Raven Cannon, Children's PastorAugust 19, 2019
God has a unique, original plan for each of our lives. Are we living into that truth? Let's explore this idea with Pastor Luis.
Read Full Transcription
We’ve been walking through this theme we’re calling Rise, which by the way, if you’re joining online, I’d love to welcome you here to our gathering at our Mission campus. If you’re at the Riordan campus, it’s so good to be with you. I just want to say, it’s always a privilege to get to share His word. As we continue this theme we’re calling Rise, we’ve been walking through this theme together and I’ve named this passage, the original life because what I want to suggest to you in our time here is that Jesus will challenge us. This faith through journey will challenge us to embrace the original life God’s trying to create in each one of us.
He is trying to do something original in each one of our lives. The decision we’ll be presented with time and time again is whether or not we’ll courageously step into what He is doing that is unique. Or if we try to impersonate what we think is acceptable. It’s a real tension point. It’s one that I have to say I am in process with and nowhere near arriving at. I was reminded of an incident that happened to me a number of years ago. I was in my early 20s. I think I was around 22 and I got the opportunity to share at a youth camp with a number of other students besides our own youth group. Other youth groups were there. At that point, it would be the largest audience I was able to share with.
I remember being given the theme, the topic and being very excited. I wrote down my notes and had a sense of what I wanted to say. How this theme was supposed to unfold through me a little bit. I wrote that down and I was so excited. I committed it to memory. I try to think about not having to reference anything, just to be able to be there, be present. For some reason on the way to camp, I felt something different internally. I started feeling insecure. I knew what I wanted to say. I was clear on what I had to say, but I wasn’t clear on how I wanted to say it. Around that time, I had taken a liking to somebody, another communicator that I began to admire. I remember watching them. I remember hearing their kind vocal intonations and mannerisms. Just watching every single move that they did.
Subconsciously, I made a decision on the way to this retreat that I knew what I was going to say. I was going to say what I originally said, but I was going to say it as if I was that guy. I decided I’m going to try to do my best impersonation of that guy. Before you conclude that that guy was Pastor Terry, I want to tell you it wasn’t. It was somebody else. But I remember stepping into that moment and doing my best impersonation of this communicator I’ve come to admire. I said what I needed to say and it seemed like things went over well, but you never really know things like that. The majority of the students didn’t even know me really. I remember stepping off and going over to the camp director and debriefing a little bit. He and I had had a relationship at that point for several years now. I remember him giving me some feedback and he was gentle. He may not sound gentle, but he was. He said, Luis, you did a really good job of impersonating. Then he named the person. He called me out. He says that I look forward to the day where I get to hear from you, where it’s Luis up there. How would you feel because I got called out? I remember thinking, oh. He looked at me and said something that I decided to write down later. He says you’ll get there, but you need more confidence in believing that God is doing something original in your life. When you get to that place, that confidence will help you give up trying to be someone else.
He just let it be, patted me on the back, smiled at me, thanked me, and walked away. I remember those words. They were so precise. It was like he had a scalpel and he just went in. On the other hand, it felt like a knife stab to me. Those words echoed within, they still do. I share that because it was a real moment in my life that kind of brings to the surface the reality. We are all joiners naturally. We, by our very nature of being human, tend to become tribal so easily. I think today more than previous generations, what we have become as a people are experts in reading the room, understanding perceptions, and knowing what is required on the outside. We are so image-driven. We really are. Even those of us who don’t have social media still feel the impact and pressure of needing to conform and portray the image of whatever role we’re seeking to portray.
Whether that be a father, husband, mother, wife, friend, neighbor, cook, or an artist, whatever it might be, we will feel the pressure of what that looks like. We will feel the tension of stepping into that image even if we don’t know that we are that image. It’s a funny thing. I’ve grown up in it. I was born here. I love the city. I truly do. I think this is a city where people do not like to conform. People from all over the country, indeed the world, come here looking to break out. It’s that city. It’s one of them, at least. The pressure to not conform becomes what we try to conform to. The non-conformist, the unconventional, the outlier. It is what so many of us feel pressured to pursue. We have competing desires and cravings. I don’t know if you hear me, but we all long to be authentic, sincere, and real original. All of us do.
At the same time, we want to belong and be accepted. How do we navigate that? How do we work this out in a way? It’s not like perceptions aren’t important, but how do we work that tension out of not forsaking the originality of what God is doing within our own lives? This is a question that if we have to deal with societally in our culture, we certainly will have to deal with in our own church community. In fact, we’re going to see it. The first church in Jerusalem was forced to wrestle with this dynamic. I’d love for us to step into this passage that garnered the attention of all of those who heard about it. Certainly, those who witnessed it. We’re told in verse one of Acts 5, “There was a certain man named Ananias, who with his wife, Sapphira, sold some property. And he brought part of the money to the apostles claiming it was the full amount. With his wife’s consent, he kept the rest.”
This is an interesting thing. We have to understand a couple of things first. If we haven’t been here, especially if we weren’t here a week ago, it’d be good to go check that out either on podcast or online. But we have to know this, that there was something of a spontaneous movement of God in the early church that created radical generosity where people decided because of what God was doing in their own heart, because of what Jesus had impacted their soul to such a degree, they decided they were going to sell off and give the entirety of what they garnered from that kind of selling and give it to the church.
They would give it on behalf of the needs of those within the community. They would bring it to the apostles. The sense is that this was something spontaneous that occurred. No one required it. Wealthier members of the community were participating in this in many ways, resourcing the movement of Jesus in those early days. It seems that the ambiguous nature of it, the lack of clarity as to what one is expected to do creates attention. It’s only human. It’s only natural. They create attention, a degree of comparison within some of those who may not have been willing or able to participate. All of a sudden how one looks in this dynamic starts to matter to certain people. It seems that Ananias and Sapphira definitely felt pressured.
Their decision was not to actually do what everyone else was doing. Some would say greed. I personally think for lack of ability and yet desiring the same level because, in a community so tight-knit, those who were able to participate at that level would garner some degree of influence and admiration. There’s so much there. All of a sudden Ananias and Sapphira decided for whatever reason that instead of actually doing it, they would pretend to do it. We’re told in verse three, that Peter said, “Ananias, why have you let Satan who Jesus said is the father of all lies, the originator of all lies. Why did you let the great liar fill your heart? You lied to the holy spirit. You kept some of the money for yourself.” In verse four it’s fascinating. He says, “The property was yours to sell or not sell as you wished. And after selling it, the money was also yours to give away.” You understand this, right? How could you do a thing like this? You weren’t lying to us. You understand you were lying to God. It’s almost as if what he’s saying is, Ananias and Sapphira read the room. They understood. They felt attention. They thought that’s what they needed to step into. Maybe they weren’t able or willing. Whatever the reason, they decided to fake it until they made it. Peter read them and said I’m not going to take it. No, you don’t understand what’s going on here Ananias. First of all, you were never instructed to do this. No one ever directly asked you to go sell your property. You didn’t have to pretend. Second, after selling it, you didn’t have to give us all. You didn’t have to give us any. That was your call. Why did you do that? It’s almost as if you get the sense that God was doing something original in the hearts of some of the people within that community. We’re not told why, but this couple chose to ignore what God was doing within them. Rather than pay attention to what God was doing in their own lives and hearts, they attempt to step into someone else’s original moment by pretending that they also were prompted.
Peter said that’s not good. Perhaps if they did lie to God, which is what Peter said they did, it began with them lying to themselves. Convincing themselves that God wasn’t doing anything special, unique, or significant in their own lives. Why even investigate that? It’s so clear what God’s doing to them. I’m going to go ahead and pretend to be just like them. In verse five, the consequences are severe. We’re told as soon as Ananias heard these words, he fell to the floor and passed away. He died. Everyone who heard about it was terrified. Then some of the young men got up, wrapped him in a sheet, took him out, and buried him. They obviously were struck with deep fear. The results of pretending were severe.
I think it’s worth noting, to pause just for a minute here and take a step back from this account. We need to say this. We’re witnessing a statement here. A statement. Certainly, it was not the case that, if you lie, you die. It didn’t become a thing. It didn’t continue to become a thing. This is one of those one-and-done situations. It seems this judgment was meant to communicate the seriousness of taking something that God was doing in people’s lives casually or cavalierly. It was almost as if there was a statement being made in the birthplace of the formation of this movement, of this gathering of God’s people.
It’s almost as if God was trying to communicate something through Ananias and Sapphira’s situation. In every other system in the world, everywhere else, we figure out what is going on and we adapt to it. We step into what we think and perceive is acceptable. There we do fake it. It’s almost as if God is saying not here, not here. It’s better to be sincere and genuine. It’s better to be sincere in this place. Always better. That seems to be the tone. This is actually a safe place. It’s not needed. You didn’t have to do this Ananias. You didn’t have to pretend. It’s better to just be honest.
Here, it’s supposed to be different. It is different. We’re told that about three hours later in verse seven, his wife came in not knowing what had happened. Peter asked her, “Was this the price you and your husband received for your land? ‘Yes,’ she replied. ‘That was the price.’ Peter said, “Well, how could the two of you even think of conspiring to test the spirit of the Lord like this? I don’t understand your logic. The young men who buried your husband are just outside the door and they will carry you out too instantly.” She fell to the floor and she also died. The young men came in and saw that she was dead. They carried her out and buried her beside her husband. This was one of the interesting and fascinating passages. One of them just grips you, it grabs your attention. It grabs you. It’s like this couple ended up stepping into this moment not knowing what they were actually doing. They suffered the severest of consequences.
Peter, all the while is basically having a conversation with them, not understanding. Don’t you understand? You come to this gathering and you know that we are worshiping the living God who sees everything and you somehow concluded it was ok to lie, which by the way is so normal for us to do. He’s saying to her, you’ve included somehow that when you pretend with his people, that you can somehow mask it and hide it from the one you came to worship. I understand that is what he’s trying to say. In my mind, it’s almost with compassion that he’s asking this. I have to reiterate it. You lie, you die. Thank you Jesus that’s not true. Thank you Jesus it’s not a thing. Thank you Jesus His mercies are new every morning. His grace abounds beyond anything we step into.
It is with open arms of love that He receives us anytime and every time. Thank you Jesus that He sees all and He doesn’t condemn. This was certainly a cautionary tale. It was a cautionary tale meant to echo throughout not just that community, but I would say the rest of time. It would actually be, years later, James, one of the primary leaders of this early church would write the following. He says, “Listen, temptation comes from our own desires which entice us and they drag us away.” Which is a fascinating way to think about this. What James is not saying is we are surrounded by temptation. No. He says we are inhabited with temptation. What happens is the surroundings, our thoughts, or our desires end up pulling on the thread. He says “Then when they entice us if we allow it to entice us and give it room, you know what happens? We get dragged.”
That is the myth of temptation that we somehow have the ability to control it. James is saying, no, no, no. It ends up dragging us. Over time, that desire manifests itself. He says these desires give birth to simple actions. Just so we understand what he is saying here, sin is categorized as anything outside of what God says is right? He says, “Listen, these desires give birth to an action,” which by the way, a wrong desire is not sin. A wrong action is. James says if we don’t cut that short or address things, we start to create a habit around those things and actions. We start to create a way of being around those actions. We start to create a way of life around those actions. It’s like, we’re planting a tree. This tree grows.
James says, when sin is allowed to grow, you know what happens? It grows into a tree, but the fruit doesn’t give life. The fruit is death. So thank you, Jesus, we’ll never suffer the same consequences Ananias and Sapphira. That is not the case for us. However, the caution is that whenever we choose to step into actions or a way of life that is outside of what God says is right and let’s make no mistake about it, something inside of us dies. No question. Our soul suffers, the fruit of that. We end up tasting that and this reality so gripped the early church. We’re told in verse 11 “And great fear gripped the entire church and everyone else who heard what had happened.” The apostles were performing many miraculous signs and wonders among the people. All the believers were meeting regularly at the temple in the area known as Solomon’s Colonnade, which is the exterior of the temple.
No one else there joined them, even though all the people had high regard for them. It’s almost as if there is something internally that happens in the community. They saw and heard about this event. The apostles, Peter primarily ends up getting elevated to a point where they start to recognize something of a growing sense of influence and authority set on him. They decide they don’t want to know what’s going to happen. It’s almost like they’re struck with some degree of reverence and trepidation internally. God continues to move in their midst. We’re told that in verse 14, “More and more people believed and were brought to the Lord. Crowds, both men and women.”
You see this juxtaposition. Internally, they get the realization, oh, this is a community where we need to be real, honest, truthful, sincere, and genuine. That internally creates a little bit of trepidation. Externally to everyone who is not a part of the community, they get a sense of that. They get a sense of something truly authentic happening and they want in. Do you see it? They want that. They want to taste that. They want it for themselves. So more men and women, crowds of men and women start to join the community while the community is wrestling with the reality that they need the courage to take off the masks, to let down the clothing that pretends to be real. It’s a fascinating dynamic.
We’re told in verse 15, that as a result of the apostles’ work, sick people were brought out into the streets on beds and mats so that Peter’s shadow might fall across some of them as he went by. He almost gets elevated to a legendary status. If but his shadow, then it seems God would do something. Crowds came from the villages around Jerusalem, all around, bringing their sick and those possessed by dark spirits. They were all healed. There was an amazing movement of God in the midst of this warning and correction. Here in this community, it’s supposed to be the safest place to come as you are. This is the place where you can truly come as yourself and experience miraculous things. God is able to heal. God is able to create wholeness. God is able to meet. God is able to speak.
For that alone, this is an account worth visiting, but I would like to take the remaining minutes we have here and unpack a couple of thoughts for us. I think what we’re seeing here is one thing that needs to be stated is that Jesus is working our soul. It has similarities with others, but it is always unique. It has similarities in terms of how God works with us, but he is always doing something unique too. Unique, Why? Because He’s an artist at heart. The first introduction where we’re given to Him in the scriptures is Him as the creator. He’s a creator. We know this. Wholeness is His goal. Wholeness, by the way, is another way of saying that He longs to integrate every part of our lives to such a degree that it becomes the same wherever it is put.
That is His goal for us. Strength is the external expression of wholeness. It is how it will be perceived. When His work is actually taking hold of us, wholeness increases, you know what is perceived? Some degree of strength comes out. We don’t have to try. Grace is His medicine. Truth is His tool. It is how He chisels. It’s how He paints. It’s how He writes. Love is His clothing. It’s what He covers us with. It’s what He embraces us with. Our church is a church of artists. Some of you have created amazing things. I admire everyone that I get to know. One thing they all hold in common. No true artist likes duplicates. Originality, authenticity, beauty, and His peace, unique expressions through each poem, each story told, each painting, each drawing rendered.
There’s a desire. There’s a desire I don’t want to copy. I want to see what’s in you. I’ll tell you what? Do you know why that’s there? Because the one who created us feels the same way about each one of us. He longs to create something original in each one of our lives. How do we discover that? I want to suggest that we discover that not by looking around us, but by looking within. Making this question one of the daily questions of our lives: Lord, what are you doing in my soul? What is the masterpiece you’re creating inside of my life? What are you writing? What are you painting? What are you saying? What are you creating? What story are you telling me? When we start to ask and pay attention to that question, we will discover that God has been hard at work this entire time.
Do you know what it feels like a lot of times when we sense where He’s putting His finger? It feels uncomfortable. It feels nerve-wracking. A lot of times it feels like anxiety rather than peace because He’s moving things around. He’s shuffling the pieces. He’s getting into stuff that we’re not comfortable with. He’s shedding light in other areas. He’s pointing certain things out and He’s bringing them in with His open hands. He says, not at all. I’m working on your soul. I’m doing something. I’m creating something. It’s messy. I know it’s hard. It’s uncomfortable. I know you’re nervous. I know. But trust me, this is going to be so good. When we understand that and start to surrender and welcome Him, we discover there is something truly beautiful to this life journey with God.
We start to recognize that He doesn’t address the surface stuff. He really doesn’t. He addresses the core of who we are and that changes everything else. We have to know this. If that’s true, Jesus’ work requires our participation for transformation to occur. He requires us to get in the mess with Him, to put our hands to the clay with Him, to be willing to be molded. To be willing to allow Him into the areas of our lives that we’d rather nobody else step into. Look at what Paul told the Philippians. He says, “I want you to continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” Those two words essentially mean reverence and awe. Reverence and awe. Recognize that when God is doing something in your life, don’t treat it casually. Don’t minimize it. Don’t toss it aside. No. Pay attention.
Paul says, “It’s God who is at work in you and to act according to His good purpose,” you understand He’s doing something truly good. The best advice I was given especially in my younger years was if there is something of disruption going on inside of you, pay attention because it might be that God is actually wanting to speak to you. The dissonance might be Him interrupting you, stepping into your life. It might look like discomfort through conscience, discomfort through His Word. A lot of times we think we read His Word and it will always soothe us and comfort us. That’s sometimes true.
Sometimes we read His word and we get a little more agitated and anxious. We get a little bit more and more disturbed. There’ve been times I’ll read it and I’ll look over my shoulder like did you hear Him say that? I hope not because that kind of reveals my soul a little bit and I’m not comfortable with that. You see that will happen. If that’s the case, we have to understand this, that echo, that trembling in our soul is probably the closest thing. In fact, I will say this. That is probably what His voice starts to sound like. It’s more powerful than anything audible. To be sensitive and to develop a sensitivity to His movement in our lives is what it looks like to participate with Him and to not pretend with Him, but to invite Him in.
We have to know this, before any external crisis of truth in our lives occurs, God will seek to deal with us privately. He never longs to embarrass or expose us, He loves us too much. He loves us way too much to allow us. He’s structured life in such a way where if we do not respond to His internal promptings if the internal alarms are not enough to get our attention, His love for us is so profound that He will allow us to experience a crisis of truth where it’s no longer avoidable. Why? Because He is the father sitting on the edge of the road wondering when His son will come home. He is the man sitting at the well, speaking to the woman saying, tell me the truth, come and experience water that will satisfy your soul.
He is the man who bends down and tells the woman who was exposed, I don’t condemn you. I forgive you. You don’t have to suffer this again. You’re good to go. You’re free to go. Just don’t go back to that. We have to know this. When we recognize His work inside of us, this is the last point, we’ll start to recognize all His work around us. Paul said it this way. “I’ve discovered the secret. There’s a secret to His journey. I’ve discovered it.” He says, “I could be wealthy or poor. I could be feasting or starving. I could be in the midst of the greatest place or in the midst of the darkest place and yet something has occurred in my soul. I’ve discovered that Jesus has done such a wonderful thing inside of me that I am filled with contentment. And that contentment starts to show up no matter where I’m at.” He says, “Because of His work inside of me, I now see Him work all around me. All around me.”
All of a sudden, he says, you know what? When true contentment shows up, deep joy is present. Assurance is there. Security is there. Confidence rooted in truth, not in what we think we are supposed to be, or step into, courage to face peer pressure or the challenges that will inevitably come. Humility to admit faults. Why can’t we admit faults and be authentic about them? Why? Because His grace abounds. Because our faults, weaknesses, and failures will never cancel out His love for us. Because He is the one who perpetually singles us out as one who will be loved, loved, and embraced. He sacrificed it all for us. When we receive Him in our lives, He is the one who says all right, I want to do such a wonderful thing inside of you that you’ll start to recognize my fingerprints all around you. You’ll start to see what’s going on inside of you. It’s happening in your neighborhood. It’s happening in your work environment. It’s happening in your relationships. It’s happening in the darkest place of you, in the darkest pockets of the city.
He is at work. Let’s make no mistake about it. He’s doing something original inside each one of us. He’s doing something original in this community. He’s doing something original in this city, in this year, in this generation. We get to decide. Will we embrace it and let His artistry rise up or not? I pray we respond and we say yes. When we do, others will want in. They will want in. Because we all crave that.
I would love to pray. God, thank you. You are the one who is gentle and loving and kind. You are truthful and merciful and gracious. I pray that you would help us respond to the promptings you put inside of us and then you would help us embrace the original, unique, beautiful thing you want to do through our lives. You are welcome here God. Carry out your good work. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.