Saturday, 24 November 2012
:: living your life for God ::
I don't know about you but I find Paul's conversion such an inspiration, apart from Jesus, he is my hero of the New Testament. His story teaches us all we need to know about service and how to allow the Holy Spirit to work in our lives. He relentlessly ran the race for his Lord and saviour. The conversion of souls and furthering the kingdom was his one desire . After his conversion he lived the rest of his life for God, he knew that living this way was the best life experience you could have.
Serving God was his life’s work and he made three long missionary journeys throughout the Roman Empire, planting churches, preaching the gospel, and giving strength and encouragement to early Christians. Of the 27 books in the New Testament, Paul is credited as the author of 13 of them and yet the greatest missionary that ever lived had spent his pre- conversion years persecuting Christians. In Acts 8 it says;
Saul was one of the witnesses, and he agreed completely with the killing of Stephen. A great wave of persecution began that day, sweeping over the church in Jerusalem; and all the believers except the apostles were scattered through the regions of Judea and Samaria. Some devout men came and buried Stephen with great mourning. But Saul was going everywhere to destroy the church. He went from house to house, dragging out both men and women to throw them into prison.
But despite his past Paul was chosen by God to serve Him and lead people to faith and so his life's work demonstrates that God can change anyone, God can use anyone in. God gave Paul the strength, wisdom, and endurance to carry out the mission that Jesus entrusted Paul with. One of Paul's most famous statements is: "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me," (Philippians 4:13, NKJV), reminding us that our power to live the Christian life comes from God, not ourselves. Paul spent the rest of his days in service to God until he was martyred for his faith in Christ by the Romans, in about 64 or 65 A.D.
I assure you I hadn’t done terrible things like Paul in my past. But I had turned my back on God from the age of 18, I had had unpleasant and heated disagreements and arguments with Pete, with Christian friends infact any Christians that I met over the years who tried to discuss their faith. I would happily argue till I was blue in the face that my faith, as a Buddhist, was the superior faith, that God didn't exist, that they were wasting their time following someone and something that didn't exist. So, although I didn’t persecute Christians by torturing and murdering them I certainly tortured them with the nasty and unkind words that came out of my mouth. I was therefore deeply sorry for all those things I had said and all those conversations I had had when I became a Christian. I remember the morning that I gave myself to Jesus, it was the day after I had been called to follow Him. I knelt down by the side of our bed and deeply, deeply asked to be forgiven for all the things I had said and done against God when I was a Buddhist. I said I was sorry for turning my back on God. Then I asked if I could serve God they way I had served the Buddhist’s for all those years. But the shame I felt of not only being a Buddhist, but a senior Buddhist leader of the organisation in the North, held me back from fulfilling that request until now. In fact it took eight years until someone freed me of that shame at a course two years ago. The course leader had come to look for me and asked my story, I shamefully told her about my whole journey, about my promise to God an she told me that God would use everything in our lives to further the kingdom. I can't tell you what it felt like to hear that, to feel the shame fall away and to feel empowered by my past because now I could put all that experience of service to good use, I could offer it for Gods use. That's why the words in the song we listened to resonate with me;
Not because of who I am
But because of what You've done
Not because of what I've done
But because of who You are
Because I lived for nearly half my life with my back turned and my ears and eyes closed to God, I take great comfort from people like Paul and the woman at the well who I spoke about in my last sermon. Because Jesus looked beyond who they were and saw what they could be. Throughout his ministry he continued to look at those he met in this way. He looked at me in this way, he looks at you this way.
As I read this scripture I remembered that God will use everything in order to serve him and further the kingdom. All we need to do is ask Him to use us and reveal our gifts that we might serve him well. We need to look deep into our lives and we need to open our ears to hear God, to hear his direction to follow his call. Just like the young man in the story who bought the milk. Then we can do his bidding then we can be the men and women God created us to be. I truly believe that we are his hands and feet and our purpose as followers of Christ is to serve him. So that when we see a crisis on the news we can send money. When we see others hurting we can wrap our arms around His lambs and love them for Him. He will send us to bring comfort and He will give us the words we need to do this. If only we would listen, if only the business of our lives didn’t drown out his voice, if only we would trust his word and His directions, what incredible service we could do, how many people could we bring to faith?
I recently read about a missionary who went to New Guinea. After some years of service he returned home, when he was asked about his service there he said;
"I found something that looked more hopeless than if I had been sent into the jungle to a lot of tigers. The people were utterly devoid of moral sense, They were worse than beasts. If a mother were carrying her little baby, and the baby began to cry, she would throw it into the ditch and let it die. If a man saw his father break his leg, he would leave him upon the roadside to die. They had no compassion whatever. When he was asked if he preached to them he said no, he didn't preach to them, he lived. He said;
"When I saw a forsaken baby crying, I comforted it. When I saw a man with a broken leg, I mended it. When I saw people in distress, I took them in and pitied them. I took care of them. I lived that way And those people began to come to me and say, `What does this mean? What are you doing this for? It was then that I had my chance to preach the Gospel and when I left, I left a church.
Do you ever hear the little voice that tells you to pop in to someone or ring them and when you do you find they really needed you? Recently I have found that the more I ask God to put people on my heart in order to serve, the more and more he speaks to me and brings people to me. More and more I am starting to hear him and now when I hear that voice, I don't ignore it or think I am imagining things - I just do it because of course He is always right and its that service and that desire to serve which is helping me hear him more and more and that’s what the missionary in New Guinea did and that’s what Paul is talking about in this scripture. Paul was passionate about serving God, about giving Him more and more not just being a Sunday Christian but being a full time Christian. Paul had a desire to make up for lost time, I know what that feels like. Paul knew the joy of service, the joy of loving others, the joy of being Gods hands and feet. He lived in the immense joy that is meant for us all. He was not afraid, he gladly leaves his friends to go to Jerusalem, certain of imprisonment and suffering. Paul knew that he had a mission, he had a calling burning in his heart this was far more important to him than money and wealth. He saw the value of the treasures of heaven. He carried his calling close to his heart and it drove him on, the most important goal in his life was to tell others about Jesus. He was determined to win the race.
He says in Philippians;
I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ and become one with him. I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith. I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I keep working toward the day when I will finally be all that Christ Jesus saved me for and wants me to be. No, dear brothers and sisters, I am still not all I should be, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead.
(Philippians 3:7-10, 12-14 NLT)
Paul knew that the only place that the past can live is in your memory, and the only power it has over you is the power you give it.
My daily prayer since the day I came to faith has been to be all that Christ Jesus saved me for and wants me to be. But carrying the shame of my past meant that for eight years I couldn't see how my past and all it taught me could serve God. My lack of confidence and faith stopped me from hearing Him, stopped me from serving Him and from becoming right though faith. Finally the penny has dropped, but it took a long time. Now I understand that God wants us to serve him and God wants us to feel that joy which can only be felt when we serve him and we serve others because once you are called to serve and once you hear that voice you become hungry to do more and more. That's what I think Paul is saying in this passage. I recognise that desire he has to make up for lost time, it overwhelmed him and drove him to bring people to faith and serve as God directed. I sometimes look at myself as I am nearing 50 and think of all the time that I have wasted but reading about Paul, and studying this scripture reminds me that God used that time to prepare me for this moment for this time for this service.
So we should never be ashamed of what we were, such thoughts bind us, and how can we serve as Gods hands and feet if they are bound? We should not think about what we have done but what we can do, not who we are but who we can become. God made us, He carefully and lovingly formed us and as He did so He had a plan, for us. So let us begin right here, right now to open ourselves to hear that plan. From the oldest to the youngest in this church, God has puts no restrictions on our age, lets look at the words on the screen and then I want us to close by saying this prayer that Paul wrote for the believers in Colossians, lets say this prayer together for each other and for our church that each and every one of us, from the oldest to the youngest might stand before God, at the end of our lives and say I used everything you gave me.
So we have not stopped praying for you since we first heard about you. We ask God to give you complete knowledge of his will and to give you spiritual wisdom and understanding. 10 Then the way you live will always honor and please the Lord, and your lives will produce every kind of good fruit. All the while, you will grow as you learn to know God better and better.
11 We also pray that you will be strengthened with all his glorious power so you will have all the endurance and patience you need. May you be filled with joy,[c] 12 always thanking the Father. He has enabled you to share in the inheritance that belongs to his people, who live in the light. 13 For he has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of his dear Son, 14 who purchased our freedom[ and forgave our sins