Welcome back everyone to the big fall discussion we are in talking about what it could look like for us to live out a life that is Redeemed and Forgiven.  I think by now you can understand just how important this conversation really is, and just how relevant it is to the lives we are living today.  I mean can we just say it, life is so hard.  The world seems to push against us more and more every day.  It seems like people are harder and harder to deal with all the time.  Then add all the other pressures and stress that life brings, and it doesn’t take long to get to a place where our lives feel more frustrating and overwhelmed than they would feel redeemed and forgiven.  It’s amazing, we walk through life and everything in this world seems to push against us.  Let me ask you, you get celebrated a lot by your workmates or your teammates when you are successful?  I hope you do, but more often than not those around us are resentful of our success…they aren’t exactly celebrating you, are they?  When you go to family gatherings do you walk away feeling more energy and life than when you went to those things?  I hope you do, but more often than not we leave those moments hurt and feeling like less and that is when we are around are loved ones and those, we are closest too!  Everything in life seems to push against us whether it’s work, health issues, stress, sin…and that would be hard enough, but we add people to the mix, and everyone seems to be pushing against us as well.  That’s a lot of pushing against us!  Life is so difficult, and I don’t know about you but at times it’s hard to see relationships, people, and life the way that God does.  But I want you to know something today, you can…and really if we are going to be totally honest with each other today, you know how…so the question then becomes if you will do it or not.  It’s amazing because I know before I even introduce these practical and clear steps to you today, that you can give me a million reasons why you can never do it, and the shame of it is because of that life will only get harder, and we just won’t be able to relate or respond to life and the people in it the way we could if we saw it as God sees it…but I’m getting ahead of myself.

So this Redeemed and Forgiven series is a building process, and I have told you it has three parts to it.  Do you remember that?  We worked our way through five weeks in the first part of the series which was all about transformation which was a lot of fun and allowed us to really dive into the foundational parts of our faith, then last week Ken introduced us to the second part of this series which is going to allow us to talk about the thing that most Christian’s struggle with when it comes to their faith…and that is living it out!  This is what makes our faith real, but it is often a struggle and Ken has really been hitting that hard with us, have you picked up on that?  He has been telling us why that is!

Do you remember how he keeps bringing up those two parts of our faith?  The first part is all about God and what He did and what He is inviting us into.  We call it God’s grace.  Really that is where this series has been hanging out so far, but the second part I think is where the obstacle is for us to truly live out this “New Life in Christ” and it’s all about our will.  So this second part is all about after we accept God’s grace and takes us to this place where we submit our will to God.  Yes, there is a battle waging over our souls, yes we will continue to struggle through all that life throws at us from sin, to pain, to adversity, and messy relationships…but in the end, it really comes down to whether or not we can submit our will to God’s will…or not.  I think at times we may not even realize how much we are pushing against God’s will in our lives…but we are.

I really enjoyed Ken’s message last week, and loved his analogy of with the car, and the deal that God makes for all of us.  If you haven’t read or watched his message you really need to go back and check that one out…at the end of his talk he said “to be a disciple of Christ, we give our lives back to God.  We don’t own our lives, God does.  That means I live every day fully surrendered to God.  I turn to God to protect me and provide for me.  I turn to God to lead me.  I turn to God to be my source of life and joy.  And in my best and worst moments, I will turn to God.  My old life is dead.  My new life is Jesus.  So, it all comes down to this, who owns you?  And the follow up question, who are you living for?”  Which is just awesome, and really leads us towards the discussion today, because once again we press in on this idea of living a life surrendered to God which is going to be important because I’m not introducing anything new to you today.  In fact, everything we talk about today you probably already know.  You have heard these principles before and you would absolutely agree with me that they are the right things to do…but the reality is, it’s very rare to see Christian’s actually doing the things they know they should be doing…today we are going to talk about how to see life and people the way God does.  So let’s roll up our sleeves and get into this today!

Have you ever felt just completely overwhelmed in life?  Have you ever felt like life just keeps piling on you in a way that just seems unfair?  I mean work isn’t going well.  Friendships don’t seem to be going well.  You are struggling with family and relationships there.  The car breaks down, and you look at your list of things to do and it just grows and grows and grows.  I don’t know about you, but I have been there.  We get to these spots in life where we just want to call a timeout and ask God if he can stop the world and let us get off for a while don’t we?  Life is so hard.  People are so challenging to deal with, I mean we said it earlier there are not a ton of people celebrating you for standing up and leading these day are they?  We walk in so many hurts.  We have more and more to do and it’s tough to really see a way through all that life throws at us.  And by the way I haven’t even mentioned on top of all those things that we walk through in a normal year, 2020 has added Global Pandemics and months of a Nationwide shutdown and all that has brought on us economically and socially.  We add people we love so focused on the politics in an election year that friendships and God fall by the wayside.  All of the intensity of what this year has thrown at us, in a lot of ways reminds me so much of what was going on in 1 Kings 18 and 19 with Elijah the prophet.  You have probably heard the story of Elijah’s great victory before, I know as a kid growing up it was one of my favorites, but I want you to see something else in this story, as I think through this year…I really want to focus on Elijah’s big breakdown afterward and reaction to God in a cave as he ran for his life.  My hope is that you see it too.  So to pick up this story we go to 1 Kings 18 and we see that times are really tough for the nation of Israel.

1 Kings 18:1-6 After a long time, in the third year, the word of the Lord came to Elijah: “Go and present yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain on the land.” 2 So Elijah went to present himself to Ahab. Now the famine was severe in Samaria, 3 and Ahab had summoned Obadiah, who was in charge of his palace. (Obadiah was a devout believer in the Lord. 4 While Jezebel was killing off the Lord’s prophets, Obadiah had taken a hundred prophets and hidden them in two caves, fifty in each, and had supplied them with food and water.) 5 Ahab had said to Obadiah, “Go through the land to all the springs and valleys. Maybe we can find some grass to keep the horses and mules alive so we will not have to kill any of our animals.” NIV

So this sets the scene.  There has been a long and severe famine in the land.  Everyone is just in survival mode.  On top of that Ahab’s queen is killing off the Lord’s prophets.  Which brings us to this moment where Elijah presents himself to Ahab.  Now you need to know that Ahab can’t stand Elijah because Elijah stands for God, and it’s in this moment that Elijah proposes a dual to prove who the true God is, which is set up on Mount Carmel in front of the entire nation of Israel.  It’s just an amazing moment where God moves in an undeniable way!  So here’s the dual, Elijah gets a bull, and the prophets of Baal get a bull, and they both pray to their God (or god) and whoever’s God lights the bull on fire will be known as the one true God…and it goes how you think it would go.

1 Kings 18:25 Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “Choose one of the bulls and prepare it first, since there are so many of you. Call on the name of your god, but do not light the fire.” 26 So they took the bull given them and prepared it.  Then they called on the name of Baal from morning till noon. “O Baal, answer us!” they shouted. But there was no response; no one answered. And they danced around the altar they had made. 27 At noon Elijah began to taunt them. “Shout louder!” he said. “Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened.” 28 So they shouted louder and slashed themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom, until their blood flowed. 29 Midday passed, and they continued their frantic prophesying until the time for the evening sacrifice. But there was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention.  Then Elijah said to all the people, “Come here to me.” They came to him, and he repaired the altar of the Lord, which was in ruins. 31 Elijah took twelve stones, one for each of the tribes descended from Jacob, to whom the word of the Lord had come, saying, “Your name shall be Israel.” 32 With the stones he built an altar in the name of the Lord, and he dug a trench around it large enough to hold two seahs of seed. 33 He arranged the wood, cut the bull into pieces and laid it on the wood. Then he said to them, “Fill four large jars with water and pour it on the offering and on the wood.” 34 “Do it again,” he said, and they did it again.”Do it a third time,” he ordered, and they did it the third time. 35 The water ran down around the altar and even filled the trench. 36 At the time of sacrifice, the prophet Elijah stepped forward and prayed: “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. 37 Answer me, O Lord, answer me, so these people will know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.” 38 Then the fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench. 39 When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, “The Lord-he is God! The Lord-he is God!”  NIV

This is an incredible moment isn’t it?  A huge victory for God and imagine the emotions and energy that Elijah has expended in all of this.  He like the rest of the country has been walking through a horrific stretch of time for their nation.  He is starving.  He thinks he is the last of the prophets of God, so he also feels alone.  He is confronting a King who clearly hates him, knowing the King’s wife wants him dead…and stands for God in front of the entire nation of Israel.  It doesn’t end there.  He tells Ahab it’s about to rain, and it does and with the power of God in him, Elijah runs in front of the Kings chariot all the way to town!  You think he may have been a little tired when all this calmed down a bit?  Well, when Jezebel finds out what happens, she sends word to Elijah that she will kill him…and what does this amazing Prophet who God has moved through in amazing ways do after this great victory?  He runs for his life and wants to die.  Check out how Chapter 19 begins…

1 Kings 19:1 Now Ahab told Jezebel everything Elijah had done and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. 2 So Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah to say, “May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them.” 3 Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, 4 while he himself went a day’s journey into the desert. He came to a broom tree, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” 5 Then he lay down under the tree and fell asleep.  All at once an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.” 6 He looked around, and there by his head was a cake of bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again. 7 The angel of the Lord came back a second time and touched him and said, “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.” 8 So he got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God. 9 There he went into a cave and spent the night.  NIV

So I know it was a lot of scripture to get us here, but this is the moment I wanted to get to here in the cave.  Elijah is done.  He is exhausted and overwhelmed.  He is hurting and afraid.  He has been in three years of surviving a famine and a Queen trying to kill him, he has done so much good, and won a mighty victory for the Lord but has nothing left in the tank and what do we see, the Lord nourishing him back to health and then he asks him a question that we must see and I think it’s a question and point in life that we all get to and need to ask of each other.  So, after a good night of sleep what does the Lord ask him?

1 Kings 19:9 And the word of the Lord came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?” NIV

This is an amazing question isn’t it?  I have so many thoughts on this!  I mean God knows what He is doing there already doesn’t he?  But I want you to see how Elijah responds…

1 Kings 19:10 He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.” NIV

It’s an interesting, Elijah never answers the question.  He just tells God how busy he has been and how much he has done, and how terrible his life is!  This is an amazing story…but really this is our story too.  How many times do we get overwhelmed and so busy that we can’t see straight, and we need to re-center our lives and focus on the Lord…and the Lord so loving comes to us and asks us something similar.  “Hey Sam, what are you doing here?”  Maybe we sit with a friend in the worst moments where we can’t see the good in people, and life is just crashing in on us in every way and our friend who loves us asks us.  “Why aren’t you resting in God’s arms?  How did you get here?”  See, I think we do this too…we hear the question and we don’t respond with “yeah; you are right, I need to spend time with the Lord.  I need to rest and engage Him and His love.”  No, we respond like Elijah did here…with the list of craziness that we have been walking through and every reason why our lives are so busy that we could never do what we know we should.  Let’s keep going here…because then God shows Elijah and all of us something pretty special…as He shows himself to Elijah.

1 Kings 19:11 The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 13 When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.  Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” NIV

I want you to see this, Elijah responds to God’s question with how crazy and intense life is…and then the Lord shows himself to Elijah but not in any of the big, crazy, intense things…like a wind tearing the mountains apart and shattering the rocks around him, or an earthquake shaking the Earth all around him, or a raging fire that rips through around him…it was the gentle whisper.  I get chills just picturing this, all that calamity and chaos, and it’s the gentle whisper that invited Elijah to God’s presence and the question is asked again.  “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

This is an amazing moment, and I think it’s just so important for us to see.  We focus so much on the major victory Elijah wins that we lose sight of how difficult his life really was, or how intense that had to all feel for him and he is so overwhelmed, and so beat down…and he can tell God every reason why he is a mess…and you know what?  I think we do this too.

We find ourselves in these moments, don’t we?  Completely overwhelmed by life.  Crushed by the pressures and the weight that comes with life in this world today.  Broken and hurt by the pains of walking through life with people, which is so messy and so challenging.  We feel so empty at times that we too find ourselves in a cave just wondering if we can get through it all and I believe God asks us all that question in those low moments.  “What are you doing here?”  What’s interesting is just like Elijah our instincts are to write out everything we are doing, how much is going on in our lives, and every reason why we are in that spot.  Along with every reason why we can’t slow ourselves down and experience God…and I wonder if God isn’t trying to get our attention in all of it…because everyone of you know what the answer is to that overwhelming life that you are living.  Everyone of us knows that the answer is to engage God and His love on a daily basis and to carve out time and space to rest, and be in his presence…but most of us are just never going to do that…so when God asks “What are you doing here?  How did you get to this spot?”  How do you respond?

Lately a lot of people have been asking me about ministry and what it has meant to me or how it is going, and I have a pretty general response to that.  I love being in ministry, but in a lot of ways it has been 6 going on 7 years of God squeezing things out of me and a lot of it is through dealing with people…I can feel so hurt when people don’t respond well to God’s word and love.  I would get so hurt by people who I would ask to do one thing, then have to watch them do the complete opposite around the church and watch them resent the church and me as they did something I never asked them to do in the first place.  Those things hurt and confused me.  In the 19 years of church planting with Ken, I have watched people I was very close to leave our church and never to talk to me again and I struggled a lot with those moments behind the scenes…and questioned whether I should even keep going at all.  Those moments led me to the cave many times where God would ask me “Sam, what are you doing here?”  And just like Elijah I could explain how hard I was working for God and how alone I felt…but I never really answered the question.  The answer every time was because my focus had left God and I was making things about about me…how I felt, how it effected how others viewed me…every time I would find myself in that painful, overwhelmed stated deep down it was making things about me that were all about God and the only way I could look at people who weren’t responding well to me, or hurting me along the way in any of those difficult moments that comes with life with people…was to stay centered on God.  The response was about me because I was losing my focus on Him and I think deep down I knew it.  But the fleshier or the whinier parts of me, tended to make it about me.  In my hurts I didn’t want to slow down and rest and engage God more…I would get angry and just want to wallow in my own issues for a while…so the truthful answer for me to God’s question of “What are you doing here Sam?” would be I’m just doing what I want rather than what you want right now Lord.  I want the easy way out…it’s my flesh speaking, not God in me because let’s face it…I know what I should be doing, but in the pain, the hurt, and exhaustion…I just want to do things my way for a while…how about you?

I love how in the story Elijah talked about how terrible his life is when God asked him the question.  Then God goes big on him, right?  Huge winds, shattering rocks, earthquakes, and fire blazing through the mountainside…almost reminding Elijah of who is bigger right?  Then the invitation comes in a gentle whisper.  I love that and I hope that you could really relate to that story, which somehow I have made into the longest introduction in the history…and frankly it’s on purpose…it was a big set up to take you to this point.

Do you want to view life, and others as God views them?  I know that life is hard.  I know that life pushes against us in so many ways.  I know how messy and painful relationships can be, but can I tell you something…there is a way to move through all that life brings in a way that allows you to respond with love, and grace, and peace, and joy and it starts and ends with your relationship with God.  It’s how you respond to God’s gentle whisper in your life.  And here’s what is funny and what I told you when the talk started, you already know that don’t you?  You know that by spending time with God every day, and walking in a true relationship with God you will live differently…the bigger question then becomes why aren’t you doing it?  You know it’s the right thing to do.  You probably agree that spending real time with God each day could lead you to peace, and joy in the middle of all the chaos and hurts of life on this planet, but you also have a million reasons why you aren’t engaging your Heavenly Father on a daily basis.  Do you see it?

We respond just like Elijah in the cave to God’s loving question that he already knows the answer to.  “Hey, my son or daughter, what are you doing here?”  What do we do?  We list out all we are doing.  We explain how awful we have been treated by someone in the organization or team or home.  We list out a million reason why we are in the cave without answering the question.  The answer is because in the emptiness and the exhaustion, and just the clutter and distractions of life…we simply do what we want to do rather than submitting to God’s will and experiencing all that could be in that life with Him.

So it was funny because my goal today was to get you to see things the way God sees them.  This is so hard to do in the world we live in.  I don’t know about you but in the tougher moments with people when I feel hurt, it’s hard for me to see those people the way God sees them.  When I am tired, and busy, and overwhelmed in life it’s hard for me to respond to life and people in a Godly way and I started to realize that I was going to once again talk to you about walking in a relationship with God, and once again talking to you about rest and relationship and what it could lead to…once again honing in on Jesus’ words and how He so clearly over teaches the importance of walking with God, words you have heard before for sure!  Like here…

Matthew 6:33 Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. NLT

Matthew 11:28 “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. 29 Walk with me and work with me — watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. 30 Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” MSG

These words are so powerful, and so true…but they can’t just be words on a page…these have to be lessons that lead to action in our lives.  It’s one thing to know what to do, it’s a whole other thing to actually live it out.  It’s amazing how many Christian’s Ken and I talk to who want to sit down with us when they are in a terrible spot in life…typically completely overwhelmed, hurting because of all the challenges that come with life with people and as we walk with them in the hurts it becomes very clear, that they are not spending time with God on a daily basis.  This happens over and over again.  Life is hard.  People are rough.  Life with those that love us is difficult enough, let alone all these other relationships with people that simply aren’t celebrating our health, and success along the way!  There is only one way through all that life is going to throw at you.  You must walk in a personal relationship with God, and rest in Him and His enormous love for us.  But you know what, you already know that.  So the bigger question has to be, why aren’t you doing it?

Listen, life is hard.  I know at times I walk through a lot of hurts and pain in ministry, around my relationships and family situations as well.  Add all the calamity that has come with 2020 and I think things can feel or look as bleak as they did to Elijah in 1 Kings 18 and 19.  But we need to understand something, we aren’t alone in this.  We have Jesus living in us and because of that, as we walk daily in God’s love we can view things as God does.  Life will keep pushing in on you, and the reality is you need God with you to navigate all that comes with it…so to close this down I have a few questions for you today.

Do you spend time with God on a daily basis?  Do you read scripture, pray, and reflect on God’s love every day?  Life is so hard.  People can be so tough.  When you spend time with God each day it allows you to view all the adversity of life very differently than you will if you are just focused on yourself.

Do you carve out time and space to rest?  So, if the answer to this question is to tell me how busy you are and how impossible this would be, that would mean your answer is no to one of God’s commands.  God loves you and designed you in such a way that rest is a really important part of your life.  When you are overwhelmed and exhausted you can’t see a way to do this…so take a moment right now.  Do you rest?  If the answer is no, you need to find some time and fix that.

How do you respond to people who hurt you?  I have to tell you there really is two ways to respond to people who hurt you.  One is the way we humans want to respond, which is to hurt them back, or let them know why they are wrong…or to just wallow in our hurts and self-pity.  The other is to view them as God does, as hurting imperfect people who make mistakes too.  A good way to know the health of your relationship with God is to look at how you view others…especially those that give you a hard time and hurt you.

How do you respond when things don’t go your way in life?  Much like how people respond to us, a good way to see the health of your relationship with God is to look at your response to life when things don’t go your way and the funny thing is you don’t control a whole lot of what is going on around you do you?  This is another great way to see how healthy your relationship with God really is.

And my last two questions for the day become this…If you are struggling.  If you are overwhelmed.  If you are so busy that you can’t see clearly in life and in relationships.  If everything feels too big, and too intense for you right now maybe it’s time to hear God’s gentle whisper and honestly answer this question.  “What are you doing here?”

When I asked you all of these other questions how did you respond?  Did you take a moment and breath and answer the questions or did you immediately explain away why none of this could happen for you, because of all you are doing in life and which explains why you don’t have the time or why you could never engage God the way you know you that you should.

I know life is hard.  Work is stressful.  2020 has thrown a lot at us, and on top of that, people are hard to deal with and we walk in so much hurt and so much pain.  This world will continue to push against us which is why walking through each day with God and carving out time and space to rest is so important…but you know what?  I think we already knew that.