We have an awesome God who has unbelievable blessings for us and yet many of us live as what I call spiritual paupers.
II Corinthians 1:15-22
I suppose the greatest joy that I have as a pastor is watching people grow and reach their potential. Recently, at a minister's conference, I was asked what brought me great joy. It's watching you grow and develop. It's watching you become everything that God created you to become.
Now, I'm convinced that you and I, as Christians, live beneath our privileges. We have an awesome God who has unbelievable blessings for us and yet many of us live as what I call spiritual paupers. I have only one goal for these next three months. Throughout the summer, I'm going to talk to you about a covenant relationship, a partnership that God wants to enter in with every one of his children. It's a marvelous relationship, and when you and I not only understand it but agree to get into it, we begin to grow spiritually and God begins to bless us in ways that we have never been blessed before.
I'm convinced that every one of you desires, more than anything else, to grow spiritually and to be the best man or woman you can possibly be for God. Amen? That is a fact of life. If I know Skyline at all, I know that you want to be the best you can be for the glory of God. We're going to talk about it. We're going to talk about the incredible promises that God has for us. And we're going to talk about why you and I don't enter into this covenant relationship and therefore, we live way beneath the privileges God has for us.
Now, we've all been disappointed. We all know what it's like to have somebody promise us something and not come through. And we all know what it's like to have high expectations and have somebody, in their own humanity, fail and we don't get what we thought we would. Whether it's a child or a husband or wife or in a business partnership, we all know what that's like.
Well, interestingly, the Apostle Paul let down a group of Christians in Corinth at one time. He had promised to visit them, but it didn’t work out. Now let's look at that passage. He talks about this covenant relationship that I want to introduce in our series this morning. In II Corinthians 1, Paul is trying to explain why he didn't stop by to visit the people of Corinth. Verse 15, he said, “I was so sure of your pride in us that I'd planned to visit you first of all. In this way you would have the blessing of two visits from me, once on my way to Macedonia and again on my return from there, and then you could send me on to Judea.” Because he couldn't keep this promise, the people of Corinth were accusing Paul of following fleshly wisdom, of being careless with the will of God and with his promises, and making plans to please himself. So in verse 17 he said, “Do you think that I couldn't make up my mind about what to do? Or did I seem like someone who says yes or no simply to please others?” You can tell that the integrity of the Apostle Paul is kind of on the line. The people are saying, “Why did Paul do this? Why did he say he was going to come and he didn't come?”
Now all of a sudden Paul switches to the integrity and the incredibility of God. Look what he says in verse 18, “God can be trusted. And so can I. And when I say that our answer to you has always been yes and never no, this is because Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is always yes and never no. And he is the one that Silas, Timothy and I told you about.”
Now, the next verse is great to underline because now Paul is going to give us the secret of the covenant relationship that God has with us. Look what he says, “Christ says yes to all of God's promises.” Now that's powerful. You see, in the Old Testament, God’s promise was of a covenant relationship. And do you know what happened? Guess who always broke the covenant? We did. God was always faithful. Man was always foolishly disobeying and doing his own thing.
So Paul is saying that man broke the covenant all the time, but it's okay because Jesus came and died for our sins, and he's not going to break it. Now, there's a security about that covenant. Every promise in God's word, our Lord is saying yes and amen to. God makes it possible for us to stand firmly together with Christ. God is also the one who chose us and put his Son in our hearts to show that we belong only to him.
Here is the series objective, what I want to accomplish in these next three months with you:
“Partners With God” Series Objective: To illustrate what it means to be in covenant with God and to experience the promises and the privileges of the partnership with him.
Now, again, as I said in the beginning of this message, we are all used to promises. We live in a PR society, don't we? Commercials promising much, and sometimes producing, sometimes not. And my goodness, politicians. Our society is used to not only hearing promises but also being let down. This is so important that we understand the objective of this series that I have a paragraph that I want to read:
The result is that all the promises of God (the stronger party) are “yes and amen.” We have access to all of our partners' resources! [Now, I want you to underline this next statement because this is the key to the covenant relationship.] The condition is simply that He has all of ours. [In other words, God, through his son, Jesus Christ, gave everything for this relationship. Now, all he asks in return is that we turn around and give everything, too.] Ironically, we (as the weaker party) are the reluctant ones to surrender to this covenant—while God (the stronger partner, who doesn't really even need our resources) has abandoned everything to gain partnership with us.
Now, isn't that ironic? You know, God, who has it all, wants a partnership with you and me, who have nothing. In fact, Jesus said we can do nothing without him. In other words, you and I are a mess. We're helpless. We're hopeless. We're by far the weaker party. That's why Paul said, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” God, the stronger party, says, “I want to join hands and have a partnership with you.” Now, what's really amazing is that you and I, the weaker party, cross our arms and say, “Hey, I'm not sure I want to do that.” We're kind of like the mouse who was crossing a bridge with an elephant. They really shook that bridge, and when they got to the other side, the mouse said to the elephant, “We really shook that bridge, didn't we?” That's the same thing that we've got going with God.
God wants to have a partnership with us, people like the mouse, with absolutely no influence, no effect, no power. Do you know the word, “synergy?” It's used to describe a relationship that is so good that the chemistry is right and both people become better than they ever would have been by themselves. It's a wonderful word. Well, I'm talking about a relationship that creates a lot of synergy, until one plus one doesn't equal two. It's a spiritual partnership and bondedness that you and I tap into that makes us greater than what we could ever be. Peanuts cartoon: Lucy is looking out the window, and it is really raining. In fact, she says, “Look at that rain. It looks like it might be a flood like in the days of Noah.” And Linus says, “Oh, no. In Genesis 9, God gave us a rainbow and promised never to flood the world like that.” Lucy replies, “That's a very comforting thought.” And Linus says, “Sound theology has a way of doing that.” Now, I'm going to give you some real sound theology. It's so good, I don't want you to miss it. If you'll get in your sermon section right now, I have 15 promises of God.
God promises to:
1. Hear our prayers. (Isaiah 65:24)
2. Preserve the church in the midst of persecution. (Matthew 16:18)
3. Reward us for being faithful. (Matthew 16:27)
4. Never to withdraw His presence. (Matthew 28:20)
5. Receive and help those who come to Him. (John 6:37)
6. Send his son, Jesus Christ, back to earth some day. (John 14:3)
7. Never leave us comfortless. (John 14:18)
8. Turn our tragedies into triumphs. (Romans 8:28)
In fact, last night I was on the phone talking to Mom and Dad. Their 50th anniversary is coming up this summer, and one of the special things Margaret and I are planning for them is a special book. So I was interviewing them and asking a bunch of questions. One thing I asked was their favorite scripture verse. Mom immediately said Romans 8:28, “All things work together for good for those who love God.” Oh, what a great verse.
9. Never to allow our sufferings and heartaches to become unbearable. (I Corinthians 10:13)
10. Never to give up on us when we make mistakes. (Philippians 1:6) Aren't you glad for that one.
11. Give us qualities and abilities to accomplish his will. (Philippians 2:13)
12. Provide for all our physical and spiritual needs. (Philippians 4:18)
13. Give wisdom and guidance to those who seek them. (James 1:5)
14. Forgive us our sins when we confess them. (I John 1:9)
15. Someday put an end to all evil and death. (Revelations 21:4)
Now folks, these are just 15 of God’s promises. As we read them, we all had a feeling of comfort and security. We all had a feeling like God is good and in control. Now I've got to ask you a question. With all those marvelous promises in God's word,
Why do Christians live beneath their privileges?
I suppose the most amazing thing to me is that children of God, who have this incredible opportunity for an unbelievable partnership, walk around as if we have no God, no protector, no one to take us through this horrible life. I'm amazed at how many Christians just barely squeak by.
Good News—God is not the problem.
And you say, “Wait a minute, I knew that.” No, you didn't. Most people think, “Oh, God if you could just come through today, I won't ask you for anything else. If you could just answer this one prayer.” It's as if God is saying, “I hope I can, I hope I can. I’ll do my best. I’ll give it my best shot.” Mellow out. God's okay. The problem is not God's ability to take care of all of these promises; the issue is you and me.
You see, in Deuteronomy, the thing that impressed me was that God wanted the nation of Israel to be the people of God, so he made a covenant with them. He said, “I'm going to bless you, take care of you, protect you, meet all of your needs. All I ask is that you obey me.” This was so important that God wanted it illustrated in the spoken word, in the written word, also visually.” You know what they did. Of the 12 tribes, they put six on one mountain and six on the other mountain, and the priests were in the valley. And the Levites read aloud all the promises that God had for the children of Israel. As the Levites read the promises of God, the people would say amen. Oh, I would have loved to see that. You talk about something that would have given you goose bumps—to listen to all the things God was going to do for the children of Israel. And all those people had to do was stand on the mountain and say amen. In other words,“I buy into that.” What an incredible scene.
You see, God wants to bless you. He is not some cosmic killjoy up in heaven getting his jollies every time you mess up or bump your head. God wants to bless you. He has all kinds of promises for you and he's saying, “If you'll just enter this partnership with me it's amazing what I'll do with you.” Now, as I studied this covenant relationship, there were three reasons why God wanted them to enter into this relationship:
Reasons to enter into this covenant relationship with God: Deuteronomy 29:10-29
1. That he may establish you. vv. 10-13
God wanted this relationship so the people would be established. The children of Israel were so flighty, so in and out, up and down, good and bad, hot and cold. And God said, “No, no. I'm tired of this. I want to get you on solid rock. I want to establish you.” Like the hymn writer said, “On Christ, the Solid Rock, I stand. All other ground is sinking sand.” Look what he said in verse 13, “This covenant was so that He may establish you today as people for himself.”
2. For the sake of others. vv. 14-29
He wanted them to enter into this promised partnership, not only for their own sake, but for the sake of their children and their neighbors. Look what it says in verse 14, “I make this covenant and this oath not with you alone,...” No, this is more than just an individual covenant. “... but with him that stands here with us today...” In other words, those around you.“... as well as with him who is not here with us today.” In other words, he said, “I want to not only bless you and your neighbors, but also your kids and grandkids. If you will come under this covenant relationship, I'll be a blessing to not only you but to the next generation.”
By the way, I believe that God has blessed the United States because we have been living off the blessings of those who were before us and the heritage of our country. I believe that everything we have today is, basically, IOU’s that we've been collecting. That’s the good news. The bad news is that we're almost out. We've just been living off of the past and collecting it.
Anyway, God said blessed them individually. He blessed their neighbors and the next generation. And thirdly, blessed them as a nation.” Wow, how God blessed them as a nation. Do you realize how many people were out in the wilderness waiting to enter the Promised Land? Do you realize that there were 2 million out there? That's almost the size of San Diego County. Two million people wandering around in the wilderness with Moses—what a great leader he was—almost all of them complaining.
God is so faithful in his blessings. Do you know what it's like to feed 2 million people in the wilderness? Do you realize that if you would add up just the food, it would take 4,500 tons of manna a day to feed 2 million people. To put that in a way that we can understand, that means 10 trains with 30 cars each, loaded up with manna every day. We would say that’s impossible. But God says, “That's nothing; I'll take care of you. All I ask is for you to be obedient.” I love the story about the little kid who was kneeling by his bedside, praying, “Dear God, bless Momma and Daddy and Grandma. And God, take care of yourself, because if anything happens to you, we're all sunk.”
The good news is God will fulfill all of the promises. Now, here's the bad news.
As Christians, we live beneath our privileges because:
1. We fail to believe and claim God's promises.
Now, we all believe it, but we just don't believe it. You understand? I mean when I was taking you through the promises of God, every one of you was just basking in that and saying, “Amen. Oh, yeah, that's wonderful.” We kind of say, “Yeah, I think he's done that in the past.” You know, we're good at believing history, but we're poor at believing current events. In other words, it's kind of like we know God can do anything, until we come to something in our life where we really need God. Then we think God can do almost anything. When I was a kid we learned this chorus:
"Every promise in the Book is mine.
Every chapter, every verse, every line.
And I'm living in His love divine.
Every promise in the Book is mine.”
How many of you learned that when you were a kid? About 10 of you. Such an illiterate congregation. I have to pull you along all the time.
Remember John Bunyan and Pilgrim's Progress, when Christian was locked deep down in the dungeon of giant despair, so he couldn't get out? Then he remembered that he had on his keyring the key that said, “Promise.” He realized that key would open any door in the dungeon, and he could walk out into the sunlight. All he had to do was apply the promise to his life. John Bunyan was saying that many Christians are down deep in the dungeon, locked up in darkness and dampness. We’re only there for one reason. We've got the key: the promises of God. All we have to do is to apply the key and walk out.
You know what, we'll apply it for somebody else, but we don't always want to apply it for ourselves. I told you last week that Elizabeth went to New York City with the youth for an evangelism trip. I explained to you that we were doing the soul‑winning plan together. I was the sinner, and she was winning me to the Lord. I'd get saved and then I'd backslide and then get saved, and I got saved a dozen times last week. Anyway, the best part of the plan for her was what I call the “pen” part. You know, you’ve got to believe, but then you also have to receive Christ. I said, “Elizabeth, when you get to this point, here's what you do. Let me illustrate. I'm going to give you a pen. You believe that?” “Yes Daddy, I believe that.” “But you don't have it, do you?” “No, but I believe it.” “Why don't you have it?” “Well, I haven't taken it.” When does it become yours? When you believe? No, when you receive. The key wasn't believing I’d give you the pen. The key was receiving it, taking it for yourself. My 15-year-old daughter’s eyes lit up when she understood the difference. You don't get saved when you believe that Jesus Christ died for your sins; you get saved when you apply it personally and receive Jesus into your life. That's true about every promise.
This is a cute Peanuts cartoon. Maybe you saw this the other day. Linus is talking to Snoopy, who’s laying on his back on top of the doghouse. Linus says, “From the 20th chapter of the 30th book of Proverbs, it says, “Love not sleep lest thou come to poverty.” Next frame Snoopy is sitting up on top of the doghouse. Then the last frame, Snoopy is laying back down, and he's saying to himself, “I stayed awake all day yesterday, and I was still poor.”
I know all kind of Christians who can quote verses, but they've never learned how to apply them and receive them in their life. And because of that, they are Bible quoting machines, living way beneath the promises that God has for them.
2. We fail to meet the conditions of God's promises. (I John 3:22)
God has some conditions in his promises and that's what this series is all about: learning how to meet the conditions God has for us. Look at the statement I have,
God promises many things to us only if we are obedient to His commandments.
Oswald Chambers said in his book, Run Today's Race,
“Never try to explain God until you've obeyed him. The only bit of God that we understand is the bit that we have obeyed.” - Oswald Chambers, Run Today’s Race
What a powerful statement. What's the key to the Christian life? Very simple. Obedience to God. You see, God already has the promises. Now, he's waiting for us to enter this covenant relationship with him. Let me just show you what I mean.
Turn to Philippians 4:6. This is a prime example of the promises of God. Look what he says: “Don't worry about anything.” Jump down to verse 7. “... and God will bless you and give you a peace that no one can completely understand. And this peace will control the way you think and the way you feel.” But uh-oh, we forgot the middle part. Watch the conditions. “But before you go on, pray about everything.” In other words, have a prayerful heart. “...and with thankful hearts, offer up your prayers and requests to God.” Then and only then, only when we think and pray right, because we belong to Christ Jesus, “God will bless you” You see our part? In fact, you see in my series, “Partnership With God,” each lesson starts with, “Together...” It's always going to be together. “Together ... I Can Sense Peace.” “Together ... I Can Bless Others.” “Together ... I Can Receive Blessings.” “ Together ... I Can Feel Secure.” “Together ... I Can Find God.” “Together ... I Can Experience Intimacy.” “Together ... I Can Receive Guidance.” All of this is based on the partnerships that we have with God.
In your bulletin, you have a card. Would you pull that out for me please?
“Partnership With God”
D. L. Moody said, “If God is your partner, make your plans big.” Realizing God's desire to enter a covenant relationship with me; and Realizing without Him I can do nothing of eternal significance; and Realizing that my obedience to Him is the key to this relationship;
I choose to obey God's promises and walk in partnership with Him.
In a moment I'm going to ask you to sign your name and carry this card in your Bible for the next eleven weeks, as I teach this series. Just use it as a bookmark. Every week I'll take you back to it, to see the incredible things God's ready to do for you if you enter into this relationship.
Before you do that, let me give you a 1-day-old illustration. As you know, Margaret and I have a 13-year-old son named Joel Porter. He's the joy of my life; he's also the challenge of my life. Yesterday was not a good day for Joel Porter. There were a couple of things that he just didn't obey quick enough and an attitude issue. And when he doesn't come through, he loses privileges. In fact, yesterday at 6 o'clock he went to bed. Major privileges. I asked him to think about it for 30 minutes, and then about 30 minutes later I came in, laid across the bed and said, “Let's talk about today. First of all, you do understand that your behavior determines what's going to happen in your life? What you sow is what you reap. You do good things, Joel, and good things happen. Bad things, bad things happen.” With Joel Porter you really have to hold the line. That's not easy for me. I tend to be a sucker. But with Joel Porter you've got to hold the line because when Joel Porter finds that you're a sucker, he'll ride you all the way home.
So I said, “Joel, let's switch roles for a moment. Let's say you're the father and I'm the son. Because there's going to be a day when you're the father, and you'll be laying across your son's bed with the same kind of problem. If you were the father, would you do it this way?” He thought about it and said, “Yeah, you're right, Dad. I should pay for it when I don't do right.” We're trying to teach him responsibility, and that what you put into life is basically what you get out of life. I'll tell you what, it would be a good lesson for all of our society today, wouldn't it? It's amazing how many rights our society wants without any responsibility. We're going to hell fast because everybody's got their hand out expecting something and haven't given anything for it.
Anyway, he agreed that if he was Dad, he'd do it the same way. And I said, “Well, if I were you Joel Porter, I would conclude that every day I have to do right, because every day I don't do right, I have to pay for it. And every day I do right, I get blessings for it.” And we agreed. Then I had him pray for me to be a better father. And I prayed for him as a son. We had a good time.
Now, folks, it's very simple. I was doing with Joel Porter what God's doing with us. You see, as a dad, I want to provide blessings for my son. Remember when your dad used to tell you when he'd discipline you that it hurt him worse than it hurt you? Guess what. It hurts. As I laid across that bed, I thought, “Boy, wouldn’t I like to be outside shooting hoops with Joel right now? I can't do it because Joel Porter won't let me, because he's making the wrong choices.” You see, that's the way it is with God. God wants to bless you and me. But then you and I play a Joel Porter on God. We do our own thing. We disobey, we knowingly sin. And God can't bless us. Not because God's not God, but because we make wrong decisions.
Now, that's the lesson. For the next 10 weeks we're going to open up the promises of God, and God's going to say, “It's yours. All you've got to do is obey me.” Many of you will, some of you won't. Those that won't will say, “Why doesn't God bless me?” I can tell you why. He doesn't bless you because you haven't tapped into all he has for you.
Okay. Have you got that card? I want you to sign it if you're ready to become a partner with God. Remember this: if you don't sign it, God's not responsible for you, and neither am I. You can have as much of God as you want to, amen?