Well, hello, Grace family — and that includes all of you who watch online or via our mobile app. Our mobile “app-ritioners.” I hope this message finds you well wherever you are. As most of you know, we decided to cancel services this weekend due to Hurricane Irma. My prayer is that when you hear this message, you’re out at the beach or maybe you’re at a pool enjoying a wonderful weekend here in Sarasota, and secretly thinking, “Man, they made a terrible decision to cancel church services this weekend.”
That would be the best thing I could ever think of hearing this weekend, and I will gladly accept your criticisms if that is the case. But the decision to cancel services was tough for me. I was raised on a farm in Kentucky and every fiber of my being was, “We’re going to power through. We’re going to power through.”
But the reality side eventually set in. As a staff, we erred on the precautionary side with the overall church community in mind. We didn’t want anyone in our church to feel torn between services or doing what was best for their safety. We knew the volunteers would be in short supply. We also knew that it wasn’t fair to ask people to do more than what they probably could do, especially in the inclement weather. On top of that, we lease a building. The company that we lease from was pretty clear that it wasn’t exactly excited about anybody being in the building during a hurricane watch or a hurricane warning.
So, all of that said, we made the best decision that we could, and I really do believe everybody understands that and supports our decision. If you don’t support that decision, you can take it up with Pastor Tom. In fact, all complaints that you have can go to him, because he likes them. No, seriously. All jokes aside, I didn’t want anyone to go here at Grace without some sort of spiritual nourishment for the weekend. So, I’ve recorded this devotional and I sincerely hope that it speaks to you on many levels at this particular time.
For us Floridians, we’re aware of hurricanes. You don’t have to live here long to hear about them. We know that damage comes from the two main sources. The flooding, which is the water, and from the winds. What makes this particular hurricane so special is the sustained winds. Currently we have between 180-185mph sustained winds. Knowing how hard Irma’s winds are and the damage that can be created from that brings a lot of fear, trepidation, and fills us with a lot of all kinds of difficulties and angst in our lives.
So, what I want to do is I want to ask you a question. What wind fills your sails? Is it the winds of fear? Is it the winds of the hurricane? Or is it the winds of the Spirit, the winds of Jesus, the winds of peace? Whatever the winds are that are in your sails will be what powers your travel. So, will it be fear or will it be faith? They do truly lead to different outcomes and different lifestyles.
We’re going to come back to that a little bit later. But, for now, I want you to think about that. What really fills your sails on a regular basis? So, here’s the deal: Watching the news and social media over the past few days, it was vividly apparent to me that, once again, we live in a society full of fear. Fear drives the sails of many boats in our society today. Maybe you’re hearing this right now and you’re full of fear. Maybe hit has to do with Irma. Maybe it has to do with other things. There’s a lot going on right now in our world, and I know that. Those things really lead to many of us feeling scared, uncertain, having doubts and having fears.
I don’t want to make you feel bad if you’re fearful. What I want to do is I want to help you. Fear is so rampant in our world today, and I want to speak to that. See, we’re followers of the Prince of Peace. We know the end of the story. And, far from giving in to the fear of the world, we’re to be people of peace. Easier said than done, right? I agree. Well, let me address some of these things and hopefully help you in this area of your life.
I want to read a couple of Scriptures and make a quick comment on them, and then I want to tell you a story from the Bible. I’m hopeful and prayerful that even though this is coming through the medium of video, God will speak to you wherever you’re at in a profound way.
The writer of the epistles that we call the Hebrews said that Jesus, through death, would destroy the one that has the power of death — that is the devil — and deliver all of those who, through fear of death, were subject to lifelong slavery. This passage is found in Hebrews 2:14-15. What the writer is simply saying is that many people fear death. This is true. People fear for their lives. What is the basis of this fear? Well, it’s the uncertainty of death.
“What happens when I die? Is this it?”
There’s a basic instinct within all of us to want to protect our lives. The writer says that we’ve been slaves to this type of thinking. A slave to fear over the uncertainty of death. But, what if you knew for sure — like, for sure — that death wasn’t the end? What if you really knew there was another side? That’d be a game changer, wouldn’t it be? And that’s what the writer’s saying. He says that you and I don’t have to fear death because Jesus defeated death through His resurrection.
Another Scripture I want to read to you is from 1 John 4:18. John tells us that perfect love casts out all fear. What does this mean? At the very least, it’s gesturing to us that when we experience a perfect love, then fear is gone. Think about that. When you fear something, it isn’t because you’re experiencing a perfect love at that moment. We fear someone won’t like us or love us if they really knew us. Right? But, if someone really knew everything about you and still loved you, what would that do? What if you knew that God loved you so much and that your eternity was settled? What if you knew that you were God’s child and not even death could end your life?
Maybe we would live different lives than we do. Maybe we would be like the writer of the Hebrews that says that we don’t have to live in slavery to fear anymore. We don’t have to live that way. Or, like John says, that we don’t have to live in fear because perfect love casts it out.
So, what I want to do this weekend for you specifically, and for our church, is speak into wherever you’re at in your life right now. You may be watching this and you may be going through the middle of a storm. You may have all kinds of doubts and questions and fears. You may have difficulties in your life, your marriages, your finances. You may be wondering what’s going to happen to your house. You may have all of those things. So, I want to sort of look at a story that Jesus told, a passage that Luke tells us about Jesus that, in my opinion, speaks to the love of God for His people in such a way that I’m hoping that it’ll do exactly what John just said in 1 John 4:18, that it’ll cast out any fear that you and I may have. Because, I’m a firm believer that when we understand perfect love, there is no place for fear in our lives.
So, to do that, what I want to do is look at a couple of verses at the beginning of Luke 15 and make a couple of commentaries. I hope this really speaks to you this weekend.
Luke says, in Luke 15:1, “The tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to him.”
I remember reading this for the first time and thinking to myself, “That’s a much different picture of Jesus than what I’ve been taught.”
I thought He was a preacher that ran sinners off. I thought sinners would run from Jesus. But, that’s not what this says. This is those on the margins. This is those furthest from God. They were the ones that were drawn to Him. They wanted to hear what He had to say. Don’t you sort of want to know why? Why didn’t they turn away? Why didn’t they run? Why’d they really want to hear what Jesus had to say?
Well, Luke has us thinking. And we should be thinking when we read Scripture. Then he drops the bomb. He’s just told us that tax collectors, the people that were on the far margins of society, and sinners were all drawing near to hear Him. In other words, they wanted to hear what Jesus had to say. And then Luke drops this bomb in the middle of this situation. Here’s what he says:
“And the Pharisees and the scribes...” — the religious people and the church people — “...grumbled,” — that’s what they did, they grumbled — “saying, ‘This man receives sinners and eats with them.’”
Now we get the religious people in the mix. The good, church-going folk. We find them grumbling. The local church people are threatened by Jesus and His way of dealing with those far from God. Shouldn’t He tell them to clean up their act? Shouldn’t He reprimand them for the way that they live? Instead, they want to come near and hear what He has to say. So, what do the religious people do? They grumble. They grumbled like those who opposed Moses. Luke wants us to know that. That’s why he used that word “grumbling.” Like the people in the Old Testament, the Children of Israel, that grumbled against Moses, the religious people are grumbling against Jesus.
It always amazes me how often we, as church-goers, can be so much like the Pharisees. We grumble when God doesn’t do it the way that we think He should do it. The Pharisees had their way of doing the God thing. Jesus had a different way. Their way was to keep the rules, live right and definitely be holy and separate from the sinners. Jesus doesn’t fit that paradigm. So, what do they do? They grumble. They don’t like the fact that Jesus welcomes sinners into fellowship.
“He eats with them. Doesn’t He know that He’s defiled when He does that?”
So, now we have the tension that Luke sets up. We have the sinners and the tax collectors that are drawing near to hear Jesus. And we have the church folk, the religious people, the Pharisees and the scribes coming together and grumbling. So, what does Jesus do? He tells a story. What a story it is. We’re not even going to finish the whole story. We’re just going to start the story here for this devotion, because it’s so overwhelming and it shows you the love of God that He has for you and me. It really sets things straight between the lost and the found in Jesus.
So, here’s what Luke says: “So he told them a parable.”
He spoke to them. That was the Pharisees. He decides to tell the religious people a story. Maybe it’s a story we need to hear. Here’s what the story says:
“‘What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it?’”
This is a sizzling story. We have the lost, we have the found, and we have Jesus. Obviously, the lost are the sinners Jesus is welcoming in. The found are the religious people. But, He’s flipping everything on its head. See, the Pharisees considered the shepherds unclean. What a far-removed world they were from the story of David, the shepherd boy turned king. Having 100 sheep in Jesus’ day would either be a sign of great wealth or a huge responsibility for the one looking out for them.
The Pharisees would’ve expected the story to have been told like this: “Which one of you learned Pharisees, having 100 sheep and then learning you have lost a sheep, wouldn’t hire a servant to go find the sheep for you?”
But, that isn’t what Jesus says. He puts the dime on them.
“Which of you,” He says — He’s put the responsibility on them — “if he...” — one of the Pharisees — “...has lost one of them.”
Not someone else, but he.
Kenneth Bailey, a wonderful scholar, comments on this passage this way. He says, “Jesus is saying to His audience, “You lost your sheep, but I went after it and brought it home. Now you have the gall to come to me complaining? Don’t you realize I’m making up for your mistakes?”
See, this is a great story. This is sizzling. This is absolutely a bomb that Jesus is dropping in just a few words. I can’t even imagine what the faces were like of the people He was telling this story to. I mean, Jesus is firing on all cylinders right now. What makes this story even more powerful is at the same time that it shows God’s perfect love, it shows this perfect love for the one. And this is really important for us to get. Please listen in if you’re watching right now. Pay attention to this, because this is huge.
God shows His perfect love for going after the one. That’s what gives the other ninety-nine their security. See, if the shepherd doesn’t go after the one, then the ninety-nine know that if they ever become lost, they don’t matter. If the one is sacrificed at the alter of the ninety-nine, then the ninety-nine will never have any security at all. They will live in constant fear of being left behind. See, the value of the one gives value to the ninety-nine, not the other way around.
This clashes with the Pharisees culture. It may clash with ours. But, it reveals our Christ. His love is for the one, and that’s why we can have security. See, because Jesus would go after the one means that all of the other ones are safe. If He doesn’t go after the one, then it’s just a matter of time until one of the other ninety-nine finds itself lost and finds itself not secure. So, what would it do? It would live a life of constant fear. But, see, understanding Jesus’ perfect love, His going after the one is what gives all of us security in the fact that His perfect love alleviates our fear.
So, let me ask you a question. What’s the wind in your sails? Is your wind the grumbling of the religious? Is your wind the value of the group to the exclusion of the one? Let the wind in your sails be the one of the Savior; the one of the Savior that seeks the one.
See, when we understand that our Savior has a perfect love for His own, it’s a game changer. Listen, I know you have fears. We all have fears. Everybody, at some level, to some degree, at some extent has fears. But, let those fears get spoken to right now with the perfect love of our Savior. Wherever you find yourself right now, take a moment and really reflect on what you’ve just heard. Let God’s love for you remove the fears that you have. He’s not going to leave you or forsake you. Nothing can separate you from His love. He will come to find you.
Let’s take a moment and let’s pray. Would you bow with me?
Dear Heavenly Father, I pray for everyone that is listening to this message. Lord, especially our Grace family. But, Lord, I’m sure there are plenty of people that watch on the mobile app that are “mobile app-ritioners” that don’t come here regularly to the church but watch us regularly. Lord, I’m sure there are going to be some people that tune in and hear this message for the first time. Lord, I pray that what we would understand is that perfect love casts out fear. That knowing that Jesus rose from the dead alleviates the fear that we would have.
The writer to the Hebrews said, John says that and Jesus demonstrates that. Lord, it’s when we truly understand that You would leave the ninety-nine to come and get us, it means that everybody has significance. Lord, so often we would stay with the ninety-nine to the exclusion of the one, not even realizing that what we’re doing is creating a completely insecure society in doing that. Lord, in focusing on the many over the one, we create all the fears that we do.
Lord, I pray that we would repent and that we would be challenged in our hearts to understand what it truly means to be loved by the Savior. Lord, hopefully that will change our lives and the way that we love other people. Lord, I believe with all of my heart that when we understand the love You have for us and we love our neighbor as ourself, Lord, I believe that the fears, the doubts and the struggles are alleviated. Lord, I pray that that would be the case. Lord, as this message goes out to people in the midst of a storm, I pray, Lord, that the perfect love of our Savior would speak to them and let them know that You will come and get them and You will never, ever, ever leave them or forsake them.
Lord, I pray this time right now for all of those that are in the storm and for all of those that are being affected, I pray, Lord, that You would be in the midst of this storm. Lord, even though there may be destruction and there may be loss of life, I pray, Lord, that in the middle of the difficulties, You would reveal Yourself to many people for Your glory and for Your honor.
And Lord, I pray that as a church and as people that follow You, that Lord, after this storm, we will continue to do what Grace Community Church always does, and that’s to be the intentional neighbors that You’ve called us to be so that we can reach the unchurched, Lord, by showing and reflecting Christ. Lord, we thank You for this message. We thank You for what You’re speaking into our lives. We thank You, Lord, that perfect love casts out all fear. In Jesus’ name we pray, and everybody said, “Amen.”
I wish all of you all a great weekend, and I hope it truly goes better than expected. Know that we, as a staff, are praying for you at this time. But, more importantly, know that Jesus has your back, because He’ll come get the one, which means perfect love has found you, which means fear can be gone.
Listen, I look forward to worshiping with you all next weekend. It can’t get here soon enough. Until then, let’s continue to do what we’re called to do, which is reaching the unchurched by being intentional neighbors that reflect Christ. God bless everybody. See you soon.