Join Dr Chas Gullo for a timely and challenging look at the panic and hysteria associated with the coronavirus, and our response as Christians…

Chas encourages us to seek the Kingdom of God in all this mess, and it is an appropriate word for us in this day and hour.  Check it out now…

Chas was an evolutionist and his beliefs were only strengthened during his years of dental surgery studies at the University of Queensland and while completing a Masters degree in biological studies at London University.

However this all changed when he witnessed a healing miracle which sent him on a journey to discover the truth about the Bible and Genesis. This has now given him a strong platform to challenge myths that surround evolution and declare the truth of Genesis.

Chas and Fran pioneered Nowra inc in 1987 and built a strong local church to over 500 before taking on the senior leadership of Suncoast Church in 1996 building that congregation to well over 1000 strong. They also trained up leaders to plant churches across Australia, NZ, USA and the South Pacific.

They were the Queensland state leaders for inc for 12 years, oversaw the South Pacific inc churches till 1998 and have been on the National Executive of inc from 1994 to 2018. They have overseen a large Christian College (P-12) and a Bible College (diploma level) on the Sunshine Coast and pioneered Suncoast Christian Care, which is a food outlet for over 7000 families with prime shop facilities in the heart of Nambour.

They have five adult children (and a growing number of grand children) all who have successfully navigated University degrees while remaining (and are presently) very active members of their local churches.

Fran has developed a strong prophetic gift which is frequently a blessing to many people as she ministers at churches and women’s conferences throughout Australia, Europe and Asia.

Chas has authored four books, “Heaven’s Gift of Marriage” – “Designer Family” – “Born 4 BC” –  “I am a parent of a teenager” and has written a regular column on relationships for over 10 years in the local newspaper.

 

A Climate of Fear

Over the last week we have seen fear run riot across our society. The corona virus, COVID 19, has ruined my potential holiday to Italy, but it has also single handedly plunging Europe, and indeed the world, into a recession.

In my life time I cannot remember hysteria like we have seen in the last few weeks. I’ve lived through 911, and I flew to Europe in September 11th 2001 in defiance of the fear of those around me. Today, in what is a genuine pandemic and global emergency, we have seen unprecedented levels of fear in the media and among governments worldwide.

Major sporting events have been cancelled, with no football in Europe, Asia or America. Concerts and festivals cancelled. In some places like Italy, schools, churches and museums are closed. Fear is everywhere, disrupting and controlling the lives of 7 billion people. But the Bible says,

 

Psalms 27:1 (ESV Strong’s)

The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?

The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?

 

Make no mistake, the world is enslaved right now. A few thousand will die of the corona virus, but billions will suffer financially as a result of the fear and hysteria created around it. So today I want to look at a Christian response to the corona virus pandemic…

 

THE WORLD USES FEAR TO CONTROL

 

Let’s make it clear we are seeing a worldwide tragedy unfolding.

 

Fears about the corona virus have wiped out nearly 4 trillion dollars in the US stock market, with the biggest weekly loss since 2008. Many countries are in total lockdown, and cruise ships are floating Petri dishes. Many are afraid to go out of their homes. Life appears to be grinding to a halt! It controls us. But,

 

2 Timothy 1:7 (ESV Strong’s)

for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.

 

So let’s exercise a sound mind and look at the facts, so we can shine a light of hope into a world plunging into darkness. In all the mess, the hysteria, the fear mongering, this is our moment to shine!

 

Matthew 5:16 (ESV Strong’s)

In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

 

FACTS ABOUT COVID 19

 

Here are some facts you need to know about COVID 19…

 

Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is an infectious disease caused by a new virus that had not been previously identified in humans. The virus causes respiratory illness (like the flu) with symptoms such as a cough, fever and in more severe cases, pneumonia. In rare cases, particularly among those who are elderly, have compromised immune systems or severe respiratory conditions, it can be fatal. It’s rare, but if you’re the one, it’s bad.

 

Spread of the disease can be limited by washing hands, staying home when sick and avoiding infected people.

 

I understand the role of hand sanitiser in this, but I am still unsure of the role of toilet paper.

 

The corona virus is a mild flu. It’s not the plague, or a flesh eating microbe. Because it is hard to tell how many are actually infected, the ratio of deaths to infections is high, around 3.4%. But epidemiologists agree this is grossly over estimated due to the lack of testing and confirmed cases. They believe it is under 1%.

 

Let’s talk numbers. Around 5,000 people have died of the COVID 19 so far. In the last 12 months it is estimated that 650,000 died of the common flu, for which we have a vaccine. 33 times more died of common flu. The largest pandemic in history was the Spanish flu of 1918, which infected 1/3 of the planet’s population and killed between 20-50 million people worldwide, double what world war 1 killed.

 

But the media, seizing and sensationalising figures like 3.4% death rate have driven this incredible fear within which we now live. While some is healthy, much of it today is destructive.

 

What does fear actually do?

 

1.      FEAR PARALYSES

 

Psalms 143:4 (ESV Strong’s)

Therefore my spirit faints within me; my heart within me is appalled.

New Living Translation

I am losing all hope; I am paralyzed with fear.

 

The devil uses fear to paralyses you. Many people are so fearful they cannot act. Agoraphobics cannot go out of the house, clostrophobics have fear of small spaces, , acrophobics are afraid of heights. Pediophobics are afraid of dolls, decidophobics fear making decisions. Omphalophobia is fear of belly buttons, arachi-butero- phobia is being afraid of peanut button sticking to the roof of your mouth, and one we can all relate to is nomophobia, fear of being without mobile phone coverage. A moment’s silence for those on Vodaphone. My favourite fear of phobia is called Hippo-poto-monstro-ses-quippe-dalio-phobia: People who are afraid of Long Words.

 

Fear can paralyse you and control and ruin your life.

 

2.      FEAR CONTROLS

 

People with phobia are controlled by their fear. The enemy wants to control peoples lives, and He uses fear to do it. It stopped me traveling to where I wanted to go, it may stop all travel. It’s stopped sporting and cultural events, and it is controlling how people live. It makes people buy toilet paper.

 

Romans 8:15 (ESV Strong’s)

For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”

 

People right now are slaves to fear, because it is controlling their behaviour. It does not set you free, it enslaves you. Right now the whole world is being enslaved by fear.

 

3.      FEAR LIMITS POTENTIAL

Fear stunts your progress and growth. If you are fearful, you are afraid to step out and try something, so you miss opportunities to develop.

 

Joshua 1:9 (ESV Strong’s)

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”

 

When you live enslaved to it, your potential is limited. When you come to Christ, why should you be afraid, because your life is in His hands?

 

2 Corinthians 5:7 (ESV Strong’s)

for we walk by faith, not by sight.

 

People who let fear control and limit them are walking by sight, but we are called to walk by faith.

 

4.      FEAR CHANGES OUR FOCUS

 

What you’ll notice right now is that people’s focus is completely absorbed by fear.  What is everyone talking about? What is Facebook full of? Being afraid causes us to focus on earthly, immediate, fearful things, not one long term or important stuff. In a year’s time. Will you be afraid to shake hands or walk past toilet paper without buying it?

 

In this fearful climate, this is your opportunity to

 

Colossians 3:2 (ESV Strong’s)

Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.

 

To focus on loving and caring for people, not on your own preservation. Much of what people are currently focussed on is not fact, it’s sensationalised fear.

 

FEAR ITSELF

 

At the start of his presidency, Franklin D Roosevelt faced the Great Depression. People were starving, unemployed, destitute and without hope. At his inaugural speech he said these words, “We have nothing to fear except fear itself.” I think these words are appropriate for right now, don’t you?

 

Yes, it is powerful as we are currently seeing. It is terrifying, it is destructive but it is not our master, Christ is!  People in this world fear dying, but they also fear living. People fear not having enough money, but they also fear to lose the money they have. They are afraid of the virus, but also are afraid a recession.

 

A few might be infected with COVID 19, but all of us are infected with fear!

 

Peter experienced fear when he stood by the fire while Jesus was being tried.

 

Elijah had a mighty victory against the prophets of Baal at Mt. Carmel, then ran in fear of Jezebel.

 

Fear respects no one! Anyone can fall victim to fear. Even Timothy, with the Christian upbringing in the home, his training at the feet of Paul, and spiritual his gifts, fell victim to fear. Yet through it all God says,

 

Deuteronomy 31:8 (ESV Strong’s)

It is the LORD who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.”

 

The phrase “fear not” is used more than 80 times in the Bible, because God knows the enemy uses fear to decrease our hope and limit  our victories.

 

So I believe that right now God is calling us to stand without fear in a climate of fear! And as Steven Wright once quipped, “What happens if you get scared half to death twice?”

 

HOW CAN WE OVERCOME FEAR?

 

This world calls sinful behaviour normal, and attacks Christians without mercy. But this same world is now running scared, and I believe we have a unique opportunity to shine into their darkness…

 

Philippians 2:14-15 (ESV Strong’s)

Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world,

 

We can shine and overcome fear when others are victimised by it. How?

 

1.      WE HAVE GOD’S FAITH TO SEE THINGS CLEARLY

 

Hebrews 11:1 (ESV Strong’s)

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

 

Faith sees differently. Fear knocked at the door. Faith answered. There was no one there. Without downplaying the seriousness of a pandemic, you do not have to swallow the sensationalised fear mongering that the media is peddling. The eyes of faith can see the long term, eternal and important things. Faith doesn’t lurch from crisis to crisis, it believes for greater things to come, and it offers what the others cannot offer… Hope!

 

2.      WE HAVE GOD’S POWER TO CONFRONT FEAR

 

An experienced paratrooper was asked how many jumps he had to his credit. He responded, “Twenty‑five.” Then, with his head held low he added, “Actually, it was only one jump.” … “I only jumped once, the other twenty-four times I was pushed.”

 

Sometimes God will push us in order to help us overcome our fear. He wants us to know that the power to overcome is present not because we are great or better than anyone else, but because He is present in our lives.

 

Psalms 112:6-8 (ESV Strong’s)

For the righteous will never be moved; he will be remembered forever. He is not afraid of bad news; his heart is firm, trusting in the LORD. His heart is steady; he will not be afraid, until he looks in triumph on his adversaries.

 

Why be fearful? We can face our fears with His faith and trust God. Others have nothing, others can be consumed by fear, but we can have faith!

 

God is like a father standing in the pool beckoning his child to jump into His arms. The child is reluctant. At last, the child sees the father’s large, strong arms and smiling face, and jumps. There is no way that father is going to let the child drown! That is how God wants us to trust Him in every situation.

 

God willing, Fiona and I are headed back to Fiji, where I did my scuba diving ticket. I’m going to meet the same people again. In my course, on my 4th dive, the locals had failed to clean a valve and it seized up, causing my air to stop when I was 18m underwater. I nearly died. But an hour later I went back to another dive. I chose to confronted my fear, and I will do so again this week.

 

3.      WE HAVE GOD’S LOVE  TO CAST OUT FEAR

 

1 John 4:18-19 (ESV Strong’s)

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us.

 

We have love to cast our fear. But this is not our love for God – it is His love for us. You need not fear; He loves you!

 

You see, it is not just God’s strength that causes us to trust Him, it is His love! He loves us and even if we are going through hardships, He is working behind the scenes to bring about a good purpose.

 

Romans 8:28 (ESV Strong’s)

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

 

All things, even the tough ones, even the scary ones! When you truly know the God of all creation loves you, and cares for you, and will never let your foot slip, then you can face anything, any virus, any persecution, any fear!

 

Psalms 121:1-4 (ESV Strong’s)

I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come?

My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber.

Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.

 

If you can trust Him to save your soul, you ought to be able to trust Him to take care of you. You are His beloved child.

 

4.      WE HAVE GOD’S SOUND MIND TO CONTAIN FEAR

 

Sometimes we know God, we eve trust God but our mind runs riot. As I plunge into the Emerald water and dive lower and lower, my mind imagines death and destruction, sharks coming out of the gloom, all kinds of fears! They’re not real, they are my imagination.

 

A large, old Bible, frequently used by Abraham Lincoln during the critical years of the Civil War, falls open easily to Psalm 34. One page of that Bible has a smudge where the President placed his finger often. It’s this verse…

 

Psalms 34:4 (ESV Strong’s)

I sought the LORD, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears.

 

We face fear, just like the rest of the world, but let not your mind be troubled.

 

2 Timothy 1:7 (ESV Strong’s)

for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.

 

Let me finish by examining this verse in the Greek, because we can gain valuable insight into how we should behave right now.

 

God gave us a spirit not of fear. The Greek word for fear used here is not the usual PHOBE, but it is DEILIA, which means timidity or cowardice. It is a call to, when faced with a fearful situation, choose courage over cowardice. To confront, stand firm and defeat the enemy, and not cower back in this climate of fear.

 

But what of the three descriptions of the Spirit we do have?

 

Power. The Greek for power is DYNAMIS, which is strength and power due to an inherent ability. It is used to describe powerful influence by wealthy people, the power of having and army or huge resources behind you and the power to perform miracles. It’s the word from which we get the English DYNAMITE. Explosive power. The power is not of your own doing, but you channel the power.

 

LOVE. The Greek here is AGAPE, unconditional, unrelenting, all triumphing love that knows not limits and no bounds. Perfect love comes from God and casts our fear.

 

Sound mind. In Greek SOPHRONISMOS, meaning self control or control of one’s behaviour and thoughts.  It means being sensible, not foolish, being balanced not alarmist and being Christ centred not crisis centred.

 

IT’S TIME TO STAND

 

When the world is running in fear, we can stand against the fear with power, love and a sound mind.

 

So, we must be sensible. Ease up on handshakes, hugs and missing, but let’s not fall into line and fall victim to the fear tactics of the enemy. The corona virus is big, but my God is bigger, and we can show the world how to live by faith when they are cowering in fear.

 

Now, there is one type of person here in this service, or out in the world, that has a right to be afraid. If you have never trusted Christ, you are one heartbeat from meeting God.

 

Hebrews 9:27 (ESV Strong’s)

And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment,

 

Without Christ fear has free reign, you are it’s slave and it is your master, but when you come to Jesus, His love and power creates a sound mind that does not live in fear.

 

1 John 4:4 (ESV Strong’s)

Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.

 

If you don’t know Jesus, I want to give you the chance to come to Him right now and begin to conquer your fears whatever they may be.

 

Sometimes, even when you love God, you need reminding that He is greater, He is in you and He will protect and lead you. Whether you are fearful of the coronavirus, or struggling with fear of loss, loneliness, failure or any other fear, this is for you. Some of you in business look ahead with fear.

 

I have asked God for a special Anointing to conquer fear today. If you are fearful, come and let’s triumph over fear together. Let’s lay our fears aside and trust God completely.

 

So let’s finish with a promise from God, for you and I today as we face the threat of the corona virus…

 

Psalms 91:1-11 (ESV Strong’s)

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High

will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.

I will say to the LORD, “My refuge and my fortress,

my God, in whom I trust.”

For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler

and from the deadly pestilence.

He will cover you with his pinions,

and under his wings you will find refuge;

his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.

You will not fear the terror of the night,

nor the arrow that flies by day,

nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness,

nor the destruction that wastes at noonday.

A thousand may fall at your side,

ten thousand at your right hand,

but it will not come near you.

You will only look with your eyes

and see the recompense of the wicked.

Because you have made the LORD your dwelling place—

the Most High, who is my refuge—

no evil shall be allowed to befall you,

no plague come near your tent.

For he will command his angels concerning you

to guard you in all your ways.

Journey 5- The Weariness

We’ve been studying the Exodus, and relating it to the journey of life. I was going to look at murmuring, whining and complaining, but after the week I’ve had it might be a little too raw. So I want to talk about another aspect of the journey: weariness. 40 years is a long time to wander aimlessly in the wilderness, but many of us do this for years in our lives too!

Some of you here are weary. Feeling small. When tears are in your eyes, I’ll dry them all. I’m on your side, when times get rough . And friends just can’t be found, like a bridge over troubled waters.

1.      THE JOURNEY IS LONG

 

Most journeys seem long, like a long and winding road, usually longer than you want. The Israelites wandered for 40 years in the wilderness, which is around 39 years 11 months longer than they should have.

 

In our family, our long journeys started with a familiar refrain… “are we nearly there yet” before we reached the top of the driveway.

 

We are impatient to arrive, all of us. The length of a journey is entirely subjective. Kaileigh considers a drive to Buderim too long, and going to Sydney seems like a long journey until you go to Europe. Life is long, the journey is long, and so along the way we get weary, but remember compared to eternity this life is actually short.

 

James 4:14 (ESV Strong’s)

What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.

 

Psalms 90:10 (ESV Strong’s)

The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty;

yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away.

 

2.      THE JOURNEY HAS CHALLENGES

 

Every journey has challenges. There are highs and lows, mountain tops and valleys, sunny days and stormy. Some here are going fine, but many I feel are facing dark, difficult times.

 

Psalms 23:4 (ESV Strong’s)

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

 

If you are facing challenges, even big challenges, remember that the Lord goes with you, leads you, guides you, upholds you and will ultimately bring you through, even if you are getting weariness.

 

3.      THE JOURNEY HAS SETBACKS

 

Kira and I were in Munich, and it snowed. Our flight was so delayed, we missed our connecting flight in London, and had to overnight there. They could not get us a flight to Brisbane, but they said they could fly us to Tokyo. We’ll take it! In Tokyo they could get us to Brisbane, but could get us to Cairns. We’ll take it! There were no seats to Brisbane, but if we went to Melbourne we might get some. We’ll take it! Finally in Melbourne we got a flight to home!

 

Many times we face setback in our journeys. Sometimes these setback are of our own doing, or someone close to you! That’s what the Israelites discovered. They sent spies into the Promised Land, but then chose to believe the 10 who brought a bad report. So they decided to form a coup against Moses, stone him and go back to slavery in Egypt. Had they believed Joshua and Caleb, they could have taken the land right then and there, but they refused, and rebelled. God said,

 

Numbers 14:32-34 (ESV Strong’s)

But as for you, your dead bodies shall fall in this wilderness. And your children shall be shepherds in the wilderness forty years and shall suffer for your faithlessness, until the last of your dead bodies lies in the wilderness. According to the number of the days in which you spied out the land, forty days, a year for each day, you shall bear your iniquity forty years, and you shall know my displeasure.’

 

Some of you have suffered setbacks in your journey because of someone else. It’s not fair, but it is life. Maybe you had a rough start in life, abused by parents, or maybe you married someone and it didn’t work out. Some have sinned, ignored God, or walked away.

 

If you’ve had setbacks in life, either because of circumstances, someone you loved and trusted or your own foolish, sinful decisions, then I have great news this morning. You can get those wasted years back, even the weariness!

 

Joel 2:25 (ESV Strong’s)

I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten,

 

A set back is just a set up for a come back if you trust Jesus!

 

4.      THE JOURNEY HAS PROVISION

 

A long journey requires provision. On any journey need food, water, fuel. You need sleep. Today as your travel you need other essentials, like masks, gloves and toilet paper. You need a phone to get GPS and updates on the corona virus, which has killed 0.005% as many people as the common flu last year, so you can panic and fret like everyone else.

 

In the Exodus, they had no phone. No GPS. No toilet paper. But when the people were thirsty, God gave them water from the rock. When they were hungry, God gave them manna. When they got sick of that, God gave them quail. They didn’t say thank you, they complained and whinged and  whined while they dined.

 

Numbers 11:5-6 (ESV Strong’s)

We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. But now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.”

 

They said, Slavery wasn’t that bad… We use to eat leeks and onions and meat. Now all we have is manna breakfast, lunch and dinner. It’s coming our of my ears. I have manna toast for breakfast, with manna mite spread, manna hotcakes, manna burgers, manna curry, pad manna, fillé  of manna, and with my Chai latte I have bamanna bread.  Hey man-na am I sick of manna.

 

If you’re tired on life’s journey, stop wasting your time complaining about what you don’t have and start rejoicing in what you do have. We have more stuff than ever before, yet we are the most ungrateful people ever.

 

Colossians 4:2 (ESV Strong’s)

Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.

 

WEARINESS MAKES YOU…

 

The Israelites faced a long, wearying journey, made longer and wearier by their constant whining and complaining and by their own foolish decisions.

 

When you get weary you open yourself to a variety of emotions. When you get weary and tired you get stressed, overwhelmed and depressed. Weariness opens you to making bad decisions, and changes how you see things. You look back with rose coloured glasses and don’t see things properly.

 

Numbers 14:2 (ESV Strong’s)

And all the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The whole congregation said to them, “Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness!

 

When you get tired and in weariness, sometimes death looks like a better deal than your life. Listen, it never is… Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.  40 years was a long time to wander because of sin, but they did eventually make it through to the Promised Land. The Bible says, and it came to pass, it didn’t come to stay.

 

PERCEPTION AFFECTS EVERYTHING

 

Perception affects everything. How you see life, the journey, the troubles, the challenges, the highs and the lows, all are primarily affected by your perception.

 

They did an experiment one time… 2 boys, one an optimist, one a pessimist. The pessimist was locked in a room with ice cream, a TV and playstation. After an hour, he cried about ice cream melting, the game is too hard and TV just has news about the corona virus.

 

The optimist was locked alone in a room with a huge pile of horse poo. After an hour he was throwing poo a lover the room. With all this poo, there must be a pony in here somewhere.

 

Perception. That’s why Paul says,

 

Philippians 4:8 (ESV Strong’s)

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

 

You  can choose how you see things. You can choose to see the good or the bad. You can choose whether to

 

Colossians 3:2 (ESV Strong’s)

Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.

 

As you journey, you can choose to see the lack of food, water, or see the blessings…

 

Deuteronomy 29:5 (ESV Strong’s)

I have led you forty years in the wilderness. Your clothes have not worn out on you, and your sandals have not worn off your feet.

 

40 years without a new pair of shoes might sound awful for some women, by God provides.

 

In your troubles, in your weariness, God provides for you. Stop doing your own thing, stop pulling away from God, draw near to Him and see, perceive the blessings and goodness you have already.

 

Hebrews 4:16 (ESV Strong’s)

Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

 

YOU HAVE CHOICES

 

One of the most pivotal parts of the Exodus occurred in the wilderness of Paran, where 12 spies were selected to check out the Promised Land. When they returned, they all agreed it was beautiful, productive, everything God had promised, but 2 said let’s go, but 10 chose to bring a bad report.

 

Now, when you hear a bad report, you face a choice… believe it, or not!

 

Numbers 13:32-33 (ESV Strong’s)

So they brought to the people of Israel a bad report of the land that they had spied out, saying, “The land, through which we have gone to spy it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people that we saw in it are of great height. And there we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak, who come from the Nephilim), and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them.”

 

See what they are focussed on… Not the Lord, not His promise, but their own observations and fears. We seemed like grasshoppers, tiny, easy to stomp on, we predict disaster, the world falling in, corona virus, quick, buy up all the toilet paper!

 

But the people had a choice. Who to believe?

 

Numbers 14:2 (ESV Strong’s)

And all the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The whole congregation said to them, “Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness!

 

CHOICES HAVE CONSEQUENCES

 

Be aware that every choice you make, good or bad, has a consequence. You can choose to believe the lies, believe the worst, give up, say you can’t take this any more. You can leave the marriage, the church, the job, but there are consequences. The right choices bring life, they bring blessing. That’s God’s preference for you. The wrong choice brings curses and death.

 

Going into the Promised Land a generation later, Moses said this…

 

Deuteronomy 30:19 (ESV Strong’s)

I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live,

 

HOW TO OVERCOME WEARINESS

 

So here’s the bottom line… Obey God, seek God, make the right changes and you can overcome weariness.

 

You can overcome weariness and make it. Even if the road is long, with many a winding turn.

 

Psalms 55:6 (ESV Strong’s)

And I say, “Oh, that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest;

 

So let’s look at some practical steps to overcoming weariness, and many of you here are weary and flat and over stressed. So how do you beat weariness?

 

1.      GET SOME REST

 

My life has been overwhelmingly stressful of late. Finances, holiday, family, work and especially church, have drawn all of my energy, filled my entire headspace and sapped all my joy. I’m tired, I’ve slept 3 hours a night, I was miserable and almost ready to quit being a pastor. Then God reminded me of His call for Ignite, and simply said, GET SOME REST in your weariness!

 

Matthew 11:28 (ESV Strong’s)

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

 

If you need rest, take a day off, take a caravan trip, take a holiday to Coronoville, or maybe just get an early night or two.

 

Sometimes when you are in weariness, the most spiritual and obedient thing you can do is to sleep and rest.

 

2.      GET SOME INSPIRATION

 

Over the last several months, under the most intense pressure and attacks of my ministry career, and greatest weariness, I needed sleep, yes, but even more I needed inspiration. That’s when I turned to the Word of God, the Bible reading plan, I read it, studied it, prayed it and I lived it. As the Lord said to Joshua,

 

Joshua 1:8-9 (ESV Strong’s)

This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

 

3.      GET SOME SUPPORT

 

Get inspired. Listen to sermons, podcasts, read Christian books, speak to strong believers, read God’s Word. What’s kept me going over the last few months of intense weariness is those around me encouraging me, believing in me.

 

My wife, our team here at Ignite, other pastors, friends new and old, are what keeps me going in my weariness. It is their encouragement and support.

 

Proverbs 27:9 (ESV Strong’s)

Oil and perfume make the heart glad, and the sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel.

 

Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 (ESV Strong’s)

Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!

 

Friends standing with you, like Aaron and Hur, can support your arms and hold you up when you need it. So reach out in your weariness.

 

4.      GET PRACTICAL, TAKE IT STEP BY STEP, OVERCOME WEARINESS

 

When you feel weariness again and again you get you’re down.

 

Matthew 6:34 (ESV Strong’s)

“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

 

When you are weary and facing overwhelm, take each problem one at a time. Take each day one at a time. Don’t try and do it all at once, seek God and take on one giant at a time.

 

5.      GET FOCUSSED ON JESUS

 

What you focus on determines what you see, and what you see determines where you are going. The spies that gave a bad report only saw troubles, they saw giants, they saw themselves as grasshoppers.

 

Colossians 3:2 (ESV Strong’s)

Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.

 

If you are weary right now, start to take your eyes off the hassles and soul sapping troubles you have and fix your eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of your faith.

 

Welly

 

6.      GET SERIOUS WITH GOD ABOUT YOUR FUTURE

 

God promises you that He has a plan and a future for you. Pray like you believe it! Live like it!

 

Jeremiah 29:11 (ESV Strong’s)

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.

 

But people forget the next 2 verses,

 

Jeremiah 29:12-13 (ESV Strong’s)

Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.

 

So in your weariness, in your weakness, seek God with all your heart for your future. He’s on your side when darkness comes!

 

COME TO ME

 

Galatians 6:9 (ESV Strong’s)

And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.

 

Some of you here, you love God, you want to serve the Lord, but you’re tired, you’re down, you’re flat, you’re just plain struggling with weariness. And  if you get enough knocks, enough set backs, enough criticisms, you can get tired of doing good. Today I’m like that… I’m tired, and I need a touch from the Lord. Maybe you do too!

 

Jesus knows you feel this way. He says,

 

Matthew 11:28-30 (ESV Strong’s)

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

 

Jesus calls you today… If you are feeling the weariness , sad, tired, fading, discouraged, down, then that’s the promise of Jesus right now.

 

Maybe you’ve been believing for a loved one to come to Christ, for a breakthrough, or a healing or a job. You still love God, you still believe, you’re just tired and weary. Jesus says,   Come, come and be refreshed.

 

Acts 3:19-20 (ESV Strong’s)

Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord,

 

When you come to Christ, it’s not all peaches and cream, unicorns and rainbows. There are still burdens, still trials, still attacks that can cripple you and depress you and make you tired and weary and just about ready to give up. Many give up on their dreams just before their big breakthrough.

 

But when you come to Jesus, your burden, your yoke, which once was ill fitting, rubbing, scaring, hurting, tiring, He now fits for you. His yoke is made for you. It’s still a yoke, there are still burdens, but they no longer rub or hurt or drain you. His burden is easy and light, and allows you rest for your soul.

 

So today, I know some of you, myself included, are weary. You’re not in sin, you’re not far away from the Lord, you’re just tired and weary.

We’ve been looking at the journey of life through the Exodus, and I want to stop along the way and more closely examine a fascinating story, concerning a prophet by the name of Balaam. This is a case study in how people, including us, attempt to manipulate God…

BALAK’S INSURANCE POLICY

The children of Israel are wandering through the desert, and have just successfully beaten up, killed, and plundered the Amorites. Balak, the king of Moab, has just seen all of this, and he is worried that his people might be next in line. What he is looking for is an insurance policy, and he sees his chance in a guy called Balaam. He sends a load of what’s called “fees for divination,” read a healthy bribe, and says this…

 

Numbers 22:5-6 (ESV Strong’s)

“Behold, a people has come out of Egypt. They cover the face of the earth, and they are dwelling opposite me. Come now, curse this people for me, since they are too mighty for me. Perhaps I shall be able to defeat them and drive them from the land, for I know that he whom you bless is blessed, and he whom you curse is cursed.”

 

Balaam had a reputation as someone who knew God, could hear God and could curse or bless people and it would stick. He also had a reputation as a prophet for profit, dispensing God’s blessing or curses as he desired to the highest bidder.

 

When first approached, Balaam does the right thing, he goes to God…

 

Numbers 22:8 (ESV Strong’s)

And he said to them, “Lodge here tonight, and I will bring back word to you, as the Lord speaks to me.” So the princes of Moab stayed with Balaam.

 

The Lord clarifies who these men are, and what they were asking Balaam.

 

Numbers 22:12-13 (ESV Strong’s)

God said to Balaam, “You shall not go with them. You shall not curse the people, for they are blessed.” So Balaam rose in the morning and said to the princes of Balak, “Go to your own land, for the Lord has refused to let me go with you.”

 

GRUDGING OBEDIENCE

 

I’d have thought that was a pretty clear answer… Do not go with them. You can’t get any clearer than that! Now, God doesn’t always tell you why. He might just say “No.” But apparently Balaam had such a good relationship with God that He even told him why he wasn’t supposed to go. “You shall not curse the people; for they are blessed.”

 

This is where we start to see sin crouching at the door, the slow, subtle decline into disobedience. Balaam could have said, “I can’t curse these people, because God says they are blessed,” But he didn’t. Notice what he did say… Verse 13… the Lord has refused to let me go with you.

 

What does that mean? He means that he wished he could go, but “God won’t let him.” Remember, he expected to be paid for his work. “I’d love to do it guys, but that big old mean God won’t let me!”

 

How many of us are like that?  We know God wants us to be obedient, and we are, but grudgingly. See where Balaam’s heart is pointing right now? How often, when we know what God wants us to do, do we go through the motions, not out of love but out of duty or fear.

 

BALAAM: DISOBEDIENCE MASQUERADING AS OBEDIENCE

 

So Balak, sensing an opportunity to bend Balaam and hence God to his will, sends more princes, more numerous and distinguished than the former.

 

Numbers 22:17 (ESV Strong’s)

for I will surely do you great honor, and whatever you say to me I will do. Come, curse this people for me.’”

 

Notice once again Balaam’s answer revealing his reluctant obedience…

 

Numbers 22:18-19 (ESV Strong’s)

But Balaam answered and said to the servants of Balak, “Though Balak were to give me his house full of silver and gold, I could not go beyond the command of the Lord my God to do less or more. So you, too, please stay here tonight, that I may know what more the Lord will say to me.”

 

Let’s recap… Balak asked Balaam, Balaam asked God, God said no. Then Balak asked Balaam again, Balaam again grudgingly said no, then added, let me just ask God once more. Balaam is trying manipulate God into giving him what he wants, and he does it in a very pious and religious sounding way!

 

So what about you? When God says no, how do you respond? Do you demand a reason? Do you try another method to manipulate God?

 

There’s a big difference between just obeying God on the outside, and obeying from a thankful, joyful, loving heart. I don’t obey God because I have to, or because I’m afraid He will zap me with lightening if I screw up. I obey Him because I love Him.

 

DEAR LORD I WANT IT…

 

Let’s look at an example… you’re looking for a husband or wife. Along comes a nice girl or guy, kind, pretty, smart. Problem is, they’re not a Christian. So you say, “I’d love to date you, but God says I can’t.” That is a green light for them to try plan B, or C, until they find a way to win you over. They will often pretend to get saved just to get you!

 

And the start of this decline comes when God says no and you say, let me just check in on that again and see if maybe God has changed His mind.

 

When you want a job, a ministry, a spouse, a house or anything else that bad, you need to understand how wicked that actually is, and realise that you’re opening yourself up for all kinds of attack. You’re saying, not what you want from me God, I demand this!

 

If the devil knows you’re convinced that God is the wisest, and that you know it’s best to follow His counsel, that you trust Him no matter the result, then he doesn’t have a point of attack. But if he knows you lack conviction, then all he’s got to do is get you to believe that your desires or opinions are better, smarter, or more pleasing than God’s principles.

 

WHAT’S YOUR PRICE?

 

Balaam sees the entourage coming, and it’s not just the messengers, it’s the corporate VP and general manager, and he thinks, “hmmm, I really want this, I might just go and work on God some more. This is a one time offer I need to take no matter what.”

 

A poll was taken in the US asking men and women how much money it would take for them to agree to sleep with a stranger. The average amount for the men was $10.00. The average for the women was $10,000. But as the dollar amount got higher, almost everybody at some point said, “Yes, I’d sleep with a stranger for a million dollars.”

 

But what I’d say to all of them is – you’re all prostitutes! All you’re changing is the price. You’re willing to set aside your convictions for money. If you can be bought at any price, then God doesn’t care about the price. He only cares that you can be bought.

 

At what point are you willing to disobey God? What is there that can buy you? Are you for sale? Is God for sale in your life? Is obedience for sale?

 

James 4:17 (ESV Strong’s)

So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.

 

2 Corinthians 1:17 (ESV Strong’s)

Was I vacillating when I wanted to do this? Do I make my plans according to the flesh, ready to say “Yes, yes” and “No, no” at the same time?

 

The flesh vacillates, it changes according to whims and fashions and social norms, but the Word of God stands forever. We need to be obedient, not trying to manipulate from God the answers we want!

 

LET ME PRAY ABOUT IT

 

If you’re going to disobey God and sin, do it in a Christian way. Say, let me pray about it. But if you are asking God, and God says no, but you keep asking until He seems to allow it, beware!

 

Numbers 22:19-21 (ESV Strong’s)

So you, too, please stay here tonight, that I may know what more the Lord will say to me.” And God came to Balaam at night and said to him, “If the men have come to call you, rise, go with them; but only do what I tell you.” So Balaam rose in the morning and saddled his donkey and went with the princes of Moab.

 

Balaam should have said, I asked, God, He said no, that’s the end of it!

 

James 4:7 (ESV Strong’s)

Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

 

Balaam didn’t resist the devil, he entertained him. He invited the devil in for tea and scones! He should have told the messengers to go, but he essentially said, “let me go talk to God. Let me pray about it. Maybe God will change His mind by the morning.”

 

How many people have gone to hell “praying about it”? How many people have disobeyed God saying, “Well, I really have a burden for this,” or “I really feel led to do that.” I’ve seen dozens of people claiming God told them to leave a church, and they go nowhere, and achieve nothing for God!

 

I can’t believe the number of people that say, “Well, I’ve really prayed about it…” I don’t care what you’ve prayed, I want to know what God said, not what you’ve convinced yourself you’ve manipulated Him into doing for you!

 

Christianity is not a tool to get what you want. We need to pray with open, honest hearts, ready to obey, not trying to manipulate God. Some preach

 

Mark 11:24 (ESV Strong’s)

Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.

 

Some teach this means you can get God to do your bidding if you just believe hard enough. God can be your celestial Santa Clause giving you whatever you want if you ask and believe for it. They completely overlook what it means to pray according to God’s will. If means trusting God even if you don’t get what you want!

 

GIMME, GIMME, GIMME SAID BALAAM

 

God answered Balaam, and Balaam appeared to get his way. God had said no, but as some spouses know, nagging can get results.

 

God says “No” to Balaam one time, and the next time He just tells him, “All right, go,” without giving any reason. Beware. If God says “No,” and then you keep asking, He may just say, “All right, if you’re not going to be obedient, go ahead. Do what you want.”

 

Numbers 23:19 (ESV Strong’s)

God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?

 

Watch out – if you keep whining and whimpering to God about that thing you want after He’s already told you “No,” you’d better be very careful…you just might get what you’re after. He may finally say “Yes,” and you will have to live with the disastrous results.

 

WISDOM FROM AN UNLIKELY SOURCE

 

Now for a spot of comedy.

 

Numbers 22:22 (ESV Strong’s)

But God’s anger was kindled because he went, and the angel of the Lord took his stand in the way as his adversary. Now he was riding on the donkey, and his two servants were with him.

 

3 times the donkey disobeyed his master, and Balaam beat him. Then, weirdly,

 

Numbers 22:28 (ESV Strong’s)

Then the Lord opened the mouth of the donkey, and she said to Balaam, “What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?”

 

Now Balaam should have stopped and thought, that’s odd, a talking donkey. But he was so intent on sinning, he never stopped to see the obvious. Sometimes we are so intent on getting what we want we miss the obvious warning signs!

 

Numbers 22:29-31 (ESV Strong’s)

And Balaam said to the donkey, “Because you have made a fool of me. I wish I had a sword in my hand, for then I would kill you.” And the donkey said to Balaam, “Am I not your donkey, on which you have ridden all your life long to this day? Is it my habit to treat you this way?” And he said, “No.”

Then the Lord opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the way, with his drawn sword in his hand. And he bowed down and fell on his face.

 

God gave Balaam what he wanted, which led directly to death, but his donkey saved him… The angel said,

 

Numbers 22:33 (ESV Strong’s)

The donkey saw me and turned aside before me these three times. If she had not turned aside from me, surely just now I would have killed you and let her live.”

 

THE LONG SLIDE

 

This is where Balaam’s words get really interesting.

 

Numbers 22:34 (ESV Strong’s)

Then Balaam said to the angel of the Lord, “I have sinned, for I did not know that you stood in the road against me. Now therefore, if it is evil in your sight, I will turn back.”

 

Let’s analyse this. I have sinned… OK, he acknowledges his sin, that’s a nice start, you might even think he is repenting, turning around and heading home. But no, look at what he says. He’s not sorry he’s sinned, he’s just sorry for the consequences. But his next statement sounds pious but is really very, very wicked… Now therefore, if it is evil in your sight, I will turn back.” It means, “If it displeases you, I will turn back.”

 

What more do you need, Balaam? Your donkey is talking to you, and you’ve got the angel of the Lord Himself standing there with a drawn sword ready to kill you, and you’re saying, “If it displeases you, I will turn back”!

 

When you disobey and then dull your conscience, beware… You are headed to destruction. Balaam wanted the rewards so bad, even in the face of disaster, he still paid lip service to repentance without actually repenting.

 

THE ATTITUDE GOES DOWNHILL

 

So Balaam gets his wish and goes with the men, and Balak expects him to curse the people of Israel. Balaam points out the following…

 

Numbers 22:38 (ESV Strong’s)

Balaam said to Balak, “Behold, I have come to you! Have I now any power of my own to speak anything? The word that God puts in my mouth, that must I speak.”

 

Balaam is saying, I’m here, but God has me over a barrel, and I’m not happy about it, but sadly, I have to obey God. Reluctant obedience!

 

Listen, no one gives up anything for God. Serving God is the greatest privilege and joy I know, but I’m sick of hearing people who say I’ve given up this career or that guy or this opportunity for God.

 

The Apostle Paul had power and prestige and respect, but he said this

 

Philippians 3:7-8 (ESV Strong’s)

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ

 

Count them as rubbish, which in Greek literally means dung or poo. It means all the things I could have in life are like pieces of poo next to knowing and serving Jesus. I don’t give up my garbage, I throw it away. If you put God first, unlike Balaam, then He will raise up in you potential you probably don’t even know is there, and you can impact this world for Jesus!

 

STOP, AND LET IT GO!

 

So over the next few chapters, Balak takes Balaam to different locations hoping to get a good curse out of him, but all Balaam can do is bless the people of Israel. Why is Balaam still there? Why is Balaam following him? Balaam just won’t let this thing go. Maybe it’s a word to someone here to stop pursuing your own way and turn back to God while you still can.

 

Balaam tries everything. He makes loads of sacrifices, prays a lot, inquires of the Lord, gets all religious, but in the end all he does is bless instead of curse, and Balak is getting really mad at him.

 

Numbers 23:12 (ESV Strong’s)

And he (Balaam) answered and said, “Must I not take care to speak what the Lord puts in my mouth?”

 

That’s a religious Spirit right there. He claims to be speaking the words of God, but he sure hasn’t been obedient… It’s just lip service. Balak drags Balaam from mountain to mountain, offering more and more money, and Balaam keeps following him because his eyes are on the loot!

 

Well, Balak has had enough and is so angry he says

 

Numbers 24:11 (ESV Strong’s)

Therefore now flee to your own place. I said, ‘I will certainly honor you,’ but the Lord has held you back from honor.”

 

In other words, you’d better get out of here before I wipe you out!

 

WHERE THERE’S A WILL, WE FIND A WAY!

 

Numbers 24:14 (ESV Strong’s)

And now, behold, I am going to my people. Come, I will let you know what this people will do to your people in the latter days.”

 

At first glance you might think Balaam has come to his senses, but hidden in Balaam’s words are more than oracles of blessing upon Israel. After he leaves,

 

Numbers 25:1-2 (ESV Strong’s)

While Israel lived in Shittim, the people began to whore with the daughters of Moab. These invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods.

 

Balaam couldn’t get his way by manipulating God, so he found another way. As a result 24,000 Israelites died of plague.

 

Balaam could not curse Israel, but he offered Balak a little friendly advice, probably to get the fee he was after: “If you want to know how to get them, send your hookers, send your daughters, own there to entice them and tempt them and intermarry with them. Then invite them over to your religious services, to your gods, and you’ll steal their hearts away from their God.”

 

Balaam was pretty smart, you know. He said, “I can’t curse them because God won’t let me. But sin will curse them. If you can get them to sin, you won’t need me to curse them. Sin will do it for you.” Here’s proof of his advice…

 

Numbers 31:16 (ESV Strong’s)

Behold, these, on Balaam’s advice, caused the people of Israel to act treacherously against the Lord in the incident of Peor, and so the plague came among the congregation of the Lord.

 

Revelation 2:14 (ESV Strong’s)

But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, so that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality.

 

Balaam got his way eventually, but he also got his comeuppance!

 

Joshua 13:22 (ESV Strong’s)

Balaam also, the son of Beor, the one who practiced divination, was killed with the sword by the people of Israel among the rest of their slain.

 

You  cannot manipulate God and get away with it. I bet when they parted, Balaam, left a rich man, but he was really a fool…

 

Mark 8:36 (ESV Strong’s)

For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?

 

What does it profit you if you manipulate God into giving you your own way but compromise your relationship with Him?

 

2 Chronicles 16:9 (ESV Strong’s)

For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him.

 

OBEDIENCE OR BUST

 

Balaam error was twofold: 1. He used the gift and calling of God for his own selfish gain, and 2. When God said clearly no, he kept asking. He did his best to look religious and pious while finding a way around actually being obedient to God. He spoke God’s words, but he didn’t have God’s heart.

 

And if you don’t share God’s heart, you might think you’re doing what He wants you to do, but you may in fact only be going through outward motions of obedience. You might read your Bible and say your prayers and keep the rules, yet in your heart be can be a wicked, wicked servant.

 

You must know His heart and His attitudes; share His hatred toward sin, and His love for souls… His love for others and His love for you.

 

How many want something specifically right now?

 

The Journey 3- The Tests

Any great journey has, built into it, various kinds of tests. Any great voyage faces some kind of trial. Some time of choppy water or tempest before we make it safely into the harbour.

We’ve been looking at Exodus, and like any other epic journey, Moses and the people of Israel faced many tests along the way. If you know anything about tests, if you’ve sat any tests before, you would realise that the purpose of these is to examine you, what you know and how you perform. A test is something you can either pass or fail. If you pass, you get another round of tests. If you fail, you get to resit the test.

Moses led the people on a journey that lasted 40 years, and right at the end as they were about to enter the Promised Land, he told the people this…

 

Deuteronomy 8:2 (ESV Strong’s)

And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not.

 

Tests in life come that He might know what’s in our hearts.

 

Lord speak to us now, and if we face tests right now, speak into those very situations, we pray in Jesus’ name.

 

THE PURPOSE OF TESTS

 

Unless you test something, you can never be sure it works properly. Imagine what our roads would look like if all we had to do to get a licence as say how good a driver we are? Imagine how confident you would be in a surgeon who studied but never passed a test in medical school, but did drive a Lexis? Imagine if you came to me with a vision problem and without testing your eyes I prescribed a random lens I hoped would help you see? Wouldn’t  you look at me and say, “Should’ve gone to the other guys?”

 

1.      TESTS PROVE YOUR COMPETENCY AND CHARACTER

 

Tests are not bad or evil, they are necessary to prove to your examiners and to yourself that you are competent, able to do the task, and also that you have the character, the ability and integrity perform the task wisely.

 

Moses was tested many times. He failed when he murdered the Egyptian, or when he struck the rock in anger, but he passed the plagues and the Red Sea showdown with flying colours!

 

If you are facing a test right now, don’t get discouraged; it’s not an affliction, it is an opportunity to shine! Tests prove competency and character.

 

James 1:2-3 (ESV Strong’s)

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.

 

2.      TESTS ALSO DEVELOP YOUR COMPETENCY AND CHARACTER

 

Testing places you under pressure, and it also causes you to develop in both competency and character. As you pass one test, your confidence and faith to face and pass the next test increases.

 

Joseph looked back on a life of unbelievable tests with God’s perspective

 

Genesis 50:20 (ESV Strong’s)

As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.

 

He saw that God had used the tests he had faced to develop his character and abilities for such a time as this. Tests are not bad, they are good.

 

Hebrews 12:11 (ESV Strong’s)

For the moment all discipline (Greek, tutoring, testing, training) seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

 

TESTS ARE NORMAL

 

1 Peter 4:12-13 (ESV Strong’s)

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.

 

Some Christians are shocked when God tests their faith, but we should not be. If our faith is tested in a fiery crucible, we should not be surprised, we should rejoice.

 

Some people teach that if God is in something it all becomes easy, so if it is hard, is can’t be God. That’s not my experience, and I’m pretty sure Moses, Joseph, Abraham, David, Paul and Jesus would disagree. If you’re tested, if you’re challenged, if you’re stretched it’s very often a sign of being in God’s will, not put of it! If you’re sailing through life without problems, chances are the devil has neutralised you and you are no threat to him!

 

YOU CAN PASS OR FAIL

 

Even the Blessing of God can be a test, and with any test you can pass or fail.

 

Exodus 16:4 (ESV Strong’s)

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in my law or not.

 

Moses actually faced the same test twice, with massive consequences and a different result…

 

Exodus 17:6-7 (ESV Strong’s)

Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb, and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, and the people will drink.” And Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. And he called the name of the place Massah and Meribah, because of the quarreling of the people of Israel, and because they tested the Lord by saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”

 

Meribah means test, and so it became a test for the people and Moses himself.

 

Later on in the journey, the people again complained and moaned about the lack of water, at the same place of testing, Meribah, and God said this…

 

Numbers 20:8 (ESV Strong’s)

“Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron your brother, and tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water.

 

But then Moses and Aaron got angry, and note the words…

 

Numbers 20:10-12 (ESV Strong’s)

Then Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, “Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock. And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.”

 

Huge test, huge failure. God is going to test you, but beware of being too arrogant and confident in yourself that you fail the test!

 

TESTS IN LIFE COME FROM A VARIETY OF SOURCES

 

God allows testing in our lives, and it comes from many sources. People we love will often test us. Circumstances will test us. Sometimes temptations test us. Let me share some of the categories of testing Moses faced

 

1.      MORAL TESTS

 

When Moses killed the Egyptian overseer he failed a moral test. He committed murder. When David looked over the fence at Bathsheba he failed a moral test as well. Some tests are tests of our character, and we need to pass them to grow in the things of God.

 

A moral test might look like it’s about you and another person or persons, but it is really about you and God. David confessed his sin of adultery, but he said to God,

 

Psalms 51:4 (ESV Strong’s)

Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight,

so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.

 

If you face temptation or some kind of moral test, remember that a moral test is not about them, it’s really about you and the Lord, and if you fail you let God down number one.

 

2.      OBEDIENCE TESTS

 

Most tests you face in life come down to one simple thing… obedience. The options you face might both be moral, but only one is obedience, and partial obedience is actually disobedience!

 

When Moses decided to obey God before the burning bush in Exodus 3, he set out for Egypt with his wife and child, and immediately faced an obedience test.

 

Exodus 4:24-25 (ESV Strong’s)

At a lodging place on the way the Lord met him and sought to put him to death. Then Zipporah took a flint and cut off her son’s foreskin and touched Moses’ feet with it and said, “Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me!”

 

When you face a test of obedience, it’s best to do it with godly people. That’s why all decisions made in this church I make with my team. Moses had a good helper in his wife, and godly spouses can make all the difference when we face tests of obedience.

 

Most questions of morality are also tests of obedience. Whether you take that pen at the bank is not about pens or how many the bank has, it’s a test of obedience.

 

3.      TESTS FROM WITHOUT

 

Many tests come from outside of ourselves and are beyond our control. A tragedy, a death, a fire or flood or drought may be a test, but you didn’t cause it, nor did you seek it, nor is there any moral question. It is just life, and life throws up tests for us.

 

No sooner had the people of Israel escaped the Egyptians through the Red Sea but they faced an attack from the Amalekites. Amalek was a descendant of Esau, so this attack came from people they were distantly related to.

 

God allows tests from outside of ourselves to give us a chance to shine

 

1 Peter 1:6-7 (ESV Strong’s)

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

 

4.      TESTS FROM WITHIN

 

Perhaps even more difficult are tests from within. People around us, close to us, can often be a test for us. Moses found this when the very people he rescued, and some he trusted, grumbled and complained about his leadership.

 

Exodus 16:8 (ESV Strong’s)

the Lord has heard your grumbling that you grumble against him—what are we? Your grumbling is not against us but against the Lord.”

 

Grumbling, complaining, criticising… These are tests from within, and this kind of test often pushed Moses and God to the brink! Those closest to you can provide incredible support, or diabolical testing, so be careful what you say.

 

HOW TO FACE YOUR TEST

 

Let me wrap it up with a brief discussion on how you can pass the tests of life. Moses did a phenomenal job serving God and leading he people. He faced and passed test after test, and saved his people time and again.

 

Deuteronomy 9:14 (ESV Strong’s)

Let me alone, that I may destroy them and blot out their name from under heaven. And I will make of you a nation mightier and greater than they.’

 

Deuteronomy 9:18 (ESV Strong’s)

Then I lay prostrate before the Lord as before, forty days and forty nights. I neither ate bread nor drank water, because of all the sin that you had committed, in doing what was evil in the sight of the Lord to provoke him to anger.

 

So how should you face the tests life throws at you?

 

1.      FOCUS ON THE LORD, NOT THE PROBLEM

 

Whatever test you face seems big, it seems like a giant, but I’m telling you now that your God is bigger!  Whenever you face a problem, however big it seems, fix your eyes on Jesus!

 

Colossians 3:2 (ESV Strong’s)

Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.

 

1 Samuel 17:45 (ESV Strong’s)

Then David said to the Philistine, “You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.

 

When you face a test, don’t focus on the challenge, focus on God, and let Him fight for you, let Him lead you to victory in the test! How do you do that? The best way to start to focus on the Lord in a test is to have a thankful heart.

 

God spoke to me from my quiet time just a week or two ago about a test faced. I wanted to answer the allegations, I wanted to fire up and fight for what I thought was right, to correct the lies, but God told me otherwise…

 

Exodus 14:13-14 (ESV Strong’s)

And Moses said to the people, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.”

 

In any test, if you focus on the problem you see only problems. If you focus on Jesus, you see only Jesus, and He sorts your problems and He passes every test!

 

2.      FOCUS ON THE REWARD, NOT THE LOSS

 

Fear is one of the strongest emotions you can experience. It can occupy every space in your mind, causing sickness, sleeplessness and failure. Fear of loss paralyses people and stops them from moving ahead.

 

Moses faced the test at the Red Sea. More than a million people, backs to the sea, facing the oncoming army of Egypt and facing certain annihilation.

 

Exodus 14:21 (ESV Strong’s)

Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided.

 

Exodus 14:27 (ESV Strong’s)

So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the sea returned to its normal course when the morning appeared. And as the Egyptians fled into it, the Lord threw the Egyptians into the midst of the sea.

 

Yet no sooner had they seen this great miracle but they started looking back with rose coloured lenses and the so called good things in Egypt.

 

Later on, after experiencing  this great miracle and many more like it, the people faced the prospect of the dream coming true. God told them the Promised Land was awesome, but rather than take Him at His word by faith, they decided to check it out, and Moses sent 12 spies into the land. 10 focussed on the problems, the enemy, the giants, and 2 focussed on the Blessing…

 

Numbers 13:30-31 (ESV Strong’s)

But Caleb quieted the people before Moses and said, “Let us go up at once and occupy it, for we are well able to overcome it.” Then the men who had gone up with him said, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we are.”

 

When you walk by faith, the future is your friend, and every enemy is defeated. It’s your choice as to what you focus on, but the consequences are dire!

 

Don’t let fear rob you of passing the test. I’m speaking directly to someone here, don’t let your fear stop you stepping out in faith!

 

3.      FOCUS ON ONE PROBLEM AT A TIME

 

I find tests come in groups, and that’s part of the devil’s tactics. He loves to overwhelm you, so face each problem, each test one by one if you can.

 

Matthew 6:34 (ESV Strong’s)

“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

 

Step by step. Test by test. Stop worrying about what may or may not result, take every test to the Lord and let Him worry about that. You have enough. 99% of what we worry about never happens, so why waste energy on them?

 

4.      FOCUS PERIPHERALLY ON THE  BIG PICTURE

 

This sounds paradoxical, but as you focus on the test you currently face, keep in mind the overall picture. As I faced many tests and exams at Uni, I focussed on the test, but my peripheral vision, what kept me going in the toughest times, was on the prize of qualifying in my profession.

 

That what makes footballers great, they see the ball and the player coming at them but they are aware of every player around them. Peripheral vision makes a good player great, and so it is with us.

 

As you face your tests, take them one by one, focus on Jesus not the test, but never lose sight of the big picture. God has a plan and destiny for you. He has plans to prosper you, not to harm you. Even though you face a severe test right now, He has you in the palm of His hand, and you can trust Him and you will pass this test!

 

2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (ESV Strong’s)

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

 

The Weaving

 

My life is but a weaving

Between my God and me.

I cannot choose the colors

He weaveth steadily.

 

Oft’ times He weaveth sorrow;

And I in foolish pride

Forget He sees the upper

And I the underside.

 

Not ’til the loom is silent

And the shuttles cease to fly

Will God unroll the canvas

And reveal the reason why.

 

The dark threads are as needful

In the weaver’s skillful hand

As the threads of gold and silver

In the pattern He has planned

 

He knows, He loves, He cares;

Nothing this truth can dim.

He gives the very best to those

Who leave the choice to Him.

 

You can’t see the whole picture, but you know the guy who sees the whole picture!

 

TESTS ARE YOUR MOMENT TO SHINE!

 

Tests are not to be feared, they are  your chance to shine, to show the Lord your faithfulness and trust in Him.

 

Right now some of you are being tested. As Moses was so often.  Some are tested by circumstances, some by health, by finances, by people close to you. Whatever the source of the test, the aim is to pass it, and to move further into what God has for you.

 

Proverbs 17:3 (ESV Strong’s)

The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold, and the Lord tests hearts.

 

Silver is put in the crucible, it’s heated and the dross, the impurity rises to the top. The silversmith scoops it away, then heats it again, even more intensely.  In this test, more dross rises and it removed, then he heats it again, and again.

 

Up to 7 times. Someone asks, how do you know when the silver is pure, when it is refined. The silversmith replies, when I look into it and see my own image.

 

God is testing, He is refining, and if you are faithful, if you pass the test, He will see His own image reflected in you.

The Journey 2: The Hardening

We’ve started a series on the journey of life, and I’m taking some lessons our of the Exodus. Today want to zero in on the hardening of the heart, as we see so clearly in Pharaoh.

WHAT IS A HARD HEART?

A hard heart is defined by Merriam Webster as “to stop having kind or friendly feelings for someone or caring about something.” Look around at our world today and you’ll see that peoples hearts are harder than ever. Even Christians seem to tolerate a hardening of hearts, and if they get hurt or upset, so instead of opening up to God when hurt, they harden up to minimise the pain. It’s a protective response.

 

In a physical sense, human hearts can calcify or become sclerosed, which means they become harder, less flexible and less able to pump blood and sustain life. Picture a rubber-band, initially stretchy but over time becoming hard and snapping instead of stretching.

 

Your heart in Scripture is the seat of soul, which is your mind, will and emotions. It’s the you that lives forever, and that’s why you need to guard it…

 

Proverbs 4:23 (ESV Strong’s)

Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.

 

Spiritually it is the same. Having a hard heart towards God means you toughen up, stop connecting to, listening to or  obeying God. We can all of us experience a hardened heart.

 

HARDENING IS A PROCESS

 

Much like a hair care product, it doesn’t happen overnight, but it does happen! The hardening of a heart is a process, one that feeds itself and gathers momentum, and if we are not careful we can all experience this. Paul’s describe unbelievers in this way

 

Ephesians 4:18-19 (ESV Strong’s)

They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.

 

When I first started playing the guitar my fingers hurt so badly! The pressure of my finger tips on the strings was immense, but as I persisted, I developed callouses and soon I couldn’t feel anything. Hardening is a process, and the more you do it, the less you feel.

 

Jesus describes this

 

Matthew 13:15 (ESV Strong’s)

For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.’

 

The Greek word for dull is pachyno, which means fattened, thickening and insensitive. A hard heart is insensitive to God. And we can all go there if we make wrong decisions and resist God in our lives. So let’s look at Pharaoh…

 

WHO’S HARDENING WHO?

 

So, the question is did God harden Pharaoh’s heart, or did Pharaoh?  As I searched to understand who is hardening who here, I came upon an analogy that helped.

 

Think of God as an author. He writes a book with characters. The characters in the story makes decisions, but did they make the decision, or did the author? The answer is, both, isn’t it? The characters caught up in the plot make decisions that affect their lives, but the author is still guiding the overall plot and not forcing them to make the decisions. Paul talks of Pharaoh,

 

Romans 9:18 (ESV Strong’s)

So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.

 

So heart hardening is a process involving our free will decisions plus God’s sovereignty.  It is fascinating to examine the hardening process in Pharaoh, because it gives us clues as to how human hearts in general can become hardened towards God.

 

GOD IS SOVEREIGN

 

Exodus 4:21 (ESV Strong’s)

And the Lord said to Moses, “When you go back to Egypt, see that you do before Pharaoh all the miracles that I have put in your power. But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go.

 

And we could leave it at that general level and simply affirm and celebrate the truth that God is sovereign over the human heart. Exodus goes deeper describing hard hearts, but it is all under the banner of God’s sovereign will.

 

THE DOWNWARD SPIRAL OF HARDENING A HEART

 

In the Exodus account there are 10 plagues inflicted on Pharaoh and the Egyptians, starting with

 

Blood: Pharaoh’s heart “became hard” (7:22)

Frogs: Pharaoh “hardened his own heart” (8:15)

Gnats: Pharaoh’s heart “was hard” (8:19)

Flies: “Pharaoh hardened his own heart” (8:32)

Livestock die: Pharaoh’s heart “was hard” (9:7)

Boils: “The Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart” (9:12)

Hail: Pharaoh “hardened his own heart” (9:34)

Locusts: God announces that he has “hardened Pharaoh’s heart” (10:1,10:20)

Darkness: God “hardened Pharaoh’s heart” (10:27)

Death of the firstborn: God “hardened Pharaoh’s heart” (11:10)

 

In the first 5 plagues, either Pharaoh is said to have hardened his heart (plagues 2 and 4), or the source of the hardening is ambiguous, (plagues 1,3 and 5). In plagues 6-10 something changes, we hear four times that God has hardened Pharaoh’s heart, so there is a change, a progression in the process.

 

THREE MEANINGS OF HARDENING

 

The are 3 distinct Hebrew words used for hardening.

 

1.      QASHAH, k-shar

 

This means to stiffen, make hard or stubborn, and it is only used in Exodus 7:3, which is before the plagues actually begin.

 

Exodus 7:3 (ESV Strong’s)

But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, though I multiply my signs and wonders in the land of Egypt,

 

How many of us have resisted God and stiffened our hearts. Like when someone punches you in the stomach, but you stiffen or harden your abs to resist the force.

 

2.      CHAZAQ, shaz-ack

 

This word means “to strengthen, prevail, harden, become strong, firm, or resolute.” It shows up 12 times throughout the Exodus account, sometimes in the ambiguous sense, and sometimes God actively doing it. It seems to indicate a strengthening in whatever direction you’re already going.

 

So while ambiguous as to who is doing it, it implies that it is simply a strengthening of the state of the heart Pharaoh already had.

 

3.      KABED, ka-bed

 

This 3rd form of hardening means “to make heavy” or “to deaden.” Both Pharaoh and God are said to deaden Pharaoh’s heart. Pharaoh’s heart is described as heavy in 7:14, and then beginning in 8:15, Pharaoh makes his heart heavy, or he deadens his heart. This really implies the end product of the progression, which is a heart that is totally deadened towards God.

 

So here’s how it unfolds.

 

AT SOME POINT PHARAOH CROSSES A LINE

 

 

God promises that he will strengthen and stiffen Pharaoh’s heart. During the initial plagues, we’re told that Pharaoh’s heart was strengthened. Pharaoh is a wicked tyrant, so initially all that happens is that God simply strengthens Pharaoh in the direction he’s already going. He lets him do what he wants to do. He doesn’t have to turn Pharaoh’s heart; he just has to let the water take the course that’s before it.

 

Proverbs 21:1 (ESV Strong’s)

The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will.

 

God us like that with us at times… His punishment if you like is to actually let us do what we want y ok do, even though He knows that ultimately it will destroy us!

 

Next, in 7:14 it literally says “Pharaoh’s heart was heavy/dead.” It’s a rock, stone. Then as we move past the second plague (frogs), we’re told that Pharaoh deadened his heart (8:15). He dug in. He doubled down. And for the first six plagues, we jump back and forth between Pharaoh deadening his own heart, and God strengthening Pharaoh’s heart [to do what it’s already doing].

 

Then in chapter 10, as the eighth plague approaches, we’re told for the first time that God deadened Pharaoh’s heart. And from then on, there’s no ambiguity. From chapter 10 through to 14 we see God is strengthening Pharaoh’s heart in the direction that indicates God had deadened Pharaoh’s heart. Why is this significant? Well, just before plague 7 (the first in the final cycle of three plagues), God tells Pharaoh:

 

Exodus 9:14-17 (ESV Strong’s)

For this time I will send all my plagues on you yourself (Heb lit: your own heart), and on your servants and your people, so that you may know that there is none like me in all the earth. For by now I could have put out my hand and struck you and your people with pestilence, and you would have been cut off from the earth. But for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth. You are still exalting yourself against my people and will not let them go.

 

In other words, at this point, we’ve crossed a line. The plagues have escalated to the point that, even if Pharaoh refuses to acknowledge God and love Him, you would think that to save himself the pain, he would relent.  God desires at this point to bring the full weight of his judgment on the Egyptians, so he deadens Pharaoh’s heart to the point that Pharaoh won’t turn, even out of self-preservation.

 

In fact, after the seventh plague, Pharaoh’s servants urge him to do that. “How long will this man be a snare to us? Let the men go. Don’t you get that Egypt is ruined?” (10:7). Pharaoh tries to negotiate with Moses and God, but Moses insists on full obedience, but so Pharaoh, because his heart has now been fully deadened, says, “No!” (10:11) and finally drives Moses and Aaron from his presence.

 

SUMMARY OF THE SLIDE INTO HARDENING YOUR HEART

 

So to summarise, at the beginning, Pharaoh is a sinner. He’s a rebel. He’s determined, unrepentant and does not honour God.

 

God sends plagues that initially  inconvenience him, but he stubbornly refuses to budge, because and he and God strengthen his heart to do what it’s already wanting to do. But as time goes on, and as Pharaoh is strengthened in his rebellion, he begins to deaden his own heart towards God.

 

At some point he eventually he crosses a line so that God brings the full weight of his judgment down on Pharaoh; the plagues come on Pharaoh’s heart, causing pain to him personally, and now God himself actively deadens Pharaoh’s heart so that he is completely blinded to the situation and persists in the insanity of disobedience, which ultimately leads to his utter ruin at the Red Sea.

 

IT’S TIME FOR A HEART CHECK

 

So what does this mean for us today?

 

Pharaoh is the poster child for a hard heart, but there are many instances in the Bible concerning hard hearts. Paul looks back on the Pharaoh incident in Romans 9, he also describes unbelievers as having hardened hearts in Ephesians 4:18. Jesus describes religious people as having hard, calloused hearts in Matthew 13, and the people of Israel are described as having hard hearts in Hebrews 3:8, Psalm 95 and other places.

 

How interesting that hardened hearts are often used to describe those who claim to love and serve the Lord. Just because we are believers doesn’t make us impervious to a hard heart, in fact the more religious and judgemental seem to be more prone to hardening their heart to the God they claim to serve!

 

GUARD YOUR HEART, DON’T BARGAIN FOR IT

 

The reality  for all of us is that we must guard our hearts vigilantly. Any of us can suffer a hard heart, towards people who’ve hurt us and especially towards God. The same downward spiral affects us.

 

Someone hurts you, and you feel pain. Usually, the more you love that person the more pain you feel. Right at the start we could take our pain to the Lord,

 

Psalms 34:18 (ESV Strong’s)

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.

 

Psalms 147:3 (ESV Strong’s)

He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.

 

But we don’t want to let it go! We take it to the Lord, but inside we feel wronged, unjustly treated, and we feel like we need to not let it go but fight for what we see is right. So to continue that, and protect ourselves from more pain, we harden our heart just a bit.

 

What we don’t realise is that as we harden our heart towards others who’ve hurt us, we also harden it towards the Lord. It’s a slow process, over some time, and like the frog in the pot of boiling water, we don’t feel it, we just fry.

 

If you allow pain, anger and bitterness space in your heart, you will harden your heart for your own protection. If you keep hardening, before long you will harden your heart towards God, and once you build up that crusty, calloused exterior, you will drift away from God, away from the church, away from your destiny!

 

Along the way, so many of us, like Pharaoh, think we can bargain with God. Look at what Pharaoh said…

 

He started off with outright, arrogant rejection…

 

Exodus 5:2 (ESV Strong’s)

But Pharaoh said, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, and moreover, I will not let Israel go.”

 

Next, he offered to let Israel sacrifice to their God in Egypt…

 

Exodus 8:25 (ESV Strong’s)

Then Pharaoh called Moses and Aaron and said, “Go, sacrifice to your God within the land.”

 

Then it was, ok sacrifice, but don’t go too far…

 

Exodus 8:28 (ESV Strong’s)

So Pharaoh said, “I will let you go to sacrifice to the Lord your God in the wilderness; only you must not go very far away. Plead for me.”

 

Unable to bear the plagues (8th, locusts) , Pharaoh next tried this one…

 

Exodus 10:11 (ESV Strong’s)

No! Go, the men among you, and serve the Lord, for that is what you are asking.” And they were driven out from Pharaoh’s presence.

 

By the 9th plague he was desperate, but still not broken…

 

Exodus 10:24 (ESV Strong’s)

Then Pharaoh called Moses and said, “Go, serve the Lord; your little ones also may go with you; only let your flocks and your herds remain behind.”

 

Until finally God won, and Pharaoh lost, but he still remained stubbornly defiant because his heart was so hardened.

 

WE NEED TO SOFTEN OUR HARD HEART TOWARDS GOD

 

So we have seen that the hardening of the heart starts with us, but if we do not change the Lord allows our heart to grow more and more hardened. Hardening of the heart kills more people than hardening of the arteries!

 

It’s a gradual process, very subtle and extremely dangerous, and is accompanied by feeble attempts to bargain, which Pharaoh did with God, to try and relive the consequences without repenting.

 

If we’re honest, all of us do this from time to time, so we must be vigilant. But if you are finding your heart is growing harder towards the Lord, or someone else, I have some great news for you. Ezekiel tells the hard hearted of Israel,

 

Ezekiel 36:26-27 (ESV Strong’s)

And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.

 

The hurt, the bitterness, the hard heartedness can be broken right now. You need to make a decision to obey, to repent, to forgive whomever you feel has wronged you. We can start the softening of your heart right now.

 

Hosea 10:12 (ESV Strong’s)

Sow for yourselves righteousness;

reap steadfast love;

break up your fallow ground,

for it is the time to seek the Lord,

that he may come and rain righteousness upon you.

 

When you decide to seek the Lord, He promises that your heart will be softened towards Him, and towards others.

 

 

If you feel your heart has become hardened, even a little bit, I want to open the altar here at the front and have our team pray with you, and together we will believe for a softening of your heart.

 

The Journey 1- The Calling

Last week we talked about what is really important in life. For all of us, life is a journey. Some are at the start, many in the middle, and for some the journey draws to an end.

I want to start a series on the journey of life, because we all are in it. And when you talk journeys in the Bible we need to go straight to the big one… The Exodus. We’re going to start today looking at the call of God.

ONLY ONE LIFE

 

The first point to make is that you have only one life. You don’t get 2 or 3 lives, you’re not doing the Buddhist thing repeating life again and again, the Bible says you get one life…

 

Hebrews 9:27 (ESV Strong’s)

And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment,

 

If you mess this one life up, you can’t replay it. I saw a sign which said, I’m a computer gamer. Don’t tell me to get a life, I have dozens of lives. But that’s fake, folks, it isn’t real. If you mess your one life up, if you waste years, if you invest you life into the wrong thing, you can’t die and start again.

 

After his death, Martin Luther was found to have written 2 phrases in the margin of his Bible… “Born once – die twice; Born twice – die once”. What he was saying was that, everyone is born once, then they die a physical death, followed by eternal death. But if you are born twice, that is born again, you only face physical death and receive eternal life.

 

But we all will die, and we all get one shot at life. Maybe you think you’ve blown your shot at life. Maybe you’ve messed up or missed opportunities.

 

Joel 2:25 (ESV Strong’s)

I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten,

 

It’s not too late, you can rediscover God’s calling on your life today, right here, and begin the journey, knowing your God is for you and can restore anything you’ve squandered so far on the journey. It’s not too late for you!

 

YOU HAVE BEEN PREPARED

 

Looking back at my life I see the hand of God preparing me to serve Him in my calling. I see things that have happened, good and bad people I have met, some who helped and some who hindered. I see Scriptures confirming, despite what others might say, the gift and call of God as a pastor.

 

And God has been preparing you too, as was said to Esther…

 

Esther 4:14 (ESV Strong’s)

And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”

 

Everything you’ve gone through, the success, the failures, the times you’ve let God and those who love you down. The pain of rejection, failure, loneliness, even foolish decisions, God can use it all for good ultimately when we obey Him…

 

Jeremiah 29:11 (ESV Strong’s)

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.

 

Moses was called of God to lead the people on a great journey. You might say, well that was him, he’s was a great man, but I’m just me. I have this problem, this family, this disability, this hurt. But right at the start, when God called Moses for this great task, He was well aware of Moses’ failings.

 

Moses had a rough upbringing, but he got a break when he was brought up in the Pharaoh’s palace. Then he lost his temper and killed a man, then ran away. He spent 40 years in the wilderness, and some of you here have spent years wandering away from God or church in a wilderness of your own. That doesn’t disqualify you, it just prepares you for the moment when God calls again.

 

YOU ARE CALLED

 

Exodus 3:2-4 (ESV Strong’s)

And the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. And Moses said, “I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.” When the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.”

 

God often uses something to capture of attention. What’s your burning bush. Maybe it is the loss of someone you love, perhaps a poor medical diagnosis. Maybe you’ve come to Ignite this morning with a sense in your heart that God has something for you. Today He is capturing your attention.

 

And fair play to Moses, when God called he replied, “Here I am.”

 

So what are you going to say right now to God? Lord, can’t fit You into my schedule. Lord, I’m not worthy. Lord, I’m offended by what the pastor did, or what this or that person said. Why not just put all that aside and say, here I am listening.

 

(Lord speak to us about your calling upon our lives).

 

THE RESPONSE TO THE CALLING

 

The Lord called Moses using a burning bush, but after initially being open to the voice of God, Moses pulled away when he caught a glimpse of what God was calling him to take on. Instead of offering obedience, he offered excuses, and most of us offer the same thing when God calls us. Here’s 5 he offered…

 

1.      WHO AM I?

 

Exodus 3:10-11 (ESV Strong’s)

Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.” But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?”

 

Moses first response to the call for leadership was, who am I? He doubted himself, he doubted that God could use someone like him.

 

Moses struggled with his identity. He just didn’t feel qualified; he thought God had picked the wrong leader.

 

And some of you here are like that… you doubt that God can use someone like you. You have hang ups, fears, failures. You’ve done things you are ashamed of, you’ve hurt people you were supposed to love. You’ve failed.

 

Well Moses did all that, plus murder! What ever has happened in the past, whatever you feel towards yourself, you need to stop and recognise that God is God. He made you, He has a plan for you and He doesn’t make mistakes! All you need to do is walk with Him in obedience.

 

Isaiah 29:16 (ESV Strong’s)

Shall the potter be regarded as the clay, that the thing made should say of its maker, “He did not make me”; or the thing formed say of him who formed it,

“He has no understanding”?

 

If you are a Christian, the Spirit of God lives in you, so you can’t use the excuse, who am I.  Moses doubted who he was, wondering if God can use a screw up like him. But history shows God does use the base things of this world to confound the wise. Stop doubting the Potter and let Him shape you!

 

God’s response was:

 

Exodus 3:12 (ESV Strong’s)

He said, “But I will be with you, and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.”

 

God said,

It doesn’t matter who you are. I am with you…

 

2.      WHO ARE YOU?

 

So Moses countered with a second excuse: Who are You?

 

Exodus 3:13 (ESV Strong’s)

Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?”

 

It’s one thing to doubt yourself, but another entirely to doubt God! Moses felt a lack of intimacy. He didn’t know God well enough to describe him to the people and lacked convictions concerning his relationship with God.

 

God’s response was:

 

Exodus 3:14 (ESV Strong’s)

God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I am has sent me to you.’”

 

I AM WHO I AM. I AM ever present. I AM everything you need…

 

Destiny is not something that happens to you. Destiny is a series of choices, and the first step towards your destiny in God is to decide to get to know Him. Do the Bible reading plan, come to church, hunger and thirst for righteousness.

 

3.      WHO ARE THEY?

 

Exodus 4:1 (ESV Strong’s)

Then Moses answered, “But behold, they will not believe me or listen to my voice, for they will say, ‘The Lord did not appear to you.’”

 

Moses doubted himself, and God, and now he moves on to doubting the people, and how they will respond. When God calls us one of our big fears is how others will respond.

 

Moses felt intimidated. He was worried about the people’s reaction to him. He was fearful of what others would say. And we are no different today. Our world today is full of opinion, and every feels they can have their say no matter the consequences. People fire up and speak and hurt others all the time, and yes even in church. Listen, someone’s opinion is not more powerful than the call of God.

 

God’s response was: When I’m finished, they’ll listen. In Exodus 4:2-9 God outlines 3 signs to confirm Moses’ calling as leader of the people… A staff that turns into  a snake, skin that turns leprous then heals again, and water that turns into blood.

 

Whatever anybody says, whatever they think of me, I know the calling of God on my life, I know my integrity and I see the fruit.

 

4.      I DON’T HAVE THE SKILL

 

Exodus 4:10 (ESV Strong’s)

But Moses said to the Lord, “Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue.”

 

Moses fretted about his inadequacies. Who would listen to him if he couldn’t even speak well? He looked at his skills and said, hey, I’m not equipped to minister like You’re calling me to, Lord!

 

Many of you here look around and compare yourself with others. If they’re worse than you, you feel pride. If they’re better, you feel inadequate. Comparisons are deadly and never productive.

 

God has placed within you skills, talents and abilities some of which you don’t even yet know about. If He calls you, He equips you, because He never calls you to fail and ruin your life.

 

God’s response was: Guess who made your mouth? (4:11-12).

 

Exodus 4:11-12 (ESV Strong’s)

Then the Lord said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak.”

 

That’s why church is important if you want to serve the Lord… It equips you. My role as a pastor is to equip you to fulfil your destiny.

 

Ephesians 4:11-12 (ESV Strong’s)

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,

 

So if you feel inadequate, take a number and stand in line because we all do. But then get equipped and trained the best way you can and watch God lead you into the most exciting destiny you could ever imagine.

 

5.      FIND SOMEONE ELSE

 

So finally, after all the excuses, we get to the truth…Moses felt inferior. He compared himself to others—even his brother—and decided that he came up short. Then he told God to find someone else… This made God angry…

 

Exodus 4:13 (ESV Strong’s)

But he said, “Oh, my Lord, please send someone else.”

 

God has a destiny on your life. God is calling you to serve and make a difference, to do something significant, something that will last for eternity… but are you saying, “No, Lord, send someone else?”

 

There will always be more talented, better qualified, more attractive people out there.

 

1 Corinthians 1:27 (ESV Strong’s)

But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong;

 

And He chooses you. With all your hang ups, sins, feelings of inadequacy, he chooses you. Why? No idea, it’s His decision.

 

There are many beautiful women in the world, movie stars, models and Kardashians. But I choose Fiona. I see in her something that all the others girls, for all their glamour, don’t have. She’s the one that I want, oo-oo-oo, honey. And in the same way, God chooses you.

 

God’s response to Moses’ final excuse was: OK, I will let Aaron go with you . . . but I’m still calling you…

 

Exodus 4:16 (ESV Strong’s)

He shall speak for you to the people, and he shall be your mouth, and you shall be as God to him.

 

I will speak to you, you to him and him to the people. But you’re still it, Moses.

 

FIX YOUR EYES ON THE CALLING

 

So at the start of this great journey of faith, Moses heard the call of God. He made excuses, he ducked and weaved, but in the end, he decided to be obedient. And this call was important, because the burning bush and the call of God remained with him all his life, even in the tough times.

 

When Pharaoh attacked, he could fix his eyes on the call. With his back to the Red Sea, he could fix his eyes on that call. When the people moaned, when they rebelled, when they sent him nasty emails and texts, when those closest to him, people he trusted actually rebelled against him… he stood through it all, because he had a call.

 

So what is God calling you to today? Maybe it’s a call you thought long dead, but it has only been dormant. Maybe your searching right now for a place to fit, and a ministry to pursue. And when you know you’re called, doesn’t matter what they say, doesn’t matter what they do, you know in your heart of hearts that God has called you.

 

WALK INTO YOUR DESTINY

 

Robert Krulwich, science correspondent for NPR, believes it is impossible for humans to walk in a straight line

 

Jan Souman, a scientist from Germany, conducted an experiment, where he blindfolded his subjects and then asked them to walk for an hour in a straight line. Without exception, people couldn’t do it.

 

Of course, everybody thinks they’re walking in a straight line, until they remove the blindfolds and see their crooked path.

 

According to this research, there’s only one way we can avoid our normal crooked course and actually walk in a straight line: if we fix our eyes on something ahead of us. Kurlwich concluded, “Without external cues, there’s apparently something in us that makes us turn [from a straight path].”

 

Isaiah 30:21 (ESV Strong’s)

And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left.

 

To move towards our destiny, we must fix our eyes on Jesus, and listen because He is calling us. We must press on, and unless we fix our eyes on Jesus and His calling upon our lives, we will stray.

 

Philippians 3:14 (ESV Strong’s)

I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

 

Some of you here today have lost your way, but I want to give you he opportunity right now to refocus on the calling of God in your life. Are you tired, weary, hurt or discouraged? Some of you here believe the calling is lost forever, but it’s not. God is patiently waiting for you to stop giving excuses and start giving obedience.

Over the course of this week I have found myself pondering what is really important in life. I have been dealing with many situations around Ignite which seem terribly important to those involved. I’ve been dealing with plans, extensions, programs, finances, relationships.

But this week we’ve had the passing and celebration of Lorna’s life, and frankly it put things into a rather stark perspective!

Here us running around like cooks without heads, full of energy, full of action, pursuing what we think it’s important in life… but God stopped me for a time…

 

Jesus sobered Martha up when she complained…

 

Luke 10:41-42 (ESV Strong’s)

But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”

 

WHAT BENDS YOU OUT OF SHAPE?

 

Most people die with regrets. Many of the things we have blown up about and ruined relationships over, most of what we fight doggedly for today, have no meaning in eternity and aren’t really important in life.  Some of you thought rock music was satanic, and that dancing was of the devil. Some thought women wearing makeup or shorts was offensive, or going to the cinema was sinful…

 

Styles change, opinions change, preferences change, but Jesus is a constant…

 

Hebrews 13:8 (ESV Strong’s)

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

 

But we get so steamed up about things that ultimately, in eternity, don’t matter, in fact, they don’t even matter in a month or two.  We get mad because the traffic was bad, someone charged me too much, she said this about me! We fight traffic, fight each other, fight for our rights. In our affluent society, where we have more stuff than ever before, everybody fights for their so called rights.

 

Ask yourself… are these things really important in life? In one year, 5 years, 10 years you won’t even remember that has you so angered or offended right now!

 

HOW DO WE GET A TRUE PERSPECTIVE…

 

Philippians 2:14-15 (ESV Strong’s)

Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world,

 

We are so blessed in Australia, but we always manage to find something to whine and complain about, don’t we.  Listen here’s a perspective…

 

If you have had an education and know how to read, then you are more blessed that over two billion people in the world that cannot read anything at all.

 

If you woke up this morning with more health than illness, you are more blessed than the million who won’t survive the week.

 

If you have food in your refrigerator, clothes on your back, a roof over your head and a place to sleep, you are richer than 75% of this world.

 

If you have money in the bank, in your wallet, and spare change lying in a dish, you are among the top 8% of the worlds wealthy.

 

And if you can attend a church meeting without fear of harassment, arrest, torture, or death, You are more blessed than almost three billion people in the world.

 

It’s amazing how humbling this realisation is…to know that the poorest of us in this room are richer than most of the rest of the world, and yet we never have enough?

 

So let me begin this message on what’s really important in life by asking the reverse…

 

WHAT’S NOT IMPORTANT IN LIFE?

 

I want to mention some things that you might think are important right now, that the world tells you are important, but when you get to the end of your life and are ready to face judgement, they simple aren’t important in life at all!

 

1.      RELAXATION, RECREATION, CONVENIENCE AND ENJOYMENT

 

We joke about 1st world problems!

 

Recently my niece visited and didn’t get a joke I made. I was ordering a pizza, and tracking it on my phone, and feigned outrage that it was 3 minutes overdue. She thought I was serious and told me about people in the world with not enough to eat…

 

Most of our life is spent in the pursuit of comfort and convenience. We have instant gratification, instant coffee, microwaves and TV dinners. They even invented a microwave TV, so you can watch the show 60 minutes in just one minute.

 

People say they just want to have a good, fun life. You can, but the fun you’ve had, the experiences, the sin, it all is worthless in eternity!

 

We have so much! We have air conditioning for when it gets too hot, heating if it gets too cold. We don’t cultivate our food, we don’t plant and reap it at harvest time, we pick things off a supermarket shelf.

 

Jesus didn’t die to give you a good time and a comfortable

Iife.

 

The symbol for Christianity is a cross not a cushion. Comforts, convenience…  we’ve never had so many in history before, but people are more miserable than ever because they are selfish!

 

Christianity is not a life of self, it’s a life of sacrifice. It’s not about convenience it’s about conviction. We don’t seek good times we seek God’s glory.

 

Romans 8:18 (ESV Strong’s)

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.

 

2.      RICHES

 

Money is what we all strive for all of our lives, money so we can buy all the things we want. But in the end, money and possessions cannot buy happiness, you can just be miserable in comfort. Ultimately, it’s is just not important at all in life and especially in eternity. Solomon observed this…

 

Ecclesiastes 5:10 (ESV Strong’s)

He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity.

 

The world tells us, markets to us, that money and what it buys are important in life.  Saw the dumbest bumper sticker ever… He who dies with the most toys wins. Utter rubbish, but most people live by it!

 

We strive all our life for bigger houses, cars, TVs, dining tables and computers. Do you think any of that matters one iota the second you die?

 

Heard of a rich man who was dying and asked his butler to pack a suitcase of gold bars. Miraculously as his spirit departed he grabbed the bag, and arrived in heaven with his precious bag. St Peter said, what’s in the bag, and he proudly opened it and displayed the contents. Peter asked, why did you bring a suitcase of road base? Jesus said,

 

Luke 12:15 (ESV Strong’s)

And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”

 

Jesus told the rich young ruler, who asked how to be saved, the following…

 

Mark 10:21-22 (ESV Strong’s)

And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

 

Jesus wasn’t saying we can’t have money or nice things. But this young man didn’t have riches, riches had him. If possessions possess you, then God can’t. And shrouds DON’T have pockets, so in the end, on the day you die, in the light of eternity, all your possessions and riches simply don’t matter!

 

3.      REPUTATION AND POSITION

 

2 kids watched a funeral procession go by. One asked, who’s funeral, and the other replied, the local millionaire. Wow, said the first boy, how much money did he leave, and the second replied, all of it.

 

Position, reputation, like riches, they seem important but in the long run, in reality, they are worthless! They’re not really important in life. Many whom the world celebrates and champions right now will find their celebrity, fame, power and prestige worthless when they stand before God to be judged. Jesus said

 

Mark 10:42-43 (ESV Strong’s)

You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant,

 

In eternity, servanthood matters, humility matters but position and reputation matters not at all.

 

4.      REGRETS AND PLANS

 

Proverbs 19:21 (ESV Strong’s)

Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.

 

We make our plans, our great dreams of doing something awesome, and most people step into eternity with plans either unfulfilled, or completely messed up by things we did do?

 

In eternity our plans mean nothing. If you’re  too busy, too absorbed in something to serve the Lord, standing before Jesus one day saying, “Well Lord, I intended to ask You into my life. I intended to serve You.” Means nothing.

 

Guilt and regret consume some of us right now, both for things we have done, and the things we knew we should have done but haven’t. We’ve all done things we regret, but we need to remember that when we confess our sins He forgives us. Don’t let regret rob you of what’s important. I don’t want to face the judgement seat of Christ with regrets, knowing I squandered what God asked me to do, or I was so paralysed by guilt and shame I did nothing.

 

2 Corinthians 7:10 (ESV Strong’s)

For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.

 

Don’t let guilt and regret tie you up and convince you they are really important in the long run.

 

5.      RELIGION AND LEGALISM

 

Time for a bit of controversy, but this one affects many people in churches, even ours… Legalism! I read Galatians this week, and Paul pulls no punches.

 

Galatians 5:7-9 (ESV Strong’s)

You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion is not from him who calls you. A little leaven leavens the whole lump.

 

And it does…legalism is man’s rules instead of relationship, and it spreads like cancer in the church. But in the end, religion can’t save you, it only enslaves you. Only Jesus can save you!

 

Legalism is when people afflict upon you man made rules, usually in a pseudo spiritual guise. They will tell you God demands this or that, but beware because these are usually not true Biblical principles but that person’s preferences. In Paul’s day the legalistic debate  was about circumcision, but today it could be any number of legalistic, religious rules.

 

Max Lucado describes legalism as Jesus +. Jesus + evangelism, Jesus + giving, Jesus + rituals, Jesus + anything!

 

2 Timothy 2:14 (ESV Strong’s)

charge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers.

 

Jesus describes the legalism of the religious leaders of His day as

 

Matthew 23:4 (ESV Strong’s)

They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger.

 

Matthew 23:24 (ESV Strong’s)

You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!

 

Legalism sucks the life and the joy out of people, but ultimately it too will be worth nothing in eternity. You cannot get the heaven by following a set of rules, you need a relationship with Jesus, plus nothing!

 

WHAT LASTS FOREVER?

 

So these things aren’t really important in life, but let me summarise what really is important eternity. 3 things,

 

1.      GOD

 

Psalms 90:2 (ESV Strong’s)

Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

 

God is eternal, never starts, never ends.

 

2.      GOD’S WORD

 

Isaiah 40:8 (ESV Strong’s)

The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.

 

God says His Word is Eternal… It stands forever, long after fashions, opinions,  philosophy, and worldly wisdom fades, it still stands. That’s why I want you to join us as we read the Bible reading plan, because God’s Word never fails!

 

Isaiah 55:11 (ESV Strong’s)

so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

 

I have chose to build my life upon the Word of God,  not money, not fame, not success or prestige or your opinion of religious things we must or must not do, just God’s Word.

 

3.      THE SOULS OF MEN AND WOMEN

 

The souls of men and women live forever. Either in heaven or hell, but they exist forever. Therefore anything we can do that invests into people for eternity is valuable.

 

Relationships are valuable. I hate seeing people fight over things that aren’t important and compromising relationships that are. How dare we doggedly pursue our opinions of things and drive people away from God! Is our opinions, our interpretation, our comfort, our desires worth more than a soul lost to an eternity in hell?

 

And church is a classic battleground. How many have been hurt or offended by people in church and left church to wander sometimes for years away from God? Church, we need to get serious about this, because harsh rules and judgement won’t win people to Christ, but love and holiness will.

 

Romans 14:13 (ESV Strong’s)

Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.

 

The soul is so important, because it’s eternal. Either in heaven or hell. All the money, prestige, fame, success, comfort or legalism in the world amounts to nothing if we lose our soul!

 

Matthew 16:26 (ESV Strong’s)

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?

 

WHAT REALLY MATTERS IN ETERNITY?

 

Jesus told a parable that sums this all up…

 

Luke 12:16-21 (ESV Strong’s).

And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”

 

Only one life, t’will soon be passed. Only what’s done for Christ will last.

 

Are you willing to lay aside whatever is holding you back from true greatness in God?  What is it you need to let go of? What is it you currently concentrate on that seems important, but that on the day you die you’ll realise it was never that important at all?

 

2 Corinthians 5:10 (ESV Strong’s)

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.

 

 

The Blessing of Unity

Max Lucado said, The church is asking God for revival, and God is asking the Church for unity.

What if the missing ingredient for changing the world is teamwork? What if Jesus was serious about what He prayed when He said,

Matthew 18:19-20 (ESV Strong’s)

if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”

 

What if Jesus was so serious He spent His last few hours before His execution praying again and again,

 

John 17:23 (ESV Strong’s)

I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.

 

A FAMILY AFFAIR

 

I love family… but most of our families have taught us the lesson that brothers rarely dwell together in unity. Two chickens tied at the legs and thrown over a clothesline may be joined, but they do not have unity. That’s the case in many families…

 

Cain killed Abel (Gen. 4), Lot quarrelled with Abraham (Gen. 13), Joseph’s brothers hated him and sold him for a slave (Gen. 37), and the brothers did not even get along among themselves (Gen. 45:24)! Miriam and Aaron criticised their brother Moses (Num. 12), and some of David’s children turned against him (2 Sam. 13–18; and note 2 Sam. 12:10).

 

Our Lord’s own disciples frequently quarrelled over which one of them was the greatest (Matt. 18:1ff.; Mark 9:33ff.; Luke 22:23ff.), and Paul and Barnabas argued over John Mark and finally broke company and chose new ministry companions (Acts 15:36-41). The church began in visible unity (Acts 2:1, 44, 46), but when you read Paul’s epistles, you find a sad story of rivalry and division, and it is not much better today.

 

Today I want to examine one of my favourite Psalms…

 

Psalm 133 was likely written by David to be sung as people journeyed to Jerusalem. But it’s one thing to travel for a day or two together, or to spend Christmas lunch or Sunday afternoon visiting relatives, but it is another thing entirely to live with them!

 

Psalms 133 (ESV Strong’s)

Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!

It is like the precious oil on the head, running down on the beard,

on the beard of Aaron, running down on the collar of his robes!

It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion!

For there the Lord has commanded the blessing, life forevermore.

 

Lord give us unity and understanding of this Psalm.

 

In verse 1, the Hebrew word for dwell is yasab, which means to live or abode together. It also means to marry. It’s one thing to meet someone unpleasant, or have to spend a few hours or even days together, but imagine being married to them!

 

It’s where we live that dictates the blessings of God. Verse 1 might be  challenging to live, but easy to understand. Unity is pleasant, it’s fun, it’s peace and harmony. We should want to live there. Disunity is horrible, painful, tense. We know we should be shooting for unity, in our homes, families and church.

 

OILS AIN’T OILS

 

But what’s the deal with verse 2. Psalm 133:2 is often overlooked, because it is weird. It’s messy. If someone dumped oil on my head, I’m not sure I’d see it as a blessing.

 

Oil represents the grace, anointing, presence and power of the Holy Spirit. And in verse 2, it doesn’t  just stay on the head, it flows over the head, down the beard and all the way down until to edge of the garment. It is not just an anointing, it’s a drenching!

 

Today Jesus wants the whole of His body the church anointed… Every person, not just the pastor, not just the leaders, every man, woman and child.

 

Remember the woman  who said to herself…

 

Mark 5:28 (ESV Strong’s)

“If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.”

 

The woman touch the hem of Jesus’ garment and was healed, because the anointing flowed right out to the edge of Jesus’ garments. In church, most people will not touch the head, the pastor, because he cannot clone himself dozens of times to get around everyone. But they will touch the edge of the church.

 

That’s why we need unity! The oil only flows where there is unity, and in church it flows down the head, across the breastplate, across leaders and departments and out to the very edge. I love hearing about people without position, without fanfare, just ministering to those outside the church in the Anointing of the Spirit.

 

Stay united, He’ll keep you anointed.

 

TURNING OFF THE TAP

 

Humans have a natural bent for independence. Division in the camp is destructive… When you divide you cut the flow of the anointing of God.. You turn off the tap! When you unite, you keep the oil flowing, which is why Paul said,

 

1 Corinthians 1:10 (ESV Strong’s)

I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.

 

We can see the power of the Holy Spirit flowing through each of us, we can see healing, miracles, lives transformed, people won to Jesus, we can all of us share in these ministries, but only if we live in unity.

 

The other day I pick up up a glass, and the glass was oily. It slipped through my fingers and smashed. The enemy might try and grab us, but if we are anointed with the oil of unity in the Spirit, he cannot grasp us!

 

UNITY IS POWERFUL

 

I mentioned last week that unity is powerful, for either good or evil. God knew that when He saw the tower of Babel, when He said,

 

Genesis 11:6 (ESV Strong’s)

And the Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them.

 

When evil men unite around a common cause they become powerful, like communists, Nazis or Isis. But how much more power is it to unite around God and His goodness? Unity brings a supernatural power!

 

So let me share with you what we can and must unite around…

 

1.     UNITY AROUND DESTINY NOT DAYS GONE BY

 

So many Christians and churches unite around what’s happened in the past, but they don’t unite around what God is doing in the future.

 

Every move of God has 4 parts…

 

A Man, one person who starts with a vision, and people gather around him, such as John Wesley, Martin Luther, William Booth, Brian Houston

A Movement, more people join, a movement begins, great things happen, look at the Salvation Army, Methodism, Hillsong.

A Machine, the thing is moving, but people are no longer inspired the same way, but going through the motions… looks good, but underneath it isn’t.

A Monument, to things in the past. Many great moves of God, so powerful and innovative 100-200 years ago, are now monuments to past glories.

 

Isaiah 43:18-19 (ESV Strong’s)

“Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old.

Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?

I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.

 

We have seen God do great things here at Ignite, but the best is yet to come. Whatever your pedigree, it’s hats off to the past, but it’s coats off to the future. So let’s celebrate the victories of the past, but let’s unite around destiny God has for us!

 

2.      UNITY AROUND COMMONALITY NOT CONTRASTS

 

Visiting London with Bill Newman one day, we were in a tube station near the Arsenal’s Stadium. I noticed a sea of red and white, and I asked one guy near me who had won the game. When he found out I was an Arsenal fan from Australia, a whole load of people gathered around shaking my hand and slapping me in the back. I didn’t know these people, never seen the, before, but we had the Arsenal in common, and the differences faded away instantly.

 

We all have differences, but we can choose to let them go, to put our differences aside and have unity in the things we share in common.

 

Paul picks up on this…

 

1 Corinthians 12:15-18 (ESV Strong’s)

If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose.

 

We need to unite on what we have in common, and love the differences.

 

3.      UNITY AROUND PRINCIPLES, NOT PREFERENCES

 

We live in a world which calls preferences principles and principles preferences. Think about it!

 

I’d have thought gender and relationships were pretty self explanatory, but today someone’s preferences are elevated above scientific principles.

 

In the church, preferences strengthen segregation. Principles strengthen foundations. Beware of those elevating their preferences, their understanding, their version of things to a principle, and twisting Scripture to do it.

 

The style of music, type of preaching, these are preferences, not principles.

 

So what’s the big principle we can unite around? The Word of God!

 

Ignite is not built around my preferences, church traditions, laser lights or smoke, it’s built on the Word of God, and we believe that

 

2 Timothy 3:16-17 (ESV Strong’s)

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

 

What unites us is far more significant than what divides us. In the end, Principles will outlast preferences, fashions, trends, programs or good ideas.

 

4.      UNITY AROUND RELATIONSHIPS, NOT ROLES

 

There are various roles in church, that’s normal. We have a team for worship, greeting people, car park, admin, etc. you can serve, you can be part of the team, and still not be in unity.

 

You are far better to build a team around relationships.

 

1 Peter 3:8 (ESV Strong’s)

Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.

 

In other words, make relationships and make them count. Performances, programs and players will pass, but people will last.

 

THE LORD BESTOWS A BLESSING

 

We’ve talked about the oil, the flow of the Holy Spirit, reaching right to the hem of Aaron’s garment, so let’s wrap things up. Unity is also described as,

 

Psalms 133:3 (ESV Strong’s)

It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion!

For there the Lord has commanded the blessing, life forevermore.

 

Mount Hermon is the largest mountain in Israel. It is almost constantly green, because of rain, snow and a heavy dew that happens almost all year round.

 

And unity is like that. It is refreshing like a heavy dew. It makes things clean and fresh. As the oil of the Holy Spirit flows, it refreshes, it blesses, it brings life. Unity brings life and blessing in a way far beyond the absence of conflict.

 

When David says the Lord bestows a blessing, he uses the word braka, which means blessing, prosperity and it’s even the same word for pool. The idea is not a little bit of sprinkling but a lavish, overflowing outpouring of blessing. The same word is used for blessing in this passage…

 

Malachi 3:10 (ESV Strong’s)

Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing (braka) until there is no more need.

 

IT’S TIME FOR A DRENCHING, NOT A QUENCHING

 

We mostly have unity at Ignite, so I’m not aiming this message at anyone, I’m calling us all to a fresh commitment to unity and each other as a family. If we put our preferences and opinions aside and just live in unity and if we continue to zealously guard unity we will see an outpouring of the Holy Spirit that will transform our community.

 

Not small drips, not a little puddle but an overwhelming flood of Holy Spirit power and anointing.  An anointing that leads to salvation, and the people of God living in victory and power.

 

And all this is the outflow, not of programs, or arguing doctrine, not of great preaching or cool worship or building extensions and more toilets.

 

It’s all down to unity. In 2020 it’s time to put our differences aside and really seek God in unity, because what unites us is greater than what divides us. We have a destiny here at Ignite, and God is calling us to unite and move into it in 2020.

 

In Jesus’ high priestly prayer of John 17 we see the call to unity. In Ephesians 4 Paul calls a divided, fighting church to unity. He knows we have differences of opinion and doctrine and beliefs, but when we let those things reign, when we let those preferences and opinions divide us, were not being scriptural or godly at all, no matter how many verses you use to support your position. We are favouring a preference over the God given principle of unity.

 

If we so doggedly hold to our preferences, if we love our opinions more than we love others, we’re not being godly or scriptural or righteous… we are being sinful, and quenching the Holy Spirit, the flow of which only truly happens when we stand together united as one. Listen to what Paul said,

 

1 Thessalonians 5:16-22 (ESV Strong’s)

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.

 

The Greek word for quench is sbennymi, which does not mean quench as in quench your thirst, but means to extinguish, to snuff out, to stifle and limit what God wants to do.

 

I don’t believe anyone here sets out to do that, but we must be careful not to let our preferences and opinions extinguish God’s will as collateral damage.

 

1 Corinthians 1:10 (ESV Strong’s)

I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.

 

If we doggedly fight for our own particular pet verse, then frankly we are disobeying that verse, so how scriptural are we really?

 

So this morning as I wrap up this series on unity in 2020, I want to simply call you to stand with us, for each other, for your church family, for our community and for our nation. This means turning up for church, doing the Bible plan, putting up with each other and standing as one in the arms of the Lord because we are better together.

 

So whose in with me? I want more of God, I want to serve Him more and see His power in my life to greater and greater effect. Remember the sticks… we are better together!

 

Who is with me to obey Paul when he commands us to be

 

Ephesians 4:3 (ESV Strong’s)

eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

We’re Better Together

At the start of this year, this new decade, it’s a great time to stop and seek God for the future. 2020 is the year of vision, and as we approach this year we want to have a clear vision of where God is leading us. I don’t want to just maintain, and I don’t want to stumble through this next year. I want to take ground from the enemy, to stand for Jesus in our area and our nation. I believe we are better together!

IF YOU WERE DYING

Let me ask you… If you were dying and had just 14 days to live, what would you do? Would you travel? Would you make peace with people? Ask forgiveness? Would you record a parting video or a song? I would!

 

OK, what if you had only 14 hours to live? What would your last actions on this earth be, and what would your last words be? Surely you’d want your last words on earth to be the  most important… You’d want your last words to be significant, right?

 

In the last few hours of His life, Jesus chose to pray. He was in the garden of Gethsemane. He faced the suffering of the cross and death, and He prayed,

 

Luke 22:42 (ESV Strong’s)

“Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.”

 

But the Apostle John gives us an even greater insight into Jesus’ thoughts at this most critical time.  He didn’t just pray for strength, or for His Father’s will, He spent a lot of time praying for you and I… The church.

 

In His final hours on earth Jesus prayed this… for believers…

 

John 17:17-23 (ESV Strong’s)

Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.

“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.

 

Jesus last recorded act in earth before His arrest, trial and execution was to pray, and specifically to pray for unity among believers.

 

So as we face 2020, why is unity still so important?  Why are we better together?

 

2020… VISION OR DIVISION?

 

When the Pharisees accused Jesus of casting out demons by the power of Satan, Jesus asked, “How can Satan cast out Satan?” Then he said,

 

Mark 3:24-26 (ESV Strong’s)

If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but is coming to an end.

 

Here’s the thing… Unity is unbelievably powerful, and division always destroys.

 

This holds true for any group, for good or for bad. Ants work together to carry far more than their body weight. Losing football teams can unite under a new coach and start to win.  In the 1930s the Nazis united people in their hatred of the Versailles treaty and Jews and plunged the world into genocide and war.

 

God has long recognised the power of unity… remember the Tower of Babel

 

Genesis 11:6 (ESV Strong’s)

And the Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them.

 

God disrupted the unity of people then because He knew the power of unity. And Jesus prayed for unity among His people because He knows the power of unity, especially in the church today. Unity is so important Jesus prayed for it for us in His last hours on earth!

 

SATAN’S SECRET WEAPON

 

Remember, Satan’s aim is to kill, steal and destroy, both in your life and in the church. He wants to disrupt church, and his best secret superpower is disunity. When I look across the church in our country, it seems like to a degree he is winning!

 

I heard about a family from Sydney who moved west to raise cattle. When their friends visited and inquired about the ranch’s name, the would be farmer replied: “I wanted to name it the Bar-J. My wife favoured Thunder-Downunder one of our sons wanted the Flying-W, and the other liked the Suzy-Q. So we’re calling it the BAr-J-Thunder Downunder,Flying-W-Suzy Q.”

 

“But where are all your cattle?” the friends asked. The man replied…

 

“None survived the branding.”

 

Disunity destroys, and unity builds, especially in the Spirit. Unity is not agree on everything. It is agreeing to disagree agreeably. Any organisation, including a church, is full of people who will not agree on loads of things.

 

Our witness before the world is compromised by disunity, because what will convince the world, what will reveal the truth about God, is not our pet doctrine, not how aggressively we fight, not our judgemental attitude, not our religious practice… but our love, one for another.

 

John 13:34-35 (ESV Strong’s)

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

 

When Jesus prayed in His last few hours on earth He prayed,

 

John 17:23 (ESV Strong’s)

I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.

 

He didn’t pray that we would always agree, but that we might be one, and not just one but perfectly one. In the Greek perfectly is the word teleoo, the same word Jesus used on the cross as He died, tetelestai… It is finished, or it is complete. A church in unity is a shining beacon to a world in disarray!

 

THE POWER OF UNITY… BETTER TOGETHER!

 

Satan does not want us to discover the power of unity, and will do everything in his power to prevent it. That’s why Paul wrote,

 

1 Corinthians 1:10 (ESV Strong’s)

I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.

 

Like Fiona and I… I think we’re better together too.

 

Some of the most incredible trees on earth are the magnificent Californian  redwoods. They commonly grow to over 80 metres tall, the tallest one is actually 117.8 m tall. These trees stand like sentinels of time and have done so for hundreds of years. Some were living at the time Christ walked on earth.

 

They’ve survived winds, earthquakes, fires and storms—still they stand.

 

You would imagine that each tree has enormous, strong and incredible deep roots to survive all they have. But I’m fact they have a comparably shallow root system, yet they rarely ever fall. How do they keep standing even in the wildest of storms or earthquakes? It’s because the redwood’s root systems reach out for great distances sideways, not down, and their roots are intertwined with one another. They literally hold each up other up.

 

If you and I are going to reach our full potential in 2020, if this church is to be all it should be in the next decade, we too need the support of each other, to be not overdependent but inter-dependent. We need unity!

 

Jesus never prayed for agreement in the hours before His death, He prayed that in our inability to agree we would still be one, be complete in each other. Why? Because we are better together. Let me share 3 areas we have to deal with to obtain unity in 2020…

 

1.      PRIDE

 

We all have it, and it destroys unity and must be dealt with.

 

1 Peter 5:5 (ESV Strong’s)

Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

 

We all have our own ideas, preferences or agendas. Unity doesn’t change the way you’d prefer to do things, but it gives you the maturity and wisdom to overlook the differences.

 

My uncle was a old man when I was young in the church I attended. He showed up to everything that had youth or young adult on it. I asked him why. He said that although he hated the music, the loudness and pretty much everything we did, he loved the kids, and wanted to show his support. He felt we were better together.

 

2.      PEACE

 

Romans 14:19 (ESV Strong’s)

So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.

 

As human beings, we talk about peace but rarely pursue it, because we are busy pursuing what we want instead. Jesus said in John 14:27, peace I leave you, and that peace should be manifest primarily through the church. But if you looked at churches today you wouldn’t think so!

 

But how can we promote peace in our churches or families?

 

We maintain peace and unity by guarding what we say, and building one another up mutually. We need to guard what we say and how we say it, and speak words of life, encouragement and peace.

 

But if you don’t have peace within you, how can you show it to those around you? You need be at peace personally. You get more peace the closer you get to God…

 

Psalms 119:165 (ESV Strong’s)

Great peace have those who love your law; nothing can make them stumble.

 

Isaiah 26:3 (ESV Strong’s)

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.

 

To have peace in church we need people whose minds are on God, and therefore who are at peace with God. This is why I’m asking you to join us and commit to the Bible reading plan, because in unity we can grow strong together and live in peace.

 

3.      PREFERRING OTHERS

 

Philippians 2:3-4 (ESV Strong’s)

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

 

Most disunity in church happens around people’s preferences. I know some dogmatic, judgemental Christians who honestly think their opinion is gospel. Regardless of your opinion on something, you should put others first and honour them, not attack them because they disagree with your opinion.

 

There are some fundamentals in the Christian faith that cannot be compromised, but there are many which we can disagree on but still be in fellowship with.

 

Beware of people who push their own opinions or preferences above their love of people around them. If we love our preferences more than we love people, we have disunity. But if we love people more than our preferences, our doctrines, our interpretations of Scripture or opinions, we will have unity.

 

WE NEED TO BE ONE

 

There is incredible blessing and power in unity. Not just the absence of conflict, but genuine, Holy Spirit power when we join our hearts in unity. And Satan loves to attack our unity, causing fights and divisions over issues that are non core, non gospel beliefs.

 

Honestly, we get so adamant, so judgemental, so aggressive about issues that are peripheral to the gospel, we grieve the Holy Spirit and dishonour the unity that was so clearly important to Jesus that He devoted His last moments as a free man to. In this new year, it’s time to let it go for the sake of the Kingdom!

 

When Paul addresses the wayward church at Corinth, he highlights a situation where the animosity was so great between believers that actually took each other to court! But his words to that extreme case have relevance for any disagreement when he writes…

 

1 Corinthians 6:7 (ESV Strong’s)

To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?

 

Let me pose the question… What not forsake your opinion on non essential beliefs and just love each other? You could win the debate, but God’s Kingdom loses in the long term.

 

THE BLESSED OF THE BLESSED IN 2020

 

What we need to move forward in 2020 is not the best of the best, but the blessed of the blessed, and we only achieve this when we are in unity.

 

Psalms 133:1,3 (ESV Strong’s)

Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!

For there the Lord has commanded the blessing, life forevermore.

 

And with this unity comes great blessing, even life forever more, salvation!  Paul writes,

 

Ephesians 4:1-3 (ESV Strong’s)

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

 

At the start of 2020, I’ve been praying earnestly about this year and our future, and I am absolutely convinced that unity is the key for us. We are better together, whether we agree or not, we are better together!

 

This year we have a great and unique opportunity at Ignite to shine the light of the gospel into our nation, but we will never grow strong and shine in the darkness without unity!

 

That’s why I’m asking you to join me in this great endeavour. Commit to coming to church in 2020. And when you come, let your preferences and opinions go, and let’s be one as Jesus prayed for us. Can we agree to disagree agreeably, and can we pull together to achieve all God has for us this decade.

 

JOIN OUR SHIELDS OF FAITH

 

In Ephesians 6 Paul talks about the armour of God. He lists the various parts of the armour every Christian should wear every day… The Helmet of Salvation, the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of the gospel, the sword of the Spirit. Then he writes…

 

Ephesians 6:16 (ESV Strong’s)

In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one;

 

The enemy attacks and causes disunity, and the shield of faith is our protection. Some people pray for this faith, but don’t connect with a church. You need to understand what Paul is referring to here, because he clearly has the Roman soldier in mind.

 

Roman soldiers didn’t fight alone. They performed a manoeuvre called the tortoise, where they joined their shields in front, behind, at the sides and the top. This gave them far superior protection to standing alone swinging at the enemy. The shield of faith is designed to be used not in isolation, but in unity with other believers.

 

So this morning , at the start of 2020, I’m asking you to join us and stand together as one body, just as Jesus prayed for us to be. Together we are better.