January 3, 2010
God’s In It!
God’s in the Disciplines
Happy New Year!
It’s hard to believe its January. The holidays are over and now it’s on to a new year.
You probably said on the way here “I hope they don’t talk about New Year resolutions”.
Resolutions are funny, aren’t they? Usually they focus on self help things, like health and exercise.
I saw one top 10 list from 2008 that said “get a tattoo”, and then in 2009 it’s said “get more tattoo’s”.
I’m not sure what’s on your list, but fortunately we’re not talking about resolutions today, but we are talking about discipline.
Which is another horrible word, lets’ just all admit it. It’s the ‘D’ word, right?
A word most of us hate.
It reminds us of the things we’re supposed to do.
Well, we’re in this series called “God’s In It!”
And we’re talking about some things that will help us on our faith journey.
Things that will grow our relationship with Jesus.
Today we’re going to take a look at some things that Jesus said in Matthew chapter 6 about our “acts of righteousness”.
And it’s those acts of righteousness, those spiritual disciplines that play such an important part in growing our faith.
Hopefully we’ll leave here with a different perspective on this thing called discipline.
That’s where we’re headed.
Our mission here at Life Center is about helping each of us grow into whole hearted followers of Christ. And that’s a journey, not an event.
And this faith journey we’re each on with Jesus, is really about trust.
If you look at any relationship you have, whether its marriage, kids, work, friends, school, at the heart of those relationships is trust, right?
As we look at those relationships we have to ask the question “do I trust that person”.
When we trust that other person, no matter what the relationship, our confidence in that person grows.
And the opposite is true as well, when trust goes out the window, confidence goes out the window and so does the relationship.
Faith is about trust and confidence. The more we trust in Jesus, not just believe but have an ongoing day to day trust in Him, our relationship will grow.
So the question is, how do we grow that trust? How do we have big faith?
This series is about answering that question.
Each week we’re talking about things that will help us grow our faith and move us toward being wholehearted followers of Jesus.
And so today we’re on discipline. Earlier I called it the D-word. It’s the thing we all love to ignore.
If you say you’re going to be disciplined today, that probably means some work on your part. It’s not something we always look forward to.
Disciplines are those “things we’re supposed to do”.
Like we’re supposed to call mom, or get up earlier, or go to bed earlier. We’re supposed to eat less, or eat healthier, exercise more, spend less money, save more money.
And the list goes on and on. It’s all those things that we’re supposed to do.
Let’s face it when we see someone that’s more disciplined than us, part of us is inspired and the other part wants to smack them, right. We wish they’d go away.
ILL: Maybe they jog by your house early in the morning, or it’s that person who always orders a salad, instead of a big fat burger.
Maybe it’s that real bubbly morning people in your office, that say’s “I don’t need coffee I’m just happy all the time”.
I don’t know what’s offensive to you when you think discipline. It’s a tough issue because we all say “I know, I’m supposed to do all that stuff”.
But there’s another side to this thing called discipline. Many times what starts out as a discipline becomes a pleasant habit or hobby.
Even to the point where we can become obsessed with it.
ILL: How many of you are serious runners? How about serious cyclists?
You probably remember when that was just a discipline, but now it’s an obsession for you, something you love to do. That high, no money can buy.
Maybe for you it was making a commitment to be more health conscious, and you said “I’m not going to eat sugar or drink soda”.
And it was difficult at first, but then it moved from a discipline to a passion, to a lifestyle.
I think few people wake up one morning and say “I hate chocolate chip cookies and I love to work out every morning at 6am”.
That doesn’t typically happen when it comes to discipline, it’s tough until we get into the grove.
Often we have to just gut it out, for those first few days or weeks and then it becomes a habit and something we enjoy and see the benefits from.
But few things that require hard work or sacrifice are totally enjoyable right out of the gate.
ILL: They say 20% of people that sign up for a new gym membership never go back. Their first day is their last. They sign up and pay but never return.
But we’ve all had something that started out as a discipline and later became something that we loved, because we stuck with it.
Maybe someone forced you to practice and that helped get you over the hump, and now you love it.
What’s interesting about discipline, is it always results in progress. And practiced disciplines end up being a lifestyle. (SLIDE)
You’ve heard the saying that discipline is doing what you don’t want to now, so you can do what you want to later.
Discipline is really about delayed gratification. Instead of getting all of the gratification now, it’s having something to show for it later.
Our finances are a great example of this. We tighten up the belt now and save, so we can enjoy some things later.
Jesus often talked about this in scripture. Do this now and down the road this is what will come your way, good and bad.
It’s the sowing and reaping principle that Jesus referred to in the gospels.
There are always benefits to the disciplines we live out in our lives. We’ve all experienced that.
We often hear people talk about the time they first developed a daily quiet time with Jesus, and out of that experience their faith grew.
And another common thing we hear Christ followers say is how they started trusting God with their money, and that blew the top off of their faith.
And usually both of these, prayer and giving money don’t start out as an easy discipline. Some people say it starts as a gut wrenching decision.
But what started out as a difficult discipline, is now a passion for them.
Jesus talked about prayer and money in Matthew chapter 6.
He also added a third discipline that we rarely hear people talk about, and that’s fasting.
Before we read Matthew chapter 6, let me say that there may be some things in this passage that are difficult.
Things that will stretch us, depending on where we are in our journey with Christ.
ILL: Faith is like a muscle, it needs to be stretched and maybe even torn a little so it can grow. To grow a muscle you stretch it and relax it, stretch it and relax it.
There’s pain involved right, and if there’s no pain then there’s no growth.
We’re creatures of habit, so some of us may need to unlearn a few bad habits that have become obstacles to our spiritual growth.
Is there something in your life that has become an obstacle, to your spiritual maturity?
I encourage you to not just listen to me, but be open to what God may want to say or do in your life.
Matthew 6:1- 4
Be careful not to do your acts of righteousness before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. 2So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 3But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
In verse 1 Jesus refers to “Acts of Righteousness”. Another word for this is disciplines, spiritual disciplines.
Then in verse 2 Jesus says…
1. When you give
Jesus is assuming that we will give. He says “when you give”, not “if you give”.
And then he says when you give don’t do it out loud, don’t make a big deal about it, don’t announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets.
Make these disciplines, private acts of righteousness.
When the Jews would go to the temple there would be people lined up who were sick, disabled or just in need, and they would ask for alms, and for gifts.
Similar to when we walk down the street and someone asks us for money. Jesus says when you give to the needy don’t announce it with trumpets.
ILL: There’s a college football team that blows a loud siren, when they score a TD in their home stadium. You don’t even have to be in the stadium to hear this, everyone knows the home team just scored, because the siren goes off.
Jesus says when you give don’t announce it, don’t sound the siren, do it privately.
This is counter cultural, we live in a culture that wants immediate benefits and rewards. For us to give and help in secret, goes against the flow of our culture.
I think if we’re all honest, we would say we like recognition and rewards, right?
There are times when God used other people to encourage us and that’s a type of reward and that’s good and OK.
But too often we only focus on the rewards and recognition from man.
ILL: It’s funny how we can do this. The Bible College I attended named all of it’s buildings and some of the rooms after people. Those people were donors, but it got a little crazy, because everything was named after someone.
To compare it to Life Center, it would be like naming this room “The Joe Wittwer Auditorium”. That sounds funny to us, but I worked at a church where the Pastor had his name on a parking spot.
This is scary, because if we starting naming things after people, think about what would be named after you.
I would probably get a urinal in men’s bathroom named after me. People could say “hey I just worshipped in the Joe Wittwer Auditorium”, and someone else might say “I just used the Matt Clark urinal”.
Anyway, we often live for the rewards of man, instead of the rewards of God.
Jesus is saying there is a reward connected with generosity. Many of us would say that’s not why I give. But Jesus says that you will get a reward, either by man or by God.
You might be thinking, “wow Joe isn’t speaking and they got some other guy and he’s going to soak us for some cash, I know it. No, just relax. We already took the offering today and we’re not going to take another offering.
This passage has to do with our trust in God more than anything else. It’s really not about our money, and it’s really not about the needy either. It’s about our heart and attitude.
Jesus talks a lot about the poor and the needy, and our responsibility to them. But here in Matthew 6 Jesus is talking about us. Out heart, attitude and motives.
The audience Jesus was talking to here in Matthew 6 was already giving 15-30%. So He’s preaching to the choir. What Jesus was referring to here was the alms giving, the “moved with compassion” type of giving.
We’ve all experienced this as we went thru The Hole In Our Gospel.
You couldn’t read that book without being deeply moved with compassion for the needy. It’s that type of giving Jesus is referring to in Matthew 6.
Jesus was challenging a crowd who already gave a lot, and His challenge was about trusting God with everything.
Just like that crowd, you’re a generous group. It’s amazing how much you give, especially over the past few months. So just like the crowd in Matthew 6 Jesus is challenge us about trust and surrender.
What if you really believed that God saw your private financial generosity, and decided to reward you because of it?
Now understand, I’m not the one saying you’ll get rewarded, Jesus says it right here in the Bible. I’m just saying, what if you really believed this?
What if you really believed that Jesus saw how much you gave and where you gave it, and that honored Him to the place where He rewarded you?
My guess is, it would change the way you give.
Giving isn’t about our money, it’s about our trust and confidence in God. (SLIDE)
When Jesus talks about money He’s talking about our faith. Remember He doesn’t need our money. He’s interested in growing our faith.
Our spiritual maturity is often measured by our personal and private generosity. And what’s so cool is that God promises to reward us. (SLIDE)
I don’t think we even know all the ways God blesses us, when we give.
ILL: We can’t track our rewards, like at heavens rewards.com and say, “hey look I’ve earned two one way flights to heaven this month”. We can’t specifically track God’s rewards this way.
But God will reward us. I don’t know exactly how God will work this out in your life. I’ve seen God’s hand at work in this area of my own life, I think most of us have.
I know if we had an open mic and allowed people to come up and share their stories, many people would share about how they were faithful and gave even when they didn’t know if the money would come in that month, and God worked it out.
I don’t know everything about how this works, but what I do know is that God’s rewards are better than mans rewards.
Bottom line it’s about trust. We’re not going to let someone we don’t trust in on our finances, right?
So the question is, do we believe that God has our best interest in mind?
Do you trust Jesus enough to surrender your finances and allow Him to control the rewards? I think this is where it moves from a discipline to a passion and a joy.
2 Corinthians 9:7 Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
My mother in law goes to a church in Arizona and when the Pastor takes the offering, they all give a huge applause.
For some of us were not quite there yet, you may not be jumping up with joy to give some of your money away.
That’s OK, I think God loves the uncheerfull giver as well.
Just be faithful, God will reward you and that discipline can become a passion.
5“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth,
they have received their reward in full. 6But when you pray, 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. 7And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
Jesus goes on and say’s “this then is how you should pray”. It’s the Lord’s prayer, you’re all familiar with it, so I’m not going to read it.
I want to emphasis the “when you pray” part of this passage, so we’ll leave the “what you pray” part for another time.
2. When you pray
Again Jesus says “when you pray”. Not if, but when.
It’s not the “on the go” prayers that Jesus is referring to, when we throw up a prayer as we’re running from place to place.
Like “God I’m late please give me green lights”, or “help me with this test”.
(I didn’t study, but please help)
A lot of us only know emergency prayers. The kind we find ourselves in a tight spot and we need God to bail us out quickly.
Our culture is so given to the quick, the need it now, and that becomes a part of our prayer life.
Jesus is saying there’s a time when you go into your room, close the door and be still before me. There’s a time and a place to stop and pause before God.
I think it’s easy for us to say “God you don’t know how busy I am”. And we throw our prayers at Him on the run, and wonder why we miss Him so often.
Take a look at this… Video: “Coffee with Jesus” (2:11)
Did you see yourself in that? I sure saw myself!
When Jesus talks about prayer here in Matthew 6, He’s asking us to slow down, He wants some of our time and our focused attention. It’s really about surrender.
Jesus knows that time and money are both huge for us. He knows the things that are a priority in our life, will take our time and money.
ILL: Like dating takes time and money, children – time and money, hobbies – time and money, marriage – time and money, any relationship – time and money.
What Jesus is saying here is that if you really want to grow your relationship with me, you’ll have to give me a portion of your time and money.
Again Jesus uses this reward thing. If you will stop and pause before me and pray I’ll reward you.
I’m not exactly sure how this works, but there is something honoring to God when we take some time out of our busy day and devote it to Him.
He sees when we stop to connect with Him out love and relationship.
Committing to a daily devotional time with Jesus communicates our dependency on Him. It’s a trust and surrender issue.
I think the reward isn’t necessarily answered prayer either. It’s not I prayed and my reward was that new car or that’s girls phone number.
I think it’s about spending private uninterrupted time with God and then leaving that time knowing He is going with me thru my day. Its saying I’ve been with God today and I can face the uncertainties that this day will bring.
Joe often talks about PBJ, prayer, bible study and journaling. January is a great time to reestablish this discipline. Remember you might have to gut it out at first but be faithful and God will reward you.
Our purpose in doing this is to grow our faith in Jesus, to really connect with Him.
Matthew 6:16-18 “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 17But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
3. When you fast
Biblical fasting is voluntarily giving up food, for the purpose of focusing on our spiritual life.
This concept is very countercultural. We don’t talk a lot about this, but it’s important to Jesus because He says, “When you fast…” not IF you fast.
Jesus assumes a life of faith involves fasting.
Jesus says “When you fast don’t make it obvious like the hypocrites do.” He says don’t sound the siren so everyone knows you’re fasting.
Here’s what was happening. Many times the religious leaders would identify the days when there was lots of activity around the temple.
They would hang around so people could see that they were fasting.
I’m sure they looked gaunt and did other things to show everyone they were fasting. Jesus even said “don’t disfigure your face”.
I can just imagine the things they did so others would recognize they were fasting. Maybe they had a class called “How to look gaunt and somber, when you’re fasting”.
So when it comes to fasting, Jesus says “when” and ya know I think we say?
I think we say “Why?” Why would I voluntarily give up food?
It’s a good question, so why would we do something like fasting? Let me give you 4 reasons.
a) A Deeper connection with God
ILL: I’m sure many of you prefer to text rather than actually talk on your cell phone. It would be fun to see where we land on this as a group. I tell my son, I think the cell phone was invented to talk on. You should try it!
I think for some of us we pray like we use us our cell phone. It’s like we text message God with abbreviations, we throw up these short emergency prayers. Like “help God”. It’s those OMG prayers.
But there are times when we need to stop and pause before God, and I think included in this is fasting.
We need a deeper connection with God and that can only happen when we stop and give some time to Him.
Fasting allows us to do this. It’s taking that day every so often and saying today I’m going to skip lunch and spend some concentrated time with God.
A second reason to fast is…
b) Power from the Holy Spirit
In Luke chapter 4 Jesus goes to the desert to fast and pray and he comes back Luke says…
Luke 4:14 Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside.
This is interesting because the first 30 years of His life, Jesus flies under the radar, he’s virtually unknown and then he’s baptized.
He goes to the desert to fast and pray and comes back and suddenly everyone knows about Him.
That’s the power of the Holy Spirit. It’s with this power that Jesus performs miracles. We have access to this same power.
Acts 1:8 You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you.
I think it’s thru sacrifice that we are empowered. Jesus went on a 40 day fast and He returned in the power of the Holy Spirit.
As we surrender, serve and sacrifice God fills us with the Holy Spirit. He empowers us to do His work.
Now I’m not saying we should all go on a 40 day fast. We don’t have signup sheet out at the Info desk, so don’t sweat it.
I think fasting is something we each have to individually work out with God.
A third reason to fast…
c) A Heart change
A misconception about fasting is that it’s something we do to change the heart of God, or change what God will do.
We think okay God, if I’m going to do this then you’re going to do that.
I scratch your back and you scratch my back.
If I’m going to give up breakfast than you need to get me that job, or buy me that car, or make that girl like me.
But that’s not how it works. We fast and God does not respond to the fast. (Let that sink in). God doesn’t respond to the fast, it’s we who respond to the fast.
When we sacrifice it’s something we respond to. God responds to our heart change that comes from the sacrifice.
It’s not, we do this so God does that. He responds to the change in our heart that comes from giving something up.
It’s this way when we serve. When I do something for someone else it does something inside of me, it changes me. Go sit with a homeless person over a meal and just listen. It will change you.
So if you feel stuck in your journey with Christ, maybe you’re feeling dry and empty, I encourage you to give something up, maybe thru fasting, go serve someone else and God will change you.
Again Jesus includes the promise “if you fast your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you”. Maybe part of that reward is change.
A forth reason to fast…
d) It grows our faith
This is what this whole series is about, growing our faith.
If you’re in the same place spiritually today, as you were 12 months ago, you need to do something to jump start your faith.
It might be committing to a quiet time and praying, or giving some of your money away or maybe it’s fasting.
What do you need to do or change today to grow your faith, so in 12 months from now you’re not the same person?
ILL: I once heard someone say “There’s no such thing as all of the sudden.” This was said in reference to sales. (SLIDE)
He said you will not all of the sudden succeed; success will be established over time, by a collection of decisions.
He also said you will not all of the sudden fail. You won’t come to the office one day and say, “all the sudden it’s gone, it completely unraveled, overnight”.
When it comes to success and failure there’s no such thing as all of the sudden. There will be a bunch of decisions that will contribute to our success or our failure.
The same is true with our faith journey. Christianity is a marathon not a sprint.
ILL: I remember back when I was in about the 6th grade and we had a track meet at Rogers High School. I ran in the 400 meters, which is one time around the track.
When the gun went off I started running as fast as I could, and I was way out front. I had the race won, but there were still 300 meters to go.
I got tired and everyone passed me. I was so far behind and I barely finished the race. I was the one that all eyes are on and everyone is cheering, trying to help me actually finish the race.
Christian maturity isn’t a sprint, it doesn’t happen all of the sudden. It’s a process, it happens over the long haul. (SLIDE)
So often we get impatient and want to get ahead of God.
But as we do the little things, those private acts of righteousness, those spiritual disciplines that God asks of us, that’s when our faith grows.
Question: What is one change of discipline that you can implement now that will grow your faith?