Tuesday, September 22, 2015

A Searcher or A Loster (not a real word)

How many of you have ever lost your set of keys somewhere? How about a phone, or a wallet? I can’t stand it when I lose my keys. I put them down somewhere and when I go back to the place I thought I left them and they’re gone. It’s really annoying, but I have to find them or I’m pretty much stuck where I am. So what happens? We begin the search.  Sometimes, it feels like the more we look for whatever it is we lost, the more it seems that we’re never going to find it. You ever feel that way? But then you finally find them and the relief is fantastic. We are victorious!
Quick side not, the saying, “It’s always in the last place you look,” really gets to me. Because, of course it’s going to be in the last place you look, why would anyone keep looking for something they already found?
We deal with the loss of a lot of things throughout our lives, friends, jobs, homes, money, children and the most common, our sanity. Usually that ones because of children, but losing things is something we all deal with. In fact God himself deals with the loss of things as well. He created everything, but because of humanity’s rebellious actions, he has lost that very creation.
When describing this lost, Jesus gives three parables that deal with losing something and the response of the one who lost it. Would you open your Bibles with me to Luke 15.
As we open our Bibles here’s a little background on what’s going on. Jesus is sitting with people who are not the best and classist people around. In fact, they are people who are despised by the religious teachers of his day. So Jesus gives them three parables to, in a sense, explain to them why he does what he does. Why he sits where he sits and why he associates with “these” people.
If you’ve ever taken a look at these parables, they’re usually studied in depth separately. Today I want us to look at them as a whole and to compare them in that way. As we look through these parables we’re going to make a little chart of sorts. We’ll be looking at the Seeker, the Lost, the Action Taken, How Did the Lost Get There and What does the Seeker do when they Find the Lost.

Let’s read all three of these parables starting in verse 3 of Luke chapter 15. 
3 So he told them this parable: 4 “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? 5 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
Okay, so here we are at the end of our first parable, let’s go through our chart. First off who is the seeker? The shepherd. What’s lost? One of his sheep. Next what actions does he take? He leaves the 99 to find the 1. How did it get lost? Well, I’m guessing that it wandered off, because that’s what sheep do. Now do you think the sheep knows it’s lost? Probably not. Do you think the sheep ever realizes it’s lost? Maybe, but I’m guessing no. When the shepherd finally finds the sheep, what happens? He returns with the sheep and rejoices over it. 

Alright, that was easy enough right? Let’s move onto the next parable in verses 8-10.
8“Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ 10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
Alright, back to our chart. So who’s the seeker? A woman. What’s lost? One of her coins. What action does she take? She lights a lamp and searches her house. How did it get lost? Maybe it rolled of the table or fell out of a purse. Do you think the coin knows it’s lost? Probably not. Do you think the coin ever realizes it’s lost? No way. So, when the woman finally finds the coin, what happens? She calls all her friends and celebrates. Two down, one to go. 

Let’s read the last parable in verses 11-32
11 And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12 And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. 13 Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. 14 And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. 16 And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.
17 “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father's hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ 20 And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. 23 And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. 24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.
25 “Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. 27 And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ 28 But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, 29 but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ 31 And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’”
That’s the longest of the three and the most complex, but let’s finish off our chart. Who’s the seeker? The Father. This one’s tricky, what’s lost? If you said the younger son, you’re only half right. The older son is also lost, because even though he’s still at home, his heart is just as far away as his brother. What actions does the Father take? For the younger son, the Father waits and watches for his return. For the older son, the Father pleads for his heart to return. How did it get lost? The younger son let his desire for the world lead him away. The older brother let his pride lead him away. Do you think the sons know they’re lost? Probably not. Do you think they ever realize they’re lost? The younger son realizes it, but the story ends before the older son does. So, what is the outcome of these two lost sons? The younger one returns and is celebrated, while the older son remains in a state of lostness.

As we look back over these three parables, it’s obvious that Jesus was directing them to the religious teachers that were upset with him that he would eat with people they considered not worth it. The first two parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin, were pretty standard teachings that everyone could agree to. If you lose something, you go after it, and when you find it, it needs to be celebrated.
But it’s the third parable that Jesus gets some divisive teachings in. For the Jews, a son, like the younger son, would be an outcast of his family forever. While the older son would be the one that got the praise. Yet Jesus turns that belief on its head and reveals that when the younger brother returns he’s the one that is celebrated, while the older one is left outside.
Now there’s a lot more to these three parables then what we’ve covered, but the thing that stands out to me the most is that at the end of the first two parables Jesus makes a statement. When a sinner returns to God there’s a lot of rejoicing in heaven. But at the end of the third parable, Jesus doesn’t say that. It’s just left open; as if to leave the people with the impact of the older sons decision, rather than focusing on the younger son.
As I look at these three parables, it seems to me that each of these lost things represents a different kind of lost person. The sheep represents the wanderer, that person who has heard about God, but goes and does their own thing. The coin represents that person that has no idea that they’re lost, and is need of someone to search frantically for them. The two sons to me represent those of us who are Christians and who are a part of God’s family. Some of us let the world’s desires take us away from God and we need to wake up to our lostness. While there are some of us that are like the older son, who are lost because of our own pride and who cannot accept what our Father is doing.
We all get lost sometimes, but as I read these three parables this week two questions popped up in my mind. If you’re not a Christian, that is a true follower of Jesus, that means you’re lost to God. So what is stopping you from allowing God to find you? Is it your desire to have life on your own terms? Or maybe you don’t understand that you are lost. You need to ask questions and start getting answers, but the first thing you need to do is turn to God and accept his searching.
But if you are a follower of God I have a question for you, there are at least 5 billion people in this world who are not Christians and who are lost. What is stopping you from getting involved with God’s search for them? Have you been actively talking to people about him, have you’ve been actively giving to send missionaries and supporting those that are going all over the world? If you are, great, if you’re not what’s stopping you?

My finally question for you today is, who are you? A sheep who has wandered a way from their Shepherd? A coin that doesn’t know it’s lost in the darkness? A son that has left his home, or a son who has taken his heart away? Or are you a searcher who is actively looking for the lost? God’s the searcher, and if we are not searching with him, then we’re most likely being sought because we are lost.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The Cost of Non-Discipleship

        How many of us have ever bought something big like a new car, a house, or gone on a vacation? What did you do before you made the decision? I’ve heard people say that when making a big purchase, try making a pro’s and con’s list. That way if the pro’s out weigh the con’s then you know that your decision is a good one. Marika and mine’s biggest financial decision so far, has been to sell two cars we owned out right, so that we could purchase a new, more spacious one. It took a while to decide what car we were going to go with; I wanted a four door truck and she wanted a mini van. After we listed all the things we both wanted and didn’t want in a vehicle we decided to go with a compromise of small SUV, which, two years later led us to a mini van. But that’s beside the point; anyway, back to my story.
Looking at the pro’s and con’s of a decision, especially a decision that could change our lives forever, is really a great thing. In fact even Jesus tells us to make a pro’s and con’s list when deciding if we are going to follow him.
This happens in the book of Matthew chapter 16 starting in verse 21. Here’s a little background information on what’s going on so far in the text. Jesus just asked the disciples the question we all must answer, who do we think Jesus is? Peter, being the most outspoken of the group, tells Jesus that he believes him to be the long awaited Messiah. Which is exactly what Jesus was waiting to here from his followers; finally they got it and they understood who he was and his purpose.
But Jesus knows he has to clarify what the Messiah means to Peter and what Jesus’ purpose is and that’s where we pick up the story. Let’s read together. 

21 From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22 And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” 23 But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. 28 Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

There’s a lot that we could focus on in this text, but I want to focus on something that a lot of us have probably heard in church before. I want to focus on verse 24, where Jesus says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” I want us to take a brief minute and focus on the cost of following Jesus. We might have heard this before, in order to follow Jesus we need to understand the cost to follow him, in other words, we need to make a pro’s and con’s list. In the passage Jesus tells us that we need to lose our life so we can gain it; he tells us that we need to take up our hardships (i.e., our cross) and follow him. Jesus tells us that we need to deny ourselves, and give up this world to gain everlasting life. Now we could spend a whole lot of time on this, and if you’ve attended a church worship time, you might have heard many sermons on knowing the cost of following Jesus and what that means, but have you ever thought of the inverse? Have you ever thought what is the cost of not following Jesus?
Now before we move on we need to clarify some terms, because I think in our society we throw around words that eventually become meaningless; terms like Christian and disciple.
Let’s first take the word Christian, the word means Christ-like, but did you know that Jesus never intended for his followers to be called Christians? Nowhere in Scripture do we see Jesus calling his disciples Christians, in fact it’s only mentioned three times in all of the Bible. Two of which are found in the book of Acts, in the context of a term used by non-believers to put down believers. Now I’m not saying the term Christian is bad or shouldn’t be used, but it has lost it’s meaning in our society and in someways in the Church. About 75% of people in the United States call themselves Christian, yet the direction our country is going and the people that we elect into power shows that there is a disconnect between with what people think the word Christian means and what it actually is.
So if the term Christian is becoming meaningless what term should we use? Well how about we use the term that Jesus used? In Matthew 28:19, Jesus uses the word disciple when describing his followers, but even that word might not mean much to us. So let’s go back to more of an original understanding of how Jesus described his followers. The word we translate as disciple, is the Greek word ma-th-et-es. Ma-th-et-es is derived from the word man-tha-no which means to learn by use and practice, to be in the habit of.
Jesus describes his followers as people that would not only learn his teachings but would use and practice and get in the habit of doing the things he taught them.
This idea of being a disciple takes on a whole knew meaning of needing to have Jesus’ words not just something we do when it’s convenient, but habits that we are working on daily. Studies show that in order to gain a good habit we have to work at it for at least 30 days in a row.
We need to be ma-th-et-es disciples, followers to have a habit to be like their God.
This brings us back to where we started, what is the cost of not being a ma-th-et-es disciple of Jesus.
Jesus and later on the Apostle Paul tells us a few things that we gain by being ma-th-et-es disciples. But let’s look at them in reverse, we won’t gain the abiding peace that Jesus prays for in John 14. We can’t love others like God does (John 3:14-17). We can’t have faith and trust in God for our needs (Matthew 6). We can’t have the power to do the right things (2nd Corinthians 813:7). And finally we will never be able to experience the overflowing life that Jesus tells us he brings (John 10:10).
But how then do we become more than Christians? How do we become ma-th-et-es disciples?
By becoming disciplined disciples, and that means to move beyond just filling are heads with the knowledge of the Bible and really begin to live it. This can be done by incorporating the disciplines of Scripture into our lives.
We might be asking what are the disciplines of Scripture? Have you ever prayed or read your Bible? Then you already have a basic introduction to what the disciplines of Scripture are. But there are far more than just prayer and reading. We are going to look at four disciplines that are used time and time again in Scripture that have helped countless followers of Jesus move from being a Christian to a ma-th-et-es disciple. We’ll move through these pretty quick.
The first discipline of Scripture is prayer. I know what you’re thinking, we already know this one, but what I’ve found is that a lot of us have an idea of prayer that is not exactly consistent with Scripture. In fact the way that Jesus talked with Father, prompted the disciples to ask how they should pray. And in Jesus’ answer we get a different approach to prayer.
The Lord’s prayer in Matthew 6:9-13 can be dissected into 5 parts: Worship, Our Needs, Forgiveness, Strength, Worship. Jesus gives a prayer that involves worship of God at the beginning, a quick request of the needs we have, but not our wants. Then a focus on forgiveness for both ourselves and the people around us; next focusing on the strength we need for life and finally if we read from the King James we’ll see Jesus ends with more worship. If our prayers were structured like this, our focus would be less on ourselves and more on God and the people he died for. How would our lives change if we actually put into practice praying the way God showed us how to pray?
The second discipline of Scripture is study and meditation. These are actually two separate disciplines, but for the sake of time and energy we’ll put them together to show the difference between the two so we can understand better what we do when reading our Bibles. The Bible uses two words when talking about reading the God’s Word. The words are meditate and study. Most of us know what study is, it’s reading the Bible for the facts, figures and straight content of what’s there. But meditation is a little harder for us to understand, because we usually carry the idea of eastern meditation where a person is sitting on the ground crossed legged saying “Om”. But biblical meditation is very different than eastern meditation. Eastern meditation focuses on getting ride of the bad stuff, but biblical meditation focuses on filling our minds and lives so full with the  Word of God that it over flows in our life.That means when we sit down and study the Bible, we sit there a little longer and meditate on it, asking God, what does this mean for my life right here, right now? How can I use what I read today to bring me in a closer walk with God?
The third discipline of Scripture is fasting. Now this is one that we don’t really do, some of us in here might not have ever even attempted it; which is interesting because when talking about fasting Jesus said in Matthew 6:16, “When you fast...” It seems like Jesus was taking for granted that his disciples would fast, so why give it as command? Instead Jesus’ teaching on fasting focused more on the do’s and don’ts of fasting rather than on the command to fast. But what if we don’t know what fasting is? Well, there’s a simple answer: it’s making a conscious decision not to eat a meal and instead put in time for God. So in other words, not eating lunch but instead praying, or meditating on God’s Word. Now I’ve been asked by teenagers can I fast homework? And of course the answer is no, because fasting is confined to food, everything else is abstaining. So why’s fasting so important? Because we need food, it’s the fuel for our bodies. But by making a decision to focus on God and not food, we are disciplining ourselves to focus our lives more on him. Which means were focusing on him more than even the physical needs in our lives. Which will eventually move into other places of our lives, like money and possessions. When Satan brought the temptation of food to the fasting Jesus in Matthew 4:4, Jesus tells him that it’s not food that sustains life, but the Word of God. If Jesus is our example and we are his disciple then we need to get into the same mindset of Christ, and begin to fast. One meal every once in while is a step in the right direction.
That brings us to the final discipline of Scripture that we’ll talk about today which is worship. Let’s start off by saying music is not worship, it’s a form of worship. Paul calls worship a living sacrifice. It’s taking our dreams, our wants, our actions, family, friends, even our needs and telling God it’s all his. Worship through music is just one way we express giving ourselves over to God’s rule. Which is the goal of worship, God needs to be King of our lives so that we can live the life he created us to live. So worship is, giving God our time in service to both the Church and the community. Worship is giving up what we want to do for God’s wants. It’s giving up our money to be used for God’s plans, that’s one of the reason we say that as we worship with our offerings we will keep worshiping in song, because it’s all worship. And you know I’ve heard people say, “I’m not going to give my money because of this or that.” And if God is leading you not to give money that’s fine, but if he isn’t, we are in rebellion against God and our worship is tainted by that rebellion. In addition, worship needs some singing to go along with it. You know I didn’t sing during the music for the longest time because I wasn’t comfortable, but then I realized one day, my comfort has nothing to do with worshiping God. Worshiping God is all about God. My comfort is not his desire; God’s desire is for me to be a ma-th-et-es disciple and there’s got to be a lot of uncomfortable times for me to get there.
You know we can think we’re a Christian just like 75% of people in the US, but that doesn’t make us a disciple of Jesus. When we just think that we are Christians and we’re good to go, we will miss the life God has called us to and the cost of not being his disciple will far out weigh the cost to be one. When we hold onto our lives, Jesus says we are going to lose them. We need to release our lives into his hands and start living for him. That means we’ll have to be more disciplined in our lives by practicing those disciplines he has given to us in his Word. And it means that we will have to get away from being comfortable and start being uncomfortable for him.

We’ve talked about four disciplines that will help us be ma-th-et-es disciples, my challenge to you is that you put them into practice. That you work on making them habits in your life. That might mean you need to start and end your prayers worshiping God. That might mean meditating on his Word. You might need to skip a meal and pray instead. Or it might mean you need to open your mouth and sing a song or two. But if we really want to be truthful in our relationship with God and if we have the courage to give God control of our lives, then we must move beyond being a mere Christian and start being a ma-th-et-es disciple.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Making God Our Master

If we had the chance to take complete control of our lives right now, how many of us would do it? We could have all the power in the universe at our command what would we do, maybe something like this?
In the Disney animated movie Aladdin, the antagonist Jafar wishes that the Genie would given him ultimate power. To become the most powerful being in the universe. He comes face to face with what it would mean to have unlimited power at his control.

In Mathew 6: 24 Jesus talks about serving two Masters and the reality that we can only serve one master. The story of Aladdin goes something like this: A ruthless advisor to the king wants to overthrow the monarchy. His plan is to use a magical lamp with a Genie that can grant three wishes. But in order to get the lamp he needs a special person, this person is Aladdin. But of course the advisor double crosses Aladdin and in return lose the lamp. Yet Aladdin figures out the secrets of the lamp and meets the Genie. The Genie helps Aladdin meet the princess, but soon after the advisor realizes what happens and steals back the lamp.
This story proves Jesus’ point that we can’t serve two masters. Aladdin and The Adviser couldn’t both command the Genie at the same time. The Genie could only listen and obey the orders of one master.
Would you turn with me to Matthew 6 and let’s take a look at in more depth, what it means to serve only one master. 
As you’re turning in your Bibles, let’s understand where we find ourselves in the Book of Matthew. The Book of Matthew was primarily written with a Jewish audience in mind. In the first four chapters we see Jesus preparation for his earthly ministry. Matthew, the writer, draws a parallel between Jesus and another famous religious leader, Moses. Moses is the leader God chose to lead his people out of salavery in Egypt into the land of Canaan, where God would be active in their society. Part of this activity is the social and religious structure that God sets up. All this is embodied by the ten commandments. In chapters five through seven of Matthew, the writer gives us Jesus’ teachings on the ten commandments, but Jesus takes them from merely an outward compliance, to an inward heart change.
About half way through this teaching Jesus begins to compare and contrast. It’s here that we pick up our text in verse 19 of chapter 6.
19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, 23 but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!
24 “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”
Jesus compares and contrasts three separate things here in our text. First, Jesus brings up treasures. He compares storing treasures on earth like: cars, money, houses, and other things. And storing treasures in heaven, which are our God centered acts. The treasures on earth can be destroyed, but storing treasure in heaven can’t be destroyed. Second, Jesus talks about the eye. There’s bad things that can go in, pornography, jealously, and there are good things, God’s word, uplifting books. And then finally there is the two masters. In the context Jesus is talking about God and Money. But the implications of the teachings go beyond that. Jesus is telling us a universal truth: Our loyalties can only lie with one Master.
Growing up my parents used to pay for private pitching lessons, because I loved to play baseball. From eight years old until right before I went off to college I went to these lessons every week. For most of my life coaches would respect those lessons and let me do what I was trained to do, that is, until I got into high school. My coach in high school, wanted me to pitch his way. Did he have any training in the area, no. Did it matter that I had more strikeouts, with less playing time than other pitchers, no. All that mattered was that he wanted me to do things his way. So guess what I did? I pitched the way I was taught for all those years and got into a lot of conflicts.
We can’t obey two masters, especially when they’re in conflict. I mean think about it, what does a master require? Absolute compliance from their servants. Now if a servant is obeying two masters, what happens to that absolute compliance? It’s just not there.
Now you might be thinking, I’ve heard this all before I need to be a servant that does what God wants. Actually I’m not saying that. Think about this, if you serve someone, does that make them the master of you? No. Did Jesus serve us, because we are his master? No. Servanthood is not the same as allowing someone to be a master over you.
Servants can serve anyone, to have a master means that we not only serve them, but they dictate our lives. That’s why our master can be things like our jobs, our money, our houses, our relationships. If we let them, those things can control our lives.
In the movie Avengers, there’s a part where the main antagonist, Loki, makes a speech. He comes down in the middle of a group of humans and says, “Is not this simpler? Is this not your natural state? It's the unspoken truth of humanity, that you crave subjugation. The bright lure of freedom diminishes your life's joy in a mad scramble for power, for identity. You were made to be ruled. In the end, you will always kneel.”

The reality in this scene from the avengers is true, we are made to kneel. In our world today, we’re told to have no master, yet Jesus says we should, but it needs to be the right master. By our very creation we long to have a master. But to live out our lives the way we were created our master has to be God. That means we allow him to dictate our lives, we let him control our actions. 
It is in a right relationship with God as master, that we begin to understand the world around us. We begin to realize our full potential because God already knows it and wants to bring it to the forefront of our lives.
In Revelation 19:16 it says of Jesus, “On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.”
What’s really interesting about this title that is given to Jesus, is that it isn’t saying that there are no other lords in the world. It’s not saying that there are no other kings. Instead it is saying that Jesus is the King of all kings and that he is the Lord or all lords. In turn, Jesus is the Master of all masters, we need to allow Jesus to take his rightful place in our lives, by giving up this idea that we are in control. That we are the master, because we’re not, the things that command our greatest attention have already become our master. We will kneel to something, it can be to the perishable things of this world or the everlasting God.

One will bring us pain and suffering, the other joy and everlasting life. What will you choose?

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Good for Good, Always

Have you ever gotten discouraged about something? I think we all have. Work can get discouraging sometimes. We turn on the TV or read about another war. We hear about another school shooting or how taxes are going up. We hear about the economy not doing so well, and we think to ourselves is this really a wonderful world like Louie Armstrong sung about? I got to say some of the most discouraging stuff that I encounter is working for others. It’s discouraging to love people and serve them and then have them return your good with hate. It gets really discouraging.
The average youth pastor stays at his job for only about 18 months. When Marika and I first came to Quartzsite in 2007 we hit the ground running. And we had a wonderful time. Our attendance from the start on an average Friday was about 30 teens. We had, at that time, a great Thursday night worship time. The youth ministry was electrifying and then came our 18 month mark. Within a couple weeks, we went from 30 on average to literally 2. No one was coming to our Thursday nights, so we moved them to Saturday for a little bit, but that didn’t work as well. Marika and I had spent so much time investing into teens and doing good work, and all of a sudden we hit a wall and we felt really discouraged. 
It was at that point that we realized why so many youth pastors leave their jobs at the 18 month mark, because we wanted to leave too. Not only was there hardly any teens coming, but there were a couple of adults that felt like it was their responsibility to add to the discouragement. We were done, we felt like God dropped us off. We were so lost in our discouragement at the time we couldn’t figure out what was wrong with us; we thought that it was our style of ministry. We have a whole folder about how we do ministry and the reasons and purposes behind it. One of those reasons is that we are not people pleasers. We do ministry the way we feel God leading and we don’t change that because someone wants it differently. 
In conversations with God there was a point where I began thinking that maybe we should change that. It was the lowest point that we’ve ever been in ministry. 
It got to the point where I started thinking, “Why should I continue to work for the teens of Quartzsite when there is no response from them?”
Then as I read and prayed God brought me to the book of Galatians chapter 6 verse 9, where it says, “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” I got to tell you I didn’t want to keep doing good and I wanted to give up. Because it is very difficult to do good, when that good isn’t repaid with good. When good is repaid with indifference or bad it becomes so easy to give up. I don’t know if you’ve ever felt that, but for most of us I know we have a tendency to stop doing good to the people around us, especially when that good is repaid with bad. 
This week God brought this verse back to my mind to share with you today, right now I’m not discouraged, I don’t want to give up. My ministry is doing better this summer than in    almost all previous summers combined. Right now I am seeing the good that God promised in that verse, all based on God telling me to keep going on  and not give up.
I think apart of it is because I realized back in that time of discouragement the fact that God never stopped working for good in my life, even when I would repaid his good with bad. In fact I think one of the reasons I like to pick on Peter in the Bible is because I’m so much like him. Peter was one of these guys that seemed to always repay Jesus’ good with bad.
Today we’re going to look at one of the greatest examples in Peter’s life where even in Peter’s bad, Jesus continued to give good to him. Turn with me if you will to John chapter 21 and we’ll start in verse 15.
As you are flipping in your Bibles to John 21:15, let me give you the background on how we’ve come to this place in Peter’s life.
Peter is one of these guys that doesn’t really know what to say, so he says whatever’s going through his mind at the time. When Jesus tells him at this last dinner that he was going to die, Peter didn’t believe him. When Jesus told his twelve disciples that one of them was going to betray him, Peter told him that it wasn’t going to be him. To this Jesus stopped everything and told Peter that not only would he deny knowing Jesus, but that he would do it three times.
That night, Jesus was betrayed by Judas, and as Jesus was taken from mid-night court to mid-night court Peter proceeded to deny that he knew Jesus, not once, not twice, but three times. Jesus had spent the last three years showing Peter the life that God had for him. Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law, walked on water with him, showed him his transfigured form and showed the world what it meant to have God as your friend. Yet, in a sense, Peter denied those three years, with his three denials. Peter returned all the good that Jesus had done in his life, with three statements of rejection.
After he realized what he had done, Peter ran and hid as Jesus was crucified. Even after Jesus raised back from the dead, Peter was still in denial. Even when Peter saw Jesus alive he still shrunk away from him and returned to his previous life of fishing. The same life that Jesus had brought him out of so he could serve God.
And it’s here that we find ourselves today. Let’s Read. 
15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.
Peter did what Jesus said he was going to do, he denied knowing Jesus three times. Jesus could have easily turned his back on Peter, because Peter had turned his back on Jesus. But that’s not how God works. God does not return evil for evil, he returns evil with good. He does good even when everyone around him has given him bad. While on the cross Jesus didn’t return the evil that was happening to him with evil, instead he said, “Forgive them Father for they don’t know what they are doing.” Jesus gives forgiveness back to those that would give him evil. 
To Peter Jesus was doing the same thing. Peter returned Jesus’ good with three denials. Jesus in turn asked Peter three times if he loved him. And with every response of Peter saying, “Yes I love you.” Jesus restored him back to a place where he could work for God’s kingdom. Peter’s evil action was repaid by Jesus with compassion, grace and forgiveness. Jesus repaid Peter with good.
Galatians 6:9 again says, “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” In context this is what Paul, the writer of Galatians, is saying verse 7 through 10, “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. 8 For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. 9 And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. 10 So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.”
It is easy for us to repay evil with evil. Our sinful human nature wants nothing better that to destroy those around us, especially those in the body of Christ. If I repaid the evil I faced five and half years ago with evil I know that God would not have blessed his ministry at this church. But even now we stand at a cross roads of what to do in our lives; it is easy to point to others and say, “Look what they have done” so that we can justify our own bad behavior, but the reality is we are to do good, no matter what anyone else does. We need to continue to forgive and give grace to the people around us. 
There’s the old saying, “Once bitten twice shy.” People say this so that they can’t be hurt again by giving good to people. But with God that’s not the way we do things. We continue to do good not once, not twice but as many times as necessary to show the greatness of God. Jesus was once asked in Matthew 18:21 by Peter, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?”  Jesus replied with how we should respond to people’s evil to us. “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.” That idea of 77 times was to show a number of innumerable size. Kind of like how we say a millions times or a trillions times. 
So when we feel like someone has given to us evil how are we to respond? With good, not once, not twice, but every time until the Lord returns. That means we need to do good to everyone around us and as Paul says even more so to those who are in the Church. This week I would challenge you to pick one person that you don’t want to do good towards, single them out and do as much good as you can for them; all the while praying that they would be blessed by God.

It’s hard, and it goes against everything inside of us that doesn’t want to, but Jesus showed us, not only with Peter, but in our own lives how much good we need to give, in order to show that God is real and we are truly his followers. Again Galatians 6:9 says, “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.”