Hazards to a Grace Full Life - Wellington First Assembly

Wellington First Assembly

326 W Botkin Lane, Wellington Kansas ........Family Faith Lessons - 9:30 AM........ Sunday Worship - 10:30 AM


Sunday, September 24, 2017

Hazards to a Grace Full Life

For the last several weeks, we have been exploring the concept of living a life full of grace.  We have seen the link between forgiveness and grace.  Hopefully, by now, we want to live a life characterized by God’s grace.

There are times in life, however, when it seems like grace is far off.  When we are struggling through an issue, facing life and death decisions, where is grace?  We feel God’s grace when we are in the good times – but we must trust God’s grace when we are in the bad times.  Too often, we find ourselves complaining about something, grumbling about work, or family, or school, just days after having a great experience.

It reminds me of a man who had a habit of grumbling at the food his wife placed before him at family meals.  But then he would quiet everyone down and ask a blessing over the meal.
This combination, grumble-blessing, went on day after day, for weeks, months, and years.  One day, his young daughter, on the way home from a church Sunday school lesson, asked him this question – “Daddy, does God hear us when we pray?” 

The father said – of course – he hears us every time when we pray.  The daughter continued – even when we pray and ask God’s blessing on our meal?

Why of course! – the dad answered – He hears us every time!
The daughter stayed silent for a few moments and then asked – Does God hear everything we say the rest of the time?
The father replied - -yes dear, God hears every word.  The dad was thrilled, proud that he was teaching his daughter some key spiritual principles.

Then the daughter asked – Then which one does God believe?  The grumbling or the blessing?

Parents – future parents – we teach our children more about God in the way we act outside of prayer and church than we think. 

This story is not much different than what happened with the children of Israel shortly after they left Egypt and began their trek across the wilderness.  They began to fill the form of worship, the actions of thanksgiving, the mold of grace – but forgot the substance.  Let’s pick up the text together, Exodus 16:9-12.

9 Then Moses said to Aaron, “Say to the whole congregation of the people of Israel, ‘Come near before the Lord, for he has heard your grumbling.’ ” 10 And as soon as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the people of Israel, they looked toward the wilderness, and behold, the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud. 11 And the Lord said to Moses, 12 “I have heard the grumbling of the people of Israel. Say to them, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall be filled with bread. Then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.’ ”

Hazards to a grace full life.

If you get a chance this week, read the whole chapter.  Because what is fascinating about this chapter is that this narrative is essentially repeated 3 times.  First God tells Moses what he’s going to do, then Moses tells the people what God’s going to do, and then we have a description of God doing it.  Whenever something is repeated like this over and over in the same passage – Guess what – the lessons that can be gleaned might just be important.
What turns a group of people who had once experienced the glory of God into a people of complainers, of grumblers, unsure of direction?  What turns people who have experienced God’s grace into people who don’t share his grace with anyone anymore?  This passage hints at several hazards to a grace full life.

As some of you may recall, I spent 10 years working at a golf course.  While I haven’t played that sport for 2 decades now, I still remember the frustration of trying to thread a tiny white ball through trees, around lakes, over sand and into a little cup.  It’s a whole lot easier when the green pasture is wide and open straight ahead of you and.  But that isn’t what the game of golf is all about.
Here’s a picture of a typical golf course.  

As you can see, the hole is surrounded by white sands on the left, right, and behind.  A lake is off to the side.  I can’t tell you how many golf balls I’ve put in a lake!  And getting a ball out of the sand?  Good grief!  These are all hazards.  These are all obstacles on the way to the finish line.  Get stuck in the hazards and you won’t get out.
Now if you play in Florida – there are other hazards you need to worry about!
This one might eat you alive!

Are you a grumbler or are you a gracer?

These 4 Hazards to a Grace Full Life all start with grumbling.

It’s easy to grumble against God when you get stuck in a routine.
Routines themselves are not bad things.  We each have a routine.  We wake up, take a shower, get dressed, eat breakfast, brush our teeth, get on with our day.  Somewhere in there, we might have a daily devotion.  We have chores to do, shopping lists to fill, dinners to prepare, homework to complete.  Routines are not necessarily a bad thing.
But there are times when we get stuck in the routine.  We forget the purpose of the routine.  We forget the why of what we are doing.  Without the WHY, the routine gets boring.  This is when we are stuck.
The people of Israel forgot the WHY.  The newness was wearing off, the reality was setting in.  They had left the place they called home.  They had been freed as slaves.  They were getting to make their own choices.  And they suddenly realized that just because they had freedom, did not mean life was going to be any easier.  Life traveling in a wilderness is just plain hard.

God’s grace promises us freedom – but it never promised us an easy life.  Accepting Christ as your personal Lord and Savior is not the easy way out to avoid hell – it’s a devoted commitment to join the suffering of Christ.

God never intended us to get stuck in a rut.  In fact, if we do, it is not by his choice at all.  The Holy Spirit is our guard against that.  When we allow the Holy Spirit the freedom to prick our conscious, to stir our spirit up in in prayer, to give us the boldness to step out and speak truth and love into someone’s life – that is not rut filled Christianity. 

The Christian life is much more than just showing up on Sunday, singing 4 songs, sitting and listening to a sermon and then going home for dinner.  It’s all about an expectant urgency – a desire, a longing for Jesus Christ to invade our time and space and work the miraculous in our hearts.  Gatherings for worship are not mundane times where we should leave unchanged.  There are holy moments that God can invade deep into our souls.

But we must be open to that.  Yes, we can resist the moving of the Spirit in our lives, but when we do that, we dig ourselves deeper and deeper into a routine.  And the deeper we are, the more we grumble that God isn’t fulfilling his part of the bargain.  But, this is quite the opposite.  It’s us not living up to our agreement.  As we see in this passage, God picks up our share of the bargain, and is more than willing to dive down into the rut along with us. 
Philippians 2:6-8 illustrates this very point.

Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Next time you get stuck in a routine, instead of grumbling – look around for Jesus – because he is there.

 It’s easy to grumble against God when you forget where you came from.
Human nature is a funny thing. We have selective memories.  Which is a good thing, because I prefer to remember the good times, over the hard times.  We sit around family reunions and talk about the things that Uncle Joe or Grandma Beatrice did when they were young.  The parties, the weddings, the times of laughter, the vacations.  At some of the larger gatherings, there is usually one person that everyone avoids – because all they do is remember the hardships, the bad times, the double crossings, the job losses, the year the farm went bankrupt.  Who wants to be around that person?  Not me!

But our selective memories can often distort the realities of the past.  For as many people say, I wish things were like the good old days – they are remembering the one or two good things – and forgetting about the hardships.  The good ole days aren’t any better or worse than the nowadays.  The only thing that is different is your attitude on how you will approach it.

The people of Israel starting thinking of the good ole days.  Remember when we had plenty to eat? They said.  Remember when we had a roof over our head, they muttered?  Yes, good things.  But what were they forgetting?  That their first-born sons were routinely murdered.  That their daughters were routinely taken away.  That those who weren’t of a certain physical size were murdered as they weren’t useful workers.  That the only thing keeping them alive was the whim of the master.

Yes, it’s great practice to learn to find the good in everything – but it’s awful interpretation to think just because something had some good in it makes it right.

The people of Israel had forgotten where they came from, what God had delivered them out of.  The euphoria of the crossing of the sea was forgotten.  The song of Miriam rejoicing that the horse and rider was thrown into the sea was not a top 40 hit anymore.

Next time you catch yourself grumbling about the way things are today, take a deep look at how much God has changed you.

A third hazard shows up in this passage.  It’s easy to grumble when you listen to mistaken people.
There’s a principle in communication theory called the “echo chamber.”  It’s what happens when you surround yourself with only one voice.  When all your advisors agree with you every time, then pretty soon, the only thing your ear hears is what you want it to hear.  Your brain discards anything that doesn’t fit your pre-determined pattern.  This has gotten not just politicians into trouble, but almost every person as well.

A person’s values are shaped by what the listen to.  This is not an argument for just listening to Christian music.  It’s much more than that.  When you listen to people who cuss a lot, guess what happens – cuss words show up in your mind. 

I knew of a young married couple.  The wife was in a job where the other women kept making fun of their husbands and telling her that there was more to life than being married to her husband.  Over time, she began to listen to them, she tried to compare her seemingly boring marriage to all their exploits.  Pretty soon, she told her husband she wanted something more and he didn’t fit the bill anymore.  Her work friends applauded her.  But it brought devastation and hard ache. 

I’ve seen husbands do it to their wives, parents do it to their children, and kids to their parents.  The Bible has a very short description for this activity – it’s called rebellion.  Ephesians 6 prescribes a way for families to avoid rebellion.

Rebellion rarely starts in a vacuum.  It gains credence as people murmur and complain.  And the best thing about rebellion, the complaints don’t even have to be valid.  All it has to do is have anger at its core.
  • Absalom rebelled against David.
  • Gomer rebelled against Hosea
  • Judas rebelled against Jesus.

Not sure if you are listening to mistaken people?  Here are a couple ways to tell.
  • Are they grumbling?

The last few weeks we’ve seen what a Christian should do if they have a complaint.  They go directly to the person and ask for reconciliation.  They don’t spread rumors, they don’t complain publicly, they don’t grumble and try to get people to take their sides.
  • They aren’t willing to listen to others unlike themselves.

The parables of Jesus were addressed to those who were used to listening to mistaken people.  The religious leaders of that day were too focused on their own piety that the forgot the injunctions to love the neighbors, and the Samaritans.  They did not realize that God could use the insight of others to reveal his will.  Don’t grumble – but help someone you might disagree with.

The 4th hazard that makes it easy to grumble against God is when we look in the wrong direction.
One of the fun things in life that I remember as a kid was going to my uncle’s farm, and playing hide and seek.  There were plenty of places to hide –up in the hay loft, behind the tractor barn, in the silo.  The key to hiding was always making sure you were looking out in case you had to move before you were tagged.  Invariably, even though I had my guard up, I would be looking the wrong direction and not see someone sneak up behind me.  As I was tagged out, I would be upset at myself and grumble all the way back to the house, waiting for the game to reset.

Whose fault was it that I was looking the wrong direction?  Not God’s.  Not the other players.  All mine.  At some point, I must take personal responsibility.

Our text today shows us that there is only one right direction to look.  That’s not at myself, it’s not at the possessions of my neighbors, I can’t compare my spirituality to anyone else – I am to focus on one thing, and one thing only – God’s glory.

The people had to stop grumbling long enough for them to turn and focus on the very presence of God, descending in all his glory, taking the form of a cloud.  This was not a mass hallucination, it was an experience with their Creator.  Something visceral, something they could never forget.  The same God that had led them out of Egypt was still present with them in the desert.
It’s interesting to note the direction of their focus.  Where was God?  Not behind them in Egypt – but ahead of them through the wilderness and into the promised land.  Do you want to discover God’s leading for your life?  Do you want to see his presence?  Then don’t look backwards – but look forward toward the promise he has given you.

Guess what happens when you run and keep looking over your shoulder?  You trip, stumble, and fall.  Lot’s wife is famous for longing and looking at the past of destruction instead of the future of salvation.

Guess what happens when you run forward and keep your eyes focused?  The hazards are cleaned up and the way to the cup is clear.  God always provides.

  God’s Presence is always accompanied by His Provision!

This passage reminds us that when we focus on God’s presence, we will always have what we need.
The instructions to the people were clear.  Stay focused on me, daily.  Each day that you focus on me, you will have enough bread and meat to eat.  The instructions for gathering this supply of manna was to collect only what you needed to do so each day.  Because God promised to provide what you needed for the next day.
We see this echoed in the Lord’s prayer, where we pray, Give us this day, our daily bread.
We are reminded, just as the people of Israel, that our focus on him to avoid the hazards of a grace-full life should be done daily.  God must be in everything that we think, do, or say.  This is a refreshing reminder of life.  It takes away worry, it defines us as a person, and it helps us live a life of grace.

In closing, I want to leave us with a quote from a 19th-century French floriculturist.

Which person am I?
Some people are always grumbling because roses have thorns;
I am thankful that thorns have roses!
—Jean Baptiste Alphonse Karr

We have two choices in life.  Focus on the good or focus on the bad.  Look toward the past or forward into the future.  Rejoice that God has good coming from bad, or complain about God’s creation.
Let’s avoid the hazards and be a grace-full people.

Shall we pray.