Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Leap of Faith // Faith vs. Fear

sermon notes from the Vineyard Church of Milan 02/24/2012

video available at www.sundaystreams.com/go/MilanVineyard/ondemand

(special thanks to Dave Schmelzer and the Greater Boston Vineyard…this sermon series and the Leap of Faith User Manual is largely adapted from their original material)


One of the things God likes to do is – well, it’s a very technical theological term, but I’ll just say it, and then we can break it down together: God likes to “do stuff” for people. You need something done? It gives God pleasure, it seems, to DO it for you. He likes the whole range. Finding us parking spots, getting us there on time, healing our bodies, keeping our gas tank running on fumes, telling us where to look for lost books and earrings, restoring relationships, helping us get a job, setting us free from addiction, directing the wind to deposit 20% off coupons in the parking lot when we need them, overcoming racism, bringing peace between warring nations. The whole range.

I know some of that seems a little beneath him. Like he’s got better things to do than some of that. And especially better things to do than doing stuff for us. Sometimes we imagine God should have set things up in a more purely intellectual way. So that we’d worship God not because we actually needed or wanted any good stuff for ourselves out of the relationship, but just because we acknowledge he’s real or objectively great or something.

Because the way things stand, we’d be likely to worship him just because he does cool stuff for us. [pink Cadillac story…]

We might have one of two possible reactions to this. One, if you’ve been a Jesus follower for a while, you might feel a little conflicted about it, a little guilty. Like it’s a dirty secret about your faith. You imagine you’re faith is supposed to be all about this pure love for God, uncluttered by selfish motivations. And still you kind of feel like you identify with pink Cadillac faith a little too much, when you get right down to it. Secondly, if you’re exploring the idea of following Jesus from the outside, it can seem a bit like a scandal to you. So everyone seems a little hypocritical to you.

There’s really only one realistic way past this. We’ve got to get over it. This is the way God is. This is the way we are. And it actually works a lot better if we’d just accept that and trust that God has a good reason for relating to us this way. What a crazy thought, huh? Accept God for who he’s revealed himself to be – even if he’s not quite like we’d make him if we were making a God. And accept ourselves for who we’ve revealed ourselves to be – even if we’re not quite like we’d make ourselves if we were making ourselves.

Many of us, as you are if you’ve been using the User Manual for the Leap of Faith, have been praying the Psalms, so they’ve been on my mind a lot. There are some bracing things that stand out as you pray the psalms – not least among them are the connecting words.

I love the Lord because he has heard my voice, my supplications…

Psalm 116:1

Wouldn’t the song writer love God even if he didn’t hear and answer prayer?

For the LORD listens to the needy, 34 and His captives He has not despised. Let heaven and earth extol Him, 35 the seas and all that stirs within them.

For God will rescue Zion 36 and rebuild the towns of Judea, and they will dwell there and possess it.

Psalm 69

The more you read the whole bible, the more you realize that God is eager to DO things for people who trust him. The more you realize that that’s actually a fairly big deal for him.

Last week, we explored the idea that God’s one purpose on earth is making his name great. And that if we make that our focus in our lives, life just works better than making anything else our focus, or for that matter, living an unfocused life. Because of course, if God is all about making his name great, the way he does it is by doing great things for people who put their trust in him. Which makes sense, doesn’t it? If you’re a dad, the only way you get a great reputation as a dad is doing great stuff for your kids. Not doing everything they ask of course – I mean, sometimes they don’t ask for the best things; they’re kids after all – but by doing the important stuff they need from a dad, and by doing lots and lots of just plain old cool things for them because you love them.


We’re starting the second week of this experiment we’re calling “Leap of Faith.” I’m excited about it. At its core, the leap of faith is about finding out how true it is that God likes to do stuff for people who trust him. And the only way to find out is to trust him in specific ways and see what happens, right? So If it’s really true that God wants to do great stuff for us, how do we say “yes, I’m in!” to him and get this great stuff?

Well, it seems to boil down to this thing called “faith.” In Matthew 8, Jesus tells someone who wants something from him, “Let it be done to you according to your faith.” That’s why this 40 day experiment is called a leap of faith. Faith is the whole deal.

However, there is a key enemy to faith that I think it will be helpful to look at even at this early stage. Jesus talks about it in Mark 4:

35That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” 36Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. 37A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. 38Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”

39He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.

40He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

41They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”

Mark 4:35-41

Why are you so afraid? Seriously, Jesus? They are about to drown! What is Jesus driving at?

Jesus gets why they are afraid; he’s using his question to teach them about faith. He’s setting up fear in opposition to faith.

Why are you so afraid?

Do you still have no faith?

The disciples ask Jesus, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” Hadn’t he said to them, “Let’s go over to the other side?” Clearly, his purpose involves reaching the other side, not drowning. Which, in the midst of the storm, they seem to have forgotten. Or if they haven’t forgotten it, they sure don’t seem to be believing that’s what’s about to happen anymore. Their fear – and let’s be honest, it’s a very natural fear, supported by the way our brains are designed - has gotten in the way of their faith.

Somehow we tend to think doubt would be the enemy of faith. And I suppose there’s some truth to that. But it seems that a much more significant enemy to faith is fear. It’s one of two main things that keep us from life-altering faith. And the second is related to it, and goes back to last week – it’s a lack of focus on God’s one great purpose (which opens the door to fear when we lose focus on it).

[researchers who study how our brains work tell us that most of our actions are directed by a cognitive but pre-rational part of our brains that we can think of like an elephant. Really smart, really large, and generates a ton of momentum. And the more rational part of us is like a rider on that elephant, whose job it is to serve the elephant. And so doubt, often, is what our riders do when our elephants get scared, even by a mouse. Our elephants want to stop going where faith had first led them, and so our riders invent all kinds of doubts to support them in their fear. The smarter you are in fact, the more reasons your rider can come up with to support your elephants inclinations. So it may seem like doubt is the enemy of faith, but generally speaking, it starts with something else that gets our elephants going a different direction. And that something else is often fear. And most especially it’s fear when faith is what had gotten our elephants moving in the first place.]


If you read much fiction about various mythological gods, or ever play those god games where you rule over the world and have to get people to believe in you, you get a good picture about a conception of faith that’s fairly common. The way faith works in that worldview is that gods get their power from the faith of their followers. The more people who believe in them, the more power they have to do miracles and battle other gods. And so they like to do miracles (or fearsome things, for that matter), because it gets more people believing in them, which increases their power and helps them do more miracles, and so on and so forth.


Sometimes we have the same misconception about the real God. That somehow faith matters to him for his sake. But that’s not it - not really. Faith matters to him because he loves us. And faith – an active trust in him – is what opens the door to abundant life for us. Life that comes from him, full of adventure, significance, purpose, provision, life that totally fits who we are, that gives us joy – the kind of life Jesus has. And sure, he gets something out of it – he gets happy kids he gets to spend all day every day working alongside and enjoying. But again, his motivation even for that is that he loves us.


So Jesus isn’t upset with his disciples for their lack of faith because his nap got interrupted. He’s upset with them because their lack of faith is threatening to get in the way of the awesome life he is wanting to lead them into. On the other side of faith are the deepest dreams for our lives we’ve ever dreamt. Jesus says in Matthew 21: Whatever you ask for in prayer with faith, you will receive. In other words, if you’re focused on God’s one great purpose on earth, and you come to God in prayer with faith, he’s going to come through for you. Because this is what abundant life is all about, this is what it looks like.

Isn’t that the life we want? It’s the life I want.

And only two things stand between us and a life of faith.

Fear, and a lack of focus.

I don’t think it’s too difficult a mystery why faith makes us scared. Faith forces us to believe in something we can’t see.

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.

Hebrews 11:1

The challenge, of course, with faith is that even though we can’t see it, we have to act as if it’s already there.

This is the fundamental conflict in life. Do you roll over when you’re a baby? You desperately want to, but what will happen if you do? Do you take a step? What if you fall over? Do you get on the bus? Do you take the job? Do you pop the question? Do you buy the house? Do you have the baby? Everything we desire deeply requires us to act like it’s going to work out, one way or another, even though it hasn’t worked out yet and there are no guarantees. Or, fear can keep us from ever stepping out in faith, and then we are “safe” but completely lifeless.

Listen to this psalm from the Bible and see what you think of it…

He who dwells in the Most High’s shelter, 1

in the shadow of Shaddai lies at night—

I say of the LORD, “My refuge and bastion, 2

my God in whom I trust.”

For He will save you from the fowler’s snare, 3

from the disastrous plague.

4 With His pinion He shelters you,

and beneath His wings you take refuge,

a shield and a buckler, His truth.

5 You shall not fear from the terror of night

nor from the arrow that flies by day,

6 from the plague that stalks in darkness

nor from the scourge that rages at noon.

7 Though a thousand fall at your side and ten thousand at your right hand, you it will not reach.

8 You but look with your eyes,

and the wicked’s requital you see.

9 For you—the LORD is your refuge,

the Most High you have made your abode.

No harm will befall you, 10

nor affliction draw near to your tent.

For His messengers He charges for you 11

to guard you on all your ways.

On their palms they lift you up 12

lest your foot be bruised by a stone.

On lion and viper you tread, 13

you trample young lion and serpent.

“For Me he desired and I freed him. 14

I raised him high, for he has known My name.

He calls Me and I answer him, 15

I am with him in his straits.

I deliver him and grant him honor. 16

With length of days I shall sate him,

and show him my rescue.”

What do you think of all that? Do you really believe that:

9 For you—the LORD is your refuge,

the Most High you have made your abode.

No harm will befall you, 10

nor affliction draw near to your tent.

For His messengers He charges for you 11

to guard you on all your ways.

This is actually a sentiment that comes up a fair amount in the Bible. Here’s a passage from the new testament, quoting a psalm:

That’s why we can be cheerfully confident and say, “The Lord is helping me; I’m not going to be afraid; what can anyone do to me?”

Hebrews 13:6

Has a genuine follower of Jesus ever had harm befall them? Has a person full of faith ever been afflicted?

Obviously, they have. I sure have.

Yet also, obviously, we’re supposed to take these scriptures really seriously and take heart from them. Jesus himself commands us in Matthew 6 not to worry about anything.

The way I understand it is this. I think, if we are following Jesus, if we are trying to focus on God’s one great purpose on earth, we are supposed to believe that he’s right there with us if things get hairy. That he’s sent actual angels to be with us. And that, whatever happens, in the end it will work out great.

The strange upshot of these teachings of the Bible is that their perspective is that death is not the enemy. Fear, worry is the enemy. Fear is tons worse than death! Isn’t that interesting?

Listen to Paul in Romans 8…

28And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

31What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?

35Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?

37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

38For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8

Or in Philippians…

Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.

Philippians 4:6-7


This is why a central part of our leap of faith is asking God for some specific things. We know his one purpose is to make his name great among all people. And that his name, in this sense, is “The God who does awesome things for people who trust him.” You have been created to see God’s name made great through you. So, one of our first steps of faith is to ask him for things. Things for you because you think maybe they are things God wants to do for you. And things for your six, because you know God loves them. And things for your church, because God longs to bless his people.

4This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. 15And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.

1 John 5

Focusing our lives this way can seem a little out there. Look at the passage from Mark about the disciples and Jesus in the boat that’s about to sink. Jesus point to them basically seems to be: Which are you going to believe more? This massive storm or the fact that I said, “Let’s cross to the other side of the lake?

Our lives cannot change in any meaningful way except as a result of faith. Every story of God making his name great in the world have come about as a result of faith. And this kind of faith boils down to believing utterly in the words of someone you can’t even see – Jesus.

So how can we do this? How can we overcome the fear and lack of focus that will keep us from receiving all the benefits of faith? I have four suggestions, four practical tips.


1. Believe by faith.

I mean this very simply. Put your trust in Jesus. Decide to become his follower. Trust him with your life. Say, OK, Jesus, you can count me as one of yours. I’m going to trust that my sins are forgiven. That you’re alive now even though you were killed on a cross, and that you’re up to something in the world and you’re inviting me to be part of it. And that as I work on doing what you tell me to do, you’ll take care of everything that matters in my life.

It takes a lot of faith to believe in him. A leap of faith. In fact, you may never find out if you actually believe in him until you make the leap by faith, and acknowledge that the thing you can’t see for sure yet if it’s in you, but you think it is, so you take a risk, and by faith you decide to believe. Only then will you find out if, in fact, you do.

2. Step out by faith.

Only one thing on earth will satisfy us, and that’s focusing our life around God’s one purpose on earth. It’s what we really want in life; it’s deeper than any of our dreams, though our dreams might not obviously point to that. Not yet, not at first.

So step out by getting in the game somehow. Maybe it starts by just praying for God to do something to make his name great, in a focused way. Maybe it means joining a team of people in a ministry in the church. Maybe it means planting a church. But somehow, take a step.

3. Give by faith.

Jesus says that serving God is in direct opposition to serving money. And it seems clear in the Bible that the greatest antidote to serving money is to give.

This is actually one of the things we know most about God himself. God himself is a giver. God so loved the world that he gave his only Son… And he brings up the subject constantly. Believe is in the Bible 272 times. Pray, 371. Love, 714. Give? 2162. You could argue that Jesus talked more about giving than about anything else. There are more promises in the Bible about how we use our money than about any other subject.

[for new guests: Can we make a deal that will make me feel better in talking about this crucial topic? Can we agree that, at least for these 40 days, if you give in response to this, you won’t give to US? I’d love you to get whatever benefit there is in this—and I think there’s massive benefit—without feeling a conflict of interest.]

Giving is a topic we’ll touch on regularly during this series, because it’s so central to seeing God’s blessing in our lives. And one of my goals for everyone who participates in this Lenten Leap of Faith is that you’ll stop worrying about money. And giving by faith is the only way that will ever happen.

And specifically I’m talking about giving by faith – not reason. In other words, giving because God tells you to, not because it seems like a reasonable or smart amount to give. Here’s how the prayer works. God, I want your name to be great. How much should I give to help that happen?

Then do it.

4. Rejoice by faith.

Here’s the bottom line. Only God can make your life work out. As you do all the things we’ve talked about, as you believe by faith and step out by faith and give by faith, it could all go terribly wrong.

None of my goals for you could happen. Same for my goals for the church. Same for the things I’m asking God to do for me and for the 6 people I’m praying for. Despair is right at the door, wanting to get in all the time.

God’s really going to have to pull this off. If anything good happens, it’s got to be you, God. But however things go, however well or poorly I do, I’m choosing to rejoice. Because it all rides on you and you’re good and you’re for us. I really believe that. So I rejoice.

You were created for a life of vibrant faith. And fear is the enemy of that. So stand with me, if you will, and let’s pray together about that.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Leap of Faith // God’s One Purpose

sermon notes from the Vineyard Church of Milan 02/17/2013

video available at www.sundaystreams.com/go/MilanVineyard/ondemand

(special thanks to Dave Schmelzer and the Greater Boston Vineyard…this sermon series and the Leap of Faith User Manual is largely adapted from their original material)


The idea behind a leap of faith is that it demands everything from us (go ahead, jump – it’s only your life on the line!) and it promises everything to us (if you make it, nothing will ever be the same – your dreams will come true). A relationship, a job, a new business venture, an investment…

And the only way to find out if a leap of faith is going to pay off is to leap. If you don’t, you’ll never know. If you do, you only find out through the experience that follows.

The Bible tells some crazy stories about leaps of faith. Noah building that ark. Abraham packing up his family and heading off in to the unknown. David going up against Goliath with only a sling and stones. Jesus trading divinity for humanity and taking a chance on crucifixion and death. The message seems pretty clear: devote yourself to God’s purposes for you, and there will be abundant life on the other side of that leap of faith. Jesus famously said it this way: seek first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.


Of course, before anyone takes a leap of faith, they want to know if they’ve got any evidence to suggest it might be worthwhile. So over these next 7 weeks of lent, I’d like us to try an experimental approach.


Listen to what Psalm 34 says:

8Taste and see that the Lord is good;

blessed are those who take refuge in him.

9Fear the Lord, you his holy people,

for those who fear him lack nothing.

Psalm 34:8-9

Taste and see suggests we can do some things and get some evidence. We put something in, and see what comes out. The Bible seems to say that what comes out is that the Lord is good. I say let’s give it a shot. Let’s take a leap of faith.

A whole book of the Bible, named after its author, the prophet Haggai, devotes itself to this subject. We’ll look at part of it in a little bit.

Before we get to these ancient words, let’s hear from the noted philosopher, Sheryl Crow, who wrote a song about this litmus test, even using the words of Haggai to make her point…

You can tell me the world is round and I'll prove to you it's square
You can keep your feet on the ground,
but I'll be walking on air
You're pretty good at waiting
While I go running around
Well, that's just the way it is, you know

I got a hole in my pocket
You give me love and I drop it
I guess I threw it away…

Sheryl Crow’s point is that she doesn’t understand herself or her life – at least on the terms of this song. She gets good things – in this case, real love – but she can’t hold on to them. It’s like she’s got a hole in her pocket. She puts the good things life gives her in there, but when she goes to get it, it’s gone.

And then you look at Haggai:

1 In the second year of King Darius, on the first day of the sixth month, the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest:

2This is what the Lord Almighty says: “These people say, ‘The time has not yet come to rebuild the Lord’s house.’ ”

3Then the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai: 4“Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin?”

5Now this is what the Lord Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. 6You have planted much, but have harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it.”

7This is what the Lord Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. 8Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build the house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored,” says the Lord. 9“You expected much, but see, it turned out to be little. What you brought home, I blew away. Why?” declares the Lord Almighty. “Because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with his own house. 10Therefore, because of you the heavens have withheld their dew and the earth its crops. 11I called for a drought on the fields and the mountains, on the grain, the new wine, the olive oil and everything else the ground produces, on people and livestock, and on all the labor of your hands.”

Haggai 1:1-11

In broad terms, Haggai is saying that our best bet is to give ourselves wholeheartedly to God’s purposes on earth. And if we don’t, one of the consequences that can happen is this – I like how the Message translation says it:

Take a good, hard look at your life.

Think it over.

You have spent a lot of money,

but you haven’t much to show for it.

You keep filling your plates,

but you never get filled up.

You keep drinking and drinking and drinking,

but you’re always thirsty.

You put on layer after layer of clothes,

but you can’t get warm.

And the people who work for you,

what are they getting out of it?

Not much—

a leaky, rusted-out bucket, that’s what.

When we give ourselves to anything other than God’s purposes, it can be like we have holes in our pockets. Or like we are leaky, rusted out buckets. We get good things, but can’t hold them. We get money, but where does it go? Even though on the surface our needs may be met, our lives feel starved.

Today we are starting something new. A season in our church we are calling A Leap of Faith.


My goals for what each of you gets out of this Leap of Faith over these next 6 weeks until Easter are:

1. That you’d experience at least one concrete gift from God.

2. That you’d experience an ever-deeper joy of finding your purpose in God’s work on earth.

3. That you’d grow spiritually more than you have in any other 40 day period of your life.

4. That, because of these 40 days, you’ll stop worrying about money.

So we’ll begin today with the first step in a leap of faith, in this experiment to discover that Jesus Is Really Good, and worth trusting with everything you are and everything you’ve got. That first step is this:

Focusing on God’s one purpose on earth.


The promise of the Bible is that as we do that, we’ll suddenly get swept into the life we’ve always been created to experience, and the holes we’ve experienced in our pockets will get sewn up. All the benefits that come our way not only won’t slip away, they’ll build up into a life that feels rich and worry-free and utterly provided for.

Now, that life may often be hard. In fact, it most certainly will, sometimes. Jesus himself has this little inconvenience called the cross to deal with, not to mention all kinds of persecutions along the way, and he promises unusual hardships for his closest followers.

But the promise is that hardships and trouble, though real, won’t at all define our lives.

Abundance will define our lives.

Of course, an important question presents itself, if, in fact, this is true…

What is God’s one purpose on earth?

If we are to organize our lives around this purpose, take a leap of faith and give ourselves to it, it sure would help to know what it is, wouldn’t it?

The Bible is full of hints. Hero after hero in its pages is heroic precisely because they’ve taken a leap of faith to pursue it. Let’s take David, for example…

41Meanwhile, the Philistine, with his shield bearer in front of him, kept coming closer to David. 42He looked David over and saw that he was little more than a boy, glowing with health and handsome, and he despised him. 43He said to David, “Am I a dog, that you come at me with sticks?” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. 44“Come here,” he said, “and I’ll give your flesh to the birds and the wild animals!”

45David said to the Philistine, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. 46This day the Lord will deliver you into my hands, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head. This very day I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds and the wild animals, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. 47All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.”

1 Samuel 17:41-47

David, apparently, thinks that

· because of God, against all reason, he’s going to win against this behemoth,

· and that his victory will publicize to the whole world that God is the strongest power on earth.

· And that that publicizing is really important, that it’s the bottom line of what he’s up to.

Look at the song he writes, Psalm 96

1Sing to the Lord a new song;

sing to the Lord, all the earth.

2Sing to the Lord, praise his name;

proclaim his salvation day after day.

3Declare his glory among the nations,

his marvelous deeds among all peoples.

4For great is the Lord and most worthy of praise;

he is to be feared above all gods.

5For all the gods of the nations are idols,

but the Lord made the heavens.

6Splendor and majesty are before him;

strength and glory are in his sanctuary…

Psalm 96

So here’s my take on God’s one purpose:

To make his name great among all the people of the earth.

God’s name, in scripture, runs along the lines of “The God who does awesome things for anyone who puts their trust in him.”


If this is true, that this is what God is doing on earth, his sole purpose, and that focusing our lives on this is the quickest path to a rich, meaningful, prosperous life, how do we do that?

Well, consider this: the driving principle behind all abundance comes down to three words: “Invest, don’t spend.”

Meaning that, more and more, we want to devote our lives to investing ourselves in the things God promises to reward. We don’t want to just spend our time, because then when it’s gone, it’s gone. We want to invest in such a way that God will be giving us a return over many years to come.

A few suggestions:


Invest your time in God’s great purpose.

15Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, 16making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 17Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.

Ephesians 5:15-17

It’s important to make wise choices with our time – and “the days” won’t help us because they aren’t neutral; they’re actually evil. If we don’t make conscious choices with our time, it will slip through the holes in our pockets. Instead, understand what the Lord’s will is and invest your time in God’s great purpose.


Secondly, Invest your trust in God’s one great purpose. By this I mean that we focus our whole selves around God’s one great purpose, that his purpose becomes what we’re about. For many people, fasting is a time-honored way of learning to do this.

16“When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 17But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

Matthew 6:16-18

Notice how Jesus assumes that everyone who follows him is fasting. It boils down to giving up something we rely on, often food in some form, for some length of time, in order to feel the kind of desperation that we really need to feel for God himself.

When we really want something from God, we often fast as a means of signaling to him and to our own spirits that it pretty much has to come from him. Fasting, though it’s hard, is actually meant to be a pretty joyful experience, because it actually connects us with God. And it can be pretty exhilarating to actually fast for something specific in your life and see what God will do.


Thirdly, and briefly since we’ll talk about this one more in a couple of weeks, is to invest your talents in God’s one great purpose.

31 Then the Lord said to Moses, 2“See, I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, 3and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills— 4to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, 5to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of crafts. 6Moreover, I have appointed Oholiab son of Ahisamak, of the tribe of Dan, to help him. Also I have given ability to all the skilled workers to make everything I have commanded you: 7the tent of meeting, the ark of the covenant law with the atonement cover on it, and all the other furnishings of the tent— 8the table and its articles, the pure gold lampstand and all its accessories, the altar of incense, 9the altar of burnt offering and all its utensils, the basin with its stand— 10and also the woven garments, both the sacred garments for Aaron the priest and the garments for his sons when they serve as priests, 11and the anointing oil and fragrant incense for the Holy Place. They are to make them just as I commanded you.”

Exodus 31:1-11

If this is all of what life is meant to be about, clearly we’d want to find a way that all of who we are would be invested in it.


Finally, invest your treasure in God’s one great purpose.

The key biblical principle about how to always have more than you need is this one: your financial prosperity depends more on God’s blessing than it does on your earning power. Some people make big money but constantly struggle with debt. Lots of others do their best to invest their treasure towards God’s one great purpose and have a sense of being wonderfully provided for by God. Jesus makes a big deal about this too, teaching his followers that loving money is the root of all evil, that you can’t serve God & Money both, but that if you trust God you won’t have to worry about money.

We’ll talk more about this later in our leap of faith project over these 6 weeks.

Remember our discussion of David earlier, and how he really understood this stuff about God’s purpose on earth? It’s interesting how his life gets summed up in the New Testament: “David…served God’s purpose in his own generation.” Acts 13:36

Wouldn’t we like that to be true of us?

Practical Tips:


1. Read the User Manual for the Leap of Faith.

2. Do some or all of the stuff in there. Preferably all. But especially the first stuff.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Like a Tree // Calling

sermon notes from the Vineyard Church of Milan 02/10/2012

video available at www.sundaystreams.com/go/MilanVineyard/ondemand






These are some ways human beings describe the divine when they encounter it. They share some things in common.

Wind. Breath. Spirit. Word. All of them invisible. Hard to get your hands on. Slip through your fingers. And yet unmistakable. Perceivable. Powerful. Sometimes even irresistible.

Felt or heard by one person or family or group, but the only evidence that remains to the outsider of their reality is the shift they’ve caused. The wind lifts seeds and water, moves it into new territory and deposits it there, from garden to desert, the only evidence of its activity is the new life growing in the previously arid ground.

Homo sapien after homo sapien meeting the God who is Wind, Breath, Spirit, Word, and the experiences are eerily similar.

Noah. The divine breath moves him to build an ark. Making him look like a fool until. Well, until we see that his journey is a hero’s journey.

Abraham. The divine wind calls him to leave his father’s household and go to an unknown land. Making him look like a fool until. Well, until we see that his journey is a hero’s journey.

Moses. The divine spirit calls him to resist the most powerful ruler in human history and lead his people across the desert to a land flowing with milk and honey. Making him look like a fool until. Well, until we see that his journey is a hero’s journey.

Jesus, the divine word made human flesh dwells among us, and what does he begin doing? Calling people. “Come, follow me.” Fishermen. Tax Collectors. Prostitutes. Doctors. Scholars. Noblemen. Teenagers. Homemakers. “Come, follow me.”

Person after person, from the dawn of human history, encountering God and being called. Right up until the present day.

Called from comfort, or obscurity, or desperation, or ordinariness

into adventure.

Extraordinary adventure.

Why are you here? Why are you doing what you are doing in your life? If you’ve encountered God – the way people tend to encounter him – you’ve felt the push of his wind, the whisper of his breath, the invitation of his spirit, the insistent command of his word. Come. Go. Do. And so you are here. And doing this. Because He told you to.

You’ve felt it deep in your bones. You were made the way you were made for a purpose. When you’ve resisted it, you’ve felt the tension it’s created in your life, the sense of being misplaced, not fitting quite right, a restlessness that sleep can’t touch. That sleep maybe even makes worse.

You’ve gotten hints of it in things people have said to you, stories they’ve told. You resonated, your pulse quickened, you came alive, felt the tug of a longing.

You’ve maybe had dreams. Thought you heard a voice. Wondered if it was real. Kept seeing hints in signs and on TV and lyrics in songs and words on paper or in crazy random places and thought, could that be God talking to me? And you’re pretty sure it probably was, even though if you ever told anyone they’d probably laugh a little and think you were maybe a little silly. So you haven’t told anyone. But you haven’t forgotten either.


Like a Tree series. Psalm 1: Happy is the man who…like a tree planted by streams of living water…


Over the last several weeks we’ve talked about nurturing and tending to different aspects of our lives so that we can be like a tree planted by streams of living water. From our interior lives, or our souls, to our relationships with others, to our active or work lives, and now concluding this week with our calling, or missional lives. How do we nurture and tend to our calling? To the purpose for which we were made and called by God to live? How do we day by day hear his voice amidst all the other voices and inclinations we have, so that our lives don’t get stagnant or off track?


As it says in Romans 8:14,

For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God.

Or Galatians 5:25

Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.


The Overlooked Obvious Thing

Before we get ahead of ourselves, we should note that we all have the same fundamental calling as followers of Jesus.

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Matthew 28:19-20

The work of Jesus is our calling – loving the unlovable, serving our enemies, caring for the poor, strengthening the weak, healing the sick, equipping the saints, doing the works of the kingdom.

Of course, God has a unique role for each one of us to play as we do this, a custom made adventure that is designed to fit us perfectly and glorify God in the world. That adventure – like Frodo’s carrying of the ring to mount doom or Luke Skywalker becoming a Jedi or Dorothy’s epic feats in Oz – may take a lifetime to unfold in all its detail, but it will always be part of, and subject to, this fundamental calling.

And so if you’re discouraged that you don’t know what you’re calling is, stop being discouraged and start by doing your best to announce the good news of Jesus in your day to day life, through the way you love everyone you encounter and making yourself available to join with other followers of Jesus as they pursue God’s calling.

Much the way we all start by learning to crawl and walk and eat and speak and add and subtract and write our names and dress ourselves. Even though some may ultimately be athletes or dancers or chefs or poets or business owners or parents or teachers or pilots or electricians or nurses or accountants and on and on.


Letting Go

Nurturing our calling for the sake of spiritual growth – for the sake of the happiness that comes from being like a tree planted by streams of living water – begins with letting go of control over the course of our lives. When Jesus says, “Come, follow me” we’ve got to be willing to say “Yes.” And saying yes means that Jesus is now determining where we go and what we’re doing and what our lives are all about. He doesn’t give us a lot of information. We’re just going on the sense we have that he is good. That his goodness is trustworthy. That he’s calling us because he loves us. And if he loves us, there is life for us in following.

If a stranger says close your eyes, follow me you don’t.

But if your favorite person does, you just might.

The idea of calling is a fundamental difference between bounded set faith and centered set faith.


In a bounded set context, you get to look at life inside the boundaries, compare it to life outside, and make your choice. Then, once you’re inside, you can do the same and decide if it’s everything you thought it was. If not, out you go again.


But centered set faith is different. You only get to look at Jesus. And yourself. Because no one has arrived at your destination for you to compare your current life with. Everyone else is on a journey somewhere, not yet arrived. Except Jesus. So you see him, and you see you. And then you decide which of you is more likely to lead you to good life. And then you start taking step after step towards him, wherever he’s leading you. And you trust him, letting go of control. Day after day, step after step. Even when his call challenges you, frightens you, demands new things out of you.

Let’s not get the wrong impression. Letting go of control to follow Jesus’ call is an active thing, not a passive thing. It is a brave and courageous thing. It is the ultimate choosing. It takes every bit of will and desire we can muster, and focuses them in a singular direction.

Listen to what C.S. Lewis says:

“That is why the real problem of the Christian life comes where people do not usually look for it. It comes the very moment you wake up each morning. All your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job each morning consists simply in shoving them all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in.”

Surrendering to Jesus’ call, letting go of all sorts of other impulses, daily deciding that you will let Jesus’ purpose for your life be your driving purpose, in other words, is the way we avoid not surrendering to all sorts of other things that insist they can lead us to life.

The prayer in the "How is your soul" booklet is a very helpful one:

Spirit of God, it is Your Voice I desire to hear above the din of all others clamoring for my attention. Give me ears to hear Your daily calling on my life as a follower of Jesus, and in my specific role in Your mission to love the world to wholeness. I choose to obey; speak and I will both listen and respond. In Jesus’ name, I offer myself to you. Amen.


Listen Actively

[teaching active listening in premarital counseling…teaching people to reflect what they hear in such a way that the other person can say yes exactly or well, no, not exactly… “So if I hear what you’re saying, …”]

Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2 There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. 3 So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.”

4 When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!”

And Moses said, “Here I am.”

Exodus 3:1-4

Notice how Moses goes over to look, and that’s when God calls to him. He’s let go of his flock tending enough to give his attention to the bush. The same thing happens for us. Letting go frees us to actively listen. To pay attention.

And in my experience, actually telling God what we think we hear him saying can be really helpful in hearing and discerning his call. Say it out loud. “Jesus, if I hear what you’re saying to me, you are calling me to…” That will often be accompanied by some kind of confirmation in your heart, peace in your spirit, some kind of internal witness to God’s voice if it is in fact from him. You may not even say it to God directly in fact, but maybe to someone else, and the same kind of thing can happen. That’s how I came to know the Lord’s calling to come serve as a pastor here. [Indianapolis story…]


Actually do.

This may seem obvious, but we nurture and tend to our calling by actually doing what we are called to do.

It can be really easy to get distracted and lose and our sense of calling. Even after we’ve said yes and taken some steps in following Jesus into it. We can be like dogs on a walk who see squirrels and all of sudden we aren’t on a walk anymore.

So look at your life and compare it to what you’ve felt the wind pushing you to do and felt the breath whispering to you to do and felt the spirit drawing you to do and heard the word inviting you to do. And if they don’t match up very well, begin, as best as you can today, to do what you’re called to do, and to stop doing what you’ve been doing instead. Even if it’s just a little bit at a time. Because the kingdom of God is like yeast in dough. It’s like a mustard seed planted in the ground. You’ve just got to let it get started, and then cooperate as best as you’re able.


Practical tips

1. Get out of your Comfort Zone. Do one unforced uncomfortable thing a day for a week. Because comfort is the enemy of calling.

2. Trade up. Tell God you’re willing to trade you’re storyline for your life for his storyline for your life.

3. Add the Calling Question to your Examen this week.