Step 1Well here we go!  Today we conclude our latest series called Step 1 and I have to say this has been a fun one.  If you remember we have been talking about the fact that there is a larger story unfolding all around us.  We call it the God story.  It’s is an epic tale that has been unfolding since the beginning of time…and the beauty of this story is that you and I are actually invited into the story, and we get to play a role in it!  I think that is absolutely awesome…and over the last few weeks we have talked about how challenging that can be too!  You see the reality is that we were created very intentionally by God to reflect his very image!  We have talked and talked about this…and it’s very important to never lose sight of that fact!  We have also learned that we come fully alive when we accept the invitation into the God story and stand as the image bearers we were created to be.  That is when we are fully alive, living that life to the full that Jesus (the hero of the story) told you that he came to provide you!  This is the greater reality that is unfolding all around us.

We have also discussed the fact that we live in a world at war, and that we do have an enemy who is doing whatever he can to keep us from standing in our role’s that God has prepared for us.  He is a sneak, a liar, and a killer…and he is coming at us with whatever deception he can to keep us from realizing that we are image bearers of the King.  Over the last two weeks we talked about how the enemy comes at us and distorts this greater reality in some big ways, and we focused those two weeks on idolatry and our identity which are huge areas the enemy comes to take ground in our lives.  These are such big concepts that hopefully we helped you identify what the enemy is up to in your life because the reality is that identifying the enemy’s plans is a huge part of the battle…because Jesus has already defeated your enemy.  He has no power over you, so knowing what he is up to is often the biggest and most important step!  Once you see the deception the rest is simple!  All we have to do then is ask Jesus into your life and believe in Him…and boom…it’s gone!  Just like that!

So that is it…this is the God story that has been unfolding around us since the beginning of time.  Do you know when you experience life to the fullest?  It’s when we accept the invitation into God’s story.  We are at our best and feel fully alive when we are reflecting God’s glory!  So what it means to reflect God’s glory:

  1. We submit to Christ as our Lord and Savior
  2. We live every day in faith. 

So this is life fully alive, when we are fully engaged into the God story doing exactly what we were created to do…reflecting His glory.  But can I ask you something?

How do I know that I am living in faith and how do I know that I am submitting to God?  

Because I’m coming in here and I’m hearing these messages and what you’re talking about sounds great…but then I jump back into life and I got to say that I don’t always see myself as an image bearer…and my life doesn’t necessarily make me feel like I am royalty.  In many ways my life feels completely out of control.  My boss dumps all over me, my bills are piling up, my children are getting into trouble, and I spend most of my time just trying to survive each week, and I walk in here and hear that I am an image bearer of the King and that I am fully alive when I stand inside this greater story…well this story I’m in doesn’t always feel so great!  I don’t really see this amazing life to the full in my world…do you know what I mean?

Life isn’t always easy is it?  And frankly, I can be a little frustrated when things aren’t going my way.  Well I don’t know about you but I am always very classy when I win, and I struggle a little bit to be so classy when I’m not winning…when things aren’t going my way!  I have been a travel soccer coach for many years now, and I will tell you it is very easy for me to walk away from a field smiling and talking about how winning doesn’t matter…AFTER WE JUST WON A BIG GAME!  In the same reality it is really easy for me to notice a lot of negative things, and be willing to point them out to people when my young men just lost a game!  Did you ever notice how often we get to hear about how classy teams that win championships are?  You hear on ESPN how classy Duke’s basketball program is…of course Duke looks classy…they win all the time right!  Let’s watch how they respond when they lose!   Well you know what…this may be the greatest test of how we are living.  How we respond when things aren’t going well.  If you want to know if you are living inside the God story fully reflecting God…I think how you respond to challenges and adversity is probably the greatest testing of where you are!  Scripture says…

James 1:2-4, 12 Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4 Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything….12 Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.  NIV

You know we have have spent the last few weeks looking at deceptions and reality distortions, so today I felt it was a big deal to look at life.  REAL LIFE…like reality of what actually happens in life situations, and I want to look at some of the biggest names of scripture and how they responded in those moments.  Because as humans how we respond to real life moments really shows us who we are.  There will be moments of doubt, moments of questions and confusion and moments when we just can’t seem to see the next step in our life and I want you to see this as we go through these amazing men and how they respond to life.  I want you thinking about how you would respond in your own life to these same situations.  Today we are going to look at three realities of life.

  1. Life Is Not Fair.
  2. Life won’t always look like you think it should.
  3. God’s will comes first.

I know this sounds really cheery but today we aren’t dealing with distorted reality.  We are going to deal with reality and life isn’t always fair is it?

Reality 1.  Even inside the God Story-Life Is Not Fair.

You know I grew up working in construction and I can look back at one particular old construction worker who gave me my first job.  He was an older, tougher guy, and I have to tell you that I learned so much from him.  He never said much, but when he did speak I listened.  On my first day ever in construction he pulled me aside around break time and said, “Sam I am going to tell you everything you need to know to do well in construction.  He put a big heavy hand on my shoulder and he said…never put your hands in your pockets, and never talk about your paycheck.”  That was it.  He smiled and said, you remember those two things and you are going to be just fine.  You know what, from that day forward I did my best to never put my hands in my pockets, even 10 years after I left working with him, if my hands went in my pockets I could literally see and hear Bill telling me that and I would pull them out quickly.  It is subtle but an important rule.  But I think the biggest rule was the second part of that…never talk about your paycheck.   This was a lesson that applies to all aspects of life.  He was telling me not to compare myself to others.  It’s none of my business really what anyone else is making or doing.  I know later in life when I moved into commercial construction I wished that guys would have understood this rule.  It was amazing the negativity around workers who were constantly concerned about other peoples pay compared to their own.  We can really get into trouble when we begin to compare what I deserve to what you deserve…especially since we are learning this is God’s story and He is doing with His story, what He wants, how He wants, and when He wants!

One of my favorite men in scripture is Peter.  He walks close with Jesus, and just does so many dumb things which is nice for a guy like me to read about and draw strength from…since I don’t always do everything right either!  I want to look at a time when he did exactly what Bill warned me not to do…he wanted life to be fair…check this out.

John 21:15 When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”  16 Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”  17 The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. 18 I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.”  19 Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”  20 Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is going to betray you?”) 21 When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?” 22 Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.”  23 Because of this, the rumor spread among the brothers that this disciple would not die. But Jesus did not say that he would not die; he only said, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?”  NIV

Now before we get into how Peter responded…you have to see the beauty of this moment.  This is the resurrected Savior standing before a man who betrayed him 3 times.  Remember how crushed Peter was as Jesus made eye contact with him after he did the very thing he thought he would ever do before Jesus was crucified?  What a gut wrenching moment.  What does Jesus do here…3 times he asks Peter if Peter loves Him.  This is redemption and while Peter doesn’t fully get it…I see this is as a beautiful moment.

Now let’s look at something really interesting here.  Jesus explains to Peter that he is going to die a horrible death for Jesus…and how does Peter respond?  He responds the way most of us would.  He turns to John who is standing there too and says, well what about him?  If I’m going to die then everyone else needs to die too!  This is a critical moment for you and I to see…life just isn’t fair.  How does Jesus respond to Peter?

22 Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.”

Jesus is saying, “Hey Peter, quit looking at John’s paycheck.  Your job is to submit to me and believe in me and do my will for your life…life just isn’t always fair.”

Reality 2.  Inside the God Story-Life won’t always look like you think it should.

I think this reality is one of the hardest to deal with because we you and I have an idea of what things should look like, and frankly life just doesn’t always go as planned!  I think this is a huge set up for us isn’t it?  For a lot of us we decide that when we accept the invitation into the God story things should just go well…because hey, we are now on Jesus’ team…but that just isn’t reality, and it certainly isn’t what Jesus told you.  We see a great example of this in the story of Jesus’ cousin John the Baptist.  This was an amazing man!  He was the forerunner, going out ahead of Jesus and paving the way for him.  He clearly knew who Jesus was…even while still in his mother’s womb!  John the Baptist was a warrior for God, who led many to Christ and literally was the voice paving the way for Jesus’ ministry…yet his life didn’t play out the way any of us think it should.  So here we are at the end of his life and John finds himself in a spot that I’m sure he didn’t see coming.  Check this out…

Matthew 14:3 Herod had arrested John, put him in chains, and sent him to prison to placate Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife. 4 John had provoked Herod by naming his relationship with Herodias “adultery.” 5 Herod wanted to kill him, but he was afraid because so many people revered John as a prophet of God. (MSG)

Wait a minute here, this is John the Baptist, this isn’t the way life is supposed to go for someone who was such a great man of God, and servant of Jesus is it?  He is standing in the God story, what is happening here?  John the man who is known as the forerunner who was certain of who Jesus was, is now sitting in jail and while this is going on Jesus is doing amazing things all around him.  Let’s look at how this amazing man of God responded…because he begins to feel some confusion and I think we all would here.

Matthew 11:1 After Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in the towns of Galilee. 2 When John heard in prison what Christ was doing, he sent his disciples 3 to ask him, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?”

What an amazing moment!  John who is the most certain of who Jesus is, is now sitting in prison, knowing he probably isn’t getting out of here alive and asks Jesus who he really is!  I can almost hear him saying, Jesus what is going on here?  I’ve done everything right and I’m about to die.  I’ve laid down my ministry for you, I have paved the way for you.  I have always been there for you, and here I am in a jail cell, needing help!  John is standing inside the God story, and it doesn’t look anything like it should does it?  What is even more amazing is is how Jesus responds to him…

4 Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: 5 The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. 6 Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.” NIV

Jesus is listing everything he is doing, all of which were listed in the book of Isaiah as what would happen when the Messiah came…but he left one out…Isaiah also says that the prisoners will be set free.  John is in a crisis moment here…and he is moments from his death.  John was about to be beheaded because a stripper asked it to be so and Jesus doesn’t come to his rescue here?  Shouldn’t he expect Jesus to drop everything and come to help his cousin in this terrible spot?  I mean seriously it seemed John was always there for Jesus.  This is such a barbaric moment isn’t it?  Frankly it is a difficult one to see and more difficult to wrap our minds around.  John did everything right…and Jesus is saying to him now.  “I’m not coming for you.  I’m not sparing your life…and he ends this message to his cousin whom he loved by saying you will be blessed if this doesn’t cause you to fall away.” WOW!  Look at how it reads in Mark, John is going to jail and Jesus does what?

Mark 1:14 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. NIV

If you are John and you are sitting in a jail cell, are you wondering what exactly that good news is?!?!?  Jesus knew John was going to die in prison, and I believe this hurt him, because we see him struggle and need time alone after he hears of John’s death but he also knows something that we must all understand and it’s a hard lesson…this is one of my favorite quotes:

“Even then Jesus understood his purpose was to save us not from pain and suffering, but from meaninglessness.”  Erwin McManus

We must see these two greater realities that EVEN INSIDE THE GOD STORY life isn’t always fair, and life won’t always look like we think it should.  I find this moment so powerful and so challenging and frankly it isn’t something that draws people to Christianity…but again we are talking about reality today…and this is life, and it isn’t always fair and it doesn’t always look the way I think it should.

  1. Inside the God Story-God’s will comes first.

The real reality I wanted to look at is that God’s will comes first…and I wanted to look at how Jesus responds to God’s will regardless of how challenging it really was for him…let’s just let this story play out and then we will talk about it.

Matthew 26:36 Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.”  37 He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38 Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” 39 Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” 40 Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Could you men not keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. 41 “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.” 42 He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.” 43 When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. 44 So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing. NIV

So this is the moment…where Jesus is about to go to the cross.  He is about to do the very thing that he was sent here to do.  He is about to take the sins of the world.  He is about to go through the most painful, humiliating, crushing death possible…and he sits now in this garden knowing it’s time.  He is carrying the hopes and dreams of the world, and it is a crushing and stressful burden, and how does the hero of our story respond in this moment…

“My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”

Lord I know this is brutal and if there is any other way, please let  me out of this…but in the end…may your will be done.  This is the moment that should give you chills.  This is the son of God pleading with His father to take it away, but if it can’t be…he says then I will do your will.  Regardless of what my flesh is telling me to do.  What a powerful, powerful moment.

So today I wanted to conclude this series and really talk to you about what it looks like to live in this greater reality and you know I just kept thinking…how hard it must be to listen to some punk on a stage with a microphone telling you how you are royalty and an image bearer of the King and how awesome that is while you leave here and get punched in the gut by your boss all week long.  And you watch bills pile up, and you struggle to co-exist with your spouse.  We don’t always feel like royalty in this world do we?  It’s like I said in the beginning, I think we are all classy when we win!  But I think it was really important for me today to let you know that while life is a challenge, and while life isn’t always fair…how we respond to life is a really, really big deal.  It is in that response that we can see if we are living as image bearers for the King.  It’s easy when things are going your way, and way more challenging when they are not.

Jesus told you that He came to this earth so that you could have life, and have it to the full.  The reality is that you can have that life to the full when you accept the invitation into the God story, and stand as who you were created to be, an image bearer for the King of Kings and Lord of Lords and that is an amazing thing.

So as we leave this series it’s our hope that you will be able to reflect God’s glory!  This happens as we fully submit our lives to Jesus and understand just how much we need Him and when we live our lives in faith, and it will take submitting to God’s will and living in faith to stay strong in this challenging world that we live in on this side of heaven.

You know we desperately want you to stand as image bearers for the king but really that choice is yours.  There is a greater reality unfolding all around you and you are invited into it…and while none of us can clearly say what tomorrow brings, when we live a life standing in who we were created to be, we can actually have purpose and meaning and that life to the full that Jesus told you He came to give you!

It’s our prayer that you will accept this invitation, and engage God fully today, because we know life with God is an awesome ride.