sermon notes from the Vineyard Church of Milan 03/10/2013
video available at www.sundaystreams.com/go/MilanVineyard/ondemand
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!"
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.
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)
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.]
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.