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About this series
Turning God-Shaped Dreams into Reality
The God of the universe is looking for regular people to accomplish things beyond our wildest dreams. In this series, from Nehemiah 1 - 6, learn how God uses ordinary people to accomplish extraordinary things and the process by which He molds men and women for His purposes.More from this series
We now get to the exciting part, where Jesus teaches us, very specifically, about how to have faith.
Are you in Luke 9? Let’s go. This is the good part. How in the world, then, I need to remember what faith is, and isn’t. It’s not emotional. It’s trusting His character, and His promises. God deeply values it. It always involves risk.
Jesus taught His disciples about a radical faith. And then, notice, He’s going to call them to this. This isn’t just to the private disciples. This is to all of His followers: “Then He said to them, ‘If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for Me will save it. What good is it for man to gain the whole world and yet forfeit his very self? If anyone is ashamed of Me and My words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when He comes in His glory, and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Kingdom of God.’”
So, do you understand what Jesus is calling – this is the baseline for followers: “If anyone will come after Me” – the Word says that “he must.” This is normal Christianity. This is what it means to follow Him. This is what it means to be a Christian. This is the Romans 12:1 equivalent I must deny myself. That means my life’s not about me, my agenda, my future, or everything I can do. I need to take up my cross – it’s an instrument of death. In other words, I’m going to say to God, I’m going to die to my agenda, and believe that whatever Yours is for me is best. And then, it’s going to play out day by day: I’m going to follow You today. I’m going to listen to You, talk to You, be in the community of God’s people, and I’m going to obey. I’m not going to learn about You. I’m not going to hear what other people say about You. I’m going to listen to You, and make this – faith comes by hearing, hearing by the word of God.
I have never met a person with faith who doesn’t love this book. And they’re in it when they feel like it, and they’re in it when they don’t feel like it. And it’s not some religious, check off a box, but it’s, God, I want to get to know You. You’ll never trust His character, or know His promises, unless this book, His Word, is a part of your daily habit. And so, there’s the calling to radical faith.
Now, when you get there – some people think, You know what? I could never do that. That is too hard. That’s too big. I don’t have – I’ve heard people say, “I see these Christians God really uses, and now and then, I have this little flicker that I’d like to go there. I don’t have enough faith to be that kind of person.” It’s very interesting.
Jesus, now, will teach His disciples, “You don’t need much faith.” Isn’t that weird? You don’t need a whole lot of faith. Remember what He said? “If you have the faith the size of a mustard seed, you can say to that mountain, ‘Be cast into the sea.’”
What He’s going to teach them is, you don’t need a lot of faith. What you need is to clarify the objective of your faith. If you could ever see Jesus for who He is – how good, how kind, how powerful, how trustworthy, how loving, how much He wants for you – if you could ever see God for who He really is, you don’t need hardly any faith. It would be easy to do whatever He says.
So, what we’re going to see is He is going to take the three disciples who will have the primary leadership roles in the Church after He leaves, and He’s going to give them a private moment with Him to clarify the object of their faith, who He really is.
And then, He’s going to have a public moment, where all the other disciples see, and those who have had this experience, and then, I have an illustration that will bring it home.
Pick it up with me in verse 28. Notice, it says, “About eight days after” – after what? After He said, “Some are going to” – do what? They’re “going to see the kingdom of God before they die.”
Well – guess what – it’s going to happen right now. “About eight days after Jesus said this, He took Peter, John, and James with Him, and He went up onto a mountain to pray. And as He was praying, the appearance of His face changed, and His clothes became as bright as a flash of lightening.
“Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about His departure, which He was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem. Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw His glory and the two men standing with Him.
“As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to Him, ‘Master, it’s good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters – one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’ (He didn’t know what he was saying.)” I can identify with that.
“While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. And a voice came from the cloud, saying, ‘This is My Son, whom I have chosen; listen to Him!’” What happened? It’s near the end of His ministry. Why? Jesus knows they’re going to have to believe. And it’s not about how much faith. It’s the object of their faith.
So, Jesus, we learn from Philippians 2, He veils His glory. All that means is, He came in the form of a servant. And, by the way, when His clothes were bright in lightning, it wasn’t like light came from heaven. Literally, what He did in this moment is, is He pulled back His humanity, and, literally, the light – it’s metamorphosized. It’s from the inside out. Light came out of Jesus, and it was brighter than the sun. And then, after that, then here’s Elijah and Moses – what do they do? The two characters that brought revelation and truth: Moses the Ten Commandments, Elijah restoring Israel – the two most important witnesses.
If I’m a little Jewish boy, growing up in that day – Peter, John, and James – they’re the two heroes of our faith. So, now I see the light coming out of Jesus. Then, I get the testimonies that this isn’t just some experience – here’s Moses, and here’s Elijah. And then, a cloud envelopes them, and I’m scared to death. And you hear the very voice of God: “This is my Son; believe in Him.”
Do you understand what God’s doing? He’s letting these three guys see who Jesus is. And when you see who He really is, then what we’ll watch later is, doing what He says isn’t all that hard. He’s God. He’s all-powerful. He’s faithful. He’ll never let you down.
Well, after they have this experience, they’re going to go down the mountain. And as they go down the mountain, I want you to notice how specific and why the author is letting us know these are connected: “When the voice had spoken, they found Jesus alone. The disciples kept this to themselves, and told no one at the time what they had seen.”
Then, notice the time marker again: “The next day” – the next day. All this goes together. “When they came down from the mountain, a large crowd met Him. And a man in the crowd called out, ‘Teacher, I beg You, look at my son, for he is my only child. And a spirit seizes him and suddenly he screams; and it throws him into convulsions so that he foams at the mouth. It scarcely ever leaves him and it’s destroying him. I begged Your disciples to drive it out, but they could not.”
Why? What’s Jesus say? What’s the text say? Look in your Bible: “‘O unbelieving and perverse generation,’ Jesus replied, ‘how long shall I stay with you and put up with you? Bring your son to Me.’ Even while the boy was coming, the demon threw him to the ground in a convulsion. But Jesus rebuked the evil spirit, healed the boy and gave him back to his father. And they were all amazed at” – what? – “the greatness of God. And while everyone was marveling at what Jesus did, He said to His disciples, ‘Listen carefully to what I’m about to tell you.’”
He’s setting them up: Look, there are going to be challenges. “And the Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men.” But they didn’t understand what this meant. It was hidden from them, so they didn’t grasp it, and they were afraid to ask Him about it.” He’s preparing them for His leaving, and He’s giving them promises. And how did He heal the boy? Did He touch him? What did He do? He spoke: “You can trust My word. There is power in My word.”
Some of the other gospel writers give this account, and say, “This kind only comes out by prayer and fasting.” It’s not that there’s some, little magical thing that happens when you fast. When people fast, they say that spiritual food and attention with God is more important than my physical food, and, as they fast, as they meet and spend extended time with God, it gets clarified who God really is. And that’s how you trust Him.
You don’t need a lot of faith. You need a crystal clear object of your faith. Let me give you an example. Okay. Let’s pretend this is a bridge, okay? And from here over to there is a span – let’s make it a hundred feet, since it doesn’t look that scary from here.
And then – you’ve got to pretend. Will you guys pretend with me on this one? Looking down, it’s a thousand feet, and there are alligators in there, and piranha. You’d probably die from the fall, but if you don’t, they’re going to get you, all right?
Here’s how we tend to think about faith: We think about faith as, okay, there’s a bridge that crosses it, and it’s God’s known will for you to cross the bridge. And we think there are only a few people – like a spiritual Indiana Jones – who can do it. And we visualize this as one of those rickety bridges, like we’ve seen in Indiana Jones, and it’s made with vines, and about every third board is broken, or looks old.
But there are some, there are a few – there’s the proud, there are people who have more faith than us! And they go, Bum, bum, buuuum! And then – oooh! And, oh, they almost fall! And then, they make it through and they go, and it’s through, they’re the awesome Christians, and we think, I could never be like that.
And that’s how we think about it. It’s Hudson Taylor, and Charles Spurgeon, and – you name your spiritual hero. Nothing could be farther from what the Bible teaches.
What the Bible teaches is, you’re right here. There’s a thousand-foot drop. And there are alligators, and there’s real danger, and there’s real cost, and there are piranha. And there’s a bridge. You look at the bridge. You say to yourself, Wow, those are three-foot steel girders. Not only that, but this thing spans – and it’s got concrete four feet wide. It’s twelve feet wide, has railings on both sides. Now, is it a thousand-foot drop? Yeah. Are there real alligators? Yeah. Would this bridge hold me? My lands, this bridge would hold a truck! It’s not a big deal to walk across this thing.
I remember a guy – I shared this illustration – he said, “I was taking a group of kids to a camp, and it was up in Maine. And they wanted to play some ice hockey. And we wanted to go from one side in Maine, to the other. And there was this lake.”
And he said, “I got out there, and I had this stick, like, Oh, boy, put a rope around me. I’m out there like this, because I’ve got these kids. Boy, if I lose one of them, it would not be good.” So he says, “I’m gingerly going like this, to get across.” And he said, “It makes your illustration a little bit better than that bridge illustration you made up.” I said, “Okay.”
And he said, “Then, I heard this sound: Woooooooooohhhwawawa! And as I went across, I looked up, and there was a logging truck. And the logging truck just went and drove right by me.” And he said, “Well, whoa, whoa, whoa, dude,” he said, “what are you doing?” He goes, “Oh, by this time of year, it’s sixteen feet thick.”
God is going to ask some of you, on this day, to take a radical step of faith. Some of you are in relationships that you know are ungodly, but, because of your security, you’re afraid to break them off. Some of you have addictions that are holding you up, and people don’t know about it, or the people who you love do, and you’re unwilling to come clean. Some of you have been holding on to your future. A great many of you, statistically, are holding on to your money. Some of you have had a dream in your heart about what God could really do through you, but, the implications, the moment you get to that you think, Oh, that might mean…and you withdraw.
And I want you to know, the ice is sixteen feet thick. Now, I’m not telling you there aren’t real alligators. I’m not telling you it might not be very fearful. And I’ll probably guarantee you it’ll get more difficult before it gets better.
But you can keep living the “try hard, come to church, be religious, ask God to make your life work out,” frustration life that is the average Christian experiences, all across America, or you can join an army of real Christ followers who have dislocated hearts, broken spirits, who take radical steps of faith. And when God sees faith, supernatural power occurs.
And what we have in the Church today are primarily – what? People who believe personally in Jesus, the great majority that I assume, whose sins are actually forgiven, and His Spirit actually lives in them – what we see is what they can do with their energy, their time, playing it safe, as long as God doesn’t ask anything too big or too scary.
And my experience is that Microsoft, and HP, and eBay take greater steps of faith to build something for profit than the average church, that has a bridge over troubled water, named Jesus, who was raised from the dead, and dwells in you.
And God called us together to become not a group of people that we measure by how many people show up, but by what kind of people leave, with what kind of faith, that are impacting our homes, and our lives.
And it’s a journey, and it’s difficult, but it is in all that pain, and struggle, and difficulty that you experience God. Not hear about Him, not try hard – experience things that you can’t explain.
Now, as the text goes on, you’ll notice that these disciples, Peter, John, James, this is near the end of the ministry. They’ve left homes. They’re being ridiculed. Jesus is a marked Man; there are assassination plots. This is not a safe person to hang around and follow. And so, they’re in.
And so, three things occur. One is an argument among them about who is the greatest. Second is, they find out about some other group that’s using Jesus’ name, and doing ministry, and, basically, they say, “Master, have You heard about this? These other people are, they’re not even on our super-duper, little team. Now, You don’t want them around.” And then, the third thing that happens is, they’re on their way to Jerusalem, and they need to go through Samaria. And the Samaritans and Jews had real conflict. And so, John and James, who really, now, believe – they’ve experienced great power – they say, “Lord, do You want us to call fire down from the sky, and take care of this village?” Whew! Boom! Boom! You know? They’re experiencing real, supernatural power.
And the dangers, when you get very, very committed to the Lord Jesus, are three: One is comparison, and it’s the misuse of position. At the heart of all walking with God is humility. You don’t need to compare yourself with anyone, and what they’re doing, and what God made them to do, what He’s called them to do, or how He’s using them.
The second danger is exclusivity. That’s the misuse of privilege. “They’re not in our group. They’re not in our denomination. They’re not our campus ministry. They don’t look at everything just the way.” “We’re the ones whom God is going to use.” You would be surprised whom God uses, who don’t fit some of your categories, who really love God and the truth of His Word.
And the third is, zeal is the misuse of power. As I just say that to some of you who are sitting here today, and you’re thinking, I was just wondering when someone was going to say this in this church. Man, you know what? If people gave like I gave, if they served like I served, if they shared like I share, why don’t these other people get on board?
It’s a private thought. It’s a judgmental thought. And it produces an experience that, when we meet you, if it bubbles up to the surface, that’s not all that attractive. And it’s that kind of conversation, where you criticize other churches, or other ministries, and it’s that kind where God does some things, and, if you’re not careful, you can get carried away with the experience, instead of with the Lord.
And then, I want to just let you read, follow along, because He says there is a cost, and we need to look at this before we close. And the cost, He says, is threefold.
Verse 57: “As they were walking along a road, a man said to Him, ‘I’ll follow you.’” Remember, Jesus said – we start out with, “Follow Me. Deny yourself. Pick up your cross.” This guy raises his hand. “‘I’ll follow You wherever you go.’ And Jesus replied, ‘The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head.’”
Translation: You can’t hang on to stuff. You want to follow Me? We travel light. You can’t hang on to stuff. Materialism, locations, I am your security. There is no other security but Me. Anything I give you along the way, hold it loosely, enjoy it deeply, share it lovingly.
Next man comes up, and, “Jesus said to him, ‘Follow me.’ But the man replied, ‘Lord, first let me go bury my father.’ Jesus said, ‘Let the dead bury their own dead. But you, go and proclaim the Kingdom of God.’”
That’s an interesting cultural issue I can’t develop. It wasn’t that He was being harsh with this man. But what He was really saying is, you can’t hang on to people. There can’t be any higher relationship than your relationship with Jesus. It can’t be your wife, can’t be your husband, can’t be your kids, can’t be your grandparents. God is gracious; He’ll provide for those things. But we can’t say to God, “I’ll do whatever You want, inside this box.”
I had an experience, a situation with someone who had a great gift, and great opportunity. And his wife said to me, “Well, I can’t live more than thirty minutes from my kids.” Well, that’s a really little box.
I just wonder if being in the center of God’s will, with Him radically transforming your life, might have a better impact and a deeper relationships on your kids, than telling God what He can and can’t do, and how far or how close you’ve got to be to them.
The third test, as we pick it up, is, Jesus, “Still another said, ‘I will follow You, Lord, but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.’ And Jesus said, ‘No man who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the Kingdom of God.’” And the cost here is, you can’t hang on to the past.
I remember, vividly, when we stepped out, uh and said, “Okay, God, we’re going to take Living on the Edge to do teaching and discipleship – not the organizational side of life, not all the various other things, but that’s going to be the focus.” And it was like, “Well, but wait a second.”
What we knew was, in the first thirty days, if God didn’t radically show up, we’d have a hundred and fifty thousand dollar debt, because of some circumstances a bit beyond our control, and we were committed not to go into debt. So, what we knew was, in thirty days, Living on the Edge would be over.
Well, doesn’t God have the right? He starts things. Can’t He stop things? Now, guess what. Didn’t have any backers, no plan B, no deep pockets – radical step of faith. And we focused on what God called us and made us to do.
And a fellow said to another fellow, who said to another fellow, to other people I didn’t meet, and they came up with about five hundred thousand dollars to take to the listening audience, who matched it by over six hundred thousand. And God was our venture capitalist who relaunched the ministry.
God can do whatever He wants. He can start it; He can stop it. But it’s one thing to say a ministry is His. It’s one thing to say your family is His. It’s one thing to say, Oh, God, my money is Yours. Well, when He taps you on the shoulder and says, “I’d like to have it right now, for a while.” And I’ll never forget Theresa said, “Whatever God ever chooses to do, we will know it had nothing to do with us. It’s His.”
It was a radical step of faith. Now, was I afraid? Absolutely. Slash terrified. And I was thinking, I’m going to need a job, here. Not only did we not have any money for the ministry to go on, when I stepped out, I used to have this job being the president of this thing. It paid pretty good, and had a global platform. And it wasn’t like it was a lousy thing to do. I was really privileged. But it’s obeying.
See, at the end of the day, that’s…faith is a coin, and when you flip the coin over, it says, “Obey.” And it’s just trusting Him, to the point where you just do what He says. And there’s a supernatural life awaiting you.
The final point is that you can’t walk on water unless you get out of the boat. And as you continue to read, in chapter 10, what you’ll find is, Jesus, after this message – the crowd is bigger than the twelve, and He sends seventy-two people, two by two, out to do what He asked them to do. And He gives them power to do it. And then, He says, “Don’t take an extra bag; don’t take an extra purse. In fact,” He says, “I want you to go with nothing.” Why? What’s He teaching them? “I want you to trust Me. I want you to trust Me. You go to a town, and, if they’re responsive, God will have someone there, and you stay with that one group. Don’t do any jazzing around, and have people compare and, I’ll take care of you. Don’t even take a purse. Don’t even take any money.” And then, in verse 17 of chapter 10 – you might even scan down there. There, God does things beyond their wildest dreams.
And the last verse is this picture of what happens: “The seventy-two returned with joy, and said, ‘Lord, even the demons submit to us in Your name!’” And listen to this – this is my picture of what I would love Jesus to look down on us in the Bay Area. “I saw Satan fall like lightening from heaven.” Wouldn’t it be great to see the intricacies andthe evil of the Bay Area – and Jesus look down on our little /time together with other churches and Christians here, and say, “I see Satan falling like lightening from heaven. I have given you authority to trample snakes and scorpions, and to overcome the power of the enemy. Nothing will harm you. However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”
And then, I love this. To me, this is where it’s all at: “At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, ‘I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because You have hidden these things from the wise and the learned, and have revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was Your good pleasure.’” Jesus is really happy. And He did it through very ordinary people, like us.
What’s it look like for you to take a radical step of faith? Is it becoming the man of your house, spiritually? Is it giving God the first twenty or thirty minutes, and saying, You know what? I’m going to, we went through that Romans 12 thing – I did it for a while – but I’m going to meet with You. Is it launching a ministry? Is it going public and saying, “I’ve never been baptized. I’m sort of a secret agent Christian.”
Or maybe it’s, “I’m going to give the first portion of my money. I need to get in the game, and trust God with my finances.” Maybe it’s, “I’m going to break up a relationship,” or an addiction. I don’t know what it is. But I’ll tell you, there’s a thick bridge that will hold you, and love you, and restore you, because the eyes of the Lord are going to and fro throughout the whole earth, and He’s searching for a man, for a woman, for a student who would stand in the gap, before Him, for the land.