Speaker: Ben Marsh
Scripture: Acts 9:1-19

From the series It's Personal

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Well. Good morning. My name is Ben. I have the privilege of being the vicar, which means pastor and training here. It’s also my privilege to share from God’s Word with you. This morning, as we kick off a new series, I. And a special welcome to to any guest that are either here in person, guests that are joining us online or returning guests that may have attended Easter or any of our Holy Week services in your back and so here is a challenge to set forth not only to guests, but to members alike. Three weeks. Can you guys give me three weeks? Yes. Can we do three weeks? Three weeks? This series is called It’s Personal, where we’re going to look at different parts of our life. First off, just your life as a whole. My life. Then your faith and then your resources. The reason that we’re looking at these things two is because these are things that not only does Scripture speak to, but in particular Jesus speaks to each of these areas as well.

When we go into Scripture, we see that actually Jesus himself, out of the 132 different contacts encounters that he has with individuals or groups throughout Scripture that are recorded in the New Testament, six were in the temple, four were in the synagogue, and 122 were out in the midst of just ordinary life. Talking about resources, talking about life, talking about faith, talking about everyday, normal things with everyday ordinary people. And so this is valuable for us to actually pause and look at that and go, okay, if Jesus spoke this much about ordinary stuff to ordinary people, then what can we glean? What can we learn? What can we understand? And so I’d like to open with this question. And again you if those of you that attend regular you know, you can talk back.

I want to know about your life. What do you want out of life? What are you hoping to get out of life? Happiness. Peace. Love. Anything else? Acceptance. You know, I know my wife and I. When we ever talk about these things, you know, what do we want out of life? Or if life’s going a little sideways, I always just remind her, say, dear, when we’re later in life in the Mediterranean and we’re watching a sunset on the back of our yacht, she won’t have to have worried about money or any of those things, right? Because it all worked out, because obviously we have a yacht. We’re in the Mediterranean. A quick search online would tell you that some of the top things top the top nine things potentially maybe listed out in no particular order like this, that what people want out of life is to to be loved, to be understood. Some people want to have power, to have attention, which I think we could all agree in our society.

Do people want attention? Some people are really seeking it to have freedom. Again, our society tells us, yeah, you want freedom. You can have total freedom to create, to belong, to win, to be connected to others. When we say that generally people in our world, that’s what they want out of life. They want those things happiness, connection, blessing, whatever you want to call it. But I actually realize that this might not be the best question to start with, because that’s what we want out of life. But actually a better question to start with would be this what do we mean when we say, it’s my life? Because we we use this this phrase very, very flippantly, like it’s my life. And we can use it in a variety of different ways.

But I would like to actually dig down on a few different perspectives of what I believe people mean when they say it’s my life, the first of which is actually really, it’s a self pity sometimes. And maybe, you know, people that’s something go sideways. And they, they might just say something like, it’s just my life got a flat tire. You got laid off. Kids aren’t listening. That’s just my life. That’s just how it goes. 

Does anyone know anyone like that? Okay. And if it’s if it’s. You don’t think so? It’s probably you. You might be that person. Now you see someone. Of course, with a gorgeous family like myself, I would never utter such words. Right? It’s just my life there you can see my lovely wife of 13 years, Stephanie, our oldest son, Zeke. Then Judah and Owen picture. They’re three beautiful boys, seven, four and two. Nothing could ever go sideways in my household, could it? No, except a couple weeks ago. My wife is a special education teacher. She had conferences one evening. So, parent teacher conferences. So she was gone for the evening, meaning that there were three boys and one dad. And so, of course, you could imagine. I have three boys. No problem. I’ve had them, you know, one versus three. a good number of times in this evening, I make a beautiful, nutritious dinner. You could imagine I had a whole bunch of activity. And of course, not anything with a screen plan that we were just going to do enrichment activities and, you know, read Scripture, all those sorts of things that you can imagine a vicar’s family does in their free time, except my wife text me in between conferences and just, you know, checks in to see how things are going. and, and this is how I responded. 

At one point, Zeke was pouting in his room. Judah was pooping, not sitting on the toilet, just sitting on the seat directly onto the toilet. And our youngest, Owen, was naked, running around the house with a diaper on his head rather than where it belonged, and my wife saying, you can’t make that up in my response. This is fine. It’s just my life. It’s just how it goes, right? And and they’re like, obviously it’s just it is just part of life with young kids, but in a more serious way. But at times when we have things that are a little bit difficult, a little bit tough, and we respond in this way where we just kind of toss our hands up and we go, oh, well, that’s that’s just my life. We’re kind of fatalist in the fact that, well, this is just the way it’s going to be. It’s just going to be difficult. There’s nothing I can do about it. So what’s really matter? I think there’s actually a real danger in that. I think it’s okay to be you know, have a sense of humor about life. But if you take it too far and you go, well, this just my life.

I have no control, no responsibility over my life, then what’s it really matter? I’m just going to kind of go through the motions and you can wallow in self-pity in that way. On the other side, there’s something I’d like to call a self-assuredness, and that is definitely seen within our society. This is my life. This is my life, and I’m going to do something about it if I want my life to look good. And, you know, if it’s if it’s to be, then it is up to me. I’m going to figure this thing out. And this actually has been written by a more recent theologian. Many of you probably know this theologian, sob, Bon Jovi. So in his, book of crush, that’d be the album back in 2000, the first track and the first three lines here. You may be familiar, you don’t have to sing along, but in In A Song for the brokenhearted, not a silent prayer for the faith departed. I’m going to be just a face in the crowd. You’re going to hear my voice. I’m going, I’m going to shout it loud. And here we get into his deep theology. It’s my life.

It’s now or never. I ain’t going to live forever. He’s really saying something there. I don’t agree with it. because actually, I do believe as believers you to live forever. But I just want to live while I’m alive. And then this chorus here that we are all so very familiar with. It’s my life. My heart is like an open highway.

Like Frankie, he’s actually studying another theologian. I would be Frank Sinatra. from previous years. I did it my way. I just want to live while I’m alive. It’s my life that’s self-assuredness determined. You know what? Fate doesn’t really matter. There’s no fate. I am in charge of my own fate. I am in charge of my own life. And so if my life is going to look good, then I have to make it look good. I am the one that is ultimately responsible. Now, don’t hear me wrong. I think that there is a value within certain bounds that we each have things that we are responsible for, and that you don’t want to swing too far to the side of self-pity. And this is just fate. It all doesn’t matter anyways. Whatever’s going to happen is going to happen. But there is also a danger going all the way over to this determinist. I’m going to figure it out. 

I’m going to pull myself up by my bootstraps, and I’m going to make my life look the way I want it to look, because behind that, who is? When you have to really think, who is ultimately responsible for your life? Is he over in this camp when it is you and you’re determined and you’re going to figure it out, there’s two pitfalls. The first one’s obvious. It’s pride. You get puffed up, you think you’re the one that’s in control. The second one is actually far more, far more dangerous. A number of years ago, I had recently started a new job. And starting this new job, it was an exciting new job. It was a meeting. It was, it was a big new job. It was a it was a step up in some regards. And at that time, I only had one child. We had moved across the country and things on the outside, they look good. It looked really good. It was a great new job. It was a great position. It was a great church. It was a it was just an exciting time in our life. One child and just starting out.

And right here in this photo, what you can’t see is that at this time also, we had just moved across the country and we’re living in a rental house at this time. We’re renting, trying to figure out what’s going to be next, because while our income’s been cut in half, my wife is no longer working. We move. We move for my work. And so we’re living in a rental for a season. Okay. That’s fine. There’s a whole bunch of other things just to stress this exciting new job. Actually, it turned out to be a very stressful new job. A job that actually I didn’t believe that I was qualified for, that. I believed we had enough competence to actually carry out. And being a young father as well, a multitude of other things. I remember being over here in this camp of self-assured, I’m going to figure this out. I’m going to figure this out. I’m going to figure this out in a couple weeks, go by in a couple of months, go by and we’re still in this rental and we still don’t have it figured out. And I don’t have it figured out, and I don’t know how I’m going to figure it out. And I don’t know if work’s actually really working out. This is a lot of pressure. This is a lot of stuff in there at that rental house. There’s this long walk, long gravel driveway. And I remember one day walking down the long gravel driveway to go get the mail from mailbox down this country road, right across this country road, of which the speed’s about 55.

But people would go 70 right? And I remember the weight of all those things while I was walking, just weighing, waiting on me more and more. And just knowing how fast people go down this road. And I remember as I approached the end of the gravel and started getting close to the road, this intrusive thought come into my head. Just step in front of a car. Because this self-assured Ben that had it all figured out and all look good on the outside, it just wasn’t working out because inside was in turmoil. Inside was stress beyond belief, because I was trying to control the things I could control, and I was trying to control the things I couldn’t control either. And by the grace of God, it’s just a fleeting, intrusive thought that does not come from God. I’d venture to say there’s probably people here in this room and people watching online that maybe thought like that before. What we don’t realize is what we’re not wallowing necessarily in self-pity, and it can come from there, but it certainly comes from this arena of our life where we believe it is all dependent on us because we need our life to look good.

We want all those things. We want connection, we want love. We want our finances to be in order. We want our families to be happy and smiling and good. And when they’re not, and it’s our life and it’s dependent on us, it will lead you to despair. What we have to realize is that it isn’t your life, and there’s actually freedom and a weight that is lifted when we come to this conclusion in the book of First Corinthians, we hear this. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? Now say this with me. You are not your own. You were bought with a price. So glorify God with your body. You’re not your own. It’s not your life. And it’s not about you. You are not ultimately responsible for everything within your life. You are responsible for a certain arena. A certain boundary is set in your life for the things that you are called to do, and things you are called not to do.

But once you start to step outside of that and believe that it’s all dependent on you and your eyes are fixed on yourself time and time again, you will be led to despair. This life is difficult. This life is hard. It is filled with sin that we both commit and sin that is committed to us. And there is freedom in recognizing that you are not your own. Far too often when we live in this camp of self-assured, it’s up to me you’re acting like an owner. But you don’t own your life. If you owned a piece of property, if you owned a restaurant or a business and something broke, it would be your responsibility as an owner. Friends, your managers, you are stewards is a way that scripture would put it. You are called to manage if something goes sideways that outside of your pay grade, where do you go as a manager? You go talk to the. You go talk to the owner. Far too often we think of owner that we are the owner of our own life. It is my life. It is dependent on me. I have to figure this out on my own, not recognizing that you are simply managing the life that has been given to you by the owner, by the creator.

We actually see this play out in an interaction between Jesus and someone who was living that self-assured, determined life comes out of the book of acts, and we meet our character, Saul and Acts chapter nine. In verse one it says this. Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. Sounds like a nice guy. Saul is a religious leader at the time, a religious leader who did not believe in the resurrection, who did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah or the Son of God.

But Saul was good at what he did. He was arguably the best at what he did, and what he did was persecute Christians. He’s very smart. Born in the right time, born in the right place, born with the right set of gifts to do the wrong thing. And then he has an encounter as he, that is, as Saul near Damascus on his journey. He’s there, going on a journey to go persecute more Christians. Suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him, and he fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me here? 

Saul is doing all that he thinks he needs to do, and more, because he’s so zealous. He’s so excited about persecuting Christians because he believes that is what God has called him to do. The problem is both for Saul and for ourselves. There are times that we do things God never told us to do. Have you ever done something for God that he never asked you to do? Now if you end up going down that route, you’re of course you’re going to be frustrated. Well, I thought God told me to move here. I thought God told me to go here. I thought, God, I thought I heard God clearly that he he wanted me to do this thing or that thing. And in doing so, all of a sudden when it goes sideways, then we might begin to question whether God is good or whether we actually heard God clearly here. Obviously, Saul does not have a very good pulse. And what the heart of God is. And so Jesus has to encounter him in this supernatural way. And so Saul asks, who are you, Lord? I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. He replied, now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do. Saul is actually blinded. 

He sent to the city. He’s there for three days, and then we see another character come on to the scene. See there in that city, Damascus, there was a disciple named Ananias, and the Lord called to him in a vision. Ananias. Yes, Lord, he answered. The Lord told him, go to the house of Judas on straight street, and ask for a man of Tarsus named Saul. He is praying in a vision. He has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight. So now here, there actually is a true disciple of Jesus, who’s in this city of Damascus, who does believe in the resurrected Jesus. That Jesus is the Messiah, is the Son of God, and God comes to him in a supernatural way and gives him very clear instruction. Unlike Saul, Saul, who’s acting out, persecuting Christians, thinking he’s doing so in the name of God. Well, now, Ananias has very clear directions from God of exactly what to do. So Saul being a good believer, what do you think he does? He listens right away, right? Like all of us do.

Know, he’s he’s slow in his understanding, Lord. And he has answered. I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem, and he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name. Here Ananias is trying to explain to God you. Do you understand which saw this? Is this the Saul that this is the one that’s overseeing Christians being stoned? This is the one who has letters to arrest in jail Christians just for believing in Jesus. Are you sure you have the right guy? But here’s the other problem. Sometimes we don’t. We? We try to do the things God hasn’t called us to do on the other side, the things that God calls us to do.

Those can be uncomfortable things because God does have a plan of how your life should go, but it’s not always comfortable. The Christian life is actually filled with discomfort. I mean, just from the very, very fact that as Christians you are called to forgive others who sin against you. It’s for giving someone who’s really, truly hurt you. 

Is that an enjoyable experience or an uncomfortable experience? Is being a good employee always a comfortable experience? Is being a good parent always a comfortable experience? Is listening to your parents? Is listening to the government? Is listening to the things that God has called you to do within his ten commandments. Being obedient to God. Is that always a comfortable experience? I know for myself, I can think back to another occurrence in my life. Actually, just a number of years ago. Where we we prayed and we asked and and we sought God. And we actually received a call here to this church. And we we thought clear as day God was speaking. We just saw signs left and right, like God is calling us to this place, that this peace and the settling. Like this is certainly the place for us. And so we, we, we move forward in faith. God is calling us. And there is a secret little assumption that I didn’t realize I had until I realized it is that things should go well and should be comfortable. 

And when I realized it was March 15th, 2020, when we’re moving here is now all of a sudden this thing called Covid was breaking out. And instead of moving into another rental, instead of moving into another place, we moved in with my in-laws for three months, and all of a sudden going from a house down to a couple of bedrooms, all of a sudden going from two jobs down to one job, all of a sudden everything being cut back and pruned again and again in my life, and all of a sudden it could lead you. It definitely led me to the place to question, wait a second. I thought that by following your leading God that my life would be comfortable. No, God didn’t call me to be comfortable. He’s actually called me to be faithful and to actually trust that he does have good plans. But they’re not always going to be the most comfortable plans for your life. Now it Ananias actually gets to hear from the Lord a little bit more instruction on what to do and why to do it.

So he he tells him, the Lord said to Ananias, go this man is my chosen instrument, to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and to their kings and the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name. Then Saul, soon to be Paul, this amazing apostle, has written the majority of the letters within the New Testament. God is saying he’s going to suffer and he is going to suffer greatly. Maybe, maybe this was comforting for Ananias to hear because he knew what a wretched man Saul was. You see, the first thing highlighted there, the. Saul is God’s chosen instrument. Saul was born at the right place, at the right time, with the right gifting, with the right mind to understand all these things about Jesus in theology, with the willingness to go on all these missionary journeys to spread the news of Jesus.

And he also had all this brokenness and sin and murderous threats and overseen of stoning and looking to jail. Christian, he had all of that in his past as well. And God looked down and said that that man is my chosen instrument to share the good news. What we have to realize is what God says of Saul is also true of you as well. Now, you’re not called necessarily to go right anymore. The scripture that’s close, or you’re not necessarily called to go on a missionary journey, but you are his chosen instrument. You are his workmanship. And if you will actually just look at this thread that actually runs throughout Scripture, both in the Old and New Testament, because I help, I believe this will help us understand our relationship to God is a relationship between a creator and the created, between a potter and the pot, between the molder. Those of us that are molded see Paul, the one who we’re talking about here after he converts, after he goes from Saul to Paul, he’s baptized. He believes. Now he’s on missionary journeys. Now he’s sharing the good news of Jesus, and he’s telling others about Jesus, and he writes them in Roman. He says this, but who are you? Oh, man. To ask back to God will what is molded say to the molder? Why have you made me like this? Has the potter know right over the clay? Why did you make me like this? 

Why is life so difficult? Why is it so hard? Why is. Why is it going this way? I thought I was supposed to follow you and things are supposed to be easy. Why did you make me like this? Why did you make me interested in this career path instead of that? Why did you make me born in this area? Why did you make me born of this family? You knew this family was going to treat me this way. Why did you make me like this? God. And what you recognize here is that you are simply a piece of molded pottery. Speaking back to the potter, Almighty God going, why? Why did you make me like this? Why did you have all these occurrences in my life? Why has all this sin been committed to me? Why have all the sudden been committed from me? Why am I like this? And in doing so, we’re questioning a good and sovereign God in areas that he is in control of. And we certainly are not. I mentioned it goes back even to the Old Testament. You see, there’s a prophet, Jeremiah, and God is trying to show Jeremiah something, and he uses the same analogy again. I went down to the potter’s house. I saw him working at the wheel. The potter’s working at the wheel, but the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands.

So the fat, the. So the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as it seemed best to him. Now we begin to understand. Why did you make me like this? Because that term there marred. It’s broken, it’s scarred, it’s tarnished. It’s imperfect. There is a pot that is in the potter’s hands. That is not good. There is brokenness. There is sin, there is disease, there is struggle. There is strife. But the potter looks at it and says, I want to not only make this pot, I want to reform it and reshape it into what I ultimately want to use it for. As it says there, what seemed best to him. And for a moment, can we then realize that if we are the created and he truly is the creator, that not only does he have the right to form us, but he has the God given right to reform us and reshape us. So then all those broken things that if we’re in this self-assured area of our life and it’s just not working out, that we can actually just we can rest in the fact that the creator will reshape and reform all those broken pieces of our lives. In ways that seem best to him.

It’s actually brings us to our third perspective, because if we can actually rest, rest as a created man that has a loving, good creator and stop staring at our lives so much and more so long and look at God, we’ll come to this place rather than self-pity, rather than being self-assured, God will work in and through your life that you might be able to be selfless. It’s not your life. Your life is a gift. Your life is his life. 

It’s it’s not about you. It’s not about your life. For every one long look that we or every glance that we have at our own life, we should have ten long stares at God Almighty because he’s the one. He is the gift giver who’s giving you life. The John the Baptist put it this way very succinctly that he, Jesus, must become greater, and I, I must become less. Because even your life ultimately isn’t about you. Your life is ultimately, it’s about him. Colossians again, I believe Paul puts it this way. So you died. And your life is hidden with Christ in God. Amen, Amen, Amen. It’s not your life. You’re a life. You’re life. What’s death? Your life was sin. Your life was that you had, this strong pull in desire towards sin and things contrary to God. There’s nothing that you could do to reconcile yourself to a good and holy and righteous God. And the only way that you can have life is for you to die. And the only way for you to die is to actually be connected to Christ, because his death now becomes your life. And it’s no longer about how we think about things. It’s up to me. It’s dependent on me. So I have to give my life to God. 

But rather we have to look at it this way don’t give your life to God. Receive his life. Take his life. He’s handing it to you. You don’t have to surrender to him. He’s already surrendered and given his life to you. Simply receive in faith all the good things he has for you and recognize this. These things are hidden things. The good life that we seek, the light that is ultimately life. We see it in Christ as a servant and in suffering. It is a cross-shaped life, not one that’s always up into the right, but it’s one that is in the small and minuscule. And sometimes we might think maybe just meaningless things here. Life being hidden in Christ means that every little instance of your life where you can act as a servant to your spouse, you’re living out the life he’s given you, every opportunity that you have to pray with your kids and speaking of them and bring them to church. You’re living out the life that Christ is giving you every time that you can just simply be a good employee, a good friend, a good cousin, a good grandchild. Every time that you can live into those vocations that God has placed you, his creative being into. And every time you live into that well, you are living the life that Christ has given you. And we see this as well. 

If our life is hidden with Christ, if that’s where our life is ultimately found, do we not realize that all the things that we mentioned earlier, well, they’re all true. What do you want out of life? To be loved? Well guess what? God Almighty himself in flesh, said, I love you as he was nailed to a tree so he could forgive you of all of your sins. You are loved abundantly beyond anything you could ask or imagine to be understood. You have a high priest in Jesus Christ who has been tempted in every way, suffered in every way. So now he can empathize with you, his created being, in every single way. You are understood to have power. You can bend the ear of God Almighty, who spoke creation into being at any given moment that you want. And you can know, fully assured that God hears your prayers to have attention. He knows every single hair on your head, and he’s ordered all of your steps and knows every day that you’re going to live before you live them. That freedom you have complete and utter freedom in Christ. You are no longer bound to sin. You are no longer ensnared or enslaved to sin. That that chain has been broken. 

Are you free? You are free to live the life that he has called you to live. No longer thinking, you have to live up to expectations, no longer living down into this self-pity, but you have complete and utter freedom. Freedom to create, create a life that would be pleasing to God. That you can belong as you belong here, to a body of believers, that he’s giving you an earthly family, a fellow believers, and a win. Just as we heard last week that we have victory in Christ and now that victory is secure, you have hope of eternal life and to connect. We believe that through that victory that you will, in fact see your creator face to face and talk about connection, all the things that you would want out of life. yes, in a man in an empty tomb. So my invitation to us is the stop living. To try to be so self-assured or stop living in pity. Stop living like it’s still Good Friday. And start living like it’s actually Easter. That these things are true in a crucified Christ and in through an empty tomb. Well that’s good, that’s good. On a Sunday, then. 

I go back to work tomorrow or on Tuesday of this, or I got to go through my regular life. So what am I supposed to do with that life? It’s nice to know that all these things are secured in Jesus, but practically speaking, what am I supposed to do? How am I supposed to know what God wants me to do with my life? Let me put it to you this way and within my household, with these three beautiful boys, we’ll have conversations around the dinner table. And in years past, the conversation would sometimes revolve around like you would have many kids, young or old. What do you want to be when you grow up? What are you interested in doing? And I realize that that’s that’s an okay question, but it’s not that good of a question because I want you to hear this. I don’t care. And I don’t mean that I don’t care about my kids. I don’t I don’t care, I don’t care if you’re a teacher. I don’t care if you’re a firefighter. I don’t care if you go into the military. I don’t, I don’t care your worth. Their worth. To me as my children, it’s certainly not dependent on what vocation it’s not depending on what school they go to. It’s not dependent on what sports they play. It’s not dependent on who eventually becomes their spouse. 

And much in the same way, when we come to these crossroads in our everyday life, what does God want me to do? What school should I go to? Who should I date? How do I decide what to do? I believe in again, don’t mishear me. I believe our Heavenly Father looks down and on his children, and he might say, in some of these areas, child. I don’t care. I care about you, and I care that you make good decisions. But if your decision is made within certain bounds, where it is, it is honoring to God, and it is loving towards other people. There is not some sort of mystery perfect path that you have to figure out, and then he’s withholding it from you. You need to know that you have freedom. You have freedom to decide to do what God has called you to do. 

And let’s close out our time with this verse for that same book, Colossians. It says this, that whatever you do in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Children, you have freedom. You have freedom to go live the life that God has given you as a gift. And now it’s our opportunity is first recognizing that life has, in fact a gift, that it is as his created being, and to give the gift back to him with what we do with our life, to bring him honor and glory and praise, and to love our neighbors as ourselves, and that we can rest in the fact we don’t have to have it all figured out, that this life is ultimately his life, and that we just follow day in and day out, taking one step forward at a time. Trusting, trusting that the God who formed us and created us is continuing to reform us and recreate us. To accomplish the purposes that he set before us in our life. Amen.