Sunday, March 8, 2015

Double Shot of Purpose, Please!

Last week’s sermon was about transition & purpose. I was fortunate to see a few Soldiers throughout the week and because I ran into a few of you, two things happened. The first was that I got some ideas on tweaking our service. That’s a good thing. The second was that I felt led to further develop what I said last week on “Purpose.”

Last week’s Scripture was Romans 8:28. “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” And like I said, after speaking with a few of you, I really started thinking about things. I asked God if I had spoken clearly enough for his people to hear and understand the intent of the message that He had put on my heart? More importantly, did I allow his words to come through my mouth so that ears could hear what He wanted said? I pondered these things more than once over the course of the week.

I prayed and my prayer was for clarity. We all want clarity. We all want to understand and be understood. Maybe that’s why we question our own purpose at times. I want to assure you that God is not a God of doubt. We’re human. We doubt but there is no doubt in God.

Anytime I think of doubt, especially when I’m preparing for a sermon or doing a study or something in God’s Word, I instantly think of the story of the demon possessed boy and his dad in Mark 9:21-24?

21 “How long has this been happening?” Jesus asked the boy’s father. He replied, “Since he was a little boy. 22 The spirit often throws him into the fire or into water, trying to kill him. Have mercy on us and help us, if you can.” 23 “What do you mean, ‘If I can’?” Jesus asked. “Anything is possible if a person believes.”24 The father instantly cried out, “I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!”

By this point Jesus has been doing ministry for a while. He’s healed the sick. He’s made the lame to walk. There really wasn’t any reason why this guy should doubt. I think what he was really saying is that he didn’t believe that Jesus would do this thing … for him. How many times have you asked for healing for yourself or for a friend? How many times have you asked for deliverance … from addiction, the nightmares, whatever… you know your demon? How many times have you asked for a blessing? “Just this once God, give me that miracle! Please!” Maybe it doesn’t happen … or maybe it doesn’t happen in your timing or the way you’d expect it. Maybe the father felt like his prayers had fallen on deaf ears. “I believe but help me overcome my unbelief.”

The Apostle Paul wrote, “Three things will last forever – faith, hope, and love – and the greatest of these is love.” (1 Cor. 13:13). And what are we told about God? God is Love. So the greatest thing is love which really translates to God. What if you replace your lack of faith – your lack of hope – your doubt with love … with God?

I wish I could call him my friend but I’ve never met Andrew Peterson. He’s a Christian singer, songwriter, author, etc. He wrote a song that I always come back to when I’m talking about doubt. It’s called “Only Love Remains.”

This is not another song about the mountains
Except about how hard they are to move.
Have you ever stood before them?
Like a mustard seed that's waiting for some proof

I say faith is a burden, it's a weight to bear
It's brave and bittersweet
And hope is hard to hold to
Lord, I believe, only help my unbelief
Till there's no more faith and no more hope
I'll see your face and Lord, I'll know, that only love remains

Have you ever heard that Jesus is the answer?
Or thought about the many doubts you hide?
Have you wondered how He loves you
If He really knows how dark you are inside?

I say faith is a burden, it's a weight to bear
It's brave and bittersweet
And hope is hard to hold to
Lord, I believe, only help my unbelief
Till there's no more faith and no more hope
I'll see your face and Lord, I'll know, that only love remains

So I will drive these roads in thunder and in rain
And I will sing your song at the top of my lungs
And I will praise you dear Lord in glory and in pain
And I will follow you till this race is won
And I will drive these roads till this motor won't run
And I will sing your song from sea to shining sea
And I will praise you Lord till your Kingdom comes
And I will follow where You lead
Till there's no more faith and no more hope
I'll see your face and Lord, I'll know
Till there's no more faith and no more hope
I'll sing your praise and let them go ...
Cause only love, only your love remains
only love ...

But let’s jump back to your purpose. Read Jeremiah 29:11 if you haven’t in a while. ““For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.”” This was news for the prophet Jeremiah to share with Israel. God’s purpose was for Israel to be in captivity for 70 years. Why? So they would come back to him! Remember that God’s purpose is all about repentance and redemption.

Let’s continue with more from Jeremiah.
“In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. I will be found by you,” says the Lord. “I will end your captivity and restore your fortunes. I will gather you out of the nations where I sent you and will bring you home again to your own land” (Jer. 29:12-14).

Know that God’s purpose for you – his will for you – is good. He knows his plans for you. His plans for good. His are not plans for disaster. His are plans for a future. His are plans for a hope. What’s your part? Pray and He will listen. Look for him wholeheartedly and you will find him. He will be found by you. He will end your captivity. He will restore your fortunes. He will gather you up and bring you home. You may struggle with the certainty of his purpose for your life but rest in the assurance that you were created for good works. Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

            This week’s sermon title is “A Double Shot of Purpose, Please!” Christ’s purpose is spelled out throughout Scripture. Our Scripture reading for today is Philippians.

Though he was God, He did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor And gave him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Phil. 2:6-11).

            Stories are used in sermons to help pastors clarify a message. The story I’d like to share with you is titled, “Everybody, Somebody, Anybody, and Nobody.”

This is a little story about four people named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody, and Nobody. There was an important job to be done and Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it. Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it. Somebody got angry about that because it was Everybody's job. Everybody thought that Anybody could do it, but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn't do it. It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have done.

This week has been a tough week. I have been routinely reminded about “Purpose.” I’ve even questioned my own purpose while being deployed as a chaplain. Others have questioned their purpose. Sadly, some have even questioned their own existence. Even worse, a few have questioned God’s existence.

For the record, God does exist. He existed long before our concept of existence was around and will exist long after we’ve left this earth. Look at the Book of John.

In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He existed in the beginning with God. God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him. The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it (John 1:1-5).
The darkness will try to extinguish the light. Look at what’s happening in our neck of the woods right now with ISIS/ISIL; the killing children, beheadings, destruction of anything and everything that is not Islam. The world is a dark place that seems to be getting darker and darker. Lies flourish in the dark. Evil flourishes in the dark. And on a more personal level, the darkness will try to tell you: you’re not worthy, you have no purpose, you shouldn’t even exist, and your God doesn’t exist … there is no hope. That’s what the darkness does! It tries to extinguish the light.

But guess what? The Word assures us that darkness can never extinguish the light! Because the light has a purpose much greater than the darkness. God’s purpose is much greater and his purpose will be accomplished.
God sent a man, John the Baptist, to tell about the light so that everyone might believe because of his testimony. John himself was not the light; he was simply a witness to tell about the light. The one who is the true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God. So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son (John 1:6-14).

Scripture affirms over and over again that God’s purpose for Jesus was, is and will always be redemptive.

When Adam sinned, sin entered the world. Adam’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned. Yes, people sinned even before the law was given. But it was not counted as sin because there was not yet any law to break. Still, everyone died – from the time of Adam to the time of Moses – even those who did not disobey an explicit commandment of God, as Adam did. Now Adam is a symbol, a representation of Christ, who was yet to come. But there is a great difference between Adam’s sin and God’s gracious gift. For the sin of this one man, Adam, brought death to many. But even greater is God’s wonderful grace and his gift of forgiveness to many through this other man, Jesus Christ. And the result of God’s gracious gift is very different from the result of that one man’s sin. For Adam’s sin led to condemnation, but God’s free gift leads to our being made right with God, even though we are guilty of many sins. For the sin of this one man, Adam, caused death to rule over many. But even greater is God’s wonderful grace and his gift of righteousness, for all who receive it will live in triumph over sin and death through this one man, Jesus Christ. Yes, Adam’s one sin brings condemnation for everyone, but Christ’s one act of righteousness brings a right relationship with God and new life for everyone. Because one person disobeyed God, many became sinners. But because one other person obeyed God, many will be made righteous. God’s law was given so that all people could see how sinful they were. But as people sinned more and more, God’s wonderful grace became more abundant. So just as sin ruled over all people and brought them to death, now God’s wonderful grace rules instead, giving us right standing with God and resulting in eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 5:12-21).

God wants to give us the right to become his children! That’s huge because we’re just a bunch of jacked up broken pieces. Some think they’re not fixable and are going to get thrown away. Others think they’re not going back to their original spot in the puzzle or in the Lego construction. The reality is that Christ is the only way that all our pieces can ever come back together … for a purpose. Whether they’re the pieces of our broken lives. Or they’re the broken pieces of our collective lives, churches, communities, etc. God wants us to lift up our broken pieces to him.

I have a couple of friends named Kevin & Janet Bowling. They’ve got a few kids. This story is about their oldest, Sean. Now I’ve never met Sean that I can remember although I think I might have at a Tennessee Tech Homecoming rugby match. Either way, Kevin and Janet have lived their faith in front of their kids and their community. Sean was involved in Young Life while he was in high school and when he graduated, he moved out to Hawaii to go to school. What do young guys do when they get to Hawaii? They learn to surf. Sean was no different. He picked up surfing.

One day last year, a wave threw him. Unfortunately, he landed on the reef or the ground – either way, the water was shallow and he landed on his head. From what I’ve been told, he went in to a coma. He was transported to a local hospital where he was on life support while Kevin and Janet made their way out to sit with him in the hospital.

First off, I can’t imagine finding out my son sustained a life threatening injury. I can’t imagine how they made it from Tennessee to Hawaii without losing their minds; wrestling with the possibility of having to say, “Do not resuscitate.”

Something happened during the time of Sean’s accident to the time Kevin & Janet made the announcement to all their family and friends that they had given Sean back to God. They were hurting, no doubt, but they also trusted in God’s bigger picture. Sean’s death was, without a doubt, a tragedy from which most people might never recover. Kevin and Janet chose to trust that Sean’s relationship with Jesus had him in those very arms when we breathed his last. They also trusted that God would use what was absolutely devastating for good.

You’re hearing about Sean’s death and his family’s faith. God’s purpose goes beyond what we might ever see – like Moses and the Promised Land – or expect. Don’t limit God. Go back to the Old Testament. Isaiah 53 paints a haunting picture of Christ hundreds of years before he was born. God’s purpose for Jesus was given to mankind long before He came to this world as a man.

Who has believed our message? To whom has the Lord revealed his powerful arm? My servant grew up in the Lord’s presence like a tender green shoot, like a root in dry ground. There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance, nothing to attract us to him. He was despised and rejected – a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way. He was despised, and we did not care. Yet it was our weaknesses he carried; it was our sorrows that weighed him down. And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God, a punishment for his own sins! But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed. All of us, like sheep, have strayed away. We have left God’s paths to follow our own. Yet the Lord laid on him the sins of us all. He was oppressed and treated harshly, yet he never said a word. He was led like a lamb to the slaughter. And as a sheep is silent before the shearers, he did not open his mouth. Unjustly condemned, he was led away. No one cared that he died without descendants, that his life was cut short in midstream. But he was struck down for the rebellion of my people. He had done no wrong and had never deceived anyone. But he was buried like a criminal; he was put in a rich man’s grave. But it was the Lord’s good plan to crush him and cause him grief. Yet when his life is made an offering for sin, he will have many descendants. He will enjoy a long life, and the Lord’s good plan will prosper in his hands. When he sees all that is accomplished by his anguish, he will be satisfied. And because of his experience, my righteous servant will make it possible for many to be counted righteous, for he will bear all their sins. I will give him the honors of a victorious soldier, because he exposed himself to death. He was counted among the rebels. He bore the sins of many and interceded for rebels (Isa. 53:1-12).

That’s pretty clear for Jesus but what about me? What am I supposed to do with all this? In my function as a chaplain this week, I met with a number young Soldiers who seemed so lost – like they had no purpose. They were devastated by their circumstances. They could only see their immediate problem. I’m not trying to minimize their issues by any means but that’s just it … they were only focused on those particular issues … nothing else. They had no “Big Picture” thinking.

When we lose sight of the “Big Picture” we make it all about what’s happening right now. In these Soldiers’ cases, it was devastating them! They could not successfully negotiate the obstacle. They could not look beyond the seen to the unseen.

That’s the most frustrating part of helping anyone through a situation. The person has a breakdown … an inability to negotiate an obstacle … and they “seek” assistance. My five and six year old do that as well. They come to me for help but like a lot of people who don’t understand the “Big Picture,” they are immobilized and can’t wrap their heads around the fact that somebody does have a proven way to negotiate the obstacle for a successful outcome. And what happens next? They won’t allow me to help or think that once I open my mouth they have all the answers immediately. They forget to listen and then act.

We have failed at teaching young people about “The Big Picture.” They have failed to learn about “The Big Picture.” Some have gone so far as to turn from God rather than turning to him; as if God wants the end state your life to be bad. If that were the case then there would be no need for a savior!

So what are you supposed to do with all of this? Figure out where you fit – what your purpose is – in God’s redemptive plan. Only you can do that and only you will know it. No one else can discern what God’s purpose is for you. While the immediate situation or circumstance may seem overwhelming or devastating … DO NOT LOSE SIGHT OF THE BIG PICTURE. I challenge you to go home and read 1 Corinthians 12:12-22; 27. Focus on verse 12 which says, “The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body.” The Scriptures speak of spiritual gifts but I believe there to be a principle from which we can all learn. I don’t know if God has gifted you with any of the things listed in these verses but the point being that God has a purpose for each of us. He has called us for his purposes and it takes all of us working together to accomplish his purpose.

Seek the treasure! First things first: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. Love your neighbor as yourself. The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments” (Matt. 22:37-30). Once you’ve done that, then “let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father” (Matt. 5:16). Finally, we all need to remember that each of us plays a specific part in the redemption story. “Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other” (Rom. 12:4-5). Similarly:

Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace. For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all, in all, and living through all. ~ Ephesians 4:3-6

You may not understand the specifics of your purpose but your overarching purpose is to share in the redemptive work of Christ. You are a child of God!




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