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Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » Mark Batterson » Mark Batterson - Reverse the River

Mark Batterson - Reverse the River

Mark Batterson - Reverse the River
TOPICS: The Best is Yet to Come

In 1854 the city of Chicago experience an epidemic that would kill 6% of its population. The problem was polluted drinking water. The city of Chicago sits at sea level, which means sewage would flow down the Chicago River into Lake Michigan, which is where the city got its drinking water. In response to that crisis, an engineer named Ellis Chesbrough proposed not one, not two, but three ideas that were absolutely ingenious, yet seemingly impossible. His first idea was raising the city of Chicago.

In 1860, a block of buildings on Lake Street was elevated four feet, eight inches by a team of 600 men, 6,000 jack screws and a new foundation was laid beneath that building. In 1866, the Briggs Hotel took up an entire city block, it weighed 750 tons, they put it on jacks and raised it a quarter of an inch at a time, and did so, you got to love this, with guests staying in the hotel. Chesbrough would ultimately install 152 miles of sewer pipe beneath the city of Chicago during the decade, it took to lift that entire city. But Chesbrough wasn't done dreaming. The second ingenious idea was a water intake tunnel to get clean drinking water from Lake Michigan. It was the longest, deepest, and biggest tunnel in the world at the time. Two teams started digging at 60 feet beneath street level. So one team started on shore, the other team started to miles out into Lake Michigan at the water intake station, somehow they met in the middle, they dug by hand 16 hours a day, and then the graveyard shift, they would lay bricks all night.

Both of those endeavors were epic feats of engineering. Oh, but I saved the best for last. Okay, the city of Chicago had grown from a population of 30,000 in 1850 to half a million in 1880, and all those people were dumping their garbage and their sewage into the Chicago River, along with slaughterhouses who were dumping animal remains, I shouldn't even share that. Chicago, we have a problem.

Well, Ellis Chesbrough had already raised the city of Chicago, he had already built the longest and largest tunnel in the world, why not, are you ready for this, reverse the river? Wait, what? So instead of sewage flowing into Lake Michigan and polluting their drinking water, then if they could pull this off, the river would function like a sewage pipeline. It would take two decades, tons of dynamite, dozens of dams, but Ellis Chesbrough would defy the laws of nature. On January 17th, 1900, the Sanitary Board of Chicago trustees put on their black coats like they used to do, their top hats, and posed for a picture. Then they opened the flood gates, so to speak, and the rest is history. Reversing the Chicago River ranks as one of the most monumental engineering feats of the 20th century.

Well, welcome to National Community Church, whether you're in-person, you're online, absolutely thrilled that you're joining us, we're in a series called the best is yet to come. And a few weeks ago I talked about stepping into the river, do you remember this? We're going to go next level, I want to share a message, reverse the river. Let me tell you what this series is not, it's not wishing on a star, it's not hoping you get lucky, it's not waiting to win the lottery. Little reality check upfront, your life is perfectly designed for the results you're getting, and if you keep doing what you've always done, you will keep getting what you have always gotten.

Now the good news is you're one decision away from a totally different life. I mean, this is a day when decades can happen. And so if you have a Bible, you can meet me in the book of Ezekiel 47, we're going to start in the Old Testament, we'll jump over to the epistles, and we'll end up in the gospels. The prophet Ezekiel is writing in the 6th century BC, the temple has been destroyed, but as Ezekiel has a vision of the temple rebuilt and restored to its former glory, and in this vision, there is a river of life, would you say it? River of life, that is flowing out from under the threshold of the temple. I want you to picture this in your minds, it's only a trickle at first, but Ezekiel walks a thousand cubits and it's it's ankle deep, and then he keeps walking, and it's knee deep, and it's waist deep, and it's neck deep, and eventually it's deep enough to swim in, but it's too deep to walk across.

And that's where we pick up the vision, in verse six, "when I returned, I was surprised", surprised, "by the sight of many trees growing on both sides of the river. He said to me, the river flows east through the desert, into the valley of the Dead Sea. The waters of this stream will make the salty waters of the Dead Sea fresh and pure".

Now let me play marine biologist for just a moment, a few things that you need to know about the Dead Sea that make it unique, it has the lowest elevation of any body of water on planet earth, it sits 1300 feet below sea level, and it's one of the saltiest lakes on earth. I'll show you a picture and you can put two and two together. The Dead Sea contains 10 times as much salt as seawater, and the significance of that is this, the Dead Sea is devoid of life, nothing can live in those waters, nothing can survive the salinity. Ah, but there's a river coming out of the temple, and that river is a life-giving river. I want you to see what happens, verse nine, "there will be swarms of living things wherever the water of this river flows". Fish, wait, this is impossible, "fish will bound in the Dead Sea, for its waters will become fresh. Life will flourish wherever this water flows".

Last weekend we talked about moving from languishing to flourishing, this is that. Verse 12, "fruit trees of all kinds will grow along both sides of the river. The leaves of the trees will not wither, nor will their fruit fail. Every month they will bear fruit because the water from the temple flows to them, their fruit will serve as food and their leaves for healing". Let me ask a couple of questions and then we'll connect the dots. First of all, which way is the river flowing in your life? Is the sewage flowing in like the Chicago River? Or is there a river of life that is flowing out of you? Are you being conformed to the world around us or are you being transformed by the spirit of God within you? Are you reacting to how everyone is treating you around or are you operating in the opposite spirit? Are you turning the other cheek? Are you blessing those who curse you? Are you shifting the atmosphere with faith, hope, and love?

One more question, are you sucking the life out of everyone else or are you the life of the party? Because you bring an extra measure of grace, because you speak the truth, but you do it in love, because your words are life-giving to the people around you. Which way is the river flowing in your life? Now we all did GIGO, garbage in and garbage out. But let's be honest, most of us act like we're the exception to that rule. We think we can get by with eating awful and not feel the effect, we think we can get by with five hours of sleep and operate at full capacity, we think we can leave our Bible on the shelf and still hear the voice of God. But news flash, my friend, you are not the anomaly.

I believe the best is yet to come, but you gotta raise the level of your prayer life, your thought life, your family life. It's going to take some jack screws and it's gotta happen a quarter inch at a time. You gotta build an intake tunnel called spiritual disciplines, and you have to reverse the river, and I'll talk about four ways that we can do that. But let me connect the dots. It's a river flowing out of the temple. So what? What does that have to do with me? Stick with me, 1 Corinthians 3:16, "don't you know, you yourselves are God's temple and that God's spirit dwells in you". The temple is not brick and mortar, the temple is flesh and blood, the temple is not a building in Jerusalem, the temple is you. You are not just the image of God, you are a temple of the Holy Spirit. Now I remember trying to explain this to Parker when he was a little boy and he asked the obvious question, if the Holy Spirit is inside me, does he get wet when I drink water?

Now I'm not pretending to add this all figured out, Christianity is full of mystery and it starts with the Trinity, one God, three persons. Now that doesn't add up, but if it did, it could be a human construct. See, here's the reality, what we believe is not logical, but it's not illogical either, it's theological, which means we add God to the equation of everything. God doesn't fit within the four dimensions of space time he created, any more than the logical constraints of your left brain. Here's my take, according to quantum mechanics, atoms are 99.99% empty space, and that's a mystery to me. Because it's kind of crazy when you think about the human body. I mean, it seems pretty solid, but according to science, you are 99.99% empty space.

And I would suggest that the Holy Spirit dwells in us at a subatomic level, of roughly 125 trillion synapses that crisscross the cerebral cortex, those synaptic gaps measure less than a thousandth of a millimeter, and I think that's where the Holy Spirit dwells. Acts 17:28, "in him we live, and move, and have our being". The Greek word is kineo, it's where we get our word kinetic, as in kinetic energy. Somehow, some way the Holy Spirit animates us, energizes us, and motivates us at a subatomic, at a synaptic level. In physics there are four fundamental forces, you've got gravitational, electromagnetic, you've got strong nuclear, weak nuclear, and then there is this mysterious fifth force that physicists can't quite figure out. I think that fifth force has a name, and I think his name is the Holy Spirit. All of that to say this, you are a temple of the Holy Spirit.

Let me connect one more dot John 7:38, "whoever believes in me, as the scriptures declare, rivers of living waters will flow from within them". What do you think Jesus is thinking about as he says this? Oh, is this is a picture of the river coming out of the temple in Ezekiel, rivers of living waters will flow from within them. Not only are you a temple of the Holy Spirit, guess what, there is a river of life flowing out of you. Now we used to sing a song in Sunday school. If you know it, you can sing it. "I've got a river of life flowing out of me. Makes the lame to walk in the blind to see. Opens prison doors sets the captive free. I've got a river of life flowing out of me. Spring up oh well. Within my soul, spring up oh well. And make me whole. Spring up, oh well. And give to me" Alright, we'll work on it. If you're languishing, how do you reverse the river?

I want to talk about four ways that you can reverse the river, but please hear me, it starts with reverse engineering. I'll give you an example. A few years ago, having coffee with a friend and I tell them that I need to drop a few pounds, and I'm complaining that it's so hard. And that's when my friend, we were at a Starbucks, that's when my friend points to my drink, which happens to be a Grande Caramel Macchiato, and says, you know you just sabotaged yourself, don't you? We need friends who say what needs to be said. But here's the crazy thing, we're mystified by our problems, how did that happen? What, are you kidding me? Like, and it was my second Grande Caramel Macchiato of the day. Like we have such a hard time connecting the dots between cause and effect.

So if you're going to reverse the river, you've got to get really good at reverse engineering. And one application to this is just hacking other people's habits, by the way, I mean, I study people, it's why I read biographies, it's why I watch people very closely, I pay attention to the way they talk, the way that they greet people, the way that they go about their daily business, you got to reverse engineer these things. Let me go one level deeper. This week there was a story in the "Wall Street Journal" about the effect Instagram has on teenage girls when it comes to body image. When your feed is filled with filtered pictures of super fit people living their best life, we all do a subconscious comparison, and all of a sudden don't feel as good about who I'm looking at in the mirror.

Now it's true for all of us, but it's almost epidemic among teenage girls, there is so much body shaming, not to mention objectification. In one study, 40% of teen girls who reported feeling unattractive, said the feeling originated on Instagram. Every time I feel good about myself, said one teen, I go over to Instagram and it goes away. Simply put, we're sabotaging ourselves with social media. Well, here's a thought, if an app causes depression or anxiety, delete the app. If you feel like you're a little too obsessed with likes and dislikes, I mean, at least do a social media fast. We spend on average 142 minutes on social media, that represents 15% of our waking hours, maybe, just maybe we should put a limit on our screen time.

Now I know that's easier said than done it. Like that almost like that almost feels like raising a city, right? Or digging an intake tunnel or reversing a river, like I can't not be online. What? I never said this was going to be easy, it takes a ton of effort. But at some point enough is enough. At some point, the pain of staying the same just becomes greater than the pain of change. And so let's talk about four ways to reverse that river. And I'll give you these upfront and we'll go fast. One, confess your sin. Two, take your cues from scripture. Three, count your blessings, if we have time, we'll talk about that. Four, double down with prayer and fasting. Wow, pastor Mark, those sound like spiritual disciplines. Yup. The only ceiling on your intimacy with God and impact on the world is daily spiritual disciplines. So why don't we talk about that?

One, confess your sin. Now I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but we were born on a battlefield between good and evil. And it was evidence, once again, this week as American gymnast testified on Capitol Hill about the crimes committed by Dr. Larry Nasser. If you're a dad with a daughter, if you're a person with a conscience, it's beyond gut-wrenching. We have societal problems and they range from racism, to sexism, to violence. But biblically speaking, those are presenting problems, the root cause is something called sin. And we have a sin problem, and until we deal with the root cause, those presenting problems will continue to present themselves. Let me reverse engineer racism for a minute. Don't pretend to be an expert, but I'm listening, I'm learning, according to Webster's Dictionary, and I know that racism is defined a couple dozen ways these days, but according to Webster's Dictionary, "racism is thinking of someone as inferior or superior because of the color of their skin".

Now not only is that antithetical to scripture, it's anti-Christ, and we are different by divine design. Our diversity is a reflection of God's creativity. Now we need to stop politicizing and start theologizing and yes, it's a word, it's treating things in theological terms, and that starts with people. When we have a theology of dignity. Everyone made in the Imago Dei, the image of God in me greets the image of God in you. We have a theology of equality, everyone, now let me just say everyone, is into, I don't even know what that means, but everyone, trying to emphasize it, everyone is invaluable and irreplaceable. Can I get an amen? And I think that theology of equality is an antidote to racism, sexism, and a lot of other isms. And then finally we have a theology of solidarity. It's all for one and one all, this is where individualism and collectivism collide.

Dr. King said it this way, "injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere". Why? Because of this theology of solidarity, and that's why we advocate for the poor, the marginalized, the oppressed. Now on that note, can I say thanks? Occasionally, I have a moment, and listen, Jesus is the shepherd of this church, I'm just an interim pastor, but there are moments when I'm awfully proud of you and your generosity. We have something called the common fund and it was inspired by the example set by the early believers in Acts 2, you remember this? Where they sold their possessions and gave to everybody who had need. Do you know that in the last year and a half, you have given $949,000 to this common fund, and we have blessed 8,313 people, 20% are NCCers, and I love this, 80% are not. That sounds to me like a river of life going out from this church.

Confess your sin, let me make it personal, 1 John 1:8, "if we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us". We are so good at self deceit, especially when it comes to things like implicit bias or false motivation. And sometimes self-deceit disguises itself as self-righteousness. I think when we deceive ourselves, it becomes a vicious cycle, and the only way to break that cycle is the next verse. "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness". When we confess our sin, that sin is forgiven and forgotten. Our sin is nailed to Calvary's tree, our sin debt is paid in full.

If you want to reverse the river, start by confessing your sin. Two, take your cues from scripture. Question, are you more concerned about being politically correct or biblically correct? In case you haven't noticed, the cultural current is awfully strong right now. Awful lot of trending hashtags, right? So many algorithms designed to keep you in your echo chamber, you can get canceled for a dozen different things. At the end of the day, you'd have to figure out who you're going to offend. If you're afraid of offending God, you will offend some people along the way, in fact, you might offend some Pharisees. If you're afraid of offending people, you will offend God. Here's where I've landed, if being biblically correct puts me on the wrong side of culture, so be it. Guess what? When I stand before the judgment seat, please hear me, I love you, but you won't be on it, and neither will I.

And by the way, this isn't something to be scared of. For those of us who are in Christ, it's not a throne of judgment, it's a throne of reward, it's the bema seat, it's an illusion to ancient Greece where they would stand on the beam seat and award the victorious athletes. This is something for us to look forward to, okay? In theology, there's something called the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, it consists of four things that inform our faith. We're going to go to seminary for just a second. Scripture is the final authority when it comes to matters of faith or doctrine. And I try to say this every so often, please don't take my word for it, please don't. As soon as I am omniscient, I will let you know, but I would not hold your breath. My word is not the final word, thank God. Tradition is the testimony of history, and this is significant, it's one thing that informs our faith. We don't bow to history, but we don't turn a blind eye either. Now reason, is using your left brain the left brain logic God is giving you, but I also want to say, you gotta be aware of logical fallacies and circular reasoning. And then finally there is experience, but let's be honest, I'm a data point of one, and so are you.

Now one of my prayers is that you would find faith with your fingerprint on it? And I live by a little maxim, let God be as original with others as he was with you. That said, individualism turns into relativism when my truth is my truth and your truth is your truth. And what I'm getting at is this, the sequence here is pretty significant because there's a lot of people. Start with tradition, or start with reason, or start with experience, we start with scripture. Scripture is the filter for tradition, and reason, and experience, not the other way around. Now practically speaking, if you want to reverse the river, you need a daily dose of God's word, and there's no better way to do this than a daily Bible reading plan. It will help you swim upstream against the cultural current.

So one, confess your sin. Two, take your cues from scripture. I'll talk about this in UPPER ZOOM next week, but three, count your blessings. I'll just say this, I think one of the simplest ways to reverse the river of negativity is to count your blessings, and one of the best ways to count your blessings is to keep a gratitude journal. So I'm going to keep it real, real simple, I'm not kidding. If you're looking for something to complain about, you will find it, yes? If you're looking for something to be grateful for, you will find it, and a gratitude journal, it will sanctify your reticular activating system, we'll talk more about that in UPPER ZOOM.

Let me talk about number four, double down with prayer and fasting. In Matthew 17 there's a boy possessed by a demon, do you remember this? And Jesus does an intervention, and this is what he says, "this kind only comes out with prayer and fasting". Sometimes you need to double down in spiritual disciplines. As you know, Laura and I walked through a few things earlier this year, she had a bout with cancer, and had surgery in January, went through radiation in February. She's doing great, but I tell you what, you learn a lot of hard lessons kind of two bouts with cancer. And one of them is this that you have to participate in your healing. And so this week we decided to do a three day water fast and more for physical reasons than spiritual reasons, I'll go spiritual in a second, and I better give the disclaimer here. I have a doctorate, but not in medicine. So consult your physician, okay?

I want to be really, this is more descriptive than prescriptive, but studies have shown that a three-day water fast can reset your immune system, it can clean your gut, it can recycle damaged cells. The technical term is autophagy, and I'll show you a chart, about day two or three, it's the red line on the chart into a water fast, the body starts eating itself, which sounds destructive, but the body is eliminating toxins, it's eliminating damage cells, and you can do your own research. We just felt like, hey, this might be one way to reverse the river called cancer. 'Cause you gotta do something to participate in your, are you picking up when I'm throwing down? Lots of different kinds of facts, you can do it for physical reasons, you can do it for spiritual reasons, it's amazing how many tipping points, how many turning points trace back to prayer and fasting? Daniel does a 10 day fast, gets a promotion. Esther does a three-day fast, it turns the tide of genocide. Nehemiah rebuilds it wall of Jerusalem in 52 days, but how does it start? The catalyst are days of prayer, in fact, even Jesus fasted for 40 days, and we're going to follow in his footsteps. I think fasting has to be a part of the mix.

Alright, let me close with this. In 1972, the author, and professor, and priest, Henri Nouwen, wrote a book called "Pray to Live". Two years later, he had done so much lecturing on prayer that he didn't have time to pray. And his friend Thomas Merton did an intervention and told him, you need to take a sabbatical. And so he spent seven months in a Trappist monastery, and here's what he said, "I started to see how much I had fallen in love with my own compulsion's and illusions, and how much I needed to step back and wonder". Then he asks a question, it's a question I'm going to ask you. "Is there a quiet stream underneath the fluctuating affirmations and rejections of your little world? Is there a still point where your life is anchored and from which you can reach out with hope, and courage, and confidence"? I'll tell you this, on Christ the solid rock I stand. All other ground is sinking sand.

If you want to reverse the river, it starts with surrendering your life, your time, talent, treasure, your past, your present, your future to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. You can make that decision right here right now. I want to invite our worship team to come, I want to invite you to stand, I want to pray a simple prayer, I'm going to invite you if you're in the house to pray it with me, but if you're online and you're somewhere that you can pray this out loud, listen, there is life and death in the tongue. So you go ahead and stand, and I want you to pray this prayer with me, if you're able to do it, it's a confession of faith. Now I want to say this, this isn't some kind of abracadabra, okay? But Romans 10:9-10 says, "if we confess with our mouth Jesus is Lord and believe in our heart that God raised him from the dead, we shall be saved". So I want to invite you to pray this prayer out loud with me, I'll pray it, I'll let you repeat it, and we'll pray to the Lord together.

Lord Jesus, you died on the cross to save me from myself, to save me from my sin. You rose again on the third day, and the same spirit that raised Christ from the dead dwells in me. I surrender my life to your Lordship. God is my father, Jesus is my savior. The Holy Spirit is my helper and heaven is my home, in Jesus name. We can say it together, amen and amen.

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