11.15.15: Christian Action

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Reflection / Notes / Summary

Reflection:

  • Onelove is a small church in Huber Heights. I met the senior pastor on an Emmaus walk and we became good friends.
  • He invited me to speak a few months after the walk and asked me to give my Christian Action Emmaus talk.
  • Since, I’ve became friends with the senior pastor and the outreach pastor.
  • After the message, I had a conversation with an elderly woman who broke down and told me that God sent me to talk to her specifically. It was an amazing experience and the first time something that specific has happened.

Summary: This story loosely follows the Emmaus Community’s Christian Action talk outline. It is filled with some personal testimony and a large part of my call story. It breaks away slightly from the format of a standard sermon. If anyone reading this has ever been on an Emmaus walk, you understand the way these talks work. 

Sermon: Christian Action

Good morning Church! So, I’m thinking it’s safe to assume that you know very little about me or why I’m here. Let me give you a little backstory. My name is Denny and I’m almost a pastor. I met my *new* good friends Brad and Chris this August, on an Emmaus walk. Do we have any Emmaus alumni in here? Awesome! Well, let me share a little bit about our walk. I had the privilege of being the table leader, so I got to spend three days at a table with Brad and Chris, getting to know them pretty well over the course of the walk. Even though I’ve only known them a couple of months, I can tell you that you guys are in good hands.

Before we begin, let’s take a moment and pray…let’s get our minds and our hearts in the right place.: Dear heavenly father, Lord God I pray that you would get me out of the way here today, that you would let the Holy Spirit lead the teaching, and that this would be a word that would land on your people’s hearts. Lord, God, I thank you for everything that you do in us and through us, and I thank you so much for the gift you gave us through the Cross. It’s in your son’s holy name we pray. Amen.

When Chris approached me about sharing a little bit about who I am and, a little of my testimony I was floored. See, I was a weird one. When most people share testimonies it’s a story about how they pretty much hit rock bottom, then God pulled them out from that dark place, that dark pit, he pulled them out of that miry clay. For me, I started on, what is pretty much a level playing field. I didn’t grow up in church, but I also didn’t go off the deep end. I just held strong in the middle. My story was probably a little too familiar to a lot of you though:

I didn’t go to church too much as a really tiny kid (and I use that word loosely, I was never a tiny kid). I was a good kid, but just never went to church. So, I’m a relatively ok kid and I end up coming to Jesus in High School. A good friend actually led me to Christ my sophomore year…but, like so many people today, there wasn’t that strong foundation there…so I fell away from church in college. I never got into anything bad, I was just indifferent, I was just ok. Have any of you guys ever been there?

So, let me paint a picture of Denny six years ago. I was a little socially awkward, shy, never that outspoken guy who, at the time, worked 9 hours a day doing tech work in a cubicle. I never really wanted to talk to anybody or interact with anything other than a monitor, a keyboard, and a mouse. Give me those things and I’m perfectly fine. Get me away from that, and I’m a little uncomfortable. Trust me when I say I was “that guy.” Other than a few people, I basically went out of my way to avoid..well, everybody. I had my tiny group of friends, my family, but that was it. I had my “comfort zone,” and I didn’t leave it. For lack of a better phrase, I was “existing.”

Well, after being out of church too many years, my mom started bugging me to check out this awesome church over by my old house. She practically had to do everything short of breaking into my house with a prybar to pry me out of bed on Sunday morning, but after realizing I couldn’t say no forever, I finally decided to check it out. I think we’ve all been there: “OK, I’ll check out this place. Really, I just want you to stop bugging me. At least if I try it and hate it, you’ll get off my back.” So, I check out this church, and man was I surprised. For the first time in my life I was surrounded by a group of people that were legitimately “on fire” for Jesus. So, there I am: awkward mid-twenties guy who doesn’t like dealing people all that much, going to a church that’s on fire for Jesus. Perfect combination, right?

Anyways, enough about the church itself, that’s just a tiny part of the story.  For those of you that don’t know this, or haven’t experienced this first-hand yet, God has a pretty weird sense of humor. Me, the guy who doesn’t like to deal with people, doesn’t know how to deal with people, and doesn’t want to learn how to deal with people, asks God to give me some “next steps.” Note: If you don’t want God’s answer to a question, it’s probably not a good idea to ask the question….

So, I kept asking God for a little nudge in the right direction. Understand that at this point in my life, the only ministry I was involved in, inside my church was “sitting down and shutting up.” I was a butt in the pew. So, God’s answer to my little “God, nudge me in the right direction” prayer was to take me and throw me in the most uncomfortable situation anyone could ever ask for. So, I prayed, and prayed, “God, show me what you want me to do with my life.” Worth mentioning: at the time, I was an engineering student at Sinclair, getting ready to transfer to Wright state….I was twenty eight-ish years old, so you know, I was in my seventh sophomore year.

So, I pray, and pray, and I have this dream about a mission trip. Actually, let me break this down for you: God told me to go on a mission trip. I laughed at God. God revealed to me that my mission trip was going to be a trip to Haiti. I laughed at God again. Fast forward to the following Sunday, literally four days later, our pastor makes an announcement….first time announcement: Our church is taking its first mission trip out of the country….to Haiti. I’m pretty sure, at that moment, God laughed at me. Well, God, you win. I’ll go. I don’t like it. It’s not fair. I’ll go. I don’t like it…and I think you’re wrong, but I’ll go. After all, you *do* have a track record of being smarter than me…most of the time.

Now, as of right now you guys don’t know a lot about me, but you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to figure this out: I don’t “fit in” in Haiti. Let’s just say this: if my luggage didn’t make it off of the plane at the same time as me, I’m about 1500 miles from the nearest shirt my size. “Fish out of water” doesn’t even begin to describe me in Haiti….but, God told me to go and I learned that God gets us to grow the most when He pulls us out of our comfort zones.

So, let me sum up all of my pre-trip jitters: I’m a pasty white guy that towers over pretty much everybody in Haiti horizontally and vertically, I hate flying with a passion, I’m shy to the point I wouldn’t even pray in public, I don’t speak the language they speak in Haiti, I’m totally out of shape…we’re doing construction projects in 90 degree heat, I hate flying with a passion, and did I mention that I hate flying with a passion?

I was scared out of mind. I legitimately assumed I wasn’t going to make it back…but, for the first time in my life I really had clarity. For the first time in my life, God told me to “go” and I listened. How did God use that ten day trip to Haiti? Honestly, he used that ten day period of my life to totally reshape my heart and redefine my entire life. Literally my entire life…but we’ll get back to that later. He used that period of my life to show me so much about what His people can do when they live lives reflecting His love in everything they do. Since then, I’ve never looked back and God has continued to rock my world. God called me to action, I said “yes,” and now, a guy who used to “hate dealing with people” is standing in front of all of you, sharing God’s word.

So, what does the story of a random guy called to Haiti have to do with all of you here today? You see, we are all called as Christians to take action. Nobody’s exempt, everybody has a part to play. It doesn’t matter who you are. It doesn’t matter where you are. It doesn’t even matter what you’re called to do, we’re all called to do something to build His kingdom.

So, we’re all called to action…when you hear the word “action,” what do you think of? Where does your mind go? Well, let me be honest. I am a gigantic movie nerd. My mind immediately wanders and I think of a director filming a movie. “Lights – Camera – Action.” Three words that everybody knows. The director shouts action, the actors move into place, act out their scenes, and once the director yells “cut,” everybody goes back to normal. Christian action is a little similar. Except for one detail. You see, God yells “action,” but He never yells “cut.” Christian action is a way of life for Christians. It’s not an act, it’s not a one-time thing, it’s a lifestyle. Christian action characterizes a Christ-centered life.

Church, I’m here to bring you some important news today. Christian Action carries out Christ’s work of reconciliation in the world. Being His hands and feet brings our kingdom and His kingdom a little bit closer. Let’s look at 2 Corinthians 5:18-20 “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.” We are Christ’s ambassadors. What is am ambassador? He or she is “a diplomat sent by a country as its official representative to a foreign country.” That means that everything we do in this life, good or bad, as a Christian, represents Christ. The last part of Acts 1:8 says “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and Samaria, and to the ends of the Earth.” When Jesus says this, he isn’t just talking about his twelve Disciples, he’s talking about all of us who accept Him. We are His witnesses, we are His ambassadors. What we do, everything we do, reflects Jesus.

If you think about it, it’s really a pretty big deal…being one of Jesus’ ambassadors. A good friend of mine said this and it’s stuck with me to this day  “treat everyone you meet as if you might be the ONLY person in their life they’ll ever meet that will have a shot at introducing them to Jesus.” Honestly, who knows how many people you’ll meet in this life that need YOU to be the one to tell them about Christ. We always need to be looking for opportunities to share the love of God.

So, wanna-be-pastor—one-day-guy, I read my bible. I pray daily. I love Jesus. You’ve got a lot of nerve telling me I need to do more. Let me ask you this. How many of you here have taken your car to a mechanic, at least once in your life? Imagine dropping your car off to your mechanic, going to pick it up a week later, and it hasn’t been touched. You call the mechanic out on it…“Whoa, whoa, don’t yell at me buddy. You know what I did for you? I went and pulled your service manual, even read it twice.” “Well, that’s great, but did you ever think about picking up a wrench and fixing the car?” Church, being a Christian without taking action is like being a mechanic and never taking your wrench out of the toolbox. You can know everything there is to know, but if the rubber doesn’t hit the road then you totally miss the point.

What’s so important to realize is that every person in here will have a unique response to how we live out this life of Christian Action. Each person has his or her own gifts and talents. All followers of Christ have been given the Holy Spirit, and through the gift of the Holy Spirit we are given certain spiritual qualities that can be evident in all of our lives: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (from Galatians 5:22).” In addition to these fruits of the spirit, people are also given specific gifts for ministry. For example, musicianship, evangelism, teaching, preaching, administration, pastoral care, even a passion for cleaning bathrooms…

Let that sink in. It may not be your specific role, I know I don’t feel called to clean bathrooms, but there are people out there who feel more than alive doing something as simple as cleaning a church…and those same people may NOT feel alive doing many of the “visible” jobs in a church. In the church I currently attend, with around eight hundred people attending worship, every job outside of “credentialed ministry” is servant based. We’re very good at plugging people into areas they’re passionate about.

Why are spiritual gifts so “all over the place?” Because God wires every one of us in a unique way. What’s important to remember about these gifts this: is that all of these gifts are used for the ministry of the entire community of faith and they are all done with love. First Corinthians 13 has this recurring theme: “if I speak in tongues….if I have a faith that can move mountains….if I give all I possess to the poor….but do not have love, then I gain nothing.”

That being said, in your own personal life, what qualities and gifts has God given you for sharing Christ and His grace? A great test for this is to ask the question: If I won the lottery, and could quit my job tomorrow, what would I love to do for the Church? What would I do for my community? Friends, I have some sad news. I don’t know if you know this, but the odds are, you’ll never win the lottery. Don’t kid yourself. Since you’ll probably never win the lottery, that means you need to start planning to change the world with what you’ve already got.

Let me give you a short list of things I’ve discovered in my own life about living the life of a servant of Christ.

What does it look like? Look around, find needs in your church and community. Find something you have a passion for and dive in headfirst. You know, you may find a passion you never had or you may strike out, but you’ll never know until you give it a shot. Never say no because of fear. I wanted to say “no” to going to Haiti with every inch of my being, but I went for it. I ran in headfirst and it was the single most powerful experience of my life. But…that wasn’t the only thing I did. When I got back, I tried to help our church in the middle school youth ministry. You know what I discovered? Yeah. No. Not me. During VBS, I discovered that “preschooler” is another word for “terrorist.” But, through trying random things, I’ve learned that I have a passion for teaching, a passion for worship, a passion for serving at our inner city campus, and that pastoral care really drives me.

Stretch outside of your comfort zone, but don’t become someone you’re not. For example, I’m a laid back guy. I’m not going to be a guy standing on a soapbox screaming through a megaphone to get a point across. I’m going to sit down with you over a cup of coffee, talk to you about something, and pray that the conversation we had stirs your heart…I’m not hoping for an immediate reaction. I’m hoping that two days from now you’re going to stop, think about our conversation, and be like “whoa, what can I do with that info? Now, I get it.”

So, even though we’re all so different, we do have one thing in common. We all follow Christ and we all need to follow the two “greats” in the New Testament. Does anybody know what they are? The Great Commission and The Great Commandment. Do you realize that, if you really simplify following Jesus, it all boils down to the two “greats.”

Matthew 28:19-20 states: 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, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” That’s the great commission. Matthew 22:39-40 states: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

You know, those two “greats” alone are all the reason we need to get out there and serve like we’ve never served before. Love is a verb. Love is an action. It takes effort to love someone. We’re commanded to love people, and to bring them to the gospel. Just stop and imagine for a minute what the world would look like if we threw away every other “minor” thing we were so obsessed with and served radically, loving those people around us like Jesus loved us.

Just in case you forget, Jesus loved us so much that he took the nails on the cross so that we could be set free. Church, let’s just stop and think about that. God “so loved” us that Jesus went to the cross so that we could be set free from sin. Free from our past. Free from ourselves….I hope you get that. I really hope you get that. What would it look like if we could show others even a fraction of that same love that we were shown. That love that covers all of our sin, that love that brings us back into God’s favor. If we can even show a fraction of that love, then we’d bring a piece of heaven down to earth.

So, I guess it’s important to tell you a little bit about the second half of that Haiti trip meant to me. Remember earlier, when I mentioned that I honestly didn’t think I was going to come back from that mission trip? Looking back. The person that had that thought, “I’m not coming back from Haiti,” didn’t come back. The man that came back was a totally different creature. It was the first time in my life I had the opportunity to radically serve Jesus. It was the first time in my life I felt alive. I don’t even have time to get into how many crazy things happened on that trip, but if you remember I said I was a seventh year junior, going to Sinclair for engineering? Well, I ended up being a tenth year senior, but finally graduating with a degree in Biblical Studies. God keeps opening doors and now that I know what happens when I run through them, I’m sprinting to the finish line.

Church, God has something huge in store for every one of you. You may not see it yet, you may not know what it is yet, but He’s has a challenge for you and He wants you to say yes. You know, it may be a mission trip out of the country, it may be finding a place to serve locally, God may lay a ministry in your heart that only you are meant to do. It’s up to you to find out what that call on your life is and to TAKE ACTION. Nobody ever gets anywhere by standing still. Pray for guidance, pray for direction, and get moving. Everybody here only gets one chance to change the world, and we’re all called to be world changers. Every last one of us. Let us pray.