Day One

Day One

This is a sermon I recently delivered at the Westfield Church of Christ.

Paul’s Moment

In Acts 9, Paul wasn’t planning on his life changing. In fact, it was quite the opposite, for Paul had been traveling to Damascus with one thing in mind – to capture and imprison as many Christians as he could.

Acts 9:1 – 9:

But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. And falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”

And he said, “Who are you, Lord?”

And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.

The road to Damascus became a road to change for Paul, but this was not enough. Sometimes, we refer to these events as the conversion of Saul, but his true conversion did not happen for another three days, and that’s recorded in verses 10 – 19.

Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” And the Lord said to him, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.”

But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.”

But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”

So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized; and taking food, he was strengthened.

From this point forward, Paul’s life took an entirely different trajectory. The moment he came out of the waters of baptism, Paul was made new. And he lived like it. He would even write later that his past counted nothing to him compared to his new life in Christ. That day Paul confessed the name of Jesus and submitted to baptism became his Day One moment. It became Day One of a new life.

Introduction

A Day One experience is an event that changes the course of your life forever. It’s a moment when you take control of your own story to take it in new and exciting directions. For Paul, it looked like rejecting all that he had been raised to believe and striking out on a path he had formerly rejected and even persecuted. It was a complete one-eighty.

Esther’s Moment

Another example of a Day One experience happens in Esther.

Ester 4:12 – 16:

Then Mordecai told them to reply to Esther, “Do not think to yourself that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews.  For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”  Then Esther told them to reply to Mordecai,  “Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my young women will also fast as you do. Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish.”

Esther does more than resolve to go to the king. She sees it through. In Esther 7 not only does she reveal the plot against the Jews, but she reveals at last to the king that she herself is a Jew! Then she accuses Haman, the king’s highest officer, of orchestrating the impending genocide. Think of the the risks she took! Think of the consequences that could have befallen her. But she boldly steps into the first day of the rest of her life, and, in so doing, she not only changes her own life forever, but she saves the lives of countless others. Their lives hung on the resolve of one person and her willingness to take the control of her story out of the hands of others.

The salvation Esther brings to God’s people is still memorialized in an observance called Purim, as is written in Esther 9:23 – 29:

So the Jews accepted what they had started to do, and what Mordecai had written to them.  For Haman the Agagite, the son of Hammedatha, the enemy of all the Jews, had plotted against the Jews to destroy them, and had cast Pur (that is, cast lots), to crush and to destroy them.  But when it came before the king, he gave orders in writing that his evil plan that he had devised against the Jews should return on his own head, and that he and his sons should be hanged on the gallows.  Therefore they called these days Purim, after the term Pur. Therefore, because of all that was written in this letter, and of what they had faced in this matter, and of what had happened to them,  the Jews firmly obligated themselves and their offspring and all who joined them, that without fail they would keep these two days according to what was written and at the time appointed every year,  that these days should be remembered and kept throughout every generation, in every clan, province, and city, and that these days of Purim should never fall into disuse among the Jews, nor should the commemoration of these days cease among their descendants.

That remembrance comes from the selfless and courageous actions of one woman in a day when women were hardly empowered. Esther stands an as example to all of us that one voice can shape great events.

Peter’s Moment

Not all Day One moments are visibly momentous, however. Some are quiet but every bit as powerful. Take Peter as an example in John 21:15 – 19:

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?”

Peter  said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.”

Jesus  said to him, “Feed my lambs.”  He said to Peter a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”

Peter said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.”

Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.”  He said to Peter the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”

Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.”

Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.  Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.”  (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.”

This comes after Jesus appears to the other apostles. This is after Jesus strengthens Thomas’ faith. Think of the pressure on Peter. Yes, Peter runs to the tomb when he learns it is empty. Yes, Peter jumps from the boat when He sees Jesus, but there is still something big between them – the fact that Peter had forcibly denied Jesus in His hour of need. In these verses, Jesus and Peter mend their relationship, and it becomes a Day One moment for Peter.

From this point, Peter will go forward to preach the first gospel message to the assembly at Pentecost. He will be the first to preach to the Gentiles. He will live a life dedicated to Christ, and he will write, near the end of his days in II Peter 3:8 – 9:

But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.  The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.

Peter could write so confidently of the Lord’s patience for repentance because He was once a recipient of that same patience. To him, that restoration was his Day One moment.

Elements of Day One

These individuals all had three things in common:

  • Each faced a crisis. For Paul and Peter, it was a crisis of faith. For Esther, it was a crisis of impending disaster.
  • Each took control. Esther takes control from Haman. Paul from his past, and Peter from his regret.
  • Each gave control to God. This is the important part. All of these took control, but they didn’t claim total ownership. Instead, each seized control and handed it over to God. They placed their trust in Him.

Your Day One

What will be your Day One moment? II Corinthians 5:16 -17 says:

From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer.  Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

Being a Christian is all about being new. The day you put Christ on in baptism becomes Day One of a new life, but the challenge is that we must constantly renew ourselves. We all fall. We all slip into – for lack of a better term – oldness of life from time to time. We all face crises that threaten to take control of our lives. It may be a crisis that threatens disaster to chip away at our faith. It might be a spiritual crisis where we come to question what we believe. Whatever it is, the crisis is not the end of the story. Instead, it’s an opportunity. It’s an opportunity to take control from the crisis, purge the old, and become new again.

See I Corinthians 5:6 – 8:

Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?  Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.  Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

Paul is writing this to a congregation at the brink of destruction from within. They are divided. They are facing numerous doctrinal challenges, but no crisis is as great as the fact that they have an example of rampant immorality among their number – and not only do they tolerate that immorality, they are celebrating it.

They seem beyond recovery, yet this is the church Paul would address this way in II Corinthians 1:5 – 7:

For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.  If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer.  Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.

Did you hear that bit: “Our hope for you is unshaken?” This, to the same congregation that had been previously boasting in tolerance of immorality. They faced crisis. They took control away from that crisis, and they gave that control over to God. They emerged from their crisis a better and a stronger church family than when they began. What might have been the end of their story instead became their Day One moment.

Conclusion

That is the challenge to all of us. What will you do when faced with crisis? What will you do with your Day One moment? I challenge you, when things threaten to tear you down, to follow the example we see in Paul, in Esther, and in Peter. Face the crisis, take control away from it, and hand that control over to God. Let it change you for the better and make you new.

Make it Day One for the rest of your life. Step forward like Esther standing before the king. Put your past in the past and strive for a better future like Paul after the Damascus road. Or humbly repent like Peter with Christ, and trade your regrets for hope. Whatever the challenge before you, know that God wants you to succeed. Know that you have all that you need to make today Day One.

Advertisements

Speaking Truth While Teaching the Truth

Speaking Truth While Teaching the Truth

I recently linked to an article from Sojourners regarding the recent political climate having an adverse affect on honesty in Christian conversation. The truth is, however, that this is not a new problem. Recent events have perhaps exacerbated the problem, but we’ve historically demonstrated a rather tenuous relationship with the truth when it comes to making sure things fit our personal narratives of how we perceive the world.

Getting Things Right

One example comes from a congregation we were recently visiting. The preacher was leading a series about other Christian faiths, and that day’s lesson was on Catholicism. At one point in the lesson, he said something to the effect that the Catholic Church sells indulgences so that people can buy their way out of Hell or make early payment for future sins. Both of these are flatly untrue. I can’t say I fully understand every detail of the Catholic doctrine of indulgences, but I do know these are myths.

Anecdotes, misconceptions, urban legends, and myths — when preached or taught as truth, these undermine the greater truth we are trying to spread. They become obstacles to others coming to the truth of God’s word. This is one of the reasons James writes, in the beginning of James 3:

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.

Sweating the Details

If someone listening to my preaching can’t trust me to rightfully discern between factual and fictional information, how can they trust me with the bigger truths of God’s word? If someone hears me misrepresenting what they believe, how can they trust me to rightly explain what I believe? If I can’t be trusted to do my homework on secular illustrations or doctrinal explanations, how can I be trusted to study and rightly divide scripture?

II Corinthians 8:21 mentions that we aim to be seen honorably both to God and to our fellow humans. This means we should get things right, even if they aren’t part of scripture. We need to check to see if our lessons that touch on science are relying on outdated or debunked information. We need to make sure that the stories we share as true actually are true. While we defend our own doctrines, we have to get the doctrines we attribute to others right. That’s being truthful in all things.

Practical Application

I have to apply this to myself as well. I’ve occasionally shared a story about African missionaries and neckties that I think is true — but now I’m not so sure. I tried to track it down to the source I thought it came from but have been unsuccessful. It’s a humorous anecdote that I think well illustrates the challenge of unintentionally teaching culture-specific values alongside the gospel. But I have to stop using it as I don’t know if the story is true, and the illustration loses all power if it’s not.

Do all illustrations have to be true stories? Jesus certainly allowed himself to use fictional illustrations in his use of parables, so no, I don’t think every anecdote and illustration has to be true. Fiction is fine as long as our audiences know we are speaking in fiction. If we are presenting something as real, as truth, we need to be sure it is. We always have to make sure that we are telling the truth while we are speaking truth.

Trying to Make Hate Look Pretty

Trying to Make Hate Look Pretty

Love and hate aren’t about emotions. They’re about our attitudes and our actions. Love and hate aren’t about how we feel toward someone, but about how we treat them – what we do or don’t do to them.

To love someone means to treat them as we would want to be treated, regardless of how we feel. When we’re told to love our enemies, it doesn’t mean we feel warm-and-fuzzy about them; it means we respect their inherent human dignity.

Love recognizes that everyone is an equally beloved child of God and must be treated as such by our words and actions. Love values everyone’s dignity and worth as equal to my own.

By contrast, hate rejects another person’s equal value and worth. It sees those who are different from me as less than me in some ways. It creates the conditions for people to be abused and mistreated.

I’ve understood this on a fundamental level, but I’ve never been able to put it so clearly into words.

When Did Christians Become Comfortable with the Loss of Truth?

When Did Christians Become Comfortable with the Loss of Truth?

A deference for human leadership has gotten in the way of the Christian commitment to God. Perhaps this is done unwittingly; modern American Christian tradition has perpetuated a particular set of stances as the crux of its ethic: abortion and LGBTQ equality. Some Christians use these issues as a test for faithfulness to the God of Scripture. I speculate that many of Trump’s Christian voters hold that their commitment to an anti-abortion stance is their biggest political motivator — and Trump promised to nominate a potential Supreme Court justice who would diminish the power of Roe v. Wade.

By putting certain socio-political ethics first, many Christians sacrifice the importance of truth as a foundation of our faith and morality. The Scriptures gives us many examples of ways we should be wary of those who deceive. The apostle Paul, as well as Jesus himself, say to watch out for false teachers and people who mean us harm. In Matthew, Jesus warns his disciples to beware anyone seeking to lead them astray: “many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Messiah!’ and they will lead many astray.”

One of the biggest dangers I’ve seen to churches in recent years is the fact that we will (rightly) go to great lengths to rightly divide God’s truth, but we will take a far more casual, even reactionary, approach to secular truth. We have narrowed our view of what a Christian leader is down to a couple of high-profile issues. In doing so, we have completely laid aside the pattern of Christ-like living laid out by Jesus and His apostles.

When we come to accept such superficial Christianity from those we admire and follow, it starts to rub off at us. As Paul writes in I Corinthians 15:33, “Bad company corrupts good morals.” And in the context of that passage, Paul isn’t writing about “bad company” that drinks too much, passes around drugs, or uses bad language. No, Paul is writing about us keeping fellowship with those who disregard the truth of God’s word. It’s about lying.

President Trump is not a Christian leader if he and his representatives continue to spread such blatant and thoughtless lies. We are as guilty of sin when we then defend or spread lies just because they fit our social narrative or our political preconceptions. This is not a zero sum game; rejecting the ungodly principles of one partisan group does not require we accepts and embrace the ungodliness of another. Ours is to keep ourselves pure from the sin of world, and that includes sin from the White House.

I John 2:4 – 6:

Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.

How the Church is Failing Its Single Members

How the Church is Failing Its Single Members

Celibacy is a beautiful vow, and the Church almost never talks about it. Why wouldn’t we praise someone for literally devoting themselves to God, both in this life and the next? Remember that Jesus calls us to leave behind our nets in favor of a life following Him (Matthew 4:20). Sometimes, relationships can hold believers back from a full life with Christ – meaning a relationship can be a “net” that we must cast aside.

When you are single, your time is His, and you are more able to fully devote yourself to Jesus.

This is such a necessary post. I specifically remember a young woman in one of my study groups almost panicking at one point that her single status somehow meant she was spiritually incomplete. Being single is a choice, not a season of life. We have no problem with the fact that the apostle Paul was single, so we should also have no problem with single women in the Lord either.