Welcome to the second week of our first series of 2015. This series is built around a simple truth…2015 has the potential to be your best year ever.
I know that can be hard to believe, especially if you’re in a tough season in your life. If things are hard, it sounds unrealistic, and it might even sound a little cruel, to hear your pastor say that this could be your best year ever.
But here’s the reason it’s true. It has nothing to do with you. It has nothing to do with what happens to you. Plenty of hard things are going to happen this year. You will go through struggles and hardship and hurt in 2015. In that sense, this year is no different than any other.
But here’s what can set this year apart. If we decide that this year is all about Jesus and NOT about us, that’s a game changer. That changes the definition of what a great year is. If it’s all about Jesus, then my year is based on Someone greater than me. Someone who is more powerful and mighty than anything that happens to me.
That’s why I’m not blowing smoke when I say that 2015 has the potential to be your best year ever.
Let’s take a minute to ask God to lead us, and then we’re going to jump into the second week of this series.
This series is based on this passage from Luke 4. “[Jesus] went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:16-21, NIV)
I love this scene. Jesus is in the Jewish synagogue, and He stands up to read a Scripture that He purposefully chose from the Old Testament prophet Isaiah. And then He sits down and says, “That Scripture that I just read? I am the fulfillment. It’s all about Me. This is Who I am. This is what I came to do.”
And when we submit to Jesus and let Him do what He came to do, it ushers in “the year of the Lord’s favor.” In other words, it can make it the best year ever.
Last week, we saw how Jesus came to proclaim the good news to the poor. We are all about the good news, which means we are all about generosity here at Connect. A follower of Jesus who is not generous is really an impossibility. It’s a total contradiction. The heart of the gospel, the good news, is generosity.
Today, we’re moving on to the next reason that Jesus said He came: freedom. In fact, freedom is the only one that is mentioned twice. Jesus said, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Freedom is the only thing that He mentioned twice, and that’s because He wants to be sure that we understand this…freedom is the whole point. The entire reason Jesus came was to set us free. Freedom is His entire mission. And if you truly lived this year in that freedom, it will be your best year ever.
When we got together with Nicki’s family for Christmas this year, it was nuts. I remember a time when it was kind of a quiet, more reserved family gathering.
But now, there are 8 kids present…5 of which are in preschool or younger. Now when we get together for Christmas…well, let’s just say the song Silent Night doesn’t apply. There was nothing silent about that night. It was insane. And there were times when it made me wish that someone had wrapped a Valium for me under the tree.
There were times when there was so much yelling going on that you couldn’t even figure out whose voice was whose. It was just a huge wave of noise.
I never really experienced that until I got married. I came from a pretty small family. Nicki came from a big family. This kind of insanity is just normal to her. She doesn’t even think about it. And for the last few years, she has been telling me, “You’ll get used it.”
Ain’t gonna happen. I love all the kids in this picture, but when you get them all together, holy moly…
But that’s really how life feels a lot of the time, isn’t it? There are just too many voices talking all at once. There is too much noise, too much static. There are so many voices saying so many different things that we can’t even understand them anymore.
Tonight, I’m going to be as straight-up as I know how to be. We’re talking about your freedom tonight, and the stakes are too high to pull any punches. I want you to live in freedom. Much more importantly, Jesus is calling you to live in freedom. It’s the whole reason He came.
And your freedom is won or lost in how you answer this question.
Who am I listening to?
There are a million voices that are vying for your attention. There are a million different voices you could be listening to. But it’s a deadly serious choice, because your freedom will be won or lost by deciding who you’re going to listen to.
Jesus used a great illustration in John 10. He said, “Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.
The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice.
But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” (John 10:1-5, NIV)
Think about what Jesus is saying here. The sheep follow the shepherd because they listen to His voice. And because they listen to Him, He leads them out of the pen. In other words, He leads them to freedom.
But not only that, the sheep absolutely refuse to listen to any voice other than the Shepherd’s. In fact, they’ll run away from any other voice. They are listening for one voice, and one voice only…the voice of their Shepherd. That’s the voice that will lead them into freedom.
So let me ask you again…who are you listening to? Who has your ear? Because there are a ton of voices that are speaking to you today, but only the voice of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, can lead you to freedom.
So here’s what that means. It means that you are NOT what other people say about you. Now are we feeling the freedom here tonight? You are NOT what other people say about you.
You know that jerk who reminds you who you used to be, who you can’t be, who you’ll never be? You don’t have to listen to that.
But unfortunately, religious people are some of the worst offenders. A lot of churches have become places that enslave people rather than setting them free, because all they do is speak words of judgment and condemnation. All they do is point out the religious rules that people aren’t keeping, and many times those rules aren’t even in the Bible. It’s a nasty thing called legalism. And legalism never set anybody free, ever.
And if you wonder why people are leaving the church at a faster rate than we’ve seen in generations, one of the biggest reasons why is because they’re tired of legalism.
Let me just use myself as an example. This is some of the legalism that I’ve run into in my ministry. I have been criticized…and I don’t just mean somebody got a little passive aggressive dig in…I mean I have been raked over the coals for things like…the clothes I wear. The books I’ve read. The house I live in. The movies I’ve seen. And even the coffee I drink. I’m not kidding. And it’s all come from religious legalists who don’t have an ounce of Scripture to back up their criticism.
Maybe you’ve run into the same kind of thing. It’s ugly. And it hurts. I’d be lying if I said that this stuff didn’t wound me. If it didn’t hurt, it would mean that I’m not human. It hurts, but I’ve also learned a lot from it.
Erwin McManus said, “Don’t let an arrow pierce your heart until it has first passed through the filter of Scripture.”
That is some serious wisdom. The voices of other people don’t define you. The voice of Jesus does. The Word of God does.
So has your ear? Who are you listening to? You are NOT what other people say about you. Jesus sets you free from that prison.
You know what other people say about you. But do you know what Jesus says about you?
Here’s who you are in His eyes. In Romans 8, the Apostle Paul wrote, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus [Did you hear that? If you are in Christ, there is NO condemnation for you. I don’t care what other people say about you. You’ve got to listen to what Jesus says about you. If you are in Christ, He says that there is NO condemnation for you], because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. [When you listen to Jesus, you are set free! And here’s why…]
For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering.” (Romans 8:1-3a, NIV)
You are set free because the Son of God died in your place as a sin offering. In other words, He died to pay the price for your sin. All of it. No exceptions. No exclusions. Nothing held back. He was your sin offering so you could be free.
So are you going to keep listening to voices that want to keep you in the prison of what you have done, or who you used to be, or what you can never be? Or are you going to listen to the voice of the One who gave His life for you to set you free from all guilt, all condemnation, all regret, all sin?
You are NOT what other people say about you. You are what Jesus says about you.
And here’s another truth that we all have to own…you are also NOT what other people have done to you. You are not what other people say about you and you are not what other people have done to you.
The summer after I graduated from high school, I worked for a construction company. It didn’t last long, for obvious reasons. In the span of less than two months, I slit my hand open with a box knife, which required stitches. I tore the tendons in my finger after crushing between some boards. And the pieced résistance, I almost cut my hand off when a huge picture window came crashing down and cut my wrist open. When I was sitting in the ER, which all kinds of blood vessels hanging out of my wrist, I knew that the construction business was not for me.
And other people agreed. I remember my youth minister looking at me the next Sunday and saying, “You know, the only thing left is for you to drop a steel girder on your head!”
Now, I’m happy to say that I’ve become a little better with tools than I was that summer after high school. But I still have the scars that remind of who I was. I still can’t fully straighten out the little finger on my left hand. And I’ve got a big scar on my right wrist. Those scars are never going to go away.
Some of you are walking around with scars, but they’re a lot more serious than that. They are emotional scars. Spiritual scars. Scars from abuse, betrayal, rejection, broken commitments, shattered vows, and on and on. People who promised to love you, hurt you. People who should have never wounded you did just that.
But again, freedom is all about deciding who you’re going to listen to.
If you listen to your scars, you’ll remain trapped in a prison of bitterness and resentment and anger and unforgiveness. You’re always going to be a victim.
But if you listen to Jesus, you can be set free from that prison. You know what your scars are telling you, but do you know what your Savior is telling you?
Here’s what He’s telling you. In Romans 8, the Apostle Paul reminds us, “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?
Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:31b-35, 37-39, NIV)
I don’t see any victims here, but I see a ton of victory here. I don’t see any prison here. All I see is freedom.
Now, I’m not trying to minimize your pain. Please, please, please understand that. I’m not trying to minimize your pain. I’m not trying to make light of your scars. The hurt is real. The damage that was done is real. The scars are very, very real.
But as your pastor, I love you too much to let you listen to those scars tell you that you have to stay in resentment and bitterness and unforgiveness. That’s a prison. And Jesus Himself said that He came to proclaim freedom for the prisoners. He came to set the oppressed free.
You don’t have to live in those chains anymore. You can be set free from the bitterness and anger and unforgivness that isn’t hurting anyone but you. Let’s be honest…it’s not doing a thing to the person who hurt you. The only person you’re hurting is you.
You can stop living as victim and start living as a victor. It won’t be easy, but you can choose to stop listening to your scars and start listening to your Savior. You can leave the prison of victimhood and start living in the freedom of victory. If you did that, tell me that wouldn’t make this your best year ever?
Who are you listening to? Are you listening to voices that want to keep you in prison, or are you listening to the voice of the Good Shepherd who wants you to live in freedom?
It seems to be a no-brainer, but the truth is, it’s easier said than done, isn’t it? Some people don’t live in freedom because they feel like they deserve prison. They don’t deserve to live a life of freedom. Not after what they’ve done. Not after what they’ve been through.
That’s the nature of the freedom that Jesus gives us. It is completely undeserved. There is nothing we can do to earn it or deserve it. It is freely given. So you can stop looking at your unworthiness. You and I will always be unworthy of this forgiveness and freedom, but Jesus was worthy enough for us. We will never be good enough to deserve it, but Jesus was good enough for us. Don’t let your unworthiness keep you from living in the freedom that Jesus wants for you.
But other people choose not to live in the freedom that Jesus offers because they don’t want to submit to Him. They choose not to listen to Him because they don’t want to obey Him.
Freedom and obedience go hand-in-hand. Now, that sounds contradictory at first. But the truth is, freedom isn’t anarchy. Freedom is not living with no authority over us. Freedom is living under the right authority.
Listen to what Tim Keller wrote in his book, The Reason For God. This is a little long, but it’s so good that I just couldn’t condense it.
He wrote, “Some people argue that the idea of real freedom is having no restraints or restrictions and being able to do whatever you want…
Here are some reasons why this idea of freedom does not work.
This view of freedom is naïve about the complexity of the human heart.
When people say, “I’ve got to be free to do what I really want”—they may be naïve about how the human heart works. People have a lot of wants, and they often contradict each other.
For example: On the one hand, people want to eat anything they feel like. And on the other hand, they want to have good health. What is freedom? They have to decide which of those wants is the liberating one and which one will bring them into bondage. And right away, they have already started to alter their model. They have started to realize freedom can’t just be the lack of restrictions, but finding the right restrictions.
This view of freedom is also naïve about the complexity of motivation.
What is it that drives or motivates people? There are hundreds of choices we have to make every day, and they are usually between good options. Why do we choose the ones we do? Every person has an ultimate value, what is often in the Bible called an idol. We all believe that if we could just attain that “one thing” (e.g., money or status) we would find freedom. The trap is, unless that one thing is God, the object of our pursuit ends up controlling us.”
Our culture tells us that freedom means no restraints, no restrictions, just do whatever, whenever. There will be no consequences. There will be no price to pay. That’s real freedom.
And a whole lot of us took that bait, only to find out that there was a big hook in it. A lot of us have learned the hard way that it’s a lie.
Jesus is calling you to live in freedom AND submission to Him. That’s not a contradiction. It’s a requirement.
The Apostle Peter summed it up when he wrote, “Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves.” (1 Peter 2:16, NIV)
That’s the only place that freedom is actually found. It’s found when we decide to live in submission to Jesus. To listen to His voice, and to obey Him.
Where are you kicking against that? Where are you ignoring the voice of Jesus? Where are you rebelling against Him instead of submitting to Him?
Our church exists to connect people to Jesus Christ, and to lead them into a growing relationship with Him. A growing relationship where Jesus becomes Lord. Where we listen to His voice and do what He says.
We’ll never be able to do that perfectly, but that pursuit is what sets us free. Pursuing Jesus. Pursuing what He wants for us our lives. Listening to His voice, and doing what He says.
And the amazing thing about His grace is it’s never too late to submit to Him. Wherever you’ve been ignoring Him, you can lay that down at His feet tonight. Wherever you’ve been rebelling against Him, you can surrender that to Him tonight.
If you don’t, then you’ll never live in freedom. Things just get really, really messed up when we don’t submit to Jesus as the Lord of our lives. But we can decide to do it differently tonight.
We can choose to submit to Jesus. He loved us enough to die in our place, and He was powerful enough to rise again to give us a new life. A life of freedom.
You don’t have to live in your prison anymore. Whatever it is, you don’t have to live in your prison anymore. Listen to Jesus. He’s calling you out of your prison. He’s calling you into a new life. He’s calling you into freedom.