DashHouse.com

The Blog of Darryl Dash

This blog is about how Jesus changes everything. He changes:

Our relationship with God

Our relationship with others

Our vocations - how we live and work in this world

Our ministries

This blog exists to explore some of the ways that Jesus changes everything. It provides resources and articles that will help you think about the ways that Jesus can change every part of your life.

The Lord himself invites you to a conference concerning your immediate and endless happiness, and He would not have done this if He did not mean well toward you. Do not refuse the Lord Jesus who knocks at your door; for He knocks with a hand which was nailed to the tree for such as you are. Since His only and sole object is your good, incline your ear and come to Him. Hearken diligently, and let the good word sink into your soul. (C.H. Spurgeon, All of Grace)

Worship With Genuine Enthusiasm

We're starting a new series today on how Jesus changes our lives. For the next eight weeks, we're going to be examining the eight different ways that Jesus changes our lives when we meet him. Nobody who meets Jesus is ever the same again. We're going to look at how Jesus can change our lives.

Have you ever wondered what it would be like if you actually met Jesus? I'm not talking about meeting him the way that some people talk. I'm talking about meeting him face to face. What would you say if you heard a knock on your door one night, and it was Jesus? Or if somebody told you there's a call on hold for you, and it's Jesus? Imagine what you would say to him. If he stayed in your house and visited for a while, imagine what you would feed him. Imagine how different it would feel to actually have Jesus sit at your kitchen table. What would you say to him? How would you feel?

We have to imagine, because it's never happened to us. But Jesus actually did visit some people's houses, and we don't have to imagine how they reacted. The Bible tells us. I'd like to think that I would act differently if Jesus came over to my house. But the Bible tells us that people pretty much continued acting just as they were before. If they were jerks before, they continued to be jerks. If they struggled with pride before, they struggled with pride after. The Bible is full of stories of people who had the opportunity to have their lives changed, but they missed it. They were blind to the person that was right in front of them.

This past week I met with a group of ten pastors. I did what all of us do when we get in a group with a bunch of strangers. I began to size them up. I began to peg them all. "There's an achiever. There's a nice guy. There's a joker." There was one guy who sort of sat by himself and didn't say much. I pegged him as moderately successful but without much to contribute. I thought that I could teach him a thing or two. Then I found out that he was pastor of the biggest church out of any of us. I had him pegged completely wrong. Throughout the week, he made some of the most helpful comments. I learned a lot from him.

When Jesus was on the earth, a lot of people just never got it. They pegged him wrong. But there were a few who knew did get it. They looked at Jesus and they discovered who he was. But even those people blew it. A lot of them responded poorly to Jesus. They said stupid things. They did stupid things. They worked when they should have listened. I'd like to think that if Jesus knocked on my front door, I would handle everything perfectly. But the odds aren't that good. Most people blew it. But it is possible that you can meet Jesus and respond in the right way. We're going to learn how today.

Why do I want to do this? What's so important about responding to Jesus properly? You could make a lot of stupid decisions in life. Trust me - people have. I talked to a friend this past week. His dad died right before Christmas. My friend went into his room and told me, "Darryl, there were a thousand sermons in that room. " This man had wasted his career. He had alienated his children. He lived without purpose in a flophouse. The lifestyle that he was leading literally killed him. He was only in his sixties. This was a man who had wasted his life. But the Salvation Army commander who officiated at the funeral made the saddest comment on this man's life: "I know that this man knew about Jesus, but I don't know how he responded to Jesus."

It's sad to have made all those mistakes, but the saddest mistake that man made was being introduced to Jesus Christ without allowing Jesus to change him. This man missed the only power in the universe that has the power to completely transform a person. The biggest mistake that you could make is to know about Jesus without being changed by Jesus.

You may have made a lot of mistakes in your life. It doesn't matter. If you respond to Jesus properly when you meet him, your life can be changed forever.

The response that has changed people for years now is worship. By worship I don't mean attending church. You can do that without worshiping. By worship I mean understanding who Jesus is, and responding with genuine enthusiasm. You can do this no matter what kind of a background you've had.

Today I want to look at a person whose life was just as full of mistakes as the man I just mentioned. She has socially marginalized. She belonged to an ethnic group that was hated by the majority who lived in that country. Not only that, but this woman had experienced failure in her life. She had been married five times, and at the time Jesus met her, she was living with another man. Friends, that is a lot of history. You're getting up to Elizabeth Taylor standards there. This woman had a past, and she had made a lot of mistakes. But her life was changed after only one conversation with Jesus.

I'm looking at this passage today because I'm convinced that if we meet Jesus the way that this woman did, then our lives will be changed forever. We will worship him with genuine enthusiasm. How can I become a worshiper of Jesus Christ? How can I go from whatever state I'm in today to worshiping Jesus? Four steps:

1. APPRECIATE THAT JESUS TAKES THE INITIATIVE

That's the first step to becoming a worshiper. Appreciate that Jesus takes the initiative. John 4:3-4 says, "So he left Judea to return to Galilee. He had to go through Samaria on the way." That sounds routine to us. It sounds like saying, "Ed had to go down to Sherway, so he hopped on the 427 southbound." But it's not that simple. If you wanted to go from Judea to Galilee in that day, the direct route would be to go the way Jesus did - through Samaria. But nobody went that way. Why? Because Jews hated the Samaritans. People would go out of their way to avoid the Samaritans. But Jesus didn't. In fact, verse 4 says "he had to." That doesn't mean anyone was forcing him. It means that he had made it a priority. Jesus was purposeful in what he was doing.

John 4 continues:

Eventually he came to the Samaritan village of Sychar, near the parcel of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. Jacob's well was there; and Jesus, tired from the long walk, sat wearily beside the well about noontime. Soon a Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, "Please give me a drink." (John 4:5-7)

In that day, people came twice a day to draw water - at morning and at night. If you've ever carried a lot of water, you know that the last thing you want to do is make that job harder. You'd want to carry that water during the coolest part of the day. But this woman carried it at precisely the wrong time. Verse 6 tells us that it was about noontime. Why did this woman come then? Probably because of the stigma she faced. Any woman who had been married five times, and who had another boyfriend, had probably made a few enemies! It seems that she was trying to avoid meeting people that would look down on her.

The fact that this woman didn't realize is that Jesus had been very purposeful in coming to meet her where he normally wouldn't be, at a time that usually no one was around. Jesus purposefully ignored the social stigma, the racism, the sexism, and the woman's past, to meet with her. Jesus took the initiative in relating to this woman.

The first step to becoming a worshiper of Jesus Christ is to realize that Jesus always takes the initiative in relating to us. Jesus goes past any barriers that exist between us. He overlooks our past, our mistakes, our social standing, our backgrounds - whatever. Jesus looks past all these things and takes the initiative in relating to us.

I got thinking about this last week, and it really began to amaze me. I don't know if you've seen those robotic dogs they're selling in toy stores. They come with little bones. You can press their buttons and clap to make them jump or sing. But these dogs are completely predictable. They've been made to respond in a certain way, and the only thing that will change is if the batt eries will run out.

God could have made us that way, but he didn't. God could have made us so that we would automatically behave and respond to him, but God made us with a quality called free will. God gave us the ability to choose to disobey him, and it's an ability that every person has exercised. Realize that God made you with the ability to run away from him. But Jesus still pursues us.

I began to think of the steps that Jesus took to relate to us. Jesus knew that if he pursued us the way that he was, we would have run the other way. How do I know this? Every time God appeared to someone in the Bible, he began by saying, "Don't be afraid." It's because nobody can see even a glimpse of God without being scared out of their mind. In fact, God said, "No one may see me and live" (Exodus 33:20). So God became just like us. Jesus became a human, so that when we saw him, we wouldn't be scared. Jesus became one of us so that he could relate to us.

We also read that God is so holy that he can't even look at sin. The Bible says that God can't even look at sin. It's like us looking at something so putrid that it makes you ill. This past Christmas our son threw up while eating Christmas dinner. He was in the kids room eating with all his cousins. I've never seen a room empty so fast. None of the kids could stand the sight or the smell. That's what sin is like for God. But Jesus experienced temptation, so that when he looks at us, he understands our struggles. Hebrews 4:15 says that Jesus "understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same temptations we do, yet he did not sin." That's how much Jesus wants to relate to us. It would be like one of my nephews loving my son so much that he ignored the vomit, and in fact got dirty in the vomit to help my son. The Bible says, "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Corinthians 5:21 NIV). That's how much Jesus loved us.

I began to think of the fact that Jesus paid the ultimate price for the sins that we've committed. Titus 2:14 says, "He gave his life to free us from every kind of sin, to cleanse us, and to make us his very own people, totally committed to doing what is right." That's why Jesus died. He died to undo the damage that we had caused by our sin. He freed us from sin. He cleaned us all up. He made us his own. And he rose again to give us the power to do what is right.

You need to appreciate the lengths to which Jesus has gone to relate to you. Jesus is taking the initiative, even today, in relating to you. You're not here by accident. Your past is not an accident. You're not at this church today for no reason. Jesus is taking the initiative in forming a relationship with you. Appreciating this fact is the first step to becoming a worshiper of Jesus Christ - of having your life changed by him.

Step number two to becoming a worshiper of Jesus:

2. BEGIN JUST WHERE YOU ARE

Do you want to have your life changed by Jesus? Then just begin with where you are. Tell Jesus what you need. You don't need to pretend to be someone else. You don't need to pretend you don't have certain needs. Come to Jesus just as you are.

When Jesus met this woman, he said to her, "Please give me a drink" (John 4:7). They began a conversation on why exactly Jesus was talking to her, given the fact that she was of a different race and gender. She was actually insulting Jesus, saying, in effect, "Sure - talk to me now. People of my race are only good enough for you when you need something."

But Jesus never engaged in the argument. Jesus had a higher purpose. He said, "If you only knew the gift God has for you and who I am, you would ask me, and I would give you living water" (John 4:10). To the woman, this meant flowing water. She was amazed at how Jesus could provide her with running water, when the well was about 75 feet deep and filled with debris. It was an old well, and you can bet that a lot had fallen into that well.

But Jesus was talking about a different kind of living water. Jesus said, "People soon become thirsty again after drinking this water. But the water I give them takes away thirst altogether. It becomes a perpetual spring within them, giving them eternal life" (John 14:13-14). Jesus meant that he could satisfy her spiritual cravings. Jesus could quench the thirst in her soul. But he began by talking about her immediate need. Jesus always begins with us just where we are.

Later this year, we're going to do a series called "Why I Came to Jesus." I've found that people come to Jesus for a lot of different reasons. Some come to him for healing. Some come to him for purpose. Some people come to Jesus for friendship. Everyone has a reason for coming to Jesus. I've found that Jesus usually meets those needs, but then he gives them something much deeper than what they were looking for. Jesus satisfies their spiritual cravings as well.

Some people come to God because they don't want to go to hell. That's actually not a bad reason. Jesus says, "Okay, I'll deal with your future. I'll give you eternal life in heaven. But let's go deeper than that. Why don't I establish you in a right relationship with God - the relationship that you were created for?" Jesus meets your need, but then he goes further.

Some people come to God because their marriages are falling apart, or their kids are getting to an age that they need some spiritual grounding. Jesus says, "Okay, let's deal with that problem, but let's go deeper while we're at it." The Bible is full of instruction on how to live a better life - how to build a healthy marriage, how to experience true happiness, how to manage your finances. Every week here at Richview we look at what the Bible has to say about some area of our lives. But Jesus wants to go deeper with you. Jesus wants to satisfy your deepest longing: your longing for a spiritual relationship with the one who made you.

When you come to Jesus, you get forgiveness for your past. You get a purpose to live for in the present. And you get hope for your future. But Jesus starts just where you are. Do you want your life to change? Then appreciate that Jesus is taking the initiative in relating to you. Begin just where you are to communicate with him about your needs. He will meet your greatest needs.

Step three in worshiping Jesus - in having your life changed by him:

3. COME CLEAN ABOUT YOUR SINS

Have you ever noticed how hard it is for us to come clean about our problems? There's a technical term for this: it's called DENIAL. We spend a lot of time deluding ourselves into thinking that we don't really have a problem. You see this in the conversation that Jesus and the woman had at the well.

As the conversation progressed, the woman got excited about what Jesus was offering her. Jesus said, "Go and get your husband," and the woman answered quite honestly, "I don't have a husband" (John 4:17). Now, Jesus knew that proper etiquette in that time demanded that a woman should not talk to a man unless her husband was present. But Jesus had a deeper strategy. Jesus wanted her to realize her need. Jesus wanted her to realize that her main need wasn't water. Her primary need was to deal with her sins. She had to come clean with her true spiritual condition.

I love what happened. Jesus replied, "You're right! You don't have a husband-for you have had five husbands, and you aren't even married to the man you're living with now" (John 4:17-18). Don't you wish you could have seen her face! So the woman played the good old change the subject trick: she brought up a completely unrelated issue to divert attention away from her real need. She didn't want to deal with her sins. She was too embarrassed to come clean about them.

Here's where Jesus got to the heart of the issue. The woman's question had to do with where true worship took place. The Jews believed that worship took place in Jerusalem, but the Samaritans had their own place of worship in Samaria. But Jesus replied:

But the time is coming and is already here when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for anyone who will worship him that way. For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth. (John 4:23-24)

Jesus said it doesn't really matter where you worship. You can worship in this church as easily as you worship in another church. It doesn't matter when you worship him. You can worship God on a Sunday morning or a Thursday night. It really doesn't matter. It doesn't even matter what style of music you use, or whether you use music at all. What matters is the heart.

Jesus said, "The Father is looking for anyone who will worship him...in spirit and in truth." Jesus was saying that God is looking for people who will worship him with genuine enthusiasm. God isn't interested in performances. In fact, the Bible says that God hates it when people only pretend to worship him. He tells them, "I really wish you would have stayed home." God doesn't want you to go through the motions. God wants you to come clean about your sins, and to begin to worship him with genuine enthusiasm.

I'm amazed that when I come clean with God, he doesn't run the other way. God doesn't turn his head away in disgust when I tell him all that I've done wrong. God isn't even surprised. He already knew. We don't have to pretend with God about our spiritual condition. We don't have to come into church and pretend that we know more about the Bible than we really do. We don't have to act like we have it all together. We can come to God in spirit and in truth and worship him.

Isaiah 1 says these words:

"Come now, let us argue this out," says the LORD. "No matter how deep the stain of your sins, I can remove it. I can make you as clean as freshly fallen snow. Even if you are stained as red as crimson, I can make you as white as wool. If you will only obey me and let me help you. (Isaiah 1:18-19)

God knows how deep your sins are. If you've ever had experience in trying to remove stains from the laundry, you know that you can wreck garments trying to get them clean. I once used so much bleach on an item that it ended up in pieces. God is in the business of getting rid of your sins, no matter how deeply you've been stained. No matter how many bad things you have done. The Bible says, "I can make you as clean as freshly fallen snow."

The reason I'm talking about this today is because we're trying to picture how we would react if Jesus walked into this room - if Jesus knocked on your door at home. If Jesus were here today in bodily form, he would tell you, "I want you to worship me. I want you to be in a right relationship with me. I want you to come clean about your sins. If you come to me, I will take care of your sin problem, and you will become a new person." You can come clean with God about your sins.

How can I worship Jesus? How can he change me? Appreciate that Jesus is taking the initiative with you. Begin just where you are. Come clean about your sins. There's one more step to worshiping Jesus:

4. DELIGHT IN THE DIFFERENCE

The last step you can take in becoming a worshiper of Jesus Christ is that you can begin to delight, to enjoy the difference. When Jesus was done talking to this woman, it changed her forever. John 4:39 reads:

Many Samaritans from the village believed in Jesus because the woman had said, "He told me everything I ever did!" When they came out to see him, they begged him to stay at their village. So he stayed for two days, long enough for many of them to hear his message and believe. Then they said to the woman, "Now we believe because we have heard him ourselves, not just because of what you told us. He is indeed the Savior of the world. (John 4:39-42)

Try to imagine this woman. She used to go get her water in the middle of the day so she wouldn't have to see anyone. Suddenly she couldn't keep quiet. She went running around telling people about Jesus and the difference he had made in her life. Despite her reputation, people took her invitation and came and heard Jesus. As a result, many of them believed and received the gift of eternal life.

If you become a worshiper of Jesus Christ, you will be a changed person. You will be able to enjoy the difference. Others will see the difference. You can become a changed person today.

Jesus teaches us that worship isn't about coming to church. You can come to church all you want, but it doesn't mean you're worshiping. Worship isn't about singing the right songs or even listening to a message and then leaving. Worship is all about meeting Jesus Christ and responding to him in the right way. This woman did. Others had similar experiences and didn't, but this woman met Jesus, responded, and her life was changed forever.

It's time for you to meet Jesus today. I'm going to lead you in a prayer that will help you begin to worship God with genuine enthusiasm. The words aren't as important as what your heart is going to say to God. If you would like to become a worshiper of God, would you close your eyes this morning as we all pray.

Would you say these words in your heart:

Jesus, thank you that you know me and that you take the initiative in becoming my friend. Thank you that you let me begin just where I am - with my needs, my hang-ups, my weaknesses, and all. Thank you that I can come clean with you about my sins. Today I accept what you did for me on the cross. I believe that you died for my sins and that you rose again to give me new life. Today I give my life to you. I want to worship you in spirit and in truth. I want to worship you with genuine enthusiasm. Thank you that as I take this step, I can begin to delight in the difference you're going to make in my life. In your name I pray, Amen.

How to Invest Your Life

We're completing a series today called "Essentials for 21st Century Living." We've been talking about the five essentials required to live your life the way that God designed it to be lived. If you don't understand and don't live these essentials, you're wasting your life. But if you build these essentials into your life, then you will be living the life of purpose that God intends for you.

We're going to look today at how to invest your life. God has given you certain skills, relationships, and time that you can use to invest for eternity. Your goal should be to get to the end of your life and be able to say what Jesus did: "I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do" (John 17:4 NIV). The Apostle Paul said, "However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me" (Acts 20:24). That's my definition of success. It's getting to the end of life and being able to say, "I've completed the work that God gave me. I've fulfilled God's purpose for my life." If you're going to do this, you need to decide now how you're going to invest your life.

As your pastor, it's my job to help you discover your life purpose and to make wise decisions on how to invest your life. In fact, we have an entire class - Richview 301 - dedicated to helping you discover the way God has SHAPED you. We look at five areas that help you discover your life's contribution - your spiritual gifts, heart, abilities, personality, and experience. If you haven't taken Richview 301, you can register for the next one using your communication card. It will help you decide how you're going to invest your life.

A lot of us think that we don't really have anything useful to invest. We're not even sure that we have anything to offer God or others. Would you agree that all of us have been given different amounts to invest? We've all been given different abilities, spiritual gifts, and levels of health. God has given every one of us something to invest, but the amount we have is different. The Bible says that some of us have been given different levels of ability. I used to worry that God didn't give me enough ability to be able to even make an investment.

But I've learned that it's not a matter of how much God has given you to invest - it's where you invest that's important. I read somewhere that if you invested $10,000 on the online retailer pets.com a year ago, you would have $35 today. But if you made perfect investments - if you had the exceptional ability to pick just the right stocks - that $10,000 could be worth a million today. You didn't get to pick how much God has given you to invest, but you do get to pick where to invest your life. The best investment you could make is to invest your life according to God's purposes for your life.

This week I heard a commercial about the information that investment professionals receive. Every morning they get expert analysis from all over the globe on trends and markets, which helps them make good investment decisions. The point of the commercial is, "You too can receive this investment advice by signing up with us." It got me thinking - what would it be like to have expert advice from God on how to invest our life? This would help us avoid making dumb decisions. We could get to the end of our lives with a great return on investment.

The Bible gives us that sort of expert advice. It gives us not only principles but examples of how to wisely invest our lives. Today we're going to look at one example - Moses. I like Moses as an example because the end result of his life was that he made a huge investment. His life made a big difference. But Moses didn't always have a lot going for him. He sometimes let his temper out of control. He didn't always utilize the skills and talents of others. He tried to do too much himself. He disobeyed God. He doubted his own abilities. Yet Moses invested his life and changed the course of history.

How can I invest my life? Four keys to investing your life God's way:

1. REALIZE THAT I WAS BORN WITH A PURPOSE

The first key is to recognize that you were born for a purpose. I'm not talking about your parent's purpose. There are a lot of us who aren't here because our parents decided to have another baby. They didn't plan to have us. But you were born with a purpose - God's purpose. Jeremiah 1:5 says, "I knew you before I formed you in your mother's womb. Before you were born I set you apart and appointed you as my spokesman to the world."

If you could pick a time to be born, you wouldn't pick the time that Moses was born. Moses was born in Egypt when Pharaoh had ordered all the male Jewish babies to be killed. The only reason Moses survived was because of a secret plot to preserve his life, but that only lasted for three months. Eventually, Moses' mother had to set him loose by sending him down the Nile River in a basket of reeds. Moses was born with a death sentence. You've heard of a dead man walking? Moses was a dead baby gurgling. But God preserved his life. God had a particular purpose for Moses to be born.

What was that purpose? God wanted to find someone who had leadership skills and who had a thorough knowledge of Pharaoh's house. God wanted this person to receive the education and skills required to deliver the nation of Israel from Egypt and to be able to lead an entire nation - through battles, through adverse circumstances, through victories. That person would ideally know the intimate workings of Pharaoh's household so he could know what he is up against when negotiating with Pharaoh. Where is God going to find such a person?

Moses was born at just the right time to accomplish God's purpose. And when Moses was sent down the Nile in a basket, it was according to God's purpose that Pharaoh's own daughter adopted him into Pharaoh's household. God had a purpose for Moses, and that purpose was being accomplished from the minute that Moses was being born.

How can I invest my life? It starts with realizing that God has a purpose for your life. God knew you long before you were born - long before you were ever conceived. Think about this. Out of all the parents in the world, God brought together two parents with the genes necessary to create you. Out of all the times in this world when you could have been born, God picked your birthday for your debut. Out of all the places in the world you could have been born, God selected your birthplace. And even before your mother knew that you were there, God had his hand on your life. God had a purpose for you to exist. And God has a purpose for your life today.

You may feel inadequate. You may feel discouraged with how your life is going. You may not even feel that you've made a difference. But God has a purpose for your life.

This means that you don't get to decide your own purpose. You don't get to sit down and say, "My purpose is to accumulate a lot of wealth and toys and have a lot of fun." God has a purpose for your life, and God wants to use your life to accomplish something.

You haven't lived until you've begun to discover and fulfill God's purpose in your life. You weren't born to take up space. You were born with a purpose. The first key to investing your life is to realize that you have a life worth investing. You have been custom-made by God. Realize that I was born with a purpose.

The second key to investing my life is this:

2. REMEMBER THAT GOD CAN USE ME DESPITE MY FAILURES

Has anybody here experienced failure? Not just a little one - a significant failure? Sure. We all have. We have a tendency to write ourselves off - to say that God could never use us because we've made too many mistakes. But the second key to investing my life is to realize that God can use me despite my failures.

We don't know a lot about Moses' early life. We do know that he grew up in great wealth in Pharaoh's house. You can't even imagine the wealth that Moses enjoyed. The next event that Scripture records is when Moses was forty year s old. Moses had discovered that the Jewish people, his people, were being forced to work as slaves. Not only that, but they were being very harshly treated. Exodus 2:11-12 says, "During his visit, he saw an Egyptian beating one of the Hebrew slaves. After looking around to make sure no one was watching, Moses killed the Egyptian and buried him in the sand."

You get the impression that Moses hardly thought twice about this incident. But the next day, someone confronted him. Moses knew that his life was in danger, because Pharaoh wanted to kill him. Why did Pharaoh want to kill him? Not because he killed an Egyptian. Pharaoh wanted to kill him because Moses had shown himself to be a friend of the people that Pharaoh hated - the Egyptians. Moses had to run, and he ended up in exile for forty years. Moses blew it, and his mistake, and his mistake put his life on hold for forty years. He ended up as a shepherd in the dessert.

Think about how Moses' life changed. He was used to having everything done for him. He had recognition and prestige. All of a sudden he was a wandering nomad. That would be like Prince Charles becoming a garbage man. Moses had to do the job that every Egyptian despised. Everything that Moses wanted done, he had to do himself. It looked like Moses' life was over. But God wasn't through with Moses yet. God used Moses in spite of his failures. In Exodus 3:10, God said to Moses, "Now go, for I am sending you to Pharaoh. You will lead my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt."

I keep hearing from people, "I'm not good enough to be used by God. I'm not a pastor. I'm not holy. God can't use my life because I've blown it too much." Whenever I hear that comment, I start laughing. I know a lot of pastors and let me tell you - it's a mistake to think they're holier than you! Ask my wife. Pastors struggle and blow it at least as much as you do.

But let's move beyond pastors. Let's look at great Christians in history. Surely they must have been more perfect. Charles Spurgeon - megachurch pastor from a century ago in London, called "The Prince of Preachers?" He struggled with depression and smoked cigars for the glory of God. D.L. Moody - the nineteenth century's Billy Graham? A man with poor education. When he applied to join a church he was turned out twice because the deacons weren't sure that he knew what he was talking about. John Calvin? A man with a short temper and a sharp tongue. Martin Luther? A sometimes vulgar man and always controversial. You could go throughout church history and discover that God always uses people with weaknesses and failures. God uses imperfect people.

In fact, look through the Bible. Abraham? A man who lied about his wife to protect his own skin. Moses? A murderer. David? An adulterer and murderer. Peter? An impetuous coward.

You may be sitting on the sidelines, thinking, "I've blown it. God can't use me." But you were born for a purpose. No matter how badly you've blown it, God can use you. God loves to use broken people.

The good news about Christianity is that God can use you despite your failures. The Apostle Paul - a man with great failures who was used powerfully by God - wrote these words:

How thankful I am to Christ Jesus our Lord for considering me trustworthy and appointing me to serve him, even though I used to scoff at the name of Christ...This is a true saying, and everyone should believe it: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners-and I was the worst of them all. But that is why God had mercy on me, so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in him and receive eternal life. (1 Timothy 1:12-16)

There's not a person here today who would argue that they've failed in life. It doesn't matter how badly you've failed. You can get a fresh start from God. He can use your life in ways you haven't imagined. How? By believing that Jesus Christ came into this world to give his life for you. He died to wipe out your failures. He rose again to give you a fresh start. You can receive a fresh start from God by turning your life over to him - by saying, "God, thank you for what Jesus Christ did for me. I'm putting you in charge of my life. Wipe out my failures. I follow you from this point on." You've failed - we all have. If you want to be used by God, you need to accept the forgiveness that he offers.

How should I invest my life? Realize that I was born with a purpose. Remember that God can use me despite my failures. The third key to investing my life:

3. RELY ON GOD'S POWER

The third key to investing my life is to rely on God's power. When God appeared to Moses and gave him his assignment, Moses thought what I would have thought. "Wait a minute, God. You're asking the wrong person. You have up on me a long time ago. I've already proved I don't have what it takes. You're asking the wrong person!"

Listen to what Moses said:

"But who am I to appear before Pharaoh?" (Exodus 3:11)

"O Lord, I'm just not a good speaker. I never have been, and I'm not now, even after you have spoken to me. I'm clumsy with words." (Exodus 4:10)

"Lord, please! Send someone else." (Exodus 4:13)

Moses didn't say it once. He said it three times. "God, you've got the wrong person. God, I don't care if you're going to help me or not. Count me out. I just don't have what it takes."

I've noticed that when it comes to investing our lives, we spend a lot more time looking at our weaknesses than at God's ability. It's a lot easier to think of why we shouldn't obey God than to step out and do what he says. Some people overestimate their usefulness to God. But a more common mistake is to think that God can't use us because we're not good enough. Some of us are even proud, thinking that we're just being humble. But God isn't honored when we doubt his ability to use us. God can make a difference through us when we rely on his power.

God made three promises to Moses that apply to you as well that will help you with your weaknesses:

The first promise that God is made is that God will be present with you. God says, "I will be with you" (Exodus 3:12). Jesus said, "I have been given complete authority in heaven and on earth...and be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (Matthew 28:18-20). When you serve God, you never serve alone. God never leaves you to serve him on your own.

The second promise God has made is that God will compensate for your weakness. When Moses complained about his clumsiness with words, God said, "Who makes people so they can speak or not speak, hear or not hear, see or not see? Is it not I, the LORD? Now go, and do as I have told you. I will help you speak well, and I will tell you what to say" (Exodus 4:11-12). I don't know where you're weak. But I do know that God can help you overcome your weaknesses. In fact, God often uses your area of greatest weakness so that when he's done using you, you can't take the credit. God's power will compensate for any weakness you may have.

The third promise God has made to help your weakness is that God will provide you with all the resources you need. God said to Moses, "What about your brother, Aaron the Levite...I will help both of you to speak clearly, and I will tell you what to do" (Exodus 4:14-15). God will give you the courage and the resources you need to do what he asks you to accomplish.

I've had a lot of conversations with God what he's asked me to do. When I first sensed God directing me to be a pastor, I told him I didn't have what it took. I had my own career path planned. I wanted to be a writer, not a pastor. I didn't think I had what it took. I doubted that God could use me.

I did become a pastor, and God used me despite my weakness. Then I heard about Richview. I'll never forget the first time I thought God might be leading me to Richview. I spent a sleepless night telling God, "There's no way I'm going to that church!" I didn't think God could use me. I knew my weaknesses. I knew my limitations. I could tell God all the reasons I wasn't qualified. God's answer? "Of course you're not qualified. But I'll go with you. I'll give you strength. It's not your job to be competent. It's your job to obey."

God's been very clear with many of you what he would like you to do. He's given you direction. But you've been arguing with him - some of you a lot more than the three times that Moses argued. If you've been holding back from obeying God, then it's time today to take the next step and say, "God, of course I don't have what it takes. But today I'm going to trust you. I'm going to rely on your power rather than my own." Rely on God's power rather than your own abilities.

One more key from the life of Moses on how to invest your life:

4. RESPOND TO GOD'S TIMING

I pulled out my pension statements this past week and looked at how my investments performed over the past year. I have one mutual fund that shot up 30% last year, and for a low fee I'll be willing to tell you where to buy that fund! But I also had mutual funds that went down 4, 5, even 13%. Am I worried? Not really. I'm investing for the long haul. Some of my investments may not pay off right away, but that's okay. I'm concerned about how the investments pay off over the course of my lifetime.

The mistake a lot of us make in our lives is that we don't take a long enough view. God's purposes for your life are bigger than this month or even this year. God has a plan for you that includes your entire life. He may spend years preparing you for his plan. But waiting time is never wasted time. God will accomplish his purpose in your life.

God spent forty years educating Moses on leadership in Egypt. He spent another forty years educating Moses on desert life. Moses was eighty before he discovered God's purpose for his life, and it took another forty years to accomplish this purpose. That's eighty years of desert time. Do you think this was the timing Moses would have picked? Absolutely not. But God isn't in the rush that we are. Respond to God's timing. God's timing is always better than your timing.

I don't really care how old you are, or how young you are. I don't care what failures are in your past, or what abilities you don't think you have. I do know that you were born with a purpose. God has a purpose for your life that goes far beyond your job or your hobbies. You need to discover that purpose, and to begin to live it out with his strength.

I have a friend who's spending some time in the desert right now. I don't understand it. He's incredibly gifted. God has used him in my life and in the lives of others. But God's never in a rush when it comes to character development. God is developing you to make a unique contribution, even though in your eyes there's not much going on.

You may doubt your abilities. You're too weak or you've experienced too much failure. You may think that you're too young or too old. You may think that God has placed your life on hold. God has a plan for your life. You were born with a purpose. God can use your life to make a difference for eternity.

D.L. Moody once said, "If this world is going to be reached, I am convinced that it must be done by men and women of average talent. After all, there are comparatively few people in the world who have great talents." God isn't looking for exceptional people. He's looking for you to accomplish your life's purpose. God wants to make a difference using you.

Let's pray.

Father, thank you that you use people like Moses. He was a man with character flaws and an inferiority complex. He disobeyed you, and he didn't always make smart decisions. But you used him, and you can use us.

I pray that you would help every person here to discover his or her purpose. Help us to remember that you can use us despite our failures and our weaknesses. Help us to serve you no matter how old or young we are. And may we be able to say, at the end of our lives, the words that Jesus did: "I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do." In his name we pray. Amen.

Connecting With People

We've been talking the past few weeks about essentials for 21st century living. These are the essentials - the absolute bare necessities - that you need to know and build into your life. They're the reasons that God created you. We've talked about the first two essentials for living the life you were designed to live: to share God's heart for people, and to be able to tell God that you love him. Today, we're going to look at the third essential for 21st century living: connecting with people.

If you're going to survive and thrive into the 21st century, you've got to connect with people. In Genesis 2, when God created man, he said, "It is not good for man to be alone" (Genesis 2:18). God wasn't just talking about marriage here. God was talking about a fundamental principle: we were designed for relationships. You were meant to connect on a heart-to-heart, soul-to-soul basis with other people. God designed you to get connected with others. Scientists are constantly discovering new benefits - psychological and even health benefits - to people who connect with others. You're wasting your life if you don't connect the way that God designed you to.

Now, God not only designed you with a need for relationships. God has also designed a place for you to get your relational needs met. That place is called the church. God designed the church so that you wouldn't have to walk through life alone. You may be single or married. You may have lots of friends or just a few friends. You may be an introvert or an extrovert. But God designed the church to be a place of relationships - of safe relationships - with you.

But one of the greatest obstacles to being that kind of church is the way that we do church. If I were to ask you, "What does going to church mean?" what would you answer? For a lot of us, going to church means that we go to a big building and sit in rows. The closest relationships that you develop are with the back of other people's heads. For some of you, you could close your eyes and mentally picture the shape and color of the person's head in front of you. Because for you, going to church means sitting in rows and looking to the front. Church means that when I'm done, you're done. You sit in rows and you leave in rows. That's what most people think of as church.

Now, listen: a lot of you measure how good a Christian you are by how many times you come to church and sit in rows. The main problem with this is that nowhere - not even once - does the Bible command you to do this. I've searched the entire Bible, and I've found not one command that tells you to do what you're doing right now. Not one. And that's a big problem if it's the main measuring stick of your walk with God. You were designed for more than this.

Not only were you designed for more than this, but sitting in rows is a very poor way of holding on to people. It's like having season's tickets to the Toronto Raptors. You sit in the same seat every game. But then you get sick and stop coming to games. People say, "I wonder where the guy with the foam finger that says #1 went?" But nobody calls you. Nobody has a relationship with you. You're just a person in a seat, and when you're not there all that it means is that there's a vacant seat.

Maybe some of you have been in churches like that. The truth is, a lot of you stopped going to churches like that, and nobody noticed. And you spent a lot of years away from church feeling that nobody cared for you. That's not what church is designed to be.

Before you get up and leave, thinking that I've told you to stop coming on Sunday mornings, I want to remind you that there is some value in what we do here every Sunday. There's some value, or we wouldn't be doing it. But it's not enough. It's not even the main thing that we're supposed to be doing. You were designed for more. And this morning we're going to look at how you can experience all that God wants you to experience in church by getting connected to others.

How should we connect with others? There's a passage in Hebrews 10 that says:

Think of ways to encourage one another to outbursts of love and good deeds. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage and warn each other, especially now that the day of his coming is drawing near. (Hebrews 10:24-25)

"Let us not neglect our meeting together." Let me tell you how I've usually heard this interpreted. "See, the Bible says not to stop coming on Sunday to sit in rows. Whatever you do, don't miss the main worship service of the week. That's what some people do, but don't you dare do that!" If you've ever heard someone preach on this passage, you've probably heard them say that it's talking about church service attendance. But let's look at what the passage really says.

The passage says, "Think of ways to encourage one another to outbursts of love and good deeds...encourage and warn each other." How? By not neglecting to meet together. The writer is saying that we should meet together with the purpose of encouraging and warning each other, and thinking of creative ways to provoke others to outbursts of love and good deeds. That doesn't sound like Sunday morning to me.

Back when the Bible was written, people didn't come to a big building and sit in rows. The churches in those days met in house churches. They came in small groups of people to meet in someone's house, and they enjoyed food, prayer, teaching, and relationships. Every church that existed in the New Testament was a house church. If you want to experience church the way that the early Christians did, it means that you have to change your seating pattern. You'll have to change it from sitting in rows to sitting in circles, turning your chair toward other people in somebody's house. When this happens, you can get to know a group of other people, you can creatively think of ways to encourage the others in that group to outbursts of love and good deeds.

You're thinking, "Great, where can I find a house church? The Yellow Pages? Do I look under C for church or H for house?" You don't have to go that far to find a house church. You can find them here at Richview. What I'm talking about as a house church you might know by other names - small groups, growth groups, cell groups. And it's what the Bible has in mind for you so that you can build the relationships that you need to thrive in the 21st century. It's an essential for your life.

What happens when you join a house church, a small group? Three benefits take place, and we discover them in Acts 2:42-47, right at the start of the church. This is what church was like at the very beginning:

They joined with the other believers and devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, sharing in the Lord's Supper and in prayer...And all the believers met together constantly and shared everything they had. They sold their possessions and shared the proceeds with those in need. They...met in homes for the Lord's Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity - all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their group those who were being saved.

In the environment of a house church, or a small group, some important things happen better than anywhere else. Three benefits that you can experience by being connected relationally:

1. RELATIONSHIPS ARE STRENGTHENED

Acts 2:44-46 says, "And all the believers met together constantly and shared everything they had...and shared their meals with great joy and generosity." The early believers enjoyed relationships that were strengthened through food, through eating together, laughing together, sharing together. The early church was a place where the masks could come off and people enjoyed true community with one another. That's what relationships are all about.

I have here a mask. We all wear them - not like this, but we do all wear them. Have you ever read the personal ads that are out there? Just for fun, I found some from yesterday's Toronto Star. Listen to these:

A well-established professional male, intelligent, values honesty and empathy, and enjoys children, wants to meet an attractive female.

Attractive male, honest, caring, romantic, great sense of humor, seeks attractive female

Handsome white night, brown hair, blue eyes, seeking black Caribbean rose or Filipino flower

In fact, the only honest personal ad I found was this one: "A cute guy with no hair and no teeth seeks pretty lady dentist who sells wigs." I'm not sure this guy's being honest - he's just got an angle! Nobody says, "Even my mom finds me ugly." Nobody says, "Flabby and friendless." Everyone is attractive, well-established, intelligent, and honest.

Truth be told, all of us are trying to present our best face to others. We don't want others to see our flaws and our weaknesses. We're scared that others will think less of us if they find out the truth. But the thing that you need to know about small groups - house churches - is that it's a place where you can take the mask off. You can let your guard down. You can get to know each other beyond the surface level that takes place on a Sunday morning. And those relationships will sustain you throughout your entire life.

A second benefit is experienced when you get connected in a small group:

2. JOURNEYS ARE SHARED

Small groups are places where journeys are shared, and needs are met. Acts 2:44 says, "They shared everything they had." These people knew the needs of others in the group. If there was a need, they

I have some flowers here. Flowers are usually given at two times: times of celebration, and times of mourning. Sorry, guys, they're not just given when you have to say sorry. Flowers are given when something good happens - a baby is born, a promotion received, an anniversary celebrated. Flowers are also given at sad times: when someone dies, maybe when you're laid off, when you're sick.

The reality of life is that all of us are going to experience a lot of joys, and a lot of struggles. When you go through those times of struggle, whom are you going to turn to? Who is going to walk with you through the difficult times? Romans 12:15 says, "When others are happy, be happy with them. If they are sad, share their sorrow." You need to do this with someone. You need a group of people that can share your joy when you're happy, and who can help carry the load when you're down.

On my desk, I have a rock that says on it, "Never never quit." You've probably seen one like it in a catalog or in a store. I bought it at a time that I wanted to give up. Things had gone really badly, and I wasn't sure how it was going to work out. But I had people to turn to. I remember the phone call I was able to make with a close friend who prayed and supported me through that experience. I remember the lunch appointment the next day with another friend who cared for me. I remember going to the house of a couple, friends of ours, in which we just hurt together. The reason that I didn't quit is because I had people who walked through that experience with me.

That's what you can experience in the context of community. You don't walk through life alone. The events that happen in your life - both good and bad - are shared with each other. Relationships are strengthened, and journeys are shared.

3. GROWTH IS FOSTERED

Here I have some weights. These weights represent what happens when you attend a growth group. How many people here like doing free weights? I don't. I'm an aerobic type of person. But weights are important. Weights build muscle mass, and muscle mass is important. As you age, you have to do weights just to maintain the muscle mass that you had.

One of the benefits of being in community in a house church or small group is that spiritual growth takes place. Your spiritual muscles are exercised. Acts 2:42 says, "They joined with the other believers and devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, sharing in the Lord's Supper and in prayer." Two ingredients of a small group ministry are prayer and teaching. But in a small group, the teaching can be custom-designed for your needs. You can get your questions answered. It's a safe place to ask tough questions. If you're struggling with an issue or in an area, then the study can address that area. Sustained life change can take place.

I've learned a lot from sitting in rows and listening to preachers. But the greatest changes to my life have taken place in someone's living room, as I've looked at God's Word in relationship with someone else. Colossians 3:16 says, "Use his words to teach and counsel each other." That's not written to pastors. That's written to you. When you're in a circle, and you can ask your difficult questions, and discuss what's happening in your life, and you can look at God's Word with other believers, then spiritual growth is fostered.

WHY DO PEOPLE RESIST SMALL GROUPS?

With all these benefits of being in a small group, why don't people get involved? What's holding us back? There are four obstacles to getting involved, and your job for the rest of the morning is to figure out which obstacles are standing in the way so that we can work together in removing it. Why do people resist small groups?

1. THEY DON'T UNDERSTAND THE VALUE

For a long time, I grew up drinking powdered milk. Do you remember that stuff - you took some powder and mixed it in with water to make what sort of tasted like milk? I'll never forget the day that I tasted real milk. I couldn't believe the difference. But up until that point, I never appreciated the difference because I had never tasted what real milk was like.

Some of you may have never tasted what a small group is really like. For you, coming and sitting in rows is all that you've ever experienced. You have never seen the value of anything different. If this is why you aren't involved in small groups, then I hope we've removed that obstacle today. I hope you've seen that God intended you to experience community in a small group. You've been designed to experience this, and the church was meant to be the place that you could experience it.

Another reason that people resist small groups is because:

2. THEY'RE AFRAID OF BEING KNOWN

Have you ever had a cleaning service come and clean your home? Do you know what some people do before the cleaning service arrives? They go around and clean the home. They would never want the cleaner to think that they were messy. They don't want anyone to know their private business, especially if there's a chance that they might form a negative opinion.

This isn't just some of us. All of us are that way. We all try to put our best foot forward, to pretend that we're better than we really are. We think that if we get involved with others, they will discover what's really happening in our lives, and they'll be turned off. We think if they find out that we have tensions in our marriage, that our teenage kids are rebellious, that our jobs aren't going well, and to top it off we haven't had devotions in two weeks - there goes our image. We're afraid of being known.

This is as old as Adam. Adam hid in the garden, and we've been hiding ever since. But if this is the reason that you're resisting small groups, then you're missing out on one of the best things about small groups: discovering that everyone else is as messed up as you are! That may sound like a bad thing, but it's freeing to sit down and find out that another couple has struggled through the same marriage issue that you're going through, and has come out on the other side. It's freeing to find out that someone else has dealt with an adolescent child, and that they've survived it. It's exciting to see other people who are dealing with or have dealt with the same issues that you are, and that it's okay. We can drop our masks. We can know and be known. We don't have to hide.

This is scary! It requires openness. But it's in our we akness and our brokenness that we are most a blessing to other people. Larry Crabb says

A central task of community is to create a place that is safe enough for the walls to be torn down, safe enough for each of us to own and reveal our brokenness...When we turn our chairs to face each other, the first thing we see is a terrible fact: We're all struggling. Beneath the surface of every personality - even the one that seems most "together" - a spiritual battle is raging that will only be won with the help of community. (The Safest Place on Earth 11-12)

My message to you would be: don't hide. You don't have to hide. You can drop the masks. Small groups will be a safe place for you to do that.

Another reason why people resist small groups is:

3. THEY'RE DISILLUSIONED BECAUSE OF A BAD EXPERIENCE

Some of you are thinking, "I've been in a small group before, and let me tell you, it wasn't that great! It may work that way in the books, but what you're describing certainly isn't what I've experienced!" The reality is that there are healthy small groups, and there are unhealthy small groups. You may have had a good experience, or you may have had a bad experience. But don't write off small groups because you've had a bad experience.

It's like food. Has anybody here ever had a bad sandwich? I've had sandwiches that have almost made me sick. I wonder how anybody could ever eat these sandwiches. But I still eat sandwiches. I just try to stick to the good sandwiches. Has anyone here ever watched a bad TV show? But I'll bet you still watch TV. You need to give it another chance to experience what small groups can really be.

One of the reasons we are going to take our time in implementing small groups here at Richview is because we want it to be a good experience for you. We don't want you to come back and say, "See, I tried it again and it still wasn't good." I hope you've seen today that it can be good. It's where there's the most potential for life change. You need to get involved.

There's one more reason why people aren't involved in small groups:

4 THEY'RE UNABLE TO FIND AN OPPORTUNITY

Some of you are saying, "Sign me up! I'm ready!" You've been waiting for this, or today you've realized that this is what church is meant to be. You don't want to sit in a row any longer. You want to be part of a house church where relationships are fostered, journeys are shared, and growth is fostered.

The only problem is: you can't find an opportunity. You want to get involved, but you don't know how. It's to you that I want to speak now.

We have made a conscious decision not to launch a small group program on a certain date. Why? Because we don't want to manufacture small groups like a factory manufactures widgets. We want to grow small groups. We want to build the infrastructure. We want to do it right. But that means for a while we'll be raising the value of small groups without providing an avenue for you to get involved. That's okay; that's part of the process.

But I do want to tell you three things today. First, you may be part of the solution. You may be a potential small group leader. You may have shepherding gifts, leadership gifts, teaching gifts. If so, you need to make yourself known to us so that when the time comes, we can do the proper training to get you plugged in where you need to be.

The next thing I want to tell you is: you can do this now. Even while you're waiting for an official small group to begin, you can turn your chairs toward other people and start to connect relationally in this way. It may not be official, and it may not show up in our chart somewhere, but it can happen. Over a year ago, I began meeting weekly with a friend to do just this: to go beyond Sunday mornings, to have a safe place where I could know and be known. You can start doing this, with or without a structure, with a friend. If you need help in doing this, let us know and we'll be happy to assist you any way we can.

The third thing I can tell you is this: if you want to join a house church, a small group, then you can take the communication card, write your name down today, and we'll have a prioritized list of people who want to get involved. We will then be able to match you up the minute that we have a group ready for you.

Let's pray.

God created you for relationships. He put you in a church because he wanted this to be a safe place for you - what someone has called the safest place on earth.

You may be new to Richview, or you may have been here for a while, but let me tell you something today: God wants you to be part of a family. When you were born into this world, he placed you into a physical family. Now God wants you to be reborn, so you can be placed into a spiritual family.

Would you like to join God's family today? You can pray, "Father, today I want to be part of your family. Today I give my life to you. I admit that I'm a sinner, and I thank you that Jesus not only died for my sins but that he rose again to give me life. As much as I know how, I give my life to you. In Jesus' name, Amen."

Father, thank you for making us part of your family. I pray that you would help us turn our chairs toward each other, and experience community the way that you designed it to be experienced. In Jesus' name, Amen.