I spent the past weekend in Austin, Texas, celebrating my mother’s 100th birthday. (More on that particular extravaganza on tomorrow’s Top Five Tuesday.)
So one of my favorite people on earth, Devin Tharp, our Pastor of Student and Family Ministries, delivered the message. Devin’s sermon came as the fifth week of the Almost Human series, and had the title, “Super Human.”
He and I had shaped the sermon together earlier in the week, and Devin landed at this bottom line:
When we long for an instant, God starts a process.
Good morning! My name is Devin Tharp and I’m the Student & Family Pastor here at Good Shepherd. Talbot is away today celebrating with his mom for her 100th birthday! Just imagine that—100! So, we are celebrating with him and glad he can spend this special occasion with her.
If you have your Bible, please turn to Ephesians chapter 4. If you don’t have a Bible, there are some in the seat in front of you and the words of the scripture is also printed in your worship handout as well.
While your turning to the passage, I’d like to introduce you to someone else who lived to be 100, my wife’s great uncle Vellachian. Pronounce that with me: Vellachian (on screen). He lived in the state of Kerala, India and was a preist in the Orthodox church and lived to be 103 years old. He passed away a little more than a month ago.
However, my family and I had the privilege of visiting him last December. Vellachian was a very special man because of who he was and also because of what he did. The most amazing of which was that he translated the Bible into his native language of Malayallum, by himself. It took him over 5 years of translating every day. But, in the end, he was able to completely translate the Bible into Malayalam. And because of his effort, today there are millions of people who speak Malayalam worldwide who now have the ability to read the Bible in their own language. I have here a copy of the printed version of the Bible in Malayallum. Now, I want you to imagine something for a minute. Imagine holding a Bible and, yet, not being able to read it because it is in a language that you cannot read. We might have a hard time imagining that because we’ve had the Bible in English since the 7th century. However, there are still people in the world today who do not have access to the Bible in their heart language.
I tell you all that to say this–having the opportunity to read God’s Word in our language is a blessing and a privilege. And it’s so easy to take for granted. There are still people groups in the world today who don’t have access to the Bible in their own tongue. I wanted to remind us this morning that having the opportunity to read God’s Word is a blessing.
Each Sunday, we make it clear what we believe about the Bible–and that is that it’s more than a book but it is a library. And we also believe it is uniquely inspired, eternal and true and we have the privilege to come under its authority. So, as a sign of our gratitude, we lift it up and we thank the Lord for giving us this library in a language we can read. <PRAY>
Well, today’s message is entitled “Super Human” so I want to start by asking you a question: Who is your favorite super hero? Is it Batman? Is it Captain America? How about Iron Man? My favorite as a kid was the Incredible Hulk. I loved the Incredible Hulk and grew up watching the tv series. However, I had a problem with the Hulk. Whenever he would turn from Bruce Banner to the Incredible Hulk, I would run and hide. Now, granted, I was only 7 years old. But, I was totally afraid of the Hulk. I loved him, but I was scared to death of him at the same time. It was truly a love / hate relationship. See what I mean… (Video of Hulk transformation)
Forget what I said about being scared when I was 7. I’m scared now!
Later on during my growing up years, my loyalty switched to Superman. Who didn’t love Superman? If you were a child of the 80’s like me, then you had the privilege of watching those two great movies: Superman and Superman II.
And we all know the greatest moments of those movies, right? The moment when Clark Kent would slip away by himself and emerge as the caped crusader. Whether you have seen the movies or not, you’ll appreciate this…(Video of Clark Kent transformation to Superman)
Can you feel your blood pumping faster? Isn’t that such a cool moment? And those 80’s affects…stunning! One second, he is Clark Kent and the next, he is Superman. In an instant he transforms from a nerdy, clumsy journalist to the justice-seeking, superhuman hero that he truly was.
Isn’t it amazing how Superman and other super heroes have maintained their popularity over the years? I mean super heroes are as popular today as ever. And they stay popular because we love them. We show up in droves to watch our favorite super heroes come to life on the big screen!
And if you’re like me, you find yourself watching the movie and starting to think, what would it be like to have these superhuman abilities? What would it be like to have super human strength and speed? Guys, think of completing your entire “honey-do” list in just a few minutes!
Superheroes also seem to know what to do at all times. How would life be different if I could execute justice in any situation? I’m sure I am not the only parent in the room that comes across situations with my kids who doesn’t know exactly how to handle them? (“And he’s the family pastor” some of you are thinking.) If I had those superhero qualities, I would always know what to do. Right? And be able to do it!
I think we are drawn to superheroes because they expose something within you and me—a desire to be something more than we are. Because superheroes embody that gap between who we are and who we want to be.
Which makes me wonder, where does that desire come from? What is it within you and me that desires to be something more than we already are? Well, since you’re asking the question, I’m going to venture an answer. I think that desire comes from God himself. Some of you are thinking, What?! One of the things we have been learning through this series is that each of us have been made in the image of God. Genesis 1 declares that when God created human beings, we were made in his image. We are a reflection of the Living God–each of us!
Now, I admit, it’s easier to only think of humanity through the lens of Gen. 3 where the man and the woman eat the fruit, disobey God and sin enters the world. Their disobedience disrupts all that God had planned. And while we live in a fallen and sin-filled world, that doesn’t change the fact that God’s original design, his fingerprints are still within each of us. And the image of God that we now carry is only partial because it has been distorted by sin.
What if I told you that God wants to make you into something greater than you are right now? What if God wanted to help close that gap? Maybe he wants to make you more human—may be even superhuman!
Let’s take a look at what he has to say to us in Ephesians 4.
Paul is the author of the letter to the Ephesians. Now, remember that Paul was originally a persecutor of Christians–he killed Christians and was proud of it. Until, however, he had an encounter with God. In a matter of time, Paul’s life was totally transformed and rather than continuing in his persecuting ways, he found himself not only promoting the church but also sharing the gospel of Jesus with anyone who would listen.
Now, this particular passage was written by Paul to Christians in the city of Ephesus. He’s not writing to unbelievers, but to his fellow believers and giving them some instruction on how to conduct themselves.
And we pick up the text in Ephesians 4, verse 17, “So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they have a continual lust for more.”
Paul describes the kind of people that exist in the culture and community of Ephesus. And it’s not pretty. He says they are separated from the life of God. And what’s the opposite of life? Death. So, these are the original walking dead. They have no life in them!
And even worse than that–if you can get worse than that–their hearts have become hardened. They don’t even realize how far they have drifted because their hearts have become so calloused by their own desires.
And according to this text, sin leads to more sin. And over time, they lose their sensitivity to sin. At one point, they felt shame for what they did, but they eventually get to a place where they don’t even feel guilty any more for their selfish actions. They are now completely self-indulgent and reckless in their pursuit of personal pleasure.
Some of you here understand where they are coming from. You’ve experienced personally how sin leads to more sin. You thought your addiction impacted just you. Until the day came that you had to lie to your loved ones to keep up appearances and to keep your addiction hidden. And you started to realize how your choices are negatively impacting those who are closest to you.
Paul continues, (Ephesians 4:22-24) “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”
As Paul is writing to these Christians in Ephesus, he’s shouting, “You’re supposed to be different!” He reminds them: You were dead! You lived for yourself, but now you’ve got to set aside that old self that you used to be. Remember–you are now filled with life!
And Paul even walks them through the process of their transformation. He says, “Put off your old self.” Set who you used to be aside. Forget about it, because that part of you is corrupt and is dead. Now, you are completely a different person!
“Be made new in the attitude of your mind” verse 23 states. Notice that he doesn’t tell his listeners to make themselves new. The process of being made new is not something that was done by them but for them! And where does this newness begin? In the attitude of their mind. It was a change in their thinking. When you are made new (the moment you choose to allow God to make you new), God begins recreating you in that moment. And he begins by changing the way that you think.
Lastly, the final part of the process is to “Put on the new self.” The idea here is not that the person they once were has been refurbished or fixed up. No! The idea is that this is a complete new and fresh person separate from the person they once were.
Paul gives this imagery of their transformation as if they were changing clothes. And God has already laid out their new clothes. Freshly laundered with no stains of the past and they simply have to put it on. And do you notice how the new self is described? Verse 24. As one “created to be like God”. You were not created to be like you are today. God wants to recreate you. He wants to restore you to your original state–to be like him. He wants you to be more like your original intention.
You see, God’s desire is still the same–to make us a reflection of who he is. He wants to restore that broken image within each of us and bring us back to the full image of himself. But it doesn’t happen overnight. It doesn’t happen in a few weeks. It doesn’t even happen in a few years. It’s a life-long journey of walking faithfully with him and choosing each day to put off our old self and put on the new!
You see, When we long for an instant, God starts a process. We pray for a quick fix and God sends us steps. We want a moment and God provides a movement.
For those of you who are followers of Jesus, this passage applies directly to you. Now, if you are here this morning and you are not a follower of Christ, we’re so glad you are here. We think you’ve come to the right place and you get to listen in this morning on a conversation that is focused in on the believers in this room.
So, for those who are in that living relationship with Jesus…When you came to Christ, you were just like the unbelievers that Paul refers to in this passage. You had pursued your sinful desires; you had attempted to gain all that the world had to offer. And just when you thought you had achieved all that you wanted, it left you feeling empty. It never satisfied.
But, then, you found Jesus! Rather, Jesus found you! And now that you have this living relationship with Jesus Christ–things in your life have changed dramatically. Now, you’re saved by grace. That’s where it begins. But it doesn’t end there. That’s only the beginning. Some of you might be thinking, “Really?” I thought that was the goal. Get saved! Give your life to God! Respond to the invitation! Yes, those are great steps for anyone and everyone to take. Steps of faith.
But our journey with Jesus doesn’t end at the moment we respond to God’s gracious invitation. That is only the beginning. As you continue to lean into that living relationship, God is faithful in continuing his work on your heart. It starts as a moment–a salvation moment and continues as a process. God accepts you just the way you are, but he loves you too much to leave you that way!
That’s why When we long for an instant, God starts a process.
And God starts a process because he is not done with you yet! He has more work to do in your life. Some of you here, however, think you’re too young. Even though you know without a doubt that you’ve been saved by grace, you’re convinced that God cannot do much with you until you grow a little older. Can I tell you that you’re buying into a lie? God’s ability to work in you and through you doesn’t come with age restrictions! God is more than capable of using you in ways you can only imagine. So, don’t put off pursuing the dreams and visions that God has given you, you’ve shied away when you should be taking steps forward. Be bold, knowing that God is with you!
On the other end of the age spectrum, there are some of you in this room who are in spiritual auto pilot mode. Sure, you’re saved. You’re in church consistently. But, you’re coasting along spiritually. You’ve allowed yourself to become spiritually lazy. Can I remind you that God is not finished with you yet? He has more work to do in you and more work to do through you! Don’t coast! Don’t check out! God has something new and fresh just for you.
There is someone in here today who loves to challenge yourself. You wake up early to get to the gym to keep yourself in good physical condition. You eat healthy food. You live on a budget and live below your means in order to maximize your retirement. But when it comes to the condition of your heart, you have a neutral attitude. You just show up at church and hope for the best spiritually. Imagine if you applied the same discipline from the other areas of your life to your relationship with Jesus Christ.
“Well that sounds like our spiritual growth is up to us?” No, spiritual growth is not totally up to you, but you are a part of the process. Did you know that the phrase “make every effort ” appears 9 times in the New Testament? Part of God’s process requires your willingness to move it forward. It takes effort and intentionality and focus. But the results can be a complete transformation. When we long for an instant, God starts a process.
As I was growing up watching the Incredible Hulk and Superman, I also dealt with a speech impediment. Up until age 5, I couldn’t stick my tongue out and by the time the anyone realized it, I was already talking a mile a minute. Well, I had developed some bad speech habits that required therapy. So, a few times each week as my classmates would run off to recess, I had to divert from the group to go to a trailer behind our elementary school for speech therapy. And, as I got older, other kids would make fun of me as I broke off from the group to report to therapy. I remember asking God to change the way I talked. I wanted a quick fix. God didn’t provide that. He did, however, provide a process of improving my speech through the therapy. And along the way, I gained confidence in myself and in my ability to speak correctly. I can still remember preparing for an oral presentation I had to give in middle school and being so worried that my speech impediment would creep back up again. But it never did. My confidence grew and my fear of speaking publically in front of others faded. Little did I know then that the confidence I gained there would lead me to a place where I could share God’s Word in front of other publically every single week. When we long for an i nstant, God starts a process.
When we allow that process to take place, our hearts and our lives will change. And we become the example of Jesus that the world needs to see. We become the storytellers of the power of God.
And the results of the process that God begins in our lives can be astounding.
I’ve teenagers who were scared to share their faith verbally with their friends, share it boldly to others on a mission trip. That is superhuman!
I know some of your stories here. And for some of you, you wouldn’t have darkened the doorways of the church just a few years ago. But now, you are here volunteering every weekend in multiple areas. You are serving in love in ways you would have never predicted. That’s superhuman!
I think about my friend, Vellachian, and how at some point he must have asked the question, “Why is there not a Holy Bible for me and my people to read?” He may have gotten frustrated and thought to himself, “Someone should do something about it!” And may be in that moment God spoke to him and said, “Why don’t you?”