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Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » James Meehan » James Meehan - Not All Sunshine and Rainbows

James Meehan - Not All Sunshine and Rainbows

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    James Meehan - Not All Sunshine and Rainbows
TOPICS: Hard times, Persecution

Well, welcome to this week of Switch. We are so excited that you're joining with us. Before we go any further, I need you to give a quick shout out to Qualen Johnson, Youth Pastor at Life Church in Northland, Kansas City for getting me this dope avatar, the last Airbender shirt, thank you so much. And also shout out to Micah Brewer. One of the sixth graders in my switch group, who might be one of the only people who loves avatar more than me. Now to be clear, I have loved avatar longer, but I'm pretty sure that his love for avatar runs deeper. A few weeks ago when we were asking our guys how we can be praying for them, Micah said, "I kid you not, that I pray that Ang," the main character of Avatar, "Would become real". I've never been that much of a fan of Avatar.

So I think he wins in this regard. But with that out of the way, what I wanna do is take you on a journey, as we step into part three of our series, By Faith. But what we're gonna do today is talk about what we do when it seems like our faith, isn't going the way that we hoped that it would. That's why the title of this week's message is, "What About When"? What about when it feels like your faith is falling apart? What about when it doesn't seem like following Jesus is even worth it? What about when the evidence that you used to feel so confident in doesn't seem convincing anymore? What about when you're not sure if you can believe at all? Because the reality is that, faith, isn't all sunshine and rainbows. Sometimes faith involves pressure and persecution. And if we don't know how to process the pain and the pressure and the persecution that we're gonna experience in our journey of following Jesus, then those moments of difficulty, those challenges and struggles we can experience, could potentially drive us away from God rather than bring us closer to God.

And this is why what we do at Switch is so important. Because we wanna create an environment where you, can bring your questions to God, where you can process your doubts with people that you trust, where you can be reminded that even when it's difficult, following Jesus is still worth it. And what's interesting is, as we've been in this series, we've been walking through the 11th chapter of the book of Hebrews. This is a letter that was actually written to address some of the questions that many of us are dealing with today. Because the author of Hebrews was writing to a group of persecuted Christians living within the first few decades after the beginning of the movement of Christianity, that were being hunted, persecuted, imprisoned, pushed aside, ostracized, because of their faith in Jesus. And so many of them were questioning, is this really worth it? Is following Jesus really worth all of the struggles that come with it? If following Jesus is going to lead to this amount of difficulty, then why should we bother? Maybe we should just go back to the way things were before.

And the author of Hebrews is writing this letter to challenge, to encourage, to inspire these Christians, to stay faithful to Jesus, even when it feels like their faith is falling apart. Because the author of Hebrews would argue that following Jesus even when it's difficult, is so much better than anything else. And I would agree with them. Because my life has been a life that hasn't always been sunshine and rainbows. I remember growing up in the church when I was really young and thinking this whole faith thing is really cool, right? Like God loves me, God cares about me. He wants what's best for me 'cause that's what I've been told. So that means that my life is gonna be really good all the time. Until it wasn't. I remember being in middle school and that's when my parent's marriage began crumbling. And while their marriage was falling apart, my faith was as well. Because night after night, I would pray and ask God to restore their marriage, to help them work through their difficulties, to bring peace to our really dysfunctional household.

But before things ever got better, they got worse. And while things were getting worse in my family, I got to this point where I realized, you know what? I don't know if I believe in any of this stuff anymore. Because if God's really good, if God really cares, if God really loves me, then He would answer these prayers. But the fact that he hasn't seems to me to be the fact that He just doesn't care or He's not even there. And so my faith fell apart. Because my understanding of faith was, hey, like everything's gonna be better. Everything's gonna be great, but that's just not always the case. Faith, isn't all just sunshine and rainbows. Sometimes faith involves pressure and persecution.

And that's what's so interesting about this letter the author of Hebrews is writing. Is this 11th chapter that we've been walking through for the last several weeks. Is a chapter that begins with the statement that faith is confidence in what we hope for. It's assurance about the things that we do not see. And this in verse two we're told is what the ancients were commended for. And then from that point on this chapter details, one example after another of the heroes of the faith, living by faith and accomplishing incredible things on behalf of God. They brought justice, they ruled kingdoms, they performed miracles and God was working through them in incredible ways. The kind of ways that we tell stories about. The kind of ways that we are inspired by. But that wasn't the story that these early Christians were experiencing. Like, yeah, maybe they saw God do incredible things. They saw healings, their lives were changed but then all of a sudden the story was taking a really dark turn because they were being confronted daily, by persecution, by mocking and by ridicule.

And just like their story began taking a turn, the author of Hebrews takes a turn in chapter 11. So after recounting these examples of all of these people, living by faith and God doing incredible things through them. In verse 35, here's what the author tells us, that "Women received back their dead, raised to life again, but there were others who were tortured refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging". That means they were mocked and they were whipped. "There were chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning. There were sawed in two, they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated. The world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground".

The author of Hebrews is speaking to the very real experience that these original followers of Jesus were dealing with. Persecution, pain and pressure. For many of them, they were questioning whether or not following Jesus was even worth it. What do you do when your faith is falling apart? What do you do when this life of faith isn't at all, what you expected or hoped it would be? And maybe you find yourself in a place right now where you're wrestling with really similar questions. Maybe it's because you're dealing with the betrayal of a friend. Somebody who you trusted, who you cared about, but all of a sudden something happened where they stabbed you in the back. And now they're telling other people, things about you that just aren't true. Maybe like when I was younger, you're dealing with the difficulty of a divorce that your parents are walking through. And all of the dysfunction in your home is bleeding over into every aspect of your life. And you're just wishing that God would make things better, but He hasn't.

Or maybe there's a person you looked up to, who was a Christian leader. And you began to hear things about them that made it seem like maybe they weren't really living the life that they claimed to live. And it's got you questioning whether or not you can trust anybody in a position of leadership in the church. Or maybe for you, you're being confronted by some of the big questions that people have had about faith. Like how do I reconcile science and scripture? How do I reconcile the idea of a loving God with a broken world? How do I deal with all of these Christians who claim to love God, but are really mean to people, right? If God is real, then how are there so many judgmental Christians, like what is going on? I don't know what to do with this. Or maybe you're dealing with the pressure that you believe confidently that Jesus is king. That you wanna follow Him. But you're afraid to open up about it to your friends because of what they might think about you. Because of what they think about Christians.

As you're asking the question, is this even worth it? Why should I keep following Jesus when it feels like this is way more pressure than I signed on for. But this is what's so interesting about the next verse. In verse 38, the author of Hebrews tells us this, after again, 30 plus verses of celebrating these heroes of the faith, accomplishing incredible things and then taking a few verses to outline pains that these original Christians were dealing with. The author of Hebrew says this, that these were all commended for their faith, all of them. Those who did amazing things and those who endured immense hardships. Those who God used to perform miracles. And those who were being imprisoned and murdered, all of them were commended for their faith. What does that mean? They were celebrated. They were honored. They were recognized by God for their faith. Yet none of them received what had been promised since God had planned something better for us.

So that only together with us, they would be made perfect. What we've got to remember is that faith, is not a feeling that comes and goes. Faith is not seeing without believing. Faith is not this secret formula that we input into a code to get God to give us what we want. Faith is trust, based on evidence that leads to obedience. These early Christians in the midst of their persecution while they're experiencing significant pressure and pain are choosing to trust that God is still good. Even when life is not, why? Because they looked at the evidence of how God had moved in their lives, of how God had moved in the past, of the way that they had experienced His presence. And that trust based on evidence led them to obedience to continue to pursue Jesus, even when it costs them their very lives. That's what faith looks like. Not always just sunshine and rainbows, sometimes it's pressure and it's persecution.

I think for some of us, if we're not careful, we can begin to think that when life gets hard, it means that God's not there. And that is so not the case. You see, it's in these moments of trial, in these moments of pressure that God is using those circumstances to refine us and build our character. We talked about this in our previous series about the Bible, that the Bible is a story that leads us to Jesus and invites us to become like Jesus. And one of the most powerful ways that we can become more like Jesus is learning to endure suffering, faithfully. Learning to embrace the hardships we experience and allow those to move us closer to God, rather than drive us away from God. Because even when those things happen, God is always there waiting to hold us in His arms and strengthen us so that we can run the race we've been given with faith, with perseverance and with endurance. So what about when it feels like your faith is falling apart? What do you do then? And this is what I love about this letter to the Hebrew Christians.

What the author says to them in chapter 12. The very next line is the answer to that question. What do you do when you don't know if you can keep on believing? What do you do when you're not sure if following Jesus is still worth it? Picking up in verse one. Here's what the author says in chapter 12. "Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses," this cloud of witnesses is referring to the people that they author outlined in chapter 11. These heroes of the faith who have gone before us. "Therefore, since we are surrounded by this group of people who have gone before us and they faithfully served Jesus, even in the middle of difficult times, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles".

Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. Have you ever tried to run a race with like a weighted backpack on? If you have you will recognize that it's gonna make you run way slower than if you didn't have that backpack. Or have you ever tried to run a race with your shoelaces tied together? If you have, then you know that that's gonna trip you up real quick. What the author of Hebrews is telling us is that if we want to follow Jesus faithfully, if we want to endure in the midst of difficult times that we need to throw off everything that slows us down and we need to let go. We need to get rid of the sin that entangles us. What the author of Hebrews is inviting us to do is to practice, surrender.

What is surrender? Surrender is this beautiful practice of letting go of our way of thinking, believing and living so that we can replace it with God's way of thinking, believing and living. This is a key aspect of this journey that we call discipleship. This process of becoming like Jesus for the sake of others. Because sometimes becoming like Jesus looks a lot like becoming less of who we used to be so that we can become who we are meant to be. And all of us, we pick up these bad ideas and these habits in this journey we call life. And in order for us to become who God's created us to be, sometimes we have to surrender our bad ideas, our misconceptions, our bad habits. These things that have been so normal to us in the past that are actually holding us back from stepping into the calling that God has given us. We need to take time to actually evaluate what are the things that are slowing you down on this journey of life? Are there habits that I'm holding onto that I need to let go of? Are there sins that I have committed that I need to repent from? Are there potentially good things that are actually just taking my time and attention away from the best things?

The author of Hebrews is telling us that if you want to run with endurance, if you want to follow Jesus faithfully, then you've got to throw off everything that hinders, and the sin that so easily entangles. And then from there, the author says, "Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us". Run with perseverance. What's interesting is James eight. Another author in the new Testament tells us that, when we face trials, when our faith is tested, that the testing of our faith produces perseverance. He's communicating the same idea that in the middle of difficult times, our faith is being tested so that we can develop perseverance. Our pastor, Craig Rochelle says it this way, that a faith that has been tested is a faith that can be trusted. And maybe for you, you're in a season right now where your faith is being tested for the first time. And what God is trying to do is to help you develop perseverance, grit, strength and endurance, so that when you experience trials in the future, you will be so much stronger, embedded, equipped to face them then than maybe you are now.

How do we follow Jesus faithfully, when it feels like our faith is falling apart? The first thing we do is we throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, then we run with perseverance, the race marked out for us, "fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. Because the joy set before him, because of that joy, He endured the cross, scorning, its shame, and he sat down at the right hand of the throne of God". It's all about Jesus. Everything we do, everything we believe, everything we pray. All of the actions that we take are meant to bring us closer to Jesus, to help us better live the life that He's called us to live. And Jesus understood surrender, better than almost any of us could even imagine. You see there's this moment in Jesus's ministry, it's the night before he goes to the cross to be crucified, to die for the forgiveness of sins. And it's just hours before He is arrested.

Jesus goes to this garden and He prays to God and He prays to his Heavenly Father. He says, "God, if there's any other way, please take this suffering that's about to come from me. If there's any other option, God give me a different option". And Jesus ends this prayer by saying, "Yet, not my will, but your will be done. Not what I want God, but what you want". Because I know that God, your ways are better than mine. I know that your thoughts are higher than mine. That God, you see the temporary pain I'm experiencing from the perspective of eternity, that what God sees isn't just what we're dealing with today, but how the things we're dealing with today are going to play out over the longterm. And so sometimes God allows us to experience temporary pain for a better future purpose. And this is something that Jesus understood and He modeled this practice of surrender.

And as we go on this journey of living by faith of becoming more like Him for the sake of others, we are invited to do the same. To trust that God's ways are better than ours. To trust that God's thoughts are higher than our thoughts. To trust that the way that God sees the world, is a better way than most of us see the world because He sees it from a better vantage point, from eternity and not just the temporary pain that we might be experiencing. And then in verse three, the author tells us, "Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners so that you will not grow weary and lose heart". Consider him, consider Jesus. Think about Jesus. Imagine what Jesus would do if He were you. Think about all the things He endured, the example that He set, the way that He lived, the words that He said, the way that He showed love and compassion to others.

The fact that while hanging on a cross being murdered for crimes He never committed, Jesus was praying for God to have grace and forgiveness for the very people that were hurting Him and killing Him. Consider Jesus. That's why if we wanna run this race of faith with perseverance, if we wanna be the kind of people, who can stay true to Jesus, even in the middle of pressure and persecution, we've got to be willing to surrender, even sometimes the good things. We've got to repent from our sins, confess them to God, to run with perseverance and to fix our eyes on Jesus. Because it is Jesus that is the pioneer and the perfecter of our faith. He is the one who begins it and He is the one who completes it. He is the alpha and the omega. He is the Son of God who entered this world to bring hope and redemption to all of us who have been infected by the disease of sin. And it was for the joy set before Him, that He was willing to walk through the pain of crucifixion with faithfulness.

What was the joy that was set before Jesus? That joy was you and me. It was the gift of eternal life that would be unlocked through His sacrifice on the cross and His resurrection from the grave. The joy that prompted Jesus to keep pushing forward was knowing that His sacrifice would not be in vain, that the gospel would be unleashed, the power of God that brings salvation and healing and restoration to the world would be made available to all through His sacrifice. And now all of us who consider ourselves followers of Jesus have been invited to consider Him. To look to Jesus as our example, as the pioneer and perfecter of faith and choose to trust, even when we don't believe it, that God is still good. Even when we can't see it, that God is still with us. Because what we see in Jesus, is a God who came near, who was willing to enter in to suffering with us, who is willing to endure suffering for us, so that we could know that God is near to us when we are navigating really, really difficult and painful times.

So what about when, it feels like your faith is falling apart? What about when you're not even sure if following Jesus is worth it anymore? What about when this thing that was so important to you before feels like something that is fading away? We choose to trust based on evidence that leads to obedience. We live by faith. We surrender our way of thinking, believing, and living so that we can replace it with God's way of thinking, believing, and living. So that we can become more like Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who went to the cross and endured suffering, to make a way for all of us to be forgiven of our sins and reunited with God. Who through a relationship with Him, we can experience eternal life.

Life with God that begins now and continues on into eternity because the Kingdom of God is breaking into history, and all of us have been invited to be a part of it. Why do we continue to have faith even when it seems difficult? Because we know that the eternity that Jesus has won for us is so much better than the temporary pain that we might be experiencing now. So what will you do when your faith is tested? Will you allow the pressure and persecution you might be experiencing to drive you away from God or draw you closer to God? Because all of us have been invited to live by faith.

Heavenly Father, we come before you right now. And we thank you for the fact that even in the middle of our pain, we can still experience your presence. God I know that in a room, the size for those that are watching online, that there are many students right now, who they're struggling in their faith. They're not sure if they can continue to believe anymore. They're wrestling with questions and with doubts, with the struggles that are going on in their lives. And they're asking you God, to be there for them.

If that's you and you're wrestling with these difficult things that maybe you're not even sure what to do with, but you want to trust that God is with you, that you want to take the step to surrender your way of thinking, living, and believing, so that you can replace it with God's way of thinking, believing, and living. So that you can draw closer to Him, even in the middle of pain. If that's you, and you say, God, I want to be with you. And I want to have faith in you. Would you simply just raise your hands, that we can be praying together for God to guide us and strengthen us as we go on this journey of living by faith.

God, I thank you for those students that are making that decision right now saying, that they wanna trust you, even when life is difficult. That they wanna continue to follow you, even when it feels like their faith is falling apart. God, I pray that you would show them that through their obedience and commitment to you, that they would be strengthened, that they would feel your presence, that God you would use them, that you would open their eyes, you would strengthen them and develop their character in ways that they couldn't even imagine.

Still in an attitude of prayer with heads bowed and eyes closed, there are others of you right now who this entire idea of living by faith is something that you're just not even bought into. This idea of faith. This idea of trusting in a God that you, maybe have never seen before. That you're not even sure that you believe in. Just seems like an impossibility to you. It seems irrational. And yet, in spite of that, you would acknowledge that there's something in you that's missing. There's this longing for something more that no matter how hard you try, you can't get it to go away. That longing as a longing for a relationship with your Heavenly Father. Because what you've got to understand is that, as a human being, you were created in the image of God, to live in relationship with God.

That's what the beginning of the story tells us. That God created everything and it was good. He created you, and he created me, to live in eternity with Him. But the problem is that we do what we do. We chose what we thought was best instead of trusting what God says is best. We rebelled against Him. And that rebellion introduced sin into the world. Sin is anything we do to hurt ourselves, others or the heart of God. And it actually creates a distance between us and God. It fractured our relationship with Him. And from that point on as human beings, we have been living with a distance between us and God, that was never meant to be there.

And that is exactly why God, 2000 years ago became the person of Jesus, to close the gap, to bring us back to Him. And the only way that that could happen, is for Jesus, God in human form, to sacrifice Himself on the cross, to endure immense suffering, so that our sins could be forgiven, that we could be made right with God. And the good news of the gospel is that, death was not the end of the story. No, on the third day, Jesus rose from the grave, conquering sin, death, and the devil so that anybody who puts their trust in Him, saying, "Jesus, I want to follow you," would be saved, they would be made new.

And that's exactly why you're here today, to begin a relationship with Jesus. To let go of the things that have been holding you back. To turn from your sins, to place your trust in Him, fixing your eyes on Jesus. Maybe for the first time ever, if that's you and you're saying, yes, "Jesus, I want a relationship with you. I want to be your friend. I want you in my life". If that's you, simply lift your hand right now, all over the place. As you are saying yes, to a relationship with Jesus, type it in the chat, say, "Jesus, I want to follow you". There is no better choice that you could ever make, than that one right there, saying, yes, to begin a relationship with Jesus. As people are making that decision all around, we're gonna pray together. Because here at Switch, we're a family. A family where nobody prays alone. So altogether out loud, repeat after me:

Heavenly Father, forgive me my sins. I'm turning my back on my old life. I'm turning toward you. I need your love. I need your grace. I need your mercy. Today, I give you my life. In Jesus name, amen, amen and amen.

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