Hard instructions

Scriptures: Psalm 111; Ephesians 5:15-20; John 6:51-58

Last week we looked at hard truths Jesus taught. In Ephesians 5, there are some seemingly hard instructions. Read the passage, I sometimes wonder. It’s both vague and difficult to deal with.

I have to admit that, as much as I’ve studied the Bible, I still get sidetracked sometimes. Every time I see verse 19, where it talks about going around singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, I think of some kind of opera or musical. Everyone is [sings the next few phrases] singing their songs, their words and sentences, and … it’s kind of silly.

The fact is that we’re called to have a song in our hearts at all times, and we’re going to talk about that in a little bit.

But Jesus noted, in the passage in John, something that was very difficult for the people to deal with. He said that he is the bread of life. He’s the one that came down from heaven. He was very clear, for once, rather than speaking in parables, about who he was and what he was about, and what was required of people.

Do you know that, after that, it says, in the next passage, that a lot of people fell away, which means a lot of people stopped following him. They made the decision to turn away from Jesus rather than have him as the bread of life. They couldn’t deal with Christ as the bread of life.

In the psalm, while it’s a psalm of praise, it’s also a psalm of instruction. It talks about appreciating God’s precepts and the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, respect for the Lord, as you learn what it is that He has to tell you.

Sometimes it seems like this is just kind of an impossible task. How do we be faithful disciples to Christ, and live a witness to the world that tells others who he is and leads others to know him?

Impossibility, though, is God’s stock in trade. Look at the resurrection. Even within the realm of the world itself, there have been things that were thought to be impossible, that turned out to be possible.

In 1534, Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor and King of Spain, suggested for the first time that a canal be built in Panama. The French were the first to try the impossible undertaking, beginning construction on their canal on January 1, 1880.

That’s 300 years later. After working for more than twelve arduous years on the project, and after the death of an estimated 22,000 workers, the French gave up in defeat.

The United States later bought out the French equipment and excavations, and began work on the canal themselves, on May 4, 1904. The Canal was finally opened on August 15, 1914, one year ahead of schedule.

At the time the canal was completed, the designers estimated that the most traffic the canal could ever support was 80 million tons per year. In 2005 alone, over 278.8 million tons of cargo moved through the Panama Canal. (That’s from Wikipedia.)

It was an impossible task, finally completed by people who wouldn’t give up, who wouldn’t quit, and who wouldn’t let the obstacles and impossibility of the task ahead of them cause them to quit. The results today are past the designers’ imagination.

You know, God hasn’t called you to do just little things. He hasn’t called you to a diminishing, shrinking, receding and retreating assignment. He hasn’t called you to complacency or retirement. He has called you to be a world shaker, a world changer. He has called you to do the impossible. He has called you to change the world!

As we think of the assignment God has given us, however, the question lies before us, “How do we do what God has called us to do? How can we be faithful disciples

and make other disciples? How do we avoid the failure others have known and make the most of our lives? How do we accomplish the impossible?”

Well, first we allow ourselves to be tools – in a good sense. We lead others to Christ, we bring glory to God, we change the world by our example, through the way that we live.

My friends, when you live a life that is different from the world, when you respond differently than everyone else around you does, you are being a witness, and you are helping to change the world through your example.

But the change the world, we cannot stop with just being a good example, as good as that is, as important as that is. We also need to be a witness. A witness is someone who gives testimony. Not just being an example, but actually speaks.

1 Peter 3 says “But set apart the Messiah in your heart as Lord in your heart, and always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.” You see, Peter said that you and I are always to be ready to give a defense, to give a reason for the hope that is within us.

After people see that we react differently than other people, after they notice that we talk and love differently, then we need to be ready to witness, to tell other people why we act the way we do.

In order to be able to witness, you need to know the God whom you worship. You need to be in a deep relationship with Him. You need to be in constant prayer. You need to be in constant touch. You need to understand the presence of the Holy Spirit in your life.

God has given us the seeming impossible mission to be and make disciples. We want to use our example, to give our witness, to help accomplish that mission. And then also, we need to teach.

We need to teach, first, each other, and then the world. We need to teach our children. We teach in Sunday School – we teach adults, we teach children. We teach the Bible in Bible study.

Using the Bible, we teach people about a God who loves them enough to send His Son to die for them. We teach one another from our experience and our walks with the Lord. And you don’t have to have a degree, in order to teach.

We’re to teach one another. You know, those who have been Christ-followers for a long time are to teach those who have been Christ-followers for only a short time.

Older women are to teach younger women. Older men are to teach younger men. It’s called mentoring. That’s really big in some circles these days. There have been whole organizations, like Big Brothers, Big Sisters, that are based on that concept of mentoring.

The idea is to provide a role model and instruction and help to those who are newer than you, as it were, to develop and grow and mature – in their faith, in their life, and in witness.

Something that everybody should be looking to do. Because, goodness knows, there’s enough of the world out there that doesn’t have a clue.

We make disciples by example, by witness, by teaching. By living a life that gives honor to God. But those are not the power to accomplish the job that we’ve been given. That rests with the Holy Spirit.

You see, the Holy Spirit provides the strength to do the impossible. In Ephesians 5:18, it talks about not getting drunk with wine, which leads to reckless action, but be filled with the Holy Spirit.

I realize it speaks directly of wine there, but I’d like to extend that a little more. I’d like to that to anything that the world gives. Because some of us don’t have a problem with wine, or alcohol.

Some of us may have a problem with food. Some of us may have a problem with the internet. Some of us may have a problem with our cell phones. Some of us have problems with Facebook.

Did you know that in the NFL, there are a couple of teams now that have built in ten-minute breaks in their meetings, so that their players can go and get online or check their cellphones and see what was said, check their Facebook accounts, check Twitter, and see what’s been said or maybe make some kind of comment?

A couple of years ago, there was a Zits comic strip – I don’t know if you’ve ever read that comic strip. It’s about life with a couple and their teenager. This one was about their high school class pictures. The parents saw their son’s picture. His head was down and his thumbs were like this [looks down at smart phone and pretends to text].

His parents were rather irate. They spoke about whether they should talk to him about this, and getting a whole new picture, one where his face is up and he’s smiling. Then they started looking through the yearbook. And every single kid’s picture was just the same.

It happens. I’ve substituted at school. They’re not supposed to use these things except in between classes. But they do anyway. It’s amazing – I’m surprised at the skill of some of these kids at being able to type without actually seeing the keyboard, because they type under their desk or in the pockets of their hoodie.

Then of course when they’re in the hall, traveling from one class to another, they’re all like this [looks down at phone] or like this [holds phone up to ear]. They’re ruled by their cellphones. It’s amazing.

Don’t get drunk with wine. Or don’t get obsessed with anything that might lead to reckless action. You know, texting while you’re driving. I had somebody I was riding with the other day, and they said they never text while driving. I said, “Good.”

And they said, but if they get a text, they would click on it and check it – just glance at it while they’re driving. That didn’t count as texting. You know, it’s easy to say in our heads, “oh my God what fools,” but – come on – you all have done similar things and you know it.

We don’t want to be filled with obsession that leads to reckless action, but to be filled with the Holy Spirit. You see, it’s the Holy Spirit that gives us our power. He works in people’s hearts.

You know, He took a weak, frightened Peter in Acts 2 and caused him to stand and preach boldly. He took a skeptical crowd and caused them to want to know the Jesus he proclaimed.

The Holy Spirit gives us the ability to live wisely. He gives us the ability to make the most of our time. He gives us the ability to make the most of our relationships. Ephesians is all about relationships in so many ways.

It talks about our relationship with each other in the church, with brothers and sisters and wives and husbands, husbands and wives, children to parents,parents to children, workers to employers and employers to workers.

My friend, God through the Holy Spirit working in you can change you and change the world. He can empower you to do the impossible.

But there’s one thing that you have to do. And it’s probably the hardest thing in the world, believe it or not, and this is to give up control. You need to let the Holy Spirit take control of your life. You need to trust in His indwelling presence.

Control is something that we all struggle and deal with. Most of people’s lives are all about trying to control what’s going on around them. Or to control themselves. Even in the garden of Eden, the way the serpent tempted Eve – what is it that he said?

“This fruit is good to eat, he said, because then you will be like God, having knowledge of good and evil. You’re going to be like God. You’re going to be in control.” And we’ve been trying it ever since. It’s the basic fault of our sin nature. But you have to give up control.

There are signs that you’re controlled by the Holy Spirit. A person controlled by the Holy Spirit is joyful. Christian joy is not a thermometer that rises and falls with every circumstance. It’s a joy that is expressed regardless of circumstance. Happiness rises and falls. Joy is something that can always be grasped.

You have a thankful heart if you’re controlled by the Holy Spirit. The person who thinks the world owes him a living is never thankful for anything. But a person who is filled with the Spirit sees the hand of God behind every gift, and is thankful for what he has and what he has been given.

You know, we just sang that song – I mentioned it before, about a month ago – the one thing that remains, and that phrase still runs through my head, in the back of my head, a lot. “His love never fails, it never gives up, it never runs out on me.”

God’s love is unending. It never fails. It never gives up. It never runs out on you. You need to be thankful for that. It’s not something that you deserve. It’s not something that you’re entitled to. This mercy, the salvation that we achieve in Jesus Christ – it’s something that He gave to you because He loves you. He loves you more than you’ll ever know. And you can trust Him.

The third sign of a person’s who’s controlled by the Holy Spirit is that they have a servant’s heart. Some people might say “submissive,” when dealing with Ephesians, but I like to say that they have a servant’s heart. In Luke 22, Jesus said, “It must not be like that among you. On the contrary, whoever is greatest among you must become like the youngest, and whoever leads, like the one serving.”

We are to think of others as more important than ourselves. We’re to understand that God has a plan for everyone, not just for you.

Paul says, “Be filled with, be controlled by the Holy Spirit.” Together we have seen why we should and how to tell if we are. But let’s look at how we are. What must we do in order to be filled by the Holy Spirit?

First, don’t grieve the Holy Spirit. If I allow my lusts and my passions to control me, then the Holy Spirit is not controlling me. You can’t be controlled by wine, you can’t be controlled by your addiction, you can’t be controlled by the world, and be controlled by the Holy Spirit at the same time.

You can’t be controlled by sin and controlled by the Holy Spirit at the same time. If I’m living a life of sin, the Holy Spirit is grieved, and He does not control me when He is grieved. Now that doesn’t mean that we don’t make mistakes. We all stumble.

But if we repent, as we had in our Prayer of Confession, of our sins, we recognize the sin, we repent of it, then we want to change and turn back to God, and we place again our control into His hands. Then our sins are forgiven and we do not grieve the Holy Spirit.

Don’t quench the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is within me, stimulating, giving ideas, producing thoughts, making suggestions. You know, every time I refuse or reject Him, every time I say, “Oh, wait a minute, I want to do this first,” we’re quenching the Holy Spirit.

How many times have we done that? I like to say that I’m a leading procrastinator. There was actually, you know, an Association of Procrastinators. I got a postcard from them. I was going to join, but somehow I just kept putting it off.

Don’t quench the Holy Spirit. Listen to what He calls you to do, and do it when He calls you. Realize that the Holy Spirit is living within you. “Do you not know that your own body is the sanctuary of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God? You are not your own.” That’s from 1 Corinthians 6.

We forget that. We say it in our heads, but we don’t recognize it in our hearts. The Holy Spirit is with us, everywhere, living within us, empowering us, comforting us, advocating for us, watching us, convicting us. He’s living within you. We need to listen closely to His leading.

As Philippians 2 says, “For it is God working in you, enabling you both to will and to act for His good purpose.” If you sense a sudden desire to read your Bible, then do it, because that’s the Holy Spirit working in you. Obey Him. If you feel called to pray, go and do it. And we need to pray.

That’s one of the things that I think we as a culture and as a people have lost. It’s so easy to put that off. “I’ll wait until it’s quieter.” “I’ll wait until there aren’t so many people around.” “I’ll wait until I have a chance to concentrate.” “I’ll wait…” “I’ll wait…” “I’ll wait…” I firmly believe that if the church prayed more faithfully, then the church here and in the world at large would be a very different place.

Don’t put off obeying and doing what He has called you to do. The more you listen and obey, the more He’ll prompt you.

Next, you need to listen to Him speak through the Bible. We know God through the Holy Spirit, but we know God best through the Scriptures. If you want to know what the precepts were that the psalmist talked about, you need to read the Scriptures. You need to study them.

If you want to know who Christ is, what He did, and what it means, that He’s the bread of life, you need to read your Scriptures, and study them. Let God speak to you through the Bible. Friends, the Holy Spirit speaks God’s will to us often through God’s Word.

You want to be controlled by the Holy Spirit? Look for His prompting and guidance in the Bible. You know, God has given us a great mission. A seemingly impossible mission. To be faithful disciples, and then go and make disciples. We’re called to be Christ-followers, living like Jesus.

The same guy who said, “If you lust in your heart after someone, you’ve already committed adultery.” And here’s one for me – “If you’re angry, then you’ve committed murder.” Oh! That was a hard one. How can we possibly live like Jesus?

He has called us to do so. He has given us the task. He has called us to be fellow laborers and builders with Him in the kingdom of God. He has given us a great vision, one that will break the gates of hell itself. In order to do that, He has given us His Helper, the Holy Spirit, living in and through us, controlling us. Now, whether or not you allow Him to do so is your call.

You can be more than you ever imagined. You can be used in a great way. You can be a mover and shaker, a life-saver, a kingdom builder, and a world changer, if you allow the Holy Spirit to direct you and empower you.

Please, my prayer for you is this, don’t settle for a second-rate, comfortable, complacent life. Don’t settle for making no mark on this world. Don’t settle for a plain vanilla existence, settling for “Good Enough”. As they say, “Get in it to win it.” Be all God has called you to be.

Remember that illustration I gave at the beginning, about the Panama Canal? After the canal was completed, after working on that seemingly impossible mission, the men who build that canal wrote a song. Listen to the words they said:

Don’t send us back to a life that’s plain again,
We who have shattered a continent’s spine.
Easy work? Oh, we couldn’t do that again.
Haven’t you something that’s more in our line?
Got any rivers you say are not crossable?
Got any mountains you can’t tunnel through?
We specialize in the wholly impossible,
Doing what nobody ever could do.

My friend, that’s what God wants to do with you, if you’ll let Him. Doing what nobody ever could do. May God use you in a mighty way, and may you experience God’s joy and peace and ever-dwelling life within you, to the praise of God the Father in heaven.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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