Here are my notes for teaching at the Cornerstone on Sunday, January 29, 2019.
Passage: Various and Joshua 3:5.
NEW YEAR, RENEWED FOCUS
I'm sort of obsessed with efficiency and effectiveness. Anybody else? Yes, I know, I'm a little too intense sometimes. But ... Life is short and I want to make the most of it. I want to accomplish something and I want my life to count.
Years ago, I figured out this formula: goal + focus + effort = effectiveness. This works in relationships, planning vacations, at work, in school, physical fitness, diet, everything. Whatever I give focused attention to, that's what gets done well. Usually, when things don't work out, it's because I haven't given it enough focus. Focus is the secret sauce of success. I'm talking about focus over the long haul without quitting. Sometimes it's called grit because it's an ongoing, lifetime, relentless, commitment.
Distracted driving is a problem. Distracted living is a worse problem. We must learn to focus. I'm fascinated by the power of focus and I found some helpful books on the topic: HyperFocus, Indistractable and Essentialism. The idea is that if we take control of distractions and pay attention to what matters most, we will have time and energy to reach our goals.
What does this have to do with following Jesus? Pretty much everything. The main obstacles blocking my path to deeper faith all stem from distractions that keep me from focusing on what matters most. Think about it. Why is prayer so difficult most days? Because I'm distracted by my to-do list. I want to pray, but my thoughts are all aimed at getting "important" stuff done. Prayer falls off the radar. Why do I lapse into harmful habits? Because I'm not focused on Jesus. I aim at something unhelpful and my life goes off course. Why is it hard to love people in need? Because I'm focused on myself.
Focus is the key to following Jesus.
That idea brings us to the point of today's teaching, which is this: As we cross the threshold into 2020, we should renew our focus on Jesus. The Bible word for this is consecration. It means to separate our lives from anything that distracts us from Jesus.
BEFORE GOD MOVES, HE FIRST MOVES US
Before God moves, he first moves us. He asks us to change our focus and to cut out distractions so that we will be ready to receive or live in all he has for us. For example:
Moses consecrated the people of Israel to get them ready for God to reveal himself on Mount Sinai: (Exodus 19:14) "After Moses had gone down the mountain to the people, he consecrated them, and they washed their clothes." They washed their clothes to symbolize a fresh start with God.
Much later, John the Baptist prepared the people for Jesus: (Mark 1:1-4) "The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, 2 as it is written in Isaiah the prophet: “I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way”—3 “a voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’” Making a straight path is a picture of consecration. We remove the obstacles to God in our lives. We cut out whatever distracts our focus from God and his will for our lives.
Soon after this, Jesus began to preach. His message was: (Mark 1:14-15) "After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”" Repent sounds like a scary religious word, but it's another word for consecration by focusing on what matters most - the Kingdom of God.
When God was about to lead his people into the land of promise, Joshua, the commander of Israel's armies, proclaimed this: (Joshua 3:5) "Joshua told the people, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you.”" It's the same message: Get focused. Cut out whatever distracts from your commitment to God.
Here's what I think God is speaking to us on the cusp of 2020: "I love you and want the best for you. I am sad that so many are living in spiritual poverty because they are not focused on Jesus. I want you to enter into all I have for you, so, renew your focus. Consecrate yourselves, set yourselves apart for Jesus and all that he is, all that he has done, and all that he is doing for you. Live in my abundant love and life and grace."
Today, we'll respond to God's kind offer and walk a path to consecration.
A PATH TO CONSECRATION
In just a moment, we'll work through a time of consecration, but first I want to tell you how this idea was developed by John Wesley. He was one of the most anointed evangelists in history and was at the center of spiritual renewal in 18th century Britain. He crisscrossed the nation on horseback in an exhausting effort to bring the Gospel to the masses and spiritual renewal to the church.
In 1775, John Wesley introduced a covenant renewal service as an important part of spiritual life in the Methodist Societies. Eventually, it became a service of spiritual renewal that was held every year on the Sunday closest to January 1. We're not going to follow the exact words of Wesley's service, but we will follow his big idea.
As fallen people, prone to sin, we often take our focus off of Jesus. The solution is NOT resolutions to do better. We need a spiritual revolution - a supernatural work of God in our lives.. What will spark that revolution? Consecration - intense focus on Jesus. The Lord is saying to us: "Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow I will do amazing things among you."
Author, J.D. Walt, wrote, "Our resolutions and resolve aren’t bad, just futile. What if we started out this year on our knees, reminding one another of the mercy, grace, and faithfulness of God? What if we gave up on reaching for the stars and found ourselves bowing down to the ground before the one true and living God? What if instead of re-firing our confidence in ourselves, we renewed our faith in Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit? What if we began this year with repentance—realigning our minds and hearts and lives according to the things that matter most? Well, that would be a New Year’s revolution." (WATCHNIGHT: JOHN WESLEY’S COVENANT RENEWAL SERVICE, 2016, Seedbed Publishers. pp. 7-8.)
Anytime we walk on a path, two things happen: we walk away from something and we walk towards something. It's the same on the path to consecration: we walk away from our focus on self and sin, habits and hangups, that keep us from walking in God's will and ways. We walk away from the obstacles AND we walk towards Jesus (his person, his promises, his work, his will, and his ways). We focus intensely on Jesus so that we are ready for whatever he has for us.
The Bible describes the path to consecration in many places. Here is a small sample:
Reject the past, renew focus on Jesus: (Titus 2:11-14) The grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. 12 It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.
(1 Peter 1:14-16) As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. 15 But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; 16 for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”
Rest in Jesus and follow him: (Matthew 11:28-30) “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Receive all Jesus has for you: (John 15:5) "I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing."
Re-focus on what Jesus wants: (John 14:15-17) “If you love me, keep my commands. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth."
Do you see the pattern in all those passages? Because of who Jesus is and all he has done for us and all he has for us, we can walk away from our old way of life and we can walk towards Jesus. The path to consecration is all about changing our focus.
That's what we'll do right now. We'll re-focus on Jesus through prayers of confession, cleansing, and consecration. The prayers will be on the screen. You don't have to say them out loud, but you are welcome to say them with me.
A PROCESS OF CONSECRATION
There is a process that we can follow to re-focus on Jesus and consecrate our lives so that we will stand in all God has for us in 2020. The process is:
I CONFESS MY SINS TO GOD
Psalm 32 has convinced me of the vital importance of confessing our sins:
(Psalms 32:3-5) When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. 4 For day and night your hand was heavy on me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. 5 Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.” And you forgave the guilt of my sin.
The Holy Spirit may already be speaking into your heart, but if you need to prime the pump on some issues the Lord wants you to confess, here is a list (based on 2 Timothy 3:1-5 and other passages) of possibilities:
I have been: idolatrous, self-absorbed, proud, money-hungry, self-promoting, stuck-up, profane, contemptuous of parents, crude, coarse, dog-eat-dog, unbending, slandering, savage, cynical, treacherous, ruthless, angry, easily offended, gossipy, unkind, ungracious, judgmental, hypocritical, lying, attention-getting, impatient, controlling, full of fear and unbelief, addicted to lust, allergic to God.
"Father God, I confess that I have not been focused on Jesus. I have been distracted by things that keep me from following him. The results have been ugly. I admit that these are obstacles to what you want to do in my life. I now confess my sins to you __________________________________________. Amen."
I CLAIM MY CLEANSING IN JESUS
Jesus is the source of our forgiveness of sins and our cleansing from guilt. When we first turned to him as our God and Savior, we were totally forgiven and cleansed once and for all. That never needs to be topped off. It's 100% complete forever.
(Hebrews 10:10) We have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
Why, then, should we continue to confess our sins and to ask for cleansing? For one reason only: to refocus our lives on Jesus, who is the only source of our forgiveness and cleansing. Let's do that now:
Father, by faith, I claim my cleansing. I believe that, in Jesus, all my sin has been forgiven, and all my guilt has been cleansed. I am holy before you because of Jesus alone. Thank you! Praise you! Amen.
I CONSECRATE MYSELF TO GOD BY RE-FOCUSING ON JESUS
The prayer of consecration is a way to ask God to help us keep our focus on Jesus. It's a faith-confession that 1) we intend to reject sinful choices and 2) we are not relying on ourselves, but on Jesus, so 3) we are renewing our focus on him:
(Hebrews 12:1-3) Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
""Father, I have received your abundant, life-giving, love and grace in Jesus. By the power of your Spirit, I turn from every obstacle to your work in my life. Help me to focus on Jesus so that I will receive all that you want for me in 2020. Amen."
Now we turn our attention to the Communion table. This is a gift from God to help us stay focused on Jesus. It's a very tangible way to remember that Jesus is the source of all God wants for us. His body and blood say to us, "Consecrate yourselves - re-focus on Jesus - because God wants to fill your life with the abundant love, life and grace that is found only in Jesus.