Sermon: February 26, 2023

The sermon is not on YouTube for this week.

Sermon Series #1
“A Jesus-Shaped Life”

Today is the First Sunday in Lent and the first Sunday in my six-week series titled “A Jesus-Shaped Life” based, of course, on Scripture, and on the book A Jesus-Shaped Life by Steve Cordle. Steve is the founding and lead pastor of Crossroads Church, a small-group-based congregation with five locations in the Pittsburgh area. He is also the founder and president of the A1.8 Movement, a non-profit dedicated to catalyzing church plants in the United States and western Europe.

You may have heard me say that I’ve never been much for sermon series preaching. I’ve tried it a couple of times but have always found myself drifting back to my treasured Lectionary—my security blanket you could say. So, this is my swing at doing something different—in trying to expand my boundaries—in trying to prove that you can teach old dogs’ new tricks.

Our goal over the next six weeks will be to determine just exactly what a Jesus shaped life might look like—how it can be achieved—and exactly what are we to do with it. When it comes to becoming like Christ, without God we cannot, and without us, God will not. The Lord will not force us to become like Jesus against our will.

Salvation is a gift of God’s grace that we can receive, not earn. We are to work out our salvation. We’ve already received our salvation; now, we are to develop it.

Throughout the next six weeks we will be examining Jesus’ character and learn how God’s grace can be reproduced in us. We will be, hopefully, learning how to cooperate with the Holy Spirit as He transforms us into the image of Jesus.

“Made For This” | 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8

1 As for other matters, brothers and sisters, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more. 2 For you know what instructions we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus. 3 It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; 4 that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable, 5 not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God; 6 and that in this matter no one should wrong or take advantage of a brother or sister. The Lord will punish all those who commit such sins, as we told you and warned you before. 7 For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. 8 Therefore, anyone who rejects this instruction does not reject a human being but God, the very God who gives you his Holy Spirit.

Paul kind of goes off on an “R-Rated” tirade on the folks in Thessalonica. Sexual standards were very low at that time in the Roman Empire, and some would say that they aren’t much better today. But there are a couple of things I would like to flush out of this letter that makes up our Scripture this morning. 1.) God’s will that we lead holy lives, and 2.) that we live in a way that pleases God.

I think we can all agree that we are constantly being influenced by outside forces—our families, the media, social media, and even our cell phones. But God wants to shape us into the image of Jesus. You may hear me say more than once that Jesus is building His Church and has chosen to use us! Scary, isn’t it? Rick Warren, of The Purpose Driven Life fame asked the question, “Who are you going to live for, yourself or God?”

It is God’s will for us to be holy, but how do we go about doing that? The Bible teaches that holiness is not a state of perfection that comes with hard work, severe discipline, or good deeds. Instead, if you have accepted Christ’s sacrifice on your behalf and given your life to Him, then God already sees you as holy and complete in His eyes, as if you have never sinned. Jesus’ death and resurrection has cleansed you from the ravaging effects of sin, but that doesn’t release you from the call to good conduct as a follower of Jesus. As one of His disciples, you will want to continue to learn—grow—and mature in your faith and life during your time on earth.

Even before Todd was born, his father had plans for him. Marv would make Todd the perfect quarterback.

Football ran in the family. Marv had been a captain at the University of Southern California and played professionally. Todd’s uncle had been a star quarterback at USC. Now that Marv had a son, he intended to raise Todd to surpass them both.

Marv gave Todd frozen kidney to teeth on as an infant. Marv was stretching Todd’s hamstrings when Todd was a month old and had him doing pushups before he could even walk. Todd’s parents made sure that he adhered to the purest diet: no junk food and no sugar. Todd even brought his own cake to birthday parties. Sports Illustrated later called Todd “America’s first test-tube athlete” and reported that he had never eaten a Big Mac or an Oreo.

For a while, it seemed that the plan was working. Todd excelled as a quarterback in high school and went on to play at USC. After college, the Oakland Raiders drafted him in the first round. But all was not as it seemed.

Todd always wanted to please his overbearing father, but he also wanted to be a normal kid. In grade school, Todd started sneaking junk food, and by high school, he was smoking marijuana regularly. In college, he broke free from the strict rules of his upbringing. He began to struggle with harder drugs that shortened his professional career and plagued him for the rest of his life.

Eventually, the pressure became too much for Todd. During his freshman year at USC, he briefly left school and confessed to his mother, “I wish I could go somewhere else and be someone else. I don’t want to be Todd Marinovich.” In short, Todd did not want to be the man his father desired him to become.

Maybe you’ve felt that about your relationship with God? While you want to try and please God, have you wondered whether you can measure up to His expectations? Perhaps you aren’t even sure if you want to, even if you know you need to. This has been a theme among the students at Asbury. They have shared in their testimonies that they didn’t feel like they measured up.
In the devotion I used at the Ash Wednesday Service this week we were reminded not to believe the lie that you are unacceptable to God. One of the greatest truths Jesus came to teach us is, “God loves you anyway.” No matter what your feelings say. No matter what others say. No matter whether you deserve it or not, God loves you anyway.

Our motivation as Christians should be to progressively please God more and more. Thus, pleasing God is a dynamic rather than a static concept; one can never say that they have arrived and that no further progress is possible—because it is.

I may have shared this with you but in my first church I overheard a conversation between some ladies. They were asking this one lady why she wasn’t involved at church like she had once been. Her answer, “I’ve given my time.”

Well, the next Sunday I said that I felt like I knew where everything in the church was. I knew what was in every closet and nook and cranny. But to that point I hadn’t found the time clock. My friends, God is never done with you. We should never think we have arrived at the point where we no longer should strive to be pleasing to God.

And it is God’s will for us to be holy, but how can we go about doing that? Well, I have good news for you—we have help in that area. Leviticus 20:7-8 says, “So set yourselves apart to be holy, for I am the Lord your God. Keep all my decrees by putting them into practice, for I am the Lord who makes you holy.” Did you catch that? It’s the Lord who makes us holy!

If you go to a wedding reception or a party where folks are dancing, and you see someone dancing by themselves you’re probably think this a bit strange. Dancing requires two partners. God is our dance partner. He has a part, and we have a part. Our part is to be willing to change. We don’t have the power in ourselves to do this, but the Holy Spirit will only enter where He is welcome. God won’t force us to change if we are intent on going our own way.

God wants to make us holy. Does that idea inspire you or make you cringe? Your answer likely depends on what you believe it means to be holy. If you think that holy is a code word for well-behaved, you probably won’t be enthusiastic about it. If you imagine holiness to be a grim, duty-bound existence, you might say, “I’ll pass.” But, in reality, true holiness bears no resemblance to those tired stereotypes.

Holy is the word the Bible uses to describe God’s character. To be holy means to be like Jesus. To be holy means to think like Jesus—to relate to others like Jesus did—to know the heavenly Father like Jesus—to obey the Father like Jesus.

God will give us the power to fulfill His will for us. He won’t just sit back and watch us struggle; He will empower us to grow. That’s what this sermon series and the Jesus-Shaped life is all about.
Only the Spirit of God can empower us to live the life of God. Only the power of the Holy Spirit can shape us and transform us into the image and shape of Jesus. Open yourself to Him. You can’t do it alone! Ask Him to fill you. Do this regularly—do it every day. Any place you find yourself stumbling—ask the Spirit to transform and change you. He will do it!

Thanks be to God!

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