Welcome to week #4 of our series called Overwhelmed. I haven’t preached since week 1, so it’s good to be back in the saddle. This series has been an honest, gut-level look at what happens in our lives when we are overwhelmed, and how God wants something better for us.
And today, we’re just going to see more of the same. Let me pray for us and then we’ll get after it.
I love Pandora. I don’t know if you use it or not, but I use Pandora almost everyday of my life. That’s no joke. When I’m writing, I’ve got several Pandora stations that I listen to. All instrumental stuff. I can’t listen to anything with lyrics while I write.
But I also listen to Pandora almost every morning while I’m getting ready. I listen to the Pandora app on my phone when I’m mowing my yard. Seriously, I use Pandora pretty much everyday of my life.
And the thing I love about it is how you can customize it. If a song comes on that you don’t like, just give it a “thumbs down” and Pandora will never play it again. I love that, because there is a lot of music that I just can’t stand.
For example, there’s a song that came on one of my stations the other day. It wasn’t more than 5 seconds into the song and I gave it a thumbs down. Well, after a couple of other songs, this same song came on again. And I thought, “What the heck? I just told you that I hated this song.” Then I realized that it was the live version. So apparently Pandora thought, “He didn’t like the studio version, but I’ll bet he will love the live version.” I didn’t.
Don’t you wish there were more things in life that worked that way? You don’t like it, you give it a thumbs down, and it’s gone. That would be awesome.
To be honest, I wish church signs came with this feature. Somebody needs to invent that app. I don’t pay for very many apps, but I would pay for that one! I’m just driving along and I see a church sign that says something stupid, give it a thumbs down, and bam! It’s gone.
The problem is there wouldn’t be many church signs left in the world! I think there is a committee somewhere who just sits around, dreaming up stupid church signs. I actually saw one this past week that drove me out of my mind. But I won’t tell you which one, because that wouldn’t be nice.
But I do remember a church sign that I saw a few years ago. In fact, it was so stupid and so wrong that I’ve never forgotten it. The sign said, “Following Jesus makes life easier.”
I don’t just want an app to give this sign a thumbs down. I want an app that will blow it up!
Seriously? Following Jesus makes life easier? If that’s true, then I must be doing it wrong.
I think I understand what the church was trying to say, but they failed miserably. Instead, they put forward a very dangerous belief. This belief that if I sincerely follow Jesus, then everything will go well for me. No setbacks. No stumbling. No pain. No discouragement. No disappointment. No heartache. It’s just puppy dogs and sunshine, all the time. It’s like candy corn for breakfast, lunch, and dinner everyday (because, you know, that would be awesome!).
I don’t think that’s what this church meant, but that’s what their sign communicated.
Here’s the truth, and it’s a truth that might make you uncomfortable. It’s probably not what you expected to hear at church today. Following Jesus does not make life easier. In some cases, it makes life a lot more difficult.
For example, think about what happened to Paul and Silas. We’re going to unpack a little bit of their story in Acts 16 today.
Let me set it up for you. A girl who was possessed by a demon started following Paul and Silas around. This girl was a slave, and her owners used her as a fortuneteller. They made a lot of money off of this poor girl’s demon possession.
But Paul cast the demon out of her. And that’s where we’re going to pick up the story.
In Acts 16, starting in verse 19, Luke wrote, “When her owners realized that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to face the authorities.
They brought them before the magistrates and said, “These men are Jews, and are throwing our city into an uproar by advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practice.”
The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten with rods.
After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. When he received these orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.” (Acts 16:19-24, NIV)
You think that Paul and Silas would believe that following Jesus makes life easier? Paul and Silas did nothing wrong. In fact, they did everything right. A girl was set free from the demon that had possessed her life. And what did they get in return? They were arrested. They were stripped of their clothes. They were beaten with rods. Luke doesn’t just say they were flogged. He said they were “severely flogged.” And then they were thrown into prison, with their feet fastened in stocks.
But following Jesus makes life easier, right?
There are certain preachers, and I won’t name names, who preach that you just need to believe and receive. If you just think positively, positive things will happen. God really does make life easier.
Tell that to Paul and Silas. And to put a more modern spin on this, tell that to the Christians in Iraq that are being slaughtered by ISIS. Tell that to the three Assyrian Christians who were shot in the back of the head on video by ISIS terrorists. Tell that to the Christian man in Egypt who is facing three years in prison simply because he was distributing Bibles. Tell it to the 15 families in Mexico who were kicked out of their village because they desired to seek God. They slept in a stable for over a year, with very little food and absolutely no help from anyone. Tell it to the two pastors in India who were dragged out of their house church and beaten severely, and then taken to the police station where they were charged with “forcing” people to convert to Christianity.
This isn’t just stuff that happened in Bible times. It’s happening right now. In fact, more people were killed for their faith in the 20th century than in the previous 19 centuries COMBINED. And so far, the 21st century has been even more violent toward Christians.
So you can take that “health and wealth gospel” garbage somewhere else. You won’t hear it here. If you’re looking for a pastor to tell you that if you just think positive, if you just believe you’ll receive, you can look somewhere else. You won’t hear it here.
And the reason you won’t hear it here is because it’s not true. The fact is that following Jesus doesn’t make your life easier. In fact, in some ways, it actually makes life more difficult.
But that’s not just me talking. Think about some things that Jesus Himself said.
In Matthew 10, Jesus said, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn “‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’” (Matthew 10:34-36, NIV)
Does it sound like following that guy makes life easier?
In Matthew 5, He said, “Blessed are you when [not if, when] people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.” (Matthew 5:11, NIV)
And in John 16, Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble.” (John 16:33b, NIV)
Not “you might have trouble.” Or “trouble is a possibility.” Jesus states it as a promise. “In this world you WILL have trouble.”
Anyone who believes that following Jesus makes life an automatic cakewalk just isn’t listening.
The plain fact is that we live in a dark, broken, sinful, messed up, fallen world. It’s a world where bad things happen, and no one is immune.
And it can just be overwhelming. When we get blindsided, when we just can’t believe that this is happening to us, we are overwhelmed. The darkness and the brokenness and the pain of this world…it’s absolutely overwhelming.
But that doesn’t mean that there is no hope. We live in a world where bad things happen, but we also have a God who took the absolute worst that this world could offer and He overcame.
We don’t have a God who is detached from our suffering. We have a God who understands it intimately because He experienced it. Jesus voluntarily came into our world. He experienced the pain. The darkness. The loneliness. The hurt. The heartache. He walked through it all.
And then, He was arrested without justification. Beaten. Spat upon. Mocked. And flogged. Crowned with thorns. And then He was crucified. But three days later, He walked out of that tomb.
This is a world where bad things happen. No one knows that better than Jesus. He took the absolute worst that this world could throw at Him, and He overcame.
And that means that, as followers of Jesus, ‘hopeless’ isn’t even a word in our vocabulary.
Several years ago, we went tubing on vacation. We were in Tennessee, tubing down a river in the middle of the mountains. It was awesome.
But I ignored one of the first rules of tubing in this river. If you’re not sure how deep it is, don’t get out of the tube. I thought, “Whatever. That rule is for some wuss. I got this.” So I got out of the tube, and the current of the river caught me immediately. There was nothing I could do. The current swept my feet out from under me and slammed my knee into a rock.
And because I’m a pastor, I didn’t say any bad words. Actually, because I’m a pastor, I’m not going to lie to you. A word or two might have slipped out of my mouth, because it HURT!
I finally was able to climb back into my tube. I looked at my knee, and it was red and swollen and, oh man, was it sore!
And I limped for the rest of our vacation.
Let’s be honest…sometimes life just slams you into the rocks, and it hurts. It really hurts. And the end result is you walk with a limp.
But here’s the hope that we all need to grab onto. You can walk in freedom, even if you walk with a limp. Freedom in Christ doesn’t mean that this world can’t touch you. It doesn’t mean that you’ll never experience pain and hurt and loss. It doesn’t mean that life won’t knock you to the mat at times. But what it does mean is that you don’t stay down. You can continue to walk in freedom, even if you walk with a limp.
Some of us are limping because we’re just overwhelmed with everything we’re facing. It just seems to be one crisis after another. And it feels like we’re limping more than we’re walking.
Some of us are limping because of the wounds that we received in our past. Wounds of betrayal. Wounds of abuse. Wounds of abandonment. And those wounds seem to have left us with a permanent limp.
Some of us are limping because we’ve lost someone we loved. We lost a parent. We lost a spouse. We lost a child. And we’re limping. Here’s what you’ve got to understand. This isn’t something you ever fully get over. You will limp for the rest of your life, and that’s ok.
Just because you walk with a limp doesn’t mean you can’t walk in freedom. In fact, be very careful about trusting anybody who doesn’t walk with a limp.
The truth is you’re either limping or you’re lying.
No one goes through life unscathed. But there’s a great temptation to act like we’ve got it all together. We’re tough. We’re confident. We’re self-sufficient. Life just doesn’t get to us.
Bull crap. There’s not a person in this room that isn’t limping from something. And when we put on this self-sufficient, self-righteous mask, we’re liars. Pure and simple.
We’re either limping or we’re lying. That’s true for everyone in this room. That’s true for you. It’s true for the person on your left. The person on your right. The person behind you. The person in front of you. And it’s true for the person speaking to you right now.
I’m limping. In fact, in some ways, I’m limping more now than I have for a while. I’m really struggling with some things, and I don’t talk about it very often because I don’t want to sound like I’m whining. But I can’t honestly preach this message without going there.
I’m limping. Leading a church is absolutely exhausting, and it’s showing in my life. I’m running on fumes.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I could not be more excited about where Connect is heading. I absolutely believe that we are on the cusp of the greatest season we’ve ever seen in our church. I believe that with everything in me. Our leaders are praying and working on a vision that is amazing. I’m so excited to see what God is going to do in this next season. But that doesn’t change the fact that I’m limping right now.
I’m limping as I deal with some chronic health issues that I’ve been battling for years and years. It’s nothing life-threatening, but it can be absolutely debilitating at times. And again, I don’t talk about this much. But there are days when I stand on this stage and feel like I’m about to fall off. And that’s not an exaggeration.
I’ve gone to countless doctors. Gone through every kind of test imaginable, and nothing ever gets solved. And it’s really worn me down.
You’re either limping or you’re lying. There are some people who don’t like it when a pastor is this transparent, but I don’t care. You’re either limping or you’re lying. As your pastor, I’m never going to lie to you.
But even Jesus walked with a limp. Right before He was arrested and crucified, Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. And right before He prayed, here’s what He told His disciples.
In Matthew 26:38, “Then [Jesus] said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” (Matthew 26:38a, NIV)
Think about that. This is Jesus Himself talking to His disciples. And even Jesus said, “My soul is overwhelmed.”
You know that is? That’s a limp. Jesus walked with a limp, but He still walked in freedom. And we can have that same freedom because Jesus limped all the way to the cross. Because He died for our sin, we can be forgiven. We can be free.
All our hurt, all our suffering, all our sin, all our loss, all our pain was crucified with Jesus. And we are free. It doesn’t mean that life won’t knock us down. But it does mean that we can walk through life in freedom, even though we walk with a limp.
So let’s dispel some of the lies that people believe about their limps.
Your limp means you’ve lost. That’s a lie. Just because you limp doesn’t mean that you have failed, and it doesn’t mean that God has failed you. It may feel that way, but it’s not the truth.
When we limp, it’s very easy for that to become all we can see. All we see is the struggle. The disappointment. The hurt. But we forget that while we only see a pixel, God sees the whole picture. He knows how the whole thing turns out. He knows what He has in store for you. He knows how He is going to use your limp for His glory and your good.
Your limp doesn’t mean you’ve lost.
And here’s another lie that’s easy to believe. Your limp means you aren’t loved. Lie!
When we’re limping…I mean when we’re really limping…we can ask questions like, “How could God let this happen to me?” You ever asked questions like that? I have.
There have been plenty of times when my limp made me feel unloved. But here’s the truth. God’s love for me is not in question. And God’s love for you is not in question.
The answer to whether or not God loves us is not found in our current situation. The answer to whether or not God loves us is found in the cross of Jesus Christ.
Whenever I feel unloved, I don’t have to look any further than the cross to know that it isn’t true. God gave up His own Son for me.
God’s love for us simply is not in question. His love for us was settled when He died for us. We may not understand what’s going on right now. We may not understand why we’re walking with this limp. But even when I’m limping, the cross hasn’t moved. It’s still there, reminding me that God always has and always will love me.
And then, there’s one more lie that is so easy to buy into about our limps. I limp alone. That is a lie from the pit of hell itself.
If Satan can make us feel isolated, if he can convince us that we’re alone, then he’s won. But the truth is, none of us limp alone.
Look around this room. Look at the people on your right and on your left. You know what? They walked in here with a limp today. Now, sometimes the limp is lighter, and sometimes the limp is more severe. But we all limped in here today. And you know what that means? We’re not alone in this thing!
That’s one of the most awesome reminders that I’ve had recently. The elders of our church took me to the woodshed in a meeting recently, and it was absolutely awesome. They lovingly, and firmly, told me that I’m not alone. They are there to help me. They are going to do whatever it takes to help me. I’m not alone in this. I’m not limping alone.
And you’re not alone, either. When you are in the church, you are only as alone as you want to be. If you’re isolated, it’s your own fault. I know that’s harsh, but this is important. If you are part of the church, you are only as alone as you want to be.
Real, authentic community is available. We have Connect groups that meet every week, and there is a spot for you in a group. We have people who will come around you. Support you. Pray for you. Love you. And remind you that you aren’t limping alone. You are only as alone as you want to be.
This was huge for me. I’ve brought the elders alongside me in my struggle. I’ve talked with believers outside our church. I’ve had so many reminders that I’m not alone. And that’s a huge deal. It’s absolutely huge. I might be limping, but I’m not limping alone.
And when I stop believing all these lies, here’s what it allows me to do. It allows me to focus on Jesus’ love instead of my limp.
If I focus on my limp, I’m going to be overwhelmed. But when I focus on Jesus’ love, I can overcome.
Go back to the story of Paul and Silas. Let’s read this again, just so we remember what’s going on. “The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten with rods.
After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. When he received these orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.” (Acts 16:22-24, NIV)
That’s a pretty overwhelming situation, wouldn’t you say? Paul and Silas had every reason to be overwhelmed. They were certainly walking with a limp after the beating that that took. And now, they’re sitting in a dark, cold, unsanitary jail cell. Chained to a wall, with the feet locked in stocks.
But look at the very next verse in the story. “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.” (Acts 16:25, NIV)
They were arrested on false charges. Stripped. Beaten and flogged. Locked in stocks. Thrown in jail.
And they were worshipping.
Here’s the deal…when you’re in an overwhelming situation, sometimes the only thing you can do is worship your way out of it. Even when you don’t feel like it.
I’m quite sure that Paul and Silas didn’t FEEL like worshipping. They were bruised. Bleeding. Possibly had some broken ribs. And they worshipped, because worship is not a feeling. It’s a decision. Real worship is actually a lot more like work than an emotion or a feeling. But worship is what reminds me that Jesus is greater than what I’m going through.
The situation was totally out of Paul and Silas’ control. There was literally nothing they could do about it themselves. All they could do is worship. Worship happens when we understand we do not control anything, but God controls everything.
Worship is when you and I understand that the things that are over our heads are still under God’s feet. He is still God. He is still Lord. He is still King and He reigns no matter what we are going through.
Worship brings that into focus. Think of some of the words that we sang in worship today.
“There is no one higher, no one greater, No one like our God. There is none more able, Christ our Savior, Great and glorious.”
“Maker, Creator, my Savior, Sustainer, You are greater. All glory and honor, wisdom and power, You are greater, God.”
That’s what worship does. It reminds us that God is greater. And that’s why worship is so critical in our lives, both in our daily personal lives and when we come together as the church.
But a lot of times, when people feel overwhelmed, they start to lose their connection with the church. When things are tough, it’s awfully tempting to skip a Sunday here or there. We tell ourselves to sleep in on Sunday. Just get a little extra sleep. That will help more than anything.
When we get overextended in our lives, Sundays look pretty precious. And it’s easy to convince ourselves to just kick back and unwind on Sundays instead of going to church. We’ll be back to church in a week or two when things slow down, we tell ourselves.
And it just becomes this creeping thing in our lives, until all of a sudden, we realize that we’ve only been at church a couple of times in the past 4, 5, 6 months. And what happens when we do that? We rob ourselves of the chance to worship with other believers who are limping, just like we are. We rob ourselves of the perspective that worship gives us. We rob ourselves of the reminder that we so desperately need. God really is greater. Jesus is greater than what I’m going through.
And ultimately, we rob ourselves of freedom. That’s what worship really does. It is the vehicle that sets us free.
Look at what happened when Paul and Silas worshipped.
“About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.
Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose.” (Acts 16:25-26, NIV)
Worship was their vehicle to freedom. They couldn’t do anything about their overwhelming situation, but God could. Paul and Silas did the only thing they could do: worship. And God did what only He could do: set them free.
There is incredible freedom that comes when you worship. When you acknowledge that God really is greater. He really is greater than your overwhelming situation. God goes to work when His people worship. Your freedom ticket is found in worship.
That’s what Jesus does. He sets us free. By His death for our sin and His resurrection that gives us a new life, we are free. We may be limping, but we’re limping in freedom.