Monday, June 29, 2020

What is a Spiritual Journey: The Road of Trials

"Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. 15 If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. 16 However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. 17 For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18 And,

“If it is hard for the righteous to be saved,
what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”[a

So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good." -1st Peter 4:12-19

We’ve been called to the adventure. We’re on our spiritual journey. Last week we talked about the moment of clarity, where we realize a profound truth, that God is real.

Now we come to the road of trials. We begin a process that is life long in which Christians, followers of Jesus go through trials and tribulations. And we’re going to look at four of the common trials that Christians will go through. But your trials will be your own, as you walk with Jesus. They are indeed unique.

The first trial, the trial of persistence. Will you keep going? It’s a beautiful summers day and you have the joy of Christ in you. And very suddenly the whole sky turns dark, and the rain starts pouring. The evil one begins fighting against you with all his might to stop you, to get you to turn back and go back to the plantation, the slave farm, of the world system as it is today. Go back to the house, go back to your old ways, go back to the bar, leave the church, and the enemy offers us, if you just turn back, I’ll make things easy on you. I’ll give you an easy life. But if you keep going with Jesus I’ll fight you with everything I have.

I had left a life of sin, and I knew early on that it was going to be tough. I felt depression, and anxiety overpowering me every day, but I kept going. Kept showing up at my job. Kept showing up at church. Somehow trying to fight to embrace a new life.

You achieve victory in this trial by doggedly continuing to show up, doggedly refusing to give up, over weeks, months, and years. The enemy is throwing it all at you, but you refuse to give up, you fight forward into the wind, into the rain, into the darkness, and stand firm. The trial of persistence.

The second trial, is the trial of temptation. The trial of temptation is when the evil one whispers to you, it won’t hurt, it won’t become a habit, there’s no slippery slope here. Just try a little. Just one night. It’ll be fine. The trial of temptation is when our old lives call back to us, come back! Get back over here. The beer calls us from the shelf at the supermarket. The cigarettes call us back. The desire to sexually act out comes at you. And you’re hurting, your in the trials. So you know it might make you feel better for a few hours. But you also know, the next morning, you’ll be twice as depressed, and even more broken. And that desire to do it again, will be even stronger. And ever compromise you make will lead to another compromise, and after a few weeks, then months, you’ve left the church, and you are back completely enslaved and trapped in your sin.

Does this sound familiar to anyone? But the enemy whispers to us, saying don’t worry, just once. Don’t worry, you can’t lose your salvation. So it doesn’t really matter! What a lie! If we allow sin to overtake us again, and die in that sin, we will not go to heaven, we will go to hell. You are called to live in purity.

How do we overcome the second trial? We resist the temptation of the evil one. We resist the temptation that comes from our own flesh. It’s not a sin to be tempted. It’s a sin if you indulge in it. So resist temptation. However, if you do succumb to the temptation of sin, and end up enslaved again to sin, which I know does happen for Christians from time to time, you’ve got to pray hard, and repent again. You can always turn from sin again. Jesus washes us clean anew, and we continue on our Christian journey spotless and blameless.

The third trial we face, the trial of the painful experience. An example would be someone close to us dies. A friendship falls apart. A relationship falls apart. Your car breaks down. You lose your job. You fall off your bike and break your arm. You get sick with the flu. These are the random, difficult experiences of life that come against us. We face COVID-19 crisis, would be another example of this. Just a general time of pain. We didn’t cause it, well, maybe we did, maybe we didn’t, but it happens. And we go through a time of painful reflection. This is where you’re sitting by the river just staring, thinking. When you spend time reading a book, and thinking. You talk with a close friend. And you suffer.

How to overcome the painful experience? Well, generally we go through the typical process of suffering and healing. First, we refuse to believe it’s really happening. The shock phase. Next, anger. We get angry about what happened. Bargaining, we try to find some way to stop it from happening. Depression, this is where we really process what happened in our minds. And then acceptance. We accept that it happened. We find a peaceful outlook on it. We are at peace with it. We’ve processed it, and it’s no longer that splinter in our mind driving us mad.

Fourth trial, the trial of apathy. This is usually when you’ve been on the journey a bit longer. You are studying God’s word, you pray, you go to bible study, you share your faith with others, and you volunteer at church. But over time you start to get tired of it. You start to get a little bored with it. That bright fire starts to die down a little bit. And a little bit more, and a bit more. And pretty soon you are becoming apathetic. You start to not care as much anymore. You start to drift a bit.

You overcome this trial by finding ways to re-invigorate your faith walk. Maybe you try something new. You delve deeper into prayer and fasting. You try a new form of evangelism. You watch some youtube sermons that really spark that fire anew. But probably more so you realize this dull period will pass, and you’ll be on fire again, so you simply wait it out, and keep showing up.

Fifth trial is the trial of pride. Ah yes pride, this is a very insidious trial. This trial whispers to us about how great we’re doing. This temptation puffs us up, and makes us think that we did it, not god. This is a dangerous long term trial, because it can happen slowly over months and years without realizing. And pretty soon we’re judging and condemning everyone around us. And we’ve become a religious pharisee, so puffed up with pride that we’ve become useless to God. Watch for this in your life. I watch for it in my life. It will destroy everything good in your ministry.

How do we overcome this trial? We get on our knees before God and confess it. We get low before God and declare that he is God, and we are unworthy servants, simply doing our duty. We humble ourselves. But there is another option, we continue to be prideful, then God will humble us. Through probably some pretty embarrassing moments.

These trials pop up time and again in our lives as believers, in different forms and ways along the journey. They’ll continue until we die and go into the next life. But you may be asking yourself, why? Why does God allow us, in fact lead us into trials and temptations?

Why does God put us through the first trial, the trial of persistence? God is building us. We are the clay, and he is the potter. Persistence builds character in us. What do they say about someone who quits, and give ups? It will become a pattern in their life. And they may spend the rest of their lives quitting everything they try. But if we establish a pattern of persistence, not giving up, we’ll go through our lives seeing things through.

Why the trial of temptation? I remember when I first tried drugs, it seemed harmless enough. But after a few months, I realized I’m desiring this every day. Every time we indulge the temptation, we give more power over to it, until it has us completely. But the same is also true of resisting temptation. Every time we successfully resist a temptation we gain more power to resist it in the future. To the point that years ago I couldn’t go an hour without obsessively thinking about drugs, today, I don’t think about it at all. God establishes in us a pattern of obedience and continues to build like a snowball rolling down a hill.

What about the trial of painful experience? There are two reasons, one when we go through a hard time it keeps us humble. It prevents us from going whacky prideful party animal. It makes us stop and reflect on what’s really important in life. Secondly, it gives us wisdom, so that if we lose a family member, and we meet someone who just lost a family member, we understand their pain and can minister to them in ways no one else can.

Why the trial of apathy? This trial challenges us to grow in our faith. Otherwise we might always sit in the same place, not really drawing closer to God. But apathy makes us search out new ways to draw closer to God and challenges us to be truly on fire for God’s word, sharing it with everyone we meet.

And why the trial of pride? Perhaps because of what happened when Lucifer became Satan. Lucifer became prideful, he was so beautiful, so beloved, that he became prideful, and decided, I’m so great, I’m going to become god. And he fell from all that love and beauty, to darkness and evil. And we face the same struggle as Christians, will we serve God, or serve ourselves? At the end of the day will we give God the credit, or try to take it for ourselves? When we humble ourselves, we show our true devotion to God. That is the way we must walk in. 

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

What is a Spiritual Journey: The Moment of Realization

Last week we talked about the call to adventure. We start at a place in our spiritual journey where we don’t have any interest in God or spiritual things. And something profound changes in our lives, where we sense that call to take the spiritual adventure.

So we start down the road. We show up at dinner church. We join a bible study. We start to read the Bible. We watch Christian movies. We start to pray. We start to consider, maybe there really is a God. And believe me, we don’t just jump on this train as it goes by.

What’s happening behind the scenes is that God is pulling the strings inside us, drawing us slowly to Himself. In theology they call that prevenient grace. The grace that goes before salvation, you might say. The grace that finds you at the “not interested” phase, and guides you onto the road.

So you’re at the point of the call to the adventure. Many times what happens is we refuse the call. We run back to the dope. We run back to the bottle, the pills. We ditch the church stuff. See ya. But often times, something new will happen that will draw us again to be humbled, and to accept the call to adventure.

So you’ve accepted the call. You’ve begun the journey. Next in the journey, we come to the moment of realization, what Campbell, the author of the “hero with a thousand faces” calls “supernatural aid.”

For Luke Skywalker, in Star Wars A New Hope, this was the moment when he met Ben Kenobi and received instruction, and his father’s lightsaber. In Lord of the Rings, it’s the moment when Frodo meets with Bilbo and receives his armor, the mithril, and the sword, named sting.

For me, this moment would’ve been in 2011, when I had begun to search after spiritual things. And I wasn’t sure what to believe. I used to wear a necklace with the symbols of all the various world religions on it. It symbolized my own exploration of spirituality. I was still very much addicted at this time, but I was searching for truth. And as I’ve shared before I was watching out the window, during a beautiful sunny day, and I was watching hummingbirds buzzing about, wings moving as a blur, dipping their beaks into the tips of flowers that seemed shaped just right to allow the hummingbird entry. And so at this moment, I had a moment of clarity, what you might call a “holy moment” where I realized that indeed there must be a God of the universe.

For a moment in my darkness, and struggle, the glory of God appeared, drawing me to himself. So, have you come to that moment in your own spiritual journey? Have you come to the moment of realization: There really is a God. Jesus is really real. Or perhaps it takes the form of, I will finally decide to follow Him. I’m giving myself to God. I’m giving up cigarettes. I’m throwing out the alcohol. I’m done with sexually acting out.

God’s glory appears at beautiful moments in our lives. That is our moment of clarity, of realization. And indeed it happens through God’s word, through prayer, and in the natural world.

Our scripture today talks about the power of God’s glory, how he shines into a moment. It said this: “7 The Law was carved in letters on stone tablets, and God's glory appeared when it was given. Even though the brightness on Moses' face was fading, it was so strong that the people of Israel could not keep their eyes fixed on him. If the Law, which brings death when it is in force, came with such glory, 8 how much greater is the glory that belongs to the activity of the Spirit! 9 The system which brings condemnation was glorious; how much more glorious is the activity which brings salvation! 10 We may say that because of the far brighter glory now the glory that was so bright in the past is gone. 11 For if there was glory in that which lasted for a while, how much more glory is there in that which lasts forever!”

God’s glory appeared long ago through the old testament law. Indeed those who read it loved it, David himself writes time and again in the psalms, Lord, I love your statutes. I love your law. But in our time an even greater glory came through the activity of the Spirit.

The Spirit moves in this very room. I’ve seen it before. People moved to tears. That’s not me folks I’m just some guy. That’s God’s spirit moving in the room. Scott once said that he felt a hand touch his face as we prayed. That’s God’s spirit. We see people start to live differently. I’ve seen all of you grow and change over the last year. You aren’t the same people. Even those of you who don’t really care so much about God or the Bible. I’ve seen you change too. The Spirit moves. And it’s glorious.

The scripture finishes like this:

12 Because we have this hope, we are very bold. 13 We are not like Moses, who had to put a veil over his face so that the people of Israel would not see the brightness fade and disappear. 14 Their minds, indeed, were closed; and to this very day their minds are covered with the same veil as they read the books of the old covenant. The veil is removed only when a person is joined to Christ. 15 Even today, whenever they read the Law of Moses, the veil still covers their minds. 16 But it can be removed, as the scripture says about Moses: “His veil was removed when he turned to the Lord.”17 Now, “the Lord” in this passage is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is present, there is freedom. 18 All of us, then, reflect the glory of the Lord with uncovered faces; and that same glory, coming from the Lord, who is the Spirit, transforms us into his likeness in an ever greater degree of glory.”

So that’s what it’s all about. At the moment of realization, the veil is partially removed, you might say. I was given enough by God in that moment to know that He was really real. It would be another year before he gave me the knowledge to cry out to Jesus Christ. And even at that moment, I didn’t fully understand who Jesus was or what he did until months later. But I’m getting ahead of myself. We’re gonna continue this series and explore this spiritual journey. Engage with this journey alright. Seek after God. And our ministry is going to be praying constantly that your eyes are uncovered and you come to see that God really is all in all.

Many of you have spent far too many years sitting on the sidelines, you’re a hero, inside, I can see it in your eyes, but you’re stuck. Addicted. Locked in. Depressed. Lonely. Alcoholic. Self centered. And Christ is the only way you can break free from the gutter that you’re caught in now. Christ took me out of the gutter, why, because I had to make that unthinkably terrible decision, and it was the very last thing I wanted in the world, to give my whole life over to God almighty, something I knew meant everything in my life would have to change. And I just didn’t want to have to do all that, I liked my sin. But I got so desperate, so miserable, so chained to sin for so long, that I finally said ANYTHING is better than what I’m doing now. So cry out in truth to Jesus Christ. Give it all to Him. That unthinkable thing, you must do. Give it all over. Do it quickly. And make a plan to live it out in the future.

Monday, June 15, 2020

How to Begin A Spiritual Journey: The Call to Adventure

We’ve gone through a crazy time in our lives over the past few months. Many of us I’m sure are feeling isolated and alone. It really made me realize just how much I need other people in my life. And do you know what else it made me realize? That I need God. Sometimes it seems like we can turn to God and say, “It’s alright Lord, I got this.” This recent time has reminded many of us that we need God, and we aren’t really in control of our own lives.

I took time to try and find intimacy with God. And I’ve done that through going out to parks and into the woods, and on the water, and simply enjoying God’s world. Spring and summer always remind me of the beauty.

Think of the mystery of the bright moon in the star filled sky. Think of the shock and awe of a hurricane over the ocean, or a tornado ripping through a cornfield. Think of the creaking sound the tree trunks of the forest make as they sway in the wind. Think of the warmth on your skin during a glorious bright summer day. Think of deer as they feed in a field, or fish as they swim up stream. It’s amazing. Did you know researchers in Germany discovered that rats can learn to play hide and seek? And astonomers have discovered over 3,500 planets in the universe so far? Truly shocking and beautiful.

God's works are many in the world and of particular beauty. Yet there is also the proclivity of man toward evil. God allows for free will, which opens the doors to almost any possibility. Which explains why the world is so messed up. Humanity decided to turn from God, and play God. Evil is a reality of our world, we experience it and we know it internally, from the selfishness that is so often in our hearts. Yet God is so full of love, he invites us to a new way. He invites us to make him the center of our lives. And then we’re no longer obsessed with ourselves, we’re obsessed with Him.

Life is best lived with God at the center of all things. We can tend to treat God as an auxiliary to our plans and desires. That is not the way it is supposed to be. God should be the very center. If life is the road and we're the car, God should be the engine. If your life is a city, God ought be the center square, the city hall, the centerpiece of all operations.

Too often we, myself included tend to relegate God to errand boy status. Or watcher status. Or perhaps advisor status. Or order taker status. God is much greater than that. He runs the whole show. Our job is to seek out His will, in a very real and practical sense. What is my calling Lord? What do you want me to do with my life? What goals would you have me pursue? These should be our daily questions to our Maker.

Today we’re beginning a new series called “Spiritual Journey.” And we’re going to look at what it means to be on a spiritual journey, and how we experience deep, meaningful dialogue with God in our lives. Today we’re talking about being called to the adventure.

And during this series we’ll be touching on the spiritual journeys of several different heroes along the way.

Where did your journey begin? Probably not exactly where you expected. Mine started at a low point in my life. Things got really messed up. Is that where yours started too? Sometimes it takes a rock bottom moment to crush our ego enough that we actually are willing to listen.

And how painful it was to simply be isolated during COVID-19, it was like laying with your head under a leaky faucet, with a drip, drip, drip right on your forehead. You almost wished something worse would happen, if it would just happen quickly, and not bleed on for weeks and months.

But pain has a way of forcing us to ask the difficult questions. “What really matters? What is the meaning of my life? What should I do with my life?”
And our scripture today from Isaiah 55 answers those questions for us. It says:

“So you should look for the Lord
before it is too late.
You should call to him now,
while he is near.
7 Evil people should stop living evil lives.
They should stop thinking bad thoughts.
They should come to the Lord again,
and he will comfort them.
They should come to our God
because he will freely forgive them.

8 The Lord says, “My thoughts are not like yours.
Your ways are not like mine.
9 Just as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so my ways are higher than your ways,
and my thoughts are higher than your thoughts.

10 “Rain and snow fall from the sky
and don’t return until they have watered the ground.
Then the ground causes the plants to sprout and grow,
and they produce seeds for the farmer and food for people to eat.
11 In the same way, my words leave my mouth,
and they don’t come back without results.
My words make the things happen that I want to happen.
They succeed in doing what I send them to do.

12 “So you will go out from there with joy.
You will be led out in peace.
When you come to the mountains and hills, they will begin singing.
All the trees in the fields will clap their hands.
13 Large cypress trees will grow where there were thornbushes.
Myrtle trees will grow where there were weeds.
All this will happen to make the Lord known,
to be a permanent reminder of his goodness and power.”

To begin to experience your life as a spiritual journey, is to seek God. It’s to talk to God in your mind, throughout your day. It’s to take time in the morning and the evening to kneel down and pray to God. It’s to study God’s word each day, searching for nuggets of truth. But it goes much further than this. A spiritual journey is to watch your life unfold according to God’s will. It’s to realize that you are on God’s path for your life. It’s to go to bed and dream dreams that God gives you. It’s to get a word from God in a conversation with someone. Have you ever had that happen, where you realized God was speaking to you through another person? Having a spiritual journey is also to be humbled, to be brought to your knees, crying out to Jesus. And having a spiritual journey is going through a battle, fighting off demons and false teachers, and evil people who want to lead you away from Jesus. And it’s being led places you could hardly imagine.

Having a spiritual journey is also sensing that God is with you. And sensing His love.

Have you felt God’s love for you? It’s the most amazing feeling in the universe, to feel God shining down on you, His love pouring out like sunshine into your soul. Wow. God is love. He cares particularly about you, about what you want, about what you need, about your past, what you’ve been through, and where you’re going, what your destined to do.

Over this next week, take some time to go out to a park, to Devries nature center, to Sleepy Hollow state park, into the wilderness, and spend some time walking down a trail, thinking about God, praying to god in your mind, or sit on the beach, or on a park bench. And simply ask God to reveal himself, to speak to you, and then listen for God. And next week, I’m gonna ask some of you to share how that experience went for you.

So today, as we begin this exploration of our spiritual journeys, I invite you to take that journey with God. It’s going to be incredible.