What’s Beyond the Zebras? (7/12/15)

Posted by on Jul 17, 2015 in Sermons | 0 comments

Pastor Jim’s sermon on July 12 2015 called us to look beyond our own self imposed boundaries and to allow God to work through us; even if He takes us to places we’ve never been before.

Click the below “Play” button to listen to the recording, then scroll down and follow along…



Our scripture was from Genesis 12:1-5…

Genesis 12:1-5

Now the Lord had said to Abram:

“Get out of your country, From your family And from your father’s house, To a land that I will show you.

2 I will make you a great nation; I will bless you And make your name great; And you shall be a blessing.

3 I will bless those who bless you, And I will curse him who curses you; And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

4 So Abram departed as the Lord had spoken to him, and Lot went with him. And Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.

5 Then Abram took Sarai his wife and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people whom they had acquired in Haran, and they departed to go to the land of Canaan. So they came to the land of Canaan.  NKJV 

 “What is ‘Impossible’ for man, is Possible with God”

The Gospel According to Dr. Seuss…

On_Beyond_ZebraOK, that heading might be a bit “over the top”, but isn’t it true that God finds ways of communicating with us using ordinary things?  Could there be a message for us, even in a children’s book?

In his book On Beyond Zebra,  Dr. Seuss asks his readers to consider what would happen if there were letters beyond the letter “Z”?  He goes on to give them names… words that only Dr. Seuss could come up with. 

But the book does challenge us to imagine life beyond margins.  “Most people stop with Z, but not me.”  There’s a great world beyond Z (or Zebra); a world of risk taking, stepping outside of comfort zones, a world where we leave our limitations and enter God’s possibilities.


 Alpha and Omega… Stain glass05 _Resurrection_ Alpha-Omega

At the front of our sanctuary is the “Resurrection Window,” a stained glass window depicting the first Easter morning.  At the top of this window are the Greek letters Alpha and Omega, reminding us that Jesus is the first and the last.  He is in control of the beginnings and endings.  He is the only one who knows our boundaries; He’s in control of our “Omega” or “Z”.  He can take us beyond what we think our “Zebra” to be.


How dare that teacher tell him to think outside the box!?!

How can WE live beyond Zebra (or “Omega”)???  What stops US from going past our self-imposed boundaries?



Comfort?  Abraham had Faith to Move On…

Abraham (Abram as he was named then), was in his golden years.  He had worked hard all his life and had amassed some wealth.  He was all set to kick back and live out his days with his wife Sarai, kids, and grandkids.

But then God came along with some different ideas.  God tells him to leave his retirement behind, to get up and travel 1000 miles away to a different land.  To make a new start.  To envision a boundary that’s way past your end of life vision.  There’s still more life to  go!

What would your reaction be?  You may think, “Hey God- why ME?  Get someone younger!

But God sees a bigger picture.  Abram (soon to be renamed Abraham) will be the father of many.  He will be the one through which God’s Seed (Jesus Christ)  comes.  Who can blame Abe if he doubted and hesitated, but God had so much more in store for him… way beyond Zebra.  So, Abraham obeyed and went.

In Dr. Seuss’ book, the teacher told young Conrad Cornelius O’Donald O’Dell…

“…on beyond Zebra! Explore! Like Columbus! Discover new letters!

Like WUM is for Wumbus, My high-spouting whale who lives high on a hill And who never comes down ’til it’s time to refill.

So, on beyond Z! It’s high time you were shown That you really don’t know all there is to be known.”


 You and I are here because of Abraham’s faithfulness


Lack of Faith or Vision?  God’s Word Assures Us…


Jeremiah recorded God’s promise (Jeremiah 29:11):

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.   NIV

If we really believe that, then what is stopping us from going out and doing God’s will???

The Bible gives us these promises over and over…

Jesus knew what would happen to Him when He went to Jerusalem.  But yet He “went beyond Zebra”- trusted His Father- and was “determined to go to Jerusalem and die and rise on the third day

Abram went way beyond Zebra, and the Bible consistently uses his example to remind us that God will take us beyond our boundaries of self-imposed limitations and sin:

  • Acts 7:2-4               Stephen remembered Abram
  • Psalm 105:9-11      The Psalms testify to God’s faithfulness…
  • Romans 6:17          God frees us from sin, just as He changed Abram’s life…
  • Ezekiel 36:24         God promises to bring us back home…
  • Isaiah 51:2              Abraham gave birth to a nation…
  • Joshua 24:3            God encourages us by reminding us…
  • Nehemiah 9:7-8     God’s promises of victory are true…


Fear of Failure?  Not an option…

During the Apollo 13 mission (and depicted in the movie Apollo 13), mission controller Gene Kranz declared:

“We’ve never lost an American in space and we’re sure as (heck…) not gonna lose one on my watch!

Failure is not an option!”

Failure is not an option.  The best minds that the country had to offer were  focused on bringing the crew of the failed spaceship safely back to earth.

Gene Kranz was a smart guy and experienced problem solver when it came to space flight.  He’s definitely the kind of person you want in your corner when things get rough.  But- He’s not God!

Imagine having the almighty Creator in your corner, fighting for success?

In Matthew 16:18 Jesus said:

And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.

When we (“The Church”) are doing the work of God, WE Cannot Fail!!!  Then why do we fear failure and try to play it safe?

Teachers often complain that students will not give an answer for a multiple choice question if they’re unsure of the answer. All they have to do is circle one response and at least they have a chance. 

But many students would rather leave the question blank than to give it their best guess and give wrong answer.

Fear of Failure!!!

Is it possible that many of God’s people, perhaps local churches, and perhaps even denominations prefer to play it safe and not take a risk when God extends an invitation to do something “new” or “out-of-the-box”? When there is a need to serve in some capacity do we listen to the Holy Spirit’s calling or choose to allow excuses generated from fear keep us from going?


Stuck in the Box?  God Keeps Thinking Outside of Our Boxes…

Abraham was “called” by God to think beyond the norm, to trust Him and boldly go where no one from Ur had gone before. God was asking Abraham to think of the possibilities and go beyond Zebra! It’s as if Abraham anticipated the words of Jeremiah 32:17, “Ah Lord God! Behold, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and by Your outstretched arm! Nothing is too difficult for You” (NASB).

Scripture and history record  the stories of many people who had the faith to get out of the box and to think, imagine and to dream.  To trust God and take Him up on His offer to bring us beyond the boundaries we impose on ourselves.

John Wesley endured fierce opposition when he traveled around England speaking to his “societies.”  And yet, despite the riots and rejection of the established church, Wesley was given grace to see beyond the Zebra when people would stand for hours to hear this preacher proclaim the Truths about God.
Abram had a faith which was founded on a truth about God which would later be written by the prophet Jeremiah: “Ah, Sovereign Lord, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for you.” NIV
Would we even know anything about the Burning Bush experience if Moses didn’t say “yes”; if Moses didn’t trust God and Go?  And he was 80 years old! God commanded him to go the the powerful Pharoah of Egypt and tell him to “let my people go,”  and Moses had the faith to go way beyond Zebra (Exodus 3:1-4:16)
Esther put her life on the line by daring to speak to the king, uninvited. She risked her life, but saved an entire nation (see the book of Esther).
Nehemiah faced heavy opposition, but remained faithful in his task of re-building Jerusalem’s walls.  He had  no money, no influence, and yet he went beyond Zebra and led the return of God’s people from Babylon. ( see the book of Nehemiah).
Deborah was a Judge during the time where “Israel had no king… everyone did as he saw fit…” She was a woman living in a patriarchal society, but God called her to go beyond Zebra and to become the liberator and defender of God’s people and the faith (Judges 4-5).
Despite a “Thorn in the flesh” and constant persecution, Paul considered his life to be “poured out like a drink offering” and “ran the race” in order to gain the prize of knowing Christ.  And yet, he started out as a Pharisee and a persecutor of Christians.  Christ’s enemy!  Talk about being called to go beyond Zebra!  Saul became Paul, and and this enemy of Christ became His missionary to the Gentiles and church planter (Acts 9)
Despite the shame of having a baby “before its time,” Mary responded to the angel’s call and willingly became the mother of Jesus.  She went went way beyond zebra so that God’s Son, our Messiah, could be born into human history (Luke 1:26-59).

All of these were ordinary people who trusted in our Extraordinary God.

The song “God of the Impossible” by Everfound,  takes us to the familiar story of David and Goliath and then challenges us to think beyond our own possible.  Part of the lyrics are:

To hear the sound of the cynical, die out with the sound of the giant’s fall.

Ohhh, oh ohh! I dare to believe in incredible things.

Ohhh, oh ohh! I’m ready to go, I’m ready to gooo-oh! Here I am! Lord send me!

I won’t look back, cause I was made to be a part, of the, impossible! You’re God, of the, impossible”!

The little boy David want way past the boundaries imposed on him by “common wisdom.”  David had total faith in God and realized that “impossible” only exists in our own minds.

Ordinary people- like you or me- can go beyond Zebra and do the “impossible.”


What’s Holding Us Back???

Is there any reason  why this sanctuary can’t be filled every Sunday?  Is there any reason why we can’t create such an outpouring of God’s grace that the pantry can feed all of our town’s needy?  Is there any reason why we can’t provide “a Future with Hope” and get all of those still left homeless by Superstorm Sandy back into their homes?

How many of us are thinking in the back of our minds, “oh that’s impossible.”  Then go beyond Zebra!

With God,  nothing is impossible!

Hebrews 11:8
 By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going  NIV


What about us?  What about Pitman United Methodist Church?  Where can we be 3-5 years from  now?  Where is God calling us?


Several years ago there were a group of students from many different Christian denominations who had gathered to discuss the question, “What are the minimal requirements for being a Christian?” This invited other questions such as, “What do you have to believe to be a Christian?” and “How do you have to be baptized?”

The discussion dragged on and on for a while, until one woman rose and headed for the door. The convener called out to the woman and said, “Excuse me. But where are you going? Don’t you like our discussion?” The woman replied, No, I really don’t. I’m not interested in what is the least requirement to be a Christian. I came here to find out what’s the most I can do for my Jesus.

That’s the call for us if we are to be true disciples for Christ. The question is not what do we have to do to just get by, but rather how much can we do for our Lord, who has done so much for us.
It is that kind of faith that takes us beyond the expected, to something greater. It’s an exciting faith that takes from A to Zebra and then beyond, all the way to the One who is the “Alpha and Omega”


The teacher told Conrad Cornelius O’Donald O’Dell, “If you stay home with Zebra, You’re stuck in a rut. But on beyond Zebra, You’re anything but!
Friends, God has called each of us to go beyond Zebra so that our lives and our church will be a magnet of drawing all people to fellowship in Jesus Christ.  Let me ask, in what ways is God asking YOU, me, our church, even our denomination to go beyond Zebra.  As Dr. Seuss writes,

“When you go beyond Zebra, Who knows…?

There’s no telling What wonderful things You might find yourself spelling!”


God says Go.  Go out beyond Zebra.  Go out and make a difference.  He has given us a mission and the power and authority to complete it…

In Matthew 28:18-20  Jesus said,  “All authority in Heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.
In Mark 16:15 Jesus is quoted as saying, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.
In Luke 24:45-48 we read, “Then He opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.
In Acts 1:8 Jesus said, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”


What is God calling US to do?  Where do you see our church in the next 5 years?  What if we cast aside our boundaries and went beyond the norm- tried something “crazy”?   It might just be that little “beyond Zebra” that He wants us to do.  What is it He’s calling us to do? Together- with the power and authority of the Holy Spirit, we can go beyond Zebra.

When you go beyond Zebra- who knows- you there’s no telling what wonderful things you might find yourself spelling.




 Quiz Time!

As you reflect on what you’ve just heard/read, give this quiz a try.  If you don’t understand an answer (or if you disagree with the “correct” answer, post a comment)…


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