Pastor Craig Carter
Last week I introduced a new sermon series called “The It Factor.” The series is based on the premise that some churches and Christians have “it,” while others do not. But “it” is really a He, the power and presence of the Holy Spirit.
Of course, all believers receive the Spirit of God, but some seem to get more of “it” than others and their lives are characterized by passion for the Lord and anticipation of what He is going to do next.
The Early Church provides a vivid example of what it looks like when “the it factor” is present among a group of Christ’s followers. They were a close-knit fellowship that made a tremendous difference in the lives of people around them as they reached out to those in need, performed healing miracles, and effectively communicated the gospel message. As a result, folks were saved, healed, and delivered while God received praise and honor.
I hope I convinced you last week that we should all want “it.” Jesus said we get “it” when we ask for it and receive it by faith. We ended our time together by praying for God to give us His Holy Spirit and asking Him fill our lives with the power and presence of Christ.
So how do we know if we have it? What does “the it factor” look like in a body of believers? I’d suggest “it” is revealed in several specific ways. To be honest, it’s kind of like the chicken or the egg, I’m not sure which comes first. These things may happen when you have “it,” or maybe when these things occur, you then get “it.” In either case, there are certain attitudes and behaviors that make “it” possible and they are found in any vibrant Christian or congregation.
My all-time favorite opening line comes from the Christian bestseller, The Purpose Driven Life, when Rick Warren states simply, “It’s not about you.” This is a startling assertion aimed at those of us living in the modern-day world that places three things at the center of the universe – me, myself, and I. Both our human nature and our American culture tries to convince us that life is about me – my happiness, my fulfillment, my pleasure, my accomplishments. But the fact of the matter is life is not about you and it’s not about me, it’s all about God.
The Bible makes it clear that the heavens and the earth exist for one reason and one reason alone – for God and for His glory. In the beginning, the Lord created all that exists. Throughout the course of human history, He has sustained it by His power. And at the end of time, God will rule supremely over everything He has made. So if want to know what “it” is all about, the answer is simple: “It’s all about God!”
As I’ve already suggested this is not the accepted viewpoint in our world today. Sure, folks say they believe in God (90-95% of Americans), but they give Him little thought in most day-to-day matters. In fact, 21st century America doesn’t look much different than the 1st century Roman world of the New Testament…
In Acts chapter 17, while on his second missionary journey, the Apostle Paul traveled to Athens. He found the city filled with idols and pagan symbols and the general population rejected Paul’s preaching about Jesus and scoffed at the suggestion that the Son of God had been raised from the dead. But Paul had “the it factor” and so he refused to buy into the popular mindset. Instead, he proclaimed that God, not man, is the center of the universe.
So Paul stood up in front of the council and said: People of Athens, I see that you are very religious. As I was going through your city and looking at the things you worship, I found an altar with the words, “To an Unknown God.” You worship this God, but you don’t really know him. So I want to tell you about him. This God made the world and everything in it. He is Lord of heaven and earth, and he doesn’t live in temples built by human hands. He doesn’t need help from anyone. He gives life, breath, and everything else to all people. From one person God made all nations who live on earth, and he decided when and where every nation would be. God has done all this, so that we will look for him and reach out and find him. He isn’t far from any of us, and “he gives us the power to live, to move, and to be who we are.” As some of your poets have said, “We are his children.” (Acts 17:22-28 CEV)
Paul contended the Athenians were completely oblivious to what should have been readily apparent. The one they considered “an unknown God” was and is actually THE known God, revealed in Jesus Christ and preached by Paul and the other apostles. Paul then quoted from two well-known Greek poets and suggested they had it right when they said of God, “he gives us the power to live, to move, and to be who we are” and “we are his children.”
So if you and I are to get “it” and keep it, we have to make sure it’s all about God because in Him we live, move, and find our true identity. Let’s look at what happens when we put God, not ourselves or anyone or anything else, at the center of our lives.
When it’s all about God…
1) We find WHAT we need to live
Apart from God, you and I are merely existing. To really live, we must be in God and have God in us. It’s the very reason Jesus came to Planet Earth, so that in Him, we might have life, and have it abundantly (or to the full; John 10:10).
According to Paul in his speech to the Athenians, it’s got to be all about God for several important reasons:
He is the One who made the world and everything in it (v. 24a)
He is the Lord of heaven and earth (v. 24b)
He gives life, breath, and everything else to all people (v. 25)
In summary, “he gives us the power to live” (v. 28a)
I’m afraid many people today, including Christians, fail to make it all about God. We are all tempted to make it about ourselves (what we want or what we can do). In doing so, we miss out on the incredible power God makes available to all who put their hope and trust in Him.
If He made the world and everything in it, surely He can fix our messes.
If He is the Lord of heaven and earth, surely He can get our lives in order.
If He gives life and breath to everything, surely He can breathe new life into dead situations we may face.
What would you rather have? What you and I can do or what only God can do?
When it’s all about God, we get what only He can do and find power to really live. Let’s believe it, receive it, experience it, and live in it!
2) We learn WHERE to go and how to get there
It seems to me that many people are just wandering around, with no direction in life. They have no earthly idea where to go, much less how to get there.
That’s because they’ve made life about themselves and not about God.
Paul says, “God made all nations who live on earth, and he decided when and where every nation would be” (v. 26) “He gives us the power…to move” (v. 28) where He wants us to go.
When we have “it,” our journey through this world becomes, not about where we want to go and what we want to do, but all about God and His will for our lives.
I have found life goes best for me when I make God’s agenda my agenda rather than following my own plans. As I have shared before, God oftentimes laughs at my plans because He sees how foolish and presumptuous they are. By the same token, many times I have found God’s plans for my life laughable. But the difference is: God gets the last laugh, because “Father knows best.”
“People may plan all kinds of things, but the Lord’s will is going to be done.” (Proverbs 19:21 GNT) So we might as well make it all about God.
Notice that Paul also suggests groups of people (including entire nations) find their way through a relationship with God. That means, as a congregation, if we want to know how to proceed, we must make it all about God.
As a church none of us could have ever imagined the ways God has provided for us since October 10th of last year. But honestly it shouldn’t be surprising to me because I learned a long time ago that God directs the folks who have “the it factor” at work in their lives.
As I mentioned last week, I got it (or God got me!) when I was in my mid-twenties. I decided to seek The Lord’s will for my life and when He revealed it, I trusted Him completely. When he called me to seminary, I resigned from the Air Force and served my last day on a Friday (33 years ago this week). My wife Lee and I packed up our belongings on Saturday and began the journey to Wilmore, Kentucky after church on Sunday.
We knew two people there and we were greeted by them. As we started unloading the moving van, neighbors began to pitch in. Before the day was over, I was helping others move furniture also. Significance? God provided community and a needed support network immediately.
Lee had recently finished her undergraduate degree and was going to be our chief (or sole) source of income. She applied for teaching jobs in local schools but got no offers. A week later, the day school started, she was getting ready to go to the seminary job placement office when the phone rang. It was the principal of a high school 30 miles away. He offered her a social studies position. When Lee asked, “When do I start?” he responded, “The kids are sitting in the classroom right now!” That job provided a salary and benefits we never dreamed possible.
Other people (including our parents and even ourselves to some degree) thought we were crazy giving up a career and moving to an unfamiliar place. But we had “it” so we laid aside our plans, thoughts, and feelings and as best we could, we really did make it all about God and His will. As a result, the Lord showed us where to go and in His timing, how to get there.
God gives us the power to move…when we make it all about Him. That’s an important lesson for us to learn…and practice (individually and as a congregation).
3) We discover WHO we really are
All of life is a search for meaning and significance. Ultimately, that comes only by discovering our true selves, our real identity.
Paul made it clear to the Athenians that we discover who we really are only when we “reach out and find [God]” (v. 27). Of course, we grab hold of God thru faith and when that happens, He gives us the power to be who we were meant to be and live as God’s children (v. 28).
If I asked you today, “Who are you,” what would you answer? You might say, “I’m a husband. I’m a mom. I’m a veteran. I’m a Yankee.” Those labels describe where you’ve been and what you’ve done, but they aren’t at the essence who you really are.
As a matter of fact, we go through an identity crisis when one of those roles changes – for instance, when your kids leave the nest, you lose a job, move to a different state, or if you get a divorce.
It’s now hard to believe but I felt at a bit of a loss six years ago when I arrived here in Lynn Haven. For 18 years my identity had been wrapped up in being the pastor of the Mulder Memorial UMC in Wetumpka, AL but now I was starting over, with little or no “church cred.”
I had a birthday this past week and one thing has remained constant throughout out my 41 years here on earth (+ a decade or two), I’m a Carter, the son of Charlie and Gloria. And from the age of seven to the present, I’ve added a second and even more important identity – I’m a Christian, the son of the living God.
That’s why it’s so vital that we make life all about God. Because in Him, we discover who we really are and no one can take that away from us (neither time or distance or even death!)
I used to be a Midwesterner. At one time I was an Air Force officer. I’ve been the Mulder pastor and now I’m the Lynn Haven UMC pastor. One day I’ll be none of those things. And that’s okay because through my relationship with God in Christ, I’ve discovered who I really am – a child of the King.
Some of you could be prosecuted for taking on a false identity. There’s a tendency to say things like, “I’m a worrier…I’m an alcoholic…I’m bipolar…I’m ______.” NO! You are a son of the living God who is prone to worry, a child of God who has a predisposition to alcohol addiction, a cherished daughter of our Heavenly Father who has a mental illness. Your son/daughter status comes first.
On a different level, we never were the church on Transmitter or the Fusion campus, and we’re not now a homeless congregation. Nothing has changed since 10/10/19 – we always have been, we are now, and we always will be the Body of Christ, brothers and sisters in the Lord because we are all sons and daughters of God.
We will never know our true identity until we enter into a relationship with God through His Son Jesus. At the end of his speech in Athens, Paul gave the formula for doing so: “God overlooked people’s ignorance about these things in earlier times, but now he commands everyone to repent of their sins and turn to him.” (Acts 17:30)
Will you make your life all about God and do that?
Will we, as a congregation, make our lives all about God and encourage others to take that step?
Do we have “the it factor?” What is “it?”
It’s all about God who “he gives us the power to really live, to move in accordance with His leading, and to be who we truly are – the children of God.”
Ephesians 3:14-21 is one of my favorite prayers in the Bible. To me, it’s the “It prayer.” Try reading this to yourself, replacing the “you” with “us” or “we” and “your” with “our.”
When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen.
Ephesians 3:14-21 NLT