SERMON ON THE MOUNT: Real Religion  Matthew 6:1-5, 16-18  Pastor Larry Boatright

How many of us, in this room, would admit that we’ve done something embarrassing that we wish no one would ever see?  Wow!  When we do something embarrassing and then later on we think about it, we still kind of feel it, right?  It’s crazy because the world that we live in now everybody has a cell phone and they can take video of this stuff, so when you do something stupid, it gets recorded for posterity.  Or security footage, as a possible example. You can visit original site for best CCTV surveillance camera system installation. As safety at home must be always prioritize so you should have better home security system. I did something kind of embarrassing recently, and I thought the wisest thing to do is to show you guys.  You okay with that?  Take a look.  I was in a hurry to get out (of the building) one day, I needed to make a phone call.  This is security footage from our lobby.  I was trying to get this call made…   (Video shows Larry crashing into tempered glass window.)  In my defense, as I was walking toward the window, there was a woman walking out and she had this cute little blond girl who was smiling at me.  I was like, ohhh! BAM!

For some reason, every person I showed this video to has laughed.  I’m not sure why.  I want to go back and show it in slow motion, because I want you to see just how hard my head bounced off the window.  Take a look….boom! boom! boom!  It hurt like heck and was super embarrassing.  The woman rushed in and was, “Oh my God, are you okay?”  I was not okay, but I said I was because I was embarrassed.  I was stunned and embarrassed, but it also cut my lip.  I heard my tooth hit the glass when it happened.  Beyond that, it gave me a full-blown concussion.  I spent about ten days in a fog.  I was driving a few days later—which I probably shouldn’t have been, but just to give you an idea the weird stuff my brain was doing—and I turned a corner and saw a gorilla on the street corner.  I told my wife, “There’s a gorilla on the street corner!”  She looked out the window and she looked back at me and was like, okaaayyy.  I looked again and it was a black street light.  My brain superimposed a gorilla some how.  If you hear me scream and run off the stage, I saw a gorilla!

You’re probably asking, “Why are you showing us this?”  Well, I want you to know that I have a brain injury today, and I’m still struggling.  I wanted you to understand why this sermon’s going to be three hours long.  I’m kidding, mostly.  Seriously though, I’m showing it because it is funny, but I want to make the point that we all have done things that are embarrassing.  We’ve all done things that we wish no one else knew about.  We work really hard to hide those things.  On the other end of things, we’ve all put on a facade for other people to look better than we are.  Don’t we?  We do these things to make us look like we’ve got it all together, when we really don’t.  We’ve all done things in between those two spectrums.

We’ve been in this series where we’ve been journeying through the Sermon on the Mount, and man, what a provocative, challenging series this has been.  Today, I want to look at the words of Jesus where he addresses this idea of putting on a show for others in order to make ourselves look good.  I want to see what he invites us to do as we practice living in the way of Jesus with the heart of Jesus, as we talk about the kingdom of God.

If you have your Bibles, turn to Matthew 6.  We’re going to look at a few verses together (from the VOICE translation) (verses 1-5):  Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them.  If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.  So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others.  Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.  But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret.  Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.  And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others.  Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.  But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen.  Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. {Skip down to verses 16-18.}   When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting.  Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.  But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

What a passage, huh?  A few observations—This starts off with the phrase “be careful.”  Anytime we see Jesus say, “Be careful…” we should pay attention, because it means we might be in a place where we’re about to walk into a danger zone.  He says, “Be mindful of your motive while you’re practicing your righteousness.”  A chapter earlier, Jesus said, “Be perfect, as my Father is perfect,” right?  That sounds real intimidating.  I don’t know about you, but if Jesus says, “Be perfect,” is that intimidating?  Yes.  That’s crazy.  But he wasn’t setting a bar of perfection or righteousness that he intended for these people to instantly attain.  It’s like, well, follow Jesus and now you’re perfect.  Some people, when they choose to follow Jesus, think that’s what they’re suppose to do. . . .instantly be perfect.  He’s not saying that, that would be too oppressive.

This idea of practicing your righteousness was a way of conveying that we should be doing the things that work out becoming who God invites us to be.  Moving towards looking more and more like Jesus.  Maybe it’s practicing your righteousness as righteous practice.  It’s practicing being holy.  Jesus comments assuming that they ARE practicing.  Notice he doesn’t say, “IF you give….” What does he say?  WHEN you give.  He’s assuming that they’re doing that.

We have to remember that Jesus wasn’t speaking into a vacuum or just trying to sound religious like a religious teacher, he was speaking to real people in a real culture that had real expectations on them.  Giving, praying, and fasting were ways of moving toward holiness, of showing that you were holy.  This didn’t exist just in Judaism, it exists in almost all of the major religions of the world.  As a matter of fact, giving to the needy, praying, and fasting are three of the five pillars of Islam.  So it wasn’t unique to Christianity, it was sort of expected.  If you were moving toward righteousness or piety or holiness, you would be doing those things.  So he was speaking to very real things people did in order to feel like they were holy, or feel like they were measuring up to God’s standards.  It’s real important that we understand that.  He wasn’t condemning giving, praying, and fasting, he was commenting on what happens when people do it for the wrong reasons.

So in this passage, we see him sort of walk us through those things.  Don’t do it this way, but do it this way.  Why was he doing that?  Why was he even addressing this?  There are three reasons I want to point out.  One is that is was a very stoic culture.  It was a culture where you DID hide your imperfections.  You certainly didn’t want to look like you didn’t have your stuff altogether.  You needed to have the appearance of having it altogether.  You don’t want to show that side.  It was also a religious culture that was very formulaic and ‘prescribed’ what it looked like to ‘look holy.’  If the church is saying to you. . . or if your religious leaders are saying, “Well, do THESE things if you’re holy,” then it was a culture where people felt pressure to do those things.  Does that make sense?  Pray. . . .if you want to look holy, pray.  If you want to look holy, fast and make a big deal out of it.  If you want to look holy, give publicly.  So it was assumed that you would be doing those things to look holy.  People would assume if they see it in you, but then you clearly must be holy.

Then there were the hypocrites that he talked about.  The super religious people that went over the top.  They wanted everybody to know that they were doing these things and that they were holy.  The reason they were doing it was to get accolades from people.  Jesus was emphatic about the true reward for doing those things with that motive.  The reward was that you would receive approval of others.  You would receive the admiration of others, and if that was what your goal was, then that’s what you got.  But that’s all you got.  Jesus was saying that it was sort of a flash-in-the-pan, a short-lived reward.

Maybe we should bring it into a modern-day perspective.  We just had the offering.  Could you imagine that at the beginning of the offering the ushers are ready to go down the aisles, and someone pulled a trumpet out and doot-doo-doo and they played it.  Then they pulled out one of those huge checks—-like the ones you win from the lottery when you’re at a press conference, or if you have a business and you’re donating money and it says I’m giving all this money.  They came down to the front of the church and they showed it, and then they were like, come on.  That would be really weird.  Just in case you were kind of thinking of doing that, you might get tackled by someone on our safety team.  It sounds a bit ridiculous, but it’s not so far off from things that people in our culture do.

There’s the one side where many of us stuff things down and we do whatever we can to hide the real us—the brokenness, warts and all—from other people.  Things we don’t want others to see.  I was talking to a friend of mine the other day and I showed him this video.  He said, “How’d you get that?”  I said, “I went home and I logged into our security camera and I recorded it so I could show the church.”  He said, “This is what’s different between you and me.  I would have logged in and deleted the video.”  And now that I’m saying that out loud, it’s a pretty good idea!

Some of us do that.  We get in a fight on the way to church with our spouse.  We’re screaming bloody murder and threatening divorce and all this sort of stuff.  Then, magically, when we pull into the parking lot of the church. . .BING!  We are GQ family.  Children look perfect coming into the church.  We do that, right?

A lot of us spend so much energy trying to look perfect for others, because we think that’s what’s expected of us.  We post memes on Facebook that sound real holy and spiritual.  Some of us, to look holy, raise our hands in worship.  If you grew up Presbyterian, you keep your hands below the chest.  If you grew up Baptist, like I did, it’s even with the chest, one palm up, one down.  If you’re charismatic, it’s a fully exposed armpit.  There are rules.  So do those things to look real good.  Sometimes, maybe, we say to someone, in person or on Facebook, “I’m praying for you.”  That’s almost become an empty phrase because most of us don’t.  We say “I’m praying for you,” but we don’t actually do it.   I’m guilty of that too.

Maybe, just maybe, after we do all of this work, we get a pat on the back and someone affirms us—you look holy.  Wow, you’re spiritual.  That does something deep in us.  It lights a spark in us that every time we get the accolades for ‘looking religious,’ ‘looking holy,’ looking like we have it altogether, it’s like an addiction cycle that we have to do more and more and more.  It’s crazy.  Why do we do this?

Giving, praying, and fasting are all portals to true communion with God, but they’re also great ways to get patted on the back. Our motives, within religious circles, can get twisted really quickly.  We can do a lot of things to appear that we have it altogether and to receive the applause of others.  We measure ‘am I okay?’ by those things.  So I look to see how many ‘likes’ did I get on Facebook video or the thing that I posted.  How many people come up to me after the sermon and say, “Wow, that was a great talk, Pastor?”  How many people affirm—like when we’re trying to keep up with the Joneses—the new car or the new house or whatever it might be?  How many times do we measure our worth by those things?  All too often, we do those things because it seems the right thing to do, because we know people will praise us.

Remember the proverb:  Before every person lies a road that seems to be right, but the end of that road is death and destruction. (Proverbs 14:12)   We live in a world that is so driven by approval and achievement that people will go to endless lengths to obtain those things and it becomes this addiction.  But the reward, Jesus said, the reward for that. . . .if my motive is for approval, then that’s ALL I’m going to get.

But pushing deeper for just a moment into WHY we do these things. . . .why we seek approval, why we seek to look like we have it altogether.  I believe that we ALL, whether we’re a follower of Jesus or not, have this suspicion that something’s missing or broken within us.  I believe that the image of God within us, no matter how marred or scarred or smudged by the brokenness within us, has a longing inside to move toward wholeness.  I believe God put that within us.  We go to great lengths to fix what doesn’t quite feel right within us.  It’s almost like we don’t feel okay with ourselves or with others or with God, so we go through these great lengths.  Jesus is trying to tell us if our motive is wrong, if our motive behind those things is wrong, it’s always going to lead to pain because the reward is short-term.  If our behavior is wrong, if the things we’re doing to practice our righteousness are wrong, we feel trapped, we feel fake, we feel empty, and we chase methods to feel okay.  We move from one theological camp to the next.  If I go to this camp, they say I should worship a ton.  That didn’t work for me so I’d better find another way.  So I’m going to go over here and read my Bible and pray, every single day.  We go through the motions of religiosity.  We wake up sometimes and go gosh, I’m exhausted!  Jesus wasn’t content to let us stay that way, and I’m so thankful.  He addresses these practices that really had the potential to be portals to union with God, but some people were doing them the wrong way and with the wrong heart and therefore, receive the wrong reward.

He reframes what a healthy motive looks like. He talks about ‘the Father sees,’ the approval of the Father.  Look at what he says:  Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.  The motive, he’s saying, should be a reward from the Father, not the approval of people.  I’ll unpack that in a second.  Then he reframes what a healthy behavior looks like.  He says, do this secret.  He gives this kind of weird analogy:  Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret.  He’s not literally saying don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.  He’s using that as sort of an extreme metaphor to say this should be private.  He’s not saying don’t pray in public; God clearly calls the Church to do this.  He’s not saying don’t give in public.  He’s saying your behavior should be that of an intimate connection with God, not a public display intended to earn the approval of others.

So Jesus, in this Sermon on the Mount, in this sort of radical, subversive going against the grain of the thinking of the day, invited people to think and act differently, for the glory of God, for their wholeness, and ultimately, for the renewal of all things.  He used this example to sort of grab people and shake people out of their mindset of this need to perform.  He invites them into deep communion and intimacy with God.  That sounds a lot better to me than the short-lived, fifteen minutes of fame.  How about you?

So THAT’S the ultimate reward.  Listen to what Robert Mulholland, one of my favorite authors, says about the reward that Jesus invites us to:  “Union with God results in our being a person through whom God’s presence touches the world with forgiving, cleansing, healing, liberating and transforming grace.  The world will not believe in Christ because of our sound theology, our correct creed, our well-defined dogma, our rigorous religiosity.  The world will believe when it sees Christlikeness manifested in our life.”  I don’t know about you, but when I read that I. WANT. THAT!  I want that kind of union with God.  Have you ever known somebody who seemed to be on fire connected with God?  That’s what I want.  I want others to see that Christlikeness manifested in my life.

Jesus’s invitation was to move away from performance and achievement, and trying to measure up, and trying to do rhythms and practices that made them look holy but left them empty inside, and invited them into joining in the kingdom work of renewing all things and enjoying communion with Him.  This idea of practicing our righteousness is to do the things that help us take steps toward, ultimately, getting what we long for, which is communion with God and wholeness.  Jesus is saying we don’t have to go through this endless parade of doing things to feel like we measure up.  We can be with God and practice taking steps to be like Jesus, and Christ’s likeness will come into us and people will see that and see the power and glory of Jesus.

So I’m going to give you the big idea, then I’m going to unpack how we’re going to get there.  Here’s the big idea:  Communion with God doesn’t come from DOING everything perfectly….   Look at me for a moment.  We all need to hear this.  We need to be reminded of this.  For those of us who are perfectionists. . . .we want to get it right every time and we self destruct. . . .you need to hear this.  Communion with God does not come from DOING everything perfectly.  We know, we’ve all tried and failed.  It comes from PURSUING GOD faithfully.  Do you hear me?  That’s good news.  If we pursue praise from others to fulfill that longing in our heart, we’re always going to experience emptiness in the end.  But, if we pursue communion with God, we’re ultimately going to get what we seek, which is to feel okay with ourselves, with others, and with God, and to experience wholeness and the joy of living in communion with God.

Listen, imagine a church filled with people who dropped their pretenses—said I’m not going to pretend anymore, you’re going to see the good, bad and the ugly—but we’re working together, we’re practicing our righteousness together in grace.  Imagine how powerful that would be for a city that so desperately needs to hear that a Savior loves them.  I think that’s the work that God is continuing to do in our midst, and I’m so happy to be a part of South Fellowship Church.

If Jesus is inviting us to a different kind of life—a life where we live in the way of Jesus with the heart of Jesus, the kingdom way—how do we get what we ultimately want, which is communion with God, restoration of our heart, and wholeness?  I’m going to give just four things, in the rest of our time together, to help us pursue experiencing communion with God as we practice our righteousness.  The first one is sort of a no-brainer, but it’s the one so easy to miss.  Seek the heart of God and His Kingdom first.  

Someone once said the Sermon on the Mount is a manifesto of what living in the kingdom is all about.  It’s like the values of the kingdom.  Jesus is unpacking what’s most important in the kingdom of God.  These people, who were the hypocrites, had the wrong motive.  They were seeking the applause, the approval of others first, but Jesus was saying no, no, no, seek the kingdom of God first.  We can try so hard to do everything right and try to look good so maybe God will love us, but Jesus is saying that these practices of giving and praying and fasting can either be a portal to communion with God or a pathway to destruction.  It really all comes down to motive.

The Sermon on the Mount is building toward Matthew 6:33.  We’ve all heard this since we were little kids, but, hopefully today, we can walk away really getting it.  Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and then all these things will be given to you too.  He’s telling the listener, in that passage, don’t worry about your house, and your car, and your food, don’t worry about the approval of others and what everybody else thinks, seek the kingdom of God’s righteousness, and listen, everything that you NEED you’re going to get.  If you’re chasing it for the approval of men, what you really want is to feel okay, to feel that God has restored you, that the brokenness is empty, but you’ll never get it that way.  If you set your intention on seeking first the kingdom of God, you’ll get everything that you need.  If we move toward Jesus, it’s about setting our intention on the kingdom of God and his righteousness, being more like God, letting Christ’s likeness—sanctification, if you will—begin to happen in us.

Our mission statement—living in the way of Jesus with the heart of Jesus—is not just some cheeky phrase we came up with to look good up on a wall, we really think it embodies Jesus’s call to live out the kingdom now.  The best think any of us can do is to pursue Jesus deeply, to spend time to get to know his heart, to get to know his way, and to take steps every day to walk in that.  For some of us, that means we need to start every day just setting our intention, before our feet hit the ground.  Setting our intention on making our motive chasing the kingdom of God, and doing it for God’s glory and not our own.  Maybe some of us need to write down Matthew 6:33 on a sticky note and put it someplace where we’ll see it constantly as a reminder to ask ourselves, “Am I doing it for my kingdom or God’s kingdom?”

Years ago, I had the immense privilege of traveling around the country and the world leading worship.  I got to lead worship in front of thousands of people.  I got to make some CDs.  It was a great adventure.  I had a couple of friends who were nationally-known worship leaders—one is probably THE most well-known worship leader in the United States; you would know them if I said the name.  Because I had a relationship with them, I was sort of doing my thing, I was paying attention to what was happening to them and how their songs were ending up on the radio, and how they were playing at larger and larger events, and selling more and more CDs.  At some point, my wires got crossed and I sort of started comparing my success to theirs.  How many CDs am I selling?  How many people are coming up and talking to me after an event, and going wow! that was amazing?  I got to go to Europe and lead worship for people from 18 different countries.  Man, I remember being at that, and it was a really neat experience, and going wow! I must have really made it!

One of those two men wrote this song called “Nothing Left of Me.”  He gave me a copy of this record and I was listening to it. The Spirit did something deep in me.  It cut through all the junk that I was telling myself—my own little bubble.  It says this:  “Strip away all that remains, for Your glory and Your name, till there’s nothing left of me.  Burn the kingdoms I have made, that You would shine and I would fade, till there’s nothing left of me.”  It just nailed me!  I realized that I had been trying to build my own kingdom, instead of pursuing God’s kingdom.  I was chasing people knowing me, money, and all these sorts of things—in Jesus’s name.  It broke me to my core.  I realized I had been doing all this to build up my kingdom, but really, the reason these people were so successful was because it was all about Jesus.  They were truly seeking first the kingdom of God and God was giving them all the stuff that they got, not so that they would look like rock stars, but so that they could continue to tell people about the good news of Jesus.

Seeking first his kingdom and his righteousness is really a matter of setting our heart’s intention and choosing to make it about Jesus’s way and Jesus’s heart.  Listen, it’s real easy to get sideways on this one, and if we do, then all the other things we do really won’t matter, because we’re not doing them for the right reasons, and our behavior will start to shift.  I can promise you, I’ve been there.

So I’d just ask, “How are YOU doing at this?”  How are you doing at seeking first the kingdom of God and his righteousness?  What’s one thing you may need to do, this week, in order to make this a focus in your life?  Think about that.

First we set our heart’s focus on Jesus and his kingdom.  Second, we engage in healthy rhythms and practices that move us toward righteousness, that develop us more and more into who God created us to be.  To sort of help you answer the question on this quiz, what are some practices we could engage in to move us toward righteousness?  Jesus gave us the answer key in this passage, so it’s giving, praying, and fasting. Those are things we could do.  The Scriptures talk a lot about practicing and training, right?  1Timothy 4:7 tells us:  Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths.  Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.   You’d be a fool to say, “I’m now a marathon runner.  I have never ran a day in my life and I’m going to sign up.”  You get to the starting line, the gun goes off, and you’re off to the races. . . .for 250 yards.  Right?  There’s a reason why people with amazing physiques still run a ton every day, building up for the marathon.  That’s the life that Jesus has invited us to, remember?  Be perfect.  It’s as you’re moving towards perfection.

There are different types of practices.  There are corporate practices, like we’re doing right now.  Did you know that you’re doing a practice right now? The Scriptures say don’t forsake gathering together regularly. (Heb. 10:25)  You’re doing that, you’re here.  Corporate prayer and fasting.  Even the church calendar—how we journey through Advent or Lent or things like that—those are corporate practices.  Individual practices like prayer, solitude, fasting, giving, meditation, reading Scriptures.  Those are individual practices we could undertake.

I’m really bad about. . . .when I get excited about something and I realize I need to get better at it, I go “all in.”  Anybody else like that?  I go crazy.  I’m going to get healthy and I’m going to change the way I eat.  So I just go crazy about changing the way I eat and I start working out like crazy.  I end up hurting myself, or I get really sick and then I just give up.  Back to the couch I go.  That’s not what I’m saying.  My challenge to you is this:  just pick one or two practices and start.  I’m not saying now and until Jesus comes back.  I’m saying this week—what are one or two practices you could put in place?  Some ideas directly from Scripture:  Giving —You can start giving, if you’re not giving.  You don’t have to give a ton, just start giving.  Be consistent.  Consistency is the key.  Praying.  Fasting.  Consistently read the Scriptures.  Meditate.  Be consistent in corporate worship.  Come on a regular basis. . . . .most of you we like seeing here!  We want to see you here.  So the question is what are one or two practices you could put in place this week to help you as you practice righteousness, to help you live in the way of Jesus with the heart of Jesus?

The third thing we can do is really important—Listen to the nudge of the Spirit.  This is where it gets really personal.  We should ALL be seeking first the kingdom of God.  We should ALL be engaging in some kind of rhythm of practices.  But this is the part that gets real personal and it could be hard, right?  This is about what the Spirit of God is calling YOU to do.  Did you know the Spirit of God cares about you uniquely?  When Jesus talks about a kingdom, it’s its subjects working together.  Not just a few people, but everybody has their part.  God’s wired all of us with the unique gifting, background, socialization and all those things.  If we will listen, the Spirit will nudge us and give us a job to do.  Listen to 1 Cor. 12:4-7 — Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.  To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.  We all have a role to play in the kingdom of God.  So many of us abdicate our part because we feel that we’re not important enough, we’re insignificant.  Another reason we abdicate is because we think kingdom of God is a someday thing—-I’m just going to hide out until Jesus comes back and makes everything right.  I don’t think that’s the posture God is calling us to.  That’s not living in the way of Jesus with the heart of Jesus.  Living in the way of Jesus with the heart of Jesus is using how God’s uniquely wired us to make a difference, to partner with Jesus in the renewal of all things, to help move things towards shalom, not hiding and just talking, but doing and listening.

Part of our role is to listen and do away with distractions—those things that keep us from hearing that little whisper from the Spirit saying do this.  For some, maybe it’s just talking to people you don’t usually talk to.  Maybe the Spirit tells you to talk to that person.  For others, God may call you to uproot your lives and move somewhere else.  For others, it’s serving in a very specific way.  One person is our brother, Ed (Squire), sitting right here.  He’s started an entire organization—you may have seen Facebook posts and Instagram posts—called #metoowhatnow.  There’s a movement called #metoo, where people have been abused by others.  His question was, “Well, what happens after that?”  What do I do to empower and equip others?  It’s a huge undertaking.  He’s had to learn how to do video.  He’s traveled around the country.  He’s going to be shooting a documentary.  He’s got a book he’s working on.  He’s doing all these things that are probably things he’s never dreamed in a million years that he’d be doing.  But the Spirit was like, “Ed, I want you to do this thing because there are hurting people.”  In obedience, he’s like, I don’t know what to do, I’m going to just start doing it.  He’s taking one step and another step, and he’s starting to get feedback from people who say they need this.  It all started because he postured himself to just listen to that voice from the Spirit.

For some of us, it might be simple what the Spirit calls us do, others it might be complex, but no doubt, part of practicing righteousness is positioning ourselves to listen to the nudge of the Spirit.  The Spirit will call you.  The Spirit IS trying to speak to you, if you’ll listen.  So maybe God’s call for you is to figure out where in my schedule am I positioning myself to listen.  Where am I stopping?  This is something I’m terrible at.  I’ve said this before in teaching, I go 400 miles per hour.  I have one speed — 400 miles per hour.  I feel like, for years, God’s been saying, “Slow down.”  I’m like, “I will some day.”  A few weeks ago, I was talking to Ryan about this and I’m like, I just really feel like I’ve got to focus on resting in this season, getting quiet and listening.  Two days later I got really sick for three days.  Lord, I already know!  I already told you I’m going to do this!  I got over the sickness and I jumped right back in at 400 miles per hour, then I smacked into a plate glass wall.  {The tempered glass is no joke.  It does not give at all!}  The Lord’s working on me to slow down and listen.  I will tell you, for almost two weeks having a concussion, it’s really messed with me, but for some reason I feel deeply connected to God.  I think it’s because I’ve been forced to slow down.  The Spirit’s whispering some stuff.  It’s kind of freaking me out, but it’s good.  We all need to do that.

So we start with prioritizing pursuing the kingdom of God.  We engage in some practices, then we listen for the instruction from the Spirit.  Then here’s the hardest part of this — Have the courage to obey the Spirit.  I tell my kids, “Clean your room.”  They say, “I will.”  It goes on and on.  There’s a disconnect between do this and actually doing it.  The Spirit speaks to us.  This is about having the courage to respond when the Spirit calls you to do something.  A lot of hear a nudge from the Spirit and it kind of freaks us out.  It kind of scares us, so we’re like, I think that was the pizza I had last night, it wasn’t the Spirit.  Then it comes back.  I think the Spirit may be saying to rest, but I’ll deal with that later.  I get sick.  I come back in.  I hit my head.  I have to slow down.  I signed up for this leadership thing.  They send you a book every month with a little guide to follow along with it.  What’s the name of the book that I got this month?  It’s called “Rest.”  I’m like, “I get it! I get it!”  At some point, I’ve got to read the book and follow the guide.  Make no mistake, if the Spirit calls you to do something and you say no, it’s not like the kingdom of God shuts down.  He goes okay, I’ll go to somebody else, but you miss out on an opportunity to train up in righteousness.  Obedience is part of that training up in righteousness and practicing righteousness.

Sometimes when God’s spirit speaks and asks you to respond, other people won’t get it.  It’s going to sound weird, it’s going to sound crazy.  You’ve just got to keep plowing forward.  Years ago, I was on staff at this church and things were going great.  We had just bought a new house and had had a baby recently.  We were building a brand new facility at the church and things were going great.  Right as it was going the best—this always seems to happen—the Spirit said, “I want you to move to Chicago.”  I avoided it for three months and it kept coming back.  God was like I want you to go to Chicago.  I did.  I had several friends that said, “You just made the dumbest move of your life.”  I could have retired at this church, but I felt like God was calling me to something else.  In Illinois, we went through a pretty rough season towards the end, and we decided to go to Florida for a couple of years and work my business and sort of rest and heal.  A lot of people thought it was crazy.  But that’s what the Spirit was saying so I did.  Then I got an email from a guy named Ryan Paulson when I was in Florida.  We started talking about this executive pastor position.  I knew that this was something I should look at.  We had this conversation and today I’m in Colorado.  I listened to what the Spirit said and I went.  It’s not always easy, but it’s the right thing to do.  When Noah was building the ark. . . .imagine. . . .it would be like building an ark in Colorado.  Big huge boat.  I don’t see a lake deep enough to need that, but in obedience the Spirit said do something and he did.  All of us have experienced the Spirit calling us forward into something and I wonder what that might be for you.

The last thing I want to say is that as we ‘practice’ our righteousness. . . .it’s that word ‘practice.’  You’re not always going to get it right.  I remember when I was in high school track and they did these plyometrics, where you’re jumping up on a box.  You jump up on this wooden cube and it gets progressively taller.  It’s training you to jump and have agility and all these sorts of things.  I can’t tell you how many times I wiped out and skinned up my shins.  I had to keep going and not stop.  Eventually I could jump up on that box.  {Today I’d probably break my neck.}

Sometimes we’re going to mess up on this journey.  Sometimes we’re going to say things we don’t mean.  Sometimes we’re going to say things we regret.  We’re going to do things that don’t feel real good, and as they say in the South, when you mess up, you gotta fess up.  So own your journey.  If you mess up, fess up.  Sometimes we get judgmental or we prescribe for others what their spirituality is suppose to be like.  We shouldn’t be doing that.  I love our board here at South.  There’s been times in meeting where someone’s particularly passionate about something and maybe they came off a way they didn’t intend to.  I’ve loved seeing someone look at another person and say, “You know what, I didn’t handle that well.  Will you forgive me?”  They messed up and they fessed up.  It’s part of the journey and it’s okay.  You’re not always going to get it perfect.

We looked at a really important passage.  We talked about how communion with God is the ultimate reward and I shared four ways to get there:  1) Seeking God’s kingdom first.  2) Engaging in healthy rhythms and practices.  3) Listening for the nudge of the Spirit.  4) Having the courage to obey the Spirit.  Now I want to spend a couple of minutes asking the question:  What about you?  The last thing I want is for you to have listened to this talk and understand a little bit about culture and understand what it says.  You can exegete it perfectly, but if it doesn’t do something transformative in you, then we’ve missed it.  My prayer is that the Spirit of God is calling every person in this room to take a step forward.  To take a step or two towards communion with God and to take a step toward practicing your righteousness that moves toward union with God and away from achievement and seeking the approval from others, because, friends, that’s a dead end every time.

So I’m going to put a couple of questions up on the screen and I’m going to ask you to look at those.  Reflection questions:  What are ways I ‘put on a show’ for the approval of others instead of the approval of the Father?  We’ve all done this.  Right now, between you and God, ask that question:  In what ways have I put on a show?  What are one or two tangible things I should do to make a shift towards having healthy motives and behaviors as I seek communion with God?  For some of us, it’s setting our intention in the morning with a sticky note or a reminder on our phone.  For some of us, it’s picking one or two practices and taking a step.  For some of us, it’s listening to the Spirit.  It’s posturing ourselves, putting time in our schedule, or even just our posture going I’m here to receive.  Here am I, Lord.  I’m convinced that in a  room with this many people that the Spirit’s been speaking to you about your next steps and you’ve not been listening.  You don’t want to hear it anymore.  I just want to invite you to train in righteousness, that’s God’s heartbeat for you.  I just want to appeal, if that’s you and the Spirit’s speaking, to just have the courage to obey.  I know it’s scary, but it’s on the other side of that that we look back and see that God did something so unique in us that couldn’t have been done in any other way.

I’m going to give you a few moments in silence, between you and God, to ask those questions, to wrestle with those things, then I’ll pray.  Lord, my prayer is that every person who is hearing this talk would have looked at these Scriptures and would have seen clearly the difference between working for others’ approval or working for your approval.  Lord, I just pray that the longing of our heart—that part of us that knows something is broken and wants so desperately to move towards wholeness—-that part of us that’s worked so hard in all these ways—to just be okay and to look okay.  Lord, I just pray you crumble those walls and strip away our kingdom, let your glory shine, let us fade.  Let it be about you and your righteousness.  Lord, I pray that everyone would see their role in this kingdom of God.  Lord, that you would draw them to you and that they would know you and they would be known.  I ask all of these things in the name of Jesus.  Together this church said. . . .Amen.