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How Do I... Receive His Strength?

Ephesians 3

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03.03.2024 notes
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When I was in college, I had a close friend named Stephanie. Steph had a roommate, Danielle. I never knew Danielle well, we existed in different circles – friends of friends. But over the years as college friends drift all over the world, you keep tabs on social media. And my friend Danielle, a few years ago, she shared a story that I wanted to bring to you this morning. I’ll put the link for the full story in the sermon notes, if you want to grab one of those on your way out. Her husband is named Matt and they already have a little boy named Louis. And so to start out this morning, I wanted to read her story, from her perspective.

Matt, Louis, and I were on vacation on the coast of Main when we first found out we were pregnant with our little girl. After two separate miscarriages and a subsequent year of trying Matt and I were relieved to finally learn that we would be adding another little one to our family the coming spring…At my 37 week appointment, the doctor measured me and became a bit concerned about our daughter’s size and scheduled me for an ultrasound that day. It was determined that the baby’s size was fine, but that she was actually breech. We were scheduled for a version later that week to flip her. Unfortunately, the version failed and put me into early active labor. Later that evening, after trying to stop the labor, it was determined that I would need a c-section. I was rolled into the OR and within minutes I heard our daughter’s cries. I joined in, crying, “She’s here!” Our Sammie girl had arrived. One of the nurses brought her around to my head so we could see her for a few seconds. I remember thinking, “hmm, she doesn’t look like I thought she would.” But I remember having that same thought when I first saw our son, too.” The nurse took her away to check all the baby things and Matt continued to talk to me as I was very nervous about what they were doing on the other side of the curtain… After a few more minutes the nurse checking her out brought her around to me so Sammie could do skin to skin. I saw her face for more than a few seconds and at this point I was certain. I looked at the nurse and asked, “Does she have Down syndrome?” The nurse looked panicked and the entire room got quiet. [The doctor spoke up]“It looks like she might have some markers for Down syndrome. We called the pediatrician on call so she can check her out.” 

The next morning was when all the emotions really hit Matt and I. The day started with the pediatrician coming in to talk to us about her diagnosis. And in hindsight she was one of the greatest blessings throughout our time at the hospital. I don’t remember much of what she said, but I do clearly remember her saying, “You need to mourn the child you thought you were going to have.” That was exactly what I needed to hear and that’s when the floodgates opened.” … We were receiving nearly constant texts from family and friends who were lifting us all up in prayer and giving us the encouragement we needed, reminding us of the gift we had been given. I don’t know that we have ever felt so loved and I honestly don’t know if we will ever feel that amount of love again in this lifetime. Matt and I couldn’t stop saying “people are loving us so well.” Before leaving, the pediatrician who was such a gift to us in this time came in and asked if she could pray for Sammie. She placed her hand on Sammie and prayed, and Matt and I cried. This was one of the sweetest moments in our lives that I don’t think we will ever forget. We headed home and began adjusting to a life with our Sammie girl. Researching. Scheduling appointments. Navigating all that was new. Later that week, as I was jotting down one of several of Sammie’s upcoming doctor appointments in our calendar, I cam across a photo we took in Maine. I stopped in my tracks. The picture was taken the day we found out we were pregnant with Sammie. I’d seen this picture hundreds of times, but not since Sammie’s birth. It turns out that we had just received a book for Louis titled “We’ll Paint the Octopus Red.” The book celebrates the relationship between two siblings – one of which has Down syndrome. And here we are in this photo – the exact day we found out about Sammie – flying a red octopus in the sky. Celebrating her existence.” 

My friend Danielle and her husband Matt found themselves the unexpected parents of a down syndrome baby. But here’s the important part - since that moment I have never seen so much joy in a social media page. That is a happy baby girl. I think she’s about three years old now, and since her birth, they have created a non-profit organization called Rising Kites. If you want to see more you can check it out at Their mission is to provide hospitals and birthing centers with resources specifically for parents who receive a down syndrome diagnosis. Sammie’s birth is every bit as much worth celebrating as any other birth of a baby – an when Danielle’s life took an unexpected turn, she found her calling. They live in South Haven now, and the non-profit is growing and expanding and helping more and more people celebrate their babies. She found the people God was calling her to reach, and that is an incredible thing. Today is the third week in our series in Ephesians “How Do I”, and we have been walking with Paul through this letter which is all about identity and purpose. So today what I want to do is let Danielle’s story and Paul's story inspire you to find how God is calling you. Let’s dive in.

Now, to kind of give you the overview - what happens as we read this chapter is Paul starts off talking about himself. He tells his story, then he starts talking about how his story lines up with what Jesus is doing in the world, and then he gets really excited and his joy just overflows into a prayer that other people would discover God's purpose for their life. Check this out, [read. v.1-2]. Now, I'm sure you’ve heard this before - but just in case there’s a new friend among us today. Gentile is the word they use for “non-jewish person” - and they were the people God sent Paul to reach. Jesus came and pretty much exclusively reached Jewish people. His message was for everyone, but he started with the Jews. Paul’s call was to spread the love of Jesus beyond the Jewish people to the rest of the world. Paul says, “God gave me the specifically responsibility of extending his grace to the Gentiles.” That is what he has been called by God to do. Now here is what I want you to realize this morning - Paul is not special. Okay? Some of think, “oooh, Paul is a special Christian because he wrote letters that are in the Bible.” No. False. Paul is not special. Every single Christian has a call on his or her life from God. If you claim Jesus as your lord and savior, God has called you. He has a plan and purpose for your life - a calling. You are called. Say this with me, “I have a calling on my life” (repeat) “given to me from God.” One more time, “I have a calling on my life” (repeat) “given to me from God” (repeat). Now here’s another thing I want you to realize - the calling is not “what” the calling is always “who.” Every Christian has the same calling - we have to spread the grace of God.  The question is not “what are we supposed to do,” the question is “WHO has God called you to.” We KNOW what we’re supposed to do - love people, tell them about Jesus, share God’s love and grace. That part has never changed. The only thing you have to figure out is WHO has God placed in your life for you to reach with God's love. 

Paul keeps going in verse 7 [read v.7-9]. Paul says I am the least of all saints. That’s not false modesty. That’s Paul admitting - I’m not special. We all have a calling on our life, given to us from God. And when you hear that, maybe in your mind you start thinking of all the excuses. Oh, no, no, no - callings are for pastors. Callings are for church leaders. I’m not a leader, I just want to be a worker bee. I just want to work behind the scenes. I’m not going to be a preacher. And I want to be clear - you are not all called to preach, or be a church leader or anything like that. Not all callings look the same. You are called to share God's grace, and that’s going to look different in each of our lives. Some people think - oh, no, no - only preachers are called, or only leaders are called. But that’s not true. If you are thinking, “oh no, I’m not called - I'm the least of all saints” - then I want you to realize you are sitting on the bench right next to Paul.

I’ll tell you a story, I may have told it before, because I tell it all the time. But in my very first church up in the UP,  one of the problems in that region was drug use. And there are certain substances that if you… uh, cook, them in the house - they will ruin clothing and furniture and stuff. The fumes are toxic. And so one day there was a news story about a drug bust, where this young couple was making drugs in the basement. And the fumes made it so the entire house was condemned, and there just happened to be two kids living in that house. They lost their home, their mom and dad and all their clothes. And there was a mom in my congregation who watched that news story, and with tears in her eyes she saw the clip of the kids - and God just pulled on her heart. She felt that calling. So she recruited a friend, another mom, and they came to me and said, “We’ve got an idea for a ministry. We know who God is calling us to reach.” And so they started a ministry called the Care Closet. It started with a couple of tubs of donated clothes stuck up in a back room of the church, but it expanded incredibly fast. Eventually they took over a whole Sunday school room - transformed it into a free clothing store. They hung up racks, had a shoe corner, it was overflowing. People could come in, for free, every Saturday morning and just take as much free clothing as they could carry. We became known for it in the community - that’s the church that helps people. And she did all that with no leadership training, no outreach experience - just a calling on her heart and a willing spirit. God doesn’t only call people who are well trained and prepared, God calls everybody - and he’ll prepare you on the way. You have a calling, given to you from God. 

Paul keeps going in verse 10, [read v.10-11]. So here’s the second big thing we find in the text this morning. Paul’s calling lines up with what Jesus did in the world. Whatever your calling is, whoever God is calling you to reach - that is going to line up with what God is doing in the world. There will be alignment between your calling and God’s works in the world. For example, if you really feel like God is calling you to spread hatred in the world - and there are some people who actually believe that - you are wrong. God's calling on your life is going to line up with what God is doing in the world through Jesus. When you really start listening to God’s voice, paying attention to who he might be calling you to reach - you might wonder, “how do I know if it’s from God?” And there’s a real answer - is your calling lined up with what God is doing in the world through Jesus. So first - you have a calling, given to you by God. And second - your calling aligns with God’s bigger work in the world. 

Then we get to my favorite part of the whole chapter. The prayer. Paul… he just can’t handle it anymore and he says, [read v.14-15]. So Paul just crumples to his knees and says, [read v.16-17]. Oh man, I love that so much. I pray that God will empower you, that Jesus will set up shop in your heart - that your roots will grow down into God's love and keep you strong. And he doesn’t stop there, [read v.18-19]. This is one of those parts of scripture where you don’t even need me to explain it. Verses 14-21, this prayer Paul is praying for you - I’ve got nothing to add other then, “isn't that just amazing?!?” It finishes out, [read v.20-21]. God is able…here’s the thing, I’ve heard that verse my entire life. God is able to do infinitely more than we might ask or imagine. I’ve heard it my whole life. But I’m not sure I ever actually believed it. God can do more than I imagined? What are you nuts? I can imagine a whole bunch! How could God imagine MORE? But the truth is when I have lived in the center of God’s will for my life - I have witnessed incredible things. It’s never what I imagined, and it often comes up in impossible ways. But I’ve seen it over and over, and so my challenge lately has been trying to believe that God means it when he looks at me and says, “I am able to do more than you could ask or imagine.” Do you believe that? Do you believe that God can do more through you than you can ever imagine? Because it's the truth. Paul has been on this journey. He starts out talking about his own life, his own personal calling, then he talks about how that calling lines up with the bigger thing that God is doing in the world through Jesus, and then the chapter finishes when he sinks to his knees in prayer and he prays that you would receive God's calling as well. He’s like, “The love has always been there, I just want you to see it.” 

The good news this morning is that God has placed a calling on your life, that aligns with his will, and he has given you the power to accomplish that calling. That's what Paul wants us to know, and here’s the crazy part 0 that’s all you really need to be fulfilled in life. Charles Kingsley once said, “We act as though comfort and luxury were the chief requirements of life, when all that we need to make us really happy is something to be enthusiastic about.” There’s a thing I saw the other day, and I want you to ask yourself this question. There’s a core question that will help you get in the right frame of mind - “What have you done that you believe in and you are proud of?” A lot of times when you meet people, they always ask the same question: “What do you do for a living?” And I think we ask that question because it’s easier. “What do you do for a living” means “what do you do to earn money and subsist in this world.” But what Paul is teaching us isn't about how to survive, it's about how to thrive. It’s not about what you do for a living, it's about what are you doing with your life? So the better question to ask yourself is “What have you done that you believe in and are proud of?” People respond to that question differently. There was a woman who responded, “I’m doing a good job raising three children.” And then a cabinetmaker chimed in and said, “I believe in good workmanship and practice it.” And another lady said, “I started a bookstore and it’s the best bookstore for miles around.” And it doesn’t really matter what the answer is - there’s no right or wrong answer. It’s just that we should live our lives in such a way that we HAVE an answer. God has placed a calling on your life, that aligns with his will and he has given you the power to accomplish that calling.

I think so many people in our society are struggling because they are just drifting through life. If you are lacking purpose, if you are lacking in your calling, you just end up drifting and when we drift our lives lack meaning. It reminds me of a line from Alice in Wonderland. Maybe you remember this, there’s a point where the little girl Alice is talking to the Cheshire Cat. That cat always creeped me out, but she asks, “Would you. Tell me please, which way I ought to go from here?” And the cat shrugs and says, “that depends a good deal on where you want to get to.” And Alice said, “I don’t much care where.” And the cat shrugs and starts to disappear,  “Then it doesn’t  matter which way you go.” As Christians we have the gift of living lives of purpose and calling. Don’t miss out on that. 

So let me send you out with some practical advice. Three steps to live into your calling. First, recognize that you have a call. If you haven’t already, I want you to start today - ask God WHO he has called you to reach. A few years ago I went to visit a church called the Kansas City Underground. It’s this crazy upside down church. And they challenge people with that question. Who has God called you to reach? And then they tell people, “Seriously, go home and wait for an answer.” With prayer and fasting, the people of that church asked God, “Who am I called to reach?” And God has been showing up with answers. There was a lady, she was a real estate developer, and God laid it on her heart to care for women who were getting out of prison. How to help them get back on their feet. She ended up starting a halfway house, where women could live while they readjust to society. There was another guy who felt called to start a bicycle ministry. He fixed up old bicycles to help homeless folks get around. There was another who felt God lay it on his heart to reach middle school kids who like to rock climb. So he built a rock climbing ministry at the local middle school. And I say the church is upside down - because the leadership of the church don’t do anything! Their motto is “we don’t start anything, and we don’t lead anything.” All they do is help people answer the question, “Who has God called you to reach?” And how can I help? So the first thing I want you to do - the first step is to ask God “who are you calling me to reach?” And then I actually want you to wait for the answer. I'm not saying God will talk in your ear audibly, but he will put it on your heart. Somehow God will answer the question, so don’t be afraid to ask: God, who have you called me to reach?”

The second step, just like with Paul, is to align that calling with the life of Jesus. If you hear a calling from God, but it doesn't align with what God is doing in the world through Jesus - keep listening, because you’ve got your wires crossed somehow. I’ve had several people in my ministry come in to my office and propose unethical ministries and they tell me, “God told me to do this.” And I had to tell them, “I’m so sorry, that’s not coming from God.” But when it DOES come from God? When you take the time to align your calling with God’s work - it’s incredible how God is able to do so much more than we can even ask or imagine.

The third and final step - is to let the love of God inspire you. It has to start in your heart. If you let your passion push you, there are no obstacles that can stand in the way. Even if it seems impossible, let Paul’s prayer echo into your life - discover how deep and high and wide and long God's love is. I have one final story: there’s a pastor, author by the name of Francis Chan, he’s one of my personal heroes. And he has a pretty incredible story. He built a megachurch out of his living room. And he always gave his 10% to the church, like he was supposed to, sometimes he gave a little more when he felt convicted. And then one year he visited Africa, and he fell in love with those people. And he said to himself, I would rather help them than buy a new truck. And so he came home and he told his truck and they gave like 15 grand to these kids in Africa. And then he talked to his wife and they started selling stuff and giving more and more. And he talks about how much fun it was to love other people, by sacrificing. And then Francis felt this call on his heart – I think next year, I need to give away $50,000. And he looked at his finances, and he realized that’s about what he made in a year. And he wondered, How am I going to give away as much as I make? But his family set the goal, then they did it. And still he felt another pull on his heart. Now, I need to give 100,000 away next year. Which is ridiculous – how am I going to do this? But then they did it. At one point they sold their house and moved into a smaller house with seven kids. And a third time, a third year, Francis Chan felt this pull on his heart. I need to give away a million dollars next year. In an interview that I was watching, he turns to the camera and says, “I mean, this is getting stupid.” Right? This is absolutely true. He thinking to himself, I make between 36 and 50 thousand dollars a year – how could I possibly give away a million dollars next year? That next year, Francis Chan signed over the rights to his book Crazy Love. He wrote a book called Crazy Love, and he signed it over to a charity, and the book became a best-seller, and they received over a million dollars in 2008. When you are listening for your calling, and you are aligned with what God is doing in the world - then God can do infinitely more than all you could ask or imagine. Let's pray.


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