Love Reigns Over Our Present

Love Reigns Over Our Present

I am so glad you have chosen to worship with us today. I believe God has you here for a reason, and I pray that you experience Him in a fresh and new way today. We are in the middle of a sermon series called “Love Reigns”. We began on Easter, when we discovered that though Jesus was mocked by being called King of the Jews, the clearest proof of His authority was not in avoiding the cross, but in defeating the cross and resurrecting from the dead.

Last week, we discovered how God’s love reigns over our past, and that when we are united with Christ through faith in Him, we become a new creation. Our past no longer defines us. That’s all been covered by the blood of Jesus. You have been given a fresh start. You have been reconciled to God and in turn, you can now give hope to others that they too can be forgiven by God’s love.

Today, we continue by taking a look at how God’s love reigns over our present.

When I was a kid, we used to play the game Simon Says. Do you remember how to play? If not, let me refresh your memory because I’d like you to play a quick round with it me. When I say “Simon Says”, you respond by doing that thing. If I give you and instruction without saying Simon Says, then you should not to do it or you’ll be out. Let’s give it a try.

Simon says – clap your hands. Simon says – stop. Simon says – blink your eyes. Simon says – stop. Simon Says – stomp your feet. Simon says – stop. Simon Says – look up and down. Stop. Oh no. Some of you stopped, and I did not say Simon Says.

The game Simon Says is a test of your willingness to focus and listen to an instruction or to tune it out. It’s a test because we all have been given a will of our own, which consist of our own desires and own convictions. Yes, Simon Says is just a game, but isn’t it much like life?

Every day, we have hundreds of decisions to make. We are constantly having to weigh out options and choose what we think is best. Sometimes our decisions are influenced by things that we are told to do. Sometimes, we find ourselves being obedient to voices around us that do not have our best interests in mind. However, God’s love for us gives us a whole another option – that is to listen for His voice in order to make the best decision possible. Because let’s be honest…

POINT #1 – MY CHOICES REVEAL WHO REIGNS IN MY LIFE

The things we choose to do or not do, show who we are really listening to. Our lives are largely made up of the decisions we make, and that can be a painful litmus test to whom or what has our allegiance. Just look at our past. Our past is a collection of wise or unwise choices that we made along the way, and if you look back on those past decisions, who would you conclude was in charge? How many of those past decisions were a result of an obedience to God? How many of those choices were a result of obedience to our own sinful desires or the voice of the world?

The Apostle Paul has a lot to say about this. He frequently focused on living under the influence of God rather than the influence of the world because as followers of Christ and people who have responded to the love of God, that love ought to now reign in our lives and rule over every decision we make. Sadly, often that’s not the case. So Paul says….

Romans 12:1
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.

Paul begins by saying that every instruction he is about to give must be seen through a specific lens. In order to fully grasp this new way of living in the present, we have to see all of life in a certain way. The rest of his comments don’t mean anything without it.

When our family has taken vacations to places like Benezette in upper PA, or at a lighthouse at the beach, or at any sightseeing area there are often view finders that you can look through to get a better view. It’s amazing how looking through the lens can bring you up close to the beautiful mountains, rivers, and wildlife. You may have this beautiful view when you look at the bigger picture, but when you look closer, everything changes all because you changed your point of view.

That’s Paul’s goal in this passage. He’s urging us to change the way we see our lives. He wants to reorient the way you see your present situation. So, he says, “in view of God’s mercy”. The lens to look through is God’s mercy and God’s mercy alone.

How many of us walk around grumbling and complaining over our present circumstances? We often are not satisfied with our lot in life and so we try to do things on our own. We try to be in control and do things to please ourselves.

Paul invites us to see things differently through the lens of mercy. God has been so merciful to you and to me. He sent His one and only Son to die on a cross because of His mercy. He has offered us a fresh start to repentance because of mercy. He loves us unconditionally because of mercy. This alone can change our present. By moving our focus from what we want to have done for us, to the things that God has already done, changes everything.

You see, when we turn our attention to the mercy of God, then we’re compelled to live our lives as living sacrifices that are holy and pleasing to God. This concept of sacrifice was rich with imagery and history for the audience that Paul is speaking to.
You see, a sacrifice involved taking the life of an animal, a goat, sheep, bird, etc., and that animal’s blood would atone for the sins of the people. That life would cover the life of the one giving the sacrifice. It involved death, and it offered life. This is why Jesus’ death was considered the ultimate sacrifice for all humanity. So why is Paul using this imagery for us and why a living sacrifice? I believe we get a glimpse of the meaning in Psalm 51.

This psalm was written by King David after he received a visit from Nathan, a prophet, who had a coming to Jesus moment with David after he committed adultery with Bathsheba and had her husband killed. David starts the psalm by asking God to have mercy on him. He recognizes and openly admits that he has sinned against God and asks for God to forgive him.
Read Psalm 51.

Psalm 51:16-17
16 You do not desire a sacrifice, or I would offer one.
You do not want a burnt offering.
17 The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit.
You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.

This is what God wants…a broken, repentant heart. The whole reason for the sacrificial system that God set in place was not about the sacrifice itself. It was always about the heart behind the sacrifice.

And that’s what God is still looking for. A true sacrifice of a follower of Jesus Christ will always be a repenting heart and an obedient spirit.

So Paul calls us to be living sacrifices. Which, in all reality, is probably a whole lot more difficult than a dead one. Think about it…a dead sacrifice doesn’t have a choice in the matter. It has to stay on the altar. But a living sacrifice can crawl back off whenever it wants to. Paul says in view of God’s mercy be a living sacrifice. Choose to “stay on the alar” and live a life, right now in the present, under the rule and reign of God’s love and be repentant and obedient to God.

Paul goes on in the passage from Romans to give us the ultimate outcome of living the sacrificial life.

Romans 12:2
2 Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.

The world around us has patterns that lead to a broken life – greed, selfishness, pride, envy, gossip. These patterns are easy to fall into and can be difficult to get out. They are called patterns because they are routine and often done mindlessly. However, they are also called patterns because they can be identified and changed.

POINT #2 – CHANGING YOUR PATTERNS WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE

With a little attention, patterns can be easily identified. It’s a skill that we all have been learning since childhood.

On the screen you will notice a series of patterns. So, after close examination, what is the next shape and color in the pattern?

Once you know the pattern, what happens next should become obvious to us. The same can be true in our lives. If we pay attention to our patterns, we can begin to anticipate or understand what comes next. Then, we can change them.

But to identify patterns, sometimes we have to change our perspective. Perhaps this is the reason that Paul tells us to see life in view of God’s mercy. When we understand God’s love and mercy for us, we find the greatest reason to transform our lives and renew our minds.

So maybe you have developed a pattern of talking down to yourself whenever you make a mistake. It always leads to feeling depressed and anxious. Break the pattern. Do not conform to it any longer.

Maybe you notice the pattern of talking about people behind their back, gossiping. And it always leads to hurt for other people, and for you not to be trusted. Stop conforming to that.

Maybe you’ve developed a pattern of a negative attitude, only seeing what’s wrong with the world, what’s wrong with your life and yourself. In view of God’s mercy, do not continue that pattern. Break it and experience a new life. And the way you do that is to….

POINT # 3 – TRADE YOUR WILL FOR GOD’S WILL

The ultimate outcome of a sacrificial life and a renewed mind is the ability to see and know the will of God for your present life. How many here have struggled in making decisions? Many of us want to do what God wants us to when it comes to our career, serving others, loving our family, or investing our energy and resources. Paul says that the best way to the will of God is by trading our own will in and creating better patterns for our lives.

What if you were to trade in the time and energy that you use to spend on those bad patterns and instead create new patterns that have better outcomes? Patterns like spending time in prayer, reading scripture, serving others, and sitting quietly to listen to the voice of God. God promises to lead us and show us His will for our lives when we submit to His leadership.
The book of Proverbs speaks to this truth.

Proverbs 3:5-6
5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart;
do not depend on your own understanding.
6 Seek his will in all you do,
and he will show you which path to take.

The world pressures us to do what feels right. God shows us how to do what is really right.

When we trust in the Lord and question our owns understandings, we will begin to see the straight paths God has laid before us. This trust that Proverbs speaks of is a trust that God’s love is always wants what best for us. And we can rely on that love and obey God because of it.

Being a parent has not always been fun and games. I certainly enjoy all of my kids, but there has been a fair share of struggles and difficulties along the way. My kids have a will of their own, and often that will and desire is in direct conflict with my will and desire for them. The most difficult thing to teach them is that they can trust me because I love them. When I say no to something, instruct them in some way, or even punish them, I am doing it all because I love them, and I want what is best for them.

Trust is a hard thing to teach and even harder thing to learn. But if we are going to live the full life God has for us, we must trust His love for us and let that love reign in our lives here and now.

God’s mercy has given us the chance to die to ourselves and come alive in Christ. So be a living sacrifice that no longer conforms to the patterns of this world. The world around us is deceptive, selfish, angry, and foolish. As followers of Jesus Christ, these cannot be the patterns we live by.

Instead, renew the way you think, and in doing so you’ll discover God’s will for your life. And I know this may not be easy, because a living sacrifice will be tempted to crawl off the altar. But I encourage you to try, and when you get off the altar, recognize it, own it, and get back on.

The decisions you make today determine who you will be tomorrow.

I want to invite you to pray with me today in a specific way. I want to ask you to offer up to God the bad patterns that you notice in your life. I want to invite you then to see through God’s mercy and trust God’s love to lead you to better patterns that will lead you to a full life with Him.