Today, how do we take God’s grace into this harsh world?

We are in I a series called ‘Redeemed and Forgiven.’  In this series, we have spent over a month talking about God’s grace.  Why?  Because we believe that it is hard to fully grasp and be fully transformed by God’s grace.  Before we move on, let’s stop and think about that for a second.  I just said, it’s hard to fully grasp and to be fully transformed by God’s grace.

What is my proof?  How many Christians do you know who have experienced God’s grace and they now walk through life with unapologetic and ferocious courage?  How many Christians do you know who have experienced God’s grace and now walk through life and know to the core of who they are that they are forgiven and loved by God?  How many Christians do you know who have experienced God’s grace and overcome hurts and wounds and now live with freedom and joy?  And to add to that, they are now people who actively give life to those around them.

Please hear me.  Grace IS the foundation to a whole new life.  Grace IS God’s power that transforms us.

In this series we are moving into the more practical part of what it means to be a disciple of Christ.  How do we engage life?  How do we take God’s grace and live in this evil world?

We engage life by first understanding that God owns our lives.  Paul wrote the church in Corinth and said this.

19 Haven’t you yet learned that your body is the home of the Holy Spirit God gave you, and that he lives within you? Your own body does not belong to you. 20 For God has bought you with a great price.  So use every part of your body to give glory back to God because he owns it. NLT 1 Corinthians 6:19-20

God purchased your freedom at a great price.  That means we engage everyday knowing, my life isn’t mine, it’s God’s.  When you accept God’s grace, it means you give your life back to God.

Last week, Sam talked about our desperate need to be connected to Christ.  Remember what Sam said?  We can feel completely overwhelmed by life.  Crushed by the pressures and the weight that comes with life.  We can feel broken and hurt by the pains of walking through life with people, which is so messy and so challenging.  We can feel so empty at times that we find ourselves wondering if we can get through it all.  What do we do?  Sam said, chances are, we already know what to do.  We are supposed to be connected to God.

He then shared the story of Elijah.  He is tired, hungry, depressed and wanted to die.  What does God say to Elijah?

“What are you doing here, Elijah?” NIV 1 Kings 19:9

Sam was asking that question to us.  “What are you doing here?”

How do we engage this harsh world?  Principle 1.  Our life isn’t ours, it’s God’s.  Principle 2.  We must be connected to Christ or we will find ourselves all over the map with our emotions like Elijah.

Today I want to continue to build on those principles.  Specifically, how do we grow up spiritually?  What does that even look like?  To understand spiritual growth, you need to know it’s about the condition of your heart.  And the condition of your heart shows up in how much you trust God and how much you love people.  Trust and love are the markers of spiritual growth or spiritual maturity.

We know this because scripture says this.

1 If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. 3 If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing. NLT 1 Corinthians 13:1-3

Do you see what Paul was saying?  You can publicly appear to be amazing, to have it all together, have amazing spiritual is  why Jesus always defined greatness as serving others.  All this means that the point of the Christian faith isn’t achievement, knowledge, power, what you accomplish, the activity you create, it’s love.

To better understand spiritual growth, I want to share with you a Jesus story.  It’s a very popular story called the Prodigal son.  It’s about two sons.  One son demands his inheritance early, gets the money and blows it all.  He is financially broken and emotionally broken and decides to come home.  The older son stayed at home to work the farm with his dad.  He did everything a good son was supposed to do.  Let’s pick up the story when the lost son comes home and meets his dad.

21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’

28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’

31 “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’” NIV Luke 15:21-32

Did you notice how the brother who stayed home responded to the celebration?  How does someone end up like that?  Why can’t he have empathy for his brother?  His brother is financially and emotionally broken and came home to say, “I’m sorry, I blew it.”

Actually, forget empathy, the older brother became angry.  So angry that he refused to celebrate with the family.  He is jealous.  He feels ripped off because he did all the right things and now his brother gets the party.  He measures his life to his brother’s life and becomes prideful.  He looks at his life and says, I’m the good son, I deserve to be celebrated.  He looks at his brother’s life and says, he’s the bad son, why is he being celebrated?

There is something else that I want you to see, it is really interesting.  He looks over his life of doing all the right things and resents it.  He tells his dad how he views his life.  He said, ‘I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders.’  Wow.  It doesn’t sound like he has been enjoying his life does it?  He is one of those people where doing the right thing just bugged him.

How does someone become so twisted up and hard hearted?  He is angry, jealous, prideful and resentful and get this, he’s supposed to be the good one.  He obeyed.  He worked hard.  He did all the right things.  And yet, his heart was a mess.

This is a story about us.  If we don’t manage our heart condition, we can become like the older brother.  We can go to church, obey the rules, do all the right things for years and years and when someone needs empathy, when someone is celebrated, weird things come out of us.  Anger.  Jealously.  Pride.  Maybe we look over our years of serving and resent it.  And get this, because we have been Christians  around church for five years, we can conclude, ‘We are the good ones.’  What in the world happened to us?

When Jesus was telling this story, He explains how the older brother’s heart became a mess.  Over the years, the brother failed to enjoy his relationship with his father.  He lived everyday around his dad.  He worked everyday with his dad.  But this son viewed life as a list of things to do, accomplishments to achieve and bills to pay.  His idea of maturity was obedience and getting things done.  And for years this son lived out what he thought was the right thing to do.

But he never made the time to prioritize his relationship with his dad.  He understood that maturity is obedience but missed what really mattered.  More importantly, maturity is about the heart.  It’s being in a relationship.  Trust in God and love for others.  Because he didn’t understand relationship, his heart went bad.  He replaced relationship with getting things done.  If he would have cared for his heart, he would have been thrilled for his brother.  He would have had empathy for his brother.  He would have been able to celebrate in that moment.

My point today is, don’t be that guy.  Don’t be like the older brother.  He failed to care for his heart so his heart became filled with anger, jealousy, pride or resentment.  And all the while, he viewed himself as the good one.  I must also point out something crucial.  The condition of his heart determined how he saw life.  When he viewed himself, he concluded, ‘I am good.’  When he looked at his brother he concluded, ‘I am better.’  When he viewed his life of obedience he said, ‘I’ve been like a slave.’ When he looked at his dad he said, ‘He’s not fair.’

Please hear me.  This is a picture of Christians who don’t understand spiritual maturity.  Remember I said, to understand spiritual growth, it’s about the condition of your heart.  And the condition of your heart shows up in how you trust God and how you love people.  The older son did all the right things but never took care of his heart.  And it showed up in how you viewed his himself, his life, his dad and how he treated his brother.

Just a quick heart check.  Let’s allow this story to impact us.

What do you do when you think you should be celebrated but others around you are celebrated?  How do you respond to that?  Do you have empathy for the hearts of others or jealousy?

How do you view yourself?  Do you think, ‘I’m not the ordinary church person, I’m kind of a big deal’? When you read scripture or hear a message, do you think about how someone else needs to hear that?  Is it easy for you to compare yourself with others and conclude, ‘People should really be more like me’?

How do you view your life as a disciple of Christ?  Do you kinda resent it and wonder how doing good gets you anywhere?  Has it been a struggle for you?  Have you served for years and do you kinda resent it?  Are you enjoying your relationship with God?  Is it easy for you to give your life back to God everyday?  Are you relaxed in your relationship with God?

How do you view God?  Is He fair?  Do you think God owes you something?  Do you think God is holding out on you but at the same time God seems to be blessing others?

Okay, so how do we grow up spiritually?  How do we avoid being that guy?  Remember I said, to understand spiritual growth, it’s about the condition of your heart.  And the condition of your heart shows up in how much you trust God and how much you love people?  Here is what we must do.  Make decisions in your life that shape your heart.  What does that mean?  That means we purposely do things that increase our trust in God and increase our love for others.  It is something we do on purpose because these things don’t automatically happen.

We spend time with God to be fully transformed by His grace and walk with unapologetic and ferocious courage.  We obey Christ to learn how to trust in God and walk in spiritual freedom.  If I don’t spend time with God and build that relationship, God’s grace doesn’t shape my heart.  I won’t have courage based on God.

We give to break our love affair with money and declare our trust in God.  What happens when I don’t give?  My heart isn’t shaped by generosity.  I always struggle to trust God.  I will put my trust in money, more money and more money.

We serve to learn compassion and humility and to see things from other’s point of view.  What happens if I don’t serve?  My heart isn’t shaped by kindness.  I always struggle to have empathy for others.

We celebrate others to break the grip of jealously than can grow in our hearts.  What happens if I don’t celebrate others?  My heart isn’t shaped by encouraging others.  I always struggle with feelings that others are getting ahead and I am falling behind.

We forgive those who hurt us to break the grip of anger in our hearts.  What happens if I don’t forgive?  My heart isn’t shaped with freedom and joy.  I always struggle with a hardness in my life when I deal with others.

These decisions forever shape our hearts.  Think of the angry, jealous, prideful and resentful older brother.  He was getting things done.  He was doing the right things.  He was accomplishing goals but he wasn’t doing anything to purposely shape his heart.  How do we know?  When his brother was celebrated, he had no empathy.

This week on Facebook, we will be putting out scriptures that deal with loving God, giving, serving, celebrating and forgiving.

Think about this for a second.  What are people naturally attracted to?  In general, we are not attracted to do the things that shape are hearts.  We tend to be more attracted to things that feed our egos.

I want a title to make myself look good.  Having a title isn’t wrong, but it’s about why you want a title.

I want to get things done and accomplish things because that means others will respect me.  If I am busy, people will think I am important.  Accomplishment is awesome, it’s not wrong, but it’s why we are so driven that we need to understand.

I have so much to do; I don’t have time to be with God.  That is a sign that we want to do life on our own.  People say things like, ‘I’m not good at that’ or ‘I should work on that.’  That’s Christian code for, I am comfortable doing life on my own strength.

I want to be praised so I can feel better about myself.  Being praised for doing well is great.  It’s not wrong.  But, do I do what I do to make others better or to get praise from others?

I want knowledge because then I will look good to others.  Knowledge is a huge help.  We should get more knowledge for sure.  However, if that knowledge isn’t transformed into loving and serving, we have missed the point of knowledge.

These are not things that shape our hearts, they shape our egos.

Make decisions that shape your heart because the condition of your heart shows up in how much you trust God and how much you love people.  Whatever you do, do not become that guy.  The angry, jealous, prideful and resentful brother.  Practically, how do we do that?  We live on purpose.  Love God.  Give.  Serve.  Celebrate.  Forgive.

How do we take grace and engage this harsh world?  We give our lives back to God.  We stay connected to God.  We make purposeful decisions to shape our hearts, not our egos.

Let’s close with what Jesus told his disciples.  The highest level of maturity in the Christian faith, Jesus taught, is serving.

Jesus got them together to settle things down. He said, “You’ve observed how godless rulers throw their weight around, how quickly a little power goes to their heads. It’s not going to be that way with you. Whoever wants to be great must become a servant. Whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave. That is what the Son of Man has done: He came to serve, not be served – and then to give away his life in exchange for the many who are held hostage.”  MSG Matthew 20:25-28

So, I conclude with this.  How is your heart condition?  Do you feel like the older brother or do you feel like the younger brother?  Are you doing things that shape your heart or feed your ego?