Teays Valley Church of God what is your story? “I am created by God and am re-created by the Holy Spirit to become like Jesus. I trust God, seek Him, follow Him, worship Him, and tell others about Him. When I sin, I will ask for forgiveness and move on in victory. That’s my story, and I am sticking to it.”
Will it be the Seahawks or the Broncos? It will be interesting to see if anyone stands out on either team and makes a game changing play. You know what I’m talking about, the kind of play that reverses the momentum of the whole game, the kind of play that takes people by surprise, the kind of play that requires great heads up anticipation and athleticism, the one that perhaps winds up becoming the winning play of the game. One person CAN make a great difference whether a positive one or a negative one. Yes, just one person can become a game changer and literally a world changer.
1 Corinthians 9:19-27 19 Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings. 24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26 Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. 27 No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.
The Apostle Paul was definitely a game changer. He was a game changer before he became a Christian, but not in a good way. He persecuted Christians. He even had them killed. People were afraid of him. He made threats, and he carried them out. But when Paul’s life was dramatically changed by God, Paul became a game changer in a good way for the Kingdom of God as his preaching, his passion, and his personal life became a compelling example for all those he would encounter. He wrote the words from I Corinthians that we just read that give us some insight into becoming game changers in life and game changers for the Kingdom of God. Paul wasn’t just a game changer, but a world changer. My big thought for this morning is that you and I were born to change the world! In our age of instant and global technology, you and I have the capacity to be game changers every day and to radically change the world! The ripples you make with your life have the capacity to travel around the world and change lives for the sake of the Gospel. Who wants to be a game changer with me this morning?
- a. Ask yourself this question: For me to really win at life what will I need to accomplish? For the world winning is defined in many ways. Many of us are familiar with the bumper sticker that says, “He who dies with the most toys wins.” I mean, really? When I pass people with that phrase on their car, my flesh wants to roll down window and yell, “Grow up!” Winning isn’t about money, travel, houses, cars, or some kind of social status. Young people if you will accept what I am saying as true you can be spared a lot of heartache. It isn’t wrong to pursue those things as part of the enjoyment of life, but those aren’t the measurements of success for Christians. Let me offer some ideas about what godly success looks like:Successful game changing people become themselves. That may sound crazy at first read, but let me unpack it. Contrary to what your science book told you in school, you did not evolve from apes or some blob of something in the atmosphere. That is a lie from Satan meant to minimize you, squash you, and keep you from reaching to become all God intended you to become. You have been hand-made by God. That isn’t a theory. That is the truth. He has a plan for your life, and winning at life means you pursue discovering what THAT plan is. Paul said he wasn’t going to run aimlessly through life (look at vs 26). He was going to live a purposeful life by living out God’s plan. People who are scrambling to keep up with everyone else or to become whatever others tell them they ought to become if they are going to be successful are just going to wander through life never becoming what God intends and therefore they will never become game changers and have an impact on the world.
John Wooden, the legendary UCLA basketball coach, in his classic autobiography, “They Call Me Coach” defined success this way: “Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best you are capable of becoming.”
You see one problem with the world’s definition of success is that it asks you to become what some human thinks you should become or what your group of friends suggests you need to be about. There is only One person whose opinion ultimately counts, and that is God. If your goal is to live up to the expectations of everyone around you, you will change courses tens of thousands of times in your life instead of changing the world. You were born to change the world! Yes, following God’s plan will require you learn and grow and make adjustments along the way, but you will be following one course for your life by becoming who God intends. Only as you listen for God’s voice and let God direct your steps and let God correct you when you need it and let God develop in your life will you be shaped into a game changer and world changer for those around you. You will make the best and most significant mark by becoming who you were meant to become.
Ephesians 2:10 “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
What is it you were created for? What good works? What skills do you need to acquire? In what ways do you need to grow up? What will best prepare you to accomplish your God-given tasks? The Apostle Paul was meant to become a preacher. No, he didn’t start out that way, and no one would have seen it coming or believed it could be possible, but Paul surrendered his life to God and let God re-shape the focus of Paul’s pursuits and passions. You cannot live a successful life without God leading it. You may come from a good home. You may obtain a great education. You might land a nice paying job. You may be pretty or handsome and have a lot of friends, but in the end, a life without God at the center will be superficial and will not have any lasting impact. Before his relationship with Jesus Paul was doing the “right” thing but for the wrong team. Only through his relationship with Christ did he get on the right team and start heading for the right goal. Christian, become who you are by letting God lead you.
- b. Successful, game changing people prepare daily to win.
(“Be prepared,” is the Boy Scout motto, right?) You never know when you will need that new skill, that new knowledge, that new friendship to help you down the road. The Apostle Paul took preparation seriously. He was already super smart when it came to the religious law because he was a by-the-book Jew as he grew up. He knew the Scriptures. He was an over achiever. He could recite long passages. He was a spiritual “show off” if you will. But until he met Jesus personally the knowledge, the Scriptures hadn’t changed his mind, heart and behavior. You see, if you are going to win, you are going to have to pay attention to your mind, your heart, and your behavior. Paul said, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training.”
Winners never skip their training. The teams playing tonight are not hoping that the sit ups and stretches they do today will be enough to pull off a win. No. It has been months and months of grueling, ongoing, daily training. They have had their heads in tonight’s game long before now. They have been physically and mentally preparing to prove they are worthy of being champions. John Wooden, the hugely successful basketball coach at UCLA during its dynasty years, was asked his secret in producing stellar teams. His answer: “We master the basics. We drill over and over again on the fundamentals.”
Christians, we need to be drilling over and over again on the fundamentals. Your Bible isn’t just a memento of when you were saved or Baptized. It’s not just a special gift you were given for some spiritual milestone. It is your playbook. You need to read it, know it, and live by it. I know prayer and Bible reading can feel at times like you are going through the motions. That is ok. That’s what exercise is a lot of times. That is what discipline is about. When I am at Zumba or out walking I am not thinking, “Boy, I wish this would last twice as long!” No! I’m thinking, “How much more can I eat when I leave here because I put myself through this torture!” Okay, not really. Okay, well, sometimes, but usually it’s “How much longer will this take?” “When will this be over?”
When I choose to exercise it’s not because I am living for the exercise, but it’s because I want to live to experience the long term benefits that will result from the lunges and crunches. The same is true for us spiritually. It’s about doing what we may not feel like doing in recognition that it will prepare us for something greater. “Well, Pastor Melissa, I can’t believe you’re saying that praying and Bible reading could even be drudgery. Why it is a joy to sit and read my Bible for hours on end, and I never tire of what God has to say to me through its pages.” Well, good for you! But for most of us it is effort. For most of us it is intentional work. Whether you are thrilled to do it or whether it takes some work, I’m telling you that in order to succeed you must do it. If you live disconnected from the Word of God and prayer, you will live a disjointed, erratic, and unprepared life. (Now we are back to living aimlessly!) I am just being straight up this morning. Even if you make it to church every Sunday, once-a-week training isn’t enough to prepare you for the intensity of daily life.
Winners take personal responsibility for their success. It’s not just about showing up for practice, but winners are learning off the field as well. They are getting their bodies in shape at other times too. They are watching what they are eating. They are reading up on the game. They are looking at others who do what they do better than they do it in hopes of learning something. They are putting in time on and off the field. The players who are playing in tonight’s Super Bowl will tell you they are eating, sleeping, and breathing football. That’s what it takes!
Paul says that in order to succeed by Christ’s standards, we need to be in strict training. How many of us could honestly say we were in strict training as a disciple of Jesus this morning?
Scouts and scout families, we are thrilled to have you join us this morning. We are glad to offer you space in our facility. We love that your children are learning about God and country, about patriotism and respect, but as they do, as a minister of the Gospel let me also challenge you and all of the parents here this morning to make sure your children also learn about a life-changing personal relationship with Christ because patriotism and citizenship won’t take them where they eventually need to go. Morality won’t get us to heaven. Patriotism and good citizenship won’t take us to heaven. Not even attending church will get us there. It is only through a personal relationship with Christ that we will successfully make that trip to heaven one day.
Training to win involves that godly heritage, that learning of the Word of God and learning how to pray, so that when temptation comes, when the drug pusher pushes or the opportunity to cut corners by cheating or stealing or the temptation to choose sexual promiscuity is right in front of them, our kids will know how internally through the Word and prayer to get out of the situation without compromising. You see it is one thing to know right and wrong. It is another thing to be trained to choose right. Godly training will empower us in the heat of the moment to choose right.
- c. Successful, game changing people learn from their failures.
The story is told of a new bank president who met with his predecessor and said, “I would like to know what have been the keys to your success.” The older gentleman looked at him and replied, “Young man, I can sum it up in two words: Good decisions.” To that the young man responded, “I thank you immensely for that advice, sir, but how does one come to know which are the good decisions?” “One word, young man,” replied the sage. “Experience.” “That’s all well and good,” said the younger, “but how does one get experience?” “Two words,” said the elder. “Bad decisions.” Today In The Word, November, 1989, p.23.
Your failures can become your greatest teachers to lead you to true success. Satan wants to use your failures against you. He wants to get in your head. You know, like the crowds at a basketball game that start taunting, “Airball! Airball” to try to psych out the player and keep him or her from taking another shot. (I hate that, but I guess it’s part of the psychology of the game.) At some point you are going to have to tune out the voices of those who say you can’t and listen to God who says you can. Let your failures just push you to work harder. Let your failures teach you the way not to do something next time. If you allow your failures to dictate how far you will go in life you will never become a game changer. You will just wander aimlessly through life. There it is again! Aimlessness! Listen to me. Failure is part of success. None of us who has achieved anything achieved that thing without some measure of failure. Am I right? Everything we have attained we have attained with some failures along the way.
Remember what Paul said beginning in verse 19? I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.
Paul wore himself out trying to preach from every possible angle, trying to get in with every possible people group, trying to identify with people on their level in hopes that at the end of the day some of them would accept Jesus as Savior and become Christians. But Paul realized not everyone that heard him preach would be convinced. Not every person he talked to about Jesus would be saved. Paul could have seen himself as a bad preacher. He could have blamed himself for not being better spoken or more compelling, but that isn’t the decision he made. He decided to keep going and keep traveling from town to town to preach the Good News about Jesus.
Preaching the Gospel is hard. Convincing people that the Good News that they can receive involves dying to their own way of life and letting Christ have total control of their lives can be a tough sell in this day and time. It’s not a popular message to tell people they need to admit they are sinners in need of a Savior, and that living by the Bible is their absolute best chance for happiness in this life and in the life to come. The Truth isn’t very popular these days. People don’t want to hear it let alone live by it.
I will admit that I have had to overcome feelings of failure many times as a preacher when I sensed the Lord gave me a specific word to deliver and no one responded or few people responded. I have to wrestle with doubts from time to time that perhaps I didn’t say it powerfully enough or clearly enough or specifically enough for people to understand it or to want to accept Jesus. But I cannot be detoured by apathy or a lack of response. I must stay true to the calling on my life to be a preacher of the Gospel recognizing that not everyone will be saved, but some will. Some will. And because of the some, I stay in the race. Because of the some, I stay the course. Because of the some, I continue the training. Because of the some, I will look for new ways to say it better the next time.
Paul’s desire to win people to Christ takes me to my last point.
- d. Successful, game changing people help others win.
If I can live to make my husband better, that’s my goal. If somehow through my life, my time, my acts of service, my instruction, I can make my children better, I want to. If through accepting the call to pastor this church and serve in this community, I can see people saved, families thrive, disciples made, and help make life better for the people in this county and beyond, I want to.
The best sports players are those who make the extra pass to let someone else score. They are those who block the opponent so that their team mate can run into the end zone. We shine the brightest when we help others shine.
Perhaps you have heard the story of the starfish:
While walking along a beach, an elderly gentleman saw someone in the distance picking something up and throwing it into the ocean. As he got closer, he noticed a young boy picking up starfish one by one and tossing each one gently back into the water.
He came closer still and called out, “Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing? The young man paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean.”
The old man smiled, and said, “I must ask, then, why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?” To this, the young man replied, “The sun is up, and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them in, they’ll die.” to which the elderly observer commented, “But, young man, do you not realize that there are miles and miles of beach and there are starfish all along every mile? You can’t possibly make a difference!”
The young man listened politely. Then he bent down, picked up another starfish, threw it into the back into the ocean past the breaking waves and said, “It made a difference for that one.”
You are called to be a game changer by rescuing the perishing, caring for the dying, being a friend to the person who is lonely at the lunch table, assisting that single mom that needs some special help and by visiting the lonely. You are called to be a game changer by visiting the sick and remembering the grieving in prayer. You are called to be a game changer by mentoring the child without a father, by coming alongside that scared pregnant teen, and by making sure your neighbor has some food to eat. You are called to be a game changer by telling others about the love of Jesus and inviting them to church.
Are you becoming who you are? Are you becoming what God intends? Are you in strict training to do your very best to prepare for the good works God has planned for you? Are you learning from failures or are you shrinking back in fear? Are you living life for yourself alone or are you helping others win?
Where are the Christians who will join me in becoming game changers for the Kingdom of God?