This week we are launching into a new series, Simple Words.
We all know that words hold power. We create in-group and out-group experiences through words, we have words that help us think about our favorite books or movies, and we feel emotions when words come to mind.
Sometimes, the simplest of words can change the trajectory of your life. The word Help can begin the healing process for those struggling with addiction. The word Yes can open the door to new possibilities. The word Sorry can bring healing to relationships. Using these simple words will allow God to do profound things in your life.
This week we begin with the word No. No is such an important word. It can liberate you. It can free you. It can help you to set boundaries. It can allow you to make space for God when your life is crammed and full of stuff, burdens, and obligations. No can be a wonderful gift, but we must use it in order to experience the beauty of the word.
This week we are exploring the word No through the temptations of Jesus. In Luke 4:1-13, Jesus said no to things that we often deem as valuable; he said no to material things, no to authority, and no to power. The no’s of Jesus not only teach us but also stir within us a response to follow Jesus and say no to things. Maybe you need to start emptying your life in order to free yourself up. Maybe you need to say no to defining your identity through your work. Maybe you need to say no to an overwhelming schedule. Join us this week as we look at a man who mastered the art of No, Jesus, and see how a No can transform aspects of your life.
- I will do without something this week to learn I am not what I have.
- I will fast from food to learn I do not have to be captive to my appetites.
- I will fast from shopping to learn not to gratify my appetite for more.
- I will fast from electronics and turn my mind and body toward God instead.
- I will regularly carve out a period of time when I am not working and just being.
- I will say no to the insanity of a frenzied world around me.
- I will practice living life without human approval.
- I will let someone be disappointed in me and be okay with that.
Alright, we’re starting a new series today called “Simple Words that have the power to change your life.” I told a friend about this series and he said this is the series he’s been waiting for — “Simple words that have the power to change your wife.” I was meeting someone in downtown Pleasanton recently, at a time when parking can be kind of a hassle. A guy got into his car. So I was behind him waiting to parallel park into his space. But he just sat there in his car. The engine was running. I knew he was going to leave, but he was adjusting the mirrors, looking at his phone, touching the screen on his dashboard. The thought occurred to me, “This guy is deliberately making me wait for this parking space.” I decided I would get out of my car and go check in with him and just let him know, “Hey man, I know exactly what you’re doing.” I was just not happy with what this guy was doing. So I walked up to his car window. He rolled down the window, looked at me and said, “Pastor Matt?” I said, “Yes. I just wanted to say, ‘God bless you.’ I’m in no hurry at all. You take all the time you need.” Have you ever had that happen where you’re waiting for a space, and you just kind of feel like someone is not making space for you? I’m not making this up. In the Journal of Applied Social Psychology, someone who has studied hundreds of drivers found we actually take longer to leave a parking space if we know someone is waiting for it than we do if no one is waiting for it at all. There’s something perverse inside of us that says, “This is my space.” We’ll make ourselves wait longer to leave just to keep someone else from getting it. If they’re in a desperate hurry picking up kids or late for an appointment and they give a little honk, we make them wait four times longer. This is such a common human instinct, it has its own name — territorialism. It also happens in other arenas. If you’re at a restaurant, the longer the line of people waiting for a table, the more crowded the restaurant, the longer people linger at their table. — “My space! I don’t want to make space for you.” I think nowhere is this a bigger problem than when it comes to making space for God in our lives. There’s this weird, perverse little thing inside of us. Even if we don’t plan it, even if it’s not deliberate, it’s like, I have so much going on. There’s so much happening. I jealously guard the contours and the boundaries of my life so much that I don’t have time to just immerse my mind in God’s Word. I don’t have time to pray at a real deep level. I don’t have time to examine the condition of my character, or put in the kind of time that’s needed to develop a spiritual friendship, or serve, or give, or volunteer. Well, we’re starting this series today — “Simple words.” Everyone is in a hurry, so each week we’re just going to focus on one simple word. I believe if you focus on that one word that week, God really will use that word to change your life. Alright, we start today with the word No. No is such an important word. * It can liberate you. * It can free you. * It can help you to set boundaries. There was a time in your life when you loved this word. It was a time when you were about two years old. You said this word recreationally, joyfully. < “Clean your room.” “No!” “Eat your vegetables.” “No!” “Share your toys.” “No!” Then over time, you learned that people like you better when you say yes rather than no. And we learned over time to say yes in ways that have created enormous problems for us. * We say yes to bosses. * And we say yes to schedules. * And yes to meetings. * And yes to obligations. * And yes to burdens. * And yes to stuff we’re going to buy that we don’t really need. * And yes to people we barely know and don’t even like. Then eventually our lives are crammed full — they’re decent, respectable, exhausting, fatiguing, resentment-filled, Godless little lives. What we need is this word no. Shauna Niequist is an author who writes about this. This is part of what she writes: And so if you, like me, have said too many yeses, and found that all that hopeful, exciting, wide-open intention has actually left you scraped raw and empty, the word that can change everything is no. I know. I don’t like it either. Yes is fun and sparkly and printed on tote bags. No? What if you saw someone wearing a sweatshirt that just said no? I do not want to sit next to that bundle of fun. But no became the scalpel I wielded as I remade my life. Shauna Niequist I believe today, God wants to give you a scalpel to remake your life, to make space for God, because God generally won’t force his way into your life. The Bible, among other things, is a book filled with amazing noes, wonderful noes, glorious noes. * There was a man named Joseph who had a lot of reasons to have a lot of self-pity and think he deserved to have something good happen in his life. He was invited into a relationship that would provide a little momentary happiness, but he knew it would mess up his life. And he knew his identity and his mission. So he said, “No.” * There are a few young men — Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Their lives took a turn for the worse. There was a lot of disappointment. They’re invited to worship an idol. (We’re all invited to worship idols.) They know their identity and their mission. So they said, “No.” * One of the great stories involves a leader, a man named Nehemiah, and he was in Jerusalem helping to rebuild this great city of God. I’ll give you a little clue. If you’re trying to do something great for God — it doesn’t have to look big — it could be being a parent. It could be being a volunteer. If you’re trying to do something great for God, there will be forces that just try to distract you, try to pull you away from who God wants you to be and what God wants you to do. With Nehemiah, it’s people who just ask him to come meet with them. They just want to interrupt him. It seems like a reasonable request. Most of us would probably say, “Sure!” This is what Nehemiah says. This first sentence is so great. I am carrying on a great project and cannot go down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and go down to you? Four times they sent me the same message, and each time I gave them the same answer. Nehemiah 6:3-4 No, no, no, no. Here’s the principle that’s involved — if you’re clear on your identity and clear on your mission, you will get clear on when to say no. But you have to know who you are and what you’re called to do. That’s when “No” can be the scalpel you can wield to remake your life. The problem with my life is it’s just crammed so full of stuff, and burdens, and obligations, and then resentment, busyness, and hurry that there’s no space for God. There’s no space to just be alive. You see, “No” is this wonderful gift. The reason to say no to a lesser good is so you can say yes to a greater good. This is why we love the word yes. And we’ll look at the word yes next week. God has a great yes for you, and you were born to say yes to God. But we’re not going to start there, see, because I know when life is so crammed full and so weighted down and so burdened, then to talk about adding any kind of spiritual activity just feels like one more item on a to-do list that’s already crushing me. We really have to start by emptying our lives and freeing ourselves up. And the good news is there is a man who lived on this earth who mastered the art of no. He said the most powerful and creative noes that have ever been said. And his name is Jesus. His ministry interestingly enough doesn’t start out with a great yes. It starts out with three great noes. So what I want to do in the time that’s left in this message is walk us through these temptations of Jesus and what these temptations look like for you and me. And then we’ll look at how Jesus said no to each of these temptations. And we’ll learn a little practice with each no that can help embed this in your life. You might pick out one practice we talk about today and incorporate that no into your life between now and the end of this five-week series. Alright, here we go. Jesus had just been baptized, just heard his identity affirmed by his Father — “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.” Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’” Luke 4:1-4 Now it is written, of course, in the Bible. He quotes the Bible all throughout this story. There’s a really important context to this “bread alone” statement. It was written in the book of Deuteronomy in the Old Testament. Moses is with Israel at the end of his life, reviewing what God had done for them, and he says to the Israelites: He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. Deuteronomy 8:3 See, Israel had been taught that man lives by bread alone. Israel was coming up out of Egypt where they were in slavery. I was just reading a really interesting Old Testament theologian who noted, when they were in Egypt, their job was to build storehouses to store grain for bread. They were taught in Egypt, “You can’t trust there will be enough. You have to have more and more and more.” They were taught in Egypt, “It’s okay to enslave, to oppress human beings, to cause them to live in miserable conditions so people who have power can have more.” God leads them into the wilderness to teach them a spiritual and economic lesson that would need to go real deep — “No, I will provide for you. I want you to trust me.” The rabbis used to say that no one could receive the Torah (the Word of God) who had not received manna, the care of God, the love of God. So here’s the first temptation: You are what you have The world will try to convince you — “You are what you have. You should live by bread alone.” Now when the writers of Scripture talk about bread, they’re not talking about the stuff we make toast out of. Bread is a symbol for life at the level of the acquisition of material goods — “Define yourself by the stuff you have. You should never have an appetite that does not get satisfied. Your identity is built on having nice stuff — a nice house, a nice car, a nice job, a lot of money, nice clothes.” You will, no doubt, hear that voice. A friend told me a story about he and his wife, and how early in their marriage, they didn’t have a lot of money. His wife’s temptation was she wanted to spend too much money on really nice clothes. He was a CPA and paid the bills, so that was a problem. So they had a conversation. He said, “Honey, this is a temptation. You must say no to it.” She agreed, but the next month when he was paying the bills, he noticed she had bought another way too expensive dress. They had a little “come to Jesus” meeting, and my friend said to his wife, “I thought we agreed you were not going to do this.” She said, “I know, but I was at a store. I tried a dress on. I looked in the mirror in the fitting room, and I heard this little voice that said, ‘Wow! That looks fabulous on you. You must own this.’” My friend said, “Honey, I thought we agreed together you were going to say, ‘Get thee behind me, Satan.’” She said, “I did, and he did… and he said, ‘It looks pretty good from back here too.’” You will hear that little voice whatever that item is, whatever “bread alone” looks like for you. A great theologian, Miroslav Volf, in his book Flourishing about the need for faith in human life, writes: When we live by bread alone, there is never enough bread, not enough even when we make so much of it that some of it rots away… when we live by bread alone, we always want more and better bread. Miroslav Volf This is what our world will tell you — “You are what you have, so if you don’t have much, you’re not much.” We hear that voice all the time every day, and it’s tempting to believe it’s true. So that’s the first temptation. The first practice is — Do without some stuff Do without some stuff! Maybe you’ve tried this before. Maybe, for you, it sounds kind of strange. The old biblical word for it is the word — Fast Actually, ancient people from a lot of different religions practiced this because they understood the value of it. To fast means I temporarily refrain from consuming what I ordinarily consume. I temporarily refrain from consuming (deliberately) what I ordinarily consume in order to make space for God — in order to find out what happens to my life when I’m not gratifying myself with that stuff on a regular basis. I don’t really know how dependent I am on it, what it does in me, until I close myself off from it for a little while. Let me share a couple things about what fasting is not from a biblical perspective. * Fasting is not a way to try to manipulate God into giving you what you really, really want. Like, “I really want something, but I’m afraid God might not take me seriously, so I’ll fast as a way to say, ‘God, please, please, please give me what I want.’” God is not that kind of a person. * Fasting is also not the same thing as dieting. There is no, “How to look good naked” fast in the Bible. Dieting may be a good thing, but fasting is not about trying to get my body to look better. When I fast, I’m dealing with my life as a person with appetites. See, when you came into this world, you were a little bundle of appetites. It’s almost all you were at first. That’s why kids often love this character from Sesame Street. Do you know the name of this guy? Cookie Monster. What’s Cookie Monster’s philosophy of life? “See cookie. Want cookie. Eat cookie.” There are really smart people staying up late at night trying to convince you that you are nothing more than Cookie Monster. There are people teaching at major research universities. This is essentially one of the primary claims of modernity — “The universe is a machine, and you are a bundle of appetites. Just try to satisfy them without hurting someone else, and that’s life.” And Jesus says, “No.” You are an unceasing spiritual being. You are a glorious moral agent. And part of the nobility of you is that you do not have to be captive to your appetites. You were not made to gratify them. And a life with some ungratified appetites is, in fact, not a tragedy if it has meaning, and goodness, and love. You see, when I fast, I learn, I teach my body, it is possible to have an unsatisfied appetite and still survive. What an amazing thing that is. Eventually I might learn it’s possible to have an unsatisfied appetite and thrive. And that would be even more amazing. You might try fasting from food, and if you’ve never done that before, you could just skip one meal. Like skip dinner, and don’t eat until the next morning. This is a little embarrassing because I’ve taught on this stuff for a lot of years. It never occurred to me until this message that we get the word breakfast from — we are breaking the fast. You probably knew that already. I’m the only one who didn’t know. That’s where breakfast comes from. Or you might want to make it longer. You might want to make it a 24-hour fast. Then I find out a little bit more about what role food plays in me. I’m reminded how dependent I am on God. You know, this idea that, “I’m Superman. I’m in control.” Well, when I fast I realize what a slender thread my life hangs by. * So you might try fasting from food. * You might want to fast from shopping — maybe spending is part of what has a hold on you. So you’ll want to learn, “How can I learn to thrive when I’m not gratifying the appetite to buy more stuff?” * Maybe it’s an electronic fast. There are people who work really hard to think about ways to get you more attached to a device. As a result of that — the average person now looks at their phone 100 times a day. What would my life be like if I trained myself to turn my mind and my body toward God 100 times a day? Alright, so the first temptation is to believe you are what you have, and the practice is — do without. We’ll look at the second temptation in just a moment. Announcements Alright, so the first temptation is to believe you are what you have, and the practice is — do without. The second temptation is this: The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. If you worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’” Luke 4:5-8 The idea here is, “Jesus, you could have the most impressive résumé anyone has ever had. You have such amazing powers. You could use them to do what no one else has ever done.” The temptation is: You are what you do Worship your work. Sacrifice your life, your heart, your soul, your family on the altar of achievement. The first temptation is you are what you have. The second is you are what you do. If you don’t do much, you’re not much. And man, do we hear that one in the Bay Area. So the practice around this second temptation is — Do less Now in the Bible, doing without is called fasting. Doing less is called Sabbath Just regularly have a period of time where you’re not working. * You’re not creating value. * You’re not being important. * You’re not carrying the world around on your shoulders. You’re just alive like a little child, just enjoying God, just feeding on his Word. Dallas Willard has written about fasting as — feasting on the Word of God. You’re just saying no! You get to say no to the insanity of a frenzied world around us. I think it’s kind of significant that in the New Yorker (they have these great cartoons) the most famous cartoon in the history of the New Yorker is this one — A businessman is saying on the phone, “No, Thursday’s out. How about never — is never good for you?” It’s really interesting. With Jesus at the beginning of his ministry, he goes into the wilderness driven by the Spirit. * For 40 days, he doesn’t give a talk. * He doesn’t draw a crowd. * He doesn’t recruit a team. * He doesn’t train a disciple. * He doesn’t write a book. * He doesn’t heal a disease. He does nothing, because nothing is really important to do for people who are doing a lot — for people who are tempted to think, “You are what you do.” Maybe for you, for the next five weeks, you need to have a day a week where you don’t do anything significant, where you don’t do anything important, where you just be. A friend of mine, who’s very successful in his work, told me about a time when he went on a hike with his young son. It was on a rocky, steep incline. It was kind of tough for his young son. But his son wanted to lead. And he wanted his dad to follow him. But my friend couldn’t do it. His son was so little and the climb was so tough, and his legs were so much longer, and he was in such a hurry (for no reason at all). It was just a habit for him to go fast. He would keep getting in front of his son, and his son would keep calling him back. Finally, his son stopped him and looked him in the eye, and said, “Dad, if you’re going to follow me, you have to stay behind me.” And here’s the thing about Jesus. If you want to follow him, you have to stay behind him. * He goes off into the wilderness for 40 days, and he does nothing. * He goes off when it’s dark to a quiet place, and he does nothing. * He goes off to a mountaintop where it’s beautiful, and he does nothing. * He goes into a garden when life is really difficult and the pressure is great, and he does nothing. The temptation is “I am what I do.” The practice is do less — sabbath. Alright, one last temptation — The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here. For it is written: [The Devil is now quoting the Bible. Did you know the Devil can quote the Bible?] “‘He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’” Jesus answered, “It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time. Luke 4:9-13 I wonder what that means “…an opportune time.” Now this temptation is — “You know, Jesus, you could do something so spectacular that everyone would go, ‘Wow!’ You could be the golden boy. You could make everyone applaud you.” So this temptation is — You are what people think you are See, that’s the voice of our world — * You are what you have. * You are what you do. * You are what people think you are. Be spectacular. Please people. Get people to approve of you, because if they disapprove of you, oh how awful that would be. “It would be terrible if someone might not think as highly of me as they ought to think of me.” It becomes this kind of addiction. It becomes this kind of slavery. Now, think about Jesus, the sinless Son of God. Who in his life did Jesus not disappoint? It’s amazing when you go through it. * The crowd said to him, “We want you to be our king because, man, you could defeat all our enemies.” He said, “No.” He disappointed them. * The religious leaders (the Pharisees) said, “You’re not living up to our standards of righteousness. You’re hanging out with the wrong people. Stop doing that.” He said, “No.” He disappointed them. * His mom and his brothers came to him and said, “You’re acting crazy. You need to come home and stop all this insanity.” He said, “No.” He disappointed them. * Herod said to him, “Do a miraculous sign so I can be wowed.” He said, “No.” He disappointed Herod. * James and John said, “Let us sit one on your right and one on your left.” He said, “No.” He disappointed them. He disappointed everyone in his life except his Father. The practice around this one is — do without human approval Let someone be disappointed in you and be okay with that. Say no to something you need to say no to, that you ought to say no to. Then when someone is not happy, just be okay with that. Don’t try to change their mind. Don’t try to make sure your reputation is built up in them. Because you are not what you have, and you are not what you do, and you are not what people think you are. Here’s your identity — you are a child of God. Jesus had to say no through his whole life. It wasn’t just at the beginning. Over and over and over right up until the very end when Jesus was hanging on a cross (you may know this story), the crowd is crying out, “You saved others. Save yourself. Come down from that cross.” Jesus in his death says one last great no. But that no became God’s yes to the human race. The cross, which looks like the triumph of no, actually becomes God’s yes of forgiveness, grace, life, and love to the human race. And that’s where we’re going next week. Next week we’re going to look at one of the greatest statements in the Bible about God’s yes. And your yes to God. You’re not going to want to miss that. But this week, the start of this series, is about no. This week you’re going to have to say, “No.” The world is going to make it hard. There’s going to be pressure on you. * Do too much. * Buy too much. * Commit to too much. “No” will free you. “No” will allow you to make space for God when your life is crammed so full of stuff, and burdens and obligations. “No” is a wonderful gift. So let’s use it this week. Okay, let me pray for you. Blue Oaks Church Pleasanton, CA