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A New Creation

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Do you know what I find amazing about the human race — and I don't mean amazing in a good way. It's amazing that we appear to have the potential — and even the capability — to live in global peace and global prosperity, in which all people have equal access to food and water and work and healthcare, and in which we could all live together in peace and harmony. We could have it that way ... but we can't.
It's not that we lack the material resources to provide for everyone. We have more than enough. But the malady of the human race is that we have never been able to live peacefully with one another.
We see this between nations, and it's obvious. But we also see this malady at work on a local level and on a personal level. We have a hard time getting along with one another, and we especially have a hard time getting along with ourselves.
It's not hyperbole to say that most people's lives are a mess — at least in some areas. And *some people's lives are a mess in every imaginable area.
I used to think that messy lives were the exception and not the rule, especially in the church, but after almost four decades of ministry I've discovered that the opposite is true.
Most people's lives are right on the edge of spinning out of control. And the reason for this, most often, is some kind of self-sabotage. People's lives spin out of control because they just don't have the ability to keep them in control.
On the surface it all seems so easy: Get a job and give an honest day's work for an honest day's pay, live within your means, don't over-extend yourself financially, be good to your spouse and your children, eat right and exercise, don't take anything that doesn't belong to you, keep your word, and play fair.
It seems so easy, but we've never been able to pull it off, have we? Instead we live with financial stress and self-imposed health problems and divorce and rebellious kids and conflict with neighbors and dishonesty and crime and fear and despair.
We should all be able to live the good life, but the good life proves to be elusive for the overwhelming majority. It remains always just beyond our grasp.
The reason for our failure to live in peace and harmony on a local level is the same reason we're unable to experience peace and harmony on a global level. To an outside observer it would seem that we should be able to do it ... we certainly appear to have the potential ... but still, we just can't.
Or, maybe you could say, we just won't.
For this reason, the majority of the population lives — as Thoreau said — "lives of quiet desperation." And the rest of the population, except for a small percentage, live lives of noisy desperation.
Jesus promised much much more than this. He said...
I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly. ( KJV)
That's what Jesus promised, and it's what so few people experience.
Today I want to talk about why life is so difficult to master, and I want to talk about what it takes to get on the road to mastery.
In order to begin this process, there are two inescapable truths we need to confront. The first truth — the reason why life-mastery is so elusive — is because...
1. We are sinners both by birth and by choice.
The Bible says that sin entered the world through one man — — and, of course, he's talking about Adam.
You know Adam's story. He and Eve partook of the fruit in the garden of Eden and sin became part of the human experience.
This is why David said in ...
Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. ()
We're all born sinners. It's inevitable.
But here's the catch.
Every sin that you will commit, that I will commit, that anyone will commit ... every sin that has ever been committed since the beginning of time ... has been committed by choice.
You didn't have to lash out in anger. But you did, and you did it by choice. You didn't have to tell a lie, or take advantage of another person, or think those awful thoughts. But you did, and you did it by choice.
We're all sinners by birth, it's in our nature, but sin is never an "ooops" situation. It's not an accident, like inadvertently knocking over a glass of milk at the dinner table. It's a choice. Always a choice. A deliberate choice.
This means, then, that we can't blame anyone — not even Adam — for the sin in our lives, because we all sin by choice.
Now this sinful nature that hounds each one of us — it's bigger than you and me and the rest of the world put together. It has the power to destroy nations, and communities, and businesses, and marriages, and families, and friendships, and churches, and individual lives. That's all sin know how to do: destroy. It wreaks havoc everywhere it goes, and it takes its job seriously.
So the first inescapable truth is that we're all sinners by birth and by choice. It's a universal problem.
Here's the second truth we all need to come to grips with.
2. Because of sin, we are all broken beyond repair.
There's a saying I've heard repeated in the south from time to time:
You can't make a cucumber out of a pickle. Once a pickle is a pickle, it's a pickle, and it can never again be a cucumber.
I suppose you're aware of the pickle making process. It's pretty simple, from what I understand. You take a cucumber and dip in vinegar, and keep it there long enough, and it becomes — irreversibly — a pickle. And, from there, there's no turning back. It cannot be fixed.
You can't use a pickle to make cucumber salad. You can only use it to make a pickle salad, and pickle salad isn't very tasty.
If you chop up a cucumber and place it in a pitcher of chilled water, it will give the water a cool, fresh, exotic flavor. Like something you might be served at a health spa.
But if you chop up a pickle and place it in a pitcher of water, your water is going to taste like vinegar. It's not exactly a gourmet beverage.
What's my point here? Like that pickle that can't retrace its steps, we are in a similar pickle. We're sinners by birth and by choice, and we're broken beyond repair. We can't un-pickle ourselves.
Even though we may aspire to someday become the person we might have been ... we just don't have it in us. No matter what we do, we're still soaked in vinegar.
This is why the prophet Isaiah said...
All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags. ()
I realize that, so far, this may not sound like the most uplifting message I have ever preached. Stay with me.
There's hope for us, but before we can get better, we have to come to grips with these first two inescapable truths. We're all sinners by birth and by choice, and we're all irreparably broken.
That means that we have to get past the idea that with just a little bit more effort, we can fix ourselves. We need to get past the idea that if we just try harder, we can somehow will ourselves into goodness. But we can't, because we're soaked in vinegar.
I see this problem inside the church and out — that people think by their own effort, they can become good. They think: I just need more discipline. I just need better habits. I just need to want it more. I just need to be more sincere. And on and on.
Now, all these things are good: discipline and good habits and desire and sincerity will serve you well down the road — but they're not enough when you're stuck in the pickle stage.
After Paul had been a believer for more than two decades he wrote about the frustration of not being able to be the good man he wanted to be. In he said...
I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do... ()
For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. ()
In this passage he's talking about what it's like to be controlled by the old, sinful nature — the sinful nature that we're all born with and that we all ultimately embrace. It's an unwinnable battle.
I've known people inside the church and outside the church who live their entire lives trying to outwit this sinful nature, and they lose the battle again and again and again. And, quite frankly, you can't expect anything else from yourself, when you live your life in your own strength, with your original operating system in place.
So what's the solution?
Here it is. Since we are all broken, irreparably broken ...
3. The only solution is to be made new.
Not to be repaired, but to be re-invented.
You often hear people talk about turning over a new leaf. The problem is that the new leaf strategy doesn't work. The new leaf inevitably ends up looking like the old leaf, because it comes from the same old dead branch.
We don't need a new leaf. We need a new life. Since we can't be repaired, we need to be re-invented. Re-created. The Bible says that we are spiritually dead — dead in our sins. We need to be made spiritually alive.
Earlier I talked a little bit about cucumbers. Here's a story about oranges. That's right; today's message is brought to you by the local farmer's market.
Many years ago a friend who grew up in the southernmost part of Texas told me about his home there, referred to simply as "the valley."
This area is known for its fruitful citrus groves, but the interesting thing is that certain orange trees cannot grow in the valley. They're incompatible with the climate.
So farmers must first plant a sturdy root stock, which is a stronger type of orange tree. But the root stock produces a bitter, extremely sour fruit, too sour to eat.
So once the root stock becomes a young tree, the farmer cuts into the bark of the tree and grafts in a different kind of orange, an orange of higher quality. Once the graft is embedded, they wait for signs of life, and they wait for it to grow.
This is similar to the way we live the spiritual life.
We're capable of producing only bitter fruit through our sinful nature. It's why the world's a mess and it's why our lives are a mess. And so God has given us a new nature, nothing at all like the old nature.
You could say that he grafts new life into our spirit.
Paul said...
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old is gone, the new has come! ()
When you accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, the Holy Spirit comes to dwell in your spirit. You have new life, and new potential. Whereas before the best you could is produce fruit too bitter to consume, now you have the capacity to bear fruit that is pure and sweet and good.
Back to the orange tree.
After the graft, the problem is that this tree now has two natures: the old nature, which the bitter nature, and the new nature, which is the sweet nature.
So what do the farmers do?
Once the tree has grown enough, the farmer comes in and cuts off the original root stock, right above the graft, so that the full sap supply flows to the new branch. The new branch, then, eventually becomes a fully developed tree. And now the tree can continue to grow as an orange tree is intended to grow, and can produce the kind of fruit that orange trees are intended to produce.
All of this happens because of the graft, because of the infusion of new life.
In the same way, you have been given a new life, and a new nature. It has been grafted into your spirit. You can now begin to produce quality fruit with your life.
The comparison doesn't end there.
My friend also told me that even as the tree grows in its newness of life, there are still the original roots to deal with, and they continually try to produce limbs that will grow bitter fruit below the graft.
To prevent this, the farmers come and cut away these bitter branches, so that the tree can grow and continue to produce fresh fruit.
My friend said that every now and then you will see trees that have been neglected over the years. The graft is there, but it wasn't nurtured, and the tree has become stunted and its fruit is bitter.
You can see how this applies to the spiritual life.
The life of Jesus Christ has been grafted in to your spirit, and you are a new creation, and you now have the potential to live like you could never live before. You have the potential to be holy. You have to the potential to do good. You have the potential to experience God's favor, his blessings, his anointing on all you do. You now have the potential to live a whole new life — the abundant life that Jesus promised — because you are a new creation in Christ.
The old nature — the bitter nature, the sinful nature — is still there, and it will continue to wreak havoc below the graft. But if you will nurture the new life, day in and day out, you can overcome the limits of the old nature.
We're all sinners, and we know that. There is none righteous, not even one. We all like sheep have gone astray; we've turned each one to his own way. We're all sinners.
For this reason, the world can't get much better. For every area in which we make strides, we record losses in a host of others. If we could become good, we certainly would have by now.
But we haven't.
The reason why is that we are broken. You only have to skim the headlines to see the evidence. You only have to take a close look at your life to see the evidence.
For this reason, God has a plan that changes everything. He's not going to ask you to try harder, because trying harder won't help. He's not going to ask you to unpickle yourself, or to change what you can change.
Instead, he offers you new life. He will graft a new nature into your spirit — and this new nature will change you to the very core.
And what does he ask to do?
He asks us to nurture this new life.
Paul said...
If by the spirit you will put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live. ()
What does that mean? Here's how he explained it...
Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desire; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. ()
Your nurture the graft of new life that God has given you by focusing your mind everyday on him.
Paul then says...
The mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace. ()
Our original operating system is strife and turmoil.
You want proof? Put twenty kids unsupervised in a room for twenty minutes. When you come back, what do you think you'll find? That they've made the room a better place? That they're organizing the bookshelves and cleaning the floors and organizing a fundraiser for a local charity?
No. Come back in twenty minutes and you'll find bedlam. That's because we're prone to bedlam. We're prone to disobedience. We're prone to turmoil.
But if you're willing to receive new life from God, and you're willing to nurture that new life every day, it will change about everything about what you want and what you are able to accomplish in this world. Because it will start you on the road to life-mastery, on the road to becoming pure and sweet and good.
Most of us here today have already received this new life, though we may not all be nurturing it like we should.
And so my challenge for you today is take the next step in nurturing your new life. Now, there many many many many steps to take in nurturing the spiritual life ... but the next step to make it a point each day, through out the day, to set your mind on what the Spirit desires, to put God first and foremost in your most, and surrender yourself to him all over again.
Every time you do this, the grafted branch will grow a little stronger, and the new creation he created you to be will become a reality.
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