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Devoted to Christ Part 1

Stonebrook Community Church https://www.stonebrook.org

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Stonebrook Pillars:  Devoted to Christ—Part I

March Madness has begun [painfully so for us Cyclone fans], and the overarching purpose is to find out who is the #1 team in college athletics in the United States.

But in the end, the limits of #1 are quite narrow.  That winning team is #1 only in amateur basketball at universities in this country.  Not around the world.  Not professional.

And only in basketball.  Not in football.  Not in medicine or parenting or engineering or cooking.

There are #1’s in hundreds of areas in life.  #1 fast food restaurant.  #1 soft drink.   #1 financial investment company.  #1 university in engineering.

When a person or a company or university claims to be #1, they typically say it for a specific reason.

They want you to glory in them. Praise them.

They want your attention and affection.  And money.

They want some sort of relationship with you.

They want you to be devoted to them, and not to the competition. 

All such #1’s are quite limited.

But there is an ultimate #1.  Someone who is #1 in the universe.  He does not need to compete to get that designation.  He doesn’t need to adapt or outplay the competition.  He doesn’t need to work hard to maintain the #1 slot.    He just is the greatest.  His name is the Lord God.  Jehovah. 

Moses wrote these words just after the Lord delivered the nation of Israel from cruel slavery in Egypt:

Exodus 15:11 ESVWho is like you, O Lord, among the gods?  Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?

Where else can we go?  Where can we look?  Who can we find that could possibly compete with the Lord in all his majesty, holiness, glory, and wonder?  Can you find anyone or anything like him?  Can you?

The Lord our God, the Creator of heaven and earth, is #1.  No one can compare to him.

And the magnificent, even astonishing thing, is that he calls us—he beckons us, implores us— to be in relationship with him.

To draw close.  To love.  To trust.

He longs to give his creatures, made in his image, life forever and ever and ever with him….to share in his glory and majesty and wonder.  All of this enabled through the work of his Son, Jesus. 

We have a purpose—THE purpose— in him.  He is everything.  He is not an add-on.  If we truly see him as he is, we will respond in love, fear, obedience, and more. 

We just finished a 7-week series on the Apostle John’s 3 letters to some churches.

Today we are beginning a series on Stonebrook’s core values, which we call our “PILLARS.” 

Today and next week, our theme is our first and most important Pillar:  Being devoted to Jesus Christ.  A devotion and loyalty and love and obedience where he is clearly and supremely the #1 Person in our lives.

Overview of all our Pillars

See the handout in your bulletin.

In these seven listed in your handout, we have articulated these different pieces of our DNA.   Our DNA is who we are.  And to a large extent, who we want to be.  Call these our core values, core ideology.

These seven have shaped how we see and teach the Christian life over the years. As a church, our desire is to be Christians who are:

  1. Devoted to Christ—this is our topic this morning.
  2. Biblically minded—to have God’s Word guide us in all our thinking.
  3. Walking in godliness—true faith in Christ looks like something.  We see true faith evidenced in our character and our conduct.

These first three relate more to our relationship with and knowledge of God.

These next two relate to those people we are closest to.

  • Strengthening families—the family is the core unit of God’s creation, and we want to keep strengthening our marriages and parenting
  • Devoted to the fellowship—the first century church in Acts had a remarkable devotion to and love for each other that we want to emulate

The last two relate more to the world outside the walls of our homes and the walls of this building.

  • Serving the city—God calls his people to gather like we are this morning.  But when we leave here, we are to go out into our world and bring good to them.  Helping hurting people, meeting needs of the poor and oppressed, working at our jobs with Jesus as our Boss.
  • Proclaiming the gospel—Romans 10 says that faith—true faith in Jesus—comes only after we hear the truth of Jesus.  We must act and serve, but we also must speak.  With love and boldness. 

Last summer as we pastors were preparing for this ministry year, these 7 Pillars were in the center of our minds.

We want to emphasize these and strengthen these in our lives.  And we know that as pastors we need to personally seek God to make them more a part of our own lives before we ask all of you to do that.

So we are going to spend 2 weeks on each of these Pillars.  We will press Pause on the series from Easter to Mother’s Day, then after that, we will press Resume.

Devoted to Christ

This morning, our focus is being DEVOTED to JESUS CHRIST.

I am going to share my heart with you this morning.  What I will share is not theoretical.  It’s not something that I have simply read in the Bible as an academic exercise.

I am going to share my heart….My pursuit of being devoted to Christ.  And this pursuit in the past two months or so has been difficult.  Almost every day these past two months have had at least periods in the day where my heart has felt cold.

In my 40 years of following Jesus, I’ve had peaks in my journey with God, and I’ve had valleys.

With my engineering background, I think of everything in terms of graphs.  (My wife doesn’t relate to graphs at all, but she likes me anyway.)

We wish life looked like this first graph.  That’s theory.  Straight upward.  Easy.  We’re growing and learning and loving, and it’s easy and upward.

But in reality, life for me (and I suspect for all of you) looks more like this graph.  It’s messy.  And difficult.  Beautiful times and dark times.  Ups and downs. 

And sometimes the downs are deep valleys.   We wonder what is wrong with us.  It can feel like we’re losing.  We’re going backwards.

Yet as time goes on, we find the Lord is faithful.  He strengthens us, teaches us, gives us grace, shows us more of himself.  And we grow. 

It’s like in Psalm 23.

Psalm 23:4 ESVEven though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me…”

So in these past two months, my heart has felt more like a valley than a peak.  In my pride, I wish I could say I’m always at a peak.  But that would be dishonest.

But in spite of the valley, God has been working in my heart.  I have been learning in the struggles.  I have been drawing nearer to the Lord.

So again, I want to be real with you this morning.  And virtually everything I am going to share are powerful lessons I have been learning my entire 40 years of walking with Jesus, and even more in the past two months.

Created By Him and For Him

So with our theme of Devotion to Jesus, I want to ask an important question: 

Why should we make Jesus #1? 

Because we have been created by him and for him.

Colossians 1:16 ESV “For by him [Jesus Christ] all things were created, in heaven and on earth… all things were created through him and for him.”

This verse has been on my mind for years.  And especially in the past few months.

The very reason I am put on earth….and the very reason YOU are on this earth…. is for the purposes of your Creator, Jesus Christ. 

And I’ve been spending much time reading the psalms the past two months, and this has been one very helpful passage: 

Psalm 100:1–3 ESVMake a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!  Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing!  Know that the Lord, he is God!  It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.”

He is the very reason for our existence.  Catch this:  You are alive and on this planet for one reason:  God made you and wants you to be his.   And we are to serve him with gladness.  Sing before him.  Know him better.  Why?  We belong to him.  He made us.  We are his. 

Stop and reflect on this.  You are here for a very clear purpose.  You are not here first and foremost for other purposes:  family, career, etc.  Such things are subsets to the higher purpose. 

As a 19-year old at Iowa State, I believed in Jesus and was born again.  I was given life—eternal life—by the Creator.  I learned soon afterwards from sermons based on the Bible that I had a purpose in life.  Prior to this, I don’t know if I had even asked the question, Why am I here?  But I started to consider that.  And the Bible gave me very clear answers. 

This point is so foundational that if we skip over this, our lives will never be well-anchored.

We have to know—and deepen in this knowledge—that God has made us.  And he has made us to live for him. 

Let me say this next statement with boldness:  Not having Jesus #1 is idolatry. 

This is the logical conclusion of what I have said so far.

Another meaningful verse this month is again from Psalms.

Psalm 16:4 ESVThe sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply; their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out or take their names on my lips.

The Lord promises that if we run after other gods—if other things and idols are #1 in our lives, even good things like family and jobs—the sorrows in our lives will only increase.

We simply are not designed for anything else on the throne of our hearts except our Creator. 

All that I have just said about God as Creator presupposes that we actually believe this:

  • That God truly is the Creator of the heavens and the earth.
  • That he DID make us in the image of God.
  • That we would not exist if he did not want us to exist. 
  • That no person on the planet is an accident.  Psalm 139 says the Lord formed us in our mother’s womb. 
  • That we are here because God wants us here.

If we don’t believe these things, then we have to stop everything else and begin there.  We have to wrestle with God.  We have to wrestle with the Scriptures.

Let’s be honest with ourselves and each other.  Do we actually believe what I just spoke about from the Scriptures, that we have been created by him and for him?  Do we actually believe this?

If it is true, yet it does not impact the course of our lives, then we’re living a lie.

If it is true, and we believe it, then everything changes.  We suddenly have meaning and purpose.

Because we are created BY him and FOR him, we are to be devoted to the Lord, for this is the very reason for our existence.

Anything less is not merely wrong or inappropriate.  It is living a lie. 

Saved By Him and For Him

Why else should we make Jesus #1? 

Because we have been saved by him and for him.

Here is another passage that has profoundly helped me in the past two months.

2 Corinthians 5:14–15 ESV “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died;  and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.

This passage has guided my life for over 35 years.  I call it my Life Passage.  It has been so foundational, that three years ago I had it tattooed on my right arm!  I don’t ever want to forget it.  Maybe when I die and am laying in the coffin, it should be visible. 

Paul is saying a lot here.

One important thing is this:  The only reason we are alive and have eternal life is because Jesus died in our place.

And now that we are alive, how should we live?  What should we live for?

We should STOP living for ourselves.  We did that for years.  Decades.  Instead, we should START living for Jesus.

Without Jesus’ death and resurrected life, we would be dead.   How could we possibly be so selfish and ungrateful and unbelieving that we would continue to live the old way of sin and selfishness that did us no favors, and actually caused death in us?

A self-centered life where self is #1…. is ridiculous.

Several weeks back, it was the morning and I was praying.  And my heart felt cold.  And I was in conversation with the Lord, and I said, “Why should I keep following you?  My heart is so cold, and I wonder if I should keep going.  Is it worth it?  Should I?”  The Spirit brought this passage to my mind.  This re-oriented me. 

God is simply worthy of our very breath. 

And it’s so important to know Paul’s motivation:  the love of Christ.

Paul doesn’t live for Jesus motivated by guilt and shame.  He’s not trying to earn his way to heaven.  Christ’s love compels him.  The love of Jesus motivates him.

All of this presupposes that we actually believe the Gospel story as the NT describes:

  • That God did create us, and we are accountable to him.
  • That God is holy and pure and righteous with a brilliance brighter than the sun in the sky.
  • That God hates sin and has brought a curse on this world, and the final outcome of that curse is being cast into hell.
  • That God has had compassion on his creatures, and went to the utmost extent to rescue them by sending the Eternal, Holy Son of God into the world.
  • That God offered his own Son as a blood sacrifice to save your soul.
  • That he raised this Jesus from the dead, and so crushed the back of death which is mankind’s worst enemy.
  • That his Son is coming to earth again soon to rescue those who have believed in him and to bring severe, eternal judgment on all who have rejected him.

If we don’t believe these things, then we have to begin there.  We have to wrestle with God.  We have to wrestle with the Scriptures.

If it’s true, then if it does NOT impact the course of our lives, then we’re living a lie.

If it IS true, then everything changes.   We suddenly have meaning and purpose.

How is Devotion to Christ Lived Out?

So how do we actually live a life where Jesus Christ is #1, where he is the King of our hearts?

What does such a life look like?

There is much to say here.  And in a sense, this is the message of the entire NT.  So I can give you today only a few thoughts on how to grow in your devotion.  So I want to spend the remainder of our time passing on to you some of the lessons I’ve been learning the past two months.

Learn to walk in daily, prayerful dependence

When life is hard, the temptation is obvious:  we want to quit.  We want to doubt God.  We want to give up.  We try to escape our problems in our own wisdom and strength.  We are proud and think we know better than God does.

I’ve had moments just like this recently. 

But we learn and grow in our trials.  In our difficult days.  And we learn as we strive to walk in dependence on the Lord in prayer.  We seek him, and we keep seeking.

Wednesday morning I was praying in our family room at home.  I was feeling weighed down by numerous pressures of the church, health, and other things.  I wondered how I could make it through, so I was casting my burdens on the Lord, like the psalmist did in Psalm 55.

Psalm 55:22 ESVCast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you…”

Devotion to Jesus Christ our Creator and Savior is not the straight, smooth graph we desire.  Instead, our love for Jesus is tested in the peaks and the valleys of life. 

And we keep seeking.  We continue fighting the fight of faith and keep looking to him.  We search for him.  The search is not always pretty.  Sometimes it seems he is a million miles away, but we seek him.

And that same morning in prayer, the Spirit brought to mind this Scripture in 2 Corinthians.

2 Corinthians 12:8–9 ESVThree times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

His grace is enough.  His power is enough.  He is enough for me.  The Lord calmed my heart that morning

If I had not spent time pouring out my heart to the Lord in prayer that morning, where would I be today?

Would the pressures of life clouded my view—and thus my devotion—to my Savior?  I think so.

Learn— and it is something we need to learn and grow in—learn to walk in daily, prayerful dependence. 

Walk in grace and forgiveness

In the past couple of months, I’ve been learning to remember the grace that God has shown me through his Son.

I have eternal life through Jesus not because I have my act together or because I perform well.

I am born again only because of God’s extraordinary kindness.  Only because of his grace.

Ephesians 2:4–5 ESVBut God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—

You won’t love the Lord as well as he deserves.  You won’t be as devoted to him as completely as you desire.  You will falter and sin.

As the years go by, you will surely walk with him with greater love and consistency.  But you will not walk in perfection.  So we must learn to cling to him even after we falter, walking in his amazing grace and his overwhelming forgiveness.

Hebrews 4:16 ESVLet us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

We will be tempted to pull away from God.  But we are told, “No, instead draw near.  Draw near.  And there you will find a throne of grace where you will receive mercy and find grace to help you in your moment of need.

Multiple times this week, I wondered how I can possibly teach on this subject.  For while my life as a follower of Jesus for 40 years has generally been lived in devotion to Christ, I certainly see my failures and temptations.  My heart is cold, at times, even this week.  But I turned to the Lord’s grace.

You see, the message is ultimately about Jesus; it is not about how perfectly I walk in it.

Even this subject of “Devotion to Christ” is very intimidating to teach on.

For I am not as fervent as I would like.  I’m not as consistent as I would like.

So on this topic of Devotion to and Love for Jesus, I wonder how I can teach on it at all.

So learn to walk in the grace and forgiveness of Christ.

Walk in thanks and praise (even when I don’t feel like it)

Search out the nature of God, and worship him for it.

My wife and I have been learning to focus first and foremost on who God is.  His nature and his deeds.

It’s quite tempting to focus primarily on the trials and problems.  And to get distracted by other attractive but unhelpful things.  So we’ve been learning to give thanks to the Lord for his goodness.  For his power, love, kindness, wisdom.

Psalm 145 has been quite helpful for me.  This psalm is full of declaration of God’s nature.

Psalm 145:3,8,13,18 ESV

“Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable…

The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love…

Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures throughout all generations…

The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.”

The Lord is vast.  Powerful.  He is tender, kind, merciful.  He is great and mighty.  He is attentive and near to us.

What an amazing God we have. 

My wife and I have been more focused on giving thanks and worshiping.  We’ve had more conversations at meal time about the Lord.  His nature.  His goodness, power, wisdom.  And we’ve made efforts to be thankful.  Instead of grumbling against God, we’ve sought to thank him and praise him. 

May we learn to walk with greater hearts of thankfulness and praise. 

Conclusion

Let me close with this.

Almighty God and his Son are #1.  Whether we believe it or not, the Lord is the Great One.  He is the One worthy of all attention.  Of our affections.  Of our praise.  No one can compare to him.

Anything short of all-out devotion is blind and shortsighted.

He created us for him.

He saved us for him.

He is worthy of our entire lives.  There is no better life to live.

Let me finish with a portion of one of the more glorious descriptions of God’s greatness.  A favorite of mine for more than 35 years.

Isaiah 40:27–31 ESV 

“Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the Lord, and my right is disregarded by my God”?  Have you not known?  Have you not heard?  The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.

He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength.  Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.