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Sunday, March 23, 2014

Redeeming a Reluctant Spirit

“Praise the Lord… his righteousness endures forever. He has caused his wonders to be remembered; the Lord is gracious and compassionate… He provides redemption for his people; he ordained his covenant forever... holy and awesome is his name.” - Psalm 111

We have a great and powerful God and there is nothing He cannot accomplish. Through wonders, signs, and miracles He brings about His will, and He uses whomever He pleases to accomplish it. God uses servants with willing spirits, like Abraham, Joshua, Samuel, and Isaiah. Men who were ready to answer God’s call whenever it came. But what about those with reluctant spirits? What can God really do with them? What does God even want with them? Remember back in Psalm 111:9 when the psalmist said God “provides redemption for His people”? This includes even those with reluctant spirits. God wants to redeem the reluctant spirit, and He is willing to provide whatever it takes.

Jonah is a perfect example of this. God gave Jonah a mission, provided him with an opportunity, and Jonah ran (Jonah 1:1-3). He ran because God’s Spirit prompted him to do something he didn’t want to do. This is often the case when God reveals His will to us. Moses did not want to go to pharaoh, Jonah did not want to go to Nineveh, Jesus did not want to suffer crucifixion and asked for the cup to pass from him. 
 
Sometimes this prompting of the Spirit is an occasion when God makes it clear that there is someone we need to forgive, there is a habit we need to give up, a relationship we need to get out of, or something we need to start doing. Last month, for me, it was a sermon I didn’t want to preach, but God kept bringing me back to it. For Sharon, it was a combination of many things, but it began with giving up her habits.

Sharon was one of the first people I studied with when I came to River City Ministry. She has been growing closer to God, she was baptized last year, but she was stuck in a cycle of bad relationships. The more she read her Bible, the clearer it became to her that she could not please God and keep on having sex when she wasn’t married. Sharon knew this, but she had lived this way so long… the easiest way to deal with it was to act like it wasn’t real, not address her situation, and just stay put.

When God told Jonah to go, he did more than just stay put, he ran the other way. Because of the pains of his past, the cruel things he saw the Assyrians do to his people, Jonah refused to go. He said “…I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity… That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish.” (Jonah 4:2). So he boarded a ship headed to the edge of the known world and God began providing his redemption. “…the Lord sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up.” (1:4). God provided the storm to begin the process of bringing Jonah back to Him. When the sailors realized the storm was because of this Jonah running from his God, they asked all about him and Jonah said, “I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land.” (1:8-9). This was something Jonah needed to realize himself. If he took stock of this in the first place, would he have ever tried to flee? Jonah needed to stop and think about who his God was.
 
 
Like Jonah, we need to realize who our God is. When Sharon finally did this, she had to make a change. She told her boyfriend (the man she had called her husband in public because she was ashamed of her sin), “I can’t keep sinning like this, no more sex!” This was a tremendous move for Sharon! But it was only the first step, and there was trouble. You see, Sharon was living with her boyfriend who had started out as a roommate to help with half the rent. She told him he had two choices, he could respect her and keep to his side of the house, or preferably, he could move out. He refused to move and he took the other news even less well. He started beating Sharon. Things seemed to be going from bad to worse, but really, God saw another opportunity to provide Sharon with what she needed.

Jonah saw who God was, and he realized that he was in the wrong, but the only solution was bleak. “’Pick me up and throw me into the sea,’ he replied, ‘and I will become calm…’” (1:12). When the men finally did this the storm stopped and the sailors worshiped the one true God. Sinking into the sea, Jonah thought this was the end, but hey, at least he got out of going to Nineveh. Little did he know, God was not done with him. God did not want Jonah dead, he wanted him redeemed.

“Now the Lord provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.”(1:17, emphasis added). God provided Jonah an escape from death, he preserved Jonah’s life, and even though he was stuck in the belly of a huge fish, he was alive. It may have been a miserable three days, but it got Jonah out of deaths grips and back where he needed to be.
 
This time when God told Jonah to go to Nineveh, that is exactly what Jonah did (3:2-3). He preached, as swiftly as he could (only saying “forty days and Nineveh will be destroyed”), and went away and pouted (3:4-4:3). He was still too angry, too hurt by his past to move on and forgive as God was ready to forgive.


Sharon’s time in the deep came too. She dealt with the sin problem but she was still stuck in the same kind of abusive and destructive relationship that she knew since childhood. This time, when the abuse got worse, she considered suicide. Like Jonah, she thought, “I’m going to die, but at least I will be done with this life.” But God did not want Sharon to die, he wanted her to be redeemed. God provided Sharon with something that she did not have the last time she was in this kind of relationship. God provided a family for her; a father in heaven who she now knew to be a loving and caring God, and church family, friends who she knew loved her and would help. And help they did.

Jonah needed some help too, and, as always, God provided. When the whole city of Nineveh repented, Jonah was so filled with anger and self-pity that, again, he wanted to die (4:1-4). “Then the Lord God provided a leafy plant and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the plant.” (4:6, emphasis added). But God was not done, “But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the plant so that it withered.” (4:7). Then Jonah became so angry he wished he was dead (that’s pretty angry). But God provided the plant and the worm so He could provide Jonah a lesson; “But the Lord said, “You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?”’ (4:10-11).
 
We don’t know if Jonah got the message, if he changed his ways and got the redemption God offered. But Jonah’s response is not the most important thing. What is more important to see is what God was willing to provide to redeem Jonah, if he would just reach out and take it. What may be even more important is what God was able to accomplish with such a reluctant spirit. The storm was because of Jonah, but it was for the sailors. God used Jonah and the storm to bring the sailors to the one true God. God used a prophet who hated those to whom he preached, yet they all repented. God’s will was accomplished, and Jonah could not stand in the way of it. Look at all the people in this book for whom God provided redemption!

I am proud to say that Sharon found her redemption, not just the redemption of her soul, but also the redemption of her relationship, life, body, and image. She was able to find help at RCM and RCC. She is now out of that relationship and looking for a man who cares more about God than himself, a man who cares about her, and God, enough to wait, to treat her right, and to marry her. She turned to God and her church family rather than taking her life. She is now living alone and is safe. And, God has revealed how precious he believes Sharon to be, which has helped her to find healing and rediscover the image of God that he placed within her. And as great as her story is, like Jonah, Sharon’s story may not even be about her, it may be about those around her who hear her story and turn to God because of it.

In the end, God wants the same thing for a willing and a reluctant spirit, redemption. The truth is, no one, not even Abraham, Joshua, and Samuel were always willing, and Moses and Jonah were not always reluctant, like us, they were some of both. Either way we choose to be, God will accomplish His will. But if we surrender, we will find that God provides opportunities for growth, which, although painful at times, lead to redemption. If we stand in His way, God will still accomplish His will, He may just have to run over us to do it.
 
Sharon's story is far from over. She is struggling to come out of her past and into the life God wants for her. Please pray for her to have the strength and determination to cling to God rather than harmful relationships. 

Sunday, March 9, 2014

My Best Me


When God formed you in His image, when He shaped you into an entirely unique representation of Himself, He made you unlike anyone else. God breathed life into you as He did Adam He made you a living being through His Spirit (Gen. 2:7). The word breath and spirit are the same in Hebrew, to say God gave man the breath of life and he became a living being is to say God gave man the spirit of life and thus man lives. Just like when Jesus breathed into His disciples and told them to receive the Spirit (John 20:22).

“The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (Col. 1:15-18).


All things were made through, by, and for Jesus, and He is the one that holds them all together. In Him we live and move and have our very being (Acts 17:28). If that is true, how can we separate ourselves from God? God and His creation are inseparable. So what does this mean about the way we live?

How can we set this time aside for God and that time aside for ourselves if we are connected with God at a subatomic level? I used to believe that when I chose to do something outside the will of God that it was my decision and it would only hurt me; I make the choices and I will deal with the consequences. But it’s not really like that. If God’s presence is continual, how can I bring God into my sin? This is why Paul said that when we sleep with a prostitute it’s like joining Christ with that prostitute (1 Cor. 6:15).

The way that I’m living right now, is God happy with me dragging Him into it? This is why sin is so disgusting to God. Not only did God not create us to be dragged into sin, He never intended us to try to drag Him along with us. God can sever that inseparable tie, we can quench His Spirit (1 Thes. 5:19), God’s Spirit will not struggle with man’s forever (Gen. 6:3), we can experience spiritual death, and be eternally separated from God in Hell (2 Thes. 1:9). So then, how can I live in God’s presence? How can I get rid of the sin?

Usually when we talk about sin, we addresses it as the problem, but I don’t believe that is entirely correct. The sins we often commit, our addictions, our habits, our dysfunctions are really only symptoms of the real problem. Violent acts that we commit come from our anger and our anger usually comes from our own deep hurts and pains. Now, we can address our behavior, learn to control our anger so that we don’t allow it to force us into an action that we will regret, but this doesn’t take away the anger, it only helps us control the outcome of our anger. If we don’t deal with our anger, we will end up finding another outlet for it. If we deal with our anger but never face our hurts and pains, we will find another way to cope with them. We may choose drugs or alcohol, and those may be sinful habits, but the true problem is still the hurts that lead us to these habits. Sexual acts that we commit come from our lusts, and our lusts usually come from deep feeling that something is lacking. Perhaps we were never loved as we needed to be, or maybe we lack confidence and use sex to boost our ego. We can stop having sex but not address our lusts and end up finding another way to get what we need. We can even address our lusts, but if we never deal with the feelings that something is lacking, we will end up using something else to fill the void.

What we really need to do to remove the sin, the hurt, the void, and anything that would keep us from experiencing the full joy of God’s presence and being the person He created us to be is take a deep look inside our selves at where the problem really lies. To get to the heart of the problem we have to look deep inside ourselves and ask, why are these unhealthy things so appealing to us? We have to ask ourselves, why are we going to our sinful habits to find relief? Why am I making the same mistake Adam and Eve made?

Instead of going to God with their desires, Adam and Eve went to the forbidden tree, the listened to Satan, and they tried to be the answer to their own problem. I don’t have to keep doing the same. I can turn to God, submit to His will, put myself in the hands of the potter who shaped me in the first place, and let Him shape me back into the true me.

This is not about me becoming what anyone else says I should be (that’s how this whole thing began – Gen 3:5), this is not about me becoming someone else, this is about me becoming the best and truest me. Christ didn’t come to change everything, but to reconcile everything. That means to end the conflict and put things back the way they belong. Look at Colossians chapter one again.

“The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

“Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel...” (Col. 1:15-23).

It’s time to stop trying to be someone else, and start dealing with the hurts and pains that lead us into sin. God never wanted this for you, instead He wants you to partake in His divine nature and escape the corruption caused by evil desires (2 Peter 1:4). He wants to be one with you!

Put those pains, hurts, and labels to death. Come to Christ and be born again, be a new creature, be the you that you were made to be, that no one else can be. It’s not just about losing yourself, it’s about finding yourself and being truly free.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

WHAT DID JESUS REALLY ACCOMPLISH?

I am trying a first. At the bottom is a link to an audio file of the sermon, you are welcome to read, or skip to the end and listen, or both. 
 
When I come into River City Church and I look around, I see a beautiful sight! I see men and women, brothers and sisters, black and white, side by side. I see the power of God at work. I see racial reconciliation, I see forgiveness, I see understanding, and oneness. I see unity and a celebration of racial and ethnic diversity. Not a lie of colorblindness, but an appreciation and respect for our differences and the beautiful array of giftedness that God blesses us with.
I feel gratefulness for the freedom to speak about a legacy that is not my own, but inspires me daily. In the last week of Black History Month I got to share something that has been on my heart since January 15th, Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday.
 
On MLK day, I read an intriguing article about Dr. King (you can find the link at the end of this post).  A young man, only three generations from slavery on a Virginian tobacco plantation, was raised by a father who worked his way from a share cropper to a good paying blue color job. This father grew up in the days of the Jim Crow laws, the days when there was no high school for blacks, and though he was only able to earn a 7th grade education, he was able to provide his son with a quality college education.
 
His son thrived on this educational experience and his eyes were opened to a new world of Black Nationalism. He discovered and devoured the autobiography of Malcom X. When he came home and visited his father he mentioned that he believed that Dr. King just didn’t go far enough and that Malcom X was willing to go where he couldn’t. His father told him that Malcom X didn’t accomplish anything like what Dr. King did.
Here’s the kicker, his son asked “So what did Dr. King accomplish besides giving a great speech?” Wow! His father was stunned and told him “You have no idea what Martin Luther King actually accomplished!”
You know what? Most of us have no idea what Jesus Christ actually accomplished! What do we talk about Jesus doing? He saved our souls! That’s amazing! But that’s not all. That was not His whole mission, and if we miss what Jesus actually accomplished, we miss out on everything!
 
So often we limit what Jesus did. We make it a very external and intangible thing. We end up with portraits of Jesus that don’t resemble Him at all. Read Jesus message, how often does He specifically talk about saving our souls? He doesn’t! Yes, Paul tells us that through Christ we receive this (1 Peter 1:9), but why does Jesus say He came? Let’ face it, most of us don’t know what Jesus actually came to do!
Martin Luther King didn’t just march, he didn’t just make great speeches; that was not what he accomplished. The father of the young man whose story we began with gave his son the answer. He told him, you don’t know the horrors I grew up with. The lynching, the senseless killing, the beatings, the sheer hatred we faced and the fear it created. We were in such fear of the racist white man and what he would do if we stood up for our rights that we were trapped. But he showed us how to take a beating and not fight back. He taught us how not to lower ourselves to their level. He showed us that we could take the worst the world had to throw at us and we could get back up and keep going. He showed us the power we always had and never know was there. What did Martin Luther King Jr. actually accomplish? He ended racial terrorism in the south.

So, what about Jesus? What did he actually accomplish? We tend to create an image of a very small Jesus. He is able to forgive our sins, to save our souls on the Day of Judgment, and give us entrance to heaven, but is very ineffective in changing our lives in the here and now. He is a God of the past because He can take away the sins we committed, and he is a God of the future because he is preparing a place for us, but not a God of the present.
We make him a God who saves the soul but leaves heart, body, and mind to fend for itself. We make Him a Jesus who doesn’t care about our problems, only our soul. A Jesus who would have turned to that woman with the bloody issue who touched his robe and said “I know you didn’t just get blood on my robe!” We create a Jesus who would tell the sick and demon possessed to come back when they were ready to get their lives right, who would never have sat down with that floosy at the well because he wanted to save souls, not deal with their personal problems. We end up with a polished, censored, shaved, and rationalized Jesus … a picture painted by Satan himself.
Nothing could be farther from who Jesus is! Jesus came to end spiritual terrorism. Jesus came to give abundant life, not at the end of time, not at his return, not at the end of your life, not 20 years from now, not tomorrow, but today!!
Satan likes nothing more than to trap us with fear. The truth is we can receive the forgiveness of our sins and allow Satan to keep us trapped in the system of sin. Satan would love to keep us blinded to what Jesus actually came for.
Jesus came to call sinners to repentance (Mark 2:17). What does that really mean? It means calling us to a new life. A new life which is actually an old one, because it’s the life God always intended for us.
Christ came not just to forgive sin, not just to die for the sins of our past, but to free us from the system of sin.
Christ has set us free. He wants us to enjoy freedom. So stand firm. Don’t let the chains of slavery hold you again (Gal. 5:1).
Close your eyes. Picture yourself shackled by the hands of Satan. From those shackles hang the links that are my sins. Picture your sins, all you have ever done against the Lord, hanging from your wrists, entangling your whole body. You lift them up and try to carry them forward, but the weight is too much. But there is Christ! He says, you don’t have to carry these any more, you’re free! And he gives us the key to the shackles. But we never take the chains off. Instead we continue to let Satan have control, we make more and more links because we stay in that same old system of sin.
 I can keep wearing the chains even though I’ve been set free. “I wear the chain I forged in life, I made it link by link, yard by yard, I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it. Is its pattern strange to you? Or do you not know the weight and length of your own.” Or, I can channel the power God has given me and break these chains and never put them on again!
 
Jesus was called the Son of Man for a reason! He showed us the power God has put inside of us that Satan has convinced us never existed. Jesus stepped into a boat. He went over to the other side of the lake and came to his own town. 2 Some men brought to him a man who could not walk. He was lying on a mat. Jesus saw that they had faith. So he said to the man, “Don’t lose hope, son. Your sins are forgiven.”
3 Then some teachers of the law said to themselves, “This fellow is saying a very evil thing!”
4 Jesus knew what they were thinking. So he said, “Why do you have evil thoughts in your hearts? 5 Is it easier to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven’? Or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? 6 I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.”
Then he spoke to the man who could not walk. “Get up,” he said. “Take your mat and go home.” 7 The man got up and went home.
8 When the crowd saw this, they were filled with wonder. They praised God for giving that kind of authority to men.
 
We have the power from God to forgive sin?! Yes, we can tell Satan that rather than embracing anger, guilt, grudges, and strife we choose to forgive. We can get up and walk in the power of the Lord now that sin has no hold on us, and we can stand against everything Satan throws our way.
10 Finally, let the Lord make you strong. Depend on his mighty power. 11 Put on all of God’s armor. Then you can stand firm against the devil’s evil plans. 12 Our fight is not against human beings. It is against the rulers, the authorities and the powers of this dark world. It is against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly world.
13 So put on all of God’s armor. Evil days will come. But you will be able to stand up to anything. And after you have done everything you can, you will still be standing. (Eph. 6:10-13).
The Lord came to show us how to take a beating. He taught us how not to lower ourselves to Satan’s level. He showed us that we could take the worst the Satan has to throw at us and we can get back up and keep going. He showed us the power we always had and never knew was there. What did Jesus actually accomplish? He ended Spiritual terrorism and delivered us not only from judgment, but from the system of sin. What are you waiting for? Break free!!
 
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