Have you ever gotten bored with being the best? After years of being number one would you like to try fifth place for awhile? Would you buy a book with the title How I Achieved Mediocrity or Less? Who among us needs that kind of help? Most of my battles are against mediocrity. Too many people live every day beneath their God-given potential. As Christians, we are in danger of being addicted to a dead-end, status quo, or becoming dependent on "getting by."
Don't get me wrong, I believe it's okay to decide to be mediocre at something- so that you can be better at something else. I myself have decided to be bad at golf... so that I can be better at blood pressure! However, in the core areas of life, God calls you and me to move beyond the gloomy gray existence of mediocrity and go for more. He is inviting us to "reach for the PEAK* (Prayer and Fasting, Evangelism, Abiding in the Word, Koinonia)." This challenge is to focus on the core area of your life- your relationship with God. In 1 Corinthians 9:24, the Bible compares this relationship to a foot race and it says, "Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize."
Is there anyone here who hasn't yet decided whether they want to be successful in this core relationship? Do you enjoy the guilt and spiritual failure you let creep into your life? Could it be some of you are tired of Satan putting his foot on your back? It may be that you have watched others gain spiritual victory, but you don't feel you've "got what it takes."
It is time that you heard God's invitation to live on a different level. Perhaps today could be the day- that you begin to claim the abundant life Jesus promised. What stands in the way? For many the problem is that to grow beyond mediocrity requires effort. New Year's resolutions fail for one main reason: the effort or stress or struggle is more than we think we can handle...so we cave in on a good thing.
Or it may be how you look at the problem. Some radio preacher says, "We are 'saved by grace' and we grow by grace," which is true. But, he implies that grace, or faith, is contrasted with the idea of merit or entitlement. On the contrary, 'effort' is very much encouraged throughout the Bible. In Luke 13:24 Jesus said, "Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to." They made an effort once the game was over!
A miracle by its definition is a grace thing, but look at how many of Jesus' miracles required some effort: fill the water pots, catch the fish with the money in its mouth, wash your eyes in the pool on the other side of town, and the list goes on.
But some folks who are not afraid of work when it comes to physical fitness, running their business, or working a con job on their friends, think that effort is out of place in Christianity.
In fact, lack of effort is condemned. At the end of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warned of a person who heard his words, and even admired and agreed with them, but he made no effort to put them to work. That man was condemned. In the last book of the Bible, Jesus talks to people who won't be hot or cold about their relationship with Him. They just lolie-gag around in the lukewarm area until God decides to vomit them out. Putting effort into your relationship with God is more than ok; it's mandatory.
Let's look at an incident in the life of one man who understood that faith and struggle go together.
Caleb's life is an example for anyone who wants to live on the mountain. Before we get to his lesson, let's review the context. Shortly after Israel was rescued from Egypt, God and Moses appointed a commission of 12 explorers to check out the Promised Land. The scouts spent 40 days in the Land of Promise and then came back with their report. It was indeed a "land flowing with milk and honey." It was everything they could've asked for and more. Fertile beyond imagination and the climate was pleasant...but there were powerful enemies in the land...warrior giants.
Now they have to decide: live in the wilderness, or fight the giants. How many of you have to make a decision sometime soon; you sense God's hand on your shoulder. Will you live where God wants you to live? It seems like that is the way it often is. God shows us the possibility of living the abundant life to Israel, and now to you, too. You see other people living close to God. You hear them witness to God's goodness and power, but when you hear a call to step out...you run into giants. You despair over your lack of time, lack of courage, or the disorder that clogs your days and nights.
The 12 spies saw the attractiveness of the land, but they also saw the giants and their hearts melted with fear. Not all 12, though. Joshua and Caleb were the lone exceptions. They were ready to match God with the giants.
You know the rest of the story- how the Israelites wandered in the wilderness for 40 years because they didn't trust God. They chose by not trying their faith. During that time every male 20 years of age and older died. At the end of 40 years Moses died and Israel went into the Promised Land under the leadership of Joshua. For four more years they conquered the land until they had enough control to divide up the land and allot it to the tribes and families to finish the conquest.
Now 45 years after first going into the land as a scout, Caleb stands before Joshua- as an 85 year old- and says, "I am ready to claim my mountain." During that time Caleb has learned some valuable lessons.
Lesson one: He learned that God keeps His promises with those who will trust Him. In Deuteronomy 1, Moses related a promise God had made to Caleb. Because of his courage as a spy, Caleb was to receive the land which he walked through in his scout days. Caleb remembers that promise.
He could've remembered his bitter disappointment at the cowardly response of the ten spies, or the 40 years of grief in the wilderness. He could've remembered that Joshua got all the glory. Instead he chose to remember God's promise and to follow God's wisdom.
If you are going to move up to a higher spiritual plain, you will need to be familiar with God's word and His power to keep His word. Currently the secular world is fascinated with spiritual stuff. There are many voices telling you to get better acquainted with "the god that is in you." Without being too blunt, let me just say that's hogwash. For Christians living on a higher level, that means getting to know the one true God and His best revelation of Himself in Jesus. That does not happen by contemplating the beauty of your belly button. You get to know God and the kind of character He has by reading His word and listening specifically for His voice. Caleb knew what kind of promises God made and kept, and he was ready to depend on God.
Lesson two: Caleb learned that victory is preceded by battle. It does not hurt to let your children engage in a few 'holy struggles' before they become adults. Kids by fallen nature know how to fight for their selfish desires. That does not need to be encouraged. But teaching our children how to struggle with love and integrity for a Godly cause is not something they learn at school.
And mature believers know that every Promised Land is infested with giants. To claim the prize, a struggle must be made! God has not called us to fight from a hot tub, an easy chair, or a table set with a feast. These things come after the battle and rightly so. After every victory there should be a celebration. The Christian is called to "throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles and ...run with perseverance the race marked out for us" (Hebrews 12:1).
Caleb saw the giants on his mountain, but he also knew that God had kept him alive for this battle. He knew God's word and he knew that victory only comes with a battle.
Lesson three: Caleb had also learned the lesson of dependence. In verse 12 he said, "The Lord helping me, I will drive them out." Like Abraham he could say he was fully persuaded that God had the power to do what he had promised. Like Paul he could say, "in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him that loves us" (Romans 8:37).
The ten spies were motivated by fear- Caleb was motivated by God's promises. He knew God could be trusted. Most of Israel did not want to risk taking what God wanted to give. Instead they sat back and wondered, wondered what it would be like to live in the Promised Land, until they all died in the wilderness.
But 45 years later, here is Caleb saying, "I've waited long enough. I'm not going to gaze from a distance any more. I'm tired of standing in a corner or laying in bed dreaming about it. It is time to go up and get it!"
In this sanctuary may be some who have never lived for God...never trusted Jesus...or some who did at one time, but no longer do. I am convinced there isn't one person here who doesn't want to be spiritually successful. There is not one of us who likes a guilty conscience or weak faith. You don't enjoy failing spiritually any better than I do.
Good news: you don't have to stand there and dream and wish you could live on the mountain. There are promises saturating the Word...promising God's help for your decision to face some giants.
You've lived with Satan's food on your back long enough! You're tired of someone besides Jesus being in charge of your life and home and career and finances and family. You are ready to move from the world of 'getting by' to the world of victory.
To keep us from taking the wrong path, the Bible gives us some guidelines. Let me share some of those with you this morning and challenge you to join with others in walking this way for the next ten weeks.
*Editor's Note: This sermon is the first of a ten part series Dad used to challenge the Ceres church to dig deeper. He studied and presented the lives of ten Biblical characters while challenging the church to enter into a time of spiritual development through prayer and fasting, evangelism, study of the word, and fellowship.