LIFE CHANGE: Formation

Pastor Terry Inman

4-15-12

 

This week Mary and I had a couple dramatic changes. I have been serving for several years in a leadership role with the Assemblies of God. I serve as a General Presbyter on the governing boards of our local District Council and our National General Council. A presbyter is not a Presbyterian. In the Greek language “presbyteros” is a title for a mature (old) leader.   

I was up for re-election at our annual meeting in Sacramento this week. I have been thinking about relinquishing this time-consuming role to someone else. As I was driving to Sacramento praying about it, a Volkswagen bug passed me on the right side.  

I noticed a bumper sticker for BEN & JERRY’S ice cream: “if it’s not fun why do it?”  God loves to talk to me through pathetic signs!

I have to admit that driving to Sacramento for two-day meetings every other month is not always fun even though I know the Lord has used our influence over the years. I will really miss the annual national presbytery.  

So when it came time for the re-election. I got up after a couple ballots and shared my sighting of the bumper sticker. That drew a lot of laughs. I also suggested that the delegates allow me to pass along the baton to someone else. A younger “elder” was elected to my long held position.  

I have served in denominational leadership for nearly twenty years. So this is a quite a change. The next morning I got a call from Convoy of Hope with another dramatic change. We were to leave for Nairobi, Kenya this evening to minister to Pastors and leaders at a conference and help lead a team of business leaders through the Mathare Valley slums and Convoy’s projects in the schools and kids homes.

Due to a credible threat of terrorism our hosts canceled the conference. Now that has not stopped us before but we did not make the decision.

Now I’m not sure these events qualify as a life-change but they do remind me of something a great mission leader the Apostle Paul said, two thousand years ago. “Now I want you to know brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel.”Phil. 1.12   

He was talking about something way beyond an election or short-term missions trip. He was confined as a prisoner of Rome. They were moving him into quarters near the Caesar’s courts. He would be tried for treason.

He was very concerned that that folks at home would think this was very bad news. He makes it clear. This circumstance may be disappointing or even dangerous but according to Paul it was promoting God’s purposes.

Here he is nearing the end of his career. He has really been the entrepreneur of the greatest Christian movement in history. He has equipped leaders and planted churches in two continents among multiple cultures. He should be retiring in a penthouse but he’s now handcuffed.  

He says, Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel, for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God’s word is not chained.  2 Tim. 2.8-9

So there goes my new theory right out the window, “If it’s not fun, why do it”. God’s plans are not always fun, but they are very purposeful.   

We have been talking about Life-Change. The bible says, “God is kind, but he’s not softIn kindness he takes us firmly by the hand and leads us into a radical life-change.” Romans. 2:4 (MSG)

Sometimes he leads us way outside our comfort zone. He leads us through some very challenging surf. It can get pretty overwhelming!

Today we are going to talk about life challenges.  Temptations, limitations, and misfortunes can be catalytic events that advance or spiritual life.  David said, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.” Psa. 139.23 (NIV) Anybody have anxious thoughts?

King David was a great leader who faced challenges. He failed in the area temptation. He came face to face with personal limitation and suffered plenty of misfortune, yet the bible says he was a man after God’s heart.

One of hymns included in his psalms talks about a deep desire to experience the presence of God. God’s people loved to take pilgrimages to the temple in Jerusalem to experience God’s presence. This journey through the desert was challenging and full of adversity. 

Blessed are those whose strength is in you, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage. As they pass through the Valley of Baca, they make it a place of springs; the autumn rains also cover it with pools. They go from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion.  Psalms 84.4-7 (NIV)

Life-Change is a pilgrimage. It’s a spiritual journey. We desire to get closer to God. We want to become more like Jesus Christ. It is a challenging trek for weak people. Sometimes it’s a wilderness.   

This metaphoric psalm says we are “blessed” if we have set our hearts on knowing and growing in God because our strength is in him not ourselves.

Paul was asking God to remove what he called a “thorn in the flesh”, likely some form of weakness or illness. God’s answer, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  2 Cor. 12.9 (NIV)

The “Valley of Baca” means valley of “tears” or weeping. This valley was the last stage of the pilgrimage to the temple of God’s presence. It was a dark narrow valley where brackish water slowly trickled out of the rocks.

The writer of the Psalms says, when we go though these valleys our tears turn to springs. The dry desert places we narrowly to pass through become refreshing pools. We go from“strength to strength” we literally build strength until we all appear before God.

This psalm of pilgrimage makes it clear that there is pain in this journey. There is weakness and weeping but our struggles become our strengths.     

Suffering alone does not build up our spiritual muscle. It’s a workout with God’s Spirit that changes weakness to will power.

Paul prayed for some weaker followers of Jesus who had no previous religious background.

“I pray that he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.”  Eph. 3.16-17 (NIV) It is spirit driven inner-strength that gets us through weak spots and tuff times.

So let’s look at some ways challenges support life-change. First let’s talk about temptation. It is the lure of our human nature. We get baited into destructive habits and patterns of thinking and behaving.

No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it. 1Cor. 10.13 (NIV)

Temptation itself is not sin. The word in the ancient Greek language can also mean tests.Anyone who meets a testing challenge head-on and manages to stick it out is mighty fortunate. For such persons loyally in love with God, the reward is life and more life.James 1.12 (MSG)

That’s life change. God allows temptation to refine us. Satan uses it to entice us. Temptation only becomes sin when we ignore God’s getaway. Temptation actually builds resistance to sin if we make the right decision. Take God’s freedom pathway and don’t submit to old enticing patterns.

Another challenge that promotes life-change is life’s trials. It’s like a cross-examination. Jesus said, take up your cross and follow me.

Peter who learned this the hard way writes, “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith — of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire — may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 1Peter. 1.6-7 (NIV)

Paul says trials are only temporary. Faith is forever. Our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 2 Cor. 4.17 (NIV)

Finally there is misfortune, catastrophe, grief or hardship that is also part of this life. It’s hard to imagine how this stuff helps with spiritual life-change. It usually feels like a very painful interruption.

Illness, job losses, relational stress, death, accidents, disasters are uninvited intruders to our peace and stability. A righteous man may have many troubles, but the LORD delivers him from them all.  Psa. 34.19 (NIV) It’s the process of delivery and recovery that brings about our maturity.

Here’s the Apostle Paul’s take on this. We rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. Rom. 5:3-5 (NIV)

Perseverance is the ability to hang in there with God. It is determination to see it through no matter what. Job said, thou God slay me yet I will serve him. It is total trust in God.

Perseverance produces character. Character is Christ-like quality. It is his personality.  Paul calls I the fruit of the spirit…love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Gal. 5.23   

Finally character produces hope. Hope is the confident expectation of a total life-change! When we are in the middle of a life challenge hope is hard to hang on to. Prov. 13.12 Hope deferred makes the heart sick.

It only human nature to get discouraged, frustrated, confused, weary and even weak while waiting through challenges and changes.

Israel was in captivity for seventy years. They had prophetic promises that were a long time coming. They thought God had forgotten them or he was just not paying attention to their captivity and adversity.

Lift your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one, and calls them each by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.

Why do you say, O Jacob, and complain, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the LORD; my cause is disregarded by my God”? Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.

He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall;

but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. Is. 40.26-31 (NIV)

You may be going through a valley of Baca, a trial, a trail of tears. God wants to turn it into springs. He wants you to grow from strength to strength as you appear before Him. 

“God is kind, but he’s not softIn kindness he takes us firmly by the hand and leads us into a radical life-change.” Romans. 2:4 (MSG)