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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Friday, September 09, 2011

You are EMPOWERED by God

2011-09-11 You are EMPOWERED by God
Joel 2:21-29, Ephesians 3:14-21
James McTyre
Lake Hills Presbyterian Church (USA)

This is the final Sunday of a series of messages we've called, "Come as you are; be empowered by the Spirit."
We've talked each week about the different ways we ALL are, the ways that DON'T change, the ways that CAN'T be changed,

CAN'T be changed by our mood, CAN'T be changed by our estrogen levels, or our testosterone,

ways that CAN'T be changed by our parents, CAN'T be changed by our kids, CAN'T be changed by our job situation,

CAN'T be changed by ANYTHING because these are the ways GOD says we are.

We say, "Come as you are," but we also have to accept that a lot of the time the ways we THINK we are aren't the ways we REALLY are.
The way you THINK you are doesn't match up with reality.
And if you don't believe me, just ask your kids:
"Is your dad REALLY as cool as he thinks he is?"
"Does your mom REALLY look so good in that pantsuit?"
(They may not tell you the whole truth because they're dependent on you for their livlihoods.)
Our opinions - and that's what they are - OPINIONS - about ourselves change.
Internal forces change us.
External forces change us.
So when a church invites you to comes as you are, it really begs the question, "How are you?"

So, looking at scripture, we've found that we are
LOVED by God,
SENT by God,
and REBUILT by God,

This is how you are, and there is nothing ever, ever, ever, ever you can do...
there is nothing anyone else can ever, ever, ever, ever do...
that can change these core truths about how you are.

They are unchangeable truths about you.
But even more they are unchangeable truths about God.
If you are
That's how you are, that's how God is, and nothing can ever, ever, ever change these core truths.

So, today is the last Sunday in this series of messages and the final point is part of the original theme. "Come as you are, be empowered by the Spirit." Having come as you are, how are you? Today, the unchangeable answer from God is, you are EMPOWERED by the Spirit. You are EMPOWERED by God. That's how you are. You are EMPOWERED by God.

And here's something else I also know. I also know that we've got a whole lot going on in the life of the church today. The choir is back. Carla's blowing our socks off with her music. We're installing elders. And we have barbecue. So what I also know is that some of you are a little anxious about getting out of here on time. Part of my job is causing a little anxiety, but part of my job's also relieving anxiety. So let me relieve some of your anxiety - those of you who are feeling a little anxious - by saying that being EMPOWERED by God really doesn't take that long.


Has anyone ever said to you, "Oh if you could just hear yourself"? "Oh, if you could just see yourself"? I got a taste of my own medicine this past week. You know, we started broadcasting our worship services live over the Internet for our at-home and away-from-home church. Not only can we BROADCAST our services, we also RECORD them in the process. (Reruns!) So I watched one. And yes, I am both vain and insecure enough that I fast-forwarded to the sermon. I saw myself. And my first thought was, "You are really kind people." "You are a really patient and grace-filled bunch of people." My second thought was, "Wow, my forehead is really shiny." I didn't watch the whole thing, because I was there, and, I know how it ends. I watched enough to know that somewhere, Joel Osteen is giggling like a schoolgirl.


Do you remember the first time you heard a recording of your own voice? Do you remember seeing yourself on home video for the first time? Chances are, you do. You know why you remember this? Because it's weird. Kids who hear their own voices almost always say, "That sounds weird." "Is that how I sound?" Or, you see yourself on a video and what's your first thought? "Is that how I look?" "I really need to lose weight."

Somewhere at home we have what is surely the cutest video in the world. We have video of the first time our puppy saw himself in a mirror. We had a large mirror (that I was probably supposed to have hung) leaning against the wall, and our Yorkie puppy, Bear, sees himself. And to him, it's weird. He starts barking at that "other" dog. He paws at the "other" dog. He wags his tail at the other dog. Then he walks around behind the mirror and comes out the far side trying to find the "other" dog. And then he barks, and he paws, and he wags his tail, and he searches again. And he gets really worked up. And this goes on and on, repeating the cycle, until he exhausts his attention span, gets tired, gets bored, and wonders off.

Our tendency, as big human people, is not all that different. Every day, we're confronted with the "other." Every day, we're confronted with people who are just weird. They're the "other." Other genders, other political parties, other religious ways, other body piercings, other tattoos. And we spend so much energy trying to figure out why people would want to be so weird. And worse, if we work with them, or are married to them, or gave birth to them, we spend so much energy trying to figure out if we should make friends, or if they're out to steal our treats. We bark at them. We might wag our tails at them. We circle around to try to assess who and what's up with them. We spend so much energy doing this.

What we don't get, or what we for-get, is that these weird, "other" people are in a very strange but true way, mirrors. The "other" is the mirror of ourselves. We don't always admit this, but it's so incredibly true: the things we don't like in others are the things we don't like about ourselves. We say, "Look at those ugly, intolerant people. I'd never invite them to my house." We say, "I can't stand how gossipy she is. Do you know what she said last week?" We say, "He's so full of hot air. Did I tell you about the time...?" The things we dislike in other people are the things we dislike about ourselves. Which is not to say those "others" are mirror images of you. Maybe you're not at all like them. But they reflect back to you the habits, the urges, the gut feelings you work so hard to repress, because unlike them, you have manners. It's exhausting to be around people like that.

Or take it the other way. Look at your friends. Chances are, they're a lot like you. They reflect back what you have in common, or how you'd like to be.

The "other" in the mirror is a lot like us. But we forget that, or we don't get that. And then we spend a lot of energy barking at the weird "other," or trying to get to the "other" and all that barking and all that wagging wears us out. Or it gets boring. And our attention span moves on because we already know how it ends.

If you get all worked up over what the "other" reflects back to you - good or bad...
If you get all worked up over what the "other" reflects back to you, you will, over time, exhaust yourself and become wearying to you friends. Because your energy is coming from your own reflection. And after a while, trying to figure out the "other" based on your own reflection wears you out and bores you to tears.


Here's what the Apostle Paul prayed for his church. He said,

"I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit...."

You see, God doesn't want us to wear ourselves out with our own reflection. God doesn't want us to wear ourselves out criticizing "others" for reflecting back what we DON'T like about ourselves. God doesn't want us to bore ourselves out by praising other people for reflecting back what we DO like about ourselves.

God wants you to be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit.

In other words, come as you are. Come as the mirror shows you. But don't find your strength in the mirror, for good or for bad. Come as you are. But be EMPOWERED by the Spirit. Be empowered by God. Stop wearing yourself out. Be EMPOWERED by the Spirit.

"I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.

In other words, mirrors change. People change. Times change. Economies change. World powers change. You change.

So find your strength in the love of Christ that never changes. Be EMPOWERED by the Spirit of God through Christ Jesus your Lord. Stop chasing your own tail. Stop playing back your own tapes. Stop looking for bad or for good based on your own opinions. Stop barking at the imaginary "other" before you wear yourself out or bore yourself to death. Be EMPOWERED by the Spirit.


It has been said that if we spent as much time looking at our spouses as we do looking in the mirror, our marriages would all be healthier. So when I say I want you to spend some time looking in the mirror, I don't mean it literally. That might cause more problems than you already have. But I want you to spend some time looking in a metaphorical mirror. Ready, go.

Think about the person who really gets under your skin. Think about what he does, or what she does, that just really raises your blood pressure, that really gets you worked up. (All across the sanctuary, heart rates just shot up.) Ask yourself, "Why?" "Is it because I do that, too?" If your nemesis moved away, or died, would you find someone else just like them, to get you worked up with energy?

Think about your best friend. Think about what he does or what she does that you like so darn much. Do you do it too? Do you like it, too? Why does being with him or with her give you so much positive energy? Is it because you're so much alike? Or because you'd so much like to be like him or like her?

Here's a third way. This is God's way. Instead of getting your energy from the mirror, be strengthened in your inner being with the power of God's Holy Spirit. Be EMPOWERED by the Spirit. Instead of getting your reason for life from fighting what you don't like or embracing what you do like - which is probably based on your own reflection - Intead of getting your reason for life from your own reflection, find the unchanging strength from your innermost being through the power of God's Holy Spirit.


You know, there are churches that define themselves by what they don't like. They're known for being upset about our godless society, or other religions, or people from their own religion who read the wrong version of the Bible.

There are churches that define themselves by what they do like. They mainly like each other. And they like it that way. So when you come in the door, they tilt their head like a confused puppy and turn and advance to the same pew they've been sitting in since Grampaw hewed it from the Mayflower.

One of the things I love about this church is that we're just different. And I mean that in a good way. We've got our left-wing liberal Democrat love children. We've got our Fox News Tea Partiers. We've got Deadheads and we've got Bieber-tweeters. It's really a miracle that we can all sit in the same building together.

I think the reason it works is that somehow, the strength of the Spirit empowers us. And we are just kind enough, and just patient enough, and just graceful enough not to get in its way. And on our best days, we leave the mirrors at home. On our best days our likes and our dislikes are set aside just enough so that our strength really has nothing to do with us at all. On our best days, the Spirit empowers us. And by the grace of God let it.

Now, if you're visiting today, please don't think I'm saying our church is perfect. I'm saying God is. And God does not change. You are, we are CREATED, LOVED, SENT and REBUILT by God. And on our best days, we let those truths EMPOWER us.

And so we begin another church year, coming as we are, and being empowered, being built up, being made better than we individually could ever be on our own, brought together, by the Spirit.

Will you pray with me?

O kind, patient, and grace-filled God. We're imperfect people. But together, as a church, we are yours. Break our hearts of anger and opposition. Break our hearts of pride and conceit. Turn us away from our mirrors and turn us to your unchanging love and abiding strength. Rebuild us to be better than we are on our own. Make us church. Make us yours. Amen.


- James