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Congrats to our graduates and to every person who has almost made it to the end of another school year.  I’m reminded of a story of a child who took his report card home and showed it to mom. The mother was very disappointed by all the very low grades. “Well, look on the bright side” said the child, “you know for sure I don’t cheat.”  The fact that those of you who are graduating have “made it” is a major accomplishment, and we celebrate it with you!  As you move into this next phase of your life, I want to explore the idea with you and all of us that pursuing God’s call is an unfolding, ongoing experience. I always believed God would use me in worship ministry.  My gifting for such was obvious from an early age.  I had a passion for music and God allowed me great opportunities to pursue music both instrumentally and vocally as I was growing up.  I thought, however, that perhaps I’d be a music evangelist or recording artist. I received a call to full-time ministry at NAC after my senior year of high school.  During one of the evening services, I knew God wanted my life to be committed to some kind of full-time ministry.  Not knowing what it would look like or involve, I went to the altar and simply said, “Yes.”  My home church, the 11th St. Church of God, in Canton, OH, allowed me to do a concert and then gathered around me in prayer to “commission” me for the purpose of ministry. In the spring of my senior year at AU, the missionary board called me to ask if I would consider teaching school in Cyprus.  I thought they meant “Florida!”  Seriously!  A few short months later, I was on a plane to the Middle East where I spent two years teaching fifth grade and leading worship in a non denominational, international, multi-lingual church. When my two years was up, I just felt a prompting to go to seminary to further my education.  Again, thinking worship ministry was my life’s calling, I got a Masters in Church Music.  While there, another call came.  This one was from Rev. Mitchell Burch of the Dayspring Church of God.  He asked me to consider becoming the Worship Arts Pastor at the Dayspring Church of God in Cincinnati where he was serving as the senior pastor.  I candidated and moved to Cincinnati where I spent twelve awesome and rewarding years in ministry. Pastor Burch urged me to pursue ordination.  Never thinking I’d be a senior pastor, I did so just because that recognition seemed to open hospital ICU and other doors.  🙂  Five years into my ministry in Cincinnati, I attended a drama in which the person playing Jesus came out at the end to simply say, “The fields are white unto harvest, but where are the workers?”  I turned around in my seat, made it an altar and answered what I believe was the call to preach. Pretty soon, I had opportunities to do so.  Pastor Burch resigned and following the departure of the rest of the full-time staff (4 in total) I was left as the only full-time staff pastor.  During that time I began preaching more, and God began to do a work in me.  He created a shepherd’s heart in me.  My love and compassion for people just seemed to explode.  Where my focus in ministry had been on performance, there was a dramatic shift towards a focus on people. Four years later, while attending a conference, I heard God say, “I want you to become a senior pastor.”  I shared that with Rev. Tim Kufeldt, my then senior pastor, and he supported that preparation.  My title was changed to that of Associate Pastor and my sphere of ministry increased again. After three years of prayer, seeking God and searching the “Church of God Wants Ads” to find a church a call came. After candidating in 2007, our family moved to WV in February to begin working in this awesome and exciting ministry.  For those of you who have been here for all of the past four plus years, isn’t it amazing what God has done? One verse I have clung to about my call I Thessalonians 5:24 “The One who calls you is faithful and he will do it.” Will you stand for the reading of our main texts, now? Romans 8:28-30 “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those he predestined, he also called.” Romans 12:1-6 “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God–this is your spiritual act of worship. 2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will. 3 For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you. 4 Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.” Silent Prayer Let me say, regarding the call of God on my life-that my journey unfolded as I was prepared and ready to obey Him.  Had I known up front, like before college, that I would one day be a senior pastor of a fast-growing church, I would have run the other way.  My preparation, for sure, would have been drastically different, and I don’t think I would have had the knowledge concerning worship that I needed not only as a worship pastor, but as a senior pastor as well. I believe that’s the way God works in most of our lives.  I doubt that those who are over 40 in this room would say that they knew at age five exactly what they would be doing in this moment.  More probably, if you feel you are following God’s will for your life at this time, you have felt Him leading you one step at a time as you trusted in Him.  Probably looking back, things make a lot more sense than they did at the time and you are able to see how God prepared you for the place you now find yourself. As we examine Romans 8:28-30, we do see a progression when it comes to God’s call on our lives, and as I Thessalonians 5:24 points out, the responsibility for ensuring the call of God is possible is all God’s.  The responsibility to be faithful to that call, is all ours. Choosing to accept God’s call is a wise choice because it has several benefits.  Let me use a card game to illustrate.  How many of you play “Church of God Poker?”  It’s called Rook!    I’ll take you on anytime, anywhere!  As in the game Euchre, Rook uses trump.  Trump cards are the highest cards in the deck and the Rook is boss.  It takes anything.  The first benefit of answering God’s call is that “God holds all of the trump.” First, we see that those who accept God’s call and are willing to follow even through the twists and turns of life, will live with a prevailing sense that God is for them and is working good into their lives, no matter their circumstances.  Only our God could mix tragedy, sorrow, pain, suffering, and challenge into the joyful parts of our life and enable us to experience an ongoing sense of blessing and richness or fullness. Pretend we’re making some homemade chocolate chip cookies this morning.  We’re going to take some flour, salt, sugar, baking soda, brown sugar, eggs, vanilla and 2 cups of chocolate chips and mix them together.  However, at the last minute we realize that instead of vanilla we have added Worcestershire sauce.  That one ingredient that wasn’t a part of the recipe would spoil them, making them taste horrible.  That moment you had looked forward to when you would bite into that soft, warm, and delicious cookie is now ruined.  The whole batch would be thrown out. Sometimes life can feel that way.  A person’s day can be going great.  No conflict.  No drama.  No difficulty.  And then, boom.  Something unexpected and unwanted happens.  For people who haven’t accepted God’s call to belong to Him and to surrender everything to Him as it happens, they can easily feel as if the whole day has been ruined and let that one event cause them to feel defeated for weeks, months, and even years.  However, for the believer, even if the event is life-altering in that it changes a person’s life physically or financially or emotionally, God’s promise to provide a benefit or blessing or bring something good into the life of that believer trumps the change the event brought into a person’s life.  Only our God, can add Worcestershire sauce to the batch of cookies, if you will, and make them sweeter rather than bitter.  It’s because God holds all of the trump. If you have accepted God’s call to belong to Him, graduate, whatever you face hear me.  It is God’s responsibility to cause it to be for your benefit somehow.  Your only obligation is to surrender to whatever God wants to do in that situation. You see, when we accept God’s call to belong to Him and follow His will for our lives, we are accepting the call of the One who knows us better than anyone else ever could.  Romans 8:29 tells us that God “foreknew” those who have been called. About this benefit, let’s say, “God stacked the deck for your life.” God foreknew us.  In advance-before the tragedy, before the difficulty, before the challenge, before the disappointment, God knew us.  Before our bad choices, before our failures, before our rebellion, God knew us.  Before we were named, before we were born, God knew us.  The knowledge of God is as perfect and miraculous as the power of God.  God knew us from eternity. Our calling begins with God’s perfect knowledge of us.  That means when we accept God’s call, we are walking with the One who knows how we are wired, what we can do, what we are supposed to become, what makes us tick and what we can and can’t handle. He knew ahead of time what kind of life would enable you to get the most out of life. From before time began, He had a plan for your life that would work in conjunction with your gifts and talents that would cause you not only to fulfill a great destiny, but one that would also give you great pleasure and contentment. So going back to our card analogy, God put the cards in your hand that will span your lifetime that if you play them all under His direction, you’ll be victorious.  That is, you will know and do the will of God according to His design for your life and you will be glad that you did!  Because He knows you perfectly, He knows how to stack the deck in your favor for your good and His glory. You see, your calling, His will, isn’t an afterthought in your life.  For those of you who are in Christ today, His call on your life didn’t come after you were saved.  It was established in eternity, before you ever surrendered to Christ.  For those of you who aren’t Christians yet (yet ), God isn’t waiting on you to say “yes” to Him so that He can then devise a plan and purpose for your life.  The blueprint is already ready.  The plan is already in place.  You aren’t an afterthought.  God doesn’t wait to save you and then try to dream something up for you to become.  “God saves you BECAUSE He has a purpose for you.” (Derek Prince-“Called to Conquer” page 22.) I remember being in elementary school gym class.  Does anyone else remember when two students would be given the opportunity to pick the teams?  Am I the only one in the room who was always picked last?  It was never an empowering moment for me.  I never left the experience thinking, “Wow, I’m a winner.  I am more than a conqueror.”  It wasn’t a self esteem boosting day for me.  But listen to me, Child of God, the fact that God knew me in advance and still saved me because He believed He could use me, because He believed I could be a winner, because He saw me as someone He wanted on His team, that’s a reason to get happy and stay happy.  That’s a reason to sign on and serve Him.  Tell your neighbor, “God wants you on the team!” I Peter 1:2 says, We have been “chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood.”  We have been chosen! God may not put me in the dodge ball club, but He may draft me for ping pong.  He may put Tommy Young in the tug of war club and put Steve Deweese in the softball club, but listen, if you are sprinkled by the blood of Christ, regardless of the particular club God assigns you to, you are on the team!  He has chosen you. And while I’m at it, let me just say that He has chosen every person in this room.  Some of you just haven’t showed up for practice yet.  Don’t you think it’s time to get a jersey on and get in the game? Maybe some of you haven’t become Christians yet because you are afraid you will fail.  Listen to me.  God doesn’t call you to do or be something that He doesn’t think you will be able to accomplish.  Never run from the call of God out of fear that you will fail.  If you do, you’ve never fully comprehended the part about “Faithful is He who has called you and He will do it.”  If following Christ and pursuing God’s will depended solely on us, we’d all be hosed!    No.  God is at work through the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer to help him or her walk out and work out the call of God on our lives. So God holds the trump.  He has stacked your deck, and He will He will help us become one-suited.  For those of you who play cards with trump, you know that if you can have all diamonds or all clubs or all red or all of some suit, you will be the winner of the game.  Becoming one-suited is key to winning in the game of life. Romans 8:29 says that God has predestined us to be conformed to the image of His Son.  We are all to become one-suited.  We are to look like Jesus.  God has planned in advance that as we discover our purpose for living and live out that calling that while we’re doing that, we talk, act, and live like Jesus.  God doesn’t predestine us to be saved.  If that was the case, some would be saved and some would be damned to Hell.  Once we are saved, however, He does predestine us to become like Jesus.  He puts us on a transformation course so that we are conformed to the image of Christ.  God takes responsibility to make sure we have what is needed for transformation.  Our responsibility is to surrender to those opportunities. With the advantages of all of the trump, a stacked deck and becoming one-suited, how do we go about walking in such a way as to discover the particular call of God on each one of our lives? Turn to Romans 12:1.  “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God–this is your spiritual act of worship.” The first step to following God’s call uniquely is to Give God your body.  You can’t just have an intellectual relationship with God.  We’re told to offer our bodies as living sacrifices.  One of the greatest resources you have is your physical body.  If it isn’t submitted to God and His purposes, He won’t be able to use your life the way He has intended. Paul calls the body a “living sacrifice” which is in contrast to the OT sacrifices which were already dead when they were placed on the altar.  We’re commanded to place our bodies on the altar and then die daily to our desires and wishes and allow Christ to move through our physical bodies in order to accomplish God’s will.  When we do that, we no longer decide what is best for our body or what happens to our body.  God determines what kind of work our body should do.  God determines where we should live and where these bodies should find rest at night. I love the idea about our bodies that Derek Prince brings up in his book, “Called to Conquer.”  He says, “We all know that when someone owns a piece of property he or she is also responsible for its maintenance.  If you live in a rental property, you do not own it and you are not responsible for it.  If God just ‘rents us’ (in a manner of speaking, “He does not have any responsibility.  But if He owns us, He is responsible for the maintenance.”  I shouldn’t think that I can do whatever I want to my body and abuse it by eating and drinking the things that will destroy it and expect God to undo the damage I have done.  If I am surrendered to Christ, then I will be seeking to present my body to Christ and regard it as the temple of God (I Cor. 6:19).  And if I treat it as such, then the responsibility for maintaining it, sustaining it and keeping it all functioning isn’t mine.  It’s God’s! Giving God command over my body means He tells my feet where to go, and my feet obey.  He tells my mouth what to say and my mouth obeys.  He tells my hands how to serve and they serve. The second step is found in Romans 12:2.  “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Here we read that we need to give God our minds. God wants to train us to think like He does.  He wants us to have “the mind of Christ.”  I (Corinthians 2:16)  Philippians 2:5 says “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.  You have to willingly submit your mind to God’s Holy Spirit for Him to reprogram so that you think about and desire the will of God rather than your own agenda. That will happen as you submerse your mind in the Word of God.  The Bible actually washes our mind.  Ephesians 5:26 tells us that God uses His Word to cleanse and wash our minds, making them pure and available to the things of God. The reason you have to have your mind renewed or washed is because the Bible says the carnal mind, the untransformed mind, is at odds with God.  (Romans 8:7)  In other words, the sinful mind or natural mind is an enemy of God.  God won’t reveal His plans to any enemy. But when your mind is renewed by God’s mercy, He can begin to unfold His plan in your mind. With your body submitted and your mind renewed, you will be able to walk into the will of God.  Romans 12:3 “Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his GOOD, PLEASING, and PERFECT will.” You will know what God wants from you and if you are unsure, you’ll seek the answer in prayer. I spoke at the onset of the message about his God’s plan is more often than not an unfolding one.  It is something He helps us discover.  You see this nuance in this Scripture about His will being GOOD, then PLEASING, and finally then PERFECT.  The further you get into discovering God’s will, the better it will get. Be reminded today that God’s will is good.  God will bless those who have accepted His call.  Be reminded that God’s will is pleasing.  It will feel good to do His will.  I didn’t say it would be easy, but it will bring you great contentment.  Be reminded that God’s will is perfect.  It will include every detail of your life.  God won’t miss leading you into every situation that is perfect for you and your ongoing development as His child. You will know His will as your body and mind belong to Him.  But how will you do His will?  You will do His will as you remain humble and rely on Him. Romans 12:3 “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.” There isn’t a person in this room talented enough, smart enough, or resourceful enough to do what we call in cards, “Shooting the moon.”  Shooting the moon is where you are playing with partners, but you decide to “go it alone” without any help from your partner.  No one here will get it right without God.  Pursue humility and total dependence upon Him.  That is the only way you’ll accomplish His will. With a submitted body, renewed mind, an understanding about what God’s will is, and a completely humble approach, you can then begin to use the gifts God has given you with confidence that you are in the right place at the right time.  Romans 12:4-6 Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.  We are supposed to use them in accordance with our faith.  As our faith grows, so should the use of our gifts. If you can sew, build, or cook, if you are a teacher, encourager, or prayer warrior-whatever gift or gifts you have—using them will be key to doing God’s will.  He gave you specific gifts for a specific reason, and it wasn’t so that you could make a living although that is a blessing.  It wasn’t so you could feel good about yourself, but it’s alright to be proud of a job well done.  The reason we are called and gifted is to build up the Body of Christ and to advance the Kingdom of God.  If we are living any other way, we are outside of the will of God.  I Timothy 4:14 tells us not to neglect the spiritual gift within us.  As you try to pursue the will of God, use the natural gifts and talents God has given to you. Do you hear the Spirit speaking to you this morning?  Graduate, do you long to know what God is calling you to become?  Christian, do you know what your calling is?  Are you sure you are in God’s will for your life?  Pre-Christian, don’t you think it’s time to surrender?  A response to this morning’s message by anyone in this room can be another step towards seeing the call of God unfold in your life.
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