– Please open your Bibles
to Matthew chapter 16. Matthew chapter 16. Read a passage beginning in verse 24. Matthew writes, then Jesus
said to his disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after me, “he must deny himself and take
up his cross and follow me. “For whoever wishes to
save his life will lose it, “but whoever loses his life
for my sake will find it.” I’d like for you to
have a little experiment or participate in a
little experiment with me. I want you to think back if you can, and try to remember when you began to walk or to live as a
disciple of Jesus Christ. In other words, try to go back and think when was the time, what was the moment where you know, I said to myself, I’m going to live like a disciple? You may have grown up in the church, you may have been baptized
when you were young but somewhere along the line there may have been a
change there where you said you know what, I’m going to
take this Bible seriously. I’m really going to make an effort to live as a disciple of Jesus Christ. Think back to that time. Now I know that many
think that their baptism, they see that as the key point in time and it is of course, but do you remember
when you actually began searching for the Lord in earnest? And when you found him? You know the first time I heard the words of Matthew 16 verses 24 and 25, they were quoted to me
by a Catholic priest. In answer to my question,
I remember I was a teenager back in those days. My dad had just recently
passed away and you know, I grew up in a Catholic household and this priest was kind
of like a youth minister. He concentrated or focused
a lot of his energies on the young people that were
in the church at that time and we were talking
about life and everything and so I asked him, how do
I get to know this Jesus? And I’ll always be
grateful that this priest, his name is, his name was Alan Cox, he quoted this Scripture
to me instead of some pre-packaged answer from
the Catholic catechism. He gave me this answer to think about, to chew on in answer to my question. How do I, you’re talking
to me about this Jesus, how do find this Jesus? How do I begin to know him? I was so grateful that my you know, to Alan Cox that our son
William’s middle name is Alan and it’s Alan in remembrance
of this man here. He’s passed away a couple of years ago. His quotation of that passage of Scripture you know, it sent me on a long journey to find and to follow Jesus. And tonight I’d like to
share with you a few stops that I made along the
journey from religion, I had that, to conversion. What I was really looking for. And so the first stop along
the way was actual conversion. The first step in following
Jesus was my conversion. I had religion, I had
information about Jesus Christ, I had all of that. I knew the stories, I knew the history from the teachings that I
received in Catholic school and you know, I was in
monastery for a time in the summertime. I could recite the
prayers and the doctrine and the feasts and the
rules and the leaders and their positions because
I had been trained diligently in school through the catechism
to learn all these things. I knew about religion, I knew
about the Catholic religion. I had religion but I had
not yet been converted. There’s a difference. So when I began to seek and follow Jesus, I began to experience my conversion. I began to experience my regeneration. The death of my father that
I mentioned when I was young was the first jolt that drew me to God but I think it took another 10 plus years before I consciously looked to find Jesus and another five years after that to know that I had indeed found
what I was looking for. It was a long journey. You know many times we tell people here, here’s how you’re converted. You know you believe,
you confess, you repent, you’re baptized, you live
faithfully, that’s it. Let’s do that and we think
that people are going to do all of that in a day. Or a weekend, maybe oh let’s
have a second Bible study. You know, to really hammer
home that stuff but. Understanding and getting into
repentance takes a long time. Understanding and being ready to confess, not just say the words I believe in Jesus but I mean to confess that. As the basis of your life. It takes time, it takes months,
it takes years for some. Certainly it took that for me. As I say, the death of my
father was like the first jolt of my conversion experience. A German theologian named
Karl Barth said and I quote, “Death is the birthpang of faith.” Death is the birthpang of faith. I believe that this was a
correct observation by Mr. Barth as I review my conversion I
see that it was accomplished through the experienced
death in three areas. So the first area was death of illusion. Death of illusion. This is where you realize
that death is real. That this world goes on without you. That temporariness is
all that we actually have as human beings. And believe it or not,
this lesson, this idea, you know, the death of illusion, it hit me when I was
watching “I Love Lucy”. Some of you may not
know about “I Love Lucy” but older guys you know,
it was a comedy show. And Lucy if you don’t know, she’s the one on the right there. She was a mad-cat girl. Always getting into
trouble, always you know, messing things up and you know, the humor followed after that. Well it had been a couple
of months after my dad died and I remember sitting on the
couch at home after school and my mother was working of course and I was watching “I Love Lucy”
and there was Lucy you know I think it was the episode
where she was baking pies or she was fixing cakes or something like on a conveyor belt
and the conveyor yeah. And she would put this and
she’d put a few cherries and then another cake would come by and she’d put this on
and put a few cherries and then all of a sudden the
conveyor belt started going faster and faster, you know and I mean, and by the end of the bit you know, she had you know, baking
powder all over herself and chocolate, you know, the
slapstick comedy was funny but I sat there and I
realized all of a sudden my dad just died. My whole world just fell apart. But Lucy keeps right on going. She doesn’t know about my situation. The world doesn’t really know
or care about what’s happened in my family. Life is just moving on like a stream, it just keeps going. With or without me. And so the death of the
illusion that everything is okay is the first step to conversion. The death of the illusion
that everything is okay, everything is not okay. Somewhere along the line
you are forced to admit that death consumes everything. There is no conversion
without the death of illusion. To seek a life beyond this life, one must concede that this life undeniably ends in death and yet, so many people walking around thinking, boy I got plenty of time, it’ll never happen to
me, I’m not going to die, everything’s fine. No conversion takes place
without the death of illusion. The second death that needs to
take place is death of lust. Another part of the conversion
experience necessary to complete the process of regeneration is the death of lust through repentance. You know, the death of
lust does not take place when we cease to be subject to temptation. I mean this will only take
place when we’re in heaven. You know that song the band used to do, that song, No Tears in Heaven right? “No Tears in Heaven”,
that song by Eric Clapton. Why are there no tears in heaven? Well, because there’s no death in heaven. There’s no sin in heaven. And so the death of lust
takes place when our attitude towards sin becomes such
that we hate the sin that we often do. I mean we always sin, the difference is that before conversion we love it. And after conversion we hate it. The death of lust means that
sin no longer has the power to control or condemn us
when we begin hating it, for this demonstrates
the power of God’s Spirit at work in us. How do I know the power of
the Spirit is working in me? How do I know it? I hate sin. That’s how I know it. My flesh loves sin. To this day, my flesh loves sin. But my Spirit hates it. That’s how I know God is working in me. And so sin no longer has the
power to control or condemn us when we begin hating it. For this, as I say demonstrates
the power of God’s spirit working within us. The flesh loves sin, the Spirit hates it. When you hate sin, it’s a sign that the Spirit is working
despite the presence of sin in our lives. The death of lust is the sign
that the death of illusion has taken place. I hate sin because I now see
it as the cause of my death. As Paul says in Romans 6:23, for the wages of sin is
death, we know the rest of it. But the point I want to make,
the wage of sin is death, we know that. And then the third death
that needs to take place is the death of self. The death of self. The final step that
completed my own conversion or any conversion was the death of self, seen, experienced, initially
in the waters of baptism. Once I understood that my
death was a sure thing, I began to search for
a solution in earnest. The Gospel becomes crystal clear to one who accepted death
as inescapable and final. When you get to the point
that you accept that, that that is the absolute
truth, that is the end, you begin searching. Why, because God has wired us
to want to live, that’s why. When Jesus says in two
very familiar passages. In Mark 16, “He who has
believed and has been baptized “shall be saved, but
he who has disbelieved “shall be condemned.” And then in John 3:16 where he says, “For God so loved the world, “that he gave his only begotten Son, “that whoever believes
in him shall not perish, “but have eternal life.” When Jesus says these
things, he is offering life to those who understand
that they’re going to die. In Romans chapter six, verse three, Paul says, or do you
not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into his death. In this passage Paul explains
the idea that my death which I know through
experience is inevitable, my death and my resurrection
which I know through faith is inevitable are perceived
or previewed rather in this expression of faith
and obedience called baptism. Baptism is a preview, it’s an image of what is happening to us
and what will happen to us. And so conversion is
made complete in baptism as the death of illusion
sparks the death of lust and the resulting repentance
leads to the death of self and the regeneration of the
soul which is marked at baptism. All right, so the first step
on the road to following Jesus is conversion, brought about
by the death of illusion, the death of lust and the death of self. The second step is the call. Another step on the road to
following Jesus is the call. This is the time when
the Spirit directs you or prepares you or calls you
into ministry of some kind within the church. In 1 Corinthians 12:4-11 we’ll note what Paul says about
ministry within the church, just a few verses I want to read. He says in chapter 12 verse four, now there are varieties of
gifts but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of
ministries, and the same Lord. There are varieties of
effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons. But to each one is given the
manifestation of the Spirit for the common good and so Paul says there are a variety of
ministries within the church and each person has a particular gift and function given to them by God through the Holy Spirit. He continues in verse eight and says, for to one is given the word
of wisdom through the Spirit and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit. To another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of
healing by the one Spirit, and to another the effecting of miracles and to another prophecy and to another the
distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues and to another the
interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit
works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as he wills and
so Paul is saying here, some gifts are supernaturally
received and practiced and he names some. Miraculous healings, the
performing of miracles, the speaking in tongues
or other languages. These of course are no
longer received in this way. Neither are they practiced today. However, others are naturally
received and practiced. The idea of wisdom as a gift
or knowledge or prophecy. The ability to preach. These things, including the
distinguishing of spirits which is the gift of
discernment if you wish, these gifts are given by the Spirit, developed through human experience and they’re manifested in a natural way. In the 1st Century,
someone who had the gift was able to speak God’s
word and explain it and apply it and show how the
Old Testament was connected to what Jesus said and
did and did that how? He had the gift of prophecy,
the gift of preaching. Well today, men stand up and
they preach in the same way except now the content of their preaching is not given to them miraculously, but it’s given through study
and experience and observation. The constancy in both groups however, meaning the gifts received
and practiced supernaturally, and the gifts that are given and received and practiced naturally, the constancy in both these groups is that all of these gifts
and the call to using them come from the Holy Spirit. Then and now. Our mistake is thinking
that coming to church or attending services is our ministry. We even call it services,
we’re coming to services. We think, many think, this
is our ministry to God, our service to God but going to church is a witness of our faith, it’s an exercise to
provide us with teaching and with fellowship and encouragement and the opportunity to praise God but it’s not our quote, service, to God. You know if someone says to you, so what’s your ministry area? Oh I go to church. Really, yeah. And I’ve heavily involved in ministry. Really, how? Well I go Sunday morning and Sunday night. Oh I see. Yeah, no. Our service to God starts when we perceive what our gifts are and
we begin exercising them in the service of the church through the power of the Holy Spirit. Now there are many gifts,
many measures of gifts and application of these
gifts within the kingdom. These are explained in Romans chapter 12. Paul says the following
in relationship to gifts. He says, since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise
them accordingly. If prophecy, according to
the proportion of his faith. If service, in his serving. Or he who teaches in his teaching, or he who exhorts in his exhortation. He who gives, with liberality. He who leads, who diligence. He who shows mercy, with cheerfulness. So he names many gifts here. These are gifts. In the same way that
healings and speaking in, in the same way that
those things were gifts, these are gifts. Prophecy, the ability to
preach and teach the word. Service, of every imaginable kind. From cleaning the building
to counting the collection. From cutting the grass
to comforting the sick. All service in the name
of Christ is powered by the Holy Spirit. Teaching, whether it’s a
class or prayer or singing, managing, leading, benevolence. You know, works of mercy and kindness. Giving, time, money, ability, resources. All these things, they are gifts. Understand that it isn’t
how well you do these things that determines whether
or not they are legitimate gifts from the Spirit. It’s if you are doing these
things in the name of Christ that makes them genuine spiritual gifts. You know we think
sometimes that if someone for example is a dynamic speaker, that that person has a spiritual gift and if this other man over here is perhaps a little more dry speaker, a
little more boring for example, well that guy, he doesn’t have a gift. But the fact that both
persons feel the need to speak in the name of Christ, this is a witness to the presence of the Holy
Spirit in both of them. The quality of their communication skills is merely a detail of experience and ability and training, not
a witness of the Holy Spirit. You don’t have to speak
loud, jump up and down and wave your arms to prove that the Spirit of God is within you. You know many respond to the
call of Jesus to be converted, to be saved and then they
stopped listening to the call by simply finding a
comfort zone in the church. They find their comfortable pew, they find their comfortable
spiritual routine. Their comfortable ears to hear by. In other words, interpreting
everything taught and preached, to affect as little change in our lives as possible. In doing this, they do
not and are not able to hear the call to ministry
that each one receives from the Holy Spirit. The Bible says that everybody
is called by the Spirit to serve in one way or another. I don’t know to what or
how the Spirit calls you but I know the process
which drew me to preaching. You know after I was converted,
it slowly dawned on me that not only I but
everyone was absolutely lost without faith in Jesus Christ. I mean that wasn’t just
a point of doctrine, that was a very harsh and
difficult realization for me to grasp. I mentioned one passage
here that supports that idea but there are many of course. Peter says, “And there is
salvation in no one else.” I mean, can we interpret
this in some other way to make it mean that there
is salvation in someone else? Well no, of course not. He says and there is
salvation in no one else, then he repeats it. He says, “For there is no
other name under heaven “that has been given among men
by which we must be saved.” I mean that’s a pretty powerful, pretty powerful verse and
when I understood the concept behind that. That Christianity is
an exclusive religion, that Peter here is saying
only through Christ we come to the Father,
there’s no other way. Doesn’t matter how many,
doesn’t matter how many millions of people show up
for a feast or something in some other religion, it doesn’t matter. I had never thought of using
my skills in public speaking and teaching until I
realized that every person who is not a Christian
will be lost forever without exception. So I had three choices, if I, I remember. You know I was juggling
a couple of choices here. Because this reality was a
heavy weight on my heart, so I had three choices. Number one, denial. I could deny this fact and
I could abandon Christianity because it was so absolute and final on this particular
point and many people do. I remember Lisa and I
visiting a friend of Julia’s one night, had invited us for supper, our girls kind of played together. This is, they were young
children in those days and their daughter and our
daughter played together. So they invited us over,
they were neighbors, they lived up the street
and we were talking, it was very nice, very polite. Had supper blah blah blah. And then of course the
inevitable question comes. So Mike, so what do you do? I said oh I’m a minister. I could almost hear the
music (imitates music). There goes the evening. And he said, so of course he said, “Oh well I’ve got questions.” You know yeah okay you know. And we had questions back and forth, I think they were nominal
at best Methodists or something like that. Lutherans. And he says to me, so he says. “So you, do you believe that you know, “this very thing, Acts 4:12, “do you believe that you
know, Jesus is the only way.” I said, “Oh yes I do. “I think that that’s what
the Bible is teaching.” And then he came with his
you know, got you question. Are you telling me that
the millions and millions of Hindus in the world you know, that this applies to them? And I go, yes I do. Oh boy that was the end of
the evening right there. Yeah, no, would you like more coffee? There was no would you like more coffee? I mean it literally ended the evening. Well I think you know, oh it’s 6:45, I guess we’d better get going. Got an early start on the day tomorrow. You know the pressure at the
beginning was you know what? Be easier just to deny
that I’m even a Christian instead of having another
conversation like that. You know, Christians are persecuted not because of high moral standards. Christians are persecuted,
back in the 1st Century, even to the day because they dare say Jesus is the only way. That’s why we’re hated. So my first choice was denial,
my other choice was change. I could change the Gospel
to accommodate those who never heard it or didn’t
obey it properly or whatever. I could do that. Why don’t I just change the Gospel and I’ll make room for these
couple of million people. I’m not crazy about the
idea of what Acts 4:12 says but I don’t think I have
a right to change it. And then the other option was of course to leave everything behind
and to go out myself and reach as many people as I could with the message of salvation. That was the third option and
so I chose the third option. This was the substance of my call and how I responded to it. Not every call is to the same ministry. But all calls, all of them,
emanate from the Spirit of God. You’re called, you’re asked and you, you know, you look at the bulletin, they say hey, we need
somebody to take over the nursery area and you go wow, those little kids, that’s
a lot of work you know and you pray about it and say, okay I’m going to do it, I’m going for it. You know, I’m going to do it
and then you call up so and so and say hey is that position
taken already you know? No, are you interested? Yeah, I’m yes I will take it. You can task me with that, I will do it, just show me what to do. That’s a call from the Holy Spirit. Just like the call that Paul
got on the road to Damascus. More spectacular, of course. But the same Spirit who called him, also called Sister whoever who decided to respond to the need for somebody to take care of the nursery or somebody to paint the room
or somebody to teach a class. It’s the Spirit of God who calls us. All calls, every call is Christ-centered. No matter what we do here
we are serving Christ, that’s what we do. And all the, all the
calls serve to manifest the Spirit of Christ for the good of all. To manifest the Spirit of Christ, to reach out to the lost, to manifest the Spirit of Christ
to encourage the faithful. They’re all from the Spirit, they all serve the Christ, all of them. We should not denigrate more
mundane tasks, if you will. The same Spirit who reached out to me through this argument
that I’ve just given you is the same Spirit who calls you to pass the trays if
you wish for communion, the same Spirit. Okay, third stop along the way. Conversion, the call, the commitment. The final step I wish to
share in my Christian walk is that of commitment. It is the place I am now at. Not the final place but the
one that I am now experiencing. I noticed that some people when baptizing ask the penitent believer if they’re ready to commit themselves to Christ. I’ve heard people say that. You ready to commit
yourself to Jesus Christ? To make him the Lord of your life, you know blah blah. This is an unbiblical question to ask. The only confession is one
of faith, not commitment. No one can commit or even
understand commitment until they have tasted suffering. We can believe despite the
suffering we see others have because of faith but we
rarely understand commitment until we ourselves go
into the fires of trial, the trial of fire rather. I once thought that so long
as you had and responded to your call to ministry, the vision of heaven would
stay clearly before me all the way to the end. And I’ve learned since then
that the practice of ministry is based upon need and opportunity but the everyday substance
of Christian life revolves around commitment. What is the Christian life about? It’s about commitment. You know if you’re wondering what muscle has to be exercised, you know like in order to stay
alive you’ve got to breathe, you know the breathing takes care of all the other stuff you
know, your heart pumping. What keeps the heart
pumping in Christianity, in a faith walk. Yeah, commitment. The commitment to believe
even when doubts arise. The commitment to
ministering even when tired or frustrated, abused and discouraged. The commitment to hoping
in the resurrection even when the evidence points
to death and only death all around, we believe
in the resurrection yes and we look around us our
whole life, everybody dies. And yet we continue to
believe in resurrection. Commitment to loving even when
there is no reason to love. And no one returns our love. Commitment to repentance, even when our failures and
weaknesses seem insurmountable. Conversion and call to
ministry are exciting, exhilarating things but they are validated only through a lifelong
commitment to perseverance until the end. Paul the Apostle
experienced his conversion and his great call in
blinding light and speed. A miraculous healing, all of this happened in three years. It took me eight years to hit those three milestones. Took him three days. Course the rest of his
Christian life was spent committing his life and
committing his ministry and committing his soul
into the hands of God, one day at a time. I know one of the questions
that I’ve asked myself many times in the 40 plus years
that I’ve been a Christian, is this the day that I quit? Is this the day? Is this the event that
makes me just say, enough. Life is hard enough without
this, is this the day? Is this the day that I stop
my commitment to living a life that’s pure? Is this the day? You know our lives are very
different in many aspects but our journey in Christ
follows the same path no matter who we are and we all stop at the same three places. A conversion from lost
to saved must take place in the waters of baptism for
the journey to actually begin. A call to ministry must be
answered in order for the kingdom within us to begin growing. And an ongoing commitment
to Christ must be made if we are to survive the trials and temptations of this world and move on into the next world. And what about the next
stops along the way? What am I looking forward to? Well, I’m looking forward to resurrection. Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 4, for the Lord himself will
descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel
and with the trumpet of God and the dead in Christ will rise first. I’m looking forward to that. I’m also looking forward to glorification where I will be outfitted
with the spiritual body and the powers of a glorified body. As Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 15, so also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body. It is sown in dishonor,
it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness,
it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body, it
is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body,
there is also a spiritual body. And so resurrection,
glorification and the third step that I look forward to is exaltation and raised us up with him
and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. What will happen when I
have the glorified body? Why do I even get a glorified body? I receive a glorified body
because it is necessary to be in the presence of God and we’re in the presence of God, at the right hand, why? Because Jesus is at the
right hand and I am with him at the right hand. You know, the journey ends in heaven. Not bowing down before God. That’s what the angels
are doing and will do. But rather reigning with God
at the right hand of power. That’s why Jesus couldn’t give
that place to James and John when they asked for it. That place belongs to you and me. When Jesus returns. For now however, we remain
here and the invitation in Matthew 16 is ever before us. If anyone wishes to follow me Jesus says, let him deny himself and take
up his cross and follow me. And so all of us here, we need
to decide for the first time or recommit ourselves to following Jesus. Be converted, repent and
be baptized if you haven’t. Answer the call to ministry. In other words, respond to the Spirit and begin serving where he is leading you because he is leading everyone here. Regardless of age or gender or experience. And finally recommit your
life if you’ve fallen back. If you have answered I quit in your heart. If you’ve said that then
recommit yourself to what? To hearing, to listening
for the call of the Spirit. Don’t be discouraged,
please brothers and sisters don’t be discouraged
as you follow the Lord. The end will be much
better than the beginning and we’re only at the beginning. When the end comes, no one will regret having followed Jesus
Christ, our Lord and Savior. And so if you need to make some response to the invitation tonight in whatever way is necessary for you then we
encourage you to do that now. As we stand and as we sing
the song of encouragement.

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