Today is the last Sunday of a series that we began really in January. We’ve been talking about the power of God at work in our lives to actually change us. We’ve been talking about God changing us on the inside – in those areas that count the most. How do we change the parts of us that cannot be seen?
And we’ve been starting with the basics. And the basic truth of this series of talks has been that it IS possible to change. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. It is possible to change. You can become more of what you want to become – and less of what you don’t want to become. You can become more loving, patient, kind, and less selfish, angry, fill in the blank with whatever you struggle with…
But the other basic truth is that you can only change through the power of God. And that begins with placing your faith in Jesus. True transformation begins with faith in Christ. Because only after we place our trust in Jesus – the Bible says we become new creations, and the old things that governed our lives – they give way.
Our transformation is powered by God himself, in the person of the Holy Spirit, who comes and dwells inside of us, forming Christ himself in our hearts. We cannot truly be transformed without the Holy Spirit acting with us. Our role is to submit ourselves to the leading and direction of the Holy Spirit inside of us.
Now this might lead to two questions that you are asking. Perhaps there is someone in the room today and you aren’t even sure that God exists, let along that Jesus is the savior of the world worthy of trusting. And you might be asking, “Are you really saying that true transformation of a person cannot happen apart from faith in Jesus?
Maybe you know someone who is not religious in any way and they have had some extreme internal makeover – maybe they have been freed from drugs or just changed – what’s the explanation?
And I would say that it is true that some human beings, through sheer will power can produce a measure or a degree of change in their lives. And I think that is the grace of God itself, that has planted within us the hope of change. That we do not have to stay miserable for a lifetime.
However often that change falls under behavior modifications. We aren’t talking about behavior modification. If we were only talking about changing behavior I’d recommend a shock collar – those things are very effective at changing the behavior of animals – I bet they would work for us too.
And so yes there is behavior modification – and I would say that behavior modification does not require spiritual prowess. But this is important to understand – when we read the new testament – the only people who Jesus fought with were behavior modification specialists – they were called religious pharisees. And they had mastered correct behavior and yet their hearts were so very very far from God.
So we are not talking about behavior modification. It is not enough to ask what would Jesus do? And then act like him. We want to be transformed into the image of Christ – we want his thoughts to be our thoughts. We want Christ formed inside of us so that we think and act like Jesus without even thinking about it. It becomes natural for us to pray for those who wish harm upon us. I easily and naturally bless those who curse us. To love people and value them so highly that the thought of lusting after them simply would not enter our thoughtlife.
So – and this is important – when we talk about Jesus transforming us, it is more than behavior change. It is a true transformation of our heart (AKA our will, or Spirit), that transforms our Mind (Thoughts and feelings) and leads to a change in the way our body acts out, with it’s appetites and habits.
So the first question is – am I saying that only followers of Jesus can experience true inner transformation – and as arrogant as it sounds I am saying the answer is yes. You might be able to become a better person – but only the Holy Spirit can bring about a new creation within us.
You can become a better you without God. But the best you lies on the other side of faith.
The second objection I imagine I might here is this – if only followers of Jesus can experience true transformation, then why isn’t there more evidence of it?
Why are so many followers of Jesus so pedestrian – so slow to look like Jesus? And it’s a very valid argument. And boy does it sting! Because the truth is that there are many people who claim to be Christians and are unloving, unkind, impatient, angry, or whatever…
And the only answer I have is one we talked about a couple of weeks ago – and that is that many people cross the line of faith – and then do nothing. They get their sins forgiven by believing in the work of Jesus on the cross. So the answer – Why don’t we see more Christians who live and act like Jesus? The difficult answer is that many of us are not participating in any discernable way in the process of becoming like Jesus.
And transformation is a process – it’s labor – not lightning strike. Change happens over time, and it is a fight. It is effort. It is hard work.
And many mistakenly believe that since God wants to change me – all I have to do is wait – he’ll change me. I don’t gotta do anything. Salvation is a free gift. But transformation is a collective effort. It is a collaborative effort where we work alongside the Holy Spirit; who directs us and leads us, and convicts us, and cajoles us and encourages us and ultimately changes us into the image of Jesus.
Now I don’t say this often, but this is one of those series that have built one on top of another – and if you get a chance to review any of the messages you missed you can go to the website and download either the audio or the transcript of the sermon. And you can catch up.
Today, as last week, will be very practical. We are looking at tools to help us be changed. Spiritual tools that can help us in the shaping of our souls. These are time tested, biblical tools of inward spiritual formation. They have been used and useful for centuries in the church but of late, have often been ignored by modern people to the detriment of our souls.
Last week we talked about tools of abstinence. Stopping doing some things – in order to make room in our soul to input the new stuff. So we talked about Solitude. Going away someplace all by yourself – just you and the Father. Anyone try to get away this week? I hope it went well for you.
The second tool we talked about was Silence. If God only spoke to you in a whisper, would you ever hear him? And some of you hated me for suggesting that maybe if God wakes you up at 3am he wants to talk with you. He wants you to chill in some silence with him, right? Anyone do that? Yeah – the tired looking guy in the corner.
We also talked about Fasting. Fasting teaches us rather quickly about how much of a bully our appetites are. Many of us depend on eating to bring pleasure and happiness in our life. And fasting helps us re-orientate – reminds us that man does not ive on bread alone.
Lastly we talked about secrecy. Abstaining from the applause of people. I spoke with a friend this week who said that when he heard me mention that he realized that there are times when he waited until his wife came home before he did the dishes – just to make sure she saw him doing it. And I don’t think he’s alone. Right?
These are all tools that we might apply, if the Holy Spirit directs us – and they are tools that are good time tested and biblical tools to shape a soul into christlikeness.
Today we are looking at different tools. We are looking at tools of engagement. Things that we can do that can be helpful in the shaping of our souls.
Often times these tools of abstinence and engagement work together. It’s like breathing in and breathing out. They go together. Both are important.
Abstinence makes engagement more productive. If the places in our souls that are to be indwelt by God are occupied by food, sex, entertainment, noise – then we end up with a distracted soul. So full of junk food that it doesn’t desire true spiritual nourishment.
So in some way abstaining from the bad stuff, makes us appreciate the good stuff that comes later.
So today – three tools of engagement. And I will tell you that there are many more than these three – like the tools of abstinence – there are more. I’m choosing three that I find most interesting to propose for you, my dear friends. These are hand chosen just for you.
1. Discipline of Slowing.
This will overlap with the tools of solitude – if solitude is not doing anything, then this discipline is the active decision to slow my life down.
Author John Ortberg recalls a conversation he had with his mentor, Dallas Willard, where he asked a simple question. “What can I do to be spiritually healthy?” and Willard’s response was, “Ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.”
Okay, says Ortberg – That’s a good one. What else? There is nothing else. ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life. Slow your world.
Hurry is a great enemy of spiritual life. There was a story that Jesus told in Matthew 13 – he was talking about the Kingdom of God, and he says, listen, there as this farmer right, and he was planting seed in a field, but the farmer was like, chucking seed around all willy-nilly and the seed was going all over – and so predictably, the seed grew in some areas, but not everywhere.
So it grew when it landed on fertile soil, but some seed landed on thorny ground and it was choked out by the thorns and didn’t end up growing.
Later the disciples asked Jesus to explain it. Jesus explained that Matthew 13:22 The seed that fell among the thorns represents those who hear God’s word, but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the worries of this life and the lure of wealth, so no fruit is produced.
Hurry crowds out what God is trying to do in our lives. Following Jesus is not a sprint. It takes time and patience and it means that we follow Jesus. And Jesus walks at a slower pace than we Americans are used to.
We must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from our lives. This doesn’t mean we will not be busy. Of course there will be seasons when we are busy. One thing I have learned about this church – you all have a lot going on. No one here lacks for things to do. But listen – Jesus had much to do as well, but we never find him hurrying. He was busy but lived in such a way that it never severed the connection between himself and God.
How do I know if I am afflicted with hurries? That sounds like a malady doesn’t it? I got the hurries man! Here’s some questions. You are driving and you have two lanes of traffic both with one car – both stopped at a red light? Do you instantly guess which car is going to be the fastest when the light turns green and get behind that car? You got the hurries man.
When you get to the checkout line – you don’t just look for the shortest line – that’s child’s play to you – because on the way in you were checking out which checkout person appeared to be a scanner savant. You are like – that kid is awesome! You doing that? You got the hurries.
Maybe I chose this discipline because I got the hurries man. On the way off of the airplane a few weeks ago I got stuck behind this little old lady who was walking so slow off the plane through that jetway between the plane and the terminal. And she was doing the Tim Conway shuffle and kind of wobbling – and behind me there was this mob of people all trying to get off the plane we got a connection to catch man!
Well I had like five hour layover between flights and I was still like, You’re killing me grandma! I had the hurries. Why? I had no earthly reason – it’s just because my soul is like hurry up! At all times.
I know I’m not the only one. You moms – you get the hurries sometimes right? I’ll tell you the truth if I come upon a red light and in this lane is a lamborghini and this line is a mom with a bunch of kids seats – I’m getting behind the mini-van.
Mom’s – ever pull one of these? Hey kids, let’s play a game – let’s see who can get ready for bed the fastest! Let’s see who can take a bath fastest! No! No toys! Let’s go! Let’s rock and roll! Bedtime Bedtime Bedtime! Why? It’s because you want you some you time – I get it. After a long day you can see the finish line – which involves a bunch of kids in bed sleeping and you sipping a glass of wine while watching some netflix show, right? I understand. I understand you got the hurries!
Here’s the problem though, hurry kills love. Hurry kills love. Love takes time. Love doesn’t operate on a convenient time table. And that’s why we need to ruthlessly eliminate it from our lives.
Hurry drains us. So often at the end of the day, when we are coming home to the people we love the most and have dedicated our lives to loving, we have no more energy. We drive into the driveway and we are toast. We feel like sprinters that are collapsing across the finish line when we pull into the driveway. The pace of our life has robbed us of what ought to be the best part of our day. I’m home with the people I love the most.
So here’s the challenge if you feel the Holy Spirit talking to you about learning to slow your pace. Here’s an idea. Over the course of the next week, deliberately drive in the slow lane. Let people pass you and let them think what they want about you.
Anytime you are faced with a line – Purposely choose the longest line, the slowest checkout person. Practice shutting your hurry up. Find ways to intentionally slow.
Let’s keep moving. The second tool of spiritual formation that involves doing something should not surprise us at all. The second tool is Study
Study involves – above all – engagement with the Bible – the word of God. Of all the tools of engagement – reading and understanding the bible is the single most important tool at our disposal. And this is because the Word of God is living and active and it reads us as much as we read it. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to engage in all these other ones and at the same time neglect reading the Bible.
Oh but Phil the Bible is boring. There are so many boring parts to it. Okay – well how about you skip those parts – for now at least. Don’t read Leviticus – for now. Instead read the parts that aren’t boring. Read Philippians. Read Colossians. Read James. Read any of the gospels – Matthew Mark Luke or John – Read Acts. Read Genesis and Exodus – Start reading the Psalms and put a star next to the good ones.
Oh but some of it is confusing. Skip Revelations. Just read Chapter 21 and 22 so you know how it all ends. (We win) Don’t allow the difficult parts to keep you from reading what you can easily understand.
Reading the word is a basic that is far too easy for us to neglect. But a relationship with God, as with any person, requires a contribution from us – and that largely consists of study. Indeed nothing is more important than hearing and obeying the word of God. It is the very ingredient that feeds our faith.
So here’s an idea -if you’d like. Find a bible – find a real honest to goodness bible. One you can underline. And this week sit down with a cup of coffee or whatever – and read an entire book from beginning to end. The entire book of James. The entire book of Philippians. (All four whole chapters) Feeling real ambitious? Read the entire book of Luke or Matthew. Beginning to end without stopping.
Here’s a challenge – Pick a book like that and read it every day for a week. See what happens. Experiment. Write down it’s effects on your soul.
Lastly this morning- Celebration
Celebration is one of the most important disciplines of engagement, yet is often overlooked and misunderstood. Celebration is when we stop to take time to recognize God’s goodness and greatness in and to us. We engage in celebration when we enjoy ourselves, our life, and our world. It’s when we stop to see that God is good to us. And then we celebrate it.
Joy is at the heart of God’s plan for human beings. Joy is at the heart of God himself. God enjoys his life. He really does. And he wants us to experience joy in our lives as well.
I read a quote from Dallas Willard – professor of Philosophy at USC and a wonderful Christian – who said he was once asked what God did before he created the universe. Dallas’ answer? “He was enjoying themselves.” God was delighted to be in the company of himself – in the trinity. He was celebrating and enjoying his life.
“We will not understand God until we understand this about him. God is the happiest creature in the universe” writes author John Ortberg – in his excellent book the Life you Always Wanted.
He writes, that Yes Jesus was a man of sorrows too. He was acquainted with sorrows – but his sorrow, like his anger, is a response to the fallenness and brokenness of his creation. When the day comes and he makes all things right, he will not know sorrow – as we will not.
And then God will be able to display his true nature in all it’s force – and that nature is joy and happiness.
The Apostle Paul writes, Rejoice in the Lord Always. Again I say rejoice. And we read that and we feel like it’s Paul saying, Life stinks but put a happy face on it. No! Rejoice.
Look at Jesus – what did they accuse Jesus of? Of enjoying his life too much. He’s a drunkard and friend of sinners. His first miracle was at a party. What did Jesus do on earth? He enjoyed themselves. And he enjoyed his life. It was full of joy.
As a matter of fact, what did Jesus pray? That our joy would be made complete. That his joy would be in us and that our joy would be complete.
Followers of Jesus are commanded to be joyful. Joylessness is a serious sin – and yet there are religious people all over the world who are joyless. I might even say religion itself naturally robs people of joy especially when it turns into a bunch of rules and regulations.
Which is one of the dangers I’m facing by talking about these tools – because the worst thing that could happen is that you walk out of here feeling burdened with more things you have to do to get God to like you. I gotta drive in the slow lane and I gotta read a whole bible book.
No you don’t gotta. What I’m saying is that if there are things going on inside of you that is causing your soul to feel disjointed, there are tools available – time tested and biblical, that can help bring us back together – but they are not meant to be burdens. It would be a terrible thing if I convey that.
But I want t encourage you today that it is good for your soul to celebrate the goodness of God to you. He wants you to enjoy your life.
Check out these verses from Deuteronomy chapter 14. Now I know it’s Old Testament and we don’t make any more visits to the temple – but let me just read this so you get an idea of the heart of God regarding celebration.
24 “Now when the Lord your God blesses you with a good harvest, the place of worship he chooses for his name to be honored might be too far for you to bring the tithe. 25 If so, you may sell the tithe portion of your crops and herds, put the money in a pouch, and go to the place the Lord your God has chosen. 26 When you arrive, you may use the money to buy any kind of food you want—cattle, sheep, goats, wine, or other alcoholic drink. Then feast there in the presence of the Lord your God and celebrate with your household. Deut. 14 NLT
Now I don’t think that drunkenness is a spiritual discipline. It’s not. Drunkenness is a sin. And alcohol has caused a world of hurt in far too many people’s lives to be taken flippantly.
But don’t you like the heart of this passage here in Deuteronomy? God is telling us he wants us to enjoy our lives.
Does this sound hedonistic? I believe it’s the opposite. Hedonism is the pursuit of pleasure. And it creates an appetite that cannot ever be satiated. Hedonists are never happy with what they have. They are always seeking more. If you dedicate your life to the pursuit of pleasure you will never be happy. Never.
But listen, we dishonor God as much by fearing and avoiding pleasure as we do by living for it.Disciples of Jesus, we celebrate the goodness of God on a daily basis in the little things.
Those who have devoted their lives to something greater than personal happiness? We get to celebrate the fact that within the Kingdom of God we don’t need to fend for ourselves. And should God decide to bless us today, then we celebrate his blessings, no matter how big or how small.
This is the day the Lord has made. If you’ve been around a church for a long time, some of you know how this finishes, right? Some don’t but some do. Psalm 118:24
This is the day the Lord has made.
We will rejoice and be glad in it.
When we stop to celebrate the way the kids are today. See parents often spend their time waiting for the next phase – if they are crawling we can’t wait until they walk, when they walk we can’t wait until they can run – can’t wait until they can buckle themselves in, can’t wait until they can put wash and dress themselves,
But many people live that way – I will be happy when I get out of high school. I will be happy when I get out of college. When I get married – when I have children. When my children are grown. When I retire.
We wait, we wait, but are we celebrating today, or are we missing the goodness of God to us?
So here is a spiritual endeavor for you this week. What if we tried every day this next week to celebrate one thing – respond to God in our hearts and thank him for the good things he has given us. One time a day we are searching for that opportunity to thank his for his goodness. The warmth of spring? A good cup of coffee with a friend?
And here is one more way to celebrate this week. What if one day this week – you did something for yourself that just brings you great joy. Maybe it’s a kind of food – your favorite. God made that food item for you. Maybe it’s a bottle of wine that’s your favorite. Maybe it involves a day playing a sport that brings you true joy. Maybe it’s a nature walk. Whatever. Plan one day this week that you get to do something that brings you joy.
And celebrate the reality that it is God’s doing. The happiest being in the universe wants us to enjoy themselves, and enjoy the life that they have given us.