Jesus made an astounding statement and promise. He said that when he physically departed to return to his Father that he would send someone who would make his departure better. How could that be? What could be better for us than having Jesus beside us? How about Jesus in us! Jesus sent back the Holy Spirit, God in us, which is so much better than God beside us. God in us teaches us, guides us, convicts us, assures us and transforms us – from the inside out.
We are never alone! However, too often, we try to live like a Christian on our own power and that is futile as well as exhausting. God gave us a life coach to help us, guide us, teach us to live the life he’s calling us to live. He gave us the Spirit to empower us to do things that are beyond the ability of a mere human. The Spirit is the very person of God that lives inside us so that we experience a living and freeing relationship with him. The Spirit is God is your forever Friend. Get to know your forever friend in the most personal way possible. He’s a friend that will always be with you, support you, protect you and enable you to do what is humanly impossible.
One of the major themes of the New Testament is that followers of Jesus have union with Christ, they are “In Christ.” In fact, this phrase appears 165 times in the New Testament, but what does it mean to be “In Christ” and how does that change our lives? Rankin Wilbourne said, “It tells you a new story about who you are. In Christ means you have been given a new identity. God has called you into a new life, rooted in a history that predates you, anchored in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.” In short, to be ‘in Christ’ is to abide, which is our last invitation from God, to abide with Him, to be safe with Him.
When we talk about becoming a Christian or what it means to follow Jesus, we often focus on what we do, how Jesus changes our hearts. This is good. But there is more to us than our hearts and what we do. Our thinking has to change. Not just what thoughts we have, but those thoughts we focus on. As we grow in our faith, we are invited to renew our thinking.
No matter how long we follow Jesus, we are confronted with things in our lives that do not match who Jesus is and the person He has called us to be. They might be things from our past: guilt, shame and regrets we carry from our actions, missed opportunities, things done by us or things done to us. These things have become a part of our stories but also a part of us. In fact, it is hard for us to imagine our lives without these things because of the roles they have played and the impact they have made. But through God’s grace and forgiveness, we have been given a new identity. That doesn’t these things magically disappear, but they are redeemed and we are made new and we have been invited into freedom.
Many of us long to encounter God but we usually want to encounter God on our terms, in our way, and in our timeline. We want to control the encounter. But we can’t. We want God to come to us when we’re ready and change only what we want to change, but when we truly encounter God, we are awakened to who he has created us to be and how we fall short. And in this encounter, we see what is true about ourselves, God and the world around us, but also God’s love for us.
Jesus invited four fishermen to follow him. He asked them to leave behind their trade, business, security, and homes. He invited them to continue to do what they knew to do, just with a different focus. They were not to focus on fish in the lake, but people. He redirected their purpose. This is the same invitation he is giving us. The invitation to follow Jesus redirects our purpose. When Jesus invites us to follow Him, he’s inviting us into a new and bigger purpose. The invitation is to bring Jesus into our regular daily activities and events.
The needs of our community are huge. There are enormous physical, economic and social challenges in our city. But even greater are the spiritual needs because we live in a vast spiritual darkness. God has called us, Pantano, to make a difference both right where we live now and for eternity in heaven. That will require us to be a life-giving church and launch as many life-giving campuses as possible to make a difference in every neighborhood. As a people who are committed, sold out, fully devoted and all in; we will together, and only together, make a difference that honors God and is dependent on God. As one church that is united and focused, we have the power to make a real difference. In this message, we are asking that each of us who are part of Pantano be an “All In Partner” who loves people to Jesus and who are launched to make a difference in our world.
The needs around us are so great and feel overwhelming. It’s easy to give up. It’s easy to focus on the issues of our time, whether it’s racism, abortion rights or poverty and then miss the people affected by those issues. God doesn’t just want us to stop at seeing an “issue” He wants us to see the people impacted by those issues. He wants us, his church, to really see them for we cannot help people we don’t really see. God wants to remind us that it is not our job to save anyone. That is all Him. Our job is to love the one person He put in front of us.
New Year’s resolutions are good, but not as effective as focusing on one thing for a whole year. As we begin 2020, ask this question: What does God think is possible for you in 2020? Then prayerfully pick one word that represents the change God wants you to experience. It should be more than a good change. It should be a God change. When we focus on one word, our mind and heart are more open to how God is at work in ways we might have missed. Once we choose one word and intentionally focus on it, then we see more of the ways God wants us to embrace that word or the idea that word carries. One word is a powerful way to focus our thinking. Focused thinking and praying rewires our brain as we cooperate with God to experience real transformation. A better 2020 is possible…with God and with a focus.
Mary was an unlikely, unknown, poor, uneducated teenage girl. It was so unexpected for God to show up and ask her to be a part of changing the world. Mary wondered how it could be that he would use her. We wonder the same thing. How is it possible for God to use an ordinary person like me to make a difference? Our problem is that we don’t expect God to show up in us and through us. But if we were expectant and even sought God to use us to bring his influence to others, we would see that he still works miracles.
Much of following Jesus is asking, “What is the next right move?” Every day we are faced with decisions. Some are mundane and seemingly ordinary and others are difficult that can change the course of our lives and those around us like Joseph’s. The problem for many of us is not that we don’t know what to do or what God is calling us to do, but an unwillingness to step into that place, into that unknown because of what it will cost us. In Joseph, we see someone who risked his reputation, standing in the community and financial stability to marry Mary and be a father to Jesus because God told him to. What if this Christmas, as we looked towards 2020, what if we stopped asking God to show us a sign and did what we know he has called us to?
Christmas is a time of hope, but that hope that we are supposed to have or the hope that we want to feel, leaves many of us feeling sad and wanting. For many of us, Christmas is a reminder of what could’ve been, hopes and dreams we wished for but don’t have. Elizabeth can sympathize with the person who wants to hope, who is longing for hope, looking for hope. She has hoped to have a child, but she has waited. Elizabeth is Zechariah’s wife and she has not been able to have a child, but after years of waiting in hope, her prayer is answered. Verse 25 is her prayer of hope, “The Lord has done this for me.”
One of the most common google searches, themes in Christmas movies and specials, do you know what it is? A miracle. At Christmas, we are hoping for a miracle. We are hoping to meet the unexpected and be swept up. This is why our Christmas cards have joy, hope, love, and peace on them. It is what we are hoping for. The story of Christmas found in the gospels is how God shows up in unexpected places, in unexpected ways to unexpected people.
From gratitude flows generosity. Our gratitude comes from recognizing that our God has been tremendously generous with us. From that recognition, gratitude grows in our hearts and then we cannot help but show gratitude to others.
There is no act of generosity more comprehensive and powerful that the gift of service. Service is the one act where we are generous with everything – our time, our resources, our abilities, our very person. In service we give ourself! Jesus says of himself that his very reason for coming to our world was to serve and to sacrifice his life for us. Jesus was all in and gave his all. When we generously serve, we give our all and are all in for those we serve.