Sermon: Shiny Livestock vs. Intimacy With God

This is a transcript for the sermon linked in the title below:

Shiny Livestock vs. Intimacy with God

Scripture: Exodus 32

Before we dive into today’s passage, let’s do a quick review – let’s get caught up to where Israel is at this point in their story. Because we skipped a few chapters. Those of you who who’ve been paying attention know we skipped from chapter 20 all the way to chapter 32. Don’t worry, we’re going to get back to it. You’re not going to miss anything.

So since chapter 20, Moses has been up on the mountain. He’s been hanging out with God. God is giving him the written copy of the Law, and He’s also giving him a plan for the Tabernacle, which we’re going to look at next month, so you’ve got to make sure – just keep coming. It’s going to be great.

So He’s giving him this blue print, and he’s been up there at this point for a little over a month. In chapter 19, God had said to Moses, “Ok, gather all of the Israelites around the foot of the mountain. But what I want you to do is, you need to put a barrier around the foot of the mountain so that they actually can’t touch it. In fact, if even a sheep touches the foot of the mountain, you need to stone it.”

Moses is up on the mountain and there’s a cloud around it, and the people are down at the foot, and they’re looking around like, “Well, now what?. This guy who showed up out of nowhere and told us that God told him to lead us out of Egypt, he’s been gone. Now what do we do?” So what do they do? Well, Ashley read that for us.

We’ve got this problem where, Israel is standing at the foot of the mountain, but they see this cloud, and they’ve been out in the wilderness, and they don’t know if they’re going to live or die. The primary problem they have is that they have never had the opportunity to develop intimacy with God. And that’s a little bit of where I’m going today. So before we really dive in, let’s get everybody on the same page, and let’s really talk about what are the things that happen when we know God really, really well?

The first thing is this: When we have intimacy with God, we know His character. In a couple of weeks – I don’t want to steal the thunder of Benjamin – but in a couple of weeks we’re going to look at my absolute, 100% favorite passage of Scripture where God tells Moses, “This is Who I Am”. Of all the things God could tell Moses, He says “This is Who I Am”. And He says, in part, that He is compassionate. He is gracious. He is full of mercy. He is faithful. But He’s also just, and He cannot stand injustice. When His people cry out to Him, that is when He proves Himself to be compassionate and merciful and gracious.

The second thing that happens when we get to know God really, really well is that we know His intentions toward us. Romans 8:28 – a lot of us know this verse – tells us that God works out all things for the good of those who love Him. Everything God does for us is for our good and for His glory. Because He is omniscient – because He is all-knowing – He knows in any given situation what the absolute best thing for you is. And His promise is that He’s always going to do that. So His intention toward us is for good. And we know His intention toward us because we know His character.

And then lastly, we know His plans for us. John 3:16 and 17 – everybody learns those verses in Sunday School – He sent Jesus to die for us so that we don’t ever, ever have to be separated from Him. His plan for us is always going to be good, and it’s always going to be that we are with Him.

So that’s what we’re talking about today. We’re talking about this idea of intimacy. But what we see in today’s passage is the opposite of that. The people of Israel did not know God intimately. So in verse 1, what we see is the people’s lack of intimacy. God had, again, called Moses, Moses came, led them out of Egypt, but at this point, they didn’t know His character. They didn’t know that He was compassionate, and merciful, and full of grace. Because at this point, all that they had seen of Him so far was this: They came out of Egypt, and He split the Red Sea wide open, and they walked through on dry land. And then they turn around, and He’s putting it back where it belongs, on top of the army of Egypt. Then, they saw Him open up a rock and water came pouring out of it. They saw Him defeat the Amalakite army who had come out to attack them, in crazy ways.

They had seen this cloud with them all the time filled with thunder and lightning. They had seen They had seen this pillar of blazing fire in the night sky. So at this point, all they knew of God was that He was absolutely terrifying. They were scared of Him. So how, if they were scared of this God, how can they be intimate with Him?

Now the other issue was, unlike the gods they had seen in Egypt, they didn’t know what this God looked like. So what they do - in the absence of Moses their leader, in the absence of intimacy with God, in the absence of any sort of belief that He has good planned for them – they decide they need something physical and tangible to lead them. So they go to Aaron and say, “Hey Aaron, can you make us a god? We need, we need something. Can you just do a thing for us?” And Aaron goes, “Sure. No problem. Give me all your earrings”.  

The irony again is that they are standing at the foot of the mountain with the very representation of God’s glory hovering over them. They had a visual representation of God. But it wasn’t enough for them. So the Israelites, in their desire for a god they can see and touch, they traded intimacy with the one true God, the God who had rescued them and who had great plans for them. So instead of chasing after Him, they end up chasing after this shiny model of livestock over here. They replaced a God they couldn’t see with a god they could see because they lacked intimacy with God.

What about Aaron? Ok, Aaron had a front row seat to what God did in Egypt. If you remember, Aaron was actually God’s mouthpiece because Moses was over there saying, “Nope, you can’t send me. I don’t speak well. You’ve got to send somebody else.” So God said, “Ok, I’ll send Aaron with you. Aaron can be my mouthpiece”.

Aaron spoke the words of God to Pharaoh, so you would think that Aaron had developed some sort of intimacy with Him. Aaron doesn’t have this intimacy with God, so he doesn’t fear God. When we talk about “the fear of God” we mean like honor of Him, respect of Him, not like we’re terrified of Him like the Israelites were. But what did he fear? He feared the people. Because he saw that the people were rising up, and kind of getting a little bit upset, and so when they said to him, “Hey, come make us a god”, he was like, “Sure. Anything you want. No problem.”

So Aaron trades His intimacy with God. Instead of intimacy, he goes to fear – and as we’ll see now – he lies. Any of you who have kids know, when kids are afraid they’re about to get in trouble, what’s their usual go-to? They lie, hoping that if you can believe they didn’t do the thing that you think they did, they won’t get in trouble. This is what Aaron does. So now, verses 21-24:

21 Then Moses asked Aaron, “What did these people do to you that you have led them into such a grave sin?” 22 “Don’t be enraged, my lord,” Aaron replied. “You yourself know that the people are intent on evil. 23 They said to me, ‘Make gods for us who will go before us because this Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt—we don’t know what has happened to him!’ 24 So I said to them, ‘Whoever has gold, take it off,’ and they gave it to me. When I threw it into the fire, out came this calf!”

Weird. Aaron doesn’t know God’s character, so he doesn’t fear the consequences of his sin, but he does fear the people. Aaron doesn’t know God’s intentions, so he doesn’t trust the person He had sent to lead them out of Egypt. And he doesn’t know God’s plan, so he did whatever felt right to him in the moment. And when Moses confronted him about it, he lied.

 

But let’s look at something really interesting. Go back for a second to verse 5. It says, “When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of it and made an announcement: ‘There will be a festival to the Lord tomorrow’”. Unlike the Israelites, Aaron doesn’t intend for the shiny livestock to flat-out replace God. He just adds it to God. And in doing so, he corrupts the people’s worship of God.

Sometimes the shiny livestock that we find ourselves chasing after is something that is tangible, something that we can hold onto and place our hope and our trust in. But sometimes it ends up being what we call “God Plus”. God plus money. God plus a nice vacation. Something in addition to God, and that’s what we see in Aaron’s chasing after this shiny livestock over here.

Let’s contrast the people’s and Aaron’s experience with God with Moses’ experience with Him. Moses me God for the first time when he was out hiding in the wilderness. He had run for his life, decided “You know what? This being a shepherd thing, totally cool with me. I will be out here, it’ll be great. No one talks to me. Everybody leaves me alone.” That’s kind of how I feel some days. So God meets Moses and calls him out of his wilderness of hiding into what a friend of mine calls “terrified obedience”. And it’s just this idea that, “Ok God, I don’t know what You’re doing, but I’ll follow You, I’ll trust You.”

So God tells Moses, “Leave the mountain. Go down, because the people have gotten completely out of control.” They’re worshipping an idol, and God is just fed up with them at this point. And He tells Moses, “I’m just going to destroy them and start over with you”.

But look at what Moses does, and we’ll look at verse 11. “But Moses sought the favor of the Lord his God. ‘Lord, why does Your anger burn against Your people You brought up out of the land of Egypt?’” Let me just stop us for a second. Do you notice how God and Moses keep putting the people on each other? “’Why does Your anger burn against Your people You brought up out of the land of Egypt with great power and a strong hand? Why should the Egyptians say, ‘He brought them out with an evil intent, to kill them on the mountain and eliminate them from the face of the earth’? Turn from Your fierce anger and relent concerning this disaster You’ve planned for Your people. Remember Your servants, Abraham, Isaac, and Israel. You swore to them by Yourself and declared, ‘I will make your offspring as numerous as the starts in the sky, and will give your offspring all this land that I have promised, and they will inherit it forever’. So the Lord relented concerning the disaster He had said He would bring on His people.”

Moses’ intimacy with God allowed him the privilege of arguing for and interceding for the people and changing God’s mind. He knew the character of God so well that he knew that what God was threatening to do was outside of His character. He knew God’s intentions for Israel and he reminded God of them – not that God forgot, but he just brought them to the forefront of his argument. He knew God’s plans and he boldly asked God, “God, keep your promises to Your people”.

Now, I can only speak for myself, but I would be willing to bet that every person in this room would choose intimacy with God over chasing after shiny livestock. And I’d be willing to bet that every person in this room, if asked, would want the kind of close relationship that Moses had with God. I mean, for one thing, to be able to talk God into and out of things? That could come in handy, couldn’t it?

But it’s more than that. To be so close to God that you know His character, and His intentions, and His plans? This provides that kind of peace that Paul talks about that passes all understanding. And this provides a faith that is so strong, it can overcome everything. It’s this faith that, in the face of a sick child or a job loss, we stand firm on that faith because we know that God has good planned for us. That God intends for us to be light in the world for Him. That He’s going to come through, one way or another. We are going to see His faithfulness.

This is the kind of intimacy that gives us as a church the confidence to believe that whoever He calls to lead this church is going to be the right person for us. He knows. This is His church. This is absolutely His church.

 

So how do we develop the kind of intimacy that Moses had with God? This kind of intimacy that gives us peace, this kind of intimacy that gives us this super strong faith? Any kid who’s been in Sunday School knows exactly what I’m about to say. And I bet all of you do too. This is no rocket surgery. This is really simple stuff.

First thing we do? We develop intimacy through regular conversations with God. This is what Paul meant when he said, “Pray without ceasing”. It’s that regular give and take.

Second, we develop intimacy through studying what He has revealed of Himself in His Word. While Exodus 34 tells us a lot about who He is, there is so much more in there. You could read the Bible cover-to-cover and learn three new things about God. And even what you learn every time you sit down and study Scripture is only going to scratch the surface of who He is.

And finally, we develop intimacy with Him by talking to each other about Him.

Knowing these answers – knowing these Sunday School answers of pray, read your Bible, be in fellowship with each other – it’s not enough. If you want a faith that is strong enough to sustain you through whatever wilderness you end up in, you’re going to need to make getting to know God your first priority. First priority? Yup, your first priority. More important than work. More important than taking your kids to soccer, or the beach, or the Giants game. More important than anything else in your life is your relationship with God.

 

When your relationship with God is your first priority, what you’re going to find is that everything else – your marriage, and your finances – they start to fall into place. Now, I’m not saying that when your relationship with God is your number one priority, life is perfect. I would never, ever, ever, ever say that. And I can’t say it because Jesus didn’t. Jesus said, “In this world, you are going to have trouble. But don’t worry about it. I’ve already overcome”. And it’s having that faith in the One who has already overcome that gives us the ability to stand strong.

Over the years, what happens is that as you continue to pursue your relationship with God, your Enemy starts to notice and take it seriously. So if this is a commitment that you end up making – “You know what? I’m going to chase after God with everything in me; He is going to be my number one priority” – you are putting a spiritual target on your back. It’s just a fact of life. We’ve seen this when people are growing in their faith, and then all of a sudden, there’s a cancer diagnosis, and they have a choice to make about, “Am I going to trust God or am I going to live in fear?”

We’ve seen it in our church over the years. We’ve seen things happen here that have very, very clearly had some spiritual undertones. We see people get mad and leave when they don’t like a decision that’s been made. We see people stop giving in churches because “I don’t like the color of the carpet that was chosen, so I’m just not going to tithe anymore”. These are things that happen in churches. Already, right now, we’re seeing people divide into camps over who they want our next pastor to be.  

This is the effect of complaining and bitterness in our midst. When we choose chasing after the shiny livestock. When we choose not to make chasing after God our first priority. But here’s the thing: Every week there are faithful men, women, students, and children who show up at this campus. They show up to worship this God. They show up to study about God. They show up to intercede for the people in this church and in this community. They show up to talk to each other in Community Groups about what God is doing.

God is doing things in this church. I have no doubt about it. I have no doubt about it because of those things that are happening with the spiritual undertones. If God wasn’t up to something – if we as His people hadn’t said, “You know what, God? We are Your people. We are going to follow You with everything we’ve got – Satan would leave us alone. We could just be whatever church on whatever corner of whatever street that gets together on Sunday morning because it’s the thing to do. We are not that church. We are the church of God. We are His people. We have been bought with the blood of Jesus Christ, and we belong to Him. And there are people in this room who know that with every fiber of their being.

The temptation we face when we choose to chase after the shiny livestock of our own desires – those things that either we want to completely replace God with or the things we want to add God to – is that, like Israel, in our own proverbial wilderness, we get scared. We get complainy and whiny – I’m making up words now. But if we give into that temptation, we’re going to be known as a people who, we complain, we whine, and we’re totally ineffective in ministry. 

But that’s not this church. This church is sending out missionaries. This church is feeding the hungry. This church is clothing people who need it. This church has the opportunity this afternoon to meet with some of those missionaries and hear about what they’re doing in the Middle East and in Central Asia.

This church has the opportunity to grab onto God with everything we’ve got and trust Him for this next season. But we can only do that corporately if we do that individually. So we have a decision to make today: Are we going to chase after the shiny livestock that makes us feel good, that gives us the comfort and peace that we want? Or are we going to actively pursue a deeper relationship with God? No one is going to be able to make this decision for you, not even God Himself. I heard somebody say once that God is a gentleman – He will never force His way in. He provides the invitation, but He doesn’t bang down the door. That’s totally up to us to accept that invitation.

If we keep reading in chapter 32, we see that there are dire consequences when we decide not to follow God. I’m going to let you do that reading before you take your nap this afternoon – it’s great naptime reading, trust me. So the rest of 32.

 

So if you’re ok chasing after the shiny livestock, you guys are done. I’m done talking to you. You can check out. You can, I don’t know, is there a game today? You can check on that. Totally up to you.

But if you are ready to take your faith to the next level, if you are ready to dive in even deeper than you think you already have, lean in. Here’s what you need to do: First of all, start every day with Him. Find a Bible reading plan and read it. But don’t just read it so you can check it off. As you’re reading, ask the Spirit to show you something, to teach you something. And what you might find happens is, you’re supposed to read Colossians chapter 3, the whole thing, and you get to verse 6? And all of a sudden, you can’t get past verse 6. It’s ok. Sit with that. Mull it over. Talk to God about it. Ask the Spirit to show you, “What is it in this verse that You want me to know?” And if you never get to the rest of the verses in that chapter? That is 100% ok. This isn’t about making sure you’ve read the Bible in a year. This is about getting in so deep that the only way up is the grab onto God’s hand.

Read the Gospels. Jesus is God. So when we read the Gospels, we look at what He said, and what He did, and how He treated people, and it teaches us His character. Read the Gospels. And teach your children what it looks like to study Scripture, not just read it, but to study it. Let them catch you first thing in the morning with you Bible, and you just so deep in God’s Word.

Talk to Him about how you’re feeling in the morning as you’re getting ready – getting ready to go to school and to work. Are you anxious, is something frustrating you? Talk to Him about it. He already knows. But maybe as you talk to Him, you’ll get some insight into His character, into His intentions for you throughout the day, into His plan for you in the day. Ask Him to remind you that He is right there. We don’t have to go to the mountain with the big cloud. And teach that to your kids. Teach your kids – even the tiny ones – that they can talk to God whenever, wherever, about whatever they want.

And talk to other people about what God is doing. When a friend comes to you for advice, that is such a great opportunity for you to say, “Let me tell you what God has done for me. Let me tell you how it worked out, and how my faith grew because of that”. When someone comes to you complaining about something, remind them who God is. Change the nature of the conversation by changing the subject of the conversation. Talk to your kids as you’re driving to school, as you sit around the dinner table if you get to do that from time to time, talk to them about what they’re learning about God. Again, modeling this for the next generation, that this is – the God who we serve – we trust Him so completely that He is our number one priority.

The more you do these things, the more they’ll become second nature to you. And the more you do these things, the more you’ll actually miss them when you skip them. Now, you need to know that I am not a morning person by any stretch of the imagination. Not even a little bit. I do not understand why morning has to be so early. And I do not understand why we have to do it every single day. Why? But a few years ago, I decided that I was going to make God my number one priority, and that, as much as I wanted to stay in my cozy bed, I needed to get myself up early, and I needed to spend some serious time with my Father.

Fast forward a few years, now, it’s my favorite time of day, when I get to get up, get my coffee, get my breakfast, and go sit in my comfy chair with my Bible and just read, and learn, and pray. And if I skip it one morning, I miss it later in the day. My attitude is wrong, everything feels off. And I will tell you this: If I had not started doing that a few years ago, I would not be standing here today. The depression and the anxiety that I have dealt with for pretty much my entire life absolutely would have taken over.

Yes, medication helps, and I am so, so grateful for it. But just being on medication could only do so much for me, because I was chasing after shiny livestock. I was looking for things to replace God. I was looking for things to add to God, because in my mind, He wasn’t enough I needed more. But over the last four months – since I got here – God has continued to stretch and grow my faith. And I know that He has got even more for me to do. Because this is the thing about when God starts to stretch and grow your faith: There’s no limit.

We sing this song, Oceans, where it talks about, ya know, “God, bring me out into the water, where my faith is without borders”, all this stuff. For the longest time, I decided I could not sing that song because I did not mean those words. I didn’t want God to stretch my faith. That’s scary and painful, and uh uh, not doing it. But there was a point in my time with Him one morning when He stopped me dead in my tracks on a particular verse. And He made me sit with that verse for three days. I couldn’t get away from it. And at the end of those three days, I said, “Ok, I will trust You with this. Whatever it is You want for me, I will trust You”. And a few months later, I moved to California, a place I had been to for all of 48 hours previous to this, and that was like 10 years ago, moved to a town I had never heard of to a church I had never heard of, that was in transition and change. I moved across the country to this church that, in these last four months, I have fallen so deeply in love with. I feel like I’ve gotten to know about 10 of you. But man, is God at work in this church, and it’s incredible to watch.

When we get to know God, when we trust Him a little bit more every day, when we know Him intimately, when we trust Him enough to tear down the shiny livestock, to take away those things that have brought us this false sense of comfort and peace, and to give us Himself – when we are able to do that, we will find the future He has for us, the plans He has for us, the intentions He has for us are far, far better than we ever could have imagined. And I tell you that as someone who has seen it myself.

This is the kind of life I want to live every single day. There is no greater adventure you could go on than saying “yes” to God. There is no greater adventure He will ever take you on than when you say, “You know what, God? I’m going to choose to trust You 100% with every aspect of my life. Everything”.

There’s this temptation sometimes to say, “Ok God, You can have this, and You can have this. No wait, not that. I need that back”. Believe me when I tell you, if you will choose to live completely open-handedly, if you will take that step toward the mountain, toward the glory of God, He is going to show you incredible things. That is the life I want to live. And my prayer for this church is that you want to live it too.

 

Let’s pray.

God, we can be constantly in awe of You because every time we turn around, You show us something new. God, let us not be like the Israelites who trade what can’t be seen for what can be seen because it’s easy. God, let us not be like Aaron who tries to add things to You because You’re not enough. But God, will You help us develop the kind of friendship and intimacy that Moses had with You so that no matter what You ask us to do, we can say “yes” and step out in terrified obedience. God, tear down anything in our lives that is not  of You. Anything in our lives that is distracting us from You. God, teach us to trust You no matter what, because You are unendingly trustworthy. God, You are worthy of all of the glory. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Sermon: Emmanuel in Tent Form

This is a transcript of the sermon linked in the title below:

Emmanuel in Tent Form

Scripture: Hebrews 9:1-12; Exodus 25

How many of you had gotten the ELife and did the “Read Ahead” this week? Anybody do that? Well, I apologize in advance that you did a lot of reading, but I admire your commitment. I applaud your commitment.

So, yeah, we’re supposed to be in Exodus 37-39, but Benjamin’s not here, so I’m going to go rogue. We are in Hebrews, chapter 9, and what I would like you to do is reach into your bulletin and pull out this yellow sheet, because like verse 5 says, there’s just too much detail for us to go through. But we will refer to this sheet, and it will help you kind of get an idea of what’s going on.

So, good morning! For those of you who don’t know, my name is Amy Ickes. I moved here about five months ago – I actually had my five month anniversary last week – and when I moved here five months ago, I left my family on the other side of the country. My parents are in New Jersey, my brother and his family are in North Carolina, and I’m all the way over here in California. We’ve had a lot of phone calls with each other where we’ve just talked for hours, and hours, and hours about what’s going on in our lives.

With the beauty of technology, we’ve gotten to do some FaceTiming so we can actually see each other. When I FaceTime with my parents, I get to see the cat. Those of you who know me know that’s a good thing, not a bad thing. So it’s just, we have these opportunities to be able to talk to each other, and to even see each other. But my mom’s here this weekend. My mom’s here this weekend, so we have had the opportunity to actually be in each other’s presence. We’ve gotten to experience things together that normally, I would just call on the phone and say, “Yeah, this is what I did today; this is what it’s like”, and I can send her some pictures. So when I went to Yosemite a few weeks ago with the high schoolers, I got to take some pictures of that. Got to go to Lake Tahoe a while ago, sent some pictures of that.

But there’s something about being with her. Yesterday, we drove up and went to the summit of Mt. Diablo. It was just – the opportunity to be with her. That’s been missing. And I didn’t realize how much I’d been really missing it until she was here.

So we’ve been following the story of the Israelites out of Egypt. God has brought them out of Egypt. He’s brought them over here to the Wilderness. (If you remember, last time I preached, this (to the left) is the Wilderness, this is the Mountain over here.) So He’s brought them over here to the Wilderness. And what He has done is, in the form of this pillar of cloud by day and fire by night, He has had this physical representation of Himself among the people. They’ve been able to look at it and say, “Yeah, that’s the cloud – that’s God’s glory over there”. But there’s been this disconnect for them.

And so in Exodus 25, God says to Moses, while Moses is up on the Mountain getting the Law, God says to Moses, “Ok, here’s what I want you to do: I want you to build a Sanctuary, where My presence will dwell among you.

It was this thing that God wanted them to build so that His presence could dwell – could live – among them. So no longer was His presence going to be this pillar of cloud and pillar of fire, kind of hovering over the Mountain. He was actually going to come down into their camp to be with them. And so God shows Moses these plans. These plans that are a representation of what Heaven is like. So Moses gets to see these holy, heavenly blueprints. And so if you go back and read in Chapter 25, God’s like, “Ok, I’ve been with you. Now I really want to be with you. I’m going to move in with you.”

So God asked him to build this Tabernacle. Those of you who did the Read Ahead know the incredible detail to which Moses kept the records. You’ve got this [diagram of the Tabernacle]. We’re going to save you some math – that is a huge thing for those of us who don’t math.

The writer of Hebrews decided – if you have read the book of Hebrews, you know the whole idea of Hebrews is that the writer is setting up this contrast between the Old Covenant, which is the Old Testament, these laws that Moses had, this Tabernacle they went to, and the New Covenant, and that’s where we live. We live on the other side of history from the cross. And it sets up this New Covenant. So what we’re going to see this morning is this contrast in the Tabernacle itself between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant.

We’ll start with verse 5 in Hebrews 9, and again, verse 5 is this great, great statement of, “It is not possible to speak about these things in great detail right now”. So the first thing you’ll see if you [look at the diagram of the Tabernacle] is the bronze altar. The bronze altar was – the people would come into that courtyard you see there – that was the first thing they would come to. And the bronze altar is where they would bring their lamb or their bull or their pigeons, or whatever it was they were bringing as their sacrifice for their sin.

What they would do is they would bring it over and the priest would come out and meet them, and the person would confess what their sin was. And they would lay their hands on the head of the animal. And then the priest would slaughter it and drain the blood and burn the animal on this altar. And as the smoke and the smell went up to God – so God likes BBQ – as the smoke and the smell goes up to God, He smells it and this is the atoning sacrifice for that person’s sin.

The problem with this system is that every time they sinned, they had to go do it again. So the people would come in, they would walk into the courtyard – they had the big altar there – the altar was seven feet by seven feet, so we’re talking, this thing’s big. So they would walk in and they would go through this sacrifice ritual. So then after that, the priest who was on duty would move over to where you see it says “brazen laver”. That’s a fancy word for a really shiny sink. So they would go over – the priest would go over – and the priest would wash his hands and wash his feet, and kind of prepare himself for the next step. 

So the next step then is the priest goes into the actual Tabernacle. The Tabernacle itself is the tent. The courtyard just encircled the Tabernacle to keep people and animals from accidentally going in there. You know, sometimes your small children go running off, this was to keep your small children from running off into this sacred space.

So the priest would then go into the first room of the Tabernacle, and our passage talks about, this is the Holy Place. This first room in the Tabernacle, it has a lamp stand. This is the only source of light in the Tabernacle. So the priest would go in and he would trim the lamps and make sure it was filled with oil because this lamp had to keep burning constantly because it was this symbol of God’s presence with them – the light that this room had.

Then he would go across the room to this table that was sitting there. And on this table are loaves of bread – twelve loaves of bread. The twelve loaves represent the twelve tribes of Israel, and it’s the bread of God’s presence. Because if you remember, in the Wilderness, what is God feeding them with? Manna, right. So God is feeding them with this bread from Heaven and then they’ve got this bread of His presence in the Tabernacle – this reminder that He’s always going to provide for them.

Then the priest would move to a much smaller altar, about the size of this podium. And on this altar, he would put incense. So there’s this very special blend of spices that God said, “this is what I want you to offer Me”. And so he would constantly burn that on this altar, and as that smoke went up, that was the representation of the people’s prayers going up to God.

So this is stuff that would happen every single day: all day long, into the night, people constantly bringing their sacrifices for their sin. There were other offerings they could bring as well, but we’re really just going to look at the sacrifice for sin today. But they would constantly be doing this. This was an everyday thing – day after day after day after day after day.

Now once a year, if you look in verse 7, it says, “but the high priest alone enters the second room”. And he only does that once a year. So this second room – that’s the back part in the diagram – all that’s in there is the Ark of the Covenant, covered by what’s call the Mercy Seat. 

The Ark of the Covenant is this big, gold box, and the Law, the tablets – you know, when you imagine Moses and the Ten Commandments, those tablets – those tablets are in this box. Those tablets represent the covenant that God had with His people, and so this place behind this thick veil, that’s all that was in there, just this box.

And then on top of the box is what’s called the Mercy Seat, and it was this gold surface, and it had these two cherubim coming up. This spot, between the wings of the two cherubim, is where the cloud of God’s glory rested and dwelt among them. And so the high priest could only go back behind that curtain once a year. And when he went back behind that curtain – before he went back – he would have to do a sacrifice. He would have special clothing that he had to wear.

A little morbid fun fact for you: The special clothing had bells along the bottom of it, so that as the bells rang – again it was partly symbolic of the prayers of the people – but it was also for the priests who were not in the room. If the bells stopped ringing, chances were pretty good that something that priest had done had not pleased God, and that God had smote him – to use a great King James Version word – and he had died. Actually, when he would go in, they would tie a rope around his ankle so they could pull him back out. So, great, great system, right?

So the high priest would go in behind this curtain, this veil, once a year. And what does verse 7 say? Why did he have to do this? It says, “for the sins the people had committed in ignorance”. So this sacrificial system, we’ve got this altar over here that the people would come to day after day after day after day after day to sacrifice for the sin that they knew they had committed. But once a year, on the Day of Atonement, the high priest would go back, and he would take blood from a sacrifice to the Ark of the Covenant, to the Mercy Seat and he would sprinkle it on the Mercy Seat. And this was the sacrifice for those sins that people didn’t realize they had committed. The things that somehow slipped through the cracks in this system.

The hope was that, for another year, God would preserve them and give them life. The hope was that if this high priest did everything exactly right, he would be able to come out alive, and the people would be okay with God for another year. Aren’t we glad we don’t have to do that? That’s a lot!

So the end result of all of this, if we look at verses 9 and 10, is that the people lived in fear of God – and not like, you know we talk about “the fear of God”, we’re talking about reverence for God, we’re talking about when we come to worship Him, we know who He is. They lived in terror of God. This was not a great relationship. They didn’t know Him well, still, after all this time. And they’re used to the gods of Egypt where the priests would really just be out to get whatever they could from the people. So this is just a whole different thing for them.

So these people are living with this fear. And the other problem is – if you look at the end of verse 9 – this system of sacrifice, this system of making sure they’re doing everything right, the writer of Hebrews says this: “This is a symbol of the present time, during which gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the worshiper’s conscience”. So even if they’re doing all of these things right, they’re still living with this guilt. They’re still living with this fear.

They have the very presence of God among them, but they’re still living with this fear, this dread that they’re at some point going to do something so wrong, that God is not going to be able to forgive them. God is just going to say, “You know what? We’re done”. What we see here is that the effects of the Old Testament sacrifices were temporary, and they only lasted until the next sin. So even if someone came and did this sacrifice, they’d have to come back again tomorrow. It was this temporary thing.

So the high priest goes back behind this curtain once a year, and what’s interesting is that he is the only person that whole year who gets to see the Holy of Holies. The common people, you and I, the ones who aren’t priests at all, pretty much we get to see the altar, and that’s it. The other priests would at least get to be in the Holy Place, and they’d get to see some of that stuff, but they wouldn’t get to see the Holy of Holies. So the common people are separated from God by layers of priests and rituals and fabric. There’s this permanent separation for them. They can really only get so close.

But what are the first two words of verse 11? “But Christ.” These words change everything. John chapter 1 tells us that Christ is God with us. He is Emmanuel. Emmanuel means “God with us”. That’s one of Jesus’ names. He is Emmanuel, in the flesh, not in a tent. Jesus came. He lived, He breathed, He walked among us. And then, He gave Himself up as the last sacrifice that would ever need to be made for sin.

The Bible tells us in Matthew 27, the moment Jesus died on the cross – it literally says, the moment He “gave up His spirit”, which tells us that the moment Jesus died, that was His decision. Nobody took His life from Him. He gave His life up for us. The moment He did that, the veil between the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place – between the place where the priest could go and the place where they could only go that once a year – Matthew 27 says that the veil tore from top to bottom.

Those of you who have worked with fabric, you know how easily fabric can tear if you can get it going. But what you need to understand about this veil is that this veil was fifteen feet high by fifteen feet wide. It did not have a split in it. So when the high priest would go in, he actually had to go in on the side, he couldn’t go in in the middle. He kind of snuck in the side. So this veil is fifteen feet high, it’s fifteen feet wide, and it’s like a tapestry. It’s like these rugs. So if somebody were to come up here and try to tear one of these rugs up here, how do you think that would go? Probably not well, right?

But Scripture says that the moment Jesus died, that veil tore from the top to the bottom. And in that moment, the layers of priests, and ritual, and fabric were gone. And in that moment, God was dwelling among His people in physical form, and He made the last sacrifice that would ever need to be made.

Verses 13 and 14, it says that the blood of the animal sacrifices, it was good. It did its job. It did what God required when people sinned. It did it to cover one person’s sin. But the blood of Jesus is sufficient to cover every sin of every person who has ever lived, past, present, or future. Everything. There is not a single person in the world who is not covered by the blood of Jesus. There is not a single person in the world whose sin cannot be forgiven because of the blood of Jesus. There’s no sin that you have committed that Jesus’ blood can’t cover. There’s no sin that you will commit tomorrow that Jesus’ blood can’t cover. He died once, for all, and once for all time.

And this is the good news of the Gospel. This is the news that we as the Church get to take out these doors and bring to people, and say, “you are so burdened, and you don’t even know why. But this burden that you’re carrying is called ‘sin’. This burden that you’re carrying is fear of this God who you are so afraid of.” You know, we hear people say, “I can’t go to church. If I go to church, I’ll get struck by lightning”. It’s a joke, but it’s that fear that there’s something about them that Jesus can’t take care of. But we know the truth. We know the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ: That His blood covers once, for all.

So let’s skip down to verses 21 to 23. Twenty-one says this, “In the same way, he sprinkled the Tabernacle [‘he’ being the priest], he sprinkled the Tabernacle and all the articles of worship with blood”. So he’s taking the blood of the sacrifice, and he’s sprinkling it on the altar itself. He’s sprinkling it on the altar of incense. And again, once a year, he takes the blood and sprinkles it on the Mercy Seat over the Ark of the Covenant. So he is sprinkling the Tabernacle itself and all the articles with blood, “according to the Law, almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness. Therefore, it was necessary for the copies of the things themselves to be purified with better sacrifices than these”.

So again, what the writer of Hebrews is talking about is this idea that the Tabernacle is a copy of something that is happening in Heaven. So these holy blueprints that God gave Moses. It’s this model of what Heaven is like. Because you remember, back in the Garden of Eden, God literally, physically walked with Adam and Eve in the evening, in the cool of the day. When Adam and Eve sinned and God comes looking for them, it’s that moment. He’s had this habit of coming down and walking with them, and talking with them, and being in their presence, because at that moment, sin had not entered the world, and He could be with them.

But the moment sin entered the world, the holy God had to separate Himself from sinful people. So this is, again, this system these people have been living in ever since.

So Exodus 25, God says to Moses, verses 8 and 9, “they’re going to make a Sanctuary for Me that I may dwell among them. And you must make it according to all that I show you, the pattern of the Tabernacle, as well as the pattern of its furnishings”. So it’s this unworldly thing. If you read, I love Ezekiel, and Daniel, and Revelation, where these writers are trying to describe the visions of Heaven that they see. And they stumble over their words. They say things like, “Well, it’s like this, but not really. Um, it’s kind of like this…Well, you know that thing you know? That tree you know? Well, it’s like that, but not really.” And they stumble over their words, trying to describe what God is allowing them to see in Heaven – things that our brains cannot even begin to fathom.

So for the Israelites building this Tabernacle, and you read the description and it’s got cherubim woven into the fabric. It’s got cherubim over the Mercy Seat. These angels – if you read in Revelation – angels who surround God’s throne at all times. And all they do, while they’re surrounding God’s throne, is just worship Him. That is their only job. They constantly, day and night, cry out “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty” over and over and over and over again. And they never tire of doing that, because these angels are in the presence of God. And there’s this future that we have when Christ comes back and we get to go to Heaven, that we will be in the presence of God, and like these angels, we will be worshipping day and night. And we are never going to get tired of that, because God is so much more than we can imagine.

So we see back in Hebrews, verse 24, it says this: “For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with hands - only a model of the true one - but into Heaven itself so that He might now appear in the presence of God for us”. And verse 35: “He did this, not to offer Himself many times as the High Priest enters the Sanctuary yearly with the blood of another, otherwise He would have had to suffer many times since the foundation of the world. But now, He has appeared one time, at the end of the ages, for the removal of sin by the sacrifice of Himself”.

Christ died once, and it was enough. We are not bound by a system of sacrifices and rituals like the Israelites were. We don’t need a High Priest – or really any priest – to offer prayers on our behalf. We don’t need to go a priest and confess our sin and have them pray for us. We don’t need to do penance when we sin. When we sin, all we have to do is turn to God and say, “God, I messed up. And I’m sorry. God, I accept the forgiveness I have through Christ.”

And then, we know, because Psalm 103 – I love Psalm 103 – Psalm 103 tells us that when we bring our sin to God, He removes it as far as the East is from the West. I have no idea if this is East and West, but we’re just going to go with it. The idea being, if you start traveling East around the world, you will never start going West.

If you traveled North and South, once you got to the North Pole, you’d start going South again. East and West doesn’t work like that. They never meet. And so what the psalmist is saying in Psalm 103 is that when we confess our sin, God takes it so far away from us, that it never meets up with us again. And as far as He’s concerned, we never did it. It’s done. It’s over. Because when He looks at us, He sees the righteousness of Christ on us, because of the sacrifice that Christ made for us 

So yeah, we don’t have to go through this system of sacrifices all the time. But there is something to be said for regular confession. Regular confession, that time when maybe we just sit quietly for a minute and say, “Holy Spirit, is there anything in my life that maybe isn’t right?” Or that time when we say something to a coworker that we really should not have said. You get that catch in your spirit. “God, I’m sorry. I should not have said that. Thank you for Your forgiveness.” That regular time of confession is good. What is not there for is for us to wallow in guilt and shame.

We don’t go and say to God, “God, I’m such a horrible person! I just keep messing up. I keep doing this, and I said that to my kid, and I did this, and it’s just, ugh, I’m so…” That’s not what that confession time is for. God gives us that time to free us from sin and shame. That regular confession time is that time for us to go back to the Holy Spirit and say, “You know what? You convicted me of this sin, and I’m sorry for it. Will You, in Your power living in me, help me stop, or help me change that attitude”, or whatever it is for you. Regular confession is simply a time for us to acknowledge that we need Jesus.

Regular confession does something else: it alerts us to habits in our life. For me what this ends up looking like is, if I’m constantly going back to God and saying, “God, I let my pride get to me again…” Again. That’s that key word. Because what that tells me is that this is starting to become a habit in my life. Ok, Holy Spirit, let’s work on this.

So confession gives us this opportunity to be freed from the weight of sin that Satan wants to keep piling on us. And it also alerts us to those times when maybe something we’re doing is becoming a habit for us. So on our own, even after Christ has come, we’re still going to run headlong into sin, because we will still want to do what feels good in the moment, we still have our humanness to us. But keeping short accounts with God keeps our conscience clear and helps us grow in our relationship with Him.

Here’s the thing about confession: Confession is not about sin prevention. Confession is about heart transformation.

So maybe this morning, you feel like an Israelite or a priest and you feel like you have to keep doing the same things over and over and over again, hoping that God will forgive you. The good news for you is that Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross was once, for all.

Maybe for you, you’re kind of struggling with the idea that, I know I learned in Sunday School that Jesus died on the cross for my sin, but I don’t know what it feels like to be forgiven. I don’t know what it’s like to not have this constant guilt. When I was growing up, I had a Sunday School teacher who told us that if we had sin in our life, God would not hear our prayers. And so what that triggered for me was this obsessive, constantly, “God, did I do anything wrong today? Maybe, did I say that wrong?” And it was just this constant within me, “Well, if I want to pray, I’ve got to make sure I confess everything first. I’ve got to make sure there’s absolutely nothing because I want God to hear my prayers”.

That’s not what this is about. Because of Jesus’ sacrifice, we have full, unrestricted access to God’s presence. There is nothing that stands between us. How much guilt and shame could you offload from your own heart and mind if you knew you could be completely forgiven for everything you have done in the past, everything that you have done that falls short of God’s standard for you? Everything that falls short of your own standard for you?

If you have been carrying this guilt and shame through your life, today can be the day that you drop it. Today can be the day that you bring it to the cross, leave it there, and never pick it up again. Today can be the day that you get out from under the weight of sin that Satan has been trying to pile on you. This guilt and shame that you have.

Guilt and shame are never from God. Conviction is from God. And the difference is that conviction leads us to repentance, and leads us to change something that we’re doing. Guilt and shame just feels heavy and it weighs us down. That is not from God. If you are feeling guilt and shame, that is your enemy trying to beat you down. But if you’re feeling a stirring in your spirit about something, and you’re feeling like, “you know what? Yeah, that is in my life. I do need to work on that”, that’s conviction. That’s the Holy Spirit. And the difference is, conviction leads to freedom. It leads to this weightlessness of knowing that you have been forgiven 

If you’ve found yourself confessing the same sin over and over and over again, feeling like you will never get past it, like it has a strangle hold on you, maybe as you listened today, the Holy Spirit’s nudging you. Maybe there’s some sort of habitual sin in your life. For you it might be bitterness, or anger, or a sense of entitlement, or dishonesty or any kind of…usually it’s an inward kind of thing. Today can be the day you drop that at the foot of the cross.

If this is that day for you – if you are ready to be free from sin – if you are ready to be done with the process of constantly feeling like you have to do penance, or feeling like you have to make sure you are so perfectly clean before you approach God or before you come to church. If you’ve been living with the fear that maybe your relationship with God isn’t good, today can be the day that changes for you.

I’m going to ask the band to come up, and as they come up, we’re going to play a video, and they’re going to sing a bit. I want us to take this time to just sit with the Holy Spirit. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you examine yourself. Is there a habitual sin in your life? Is there a place, something in you, that you have not been able to fully accept the forgiveness that Christ has offered you? And while the band is playing, while we’re showing this video, this space here is open for you. If you want to come up, if you want to come up and symbolically lay whatever it is at the foot of the cross, I will be up here. I would be happy to pray with you.

If you’re still not sure about all of this. If you’re still thinking, “yeah, but I don’t know if this really applies to me”, my contact information is [here]. Would you please reach out to me this week? I would love to talk to you about this.

And if you’ve already accepted Christ’s forgiveness, then let this be a time when of just worship. Let this be a time when you let yourself rejoice in the freedom that you have claimed in Christ. Let this be a day that changes everything for you. Because Christ came, and He changed everything.

Let’s pray. The Book of Common Prayer says this:

Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against You, in thought, word, and deed; by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved You with our whole heart, and we have not loved our neighbor as ourselves. We are truly sorry, and we humbly repent. For the sake of Your Son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us, that we may delight in Your will, and walk in Your ways, to the glory of Your name. Amen.

Podcast: Healing in the Sending - A Thorn for God's Glory

In December, 2017, I was a guest on the Weekly Skinny with Jesus podcast. This is the recording and a transcript of that episode. (Also available on SoundCloud.)

Healing in the Sending – A Thorn for God’s Glory

The Weekly Skinny Podcast: December 19, 2017

Transcript: 

Bevin: You are listening to your Weekly Skinny with Jesus. Today is December 19, 2017, and my name is Bevin Caramello and I am so very glad to have you on this call with me today. We are wrapping up a series we’ve been in for a few weeks now called Healing in the Sending. I’ve just got to say, guys this has just been one of my favorite series so far. God has just been showing me so much about how He works and what He wants from us. So often, it’s really simple – He’s after our hearts. He wants our obedience. He wants our surrender.

So today’s all, you guys, it’s such a great message. I am so very excited to have a special guest with us on this call today: my very good friend, Amy Ickes, is going to be leading us. Amy has worked at several churches across the country and we met serving together in Women’s Ministry in San Antonio. She is truly wise beyond her years and she has such a love for the people God has her serving. So I’m really, really excited that she’s going to be leading us and teaching us today. So, with that, I would like to introduce to you the one and only, Amy Ickes.

 

Amy: Ok, hi guys. I’m so happy to be here with you.

Last week, Bevin had us in Acts 26, and we talked about how Paul’s spiritual healing came when he was sent to the Jews and the Gentiles to defend the cause of the cross. She finished by challenging us with the truth that sometimes when we do what we’ve been called to do, it might not look the way we think it should. And so this week, we’re going to take that a step further and see that sometimes, our healing doesn’t always look the way we think it should either.

So we’re going to look at two passages today that might be pretty familiar to you, but together, they tell a really interesting story. The first passage we’re going to look at it Acts 9:1-16, so if you are somewhere you can pull that up on your phone or grab your Bible, we’ll give you a minute to go there. It’s Acts 9:1-16. And it says this:

 

Now Saul was still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord. He went to the high priest and requested letters from him to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any men or women who belonged to the Way, he might bring them as prisoners to Jerusalem. As he traveled and was nearing Damascus, a light from heaven suddenly flashed around him. Falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”

“Who are you, Lord?” Saul said.

“I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting,” he replied. “But get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”

The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the sound but seeing no one. Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing. So they took him by the hand and led him into Damascus. He was unable to see for three days and did not eat or drink.

10 There was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias, and the Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.”

“Here I am, Lord,” he replied.

11 “Get up and go to the street called Straight,” the Lord said to him, “to the house of Judas, and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, since he is praying there. 12 In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias coming in and placing his hands on him so that he may regain his sight.”

13 “Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard from many people about this man, how much harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem. 14 And he has authority here from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.”

15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for this man is my chosen instrument to take my name to Gentiles, kings, and Israelites. 16 I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”

 

And now we’re going to turn over to 2 Corinthians 12, and we’re going to start at the second half of verse 7. This is Paul writing to the church at Corinth, and he says:

 

Therefore, so that I would not exalt myself, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to torment me so that I would not exalt myself. Concerning this, I pleaded with the Lord three times that it would leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is perfected in weakness.”

Therefore, I will most gladly boast all the more about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may reside in me. 10 So I take pleasure in weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and in difficulties, for the sake of Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Many scholars agree that Paul’s “thorn” would probably have something to do with his eyesight, and they base this on the fact that Paul’s letters were mostly dictated, especially the ones that he wrote later in his ministry. This theory about Paul’s thorn and his eyesight makes a lot of sense, especially with what we just read in Acts about Paul’s dramatic encounter with Jesus.

But regardless of what the actual issue was, the point is this: Paul had been begging God for physical healing, but what God gave him instead was a deeper spiritual healing – grace upon grace. Paul wanted his thorn gone. God wanted to use his thorn for His glory.

So often when we talk about healing, the expectation is that the healing we seek will happen here on Earth in the way we expect it will. We expect that on the next visit to the doctor, we’ll find out that the cancer’s just gone. We expect that we’ll wake up the morning after a bout with depression with a completely new outlook on life and not have to deal with that anymore. But more often than not, the cancer still shows up on the scan, and we still need medication to function and even for you, maybe just to get out of bed.

Now, there’s a hidden danger in this conversation about healing I want to stop and talk about for a moment. There have been times when I’ve been dealing with a physical or mental illness, and I’ve done exactly what I’m supposed to do: I’ve brought it to God and asked for His healing. But here’s the pattern that I’ve observed as I’ve looked back: After a few weeks of asking, I start to beg for His healing. And a few weeks after that, I start to quote His own words back to Him to remind Him that He’s my healer. And before I know it, my healing is the only thing I ever pray about anymore. There’s been this shift in me, and now my healing is all I care about. In short, my healing has become an idol, because I’m seeking that healing, instead of seeking God.

I just want to pull that out for just a second as a caution, because it’s something that God put on my heart pretty recently, so I figured in this conversation, we should probably just be aware of it, so that it’s not a trap that we fall into. 

Ok, so back to Paul’s story. Paul says that when he begged God for healing, God said “no”, and told him that His grace was all Paul really needed. What God was saying was that His grace, His love, His care, His purposes and plans were all Paul really needed, in spite of what Paul thought he needed. No one can deny that God used Paul powerfully, but we do have to wonder if Paul’s ministry would have been as effective and world-changing if God had, in fact, healed him, and if he hadn’t had to rely on others to help him do the work that God had called him to do. That reliance on others is what led him to some of the cities where he planted churches, and those churches are the reason we even know about Jesus today.

 

Paul’s story isn’t so much different from my own. Just so you understand my background a little bit, I’ve fought with depression for almost as long as I can remember, and with anxiety for about the last ten or so years. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve asked God to take those away. But I still fight suicidal thoughts when things go badly, and I still deal with anxious thoughts and fears that keep me from doing things I want to do, and even some days, from doing things I need to do.

We’ve been talking about how there’s healing in the sending, and that’s my story too. I’m originally from New Jersey, but about two years ago, God uprooted me and moved me to Texas. When I moved to Texas, I brought some furniture, and I brought my kitchen supplies, and I brought clothes, and I also brought my mental illness.

One of the consequences of my particular brand of depression and anxiety is that I could, when I was not doing well, be hard to be around, to put it lightly. Some of you may be able to relate to that. But my mental illness combined with my sin nature made for a pretty toxic combination sometimes. But when God moved me 2,000 miles away from everything and everyone I knew, He finally got me alone and He brought me to a place where I had a choice to make. Was I going to give in, or was I going to surrender?

So over the course of almost a year, God chipped away at my pride, and my anger, and my bitterness, at my doubts and fears, and at my lack of faith. He allowed me to get to one of the lowest places in my life, and when I finally turned to Him and decided I wanted Him more than anything else at all – even healing – He lifted me up and He did heal me.

Now that healing doesn’t look the way I might want it to. I still take an antidepressant and an antianxiety pill everyday. I still have moments when I have to stop unhealthy, destructive thoughts and make them obedient to Christ. But that’s the thing: for the first time in my life, I can and do stop them. And for the first time in my life, they’re no longer a weapon in my enemy’s hands, either against me or against the people around me.

 But the most significant thing that God has done for me in this incomplete healing is that His grace, mercy, and kindness brought me to a place of repentance, and He showed me that my life could look drastically different if I would just trust Him. I don’t need to control everyone and everything around me. He’s got it. He knows way more about me and the situations and circumstances He’s allowed to touch my life than I possibly could, and He knows way better than I do what He can and will do through them and through me if I just trust Him.

 

So about a month ago, I lost my job, but even in this, God has shown me that I can trust Him. He is going to provide. He is going to direct. He has a plan, and that job simply wasn’t a part of it anymore. There’s something else for me to do now. So even as I wait to see fully what that is, I’m able to trust Him with every aspect of my story.

My physical, mental, and emotional healing will probably remain incomplete while I remain here on Earth, but in sending me into a new chapter of my story – this story that He’s writing in my life – God is saying to me what He said to Paul: “My grace is all you need, and in your weakness, I will show off My strength through you”.

He’s saying the same thing to you today too. Whatever your situation, whatever healing you’ve been seeking, would you be willing to take the risk of trusting God to do what He knows would be good for you and will be for His glory, instead of asking Him to do things that make sense to you?

It’s hard to do that – I know! – It took about 30 years of suffering for me to finally trust Him enough to stop begging, stop fighting, stop telling Him what to do in my life. And while I wouldn’t change the outcome for anything, I do have to wonder what God could have done in and through me if I’d just given everything to Him the first time He asked me to.

 

So let’s make this really practical for us. If you’ve been chasing after healing and just not seeing God work the way you wish He would, I want to encourage you to do a few things.

The first thing I want to encourage you to do is stop asking God to heal you. Jesus told us that God already knows what we need before ask for it. He doesn’t need the reminder, and after a while, chances are pretty good that you are going to fall into the same trap I did and healing is going to turn into an idol for you. So first, just stop asking Him. He already knows.

The second thing is, choose to worship. Whenever you’re tempted to ask God for healing, stop and worship Him for who He is instead. Pull up a list of His attributes or His names on your phone, pick one, and just focus on that for a while. God wants you to be whole and healed, but more than that, He wants your heart. Worship is the fastest way to align our wills and our desires with His, and in our worship, He becomes bigger than anything we deal with here on Earth.

And the third thing is, give God your sickness. There’s this great story in 2 Kings 19 about King Hezekiah receiving a letter from his enemies. Rather than panicking about their threats, he takes the letter to the temple, and he gets down on the floor, and he spreads the letter out before God, and he talks to Him about it. So in giving God your sickness, that might be what it looks like for you. If you need to, you might literally need to spread out your medicine or your medical device, or some symbol of the healing you’ve been seeking before God. Give God your sickness and allow Him to do with it what He knows is best for you and what will bring Him the most glory.

Remember what I said earlier: Paul wanted his thorn gone. God wanted to use that thorn for His glory. And He wants to do the same with yours. Whether that be by taking it away and giving you that testimony of His complete healing here on Earth, or by leaving it in place, will you trust Him with it? Will you trust that He really does know what’s best in every situation? Will you trust that He knows the end of the story that He’s writing in your life and the role that your thorn plays in that story?

Our surrender to God and our faith in God is powerful. It tells our enemy that he has no power over us. It tells the people around us that we serve a God that they can trust too. And it tells our own souls that we are not walking through anything alone.

In Him we have hope. In Him we have a future. In Him we have everything we’ll ever need in this life and in the life to come, when Jesus Himself will wipe away every tear. One day, we will see Jesus face-to face, and the things of this Earth will grow strangely dim.

 

Let’s pray: 

God, we praise You that we can trust You. We praise You that Your Word is steadfast. You do not change. God, we praise You that You are Jehovah Rapha – You are our Healer. But Father, I pray right now for our sisters and our brothers on this call who’ve been seeking healing. God, I pray that they would be willing to surrender their life completely to you – every part of it – not holding anything back. God, I pray that they would turn to You, rather than to what You can do for them. God, that You would be what they reach for, and that Your presence would be enough for them. 

Father, I pray that they would be obedient and that they would be faithful in Your sending. We’ve been talking about this idea that there’s healing in the sending, so Father, would You give us all the wisdom and the discernment to know when You’re sending us somewhere new. And God, would we go there in the hope that when we get there, You are there, and You have got everything under control. God, we worship You for who You are. May we live our lives in a way that will always bring You honor and glory. We pray this in the Name of Jesus. Amen.

 

Bevin: Amen! Wow, amen! So, so good. Thank you so much for being on this call. Thanks for leading us on this call, for teaching us today. This was such a powerful call with so many great take aways. I love the point you made about healing becoming an idol in our lives if we’re not careful. That is so true. Anything that we chase after harder than we’re chasing after God is and idol.

Honestly, I’ve never looked at it from that angle before. I’ve never even considered that our prayers – what it is that we’re seeking, what it is that we’re asking God for – could actually become an idol. But it’s so true when you put it that way. I think we need to stop and ask ourselves, “Am I seeking healing instead of seeking God?”.

I love too, this verse jumped out at my when Amy was reading it: In Acts 9:11, God tells Ananias to ask for a man named Saul who is praying. And that just jumped out at me. I’ve never noticed that before, that in this part, where Ananias is sent to find Saul, Saul was a man who at that time, God says, he’s praying right now, he’s praying. And no doubt, Saul was seeking healing at that point. I have no doubt that that was a time period where Saul was on his knees and he was begging God for healing.

I’m sure he was desperate, but just like Amy said when she pointed us to 2 Corinthians 12, at some point, Paul made the choice to stop asking for more healing. He stopped asking for a better healing. He stopped asking for a different healing. At some point, he just accepted that where he was weak, God was strong. I love the way Amy brought this all together today and pointed that out. I think it’s the first time I’ve ever seen it that way.

And then too, the other take away I hope I don’t soon forget is what you said about choosing to worship instead of asking for a different healing. I just love this because it’s just so simple, but it’s so good. When we choose to worship we are taking our eyes off of ourselves, and choosing instead to focus on God. That’s always the best choice. So, when in doubt, worship.

Amy, really, so great having you on this call today. Thank you so much for being with us.

 

 

3 Tips for Pastors in Light of Recent Conversations About Women in the Church

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been so excited to see men and women, both pastors and lay-leaders, asking questions about what it looks like for men and women to serve alongside each other for the good of the Church. A couple of male pastors have asked for some advice on how to help their staff be more healthy in this area. Since even female pastors can do things to improve the health of their staffs, here are three great places to start:

 

1)    Look around: Who is in staff meetings? Who is on lead teams? The local church, like the rest of the world, is about 50% women, but many pastors don’t have even one woman serving in leadership alongside them. If you’re not sure who to add, the first person to consider would be whoever is leading your Women’s Ministry. That person is shepherding, teaching, and caring for the women in your church, and her voice is invaluable as you make decisions, write messages, and review your weekly services.

Who is speaking in staff meetings? Who has gone quiet? Do people regularly interrupt each other? Are one or two people dominating the conversation? Pay attention to these things for a couple of weeks, and then have a conversation with your staff about what you’ve observed. Talk to the quieter ones – not as a reprimand! but out of genuine interest – about why they don’t speak in meetings. As a staff, come up with any new meeting rules that will ensure every voice is heard and that no one is pushed aside.

Who is represented on stage on Sunday mornings? Even if your church doesn’t ordain women, they can and should do anything a non-ordained man can do, including reading Scripture, praying, giving announcements, and leading worship (actually leading, not just singing back-up).

NOTE: These are all great questions to ask about other groups in your church as well, including people of color, unmarried adults, young people, and your Senior Saints!

2)    Ask questions and listen carefully to the answers: Ask the women in your church who are leading in women’s ministry, kids’ ministry, worship, and wherever else they are, questions about their ministry area, questions about their lives as leaders and as members of your congregation, and ask about where they see holes in your church’s mission that women could fill. And ask for names – I guarantee they have them ready for you.

Ask them for feedback on messages and on decisions you’re in the process of making that affect them personally and in their ministry area. Use them as a resource to improve the way you’re reaching out to your city. After all, women are the ones in the schools, at the parks, in the coffee shops, and in the gym – they have their finger on the pulse of your community because they’re actively involved in all aspects of it.

One pastor recently asked on Twitter how he can get better about knowing what’s going on in the Women’s Ministry at his church without it looking like he’s spying. Such a good question with such a simple answer: Develop a strong relationship with the women leading, and then, ask if you can drop by their Bible studies and events from time to time, just to see what’s going on.

This will not only communicate to the women in your church that you care about what they’re studying and doing, but it will also open up avenues of communication about what women need from you as their Pastor. But the relationship is key. Without it, yes, they may think you’re just spying on them so you can criticize them.

3)    Survey your bookshelf (and your Social Media feeds): If most of what you’re reading was written by men, seek out and intentionally add women authors, people of color, and other groups that are missing. Listen to what they have to say, asking God to give you eyes to see, ears to hear, and a will to obey whatever He may teach you through them.

 

These are three simple steps, but don’t be fooled. Every one of these will require a great deal of humility on your part. You need to be willing to accept genuine, constructive criticism without anger or vengeance. You need to be willing to make changes that others agree are needed. You need to be willing to admit it if you were wrong in the past, and you need to be willing to commit to getting better in the future. 

Ladies, as our pastors do these things, we need to be just as humble and willing to admit our wrongs. When I was in an environment where I was pushed aside, interrupted, and ignored, I chose anger, resentment, and passive-aggressiveness, rather than trying to fix the problem from the “inside”. I made assumptions that I wouldn’t be heard if I tried, which did nothing to lead our staff toward health. Don’t make the same mistakes I did. Let's choose humility, choose courage, and choose to speak in love and grace, even if it seems like no one is listening yet.

With God’s help, we can all work toward creating a Church that represents Jesus well – both to her members, and to the World.

May God grant you grace, peace, comfort, and strength as you work in your local church to make it a bit healthier and better able to meet the needs of the people around you!

 

Pastors and Lay Leaders, what other things have you done to create a healthier staff of men and women who work together for the Gospel?