Levi Lusko - In The Rough

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We are going to jump into the preaching of God's Word. If you have a Bible, two places today, I know, it's crazy. Exodus 20 and 1 Corinthians chapter 2. So maybe make your way to one, throw a finger in there. And then find your way to the second one. Or if you're on an app, you can bookmark them pretty easy. We're really glad to have those of you at church online too. I know we say hello here and there. But really, thanks for being with us and joining in what's happening here at Fresh Life in Montana, in Oregon, Utah, and soon to be Wyoming also. We're pretty excited about that. I want to preach a message to you that I'm calling "In The Rough". Any golfers in the house? That's frustrating: in the rough.

I happen to be with Mark Twain on this subject. Mark Twain said golf is a perfectly good way to spoil a good walk. It's a good walk you had going until you had to stop and start golfing. But I'm not trying to offend any golfers. But for golfing, I know this much, when you end up in the rough, things have gone wrong. It's not going so good when your ball is off the fair. You want on the fairway. You want it on the green. You don't want it in the rough. You don't want it in the weeds. But with our spirituality, believe it or not, it's just the opposite. When God is looking at our worship what He actually wants to see is He wants to see it in the rough. He wants to see our worship in the rough. And that's exactly what we're going to see. We're going to start in Exodus 20. Basically, what we have here is God has just given the 10 commandments, these 10 things, super important for His people to know and to do perfectly, impossible list of what He's asking for us. And none of us have kept them.

And so He gives us this chiseled in stone list, like do this or die. Do this or it's all over. And then immediately afterwards, directly after giving us this list of these commandments: don't lie, and don't steal, and don't commit adultery, and don't take my name in vain, and have no other gods before me, He had to start with that one too. Because the moment He starts with that one, we're all sunk. Because we've all put things before God. Every one of us have put something before God. We put ourselves before God. We put money before God. So those people who make their life about keeping the 10 commandments, He hasn't even got to the second one, it's already over for you. Because every one of us at the very outset have already failed and we haven't even heard the second tablet yet. He gives that and immediately, I love so much that right after that list is given, here's what to do.

All you have to do is: you want to get to heaven? You want to be whole? You want to be forgiven? You want to have eternal life? All you have to do is be perfect like I'm perfect. So that's living by the 10 commandments. And fortunately, for us, He immediately pivots and tells us how to build an altar. He immediately pivots and tells us how to build an altar. And an altar, if you don't know, is where sacrifices happen. An altar is a meeting place. An altar is where those people who haven't completed the 10 commandments perfection list have somewhere to turn to God in the midst of their failure. And in the Old Testament, you find a very distinct altar that is eventually at the Tabernacle. Well there are actually two of them, an altar of incense and an altar of sacrifice, which was a brazen altar. And then Solomon would make this big temple. And his altar would be there. But then all throughout the Old Testament, you also have individual altars, personal altars.

And this list that He gives us, the 10 commandments, when he follows it, He tells how to build a personal altar. This is what Abraham did. Abraham would build an altar. He'd pile stones together. You have Jacob. Even when he slept in the woods with a rock for a pillow, he turned that into an altar. You have Noah immediately after the flood building an altar. You have Samson's parents building an altar. And Jesus came down before Bethlehem and lit the altar on fire and then ascended to heaven in the smoke. You think your life is weird. You have so many altars in Scripture: Gideon making an altar, David making an altar. And so He's telling us, well this was Old Testament, but God telling His people how to build a personal altar. And I love what He tells them. He tells them, basically, He wants it to be in the rough. He tells them do not build it out of silver. Do not build it out of gold. Because the temptation would be then to revere that altar as a shrine. The temptation would be to revere that altar. Your meeting place with God, if it becomes too pretty, if it becomes too perfect it will become a false God. Then you see number one thing not to do. You're back to that as you're finding the remedy for it. You're back to that as you're trying to be fixed from it. And so He's telling them, don't build it out of gold. Don't build it out of silver.

So here's the rule, keep it simple. That's really the message in a sentence, keep it simple. Keep it simple. Keep it simple. Keep it simple. He's saying, I want it to be in the rough. You're like, you keep saying that. What do you mean? Well notice in verse 24 of Exodus chapter 20, hopefully you're there, he says, "'build me an altar of the earth'". You don't get more simple than that. Just pile some dirt together. That'll do. That'll do. "'Altar made of earth, offer your sacrifices to me, burnt offerings, peace offerings, sheep, goats, your cattle. Build my altar wherever I cause my name to be remembered, and I'll come to you and bless you'". Listen, you can see God anywhere. I love it. Jacob turned his pillow into an altar. You can turn your pillow into an altar. There was times when there were sacrifices, the best people just pour out oil, people pour out resource. Abraham said, you've done so much for me. I'm going to give you a tenth of everything you entrust to me. You can make an altar anywhere. And as you make an altar to God, He'll bless you wherever you go coming in and going out.

I love this so much. "'Build my altar. I'll come to you and bless you'," This message, I really felt like God was telling us as a church, not with something we would build in one of our buildings. Because our buildings aren't the church. We are the church. I feel like the Holy Spirit's telling us it's time for us to build an altar. It's time for us to have a life of meeting with God and seeking God. And He will come to us and bless us. But as we build our altar, we got to keep it simple. He says, verse 25, this is really the one God told me to talk about, "'if you use stones to build my altar, use only natural, uncut stones'". The King James says unhewn stones. "'Do not shape the stones with a tool, for that would make the altar unfit for holy use. Do not approach my altar by going up steps'". It's a good thing this isn't the altar because I had to come up steps to get up here. But this isn't the altar. This is the altar. "'Do not approach my altar by going up steps. If you do'", this is so funny, "'if you do, someone might look up under your clothing and see your nakedness'".

This was just practical. In the Old Testament they didn't have underwear like we had underwear. They were all wearing dresses, right? And man, if you're on a stage a lot, you've got to be careful what you wear. The worship leaders, they know that. People will see your nakedness. You got to be mindful of your clothing. I love how practical God is. OK, now we've read Exodus 20 about this keeping it simple, an altar in the rough: beautiful. Now I want to show you a New Testament passage where Paul speaks to the church of Corinth. This is 1 Corinthians 2. We're just going to read two verses. He says, "'and I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to note anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified'". That's all I got, Paul was saying. That's all I got. Those are the bullets in my gun. That's all I got. I didn't have wisdom. I didn't have the human excellent speech. I just had Jesus Christ and Him crucified.

Now believe it or not, both passages are saying the exact same thing. What are they saying? They're saying this, get it. Write it down. Supernatural effectiveness does not require superficial embellishment. For there to be power, things don't have to be perfect. For there to be power, it doesn't have to be perfectly arranged. That's what was happening in the Old Testament. When the altar was built, He was saying, don't get your tools out, and overwork the stones, and make them all perfect as you stack them up. He says the big priority isn't what you do to the altar. It's what happens on top of the altar. It's not what you're bringing to the table. It's what I'm going to bring to the table when I lavish down forgiveness, and I lavish down my grace. It's not about your effort. It's about what you're going to receive from me. When we seek God in our devotional life, when we come to God in church, when we give to God, when we serve God, the emphasis isn't, oh, look how beautiful my rocks are that I've piled up together. It's what happens when we meet with God. It's what He brings. It's who He is. It's His grace. That's the focus.

It's not about the embellishment. It's not, look how ornate my quiet time was. Look how great my altar is. Look how many verses I've memorized. It's not about these cut stones. God's worshiped on unhewn stones, raw stones, rough stones piled up together. Because then His Holy Spirit can come. And that's where the power's at. I like how Eugene Peterson put it. He said, "the primary concern of the spiritual life isn't what we do for God but what God does for us". But we so quickly forget this. And we stop just piling up earth, and piling up rocks, and seeking God, and meeting with God, and trusting that it's our weakness that caused us to need Him in the first place, and that He brings the power and He brings the life. And all of a sudden it's back to being about effort. And it's back to being about achievement, which is the very reason the altar was needed. Because we couldn't do the 10 commandments. And so since we failed at the 10 commandments. He said, OK, fine. If you're not perfect, then here.

Let me point you to the altar. Let me point you to the cross. And that's, at the end of the day, what the altar spoke of. The altar pointed forward to the cross. And it wasn't some perfectly shiny cross. It wasn't some beautiful jeweled cross. It wasn't some fancy cross. It was a used cross. It was a second-hand cross. Many people had died on that cross. And if Jesus hadn't died on it, Barabbas would've died on it that day. It was streaked with blood. It was dirty. But it did the trick. It was dirty. But it did the work. It was dirty and filthy. It was pockmarked with nails. But it was what was on the cross. It was not the cross that mattered. It was the Son of God who came to hang on the cross. So again, it's not the embellishment that's superficially done that makes it powerful. It's what happens on the altar, not what the altar is made of that gives it its power. I felt like I wanted us to just get back to our roots a little bit and remember that the power of Christianity is never the packaging. It's always the person. The power of Christianity is never the packaging. It's the person. Christianity isn't a system, it's a Savior. It's not a religion, it's us having a relationship with God's son, Jesus Christ.

The power is never in the packaging. It's not about effective speech. It's not about us having human wisdom, or some clever argument, or how great our stones are. It's about God coming down to this earth. It's not about a ritual. It's about the Resurrection. It's about the fact that He rose from the dead and He's promised us new life. And the moment we lose sight of that, we lose everything. Because if all we have is the commandments that we've kept, and how holy we are, and how many weekends in a row we string together we don't miss church, and now we're in small group. And if we did some things for God, those are all great things. But the moment it becomes about that, there's no power in it. It has to be living. It has to be dynamic. It has to be fluid. It can't become static. It can't be in the past. It must be ever-present and always looking to the future, ever-present and always looking to the future. It's not what did He do back then? It's what is He doing right now? It's what is He doing in your heart? It's when was the last time you sought Him? It's are you getting fresh revelation? And are you going to Him?

It's piling up the earth again. It's rebuilding the fallen places once again. It's seeking God again. It's getting on our knees again. It's asking for fresh power again. It's having a love for our fellow man again. It's needing to see God move today again. It's going back to the cross. It's remembering the empty tomb. It's seeing the stone roll away. It's remembering the angel sat on it and said, he is not here. He is risen. It's seeing Mary with her tear-streaked face finding herself at the feet of the Savior, looking up into His face and realizing He was not dead. He had risen. And He is coming again with power, and glory, and honor. And it's living so that every breath might make Him famous. I'm telling you it's about that old rugged cross. Jot this down. The gospel isn't a ceremony for halo polishing. It's an emergency room for life saving. The moment church becomes us together in worship polishing up our halos, coming together once again to just exalt in how great we are, and how much, the moment it becomes about that, it's empty. It's lifeless. Because Jesus didn't come to make bad men good. He came so dead men can live.

And the gospel, it's not a halo polishing party. It's a life-saving rescue mission. It's us once again realizing He needs to give us new life, and new energy, and new power, and new strength. It's never about us putting on our Sunday best and feeling good about ourselves. The moment our prayer time becomes like that, our relationship with God gets reduced to what we've done or not done, it cannot save any more. There has to be that humility to it. I use the phrase emergency room because nobody feels proud on their back on a stretcher. Nobody feels strong when their clothes have been cut off to make room for IVs, and catheters, and oxygen meters on the finger. You lie on your back in the ER helpless.

I remember one time being in the emergency room. And I'm struggling to breathe. I'd had a real bad asthma attack. And I drove myself to the emergency room. I was blacking out on the drive there. It was my senior year of high school. I should have not driven myself to the hospital. I wasn't thinking clearly. And I remember just struggling to breathe, and being hooked up, and just feeling such fear. You don't feel strong. You don't feel power. You don't feel in control. It's humiliating. They're turning you over so you don't get bedsores in the hospital. Just think about, and that's the Gospel. We have to remember, the Gospel, that's not about our strength. It's about our weakness. It's not about what we can do for God. It's about what God has done for us. That's the primary concern of the spiritual life, the Christian life. Not what you do for God, there's plenty of reason to do lots for God. But it's as a result of remembering what He's done for you.

When you get that right, it makes you want to do even more for Him. Not to earn His favor, but because you have His favor. Because you know that His righteousness isn't based on you. It got placed on you. The moment you looked unto Jesus and were saved. Why no stairs? Why no stairs to your altar? I love it that He said, when you're building your altar, because He knew some people would be like, you know what? God's so good, I'm going to build me a really tall altar. And then all my neighbors are going to see me climbing up the stairs to my, oh, he's having his quiet time again, climbing up the stairs to his big old, He's says they're just going to look up, and see you, and see that you're naked. And pride just reveals nakedness. The moment we lift ourselves up, it just reveals nakedness. We lift ourselves up, people are like, they're naked, they're empty, they're lifeless. Our pride just reveals our nakedness.

Jesus gave us just this perfect picture of this in Luke chapter 18. "Jesus told this story to some who had great confidence in their own righteousness". They had scaffolding to get to their altars, right? They "scorned everyone else". They looked down on them with their arrogance. He said, "'two men went to the temple to pray. One was a Pharisee, and the other was a despised tax collector", for sure going to hell that guy, works for the IRS. "'The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer'", look at this, "'"I thank you God"'". You have to say it like that, God. It's like nine syllables, G-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-d, "'"that I'm not like other people, cheaters, sinners, adulterers"'". The mask is back. Sexy mask is back. This guy's masking hard core. "I'm certainly not like that tax collector over there". He's saying this out loud to God about someone else praying. "I fast twice a week. I give you a tenth of my income". Look how shiny my rocks are. "'But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow saying, "O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner"'".

Just dirt piled together, pouring out his life over it. Just rocks stacked one upon each other. They weren't beautiful. They weren't shiny. They hadn't been jeweled. They weren't bedazzled. They were just rocks piled together for him to say, God, I didn't keep the 10 commandments. God, I'm a failure at your law. I'm a hot mess. I don't even deserve to ask you for grace, but I do. I ask you for grace. I ask you for help. God, I have nothing, but I need you for everything. "Jesus said, 'I tell you the truth, the sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled'", pride reveals nakedness, "'and those who humble themselves will be exalted'". You see the moment we treat the Gospel and we come into church like it's halo shining party, a halo polishing party, all that reveals is the fact that we have nothing where it counts. But those of us who realize that grace is all about an emergency room, the gospel is all about a life-saving intervention, we're coming to him saying, I got nothing. I need you for everything. That is how we receive help. That is how we receive power. And that is how we receive grace for the journey. And we can never lose that.

It's fine to get started, but as we've been a believer of Jesus for a while, we get sick of that. Because we don't want to keep being in that position of needing grace. We want to start figuring out some things and formalizing some things. We want to get systematic about it. We want to put some things in place. And then we start treating other people who are coming in now at the level of spiritual development we think that we're at instead of saying it's all about the grace that got me here. It's going to be the grace that's going to get you here. It's going to be the grace that gets us on, and on, and on and on. And the moment we remove the rough edges, we remove the effectiveness. The rough edges of the cross are what we don't like, eventually. The rough edges of the altars and the way that our relationship with God is meant to be just crude, and primal, and guttural, and from the heart and a prayer like you would pray if you were drowning, the moment we remove the rough edges off of that, we've also taken away the effectiveness.

I thought about how there's a sentence, my favorite sentence from my book, Swipe Right that I wrote, my favorite sentence from the entire book, I spent months writing this book. My favorite sentence, I pored over every word. My favorite sentence isn't in the book. I was horrified. In the editing process, it got deleted. Because the editor pointed out to me that I had repeated it like five times throughout the whole book, that I liked it so much that I would kind of re-echo it. And she had said, it's just too many times. It's a great sentence. My goodness gracious, it's a fantastic sentence. But it's just you have it in there too many times. And so I went back through and I agonized over which one to keep and which one to stay. She was right. It was in there too many times. And I read them all. And so I got to thinking I'm going to have it in a couple of times. But somehow or another in the edit rounds I lost track of it because so much talking got about how many times this sentence showed up. And when the book finally came out, there was no sentence that I actually loved in there at all. You see, it got tampered with and so it got removed.

It's heartbreaking. But that's what happens to the Gospel. We get sick of so many themes. Man, this is so repetitive. We're just talking about grace all the time, and my neediness all the time, and my emptiness all the time. Can we just tone it down a little bit? Can we remove some of the cross's rough edges? Can we polish up a few of these stones? But the moment we remove the rough edges, we remove the effectiveness. There is no Christianity without a bloody Savior. There is no hope without Him rising up from the grave. And the moment we forget about that, the moment we bury that lead, the moment we stop emphasizing it so much with our every last breath, that we take the power out of the message that we proclaim. There is no salvation without the cross. There is no hope without the blood of Jesus shed for us. Christ has died. He has risen. He is coming again. And that's all we got. That's why I'm not coming to you with excellent speech. I haven't got it all together. I'm a hot mess in need of God's grace. But this I know, I was blind but now I see. I don't have it all figured out. I don't understand the whole Bible. But I know that Christ rose. I know that he's coming back. I know that He could save you if you put your faith in Him. Anybody who believes in Christ will not perish but have everlasting life. Come on, shout about it.

All right, jot it down. Number three, your worship doesn't have to be pretty to be powerful. You know I love that the rocks that we might feel like, man, these aren't suited for place in worship. Sometimes we feel like that. We're the rock. We are the rock. And we actually have permission to compare ourselves to rocks. Because over in the New Testament, when we get to the cross, which is the altar that he was talking about in Exodus 20, what do we find in 1 Peter 2:5? "You also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood", look at this, amazing, "to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ". So you are the altar. I am the altar. We don't have to build an altar. We are the altar. And as living stones, we are stacked up together so that these sacrifices of our life being spent honoring Him or worshipping Him, and when we sin, asking for that forgiveness, confessing to each other that we might be healed, and living out that life of being a priesthood, which the Bible teaches the priesthood of all believers through Jesus Christ.

So as we live this out, sometimes as we come to the stones of our days, as we come to the stones of our moods, as we come to the stones of our hours and our situations and our mistakes, we feel our stones at times aren't pretty. It says unfinished stone, but can I clean that one up a little bit? Can I clean that stone up so then I can bring it to God? Can I get this a little bit straightened out? And we feel that way, don't we? We feel like I can't come to church because I'm not living right. Man, I got drunk again. And I slept with my girlfriend again. And I did this again. Give me a couple of weeks. Give me a couple of weeks to sort of sort this stuff out. Then I'll come back to God. No, listen. You got to bring Him your rock as it is. It's like when you hit your ball into the rough. You don't pick the ball up and bring it to the green. You hit it from where it lies. You hit it from in the rough. God wants you if you feel like you're dirty, if you feel like you're unworthy, if you feel like you're unholy, newsflash, you are. But God isn't.

So right there where you are, turn that rock into an altar. Put it on top of it. It doesn't have to be pretty. It can be powerful. Because it's not about superficial embellishment. It's about supernatural effectiveness. And so when you take your rock of sin and you turn it into an altar, you got to turn it over and say this is now an altar. I feel like I'm in the rough. I feel like I'm in the rough here. But I'm going to turn my heart into an altar right here. My rock is muddy. My rock is messed up. My rock is misshapen. I'm embarrassed about this rock. I'm ashamed about this rock. Turn it into an altar. Right there, your heart, it's an altar. Turn the rock over. Pour some oil on it. Turn the rock over. Let the blood cover it. Turn the rock over. Let God's Holy Spirit fall on it once again. Consecrate yourself to Him afresh. Do it if you have to do it 10 times. But I fell down, Pastor. I fell on the ground. I'm telling you if you fall down, worship Him from where you lie. Worship Him from where you lie. Honor Him right there. You are a living stone. As long as there is breath in your lungs, there's a hope for a newer, better, fresher walk with God that's possible as you turn your eyes to Jesus, look full in His wondrous face.

I'm just saying it doesn't have to be pretty. I think sometimes we wait till things look pretty. They're never going to be pretty. We're just works in process. We're on this journey. It's incremental, not instantaneous. The key is to each day turn your heart as a living stone into that altar. And let Him write His Word on your heart. Let Him use His hand to take the rockiness out of your heart and put in the softness of flesh as His Spirit will do. And each day, as you keep letting your heart be consecrated and dedicated again, and again, and again, it becomes powerful even though it's not pretty. My brother-in-law beat me at tennis this week. And he kept apologizing, not for beating me, for how ugly his serve was. It was ugly. His form was atrocious. Andre Agassi would cringe. John McEnroe would cuss. I mean, it was, Serena and Venus would just turn around and walk away. I mean it was just a tremendously ugly serve. And he kept saying, I'm so sorry my serve is so ugly. And I finally stopped him and said, you know, it might be ugly. But it seems to be doing the trick because it keeps getting past me.

And I'm just telling you it doesn't matter how ugly your worship is. It doesn't matter if you feel like you're barely hanging on. You could be ugly crying the whole time. But that life of honoring God, it's better to win ugly than it is to lose pretty. I mean, I just think we just have to realize the prettiness of our worship isn't the point. The power of a life consecrated to God, that's what's unstoppable. And that's what we see here in these unhewn stones that are made into an altar to honor the Lord. Charles Spurgeon said, "trembling sinner, away with thy tools. Fall upon thy knees in humble supplication. And accept the Lord Jesus to the altar of your atonement, and rest in Him alone". Put away your tools. Quit trying to fix yourself up to come to God. And come to God so He can fix you up. Put your tools away. He's a carpenter. Jesus does pretty good at building stuff. He had 30 years in Joseph's woodshop. He's the master of all creation. He's the father of all eternity.

Put your tools away. Put your tools away. And just bring your mess to Him. And let Him build you. Let Him fix you. Let Him change you. Let Him who stooped to breathe life into you in creation, let Him build you back up again to perfection. All right, one last thing and then we're going to shut this down. I love the involvement aspect of this. Because this passage also tells us this, it tells us that stones don't have to be uniformly changed, just patiently arranged. If we're going to use unhewn stones to build an altar, we don't have to build every stone to the exact same size. Normally, if you're a brickmason, you need every brick the same. You need them to be all identical. But if God wants us to be built up as an altar of unhewn stones, that means then that we're not going to be uniformly changing these things. We're just going to be arranging them patiently. And that's, in fact, what God wants in this church. And that's why we put such an emphasis on finding your place, on figuring out your personality, on tapping into your gifts.

Are you good at stone? Are you good at dance? Are you gifted at administration? Are you a people person? What is it that makes you, you? What is it that makes you tick? As we figure these things out, we can all serve God differently. We're not after an audience. We're seeking to build an army. We want to reach the world. We want to go out into all the world. We want to keep reaching out on television and keep reaching out through the internet and opening up our Fresh Life locations and growing and loving the city. And we need all the different gifts. And isn't that what Ephesians says on the subject? It says, "from whom the whole body", this was Jesus, "from whom the whole body", He's the head, "from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share". So every stone doesn't need to be uniformly changed. The goal isn't for me to become like you. The goal isn't for you to have the gift that I have. The goal isn't for me to have your personality. The goal isn't for us to all be uniformly change so we're all marching lockstep.

We're taking off the mask of being a clone. We're taking off the mask of being a drone. We're not trying to be uniformly changed. We're trying to be patiently arranged. Is this the right fit? Is this the right team? Is this the right group? Is this the right place? Is this the right grace? We've all been given grace. We've all been given power. Oh, I love this so much. I got to say it just like God spoke it to my heart. Our differences make us dangerous to the darkness. Our differences make us dangerous to the darkness. But what we have to do is stop looking at each other and being jealous of how we were each given different gifts. But instead look to Him. Come on, you got to come to the altar. You got to let your heart be that altar. You got to come to Jesus and say, what makes me different. And here, whatever you've given me, I want to honor you with it. Do you receive this word from God?
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