This morning in church i preached the follow up sermon/teaching from my sermon a few weeks ago called Let’s Go Swimming (just scroll a bit further down and you will see that manuscript there).
I titled this sermon/teaching Swimming Lessons. It is by no means an exhaustive list. I know there are a lot more things that could be included, but i got the sense that these were the big things that needed to be addressed at this time.
I did change things a little bit during the preaching, and moved away from the script in a few areas:
1. I did not use the “Jerry” illustration, but instead talked about the need to become more socially aware. Don’t worry, it didn’t go all postmodernism on this part. Rather, i encouraged the people to seek God’s heart for the different ministries that He would have them be a part of.
2. I ad-libbed the conclusion, but the general idea of what i said is present here in the script.
And then there were the general ad-libs that naturally occur in the course of preaching. The person leading the service today does teaching at a school in Mexico every year between January and April, and he opened with a few pictures of the actual topography of the area where the temple stood, as well as the Dead Sea. I was able to use this as part of my intro, which you won’t see in the script, but it helped make the intro more fluid, so i was quite pleased. Anyway, enough of that, here again is the script i used this morning, in its unedited form. Enjoy.
July 17, 2011
In 2008, at the summer Olympics in Beijing, Michael Phelps won 8 gold medals, breaking the world record in six of the seven individual races, and helping to set a new record in the team relay event. During the Olympics, the sports editor for the Philippine Daily wrote,
“Famed for his fierce focus and ferocious competitive spirit, Phelps is an obsessive who sets himself near impossible targets and then seems to exceed them. Anyone, who knew Phelps when he was a child in his hometown of Baltimore, must be shaking their heads in disbelief. At his first swimming lesson, he had a screaming fit, terrified of putting his face in the water.”
Our faith journey is like that sometimes, isn’t it. When we first become a Christian, we are terrified. Terrified of the unknown; terrified of losing control; terrified of stepping into the things that God calls us to; just terrified.
The writer of the article goes on to write, “At school, he had to take medicine to overcome an attention deficit disorder, and, at home, he struggled to come to terms with his parents’ divorce. Swimming came to the rescue, giving a structure to his day and allowing him to thrive in at least one area of his life. For day after day, year after year, he practiced in his club pool, building his strength, perfecting his technique and feeding his ambition to redefine the boundaries of his sport.”
Let me read that again. “Swimming came to the rescue, giving a structure to his day. For day after day, year after year, he practiced his discipline, perfecting his technique and feeding his ambition to redefine the boundaries of his sport.” Even though he was screaming at first, he persevered. He practiced daily. What a parallel to the journey of faith that we have in Christ. The struggle to persevere and practice exercising those faith muscles daily so that we can go deeper in Christ, and strengthen our relationship with him.
For those of you who were here a few weeks ago when we met downstairs, I spoke out of Ezekiel 47, and it is in the context of that passage that I am continuing today, but don’t worry if you were not here at that time. I’ll read that passage again to familiarize ourselves with the context here this morning, after which I will make a few summary comments so we are all on the same page. Before we proceed though, let’s bow for a word of prayer.
Now then, let’s read from Ezekiel 47:1-6
Then he, that’s the Lord, brought me back to the door of the temple; and there was water, flowing from under the threshold of the temple toward the east, for the front of the temple faced east; the water was flowing from under the right side of the temple, south of the altar. 2 He brought me out by way of the north gate, and led me around on the outside to the outer gateway that faces east; and there was water, running out on the right side. 3 And when the man went out to the east with the line in his hand, he measured one thousand cubits and he brought me through the waters; the water came up to my ankles. 4 Again he measured one thousand and brought me through the waters; the water came up to my knees. Again he measured one thousand and brought me through; the water came up to my waist. 5 Again he measured one thousand, and it was a river that I could not cross; for the water was too deep, water in which one must swim, a river that could not be crossed. 6 He said to me, “Son of man, have you seen this?” Then he brought me and returned me to the bank of the river.
So again to review what we said a few weeks ago:
This river that Ezekiel sees is a river that flows from out of the temple, where God dwells.
The man Ezekiel sees is Jesus. We know this because it is the same man Ezekiel sees in a different vision in chapter 1:26-28 where he concludes at the end of verse 28, “This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord.”
The Lord measures out one thousand cubits four times, and each time the water is a bit deeper. Last time I equated this with our faith journey. God knows that we wouldn’t be able to handle the full weight of his glory, or the depth of the river, when we first become a Christian. Like Ezekiel in the river, our faith journey is a process. We commit to following Jesus, and he keeps measuring deeper into the glory of God, and we are to follow him, until we are “swimming” in the river.
So it is in the context of that understanding that we find ourselves this morning.
Before we get to the “swimming lessons” though, I would like to share a quick word about the need for Accountability Partners.
One of the great struggles that has plagued Christian’s lives is the notion of living out our faith all alone. Somehow, faith has become a very private thing, especially in the Western part of the world. There is this idea that even though I go to church on Sunday, my faith is my faith, and so is very personal. But the bible says that we are a part of the body of Christ. We hear this all the time, and yet somehow we get caught up in the notion that we need to keep our faith private.
I am not suggesting that everything we do becomes public, but if we are going to follow Christ deeper into the river of God’s glory, the things we’ve just looked at need to be addressed on a regular basis. If we are going to gain ground and battle Satan in those areas, we need accountability partners.
However, someone who might be a great accountability partner in one area of life, may not be the best suited for another area. Personally, I have about six or seven different accountability partners that keep me accountable in different areas of my life.
A few weeks ago some of you made a public declaration that you want to be held accountable in your lives, so that you can grow in your relationship with Christ and with each other. But I want to encourage everyone to find accountability partners who take their responsibility seriously and ask the hard questions. This ensures that you are continually strengthening and growing in your walk with God. Remember Ecclesiastes 4 talks about the value of a friend, and in verse twelve it says, “Though one may be overpowered by another, two can withstand him. And a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” Strengthen and encourage one another in your walk with God. To help you with the accountability issue, at the end of each point I have included a question to ask both God, and each other, to continue to maintain accountability in that area of your life.
And so on to the points for this morning:
The reality is that some of these “swimming lessons” this morning are what we might consider basic things Christians learn about from the day they begin following Christ. The purpose for the lesson today is to be encouragement, and to challenge our thinking with regards to our faith. The reality is that living out the Christian faith in the world today is getting more and more difficult. Satan and his workers are pressing more and more daily, and many Christians simply cannot stand against the assault of the devil. But Jesus keeps measuring out the next steps, and as followers of him, we must keep pressing toward that goal, as the apostle Paul encourages: Run the race with endurance.
So there are some basic “swimming lessons” that we need to consider and then I’ve included some things are not as basic. They stretch our thinking, and our faith.
Moving forward then, let’s dive right in here, the first “swimming lesson” is:
“Swimming Lesson” #1 – What is #1 in your life? Let me say it this way: There is a difference between loving God, and God being number one in your life. Let me repeat that: There is a difference between loving God, and God being number one in your life. It is crucial that, as Christians, we establish God as number one in our lives.
Exodus 20:2-3, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before Me.”
And Mark 12:29 says, “The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord you God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment.” In Matthew’s account Jesus says it’s the greatest commandment.
Isaiah asks the question Isaiah 40:18, “To whom then will you liken God? Or what likeness will you compare to Him?” God asks the same question just a few verses later in Isaiah 40:25, “To whom then will you liken me, or to whom shall I be equal? says the Holy One.”
So the first step, and this is a continual thing, is to regularly ask God to reveal who or what is number one in your life. I’m not suggesting that this should be done every day, or even every month. But every couple of months, ask God, “God, are you number one in my life? Or have I replaced you with something or someone different?” I’m talking about God being above everything in your life. Above your husband or wife; above your children; above your job; above your T.V. show. Above everything.
God says in Song of Solomon 1:15, “Behold, you are fair, my love! Behold, you are fair! You have dove’s eyes.” Now for the person who doesn’t study birds that much, doves don’t have peripheral vision. They can’t see anything going on if they aren’t looking directly at it. It’s like a horse with blinders on, they can’t be distracted by the things going on around them. When God says, “You have dove’s eyes,” he is declaring that you should be looking at him. You are either looking at him, or you are looking at the things of the world.
The second point I want to make on establishing God as number one in your life is: Understand, or try to grasp, what you truly mean to God? 5 times in the book of John we read this phrase, “The disciple Jesus loved.” Remember that John wrote the book of John. He wasn’t trying to be arrogant or boastful. He truly understood how Jesus felt about him. You’ll see those references on the screen there.
John got something about the character of Jesus; about the character of God: God loves us. It’s not just that we are supposed to love God, but that God loves us too. 1 John 4:19 says, “We love Him because He first loved us.” John embraced the emotions that Jesus had for him, and wasn’t afraid to say it.
ListentothesewordsfromSong of Solomon 4:9,“Youhaveravishedmyheart,mysister,myspouse;youhaveravishedmyheartwithonelookofyoureyes.” So we have ravished God’s heart, and with our dove’s eyes, we should be focused on Him at all times.
The dictionary definition of ravished says, “to seize (someone) by violence; carry a person away; to fill with strong emotion, especially joy; to seize and carry off by force. Some synonyms are: enrapture, enthral, delight, transport, captivate.
This is what God says to you, “You have ravished my heart. You have stolen it. You have taken my heart by force.” Do you understand what you mean to God, and how you affect him?
This is why God says, “Love me above anything else in your life.” Because He loves you with every fibre of his being, and with the Holy Spirit living in you, he wants you to love him the same way. God loves you with all of his heart, all of his soul, all of his mind, and all of his strength. That is why the first commandment is so important. When you begin to see how you affect God, you realize more fully why commandment number one is commandment number one. I know I’m spending a lot of time on this point, but it is so important.
Ask God and each other: Is God number one in my life? Is God number one in your life. Or have I replaced you with something else?” If you truly want your relationship with God to go deeper, establish this in your life. And don’t be offended if God reveals to you that he is not number one in your life. Take that revelation as a chance to establish him as number one. Different things might creep up that will try to take that place, and it takes effort to continually maintain God as number one in your life.
Okay, enough on that point. The second “swimming lesson” is this:
“Swimming Lesson” #2 – What about you? Mark 12:31 says, “The second commandment, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
There is a disease in our world today, and it is this: “What about me? When am I going to get mine?” And the cure for this disease is found in these verses, or what I like to call the medicine for the disease, “What about you?”
Our society is increasingly pushing the Individualistic attitude. They say you should be, “Looking out for number one.” The attitude they promote is, “It’s all about me.” And this attitude infiltrates our lives. Satan suckers us in with these lies before we even know what hit us.
The difficulty with this “lesson” and the cure itself, is that it will probably look different from person to person. Each one of our lives will be affected by different social justice issues. Recently I was told about a family with a new child who wasn’t part of a church who needed help, and some of you in our congregation got together and made a bunch of meals to help this family during their time of adjusting to life with a new child. These are the types of stories we need to hear more about. It’s not boasting, it’s just being able to share how you were able to minister to someone in need, and live out the second commandment in your lives.
I had an interesting circumstance this past mother’s day and pastor Abe, after I told him about it, was hoping a time would come up for me to share it so I’ll do that here. Me and mom were at Gan’s having supper when a man with a bike walked by. He had a leathery face and a large blanket full of stuff on the bike, and bags of stuff hanging off the handlebars. We both looked at each other and the same thought had come across our minds: We should buy this guy a plate of food. The problem was that we were just about done and getting ready to leave. So while mom paid, I went outside and found out his name was Jerry. Jerry was a drifter making his way across Canada, so I asked him if he needed anything. To make a long story short, he ended up taking a shower at my place, I did a load of laundry for him, fed him and gave him some food for the road, and even though it was getting late, he wanted to get back on the road, so I drove him to Starbuck, down the number two highway west of Winnipeg. At one point he had asked me what I do, making conversation, and I told him I was a youth pastor. After that he got a lot quieter, and I kept praying that God would give me an opportunity to share his love with Jerry. That opportunity never came, but I was able to slip a New Testament into his bags as I dropped him off. I had shared this story with the lead team, and expressed my disappointment that I was not able to share Christ with Jerry, to which Jon came up and reminded, “Jason, you did share Christ with him. By your actions, you showed him the life of Christ.”
It was a stark reminder for me that I don’t always have to use words to talk about Christ. St. Francis of Assisi said, “Preach the gospel, and if necessary use words.” I was thinking about the ministry model we came up with during the refocusing process, and how we have that circle of relationships surrounding everything we do here at FABC. Ask God and each other: Do my life and my actions towards others minister to people? Or do my actions convey the attitude of the world, always looking out for number one?
Now, I had a tough time deciding which order I would put the next two “swimming lessons” in because they are so closely connected. I won’t take too much time on these next two lessons because pastor Abe has already addressed those things over the course of the last few weeks. However, there are a few comments I would like to make about them so:
“Swimming Lesson” #3 – How healthy is your prayer life? – Individually and corporately.
King David prayed in Psalm 69:9, “Zeal for your house has eaten me up,” and in Psalm 27:4 he says, “One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek: That I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in His temple.” David desired and hungered to dwell in the house, or in the presence of God. God says in Isaiah 56:7, “Even them I will bring to My holy mountain, and make them joyful in My house of prayer. Their burnt offering and their sacrifices will be accepted on My altar; For my house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations.” Twice in this verse God calls his house a house of prayer. So what is your prayer life like?
Pastor Abe challenged us the last two weeks to think about the things that distract us from taking time with God. Is your life so busy that you don’t spend time with God in prayer? Do you fill your day with everything else and ignore giving time to God? What would it take to set your alarm five minutes earlier, just so you get five minutes with God in the morning? Or ten minutes. Before long ten minutes won’t be enough and you’ll be setting your alarm an hour earlier than you used to just to spend time with God.
Ask God and each other: Is my prayer life healthy? Am I/are you spending enough time in prayer? And directly related to this is:
“Swimming Lesson” #4 – Do you eat the book? Pastor Abe talked about the bible as our road map just two weeks ago, so I won’t drag this point out, but I do want to reference Revelation 10, which is my favorite passage in the bible.
In Revelation 10:8-10 John writes, “Then the voice which I heard from heaven spoke to me again and said, “Go, take the little book which is open in the hand of the angel who stands on the sea and on the earth.” So I went to the angel and said to him, “Give me the little book.” And he said to me, “Take and eat it; and it will make your stomach bitter, but it will be as sweet as honey in your mouth.” Then I took the little book out of the angel’s hand and ate it, and it was as sweet as honey in my mouth. But when I had eaten it, my stomach became bitter.”
Notice something here: God tells John to go and take the book, and what does John do? He goes up to the angel and says, “Give me the book.” Consider this question for your lives, “Do you take the book and eat it daily, or do you just let someone feed it to you on Sunday mornings?” God’s command is to take the book and eat it.
Eugene Peterson wrote a book a number of years ago aptly named, Eat this Book, and in it he addresses the questions: Do we read [the bible] for information about God and salvation, for principles and “truths” that we can use to live better? Or do we read it in order to listen to God and respond in prayer and obedience?
Maybe you’ve heard the saying, “Seven days without God’s word makes one weak.” It’s not enough to show up on Sunday mornings expecting to hear the word of God preached and then going home thinking you’ve had your fill for the week. That would be like John going up to the angel and saying, “Give me the book.” No, we are supposed to take the book, and make it a part of our daily lives. Those of you on reading plans, don’t stop. But I want to encourage you to take the time as well during your devo’s to pick apart another book of the bible more intentionally. Do the cross-referencing. Do the grammar and word searching. Eat it up.
Ask God and each other: Am I/are you studying the bible enough, or am I/are you becoming weak?
Speaking of eating, that leads me to the next “swimming lesson”:
“Swimming Lesson” #5 – Deny yourself food. Or simply put: Make fasting a regular part of your life.
Jesus says in Matthew 6:16, “Moreover, when you fast…” and then he goes on to give instructions about fasting. Something worth mentioning here is that Jesus talks about fasting right after he teaches those around him the Lord’s Prayer.
In Matthew 9:14, John’s disciples ask Jesus, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but Your disciples do not fast?” and Jesus says to them, “The days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast.” So John the Baptist, who Jesus declared was the greatest man ever born of a woman, taught his disciples that fasting was needed to maintain a healthy spiritual life. And Jesus words echo that sentiment, “When I’m not here, the disciples will fast.”
I like what Charles Stanley says about fasting: “Throughout the Bible, God directed His people to fast and pray. And every time people fasted and prayed, God released His supernatural power to bring about whatever was necessary to meet their needs. Whether it was wisdom or the defeat of an enemy, God was always faithful to provide. Fasting does not negate our responsibility to be obedient to God. We cannot fast and pray and expect God to bless us when there is known sin in our lives. Fasting does not impress God with our spirituality to the point that He ignores our sin. On the contrary, genuine fasting will always cause us to examine our hearts to make sure everything is right with Him.”
I’ll get to the repentance and dealing with sin aspect in just a moment, but I’ll finish up with the aspect of fasting by quoting one of my favorite pastors, Mike Bickle. He says, “The call to fasting is actually a call to position ourselves to receive freely from the Lord. We don’t earn anything from fasting. Actually we are positioning ourselves where we can receive more at a faster pace and in greater measure.”
Ask God and each other: Am I/are you regularly positioning yourself to receive from the Lord through fasting in your life?
Stanley made reference to dealing with sin in our lives, which leads us to the next “swimming lesson”:
“Swimming Lesson” #6 – Are you seeking forgiveness of sins daily?
In Ezekiel 18:21-22 it says, “If a wicked man turns from all his sins which he has committed, keeps all My statutes, and does what is lawful and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. None of the transgressions which he has committed shall be remembered against him; because of the righteousness which he has done, he shall live.” I hinted at this a few weeks ago, but I’ll say it again: Paul says in Philippians 3:12, “Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me.” Living a perfect life is impossible in this world with these mortal bodies, but we continue to strive for holiness, and that involves repentance of sins.
I want to encourage you, in your daily devotions, ask God if there are things you need to repent of, and clean the slate. As you go about your day, if you sin, repent immediately. Don’t let Satan gain a foothold. Don’t let it fester. Don’t give Satan that chance.
And the other thing I want to say about repenting is this notion of shame or disgrace. How many of you, even after you’ve repented, have ever felt you need to spend some time in some sort of grace period, where you have to take a few days to re-earn God’s favor? I’m convinced it’s one of Satan’s oldest tactics to keep people from communing in the fullness of God. We need to get over this idea that we need to spend time in the penalty box after we’ve repented. I know it sounds too easy, but if you’ve repented of a sin, God has forgiven you, there is no condemnation. When you sin, call it what it is, sin, repent, press delete and move forward.
Ask God and each other: Am I/are you repenting of your sins regularly?”
And the final “swimming lesson” I have for you today is:
“Swimming Lesson” #7 – Gain the wisdom of God
In Proverbs 4:7 it says, “Wisdom is the principle thing; therefore get wisdom. And in all your getting, get understanding.” Solomon wasn’t talking about earthly wisdom. Remember that Solomon was the wisest man to ever walk the earth. But it wasn’t an earthly wisdom or understanding. Solomon says in 1 Kings 3:7, “Now, O Lord my God, You have made Your servant king instead of my father David, but I am a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in… Therefore give to your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people, that I may discern between good and evil.”
I know I’m probably stepping on some toes by saying this, but the last point I am suggesting in order to go deeper in the things of God is, “Gain the wisdom of God.” This is a difficult concept but is crucial for the development, growth and change that will produce lasting and good fruit in our lives. And I should clarify that this does not mean we simply forget what we know about God. But it has to go deeper than knowing things about God. Anyone can know things about God. Atheists know things about God.
Remember, I say this while even as I speak, I am studying for a Bachelor of Theology degree. Solomon was talking about an understanding that the human mind simply cannot grasp on its own. Ed Penner and I had a conversation about this very thing just a few days ago. He had no idea I was preparing to mention this today when he brought it up, but he used the term, “A new paradigm of thinking.”
He was talking about an understanding that comes directly from God and goes beyond natural human thinking. One of the problems in Western society is that everything has to be able to be explained by the human mind. I like what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:27, “God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty.”
We pray the prayer, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” But then our rational mind gets in the way and we stall what God was prepared to release in our midst. Changing the paradigm of thinking changes your perspective and the way in which you operate.
Ask God and each other: Am I/are you getting in the way of what God is doing because of natural understanding? Or am I/are you seeking His understanding in all I say and do?
In closing I’d like to turn our attention back to Ezekiel 47 briefly, and the river of God’s glory. Ezekiel gets deeper and deeper until he’s swimming in the river, and then in verses six to ten it reads,
6 He said to me, “Son of man, have you seen this?” Then he brought me and returned me to the bank of the river. 7 When I returned, there, along the bank of the river, were very many trees on one side and the other. 8 Then he said to me: “This water flows toward the eastern region, goes down into the valley, and enters the sea. When it reaches the sea, its waters are healed. 9 And it shall be that every living thing that moves, wherever the rivers go, will live. There will be a very great multitude of fish, because these waters go there; for they will be healed, and everything will live wherever the river goes. 10 It shall be that fishermen will stand by it from En Gedi to En Eglaim; they will be places for spreading their nets. Their fish will be of the same kinds as the fish of the Great Sea, exceedingly many.
I can’t think of a better way to glean anything from this part of the passage than to apply it to our own situation here in Niverville. The passage talks about the healing of the Dead Sea and being filled with all kinds of fish. It says that the banks will be lined with fishermen from top to bottom, with their nets ready. Well we don’t have the Dead Sea near us, but we have Niverville. When we follow Christ and have learned to operate in God’s glory, we can be “in this world but not of it.” Then the waters of our town, so to speak, will be healed and will be filled with fish. Jesus says in Matthew 4:19, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” Ultimately, the end result of swimming in the river of God’s glory is to continually deepen our relationship with God and to bring others to the saving knowledge of Christ.
I’m going to ask the guys to play a short song that expresses some of the things we’ve been looking at today, and then I’ll close with a word of prayer.
Charles Stanley, Handle with Prayer: Unwrap the source of God’s strength for living, (Colorado Springs: David Cook, 2011), 39-40.
Mike Bickle, audio recording from the series, The Sacred Charge: 7 Commitments of a Forerunner. Session two deals with the subject of fasting as part of our daily lives.
I would appreciate any comment you would like to make.