Then Elisha said, “Take the arrows!” So he took them. Then Elisha said to the king of Israel, “Strike the ground!” So he struck the ground three times and stopped. 19 The man of God was angry with him and said, “You should have struck the ground five or six times. Then you would have struck down Aram until you had put an end to them, but now you will only strike down Aram three times.” 2 Kings 13

At first reading I was like dude, poor Jehoash.  How was he to know how many times to strike the ground?   

But as I thought about it I came to these conclusions.  Jehoash was seeking answers from a prophet.  He already had done something weird and prophetic by shooting the arrows out the window.   He would have realized that this wasn’t just an ordinary moment but a significant defining moment.

But he only shoots 3 times. 

King Jehoash quit.  He shot 3 arrows and then stopped.  He gave up.  Elisha’s reaction implies that it’s a matter of faith and courage.  He is gutted that Jehoash didn’t follow through.  He’s like you started well, but you gave up.  You stopped!  You should have used all the arrows!  Dude!   Elisha from his prophetic standpoint, saw the greatness of the opportunity, the abundance of favor which God was ready to grant, and the way in which God’s favor was limited and narrowed by Jehoash’s lack of zeal.

It’s not just about starting, it’s about finishing.  It’s about being intentional about the goals.   It’s about following Jesus every day.

Lets just pause here to say that God will never give up on you.  He will never quit.  Jesus went all the way to the death on the cross to win salvation of us and He will never give up on us no matter what we are going thorugh.

Galatians 6:9 says Let us not be weary in doing good, for we will reap in due season, if we do not give up.

There are defining moments in each of our lives that put us at a fork in the road.

The choice is faith or fear.

The choice is faith or freaking out.

In those moments we have grace to choose God, to choose faith, trust and hope.

How do we FEED our faith?  When we feed our faith, we starve our doubts.

1.  KNOW the promises of God.  The most effective way to do this is reading your bible regularly so that when its hammer time that you KNOW them and have the promises at your fingertips, and most importantly, in your heart so you respond with faith not reacting in fear.   The best new year resolution you can make is to know God and make Him known and that can start with making an intentional rhythm to read the bible.   

I know I said that there are no magic formulas in the kingdom of God but God has spiritual principals and time and time again its says that you’ll be blessed when you seek God, you’ll blessed when you put Him first, you’ll be blessed when you read His word, you’ll be blessed when you live obedient.  

2.  WORSHIP God and remind yourself of His goodness and greatness.  Let worship remind you of the truth our feelings forget.  Worship engages our emotions and stirs faith at a heart level.

3.  TURN UP THE TESTIMONIES remind yourself of the times that God has been faithful before in your life.  I love the way that the Israelites built altars.   They weren’t so much like how we would picture an altar at say a more traditional church, like the Anglican church with an altar up the front but they were built as memorials to the faithfulness of God.

Time and time again people built altars to remember a significant encounter with God.  When the Isarelites crossed the Jordan River.  When Abraham came to the promised land.  When Jacob saw God surrounded by angels in a dream. 

Life moves by so quickly and we can easily get amnesia about those breakthroughs and moments where we see God move.

The altars were places and physical reminders of the great things God had done.   Though I’m not suggesting you take a pile of rocks and put the up in your back yard, I am encouraging you to connect with the testimonies of what God has done for real in your real life.   This will add fuel to your faith, God you did it here, you moved, you changed things, you opened doors, miracles happened. 

Knowing that God has come through for me over and over again in the past helps me to trust him with my present and future. Even though I may not know what He is doing right now, I know what He has done before. He is good. He does good. He is faithful. He is trustworthy.

4.  SURROUND yourself with good people who will practically help and purposefully pray for you, people who will encourage you to live by faith.  Maybe an awesome new year resolution is to join a connect group or church in 2021. 

Faith will tell you to have patience when everything else is telling you to panic. Faith will tell you to hold on when everything else is telling you to let go. Faith will tell you to push forward when everything else is telling you to pull back.

It made me ask myself. “If I were Jehoash, would I strike the ground with the arrows more than three times?”

Am I someone that pursues a God goal intentionally?

Am I feeding my faith?

Am I making prayer a priority?

Is my relationship with God real behind the scenes as well as in my highlight reel?

2 Kings 13:17 Then Elisha said, “The Lord’s arrow of victory, yes, the arrow of victory over Aram. You are to strike down the Arameans in Aphek until you have put an end to them.”

It’s interesting to note that Elisha declared that Israel would win these battles even though no battle had being fought on a battlefield as yet.   The victory was declared in the bedroom first before the fight was won on the battlefield. 

Private victory precedes public victory.    Its personal before it’s on the platform.

I’m a firm believer in making a decision before you need.  Determine what decision you’re going to make so that when you’re in the moment you’ve already made your choice.

This applies to the things that will be jumping to your mind like drugs and alcohol, but think about it in the context of relationships, integrity, honesty, gossip, anxiety.  What decision have you made about your thought life?  About what you watch on Netflix? 

Determine to make the decision that you will love God.   Make that decision in advance that you will be at church every Sunday.  That you will live your life with integrity.  That you will ready your bible every day.  That you will not give up.  What you decide today can determine what direction you point your life in.   What you decide today determines your destination.

Galatians 6:7-9 What you plant will always be the very thing you harvest. 8 The harvest you reap reveals the seed that was planted. If you plant the corrupt seeds of self – life into this natural realm, you can expect to experience a harvest of corruption. If you plant the good seeds[e] of Spirit-life you will reap the beautiful fruits that grow from the everlasting life of the Spirit.  9 And don’t allow yourselves to be weary or disheartened in planting good seeds, for the season of reaping the wonderful harvest you’ve planted is coming!

I am not a gardener.  In fact we managed pretty much kill a houseplant we were asked to plant sit for my mother in law.  One month.  Rest in peace.  But I do know the principal.  What you plant and nurture will grow.  Planting and nurturing takes place in the private.  It’s behind the scenes.  It’s often not glamorous.  There’s no lime light.  No applause.  

This is where vision is important.  

Vision gives significance to the otherwise meaningless details of our lives.  Too many times the routines of life begin to feel like brick upon brick.   But take those same routines and responsibilities and view them through the lens of vision and everything looks different.   The choices we make either draw us closer to our vision or push us farther away from it. If we’re unsure of the vision, then we won’t know how to make decisions that carry us in the right direction. Clear vision illuminates the path in front of us as we select which roads to travel down in life.

Vision puts everyday actions into our everyday real life that aim us in a direction. 

Vision shows us where to shoot.  And in Johoaeh’s case, vision should have shown him to keep on shooting.

It’s the wax on wax off, paint the fence focus and daily discipline of Daniel in karate kid that means that when its fight time the private practice becomes public victory. 

On Christmas Eve we drove down to Wellington to spend Christmas with my family.  We watched the amazing Christmas Eve service in the car, on 3 devices, while driving through the middle of nowhere towards the city.  We thought it might have been a first having our pastor preaching in a tunnel so took a video of us as went through Victoria tunnel and pulled up to our motel to feliz navidad. 

Traffic was mostly good, well better than I had expected but we decided to trust the gps on what would be the fastest way to get there.  The gps told us that the best way was to bypass taupo and head down the back side of the lake.  Which was great when we were paying attention to that special voice mispronouncing everything.  But not so great when we completely ignored it because we were distracted by Hamilton songs and missed our turnoff.   We were redirected along about a 20 minute route along some lovely windy bumpy country roads before reconnecting with the correct road.

Staying close with Jesus is like following gps.

Proverbs 3:5-6 Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.

TPT version puts it like this:

Trust in the Lord completely,
and do not rely on your own opinions.
With all your heart rely on him to guide you,
and he will lead you in every decision you make.
Become intimate with him in whatever you do,
and he will lead you wherever you go.

When we can only see the next step or two on the map of our life God can zoom out and see the whole picture.  He stands at the end of your life, the destination, and calls you each step of the way to follow Him.

I love the disciples reaction when Jesus calls them to follow Him.  In their case they literally were following Jesus – they were walking roads and going to towns and witnessing first hand Jesus doing ministry, healing people, touching people, loving people.

Peter and Andrew were fishermen and Matthew 4:18 says that they were casting their nets when Jesus called them.  Follow Me, He said and I will make you fish for men.  Verse 20 says they immediately left their nets and followed Him.  In Matthew 9:9-13 we read that Jesus saw Matthew sitting at his tax collectors booth collecting tax and Jesus disrupted his life and said follow Me.  Immediately Matthew left his job and his life and followed Jesus.

Following Jesus isn’t the status quo.  He changes your life.  He gives you a fresh start.   He invites you into a new family and a new way of life.  Being a Christian isn’t an optional extra, it’s not a nice thing we do on Sundays, it’s not about being a good person.  We follow Him in response to His great love and His great grace that took Him to the cross to die in our place so that we can have peace with God and eternal life.  He did everything to make the way to God and how we live our lives is in response to that love.

This is Jesus’ invitation to each one of us “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.  Luke 9:23

Sometimes following Jesus will not make sense.  Elisha’s command to get a bow and point it out the window didn’t make sense in the natural. 

Leaving their boats didn’t make sense for Peter and Andrew.

Taking that job might not make sense to the world but does in the plan of God.

Not dating someone because they’re not a Christian but they’re cute doesn’t make sense to the world but does in the plan of God.

Tithing.  Reading the bible.  Prayer.  Raising our hands in worship.  The might not make sense to the world but they do in the plan of God.

Making church a priority and ignoring the beach and the things that could compete for this time slot doesn’t make sense to the world but does in the plan of God.  

Look – let’s get really real here.  One of the most common questions I get asked as a youth pastor is how do I get my teenagers to love God and come to church.    At River Youth our mission is to make life long disciples who know God and make Him known.  But that doesn’t just happen at youth.  It doesn’t happen when they hit year 7 and can come.  It isn’t a done deal when they finish year 13.  Because one of the biggest influencers in whether they’ll stick to it and become life long disciples is set by you guys, the parents and your attitude to church.  Is church a priority?  Is it important?  It is a greater priority than dare I say it a sports team or a birthday party or a drama class?  I went there.  Sorry not sorry.   It might not make sense to the world but in light of eternity…. 

Moving to Auckland in 1999 didn’t make any logical sense in my world.  I had no job.  No where to live.  All I had was a red Daihatsu charade and what I could cram into it.   But God had a plan and on the first Sunday I went to church I overheard the lady behind me saying to a friend she needed a boarder.  I turned round and introduced myself.  I moved in the next day.  The next day I had a job interview and got the job.   6 months later I walked in the doors at the River and the rest is history.

Obedience makes sense when you see the big picture and you recognize that the God that says I know the plans I have for you, plans to bless you and give you a future and a hope, really does know the plans and the steps and the way and that if you want to get to where you wanna go it makes sense to follow the one with the map.

I’m not sure what Jehoash expected would happen when he said My father! My father!” “The chariots and horsemen of Israel!”

But I don’t think he expected Elisha to tell him to get his bows and arrows.

2 kings 13:15-17 Elisha responded, “Take a bow and arrows.” So he got a bow and arrows. 16 Then Elisha said to the king of Israel, “Put your hand on the bow.” So the king put his hand on it, and Elisha put his hands on the king’s hands. 17 Elisha said, “Open the east window.” So he opened it. Elisha said, “Shoot!” So he shot.

You have to give king Jehoash credit though.   It’s like a game of Elisha says.

Elisha says get the bow and arrows and he did.

Elisha says open the window and he did.

Elisha says shoot and he did.

Elisha says hands on head… you get the picture.

For each command the king responds with obedience.

Like I said earlier Jehoash is not one of the good guys.  He follows the pattern that the kings of Israel set out who do life their own way, rebelling against God and His standards.  But here is, visiting Elisha, wanting something from God.   It doesn’t matter who you are or what you’ve done with God you can have a fresh start and turn it around.   

The bible is quite black and white sometimes.

John 14:15 says If you love me, obey my commandments.

And 1 John 2:5-65 But those who obey God’s word truly show how completely they love him. That is how we know we are living in him. 6 Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Jesus did.

At the start of this y ear I kept on being drawn back to a curious passage, and by curious I mean weird, in 2 kings 13:14-19.   This is possibly an account that you will not find in the E100 bible plan – the essential 100 passages – or a kids Bible.  It’s one of those stories you read and you know there is God stuff in there but its hidden because it’s weird, so you flick the page.  Or is that just me?

But I know that on every page and in every passage God wants to speak to us.  He wants to show us who He is and what He can do in our lives.  He wants to teach us how to live right and live holy.   Every passage can renew our mind to become more like Jesus, and that’s the big goal.

Let me give you some backstory on who the main players are.

Jehoash is the king of Israel – which to make a long story short – means he’s probably a bad dude.   Back in 2 kings 13:11 it says that He too sinned against the LORD and followed the evil example of other kings, who had led Israel into sin.  No a great character reference.

Then we have Elijah who was a prophet of God and did lots of amazing things for God, calling down fire, praying for rain after a 3 year drought etc.  We have Elijah with a J and Elisha with an S and my goal this morning is to not mix them up!  As prophets Elijah and Elisha gave divine insight to the leaders and the people of Israel not just about spiritual things but about politics and real like strategies that led to them winning real life wars and battles.   Elijah was Elisha’s mentor and Elisha served him for about 8 years before Elijah had a dramatic exit from this world to the next without dying and passed the mantle onto Elisha.  

Before he was caught up into the air in chariots of fire Elisha asked Elijah for a double blessing, a double portion of the power of God on his life and in 2 Kings 2:12 as he watches Elijah fly up to the sky he says “My father! My father!” “The chariots and horsemen of Israel!”

So here we are in 2 kings 13:14-19

Now Elisha had been suffering from the illness from which he died. Jehoash king of Israel went down to see him and wept over him. “My father! My father!” he cried. “The chariots and horsemen of Israel!”

15 Elisha said, “Get a bow and some arrows,” and he did so. 16 “Take the bow in your hands,” he said to the king of Israel. When he had taken it, Elisha put his hands on the king’s hands.

17 “Open the east window,” he said, and he opened it. “Shoot!” Elisha said, and he shot. “The Lord’s arrow of victory, the arrow of victory over Aram!” Elisha declared. “You will completely destroy the Arameans at Aphek.”

18 Then he said, “Take the arrows,” and the king took them. Elisha told him, “Strike the ground.” He struck it three times and stopped. 19 The man of God was angry with him and said, “You should have struck the ground five or six times; then you would have defeated Aram and completely destroyed it. But now you will defeat it only three times.”

Being the start of the year my inbox was flooded with 10 ways to kickstart your life and set goals and crush 2021 type emails.  Most of them I ignored but one caught my eye and I signed up for a 7 day goal getter challenge.  It came with 7 days of journal prompts.

They should have named it 7 days of excruciating personal questions designed to make you want to throw your phone at the wall and run and hide under the covers pretending that these questions don’t make my skin crawl challenge.

Example.

The Lie: I Have to Have It All Together

How does this lie keep you from living up to your potential?

Hello, that’s not the light and fluffy challenge that I thought I wanted…. Questions like that are uncomfortable! 

Because in reality there are no quick 10 steps to success or magic formulas to transforming your life.

Which is why I find it really interesting that king Jehoash says the exact same thing that Elisha said to Elijah before he was taken up to heaven as if they are the magic words to unlock unlimited success. “My father! My father!” he cried. “The chariots and horsemen of Israel!”

THERE ARE NO MAGIC FORMULAS IN THE KINGDOM OF GOD

When I first became a Christian prayer was a weird thing.  The only prayers I knew of were written down in catholic prayer books. I didn’t know if there were spiritual words that I was meant to be using.   I didn’t know if normal people could pray and if we were allowed to make up our own prayers using our own words.   Honestly my youth group leader was so patient with me.  Yes Claire, you can make up your own prayers.  You can pray about anything, anytime and anywhere.

When I was a bible in schools teacher I used to say that to my kids and there was always one… miss, can ya pray in the toilet?  You sure can I would say. 

When I started it felt like I was talking to the air, was someone really listening?

Then I began to see God answer my prayers.  I began to see changes.  I began to change.  

“Our prayers may be awkward. Our attempts may be feeble. But since the power of prayer is in the one who hears it and not in the one who says it, our prayers do make a difference.” – Max Lucado

Prayer isn’t just an empty box to fill in on your morning checklist. Every day you get to speak to the One who created and is sustaining a universe that makes you look like less than a grain of sand in comparison.

The same God who knows the names of every star knows your name.

The same God who is holding the universe in the expanse of His hands is holding you in His hands.

Prayer is so much more than the puny, ordinary thing we make it out to be. That’s because the One we’re praying to is not only so much bigger than we’ll ever be able to comprehend. and so much more willing to respond to us than we’ll ever be able to comprehend as well.

There are spiritual prayer principals such as

Matthew 7:7-8 Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

2 Chronicles 7:14 14 if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

But they’re not magic formulas.  God is not santa claus or a fairy Godmother.  He is inviting us into a relationship and prayer is the communication and connection.

I’m not sure what Jehoash expected would happen when he said My father! My father!” “The chariots and horsemen of Israel!”

But I don’t think he expected Elisha to tell him to get his bows and arrows.

See Part 2 tomorrow 🙂

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Anyone feeling a little bit cautious as we start the year?  Because global pandemics don’t observe the calendar and have a new year new you mentality.  If you were to tell me at the start of last year what was ahead… well, I might of laughed at you or suggested that you’d been binge watching too many dystopia movies.  But here we are. 

Stronger.  Shaken.  Surviving.    Setting our eyes on our Saviour who rules and reigns and holds the seasons in His hands, who sustains us and saves us.

There is just something about a new year though right.  New year resolutions, new year new you, new hair. 

There is something within us that naturally leans into starting new things and creating new habits and redefining vision and setting goals.

I was reading an email from author Jon Acuff on Wednesday and he was talking about how a high school teacher was taking their class through his latest book Finish.  It’s all about setting goals and finishing goals.  The teacher shared with Jon that the high school students didn’t set goals because they saw goals as a band aid for people with problems.  Put on some covid weight, set a goal, lose weight. Got in debt, set a goal, pay it off.   

He goes on, and I love this:

Do you know what a goal really is though?

A goal is a passport to a new life.

A goal is a ladder to a big dream.

A goal is a road map to anywhere you want to go.

Goals are a massive key you give yourself to unlock all the doors that stand between you and whatever you care about the most.

He finishes up by saying: That’s what a goal is. If you told me you didn’t have one, I’d ask you what you want life to be like. I’d dare you to dream a little bit. I’d dare you to lift your head up from 2020 and gaze a little at 2021.

As we stand here today at the start of 2021 – we look out at a blank canvas.  We look out on potential.    We look out into the unknown.

So how do we step into a new year with all that we know about last year and all that we don’t know about this year to come?

Corrie Ten Boom said it best, “Never be afraid to trust your unknown future to a known God.”

 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

Luke 2

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When we imagine this story we often put the Christmas card shepherds into the picture.  Cute, colour coordinated, peaceful shepherds with cute fluffy sheep.

But in the first century, shepherds were generally looked at as dodgey, dishonest people.  They weren’t peaceful or respected.  Or colour coordinated.  They weren’t the pleasant Hallmark faces we’re used to seeing this time of year.

Which makes it even cooler that the very first people to hear the good news about the Saviour, from angels, is the shepherds.

They don’t go to the king.  Or to the rich people.  Or to the people who had it all together.  The influencers or the popular peeps. 

God chose that the first people He would tell about the Saviour coming was the low of the low.   The rejected.   The ordinary.

The birth of Jesus is about God coming to us in our everyday lives and saying to us, “Don’t be afraid, for look, I proclaim to you good news.”

  • It’s about God meeting us in our pain and loneliness.
  • It’s about God meeting us in our frustration and anxiety, our depression and our doubts.
  • It’s about God meeting us Monday and Sunday and Friday and every day of the week.
  • It’s about God wanting to be a part of our lives every day.

I think that’s why God sent the angels to the shepherds – to let us know that Jesus was for all people, even the most ordinary.

The second thing I want you to notice is from verse 15.  The shepherds after seeing the amazing angels and hearing their message decided to go to Bethlehem to check it out for themselves.

It’s not enough to just hear about Jesus.  It’s not just enough to get around Jesus stuff by coming to youth or to church.    You have to make it real for yourself. 

The shepherds heard about Jesus.  From angels.  But they still went and personally met Him.

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As Christians we talk about being on fire and I thought I’d talk about what that means and looks like for real.

Being on fire to means that I’m living like its real and that God is a massive priority and that Im living like what He says is true and awesome and that I’m in awe of who God is and what He does and that Im laying my life down and being transformed and hanging out with God and being filled with the Holy Spirit. 

Imagine you’re starving. It’s 5:00 PM and you’re ready for dinner. But, there’s a problem. No one is there to feed you. You also hate to cook.  You cant drive and don’t have a car and you cant just get uber eats.  So, what do you do? Well, assuming you do nothing, you’ll probably stay hungry. Then what? Now you’re beyond hungry. You’re hangry. And if it keeps going like this, eventually you’re either going to die or you’re going to eat.

The Holy Spirit wants to fill us.  God’s love is enough to fill us. But we also know we don’t always feel full.

Ephesians 5:18 says Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit,

In John 4:4 Jesus is talking with a Samaratian woman about this very thing.

13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”  John 4:13-14

What Jesus is saying is when you experience God for real you will be full, with the Holy Spirit.

God’s love is enough to fill us. But we also know we don’t always feel full. We could passively wait for God to fill us, or we could seek Him and feed ourselves and maintain the fire. 

We had Ps Dan who is the youth pastor at life church meet with the leaders at the start of this year and one of the things he said to us that really stuck for me is “your relationship, your responsibility.”

Your relationship with God is your responsibility to grow and feed. 

Again it’s that tension, on the one hand Jesus has done everything and died on the cross to make the way for us to have peace with God and relationship with God and God wants for us to be close.  He isn’t distant and impersonal, far far away and not caring, but He deeply and passionately loves us and wants us to be close to Him. 

Being saved by Jesus Christ is the greatest thing in the world. It means having eternal life. We cannot die. We will live forever in overwhelming joy. Nothing can separate us from Christ. Everything works for our good. We can approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

But the closeness of that relationship is our response to what He has done.  He loved us first and we love Him in response.  But we have to choose to respond.   Our relationship.  Our responsibility.

Sometimes, with God, we don’t always feel full. We can sit back and wait for someone to feed us or we can get up and get some food. The good news is God’s pantry is always full.   He is uber eats on speed dial.  Through worship, reading the bible, hanging out with God, prayer and other moments of personal worship, we get full.   So, if you’re spiritually hungry, you’re not feeling very full, what are you doing to fill yourself?

I feel like I’m mixing my metaphors.  Staying on fire, being full, feeding yourself.

But they all mean the same.

Romans 12:11 says:

Never be lazy in showing such devotion. Be on fire with the Spirit. Serve the Lord.

Some other versions put it like this:

Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.  NIV

Don’t burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame. Be alert servants of the Master, cheerfully expectant. Don’t quit in hard times; pray all the harder. MSG

Be enthusiastic to serve the Lord, keeping your passion toward him boiling hot! Radiate with the glow of the Holy Spirit and let him fill you with excitement as you serve him. TPT

I think my personal favourite is:

Not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord; KJV

The word “fervent” comes from the Latin fervens which means “boiling.” That is exactly what this word means in the original Greek (zeontes): boiling—in spirit. So the big idea is clearly not about just what we do or how much, but it’s in the heart behind it.    The doing comes out of our heart passion, our fire.  We need to be on fire and that fuels what we do.

You know, Jesus speaks terrible words of warning to those who settle in with lukewarm affections for him.

Revelation 3:15-16, “I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.”

Jesus says the great commandment is “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind” (Luke 10:27). And God promises to be found by us when we seek him with earnestness rather than half-heartedness. Jeremiah 29:13-14, “You will seek me and find me. When you seek me with all your heart, I will be found by you declares the Lord” (Jeremiah 29:13-14).

Over and over the Bible says: intensity matters. Zeal matters. Wholeheartedness matters. Fire matters. Don’t settle for anything less. We exist to be on fire for God.

So how do we get on fire?  How do we get full?

Any survivor fans here?  We love survivor at our house.  Man the ozzie version is hard core.  In the US version they stay on the island for 36 days but the Australian version is like 59 days or something!  That is hard core.

But it’s always amazing to watch the tribe that loses the very first challenge.  They go back to camp with nothing whereas the winning tribe get flint which means they can get fire.  Fire means warmth.  Food.   It is a serious advantage.

The losing tribe often do the whole rub sticks thing though I did some googling and one guy literally broke his glasses and started a fire that way.  But in all the seasons internationally there have only been about 10 people that have started fire without flint. 

Watching the show makes you realize how important fire is.     At the end of tribal council when someone is voted out Jeff says “In This Game, Fire Represents Your Life. When Your Fire’s Gone, So Are You.”  It’s such a Survivor catchphrase but it really is relatable to life and being a christian. The fire is literal in the game, but in life, it’s your actual motivation, your drive to get things done. When you no longer have that motivation or drive, it’s time to look at why and what needs to change.

In one way or another, we are like the survivor tribes in the dark in need of the light and warmth of a heart steadily on fire for God. 2 Timothy 4:6-7 says, “For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.”

See it again, who had to fan the flame?  It wasn’t Paul who led Timothy to Jesus and was his pastor and mentor.  It wasn’t even God.  Paul is saying hey Tim, fan your own flame.  Feed yourself.  Keep the fire burning.

Here are 2 simple things that you can do to keep the fire burning.

1.  Position yourself in hot places with hot people.   Imagine you’re a coal.  When you’re in the fireplace with the other coals who are burning on fire then you’ll stay on fire too.  But when you jump out of the fire and go and hang out by yourself or with other cool coals, you become cool.    Positioning yourself in hot places with hot people, places where you can encounter God and get around people who know God and want to make Him known will help you stay hot.    Sometimes we don’t feel like coming to youth. Sometimes we feel like staying at home playing among us or watching Netflix but seriously that is going to do nothing for your relationship with God. 

I want you to think about River Youth and where it fits in your Christian journey.   Especially you guys who are seniors – begin to see the shift that its not about whats in it for me but what can God do through me.    One way to keep the fire burning and to be filled is to be actively involved in seeing God change lives.  When you become part of someone elses God story it does something on the inside. 

2.  Invest in it. Anything that is worth doing takes time and effort.   Playing sports – shout out to Nathan, Zach and Levi who have done awesome at hockey and soccer this year.   But for them to do so well it took time and effort.  Practices.  Training.   Commitment.  Investing.  They didn’t just rock up and expect for things to be awesome. 

In the same way with God it takes time and effort.  But its worth it. 

In the same way winning the championship is worth it, in the same way as having an awesome relationship is worth it, in the same way as getting amazing grades is worth it, in the same way as getting into the uni course you want to, in the same way passing your driving test is worth it….  Knowing God and making Him known is worth it. 

Photo by Emiliano Arano on Pexels.com

Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.  During the fourth watch of the night Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.  But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”  “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”  “Come,” he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”  Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”  Matthew 14:22-31

Before we jump into the main ideas here is a bonus point.

In Mark 6: 47-48 we read one detail that Matthew doesn’t highlight.

Later that night, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and he was alone on land. 48 He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. Shortly before dawn he went out to them, walking on the lake.

Let’s pause right here for a minute. This story is told in the books of Mark and John as well as in Matthew. John tells us that the boat was over three miles out from the shore by this time (John 6:19). Mark tells us that Jesus could see the disciples from where He sat praying on the mountainside (Mark 6:48). The disciples were having a hard time rowing because a strong wind was blowing against them

In the middle of the storm the disciples were in the boat but Jesus was on the mountainside praying.   The disciples were straining at the oars, fighting the waves and the wind, struggling to stay afloat, freaking out, battered and bashed by the weather.    Right now you might feel like you’re in a storm.  Circumstances might be raging.  You might feel like nothing you’re doing is working that you’re struggling to stay afloat, that you’re wet, cold, miserable, like the disciples would have been.  You might feel like you’ve been rowing all night going no where and that things seem impossible.   To make it worse, you’re in the boat and where is Jesus.  He’s not there.  You might be wondering if He has forgotten you or abandoned you.   But see where Jesus is in this passage.   He is on the mountain praying and from His vantage point He can see the disciples and He can see you.  He has not left you, He has not abandoned you.  He can see you and is praying for you.  The disciples had lost sight of Jesus—but He never lost sight of them. That’s good news right there.  

The point of the storms, of the trials, is not to bash us, but to build us up. Sometimes God saves us from the storm, and other times THROUGH the storms. Jesus came—He walked to them. He showed them that the thing they feared the most, the very wind and waves He walked on, were not scary to Him. What freaks you out?  What holds you back?  He’ll walk all over it. The disciples’ hard experiences turned them into worshipers. Whatever you’re going through, God will use it in your life to make you more like Him.

God calls us to live life from a supernatural perspective – a higher picture, a higher view.  We’ve been equipped with the Holy Spirit’s power to pray, prophesy, heal the sick, break chains that are holding people back from all God has for them – and to powerfully proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ!

So the disciples are in the boat in the storm and they see…. This is one of those moments where I wish the bible used more words.  Both Mark and Matthew describe it as a ghost.  We know its Jesus because we’ve read to the end of the chapter but the disciples don’t seem to recognize him. 

Awkward.

But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”  “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”  “Come,” he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus.

Jesus can read the room and He knows His disciples.  So He’s like hey guys, it’s me!

 Peter is like if it’s really you then tell me to walk on the water.

Jesus says Come.  Come out here.

The whole thing feels a bit awkward to me but this is where the in between happens. 

Peter challenges Jesus – which I’m not sure he 100% knows what or who it is yet – if its you Jesus then tell me to come out on the water.

COME.

The in between moment peter faces is that moment right after jesus says come.   The invitation is given.  If its you tell me to come.  COME.

So now peter has a choice.

Will he stay or step out?

Will he doubt or dream?

Will he get out of the boat and walk on water?

All of us face this challenge when God is calling us to more or inviting us into a supernatural moment.  Will we obey the nudge of the Holy Spirit to pray for that person, to speak that prophetic word, to join a team, to have a conversation with someone at work, to invite your friend to youth?

Will we stay or step out?

God has orchestrated it that we are the delivery agents of the good news. Now if I was God I would have done it differently. I would have picked a reliable messenger service. Like angels. Or sky writing rainbows.

But God has entrusted us with the mission to reach out to those around us and to tell them about His reality, His grace, His love, His hope. He says “tag you’re it… you’re the light of the world.” Touch the person beside you and say “tag you’re it!”

You have to know you have a divine destiny – before you were born God formed you and called you. You have to know it doesn’t happen by accident – that life is intentional and the choice to say YES to God is up to us.

We will walk on water if we step out of the boat.

So let’s break this down and see how we can become water walkers.

1.  CONNECTION

Now maybe I’ve listened to way too many true crime podcasts but when Peter says “Lord if it’s you tell me to come out here” and the voice says “come” – I’m naturally suspicious.

It’s like those spam callers “hi I’m from spark and I’m calling about your network…” I’m like really? Prove it.  I want credentials and evidence or I am doubting your identity and your intentions.

So when Jesus says Come and Peter gets out of the boat I’m like HOLD ON PETER!  STOP! 

How did he know?  Peter was so confident it was Jesus that he left the safety of the boat and stepped out. 

I think the answer is this.  Peter knew it was Jesus because He knew Jesus.

Peter has spent time with Jesus.  Talking to him.  Listening to Him.  Walking with Him.  Learning from Him.  Observing Him.  Peter had a real connection with Jesus.

So when Jesus said COME OUT HERE Peter was fully assured that yes, this is Jesus speaking.

If we want to come up here and come out here and move in supernatural power, if we want to see God move through us to touch the world and see the greater things He said would happen then we need to know Jesus.

Daniel 11:58 says that the people that know their God will be strong and do exploits.

Before you have the exploits you have the knowing God.

Before you have the supernatural power you have the knowing God.

Before you make Him known you must know Him for real for yourself.

Peter stepped out in full confidence that the One who was calling him to come out here was Jesus, his Lord and Saviour.

Often when it comes to those step out moments the awkwardness is in that in between moment when we’re determining is this you Lord or is it my imagination?  Is this you God telling me to have a conversation with this stranger about you or is it the pizza I ate for dinner?  Is this you Jesus calling me to serve in this ministry or is it just a good idea?

Sometimes we know we know we know for sure that it is God speaking… but other times it actually feels awkward we’re maybe on a scale of 70% sure it might be God.  You know what, in those times I lean into the stepping out.  Because inviting someone to church or praying for someone is only going to do good things.  Even if it’s the pizza speaking, me sharing the good news about how God loves someone is a good thing.   I believe that as we step out God steps in.  Every time.  That gives me a supernatural confidence that it’s not my power or my whatever but it is the power of the Holy Spirit who lives in me to reveal Jesus and do supernatural exploits.

If you want to be strong and do exploits then put in the time to know God.  It’s worth it.  Not just for the exploits but because He is amazing.  He loves us so much that He sent His Son to die for us to take our place to make a way that we can draw near and be friends with God.  Why would we pass up that invitation?  

2.   COURAGE

In that in between – that moment between the call and the come out here – we have to stir up our courage.   It takes courage to step out.  It takes courage to use the gifts of the Holy Spirit.  It takes courage to shine.

Will we choose to stay safe in the boat or to step out and walk on water?

I believe courage comes when we remind ourselves of who God is and what He promises.  

In Psalm 78:9-11 we read The men of Ephraim, though armed with bows, turned back on the day of battle; they did not keep God’s covenant and refused to live by his law.  They forgot what he had done, the wonders he had shown them.

They were fully equipped and empowered for the battle, for the moment, but they forgot who God was and what He could do and so they turned back. 

This is such a sad verse.  It is such a warning for us.   

In the moment when I feel God saying come out here

1.         I remind myself that I am created and anointed to do this.  Ephesians 2:10 says that before the foundation of the world God made us His masterpiece and prepared good works for us to do.   Acts 1:8 says you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

2.         I remind myself of the cost. Jesus has paid for my salvation and for the salvation of every person I meet.   He loves them so much.  So much so that He put you and me in their world.  2 Corinthians 5 puts it like this:  We are ambassadors[s] of the Anointed One who carry the message of Christ to the world, as though God were tenderly pleading[t] with them directly through our lips. So we tenderly plead with you on Christ’s behalf, “Turn back to God and be reconciled to him.” 21 For God made[u] the only one who did not know sin to become sin for us,[v] so that we who did not know righteousness might become the righteousness of God through our union with him.

3.         I remind myself of what could happen. It works. People get saved. Seeds get sown.

Isaiah 55:11 says So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me void, But it shall accomplish what I please,  And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.

So often we put limitations on what could happen.   I was sitting beside a girl in my classics class in year 13 when the girls beside me turned to me and kind of out of the blue asked if I wanted to go to youth group with her that week.  I said yes.  Fast forward a few weeks and I got saved at their easter camp.  27 years later here I am.   She had no idea I would say yes and no idea of the plans and purposes of God.   She couldn’t see the outcome but she embraced awkward and had courage and stepped out of the boat and invited me.

Who knows what the outcome of 30 seconds of courage will be as you step out and see God step in?

Instead of asking what can God do for me we should ask what can God do through me.

3.  COME

This is the crunch moment.  We can say we want to live life from a supernatural perspective – a higher picture, a higher view.  We can say we’ve been equipped with the Holy Spirit’s power to pray, prophesy, heal the sick, break chains that are holding people back from all God has for them – and to powerfully proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ!

But unless we are like Peter and we actually come out here then we are just sitting in the boat and missing out on the miracle.

This is where the rubber meets the road and where we need to step out with courage, knowing that Jesus is who He says He is. 

I have told this story before but it illustrates what stepping out of the boat looks like.   I had been watching a Christian doco about todd white and prophetic evangelists who go round and pray for strangers all around the world and I was inspired!  I popped into the library and was just praying and thinking, that was so cool, I’d love to do that one day when I felt that nudge, come out here.   I felt God say just do it now.   As I was returning books in the return slot a shadow passed behind me and blocked out the sun.  Again that nudge, there you go, do it now.  That shadow belonged to a person.  Who was really tall and tough looking.  Low riders, sunglasses, tats.   I am not tall or tough looking.   In that split second of feeling the nudge my brain spazzed and spat out all the excuses to stay safe and not step out.  But I knew it was God, and I stirred up my courage by reminding myself what could happen and then put it into action.   Excuse me, I said, introduced myself.  Long story short, I ended up praying for this man and it was a moment.  

One thing we’ve been doing in River Youth this term is making room for God to speak to and through every single person.  Whether they’re 11 or 18, whether they’re a leader or a youthie, whether they’ve been a Christian 1 week or their whole life we believe that the Holy Spirit speaks to us and through us and that as we do that we encounter Him in amazing life changing ways.  It’s all about knowing God and making Him known.

We started off the term by first talking about what prophecy is, from the heart of God, to a person, through a person and that the bible says all can prophecy.  We want young people to take God at His word and so if He says all, He means all.  Which is you included.  So we then got into groups, and just did it.  We had kids prophesying for the first time, seeing pictures and getting words.  They were stepping out of the boat because we said Come out here.    This is supernatural living.  This is normal Christianity.   This is what disciples do. 

The good news is we’re not doing it on our own power.  Walking on water isn’t because of how good we are at balancing on the waves or what kind of step reach we have.  It’s about the Holy Spirit in us and through us to do the impossible.  You might be a world champion walker but in your own strength and skill you can’t do this. 

It’s all the Holy Spirit in us that empowers us to come out here.   We’ve been equipped with the Holy Spirit’s power to pray, prophesy, heal the sick, set people free, see lives and eternities changed.

4. CONTINUE

When Peter had faith, he walked on water. When he had fear, he sank in the water. The same is true for us. Fear will sink us.  Fear will sink you. We need to continue with faith, keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus.  When we focus on Jesus and not the waves we can continue to walk on water. 

We continue to connect, we continue to have courage and we continue to come out here.   If we want to go to new levels with God and see Him do all the things He has promised to us and through us then we have to continue to grow our faith and step out of the boat.

5.  CAUGHT

Here’s the end of the story. When Peter begins to sink when Jesus IMMEDIATELY catches him and rescues him and the storm stops.   Whatever storm you face today, however many times you’ve stumbled and fallen, whatever mess you feel like your life might be today, know this to be true, Jesus catches you.  You are caught by Jesus.  It’s not about our power to hold onto Him but its all about His great power to hold onto us.  He will never let you go.  He will never abandon you.  He will always be right there.  You are caught by Jesus. 

There are these 2 sides to being a Christian that I want you to understand.

On the one hand there are things we DO as Christians to build our relationship with God, to continually be growing and transforming and becoming disciples.

Things like hanging out with God, attending church and youth because that positions us to encounter Jesus and be in His presence, reading our bible regularly,  being engaged in worship, making choices to obey the boundaries of God, all of these things are things we own and choose to do and strengthen our relationship with God.     No one can do these things for us or on our behalf.  We get to choose what the level our relationship with God is.   We get to choose how hot we are with God.

But on the other hand it’s not about how good we are or what we do that counts.  It’s all about what Jesus has done and who He is. 

Ephesians 2: 5-10 But God was merciful! We were dead because of our sins, but God loved us so much that he made us alive with Christ, and God’s wonderful kindness is what saves you. 6 God raised us from death to life with Christ Jesus, and he has given us a place beside Christ in heaven. 7 God did this so that in the future world he could show how truly good and kind he is to us because of what Christ Jesus has done. 8 You were saved by faith in God, who treats us much better than we deserve.[a] This is God’s gift to you, and not anything you have done on your own. 9 It isn’t something you have earned, so there is nothing you can brag about. 10 God planned for us to do good things and to live as he has always wanted us to live. That’s why he sent Christ to make us what we are.

The Gospel is a message about God:

The Creator and Sustainer of the universe. He is perfect in all His attributes, blameless in all His ways, righteous in all His judgments. He is all powerful and all knowing. He is strong, mighty, holy, just, wrathful, vengeful, and jealous. He is caring, patient, compassionate, merciful, gracious, loving, and forgiving. God is good.

The Gospel is a message about Us:

Created in God’s image—created good: yet fallen, disobedient, rebellious, corrupt, proud, wicked, evil, sinful, unholy, unrighteous, ungodly, guilty, helpless, hopeless, lost, condemned, separate from God and destined for eternal punishment in the torments of hell.

The Gospel is a message about Jesus Christ:

The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. The anointed one of God who saves. Born of a virgin; killed on a cross; resurrected on the third day. Beloved by the Father, yet smitten by Him for our transgressions. Perfectly innocent, yet punished by God for our sin.

Jesus Christ is the only way to forgiveness. The only way to reconciliation, restoration, and redemption.  These are big fancy church words that mean that we get a fresh start and peace with God.  The only way to eternal hope and true meaning and real purpose. The only way to lasting joy and enduring happiness and endless pleasure. The only way to salvation. The only way to heaven. The only way to God’s grace.

In the Eric Lundy video “The Gospel” it says: Over your prison cell it is has always said, “CONDEMNED.” “SEPARATED,” eternally, from God. “GUILTY”! And then suddenly, it switches when you realize what Jesus Christ has done. It says, “JUSTIFIED.” It says, “FORGIVEN,” “REDEEMED”!!

Not just the penalty, not just the problem, but an invitation into His presence!

Colossians 1:20-22 God was pleased for him to make peace by sacrificing his blood on the cross, so that all beings in heaven and on earth would be brought back to God.

21 You used to be far from God. Your thoughts made you his enemies, and you did evil things. 22 But his Son became a human and died. So God made peace with you, and now he lets you stand in his presence as people who are holy and faultless and innocent.

“““

8 For it is by grace [God’s remarkable compassion and favor drawing you to Christ] that you have been saved [actually delivered from judgment and given eternal life] through faith. And this [salvation] is not of yourselves [not through your own effort], but it is the [undeserved, gracious] gift of God; 9 not as a result of [your] works [nor your attempts to keep the Law], so that no one will [be able to] boast or take credit in any way [for his salvation].  Ephesians 2:8-9 AMP

He made the first move.

He has done everything for us to be saved.

We WANT to read our bible to find out more about this amazing God.  We want to come to church and be good people and obey God and hear His voice and worship because of who He is and because He is our saviour and gave up his life for us. 

All the things we DO are responses to His great love and His great grace.

We’re not accepted and loved because of what we do.  We’re accepted and loved because God made us and loves us.  We’re not valuable because of how many times we’ve read the bible or how high we raise our hands or if we do xyz.  We’re valuable because of Jesus.

The secret to all the doing part of being a Christian is to first have that revelation of how much God loves us.

Knowing the good news about who God is and what He has done gives us hope every day and in every moment.

We know that there is a God who is powerful and amazing who cares for us and sees us and is doing stuff in our lives.  

Way maker, miracle worker, promise keeper

Light in the darkness

My God, that is who You are

Even when I don’t see it, You’re working

Even when I don’t feel it, You’re working

You never stop, You never stop working

This is why knowing how to connect with God for real for yourself matters and is so important. 

Life bombards you with pressure and stress and there is the lies we tell ourselves, the put downs and the insecurities and the anxiety and the lies the enemy throws at us that we’re not worth it and who do we think we are and there is all the stuff that tries to pull us away from God and competes for our attention and affection.

In all of these things we have hope because of Jesus.   We have hope because Jesus loves us. 

You know Jesus took up His cross for one reason.  You.  Insert your name here.  He went to the cross because of His great love for you.  Insert name here.  Because without His death paying for our sins we’re screwed.  He died so we could come close, so we could follow Him, so we could be called children of God, so we could become friends with God and have peace with God.

Being a Christian isn’t a nice idea or an optional extra for life, it is completely and totally necessary for this life and for next.  It opens the door to heaven when we die.   It opens the door for us to know God right here, right now.

God isn’t far far away like I had thought, He is so real and so close and right now He is giving you that invitation to come close and to know Him for real.  We sometimes call it giving your life to God.  He gives you a fresh start.  He takes away our sin and makes us clean on the inside.  He gives us meaning and purpose.

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Worship Wednesday

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