Where Faith & History Meet
The old farmer claimed that he could command his mule with nothing more than a few soft words, no whips or prods necessary. She would respond, he claimed, with nothing more than gently spoken commands. So his buddy down at the feed store asked for a demonstration. “Prove to me that your old mule will respond with nothing more than gentle language.”
Out in the field they went, the farmer, his buddy, and the mule. As the friend watched, first in awe and then in horror, the farmer took a huge piece of lumber, a two-by-four about six feet long, and swung it with all his might, hitting the mule on one ear! When the animal stopped braying and bellowing and prancing around, the farmer then said, quietly, “Come here” and the mule came. “Sit”, and the whimpering creature sat. “Back up”, and she backed into the harnesses of a waiting plow and waited calmly for him to hook up. “You see? She’ll respond to a simple voice command”. But his friend objected, “Whatever are you talking about? You said all you had to do was talk to her, but you hit her with this huge two-by-four! What do you mean, you just command her with words! That’s not what I saw!”
“Oh, that,” said the farmer. “Well, first I do have to get her attention!”
It seems to me that God often uses the proverbial two-by-four to get our attention, because without it we would not listen, nor would we follow. God has to do something dramatic, frequently, because we just don’t notice that He is calling us. He is calling us to do something. He is calling us out of our mulish stubbornness and is summoning us to adjust our lifestyles. And we don’t even notice it until He smacks us hard.
Several years ago Henry Blackaby designed a course entitled, “Experiencing God”.
We had classes here based on the material contained in his teaching.
Blackaby built his “Experiencing God” teaching on what he calls the Seven Realities:
1. God is always at work around you.
2. God pursues a continuing love relationship with you that is real and personal.
3. God invites you to become involved with Him in His work.
4. God speaks by the Holy Spirit through the Bible, prayer, circumstances and the church to reveal Himself, His purposes and His ways.
5. Gods invitation for you to work with Him always leads you to a crisis of belief that requires faith and action.
6. You must make major adjustments in your life to join God in what He is doing.
7. You come to know God by experience as you obey Him and He accomplishes His work through you.
The first four realities are not all that difficult to live out.
But beginning with #5 it becomes much more uncomfortable.
#6 says: “You must make major adjustments in your life to join God in what He is doing.” You must. And the adjustments will be major. Some of us have to be hit hard to see what God is doing and what our response will be. Some of us are just plain slow to comprehend and slower to adjust.
“You must make major adjustments in your life to join God in what He is doing.”
Saul found that out. Saul the tentmaker, raised in Tarsus; a privileged young man; exposed to the finest intellectual currents of his day; trained at the feet of Gamaliel, the master of rabbinic Judaism; able to claim Roman citizenship.
He was doing the work of God. He was defending the faith by hunting down there heretics and turning them over for trial and execution.
- Num. 25:1-15 (READ)
- 2 Macc. 6:13-"it is a mark of great kindness when the impious are not let alone for a long time, but punished at once."
- Dead Sea Scrolls: a righteous man "bears unremitting hatred toward all men of ill repute." (IQS 9:22 [Rule of the Community])
Saul had purpose, ambition, direction, applause, success. He had it all. No reason for him to change his life. No reason for him to do anything different from what he had been doing all along. His life was working as it was. He was doing what God wanted him to be doing. Why change?
For Saul, however, God’s two-by-four was a flash of light on the road to Damascus. God’s wake-up call for Saul was a personal encounter out on the highway, a moment of truth that made Saul take notice.
Adjustments? You want to talk about adjustments, major adjustments? With Saul you have them. Just about every adjustment you can imagine, Saul made.
· What about his reputation?
· What about his position?
· What about his income?
· What about his elite education?
· What about his companions?
· What about his marriage?
· I suspect that there was a great deal of aloneness in his decision making. The scripture says that his companions saw the light & heard a noise, but did not understand anything the noise said. There was no one to share the experience with; no one to bounce his thoughts off of.
And why did Saul need to adjust? Because God in Christ had gotten his attention and had forced him to acknowledge the truth he had so long resisted. When truth comes, you must make major adjustments in your life to join God in what He is doing.
I. First, let’s recognize that God calls all of us to major adjustments.
All of us. Not just those who already want to change, not just those who aren’t doing anything else anyway.
God calls all of us to major adjustments in our lives in order to join Him in what He is doing.
And it is not a one-time thing. It is a lifestyle of change, in order to align ourselves with what God is doing.
So often I’ve heard people say, “Well, I don’t think you have to have a Damascus Road kind of experience. I don’t think everybody has to see lights and hear voices. I’ve just always been a Christian. I can’t remember when I didn’t believe. So I don’t think everybody has to go through a Damascus Road conversion.”
I agree, mostly. I’m sure that if God has created different personalities, so also He provides different response.
But maybe we are discarding too easily the possibility that God may still want to make radical changes in our lives, even though we’ve always been able to take it easy.
Are we throwing away too quickly the idea that God might call for major adjustments in our lives? Consider this: if God has never, or not recently asked you to make major, uncomfortable changes in order to line yourself up with his will, might this mean that you actually resisting the things God really wants to do in you? Is it possible you haven’t had it because you don’t want it?
Saul must have found it very hard to change.
· His personality had been shaped by his training as a Pharisee.
· He had been steeped in the legalism of that tradition.
· He was from a privileged home.
· He was raised in the university town of Tarsus, where the great ideas of the Greek world were all around him.
Why would anybody want to leave all that?
But God has a way of getting our attention. God calls us out of the comfort zone to make major adjustments and to join Him in His work. Every one of us. Every one, no matter who we are!
· God called the teenager David from the quiet of a shepherd boy’s life to the turbulence of the throne of Israel.
· God called the young married man Moses from the delights of his wife’s embrace to free an enslaved people.
· God called the mature Abraham out of the comforts of his father’s lands in Ur to begin a whole new nation.
Risk, change, adjustment, all of them. And all of us, too. No exceptions. Major adjustments.
II. So, what are some of the adjustments we are going to have to make?
In what ways do we need to change? And remember, we are speaking of major adjustments. Not just tinkering and tweaking, but major adjustments.
Think of what it meant for Saul to become a follower of Christ. Were these minor matters or major adjustments? I can only mention a few.
A. Adjustments away from sin
When Christ confronted Saul, Saul had to confess the sin in what he had been doing. Saul had to admit, the very first thing, that what he had been giving himself to was wrong. Just plain wrong. When Christ confronted Saul, he heard that voice, “Saul, Saul why do you persecute me?” Saul found out that what he had been doing in trying to put down Christians, was really putting down God Himself. And so Saul had to confess that what he had been doing was sin and had to turn away from it. That’s the most fundamental adjustment we have to make.
That’s going to be tough for some of us. There are some habits we do not want to give up. For one person it may be abuse of alcohol; you know that alcohol robs you of money and it steals your good sense, but you hang on to it anyway, because it’s what you know and it makes you popular. When Christ confronts you, however, and calls you to join Him in His work, there won’t be any room left for that kind of distraction.
For another person it may be dishonesty; that temptation to shade the truth, that willingness just to treat other people’s property as if it were you own, that thrill of telling a false story just so you can watch other people fight each other ... it may be chronic dishonesty that is your problem. But when Christ calls you, that has to go. That will go.
I could go on. I could speak about sexual behavior, I could speak about shabby entertainments, I could speak about lots of things. But you see the point. When Christ confronted Saul, he first had to adjust his style of life. And it can be done.
I read the other day about a man who had compiled quite a colorful record. Bill Fay had gone through three marriages, had lost a small fortune at the gambling tables, and had been arrested for running a house of prostitution. He even played around with the Mafia. You would think that here was the most case-hardened individual you could imagine. You would think there would never be any change in a man like that. But when Bill Fay was arrested a second time, God got his attention. Now Bill Fay is a police department chaplain, and a teacher of evangelism seminars. Confronted by Christ, Bill Fay had to adjust his style of life. And he received the power to do it. It was a major adjustment to join God in what He was doing.
B. He had to change the way he used his time and his energy
Now Saul had been plenty busy. No slacker, no loafer he. He had been busy pursuing Christians, trying to preserve the truth. He had doggedly pursued his goals, going so far as to get warrants for their arrest in some other town. Jerusalem was not big enough for the pursuer Saul. Damascus beckoned. He was busy, busy, busy! But when the Lord confronted him, and hit him full in the face, Saul had to change his focus. He began to put his energy into the things of the Kingdom, just as he had put energy into fighting it. He worked at persuading others to join Christ just as hard as he had worked at bullying them into denying Christ. His adjustment was not in how much energy he spent. His adjustment was in where he spent it!
Many of us need to turn our energies to the things of the Kingdom and not to the things that make no difference. I know that we are a busy people. We are on the go, ripping and running, all the time. We are so busy that I can hardly even find you at home to talk with you. It’s gotten to the point that when I call somebody’s home, I have already made up a speech for the answering machine, because I am 90% sure you won’t be there! Well, that’s fine, but what are we spending our energy for? Where does our time go? Some of us need to make major adjustments, in our time and energy. Some of us need to carve out at least one hour a week for the children in our after-school program or our Sunday School. Some of us need to get over here on Saturdays to be with our youth. Some of us need to put our hands on this building and these properties and help maintain them. Some of us need to figure out where there is an itch and scratch it! Major adjustments need to be made in order that we can be the church in this community! I assure you that no amount of staff workers can ever substitute for the emotional investment of God’s people in God’s work. But we will have to adjust the way we use our time in order to do it.
C. For some of us it will be the attitude we take toward others.
- He learned to love others after he saw his own unloveliness.
- How could the man who persecuted Christians write I Cor 13?
D. For some of us, it will be letting go of the fantasy that we are in charge.
He realized he was utterly helpless to change reality
He could chose to continue to live in a fantasy world, but that would be exactly what it was…fantasy.
E. For some of us, the most difficult adjustment will be in how we invest our financial resources.
Let’s tell the truth. We have the money to give to Kingdom causes, but we are not living up to our potential. God is surely calling us to make major adjustments in the way we use our money.
What do you think happened to Saul the minute he turned his back on the officers of the Temple? Do you think they kept on paying him to be their errand boy? Not on your life! Do you think they said, “Oh, well, Saul’s not doing the job we want done any more, but we’ll carry him on the payroll anyway?” Not for one moment. In fact, he tells us later that he had to turn to tent-making in order to support himself. You see, when Christ confronts us and summons us to join Him in His work, there is always a financial impact. Always. And that means that most of us, maybe all of us, have to make major adjustments in the way we use our money.
We as a church may face a very serious challenge this coming year. If everything that everybody proposes to do is agreed to, the cost will be quite high. A good deal more than it now costs us to do business. I cannot comment about the details of that, not only because you don’t want to hear statistics in a sermon, but also because it has not all been decided yet. That’s part of what this coming Wednesday night’s business meeting is all about. I don’t want to get into the exact proposals right now. But I do say, on the basis of Scripture and by the leading of the Spirit, that we as a church are doing far, far less financially than what God has called us to do. The question at this moment is not, “What does the church propose to spend?” The question is, “Am I being faithful?”. The issue is not whether the church should buy this thing or hire that person or run those programs. The issue is whether I have followed God’s instructions to bring the tithes, the tenths, into the storehouse, for Kingdom work. The tithe is the Lord’s and we need to give it no matter what is in the church’s budget.
Yes, I hear you when you say that’s tough. I know it is. It’s tough for us, too. My wife and I are not blessed with secret sources of income. But we give this church a tithe and more, because God has called us to do His work, and that requires adjustments. Adjusting our wants in order to put priority on the Kingdom. Adjusting our need to keep up with the latest fashions and fads, in order to love the work of Christ. Thinking twice and three times about what we buy, in order to take care of first things first. Yes, it is a major adjustment. But I tell you it can be done. It must be done, in order fully to join God in His work.
D. Adjustments. In other words, these adjustments are so major you might even think of them as a whole new life. A whole new identity.
Saul was so changed and so adjusted that he even changed his name! And Saul the old Pharisee became Paul the new man in Christ. Saul the old persecutor became Paul the new preacher. Saul the old struggler against sin became Paul the free spirit, Paul who talked about his joy in Christ. Saul made a major adjustment, a total adjustment, got a new name and a new identity, in order to join God in His work.
III. So I am not interested this morning in fancy psychologizing. I am not interested in subtleties or in nuances. I am interested only in the direct way the Lord Jesus addressed Saul become Paul about what he must do. Because I think it is the way he addresses us too. I think this is the two-by-four he applies to us old mules to get our attention.
Saul asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.”
Get up and enter the city. That is the word for those of us who need to make major adjustments. Get up, enter, get to work. No procrastination, no fumbling about, no elaborate arguments. Just get up and go. Get up and do. And the next steps will become clear. Get up and enter the city.
I believe we do know, down deep, what we as a church have to do to join God in His work. We have to get up and enter the city.
I believe we do know that we have to invest in children and in youth, so that our church may have a solid future. Get up and enter the city.
We do know that things like TASK, for at-risk teens, and the After-School program, for underserved children, are joining God in His work. Get up and enter the city.
We do see that we can make a difference in family life with counseling and training for people with problems. Get up and enter the city, this city, with all its problems, its sickness and its sin, and wherever God wants us to be, I am determined that there we shall go.
Whatever God shows us to do, I am persuaded that we are able to do, because He promises, right here, that we will be told what we are to do. And whenever God wants to use us to reach out and share good news with hundreds of homes in this Takoma community, though it may take an adjustment on our part, a major adjustment in the way we invest our time, our energies, and our money, when we get up and enter this city for the good news, He will give us a whole new life.
Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? Who are you, Lord? I am Jesus, and you are persecuting me by resisting change; you are persecuting me by holding on to your faults and failings. Here’s a two-by-four up the head! Now get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do. Just face one reality: “you must make major adjustments in your life to join God in what He is doing.”