Jesus didn’t just tell us to be rebels. He lived as a rebel. He spoke the truth even though it made people hate Him, ultimately arrest and kill Him. Even though he was God Himself, He let us insult Him, disrespect Him, crucify Him, all the while offering forgiveness, offering mercy, and extending grace. He did not give us the judgment we deserve but the mercy we did not deserve. He gave His life to give us a new life. This week when it comes to your word, think of Jesus’ words before you speak. Let your words be honest.
God doesn’t want you to become a doormat. Don’t roll over and let others abuse you. This is about taking a stand without striking back. It’s about living out of the strength of who you are despite what other people do. You might say, “but that is not how the world works!” That’s the point. God wants to make a better world through your better reactions. When the world says it’s time for payback, be a rebel with mercy.
In every case, Jesus is saying when people come at you with their worst, give them God’s best. When people treat you unfairly, respond with grace and mercy. Standing on your rights is not nearly as important as walking in God’s love. The bad things others do to you is not nearly as important as the good things God can do through you.
The way you discover your gift is you start giving back and see where what you have to give makes the biggest impact. You want to talk about magic? Watch what happens when God uses your gifts to impact somebody by bringing some of His goodness and grace into another’s life. That’s when you see what true power can really do. The Gospel means that God wants you. Your gift mean that we need you. God has given you a spiritual gift, so discover and use your abilities.
It doesn’t matter what your employer said, what your parents may have said, or what your friends said--God says that as a follower, you’re chosen. You’re loved just as you are and your identity is complete in that. You can’t earn it, there’s nothing you can do to achieve it. You’re chosen. You’re also a priest. When you get up in the morning and you look at yourself in the mirror with disheveled hair and morning breathe, you say to yourself, “I’m chosen; I’m a royal priest, and I’m part of a community in the church.” That’s who God says we are. The question isn’t, do you feel chosen? The question is, do you believe God when He says you’re chosen? God loves to turn nobodies into somebodies. Embrace Your Identity.
Every person has strengths and abilities and they work together as a team to win. This is how the church community works best, we all use our gifts for God and for good helping others, leveraging what God has put in our hands. The last few weeks we had a Feed the City initiative to raise resources to buy food for 5000 families in need. We exceeded that goal, which is amazing! Some could give financially, and you leveraged what God gave you for others. You flexed a generosity gift. Some helped organize the food drive, and you leveraged your gift of administration. Some will hand out food, you will leverage your gift of serving and hospitality, of compassion and care, and you will impact families. Some will pray with those families in need of food and offer counsel and encouragement. You will leverage your gifts of prayer or teaching. All of us working together can make a huge impact. We are better together!
The Bible makes it clear that God gifts all Christ followers with spirit-enabled abilities. Notice that they are for the good of others. They’re meant to be a way you can give to other things that they cannot give themselves. Likewise, they’re gifted to give you something you cannot give yourself. In the original Greek language, the word for gift is charism, which is the noun form of the verb charis which means grace. Your gifts are literally a tangible form of God’s grace. You grace others with God’s gift.
Remember you’ve been chosen by God and you’re God’s special possession. That word possession in the original Greek language has this idea of something that’s acquired with great effort and thus set aside. This is how God feels about you. He chose you at great cost. You are a unique item. He doesn’t want you locked away but put on display. An example of someone He prizes and values. He’s already chosen you and is flooding your world with invitations to know Him.
James 5:16 says, “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” That word confess simply means to admit the truth. To fess up. To take ownership of the debt you owe to another. It is through this act of confession with others that we are healed. Confession feels like a risky thing, but it can be powerful. It can be confession to a dear friend who shares our faith or apologizing to someone we have hurt. You need to tame guilt with confession. Own your part of the problem and do what you can to make that relationship right. I’m telling you as your pastor and friend, this is your pathway to healing. It feels like walking into a mess, but it’s the only way you can ever be free.
If guilt is the ‘I owe you’ feeling, then anger is the ‘you owe me’ feeling. As these debts stack up in your heart, anger begins to grow. Look at how you deal with it. It sounds so counter-intuitive. The Bible says, “be kind, tenderhearted, forgiving one another.” (see Ephesians 4:32) The way you deal with anger is through forgiveness. You need to say in your heart, this person no longer owes me. You don’t ignore the debt. You don’t say it never happened, that it does not matter, or was no big deal. You say, it did happen, it was a big deal, it mattered a lot, but you no longer owe me. You cancel the debt. When you forgive your heart is freed up to be kind again. Your heart no longer has to collect from that other person.
So here is what you do when jealousy is running amok: you take those feelings to God. If you are jealous of what someone else has, don’t take it out on them…take it to God. Gather up all that discontentment in a huge pile and tell Him about it. Tell Him how you feel and what you need. Ask Him to help you. God can handle it. Don’t just grumble about what you don’t have. Celebrate Him for what you do have. Be grateful and be specific. Say to God, “Thank you for clothes I am wearing right now. Thank you for food I get to eat. Thank you that I am alive. Thank you for the people in my life that I can love.” Then begin to celebrate what God has given others.
People think forgiveness is a once and done kind of thing, like erasing a white board. It’s more like pulling weeds, you have to check every day. Stuff grows back. If you keep at it, eventually your heart gets more and more free. You start to be kind again. You start to be tender-hearted. Your compassion and joy come back. Your energy returns.
Jesus has come to offer forgiveness from the past so you can start to live with great expectation. This is the expectation of mercy and grace, rather than the expectation of judgement. You need to ask for it. You need to deal with the past or your past will deal with you. It may not be your own sin and mistakes you need to let go of. It may be the sins of others that give your past power to keep you down.
You may be here today and feel like your life is already over. You have made too many mistakes, squandered too many opportunities, and now it's just too late. Listen, it's never too late to start a new life. Jesus was dead, sealed in a tomb, and by the power of God He rose again. He didn’t come back to condemn the people that killed Him. He came back to forgive people and give them new life. He rose from the grave so you can rise up from your past. He rose up from the grave so you can rise above the stupid things you did, or the horrible things that happened. He rose up from the grave so you can rise up and have a new life. The Bible says, salvation is available so long as it's called today. Salvation is not about yesterday, you didn't miss out in your chance. Salvation is not about tomorrow, you don't have to wait and do penance or be worthy. Salvation is about today. Salvation is about now. Your past is a big deal, but Jesus is a bigger deal. It's never too late to have a brand-new life.
REJOICE even though things may be hard in your marriage right now. Rejoice, even though, work challenges continue to pile up. Rejoice, even though, you haven’t met the love of your life yet. Rejoice, even though, a friend has let you down. Rejoice, even though, someone went after you on social media. Rejoice, even though, your child wont sleep through the night. Rejoice, even though you don’t feel like you can change one more diaper. Rejoice, even though, your kids may be struggling right now. Rejoice, even though you may be facing the uncertainty of a move. Rejoice, even though, you keep giving in to sin and temptation. Rejoice, even though, your facing physical pain or illness. Rejoice, even though, things in your world seem out of control. Rejoice, even though, the headlines are crazy. Faith changes everything! We have a new birth in Christ. We have forgiveness, grace, and a second chance. We have a bright future, the hope of heaven, and an inheritance kept in Heaven for us. We can live with confidence today trusting in God’s power to guide us and protect us.
In Heaven, you don’t have a mixture of good and bad. It’s just all good all the time. It’s all joy and no heartbreak. It doesn’t get worse as you go along, not in Heaven. There’s no boredom in Heaven. It’s not a never-ending sing-along in the clouds. It’s described as a feast, a party, and a wedding. It’s described as a new Heaven and a new earth with purposeful work, unending exploration, and unfiltered delight because God himself is there. Most important of all, no more death. Love without parting. We don’t have that yet, but we hope for it. We’ll see those we’ve lost and never lose them again. With Jesus, we need never say goodbye, we need only say, ‘until we meet again.’ No more pain, no more loss, no more boredom, no more stress, no more disabilities, no more broken relationships, no more unmet longings. It's so awesome, we can only describe it by what it isn't. This is our inheritance held in Heaven.
You know what the number one promise in the Bible is? It also happens to be the main thing God tells people who are stressed out, overwhelmed and at the end of their rope. Here it is: I’ll be with you. “God, I don't know how this situation is going to work out.” I'll be with you. “I'm not sure I can go on.” I'll be with you. “God I'm too weak morally, spiritually, physically.” I'll be with you. “God I'm not smart enough.” I'll be with you. “God I'm not a bold enough.” I'll be with you. “God, I am totally overwhelmed and tired.” I'll be with you. “God, I don't know if I can handle it.” I'll be with you. “God, I feel like giving up!” I'll be with you and you will rise up! Listen, no matter how alone you feel, no matter how silent God seems, when you call out He listens. When you reach out, He is there. He is protecting you. You are not alone. In fact, often when God seems most distant, it's in those times He's actually closest.
You know what’s incredible? God tracked us down with His love. Wherever you are today, remember the cross, remember what Jesus did for you. Let it change your perspective. Some of us are struggling with failure and we feel so disappointed. But the cross reminds us God loves us unconditionally and we can recover from that failure. Some may be struggling at work or in relationships, but the cross reminds us of God’s care to help us. Some of you may feel like you are barely hanging on, but you look to Jesus and realize if He can carry all that He did, we can handle a lot more. He went all the way to death for us. They put Him in a tomb. Hope seemed to be lost, but it wasn’t. As we look towards Easter, it’s time to celebrate…it’s time to celebrate that He is alive again.
Some of you are intimidated to explain what faith has done in your life to someone, but every single one of you knows how to invite friends over for dinner or ask someone to come to church. Most likely there are people in your life who not only want to hear about your faith, but also want to experience it. This is the beauty of the community of God’s people. Some people need to belong before they believe. They want to experience what you’re talking about before they jump in. Therefore, invite them to come to your small group and meet some people who are bought into Jesus. Invite them to one of our church services so they can experience the community of God’s people gathering together to worship how we’ve experienced the good news of Jesus. In other words, it’s not all on you! You just need to share your story and invite people to come experience Jesus for themselves.
Since I became a Christian the road has not been easy, but you know what? I’ve been in contact with God. I have forgiveness from my sins. I know that ultimately His peace will prevail in my life. I have the hope of eternal life. I have a new reason to live. Yes, it’s hard. Yes, we suffer. But it all looks different on this side of becoming a follower of God. That’s how you break your story down. Give them the real deal. Give it to them straight. Don’t be intimidated by this. You’re just sharing your life, but you’re giving it some thought, so you’re ready. Nothing brings joy to your faith like sharing your faith with others.