Let me set the stage: When I was fourteen, I entered high school with what felt like the weight of the world on my shoulders. As most teenagers go, I don’t think I was that different. I had my own self-image problems, had my own friend problems, and was entering a world of new peers – those who didn’t know me for who I was but were making judgments as I was at that moment. One would think that is a good thing if you are ready to escape your past identity. But in my elementary years, I had found my niche, my posse. It was comfortable and I had let my guard down. I had been vulnerable. And people accepted me. I didn’t know Jesus at that time and I had no idea what church was except an institution that seemed to be for old people and out of touch.
But here I was, coming into a peer group of 200, from my previous 30. Two hundred – just small enough that everyone knows you and gossip spreads like wildfire – but large enough that it’s really intimidating. And here I was, overweight, one of the shortest in my class, nonathletic and struggling with my identity. Having walked through some abuse issues I was dealing with (it’s ok – that is ancient history that has been washed clean by the healing of Jesus), I was pretty screwed up. I didn’t know what was normal, what was abnormal – all I knew was that I didn’t fit in and I desperately wanted a community who would know me and love me for who I was.
But, grade 9s can be mean. Cruel. Judgmental. Not all – just some. So, here I was in September, walking through the halls, and friends I’d had for years were still friends but they were developing new relationships and not as available as they once had been. So, getting back home to my parents, although dreading the question, “How was school?”, was a haven.
On grade 9 day, when we went to do team building and get to know you activities at the beginning of October, I felt out of place (ever been last chosen 🙂 ) and uncertain of what this high school thing was that I was getting into. Was this what the next 5yrs were going to look like?
Enter Elizabeth. A woman in her early 30s, who had decided she wanted to volunteer in my high school, and be a friend to students. The only way I can describe it was the power of the Holy Spirit and the love of God. She came to me on that day, introduced herself and extended a figurative olive branch to me. An olive branch of peace.
Thus began an unlikely journey of me with this woman who, as it turns out, was part of an international Christian organization who saw school ministry as vital to Christ’s mission to make disciples of the world. So, there she was, volunteering 8hrs a week at my high school to meet with students. She had talked the school into giving her an old storage room as her office, and she filled it with warmth and love in the shape of teapots and coffee mugs and candies for students who stopped by.
I saw her walk through the halls, being greeted by so many students, and getting hugs from many of them. What was it about her? What was it about her that was magnetic?
She invited me several times to come to a youth gathering she had on Friday nights around the city. Several schools’ students would gather and have fun playing games, sing songs and learn about God. When I heard several schools’ students were going to be in attendance, I silently freaked out and thanked her for the invite. It took several months before I got up the gumption to go.
That first Friday night, we played the strangest, goofiest games in one of the student’s basements, with about 25 students and about 10 university and 20/30 something youth workers. These youth workers danced around in sleeping bags, passed bananas to us with their feet, and everyone had a great time. Guards were down, and I began to feel safe. Then came the singing of Pharaoh Pharaoh – a song I’d never heard before, with actions to boot – and then a time of reading the Bible. I had NO idea how to use the Bible, and there I sat in a small group looking at scripture verses, yet feeling safe and secure. And all the adult volunteers were like Elizabeth – magnetic, warm, inviting me into a community that gripped me.
We are magnetic. The Bible says that inside the heart of every man there is a hole waiting to be filled by God. You see, the Holy Spirit calls to us, inviting us to lay down our lives – our ambitious lifestyles, our anxiousness, our eagerness, our dashed hopes and our dreams and says meet with me and let me take you through this life as it should be lived. What I was seeing in Elizabeth and in these people was Jesus calling to me. They were living examples of Jesus to me. They were the only Jesus I knew.
After attending this group for about six months, we went away on a retreat and God spoke to me. Each of those leaders came and shared stories of how they realized they needed Jesus. Womanizers who found Jesus, a geek who was desperate for more than just the life she’d seen, another was a lawyer candidate who realized he didn’t believe in the civil law he was learning to defend, another was a uni graduate who had no idea where she was going next, another one was a single woman in her thirties looking for a husband, another was a big burly black man who would normally have scared the death out of me talking of how he came for a football scholarship but in the process found Jesus through a fellow student. In each story, I heard this desperation in each of them – a desperation of something bigger than themselves. A community, a faith, a hope, a salvation that was bigger than anything that they had seen in this world. All Friday night and Saturday their stories reverberated in my mind and heart and I just had to have Jesus. I had to meet Jesus. I cried out to him and my world turned upside down.
Was high school all the sudden easy? No. But it was possible because I had Him. I had Him and a community of people who enjoyed life and didn’t care about appearances, how they fit in, how they carried themselves. They were living a life of freedom, and now I was too. And people noticed a difference. People at school saw me more confident. They saw me stand taller. They saw me become more grounded.
Scripture says “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. ” This was the abiding word in me. His loving-kindness became my salvation and it became such life to me. Soon after I found in my school library Nine O’clock in the Morning and Chasing the Dragon – two books about the baptism of the Holy Spirit and the power it has in the life of the believer. It wasn’t long after that I was filled with his Holy Spirit and praying in tongues in my bedroom – laughing my head off that this was happening. I’m sure my parents would have thought me crazy if they weren’t at the other side of the house. I remember waking up the next morning and lying in bed wondering if I could still speak it and it came out no problem. I prayed all through my shower, and felt a new sense of purpose and lightness fill me. The Holy Spirit, who had made me holy through Christ’s blood, was now filling me with a dynamic that is beyond comparison.
So why am I sharing this today? Turn with me to Mark 8:34. Let’s read together:
34 Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. 36 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? 37 Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? 38 If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”
These men and women were not ashamed of what God had done for them. They were not ashamed of the gospel. As it says in scripture: 16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. 17 For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”
They showed me a better way to live. I had thought that life was all about accomplishing feats, of being popular, of being successful in business and career. And yet I was confronted with a Jesus who carried only the clothes on his back. He was the antithesis of what this world defines as success. He shows no favoritism to the rich and successful, he doesn’t turn his back on the broken and dejected, he didn’t go to university and become a teacher of the law. No, he was a carpenter’s son. They showed me that in laying down my life for Jesus, He’d give me his and we’d live a grand adventure together.
Sometimes we are running this race – we are caught in the waves of vision and dreams and programs – which are all excellent and can be very helpful to the growth and development of the Kingdom. But let’s remember that the Kingdom is made up of you, of me, people who encountered a Jesus who said lay down your life, give me your everything – all your hopes, fears, dreams, disappointments, and let’s walk through this life together. Let’s be Jesus to those around us, let’s take them by the hand and give them the hope we now have.
It’s that simple. People in this world need Jesus. People in this world need me. They need you. They could be the womanizer. They could be the football jock. They could be the geek. They could be the lawyer or the unemployed university graduate. But they each have a whole inside their heart that is longing for Jesus. They just might not know it. They might be scared to ask for it.
Today, the invitation from the Holy Spirit is manifold:
- Have you lost sight of that love relationship you had with Jesus when you first met him? Are you neither hot nor cold? Are you just lukewarm? As I spoke of that magnetism, that lifestyle that I saw in my youth workers – do you want that? You want that missional lifestyle – either for the first time or back again – you want to operate in that dynamic where people want to be with you who don’t know Jesus and they want what you have.
- You are saved but you don’t yet know the baptism of the Holy Spirit? It says in Corinthians that Paul wishes that we all be baptized and filled with the Spirit and speak mysteries that edify our souls. The invitation is there for you to be filled with his Spirit.
- Maybe you’ve been desperate for something but didn’t realize yet that it was simply Jesus. You could even be a Christian, or have a faith in God, but you realized you hadn’t laid down this part of your life to him and taken up your cross and followed him. You realized you were attempting to gain something but in the process, were losing your soul. The invitation to you is this – are you weary and heavy burdened. Come to me and lay down your burdens. But pick up my harness in your life. Allow me to lead you. Accept me, accept Jesus as your Saviour and the answer to every need you have. He’s ready to show you the better way.
- Finally, I mentioned abuse in my past. Some of you have a destructive part of your history that you’ve not dealt with. You suffered a harm that was unfair, unjust, and incomprehensible. Jesus wants to free you from that. He wants to set you free.
Now, I want you to know that this is just the beginning. God has more amazing plans for us here. He has big plans for us that are bigger than anything he did. Whatever he did, he said we would do greater. That means of the healings, the miracles, the signs and wonders that followed him – we are poised to do more. He just wants a people after his own heart who are willing to be ashamed for the gospel because they know it is the power of salvation.
So lay down your religiosity. Lay down your dreams. Lay down your fears and disappointments. Lay down the successes of yesterday or last year. Those aren’t the end game. The end game?? Nothing less than God’s best for you and me and Peterborough. And God’s best isn’t sickness, isn’t poverty, isn’t broken relationships, isn’t pursuit of the mighty dollar.
And do you know what’s going to happen? What Peter preached will happen:
“Now Lord, consider the threats of this world and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” And after they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly. And all the believers were in one heart and mind….And God’s grace worked so powerfully in them all that there were no needy persons among them.