Sunday, March 26, 2017

Back Against The Wall - Exodus 14:5-31

Have you ever felt like your back was against a wall? Ever been between a rock and a hard place, with nowhere to turn? Or maybe you’ve put in a lot of time going down some winding road of life only to find a dead end.

Moses was a great man, and a great leader. He’s a great role model for all men and fathers today! At this point in the story he has led God’s people from slavery to freedom, and now over a million of them are marching toward the Promised Land. It’s the Exodus from Egypt! Free at last for the first time in over 400 years. The New Testament confirms this is a picture of our salvation from sin, the wicked taskmaster that seeks to hold us in chains of bondage, bitterness, and burdens.

They are marching…rejoicing in their new freedom when suddenly they encounter... A shady picnic pavilion? No. A golden city of riches and happiness? Nope…not at all. They encounter a big brick wall...a problem.

THE PROBLEM

Let me ask you a question. Have you discovered that being saved doesn’t insulate nor isolate you from the problems of this world? Listen folks…salvation isn’t the end to all of our problems. Struggles and difficulties continue, and most times even increase after you get saved because now you have a new enemy coming after you! Pharaoh is a picture of Satan pursuing his losses.

We need to understand that the Christian life is not lived in straight lines. God sends detours along the way, but for our benefit. A straight line from Egypt to Canaan would have taken less than 2 weeks to travel but God takes them the long way around.

It seems like the cloud is leading in the wrong direction and the same happens to all of us. We have a goal, a destination in our mind, some place we want to go, something we want to become or achieve. Sometimes we even know that God is in it and wants us to get there, but we just can’t understand why it’s taking so long. Have you ever been there? Listen…God’s delays are not denials. Don’t be discouraged if God takes you on an alternate route. He knows what He’s doing!

Something else for us to remember… God knows what we can handle. If He led the Israelites in that straight line to the Promised Land, they would have passed right through the land of the Philistines…brutal warriors who were blood thirsty. They were definitely NOT ready for that. They weren’t warriors, they were slaves.

Now…if this detour God has them on isn’t enough, God then leads them right to the edge of the Red Sea, just as the Egyptian Army is sent to pursue them. Now they’re hemmed in and pinned down. There’s no way out. There are mountains on either side of them, a sea in front of them and Pharaoh’s army is fast approaching. It’s a dead end. Their backs are against the wall. You ever been there? The problem now turns to...

THE PANIC

Look again at verses 10-12, “As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them. They were terrified and cried out to the Lord. They said to Moses, Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!”

Essentially they were saying, “Gee…thanks a lot, Moses! We told you so but you wouldn’t listen. Let my people go…HA! You just had to have your way...and now we’re all going to die! They were directly questioning his leadership. God used him to lead them to freedom from slavery, and now they’re questioning his ability to hear anything from God and do the right thing. But God had prepared Moses for a time like this. While the Israelites are speaking words of fear, Moses speaks words of faith. Notice the commands he gives them…

DON’T BE AFRAID – This is the same thing the angel said to Mary when she found out she was pregnant with Jesus. It’s the same thing Jesus said to His disciples in their boat during the great storm. It’s the same thing the angel said to Mary Magdalene when Jesus’ body was missing from the tomb. In every single instance, God was saying, “You may not understand your circumstances, but don’t worry…don’t be afraid, I’m still in control!”

A little boy had only one line to say in the church play and he was scared to death. All he had to do was just walk out and say, “It is I, be not afraid.” So, he walked out, saw the big crowd and said, “It’s me, and I’m scared!”

Fear is when we can’t see God through our circumstances. Faith is when we see our circumstances...but trust God! The Israelites looked left and right, front and back, and there was no way out. But they forgot that there’s still another direction to look...and that’s up! Sometimes God puts our backs against the wall so we’ll do just that. Not only did Moses tell them to not be afraid…he told them to…

STAND STILL – Boy…we don’t like to be told to wait, do we? We want to do something. We want to try and help God out or help ourselves out. Just standing still is unthinkable in our society today. Some of the most popular words in advertising today are…now, instant, immediate, quick and fast.

I can take my car title and get some “fast cash” for the very low annual percentage rate of just 350%! I can get my oil changed at Speed Lube. I can eat fast food and go pick up my fast photos all in the same hour. And if someone is ahead of us in line, we pace back and forth impatiently waiting our turn. The reality is we don’t like to wait. No wonder the concept of waiting on God is foreign to us. But listen to what the Bible says...

Psalm 27:14, “Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.”

Isaiah 40:31, “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.”

Waiting on the Lord is when we quietly and calmly trust Him until He provides clear direction. It’s the opposite of panic. It’s different than trying to fix things or make things happen. Listen folks… God answers prayers but unless He says, “Yes,” we don’t like the answer. We don’t like to hear, “No.” We also don’t like it when His answer is slow. We take that as a no as well! Or when His answer is grow you’re not ready…we take that as a no too. We want Him to say, “Go!” when so often His answer is, “Stop!” We have to learn to let go and let God take over. If God did let us have our way we’d quickly see how little we can do in our own strength and we’d never see what God can do in His time and in His way!

What if Moses hadn’t been a good leader? For one thing, if he had taken a vote they all would have returned to slavery. How about if he had weighed his options…humanly speaking…and tried to make a way across the sea. What were his options? Stand still, stay with God, and don’t try to get ahead of Him. The Israelites could have tried in their own strength to swim across the Red Sea, but by waiting, they could see God part the sea for them.

THE PROVISION

Notice that God sent His miracle in three stages…

THE DIVERTING OF THE CLOUD – God gave them a cloud to guide them…not a compass or a GPS. The cloud not only guided them but sheltered them. The cloud moved behind them like a wall between them and their enemies. Listen folks…He’s not only our Savior…He’s also our Protecor!

THE DIVIDING OF THE WATERS – Little Johnny was asked by his mother what he had learned in Sunday School. Well, Mom, our teacher told us how God sent Moses behind enemy lines on a rescue mission to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. When he got to the Red Sea, he had his engineers build a pontoon bridge, and all the people walked across safely. He used his walkie-talkie to radio headquarters and call in an air strike. They sent in bombers to blow up the bridge and all the Israelites were saved. “Now, Joey, is that REALLY what your teacher taught you?” his mother asked. Well, no, Mom, but if I told it the way the teacher did, you'd never believe it!

Scripture says the God parted the sea and all the Israelites crossed on dry ground. Listen folks…I don’t have a problem at all in believing this miracle. God made the sea and the dry ground under the water and it’s all under His control.

THE DROWNING OF THE EGYPTIANS - Pharaoh reaped what he sowed. Didn’t he? What was it he had done to all the male Jewish babies? Drowned them!

Folks…never forget that God works in His own time and in His own way. Maybe your back is against the wall. Take Moses’ advice. Don’t be afraid…stand still and see what God can do. God didn’t deliver His people from slavery only to drown them when they were cornered and God didn’t save you to only forget about you now.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Saved To Serve - Matthew 25:14-30

This parable found here in Matthew 25 is told during Jesus teaching about the end times. At the beginning of the chapter He challenged us to be watching and ready for His return...now we’re told to be working until He returns. So, we’re not just to be looking for Him, but laboring for Him because the time is short. There’s a lot to do and once eternity begins we’ll wish we had done more for Him!

Folks listen…if you’re a serious Christian, then Jesus is your boss, and you should be working for Him. Don’t be one of those “Sunday Only” Christians. As children of God, we aren’t just part time Christians…and we should be out serving Him full time. Far too many Christians have the attitude that they’ve been saved to sit…and they do it faithfully. We need to understand that we’ve NOT been saved to sit but saved to serve! He is our King and we are His servants and folks…it’s a privilege to be His servant.

Psalm 84:10, “Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked.”

There are two periods of time covered in this parable… The present time of responsibility and the future time of accountability. Right now, we need to live in the present, but be thinking about the future! Understand that the Bible teaches that we will one day be held accountable for what we do for the Lord in this life.

Don’t give God the leftovers of your life…give Him your best! Listen…you CAN and SHOULD make God a priority and decide just like Joshua did when he said, “As for me and my house, we WILL serve the Lord!”

Remembering the future time of accountability will turn a seat warmer into a servant of God! The reality is if you won’t do what He’s called you to do then He might as well just take you on to heaven. I talked to you about your giving a few weeks ago. Listen folks…you can’t buy God off...I’m glad that you tithe, but that is not why God left you here. He has a job for you to do…people to reach with the Gospel. So, with that said, let me talk to you first today about…

THE SERVANT'S ABILITY

In the parable we read, a talent is money, not an ability, but the application is the same. In each case, everyone got a different amount, but they all got a lot…even if it was less than one of the others. Think of it this way. Let’s say the one who got 5 talents got about 20 years of wages! The one who got 2 talents got 10 years wages and the one who got the single talent got 5 years or wages. The point is not who got more, but that they all received a significant amount.

The Master, of course, represents Jesus, who said in John 14, “I am going to prepare a place for you.” We are the servants in the parable. The talents represent all of our abilities, our possessions, and our opportunities to serve the Lord. Listen folks…we all have time, talents, and treasure to use for the Lord and the key is not how much of each you have, but how faithful you are with whatever you have.

Everyone has been given something. We all can serve God in some way! We’re all different because we are a body and each one of us are parts of that body. We need each other, and when we aren’t filling our place in the body, there’s a hole left over. That’s not fair to others, to God, and not even to you! Now, many of you can do great things that I can’t do. I can do some things I was called and trained for...but we all are necessary to God.

Peter and Andrew were brothers, but they were very different. One was loud, the other quiet, one spoke to crowds, the other was more personable one on one. One had more strengths but also more weaknesses, and Peter wouldn’t ever have seen thousands saved if he hadn’t been won to the Lord by his own brother!

Folks…we need to quit burying our talents and use what we’ve been given to serve God! We need to take our duty as Christians seriously and quit being satisfied with just warming a pew. And pay attention to the parable. God didn’t reward great talent…God rewarded the faithfulness of His servants. You might feel like you can’t do much but there is something we can all do…we can be faithful with what we have!

Now that we’ve looked at the servant’s ability, let’s take a look at…

THE SERVANT'S ACTIVITY

Notice again verses 16 and 17, “The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more.”

Listen folks…don’t expect God to give you more until you’re faithful with what you’ve got. Do what you know and then you’ll grow. There are no skipping steps! Did you know there are certain things that all of us are called to do as Christians? Things like pray, read our Bibles and sharing our faith. How in the world do we expect God to reveal more of His will to us when we won’t be faithful in the things He’s called all of us to do?

God has blessed me with a great church and a ministry that I never dreamed of when I was starting out in my service to the Lord. God has allowed me to do things in my ministry that have just amazed me. And not because of me…but because of Him!!! All I’ve done is tried to commit myself to doing whatever He’s called me to do. So let me ask you…are you using your talents? I can guarantee…if God can use me, He can definitely use you!! You can serve the Lord!

And it’s true, we are happiest when we’re doing what God has called us to do, but we need reminded of something important. God doesn’t call us to do what WE want to do…He calls us to do what HE wants us to do.

Now…I’m passionate about this, because we live in a day of convenient Christianity, and today more than ever people do what they want to do, not what they need to do…not what God wants them to do! We decide what we’re going to do in our service to God and then expect Him to rubber stamp it instead of asking, “Lord, show me what it is you want me to do and where you want me to serve You.” When we should be asking, “Where am I needed?” We’re guilty of asking, “What’s in it for me?”

Let’s get back to the parable. As we’ve seen, the first 2 servants took what was given to them and immediately went to work. What about the 3rd servant? Verse 15 tells us that each of them received an amount “according to their ability.” So yes…he didn’t get as much as the other 2 but there was still talent and still an expectation from the master for him to be faithful with what he was given. Instead, we’re told that he went out and dug a hole and buried what he was given and did nothing with it. And why?? Because he was afraid of messing up.

I can guarantee that you can NEVER go wrong serving God. Do you think those of us who commit ourselves to God and commit ourselves to a lifetime of service to the Lord aren’t afraid of messing up? Folks…I’m afraid all the time that I’m going to mess up what He’s called me do. But we can’t let fear keep us on the sidelines. We need to understand that we serve a God who loves us and will empower us to do what He’s called us to do. NEVER forget what Philippians 4:13 teaches us… We CAN DO all things through Christ!!! What things? All the things He’s called us to do.

The 3rd servant in this parable was given one share. This is the person who could help, but for some reason they don’t. Maybe it’s unwillingness or maybe it’s fear or laziness. Maybe they don’t feel qualified. Listen folks…let me give you the secret to serving God. The secret to open a lifetime of service to God is recognizing that the best ability you can have is availability.

As I shared with you at the beginning of the sermon today, we’re living in the present time of responsibility but folks…a future time of accountability is coming.

Verse 19 of our parable says that after a long time, the Master returned to settle accounts with the servants. Listen folks…we need to understand that the long time is over and Jesus could come back at any moment. Are you ready? When He returns, will He find you being faithful to your calling? Listen to what Paul said…

2 Corinthians 5:10, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.”

We are all going to stand before God one of these days and give account for the things we’ve done for Him in this life…both the good and the bad. Now I don’t know about you, but I want to hear Him say, “Well done good and faithful servant.” But that won’t happen by accident. You MUST commit your life to Him and then do everything you can to live up to that commitment.

So let me ask you today… How are you doing? Are you serving or are you sitting?