Posts Tagged ‘comfort zones’

Matthew 8:18-22
The Cost of Following Jesus

It is quite amazing to me how cohesive that the Gospels are together and within each one individually. Often, when you just do a cursory read of the Bible each passage in Matthew can sometimes seem disjointed. However, when study each passage and get into the meat of what it really means and then move onto the next passage and do the same, you see a continual building up of what the Matthew is trying to get us to see about Jesus. In Matthew 8:14-18, we saw that real belief in Jesus removes those stains that prevent us from being what God planned for us all along in our lives – to serve and glorify him. We see that serving Him is a natural desire resulting from Jesus’ saving grace. We see that there is sacrifice that comes with it. We learned too that God will make provision for those who serve Him. Moving on into Matthew 8:18-22, we learn that there is a lot more to service to Jesus than we initially think. The passage reads:

18 When Jesus saw the crowd around him, he gave orders to cross to the other side of the lake. 9 Then a teacher of the law came to him and said, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” 20 Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” 21 Another disciple said to him, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” 22 But Jesus told him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.”

There are several things that I think we can pick out of this passage that are important to our walk with Jesus. First, I am going to say that most of us are like Peter’s mother-in-law, we are serving him in our comfort zone. Second, there is real sacrifice often thrust upon us when we go beyond service in our comfort zone. Finally, let’s look at what Jesus says by saying “Follow me”. When you look at Jesus’ life, that is a pretty loaded statement don’t you think? We will look at that.

Let’s look at my first point a little further. Yesterday, we saw Peter’ mother-in-law, after being healed by Jesus, get up and start immediately serving everyone in her house. Most of us are like Peter’s mother-in-law in that we serve Jesus in our comfort zone. I am not knocking Peter’s mother-in-law in any way. The previous passage is the only scene in the Scriptures where we see her. She may well have been a good and faithful servant to the cause of the Lord. But, at this very moment that we see her she is in her comfort zone as a former wife, as a mother – serving the people in her home. Serving Jesus certainly was joyful for her at that moment, no doubt. However, it was no great stretch for her to be serving Jesus much less anyone else…in her home…in her comfort zone. Would Peter’s mother-in-law been as joyful leaving the family home and following Jesus day to day as Peter was doing?

For us, is going to church on Sunday and saying “Teacher I will follow you wherever you go”…but going to church on Sunday is as far as that goes? Is going to Men’s Bible Study as much as we are willing for our “following” to cost us? Is serving on Sunday morning, as far as we are willing to take it? Are we willing to follow that call that God has put on our heart. Are we willing to be like Tim Lyda? Are we willing to leave a really good job at a little manufacturing company here locally also known as BMW Manufacturing USA and set off from our church to plant a church in Manchester, CT, trusting totally that God will provide? Do we have that 100% faith? Do we have that 100% trust? Do we have such faith and trust in God that we will answer His call and follow His lead? Do we have the faith to build an ark like Noah simply God told us to do so? Do we have that full faith that as Noah did that God was going to send the rain that would flood the entire world that we knew just ‘cause he said so? Serving God often will call us outside our comfort zone – the way we would like to serve God – own our own terms. On our own terms is what we know. However, God knows more that we do about what we are good at, about what we were intended for when he created us. Can we trust that? Can we step out of our comfort zone when God pushes, suggests, nudges, creates opportunities? Can we be truly happy in the eternal sense, if we do not have Tim Lyda-like faith? If you are feeling some yearning, some incompleteness, is it because there is a hole in your soul? An empty place because you have ignored God’s calling? Is it because God is calling you to take it up a notch? Is it because God is calling you to be more, to give more of yourself than you currently give? Faith my friends is taking that first step like Indiana Jones in the Temple of Doom when you see no visible way for it to work. Faith is taking that first step anyway. Comfort zones are comfortable but boldly stepping out in faith leads to growth and spiritual rewards beyond any earthly measure. Give God a “yes” instead of a no or “maybe next week” or “maybe the next mission trip” or “maybe the next church plant”…Give God a yes in complete and total faith and see where it leads. He will be there after the yes. He will never forsake us.

I have felt God’s call to full-time ministry for many years in my life, but there was always an excuse. In my past marriages, I would use the excuse (and it was probably true too) that my wife at the time would never go for it. I was putting my need for approval from my spouse before my calling from God. I used the excuse that I needed a seminary education to be a full-time pastor (and in most cases that is true too). I would say that I did not have time or the resources to quit work for three years and simply trust the Lord. I had kids and stepkids over the years to take care of. Lord, ain’t nobody got time for that. These were my excuses over the years not to leave a career that I was good at and totally depend on God to provide. These excuses were effective enough to keep me away from seeking my calling from the Lord. Satan smiled at the effectiveness of his excuse factory in my brain. What does God do? He removed every excuse and blatantly showed me that it was He that was doing it. He led me to fall in love with a woman that would follow me anywhere. He led me to a woman who wanted me to seek my calling. He led me to a woman whose heart is after God as much as anyone I know. Excuse gone. He also led me to North Greenville University’s graduate seminary program where most classes are held at night so that I could get my seminary education while working. Excuse gone. He led me to LifeSong Church where the elders are working with me to groom me up to be a full-time pastor. Excuse gone. Now at some point this will become full-time. It will be crunch time between me and the Lord. What now? Time for that Tim Lyda-like faith. Step out. Trust God to provide.

The next point I want to talk about is that real sacrifice may be called for after we leave our comfort zone. Do you think it was easy for Tim & Lynn Lyda to leave the comfort zone of Lyman, SC? I am willing to bet there have been many, many financial sacrifices, emotional sacrifices, physical sacrifices along the way. I bet there have been many days when they wondered how they were going to make it. But there is that faith that Tim and Lynn have. They have a burning desire to do this. Their passion to see the gospel spread in a cold, spiritual place outweighs any of the comforts that they had previously known. They have giant faith that they will have what they need even if times look bleak and things aren’t going well. There will be costs if we truly leave our comfort zone. Think about it. God often calls us to impossible tasks! He calls us to these tasks because they are the right thing to do and He made us for the job. Do think Tim and Lynn have doubts? Sure they do! But their faith is equal to and can beat doubt’s butt!

Do you think that Martin Luther King wanted to be the civil rights leader that he was? I doubt it. It would have been easier to stay simply as the pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, AL and quietly lead his flock there. But God calls us to the opportunities for which he created us. Martin Luther King heard the call. Overcame his fears and became the seminal figure in the struggle for racial equality in the United States. He heard the call and accepted it. It had a cost. His life was constantly in danger during the last 13 years of his life – from the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955 to his assassination in 1968.

Look at Gandi in India. He was thrust into the fight for India’s independence from British rule. For 30 years after his return to India in 1915 until he was assassinated in 1948, he fought against the oppression of British rule through civil disobedience and non-participation such that after his assassination, Britain finally did, “quit India.” His lifestyle for the pursuit of truth and non-violence has become a model to oppressed people everywhere. You think he wanted to be the lightning rod for British wrath. I am sure that at points he had his doubts and would have just rather been a quiet philosopher/lawyer. His faith in the truth, which I call God, led him to bring down British rule of his country without civil war.
Look at Oskar Schindler, the famed Schindler of the movie, “Schindler’s List”. Here is an example of God working on us and putting us into situations where he knows we will be changed and motivated to a higher calling. Being an opportunistic German businessman, he rushed into Poland after Germany conquered Poland and bought up enamel wares and ammunitions factories because he could get them for cheap. He then employed Jewish forced laborers in these plants because they were cheap labor. Schindler soon adapted his lifestyle to his income. He became a well-respected guest at Nazi SS elite parties, having easy chats with high-ranking SS officers, often for his benefit. Initially Schindler may have been motivated by money, but later he began shielding his workers without regard for cost. He would, for instance, claim that certain unskilled workers were essential to the factory. While witnessing a 1943 raid on the Krakow Ghetto, where soldiers were used to round up the inhabitants for shipment to the concentration camp at Plaszow, Schindler was appalled by the murder of many of the Jews who had been working for him. He was a very persuasive individual, and after the raid, increasingly used all of his skills to protect his Schindlerjuden (“Schindler’s Jews”), as they came to be called. Schindler went out of his way to take care of the Jews who worked for him, often calling on his legendary charm and ingratiating manner to help his workers get out of difficult situations. Whenever “Schindler Jews” were threatened with deportation, he claimed exemptions for them. Wives, children, and even handicapped persons were shown to be necessary mechanics and metalworkers. After the war, Schindler and his wife fled to Austria’s U.S. zone, escaping prosecution by dressing in prison clothes and carrying a letter testifying to their heroic actions. By the end of the war, Schindler had spent his entire fortune on bribes and black-market purchases of supplies for his workers. Virtually destitute, he did not prosper in postwar Germany. In fact, he was reduced to receiving assistance from Jewish organizations. He died penniless in 1974. Do you think that he decided one day, hey I am going to save as many Jews as I can and spend my entire fortune to do such that when I die, I will have nothing! I am sure he had his doubts. But God pushed and nudged him into a situation where he could no longer ignore the inhumanity of the Third Reich to the point that he would and did give his last dime to save people that were being discriminated against just because they had the last name Weinberg, etc. He began to ache to save as many lives as he could. Gosh it would have been so much easier to just cash in on the business of supplying the German war machine.
These men all knew there was a cost in what they were doing, death or financial ruin – “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” Tim Lyda knows that he may meet failure in an area where less than 2% of the people go to church on a regular basis. He may find himself despised. He may find himself wondering why he even came to Manchester, leaving his grown sons and his amazingly cool job at BMW behind. Herein lies what Jesus says in Verses 21-22, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” 22 But Jesus told him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.” Here we often see Jesus’ statement as somewhat callous. Doesn’t Jesus want us to care for our families particularly in moments like the one suggested here. Remember, I have said in this study often, Jesus often chose words for their shock value to get people’s attention. Jesus was demonstrating here that failure to follow God’s call IMMEDIATELY often will lead to not following at all. If we let other things become more important than following God’s call for our lives, what does that say about His place in our lives? Also, what does it say will happen the next time when THAT detail is taken care of like God has eliminated every excuse I have ever used? Often, we will then manufacture another excuse to take its place. Our focus should always been on answering God’s call on our lives and then relying on God to provide us with the ways and the skills to take care of the details our lives.
You and I both know this one. At work, let me answer these three more emails and then I will get to what I have to get done today. Yeah, that project is due in Japan in the morning, but these emails can be easily answered. Just let me do them and then I will get on to what’s really important today! Next thing you know, you have like and hour and half to do a project that was to take all day. Jesus’ call is the project that we can’t ignore with those time consuming non-project related distractions. Just think about George Bailey in the movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life”….he got so bogged down in the details of his life that he never got to travel. Is our service to Jesus so unimportant that we can put it off til next year! Next decade! All of a sudden our life is over and what are we going to say when we stand in judgment…give me another week, Lord, I will make you important then? It is never convenient to put God’s call on our live at the top of the list. There are going to be radical changes to the life we know outside the comfort zone. It ain’t gonna be easy serving God. If it was everybody would be doing it. There would have been Martin Luther Kings in every street corner in the South. There would have been Gandis all over India. There would have been so many Schindlers in Germany and its occupied lands that were would have been no Holocaust! Jesus knew this himself. He know that he would be tortured, beaten, and killed for saying the things he said. He knew human suffering. He lived a human life. He knew that his death was going to be painful. He endured it because his faith in his Father’s purpose was a big enough bully to kick fear and doubt’s butt!
Do you and I have the same ache to do what God asks us to do, nudges us to do, points us to do? Does that aching end when we see that it will radically change our lifestyle? Do the aching end when we see that it will cost us our fortune? Does it end when we see that it will potentially cost us our very lives? Or is our faith a big enough bully to kick doubt’s butt? Or fear’s butt? Are you willing to trust God so completely as Jesus did? As great Christian men and women of history have? To do God’s bidding? To do what God asks of us, nudges us to do, puts us in situations where we have to choose what he designed us to do! Do you have that kind of ache? That kind of faith? Do you operate inside the house like Peter’s mother-in-law and ignore his call to come out of the house like Peter and throw your cares of comfort and security on Jesus and do that which he has called you to do? It’s God and you at the table! It’s God and me at the table? No one else is there. No crowd to follow or leverage quippy sayings from. God is calling you and me to be the clutch player. He is calling us to put everything on the line for him. Will you do it? Will I do it?

Amen and Amen.

Matthew 5:13-16
Salt & Light
Sometimes, we pray or listen to other pray, we find out about the boldness of their faith. Last night was an example of how sometimes my faith is not what it should be. At the small group at which I am the leader, we had one of the newest members of our group as for prayer for about a CT scan that she was going to have the next day (today, this morning). Two members of our life group, one of which was my wife, prayed for healing boldly. When it was my turn, I simply prayed for God’s will to be done in the situation no matter what that might look like. I prayed that even if the outcome the CT scan was to show a problem, then, let our small group member be an example of how a Christ follower deals with adversity. Although my prayer was theologically appropriate in that we should pray for God’s will when we pray and not our own selfish desires and it was theologically appropriate to pray that a person will demonstrate to the world their dependence on God, it was not a bold prayer. My wife and my friend showed greater faith in their prayers. As we laid hands on this member of our small group, they prayed bold prayers. They prayed prayers of faith in a God who can perform miracles. How big is the God we believe in? Do we believe boldly in our Lord to ask Him bold prayers? Or do we offer up ineffectual prayers that have no confidence in the Lord to be able to change the course of this fallen world that includes now disease and death? Do you believe in a God that can heal? Do we believe in a God that is still in the miracle business? Why do I bring this illustration up when we are talking about salt and light? I think this comes to mind because our prayer life is often an indication of the status of our walk with the Lord. I think it is an indication of how deep is our faith. When our faith is deep it is bold in prayer, but it is also bold in action. In reading through the previous passage called the Beatitudes, we learned that being a Christ follower is not a call to sit still. It is a call to be bold. It is a call to change the world. It is a call to us to examine how much we trust God. It is a call to us to demonstrate our faith. Prayer is a demonstration of the depth of our faith. Our daily lives, our daily walk is a demonstration of the depth our faith. Having said all that, let’s now look at what has become known as the “Salt & Light” passage.

In the Beatitudes in the previous passage, Jesus has stated how a true disciple should fashion his lifestyle and attitudes toward others. He indicates that a professed disciple who does not live according to those standards has a lifestyle that is of the same value as tasteless salt or of a hidden light when he says in Matthew 5:13-16, “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

The salt and light sequence is as easy to understand as any of the imagery used by Jesus in his teachings. There is no need some 21 centuries later to have assistance of scholars to understand this. We still use salt today for many of the same purposes as the counterparts of Jesus “back in the day”. We still, of course, understand the properties of light as well. As well as there being two images used here by Jesus, there are two points that he is trying to make.

The first point Jesus is trying to make here is through the imagery of salt. Just as tasteless salt lacks value to the person who uses it, so is a so-called disciple that lacks the genuine commitment to live out the Beatitudes in their daily lives. This, to me, smacks us directly in the face here in 21st Century America. You and I can see the searing indictment to us as Americans coming here. Jesus speaks to us through then centuries as we sit in our pew or seat on Sunday morning and profess to be Christian. However, if we allow not getting out of our comfort zone and allow our excuses for not stepping out and doing what God ask of us, then we are no better than the blind who sat beside the Bethesda pool waiting on his miracle but using every excuse in the world for not getting in the pool as noted in John 5: 1-8. If we do not live the life got wants us to lead, we become like tasteless salt – worthless to the kingdom of God. We must bold dependence on God to be our shield and portion. If we are bold in our belief in God, we will speak when it is easier to blend in and be quiet. We will stand out when it is easier to go along with the crowd. We will stand up for Jesus when it easier to deny Him. We will explain the source of our joy rather than keep it quiet. Just as salt causes reactions and changes the food that it seasons, so should we be bold in our faith. Just as a city on a hill cannot be hidden, so should we be bold lights that illumine the darkness around us. How big is your God? How much faith do you have in Him to step outside your comfort zone? How big is your God? Is He big enough for you to believe that He will provide for you when He calls for you to step out of a life of meaninglessness and boldly be His disciple? We are worthless to the kingdom if we believe in a wimpy God that we think cannot do anything for us. We cannot be light and salt if we do not boldly believe in the power of God.

Also, Jesus uses the image of light to show us what faith without demonstrating means. An unnamed source for a commentary from Bible says, “A disciple whose life reveals none of the Father’s works is like invisible light for vision: useless. Jesus reinforces his point with various images. A disciple should be as obvious as a city set on a hill, and a light in a home should be no easier to hide than a torchlit city at night. Jesus depicts his disciples’ mission in stark biblical terms for the mission of Israel. God called his people to be lights to the nations – that is, the whole world. Christians are light because-contrary to some psychoanalytic theories-their destiny, more than their past must define them.”

Thus, Jesus is telling his direct disciplines some 2,000 years ago and to us today in this age that professing belief in him is only part of the process. Was it not said in James 2: 14-16, “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed, but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?’”

Dr. Richard J. Krejcir says, in one of his daily devotionals at that “Real, impacting, effectual faith will have results. It will be lived out! Faith is received alone, but it does not just stand alone; it is to be shown. Faith will be backed up by the proof that it is present in a person. If there is no proof, there is a good chance that the vessel is empty of faith.” He continues later, “…real faith will result in an outcome that backs it up. Faith will be lived out in the believer’s life, thinking, words, and actions. Faith will create initiative from the realization of who we are in Christ, and then we will live out our lives in Him, through His power and because of our convictions.”

Thus, this section of Scripture (and others like such as James 2: 14-16) teaches us that if we have truly accepted Jesus Christ as our Savior, the Beatitudes will be the code of conduct that we willingly live by. However, if the process stops there then we have done little more than accept a good moral code of conduct. But, being a true believer of Jesus Christ, should result in much more than that. We should shed ourselves of excuses, be willing to leave our comfort zone and follow where God leads us. We should be willing to get into the pool and immerse ourselves in where God is leading us rather than sit beside the pool and complain and make excuses for why we can’t do what God wants us to do. We should have no excuses for not “being a light to the nations”. Our thinking, our words, our actions should reflect the faith we profess. If we do not have the faith to step out and be the light like a city on a hill that others look to and want what we have, then do we really have faith…do we really believe in Jesus Christ? How big is your God? How deep is your faith? How bold are your prayers? Should we not believe the sky is the limit…no I mean the sky is no limit…when we are a true disciple of the Lord who raised Lazarus from the dead, who raised Himself from the dead? Be bold. Be different. Stand out. We believe in a God who created the entire universe with the words from His mouth! We believe in a mighty and powerful God. Be bold. Live out loud! Live a life of demonstrable faith! Pray big prayers! Depend wholly on the power of God to provide and guide and protect and heal and…there is no limit to what God can do when we are fully in the game. When we are all-in, full of faith in Him, we can be salt that changes the flavor of the world. We can be light that shines brightly in the darkness.