Missional Prime

Dictionary.com defines bedside manner as “the attitude, approach, and deportment of a doctor with patients” (dictionary.com). What the heck is deportment? The Oxford Dictionary defines deportment as “a person’s behavior or manners” (Oxford Dictionary). So bedside manner, defined and slightly interpreted means the attitude, approach, and behavior of a doctor with patients. Most doctors that I’ve known all my life have been pretty good. My childhood doctor growing up (Dr. Senft) was awesome. He was super nice. He was typical of a small, hometown, family physician. Dr. Brango was even better. We took all of our kids at some point to Dr. Brango until we moved (except Amelia because she wasn’t born yet). But he was awesome. And we had some great conversations over the years. He was also a believer. And both Dr. Senft and Dr, Brango would be considered doctors who have a very good bedside manner. They have a good rapport with patients.

On the other hand, other doctors have a really poor bedside manner like Dr. House from the TV show HOUSE. He was the complete opposite of nice. He had more of an in-your-face, tell it like it is, and no sugar coating kind of bedside manner. Of course it always helped that he saved every patient within a one hour time format and everyone always went home happy. But he has that advantage since he’s a fictional character in a TV show. But I have had some doctors who didn’t have a great bedside manner. They’ll remain nameless for our purposes here today.

Yet Dr. House is not unlike some Christians that I know. They have a Dr. House kind of bedside manner when it comes to dealing with people, especially with evangelism. They go right in for the kill. They treat evangelism like deer hunting in Harford County. Harford County won’t let you use cool, gentle, nice, and quiet firearms like a rifle. No sir. You use a shotgun. You squeeze the trigger and BANG! That deer is dead and everyone from miles away can hear it!

And that’s the way a lot of Christians have been taught to do evangelism. To them, it’s like going in for the kill with a shotgun. It starts with a knock on the door. It’s followed by an impersonal presentation of the Romans Road. And it’s ended with pray a prayer with me right now or you’re going to hell! Turn or burn! BANG! It’s like a shotgun. And it IS shocking. And it is offensive to most people. It’s anything but effective. It’s the worst possible bedside manner you could take. And it’s unfortunate. Because half my job is undoing the damage of what some Christians have done. It makes my job so much harder as a Church Planter to get people to come and check out what we’re doing because people are very cautious (with good reason).

And that’s a sad thing. We literally have the greatest news in the history of the world. Yet so many people have burned bridges because of bad delivery (a poor bedside manner). And that goes for all kinds of communication, not just delivering the Good News. If we don’t agree with someone, the worst possible thing we could do is get angry, raise our voices, and/or respond with angry sarcasm. Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, told us that almost 3,000 years ago. “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1 ESV).

It’s all in the delivery! If we want to get our message across, we as Christians need to look to Jesus. His bedside manner, His delivery was the absolute best. And people listened to Him. But He didn’t just take one approach. He was not a one-trick pony. We’ve already talked about how He dealt with religious snobs. It was OK to fire back at them. But with most other people, especially people down on their luck, He was super gentle. He was like the best doctor ever. Even though He just finished telling you that you had spiritual-death-cancer coming, somehow you walk away feeling good about the treatment He’s going to provide. And that’s the approach He’s taking today with the woman at the well.

So today we want to cover the first half of the story as Jesus approaches the woman at the well (in John chapter 4). And then next week we can finish the story as we see what happens. I’m sure you’ve all heard of Amazon Prime, but today we’re looking at Missional Prime. For anyone who has Amazon Prime, they know they are getting a good value. You get packages delivered fast and affordable. And you get all kinds of extras with your membership. It literally pays for itself. Amazon knows how to deliver and treat their customers well.

So Missional Prime is similar. It’s all in the delivery. Someone who is missional is going to approach people like Jesus did. People are not projects. They are not deer that we hunt with a shotgun. Missional Prime Evangelists will have a bedside manner much like Jesus. They will take time to get to know people, listen, pray for them, and figure out what they need. And most people believe something. It might be part of the truth. It might contain the truth. It might be a convenient truth that doesn’t challenge them or make them change anything about their lives.

But everyone believes something. And they develop their worldview based on what they feel is important. What is a worldview? It’s basically how someone chooses to live their life based on what they believe. And everyone has a worldview (even non-believers). Our job as Christians is to develop a biblical worldview and guide other people to see what we see. But how we share it with people makes all the difference in the world. It’s all in the delivery!

1. Delivering the Good News breaks down barriers (of race, religion, social and financial status, etc.) and builds bridges.

“Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John (although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples), he left Judea and departed again for Galilee. And he had to pass through Samaria. So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour. A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, ‘Give me a drink.’ (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, ‘How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?’ (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.)” (John 4:1-9 ESV).

John only records four words that Jesus spoke up to this point. However, those four words say so much! He said, Give me a drink. And of course, it’s impossible to tell the tone of His voice and how this was actually delivered from words on a page. We have the Words but we don’t have the video of how it all went down. But everything that comes before this and after this tells the tale. It says that Jesus was on His way to Galilee. He had left Jerusalem and apparently had enough of the Pharisees for now. He didn’t want to deal with them anymore at this point. I believe He made His point when He turned the tables and spoke with Nicodemus.

So now He’s on His way back to Galilee (picture). But in order to get there He had to pass through Samaria. And He came to a place called Sychar. And it’s interesting that John puts that in there because many Jews had such a hatred for Samaritans that they traveled out of their way to avoid the area (picture). So they would cross over the Jordan River (on the east side) and travel North to avoid Samaria altogether. But Jesus didn’t do that. It said He had to go this way. It was the shortest way but it wasn’t the most popular way. Yet it was the way He wanted to go because it made a bold statement about who He was trying to reach, who He was, and what His mission was. So in my opinion, Give me a drink ended with a wearied question mark.

But what was this big deal? Why did Jews hate Samaritans? It was a racial and religious issue. Back in the day, when Israel was split into two kingdoms (Israel in the North and Judea in the South), the Northern Kingdom was eventually conquered by Assyria (in 722 BC) and many people were carried off into exile. And what happened is that some people were left there but Assyria also brought in people (other captives from other places) and they intermarried. So the result is that the Israelites ended up as a mixed race of people. And the Samaritans were the result. They were considered half-Jews. So this was a racial issue. Racism is nothing new. And it’s never a good thing.

But it was also a religious issue because the Samaritans technically still worshipped the same God. Unfortunately, they mixed in false worship. They only accepted the first five books of the Old Testament. Plus, they made some changes to it to fit their own needs which is not smart. So that’s nothing new either. People have been doing that for a long time. Needless to say, the Jews and Samaritans didn’t get along. But they were neighbors geographically.

And Jesus passed through this place to get to where He was going. So by the time He gets to this well, He’s tired. Remember, Jesus is God, but He became one of us. He became a man. He had to deal with fatigue just like we do. He was tired. He was thirsty. He was not the energizer bunny. He couldn’t keep going and going. He needed to take a rest and get a drink. And the lesson we take away from this is huge. It’s life-changing. With those four words He spoke, He cut through racial, religious, and even gender barriers of the day.
So not only was this person a Samaritan, but she was also a woman. She and her water jar that Jesus wanted to drink from would’ve been considered unclean by the Jews. But Jesus talks to her anyway. This was a Divine appointment! While man always seems to want to tear people apart, God’s desire is always to bring people together! So this Divine appointment at high noon (the 6th hour) was a big deal. And it’s significant because noon wasn’t normally the time when women would come to get water. It would be way too hot.

In this case it makes sense because of her reputation. She might’ve been trying to avoid the other women of the town. They would’ve typically come during the morning or evening when it was cooler. So noon would’ve been a great time to avoid people. And the wells were also typically located on the outskirts of town along a main road. And that makes sense since Jesus was passing through. So, tired from His journey, He stops to get some water from a controversial figure. And that leads us to our first point.

Delivering the Good News breaks down barriers (of race, religion, social and financial status, etc.) and builds bridges. This all started with Jesus reaching out to someone who was different. He didn’t say anything offensive. There were no racial slurs. He wasn’t looking for a fight. He wasn’t confrontational. With those four words He built a bridge and broke down barriers. This is Missional Prime at its best! Jesus was just going about His day. He ended up including someone in something He was already doing. He didn’t add anything to His schedule. There was no outreach event. There was no special children’s program to reach out to young, perfect, rich families to pad the church budget and fill His wallet.

Abe and I were talking about that last Tuesday over breakfast. We decided that if Jesus was here during our day He wouldn’t be showing up in a shirt and tie trying to reach the perfect families in the perfect cookie cutter developments. He’d probably be riding in on a Harley or a Volkswagen Van from the 60’s and going straight to the people that get shunned and ignored. He’d go to the people churches typically don’t reach out to. And it didn’t matter what their background was. It didn’t matter if they were a half-anything. It didn’t matter if they were poor. It didn’t matter if they were homeless or sick. And people took notice. It was hard to miss. This woman was surprised that He even spoke to her, a Samaritan, a sinner, and a woman!

So the application is clear. Jesus built bridges and found common ground with people as He built relationships. The Apostle Paul said, “To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some” (1 Cor.9:20-22 NIV).

One thing Paul left out there was, To the Marylanders, I became a Ravens fan, to win the Marylanders (even though I still bleed green. Go Birds!). It’s not always convenient. Not everyone’s like us. But if we only reach out to people that are like us it means that we only love ourselves. The example of Jesus is to get uncomfortable, to break down barriers, and build bridges. The application is to walk with Him and follow in His footsteps because when we’re in heaven one day, we’ll be forever working with, worshipping with, and being with people from all nations and backgrounds. He wants us ALL together. He wants us united. We’re all equal.

2. Delivering the Good News can vary based on need (background, knowledge, experience) even though the message is always the same.

Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.” Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water” (John 4:10-15 ESV).

So this conversation is very similar to the conversation Jesus had with Nicodemus. Jesus is giving a spiritual explanation, but she’s only thinking about the physical. But what Jesus was doing was delivering the news in a slightly different way based on what she needed to hear in that situation. They were at a well. And this particular one was a well that collected water over time. It was not fed by an underground spring. So Jesus is talking about the difference between the physical and the spiritual. Once we have eternal life, once we have the Holy Spirit, we’ll never thirst again (spiritually). In this physical life, we will thirst and eventually die.

And this gives us great insight into how to deliver the Good News. Delivering the Good News can vary based on need (background, knowledge, experience) even though the message is always the same. Every time we start to build a relationship with someone and share the Good News, it will be different. We can’t use a pre-fab, pre-recorded, one-size-fits-all approach to evangelism. Everyone has a different background and worldview based on many different factors. That goes back to the shot gun approach. I’ve never seen it work unless you’re scaring someone. And scaring people into heaven is not what God intended.

Telling someone that they should accept Jesus now because they might walk outside, get hit by a car, and go to hell is manipulative. I heard that so many times as a kid that I also regurgitated it until God slapped me upside the head and knocked some sense into me. But like I’ve said before, everyone believes something. So we need to find out what that is and approach each person and situation individually. We need to listen to what people say. We need to find out what they believe and why they believe it.

And once we know where they are, we can figure out how to share the Good News. Some people have some general knowledge of God that’s faulty. Some people feel very beat down. Their version of God is that evil wizard in the sky waiting to strike them with a lightning bolt. But that’s not God. Some people are afraid to get out of the Catholic church because they were told they’ll go to hell if they leave or they’ll end up in purgatory. There’s a lot of false information out there. Everyone has different backgrounds, knowledge, and experience. Some of it is based on truth, some on half-truths, and some is downright false teaching. So it takes time to listen and find out where people are. It takes time to break down barriers.

Nevertheless, we might end up sharing the Good News thousands of times in our lives. Yet, if we’re doing it right, it’ll probably never be the same twice. The woman at the well needed to hear something different than Nicodemus. That’s why both stories are recorded and not just one. The Good News never changes. But the way we deliver the news is always changing and adapting to the individual.

I got a little frustrated this past week with one of my elementary kids on the bus. I got cameras installed almost two weeks ago. And since they went live, the kids have been doing great. But I had this one kid who always seems to be a problem. He was a problem last year. And I had to move him up front. He was not only not following the rules (he wasn’t sitting down), but he was also talking back to me. So I pulled out my sheet to write him up. But then I started talking to him. I asked him what was going on. And what he said threw me for a loop.

He said, I hate school. And then he got really quiet. And then I felt bad. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for him. I realized the approach that I was taking wasn’t working. And I still had the justification to write him up. I had the video evidence. But I had this little tug on my heart and I started talking to him and asking questions. And I learned that he played trumpet in band. And I was like, I played trumpet! In fact, I was pretty good at it. I really enjoyed it.

And then he asked me, When did you quit? And I was like, I never really quit. I kept up with it and got pretty good. And that was about as far as we got because it was time for him to get off the bus. But the weird thing was that the next day he wasn’t a problem at all. I think I might’ve had to ask him to slide in once but that was it. He didn’t give me any attitude. It’s too early to tell if I’m on to something or whether it was a long-term solution but my heart breaks for some of these kids because you just don’t know what’s going on at home. But one thing I do know is that one little conversation changed the whole situation. I needed to listen to him.

And when we share the gospel, it’s important to listen to people. Everyone will have a different reason for believing what they believe. And some people will respond right away. For others it might take years. You might plant a seed that someone else will water and God just might cause it to grow some day. Delivering the Good News can vary based on need (background, knowledge, experience) even though the message is always the same.

3. Delivering the Good News includes being brutally honest (in the most gentle way possible) and meeting people where they are (without judgment or condemnation).

Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:16-24 ESV).

So this is the moment of truth. Jesus gets to the heart of what He wants to say to this woman. But He chooses to do it in a subtle way. He does expose the truth. He exposes her sin, in private, yet in a way that showed love and challenged her at the same time. That’s a fine line to walk. He knows she’s not married. He knows she’s had five husbands. He knows the man she’s with now isn’t her husband. But He doesn’t hang her or burn her at the stake. If it was still allowed by law in our day and age I think some Christians would still want to do that!

But Jesus never approached it like that. If anyone had a right to judge her it was Jesus. He actually was perfect. He actually IS God. He IS the Judge. But He didn’t do that. He simply brought up the sin. And how did she react? She changed the subject. It could be because she realized He was a prophet and she actually had valid questions. It could also be because she was trying to avoid talking about her sin. It doesn’t say why she asked the question, but He answered.

And if you think about it, it’s a question we ALL have. Who’s right? Which denomination is right? Who’s more theologically correct? Calvin or Arminius? When’s the rapture going to happen? Pre-trib, Mid-trib, Pre-Wrath, Post-Trib, or any one of a thousand other interpretations?

For this woman, the question was, Who is right? The Jews or the Samaritans? Samaritans worshipped on Mt. Gerizim. The Jews worshipped on Mt. Zion in Jerusalem. They hated each other. So maybe she really wanted to know who was right. I still have questions about a lot of things, none of which the Bible give a clear answer to. And I believe that’s for good reason!

It’s so easy to get distracted! Some things we weren’t meant to know just yet. God probably will answer those questions one day. But until then, we need not get distracted from our mission!
I get so easily distracted. I really think I have a problem. I have no short-term memory at all. One time a few years back, Olivia sent me to the basement for corn and I came up with the laundry! And it still happens all the time. Sometimes I’ll be on my way to do something and I’ll forget what the heck I was doing. Usually it involves my cell phone. I’ll be talking to Olivia on my phone and I’ll think of something I need to check on. So I’ll start looking for my phone. And I’m like, Where’s my phone? I get distracted so easily.

Christians get distracted easily too. It’s hard not to. Distractions are everywhere! We can get distracted reading and studying the Bible. We’ll get into a debate and look up Greek and Hebrew words. And we’ll start to look for times and dates to end-times prophecies and Bible verses that point to the end of time. But we forget why we study it in the first place. We forget that it’s supposed to motivate us to reach out to people, to make disciples! We forget that we’re supposed to love our neighbor as ourselves so we can reach them with Good News.

We argue about whether or not we can lose our salvation, but we forget the whole point of having a healthy relationship with God. And if we have a healthy relationship with God (and we’re on mission), losing our salvation will never be an issue! Sin will never be an issue. When we’re on mission, when we’re in Missional Prime Mode, we don’t have time to sin! We’re too busy building relationships with people! But it’s very easy to get distracted.

So this woman, for whatever reason, asked the question. And Jesus answered. But He didn’t answer it with the Jews are right and the Samaritans are wrong. He said, Pretty soon it won’t matter because people need to worship God in Spirit and in truth! The Jews had already destroyed the Samaritan temple anyway (about 150 years before this meeting). And the Jewish temple was also about to be destroyed 40+ years AFTER this meeting. But holy sites were a big deal back then. Even in America today, people view church buildings in the same way.

They think the only place you can worship God is in a building one day a week for an hour or two. We call them houses of worship. But it distracts us from our mission and purpose in life. The church isn’t the building. It’s the people. And we can worship God anywhere, even in a living room! So this woman might’ve tried to change the subject, but Jesus gave the truth. Yet He wasn’t a jerk about it. His bedside manner was pleasant. And that’s our final point.

Delivering the Good News includes being brutally honest (in the most gentle way possible) and meeting people where they are (without judgment or condemnation). Jesus had no problem reaching out to sinners. He loved them and accepted them. And you can do that without approving of the sin. We all sin. It doesn’t make the sin OK. But we all need time to come to terms with the truth and repent. Jesus loved the woman at the well way too much to leave her in her sin. But He didn’t judge or condemn her.

He simply pushed her in the right direction. My motto is that I always want to leave people in a better place than when I found them. But that happens with patience and love. It doesn’t happen with a shot gun. So let’s welcome people into our lives. Let’s invite people around our table. And it will be messy. Next week we’ll find out what happens to her and her town as we finish the story.

Questions to consider…

1. Is it easy to understand how many people have been turned off by Christians because they have taken a hard-nosed, in your face, and an impersonal (presentation based) approach to evangelism? How did Jesus’ relational method differ from the information based delivery? Does it make sense that people would respond in a more positive way to a pleasant bedside manner rather than a confrontational delivery?

2. How often do you hang out with people who are different than you (race, religion, financial status, social status)? Were you raised in a home (or did you have family and friends) that held racist views or had a superiority complex? Does that background affect the way you are around people who are different than you? Does it make sense that if we only hang out with people who are like us, we only love ourselves?

3. Is it easier to think of evangelism as building a relationship with someone rather than treating people as projects to be completed or prey to be hunted? Rather than cold-calling people and pressuring them to make a decision with a lot of information, wouldn’t a better way be to spend time with them and get to know them first to find out who they are and what they believe?

4. How hard is it for you to share the truth in love with someone without judging or condemning them based on your background? Can you welcome people that are hard to love around our table? Does welcoming people who are different and/or rough around the edges turn other people off (you know like the perfect people we’re trying to reach from suburbia)? Or does it show that you have a big heart (God’s heart for the one lost sheep)?

Second Place

I can still remember the first time I ever watched “The Karate Kid.” I know memories aren’t always recorded or recalled correctly, but I remember actually signing up for karate classes not long after watching that movie. I was inspired! Who doesn’t like seeing the underdog come back to win? How could you not be inspired by that movie? And that final scene is a classic. I love when Mr. Miyagi humiliates the bad guy with the whole nose-honking thing! It makes me want to break out the Crane-Technique! It was an inspiring movie. And that’s a good thing!

Yet that brings up a good question. After being inspired, who looks forward to getting second place? Who looks forward to being last in line? Who looks forward to not getting the promotion at work? Who looks forward to always being a bridesmaid and never a bride? I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who looks forward to any of those. It’s against our way of thinking. It drives me crazy every morning during the week when my elementary kids from K-2nd Grade all rush for the door. They don’t wait for each other. They don’t let other kids out first. They all want to be first off the bus. And as a result, it usually ends up taking everyone longer to get off the bus because their bookbags get caught in the seat and they get stuck. It doesn’t come naturally to let someone else out first. It doesn’t come naturally to think of someone else. Those are things that are taught. And they can be taught! But they are taught. They’re not natural.

The same is true in our spiritual lives. Christians are the worst when it comes to those kinds of things. We have the worst reputation. We seem to always be fighting for power, for the largest Sunday attendance, the most money, and the most successful events. It’s completely against what God wants. No one ever says, I can’t wait to get second place! I like to lose! No one says that. It’s part of our natural human instinct to want to win. And I can relate because I’m a competitive person. However, for our purposes today, we’re looking at the bigger picture. We’re looking at something bigger than ourselves. As Christians, we don’t need to win or be in first place. Jesus is in first place! He’s the One we’re learning about. He’s the One we’re following. So it’s OK, in our context today, to be second place. It’s actually what we’re aiming for!

Paul said, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil.1:21 NIV). Paul would agree that (in the context of faith) second place is the best place to be! Last week, we learned what being Born Again was all about and we learned HOW to be Born Again. But that’s only the beginning of our journey. Once we repent of our sins (turn, change our mind) and turn toward Jesus, we make the decision to follow Him. And that means that He is now in charge of our lives. We follow Him. We’re disciples of Jesus. He’s in first place and we’re in second place.

And in the context of second place, there is no better role model than John the Baptist. He is probably the most famous second fiddle in history. His purpose in life was to point people to Jesus. He knew from the very beginning what His job was. It wasn’t to gain glory for himself. His job was to reveal the Messiah to the world. And he was fine with it. He was fine with being in second place. He was fine not getting the glory. He was a shining example of what it means to be humble. In our culture, that’s a dirty word. But humility is not a dirty word. It’s right where God wants us to be and it’s where we can be used for His glory and not our own.

Paul said, “So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud. Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor.12:7-10 NLT). Have you ever felt more weak than strong? I know I have! It’s uncomfortable. But sometimes it’s exactly where God wants us to be so He can get the glory. And once we realize that, we see that it’s a necessary quality, and it’s a quality of some of the strongest people in the world. So today, we want to take a closer look at John the Baptist. We want to take a closer look at what it means to be a part of something bigger than ourselves and to point to someone who truly deserves the glory rather than stealing the spotlight for ourselves.

Our job is simple. It’s to point people to Jesus. He’s in first place and we are in second place. As a pastor, my goal is to raise people up. My goal is to train people to make disciples, to lead Missional Communities, and to plant other churches. My goal is to send people out on God’s mission, not to squeeze as many butts in the seats as possible. And when we are on God’s mission, we will grow. But over time, we can grow exponentially by sending people out on mission and planting other churches rather than just making our local congregation as large as it can be. That’s how we can grow larger and stay small at the same time! Rick Warren said, “You measure a church’s strength, not by its seating capacity but by its sending capacity.”

Successful sports teams are similar. The ones who end up winning are the ones who learn to play as a team. When some of the stars of the team learn to take one for the team, make sacrifices, and follow the coach, that’s when a team truly becomes great. That’s what wins championships! When players are more concerned about their own personal stats and salaries, the team never fares very well. That’s just a bunch of selfish people looking out for their own interests. That’s not a good formula for success. But when Jesus is our coach, He’s the opposite of the bad guy sensei from “The Karate Kid.” He said, “Second place is no place. You’re off the team.” But Jesus would say, “Second place IS your place. You’re ON my team! Come and follow Me!” And that leads to our first point.

1. Second place in Jesus means that He takes the lead and we follow as we walk with Him.

After this Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside, and he remained there with them and was baptizing. John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because water was plentiful there, and people were coming and being baptized (for John had not yet been put in prison). Now a discussion arose between some of John’s disciples and a Jew over purification. And they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness–look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him.” John answered, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven. You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’ The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:22-30 ESV).

Wow. People don’t talk like that anymore. This is unheard of. He must increase, but I must decrease. That is true humility. John the Baptist is the real deal! So how did we get here? Last week, Jesus was in Jerusalem and talking with Nicodemus. Now He and His disciples left that area and started baptizing people near the Jordon River. So for today, we’re actually not walking with Jesus specifically. We’re walking with John the Baptist and his disciples. Both groups were baptizing people. But for today, we’re with John and he’s at a place called Aenon, which was near Salim (picture). Aenon was almost halfway between the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea. It was along the West side of the Jordon River and about 8 miles south of Beth Shan.

Nevertheless, John’s disciples saw what Jesus and His disciples were doing. Actually, it wasn’t even Jesus who was baptizing. John clarifies that in the next chapter. It was Jesus’ disciples who were doing the baptizing (John 4:2). But John’s disciples were confused. They were getting a little hot under the collar! They were wondering why Jesus and His gang were stealing John’s thunder and some of his disciples! They didn’t quite get who Jesus was yet. So John had to step in and explain what was going on.

So he said, Look guys. I know what my job is. And God gave me this job. I have nothing unless it is given to me by God. And I already told you that I am not the Messiah. I am not the Christ. I am not the Savior Israel has been waiting for. I’m the one who was sent before the One you’re waiting for. It’s my job to pave the way for Him. I’m supposed to point people to Him. And that could be a reference back to Malachi 3:1. 400 years before this, the prophet Malachi said, “Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts” (Mal.3:1 ESV). We looked at that verse a few weeks ago in reference to Jesus coming to purify the temple. But now we look at it to see John the Baptist. He was the messenger who was sent to prepare the way for Jesus to come!

So John the Baptist was sent ahead of the Messiah. John’s job was to show people who the real Messiah was. So what he’s trying to say is that there is no competition. Jesus isn’t stealing anything. He’s saying, This is my job! We’re all on the same team. It took incredible humility to be John the Baptist. He’s the embodiment of what the Apostle Paul says in Philippians 2:3-4: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Phil.2:3-4 NIV). John was looking out for someone else. He was looking to other people’s interests, not his own. He wasn’t in it to get glory for himself.

If you read the other gospel accounts you’ll learn that John ended up being imprisoned and beheaded! So he was not only second fiddle to Jesus, but he was also killed! So where’s the glamour? Where’s the glory? Where’s the fat paycheck that all the prosperity gospel preachers teach? Why didn’t John the Baptist ever get to pastor a mega-church? If anyone deserved a prize it was John the Baptist! But God never promises us that kind of success this side of heaven! John was well aware of his role. And he was OK with it. He wasn’t upset or prideful at all! His whole life was dedicated to pointing people to someone else, to Jesus. He was in second place.

And then he throws in a colorful illustration to highlight his point. He says that the bridegroom is the one who gets the prize! He gets the bride! But John says, I’m not the bridegroom. I’m not the Messiah. I’m not Jesus. I’m the friend of the bridegroom. John the Baptist wasn’t the groom. He was like the best man. He says, The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. Now we can understand that to a certain degree. In our wedding ceremonies we normally have a best man even though the role of the best man has kind of diminished to more of an honorary title these days. The best man doesn’t really do much. He’s usually a good friend of the groom and he stands there at the ceremony and might give a speech at the reception.

However, in an ancient Jewish wedding celebration the best man’s role was a little more involved than that. He was kind of like an assistant to the groom. He actually helped out with the wedding and made sure everything went well. And John makes a specific reference here about standing, hearing, and rejoicing greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. What’s he talking about there? He’s talking about one of the roles of the best man. In a Jewish wedding, they couldn’t start the celebration until the deed was done (kids close your ears). Once the groom went to steal away his bride in the middle of the night, he would take her back to his father’s house.

That’s where he had already previously prepared a bridal chamber. So he took her there, they went in, he closed the door, and they consummated the marriage. So we have it backwards in America. We have the ceremony and the reception first. And then we have to wait until our wedding night to consummate the marriage. But the Jews didn’t actually recognize the marriage until it was consummated. That’s when the bride and groom had something to celebrate! Hopefully they were both happy and satisfied by that point (gross pun intended).

But it was the best man’s job to stand outside the door of that bridal chamber and wait for the voice of the groom. He would wait and listen through the door to hear from the groom that the deed was done. Isn’t that awkward? I’m all in favor of the consummation part, but to have my best man standing outside the door would be a little weird. Yet that’s what they did! And that’s what John the Baptist is talking about here. He’s like, I’m not the groom! I’m just the guy standing outside the door and waiting to hear the Good News for the other guy! And I’m OK with that! That’s my job! That’s my function here. So if you think visiting a new church for the first time can be awkward, try being the best man at an ancient Jewish wedding!

But that leads to our first point. Second place in Jesus means that He takes the lead and we follow as we walk with Him. Being in second place doesn’t mean we can’t ever be a leader. John the Baptist was a leader. What it means is that Jesus is the boss and we get our orders from Him. But that’s not a bad thing! Jesus is the best Boss ever! He’s the Good Boss. He’s not the domineering totalitarian maniac that everyone hates. He’s the awesome boss that gives you the freedom to do your job and helps you out along the way. He’s the Boss that people respect and WANT to follow rather than the boss people resent and want to flip off!

Let me ask you a question. When you go to work every day, do you get there and expect to do whatever you want? Or do you show up expecting to do what you were hired to do? You do what you were hired to do! You do what the boss says. And there is satisfaction at the end of the day on a job well done. And that’s how John the Baptist felt. He was the last of the Old Testament Prophets. He wasn’t the Messiah, but he had an important job. It was his job to point people to Jesus! It was his job to say, This is the One you’ve been waiting so long for! He’s here! This is the Guy! John was part of ushering in an entire new era in the history of the world!

I can see why John’s disciples might’ve thought their leader was being thrown under the bus, but he wasn’t. He was just finishing up his work. And it was important work! And their work was important too. It’s OK to be behind the scenes. It’s OK if you’re not the superstar. It’s OK if you’re not the American Idol. There’s nothing wrong with doing what God wants us to do in whatever capacity He wants and however He wants us to do it! Second place in Jesus means that He takes the lead and we follow as we walk with Him. And when our job is done, we rejoice! We’re happy to fulfill our purpose in life!

He must increase, but I must decrease is how John finishes out his thoughts there. That’s incredible. And if we’re talking about walking with Jesus, that’s amazing advice. He must increase, but I must decrease. Our culture teaches us to rebel against authority, do our own thing, and look out for number one. But Jesus teaches us that true living is following His lead. We need to follow Him and walk with Him. He needs to lead. It’s our role and function to operate that way. It’s part of what it means to repent (to turn, to change our minds) and follow Jesus. And once we’re doing that, we’ll understand what true joy is all about. We’ll understand that second place is the best place to be! There is security in second place when God is in first place.

That’s why the church is such an amazing thing. We all have different roles just like on a team, yet we all have the same common goal. A football team wouldn’t be very successful if everyone was the quarterback. Someone has to be the running back. We have to have some big guys on the offensive line to create holes for the running back to run through. We also need a good defense to stop the other team. Every role is vital. Yet we all listen to the coach. We follow his lead. He calls the plays. We can’t do our own thing. If one person blows their assignment the whole team suffers. So pray for that this week. Pray for Jesus to increase and for us to decrease. Pray for Him to be the center of attention. What would the world look like if we did that?

2. Second place in Jesus means that we receive the Holy Spirit and we walk in the Spirit.

“He who comes from above is above all. He who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks in an earthly way. He who comes from heaven is above all. He bears witness to what he has seen and heard, yet no one receives his testimony. Whoever receives his testimony sets his seal to this, that God is true. For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure. The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (John 3:31-36 ESV).

 So John continues here by pointing out some obvious differences between him and Jesus. Remember, John already confirmed Jesus is the Messiah. But he’s also saying that Jesus is God. John is saying, I’m from the earth. I can only do what God has told me to do and empowered me to do. But Jesus, He’s from above. He’s from heaven. He’s God in the flesh (John 1:1, 14). He’s the One you want to listen to. He knows! He’s exaggerating a little when he says no one has received Jesus’ testimony because some did believe, but most rejected Him.

But the point here is that John is glorifying Jesus. He’s telling his disciples that it’s OK that Jesus is getting more attention than him. That’s the way it’s supposed to be! He’s saying, Jesus is in first place and that’s where He deserves to be! Those that accept Him and believe in Him are putting their stamp of approval on Him and the fact that He is who He says He is. He’s God in the flesh. He’s the Messiah. He’s the One we’ve been waiting for. He is the truth! He’s speaking the very words of God! And He has the Holy Spirit without limit! God the Father has given Him the authority. And whoever believes in Jesus has eternal life.

And I hate to split hairs. But that word HAS is so important! It’s in the present tense. And it’s active. It means that those of us who have placed our faith in Jesus have eternal life now! We don’t have to wait until heaven. We do have to wait for heaven, but eternal life starts when you place your faith in Jesus, when you’re born again (born from above) in that spiritual birth we talked about last week. That’s when eternal life begins. And that’s when we receive the Holy Spirit. Jesus has the Holy Spirit without measure. We might be limited with what we can do, but Jesus is not limited. He’s the One who is worthy to be in first place.

But He does give us the Spirit when we place our faith in Him. And it’s the same Holy Spirit that Jesus has. It’s the same that was poured out on the Day of Pentecost. It’s the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead (Rom.8:11). That song that people sing now, it’s a really good song, but it makes it sound like the Holy Spirit isn’t here and we have to usher Him in somehow. It’s called “Holy Spirit.” But we don’t have to open the door and welcome Him in. He’s already living inside us as believers! We already have Him! We simply need to learn to walk with Him, by Him, and in Him! We need to get out of the way and let Him work in our lives. We need to be led by the Spirit.

And that leads to our final point. Second place in Jesus means that we receive the Holy Spirit and we walk by the Spirit. Once our faith is in Jesus and we have the Holy Spirit, we walk in the power of the Spirit, not our own power. Our own power doesn’t get us very far. “Those who are dominated by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit. So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace” (Rom.8:5-6 NLT). That verse makes it sound so easy. Technically it is. We’re the ones who make it hard. We’re the ones who get in the way. But it’s a process. It’s a learning process.

I loved teaching my kids how to walk, talk, and read. That’s what new parents think about. I was one of the impatient ones though. Once they were born, I was like, They don’t do much. They just lie there and eat, sleep, and poop. This is a lot of work changing these diapers. When are they going to do something? But then the moment they do something, it’s exciting! It’s exciting to watch them lift up their heads for the first time, to sit up on their own for the first time, and to crawl for the first time. It’s an amazing process. But it is a process. A baby can’t just get up and run a mile the day after being born. It just doesn’t happen. But when they learn to take their first steps, it’s amazing! I remember counting how many steps they could take. I used to count as they tried to make it across the room. If I did that now they’d think I was crazy but when you’re learning how to walk it’s kind of a big deal!

As I said, I was in a rush at first, but now that they can do all of the basics and they’re all in school I want it to slow down! Now it’s happening too fast! They’re still gaining new skills though. It’s just that the skills they’re gaining now are different. And our parenting is different. Now we’re preparing them to be successful adults on their own. We’re teaching them to make good choices. But instead of being in a rush, now I want everything to slow down! Our spiritual lives are the same. It takes time to learn how to walk in the Spirit. But it is the job of those who already know how to walk to teach those who don’t We’re spiritual parents. That’s why evangelism is so much fun. As we continue to make disciples, we get to teach them, we get to watch them grow, like children. That’s what Jesus did with His disciples.

So if we want to learn how to walk with Jesus better, if we want to learn how to sin less, and if we want to grow up in the faith, we need to learn how to walk in the Spirit, to follow the Spirit. Paul said it well when he said, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law” (Gal.5:16-18 ESV). Being led by the Spirit means that He is leading us. We’re following. We’re in second place again! Whenever we’re in the driver’s seat and in the lead, that’s when we get ourselves into trouble. That’s when we’re gratifying the desires of the flesh. That’s when we produce fruit of the flesh.

But when we let the Spirit lead (the Spirit who’s already in us as believers), He produces the fruit of the Spirit! “But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things! Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives” (Gal.5:22-25 NLT).

So it’s the Holy Spirit that produces it! We can’t manufacture the fruit of the Spirit. We can pray for it. And we should! But we can’t put fruit on the tree! Only the Spirit can produce genuine fruit that grows. And that’s when we start to really live life to the fullest with meaning and purpose. That’s when we start to feel the true satisfaction that Jesus talks about. He doesn’t just want us to exist and get by. He wants us to get the most out of life! Jesus said, “My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life” (John 10:10 NLT).

On the other hand, if we reject Jesus, it says that “whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (John 3:36 ESV). And that word remains is in the same tense as the other word that I mentioned a few minutes ago (has). It’s in the present tense. If we reject Jesus, the wrath of God remains on us (now) in the present tense. There’s no sitting on the fence. If we remain indifferent to Jesus, we’ve made our choice. Unfortunately, agnostics are not biblical. An atheist says there is no God. An agnostic says, I’m not sure. But the result of both is the same. Neither of them believe in Jesus. Neither of them are born again. I wish everyone was going to heaven but that’s not the truth. For those that do not accept Jesus, they will not experience that rich and satisfying life that God wants them to have.

Hopefully that motivates us that DO have the Spirit to reach out in love to those that don’t. Hopefully it motivates us to walk in the Spirit so the fruit of the Spirit is being produced in our lives. When we try to produce our own fruit it might look good from a distance. Yet up close it’s disgusting. I knocked down our dying apple trees a few weeks ago and we were hoping to have some apples. Those apples at the top still looked alive and edible but once we knocked them down, once we got a closer look, we saw they were all rotted out and eaten by insects.

But nothing beats a good, healthy, juicy apple! That’s what people want to eat. And when other people see that healthy fruit in us, God will produce a desire in their hearts. They will want what we have. They will want the good fruit. They’re tired of the insect infested and unsatisfying bad fruit. And we’re the lucky ones that get to share it with them. And all because we decided that second place was a pretty good place to be!

Questions to consider…

  1. Has it ever occurred to you that our “ME” centered culture might not be what God had in mind for our lives? Does it help to look at the bigger picture and see that God’s plan includes sacrifice, putting other people ahead of ourselves, and letting Him lead us rather than achieving our own selfish goals of comfort and pleasure?
  2. Does success according to God’s Word equal big mega churches with multi-million dollar budgets and members who are passive observers? Or does God teach that success might look more like the life of John the Baptist who was a second fiddle, humble, and was killed for his faith? Does your definition of success line up with God’s? Are you OK with the tension that creates with our popular culture?
  3. Where are you at in your walk in the Spirit? Does it give you confidence to know that the same Holy Spirit that was in Jesus and the early church is in YOU? Does it help to know that much of walking in the Spirit doesn’t have to do with us doing anything but more of us getting out of His way and letting Him work through us? Is it reassuring to know that God produces that fruit in us and that we don’t have to produce it on our own?

The Rendezvous

Click PLAY for the audio version.

Have you ever had a question you were too afraid to ask because somehow you thought everyone else knew the answer except you? I’ve been there. I’ve had (and still have) many questions that I don’t know the answer to! Not all of us can be geniuses like that guy on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire! It was entertaining to watch that show when it first came out. And it was incredible to watch that guy use his Life-Line, not to ask for help but to tell his dad he was about to win! That’s crazy! It must be nice to have confidence like that. But the rest of us are not that lucky. We don’t know all the answers. I know I don’t. And sadly, some of the most important answers we need are to the questions were too afraid to ask!

Nevertheless, if there’s one thing I’ve learned in my 41 years of life thus far, it’s that asking questions is a good thing! It doesn’t have to mean we’re rebelling against or questioning authority. It’s just good to ask questions. It’s good to know where we are, especially when it comes to spiritual things. And it’s even better when we have people we can trust to go to and ask those questions. Once we start to learn the answers to some of our most profound questions in life, we not only grow spiritually, but we gain confidence.

And that’s where we are in our Walk with Jesus today. He’s still in Jerusalem. He caused quite a stir when He turned the tables in the temple, and people were starting to take notice. But one person in particular wanted to know more. His name was Nicodemus. So he came to Jesus and he asked questions. And this meeting turned out to be one of the most famous and important encounters in the entire Bible! So if there’s nothing else you remember from this message, if there can be only one thing that sticks with you, let it be that asking questions is a good thing. Ask questions. Ask lots of questions!

This was one of those weeks for me. Every once in a while, it seems like everything that happens to me during the week has to do with the message I’m preaching on Sunday. Tina asked me some good questions this week. Rochelle had some good questions this week. Heck, I had some good questions this week. Have you ever heard the saying that there are no dumb questions? It’s not true. There are dumb questions. And those are the questions that we never ask. Actually, that wouldn’t be a question then. So maybe there are no dumb questions, just dumb people that won’t ask the questions!

But as I said, I’ve been dumb. I’ve been too afraid to ask questions. And sadly, in the church people are sometimes afraid to ask questions because they’re afraid they’re going to be judged or looked down upon. That’s where the Pharisees come in again. When we have too many Pharisees in the church it creates an atmosphere of fear. And if people are afraid, they won’t ask. They’re afraid that they’ll get kicked out of the church or they won’t be able to serve somewhere in the church. Or they’re afraid that a certain sin will be exposed and judged.

So I don’t want anyone here to think that. If you don’t know you don’t know. There are no dumb questions. Nicodemus had seen what Jesus was doing. He saw the signs. He knew Jesus was different. He knew He was special. So he did the right thing. He came to Jesus directly and asked questions. He came to Jesus for the right reasons. He wasn’t trying discredit Him or pick a fight with him. He wanted to get to know this Jesus who was causing such a stir in Jerusalem. So Nicodemus had questions and Jesus had answers. He’s like Radio Shack!

So we want to look at this rendezvous, but we also want to make sure we know the answers to some of the most important questions of life. So our two points this morning are our two questions and then we’ll wrap it up with some application. The first questions is What does it mean to be Born Again? That’s a scary word that gets thrown around a lot. It gets used and abused. Unfortunately, some well-meaning Christians have given this term a negative connotation. So I want to set the record straight because Jesus used this term and it’s important to know what it means. It’s not complicated. We make it complicated, but it’s not. The second questions is What must I do to be Saved? If this was the Christian version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, this would be the one-million-dollar question. We need to know the answer to this one and we need to be able to regurgitate it without hesitation to someone who asks. But not everyone or every church gives the same answer so it’s important to know what you believe.

1. What does it mean to be Born Again?

Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?” (John 3:1-12 ESV).

So it’s important to note here that Nicodemus was a Pharisee and a member of the Jewish ruling council (the Sanhedrin). Jesus butted heads with the Pharisees (and other religious leaders) a lot. Many of them were corrupt hypocrites, but not all of them. Some of them did eventually believe in Jesus (Acts 6:7; 15:5; 18:8; 23:6). And Nicodemus seems to be someone who is honestly trying to figure out who Jesus is. So He’s not trying to refute Jesus here. It’s just that he doesn’t get it. So he keeps asking questions. And that’s a good thing.

On the other hand, he wasn’t an idiot. There was a reason he came by night, and it’s probably because he was afraid of what his fellow Pharisees would think of this meeting. Maybe he didn’t want them attacking or interfering because he wanted to actually find out the answers. However, it doesn’t say why. We don’t know for sure. Nevertheless, this is a one on one. And I love that about Jesus. He didn’t have to be with the big crowds. He’s willing to meet with us one on one. He came to save that one lost sheep. He loves each and every one of us. He wants to hear our questions. And He wants to answer.

Christianity is not a show or performance to attend. It’s not a ritual to read out of a book. It’s a relationship! And it’s awesome that God wants us to get to know Him. It’s awesome that He wants to hear and answer our questions! And within that line of reasoning, Jesus cuts right to the chase. Nicodemus starts out admitting that he knows Jesus has to be special. He has to be from God. There’s no other way to do the signs He was doing. But before he even asks a question, Jesus cuts to the chase and gives the answer. He says that no one can see the kingdom of God unless he’s born again. That could also be translated born from above or born anew.

And of course, Jesus is talking about the fact that we have to be reborn spiritually. He’s not talking about a physical rebirth. But that’s exactly what Nicodemus was thinking. He’s like, That’s disgusting. How can I go back into my mother’s womb and be reborn? That doesn’t make any sense. And it doesn’t make any sense, because that’s not what Jesus is talking about. He’s talking about the fact that we have to have a spiritual birth. We’ve already been born physically. And it’s not working out very well. We’re sinful creatures. We’re separated from God because of sin. We don’t have a relationship with God. So we have to have a spiritual birth to have that relationship with God restored and to enter His kingdom.

And then Jesus says that we have to be born of water AND the Spirit. And that’s what gets US messed up. We misunderstand what He’s talking about too. Some people think He’s talking about baptism here. But He’s not. He’s just talking about the fact that we’ve already been born physically. Now we have to be born spiritually. He says, That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. He’s simply distinguishing between the two.

And then He illustrates it by comparing it with the wind. He’s like, You can’t see the wind. But you know it exists. You can hear it. And the same word that’s used for wind here is also the word for Spirit (pneuma; pneumatos; wind, breath, Spirit). You can’t see the wind or the Spirit. You can’t see where it’s coming from or where it goes. It’s invisible. So What does it mean to be born again? It means a spiritual birth.

In our last series, we learned that we’re all separated from God because of sin. We know we all have to die one day (physically). But it was never God’s intention for us do die separated from Him. He wanted us to be restored so we could be with Him for all eternity. And that’s why Jesus came. He came to live that perfect life and fulfill the LAW. He did what we couldn’t do. So He’s simply saying that in order to have that relationship with God restored, we must be born again; otherwise, we can’t enter God’s kingdom. We can’t have eternal life with Him without being born again. So if you want to be a Christian, if you want to be saved, forgiven for your sins, have your relationship with God restored, and have eternal life, you have to be born again.

But this blows Nicodemus’ mind! He has no concept of what the heck Jesus is getting at here. All he knows is rules and rituals. He knows the ways of the Pharisees. This doesn’t make any sense. And Jesus is confused as well. He’s like, How can you call yourself a teacher and not understand what I’m talking about? If you don’t get this, you’re definitely not going to understand the deeper concepts! There were actually Old Testament Scriptures that referred to this concept. And Nicodemus, being a teacher, should’ve known those Scriptures. Ezekiel wrote about it (Ezekiel 36-37). Moses wrote about it (Deut.30:6). Jeremiah wrote about it (Jer.31:33). But Jesus came to fulfill it! Jesus came to put it into action. But the reason Nicodemus didn’t understand it yet is because He wasn’t born again yet (Rom.8:16; 1 Cor.2:10-12; 1 Thess.1:5-6; Titus 3:5). But one day he would! Jesus wasn’t finished with him yet (John 7:50-51; 19:39)!

So as we close out this first point it’s important to remember that Asking honest questions is a good thing as long as we’re willing to be open to and accept the answers. Nicodemus was having a hard time comprehending what Jesus was saying, but he was honestly seeking the truth. And the same can be true with us. If we honestly want the truth, we will find it. “Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened” (Matt.7:7-8 NLT; c.f. Jer.29:11-13). We just need to be brave and ask the hard questions. And we need people we can trust to answer our questions and model the answers. It’s called discipleship!

I love answering questions. I love when people come to the faith. So whether you’re 5 years old, 55, or 85, ask away! When I was a teenager, God put me in contact with a friend who could help me. It was personal. It was one on one. And my life has never been the same. But then I also went through many confused years where I didn’t have anyone I could talk to or trust. And those were some of the worst years of my life. Unfortunately, I’ve had to learn the hard way.

2. What must I do to be Saved?

“No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God” (John 3:13-21 ESV).

I’ve said before that the Bible is like a 2 Act Play. There are developments from beginning to end. So we have to be careful to look at passages in their proper context. However, the Bible is also like a study guide, a test, and an answer key all in one. Where’s the answer key? The New Testament. The answers are in the back of the book! And it’s OK to peek at the answers! It’s an open book test! Yet the most important answer we need is right here. This is one of the most famous passages in the entire Bible. This contains the beloved John 3:16!

Remember, we’re in the context of talking about needing a spiritual birth in order to get into heaven, into God’s kingdom. Yet Nicodemus still doesn’t get it. So Jesus is going to spell out how it’s done. He does most of the work in salvation. Our part is very tiny. So when Jesus is talking about ascending and descending to and from heaven, He’s talking about Himself. God became a man for us. He descended from heaven. And after His death, He ascended back into heaven (Proverbs 30:4). So He’s revealing to Nicodemus who He really is.

But then He goes on to explain HOW this spiritual birth happens. He says, In the same way that Moses lifted up that serpent in the wilderness, I will be lifted up as well, so that those who believe in Me can have eternal life. Now what does that mean? Back in the Old Testament (Numbers 21:4-9), the Israelites were complaining about their accommodations in the desert. And in doing that, they had touched God’s last nerve. So many of them died after getting bit by poisonous snakes. But the rest of them got to live because Moses prayed for the people. And God said that he had to make this bronze snake and put it up on a pole. And anyone who looked at it would live. So that’s the story Jesus was referencing here.

And Jesus said that He will also be lifted up one day. And that’s a reference to His sacrificial death on the cross. And then He says that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. So that’s our answer. What must I do to be Saved? The answer is faith in Jesus! When those Israelites looked at that snake, they were cured because of their faith. They looked to the bronze snake and lived. And that was a picture of what we have to do. Jesus was lifted up as He hung on that cross. So we must look to Him.

We believe that He is God in the flesh, lived a perfect life, died for our sins, rose from the dead, ascended into heaven, and we place our faith (our trust) in Him. And then He clarifies: For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. Our part is faith. How do we do that? It’s a decision we make. All you really have to do is agree with what I just said.

Some people like to mark the occasion and turn it into a prayer of faith. We call that The Sinner’s Prayer. And that’s fine. That’s what I did when I was 9 years old. But we have to be careful. A prayer does not save you. It’s not a magic wand. In fact, there is no sinner’s prayer in the Bible. There’s only two things that come close to a sinner’s prayer. Luke records the prayer of a tax collector: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” (Luke 18:13 ESV). But technically that’s before Jesus even died on the cross. Yet it was still a prayer of faith in God to save him. The other example is the thief on the cross. He said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23:42 ESV). Technically this could be considered a prayer since he’s talking directly to Jesus, even though it’s still before Jesus’ actual death and resurrection.

So the Bible doesn’t say you HAVE to pray a sinner’s prayer to be saved. It’s simply by faith in Jesus. If the New testament points to anything it would actually be baptism. However, we know that doesn’t save us either. Baptism comes AFTER being born again. It’s a symbol and picture of what happens when we’re born again. So baptism follows placing our faith in Jesus. That’s why we don’t baptize babies. Baptizing babies came through the Romans sometime after 300AD. It’s not biblical. Babies don’t have a choice. They can’t have faith. That’s why we baptize people AFTER placing their faith in Jesus. It can’t precede it. It has to follow.

God’s not going to send unbaptized babies to hell because they weren’t baptized. That’s another lie carried over from the Roman Empire. Baptism doesn’t save us. It’s evidence of the fact that we are saved. But we are commanded to do it as believers. It’s part of the Great Commission. In Matthew 28:19-20, Jesus said to make disciples, baptize them (the disciples we just made), and teach them to obey everything He commanded. So an unbaptized Christian is against what Jesus commanded. And an unbaptized believer was unheard of in the early church. But it’s not how we’re born again. We’re saved when we place our faith in Jesus. Having said that, I’d be honored to baptize anybody here who hasn’t been baptized as a believer.

But I digressed from the sinner’s prayer! There’s nothing wrong with the sinner’s prayer. You can do that. I just always like to make the stipulation that just because you pray a prayer doesn’t mean you’re saved. That’s why one on one interaction is important. That’s why discipleship is important. We have to make sure people know what they’re getting themselves into. It is by faith, but we have to make sure that person knows Who they’re putting their faith in.

They have to get to know Jesus a little first. They need some basic information. So yes, it is a faith decision, but it’s not blind faith. We need to make sure people are at least willing to repent of their sins (Acts 2:37-41; Eph.2:8-10; Rom.3:23; 6:23). It doesn’t mean they have to have it all together. The word repent just means to change your mind or to turn. So what I’m trying to say is that it takes a disciple to make a disciple. It is by faith once we’ve made sure the person is making an informed decision! And time will tell if it was a genuine decision.

That’s another reason I don’t like doing a sinner’s prayer at the end of our services. I’ve done that in the past and then the person disappears. And it’s because they think they’re fine now that they’ve prayed a magical prayer and they think they can go back to their lives as normal. But that’s not the case either. So I do believe to be born again is an event that happens, but I also believe it is a process over time and that it will be evident over time that the decision was genuine and the transformation was real. So to believe is more than a prayer. It’s more than just knowing some facts. Putting our faith in Jesus is putting our lives in His hands and saying He’s in charge now! I’m following Jesus! I’ve turned from going my way to going His way!

So here’s a final thought for this point. We are responsible creatures and we must accept the consequences of our choices and actions. Some people will choose to follow Jesus and some will not. John 3:17 says, For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Jesus came to save everyone. He died for everyone from all nations of the world, not just the Jews, not just the white man, not just the black man. He wants everyone to be saved from all nations!

It doesn’t mean everyone will be saved but at least they have the choice to believe in Him or not. He said, Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God (John 3:18). People have to make a choice to follow Him. Any church or group that says everyone is going to heaven or that we all worship the same God is false. We’re only saved through Jesus (John 14:6).

“And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God” (John 3:19-21). Good and evil exist. You can’t turn on the news without knowing evil exists. Heaven and Hell BOTH exist. Now this passage doesn’t mean that once we’re born again, we’ll never mess up. It doesn’t mean we can lose our salvation. We can’t (1 Peter 1:3-5; 2 Peter 1: 3-10)! But it does mean that there should be evidence of our salvation over time (1 John 1:5; 2:29; 3:9; 4:7; 5:1-18; James 2:17-23).

But once we’re born again, we have the assurance that our sins are forgiven, that we have a relationship with God, and that one day we’ll be with Him forever in heaven. “He does not punish us for all our sins; he does not deal harshly with us, as we deserve. For his unfailing love toward those who fear him is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth. He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west. The LORD is like a father to his children, tender and compassionate to those who fear him. For he knows how weak we are; he remembers we are only dust” (Psalm 103:10-14 NLT).

So how do we apply this passage?

First, Be the kind of person people want to approach to ask questions. Jesus was the kind of person people wanted to come to. Nicodemus wanted to get to know Jesus. I was trying to ignore all the controversy with the NFL last week because I love watching football. But then more than one person posted messages on my Facebook page that they were boycotting the NFL. And these were believers. And I understand that people are passionate about this subject, I just can’t understand when Christians boycott. We are supposed to be the ones people approach to talk about these things, not cut ourselves off.

I actually ended up having some really good conversations about it last week with some of my new bus driver friends. In fact, it helped me to get to know them a little better because this happened. And it opened my mind a little bit because, I’ll have to be honest, these protests agitated me too. But we shouldn’t be surprised when non-believers act like non-believers. So we need to be like Jesus. People should feel comfortable coming to us. We should be approachable.

Second, Be available. Jesus was never too busy to talk with individuals. The only times He tried to run or sneak out the back door is when the mobs came to attack or when He went off to pray. I don’t know about you, but for me, the best times of meeting the right person at the right time had to do with me being available. Usually when I try too hard, nothing happens; however, just being available lets God to put us where we need to be when we need to be there.

That’s how I met Tina. In fact, she met me. I had a bus accident last year and she ended up coming to me to talk about it. We didn’t know each other before that. Micah was the same way. He knocked on my door. And then Olivia and I invited him and Danielle over for lunch. I love it when God does that! I love when He makes it clear that He’s doing something rather than me making something happen. He puts me in the right place at the right time. We’re simply making ourselves available for what God will do.

Third, Be ready to answer questions. That’s the biggest fear I think most people have. They think they can’t share Jesus because someone might ask them a question they don’t know the answer to. But you don’t have to have all the answers. In fact, if someone asks you a question you don’t have the answer to, it’s OK to say, I don’t know, but I’m going to find out. And that leads to another discussion later. You can go study and find out the answer. You can ask me. Or you can ask someone that you think would know the answer.

That forces us to be students of God’s Word. And it’s a good thing to find out the questions that non-believers ask. Most Christians, who don’t share their faith, waste their time finding the answers to questions people aren’t asking and it benefits no one at all. But until we find the courage to spend time with people that don’t know Jesus, we won’t know what questions they’re going to ask. And everyone has different questions. Everyone’s in a different place. So if you don’t know how to study the Bible, just ask me. I love teaching. It’s my thing. And I can hook you up with plenty of great tools to make you a successful student of God’s Word. So be ready to answer questions that people actually ask you (1 Peter 3:15)!

So then the next time someone asks you a question and you know the answer, you can say, Hang on. I have to call Pastor Keith. He’s my Life-Line! And as soon as I answer the phone you’ll say, I don’t really need your help Pastor Keith. I just wanted to let you know that I already know the answer to this person’s question! So even though you might not really win a million dollars, you might FEEL like a million dollars.

Finally, Be ready for an ongoing relationship as you include people in what you’re already doing. I’m a busy guy. You guys are all busy. Everyone’s busy. But that’s what makes missional make so much sense. We’re simply learning to include people in what we’re already doing. You all know I’m not good at math. But even I can do this simple problem. How many meals do people typically have each day? 3. How many days are in a week? 7. So how many meals to we eat each week? 7 times 3 is 21.

In fact, even if you just include someone at your dinner table once a week it will make a difference in someone’s life that doesn’t know Jesus. You’re going to eat that meal no matter what. You’re going to take time to make it and eat it, so why not include someone with you? Last night we had a Fall Party and invited everyone we could. We were waiting for these Fall temperatures so we could do another campfire. We were dying for some s’mores. We wanted to play games. So why not include other people? It’s fun! It builds relationships. And it’s something we were going to do anyway. And we had a great time!

We can do the same thing with lunch. Are you going to eat lunch this week? Of course. So why not eat lunch with a co-worker that doesn’t know Jesus? You can take an hour to get to know a co-worker. You were already going to eat lunch. But why eat alone? Eat lunch with someone new. That’s the beginning of discipleship. Jesus ate with people. He partied with people. He spent time with people, like Nicodemus. Jesus was approachable, available, knowledgeable, and had a flexible schedule! That’s a good example to follow!

Questions to consider…

  1. Has there been a time in your life that you made a conscious decision put your faith in Jesus, whether it was a prayer or a choice you made? Was that followed up by getting baptized in water as a believer in Jesus?
  2. What questions do you still have about salvation? Was this message helpful?
  3. Do you have someone you can trust and go to anytime to with your questions about God, the Bible, and missional living? Worshipping in a big box building as an audience member is not the ideal situation for being discipled and making disciples.
  4. If you’ve been a believer for a while and are more experienced, what do you think God is calling YOU to do in light of this message and missional living? Are you currently the kind of person people want to come to with their questions? Are you available and willing if they did come to you? Are you equipped to answer their questions? Are you willing to take on a disciple and help them grow in the faith?
  5. If you’re confident with all of the above (and are doing it), do you believe God is calling YOU to be a Missional Community Leader, Elder, and/or Church Planter? Does it make sense to include people in what you’re already doing rather than trying to make your schedule even more busy?

Tough Love

Click PLAY for the audio version.

Day 1

Have you ever been hit in the head? It’s never a pleasant experience. It doesn’t matter what you get hit with, it still hurts. However, if I had to choose between getting hit by a flyball or a kickball, I would definitely choose the kickball! I would not want to get hit in the head by a baseball. I’ve seen the videos and it never looks pleasant, especially when the pitcher gets it in the face or the spectator gets hit by a foul ball in the head because he wasn’t paying attention. We almost had that happen when we went to the IronBirds game a few months back. We were coming out of the bathroom and SLAM! The ball just missed us. It happens so fast!

On the other hand, when we’re speaking metaphorically and spiritually, getting hit in the head is just what we need sometimes to wake us up! And that’s exactly what’s going to happen in our passage today. Our walk with Jesus is taking us to Jerusalem at the time of the Passover. And Jesus is about to have words with the religious authorities as He enters the Temple Mount, overturns the tables, and drives out the merchants and money-changers. Obviously, it did not go over well. But they all needed a spiritual kick in the head! They were way out of line.

I don’t think it did much good, but it’s what had to be done FOR their own good. So we’re going to take a look at John 2:13-25 as Jesus delivers some Tough Love to the men who should’ve been setting the example for everyone else. If you follow the Gospels closely, Jesus was gentle as a dove to most people, especially the everyday average Joe. Yet to the religious people in charge, the ones who should’ve known better, He was quite harsh. And it was literally tough love in our story today because Jesus used a whip to drive them out! I seriously doubt anyone got hurt. I’m sure it was just used to scare them away, but Jesus was like Indiana Jones!

And yes, this is near the beginning of the book. All the other Gospels record Jesus clearing the temple at the end of His ministry during the last week of His life, but John records it at the beginning. He could’ve stuck it in here as a flash forward or a thematic thing. But many scholars seem to think that it could’ve happened twice. It could’ve happened here at the beginning and also at the end. There’s no reason it couldn’t have happened twice. That’s the beauty of having four different accounts. Each one of the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) are all about Jesus. They all record the same general events and time period from different points of view. Some record the same stories with different details. Some leave stories out. That’s the beauty. We get a full account of what happened by connecting all of the dots!

It’s kind of like watching a football game on TV. I love going to a game and watching it live, but you can’t get everything that the people get on TV. Being there live is a really cool experience. You get a nice big picture view. And it’s awesome seeing the plays unfold. But on TV you get commentators giving their expert opinions, you get instant replay, and they can show each play from several angles. And if you have a DVR, you can play it back yourself! So for the most part, I actually prefer watching at home on the TV because you get all the extra details! And that’s what it’s like when we combine the Gospels together. They each give their point of view and unique details that we can combine for a full account.

However, if there are some discrepancies about certain details, it could be that it happened more than once. And that’s what I believe is the case here. The same is true with Jesus’ parables and His Sermon on the Mount. I believe Jesus told certain parables and sermons more than once during His travels. And each time it might’ve come out a little differently based on His audience and what He wanted to emphasize. My sermons work that way too. It never comes out the same twice! If you compare my manuscripts with the live versions, there’s some major differences sometimes because something happened live that made me add or take something away. But it doesn’t create a contradiction. If anything, it creates depth.

Nevertheless, this event happened in Jerusalem (most likely twice). And it’s a lesson we all need to hear. I talk a lot about Christian Pharisees because I believe it’s important to see where we’ve repeated the mistakes of the past. I don’t think most people are Christian Pharisees by choice. Most Christian Pharisees are blind to the fact that they’re Pharisees. They have no clue. They need a shot to the head to wake them up. And I don’t blame them. I blame the religious leaders who have turned their congregations into Pharisee Training Camps over the past 1700 plus years! Most people have been taught BY Pharisees, and they need our help to unlearn harmful practices and beliefs. So a wake-up call is a very GOOD thing! I’ve had many of those over the years and I’m sure I will have more. It’s never pleasant but it’s necessary.

It always breaks my heart when I’m talking to people who are down on their luck and God’s starting to call them back. And they sound so negative. And they beat themselves down. Every word out of their mouth makes it sound like God’s mad at them and punishing them until they get it together. But I would beg to differ! As I said, Jesus was always super gentle to the average Joe. The ones He was harsh with were the religious snobs who thought they were better than everyone else! So if you have that powerful negative voice in your head, that’s not God’s voice. That’s the voice of the Pharisees! God is on our side. He WANTS us to succeed!

Jesus was known as a friend of sinners (Matt.11:19). He knows we’re not good enough. That’s why He took our place! It’s the Pharisees that are telling us we’re not good enough. So I agree with Paul who said, “Because of the privilege and authority God has given me, I give each of you this warning: Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us” (Rom.12:3 NLT). That’s great advice to Christian Pharisees who try to beat people down, but not for people who are trying to get their lives together and are down on their luck.

Day 2

1. When we’ve exhausted all of our other grace-filled options, tough love is true love.

The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, ‘Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.’ His disciples remembered that it was written, ‘Zeal for your house will consume me’ (John 2:13-17 ESV).

 So to say Jesus was upset at what He saw would be an understatement. He was furious! Both the Passover and the Temple were a big deal to the Jews. Going to the Temple was not the same as we think of as going to church. For the Jews, there was only one temple. It was in Jerusalem. And many Jews made the pilgrimage each year to attend the Passover. It was a weeklong celebration. In fact, all Jewish males were required to come three times a year to attend the major feasts (Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles; Ex.23:14-19; Lev.23; Deut.16:16). So needless to say, Jerusalem was packed. A lot of people had to fit in a very small space.

And that creates some logistical problems. Many people were traveling from out of town to get there. They needed offerings for sacrifice and they needed money for the temple tax. Obviously, it wasn’t practical for some people to bring animals along. So they had to purchase the animals when they got there. And there’s nothing wrong with that. What they used to do was purchase the animals in the Kidron Valley next to the Temple Mount (Temple Picture).

And that was fine. But by the time of Jesus, the picture we get was that the tax collectors, money changers, and merchants selling animals were allowed up on the Temple Mount. The temple tax had to be paid in the right currency. They wouldn’t accept Roman coins because it had the emperor’s image on it. So they conveniently had money changers there to exchange the currency. And of course, the animals being offered for sacrifice couldn’t have any blemishes. So a lot of people had their hands in the money pot. They saw it as a way to make money.

It’s like when you go to the movie theater. They won’t let you take your own food in because that’s where they make their money. They charge outrageous prices. We see the same thing happen every time a hurricane comes through. Oil companies use it as a way to make money. So they jack up the gas prices. They know we can’t go without it. And they know we’ll pay it. I heard stories of the recent hurricane that went through Texas. They were gouging people with prices on bottled water. It’s ridiculous. It’s disgusting to profit off of a natural disaster. But that’s what businesses do. And they get away with it.

And that’s exactly what these guys were doing up on the Temple Mount. They were price gouging people. They were hiking up the prices to exchange currency. They were charging super high prices for the sacrificial animals. And people were getting rich. And the religious authorities were allowing this to happen, probably because they were benefitting from it. It was a money-making scam in the name of God. What a joke. Jesus had a right to be angry!

But the problem wasn’t just the price gouging. It was WHERE it was happening. They weren’t doing this in the Kidron Valley down below anymore. It was happening up on the Temple Mount and getting in the way of worship. It wasn’t just the Jews who could worship there. The Gentiles (anyone who wasn’t a Jew) could also come to worship. And there was a place for them. It was called The Court of the Gentiles. That’s why Jesus was mad. These money changers, tax collectors, and merchants were taking up a lot of space so people, especially non-Jews, couldn’t worship. The Jews had turned something sacred into Big-Business. The whole point of the Jews and the Temple was to point people to God. They were supposed to be a light for the Gentiles. But they had long since forgotten that. They thought it was about them. They were missing the whole point of their existence!

So that’s why He went all Indiana Jones on them and cracked His whip. It was his job to purify the temple. Over 400 years before, Malachi said, “‘Look! I am sending my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. Then the Lord you are seeking will suddenly come to his Temple. The messenger of the covenant, whom you look for so eagerly, is surely coming,’ says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies. ‘But who will be able to endure it when he comes? Who will be able to stand and face him when he appears? For he will be like a blazing fire that refines metal, or like a strong soap that bleaches clothes. He will sit like a refiner of silver, burning away the dross. He will purify the Levites, refining them like gold and silver, so that they may once again offer acceptable sacrifices to the LORD’” (Mal.3:1-3 NLT; c.f. Psalm 69:9; Jer.17:9).

This act by Jesus shouldn’t have taken anyone by surprise. In fact, God tried over and over again in the Old Testament to wake His people up and they kept rebelling against Him. So something had to be done. A little Tough Love was in order! And that leads to our first point.

When we’ve exhausted all of our other grace-filled options, tough love is true love. These guys should’ve known better. These guys were not rookies when it came to God’s Word. They knew it backwards and forwards. The problem is that they manipulated it and changed it to fit their own desires. And that’s what religion does. Over time, instead of us wanting what God wants, we make up rules and practices that keep our lives comfortable and predictable.

Sadly, the church is no different. Make no mistake about it, the church has become big business. Everybody’s selling a book or a song they wrote. And they’re profiting big time. And no one says anything about it. It’s ridiculous how hard it is to start a new church that actually wants to reach people. It’s ridiculous the price gouging that goes on. Just to be able to put lyrics on the screen from the songs we sing, you have to pay money to do it. And it’s not cheap. Nothing’s free. People are making money off of this. And it’s not just a little money to be able to scrape by. They’re making a killing. Just look at the homes of some of these national TV preachers. We have to be careful who we support. The corruption in the church is not all that different from the corruption in the first century. Yet no one talks about it.

I know I shouldn’t have to say this, but the purpose of churches, church buildings, pastors, and worship bands is not to get rich. It is true that the worker deserves his wages. It is OK to make your living and be able to pay your bills. Everyone has to have a job and pay their bills. That’s understandable. But we don’t do this to get rich. And if we are getting rich off of it we really have to sit back and take a look at what’s going on. Are we like the Pharisees of Jesus day who were preying on people and profiting off of religion? If so, we shouldn’t be surprised if Jesus has to come and turn some tables!

That’s why a lot of people don’t want to give to churches. So many churches have abused the money. On the other hand, for those that are doing it right, churches do need the support of the people. That’s how the pastors get paid so they can feed their families and pay their bills. That’s how mission gets done. It’s how the church can pay its bills. So giving is a good thing. It serves a good function. But when we abuse it, get rich, and price gouge, it’s no wonder why people don’t want to give. I wouldn’t give to that either!

So how do we apply this? Do we pick fights with religious people? No. That usually doesn’t get us anywhere. But I think Jesus does make a good point here. I think it’s OK to follow His example of being gentle with the average Joe and taking more of a tough love approach to the religious crowd. The religious crowd has taught us to do the opposite. They think it’s OK to rough up the people who are struggling in their lives. They lay a heavy burden of guilt and shame on people. But that’s not the example Jesus set. So I think it’s OK to fire back at the Pharisees. We just shouldn’t be surprised when they fire back and try to take us down. That’s what they do. But when we’ve exhausted all of our other grace-filled options, tough love is true love. It’s not like I take delight in doing that. It’s a sad thing. But it has to be done sometimes.

And that’s the only language some people (like the heavy-handed alpha types) will understand. The same thing goes for big business. I told most of you the woes I had with my tractor last week. And the company wanted me to pay for it. But I knew it wasn’t my fault. I knew it should be covered under warranty. So I said, I want to speak to a manger. And I fought it. And Olivia fought it. And Danielle encouraged us to fight it. And we won! They covered it under warranty. Unless we’re willing to fight back, people will just walk all over us whether it’s big business or religious fanatics. So I think, as long as it’s within reason, we can follow the example of Jesus here. We might not literally turn the tables, but we can challenge the status quo.

And that’s what our church is all about. We’re a very simple operation. It doesn’t take a lot of money for us to operate. We don’t need a big box building. We’re like a mom and pop shop. We grow one person at a time through relationship. And that’s God’s design. We don’t need a multi-million-dollar budget to WOW people. We don’t need to function like a business. We don’t need a thousand committees and meetings. We don’t need Robert’s Rules of Order. The church is the family of God. And our mission is always the same.

Our blueprint is the New Testament, not church constitutions and bylaws! I’ve seen all of that used and abused by the religious crowd. You know it’s going to be a long and painful meeting when people show up with their constitutions to a church meeting! It’s disgusting. But we won’t operate that way. We leave politics out. Furthermore, it’s not an accident or coincidence that there are so many new church plants like ours rising up. I believe it’s a movement of God’s Spirit to show people what church is really supposed to be like. That’s how Jesus continues to turn tables in our day.

Day 3

2. When someone has already made their choice and is spiritually blind, tough love leaves the results up to God.

So the Jews said to him, ‘What sign do you show us for doing these things?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ The Jews then said, ‘It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?’ But he was speaking about the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken. Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man (John 2:18-25 ESV).

So of course it’s not going to be easy. Of course the religious people are going to fire back. They had a nice scam going on. So they’re not just going to say, OK Jesus! Whatever you say buddy. We’ll stop. Oops! My bad! They had no intention of letting go of their lifestyle. So they’re like, Show us a sign that You have the authority to do this! Obviously, they knew Jesus was claiming to be the Messiah. He was claiming to be that promised offspring that would come and crush the head of the serpent and overcome our sin problem. He called the Temple His Father’s House. And the Jews knew what that meant. He was claiming to be God! So they wanted proof! They wanted a sign. They wanted a miracle! And He did give them a sign.

It’s just that He didn’t give it to them right away because He knew it wouldn’t have changed their minds. Nothing would’ve changed their minds. And that’s why they eventually killed Him. But in doing that, He gave them the sign they asked for without them even realizing it. He said, Destroy this temple and I will raise it again in three days! And of course, He was referring to His body, not the actual temple. But that’s what He did. A few years later, when they did kill Him, He came back to life on the third day. He was killed and buried on a Friday. He stayed in the tomb on Saturday. And He was raised at some point before sunrise on Sunday morning. It was literally fulfilled!

But they had no clue what He was talking about. They thought He was talking about the actual temple in Jerusalem. And it was a sight to see (Picture)! King Herod enlarged and beautified the temple. He started to remodel it around 20BC. In fact, it wasn’t even totally finished until 64AD. Ironically, it was destroyed by the Romans in 70AD. So there was only a six year period between the time it was completed and the time it was destroyed. But that does give us a clue in dating this event. Their comment about taking 46 years to build the temple puts this conversation at about 27AD.

If they were 46 years into the temple building project, this would put the conversation at or around 27AD, which was the first year of Jesus’ ministry. He would’ve died on the cross 3 years later at the time of the Passover. Sadly, He was handed over by these same religious people who were scamming the people. They conspired to have Him killed. He was challenging their way of life. And since they had no intention of changing, they had Him killed. Isn’t that sad? They should’ve been the ones welcoming Him to the temple, but instead they rejected Him. They didn’t want to give up their religion, convenient lifestyle, power, or control. They were doing it for all of the wrong reasons. It wasn’t for God. It was for themselves.

And that’s another reason Jesus didn’t want to give them a sign right then and there. He knew it wouldn’t change anything. He did do signs when he was there though. Yet the problem with doing miracles is that people just look to the miracles and not the One doing the miracles. The whole point of the miracles was to bring people to faith in Jesus, not so people could see tricks and use them for selfish reasons. If the miracles don’t bring people to the faith, they miss the point of the miracles. And Jesus knew that. That’s why it says that He didn’t entrust Himself to them because they weren’t really believing in Him for the right reasons.

When someone has already made their choice and is spiritually blind, tough love leaves the results up to God. There was a flood coming. Since it’s hurricane season, let’s just say there was a hurricane coming. The residents of Religious-Ville had plenty of warning to get out. There were busses lined up and ready to get people to safety. And everyone was ferociously packing up and heading out of town to get to safety, except for one guy. His name was Christian Pharisee. Christian Pharisee refused to pack up. He was convinced that God was going to save him. So when the disaster relief guy, Johnny Disciple, came to his door to help him get to safety, Christian said, I pray and study my Bible every day and God’s not going to let me die. He’ll save me. Just you wait and see.

But Johnny didn’t think that was a good idea so he went to the next house in search of somebody else to save. As Hurricane Stubborn rolled in, the flood waters started to rise. So Christian kept studying his Bible and praying for God to save him. At just that moment, another disaster relief guy came by to see if Christian had changed his mind. But this time, because of the flood, he floated there in a rescue boat. His name was Ronnie Relationship. As Ronnie pulled up by the window, he said, Hey Christian! I remember you. We met one time before. You wouldn’t come with me to help those people in that car accident. You said you were too busy and had to go to church. But seriously, you need to come with me. I’ll get you to safety. I promise. And I’ll stay with you every step of the way! But Christian refused. He was adamant that God was going to answer his prayer and save him from the flood. So Ronnie went on his way.

A day later, the flood waters went almost all the way to the top of the house but Christian was able to climb up on his roof for the only dry spot left in town. At that point, a helicopter flew in and Lennie Lifestyle leaned out the side, calling out to Christian. And he said, Hey Christian! I’m from Grace-Ville just down the street. Let me help you get to safety! But Christian refused. He said, This is Separation-Ville! We don’t associate with people like you! I’m serious about living a lifestyle of separation! I don’t associate with people who are friends with people I don’t approve of. Go on your way. God will save me! I’ve worked all my life for this moment.

Needless to say, Christian died that day as Hurricane Stubborn finally demolished the whole town. When Christian opened his eyes, he was in hell. And he was really angry! He cried out to God asking Him why He didn’t come through. God why didn’t you save me? I worked hard all my life. I went to church, studied my Bible, I prayed, and I didn’t associate with sinful people. I kept myself separated and clean. So why didn’t you save me? After a few moments of awkward silence, He heard the voice of God like a loud trumpet call. And God said, I sent a man to your door, a boat to your window, and a helicopter to your roof. After that, I just gave up!

When someone has already made their choice and is spiritually blind, tough love leaves the results up to God.  That was a story I’ve heard and used in many different versions over the years. I wasn’t the originator of the story (although I’ve adapted it and made it my own over the years). However, it is super appropriate for the Jews, for religious Christian Pharisees of today, and for anyone who refuses to accept the truth that’s right in front of their face! We can’t make people see. If they refuse, that’s their choice. At that point, nothing we say or do is going to change their mind. The best thing we can do is pray for them and leave the results up to God. Even Jesus didn’t seem to get anywhere with them and He is God!

My job, as I’ve said before, is to make sure this isn’t what we become. I want to make sure we don’t fall into that trap. So I don’t mind talking about the elephant in the room. If we talk about it we can be ready to deal with it. If we hide it and refuse to talk about it, we’re not doing anyone any good. Unlearning is hard. We all have baggage. But change is possible if we’re open to it. God is still teaching me. I’m still unlearning many things from my past. God knows we all make mistakes. He doesn’t expect us to be perfect. What He expects is for us to be FAT Christians. He wants us to be Faithful, Available, and Teachable! I’m not sure who came up with that but many a preachers have used this one. It’s an oldie but goodie!

But if we’re willing to be those three things, God will smack the Pharisee right out of us! He’ll be able to knock some sense into us after all! “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life” (Psalm 139:23-24 NLT). All we have to do is ask! But when we ask from a pure heart, don’t expect a beat down from God. Don’t expect tough love. Tough love is for the Pharisees. Expect grace, mercy, and love that never ends! Let’s Pray!

Day 4

Questions to consider…

  1. Can you give an example in your own life of being burned by a church or by someone who was being super religious? Did they make you feel like you weren’t good enough or try to shame you into doing something?
  2. Have you ever fired back at a religious person only to feel like you haven’t gotten anywhere? Have you ever tried to reason with them and they just don’t get it?
  3. What is the best way to combat the message that religious people send and reach people who don’t know Jesus? What can we as believers do to show people that all churches and Christians are not and do not operate like that?
  4. Read Luke 18:9-14. How does this line up with the story of Jesus turning the tables? Does it help to see that God looks at the heart rather than outside appearances? So if this story is right in front of our faces how do we fall into the trap of religion when God clearly teaches against it?
  5. Do you consider yourself a FAT Christian (Faithful, Available, and Teachable)? Or are you set in your ways? How much does your upbringing have to do with being a FAT Christian?

Behind the Scenes

Click PLAY for the audio version. 

 

Day 1

Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain,” said the great and powerful Wizard of Oz. Unfortunately, I saw The Wizard of Oz so many times as a kid that I can’t watch it anymore. I haven’t even shown it to my kids. I still LOVE the music. I just can’t watch it anymore. Yet I love that scene at the end. I love when Toto finds the guy behind the curtain and the great and powerful Wizard of Oz is exposed for who he really is. And that’s true for so many things in life. When we pull the curtain back far enough, we can tell the difference between the phonies and the authentic.

Yet not everything in life is black and white, is it? Not everything is as simple as we try to make it to be. It’s usually way more complicated. And sometimes when we peek behind that curtain, we get more than we bargained for. As for me, I love going behind the scenes. I’ve done lots of theatre in my life. So I know what goes on behind the scenes. I know what it’s like from the point of view of the actors and the directors. I’ve been fortunate enough to do both.

And when you go behind the scenes, you get insight into what really goes on. You get to see rehearsals. You get to see how much work goes into a production before the curtain ever rises. And yes there is lots of DRAMA (pun intended) before the first performance ever happens! There’s a lot of stress! There’s a lot of passion! Some actors get it the first time and some don’t. Some need more direction than others. It usually took me a while to get my characters down. Some people can get it right away, but I always went through a process of learning my lines, learning the show, blocking out the scenes, and taking in what the other characters were doing.

I was always a late bloomer! My characters never really came to life until the sets were done, the costumes were on, and the mics went live! That’s when my characters always sprang to life. But it was a process that I went through over a period of time. So there’s so much more that goes into a production than what you see on opening night. Sometimes even during a show stuff goes wrong. Sets break. People get sick. And there’s all kinds of scrambling going on behind the scenes to fix it all before they go out on stage again! But as they say, The show must go on! And it always works out in the end despite all of the behind the scenes shenanigans!

So today we’re going Behind the Scenes to get a look at a great moment in the life of Jesus. And it was before He went public with His ministry. It was before anyone really knew who He was. But in this story, as He changes water into wine, we get a sneak peek behind the scenes. We get a backstage pass to see what only a few people in history got to see. In fact, this was Jesus’ first miracle. But it wasn’t for public consumption (another intended pun). This was a private miracle. This one was for His disciples’ eyes only (and a few servants).

But when we get this behind the scenes look, we realize Jesus is NOT like the Wizard of Oz. Jesus is the REAL DEAL. So our title is “Behind the Scenes.” But we also have a larger task. We’re starting a new series on the life of Christ. It’s called “Walking With Jesus.” Many people think that the Book of John is only for beginners, but I beg to differ. “Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving” (Col.2:6-7 ESV). Paul is talking to believers here. And he’s saying to walk in Him, in Jesus.

John, who wrote the Book of John, said something similar in another one of his books. He said, “whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked” (1 John 2:6 ESV). But how can we say we walk in Him if we don’t look at what He did, if we don’t study what He did, and if we don’t do what He did? The truth is that we can’t. If we want to be more like Jesus (Rom.8:29), we need to walk in the same way that He walked. So the book of John isn’t just for beginners. It’s for all of us. We all need to take a look at His life and the example He set for us to follow. And then we need to go out and do it!

And it’s so much easier when someone shows us how to do that! Some things in life are hard to learn from a book. Somethings need to be taught in a hands-on type of environment. And that’s the way Jesus taught. His disciples literally followed Him. They learned from Him. They watched what He did. And then He let them do what they learned. He used a hands-on approach to discipleship. And the point was so that they could carry on the ministry when He was gone.

I was working on my tractor a few weeks ago. It reached its first 50 hours of operation so I had to do some service to it. And wouldn’t you know, I come from a family of mechanics. So you would think I would know a thing or two about turning a wrench, but you would be wrong. I know nothing. The reason I knew nothing is because while my brothers were out learning that trade, I was inside playing my trumpet! And I became a good trumpet player. But I became a terrible mechanic. Why? Because I had no experience!

So needless to say, my service on my tractor didn’t go well. There was a lot of screaming involved. There was a lot of frustration. Half the time what the book told me to do on one page was different than another page. And then the pictures didn’t all match up because the manual wasn’t just for my model. It was for like 3 different models. And then I didn’t have all the right tools. And by the time I got the right tools and was about to finish the service, a screw broke and I couldn’t finish! It was frustrating. So what would’ve made my life easier, other than paying someone else to fix it? If I would’ve been outside with my brothers watching what they did, I could’ve learned so much. And they probably would’ve eventually let me do it too.

Jesus spent 3 and ½ years training His disciples. And after the church was born, His disciples made disciples. Unfortunately, when we fast forward 2,000 years, the church has forgotten how to disciple people. So most Christians have never been properly discipled. They’ve never had a mentor to show them what to do and offer guidance along the way. I never had a mentor until I was much older. And so I went through everything the hard way! But if we want to be disciples and make disciples like He told us to do, we need to look at how He did it.

So the main point of the book of John was not just to inspire faith in Jesus. God doesn’t want us to feel our way around in the dark. He wants us to live lives full of meaning and purpose. He wants us to experience a great relationship with Himself and with each other in the church. He wants us to show love to each other and know what community is really all about. And just in case anyone is wondering why we’re starting in chapter 2, it’s because I’m saving Chapter 1 for Christmas time! We’ll come back to it in December, I promise!

Day 2

1. True Discipleship begins with information and is followed up by observation and on the job training.

On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:1-5).

When it comes to walking with Jesus, this is the perfect passage to start with because we’re talking about a party! And weddings in ancient Israel were no joke! They didn’t just set one day aside like we do. They partied for a whole week! A wedding back then was a major occasion that involved the whole community and the extended family. So pretty much the whole town was invited. And the third day here was not the day of the week. Actually, most weddings happened on Wednesdays. The third day here simply refers to the third day since the last day that was talked about in the previous chapter (John 1:43). And that makes sense since it was about a three day walk from where they came from to Cana of Galilee.

And that gives us a clue as to why they were invited to the wedding. Cana was just a few short miles from Nazareth where Jesus grew up. And one of the reasons they might have been invited is because the couple getting married might have been close friends with (or relatives of) Jesus’ mom. That might be why she was stressing out that they ran out of wine. Although we don’t know for sure. It doesn’t say why. Regardless, Mary was there. And Jesus was there (along with 5 of His disciples). This was very early on before His ministry got rolling, so He didn’t call all of His disciples yet at this point and they weren’t with Him full time yet (John 1:35-51).

Nevertheless, Jesus is there at the party with some of His disciples. And this is something we need to comprehend. Christians are usually very good at cutting themselves off from the rest of the world. And they spend most of their time with other Christians. But that’s not the example that Jesus set. Jesus came to the party! And He brought His posse! People wrongly think that Jesus sucks the life out of the party and that Christians can never have fun. They think we have to be uptight with Bibles open and ready to hit people over the head with at a moment’s notice. But that’s not the example that Jesus set! In fact, it’s quite the opposite! Jesus is NOT boring. Jesus came to the party!

He doesn’t suck the LIFE out of the party. Jesus IS life! Later in the book, Jesus reveals that truth: “My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life” (John 10:10 NLT). One of the points of this book is to teach us what REAL living is all about! Jesus didn’t avoid people. He didn’t condemn them for having a good time. He never cut Himself off from the world. He joined in the party! And that’s the heart of the gospel! Jesus, who is God in the flesh, left the comforts of heaven to be with us! He moved into our neighborhood. Jesus is the ultimate example of someone who joined in the party. He didn’t stay in heaven and cut Himself off. He chose to come here and spend time with people! He came to the party.

So we can enjoy life with other people. That’s what life is all about. We build relationships with people. We help connect people with God and with each other. But in order to do that, we first spend time with them. We party with them. And we do it on their turf. That’s what Jesus did. He enjoyed people, food, great hospitality, and great wine! And those are the opportunities that we need to look for. We don’t have to spend a lot of money and do a lot of outreach events for the church and ask people to come to us. We need to go to them.

We simply look for ways to get involved in our community. We look for where the people are and that’s where we go. And sometimes we might throw parties too. But when we throw parties, we do it in such a way as to include our community. So that’s why we do things like BBQ’s, movie nights, and campfires. Those are things where we can include people and build relationships. The spiritual conversations will come in time. But that’s not where we start. We start where the people are. Jesus became one of us and spent time with us. He came to us because He knew we wouldn’t (and couldn’t) come to Him.

And that’s the heart of the book of John! “Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:30-31 NIV; c.f.21:25). Jesus came and died so we could LIVE our lives! He didn’t come so we could cut ourselves off. He wanted us to live life to the fullest while on mission and in line with His will! It’s never been His will that we pray a prayer of faith and then wait to die so we can start living in heaven later. He wanted us to start living NOW!

But let’s jump down to the heart of the problem. Mary comes to Jesus and lets Him know that the family ran out of wine. And she’s looking for Him to do something about it. Running out of wine was a no-no at an event like this. Remember, this was a week-long party. So they would’ve needed enough wine to last the whole week. That’s a LOT of alcohol! But they also didn’t have many other options. They could’ve served water. But that never goes over well at a party, unless you’re running a marathon and you’re in danger of being dehydrated! So people normally drank wine. It was a part of their culture. They didn’t have Mountain Dew. And Craft Beer Breweries weren’t around yet. They didn’t even have Miller Lite. Miller wasn’t born yet.

Nevertheless, Mary knew Who Jesus was. And she was expecting Him to do something. However, Jesus’ response was epic! What does that have to do with me, woman? That’s a YP not an MP. That’s how I address my mom too. What’s that have to do with me, woman? If Jesus can talk to His mom like that, I can too (Yes I’m joking)! Regardless of how that sounds to us, it wasn’t actually disrespectful. The way He said it was appropriate in that culture even though it still wasn’t a way that you would address your mom. But He was trying to make a point. This wasn’t quite the time to reveal Himself publicly yet. So even though she was His earthly mom, Jesus was distancing Himself a little here and saying, I know Who I am and what my job is and now’s not quite the time, Woman! Although, I can imagine Him winking His eye after saying that!

It wasn’t the time to reveal Himself to the world yet, but it was a great time to teach His disciples! And He knew that. And she knew He would save the day. So she says to the servants, Do whatever He tells you to do. And that’s great advice! If Jesus tells you to do something, do it. True Discipleship begins with information and is followed up by observation and on the job training. Too many sermons end with good information. They might TELL you to do something but no one ever SHOWS you how to do something. And sadly, many preachers tell their congregation to do what they themselves don’t do.

That’s why it’s important to note that Jesus didn’t even verbally teach His disciples a lesson here. He did something, and they watched what He did. Too many people consider good discipleship to be a seminar or a lecture. It can certainly begin there, but it can’t end there. We need to SHOW people how to be disciples. But in order to do that, we first must be disciples. And we need to follow someone else’s lead. And then we need to get experience. And then we’re ready to make a disciple. But we can’t lead people where we haven’t been. We can’t take people further than we’ve been. But can we can show them what we know. And they can watch us.

So Jesus was being a role model for His disciples first before He even taught them anything! He was about to do something amazing and His disciples were there to witness it. And that was by design. We can’t learn everything from a book or lectures. Some things in life need to be learned hands-on as we watch and do. So in order to learn how to be a disciple or make disciples, we need to see someone else do it. We need someone to show us how to do it. That’s what discipleship is all about.

A lot of what we do in our church will be behind the scenes. And not everyone can all be together all the time. And I can’t take everyone everywhere. I realize that people have jobs. That’s why I like to give a lot of real-life examples in my sermons. And that’s why I’m on Facebook a lot. Even if you can’t be there, you can get the idea of what I’m doing. The reason I hang out so much at coffee shops, drive a bus, and get involved in the community is to meet people. I’m trying to go where the people are. So there is a method to my madness, I promise!

But sometimes you can come along. Sometimes we might be able to go to (or throw) parties together. And that’s also being a part of the church. It’s part of making disciples. So if a bunch of us go to a community party or parade or event, we can meet people around town together. And those who are new to this whole missional living thing, can watch those of us who’ve done this before. That’s how we learn. And once our Missional Communities (MC’s) get up and rolling, we throw a lot of parties around the campfire as well. And we invite people that don’t know Jesus. And that could be friends, neighbors, co-workers, and family members.

And then we can learn how to build relationships with people over time. We can learn the questions real people ask when it comes to God and the Bible. We can learn to discuss spiritual matters with people who are trying to figure out what they believe. We can learn as we’re on mission together. And we can be creative. Not everything needs to happen in a Sunday morning service. It can also happen on a Friday or Saturday night! And it can be fun. And it can be creative. But we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Watching someone who’s done this before goes a long way and really aides in the learning process!

So true Discipleship can begin with information. But it doesn’t stop there. We have to follow it up with observation and on the job training. Yesterday, Owen and I finished our Hunter’s Safety Course. We did the first part online a few weeks ago, but we finished with a one-day hands-on training. The information part was great online, but it was a bit overwhelming. You can’t really learn how to shoot a gun from a book. And I couldn’t really help Owen because I had never shot a gun before. We were both in the same boat. Neither of us had experience.

So doing the training together was really cool. And it was awesome, not only doing the training together, but to have experienced hunters showing us how to shoot, what to do, and what NOT to do. Owen looked like a pro standing at the shooting range with a shot gun. He was like tearing it up out there. He was a natural! I, on the other hand, had to go last and I was sweating the whole time. I had never shot a gun before. The kickback on the shot gun looked a little scary. But once I shot it, I realized that it’s bark was worse than its bite. And I had fun. But I had fun and I felt safe because there was someone right there showing me what to do.

Even Owen brought that up. He said the online part was OK but he preferred the actual experience of shooting and having someone there to help and show you what to do. And because of that experience, we both decided that the bolt action rifle was really cool and fun to operate. But we never would’ve gotten that from a book. You know what else is really cool about having someone there to show you what to do? Asking questions. We had people there who were experienced. You can ask a book a question but it won’t answer. Choose Your Own Adventure Books are fun but they’re not the same. Real people were giving answers to our questions. And they were giving their own personal stories and illustrations to teach us. That’s discipleship!

Day 3

2. True discipleship trains the next generation rather than generating attention.

Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So they took it. When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him. After this he went down to Capernaum, with his mother and his brothers and his disciples, and they stayed there for a few days (John 2:6-12 ESV).

So this is the first recorded miracle of Jesus! This is a BIG deal. In this book, John records 7 of Jesus’ miracles (not counting the resurrection). And he calls them signs because they pointed to Who Jesus really was. And the coolest part about this miracle is the way He did it and what He did it with. Those 6 stone water jars were ginormous! They could hold a LOT of liquid! They were large enough to fill a Jewish ritual pool for purification. Each pot could’ve held up to 20-30 gallons of water. People could’ve used that water for ritual baths (similar to baptism), or other ceremonial washings like washing hands, dishes, or even foot washing.

And with 6 of them, they had a total capacity of about 120-180 gallons. And all that water was turned into wine. That’s a LOT of wine! So Jesus took something that the religious people thought to be sacred and He did something sacred with it. He did a miracle. However, today’s Christian Pharisee crowd would NOT have approved of this miracle I’m sure since it involved alcohol. They would certainly frown if Jesus showed up and turned their baptismal pools into wine! But that’s what He did! And He often did things that upset the higher up religious leaders. They did NOT get along. I can relate!

I was pulled aside by a visitor in a bathroom one time at a wedding/church service we were doing. And I was told (by a Christian Pharisee) that whenever he steps up to the pulpit to speak he treats it like holy ground. He said he considers taking off his shoes! He takes it that seriously. And then he went on to tell me how he thought I did not take what I was doing seriously and that he would never makes jokes like I did while speaking for the Lord! That was awkward! I don’t like talking to people in the bathroom! But I’m sure glad he never attended one of our MC meetings because when we did the Lord’s Supper, we used REAL wine. I can’t imagine what he would’ve said to that. I’m sure he would’ve accused me of defiling God’s holy ground. I can’t imagine that would be the case though since Jesus changed water into wine at a party that He chose to attend!

The truth is that Jesus doesn’t care about ritual and religion. He cares about relationships. He cares about people. So He chose relationship over ritual. There was an issue here. A newlywed couple needed His help. So Jesus helped out and saved them from being embarrassed at their own wedding. And He went above and beyond, as he always does. He didn’t just turn water into wine. He turned water into the best wine that any of those folks had probably ever tasted, according to the Master of the Feast! The Master of the Feast was like an MC and a head waiter all in one. It was his job to make sure the guests were happy. He would seat the guests. It was also his job to make sure there was enough wine.

He would’ve been in control of the dilution process. He would’ve had a say in how much people had to drink so they wouldn’t get drunk and ruin the party. Drinking was socially acceptable, but getting wasted in public was not. So maybe it was his fault that they ran out. Maybe they served too much too quick. Maybe they didn’t dilute the wine enough. Or perhaps they just didn’t have enough to begin with. We don’t know. But what we do know is that Jesus makes great wine! And wine is one of God’s good gifts. It’s something we can enjoy as long as we don’t abuse it (Psalm 104:15; Proverbs 3:10; Matt.26:29).

But this Master of the Feast said that people normally serve the best wine first and then they pull out the cheaper stuff when people’s senses are a little dulled, but Jesus saved the best for last! So Jesus saved the day for this newlywed couple. But He didn’t take the credit for it. He had a much higher purpose for this miracle. This miracle demonstrated humility because He did a selfless act that almost no one knew about. He did it for the benefit of someone else. Only 5 of His disciples (and a few servants) were with Him to witness it. So this was a private miracle.

True discipleship trains the next generation rather than generating attention. We live in a very “ME” oriented culture. We idolize celebrities. We seek fame and fortune. The church is no different. But Jesus never modeled that. He got away from the crowds as fast as He could and He gave the best training to His closest disciples. True discipleship trains someone to take over for us as we multiply. True discipleship doesn’t seek fame and fortune. It looks out for someone else. That’s why Jesus said, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45 NLT). This first miracle set the tone for His style of discipleship. He was more concerned that His close disciples believed in Him and got the message rather than attracting attention for Himself.

Paul also said something similar. “You have heard me teach things that have been confirmed by many reliable witnesses. Now teach these truths to other trustworthy people who will be able to pass them on to others” (2 Tim.2:2 NLT). So the point is to train the next generation. The point is to pass down what we know, to model it for someone, and to SHOW them how to do it, so they can do it when we’re gone. The point is not to generate attention for ourselves. The point is NOT to put on a show. And that’s an emphasis that John brings out all through this book. Jesus meets one on one with people. He spends time with individuals. He did spend some time with the crowds but we’ll learn how that went over soon enough.

John gives us great behind the scenes material which focuses less on the public and more on the private. Jesus spent most of His time with just 12 people. And He also had His inner circle of 3 from that 12. That’s who got the bulk of His attention. And they spent a lot of time together. But they didn’t cut themselves off. They didn’t spend all their time at the temple. They went to parties with people. “The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners’” (Luke 7:34 NIV; c.f. Matt.11:19). He ate and drank with people around the table. And that’s how disciples are made.

We had a great time last week watching football. It was just a few of us, but it was fun! I’m hoping we can do more of that as we get to know each other. Yet even though it might not sound like a spiritual thing to do, it was more spiritual than most Bible studies. Why? Because people only seem to ever come to learn. They never DO. Doing the Bible, Jesus style, says we have to first get to know people and spend time with them. Bible study does no good if we don’t get out and do something about it. And that’s what Missional Communities are all about. The campfire I mentioned that’s happening next Saturday is one way of becoming a part of an MC. We’re going to have a meal together. We’re going to invite people that don’t know Jesus. They may or may not come. We’ll have some great discussion around a campfire. And when people start asking questions, that’s when great discipleship happens!

Jesus’ first miracle was certainly memorable. It displayed His power and glory. But most importantly, it inspired faith in 5 of the men who would be a part of His 12 disciples. The point was to produce faith in His disciples and to begin their training so they could lead the church when He was gone. The point was to train them, not to put on a show, get applause, or to gather big crowds. And Jesus was a Master disciple-maker. Half the time His disciples didn’t even know they were being discipled until after the fact!

Have you ever seen the movie The Karate Kid? Jesus came up with Karate Kid Style Discipleship even before the movie came out! The best disciplers will disciple you without you even knowing it! They’re tricky! And Jesus was the best. It wasn’t until after His resurrection that they started to figure out what WAX ON, WAX OFF and PAINT THE FENCE were all about! But it’s not because He was lecturing them to death or beating them over the head. It’s because He walked and talked with them all along the way. They saw what He did. They witnessed His miracles, His grace, His teaching, and His mercy. They got to see it all! True discipleship trains the next generation rather than generating attention.

So I hope you’ve enjoyed the first step in the journey looking behind the scenes. We’ll continue walking with Jesus next week and we’ll apply this as we go with some hands-on training! I hope you can make it to the campfire! And I hope you can invite some friends, family, neighbors, and/or co-workers to come along for the ride as well. And even for some of you that have to travel far to get here, I’d rather you choose to come to the camp fire Saturday night over the service on Sunday morning. The training is THAT important. I’m only saying that if you have to choose one. If you can come to both that would be great too. Let’s pray.

Day 4

Questions to consider…

  1. What private miracles has God done in your life to inspire faith?
  2. Why do we always seem to define success by big numbers? Even in the church it seems like success is determined by big budgets, buildings, and a large crowd. Is that really what Jesus modeled for us? Why do you think He focused more on individuals rather than the crowd?
  3. What have you learned in your life by observing someone else and getting hands-on training? Have the most important lessons in your life been learned from a book or from experience?
  4. Who are YOU discipling to be more like Jesus? Have YOU ever been discipled as a believer? Has anyone ever asked YOU to disciple them? Do you think that’s something you can do or should that be left to the paid professionals?

The Permanent Solution

Click PLAY for the audio version.

Day 1

Do you have allergies? If so, do you take a pill like Claritin? Do you take something else? As far as I know I didn’t have any allergies as a kid. Unfortunately, it’s something that I’ve grown INTO instead of OUT OF. And it’s miserable. But taking Claritin actually does work! But it’s just temporary. It’s one of those pills you take and don’t notice what it’s doing until it wears off. It doesn’t make you drowsy or have any side effects that I know of. However, as soon as you miss a day or two, the symptoms slowly return.

When we were on vacation a few weeks ago, everyone was miserable at night except for me. They said I snored all night long. But later that day I started feeling congested and I couldn’t breathe very well. And then it hit me. I forgot to take my allergy pills for like 2 days! Needless to say, life was much more bearable for all of us on vacation once I started taking my pills again. They really do work! The effects are temporary, but they do work. Each pill is good for about 24 hours.

Nevertheless, wouldn’t it be awesome if there was actually a CURE for allergies? And not just for allergies. What if there was a cure that could solve all sickness? What if there was no more allergies, cancer, stomach flu (my personal favorite), and/or any disease? The stomach flu is so disgusting. It could come out at any end. And it gives little warning. But it’s like the floodgates open up and leave a massive mess in its wake. It’s horrible. But what if there was a cure instead of pills to manage the symptoms of sickness? Medications are just temporary solutions. But what if there was a permanent solution to a temporary problem? That would be sweet!

That’s where Jesus comes in. That’s where God (and His plan) enters the picture. The first 11 chapters of Genesis are the introduction to the Bible. And the focus is on all mankind and the fact that we keep rebelling against God. However, as chapter 11 comes to a close and chapter 12 begins, God narrows his focus to one man and one people group who would end up being the focus of the rest of the Old Testament and even the first few books of the New Testament. The man is Abram. His name would later be changed to Abraham. And his people were later called Israel. In our day, we know them as the Jews. So what happened is that God called out Abraham and his people for a very special purpose. They were the ones God was going to use to bring salvation to the world. And it always goes back to Genesis 3:15.

Because of sin, God promised a special offspring, born of a woman, that would one day come and crush the head of that serpent. He would overcome our sin problem. But until that time, God always had a plan in place. And that plan was Israel. They were to be the nation that would eventually give birth to this Messiah (the Anointed One) who would deliver the crushing blow to evil. Israel was supposed to be a light for the nations. They were supposed to set an example for the rest of mankind. Unfortunately, they didn’t do that. They wanted to become like everyone else and blend in. They wanted a king like all the other nations had. And they ended up following false gods like the other nations. But God knew that ahead of time.

Nothing surprises God. It didn’t change His game plan. Today is opening day for NFL football. Football has finally arrived! I can’t wait to watch football! But no coach goes into a game without a game plan. The game is so sophisticated these days that you can’t fake it. They watch countless hours of game film. They plan specific plays for each game. They practice all week long before each game. And God is no different. He planned everything out ahead of time before any of us were ever created. God is like the head coach, the owner of all the teams, and the commissioner of the NFL all in One! When He hands out a suspension, it goes through. You can’t block it because He’s also the judge! Sorry Zeke! God knows the end from the beginning. He has all of the details worked out. And somehow He even works in our own free choices, responsibility, and accountability. We can’t even begin to comprehend God. He’s so awesome.

So when it comes to this point in time (the in between time before Jesus is born), God has a temporary game plan in place that’s also connected to His permanent game plan. Sometimes coaches have to adjust their strategy at halftime to adjust for what the other team is doing, so we have to understand that the Old Testament LAW that God gives to Israel is an adjustment that was made. So the LAW is that adjustment that was used until Jesus came into the game in the 4th Quarter. The LAW was like taking Claritin for allergies. All those laws the Jews had to obey, all those sacrifices that needed to be made, and all of those rituals that needed to be followed were never meant to be a permanent solution. Jesus is the permanent solution. He came to fulfill the LAW. He knew we never could (Matt.5:17; Rom.7-8).

So the point of this message is to begin to distinguish between the permanent and the temporary and to see how that applies to us. Temporary solutions are fine to manage symptoms if there’s no permanent solution. But if there IS a permanent solution, why in the world would we continue the temporary? Some well-meaning Christians are so gung-ho about the Jews and the Old Testament that they feel they need to become partially Jewish and observe the LAWS and customs of the Jews. On the other hand, other Christians feel like the church has replaced Israel since Jesus came. They believe that the church gets all the blessings and promises that God originally gave to Israel. However, both of those extremes are wrong and un-biblical.

So we’re going to set the record straight as we finish out our introduction to the Bible and transition to our new series that starts next week (Walking with Jesus). The goal is to reach a balanced view as we learn to appreciate the temporary solutions (like taking Aleve for a headache) while looking forward to God’s Permanent solution in Jesus (like conquering death). I don’t know about you, but I choose the permanent solution over the temporary! I don’t want to have to keep doing things I don’t need to do! How about you

Day 2

1. God’s plan is NOT temporary and Israel has always been a major part of that plan.

Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen.12:1-3 ESV).

So now the focus shifts to Abram. The focus is no longer on humanity as a whole. We’re zooming in on Abram and the nation who will eventually be born through him. The name Abram means exalted father. And his name was eventually changed to Abraham which means father of many (Gen.17:5). So this exalted father would eventually become the father of many. And that’s a big deal since the end of chapter 11 mentions that his wife was barren. But as we all should know by now, God never makes things easy. It always comes down to faith. Even though what we see doesn’t always line up with what God asks us to believe, He wants us to trust Him. He wants us to take that leap of faith.

And this wasn’t easy for Abraham. He had to leave everything he knew and was comfortable with and move to a foreign land. His family originally settled in a place called UR. Most scholars believe that to be about 186 miles south of what we know as Bagdad, Iraq. That’s the same place we talked about last week when we spoke of the Ziggurat that was discovered at UR. And it makes sense because ziggurats were used to worship false gods. And Abraham’s family worshipped false gods (Joshua 24:2-3). In fact, the Babylonians worshipped many false gods. The moon god Sin seemed to be the head false god, which is an ironic name. Maybe even Abraham worshipped false gods too. We don’t really know. But God called him out of that place. And Abraham followed the one true God every day after that regardless of his past.

But the focus here is not really on Abraham. If you read this closely, the focus is on what God’s going to do THROUGH Abraham and his descendants. And what God is saying is that he’s not to worry about what he’s giving up. He needs to focus on what God promises to do through him once he leaves that land. God says He’s going to make Abraham into a great nation. He said he was going to bless the socks off of him and his family. His name would become great and he would be a blessing to people. In fact, God said that He would bless those who bless Abraham. But on the flip side, He would curse those who curse him. And believe me, if you’ve studied history, the nations that have messed with Israel have not fared so well.

But then God says something really awesome. And this is the real focus of this passage. He says that, through Abraham, ALL the families of the earth will be blessed. That’s a major peek into God’s game plan and God’s permanent solution. Abraham knew that it wasn’t about him. God said that His intention was to bless EVERYBODY through Abraham. And that ultimately came through Abraham’s most famous descendant: Jesus Christ. It has always been God’s intention to BLESS people. We did get a warning here that we need to love and respect God’s people, Israel. But His intention has always been to BLESS people.

His plan was to bless the whole world through Jesus Christ. God was going to make Abraham’s name great, but it was so that everybody (from all nations) would have a chance to have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Yet Abraham and Israel were chosen to play a major part in that blessing. God’s plan is NOT temporary and Israel has always been a major part of that plan. We need to know that the LAW that God eventually gave to Israel was fulfilled in Jesus Christ. We need to know that as believers, we don’t need to follow that LAW. However, that doesn’t mean that God is finished with Israel.

Many Christians wrongly believe that the church has replaced Israel. They think that somehow we get all the promises that God gave to Israel in the Old Testament. But nothing could be further from the truth. God never said that. In fact, the books of Daniel, Matthew, Romans, and Revelation would strongly argue against that. The LAW was temporary. But Israel is not temporary. They are still a part of God’s plan just like we are (Psalm 89; Gal.3:7-9). The church and Israel are two separate bodies. And our God is more than capable of handling both the church and Israel. It doesn’t have to be an either/or type of issue. It’s more of a both/and.

Jesus was born through this line of people. He was Jewish! So we can’t forget Israel or brush them off. This part of God’s Word has not changed and we would do well to respect it and love and bless Israel. We certainly don’t want to be a part of the crew that curses Israel. In fact, we don’t want to curse anyone. We need to love ALL people and ALL nations. Everyone needs Jesus. Israel needs Jesus too! Just because they are God’s chosen people does not give them a free pass. They need Jesus just like we do! They don’t get a free pass to heaven.

So one part of applying this passage is getting our facts straight. God has not given up on Israel. He still has a plan for them (Rom.11:26-29). This promise is still in effect. So it is very biblical to support Israel. That doesn’t mean we have to un-support (or un-love) anyone else, but we do need to show them our support. In addition, the other important aspect of applying this passage is responding to God’s call on our lives. Abraham was faced with a faith decision. And so are we. When we become believers, we make a conscious decision to follow Jesus Christ. We place our faith in Him. We fall in line with His plan and we choose to follow Him rather than our own plan. We turn (repent) from our sins and we decide to follow Him. And then we get baptized as we make that choice public and become a part of the local church.

In addition, we also need to respond to God’s call in our lives as believers. So the question we need to ask ourselves is what we think God is calling us to do. And once we know what that is, will we make the choice to do it? God made promises to Abraham, but Abraham had to make the faith choice and follow through. And sometimes what God asks us to do will literally involve picking up and moving like Abraham. Sometimes it might include staying right where we are and trying to reach people right where we already are. So are we willing to do whatever God asks us to do no matter how crazy it may sound or how inconvenient it might be?

One of the earliest memories I have of a church service is when I was very young. I can’t remember exactly how old I was, but I specifically remember that a missionary was speaking. And he was challenging people to go into missions. And I’ll never forget what I did. As I sat there, I prayed a very spiritual prayer. I said, God, please don’t ever call me to be a missionary. I can’t do it. I was a very shy kid. So the thought of picking up and moving overseas to be a missionary, eating weird food, and learning a whole new culture and language was terrifying. It STILL terrifies me. But that’s one of the reasons I know God has a sense of humor!

He actually answered my prayer. He never did send me overseas as a missionary. He kept me in America and turned me into a church planting pastor instead! And even though it’s hard, when God says GO, we GO. But what if God called YOU one day to move overseas and become a missionary? Would you go? What if He called you to do something else? You might think you can’t do it. But if God calls you to do it, He will lead you through it! He’ll make it happen. What’s required of us is faith. The results are up to God. “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (Heb.11:8-10 ESV).

Day 3

2. Faith has NEVER been temporary and it has always been the key to salvation. 

So Abram went, as the LORD had told him, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people that they had acquired in Haran, and they set out to go to the land of Canaan. When they came to the land of Canaan, Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land (Gen.12:4-6 ESV).

So Abraham takes the leap of faith! In fact, we wouldn’t be here today if he would’ve said NO to God. However, it is interesting to consider what Abraham was giving up as he left his homeland. Inheritance rights were a big deal back then. Keeping land in the family was a big deal. So it certainly doesn’t make financial sense to do what he did. And it doesn’t make sense to leave the only family he knew, but when God says GO we need to GO. And what God was promising, even though Abraham couldn’t see, was much better than what he was giving up.

I can relate to that. People think we’re crazy that we keep moving around. Church planting doesn’t make a lot of financial sense. Trust me, you don’t do this to get rich. If I was doing this to get rich and I’d do it very differently. I’m not a prosperity gospel preacher or a mega church CEO. And I have no desire to be! We don’t live life in Christ to get rich. We don’t do things that make sense to the rest of the world. We do what God calls us to do. And God always provides. We’ve never gone without food, shelter, or clothing. We’ve gone without some things we’ve wanted. But God always provides. Everything doesn’t always have to make financial sense. It’s about being on God’s Mission and fulfilling His purposes for us, not ours.

So Abraham leaves his homeland and he goes where God tells him to go. He doesn’t know all the details. He doesn’t know what it’ll be like. But God said GO, so he went. And that’s called faith. Faith has NEVER been temporary and it has always been the key to salvation. When it comes to distinguishing between the temporary and the permanent, it brings up a good question. How we’re people in the OT saved? Since it was before Jesus came were they saved by following the Law? However, if salvation didn’t come through the Law, how we’re they saved? The answer is that it’s always been by faith. In fact, the Bible says that “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness” (Rom.4:3 NIV; Gen.15:6). Abraham was saved by faith. And that happened before the LAW was in place.

“For no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are. But now God has shown us a way to be made right with him without keeping the requirements of the law, as was promised in the writings of Moses and the prophets long ago. We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are. For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard” (Rom.3:20-23 NLT; c.f.Gal.2:16). So the whole point of the LAW was to prove we were sinful and couldn’t save ourselves. No one can keep the LAW perfectly. Only one person ever did that. And His name was Jesus. And He’s the One who came to fulfill the LAW (Matt.5:17-18). We can’t be saved by religion, good works, or even going to services every Sunday. We are saved by our faith in Jesus plus nothing else (Eph.2:8-10; John 3:16).

And especially now that Jesus has come, we don’t need to live by the LAW or religion or good works. “But now we have been released from the law, for we died to it and are no longer captive to its power. Now we can serve God, not in the old way of obeying the letter of the law, but in the new way of living in the Spirit” (Rom.7:6 NLT; Gal.2:21). This is where it gets tricky. Many well-meaning Christians have gotten off course once they start getting serious about their faith. They learn a lot about the Old Testament. And that’s a good thing. But where they go wrong is that they start to think they need to celebrate the things the Jews celebrate.

And then all of a sudden they make a pilgrimage to Israel and come back wearing a Kippah on their heads. And then they start worshipping only on Saturday. And then they change their diet and alter their lives to bring out the Jewishness of their faith. And then they take a DNA test and find out they’re part Jewish. And then they really go overboard! And it is interesting. Believe me, I LOVED my trip to Israel. And I got a prayer shawl. I  have a shofar too (because I’m a trumpet player). And I love to learn about the Jewishness of our faith. I loved learning Hebrew, even though I’ve forgotten most of it.

However, we don’t HAVE to live that way. We don’t HAVE to observe Jewish customs. We don’t HAVE to worship on Saturday. We don’t HAVE to follow their diet. We’ve been freed from all of that in Christ! Following the LAW is like putting a band aid on a gunshot wound. Why would we as Christians want to follow the LAW and Jewish customs? Jesus came to fulfill the Law so we wouldn’t have to follow it! Remember, it was always God’s intention to bring ALL nations back together. So why would we want to go backwards?

We are saved by our faith in Jesus, not by following the Jewish LAW or being religious (John 14:6). Even baptism doesn’t save us. God did tell us to be baptized. Once we’ve placed our faith in Jesus, that’s how we welcome people into the local church. That is what God told us to do. But it’s a symbolic act that demonstrates what happened when we placed our faith in Jesus. Our sins were washed away. We died with Jesus and we were raised to a new life in Him. So our baptism is an important day. But it doesn’t save us. It’s a demonstration that we’re already saved.

So we’ve always been saved by faith, not by the LAW or religion. But what happens AFTER Abraham takes that leap of faith and leaves his father’s house? It says that he was 75 years old when all of this happened! So he was no spring chicken! But he did it because God said GO. So he packed up and left. And God provided. Yet Abraham wasn’t exactly poor. He did have to leave his extended family and land behind but he hardly struggled. He took along everything he could take along: possessions, servants, and animals.

A lot of people in Florida are scratching their heads right now and wondering what’s next. They’re leaving their homes because of the hurricane. It’s a scary thing. It’s not easy to pack up and leave everything behind. Their houses may or may not be there when they get back. And faith is the same way. We just don’t know. But we do know that we can trust God. It does agitate me, however, when the religious crowd jumps in and starts speaking for God and saying stupid things that they don’t really know or understand. I thought Kirk Cameron had a level head. I really like him. I still do, but he said something stupid recently about the hurricane. I’m scratching my head as to why he would say something so stupid but he did. It’s out there. Everybody can see it.

But the truth is that we don’t know why this particular hurricane, or the last, or the next one is happening. And I think it’s really dumb to say that God’s displaying His power. What if it’s just one of those things that happens because we live in a sin cursed world? What if Satan sent it? We don’t know. What we do know is that even though we don’t always understand what’s going on, we can trust God. He always does what’s right. That’s what we do know. And we can take those leaps of faith in times of uncertainly and trust God to do the right thing in the midst of the storm.

And in our story today, Abraham was trusting God in a time of uncertainty. He traveled about 450 miles to Canaan. If you go back to Chapter 11, you’ll see that he originally lived in UR, then they moved north to Haran which was about 550 miles northwest (in modern-day Turkey). And it says that Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh (Gen.12:4-6 ESV). So they came to a particular Oak Tree (the Oak of Moreh which means the teacher) at a place called Shechem. That might sound a little weird to us that they stopped at a tree, but according to the customs of the time, a tree like that most likely functioned as a place for people to gather (for teaching, for court, and even as a place of worship). People normally think of going to church in a church building on Sunday to worship. But overseas people don’t always have church buildings like we do. It depends on the culture. And that’s why I love that our church worships in a house. The church is the people in Christ. We don’t need to worship the same way everyone else does. Religion and LAW says we all have to be the same, but freedom in Christ says we worship in Spirit and in truth (John 4:21-24).

Day 4

3. God’s promise of the land of Israel is NOT temporary and neither is worshipping God.

Then the LORD appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built there an altar to the LORD, who had appeared to him. From there he moved to the hill country on the east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. And there he built an altar to the LORD and called upon the name of the LORD. And Abram journeyed on, still going toward the Negeb (Gen.12:7-9 ESV).

So What happens next? God appears to him! Abraham took a leap of faith. And now God begins to uphold His end of the deal. And one part of what He said He would do, was to make Abraham into a great nation. And in order to be a great nation, they have to have a homeland. And God was promising what would eventually be called Israel. In addition, He added a very important detail a chapter later. He said, “Lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward, for all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever’” (Gen.13:14-15 ESV). That is HUGE!

And it’s a verse that’s been confirmed by the rest of the Bible. And it’s a promise that’s NEVER been revoked. God promised the land of Israel to Abraham and his descendants (Israel) forever! In fact, I learned as I was doing research that there are at least 37 references to this promise in the first five books of the Bible. So this comes back to our discussion of support for Israel. And if God says it’s their land forever, it’s theirs forever. God’s promise of the land of Israel is NOT temporary and neither is worshipping God.

I don’t know about you, but I’d be pretty mad if the government (or anyone else) came in here and tried to take our land. We have a fight on our hands right now between the people of this area where we live and a power company that wants to install big huge power lines on our land. And people aren’t happy about it. But they could, by law, take it by eminent domain. That’s ridiculous. Once we buy land it should be ours. I don’t even think we should have to pay taxes on it once we buy it and once it’s paid off. If we bought it, we bought it. And it should be ours tax free (in my opinion).

Some of the farms and land in Harford County have been in the same families for 100 years. That’s awesome. I think that’s great. I’m thankful we were able to acquire this property that Olivia grew up in. I hope it can stay in our family for the long term. But on the other hand, if we can’t do that, or if we decide to sell it, we could. But that’s because God didn’t appear to me and say that He promised this land to me forever. If He would do that, you better believe that I would never sell it. If God says it’s our land, it’s our land. And that’s what He did with Israel.

Now Israel did mess up many times. They followed other gods. And God kicked them out of the land a few times. But that was His call. And He always brought them back. He made a promise to Abraham and He intends to keep it. So regardless of what we think, God’s Word will stand. It’s just better if we know that and support it rather than try to fight it. He promised that land forever. It was not a temporary promise. And they’re there now. Politicians keep trying to divide the land. Other nations keep trying to kick them out, but nothing has worked. God brought them back to their land in 1948. And no one’s been able to kick them out. But even if they do get kicked out again, God will bring them back again because He promised it to them forever.

We can’t stop God’s Permanent Plan. And Israel is a part of His permanent plan. Even though they never really lived up to what God wanted them to do, they are still His chosen people and His plan will come to fruition (Jer.13:11; Rom.11:26-27). So how do we apply this? First of all, our mission is still the same. We still need to connect with God and with people. And the Jews need Jesus just as much as anyone else. We don’t need to become like them and follow their practices, but we can build relationships with them. Perhaps one day, when our church grows and we are able to pick an overseas mission, it will be the Jews. That’s where my heart lies. They need Jesus just like anyone else.

Second, Abraham built an altar and worshipped God. And this was a public thing. This was out in the open. Abraham moved from a place where they worshipped idols to another land that also worshipped idols. And Abraham called on the name of the LORD. He didn’t get to hide in a crowd like we can and go to church where we can be comfortable and hide out among other Christians. He was a stranger in a strange land and he was proclaiming the One True God. So we do need to worship. But we also worship God all week long when we LIVE for Him, build relationships with people, and share our faith. Our worship is both public and private. We can’t get away with saying my faith is private so I keep it to myself. God never gave us that option.

Third, as we take leaps of faith, as we worship God, and as we share our faith, our faith grows over time. Abraham took a leap of faith, left everything he knew, proclaimed a God that no one in that area knew, and then he moved on. He moved to another place to settle down in that land. Faith is a journey. I’m sure you’ve heard that life is a journey not a destination. But that’s true of our faith as well. It’s a journey. And the more we exercise our faith, the more it grows. And the more it grows the more responsibility God will entrust us with. God’s not going to trust us with something big before we can handle something small. Our faith is like a muscle. It will grow over time as we exercise it. We can’t develop those spiritual six pack abs overnight. It takes time! We can’t get powerful biceps overnight. It takes years of exercising our faith.

Yet it’s only through Jesus that we can accomplish anything. Our faith must be in Him. He’s the Permanent solution we’re all looking for. If the LAW was like a band aid for a gunshot wound, Jesus is like the cure for cancer! And He will be the subject of our conversations for the foreseeable future as we begin the Book of John next week and begin our new series “Walking With Jesus.” He’s the answer. He’s the permanent solution. So we follow Him. We walk with Him. And we walk as He walked. Let’s pray.

Day 5

Questions to consider…

  1. Do you like the security and comfort of attending a church service each week? Does the routine make you feel comfortable? Does the thought of venturing out in faith the rest of the week and being on mission scare you? Do you think you’re not qualified and/or don’t know enough to do that?
  2. Does it surprise you that God still has a plan for Israel and that He’s not done with them yet? Does it comfort you knowing that God doesn’t cast His people aside even though they’ve been disobedient? What do you think God is calling YOU to do? Is there a leap of faith that He is asking of YOU? Does it comfort you to know that salvation is by faith rather than by our good works and/or by the religious things we do?
  3. Does it make sense that worship is a way of life rather than a list of things we need to do or not do? Does it make sense that faith is like building muscle and that it takes time? Do you think God should give us big responsibilities before we’re ready to handle them?

God’s Amazing Grace?

Click Play for the audio version.

 

Day 1

Garth Brooks is the man! And one of his songs that I’ll never forget is “Unanswered Prayers.” I don’t know about you, but I’ve prayed a lot of those prayers over the years. And it’s not that I had bad intentions, but I sure did have self-centered intentions. And that’s where we get frustrated. We pray prayers with our own motivations concerning our little corner of the world. And God does want to hear our prayers. And He does care about what we care about. But we don’t always get what we ask for. Sometimes we do. And sometimes we don’t. Yet it doesn’t mean that God doesn’t care about us. It doesn’t mean He doesn’t love us. It doesn’t mean He doesn’t want to help us out. It doesn’t mean He can’t help us.

What we need to realize, however (as we grow up in the faith), is that we weren’t put on planet earth to be successful, make a lot of money, and comfortably live out the American Dream. There is a higher purpose to our lives. And that’s God’s purpose. So sometimes when we don’t get what we want it’s because it’s not in line with His plan and purpose for our lives. And sometimes when He doesn’t answer our prayers it’s because He’s protecting us. Most of the time He’s protecting us from ourselves. And that’s why that song strikes such a chord in my life.

I’ve prayed a ton of those types of prayers. And they always had something to do with love, money, jobs, and/or the direction I wanted my life to go. And it wasn’t that it was bad, but it was a bit selfish. I’m still guilty from time to time. I don’t mean to do it but I do. We all do. And God knows that. And God loves us. But He’s also constantly protecting us from ourselves. And as believers, God wants us to be on board with His plan. He already told us what He wants us to do. He wants us to make disciples, baptize them, and teach them to obey everything that He taught us to do. And as we pattern our lives around that singular purpose, we fulfill our ultimate purpose, which is to worship God and bring Him glory.

But man’s problem, which we’ve seen a bunch of times already, is that we keep wanting to do our own thing apart from God. He keeps steering us in the right direction and we keep wandering off the path. So what did He do? He kicked Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden. And we learned that was a gracious act to help steer them back in the right direction. Then He wiped out everything in the flood (except for Noah, his family, and the animals), so that they could start over again. And that was also a display of God’s grace. Instead of wiping everything and everyone out, He displays incredible patience and grace when dealing with us.

We’re like my cats. And when I say cats I mean just one of our cats. Kit is usually well behaved. But Kat is the dumbest cat in the entire world. I love him to death and he’s so cute. But he’s so dumb. He just won’t learn. He keeps doing things we don’t want him to do. His curiosity keeps getting him into trouble. When I look at that cat I know exactly where the expression came from! Curiosity will certainly kill that cat! I have no doubt. We’ve done everything we know how to do. When he jumps up on the table we’ve tried squirting him in the face with a water bottle. We’ve tried shooing him off. We’ve tried screaming at him. Nothing works. He still jumps right back up. He’s the dumbest cat in the entire world! I love him. But he’s dumb.

Just the other day, I was working in my office and he was staring at me. I knew what he was going to do and I did everything I could to get him not to do it. My desk was full of stuff. My computer was open and on. I had papers everywhere. There was no room on my desk for a cat. So what does the cat do? He waits for me to look away for a split second and he jumps up on my desk and lands right on my computer! So I did what any rational person would do. I screamed as loud as I could. The whole world shook. And I physically removed him from my desk. I’ll let you interpret that. And then I spent the next 5 minutes being mad at him and pondering ways to end his life. I could’ve made it look like an accident. But I didn’t do it!

Nevertheless, when I think about it, he’s not all that different from us. How often do we keep doing the same things over and over again while expecting a different result? We keep going about our business and trying to jump up on God’s table but we refuse to do the one thing He told us to do. Christians are great at that. Jesus told us to go and make disciples. He told us to go after the one lost sheep. So what do we do? We spend all of our time doing anything but that. We go to church services and Bible studies yet all we do is learn. We never do.

So this week we’re covering Genesis Chapters 10-11. Up until now the focus has been on humanity (as a whole) and the fact that we have a tendency to rebel against God. And this story we’re looking at today, the Tower of Babel, caps it all off. Chapter 10 is basically another genealogy. And the point of that genealogy is to show how the nations of the world came to be from Noah’s 3 sons. But then as we come to chapter 11, we have another problem. Man has basically done the same thing again. He’s rebelling against God. He’s doing something dumb again, like my cat. And God has to step in and do something about it again.

And when He does, it changes the course of human history. However, as we’ll learn, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s actually an incredible display of God’s Amazing Grace. And that’s why I titled this week’s message God’s Amazing Grace with a question mark at the end. God sets something in motion that still affects us today. And He’s still working out His plan. So before we pray anymore of those self-centered prayers, we need to take a serious look at the Tower of Babel. It only spans 9 verses, but the message is so powerful. It reverberates across time and space. At first glance, God might seem like the agitated pet owner who squirts the cat with a water bottle and keeps trying to keep the cat off the table, but the lesson is much more profound. Sometimes our unanswered prayers are just what we need to get back on track! And those unanswered prayers are filled with God’s Amazing Grace!

Day 2

1. God blesses us with amazing abilities to achieve great things for His glory.

“Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. And as people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. And they said to one another, ‘Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.’ And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. Then they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth’” (Gen.11:1-4 ESV).

There was another title that I was going to give this message. I was going to call it “Oops We Did It Again.” The builders of the Tower of Babel are singing with Brittany Spears because they did it again at the Tower of Babel. This is the third major time man has rebelled against God. So what happened? What did they do? This is after the flood. People began to multiply and move on from life after the flood. Ham’s family mainly ended up South (in what we know as Africa) and in the land of Canaan (which is modern day Israel). Japheth’s family ended up North and West of Israel. And Shem’s family moved East which is where our story takes place today. But they would’ve spread out AFTER what we’re talking about today.

Right now everyone is basically in the same place: the land of Shinar. Where the heck is that? That was ancient Babylon, which corresponds with modern-day Iraq. If you think trouble in the Middle East is a new thing, think again. It’s been a problem for thousands of years. But these people got together and said, Let’s build a city. Let’s build a tower that’s going to touch the heavens. So they made bricks and started building. They weren’t able to use stone in that particular place because stone wasn’t readily available in that place and at that time.

So they made mud bricks which were baked in a kiln. And they used asphalt for mortar. And as far as we know, what they were attempting to build is what is known as a ziggurat. And ziggurats were not pyramids even though they might’ve resembled them if you squint your eyes a little. A ziggurat was basically a large structure that had a bunch of staircases in the front that led to different levels. And the top level had a small temple to house a false god. If you ever read further in the book of Genesis (Chapter 28) and get to the story of Jacob’s Ladder, we’re talking about the same thing: an ancient ziggurat.

Ziggurats, however, were (in my humble opinion) a bit strange. They weren’t practical at all. They were a major waste of space, not unlike a pyramid (even though they are cool to look at thousands of years later as a piece of antiquity). But there was nothing inside. It wasn’t like there were apartments inside the building or a place for storage. They didn’t even have secret passages like the House of Seven Gables in Salem (That was cool). But a ziggurat was a big building filled with debris and dirt. There was nothing inside. There was no tomb inside like a pyramid. It was basically a big tower for the tiny temple that stood at the top. And the only stuff inside the temple would’ve been a bed, a table, and food for the false god. Yet ziggurats (as a whole) could’ve been as large as 300 feet tall and wide. Perhaps Babel was larger. We don’t know.

One of the most famous is the Ziggurat of Nanna at Ur. It is located in modern-day Iraq in what is thought to be the ancient city of Ur (in ancient Mesopotamia). Scholars believe it to have been built around 2100 BC for the false god Nanna. That would’ve been during the time of Abraham. However, this ziggurat was originally brought to my attention by an atheist friend of mine who I used to work out with at the gym. He was actually there and he gave me some of his pictures, but anyone can see pictures of it (and other ziggurats) from a simple Google search.

But what was so bad about building this tower? I already gave part of the answer. These towers, in general, were built for false gods. So obviously, the repeated mistake of rebellion against the One True God continues. But what was the problem with building a city? God’s intention was for people to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth (Gen.1:28). God wanted them to spread out. So what do they do? The opposite. Nevertheless, the real issue was pride. They said, let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth (Gen.11:4 ESV). Pride keeps so many people from God. These people wanted glory for themselves. They didn’t want to fulfill their purpose in life. They didn’t want to worship and give glory to the one true God. They wanted to worship a false god (who didn’t really exist). And if he doesn’t really exist, they get to make up their own rules and do religion their own way.

God blesses us with amazing abilities to achieve great things for His glory. Whenever I’m talking to people about God and the church, the main hindrance that I see almost every time isn’t that people are atheists. I’ve met very few true atheists. In fact, most of the atheists I’ve met over the years started out as Christians and lost their faith somewhere along the line. So it’s not that they don’t believe. It’s because something happened that caused them to get mad at God. He either didn’t do something they wanted Him to do (like an unanswered prayer), or they witnessed the hypocrisy in the church.

For some people, it’s because they have their own agenda. And I think that’s where they are similar to the people in our story today. They want to do what’s convenient for them. So whenever the church or God conflicts with what they want or their own comfort, they choose their own agenda. For some people it has to do with certain sins they like to do. So whatever it is, they get offended by God because they think He’s being unreasonable. For other people, it’s religion. They just want to attend a church service, do something religious, and then do whatever they want the rest of the week. So their religion is nothing more than putting on a show. It does nothing to change their life to line up with what God wants.

But the whole Bible teaches against that. Jesus taught against that. He fought and fought with the religious people of His day. They wanted to do their own religious thing apart from what God wanted. And that’s why, when God showed up, they didn’t recognize Him. God never wanted people to be religious. He wanted them to know Him. God has always wanted a relationship with people. He wants us to want what He wants. “I want you to show love, not offer sacrifices. I want you to know me more than I want burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6 NLT; Micah 6:6-8). And when we do that, we bring glory to God. When we do religious things to show off or to make a name for ourselves, we only bring gory to ourselves. And that’s why building the Tower of Babel was wrong. They wanted glory for themselves. They wanted to be famous. They didn’t want to make God famous. And they didn’t want to spread out like God wanted them to.

And people are still guilty of this today, even people who call themselves Christians. They’re just in it for the show or what they get OUT of it. They have no desire to put something INTO it. They don’t realize that the gifts God blesses us with are to benefit other people and to glorify God, not just ourselves. And if we never go out on God’s mission, we’re missing the whole point. The goal of the Christian life is not to sit in a service in a church building on Sunday morning. We do come to worship Him. And we all need this for learning, inspiration, and for direction, but then we need to go out the rest of the week and be on mission. Sunday morning is just the beginning. We call it the Holy Huddle. But if that’s all Christianity is to us, we’re just training ourselves to be Christian Pharisees that don’t know Jesus.

“You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me! Yet you refuse to come to me to receive this life. Your approval means nothing to me, because I know you don’t have God’s love within you. For I have come to you in my Father’s name, and you have rejected me. Yet if others come in their own name, you gladly welcome them. No wonder you can’t believe! For you gladly honor each other, but you don’t care about the honor that comes from the one who alone is God” (John 5:39-44 NLT).

When we planted our first church, I made a lot of mistakes. And that’s to be expected. But one of the major mistakes I made was allowing people in leadership roles that weren’t on the same page. I just assumed that because they were Christians that we were on the same page. And I assumed that since I was the pastor they would share my vision for the church. But I learned very quickly that some people had their own agenda. And it always has to do with religion. And this one guy (and especially his wife) hated me. I don’t know why he stayed, but he was never on board with what we were trying to do. And what we were trying to do was reach people who didn’t know Jesus. And when that happens, it’s a little messy. People that don’t know Jesus don’t usually have lives and backgrounds that honor Him. And that’s to be expected. You can’t expect people to act like believers until they’re believers. And even then, it takes time for God to transform our lives. People change at the pace of the Holy Spirit, not at our pace.

But this guy was offended by almost every person that came into the church. He pointed out why this person’s a problem and why that person can’t be baptized or be a member. And I’ll be honest. I just wanted him to leave. I would much rather spend time with sinners than stuck up religious people who think they’re better than everyone else. But this guy never lifted a finger to help reach people that didn’t know Jesus. He made it clear he wanted more preaching time, but he was never willing to roll up his sleeves, get his hands dirty, or reach a lost person.

And when he finally left, he asked me how I was going to handle his departure. He wanted me to make this big announcement. He actually thought his leaving the church was going to cause a problem. But in reality, barely anyone even noticed he left. His only intention was to be religious and keep up appearances so the church would have a good reputation in the community. But being a religious snob only helps your status with other religious snobs. It does nothing for your community. He was only interested in religion.

Our job is to be on God’s mission, not our own. When God gives us gifts, it’s to benefit other people, not ourselves. And if we’re going to achieve great things for God’s glory, it’s going to have to do with what He actually told us to do like loving our neighbor as ourselves and making disciples. And if we’re going to do that, it’s going to have to look like the way Jesus did it, not our own religious version. “Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked” (1 John 2:4-6 ESV).

Day 3

2. God bestows His amazing grace on us by sending us where we need to be.

“And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built. And the LORD said, ‘Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.’ So the LORD dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of all the earth. And from there the LORD dispersed them over the face of all the earth” (Gen.11:5-9 ESV). 

This is where things get interesting. At first glance, it seems almost cruel for God to do this. What’s wrong with people getting together to accomplish something? This is where tension gets high at times between man and God. For those that want to do their own thing apart from God, they get mad at God and refuse to follow Him because they don’t like what He wants. They don’t want to go along with His plan so they do their own thing. That’s the basis of rebellion against God. Unfortunately, what they don’t realize is that God’s protecting them from themselves. They just don’t get it.

It’s like the child who only wants to eat candy and junk food all the time. They might get mad at mom and dad for taking it away and limiting the junk food intake, but mom and dad know what’s best. Kids get mad when mom and dad send them to school and limit their electronics and TV watching, but what they don’t understand is that mom and dad are trying to prepare them for the future. And they don’t understand that mom and dad also want them outside getting exercise so they can be healthy and live a long life rather than having it cut short because of bad health and habits. Mom and dad usually know best. But God ALWAYS knows best.

And what God was doing here wasn’t cruel. It was an incredible act of grace. It wasn’t that He was keeping them from doing something great. It wasn’t that He was afraid that humans were going to show Him up and create something better than Him. That’s not even possible. But people get angry at God when they don’t get their way. They don’t understand that He’s doing what’s best for them because He loves them. So God wasn’t keeping man from doing something great. He was keeping man from doing something dumb. He was keeping them from collectively becoming as evil as they could be. And He didn’t want to repeat the flood!

If we think bad things happen to people now, think about how bad it would be with a Pledge of Allegiance to an evil One-World Nation! The Pledge of Allegiance would not be to the republic on which it stands. It would end up being a dictatorship. And it would end with one nation, under evil, divisible, with slavery and injustice for most. That’s where we would be without the Tower of Babel where God divided people and confused the languages. This was a gracious act of God so we wouldn’t become as evil as we could get.

The point here is that people were doing their own will and worshipping false gods. They were rebelling against God. God wasn’t afraid of man or what they could do with technology. He was concerned about them coming together for evil and destroying any possibility of repentance. He was saving man from himself. This was a display of God’s amazing grace! So we need not be mad at God. God bestows His amazing grace on us by sending us where we need to be.

God is acting like the loving parent who is hated in the present time, but loved later in life. I’m sure we’ve all heard our parents say at some point those famous words, You’ll understand when you’re older. And those words always come after some kind of punishment we don’t like. And we beg and we plead with mom and dad in our ignorance. But then one day, many years later, something clicks and then we get it. Then we understand what Garth Brooks was talking about when he sings, “Some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers.” Sometimes it might seem God isn’t there. It might seem like He’s not listening. But trust me, He’s working overtime behind the scenes.

We might not see what He’s doing but He’s working it all out. And it’s because He loves us and He’s good and gracious. He’s not the wizard in the sky with the lightning bolt and the long white beard. The only thing He asks us to do in the meantime is trust Him. Our job is to trust Him as He leads us to where we need to be. And even though He confused the languages and spread people out, His intention was always to bring people back together. That’s what heaven’s all about! When we’re in heaven, all nations will be represented and come back together. There will be no more confusion. We will all be united. We will all worship God together. There will be no more division.

“After this I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes and held palm branches in their hands. And they were shouting with a mighty shout, ‘Salvation comes from our God who sits on the throne and from the Lamb!’” (Rev.7:9-10 NLT). Anyone who says we’re not all equal has never read the Bible. It’s a shame that certain people think one race is more superior than another, but it’s just not true. And the sooner people learn that the better because all believers will worship together one day for all eternity. And it won’t matter what your skin color is. All nations will be represented.

“I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, ‘Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.’ And the one sitting on the throne said, ‘Look, I am making everything new!’ And then he said to me, ‘Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true’” (Rev.21:3-5 NLT). It is true that God divided the nations at Babel. But it’s also true that it has always been God’s intention to bring the nations back together. And it’s always been God’s intention, in His amazing grace, to fix what was broken.

And then we’ll all be together in God’s Holy City one day, the New Jerusalem. It won’t be called Babel. There will be no more confusion. It will be awesome! “I saw no temple in the city, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. And the city has no need of sun or moon, for the glory of God illuminates the city, and the Lamb is its light. The nations will walk in its light, and the kings of the world will enter the city in all their glory. Its gates will never be closed at the end of day because there is no night there. And all the nations will bring their glory and honor into the city. Nothing evil will be allowed to enter, nor anyone who practices shameful idolatry and dishonesty-but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life” (Rev.21:22-27 NLT). In God’s perfect city, there will be no evil, no sickness, and no death. There will be no rebellion. Everyone there will have already made the choice to follow God.

So even though the end of the introduction to the Bible here in Genesis Chapter 11 sounds pretty bad, we know how the story ends. And it ends on a very good note! And God has already started reversing the process. There is a wordplay in this passage we looked at today which is pretty cool. In verse 3 we learned about the fact that the people in Babel were baking bricks. And in verse 7 it says that God confused the languages at Babel. But in English we don’t get to see the beauty of the wordplay. Those two words use the same letters. The Hebrew word for brick here also sounds like the word for rebel. It uses the same letters (for us it would be L-B-N). And the word for confusion uses the same letters in reverse (N-B-L).

So God reverses their rebellion. Instead of letting them collectively get as evil as they could be, God reverses the process, confuses their languages, and spreads them out over the earth. Yet even though He did that, His intention was always to bring us back together. And God has already started the process of bringing us back together. And that happened on the Day of Pentecost. God Himself took on a human body. He became one of us to save us from ourselves. He knew we couldn’t do it so He did it for us. He lived a perfect life, died for our sin, and rose from the dead. But after He ascended into heaven, He did something else really awesome. He sent His Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. And that was the Birthday of the Church.

The Church is God’s way of bringing people back together. On the day of Pentecost, the church was born and three thousand people got baptized. So instead of scattering people, the process of bringing people back together began. And the exciting part is that we’re a part of it! We get to be a part of bringing people back together, not separating them anymore! Our job as believers in Jesus is to help connect people with God and with each other. Our job is to unite people in Jesus in the church. Our job is not to separate people and cause division like some Christians and churches might lead you to believe.

We just saw a really good movie the other night. It was a Hallmark movie of course. What else would it be? We’re hooked on Hallmark movies. But it was called “Summer of Dreams.” And it was so inspiring. About half way through I was thinking, This is trying to be like the story of Debbie Gibson. She was a child super star and ended up peeking at a young age. And wouldn’t you know, it was actually Debbie Gibson! I looked up the movie and it was her playing the main character. I didn’t even recognize her. And she was actually the one who pitched the idea to Hallmark to do the movie which was loosely based on her life. It’s not a true story but it parallels her life in many ways.

And that got me thinking. How many of us know people (maybe ourselves included) who thought their life would turn out differently? Who has made plans and had big dreams and prayed those big prayers that went unanswered only to later realize that where you are now is a great place to be? It’s right where God wants you to be. And maybe some of us know people like that who are at the point of being lost. They’re not sure where they are in life or where they’re going. They’re at a crossroads. They’re looking for purpose in their lives. Those are the people that God wants us to reach. Those are the people God wants us to hang out with, spend time with, and invite into relationship. Perhaps they will come to the truth because WE took the time to spend time with them and listen.

Like I said, I’ve had a ton of unanswered prayers but I’m so grateful God didn’t answer them the way I wanted. No one can convince me I wasn’t a good actor. There’s no reason I shouldn’t have made it in New York other than the fact that it’s not what God wanted for me. It wasn’t what was going to bring Him glory. I saw yet another friend on TV this week (in a Hallmark movie) who I went to college with, the first time around. He’s another one that made it onto the big screen while I didn’t. But it’s OK. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. I’ve found my purpose in life. And I’m so glad it turned out this way because not only do I love what I do, I love who I’m doing it with. I love my family. And if I would’ve made it to the Big Time, I never would’ve met Olivia, and none of my kids would’ve been born. I’m so blessed and so thankful for my family. We’re not perfect. We have our problems just like anyone else. But I wouldn’t change a thing! Thank YOU God for Unanswered Prayers!

Day 4

Questions to consider…

  1. What struggles have you had in your life that were painful yet you feel like God used to teach you valuable life lessons? What prayers did you pray in your younger days that you’re thankful God didn’t answer the way you wanted at the time because in the end it worked out much better?
  2. How often does YOUR agenda conflict with God’s agenda? Do you tend to fight with God about it or have you learned to recognize what He’s doing even if you don’t understand it? Is it easy for you to trust God during those times or do you find it difficult? Is there value in having people to lean on (in the church) during those times or do you try to figure it out yourself?
  3. Does where you are in life right now make sense to you in light of God’s will and life experience? Does it seem you are in the right place for the right reasons or do you think that you’re still searching for meaning and purpose? Are you aware of your gifts to be used for His glory or are you still wondering what your gifts are?

All in Moderation

Click Play for the audio version.

 

Day 1

I love watching epic fail videos. They’re hysterical. Although I don’t think I would enjoy it quite as much if it actually happened to me. My question, however, is do they do this to themselves on purpose just to get some laughs online? Are the accidents staged? That’s a high price to pay for 15 minutes of fame. If you’ve ever watched the old America’s Funniest Home Videos, some of those looked really painful. On the other hand, I know I’ve had some close calls with a chainsaw. I’ve taken a nick out of my knee. I’ve had trees fall in the wrong direction. And I’ve gotten my chainsaw stuck many times, but I’ve escaped relatively unscathed. Thank God!

Unfortunately, other people aren’t always so lucky. And that goes for many aspects of life. The main way we get into trouble is when we try things without knowing what we’re doing. I’ve been there plenty of times too. But for the things that count, I’ve made enough mistakes in the past to know that I need to get some basic information before trying something I don’t know how to do. This is where YouTube comes in! I have no idea how the world survived before YouTube, the internet, and smartphones. But if there’s something I don’t know how to do, I just look it up on YouTube. That’s how I learned how to use a chainsaw.

I would much rather finish a day well with success and safety rather than ending up at the ER. And the same is true with my life. I want to finish well. Thank God that we have the Bible. We have a written record of some major epic fails throughout ancient history! But they’re not there to make fun of people. They’re there for us. We can learn from the mistakes of the past. The Bible is like the original YouTube. It’s the original internet. It’s God’s way of teaching us throughout our entire lives. The Bible is something we never outgrow. It never goes out of date. It’s always there. It’s readily available in whatever translation or version we want. And it’s filled with the truth. And that’s just like the internet, since everything on the internet is true (LOL).

“For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Rom.15:4 NIV). So if it’s there to teach us, it’s a really good idea to know what’s in it. In fact, the reason there’s so many examples (especially examples that show us what NOT to do) is so we don’t make the same mistakes. “These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come” (1 Cor.10:11 NIV). So we don’t have the Bible to beat us down. It’s here to sound the warning shot. It’s here to show us what to do so we don’t have the epic fails. But even when we do fail, it helps to pick us up and give us encouragement as we continue on. So despite our mistakes, it teaches us to finish well.

“Finishing is better than starting.” (Ecc.7:8 NLT). Paul also puts it in perspective. “Do not waste time arguing over godless ideas and old wives’ tales. Instead, train yourself to be godly. Physical training is good, but training for godliness is much better, promising benefits in this life and in the life to come” (1 Tim.4:8 NLT). This is my excuse for getting fat. I would have more time to go to the gym and eat better, but I spend most of my time studying the Bible, making disciples, and training to be godly. So spiritually I have 6-pack abs!

But seriously, the point is finishing well. Our story today ends the whole Noah’s Ark narrative, but it ends on a very sour note. As a musician, it drives me crazy when I hit wrong notes. And nothing is worse than hitting the wrong note at the very END of a song. That’s what sticks in people’s minds! And that’s what happens with Noah. He was doing so well! The Noah’s Ark story is EPIC. But the story that caps it all off, unfortunately, is an EPIC Fail. If Noah would’ve had the benefit of knowing the end before the beginning, like we do, the outcome might’ve been different. If he could’ve learned ahead of time that moderation could’ve saved him from his EPIC Fail, this story might not have made it into the Bible.

So our title today is “All In Moderation.” We can enjoy God’s good gifts and enjoy our lives, but limits are there for a reason. We’re all going to make mistakes in life. We’re all going to have EPIC Fails. But what we learn from those EPIC Fails and how we finish is what we want to talk about today. “But my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus-the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God” (Acts 20:24 NLT; c.f.2 Tim.4:7; Phil.1:6).

So we’re finishing Genesis Chapter 9 today. Last week we talked about Minding Our Own Business and leaving the judging up to God. And that theme still applies here. But we’re adding to it. We all have different tolerance levels and different struggles. So our goal today is to explore moderation, especially in those gray areas of life. But the point isn’t to argue or offend each other. The point is so that we can learn to finish well and stay on mission so we can glorify God with our lives. The point, as always, is application, which leads to transformation!

Day 2

1. We can enjoy many of God’s good gifts in moderation; however, if we cross the line and overindulge we can get ourselves into trouble.

The sons of Noah who went forth from the ark were Shem, Ham, and Japheth. (Ham was the father of Canaan.) These three were the sons of Noah, and from these the people of the whole earth were dispersed. Noah began to be a man of the soil, and he planted a vineyard. He drank of the wine and became drunk and lay uncovered in his tent. And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father and told his two brothers outside. Then Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it on both their shoulders, and walked backward and covered the nakedness of their father. Their faces were turned backward, and they did not see their father’s nakedness (Gen.9:18-23 ESV).

Can we say awkward? It’s hard to say exactly what happened here. The Bible doesn’t give us all the details. So we don’t want to read too much into it and insert details into the narrative that aren’t there. Nevertheless, there are things we do know just based on what we’ve read so far. And we know that at least two years had to have passed since they got off the Ark. It takes time to plant and grow grapevines. It takes time for them to produce grapes. And it takes time to make wine. So it had to have been at least two years after they got off the Ark.

Furthermore, we know that in the Garden of Eden Adam and Eve were walking around naked and felt no shame. It was fine to do that. There was nothing wrong with it. They were innocent. But once they sinned, they immediately felt ashamed. So they covered themselves.

And it’s no different today. Nobody just walks around naked unless they want to get arrested. In fact, that’s really the only rule we have here about what to wear to a Church Gathering. You have to wear something. And you can decide for yourself what that is. We don’t require people to dress up or anything silly like that. Wear whatever you want. Just wear something!

Otherwise, you might get arrested. And since I’m the pastor, I’m supposed to be the one setting the example so I’m not going to say, Wear whatever you want and be comfortable while I show up in a three-piece suit. I wouldn’t do that anyway. I hate ties. I can’t stand dressing up. But that’s me. I prefer wearing a baseball cap, jeans, and a comfortable shirt. But that’s me. And just like we talked about last week, we can do that. We can decide for ourselves what’s right, as long as it fits within biblical parameters, and as long as we don’t push our convictions on other people. So if one person wants to dress up (however they define that), that’s great. And if another person wants to be casual, that’s great too.

But in this story (and with whatever happened), we have at least 3 sins going on. Noah drank way too much and got drunk. And then he compounded the error by doing something dumb. All the Bible tells us is that he got naked. So there’s probably more but we don’t know what. You can use your imagination. Nevertheless, Noah got drunk and did something he would later regret. Big surprise. An overabundance of alcohol and trouble go hand in hand. But then we have another problem. His private sin turned into a public sin when his sons got involved.

We don’t really know what Ham did. Maybe we can take this at face value. Maybe he just looked. Maybe he did something to his dad. We don’t know. But we know he didn’t do anything to correct the issue. In fact, he made it even worse when he brought his two brothers into it. And we don’t know if he was making fun of his dad or if he had even more sinister plans, but what we do know is that he told his brothers about it.

So Ham, regardless of what was done, dishonored his father. That we DO know. He could’ve just kept it quiet, covered him up, and went on his way. But he didn’t do that. “Cursed be anyone who dishonors his father or his mother’” (Deut.27:16 ESV). Now technically the Law wasn’t in place yet. But apparently the principle still stands. Dishonoring our parents is frowned upon in the Bible. And it seems like what Ham did was like 10 times worse if you consult Habakkuk! “Woe to him who gives drink to his neighbors, pouring it from the wineskin till they are drunk, so that he can gaze on their naked bodies” (Hab.2:15 NIV).

So again, we don’t know exactly what Ham did, but even if was nothing more than what it says here, it was wrong. And I don’t want to open this can of worms yet, but I will crack the can. We’ll discuss this in more detail at a later date, but for our purposes here, all sexual sin is sin. It doesn’t matter what it is. In fact, all sin is sin. And sex is OK as long as it’s in the right context. It’s not dirty. It’s one of God’s good gifts. But it can be misused and abused in many ways that makes it NOT good. Yet I don’t like to elevate one sin over the other. Sin is sin. But even a look can lead us into trouble.

Jesus Himself said, “You have heard the commandment that says, ‘You must not commit adultery.’ But I say, anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt.5:27-28 NLT). So even if we’re not physically doing something wrong, a look can lead to a lustful thought. So for us, it could be a live, in person look, or it could be a picture. It could be pornography. It could be a movie. But the Bible calls that sin. And once you throw alcohol into the equation, all bets are off. It’s Trouble with a capital T!

Now Ham could’ve accidently saw something he wasn’t supposed to see and he could’ve made it right and walked away. That’s not sin. You can’t control that. But once he stayed, once he didn’t cover up his dad, and once he went to his brothers, he was compounding the problem. Yet his brothers did do the right thing. They realized what was going on and they went in backwards, took a garment, and covered him up. They didn’t even want to take the chance of seeing anything they weren’t supposed to see. They went above and beyond to do the right thing.

So Noah and Ham are in the wrong here. They were BOTH wrong. But we can’t beat up on them. We’ve all made mistakes. And as we learned last week, we’re not the judge. God is the judge. He’s more than capable of doing His job. Believe me, there are plenty of moments in my life that I wish I could take back, but I can’t. How about YOU? We’re all in that same boat. Only Jesus could achieve perfection. That’s why we ALL need a Savior. “If you think you are standing strong, be careful not to fall” (1 Cor.10:12 NLT). No one is immune We all make mistakes. We all sin. But we can learn from our mistakes. And we can still finish well.

But does that mean we can never take a drop of alcohol? Does that mean we have to become holier than thou, uptight, religious snobs? Does that mean we turn out like that pastor we learned about last week that was publicly humiliating people in his congregation? Absolutely not. Alcohol, in my opinion, is one of God’s good gifts. I love a good, cold beer. I love a good glass of wine, as long as it’s sweet! I can’t stand if it’s too dry.  And that leads us to our first point. We can enjoy many of God’s good gifts in moderation; however, if we cross the line and overindulge we can get ourselves into trouble.

The key to that statement is in moderation. If we take anything too far it can be bad. I’ve had people tell me the internet is evil because of pornography, so we shouldn’t ever use it. But that’s the dumbest thing I ever heard. I’d be lost without the internet. And I don’t use the internet to look at pornography. A lot of good can come from it. We can get a lot of good information. But yes the internet can be bad depending on how we use it. If we’re on Facebook too much and not doing our job at work, or if we ignore our family, that’s wrong. I think that’s one we all struggle with. Sometimes we just need to detox from electronics. But moderation is OK.

I think guns are a good thing. And yes they can be used for evil. But they can also be used to hunt for food and to protect us from intruders in our homes. They can be used to defend our country. So I think guns are a good thing as long as we use them properly and within the context of the law. Food is a good gift. We need it to survive. But it can go terribly wrong if we abuse it. Overeating and not taking care of our bodies is sin too. That’s how we can become overweight. If we overindulge, we get into trouble. That’s why I don’t elevate one sin over the other. And as long as we have a willing and repentant heart, God helps us to change over time.

That’s why I get really agitated when I see Christians holding picket signs for whatever the latest hot button issue is. Sin is sin. So when I see a Christian with a picket sign saying homosexuality is wrong and I see that same Christian is 200lbs over weight, it agitates me. Or if that same Christian is divorced because he or she cheated on their spouse, they need to realize that’s a sin as well. We shouldn’t elevate one sin over the other. Sin is sin. Let God be the judge. But if we get back to the in-moderation issue, the key is not to overindulge. Ice cream is fine to eat. I love ice cream. And a cup is fine for me. But if I eat the whole gallon I might get sick and/or gain 10 lbs. And over time it leads to an unhealthy lifestyle and I gain weight.

So everyone needs to be aware of their own limitations and be responsible. It’s not the same for everyone. And not everyone struggles with the same things. So we shouldn’t compare ourselves to others. And the same is true with alcohol. But as long as it’s in moderation, we’re fine. The Bible doesn’t teach that consuming alcohol is a sin. It does, however, teach that a lifestyle of drunkenness is a sin (Prov.20:1; 23:19-21, 29-35; Isaiah 5:11; Hab.2:15; Rom.13:13; 1 Cor.6:10; Eph.5:18). And this story today is a great example. Noah took it too far. But that doesn’t mean we can never drink. The Bible does give the thumbs up for consuming alcohol in moderation (Psalm 104:14-15; Deut.14:26; Lev.23:13; Numbers 28:7; Matt.26:27-29; Luke 22:14-20; John 2:1-11).

Jesus changed water into wine. And He made it into the good stuff. He didn’t make cheap wine. He made the best wine. Jesus and His disciples, when they celebrated the Passover, drank wine. Even Jesus drank wine. You don’t get a reputation of being a friend of sinners and a drunkard without consuming some alcohol. Now those accounts were false accusations, but Jesus did spend a lot of time with non-believers and He did consume alcohol. But he never abused it. He never sinned. He wasn’t a drunk. He knew how to use it in moderation.

Noah, on the other hand, took it too far. And he got himself into trouble. And then it brought his son into the trouble. And that’s something we have to mention. When we consume too much alcohol, it makes us do ridiculous things we wouldn’t otherwise do, especially when it comes to sexual issues. It makes us say silly things we wouldn’t otherwise say. So yes, alcohol can be abused and go terribly wrong. It can get us into trouble. It can destroy families. It can destroy lives. Drunk driving has taken the lives of countless people. So the abuse of alcohol, just like the abuse of anything, is where we go wrong.

But each person has to decide for themselves when it comes to this issue. We all have different capacities. We’ve all been touched by this issue in different ways. Some people, just because of what has happened to friends and family, won’t go anywhere near alcohol. And that’s fine. That’s their choice. But again, like last week, we can’t push our choices onto other people. And I would also argue that a lot of good can come from it as well. It can be a great tool to build relationships with people. It can be great to get conversation going. It can be an evangelism tool, believe it or not, as long as we drink responsibly. It’s part of our American culture.

Nevertheless, there’s always one that says, You’re a pastor. Shouldn’t YOU abstain? Shouldn’t you set an example? Yes! I am supposed to be setting a good example. And if drinking was good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for me! If I tell you it’s OK in moderation and I live that out in my life, then I’m setting a good example. Alcohol can be a tool to build relationships with people. That’s the way I look at it. I’ve had pastors tell me they don’t have any friends that are non-believers. But my questions is how can they tell YOU to do something they’re not willing to do? The Bible calls that a hypocrite (Matt.23:3-4, 13).

Let me tell you about Randy. That’s not his real name. But Randy didn’t like church. The whole experience rubbed him the wrong way over the years so he stopped going. Randy wasn’t even really sure about what he believed, but he was also never able to have a real conversation about it. But Randy loves beer. He’ll open up with you if you’re willing to sit down with him and have a beer. So that’s what I did. And we became good friends. In fact, I really miss him a lot since we moved. He can add life to any party. He’s never met a stranger. That’s just his personality.

And I recently learned that he and his wife are now leading a Missional Community. Part of the reason is because I was willing to sit down with him and have a beer. That’s really cool. And I’m honored and thankful and blessed to have been able to play a part in that. But I don’t abuse alcohol. I know my limits. We can enjoy many of God’s good gifts in moderation; however, if we cross the line and overindulge we can get ourselves into trouble.

Day 3

2. All of us are guilty of crossing the line from time to time; however, the choices we make after the fact will determine if we grow from it or stay defeated.

When Noah awoke from his wine and knew what his youngest son had done to him, he said, “Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be to his brothers.” He also said, “Blessed be the LORD, the God of Shem; and let Canaan be his servant. May God enlarge Japheth, and let him dwell in the tents of Shem, and let Canaan be his servant.” After the flood Noah lived 350 years. All the days of Noah were 950 years, and he died (Gen.9:24-29 ESV).

I’ll have to be honest. This is weird. This passage baffles my mind. No matter what the commentaries say, I say this is messed up! Noah is the one who made the first mistake here, which caused his son to do something dumb, and then to top it all off, neither one of them is punished. It’s Ham’s SON and descendants that get punished. What in the world is up with that? That is total whack! I can’t even think of a fitting expression to explain my confusion! However, after thinking about it, praying about it, and reading about it, it does make sense. It’s not unlike what happens later with Jacob and Esau. Jacob was a scoundrel. He seemed to get away with being a scoundrel. And his earthly father (and God) seemed to bless him for it. It makes no sense. Of course, it makes no sense until you look at the rest of the story.

Like we learned last week, you have to look at the whole story. You have to look at what the whole Bible says about something. We can’t just look at one verse and base our lives on one verse. That’s how cults and false teachings begin. But once you look at the rest of the story it makes sense. On one hand, you can make the argument that the punishment fits the crime. Ham embarrassed and dishonored his father. So you could make the argument that it’s fitting that he would be embarrassed and dishonored by his descendants. Yet even a cursory look at history shows what kind of people the Canaanites ended up being. They were rebelling against God.

They were worshipping false Gods. So God uses Joshua to uproot the Canaanites and kick them out of the land (for the most part). Joshua never really finished the job so some of the people were left in the land. And they ended up being slaves. And that’s a direct fulfillment of this prophecy. So the argument can be made that this was simply a prophecy based on Ham’s character. Unfortunately, his descendants’ apples didn’t fall far from the tree. I wish there was a fuller explanation, but history does speak for itself. And there are always consequences to sin.

Shem is the son who really wins out here. He gets the blessing of all blessings. His descendants would eventually be the most famous descendants in the whole world (Israel). And one special descendant ended up being the Savior of the whole world (Jesus). And yes, Ham’s descendants did end up being slaves just like this passage says (Joshua 17:13; 1 Kings 9:20-21). And maybe that’s why Israel couldn’t eat Ham. Since Ham was such a disgrace to them, maybe that’s why they couldn’t eat Ham, bacon, or anything pig related (Yes I’m kidding).

But what about Noah? Why did he get off scot-free? In fact, it says that Noah lived another 350 years AFTER the flood. He made it 950 years! He ended up in 3rd place on the All-Time Longest Life Lived contest behind Methuselah (who lived 969 years) and Jared (who lived 962 years). Jared needed those extra years to perfect his diamonds and open more stores so people could say they went to Jared. I get that (LOL). But what about Noah? Why did he get off so easy? There’s two possible answers here. Maybe BOTH are right.

First of all, God is the judge. He decides the consequences. In fact, the Bible says, “For God said to Moses, ‘I will show mercy to anyone I choose, and I will show compassion to anyone I choose.’ So it is God who decides to show mercy. We can neither choose it nor work for it” (Rom.9:15-16 NLT). God gets to make that choice. But even though we are ALL sinners and none of us deserve salvation, Jesus came and died for us anyway. We get to heaven on HIS ticket, not ours. None of us can earn God’s grace (Eph.2:8-9). We all must choose to follow Him, but even then, it’s only because of Him that our eyes can be opened enough to come to Him (John 6:44; 15:16). God always does the right thing.

The second answer, however, is found in Noah’s response to the whole event. Noah was ashamed and embarrassed. I’m pretty sure he never repeated this mistake. There is something to be said of shame. Again, we all make mistakes. We ALL sin. But when we sin and we feel guilty and we want to make it right, that’s a good thing. However, if we continue in our sin and don’t try to hide it and we’re not ashamed, there is a HUGE problem. Ham wasn’t ashamed. He went to tell his brothers. Noah, on the other hand, was disgraced and embarrassed. There is a major difference. We’re all sinners. But we can’t say that sin is OK. We don’t judge, but sin is not OK.

And that’s what’s wrong with our world today. It’s not that people sin. We all sin. But it’s that people are twisting things around and saying it’s OK to sin. They’re calling wrong right and right wrong. And that’s nothing new. People have been doing that for thousands of years (Isaiah 5:20). But that leads us to our final point. All of us are guilty of crossing the line from time to time; however, the choices we make after the fact will determine if we grow from it or stay defeated. Let me explain the difference. Let’s say you struggle with alcohol and you’re an alcoholic. If you’re ashamed of it and try to overcome it, that’s a good thing. If you’re seeking help, going to AA meetings, and working on it, you’re on the right track.

On the other hand, if you drink too much, you end up doing dumb stuff like Noah did, you keep getting yourself in trouble, and if you just accept it and keep doing it, then you’re NOT on the right track. You’re just accepting it and saying, That’s just the way I am. It’s fine. It’s no big deal. That’s the difference. But if we say, I’m a sinner, I’m trying to overcome it, I’m working on it, I’m praying about it, and I’m trying to get help because I’m struggling, that’s a GOOD thing. That person is on the right track. That person wants to grow spiritually. That person wants to get closer to God. He wants to want what God wants. He still messes up. So do I. So do you. But the difference is desiring change. And that desire comes from the Holy Spirit.

“How can a young person stay pure? By obeying your word. I have tried hard to find you- don’t let me wander from your commands. I have hidden your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you. I praise you, O LORD; teach me your decrees” (Psalm 119:9-12 NLT). You want to know the difference between right and wrong? You want to learn what God wants in your life? Get to know Him through His Word, the Bible. “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life” (Psalm 139:23-24 NLT).

I love that verse because it comes from a hungry and willing heart that wants to change. It’s not guilt-driven. It’s God-driven! And when it comes to applying this passage, we’re not here to judge anyone. That’s God’s job. But we are here to help each other grow. And we give each other TIME to grow. We don’t make demands. We don’t shame anyone. The Holy Spirit is MORE than capable of helping us to change. That’s His job and it will happen at His pace, but we are responsible for our choices. It is our responsibility to respond to the Holy Spirit.

So we ALL cross the line from time to time. But the difference is in HOW we respond. And that makes the difference in whether we finish well or we have an EPIC Fail. Our focus has mainly been on alcohol today, but this goes for all sin and all substances. When we are controlled by substances (and other sins), we do things we wouldn’t otherwise normally do. And more often than not, we can’t undo what was done. It doesn’t mean God can’t forgive, but we do have to live with the consequences. And sometimes that’s how we grow. But we can’t blame God or other people for OUR mistakes. Sometimes our greatest struggles in life are of our own doing. Sometimes we cause our own EPIC Fails. And it’s painful!

And sometimes our struggles are out of our control. Sometimes bad things do happen to us that we didn’t cause. Yet the choices we make in light of all of that determines if we grow or not. Unfortunately, some people never grow up. They stay in the same place forever. But the choices we make over time make us into who we are. And learning from those experiences is how we grow. If we never learn to make better choices, we never grow. And we stay stunted in our growth. We keep struggling with the same things over and over again.

It was John Lennon who sang, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” Crap happens to ALL of us. And we ALL sin. And we have a No Judgment Zone in our church. We give people time to learn and respond to God at the pace of the Holy Spirit. Having said that, we love you too much to let you where you are now. The last thing any of us want is to stay a baby Christian forever. How weird would it be to be 40 years old and still wear diapers? How weird would it be to be 50 years old and still need mommy and daddy to take us everywhere, feed us, change our diapers, and take us to preschool?

We all need to grow up in the faith. We all need to learn how to walk and to do things on our own. One of my pet-peeves is when someone comes up to me and says, My church doesn’t feed me. I need to be in a place so I can be fed. That is the dumbest thing you could ever say. Now sometimes that’s true because some churches don’t teach God’s Word. But in reality, we all need to grow up. We need to learn to feed ourselves. We need to learn what God wants and do it. It’s a long-term process of growth. But until we get to know Him, and until we’re willing to let Him change us, we’ll stay stunted in our growth like crying little babies. And we won’t know when enough is enough. We won’t learn moderation. And we won’t learn to finish well. And that would be the ultimate and tragic EPIC Fail. Let’s Pray.

Day 4

Questions to consider…

  1. What is your biggest struggle when it comes to moderation? Do you think everyone needs to agree with you on this subject or can there be differing opinions and other interpretations?
  2. Is it possible for something to be right for one person and wrong for another when it comes to subjects like alcohol? Does your background influence your thoughts on this subject?
  3. Do you tend to resist change? Or does change come easy for you? Are you set in your ways?
  4. Is it easier to repent from a sin or to accept it and say it’s not a big deal? What is God saying to you about something He wants to change in your life? Is there anything you think differently about today than you thought 5 years ago when it comes to sin and righteousness? Was that put on your heart from God or shoved down your throat by a church?

Minding Our Own Business

Click Play for the audio version.

 

Day 1

Have you ever had a co-worker that was nosy? I’m not talking about a good friend who knows everything about you. I’m talking more about the casual co-worker who picks apart everything you do. They seem to not be able to focus on themselves. They always have something negative to say TO you or ABOUT you, and they end up being a thorn in your side. Have you ever run into anyone like that? It could be at work. Or maybe it was in High School or college. Perhaps it was even a sibling. You just can’t seem to get along with that person. And no matter what you do, YOU’RE always wrong and THEY’RE always right. I’ve been there.

When that happens in the church, it’s usually a self-righteous person. And they’re always picking apart everything you do and everything you say. It’s like you can’t even say something spiritual without having them correct you with long theological terms. And if you think that’s bad, try getting in a room with all pastors. It’s even worse, because almost every one of them wants to prove he’s the smartest, most qualified, or has the biggest and best church with the best programs. It’s a bit agitating.

Nevertheless, when it does the most damage is when it spills over into evangelism. That’s when we have Christians trying to tell non-Christians what to do, what to believe, and they try to be the judge and jury of that person’s life. And that’s what turns a lot of people off. And that’s why I spend so much time talking about it. I feel like it’s my duty to remind people that all Christians and all churches are not like that. In fact, God never tells us to be the judge and jury. It’s the opposite. God wants us to show love, grace, and mercy to people like He does with us.

So when Christians become like the co-worker who sticks his nose in everyone’s business, and acts like the goody-two-shoes, it angers people and pushes them away. It does nothing positive for the cause of Christ. In fact, they might snap back at us and say, Joey doesn’t share food! They’re like the episode of Friend’s where Joey’s date keeps ignoring her own plate and stealing food from Joey’s plate. It’s hysterical to watch on TV, but when it happens to you in a real-life situation, it’s agitating. It’s like, Eat food from your own plate. Stay out of my food!

Nevertheless, when Christians stick their noses into other people’s lives and try to force them to live the way we do and to have the same convictions we do, it pushes them away. That’s why I never understand why Christians fight so much with people over the 10 Commandment monuments. We can’t expect non-believers to be passionate about what we’re passionate about. And once we start to fight about it, we’ve already lost. Jesus came and died for our sins and did away with the Law, so I could care less if the 10 Commandments are displayed. That’s from the Old Testament Law. Jesus fulfilled that Law so we wouldn’t have to. He knew we couldn’t.

What I would rather see (if there needed to be a monument) would be a monument of something Jesus taught, like the Beatitudes from Matthew Chapter 5. What’s so bad about “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matt.5:3-9 ESV)? I’d much rather see the positives in the Beatitudes that show love and grace and mercy, rather than picking a fight. I’d much rather see a sign that said, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt.22:39 NIV). That’s not really going to offend anybody. How about the Golden Rule? “Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you” (Matt.7:12 NLT). Those are positive teachings from Jesus.

In fact, the Bible says, “Make it your goal to live a quiet life, minding your own business and working with your hands, just as we instructed you before. Then people who are not Christians will respect the way you live, and you will not need to depend on others” (1 Thess.4:11-12 NLT). That’s the heart of our message this week! Bashing people, being a goody-two-shoes, and guilt tripping people is not effective at all. And it’s not what God told us to do. What He told us to do is love people, set a good example, and mind our own business. And when we do that, maybe people will WANT to hear what we have to say instead of us having to shove it down their throats. We need to eat the food on our own plates. If Joey’s not ready or willing to share food yet, let’s not poke the bear!

So our message today is called, Minding Our Own Business. And we’re continuing the story of Noah’s Ark. Noah and his family just got off the Ark and God’s about to speak to them and give them some instructions about what to do. Unfortunately, as with many other things, we’ve forgotten what God said and we’ve actually gone off track and have done the opposite. So part of our mission is to change that. We want to be Good News, show the love of Jesus, and to do what God told us to do in light of the flood, rather than turning into religious snobs.

Jesus didn’t want us to be known for being religious snobs. Even Solomon told us not to do that in the Old testament! He said, “So don’t be too good or too wise! Why destroy yourself? On the other hand, don’t be too wicked either. Don’t be a fool! Why die before your time?” (Ecc.7:16-17 NLT). And Jesus said, “So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples” (John 13:34-35 NLT; c.f. 1 John 4:7-8).

So the goal this morning is to go back and look at what God said to Noah and his family as they got off the Ark. And there are great things we can learn from it as long as we go with what He told us to do instead of us trying to do God’s job. He doesn’t tell us to be the judge and jury. That’s His job. The last thing we want is to end up being Christian Pharisees. In fact, if you read through the Gospels, you’ll quickly realize that it was the super religious people that fought with Jesus. And He fought right back! Yet to the average Joe, Jesus was gentle as a dove and filled with grace and mercy (Woman at the Well). And that’s the example to follow.

Day 2

1. In light of God’s blessings on humanity, we can have lots of kids, be carnivores and herbivores, take care of the planet, and live peaceful lives free of violence and murder.

And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. The fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth and upon every bird of the heavens, upon everything that creeps on the ground and all the fish of the sea. Into your hand they are delivered. Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything. But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood. And for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning: from every beast I will require it and from man. From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man. Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image. And you, be fruitful and multiply, teem on the earth and multiply in it” (Gen.9:1-7 ESV).

So as Noah and his family get off the Ark and start to live life AFTER the flood, there are some practical issues that need to be addressed. Everyone and everything had been wiped out. God was starting over with Noah and his family. So they did need some guidance here. And the first thing God addresses is reproduction. Obviously, the world needs repopulated so they need to start making babies. In addition, the animals need to repopulate the earth as well. But there’s a notable difference here. God had originally put man in charge. We know that. But now it says that the animals will fear humans. And I think they have good reason to because of what He says next. He says that we can now add the animals to our diet.

We can now shoot Bambi and have a carnivorous dinner. Up until this point, man had only been vegetarians, but now we have the permission to be carnivores. We can eat meat! Thank God! I couldn’t survive without an occasional steak, baby back ribs, and/or a good cheeseburger! And bacon! Who can survive without bacon? Seriously! And for Seafood lovers, you can’t go to any beach without having lobster, clams, shrimp, or crabs!

Nevertheless, God gives Noah and his family permission to start eating meat now. But He does put a restriction on it. He says they are not to eat the blood. Now this doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy a good steak that’s cooked rare or medium rare. What He’s talking about is draining the blood in general. And then He moves on to the bigger issue. He mentions the seriousness of taking a human life. In fact, even if an animal took a human life it was to be punished. It makes sense that man would be punished for killing man, but He even mentions the fact that an animal will also be killed for taking the life of a human. Life is precious to God, especially human life.

Man is the crown jewel of God’s creation. And He reiterates here that man was created in the image of God. So OUR lives are more precious to God than the animals because animals were not created in the image of God. It doesn’t mean God doesn’t love animals. Of course He does. They are part of his creation. But they were not created in the image of God. Nevertheless, God is instituting the death penalty here. I know that’s a controversial subject but it is biblical.

And it’s something that’s never been revoked. However, the point He was making here, and the point that is clarified throughout the rest of the Old Testament and New Testament, is that the death penalty needs to be carried out by the proper authorities. He’s not talking about people taking the law into their own hands. He’s counteracting what Cain’s descendants did. We can’t forget that Cain killed his brother Abel, or that later on one of Cain’s descendants bragged about killing. So God is saying that’s NOT acceptable. If a man takes the life of another man, his life will be required of him. We can’t get away with murder.

So how does this apply to us? What does this have to do with minding our own business? The Bible is like a Two Act Play or a Musical. You have to watch the whole thing. Some things develop and change over time. So you have to know the whole story. You can’t just take bits and pieces, throw them together, and understand these issues. We have to know what the whole Bible says about these issues. And some issues are clear. But some issues become a little gray over time. That’s why we have something called Systematic Theology.

Theology is just a fancy word for the study of God. Theology is basically studying different subjects in the Bible and taking what the whole Bible says about certain issues and drawing conclusions. So we can’t just take an isolated incident from a passage in Genesis and assume that’s always the way it was or will be. We have to see what the rest of the Bible says and teaches on the issue. However, there are gray areas in theology. Not everyone agrees. And that’s OK. And that has a LOT to do with how we apply this passage in our first point. In light of God’s blessings on humanity, we can have lots of kids, be carnivores and herbivores, take care of the planet, and live peaceful lives free of violence and murder.

Now that’s a mouthful! Nevertheless, I have to qualify that statement. Not everyone has to interpret this or apply this the same way. And we certainly can’t push our convictions on other people. That’s where we start getting into the territory of sticking our noses in other people’s business. We don’t all have to have the same passions or do everything the same way. So yes, God told Noah to be fruitful and multiply. And that was a practical command that was necessary to repopulate the earth at that time. And in general, we do all need to be fruitful and multiply. Otherwise, the human race will go extinct. But on the other hand, some people can’t have kids. Even though they try, they aren’t able. Does that mean they’re being disobedient to God? No.

There are going to be exceptions to the rule. Each person has to pray about that and decide what God is saying to them. Danielle and I were talking almost 2 weeks ago about what a crazy and dangerous world this is. And some people don’t WANT to have kids because of that. They don’t want to bring kids into such a mess. On the other hand, I’m of the opinion that we can overcome the evil with good. So if the terrorists are multiplying like rabbits, we need to multiply even more and outnumber them! But then again, there’s some people that I think shouldn’t have kids. I’ve seen some parents make really bad choices. I think some people should have to get a license to have kids. Some people should be barred from having kids.

But that’s MY opinion. It doesn’t have to be YOUR opinion. That would be a slippery slope. Because all of a sudden we’ll be telling people not only that they have to have kids, but we’ll be telling them how many they need to have. And then we’ll be telling them that they have to home school their kids or they have to send them to a private Christian school. That’s where I would say each person has to decide for themselves what works for them. No one’s going to tell me what to do with my kids. We send them to public school for reason. But it’s OUR reasons. And our reasons don’t have to be your reasons. We need to mind our own business.

And yes, we do now have the right to eat meat. And that makes me happy. But it doesn’t make all people happy. I know some good people that don’t like to eat meat. Some people like being vegetarians and vegans. I don’t understand it. I can’t comprehend it. But if that’s what they like that’s what they like. That’s fine. I now LOVE lobster. After visiting Maine on vacation and eating not one, not two, but two and three-quarter lobsters, I have a new favorite seafood! But Olivia thought it was disgusting. That’s OK. I’ll pray for her and her disgust for seafood. Where we go wrong is where we impose our convictions on other people and say everyone has to do it the way I do or every church has to do it the way our church does. That’s not true. In fact, the New Testament removes dietary restrictions.

“Now the Holy Spirit tells us clearly that in the last times some will turn away from the true faith; they will follow deceptive spirits and teachings that come from demons. These people are hypocrites and liars, and their consciences are dead. They will say it is wrong to be married and wrong to eat certain foods. But God created those foods to be eaten with thanks by faithful people who know the truth. Since everything God created is good, we should not reject any of it but receive it with thanks. For we know it is made acceptable by the word of God and prayer” (1 Tim.4:1-5 NLT; c.f. Mark 7:14-23; Rom.14:14-17). That’s a great example of new developments in the plot of the play. In the Old Testament, there were dietary restrictions. But not in the New.

Furthermore, just because God makes such a big deal about not eating blood in this passage doesn’t mean we can’t donate blood. That helps to save lives! Life is precious to God. What He doesn’t want us doing is spilling innocent blood or eating blood. He’s certainly not saying we can’t save someone’s life by donating blood or organs. But then again, if you don’t want to donate blood, you don’t HAVE to do that either. That’s your choice. Just don’t tell me what I have to do based on YOUR convictions. This is where we need to say MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS. DON’T PUSH YOUR CONVICTIONS ON SOMEONE ELSE.

That’s why I never discuss politics on Facebook. I would lose so many friends over something so dumb. People have different opinions when it comes to politics. They have different passions and reasons for voting the way they do and for supporting the causes they do. So for me or you to tell someone which way they should vote is ridiculous. And for me to argue with someone on Facebook about it is ridiculous as well, especially if it’s people that don’t know Jesus. They don’t have the same convictions as me. I don’t feel the need to burn bridges that don’t need to be burned. I have my reasons for voting the way I do, but I can’t say it’ll always be like that. I can’t predict the future. And I can’t predict a candidate that might come along one day and actually unite people instead of dividing them. I would probably vote for that person.

The final issue is murder. Obviously, God values all life (especially human life). And that includes us living peaceful lives free of violence and murder. And it includes taking good care of this planet. If God put us in charge of it and He created it for us to enjoy, we need to take good care of our planet. But that raises more issues. God says here that it’s OK to take a life for a life even though Jesus says to turn the other cheek. How do we reconcile that? The point is that God doesn’t want us taking murder or revenge into our own hands. That’s up to the proper authorities to take care of. We let the courts and legal system carry out the punishment.

But God has never removed the death penalty. Biblically, it’s still in effect. And when Jesus said to turn the other cheek, He was saying don’t get revenge personally. Let that up to the proper authorities. So Jesus isn’t saying that we can’t join the military. He’s not saying we have to be against war. Our great country has a military for a reason. It’s to serve and protect its people! But that doesn’t mean everyone has to sign up. I never served in the military. The point Jesus is making is that we need to be people of peace. We don’t want to cause people harm or be vengeful. Vengeance is God’s job, not ours (Rom.12:19). And if there’s any way we can forgive people, have mercy, and show love, we should do it, even when it’s hard.

Olivia and I just went through that a few weeks ago. I’m not going to share all the specifics but we were wronged by someone. We were basically being bullied. It was highly uncomfortable and stressful. And even though it was very upsetting and we feel we were right and justified, we decided to NOT seek revenge. We decided to turn the other cheek. We decided to reconcile with that person even though THEY were in the wrong. That’s what the Bible says to do. If we know someone has something against us, we should do everything we can do to make it right so it doesn’t escalate or go to court (Matt.5:23-26, 38-42). He tells us to go above and beyond to make it right. And that’s what we did. And if that person who wronged us needs judged, God will do that. That’s His job, not mine. Our job is to be people of peace. Our job is to be Good News. And we will be held accountable for that.

Day 3

2. In light of God’s promise and the coming judgment, we can live for Him, be on mission, and snatch people from the fire.

Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, “Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your offspring after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the livestock, and every beast of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark; it is for every beast of the earth. I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth” (Gen.9:8-17 ESV).

The key here is that life will go on! God just wiped everybody out and started over again with one family and a pair of each of the animals. Essentially, what happens here is that God makes a covenant with Noah and everyone that was on that Ark. And He says that life will go on. He says that He promises not to wipe everyone out with a flood again. But He doesn’t just say it. He gives them a sign of the promise: the rainbow. So whenever the rainbow appears, it’s a constant reminder to God (and us) that He will not wipe us out again with a flood. Later on He gave other signs when He made other covenants. With Abraham, He gave the sign of circumcision (Gen.17:11). At Mt Sinai, He gave the Israelites the Sabbath Day (Ex.31:16-17).

So a covenant is not something that God takes lightly. A covenant is basically a contract (a promise) between two parties. And the best thing about this covenant that He’s making with Noah is that it’s an unconditional covenant. However, there is a catch. The covenant is only good as long as the earth endures (Gen.8:22). And just because He’ll never destroy the earth again with a flood doesn’t mean that He’ll never destroy the earth again. In fact, later on in the Bible, we learn that next time He will destroy it with fire. So He won’t wipe us out with a flood ever again, but He will wipe everything out with fire. He will judge again.

And that’s another clue that helps us to answer our question. Why do bad things happen to good people? We know that it’s not because God isn’t strong enough or powerful enough. We know that it’s not because He’s not around or that He doesn’t care. We know He cares. He wouldn’t have saved Noah and his family if He didn’t care. Jesus wouldn’t have come and died if He didn’t care. “And God did not spare the ancient world-except for Noah and the seven others in his family. Noah warned the world of God’s righteous judgment. So God protected Noah when he destroyed the world of ungodly people with a vast flood” (2 Peter 2:5 NLT). So we also learn from this story, and from the rest of the Bible, that even though another judgment is coming, He won’t wipe everyone out. He won’t wipe out His children. He will save us.

But He will most certainly judge again. And this time it will be by fire. “But you must not forget this one thing, dear friends: A day is like a thousand years to the Lord, and a thousand years is like a day. The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent. But the day of the Lord will come as unexpectedly as a thief. Then the heavens will pass away with a terrible noise, and the very elements themselves will disappear in fire, and the earth and everything on it will be found to deserve judgment. Since everything around us is going to be destroyed like this, what holy and godly lives you should live, looking forward to the day of God and hurrying it along. On that day, he will set the heavens on fire, and the elements will melt away in the flames. But we are looking forward to the new heavens and new earth he has promised, a world filled with God’s righteousness. And so, dear friends, while you are waiting for these things to happen, make every effort to be found living peaceful lives that are pure and blameless in his sight. And remember, the Lord’s patience gives people time to be saved” (2 Peter 3:8-15 NLT).

The reason that God hasn’t done away with evil yet is because He has a day set aside at some point in the future. He’s already told us He’s going to wipe out evil once and for all. But that time is not yet. He has a day set aside to take care of it, but that day hasn’t happened yet. It could be today. It could be right now. But we don’t know. And it will be by fire, not water. In the meantime, He’s being patient so people have time to turn to Him. “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31 ESV). How can we know it’s true? Because Jesus was raised from the dead. So if God can wipe out everything with water and raise Jesus from the dead, He can wipe evil out again (by fire) and create a new heaven and a new earth. That’s what we have to look forward to.

So is God too weak to save us? Is it that He doesn’t care? No. He’s giving people time to come back to Him. In the same way that He gave people time in Noah’s day, He’s giving us time to repent. He doesn’t want anyone to die. He doesn’t want anyone to be separated from Him. And that leads to our final point. In light of God’s promise and the coming judgment, we can live for Him, be on mission, and snatch people from the fire. We’re like modern day Noah’s! We don’t have to build an Ark. But we are told to live righteously and share the Good News so people can be saved from the coming judgement. And that job belongs to ALL of us. We get to be a part of building God’s church! That’s the Ark of today!

So instead of wasting our time pretending to be perfect, judging people, and kicking people OUT of the church, we need to be out loving people and sharing the Good News of Jesus as we make disciples and bring people into the church! Otherwise, we’re just the Christian version of the Pharisees. So let’s get out of our comfort zone, go out of our way, inconvenience ourselves, and reach out with urgency because we don’t know when that Judgment Day will be. And if we’re doing that, we won’t have time to sin because we’ll be so focused on our mission to reach the lost. I know it sounds crazy, but God tells us to snatch people from the fire!

“But you, my dear friends, must remember what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ said. They told you that in the last times there would be scoffers whose purpose in life is to satisfy their ungodly desires. These people are the ones who are creating divisions among you. They follow their natural instincts because they do not have God’s Spirit in them. But you, dear friends, must build each other up in your most holy faith, pray in the power of the Holy Spirit, and await the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will bring you eternal life. In this way, you will keep yourselves safe in God’s love. And you must show mercy to those whose faith is wavering. Rescue others by snatching them from the flames of judgment. Show mercy to still others, but do so with great caution, hating the sins that contaminate their lives” (Jude 1:17-23 NLT). Our job is to build people UP and encourage them, not tear them down. The Bible actually teaches us to hate the sin, not the sinner. So instead of being RELIGIOUS and throwing people INTO the fire, we need to snatch them FROM the fire.

And as we snatch people from the fire, we pray. “I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity. This is good and pleases God our Savior, who wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth. For there is only one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity-the man Christ Jesus. He gave his life to purchase freedom for everyone. This is the message God gave to the world at just the right time” (1 Tim.2:1-6 NLT; c.f. John 3:16). So if someone is in sin, we pray for them to come to God, we don’t HATE them or hang them.

Let me give you one final illustration to explain the difference. We just got back from vacation. We went to Maine to visit family. But on the way to Maine, we also stopped in Salem, Massachusetts. I’m sure you’ve heard of the Salem Witch Trials. It was a super dark time in our nation’s history. And there have been many other times like it, before and after across the globe. But if I could simplify it, the church has had the same basic problem for thousands of years now. We fall into this religious trap and think that we have to act a certain way, do a certain number of religious rituals, and learn a bunch of information to feel like we’re spiritual. And we have our noses in other people’s business when we should be minding our own business.

However, when we were in Salem we heard this great story. I’m sure it’s been raised to legendary status over the years and exaggerated, but we had two different trolley drivers share the same story. There was this church in Salem that was located across the street from a place called Hamilton Hall in the 1800’s. And Hamilton Hall was a place where people went to have a good time. They basically were dancing and drinking the night away. The drivers pointed out that it wasn’t anything too crazy. They were just having a good time.

But the pastor of the church across the street was a super uptight Christian Pharisee, and he stood out front watching people go into this place to dance the night away. And he was disgusted. In fact, he took note of who was going in. He saw that it was some of the people from his church. So as the story goes, he would call out these people on Sunday mornings during the church service and publicly embarrass them. Talk about not minding your own business and judging people! This guy was off the charts! But to make a long story short (and at some point in the future), the church was struck by lightning and burned to the ground. And it’s nothing but an empty lot today. Yet Hamilton Hall still stands. So the moral of the story is that, in moderation, a little drinking and a little dancing won’t kill you, but lightning sure will!

On Vacation!

I’m on vacation this week so I thought I would repost something from over a year ago. The 4 posts I’m sharing here are from my “Stop and Look Around” series on REST. I thought that was appropriate since it’s summer and I’m on vacation. I went back and added audio to the posts so you’re free to either read or listen to them (or both; about 35 minutes total). All four together can be listened to all at once or you can break them up and use as a 4-Day Devotional (recommended). I’ve never recorded blog posts before. I’ve only ever recorded live sermons. It was weird delivering them to myself in my office without an audience. LOL. Enjoy! See you next week!

 

1. Stop and Look Around (Click here for the written version).

 

2. Take a Nap (Click here for the written version).

 

3. Running On Empty (Click here for the written version).

 

4. Stop and Look Around 2: God Made (Click here for the written version).