Saturday, August 11, 2012

Committed to the Call

Several years ago I head a story about an old Wyoming rancher who was out checking his fence in an isolated part of the property.  As he drove across the rocky terrain he lost control of his trusty Ford pick-up and plummeted off a high cliff.  The rancher managed to jump from the truck on the way down and grab hold to a branch that was growing horizontally from the side of the cliff.  After hanging there for what seemed like an eternity, in desperation he yelled, “Is anybody up there?”  After a moment of silence, a voice rang out:  “Son, this is God.  Have faith and let go of the branch.”  The old rancher looked into the rocky ravine…and cried out, “Is anybody else up there?”  All of us have found ourselves in situations when, like the rancher, our faith leaves much to be desired.  We know the right answers, but putting that knowledge into practice can be challenging.

Faith is defined as complete trust or confidence in something or someone.  At one time or another all of us have exercised faith, only to end up disappointed.  Maybe you trusted someone who let you down (an abusive parent, a respected leader, a spouse who was unfaithful).  For others maybe your faith was shaken because of actions by a trusted institution such as a bank, university or…even a church! 

Whatever the case, when it comes to faith we must grasp an important truth:  the object of our faith must be the God of this universe. People make mistakes.  Leaders fail.  Banks close.  Churches lose sight of their vision.  When our faith is based on the temporal, more times than not we will end up disillusioned, skeptical and filled with uncertainty.  By contrast, when our commitment is in the “Rock of Ages,” it cannot be shaken. 

“Committed to the Call”
The Sanctuary Choir Executive Committee has adopted the theme “Committed to the Call” to guide our ministry for 2012-13.  These words are packed with meaning and if we examine them closely will help us understand why we do what we do. 

At this point it’s important to make something clear:  we’re not asking you to make a commitment to the choir.  Instead, we’re asking you to make a commitment to the call that God has placed on your life. Trust me, there is a HUGE difference.  While the choir is important, it cannot sustain you in the valleys of your life – only Christ can do that.  While the church is important, it cannot serve as the foundation of your life – only Christ can do that.  While things such as Sunday School and Discipleship Groups are important, they cannot save you – only Christ can do that.  It's important to understand that the object of your commitment will determine its strength.

Have you ever wondered why:
·       On any given Sunday over 50% of those on our church roll can’t be found?
·       Sunday attendance fluctuates during football season depending on which schools play at home?
·       Over 150 choir members are missing from the loft on any given Sunday morning?
·       Over 100 choir members “disappear” after Carols by Candlelight?

Some would say it’s because they have a “commitment problem.”  I disagree.  It’s not that people are unwilling to commit, but rather that they've committed to the wrong things.  Charles Stanley has said that “Our churches are filled with people who have made decisions about Christ.  What we need are people who’ve made commitments to Christ.”  

Has God placed a song in your heart?  Has he placed a desire in you to be part of this ministry?  If so, then I believe he has placed a call on your life.  My challenge to you is that you not make a decision about choir, but rather a commitment to God's call on your life.  At that point you cease being a volunteer and accept a calling…and that changes everything!

I believe there are three primary results of viewing our ministry in the choir through the prism of a call of God.

With a Calling comes…Passion
If you want to see passion, look no farther than the Apostle Paul.  Following his conversion on the Road to Damascus he was totally sold-out to Christ.  His commitment to Christ is the only explanation for his passion in the midst of stoning, shipwrecks, angry crowds, etc.  This calling was lived out through missions and evangelism, but it was his commitment to the Risen Christ that drove his service.  He was not driven by missions; he was driven by his calling. 

When we acknowledge God’s calling to be part of choir he will fill us with an all-consuming passion to sing!  It will not be laborious, but rather a joy-filled expression of our love for Him.  The decision to come to rehearsal will not be hard.  The option to "sit out" in the congregation will be removed.  The passion to lift his praises in song will overflow from your spirit.  It cannot be hidden!

With a Calling comes…A Sense of Humble Privilege
For almost 175 years First Baptist Jackson has impacted lives all across this world.  Consider the following:
·       Many of the churches in our city were started as missions of FBCJ (Broadmoor, Ridgecrest, Colonial Heights, Calvary, and the list goes on). 
·       Lives all over the world were impacted by the ministry of great pastors like Dr. Douglas Hudgins and Dr. Frank Pollard. Several years ago we were in Russia with members of the sanctuary choir to present concerts across the city of St. Petersburg.  We met numerous people who had walked miles to hear our choir because of Dr. Pollard’s ministry on TV throughout Russia.
·       For 34 years Larry Black led a ministry that impacted thousands of people through this choir.  For many, when they think of First Baptist Jackson the first thing that comes to mind is this music ministry. 
·       Since 1970 over 500,000 people have heard the message of Christ through Carols by Candlelight. Every year we hear reports of people accepting Christ because of the ministry of this presentation.
·       Tens of thousands have been impacted through weekly broadcasts on television, radio and internet.  Not a week passes that we don’t receive an email, letter or phone call from someone whose life has been impacted by our services.

Some wise person once said, “We stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us.”  This is the legacy and heritage we’ve inherited…and God chose us to carry it on!  All of this should cause us to tremble with a sense of humility that we even get to put on a robe each week!  Each one of us should be humbled to be part of this ministry, and should consider ourselves privileged to sit in the same loft as those who came before us.

With a Calling comes…Refocused Priorities
When we serve in response to a call of God on our lives, it realigns what’s important.  All of us are pulled in a thousand directions as different interests, many of them good, vie for our time and energy.  Because of this, it is critical we determine what’s most important in our lives.  In Luke 10 Jesus reminded us of the importance of establishing clear priorities.

While they were traveling, He entered a village, and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home.  She had a sister named Mary, who also sat at the Lord’s feet and was listening to what He said.  But Martha was distracted by her many tasks, and she came up and asked, “Lord, don’t You care that my sister has left me to serve alone? So tell her to give me a hand.”  The Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has made the right choice, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42)

Like Mary, most of us are distracted by “many tasks.”  It is imperative that we nail down what God has called us to do.  If God has uniquely gifted and called you for the ministry, it must take priority over other things.  Again, it’s not a commitment to the choir; it’s a commitment to your calling.

Hall of Faith
Known as “The Hall of Faith,” Hebrews 11 lists men and women of the Old Testament that exemplified an unwavering faith in the God of this Universe.  Because of that they relentless pursued the calling God had placed on their lives.
·       Abel – the first martyr
·       Enoch – the man who “knew God and was no more”
·       Noah – pursued God’s call to build in ark…with almost unanimous opposition!
·       Abraham – followed God’s call because of a promise that he would make him the Father of a great nation (Israel)
·       Sarah – God fulfilled is promise to her to conceive a Son even though she was well beyond child-bearing years.
·       Joseph – even though he was sold into slavery by his brothers, stayed true to God’s calling on his life.  Genesis 50:20, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”
·       Moses – accepted God’s call to lead the children of Israel from Egyptian bondage.  As part of that journey he experienced such miracles as the crossing of the Red Sea and God would speak to him “face to face, just as a man speaks with his friend” (Exodus 33:11).
·       Joshua – committed to call of God on his life and saw God bring down the walls of Jericho.
·       Rahab – the former prostitute who committed her life to God.  She is specifically mentioned in the lineage of Jesus.

Then in verse 32, the writer of Hebrews puts an exclamation point on his amazement at their commitment and faith:

And what more can I say? Time is too short for me to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and the prophets, who by faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the raging of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, gained strength after being weak, became mighty in battle, and put foreign armies to flight. Women received their dead—they were raised to life again. Some men were tortured, not accepting release, so that they might gain a better resurrection, and others experienced mockings and scourgings, as well as bonds and imprisonment.  They were stoned, they were sawed in two, they died by the sword, they wandered about in sheepskins, in goatskins, destitute, afflicted, and mistreated. The world was not worthy of them.

That, my friends, is commitment to the call of God!

Oblivious to the Sacrifice
Ben Haden, the longtime pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Chattanooga, Tennessee, told the following story about John Griffith who lost everything in the Stock Market crash of 1929.  Destitute, Griffith moved to Mississippi where he took a job as bridge operator.  Haden recounts a day in 1937 when Griffith allowed his eight-year old son, Greg to go with him to work.  The day had been relatively uneventful until Griffith noticed a ship approaching.  As usual, he raised the bridge to allow the ship to pass, but then noticed his son was not in the office.  It was at that point that Griffith spotted his son climbing on the gears of the bridge several hundred feet away.  As he started to climb onto the bridge to get his son, to his horror he heard a train, the Memphis Express, carrying 400 people as it rapidly approached the bridge.  Griffith realized he did not have enough time to save his son and lower the bridge so the train could pass safely.  After much anguish he made the decision.  He would sacrifice his son.  As tears filled his eyes he lowered the bridge, instantly killing young Greg.  As the train sped by, Griffith could see people through the windows.  Many were laughing and some even waved…oblivious to the sacrifice that had just been made on their behalf.

At times our commitment to the call of God on our lives looks a lot like the folks on that train.  We pursue things that have no eternal significance, totally oblivious to the sacrifice that Christ made for us.  If God has called you to be part of this ministry, then make the commitment…and live it out every week with a joyful faithfulness. 

After the sacrifice he made for us, that’s the least we can do!

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