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Living Above the Bar
At the end of last week’s message on living intentionally knowing that our days are numbered, I ended with a story about a high jumper who finally cleared 6’8” and then related it to our lives and how important it is to identify God’s eternal values and invest our lives in them on a daily basis. And when we do, we’ll clear the bar that Satan has kept us under for so long.
In our message today, my goal is to help us learn how to live an over the top life, and to stop living below God’s desire and His calling upon our lives. In other words, we need to be living our lives above the bar; rather than below it, or what we might say is that we need to start living the abundant life Jesus promised.
Unfortunately, most people are living and doing just enough to get by. They’re doing just enough in their marriages, relationships, and at work not to get divorced, dumped, or fired. What we might say is that people are living a substandard life, which is especially disheartening because of what Jesus said.
Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10b NKJV)
And so, are we living abundant lives?
Maybe the following story will help make this clearer.
The bar was set nine inches higher than pole-vaulter Michael Stone’s personal best. He began to get nervous. Fear would probably be a more accurate description. The stands were filled with about 20,000 people even though the final race ended an hour earlier.
Michael had been looking forward to this moment since childhood. He was one of the final two competitors in the Pole-Vault at the National Junior Olympics. Michael needed this vault to win.
Would Michael be able to go above the bar?
As Michael picked up his pole he felt his heart pounding. The silence was deafening. He heard robins singing and he knew it was his time to fly. As he began sprinting down the runway something felt wonderfully different, yet familiar. He took a deep breath and then it happened. He began to fly. His takeoff was effortless.
It was either the eruption of the people or the thump of his landing that brought Michael back to earth. Immediately people swarmed around him congratulating him on the greatest accomplishment thus far in his life, 17 feet 6 inches: a National and International Junior Olympics Record.
Michael Stone raised the bar. He beat his personal best by nine inches. He had gone above and beyond what anyone expected.
God also calls us to go above and beyond! So, what’s that extra nine inches in our lives? What mark has God set for us? Are we living above or below God’s standard?
When I talk about living life above the bar, an important question has to be asked. What is the bar? The bar represents those things that keep us from our true potential. It represents the rules and regulations put upon us by religion and society.
If the minorities lived by the rules set by our society as to what they could and could not do, then many if not most of them would still be living in substandard conditions. But because a few of them challenged the bar, they set the course and path for those who would follow. They gave hope that others could now live above the bar set by society instead of below it.
You might say for the African Americans it began with Rosa Parks who in 1955 refused to sit in the back of the bus. Her refusal to live below the bar sparked the Civil Rights Movement that helped launch a young Baptist pastor into national prominence, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
For the Hispanics in the U.S. it was Cesar Chavez and the labor union he help organized, “The United Farm Workers of America.” His leadership led to numerous improvements for Hispanic and migrant farm workers.
Can we say the same? Society has set the bar, but it’s our choice whether or not we will live above or below it.
But let’s not forget religion. Religion has a whole lot of rules and regulations that really have nothing to do with God’s word. Religion tells us what we can and cannot eat or wear.
In Judaism there’s the dietary laws, which mostly comes out of God’s word, but in the New Testament these have been nullified. First in a vision where God told to Peter that what Peter thought was unclean by the law, God has made clean and thus permissible for consumption (Acts 10:15). We are also told not to judge anyone on what they eat or drink (Colossians 2:16).
Most religions also have dress codes, some being extremely rigid where the punishment definitely doesn’t fit the crime. Christians also have their own dress code; mostly unspoken especially when it comes to what’s permissible in church.
When I was an elder back in Las Vegas, the associate pastor made a mandate as to what elders were to wear. When Sunday rolled around I showed up, but not in the required clothing. Instead I wore cutoff jeans, and old tee shirt, and a day’s growth on my face.
When the associate pastor saw me, he brought it to the attention of the senior pastor who told him to leave it alone. He knew I was spoiling for a fight, because I wasn’t going to let anyone put on me what wasn’t clearly stated in the Scriptures. I wasn’t going to allow anyone to place standards on my life that was less than everything that God had set for me. I was a rebel, and as I like to think, I was a rebel with a cause.
How Do We Live Below The Bar?
1. Living in Mediocrity
The word, mediocrity, means exactly what it sounds like, in the middle, something that is somewhat this or somewhat that. Similar words are fair, average, middling, second-rate, humdrum, indifferent, and so-so. Phrases include, middle of the road, run of the mill, and garden variety.
Living life just to get by, living a mediocre life, is not the type of life that gets us over the top. Rather it’s the type of life that keeps us safe and secure. Living a mediocre life is not the type of life that sees us accomplishing much more, accomplishing the miraculous, accomplishing the fantastic, accomplishing great things for God.
It was living such a mediocre Christian life that Jesus rebuked the church of Laodicea for living.
“I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth.” (Revelation 3:15-16 NKJV)
The church in Laodicea was a rich church and really didn’t need help from anyone, and as it would seem, not even from God. They were a church playing it safe. They were a church doing just enough to be called a church, but not trusting in God for the truly significant.
They were a church, but they were living life under the bar, not above it. And because of their mediocrity, which Jesus called lukewarm and nauseating, this would be the cause of their being vomited out of His mouth.
How many of us fit that description? We’re living for Jesus, but only just enough to get by. For many it’s coming to church only on Sunday, doing just enough to feel safe, but not enough to affect or make any real difference for the Kingdom of God.
That’s living in mediocrity, and not only is it offensive to God, but it is also living under the full potential God has created for us to be and to become.
2. Living in Complacency
Complacency is a feeling of self-satisfaction coupled with an unawareness of danger. It’s the feeling we have when we’re satisfied with ourselves, and our achievements, no matter what else may be happening in our lives.
Og Mandino, author of the bestselling book “The Greatest Salesman in the World,” said, “I will not allow yesterday’s success to lull me into today’s complacency, for this is the great foundation of failure.”
Solomon calls complacency foolishness that will lead to a person’s eventually destruction.
“The complacency of fools will destroy them.” (Proverbs 1:32b NKJV)
We see complacency on the part of Israel right after their victory over the city of Jericho. Jericho was a strong well-fortified city, beyond the ability of Israel to conquer. But following the instructions given by the Lord, and by faith believing in God and His word that the walls of Jericho came tumbling down.
Next on their hit list was the city of Ai. The people of Israel, however, were feeling over confident seeing how easily Jericho fell, a city that was much larger and stronger than puny little Ai.
“It’s a small town, and it won’t take more than two or three thousand of us to destroy it. There’s no need for all of us to go there.” (Joshua 7:3 NLT)
They were self-confident, completely unaware of the danger of not consulting the Lord before the battle. So, they sent just 3,000 men to conquer the city, and they were soundly defeated.
They thought they didn’t have to bother God on this one. They got complacent, and because of that, along with Achan’s sin by not following the Lord’s directions concerning the spoils of Jericho, they were defeated, not just once, but twice by this insignificant little city.
That’s what happens when we live a smug self-satisfied life thinking we’re safe. We become complacent thinking that everything is okay, and so we don’t take time to go to God and get His take on the situations we face.
We don’t read God’s word because we go to church on Sunday. We don’t take time to pray and listen to God because others, like preachers and teachers, do that for us. And because things are running smoothly, we are completely unaware of the trials coming our way.
And so, living a complacent life is living life under the bar. It’s not living the life God has for us. It’s not living up to God’s full potential.
And there are other ways we live under the bar, under our full God given potential.
• One is living a safe life by not allowing God’s word to challenge us, and our walk in the Lord.
• Another is living life according to religious rules rather than living a Spirit-filled life.
But God’s desire is for us to live our lives above the bar. This is what Jesus tells us when we learn to live our lives through Him, which is our signature verse for today.
“The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10 NKJV)
The thief is Satan and he steals, kills, and destroys this abundant life that is available through Jesus, and Satan does so through those things we have just covered, that is, those things that keep us under the bar rather than sailing over it. These are mediocrity, complacency, and not living a Spirit-filled life.
How Can We Live Above The Bar?
Following the track and field sport of pole-vaulting, there are a couple of things we can do.
1. Make Sure We’re Flexible
In pole-vaulting, if the person wants to get above the bar, their pole has to flexible enough to bend but not break. But if it is too flexible it will bend, but give no lift. So, the key is to make sure the pole has the right flexibility, which is what I call living a balanced Christian life.
One of my favorite saying is “Blessed are the flexible, for they shall not be broken.”
In the Bible you’ll find this unwillingness to bend in many different ways like when Pharaoh hardened his heart refusing to free the Israelites (Exodus 7:13), and the consequences were ten plagues, the last one being the death of the first born.
This unwillingness to bend oneself to God can also be seen when God called Israel “stiff-necked,” and “hard-hearted.” God also called them obstinate and stubborn, and the consequences were severe. God allowed their enemies to rule over them, and eventually Babylon came and took them away as captives, completely destroying Jerusalem.
The Bible says that these are the consequences that await everyone who remains in this state, who hardens their hearts toward God, refusing to bend and obey.
“A man who remains stiff-necked after many rebukes will suddenly be destroyed–without remedy.” (Proverbs 29:1 NIV)
“But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when His righteous judgment will be revealed.” (Romans 2:5 NIV)
The people were unwilling and refused to bend to the will of God, and as a result they were experiencing God’s judgment.
Being flexible to God was at the heart of Evan Robert’s simple prayer that literally changed not only his life, but also the country of Wales and the entire world, as revival swept around the globe. His prayer was three simple words, “Lord, bend me.”
Therefore, if we want to live above the bar we need to be flexible and bendable to God’s will and stop being stiff necked and hard hearted.
2. Get a Running Start
A pole-vaulter can’t clear the bar by standing still. Instead they have to take a running start.
When David went out to do battle with Goliath he wasn’t hesitant or doubtful. It says he ran toward the battle (1 Samuel 17:48). While Goliath came with all his military might and skill, David believed he had the edge, because he came to the battle in the name of the Lord (1 Samuel 17:45).
David had total confidence in the victory.
David was flexible to the will of God, not settling for the standards set by others when he refused not only be quite, but also when he refused to wear Saul’s armor. David lived life above the bar.
The Bible talks about getting a running start towards good, and not evil. The Bible says the Lord hates feet that race towards doing wrong (Proverbs 6:18). Instead we need to run toward the Lord, and we do that by moving forward in His word.
“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” (Psalm 119:32 NIV)
When we run in the pathway of God’s word, then God will set us free.
The writer of Hebrews tells us that we are to run the race set before us, but in the process throw off, that is confess and repent of all the sin and the weight that inhibits our growth.
“Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.” (Hebrews 12:1 NKJV)
The phrase to “lay aside,” means a violent taking off. It doesn’t mean to unbutton our shirt and hang it up, rather it means to tear our shirt off and throw it to the side.
Now, the phrasing, “every weight,” does not exactly mean sin. This is dealt with right afterwards. So, the “weight” that is mentioned I believe are those things that are not sin, but that are holding us back from running the race, that is, becoming everything that God has for our lives and for His kingdom.
When pole-vaulters get ready to make the jump they strip down to shorts and a tee shirt. They don’t jump in their sweats because that just adds extra weight and prevents them from making it over the bar.
The same goes for our lives. There’s just a lot of junk we continue to hold onto to, like guilt and shame over the past. We also continue to do those things that may not be sin, but is unhealthy for our lives. This is added weight preventing us from being everything God has created for us to be, that is, it prevents us from getting above the bar.
3. Plant Our Lives in Christ
It really doesn’t do any good if we have the perfect pole, or we’ve gained the necessary speed to make the jump, if we don’t get our pole properly planted, we’ll end up in a messy heap at the bottom.
Jesus said that if we get our lives firmly planted in Him, then we’ll live our lives above the bar, that is, eternal life, but if we don’t then we’ll end up crashing and burning under God’s wrath.
“He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” (John 3:36 NKJV)
That’s what happens to everyone who doesn’t get his or her life firmly planted in Jesus Christ. Jesus said that all those who do not believe are condemned, and will end up in the lake of fire (John 3:18, Revelation 21:8).
Talk about crashing and burning.
Jesus said that while belief in God is a good thing, but to be saved they needed to believe in Him.
“Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me.” (John 14:1 NKJV)
And then Jesus said in verse six, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6 NKJV)
When we make that profession of faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord, that is, when we plant our lives in Jesus Christ, then we’ll live life above the bar, not only while we’re here on earth, but also when this life is over and eternity in heaven is ours.
It doesn’t get any better than that!
If we truly want to make our lives count, if we want to live above the bar, and not below it, then we need to…
• Be flexible and bendable in the hands God.
• Run the race that has been set before us, removing the sin and all the junk that keeps us from moving forward in God’s calling upon our lives.
• And finally, we need to get firmly planted in Jesus Christ, and then when the winds and waves of adversity come we’ll be firm, steady, and assured of eternity in heaven in the end.
Therefore, as individuals, and as a church, let’s start living our lives above the bar and no longer below it.
Wednesday Evening Bible Study