Read at beginning of service:
Philippians 3:7-16 (NIV)
7 But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ–the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. 10 I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. 12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. 15 All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. 16 Only let us live up to what we have already attained.
Today we are beginning a new two-week teaching series all about getting started and continuing on your spiritual journey. Now for those of you who have been part of a 40 Days spiritual journey that we?ve just completed here at Hanover Pentecostal Church, we?ve just come out of an incredible experience. But I understand there would be some of you here that are maybe here for the first time and when I talk about the 40 Days that we?ve just experienced ? you don?t know what we?re talking about. That?s okay, too. Because everybody could be at a starting point. You may be just at the beginning of the road of your spiritual journey ? that?s a starting point. You may be somewhere in the middle. You start where you are. And those of you who have been on a spiritual high, well you do know what that?s all about and we?re glad that you are here, too.
How do you start on the next leg of your spiritual journey, especially, if you have been on a spiritual high? Let me ask you a question ? what?s the highest point on earth? Mount Everest. 29,035 feet. Did you know that 1,300-1,600 people have summited Mt. Everest? They?ve made it all the way to the top. People have been attempting it since 1921. During that period of time, 160 plus people have died trying to summit Mt. Everest. That means that 1 in 8 die. And for that privilege, they pay about $60,000; 90 days of their lives and 1 in 8 don?t make it back. What do you think that is about? Now certainly it?s the attraction; it?s saying I am in a small group of people that did something unique. But there?s something about getting to the highest place that?s compelling.
Let me ask you a question. Is it more dangerous to climb Mt. Everest, or to descend down the slope of Mt. Everest? More people have died descending than they did trying to summit. And there?s a spiritual application to that. You have to be extra careful coming off of a high place. Let me ask you another question. In weather patterns, would you rather have a high-pressure system or a low-pressure system? You?d rather have a high-pressure system. That?s where stable air is. It is the low-pressure systems that bring the unstable stormy kind of weather.
You know, if you?re not ready for the inevitable lows of life, spiritually and emotionally, you?re going to be in trouble. But isn?t that true of life? Life is a series of ups and downs. Life is a series of highs and lows. In life you?re going to find both the good and the bad.
Did you hear about the guy who?s talking to his buddy and he said, “Hey, did you hear that John fell out of an airplane?” His buddy said, “Oh, that?s bad.” The first guy said, “No, he had a parachute.” The other guy said, “Oh, that?s good.” The first guy said, “Well, the parachute didn?t open.” The other guy said, “Oh, that?s bad.” The first guy said, “No, there was a haystack.” The other guy said, “Oh, that?s good.” The first guy said, “No, there was a pitchfork in it.” The other guy said, “Oh, that?s bad.” The first guy said, “No, he missed the pitchfork.” The other guy said, “Oh, that?s good.” The first guy said, “No, he missed the haystack.” Now, that was bad. That was really, really bad.
You know the highs are so good and the lows are so painful that there is something within us that just wants to hang on to the highs. We want to capture as much of heaven on earth, as we possibly can. There?s a story in the Bible of Jesus on the mountain with his disciples and they had this unique, spiritual and I believe emotional experience. And then when Jesus was getting ready to descend, the disciples begged, “Could we just please stay here for a little longer?” We just want to hang on to the pieces of heaven on earth that we get.
Here?s a story I came across in preparing for this message.
It?s the story about a little boy. He had his pet turtle, Albert, and all of a sudden the pet turtle Albert turns pale and falls on its back and it lays motionless. Here?s this little guy and tears are streaming down his face and he carries this little turtle to his dad. His dad is the ultimate salesman and he knows, “I?ve got to do a sales job on my heart-broken kid,” so he takes the little turtle, puts it in a shoebox and he says, “Let me tell you son, this is the best thing that?s ever happened. This turtle now is just walking around up there in heaven. It is just so great. And I?ll tell you what we?re going to do. We?ll have a little funeral party and you invite all your friends. After we have the little funeral, we?ll have cake and ice cream and games for all your friends. It will be great.” This kid started to smile. So the dad knows, I need to really close the sale. He said, “Okay, so let?s go outside now, let?s have a little burial in the backyard.” So they carried the shoebox out into the backyard. And just at the last moment, the little boy opens the lid, peeks inside and Albert is walking around like nothing had happened. With a little disappointed look on his face he looks up at his dad and says, “Dad, can we kill him?”
You know there is a spiritual point to that story. I?d better hurry and get to it. We want spiritual highs at any price. We do. We want to stay spiritually high, but let me ask you. Is it possible to stay on a spiritual high? No. No, it?s not. If you read the Bible, what you?ll find is that the Bible is a parade of highs and lows, one right after another. Just take some examples. You know the story of Daniel, perhaps, in the Bible? Some of you don?t. Daniel was very, very faithful to God. That?s a high. But because of his faithfulness to God, he was thrown into a den of hungry lions. That?s a low. But the lions didn?t eat him. That?s a high. You see the pattern? There?s the story of Jonah. He runs away from God. That?s a low. He is swallowed by a great fish. That is a low. But the fish vomits him up on dry ground?is that a high or a low? It?s a high ? there are only two ways out of a fish!
Go to the New Testament. You have Jesus, and He?s at His baptism and His Father?s voice is heard from heaven,”This is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” That was a high. What happened immediately after that? He?s in the desert for 40 days being assaulted with temptation by the devil himself. That was a low. But what happened after that? He began His ministry of teaching about the Kingdom of God and transforming lives and performing miracles. That was a high. But then what happened? He?s crucified. That was a low. But then what happened? He rose from the dead. And that was a high. Here?s what I know: because Jesus stayed faithful to God in the highs and the lows, it is in the highs and the lows that we will learn to become like Jesus.
You say, “Darren, how will I know if I?m on the right road? How do I get started down this journey?” Here?s a passage of scripture that I would like to spend a few minutes on, that describes a group of Christians that obviously had had some spiritual highs in their lives. Take a look at it there in Revelation 2. I hope you have your outline in front of you. I think it will help you as we kind of walk through this. Revelation 2, beginning with verse 2. Jesus is talking to these Christians and He said, “I know your deeds and your toil and your perseverance and that you cannot endure evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles and they are not, and you found them to be false; and you have perseverance and have endured for My name?s sake, and have not grown weary. But, I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first?”(NAS). Notice the description of these followers of Jesus. They?ve grown in their faith. It?s obvious they had a clear sense of their purpose. They had served the Lord with gratitude and emotion and joy and diligence, but something had happened. Somewhere along the way, in their journey with Jesus, something had changed. Now it wasn?t a work problem. They were working along just fine. As a matter of fact, the Bible says, “You?re great at work, you?re great at perseverance, you?re great at endurance.” They were doing the right thing. So it wasn?t a work problem. I don?t believe it was an information problem. I don?t believe it was thinking wrong things. They had the right information. Their problem was a love problem. They were suffering from what can adequately be described as heart-drift.
Let me ask you a question. Have you ever experienced heart-drift? Where your heart use to be just inflamed with passion and now it?s cold? I mean this happens in male/female relationships all the time. Let me use a prop to illustrate what I mean. [I used two couples from the congregation to help illustrate this point]. This couple helps us capture a picture of what first love really looks like. How many of you remember that sick at your stomach, giddy, jumpy, wide-eyed, enthusiastic passionate, can?t stop touching kind of love? Do you remember? Some of you don?t remember this, do you? It?s been a long, long time. Let me give you some attributes of what first love looks like.
WHAT IS ?FIRST LOVE LIKE??
There is an insatiable desire to learn about the other person!
Number one, you have an insatiable desire to learn all you can about the other person. I want you to imagine this couple. They are no longer dancing, but now they are at a romantic dinner. Out to eat at a restaurant. Do you remember what that was like? He?s not even touching his food. He?s not. Do you know what he?s doing? He?s talking to her. Yeah, that?s amazing. Having live conversation. “Tell me about your past. Tell me about your pain. Tell me about your parents. Tell me about your present. Tell me about your plans for the future.” But do relationships stay like this? [I went over to the other side of the stage and pointed out the second couple]. Somewhere along the road, I don?t know when it happens, something happens to love. Imagine them out to dinner. He?s looking at his plate. He?s eating with both hands. Stuff?s falling on his shirt. He?s complaining about the price. And they?re not talking to each other at all.
There is a heavy investment in the relationship
A second attribute of first love, there?s a heavy investment in that love relationship. You?re willing to invest heavily. Hey, you want to spend some time together? No problem, you have all the time in the world. You could imagine that in this couple [couple #1] couldn?t you? We can dance all night. You can see this guy saying to her, “Could I just drive by where you work and wave? Could I come in and watch you work? Could I watch you watch your watch while you work?” Money? Not a problem. They?re out to dinner ? “Honey, order anything you want.” They go to the mall together and he says, “Baby, buy whatever you want.” That was back when he would actually go to the mall with her. Can you imagine him [pointing to couple #2] going to the mall with her? No. First of all, he aged a little better. He doesn?t want to do that. But second, if he?s at the mall, it?s like he?s doing time. Hard time. He?s looking at the watch ? okay.
There is an intense preoccupation of the heart
A third attribute of first love, you?ve got this insatiable desire and this heavy investment, but then thirdly, there?s an intense preoccupation of the heart. See, over here, this couple , there?s no one or nothing else catching their eye. Nothing else is grabbing at their heart. Why? Because there is no room in their heart for anything else. They are full of love for one another. This was the person to whom you were willing to give reckless abandon. This was the person who got your full devotion. All your affection. Every bit of your esteem. This person was your treasure. And this person, do you know what they?re dancing to? “Ain?t no mountain high enough, ain?t no valley low enough?” You know that song, don?t you? Nothing is going to keep her. But this couple [couple #2], what?s going through their head? The Carpenter?s song ? “I?ll say goodbye to love?” and that?s what?s going on over here. Something happened and it?s sad.
What can happen to love? Look on your outline. Revelation 2:4 says something very insightful about love. It does not say, “You have lost your first love.” It says, “You have left your first love.” It was a choice. Actually, it was a small series of choices. Now some of you have just come through this incredible 40 Days. Right now, you are on a high in your relationship with God. Others of you, you?re just observers here today. This is may be your first time here and again, thanks for coming. Let me tell you what the Bible says to you. “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” And I?ll tell you what. Once you do, you will hunger and thirst for more of God. Because he?s not only desirable, he?s reliable. And for those of you who have thirsted for righteousness and you hunger for God, it?s as if your hunger and thirst seem unquenchable. You cannot spend enough time. You can?t leverage enough of your resources. You can?t offer enough of your life to Him. Love has captured you and you are a willing captive. It?s a spiritual high. Bible study being held, you?re there. Worship service going on, you?re there. Scripture memory, you?re doing it. I mean if there was baptism bubble bath, you?d be using it. There is no place you?d rather be. Nothing else you?d rather give yourself to. Jesus Christ is the full focus of your heart and your devotion.
This is the spiritual high weather system. It?s providing sunshine and stability to your life. If you?ve lived and you?ve paid attention, that jet stream is still blowing and soon a low-pressure system builds. Clouds and storms cover the weather map of your soul. Rain and coldness blow across your heart and over a series of small choices, you?ve left your first love. What are you going to do when that happens? What do you do if it?s already happened? How do you get started on a new place in the spiritual journey that you?ve been taking? What steps do you take through a spiritual low place?
FIRST STEPS ON THIS JOURNEY
Well Revelation 2 also gives the answers. Step one ? the first step in this journey ? in verse 5, Jesus said, “Remember“. Can some of you remember when you were so spiritually hungry that you couldn?t stay away from this place? You didn?t care if the service lasted an hour, or an hour and half, or two hours. It didn?t matter to you. You were just willing to hang out. But what?s happened? You know, 15, 20, 30 minutes late. You come strolling in.
Long services? How many of you were here last weekend? If you noticed, my message was a little shorter than usual. I?ll tell you why. Something happened last week ? very unusual. I was at his house and I was looking for something in my bedroom and I looked under the bed. On my wife?s side of the bed, I saw a shoebox. That in and of itself wasn?t unusual, but in her handwriting on the top of the shoebox, it said, “Do Not Open.” Now I, being like most curious men, peeked inside and I was even more confused by what he saw. Inside were three hand-sewn, lacey doilies. You know what I?m talking about ? those little lacy, cloth things that go on the table ? and $27,000 in cash. I didn?t know what to do. I thought, “If I ask about it, she?d know I looked.” But because of my curiosity, I confessed. I said to my wife, “Hey, I know it said don?t look, but I looked. So now you?ve got to tell me, what?s that about?” She told me, “We?ve been married so long and I?ve listened to lots and lots of your sermons. Every time you went really long on a sermon, I?d go home and deal with the stress of that and I?d just sew one of these doilies and put it in the box.” Now I was feeling good about that. I mean in all those sermons, only three had really gone really, really long. So I said, “What about the $27,000 in cash?” “Well, every time I got a dozen doilies, I?d sell them.” Note to self ? write resignation letter?hehe just kidding folks, just kidding.
You know, when you were first in love with Christ, you?d come early, and you?d stay late. You were more like this couple [#1] than this couple [#2]. Like first love, maybe there was a time when you had an insatiable desire to learn about him. You made whatever investment in the relationship. He was the intense, preoccupation of your heart. All you wanted to do was love him and please him. Do you remember? Let me tell you something. God remembers. He remembers feeling the thrill within you the first time that the Bible really spoke to you. Remember that? I mean the Bible is so pregnant with truth, it was like it gave birth while you read it. You couldn?t read fast enough. It wasn?t because of dry habit. It was a thrill for you. God remembers. He remembers your courage the first time you talked to someone else about how much Jesus meant to you. He was so proud of you. He felt your heart beating so fast in your chest that you thought it was going to burst. He knew how surprised you were that your words and your efforts were making a difference in someone else?s life. It wasn?t because of duty; it was because of courage and passion. He remembers. God remembers each time in worship where you would lift your hands and surrender to Him. Or you?d hold them up like an empty cup and say, “God, would you just fill me again.” He remembers when tears would easily come to your eyes because you were so filled with gratitude and wonder and amazement and grace. He remembers. He remembers when you pursued Him like no other. When He was the object of your deepest affection. And you know what? He misses that. This isn?t about trying to create guilt. Because if the truth were told, you miss that, too. You do.
Some years ago, there was a singer, Larnell Harris, who wrote a song where God is the singer and what God says to the listener is, “I miss my time with you. Those moments together. I need to be with you each day and it hurts me when you say you?re too busy. Busy trying to serve me. But how can you serve me when your spirit?s empty?” You know, more than anything, as one of your pastors, I just want to plead with you. Do not let your work for God destroy the work of God within you. This is supposed to be about a love relationship with the very One who made you. So could you take time this week and maybe take the Bible out and maybe thumb through the pages, and maybe there was a time you wrote something in the margin when God spoke to you from these pages. Or maybe you?ve written something in a journal, or something like a spiritual diary and what you do then, you just read a former time in your faith, where your intense love for God was red hot. Or maybe this week, you just come into this building and maybe a spot in this building has become special to you. Or maybe you just find a quiet place in your heart and you say, “God, I miss you too. I remember, and I?m coming back.”
Now look at verse 5 again. Notice the next step you take. When you?ve allowed love to slip, verse 5 says, “Repent.” Now that is a heavy, heavy word. What does repent mean? I mean you think about preachers screaming that word with a lot of fire in their voice. The real definition of repent is, “I recognize that where I am is not where I am supposed to be. So, I turn and move toward where I am supposed to be.” That?s what it is. The same truth is found in Lamentations 3. The Bible says, “Let?s take a good look at the way we?re living and reorder our lives under God.” How do you move to the place that you want to be with God? First, you remember. Second, you repent.
DO WHAT YOU USED TO DO
And number three, and this is right out of verse 5, you do what you used to do. So what do you do? You take one step at a time. You do the next right thing. You know what? You don?t get to a spiritual mountain top in one step. And you will not get through a low valley in one step. So what do you do? You put one foot in front of the other. You take one right step a time and you will successfully make your way through the low places.
Some of you at the beginning of the 40 Days of Purpose said, “I am going to attend all six weekends for the 40 days.” Some of you did that and I want to commend you on that. Some of you made all six. You know what? It would be overwhelming to say, “I?ll make a church service on a weekend, every weekend, for the rest of my life.” That would be overwhelming to most of us. But there are only five weekends, after this one, until Christmas Eve. Kind of bums you out, doesn?t it? But you say, “Yeah, I can make five.” How about Bible reading? You know the daily reading we were doing during the 40 Days? A lot of scripture in that book. We were reading a lot of scripture. You say, “I don?t know if I can read that much.” How about this? Before beginning your day or before closing your eyes for the night, how about five minutes with the Bible? Just 5 minutes. How about scripture memory? Some of you are memorizing one verse of scripture every week. Just one verse of scripture. So maybe from your daily Bible reading, you pick one verse of scripture, just one, that you?ll memorize that week and you put it on your refrigerator door and you make the commitment, “I will not open this refrigerator door until I can say this verse with my eyes closed.” Think of the weight you?ll lose in the Holidays!!
Being right, and doing right doesn?t always feel right. But it doesn?t have to. More is going to be said about that next week. Don?t worry about feelings. Write this down: “Motion will lead to emotion.” You take the next right step. Let me give you just two more practical steps. During the 40 Days you learned the importance of a church family. In the new year we are going to be holding our Membership Class. Before you leave today, you can sign up for this class out in the foyer. Some of you, during the 40 Days, said, “I want Jesus to be the forgiver of my sins and the new leader of my life.” And one public way you express your new life in Christ is to be baptized. We are also planning a baptism service in January that you can sign up for in the foyer. It?s not every step you?ll need to take, but it is one step.
I want to be very clear. The goal is not just to keep you busy. The goal is not just a bunch of activity. This is all about real change. The expectation is that you start becoming like Jesus. Becoming the person God created you to be. This is not just about attending, or reading, or memorizing, or buying or doing. It?s about really being like Jesus. And when you boil it right down, our character is developed through our obedience and through our trust in God during the highs and during the lows. We trust Him when we?re up, and we obey Him. We trust Him when we?re down, and we obey Him. Will you choose to love the Lord through trust and obedience? Will you choose to obey all that God teaches you to do? It?s not about I?ll obey this part, but I?m not going to obey that part. Selective obedience is not obedience at all. That?s just called convenience. I?m talking about true obedience to God.
Following Jesus from the mountain into the valley is a series of small steps, small choices all in the right direction. Look at Philippians 3:16. Let?s read this out loud together. “Now that we are on the right track, let?s stay on it.” One step, one choice at a time. And in that journey, God by His spirit in you, forms Jesus in you a little bit at a time. You become more and more like Jesus. You say, “Darren, how do I know? How will I ever know that I?m becoming more and more like Jesus?” In Galatians 5, the Bible says, “Live by the Spirit.” That means let God the Spirit work within you and then He?ll produce some fruitfulness in that kind of work. And He describes it here. “The fruit of the Spirit is love (you?ll be more loving), joy (you?ll be more joyful), peace (you?ll be more peaceful), patience (you?ll be more patient), kindness (you?ll be kinder), goodness (you?ll be better), faithfulness (more faithful), gentleness (self-controlled).” That?s what happens.
2 Corinthians 8:11 says this: “Having started the ball rolling so enthusiastically, you should carry this project through to completion just as gladly?Let your enthusiastic idea at the start be equaled by your realistic action now.” Say “Okay, Pastor, okay. I am willing with God?s help to try to follow Him, step by step, obedience and trust through the highs and through the lows. But I have one question.” Okay, ask. This is your question, I suspect . “What if I trip? You already said coming back down Mt. Everest is way more dangerous, so as I am into a low period, what if I fail?” It?s a great question. Here?s the answer. Even when you fail, God never does.
WHEN YOU FAIL, GOD NEVER DOES
When you fail, God never does. Can I personalize that? When I fail, God never does. Can we say it personally together? When I fail, God never does.
Let me tell you what I mean by that. God?s care for you will never fail. He?ll never stop caring. Has there ever been a time in your life when you needed God?s encouragement? You just needed to know He was there and that He cared for you? He will care for you in the highs and I am glad to report, He is there in the lows.
One final thought, and then we?re done. God?s love will never fail. Even when you get messy in life, His love for you is never in question.
Several years ago, Jeanette George wrote about a flight she had from Tucson to Phoenix. It?s not a long flight at all. Seated next to her was this young woman with a small, little baby girl. Jeanette describes the little baby, says she was beautiful. She was wearing this white dress. Her hair was fixed with a little pink bow. This baby was smiling and she kept saying “Dada, dada” during the first part of the trip. And the woman explained, “we?re going home to her daddy. We?ve been away for 24 hours and he?s going to meet us at the airport.” Everybody was just enjoying this adorable little girl. Well the mom had a thermos bottle and she?s feeding this baby juice and fruit, juice and fruit. And the baby started crying. I guess the ears, or something, as they?re flying. And the more the baby cried, the more juice and fruit. Then the flight got turbulent. Oh, yeah. She had more came up than had gone down. It was just a huge, huge mess. This baby?s face is blotted with red from the crying. Her hair, her white dress, just everywhere. People were assuring this young mother that it was okay, handing her tissues while running for cover.
When the plane landed, the little girl was fine again. She started saying, “Dada, dada” again. Nobody else was fine, but that little girl, she was fine. Jeanette George says when they got off, she spotted the daddy. She spotted him. She said there he was standing in white pants, in a white shirt, holding white flowers. As he walked to embrace his wife, she just handed him the child, as she?s on the way to the bathroom to cleanup. And Jeanette George said, “I thought when he looked at how nasty that little girl had gotten, he would say, “She?s not my baby. I don?t know whose baby she is.?” That?s not what happened. That daddy took that little girl in his arms and he started kissing her, stroking her hair and saying over and over again, “Daddy?s baby came home.” I just want to read to you two brief sentences that Jeanette George says: “I watched him all the way to the baggage area. He never stopped kissing that baby and I thought, ?Where did I ever get the idea that Father God is less loving than a young daddy in a white shirt, in white pants with white flowers who doesn?t care what his little girl looks like, or what she smells like? He?s just glad she?s home.?”
Maybe you?ve blown it ? really messy. You thought, “God would never want me like this.” You could not be more wrong. Whoever you are, whatever you have done, God wants you to come to Him. It?s like coming home. For those of you who are wanting a relationship with God, start the journey today. For those of you who are on your journey, stay steady. Remember His love. Take the next right step. Just keep moving in His direction. Just keep making your way home to Him. He wants you in His arms, no matter what. Why? Because His love never fails.
Let?s pray together?
“Heavenly Father, if I?m honest, I?d have to admit that you?ve been pursuing me with Your love for a long time now. You proved Your love by letting Your Son, Jesus die instead of me for my sins. He paid the price. And God you raised Him from the dead ? why? All because You love me. Father, I want to start a love relationship with You. Or some of you will pray?Father I want to stay in a love relationship with You. And though the feelings come and go, they rise and fall, I commit today, by faith and simple trust that I will make my journey home to you. And thank you, Father, for letting me know that when I arrive, you?ll be there to enfold me in Your arms and to welcome me into Your presence forever. Amen.