By Pastor Cherie Dearth
We have completed a God sized vision, a vision that could only have been completed with God’s help. We have a choice. We can either sit back and admire this beautiful building, or we can more forward to make sure that is used for God’s purposes. Right now, we mostly have exercises classes scheduled in there. Exercise classes are great, but we did not build the Place merely to host exercise classes. It is time to figure out what we want to do next as a church.
A church is not a sanctuary (though it is nice to have this space to worship). A church is not a kitchen or a fellowship hall (though it is helpful to have those things for ministry). We are the church, the people filled and gifted by the Holy Spirit doing his work in our community, helping his people, creating a path, showing people what God is like by what we say or do. Recognizing that God is already at work within them, and we are there to help in what ways we can.
There is a question that a church has to continually ask itself. If we closed up shop tomorrow, would anyone notice? Would anyone care? As we go forward over the next three weeks (and beyond), keep those questions in the back of your minds.
Through these next three weeks, we will be looking at an Old Testament story of someone who had God sized goals or tasks as we go through Romans Chapter 8. Our theme verse for this series comes from Romans 8:31, “If God is for us, who can be against us.”
Our Old Testament story for this week comes from Nehemiah. This is after the end of the Babylonian Exile. The Persians were now in power and Cyrus gave permission for the exiled Jewish people to return to Judah and Jerusalem. Some years before, Ezra had gone to begin the process of rebuilding, but it stalled out. Read the rest of the story here … Nehemiah Chapters 1 & 2. Stay tuned as we come back to Nehemiah’s God’s sized dreams.
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. 3For 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.
We have completed a God sized dream with the Place. A large number of people over a long period of time planned and contributed to make it all come together. Some very smart people thought it wouldn’t be enough, and in a way, they were right. There was one missing element, God. It’s time to start thinking, dreaming, and discerning again. What can we do to leverage this and all our resources of time, talent, gifts, expertise, and money, in other words, our treasure, into something that glorifies, or honors, God and helps our community?
What is our next “What If?”
Everything starts with “if.” One little “if” can change everything. One little “if” can change anything.
On August 15, 1987, Howard Shultz had a “what if” moment. He was an entrepreneur with the chance to buy a small chain of coffee houses with a strange name for $3.8 million. When we hear the name “Starbuck’s”, it seems like a simple decision, but it was a risk. In his memoir, he talks about making the decision. He said, “This is my moment. If I don’t seize the opportunity, if I don’t step out of my comfort zone and risk it all, if I let too much time tick on, my moment will pass. I knew that if I didn’t take advantage of this opportunity, I would replay it in my mind for my whole life wondering ‘what if?’”
We heard about Nehemiah’s “what if” moment. What if I ask the king about going to Jerusalem and rebuilding the wall? There is an “if” in our theme verse for this series, in Romans 8:31, “If God is for us, who can be against us?”
What is going to be our next “What If?”
As we consider what we are going to do next over the next several weeks, we will be looking at several different “if’s”: “If only” regrets, “As if” faith, “What if” dreams, and “No if’s, and’s, or but’s about it” courage.
Everything begins with an “if.” Think about, the light bulb, cars, the telephone, medical discoveries, airplanes, computers, the internet. All of them began with an “if,” every innovation, every achievement, every dream, every break through.
There are 1784 “if’s” in the Bible. Most of them precede God’s promises. One little “if” can change anything and everything.
The whole chapter of Romans 8 is pretty amazing. Theologian John Piper calls it the greatest chapter of the Bible. For short he calls it “The Great 8.” We’ll be focusing on it for the next three weeks. You could read it once a week or even once a day.
It starts out with what I think is one of the most comforting verses in Scripture in verse 1, “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” And it has a storybook ending, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom 8:38-39)
In the middle is the hinge that can give us the confidence to go after those God sized dreams. Those things that can make all the difference whether it touches one life or thousands. It is the theme verse for this series, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rom 8:31b). It changes everything.
If Only Regrets
If we have any doubts, it can make us afraid to move. Later, we can say to ourselves, What could it have been like If only I had tried.
In 1888, Alfred Nobel had a rare opportunity to read his own obituary. It was his brother Ludwig Nobel that had died, but a Paris newspaper printed Alfred’s obituary by mistake. Alfred was a brilliant inventor with 355 patents to his name. His most successful was the explosive nitroglycerin, which could be used in the stable form of dynamite. It could be used to make canals, make tunnels for trains, build dams for power, but it was also used for violent purposes as a weapon. This caused the Paris newspaper to dub him “the merchant of death.” They said that he made it possible to kill more people more quickly than anyone in history.
Alfred Nobel had the opportunity to see what his legacy would be if he did nothing. He decided to rewrite that legacy. He changed his will to leave his $9 million fortune to create the Nobel Prize, which honors scientific innovation of many kinds, and of course, the most prestigious honor is the Peace Prize. Nobel leveraged his “if only” to his “what if,” and God can do that for us.
Opportunities that we leave on the table become our “if only” regrets. God can leverage our “if only’s” into our “what if’s” if we let him.
A group of people in their 90s were asked the question, “If you had your life to do over again, what would you do differently?” The average answers were : Risk more, Reflect more, and Do more that would live on after they died. What would you do differently, and why aren’t you doing it?
Jeremiah tells the account of a Pharaoh in Egypt at the time of the beginning of the Babylonian Exile. (Jeremiah went to Egypt during this time.) Pharaoh was the most powerful person in the most powerful country in the Western world, but he missed his “what if” moment. Jeremiah called him “King Bombastic.” I didn’t know what “bombastic” meant, so I had to look it up. In case there’s anyone out there that may be in a similar situation, “bombastic” means, “high-sounding but with little meaning; inflated.” (Google, accessed 09/03/2016) Jeremiah doesn’t say what opportunities he squandered, but he took his “if only” regrets to the tomb.
According to a study by Tom Gilovich and Vickie Medvat, our greatest regrets won’t be the things we did, but the things we didn’t do. In the short term, we regret actions, but in the long term we regret inaction, by a margin of 68 percent.
We have to remember that inaction is a form of action. Deciding to do nothing has an effect. It’s like the difference between sins of commission verses sins of omission. Sins of commission are the things we do, the mistakes we make, lying, cheating, stealing, and so on. Sins of omission are the things we fail to do like feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, helping our neighbor. We tend to focus more on commission than omission. Doing nothing, does nothing to bring forth the kingdom of God. It’s those sins of omission that we will regret most, when we had a change to do something for the good, but we didn’t.
Most of us can think of times when we didn’t listen to that still small voice that was urging us to do something. It can make us feel bad or guilty that we didn’t do something when we had a chance. The good news is that The Great 8, Romans Chapter 8, begins with one of the most life changing phrases in Scripture, “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus” (8:1). Your sin is forgiven and forgotten by God. It can be much harder to do this for ourselves.
We have to understand the difference between “conviction” and “condemnation.” Conviction is feeling guilty about unconfessed sin. Condemnation is feeling guilty over confessed sin, so condemnation is something we are free from when we confess our sins. Conviction is God telling us when we do something wrong, or failing to do something we should. If we don’t acknowledge the convicting voice, we won’t hear his comforting voice or his guiding voice. If we don’t listen to something the Holy Spirit has to say, it’s hard to hear anything the Holy Spirit has to say. We have to tune into that voice.
We have to tune out the condemning voice of the enemy. All it does is discourage and disorient us. It is the voice in your head that keeps reminding you about what God has forgiven and forgotten. When you hear it, turn to Romans 8:1, “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.”
It’s those nagging doubts and reminders of mistakes from the past that can keep us from trying those new ideas, following those new dreams. That inaction is what can cause us to have those “if only” regrets.
Christ paid for those mistakes on the cross. Once we confess them, we get to leave them there at the cross, and move into new life. The moving forward is so important. It’s easy to stay stuck at the cross, thankful for the grace we receive for the forgiveness of sins, but Christ is no longer there. The cross is just as vacant as the tomb.
When we repent and move forward, God leverages our “if only” regrets into “what if” moments, just like Alfred Nobel was able to do. We may know that he invented dynamite, but that is not how his is remembered. Alfred Nobel is remembered through the Nobel Prize.
As we look forward in the coming weeks, we need to be looking for “what if” possibilities, so that we aren’t left with “if only” regrets. What are we going to do to be relevant in our community? What are going to be to make a difference, so that it matters whether our doors are open or not? How are we going to show God’s love to people in need? How are we going to help them see how the Holy Spirit is working in their lives and the gifts they already have? Working as the hands and feet of Jesus, how are we, the church, going to bring forth the kingdom of God, together?
Glory to God!
Next week, we will be looking at “as if” faith and touching on “what if” dreams.