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Zeroing In On Your Calling

As the pace of life speeds up, the more easily it is to become distracted in every aspect of life. That would also include Christian life. Sometimes it is hard to stay focused on what is important. This presentation, given in September of 2018 at the Common Faith Network Feast of Tabernacles, draws attention back to the reason God calls people into his church. Do you know why God called you and what he wants you to do every day?

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I was talking to a young woman sometime back. She had been referred to my counseling practice for depression. And even though she was depressed, she was a kind-hearted person – the kind of person you just can’t help but like. I asked her why she had come, and she said that despite being on anti-depressants, and seeing a therapist, she had attempted suicide twice in the last three years. Now that got my attention. She’s coming to me for help and I don’t like it when people die on my watch. 

She told me that her entire family had always looked down on her, and for as long as she could remember, she felt like she didn’t belong and was of no value. She also told me, in the course of our discussion, that her aunt and her grandfather had both suffered from long painful illnesses, and that she was the caregiver for each one of them until the end. So I saw that, contrary to how she felt about herself, she was a contributor. And I also learned that she believed in God and was going to church. She told me that she had recently considered going on a fast to clear her head and to start studying the Bible again, but she said that the thing that was holding her back was a doubt that she had. I asked her, “What doubt is that?” She said, “Well, what’s the point of it all? What’s the use? It seems like I don’t have any place here in this life. I feel lost. I don’t know what to do and I am tired of trying.” So I think we can see where that feeling comes from, can’t we? She was made to feel this way about herself from the beginning. 

So never afraid to talk Bible to those who profess to believe in it, I said, “Do you believe that all Christians are called by God for a purpose?” She said, “Well, I’ve heard that, but I have never been able to find out what my purpose is. I’m angry with God for calling me and then not showing me what to do. And that idea comes and goes – I ought to just escape it all.” 

Now I know, because I work with people who are depressed a lot, right? I probably see way more of those folks than most of you might, so I admit that my perspective could be skewed. But it seems to me that many people in our world don’t know why they are here. Lenny talked about that yesterday, didn’t he? Quite a bit, actually. That helped me, Lenny. So that made me feel a bit better about all that. But the church seems to always shadow society. I’ve noticed that church folks ask me frequently a lot of the same questions I get in the counseling office. “Why did God call me?” “What am I supposed to do?” “What’s my gift?” And I’ve also learned that just because a person has not asked that question, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they know the answer. A lot of us seem to struggle with this issue. On the other hand, some people are not bothered about this issue at all, because they never think about it. And there are other yet, who are relieved that they don’t, because that would just mean more work for them. And there are still other people who are afraid to find out, because they suspect that it might be too hard. God might ask them to do something that they could not or would not do. 

So, by comparison, let’s look at something the apostle Paul said. He said this as part of a greeting in a letter that he wrote. It’s in Romans 1:1 – it says:

Romans 1:1 – I Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God…. 

So Paul knew that as a bondservant of Jesus Christ, part of his calling was to be an apostle. And he knew this because God told him in person. Wouldn’t it be great if God would just come down and tell all of us, “Here’s what I want you to do? This is your job.” Well, actually, He’s already done that. It’s laid out in black and white, plain as day in the Bible already. Do you know what it is? Well, if you’ll slowly slide your eyes over to the big screen, because the title of this sermon, Zeroing In on Our Calling, you can detect today that we’re going to get specific about what God wants each one of us to do with the calling that He has given us. I hope to keep this sermon title before your eyes for the whole sermon, so if you ever become confused about the point I’m driving at – which happens sometimes with me – you can see it. And I hope you folks working the slides will help me with that. 

Now, some of us, when asked why God called us, we go to the scripture about spiritual gifts. I think Paul’s was a spiritual gift – called to be an apostle. I know that I was not called to be an apostle. How about you? Don’t answer that. Paul knew because God told him that he was to be sent to the Gentiles as God’s instrument to call them to Christ, as he was an apostle. 

Now, on the other side of that, I think it is safe to say that we know – all of us know – we were called to be a part of the Church of God – the body of Christ – because it says that in the Bible, doesn’t it? And I think it’s safe to say that each one of us fits in that body, right where God wants us to be, because that’s what God says He’s done with each of us. So that’s some of the bedrock that we can think about. 

Maybe some of us can see that, somehow, we wound up doing something to help the church or other people in a special way. Many of us operate various ministries in the church. I can think of Jim and Linda Sexton, who organize our morning breakfasts, along with all the people who help them. I don’t know if the activity itself is a spiritual gift, but I do know that the willingness to do them is. I mean, how many of us have gone to those breakfasts without ever a thought of helping with it? So yes, serving is a gift of the Spirit. I’m not implying, by the way, that everybody that goes and eats there should help, because the reason we have that is because we know people are busy, it’s a quick way to get something to eat in the morning, and it’s good for fellowship. So, if it’s not your gift, then you’re doing something else. Right? 

So there are a number of others with this gift of service who could easily come to mind. So, without calling your names – because I don’t want to go anymore overtime than I’m going to do – God bless all of you for your service, because, without your gift, we could not operate this festival. That points up the purpose of spiritual gifts – to drive the church forward. Spiritual gifts are often about form and function, aren’t they? 

Now, Elaine and I have a ministry, as well, and we’ve been at it for fourteen years now, but I don’t know if that could be called a special calling or a spiritual gift over and above simply being a part of the church. We were in the church for thirty-six years before we started our ministry. If that was our whole purpose for being called, what were we doing the first thirty-six years? 

Some people are also good with music, like all the folks we saw on stage today and all Feast. Others are good at speaking. Others, yet, are good at organizing. And we could go on, but as we age, all of that starts to degrade. And then what? And in addition to this, many of us don’t know what we’re good at – what our gifts are or how to use them for the benefit of the church – so we feel adrift or lost, confused or useless. We look at others who have talents and have found a place to use them in the church, and we wish we could be like them. But we’re not. 

Now, what if I told you that all of those gifts, as great as they are, are not really why God has called and chosen any of us. There’s something much greater than all the gifts in the world. It’s something so central, so unifying, so helpful that it is more powerful than all the gifts put together. There’s one thing that God wants us to do more than anything else. And that one thing is what makes us all worth something to God, and it give each and every one of us a purpose for our life and our place in the Church of God. It’s something that we can all do, as long as we’re breathing – no matter whether we are sick or healthy, rich or poor, in a penthouse or in hospice, educated or not, disabled or not, good speaker or not, good singer or not, good organizer or not – and now notice this – whether you are old or young. All of you who are younger here…you know, 25% of the people at the Feast this year are eighteen-years-old or younger. That’s right. And that’s because this is a very prolific bunch. But I think that number is ramped up a bit by the absolutely excellent youth program that we have here. It’s amazing! (Applause) That’s probably the most labor-intensive thing that we do at the Feast. So thank you all for help with that. 

So all of you who are younger, did you know there’s something God has for you to do that you can do just as well as any adult in the church? You don’t have to be baptized to do it. You can even be in kindergarten and still do it. In fact, you don’t even have to be in kindergarten yet. I see some of you young people doing it every time I come here to the Feast. 

So when it comes to this one big thing, we are all on an equal footing with God and just as important to God as anybody else in the church. No one needs to feel less than here. We all have that same gift. And what is that one big thing that we can all do? Why did God call you and me? What is the center of our Christian life? Are you zeroed in on it? Well, Peter opens this up for us. He says:

1 Peter 2:21 – For to this you have been called – okay, so he’s going to tell us now, right? Are you ready for it? What is it? Why have you been called? For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving an example so that you might follow in his steps – like Junia and multiple thousands of others as well. 

That’s why you and I were called – to let our light shine out – to set an example of what a bondservant of God acts like in good times and bad. And that lived Christian life is a powerful, powerful force to draw other people to Jesus Christ. 

Now that we know what we’re supposed to be doing, let’s think about what that might look like in 2018. Let’s look at some examples. 

We lost Earl Williams in this past year. For those of you who didn’t know Earl, he was an elder in the Cincinnati congregation. Earl did not think that he was anyone special. In his own mind, he was just a regular guy. But other people noticed a difference in him. Earl’s wife, Barb – I talked to her just before the Feast – at one time in her life contracted cancer and was sick unto death. Earl walked around his neighborhood and knocked on the doors of all his neighbors and asked each and every one of them to pray for his wife. And God healed her. She’s alive and kicking today. At Earl’s funeral – I wasn’t there, but I heard this story – somebody made the comment after the funeral that probably half the people that were at that funeral had been healed after Earl had anointed them. He, apparently, had the gift of healing. So he was a remarkable man. Did you know that Earl almost lost his job once? He did. He worked for sort of a small company, I think. Earl didn’t really push religion to anybody. He just lived it. And people noticed that he was different in a good way. They started talking to him and asking him questions. And so one year, just before the Feast, seven people in his organization asked for time off to go to the Feast of Tabernacles. And that’s what almost cost him his job! In fact – I didn’t know this part until I talked to Barb – the company actually started shutting down during the Feast, so whoever wanted to go could. 

When people are in the presence of someone who is intentionally acting like Christ acted, they know something is different. It draws attention to our own desires to be better people and makes us want what they have. Earl is gone, but he is not forgotten here.

I had another young woman in my office recently. (Four out five people that go to counseling are women.) She was debilitated with anxiety. After assessing her situation, I began explaining to her why she had anxiety and what we could do together to reduce it or get rid of it. And, as I talked, she slowly reached for a tissue and started to dab her eyes. She was listening, but while she was listening, she was also crying. I asked her what the tears were about, and she said, “Oh, I’m just hopeful.” 

The hope of change stirs us. We all want to be better people. And when the hope of change comes to us, it moves us. Living a godly life gets the attention of other people. 

Elaine and I watched an excellent movie a few weeks ago. This is the poster for it (up on the screen), so you can find it if you want to watch it. It’s called Remember the Goal. It’s about a young woman who got a job teaching at a private Christian high school for girls. After getting her new job, she volunteer to coach the cross-country team, because the previous coach had, I guess, moved on. Because the girls, and their parents, and the administration did not understand that she knew a lot more about running than they did, they didn’t understand why she coached them the way she did. Consequently, they ridiculed her and resisted her at every turn. They even went behind her back to tried to get her fired with the administration. They told her she had this one year and that was it for her. On top of that, half the team quit, leaving only five girls. In cross-country, it’s the top five girls on your team that are the only ones whose scores are counted. The lowest score in cross-country is the team that wins. So whoever comes in first gets 1, 2 gets second – the lowest score wins. Well, half the team quit and that left just five girls to compete. At one point in the movie, she told the girls the story of Jesus when He went to heal a dead girl. When He told the crowd outside her house that she was asleep, it says in the King James translation, “They laughed Him to scorn.” Have you ever been laughed to scorn? Most of the time, it’s only done to me behind my back, but a few times people just thought that what I said was so ridiculous, they laughed at me. It’s quite an experience, actually. So they laughed Him to scorn. Of course, after the girl woke up, they all stopped laughing and they were really happy. We don’t what happened in the rest of the account. There’s nothing else said about it, but apparently, Jesus, then, just slipped away. He didn’t have to say anything. His actions did His talking. In this movie – after their last race, the coach was nowhere to be found. She disappeared after the event, so that the girls could be in the spotlight and enjoy their success. She didn’t need the spotlight. She didn’t need the recognition. She didn’t need the approval. And it wasn’t lost on the girls that she slipped out the back door, just like Jesus did. A lesson embedded in their young hearts forever!

Mothers, if you want to show your daughters a contemporary picture of a godly young Christian woman, this would be the movie to watch – Remember the Goal! I looked it up. You can rent it for $3.99 on Prime. It only costs ten bucks to buy it. 

You know, sometimes we don’t know what to say. We’re not good at debate. We’re not that quick with words. Listen, you don’t have to be. If you are exemplifying Christ in your life, you don’t have to say much of anything. You can just slip out the back door, because your lived example does the talking. Notice where the power to do this comes from. Peter tells us that when Jesus was reviled, He did not revile in return. When He suffered, He did not threaten, but continued in trusting Himself to Him who judges justly. A Christ-like life is founded on the belief that God takes care of us. He’s all we need. We don’t need the approval of people. We don’t need to be in the limelight. 

Now, the thought of trying to live this way is so intimidating that many of us think that we can never be good enough. But here’s the thing: no one has ever been perfect like Christ was. God knows that. He knows we’re not perfect. And He doesn’t need us to be, because He is strong and can use us as we are, if we’ll just let Him do it. Jesus is so powerful that He can amplify even our feeble attempts and make a mighty difference. 

Now, at the risk of turning this sermon into movie night, I have another one for you. It’s called I Am Not Ashamed. It was about Rachel Scott, the first person who was murdered at Columbine High School. She was shot specifically because the killers knew she was a Christian. She was sixteen. She was trying to live a Christian life. She left a lot of journals behind, so the filmmakers knew what was going on in her life. The person beside here, when she was shot, was wounded, so he heard what she said. He wasn’t killed. This movie makes good sense. It shows clearly how hard it is to be a Christian in public high school today. She had temptations on every side, pressure from the non-believers on every side. Her family was in divorce. I remember, at one point in the movie, they had a family prayer, and her mother prayed for gas money. So they were having a hard time of it. She was besieged by all kinds of personal problems. She was confused about how to go forward. Sometimes she did well at representing Christ, and other times, not so well. But, in the end, all of her imperfections and lack of life experience – even though that was a part of the picture – she influenced many people by her good example. After the terrible event, one of the boys who knew her left a note on her car. And it said, “You showed me how a Christian should act.” Now there are lots of Christians out there that show us how not to act. And he saw some of those. But he said of her, “You showed me how a Christian should act.” You should watch it – I’m Not Ashamed.  

Here’s another one. We showed a movie here at the Feast, right? I Can Only Imagine. It was based on a true story as well. It was about a young man who took refuge in God and godly music to deal with the terror of living with his abusive father. Well you know what? Because of his great example, his father later came to Christ. He was moved by his son’s faith in God. Later, his son said – in the movie – and I might not have this exactly right, but – he said, “If God can turn my father, who was a monster, into my best friend, He can do anything!” 

So think about what just happened. God used both of them to strengthen each other. God is awesome! He can do whatever He wants. And He’s totally unconventional. If you think you have Him figured out, just hide and watch. He’s going to do it in a different way. And we never know what He’s going to do next. 

Look at what Jesus said:

Matthew 5:14 – You are the light of the world. Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father, who is in heaven.

See, we don’t have to be perfect. We just have to try. Notice, too, that this is not about talking, but walking. No need to pester people or be obnoxious or preachy. No need for what Jesus called “casting pearls before swine.” Just live the faith! We know what Jesus looks like now. He radiates light. What are we like? Well, we’re like little candles, aren’t we? That’s all He needs. He doesn’t need you to radiate like He does. He just needs you to be a candle.

Okay, that’s one reason God wants us to follow Jesus’ example – it’s good for the church and us. The lived Christian life is the most potent evangelistic effort ever. Jesus grows His church when we act the way He acted. 

So let’s look at another reason why we ought to follow Jesus’ example every day. Romans 12:1 – Guy read this scripture on the first day, and it’s been read at least once or twice more, so maybe there’s a point here that God wants us to get something out of. 

Romans 12:1 – I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.

So this scripture shows us what real worship is. It’s not talking. It’s giving ourselves to God. Talk is easy. Action is hard. But let’s notice a variation on this translation. I’ve heard it translated reasonable or rational service as well. And let’s expand on that phrase, rational service. What does it mean? Well, it’s just makes sense that we would present our bodies, our minds, our hearts to God, as living sacrifices, willing to follow Him. That’s what it means. But why is that? Why does it make sense? 

Well, last Sabbath, on the site here, before the Feast, Glen Leslie mentioned that obeying God’s law is a really, big, huge, important deal to Him. Why? Because the law shows us how to live like Jesus. Paul said that Jesus was the end of the law. Of course, people have made a lot of use of that to say that we don’t have to keep it, but if you look at what the word, end, is in Greek, it’s telos, and it means to look down or see through. And so, if you look down the law, you see Jesus. He is the law personified, right? 

So, to enter the Kingdom of God – if we’re going to be in the Kingdom, we have to be like Jesus – our record has to be sin-free, doesn’t it? Without that, we’re all walking dead. (No, I’m not thinking about the show.) If we have not followed God’s rules perfectly, like Jesus did, then we won’t be there, except for one thing. Jesus and God did a sacrificial thing – the thing that proves that They love us beyond our wildest imagination – beyond anything we can hope for or think about. Jesus willingly suffered Himself to die a horrible death to pay for our sins. He died in our place. And then, three days later, His eyes opened and He walked out of that grave, alive for all time. In doing that, He conquered death for us. He was the Firstborn of many brethren, we’re told. Right? That’s going to happen to us, too – because of Him. Because of what He did, we get to live eternally with Him. He’s our Savior, our King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He’s our hero. We owe everything to Him. 

Paul said that Jesus is the Captain, the Author of our salvation. In other words, He wrote the Book on it – the Lamb of God who saved His people from their sins. And that’s why it makes sense that we would crave to be like Him. He died for us, and out of gratitude, we’re drawn to Him. We admit His way is better. We fall upon His love and mercy. We surrender. We give up and we become His followers, and we strive live like He lived. And that effort does not extol us. It glorifies Jesus, our Savior and God, our Father. I’ve tried being good by myself and I’m not very good at it. How about you? They get the glory! 

Do you crave to be like Jesus? Or, are you one of those people who just doesn’t think about it? Or, who doesn’t want to know what to do, because it might be hard? In the present culture of entitlement that we have created for ourselves in Western culture, many people today can’t be appreciative. They think they already deserve everything. And because of this sense of entitlement, it is impossible for them to feel the depth of love that Jesus has for them. They have been inoculated against the love of God. Brothers and sisters, I hope you’re not in that boat. If you are, it’s sinking. But there is One who is willing to throw you a line, and His name is Jesus Christ. If you can’t find a way to take His death seriously, then you need to reach out to Him, who can save you before it’s too late.

Now, moving on. Is there any place in the Bible where it spells out in just a few words specifically what we need to do to shine our light? Well, yes, of course there is. It’s right here – 1 Corinthians 13:4-8. 

1 Corinthians 13:4-8 – Love is patient and kind. Love does not envy or boast. It is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way. You know, I’m a perfectly delightful person, as long as I get my way. (Chuckles) It is not irritable or resentful. It does not rejoice at wrongdoing…. You know, you see people doing wrong, and you just want to see them get theirs. That’s wrongdoing. God’s the One that takes care of people. Right?  …but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things…. I don’t know about you, but my tolerance level is quite low a lot of the time. …believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. So these simple, but counterintuitive, behaviors are the expression of Jesus on earth related to His connection to other human beings. 

Now, I know, this is the Love Chapter. We’ve read it over and over and over again – boring! But let me ask you this. Have you ever, in your entire life, made a plan to make these behaviors your own – a day by day plan, where you set about to be patient, to be kind, to be considerate? Think about it. If we intentionally plan to apply these things each day, we have a much better chance of seeing ourselves act them out. It’s called being intentional. 

Every time we identify potentially difficult situations, there’s a much better chance that we can reverse our intuitive behavior and let Jesus’ light through us. You know, if we see somebody coming that we can’t get along with very well – you say, “Okay, here comes trouble” – how would God want me to act? When might I be likely to be impatient today? When might my resources to endure wear thin? What am I going to do instead? Well, God help me to do that. 

Notice, also, this is not a church program. It’s not a media effort. It’s not held in a super-dome. There’s no need for a fancy building. There’s no need for an evangelism budget. It’s not enhanced by ordination – contrary to what some ordained people believe. There’s no need for a high-powered speaker. Most of the time, there’s no need to say anything at all. “By this will everyone know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another.” And all of us – all of us – whatever age we are, whatever our condition is – all of us are capable of that right now with our next thought. And that ability God has put in all of us, by the indwelling of His Spirit, can change everything! It’s powerful. It is God’s mighty power to save enacted in our lives. 

Let’s close this out with one more scripture. It’s in Ephesians 3:14. This is written in Paulese, so I had to kind of chop and hack to make it clear, but Paul says:

Ephesians 3:14 – For this reason I bow my knees before the Father…so that you may know the love of Christ…. Why did He want us to know – to experience – the love of Christ? Why did he pray about that all the time? Well, one big reason – one big reason, brethren – God has created us for this. He’s called us for this. He’s imbued us with His very own Spirit for this. And every day, like the loving God He is, He challenges us to go out there and live it.