Sermon: "Among Us!"
Gracious God, we thank you for the privilege of worship, for the beauty of music, for the way words speak to our soul. We thank you for your word in scripture and pray now that as we read it and think about it together that we will hear your very voice and we will respond to you with the obedience that comes through faith. Work in us God and do in us what we can't do of ourselves. For we ask it in Jesus' name. Amen.
Our scripture verse again this week; same verse we have been looking at for awhile.
Joshua, Chapter 3, Verse 5. It's our final week of the series that starts our new year. It's a time where we looked; week one we looked at the issue of consecrating ourselves. What does it mean to pursue holiness, to set ourselves apart, to sanctify ourselves, to dedicate ourselves, to focus, to get ready for somebody special? Week two we look at the next part of the verse, at the fact that God can do amazing things. We also looked at the fact that there are all kinds of things that get in the way of us actually expecting God to do amazing things. We have a struggle with faith and the biggest thing perhaps that gets in the way of faith is our own agenda. We want God to do amazing things about things that we are planning and want him to get involved in our agenda. And sometimes what stands in the way is our own sense of our abilities, that we get caught up in what we can do and what we can't do and so then we limit God. And then we also thought a little bit about our anxieties, that sometimes what stands in the way of our expectation is the anxiety that if God does do something amazing and pulls us forward it will demand new things from us and we are not sure we like that and what if this happens and what if that happens and so our fears can hold us back and so we settle for a routine, maybe even a boring idea of what the Christian life is all about.
Well, in this final week we focus on the last part of Joshua's promise, "the Lord will do amazing things among you; among us." It's pretty easy to imagine God doing amazing things. I don't have a hard time at all imaging that. What's hard is to imagine God doing amazing things here among us, in my life. That's the hard part and that's human nature. It's very easy to believe something is true. It's another entirely to believe it's true for me.
Take the example of God's moral law; the kind of life that God sketches out that is healthy, that leads us in a close relationship with him. We believe that. Yes, that kind of life is good, but it's another thing entirely to be on your knees confronting the way we handle our own goals, the way we handle our money, confronting our greed, confronting our sexuality. It's a whole different matter to talk about morality then.
That's what happens when we begin to experience God's presence in our own lives and its no longer theory, we are actually living it. It's not only true, but its true for me, true for us.
For example, I believe that God provides. Jesus promises that if we seek first the kingdom, all the rest of life will be given to us as well. Seek God's priorities. The Apostle Paul did all kinds of ministry all over, what he knew of in the world and God provided for him at every point. Yes, God provides. In the Old Testament the prophet Elijah is provided for by God even to the point where birds carried food to him in the desert. Yes, God provides. I have read about Christians and missionaries who have been provided for in miraculous ways, how they prayed and God provided and there is no reason to doubt them. God provides. But in 1985 I realized again, not for the first time and not for the last time that it was not only true, but it was true for me that God provides. Debbie and I had planned on going on a mission trip and we were thinking about going to the Philippines or China, but since we had young children the people who were counseling with us about this said "you ought to go to Oxford and work with international students in outreach there". I was embarrassed. I mean how can I write a fundraising letter; Hey folks, God is calling us to go to Oxford for the summer. I mean I just did not know how to handle that. So I went to the session of the church where I was a member and I laid it before them. I said, "I need some discernment here." And they prayed about it and talked about and finally said, "John, just because it's a nice place doesn't mean it's not God's will. You know God doesn't always call us to bad things and you are still reaching out to international students. You are still reaching out to people who haven't heard about Christ. The purposes are intact. Maybe you should do it."
So I walked out of that meeting greatly encouraged, but not nearly as encouraged as I was on the following Sunday. I was outside the sanctuary when one of the elders who was in that meeting walked up to me with a folded check and he put it my pocket and a few minutes later when I was alone I pulled it out of my pocket and I looked at it and it was a check for $1,000. When he had put it in my pocket he said, "John, I believe God is sending you to Oxford." When I pulled it out with that $1,000 I had about a third of the money we needed for that summer experience and I hadn't sent out a fundraising letter yet. I hadn't really even prayed a whole lot about the financial side of it. God provided. I knew that God provided; that it was true, not only true, but true for me.
So in today's passage the Israelites are having to struggle with not only will God do amazing things, but will God do amazing things among them tomorrow, because that is what Joshua promised. Now these are very average people. These are the people who grumbled and complained against God in the desert. They are not particularly courageous. They are not experienced in battle. They have had 40 years in the desert. In fact, most of the people there were only children with the miraculous deliverance happened from Egypt. So their primary experience with God is in the desert and now they are on the edge of battles and all kinds of new challenges on the edge of a river that seems impassable and Joshua is calling them to consecrate themselves, to get ready for God to do amazing things among them and that's their struggle. They were no more ready for amazing things than we are.
I particularly feel for the priests. Joshua, Chapter 3, if we go a few more verses in to that chapter, if you look in your Bibles, you get down to Verse 13 and Joshua is speaking:
Now I am telling you it's bad enough to be expecting God to do a miracle, but it's another thing entirely to have this heavy gold thing on your shoulder along with a bunch of other people and you are in the front, you are going down a steep bank in to a river at flood stage with all the eddies and currents and all going by and you are the first one whose foot is going to touch. If I had to be in the front at all, I wanted to be in the back of the front, because the miracle would not happen until they took the step. They had to step out, they had to step in. That's the critical difference between believing that something is true and believing that its true for us, for me. The critical difference is doing something differently, living differently because of it; stepping in, stepping out.
It's one thing to believe in snow. People in Baton Rouge, Louisiana believe in snow. We talk about snow. We read about snow. We see snow on the TV. We have discussed the temperature of snow and how it piles up in drifts. When we are getting philosophical we might even think of the snowiness of snow. But then you get into another circumstance, I was up in Chicago. It was 18 degrees. I could see the clouds carrying the snow and everything fogging out in the distance as the snow came and when I saw that, I bought myself an ice scraper. It's different when it snows on you. You do something different.
Believing that God will do amazing things among us will look different than just believing that God does amazing things. To believe that God is going to do amazing things among us means that we are going to have to live differently and the difference is stepping out and stepping in. I want to read to you two other passages from the New Testament that talk about God's amazing power. They are both from the Book of Ephesians. So if you would like you can turn to the Book of Ephesians. I am going to first read from the first chapter in the Book of Ephesians, beginning at Verse 18.
Let me just emphasize just a few words there; "his incomparably great power for us who believe."
We go to Chapter 3 and look at Verses 20 and 21:
Now, what if God could do the things that we ask him? That's a great thing to know and believe that God can do what we ask. What if God could do not only what we have the guts to ask, but God could actually do those things that we imagine, that we think about, that we dream about? That would be wonderful. What if God could actually do more than what we ask, more than even what we dream, that what we dream doesn't even get to the limits of what God could do, that would be truly an amazing thing. What if God could do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine? Now, that is truly a mind-boggling concept and I believe it, but that's not the end of the verse. What if God could do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine according to his power at work within us, that's where I have a problem; that this immeasurably great power of God is at work in us the church.
Joshua, Chapter 3, Verse 5 says, "amazing things among us."
In Joshua, Chapter 3 when this promise is given, God is leading them to take a land that he promised them for centuries. This is God's purposes for Israel, not Israel's purposes for God. There were many needs along the way that I am sure they didn't get met. They didn't eat beef during that time. There were things that they wanted; things that they might have thought they needed that they didn't receive, but according to God's purpose there came that moment when immeasurable resources were required and God did it for his purposes.
In the Book of Ephesians, this immeasurable, incomparably great power at work among us is for God's purposes. Chapter 3, Verse 10 is one of the places that talks about these purposes;
God has a purpose through the church and that purpose even extends to spiritual powers in the heavenly's powers that we can't even seen. There is something that God is showing and proving and winning spiritually through the church and God's purpose is building a church that understands and knows Gods love. It talks about that in the Book of Ephesians; a church full of the power to live a new life in Christ, becoming like Christ, a church that can endure, a church that can serve, a church that can even suffer, a church that can remain unified in the face of Satanic attacks, a church that can present Christ to a broken world with life changing power. That is God's purpose in the church and for this calling, for that purpose there are unlimited resources. Now this is true or is this true for us? Will God do amazing things here among us for his purposes?
In late November we wrestled with God's calling on this congregation. Believing that God was calling us to be even more of a missional church, to be a church without walls where we are moving people toward Christ where we live, work and play; becoming a church that learns how to reach out to our culture, a church that learns how to sacrifice and to stretch to do that. Believing that we understood at that point that building a new building was part of that plan, because we are going to grow as God uses us and we need new kind of space to use differently. So believing that we took a risk. We stepped out and we stepped in. We took on a building project that was about $4 million dollars more than we had in hand and believe me as one of many who were carrying the ark in to the river, that's a scary thing to do. But we all face that and believing that not only God is a God who provides, but God is a God who will provide for us as we sought his will, we made that decision.
Well, I've got some news that I have been sitting on for about a week or so waiting for permissions from the trustee's to share. In the past 30 days we have had new commitments to the building campaign totaling over 1.8 million dollars. Donors expressed being impressed with the God-honoring decision-making process that this session went through with the congregation, they support the vision that God has given for where we are going, they are thankful for the congregations faithfulness to pursue Christ's will and for the sessions courage in stepping out, even when we can't see all the steps on the path ahead. God is doing amazing things among us and using us to do it. The stuff about God is true and its true for us.
But, I don't want to get all wrapped up in the building, it's an amazing miracle to have another step forward and I am thankful for it. I mean I am very thankful for it. But the building is a tool, just like crossing the river for Israel, crossing the river for Israel was to get them in to the land, it was in the land they had to do battle by battle to take the land. It just got them in the place where they could inherit the real promise. The promise wasn't the river. The promise was the land. Our promise isn't the building, but the ministry that God wants to do through this church in the future. It's about changed lives; lives of normal average people like us that becomes more and more conformed to the image of Jesus Christ, that when people see us they see just a minor, but real reflection of a Holy God. It's about a growing church full of praying and worshipping people that have learned to rely on God when they are at the end of their own resources, even when they are not getting exactly the answers that they want. It's about a people able to live their faith, a people able to share their faith in loving and compelling ways, a people that know how to serve, a people that have been equipped to lead, a people that are part of God moving people towards Christ, that is the truly amazing thing and it's something we often celebrate together.
This is the amazing thing; is being part of leading people to Jesus Christ. A journey with Jesus Christ and Christlikeness is life-long, but there is a moment when we call Jesus Lord and Savior and we celebrate that every time we light this candle; we celebrate the fact that God has used someone in our community to be part of leading someone to that and I want to read to you an email. It's about Terry H. in Amsterdam. A gal named Margeline was at the hostel two weeks before Christmas and through conversations that Terry had with her, Terry invited her to come back for Christmas dinner, to join the community there. It turns out that Margeline has cancer and she knew she had to be in the hospital a while for treatment so she sold her flat, because she knew she was entering the hospital for an extended period of time. She got to the hospital and the hospital wasn't ready for her. There was a mess up in the schedules. So she then found herself to be homeless. So she made the decision to come to the hostel as she waits for the hospital. Terry has been talking to her more and more and when she gets nervous her English isn't good, but even though the conversations were hard she's been comfortable around Terry and they hug each other when they see each other. (name), one of the paid managers of the place, also has Margeline on her heart and on New Year's Eve she went to talk to her and Margeline prayed to receive Christ. Terry is continuing to meet with her while she figures out what's next. This has given her time to read the Bible and to talk with Terry about being a Christian and now Terry wants to visit her in her hospital and when she does go in, Terry will be with her as she gets the cancer treatments.
God is doing amazing things among us. That's the promise, is lives turning to Christ and then lives being conformed to the image of Christ. Only God can do that and we believe he will; he will continue to and he will even more among us. So we need to get ready. We need to consecrate ourselves to God. We need to purify ourselves, draw close, focus on him, settle all those priorities, because God has a promise out there, which is a bride without blemish presented to Christ as a fulfillment of his work on the earth. We are a part of that. God will do amazing things among us. This is God that we are dealing with here. We are not playing church. This is God. We have no idea. We have no idea how much God can do. Now in just a moment I am going to lead us in a prayer of commitment. There are many prayers between us and amazing things and some of those are prayers of faith, but perhaps more fundamentally is the prayer of commitment, of submission to the will of God, of taking our agenda and letting it be God's agenda. And so I am going to read a first person prayer and I would like you to join me in your heart as you are able.
Let us pray. Holy God, I am no longer my own, but yours. Use me as you choose. Rank me alongside whoever you choose. Put me to doing, put me to suffering. Let me be employed for you or laid aside for you, raised up for you or brought down low for you, let me be full, let me be empty, let me have all things, let me have nothing. With my whole heart I freely choose to yield all things to your ordering and approval. So now Holy God, the Lord who can do amazing things, God of glory, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, you are mine and I am your own. Amen.
© 2007, Rev. John Schmidt
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