Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Like a Tree // Calling

sermon notes from the Vineyard Church of Milan 02/10/2012

video available at






These are some ways human beings describe the divine when they encounter it. They share some things in common.

Wind. Breath. Spirit. Word. All of them invisible. Hard to get your hands on. Slip through your fingers. And yet unmistakable. Perceivable. Powerful. Sometimes even irresistible.

Felt or heard by one person or family or group, but the only evidence that remains to the outsider of their reality is the shift they’ve caused. The wind lifts seeds and water, moves it into new territory and deposits it there, from garden to desert, the only evidence of its activity is the new life growing in the previously arid ground.

Homo sapien after homo sapien meeting the God who is Wind, Breath, Spirit, Word, and the experiences are eerily similar.

Noah. The divine breath moves him to build an ark. Making him look like a fool until. Well, until we see that his journey is a hero’s journey.

Abraham. The divine wind calls him to leave his father’s household and go to an unknown land. Making him look like a fool until. Well, until we see that his journey is a hero’s journey.

Moses. The divine spirit calls him to resist the most powerful ruler in human history and lead his people across the desert to a land flowing with milk and honey. Making him look like a fool until. Well, until we see that his journey is a hero’s journey.

Jesus, the divine word made human flesh dwells among us, and what does he begin doing? Calling people. “Come, follow me.” Fishermen. Tax Collectors. Prostitutes. Doctors. Scholars. Noblemen. Teenagers. Homemakers. “Come, follow me.”

Person after person, from the dawn of human history, encountering God and being called. Right up until the present day.

Called from comfort, or obscurity, or desperation, or ordinariness

into adventure.

Extraordinary adventure.

Why are you here? Why are you doing what you are doing in your life? If you’ve encountered God – the way people tend to encounter him – you’ve felt the push of his wind, the whisper of his breath, the invitation of his spirit, the insistent command of his word. Come. Go. Do. And so you are here. And doing this. Because He told you to.

You’ve felt it deep in your bones. You were made the way you were made for a purpose. When you’ve resisted it, you’ve felt the tension it’s created in your life, the sense of being misplaced, not fitting quite right, a restlessness that sleep can’t touch. That sleep maybe even makes worse.

You’ve gotten hints of it in things people have said to you, stories they’ve told. You resonated, your pulse quickened, you came alive, felt the tug of a longing.

You’ve maybe had dreams. Thought you heard a voice. Wondered if it was real. Kept seeing hints in signs and on TV and lyrics in songs and words on paper or in crazy random places and thought, could that be God talking to me? And you’re pretty sure it probably was, even though if you ever told anyone they’d probably laugh a little and think you were maybe a little silly. So you haven’t told anyone. But you haven’t forgotten either.


Like a Tree series. Psalm 1: Happy is the man who…like a tree planted by streams of living water…


Over the last several weeks we’ve talked about nurturing and tending to different aspects of our lives so that we can be like a tree planted by streams of living water. From our interior lives, or our souls, to our relationships with others, to our active or work lives, and now concluding this week with our calling, or missional lives. How do we nurture and tend to our calling? To the purpose for which we were made and called by God to live? How do we day by day hear his voice amidst all the other voices and inclinations we have, so that our lives don’t get stagnant or off track?


As it says in Romans 8:14,

For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God.

Or Galatians 5:25

Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.


The Overlooked Obvious Thing

Before we get ahead of ourselves, we should note that we all have the same fundamental calling as followers of Jesus.

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Matthew 28:19-20

The work of Jesus is our calling – loving the unlovable, serving our enemies, caring for the poor, strengthening the weak, healing the sick, equipping the saints, doing the works of the kingdom.

Of course, God has a unique role for each one of us to play as we do this, a custom made adventure that is designed to fit us perfectly and glorify God in the world. That adventure – like Frodo’s carrying of the ring to mount doom or Luke Skywalker becoming a Jedi or Dorothy’s epic feats in Oz – may take a lifetime to unfold in all its detail, but it will always be part of, and subject to, this fundamental calling.

And so if you’re discouraged that you don’t know what you’re calling is, stop being discouraged and start by doing your best to announce the good news of Jesus in your day to day life, through the way you love everyone you encounter and making yourself available to join with other followers of Jesus as they pursue God’s calling.

Much the way we all start by learning to crawl and walk and eat and speak and add and subtract and write our names and dress ourselves. Even though some may ultimately be athletes or dancers or chefs or poets or business owners or parents or teachers or pilots or electricians or nurses or accountants and on and on.


Letting Go

Nurturing our calling for the sake of spiritual growth – for the sake of the happiness that comes from being like a tree planted by streams of living water – begins with letting go of control over the course of our lives. When Jesus says, “Come, follow me” we’ve got to be willing to say “Yes.” And saying yes means that Jesus is now determining where we go and what we’re doing and what our lives are all about. He doesn’t give us a lot of information. We’re just going on the sense we have that he is good. That his goodness is trustworthy. That he’s calling us because he loves us. And if he loves us, there is life for us in following.

If a stranger says close your eyes, follow me you don’t.

But if your favorite person does, you just might.

The idea of calling is a fundamental difference between bounded set faith and centered set faith.


In a bounded set context, you get to look at life inside the boundaries, compare it to life outside, and make your choice. Then, once you’re inside, you can do the same and decide if it’s everything you thought it was. If not, out you go again.


But centered set faith is different. You only get to look at Jesus. And yourself. Because no one has arrived at your destination for you to compare your current life with. Everyone else is on a journey somewhere, not yet arrived. Except Jesus. So you see him, and you see you. And then you decide which of you is more likely to lead you to good life. And then you start taking step after step towards him, wherever he’s leading you. And you trust him, letting go of control. Day after day, step after step. Even when his call challenges you, frightens you, demands new things out of you.

Let’s not get the wrong impression. Letting go of control to follow Jesus’ call is an active thing, not a passive thing. It is a brave and courageous thing. It is the ultimate choosing. It takes every bit of will and desire we can muster, and focuses them in a singular direction.

Listen to what C.S. Lewis says:

“That is why the real problem of the Christian life comes where people do not usually look for it. It comes the very moment you wake up each morning. All your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job each morning consists simply in shoving them all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in.”

Surrendering to Jesus’ call, letting go of all sorts of other impulses, daily deciding that you will let Jesus’ purpose for your life be your driving purpose, in other words, is the way we avoid not surrendering to all sorts of other things that insist they can lead us to life.

The prayer in the "How is your soul" booklet is a very helpful one:

Spirit of God, it is Your Voice I desire to hear above the din of all others clamoring for my attention. Give me ears to hear Your daily calling on my life as a follower of Jesus, and in my specific role in Your mission to love the world to wholeness. I choose to obey; speak and I will both listen and respond. In Jesus’ name, I offer myself to you. Amen.


Listen Actively

[teaching active listening in premarital counseling…teaching people to reflect what they hear in such a way that the other person can say yes exactly or well, no, not exactly… “So if I hear what you’re saying, …”]

Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2 There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. 3 So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.”

4 When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!”

And Moses said, “Here I am.”

Exodus 3:1-4

Notice how Moses goes over to look, and that’s when God calls to him. He’s let go of his flock tending enough to give his attention to the bush. The same thing happens for us. Letting go frees us to actively listen. To pay attention.

And in my experience, actually telling God what we think we hear him saying can be really helpful in hearing and discerning his call. Say it out loud. “Jesus, if I hear what you’re saying to me, you are calling me to…” That will often be accompanied by some kind of confirmation in your heart, peace in your spirit, some kind of internal witness to God’s voice if it is in fact from him. You may not even say it to God directly in fact, but maybe to someone else, and the same kind of thing can happen. That’s how I came to know the Lord’s calling to come serve as a pastor here. [Indianapolis story…]


Actually do.

This may seem obvious, but we nurture and tend to our calling by actually doing what we are called to do.

It can be really easy to get distracted and lose and our sense of calling. Even after we’ve said yes and taken some steps in following Jesus into it. We can be like dogs on a walk who see squirrels and all of sudden we aren’t on a walk anymore.

So look at your life and compare it to what you’ve felt the wind pushing you to do and felt the breath whispering to you to do and felt the spirit drawing you to do and heard the word inviting you to do. And if they don’t match up very well, begin, as best as you can today, to do what you’re called to do, and to stop doing what you’ve been doing instead. Even if it’s just a little bit at a time. Because the kingdom of God is like yeast in dough. It’s like a mustard seed planted in the ground. You’ve just got to let it get started, and then cooperate as best as you’re able.


Practical tips

1. Get out of your Comfort Zone. Do one unforced uncomfortable thing a day for a week. Because comfort is the enemy of calling.

2. Trade up. Tell God you’re willing to trade you’re storyline for your life for his storyline for your life.

3. Add the Calling Question to your Examen this week.

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