Morning. David Sorn. Lead Pastor here at Renovation Church.
Thank you to Bryan for filling in for Zach today, who’s is up at Camp Shamineau one final time this fall.
Back in 1944, with less than a year left in Pacific theater of WWII, the Japanese sent Lt. Hiroo Onoda to a remote island of the Philippines to conduct guerilla warfare there.
He was supposed to gather the Japanese men there, hideout in the jungle, sabotage the work of Allied Forces there, and wait for the Japanese to come for him.
As the war carried on in the months to come, the 20-year old Onoda ended up in the jungle with 3 other Japanese men.
They carried out raids on the local Filipinos and had a few skirmishes with the Allied forces there
All while living off of a teeny bit of rice, bananas and coconuts
Well, less than a year later, in October 1945, Onoda came across a leaflet that said the war was over (which it was).
However, he and his men deemed it was a trick by the allied forces to lure him and his men out and kill them.
A little later, while one of his man was killing a local’s cow, he found a leaflet that said, “The war ended in August! Come out of the mountains!
But to the men, something just wasn’t right about it. Plus another one of their groups had been fired on just a few days ago, and that HAD to have been the Americans or somebody!
So they stayed in the jungle
In the months to come, the outside world continued to try and contact the men
The dropped leaflets from planes, dropped notes from the Japanese army, dropped photographs and newspapers about the end of the war, had relatives speak out over loudspeakers…
But Onoda and his friends found a way each time, to determine…they weren’t really free to get up and come out.
Each time, they found a way to determine that they were being tricked so the Allies could kill them.
So the men stayed in the jungle. And they stayed in war mode. They kept scavenging for food and attacking the villagers.
And it went on year after year.
After FOUR years, one of them surrendered. But it only caused the others to become more fearful rather than trusting.
In the ensuing years, they killed at least 30 Filipinos and wounded 100 others.
2 of the remaining 3 were also killed in battles until only Onoda remained. Convinced the war was still on and he was not free to leave.
Finally, in 1974 (30 years later), a Japanese college dropout told his friends he was either gonna find a Panda, the Abominable Snowman, or Hiroo Onoda, so he could become famous.
He started with Hiroo Onoda. I wouldn’t have went with the panda myself.
Amazingly, he did find Onoda, in the jungles, and brought back Onoda’s former commander, (who now was a nice bookseller in Japan) and had him personally tell Onoda he was free to leave.
And 30 years later, 29 years after the war ended, Onoda finally started enjoying the freedom he could have had all along and left the Philippines
I think there’s a lot in that story for us this morning as we conclude our Stages of Faith series.
If you are visiting for the first time today, we’ve been doing a series called “Stages of Faith” on the four stages of development that Christians can go through.
Stage 1 is called Infatuation, and is typically the early years of our faith. Lots of excitement, joy and emotion.
Stage 2 is direction. It’s when we get active and off the sidelines. We often join a group here, start to study the Bible, and start to serve.
Stage 3 is Darkness: It’s often a stage of crisis, trial and doubt. But in the darkness, we learn to trust God like never before.
And stage 4 is a stage of surrender.
And here’s the first key thing about Stage 4: You can’t get there without first going through Stage 3. It’s impossible.
You can only really trust and surrender if you’ve been through the darkness, and trusted Him there first.
Sometimes in life, when we’re talking about people who are really struggling, we use the phrase “Well, I think they’re just going to have to hit bottom first.”
Well, what are we saying there?
It’s really a phrase about the darkness. We’re saying that..if people really want to turn around their lives in full surrender, they’re going to have to first walk through a stage where they realize that trying to do it on their own is completely futile.
Now, keep in mind that everyone’s “bottom”…and everyone’s “darkness” does indeed look different.
But it’s still a hard lesson that we all must learn.
Another key note about the stages that I think a lot of us get wrong:
Just because you experienced “The Darkness” doesn’t’ mean you’re in stage 4.
A lot of people never make it to the other side. They just regress.
Others hit stage 4, and it’s uncomfortable to be comfortable w/ themselves, so they go back to stage 1 or 2.
Some just hit a trial in Stage 3…wait it out…and now they’re not mad at God, but they’re also not in Stage 4 either because they never actually trusted God to get them out…They just waited for it to pass.
A lot of us really skip around… 1, 2, 3, (Whoa that was intense!) back to 1.
Or 1, 2, 3, 4, back to 2, to 3, to 2, 3.
There are plenty of older Christians that have experienced much and maybe even suffered much, but very well, right now, could be in Stage 1 where they are back in isolation-mode.
Enjoying God all right, but pulled back again from the body of Christ.
So it’s a journey. And always will be.
You don’t get to just stay at one stage once you hit it.
It’s a rollercoaster relationship that takes work just like anything else.
STAGE 4 PEOPLE LIVE IN FREEDOM
This morning, I really want to look at a passage in Galatians that speaks of a very real barrier people face to staying in Stage 4 (which is our goal)
(Galatians 5:1-4) - NIV (page 945)
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. 2 Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all.3 Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. 4 You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.
Here’s what had happened in the early church: The Christians were told that they were saved by grace. By Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.
There was nothing they could do to earn their salvation.
However, many of the Jewish Christians started to creep back to their old ways, and started to say…. “No…if you really want to make sure you’re good and pleasing God…you also have to do things like get circumcised!”
And Paul was saying, “NO! Galatians! No! Don’t go back to this sort of slavery.
If you let yourself do this…you are obligated to all of the OT law, and if you can’t obey ALL of that, and you will be guilty!
It’s about being set free by Christ!
We don’t have to earn our way! We are FREE in his grace!
Look at verse 1 again:
(Galatians 5:1) – NIV
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.
It is for FREEDOM that Christ has set us Free. We were meant to live and drown in his grace.
If grace is an ocean, we’re all sinking.
But the problem is: There’s a little Hiroo Onoda in all of us.
See, God has declared the war over. If you’re a believer in Christ. You don’t need to Strive anymore.
You can’t earn anymore of his love. It’s already at max capacity. Go out and LIVE in the ocean of his grace and freedom.
But we’re like Onoda. The people told him that he was free. Free to leave. But he couldn’t accept the gift.
He was going to fight his way right out of there.
He was Free, but couldn’t live in Freedom.
And I think that’s the story of so many Christians.
We get this at first: We preach grace as salvation…you can’t earn your way to God.
But then, most of us spend our lives…little by little…year by year…regressing back to trying to earn our way to God.
And in an odd, ironic, twist of events. We kind of like it that way.
We put ourselves back under the yoke of the law because then we can feel good about fulfilling it.
We’re Hiroo Onoda out in the jungle, winning it ourselves!
And this is one of the things that stops people from ever getting to stage 4. We don’t truly want to live in grace. In freedom.
We want to do it ourselves.
But Stage 4 people live in the freedom that has been bought for them.
Psalm 46:10 – NIV
He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
Many translations simply say: CEASE STRIVING and know that I am God.
The Hebrew really just says, “ENOUGH!”
In Stage 4, you cease striving to impress God for your freedom and life, because you realize, “Oh…I’m already free.”
A DEEPER ACCEPTANCE OF IMPERFECTIONS AND GRACE
At Stage 4, we grow into a full awareness that God truly loves us even though we are never really whole.
We are maybe more surrendered in Stage 4, but we’re still quite sinful.
That will always be our nature.
The difference is: We now have this deep HEART realization (not just knowledge) that God loves us anyway.
Stage 4 people often are some of the most humble, patient, and loving people you’ll ever meet.
Because they feel so much love by the Savior…in the midst of their imperfections.
It is not the eradication of your imperfections you seek, but the acceptance of them.
Things like your mistakes and brokenness now give you peace.
The very same things used to be the things that caused you anxiety, not peace.
But now they are constant reminders that, “Oh yeah, that’s right…you’re not God…you’re just you…and He loves you anyway.”
And His LOVE is that much more powerful when you realize that He loves the “broken you” not just the “really good you who did lots of good stuff and now earned his love.”
No, He loves you anyway. And you can abide and rest in that.
And it’s not that you’re not still working on stuff and God isn’t still working on you. But, you just know that He accepts you as you are.
And thus, Stage 4 people are often sometimes really surprising to other Christians because they can live openly and vulnerably with others without fear of what people will think of their rough edges.
They KNOW they are loved by the King.
A JOURNEY OUTWARD IN LOVE
And that love that they have received will go outward.
The more you sit in the Vine of God as John 15 says, or the more you dwell in the Spirit as Galatians 5 says, you will see the Fruit of the Spirit in your life:
Like Love, Joy, patience…
Unlike Stage 3 people, Stage 4 people tend to journey outward again.
They’ve re-engaged in the group, are learning, and serving.
They are like the people in Scripture who’ve come out of Stage 3
You see Jonah back in ministry after his trial in the great fish
Elijah serving the Lord again after his bout w/ depression
Peter serving the church after his struggles w/ denial
And at first, it looks a lot like Stage 2. And often it’s quite hard to tell the difference.
Even something like this: What I do….or what Zach does.
You could do “this” for all the wrong reasons. For the lights. For the people. Because you think it would make God love you “more.”
So maturity isn’t necessarily determined by big actions.
How many times have we seen megachurch pastors on the news caught in affairs?
But what you probably couldn’t do in Stage 4 is go do what Mother Theresa did and go work with the dying people of India that nobody cared about…especially before it was “famous” to do it.
So you’re able to do some pretty different things in Stage 4.
And the biggest difference is actually not in your actions this time, but in your motivations.
Again, it’s often doing SOME of the same things as before, but your motivations are so different. So much deeper. So much more rooted in Christ and surrender than in things like ourselves and performance and pleasing and the pursuit of perfection.
In Stage 4, we are deeply driven by LOVE.
In the book of Luke, when Jesus has forgiven a prostitute, he says
(Luke 7:47) – NIV
Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.
But here’s the brilliance of that proverb…NO ONE HAS BEEN FORGIVEN LITTLE!
Jesus died on the cross just the same for each and every one of us
And the more you understand the amazing amount you’ve been forgiven, the MORE you love!
Stage 4 people finally understand what Grace is all about.
That He bought our freedom!
That I don’t have to win the war myself…fighting in the jungle…I’m FREE!
And HE DID it! For me?!?!
Those who realize they have been forgiven much, love much.
So Stage 4 becomes a real letting go of the self. And others become more important.
You still see stage 4 people doing stage 2 active things (LOVE diagram), but they’re doing them now with a different purpose.
They’re serving now because they just love people. And love to greet the people checking out church at the door. They’re on the prayer team because their heart is to pray…
Where before…we so often are taking the word of someone else…”This’ll be good.”
Stage 4 people are lot less likely to quit a ministry when it’s not working for them because they didn’t sign up “for them.” They signed up because they just want to love and serve other people.
By the way, if you’re sitting here wondering if you’re a Stage 4 person or not, let me give you 3 quick litmus tests:
Here’s the first one: Stage 4 people serve the body of Christ: Period.
There’s no such thing as an isolated mature Christian. It’s an oxymoron. It’s not possible.
Second one: Stage 4 people share their faith w/ other people. They can’t help themselves. It just spills out of them.
Stage 4 people can and should guide other people spiritually. Even if you feel like, that feels like an odd role for you.
They are often great small group leaders…or even mentors.
Last week, as I spoke of stage 3: “The Darkness,” I can’t tell you how many people came up to me after the message and said, “I could have used this 3 years ago. 5 years ago.”
And my response to everyone was, “True, but God can use you now. Because there are people in this very church that are in the pitch black right now.”
And you can help guide them out. Give them comfort while they’re there.
That is why we have to continue to be the “retro church.”
An American church going back to the basics that believes church is so much more than a Sunday morning service. It’s a group of people getting together in community.
You all have so much to offer each other…it’s a mockery of God’s Spirit in the body of Christ if I’m only one people are learning from.
By the way, I said there were 3 quick litmus tests to see if you’re in Stage 4…Here’s the third test: Stage 4 people don’t care what Stage they’re in. J
NEW LEVEL OF TRUST AND SURRENDER
Ultimately…all of this Stage 4 stuff leads to the namesake of Stage 4, which is SURRENDER. A life of obedience to God.
Here’s how it all works together:
When you have a greater acknowledgement of your imperfections (and thus his grace), you will develop a greater level of reliance (because you know YOU can’t do it), and thus, you’ll finally be able to relinquish control of your life over to Him.
“In Stage 4, you’re not working towards a greater sense of perfect, but a greater acceptance of your imperfection.
Which then, paves the way for a greater reliance on God.
So many Christians are stuck in immaturity because they are working so hard on “Getting better” that they’re unknowingly trying to work God out of a job!
You grow…you become more holy…more like Him…when you surrender. When you let Him in. Not when YOU “do better.”
In Stage 4, you stop trying to carry the world on your shoulders and let God carry it in His hand.
And our motivations for surrender, for obeying God, are now almost completely different than they were in Stage 2.
In Stage 4, we completely surrender to God’s will not just because it’ll make our lives better.
No, at stage 4, we surrender with eyes wide open…aware, but unafraid of the consequences, but willing to surrender NO MATTER what comes.
And here’s why. Something changed in us after we went through the darkness. After we could trust Him…EVEN In the dark.
When our “will of self-reliance” was broken, our trust-level went way up.
Surrender starts to come more naturally with less deliberation over time because God has simply proven more trustworthy to us (he always was…but now we’re believing it)
Here’s how I think it happens:
It’s like a relationship or a friendship. You don’t go into it just trusting someone’s every word. But over time…trust develops.
Some things just take time. As we’ve said many times in this series, age doesn’t guarantee growth, but some growth does just take time.
And “Trust in a relationship” happens with God too.
For instance: You feel like holding a grudge against someone…but God whispers to you to forgive…you do…and you feel better.
You feel like drowning yourself in lust…but your surrender to God instead…and life just works better.
You feel like gossiping again about your boss…but you felt convicted about what you read about Gossipers in the Bible…so you decide to hold your tongue. And you start to notice less anger in your life.
And what happens is…a board of trust begins to build.
And before, when you felt like you “should” do these things because they were right…it was still like jumping across a 10 ft deep chasm.
(SHOW PICTURE OF CHASM)
It was like, you knew you “should” jump across (it was the right thing to do…God said it was good), but you also thought…nah, might just be safer to stay here…in my sin. Or where I’m in control.
But here’s what happens: Each time you trust God, and He comes through, and His way works, and you see the value of His wisdom, it’s like an inch gets added to a board that’s filling out a cross the chasm.
And now…it’s a little easier to jump. The jump isn’t as far.
And the more and more you see God come through in your life, through faith, the longer your board gets.
So pretty soon, when faced with a decision:
Maybe it’s a financial decision like how to run your business or how to give back:
Finally, the Godly way, surrender, doesn’t seem like such a leap.
He’s been proven right over and over again, that it’s practically like just walking across the board from one hill to another.
And the biggest thing that happens in our lives to make this leap possible is the Darkness.
When you go through that, the darkness, and you can TRUST GOD out of it, it’s like adding half the length to your board in one day.
Often, our ability to surrender only comes when our self-reliance is first broken.
Through the pain of attempting the jump on our own and falling painfully short.
Often only then, will we get back up, and try it God’s way.
But that pain, leads to a beautiful and fruitful life of surrender.
This stage 4 life of wisdom, and peace, and love is something we all want (we crave it), but the weird reality is you can’t strive your way to it.
You can’t just work really, really hard and get there.
It’s about you not working hard. It’s about you giving up. It’s about surrendering. About giving up your control. Giving up and giving in. And letting Him control.
And love you in your imperfections.
And hear me…if you accept His call to really live in FREEDOM…if you stop fighting to do it on your own in the jungle…if you let the darkness of the jungle help you come to the realization that there’s got to be more to this life than this…and if you walk out of the “jungle of the self,” with your hands held high in surrender…in the pursuit of actually LIVING in FREEDOM
It’s going to feel like a risk. A huge risk. It’s letting go. It’s letting go!
But it is for FREEDOM that Christ set you free.
Live in freedom.
Copyright: David Sorn
Renovation Church in Blaine, MN
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