Your Life Proves Your Faith

Meet Rick: Rick grew up attending church with his family and still considers himself a Christian even though he doesn’t go to church anymore. He tries to do his work well, is kind to others, and he’s a ton of fun to be around. And while he says he believes the Bible is the “Word of God” he says there are other paths to God and has jumped on the “open and affirming” movement regarding sexuality. If you looked at Rick’s life, you’d see someone who is a good guy, but not much different from anyone you’d meet who does not identify as a Christian. When asked if that’s a problem, Rick sees his similarity to others as a good thing because it shows that Christians are just normal people.

How do we make sense of things when what someone says they believe doesn’t line up with their life? More specifically, what happens when someone claims to be a Christian but the Bible doesn’t seem to have much of a say over their life?

People will always believe your life over your words because your life proves your faith.

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The Best Leadership Lesson I’ve Ever Learned

When I was a teenager I remember hearing someone boast about how important they were at work. This person was someone I knew and looked up to since I was young, so I was really impressed. When I relayed the amazing news to my father he was less than impressed. What he said next is the single most important leadership lesson I’ve ever learned.

He simply replied, “If you’re important, you won’t need to tell anyone.”

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Jesus as Miracle Worker

Series Intro: “Who is Jesus? Describe him to me”
How do you even begin to answer this question? There are so many ways to describe Jesus. For the next few weeks we’ll be looking at the “Many faces of Jesus.” Last youth group we looked at Jesus as Friend, and remembered that if we ever doubt if Jesus is trustworthy we only need to look at the cross. This week we’re exploring Jesus as Miracle Worker, and in the next few weeks we’ll see him as Servant, and Shepherd.

Many Faces of Jesus

Do You Have Authority?
Moving is really stressful. When my family moved earlier this year we had to make a bunch of phone calls so we’d have electricity and gas and phones. When I called to have our electricity turned on, they wouldn’t let me do it because our account was under Tracy’s name but not mine, so I had no authority to make changes to our account.

Honestly, I argued with them more than they probably deserved, they kept telling me I’d have to wait for Tracy to get off work so she could call and have the power turned on.

It was frustrating to have no authority. But at the same time, I’m glad that only the person whose name is on the account is the one who can make changes. Think about it, what would happen if I called National Grid and asked them to turn off the power at your house tonight. Would you like that? Obviously not. But I can’t do that, because I don’t have the authority to make changes to your account.

We all want authority, don’t we? We want to be able to call the shots and have people listen to us. But it’s good and right life doesn’t work like that.

Which Power is More Impressive: A Miracle, or Forgiveness of Sin?
Would you rather have the power to perform miracles or to forgive sin? What miracles would you do? How would you use that power? How would you choose when to do a miracle and when not to?

As impressive as miracles are, the authority to forgive someone’s sin is even greater. A miracle is an instant, forgiveness lasts for an eternity. Imagine having that authority, to look at someone and to be able to decide if they should be forgive of their sin or not. “Nope, sorry, I don’t like you. You’re still guilty!”

Jesus had authority and power to perform miracles AND to forgive sin, and tonight I want to share one story from the Gospel of Matthew where Jesus’ authority is questioned.

Matthew 9:1-8
“Jesus stepped into a boat, crossed over and came to his own town. Some men brought to him a paralytic, lying on a mat. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.” At this, some of the teachers of the law said to themselves, “This fellow is blaspheming!”

Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said, “Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts? Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins. . . .” Then he said to the paralytic, “Get up, take your mat and go home.” And the man got up and went home. When the crowd saw this, they were filled with awe; and they praised God, who had given such authority to men.”

The reason for the miracles: To prove his authority!
Which is easier… to say “your sins are forgiven” or to say “get up and walk.”

It’s easier to say something that people can’t “prove” is false than to say something that can be immediately seen as true or false.

Any crazy guy can say “I forgive your sins!” Not anyone can make someone who was born paralyzed and make him immediately able to get up and walk.

Jesus explains, “So that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins, get up, take your mat and go home.” And the man did!

Jesus wasn’t all about the show. He had huge crowds following him, begging for constant miracles. The reason Jesus came was for the forgiveness of sins, to reconcile sinful humanity to the Holy God.

When we pursue God because we want to see his power, we lose sight of something far more important. It’s obviously important that we worship a powerful God whose authority is real and endless… but it’s even more important that we pursue reconciliation with him so that his power is FOR us, not AGAINST us!

IMG_4356Why don’t I experience God’s power?

  1. You’re not living for God, you’re living in sin.

If you’re living with unconfessed and unrepented sin in your life, then you can’t expect to experience much of God’s power.

Can I make a confession: I lied to National Grid. I called them back half an hour later and told them I’m Tracy. Since she’s my wife I could answer all of her security questions as if they were about me. Thankfully, their files don’t say whether or not “Tracy” is a boy name or a girl name.

God alone has authority, and he won’t be manipulated or tricked into doing what you want him to do. Confess your sin, and repent. Repenting from your sin means “to turn away.” It means you’ve confessed it (“God, I admit I’m guilty of _______.”) and that you’ve prayerfully committed to stop sinning and start doing what God wants instead, (“God, give me strength to stop ______ and start doing _______ instead, to the glory of your name.”).

  1. You’re living too safely.

When we take no risks, there’s no need for God to show you how strong he is. You simply don’t need God or faith if you live in a way that you can comfortably live without Him.

If you want to see God’s power, take some risks.

Don’t be foolish and put yourself into situations where you’re “daring” God to rescue you.

Take a risk by standing up for someone who’s being bullied, by speaking up when Christ is being dragged through the mud, and when people who claim to be Christians are making decisions which are firmly and clearly not what God would want.

  1. You rely on your own strength, not his.

Jesus said that he came for the sick, not the healthy. If you think you’re just fine without God, then you can’t expect to know God’s strength. You don’t need it anyway.

I think this is one of the reasons we experience suffering and trials, to remind us of our need for Him. If I never discipline my kids, how are they supposed to know the difference between good behavior and bad behavior? If I never let my kids fail at anything, how are they going to learn how to ask for help?

Ask the Lord to show you your need for him, and start trusting in HIS strength instead of your own.

Trust in God’s Power, Not Your Own
Will you trust in yourself, or will you trust in Him?

If you claim to trust in him, but you never take any godly risks, then you can say you trust him all you want… but you don’t.

If you want to trust him, but you think living for sin is better, then you’re going to live a two-faced, double-hearted life… always wanting one thing and doing another. And that’s a pretty guilty way to live. Eventually, what will happen, is you’ll either repent of your sin or you’ll give up on God so you don’t feel guilty anymore.

I want you to know and experience the power of God.

His miracles aren’t just fireworks to draw a crowd. They are powerful reminders that he has complete authority over both heaven and earth.

The question is… will you confess your sin, your need… and will you trust Jesus Christ to change you and make you new?

If you want to know more about how to be made new and how to be forgiven of your sins, your small group leader or me would LOVE to talk with you.

The Fatherhood of God: A Sermon Summary

How does your relationship with your father mirror and reflect your relationship with your Heavenly Father?  Maybe this is something you’ve thought about a lot, maybe it’s a new thought – but the more you think about it the more I’m convinced you’ll find many parallels.

The Big Question today is this: If I am painting a portrait of God for my children, what does He look like?  Is this portrait anywhere close to the one painted throughout Scripture.

I want us to look at the Fatherhood of God through three lenses: God’s Authority, God’s Provision, and God’s Love.  Fathers can faithfully reflect these characteristics of God, or they can greatly harm our view of God by abusing or neglecting these characteristics.

Before moving on, there are a few important qualifications that need to be made:

  1. Even if you aren’t a father, this sermon is for you because it is mostly about who your Heavenly Father is.
  2. If you aren’t married, let these characteristics of God guide you young men as you grow in biblical manhood, and let them guide you young women as you consider relationships and future marriage.
  3. If you compare your father to your Heavenly Father, guess who will come up short?  Don’t forget that as long as your father has breath in his lungs he will be a work in progress.  Give grace to your dad, and remember that you aren’t the perfect son/daughter either!
  4. If you have an absent or abusive father, You need to be assured of two things: First, God will never abandon you; and second, God will not abuse you.

God’s Authority
In the midst of his suffering, Job cried out in self-justification that God had treated him unfairly.  In response, God put Job in his place (Job 38:4-12), essentially saying, “Job, where were you when I created the world?  I didn’t see you there… on what authority are you judging me?”  God does not answer to me or to you.

It is good for my kids to have a healthy fear of me.  Not a fear that causes them to wonder if I will stop loving them or if I will reject them.  But what kind of portrait of God’s authority am I painting for them?  If I let my kids run the house, I am not pointing them to a Heavenly Father who has Authority, but to One who exists to do their bidding.

God’s Provision
One of the clearest ways that God has provided for his people is through Manna.  Imagine being among the Israelites in the exodus.  God has delivered you from slavery, sent the Ten Plagues and has now parted the Red Sea.  But then you start to wonder: Where do we go from here?  What are we going to eat?  How am I going to provide for my family?  The people started to grumble against Moses, and then we read Exodus 16:4-5

God literally made food rain from heaven.  Not just once, but every day (except for the Sabbath, but they were allowed to gather for the Sabbath ahead of time).  God loves to provide for his children (see, Matthew 7:9–11).

Will you trust God to provide, or do you give lip-service when you pray?  When you pray for daily bread, do you grumble and complain as if God was faithless when your food runs out at the end of the day?  When God’s will and your will are not the same, will you still pray, “Thy will be done?”  How I pray, how I make decisions, and how I spend my money will teach my kids whether or not they can rely on God to provide.

God’s Love
The story of Hosea might be the most beautiful portrayal of God’s love in Scripture, obviously excluding the Gospels.  While Hosea doesn’t give us a pattern to pursue in how God wants us to pick a spouse, his life is a clear picture of God’s faithful love for his children.  He marries a woman, Gomer, who time and time again is faithless to him, runs from him, gets herself in danger, and even sells herself into slavery.  But Hosea chases after her and refuses to give up on her, regardless of the cost or sacrifice to himself.  Hosea 3:1 provides a wonderful glimpse into Hosea’s story and its significance.

In the end, after relentlessly forsaking Hosea, Gomer receives Hosea’s love after she had done everything imaginable that could’ve caused him to hate her.  As the Apostle Paul would later write, “but God demonstrates his love for us in that, while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

Tying it Together
At the cross we see God’s Authority, God’s Provision, and God’s Love at its finest hour.  (John 3:16–17)

 On the cross God’s authority overcame our sinful rebellion.  We had rejected his authority and put ourselves on his throne.  But God showed his power over sin through the resurrection.  The power of sin is death, and death could not hold him.

 On the cross God provided freedom from eternal judgment by taking the punishment we deserve upon himself.  He paid our debt, he took the punishment we deserved.

On the cross God’s love led him to adopt us as sons and daughters.  It was his love, not the nails, that held Jesus on the cross.  He had the authority to come down from the cross, but his love kept him there so you could be set free.

Regardless of what kind of father you are or what kind of father you have – God’s Fatherhood is perfectly marked by Authority, Provision, and Love.  Be thankful for every way your father has shown forth the faithfulness of your Heavenly Father.  Remember that despite every fault your human father has, your Heavenly Father is perfect.  This is most clearly seen through Jesus Christ on the cross, where we are adopted as children of God.

Rest in your identity as his child, and especially you fathers out there, be encouraged to live in such a way that the portrait of God you are painting for your children is faithful to the picture of God we seek through Scripture.

LWAYG: Finishing Strong – Don’t Mock Prophets

Ever since I was a kid and heard the story of “Elisha and the Youths” it’s been one of my favorite Bible stories because it’s just so strange.  But I’ve never actually understood the story until digging into it a few weeks ago.  When I read this story to my wife she said, “That’s a terrible story!  How is that in the Bible!”  Clearly, this story deserves some explanation.

2 Kings 2:23-24 “From there Elisha went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, some youths came out of the town and jeered at him. ‘Go on up, you baldhead!’ they said. ‘Go on up, you baldhead!’ He turned around, looked at them and called down a curse on them in the name of the Lord. Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the youths.”

So what’s up with this?  Was Elisha just super-arrogant and cruel?  Why couldn’t he just have some grace, laugh about his balding head, and move on?

Well… it’s important to remember what just before this happened before this.  Elisha’s mentor, Elijah, had just been taken up directly to Heaven in a chariot of fire (2 Kings 2:1-18).  Elisha’s time to serve as God’s prophet to Israel had now come!  Immediately after Elijah “goes up” to Heaven he is tested by the people of the city (2 Kings 2:19-22) and then he’s mocked by the youths.

A few important points to notice:

  • The point of their mockery wasn’t his baldness. They were mocking his call from God to serve as a prophet, and were either daring him to prove it by “going on up” like Elijah went up into Heaven or they were telling him to join Elijah and to go away.
  • “Youth” in the Bible didn’t always mean “child.” David and Isaiah were called “youths” at different points in their lives when they were probably in their twenties!  These “youths” weren’t mere kids and should have known better than to mock and ridicule God as they did.
  • Elisha didn’t call for the bears. He called a curse upon them, but I wonder if he stood there thinking, “Whoa! That’s not what I expected to happen!”  But God, who is the Judge of all, saw fit to demonstrate to Elisha to validate his ministry through this harsh a judgment on those who questioned him.  If that wouldn’t give Elisha confidence going into the beginning of his public ministry I don’t know what would!

So What?  Ultimately, God has provided human authority in each of our lives to remind us that we are all under God’s authority.  These youths forgot that.  They did not submit to God’s authority and they would not submit to Elisha’s either!

As a youth pastor, I don’t think God is going to put you to death by mocking my receding hairline (which I’d rather not talk about!) or by questioning my call to ministry… but God does want you to learn from me.  It’s important for us to be humble and teachable and to submit to the authorities God has put over us (at home, in church, in school, on our team, etc.).

In Romans 13:1 God says (through Paul), “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.”

Important Questions:

  • Do I respect authority or do I rebel against it?  Why?  Do I treat God’s authority the same way I treat human authorities?
  • Am I teachable, or do I live like I have nothing more to learn from people?
  • Who might God have put in my life to learn from that I’m disrespecting?

Last Week at Youth Group: Ultimate Authority

Sunday marked the penultimate lesson in our Vital Signs series.  (Yes, I just used the word “penultimate” – it makes me feel smart.)  Just as there are vital signs a doctor checks to measure physical health, there are vital signs God checks to see whether or not you’re spiritually healthy.

The Principle to remember is this: “Maximum freedom is found under God’s Authority.” Most people don’t associate freedom with submitting to authority.  I don’t know a lot of people who like to be told what to do.

Authority is like an umbrella in the rain: You need to be under it to keep dry.  If my umbrella’s in the closet, it’s not doing me any good.  If I know what God wants me to do but don’t submit to him, my knowledge isn’t doing me any good either.  Likewise, I shouldn’t be surprised to get arrested if I steal a computer from Best Buy even though I know stealing is against the law.

Romans 13:1-2 says,”Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established.  The authorities that exist have been established by God.  Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.”  God has given us worldly authorities to serve as a mirror, as a reminder that ultimately we need to obey God’s authority.  If we refuse to listen to human authorities, we’ll probably reject God’s authority too.  But as we respect and listen to human authorities we’ll learn more about what it means to follow and honor Jesus Christ.  Authorities aren’t simply here to “keep the peace” but to give freedom.

Remember:

  1. Human Authority is given by God
  2. Life is a mirror: As you submit to authority you’ll learn more about submitting to God.
  3. Maximum freedom is found under God’s authority.

We all have people we need to listen to.  Parents, Teachers, Principals, Coaches, Pastors, Bosses, Police Officers, Politicians and other Government Officials, and others.  But what if an authority figure tells you to do something God wouldn’t want you to do?

When I was a senior in high school my football team got a new coach.  Now I wasn’t a great football player, but I was good enough to be a starter on the defensive line.  A few weeks into the season the coach instituted Sunday morning practices from 10-12… I had to choose whether or not I’d go to practice or church.  I chose church.  Shaking in my cleats, I approached the coach after practice and told him my decision, I clearly remember him saying, “You do what you have to do; I’ll do what I have to.”  I never started another game in my senior year.

So here’s the principle for dealing with ungodly authority:

  1. Be open about your intentions to not obey… but present an alternative.
  2. Willingly accept the consequences

I wish I had presented an alternative.  I could’ve gone to the first worship service at church so I only showed up 45 minutes late to practice and maybe the coach would’ve let me stay late to run extra laps or to lift weights after most people had left.  I also wish I had talked to the Athletic Director (appealed to a higher authority) and told him what was going on.

As Andy Stanley write in The Seven Checkpoints: “You can’t be in rebellion against God-appointed authority and be in fellowship with God.”