April 1, 2018

Giving Up Death

On Easter I love celebrating the great truth that Jesus gave up death and invites us to do the same. I want us to celebrate the promise of life Jesus brought with Him from the grave. This Easter morning I want us to be amazed just like the disciples were when Jesus burst forth from a tomb that could no longer hold Him.

As we celebrate I invite you to think with me. Have you ever overheard a strange conversation where you came away saying, “What was that about?” I expect every one of us has at one time or another. If we had been present that first Good Friday we would have heard a couple of strange conversations. The first was when Jesus spoke to those who crucified Him and said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Luke 23:34. The second was with the thief who asked Jesus to remember Him. To him Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Luke 23:43. Without the resurrection these conversations make no sense. But after Easter morning everything makes sense because Jesus gave up death. So let’s enter into the story so that we might experience what those who followed Jesus did at the empty tomb. My hope is that all of us will experience the truth that because Jesus gave up death we can do the same.

1. With Jesus’ help we give up death when we allow His grace and mercy to transform us.

We don’t have to look very far to see the transformational impact Jesus’ resurrection and giving up death had on the disciples. Thomas said, “My lord and my God!” John 20:28. Peter was restored and became the leader of the church. When they encountered their risen Savior and Lord everything changed. Those broken, denying, cowardly, abandoning disciples become world changers. In the end all of them were willing to die in the service of their Lord. They willingly took to heart the words Jesus had shared with them earlier, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” Luke 9:23.

This Easter Sunday each of us must answer this question, “Have you seen the risen Savior?” Until we can say this with no uncertainty we will never experience transformation. Transformation comes when we personally look into the empty tomb and know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jesus lives. This fact transforms our brokenness and sinfulness. We cry out as Paul did, “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Corinthians 15:54-57.

When we look into the tomb we experience grace and mercy. It’s only when encounter the risen Lord Jesus personally that we will know what Peter and Thomas knew. Only when we touch the risen Savior will we know what the women and disciples in the upper room knew and experienced. What they knew and experienced transformed them so that they too could give up death for life. John would describe what he had personally experienced this way, “That…which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life…” 1 John 1:1-2.

2. With Jesus’ help we give up death when we embrace the life and freedom He promises.

As I mentioned at the beginning one of the strangest pre-Easter conversations occurred between Jesus and the repentant thief. Remember how the conversation went? Luke records, “One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Luke 23:39-43. There suspended between heaven and hell a battle for the souls of these two men raged. One accepted the gift of life Jesus offered.

Peter describes what happened during the encounter. He tells us, “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” 1 Peter 2:23-25. In the simplest terms Peter tells us that Jesus bore the sins not only of the thief but the entire world. He paid the price for everyone.

What we need to understand is Jesus didn’t give up death so that we could enter into some far off sweet by and by one day. Jesus gave up death so that we would experience life, freedom and transformation today. He tells us (and I believe Him), “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” John 8:36. The gifts of peace, life, the Holy Spirit’s power and presence are available now if we are willing to give up death.

3. With Jesus’ help we give up death when we declare to a dying world that He is alive.

It is unfortunate that in our current cultural context all too many Christians believe that their faith in Christ Jesus is a personal and private experience. As a result it is something they don’t talk about or share with others. When I hear this I have to question whether they have really looked into the empty tomb. When those early followers of Jesus met the risen Christ Jesus everything changed. They became witnesses to the miracle of the resurrection and there was no way that they could be silent about what they had seen and experienced.

What we need to remember is Jesus told His disciples: “You are the salt of the earth...You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”Matthew 5:13-16. This doesn’t sound like we are to hide our faith in Jesus Christ.

If you struggle with sharing your faith let me encourage you. No amount of guilt or shaming will turn you into an evangelist. What I would suggest is you listen to what Jesus said to His disciples in the moments prior to His ascension. He said to them, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”Acts 1:8. The key is the infilling of the Holy Spirit. When the Holy Spirit fills us we receive as Paul said, “the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.” 2 Corinthians 5:18-19. When we accept this calling we give up death.

Conclusion

When Jesus rose, he gave up death and turned the entire order of the universe on its head. Paul said, “For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For he “has put everything under his feet.” 1 Corinthians 15:25-27. The Resurrection shows us that death does not have the last word. God has the last word, and that word is Life. This Easter Sunday I extend this invitation to you to embrace life in Jesus Christ by giving up death.

Opportunities for Growth:

  • Read Matthew John 20:1-18 and ask God to help you to experience what those who first witnessed the resurrection of Jesus Christ did.
  • Have you given up death so that you might experience the transforming grace and mercy of God? If not ask God to open your eyes and heart to Jesus’ gift of life.
  • If you are honest with yourself are you experiencing the life and freedom Jesus promised? If not ask the Holy Spirit to transform your life.
  • Have you bought into the cultural lie that our faith is entirely private and we don’t need to share it with others? If so reread Matthew 5:13-16 and 2 Corinthians 5:18-19. Consider what this means for your life and faith. Remember we will never share our love for Christ Jesus until we have been to the empty tomb and personally experienced Easter.
  • Have you given up death?

 


March 25, 2018

Giving Up Popularity

As I thought about the Lenten themes we have shared up to this point it occurred to me that this one, “Giving Up Popularity” might seem to not apply to most of us. I mean how many of us have a following or a personal brand? The reality is most of us aren’t that popular. We can relate to what Paul said about the Corinthian church, “Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.” 1 Corinthians 1:26-29. We are the little people of the world for the most part!

At the same time within our small circle of friends don’t we want to be noticed? Don’t we want to be seen as important, significant and popular? There is within all of us a need to be seen as popular in certain circles. Unfortunately, in our society this need has become twisted and plays out in the way we live vicariously through entertainers and athletes. Longing to be popular we construct avatars and facades (especially on social media) that project larger than life image we want others to believe about us.

As we are nearing the end of the Lenten season it would be good for us to acknowledge that most of us have a longing to be popular. To help us “Give Up” we need to join Jesus on that first Palm Sunday morning when He entered Jerusalem. That moment was the pinnacle of His popularity. Let’s join the crowd that was singing His praises and see what we can learn from Him about “Giving Up” popularity.

1. Jesus gave up popularity because He understood its fleeting nature.

If you read through the Gospels it’s easy to see why Jesus would feel this way. I imagine as He listened to the crowd crying out, “Hosanna to the Son of David!”

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

“Hosanna in the highest heaven!” (Matthew 21:9) His mind would have gone back to other times; times when the crowd wanted to stone Him or throw Him off a cliff. He would have remembered encountering criticism and condemnation even after he had performed miracles.

Beyond this Jesus was facing the harsh reality that a cross was on the horizon. In Luke 9:51 we read, “As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.” When He set out on this path His mind and heart were focused on our deliverance. He also knew what was coming. How difficult and excruciating it must have been for Him to listen to the praises of the crowd knowing full well that in a few days the same voices would be crying, “Crucify Him!” or denying Him.

What about us? Are we the popular ones at work, school or even church? Most of us aren’t or weren’t. Being popular, as Jesus well knew, is indeed fleeting and it is wise for us to give it up before it takes hold of our soul. It is wise to never forget Paul’s counsel, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” Philippians 2:3-4. Before we get all self righteous and criticize those who are popular remember we usually are critical of them because we weren’t included in the in crowd.

2. Jesus gave up popularity because His identity was rooted in His relationship with God.

The need to be popular, to be seen as significant and important is most often rooted in our hunger for approval and validation. Honestly, it comes from the hole in our soul that we try to fill in all the wrong ways. It is fed by our fear of being seen for who we really are and not accepted. We fear not measuring up, not being found worthy. These feelings come from the deep brokenness of our world that stretches all the way back to the Garden of Eden. Sin has placed a curse on the land that affects how we see ourselves and others.

Jesus, God incarnate, wasn’t tainted by the curse. In fact the curse is what drew Him to us. The curse and its affect on us brought Him to tears. The compassion He felt for us is evident in Luke 19:41-24 where we read, “As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes.” Because Jesus’ love for God and love for us was so all pervasive He didn’t long for the popularity of the crowd. He longed to see us become the people God created us to be; sons and daughters of God.

To give up our hunger for popularity we need to seek God with all of our hearts. In seeking God we discover that our identity is secure in Him and Him alone. We don’t need an avatar or façade to make us appear more or be more than we really are. We remember Matthew 1:23 tells us, “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).” And because He is with us we can give up the need to be popular. When we allow the Holy Spirit to work in us we discover our true identity. We will discover we are accepted and loved on a deeper level than anything the desire for human popularity can provide.

3. Jesus gave up popularity because He knew His calling.

The reason Jesus set His face toward Jerusalem was He knew why He came from heaven to earth. To understand this we simply need to return to the synagogue in Nazareth on the Sabbath Jesus preached His first sermon. There He read these words from the prophet Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Luke 4:18-19. Throughout His ministry He never forgot His calling. The day He rode into Jerusalem on the donkey He was closing in on the fulfillment of His calling.

The crowd wanted a king and that’s why they rejected Him. What He was prepared to give them (and us) was a Savior. It would have been hard to hear the cries of the crowd and not be tempted to give them what they wanted. Except for this; Jesus had already settled this issue in the wilderness. Remember the moment where “the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. ‘All this I will give you,’ he said, ‘if you will bow down and worship me.’” Matthew 4:8-9.

One of the hardest things to do is say no to those you love. Especially if you know what they want is detrimental to them. Even if it means the loss of relationship there is no choice. Jesus above all knew the price of popularity. The question we need to ask today is do we know our calling?

Conclusion

Popularity is like a cloud on a dry day. It soon dissipates. If we put our faith in it we will be very disappointed. Instead, God calls us to put our faith in God's unending love and grace- something that will never fail us, and will sustain us. Something popularity never does so it is best to give it up.

Opportunities for Growth:

  • Read Matthew 21:1-11 and imagine you are one of the crowd or the disciples. What would Jesus have felt?
  • Were you one of the popular kids, are you still? Have you experienced the fleeting nature of popularity? If so, what have you learned?
  • Is your self esteem and identity rooted in God or something or someone else? If so I encourage you to seek God.
  • Do you know the calling God has given you?

March 4, 2018

Giving Up Superiority

Today as we continue with our Lenten “Give Up!” series with “Giving Up Superiority.” Let me get started by saying the need to feel superior is deeply engrained in us. We spend a lot of time and energy unconsciously and consciously comparing and competing with others. The truth is our need to be superior is exhausting and counterproductive.

We live in a world deeply divided, polarized and full of hate. Our political and cultural climate pits us against one another. We who call ourselves followers of Christ can’t afford to live blindly unaware of our prejudices and cultural biases. To help us give up superiority we need to sit with Jesus at Jacob’s well as He visited with the Samaritan woman. Read John 4:5-42

1. “Giving Up Superiority” begins with being willing to leave our comfortable cultural context.

If we are honest, we are much more comfortable with persons who act, think and look like us. With the advent of social media we are seeing the rise of the echo chamber. In our small echo chamber we limit our news feeds and friends to those who share our viewpoint and preferences or may I more honestly say prejudices? The truth is this is so not like Jesus. He didn’t live in an echo chamber. Jesus, a Jewish man, traveled through Samaria, an unclean rejected land and stopped to speak with a woman; and not just any woman but a Samaritan and morally bankrupt one at that.

Not only did He go to this less than desirable place but He took His disciples along with Him. I am absolutely positive that Jesus took His band of disciples out of their Jewish comfort zone deliberately. Jesus did this because in a few years He would give His disciples these instructions:

  • “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” Matthew 28:19
  • “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”Acts 1:8

Jesus was preparing them for what was to come. They were to be color blind and unafraid of cultural contamination. They were to be citizens of a new kingdom.

I believe this is what Jesus intends to do with us as well. He wants us to be able to minister in His name to all people. How can we hope to do this when we are trapped and blinded by our cultural context? We can and will do this when Jesus fills us with His Spirit. What we must do is be willing to allow Him to transform us as Romans 12:2 says, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

2. “Giving Up Superiority” means being willing to see people through Jesus eyes.

In John 4:27 we read, “His disciples returned and were surprised to find Him talking with a woman. But no one asked, “What do you want?” or “Why are you talking with her?” In that small exchange between Jesus and his disciples we learn something important. At that point in their journey with Him they didn’t see what He saw. What they saw was a Samaritan and a woman; someone doubly rejected. Now before we get all smug and self satisfied we would have done exactly the same thing had we been there that day. Actually, we may be doing this right now. We all have people we find it a stretch to see as Jesus sees them.

The good news is the Holy Spirit takes away our ability to be self deceptive. When we pray, “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” Psalm 139:23-24. He really does! So when I we get to feeling all superior the Spirit brings us up short. This is one of the reasons I love what our mission says, “LOVING: We affirm each person as a beloved child of God, created in His image to be in relationship with Him and to receive His unconditional love. As we receive God's love for ourselves, we extend it to everyone else, knowing that in loving our neighbor we are loving God.”

Living this out means that we must adopt these passages not only intellectually but as our lifestyle. We must believe:

  • “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”Galatians 3:28
  • “We have the mind of Christ.” 1 Corinthians 2:16
  • “The Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality…” Deuteronomy 10:17

3. “Giving Up Superiority” means adopting Jesus’, selfless and self giving, attitude.

If Jesus had held a superior attitude He would have realized the woman was a mess and by being around her He was putting His reputation at risk. But Jesus had already given up superiority and as a result He brought grace and freedom to her. We must never forget God doesn't care about the artificial lines we draw to make ourselves feel superior.

Paul revealed the attitude present in Jesus’ heart and the attitude that needs to be in ours if we are to give up superiority. He wrote, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” Philippians 2:3-8. Jesus adopted this attitude when He agreed to take on human flesh and chose the way of the cross.

We have so much to learn from our Master if we are to give up our superiority, our cherished status symbols and prejudicial attitudes. Only when we give up superiority will we be able to see and embrace the Samaritan’s in our life as Jesus did. We too must choose the way of the cross for this to happen. As hard as this may seem it is the only way to experience life fully.

Conclusion

Giving up our superiority isn’t easy but Paul can help us. He wrote, “The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.” 1 Corinthians 2:12-14. To give up superiority we must choose the way of the Spirit. When we do our life will change and we might just meet some really neat people at the well.

Opportunities for Growth:

  • Read John 4:5-42 and as imagine what the woman must have felt. Then take the place of the disciples.
  • Honestly assess who you are most comfortable around and then who you are most uncomfortable around. Do you feel superior to those who are different than you?
  • Have you asked Jesus to help you see others as He does? Who individually or with what group of persons do you need to start with?
  • Read Philippians 2:3-8 again. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you to embrace Jesus’ attitude.

February 25, 2018

Giving Up Expectation

On this second Sunday of Lent the focus of our “Lent: Give Up!” series is “Giving Up Expectations.” Expectations are the destroyer of relationships; the bane of a pastor, or any leader’s life. And as Stephen Ministry training has so wisely noted “unrealistic expectations are premeditated resentments.” I encourage you to think about that for a while!

If we are honest most of us will admit that at some time or another we have held on to unrealistic expectations about God. As a result we end up being disappointed when God doesn’t meet our expectations in the way or time frame we set out for Him. In his book “Disappointment with God” Philip Yancey addressed three questions that are the focal point of our disappointment with God. They are:

  • Is God unfair?
  • Is God silent?
  • Is God hidden?

When God doesn’t meet our expectations we are tempted to either become bitter and angry with Him or to give up on Him. Neither choice is healthy.

To help us to give up our unrealistic expectations we need to listen in on a late night conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus. We can learn a great deal about a healthy relationship with God and giving up expectations from this conversation. So let’s open our minds and hearts as we listen in on this conversation. Read John 3:1-17.

1. Giving up expectations requires a willingness to engage in hard conversations.

This is exactly what Nicodemus was willing to do. To appreciate fully what was going on we need to understand who Nicodemus was and the risk he was taking. John 3:1 records, “Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council.” On the surface it would appear that Nicodemus had very little to gain from being seen with Jesus. As a matter of fact, it was very dangerous for Nicodemus’ reputation and status in the community. That’s why he met Jesus when it was dark. At the same time we get a clue as to his motivation when he said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.” John 3:2.

I admire Nicodemus; in spite of his coming at night at least he came. There was something about Jesus that drew him so that he was compelled to enter into what became a life changing conversation. In that hard conversation all the expectations he had for the Messiah were challenged and he was faced with having to give up the things that had been foundational to his beliefs and identity.

It wasn’t an easy conversation. At one point Jesus said, “You are Israel’s teacher, and do you not understand these things? Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things?” John 3:10-12. This was harsh and would have been terribly hard for Nicodemus to hear but he remained engaged. We can learn this from him; if we are to have a healthy, growing relationship with God we too must engage in hard conversations with Him. We need to take our expectations for Him into these conversations and wrestle until we are forced to give them up. In the hard conversations with God we learn that, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8-9. Still we can take heart because God has big shoulders and can handle our struggle and questioning.

2. Giving up our expectations requires a willingness to let our preconceived ideas and expectations be challenged.

When Nicodemus engaged Jesus in conversation his heart was prepared to hear and embrace the radical new teaching Jesus was about to share. Unlike so many of the other leaders who challenged and questioned Jesus Nicodemus came with an open, teachable spirit. He came open to giving up his expectations. In Nicodemus I see the one Jesus spoke of in the Beatitudes. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” Matthew 5:8. He knew Jesus possessed something neither he nor the other leaders of Israel had and he wanted it.

I believe Jesus saw deep into Nicodemus’ heart and recognized he was open to life and truth. So Jesus wasted no time getting right to the point. He said to him, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” “How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!” Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.” John 3:3-6. From childhood Nicodemus was taught salvation came through his biological lineage. He was a child of God by birth and Jesus challenged his core beliefs. This was the beginning of new life for Him.

Being willing to let our preconceived ideas and expectations be challenged by God is the difference between life and death. Sadly as I think about the church today too often we to trade the truth and life for a form of religion. Friends, Lent is a wonderful time to ask God to reveal what preconceived ideas and expectations we need to release so that we can experience life.

3. Giving up our expectations requires a willingness to allow the Spirit to lead us; not tradition and custom.

Jesus told Nicodemus, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit… ‘You must be born again.” John 3:5-7. These words would have cut Nicodemus to the core. I can’t imagine how challenging and confusing they would have been. His very life was built on tradition and custom; his every move was prescribed. Now Jesus was changing the rules of the game. Yet something in this young itinerant preacher was so compelling that he didn’t fight with Him; instead Nicodemus remained and listened.

Since Paul’s day we have struggled with trading human rules for the Spirit’s leading. This is why he wrote to the church warning them, “Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.” Colossians 2:20-23.

For us to experience life we must allow the Spirit to lead us not our tradition, custom or preconceived expectations. We must remember, “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” John 3:8. Friends, we need to listen for the wind. The direction it is blowing is the direction we need to be facing and following. We need to honestly engage in conversation as Nicodemus did and ask are we just going through the motion of religion or are we fully engaged with God.

Conclusion

Nicodemus struggled to grasp what Jesus was talking about because he was used to thinking in terms of external religious traditions and practices. What Jesus was offering him was meant to set him free but it required giving up his expectations. What Jesus has for us requires giving up our expectations about life and faith so that we can experience a freedom and life that is transformational.

Opportunities for Growth:

  • Read John 3:1-17 and imagine that you are Nicodemus. Listen to what Jesus says as if for the very first time.
  • Have you ever felt that God is unfair, silent or hidden? Has He ever disappointed you and shattered your expectations of Him? How did you come to peace with this; or have you?
  • Are you willing to engage in hard conversations with God? Are you willing to let Him be God? What do you need to talk with Him about today?
  • Have you allowed God to challenge your preconceived ideas and expectations about Him?
  • If you are honest how rooted in tradition or custom is your faith. Are you willing to trade these for a truly intimate relationship with God?

February 18, 2018

Giving Up Control

Between now and Easter we will be focusing on “Giving Up!” As we develop the theme I hope it will become obvious we need to consider giving up more than chocolate. While giving up things for Lent can be beneficial for us what I am proposing is that we take the idea of giving up one step further. We need to consider what things God wants us to give up, not just for forty days, but forever. This is why today we are considering our need to “Give Up Control!”

To help us give up control I invite you to take a journey that leads us from the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve to the wilderness with Jesus. On this journey we will learn about giving up control but more importantly we will experience a deepening intimate relationship with God.

1. To give up control we must acknowledge that we have impulse control issues.

Adam and Eve are poster children for those with impulse control issues. Placed in paradise with everything they could hope for they still weren’t satisfied. They had complete freedom except for one restriction. God had said, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” Genesis 2:16-17. So, what did they do? Genesis 3:6-7 says, “When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.” They have the entire garden to hang out in and where are they; in the one place they should have avoided.

We really can’t find fault with them? Many of us struggle with impulse control. How many times have you and I fallen to temptation, or an addiction, because we have played with fire. I can’t tell you how many times over the years I have been told I thought I could handle it. James said it so clearly, “but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” James 1:14-15.

Contrast this with what Jesus did when faced with temptation. Jesus responded by telling the devil:

  • “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Matthew 4:4
  • “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” Matthew 4:7
  • “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.” Matthew 4:10

We can learn from King David who was another poster child for impulse control. After his terrible sin he would write, “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.” Psalm 139:23. It is only by allowing God’s Spirit to search our heart that we will be able to give up control of the sinful and broken things that capture and possess us.

2. To give up control we must also acknowledge that we can be rebellious and self willed.

No matter how we cut it; at the heart of Adam and Eve’s tragic decision was rebellion and self will. Remember Eve told the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the

middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’” Genesis 3:2-3. Adam and Eve knew explicitly what was permitted and what wasn’t. Yet God’s instruction didn’t stop them from doing exactly what they wanted to do no matter the cost. If we are honest every one of us has been here at one time or another. The reality is, giving up control isn’t our natural default. Unless God’s Spirit is at work in us we will choose a rebellious and self willed course rather than obedience.

Jesus’ response was so different. In the wilderness under tremendous assault He turned to God for deliverance and “The devil left him, and angels came and attended Him.” Matthew 4:11. In Jesus there was no rebellion, no self will, only a submissive heart open to God. We see this in another garden the night Jesus was betrayed. When He was tempted He chose pain, suffering and obedience that led to our salvation. In the Garden of Gethsemane He said, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” Luke 22:42.

Giving up control depends largely on our view of God. If we see Him as controlling and intent on spoiling our fun and freedom; rebellion and self will bubble up in us. The result will be brokenness and bondage. If on the other hand we see God’s asking us to give up as a way to protect us and bless us with grace, freedom and life we will choose to obey Him. What we must understand is if we refuse to give up and choose rebellion and self will God will allow the law of natural consequences to go into effect. He doesn’t do so joyfully but sadly; hoping we return. When we give up control there is grace, mercy and forgiveness.

3. To give up control requires adopting Jesus’ attitude of dependence upon God.

Adam and Eve disobeyed God, thinking that they knew better than He did. They didn’t need God; they were wise enough on their own. In the end they bought the lie when Satan said, “You will not certainly die,”…“For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Genesis 3: 4-5. We shouldn’t be too harsh on Adam and Eve. I get there are times when we want to do our own thing so badly that we will justify anything. When we choose this course the consequences are disastrous.

We can learn so much from Jesus. When Jesus told the devil, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.” Matthew 4:10 He was making it clear to the devil that God controlled His life and He depended on Him for everything.

Giving up control and choosing to depend on God isn’t easy unless we experience an inner transformation. We are used to having control and don’t easily give up trying to call all the shots. But it’s only when we give up control and place our trust in God that we will ultimately ever know peace and joy. The wise person understands what Jesus meant when He said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:5. Paul understood this and wrote, “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:13. In giving up control by surrendering and depending on God we discover life.

Conclusion

So, let's give up more than chocolate this year. Let’s begin by giving up control, or better said, the myth of control by offering God full control of our life. If you have never done so this first Sunday of Lent is a good time to begin. If you have done so before but taken control back from God why not return it to Him today?

Opportunities for Growth:

  • Read Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7; Matthew 4:1-11 and consider Jesus’ response to temptation and as opposed to Adam and Eve’s. Ask yourself which course of action you most often choose when tempted.
  • When you examine your life do you struggle with impulse control? If so, are you willing give up control and ask God for the inner transformation you need?
  • At one time or another all of us have struggled with rebelliousness and self will. Assess where you are with these issues today. Are you willing to surrender to God?
  • Giving up control depends largely on our view of God. Do you trust God with your life or do you insist on keeping control yourself? The way to peace and life is in surrendering control.