So today we are wrapping up our series on integrity. The big concept or theme of the entire series was that who we are matters more than what we look like, and we spent a lot of time talking about how challenging that really is in the culture that we live in today. I loved using the imagery a couple of weeks ago with you of walking upstream…the world, the people, just our culture in general pulling one way, while God is asking us to live another. So throughout the series we have seen a central theme of who we are mattering much more to God than what we look like, and the question has really been this; can we bring God into each and every aspect of our lives? Can we be the same people in every aspect of our lives? Can we bring God into our homes, our marriages, our parenting, and our relationships? You know last week with Ken was pretty special, and as I read over his talk I really was praying that, his talk wouldn’t just be all of us banging out another Sunday, but that we could hear it…even on a big holiday weekend, and that it could bring a new perspective or at the least ignite, or re-ignite a fire in us for the church that maybe we hadn’t had before, or simply has dimmed over time. Ken did a great job of talking to us about the church, what it should be, and maybe more importantly what it could be if we would or could center our focus on what we say it is on, which would be God, His mission, and His purpose for the church and our lives. As I read the talk I kept thinking of different places in scripture that Jesus seems to offer people the keys to life, and to the Kingdom…and it leaves us sitting their trying to figure out if we will, or won’t do what he says…I think of some of the different questions Jesus asked…odd questions to people who desperately needed healing, like a 38 year old man sitting by a pool, who can’t walk…and I think in so many ways, the kind of talk Ken gave us last week sits in that same area. It gave us all a choice, to engage or not, to do to not, to walk into the true mission and vision of what church could be or to just bang out another Sunday. It’s interesting, but that seems to be what this will all come down to for all of us. Will we live for God or not. Now I’m not talking about will I attend church or not. I’m not talking about the idea of will I clean up some behaviors or not…I’m talking about when it comes right down to it and God asks us to step into a new life…will we or won’t we. Because from where I’m sitting, that is where the tension in life is for each and every one of us, and I really want to talk about it today. The tension to live life my way or God’s way…to attend church, or be part of the church…to be a true servant to people, or a consumer. In the end if we are paying attention it seems to me that Jesus asks something of us, and we will either step into or not. A lot of the pull or frustration in our spiritual journeys seem to be us either fighting to submit and follow Jesus, or just feeling this pull to live partially for God, and partially for ourselves. I came across this verse the other day, and just really sat in it for a while and see such tension for all of us found right here in James…
James 4:8 Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world. NLT
Did you catch that last phrasing? That’s it isn’t it? We struggle so much with living this life of a disciple because our loyalty is divided between God and the world. We struggle to pull God into our marriages, our parenting, our work lives, our relationships because of this divided loyalty. We see this in our churches, we know what the scriptures teach…we know what Jesus asked of us…but we struggle with a divided loyalty…a tension or pull from the world to live one way, while God is asking us to live another. It’s really interesting when it comes to the church as Ken talked last week because we can be doing a lot of really nice, really good things for God while still doing those things for us while God is asking us to live a different way. Do you see the tension? Do you feel this tension in your own life? I will say if you do you aren’t alone in that…I think to some degree we all feel this tension of a loyalty divided between God and the world…and really this is how I want to end this series on Integrity…being a man or woman of God in all aspects of our lives.
So today I want to go right to the heart of this. I want to talk about whether you will or will not see God in all aspects of your life. Can I stand loyal to God, or will I always feel this tension of the world pulling me the other way. Can I stand as a true disciple in this life in Christ or not…will I see the fruit of the spirit coming out of my life…will I be the kind of disciple Jesus says I can be, living out this life and life to the full that Sam brings up all the time. Well, I want you to know something…and I want you to stay with me here…you have a choice in this…and you do have something to do in this process too. Let me state that a different way, you have something to do if you want God in your life! Because I think we all experience this battle of our flesh and culture pulling one way while God pulls another…we see it in our relationships, we see it in every environment of our lives right down to our local churches…and it’s because for many of us, we do the saved by grace thing. We love the God’s grace and love paying the bill thing…but we don’t do anything past that other than clean up some behaviors and bang out church on a Sunday morning. And if you are paying attention, Jesus in particular is always asking us to do something. Remember this scripture in John…it has impacted me so much lately. I keep thinking about this as we try to live lives with God in them, we must do two things; “believe” and “do.” A lot of us get the “believe” part…but I think we often we lose track of the “do”…and it’s where we find our true selves our child of God selves…in believing AND doing.
John 1:9-12 The Life-Light was the real thing: Every person entering Life he brings into Light. He was in the world, the world was there through him, and yet the world didn’t even notice. He came to his own people, but they didn’t want him. But whoever did want him, who believed he was who he claimed and would do what he said, He made to be their true selves, their child-of-God selves. MSG
Now before you panic I have not gone off the rails here…I’m not talking about earning your way into heaven. You and I both know that all we have to do is believe in Jesus and He handles the rest for us. I’m not talking about a bunch of religious hoops that you need to jump through to earn God’s love. We know that His love is freely given to us. We call that grace, and it’s really why we worship and celebrate each and every Sunday here at MRC!
Grace is an amazing thing and it means that we aren’t earning our way into heaven. I think we can all show a ton of gratitude for grace. We can all rally behind such an amazing and free gift like the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. This is why we are so amazed at God. It’s hard to wrap our minds around the idea that He would love us enough to send Jesus to this world to die for our sins…to do what we could not. But here’s what is really interesting about God. He gives us salvation as a free gift. So this message of Christ should be an easy one right? This SHOULD be a slam dunk, and 100% of people should be fully on board right? Christianity should be the most popular way to live…but it is not. I mean look at that passage we just read, it says that Jesus came to His own people but they didn’t want Him…most didn’t even notice. So why didn’t everyone get on board in Jesus’ time with His message of love and grace? Well it’s because this message that Jesus shared was about change. It was always about LIFE CHANGE, and the reality is that heart and life change requires something of people. And I will just tell you my experience is that people really aren’t looking for work to do, especially when it comes to the deepest parts of who they are. They don’t want to change. They don’t mind believing, but the whole doing thing…sounds like a bit much. What Ken shared last week should have people on fire for the church, but you know…it just isn’t a very popular message. Life change, heart change, believing AND doing…there is a tension there isn’t there? And that tension is because this culture and our world just seems to offer something a lot easier. Look at our churches…will we serve or be served, one is easier isn’t it? Look at the true life of a disciple of Christ verses living as the world lives…one seems easier doesn’t it? You see the challenge is found in the change…will I believe and do…or not.
Listen, Jesus calls us to more…and in the more IS that life to the full that I’m always talking about, but it seems so rare to see people walking in that love, that joy, that kind of life…and it’s because Jesus pushes you and I to a place where we must make a choice. We can only serve one master right? Who will it be? Life change, living as a disciple of Christ will require something of us, because it’s a process. It did back then and it requires something of us too! Jesus seemed to always be asking a very difficult question…as I think over so many interactions with Jesus, I think there is a questions that we are asked…I think Ken was asking it last week…and I think at one level or another through our decisions and actions we are all answering it even if we don’t realize it. Here’s the question…What are you willing to do?
Let’s think back to some of the powerful interactions that Jesus has with people, do you remember Jesus looking at that crippled man who couldn’t walk at the pool of Bethesda? The paralytic man laid there for 38 years…38 YEARS…believing that his healing would happen if he could just get in that water, what a frustrating life that must have been for the man. Never being able to get into that water, wanting to be healed…for 38 years…and Jesus asks him a really odd question. “Do you want to get well?” Um, no Jesus I have been laying here paralyzed for 38 years trying to get into this pool with healing powers…OF COURSE I WANT TO BE HEALED! Jesus tells him to pick up his mat and walk away. How about the rich young ruler that is one of my favorite moments where this young man comes to Jesus and wants to know how to inherit eternal life. This kid follows all of the rules. He is bright. He is charming. He is doing really well for himself but he knows something is still missing. And what does Jesus tell him to do? Jesus looks right at him, and lovingly says to him…ok buddy, if you want to go there; “sell everything you have and give it to the poor.” The young man leaves devastated, Jesus showed him the issue of his heart, and it was the one thing he wasn’t willing to change.
So this happens often, and I think there is an under lying question that Jesus is asking. Can you hear it? Time and time again Jesus seems to be saying, I will take care of your sins, I got the salvation thinig taken care of but life change will require something of you. Jesus is after your heart. Yes grace pays all of our bills for us but true life change will require something of you and I and which is a very polarizing message. People don’t want to do anything, which I think really messes with Ken and I’s hearts because we see what could be if we were simply willing to do what Jesus asks…it’s like the cripple sitting so close to that pool for all those years, not realizing how close his healing was as Jesus stood there. Or how crazy the rich young ruler thought Jesus was, when he asked him to do the one thing (selling all his stuff) to have something greater…in the end, there is so much more there for us…but it requires us to do something…and not everyone is into that…which is so hard to watch. Listen, this Christian journey is to be more than just doing the least possible. It’s more than just banging out church on Sunday. It’s a calling that starts with the freedom of salvation, and God’s love pouring into our lives, the overwhelming love, and grace, and forgiveness, which over time and relationship with God leads to love pouring out of us, and it leads to purpose and strength and our true lives being lived…if we make the choice to live for more, and step into actual life change. It is MORE than just crossing off days on the calendar. It is all about moving towards God, and connecting to God…it is all about living each day with Him. It’s about being a new creation in Him! It’s about having joy and freedom in your life each day. But, and this is the hang up for so many… it does actually require something of you. Jesus seems to keep asking us a very exposing, and very heart penetrating question…What are you willing to do?
Think about what Ken talked about last week…how many people left excited when Ken helped us see what the church could and should be? How many left a little worried thinking it sounded a little challenging? It’s polarizing isn’t it? Remember towards the end when He was talking about our expectations of you…loving God, loving others…remember when he brought up loving growth. He said this…we need to intentionally grow and develop. Do something that grows your dependence on God. Risk. Lead. Serve. Read. Something. “The greatest tragedy isn’t our sin, it’s the life we never live.” Do you hear it? Believe AND Do! Are we inspired to hear things like risk…serve…RISK! Jesus says this…
Luke 19:26 “…Risk your life and get more than you ever dreamed of. Play it safe and end up holding the bag. (MSG)
It’s so interesting to me how polarizing this message of being a disciple of Jesus can be. I think some left last week really inspired, and others left like…”boy, I wish I went to a church that didn’t ask me to do anything! I don’t really want to do anything!” Here’s what is really interesting…we are asking the same question that Jesus asked and at its core, that question is this. What are you willing to do?
Here’s what we know, you can actually have life, and have it to the full. It comes when you go all in for God. It comes when you center your life on God. It comes as your allow your heart to be changed. So why is this message so difficult? Why is it so polarizing? Why wouldn’t people flock to Jesus? Why wouldn’t a church like MRC who simply echoes Jesus’ message be packed full of people? We simply want you to have that life to the full, that joy of the Lord, that strength and freedom, that “more than you ever dreamed of” that Jesus told us you can have! Well I will tell you why…it’s because it requires something of us…and change always does. But here’s what is more interesting to me. We aren’t requiring you to be killed for your faith as some have been. We aren’t asking you to give up all of your belongings and sell all of your stuff and give it to the poor. Frankly this is America in 2019…so this whole “risk it all thing”…I’m not sure serving in the Children’s ministry for an hour a month, or working with our Youth group an evening a week is a huge risk. Here’s what’s even more interesting. We spend 52 weeks a year encouraging you to spend time with God each day. Not even hours, just moments of your day and even that seems to be a polarizing statement because a Pastor just simply can’t understand how busy I am! Here’s why this is so challenging, because you have to do something. Not only do you have to do something but you are battling between being loyal to God or this world, and this life of faith is just that, a life…which requires change and action. We like the believe part, but I think we struggle with the do. Even if it’s a good thing, or a simple thing, or as easy as a few moments of your day. Most people are fine with the way things are…they aren’t looking for something else to do. But we love you too much not to keep asking the question that can be so tough to hear…What are you willing to do?
I just kept thinking of a story from the Old Testament that I just can’t get out of my mind. It’s an incredible story of a man who needed healing, but didn’t care for the way he was to be healed, and it’s a story we can take so much from today.
2 Kings 5:1 Now Naaman was commander of the army of the king of Aram. He was a great man in the sight of his master and highly regarded, because through him the LORD had given victory to Aram. He was a valiant soldier, but he had leprosy. 2 Now bands from Aram had gone out and had taken captive a young girl from Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife. 3 She said to her mistress, “If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.” 4 Naaman went to his master and told him what the girl from Israel had said. 5 “By all means, go,” the king of Aram replied. “I will send a letter to the king of Israel.” So Naaman left, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold and ten sets of clothing. 6 The letter that he took to the king of Israel read: “With this letter I am sending my servant Naaman to you so that you may cure him of his leprosy.” 7 As soon as the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his robes and said, “Am I God? Can I kill and bring back to life? Why does this fellow send someone to me to be cured of his leprosy? See how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me!” 8 When Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his robes, he sent him this message: “Why have you torn your robes? Have the man come to me and he will know that there is a prophet in Israel.” 9 So Naaman went with his horses and chariots and stopped at the door of Elisha’s house. 10 Elisha sent a messenger to say to him, “Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed.” 11 But Naaman went away angry and said, “I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy. 12 Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than any of the waters of Israel? Couldn’t I wash in them and be cleansed?” So he turned and went off in a rage. 13 Naaman’s servants went to him and said, “My father, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you, ‘Wash and be cleansed’!” 14 So he went down and dipped himself in the Jordan seven times, as the man of God had told him, and his flesh was restored and became clean like that of a young boy. NIV
I love this story, and it really hit my heart as I thought about this idea of living with integrity, and really as I watched and read over Ken giving us so much to think about last week in regards to the church and living a God life. So there is a couple things that we need to highlight here. First there is Naaman and he is a big deal. He is a commander in the army, and he has a horrible disease called leprosy. This is a skin disease that is gross, it’s painful, and it was pretty common back in these times. We also learn that he has a servant girl from Israel, who knows that he can be healed by the great prophet of the time. His name is Elisha and he was an amazing man of God. So Naaman sets off to find Elisha and after the King of Israel loses his head a bit…ripping his clothes…what a diva! All joking aside it was probably because of the fear of what would happen to his nation of Israel if they didn’t heal this warrior from a nation who apparently has been beating up on the nation of Isareal for quite some time now! So I will cut the King a little slack. Naaman makes his way to Elisha’s home to be healed from this horrible affliction. Now this is where the story really gets good…
9 So Naaman went with his horses and chariots and stopped at the door of Elisha’s house. 10 Elisha sent a messenger to say to him, “Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed.” 11 But Naaman went away angry and said, “I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy. 12 Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than any of the waters of Israel? Couldn’t I wash in them and be cleansed?” So he turned and went off in a rage.
I love this! First of all Naaman is a big deal…I mean he just pulled up to the prophets house in a motorcade of Escalades, with jewels and his whole entourage and Elisha doesn’t even go out and greet him personally…he sends a servant to do it. How insulting! Then to make matters worse he doesn’t heal Naaman the way Naaman thinks he should be healed. This man of God was supposed to just come out and wave his hand over Naaman and poof it’s gone! And just to add to the humiliation of this moment, Elisha asks him to go wash in the Jordan River! This is a filthy, disgusting river…nothing like the clean ones where he is from! He is so insulted, that he leaves just furious at this great prophet of God. Here’s what is so interesting to me…can you hear it? Elisha just asked Naaman THE question that Jesus asked, and really I believe is asked of all of us in our spiritual journey! What are you willing to do?
Can you hear it? Think about this your spiritual life. What are you being offered? What is required of you? And what do you get with it? It’s all about life change. It brings you that elusive life and life to the full. It’s what Jesus said when we risk…we have a shot at getting that “more than you ever dreamed of thing.” It’s what we know happens when we believe in Jesus and do what He says, we can have and stand in our true selves our child of God selves. But this message as simple as it sounds, isn’t being accepted all that often is it? Why would that be? Because something is required of us to find this whole life to the full thing, this healing, this true self. It is the same difficult message that Naaman heard from Elisha and it is echoed here at MRC about 52 weeks a year. It’s all there for you but the question remains the same! What are you willing to do?
So let’s go back to Naaman for a moment, when we last left him he was leaving Elisha’s home in a fit of rage. How dare this prophet tell me to go wash in a stinky river, he wouldn’t even come out and talk to me himself. How humiliating right? Well it’s in the wise words of his servants that we can see something really, special. Look at this…
13 Naaman’s servants went to him and said, “My father, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you, ‘Wash and be cleansed’!” 14 So he went down and dipped himself in the Jordan seven times, as the man of God had told him, and his flesh was restored and became clean like that of a young boy. NIV
Hey Naaman, this is a simple thing to do, if you do it you can be healed! This is so big for us to see! Just like Naaman we have a choice to make. If you think about it, what Elisha did is no different from what Jesus taught that we still echo today. You can have complete life change. You can have joy in your heart, in your home, and in your church community. You can have that life of more than you have ever dreamed of! You can be healed…or not! I have always struggled with the decision that we all get to make, the paralytic stood up, took his mat and walked…but the rich young ruler, he walked away devastated. Naaman thankfully realized through the help of his loyal servants that if he engaged what God was asking him to do his healing was right there for him! When he humbled himself and entered that water, he came out fully healed. He came out different than when he went in and what was he really asked to do? Take seven swims in a river? But it’s that pesky question that has been so polarizing, so challenging over the years, and really becomes the pivot point in our spiritual journeys. What are you willing to do?
So as we close this series, I want to ask you, do you see the importance of having God in your life? Are you walking with God in all aspects of your life? Do you see the importance of who you are vs what you look like? Do you see the underlying question that I believe is asked of all of us? It’s the question that allows for life change…or not. It’s the question leading you to stand up as who God created you to be…or not. We have given you the practical steps to bring God into your heart, and into your family, and into your church community but you need to realize that you do have something to do in this process. If you think about it, what we ask of you isn’t all that challenging is it? I mean, we ask you to spend time with God. We ask you to rest, and connect to God. We ask you to lead your family to God and we ask you to join in a mission of building God’s church. We didn’t ask you to “risk it all” the way Jesus and his disciples did right?
I think some of us will hear this message and embrace it, and when we do we will find joy and passion and that life to the full that Jesus spoke of which is awesome. But for others, they may turn around and walk away disappointed that we don’t have the cure all for you. We aren’t going to wave a hand over you to heal you fully as Naaman assumed Elisha would. Some will leave with the assumption that if I don’t have a daily walk with God after going to church 52 times a year, then the church didn’t do something right or that Sam and Ken should just go back to the drawing board…or maybe even that this church thing is broken. Which is a very common mistake with people…we forget about the other 300 and some odd days of the year, or Many people will blame others for their lack of growth, their lack of life change and their lack of joy. Many assume it’s the churches job to feed us. I mean I have enough going on in my life, I certainly don’t need Sam and Ken adding to the list of things for me to do. Well let me just loving say this to you…we can’t be your relationship with God, but we can give you the tools to engage Him. We can’t put God into your daily life for you, but we can give you the tools that can help you. We can’t even change your attitude on serving, all we can do is point the way to healing. Last week I just kept thinking Ken was giving you so much to engage, to grab hold of and for so many it puts us so close, but in the end we have a decision to make just like we see all through scripture. For Naaman it was a simple as washing seven times in a river. For us to live with God in our lives it’s as simple as engaging God. It’s as simple as putting Him first. It’s as simple as being able and open to answering this question…What are you willing to do?
Listen, we can’t be your relationship with God but we can encourage you to spend time with Him. We can’t love your spouse and your children for you, but we can encourage you to put your focus there. We want you to have God in your life but in the end just as Jesus taught, just as Elisha showed Naaman…there will be something for you to do in the process. So how will you respond? Just like Naaman needed some loyal servants to help him understand how simple this task can be…I want you to hear this in your heart today. Think about what you are being asked to do? You aren’t being asked to climb a mountain, or to die for your faith. You are being asked to spend time with God and to take responsibility for your heart condition…and with that comes true life change. I know this can be a freeing message for some which is awesome. For those of you leaving feeling the weight of having something to do in this process, I leave you with the loving words of Naaman’s servants…
13 Naaman’s servants went to him and said, “My father, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you, ‘Wash and be cleansed’!”
Do you want that life to the full that Jesus told you that you can have? I can’t give it to you. Ken can’t give it to you…but we know the One who does. And we know that it is easily yours when we can take the steps towards God and embrace our responsibility in the process. We love you too much not to ask the same question that I see and hear all through scripture. I know it can mean we draw a line in the sand here today, but ask yourself, what are we really asking you to do. So today we end with this thought…you experiencing a true life in Christ will depend on your answer to the question…What are you willing to do?