Today’s Scripture:

19 Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, “Peace be with you.”20 When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.21 So Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” John 20:19-21

15 So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Feed My lambs.”16 He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him,“Tend My sheep.”17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.” Jesus said to him, “Feed My sheep.”  John 21:15-17

Introduction:

Well…we only did one day so far, and I don’t know about you…but I have the exciting thought that this may be one of the best series we’ve done to date.  I’ve had a lot of fun, and maybe the most important series may have been the one we did on “Why Read The Bible?”…but I think this one has the potential to be a really good series as well.

Today…we talk about backsliders…and I know that I’m not the only one who has ever been here…and multiple times.  I think that it comes from allowing the cares of the world to overtake our desire for the sincere milk and meat of the Word of God on a regular basis.  I know that the more important to me the world becomes…the harder it is to get into the Word of God.  Pastor Cass of New Life Christian Center often says that one of the devil’s main goals is to “get us busy”.

Why?  Because if our minds are on the things and cares of this world…then they’re usually off of the Word of God.  The longer our minds are entrenched and busy with the worries and cares of the world the less our focus is upon God…and the less we’re in the Word of God.  At least that’s how it works in my life…and then before you know it…it’s been days or some times even weeks since you last got into God’s Word…and before you know it…you’ve developed some carnality in your walk with the Lord…and we all know that to be carnally minded is death…spiritual death.

So…I don’t know about you…but this is one of those messages that I think I’m going to have to read over and over again…and also one of these messages that I need to make sure I’m relying upon the Holy Ghost to speak…and with that in mind we’ll pray…and get into today’s message titled:  “A WORD FOR BACKSLIDERS”

Opening Prayer:

Holy Spirit…I thank You for the opportunity to speak to the subject of backsliding today.  I ask for Your anointing and supernatural ability to overtake me as I begin to write this message.  I ask that You would give me the utterance and unction needed to write a clear, sound, and precise message that will be rooted deeply in the hearts of the readers…and my own heart as I write what You supply me with.  I ask that You would take over now…this day…and that we’d all have ears to hear, eyes to see, and hearts that are receptive and responsive to what You would have to say to us through this message.  I ask this in Jesus’ name…Amen & Amen.

Today’s Message:

How eager Jesus was to restore broken fellowship with his apostles after the resurrection! Surely this is a sign of how eager he is to restore us when we have drifted (or bolted) away.

All the apostles had forsaken him. In the garden, at his most sorrowful hour, “They all left him and fled” (Mark 14:50).

When I think of what John writes here about Jesus being eager to restore the broken fellowship between Him and His disciples it makes me think of His determination to get to the Cross.  It makes me think about how the reason He made His way up the mountain was because He was thinking of me.  He was thinking that one day I would be one of those who would respond to His eager desire to have restored fellowship with me too.

How easy it is for us when we are wronged to hold on to those hurts and disappointments that come between us and the person who has wronged us.  How easy it is to not desire to restore that broken fellowship, but this reminds me of how I felt about my relationship with my parents after spending the better part of a decade in a relationship that was broken…and how little fellowship I had with them through that decade.

It’s also one of the greatest works that God has done in my heart.  There was a time when I would hold on to hurt and resentment…and not only did that cause me to break fellowship with many people…but it also caused me to keep the rest of the world at bay as well.  Instead of trying to believe that there was a bit of good in everyone…I began to believe that no one (including myself) was trustworthy…and that in the end they were either going to leave me or devastate me emotionally…and therefore what started as holding on to bitterness, resentment and unforgiveness turned into an unwillingness to even allow myself to fellowship with people at all.

Today…I can honestly say that by the grace of God I’ve gone from being unwilling to forgive to almost being too willing and eager to forgive.  I also can say that for the most part I am able to quickly let go of offense as the Lord is teaching me about the part of 1 Corinthians 13 that says that “love bears or keeps no record of wrongs done to it.”.  That’s hard…friends.

I won’t go into details, but recently there was a bit of a family issue that came about that challenged my very heart upon this matter.  Somehow, the Holy Spirit was able to speak through me some thing that I know was from Him because I know that I myself couldn’t have come up with what I said.  “One of the hardest things to do is to extend grace to someone who doesn’t deserve it…even when you’re in the right to not extend that grace to that person.”  The more devastation a person causes you…the more difficult it is to extend that grace because feelings and emotions are involved…and so extending grace and forgiveness can be extremely difficult.

I used to wonder how Jesus felt about His disciples before He got to them, and I think John paints a pretty good picture to me.  He felt a sense of urgency to restore the broken fellowship between Him and His disciples.  What an example that is…and how difficult of an example that is to follow.  It speaks of the depth of His love for us…and just how valuable each and every single one of us are to Him.

When you read about the rejoicing of the father who had the Prodigal Son return home, and how he ran when he saw his son a far off.  How he kissed him, and was so happy that he wanted a big celebration.  I know I’ve found myself coming home to God many a time like this…and you know what I’ve also found that God is just as eager after the one hundredth time as He was the very first time…because the whole reason He endured the Cross in the first place…was because He was eager to restore fellowship with us…and have it be the way it was in the beginning when Adam and Eve used to walk with Him in the cool of the day.

Friends…if you ever get to wondering what the perfect will of God is…go back and read the creation story before the fall.  God’s desire is for each and every one of us to have the same fellowship with Him as He enjoyed with Adam and Eve before sin entered into the world.  That’s what the New Jerusalem and Heaven are going to be like…restored…perfect fellowship with our Father…the way it was meant to be when He created the Garden of Eden…and put Adam and Eve in it.

Now he was raised. What would he say to those who had abandoned him? Three healing things:

1. To Mary at the tomb: “Go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” (John 20:17)

“Brothers!” “Your Father!” “Your God!” I am going now. You will come later. We are, and we will be, together. I forgive you. Our Father forgives you.

2. He finds the apostles, stands among them, and says, “Peace be with you.” He showed them his hands and his side — horrible reminders of what it cost him when they forsook him. And he says again. “Peace be with you.” (John 20:19–21)

“Peace!” Not “Shame!” I forgive you. I take you back. I entrust you with my mission: “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” (John 20:21)

3. To Peter, three times: “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” And to his three positive answers, Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” “Tend my sheep.” “Feed my sheep.” (John 21:15–17)

I have not given up on you, Peter. You are a shepherd of my sheep. Do you recall that I prayed for you? I told you what was coming. I never let you go. My command was a promise: “When you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:32)

Let’s see if we can’t take a look at each of these things Jesus said to those who had abandoned Him.

1. To Mary at the tomb: “Go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” (John 20:17)

“Brothers!” “Your Father!” “Your God!” I am going now. You will come later. We are, and we will be, together. I forgive you. Our Father forgives you.

Is anyone else in awe right now of the grace and mercy of our Father?  Is anyone else finding comfort right now in the fact that even when we abandon God that He never abandons us?  He’s never reached a point where He throws His hands up in disgust, and says:  “I’m done with Bryan.  He just doesn’t get it, and I’m tired of Bryan abandoning me over and over.  He’s just a pathetic loser, and there’s nothing I can do for him anymore.  Bryan is on his own.”

First of all…I am extremely thankful that God isn’t like us.  Other wise…He’d have done just like I wrote at least ten years ago.  However, I am so thankful that God stands ready to forgive me and accept me with open arms every time I come back to Him like the Prodigal Son.  Every time I come home…He still runs to me…He still calls to me…and when I come home…He still calls me His.

He’s OUR Father.  He’s OUR God.  He forgives us.  What an important thing to know that we’re forgiven and loved.

2. He finds the apostles, stands among them, and says, “Peace be with you.” He showed them his hands and his side — horrible reminders of what it cost him when they forsook him. And he says again. “Peace be with you.” (John 20:19–21)

“Peace!” Not “Shame!” I forgive you. I take you back. I entrust you with my mission: “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” (John 20:21)

As I believe I’ve shared before one of the most difficult things for me to do was to overcome the guilt and shame and condemnation over my life and the many mistakes (some of them monumental) that I made.  I was sharing with my wife this afternoon that it has almost always been easier for me to forgive others and let them off the hook…then it was for me to extend that same forgiveness to myself.  I once heard a bone chilling message from Dr. Charles Stanley about how refusing to forgive ourselves for the things we’d done in our lives was…well…pride.  The gist of what Dr. Stanley was teaching was that when I stood and refused to forgive myself for what I’d done that I was basically saying that what Jesus endured on the Cross wasn’t enough to forgive me of all of my guilt, shame, condemnation, and sin.

I remember that message made me feel worse at the time.  I remember even praying that I was sorry that I couldn’t forgive myself, but I just couldn’t.  I couldn’t see myself the way God saw me no matter how hard I tried to.  I couldn’t see past my failures, my sin, and it lasted for many years.  Over the years since then I can tell you that only by the working of God upon my heart have I been able to let myself off the hook, and forgive myself for the things I’d done so that I could allow God to heal my heart of the guilt and shame that I’d held on to for all those years.

The more I let go of…the more He shared with me how much He loved me…and I believe that one of the things that Pastor Ronnie saw taken off of my shoulders on that day in November of 2010 was the burden of guilt and shame that I had carried.  The yoke of that bondage I was under brought me to the point of my need, and just like the old song by Philips, Craig, and Dean says:

Mercy came running
Like a prisoner set free
Past all my failures to the point of my need
When the sin that I carried
Was all I could see
And when I could not reach mercy
Mercy came running to me

Mercy came running to me that day in November like never before, and I walked out of The Haven Family Worship Place different from how I’d ever been before.  I’m still discovering some of the changes that took place that day, but one of them was that He finally took all of the sin, guilt, and shame I’d felt…and replaced it with His peace.  The lyrics of another song come to mind…and I believe it may have been the song playing that day:

Oh how beautiful, are you Lord.
It is Your words, it is Your love.
Oh how glorious, are you Lord.
It is Your power, it was Your cross.

That saved me, and rescued me,
Just a moment there.. set me free!!

That day…that moment on November 15, 2010 was the moment that I was set free from many things…and maybe to a certain degree myself.  In that moment…that encounter with Him that changed my life forever…I remembered writing in my journal that I knew God had touched me.  I didn’t really know all of what He did…but I knew that He showed up…and that I had an encounter with Him.  As I mentioned a moment ago…I am still coming to understand some of the things that happened that day…and truthfully…until I began writing this message…I didn’t understand that some of what Pastor Ronnie saw lifted off of me that day was the decade of guilt and shame and broken heartedness I had felt.  I knew I felt lighter…I just didn’t know why…and now I do.

3. To Peter, three times: “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” And to his three positive answers, Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” “Tend my sheep.” “Feed my sheep.” (John 21:15–17)

I have not given up on you, Peter. You are a shepherd of my sheep. Do you recall that I prayed for you? I told you what was coming. I never let you go. My command was a promise: “When you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:32)

This encounter that Peter had with Jesus was one of the things that eventually lead me to understand that God was talking to me during one of the many times I had read this passage.  I’ve mentioned this in past messages…but I received a reminder earlier this year as Pastor Cass was preaching on the Vision and on the Mandate that he sensed was upon New Life Christian Center.  I’ve shared in a few messages that shortly there-after I received the word in my heart from God that my personal theme for 2012 was “Getting Serious About Being Serious With God”.

It was in those messages that the Lord reminded me of the encounter I had with Him, and how He had work for me to do.  Shortly after that was the birth and beginning of Christlike Ministries NWA.  That was January of this year.  I may have mentioned a few times that the first encounter I had with God in regard to this encounter He had with Peter was in January of 2001.  That’s right…eleven years had passed…and do you know why God had to remind me?

Because once again I had gotten into a place where I couldn’t see myself the way He saw me, and He even blessed me with a godly woman who He spoke through to encourage me to try to help me to see myself the way He saw me.  Even though I had the weight of all my past taken off of me in November of 2010…it was still hard for me not to put my hand to the plow and not look back.  It was still difficult to look at myself in the mirror…and see how in the world God could use a broken down guy like me.

However…as He gave me the words to the theme of this year He also reminded me that HE hadn’t given up on me.  Once again…it was through the reading of this passage, and another one in the Book of Psalms…Psalm 28:8-9to be exact.  Those were the scriptures He spoke to me about the fact that He’d called me to be the Pastor of Christlike Ministries NWA…and that it was time to not only embrace that calling…but to step into it…and get it going.  Almost 200 messages and 8 months later…here I am doing what He called me to do.  He said if I loved Him then I was to “Feed His Sheep”.

You see, friends…God never lets us go.  He promised us in His Word that He would never leave us nor forsake us, and I think that we often lose sight of that promise based upon how we feel about ourselves, and one of the important thing to remember about our walk with God is that it has nothing to do with how we feel…but what He says about us in His Word…and what He says about us in His Word is that He loves us…and that He loved us so much that He gave His life to have the fellowship that was broken between us and Him completely restored.

Friend…I don’t know your situation, but I know the One who does.  Maybe you are in a place much like I was when mercy came running to me.  Maybe you were like me, and you’d known God for a long time…but the weight of guilt and shame and condemnation has you so weighed down that you don’t know what else to do.  Maybe you found yourself in a desperate place much like I was on that day in November.  I knew that I needed God to do something.  I didn’t know what it was…but I needed Him.  I can’t even claim that I was backslidden.  I was purely carnal, and I was so weighed down by my broken heart, the weight of my sin, my guilt, and my shame.  I knew I needed God to do something…otherwise…I can only imagine what would’ve happened had I carried on without the encounter I had with Him that day.

This message is for you.  Jesus is saying these three things to work to heal you today.
1.  Our Father forgives you.
2.  He wants to give you peace and rest.
3.  He loves you and hasn’t given up on you.

Jesus was eager to repair the damage that had been done. Eager to forgive, restore, recommission. If you have forsaken him, let him down, offended him, take heart, he is not less eager to repair things with you. Seek his face. Ask him. Receive his grace.

Conclusion & Prayer:

I don’t know that there is anything more that I can write at this point.  I just know that maybe we need to close this message right here…and seek Him together.

Father…I come to You in the name of Jesus.  I thank You for Your eagerness to repair and restore the broken fellowship we have with You.  Lord, it’s so easy for us to get bogged down with guilt and shame because we see ourselves through our natural eyes…and have such a hard time understanding how it is that You love us so much.  Many of us, myself included, have lived a lifetime full of people who have given up on us, and thrown their hands up in disgust to write us off…but You…Lord God…You have never done that over any one of us.  You love us with a love that is incomprehensible…and extend to us grace and mercy that is as equally hard to comprehend.  I hear You, Lord, speaking to my heart…I hear You saying that even I have gotten to a place where I was having a hard time seeing myself through Your eyes.  Lord…I know I forsake You.  I know that I let You down and offend You…and maybe I needed to know this as much as anyone else that I’m not immune to feeling like Peter…needing Your peace…needing Your reminder that You love me…You’ve not forsaken me…and most importantly that You will never give up on me…even though I tend to throw my hands up in disgust and give up on myself.  Lord…I am so thankful for Your mercy…and I thank You…Lord for such a timely message…and ask You to create in me a clean heart and renew a right spirit within me…and help me to understand that Your forgiveness, Your grace, Your mercy, and Your love aren’t based upon my feelings…but upon Your Word.

I pray for those reading this message today, Lord who may be feeling like they have let You down to the point that they feel like You’ve given up on them.  I ask that You would sink this message deep into their hearts…and I pray that You would speak of Your love and forgiveness and mercy and grace to them.  I pray that You would remind them that they belong to You…and that there’s nothing that can separate us from Your love…and no one or no thing that can pluck us from the safety of Your Hands.

Lord…remind us of the surety of our salvation…and restore unto us the joy of our salvation.  Restore us to a place where we are secure and have that invincible joy that we spoke of in yesterday’s message.

Do a work in our hearts…God.  A work that is both inward as we deal with ourselves…and outward as we deal with a world that’s dying and needs to know the love and forgiveness that’s available to us who believe and have called upon the name of Your Son to be saved.

Let Your Spirit rest fresh upon us tonight…let us sense Your presence in a deeper and more intimate way.  Maybe there are some reading today who need to be reminded of what it feels like to be wrapped in Your arms of love…Lord wrap us in Your arms…and whisper Your love for us in our ear that our hearts would melt and break…and forgive us…Lord for all offenses…all disobediences…and all things we have done to sin against You and those in our lives…and mostly…help us to forgive ourselves.

Lord…I love You so much…and I thank You for speaking to us this day.  I ask again that You would seal this message upon our hearts, and help us to meditate upon this message for the rest of the day or even the week…until it comes to our hearts that You love us…and that You have never…and will never leave our side…and we give You all the glory, honor, and praise this day…and as always we ask all of these things in the name of Your precious Son…Jesus Christ…Amen & Amen

Mercy came running… Like a prisoner set free…Past all my failures to the point of my need When the sin that I carried…Was all I could see And when I could not reach mercy…Mercy came running to me