Experiencing God – Introduction

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Well, good morning and Happy New Year! 2017 was quite a year and I do believe 2018 will be even better as I see before me a group of people who are hungry to know and do the will of God. A group of people who are tired of the motions and want a real and personal relationship with the living God. A group of people who are ready to make some changes in their lives.

I see before me a group of people ready and poised to be used by God in mighty ways. And it makes this pastor’s heart glad.

Even if you are new with us this morning or even new to church in general – it is no accident you are here.

So, let’s pray and get into it.

Today we are beginning the study called Experiencing God by Henry & Richard Blackaby, which is all about how to know and do the will of God. It’s a study that has been around for quite some time and has impacted literally millions of people around the world. If you do a quick google search, you will find all kinds of videos and other things you can watch or read about it. Having gone through it myself for the first time over the past three months, I believe it is a truly inspired work.

 

Now, in the study we just went through as a group, we would meet weekly and watch a 30 minute video with one of them speaking and spend another 90 minutes in discussion and prayer. We are going to have to do things a little different here on Sunday mornings. Instead of watching their videos, myself or Pastor Sandy will do a 20 to 25 minute teaching covering the same material you would have seen in the video but trying to apply it to our unique situation. Then we will split into groups throughout the building for another 30 minutes so you can discuss both what you heard in the message and what you learned from your reading in the workbook from the previous week.

I cannot stress enough just how important it is that you do the homework if you are able. If you are not able, we are planning to make Sunday mornings such that you will still benefit and be able to engage in the discussion, but you will gain much more from this if you do the reading.

And I can promise you, that if you do it right – meaning with your heart open and eager to learn from God – then God will assuredly do His part in dramatically changing your life over the next few months. Which is another point I want to stress that Henry Blackaby pointed out in the video clip – it’s not this study that will change your life. It’s the God you are pursuing that will change your life as you seek to know Him. This study is only a tool – a very good tool – but only a tool. And just like any other kind of tool, it’s pretty useless if you don’t use it the way it was designed to be used. And even more pointless if never used at all.

It’s kind of like the exercise bike I had in my office for a long time. Having it in my office didn’t make me any thinner. Neither did riding it those three times over the course of a year.

Anyway, I think you get the point.

With this first Sunday being only an introduction, you will actually be covering more details about the study itself and even going through the first day’s reading together in your groups when I’m done talking. So, instead of repeating what you’ll hear about there, I want to talk with you about something else you can do in the coming months that I guarantee will result in a truly new you in the new year.

Actually, it’s not my guarantee – it’s God’s – and I have personally experienced it along with many others – including some of you and the leaders of the groups you will be in during this study. And it’s something you can do right along with this study we are doing.

It’s something I’ve spoken on many times, so most of you have probably heard it before, but if you’ve never actually tried it, then clearly you need to hear it again…

As James says…

James 1
22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25 But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.

If you want to be blessed in the new year, then I strongly encourage you to not only listen to what I’m about to share, but to do it.

Because it’s not my words – but God’s Word.

And here is God’s recipe for a changed life.

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. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

That right there is the recipe for a new life.

It has two parts.

The first part is about surrendering your will to God. That’s what it means to be a “living sacrifice”. It’s not about physically dying for Christ. It’s about dying to self and living in complete surrender and obedience to Him as your Lord and King.

This is what it means to be saved, to be a Christian, which is a prerequisite for all that follows and required to receive any of the blessings or promises of Scripture. In other words, if you are not a Christ Follower, this study will have little meaning to you until you become one. That is because spiritual matters are only understood by those who have the Holy Spirit living inside of them – which is what happens when you give your life to Jesus.

And how you do that is simple.

Romans 10:9 tells us that
9 If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

First you have to believe what the Bible says about Jesus. That He is the Son of God. That He lived a sinless life. That He died on the cross as payment for your sin. And that He rose from the dead on the third day and is still alive today at the right hand of the Father in heaven.

You also have to admit you are guilty of sin. Sin is simply doing things your own way rather than God’s way. And we are all guilty. We all like to do things our own way rather than God’s way, and it’s not only punishable in God’s eyes, but it’s the very thing that ruins everything – including our own lives. Sin is the reason behind everything wrong in your life, and a lot of it is your own sin.

When you recognize and admit this truth about yourself and decide you don’t want to live that way anymore, it is called “repenting.” And because Jesus took the punishment for your sin on himself when He died on that cross, we are forgiven of our sin and given eternal life when we believe these truths and confess Jesus as Lord. Which simply means you will now stop doing things your own way and start obeying Jesus instead.

And a wonderful thing happens when you make that decision. The Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ, moves inside of you and enables you to actually live that way so long as your let Him.

This is what it means to present yourself as a “living sacrifice” – you surrender your life to Christ. And in doing so, He will also be your Savior. Many try to make Him their Savior and skip the Lord part. But Scripture is clear. Jesus is only your Savior when you make Him your Lord.

And in case anyone here is ready to make that decision, let’s pause and pray for a minute….

If you did make that decision or if you have any questions about this, please come and talk with me after service since I only covered it briefly.

If you want to benefit from this study, and even more importantly, if you want a truly new life in this new year, making Jesus your Lord and Savior first and foremost is the only way that will happen. Though, I will say that if you are unsure at this point, keep coming and perhaps the Holy Spirit will open your mind as you continue to seek the truth.

Now, once you HAVE made Jesus your Lord and offered your body as a living sacrifice, the Holy Spirit will surely give you a new life. In fact, you have now become a new person. As we see in

2 Corinthians 5:17
…anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!

But that doesn’t mean you will instantly be rid of all the baggage you brought into your new life. That takes some time and effort to be rid of those things, through a process called “sanctification” – which basically means becoming like Christ – actually ridding yourself of the old and truly living the new life.

Most of the work is done by the Holy Spirit, but we do have a part to play. This is where Romans 12:2 comes in.

Romans 12:2 (NIV)
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

I also like the way the NLT puts it.

Romans 12:2 (NLT)
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.

In other words, the key to being transformed, to becoming a new you, is not in the way you look but in the way you think. It’s about renewing your mind. And the promise of a mind renewed is that you will be able to know God’s will – exactly what this study of Experiencing God is about.

But the Scripture is clear – it’s not enough to simply ADD some kind of study or even avid bible reading to your daily regimen. You also have to REMOVE things.

Basically, your brain’s spiritual health is a lot like your body’s physical health. You can’t get healthy eating junk food 95% of the time and adding a salad once a week and a few trips to the gym. It just won’t work. What will work is that you stop eating junk food, start eating vegetables and such, and start working out, and voila – you’ll have a new body within a few months. It’s really quite simple. But it’s also hard. That’s because our natural desires, fueled by the impressive marketing and ready availability of junk food, fight against us at every turn.

And it works the same with your brain.

Recent studies have shown that the average adult watches 5 hours of television per day or about 35 hours per week. Add to that all the other kinds of media we ingest (tablets, smart phones, computers, games, radio, etc)

and the average American spends over 10 hours each day feeding their brain the patterns and customs of this world.

That’s 70 hours per week – more than a full time job.

And many Christian Americans simply add a couple hours of Sunday church to that, and maybe a few minutes of Bible reading each day.

And then we are surprised and frustrated when it seems our spiritual growth is stagnated and we can’t seem to hear the voice of God.
That’s like the guy who smokes three packs of cigarettes each day for 20 years being surprised when he gets lung cancer. Or the girl who eats fast food for every meal for 10 years being surprised when she has high cholesterol and diabetes.

It’s not rocket science. You literally are what you eat, both in your body and in your brain.

buckets of colored balls illustration

For the take of time and simplicity these two buckets represent the two extremes. On the one hand this bucket with the red balls is your average American Christian’s brain. The red balls are all the deliberate lies the Enemy has planted in your brain through his multi-media sources you so readily eat up. The green are neutral, not necessarily good or evil. And the yellow is the little bit of God and His Word that you allow to drip in. Guess what the chances are that in any given situation in which you need to access the contents of your brain to make a decision that you will draw out a God-thought? You may want to know God’s will, but your brain is so full of everything and anything BUT the words of God that your chances are between slim and none that you will even come close to discerning it.

But here on the other end of the spectrum is the mind of a person who has stopped conforming to the pattern of the world. Someone who has been intentional about turning off the fire hose of the world’s words in their head and instead filled it with the words of God. What do you think the chances are this person can know the will of God and do it? Pretty high.

This really is how it works. Your thoughts are made up of the things you have put in your brain. And you are what you think.

So, if you want to change what and who you are, Scripture tells us that you have to change your brain. And you do that by changing what you feed it.

Another illustration I like to use for this is my faucet illustration.

Basically, this bucket represents your brain. The two faucets are clean (God’s Word) and dirty (The World). The average person before and even after coming to Christ has the dirty faucet on full blast. That’s those 10 hours of screen and speaker time I told you about. And so what is in the bucket? Dirty water.

What if I add in a little trickle of the clean water – like Sunday morning church or the occasional YouVersion bible devotional. What’s in the bucket?

What if I turn the clean faucet on full blast. I’m in a small group and I read the bible an hour each day…in addition to my 10 hours of world media? What’s in the bucket?

What’s the only way to get the dirty water out of the bucket and replace it with clean water? Turn the dirty faucet off and only have the clean faucet on. And over time, most of the dirt will wash out and you will have a clean mind that can know the will of God.

It’s really that simple. But it’s also really hard.

It doesn’t seem like it should be hard. After all, it’s not like a food diet where you have to work hard to find nutritious food and start exercising. This brain diet only requires that you turn the TV off. Put the phone or tablet down. Change your radio station. And pick up your bible and read – or even listen to it in audio.

It’s so, so, simple and theoretically easy. But in reality, if you try to do this, it will likely be one of the hardest things you’ve ever done…at least at first.

And that’s because you have an enemy that would rather you do anything other than turn off his lies and start filling your head with the truth instead. He’s fine with you going to church and thinking that’s enough. He’s fine with you even dripping it in with the occasional devotional – just as long as you don’t turn off his lie machine. So, he’ll put up a fight. And he has the whole world and its system at his arsenal.

If you really think about it you will see that this is true, and you will start to notice that it’s actually hard to avoid the fire hose of the world’s media. It’s everywhere and so easy to access that most of us are on autopilot just eating it up.

Which is right where the enemy wants us.

Anyway, I think you get the picture.

If you really want a new you in this new year, you have to change what you feed your brain. A very easy first step for most of you would be to change what radio station you listen to.

Most of us probably have a commute and we listen to the radio in the car. If you don’t already, change over to KLOVE or AIR 1 instead of classic rock or country and especially instead of news or talk radio, that is the worst (the news makes its money keeping you afraid and angry). Try it for a month. Listen exclusively to Christian music for a month and you will see a change in the way you think.

Other things you can do is start cutting out some of the TV you watch. Replace an hour of television with an hour of bible reading or listening or just silence – who knows, you might even be able to hear God’s voice if you turn off the noise for a few minutes. But if you can’t stand the silence yet, at least fill it with the words of God.

For those of us addicted to our phones I recommend the YouVersion app.

Did you know that for the average reader it only takes 60 hours to read through the entire bible. If you don’t believe me, the audio version of the NIV is only 70 hours long. Which means, that in the same amount of time most people spend filling their heads with junk during the week, you could listen to or read the entire bible.

Or, if you went with an hour a day – it would take two months.
30 minutes a day – 4 months.
15 minutes a day – 8 months.
And so on.

And I am out of time. If you would like help with setting up an actual plan to change your brain this year, please see me after service and we can talk about it. Because even if you don’t do this Experiencing God study with us, this one thing can and will change your life if you do it.

Let’s pray.