At first this was just a 5-minute sermon to be given in class. Then it was supposed to be elongated and given in a church & videotaped so that it could be graded. I have preached this sermon three times in three different churches. Each time, I've revised & refined it a bit more. I can't remember the exact dates of the second two times (I know they were in April & July of 2014) but ironically I can remember the first date I preached this sermon - December 31, 2011. I am a better preacher than I was in the beginning, but I still think my natural tendencies lie more with talking one-on-one than public speaking (though I'm not afraid to preach and now enjoy it far more than at first). The PTSD I had in 2011, which I've referenced in at least 1 other blog was still fresh enough that I still felt mostly numb at the time, but God helped me write this sermon and He blessed it that day in church though I watched the recording later and cringed at how stiff I was up front.
I've begun giving away the printed copy that I preach from after church because someone usually asks me if they can have a copy. Lately it's occurred to me to share them through this blog for whoever might see them. To whoever is reading, I hope you are drawn closer to Jesus and inspired to re-engage in your spiritual life/relationship with Him.
There’s a very famous boat we’ve all heard of; it had a lot going for it. Titanic.
It took three whole years and seven and a half million dollars to build the Titanic.
On April 10, 1912 when passengers were boarding, it was SO brand new that the paint was still wet in certain spots. Every stateroom had electric lighting and heat.
It even had the first heated swimming pool on board a sailing vessel! THAT is something I didn’t know at first. J They were already traveling by boat, so you’d think they’d be sick of water, but I guess not.
We know the ending of Titanic as a tragedy. What happened was terrible.
It didn’t happen in broad daylight. Or in a storm… It was nighttime and the weather was calm, though it was incredibly cold. But it was too calm…
There was no wind to make waves that would have broken against the deadly icebergs and alerted the crew to the danger sooner.
Although the captain had been warned about the presence of these icebergs, he still charged ahead at a high speed. By the time his lookouts finally saw it, they were too late to make the necessary change.
It’s ironic that if the conditions had actually been LESS calm, the crisis might have been avoided or at least lessened.
If there had been wind making some waves, the iceberg would have been easier to spot.
If they had been going at a slower speed – rather than trying to make even MORE headlines – they might have had more success turning the boat in time and probably wouldn’t have struck the iceberg with the destructive force that sunk them in the end.
I am reading today’s text – Matthew 12:43-45 – from the New American Standard Version:
“Now when the unclean spirit goes out of a man, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came;’ and when it comes, it finds it unoccupied, swept, and put in order. Then it goes and takes along with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they all go in and live there; and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first state. That is the way it will also be with this evil generation.”
This passage is a little disconcerting. And these days, it’s hard to see how texts like this are relevant to our modern lives anymore, but bear with me.
Chapter 12:43: Now when the unclean spirit goes out of a man, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and does not find it.
In the book of Isaiah, the home of demons was the desert: the waterless places. No moisture; very little quality of life as we would prefer it.
From what I’ve studied, demons may have an existence in waterless places, but it’s not where they rest. And on that note I’ll remind you that the human body is more than half made up of water. And the rest that a demon seeks is to be embodied in a human being while he or she is still alive.
What is restful to Satan and his agents is draining and withering to the children of God. For us, it’s chaos.
So this demon is restless and has no water. It’s homeless and hungry.
The passage continues in verse 44: Then [the demon] says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came;’ and when it comes, it finds it unoccupied, swept, and put in order.”
When the rooms of our home or apartment are unoccupied, swept and put in order, we don’t call 911. It’s. Peace. And. Quiet.
Some of us might breathe a sigh of relief.
The sterile surroundings are soothing. We have so much busyness and clutter in our lives that having order is like having…an oasis.
But verse 45 says: Then [the demon] goes and takes along with it 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 other spirits MORE wicked than itself…and they [all] go in and LIVE there; and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first [state]. That is the way it will also be with this evil generation.”
What do you think is the real problem in this text? Was it the demons? Or was it the state of the man’s heart?
The man’s heart is described here as being unoccupied, swept, and put in order.
There’s nothing wrong with it being orderly and it’s probably cleaner for being swept.
The problem is the emptiness.
Someone might ask, “What’s so wrong with a place being unoccupied, swept, and put in order?” Nothing really. But how about when you’re a PERSON who is unoccupied, swept clean and put in order? What kind of man or woman is that?
Often it’s an empty man … an empty woman.
In our family we have a little saying that’s framed. It used to be my Grammie’s – which suited her personality perfectly – but since she passed away, it’s become ours; and it says, “Dull women have immaculate homes.” J
But really, the appearance of perfection does usually imply that something is missing behind the scenes. An empty person is not actively harmful, but not proactive either. A person like this can be turned. You see, there is a crucial decision between what is best and what is … acceptable.
You might join the evil generation without meaning to.
The Greek word for evil is ponéros and it means malicious & wicked…slothful, pain-ridden, emphasizing the inevitable agonies and misery that will always go with evil…the laborious trouble of evil.
To say that you might join the evil generation without meaning to IS a strong statement and you might say, “But doesn’t God see my good intentions?” Yes. He sees everything. But there’s more to following God than having good intentions.
For example, perfectionists have good intentions, but it can feel merciless to be around them; like walking on eggshells at best.
I struggle with perfectionism and I am friends with others who do as well.
Perfectionists are driven by fear and they punish themselves when they fail.
They have tendencies to be highly judgmental of the people around them.
They’re very driven and unless they’ve really got the hang of their act, you’ll see them looking very troubled at times. Many “tortured artists” are perfectionists.
1 John 4:18 says, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”
Perfectionists usually lack gracious love in their lives.
Love is patient and kind. Love keeps no record of wrongs. Love never fails.
But instead of love, they have emptiness. And they suffer for it.
Lukewarm Laodiceans have good intentions, but they’re aggravating to be with. Even God says so in Revelation 3:15-17, when He says to their church:
“I know your deeds; that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm – neither hot nor cold – I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.”
That’s a very serious thing to be said by our God, who is Love itself.
Lukewarm Laodiceans usually lack purposeful truth in their lives.
Truth is convicting and inspiring. Truth doesn’t let you stay the same.
But instead of truth, they have emptiness. And they suffer for it.
People today who wrestle with perfectionism or the people who are weighed down to an inactive plateau don’t behave the way that demon possessed people are described in Bible times. And there’s a reason for that. Satan has traded drama for subtlety.
In the Great Controversy, Ellen White wrote to us that, “…as we approach the close of time, when Satan is to work with greatest power to deceive and destroy, he spreads everywhere the belief that he does not exist. It is his policy to conceal himself and his manner of working. There is nothing that the great deceiver fears so much as that we shall become acquainted with his devices.”
He’s stepped up his game. Rather than overt possession, he opts instead for subtle oppression. And what does this oppression lead to? What does it look like in our lives?
If the oppression of perfectionism continues unchecked, it kills the possibilities for personal growth, for real intimacy and safe community. Why?
Because growth is all about taking advantage of opportunities when there’s not a guarantee of success.
Making mistakes – i.e., getting it WRONG – is a huge part of how we learn.
Perfectionism only grabs hold of what it knows it can tackle. It’s about controlling your life without God.
Now, if you’ve hired a professional like a lawyer or a doctor who’s a perfectionist it’s not such a bad thing, in fact it can be great. It means you’re in very skilled and successful hands.
But it’s different in relationships. And Christianity is the most deep and wide relationship you’ll ever have, which is why people living its abundant life are so hard to find.
To quote G.K. Chesterton, “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.”
In relationships, trying to control things is poison and submission is your friend. To the ears of perfectionism, submission is like the screech of chalk on a blackboard. It’s impossible to contemplate. Especially if you think or know that you have a better way.
And if it’s hard just to submit and be vulnerable to another person you love or call your friend, how much harder do you think it is to give REAL self-exposure to a God you cannot see? To take time out of your external schedule full of people for internal private worship, to express your heart in prayer and listen for God’s heart through Scripture and in silence…
In Matthew 6:6, Jesus said, “…when you pray,” – implying that it’s something He expected we’d do regularly – “go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.”
It can be especially difficult to honestly open your heart if you have unhealed wounds from the past; even more so when the scars go deep. People who are still trying to protect themselves and have everything “just so” have the biggest fights to let go and let God.
And because God is interested in blessing ALL areas of your life, people who are owned by perfectionism lose a great deal, because they keep God at arm’s length.
They not only lose what God could have done for them, but even worse, they lose what it is to know Him. In John 17:3, Jesus said that to know God is eternal life…! Perfectionists lose the experience of His blessed peace that overtakes and passes their best understanding.
I’m sure some of you here have had the bittersweet experience of going through something painful or difficult, but it was made bearable because you weren’t alone – someone who loved you was with you.
That comfort is hugely, infinitely multiplied when it’s GOD you turn to in your pain.
Now to switch gears, if the continual oppression that holds you stuck is a lukewarm lifestyle, you never get to really live. Lukewarm is an extremely deceptive place to be in, because there’s none of perfectionism’s stress. The symptoms are not as telling.
But neither is there purpose, energy, bursts of feeling, demonstrations of love, or acts of courage.
Just like you can’t smell carbon monoxide as it’s slowly killing you, staying in a lukewarm life will assuredly erode the talents and blessings you’ve been given until they are gone.
Fear is still present when you’re lukewarm, but instead of a taskmaster cracking a whip, it poses as ether: a substance that puts you under.
You’re still alive, but you’re checked out.
Living under fear, you can protect yourself from feeling pain, but you’re unable to defend yourself from actual damage AND you’re unable to contribute good to the world or to the people close to you who love you and need you: family, friends, boyfriend, girlfriend, children…spouse.
You are useless to God when you’re lukewarm! And you’re passively hurtful to those whom you say you love. They miss you.
Obviously I’m not married and haven’t yet been married, but I’ve been around many different marriages. Someone I know was recently remarried about a month ago. I had a ringside seat to the story of her first marriage as well as several privileged glimpses of others. I’ve observed my parents’ marriage. I know enough to know that even the best marriages are hard work, and that when you get to a good place, that goodness still takes intentional maintenance to sustain.
We don’t stop having selfish sinful natures once we get married; if anything, marriage exposes your flaws like nothing else and confronts you even more intimately with the need we all have: to be transformed into the image of Christ. Then we will love well.
To whoever is here struggling with perfectionism or lukewarmth, I offer this quote from John & Stasi Eldredge’s book Love & War:
To whoever is here struggling with perfectionism or lukewarmth, I offer this quote from John & Stasi Eldredge’s book Love & War:
“The [human] heart is God’s most magnificent creation, and the prize over which He fights the kingdom of darkness. Now consider this – marriage is the sanctuary of the heart. You have been entrusted with the heart of another human being.
Whatever else your life’s great mission will entail, loving and defending this heart next to you is part of your great quest.
Marriage is the privilege and the honor of living as close to the heart as two people can get. No one else in all the world has the opportunity to know each other more intimately than do a husband and wife.
We are invited into their secret lives, their truest selves; we come to know their nuances, their particular tastes, what they think is funny, what drives them crazy.
We are entrusted with their hopes and dreams, their wounds, and their fears.
An incredible honor is bestowed on the one to whom we pledge our lives and a deep privilege is given to us as well.”
To all the married people here, I ask, how responsible are you being with this honor and privilege? Are you actively being a good steward of your spouse’s heart?
Or are you just doing enough to get by?
It might be time for some of you to pray for some inspired creativity so that memories of being loved are not all your spouse has to go on.
Living lukewarm when you know better is the equivalent of burying your one talent in the ground instead of risking investment.
And to refresh our memory on how well that goes, I’m going to read from Matthew 25:24-30: “Then the man who had received [and buried] the one talent came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid [pause] and went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’”
Before I continue, this man had made assumptions about God. We don’t have the capacity to grasp how big and complex God’s blueprint is for taking care of us.
We’ll think He’s gathering where He never scattered because we can’t see His view on taking care of things and we won’t choose faith and trust.
And when we try to humanize God based on our misunderstanding, we never get it right.
And so of course we’ll fall back into choosing fear.
The verse continues: “His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest. Take the talent from him and give it to the one who has the ten talents. For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’”
From the looks of this, living lukewarm lands you in the worst possible place.
So where is the best place to be?
How about being in love?
I don’t just mean romance, though God is a Lover and Bridegroom as much as He is a King and Father. And really, romance is not defined by star-crossed lovers with uncanny physical chemistry who look forever young. That’s the cliché and it’s warped.
What makes romance crucial to your relationship with God and with each other is that it’s the experience of pursuit: you being pursued, and you yourself taking initiative into the heart of God and other human beings.
This core of pursuit is what protects families from going stagnant and what keeps friendships alive; pursuit is not just for romance.
When I’m talking about being in love, I’m talking about is Agape: the Love that gives and serves simply because it can. Proverbs 3:27 says, “Do not withhold good…when it is in your power to act." So when I suggest, “How about being in love,” I mean how about being in an environment of love that doesn’t disappear or hurt you when you fail?
How about being loved deeply by the God of the Universe even though you’re just one flawed human being in an over-populated planet?
And I mean being loved in the way that takes care of you when you’re a mess – the kind of love you can still feel when you’re in pain. The kind of love that handles you gently when you’re embarrassed or ashamed…
God loves us like this and we should be actively seeking to love each other this way as well. Even if you haven’t experienced God that personally yet, there are centuries of written record of people who discovered Him. He’s there to be found.
He’s here. Where two or three are gathered in His name, He is there – He is here.
I’m sure there are people in this room who have experienced breakups, betrayals, violations, maybe a divorce and quite possibly the death of a loved one.
I am sorry that we live in a world where I can be sure that those things have happened. And I’m sorry I myself know so well that when that kind of pain hits you, it’s as if it steals your breath away.
Oh it’s nice that you’ve got friends and family, but you really can’t feel any of that when the pain is overwhelming. But God’s love is the only kind of love that can be deeply felt in such ugly times, if you’re willing.
Michelle McKinney Hammond writes that such heartbreaking events “cut to the core of our being and expose the one constant in our lives – the love of God.”
If there was one good thing in your life that you knew would never change, would you waste time analyzing it, being critical about it? Would you not care about it? Not even react to it at all? I doubt that.
You would hold onto it and never let it go! But only holding onto God’s love doesn’t quite do it justice. God’s love can do more than just save your life.
God’s love doesn’t stop at the intensive care unit after rescuing and stabilizing you. God’s love brings you BACK to life.
We KNOW God can raise the dead so He can certainly breathe life back into your soul. God’s love sustains you through future difficulties. It’s as if God says, “All is NOT fair in love and war, but with Me you can freely have the love.”
We have the song, “Come Into My Heart Lord Jesus,” but it’s not enough. We are not fit containers for the Shekinah glory of God’s amazing love on our own.
There’s no way we’re enough.
God knows this better than we do, which is why Jesus put it perfectly in John 15:4: “Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in Me,” and later in verse 9 He says, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.
Now remain in my love.”
To paraphrase this verse, it’s like Jesus is saying: “Stay with me and I’ll stay with you. You can’t have love if you’ve got no one, and My love has to come first in your life or the other loves won’t work the way they’re meant to.”
We love it when someone we care about invites us to stay with them. “Stay a little longer. Don’t go.” Jesus says this too. He says it to us.
And remember that Jesus came to show us God the Father. It’s not just about staying in God’s personal embrace. It’s also about submitting to His power to protect your life.
It’s about reflecting His example.
God’s love is a haven amidst and above the fray. It’s a safe house.
He calls us to abide in His identity, which is Love. He calls us to be haven-dwellers.
His love covering our lives and flowing through them is what will keep us safe until He comes back. In their book Captivating, John & Stasi Eldredge shared this wonderful thought: “Security is not found in the absence of danger, but in the presence of Jesus.”
There’s a beautiful verse: Psalm 107:28-30: “Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble, and He brought them out of their distress. He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed. They were glad when it grew calm, and He guided them to their desired haven.”
So how do we get there? How do we receive the abundant life He told us about? How do we enter and remain in the safe haven of God’s love?
It always starts with repentance.
Ironically, the two kinds of emptiness we’ve learned about today are on opposite ends of the spectrum. The perfectionist repents through releasing action and softening his or her heart. The Laodicean repents by taking action and holding onto God tightly to reconstruct his or her life. They both reject separation from God and seek His presence.
In other words, if you’re a perfectionist and you know your controlling behavior is at the least bruising if not damaging your relationship with God and others; you repent by exchanging the world’s unforgiving perfectionism for God’s.
Did you know that God has a special definition of perfection?
In Matthew 5:48, Jesus said: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Now, the ordinary English definition of perfect means, “conforming absolutely to an ideal type; accurate, exact, correct in every detail; entirely without any flaws or defects; excellent beyond any improvement.”
So basically…the world’s perfection and sanctification don’t mix.
The world’s perfection says there’s a plateau you can achieve where you’re untouchable. But as Christians we know our sinful nature doesn’t go away over time, though we can mature and grow stronger at crucifying it every day.
And we know that because God is infinite, there’s always more with Him. A life with God doesn’t plateau; it only grows.
How God’s Word defines perfect is through the Greek word “teleios,” which means “complete in all its parts, full grown, of full age, especially of the completeness of Christian character.”
How do you know you are living a life of completeness in Christ?
Jesus always taught that you’d identify a plant by its fruit.
Does the Bible teach about the fruit of Christians?
Or is it the Fruit of the Spirit?
This list will keep us busy for the rest of our lives.
Just because our friends and loved ones are safe and forgiving about our rough edges doesn’t mean they shouldn’t get the best from us.
If you have people in your life who do you no harm, resist taking them for granted with insensitivity and curtness, even if their differences annoy you.
Actively love on them instead.
Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.
If you’re a Laodicean in lukewarm waters and you’re convicted that your life is being damaged because you’ve numbed your feelings, then repentance is taking responsibility for your poor choices.
It can feel like being afraid of heights and getting into the world’s biggest roller coaster. I did that once in England, when I was a student missionary. And I already knew I hated roller coasters.
But I have the memory of having survived the experience.
It’s worth humbling yourself and taking responsibility for how little you’ve loved, because you’re never the same after having confronted a fear.
And if your conscience feels rusty, praying for the Holy Spirit to bring truth to your inmost being is a very potent prayer.
Often, recovery from this condition is very uncomfortable, so COUNT on being irritated along the way and DON’T LET YOURSELF be thrown off when things get awkward or downright difficult. Stay the course and stand firm.
James 1:2-4 says to “consider it pure joy, my [brethren], whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work, so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
Not lacking anything is definitely the opposite of emptiness.
And being mature and complete sounds like the perfection of God.
So don’t give up once you start!
Love always perseveres.
God always perseveres for you, so why not persevere for Him?
And if you have people in your life who still value you even a little, why not try to bless them for still being there for you?
Whatever you have to offer in the beginning, God will blow on that spark and turn it into a fire if you ask Him to and not give up.
In her book The Sacred Echo, Margaret Feinberg put it beautifully: “Surrendering to God exposes a paradoxical truth: No matter what we give up, we are given so much more.”
In the same passage where God said He was going to spit out the Laodiceans for being lukewarm, He actually perseveres past that, and offers encouragement later in Revelation 3:19-20: “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.”
There’s a door to our heart, which Jesus respects.
And there’s also a door to God’s heart, which He invites us to.
In John chapter 10, Jesus said, “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. … I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
The abundant life flows from God’s two greatest commandments.
We hear a lot about the Great Commission. It has almost drowned out the two Greatest Commandments, which has put us at risk for forgetting to love each other well and with commitment, not to mention loving our enemies.
When you’re commissioned to do something, there’s payment. But if you’re commanded to do something, there should be no question. The beauty of God’s two Greatest Commandments is that the Great Commission is a natural by-product.
You can’t have GOD’s love in your life and hold it in.
When you love someone, you can’t help telling others about your good news and encouraging them about what’s possible in their own lives…!
It’s like that when you love God, but the church still has a ways to go before we are as excited about Jesus as we are about human attraction.
So remember: The abundant life flows from God’s two greatest commandments.
When you end up with God and committed to Him, the world will know you belong to Him by the love you show. And remember that love is a choice. The opposite of love isn’t hatred or flagrant sin as harmful as those are. It’s apathy.
Jesus was not apathetic on the cross.
The Easter story is about the passion of Christ; passion unto death for love’s sake.
The cross was a choice Jesus made with ALL His heart and yes it DID BREAK His heart. The cross was not a picture of being empty, swept clean, and put in order.
Jesus’ act of love on the cross was a broken, bleeding, messy and misunderstood act for God’s sake and for ours. On the cross, Jesus showed that God is trustworthy.
Are we trustworthy like that?
We sometimes entertain a worldly misconception about the life of Christianity. It is not picture perfect. It’s God’s kind of perfect. The lives of the faithful are messy because God is busy in them and through them, operating like a surgeon to cut out the cancer of sin and to set broken bones in our souls so that we can know what it is to RUN free.
Healing from what sin has done to us is painful hard work, but with God, there’s ultimately no reason to live empty and oppressed by fear. There’s no reason to not pursue the abundant life as your life.
Today I began with the story of Titanic. I’m going to close with a story about a different boat. This story wasn’t a tragedy. Instead, it was a triumphant miracle.
The boat wasn’t anything special, but it had Jesus in it.
This story is found in Matthew 8:23-26: “Then [Jesus] got into the boat and his disciples followed him. Without warning, a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. The disciples went and woke him, saying, ‘Lord save us! We’re going to drown!’ He replied, ‘You of little faith, why are you so afraid?’ Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm.”
Live for the sake of knowing God better each new day.
Spend time alone with Him.
Pursue the awkward but worthwhile journey of intimacy…with God and your loved ones.
Remember God’s promises.
Don’t forget how He’s led you in the past.
Claim the sanctuary of hope, which we have in God’s love.
Nothing can separate us from the love of God, for God so loved the world that He gave us Jesus, so that whoever believes in Him won’t be a lost cause but will have eternal life.
Pray for God to kindle desire in you to be a deep-hearted believer, to be more loving, to be like Jesus. Pray for His help with your unbelief.
There is no prayer you can’t pray to Jesus.
The abundant life flows from God’s two greatest commandments.
Love Him with everything you have and love others with everything He’s given to you.
Abraham Lincoln once said, “We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses.”
It’s the same with the abundant life.