Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Why is Hell Important?

There are plenty of people today who don't believe in the Bible's teaching on everlasting punishment, even those who do find it an unreal and a remote concept.
In 2003 a research group discovered 64% of Americans expect to go to heaven when they die, but less than 1% think they might go to hell. Not only are there plenty of people today who don't believe in the Bible's teaching on everlasting punishment, even those who do find it an unreal and a remote concept. Nevertheless, it is a very important part of the Christian faith, for several reasons.
1. It is important because Jesus taught about it more than all other Biblical authors put together. Jesus speaks of "eternal fire and punishment" as the final abode of the angels and human beings who have rejected God (Matthew 25:41,46) He says that those who give into sin will be in danger of the "fire of hell" (Matthew 5:22; 18:8-9.) The word Jesus uses for 'hell' is Gehenna, a valley in which piles of garbage were daily burned as well as the corpses of those without families who could bury them. In Mark 9:43 Jesus speaks of a person going to "hell [gehenna], where 'their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.' " Jesus is referring to the maggots that live in the corpses on the garbage heap. When all the flesh is consumed, the maggots die. Jesus is saying, however, that the spiritual decomposition of hell never ends, and that is why 'their worm does not die.'
If Jesus, the Lord of Love and Author of Grace spoke about hell more often, and in a more vivid, blood-curdling manner than anyone else, it must be a crucial truth.
In Matthew 10:28 Jesus says, "Do not fear those who can kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell." He is speaking to disciples, some of whom will eventually be tortured, sawn in half, flayed and burned alive. Yet, he says, that is a picnic compared to hell. Clearly, for Jesus hell was a real place, since he said that after judgment day people would experience it in their bodies. Hell is a place not only of physical but also of spiritual misery.
Jesus constantly depicted hell as painful fire and "outer darkness" (Matt 25:30; cf. Jude 6,7,13,) a place of unimaginably terrible misery and unhappiness. If Jesus, the Lord of Love and Author of Grace spoke about hell more often, and in a more vivid, blood-curdling manner than anyone else, it must be a crucial truth. But why was it so important to Jesus?
2. It is important because it shows how infinitely dependent we are on God for everything. Virtually all commentators and theologians believe that the Biblical images of fire and outer darkness are metaphorical. (Since souls are in hell right now, without bodies, how could the fire be literal, physical fire?) Even Jonathan Edwards pointed out that the Biblical language for hell was symbolic, but, he added, 'when metaphors are used in Scripture about spiritual things . . . they fall short of the literal truth." (from "The Torments of Hell are Exceeding Great" in volume 14 of the Yale edition of Edwards works.) To say that the Scriptural image of hell-fire is not wholly literal is of no comfort whatsoever. The reality will be far worse than the image. What, then, are the 'fire' and 'darkness' symbols for? They are vivid ways to describe what happens when we lose the presence of God. Darkness refers to the isolation, and fire to the disintegration of being separated from God. Away from the favor and face of God, we literally, horrifically, and endlessly fall apart.
In the teaching of Jesus the ultimate condemnation from the mouth of God is 'depart from me.' That is remarkable--to simply be away from God is the worst thing that can happen to us! Why? We were originally created to walk in God's immediate presence (Genesis 2.) In one sense, of course, God is everywhere and upholds everything. Only in him do we all speak and move and have our being (Acts 17:28.) In that sense, then, it is impossible to depart from the Lord; even hell cannot exist unless God upholds it. But the Bible says sin excludes us from God's 'face' (Isaiah 59:2.) All the life, joy, love, strength, and meaning we have looked for and longed for is found in his face (Psalm 16:11)-that is, in his favor, presence, fellowship, and pleasure.
Sin removes us from that aspect of his power that sustains and supports us. It is to us as water is to a fish-away from it our life slowly ebbs away. That is what has been happening to us throughout history. That is why, for Paul, the everlasting fire and destruction of hell is 'exclusion from the presence of the Lord." (2 Thessalonians 1:9.) Separation from God and his blessings forever is the reality to which all the symbols point. For example, when Jesus speaks being 'destroyed' in hell, the word used is apollumi, meaning not to be annihilated out of existence but to be 'totaled' and ruined so as to be useless for its intended purpose.
The image of 'gehenna' and 'maggots' means decomposition. Once a body is dead it loses its beauty and strength and coherence, it begins to break into its constituent parts, to stink and to disintegrate. So what is a 'totaled' human soul? It does not cease to exist, but rather becomes completely incapable of all the things a human soul is for--reasoning, feeling, choosing, giving or receiving love or joy. Why? Because the human soul was built for worshipping and enjoying the true God, and all truly human life flows from that. In this world, all of humanity, even those who have turned away from God, still are supported by 'kindly providences' or 'common grace' (Acts 14:16-17; Psalm 104:10-30; James 1:17) keeping us still capable of wisdom, love, joy, and goodness. But when we lose God's supportive presence all together, the result is hell.
3. It is important because it unveils the seriousness and danger of living life for yourself. In Romans 1-2 Paul explains that God, in his wrath against those who reject him, 'gives them up' to the sinful passions of their hearts. Commentators (cf. Douglas Moo) point out that this cannot mean God impels people to sin, since in Ephesians 4:19 it is said that sinners give themselves up to their sinful desires. It means that the worst (and fairest) punishment God can give a person is to allow them their sinful hearts' deepest desire.
What is that? The desire of the sinful human heart is for independence. We want to choose and go our own way (Isaiah 53:6.) This is no idle 'wandering from the path.' As Jeremiah puts it, 'No one repents . . . each pursues his own course like a horse charging into battle. (8:6)' (We want to get away from God-but, as we have seen, this is the very thing that is most destructive to us. Cain is warned not to sin because sin is slavery. (Genesis 4:7; John 8:34.) It destroys your ability to choose, love, enjoy. Sin also brings blindness-the more you reject the truth about God the more incapable you are of perceiving any truth about yourself or the world (Isaiah 29:9-10; Romans 1:21.)
What is hell, then? It is God actively giving us up to what we have freely chosen-to go our own way, be our own "the master of our fate, the captain of our soul," to get away from him and his control. It is God banishing us to regions we have desperately tried to get into all our lives. J.I.Packer writes: "Scripture sees hell as self-chosen . . . [H]ell appears as God's gesture of respect for human choice. All receive what they actually chose, either to be with God forever, worshipping him, or without God forever, worshipping themselves." (J.I.Packer, Concise Theology p.262-263.) If the thing you most want is to worship God in the beauty of his holiness, then that is what you will get (Ps 96:9-13.) If the thing you most want is to be your own master, then the holiness of God will become an agony, and the presence of God a terror you will flee forever (Rev 6:16; cf. Is 6:1-6.)
Why is this so extremely important to stress in our preaching and teaching today? The idea of hell is implausible to people because they see it as unfair that infinite punishment would be meted out for comparably minor, finite false steps (like not embracing Christianity.) Also, almost no one knows anyone (including themselves) that seem to be bad enough to merit hell. But the Biblical teaching on hell answers both of these objections. First, it tells us that people only get in the afterlife what they have most wanted-either to have God as Savior and Master or to be their own Saviors and Masters. Secondly, it tells us that hell is a natural consequence. Even in this world it is clear that self-centeredness rather than God-centeredness makes you miserable and blind. The more self-centered, self-absorbed, self-pitying, and self-justifying people are, the more breakdowns occur, relationally, psychologically, and even physically. They also go deeper into denial about the source of their problems.
On the other hand, a soul that has decided to center its life on God and his glory moves toward increasing joy and wholeness. We can see both of these 'trajectories' even in this life. But if, as the Bible teaches, our souls will go on forever, then just imagine where these two kinds of souls will be in a billion years. Hell is simply one's freely chosen path going on forever. We wanted to get away from God, and God, in his infinite justice, sends us where we wanted to go.
In the parable of Luke 16:19ff, Jesus tells us of a rich man who goes to hell and who is now in torment and horrible thirst because of the fire (v.24) But there are interesting insights into what is going on in his soul. He urges Abraham to send a messenger to go and warn his still-living brothers about the reality of hell. Commentators have pointed out that this is not a gesture of compassion, but rather an effort at blame-shifting. He is saying that he did not have a chance, he did not have adequate information to avoid hell. That is clearly his point, because Abraham says forcefully that people in this life have been well-informed through the Scriptures. It is intriguing to find exactly what we would expect-even knowing he is in hell and knowing God has sent him there, he is deeply in denial, angry at God, unable to admit that it was a just decision, wishing he could be less miserable (v.24) but in no way willing to repent or seek the presence of God.
I believe one of the reasons the Bible tells us about hell is so it can act like 'smelling salts' about the true danger and seriousness of even minor sins. However, I've found that only stressing the symbols of hell (fire and darkness) in preaching rather than going into what the symbols refer to (eternal, spiritual decomposition) actually prevents modern people from finding hell a deterrent. Some years ago I remember a man who said that talk about the fires of hell simply didn't scare him, it seemed too far-fetched, even silly. So I read him lines from C.S. Lewis:
Hell begins with a grumbling mood, always complaining, always blaming others . . . but you are still distinct from it. You may even criticize it in yourself and wish you could stop it. But there may come a day when you can no longer. Then there will be no you left to criticize the mood or even to enjoy it, but just the grumble itself, going on forever like a machine. It is not a question of God 'sending us' to hell. In each of us there is something growing, which will BE Hell unless it is nipped in the bud.
To my surprise he got very quiet and said, "Now that scares me to death." He almost immediately began to see that hell was a) perfectly fair and just, and b) something that he realized he might be headed for if he didn't change. If we really want skeptics and non-believers to be properly frightened by hell, we cannot simply repeat over and over that 'hell is a place of fire.' We must go deeper into the realities that the Biblical images represent. When we do so, we will find that even secular people can be affected.
We run from the presence of God and therefore God actively gives us up to our desire (Romans 1:24, 26.) Hell is therefore a prison in which the doors are first locked from the inside by us and therefore are locked from the outside by God (Luke 16:26.) Every indication is that those doors continue to stay forever barred from the inside. Though every knee and tongue in hell knows that Jesus is Lord (Philippians 2:10-11,) no one can seek or want that Lordship without the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:3.This is why we can say that no one goes to hell who does not choose both to go and to stay there. What could be more fair than that?
4. The doctrine of hell is important because it is the only way to know how much Jesus loved us and how much he did for us. In Matthew 10:28 Jesus says that no physical destruction can be compared with the spiritual destruction of hell, of losing the presence of God. But this is exactly what happened to Jesus on the cross-he was forsaken by the Father (Matthew 27:46.) In Luke 16:24 the rich man in hell is desperately thirsty (v.24) and on the cross Jesus said "I thirst" (John 19:28.) The water of life, the presence of God, was taken from him. The point is this. Unless we come to grips with this "terrible" doctrine, we will never even begin to understand the depths of what Jesus did for us on the cross. His body was being destroyed in the worst possible way, but that was a flea bite compared to what was happening to his soul. When he cried out that his God had forsaken him he was experiencing hell itself. But consider--if our debt for sin is so great that it is never paid off there, but our hell stretches on for eternity, then what are we to conclude from the fact that Jesus said the payment was "finished" (John 19:30) after only three hours? We learn that what he felt on the cross was far worse and deeper than all of our deserved hells put together.
And this makes emotional sense when we consider the relationship he lost. If a mild acquaintance denounces you and rejects you--that hurts. If a good friend does the same--that hurts far worse. However, if your spouse walks out on you saying, "I never want to see you again," that is far more devastating still. The longer, deeper, and more intimate the relationship, the more tortuous is any separation. But the Son's relationship with the Father was beginningless and infinitely greater than the most intimate and passionate human relationship. When Jesus was cut off from God he went into the deepest pit and most powerful furnace, beyond all imagining. He experienced the full wrath of the Father. And he did it voluntarily, for us.
Fairly often I meet people who say, "I have a personal relationship with a loving God, and yet I don't believe in Jesus Christ at all." Why, I ask? "My God is too loving to pour out infinite suffering on anyone for sin." But this shows a deep misunderstanding of both God and the cross. On the cross, God HIMSELF, incarnated as Jesus, took the punishment. He didn't visit it on a third party, however willing.
So the question becomes: what did it cost your kind of god to love us and embrace us? What did he endure in order to receive us? Where did this god agonize, cry out, and where were his nails and thorns? The only answer is: "I don't think that was necessary." But then ironically, in our effort to make God more loving, we have made him less loving. His love, in the end, needed to take no action. It was sentimentality, not love at all. The worship of a god like this will be at most impersonal, cognitive, and ethical. There will be no joyful self-abandonment, no humble boldness, no constant sense of wonder. We could not sing to him "love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all." Only through the cross could our separation from God be removed, and we will spend all eternity loving and praising God for what he has done (Rev 5:9-14.)
And if Jesus did not experience hell itself for us, then we ourselves are devalued. In Isaiah, we are told, "The results of his suffering he shall see, and shall be satisfied" (Isaiah 53:11). This is a stupendous thought. Jesus suffered infinitely more than any human soul in eternal hell, yet he looks at us and says, "It was worth it." What could make us feel more loved and valued than that? The Savior presented in the gospel waded through hell itself rather than lose us, and no other savior ever depicted has loved us at such a cost.
Conclusion The doctrine of hell is crucial-without it we can't understand our complete dependence on God, the character and danger of even the smallest sins, and the true scope of the costly love of Jesus. Nevertheless, it is possible to stress the doctrine of hell in unwise ways. Many, for fear of doctrinal compromise, want to put all the emphasis on God's active judgment, and none on the self-chosen character of hell. Ironically, as we have seen, this unBiblical imbalance often makes it less of a deterrent to non-believers rather than more of one. And some can preach hell in such a way that people reform their lives only out of a self-interested fear of avoiding consequences, not out of love and loyalty to the one who embraced and experienced hell in our place. The distinction between those two motives is all-important. The first creates a moralist, the second a born-again believer.
We must come to grips with the fact that Jesus said more about hell than Daniel, Isaiah, Paul, John, Peter put together. Before we dismiss this, we have to realize we are saying to Jesus, the pre-eminent teacher of love and grace in history, "I am less barbaric than you, Jesus--I am more compassionate and wiser than you." Surely that should give us pause! Indeed, upon reflection, it is because of the doctrine of judgment and hell that Jesus' proclamations of grace and love are so astounding.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013


Today we are continuing on with our series: What On Earth Am I Here For? 

Over the past few weeks we have been tackling the question “Why am I here? What is my life to be about? Is there something I was meant to do? Is there is something I was meant to be? Is there something I was meant to accomplish right here on this earth?”

The answer is yes to all of those. God has placed a unique calling on your life. When we first started this series I told you a bit about my own life history and story because it is by examining our own history, our own past, our own life story that we can see God acting and working in our lives and it is by reviewing our story that we can hear the voice of God calling to us.

But just because we all have a unique calling, what God is calling me to do is not necessarily what God is calling you to do, there are some thing our calls have in common. We’ve looked at these first three so far.  We looked at God’s first calling in your life – you’re called to be loved. The first thing God want s you to do is do nothing God wants you to receive something … his love. God made you to love you.  The second calling is you’re called to belong – to belong to his family, the body of Christ, the family of God.  Last week we looked at your third calling – you’re called to become.  God wants you to grow up, He wants you to mature, He wants you to become more like Him.

This week we’re going to look at the fourth calling on your life and it is, You Are Called to Bless.  You’re called to bless other people.

How do you do that?  You bless other people when you serve them.  It may be physical assistance.  It may be financial assistance.  It may be emotional support.  It could be relational support.  It could be practical support.  There are a thousand different ways that you can serve the people around you.

When you serve others, the Bible says, you actually bless them.

The fourth purpose of my life is God shaped me to serve him.

Ephesians 2:10 says “We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do!”  Take a look at this. We are God’s workmanship.  You are God’s masterpiece.  You are God’s work of art.  You are unique.  There’s nobody like you in the world.  And you were created in Christ Jesus to do good works. 

That good works is called your service.  It’s called your ministry.  It’s called your blessing.  It is the way you help other people and contribute to this world.  You weren’t made to just take up space, breathe, live a self- centered life and die.  God put you here to make a contribution with your life.  That is called your ministry. 

Another word for blessing, another word for service is ministry.  The word “servant” and the word “minister” are the same word in the Bible.  The word service and ministry are the same words.  The fact is we’re all ministers. 

You might be asking “What is God calling me to do? Is God calling me to be a nurse? Is God calling me to be a mother? Is God calling me to be a janitor?” What I can tell you is that your job is not your calling. I did a number of different jobs even though God called me to ministry.  At one point I mowed lawns. At one point I was a painter. I worked as a lifeguard. I worked as a Santa Clause. I worked in a lumberyard. I worked in a library. I taught at college. I was a lawyer and today I am a minister. My job has changed many, many times.  But my calling never has. Sometimes my career matched my calling very closely and sometimes it didn’t. You see, my calling was from God and my career was just how I was making a living at that point.  A career makes a living, a calling makes a life.  You have a calling that is unique to your life.

Again you might ask the question “What is God calling me to do?” As a Christian God calls us to do 2 things – to help others and to honour God. The two greatest Commandments. So whether you’re a truck driver or an attorney or a janitor or a hospice worker or a homemaker or a teacher or a deal maker or a stockbroker or an accountant or a farmer, it doesn’t matter what you are.  If you are a Christian you are called to help others and to honor God.

The Bible says it like this in Colossians 3:17, “Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” 

So it says whatever you do, it can be a ministry, it can be a blessing if you honor God and you help others.  Whatever you do, you do it in the name of the Lord Jesus.  I can take out the garbage as a ministry.  I can change a dirty diaper as a ministry.  I can clean the living room, I can make a deal, I can help somebody across the street.  Everything in your life can become a ministry if you do it to help others and to honor God … if you have the right motivation. 

The fact is, the calling to salvation and the calling to service are the same.  So when you became a believer, when you stepped across the line, you weren’t just called to be saved.  You were called to serve.  You’re saved to serve.  To make a difference with your life.  Every member is a minister and everybody has a ministry.

And let me tell you this, when you change your life focus from it’s all about me to thinking about how to help or serve other people in my life, things will start to happen that will transform your life.

How will serving others transform my life?  

  1. The first thing that happens is, serving others unselfishly will create joy in my life.

It creates enormous, massive amounts of joy in my life.  Most people are looking for happiness in all the wrong places.  You don’t find happiness in pleasure, power, possessions, position, prestige, all of these different things that we typically look for.  Popularity.  Success doesn’t bring satisfaction. Look at Michael Jackson. Look at Judy Garland.  Sex doesn’t bring satisfaction.  Salary doesn’t bring satisfaction.  Status doesn’t bring satisfaction.  Those are all temporary.  For permanent ongoing joy it comes not through sex, status, salary.  It comes through service.  By giving my life away.  God wired us that when you give your life away that’s when the joy flows into your heart.  Why?  Because he wants you to be like him.

Most people don’t know the two secrets of joy but I’m going to give them to you right now.

Number one, the first secret of joy is get the focus off myself.  The more you focus on you, the more miserable you’re going to be.  It’s not by accident that the word “miser” and “miserable” come from the same root word.  You’ve got to shift your focus from inward focus – it’s all about me – to outward focus – it’s all about God and serving others. 

When you do that, that is a counter-culture move because everything in our society says it’s all about you.  Every advertisement says it’s all about you.  At McDonald’s We do it all for you.  Have it your way at Burger King.  You’re number one.  You’re the best. 

But when you begin to give your life away, the more you give your life away to help others guess what?  The more joy flows into your life. 

A good example of this is the Apostle Paul.  Philippians 2:17 says “My life is being poured out as a part of the sacrifice and service [there’s those words] I offer to God for your faith.  Yet, [ in spite of this sacrifice and service] I am filled with joy, and I share that joy with all of you.” 

As you may know, Ruth and I take in foster children and I can tell you that it is a lot of work. You have to deal with behavioural issues, lack of structure, medical issues, different eating patterns and likes and dislikes, and sometimes they have been abuse. Raising your own children is hard enough without adding all these things on top … yet when we hear them say a new word, or start to walk, or hear them laugh, or start to trusts you or even start acting like little kids again … that is the greatest thing in the world … no amount of money will can replace those moments of joy. 

I’ll be real blunt with you.  1 Peter 4:10 says this: “God has given each of you some special abilities; be sure to use them…” to make a ton of money!  Sorry!  I misread that.  “God has given each of you some special abilities; be sure to use them to help each other, passing on to others God’s many kinds of blessing.”

We’re blessed to be a blessing.  God blesses you so you can bless other people.  We’re blessed to be a blessing.  And how do we bless others?  We bless others by using our skills, by using our time, our talents.  Whatever we’ve got.  When we use it to help other people in service you bless other people.

Serving others unselfishly will create not only joy in my life…

  1. Serving others unselfishly will make my life meaningful.

That’s the first big surprise that most people don’t know.  Meaning does not come from money.  We think if I just get more money then my life will have more meaning.  No it will not.  Money has many good uses.  It can make life easier.  It can give you opportunities.  It can open doors.  It can save you time.  But money cannot give you meaning.  No amount of money will ever give your life meaning. 

Meaning comes from ministry.  From giving your life away.

Jesus said it like this, Mark 8:35 “If you try to keep your life for yourself, you will lose it.  But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will find true life!”  See that. True life comes from giving my life away.

Knowing this, what should be my attitude toward service?  1 Corinthians 15:58 says this “Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your work in the Lord is never wasted.” 

Notice a couple words in that verse.  It says always give yourself fully.  That word fully in Greek literally means “not half-hearted.”  You’re all in.  You’re jumping in.  You’re going in the deep end.  “Give yourself fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your work in the Lord is never wasted.”  That word “wasted” means “empty."  It mean useless.  It means without purpose.

Everything you do for Christ has a purpose.  It may seem insignificant and maybe no one else seems to know about it but it’s important.  The Bible says that even if you give a cup of cold water in God’s name, in Jesus’ name, that you get rewarded for that in eternity.

That brings me to the third reason.  What will happen if I use my life to serve and bless others?  If I switch the focus from it’s all about me and switch the focus to how many people can I serve?  How can I honor God by helping others?  It creates joy in my life, it makes my life meaningful and…

  1. It will leave a legacy.

You will leave a mark.  Actually you’ll leave two legacies.  One on earth and one in eternity. 

When you begin to serve, what it does is it gives you a reputation.  The Bible says this in Proverbs 10:7 “Good people will be remembered as a blessing.”

Let me ask you: What are you going to be remembered for?  If you were to die tomorrow would people say, that person was a real blessing!  They really lived for other people.  They served.  They were sharing.  They were generous.  They were kind.  They were always thinking about other people. 

Or would they think, they were pretty self-centered. Would they say “Well he was pretty smart and made a lot of money, but that was about it.” Would they say you didn’t really care about anybody else. 

What do you want to be known for?  Good people will be remembered as a blessing.

The truth is everybody wants their life to count.  Deep down inside of you, you want your life to have significance.  You want your life to have meaning.  You want your life to have purpose.  You want to do something great with your life.  Everybody wants that.  And there’s nothing wrong with that – to do something great with your life.  You ought to want to do something great with your life. 

Here’s how Jesus said you become great.  Mathew 20:26 “If you want to be great, you must be the servant of all the others.” 

The more you serve the greater you’re going to be.  The more you serve the more influence you’ll have.  Mother Teresa went to the poorest of the poor, the most outcast of the outcasts in Calcutta, India to people who were on the street and dying.  Nobody has less influence than them.  And she began to take the dying into her home and she cared for them.  And she began to serve those who everybody was trampling over.  As she went to the least influential people in life, God gave her enormous influence around the world so she could walk into the Congress and everybody would listen.  She could walk into the United Nations and everybody would listen.

If you want to be great you learn to be the servant of all. 

The Bible says this in Hebrews 6:10 “God is fair; he will not forget the work you did and the love you showed for him by helping his people. And he will remember that you are still helping them.” 

In fact, Jesus makes this promise in John 12:26 “My Father will honor anyone who serves me.” 

My friends, God has called us to be a blessing to others … and when we answer this call … when spend our lives thinking about others instead of ourselves … the rewards we will receive will be a blessing to us in this life and the next.


Friday, 18 October 2013


A couple of weeks ago when we began this series called What is God calling us to do. We are having this series because this question gnaws at us. Is there something I should be doing with my life? Is there something I am missing from my life? Or is life something I just make up as I go? In our first sermon we answered the question, Is God calling me to do something with my life? We answered that with a yes. However, we also said that this calling is unique to you and your situation. I can’t tell you what it is because that calling is between you and God. However we also said that there are 5 things that God wants us to do with our lives. Last week we said that the first thing God is calling you to do is to be loved. God’s first calling for you is not to do something, not to offer something, and not to sacrifice something. The first thing God is calling on you to do is simply receive something … His love … and we spoke about how God’s love for you can transform your life. 

We looked at the second of the callings in life which is you’re called to belong.  You weren’t made to go through life all on your own.  You weren’t made to go through life lonely. God made you to belong to his family which is the church.  It’s the family of God. 

When you receive God’s love and when you belong, then you can move to the third calling which is You’re Called to Become.  To become. 

These actually are building blocks that build on top of each other. 

You cannot become the woman God wants you to be, you cannot become the man God wants you to be unless you experience God’s love and then belong to His family.  It is only being loved and belonging that we’re able to do the becoming in life.

The Bible says that God created you not just to be loved and not just to belong but the third calling in life is you are called to become.

Romans 8:28 says this “We know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God… and are called (there that word called again) according to his purpose  for them.  [Your calling in life is your purpose in life.] For God knew his people in advance and he chose them to become like his Son   so that his Son [Jesus] would be the firstborn with many brothers and sisters.”

The third calling in life is to become like Christ.

What does that mean?  Does that mean He wants us to walk on water and be able to heal the blind by spitting on the ground? NO. God wants you to become Godly. It says in 1 Peter 1 15 The one who chose you is holy. So you should be holy in all that you do. 16 It is written, “Be holy, because I am holy.” In other words, he wants you to take on the characteristics of his family.  Like Father, like Son.  The Bible says that God is loving and God is joyful and God is peaceful and God is patient and God is kind.  The Bible tells us that God is self-controlled.  God is merciful.  These are called the fruit of the Spirit.  They’re a perfect picture of Jesus.

If you’re going to become like Jesus it means to be filled with love.  To be filled with joy.  To be filled with peace.  To be filled with patience.  All of those other qualities.

The Bible compares becoming like Jesus to running a race.  It is the race of life.  Life is not a fifty-yard dash.  It’s a marathon.  And you’re running this race right now.  And your goal is to become the man God wants you to be.  The goal is to become the woman God wants you to be.  This is your third calling in life – to become what God made you to become.

So what I want to do today is take some of the passages of the Bible that compare life to a race and draw out some principles.  This is how you get to where God wants you to be in life.  God doesn’t want you to stay the same.  He wants you to grow up.

The first step in making it to the end of life and finishing the course God has for you is…

  1. Simplify my life.

If you’re really going to become the man God wants you to be or the woman God wants you to be, the first thing you’ve got to do is you’ve got to let go of some stuff.  You’ve got to eliminate the diversions, the distractions, the detours, the dead ends, the time wasters.

Hebrews chapter 12 is one of the chapters of the Bible that deals with this metaphor of life as a race.  So we’re going to spend a whole lot of time in Hebrews 12.

Verse 1 says this, “Let us strip off anything that slows us down or holds us back  especially those sins that wrap themselves so tightly around our feet and trip us up…  [We’ve all had that.]  let us run with patience the particular race that God has set before us.” 

Notice the phrase “the particular race.”  God has a particular race for your life and only you can run it. In all the universe there is only one you.  Your mom can’t run it.  Your dad can’t run it.  Your boyfriend can’t run it.  Somebody else can’t run your race.  And by the way you can’t run anybody else’s.  You have a particular race that God wants you to run in life.  And everybody else has a race that God wants them to run.

Here’s the problem: Everybody wants you to run their race.  Everybody has a plan for your life.  Your parents wanted you to run the race they wanted you to run.  You may be married to a husband or wife who wants you to run the race they want you to run.  You may have a boss who wants you to run a race he or she wants you to run. When it became known that I was going to stop being a lawyer and join the ministry, I received calls from as far away as California telling me I was ruining my life. Heck I even got calls from United Church ministers telling me I was ruining my life.   

But you’ve got to decide this: Who’s race am I going to run in life?  I can run my own race.  I can run the race somebody else wants me to run.  Or I can run the race that God created me to run.  You can’t run all three. 

Which means you’re going to have to let go of some expectations too.  Because you can’t please everybody else and please God.  You’ve got to decide did God put me on this earth to please my parents?  To please my girlfriend?  To please my teacher?  To please my clique, my club, my fans, my peers, partner?  Or did God put me on this earth to live for the plan that he made me for? You have to say I’m willing to let go of what everybody else expects me to do in my life.

When you’re doing that, you’re saying God, I’m ready to become the woman you made me to be.  I’m ready to become the man you made me to be.  That’s the first step – simplify my life.

Step two is in the next verse.  The next part of that verse:

  1. Spend time focusing on Jesus every day.

Here’s what the Bible says.  Hebrews 12:2, “We do this [in other words run the race of life] by keeping our eyes on Jesus, [That’s focusing on him every day] on whom our faith depends from start [that’s the beginning of your race in life] to finish [the end of your race in life.]  You cannot become like Jesus unless you spend time with Jesus.

I must spend a little bit of time – I’m not talking about an hour, two hours, three hours, ten hours.  Start with five minutes.  Ten minutes.  Fifteen minutes.  Spend some time focusing on Jesus every day.  That’s what the next verse says talking about this race in life. 

Why do I need to spend some time focusing my thoughts, my mind on Jesus? 

Because we take on the habits and characteristics of the people we are in relationship with. If you hang out with people who have no ambition, you’re going to have no ambition.  If you hang out with people who are critical, you’re going to become critical.  Whoever you spend the most time with is who you’re going to become like. If you spend time with Jesus – five, ten, fifteen minutes a day – then you will become more and more like him. You can’t soar with the eagles if you’re running with the turkeys. 

How do you do that? Have a quiet time. I don’t care when you do it. The best time for me is in the morning. You get up, find your favorite chair and you sit down in it and you spend some time.  You read the Bible for five minutes, then you talk to God about stuff that’s on your heart – God, here’s the stuff that I’m worried about.  Lord, here’s the stuff I’m concerned about.  Here’s my schedule today.  I’m really stressed; I need your help.  And then be quiet and you let God talk to you.  Just say “Lord, is there anything you want to say to me?”  And you be quiet.

Let me give you a little tip.  Find a special place to meet with God every day.  That when you go there you are going to go spend fifteen minutes with God just being quiet.  Thinking.  Meditating.  Looking into God’s Word.  Praying.  It might be a Lazy Boy chair in your living room and you get a cup of coffee.  Sit down.  Sit back and get comfortable.  Or you go out in the backyard if you’re an outdoor person and you look outside.  Hear the birds and you sit under a tree.  You just need to go where you can be alone and where you can pray aloud. 

I had one guy tell me, “My favorite place for a quiet time is sitting on the toilet.  The bathroom is the only place that’s quiet in my house.”  Whatever works right?

Here’s the thing.  The more time you spend with God the more you’re going to become like him.  The more time you spend reading the Bible and studying about Jesus, the more you’re going to learn his love, his patience, his peace, his character in your life. 

All of us, what we want is a quick fix in our life.  We want one thing that will take away all of our problems and all of our hang-ups and all of our fears instantly.  So we go around looking for that one book to read that will change my life.  That one message to listen to on a Cd that will change my life.  We want to take a pill.  Find a magic bullet.  Have an experience and boom!  It’s going to instantly transform me and all of a sudden I’m like Jesus.

It isn’t going to happen.  It doesn’t happen that way.  There is instant mashed potatoes.  There is instant coffee.  There is no instant spiritual maturity.  It just doesn’t happen.  It takes time.  One step at a time.  And as I said, God is never in a hurry. So as I spend time focusing on Jesus every day it says we become “more and more like him.”  And when you are more like Him you are going to start reflecting the qualities of God – his love, his joy, his peace, his patience.  You tend to see things the way he sees it.  And you become more and more like him.

The third thing on the steps of finishing the race of life is this:

  1. When it gets hard, remember the reward!

When life gets hard you need to remember the reward.  God is calling us to become like Christ, but the only way to become like Christ is to go through the things that He went through. The ups, the downs, the tests and the trials, the problems and the pressures. God is going to use it all to make you more like Jesus.

Were there times when Jesus was lonely?  Yes.  Were there times when Jesus was criticized?  Yes.  Were there times when Jesus was betrayed?  Yes.  Were there times when Jesus was worn out with fatigue and yet had to keep going?  Yes.  Were there times when he was misunderstood?  Yes.  If God did not spare his own Son from those things why do you think he would spare you?  He won’t. 

Hebrews 12:2-3 says this “Jesus did not give up when he was running his race because of the cross!  On the contrary, because of the joy that was waiting for him, [in heaven] he thought nothing of the disgrace of dying on the cross, [Because he knew the reward on the other side.]  and he is now seated at the right side of God’s throne.  So think of what he went through; how he put up with so much – so much hatred from sinners! So don’t let yourselves become discouraged and give up.”  The problems are part of the plan.

God does not promise an easy life here on earth.  The fact is life can be very hard. Why? Because this is Heaven, this is Earth. Are there pleasures here on earth?  Of course.  Are there happy times on earth?  Of course there are.  Are there moments of joy on earth?  Yes.  Are there times when things are going great?  Yes.  But not all the time. So when life gets hard you need to remember the rewards. 

Here’s a great promise.  1 Peter 5, “After you suffer [for a while] for a short time, God, who gives all grace, will make everything right.  [That’s a great promise.]  He will make you strong.  He will support you.  He will keep you from falling.  [That’s good news when you’re in the middle of a problem.]  He called you to share in his glory in Christ, a glory that will continue forever.”

So we have short-term problems on earth for long-term glory in heaven.

In this race of life, you may have stumbled.  We’ve all been there.

In this race you may have been sidelined.  We’ve all been there.

But your race is not over.  It’s not.  Your heart’s still beating.  Your race isn’t over.  It’s never too late to get back up and get in the race again. Always remember, you are part of the family of God. In this family you are loved.  You belong.  And you can become what God meant for you to become.  This church is a place where you can continue this race or start all over again.  It’s never too late.  You’re never too old.  It’s time to get back up and get in the race.