01-11-2015 sermon by Pastor Rich Doebler

Heb 11:32-34—32 And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about… 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms…gained what was promised… 34 …whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle…

2 Cor 10:2-5—2 I beg you that when I come I may not have to be as bold as I expect to be toward some people who think that we live by the standards of this world. 3 For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. 4 The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. 5 We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

I’ve told this story before, and even though it’s probably apocryphal, it’s worth repeating—it’s the story of NASA’s solid rocket boosters for the space shuttle, which were apparently constructed by the Thiokol factory in Utah.
Originally the engineers called for a larger design, but they soon realized that the boosters would need to be transported through mountain tunnels. So they reduced the width to fit through the tunnel—which was predetermined by size of train, which was predetermined by the width of the tracks, which was predetermined by early railroad standards, which was developed by early British manufacturers and based on the spacing of the wagon tracks (the ruts in the British roads), which was inherited from the Roman occupation of Britain in the first century when roads were built to accommodate Roman chariots and supply wagons, which were built as wide as the two horses that pulled it.
So the size of NASA’s solid rocket boosters were limited by the width of two horses.

In the same way, there are things in life that will try to limit what God wants to do in you and for you. Things that will slow you down and hold you back.

Last week we started a series of messages looking at our need for spiritual trACTION, or—to put it another way—God’s help to get us moving.

We talked about getting stuck—spinning your wheels spiritually—where you put out a lot of energy and effort, but you don’t really get anywhere:

You try to change. You want to change. But you just can’t seem to make it stick.

Or maybe you make a small change. It’s a good start. You see some improvement. But then you slip back, and the progress you made doesn’t seem to last. It could happen in a number of ways:

  • Maybe you were doing better in your marriage—growing in your relationship. But then you hit another rough patch and you find yourself struggling again.
  • Or perhaps you began to serve others more—maybe you plugged into a ministry, maybe you made yourself available for someone who needed you. But then your own worries crowded out your good intentions.
  • Maybe you began to watch your language, to change your words. Your attitude became more positive. But then something happens and it triggers the old, angry nature.
  • Maybe you committed to improving your spiritual walk, and you made God’s priorities your priorities. You began reading God’s Word regularly. You chose worship, prayer, and fellowship over other things. You’re doing well, but then one day you realize that your priorities have shifted back again (you’re not exactly sure how), back in the opposite direction.

Most of us, I think, have felt stuck spiritually at one time or another—like David: in a “slimy pit…[in the] mud and mire” (Ps 40:2). We’ve felt bogged down. We’ve felt dry and thirsty in our souls at times (Ps 42:2).

We feel dry and thirsty because God created us for something more than what this world has to offer. God created us to live in a relationship with him. Human history, however, has undermined God’s plan.

  • First, he put man in the Garden of Eden—to enjoy the fruit of all the trees (except one). But sin ruined that plan—and Adam and Eve were forced to leave the Garden.
  • Later, God called Abram to leave the home of his ancesters, to leave his past, and go to a new place and a new future. But his offspring ended up in a different place, living in slavery.
  • Later still, God brought his people out of slavery so they could move into the land of promise. But once again, sin and unbelief and human weakness ruined God’s plan. So the people were stuck wandering in the wilderness.
  • This same pattern has continued down through history: God has a plan; we mess it up. God gives a promise; we choose something else.
  • Eventually God sent his Son to do (on the cross) what we could not do. This was God’s ultimate plan: his promise of grace and forgiveness to overpower the effects of law and sin.
  • But human nature (again) struggles to live up to the promise. The promise points us to a better way, but human nature pulls us the opposite direction. Every time we yield to temptation, every time we react in anger, every time we give in to feelings of hopelessness, every time we are paralyzed by mistrust—we live beneath the level of God’s promise.

God wants you to live in the Promised Land! He does not want you to wander aimlessly in the wilderness! God wants you to live fulfilled—not frustrated.

So today I want to talk about how to escape the ruts of life. You may be thinking that sounds a lot like last week’s theme, but there is a huge difference: because a rut is something we make.

When we choose a certain way one time, it’s not too difficult to change and go a different way the next time. But if we make the same choice over and over, repeatedly going over the same ground, we create a well-worn path. (This road was formed centuries ago in England by the Romans; it’s been traveled for centuries.) And if you go the same way often enough and long enough, you’ll create a rut—a much deeper track. The more you go that way, the harder it is to get out of the rut.

There are places on the famous Oregon Trail (traveled by thousands of pioneers with wagons in the 1800s) where you can see ruts that exist to this day! Remarkably, there are even places where so many wagons traveled over the same route, that ruts were worn down into sandstone!

Now, ruts in the ground are one thing. But ruts in our behavior are something much more serious! Bad habits or destructive habits happen when we’re caught in a rut.

When we travel over the same ground day after day—often enough and long enough, we get caught in the habits we’ve made for ourselves. A rut makes it hard to go a new direction. The deeper the rut, the harder it is to choose a different way.

That’s why bad habits are so hard to break. We’ve gone that way so often that we can travel down that road without even thinking about it. The ruts just carry us along. A habit becomes a natural response, an automatic reflex. We don’t consciously do it—it just keeps happening.

If we realize we’re in a rut—and decide to get out of it—that’s when we begin to realize what we’ve done to ourselves. It’s hard to escape a path we’ve worn down in our behavior and in our attitudes.

When I was a teenager, our family took an unusual vacation one summer. We drove from Minnesota to Fairbanks, Alaska—more than 3,000 miles one way. The Alcan Highway in those days was largely gravel and dirt—from just north of Dawson Creek, Alberta. Can you imagine driving a Chrysler station wagon with six kids (youngest about 2), pulling a camper over gravel roads for a couple thousand miles? I look back on it now, and I wonder about my father’s definition of what a vacation was. But we did it—and lived to tell about it.

I don’t remember seeing it, but some say there was a sign at a junction on the highway: “CHOOSE YOUR RUT CAREFULLY, YOU WILL BE IN IT FOR THE NEXT 200 MILES.”

How many of you are sitting in about the same place you were the last time you were here? How many of you typically sit toward the front? Toward the back? Left? Right? What would happen if someone took your place?
We are people of habit. It is the routines and familiar that enable us to keep up with ordinary life. Regular meal times, sleep times, recreational routines and social schedules are all helpful in assisting the maintenance of a balanced lifestyle. But other habits are more destructive—ruts that carry us along unwittingly. From http://gdh.customer.netspace.net.au/Reflections/True/rut.html

Our repetitive behavior creates a habit. Bad behavior or destructive behavior—repeated—creates a bad habit. That’s how we get caught in a rut. That’s how we trap ourselves.

Ps 7:15 (KJV) He made a pit, and digged it, and is fallen into the ditch which he made.

Thomas Costain’s history, The Three Edwards, describes the life of Raynald III, a 14th-century duke in what is now Belgium. Grossly overweight, Raynald was commonly called by his Latin nickname, Crassus, which means “fat.”

After a violent quarrel, Raynald’s younger brother Edward led a successful revolt against him. Edward captured Raynald but did not kill him. Instead, he built a room around Raynald in the Nieuwkerk castle and promised him he could regain his title and property as soon as he was able to leave the room. This would not have been difficult for most people since the room had several windows and a door of near-normal size, and none was locked or barred. The problem was Raynald’s size. To regain his freedom, he needed to lose weight.

But Edward knew his older brother, and each day he sent a variety of delicious foods. Instead of dieting his way out of prison, Raynald grew fatter. When Duke Edward was accused of cruelty, he had a ready answer: “My brother is not a prisoner. He may leave when he so wills.” Raynald stayed in that room for 10 years and wasn’t released until after Edward died in battle. By then his health was so ruined he died within a year…a prisoner of his own appetite.

Habits can be something we do. But habits often begin with something we think—ruts in our hearts and minds. Spiritual ruts can be behavioral—but they can also be in our mind: when our thoughts keep traveling down the same path day after day.

For example, if you allow yourself to live in a negative place, if your “thinking is stinking” (as some say) and you do it often enough, your perspective becomes warped, your views twisted. You’re caught in a mental rut—a toxic attitude that will hold you back and keep you from moving on.

If you listen to a lie over and over, eventually that lie takes on a life of its own. It affects the way you think. It colors the way you see everything.

When a kid gets the message (through advertising or through media) that the only valuable people are beautiful people, that sets that young person up for disaster. If a Barbie or Ken doll becomes the standard in your mind, but every time you look in a mirror you see something that doesn’t measure up, that lie begins to wear a path in your thinking.

Prov 4: 18-25 (TEV) 18 The road the righteous travel is like the sunrise, getting brighter and brighter until daylight has come. 19 The road of the wicked, however, is dark as night. They fall, but cannot see what they have stumbled over… 23 Be careful how you think; your life is shaped by your thoughts. 24Never say anything that isn’t true. Have nothing to do with lies and misleading words. 25 Look straight ahead with honest confidence; don’t hang your head in shame.

Mental ruts can be habits, but they can also be hang-ups—destructive thinking that holds us back from the life of faith and promise that God wants us to live.

Sometimes they can be hurts—things others say: put-downs and insults. If we hear them often enough, we may begin to believe them ourselves—until we live constantly in defeat. We’re in a rut.

  • So if you’ve felt a sense of spiritual failure…
  • If you’ve struggled trying to find victory in your Christian walk…
  • If you’ve been caught in an endless cycle of destructive habits…
  • If you’ve been beaten down and discouraged by false statements…
  • If you’ve been held back from your God-given potential…limited in what God wants you to do—as though there’s a lid on your God’s plan…

You need to escape ruts like these. But how?

How can we change and get out of the rut? How can we come out on top and live positive, productive lives that honor God? How can we experience victory in our Christian walk?

Hebrews 11 tells us that spiritual victory begins with faith and confidence that God can get us out of the trouble we’re in. That chapter mentions people “who through faith conquered kingdoms” [spiritual kingdoms too], who “gained what was promised” [they got through the wilderness], and “whose weakness was turned to strength…who became powerful in battle…” [their victory didn’t depend on them…rather, it was God].

And 2 Cor 10:2-5 gives us several key principles for spiritual victory:

  1. (v 2) Don’t “live by the standards of this world”don’t limit yourself by the way the world thinks or the way the world operates.

Rom 12:2 says we should stop being conformed to the world and instead begin being transformed by the renewing of our mind.

If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation! (2 Cor 5:17) Believe it, receive it. Grow it.

Jesus said this it’s like a being seed: A kernel of wheat has to fall into the ground and die! If it doesn’t then it’s just a seed. But if it the old seed dies, then it can produce many new seeds. (John 12:24)

You can replace the old with the new; put off old ways; put on new ways (Eph 4:22-30. Col 2:8-15 and Col 3:2-14).

Matt 12:43-45 tells of a man who got rid of his old—but never brought in the new. He was freed of the demon for a while, but the demon came back and found an empty “house”—it was “unoccupied, swept clean and put in order.” So the demon came back along with seven other spirits more wicked than itself—so the man’s final condition was worse than when he started.

If all you do is find forgiveness and clean living—but you never fill the house up with God’s good things—you’ll be at risk of slipping back into the old ways (and worse)!

  1. (v 3) Don’t “wage war as the world does”don’t rely on human strength or depend on human ingenuity. When it comes to spiritual warfare, human strategies cannot win. To escape the ruts in the mind and heart, you need to fight a supernatural battle.
  2. (v 4) Use weapons of divine power (instead of the weapons of the world). Put your faith and trust in God; pray in the name of Jesus; pray in the Spirit (Eph 6:18); ask the Spirit to intercede for you (Rom 8:26).

In this same letter two chapters later Paul tells what he discovered: That God’s grace was what he needed—because God’s power became stronger as he became weaker. Paul felt his own weakness, and that’s when he could feel the protection of Christ’s power over him. “When I am weak,” he said, “then I am strong.”

  1. (v 4) Take the battle to the “strongholds.” Go on the offensive. You can attack the enemy’s fortresses. The “gates of hell will not prevail” when believers act in faith (Matt 16:18).

Where are these “strongholds”? Where do we do battle? Wherever the enemy holds ground. If he has captured territory through his deception and lies, it could mean that we have to do battle in our own hearts and minds.

Paul says we can tear down strongholds by demolishing arguments or imaginations or speculations (all these occur in the mind). He says we tear down strongholds by tearing down pretentions and proud ideas that set themselves up against God, by taking captive every thought and making it obedient to Christ.


Escaping Life’s Ruts