I know a guy named Brian. Before I knew him, Brian and his wife Maureen were Christian missionaries living in Africa. They had a thriving ministry that was doing amazing work with the surrounding villages. They were happy, content and cherished doing the Lord’s work by loving and caring for those around them. One day, Brian and Maureen were going about doing their normal business, when they both, at different times in the same day, get the feeling that God is calling them to move from Africa…to Oklahoma.
OKLAHOMA? FROM AFRICA? This wasn’t something they expected…nor was it an idea they understood or were particularly thrilled about. Neither one of them had ever been to Oklahoma before, they had no family there, and had absolutely nothing waiting for them…other than this feeling that they were supposed to be involved with a church called LifeChurch.
Never the less, Brian and Maureen listened to God, gave up their successful ministry and move to Oklahoma, with no friends, no family, and no contact with anybody at LifeChurch. To say that they were being incredibly obedient to God is an understatement. Brian and his wife moved into a house in Oklahoma and were greeted by their next door neighbors, who they later found out had recently moved to the area as well.
In conversation, the neighbors asked Brian why he and his wife moved to Oklahoma, and though they weren’t keen to give the real answer to someone they didn’t know and be labeled as the “crazy neighbors”, they mustered up the courage and told their neighbors that God had put on their hearts that they were supposed to move to Oklahoma and somehow be involved in LifeChurch.
As it turns out, God had been guiding not only the Brian and his wife, but their new neighbors as well …because in a city with a population of over six hundred thousand people, Brian just so happened to move in to the house next to Terry…a Pastor from LifeChurch. Brian started working for LifeChurch shortly thereafter, and is now the leader of the YouVersion Bible App, and my boss.
That kind of immediate obedience to God’s call can be incredibly scary…but a call from God is always worth answering.
Today, we heard about another story of Christians answering God’s call on their lives. In the gospel reading, Matthew tells the story of Jesus calling his first disciples while walking the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Let me read you a bit of the passage from the Message paraphrasing.
“Passing along the beach of Lake Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew net-fishing. Fishing was their regular work. Jesus said to them “Come with me. I’ll make a new kind of fishermen out of you. I’ll show you how to catch men and women instead of perch and bass.” They didn’t ask questions. They dropped their nets and followed.
A dozen yards or so down the beach, he saw the brothers James and John, Zebedee’s sons. They were in the boat, mending their fishnets. Right off, he made the same offer. Immediately, they left their father Zebedee, the boat, and the hired hands, and followed.”
I remember reading this Gospel passage when I wasn’t a Christian and reading the Bible for the first time, and wondering how on earth it could be true. No where in the Gospel of Matthew did it say that any of these people even knew who Jesus was or had seen or heard of him before. Was Jesus’ draw to people so amazing, that he didn’t have to say much of anything or demonstrate himself in any way, and people were still ready to stop what they were doing and change the direction of their lives to follow someone they didn’t know without even thinking about it for more than a second? I could more easily believe Jesus walking on water and turning water into wine than a bunch of fisherman giving up their livelihood… the only way to make a living that they likely knew, to follow Jesus without knowing a single thing about him.
Other Gospel writers, when talking about this event, give a little bit more detail, such as the disciples that Jesus called were actually disciples of John the Baptist, and that Jesus had conversations with at least one of them beforehand. While the exact details left a lot to be desired for my own reading and understanding of this event, the main point Matthew was trying to make is clear and undeniable. When God calls you, answer the call.
Some of you here may not have ever had an experience like the one my boss Brian had where God was calling you to go to a physical place so weird and so out there that it boggles your mind how God could even be asking that of you.
Maybe you’ve had an experience a little bit more like the one I had a few years ago. Becca and I were in Albany visiting her family. We were driving home from lunch with her grandparents through an economically struggling area, when I saw something that was very unusual to see…a woman sitting on the front steps with a sign, asking for something...food…money…I’m not sure, we drove by too quickly.
Now, I had seen people with signs like that many times in my life, as I grew up near New York City, and it’s pretty much impossible to walk through the streets of the City without seeing a person with a sign asking for help…but something about this woman on this stoop was unshakable, and I couldn’t get her out of my mind. I had this nagging feeling that I was supposed to help her in some way. I told myself that later, I would drive back to the area, find her on the stoop and just see what happens. The problem was…I didn’t do it…life got in the way.
Has something like that ever happened to you? You have that urge or inkling or feeling…and then you drop it or end up ignoring it? It’s easy to do...we live busy lives at an increasingly rapid pace, right? Here’s the thing though: humans have been doing that for thousands of years, and Jesus knew this. Jesus knew we have this temptation to fill our hours with things that aren’t necessarily helpful in advancing the Kingdom of God.
Jesus died on the cross for us…for our sins…for our short comings…for us not responding to God’s call in our lives. Because of his sacrificial death and resurrection, Jesus has redeemed us and claimed us as heirs to the Kingdom of God.
Ephesians 2:8-10 says this “For it is by grace you have been saved through faith…and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God…not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
I think about that verse from Ephesians and what happened to me a few years ago and I become sad. I’m not sad because I let God down or that I think God is disappointed in me and won’t forgive me in failing to respond to his call immediately. The Gospel has set us free from that mentality where we think we always have to be good enough for God and earn our way into heaven. We know that God is full of love and grace and compassion.
No, I’m sad about it to this day because I have no idea what amazing thing I missed out on by not heeding God’s call. Maybe I was supposed to be the light of the world to this woman and I didn’t. Maybe I was supposed to see Jesus in her and I missed an amazing opportunity.
Of course, God may not be calling you to go to somewhere unexpected or to do something specific that you hadn’t planned on in this exact moment in time. Even so, God is always calling on us to live out our faith in the ways Jesus taught us. Jesus is always calling on us to be thinking about how He is present in your everyday life. Jesus is always calling on us to share our faith in Him and what impact He has had on our lives. Jesus is always calling on us to be kind and compassionate to widows, to feed the hungry, take care of the sick, to clothe the needy and to visit the people in prisons. Jesus is always calling on us to be the light of the world and the city on a hill that cannot be hidden. Jesus is always calling on us to love God with all our hearts, minds and souls. Jesus is always calling on us to love everybody we come in contact and show them the same love that Jesus has shown you time and time again. Jesus is always calling on us to love and pray for the people for the people who annoy us, for our enemies and even the people who do us harm. Jesus is always calling on us to pick up our crosses and follow him into lives that aren’t always easy, but are infinitely more rewarding than lives lived without the power of the cross behind us with every step we take.
Regardless of where we are or what our circumstances may be, God is calling every single person here today us to something different and something better at this very moment.
Wherever you are, whatever you are doing, when God comes knocking, answer the door. Often times, we sit near the door in our comfy chair waiting, and waiting, and waiting for that knock to come. I’ve found that many times in my life, God knocking on the door hardly ever happens when I am wishing or expecting it to come. In fact, it sometimes comes at a time when I least wanted to hear the knock at all. The knock may not come when we wanted and the other side of the door may not even have WHAT we wanted for ourselves…but because we know that God is love, we do not have to be afraid of what’s on the other side, even when it’s something we want to actively run away from.
Do you hear the knock? If so, the time to answer is right now. It’s perfectly fine if you don’t hear the knocking…what’s great about doors is that both sides can hear a knock from the other side. Nothing is stopping you from knocking on the door yourself. God always loves and welcomes the person who is knocking on His door.