Steven Furtick - Are You Getting Closer to God?
Come here. Come here. Come all the way. Stay right there. So we were talking in that sermon illustration about how sometimes you have to look back and see how far God has already brought you. Salvation means I am not what I once was. How many can say that? "I am not what I once was". But at the same time you raise your right hand, how many of you could lift your left hand and say, "But I'm not what I want to be"? We talked about living in the gap. What I expect when I hear about salvation… Like in a wedding ceremony they say, "And the two will become one flesh".
Notice they will become, but it's not going to happen there at the ceremony. It's going to happen in the kitchen when we're trying to decide who does the dishes. They won't help me preach. They just want to go to heaven. "When we all get to heaven". Awesome, but in the meantime, here I am. I'm not living in paradise; I'm living in the process. Here I am in the middle. I look back, and it's awesome, because I'm not what I was. "If any man is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has gone, the new has come". I am not what I was.
I found out that if I will walk with God, he will change me and conform me to the image of Christ. My expectation is that as I move toward God's purpose for my life, as I get closer and closer to God, this gap will shrink. Guess what? Let me show you something. The Bible says that when they recognized Jesus in the process… When he broke the bread and gave the bread, watch what happened next. The moment they recognized him, he disappeared from their sight. This is what happens, and this is going to explain a lot of why you don't feel like a good Christian, why you don't feel like you're growing.
Don't get me wrong. Salvation is a gift, but it is a gift you must grow into. My expectation is that as I walk with God and make decisions to follow him and make decisions to eliminate certain things from my life that are causing me to drain energy and focus that could be applied toward my purpose, this gap behind me will get bigger and the gap in front of me will get smaller. But guess what God does? When you take a step, when you make a move, God moves too. You're going to love this. In my mind, the goal was that this gap goes away.
Here's what God knows. If you think that you have arrived, arrogance is sure to follow, so God is going to make sure that as you grow, the gap stays. So you look back and say, "Oh, look. I'm moving forward", but you look forward, and it doesn't feel like you've gone anywhere. I want to let you know you're right where you need to be. See, you need grace for both gaps. The same grace that created this gap between where I was and where I am is the grace I need to keep moving forward. God says to everyone who's in the middle of something right now, in the middle of change, in the middle of process, in the middle of becoming, in the middle of the storm, in the middle of the fire, "Keep stepping. Stay in the middle. Stay in faith. Stay in courage. Stay blessed. Stay in my hand. Stay in the storm. I'm with you in the fire".
God is in the middle. I'm in the middle. I need both gaps. I need a gap that makes me grateful and a gap that makes me grow. I don't know why we think the first gap is the grace of God and the second gap is anything but. The same grace that did that will do this. He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it. So the disciples get where they're going to Emmaus, and God says, "Oh, you thought that was the final stop? No, it's just the middle". Oh man, if you could see your life like God sees your life you wouldn't give up in the middle. The good stuff happens in the middle.
I love Netflix because I can pause it. Sometimes, if the tension is really high in a show, I'll pause it not to stop it, but I want to see where we're at on the time line. Here's what I know. If there's unresolved conflict in the show, I want to know, "Wait a minute. How much time is left"? If we're still in the middle… Your dream is not over. Your purpose is not finished. This is not the end. It's just the middle. We know what the disciples didn't know. We know the cross isn't the end. We know the grave isn't his final destination. It's just the middle. The gift is in the middle. The goal is in the middle. I press toward the mark, forgetting what is behind. I will not quit in the middle.
Encourage somebody next to you. "It's just the middle". This is just the middle. This is not the end. It's just the middle. I think it is significant that when they reached Emmaus and Jesus revealed his presence through the scars he suffered for their salvation, he disappeared so that they would turn around. When they got to the place they thought they were going, they found out, "Surprise". Look at verse 32. They got up and started talking to each other. They said to each other, "Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us in the middle on the road as we went"? That's where you get it. That's where you grow. That's where he shows up: in the middle. In the middle of the night, when it's just you and "Pastor Pillow" and nobody left to text. You will hear his voice in the middle. Whoever this is for, whatever you're in the middle of, I want you to look at the cross again.
The Bible says that what they thought was the end, Emmaus, where they intended to stay in disappointment and eat some bread and go to bed… Once they saw who was with them all along and realized what had been happening along the road that seemed to them trivial in something as mundane as a seven-mile walk, they turned around. "They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem". You thought this series Seven-Mile Miracle was about the first seven miles, and you thought salvation was just about God getting you out. But the second seven miles is when you turn back around and stop running from what God saved you out of and start running toward what God saved you for. They got up at once, in a moment, and returned to Jerusalem. This may be the strongest message on salvation God has ever given me.
When I looked at the cross where he died and realized he died on a hill called Golgotha, which is the "place of the skull" in Aramaic, and on one side of him was one thief, and on one side of him was another, and the cross that brought our salvation was right there in the middle… I realized the way he died is symbolic of the way that I now live. "I am crucified with Christ. Nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me, and the life that I now live…" I now live. It is here, now. If you're looking for the grace of God, don't look to your deathbed, and don't look to your past. He is the Great I Am.
If you're looking for the grace of God, put your eyes on that middle cross between two thieves. On your left you'll see your past, on your right you'll see your future, but don't look at your past. You're not going that way. Don't even worry about your future. God is already there. If you're looking for the grace of God, it's in the middle. I need somebody to praise God right here, right now, for his grace in the middle! He is with me in the middle. Maybe it's not about God getting me out. Maybe the reason he died is because he wanted to get in.
Your faith is hanging between two thieves. What was is gone. What will be is unknown. If you're looking for the grace of God, if you're looking for the glory of God, the glory is in the middle. I know it's in the middle, because when Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego got thrown into the fire, God didn't get them out of the fire, but late at night, when the flames were at their highest, seven times hotter than they normally were, because they would not bow before the Babylonian king, the Scripture says a fourth man went into the furnace with the three who were thrown in. God didn't get them out; he got in the middle with them.