03-09-2014 message by Pastor Rich Doebler
We think nothing today of air travel. We get on a plane to fly across the country or the ocean. We’ve put astronauts on the moon. But it wasn’t that long ago that flying was impossible—until the Wright brothers discovered aerodynamic principles that use moving air to give lift. Before then, it was like this…VIDEO
This is a great picture of the spiritual life. Many want to live better lives, but they’re unable to get off the ground. Sin and human nature are like gravity! We’re held down by the gravity of sin and human nature. So, left to our own devices, we’ll never get off the ground, no matter how hard we try. No matter how much human energy and effort we give to flapping our spiritual wings.
We need to be unleashed from the weight of things that hold us down. We can’t be set free the gravity of sin and human nature until we discover the grace and the power of God—the wind of the Holy Spirit with spiritual aerodynamics to give us spiritual lift.
For a couple of weeks we’ve been looking at the problem of being held down by sin or by a dysfunctional past—by habits, hurts, and hang-ups that enslave us.
We may do the best we can, but our efforts aren’t good enough. When it comes to solving spiritual problems, human effort is never good enough. So we get stuck—spiritually and emotionally crippled.
But we’ve also seen that God wants to release us from all that. Jesus came to set us free! And we’ve seen a bit of what can happen by God’s grace when we are unleashed from things that hold us down.
We’ve seen that God wants to set us free—not only so we can enjoy personal freedom, but so we can live as he intended—answering his call; fulfilling his purpose. He unleashes us to do good, to do more, to live stronger, to be his people—the church—making a positive difference in this sad, broken-down world.
God wants to set us free so we can have an impact on our world. He changes us so we can change our world!
The problem is too many stay stuck. They just “spin their wheels.” They spend a lot of energy and effort trying to fix themselves, fix their lives, kick their habits, repair their relationships, face their future—but they get nowhere. They can’t get off the ground.
Maybe you’re not like others. You’re not exactly “stuck”—because you’re doing your best to “run the race,” (as the Bible says) but you feel like you’re wearing cement shoes. Every step is agony.
Or maybe you find yourself caught in a cycle—two steps forward; one step back: a frustrating journey.
Yet God wants us “unleashed.” God wants to set us free from spiritual bondage, whether we deal with big problems or small, major dysfunction or minor irritations.
God wants us to be a church set free to change the world! When God sets us free from sin, from life’s problems, from personal hang-ups (like feelings of inferiority or fear or shame), then we can begin to help others. Then we can be an influence for good.
The Bible says God has not given us a spirit of fear or timidity but rather he has given us a spirit of power, of love, of self-control—a sound, disciplined mind. 2 Tim 1:7
The Bible says we are not like those who “shrink back”—intimidated, hesitant, fearful. Instead, we are to hang tough and persevere. Committed to do whatever it takes, to pay whatever it costs in order to receive the promises. Heb 10:32-39
You say, Well, I haven’t experienced that! I’m still stuck in that cycle. I haven’t done much to influence my world. And I say, You’re not unique. You’re part of the club—called the human race. We ALL need to be “unstuck”—even the great heroes of the faith needed the power of God’s Spirit to release them so they could be what God intended for them to be.
Peter, one of Jesus’ disciples, is a great example. He had good intentions, but he also had a rather volatile personality. He was extreme, passionate, impulsive. Filled with faith, he would make bold, rash pronouncements. The problem was: he didn’t always follow through. He often failed in what he intended.
- Inspired by God, Peter declared Jesus to be the Son of God; moments later Jesus called him “Satan,” a stumbling block, when he tried to talk Jesus out of the cross.
- Peter jumped out of the boat in faith, believing he would walk on the water…then reality caught up with him, fear gripped him, and gravity pulled him beneath the waves;
- Another time Peter went out to pray all night, only to fall asleep. Jesus told him, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
- Peter declared his allegiance to Jesus—he was determined to die if necessary. He even started swinging his sword when the Roman soldiers showed up…but when Jesus said to put away his weapon, Peter ran away in fear;
- Later, in the courtyard, when a young servant girl called him out, this big, strong fisherman denied he had anything to do with the Lord.
Peter was “up and down”; you never knew which Peter was going to show up.
Despite his nature, however, Jesus saw potential in Peter. In fact, Peter’s original name was “Simon,” but when Jesus met him, he gave him a new name: “Rock.” Here was a man who had about as much back bone as a jelly fish, but Jesus didn’t call him what he was: “jelly fish.” Instead, he called him by what he could be: “Rock” (or “Peter” in the language they spoke).
Jesus didn’t see Peter locked into a certain personality. He didn’t see him held hostage to certain characteristics. He didn’t see Peter stuck as a vacillating, impulsive, up-and-down kind of a person.
Instead, Jesus saw him set free from what he was—set free to be something he could not be on his own. Jesus saw him released from fear and intimidation so he could become a solid rock, someone who would stand, immovable, with firm conviction—and change the world as a result.
After Peter was baptized in the Holy Spirit—flooded by the presence and power of the Spirit—Peter didn’t waffle so much anymore. He didn’t shrink back any more. He was set free. Changed.
So on the Day of Pentecost he stood fearlessly before thousands to declare the truth. Later because he was set free he could face angry mobs, could be arrested, and could spend time in prison. Eventually, Peter’s boldness and faithfulness cost him his life…but he died free!
What about you? Do you sometimes have tendencies like Peter? Do you ever have good intentions or make bold promises, only to fall flat? Have you found your spirit willing, but your flesh weak? Do you want to do something good—only to trip over your own limitations? Do your flaws and shortcomings get in the way of what God has called you to do or to be?
Like Peter, we need to be set free! We cannot become all that God intends us to be if we are saddled by our past—by our mistakes, our pain, our sins.
Peter changed his world by allowing the power of God to work through him. If you want to change your world, if you want to be a “change agent” to help others, then first you have to be changed. First, you need the power of God’s Spirit to renovate you.
- …if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! 2 Cor 5:17
- You shall receive power after the Holy Spirit has come upon you! And (then) you will be witnesses… Acts 1:8
God put us here to make a difference! He sets us free from the influence of the world so the world can be influenced by us. He unleashes us from the slavery of sin and addiction and heartache and pain so we can bring healing to the world.
Now when I say “World,” you can take it in different ways. For instance, we can have influence in several “worlds”—
- The geographical world (the globe, the planet, or at least the area of the world we live in). For example: community action projects, local initiatives, school board, town council.
- The philosophical world (a world view, the world’s way of thinking). For example: public discourse, classroom settings, letters to the editor—social media (dare I say, talk radio?).
- The relational world (our personal connections, the people we know, our networks, our personal sphere of influence)—I’m not talking about the 500 so-called “friends” you have on Facebook; I’m talking about people who know you personally—those who respect you and listen to you.
You can influence whatever world you’re part of! What world do you live in? What world do you work in? You could talk about the “sports” world or the world of “music” or the world of “business.”
- You’ve heard the story of Steve Jobs, the driving force behind the Apple computer—and the iPhone and iPad. People say he changed the “world” with his inventions. Early on, when Apple was only four years old—only four years out from the garage in which it began—Jobs visited John Scully, president of Pepsi Cola, hoping to recruit him for help in marketing Apple computers. Scully was reluctant to join in. Why give up a perfectly good career with an established company to join an uncertain, upstart company barely out of the garage. Steve Jobs, however, successfully sealed the deal after he made his legendary pitch to John: “Do you want to sell sugared water for the rest of your life? Or do you want to come with me and change the world?”
- But there’s a difference between Apple Computer and the kingdom of God! When we say “change the world,” we’re not talking about business. We need to go beyond business, beyond education, beyond behavior modification, beyond psychology, and beyond humanitarian projects. We need to go beyond political solutions and government programs.
When I say we can “change our world,” we should think first of our own personal world…
- Our immediate sphere of influence: family, friends, associates, co-workers, neighbors, community, etc. Our lives, set free by God, can be like a stone thrown in a pond. What happens when you throw a rock in the water? It causes small waves that go out from that spot. We can produce a ripple effect that radiates outward to others. Some are in small ponds; others in bigger lakes—but all can have a ripple effect.
- We have relationships with people; we can join organizations or partner with institutions; we live in a certain culture.
- But don’t rely on your good intentions to make a difference. Make sure you start by placing yourself before Jesus, asking for forgiveness and new life, seeking the power of the Holy Spirit.
But as a church—as a group of people who have joined together to follow Jesus Christ and serve him, we can also change the larger world…
- You are the light of the world! Let your light shine before others so they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven… Matt 5:14,16
- You are the salt of the earth! So don’t lose your flavor… Matt 5:13
- Recent CT article (Jan/Feb 2014): “The World the Missionaries Made: They didn’t set out to change history. But …they did just that” (about researcher Robert Woodberry’s work) In Africa, countries where missionaries were permitted in the 19th century, today are socially advanced over neighboring countries where they were not—books, learning, etc.
- History: For centuries Christians have banded together to build hospitals, schools, half-way houses to rehabilitate criminals and addicts, orphanages to care for orphans, agencies to help the poor, housing for unwed pregnant girls… The abolitionist movement of the 1800s was fueled primarily by Christians. Around the world, cultures were affected as Christians educated women, empowered the poor, and promoted printing and books that empowered ordinary people.
- From the article: “…in both French and Belgian Congo… [colonists] forced villagers to extract rubber from the jungle. As punishment for not complying, they burned down villages, castrated men, and cut off children’s limbs. In French Congo, the atrocities passed without comment or protest, aside from one report in a Marxist newspaper in France. But in Belgian Congo, the abuses aroused the largest international protest movement since the abolition of slavery. Why the difference? …Protestant missionaries…were allowed only in the Belgian Congo.”
- Despite the bad press, the church (made up of ordinary people like you and me) has been an influence for good in this world. And you and I can have a part in lifting the world—those around us—to a better place.
- However, to truly change the world, we need power from “out of this world.” We need the supernatural release that comes from God. Before we can truly influence our world, we must set free by the power of God.
- When we are set free by God’s grace, when the chains of sin and our past are broken, then we can be free to do what we can’t do on our own. Then we are set free to change our world. Then we can help because first we received God’s help.
- We have a powerful message—we have Good News about freedom and a new life! So we can tell people who have no hope that there is hope. So we can live out an example of a hope-filled life before a hopeless society.
When God sets us free then…
- Our actions and deeds will tug on the hearts and emotions of people around us.
- Our ideas (anointed, Spirit-led thinking) can generate spiritual power to capture imaginations.
- Our sacrifice and surrender can disturb people—cause them to take notice and perhaps even be convicted by the Spirit about their own lives.
Telemachus, a fifth-century monk who lived in a monastery in modern-day Turkey, felt God calling him to Rome. When he got to Rome, people were running about the city, excited about the entertainment about to take place in the coliseum. Gladiators were going to fight both animals and each other.
Telemachus walked into the coliseum and sat down among 80,000 people who cheered as the gladiators came out proclaiming, “‘Hail Caesar! We die to the glory of Caesar.” Telemachus got up out of his seat, ran down the steps, climbed over the wall, walked out to the center of the amphitheater, and stood between two large gladiators. Putting his hands up, he meekly cried out, “In the name of Christ, stop!” The crowd laughed and jeered. One of the gladiators slapped Telemachus in the stomach with his sword and sent him spinning off into the dust.
Telemachus got up and again stood between the two huge gladiators. He repeated, “In the name of Christ, stop.” In one version of the story, when Telemachus urged people to stop worshiping idols, the city prefect ordered him killed. In another version, the crowd chanted “Run him through!” and one of the gladiators took his sword and ran it through Telemachus’s stomach.
There are other variations on the story, but what is clear is that Telemachus fell into the dust, and the sand turned red with his blood. One last time, Telemachus weakly cried out, “‘In the name of Christ, stop.” He died on the amphitheater floor on January 1, AD 404
The crowd grew silent. Then, slowly, they emptied out of the coliseum. According to ancient Christian records, this was the last gladiatorial contest in the history of the Roman Empire. Because of Telemachus’ death, three days later, the Emperor by decree ended the Games. Courage and sacrifice can disturb people and change the world.
[The story is found in the writings of Theodoret (393 – c.457), an author and Christian bishop of Cyrrhus (423 – 457).]
Are you free to give yourself away? Free to lay your life down? Are you free to make a difference in your world?
To become free, we need an encounter with God! Where we come before God and say, “Here I am, Lord! Do what you want. Set me free so I can be what you want me to be, to do what you want me to do. Make my life count.”