|May 30, 2009|
Part 1 of 1 | May 31, 2009
I’m excited about the message that God has given me today. In our church, this is what our staff calls a “one shot” message. It’s not part of a larger sermon series. It’s just one and done. But I’m pumped about this one-shot message because I really believe God has laid a truth on my heart that His church desperately needs to hear.
I’m reading through the book of Exodus right now, and I noticed something that I had never seen before. It’s in Exodus 14, which is the story of how God parted the Red Sea.
If you don’t know the story, here’s the Reader’s Digest version. God’s people, the Israelites, had been in slavery in Egypt for hundreds of years. Finally, God used Moses to lead his people out of their captivity.
But once they were gone, Pharaoh had a change of heart. He realized that he had just allowed all his slaves to go free. So Pharaoh led the Egyptian army in pursuit of the Israelites.
The Egyptians caught up with them at the Red Sea. When the Israelites saw the Egyptian forces closing in, they found themselves pinned against the sea, seemingly in a position with no escape. So they cried out to Moses, their leader, in fear and anger.
“They said to Moses, "Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’?
It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!” (Exodus 14:11-12, NIV)
But God intervened as only He could. God split the Red Sea in half. The Israelites crossed the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water standing up on both sides of them. After they crossed, God caused the waters of the sea to come back together again, drowning the entire Egyptian army.
A lot of us know that story well because we’ve heard it all our lives. Maybe you heard it in Sunday School as a kid. Maybe you’ve seen it in a Charleston Heston movie. It’s one of the most well-known stories in the Bible. We know how that story ends. We know that it ends with God rescuing the Israelites and destroying the Egyptians.
But we have to remember that, as this was happening, the Israelites didn’t know how the story would end. All they knew was that Pharaoh’s army was bearing down on them and they were pinned against the sea. And so they cried out to Moses in fear and anger.
In verse 14, Moses told them, “The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.” (Exodus 14:14, NIV)
Moses had seen God do so much that he confidently told the Israelites, “You don’t need to do anything. Just wait and watch. God will take care of everything. We just need to be still.”
Sounds all well and good. Kind of sounds like something you would expect Moses to say. “Be still and wait on God.” But listen to what God said to Moses in the very next verse.
“Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on.’” (Exodus 14:15, NIV)
Did you see the conflicting ideas between God and Moses? Look again.
Moses told the Israelites to “be still.
God told them to “move on.”
Moses sounded like a very religious guy. “Let’s just sit here and pray. We’ll wait on God.”
God didn’t sound religious at all. “Get off your rear and get moving.”
By most people’s standards, Moses actually sounded a lot more “spiritual” than God. It sounds so spiritual to say, “Let’s just pray and then sit back and wait on God.”
But God isn’t interested in someone who appears spiritual. He’s looking for someone who will move in faith.
The problem is that many of us view faith as a noun instead of a verb. Instead of active, we think faith is passive. It feels like we’re more spiritually mature if we do nothing but wait on God. But that is not spirituality as you see it in the Bible. Spirituality is not about passivity. It’s about activity. It’s not passive. It’s active. It’s about doing something. It’s not about waiting. It’s about moving.
But here’s where we run into a problem. Movement is risky.
It was risky for the Israelites to move. Moses wanted to be still. God told them to move. Move where? There was only two ways they could go. One way led them right toward the Egyptian army. The other led right into the Red Sea. Either way, movement didn’t seem like a good idea. It was a risk…but it was a God ordained risk.
Instead of looking for a more sensible means of escape, God told them to get up and move into the Red Sea. That must have seemed absolutely crazy, but it through that crazy, risky move that God worked in an incredible way. But it never would have happened if the people hadn’t been willing to take a risk.
When did we start to believe that faith = safe? Where did that come from? I’m not exactly sure, but I can tell you where it didn’t come from. It didn’t come from God. In the Bible, faith is always connected to risk.
And nothing has changed. Living with faith means taking God-directed, God-ordained, God-honoring risks everyday of our lives.
What risk is God calling you to take?
Is he calling you to surrender your finances? The Biblical benchmark for giving is the tithe, which means giving 10% of your income back to God. Some of you hear that and think, “There’s no way. Have you seen what the economy is like? There’s no way I can do that.”
Hmmm…so God isn’t bigger than the economy. I didn’t know that. Sure, giving generously is a risk. But it’s a God-directed risk. The question is, do you trust him enough to move? Or are you going to continue to be still, to play it safe?
Every one of us has to ask the question, “What risk is God calling me to take?”
Is he calling you to go on that mission trip? You’ve thought about it for a long time, but you’ve never done it. Or maybe it’s not a mission trip…maybe he’s calling you to go to the mission field full time. It’s a crazy, risky move. That’s the point.
Is he calling you to serve for the first time? Maybe you’ve never done anything more than just “go to church.” You’ve never served in the church. It’s dangerous to your comfort. It requires you to give of yourself instead of always taking for yourself. It’s a risk, but it’s a risk that God is calling you to take.
Is he calling you to give your life to Christ? You know what God’s desire is for you. You know Jesus died for you. You know that the gospel is true. But you just haven’t pulled the trigger because it’s a risk. I’m not going to lie to you…giving your life to Christ is an incredible risk. It changes everything. It brings a lot of unknowns into the equation. But through that risk comes great reward. God is calling you to move. To take the step of faith and make Jesus the Savior and the Lord of your life.
God is always calling his people to step into the unknown. To quit playing it safe and take a risk. But in a lot of ways, that is the exact opposite of what you see in the contemporary church.
Most churches have safety and security hardwired into their DNA. They won’t make a move unless they know exactly how it will turn out and exactly how they will pay for it. If there is a chance that it will offend even one person, they won’t do it. If they don’t have every dollar needed on hand, they won’t do it. The goal is to keep everybody happy, so they always play it safe. And in the process, they lose all sense of mission.
Where there is no risk, there is no faith. If all our questions were answered and the outcome was guaranteed, we wouldn’t call it faith, would we? When you’re talking about true, Biblical faith, risk is automatically part of the equation.
Now, with that in mind, think about this verse. “The righteous will live by faith.” (Romans 1:17b, NIV) If the righteous will live by faith, and faith means a willingness to take a risk, are you righteous? By that definition, are you living a righteous life? Because a righteous life doesn’t mean a safe life.
What is the last dangerous thing you did for God? When was your last righteous risk? For a lot of us, the answer is half past never. That is largely because the church has redefined faith. Faith means sitting in a safe building, singing safe songs, listening to safe sermons, hanging around safe people, taking on safe projects, and worshipping a safe Jesus.
Here’s the problem with that…you can’t find any of that in the Bible. There is a deadly mindset among a lot of Christians today. They believe that God just wants them to be happy and lead a comfortable life. When, in reality, God says that we exist for his glory…not vice versa. And if you are truly living for God’s glory, there will be times when he will ask you to get really uncomfortable.
If you still think that God has called you to play it safe, to live a comfortable, easy life, think about some of the things that Jesus said.
“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…” (Matthew 5:44, NIV)
“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.” (Matthew 5:11, NIV)
“…anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:38-39, NIV)
Where are safety and security and comfort in these words of Jesus? It’s not there. What is there is danger. What is there is faith, which means taking a risk.
In Colossians 4, God commands us to, “make the most of every opportunity.” (Colossians 4:5b, NIV)
So many Christians miss the opportunities that God has for them simply because they aren’t willing to pull the trigger and take the risk.
Leonard Ravenhill said, “The opportunity of a lifetime must be seized in the lifetime of the opportunity.”
Every opportunity has an expiration date. To make the most of every opportunity means that I have to be willing to move at the speed of God. Oftentimes, that means merging into oncoming traffic at breakneck speed.
Steven Furtick wrote, “A lot of people I know are more fearful of making a wrong move than making no move at all. Not me. I’ve been alive long enough to know that if I just sit at the intersection after God has given a green light, He’ll only honk a few times before He passes me by in the other lane. Doesn’t mean He’ll stop loving me or stop using me. It just means that that opportunity is gone. Forever.”
If you are considering a great, godly, risky opportunity, remember this. The cost of missing out can be greater than the cost of messing up. Take the risk. Do something crazy. Follow the lead of our dangerous, unpredictable, unstoppable God.
Is the outcome guaranteed? No.
Will your friends think you’ve lost your mind? Probably.
Will God think you’re faithful? Definitely.
We are blessed to have risk-takers on our church staff. Honestly, I’m in awe by our staff’s willingness to take on a risk.
Brian Morrissey is our youth/worship minister. But that wasn’t how Brian saw his life shaking out. He wanted to go into teaching, so he got a degree in music education. God had different plans and He called Brian into ministry. Not only that, but He called Brian and Cara to leave their home in California and move all the way to Ohio to accept the ministry position here at Amelia. What would you do if God called you to move across the country, leaving a ton of family and friends behind, to embrace the unknown?
But Brian isn’t the only one that God called here. He called Paul and Melanie Presta to leave their home in Indiana and move to Cincinnati. It was Melanie’s hometown, so all her family and friends were there. They moved to Cincinnati, honestly not knowing what God had in store for them. They didn’t know that Paul would be hired as the Director of Admissions at Cincinnati Christian University. They didn’t know that we would hire Melanie as our children’s minister. And if they hadn’t faithfully followed God’s call to uproot their family and move to Ohio, none of that would have happened. If they hadn’t been willing to make the risky move, they wouldn’t have received the blessings that God had waiting on them.
Go back to the story of the Israelites at the Red Sea. Moses thought it would be safer if they just prayed and waited. But God told them to get up and move on. If the Israelites hadn't moved, God would not have parted the Red Sea. They would have died at the hands of Pharaoh. So in reality, playing it safe was much more dangerous. Being still carried a greater risk than deciding to move.
God waited to move until his people moved. Usually, that’s the way it works.
Now, don’t get me wrong. There are seasons when all we can do is wait on the Lord. Faithfully pray, and then wait for His deliverance. There are times when that’s all we can do.
But, more often than that, God expects us to move. Yes, we pray. Yes, we wait on His deliverance. But waiting doesn’t mean that we do nothing. We keep moving. We do all that we can do while we wait on God to do what only He can do.
Too many Christians use prayer as an excuse for inactivity. “If I pray, then I can be lazy. And if nothing happens, then I can just blame God.”
You can pray while you’re working. You can pray while you’re moving. If it seems like you’re stuck, if you’ve been praying and praying for God to move and nothing is happening, maybe he’s waiting on you to move. Maybe, if you just took one step of faith, you would watch the Red Sea part right before your eyes.
“But you don’t understand…I’m afraid. Shouldn’t my faith erase my fear.” Nope. Faith doesn’t mean the absence of fear. It means moving in spite of your fear.
Listen to this incredible story from the book of Ezra. “When the seventh month came and the Israelites had settled in their towns, the people assembled as one man in Jerusalem. Then Jeshua son of Jozadak and his fellow priests and Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel and his
associates began to build the altar of the God of Israel to sacrifice burnt offerings on it, in accordance with what is written in the Law of Moses the man of God.
Despite their fear of the peoples around them, they built the altar on its foundation and sacrificed burnt offerings on it to the LORD, both the morning and evening sacrifices. (Ezra 3:1-3, NIV)
Despite their fear they moved forward. Despite their fear they followed the call of God. The surrounding people could have attacked. If they had invaded, a lot of Israelites were going to die. But they moved forward, anyway. They didn’t wait until the fear subsided before they obeyed God. They obeyed God in the midst of their fear.
Listen to this word from God in 2 Timothy. “For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.” (2 Timothy 1:7, NLT)
Let’s break this verse down. God has not given us a spirit of fear but of power. God has my back. He has promised to unleash his power in my life. If I have the power of God in my life, why am I afraid to step out in faith? If God is calling me to take the risk that is in front of me and I have the power of God behind me, why would I not get up and get moving?
Secondly, God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of love. In God’s mind, love means obedience. If I love God, then I will do what God has called me to do. Even if it’s risky. Even if there is no guarantee. God called me to do it. I love God. I do it.
Finally, God has not given us a spirit of fear but of self-discipline. Self-discipline means that I force my will to come into alignment with God’s will. I force myself to listen to my Father instead of listening to my fear. It doesn’t mean that fear is absent, but it means that I choose not to listen to it. Self-discipline means that I am willing to sacrifice my comfort for God’s glory. I am willing to risk something I value to gain something I value more, which is the praise and approval of God.
“For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.” (2 Timothy 1:7, NLT)
What’s it going to be, church? Are we going to pursue comfort, or are we going to pursue Christ? Are we going to kowtow to fear, or step out boldly in faith?
Listen to this prayer written by Sir Francis Drake. “Disturb us, Lord, when we are too well pleased with ourselves. When our dreams have come true because we have dreamed too little. When we arrive safely because we have sailed too close to the shore. Disturb us, Lord.”
A friend of mine wrote, “This prayer is the opposite of what American Christianity strives for. It is the opposite of what I strive for. So often I ask God for safety, for comfort, to make my life easy, when the reality is that I should be asking God to disturb me.
God disturb me so that I dream BIG DREAMS, dreams that are so huge that without YOU they will surely not come true.
Help me not to worry about my reputation. Disturb me so that I care only for YOUR reputation. And with YOUR reputation on the line, I will not dream pitiful dreams, but dreams that move mountains.
God disturb me so that I never want to play it safe again. Give me courage so that I will be in the middle of where YOU want me to be. God, disturb me so that I never miss out on what YOU have in store for my life.”
I asked you this question earlier. I want to ask one more time: What risk is God calling you to take? What is stopping you from doing it?
God didn’t part the Red Sea until the Israelites committed to move on. To take the risk and follow where God was leading. And what followed their step of faith? One of the greatest miracles in recorded history.
You might be one risk away from the greatest miracle in the history of your life. Is it guaranteed? No. It’s risky. It’s dangerous. But risky faith is the faith that God honors.
We are the church of the risen Christ. We’ve got no time for small dreams or safe religion. We are the church of God that is empowered by God and is on a mission for God. It’s time to move on!
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