 Kings 3:20) — The next morning, {They’ve heard from the prophet, they’ve obeyed, and, I might anecdotally add, they did so immediately, and they did so completely.  The valley is “full of trenches.”} about the time of offering the sacrifice, behold, water came from the direction of Edom, till the country was filled with water.   I love that, because sometimes we dig ditches and we don’t see God move and it makes us less apt to dig the next time around.  This passage reminds us that the calling is to listen to God, to dig the ditch, and to expect and anticipate that He’s going to show up.

As I was reading through the Scriptures and think about times where we’ve seen God show up, you don’t have to go any further than the book of Acts.  You can track right through.  Acts 2 — Spirit comes.  Peter starts opening his mouth and preaching the gospel and we see 3,000 people in one day, cut to the heart, come to Christ.  We see in Acts 13 where Paul’s preaching at Antioch in Pisidia, and he shares the gospel and so many people come to Christ in Acts 13 that it says that the gospel was spread throughout the entire region.  We see in Acts 14 where Paul is stoned and he’s taken and they think he’s dead.  He walks back into Derbe and preaches the gospel.  People are so amazed they respond immediately, and there’s this disciple movement that begins in Derbe.  In Acts 17, the apostles are preaching the gospel and they see so many people come to Christ that the economy of the city is crushed.  The economy was built around idolatry, around the worship of Artemis, and so many people trade in their idols for worship of Jesus that there’s a riot that breaks out because the economy is crumbling.

Look up at me for just a second.  I don’t know what happens in your life.  I know what happens in mine, though. My expectation of God moving gets dampened when I dig ditches that I feel are just sitting empty.  Anybody else with me?  Here’s the invitation this morning.  The invitation this morning is around anticipation, it’s around expectation, it’s around hope.  God, you are on the move.  Friends, we are not just playing church here.  We are meeting with the living God who says I will bring the rain.  Here’s the thing—we’ve seen Him do it.  This church has seen Him do it.  In 1979 when this church lost their building and they were nomadic, for the next however many-teen years, we saw God move in our history in miraculous ways.  Not only did He provide a place to meet, but He grew the church when it got kicked out of their building.  Anybody there for that?  We’ve seen God dig us out of financial crisis and bring us into a land of blessing.  We’ve seen that happen just recently. We’ve seen numbers of people meet Jesus.

Here’s what I’m inviting you to—Let’s pray and ask God to do it again.  I’m praying that people who are far from God find our Celebrate Recovery group and who are just bound in addiction find freedom in Jesus.  I’m praying that marriages that are broken are restored.  I’m praying that people who are on the brink of saying ‘life isn’t worth living’ run into one of you who love them well.  That’s what I’m praying for.  I’m praying for a church that would say we’re going to do the work to dig the ditches and we’re going expect and anticipate that God, You would move and You would fill them and You would do something great.

I gave you a shovel because I just want you to picture what your ditch is.  Where’s God inviting you to dig?  What space is He inviting you to create that He would then fill with the power of his Spirit?  That’s why I love singing that song “Do It Again.”  We look back….you’ve felled walls, you’ve provided for South Fellowship and we’re asking do it again, do it again, do it again.

2 Kings 3:17-18a.  They dig the ditches.  For thus says the Lord, ‘You shall not see wind or rain, but that streambed shall be filled with water, so that you shall drink, you, your livestock, and your animals.’  This is a light thing in the sight of the Lord.   I love that just sort of narrative sidenote—Come on, this is no big deal for God.  It’s just rain and He’s the King of kings and the Lord of lords.  Here’s the picture—It’s not just one of these nations, it’s all three of them, and it’s their animals, and it’s their armies, and it’s the people around who come and benefit from the fact that they were dependent on God, that they dug ditches, that they anticipated and that God was good on His word.  Here’s a picture of the people, corporately and individually, who can host God’s blessing—They’re dependent, they’re diligent.  They expect God’s power to be displayed and they do so expecting the delight, not of some, but of all.

Friends, this is the picture of what we want to be as the church. We want to be a church that digs ditches, that hosts the presence of God in a way that says to the community around us, that says to our family, that says to our friends, that says to people on the brink of losing it all, “Come! There is a God who’s good!  There is a God who’s loving!  There is a God who’s for you!  There’s a God who gave His life for you!  There is streams of living water here!  Come and dip your soul in this life!”  That’s the invitation.  That’s the picture.  It’s why the apostle Paul will write to the church at Rome, quoting from the prophet Isaiah — How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news! (Rom. 10:15)   It’s why Jesus says about the church, in Matthew 5:14-16, that we, you, are like a city on a hill.  That we might do our good works, that we might follow our great God and in so doing the people would see our good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

Will you get your shovel out for me as we close our time out together this morning?  I want to create a ditch for the next few minutes, some space, that we’d ask God to fill.  As Aaron and the team come up and lead us in a little bit of that song, “Do It Again,”  I want you to ask God, expecting that He’ll answer.  So let’s pray together.

Spirit of God, we ask, I ask, Lord, would you guide us and lead us?  What are the ditches that you’re inviting us to dig?  For some people in this room, maybe they’ve never encountered you in a significant, personal, real way. Maybe the invitation they’re sensing is just to carve out time and space to hear from you.  Father, I pray, would you press on them to dig that ditch?  For others, maybe they’ve grown distant from you, or they’ve grown cold. Maybe it’s just fifteen minutes in the morning that they’re saying yeah, I’m going to dig that ditch and I’m going to create that space.  God, we’re asking that you fill it up.  Lord, for the marriages in this room that have come to the place where even if you were to rain down your blessing on them, it would run just off.  Lord, would you press on them, on us, to dig ditches.  To be able to host your presence.  To host your power.  To know your goodness.  As a church, Lord, as we look towards this next season, this fall season, I pray that together we would be a church that says behind the scenes and relationally, we want to be a church that digs ditches because we expect that you are a God who’s bringing blessing.  So we ask that you lead us and guide us.  In the name of Jesus.  Amen.  What’s your ditch, friends?


Labor Day Sermon | Ditch Digging | 2 Kings 32021-01-17T13:48:28-07:00

Psalm 121

HAPPY:Gospel Happiness  Philippians 1:1-11

It would be hard for us today to imagine what those circumstances might have been like so many years ago.  A man by the name of the Apostle Paul found himself sitting in a jail cell.  Really, it was a house that he had rented with his own money in order to be on house arrest by the empire of Rome.  He was in this situation of sitting in a little one-room home that he paid for and food that he paid for for one reason and one reason only — because he proclaimed a message that Jesus was king.  Back in that day in the Roman Empire, if you made that claim, you swum explicitly against the prevailing powers of the day.  When you said Jesus was king, you were saying that Caesar was not.  When the Apostle Paul preached that message, he found himself sitting in a jail.  He sat in jail for two years at Caesarea and then he got on a boat and was moved to be in jail for two more years in Rome.  It was a prayer that he’d had throughout his whole life — Paul wanted to go to Rome to preach the gospel.  How many times in your life has God answered a prayer in a way that you just didn’t expect?  Hey, God, maybe I should have given you a few more details on that — I want to preach the gospel in Rome, but not from a jail cell, thank you very much.  Right?  The Apostle Paul, having taken three missionary journeys (which was unheard of in that time), finds himself now bound to a Roman guard.  At the end of the Book of Acts, Dr. Luke records for us just a little bit of what that was like.  And when we came into Rome, Paul was allowed to stay by himself, with the soldier who guarded him. {Later on, at the very end of the book, Luke writes this…} He lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance. (Acts 28: 16, 30-31)  Can you imagine, if you were going to go to jail in the 1st Century, you better hope you had friends, because they were the people that supported you, they were the people that brought you food, they were the people that brought you money, they were the people that brought you letters, they were the people that encouraged you.  The empire did not do that, your friends did.

Paul found himself, for two years, sitting in jail in Rome.  Can you imagine what might have been going on in his mind?  The loneliness of having one guy there watching the door.  Undoubtedly, Paul is preaching to the guy during this time…..”Jesus is King” when he came in to deliver his food.  Hey, thank you for the food, but more than that I want to thank Jesus, thank you very much.   Right?  Every chance he got.  Can you imagine a man whose mission is to carry the good news of the gospel to the ends of the earth finds himself bound in prison. How disappointing would that have been?  Feeling like everything you were created for was just ripped from your hands?  Have you ever been there?  Feeling like that the thing that God put you on the earth for, designed you for, and even miraculously spoke over your life was ripped from you.  That’s what he’s feeling as he’s sitting in jail.  Sure, there were days where he had enough to eat, well fed and not in need, but there were also days where he knew hunger and probably for weeks on end went without anything coming his way.

But you know this and I know this, it’s moments of extreme opposition that we often gain uncommon clarity. So when Paul’s sitting in a jail cell, he also was writing letters.  He wrote letters to the church at Ephesus; we have it in our Scriptures as the letter to the Ephesians.  He wrote a letter to the church at Colossae.  He wrote a letter to a man named Philemon and it was about his friend Onesimus.  And he also wrote a letter to the church at Philippi.  You have it in your Bible as the book of Philippians, but really it’s a letter.  It’s a letter from a jail cell.  It’s a letter from a guy who’s captive by and from the empire because he’s preaching Jesus is king.  In that little, self-supported jail cell, Paul takes to the parchment and he starts to write a letter.  It’s one of the only letters Paul writes that doesn’t have a pretty strong rebuke in it.  It’s one of these letters that you read and after you get done, you just feel like you’re walking a little bit higher, shoulders a little bit further back.  It’s an encouraging letter, no doubt. 

It’s a letter to a church that 12 years earlier, Paul had the chance, by the grace of God, to plant.  I’d encourage you to go back and read Acts 16.  You will hear the beginning of this church’s life.  Paul’s walking into the city of Philippi and outside along the road he runs into this businesswoman named Lydia, who’s a dealer in purple cloth. She’s a little bit wealthy.  He tells her about Jesus as king and she surrenders her life right there.  They go into the town of Philippi and they encounter this slave girl, who’s demon-possessed, following Paul around saying, “This man is the messenger of the Most High God.”  Everywhere Paul goes, this announcement would….by the way, it’s great theology, yes?  She is an expounder of good theology and finally Paul’s like I can’t even get a meal at Burger King without this woman telling everybody about Jesus.  I need some space.  Right?  So he drives the demon out and she comes to Jesus and her owners are really upset because she doesn’t make them money anymore by telling people’s fortunes and futures.  Then Paul is thrown in jail where he has this miraculous experience singing, worshipping, praising Jesus at night, jail doors fly open and Paul just sits there!  When the jailer comes in and says, “What in the world are you guys doing, the doors are open?”  They say, “We have a message for you.  The message has a name.  His name is Jesus.”  At that point, that jailor gives his life to Jesus and you have the beginnings of a church.  A businesswoman.  A demon-possessed slave girl.  An employee of the Empire.  Welcome to the church at Philippi.  {You’re going to want to watch your purse a little bit closer when you go to church there.}  These are the people who Paul writes to.  These are the people who found their home near the area of Macedonia, the northern part of the sea.  That’s where Philippi was.  (Ryan shows on map.) This is the letter that Paul writes to them from jail.

Over the next ten weeks, we’re going to dive into this ancient letter, a few thousand years old, that has this clarity that just cuts through the noise of our lives today.  Here’s the way that Paul starts (Philippians 1:1-4) — Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. {Just a quick timeout. Paul has given a very normal salutation or greeting that would have happened in almost any first century letter.  He just changes a little bit of the content.  Instead of saying in the name of Caesar our lord, he says in the name of Jesus our Lord.  He’s subversive even behind bars.  Isn’t it beautiful!?  It is.}  I thank me God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy….   Joy. It’s a really interesting Greek word…”charas.”  It means……joy.  OR happiness or gladness or merrily.  It’s a word that has a ton of different translations that you could easily put in there and read it “making my prayer for you all with happiness.  And you can go wait a minute, Paul, we just established that you’re writing this letter from jail and you’re not allowed to be happy from jail.  As followers of Christ, we’re way more comfortable with joy, aren’t we?  You can have joy in jail, you can’t have happiness in jail.

Let me tell you where that idea comes from.  It’s actually a pretty new idea in the grand scheme of history. Followers of Christ would have been perfectly happy using the word happy up until the beginning of the 20th Century.  In fact, if you go back and read some of the great ancient theologians…..if you read Augustine, if you read Spurgeon, if you read Luther, even if you read Calvin, what you’re going to find is that they were committed to happiness.  They had no problem writing about happiness.  But something shifted around the beginning of the 20th Century and the church started to say things like God’s committed to our holiness, but He’s not committed to our happiness.  If you want holiness you go to the church, but if you want happiness go to the world.  And people did!  They went well, that makes sense to me.  I’ll go to the world.  Here’s the problem with making a distinction between joy and happiness — you can’t find that distinction anywhere in Scripture. Depending on translation, the words are used interchangeably. A second problem is that you know you were created for happiness.  You know you were.  You can try to push it down, but every decision you make will be through the lens of “will this eventually make me happy?”  That’s the way we make decisions.  You’re not alone in that.  That’s a human condition.  Here’s what happens to us:  As followers of Christ, we’ve said things like well, God wants to make you holy, but He doesn’t want to make you happy.  What we’ve done is we’ve said that there’s something deep down inside of us that we’re just going to ignore and the world looks at us and goes, “You’re crazy!”

You know what the great news is?  This was NEVER a part of Jesus’ message.  Sure, He said things like….come and follow me and take up your cross and die.  Who’s thinking that?  I was thinking that when I first started thinking about this idea.  I’m thinking, “Well, Jesus, didn’t you call us to come and to lay it all down and die??” Then you go back and read the passage in Mark 8:34-35.  The problem is He follows it with “and find what it means to truly live.”   The death Jesus invites us to embrace is the pathway to joy.  Or…..happiness.  The Scriptures don’t make this distinction.  You know you were wired for it and part of my mission in this series is to redeem HAPPY for the people of God.  It is not something that the world owns.  It is something that followers of Jesus own.  Here’s why I’m passionate about this.  We’ve made this false distinction (in my opinion) between happiness and joy and really what it’s been is an excuse for us to not walk in the joy and happiness that God has for us.  We’ll go, “We have joy.”  You just can’t see it!  It never shows up on your face and it never comes out of your life.  Okay, I’m just going to throw it out there…..you might not have it!

Here’s what we say — Joy is not dependent on your circumstances, happiness is.  Hey, this just in….the fact that Jesus has purchased your eternal freedom by his blood, forgiven every single one of your sins and made you holy is a CIRCUMSTANCE…. that you live in right now.  You can recognize it or not, but it is a circumstance.  It’s a reality.  When we say, “Happiness is dependent on circumstances,” I say yes and amen, and we have a great circumstance we are the redeemed of God.  What we’ve done is we’ve said no, joy is not dependent on circumstances and so we can push salvation off to the ethereal.  We can push it off to the theoretical and it never has to impact our lives.  It’s so much better than that, friends.  You know that you were created for happiness.  The Declaration of Independence has this claim:  “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”  It’s deep down inside of us, we’re going to chase it.  It’s part of our wiring. But we live in a world, we live in a culture, that’s gone about it all wrong.  And it’s left us wanting.  It’s left us with this “deep inside of us” knowledge that things aren’t the way that they should be. Every time we grasp for happiness and we think we reach it, it slips through our hands like a wet eel. 

We live in a culture that’s obsessed with the chase for happiness.  In the year 2000, there were 50 books published on the subject of happiness.  In 2008, there were four thousand books!!  People are longing for it. Harvard offered a class on happiness and they had over 1000 of their students sign up to take it.  You can hop on your iPhone right now and go to the app store and there is a whole section devoted to “Happy Apps.”  Louie C.K., the often off-beat comedian, says, “Everything is awesome, but nobody is happy.”   That’s true.

In contrast you have the Apostle Paul writing from a jail cell and going oh man, I pray with joy!  Extreme opposition, uncommon clarity.  He’s going everything else has been ripped away and what I’ve got I am sinking my teeth into and I’m praying with joy.  I don’t know about you but it’s easy to pray with joy here (shows tropical beach picture).  Anybody with me?  If you want me to test this out for you…..   I’m willing.  It’s easy to pray with joy here, it’s a lot harder to pray with joy there (shows Paul in jail).  Paul’s tapped into this secret. He’s found something that allowed the scales of his life to tip from grief to happiness.  He’s found something that’s allowed the weight of the gospel to hit his life in such a way that it absolutely transformed him.  Here’s what he’s going to say all throughout the letter in different ways and with different illustrations, but he has one message and it’s this:  The weight of worldly grief cannot diminish the power of gospel joy!  It cannot.  It cannot touch it.  We get very little control over what happens to us in life.  We do.  You don’t get control over the way the doctor’s tests come back.  You often don’t get control over whether or not you continue to have your job after a meeting with an employer.  You don’t get control over that.  There’s so many things we don’t get control over in life.  There are two things we distinctly have control over.  I have control over how I respond to every situation that comes at me in life.  I have control of my attitude.  You may need to say that to yourself today.  You have 100% control over your attitude.  The second thing you have control over is your focus.  In every situation in life, every situation you walk through, there is going to be a mixture of both difficult, hard and painful and beautiful and joy and happiness and YOU get the decision as to which one of those you decide to give your attention and the gaze of your heart to.  

Paul, in jail, goes listen, I make my prayer with joy.  It’s my decision not my condition that’s going to determine the quality of my life.  He goes listen, I am not going to let grief win, even though sure, I’m in jail and sure, I’m in jail because of the proclamation that Jesus is King of the universe.  That’s a reality and that’s true.  You know what else is a reality in my life?  The other thing that’s a reality in my life is that Jesus IS king, He does reign, He has redeemed and He is good.  So….which are you going to give your focus to?  Paul says well, I’m going to choose joy.  The joy that’s delivered by the gospel cannot be diminished by the world!  It can’t!  So Paul, all throughout this letter, is going to write: Finally, my brothers, rejoice {Or…be happy!} in the Lord.  To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you. (Phil. 3:1)  Phil. 4:4 — Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.  Paul has a limited amount of parchment in front of him in jail, yes?  And he’s going I just gotta get this message in front of you.  I want you to live with joy!  Sixteen times in this short little letter, Paul mentions this idea.  Why?  Because you were created for it.  Because it’s hard-wired into you. Randy Alcorn, in his great book Happiness, which I cannot recommend highly enough, says this:  “Whether or not we’re conscious of it, since God is the fountainhead of happiness, the search for happiness is always the search for God.”

What if we believed afresh that God, in and of himself, is happy?  That he’s the happiest being on the face of, or in the midst of His universe.   What if we believed again that God is inviting us to be happy in him?  It might change our lives.  I know you probably have a number of reasons going on in your mind as why that couldn’t be, but I’m saying just stick with me for the next ten weeks, ok?  We want to try to address those over the next few weeks, but I want to just address a few reasons that you can have joy in any circumstance just like Paul.

Here’s the way he continues.  I want to walk through this.  We’re calling the series “Happy:Embracing the Unshakable Joy of the Kingdom.”   Here’s what Paul said.  Four reasons and I want to hit these really quick and then we’re moving into baptism where we’re going to remember God is good. (Phil. 1:3-5) I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.  Paul, sitting in a jail cell in Rome.  How easy would it have been for his mind to go back to the people that beat him?  To the people that imprisoned him.  To the people who betrayed him.  I don’t know about you, but sometimes those people are way more at the forefront of my mind than the people that I’m thankful for and remember a partnership with.  Because you can control you attitude in 100% of the circumstances you find yourself in and because your focus will determine to some level your quotient of happiness, Paul goes, “Listen, as I’m in jail, I just want to pray and remember the church at Philippi.  They had this unbelievable partnership in the gospel and I saw Jesus proclaimed as King and when I remembered them, my heart is just filled with joy.”  That type of focus starts to tip the scales of our life, so I think what Paul would say is if you want to live happy in the Lord partner with purpose and vulnerability.  He’s looking back on a church who the Scriptures would say supported him financially—that’s all over the book of Philippians and 2 Corinthians 8:2-3.  That even out of their need, they still gave to him as he’s in jail.  They partnered with him financially.  They partnered with him on a heart level — vulnerability.  You read through the first part of this letter and Paul says, “Listen, I make every prayer of mine with joy because of your partnership of the gospel.  God is my witness of how much affection I have for you.” (Phil. 1:7-8)  Paul’s putting his life and his heart and his emotion on the line.  He’s making himself vulnerable, linking hearts, linking arms with the people of Philippi by saying we’re better together for the proclamation of the gospel than we are alone.

Do you have people like that in your life?  I fear what’s happened in the Western American church, at least the one I observe, is that we have Life Groups.  Life Groups are really important and I absolutely love that we have Life Groups.  We need to have Life Groups. Part of the reason we need to have Life Groups (and we do!) is because we’ve lost sight of the mission we have together.  In the Scriptures, mission begets community. We’re in this together and as we journey together, we are going to be bound together.  Have you ever been on a sports team like that?  Maybe it’s a marching band…..you’re like we’re in this together, we have a goal together. The goal is what unites us.  We’re not united and then find a goal.  Part of losing the mission that Jesus is King, that He reigns, that that needs to be our goal and our declaration means we need to sort of build in a way to find community, when I think if we found mission we’d innately find community.  

There’s a difference between friendship and partnership.  Friendship you can have with people who you share time with and share interests with.  Partnership is with people you share mission with and share suffering with. Those two things unite people quicker than anything I’ve ever seen.  I saw groups of people who had no clue who the others were at the beginning of a backpacking trip, be a family at the end of it because they suffered together.  You go to the early church and they’re going listen, our mission is paramount.  That’s what Paul’s talking about.  He says:  …I hold you in my heart {I feel so strongly about you} for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.  {We were in this together.}  For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.  He’s going my soul and my heart are just so intertwined with yours.  And it gives him joy, even in jail.  He thinks back on those people and it’s like man, their partnership brings me great joy.  Do you have people you can think of like that? Do you have people in your life where you go…oh man, Lord, thank you for them.  What a joy to partner for the sake of Jesus.

Here’s how he continues.  (verse 6) And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.   What a joy, for Paul, to be sitting in jail, to be confined and to know that God is not!  That’s great, isn’t it?  Paul is going I am confined by this jail, but I know that God isn’t.  I think so many of us live less than happy because of the reality that we think our salvation is up to us and it’s up to our work and it’s up to our accomplishments, or our good deeds, or our good teaching, or our good obedience, or our good response.  What Paul says is that’s garbage!  Your salvation was started by God and your salvation is carried by God.  That’s enough for him to say, “I will rest securely, God, in your divine provision for me.” Friends, what God starts, God finishes.  That’s what Paul’s saying.

In 1882, there was an artist by the name of Antoni Gaudi.  He started this church in 1882 called (in Spanish) El Templo de la Sagrada Familia (The Church of the Holy Family) in Barcelona.  He worked on this church for forty years.  Gave his life to it, slept in it, breathed in the dust and gave his best creative work to creating an architectural masterpiece that reflected the glory of the gospel that was preached inside of this place.  Worked on it for forty years; went on a little walk and got hit by a tram.  Died two days later, unable to finish it.  I read that story this week and thought, “I’m glad God isn’t going to get hit by a tram any time soon.”  I’m glad His hands aren’t tied.  I’m glad that He’s committed to finishing what He begins. {Will you look up at me for a second.}  He’s committed to that not just in the lives of the Philippians, but in your life!  He’s with you, he’s for you, he’s holding on.  {I’m running out of time, but I’ve got to just say two things about that.}  One is: because that’s true, friends, you can live with extreme, unadulterated, crazy confidence in God!  He is not going to let you go!  The second thing that’s true is because of that reality the best is yet to come!  He’s carrying you, he’s doing what he said he would do and he will carry you to the finish line.  The author of Hebrews echoes the same thing:  We look to Jesus, who’s the founder, the beginner, the starter AND the perfecter, the carrier, the finisher of our faith. (Heb. 12:2)

Paul continues (verse 7):  It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace.  Literally, you have “with me, alongside of me, in relationship with me,” we have both tasted the goodness of God in a way that transform our every single step.  So he goes listen, I can be happy in jail because I focus on and remember the people that are still going and carrying on the gospel.  I can be happy in jail because I know God finishes what He started and I can be happy, even behind bars, because I partake confidently in God’s lavish grace.  This is the story we find ourselves in, friends, and if we don’t view this as a real circumstance of our life, then it won’t make a real impact on our every day.  You are the beloved of the Lord, if you’re a follower of Jesus.  If you’re a follower of Jesus, you are the one who went off and squandered it all and came running back, walking back to the father and the father came before you had a chance to recite the “I’m sorry” prayer you had in your mouth.  The father met you along the road, carried you home, put a ring on your finger, a robe on your back, threw a party for you, because he was so glad that you were home.  You’re a partaker of grace.  If you’re a partaker of grace, can I encourage you to train your heart to partake of grace.  To remember that you are the redeemed, that you are the beloved….  I have this picture in my office (not an original) of Rembrandt’s Return of the Prodigal, painted in 1668.  It’s in my office and it’s on the wall that people can see when they sit on my couch and we talk or counsel or whatever.  Because I want them to remember this is who you are.  If that’s true (and it is) of us, friends, along with the church at Philippi, YOU are saints!  He said it in verse 1 — Holy ones.  People who have been called out of darkness into light that you might proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you.  You are no longer (your identity is no longer) sinners, you, along with the crazy, messed-up Philippian church, are saints made holy.

Second thing that’s true, if that’s true, is that we get the chance to personally and experientially taste and see that God is good.  I want to push here for a second to say is that something that you’re doing.  My hope is that you don’t just come in and hear a message and sing some songs on a Sunday, but that the entirety of your life starts to be captured in the tsunami of God’s grace.  It’s not just something we hear about, it’s something we get to experience on a daily basis.  If we’re partakers of grace {look up at me for a second, some of you need to hear this}, guilt and shame have no place in your life, other than to be used by the Enemy to tilt the scales back.  Guilt and shame have no place in the life of the follower of Jesus.  He’s died for it all 2000 years ago and his joy is yours.

Verse 9:  And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more {In the Greek, it’s this word that means “that it may surpass, that it may overflow, that it may be just ridiculously above and beyond.”}  ..with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.  So he says finally that you can have joy in the midst of any circumstance: 1) because you have partners who you have linked hearts and arms with for the sake of the gospel.  2)  You have a God you can rest securely in because He promises to finish what he started.  His faithfulness will not be derailed by your failure. 3) You can live with joy because you get to taste, on a daily basis, that God’s grace is real, that it’s good, that it’s now and it changes your day every day.  Fourth, he says, you can live with joy because you have this clear pathway to living the life that God designed to live.  You want something to do from all this?  You’re going, hey Paulson, give me some handles….what do I do??  If you want to live with joy, live in the way of love.  That’s what Paul would say.  Embrace the calling to love extravagantly.

A.W. Tozer said: “The people of God ought to be the happiest people in all the wide world!  People should be coming to us constantly and asking the source of our joy and delight.”  Does that describe you?  You’re going, listen, I’ve got a lot going on in my life and it’s been a hard season.  I understand that and there’s space for that that oftentimes the happiness and joy of the gospel is mixed with the reality of some really difficult and painful things that we walk through in life, but it’s mixed, it’s not absent.  I just want to encourage you to push into what Paul has found.  The secret.  He goes listen, listen, listen, what the world gives in the form of grief and the form of pain and the form of hurt cannot outweigh the source of our happiness and our joy, because that is distinctly married to and linked to what Jesus has done for us two thousand years ago.  Friends, where the gospel is prominent, happiness is imminent.  So I want to encourage you to learn to preach yourself the gospel.

(Ryan moves directly into baptism invitation and instruction.) We’re going to celebrate, in a moment, lives redeemed by the grace of God.  And my hope is that it’s an infusion of joy to your soul.


Psalm 1212019-02-18T00:45:13-07:00

Love is Hard – Mark 12:35-13:2

LOVE IS HARD – Pastor Rob Karch    Mark 12:35-13:2  

Open your Bibles to Mark 12:35, I’d like to read and invite you to follow along.  While Jesus was teaching in the temple courts, he asked, “Why do the teachers of the law say that the Messiah is the son of David?  David himself, speaking by the Holy Spirit, declared:  ‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.”‘  David himself calls him ‘Lord.’ How then can he be his son?”  The large crowd listened to him with delight.  As he taught, Jesus said, “Watch out for the teachers of the law.  They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets.  They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers.  These men will be punished most severely.”   Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury.  Many rich people threw in large amounts.  But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.  Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—-all she had to live on.”  As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher!  What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!”  “Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus.  “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”

My friend Daniel, in Montpelier, France, about four years ago….he’d already been a pastor there for about a dozen or so years.  A woman from South Africa was passing through Montpelier and began to share how she was fighting human trafficking in South Africa.  She shared what she was doing and said, “You know what?  Human trafficking is a huge issue here in Montpelier as well.”  (Montpelier is a city of about 500,000 people.)  Daniel is an incredible guy and I respect him greatly.  He’s a gritty guy.  He gets in the mud.  He’s drawn towards the hurting and the people who have need.  He’s deep into his community and understands his community deeply, so he was surprised to hear this.  She invited him to go with her.  After 11:00 P.M., they began driving around the city of Montpelier and she began pointing out what to look for.  “Look at those two girls over there.”  “Look at that girl over there.”  “Look at that car over there.”   “Look over there.”  She pointed out what to look for to see human trafficking in his city.  Daniel was shocked.  He had no idea.  He dropped her off where she was staying and drove back across the city.  Still feeling like he was in a state of shock, he pulled up next to a group of some of these girls…..specifically, teenaged Nigerian girls who had been promised a job in France and arrived in France as illegal immigrants.  The traffickers told them they owed them money now and they had to work for them.  If they refused to do so, (the traffickers) told them they knew where their younger sisters were, their cousins, and would go back and replace them.  Daniel pulled up next to a group of these girls and one of them began to get in his car and he said, “No, no, no, I’m not here for that.”  She asked, “What are you here for?”  He said, “I’m here to say that Jesus loves you.”  

Coming away from that night, Daniel told me that he knew that God was going to hold him and his church accountable for how they responded to that injustice in their city.  Over the next year, he had the same problem a lot of us have.  He was already working too many hours; the church was already overloaded; a couple hundred people under-resourced.  He spent the next year reworking his entire personal schedule, as well as all of the ministries in the church, and they began to reach out and respond to this issue, in their church.  I had the privilege of going out at night with him.  We began to pray with some of these girls.  {Shows list and recites of some of the girls’ names.}  Grace, Jennifer, Vivian, Sandra, Happy, Faith, Sophia, Sasha, Laura, Miracle, Melissa, Juliet, Yvonne.  There were others, these were the names I could remember from that night.  Daniel and I were talking, “Why don’t we just rescue them all.”  Daniel realized from working with them over the last four years, that even if they went in and rescued all of these girls in one night, they’d be replaced within two weeks. Partly it’s an individual issue, but partly it’s a systemic issue.   After you help the individual, there are systems underlying the whole thing that are part of this international, global network problem that you have to face as well.   Daniel has brought together several churches and every week they work with 60 to 80 girls in that city, doing some phenomenal things.  Normal people, regular people doing this.

Daniel hadn’t seen it.  He’d been there.  He had loved his city, but it was right in front of him and he hadn’t seen the hurting people.  Not because he didn’t want to.  He didn’t have the capacity to see the hurting in front of him.  The text we just read this morning is of Jesus lamenting a lack of love and a lack of compassion, and he judges it just like the Old Testament prophets do hundreds of times.  Let’s pray.

Father, we thank you for this morning.  Father, your word is often shocking and difficult and hard to receive, but we know that you are a good God, a God of love that loves us, that loves this world.  You entered in because of that love.  I pray that this morning none of us would leave here unscathed, untouched, but that we would see your love for us and how great it is and that we would be compelled to respond by loving those around us.  We pray that you would show us some practical ways that we can respond, loving people around us, both physically and spiritually.  God, please work as we look over this text and look at what you’re doing around the world.  In the name of Jesus, we pray.  Amen.

Webster’s Dictionary defines compassion as the sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it.  As I’m loving somebody, one of the responses as I see a need or a hurt, my love is going to be expressed through compassion.  Reading the dictionary, I flipped over to selfishness.  Selfishness is having or showing concern only for yourself and not for the needs or feelings of other people.  I realized that THAT is my default.  That’s where I go.  Keep me comfortable.  Make sure the things I want to happen happen.  Don’t impinge on my schedule.  That’s scary, because that’s not what Jesus did and that’s not what Jesus calls us to.

My wife and I met in France on a short-term trip, back in 1998.  My wife grew up in Montreal and French is her first language.  I grew up in Oregon and my first language is English.  We were married in Oregon in 2002.  We moved to Quebec.  We had the privilege of being a part of multiple new churches there; one being started in our living room and grew.  We had a metal bucket to baptize people in.  Over time, we had the opportunity to purchase an old theatre and renovate it, in a region of about 180,000 people.  God prepared it for us and provided the resources for it.  We had the privilege to be a part of that, and then passing the baton to local Quebecois/French leadership.  Also while we were there, I had the privilege of being a part of a church-planting oversight committee that oversaw, with the Baptist fellowship there, church planting across the province of Quebec.  We had the privilege of seeing seventeen new churches started, which is fantastic.  Not that I was personally involved in all of these, but had the privilege of finding funding, and working with mother churches, and finding church planters and training them and being part of sending them out along with the other team. God called us back to Colorado.  We’re with a missions organization that’s based in Littleton, right down the road.  We came back here to rest and to pray about next steps.  We were praying about the French-speaking world because there’s a huge swath of the world that does speak French.  We’re praying, “How does this movement in Quebec expand to other parts of the French-speaking world, whether west Africa or north Africa, or France.  We were getting ready to leave.  Thirty-six hours before we were going to get on the plane to scout out where we were going to live, I found out that I had cancer.  Over the last eighteen months, we’ve been walking through chemotherapy with you as a church, and seeing God do incredible things even in the most difficult circumstances.

Let’s go to our text.  We’ll see four points from the text.  I’ll tell you at the beginning and at the end and in the middle.  First point, love embraces humility.  Love exposes injustice.  Love sees the hurting.  Love requires sacrifice.  And that’s why love is hard.  Love is difficult.  It is.  We see it expressed in Scripture as being hard. Love embraces humility.  Let’s look at that in Mark 12:35.  Jesus is answering an important question—it was important then AND now.  If you jump back to Mark 11:28, we see the question, where the religious leaders of his day said to Jesus:  By what authority are you doing these things?   Healing people.  Teaching.  Raising up a movement.  Basically, the religious leaders were saying, “Who in the world do you think you are?”  Jesus, a chapter later, answers more explicitly and directly (this question).  He quotes a prophecy from Psalm 110:1. He’s taking something the religious leaders believe and showing how it’s incongruent with how they’re living out their lives and how they’re responding to Jesus.  There’s a tension there and He’s pointing out this tension. Psalm 110:1, King David, a thousand years before Christ, is writing and he says…..the religious leaders in Jesus’ day all believe that this is talking about the Messiah, the King to come, a thousand years later.  The Lord (Yahweh) says to my lord: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.”   The question is: How can the Messiah, or the King-to-come, be David’s son when David submits to him?  He’s saying the Messiah is his Lord, David submitting to Him.  Here’s the reality within Jewish culture.  In Jewish culture, descendants submit to their ancestors.  Grandchildren submit to their grandparents; sons submit to their fathers.  That’s how this works.  Jesus is pointing out saying that David himself is saying he’s going to have a descendant and that David is going to submit to his descendant.  The question is who in the world is this guy that David, the King of Israel, is going to submit to?  If you go on, we see sit at my right hand—the right hand of God the Father, so this Messiah is going to be at the right hand of God the Father in heaven.  Some kind of a heavenly scenario, until I (God the Father) make your enemies a footstool for your feet.  Jump down to verse 4.  The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind: “You (the Messiah, the King-to-come) are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.”  Melchizedek was a king and a priest.  So Jesus is answering the question of Who am I?  Who is Jesus?  It was important then and it’s important to ask this question today.  And the answer is astonishing and the religious leaders know it.  When Jesus pulls out this prophecy from Psalm 110:1, the response is SILENCE.  They know what he’s saying.

Go back to Mark 1 with me and let’s see how Mark starts out his gospel.   In Mark 1:2-3, he quotes Isaiah 40:3. So, a prophecy.  Mark takes this prophecy and he applies to Jesus of Nazareth.  {Are you tracking with me this morning?}  We’re doing some shocking things here.  But the problem with this is that the prophecy in Isaiah 40 isn’t talking about Jesus of Nazareth, it’s talking about Yahweh, the God of the universe.  So he’s taking a prophecy about the God of the universe and applying it to Jesus of Nazareth.  There’s some implications there. Jump to Mark 1:8.  John the Baptist says: I baptize you with water, but he (the Messiah) will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.  Jesus of Nazareth will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.  He’s quoting Joel 2:28.  You jump back to Joel 2:28 and who’s doing the baptizing?  The God of the universe!  So if we jump to Mark 12:35-37, in essence, Jesus is answering this question of Who are you? by saying I am the King of the universe.  I created everything.  I am the King over everything!  That’s the authority.  That’s who I am.

This is so important for us today, because we have to recognize that to love other people, we have to embrace humility, which means recognizing that Jesus is the King and I am NOT!  That’s a really hard thing to embrace.  I know I fight that every day.  I have to relinquish my agenda and embrace Jesus’s agenda.  What happened was that Jesus the King came on the scene and the religious leaders were disagreeing with how he was acting as king.  No, no, no, the king doesn’t act like that!  Newsflash—The king does whatever the king wants to do and everybody else has to submit to the king.  The king doesn’t submit to what everybody else wants the king to do.  We serve a king, Jesus, who’s a loving king.  He came to this earth.  He died because of his love for us and his love is poured out toward us and we can trust him.  We can’t forget the fact that HE’S the king and we are not. So we have a calling today—every single one of us, no matter where we are.   The calling is to obey Jesus today.  What is Jesus asking of us today?  It’s different for everyone of us, it’s a different answer.  For my wife and I, it’s one thing.  For you, it’s another thing.  But obey Jesus today.  He’s the king, we are not.  

So number one is love embraces humility.  Number two is love exposes injustice.  This is what Jesus is doing in Mark 12:38-40.  Again, this is shocking!  Let’s set the scene here—Jesus is in the temple, surrounded by crowds of people, and there are religious people all around the periphery of the crowds.  What Jesus is saying is beware, not just of random religious people, of that guy….beware of that guy…beware of that person….beware….   They’re right there in front of them!   Jesus is calling them out to their face!  We can understand why they finally decided, “We have to kill this guy!”  He’s calling us out, to our face, publicly, in our religious context.  The only option for them, that they could see in their unwillingness to submit to the king, was to kill him.

So what does Jesus call out?  This is Mark 12, which is a summarized condensed version of Matthew 23, where we have the seven woes, an entire chapter.  He (Jesus) points out a few things (in Mark 12:38-40).  He says they walk in long robes, and as they walk through the marketplace everybody has to stand up in respect.  They have the best places in banquets.  This is the way it worked out—-the religious leader would come and if you’re having a banquet and your parents are sitting in the place of honor and the religious leader shows up, you kick your parents to the side and put the religious leader in the place of honor.  That’s got to mess with your ego over time as a religious leader.

Then he goes on saying they devour widows’ houses.  And oh, there’s one right now.  Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts.  But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.  Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others.  They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.” (Mark 12:41-44)   This widow was being devoured right in front of them and they didn’t even see it. Just like my friend Daniel in Montpelier…..was there for years before he saw these girls being devoured in his city.  Just like in my life, how there are people who have been hurting, right in front of me, and I didn’t see it. I think of a guy that I spent time with years ago, and we would have coffee together and we would pray together and grow together.  He was struggling with a lot of different things.  I was traveling a lot and left and went to Quebec.  We weren’t able to meet up.  One day he left me a voice mail.  It basically said, “Hey, Rob, I just wanted you to know I’m doing better than I have been doing.  I’m feeling pretty good.  I wanted to thank you for everything—the time we spent and everything.  I hope everything goes well with you in your life.”  I thought, “Oh great! Cool! That’s a nice message to receive.”  Then he committed suicide.  I felt like a failure in that situation.  Now, let me be clear, that wasn’t my fault.  But I wish I would have seen some of these signs.  A few years later, another one of my friends who’s going through a real difficult time—his wife had left him and some other brutal things and he was making some destructive choices in his life.  We spent hours on the phone.  We were thousands of miles away from each other.  I had been praying for him and with him.  One day I got a text message from him that said, “Hey, Rob, I just wanted to thank you for all the time we’ve spent together and I hope everything goes well with you in your life.”  I didn’t know anybody that lived near him, so there was no one I could call.  I texted him and he didn’t respond.  I called him and he didn’t answer.  So I called the police and asked them to check on my friend because I was worried about him.  I asked a couple of people to pray.  A couple hours later the phone rings and I hear a voice say, “Dude, did you call the police on me?!”  “Yes! You freaked me out!  You didn’t answer my calls!”  “Well, I was working and couldn’t answer my phone.  And I’m really appreciative of you!”

But that God would give us eyes to see people hurting around us.  One of my friends works with homeless teens in Montreal.  He made a kind of shocking statement — He doesn’t know of any situation (from his experience of working with homeless teens) where giving money helped anybody, in that scenario.  So I asked, “What do you do?  Just ignore them?”  He said you plan out an extra thirty minutes, then go and meet the person.  You invite them to coffee and sit down with them.  You ask them their name and ask for their story and treat them as a person with value and worth, the person that they are—made and created in God’s image.  You love them as a person.  You see them as a person.  That’s what you do.  That God would give us eyes to see.

In 1998, I was in Paris.  I sat in the Sacré-Coeur and looked out and my heart broke for the French-speaking world.  When my wife and I moved here to Littleton a couple of years ago, we felt like we had vertigo.  We’d never in our lives lived in a place that has this many churches.  And they’re huge!  I walked for a couple of miles when I first got here and I saw a dozen or so church buildings.  It struck me that if any one of those dozen or so church buildings had been in Quebec, it would be the nicest evangelical church building in the entire province of Quebec.  Imagine if you didn’t love Jesus — you’re trying to weave through these church buildings….   You decide to go to a coffee shop to get away from these churches.  You sit down and you’re sandwiched between two Bible studies.  You hop in your car and decide to go to a microbrewery.  You hop in your car and turn on the radio to put classic rock on and you find KLove, another KLove, then a fake KLove, a sermon, then another sermon….   You finally get to the microbrewery and get a beer and think, “Finally!”  You realize there’s a pastors get-together at the table right next to you.  It’s like this background radiation everywhere.  {Inserted from first service:  Mark 13:2 — Any structure that takes advantage of the weak deserves to be torn down.}

Let me be honest with you.  There’s obviously a lot of people here that don’t know Jesus.  We need to love our neighbors here and we need to reach out and foster parents and families here and to make disciples here and to reach out to those in need in our community.  I’m not putting that down at all.  What I am saying is that you go to a place like Paris or Montreal….I would challenge you to go there for a week and try to find a building where people meet in the name of Jesus, other than the kind of empty Catholic Cathedrals.  Not that there’s no need here….it’s the question of access.  You take a city like Marrakesh, Morocco — it’s roughly the same size as the Denver metro area.  One house church.  Can you imagine the entire Denver metro area with one house church? We know what we struggle with, right?  Is God real?  Who is Jesus?  Why am I here?  My marriage, my family, my dreams…..  What do I do with all that?  Here, we can turn to answers.  There’s access.  You go to other parts of the world and there’s no access.  Who do you turn to?  There’s no where to go.

A few months ago, my family and I went to North Africa, then up to France, then back over to North America. The reality is if you look at Quebec, France, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, there are about 160 million people in those five areas.  Of those, about 722,000 would be considered evangelicals, according to Operation World 2010 edition.  An evangelical is someone who just believes that Jesus came, lived, died, and rose again for our sins and in trusts in that.  Now in the United States there are 320 million people and of those there are 93 million evangelicals, using the same criteria.  So 93 million on the one side and less than a million on the other side. Let’s look at it a different way.  Imagine if you took 200 people from the U.S. and 200 people as representative sample from the French-speaking world.  How many in the U.S. would be considered evangelicals?  About that many.  How many on the French side?  Zero.  {Rob showed slides.}  Rob, I’m not a statistics person.  Okay, here’s a stadium about a third full. {Shows slide.)  Imagine these are American Christians.  {Then shows a slide of an almost empty stadium.}  This is the French Christians.

Today is the International Day for Unreached People Groups.  An unreached people group is basically a group of people that have their own language and culture.  They’re unreached which means there’s no viable movement of Jesus within that group at all.  Right now around the world there are about 6,000 of these unreached groups around the world.  And 3,250 are unengaged.  That means that nobody is going.  That means if you buy and a plane ticket and go there, in the name of Jesus, you’d be the first person and the ONLY person.  I hope that does something in your soul!  My friend Rodney was talking about when he would go and discover some of these groups and they would hike up into different parts of East Asia.  When he would first walk into the region and look at this group, they’d be completely untouched by Jesus Christ.  I asked him how it felt when he walked in. He said, “I get really angry.”  Whoa! What?  Why?  Because the church has been around for 2000 years and this is still a reality.  That’s unacceptable.  I just hope that God can give us eyes to see both physically and spiritually. That doesn’t mean that there’s nothing to do here, but, God, open our eyes to see the thousands of people groups around the world and billions of people who DON’T have access to Jesus.  God, break our hearts for these people.

Lord willing, we’re going to Montpelier.  I say ‘Lord willing’ because He’s made it abundantly clear that it’s His plan, not ours, and He’ll redirect it as he sees fit.  It’s all in pencil.  Montpelier — 500,000 people.  Fastest growing city in France.  People are moving from northern France to southern France, and people moving from North Africa over to Montpelier.  We just saw some terrorist attacks in London; there have been quite a few in France.  There’s numerous responses to these attacks.  We have demonstrations.  We have defacing of mosques in Montpelier.  We all know that the ultimate response is not a political response.  We know the ultimate response is not a military response, right?  We know the ultimate response is Jesus transforming hearts — taking people, like the Apostle Paul, who are hell-bent on killing and murdering Christians.  They are full of hatred. God needs to invade their soul and transform them into people who are willing to radically love others in the name of Jesus.  THAT’S the hope that we have.  That Daniel has.  That’s the hope that all of us share here together and if we didn’t have that hope, then let’s just pack up and shut this thing down.

The fourth thing is that love requires sacrifice.  This is the reality as Jesus calls us to obey Him, to step out. Whatever obeying Jesus looks like today.  Following Jesus ALWAYS requires sacrifice.  That’s what Jesus said.  I counted 28 times…..do not fear.  Fear not…  Be not afraid for I am with you.  But Jesus is very clear — either risk or don’t follow me.  Sometimes that’s physical risk and going to dangerous places.  Sometimes that’s going to people emotionally and opening ourselves.  Sometimes that looks like loving somebody.  Sometimes that looks like financial risk.  But risking and stepping out to love people radically.  But we don’t sacrifice for nothing.  We sacrifice for the good of others because Christ sacrificed and loved us.  Amen?  {That’s to replace the ‘look up at me.’}  We sacrifice with the hope that we will be with Christ forever.  Whatever we sacrifice here when we get to the destination of Jesus, we’re like, “Seriously, that sacrifice looks really small right now.”

As of a couple months ago, we’ve been approved to move on out, which is pretty exciting.  I’m in remission.  But the time with cancer here has been a time….in Psalm 23 there’s that phrase ‘he makes me lie down.’  Have you ever felt like that?  That’s how I felt.  During that time I had the privilege of baptizing my son, I had the privilege of learning online with Western Seminary.  I figured if I’m in bed throwing up, I might as well learn a few things.  God has done some incredible things during this process and sharing the hope of Jesus with multiple people.  And we had the privilege of going back to North Africa and France and praying, “God, what do you have for us?  Do you want us to stay here?  Do you want us to move out?  What do you want from us?”  While we were in France, we had the chance to go to EuroDisney.  {Very missionary thing to do.}  At the end of the day, while the fireworks were going off, we huddled together as a family and prayed and thanked God for the gift of life that he has given us.  We desire to follow Jesus until our dying breath.  Lord willing, we’ll move to Montpelier and be involved in multiplying churches.  Multiplying churches who love radically.  Radically love the French moving south, the North Africans moving north, the university students in that city, and fighting human trafficking together.

Winston Churchill had this iconic speech during World War II.  Winston Churchill was the Prime Minister of England.  Germany had taken over Europe.  The United States had not yet entered into World War II.  England was feeling isolated and alone.  This is what Winston Churchill said to the English people:  “We shall go on to the end.  We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be.  We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.”  Powerful speech.  Why did he say that?  He said it because it was a cause worth giving their lives to.  We know here today that the cause of Jesus, eternal destinies, and physical realities right now, is worth giving our lives to.  Love is hard; the cost is worth it!

It’s worth it because Jesus, the King of the universe, embraced humility and he became a human.  Jesus saw you hurting and he offers life.  I know that there are people here that are contemplating suicide.  I want you to know that you are loved, you’re not alone, your life is full of worth and value.  We want to come around you. Jesus sees you and loves you where you are.  I want to ask you to please choose life and the life that Jesus is offering.  Jesus exposed injustice and he will judge.  Injustice will not go on forever, he will bring it to an end. Jesus joyfully sacrificed His life to you us life.  Is love hard?  Absolutely.  Did Jesus love us?  Absolutely.  He gives us His Spirit to well up in us so that we can overflow in that same love to other people.  That’s the privilege we have as followers of Jesus.

{Rob introduces the song before communion.}

Love is Hard – Mark 12:35-13:22019-02-18T00:45:14-07:00

Join in – John 4

Join in – John 42019-02-18T00:45:15-07:00

Defeat in the Land of Victory – Joshua 7


As I said at the beginning of the service, I refuse to ignore the elephant in the room.  The very large elephant in the room, at this point in time.  So, I would invite you to take out that note sheet, to flip it over; you’re on your own today.  We will pick up on our series on the letter to the Philippian church next week.

I’m confident that by now you’re aware that Chris Hutchinson, who served as our youth pastor for roughly five years, two months ago was found guilty of two felonies:  sexual assault and sexual assault on a minor by a person in a position of trust.  Friday was his sentencing.  I’m guessing that you are aware that he received ninety days in jail and 20 years to life on the most serious sex offender’s probation list.   To say that this news is difficult and devastating is an understatement.  For many in this Body, the last few months have been filled with grief, have been filled with mourning, have been filled with anger, have been filled with questions and confusion, and this Friday only served to exacerbate and stir up many of those questions, comments and concerns.

To say that Chris’ actions have seriously impacted the victim and many other people is an understatement.  To say that Chris’ actions have hurt himself and his family is an understatement.  So as a Body we continue to feel the shockwaves of innocence lost, of trust betrayed, and authority abused.

While Chris was not employed at South Fellowship Church during the time of the actions, I know that many of you have had to answer questions from friends, family and neighbors — “Is that the church you go to?  Are you WITH the people who support a known sex offender?”  Nearly every major news channel did some sort of story on this case.  We’ve had nasty comments on our FaceBook page every single day since this happened.  I’ve received not the kindest of emails, as you may very well imagine.  Our web page has gotten a number of new views.  The public opinion of this church, of our Body at this point, is not very good.  It doesn’t take a genius to deduce that.  I read a note from one of our regular attenders who said she received numerous phone calls from neighbors and friends in her community who she has been reaching out to for years, asking if that was the church she went to.

The media has made it a point to point out the number of letters written in support of Chris.  I want to stand before you today and assure you that none of those letters came from any of the elders, leaders or pastors in this church.  I stand before you to confess that I wrote one letter.  I wrote a letter to the victim.  I wrote a letter to the victim thanking her for her bravery.  I wrote a letter to the victim thanking her for drawing what was evil and covered in darkness out into the light.  I wrote a letter saying that I supported her 100% and I stand before you today to tell you I have not changed my mind.  Neither has the elder board.  That’s where we’ve been throughout this entire process.  I want to tell you that because I’m a dad of three kids.  If this ever becomes an unsafe place for my kids to go to church, I will resign that day.  When we give support to a perpetrator, we create an unsafe place.  That is not what we have done as a church.  I want to assure you of that.  As leaders of the church, we have taken this very seriously.

Many have lamented over the past months, “Why does this happen so often? Why does this happen so often in churches?”  I don’t know.  I’d love to be able to stand up here today and tell you, “Here, let me give you three reasons why this happens so often in churches and here’s what we can do to prevent it.”  I’m going to teach from the Scriptures today about the severity of sin, but I can’t tell you why this happens so often in churches.  I can only tell you that as a pastor, the attack from the Enemy is fierce.  So, as elders, pastors, leaders, we need you to pray for us.  I don’t know why it happens, but I do know the Scriptures are crystal clear.  James 3:1 — Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.  Because of the way our actions as leaders have the ability to influence, both positively and negatively, the people under our care and under our watch, our lives will be put under a microscope and we will give an account.

Over the last few months, you have seen South Fellowship Church get passionately involved in helping children around the world who are captured in slavery.  We’re simply following Jesus’ passionate plea to care for children — the most vulnerable of people who walk or toddle the face of our planet.  Jesus says (if you don’t like this, you don’t like the words of Jesus): Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come!  It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin. (Luke 17:1-2)   Jesus takes this very seriously.  WE take this very seriously.  I want to stand before you today and remind you that ultimately God will be the judge.  But as an elder board, we continue our unwavering support of the victim (which we have from the very beginning, since the verdict in this case) AND we continue to hold out love and hope and grace to every single person involved in this.  You hearing me??  There’s a tension there, you guys, and if I stood before you as your pastor and said, “Well, we’ve resolved the tension there,” I’d be a liar, or feeble-minded.  There’s a tension there and we are doing our best to continue to follow the lead of Jesus in this.  And we will continue to do our best to follow the lead of Jesus.

As I sat in the courtroom on Friday and I saw both the victim and Chris standing there, it broke my heart.  It broke my heart because of the way that sin has dramatically and drastically changed THOSE two lives, but it broke my heart because of the way that innumerable people are impacted, influenced and changed because of those terrible decisions.  I found myself thinking about my family.  I found myself thinking about you, my church family.  I found myself lamenting and crying out to God that the brokenness in the world that we live in touches us, even those who are called according to his purpose.

Here’s what I want to do today.  I want to address the elephant in the room, but I’m not going to talk anymore about Chris.  And I’m not going to talk anymore about the victim.  I want to talk about you and me.  I want to talk about the reality that {Look up at me for a second, guys.  I love you!} every single one of us in this room is ONE TERRIBLE decision away from changing the entire course of our life.  The reality and the weight of that haunts me.  I want to fight for your joy.  I want to fight for your life.  I want to fight for your vitality.  I made a statement, now I want to preach from my heart.  Is that okay? 

Will you open to Joshua 7?  I want to give some context as we jump into this passage.  Joshua 6 — If you’re familiar with the flannel graph from Sunday School, Joshua 6 is when the marching band marches around the walls of Jericho and they fall down.  Wasn’t exactly the most strategic of battle plans, but it’s exactly what God told them to do.  Get the marching band ready; march around Jericho seven times and on the seventh time the walls are going to fall.  They did it.  They obeyed and one of the most powerful and influential cities on THAT side of the Jordan River fell before their very eyes.  I don’t know if you can imagine what that celebration might have been like, but my guess is that the celebration lasted into the wee hours of the morning.  There was one command given in Joshua 6:18-19.  The Lord clearly says to the nation of Israel don’t touch any of the gold, don’t touch any of the silver, any of the devoted things.  Those are to remain there, they’re an offering to the Lord, your God.  What we’re going to find is that there’s one in the midst of Israel’s camp who disobeys this very clear and succinct imperative/command from the Lord.

If you open to Joshua 7, here’s the first word: But.  So after this great victory, after they walk and they cross the Jordan River—-the Jordan River parts before their very eyes.  They’ve seen God do two crazy, miraculous miracles on their behalf.  Immediately what happens is this “Ok, God, we saw the miracle, we saw your gracious hand, but we’re going to do our own thing, God.  We’re going to go our own way.”   Here’s what you’re going to see throughout this passage and throughout our lives and if you turn on the news, THIS is what you are going to see:  Rebellion against God leads to ruin in our lives.  It’s going to happen in the story of Achan.  It’s happened over the past few months in the life of the Body of our church and other churches around this city.  Rebellion—refusal to say God, you’re the author of life so I’m going to surrender, I’m going to bow and I’m going to walk with you; an unwillingness to say back to God, you are God and I’m willing to follow in your way.  Rebellion always leads to ruin.  And it’s devastating.  And it’s sad.  As followers of the way of Jesus, it should get us angry…at the way that we see it, not in everybody else’s life—that would be way too easy this morning, you guys.  The way that we see it in our life.  In the way that it’s reflected in the relationships that WE have.  Here’s what I want to do.  I want to point out for you what happens in the life of this man named Achan.  I want to point out what’s behind this.  God commanded them to do it and God did the miraculous, but the people of Israel……I want to unpack for you what happens in this instance.  Like I said, I want to unpack it for the one explicit hope that it might prevent somebody in this room from making a decision that will change the rest of their life.  

So here’s what happens.  We see that rebellion against God—we’re going to see this all throughout this passage—leads to ruin in our own lives and that sin happens.  So people that ask the question, “How could something like this happen?  How could this happen so often in the church?”  I don’t know the exact answer, but I DO know that sin always starts in small compromises that eventually lead to devastating actions.  So let me unpack that from this passage.  Here’s my hope, I just want to plead with you a little bit that if we catch it here, it doesn’t have to destroy our lives.  If we catch it here, we can repent, we can confess, we can come back before God and we can receive mercy and grace and help in our time of need.  Listen, His grace is available to all at any point in time.  I want to be clear with that.  But there are consequences of our actions that are very real and they are very practical in the every day lives that we live.  But if we catch it here, you guys, we can do battle for our joy.

It says: But the people of Israel broke faith.  {So before the author of Joshua wants to tell you what happened, he wants to tell you WHY it happened.  I don’t know all the reasons and I don’t know all the ins and outs, I can only tell you that I am confident that in every time we fall into sin we first fail in devotion.  This idea of “breaking faith,” in the Hebrew, is the idea of breaking a covenantal vow.  Like the breaking of a marriage vow. That’s what he’s getting at.}  …in regard to the devoted things, for Achan the son of Carmi, son of Zabdi, son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took some of the devoted things.  And the anger of the Lord burned against the people of Israel.  The first thing that happens, friends, when you and I fall into sin is a breaking of relationship before a breaking of law.  You need to get that, because you and I, we cannot have an empty seat on the throne of our hearts.  We will fill it with something.  So when we take God off of that throne, we will vehemently and passionately pursue something else to put on that.  We can’t have an empty seat on the throne of our hearts.  Here’s the first step:  We break faith in God.  Here’s what Paul says in the book of Romans (1:24-25):  Therefore God gave them over (up) in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. What happened first?  Oh, the worship was off.  See, friends, we always worship our way into sin and we always worship our way out.  Before we break the law, we always break devotion.  A sin problem is first and foremost a worship problem.

But Joshua, the leader of Israel at this point in time, is going to confront the people.  He’s going to ask who is it who took the devoted things.  Who’s put us in this position?   Where we’re in the land of victory but we’re experiencing defeat.  Who is it that’s done this?  He eventually confronts Achan.  Achan’s going to invite you into the process.  He’s going to invite you into what happened…..to him.  He’s going to invite you into what happens with us.  (Verse 20) And Achan answered Joshua, “Truly I have sinned against the Lord God of Israel, and this is what I did:  when I saw among the spoil a beautiful cloak from Shinar, and 200 shekels of silver, and a bar of gold weighing 50 shekels….  He says, “I SAW it.”  Here’s what’s interesting….everybody else saw it too.  Every single person that was walking into Jericho, after the walls had fallen and the nation of Israel’s been victorious, sees it!  But Achan sees it differently, because of the way he’s broken faith with God.  Achan sees it as something that can fill him up, something that can satisfy him, something that he can build his life on.  THAT’S how Achan sees it.  It’s how we see things too, friends.  When there’s an empty throne on our heart, when we break faith with God, we start to see the things that we pass by.  We start to see the things that we pursue, not as something that’s a blessing from God, but something to be worshipped AS God.  And that’s why he makes the decision he makes.  Step 2 is we start to see the things around us as being appetizing/enticing.  We start to think they might be the answer to our problem, but make no mistake about it, if step one never happens, step two never happens.  In your life, the life of anybody you read about in the news, or in Achan’s life.

So, he sees it.  He sees it differently than everybody else and then it says……he’s walking us through the process of how we fall into sin.  I saw it then I coveted them.  It’s this idea of I lusted after it.  Here’s how you could read what Achan’s saying:  I believed the lie that if I got those things then I would be okay.  I believed the lie that if I got a little bit more of what I already had then I would be fulfilled.  Anybody else bought that lie at some point in their life?  {Halos aren’t on too tight this morning, praise the Lord.}  We’ve all bought that lie. That is THE lie, isn’t it?  It’s Adam and Eve sitting in the Garden and the Enemy of their souls coming up to them and saying, “Hey, look at all this stuff God has made, but don’t touch that one thing.  And by the way, the thing you’re not allowed to touch….look at how good it looks.  Imagine how good it will taste.”  They start to think to themselves, “God must be holding out on me.”  God must be preventing me from walking into joy.  God must be the enemy….rather than the victor.  And so, I’m going to pursue the things He said no to in order to receive what He longs to give me.  That’s what coveting is.  That’s what it is for Achan, that’s what it is for you and me. Here’s the lie:  We believe it will satisfy.

You see where this is going with Achan, right?  He breaks faith with God.  He sees the things around him differently.  He covets them.  And then he took them.  The very things that God said, “Don’t touch.  Those are an offering to me.  I’ve been gracious, I’ve been good to you.  Stay away from them.  I want your joy.  I want your vitality.  I want your life.”  The very thing God said no to, (Achan) said I’m chasing down.  We never get to Step 4 where we commit sin, unless we miss step one.  Which is the worship of the one True God.  When we break faith with God, we’re always in the position to walk into the very place that He wants to, because of his goodness and grace, keep us from.  The book of James will affirm this in case you’re wondering Paulson, is that consistent throughout Scripture.  You tell me.  James 1:14-15 — But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. {Sounds alot like seeing and coveting, yes?}  Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. It’s one thing to read it theologically and conceptually in the book of James, it’s a whole other thing to read it in a narrative in the book of Joshua. They’re saying the same thing though.  It’s pushing on our lives, you guys, to say, “Okay, if we can keep the faith, we can preserve the vitality of life we were designed to live.”   Because rebellion against God always leads to ruin in our lives. 

We see that a series of small compromises leads to a massive defeat for the army.  The nation of Israel has just conquered one of the most powerful cities in all of the Promised Land in Jericho, and now they go against Ai, one of these very small little cities.  They send a portion of their army; they don’t even send the whole army because they’re confident that they are going to absolutely demolish them.  Thirty-six of their men die in battle.  Which may not sound like a whole lot, but for the nation of Israel this is going to be the only defeat that they really suffer in their whole conquest.  For them, it’s shocking!  A few days earlier, the marching band won a victory and now their army gets defeated by the small, insignificant city.  They’re going, “What in the world is happening?”  Joshua, being the good leader he is, goes to God and asks, “God, what in the world is happening?” Joshua 7:10-13 — The Lord said to Joshua, “Get up!”  {Don’t you love it?  As I was reading that early this morning, I thought it was a word for somebody here.  You cannot let sin keep you on your back.  Get up!  Rise up!}  “Why have you fallen on your face?  Israel has sinned; they have transgressed my covenant that I commanded them; they have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen and lied and put them among their own belongings. Therefore the people of Israel cannot stand before their enemies.   {Isn’t it interesting that the impact of sin equals our enemy defeats us.  You can say it like this:  Rebellion against God leads to ruin in our lives.}  They turn their backs before their enemies, because they have become devoted for destruction.  I will be with you no more, unless you destroy the devoted things from among you.  Get up! Consecrate the people and say, ‘Consecrate yourselves for tomorrow; for thus says the Lord, God of Israel, “There are devoted things in your midst, O Israel.  You cannot stand before your enemies until you take away the devoted things from among you.”   A lot of us would love to say listen, in our own effort and in our own pride, we can stand even though there’s sin in our life, there’s things that we’re trying to hide, there’s things that we’re trying to distance ourself from in some ways, but really our heart is still holding on.  What God would say very clearly to you this morning (not to anybody you’ve seen on the news) is that it is impossible to STAND if we’re holding on to sin. Impossible.

Here’s what happens: Sin in the life of Israel, in the life of you and I, forfeits God’s blessing and intimacy with Him.  You see it really clearly.  God says back to Joshua, “I will not be you any more.”  That’s a hard thing for us to hear.  Yes?  That’s devastating.  Is it that God is gone?  No, it’s not.  His presence bathes this world.  We swim in it.  He’s everywhere.  There’s not a corner of this globe, the Scriptures say, that is not drenched in His glory and His presence.  Well, if that’s true, then what is it saying?  What the Scriptures are saying is that God has lifted his hand of protection, God has lifted his hand of blessing, God has lifted his manifest, tangible presence with this nation because they’ve chosen to hold on to something other than Him.  The sin in their midst is going to prevent them from walking intimately with God.  And friends, the same thing happens to us.  If we have sin in our lives that is a secret, that is unconfessed and not dealt with, it will absolutely cause us to feel like there is a barricade between us and our Lord.  That’s why for some of you it’s really hard to pray.  Because you’re reaching out to God, but there’s a whole lot of other things in your hands.  You can’t cling to God when something else is in your hands.  Jonah 2:8 says:  Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs. (NIV)   It happens.  It happens to you, it happens to me.  We say, “God, I want to distance myself from you in order to hold on to these things that have captured my heart.”  

Joshua, being the good leader, that he is, decides that the nation of Israel cannot go on living with this sin amongst his people because it affects everyone.  They’re forfeiting the blessing of God and intimacy with Him. He decides he needs to find out who has stolen from the Lord.  He brings all the tribes out one by one, narrows it down to the tribe of Judah and eventually lands on Achan as the one who has sinned.  Listen to what Joshua says to him:  Then Joshua said to Achan, “My son, give glory to the Lord, the God of Israel, and honor him.  Tell me what you have done; do not hide it from me.” (Joshua 7:19)   It’s literally hidden in his tent.  He’s dug a hole and buried it under his tent.  What Joshua says is both literally and figuratively to be taken.  What’s buried underneath needs to come out, Achan.  What’s buried underground needs to be seen in the light.

After they identify Achan (verse 22):  So Joshua sent messengers, and they ran to the tent; and behold, it was hidden in his tent with the silver underneath.  And they took them out of the tent and brought them to Joshua and to all the people of Israel.  And they laid them down before the Lord.  And Joshua and all Israel with him took Achan the son of Zerah, and the silver and the cloak and the bar of gold, and his sons and daughters and his oxen and donkeys and sheep and his tent and all that he had.  And they brought them up to the Valley of Achor.  We’ve just got to let it sit there for a second, you guys.  This decision that he makes to say to God, “No, thank you,” affects him and it affects his entire family.  No one in Achan’s reach is untouched by his sin.  No one in your reach is untouched by your sin.  No one.  So not only does it forfeit the blessing of God and intimacy with Him, sin never remains hidden and always affects the people closest to us.  How silly, right, that Achan thinks he can hide this from the one who spoke the world into existence.  What a joke!  But we play the same game.

Let me tell you three lies Achan believes: 1) My sin only affects me.  That’s his first lie.  I’m going to be able to contain this; I’m going to be able to bury it; I’m going to be able to have this only, if it affects anybody—I think he probably believes in his heart of hearts it’s not going to affect him either—affect me.  This decision to take this gold will only affect me.  This decision to look at whatever I look at online will only affect me.  This decision to get into this habit and do this thing will only affect me.  GARBAGE!!!  It affects everyone.  The ripple effects of it affect everyone.  You guys, the saddest thing about this for me is not only the way the victim of this was affected and is affected and will be affected, but that Chris’ family is deeply changed forever. It’s devastating!  If we continue to buy the lie, you guys, that our sin only affects us, we will continue to trivialize the very thing that could destroy the people we love the most.  I’m sorry to get emotional, but I just want to plead with you.

My sin only affects me.   (#2) I can hide my sin from God and others.  Which is why the Scriptures are so clear. In James 5:16, the invitation to confess our sin and to receive healing.  It’s there.  It’s possible.  It’s open to you. That’s why Celebrate Recovery is so powerful, because you walk in the door and say, “Hi! My name is Ryan and I am messed up.”  Everybody else goes, “Hey, me too!”  There’s power in bringing what’s hidden into the light.

Here’s the third lie:  Achan believes what happens in Jericho stays in Jericho.  It never does.  (Verse 25) Joshua said, “Why did you bring trouble on us?  The Lord brings trouble on you today.”  And all Israel stoned him with stones.  They burned them with fire and stoned them with stones. {The “them” here, in case you’re having trouble tracking with previous verses, is his entire family.}  And they raised over him a great heap of stones that remains to this day.  Then the Lord turned from his burning anger.  Therefore, to this day the name of that place is called the Valley of Achor.   Okay, let’s have a moment of honesty—who’s a little bit turned off by that ending?  We read it and go, “Seriously?? Did all of that need to happen?”  Yet we read in the Scriptures really clearly that the wages of sin is death.  But we read it in the story and it feels a lot differently, doesn’t it? It sounds a lot different.  We have this tendency, you guys, to trivialize sin and to make it seem like it’s not that bad.  I want to assure you that the God of the universe does not view it that way.  Here’s what I would say: Sin warrants punishment by a just and holy God.  

You want some more bad news?  We’re all in this boat, friends.  We can look around and think well, they’re worse than me.  Or praise the Lord, I’m not fill-in-the-blank.  We’re deceiving ourselves because this is the boat that we’re all in.  God doesn’t wink at sin; He doesn’t turn his head from it; He absolutely hates it!  The Scriptures are clear in saying: If we say (claim) we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. (1John 1:8) 

So the picture we get of Achan is something that you and I all deserve.  It’s what, by our rebellion against God, we would rightfully step under.  We’ve dethroned God; we’ve turned to trinkets instead of the one true God. There is not one person in this room who is not, or was not, in that boat.  We need to understand that.  We need to let the weight of that sit on us, before we start lobbing stones at somebody else or another situation. We’ve gotta say, “Search me, God; know me.  Point out if there’s anyway wicked within me and lead me in the pathway of righteousness.”  I just want to give you some time to do that.  I want to give you some moments; put your Bible away; put your notes away, if you’re taking any.  I want to invite you, if you’re lead or able, to either kneel or to just have your palms open to the sky.  I just want to say back to God, would you pray with me?

God, it’s so easy to see what happened with Chris and to think it could never be us.  But for the grace of God go we.  Lord, this morning, we cry out.  We admit that we need you.  That we fall short.  That every single person in here is one terrible mistake away from changing their entire life.  The weight of that sits on us, God, and we recognize this morning that rebellion against you always leads to ruin in our lives, either on a small scale or on a massive scale.  So we bow….confess.  I invite you to do that silently in your own heart.  {Aaron sings:  We bow our hearts, we bend our knees; O Spirit, come make us humble. We turn our eyes from evil things, O Lord, we cast down our idols.}   That’s our prayer, Jesus.  We don’t want to look anywhere other than ourselves today and admit that we’re in need of your grace; we’re in need of your mercy.  And we’re thankful that you graciously give it.

Friends, our God is just.  He will not leave sin unpunished.  It’s absolutely true.  That’s why the sacrifice of his Son was absolutely necessary.  Jesus comes and he lives the perfect life.  He lives the life that I should have lived and he dies the death that I should have died.  See, just like Achan, Jesus was dragged outside of the city and he wasn’t stoned, but he was pinned to a Roman cross giving his very life for the sin that put him there and held him there.  The sin he carries is not his own, friends.  The sin he carries is yours and mine.  The story of Achan is a picture of what we rightfully deserve, but the story of Jesus is the grace that we now stand in; the mercy that is ours.  2 Corinthians 5:21 says that He (Jesus) became sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God.  That’s the great exchange, friends.  He gets my sin, I get his perfection.  He gets my punishment, I get his reward.  He gets my condemnation, I get his righteousness.  Friends, this is grace.  This is the gospel.  Today, if you hear his voice, don’t harden your hearts.  Don’t continue to hold on to the things that are going to destroy you.  LIFE is on the line.  Yes, the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life. (Romans 6:23)  And, yes, if we claim to be without sin we are a liar and the truth is not in us, but if we are faithful to confess our sins, He will forgive us and cleanse from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

{Ryan leads into Communion.}

Defeat in the Land of Victory – Joshua 72019-02-18T00:45:17-07:00

Heart Check Luke 8

Heart Check Luke 82019-02-18T00:45:18-07:00

The Unexpected Journey



As many of you know, my family and I were 36 hours away from boarding a plane to the French-speaking world. It was Thursday afternoon, December 17th, 2015, when we heard the news, the official diagnosis that I have cancer. Our flight was planned to leave early Saturday morning.

We spent the following 24 hours trying to be refunded for our tickets and to re-plan our Christmas break. In short, we spent the following 24 hours trying to catch and organize the shattered remains of whatever plans we may have had.

Our plans are shattered. What now? Are we still going to France? Quebec?

We speak French. We have lead French-speaking church plants in French-speaking Quebec, Canada, since 2003. We were able to pass the baton of leadership to local leaders in 2014. We have been seeking a new vision for the French-speaking world since then. I travelled to French-speaking North Africa and France, exploring the amazing things God is doing in that corner of the world. We thought that, perhaps, we had a plan that made sense.

I began chemotherapy last February and will finish the 6th cycle this month. I am two thirds of the way through my sixth chemo cycle right now, as I stand in front of you.

First of all, I want to thank South Fellowship, and so many others around the country and the world, for walking with us through this journey. Thank you for surrounding us. Loving us. Supporting us. Encouraging us.

This journey was unexpected. Many of you are also on unexpected journeys. I have met you. I have heard your stories.

You had a plan that made sense, and that plan was ripped out of your clenched fingers. Everything changed. It was a violent reminder that the world as we know it is not a gentle place.

Creation Groans
Soon after my diagnosis, I was on the phone with one of my sisters, and she was crying. Between sobs, she explained that she never realized to what point sin had infiltrated every aspect of our physical existence. This is not simply a question of morality. Sin has marred even our very biology, down to the cellular level. The cells in our bodies are affected by decay and do not act the way they should.

Sickness. Cancer. Aging. Death.

Sin has infiltrated the physical biology of creation: “bondage of decay.” I can follow all the rules, work hard to have good relationships, eat right and exercise. Sooner or later, the effects of sin are going to get me. I cannot get away from it.

This reminds me of Romans 8:20-22:
“The creation was subjected to frustration”
“The bondage to decay.”
“The whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth.”

Timothy Keller:
“No matter what precautions we take, no matter how well we have put together a good life, no matter how hard we have worked to be healthy, wealthy, comfortable with friends and family, and successful with our career—something will inevitably ruin it.”

Scripture is realistic. It gives us example after example of people going through a world distorted by sin. This morning, we are going to explore three truths that replace the fear of the unexpected with the confidence of the certain.

There are three truths that give us confidence as we explore our Unexpected Journeys this morning:

1) God moves in the unexpected: we are not abandoned.
2) God holds us through the unexpected: nothing can separate us from God’s love
3) God overcomes the unexpected: death does not win

I. GOD MOVES IN THE UNEXPECTED… (we are not abandonded)

Our plans have been ruined. Our journey has been diverted. But God is still working. He is accomplishing a greater plan. We see this all throughout Scripture, throughout the world around us, and even in our own lives.

The prophet Daniel, when he was young, probably 12-16 years old, was ripped from his family, home city, nation, marched for hundreds of miles as a POW from Jerusalem to Babylon… for what exactly? He proclaimed the Name of the one true God to the entire world.

I wonder what Daniel would have been like if he had grown up living a normal life with his family in Jerusalem. I wonder what Daniel would have been like if he had never felt terror as he looked out over the Jerusalem wall to see the most powerful army in the world trying to get in to rape, burn, and destroy. I wonder what Daniel would have been like if he had never seen the army breach the Jerusalem wall, then begin to murder, rape, torture, and kidnap his friends and family. I wonder what Daniel would have been like if he had never been chained and driven to Babylon, witnessing the whipping, torture, and death of so many on the journey. I wonder what Daniel would have been like if his character hadn’t been forged, if the fear of death hadn’t been replaced by the fear of God.

Ruth, the woman of excellence, had her dreams crushed when she was unable to have children. Then her husband died. Then her brother-in-law died. Then her father-in-law died. Then, grieving, she followed her mother-in-law to an unknown land.

After walking as an outcast during her lifetime, Ruth became the great-grandmother of the greatest king of Israel, David, and the ancestor of the King of Kings, Jesus. I wonder about the character that was forged in her soul as she walked through the valley of the shadow of death again and again. I wonder what kind of mother she was when she eventually gave Boaz a child. The joyous tears born through sweet sorrow must have been impossible prior to her journey through the valley of the shadow.

I wonder, following the crucible and the joy, how the legacy of her faith must have rolled like a Tsunami over her children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren. I wonder which pieces of King David’s radical trust in God can be traced to the radical faith God forged into her character through the journey of grief.

Josh in Spain
What about something like ISIS? We just looked at the lives of Daniel and Ruth. God used the painful unexpected to forge in them perseverance, character, and hope. Is it possible that God is using ISIS to bring a multitude of people to Him in a way that would not have been possible otherwise?

Because of ISIS, millions of Muslims who were almost impossible to reach with the Gospel are fleeing from the Middle East to places that are easy to reach with the Gospel, places where we could even go on vacation with our families. Austria. Germany. Italy. Greece. Spain. This story is from Madrid.

This is the story of Josh, a guy who spent a year or two in Madrid, Spain working with Arab immigrants. (And as a parenthesis, everyone should spend 1-2 years overseas, then ask God what to do with your life. It will change the way you see the world.)

Josh worked at the Friendship House in Madrid. A number of World Venture missionaries work there, in conjunction with Spanish Christians. They give clothes and food to immigrants who need it. They teach English and Spanish classes. Josh worked there, and this is his story:

“Mentiras, lies” the three of them shouted in unison. Up till this point it had been a very calm conversation so naturally this took me off guard! “How could God become a man?” asked the father. “And how could so much power be contained in human flesh!?” jibed the grandfather. “no no no, this is illogical” responded the mother, God could not become a human!”

Perhaps I should back up. Every week I teach English to two Iraqi boys in their family’s restaurant. It is a family event. The father, the mother, and even the grandfather sit in on the lessons most days. One very unique day the grandfather asked me if I knew who the prophets were. I responded that I did know who the prophets were. I had read about them in the Bible. He proceeded to tell me that Adam and John the Baptist were the greatest of all the prophets and that the others such as Moses, Jeremiah, Jesus, and Muhammad were the lesser prophets. I inquisitively asked, “how can Jesus be lesser than Adam? Adam fell into sin yet Jesus never sinned.” This prompted one of those golden questions from the grandfather that a missionary prays to hear, “Well, who do you believe Jesus is?”

At that moment one of the boys stood up to go outside and play. The father scolded him, “sit down and listen to what the teacher has to say.” Well, I now had three generations of a precious Iraqi family listening intently for me to answer the most important question in human history.

I decided to start at the very beginning. “God is all powerful, perfect, holy, and creator of the universe,” I said. They all agreed. “God created man in his own image but man rebelled and fell into sin,” I continued. They all agreed. “Because God is perfectly just, he cannot allow sin to go unpunished nor allow a sinner to enter heaven,” I pushed on. They all agreed. “But God loves humanity and was not willing to leave man lost in his sin. God wanted to save humanity!” I drew ever closer to the climax. They still agreed. “So, God took on flesh and became a human named Jes…” “Mentiras, lies” the three adults shouted in unison, the grandfather even standing to his feet to emphasize the point. It was as if I had hit a spiritual wall. They were willing to accept the Gospel message until Jesus entered the scene. Jesus was the stumbling stone for them. They allowed me to explain myself but they could not overcome the audacity of the idea that God became a man. To them it was foolishness (1 Corinthians 1:23-25).

As the three adults were debating my claims amongst themselves the boy walked over and whispered in my ear, “Profe, do you believe that Jesus is God?” “Yes I do,” I quietly replied. “So do I,” he whispered in my ear, smiled, and then returned to his seat.

There is hope. There is grace. It will not be any fancy words I saw that convinces this family of the truth. Rather it will be the saving work of Jesus as affected through the calling of the Spirit on their hearts.

What will God do in and through this little boy? God displaced this Iraqi family, sent them on an unexpected journey of thousands of miles to Spain, and that is where they are hearing about Jesus, not in Iraq. And this is just one example of what God is doing with millions of people all over the Middle East. It is as if God is using ISIS to empty out the hard-to-reach places so that families like this can learn for the first time that God became a man, Jesus Christ.

My neighbor, Annette, began chemotherapy the day before I did. She is originally from French-speaking Canada, and she lives 20 feet away from us here in Colorado! How ironic is that? She and her husband Dan have been great neighbors.

We have spent time together talking, praying, and crying through this process. She told me that in a very strange sort of way, she is thankful for the cancer. She looked and me with tear-filled eyes and said: “I know why I have cancer, it is so that I can grow closer to God.” As a result of cancer and chemo, she is closer to God today than she has ever been in her entire life. She is full of joy.

Is cancer horrific? Absolutely. Is God using it in Annette’s life? Unequivocally.

Looking back, looking forward
So when we look back on these journeys, it gives us hope for our own journey. We can have the confidence that these times of painful preparation are not wasted. God has, can, and will use them, both for our good, for the good of those around us, and for the glory of the great God and Father who loves us.

Romans 5:3-5 says “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance, character; and character, hope.”

We can be transformed through the crucible of suffering.

My friend Cathy talked about walking through her mother’s death. She said, “What I walked through was for the Kingdom. And now I can be used by these different experiences for the Kingdom.”

She also said, “God doesn’t waste our pain. It is used for His kingdom, if we allow it to be used.”

“Suffering has been stronger than all other teaching, and has taught me to understand what your heart used to be. I have been bent and broken, but – I hope – into a better shape.”
–Charles Dickens

As for us and our family, do we know what is next? No. France? Quebec? Littleton? Congo? We have no idea.

But we do know that this is part of the journey of preparation, that which is next, that which we do not know.

We put our trust in Him. He is trustworthy. He is moving… even in the unexpected.

Faith and healing
There are people who say that if I just had enough faith, then my cancer would be healed, or I simply would not have had cancer in the first place. They would quote verses like Matthew 9:29, where Jesus says, “according to your faith will it be done to you.”

Yes, it is true that in one verse in Matthew 9, two blind men were healed according to their faith. And I will freely admit that many today may be healed according to their faith today, as well. But this relationship between faith and healing is much more complicated.

But what about…
¥ … people healed because of the faith of a third party (John 4:43-54)?
¥ … people healed because of the faith of the healer (Acts 8:4-8)?
¥ … people who are not healed because of the lack of faith of the healer (Matt. 17:14-21)?
¥ … people of faith who were not healed (1 Tim 5:23; 2 Cor. 12:7-10)?
¥ … people whose lack of faith caused them to not be healed (Matt. 13:53-58)?
¥ … people without faith in Jesus who healed others without faith in Jesus (Matt. 7:22-23)? God says to them “I never knew you.”

What about every single one of the twelve apostles who were persecuted, suffered, and all but one died horrific deaths? Are we to say that none of the apostles, who gave their lives for the Name of Christ, were men of faith? I think not.

Living by faith, rather, according to Scripture, may look very different than what we expected.

“They (American Evangelicals) too easily assume that the ordinary Christian life is one of prosperity, triumph and success, instead of marginality, poverty and worldly failure.” – Mark Noll


What does Paul mean when he says in Romans 8:37, that we are “more than conquerors?”

He most certainly does NOT mean that we will live lives of financial prosperity, physical peace, and emotional tranquility. He must mean something else, something that supersedes these things. Something that is unshakable even in the midst of cancer, poverty, conflict, and death. Turn in your Bibles with me to Romans 8:

35Who shall separate us (those who have put their faith in Christ) from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written:

“For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

Being “more than a conqueror” does not mean that I am spared these things. Being “more than a conqueror” means in all these things I cannot be separated from the love of Christ!

Regardless of what happens, if I have put my faith in Jesus, I am living in the shadow of the effects of the Cross. These effects permeate every aspect of my reality. I am connected to the love of Christ. Nothing can separate me from Him!

Working as a pastor, I have sat and prayed with people who only had days to live. I have looked into the eyes of those facing death. I was amazed. As everything was slowly ripped away from them, even then, the love of Christ shone through their entire being.

Gilles was married to Nancy. They had a young son. His life had been full of anger and bitterness. Then one day he knelt down, bowed his head, and surrendered his life to Jesus. When he met Christ, his eyes softened, his spirit glowed, and he became known as a man of joy and peace. He became an outspoken witness for Jesus.

I can remember that Easter Sunday. Our church in St-Jerome rented a community center and Gilles was an energetic part of the setup team. During setup, people remarked how yellow his eyes and skin looked. Several others agreed that he should go to the hospital.

They found cancer. The medical establishment was helpless. All they could do was offer medication to make the process as painless as possible.

The process was brutal. Death is horrific. But he did not fear death. His eyes, though grieved, flooded with hope. He was connected to the love of Christ.

Nothing could separate him from the love of Christ. The love of Christ carried him through death.

Gilles died in peace, with hope.

Michel only had weeks to live. He was in the hospital. Terror overwhelmed every inch of his being. He often woke up screaming, digging his fingernails into his forearms as the horror of death consumed him. His arms were bloody and scarred. Confusion and fear reigned.

He knew I was a pastor and wanted to know what the Bible had to say about death.

You can imagine that meeting in the hospital. It was the moment of truth. For the first time in his life, Michel learned why God came to this earth in the person of Jesus. Jesus took the consequences on himself, on the cross, for evil men all throughout history. Michel, if he surrendered himself to Jesus, would no longer face judgment for the evil he had done. Jesus had already taken that judgment on himself on the cross.

That is why the cross was so horrific. The full breadth of God’s wrath against evil was poured out on Jesus on the cross… so that we, and Michel, would no longer have to take it on ourselves.

Jesus offered forgiveness to Michel. Jesus offered love in the place of judgment. I asked Michel if that is what he wanted. Did he desire to admit his guilt, turn it over to Jesus, and accept the gift of life offered to him?

“Yes, yes, yes!” Michel responded. We prayed together.

The transformation was immediate.

His eyes glowed. Tension melted away. Confusion became hope. Terror became peace. The nightmares stopped. Michel was now connected to the love of Christ. Nothing could separate him now.

He died two weeks later. He was no longer terrified. He was at peace.

Once we have been connected to the love of Christ, nothing can separate us.

We are living in the effects of the cross.

While these things are happening to me, Christ’s love is tied to me. Sealed to me. Paul goes on:

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

• Death cannot separate me from the love of Christ.
• A difficult, suffering life of sickness and pain, cannot separate me from the love of Christ.
• Supernatural angelic beings cannot separate me from the love of Christ.
• No evil demonic presence can separate me from the love of Christ.
• Nothing in my present life can separate me from the love of Christ.
• No fears of what the future may bring can separate me from the love of Christ.
• Nothing great or small can separate me from the love of Christ.
• There is nothing in the universe that is powerful enough to separate me from the love of Christ.


These stories churned through my mind in January. I was diagnosed with “T-Cell/Histiocyte-Rich B-Cell non-Hodgkins Lymphoma.” But then I had to wait a few of weeks to find out the results of a CT Scan, Bone-Marrow Biopsy, and PET scan.

Waiting is so difficult. I had no idea how serious this was.
• The second biopsy confirmed that I was at least stage One.
• The CT scan confirmed that I was at least stage three.
• Then I had to wait for the Bone Marrow Biopsy and PET scan.
• Have my major organs been affected? Has my bone marrow been affected? Would I be given a few months to live, like others I’ve known?

The realization set in: this could kill me.

Death, is that all you’ve got?
I could picture Gilles as he faced death with peace and joy.
I could picture Michel as his terror was transformed into peace.

Now it was my turn. It is one thing to sit with someone who is facing death. It is one thing to stand up here and speak with confidence. It is quite another thing at 2am, laying wide awake wondering if I’ll live long enough to see my children graduate from high school.

All day every day my mind kept replaying my conversations with Gilles and Michel.

Yes, we face death now, but that is not the end. God will ultimately, finally, triumph over death.

2 Corinthians 4:14 says this:

“…the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus.” –v. 14

There is a resurrection day that is coming in the future. On the day of the resurrection, when we are physically brought back from the grave, this physical body will be clothed with a kind of physical existence that is not infected by sin. Sickness, cancer, and death will no longer hold the trump card. We will outlast all of these.

“the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality.” –v. 53

We know the knockout is coming. We know that death will be rendered completely powerless. That day is coming. So today, we can look death square in the face and say

“Is that all you’ve got?”

“Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” –v. 55

“But resurrection is not just consolation — it is restoration. We get it all back — the love, the loved ones, the goods, the beauties of this life — but in new, unimaginable degrees of glory and joy and strength.”
-Timothy Keller

As many of you have heard, I have had positive test results regarding chemo. My last scan showed no sign of Lymphoma. This is very good news. For today, things are moving in a great direction.

But make no mistake, we are not out of the woods.

Over the next two years there will be a gradual deceleration of doctor’s appointments, blood tests, CT Scans & PET scans.

According to some studies, the 5-year survival rate for the kind of Lymphoma that I have is about 50%. Also according to some studies, there is about a 25% chance that this cancer will recur within six months.

What does this mean regarding next steps, possibly moving to France, or not? We would ask you to step into a very intentional time of prayer with us, over this summer, asking God to very clearly reveal what He desires our next steps to be.

What God has done for me through this process, is make me cognizant of death. This body may not last another six months, or five years. Or, it may last another 40 years.

Death is right in front of my face. But because of the resurrection, I do not need to fear it.

And you, on your unexpected journey, you need not fear either. Just as Gilles and Michel faced the ultimate test with confidence and peace, you can face the unexpected journey knowing God is moving, God is holding you, and the confidence that God will overcome.

Already and not yet.
Christ died on the cross. He died for our sins. He died to conquer sin, death, and our spiritual enemies. When we put our faith in Him, we receive His Spirit. We receive the promise of eternal life. We join His Kingdom, part of what He is doing here on this earth. Part of a greater story.

We are living in the effects of Christ’s death and resurrection and the shadow of our coming resurrection.

We look back.

But we also look forward.

We look forward to the day when death will no longer be a reality. We look forward to when Christ comes back. We look forward to the resurrection. It is, as David Bosch puts it:

Our future resurrection “not merely a future reality toward which we are on the way; it has invaded and permeated our earthy historical existence and is in the process of transforming it.”

Right now we are free to live in-between.

What does this mean? If God is moving; if God is holding me; if God will overcome in the resurrection. What does that mean?
• I can lift my eyes past today… and tomorrow.
• I can risk today, in the midst of the unexpected.
• I can love someone difficult.
• I can lift my eyes above my struggle with anxiety and depression. It will one day end.
• I do not have to hurry today. My time is unlimited.
• I can go overseas to a difficult people without fear, the cost is not as great as I thought.
• People are more important than anything.
• I am free.

Do you smell it? Can you taste it? The wind of the freedom of the resurrection is blowing through his place:
• Free of fear.
• Free of anxiety.
• Free to be radical.
• Free to love.
• Free to pursue.
• Free to hope.
• Free to live in the in-between.
• Free to dream.
• Free to follow Jesus, knowing I will be with Him forever, no matter what.

As John Donne so aptly put it in his poem: “Death… thou shalt die.”

The Unexpected Journey2019-02-18T00:45:20-07:00

Thirsty Psalm 42


Thirsty Psalm 422019-02-18T00:45:21-07:00
Go to Top