Once upon a time there was an office manager who lost his job during a recession. In his sadness he wandered into a park, found himself an empty park bench, and sat down. After a while another man came strolling along. The second man was especially sad as he took a seat at the opposite end of the bench. After these two men had sat silently for a couple of hours, the first man said, “I’m an office manager who has been made redundant. I don’t have a job anymore. What’s your problem?” The second man answered, “I own a circus. The big attraction at my circus was an ape. Last week the ape died, and the crowds have fallen off to almost nothing. I think I’m going to be out of business if I don’t find another ape.”
It didn’t take long for the first man to come up with an interesting proposal. “You need an ape and I need a job. What if I dress up in the ape’s skin and pretend to be real? I could carry on for your patrons and everybody would be happy.”
Having nothing to lose, the circus owner decided to give it a try. To his surprise the fake ape proved to be more entertaining and drew larger crowds than the real one had. Money came pouring in. And both the former office manager and the circus owner were getting rich.
Then, one day, things got out of hand. Somehow a lion got into the same cage with the fake ape. The office manager didn’t know what to do. He maneuvered as best he could to escape the claws of the lion, but he realized that sooner or later he would be a goner. A large crowd gathered outside the cage to watch the spectacle. They screamed and gasped as the lion finally trapped the office manager in a corner of the cage and poised himself to leap on the make-believe ape. Suddenly, the shocked crowd heard the ape yell in a shaken, frightened voice, “Help! Help!” It was then that the lion muttered under his breath, “Shut up, stupid! Do you think you’re the only one around here that’s out of a job?”
I am convinced that there are many of us parading around today in ape costumes. Playing a role that doesn’t fit. Behaving out of character. Suiting up so that we can make ends meet. Uncertain of who we really are, not knowing what God has purposed for our lives, and unclear about whether or not there is any meaning to life at all – we suit up every morning to trudge into our day simply playing a role that doesn’t fit.
In the second part of our study of “Sharing the Gifts” I want us to focus our time on the stewardship of our abilities, the gifts and talents that God has given to us. Instead of simply asking you to consider what gifts you possess and how you might use them to bless others around you, I want to stop and consider some important questions. Questions like, “Why am I here? Who am I? Is there any lasting meaning in life or am I just doing what I have to do to get by and make it to the end?”
I know that when I told you we were going to talk about stewardship for three weeks that you thought we would focus our time on the question, “How much money are you going to give to God’s work at Britton Christian Church this year?” That is not the real issue. The fact of the matter is that God’s work at Britton Christian Church is going to continue — not just survive, but thrive whether you or I give any money, donate any time, or serve in any ministry. How much you or I give is not the real issue. The real issue is “Who are we?” Are we people whose lives have been set apart and dedicated to our King’s service or are we the captain’s of our ship? Do we call the shots and make the plans for our lives or do we receive our orders from Jesus and seek to live in compliance with His will? The real issue is, “Why are we here?” Are we here, have we been given life, to bring glory and honor to God or are we here to eat, drink, and be as happy as we can possibly be? To fulfill our own dreams and hopes? The real issue is, “Is there any lasting meaning in life?” Are we living out Walt Whitman’s philosophy delivered in his poem, “Leaves of Grass?” The idea that all of the great victories and accomplishments of life are eventually covered over by the growing grass and forgotten. Or does our life really matter and count in eternity?
When we talk about stewardship these are the real issues that have to be settled in a person’s life. Depending on how I answer these important questions I will either serve God with all of my heart in every area of life or I will half-heartedly serve God giving Him lip service, but not service from the heart. I will serve Him when it is convenient, when I’m going to get something from my service, when I don’t have anything more important to do, or when someone twists my arm, but I won’t serve Him with consistency, conviction, and commitment. How we answer these important questions has everything to do with how we respond to God’s constant voice calling us to Himself.
God is calling. God is constantly calling. God is inviting you and me to pour out our souls in service to Him so that He can unveil the blessings He has in store for us. God desires to bless us with His Spirit and use us to make a difference – not just in this life, but for generations to come.
I am convinced that God has placed within us a deep, deep yearning to know that our lives matter. We are born dreamers — children of visions, hopes, and dreams for greatness. We want to do great things, make the world a better place, and do something significant with our lives. Tony Campolo wrote about this innate craving in his book, “Everything You’ve Heard Is Wrong,”
Each of us, when leaving this earth, will crave to know that we have left behind something of significance. And each of us hopes that his or her legacy is good and will be honored as such. There are philanthropists who give with the hope that buildings on university campuses will be named after them. There are authors who fantasize about writing books that will stand the test of time and become classics. There are soldiers who bravely go to their deaths dreaming of ballads being written about them and sung to future generations. The idea that, when our lives are ended, nothing significant will remain is not only intolerable, but, I contend, it is also untrue. (Campolo, Tony. Everything You’ve Heard Is Wrong, p. 27)
I am convinced that Tony Campolo is exactly right. God has created us with an innate desire to know that our lives count. God has set within us a deep yearning to know that when this life is over the things we did, the people we touched, the decisions we made all worked to leave the world a better place.
Now you may be thinking to yourself, “I sure don’t see that in people. I see folks who are cynical, critical, and living defeated lives every day. People don’t give much thought to making a difference – we are all just trying to make it through the day.” You may think that I am possessed by a Pollyanna mentality that is void of reality, but if you have ever sat at the bedside of someone who is dying then you know that deep inside is a yearning to be more than we’ve been. For the person who has just moseyed through life not considering what could be done and arrived at the end of their life with nothing done to better society and those around them – there is a deep sense of loss. I have heard so many folks say, “I sure wish that I would have…”
The problem is that many of us have never answered the important questions of life and therefore we simply exist, deal with things as they come our way, and lay our head down on our deathbed after having never lived.
I don’t want that for any of us. I know God’s heart for you and me is for us to answer the important questions of life from a foundation of faith. God desires for us to see that our lives are not our own, that we were bought with a price, that we are here for a reason, and that our lives do matter – our lives have infinite value and worth!
When a person is gripped by the purposes of God then everything changes my friends. As long as you and I half-heartedly serve God then our lives are nothing more than a meandering mess. We will be lead around by the desires of others, engage in activities, endeavors, and efforts that hold no meaning or purpose beyond our happiness, and end up drained of any life or hope. When the Lord seizes our souls and we catch a vision for what can be if we lived radically for Him and in Him, then life takes on new meaning.
Some would say, “I know people who do not profess to be christians, but who seem to be very successful, happy, well-rounded people.” I am not saying that all people who refuse to surrender their lives to Christ will be skid-row nobodies who never accomplish anything for the betterment of society. It would be an atrocity to reduce Jesus to nothing more than a self-improvement course. What I am saying is that in the big scheme of things a life lived solely for God’s glory is the fullest life a person can live. Paul put it this way,
4Yet I could have confidence in myself if anyone could. If others have reason for confidence in their own efforts, I have even more! 5For I was circumcised when I was eight days old, having been born into a pure-blooded Jewish family that is a branch of the tribe of Benjamin. So I am a real Jew if there ever was one! What’s more, I was a member of the Pharisees, who demand the strictest obedience to the Jewish law. 6And zealous? Yes, in fact, I harshly persecuted the church. And I obeyed the Jewish law so carefully that I was never accused of any fault. 7I once thought all these things were so very important, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. 8Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the priceless gain of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I may have Christ 9and become one with him. I no longer count on my own goodness or my ability to obey God’s law, but I trust Christ to save me. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith. 10As a result, I can really know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I can learn what it means to suffer with him, sharing in his death, 11so that, somehow, I can experience the resurrection from the dead! (Philippians 3:4-11)
Paul had a firm conviction that his life mattered to God. Paul knew that God had an ordained, divine purpose for his existence and he wanted nothing more than to live in the absolute center of that purpose. Paul found out that he was more than a conqueror through Christ Jesus his Lord. He knew that through Christ he did not have to be conformed to this world, but that he could be transformed by the renewing of his mind. Paul knew that he was a priest, a servant of the most High God. Paul learned these things by surrendering his life with reckless abandon to the King! Paul knew that he was a workman for God. No matter where he was working or what he was doing, as long as he was surrendered to God — He was working for God. That is what compelled him to say, “Whatever you do work at it with all of your heart as though you were working for God and not merely for man.” (Colossians 3:23)
Whatever you do…you may be right in the middle of God’s will as a bottle washer at a restaurant. You could be serving God with all of your heart as a plumber, politician, teacher, business executive, homemaker, carpenter, stockbroker, sales clerk, or newspaper delivery boy. Too many of us today believe that to dedicate our lives to Christ means to leave our present place of employment and go into the ministry. I’ve got news for you, if you have dedicated your life to Christ then you are already in the ministry. It is who we are and not what we do that is the foundational issue. If you and I have surrendered our lives to Christ then we can be assured that God is going to use us for His glory where He has us right now.
Today, much attention is given by young and old alike concerning their “profession.” Many young people are making decisions as to what they will do with the rest of their lives based upon how much money or prestige the job will afford them. There is nothing wrong with being a computer whiz, lawyer, doctor, entertainer, or professional athlete if that is what God has equipped you to be and ordained you to do. Where we go and what we do shouldn’t be driven by greed for money or prestige, but by God’s leading. Our foundation must be our relationship to Christ and not to society. Paul wrote about this in 1 Corinthians 3 when he said,
10By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. 11For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. 14If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. 15If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames. (1 Corinthians 3:10-15)
It is vitally important that we build upon our relationship to Jesus Christ. My work, the use of the skills God has given to me and helped me to develop, and my passion should be motivated and lived out of my love for the Savior and nothing else. God has got a purpose for how He has made you and you will know the fullness of life unless you walk in that purpose.
Let me give you an example. When I was young all I desired was to play football. When I began to realize that my playing days would be over at the end of my time in college I had to think about what I was going to do with the rest of my life. The natural and logical progression for me was to become a coach. If you can’t play football any more then coach football players. It was an exciting thought to me. I loved the game. I loved the challenge.
One summer I went to work at a camp called Kanakuk. While I was there God spoke to my heart about my desire to become a coach and His desire for me to go into full-time ministry. I had never considered the thought. As a matter of fact, if someone would have asked me to consider it I would have laughed and chastised them severely. In my mind preachers, and most christians for that matter, were weak individuals who were boring and never experienced any fun or adventure in life. I have always been an adventurer, someone who loved challenges and new experiences – the ministry didn’t hold much attraction for me.
I knew the thoughts in my head and heart were not from me, but they were from God so I prayed about them constantly. I couldn’t escape the thoughts no matter how hard I tried so I surrendered to what I understood as God’s will for my life.
It has been sixteen years since I felt led by God to go into the ministry and I can tell you now that God knew what was best. I’ve known the adventure, the thrill of victory and agony of defeat, and the camaraderie of working together with teammates, but I’ve never known adventure like the adventure God has me engaged in now. I’ve never experienced such lows or highs as I have since I surrendered my life to Christ. I’ve never known a greater sense of purpose in all of my life. I can say, as I stand before you this morning, I was made for this! Oh, its not that I’ve figured out what it means to be a pastor – I don’t think I ever will. But I can say that I sense God’s presence on a regular basis as I seek to do what He has equipped me to do as a pastor.
When you and I surrender our lives to Christ and begin to understand His purposes for our life then we begin to see the purpose for our existence and the incredible meaning it brings to our life. The problem is that too many of us are functioning out of our purpose. The consequences of giving ourselves to what is inappropriate with respect to one’s innate gifts and talents is illustrated in a story that educators love to tell.
The animals got together in the forest one day and decided to start a school. There was a rabbit, a bird, a squirrel, a fish, and an eel. They formed a board of education and tried to create a cirriculum. The rabbit insisted that burrowing in the ground be in the cirriculum. The fish insisted on swimming. The squirrel insisted that perpendicular tree climbing be included, and the bird wanted flying.
They put all of these courses together and wrote a cirriculum guide. Then they insisted that all of the animals take all of the subjects.
Although the rabbit was getting an A in burrowing, perpendicular tree climbing was a real problem for him; he kept falling over backwards. Pretty soon he became brain damaged from these falls, and he couldn’t burrow well any more. He found that instead of making an A in burrowing he was making a C. And, of course, he always made an F in perpendicular tree climbing.
The bird was really beautiful at flying, but when it came to burrowing in the ground, he couldn’t do it so well. He kept breaking his beak and wings. Pretty soon he was making a C in flying as well as an F in burrowing. And he had a very difficult time with perpendicular tree climbing.
The squirrel was terrific as perpendicular tree climbing, but was so afraid of the water that he failed swimming altogether.
The fish was easily the best swimmer in the class, but he wouldn’t get out of the water to come to any of the other classes. The valedictorian of the class was a mentally retarded eel who did everything in a halfway fashion. But the teachers were happy because everybody was taking all of the classes in their broad-based cirriculum.
The moral of the story is – be what God has called you to be. Fish are supposed to swim, birds are intended to fly, and squirrels are designed to climb trees. Surrender your heart to the Lord and seek His purposes for your life – then you will experience the satisfaction, challenge, and fulfillment that He desires for you and me.
It is not prestige or financial gain that makes a life worth living – it is God-ordained purpose realized in the life of an individual. If you will begin to see yourself as possessing infinite worth and value in God’s plan to redeem those who are lost then you will begin to see life differently. Let me give you an example.
Edward Kimball was an ordinary man. His name will never be recorded in the annals of history as having done anything significant, but he was in the middle God’s will and history has proved it out. Mr. Kimball was an instrument in God’s hand to shape modern-day Christianity.
Kimball was a Sunday school teacher who not only prayed for the often rowdy boys in his class but also sought to win each one to the Lord. If Kimball ever felt like giving up, he never talked about it. But, human nature being what it is, the thought must have come to him more than once. One young man, in particular, didn’t seem to understand what the gospel was about so Kimball went to the shoe store where he was stocking shelves and confronted him in the stock room with the importance of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. That young man was Dwight L. Moody! In the stockroom on that Saturday, he accepted Jesus Christ as his Savior. In his lifetime, Moody touched two continents for God, with untold thousands coming to faith in Jesus Christ!
But the story doesn’t end there. Actually that’s where it begins. Under Moody, another man’s heart was touched for God, Wilbur Chapman! Chapman became the evangelist who preached to thousands. One day, a professional ball player had a day off and attended one of Chapman’s meetings, and thus, Billy Sunday was converted!
Sunday quit baseball and became part of Chapman’s team. Then, Chapman accepted the pastorate of a large church and Billy Sunday began his own evangelistic crusades. Are you beginning to understand why you can’t count the apples in a seed?
Another young man was converted whose name was Mordecai Ham! He was a scholarly, dignified gentleman who wasn’t above renting a hearse and parading it through the streets advertising his meetings. When Ham came to Charlotte, North Carolina, a sandy-haired, lanky young man, then in high school, vowed that he wouldn’t go hear him preach, but Billy Frank, as he was called by his family, did eventually go. Ham announced that he knew for a fact that a house of ill repute was located across the street from the local high school and that male students were skipping lunch to visit the house across the street. When students decided to go to interrupt the meetings of Mordecai Ham, Billy Frank decided to go see what would happen. That night Billy Frank went and was intrigued by what he heard. Returning another night, he responded to the invitation and was converted. Billy Frank eventually became known as Billy Graham, the evangelist who preached to more people than any other person who ever lived, including the Apostle Paul!
Mr. Kimball’s “job” as a Sunday school teacher for rowdy boys would not be looked upon today as a prominent position of power, but as we look back at the passage of time we can see that his faithfulness to God’s call has yielded much fruit. Please do not allow the world to shape your estimations of who you are. Seek God’s voice leading you to surrender your life to His will, His perfect will that will utilize the unique gifts that He has given to you in order to touch the lives of those who do not know the grace, mercy, and salvation that is in Jesus.
I want to invite you this morning to allow God to begin to show you who you are in Christ, why He has given you life, and what His purposes for you are at this very moment. If we are willing to do this then we will begin to see God’s purposes for our life unfold before our eyes and life will take on new meaning.
The first step for all of us is to surrender our lives to Christ as Lord and Savior. If we have not accepted Jesus as Lord of our lives then we will continue to wander through this life pursuing our own goals and dreams. Goals and dreams that may look good in the eyes of the world, but goals and dreams that are void of ultimate meaning for the Kingdom of God. Won’t you give Christ your life today?