May 27, 2012

Pastor Joe Wittwer

GPS: Finding your way in life

How do I get there?


Tomorrow is Memorial Day when we remember those who have given their lives in the service of our country.  (This picture was taken in the Greenwood cemetery across the way—they have thousands of American flags set up this weekend—it’s worth seeing, and pausing to remember.)  I also want to take a moment to thank all those who have or are serving our nation in our armed forces.  Would you stand and let us thank you for your service.  Let’s also honor the spouses of those deployed.

Today is the last message in our GPS series.  If you don’t know what God wants to do with your life, you will today!

Video: The Office GPS clip.

Introduction and offering:

    That didn’t turn out so well.  I’ve done that…not driven into a lake, but used a GPS and ended up lost.  Anyone else?

Today is the last message in this series, “GPS: finding your way in life.”  How do we discover God’s will for our lives?  We’re using GPS mapping techniques to frame our discussion.  When you use a GPS or Mapquest or Google Maps, you ask three questions:

  • Where am I?  You start by entering your current location.

  • Where am I going?  You enter your desired destination.

  • How do I get there?  The GPS or mapping program will give you directions.

The first week, we asked the question, “Where am I?” and I said that discovering your design is a key to your destiny.  How has God wired you and put you together?  We looked at your SHAPE:

  • Spiritual gifts.

  • Heart.

  • Abilities.

  • Personality.

  • Experience.

Understanding your design is a clue to your destiny.

    Last week, we asked the question, “Where am I going?”  I said that we need to hear God’s whisper and then let Him unfold His plan.  Listen to God and follow Him each day.  When I do what I know, then I know what to do.

These are the first two settings in our GPS: where am I and where am I going.  “Where am I?” is my design (what God has written on my heart) and  “where am I going?” is my calling (what God is saying to my heart).  Here’s who I am; here’s where I’m going.  

So how do I get there?  By following the directions.  The GPS or mapping program gives you a set of turn-by-turn directions. How many of you would like God to give you a turn-by-turn plan for the rest of your life?  How many would like a map so you could see the whole journey, beginning to end?  Boring!  

Not only would it be boring, but most of us would look at the plan and protest: “No way!  I’m not going there!  I’m not doing that!”  Life takes a lot of unexpected turns.  

  • If you had told me when I was 20 that I would spend my entire adult life in Spokane, I would have said, “No way!”  I wanted to stay in Eugene!  

  • If you had told me that I would a lose a son when he was 22, I would have said, “I’m not doing that.”  No one wants to lose a child.  

  • If you had told me I would have a 15 year career as an all-pro NFL quarterback, I would have said, “Shut up! I’m down for that!”  Didn’t happen—but I was so close—all I lacked was the size, speed and talent.

So God doesn’t give us a turn-by-turn road map for our lives.  God will direct you, but He usually gives you only the next step, or the next few steps. This means that my job is to follow Jesus today.  Here’s:

The Big Idea: Doing the will of God today is the best way to get to the will of God tomorrow.

It’s a journey, an adventure!  So let’s talk about getting to where God wants us.

Offering here!

1. Start here.

    Follow Jesus today.  Do what you know He wants you to do right now.  When you do what you know, you know what to do.  I think most of our worry about God’s will for our future is misguided.  Jesus said:

Matthew 6:33–34 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

In Matthew 6, Jesus tells us not to worry about life’s necessities—what you will eat or drink or wear—because God is taking care of you.  Your Father knows what you need.  He finishes with these two verses.  

    We are to seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness.  In other words, we are to put God first in everything we do.  We are to put God’s interests above our own, and He will take care of us.  Here’s the contrast: we can worry about our lives and our needs, or we can put God first and let Him take care of our lives and our needs.  Worry or trust.  You first or God first.  

Seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness—this is God’s will for you and me.  Jesus makes it clear that God wants you to put Him first, to seek Him first.  So if you’re wondering what is God’s will for your life—start here.  Put God first.

This is God’s will: follow Jesus today.  Put God first today.  Seek His kingdom today.  Don’t worry about tomorrow; your Father will take care of tomorrow.  

    When I talk with people who are trying to discern God’s will for their future, I tell them, “The best preparation for tomorrow is to do with all your heart what God has given you to do today.”  Start here.  Do the will of God today.  Do what you know He has asked you to do and do it with all your heart.

ILL: When I was a youth pastor in Eugene, I knew that I would one day be a lead pastor at a church.  I didn’t know when, where, or how it would happen.  But I knew that was my call.  So what did I do?  Did I spend a lot of time wondering or worrying or trying to figure it out?  Nope.  I did what was in front of me the best I could.  I tried to be the most effective youth pastor I could be.  

    But at one point, about a year before I came left to become a lead pastor, I lost my vision for our youth ministry.  So we suspended a lot of what we were doing, and all of our leaders started praying for fresh vision.  My pastor, Roy, called me into his office.  He asked what was going on, and I told him that we had suspended our ministry so we could seek God for fresh direction.  He said, “I’m paying four of you to do high school ministry, and you’re doing nothing?  I’ll give you fresh direction.  Your job is to make disciples of high school students.  Now get out there and do it, or you’re all fired.”  Suddenly, I had fresh vision!  

    In my concern about the future (our vision) I had stopped doing what God had clearly called us to do today: make disciples.    

I learned a great lesson: When your vision gets fuzzy, keep doing the last thing you know God told you to do.  In the absence of new orders, keep following the last orders you had.  Start here: do what you know God wants you to do today.  Last week I said:

It is more important to do the will of God today than to know the will of God for tomorrow.

Here’s the good news: as you do the will of God today, you’ll learn the will of God for tomorrow.  When you do what you know, then you’ll know what to do.  

    So what do you know is God’s will for you today?  Let me give you a few.

Matthew 6:33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

What is God’s will for you today?  Seek God first!  Start here.

Matthew 22:37–39 Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’

What is God’s will for you today?  Love God with all you’ve got and love your neighbor as yourself.  Start here.

Luke 9:23 If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.

What is God’s will for you today?  Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Jesus.  Start here.

Romans 12:1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.

What is God’s will for you today?  Offer yourself to God as a living sacrifice: full surrender to God.  Start here.

Galatians 5:16 So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.

What is God’s will for you today?  Live in the Spirit—be led by the Spirit.  Start here.   Jerry Sittser says:

The will of God has to do with what we already know, not what we must figure out. It is contained in Jesus’ command that we seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness. The will of God, then, consists of one clear mandate—that we make God the absolute center of our lives. … That is the will of God for all of us.  Sittser, Jerry; The Will of God as a Way of Life (p. 59).

What do you know God wants you to do today?  Start here.

2.  Take the next step.

    The journey of a thousand miles starts with one step.  

    When you get directions from Mapquest or your GPS, how do follow them?  One turn at a time.  

    I said earlier that God rarely lays out the whole map, but gives us the next step or few steps.  Let me clarify something.  I am not saying that God is hiding His will from us, or trying to make this difficult.  God is not playing a cosmic game of hide and seek.  Many people talk about God’s will as though it were the proverbial needle in the haystack—something very difficult to find.  The Scriptures indicate that God wants us to do His will, so I think that He would want us to know what that is.  

ILL: Parents, do you want your children to obey you, to do what you want?  Of course!  So do you hide your desires from them?  “I’m not going to tell you what I want; you have to guess.”  Of course not!  You tell them plainly: I want you to do this.

Our heavenly Father wants us to know His will and makes it known to us.  He makes it known in Scripture, in our design, and by speaking to us.  Are there times when it’s a mystery?  Yes.  God knows what we can handle and gives us just enough.  

ILL: We do this with our children.  We give them age-appropriate assignments. I wanted my children to be good spouses one day.  But we started with teaching them to be kind to their siblings.  I wanted my children to be good money managers.  But we started by giving them quarters, not hundred dollar bills.

God knows what we can handle and gives us just enough.  And in those moments when we don’t have the full picture, we do what we know, and we take the next step as God gives it.  

    God wants you to know His will and do it.  As long as you are honestly seeking Him first, He will lead you and reveal His will to you as you need to know it, one step at a time.   Look how He led Abraham:

Hebrews 11:8 By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.

Abraham was called to go to a new land, but God didn’t tell him what land.  So what was Abraham’s next step?  Get up and go.  And as he went, God showed him the land.  Take the next step.  

ILL: When God spoke to me and told me that it was time to leave my youth ministry and pastor a church, He also said, “Don’t tell anyone.  I don’t want you to make this happen; I will.”  And He gave me a verse, 1 Thessalonians 5:24, “Faithful is he who calls you; he will bring it to pass.”  What was my next step?  Be quiet and wait.  

    Three months later, my pastor said, “The Lord told me this week that it’s time for you to go pastor.”  I smiled and showed him my journal.  “I’m three months ahead of you, pastor.”  He encouraged me to start praying about where God wanted me.  What was my next step?  Start praying…and tell Laina!

    A few weeks later, our supervisor asked me to check out a little church in Spokane that needed a pastor.  What was my next step?  A trip to Spokane.  When we returned, he asked what we thought.  We didn’t like the church or Spokane and told him so.  “Pray about for three days,” he said.  What was the next step?  Pray.  And as we prayed, God spoke to us: go to Spokane.  What was the next step?  We moved to Spokane.

    Why didn’t God just tell me at first that I was going to Spokane?  He knew I couldn’t hear it and wouldn’t accept it.  He knew what I could handle.

One step at a time.  Take the next step.

3.  Make good decisions.

    A lot of life is about making good decisions—not just the big ones, but the little ones, the everyday decisions too.  However, if you’re facing a big decision and don’t know what to do, let me give you a decision-making matrix and illustrate it with a story from the Bible.

    Acts 15 tells the story of the early church at a huge crossroads.  At the beginning, the first Christians were all Jews.  When the gospel went to the Gentiles, it created a problem for some of these Jewish Christians.  Shouldn’t the Gentiles become Jews first?  Shouldn’t they be circumcised and keep the Jewish law.  The leaders of the early church met in Jerusalem to decide this issue—and it was a big issue.  Is Jesus for everyone, or just the Jews?  Here is the matrix for making the decision.

    Advice: They met together and there was much discussion.  Everyone chimed in with his opinion and there was vigorous debate with people arguing both sides.  Proverbs 15:22 says, “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisors they succeed.”  To make a decision this important, they wanted to hear from many advisors.  When you’re making a big decision, get counsel; seek advice.  And be careful that you don’t just ask people who will agree with you and say what you want to hear.

    Bible: James quoted the Bible; he pointed out what the prophets said about God accepting the Gentiles.  The Bible indicated that God was including the Gentiles!  It is always good to consult the Bible.  What does it have to say about the decision you are considering?

    Circumstances: Peter, Paul and Barnabas all told stories of what God was doing among the Gentiles.  They pointed to the circumstantial evidence; they cited their own experience.  The evidence pointed to the fact that God accepted the Gentiles—lots of them were believing the gospel and joining the church.  Take a look at your circumstances; do you see any evidence of God’s work or God’s leading?   A-B-C…what’s next? P.

    Peace: When they wrote a letter to the churches to announce their decision, they began by saying, “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us.”  I love that!  They felt peace or confidence about their decision—it seemed good to us.  But they also thought that God liked it—it seemed good to the Holy Spirit.  Do you have that sense that this is good, and God is pleased?  Colossians 3:15 says, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.”  The word “rule” means to act as an arbiter or umpire.  Let the peace have the final word.  The Good News Bible translates it, “The peace that Christ gives is to guide you in the decisions you make.”  

    Here’s a matrix for making big decisions: A, B, C, P.  Advice, Bible, circumstances and peace.

    But here’s something important to remember. For many decisions, there is not just one right choice.  For example, where to live, what to do, or who to marry?  People worry about finding “the right one.”  The Bible never talks about marriage that way.  It’s not so much about finding the right one as being the right one.  God’s will is that you love your wife like Christ love the church, or that you respect your husband as you would the Lord.  God’s will is about you being the husband or wife that your spouse needs.  

ILL: In 1988, I had been in Spokane 10 years, and I was asked by our district supervisor to move back to Eugene and take over a growing church there.  Several trusted friends told me I should do it; in fact, I got a lot of pressure to do it.  But I never had peace.  I knew that God called me here, and didn’t hear Him saying anything about going there.  In the absence of fresh marching orders, I thought I should keep doing what I knew He had told me to do.  But they kept pestering me.  

One day I was driving north on Monroe; I had just passed the Garland Theater.  I was asking God if He wanted me to stay or go, and here’s what He said: “If you go, I’ll bless you there; if you stay, I’ll bless you here.  Where do you want to be blessed?”  That was easy!  I loved our church and our community—this is Paradise!  

    Some friends thought that couldn’t have been the Lord—that He doesn’t give us choices like that, that He has one perfect will for us.  I disagree.  He gives us lots of freedom, lots of choices we can make.  He was saying to me, “It’s not where you are that matters as much as who you are.  Be blessable and I’ll bless you wherever you are.”  

Make good decisions.  

4.  Live now.

    We’ll finish where we started.  It is possible to become so concerned about the future that we’re not living now.  We can become paralyzed—what does God want me to do?  We are afraid of making a mistake, of missing God’s will.  But if you want to know God’s will, you will.  God wants you to know and do His will.  So stop worrying about tomorrow, and live today. Do the will of God today—start here!  When you do what you know, then you’ll know what to do.  

Ephesians 5:15–17 Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.

Live today as wise people, making the most of every opportunity, understanding the Lord’s will.  Verse 16 literally says, “redeeming the time”.  You redeem the time by making the most of the opportunity in front of you.  Often, we don’t live in the moment.  We’re fuming about the past or we’re fretting about the future—we’re not making the most of the opportunity in front of us right now.  

    Live now!  Don’t be so worried about tomorrow that you miss today!  What has He called you to do today?  

This means simple obedience—doing what you know to do.  Seek God first.  Follow Jesus.  Love your neighbor.  Forgive those who offend you.  Listen respectfully to those with whom you disagree.  Share your faith.  Live now—do the will of God today.

    And be attentive to the little things.  It’s the little things that prepare us for the big things.  Jesus said, “He who is faithful with little will be put over much.”  I taught my kids money management by giving them quarters, not hundred dollar bills—use your quarters wisely.  It may seem like a small thing to listen to a child—but it may be the child whom God uses to speak to you.  Doing what God asks of me now is the best preparation for what God will ask of me—and that includes the little things.  Live now—be attentive to the little things.   

    How do you get where God wants you to be?  By following Jesus—one day at a time—starting today.


Final announcement: On June 10, I’m going to start a three-week series called “Polarized”.  We live in an increasingly uncivil, polarized society.  The ranting is only going to get louder in the second half of the year as the election draws near.

    I’m going to talk about three polarizing subjects in this election year: religion, politics and gay marriage.  

  • We’re going to reflect on what the Bible says about them.  I want you to have a Biblically informed opinion.  

  • We’re going to think about how we can talk with our fellow-citizens about polarizing subjects: we need to listen respectfully and seek to understand, not just shout our opinion.  I want you to be civil and loving.

  • Finally, we are going to anchor all this in our mission.  Jesus calls us to make disciples of all people, not just win arguments or elections.  I want you to remember that God loves the person you’re talking with and Christ died for that person, not for the issue you’re discussing.  Don’t lose the person to win the argument!

It all starts in two weeks, on June 10.  It should be fun!