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Monday, January 28, 2019

"Who is Jesus Talking About" (Luke 4:14-21; Proverbs 19:17)

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Sunday, January 27, 2019

            “They got up [and] drove him out of town ... so that they might hurl him off the cliff” (Luke 4:29).  Someone makes you hot-red mad, and you’re standing right next to a cliff and off they go!  If you had been somewhere else, say a field, maybe you just punch the other guy.  It’s violent, but all he gets is a bloody nose, not a free fall ending with a splat on the rocks below.  After you’ve thrown him over, do you regret your hasty decision?  Do you wish you hadn’t thrown him off a cliff?  Probably.  What did he do to make you that angry?
            In chapter 4, verses 14-21, Luke gives us a summary of Jesus’ words from that day in the synagogue.  He actually preached a full sermon on the Isaiah text that he read, Isaiah 61:1-2 and 58:6.  Luke’s summary helps us see that when Jesus began preaching the crowd was impressed and excited.  A local kid had grown up to be an outstanding preacher.  But as he talked, they realized they were condemned by the truth he told.  Enraged, as we read in Luke 4:29, “they got up [and] drove him out of town ... so that they might hurl him off the cliff.” He did not allow himself to be killed like that.  But they were mad enough to try.  Why? 
            As we understand Jesus’ message in Luke 4, are we angered because we’re declared “guilty” by Jesus’ truth?  Or, are we convicted, as in we feel called to walk in Jesus’ light?  We feel prompted by the Spirit to say and do the things Jesus said and did.  These were Jesus’ friends and neighbors, his people.  This was one of his earliest sermons.  And he makes them so mad they want to kill him on the spot.
            In the four actions Jesus lists, who is he talking about?  More importantly, if we are to embody those actions, who, in our time, would we say is Jesus addressing?  
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,” he says in verse 18, “because he has anointed me to” and then he proceeds to say all that the Spirit has commissioned him to say and do.  Jesus’ intentions spring from the same Spirit that led him into the desert where he fasted and confronted Satan.  Yielding to the will of the Holy Spirit, he ends up proclaiming a gospel of liberation for the oppressed.  
Note the verbs and objects of the actions, and think about what actions the Spirit calls in the face of injustice today.  We bring the reality of Jesus into our time so that our thoughts and responses or lack of responses reveals our attentiveness to the Holy Spirit or our willingness to ignore the Holy Spirit.  
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.   In the first century, “the poor” referred to most people.  There was almost no middle class to speak of and few people owned property.  Healthcare and insurance just didn’t exist as we understand those things today.  Jesus’ message of ‘good news’ was a promise from God that life didn’t have to be an endless, painful struggle to just survive.
In our time, there are more options and more resources available to people and yet, still in our country and around the world, crushing poverty imposes misery on millions.  The Borgen project identifies poor health, higher crime rates, and lack of education as the top negative effects of poverty.  Poor people cannot afford medicines and treatments that would utterly eliminate conditions many of us don’t ever have to worry about.  Crime rates are higher not because poor people are more prone to break the law but because their desperation leads them to do things they otherwise would not do.  Starve or steal?  I’d steal. 
As the body of Christ, how we do help poor people receive the good news Jesus promised?  What can we do to feed the hungry, educate those who cannot afford school supplies or who live in impoverished communities with substandard schools?  How can we minister to those incarcerated, individuals who never had the opportunity to see life not tainted by arrests and prison?  How can we be the good news Jesus promised?
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to proclaim release to the captives.  In 30 AD, Israel was exiled in their own land, enslaved to the Roman empire.  The people were enslaved to a complete misreading of the law of Moses by religious overlords who condemned them instead of helping them see God’s grace. And all people were slaves to sin.
Today many people are captive in the world. One example: girls are kidnapped and forced into the sex-industry, living as slaves.  Men are in bondage to their pathological addictions so that they see their own urges not as prompts to lead them to love their wives, but as sexual appetites to be indulged to excess.  They don’t see the girls they buy as human, but as objects that exist to satiate their demented appetites.  Everyone in the transaction is broken and lost and in need of compassion and help and real love.  This is one example of many in the world today in which we see people in bondage.  The Holy Spirit led Jesus to proclaim release to the captives.  As the body of Christ, how we do proclaim release to those in 21st century captivity?
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to proclaim recovery of sight to the Blind.   
When Jesus worked miracles of healing, he usually told the person helped to go and show themselves to the priest because the ailment, blindness, leprosy, paralysis or something else, would disqualify that one from participation in worship.  Physical disabilities were indications that someone had sinned and was unclean and unfit for worship.  The highest good to be had in life was a right relationship with God and that relationship was realized in worship.  The disability didn’t just deprive someone of health and impose pain; it cut the person off from God.  By healing people, Jesus made a way for them to come to God.
In 21st century America, we don’t blame people for blindness or sickness or other debilitating conditions.  But do we welcome those who have physical disadvantages?  Do we structure life our community and adjust our communal attitude so that we are inviting and hospitable for everyone?  We may not be able to work miracle of healing as Jesus did, but we can pray God-sized prayers.  We can expect miracles.  And whether or not they come, we can be a church family that does whatever is necessary to joyfully include everyone.  In Christ, there is no healthy and sick; all are one and we strive to meet one another’s needs in love.  As the body of Christ, how do we proclaim recovery so that all who are a part of our worship have a clear path to relationship with God?  
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to let the oppressed go free.   
Similar to the captives and to the physically infirm in Jesus’ day, the oppressed were people powerless to stand up for themselves, victims of abuse by the power-holders.  
In our time, think about those incarcerated in the United States.  If we want to be simplistic about it, we’d say, lawbreakers go to jail and those who abide by the law don’t.  According to a U.S. Health and Human Services Department survey in the year 2000, people of all races use and sell drugs at remarkable similar rates.  White, black, Hispanic, Asian - there are equal proportions of each population addicted and equal proportions of drug dealers.  So, why are 80-90% of those serving long-term sentences for drug convictions black?  Why are black men 57% more likely to go to prison for drug charges than white men?  And consider this.  The effects of prison don’t end when the sentence is over.  Try getting a job when you’re labeled an ex-con.  For white people, a drug addiction is a sickness to be treated.  For blacks, it is a crime to be punished.   The inequalities in prison sentencing are one example of how a group of people ends up oppressed here in America, the land of the free.
As the body of Christ, standing in the light of Christ, walking in the footsteps of Christ, how do we help the oppressed go free?  Jesus had the Spirit upon him because he came to let the oppressed go free.  How do we, his followers, embody his mission?  
The Spirit of the Lord is on us.  If we respond, we end up taking 4 specific actions.  We help the poor, we name the captives as we renounce their captivity, we welcome the sick, and we see the oppressed as well as our hand in their oppression: help, name, welcome, see.  In Luke 4, Jesus preaches justice.  We know Him.  We know that to walk in his steps and stand his light and help these He promised to Help, is gospel work because gospel means “good news,” and that’s what he promised.  
This makes people who hold power angry.  The privileged get uncomfortable because their position of privilege will have to be shared.  Jesus was OK with the anger and the discomfort.  We want to follow Him, so we have to overcome the anger and enter the discomfort.  We have to acknowledge our own sins and we have to open ourselves to the suffering of others.  How do we do it?
If you’ve been following along in this series, you might expect me to prescribe spiritual disciplines at this point.  We’ve talked about disciplines that we do to condition ourselves to see God in everyday life, to live obediently, and to submit ourselves fully to God.  Are there disciplines that condition us to help, name, welcome, and see the oppressed?  Probably.  But, this morning, the conclusion is an invitation.
I invite you to participate in ministries our church already has in place.  We need more volunteers.  We need you to give your time to strengthen the ways our church already works to help, name, welcome, and see.  Every month, we collect an offering to help people in financial distress pay their rent and utility bills.  Twice a year, we collect food for the Yates Association food pantry.  Every Christmas, we collect school supplies for extremely poor families in Appalachia.  We partner with Children’s Hope Chest to help poor children in Ethiopia and with Project Esperanza to help displaced children in Dominican Republic.  Every weekend, we have a tutoring ministry for refugees.  Once a year, we build a ramp on the home of a wheelchair bound person.  Once a year we host a free dental clinic.  Our youth group goes on a mission trip; this year they’ll go to South Carolina.  All these ministries are done in the spirit of Jesus’ preaching in Luke 4.  All these ministries need prayer support, volunteers, and additional financial support.  HillSong will be a church walking in the light when we have 100% of our members and attendees involved in these ministries.  
Open your heart to the Holy Spirit as you read the word.  Jesus said the Spirit led him to help the poor, to name evil and name the victims, to welcome the wounded, and to see the oppressed.  Allow the Spirit to a similar work in you.  Together, we are the body of Christ.  In the power of the Holy Spirit we can do good in Jesus’ name.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

"We Belong to God" (Luke 4:1-13)

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“We Belong to God” (Luke 4:1-13)
Rob Tennant, HillSong Church, Chapel Hill, NC
Sunday, January 20, 2018

            As I mentioned last week, I was in the National Guard for six years.  The obligation was 1 weekend a month and 2 weeks every summer.  We grunts had a lot of time where we sat around until officers came with orders.  
            During the down time we talked about any and everything.  On one occassion, dirty jokes were told, guys exaggerated and lied, and then, the topic of religion came up.  I stayed quiet and listened.  Guys were arguing, throwing around opinions.  One guy boasted, “I don’t know much about what you guys are saying, but I have accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, so I know I am going to Heaven.  I’m set!”  Smiling, he gave his buddy a triumphant high-five.
This was a boisterous, life-of-the-party type who cursed and drank with the best of them.  Nothing in his words or actions suggested that Jesus had any voice in the way he lived.  He claimed Jesus was his Lord.  But, he did not live under Jesus’ lordship.  He acted as his own master.
I was a youth pastor for five years before I became a senior pastor.  Once the youth group was hanging out waiting for the Bible study to start.   A 15-year-old girl, Meghan,  talked up a storm, bragging about all she had done, naming guys she had been with and what she had done with them.  She wanted to show off how worldly she was.  I got fed up and asked her, “Meghan, do you know what it means to be a Christian?”  She put her hand on her hip, struck a defiant pose, and said, “It means I have declared Jesus Christ to be my Lord and Savior.” 
Like my fellow soldier, she spoke words of faith.  But, she was not living under Jesus’ authority.  She thought she was her own authority.  The soldier I mentioned?  He lived the way he saw fit; his way, not God’s way.  I wonder how many of us live a Christianity in which we, each individual, acts as his or her own authority.  What we have talked about in this sermon series up to now, seeking and obedience, allows us to step toward Jesus, but still on our own terms. 
Along with the wise men, we follow the star.  We work on spiritual disciplines that help us see God in daily life.  It’s something we do.  Like Joseph, John the Baptist, and Jesus, we live obediently.  We choose to do what God says.  We commit throughout 2019 to practice spiritual disciplines that strengthen our resolve to live obediently.  
We can live observantly and obediently and we must if we want to follow Jesus.  But then we take a next step.  Once we decide to condition ourselves to walk in the light by seeking and seeing God in daily life and obeying God in daily life, then we have to submit to God.  We have to emphasize the “Lord” part of the claim “Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior.” Until we submit to him as Lord, it’s an empty statement. 
Fully submitting to Jesus is countercultural.  Our culture tells us to feed our own happiness.  It’s all about me.  Life is all about you.  When we become Christians, we know “it,” life, is not about us at all.  We live for God’s glory.  We belong to God. 
In his analysis of the encounter of Jesus and Satan in the desert, New Testament professor Joel Green shows the tension between submitting to God and submitting to other authorities.  Jesus goes to the wilderness because the Holy Spirit led him. 
I think he planned the fast.  His 40 days in the wilderness recalls the 40 years of wandering the Israelites did, recorded in the book of Exodus.  God freed them from slavery in Egypt, but instead of worshiping God and waiting on God, they created a golden calf and worshiped it.  So, God allowed them to march in circles for 40 years.  Jesus would reenact this time of Israel’s desert trials with his 40-day fast.  Only where Israel failed to show faith, he would succeed.  Weakened by hunger with his spiritual alertness heightened through the prayer and fasting, he would do what Israel did not: rely on God for salvation.  The devil shows up to test Jesus.
            In the devil’s opening salvo, he invites Jesus to abandon his 40-day fast.  The devil knows Jesus has divine power.  There’s nothing wrong with a hungry man eating bread.  Jesus was hungry.  If you are the Son of God, turn the stone to bread.  What clever irony!  To prove your relationship to God, you simply need to abandon the fast meant to help you focus on God.  
            Jesus responds by turning to the word - Deuteronomy 8:3.  “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”  Jesus would eat; he would feast.  First, he had to submit completely to God and this required denying himself in order to fix his eyes upon the Father.
Next the devil tempts Jesus to declare himself independent of God and to then give his allegiance to the devil.  If Jesus will do this, the devil tells him, he can rule the the earth: Rome; Greece; Persia.  He can have it all.  Just reject God as Father and become the son of the devil.  Again, Jesus relies on scripture, Deuteronomy 6:13.  “Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.”  In worship, we humble ourselves and exalt God.  The devil tempted Jesus with power, but he humbled himself and pledged not to rule, but to serve. 
Rely on God before relying on food.  Serve God and don’t worry about ruling anyone.  What would the devil come up with next? 
He drags Jesus to the rooftop, the pinnacle of the temple.  A fall from there would be deadly.  Then, the devil tries to beat Jesus at his own game.  He quotes scripture accurately. Psalm 91:11-12, “For the Lord will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.  On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.”  If the word of God you keep quoting is true as you say it is, then if you fall from this great height, nothing will happen.  You’ll be protected.  Throw yourself off.  Let’s see how much you really trust God.  Again, Jesus reaches back to Deuteronomy, this time chapter 6, verse 16.  “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”
Rely on God before relying on food.  Serve God and don’t worry about ruling anyone.  Trust God, don’t test him.  At that point the devil departs.  And then, Matthew’s Gospel reports, those angels the devil said would help Jesus came and did exactly that (Matt. 4:11).
The devil knows the scriptures better than any of us and can use the Bible to lead us down the wrong path, away from God.  The devil will use anything he thinks might work to lead us away from God.  Professor Green points out that the scriptures are valuable because they bear witness to God’s purpose.  “The scriptures are interpreted correctly by those who are unswervingly committed to God’s purpose and in line with God’s purpose” (Green, p.28).  We do not worship the scriptures.  In the scriptures, we meet the God we worship.  We are not submitted to the scriptures.  In the scriptures, we hear the words of the God to whom we are submitted.  The Bible is authoritative because it brings us to the word of God. 
By following the lead of the Holy Spirit, by understanding the scriptures in light of God’s mission for him, and by leaning on God when temptation came, Jesus fully gave himself over to God so that his life was not his, but belonged to the Father.  As I said, he would go on to times of feasting.  He would stand in fearless opposition both to the Jewish king Herod and to the Roman governor Pilate.  And, he was never swayed when people around him tried to win him from flattery.  In full surrender to God, Jesus was completely free from the shackles of human authority, all of it tainted by sin.  He carried out his mission to preach salvation, give healing, and point people to the Kingdom of God after he received the freedom God gave.
What does full submission to God look like for us?  We submit our marriages to God.  We submit our careers to God.  We submit our appetites, longings, money, and dreams to God.  We seek God and obey God so that we are positioned to lean in to God so completely that no part of our lives makes any sense apart from who we are in Christ.  
I’ll watch football this afternoon.  As I do, I submit to God.  I don’t mean I pray for my team to win.  That would be the opposite of submission.  One submitted knows God loves everyone on both teams and everyone in the cities both teams represent.  Submitted to God, I am God-aware during the game, as I watch commercials, and in my interactions with the people who are with me as we watch the game.  It may be a simple as that - remaining God-aware.  It may mean modeling calm and peace if the game doesn’t go my way.  I have had many times in my own life when I have utterly and completely failed in submitting myself to God while watching my team lose; or while driving in bad traffic; or while trying to appropriately, lovingly discipline my children.  I need to be reminded of the call to submission in normal places of life.  We all do. 
I am not suggesting a 40-day fast, although a pastor friend of mine did exactly that.  A 2 or 3-day fast might be better.  We need disciplines that help us submit ourselves fully before God.  You have to find what works for you.  Here is a suggestion.  Envision your life in segments - relationships, family, career, interests, commitments.  Now, focus on one of those segments, for example, your job. 
Write down everything about your job you like.  Write all the reasons why you have that job.  Write all the expectations of you on that job.  Write all the temptations you face related to the job.  Four lists - what you like; why you have the job; expectations of you; temptations you face - all in the context of that job.  There should be 3-5 entries on each list. 
Now, under each list, write how what you’ve written changes when you see it under God’s authority.  This exercise should take time and be something you go back to every so often as you pray regularly.  You may have one sense right now of how this aspect of your life looks when God’s light is shined upon it.  After a few months, it may look different.  This can be a yearlong process, submitting your career to God.
The goal is to become a person fully connected to Jesus in that context, your workplace.  And we do this in all the segments of our lives.  But start with one. 
I invite you to live under Jesus’ rule because I believe that is the best life you can hope to have.  The only way to see if this is true is to try it.  Try this week a discipline that helps you lived a fully God-directed life.  Jesus  said, “I have come that you might have abundant life” (John 10:10).  He wants joy for you.  We find that joy when we die to self and life for Christ.  Follow him and see what that life is like.

Works Cited
Green, Joel B. New Testament Theology: the Theology of the Gospel of Luke. Cambridge University Press, 1995.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

“To Do What God Says” (Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23; 3:13-17)

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Sunday, January, 2019

            It doesn’t matter what your job is.  Are you a student trying to graduate?  A young adult new in the workforce?  A professional, at the top of your game?  Or, has it been so rough, you’ve you given up on career ambitions?  Are you just trying to make ends meet and make it to retirement?  Or, are you into retirement?  Where we are in life - it doesn’t matter.  When we walk in the light, we are near God.  Being close to God, we have real joy and even if life is hard, we have grace and hope.  So, how do we have a close relationship with God?
            That’s the point of this series of sermons about walking in the light.  Last week’s truth: if we look for God, we’ll find him.  If we constantly seek, we will meet God in our everyday lives.  So, in 2019, commit to disciplines of awareness.  In a notebook write down every “God thought” you have throughout the day. At the end of each day, review what you’ve written, and pray.  Ask God to reveal himself to you in those moments.  Do this every day. 
Disciplines of awareness.  Carry the word “Grace” on a card everywhere you go.  When anger at another person rises up in you, whip that card out.  Look at it, hard.  Remember, God has given you grace.  Pray.  Ask God to help you give grace to the other.  At the end of each week, review moments when grace invaded your anger.  Meet God in those moments. 
Disciplines of awareness. Take pictures of things you see that make you think of God.  At the end of the week, go through the pictures slowly, praying as you look at them and remember where you saw God in your everyday life.  
When we see the light, we can step into it and walk in it.  That’s today’s discipline.  Walking in the light, we obey God throughout our lives.  God won’t force His will on us.  He lets us choose to be disciples and as we choose to live under His rule, he walks with us, blessing us.  Three specific decisions must be made by anyone that desires to walk in God’s light: first, we decide that God is the absolute authority of our lives.  Second, we decide to know what God says by reading the Bible and learning how to listen to the Holy Spirit.  Third, we decide life with God is worth the cost.
Joseph the earthly father of Jesus, John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin and the prophet who paved the way for Him, and Jesus Himself each model the obedience of a life lived under God’s authority.  
When Joseph decided to stay with Mary and be her husband, he didn’t know a woman could become pregnant by the Holy Spirit.  He did not understand that she was carrying in her womb the son of God.  What he knew was God told him to marry her, and he did.  God told him there was danger and he had to flee to Egypt.  He didn’t know anyone in Egypt.  But, he packed up their recently acquired gold, frankincense, and myrrh, and took Mary and the baby Jesus to Egypt.  When God told him the danger was passed, he believed and returned to Israel. 
John modeled the same obedience as he preached fiery sermons that so enraged Herod, he imprisoned and then executed John.  John never wavered in the message because he knew he was saying what God had told him to say.  Jesus did not want to die on the cross.  But he knew God’s plan and went with it obediently.  That’s what obedience is: doing what God says even when we don’t understand or, worse, do understand it and know it will be hard and don’t want to obey.  But we do anyway.  Each of these heroes of faith decided to obey God.
 If we believe God’s authority is absolute, we need to know what God’s instructions are.  We can memorize the the 10 commandments, study the sermon on the Mount, and contemplate the fruit of the Spirit, found in Galatians 5.  We can carry the lists of virtues found in different places in Paul’s letters.  We can and should read everything Jesus says about caring for the poor in Matthew 25 and throughout the Gospel of Luke.  We must know the content of the work.  Knowing the Bible is a starting point for obedient living.
The rubber meets the road when we’ve studied and then in our in daily interactions with people, try to live by what we’ve read.  The Holy Spirit, the third member of the trinity, helps us.  Joseph was surely tempted to leave Mary when he found out she was pregnant and he wasn’t the father.  He was a decent man willing to reject her discreetly.  But gentle or not, the temptation was to push her away.  The Spirit helped Joseph obey the message of the angel and marry her.  
John was undoubtedly tempted to fear Herod, but he in spite of the fear, he obeyed.  Letting fear guide us instead of faith is a real temptation.  A lot of people God calls to serve in missions don’t go because they’re afraid: afraid it is too expensive; or, afraid it is dangerous to travel to other countries.  If you feel in your gut God calling you to something and resist because you’re afraid, that’s disobedience.   John knew Herod would probably kill him for his preaching, yet he openly critiqued the king when the king’s marriage broke God’s law.  
Have you felt prompted by the Holy Spirit to talk to someone about faith in Christ?  Did you resist because you were afraid you’d look stupid or the person would reject you and maybe stop being a friend?  Walking in the light involves making the decision to risk speaking and looking like a fool or risk going, even to dangerous places, because we trust the nudge of the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit is God and living in a right relationship with God is more important than living safely or living an easy life. 
Maybe speaking out is easy.  You’ve already shared your faith with someone this and January is not even two weeks old.  Maybe you’re fearless.  You’ve already got your overseas mission trip for 2019 planned.  You may be tempted in some other way to disobey God.  Faith always has a cost. 
When I was young, I had a mixed record of obedience.  My idea of what a man should be led me to play high school and just a little bit of college football.  My idea of what a man should be led me to enlist in the army and go through infantry basic training.  Part of my commitment as a Christian was to stay a virgin outside of marriage.  I kept that commitment.  However, in the locker room and in the barracks guys were constantly bragging, usually in vulgar terms, about the women they had been with.  In those conversations, I stayed as quiet as I could, but inevitably, someone would look at me with a wry smile and ask, “What about you, Tennant?”  My  commitment to sexual purity wasn’t tempted.  My commitment to honesty was. 
Sometimes, I said, “I am Christian.  I am waiting for marriage.”  There might have some teasing, but usually when I made a statement like that, my teammates or fellow soldiers respected me.  Other times I was asked, “Tennant, you’re awfully quiet.  Have you been with a woman?”  And with the opportunity to speak about my faith, I lied.  I said, “Of course I have.”  Instead of representing Jesus, I thought lying would make things easier on me.  I broke of one of the 10!  Thou shalt not bear false witness.  
I had already decided God was my authority.  I made the first decision.  I knew the Bible and heard the Holy Spirit.  I had make the second decision.  But, when I lied, I didn’t make the third one.  I did not decide that life with God, in that moment, was worth the cost.  Since then, God has forgiven me of the sin of lying and the greater sin of ignoring the Holy Spirit.  God has given me additional chances to tell the truth and be a witness and I have done that.  It’s taken time and 2nd and 3rd and 100th chances from God, but I have since decided that the cost - I might get teased for being a 30-year-old virgin - was worth it.  
Of course I have been tempted in numerous other ways and succeeded to represent and obey God at times, and failed at other times.  And my decision to obey God’s teaching about sexual purity and about truth-telling is nothing next to Joseph’s life-or-death moments of obedience, or John and Jesus’ decisions to obey God to the point of death.  But God is not comparing me to Joseph or John or Jesus.  God is not comparing you to anyone.  God meets us in the midst of our obedience. 
I had shame when I lied about my experiences in order to fit in with other soldiers.  The Holy Spirit let me sit in that embarrassment, but was with me the entire time.  God gave me grace and additional opportunities.  When those opportunities arose, God emboldened me to be a truth-teller and to be someone more concerned with my identity in Christ than with what others thought of me.  Looking back on these times, I have gratitude. 
What matters most today is your story, your walk with God in 2019.   First, decide that God is God - the ultimate authority not just in the universe but in your life.  Second, decide to know what God says by reading the Bible and studying it with other believers.  Third, the hardest part, decide that whatever the cost, you’ll obey; you’ll live God’s way. 
The third decision is the hardest because of the ways we get tempted and what tempts me is different than what tempts you, but we all get tempted.  We don’t have the willpower to resist. We need the Holy Spirit’s help. 
I talked earlier about disciplines of awareness.  We also need disciplines of obedience.  You could think of many and should choose what works for you.  I offer one suggestion.  Bring to mind what tempts you.  What is it in life that leads you to forget about God and do things your own way?  Temptations are so powerful, you won’t even need to write this down.  But you do need to name it.  Name two temptations and imagine those specific places in your life these temptations come up.  
Now, commit to praying every day for a minute or so specifically about this temptation.  In this daily prayer, name the temptation, confess to God that it’s hard to resist, then ask for help from the Holy Spirit in resisting.  Don’t miss a day. 
Finally, at some point every month, review.  Review the previous 30 days.  Identify moments in which you felt the temptation.  Be honest in your review.  If you gave into the temptation and disobeyed God, confess, receive grace, and repent.  If you succeeded, with the Spirit’s help in resisting the temptation, celebrate.  Thank God and praise God for God’s willingness to walk with you.  
God helps us obey.  We practice the spiritual disciplines in order to position ourselves so that that we’re ready and willing to receive the love and grace and help God has for us.  I can tell you from my own experience that deciding it’s worth it to obey God is hard sometimes, but brings great joy.  In those times I failed to obey, but then confessed, I received forgiveness.  And the life I have in Christ, is one I would not trade for anything.  There is no greater joy than the joy we have in the light of God.  God wants that joy for you. He holds it out to you because He loves you.  Make the decision today to follow Christ and walk in His light.