If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17)
When God makes us new, God does not merely wash us up and cleanse us. This kind of newness is not like when dishes are washed or even when clothes are bleached.
When God makes us new, God makes us into something completely new and unique. The Scripture promises that being “in Christ” means we are made into a new creation. This Scripture further clarifies that all of the old has ceased, and the new has come into being.
When God makes us new, God remakes us into something completely new. The same word used here for “creation” is the word used to describe what God did at the original creation of the world. Being made new in Christ means that God participates again and afresh in the very act of creation. We are recreated when we are in Christ. We are not merely washed, cleansed, or reformed; we are made again into a new creation.
God, as I live into this newness found through my recreated life in Jesus, help me to hear the Good News that the old me has passed and the new me is now present. Help me to live into this newness. Amen.
Taking Up My Cross and Following After Him,
On the first day of school at Heritage High School, Nicamerican Missions and Impact2One joined to take students through an immersion experience where students tasted, heard, and saw examples of daily life in Tomas Borge, Nicaragua.
Principal Ronnie Bradford and Coach EK Slaughter shared how students have been participating over the past year of partnership.
Jeremy Barcenas, Director of Nicamerican Missions told students about the inaugural 120 students who will be enrolled at Katie Beth Carter Memorial High School in Tomas Borge, Nicaragua in February 2018.
Nicamerican Missions – http://www.nicamericanmissions.org
Impact2One – http://www.impact2one.org
Movement One: Hyperbolic Text
Here’s our text for today: “As he watched him go, Jesus told his disciples, ‘Do you have any idea how difficult it is for the rich to enter God’s kingdom? Let me tell you, it’s easier to gallop a camel through a needle’s eye than for the rich to enter God’s kingdom’” (Matthew 19:23-24 MSG).
If you have been following along in our series this summer you will realize that there is something deeper and something very profound about each of these questions Jesus asks his disciples. For our ears, we hear something of a hyperbole in the idea that a camel could enter through the eye of a needle. A hyperbole is a literary device used by writers in which an over-exaggeration is used to make a point. Common examples for our use are:
- When I was a kid I had to walk 15 miles to school in the snow, uphill both ways.
- We are so poor we don’t have two pennies to rub together.
- He is older than dirt.
- It was so cold I saw polar bears wearing jackets.
- Her eyes were as wide as saucers.
- I am so hungry I could eat a horse.
When Jesus uses the phrase, “It’s easier to gallop a camel through a needle’s eye than for the rich to enter God’s kingdom’” (Matthew 19:24 MSG), we hear hyperbole, which means we hear an over-exaggeration from Jesus. In other words, we hear, “It is virtually impossible for rich people to enter God’s Kingdom.”
If it is virtually impossible for rich people to enter the Kingdom of God, you and I have real problems in this world right now. We are rich people here today. Compared to the world, the United States has the highest average wage at more than $56,000 per year. If you were to average all the salaries of all the countries in the world, you would find that the average wage per person globally is $17,760. Since the average yearly salary of the USA factor at more than three times this global average, we are by far the richest and highest paid people group in the entire world. While you may not feel rich, you and I live in luxury compared to millions and even billions of people worldwide.
Since Jesus is in the habit of asking questions so that we would understand a larger point, let me ask us a question: Is this the point Jesus is trying to make? Is He using hyperbole to make the point that it is virtually impossible for rich people to enter in the Kingdom of God?
If this point is the one Jesus is trying to make, then you and I are hopeless and unable to enter the Kingdom. Poor people not only have a greater chance of entering the Kingdom of God, but, look, it is impossible for a camel at galloping speed to enter through the eye of a needle. Just by size comparison, there is no way, right?
Movement Two: Impossible Context
So, what is the point then? Why would Jesus write off rich people as impossible residents of the Kingdom of God?
I had a preaching professor tell us one day in Seminary, “A text without a context is a pretext for a prooftext.” In other words, we must consider the greater context in which we find a couple of verses of Scripture to understand what that text is trying to convey.
Verse 16 of Matthew chapter 19 begins the story of what we normally call, “The Rich Young Ruler” or “The Rich Young Man.” In this real-life encounter, Matthew tells of a young man who asks Jesus the question, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” (v.16). We have no broader context about who this man is or what this man wants other than what is recorded here in Matthew and the other Synoptic Gospels. Luke records that this man was a “local official” (Luke 18:18 MSG), and Mark says that this man “came running up, greeted [Jesus] with great reverence” (Mark 10:17). This interaction left such an impression on the disciples that each of the Synoptic writers chose to include it in their Gospel renderings. It is clear in all the Synoptic Gospels that this man was a respectable and wealthy young man who had some sort of status as something like a local ruler or official.
The two engage in a dialogue about what is required for entrance into the Kingdom of God. Jesus replies in typical rabbinic fashion that this young man should keep the commandments. The young man sort of audaciously responds, “Well, I have kept all of those.” Jesus, without arguing with the man or saying that this man was not telling the truth, moves on to a deeper issue at hand. This man was upright by all accounts, but there was one thing lacking, according to Jesus.
Jesus says to the young man, “If you want to give it all you’ve got, […] go sell your possessions; give everything to the poor. All your wealth will then be in heaven. Then come follow me” (v.21). Jesus’ response to the young man got at the heart of the issue for this fellow.
Jesus’ words here echo another part of Scripture as well where He says, “Don’t hoard treasure down here where it gets eaten by moths and corroded by rust or—worse!—stolen by burglars. Stockpile treasure in heaven, where it’s safe from moth and rust and burglars. It’s obvious, isn’t it? The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being” (Matthew 6:19-21 MSG).
The response from this young man is very telling. Let’s read on…
“That was the last thing the young man expected to hear. And so, crestfallen, he walked away. He was holding on tight to a lot of things, and he couldn’t bear to let go” (v.22). This young man is crestfallen at the mention of what is required of him to enter into the Kingdom of God. Luke says that this man became “terribly sad” (Luke 18:23) and Mark records that this “man’s face clouded over” (Mark 10:22).
Our Scripture at hand occurs right in the middle of this context. Let’s read it again in the midst of this dialogue with this young man…“As he watched him go, Jesus told his disciples, ‘Do you have any idea how difficult it is for the rich to enter God’s kingdom? Let me tell you, it’s easier to gallop a camel through a needle’s eye than for the rich to enter God’s kingdom’” (vv.23-24).
Let’s continue a little further. Not only was the wind taken out of this man, the disciples even were shocked. The passage continues…“The disciples were staggered. ‘Then who has any chance at all?’ Jesus looked hard at them and said, ‘No chance at all if you think you can pull it off yourself. Every chance in the world if you trust God to do it’” (vv.25-26).
Now we are getting more at what Jesus is trying to convey here.
Before we try to get at a different understanding of Jesus’ words, let me add one more thing to help color this passage a little bit more vividly. Jesus’ body language in this interaction is very important. Here in Matthew, Jesus “looked hard” (Matthew 19:25) at the disciples, and a similar phrase is used in Mark where [towards the rich young man] Jesus “looked him hard in the eye—and loved him” (Mark 10:21).
Have you ever used this cue with someone before?—looked them dead in the eyes? The intensity that is portrayed when you begin to look someone in their eyes is sometimes overwhelming.
Jesus, the teacher, rabbi, Lord and Savior, looked intensely into the eyes of not only this young man but also His disciples in order to convey a very important point.
Jesus asks the question, “Do you have any idea how difficult it is for the rich to enter God’s kingdom?” This question, while directed towards the rich young ruler as he left heavy from considering the weighty cost of following Jesus, is ultimately directed towards all followers of Jesus as we would consider the cost of discipleship.
Movement Three: Cost of Discipleship
And just what was it that Jesus was trying to say here? Now that we have peeled back the layers of what is going on, I believe we are able to begin to describe some of what Jesus was conveying in this interaction.
Remember, Jesus is using this conversation and the man’s response as an occasion to teach. Jesus did not seek this man out or begin this conversation on his own; rather, it was as a response to a question about ‘what it takes to enter the Kingdom of God’ that Jesus speaks the words about the camel and the eye of the needle.
As you look at this story and hear it right now, where are you in this conversation?
- Are you an observer?
- Are you a disciple wondering how Jesus is going to respond?
- Are you the young man asking what it takes to get eternal life?
- Could you be Jesus, the one responding?
I want to submit to you and invite you to take on the position of the rich young ruler right now. At some point in our journey of faith, you and I come to Jesus asking this same question, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” (v. 16). Whether you can remember a time where you asked this question or you are still wondering the answer to the question now, you and I are the rich young ruler in this passage. We are the one wondering what it takes to get eternal life and enter into God’s Kingdom.
Jesus’ response to the young man that he should do what God says by keeping the commandments and “go sell your possessions, give everything to the poor [,] then come follow me” (v.21) is the same response Jesus would give to each of us.
Just as the there is an echo to Jesus’ words elsewhere about the difference between earthly treasure and heavenly treasure, there are echoes here as well to how difficult it is to enter into the Kingdom of God. Here are a couple:
Media Shout Cue: NEXT THREE SCRIPTURE CUES AS THEY ARE READ
- “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:13-14 ESV).
- “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21 ESV).
- “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:37-39 ESV).
Movement Four: Universal Challenge
Why would we want to follow Jesus if the cost is this high? What is there to gain in this transaction? Are you and I left as this man, “crestfallen,” “terribly sad,” or “clouded over”?
Dietrich Bonhoeffer said this about cheap and costly grace when it comes to the cost of discipleship, “Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ. Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ; it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.”
Jesus came to die for our sins and reestablish a connection with God. Jesus also came to show us a way to live in the here and now. There is a future of what it means to be a follower of Jesus, and there is a present of what it means to follow Jesus. When we choose to follow Jesus, we are accepting the free gift of salvation and eternal life brought about only because of Jesus, AND we are agreeing to be continually made into the image and likeness of Jesus right now. This process of being made like Jesus means that we allow God to work on us and in us to become like Jesus in all that we do.
Jesus’ response of how difficult it is for a camel at galloping speed to enter through the eye of the needle sets as a good comparison for what it means to follow Jesus and enter into the Kingdom. It is difficult for a camel to enter through the eye of the needle -and- it is difficult to be a follower of Jesus Christ. The cost is high and the burden is difficult.
Jesus makes it clear though, that while it is difficult, it is not impossible to follow Him and He never intended for us to do it on our own without God’s help. Don’t miss Jesus’ words in this Scripture, “No [one has any] chance at all if you think you can pull it off yourself. Every chance in the world if you trust God to do it” (v. 26).
It is in this very clear context that Jesus reminds us of the cost of discipleship and what it takes to enter into the Kingdom of God. The cost is heavy and it takes nothing short of our entire life. There is incredible hope in this promise of Jesus though that there is Good News for each of us. Jesus promises never to leave us on our own in this process. The more we will trust Him and lean on Him, the easier it becomes. The more we become less, the more Jesus becomes greater. As we follow Jesus, our treasure is transferred from Earth to Heaven, and it is in this truth that we receive the promise of eternal life.
What is it that is keeping you from living a life of complete surrender today?
What is it that is keeping you from fully trusting in Jesus as the hope of your salvation?
Have you entered the gates of the Kingdom?
Movement One: Say What?
First of all, HAPPY FATHER’S DAY! Thanks, dads, for being here today. There is hardly a better example you can set for your kids, whether sons or daughters, than for you to take the lead in a spiritual way for your family. Young guys who are married without kids or not married yet: take heart this charge: the spiritual leadership of the home is your responsibility.
We posted this on Facebook this past week. Think about this for just a minute.
How does your dad react when it comes to being on a family road trip?
- We’re good. I don’t need to stop and ask for directions.
- This is a family trip. You tell me where you’d like to go.
- Quick! Everyone shut off our devices and let’s sing!
- This trip costs how much?
- Don’t make me stop this car!
Facebook Responses/Reactions: 27 Like, 4 Love, 3 Angry, 2 HAHA, 0 Sad
In the defense of father’s, I will say that mine and my dad’s sense of directions are far advanced of our spouses. I just have a sense of where I am at basically all times. I can remember where I parked. I can remember where I am in difficult to discern directions. My wife on the other hand…let’s just leave it there.
Welcome to week two of The Questions in Matthew. Most of us have this picture of Jesus as a wise sage who is full of wisdom. In fact, many times in the Gospels, people come to Jesus asking him questions. Many of the people who asked Jesus to give His opinion or interpretation of the Law were attempting to trap him or to make him say things that would get him arrested.
While we may see Jesus as an answer giver, it is also very true that Jesus was very much a question asker. That’s exactly what this series is about. The Questions that Jesus asks in Matthew. To get at these questions, we have to use the Message Paraphrase.
Our passage this week comes from one of the richest and deepest chapters of the New Testament, Matthew 5. Let’s look at our passage today in The Message.
Matthew 5:38-42 – “Here’s another old saying that deserves a second look: ‘Eye for eye, tooth for tooth.’ Is that going to get us anywhere? Here’s what I propose: ‘Don’t hit back at all.’ If someone strikes you, stand there and take it. If someone drags you into court and sues for the shirt off your back, giftwrap your best coat and make a present of it. And if someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously.”
Here’s the point of today’s message very simply: Revenge seeks payback, generosity seeks to pay it forward.
Movement Two: The Pay Back of Revenge
Let’s talk about revenge for just a minute…
Don’t get mad, get even. Revenge is a dish best served cold. Revenge is sweet and not fattening.
William Shakespeare, the master of authoring stories of revenge, famously wrote, “”If you prick us do we not bleed? If you tickle us do we not laugh? If you poison us do we not die? And if you wrong us shall we not revenge?”
Have you ever felt justified when it comes to seeking revenge? Is there a time when revenge is right? What about these situations, and let’s be honest today…
- When someone cuts you off in traffic
- When someone hurts you or slights you
- When someone takes something from you
- When someone one-ups you at work.
- When someone pulls a prank on you
I have a confession: I don’t like pranks. It’s not that I don’t like to have fun. Here’s the problem with pranks: they never stop. When someone pranks you, you feel compelled to prank that person back, but it has to be a better prank. After you prank again, that person feels like they need to prank you again, and their prank has to be even worse. It never stops.
Revenge may feel good in the moment. Ultimately revenge chains us down and forces us to be bound and shackled to the things of our past.
Some may say, “I don’t want revenge, I just want justice.” The issue here is that instead of wanting to get someone back, we instead desire that the person would get what’s coming for them. If someone does something wrong, eye-for-eye justice wants that person to have the same thing done to them.
Just like revenge, the eye for an eye sort of justice just does not work.
Gandhi & Martin Luther King, Jr.: “An eye for eye only ends up making the whole world blind.”
Confucius: “Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.”
The problem with revenge and the kind of justice that seeks payback is that there is no end in sight. Ultimately, we become chained down to the person who has wronged us. Our hurt never gets healed, and we never experience freedom.
Jesus breaks the chains of past wrongs and hurts to bring freedom in our lives.
Watch this drama by members of our youth ministry called, “Set me Free.”
Movement Three: Generosity Paid Forward
As Jesus breaks the chains brought about from an endless pursuit of revenge, Jesus brings freedom by giving us a new way to live. This new life is the freedom of generosity.
- Revenge looks at the past. Generosity looks to the future.
- Revenge desires pain. Generosity desires blessings.
- Revenge seeks pay back. Generosity seeks to pay it forward.
True generosity leaves us speechless and touched in a way that is powerful. Have you experienced the type of generosity Jesus describes? Let’s look again…
Matthew 5:38-42 MSG – If someone drags you into court and sues for the shirt off your back, giftwrap your best coat and make a present of it. And if someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously.
In my life, I have been touched with the blessings of generosity many times.
- When my wife went back to work and our girls were three months old, there were a group of ladies from our church who would come by every week on Tuesday to relieve me. In the early weeks, I took advantage of this relief to sleep. Later on, one particular lady, Misty Nave, would kick me out of the house and make me leave when she came so I could get some fresh air.
- I also experienced generosity in amazing ways a week ago in Nicaragua. When a community that has so little manages to make a banner welcoming at their school in the community of Marañonal and thanking us at just for being with them, we were blessed by sharing life with them. We arrived at a church on Sunday morning that could barely house 80 persons on a Sunday morning to be greeted by 250 persons spread all over the place. They promptly stood and welcomed us to the front and we dwarfed all who were behind us.
- I experienced the generosity of my own father who literally gave of himself unto death to provide for me and my family.
If someone sues you for something, offer them something better. If you are wronged, live like a servant. If someone needs something, see how you can help them. Instead of seeking to get someone back, offer something out of generosity.
Generosity breaks chains and sets us free.
Jesus Himself died out of generosity for us and not merely to avenge the curse of sin. Jesus’ willing death on the cross broke the cycle of sinful living to bring us true freedom to live a different life without sin.
Invitation: What chains do you need for Jesus to break free in your life today? Choose to lay those chains at the feet of Jesus as you bow and kneel today.
Delivered by the Grace of God, through the Reconciliation of the Son, Jesus Christ, and with the power of the Holy Spirit by Bobby Fleck at Ringgold United Methodist Church in Ringgold, GA on November 13, 2016.
The Reality of the Mess
If you are following along in the myMESS series, we have been on an incredible ride. We hope it has been helpful to you. It was and still is our desire that we all not only recognize the messes in our lives but that we all also will be able to overcome our messes with God’s help. If not, check out the #myMESS Series on the Ringgold United Methodist Church website (http://ringgoldumc.org/sermon-series/mymess/).
Today, we are going to dig into how God can turn our messes into a message for the sake of His Gospel and plan for the salvation of the world.
Romans 8:26-30 – 26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. 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. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
The reality of our mess is typically brokenness, desperation, and hurt. But hear the Good News as stated by Paul at the beginning of our selected passage this morning, “The Spirit helps us in our weakness.” In fact, God’s “power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). The Spirit of God literally intercedes on our behalf when we are unable to do so for ourselves. The Spirit groans and prays for us when we cannot do so.
Have you ever been there in your life where you were so messed up that you were unable to speak on your own behalf? For me, there were at least two distinct moments. The first was when my father died. The second was when Tiffini (my wife)’s water broke prematurely while she was pregnant with our triplets. I can remember distinctly in both of these moments not knowing what to say or how to pray. With my dad’s death, in grief I prayed for peace. With my wife (and our babies) I prayed for healing and hope. Going to God in my desperation brought me to a place of peace when I began to surrender to the fullness of God.
Our mess will remain a mess if we continue to try to fix it on our own. We simply do not have the resources, the wisdom, or the ability to fix our own mess. It takes God to unravel our messes. We have to recognize at least two aspects of the reality of our mess if we are to move on. The first reality is that we are in fact in a mess. It takes addicts so long sometimes to realize that they are really messed up. Sometimes, they are so entangled in their mess that they don’t even recognize its reality. That’s the first aspect. The second part to the reality is that our mess is so bigger than ourselves that we cannot overcome it without supernatural help from Almighty God. This is where surrender to God begins. We cannot do it, so we need God’s help.
The Reason for the Mess
Once we recognize the reality of the mess, where we sometimes struggle when we have a mess is the “why?” Why me? What caused it? How can I fix it? Where is God?
These are great questions to ask. In fact, I think we should ask these questions.
- Look at Job…when faced with overwhelming adversity including the loss of everything he had materially, relationally, and even his health. Job questions God. If you are looking for words to put with your grief, look at Job 31. Job thoroughly examines every aspect of his life saying to God, if I did this, if I sinned in this way, if I ignored those who needed help, if I lusted, if I caused pain, if I ever did anything wrong…God why? At the very end of this questioning of God and examining his life, the scripture records, “The words of Job are ended” (Job 31:40b).
- Look at the Syrophoenician woman…a woman not even named who was the mother of a daughter possessed by demons. She would plead with Jesus, “Even the dogs under the table eat the crumbs” (Mark 7:28), as she begged for her daughter’s healing. She asked, God please?
- Look at Paul…three times he asked God to remove what he called, “a thorn in his flesh” (2 Corinthians 12:7), and each time God refused. But God, Paul would exclaim, why?
- Look at Jesus…faced with the brutal reality that would become his death on the cross, Jesus cries drops of blood to His Father, “Abba, you can do all things, please remove this cup from me” (Mark 14:36). In pain and anguish, Jesus cries, God, please, let there be another way.
There is no problem with questioning God. The real issue comes when we reject God and turn away from God in the midst of our struggles and messes. God is there. God will not leave. God will not forsake (Hebrews 13:5). It matters what we do with our struggles and how we face them. The reason for the mess—the why—may not be clear.
- For Job—God did it to prove the faithfulness of Job.
- For the Syrophoenician woman—Jesus brought healing.
- For Paul—God did it to make Paul humble.
- For Jesus—God used it for the salvation of the world.
Whether by our own choice, someone else’s choice, or just plain accident, we may or may not understand the reason why things happen the way that they do.
Matthew 5:45 – “For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”
In the midst of the drive to understand the why, we have to realize that this side of heaven, we may never get to understand the why.
Why did Katie Beth Carter die tragically in a car accident a couple months ago? Why did Nathan Leal, Seth Lawhorne, or Ethan Gerrals take their lives within the last six months? We may never know this side of heaven why these tragic things happened. Why are you in the mess you are in right now? Maybe you know and maybe you do not know.
What sticks out to me is something I heard Katie Beth Carter’s dad say at her candlelight vigil. Coach Carter said, “I just want to be sure that her death was not in vain.”
Here’s the real turn in moving from a mess to a message. Beyond recognizing the reality of the mess and searching for the reason for the mess, we need to seek restoration from the mess. This turn to restoration does not mean we ignore the reality or that we forget what happened, but it does mean that we move to seek a higher purpose from the situation.
The Restoration from the Mess
Look again at 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.”
Most people read this verse something like this…all things are good, you just have to recognize the good—or—since God makes all things happen, he has a higher plan for why he either (a) made it happen or (b) allowed it to happen—or—you just have to trust God to work it out—or—that bad thing you are going through, you have to see it like medicine: it might not taste good, but it is good for you.
Let me suggest a slightly different translation and interpretation of this verse. It is subtle, but it is powerful. I also think it is faithful to the original text.
Instead of saying that all things work together for good, let me suggest that in all things, God works things out for the good for those who trust him.
Look, the reality and the power of this verse and who God is comes through the fact that no matter how you got into the mess you are in—whether by your choice, someone else’s choice, tragedy, disease, or just accident—God still is in those things working them out for your good and for the good of others. Now that’s good news.
The truth is that no matter how you got into the mess you are in, God will not leave you in it. God will work in your mess to turn it into a message for your good and for the good of others.
This exhortation that all things work together for good is not an empty platitude. It’s not something we just say at funerals or when the election does not go our way. Look at salt. It is made up of sodium and chloride. Sodium is a metal that when exposed to water will explode. Chlorine is a toxic gas used in chemical warfare in WWI. Separate, these chemicals are toxic and potential fatal. Together, sodium and chloride when combined produce table salt. These harmful chemicals combine to make a helpful substance for each of us.
What if we saw our messes and our situations as parts that when combined in God’s crucible of love and grace create something that is helpful and ultimately for good?
Separated from God, our lives make no sense and are aimless. When combined with God, all things can work together…God can work in all things…to produce good.
Move from the Mess to a Message
Here’s a better question you could be asking in your mess. Instead of asking why, ask how…If I have to go through this—once I come to terms with it—how can I use it to help others?
A friend of mine named Rebecca Leatherwood was born with Cerebral Palsy so bad they told her she mom would never walk as a baby. The first time I met Rebecca, I was the youth pastor at Prospect UMC in Covington, GA. She had just finished soccer practice as an eighth grade student at our recreation program. Rebecca in fact walks and runs. Also, she is a black belt in Karate. Rebecca later went on to graduate high school from the private school where I was principal. She just published a book about a month ago chronicling God’s grace and work in her life. Here is what she said,
“How did this book happen? To be honest, I’m still amazed that it actually did happen. I never thought I would ever have a book or even be planning to write another one. When I was in school I hated writing even though I wrote good papers. Now I spend every spare moment writing something new and I love doing it! How does that work? I’m not sure. I have never seen God provide for me in the way that he has for this book.”
Here’s something that is really great about moving from a mess to a message. God wants to work in your situation to bring about good. In Greek, the word for messenger and the word for good both come from a closely related root. The truth is that God wants you to be a messenger of His goodness brought about in you to others.
Your mess can become a message when you realize that not only does God want to help you and bind up your wounds (Psalm 147:3), God also wants to use you to help others and to bind up the wounds of others (Galatians 6:2).
Become an advocate for a cause. Use your story to help others who are also struggling with the same issue. Great healing comes from working towards the good of others who are facing struggles. God wants to use us as healing for others.
How do I know what cause or message to have? I don’t have anything I can tell others.
Here’s what I know for sure: if you have been saved by God through God’s grace and love, you have a message to tell others. You have a message of redemption that is powerful enough to save your entire family, tribe, community, and world. God wants you to be a messenger of His message.
Turning our mess into a message first requires that we admit the reality of situation. While we may wonder the reason why we are in our mess—whether by our choice, someone else’s choice, or accident—God wants to work in our mess to make us into good news for others.
Our mess can become a message when we admit our reality, search for the reason, and find restoration into becoming a vessel of God’s good news. No matter where you are in this process, God wants you to make a move and trust Him with what is going on in your life.
Delivered by the Grace of God, through the Reconciliation of the Son, Jesus Christ, and with the power of the Holy Spirit by Bobby Fleck at Ringgold United Methodist Church in Ringgold, GA on September 4, 2016.
Welcome to the final week of Flipped. This has been a message series where we have dug deep into the ways in which God flips our lives and our expectations. Our first week, Perfunctory to Passionate, Pastor Ben led us on a journey to discover our spiritual gifts, passions, and personal styles. If you have not completed the handouts that Ben gave us that week and emailed to us, you really should check those out. We shared ours as a staff team, and they were very revealing and helpful. Our second week, Passive to Active, we realized that God wants us to become a part of the team to join God in God’s work. Last week, through Comfortable to Uncomfortable, we explored the idea about losing our life in order to find it through Jesus.
God calls us to move from perfunctory to passionate, from passive to active, from comfortable to uncomfortable, and today from a consumer to a producer.
When God really remodels and flips our lives, we get involved and move from someone who merely consumes the faith to a producer who gets involved and builds God’s kingdom for others.
Today is Labor Day weekend. Ironic, isn’t it? It’s interesting that on a day where people historically take off and do a quick vacation that we are talking about work and being producers of the faith.
We, each of us, probably almost all of us are workers. We do stuff. We make things. We labor. Most of us like work. We probably don’t like to work all the time. We probably don’t enjoy having to work. We may not like the job we are currently doing. I am just not comfortable with the idea of just sitting around and doing nothing. There is always something to do and something that can be done. There are always dishes, laundry, landscaping, packing, sorting, and so many other tasks that never end and need to be done always and at all times.
James 1:22 – “Be doers of the word, and not hearers only. “
At Ringgold United Methodist Church, we are doers. We do a lot of stuff around this place. From benevolence to hospitality, from visiting folks in the hospital to taking communion to homebounds, from sharing food to making food bags, from packing shoeboxes to educating teachers overseas. We are doers. We do a lot of ministry.
Jesus calls each of us to put feet to our faith by moving from a faith of consumption to a faithful producer who is involved in kingdom making.
Feed Me Consumption
A consumer is focused on consumption. Choices are made based on perceived need, taste, and personal preference. A good picture of the consumer is that of the plant, Audrey, from Little Shop of Horrors. In this movie (or play) a plant, named Audrey, grows from a tiny Venus fly trap to a massive larger than life human eating monster. The insatiable appetite of the plant leads her owner to continually feed human blood to the plant so that the plant can continue to live and grow. This drive to be fed leads Seymour, her owner, to actually lure unsuspecting people into the flower shop so that Audrey the plant can eat them. The epitome of this consumer relationship comes when Audrey sings, “Feed Me, Seymour,” as a way to coax Seymour into continuing to feed the plant (you can watch that song by following this link).
Just as Audrey’s appetite for consumption leads Seymour to compromise in order to accommodate, so too do our own appetites for consumer faith lead us in an unhealthy spiritual diet. This desire to be fed spiritually is what sometimes leads people to church shop to find a church that gives them the kind of faith they are looking to consume. These preferences are typically about personal style and taste and much less about real matters of faith and discipleship.
In a recent article by Relevant Magazine called, “Stop Waiting for Your Church to Feed You” (http://www.relevantmagazine.com/god/church/stop-waiting-your-church-feed-you), several important points were raised for people who have the objection, well, my church just isn’t feeding me spiritually anymore.
“So before you say you’re “not being fed” next time you have an issue with a church, take a look at what they’re actually offering. Are they really not offering solid teaching and resources for spiritual growth, or do you just not prefer the food they’re putting on the table?
Along with practicing spiritual disciplines on our own, a well-balanced spiritual diet often includes embracing diversity and staying with a church family even when it doesn’t spoon feed you or meet all your expectations. Sometimes the best thing for us is to get offended, called out and told no. There’s not much left in our culture that will remind us that this life isn’t about us.”
In short, if you are complaining about not being fed or a church not feeding you, you are missing the point. The point about being fed really usually has nothing to do with your church. If your church is offering solid biblical teaching and resources for spiritual growth, then your objections are really not valid. If you don’t like the food that the church is cooking or feel like the food needs to be improved, then get in the kitchen and start cooking!
Let’s look at Matthew 25:31-46 (ESV)
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’
41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
In our Scripture, Jesus recognizes those who put their faith into action through acts of mercy as the righteous who will inherit his Kingdom. Those who visit, clothe, feed, and welcome are the ones that are rewarded with the inheritance of the kingdom. Those that act on behalf and to the benefit of the least of those who are need are the ones who receive the king’s reward. Jesus calls each of us also to put feet to our faith by moving from a faith of consumption to a faithful producer who is involved in kingdom making.
Being A Kingdom Producer
I like to make stuff. It has always been a hobby and sometimes an obsession of mine to make things. As a kid, I would make things from Legos. My mom and I would clear the floor and spend an entire Saturday just making things out of Legos. I had a gigantic tub of Lego bricks that I would spill onto the floor into a pile and we would work all day making things. As a teenager, this passion shifted to music where I learned I could make emotions through musical melody. I also began to learn how powerful ideas could be at making things and creating things. From my dad, I learned that making model cars, remote control airplanes, and homemade rockets not only were fun but brought a sense of accomplishment and freedom of expression. In college and beyond, I began to pick up woodworking and creating with other materials as a way to transition my own ideas from improvised thoughts into physical reality. I suppose this is also why I enjoy cooking. I thoroughly enjoy making things.
Being a producer or maker who does things is radically different from a consumer who merely takes things in. A producer considers the cost and function before acting. A consumer choose based on preference and taste. A producer thinks about others, while a consumer only thinks about themselves. A consumer matches colors to the décor while a producer makes the furniture. Instead of being a consumer who focuses on being fed, the real flip that God wants to do in our lives today is to take us from a consumer who sits and eats to a producer who is involved in the creation and implementation process.
There is a caution here as well. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in meeting people’s physical needs that we forget to point the actions to Jesus. Doing is good. Helping others is wonderful. Being nice is not enough to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus. There are plenty of nice Muslims and Buddhists. What is it that makes your good deed or action point to Jesus? You will have to proclaim the name if you want God to get credit and glory to go to Jesus instead of your nice deed. When folks try to thank you for the cup of cool water, tell them that it is only because of Jesus that the water is given in the first place.
Shifting the focus off of us and onto Jesus makes us Kingdom producers for the glory of God. Being a producer in this manner actually builds God’s kingdom here and now on earth.
Consumers focus on personal preference and style above and beyond actually getting involved.
Consumers are critics, producers are doers (read that statement again).
We are not called to evaluate church like it is fine wine matching the meal of our life, instead, we are called to take a cup of cold water to those who are thirsty in the name of Jesus.
This is exactly why participation in ministry and groups is so important to your spiritual walk of faith. Instead of worrying if the church is feeding you, get in the kitchen and help cook. Instead of complaining about the noise level of the children running in the hallway, give God so glory because we have young people in our church and volunteer to help teach and guide these kids.
Are you worried about the future of our country and the choices of young people? Sign up to be a prayer champion for our youth and children. There is no greater determination for whether our students will receive and carry on the faith of Jesus Christ than if adults of all ages agree to pray for these students on a regular basis. You can sign up for the Pray for Me Campaign today in the lobby.
God calls each of us to meaningful participation in our community through acts of service. Whether through NCIC, benevolence, Operation Christmas Child, Children’s Celebration of Christmas, Partners in Education (and the list could go on), regardless of what you do, get involved and do what you do to the glory of God.
You know, just as Jesus calls us to be producers instead of consumers and actually get involved in kingdom building, God demonstrated the ultimate act of getting involved by sending Jesus into the world to participate in our humanity. Jesus’ participation was unlike any other participation that any of us could perform on our own. This ultimate act of production and demonstration not only gave each of us a way to live but it reestablished the connection with God the Father through the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ.
On the night in which Jesus was betrayed, he shared a meal with his disciples. As it would turn out, this meal was a different meal, since it held a greater spiritual significance compared to any meal prior to this moment. Not only was this Passover, but it was to be for Jesus his final act of participation in the realities of humanity. It would be for Jesus his last day and a participation in the agony of suffering and death.
Jesus took the bread and said to his disciples, “Take and eat each of you. This is my body broken for you as a participation in the death that you could not produce so that you would be reunited with the Father.”
After the supper was over, Jesus took the cup and said, “Take and drink each of you. This is my blood, which is spilled for you for the forgiveness of sins. I died so that you would no longer have to be separated from my Father. With this sacrificial blood, God’s Covenant is made new with you today.”
Taking up My Cross and Following after Him,
Biblical Mercy Defined
We played a game as kids called, “Mercy.” It was a favorite game of mine. I have been a big kid for quite a while, and I always enjoyed playing this game. I have had a high threshold for pain. I also was really good at working my peers into submission. Mercy…this kids game…usually involves someone who is in a person of dominance inflicting so much discomfort on another person to the point that the other is forced to cry out for mercy due to so much pain.
Jesus says, “Blessed are the merciful.” There is deep meaning in the Biblical words for mercy. Journey with me on a bit of a word study today.
All throughout the Old Testament, when the word, “mercy,” is used it is a single and powerful word in Hebrew. The 148 times it appears, the word is <checed>. Some versions translate this word as God’s lovingkindness. God’s compassion.
- Noah – not destroying the entire world but finding Noah and Noah’s family and waiting 120 years while the Ark was being constructed (Genesis 6:13).
- Hagar and Ishmael – even to a child and mother put away quietly by Abraham God shows great mercy by providing for their needs (Genesis 21:14)
- Elijah – when Elijah fled into the wilderness out of fear for his life being threat by Jezebel, God shows mercy by providing shade and water to the prophet (1 Kings 19:1-7)
- Jonah – not only was God’s mercy displayed to Jonah after Jonah disobeyed God, but through Jonah’s mission did God show mercy to the entire city of Nineveh instead of destroying it (Jonah 4:2).
In the New Testament <eleeō> is used for mercy 31 times. Mercy here connotes the giving of aid, assistance, or help to someone who is in need. Compassion or pity would be synonyms.
- Jesus’ mercy towards the ten lepers asking for healing. Jesus grants their healing (Luke 17:13)
- God extends mercy to all. “For just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now receive mercy. For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all” (Romans 10:30-32).
- The End – God is patient in sending the Messiah a second time as He is wanting all that would to be saved instead of to perish (2 Peter 3:9).
What is interesting is that most of us probably have this idea that mercy is a lot like that game that I described in the beginning. For many of us, mercy happens when someone in power chooses not to destroy or inflict pain on someone who is weaker. While this may be true in one sense, mercy in the biblical sense, is much richer. God shows mercy to us not just because God is more powerful and we are weaker. What God does with mercy is because of God’s incredible love for each of us. What God chooses not to do with mercy is also because of God’s love for us.
Today’s text is very simple: “God blesses those who are merciful, for they will be shown mercy” (Matthew 5:7)
The Mercy of God
Mercy. When we think about mercy as a follower of Jesus Christ, we who are blood-bought and forgiven, it is easy for us to remember God’s incredible mercy towards us. When we recount the sins we have committed, the stripes we caused Jesus, the blood we spilt, we are reminded of God’s compassionate love for each of us.
Mercy is the very character of God. Mercy is not merely a characteristic of God. It is who God is. In the same sense that God is love, as John puts it, so too God is mercy. We cannot define or understand mercy without a relationship with God. This may sound like an overstatement, but it is true.
Mercy is activated and inspired by God’s great love towards all of humanity and His creation.
“The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning” (Lamentations 3:22-23).
Jesus’ own life and death are not only a demonstration but are the greatest demonstration of the incredible mercy of God. God’s mercy towards the whole of humanity led Jesus to the greatest sacrifice of all time. The incredible mercy of God is what empowers salvation.
The Cost of Mercy
What does mercy cost? When we choose to show mercy, what is it that we lose? What is it that we are forced to put aside?
- Not getting your way.
- Not being able to prove your point.
- Not making sure people get what they deserve.
- Having to let go.
What do we do about injustices, though? Does mercy facilitate more pain and cause more havoc?
Even through punishment and discipline, mercy can and does shine through. If you and I got exactly what we deserved at all times, each of us would be in God’s timeout chair for an extremely long time. When we complain about God’s fairness (or lack of it), we must remember that God’s justice would require death and hell of each of our lives. It is only because of the great mercy of God displayed through Jesus Christ and the cross of Calvary that we live and have hope of eternity.
Instead of focusing on what is lost when we display mercy, when we look at what is gained through acts of mercy we realize that there is much more to be gained that lost through mercy.
Mercy is kindness, compassion, and help to those who are in need. Blessed are those who are merciful because they will be shown mercy. Sounds a lot like some other things that Jesus said as well. Do you hear the echoes of “give and it will be given to you” (Luke 6:38), “forgive us as we forgive others” (Matthew 6:15), and “do unto others” (Luke 6:31)? There is something very reciprocal and giving about the way that God works.
It is the way that God setup the universe, but mercy is not some mystic life force like karma. We don’t show mercy so that we will in turn receive mercy later. We are not good so that we will receive good things later. It is not as if there is a bank of good deeds or merciful acts stacking up for us.
We choose to show mercy and compassion because it is who God is and what God wants for us. We are merciful because God is merciful to us. This is the real cost of mercy. As we are being made more and more into the image of Jesus Christ, we lose the human desire for revenge and payback.
The Function of Mercy
Here in the Beatitudes, Jesus expresses the blessings of mercy in the positive. Those of us who show mercy, we will receive mercy. We will be receptors of God’s mercy. Not only will God show mercy to us, but we will be receptacles of mercy; containers of God’s goodness; vessels of God’s lovingkindness.
When someone wrongs or hurts us, we become bound and attached to them. Showing mercy releases bonds and drops requirements. When we are merciful, we break the chains created from wrong or hurt. Forgiveness, which is what happens when we show mercy to someone is a powerful tool.
When God is merciful towards us, we do not have to hold on to the sins and guilt of the past. Too many of us become so tightly bound to these things that it is very difficult for God to work through us. When we hold us tightly onto our past, the past controls us. You and I are not containers of our past failures. Each of us, because of God’s great mercy are now containers of God’s mercy. God replaces our sinful guilt with His own mercy. He removes those things that hold us and weigh us and replaces it with his loving mercy.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. Jesus’ words here echo another of his words in Matthew found through a prayer. Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Forgiveness, which is so closely tied to mercy, functions just as mercy does. With the same measure that we forgive others, we will be forgiven. So too with the same measure that we are merciful, we will be shown mercy.
“Mercy,” is a child’s game where a person of dominance withholds pain from someone in a weaker position. The kind of mercy that God embodies (and also calls us to display) is much more than withholding punishment like in the game. God’s mercy is rooted in God’s compassionate love, and God calls us to extend this kind of mercy to others in our daily lives.
Memory and Remembrance
Today is the Memorial Day weekend. Our country commemorates this day with a holiday first instituted in 1971. Our city celebrates this holiday with the placement of over 1,300 flags and a 1890s Day Jamboree. Our culture enjoys this holiday as it marks the beginning of summer, the end of school, bar-b-que cookouts, and fun! The middle school students in our youth even celebrated this weekend with a tubing trip. I personally celebrated it with a trout fishing excursion earlier in the week.
The purpose of this holiday is for the remembrance of those members of our armed forces who have sacrificed their lives in service of our country. The ones we celebrate tomorrow are the ones who gave the ultimate sacrifice of their lives. While there is nothing necessarily spiritual about this holiday, there is a great deal to learn from the memorializing of those who have sacrificed their lives for our freedom.
I bet each of us have memorials in our own lives. These memorials may be obvious, like a cemetery or place of death. Other memorials carry a different kind of significance, like a picture, a gift, or an heirloom. Many of us may even have memorial flags that were placed on the coffins of our lost loved ones who served. These memorials are ways in which we choose to remember those who have passed in our lives.
For me, when my dad died, I kept a coin in my pocket for a couple of years. I would look at the coin. I would feel it in my pocket. It was something that held significance in my life because it reminded me of my dad.
Another memorial that I hold dear is a Bible that my nana gave to me. My nana had an incredible memory. Her memory aggravated me as a kid, but she could remember so many things. There were trigger words that I could say around her or places we could go, and I could almost tell you word for word what her story would be. If I mentioned frogs, she would tell of the time her son, Mike, my uncle, caught a frog as a young boy, and asked him to fry its legs. If we drove by a creek, she would tell me how she had been baptized in a creek.
What I didn’t get as a kid that I get now is the importance of these stories. It wasn’t just these stories, but it was so many more stories that she and others brought into my life that really shaped me into who I am today. I want to open our hearts and minds up as we dig into what God would have for each of us today. Memories, memorials, and remembrance each have great significance in our lives today.
What we will see in our text in Joshua 4 is that Joshua and the Hebrews created special altars that served as opportunities for remembrance in their lives. So too does God urge each of us to setup for ourselves occasions in our own lives to tell our God stories. Through the telling of these stories, each of us can become living stones of remembrance.
Joshua and the Twelve Stones
Looking at our text today in Joshua 4, we see a couple of occasions where Joshua and the Hebrews erect stones of remembrance.
v.3 – “command them, saying, ‘Take twelve stones from here out of the midst of the Jordan, from the very place where the priests’ feet stood firmly, and bring them over with you and lay them down in the place where you lodge tonight.’”
v.9 – “Joshua set up twelve stones in the midst of the Jordan, in the place where the feet of the priests bearing the ark of the covenant had stood; and they are there to this day.”
vv.19-20 – “The people came up out of the Jordan on the tenth day of the first month, and they encamped at Gilgal on the east border of Jericho. 20 And those twelve stones, which they took out of the Jordan, Joshua set up at Gilgal.”
Three separate times the people set up twelve stones in three different places. First, on the banks of the Jordan where they slept. These were rocks which the priests walked upon to cross the Jordan River. Second, rocks were stacked in the river Jordan itself. The Jordan is not a mighty rushing river like the Tennessee River. In most places the Jordan River is much like the Coosawatee River we tubed on yesterday. These rocks setup in the river were much larger boulders that could even be seen from the shore. Third, rocks were stacked on the outskirts of Jericho in Gilgal. These rocks would be rocks they would see and pass by as these were setup in their own lands. Their children would literally see these rocks and could ask, “Why are these rocks here?”
Each time there was purpose and intention. God’s instructions were clear that stones should be taken out of the Jordan River each time. Stones which the company of Hebrews, priests, and Joshua himself had used to walk upon while crossing the river on dry ground.
A sort of instructional narrative concerning the rocks is given to the people. This narrative is similar to the play rehearsed by Moses to the Hebrews on the night of the Passover.
Exodus 12:26-27 – “And when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’ 27 you shall say, ‘It is the sacrifice of the Lord’s Passover, for he passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt, when he struck the Egyptians but spared our houses.’”
When your children ask…wow. How many times do your children ask you why you do what you do? Every hour of every day, right? I know my kids want to know what we are doing and why we are doing it. Sometimes you have to drop the line, “Because I said so,” to stop the questions. But we should not stifle the curiosity. When our kids ask, let’s explain why.
As a parent instructs their children about the reasons why things are done the way they are, so too does Joshua lead the Hebrews to instruct their children on the importance and purpose of these stacked stones.
The Living Stones
Beyond the physical nature of setting up memorials or places of remembrance, there is something way deeper spiritually to the purpose to what is being talked about and instructed by God through Joshua. Sure, there are three memorial sites where stones are erected for the purpose of remembrance. These sites are important, like a graveside or a memorial flag. But it is not the token or the item that holds the significance is it?
The real story-telling of God’s incredible power and provision for his people is not found through the rocks. It is found through the persons telling the stories of God’s power and provision. When God does something in our lives, we cannot help but tell others of God’s incredible power and provisions. They just cannot keep us quiet or shut us up when the miraculous takes place.
Instead of the rocks being the ones that tell the story, the people themselves become living stones of remembrance. Our testimonies to God’s redemption are the single greatest memorial you and I can have concerning God’s power and provision.
Our testimonies, or as I like to call them, our God stories, tell amazing accounts of God’s work in our lives. The focus is put on God. Just like any good memorial shifts the focus from the site or the token to the person being memorialized, so too do our God stories move the glory from self-focus to God front and center.
Our God stories can serve as a Timehop for God’s goodness, provision, and power. I have to admit that I do like getting notifications from Timehop. Timehop is an app that shows you a “this day in history” from your favorite social media posts of the exact day in years prior. My Timehop yesterday reminded me of a camping trip I took with some youth who have since graduated. It also reminded me of a funny picture of Tiffini and I from three years ago.
Think of your God stories like glimpses into the past where God was at work. That’s exactly the point of the stacked twelve stones in this story from Joshua. Those stones told of God’s provision for seeing the camp through the river on dry ground without getting wet.
When we tell of God’s goodness, it drowns out the noise of bad decisions and sin.
When we tell of God’s provision, it opens up the world’s thoughts to new possibilities and creativity beyond our own limitations.
When we tell of God’s power, it gives us hope for strength and victory from God’s almighty power and strength.
Place the Stone in Remembrance
[grab a rock or stone]
Take the stone each of you were given on the way in today. No, don’t throw it at me. Don’t throw it at a neighbor or the musicians later either.
What does this stone mean to you? What do you need to memorialize today?
I want to challenge you to think about that for just a minute, and we will come back to it.
Many of us carry around rocks in our pockets. These rocks burden us and weigh us down. For some of us, these rocks are the weight of guilt and pain caused by bad decisions and even sin. For others, these are the rocks of shame we have carried because someone else has put something on us like calling us ugly or worthless or being hurt by others. The choice for those of us who have been carrying around rocks is to put these rocks down.
Many of us have been hit by rocks. These are the rocks that injure, bruise, and break. You heard the sticks and stones saying? Well, words really do hurt. These rocks thrown by bullies, family, or strangers can cause serious and permanent damage. The challenge for those of us hurt by rocks is to mend wounds and not give these rocks back to those who hurt us. What this may mean for some is that we should cut ties with those who continue to cause us pain.
For some of us, rocks serve as barriers or stumbling blocks. These are the rocks that get in the way. Low expectations and head-down thinking can cause us not to live up to the potential that God has for us. Many of us many even stack our own rocks to serve as barriers and walls to others. The challenge to those of us with rock barriers or tripping stones is to move the stones out of the way and clear the path.
You still have your rock? What does this rock mean to you now? What does it symbolize to you in this moment?
My challenge to each of us is to take a rock. I want you to put this rock in a place where you will remember it and see it. When you place it, I want you to say out loud to yourself, to others, and to God just what this rock symbolizes. Place a memorial to yourself and put something to rest in your life. Let this be a God moment and a God story for you in your life. Tell your kids when they ask what and why. Be creative and give it to God!
I fully recognize that some might not be ready right now to place a rock in memorial in your life. I challenge you to spend some time with God talking with God about that issue. You may even take some time right here right now.
Taking Up My Cross and Following after Him,
The year 2000 was an eventfully tragic and incredible year at the same time. On April 22, as a part of a high school band trip to Washington, D.C., God got a hold of my life in a very real way. On the bus ride to our nation’s capital, a friend of mine, named Garland, told me that he needed to talk to me about something. I knew what was going on, and I knew what was about to happen. You see, a couple of weeks previous to this conversation, I had come to a place of desperation and hopelessness. I knew something was wrong. I had grown up in the church in one sense, but had also grown very distant from it. We quit going to church on a regular basis some where during my late elementary years. In 2000, I was a freshman in high school at Northside. Something just was not right anymore. I had cried out to God one night and asked God to show Himself to me.
On that trip, Garland met me in my hotel room, and we talked for what seemed like hours. I knew there was an obstacle to me receiving salvation. This obstacle was my girlfriend and relationships. I needed to surrender these to God if I were to find peace. I decided that night to do just that, and to give it all over to God. While I sat weeping in the floor of this hotel room, I felt God’s comfort and hope in the midst of it all.
A couple of days later, on May 2, we received word that my grandfather (my dad’s dad) had passed away from a staph infection caused by complications from a brain aneurysm. We were hurt, but we had seen his deterioration coming. My dad attended to the business of planning the funeral and beginning to get things in order for his dad’s estate.
Two months save one day after my grandfather’s passing, my dad and I decided we were going to go to church the next day. After a long day’s work on a Saturday in which we had gotten my uncle’s El Camino running (my dad was a mechanic), we hugged and said goodnight to each other. It was a great day. I told my dad that I loved him, and I would see him in the morning to get ready for church. As a fifteen year old, I thought nothing of the next day except hope that we were going to go to church together.
The next morning, my mom rushed into my room on the phone at five o’clock or so in the morning. Shocked and startled and still a little groggy, my mom said, “Bobby, wake up, I think your father is dead.” Still not really thinking about what she said or the implications, I jumped up and went with her to their bedroom. I saw my dad lying on the bed, and I was instructed by the 911 operator on the phone to pick him up, put him on the floor, and give CPR until the paramedics arrived. Crying and confused, I did the best I could, but his lips were already blue. My father had passed in the night due to a brain aneurysm.
We were overwhelmed and shocked with our current reality, but my mom and I banded together to take care of my dad’s funeral and burial. I can say with confidence that had it not been for God and my new-found reliance on that hope and peace, I would not have made it through such tragic circumstances. God was and always has been faithful to me. I am blessed to be a son of God and have a heavenly Father who loves and cares for me.
Taking Up My Cross and Following After Him,
Superheroes of Our Lives
Today was Super Hero Sunday at Ringgold United Methodist Church. Today was also Super Bowl Sunday. Regardless of which team you are for, the Panthers or the Broncos, the legacy of Peyton Manning or the confidence of Cam Newton, welcome to Super Hero Sunday.
What is it about Super Heroes that inspires us as kids? Kids, what do you like about Super Heroes? What’s your favorite super power? Adults, what’s your favorite super power? If you could have one power, what would it be?
There is something to this super hero thing. The super heroes of our childhood inspire us to do things. Sometimes, we are inspired to do crazy things; sometimes those things may even get us in trouble or cause us to get hurt. Super heroes capture our imagination and allow us to dream beyond our limitations of size and strength as little kids.
How many of you wanted to be a super hero as a kid?
How many of us still wish we were super heroes even today?
Batman, Spiderman, Superman, Iron Man, Wolverine, Wonder Woman, Captain America, The Hulk, Thor, Supergirl Flash, Green Lantern.
Super heroes inspire. They help us imagine. They protect us. They give us strength in so many ways.
As adults, at some point we transition beyond these fantasies. We get too old to imagine. Too mature to be creative. Too puckered to smile even.
Did you know that there are super heroes in the Bible? No really, there are. In fact, the Bible is full of super heroes, men and women, boys and girls, who display superhuman strength, superhuman wisdom, superhuman feats of wonder in the midst of fearful, scary, and difficult situations.
Let’s talk about one such super hero now. His name is Caleb, and his story is found in the Book of Numbers.
Spying into the Unknown
The moment had come for the people of God to make their way into the Promised Land. As preparation for their entry, God told Moses at the beginning of Numbers 13 to send scouts into the land. One scout was chosen from each of the 12 tribes of Israel. Their instructions were to go into the hill country and look down into the land to see who was in the land.
For us, it would be like a group of twelve military leaders from a foreign land came to Ringgold to see what we were like. They would hike up the ridge up Clearview Drive and look down into the valley of Ringgold to see who we were like.
For forty days these men spied into the land to bring back a report to Moses. At the end of their forty days they returned. They said it was a land flowing in abundance with milk and honey. They even brought back with them a huge cluster of grapes that was so large they had to tie it to a pole to carry it back. As Moses and the people of Israel listened, you can imagine their excitement. This was the land that God had told them about. This was the land of promise that they were given as a gift from God.
There was just one tiny problem with the land, though. The report of the spies brought back carried with it one piece of information that would change everything. As the people leaned in and listened, the spies reported,
“There are giants in the land. Huge men and women who will surely kill and eat us. We were as small as grasshoppers compared to them. There is no way we can have this land with these people living there. We are doomed” (see Numbers 13:27-29, 31-33).
In the midst and in spite of this report, there was one man who stood out. This man was actually one of the twelve spies who had gone into the land. This man was different because he disagreed with the report of the other eleven spies. He stood up and stood out as someone different who was not afraid in the midst of the sight of the inhabitants of the Promised Land. Caleb’s report to Moses was very different. Caleb said to Moses,
“Hurry. Let’s all go right now and live in the land God has given us. We are able to defeat those that live there. We can live where God has promised” (see Numbers 13:30)
So, what is it about Caleb that makes him different? Why does Caleb stand out as one who would disagree? Why would Caleb defy the report of the other eleven spies sent into the land?
Caleb’s Faithful Stand
What makes Caleb different is that Caleb is a super hero! That’s right, Caleb had super powers. Turn with me to Numbers 14:6-9, and let’s read about Caleb’s super powers.
Numbers 14:6-9 – “Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh, members of the scouting party, ripped their clothes and addressed the assembled People of Israel: ‘The land we walked through and scouted out is a very good land—very good indeed. If God is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land, a land that flows, as they say, with milk and honey. And he’ll give it to us. Just don’t rebel against God! And don’t be afraid of those people. Why, we’ll have them for lunch! They have no protection and God is on our side. Don’t be afraid of them!’”
Caleb had the super human power of “boldness.” In fact, that is exactly what Caleb’s name means. Literally, the name Caleb means “whole heart.” Caleb used the super power of boldness when he disagreed with the report of the other spies. Caleb uses his super power of boldness here again as he speaks to the entire gathering of his people.
The original report from the other spies was that those who lived in the land were giants, and that these giants would kill and eat the people of Israel. Caleb turns that report upside down. He says that the people of God are giants because of God’s leadership and strength. He even says that God’s people will have the inhabitants of the land for lunch!
Using the super power of boldness, Caleb encourages the people by saying that God is on their side. With God’s help, they cannot lose. They cannot be defeated if they would just follow God.
Caleb’s faithful stand comes from a place of boldness in his life. Left without this super power, Caleb’s report of the land would have been exactly the same as the report of the other eleven spies – “There’s giants in the land.” Because of his boldness, Caleb is able to stand strong in the midst of fear. Because of boldness, Caleb is able to remain faithful to God. Because of boldness, Caleb encourages the people of God to be bold as well.
You have the power to “be bold” as well.
Fear Less Reality
Caleb really did have the super power of boldness. Without this power, he would have been just afraid. But, where did this power come from for Caleb? The power was not a result of Caleb being from another planet, like Super Man. Boldness was not a result of a science experiment gone wrong like The Hulk. Caleb’s boldness did not even come from a nuclear reactor in his chest like Iron Man.
Caleb’s super human power comes from a place outside of Caleb. He did not have the strength or boldness in and of himself to stand strong in the midst of giants. Caleb’s super power was a gift from a powerful source. This gift of extraordinary boldness comes from God. Even through Caleb’s name, God prepared Caleb to be bold and courageous. In fact, it is the Holy Spirit that brings courage, as Paul says, “God did not give us a spirit of fear but of power, love, and discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7). There it is right there.
When we tell someone to be courageous, what we really are saying, and what we should say specifically, is that they should tap into God’s courage and boldness in their midst of their fearful situation. Live into this bold power brought by the Holy Spirit.
I’m scared of talking in front of groups to be honest. If it weren’t for God’s courage and boldness in me, there is no way I’d be talking to you all right now. I have nothing to offer in and of myself. Through God’s Spirit, I have strength and courage to speak with you.
Having a reality without fear is almost not possible at all. If you are here today, and are afraid, welcome to the human race. We are fearful creatures indeed. The reality of sin makes us that way. Because of sin, we are very well aware of our weaknesses and lack of super powers. Sin is our kryptonite, and the devil is our arch nemesis.
Boldness comes from faith in God. God gave us the super power from the Holy Spirit. This spirit power brings boldness! Boldness, brought about through faith, allows us to stand strong even when fearful situations arise.
Boldness says in the face of fear, “I may be afraid, but God is stronger and greater than anything I am going through right now.” Boldness makes us stand up in spite of fear to fear less. Boldness does not make us fearless as much as it makes us fear less. Stand strong in the midst of fear to fear less. God gives each of us this super power to fear less. Let’s put on our capes of boldness and stand strong together in spite of the difficult situations we each face today.
Let’s BE BOLD together!