Staying committed!

This evening, I'm going to start by sharing a little about myself....

I was brought up in a good Christian family, with parents who loved The Lord, while also loving us 3 kids with an undeniable love.

As long as I can remember, my parents were always heavily involved in our local church. My mum and dad both played integral parts in the leadership, dad frequently preached, was the church secretary and then became an elder! My mum taught Sunday School, led worship, was the Church organist and they were both involved in numerous other activities. We went to Church twice every Sunday and our home was continually filled with people from our church coming to meetings and small groups. We were entrenched with a solid Church life.

Our parents also lived good honest lives; they didn't swear, didn't lie, didn't drink alcohol, didn't smoke, didn't do drugs, didn't cheat on each other and didn't even argue with each other. They made sure we didn't miss the things we were supposed to go too and they also made sure we didn't arrive late to anything either. My parents have remained this way to this very day.

They had taught us and showed us kids how to be good Christian members of society; they showed us and taught us what we should and shouldn't do, and for the most part, we all towed the line!

Yet; as much as I was and am honoured to have good parents and a somewhat stress-free upbringing, my view of God slowly became warped. I starting viewing Him as Someone who took record of all my wrongs, maybe like taking a daily tally of when I prayed or read my bible, and if I wasn't consistent, I was convinced that God was getting madder at me and my opportunity to enter Heaven was quickly vanishing.

When I was in my teens, I sunk into the deepest and darkest period of my life; I fell into an ugly depression. I was very suicidal. I was filled with hate! I didn't read the Bible or pray. I gave up on God and would cus Him out! Internally, I questioned all I'd grown up to believe and I knew I was separating myself further and further from God. I was plagued by horrible guilt, because I was convinced I wasn't meeting God's expectations. I was convinced, God was glaring down at me and was bitterly disappointed at me!

So how did I come to feel this way? Basically, I thought I wasn't reading my bible enough, praying enough, I was listening to the wrong music and having the wrong thoughts! I was afraid, I thought God just wanted to punish me and cast me into the fiery pits of hell.

Yet, into this negativity, the miraculous happened: God entered into my darkness and met me! It wasn't through Church, it wasn't through reading my bible, but He revealed Himself through an unlikely and unexpected means! During that time I had started listening to heavy metal and had become a huge fan of Metallica. When I felt really down and depressed, I would loudly listen to the songs "One" and "To Live is To Die!" over and over and over again. As I listened, I would scream out the lyrics "oh please God help me!", "oh please God wake me!" and "cannot the Kingdom of Salvation take me home?"

God heard me and met me in my desperation, and things started changing. For the first time in my life I truly started praying from my heart! It was also the first time in my life that I started seeing God in different light! For the first time in my life, I realized I really needed Him and I started to understand what the word grace means. He wasn't Someone who was invading my freedom, but the God who is fill of Love, Forgiveness and Mercy. I started seeing God as Someone who desires a relationship with me, and not as a strict overlord, who was marking down all my mistakes, so one day He could hold me accountable and judge me!

Why do I mention this word Grace?
Why am I dwelling on this mysterious word, Grace?

I'm going to be honest, I don't have a secret formula in staying consistent in the Word or in prayer! I still struggle with consistency myself; I always have and probably always will! I've discovered, even when I try my hardest, I still drift, I still ebb and flow, I keep bouncing up and down like a yo-yo. And despite all my efforts: people and things are going to keep on distracting me, taking me away from the very things I feel God wants me to do. 

Yet, I learned a very important lesson when God revealed Himself in the depths of my depression; all our efforts would amount to nothing if it wasn't for the Grace of God and the fact that He chooses to meet us and reveal Himself to us in unexpected places and at unexpected times.

As I look at the disciples of Jesus, I see a bunch of guys who didn't find consistency easy either; they went through their own massive ebbs and flows. Time and time again, they failed Jesus big time! They were unreliable! They didn't get it! They doubted things. They argued together about who would be the greatest in His Kingdom and who deserved seats of honor. These disciples were tainted by mistake after mistake after mistake.

Their mistakes, shortcomings and failures peaked just before Jesus was crucified; He went into the Garden to pray, and He instructed His 3 closest disciples to do one thing: "stay alert and pray". Jesus was in the deepest and darkest period of His life, so much so, the intensity of this time caused Him to sweat drops of blood. And what did these disciples do? They slept! Yes; they slept! What's worse, Jesus returned to find them asleep 3 times! And then to make matters even worse, when the guards came to take him away to be crucified, the disciples fled and Peter ended up denying Him 3 times!

This is what I want to emphasize; during the time Jesus wanted His disciples to stand firm and have His back, they all failed Him terribly! All Jesus wanted them to do was to stick by Him, stay alert and pray, but what did they do? they fell asleep, they denied him and hid!

So how did Jesus respond? When He rose from the dead, He went to meet them. He didn't say "screw you all!". Instead, He forgave them. He continued to teach them and shower them with Love they didn't deserve. In fact, even beyond that, He used their failings, shortcomings and mistakes for their good. He didn't hold these things against them; no, Jesus continued to use these men, who had bounced up and down like yo-yos, to be the new pillars and leaders of His revolutionary and radical Kingdom.

This is a picture of Grace: Jesus turned their failings, into pictures of triumph and victory! 

This should give us hope, because we're no different! We don't understand. We run away and hide, we sleep when we should be awake! We get distracted! Yet, despite all our constant shortcomings, failures and mistakes, God keeps showering us with His grace and meeting us in places and at times that are unexpected.

This is the Grace of God in action! We must make the choice to accept it and live in it! Romans 8:1 tells us an important truth; "therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." This verse is telling us what the disciples had to learn themselves, even though they screwed things up and made some horrible mistakes, God didn't allow their failures to separate them from Him! Like the disciples, we also have to cling onto this promise, which tells us a beautiful truth; that "there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus!"

In fact, God doesn't just forgive us, He uses our missteps and mistakes for our good and the good of His Kingdom. When we fail, when we make mistakes, when we fall, God forgives us and creates new opportunities. He never leaves us or forsakes us! Now that's the amazing Grace of our Loving God!

The truth is; our whole lives are going to be tainted by our countless mistakes, shortcomings and failures, and oftentimes our efforts will seem futile. I know that's true with me! But during these times, we have to remember, God is always true to His promises. His grace, His unmerited favor, is going to be right there, because we know we have a God who's not looking to condemn us, but we have a God who loves us, forgives us, will never leave us or forsake us and will give us multiple chances.

Just like his disciples, we know we have a God who's got our backs. And just like His disciples, this group of men who made countless mistakes, we need to cling onto God's Grace and Love, because these guys stayed committed to Him until the very end!

When we realize we have a God who is committed to us, we're more likely to stay committed to Him.

When we look and realize that we've been touched by His grace, we're more likely to stay committed to Him!

When we truly Love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, while also loving our neighbors as ourselves, we're more likely to stay committed to Him: the One who loves us beyond whatever words I can muster!

I want to close by reading the encouraging words at the end of Romans chapter 8. Words that remind us of God's grace and His desire to have a relationship with each and every of us. Words that show us the power and might of God's Grace, God's unmerited favor, for each and every one of us....

But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:37-39 NASB)

 A brief summary of why I wrote this: There's a ministry on the West-side of Chicago called Mission:USA; every Tuesday night they have a Church service called The BRIDGE. Their services are open to everybody, but especially those who find it hard to gel in their local congregations! Or to put into cruder terms; a lot of these men and women are ex-offenders, homeless and low-income folk who have felt ostracized and rejected by many churches, so their mission is to be a bridge between prison, the streets and the Church. The Bridge helps these wonderful men and women find churches that will welcome them with open arms.....  
And isn't this exactly what the Gospel and the "Kingdom of God" is all about? 

Every Tuesday night, The Bridge has a host team from a Church, who greet the guests and provide a meal. The guests anonymously submit questions about their "walk of faith", and staff from The Bridge pick out a relevant question.Meanwhile, they have invited 3 pastors from 3 different churches to come and give a 10 minute sermon each about this specific question or topic. In my humble opinion, this is a great concept and ministry, who's staff is very loving, compassionate and supportive to the "least of these".

This was a sermon preached on 3/18/14, in response to this question; 
“staying committed”

 I really want to be committed in what I do. I try to do my best to stay in the Word and say my prayers. But it seems like I can’t stay very committed for very long. There’s always something or someone coming along and the next thing I know I’m falling. I’m not trying to make excuses, I know it’s my own fault, I just don’t know how other people do it. Does this get easier? Is God mad at my “yo-yo act”? What can I do to make sure that I stay true no matter what?

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