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At the start of a new year, Todd reminds us no matter what difficulty or disappointment we may be going through, God isn't looking to rip you off, but rather set you free. God loves you and knows intimately what's going on. Scripture has answers to many fears we may have which keep us from trusting in God's character amidst our circumstances. We should embrace these truths and sit deeper in God's love for us.
Parable of the Sower: What Is the Soil of Your Heart?
Don't be a WENI - Christlike Communication
Remembering Our Core Values: Examine Your Life, Excel Still More
Get Busy: Individual Next Steps
The Exclusivity of Jesus
Living Life in the Grace and Sufficiency of Christ: Baptism Celebration 2014
The Continuing Story of Easter
Todd and Greg Answer Questions About the Faith
5 Characteristics of Relationships that Succeed
A Tender Word for Pharisees
Stewarding the Life of a Shepherd
Love is Always Better than the Law
You might be in here, and you're like, "You know, I don't know if I've ever been loved." I don't know what your 2013 was like or what you expect your 2014 to be like, but if you have not been living in a full awareness of who the Lord is and his kindness toward you, that might be your song.
Maybe you love God and you have some sense of his kindness toward you, but you just had a really tough 2013. It was a year you're glad you're over with. Maybe a marriage failed. Maybe your relationship once again didn't come to be. Maybe jobs were lost. Maybe sickness crashed onto you, and you just wonder if the God who is there loves you.
Well, this morning I want you to leave here knowing you have never been unloved, and God does love you. He knows all about what's going on, and he is intimately acquainted with your ways. I want you to be reminded this morning of the goodness of God.
You know, whenever I'm away for any kind of extended piece of time and I ask the Lord, "Lord, what does the body at Watermark need to hear?" there are a lot of things that come crashing into my mind. One of them that always makes its way near the top in the midst of whatever else I am impressed I should communicate to you, what book I should teach, or what truth I should expound on, God says, "Make sure you tell them I love them. Make sure they know I'm for them. Make sure they know I care about them and I want to bless them."
If there is a little phrase I say a lot in my ministry that kind of has become almost maybe a catchphrase for me… It's not incredibly insightful. It's not something the Westminster Catechism wants to insert into its brilliant, well-worded statements, but what I love to tell people is God is not looking to rip you off; he is looking to set you free.
So many of us… At least my experience has been I've got to manage God. I've got to make sure he doesn't get too involved in my life because if I do, I believe I'm going to not be able to have the kind of life I really want. It is a bad view of God and one that hurt me for a long time. I am still getting over that perverted view of God being up there like some moral policeman or somebody who is up there expecting to evaluate everything I do to see if I'm good enough to deserve his love.
There is nothing in the Scripture that suggests that's what God is like. Through a series of events, I believe in God's sovereignty, a series we were going to start next week we pushed back one week. We're going to dive into a four- or five-week series that really focuses on the truths we teach here every Monday night. We have a ministry called re|generation. We're going to dive in to teaching you how we make new beginnings.
If you've never been there on a Monday night, we're going to remove some of the mystery. We're going to tell you what kind of people go there on Monday nights, and we're going to remind you what kind of God we have. We moved that back, which means what I was going to do this week, I can do next week.
I think that's really good because next week what we're going to do is we're going to share with you and emphasize what we as shepherds of this body absolutely are deeply convicted we need to do in order to really stand before the Lord and be able to give an account for the privilege we have of shepherding the flock of God among us.
We're going to be really clear based on Scripture why we call you to the things we call you to, but this morning before we get to that I get to sit here and share with you the reason we're going to share with you what we do next week is God loves you. He cares about you, and he wants it to go well with you. He doesn't want to rip you off; he is trying to set you free.
Gang, everything we do as his servants is for the exact same purpose. We're not trying to force you to engage in a way you're just so uncomfortable with there's no way there could be life in it. Everything we call you to is informed by God's Word. If it's not, don't do it. We'll always share with you where it comes from God's Word.
If you understand God loves you and he wants it to go well with you when you have people pushing you toward that, your heart might be a little bit more receptive to it. Let me just set this up because you're going to hear about this every week in January. People often ask me, "How big is Watermark? What's the membership at Watermark?" That's a really easy question for me to answer right now.
The answer is the membership at Watermark is zero. Nobody is a member of Watermark. Every year on January 1, we hit the reset button. We've done it every year we've existed. What we always do is ask you to go back and re-covenant with us, just to say, "These are the purposes to which God calls his people. These are the values in Scripture to which he says his people will be committed."
For you just to recommit to those things and then also to take some time to just do a personal spiritual assessment. How are you doing? Do you agree with what God's Word says you should agree? Are there questions you need to answer? Are there things you need to do this next year if you're serious about your faith?
All of us, in the month of January (and in the month of January only), we're asking you to take 20 to 30 minutes, go to our website, look at our Facebook page, check the Twitter account (wherever you want to get that information), and at watermark.org you'll see a link (4B form). You click on it, you fill it out, and then you share the response of that with your community.
Anybody who doesn't want to do that, we're believing that's their way of saying, "I'm really not committed to sharing my spiritual journey with the body as God intends." We're still going to love you. We'll talk more about that going ahead. We're not going to say you're going to hell, but we are going to say you're not pursuing heaven with us, and we're not accountable.
Now that's what next week is all about, but what this week is about is God's love for you. You know, a lot of folks talk about different kinds of churches, and sometimes they talk about churches that are be churches, where you just get to be a person in relationship with God. Then some churches they say are do churches, where you have to do a bunch of things if you're in a relationship with God.
I frankly need to let you know I am confused by that distinction, because that distinction is not there in Scripture! There isn't a difference between people who just enjoy God and people who do things in relationship with God. Now I want to tell you this, there is a huge difference…an eternal difference…between people who have a performance-based acceptance in their relationship with God and people who have an acceptance-based performance.
What I really hope comes out of today is you really understand the reason we do everything we do is not so God can love us but because he loves us so much we are compelled to respond. I'm going to just reintroduce you to your God this morning. We've already done it through song. Here is your King. Here is your God. He has come to you.
Let me just say it this way. We are not reconciled to God by our works, but we are recognized by our works in the way we respond to the love we've been given. Who is this God? Let me just tell you who he is first of all. He is a God who when you really know him, everything else is a shadow in light of who he is. That's what Psalm 73 says.
One of the problems we have in this country where there is so much prosperity is we are individuals who think we can create a utopia, a heaven here. The problem is no matter how much we try and create a perfect little world, there are always things that come in that mess up our little perfect creation. God tells us it's always going to be that way.
Now what he says is in the midst of the dystopia or the dysfunction that is in our world, be people who talk about a love and a hope that will allow you to have joy and gladness in the midst of a dysfunctional world, as well as people who can bring some order into the chaos, though chaos is always going to be there fighting against you.
You ought to be people who can sing in the midst of the craziness, but you should not be people who can find peace and comfort in the craziness of this world, because it's fleeting and doesn't exist. When you understand who we are, why God has left us here, where this thing is headed, we will be people of song.
Now look. The folks who always amaze me the most are the people who live without the things we in the West have that bring us so much comfort. We hear this all the time. I mentioned it a number of times during the Switch series we just finished. People often survive the test of persecution, but they don't often survive the test of prosperity. When we're surrounded by many things, we think those things can give us comfort.
What marvels a lot of us who get to travel in different places around the world is when we go places where there are none of the comforts of the West, and we see more joy, more happiness, more gladness than we see in anybody over here. We see a lot of guys over here (like Thoreau said) who live lives of quiet desperation, always looking for that next thing. It never really satisfies. God calls us to him, the ultimate satisfaction.
When I was in Goma, Congo, one time (which is the worst place in the world to be a woman)… There are more rapes per capita than any place else in the world. There's been constant war. It is so separated from the central seat of government that basically it would be like any little town in the wild, wild West.
There was a government up there in DC, but in the 1800s, what really mattered was the local sheriff in Dodge City. What happened up there in this land you were a part of really didn't matter at all if you were in Dodge City, Kansas. What mattered was were the bad guys ruling town, or were the good people there ruling the town?
Goma is just like that. In a country that is filled with all kinds of chaos, it is separated by a jungle of darkness. Goma is a town where there has been lawlessness, war, rape, pillaging, and unrest for decades. I've been there with them in the midst of some of that civil unrest, in the midst of some of that pillaging, and we've been in their worship services. Often we split up and go to different churches.
I can remember I didn't get to go to this one, but my buddy, Patrick Blocker, went to this one. The service was six hours long. The first two and half hours were singing, dancing, and celebrating songs about the goodness and greatness of God. Then they go with chai tea, and they put the chairs back up and set them. They come back, and they sit down. The guy stood up there after two and a half hours of singing because they really had no place else to go. It's not like they could go catch the football game.
They're just together, and what gives them joy and strength is a reminder of who God is. When they came back in after two and a half hours, a gentleman stood up to make announcements. He goes, "Announcements today. First announcement: Jesus is Lord." He said they jumped up and had another 30 minutes of spontaneous singing and celebration.
Now look, the reason you do that when you're in Goma, Congo, is because if he is not Lord, if there is not going to be vengeance from God, if there's not going to be rescue, if there's not going to be deliverance from the hell that is Goma, Congo, then let's just put a bullet in our head and get on with this thing.
But if in fact God is good, he is there, and he remembers you even in the midst of hunger, death, disease, war, and rape, then you can endure singing songs of him waiting for that day when he rescues you, he sets all things right, and he prosecutes those who are evil and do not know him.
So when you live in that kind of world, that's what makes you… When the very first announcement is, "Jesus is Lord. His words are true. He does love you. He has rescued you. You are saved by grace through faith. He cares for you." You just go, "Well, praise God!" because he explains to me why places like Goma, Congo, exist.
Let me just tell you, he explains to you if you pay attention why divorce exists, why loneliness is there, why addiction is in your life, why joblessness is in a land, why hunger, why abandonment, why abuse from a daddy is in this world. Man, I'm here to tell you this morning Jesus is Lord. In your little Western comfort, Todd Wagner, you need to be reminded that's the only thing worth celebrating, not that your team won some bowl game or didn't (Baylor).
Anyway, it's amazing how we fix on that stuff. It's amazing! Let me show you your God, and let me show you why we respond to him. Let me tell you this. A couple of years ago, I went to a movie late on a Sunday night. It was like 10:00 on a Sunday night. I wanted to see this movie. I went with my wife and two other couples. There were eight people in the theater, so we're six of them.
When I walked out, I was kind of curious who the other people were at 10:00 on a Sunday night who were at this movie. I noticed one of the gentlemen was wearing a yarmulke. I walked over to him, and I just said, "Hey, excuse me. I perceive you're of the Jewish faith." He goes, "Yes." I said, "Do you mind if I ask you a question?"
I asked him a question about his take on the movie we had just seen because it was of some interest to the Jewish people. I was confused about how Jewish people respond to that particular content of the movie. I was confused the way it looked like they were supportive of certain things that seemed to be hurting their people.
It opened up a conversation. It turns out this gentleman was head of the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas. It didn't take long before he asked what I did, and I explained to him. We struck up a friendship from that moment. Over the last couple of years, our friendship has increased. We've spent some time together. Others on my staff have gotten to know him.
It got to where about three months ago, he called and said, "Listen. I've been so encouraged by the way God is at work over there, and I don't know… Obviously there's a huge gap between who we think God is and who you think God is, but we see something happening over there. We know you guys think it's God. We would love to be able to discuss with you how you are getting people to do what you're getting people to do. I'd like to bring some rabbis and some Jewish leaders over and hang out with you." I go, "Well, bring them! I'd love to do that!"
Now what he did is he brought together some ultra-Orthodox, Orthodox, and Reformed or Liberal leaders in community centers, day schools, Jewish schools all around town. There were about 60 Jewish leaders. These are individuals who won't even meet together alone because they have such divisive disagreements amongst themselves, and 60 of them came to hang out with us for a couple of hours.
The rabbis and the others kept asking me, "How in the world did this happen? We're looking at this place, and it's beautiful. Explain to me that this happened without you guys incurring any debt. This happened without you charging membership fees?" I don't know if you know this, but most synagogues, you have to pay an annual membership fee like you would with a country club. You actually purchase seats to attend the High Holy Days.
They were just saying, "So you guys don't have a membership here that you charge people money? You mean, if I want to come…?" I said, "You guys ought to come." This was just a couple of weeks before Christmas. I said, "Come Christmas Eve." They go, "Can we? We're not members."
"We know you're not members. Yes, you can come."
"Do we have assigned seats?"
"No, there are not assigned seats."
"Well, do I have to pay for my seat?"
"No! Just come."
They couldn't understand it. What I kept doing is taking them back. I just said stuff like this to them. I said, "Guys, let me tell you who we are. We are a bunch of people who have been in bondage. We've been held captive by a wicked leader who stole our heart and our freedom. He came and set us free, and he led us out. There was an exodus from that captivity to a place of freedom, promise, and blessing.
When that has happened, all we want to do is respond. There is nobody here trying to live their life in a way that would make God want to love them. What we are are people who are responding to the love the Messiah, that Yahweh, that the Father has brought to us. This is what it looks like when you live in relationship with the God of grace who rescues you." I just kind of said to them (I didn't use this phraseology, but I said), "Look, dude, I am dancing with your date! I would love for you to know him."
This is exactly what Paul says would basically happen during the time of the Gentiles. We have a great friendship, and we talked a lot about… They were really curious about leadership, but they were really curious about you. They couldn't understand why you were so generous (some of you), why you were so committed, why you serve so freely, why you gather in close to a thousand smaller communities.
They go, "We can't get our people to come twice a year!" I basically said this to them. "It's because you guys have this mindset of performance still. You don't understand what the God of rescue has done. Love is always better than law, and here's why. You're still trying to motivate people by law, by fear, by intimidation. 'If you don't go to the synagogue on Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), then it's going to be a really bad year for you.'"
That's not what the Scripture says. The Scripture says none of us could ever fulfill the law, and he came and fulfilled the law for us. He met the conditions of an unconditional covenant that we might be unconditionally blessed. Love is always better than law because law rules by fear of punishment. Love is always better than law because love rules not by fear of punishment but by fastening your heart to a person.
Here's what I want to ask you this morning. Is your heart fastened to Jesus? Do you know who he is? Do you remember the kindness he has showed you? Do you know that though he was God, he did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but he humbled himself and he came as a babe?
We just celebrated it. We sang songs of wonder. He lived a life without sin. He was hated and despised. He lived in this dystopia. He was spit upon, mocked, rejected, and nailed to a cross because you had a debt you could not pay, and he had a nature of love that he could not say no.
Love is always better than law because law is only effective where the power of accountability is present. Right? If I tell my kids, "You can't do that!" "Why?" "Because if I know you did that, it's going to come down on you." Then my kids will not do things where they think I will figure out what they have done. That's why so many kids when they bust out of here when they go to college, all hell breaks loose because they're not concerned Dad is going to see them. They can do whatever they want to do now, and there is no fear of accountability.
When you raise kids and all you teach them is the moral what ("This is what's going to happen to you") instead of the moral why ("Because God loves you, because he means well for you, because it's the blessing of the Lord that makes rich, and he adds no sorrow to it. There is no bitter aftertaste")…
When you teach your kids about the goodness of God and why you live a life consistent with his Word, it will change them forever, because when you're not there and there's no fear of punishment, it's not about you. It's about a relationship with a God who loves them. Love is better than law because while law is only effective where the fear of accountability is present, love is effective everywhere the power of relationship is accounted for.
Do you get that? I mean, listen. Maybe you struggle with porn, and maybe you have Covenant Eyes on your computer so somebody else can see where you're looking on the Internet. Maybe that helps you. I'm not telling you it's a bad thing. It's a good thing. We need each other. God tells us to use each other, but at the end of the day, we have a covenant relationship with the God who gave his life for us.
He just says, "I don't want you to live in some two-dimensional world in a fantasy relationship with a woman who is airbrushed, drugged up, doesn't like you or anybody, and is frankly suicidal who will act for you so she'll get $500 for a moment so you can manually stimulate yourself so you can have a moment of pleasure and then feel guilt, shame, rejection, and no intimacy with another human being.
I'm not angry with you. I just don't want that for you. You're not going to go to hell because of your addiction to porn. Porn is hell. I'd love to lead you out of it and teach you how to be somebody who can have a normal, loving relationship with another human being; the way you care for them, love them, honor them, and reconcile with them; that they would radically and freely give themselves to you with great joy where there is no shame. That's what I want for you."
You see, when you understand that's what God wants, then that power of relationship is accounted for everywhere. That covenant is what keeps you from being seduced by sin. Let me just show you God. This is what God does. He is a rescuer. He keeps seeking you.
In Genesis 3, right out of the chute… I mean, we don't know how long Adam and Eve were in the garden before they completely rejected God and went their own way, but I'm guessing it wasn't long. While they're there, they make this decision that they don't need God. They're going to run away from God. Then their insecurities take over in their nakedness and their shame, and they're hiding.
Do you guys know the very first thing that happened after there was a break in relationship with God and a break in relationship with each other and fear, guilt, and shame affected the hearts of men? Do you guys know the very first thing that happened in Scripture? God went looking for them. He just went looking for them.
He didn't go, "Well, you just live over there for a while. You just suffer." Man, I'm here to tell you this morning, God is looking for you. Watch this. The Scripture says, "They [Adam and Eve] heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden."
It says, "Then the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, 'Where are you?'""I'm looking for you! I know you can't be happy because you've left me, and I am the God of life. I am truth. I am grace. I am kindness. I am compassion. You're not in relationship with me. It has to be dark, cold, and scary. Where are you, Son?"
Do you understand that? That's the very first thing God did. He went looking for his children, and he is looking for you today. He is just saying, "Where are you? Are you lost in materialism? Have you not switched completely yet? Are you just all tied up in knots about your college football program? Are you sad because you didn't have a Christmas with somebody? Where are you? Come here. Come here, because I love you."
A little bit later, the offspring of these two… There was one of them who just had a hard heart and didn't want to do what God told him to do. It led to death in the family. In Genesis 4, it says, "So it came about in the course of time that Cain [the one who would murder] brought an offering to the Lord of the fruit of the ground."
God told them to bring not that but a blood sacrifice. "Abel, on his part also brought of the firstlings of his flock…" Just like God said. "…and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and for his offering" Because he did what God said."But for Cain and for his offering He had no regard." Cain basically said, "I'll give you what I want to give you, and if that's not good enough, that's your problem."
God said, "Look, that's not the way it goes. You see, the wages of sin is death, so you have to bring a blood sacrifice. It's symbolic of the death that needs to come to an innocent creature for you to be reconciled to me. I'm not looking for a tithe. I'm not looking for a payoff. I'm not hungry. I don't need your plants. I want you to acknowledge the consequences of being separated from the God of life. It's death."
Cain said, "I'm not going to do that." Look what God says to Cain. "So Cain became very angry and his countenance fell. Then the Lord said to Cain, 'Why are you angry?'" **"Why are you so lost in your own way?""And why has your countenance fallen?"**
You see, what God is doing here is he is asking questions of Cain, for he is saying, "Cain, I'll tell you why: because you're living in a way that seems right to you, but in the end, it's the way of death. Now you have to run. Now you have to hide. Now people want revenge on you. That's not a good way to live, Cain. Cain, I love you. What are you doing?"
There's a story a little later in Scripture when Elijah is serving God as best he could. He was just whipped at the end of the day. He thought he was the only faithful prophet in all of Israel. It was a pretty dramatic moment there in 1 Kings. He runs away, and he hides himself in a little nook. The words there are Elijah was depressed. I mean, just emotionally drained.
He felt rejected by God and alone in the world. When Elijah came to the cave and lodged there, it says, "And behold, the word of the Lord came to him, and He said to him, 'What are you doing here, Elijah?'""Why are you so sad, man? Why are you depressed? Why are you hiding from people?" Elijah said…
"'I have been very zealous for the Lord , the God of hosts; for the sons of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars and killed Your prophets with the sword. And I alone am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.' So He said, 'Go forth and stand on the mountain before the Lord .' And behold, the Lord was passing by! And a great and strong wind was rending the mountains and breaking in pieces the rocks before the Lord ; but the Lord was not in the wind.
And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of a gentle blowing. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle [or cloth] and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave. And behold, a voice came to him and said, 'What are you doing here, Elijah?'"
"Why are you here all alone? Why are you hiding? Why are you hiding from me? Why are you running? Don't you know who I am? Don't you see what I just did?" He goes on to tell Elijah, "Hey, Elijah, I have 7,000 other faithful Elijahs. I just happened to use you in that moment. Elijah, you're always going to be depressed, scared, and alone whenever you focus on you and what you did. This is not about you. Man's way leads to a cave and despair. I'm going to call you out into the light and love." Look how he does it, with gentleness.
What I want to do this morning now is just… You might be somebody who has made some statements to God. I want you to listen. I want you to listen how God would speak to you. I've just written down some things you might have said, you might be thinking, or you might be feeling as you get ready to launch into 2014.
You might be somebody who just goes, "Man, God, this is impossible. There is no way…there is no way…this is ever going to turn around and be something for which I'm one day thankful. It's an impossible situation. It's impossible for me to have joy. It's impossible for you to redeem it. I reject the idea that there's any way this could ever be good."
God goes, "Do you know what? I don't really blame you for thinking that way, but you're thinking like a man." In Luke 18, verse 27, it says, "The things that are impossible with people are possible with God.""Get your eyes off yourself and your circumstances. Give me a moment. I know there was just a cross and a death there. I know it's Saturday. I know it looks like Sunday is never going to get here, but just remember with whom you're dealing."
How about this? You may not somebody saying, "This is impossible." You might just say, "I'm just too tired. I can't go on." God says this to you: "It is vain for you to rise up early…" This was my favorite verse in college, by the way. "It is vain for you to rise up early, to retire late, to eat the bread of painful labors; for He gives to His beloved even in his sleep."
Hey, are you tired? One of the reasons some of us are exhausted is we don't think God has any interest in helping us. Now look it. This is not an excuse to be lazy. The Proverbs say, "In all labor there is profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty." The psalmist in Psalm 127:1 says, "Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it."
You must build a house, but you have to have the Lord involved in it. Listen to that again. Are you tired? It's vain for you to think you have to make this thing happen, to rise early or retire late, to eat the bread of painful labors because the Lord is for you. Let me tell you one of the things sleep is. Sleep is an act of faith. I don't need to be awake all the time making this thing happen.
That's why God says, "I never tire or sleep." Sleep is a daily practice of Sabbath. The reason some of us can't have a daily Sabbath is our minds are always working, always going. "How do I fix it? How do I make it happen? How do I make more money? How do I make this thing work? How do I go? I can't be happy without this, this, and this."
Man, I live by this motto: work hard and go to bed. You're going to go to bed while there is still hunger, disease, poverty, and Fridays to Sundays in this world, but I know whom I serve. This is Jesus. In Matthew 11:28, it says, "Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden…" Are you tired? "…I will give you rest."
You might be saying this: "This is too hard, Lord. I can't go on! I just can't go on! I can't charge into the New Year!" Isaiah 40 says, "Yet those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary."
See, one of the reasons we're tired and exhausted is we're not running with God. We're running for God. We're trying to do what Mother Teresa said: do something great for God. That's lousy advice, with all due respect to a very dear woman. That's lousy advice. Live in a relationship with the God who has done something great for you.
What I want you to know this morning is that little verse Philippians 4:13 that we've talked about in the Switch series, when it says, "I can do all things through [Christ] who strengthens me," a better translation is, "I can endure every situation through Christ who strengthens me. I know how to live in plenty or in want, because this world is not my home."
"I have no idea where to turn. My life is a mess." That's a really good place to be, by the way. See, we're getting real troubles. "I have this one. No, I have it. I know what I'm doing. I don't need to consult your Word, your people. I don't need to pray. I got this one! I've been down this road before."
By the way, there's a great lesson in Scripture of when Jesus went up on the Mount of Transfiguration. The other nine disciples stayed down below. Peter, James, and John went up top with him. There was a father who brought a demon-possessed son, a son whose life was just not living in relationship with God, a broken son. God had already given them authority to cast out demons, but they couldn't do it. I mean, they'd already all been successful at this, and the reason they weren't able to do it is they tried to do it just on their own experience.
Jesus says, "Look, man. This kind comes out…all kinds only come out…by fasting and prayer, by acknowledging you don't have what it takes to help other people." If you're someplace here saying, "This is too hard. I give! I can't go on," God goes, "You're in the perfect place." He says, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.""Now it might be a dead straight uphill climb for a while, but trust in me. Don't waver. Trust in me."
"I'm too weak." "And He has said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.'" Just take a look at Scripture. God loves to use the weak. If dependence is the goal, then weakness is a strength. "I can't do it!" Second Corinthians 9:8 says, "And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed."
Do you know what? The greatest thing you could say this morning is, "I can't do it." That's the perfect place to be. I've told my staff recently that I would rather be on the edge of a sea with Pharaoh's army charging down on me than I would be sitting in a palace as a king. Because when you are there and there is nothing that can happen except for God to show up, you're going to get to see your God show up!
But when you're in a palace as a king, you can start to think, "I've got it going on! Things are pretty good." You have a tendency to walk out on your balcony, look down, peruse the land, and find some things you want to invite into your palace for a party. Man, when you're sitting there on the edge of a sea, death is before you, and hopelessness is in front of you, you have nowhere to go but before God. That's when he gets to show himself to you. He loves you.
How about this? "My life will never work out given where I've been. There's no way this could ever turn." Scripture says, "And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose." Let me just tell you this. This verse is not permission for you to go make an ass of yourself or ruin your life with choices. What it's saying is even if you made an ass of yourself and ruined your life with choices, he can turn that.
Don't ever be somebody when you sin or you cause destruction or harm to others, you go, "Well, you know, God wanted this to happen so this could happen." No, what you intended for evil, God can use for good. What I'm here to tell you this morning is I don't really care what you've done.
If you'll begin to go to the God of grace who loves you and says, "Where are you, man? Why are you so angry? Do you like what you got? Well, keep doing what you're doing. But if you keep doing what you're doing, you're not going to like what you got. Come on. Come here, Son. Come here, sweet Daughter…"
"I can't forgive myself." "Well, do you know what? That's okay, but I forgive you." "Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus."
"I don't have what it takes!" That's a good place to be. "And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus."
"I'm scared." "Well, of course you are because you're looking at you and not at me. I don't give you a spirit of timidity but of power, love, and discipline."
"I'm worried." Isaiah 41:10 says, "Do not fear, for I am with you; do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand."
"I don't have the faith necessary for where I am." It's okay. Second Timothy 2:13 says, "If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself."
"I don't know what to do!" "It's okay. If any of you lacks wisdom, ask me! I'm going to give it to you generously, and I'm not going to be angry at you that you asked." "…without reproach…" That's what that means. He "…upbraideth not…" is what another translations says. It will be given to you. "I'm glad you don't know what to do."
"I don't want to do this alone." "Good, because I never want you to be alone." "I will never leave you nor forsake you."
"My own mother rejected me." Do you know what God says to that? "I'm not surprised." Hey, do you know in America alone, there are 50 million mothers who have rejected their children before they ever got to hold them? That's what happens in a world that's concerned with its own comfort. It lives in fear. Even a mother can do that! This is what Isaiah says. "Can a woman forget her nursing child, and have no compassion on the son of her womb?" Yes! "Even these may forget, but I will not forget you."
"My father never loved me." "See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are." Psalm 27:10 says, "For my father and my mother have forsaken me, but the Lord will take me up." **Psalm 146, verse 9, says,"The Lord protects the strangers; he supports the fatherless and the widow, but He thwarts the way of the wicked."**
Gang, you might say this to God: "If you really knew me, you wouldn't love me either." I want you to listen to this, and then we're going to bless you with some songs. We're going to sing back to this God about his great love once we're reminded of his love for us. There are a couple of places in Scripture I go to a ton. One of them is Zephaniah, chapter 3, verses 15 through 17. The reason I go there a lot is I just kind of go, "God, you can't really be happy with me because I'm still trapped in my performance-based acceptance, un-gospel informed nonsense."
When I really stop, he just goes, "Todd, I love you. I demonstrated my love for you in that while you were yet a sinner, I died for you. I know exactly who you are. That's why I came. Where are you, Son? Why are you angry? Why are you lost? Why are you hurting? Why are you depressed? It's because you don't have a relationship with me. You can't have a relationship with me unless I build a bridge. I'm going to build a bridge through the provision of my Son.
Guess what, Todd? I know you love me, but you're not perfect. You're not home yet. You're still in a world tainted by sin. Your flesh you're still arguing against even though your mind has been transformed and you're renewing it day by day by looking at the Word. There are still going to be moments where you just fail me. That's why I died! That's why I'm called Savior. I love you, and you don't need to fear me because I've already poured out my wrath. Somebody has already paid the debt.
When you mess up, let's just acknowledge together that was a mess-up. Confess it. Agree with me that was wrong. Make amends. Go tell people that wasn't of Christ. 'I wasn't living then the way my Father told me to. I just blew it.' I forgive you. Ask them to forgive you. If they don't forgive you, they don't know me. Then walk with me again maybe with deeper humility and deeper dependence than you did. Let's go. Man, I'm not disappointed. I just love you."
This is an amazing text of Scripture in Zephaniah. It says, "The Lord has taken away His judgments against you, He has cleared away your enemies. The King of Israel, the Lord is in your midst; You will fear disaster no more. In that day it will be said to Jerusalem: 'Do not be afraid, O Zion; Do not let your hands fall limp.'"
Then this is the Scripture I love. "The Lord your God is in your midst, a victorious warrior. He will exult over you with joy, He will be quiet in His love, He will rejoice over you with shouts of joy." It might even say in your Bible (and it would be appropriate), "He will sing over you." Did you guys get that?
I mean, God is not just waiting for us to get to heaven so we can tell him for 10,000 years yet to come how great he is. He can't wait to throw a party and go, "My son has come home! He is free from sin and death! No longer will he disappoint me, because I'm going to complete this good work I've begun in him. Let me just sing of my love for him."
I think he is doing it now. God wants to sing over you reminders of joy and comfort you with his love. Are you trying to perform for him? Then you don't know the gospel. Are you not doing anything in response to his love for you? Then you don't know the gospel.
Father, I pray we would be people who know the gospel. I pray we would be people who would know your love for us, who would know your care and concern for us. We would know your intention is to bless us, that it might be well with us. I pray we'd quit running from you. I pray we'd quit trying to make our own way, and we would just say, "I am tired. I need you. I don't know what to do. I have to run to you."
I pray we would never believe the lie that you don't love us or if you really knew us you wouldn't care about us. We see from Genesis to Revelation, from Isaiah to Zephaniah, you keep telling us just the opposite is true. Lord, I thank you I can just sit here right now and be reminded of your love through song.
I pray my life would then be a song sung back to you. Every time I'm off-key and every time I do it wrong, I thank you that you just want to stop me, correct me, acknowledge it, and move forward again knowing you have perfectly provided for me. Thank you, Father, for your amazing love. Remind me of it now. Amen.
See now? Listen, you were supposed to sit and let him sing over you! You just couldn't stand it! You want to sing back to him. That's exactly really what we should do. We should go, "Stop it! We want to tell you we love you more!" Every now and then, the King says, "Sit down. I'm going to tell you how much I love you."
There is one. His name is a liar. That is what he is called. He is the Accuser of the brethren. He wants you to think, "You have to perform for God. You can never perform enough. You may as well hide from him. You'd better go into a cave and be depressed. You'd better figure it out on your own because God doesn't want to help you. God wants to smack you."
He is a liar. This morning I want to remind you of God's love. God doesn't want you to go through this alone. He wants you to be deeply connected with others who can help you and share out of the context of a deep relationship. That's this next week. Gang, you know, I'm not the best of all pastors. The really good pastors are really guys like John Newton. Do you know who John Newton is? He wrote "Amazing Grace."
In 1722, as was his practice for many of his messages, he would write a hymn that went with his messages. He was teaching out of 1 Chronicles 17:16 and 17. It's basically a verse where David is saying in that little part of the Scripture, "Hey, man, who am I that you would bless me (just a little shepherd boy, the least of my father's children), that you would take me, that you would make me a hero, make me a king, and make me great? Who am I that you would regard me and love me so much?"
As John Newton started to get ready to preach that message, he decided to write a song. I don't know if you know the story of John Newton. I want you to think of the most base, vile human you know and multiply it by a hundred. This guy was a slave trader. He didn't just trade slaves; he abused them sexually and physically. He humiliated them.
He was so absolutely base that even his own crew couldn't stand the cruelty they watched in this guy. They threw him off his own slave ship. They mutinied him because he was so inhuman. He was kicked out of the Royal Navy. He was rejected and alone, and he met Jesus. He couldn't believe God would love someone like him.
God made him in the town of Olney an Anglican priest. That's the way he ended his life, preaching to people about God's grace. In 1722 on a Sunday morning, he taught that text and introduced this song for the first time. When he died at 82, he wasn't sharp, but he said, basically, "I know two things. I still have enough mind to know this that I am the chief of all sinners, and his grace is sufficient for me." Let's sing of that grace together.
Well, the next verse we didn't sing talks about how, "The earth shall soon dissolve like snow, the sun forbear to shine." But there's also going to be an amazing truth that one day God is going to make it all as it should be. So we sing in our Goma, and he loves you.
If you're here this morning and you're not personally aware of that love, God is saying to you, "Where are you? Why are you so angry? Why are you so sad? Come here. Come here. Let me help you. Let me walk with you through 2014 and let you begin eternal joy." Don't buy the lie that you trust Jesus so at the grave you'll live forever. Understand the truth. If you have a relationship with Jesus, you begin to really live now. It changes everything.
We invite you in. Take that little perforated section. Check that box, "I want to know more of how to have a relationship with Jesus." Come up here, and talk to us. If you have freely received grace, freely extend it to others. Go tell others. Forgive those who have hurt you. That's how you know you're forgiven.
It's going to be a great year. It's going to be our best year ever. I thank you for the way so many of you are living in acceptance-based performance, so much so that those still trapped by law are looking over the wall, and they're going, "What's the source of that joy in those people? Why do they give freely? What do you mean you don't charge them to come in? You don't even pass a basket?"
No, because people see God at work here, and they give freely. Keep giving with your life, with his resources, with everything you have because it's bringing glory to your Father whose grace has brought life to you. Have a great week of worship. We'll see you.