On Purpose For Purpose (Part 1) Experiencing God’s Love Luke 8:26-39 Pastor Carey January 21, 2018

Recently a man had the opportunity to visit Mark Twain’s boyhood home in Hannibal MO.  He was disappointed to discover that only a self-guided tour was available by peeking in windows with a pre-recorded message that was available by pressing a button.  As he was walking around the house the man met another person with a big smile who said, “Isn’t this just great? This is my 15th time here and whenever I am close by I always stop for the tour!”  So the man replied, “You must be a real fan of Mark Twain, what is your favorite Twain writing?” “I don’t have one; in fact I’ve never read anything he wrote.”  For some this story sums up their relationship with God – visiting the shrine, but never knowing the person.

Each and every person and church are created by God on purpose and for purpose.  The question each must answer is do we know our purpose – individually and corporately?  In 1999, Bethia adopted a new mission or purpose statement.  What is on the cover of most every weekly bulletin was constructed and approved by church leadership in time for our November 1999 church birthday.  Our purpose statement sets the direction and the expectation for every one of our church family members and for everything we do here at Bethia.  Every now and again it is important to review and remember what we are called to be about as this body of Christ called Bethia.  And as we are transitioning into a much larger church with a broader ministry than we had in 1999, it is important to start at the foundation of purpose.  Everything we do still must find its roots in our 3-fold purpose statement to experience grow and share God’s love.  This will be our focus for the next 3 weeks.

Today we look at the importance of experiencing God’s love individually and corporately.  It is one thing to know about God but entirely different to know God.  I’ve not been to the Grand Canyon or Niagara Falls. I’ve seen pictures of each, but without a first-hand experience of those two natural wonders, I really don’t fully know about them and won’t until I experience them myself.  The same is true of God, until we experience God ourselves, we’ll never really know God.

God’s grace is all around us.  It is as subtle as the air we breathe and as profound as the natural wonders of nature.  It’s as gentle as holding a baby’s hand and as strong as a Clydesdale horse pulling a 2-ton wagon.  The Bible tells us that God wants us to know him.  And throughout human history God has revealed himself over and over again through the mundane and the miraculous and everything in between. But are we looking, or have we stopped looking for God?  Remember that God always takes the initiative to reach out to us first.  God is not some magic Easter Bunny we have to hunt down and find – he has already been found and longs for a personal relationship with every person.  God experiences help us enter the house and not peek through windows.  God experiences fill us, transform us and use us as disciples.  God experiences offer four promises:

1) A God-experience exposes our need to be filled and made whole. Imagine the life of the main character in today’s scripture lesson.  He’s both pathetic and frightening at the same time.  This man is trapped by demons in a place no one would want to live – a cemetery.  For a Jew one of the worst things that could happen was to be constantly around dead bodies.  Those who did were considered unclean and not able to fellowship with the community.  In fact they would be cut off from the community.  They had also tried to restrain the man with chains, but he broke loose time and again.  Imagine the fear he brought to the people of that region.  Imagine the helplessness he must have felt every day.  He is a metaphor for every human separated from God.  He represents what life is like when God is absent: unrestrained, hopeless, directionless and dead.

2) A God-experience transforms us from death to life and restores our hope, joy and love. Into this pathetic life Jesus comes.  We see immediately that the man knows ABOUT God, because he identifies Jesus as the Son of God.  But now he is about to know God face-to-face and his life will be forever changed!  The first thing Jesus does is ask for his name – Legion which is both a name and the identification of how many demons were in him (lots).  Jesus casts the demons out of this poor man and into a nearby herd of pigs and gives him his life back.

3) A God-experience can be frightening. Later, the townsfolk come and see this crazed man cured, in his right mind, clothed and sitting quietly at Jesus’ feet.  Then they become more afraid of Jesus than they ever were afraid of the demon-possessed man and ask Jesus to leave.  And so Jesus does, but not before commissioning a new missionary for that region of people – the healed man who would be a daily living reminder of what God can do.  But don’t forget the disciples who witnessed this entire miracle.  They are still reeling from Jesus calming the sea the night before.  Just imagine their sense of fear mixed with their awe of Jesus’ power.  Years ago I had a similar experience with a senior woman named Evelyn.  On a Friday morning I visited her in the hospital and expected her death within 24 hours.  A phone call the next day sent me racing to the hospital to discover her sitting up in bed eating a baked potato!  The doctors had no explanation as to why her condition made a 180 degree change.  God miraculously healed her.  It was exciting and a little spooky too!

4) Even when we miss a God-experience, God still makes sure we know he has been there.  Jesus did not force himself on anyone in that region that day – he could have reminded them who he was (the demons identified him immediately).  Nor did he rebuke the people.  Instead, his grace was made evident by his keeping the healed man there as a constant reminder of what Jesus did that day.  Sometimes we miss God moments too, and we feel as if we have lost out.  But notice that there are always witnesses that remind us of what God did, and what God can still do?  This is our purpose as Bethia Church.  How and where have you experienced God in the past?  Are you anticipating where you will experience God today or tomorrow?  For us to fully live into our calling as a disciple of the king, we must have, remember and anticipate more experiences of God that fill us, transform us and use us to remind others that God has been here and that God will come again.  We can know God personally and stop looking through the windows of someone else’s experience.

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