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“Freed to Live Unto God” sermon from 4/13/08

Change (Acts 9:1-19)
Identity Crisis
“Get in the Game” call story, and other Jesus encounters
Perseverance/Defiant hope (Psalm 27:1-6)
Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers (3/19)
Our call to come and die (Phil 3:10-12, Galatians 2:20, & Romans 6:5, 10-11)

Recite Psalm 27:1-6 (in Hebrew) – Hear the Word of the Lord from the book that we love in Psalm 27:1-6 in its original language. A psalm of David…

A word that is brought up here a lot that I don’t think we naturally like too much is CHANGE. We are easily hesitant to accept change. I’d venture to say that most of the time we like things to stay just the way they are. Now let’s revisit what I just did in front of you all on this stage. I just recited a whole passage of Scripture to you in Hebrew. Within the recitation I had actions and a certain tone of voice and bodily posture. Now I am sure none of you sat there in your chair and thought, “oh, how nice, Mike is doing a Hebrew reading for us today.” No! You probably thought it was a bit strange. “No one has ever done this before,” you might have thought, or, “I can’t understand a word he is saying!” I doubt there is a person in the room that it didn’t catch off guard. This proves my point to a certain extent. Change occurs in life. Change occurs on a daily basis. I assume you all changed your underwear this morning and your clothes (or at least I hope). Maybe you changed what you ate for breakfast, or were disappointed or excited depending on the weather change from yesterday. Lots of changes occur over time too like our hair-line, vision, or bodily physique. None of us think we are as good looking as we were in our prime. Just take a look at these pictures of me throughout the years… (Compile pictures of baby, Duder, Pookie, Tough H.S. guy, Tom Cruise, Bearded Mountaineer, & Married Man)

Now, one person who knows change is the Apostle Paul in the NT. Let’s look at what happens to him upon the road to Damascus one day. Turn with me to Acts 9:1-19
1Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest 2and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. 3As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
5″Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.
“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. 6″Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”
7The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. 8Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. 9For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.
10In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!” “Yes, Lord,” he answered.
11The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. 12In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.”
13″Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem. 14And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.”
15But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. 16I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”
17Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, 19and after taking some food, he regained his strength.

NOW THIS IS A MOMENT OF CHANGE! Change happens when we encounter Jesus! Not all of us experience such a drastic change as Paul did in the story we just read. Not all of us are struck down while walking upon a road. Sure, I am polish, and I’ve tripped and stumbled over things often, but I’ve never blamed that on God before (maybe I should rethink this). You may not have been struck blind or have encountered an angelic being or experienced drastic healing before. However, no matter how or where you have encountered Jesus sometime down the line, change occurs. This doesn’t always happen in one full-swoop like occurrence either. Often it’s a process, something that grows or takes on greater levels of intimacy. Paul summed up what happens in a life that encounters Jesus in his letter to the Corinthian Church when he said, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (II Corinthians 5:17)

What happens to us when we are struck by Jesus is that we face a NEW IDENTITY. For example, let’s take a look at MY WALK WITH JESUS… 9 years ago I had an encounter somewhat like Paul’s. I was attending a college-based Christian fellowship for the first time when Jesus came upon me. My Damascus road up to that evening involved fooling around and having too much to drink with friends earlier in the week. Two of my very close friends (one my girlfriend at the time, the other a good friend from high school) were put into situations of compromise while under the influence. I won’t get into the details, but these occurrences shocked me and had me rethinking my life and actions up to this point. That evening while at the Christian fellowship and participating in prayer I encountered the Jesus I had heard of, but never knew. The person leading us in prayer encouraged us to place that which was heavy upon us onto Christ and as I did I felt the weight of it release, chills rush through me, and like I was being held in thin air. It was the craziest thing I ever experienced and still feels odd as I share it with you today. And the affects of it have left their mark too. It took about 6 months for a lot of it to sink in but one night I finally gave my life to Jesus. I didn’t want that of the past to consume my life anymore and I wanted to walk the path forward with Jesus. I have changed a lot since then and have had many other encounters with Jesus along the way. My actions, persona, and heart have changed; along with my faith. Over the years that has gone from weak to strong and then back to weak and strong again. As you know as well I have been led to different and seemingly awkward places along the way also.

Identity Crises:
That brings me to my next point… As I have already brought up, change happens a lot and it is not something we naturally like. Often our new identity clashes with our old identity. In this life, life happens. Often in our new identity in Christ we run into what I’ve learned to call identity crises along the way. These happen all the time. Unexpected things happen, a loved one passes, tension builds in a relationship, we lose a job, we sense a need to change and don’t know how, or we are led to a seemingly foreign place. Why do these happen? Well, like what we heard about a couple weeks ago, Jesus places things in front of us that don’t feel right, look right, or hardly make any sense. We encounter such things and we can’t get a full grasp on them. They seem out of our span of view or intellect. They seem beyond our reality, situation, or circumstances. Actually, in truth, they are! This is Jesus we are encountering here. He does and desires to do things beyond our conception; beyond our reality. That’s how He takes us further up and further in to faith and the new creation he is making us into. Again, take a look at my walk with Christ up to this point…

Let’s take a look at my “CALL” JOURNEY. It was about 5 years ago now when I was sitting in church one Sunday morning and I had a vision. That morning I closed my eyes while my pastor led us in prayer and in my mind’s eye I saw me, back in middle school sitting on a bench, waiting to get called upon to enter a basketball game. There I was in full uniform; tang-top, shorts, high tops, and youthful appearance (Pookie!), and I was watching the game. Suddenly from down the side of the bench I could see a huge hand like figure stretched out and pointing my way. As I looked and noticed there was a wrist flick. I WAS WANTED IN THE GAME! Now, have you ever wanted something so bad, but just felt you were constantly sitting and sitting while waiting for it to happen? That’s how I felt in that moment. For so long I had been sitting on the bench just itching to get in the game and now I was given the opportunity. I was beside myself! This was a change I was excited about!

Now, what happened from here? Well, I got in the game. I joined a Christian leadership team, began doing some discipleship and other things, but about a year later I found myself in a similar place. I had begun retreating back to the bench again, or maybe I was even stepping further back and into the bleachers. I had become distracted. Things didn’t go like I had planned or expected. The more I faced the game I didn’t feel good enough; I wasn’t successful all the time. I suffered identity crises as my new identity clashed with the old identity and was called to new and foreign places in Christ. Then God floored me once again. He helped me understand why I reacted in such a way and was there to prod me back into the game. Now, if any of you have seen High School Musical you may recognize this dialogue. My dialogue with God in that moment went something like this… I gotta Get my, get my head in the game. You gotta Get’cha, get’cha, get’cha, get’cha head in the game!

Now, since then, there have been numerous similar occasions between myself and God. A year after this last occasion I was in South Africa and heard the more specific call to enter into ministry and go to seminary. That pep talk experience wasn’t enough, though. I thought God was nuts. I had already been to school once and on my way to my second degree. Being in front of people scared me to death. This call seemed beyond me and my capabilities. Less than six months later while at work one day, God had to come at me and floor me once again saying,… Get’cha, get’cha, get’cha, get’cha head in the game (say what!?). He said to me, “Seriously, my plan is for you to go to seminary!” It was then that I could avoid God’s calling no longer. I started applying and visiting seminary schools. However yet again, it became apparent that I still wasn’t fully committed. I took steps and tested the waters but daily I often found new reasons to get back on the bench or bleachers and become a bystander. I knew what God wanted me to do, but I was freaked. It didn’t always feel right, look right, or make sense! But each day I had that voice in my head calling again,… Get’cha, get’cha, get’cha, get’cha head in the game (say what!?). I have this voice implanted forever in my head. (I am trying to give you voices in your head now too!)

Now, I could go on, but I think you get the picture. And obviously, you know a little bit about where my story goes from there. My point is, along the roads of our lives we encounter Jesus. Often things don’t happen how we expect or want them to. Many things in life don’t feel right, look right, or make sense. Things happen and we are a little lost; confused. We end up in an identity crisis. And,… well, if you think this gets any easier with Christ, it doesn’t. He’s here for the exact reason of to call us out of the box. He’s here to challenge us, to alter our courses and get us back on track. He’s here to call us back to who we were meant to be. But we don’t accept this prodding easily or naturally. Our view isn’t as big as God’s view. Our fleshly nature often keeps us focused on ourselves.

Defiant Hope:
Now, there is a bigger reason why I shared that Scripture passage in Hebrew with you this morning. There’s something here in David that I think we all need. It’s called a DEFIANT HOPE! Now I don’t know if you sensed it like I did, but as I memorized the passage for class a defiant hope came over me. David was feeling surrounded and attacked all around him. If you know much about his story, he was often running for his life. But he was supposed to become king! Why is he getting chased and hunted down by his adversary all the time? Why is it taking so long for God’s fulfillment to come into place? I am sure David encountered identity crises. I am sure at times he felt like giving up, or as if God was crazy. He must have thought this doesn’t feel right, look right, or make sense; I don’t get it!

But he wasn’t going to give up. He knew the Lord was on his side and he said, “The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life, of whom shall I be afraid?” David refused to let himself be beaten. He refused to let his heart fear or to lose his confidence! He cries out for one thing from the Lord. “One thing I ask from the Lord, this is what I seek. That I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord, and to seek Him in His temple.” In a sense, this was David’s pep talk with God. He could hear that voice in his head calling, Get’cha, get’cha, get’cha, get’cha head in the game (say what!?). David knew of God’s faithfulness and protection. He knew what he had been called for and he didn’t want to give up. There’s a quote by Oswald Chambers that I’ve read recently that fits this situation. While speaking of Abraham and his faith journey, Chambers says this, “Faith never knows where it is being led, but it loves and knows the One Who is leading.”

Our Call to Come and Die:
We are called to live into this type of faith on our walks with Jesus. This is what it means in the Bible to take on the call of dying to ourselves and living for Christ. We don’t always know where we are headed and what’s happening all the time. But we continue on in love and knowledge of the One Who is leading (Proverbs 3:5-6). The Apostle Paul had this to say in his letter to the Philippians, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of all that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me (Philippians 4:10-12).” This passage always challenges me. I always wonder whether I have the drive he has. Paul here says that he will stop at nothing to be united with Christ in His death and to attain to the resurrection from the dead. He’ll stop at nothing to TAKE HOLD OF ALL THAT FOR WHICH CHRIST JESUS TOOK HOLD OF HIM.

You see, we need to get passed ourselves. We need to stop letting ourselves in our excuses, our fears, our failures, our disbelief and lack of faith hold us back. How is this possible? Well,… it has been made possible for us in Jesus Christ, in His life, death, and resurrection. Paul had this to say to the Galatians, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (Galatians 2:20).” If we count ourselves as Christians than what Paul says here is true of us. If we have put our faith and trust in Christ than that means that we have been crucified with Christ and we no longer live, but Christ lives in us. In another letter of his, Paul says, “If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection… The death [Christ] died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus… (Romans 6:5, 10-11)

Live unto God:
In the same way that Christ died once for all and now lives to God, we too have died with him and are now able to live to God. We are able to enter the game. We are freed and no longer captives to ourselves, our chains, or our adversaries. We are captivated by Christ and His love and grace. And in and through Him we are freed to live to God.
Now, if I remain in the bleachers I am living to myself; I am subject to my fears, my feelings, and to all that holds me back. If I am on the bench I am living to those around me; supporting the team and following the orders of the coach. But, when I am in the game I am living for Jesus; I have died to myself and that which has held me back; I have died to those voices telling me I can’t, I am not good enough, or have just not given me a chance. While in the game, I must keep my head in the game, and live to God in the freedom I have in Jesus Christ…

SO, in closing, Get’cha, get’cha, get’cha, get’cha yourself in the game!