January 5-6, 2019
Pastor Joe Wittwer
Getting what you really want
#2—Change: I want to be a better person
Psalm 37:4 (p. 480) Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.
- I want to ________________________________________________________.
Romans 7:15-8:4 (p. 971)
- God wants me to __________________________________________________.
Galatians 5:16-26 (p. 1004), Romans 8:28-30 (p. 972)
- How do we ______________________________________________________?
Psalm 37:4 (p. 480), 2 Corinthians 3:18 (p. 994), 5:17-18 (p. 995)
January 5-6, 2019
Pastor Joe Wittwer
Getting what you really want
#2—Change: I want to be a better person
Introduction and offering
ILL: A story from when our kids were growing up:
Laina and I were heading out of town; we were running late and anxious to leave. A young couple from our church, Ken and Kristi, were staying with our 5 kids and were at the car seeing us off. Andy came out to hug me goodby, and while he was hugging me, Jeff came charging up from behind to surprise Andy. Andy saw him coming, and put his arm up to protect himself, and clocked Jeff in the eye. From my vantage point, it looked like a deliberate slug. Jeff grabbed his eye and headed for the house crying, and I grabbed Andy and gave him a swat on the bottom and marched him into the house after Jeff.
Both boys sat on the couch, and I began my angry lecture: “I can’t believe it! We can’t even get out of the driveway before you two boys are fighting and hurting each other.” Andy was crying and said, “I didn’t mean to hit him Dad; I just raised my arm to protect myself.” He cried some more, and then said, “Gee, I come out to hug you goodbye and get spanked!”
I realized that I had reacted and hurt Andy’s feelings, so I apologized. “Andy, I believe you. I believe that you weren’t trying to hurt Jeff. And I’m sorry I swatted you. It looked to me like you punched him on purpose, but I should have talked with you instead of swatting you. I just reacted and I’m sorry; will you forgive me?” Andy said, “Next time, think before you act!” Fair enough—I deserved that!
Then we went outside, and I apologized to Ken and Kristi and explained to them that it wasn’t Andy’s fault, that I had made a mistake. As we drove away, I told Laina, “I wish I didn’t lose my temper like that. I wish I was a better dad.”
Can anyone relate? I wish I was a better dad, a better husband, a better friend, a better Christian—I wish I was a better person. How many of you desire to be better? That’s a true desire, and what we’re talking about today. Our text for this series is:
Psalm 37:4 (p. 480) Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. (3X)
In this series, we are looking at four true desires, four things that everyone wants and that bring true satisfaction. We started last weekend by talking about our first and highest desire: God Himself. I want to experience God—not just know about Him, not just sort of believe in Him—I want to experience Him, have a life-giving relationship with Him. You were made for Him—you have a God shaped vacuum inside that only He can fill. If you want to experience God, you can. Seek and you will find. He’s not hiding—He wants to be found—He wants a relationship with you!
Today we are talking about our second true desire: change—I want to be a better person.
Acts 20:33–35 (p. 956) I have not coveted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing. 34 You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions. 35 In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ”
Paul told the Ephesian elders that he had worked not only to pay his own way, but to help the weak. He was motivated by the words of Jesus: “It is more blessed (happy) to give than to receive.” Giving is a happy thing! It’s why I sometimes say that the offering is the happiest part of the service! You can’t outgive God! That’s why I say that I have never made a sacrifice. God’s blessing is always bigger than my offering! Have fun giving!
- I want to be a better person.
How many of you made new years resolutions? You want to be better! This practice of making resolutions to change is just one indicator of this true desire: I want to be a better person.
How many of you like change? How many not so much? Even if you are change-averse, when it comes to ourselves, change is one of our true desires. Fill in the blanks: I wish I was less __________, and I wish I was more ________. Share it with your neighbor. We all want to be better persons. It’s easy to relate to what the apostle Paul wrote in:
Romans 7:15-8:4 (p. 971) I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. (Can anyone relate to this? I don’t do what I want to do, but I do the very things I don’t want to do!) 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. (There it is again! I have the desire to do what is good, but I can’t seem to do it. But the evil I don’t want to do, I do instead.) 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.
21 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am!
Have you ever thought this? “What a wretch I am! I’m a mess! I wish I was better!”
Theologians differ about whether Paul was describing himself here before conversion or after. For our purposes today, it doesn’t matter. He is describing an inner battle that every human being has. Our aspirations exceed our achievement. Our desires are higher than our actual doing. We want to be better than we are. A few recent examples:
ILL: A couple weeks ago, I was in a meeting with a few of our staff and I said some things I regretted later. I left the meeting feeling troubled. “Why did I say that? Why did I get so fired up about that?” It bothered me for days after; it bothered me so much that I started our next meeting with an apology and explanation. I was ashamed of my behavior. Wretched man that I am.
Here’s another thing I struggle with. There are times when other people’s success bothers me. It shouldn’t. I should be happy for them, but sometimes I feel jealous. “Why not me, Lord?” I want to rejoice with them, but instead I struggle with feelings of jealousy and envy. I don’t want to feel that way. Wretched man that I am.
How about this one: I’d like to lose a few pounds and be in better shape. I want to, but when I see that delicious dessert, I cave. I can resist anything except temptation. I want to eat healthy, but I often don’t. I want to get up and exercise, but my bed is so warm. Wretched man that I am.
Friends, this is the universal human condition. The things I want to do, I don’t. The things I don’t want to do, I do. We all want to be better. Paul goes on:
24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? 25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.
1 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. 3 For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
It looks like God has provided a way for us to change through the power of His Spirit living within us! The law of the Spirit who gives life sets us free from the law of sin and death.
ILL: Picture it like this. The law of gravity says that when I let go of this, it will drop. The law of gravity says that I cannot fly. But there is another law, the law of aerodynamics that can (temporarily) set me free from the of gravity. I can get in a plane and fly.
In the same way, the law of the Spirit can set us free from the law of sin. So, it’s not just that I want to be a better person…
- God wants me to be a better person.
God never intended for us to be broken, sinful, messed up and wretched. He created us in His image, to be like Him and to be with Him. But we rebelled against God, and our rebellion has created the mess in us and in our world. The good news is that God hasn’t abandoned us in the mess; God has acted to redeem us, to bring us back to Himself, back into relationship with Him. And in that relationship, He changes and heals and redeems us. We begin to become what God originally intended us to be: with Him and like Him.
Romans 8:28-30 (p. 972) And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.
Notice that phrase in v. 29: He predestined us to be conformed to the image of His Son. Don’t let that word “predestined” throw you. It simply means that God has chosen a destiny for you ahead of time.
ILL: You all did something similar when you came here today. I doubt that you got in your car, just started driving willy-nilly, and then said, “Oh look, here we are at Life Center! How’d we get here? Oh well, we might as well go to church!” I’m guessing that before you got in the car, you predestined that you’d be at Life Center.
Well, God has chosen a destiny for you too; it’s that you’d become like Jesus, that you would be conformed to the image of His Son. That is His destiny for you. That is what God is doing in your life: He wants you to be with Him so that He can make you like Him. God wants you to be like Jesus. We saw in Romans 8 that God has not left us to do this alone, that He sent His Spirit to empower us to change. It’s not just that God wants you to change; He wants it enough that He’s here to help you change. He provides the power!
Galatians 5:16-26 (p. 1004) So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. (Here is that battle Paul described in Romans 7. My flesh—that is my sinful human nature—desires the wrong things. And God’s Spirit in me desires the right things. I’m torn. But Paul says that if I walk in the Spirit, I won’t gratify the desires of the flesh. This is the same promise as Romans 8—the law of the Spirit sets us free from the law of sin, and empowers us to change. He goes on to describe the results of these two ways of living: in the flesh or in the Spirit.)
19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. (I don’t want to do those things, or be that person.)
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. (I want to do these things, be this kind of person! That’s what I want—and it’s what God wants. His Spirit produces this fruit in me.) Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.
Here’s the good news: that true desire inside you to change, to be a better person—that’s what God wants for you too. It’s why He sent Jesus. It’s why He sends His Spirit to live in us. Which leads to the last question:
- How do we change?
God changes us. The closer I am to Him, the more I change and become like Him. Delight in the Lord!
Psalm 37:4 Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.
Delight in the Lord and He will give you the desire to change and the power to do it! God changes us! Being a Christian is not a self-improvement project. Christianity is not a self-improvement religion. We don’t change ourselves—left on our own, we cry with Paul, “What a wretched person I am. Who will deliver me?” The answer is Jesus. Jesus came to bring us into relationship with God. When we are with Him, we become more like Him. As we delight in the Lord, He changes us.
2 Corinthians 3:18 And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
We contemplate the Lord’s glory—that is, we look at God, delight in Him, we’re focused on Him. And as we do that, we are being transformed into His image. We become like the one we look at. We are becoming more like Jesus. And this change comes from the Lord. He changes us as we delight in Him.
Here’s a great secret of change: Focus less on you and more on Jesus. We become like what we focus on. If you focus on yourself, you just become more like you. If you focus on Jesus, you become more like Him. So delight in the Lord, and He’ll give you the desires of your heart—including the desire to become a better person.
2 Corinthians 5:17–18 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.
How do we become a new creation, a better person? In Christ. It’s about our relationship with Him. Be with Him and become like Him. The more you hang out with Jesus, the more you become like Him. He is the one who changes us, and to do that, He invites us in. In Christ. In the Spirit. In relationship. Be with Him and become like Him. Delight in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart—including being a better person. More like Jesus!
We’re done early so that I can share an important announcement with all of you. I’ve written this out, and I’m going to read it, and you’ll get a copy on your way out so that you’ll know exactly what I said. Don’t worry! It’s good!
Read Transition announcement.
Invite Michael and Sara up.
Obviously, we all knew this day was coming. The transition is inevitable. I can’t be the lead pastor here forever! So why now? I’m 67—so this has been in process for several years. Until a few months ago, I thought I’d go another 5 years. But through many conversations, lots of prayer, and several books I read on this subject, I believe that the Lord has said that 2 years is a better decision for the church than 5.
We are part of the Foursquare denomination. In our governance, pastors are appointed by the district supervisor. So obviously, we must have his approval for this plan—and we do. Our supervisor, Dave Veach has given us his blessing.
In many ways, this is the best possible scenario.
- I’m not departing suddenly or unexpectedly. I’ll still be here and very involved.
- There is no crisis. Our church has tons of positive momentum. We just had over 10,000 people for Christmas Eve services—one of our largest ever. A couple thousand of you have gone through Rooted—we are doing better than ever at helping people find and follow Jesus. We believe that momentum will continue the next two years through this transition—and beyond.
- And our new pastor is not a stranger coming in from the outside with a different philosophy of ministry and a plan to change everything. He is one of us—someone who loves our church and plans to advance our mission.
It’s hard to imagine a better transition scenario.
Michael and Sara: how do you feel about it?
How do I feel about it? I’m feeling a little grief—I’ve been in this role for over 40 years—my whole adult life. It’s a big change. But I’m also excited—and that is the larger emotion. Excited about Michael and Sara and their leadership. Excited for our church because I really do believe our best days are ahead of us. Excited for what the Lord has in store for me—as I said, I’m not retiring, I’m transitioning into a new role here. I’ve got lots of things I’m excited to do here at Life Center as we move into our future together. You’re not getting rid of me!
I want to emphasize that our church has never been about one person. It’s always been a team effort. I’ve never made decisions or led alone. I’m part of our exec team, our staff leadership team, our larger staff of 60 people, our church council—and all of you. This is a great church not because of me, but because of us. We are the team—and that is not changing. In two years, we’ll have a new leader, but we’ll still be the team.
And while our lead pastor is changing, here’s what is not changing. Jesus. We’re all about Jesus. Loving God and Loving People. Our mission: to help people find and follow Jesus. Raising leaders and planting churches. Our core values and our church culture. It’s still us, team. So I’m inviting you to join us in praying and making these next two years the best ever, and the launching point to God’s preferred future for us!
If you have questions, staff will be down front, or you can email at firstname.lastname@example.org.