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TRANSFORMED: Vocation  Ephesians 2:8-10   Pastor Larry Boatright   (2nd)

{Manuscript–View video for complete content}   I want you all to know that in a few weeks it’s my birthday.  I wanted to give you time to get presents.  And it’s the big one — 42nd!  A couple years ago, I turned 40, and as most of us do when we hit a milestone, we spend time reflecting.  I started looking at what I had accomplished, how God had used me.  A question that most of us ask at certain milestones of our lives — Am I where I thought I’d be at this point in my life?   I wanted my forties to be an awesome decade, so I decided to attend a TED conference—TedX: Mile High.  I grabbed some friends and I was excited. The theme was “Wonder.”  My hope was to be inspired and to reflect and to dream about the next decade or two about my life and dream about the next season.

Wouldn’t we like to experience “Wonder” on a regular basis?  I liked that the program had speaker profiles.  Then I started looking at the speaker list:

  • Tamika Mallory – one of four organizers of the Woman’s March on DC and civil rights activist
  • Dick Durrance – famous photographer/journalist – pics of Vietnam – National Geographic
  • James Orsulak – owns an asteroid mining company and title is Space Entrepreneur
  • Doug Vakoch – Runs an organization “dedicated to transmitting intentional signals to nearby stars and fostering the sustainability of human civilization on multi-generational timescales, a project that could take centuries or millennia to succeed.”   What are you working on?? I had to ask myself, “Where were those things on the list of possible vocations when I was in high school?”  I never saw space entrepreneur or interstellar correspondent on the list or I would have been the first to sign up!

So, I went to TedX to be inspired, and in truth I was inspired, but I also saw this list of people doing incredible things, and it made me really look at my life and ask, “What have I accomplished?”  Have you ever looked at someone else and asked yourself that question?  Think about it, there’s an interstellar correspondent.  There is a space entrepreneur.  There’s a Women’s March Organizer.

And then there’s me — Larry Boatright – Religious Worker.   If I’m being honest, a lot of self-doubt crept in, and when I look at the work God has allowed me to do in my life, I can’t help but compare myself to other people, especially at an event like that.   And it left me wondering, “Does what I do even matter?

My guess is that I’m not alone in asking that question.   All of us, at some point, look at what we do, and what we’ve accomplished so far, and wonder, “What is my unique contribution to this world? Is who I am worth anything? Does what I do even matter?”  Think about the most common question we ask children: What do you want to be when you grow up?  As adults, when we meet someone new, one of the first questions we ask is, “What do you do?”  For me as a kid, I wanted to be a doctor, a brain surgeon.  Then I wanted to be a motocross racer, and I actually got to do that and it was a lot of fun.  Then I wanted to be a rock star, but that didn’t pan out.

Most of us, when we are little, dream pretty big; the world hasn’t told us we can’t do things yet.  We still believe we’re creative and we’re passionate about life and can do anything we really want to do.  But if we scrape below the surface, what we really want to do is make a difference.  We wanted to be somebody.  We wanted to be good at something, to be who God created us to be.  But all too often, as adults, we feel like we’re either spinning our wheels or completely missing the mark.

We’re in the next to last week of this “Transformed” series, and we’re talking about transforming our vocation.  Some of you got excited for a second because you thought I said “Vacation.”  The question we’ve been wrestling with in this series is, “What would happen if the gospel permeated and impacted every area of our lives?”  Today I want to explore what it would look like if the gospel had a radical impact and completely transformed your perspective on your vocation.

Maybe a good place to start is to ask, “What IS your vocation?”  For most of us, when we hear the word vocation, we think about the work that we do, don’t we?  We think about our J-O-B.  And that’s a challenge, because in 23 years of ministry, I can’t tell you how many people have complained to me about their job.  If you look at your Facebook feed on Monday morning, how many people do you see posting complaints about having to get up and go to work again?  Have you ever felt that way? Like your job stinks? Like it’s draining? Like you’d rather live in a van down by the river than do what you do? Guess what, you’re not alone.  Studies show that nearly half of American workers are dissatisfied with their jobs.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics did a long-term study of baby boomers and found that, on average, people held 11.7 jobs between age 18 and 48. Twenty-seven percent of those baby boomers changed jobs more than fifteen times. I know lots of people who have most of their identity in what they do—what their career is, what kind of work they do.  I have to admit, but that’s probably me as well; I identify my vocation as the thing that I do and my identity is there.

In 2008, there was a recession and I was pastoring in Chicago and a ton of people in my church were hit really hard with the economic downturn.

  • Some were laid off
  • Some were forced to retire early and their job given to a young person fresh out of school
  • Some were in a company that downsized and they were forced to acquire even more work for the same pay to compensate for it.  One thing I noticed that was really interesting in that season in our country’s history, at least with the people I interacted with, is that so many people felt such a sense of loss of their identity because their job changed.  The media reported story after story of people who took their own life because they lost their jobs, and therefore, their identity.

I have to wonder if the reason why people hate their jobs, bounce from their jobs, and lose themselves in their jobs, is because they don’t really understand what their vocation is supposed to be all about.  For most of us, when we are asked the question, “What’s your vocation?” we pair it with our job and that’s understandable. But I need you to hear me today, your vocation is not your job. Your job is a part of, but not equal to, your vocation. I want to propose that who you are becoming is just as important as what you are doing.  I want to walk through the big idea and I’m going to say it over and over and drill it into our heads:  Vocation is becoming who God created you to be, and doing what God created you to do.  Your vocation is becoming the person that God designed and created you to be and doing the work that God created you to do.  That means your vocation is so much more than your J-O-B, the work that you do.   I want to help us see that our vocation is more than a job that pays the bills and puts food on the table.  It should be us being completely on mission with God.

Fortunately, the Scriptures give us a lot of insight into what our vocations should be about.  We’re going to unpack Ephesians 2:8-10 together.   For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith— and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.   Even though it’s only three verses, this actually is a significant piece of Scripture, with HUGE implications for how we see our God, ourselves, our work, and our vocation.

Before we get too far into trying to figure out what a transformed vocation is supposed to look like, I want to frame it up by looking at a foundational concept.  Verses 8 and 9 — 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.  It’s really interesting how Paul sets up this passage, isn’t it?    Instead of just diving into an explanation of how God created us and gave us things to do, he framed it with a reminder that it’s ALL God’s work.  In case we think that WE somehow can do something to earn God’s favor, Paul reminds us that salvation is God’s work, not ours.   He’s not saying works are bad, in fact, he’s actually saying they are good and that God laid out good works for us to do, but he’s contrasting works that earn favor with God and works that honor God and fall into God’s plan for the kingdom.  Listen, that’s really easy to get messed up.  So many people think they need to work to earn favor with God—that they must DO stuff to be okay with God.  Instead of seeing that their work (the things that they do) flows out of the God’s work in them and for them.

Maybe that’s you.

In Chicago, we had a Saturday night service.  We called it the “recovering Catholic service” because about 80% of the people in there were Catholics. I remember being thrown off when we moved from the Bible Belt to Chicago and someone asked, “What time does mass start?”  I was taken aback.  Many of those people had difficulty understanding this concept, because in their mind it was well, I’ve got to do this and I’ve got to attend this and I have to give this and do all these things, and IF I do all those things, maybe, just maybe, I can have favor with God.

It’s so important that we understand the difference between salvation—a free gift from God—and serving Jesus, which is a response to that free gift of God.  This is one of the key issues of the Reformation: stating that our standing before God has nothing to do with us doing a bunch of things and earning favor with God.  Our salvation is a free gift of grace.  Paul says, “Not of yourself” and “not by works, so no one can boast.”  You can’t go around saying, “I saved myself!”  So Paul is making sure we get the picture here, before we dive too much into what God’s done in us and through us and wants to do to use us, he wants to clearly distinguish the difference between that and salvation, that it is from grace alone that we receive salvation.

But I think we’ll also see that it’s God’s grace, God’s desire, God’s heart, to partner with us in his creation.  Look at verse 10:  For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.  I want to start at that very first part:  For we are God’s handiwork…  I want to camp out there for a second.  The NIV says we are God’s handiwork; the ESV says we are his workmanship.  The Greek word used here is the word poiema.  What word does that sound like?  Poem.  In fact, as I was trying to write my notes for preaching, my computer wanted to autocorrect that word to poem.  But it’s a similar idea.

I love poetry. When I was a kid studying poetry in literature, I thought it was so amazing that someone could sit down with a blank piece of paper and flow out poetry.  Poems are the works of a creative artist, and guess what, so are you! Poiema is sort of saying that an artist skillfully knit you together, just as you are.  The Psalmist makes this clear in Psalm 139:13—For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.  That sounds like a craftsman to me.  How about you?  At night, when I’m bored and need something to watch, I inevitably go to the documentary category.  Some of my favorite documentaries to watch are people who create things.  There’s an amazing one called “The Birth of Sake,” about people who give half of their year to creating sake.  It’s so cinematic and beautiful.  “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” — I love that documentary. I love watching people take a raw piece of wood and just carve it and shape it and put it together and stain it and make something beautiful out of that.  I love when I get a latte and they do really cool latte art.  There’s a Japanese restaurant in Boulder I went to that’s very traditional.  You take your shoes off at the door and go sit at the bar and an artisan chef makes it right in front of you.  I’m not talking hibachi, I’m talking beautifully carved cucumbers and carrots and creates this one-of-a-kind, unique thing and sits it right in front of you.  I think of my friend Steve, who you’re going to meet in a few minutes, and how he uses his hands to craft bread.

I love the way The Voice translation renders this verse:  For we are the product of His hand, heaven’s poetry etched on lives.  That’s talking about us.  It’s not talking about this mysterious, other people.  It’s talking about you and I.  For many of us, it’s pretty hard to get our minds wrapped around the fact that God has uniquely made us, and that he uniquely created unique things for us to do.  So often we fail to see our own worth in Christ.  For many of us, we see ourselves as generic, vanilla, average, or ordinary.  Out of that place, we see our work, our impact potential, the way we interact in the world through the same lens. If you want to transform your vocation, I would propose that the first step is to think about who you are and who you are becoming.

At some point I’m going to get a long, family-style dining room table.  I can go to IKEA and get that.  It will look good for a while….unless I move it. Annette and I love to have people over and gather around the table with a meal.  Love to cook, love to host.  But if I buy this dining room table from IKEA, and you come sit at my table, I’m not going to be super jazzed about telling you the origin or the genesis of the table.  This is an IKEA piece and was made in a factory.  Millions of other people have this same table.  NO!  I’m not going to say that.  Now, I have a friend named Kieley, who was in my youth group at my very first church.  He’s now an adult and creates this unbelievable dining room furniture, with his hands.  I hope someday to have one of his tables in my home.  If I have a table that’s unique like that, handcrafted by an artisan, when you come have a meal with me at my house, we’re going to sit down at this table and I’m going to tell you about the origin of this table.  Do you see where I’m going with this?  That is you.  You are not IKEA!  There are billions of people in this planet, but you are fearfully and wonderfully made by a Master Craftsman.  That means you have a unique set of natural abilities, a unique voice and something to say, and unique things to do, and a unique personality, and a unique perspective on this earth.  You are unique!

Remember, your vocation is becoming who God created you to be, and doing what God created you to do. This starts with understanding that God created you to be something unique. And that means that you inherently have worth.  And I know there are people in this room who need to hear this, because maybe, as a kid, you were told you weren’t good enough.  Maybe as an adult you’ve played the comparison game for the majority of your adulthood.  Maybe you’re a young adult and you’re living in a world with your friends and comparing yourself to them.  You start to wonder, “Am I a mistake?”  I want to tell you, you are a masterpiece, not a mistake.   If you could move out of your self-doubt, those voices that say you stink and you’re not good enough and all that, and start to embrace the fact that you are a masterpiece, not a mistake, you’re well on your way to partnering with God in your vocation.

The Scripture goes on to say:  Created in Christ Jesus to do good works.  So we are God’s masterpiece, a unique creation, and we’re told that we are created in Christ Jesus to do good works.  I can remember being 13 or 14, and my dad made me go do some hard work on the farm.  I think my dad told me to help build a fence and I was having a hard time.  We were using a type of wood that was really hard, and I was trying to put barbed wire on the fence and it kept ricocheting off into the field.  I started to get progressively angry.  Finally, out of frustration, I exploded, and I cursed Adam and Eve for making me work.  You’re laughing because you’ve done this too.  If it weren’t for you guys, I wouldn’t have to be doing this!  Because we all know that if the Fall had never happened  we wouldn’t have to work, right?  Not exactly.  See, for some of us, we blame Adam and Eve for having to work, not realizing that the Scriptures are clear that work has always been a part of God’s design, and I believe it will continue to always be a part of God’s design.

If we start the gospel narrative in Genesis chapter 3, it’s easy to see how work is a curse.  But if we, correctly, start the gospel narrative in Genesis 1 and 2, we’ll see that God’s design has always been to partner with us through our work.  So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” (Gen 1:27-28)   Now, don’t tune out because you’re heard this passage a bazillion times.  Listen, God gave some very specific instructions:

  • Be fruitful and multiply (Most humans like this kind of work!)
  • Fill the earth
  • Subdue it – this means to bring it under control, to bring order to it.
  • Rule over it–RADAH–to rule over and to dominate.   That all sounds like work to me.

Genesis 2:15, 19-20 says:  The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it…..So out of the ground the LORD God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper as his partner. 

God easily could have given Adam and Eve a fully-baked creation, with an owner’s manual to help them manage it.  But instead, God created a bunch of things, including humankind, and tasked them with the work of continuing to shape it, to subdue it, to bring it into order.  God allowed Adam to name the animals, to tend to vegetation, to work. Remember, this is pre-fall before sin entered the equation.  Then we fast forward to the end of the book in Revelation and see that Jesus comes to the earth.  What does he do?  God comes among his people and they will be his people and they will be their God.  We will be continuing that work of shaping, and moving, and doing things with God for all of eternity.  So in the beginning of the story and the end of the story, we see the Scriptures saying we will partner with Him in ruling and reigning, and working.

So to transform your vocation, first you might want to consider that you are a masterpiece, that you are hand-crafted.  No one looks under an IKEA table to see who the manufacturer is, but if you say this is an artisan thing….typically an artist writes his name.  Guess what?  God has written his imprint on you.  The imago dei inside you.  You’re unique and fearfully and wonderfully made.

But secondly, we might want to embrace that God has created you to work, to partner with Him in the renewal of all things.  So your vocation is becoming who God created you to be, embracing that you’re a masterpiece, but also doing good works.  Why?  Because God has designed you to do good works.  Because of grace, because of the Reformation, some people don’t like using the language “good works,” but the Scriptures are filled with that.  God desires for us to do good works. No matter what situation you find yourself in, this is what vocation is all about.  Not just that little job we happen to occupy at this stage of our lives, or not just retirement, or not just being in between jobs, or whatever position we’re in, it’s by God’s work that we are created as a masterpiece and that we are gifted the best gift, which is our salvation, but we’re designed, as the overflow of that, to do good works.  So good works are a result of truly knowing and following Jesus.  If you know Jesus and you’ve accepted that He’s made you unique, the natural overflow of your heart is to do good things for Him.  So look at your life.  Would your life say that you know Jesus?  Or are you a cranky, mean person?   If you embraced this idea that you are a masterpiece, hand-crafted, that God cares about who you are becoming, and that He has called you to do good works for the sake of the Kingdom, it might re-frame what you see about at your job tomorrow, or in your interactions with others at home, or the grocery store, or whatever it might be.  If you truly see that God’s made you unique and wants to use you to partner with Him in the kingdom for the sake of others, your attitude toward working in a cube or whatever you do, might be just a little bit different.

Finally—Which God prepared in advance for us to do…  That’s kind of intimidating, because that means God has some kind of plan, and I like to know what the plan is, how about you?  For me, part of the Christian journey is learning to be present to what the Spirit is doing in the moment, just trying to listen.  I remember as a kid, my parents worked a half hour or so away in a factory, so they were gone from early in the morning until 6 at night or so.  They did what most parents do and gave me a list of stuff to do when they left, like feed the cows, chickens, and hogs.  Mow the grass.  Maybe I had to build or repair some fence.  And then the thing every kid loves to hear from their parents:  Clean your room.   And so, I did what most teenage boys do—I messed around all day doing whatever I wanted until about 4 pm.  Then I crammed in all the work they gave me to do and got it done just as they pulled into the driveway and sat back on the couch like I’d been sitting there for hours.

I’m convinced that God has laid out work for us to do.  But part of formation as a follower of Jesus is partnering with God to figure out what that is.  For most of us, it’s not “do exactly this or that,” so I want to give you two parts of vocation that I think will shape you and help you see what you’re suppose to be about in this life.  The first part is what I’m going to call foundational vocation.  The bottom line: To know Jesus and to make Him known.  What is our foundational vocation? The thing ALL of us have been created for? Our primary vocation is to know Jesus and to make Him known.

At the beginning of this series we looked at 2 Corinthians 5:17-20 and I want to read that again for us —  So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; {That’s our job.}  that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

It’s easy to make our work or our career an idol, isn’t it?   To make IT the thing that our identity is wrapped up in.  To think the work that I do, the profession that I’m in, the thing I went to school for is my idol, my highest calling.  But honestly, the Scriptures are clear that the foundational calling, of everyone who claims to follow Jesus, is to know Christ and to make Him known.  If you’re here today and you’re not following Jesus yet, that’s not your mandate, but God desires it for you.  But if you do follow Jesus, you need to know Him and make Him known, to be an ambassador for Christ, to live out the ministry of reconciliation. So whether you work in a cubicle or a nice cushy office, or you’re retired, or you’re between jobs, a significant part of your vocation is the same as the rest of us: to represent Jesus, to be an ambassador of Christ, to show people what living in His way with His heart looks like.  That’s your foundational vocation.  All of us.

Then I would ask:  Does God want to leverage who He’s uniquely made you to be?  If my job is to know Christ and to make Him known, what about the unique skills God has given me?  What about the unique abilities God has given me?  What about the uniqueness God has put inside of me?  The unique desires and passions?  Well, I’m going to call that our specific vocation.  Our specific vocation is gifting yourself to the Kingdom of God for the sake of others.  This is the one time it’s ok to regift something!  Who God made you to be.  It’s a gift FROM God that you are who you are, and a gift FOR God to give who you are to the Kingdom of God for the sake of others.  I love what David Benner, psychologist and author, has to say: “Our vocation is always a response to a Divine call to take our place in the Kingdom of God. {Not just the job that I have, it’s taking my place in the Kingdom of God.  This is why we talk about kingdom so much.  The gospel is kingdom.  Jesus said, “Repent the Kingdom is near.”  Kingdom. Kingdom. Kingdom.  So we have a role to play in this Kingdom.} Our vocation is a call to serve God and our fellow humans in the distinctive way that fits the shape of our being. In one way or another, Christian calling will always involve the care of God’s creation and people.”

You might be saying, “Gift myself to the Kingdom of God?”  That sounds a little bit pretentious, doesn’t it?  It’s not pretentious, it’s obedience.  All of us have a specific vocation.  I think God desires for us to know the person He’s created us to be and to leverage it for the sake of others.  All of us.  We don’t transform our vocation, or our relationships, or our resources, or our bodies, or our minds and hearts, into the wholeness of Christ so that we can feel good about ourselves.  No, no, no.  We allow the Spirit to transform to the wholeness of Christ for the sake of others.  So it’s good to know how you’re wired and what God has birthed in you.  What your natural strengths and abilities are.  It’s good to know what your life experiences are, even if they aren’t good ones.  God uses the not good experiences to shape us, just as much as the good ones.  Also, what your passions and desires are.  If you were to go, “What’s my specific vocation?” and you took the three areas of your natural abilities and life experiences, and you paired it with your passions and desires, and then added in the needs of others, you’d start getting a clue about what God’s specific vocation is for you.

I’ve learned that as you journey through assessments and things like this, it might be kind of painful, but there’s also a lot of joy, to start scraping the surface and go, “Oh, I see the diamond in the rough.”  This is one of the reasons why we’re committed to formation here at South.  It’s one of the reasons we have an Enneagram class, so you can sign up and journey with other people and take some assessments and have some honest conversation to find out a little bit more about how God has uniquely wired you.  You could also talk to people who know you well and have an “I see in you” conversation.  What do you see in me?  How am I wired?  What do you think I’m good at?  How have you seen God use me through my own natural giftings and abilities?  That’s a powerful conversation.

I want you to hear me: even if don’t have a J-O-B, or you’re retired, or you’re in between jobs, you still have a vocation.  God’s not done with you yet.  My friend Carolyn is 77 years old. She doesn’t necessarily have a J-O-B, but she certainly has a vocation.  When I first met her, I observed how she interacted with people.  One thing I saw is that Carolyn is ubiquitous, she is everywhere at all times.  She’s mentoring everyone all the time.  One day I told her I figured out what she was:  she’s our chaplain.  She’s the chaplain of this Body.

The truth is, knowing your foundational vocation and your specific vocation can have a huge impact on which job you choose to work, and how you approach that job. Even if you feel you’re in a dead-end job, understanding that God wants to use you, could shift how you see that job.  It should also shift how you view your role at home, in your neighborhood, in your job, your vocation, in this city, and the world.  Why?  Because your vocation is becoming who God created you to be, and doing what God created you to do.  And that’s not dependent exclusively on your job.

Now I get it, there are times where we don’t know our specific vocation.  I just want you to hear me, that’s okay.  And maybe you’re in a situation where you’re agitated because you do have some specific abilities, but you don’t feel like God or others are using them, and you feel underutilized.

What if this week, you chose to not focus so much on living out every single ability you have and focused on not getting frustrated about what you know to be true about yourself not being known by others?  What if you decided to just put your ear to the ground and allow the Spirit to lead you? To be a student of the Artisan?

I can tell you there are plenty of times I felt underutilized or even confused about how I made a difference, but looking back I can see that in those times Jesus was my teacher.  He was using that circumstance to teach me how He wanted to use me for his kingdom.   And I Jesus wants to be your teacher as well.  So I want to challenge you to bloom where you’re planted.  Make following Jesus your foundation. Be available and hungry to learn and grow, and to be used however the Spirit calls you to be used, and see how Jesus might shape you.

One last thing I want to say about what it is that God’s calling you to do as you get farther and farther into being used by Jesus.  A lot of people would say, “I’ve fallen in love with Jesus.  I’m following hard after Jesus, so I’m just waiting so I can go work at a church.”  I want to tell you that working at a church is NOT the highest calling.  If you could find any other career other than being a pastor or working at a church, please do that.  It’s not for everyone.  There’s nothing magical about being a professional Christian.  Erwin McManus once said that when you tell people you’re a pastor, it’s like telling them that you’re a cannibal and inviting them over for dinner.  I’m sometimes envious of people who aren’t in the church who are making an impact in their neighborhood, in their community, because you don’t have that stigma.  You have a better opportunity to show people, in your day-to-day life, how to live in the way of Jesus with the heart of Jesus than I do.   The goal is not to be a professional Christian, it’s to bloom where you’re planted and let God use you to become who God created you to be and do what He called you to do, whether that’s an accountant, a plumber, a doctor, a lawyer, a stay-at-home mom….   Whatever you find yourself in, be who God created you to be.  You can often have far more an impact outside of these church walls than I can.

I want you to meet my friend Steve.  He’s an amazing person and I admire him very much, and I think he really gets it when it comes to vocation. {Video}

We probably had little to no idea of what we were getting into, honestly.  There have been those fun moments, but Penny and I have both said we’ve never worked harder in our lives.  So I’m Steve Shroeder.  We’ve been at South two-and-a-half years now.  It was in high school when I sensed God was inviting me to consider being a youth pastor.  Penny and I got married after she graduated and started the journey of being in full-time ministry, as in paid ministry with the church.  I was a youth pastor five years, then we went and planted a church in Bellingham, Washington.  I got to experience church planting—all the challenges and opportunities that come with that.  After about thirteen years we had a call from a church in Kansas for me to come and be their lead pastor.  Thirty-four years of straight pastoral ministry.  Penny and I began to have a conversation about what would I do in retirement and would I always be a pastor.  When Penny and I had this conversation, I was probably 58 or 59 so I started thinking, “If I only had a few years left, what would I want to do?”  Immediately we thought of our kids and grandkids who were living here in Denver.  I remember where I was standing in our kitchen when Penny said, “Well, what would you do if you weren’t a pastor?”  This idea came into my head—and I kind of think it was Jesus, I don’t know, but the idea was I would buy a Great Harvest Bread company and I would run the store!  Where did that come from?  We looked into it and sure enough, there was a store for sale, in Denver, right at that very time.  I had been intentionally working on my own spiritual growth and reading a lot of stuff from Dallas Willard and James Bryan Smith.  Jesus comes to heal from our diseases, and I think we all have diseases.  I don’t think I recognized, very clearly, what some of mine were.  The disease that I kind of figured out that God was showing me I had was this disease of seeking approval of people and living for their approval.  To be honest, being a pastor feeds that disease.  You’re in the limelight every Sunday.  When you’re done preaching, there’s a lineup of people that want to talk to you.  I think He was saying a couple things: one, I care more about who you’re becoming than what you’re doing.  And he pulled me out of the limelight, kind of into obscurity.  I work in the back of the bakery a lot and I go shopping and I deliver food.  I’m also learning that the workplace is probably His primary classroom for discipleship.  Like, this is where He wants us to grow, to learn about who we’re becoming, to learn to love our enemy.  When I get to deal with customers that are grumpy, Jesus will say to me, “Well, Steve, you’re grumpy too sometimes and look how I treat you.”  So it’s an opportunity to learn that.  I’m trying to learn from Jesus that I’m a child of His, created in His image.  I’m an eternal being with an eternal destiny and I live in the unshakable kingdom of God.  I’m here because it’s my new classroom.  I’m allowing that to shape my character, to become more like Him in this environment.  We need godly teachers and business people and repair people.  We need Jesus-kind of people in every aspect of business in the world.  We need them.  The highest calling isn’t what I can do for Jesus, but it’s who I can become IN Jesus, in Christ, who I am.  What’s I begin to see clearly that that’s what He wants—it’s not first of all my service or my profession—He wants me.  No matter what vocation you’re in, it’s a calling from God.  Often it’s a way of partnering with God in answering somebody’s prayer.  So there’s people out there praying, “Give us this day our daily bread,” and I’m working with seventeen people at the bakery making sure they get their daily bread.  I can see why He’s not calling everyone into professional, paid ministry.  We can all see our occupation, or vocation, as a calling from Him as an opportunity to learn from Him, in that environment, and to partner with Him in what He’s doing in the world.  

So I want to end today by asking this question I ask a lot:  What about you? Maybe you’re a young adult trying to figure out what you want to do with your life.  Maybe you’re a middle-aged adult and you’re trying to figure out what you want to do with your life.  Maybe you’re an older adult, and you’re convinced God’s not through with you yet.  Recently, I met with someone who’s in her 70’s and she heard one of these talks I gave in this series and she said, “What you just talked about, I want that.  I don’t know how much longer the Lord will give me on this earth, but I want it to count.”  And I thought, “Man, that is somebody Jesus is shaping and forming.”  Regardless of what age you are, Jesus is pulling you forward.  He wants to use you.  He wants to really get to know you, not the beaten down you with the lies you’ve believed all your life, but the real you.

I love how Steve said our vocation is often being the answer to some else’s prayer. What if you got up tomorrow, and whatever you set your intention to do, you framed it that perhaps Jesus wanted to use you to be the answer to someone else’s prayer?  Maybe it’s in that cube you’re working in, or maybe it’s in your home with your kids or your spouse, maybe it’s in the grocery line.  Maybe if we thought like this, God might actually use you to answer someone’s prayer.  What if instead of asking someone, “What do you do?” we looked at those God has put in our path and asked, “Who are you becoming?”  What if instead of measuring ourselves by what we do, that we are good because of our outputs, what if we asked the question, “Who am I becoming?”

Here at South, we don’t just want to have a sermon you hear, we want to give you practical things, practices and tools you can use to reflect and actually have movement in your life.  This is a part of your formation.  I want to give you three words to reflect on, to see where  you are, what movement might look like for you. The first word is ACCEPT.  For some of us, we haven’t accepted yet that we’re special.  We haven’t accepted that we’re a work of art, that we are God’s masterpiece.  For some of us here today, I know you need to hear that and I’m going to invite you to accept that.  Maybe some of you have not accepted Jesus as the Lord and Savior of your life.  I’d love for you to consider doing that today and I’d love to baptize you next week.  You need to accept that God made you unique and special and full of worth.

For all of us, we need to EMBRACE.  Embrace the season we’re in.  For some of us, that’s going to YOU University.  I’m going to learn about myself.  Or, I’m going to follow Jesus in the midst of my context.  For some of you, you need to embrace the fact that God wants to use you to be an answer to someone else’s prayer.  Even if you’re in a job you don’t especially care for.  Maybe for some of you, you need to embrace the fact that you KNOW who God’s made you to be and you KNOW what God’s calling you to do and you’re afraid to do it.  Have the courage to be the person God created you to be and do what God called you to do.

For all of us, I’d invite you to prayerfully ASK God’s spirit to begin to show you how you can be used to make a real difference in the Kingdom of God…at home, at your job, and beyond. Ask Jesus how you can make the most of your life, for His name and for His glory.  Remember, your vocation is becoming who God created you to be, and doing what God created you to do.

My prayer is that you’d accept the person God created you to be, you’d embrace the season you’re in, and you’d ask God’s spirit how He wants to use you for the sake of others.  And that tomorrow when you embrace your day, you wouldn’t live it out as a dead-end job or as simply a means to pay your bills and feed your family, but rather, as an opportunity to partner with God, to build His Kingdom, for the sake of others.

South Fellowship Church, hear me, imagine if we really were the kind of church committed to knowing Jesus and making Him known as our foundation.  Imagine if we were the kind of church filled with people committed to learning and practicing the way of Jesus in every season of life, even if it’s not perfect.  Imagine if we were the kind of church committed to helping people discover who God had created them to be, and then doing our very best to empower and equip them to do it.  Church, if we were like that kind of church, that’s a powerful church that turns communities upside down, that partners with God’s kingdom for the sake of others.  I’m convinced that’s the kind of church God is calling South Fellowship Church to be.

Would you bow your heads and we’ll go to the Lord in prayer?  Jesus, I am so grateful that you allow us to partner with you for your good work, for your Kingdom’s sake.  I pray that you would help us to become the people you created us to be and to do the things you’ve called us to do.  I pray that you would walk with us all the days of our lives, lead us into things that blow our minds, that we never could imagine.  Help us to sense the Father’s love today; for those in this room who are struggling to see that they are okay and that you love them as they are and that you’ve created them fearfully and wonderfully.  Lord, may we all sense your Spirit within us and become who you’ve created us to be and accept your great gift of salvation, forgiveness, and the person you’ve made us to be.  I ask all these things in the strong and powerful name of Jesus. Together this church said….Amen.