Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Leap of Faith // Thanks

sermon notes from the Vineyard Church of Milan 03/24/2013

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)

Today is Palm Sunday. In the Christian calendar, today kicks off Holy Week, a week in which we remember and celebrate the final week of Jesus’ pre-resurrection incarnated life. The last supper happens this week, Judas’ betrayal of Jesus, Jesus’ arrest and mock trial, the failure of his followers to stay with him in his darkest hours, and eventually, on Friday, his execution on a Roman cross. In truth, it is a dark week – a week full of pain and struggle and defeat for Jesus and his first disciples.

Yet, at the same time, it is a week marked by thankfulness and gratitude. A week in which we recognize God’s extraordinary goodness towards us, his triumphant love and the passionate rescue of his creation from certain corruption and destruction. Jesus himself, the one who endures the brunt of the suffering of death, is himself the one who models thanksgiving for us. During his last supper with his disciples, he holds up a cup which will come to be a remembrance of his blood poured out for us, and he himself gives thanks for it. And likewise, as he holds up bread that will come to be a remembrance of his body broken for us, he gives thanks.

And so today, as we enter the final week of our Leap of Faith experiment, I want to invite us into the final step of a courageous, faith-filled, world-changing life.

And that step is Thanksgiving.


To get us in the mood, in the right frame of mind, to get our bodies buzzing and our souls afire to consider the practice of thanksgiving, let’s kick off with a video. It’s an example of thanksgiving in action…

[show Psalm 116 / U2 Where the Streets Have No Name video]

Psalm 116, a song of thanksgiving, brimming to the rim and running over with thanks to God for the way in which he rescued the songwriter. Describes death staring him in the face, hell hard at his heels, and cries out for help.

God is gracious – it is he who makes things right, our most compassionate God. God takes the side of the helpless; when I was at the end of my rope, he saved me…

I’m striding in the presence of God, alive in the land of the living!

I stayed faithful, though bedeviled, and despite a ton of bad luck.

Despite giving up on the human race, saying “They’re all liars and cheats.”


I’m ready to offer the thanksgiving sacrifice and pray in the name of God.

I’ll complete what I promised God I’d do, and I’ll do it in company with his people.

In the place of worship, in God’s house, in Jerusalem, God’s city, Hallelujah!


Right? Can you see it? Bono’s turned his life, that concert, and especially that song into a fulfillment of the promise to offer the thanksgiving sacrifice

[Leviticus 7 – background on the thanks offering; shared with the priests, taken home to become a meal that had to be consumed that day or the next – an offering with benefits for everyone (God’s representatives, the offerer, and the family and friends and invited guests to the feast).]


Thanksgiving is right at the heart of a leap of faith, because it’s the thing that ties it all together, that provides benefits for everyone in the world, ourselves included. It’s the thing that turns the leap of faith from this serious, important effort (which it is), into the most joyful, powerful, satisfying, thrilling, abundant life.


By way of review: this joyful life with God’s power at its back begins by focusing on God’s one great purpose on earth: to make his name great among all people.


And then it requires from us faith to act as if things we can’t see are actually true – like, for example, that God actually loves to do great things for people who put their trust in him – faith that laughs in the face of our fears.

And it requires courage; especially courage to give God free reign in our lives and a blank check to change us into the kind of people who go and take the land he has promised us.

And it requires of us that we learn the language of God’s kingdom, the language of Asking. Because asking is one of the essential practices of leapers.

And today I’d like to add to that by saying that the other essential practice of leapers is thanksgiving.

So perhaps it’s fitting that we’d begin by looking at a story about lepers…

It happened that as he made his way toward Jerusalem, he crossed over the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten men, all lepers, met him. They kept their distance but raised their voices, calling out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”

Taking a good look at them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.”

They went, and while still on their way, became clean.

One of them, when he realized that he was healed, turned around and came back, shouting his gratitude, glorifying God. He kneeled at Jesus’ feet, so grateful. He couldn’t thank him enough—and he was a Samaritan.

Jesus said, “Were not ten healed? Where are the nine? Can none be found to come back and give glory to God except this outsider?” Then he said to him, “Get up. On your way. Your faith has healed and saved you.”

Luke 17:11-19 (the Message)

Notice how this ties back so much of what we’ve talked about already? First, the lepers ASK. “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” Then, they have FAITH. Jesus tells them – before they’ve actually been healed – to go show themselves to the priests, something they are supposed to do to officially verify that they are healed before re-entering society. It’s in that faith filled step that the healing happens. Then the one leper, a Samaritan, demonstrates remarkable COURAGE in coming back to Jesus and throwing himself at his feet and thanking him. Because Jesus is a respected Jewish rabbi, and the man is a Samaritan, someone with whom a rabbi would normally not associate at all. And we see Jesus noting that what this man has done in thanksgiving is “glorifying” God. This man, in his thanksgiving, is part of God’s One Great Purpose On Earth, isn’t he?

So God loves to do great things for people who bank on him, like he did for all of these lepers, but only the 1 who was thankful got to be part of the great things that God is up to in the world.

Only one entered into a truly changed life of faith.

Only one of the lepers went from keeping his distance from Jesus to coming close and then being sent out by him to be everything he was created to be.

Only one of the lepers became a leaper.

Almost literally. The most literal way of translating what Jesus says to him is: “Rise up, jump up on your feet, and pursue the journey you’ve just entered into. Your faith has saved you!”

Isn’t that what our leap of faith is all about? Moving from a place of some distance from God, held back by something beyond our power to fix, and taking a leap of faith, seeing what God would do when we began to trust him in new ways, and finding out that real life only comes when we come close to him and make our lives all about the only thing that matters in the universe, and in the process discover that we are fulfilling the full potential of our lives?

And the secret ingredient for the leper who became a leaper was thanksgiving. It’s our secret ingredient as well.

When God answers our prayers, thanking him gives God glory – which connects to the main thing he’s doing on earth.

Psalm 50 says it this way: “He who offers a sacrifice of thanksgiving honors Me.” (vs. 23)

God is so into this, and so into training us to do this, that he’ll go to crazy lengths to make the point.

A couple weeks back I knew I was likely to be getting some really difficult news soon. And I’d been thinking about this idea of how important thanksgiving was – so important in fact that thanksgiving is commended to us as something to do no matter how things seem on the surface. There’s this passage in 1 Thessalonians that goes like this:

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

And right during the time while thinking about that, our small group watched a video highlighting the idea that everything we experience in life can be a gift from God, if we offer it to him in thanksgiving, and we were joking about why we never saw athletes thank God for boneheaded plays or tragic defeats, but only for victories.

And so I’d resolved to have an attitude of thanksgiving about the difficult news when it came. And the news came, and in some ways it was more difficult than I had even been expecting. But still I told God thanks. Thanks for the difficulty. Thanks for whatever you’re doing through all this. Thanks for all the blessings I have despite this difficulty. Thanks for being a good God. And the next day God sent someone to me with some really hopeful news that directly impacted the difficult news I’d been thanking God for already.

It was like God was saying, see, Jesse, keep thanking me and you’ll keep being able to receive the good from me that I love doing for you.

In fact, thanksgiving is at the heart of both our ability to love others and our ability to not be anxious.

12Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

15Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Colossians 4:12-17 (TNIV)

So there’s all these great things that are central to being followers of Jesus, with love at the top of the list, and Paul is telling us that being thankful is the key to it all. Whatever we do as representatives of Jesus, he says, give thanks to God the Father through him. There are no leaps of faith that give God glory, in other words, without thankfulness.

Similarly in Philippians:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7 (TNIV)

There is no peace and freedom from anxiety without thanksgiving, is there?

And interestingly to me, the love and peace of those who trust God are at the heart of accomplishing his one great purpose of making his name great, aren’t they? After all, Jesus said that people would know who his followers were by their love for one another. And fear – which anxiety is an expression of – is the primary enemy of faith. So without thanksgiving, according to the witness of Jesus’ first followers, a leap of faith is pointless. We’ll fail. We’ll lose our faith. We’ll lose our nerve. Our courage will fail us. We may see God do some great things for us – because he loves us and he’s always wanting to do that – but the big point of a transformed life that gets caught up in the huge adventure that will change the world…? Well, that will have to wait until we learn thanksgiving.


Besides, in addition to being encouraged and commanded throughout the scriptures, and being regularly held up as an authenticating sign of the work of the Spirit in a person’s life, more and more scientific research is suggesting that thanksgiving pays off in all sorts of cool ways. People who are consistently grateful have been found to be relatively happier, more energetic, and more hopeful and report experiencing more frequent positive emotions. They also tend to be more helpful and empathic, more spiritual and religious, more forgiving and less materialistic. The more a person is inclined to gratitude, the less likely he or she is to be depressed, anxious, lonely, envious, angry, bitter, greedy, or neurotic. Traumatic memories are less likely to surface, and when they do they are less intense.


[experiment: 5 things once a week for 10 weeks…more optimistic, more satisfied with life, more helpful to others + health benefits (less headaches, acne, coughing, and nausea and more time exercising, more sleep) http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/pay_it_forward ]

So, practically speaking, how can we practice this discipline together as a community of leapers?


1. Tip Extra.


2. Daily prayer: “Lord, thanks for today. Help me to see the gift in everything today.” Like the old song, “This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

Note: for good things, the practice of gratitude directly counteracts the effects of hedonic adaptation… and for bad things, it gives a different ending, which fundamentally alters the way we continue to remember/perceive it.

3. Strategically replace grumbling with gratitude

Identify ongoing or circumstantial source of complaint and resolve to give thanks for it / in it until it's no longer a source of complaint (give someone permission to help, if needed)

Psychiatrists have learned that “the practice of gratitude is incompatible with negative emotions, and may actually diminish or deter such feelings as anger, bitterness and greed.”

Do everything without grumbling...” Philippians 2:14

Mud on sandals; can't see walls of water - miss the love, the life

4. Weekly: journal or directly, concretely express thanks to someone

Note: greater frequency, for the average person, produces less positive effect for journaling…

Optional additional comments depending on time…

An experience my wife had several years ago might provide a helpful illustration [tell story of nodes on vocal chords, having to learn to breathe differently when speaking in order to be able to heal and sing again…] The interesting thing about the healing process is that it required Ronni to practice this way of breathing and speaking all the time. She had to do some artificial practice to get the technique right, and she needed help recognizing when she was getting it right and when she was getting it wrong.

It wasn’t easy, because, especially at first, it felt totally unnatural. Not like herself. And it wasn’t – it was sort of exaggerated at first. Which is really tough, because our voices are connected to our personalities and sense of self [try imitating someone else’s voice…] It got easier, and eventually, almost second nature. But if she slips back into old patterns, even for relatively short periods of time, she’s susceptible to losing her voice.

The discipline of thanksgiving is like that, a little. It’s meant to be discipline that comes to be a core expression of how we relate to the world. We’re finding a new voice, and it will sound different for each one of us. The way I give thanks won’t be the way you give thanks nor will the way you give thanks be exactly like anyone else.

Show closing “One Day Like This” video, encouraging people to reflect on 5 things for which they are thankful to God, or 1 person to whom they want to express thanks, or a situation in which grumbling has drowned out the gratitude, but no longer…

[“One Day Like This” video]

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Leap of Faith // Ask

sermon notes from the Vineyard Church of Milan 03/10/2013

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)


4th Sunday in our Leap of Faith Experiment. 3 things we’re suggesting everyone do every day, from now until Easter (there’s more, actually, in the user manual, but these are three simple ones I want to highlight and commend to you):

1. My Big Ask

2. Pray for your 6

3. Read 10 Psalms a day

Let me review. What we’ve been saying so far is that a changed life, the life that we actually want, the life that feels like it’s actually got God’s power always blowing at its back, is a very specific sort of life. A life that will have focus, and a life that will bank entirely on faith.


And we’ve meant something pretty specific about focus. It’s a life that’s focused on God’s one purpose on earth, which we loosely summarized as “making his name great in all the people of the earth.” (Habakkuk 2:14) That’s what God is about. That’s all he’s doing at any given time.

And what, exactly, is this “name” he’s promoting all over the earth? We suggested, loosely speaking, that it’s something like “The God who does great things for people who trust Him.” (Isaiah 64:4)

So the kind of life we’re talking about, in one form or another, is focused on that, is about being a part of that. Because the idea is that our lives really don’t work when they’re focused on peripheral or trivial things.

We said that this sort of life, the sort that has all the power of God backing it, is a life that is utterly dependent on faith. And we defined faith the way the Bible does in Hebrews 11:1: “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”

And of course, to live a life of faith takes great courage. Last week, we talked about the example of Caleb and Joshua scoping out a land of giants, and what it means to have the courage to go after something way bigger than you can imagine being able to do on your own. And the courage to give God free reign and a blank check to do whatever it takes to make you into the person who can accomplish what he wants to accomplish through you.

This week, we’ll look at the next step, which is to learn to let your life of faith be defined by asking.


[Ask for new battery. Ask for water. Ask congregation to turn to Matthew 7:7-11. Ask someone to read it for us...]

7“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8For everyone who asks receives; those who seek find; and to those who knock, the door will be opened.

9“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!"

Matthew 7:7-11

Asking is the first thing you learned how to do, isn't it?


No baby can take life for herself, or produce it for herself. She only gets life by asking. From the moment of birth onward, she is asking, asking, asking. [describe first breath, oxygen from mother through umbilical cord, collapsed lungs receiving very little blood, when umbilical is cut, or clamped, carbon dioxide builds up in the body, combined with stimulation of coming through birth canal causes the baby's diaphragm to constrict, decreasing the pressure in the thorax, inviting air to rush in. it's a great effort, because the lungs are like small balloons being inflated for the first time - it will get much easier later, but that first request is hardly indistinguishable from a demand. Then the inflated lungs ask for blood from the heart, and it answers, reversing its blood flow, cutting off the valve that used to shunt blood away from the lungs, and flooding the lung's cells with blood. ] And now that her first requests have been answered, now the baby has enough air and energy to make her next request. A cry. A request of God, of the world, of mother and father and all who will hear. The same cry she will use when she wants warmth. Or food. Or a new diaper. Or reassurance, or attention, or whatever she may desire and need. She comes into life practicing, learning to become more and more proficient at one thing essential for life. Asking. Asking. Asking.

Later she will learn to take, of course. And to try to do things for herself. And if her taking and her self-provisioning are properly nested within her identity as one who asks and receives, all is well. She will only take those things that she is authorized to take, those things set aside for her, healthy, good. She will provide for herself informed by the understanding that everything in life is a gift, and so she will receive what she provides for herself with gratitude and generosity towards others, the highest form of interdependence.





26 When you have entered the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance and have taken possession of it and settled in it, 2take some of the firstfruits of all that you produce from the soil of the land the Lord your God is giving you and put them in a basket. Then go to the place the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his Name 3and say to the priest in office at the time, “I declare today to the Lord your God that I have come to the land the Lord swore to our ancestors to give us.” 4The priest shall take the basket from your hands and set it down in front of the altar of the Lord your God. 5Then you shall declare before the Lord your God: “My father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down into Egypt with a few people and lived there and became a great nation, powerful and numerous. 6But the Egyptians mistreated us and made us suffer, subjecting us to harsh labor. 7Then we cried out to the Lord, the God of our ancestors, and the Lord heard our voice and saw our misery, toil and oppression. 8So the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great terror and with signs and wonders. 9He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey; 10and now I bring the firstfruits of the soil that you, Lord, have given me.” Place the basket before the Lord your God and bow down before him. 11Then you and the Levites and the foreigners residing among you shall rejoice in all the good things the Lord your God has given to you and your household.

12When you have finished setting aside a tenth of all your produce in the third year, the year of the tithe, you shall give it to the Levite, the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, so that they may eat in your towns and be satisfied. 13Then say to the Lord your God: “I have removed from my house the sacred portion and have given it to the Levite, the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, according to all you commanded.

Deuteronomy 26:1-13

Look at the pattern illustrated here…


Ask –> God Answers ->Faith + Courage –> God Acts Powerfully = Freedom


Ask –> God Answers ->Faith + Courage –> God Acts Powerfully = Thanksgiving & Generosity

Ask and it will be given to you...and to those who knock, the door will be opened to you.

This passage isn't just about answered prayers. It's not just about getting things. This passage is about how life in the kingdom of God works. It's about what it means to be students of Jesus. It's about what it looks like to live on the way of Jesus.


Asking is the essential practice of people who take leaps of faith.

The only way to get the life of God's kingdom is to ask for it and receive it. You can't take it until after you’ve asked for it and God makes it available. You can't produce it for yourself. You've got to ask. And when we ask, everything changes. We see who God is. We see who we are. We become proficient at receiving. We become people freed to give, to serve, to love.


It all starts with asking. Asking is the language of life, the language of God's kingdom.


Asking turns us into kids again. Reminds us we are a family.

Consider the requests I made of you earlier... Were they necessary? Couldn't I have gotten the battery myself, the water, read the text? Yes. Of course.

If I had gotten them myself, left the asking out of it, some important truths might have been masked, covered over, hidden.

The truth is, the batteries come from you... So does the water… If I get them all myself, that truth is hidden, masked, and my sense of self-sufficiency can keep me from seeing it.

But asking turns the light on, lets us all see the truth that's right here for us to see. We are kids in a family where everything we have is a gift, where love and thanksgiving and interdependence is the whole point.

Notice the you here is y'all. Not you, singular. You, plural. This is directed at us, at the beloved community, at the church. We are kids in a family. That matters, doesn't it...?

Let's pause and consider some specifics of this passage for a few minutes.

What exactly is Jesus saying? Ask for anything and you'll get it? Seek anything and you'll find it? Knock on any door and God will open it?

Much as we might wish sometimes that were the case, no.

The background assumption is that we’ve made God’s one focus our focus in life: making his name great among all people on earth. The assumption is that we are trusting him in a leap of faith – trying to take some land he is giving us. The assumption is that we are asking for things because we need them for what he’s invited us to do, for the life he’s calling us to.

And the other main assumption is that God loves doing stuff for us, his kids. He loves blessing anyone who puts his or her trust in him.

And so the context is kids in the family business coming to a Father who loves them and asking for whatever they need.

How do you get the good gifts God has for you? Ask for them. In fact, it's not of particular importance, it seems, what exactly you're asking for. Of far more importance is that you are asking. Full stop. Ask God. Seek God. Knock on God's door. Period.

Ask. Seek. Knock. They are all faith words, aren't they? You ask because you trust there is answer. You seek because you believe there is something to be found. You knock because you trust/hope there is someone on the other side.

What you receive may not be exactly what you thought you were asking for, but the very act of asking puts you in position to receive from God. To receive whatever good gift he may desire to give you.

Let's say you're anxious about money. To feed your family, pay for college, put gas in your car, pay off your debts, whatever. Let's say that anxiety is killing you, robbing you of life, and you can feel it in your bones but you don't know what will cure it.

Option A: You can fret and plan and work and scheme to get more money.

Or, Option B: you can ask God for more money.

Life in this world has taught us that option A is the way to go. Jesus is trying to teach us that option B will produce much better results.

Allow me to explain by taking you down a bit of a rabbit trail for a minute…

Notice what it follows in Matthew 7. Matthew 7 starts: Don't judge. The next thing Jesus says is ask.


Don't judge. (because judgment starts with taking)

Instead, ask.

Taking and self-sufficiency are concepts all tangled up with judgment. Adam and Eve took from the tree of knowledge of Good and Evil, in order to become like God, to become self-sufficient, and sit in the judgment seat in his place. This always leads to the unraveling and disintegration of loving relationships, cutting us off from God, and one another, and our true purpose as human beings (image-bearers who make God’s name great in all the earth). We get what we can, regardless of the cost to others, and use our knowledge of good and evil to justify our actions to ourselves and others, but in the end it only leads to death.

Asking and receiving on the other hand is what it looks like to eat from the tree of life. We ask God for what we need, and he gives it to us, and we receive it. This always leads to thanksgiving and generosity, and a deepening of bonds between us and him and us and others and reveals more and more of our identity and purpose both to us and to the whole earth.

Jesus' good news frees us from being people who orient our lives around judgment - and die - and allows us to become people whose lives are oriented around asking - and live.

Isn’t it interesting that Asking - the one thing we've been trained to avoid at all costs, because it will lead to being judged - leads to life. Don't judge. Ask. Asking is the posture we have to be in to receive the life of God's kingdom.

Asking is the posture of a lover, is it not? Will you marry me?

The asker is one who is free to give, to serve, to bless, to receive, to give thanks, to rejoice, to praise. The one who takes for himself, without ever stopping to ask, eventually keeps, looks to be served, condemns, takes, is entitled, huffs and puffs, belittles.

What if I wanted you to do something? Even something good for God. Compare...

You have been stingy and greedy - you should... You spend your time in useless pursuits - you should... You are so lukewarm in your devotion - you should... You don't understand as you should - you should... Your would be better off if you - you should...


Will you give your money? Will you give your time? Will you give your heart? Will you listen? Will you join me?

It's less about how it makes the object of the asking/judging feel, although that is instructive too. More importantly, which posture opens the door to life? The one - asking - is humbling, puts me in a place of dependency, hope, expectation. It sets me below you, available to serve as led by the spirit.

The other - judging - gives me an air of superiority, puts me in a place of independence, skepticism, critique. It puts me above you, requiring repentance before I can serve you.

So Jesus tells us to ask, seek, knock. To do it together. In faith that we will receive, find, see the the door opened before us.

Us, together asking God for what we need. We are joined, intertwined in our dependence, aren’t we? The very dynamic that asking deepens, the very dynamic that judging undoes.

And so, our posture towards God - that of asking, like children before a loving parent - is the antidote for wrong posture towards other - that of judgment.

Asking reminds us of who we are - children, not parents. It anchors us in our basic reality - we are people in need of God for all sorts of reasons, just like those we might otherwise be tempted to judge.

Asking forces our eyes to apprehend God as a Father who loves us - and if he loves us in our need, surely he loves others in the same way, with the same grace and mercy. It shifts our gaze from this finite world of limited resources, where we are fundamentally competitors with one another, to the broader world of God's limitless provision, where we are blessed brothers and sisters.

In fact, asking is the posture that prepares us most fully to live a life of faith in the adventure Jesus has for us. Asking joins us to every other person on earth. And asking is the only sure way to conquer worry. [have you seen your child worried? wishing they would open up and tell you what it is, their private, unspoken worry? but a child who is actively asking you for the thing they were worrying about, they are no longer worrying, are they? They are asking, and it is the first step in freedom from worry, it is the first step on the path of trust.]


Practical tips:

1. Do an experiment. Spend a day asking for nothing from anyone, not even God. Go overboard, denying yourself of anything you can't get without asking. Take note of your experience, how it shapes your sense of your self, your attitude, how you feel about others at the end of the day. Spend the next day asking for everything you can think of reasonably asking of everyone around you, including God. Start the day by asking God for everything you can think of asking from him, reasonable or otherwise. Go overboard, for the sake of the experiment. Compare your experience to the previous day, how it shapes your sense of your self, you attitude, how you feel about others at the end of the day.

2. Ask & Wait. Ask God for something you really want, but resolve before you ask that you will not strive to get it or make it happen yourself for a particular time frame. Easter maybe. This time next year, maybe. Something you can live without, but would give you great joy if he provided. Bonus: Call God "Dad" when you ask, if "Dad" has good associations for you. If not, try "Papa."

3. Ask with others. Try this as a family, or small group...brainstorm and decide something to ask God for together. Let’s ask together for the church goals from the leap of faith manual. 12 baptisms. A financial surplus by Easter.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Leap of Faith // Courage

sermon notes from the Vineyard Church of Milan 03/23/2013

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)

I have three children, 2 sons and 1 daughter. As I pray for them, I realize that so many of my prayers boil down to one thing. I’m praying, in one form or another, that they will reach their potential. That they will end up fulfilling everything that God has for them. That as they are on their deathbed, they won’t realize they’ve done maybe a tenth of what they were created to do.

And as I’ve thought about that, I’ve realized that ends up being a good deal of my prayer for myself too.

[Mom’s memorial service – “leave it all on the floor” – the inspiration of seeing the impact of a life fully lived, never stepping back from God’s call…]


Truth be told, it’s a little terrifying to pray that prayer for oneself. To even acknowledge that desire. Because to really fulfill my potential in God…well, what will that demand of me?

It surely will demand that I grow. Grow into someone more fearless. And more humble. And more selfless. No doubt, someone more godly, more holy, more set apart for God’s purposes.

Do I really want to absolutely fulfill all my potential, to absolutely rise up into everything I was created to do?

Or do I – now that I come to think about it – more just want to set up a life with just enough challenges to keep me interested, but also make sure there’s plenty of escape and comfort and plenty of self-protection? Because I’m not some sort of superman; I’m as ordinary as anyone else.

So while I pray that for my kids without hesitation, it gives me pause to pray it for myself.


Of course, when I retreat back into a safer world, I end up having all kinds of insecurities and worries, expressed well in a poem by Phillip Lopate:

We Who Are Your Closest Friends

By Phillip Lopate

We who are

your closest friends

feel the time

has come to tell you

that every Thursday

we have been meeting,

as a group,

to devise ways

to keep you

in perpetual uncertainty


discontent and


by neither loving you

as much as you want

nor cutting you adrift.

Your analyst is

in on it,

plus your boyfriend

and your ex-husband;

and we have pledged

to disappoint you

as long as you need us.

In announcing our


we realize we have

placed in your hands

a possible antidote

against uncertainty

indeed against ourselves.

But since our Thursday nights

have brought us

to a community

of purpose

rare in itself

with you as

the natural center,

we feel hopeful you

will continue to make unreasonable

demands for affection

if not as a consequence

of your disastrous personality

then for the good of the collective.

Right? Isn’t it easier to get into that kind of frame of mind when our lives aren’t wholeheartedly plunged into fulfilling our God-given potential? Where we start being more concerned with what others are giving us than what we are giving to God, or to the world? Or maybe that’s just me…


3rd Sunday in our Leap of Faith Experiment. 3 things we’re suggesting everyone do every day, from now until Easter (there’s more, actually, in the user manual, but these are three simple ones I want to highlight and commend to you):

1. My Big Ask

2. Pray for your 6

3. Read 10 Psalms a day

Let me review. What we’ve been saying so far is that a changed life, the life that we actually want, the life that feels like it’s actually got God’s power always blowing at its back, is a very specific sort of life. A life that will have focus, and a life that will bank entirely on faith.


And we’ve meant something pretty specific about focus. It’s a life that’s focused on God’s one purpose on earth, which we loosely summarized as “making his name great in all the people of the earth.” (Habakkuk 2:14) That’s what God is about. That’s all he’s doing at any given time.

And what, exactly, is this “name” he’s promoting all over the earth? We suggested, loosely speaking, that it’s something like “The God who does great things for people who trust Him.” (Isaiah 64:4)

So the kind of life we’re talking about, in one form or another, is focused on that, is about being a part of that. Because the idea is that our lives really don’t work when they’re focused on peripheral or trivial things.

And then last week, we said that this sort of life, the sort that has all the power of God backing it, is a life that is utterly dependent on faith. And we defined faith the way the Bible does in Hebrews 11:1: “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”

So, if we’re onto something, the kind of life God most blesses and backs is focused on what he’s focused on, and is constantly depending upon centering itself around things it can’t see, but believes, trusts, counts on by faith.


This week, we’ll look at the next step, which is at the center of that thing I pray for my kids, and for myself. One way to label that thing is to call it “courage.” Let’s look at a story from the Bible:

13 The Lord said to Moses, 2“Send some men to explore the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelites. From each ancestral tribe send one of its leaders.”

17When Moses sent them to explore Canaan, he said, “Go up through the Negev and on into the hill country. 18See what the land is like and whether the people who live there are strong or weak, few or many. 19What kind of land do they live in? Is it good or bad? What kind of towns do they live in? Are they unwalled or fortified? 20How is the soil? Is it fertile or poor? Are there trees in it or not? Do your best to bring back some of the fruit of the land.” (It was the season for the first ripe grapes.)

23When they reached the Valley of Eshkol, they cut off a branch bearing a single cluster of grapes. Two of them carried it on a pole between them, along with some pomegranates and figs. 24That place was called the Valley of Eshkol because of the cluster of grapes the Israelites cut off there. 25At the end of forty days they returned from exploring the land.

26They came back to Moses and Aaron and the whole Israelite community at Kadesh in the Desert of Paran. There they reported to them and to the whole assembly and showed them the fruit of the land. 27They gave Moses this account: “We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey! Here is its fruit. 28But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large.

30Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.”

31But the men who had gone up with him said, “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are.” 32And they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored. They said, “The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size. 33We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.”

14 That night all the members of the community raised their voices and wept aloud. 2All the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron, and the whole assembly said to them, “If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this wilderness! 3Why is the Lord bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be taken as plunder. Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt?” 4And they said to each other, “We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt.”

5Then Moses and Aaron fell facedown in front of the whole Israelite assembly gathered there. 6Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh, who were among those who had explored the land, tore their clothes 7and said to the entire Israelite assembly, “The land we passed through and explored is exceedingly good. 8If the Lord is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us. 9Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will devour them. Their protection is gone, but the Lord is with us. Do not be afraid of them.”

10But the whole assembly talked about stoning them. Then the glory of the Lord appeared at the tent of meeting to all the Israelites. 11The Lord said to Moses, “How long will these people treat me with contempt? How long will they refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the signs I have performed among them?

Numbers 13:1-14:11

So, whatever you think about conquest, do me a favor and put that aside for the moment while we think briefly about this. What do you think about this as a picture of all of our lives, at least insofar as we’re trying to follow God…?

God has something for us, but he doesn’t just give it to us. He tells us, with his backing, to go and take it. But it’s massive; it’s way bigger than we are. Not only is it hopeless without God’s supernatural backing, there’s every possibility it will kill us to do it!

Now, there is an upside in this. Which is the non-trivial fact that God has said to go and do it and he’ll be with us and it’ll go great. But there is still the doing of it. A picture of this for the individual would be the passage we looked at a couple of weeks ago, with this 14 year old kid named David single handedly fighting and killing this super-soldier, Goliath.

David actually went on to write this very quirky psalm, which perhaps you haven’t fully noticed.

1Blessed is the LORD, my rock

who trains my hands for battle,

my fingers for the fray.

Psalm 144:1

It starts off in a familiar, comforting way…

“Blessed is the LORD, my rock…”

God’s always there for me, so I’ll praise him.

We get that.

But then it takes an interesting, maybe even distressing turn.

“Who trains my hands for battle, my fingers for the fray.”

Wait a minute, who said anything about a war. And if there’s going to be a war, can’t I ask God to fight it for me?

It seems like God’s perspective is that he’s sending all of us who are really doing our best to give ourselves to following him into a real war, against enemies that will look way, way bigger than us, but whom, with God’s help, we’ll beat. But whom we do, in fact, have to fight.

This is where faith, which we talked about last week, is helpful, but – I suppose – we could blame focus as the thing which got us into this mess in the first place.

It’s interesting, on the terms of the story in Numbers – I think the idea is that we’re all the Israelites

who’d rather be enslaved, but taken care of,

than rise up and take the good abundant land God actually wants to give us.

But which will take courage and faith to take.

And in fact, when someone rises up and exhorts us to go ahead, have courage and faith and take that land, we pretty much want to kill that person. But without faith-filled courage, there pretty much can’t be any changed life, only a return to slavery.


John “Praying” Hyde is an interesting case-study in a person who decided to make his life available to God. In the late 1800s, John felt a call to become a missionary to India. He decided that if he was going to be a missionary, that he might as well be a great one. So he applied himself in study and prayer before going.

He boarded a steamer for India in 1892 and while on board, read a letter from a close friend. The friend wrote, “I will not cease praying for you until you be filled with the Holy Spirit.” He was incensed. How dare this friend suggest he wasn’t already filled with the Spirit or prepared for his call? He had a degree, studied the language, and was on his way, leaving everything behind. He threw the letter in the trash. But, after some deep soul searching – looking at the hugeness of the work that had to be done in India, and how small he was as one solitary man, and the fact that God had called him into this thing – he realized what everyone realizes when they’re suddenly confronted with what their actual potential is in God.

He realized he had to be remade into a different person or it was hopeless.

So he got down on his knees and asked to be filled with God’s power and Spirit for what was ahead of him.

Being filled with the Holy Spirit takes courage, doesn’t it? Jesus describes it as being born again. His Spirit remakes us into someone new. Still us – but a truer version of us than we’ve ever known. Like a caterpillar becoming a butterfly. And that can be scary to become.



It seems to me we all think that what’s going to determine where we get in life is the level of our talents and the strength of our character. And those are really important things which will make a big difference. But, when we are faced with the enormity of what God actually might give us if we had the faith and courage to go and take it, it’s as if we always thought we were a butterfly, but suddenly we realized we’re actually a caterpillar with some talents and a really good character. Those are helpful, but we still need to be remade into something different.

David, arguably the greatest picture of a king and a warrior we have in all of history, is constantly calling himself “weak” and “needy.” He calls himself “a worm and no man.” And, again, he praises God as the one who gives him strength for battle and trains his fingers for the fray.

David had a lot going for him from Day 1, but very quickly he realizes it’s not remotely enough to get the job done if he wants to take the land God actually has for him.

What are some ways you can give yourself to a life of this kind of courage under God?


[Practical Tips…]

1. Well, one way to start would be to tell God you want him to help you do whatever he wants you to do – no matter what the cost. Free Reign & A Blank Check.

Obviously, we don’t’ have the ability to bravely be some kind of hero for God. That was Peter’s mistake with Jesus. He said he’d die for Jesus – right before he told everybody that he didn’t even know Jesus. But what we can do is humble ourselves before God. Say that, clearly, we don’t have what it takes to take that promised land, but we’d love it if God would give us what it takes.

And so we ask him, as David did, to give us strength for the battle he wants us to fight and skill for the fray he has in front of us.

The rest of the things I’m going to suggest will require a partner to pull off. And that’s because we’re not meant to have this kind of courage alone. It’s not a coincidence that Joshua had Caleb. So I’d suggest either a gung-ho spouse, or someone in your small group, if you’re in one in our church. Barring either of those, join one of our small groups and do this then, or ask God to lift up a good partner for you for these steps.

2. Once you have a partner, get together over a cup of coffee or whatever, and have an important conversation, beginning with this question:

At the end of your life, what would you like to have accomplished for God?

Whatever your answer is, it should reflect a focus on God’s one purpose, should require some faith, and probably should be impossible on its own terms.

Then ask each other:

What about you right now would prevent God from accomplishing that through you?

The answer to that might be something obvious, like, “Well, fear, for one thing.”

Or it might be that you, currently, just aren’t close enough to God. Or it might be obvious that there are some sins or addictions God would need to take care of for that promised land to be possible for you.

Step three is to, together, ask God to remove that barrier and show you anything you need to do.

I want my kids to reach as much of their full potential under God as possible. I think, though maybe they’d phrase it differently, that’s what every parent wants for their child. But I also want that for myself, and I realize I need, to some degree, to be remade to pull that off.

There is so much upside in being remade like this, though. Not only do I get to actually go after what I’ve been created for, but my guess is that this is the only way to blow past my pettiness and insecurity. The only way to stop worrying about why my friends can’t meet all my needs better than they do. And then take up arms in the great battle with those who will go with me, and discover that they are actually better friends and partners than I ever could have guessed.

And so I ask God to help me not be like the Israelites in this story, who just want to go back to safe slavery. But to be like Joshua and Caleb, who were willing and eager to step out and conquer the impossible land. To declare with King David,

1Blessed is the LORD, my rock

who trains my hands for battle,

my fingers for the fray.

Psalm 144:1