READ: Luke 4:1-13
So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O LORD, have given me." You shall set it down before the LORD your God and bow down before the LORD your God.
— Deuteronomy 26:10
As many of you know, I joined about 8000 other faith leaders from around the world to attend the Exponential Conference in Orlando, Florida, this past week.
The conference aim was to equip these leaders with new ideas and techniques for reinvigorating their churches or to breathe life into the dreams and callings of planting new churches.
We all were ready to learn and to truly empty ourselves of what we thought we knew about ministry so that we could be filled with new ideas.
On the plane ride to Orlando, about 15 pastors from our conference all sat together in the back of the plane.
Most of use were asleep (because this is what pastors do on Sunday afternoons… ) or deep into our music or audiobooks in our headphones.
I was both.
And then we heard the frantic plead by a flight attendant for a doctor or a nurse.
A passenger had collapsed on the plane near the bathroom right behind our seats.
Fortunately, a nurse — it was Dawn — and a doctor sprang into action and saved the woman.
But as pastors on the plane, we quickly held hands and prayed for the woman and for those attending to her.
This is what we could do, just as it was what Dawn and the doctor could do.
Have you ever had to respond to an emergency with action, whether it was physical help or spiritual help?
It feels good when you trust God in that moment and do what God has gifted you with.
I felt pretty good that day…
But the very next day, I was in a car driving through Orlando, and it was beautiful and sunny, and about 85 degrees that early evening.
In the opposite lane of a six-lane highway, I saw a man pushing his station wagon which had broken down toward the intersection.
He probably had run out of gas, and he pushed the car from the drivers side door, where he also steered with one hand on the wheel.
No one stopped to help him.
And neither did I.
I instantly felt awful.
On the plane, I couldn’t save the woman’s life, but I could pray.
On the road, I could have helped push the car. Instead, I did pray.
In our reading in Deuteronomy 26, verse 10 tells us:
...bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, o lord, have given me. ... set it down before the lord your god ...”
What did God give me that I’m to give back?
I’m supposed to give back what god has given me.
Not whatever is left of me, but the first of me.
The very best of me.
On the plane, it was my prayer.
On the ground, it was my action.
I gave my best on the plane, but I failed to do the same on the ground.
Examples of failure
I’m not alone in my failing, I know this.
And not just by the others who failed that day, but by some pretty good company from our Scriptures:
Moses and God’s chosen children, the Israelites.
Moses fails to give god what he requires: obedience.
And only when he’s ready to be obedient, does God give him his word atop Mount Sinai.
“Moses: Come up here on the mountain to see me…
…the God of Wind and Fire…
Moses doesn’t want that; he’s not prepared for that — again…
To prepare Moses, God makes him fast for 40 days first.
Like saying to us, see you on April 20…
And god’s people also aren’t obedient either.
They are being called out of Egyptian slavery — Exodus 24.15 — and God answers their prayers!!!
Yet they aren’t really ready yet for what God is going to bless them with.
Complaining and moaning the whole time…
They must fast for 40 years in the wilderness before reaching the promised land!
Forget April 20; how about the year 2059!
Moses wasn’t ready.
Nor were god’s people.
It’s funny that I wasn’t ready either.
Maybe for the plane, but not the road.
What else am I not ready for?
How about the rest of us? Are we ready? Are we obedient?
Or do we have to wander as god prepares our hearts to give him what he first gave us?
See, in some ways we can be ready, and we can be obedient, and when we are, god shows up and we see him MOVE!
But when we don’t act in obedience, what do we see happen?
The world doesn’t get brighter, the people don’t expand into the kingdom, the child starves, the war trudges on another year, evil proliferates, the guy pushes his car alone on a hot Monday afternoon.
And we don’t grow in faith.
We don’t see god at work.
And worse, we fail to return to god the gifts that he’s first given us …
…and what he commands we give back!
Good news Jesus
Was Jesus ready to give back to God, the Father, what he had given his son?
If we were to flip back in Luke, we’d see that Jesus is fresh off his baptism by John in the Jordan river.
God calls his son into not just ministry, but into the life he was given.
To fully embrace god’s gifts and begin to return them.
First fruits. His best.
The father knows the son is ready; but does the son know?
Did Moses know? The people?
Jesus is brought into the wilderness, just like Moses and just like the Israelites.
Moses fasted for forty days in the wilderness.
Then he was ready.
The people fasted for forty years in the wilderness.
God provided bread and water for forty years.
Then they were ready for the promised land.
Jesus fasted for forty days in the wilderness.
Then he was ready.
Do you see the pattern here?
Now, we read that Jesus was not only fasting and weak from it — physically weak.
But what happened to his spirit?
God allowed the son to be tempted:
* The enemy tells him:
“Since you are God’s Son, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.”
Jesus replied, “It’s written, People won’t live only by bread.”
* The devil brings Jesus to a high place overlooking vast kingdoms and tells Jesus:
“I will give you this whole domain and the glory of all these kingdoms. It’s been entrusted to me and I can give it to anyone I want. Therefore, if you will worship me, it will all be yours.”
Jesus answered, “It’s written, You will worship the Lord your God and serve only him.”
Then the devil brought him into Jerusalem and stood him at the highest point of the temple. He said to him:
“Since you are God’s Son, throw yourself down from here; for it’s written: He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you and they will take you up in their hands so that you won’t hit your foot on a stone.”
Jesus answered, “It’s been said, Don’t test the Lord your God.”
All of those promises are lies, and every time in our own lives when the enemy tries to sway us, it’s with lies.
Even bending the Scriptures, as the enemy does here.
Were the things that the enemy was offering Jesus good things?
No, they were the easy way out.
And when the easy way out is based on lies, then you KNOW that it is temptation from the enemy.
It isn’t real…
It’s too easy. Too comfortable…
It’s too good to be true!
Jesus knew that he had to give up those things — those easy, comfortable, convenient things in order to to be ready for what god would require of him to give:
Not just stuff. Not just easy stuff.
Not residual stuff.
But the best of first fruits.
God will know when the son is ready; but if the son doesn’t know he’s ready, will he be ready for whats to come?
Like the wedding in Cana. My time hasn’t come yet, mom.
I’m not ready for this.
When we’re not ready, will we be able to give our A game? Our best? Our first Fruits?
God gives us the opportunity to prepare and get ready for what he requires us to do.
And what he requires us to do is to give all of ourselves.
Our first fruits.
What are we required to give today?
Are you ready?
We want to say yes, but here I am to tell you lord, I’m not ready.
Make me ready.
Because while I can pray fervently with folks in hands clasped tightly together as the medical staff is saving the life of a human being on an airplane,
I can’t seem to pull my car over to the side of the road and help a brother out Whois having car troubles on a perfect Florida day.
No rain, no snow, no reason...
I need to be ready.
I need to know I can be ready always to give my best.
My first fruits.
Well, here we are in the season of lent,
And that word means new beginnings.
What is beginning?
Yeah, a new thing.
“I’m about to do a new thing,” God tells the great prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 43.19.
We remember now that Jesus is beginning a painful walk to Jerusalem, to a place called Golgotha,
where he will be humiliated, beaten and nailed to a cross for nothing he has done, but for everything that we haven’t!
And everything we continue to not do!
We continue to not give of ourselves.
We refuse to give back what god has GIVEN us.
And we are separated from god because we are not obedient.
And that, my friends, is called sin.
When we turn away from God’s will for us, we put distance between us and God.
That separation, my friends, is called sin, and it leads to death.
And our sins are exactly what Jesus took with him onto his body.
Onto the cross.
Are you ready to see that image again?
Because every time we don’t give of ourselves to god, we have only to look back up onto those two planks and three nails to see what our inaction and disobedience has done.
In this season of lent, we are told to prepare.
This is our wilderness, my friends.
And it’s a blessing.
A chance to prepare.
So let’s do just that in the time we have now.
Let’s accept humbly the fact that, no, maybe were not as ready as God needs us to be.
And let’s pray and work and seek what god requires us
Our full obedience.
Our first fruits.
And we start right here, right now, today, on the first Sunday in Lent.
We prepare to give back to God what he has first given us.
When we sing, we understand that we are singing to the same God that Moses was afraid to meet with.
When we pray, we pray to the same God that created every star and planet in the sky with his own hands.
When we worship, we are giving back the best of our wretched, broken and sinful selves.
And God wants nothing less that our full fear and awe and love and obedience!
He doesn’t want us to just sit here on Sunday mornings and tepidly pray and sing and fellowship.
He gave us life and gave us eternal life with him!
Saved us from eternal death!
Yeah, that God!
What are you going to do with this time?
Go visit the folks stuck in the homes who would give ANYTHING today to be here among us;
Repair those broken relationships;
Forgive those who hurt you;
Read your Bibles!
Double your prayer time!
Get into a study group!
Come and take part in the Lenten Study that begins each Wednesday at 6:15 for 45 minutes these next 40 days.
I heard there were only 20 people who received the imposition of ashes here last week.
We are a church of 225 people!
More than half of which I’ve never met.
That’s not a church;
That’s just a membership.
Up your discipleship and get on the phone with your family and friends and let them know that God has put them on your hearts.
Not just to be here on Easter morning,
but so that their lives are held in God’s eternal hands.
Are they held now?
Would you bet your life on it?
And our discipleship and accountability to them matters!
In these forty days, we all have the chance to look around us and see where God has placed us.
Because if these forty days LOOK like just our everyday lives…
…the one in which we wake up, feed the kids, go to work, begin our routines, settle down with the TV and say some weak prayer at the end of the evening, I’ve got news for y’all:
We’ve simply put a facade over the wilderness around us.
And that wilderness — just like Moses’s and the Israelites and even Jesus’s — are a gift!
A time to prepare ourselves to give what God created us,
and expects us,
and even demands we do.
Do you feel all full inside?
Life is as good as it will ever be?
Or maybe it was better, and now you’re just riding a wave of wonderful memories.
Hear the Good News:
You still have a purpose.
God still has a plan for your life.
* If you’re celebrating your 95th birthday or your first;
* If you’re tied up in a hospital bed or just broke the 4-minute mile;
* If you’re suffering through tragedy or you’re sitting on top of the world, know this:
You’ve got a long, long way to go.
Because our God is a BIG GOD, and he has BIG plans for your life.
And that includes your very best.
The very best that he gave you.
Those things that you love and you’re good at and come so effortless.
What does God demand of us?
Don’t just say it; follow it up with your actions!
Because God has no use for our inaction.
The same inaction that sent Christ to the cross.
We pray that God not only gives us the strength to endure,
but shows us what we need to endure to better give that Jesus which has GIVEN to us.
And each of these forty days, we must wear out our knees in prayer.
We must suffer the pain of starvation in whatever way God requires of us in order to be prepared for what is needed from us.
Jesus freely and obediently took onto his body our disobedience and complacency so that when we became his body, we would never have to experience that kind of death in our lives again.
In this season of lent, we remember this, and we prepare.
We continue to prepare in this season so that we become fruitful for the rest of our lives and for all god calls us to.
We give freely.
We give selflessly.
We give kingdom love and kingdom good.
And we give the best.
The best god gave to us
The best Jesus gave to us on the cross