Stretch – God of Grace or God of Genocide?

STRETCH:  God of Genocide or Grace?   1 Samuel 15:2-3

I had the chance this year to coach my 8-year-old’s baseball team.  The field is right next to a playground.  The playground is lined with little pebbles/gravel that make up the bed of the playground.  I was walking over to practice the other day and I walked through the playground with all the gear, and I got this little pebble in my shoe.  I was the guy that did not take the time to take the pebble out of my shoe, throughout the whole practice. I’m limping along through the whole practice and I really wish I would have just bent down, took off my shoe and took the pebble out.  It would have been a lot easier and a lot less painful, in the long run.

This subject has been a pebble in my proverbial shoe.  I had questions about this during my time in seminary that I never quite got resolved.  In fact, I started to have more questions about it.  It’s a question you may have too.  If you do, the invitation this morning is to wrestle with God, with his Scriptures, to try to figure out how can we view this topic in light of who Jesus is?

If you have a Bible, turn with me to 1 Samuel 15.  This follows the series we’ve been doing in 1 Samuel 14 where Jonathan, the son of Saul the king of Israel, attacks the Philistine army, and with only two swords, they end up wiping out the whole army.  In 1 Samuel 15: 2-3, it says this:  Thus says the Lord of hosts, “I have noted what Amalek did to Israel in opposing them on the way when they came up out of Egypt. {The Amalekites told the Israelites that they couldn’t walk through their land.}  Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have.  Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.”  Yikes!  What did the camel and donkey do?  It’s one of those passages—-thirty-seven times in the Old Testament—-that has the idea show them no mercy attributed to the words of God.  Thirty-seven times you read something like this—don’t let anything live, wipe it all out, even the children and the infants.  I don’t know about you, but that grates on me a little bit.  It grates on our sense of justice where we go, “What did they do wrong? God, if you’re really like this, I’m not sure I want to follow you.”  I know a lot of people that have walked away from faith because of this picture of God that we read about in the Old Testament, sometimes in the New Testament, too.  Let’s not oversimplify things and say that this is an Old Testament thing.  It’s not!  Some people have resisted the idea of faith altogether, because this question, this pebble, is just too much to get over. Richard Dawkins, part of the new atheist movement, says this:  “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser, a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”  He concludes that the God of the Old Testament is a jerk.

As followers of Jesus, we have to wrestle with the Scriptures, because this is in our Scriptures, but also in our Scriptures are the words of Jesus.  In Matthew 5:43-45, he says:  You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” {Quick timeout — ‘You’ve heard it said….’  Yeah, we’ve heard YOU say it, God, wipe them out!  Destroy them completely!}  But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.  {Because when you love your enemies and when you pray for those who persecute you, you look like God.  You start to take on His nature and His character, that’s what Jesus is saying.}  For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.  That’s why your neighbor, who may be a little bit of a jerk to you, got rain on his lawn just like yours did this weekend.  Jesus’s point is that God is ridiculously good, even to people who are really, really bad.  Which begs the question, did God just get anger-management counseling between the time He said go kill them all, wipe them out, women, children, donkeys, camels, etc., and then later?  How do we reconcile these two competing views of God?  Let me say it like this — Is God, in the nature and character of who He is, a genocidal “maniac” or is He a gracious Savior?  Which one is He?  It’s a huge question.  I’m going to do my best to give us a framework this morning.  I’m going to do my best to tackle it, but I don’t expect that you will completely agree with my conclusions.  It’s such a huge topic that we would need way more time to talk about all throughout.

Let me first frame the discussion for you.  There’s two views of how people typically reconcile this seemingly incongruent contradiction.  The first way people reconcile it is essentially:  God said it.  They did it.  That settles it.  It’s a flat reading of the Scripture.  We see God speaking to the nation of Israel.  They receive what He says.  They execute it, end of story, Paulson, is there anything left to discuss here?  Typically in this view—and a lot of evangelicals hold this view—it appeals to the sovereignty of God in the punishing or judging of sin. We follow that with….Who can know the mind of God?  God’s ways are higher than our ways.  Let me push back on that just a little bit and say, “According to that line of reasoning, they’re also higher than His ways.”  What He says is I’m good to even the evil.  God, if those are your rules, why do you seem to break your rules?  Here’s the problem in View #1 — We have the really, really high view of Scripture, which I say Yes and Amen to, but we have a really, really low view of Jesus and the words that He taught and the way that He taught us to live.  And the revelation of the Father that Jesus is and was.

So the first view is: God said it.  They did it.  That settles it.   The second view is:  Israel heard it.  God didn’t say it, therefore we can ignore it.  Basically, this view would say that what we read in the Old Testament is not the words of God, it’s the history of God’s people as they understood God, as they walked with God, and as they journeyed with God.  So, if the first view has a really low view of Jesus and a really high view of Scripture, the second view has a really high view of Jesus, because they’re saying Jesus is what God is like and God dies for His enemies, He doesn’t kill his enemies.   But they have a really low view of the Scriptures.  I would argue that the second view actually cuts the legs out from underneath its very argument, because how do we really know that Jesus is what God is like if we don’t know that from the Scriptures?  We’re just choosing things we like and discarding things that we don’t, in the end.

So, can we all agree that this is not a simple answer?  That both of these predominant views have massive flaws. I’m going to give you what I call a third way, but before I do that, what I want to make sure is that we understand the discussion, the quandary, the history, if you will, in a little bit more fullness, because if you’re like me, I had a caricature of these wars in my head when I went to study the Scriptures.  What I like to do is hopefully dispel three myths that I heard many people have when it comes to the issue of the Canaanite genocide and God’s commanding of it in the Old Testament.  Myth #1: Israel is the malevolent warmongering powerhouse.  When we think of these wars, we sometimes think of Israel with all of its army and with all of its resources marching into a certain place and wiping out its enemy.  Flexing its muscles and going, “That’s what we’re talking about.”  If you read the Scriptures though, Israel, throughout the Scriptures, is the underdog. They’ve just endured 400 years of slavery as a nation.  {Let’s just take a little straw poll…}  How much training for military conquest do you think slaves got in the empire?  Big fat zero!!  Why?  Because Empire 101 is you don’t train your enemy to turn on you and kill you.  Israel doesn’t have military training.  As they enter into the land of Canaan, the Promised Land, they’ve endured forty years of wandering in the desert.  They’re not exactly Hulk Hogan walking into the ring saying, “Let’s do this!”  That’s the caricature we often have in our minds. Instead of a powerful nation going to take over a less powerful nation, when we read these stories in the Scriptures, we should have more in mind a peasant group of Iraqis who rise up to retake Mosul from the powers that be.  We shouldn’t have a powerful nation in our mind, going in to wreak havoc.  Not only that, all throughout, it’s God saying not “You go fight for me,” which is typically what “Holy War” is today—people fighting for God.  It’s actually God saying, “I will go and fight for you.”

Second myth is that Israel attacks civilian centers and slaughters many innocent people.  When you read the term ‘city’ in the Old Testament, more times than not, what it’s talking about is a military garrison, a protected area where military people gathered, trained, and fought from.  Jericho, in Joshua 6, is a great example.  The “city” of Jericho was roughly six or seven acres large, which is about the same amount of property the church owns.   They had somewhere between 100-200 soldiers living in Jericho at the time.  They also had at least one civilian family–Rahab.  Rahab, at the end of the story, walks away alive.  She helps Israel and she walks out. When we read ‘city’ we should think military garrison and when the armies came, if there were civilians there, they would have scattered and left because they knew that a war was coming in.   And so, Rahab in the story is saved.  I would also anecdotally add, we don’t have any historical resources in the Scriptures that would tell us of anything other than that happening in these “cities.”  We don’t have recorded the slaughter of many innocent people.  We just don’t have that.

Which begs the question, “Hey, Paulson, it says right there in my Bible, go and kill woman, child, and infant. What do you do with that?”  I’m really glad you asked.  I’d address Myth #3.  Myth #3 is that we are intended to read every war account, or every word in the war accounts, literally.  I just want you to take a deep breath and pause for a moment.  Are you saying, Ryan, that you don’t think these battles actually happened?   NO!  I think they happened and I think they happened as the narrators of the Scriptures tell us that they happened.  But imbedded within the Scriptures are these hints and winks that they are not speaking literally at every bend, but that they’re using the general vernacular of their day and embracing a war-like rhetoric when they’re retelling their history.  Let me give you one example.  I’ll address the “women and children, etc.” first.  That was a common idiom in the day this was written — kill everybody…women, children, and infants.  It was a idiom, it was a way of saying wipe everything out.  Destroy everything.  We see this conquest, this putting forth in the pages of Scripture….well, Israel destroyed EVERYONE.  Let me give you an example from Joshua 10:40 — So Joshua struck the whole land, the hill country and the Negeb and the lowland and the slopes, and all their kings.  He left none remaining, but devoted to destruction all that breathed, just as the Lord God of Israel commanded.   And you think to yourself, “Holy widespread panic! This is just massive genocide.”  Until you start to read the rest of the stories, where the Amalekites, and the Amorites, and the Jebusites, and the people that occupied the lowland and the highland…..are BACK!  A few chapters later.  Read Judges 1-3 and all these same people are their enemies.  Your question should be, “How is that possible?”  Which part of this is wrong?  I’d submit–OUR part is wrong.  We’re not intended to read this literally to say, “The whole land and all their kings and none remaining,” in the way that we read it in a flat context.  We’re actually suppose to step into the text and let it define for us what it means by this.  As we read further, the Scripture unpacks that this meant that they were victorious, not that they left none of their enemies breathing.  It can’t mean that, because of the rest of the way the Scriptures unfold.  These are their enemies for decades and centuries.

I’ll give you one example within the same passage that we see this type of thing happening.  Deuteronomy 7:2-5. This is at the very incipient stages of Canaanite conquest.  Listen to the author of Deuteronomy telling people what they’re intending to do:  …and when the Lord your God gives them over to you, and you defeat them, then you must devote them to complete destruction.  You shall make no covenant with them and show no mercy to them. {Just a quick question — How many people have made a covenant with somebody that’s dead?! Why is that a concern?!  Kill them all and oh yeah, don’t make a covenant with them.  Doesn’t seem necessary, does it? NO!} You shall not intermarry with them…  Quick timeout — How many dead people have you seen get married lately?!  Not a lot!  Which should be signals to us: read the story as it’s written, not as we wish it were written. “Devote to complete destruction” means separate yourself completely.  Do NOT take on their religious, pagan, idolatrous interaction with their god, but stay devoted to your God.  And so, do I believe the stories actually happened?  100% yes and amen, I do, but we need to read them as the entirety of Scripture would have us read them.  That’s an informed reading.  It’s a literary reading, not just a literal reading.

So, you go, “Alright, Paulson, I get it.  Maybe it’s not as widespread or genocidal as it felt at first, but that still doesn’t answer the question.”  You said there were two options, Ryan.  One is God said it, they did it, that settles it.  The second is God didn’t say it, they heard it, therefore we could ignore it.  There’s a third way coming. But before we get there, let me give you a framework for the way that God interacts throughout the entire Scriptures.  God is like Jesus.  Here’s what I mean by that.  The fullest revelation we have, the best picture we have, the least fuzzy picture we have of what God is like is displayed in the work of Jesus, specifically Jesus on the cross dying for his enemies.  That’s the best picture we have of what God is like.  In fact, Hebrews 1:2-3 says this:  …but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.  He is the radiance of the glory of God {That means when God shines it looks like Jesus.}  and the exact imprint of his nature.   The book of Colossians will say that he is the icon, the stamp, of what God is like.  John 14:9, Philip will say to Jesus, “Jesus, show us what God is like.”  Jesus says back to Philip, “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father.”  The fact that God dies for his enemies is great news for everybody in this room.  The Scriptures are going to say that when you and I were God’s enemies, He stepped in with his atoning goodness and his love.  So the fact that God dies for his enemies is the only reason that we are a part of his kingdom today.  That’s number one.

Number two is that God, in his very character and nature, is incarnational.  The incarnation is not solely an event that happens.  Yes, the incarnation is where Jesus takes on flesh and steps into human history and humanity to become a sacrifice for us.  But God in his very character is incarnational.  The entire universe is incarnational.  It’s God creating space where the divine and the human can interact.  Where he can lower himself to become known by people he would be unknowable to if it weren’t for the “playing field” he himself created.  The very universe himself is incarnational.  It’s God stepping into creating, then stepping into human history.  All throughout the pages of Scripture here’s what we see — God meets us, humanity, as we are, not as he wishes we were.  It’s summarized beautifully by Jesus when he says this:  Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you. (Matthew 7: 6) Jesus is saying that even if you have something real good, like a pearl, and you throw it to a pig and they’re unable to digest it, they’re unable to take it in, it’s irrelevant.  The goodness of the gift is irrelevant if the receiver can’t take it in.  All throughout history, God has been practicing this truth.  He meets humanity where they are.  He gives them what they can receive.  And he moves them forward.  Let me give you two examples. First example is sacrifice.  We have an entire book in the Old Testament devoted to ritual sacrifice.  God teaching his people how to offer animals as a way to become right with Him.  If you start reading history of ancient near East culture, sacrifice to a tribalistic deity was the norm.  It was what everybody did.  When God takes the people of Israel and they’re in this culture, He uses the culture around them to point to a deeper, more transcendent truth.  He uses sacrifice….it’s very different than it was in a near East culture.  He moves it forward, but sacrifice was never his goal.  You know how I know that?  The Bible!  Because Jesus will say, “Here’s what I’m really interested in…”  Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ (Matthew 9:13)   Jesus will say, “Sacrifice was never the intention, which is why we’ve moved beyond sacrifice.”  But God met his people in sacrifice because that’s where they were at, not necessarily because it was where He was at.  He’s incarnational.  He’s stepping in.   So I would argue that sacrifice was the best thing that God could do for his people, given where they were at, but it was never intended to be an end, in and of itself.  He was leading them to the place where their very lives would be the sacrifice.  In fact, the entire Law is considered to be a tutor—taking them from one place and leading them to a different place.

Second example: slavery.  Have you ever wondered why the Bible doesn’t just condemn slavery outright?  Why there’s no verse you can point to that says slavery is categorically wrong all the time?  I do.  I would have loved to have seen that in there.  But it’s not.  Here’s what we do have though.  We have one of the two or three distinct formative narratives of the people of God, being about them, released from slavery.  The Exodus narrative.  This was formative for the people of God.  We have God meeting the Israelites in the Old Testament and giving them a new way to interact with slaves, that were a part of the society in that day.  He says that you can’t treat slaves as though they’re inhumane, as though they’re not people, you have to care for slaves and treat them well.  In the New Testament, we have the church being commanded that there’s not slave, nor free, Jew, nor Greek, male or female, but all are one in Christ.  So we have this movement — God meets humanity where they are, puts forward his ethos, his DNA, his heart into their situation, moves the ball forward, then meets them in the New Testament and moves the ball forward again to today where we feel it is categorically wrong, not because we can point to a verse that says it is, but because we can point to the Scriptures that say every human being was created with dignity, value, and worth.  Our God has come that the slaves might be freed.  He’s always had a bigger plan, but he’s always met humanity exactly where they are, not where he wishes they were.

Here’s the third way.  My perspective is that God did say it, God did say go kill these people.  AND my perspective is that the revelation of God being like Jesus does not fit alongside other pictures of God, but that it’s above every picture of God.  It defines what God is like.  In these genocidal narratives, we see that God accommodates Israel in their tribalism to lead them to his kingdom.  He meets them where they are in order to lead them forward, in order to take them someplace different.  God meets us in our culture, but ultimately leads us to his kingdom.  That’s his intention all throughout the Scriptures.  Let me give you two examples.  One would be if you saw me holding Amy and Darwin’s beautiful little baby Eliana, and you heard me talking annoying baby talk, I hope you wouldn’t assume, “Hey, Paulson, forgot how to talk!”  What happened to this guy?!  What happened to me is I have a different audience.  I’m interacting with this person who can’t understand me talking and we’re trying to meet them where they actually are, not where we are or where we wish they are.  Second illustration — This week I had the chance to look back through my first Bible I ever had. My NIV Study Bible.  I loved that Bible!  I’m a notetaker and I wrote all over that Bible.  I read through it and I thought, “Oh dear God, thank you for the way that you’ve been in work in me!  I thank you that I’m not that same person anymore.”  Can anyone say yes and amen to that?  Keep a journal if you want to see God’s work in your life.  I went back through and started to read it and I noticed that the way God interacts with us on a personal level is also the way God interacts with us on a human level.  That he met me exactly where I was as a punk 17-year-old kid and He loved me there, but He didn’t leave me there.  He does the same thing throughout history — he meets people where they are (not where he wishes they were) and he leads them forward.

So, you may be asking, “Hey, Ryan, is that a little bit pretentious?”  That we’ve grown so much as a “human race” from the time where tribal deities were not only worshiped but used in order to exploit people.  Have we grown that much?  Is that a little bit pretentious?  To that I would say yes and no.  What we’re claiming is that Jesus taught us a better way to be human.  We’re claiming that Jesus is the ultimate human being and teaches us what it looks like to live in relationship with our heavenly Father.  Is it pretentious only if we’re saying hey, we’re here and should be here also.  We’re actually saying, “God is the one who’s teaching us. God is the one who’s installing HIS kingdom.  It’s not ours, it’s His.”  We are trying to live in line with what He is doing.  The Scriptures are a story.  You can’t get to one point in the story and then go back and say, “I want to live at the very beginning of the story.”  God is up to something.  There’s movement, there’s growth, there’s development. This is a very good thing.  When we read the story of conquest in the Old Testament, what we should understand is God accommodates Israel in their tribalism to eventually lead them to his kingdom. Ironically, if you go and read about the life of Christ, what the Israelites wanted was for him to be a tribalistic deity.  They actually wanted him to be the only Israelite God.  What Jesus dies for is the fact that he’s the King of the earth, not just the tribalistic deity of Israel.  It’s a bigger story.

So in summary, I just want to make sure we’re on the same page here, did God command Holy War in the Old Testament?  My answer to that is yes.  But, he did not command it because it was something that is in HIS heart, or it’s something that is in HIS character, or something that HE essentially wanted.  He commanded it because it’s where humanity was at, and he commanded it, not to keep humanity there, which is why the new kingdom, the new heaven and the new earth, does not look like tribalistic warfare.  He commanded it in order to bring his people forward.

Okay, if you’re tracking with me, you’re probably asking the question, “Hey, Paulson, are there anchors that transcend this?”  Are there things going on in these stories that are bigger than just these stories?  If we just take this view, it seems like we could float into all sorts of different places with different philosophies about different things.  Let me give you three things that are present in Canaan in genocide and conquest, that are present on the cross, and that are present at the Second Coming of Christ, also.  Three things that transcend all of these stories that have seemingly competing narratives.  First — God is fighting in every case.  God is fighting for the advancement of peace, or shalom, not FOR the destruction of people.  You heard me say last week that in order to start a movement you needed to know the enemy, and if we have the wrong enemy we’ll choose the wrong battle, and the enemy isn’t flesh and blood as Paul says in the book of Ephesians, but it’s actually principalities and powers of darkness in the evil world.  That’s the enemy.  You’ve never laid eyes on a human enemy.  The enemy is evil.  {Look up at me for a second.}  The enemy has NEVER changed.  Whether it’s in Canaan or on the cross.  The enemy is the same.  God’s battle with the enemy plays out in the pages of history and in the lives of people. But the truth of the matter remains, as the prophet Ezekiel recounts, God says:  …I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked… (Ezekiel 33:11)   I don’t get off on that, God says, I don’t like that, that doesn’t get me excited.  God’s violence is against violence.  If there were no violence in the world, God would not be violent.  It’s not in his character.  It’s not in his nature.  Sin is violent.  Violence is essential to sin.  God’s violence against violence, if you will, illuminates the purpose, I would argue, not of country versus country war, but the way that we see military, the way that we see judges in our day, the way that we see government and police officers operating.  That a modern-day equivalent of what we see going on in the pages of Scripture in 1 Samuel 15, for example, is not jihad or inquisition, it’s actually government and policies and police and lawmakers.  In Romans 13:4, Paul will say to the church at Rome:  …for he {talking about government workers} is God’s servant for your good.  But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain.  For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.   Why? To protect and preserve shalom, peace, goodness, and human flourishing.  We see this fight for peace, this fight for goodness, this war on war that’s violence against violence, where death kills death, and sin kills sin, and evil kills evil….we see it both in Canaan and on the cross and we also see it at the Second Coming.

So, God’s fighting for the advancement of peace, not the destruction of people.  Second, God’s fighting for the judgment of sin, not the punishment of people. It’s important for us to know that this word ‘judgment’ literally means ‘the straightening out.’  Sin fractures.  Sin bends.  Sin twists, if you will, and when God comes and God judges, he undoes that twisting.  He makes the world to rights, as one of the famous New Testament scholars, N.T. Wright, says.  He makes the world to right.  Throughout the accounts of Holy War, you see the nation of Israel being used as a tool, as an instrument of God’s judgment, a straightening out of what’s gone wrong.  It typically rubs us the wrong way.  But I would argue that we would not want to live in a world where this didn’t happen.  And I would anecdotally add that God waits 400 years before he judges the atrocities of the Canaanites’ sins.  The infant sacrifice, the ritual prostitution, the oppression of the poor, the growing gap between the rich and the poor.  God waits 400 years before he steps in and he judges that sin.  Here’s the deal, friends.  God’s love in Christ IS the judgment.  His love will either straighten us out, if we’re willing to repent, if we’re willing to let go of our way, which is God’s intent, or, if we decide to hold on to our twisted-ness, we will break with his judgment.  It will either shape us, or it will break us.  God is just, but if we refuse to let go of our sin in light of his holiness, we will perish with our sin.  The fire of his love will wipe us out.

Which is actually good news.  It may not feel like it, but it is.  Let me give you an example.  Last year, an atheist group put an ad on the buses in Great Britain that says:  “There’s probably no God.  Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.”  Which, arguably, if you live in a prosperous place, this could potentially be good news, or at least okay news, based on your perception of God.  IF you live in a very peaceful, very justice oriented place. Now, let me ask you, is this good news for people that were victims of the Manchester bombing this week?  Is this good news for Coptic Christians in Egypt, where they’re wiped out while worshiping?  That’s terrible news! In fact, I would argue, that’s not the kind of world that anyone wants to live in.  God’s coming justice for our world is one of the greatest resources that actually empowers us to live peaceably today. (Romans 12:19-20)   Here’s what N.T. Wright says:  “In a world of systematic injustice, bullying, violence, arrogance and oppression, the thought that there might be a coming when the wicked are firmly put in their place and the poor and weak are given their due is the best news there can be.  Faced with a world in rebellion, a world full of exploitation and wickedness, a good God must be a God of judgment.”

And that’s God’s intention.  I’m not saying people aren’t destroyed by the fire of his love and that people aren’t punished, but I’m just saying those aren’t his intentions when he sets out.  His intention is to judge sin.  His intention is to push forward his peace.  And his intention is the expansion of his love, not the exclusion of people.  We know this because this is the testimony of the whole, that from the very beginning God creates humanity to be in relationship with him, and in the end, humanity is in relationship with him, and in the middle, God works out how that happens, what that looks like and how we step into that design.  But make no mistake about it, from the very beginning his intention is that every nation would be blessed.  His statement is that it eventually happens through the work of Jesus.

So, when Israel would go and conquer a place, it wasn’t about the exclusion of people, it was about the expansion of his love.  When that happened, did some people die?  Yeah, they did.  But other people were made alive.  This is where the foreigner, the fatherless, and the widow are cared for.  Where the crops around the edges are left so that the poor can have something to survive.  God’s goodness and flourishing are seen wherever his kingdom starts to take root.  THAT is his intention.  The fight is to open the door wider, not to close it so that some people can’t get in.  After all, God is love and he sends his Son, for us, because he loves us.  So, in Canaan, on the cross, and at the Second Coming, we see the fight being for the extension of love, not for the exclusion of people.  Certainly, some people are excluded because they refuse to bow to his love.  But that’s not his intention.

So does that answer all your questions?  {NO!}  Me neither.  I texted Aaron this week to ask if I get six hours to preach?  I need six hours for this message and then I can feel that we’ve scratched the surface.  No, you may disagree with me and I want to tell you that’s okay.  I’d invite the dialogue, because I think it’s that important. Let me end by saying that any simplistic resolution to this really complex question should not satisfy us. We should wrestle with…why does God kill his enemies in the Old Testament and die for them in the New?  How do we reconcile these two seemingly competing pictures of God?  What I’ll put forward is that God meets humanity where they are to eventually lead them (you and me) to his kingdom, where there is no more suffering, where there is no more crying, where there are no more tears.  He meets us where we are to lead us eventually to where He is.  And in His kingdom, friends, there is only one God and there is only one tribe, and it’s the human tribe.  He loves us all!  Let’s embrace that kingdom and let’s pray together that that kingdom would come, and that His will would be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

Jesus, with all the questions that we have, we bring them.  We don’t leave them at the door, we bring them to your throne.  We bring them to bow at your feet together.  Father, as a community of faith, as we try to wrestle with how to answer really complex and deep questions, hard questions, I pray that we keep in mind, first and foremost, that you loved us when we were broken and we were in need, that you met us exactly where we are.  And that you continue to love us even though we’re far from a finished product.  As you do that for us, may we be the kind of people that do that for others.  May we live in the way of Jesus.  We pray that your kingdom would come and your will would be done, here on earth as it is in heaven.  And all God’s people said….Amen and amen.

Stretch – God of Grace or God of Genocide?2024-06-13T08:26:24-06:00

Stretch – Making Waves – 1 Samuel 14

STRETCH:  Making Waves  1 Samuel 14:12-23

I’m pretty convinced you can divide humanity into two categories.  There’s really two types of people in this world.  There’s beach people and there’s mountain people.  There’s people who love to go to the mountains and are recharged by being in the grandeur of God’s creation.  There’s people who love sitting in the sand, in the warmth, in the sun, listening to the waves crash, or jumping in the ocean and going for a swim.  {So let’s just do a quick survey.}  I hesitate to admit this in a Colorado congregation, but I am a beach person.  I LOVE the beach!  I grew up in Southern California and grew up going to the beach.  Some of my favorite memories of my family are all of us loading into our orange Volkswagen van and driving down to the beach….with the brown vinyl seats you could sweep out after a day at the beach.  Some of my favorite memories of my mom are her taking us three kids to the beach and stopping at Taco Bell on the way there.  Going to the beach and sitting on my towel and eating Taco Bell.  If there is a better day out there, I don’t know what it is!

I love that feeling of catching a wave, where you’re not quite sure….until you’re out in front of it….if you’ve caught the wave or if the wave’s caught you.  I love the feeling of diving under waves and feeling their power just breaking over me.  There’s something about that that just stirs my soul.  It’s really fascinating if you were to look at it objectively.  That a wave is a collection of little drops, or molecules, of water.   If you were to isolate one of those molecules of water, you wouldn’t be able to see it with the naked eye.  And yet, you have a wave that forms.  In one cubic meter, you have one ton of water moving towards you!  In a wave that’s about twenty feet long and roughly ten feet high, you have 410 tons of water…..moving towards you!  Which is roughly 315 Volkswagen Bugs.  That’s a lot of water, is it not?  It’s impressive.  It’s interesting though, one molecule you could never even see, but a ton of them put together creates a mass, creates a movement, creates something you want to get out of the way of.   If you were to do the scientific analysis of what creates a wave, there’s only three things.  One is it’s wind that blows along the surface of the ocean, sometimes hundreds of miles away from where the wave actually breaks.  It’s the tides, the gravitational pull of the moon tugging at the water on the surface of the earth.  Sometimes it’s an earthquake that will rumble under the surface just a little bit and create these waves that start to crash into the shore.  One molecule of water you can’t even see, but a wave…you want to get out of the way of.

We see waves in our culture, too, don’t we?  We see things that start small and then they grow into movements. As a father of elementary school students, I’ve seen waves this year.  It’s fascinating to do social experiments in elementary schools, right?  Here’s the waves that I’ve seen break this year at Runyon Elementary School.  First wave was the tether ball wave.  Everybody was playing tether ball.  It started small.  Everybody has a tether ball pole in their backyard now.  If you have a second grader, you have a tether ball pole.  Or, you wish you did! Second wave that broke this year:  Pokémon cards.  I don’t get it.  They’re back.  Third wave:  pogo sticks.  My son had to have a pogo stick, so we got him one and he’s pretty remarkable.  Just yesterday he was helping to take groceries in from the car….on his pogo stick!!  No arms, just bouncing into the house!  The last one that’s sweeping across elementary schools now….any guesses?  Fidget spinners!!  Kids now spinning things on their fingers.  I don’t know.  I just know it’s a wave.  And it’ll break!

I think all of us, whether we follow the way of Jesus or not, have this longing to be part of a wave.  We know somewhere deep down inside that our lives were not meant to just be one little isolated molecule that you can’t see with the naked eye.  But that we were designed to be a part of something bigger.  Something a little bit more cosmic, something a little bit more vast, something that makes a difference in our world.  We’ve seen that happen in a number of different ways in our culture, in our time.  Just this last week, we celebrated the anniversary of Brown vs. the Board of Education, where Olivia Brown, a mother of a young girl, said to the school board in Topeka, Kansas, “We can’t have this…if we have one color skin we go to one school, and if we have another color skin we go to a different school.  Public education should involve everybody—every race, every skin color, every tribe…   Everybody should be able to go to their local school.”  So on May 17, 1954, Olivia Brown won her case against the Board of Education and segregation in schools was no longer constitutionally allowed.  A number of years later, August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. stood up…    This is really where the Civil Rights Movement started to gain it’s traction.  August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. stands up and delivers his speech “I Have a Dream.”  That dream started to created this wind that blew across the surface of the water and it started to create this wave, this really beautiful, really good wave.  That’s the way movements start.  A lot of times they don’t start with a plan, they start with a dream.  A lot of times they start with a pain of saying, “The world can’t continue to be like this.  We can’t continue to operate like this. There’s something bigger, there’s something better.”

I don’t know about you, but I want to be part of a wave.  I don’t just want to be a little molecule, independent. I want to be part of a wave.  I want to be a part of something bigger.  You know what’s really beautiful about that? {Will you look up at me for a moment?}  That’s wired into our veins as human beings.  It’s imprinted on our DNA.  To be a part of something bigger.  In the very beginning, in Genesis 12:1-3, God says to a man named Abram, “Abram, I’m going to bless you.  Through you, Abram, those who bless you, I will bless, those who curse you, I will curse.  But through you, every nation of the world will be blessed.”  Did you know that your God is into creating waves?!  Waves of goodness.  Waves of blessing that culminate into Jesus and then are carried by his church.  It’s deeply woven into who we are as human beings.  This story we’ve been studying and looking at the past few weeks, in 1 Samuel 14, is a story about waves.  It’s a story, not just about influence, one person on another, but it’s a story about movement.  A movement of a nation from one place to another.

If you’ve been with us over the last few weeks, this will be a review.  The nation of Israel’s on one side of a valley and the Philistines are on the other side of the valley.  The Philistines are the kings of iron in this time, ironworks and weaponry and swords.  The Israelites have two weapons to their name.   Saul has a sword. Jonathan has a sword.  Saul’s hiding out, away from the battle.  Jonathan gets this sense like, “We can’t just continue to sit here and hope.  We’ve got to step into the gap, into risk, into the unknown, and see what God will do.”  We said in Week 1 that Jonathan makes this choice to live, not just to exist, and he steps into this place of faith.  We defined the place of faith as confidence that God can, not certainty that God will.  That’s what faith is.  He steps into the battle and people start to join in.  It’s this influence that turns into a movement.

Turn to 1 Samuel 14:20 and listen to what the Scriptures say.  This is following right after Saul has gotten the Ark of God and he’s praying, but the time for praying comes to an end and the time for action is at hand.  Then Saul and all the people who were with him rallied and went into the battle.  And behold, every Philistine’s sword was against his fellow, and there was very great confusion.  Now the Hebrews who had been with the Philistines before that time and who had gone up with them into the camp, even they also turned to be with the Israelites who were with Saul and Jonathan.   {They’re saying that the Israelites that traded their Israelite army-gear into Philistine army-gear because they had way more gear, went back to the Israelite side.  We’re back on the side of ourcountry, our home, our hopes, our dreams.  The “Benedict Arnolds” of their army are gathering.  Verse 22.}  Likewise, when all the men of Israel who had hidden themselves in the hill country of Ephraim heard that the Philistines were fleeing, they too followed hard after them in the battle.  What starts with one person, one man, and a hope or a dream and a willingness to step in, but a question mark will God act?, grows into a nation on the move.

Notice this movement, this movement of Israel, this wave that God is gathering.  Here’s who it consists of — people who have left.  People who have said this isn’t my tribe anymore. People who have messed up.  Can you imagine seeing somebody come back to the frontline of battle who you saw go away and was fighting against you?  People who were cowering in fear.  People who had no hope, no faith, that God would move and that God would work.  These are the people that God uses to birth this movement.  You know why that’s beautiful? Because it’s not just a story of Israel, it’s the story of the gospel.  The gospel is the story of God taking people with guilt and shame in their past.  It’s the story of God taking people who are broken.  It’s a story of God taking people who don’t have it all together, they’re not the people that were on the front line who were saying, “Here I am, follow me.”  They’re people who are going, “God, we have no clue how you can show up and if we could switch to the other team, we would. (Or maybe we even did for a while.)”  It’s Him using those people to create a wave in His world that’s for His glory and His good.  Friends, this is the gospel!!!  Have you failed?  Join in! Are you running on empty?  Join in!  Do you have regrets, do you have guilt, do you have shame?  Come and sing along, because this wave includes you.  The movement of God is the way that He transforms His world.  Friends, living together—not isolated molecules that you can’t even see with the naked eye—in kingdom rhythms creates kingdom waves.  Creates waves of God’s goodness, his mercy, his glory, that extend far beyond the walls of any church, and go to the very ends of his great globe.

It’s interesting because Jesus told a parable, when he was teaching, that pointed to this reality.  This is Matthew 13:31-32.  He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field.  It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”   Notice what Jesus is saying.  It starts small, like one little molecule, one little seed.  It continues to grow and continues to flourish.  Certainly, the early church saw this happen.  It started with a few followers.  It turned into 120 in the Upper Room.  The Spirit descended and then from there it started to take on an energy of its own.  Three thousand people are added to the church, to the followers-of-Jesus number, in one day!  Then it says as they broke bread, as they prayed, as they sought the Lord, as they tried to be disciples and followed after Him, that the Lord added to their number daily, those who were being saved.  You know what’s interesting about this picture Jesus paints?  It starts small, it grows massive.  It’s like a wave.  But it’s a wave of good.  Any kingdom wave is a wave that benefits everybody around.  Notice that they’re not making the birds sign a Statement of Faith before they come and get in the tree branches.  This is a common good, the Kingdom of God.  Sure, it is unique, but it provides respite, it provides refuge for anybody that wants to come under its branches.  It’s for the good of everybody.  This is the movement, the wave, of the Kingdom.  I don’t know about you, but I want to be a part of THAT kind of wave!  Who’s with me?

It’s interesting the way that this passage of Scripture starts to draw out what’s fundamentally necessary for movements to become reality.  I want to point out three things that stand out to me in this passage about the way that God birthed this movement in Israel, and the way that He births movement in and through us.  Here’s the way it starts.  (1 Samuel 14:1, 6)  One day Jonathan the son of Saul said to the young man who carried his armor, “Come let us go over to the Philistine garrison on the other side.”  But he did not tell his father.   We’ve talked about the Philistines all throughout this series.  The Philistines were an absolutely brutal people.  If you were to do a study of the Philistine people throughout the Scriptures, here’s what you would become aware of really quickly.  They are defined by their idolatry.  They’re defined by their pagan worship, but specifically, the Philistines are defined, in the Scriptures, by the fact that they worship their deities by sacrificing their kids. Specifically, by way of fire.  So God, in his divine wisdom and through the nation of Israel, has them in conflict. The good of the nation of Israel is in conflict with this evil.  Any movement needs an enemy.  Any movement needs something to fight.  So the foundation of movement is first, an enemy to fight.

So if Israel’s enemy was the Philistines, my hope is you’re asking the question Who is our enemy?  That’s a really important question.  Here’s why.  If we fight the wrong battle, we may win the wrong war, but it won’t really matter.  The enemy we’re fighting determines the war that eventually we’ll either win or we’ll be defeated in. If we identify the wrong enemy, we will fight the wrong war.  I think we’ve been fighting the wrong war for too long.  The question I want to wrestle with is Who did the early church view as their enemy?  The Apostle Paul makes that pretty clear in Ephesians 6:10-12.   Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.  For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood… {..for we do not wrestle against flesh and blood.  For we DO NOT wrestle against flesh and blood!  For we do not wrestle against FLESH and BLOOD.  PEOPLE are NOT your enemy!  You’ve never laid eyes on a person who was your enemy.  Maybe they were wearing a different uniform, or maybe they had on a different sash….or hat….or…   But they weren’t your enemy.  Not according to the Apostle Paul.  He could have said, “Listen, who’s our enemy?  Rome is our enemy.”  They were crucifying people left and right. They take our teachers and they take followers of the way of Jesus and they pin them to crosses, just like they did to our leader.  He goes no, that’s not the battle.  The battle is…}  ..against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.   He goes, “THAT’S the battle.”  We don’t fight against people.  We don’t fight against people who believe differently than we do.  We don’t fight against people who have a different color skin or different dialect or fight for a different army.  THAT’S not the battle the church is called to fight.  We’ve got to think bigger than that.  If we fight the wrong battle, if we choose the wrong enemy, we’ll fight the wrong war.

Rulers, authorities, and powers of evil.  Here’s what the Apostle Paul’s NOT saying — We’ve got to choose to engage in spiritual warfare.  He’s saying that spiritual warfare is a reality.   This is the world that you live in. And our lack of recognition of that, especially in the West, where we’re so focused on the material things of the world that we see in front of us, I think has caused us to fight the wrong battle.  It’s so much easier to fight against people, that have a different ideology or different faith.  It’s a lot harder to say, “What’s the lie underneath and what’s the system underneath and what’s the evil underneath?  And how do we fight against THAT instead of against people?”

It’s fascinating that Paul, as he writes to the church at Ephesus, says that ‘the satan,’ or ‘ha satan,’ is the enemy or ‘the ruler of the air.’  He rules in this world.  In 1 John 5:19, he says:  We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.  This is the world that we live in.  Here’s what John’s NOT saying, just to clarify.  The world, as John talks about it, is not the place where our feet stand, but it’s the place where our heart gives allegiance.  It’s the place our heart bows.  THIS world that we live in….we have two rulers — One, his name is Jesus.  His kingdom is here, his kingdom is now.  AND the ruler of the kingdom of the world.  BOTH kingdoms are present right now.  So the question isn’t, “Which kingdom is here or which kingdom is now?”  The question is, “Which kingdom are you living in?!”  Which kingdom do you give allegiance to? The way of the Enemy or the way of Jesus?

It’s interesting if you look at the way that Jesus engaged this battle and the way that he fought this enemy.  It’s summarized, probably most succinctly and brilliantly, in Colossians 2:13-15.  Here’s what the Apostle Paul writes:  And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands.  This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.  He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.   Let’s zoom out a little bit.  The weapon of Jesus is….the cross.  His enemy is…..rulers and authorities that perpetuate and stimulate evil.  His victory entails the canceling of sin, the extermination of guilt and shame, that our debts have not just been crossed out, but they’ve literally been erased and done away with, and that the enemy has been disarmed.  But he’s not gone yet.  You know that and I know that.  His whispers have a tendency to catch a foothold in our heart, don’t they? But that’s the enemy.  Guilt.  Shame.  Evil.  And if we never identify the right enemy, we will never fight the right war.  Luckily, the words of Martin Luther are true: “And though this world with devils filled, should threaten to undo us; We will not fear, for God has willed, His truth to triumph through us.”  That’s great news.

In order for a movement to happen, an enemy has to be clear.  Our enemy is evil.  Our enemy is the present darkness that infiltrates God’s good world.  Second thing for a movement to take place…    1 Samuel 14:12 — And the men of the garrison hailed Jonathan and his armor-bearer and said, “Come up to us, and we will show you a thing.”  And Jonathan said to his armor-bearer, “Come up after me, for the Lord has given them into the hand of Israel.”   His armor-bearer said, “I’m with you heart and soul.”  Jonathan says, “Come after me.”  Any movement that starts to take place not only has an enemy to fight, but a leader to follow.  So Jonathan says, “Hey, follow me,” and people start coming out of hiding.  They start coming out of shame.  They start coming out of guilt.  And they join in!  So the Israelites….their leader in THIS war, THIS battle, was Jonathan.  Our leader is……Jesus.  Thank you for not saying ‘Ryan,’ or ‘the elders,’ or ‘our leaders’ because man, I can’t hold a candle to Jesus.  And luckily He is our corporate leader, he’s the head of this church.  He is who we ALL are seeking after, following after.  He’s the one who says, “Come! Follow me.  I’ll make you fishers of men.  I’ll teach you how to live in this world that I’ve created, that I know, that I’ve wired, that I’ve designed.”

The early church had this invitation that they spread out to everybody.  It was not ‘come and be part of the church.’  The invitation was come and follow Jesus.  Come and be a disciple, which literally meant ‘an apprentice’ or ‘a learner,’ somebody who took on the teachings and the way of Jesus.  Jesus wasn’t asking or calling people to agree with him.  He was inviting people to become like him.  He was inviting people to live in the same way that he lived, to do the same things that he did.  So the question we need to wrestle with is not just about what it means to believe in Jesus, but what does it look like to live a life that resembles Jesus?  It’s a lot easier to be a convert than it is to be a disciple.  Becoming a disciple is not about being religious.  It’s about becoming a student of the Jesus way of life.  Learning what to do in situations that would be the same thing Jesus would do if He were in the situation we were in.  What do we do when we become angry?  What do we do when we’re wronged?  What do we do when people don’t hold up their end of the bargain?  What do we do when somebody accidentally rear-ends us?  What do we do?  How do we live in the way of Jesus in our everyday life?

Here’s the thing — It’s different than going to church.  It’s not just checking in and attending….  Gathering together is a great thing, but when we talk about being a disciple, we are not talking about going to church.  In fact, did you know that if you were to read all the way through the Gospels, you would find one place where Jesus says the word church.  It’s in Matthew 16:18, where Jesus says to Peter…..I will build my church.  What’s really interesting is that that word wasn’t even translated as ‘church’ until 1382!  The very first time.  In 1382, roughly 1300-1400 years after Jesus, they started to take this word, ‘ekklesia’ in the Greek, and instead of translating is ‘assembly or congregation,’ they used a derivative of the German word ‘kirche,’ which meant the house of God.  They translated it to ‘church.’  For the New Testament church, they would never have thought of a place.  They would have thought of a people.  They would have said you can’t GO to church, you can only be a part of the church.  In fact, William Tyndale, when he did his English translation of the New Testament, changed five to seven key phrases, key words, key ideas, and this was one of them.  Instead of translating it ‘church,’ he translated it ‘congregation.’  Assembly.  Movement.  Eventually it got him killed.

The church moved away from this grass-roots movement to become a centralized location.  Nothing’s wrong with going to church.  I think we should gather together as the church, but we have to view it as bigger than checking a box.  It’s embracing a way of life.  Are we living in the way of Jesus?  To become a disciple is not to confirm that we agree with a statement of faith.  It’s not to sign our name, it’s to submit our life.  To say, “Jesus, I want to learn what it means to live in your way.”  Jesus, I want to learn what it looks like to imitate you.  The way that you used your money, the way that you used your time, and the things that you valued, and the way that you lived your life.

So let me just pause and say that in your journey of being a disciple, if you are, how are you doing?  Are you becoming more like Jesus?  Maybe we can think about it this way.  Let me give you four directions to think of discipleship in.  Upward — what does your life with God look like?  Your life in devotion, your life in Scripture, your life praising Jesus, getting to know Jesus.  Secondly, inward.  How’s the health of your soul?  Do you have built into the rhythm of your life—of your week, of your month—Sabbath, rest, silence, solitude, pause?  It’s one thing to hear me talk about the love of the Father, the overtures of the Father’s love toward you, it’s a whole other thing to hear them from God yourself.  How’s the health of your soul?  Upward.  Inward.  Together. Part of living in the rhythm of Jesus is embracing life that moves in community together.  When we have something like a church picnic, that might not be your thing.  I don’t care.  I just want to be with you.  I want us to be together.  And Dinners for Eight — You may be terrified!  If you’re terrified to go to dinner with eight people you don’t know, find somebody to go with you.  Embrace the awkwardness together.  But it’s more than just Dinners for Eight, it’s part of being a community together.  Linking arms and hearts together, that we would live life together.  That’s why Life Groups aren’t a program that we do, but a rhythm that we engage with.

Upward to Jesus.  Inward to our own souls.  Linked arms together.  Then together looking through—God, what would you do through our lives?  Maybe it’s an invitation for you to serve in a different way, to give in a different way.  What type of impact is God having on you, through you, for His glory in His world?  Upward. Inward. Together.  Through.  These are the rhythms of discipleship.  Gospel transformation.  Live-giving community.  Visible faith.  This is what we’re all about.  As Dallas Willard said: “We fail to see movement in the west today, because we are not adequately teaching people how to be and how to make disciples.”  We’re great at making converts, but teaching people how to live in the way of Jesus, with the heart of Jesus, in the rhythms of Jesus, so that their lives are actually changed, that’s a different thing.  Any movement has a leader and our leader is Jesus, and His invitation is not believe in me….follow me.  Do what I do in the way that I do it, with the heart that I have.

So the story (1 Samuel 14:20-22), at the end of this section, gets real weird.  You see Saul come out of hiding and engages in battle.  Jonathan steps into this battle and has a little victory, then the rest of the Israelite army joins in.  At that point, the Philistine army starts killing itself, which if you’re an Israelite, it’s really good news.  Because you have two swords.  Maybe some jiujitsu training I’m not aware of, but you have two swords to your name and you’re going against a pretty strong, valiant army.  I’ve just wrestled with this question this week — If Jonathan doesn’t step in, does God intervene?  If Jonathan doesn’t cross the valley, does God still win the victory?  If Jonathan sits and cowers in fear, what story do we read?  We don’t know.  We don’t have the answers to all those questions.  We simply know that when Jonathan moves, God moves with him.  That when Jonathan steps in, God shows up.  YOUR LIFE MATTERS.  When it comes to movement, your life matters.  But God’s part is essential.  Your life matters, but God’s part, God’s movement, is absolutely essential.  He cares and He’s with us, not only because we have an enemy to fight, which is evil.  We have a leader to follow, his name is Jesus. But we have also a mission to fulfill.

So we’re back to the question: How do we fight the battle?  We identified that the evil is our enemy—the systems or the powers of darkness that are very real in our world today, even though we can’t see them.  The question lingers though…How do we fight this battle?  How do we engage in this war?  I left that hang to come back to that to close our time with it.  There’s three ways that we fight this battle.  Number one is fighting by really believing the greatest commandment that Jesus ever gave.  Which is:  You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind…..love your neighbor as yourself. (Matthew 22:37-39)  That’s the way we fight!  Did you know that before the church ever had a building, before the church ever had a Bible, the church had a command?  Let that sink in.  Before buildings, before Bibles, the church had a command.  The command from Jesus was really, really clear — Love one another:  just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.  By this all people will know….   {Do you want to create a wave? Do you want your life to matter, do you want your life to impact, do you want your life to influence, do you want your life to change Littleton, Centennial, Denver, Colorado, to the ends of the earth?  Jesus tells us how.}  By this {when you love} all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34-35)  Notice the synchronicity between the enemy that we fight, the enemy who is spiritual and evil, and the way that we fight.  We fight with the weapons of love, of goodness, that reflect our God.  That’s how Jesus builds his church/movement/congregation/gathering.  That’s how He does it!  So, how do we fight?  We love.

Number two — Jesus lays it out clearly before he ascends to heaven — Go therefore and make disciples… {People who live in the way of Jesus, with the heart of Jesus.}  …disciples of all nations, {We don’t get to choose who we love, we just get to choose how we love.  You know that, right?  You’ve never laid eyes on somebody that you were not called by God to love, and you never will.  You don’t get to choose who, you just get to choose how.  We don’t get to choose who we have a heart to make disciples of, we just get to choose where God would call us.}  …make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.  And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:19-20)   We invite people to become a part of His body, which is symbolized through baptism.  We teach people to obey His way and become followers of Jesus that forgive when wronged, when free ourselves of anger that become a light on a hill.  We invite people to trust in the power of our great God.

How do we fight the battle?  Love.  Disciple.  And we step into this reality that the story that God is telling from the beginning is a story of His goodness.  Of His goodness.  He is at work right now.  He is on mission and if you want to be a part of His wave, we’ve got to join HIS mission.  His mission is love.  His mission is teach people how to live in the way of Jesus.  His mission is restoration of ALL THINGS.  Through the blood of Jesus, through the mission of the church, God is actively working to renew His creation, to make all things new, because He’s that kind of God, because He loves humanity THAT much.  That is the metanarrative story of the entire Scriptures.

So His invitation is…..join in!  Where do I join in?  How do I join in?  It’s real interesting.  Our misreading of the Great Commission passage leads to the question.  But if we read this right, we never have the question, because the invitation of the Great Commission is to make disciples.  That’s the command of it — MAKE disciples.  The place is….going.  It’s actually a participle.  The imperative, or command, in the Greek is make disciples.  Going is a verb, it’s a participle.  So, as you go, wherever you go, whenever you go—-in the home, in your neighborhood, in your workplace—-live in the way of Jesus and teach people to do the same.  If you want to do that in a different country, praise be to God.  You’re called to do it WHEREVER you are.  And it looks like a tree that starts to form where birds find their home in its shade, in the beauty, in the goodness of his kingdom.

One of the things I love about pastoring this church is we’re making waves.  And it’s really good.  I think God wants to press on us though.  I think right now some of our waves are like the waves that you see at Chatfield Reservoir when a speed boat goes by.  If you’re at the right place, at the right spot, with the right boogie board, you might be able to catch it, but good luck.  I think He wants to start making more like Pacific Ocean type waves with our lives.  Here’s some of the waves I see right now that are so exciting and life to my soul.  I see 80 families over at the ELC, every single week, dropping kids off to be cared for by our church community.  By an ELC that we run and teachers who love those kids.  I’m starting to ask, “What would it look like for us as a church body to start to add value to the lives, not just of those kids, but of those families?  How could we care for those families in a way that points them to Jesus?”  We serve a few hundred cups of coffee every single day through our coffee shop, Solid Grounds. That’s awesome!  But what would it look like for that to grow into an even bigger wave that would crash into Littleton, Centennial, Highlands Ranch, Englewood, wherever?  What would it look like for it to continue to grow?  70-100 families every single week get food from our food bank. How might God use your lives, our lives, not just as a little molecule of water that we can’t see on its own, to make a greater, bigger impact for the glory of His name?  There’s people right now—18 of you—that have opened your homes to host Dinners for Eight, where you’ll have a real awkward gathering to the glory of God… Just kidding.  But you’re opening your homes.  Why?  Because you believe that we’re on mission together, that life together is better.  I’m hoping that some of you invite friends who aren’t a part of this community of faith so they can see that we’re really not all that weird.  (Just choose which house you go to really carefully, okay?)

I had a chance to meet with one of our congregant members, Kris Briggs, this week.  She shared with me about her ministry in prison fellowship.  A project she gave to these prisoners who are in school with her overflowed into the lives of the inmates.  Six inmates came to faith in Jesus in the last few months!  For the first time in a long time, they’re going to have a baptism celebration in the jails!  That’s awesome!!  Those are the waves that I’m seeing and I’m just asking, “Will you jump in?”  Will you be a part of it?  Would you pray and ask God how he might want to use your life for His glory?  I can tell you that you will never, ever regret it, because the mission of Jesus and the movement of Jesus is global—it’s happening on every corner of the globe.  His glory drenches his world.  It’s historic — We are part of something that has its roots in 2000 years of history, but even before that with the followers of Yahweh as the true God.  And we’re part of a wave that will never, ever end!  The church is bigger than this building!  We’re not inviting people just to come and worship with us.  We’re inviting people to be part of the kingdom rhythms of our good Creator.  Live a life that creates with us a wave that makes our city better, that makes our neighborhoods better, that makes our workplaces better, that makes this world a different place, because Jesus is that good!  And so we pray, “Our Father in heaven.  Give us today our daily bread, give us what we need.  Your kingdom come and your will be done on earth and in our lives as it is in heaven.”  My prayer for us is that our lives together would create kingdom waves that would impact people for the glory of His name, for their joy as they follow after Him, and for the good of our world.  Let’s pray.

Close your eyes and we’re going to sing one last chorus of a song, but before we go there, I just want you to have a chance to take a deep breath and to ask God to stir in you.  What does it look like for you to be a part of His movement?  An enemy to fight, a leader to follow, a mission to fulfill.  Jesus, we want to be more than just a little molecule of water that you can’t even see, but we want to be part of your wave, your kingdom wave. We believe you’re stirring one, and we believe the wind is blowing and gathering people, Lord, that we might move and that we might make an impact.  Not just on one life, but on many, for the glory of your name, by the power of your Spirit.  Would you make us a wave that would be for the good of the world that you love.  We pray in Jesus’s name.  Amen.

Stretch – Making Waves – 1 Samuel 142024-06-13T08:27:00-06:00

STRETCH: Moms and Dominos

STRETCH:   Moms and Dominos 

The door flew open.  Every single head around the table turned to watch her walk in.  It wasn’t what anyone expected.  It wasn’t what anyone thought was going to happen.   As Jesus had been walking through this town, as he’d been teaching people about the kingdom of God, as he’d been healing and restoring, he was sought after. This day was like any other day; people wanted Him to come over to their home, so Simon the Leper invited Jesus to come over.  Along with Jesus there were a number of prominent people like teachers of the Law, Pharisees, folks that hung on his every word—people who were suppose to be around the table, important people.  But this woman, when she barged through the door carrying that little vial of perfume, was breaking every single social custom.  She shouldn’t have been there.  She was a woman of questionable character.  She was a woman period, and in that day and that time, men carried a certain sense of prominence and they got a place around the table. Women, at this point, didn’t—they SERVED the table, but they didn’t get to sit at the table.  When she walked through the door….if it were a movie it would have cut to slow motion right then and right there.  The music would have slowed down, the scene would have just floated in the air as everybody waited to see what would happen next.  This woman, this sort of shady character, walked over to Jesus and took the most valuable thing that she owned, the most expensive thing in her house, and broke the jar open.  She took the perfume in it and poured it down on Jesus’s head.  Those teachers of the Law, the Pharisees, Jesus’s disciples……the air was just sucked out of the room.  Everybody waited to see what was going to happen next.  Are we going to see a stoning? Because women like that aren’t suppose to touch people like Him.  Is He just going to dismiss her publicly, but caring about her soul like Jesus would?  What’s going to happen next?

What happened next shocked everybody.  The disciples wanted to see the money that was used to go to good use to help people.  It was a way that they could have funded the ministry.  This woman, as she pours perfume down over Jesus’s head, hears something that probably even she didn’t expect to hear.  Jesus says:  She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial.  {Jesus is marching to the cross and is about to give his life.  He ties this woman’s lavish love, this reckless love, into preparing Him to going to the cross.  She’s playing a part in the story of God.  He then says something that is crazy.  Something that should cause us to step back a little bit, should cause us to pause.}  And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed {Wherever the good news of Jesus ruling and reigning as King, restoring his broken creation, making it whole again, speaking life into death, speaking new into old, speaking hope into despair….}  in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her. (Mark 14:8-9)   I mean, what a turn!  What a turn of events.  Jesus is saying that the actions we live by, the things that we do, matter.  Jesus ties this “little” act of devotion, this act of love, this act of sacrifice….he goes, “When people tell MY story, they’re also going to tell her story.”  When people talk about MY sacrifice, they’re also going to talk about her sacrifice.  When people talk about my love, they’ll remember not only my cross, but they’ll also talk about her perfume.  They’ll talk about the way that she stepped into THIS moment and didn’t let it pass by.  She did what she could and she took what she had and she lavished it down on Jesus.  Jesus is making the point that every single life has significance.  Every single life matters.  What we do with OUR life and what we do with OUR story matters, because your life can inspire life in the lives of others….just like this woman’s life did.  It had this trickle effect to it where Jesus goes, “We’re going to be talking about this.  This matters.  This has significance for generations.”  People are going to talk about the way this woman used the life that she had to make the most of the things that matter.

You got a domino when you walked in.  Will you hold it up for me?  We have three kids at home and occasionally they’ll play with dominos like this and that means there’s a lot of crying in our house.  If you’ve seen kids play with these dominos, you know that the older will start setting them up and the younger will “intervene.”  Here’s what I love to watch happen….if you take these dominos and line them up, one right after another, and you knock the first one down….they’re going to fall.  It’s the same thing that happens in a life well lived.  It doesn’t just influence THAT life, it influences all the lives around it.  It looks a little bit like that.  {Topples dominos} YOUR. LIFE. WILL. MATTER.

Here’s the question we often wrestle with — HOW?  How do we make our lives matter?  How do we make our lives carry a weightiness or a significance to them?  Think about the people in your life who’ve influenced you most.  {Got that list in your head?}  Here’s my guess.  My guess is that they weren’t the people in positions of power or prominence.  My guess is that they weren’t maybe the smartest person you’ve met.  You aren’t thinking, “That guy was BRILLIANT and therefore, his life (or her life) mattered in my life.”  That’s often the way that we think about it, but it’s not true in the life of this woman, and it’s not true in the lives that we live either and the way that we’re impacted and we’re changed by the people around us.  The people that change us the most are the people that love us the best.  And they’re also the people that aren’t necessarily trying to have an impact.  They’re not living to say, “Alright, I’m going to try my best to have an influence on the people around me and I’m going to try my best to do whatever I can to change people.”  They’re people who are trying to live faithfully and that God is using mightily.  Yes?  It’s true in my life and my guess is it’s true in yours also that we influence positively by living faithfully.  In the same way that this woman did…she stepped into this moment.

You know what’s interesting?  The opposite is true also.  We lose our influence when we lose our faithfulness. We can look at presidents, we can look at parents, we can look at pastors who’ve had great influence and their influence has waned or it’s fallen off completely.  But most people don’t lose their influence because their strategies fail.  Most presidents don’t lose their influence because something went wrong in the plan that they had.  Some do.  Most pastors that lose their influence don’t lose their influence because their ten-year plan didn’t come to fruition.  Most people lose their influence, not because their plans fail, but because their character does.  It’s what takes the weightiness out of a life.  The same is true….we influence positively by living faithfully, if you want your life to matter.  The Scriptures would say, “Give it to God and let Him determine what that looks like and how that happens.”  Because when we try to make our lives influential, typically what we resort to is worldly systems of power and authority rather than the way of the Kingdom and rather than the way of Jesus.

In the story we’ve been looking at over the last few weeks in 1 Samuel 14….    As we have been journeying with Jonathan and the Israelite army, you’ll remember that the Israelite army is cowering in fear.  They’re on one side of a valley and their enemy, the Philistines, are on the other side of the valley.  The Philistines have TWO swords to their name.  The Philistines have tens of thousands of soldiers.  They have numerous resources, numerous swords.  They are ready to go.  They are sending raids of soldiers over to attack the Israelites at every chance that they get.  Jonathan is sitting there, in this moment, wondering, “Am I going to live or am I going to exist?”  We talked about Jonathan stepping into this moment deciding he’s not just going to sit on the sideline or on his side of the battlefield and wait and hope, but he steps into this moment trusting that God is able to do whatever God wants to do.  We said that faith is confidence that God CAN, not certainty that God WILL. Jonathan goes, “I don’t know what God’s going to do.  Maybe he’ll act on our behalf.  Maybe he won’t.  But maybe he will.”  He and his armor bearer climb down this cliff and their ONE sword.  They climb up the other side.  They see the Philistine army.  They show themselves to them.  The Philistines say, “Come up here,” which was Jonathan’s cue that God is going to fight in this war.  Jonathan climbs up to the other side.  He starts to fight this battle….just he and his armor bearer.  Two guys.  One sword.  {I don’t know if they knew jiujitsu or karate or what.}  But God moves.  The earth trembles.  God shows up and they start to have this victory.

This really fascinating thing happens though.  There were people on the Israelite side that had joined the Philistine side because they wanted to be on the “right” team.  It’s the same reason some of you started rooting for the Cubs in the World Series last year.  They wanted to be a part of the winning team.  They switched back and they’re fighting with Israel.  There’s people who were hiding in caves and start to come out of the caves and their fear starts to get pushed back by Jonathan’s faith.  The fascinating part about the story is that Jonathan doesn’t have this grandiose plan of ‘my life could matter.’  My life could make a difference.  He just simply knows what God’s calling him to do and he steps into a moment, trusting that God will use his life.  When God uses Jonathan’s life, we see the reality that all of the lives that are attached to him start to be impacted by him.   When he walks across the valley, up the other side, and engages in war, he’s just living faithfully.  But what God does through him is he influences everybody else positively.

Last year on Mother’s Day, we hit this point in our sermon series that we were doing on the life of Jacob where Jacob married both Rachel and Leah.  Last year I did a Mother’s Day message on polygamy.  This year I’m doing a Mother’s Day message on war!  I aim to please!

Actually, it’s a message on influence.  It’s a message on using your life on the things that matter most.  It’s a message on how to do that, because I’ve never met a mom and I’ve never met a person who didn’t want their lives to be defined by positive influence on the people around them.  We have something built into our DNA that says, “My life was meant and designed and made to matter.”  For moms in this room, when you held a little baby in your arms for the first time, you sensed this weightiness of my life isn’t just mine anymore.  I don’t just get to live for me anymore and I want my life to matter.  Or, if you’ve had the chance to mentor somebody, or you’ve had the chance to walk with somebody, or you’ve been a teacher, or you’ve been in a care profession, you’ve sensed this — I was designed for more than just me and my life was made to matter.  My story was made to matter.  We get into all sorts of trouble, don’t we, when we try to make that happen on our own?   So what I want to do today in this Mother’s Day message is unpack this passage for the next few minutes just to show what are these mile markers along the way of living faithfully so that we can impact and influence positively.  How do we do that?

Here’s what we see in the life of Jonathan, because he lives this out. (1 Sam. 14:1)  One day Jonathan the son of Saul said to the young man who carried his armor, “Come, let us go over to the Philistine garrison on the other side.”   Here’s what Jonathan has to his name — 1) He has a good friend.  2) He has A sword.  That’s it.  His list of resources is fairly short, there’s no footnote.  He doesn’t have anything else.  If you look what’s stack against him — there’s a whole other army.  They’re vastly resourced.  They’re ready to go.  They’re well-trained and they want to fight!   Here’s what Jonathan does not do.  Jonathan does not say to God, “Alright, God, if you want us to go over and fight the battle, here’s what you’ve got to do.  You’ve got to give us, roughly, 10,000 more foot soldiers.  We’ve got to find a way to get some more swords so we can go into battle, so we can have enough to do what we feel like you’re asking us to do.”   Most of the people who have influenced you significantly felt under-resourced.  They felt like they didn’t have what it took. They felt like all the deck was stacked against them and if God didn’t come through they might fail.  Here’s what Jonathan does and here’s what people who influence do.  Here’s how moms start to have significant influence or grandmas start to have significant influence in the lives of the people around them.  They start where they are with what they have. Do NOT….please, please, please, please, please….do not wait until you think you have what you need to go where God’s called you to go.  In our world of vast social media, it can be so easy to look at what everybody else has, can’t it?  To look at what everybody else does.  And to start comparing ourselves…..as a mom or as a grandma, they are doing it perfect, they’re killing it, they’re nailing it, they’re brilliant, they’ve got it all together.  And look at me!  And we start to compare ourselves to other people.  When we compare ourselves to other people, we start to shut down the places in our soul that God actually wants to use and actually wants to work through.

I don’t know what your mental narrative is, but I can tell you, I have such an easy time in my own life identifying ways I wish I was better, and ways where I fall short, and things that I wish I had than I am at identifying What do I have? and What can I use?  What if, as a community of faith, we started to get better at identifying, even if it isn’t what we would choose, the gifts that we have, the gifts God’s given us, the things He’s placed in our soul, uniquely designed us with, and started to step into those moments?  Instead of wishing we had something else.  I read a story a few weeks ago about this taco truck.  It was driving down the 5 in Seattle and it got to this place where the freeway was just locked down.  They were doing repairs.  It was lunch hour.  This taco truck was trying to get to this one certain spot in the downtown area where they knew they were going to sell massive tacos.  Because the freeway was locked down, they were able to get to where they were intending to go.  Here’s what they did:  On the 5, in Seattle, they turned on the generator and they opened their doors and they started to sell tacos to the glory of God!!  People started to get out of their cars—on the freeway.   Imagine if they just sat in the traffic and didn’t open their doors.  I think a lot of us are like this taco truck.  We’re just sitting in traffic, we’re just waiting, we’re in this liminal space, this in-between space, waiting until we get to our destination, waiting until we have what we think we need.  I think God’s word to us this morning is will you do what you can, with what you have, where you are right now?

Jesus tells this parable (Matthew 25:14-30) about an owner of a property.  He’s going away and he gives talents to people as he’s leaving.  To one person, he gives five talents (which was a lot of money back then).  To another person he gives two, and to another person he gives one talent.  The person who has five talents uses the money and makes five more, he has ten when the owner comes back and the owner says he’s done really, really well.  The person who has two invests it and gets two more when the owner gets back and the owner says, “Great job!”  The person who has one….buries it.  He says, “Master, I get it.  You’re a hard manager and you expect something from your investment and I was too afraid to lose it, so I just buried it and I’ll give it back to you.”  Jesus has some really harsh words for this guy.  Jesus’s expectation is that you would understand he’s given you something to invest in the lives of the people around you.  He expects that you would use it for his glory and his good.  Some of you feel like you’re stuck, but his word for you today is I have placed something deeply within you, not so that you would bury it, but so that it would come through you.  His expectation is that your life would carry a weightiness to it and that it would overflow into the lives of the people around you. Listen to the way Mother Teresa says it:  “Not all of us can do great things. {Just so you know, she’s talking about herself!} But we can do small things with great love.”  We can do the daily stuff.  We can be faithful in the moments.  Maybe it’s a conversation with one of your kids when you’re just dead tired.  Maybe it’s a smile you give to somebody when you’re walking through the grocery store.  Maybe it’s an invitation to a neighbor to come over for dinner.   We can do small things with great love.  We can start where we are with what we have and trust that God will use it for the glory of his name.

Here’s the way Jonathan continues (1 Samuel 14:12):  And the men of the garrison hailed Jonathan and his armor-bearer and said, “Come up to us, and we will show you a thing.” And Jonathan said to his armor-bearer, “Come up after me, for the Lord has given them into the hand of Israel.”   It’s the picture of Jonathan walking up and his armor-bearer following after him, and really, everybody in Israel following after him.   When Kelly and I used to guide backpacking trips, in the early summer there used to be a lot of snow over the mountain passes.  In order to get through the snow, you had to do this (maneuver) called post-holing.  You raise your legs up really high in order to break a trail through the snow.  You’re breaking the trail and everybody behind you is benefitting from the trail you break and blaze.  There’s no snow where Jonathan’s going, but there’s a massive enemy and there is a very clandestine trail and Jonathan’s going, “I’m going to break away.  I’m going to make a way for the people who are following after me to walk in line behind me.”  It’s what anybody who has significant influence does.  They say, “God, if this is where you’ve placed me, and this is what I have, I’m going to go. You take care of what happens behind me, but I’m just going to be faithful to what you’ve called me to do in this moment right now.”  Here’s what he’s doing:  He’s focusing personally and trusting God for impact publicly.

He’s out front and leading the way.  But here’s what he didn’t do.  Jonathan didn’t do, “Hey, armor-bearer, let’s put our minds together and let’s figure out how we could inspire the rest of the Israelite army to follow after us.”  How can we get Saul on our side?  How can we get everybody who’s hiding in the caves to come out?  How can we get the people who have switched sides and are now playing for the other team….how can we recruit them back?  Jonathan just simply says, “God, if this is what you’ve put in front of me, and God, if this is what you’ve called ME to do, I’m going to take care of ME and I’m going to allow you to work through me.”  We focus on us and trust God for what he does through us, which means {Will you look up at me a moment?} that we’ve got to take leading ourselves really seriously.  We have to be in a place where we’re living a life that’s worth following.  This is the essence of motherhood, this is the essence of parenthood, this is the essence of leadership, this is the essence of influence.  Our lives start to bleed over onto the lives of the people that are around us. If we don’t take seriously the health of our own soul, we’re going to have nothing to give to the people around us.

Let’s just hit PAUSE and I want to drill down there.  We live in a culture—especially for moms—where it is so exhausting!  Exhausting to compare.  Exhausting to feel like you have to do everything and hold everything together.  My guess is, if you’re a mom in this room, you’ve felt, at times, guilty about taking time to make sure that you are healthy and that your soul is full.  Listen, your life is going to overflow to the lives of the people around you.  It’s the way God wired us, it’s the way he designed us.  The question is:  What’s coming out of you and into them?  Can I encourage you that it is not selfish to prioritize your own personal health?  It’s like the talk they give you on the airplane, where the people say, “If we crash, there’s going to be an oxygen mask that comes down.”  If you’re a parent, I want you to put it (the mask) on yourself before you put it on anyone else. WHY?  Because you’re not good to anyone if you’re not breathing!!  Here’s your Mother’s Day message in a nutshell:  You’re not good to anyone if you’re not breathing!!  If you’re not alive, if your soul’s not alive, that’s going to flow over into the lives of the people around you.

Jonathan gets that.  He’s out front.  He leaves the crowd.  He steps into this moment.  He understands that in order to walk into his destiny, he may need to walk away from security.  Because of who he is, because of the way he’s cultivated a soul life, he steps into this moment understanding “God, you’re going to work through me. Your life is going to speak through me.  Your words are going to come through me.  Your plan is going to be executed through my obedience.”  Jonathan isn’t worried about that on the front end, he’s just going, “I want to be healthy in front of you.  I want to be obedient TO you, God, and then would you use my life to impact the lives of everyone around me?”  But it starts with him being in a place where he can actually hear the voice of God.  Here’s the thing — If you’re healthy personally, spiritually, your life has the ability to speak into the lives of the people around you in significant ways.  If you’re not, that flows into the lives of the people around you in significant ways also.  Parents, you know this is true, right?   Maybe today it’s just hitting reset and going, “Alright, how do I cultivate rhythms where I can get healthy spiritually, holistically?”

1 Samuel 14:13 — Then Jonathan climbed up on his hands and feet…    You get the picture that Jonathan is climbing up this pretty steep hill.  And he’s in this position of vulnerability.  He’s in this position, literally, on his hands, on his knees.  All of Israel is behind him.  First he’s blazing this trail, and he says, “Come up after me. Follow me.”  Now he’s in this position of being on his hands and on his knees.  It’s the same position this woman was in when she walked in to see Jesus at that meal.  She gets on her knees.  She breaks her jar of perfume and she pours it on his head.  It’s the same position Jesus is in on the night that he’s betrayed (John 13).  He has a meal with his disciples and then he gets on his knees and goes around to each disciple and washes their feet.  In this position, not of power and not of prominence, but of servanthood, of vulnerability.  Here’s what Jonathan knows, and here’s what the woman knows, and here’s what Jesus knows:  if you want to influence and impact the people around you, it’s not by lording your power over them that it’s going to happen.  It’s by serving them and loving them and giving yourself for them.  On his hands and on his feet.

If we want our lives to matter, we live faithfully.  Using what we have, where we are.  Focusing on being healthy people before God and trusting what he’ll do before others.  That we would serve sacrificially (significantly) as a way to effect dramatically.   Here’s the thing — Influence requires servanthood.  That’s not optional.  It was interesting that when Jesus was talking to his disciples, one of the moms (James and John’s) came up to Jesus.  She said, “Hey, Jesus, I want my boys to have impact.  I want my boys to have significance. James and John, I want one to sit at your right hand and one to sit at the other.  What’s it going to take to make that happen?”  (Matthew 20:20-28)  Can you imagine if you’re James or John?  What would you do when you find out your mom cornered Jesus to try to get you a better seat at the table?!?  If your mom has ever embarrassed you, you know that James and John’s mom far outshone yours!  I can remember my brother was playing baseball and he was up to bat.  Our family was sitting in the stands.  There was this inside pitch that zoomed right by him.  My mom yells from the stands, “Hey, Adam, at least you’re wearing your cup!!”  This is the spiritual equivalent.  James and John’s mom steps into this moment and goes, “Come on.  Can we try to get my boys more influence, more prominence?”  Jesus does not say, “Woman, it’s really evil for you to want your boys to live a life that matters.”  He actually says, “Let me teach you the pathway to making that a reality.”  Because it doesn’t happen in the same way that it does for the systems of the world.  The Kingdom of God doesn’t operate like that.   But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them.  It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant…”    {Whoever would be great.  Whoever would have influence.  Whoever God would use to change the course of history, to change lives, to transform neighborhoods and work places and families….   You want to know the type of person God uses?  Because he’s not down on ambition, he’s not down on influence, he’s not down on your life having an impact on the people around you.  He actually teaches you how to do it.  SERVE.}  …and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

For every mom in here, you do this really well.  My guess is the reason that when we think about the people who have impacted our lives the most, we think about moms.  We think about dads.  We think about parents. Because they serve so well.   We get the chance today to say thank you.  Reid, my youngest, says to Kelly last night at the dinner table, “Why is it Mother’s Day and not Christmas?”  Kids just know how to say thank you, don’t they?   That’s why you have such great significance.  That’s why you have such amazing influence, such weightiness attached to your lives, because you serve so well.

Being on your hands and knees and crawling up like Jonathan did, not only meant that he was serving the people around him, but he was vulnerable before them.  He didn’t know how the people were going to attack and what they were going to do.  But that’s a part of living this life, isn’t it?  Being vulnerable.  Giving love, when we don’t know if it’s going to be reciprocated.  Loving the people around us when we’re not sure if they’ll love us back.  Serving the people around us, when we’re not sure…are they just going to hang me out to dry? But that’s the kind of life that has ripple effects that turns into this domino effect that impacts and changes every life around it.  So for those of you who mentor people at this church, thank you, you’re living this out. For those of you who, on Saturdays, serve food at our food bank to help a population in our neighborhood that’s hurting, thank you.  To those of you who hold babies in our nursery, lead small groups with our students, invest in our lives of our young adults, thank you.   For those of you who hold doors, shake hands, have conversations, invite people over to your house, open your homes for life groups to happen, thank you, you’re serving.  Through your service God is having a massive impact.

We had originally had a guest speaker scheduled for today, which I was excited about because Mother’s Day is just a difficult day for me now.  Walking through the journey of losing my mom a few years ago.  My head doesn’t pop off the pillow on this Sunday like it does most every other Sunday.  If you’re in that place of tension today, I’m right there with you.  But it’s also this great reminder of the way that my mom’s domino fell.  I can remember sitting around the table after she passed away.  As a family we were planning her memorial.  I said, “Dad, people usually write a eulogy, where they talk about how great the person was and the accomplishments that they made.  Should we do that for mom?”  He paused for a moment and he said something that I thought at first was really sad, and then it started to sink in on me on a different level and I started to go no, that’s right and that’s why her life was way bigger than her 57 years.  He said, “Ryan, mom didn’t have a lot of accomplishments.  Most of them are sitting in this room around this table.”  I thought, “Yeah.”  A lot of people talk about valuing the little things in life.  But she lived it.  She started with what she had where she was and just invested in the people around her.  I’m grateful that for 30-something years I was one of those people.  She was a healthy person.  She didn’t really care what people thought of her.  It was great….and embarrassing at times.  Man, I don’t many people who have served better.

If you’re a mom in this room, we just want to recognize you and say thank you for the way that you serve, for the way that you live, and for the way that you use whatever God has given you to make much of his name.  If you’re not and wish you were, if you’re not anymore and wish you were again, if you never have been a mom and that’s a lament for you, I just want to echo what Larry said that we stand in solidarity with you. We want to point back to God and say, “God, thank you for this design of care, of love, and of influence.”  YOUR. LIFE. MATTERS.  Would you live faithfully in a way that God would shine radically through you?

{Ryan introduces closing video.}

May you, may we, be the kind of people who use whatever God’s given us, exactly where God has us, that He would make much through us.  May we be the kind of people who walk closely with Him and who live lives worth following.  And may we be the kind of people who serve really, really well the people around us and extend the love of God to them.  South Fellowship Church, may we live faithfully and trust that God would allow the dominos of our life to fall into the lives of other people, that He might make a great impact through us.  For the glory of His name, for the joy of His people, and for the good of His world.  Let’s pray.

Thank you, Jesus, we love you.  Thank you for the gift of family.  For the gift of mothers and for the way that they extend a unique, a significant, a beautiful piece of your love and your character to their families and to the lives of their kids and onto us.  We’re so, so grateful.  We worship you this morning and we thank you.  It’s in your powerful name that we pray.  And all God’s people said….Amen!

STRETCH: Moms and Dominos2024-06-13T08:27:08-06:00

STRETCH: Faith and Fleece 1 Samuel 14:6-12, Romans 12:1-2

STRETCH: Faith and Fleece 1 Samuel 14:6-12, Romans 12:1-2

{Ryan was describing how making major life decisions, i.e., moving from California to Colorado, was affecting him— emotionally AND physically.} It was a Monday and I had my two kids in the backseat. I had Ethan, then three, and Avery, one-and-a-half, and was driving them to preschool. I drove right passed the preschool. I thought to myself, “What am I doing?” I turned back around—I kid you not—I drove passed it AGAIN! I thought to myself, “I’m in trouble here!” I finally got Ethan to where he was suppose to go and I completely forgot I had a second child!! I went to work and was just about to get out of the car and close the door, when I heard this little voice from the backseat go, “Hi, daddy!” I’ve watched on the news the stories of the people who left their kids in the car and thought, “How could you?” Now I know!! I know how you could! I was in another world, in another universe, so preoccupied with the decision that was in front of me.

Wouldn’t it be nice if, when we have those decisions to make, there would be a “yellow brick road” that appeared? Where we knew exactly what God wanted us to do and we knew exactly where God wanted us to go? That when the fork-in-the-road came, one of the paths was just paved with gold and we went, “Oh, there it is!! THAT’S clearly the will of God!” Wouldn’t it be nice if faith was filled with yellow brick roads? Has that been a reality for anyone? This has not been MY reality. There’s been a lot of times in life where I’ve made decisions where I felt like God was leading, but there was no yellow brick road. There was no neon signs pointing down saying, “This is the exact decision you need to make at this point in time. Wouldn’t it be nice if there was? If we knew exactly what job God wanted us to take. If we knew exactly—if you’re in high school—which person God wanted us to ask to prom. If we knew exactly the way to make the relationship right or head down the path of healing in a marriage that was broken. Wouldn’t it be nice if God made His will just a little bit more clear?? I don’t know about you, but there’s times when instead of a yellow brick road, I have a clandestine whisper from God, “This way.”

It’s a huge issue isn’t it? We live in a time in our culture where people would love to know what God wants them to do. In a survey done recently of any question you could ask God—One of the top four questions people wanted to ask God, if they had the chance to ask Him one thing, is, “God, what are you asking me to do with my life? Where do you want me to go? What do you want me to do? What’s your will for me?” That’s a tough question for us to answer, isn’t it? There’s a number of reasons why that’s a difficult thing. Let me give you for reasons from a great book that recently came out by a pastor by the name of Craig Groeschel, called Divine Direction. He said there’s four reasons making decisions is really, really hard for us. 1) We live in a world that’s filled with options. More options than people have ever had. Think about it. When I was growing up and we wanted to watch a movie at night, we would have to go to this place called Blockbuster. It was a physical building that housed VHS tapes. You know how you decided which movie you were going to watch that night? Whatever was there in that building. Now, you can hop on HULU, or Netflix, or Amazon Prime, and you can watch whatever you want to watch. What’s true of movies is true of the world we live in. Our options are vast!

The other thing that gets in the way is that we have this illusion of perfection when it comes to decision making, don’t we? This illusion that there’s this right decision and there’s a wrong decision, and if I make the wrong decision, the course of my life is going to be completely altered and the course of everybody’s life is going to be completely altered because I stepped out of the will of God. The illusion of perfection actually leads us to paralyzation, doesn’t it? Because instead of making the wrong decision, we just make no decision at all. So we have this idea….there’s so many options, there’s the illusion of perfection, and the third thing is that we haven’t developed the skill of decision making. This is part of my generation and the way we’re raising kids. We’re the helicopter parents, so we don’t let our kids make any decisions, we make them ALL for them. Which means when they eventually do have a decision to make, they’re going to have very little training in how to make wise decisions if there’s no yellow brick road in front of them. We aren’t trained in how to do this well.

The fourth thing is that we know how significant the decisions we make are. In his book, Divine Direction, Craig Groeschel says: “The decisions we make today determine the stories we tell tomorrow.” We know that weight, don’t we? We know that weight of saying yes or no to the job offer, of saying yes or no to the move. We know that weight of “What decision are we going to make?” It’s going to help shape the direction and course of our life.

If you’ve been with us over the last few weeks, we’ve been studying the life of Jonathan. If you have a Bible, turn to 1 Samuel 14, where we’re going to pick up the story again. Jonathan is the son of King Saul. He’s part of the Israelite army. The army is very under-resourced. They have TWO swords to their name—Jonathan has one and his dad Saul has the other. They are on one side of the valley and their enemy, the Philistines, are on the other side of the valley. The Israelites are in a place called Gibeah and the Philistines are in a place called Michmash. The Philistines have 30,000 chariots, they have 6,000 horsemen, they have numerous infantry army men just waiting to attack the Israelites. They are sending raids across every other day and are attacking the Israelites just to prove they are more powerful. There’s a day that comes where Jonathan refuses to just sit on the other side of the valley and exist. He decides he’s going to step into the gap and live. Last week, we studied this great phrase he says to his armor bearer….hey listen, maybe, just maybe, God will act on our behalf. And maybe He won’t. Maybe He’ll move and maybe He’ll work and maybe He won’t. We said last week that faith is not certainty that God WILL fill-in-the-blank, faith is the confidence that God CAN. He can do whatever He chooses to do. And He may decide to act on our behalf and He may not. But faith doesn’t have all the answers, it just has confidence that God has all the power. So, Jonathan, standing on that side of the valley, steps into it. He’s going to have a really interesting way of deciding where and how God is leading him.

Turn to 1 Samuel 14:6-12 and we’re going to pick up on decision making and the will of God according to Jonathan, son of the king. Jonathan said to the young man who carried his armor, “Come, let us go over to the garrison of these uncircumcised. It may be that the Lord will work for us, for nothing can hinder the Lord from saving by many or by few.” And his armor-bearer said to him, “Do all that is in your heart. Do as you wish. Behold, I am with you heart and soul.” Then Jonathan said, “Behold, we will cross over to the men, and we will show ourselves to them. If they say to us, ‘Wait until we come to you,’ then we will stand still in our place, and we will not go up to them. But if they say, ‘Come up to us,’ then we will go up, for the Lord has given them into our hand. And this shall be the sign to us.” So both of them showed themselves to the garrison of the Philistines. And the Philistines said, “Look, Hebrews are coming out of the holes where they have hidden themselves.” And the men of the garrison hailed Jonathan and his armor-bearer and said, “Come up to us, and we will show you a thing.” And Jonathan said to his armor-bearer, “Come up after me, for the Lord has given them into the hand of Israel.”

Pause. Can we admit this morning that that’s a very strange way of figuring out where God is leading and what God is doing? Let’s go to the enemy—who has way more resources than us, way more power—let’s show ourselves to them and if they say, “Come up to us, let’s fight,” we’re going to go up to them! And if they don’t say anything, we’re going to wait for them to come to us. Here’s what we typically like to do: We typically like to read a story from the Scriptures then we like to make a formula out of it. Here’s what we would do with Jonathan’s story. Here’s how I’m going to figure out if this is the job I’m suppose to take—I’m going to go and I’m going to stand at the door of that company (that I want to work for), and if they say, “Come in,” I’m going to know that I’ve got that job! Wouldn’t that be crazy? But that’s what we love to do with the Scriptures, we love to make formulas out of stories. This just in—the story that we read about Jonathan and the Philistines, in this passage of Scripture (1 Samuel 14), is meant to be descriptive. It’s meant to describe to us the way that this worked in the life of Jonathan. It’s not intended to be prescriptive. We’re not intended to make a formula out of this and then we can know exactly what God wants us to do at exactly any point in time. It would be like trying to make a formula out of Gideon putting a fleece out. The Bible tells us that story in Judges 6, not to tell us how it should work every time, but to tell us how it worked THAT time. And to give us principles by which to follow God. God doesn’t always work the way He worked for Jonathan. He doesn’t always do the exact same thing that He did. He doesn’t always work the way that He worked for Gideon—where sometimes the fleece is wet and we know exactly where to go and what to do. Sometimes God’s will feels a little bit more hidden than it does explicit.

As we read through the Scriptures, there’s four different types of wills of God. You need to know this as we embrace this subject and embark on it this morning. The first is the decretive will of God. This is the ‘Thus sayeth the Lord’ will of God. You cannot stop it, you cannot thwart it, you cannot change it. It’s what God has decided to do and what He wants to do, He will do. Because He’s God. The second is the permissive will of God, where God often says, “Hey, that’s not what I would choose, but I’m going to create space for humanity to make that decision.” ANY type of sin is the permissive will of God. He’s not pulling those strings. In fact, He’s saying, “Don’t do that! But I’m going to allow you to make choices and I’m going to allow you to step into the space where you have to follow me and you have to choose—what are you going to do?” The permissive will of God. The third is the moral will of God, where God says, “This is how I want you to operate and this is what I want you to do.” Think of the Ten Commandments. Think of the Sermon on the Mount. Forgive people. Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you. That’s the moral will of God. Paul illustrates this in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, where he says: Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. You don’t need to pray about whether or not you should be grateful. You should! In fact, there’s a lot of things you don’t need to pray about whether you should do them or not, which is really helpful because you’re suppose to be praying all the time, so there’s things you don’t need to occupy your prayers with. Because God’s been really clear in laying this out for us.

The fourth is the specific will of God. That’s the question ‘Which job should I take?’, ‘Which person should I ask to prom?’, ‘How should I go about healing the relationship?’, ‘God, where are you leading us? What should we do and where should we go?’ We would LOVE, love, love, love a yellow brick road for the specific will of God, wouldn’t we? What should I do, God? Where should I head? But the reality is that living in God’s will is something we discover as we go, not a plan that we often know. It’s not a map that God gives us when we become a follower of Jesus and he’s going, “Alright, here’s exactly what I want you to do with your life at every twist and every turn.” I’m telling you what decision to make and what direction to go. NO! Living in God’s will is far more a discovery than it is a plan. It’s far more walking with God than it is executing this sort of plan that He drops into our lap. I’ll prove that to you, because you’ve often identified “Oh, this is God’s will,” in hindsight, haven’t you? Where we’ve walked through a season—maybe a season we wouldn’t choose or a season we would love to hit ‘fast forward’ through—and God starts to do something in our heart and our life through that season and we go, “Okay, God, maybe I’m starting to get the picture a little bit. You’re up to something in that time.” God’s will is something we discover as we go, rather than a plan that we know, or a plan that we execute, or directions that we take and just simply implement. It’s far more relational and, I would argue, it’s far better than just executing a plan that He gives us. Here’s the yellow brick road, Paulson, just check your brain at the door and now start walking. That’s not how He works.

This morning, I want to invite us to wrestle with this concept. If it’s not the way that Jonathan does it that we’re suppose to be prescribing for people, or if it’s not the way that Gideon does it, how in the world do we know ‘God, where are you leading? God, what are doing?’ if there’s no yellow brick road? How do we learn to really follow you? Will you turn to Romans 12:1-2 with me? Paul is going to wrestle with that question. At the end of this little section of Scripture (just two verses), Paul is going to say, “Then you will know what is the will of God, His good, His pleasing, and His perfect will.” At the end of what we’re going to talk about, Paul goes, “You’ll start to be able to test and discern and know what God’s will is, but there’s a few steps in the process of discovery and following that precede and then you will know.” Let me give these to you this morning, and I want to invite you to have a situation in mind, if you have one that you’re facing right now, and to hold it in front of God and say, “God, as we study your Scriptures, would you speak to this this morning?”

Listen to the way the Apostle Paul begins this section: I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. {The NIV says: Therefore….in view of God’s mercy, offer your bodies as living sacrifices.} Here’s what Paul wants to do before he ever gets to a discussion about God’s will, about the yellow brick road, as it were. He wants to remind you of where you stand. Before you ever seek to hear where God’s leading you, he needs to know that you know where you stand right now. Which is in His mercy and in His grace. So the very first step in saying, “Hey, God, where are you leading” is to remind our hearts and our souls that we stand right now in the grace of God. {Slide: Remember God’s grace.} When Paul points back to the mercies of God, he’s thinking of Romans 1-11, which laid out the reality that you and I are in desperate need and that God is a good God who steps into time and space, in the person and work of Jesus, to take our sin on himself and give us his righteousness. He reminded us in Romans 8:1 — There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. He reminded us that the Spirit of God lives inside of us, that it testifies that we are sons and daughters of the Most High God and that nothing can separate us from the love of God that’s in Christ Jesus our Lord. {Somebody say Amen!} That is great news!

Why does Paul start there? Maybe because he needs to. Maybe because he’s remembering back to not a ‘preacher of Christ,’ but a ‘persecutor of Christians.’ Maybe he’s remembering all the twists and turns that his life took leading up to this point. That he’s the chief of all sinners and that Jesus reached down in his mercy and grabbed him and rescued him. Maybe Paul needs to remember like we need to remember this morning, that our failure has not thwarted His faithfulness. Maybe Paul needed to remember like we need to remember, that His mercy preserves His mission in our lives. Make no mistake about it, friends, the decisions that we make have a very real effect on the course of our life. But no decision that you make can thwart the mercy and mission of God in your life.

So we start here because we have the narrative that often says, “I’ve screwed up way too bad to ever be back on that yellow brick road or on the mission of God.” We start at the grace of God because we have this sneaking suspicion in the back of our mind, the narrative that plays over and over again, “God could never use a person like me!” What Paul wants to do before we ever get to wrestling with what God’s will is for our life, he needs us to know that we stand in grace, therefore, God’s will is accessible for us! For YOU!! God’s will is possible for you. Here’s the way Paul says it in Romans 8:28 — And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. That means that God is the grand weaver. The successes, the failures, the joys, the pain, the celebration, and the lament….He brings it all together to work for your good in your life. His mercy opens the door for you to step into His mission. You stand in grace.

Here’s what he says next: I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. He’s painting a picture of what a Jewish person would have understood very well. And that would have been walking up the steps of the temple with an animal, maybe a goat, maybe a dove, in hand to bring as a sacrifice. To say, “God, this is what we’re giving back to you to make ourselves right in relationship with you.” So Paul says instead of bringing a sacrifice now, you ARE the sacrifice. Your life is the sacrifice on the altar of God, that you get the chance to say with every decision that you make, every rhythm of your heart, every decision of your soul, “God, I am yours!”

So, here’s his invitation — first, remember God’s grace; second, relinquish your rights. Crucified living positions us to step into the abundant life that God has for us. Here’s the way the author/pastor G. Campbell Morgan said it: “Wherever there are hearts waiting for the Voice of God, that Voice is to be heard.” Here’s what he hits on. He hits on the reality that oftentimes the decisions that we make, or the decision to say ‘no’ to God, starts to harden our hearts to God. Maybe, just maybe, you’re in the place this morning where, instead of asking God, “God, where are you leading me and God, what do you want me to do?” we just get back to square one and say we stand in grace and the posture of our heart is “God, I’m willing to do whatever you call me to do, I’m willing to go wherever you call me to go.” The answer is YES, before I know what the question is. Surrendered lives lead to open ears. Oftentimes we’re not able to hear God because we’re looking for the yellow brick road so hard that we fail to just stop and say, “God, I’m willing to obey—wherever you want me to go, whatever you want me to do, I am yours.” Maybe the question this morning is not God, what’s your will for my life? Maybe the question for us to wrestle with is God, am I surrendered fully to you? {Would you look up at me for a second?} If you want to know where God is going to lead you in the future, be faithful where you are today.

I can remember as a college student that I was wrestling with God. I wanted to serve Him with everything that I had. I was serving in Young Life in the evenings, but in the morning, I was opening at Starbucks and was working as a barista there. Then I would go to school and I had to do this practicum internship where I was working at an Early Childhood Learning center. I’m thinking to myself, the entire time, “God, how in the world are these two things—coffee and kids—every going to come together to do something in my life? I want to follow you, Jesus. I want to spread the glory of your name.” Little did I know that over a decade later I would be working at a church that owned a preschool and a coffee shop! No clue! The journey for me, and maybe the journey for you too, just to be faithful exactly where you are. To say, “God, I’m not controlling this thing, you are. I want you to lead and I want you to guide and so I’m going to be faithful to follow exactly where I am today and trust that you will lead me somewhere else someday, if that’s what you have for me.” But my goal is surrender. Offer yourselves, Paul says, as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God. The problem we have with that is that sometimes it just doesn’t move fast enough for us, right? Come on, God, if you could just execute it a little bit quicker that would be great.

Here’s the way Paul continues (verse 2): Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind. {Quick time out.} Did you know that you live in a world that has a different set of values than that of the Kingdom of God? There’s different things that they hold up as preeminent, as good, as “the way.” What Paul says is that if you ever want to make a decision that puts you in the will of God, you first have to put the will of God in you! You’ve got to understand the way that He works. You’ve got to understand what He is like. So here’s what we do — First of all, we remember that we stand in grace. Second, we relinquish our rights and say, “God, the answer’s yes, what’s the question?” Third, we say, “We’re going to start to renew our mind.” Because if hearing God is sort of like God holding a walkie-talkie, renewing our mind is us getting on the right channel so we can actually hear what He’s inviting us to do, how he’s inviting us to follow.

Why is it important to renew our mind? Let me give you two reasons: First, as we renew our mind we start to understand the personality of God. We start to understand what God is like, the things that He loves, the things that He laments. That’s really, really important, because sometimes God’s will for us is not that we follow some yellow brick road. Sometimes God’s will for us is….we decide. Sometimes He goes, “There’s two great decisions in front of you. What do you want to do? You decide.” The second reason it’s so important we renew our mind is that it starts to align us with the way of Jesus. When God says, “You decide,” we know what’s in His heart. We know that His calling for us is that we would forgive those around us. We know that He’s the kind of God who invites us to love our enemies. In fact, He’s the God who, instead of killing his enemies, died for them. We know that He wants us, not to judge the people around us, to love the people around us, even those who are adamantly, vehemently against us. We know that He’s inviting us to rid ourselves of anger and rid ourselves of lust. We just try to download the Sermon on the Mount into our lives.

We often want to know what job God wants us to take, or where God wants us to move. I think sometimes God just says, “Hey, will you renew your mind? Will you forgive the people that have wronged you?” Will you release the tendency to judge? Will you do the things I’ve already told you to do, and in so doing start to understand who I am? Instead of praying what job to take, will you pray that my Spirit would empower you to forgive, to love? Here’s the way the great, early church father St. Augustine put it: “Love God and do what you want: for the soul trained in love to God will do nothing to offend the One who is Beloved.” Maybe it’s not a yellow brick road that you’re looking for, maybe it’s a rhythm of your soul that you’re trying to cultivate.

So how do we do that? We spend time in the Scriptures, because we need to download this new OS, the Kingdom operating system, into our hearts and into our lives, because it’s completely contrary to the way that the world operates. So we spend time in the Scriptures, but it’s not just the token time in the morning that we often feel like we should do. It’s a discipline, a practice, where we start to learn and hear, “God, what are you like? What do you love? I want to learn to love you.” So it’s time in the Scriptures, but it’s time in silence and solitude. It’s time in just listening. God, what are you up to? What are you up to in me? What are you up to in your world? What are you up to in this community that you love? We start to renew our mind. God, what are you up to in my family? What are you up to in my kids? We start to develop rhythms of our life. It’s going to feel real awkward at first, but as you step into it it’s going to feel like life. We start to develop rhythms where we listen and where we hear from God.

I can remember when we were moving from California to Colorado in the early 90’s as a family. We had this little video recorder that we were documenting our trip with. It was fourteen hours of just ridiculousness, with a few comedic moments somewhere in there. I can remember as a kid, when we got here, wanting to tape a Bronco game (before we had DVRs). I grabbed this family vacation tape and I put it in. I was leaving and I wanted to see how the Broncos were going to blow whatever game they were in. I put it in there and hit RECORD. I can remember the next time that my parents went to watch that video, they were not happy with me!! I think that’s the way that downloading KingdomOS works in our life. As we start to read the Scriptures, we start to tape over the narrative that we often have of achievement, of power, of authority, and we start to say, “Alright, God, where do you want me to go? What do you want me to do? How do you want me to live? What are the rhythms you want me to set up?” Some of us have some things playing in the back of our mind that we need to tape over in order to be able to hear where God wants us to go. If you’re seeking direction, can I invite you to spend time with the author of life? If you want to know where to go, spend time with the one who holds the map. Allow Him to lead.

Here’s the way Paul ends this. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern…. {Just a quick time out.} Paul doesn’t say, “And then you will know exactly what God wants you to do and where God wants you to go.” Isn’t that a little bit troubling? We’ve soaked our soul in grace. We’ve surrendered our life to God. We’ve renewed our mind through the Scriptures and then God says, “Okay, now you’re ready. Not to know exactly what to do, but to just step into life and try it out.” That’s what that word testing means. It was the way that they would identify if a metal was legitimate, was genuine. If gold really was gold, or if silver really was silver. They put it through a series of tests. So God says, “Okay, after you’re soaked in grace, and after you’re surrendered to me, and after you have taken this disposition where you’re renewing your mind, THEN you’re ready to test.” Not to know. Why? Because God’s will is often discovery we make as we go, not just a plan that we get to execute. It’s a discovery we make, not a direction that we take from God. That by testing you may discern—you can try it out, you can step into life and see… As a writer of Proverbs says (16:9 NKJV) — A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps. So step in and see and test. And then you’ll be able to know the will of God. Why? Because it’s good, acceptable, pleasing (is the NIV word). Where you step in and you go, “Oh yeah, that’s my God. That’s why He created me. That’s the life (even if it’s hard) He’s inviting me to live with Him.” We realize his good plan. I often tell people that knowing the will of God is a discovery we make from the inside, not information we get from the outside. That knowing the will of God is something we step into and go, “Oh yeah, this is the will of God for me. I taste and see that He is good.” Not, there’s the will of God for me over there and let me go try to find it. No! It’s something that as we live with Jesus, He confirms in our heart and in our life, “This is where I’m inviting you to go with me.”

So the question you may be asking is “Okay, Paulson, so we’ve soaked in grace, we’ve surrendered our life, we’ve renewed our mind, and now realize his good plan. Can you give me some handles on how to do that? Sure. Let’s go back to 1 Samuel 14:7. Here’s what Jonathan does in trying to figure out what God’s will is for his life. And his armor-bearer said to him, “Do all that is in your heart.” “What do you want to do?” the armor-bearer says to Jonathan, “Let’s do that.” We’ve come up with this really faulty narrative in the church that says, “If I want to do it, it must be evil.” Right? Like this is my desire, so I’ve got to push against that with everything I have, because God would never want me to actually do something that I WANT to do. Okay. How’s that worked out for you? That sounds like following Jesus means drudgery. Yes, we’re intended to die to ourself to find out what it means to truly live, which means that as we walk with Jesus, we can trust our new heart that He’s given us—a heart of flesh that replaces a heart of stone. So we go, “Alright, God. I’m surrendered to you, I’m soaked in grace, my mind’s renewed, now where do you want me to go?” Sometimes He says, “What’s on your heart? Go there, do that.”

Here’s the second thing he (Jonathan) does. He says, “We’re going to show ourselves to the Philistines.” We’re going to be vulnerable. We’re stepping out. We are, as it were, looking for a red light from God, not a green light from God. We assume the light’s green until we get a red light. Do you know it’s just as easy for God to close a door as it is for Him to open it? He’s God. So if there’s a few open doors in front of you, which one do you want to go through? Go through it! Follow Him. Trust Him. Walk with Him. Then allow Him to close doors as He sees fit. Certainly, there are times when we are called to wait on God. I’m not saying that’s not a reality. I’m simply saying that we often choose to wait and be disobedient to where we sense God’s leading us to go, because we’re just paralyzed with fear about taking a step. What would it look like if we said, “God, we’re going to be vulnerable.”

Then he says, “If they say this….then we will go.” Not, hey, then we’ll have a prayer meeting and we’ll decide if we want to go. No. Once they do this, we’re going to follow you, God, and we are going to go. It’s immediate obedience. Because God’s will is not something that you look FOR, out there. It’s something that you find yourself IN as you walk with Him.

I don’t know what situation you have in front of you this morning, but can I invite you to just close your eyes right now. We’re going to close our time and come to the table in just a moment. Can I invite you to just take a deep breath. What would it look like to just remember God’s grace in your life right now? That His mercy over you preserves His mission through you. This morning, what does it look like for you to relinquish control, because the people who hear the voice of God are those who have lives surrendered to him. To renew your mind today is Jesus’s invitation to you. Not go here, or do this, or do that, but will you get to know ME? Will you get to know what I’m like? Finally, maybe you’re in the will of God—would you just celebrate that today? It’s good, it’s pleasing.

We’ll close our time with this — Maybe instead of asking, “God, what’s your will for my life?” maybe we change the question just a little bit and we start to ask, “God, how can I give my life for your will?” It’s a question Jesus asked in the garden on his way to the cross. He cries out, “Father, if there’s another way, let’s do it that way, but not my will, but yours be done.” What’s the bigger picture? What’s the story you’re telling? What’s the redemptive plan you’re executing? When we start to ask that question, ‘How can I give my life for your will, God?’ it starts to become all the more clear where God wants to lead us. So as we come to the table this morning to celebrate a God who says, “I love you enough to give my life for you,” will you say back to Him, “God, I’m surrendering my life to your will?” {Ryan interjects communion directions.} Let’s pray.

Jesus, as we come this morning, would you remind us that you’re good, that you love us. For those who are seeking guidance and direction from you today, may their lives be surrendered, may their souls be saturated in grace, may their minds be renewed, and then would you speak and would you lead and would you guide? We pray in the name of Jesus. Amen.

STRETCH: Faith and Fleece 1 Samuel 14:6-12, Romans 12:1-22024-06-13T08:27:14-06:00

STRETCH: Choose to Live – 1 Samuel 14:1-5

It was a morning like many others.  If you were to have stood on the edge of the cliff, you could see across the valley.  You could see the fog that was hovering in it, starting to fade away with the breaking of the dawn.  You could hear the fire from the night before starting to fizzle out.  On one side of the valley you could hear a pin drop.  Because everybody had scattered and gone away.  Everybody was on the run, hoping, just hoping, that another raid wasn’t coming their way.  But on the other side….  If you were to have stood and looked across on a clear morning, you would have seen an army.  You would have seen a people rising up, the clanking of newly-founded iron that was ready to be used for battle.  On one side, there was just cowering fear.  On the other side, there was a conviction that if they went to war, there was no way they were going to lose.

It made sense for the Israelites to cower in fear.  For 200 years, the Philistine armies had been decimating theirs. For 200 years, they heard the taunts from the Philistines that their god, Dagon, was more powerful, was more victorious, was bigger, stronger than Yahweh.  On top of it, the way that they worshiped him was to sacrifice babies, kids, by way of fire.  So if you were to stand that morning on one side of the valley with a clear view across, you saw the hints of confidence, of faith, of war, but on YOUR side, there was nothing!  Not a person to be seen.  They had left the edge of the cliff in hopes of finding some sort of solace hiding in a cave.  But it’s on THAT morning that Jonathan, the son of the newly crowned king, Saul, goes to the edge of the cliff, looks down, sees a sharp cliff-face in front of him and one staring back at him the other way.  It’s on THAT morning that he decides that instead of waiting for the battle to come to him, that he’s going to the battle.  It’s on THAT morning that he decides, “This is going to be my decisive moment! This is going to be my turning point.  I’m not just going to let life happen to me, I’m going to live life!”

1 Samuel 14:1-5.  One day Jonathan the son of Saul said to the young man who carried his armor, “Come, let us go over to the Philistine garrison on the other side.”  But he did not tell his father.  Saul was staying in the outskirts of Gibeah in the pomegranate cave at Migron.  The people who were with him were about six hundred men, including Ahijah the Ahitub, Ichabod’s brother, son of Phinehas, son of Eli, the priest of the Lord in Shiloh, wearing an ephod.  And the people did not know that Jonathan had gone.  Within the passes, by which Jonathan sought to go over to the Philistine garrison, there was a rocky crag on the one side and a rocky crag on the other side.  The name of the one was Bozez, and the name of the other Seneh.  The one crag rose on the north in front of Michmash, and the other on the south in front of Geba.   If you’re trying to picture in your mind what the geography might have looked like, this might help you out. {Ryan shows picture.} On one side, the side of Geba, you have the Israelite army.  On the side of Michmash, you have the Philistine army. The Philistines had advanced in their development of weaponry, far beyond anybody else in the region at the time. They’d perfected, for THAT time, the development of iron, which was far stronger than bronze.  Even the Israelite people had to go to the Philistines in order to buy their weapons.  If you’re at war with somebody, how likely are you to be to sell them weapons that they are going to use on YOU??  Unlikely.  Usually you don’t sell to your enemies!  The Philistines didn’t.  They were withholding iron from the Israelites.  The Israelites are cowering in fear.

Jonathan says to his armor-bearer, three words that change the course of his life — LET. US. GO.  Let us go. Let’s step into the gap.  Let’s step into the unknown.  Let’s step into the question marks.  Let’s step into the uncharted territory.  Let’s leave what’s safe, let’s leave what’s comfortable, let’s leave the place that we’ve been and the 600 ill-weaponed soldiers, and let’s step into this place of risk, this place of faith, this place of unknown.   See, it’s one of those defining moments, three defining words — Let us go.  In this series we’re going to be looking at the life of Jonathan, this passage actually, where Jonathan says, “I’m not just going to let life happen to me, I’m going to live the life that’s in front of me.”  Here’s what Jonathan knows, and here’s what you know somewhere deep down inside — Existing is a given.  If you’re taking a breath right now, you are existing. Existing is a given, but living is a choice.  Jonathan, on this morning—this morning that was like any other morning, decides, “I’m no longer willing to just exist, but I want to live, I need to live the life that God has for me.”  My hope is that maybe God would stir something in us this morning as we look at this series called “Stretch,” over the next few weeks, where we ask God to stretch us, to grow us.  Sometimes He invites us to this place of just getting fed up with making it through a day as our goal.  And to say back to God, “God, I long for you to do more.  I long to not just have breath in my lungs, but to have a reason for the breath in my lungs.”

If you were to fast forward to the New Testament, there are two primary words that we translate ‘life.’  One of those is the word ‘bios.’  It’s where we get our word biology.  The other word is the word ‘zoe.’  Bios literally means the physical life that you have.  But the word zoe is the spiritual life.  That’s the life that makes the breath you take worth taking.  The Bible talks about both.  In Acts 17:28, Paul at the Areopagus says:  In him we live (bios) and move and have our being.   John, one of Jesus’s disciples and friend, writing about Jesus after he had died and resurrected and ascended to heaven, says: In him, in Jesus, we life, we zoe, we become real, alive people to the gift that God’s given us in walking his good earth.   In him was life, and the life was the light of men. (John 1:4)   Jesus says in John 10:10 — The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.  I came that they may have life (zoe) and have it abundantly.  That they may have the kind of life that makes life worth living.  The kind of life that has meaning.  The kind of life that has purpose.  And that they’d have it to the full.

If we were to look through the pages of history, we would see the kind of people who sought this kind of life. This kind of zoe.  Who refused to settle for just breathing, but needed a reason for it and wanted to make something of it.  We could look at 1508, where Michelangelo’s commissioned by the pope to start painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.  For four years he paints, on scaffolding, above his head, a beautiful masterpiece. We could look at 1518, where sailors set out for Spain and are the very first group of people to circumnavigate the entire globe.  We could look at Lewis and Clark, in 1804, leaving Missouri and heading to the west, traveling 8,000 miles, up and down, dragging canoes over mountains.  Why?? Because existing is okay and it’s necessary, but zoe, living, that’s what God designed us for.  You look at Thomas Edison in 1878.  He decides he’s going to figure out a way to create a light bulb.  First, he figured out nine thousand ways NOT to create it, then he created it over a year later. In July 20, 1969, people watched in absolute awe as a person took their very first step on the moon—-221,000 miles away from the face of the earth.  Why??  Because we know that existing is necessary, but living is what we’re designed for.  Living is what God has put us on this planet for.  You and I, we all have this choice that’s staring us in the face every single day of our lives — are we going to settle for pure and mere existence?  Or are we going to chase zoe?  Are we going to pursue life?  The life that God has designed us to live.

The pages of Scripture are littered with people who decide, “We’re choosing life,” and others who settle for existence.  Choices, THAT choice, not only charts the path of the narrative of Scripture, but it charts the path of the narrative of history, and {will you look up at me for a second?} it charts the path of your life.  That question, that ONE question—Are we going to choose to just survive or are we going to choose to live?  It was the choice that Jonathan made.  I think if we were to go around this room, we would all say, “Paulson, of course we want to zoe.  We want to really live.  We want that kind of life that’s the light of the human soul.”  But the reality is many of us make decisions on a daily basis that put us further and further away from that type of life. So here’s what I want to do—over the next few weeks, I want to dive into THIS story and I want to ask questions about the life of Jonathan that might help us identify how does he choose this kind of life, and how can we be the type of people who choose it along with him?

Verse 1 — One day Jonathan the son of Saul said to the young man who carried his armor, “Come, let us go…. Three words that change this interaction forever.  Let us go.  His dad Saul has made a really bad decision, if you go back and read chapter 13.  He’s just decided he’s not going to listen to Samuel the prophet of the Lord.  He didn’t wait for him to offer a sacrifice to God.  He did it himself.  He was told in no uncertain terms, “Your kingdom will not last.”  Saul shrinks back.  Saul decides, “If the Philistines are going to come, let them come.” If they’re going to decimate us, let them decimate us.  He decides that a bad decision should be followed by indecision, and he just waits.  Jonathan goes to his armor-bearer and he makes this decision, this choice, to step into the gap of the unknown.  Let’s step into the gap of risk.  Let’s step into this gap of faith.  You’ll notice, if you read through this passage of Scripture, that in no place does Jonathan suggest “God told me to go.”  He just sees the opportunity and decides he cannot sit back and let it pass.  He chooses to combat inactivity with initiative.  That’s what people who choose life do.  They refuse to just let life come to them.  They’re not people who have the tattoo “Let Go and Let God.”  No one in Scripture has that tattoo!  None of the early followers of Jesus had the perspective just let go and let God.  They were ferocious about seizing the moments and the opportunities that were in front of them and making the most of them.  The Apostle Paul, in writing to the church at Ephesus, says it like this:  Look carefully then how you walk, {how you live} not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. (Eph. 5:15-16)   Making the best use—literally in the Greek it’s the idea of buying back or redeeming the time, the kairos.  It’s this idea of opportunity that’s right in front of us.  {Will you look up at me for just a moment?}  As a community of faith, as we start to wrestle with what does it look like to be faithful to God….what does it look like to live as a disciple?  Living as a disciple and living faithful to God is not simply avoiding sin.  It’s embracing opportunity.  It’s taking responsibility and stewardship of the things that are in front of us.  Whether it’s opportunity with how we use our time.  Maybe it’s opportunity with how we use our influence or our resources.  Maybe it’s just opportunity with how we cultivate the soul that God has given us and the world that he’s planted us in. Jonathan Edwards, one of the great early preachers in the church in the Americas, said it like this in his resolutions that he wrote at the age of 20 in his journal:  “I resolve never to lose one moment of time, but to improve it in the most profitable way I possibly can.”  You wonder how somebody, before the Internet, writes volumes and volumes and volumes of deep theology….that’s how.  I’m not wasting a moment….   I’m buying it back.  I’m redeeming as much of it as I can.

But we all know those kairos moments are hard to capture, aren’t they?  Time has this way of moving!  Have you noticed this?  It’s impossible to stop it.  That’s the hard part of stepping into a kairos moment.  We need to be ready for the opportunities that come our way, because once they’re gone, sometimes they’re gone.  The hard part is we’d love to stop time.  We all know that we can’t.   Every once in a while, after Aaron is done rendering our video of our sermon, he’ll send me a still picture of me preaching.  It’s always a reminder that it’s impossible to stop time and you look pretty dumb when you try.  {Ryan shows a few slides.}  It’s hard to stop time, isn’t it? It’s impossible to stop time, which is the difficult part of seizing the moments in front of us and taking initiative. We wish we could hit STOP, PAUSE, or TIMEOUT; now let’s figure out what to do.  We can’t do that, we just need to be ready.  A lot of us, get stuck in these moments, don’t we?  U2, a number of years ago, wrote a song called Stuck in a Moment.   Here’s what the chorus of the song is:  “You’ve got to get yourself together. You’ve got stuck in a moment, and now you can’t get out of it.  Don’t say that later will be better.  Now you’re stuck in a moment and you can’t get out of it.”

Isn’t it true that while we can’t stop time, we get stuck in it sometimes?  Maybe it’s a decision we made in the past and we just keep revisiting it, and it prevents us from moving forward.  Or maybe it’s this fear of failure that prohibits us from stepping into the kairos, the opportunities, that God brings our way.  There’s a lot of ways we get stuck in the moment.  Maybe it’s vision.  We just don’t have a vision for how God might be calling to leave one side of the mountain, to walk down into the valley, and to climb up the other side.  Maybe we just don’t have any clue how we could step into zoe instead of just settling only for bios.  Here’s the deal—when we fail to choose, we choose to fail.  You may have heard that before.  When we fail to choose, when we fail to step into the moment, we are choosing to say, “God, I don’t believe that you can work in this situation, and I don’t believe that you can use my life for anything great.”  When we fail to choose, we choose to fail.  So here’s my question—Is there a conversation that you’re just waiting to come to you that you know you need to have? Is there a decision that you need to make, that’s just been staring at you that’s on the horizon and that you know…..inactivity vs. initiative.  The Spirit of God is saying to you, “You’ve got to step into that moment.” What is it?  How might He be calling you?

Here’s what Jonathan does.  He chooses initiative over inactivity.  Here’s the next thing he does.  If you read through the story, and I’d encourage you to do so, Jonathan has a lot of people putting information into his life. He’s got his father who’s just been anointed and crowned as king, who’s made a bad decision and is cowering in fear.  He’s as far away from the battle as he can possibly be.  His response to doing something wrong is to do nothing at all.  Let’s just sit back, wait, and see what happens.  He’s surrounded by a number of people—they’re priests in the nation of Israel, but if you go back and start at the beginning of First Samuel, what you’ll figure out is that they’re priests that have been cast off by God, because they were unfaithful.  So the input he’s getting in his life is from this cohort of priests who are identified by one person who’s listed in the midst of this. His name is Ichabod, which literally means the glory has departed.  It’s left.  That’s who Saul is.  Certainly Saul puts her arm around his son Jonathan and feeds him information.  He also has the clanging cymbals of the war that is waiting for him with the Philistines’ iron batting up against itself.  He’s got that.

It’s interesting that when we read this we see that Jonathan leaves the camp.  He not only leaves the camp physically, but he leaves the input of Saul.  He leaves the covering of Saul.  He leaves the information of Saul to go and to chart his own course.  Here’s what he says (v. 6-7):  Jonathan said to the young man who carried his armor, “Come, let us go over to the garrison of these uncircumcised.  It may be that the Lord will work for us…  {Notice, Jonathan doesn’t have a command from God.  He doesn’t have a promise from God.  He just knows God. He knows God’s able.  He doesn’t know if God will come through for him in the way that he hopes, he just knows that nothing’s going to hinder Him.  He can do whatever He wants.  If He wants to save me, well then, great.  If not….well, bummer.  That’s where Jonathan’s at.} …for nothing can hinder the Lord from saving by many or by few.”  And his armor-bearer said to him, “Do all that is in your heart.  Do as you wish. Behold, I am with you heart and soul.”  Here’s what Jonathan does.  He not only choose initiative, he chooses his input.  He chooses what information he takes in and what information he builds the foundation of his life upon. {Slide: Choose to filter the input you receive.}

The information we accept will always determine the decisions we make.  When I first got here almost five years ago, I was on fire.  I was lit up.  I was stepping out of a healthy church and a vibrant ministry and I was just so excited about what God was going to do in the life of South Fellowship Church.  We’ve seen him do a great thing, make no mistake about it.  But over the last five years, I’ve gotten beat up a little bit, my family’s been through some difficult things, our church has been through some really difficult things.  Somewhere along the way, I started listening to the voices that said to me, “You can’t think that big anymore.  You can’t dream that big anymore.”  We’ll sort of be this mid-size, small church and God might do something great through that, but you can’t have those dreams that are out on the horizon that are bigger than what you see in front of you. And I’m here today to stand before you and repent.  And to say, “I’m convinced that the God who’s for us is greater than the enemy who’s against us.”  I’m convinced that God has a future for this church that will transform this community and city.  I’m praying for it, you guys.  I’m praying that a move of God would start here that would change not only Littleton, Centennial, and Denver, but, by His grace, would extend to the ends of the earth.  I’m passionate about our God who draws people who are far from Him to himself.  I’m raising my hand, and I’m asking you to do the same.  To say will You use this body to do that, Jesus, please.  That’s my turn (from last week).  That’s my turn!  I’m turning from small-minded thinking back into the conviction that our God is able to do far more abundantly than all that we could ask or think or dream or imagine.  That’s my God!

I love that Jonathan….his faith is like sort of faith.  I think it’s a biblical profile of what faith actually looks like. Maybe God will do this.  He’s like God’s in our corner, we’re confident of that.  And God’s got one arm around him—probably a teenaged boy who’s carrying one of two swords that the entire nation owns!  Saul has one. Jonathan has one.  His armor-bearer looks at him and goes, “Well, if you want to go, that’s sort of my job.  I go where you go, so if you’re going, I’m with you.”  I love that Jonathan’s decision point, not only comes about because of his faith in God, but it comes about because of the arm of his armor-bearer around him saying, “I’m going with you.”  I’m stepping in with you.  I think a lot of us are either one person away, or we ARE the person that somebody else is longing for.  To put our arm around somebody and say, “You can do this.  You can leave this bad relationship.”  You can step into this new season, this new job.  I’m with you.  You can choose to forgive and release the weight that’s on you.  I’m with you, heart and soul.  Please don’t underestimate how significant your support may be in somebody chasing after who God has called them to be.  When we change our input, it changes our impact.  It’s the reason God’s called us to do this thing called faith together!  That we’re not just on an island.  We are in this heart and soul with one another and that’s a really, really good thing.

One day Jonathan the son of Saul said to the young man who carried his armor, “Come, let us go over to the Philistine garrison…   You can read about this in chapter 13.  Thirty thousand chariots.  Six thousand horsemen. Numerous as the sand on the sea were their infantry foot soldiers.  Somehow Jonathan SEES it, but he sees something else also.  He understands sure, there’s an enemy and sure, they’re powerful, but my God’s in my corner.  My God is for me.  Here’s what he does.  He not only chooses initiative and he chooses input, but he chooses how he interprets his circumstances. {Slide: Choose how you interpret your circumstances.}  I think this is a word for somebody in here today.  There’s something that you’re looking at and you’re only seeing it one way.  There are multiple ways to see every single situation you’re in.  Did you know that?  You may get the phone call—-bad news from the doctor.  There’s more than one way to see that situation.  I’m not saying you ignore reality, I’m just saying that resurrection and death are both happening at the same time in the story of Jesus coming out of the grave.  So there’s two ways to look at every situation.  In fact…..{Ryan shows an optical illusion of a woman’s face/saxophone player.  He asks people to raise their hand if they see the woman, the saxophone player, or both.}  There’s two ways to look at that picture.  There’s two ways to look at your life. There’s probably multiple ways.  Look at the way the Apostle Paul says it in 1 Cor. 16:8-9 — But I will stay in Ephesus until Pentecost, for a wide door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many adversaries. Wait, Paul, which one is it?  Is it effective ministry or is it massive opposition?  And the answer is…..YES!  It’s the answer in your life too.  It’s the answer in my life too.  That opportunity often looks like opposition.  In fact, it’s typically brilliantly disguised as a challenge we do not think we are capable of facing.  Of a mountain we do not think we are capable of climbing.

So Jonathan takes all of the facts that are coming at them—-yes, they have two swords.  Yes, his father, the king, is cowering in fear.  Yes, the Philistines continue to send raid upon raid upon raid.  BUT….if God wants to do something, NOTHING can tie his hands!  The question becomes what narrative do we make of the things that happen in our life.  There’s a lot of stories we start to tell ourselves.  You may have noticed this about you. Usually, we have one central tape that we play.  For some people it’s a narrative of scarcity—-Well, we could do that if we had this.  For some people it’s a narrative of failure—-I know that the next thing on the horizon is just going to happen.  It’s a defeatist type of narrative—-We tried this before and it didn’t work out.  For some people, the narrative that they play over and over in their mind is a narrative of fear—-We would leave that side of the valley, if it weren’t for the huge giants on the other side.  And that’s the tape that plays over and over.  Some people have this fatalistic tape that plays.  It says—-It doesn’t really matter.  My life is insignificant and who cares what decisions I make.  If God didn’t care what decisions you make, he wouldn’t have given you the capacity to make decisions.

The narrative that Jonathan chooses is the narrative of faith.  It’s this narrative of well, maybe God….and nothing can hinder God.  The truth of the matter is, friends, is that faith is not just a decision we make, faith is a narrative that we live.  That my God is able, that my God is possible, that my God is good, that my God is active, that my God is for me, and that He’s part of this story of the lives that we’re living.  He’s not distant out there somewhere.  Here’s the other thing that the narrative of faith always sinks their feet into—-God does not reveal a problem to us for us to pass it on to somebody else.  He doesn’t show us something so we can say, “Hey, you should take care of that!”  He invites us into what he’s doing so that we can be a part of it.  If there’s a challenge staring you in the face, there’s an opportunity waiting to be embraced.  There is!  The question is: Will we step into it?  If we read through the Scriptures, this has always been a part of God’s redemptive plan— that salvation comes by His grace, by His choice, by His goodness, THROUGH His people.  You are both the object and the subject.  You are both the carrier and the message that our God is good and that he is gracious. That’s the story we live in.  The question we have to wrestle with is are we going to settle for just breathing (bios), or will we step into zoe (life)?  The choices that we make are being determined by the people that we’re becoming.

If you hear a message like this, your initial thought should be, “Well, did Jesus live like this?”  Did Jesus take initiative?  Well, he left heaven, clothed himself in humanity, stepped into a broken world to live a perfect life, died an atoning death, raised to offer you and I new life.  No one was forcing him to do it.  He took the initiative of the Father’s plan to step into His broken creation to bring wholeness and bring redemption.  Did he take initiative?  Absolutely!  Did he choose his inputs?  Throughout the course of his life, you look at people telling Jesus to do something different and he’d say, “That’s a really great idea, however, I need to obey the voice of my Father.  I’m walking with Him.  I am His child.”  He chose his inputs very carefully.  How did he interpret his circumstances?  Well, for the joy that was set before Him, He endured the cross, scorning its shame.  He said, “Listen, this is my goal, this is where I’m moving.  I understand the cross is terrible, I understand the cross is horrible, but I’m chasing a deeper and more abiding joy.”  Friends, because our God, Jesus, gave His life, you can step into newness of life.  Living is a choice, zoe is a choice, that Jesus freed us to make by giving his life for us.  {Slide: Living is a choice Jesus freed us to make by giving his own life.}  You’re secure in Him.  You’re loved in Him.  You’re holy in Him.  And now, He releases us to live in Him the life He died to give us!  It’s zoe life, not just bios life.  Existing is a given, but living is a choice.  Living is a choice you never regret making.  I guarantee you, Jonathan never sat around the fire, as he grew to be older and older, and said, “You know that time we hiked down that valley, and rock climbed up the other side, and attacked the Philistines…..man, that was a terrible call, wasn’t it?”  No, Jonathan never told that story.  But I bet he did say, “You remember that moment where everything changed?  That moment where we chose not just to let life come to us?  That moment where we decided to live?  That was the moment that charted a new course, a new life, that went beyond just breathing, but a reason for breathing!”  I pray that we would be the type of community that is defined by zoe, by life.  I pray that you’ll choose to live.  Let’s pray.

Before you go rushing out of here this morning, I just want to give you a moment and if you’ll invite me in, I just want to poke around in your soul a little bit.  Is there a person that comes to your mind that you need to have a conversation with?  Maybe it’s been something you’ve been avoiding for a while.  Forgiveness that needs to be offered or maybe accepted?  Maybe it’s a hard conversation—speaking the truth in love kind of situation.  Maybe there’s a decision on your horizon that you’ve been avoiding making or that you’re just too scared to step into this place you know God’s calling you to step into.  Maybe you hear a different voice in the back of your head this morning.  A different voice in your heart.  A God who reminds you He’s for you and He’s powerful and He’s good.  Jesus, this morning, we would ask that in our hearts, in our souls, you would do something that we can’t do on our own.  Would you stir life in us?   As we choose to follow you, as we choose to give our lives to you in light of the fact that you’ve given your life for us, would you invite us into the life that’s really truly life? Father, would you stir in us this week ways that we can take initiative rather than just being inactive?  Ways that we need to listen to a different truth.  And ways that we need to see our circumstances a little bit differently. Would you give us the eyes of faith this week, we pray?  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

STRETCH: Choose to Live – 1 Samuel 14:1-52024-06-13T08:27:27-06:00
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