sermon notes from the Vineyard Church of Milan 03/23/2013
video available at www.sundaystreams.com/go/MilanVineyard/ondemand
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
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
indeed against ourselves.
But since our Thursday nights
have brought us
to a community
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?
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.
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?
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.