At Mission Hills, we exist to help people become like Jesus and join him on mission . . . but what does that look like, lived out in everyday life? Sometimes the best way to learn how to be like Jesus, is to model others who follow him relentlessly. Join us as hear from those who have learned that living a life on mission with Jesus will bring purpose, excitement, and joy.
STORIES OF LIFE ON MISSION
This week guest speaker Reza Zadeh shares his story of transformation, and how he continues to live his life on mission with Jesus daily. We’ll walk through the story of the prodigal son, sharing that each son in the story was striving for affirmation and worth in things of this world.
Reza: Mission Hills, it is so good to see you. Good morning.
Reza: My name is Reza, you saw that on the screen. And it’s not a very common name, I know that. I was born in Iran and my family came to United States when I was really young. So I have a very common Iranian name, Reza Zadeh. But I’ll be very honest, Reza Zadeh is not the name my parents gave me. The name my parents gave me is Alireza Sadaghiani Zadeh. And I hear your laughs. That’s what TSA says when I try to fly. And so I can tell you all about being detained in airports and so.
But I came in United States when I was really young. My dad worked for the Shah of Iran, which used to be the king of Iran, worked in his oil industry, oil company. And so, he got sent to work in Houston for a year. And so my mom and I came with him. And my mom and I didn’t speak any English at all. We’re living in Houston. And then my dad was working. And then a revolution happened in Iran where the Shah was overthrown and Ayatollah came into power and it’s kind of the country that we now know. And my parents said, “Well, let’s just stay in the United States until politically things die down, and then we’ll move back.” And 38 years later, here we are. Things do not die down politically, and it is not safe to go back.
So this is home for us. I grew up most of my life in Southern California. I had a little stop and Tahlequah, Oklahoma. Anyone know where Tahlequah, Oklahoma is? Got a couple of people, there you go. So we moved there. My dad owned a truck stop and so we were Middle Easterners, you know, running a convenience store, living out the stereotype, running a gas station, truck stop, all that stuff. But we’re in Tahlequah, Oklahoma running this truck stop in the early ’80s. And if you remember those of you there around you know that Iran took some American hostages, and so we were not the most popular individuals in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, living in the early 80s.
And so we ended up living in Southern California, and I was raised in Southern California. So when people ask me where you’re from, I say I was born in Iran, but I grew up in Southern California. And I’ll share a little bit more of my story. But if we’re going to spend the morning together, I might as well introduce my family to you as well. So I have a picture of my family I want to show you here. And so this is me. I promise I have more shirts than just white shirts. I think I’m wearing the exact same shirt in that picture. My wife Allison and I are right there in the middle. That girl on the left there, that is our 10-year-old daughter, Olivia.
She is 10 going on 19 and she is responsible. We have about 13 animals around our house, and she is an animal lover. And a few months ago, she really wanted a cat and I’m like putting my foot down, I was like, “We’re not getting a cat. No way we can have a cat. We have too many animals.” And she goes, “But I really want a cat.” And so there was an assignment at school she had to write a persuasion like paragraph. And she wrote a persuasive paragraph on why we should get a cat. And she mailed it to us. She like put it in the mail, put a stamp on it, we received it. And I’m still like, “We’re not getting a cat.”
And I kid you not, like a few weeks later, this little kitten starts showing up in a bush next to our house. And Moses saw a burning bush, I got a cat in a bush. And literally, now we have a cat who lives in our garage because God sent my daughter a cat, and so that’s our 13th animal. Then my son was on the right there that’s Owen, that’s my buddy there. Owen is now nine-years-old. And Owen loves Jesus. He’s amazing. He’s got a heart for people. We transition. We used to homeschool for a while then we moved and now we go to the public school, you know, the neighborhood school down the road.
And he came home one day, we’re sitting around the table, and some of you might do this with your kids like high lows, what were the highs for the day, what were the lows for the day. And I said, “Owen, what’s your low?” And he puts his head down, a lip comes out and I was like, “What’s up?” And he’s like, “I just found out my best friend at school is not a Christian.” And I’m like, “Well, that’s all right, buddy.” And I’m thinking to myself, “Well, how do you know he’s not a Christian?” And he’s like, “I walked up to him one day, I was sitting down, and I said, ‘Are you Christian?’ And the kid said, ‘No, my name is Eli.'”
And so I kind of laughed, and he kind of laughed too. And I was like, “Well, how do you know?” He’s like, “Well, I asked him. I said, ‘Do you follow Jesus? Do you read the Bible? Do you go to church?’ And he said, ‘No.'” And I said, ‘Well, Owen, what did you do?” And he’s like, “I just got up and walked away.” And so he’s great, loves kids. He’s amazing. And then that little girl that’s sitting on my lap there, that’s Macy. She is now six-years-old. And a couple years ago, she was our family vegetarian, and it happened like this. Her and my wife were driving along. We live in Fort Collins, and they were driving along the road. And there’s this restaurant there called Famous Dave’s BBQ.
Some of you are familiar with it. Have you ever looked at the logo of Famous Dave’s? It’s a pig in fire, and for a five-year-old girl, that’s traumatic. And so she looked at my wife, said, “Why is there a pig in fire?” And my wife said, “Well, that’s what you do. You cook animals and you eat them and that’s what happens. She’s like, “I’m not eating animals anymore.” And so we’re talking around the dinner table that night and I’m like, “Macy, you cannot eat animals?” She said, “No. I cannot eat any more animals.” I was like, ‘What about hamburgers?”
At the time she liked hamburgers, she goes, “Is there animal and hamburger?” I said, “Yeah, there’s cows.” And she’s like, “Nope, I’m not going to eat them.” I was like, “Well, what about hot dogs?” And she goes, “Is are animals in hot dogs?” And I said, “There’s some pig, you know, in hot dogs.” She goes,” Nope, nope, I’m not going to hot dogs.” And then I thought I got her, and please don’t judge us here because I know like…so our first two kids, it was like organic everything, fresh food. We chopped every…like we made their meals.
Third child, chicken nuggets, breakfast lunch, dinner. That’s all she eats, is chicken. I’m not even exaggerating. And so I go, “Well, Macy. What about like chicken nuggets?” And she goes, “Wait a minute. Is there chicken in chicken nuggets?” And I said, “Sometimes there is. There is.” And then one day, we’re out at breakfast together and she starts crying. And she says, “I miss bacon.” And I said, “There’s nothing holding you back.” So that was the end of her vegetarian phase. So that’s her. So that’s our staged family picture. We’re missionaries. And so we send that out to our prayer letters and people that support us. But this is the reality picture of our family right here.
Like that’s reality for us. And there’s some context here. You’ll notice I’m the only one wearing shoes and there’s a reason for that. This was Easter a couple of years ago. We work with athletes, and I’ll share that here in a little bit. We’re missionaries with athletes. And we had a whole bunch of college athletes in our house for Easter brunch. And so we opened up our backyard and we had a bunch of games. So we had about 50, 55 athletes there. And so we’re having a blast, and we’re putting our kids to bed at the end of the night.
And then my wife and I looked at each other, we’re like, “We didn’t take an Easter picture.” So we got the kids out of bed, got them to change back into their clothes. And I was the only one that put my shoes on in that picture. And that picture was the result of that genius thought there. So that’s my family. But my story is I grew up in Southern California, like I said, got involved playing football in high school, and did pretty well with it. But I had no idea what American culture was about. We were an Iranian family.
I grew up Muslim, did not know the Lord really at all. I knew some things about Jesus, but didn’t know him. But I’m an Iranian family living in Southern California trying to figure out American culture. And so going into high school, like having to learn about prom. I had no idea what prom was. I watched “Beverly Hills 90210,” and I’m like, “Okay, well, that’s what American culture is all about.” How scary is that? That’s how I learned about everything, is by watching TV. And so went through my high school years, found myself in Fort Collins playing football at Colorado State University. And so I was a Ram, moved into the dorms there.
And so I thought, “Well, if high school is what I saw on TV, then college is what I see on TV too.” So my first year in the dorms was filled with what typically you would think of as a first-year person in the dorms, you know, partying, drinking, drugs, and just all the stuff that you would do in college. And I was involved in all of that. And then after my first year, some roommates and I decided, “Hey, let’s move into this apartment complex. That’s where we’re going to live next year.” It was a fairly new apartment complex. And it was where all the parties were at, this little apartment complex called Ram’s Village right west of campus.
So we move into Ram’s Village apartment complex, and we’re thinking to ourselves, “This is gonna be the greatest summer of our life,” because we had to stay there. We had summer school and workouts and so we’re just going to move in there for the summer. So we moved in. And in Fort Collins, everyone was gone at the time. And so we had literally this apartment complex, to ourselves where like one apartment filled with, you know, some athletes were hanging out in there. And we had a swimming pool to ourselves, like, it was dangerous. Like, we had the entire place to ourselves for the summer. And there’s something horrific happened.
We’re looking out the window of the apartment complex, and these minivans start coming into the apartment complex. And we’re like thinking to ourselves like, “We see some minivans around campus.” But if you know minivan culture, these were Toyota Sienna and Honda Odysseys, like, these are like the elite minivans, like, that were coming in. You don’t see them around college campuses. And so we’re kind of looking out there and then even worse, kids started getting out of the minivans. And we were like, “What are these kids doing here? Like, the things that we’re going to be doing, like, kids shouldn’t be around. Like, this should not be. What are they doing here?”
And then it got even worse, the parents got out and had the audacity to start unpacking their bags. And this was the first week of June and we’re like, “What are these people doing? Like, families? This is like our apartment. Don’t these people know? This is gonna be the best party, the best summer of our life. Like, they shouldn’t be here.” Well, it turns out, we sent one of my roommates down, we kind of picked him and we’re like, “Hey, you go down there and find out who these people are, and when are they leaving.” And so he goes down, we saw him talking and we’re like staring outside the window.
And he comes up and he slams the door and he’s like, “Well, the Christians are in town.” And we were like, “What do you mean the Christians are in town?” He goes, “I don’t know, these people are Christians. And then they said this place is going to be filled with Christians all summer long. And we’re like, “Great, this is going to be the worst summer of our life. Like, we’re going to sit in the dark, sing Kumbaya, light candles, and all that stuff.” Well, here’s what happened. There’s a missions organization, a worldwide missions organization called Campus Crusade for Christ.
They do their national staff conference or U.S. staff conference just happens to be in Fort Collins every other year. And so this group of people that were moving in, they were there to run a camp for athletes, they’re a part of this missions organization. There’s a little part of Campus Crusade of CRU called Athletes in Action that specifically works with college, Olympic, and professional athletes. And they happen to be living in this apartment complex with us.
And so we were stuck with the Christians and we’re like, “Man,” then we find out they’re going to be there all summer long, like they’re going to go do their Christian things and we’re going to do our non, you know, Christian things, and we’re gonna have to live together in this apartment complex. And we’re thinking, “This is going to be horrific.” But I tell you what, over the weeks as we got to know them, these particular families ended up being there moved in first week of June. They didn’t leave till the end of July. And the rest of the staff joined them in July.
So for eight weeks, there was a group of families that we hung out with almost every single day. Like we would barbecue together, we would hang out, we would talk, we played games, like they let us take their kids in the swimming pool. And I’m like, “I wouldn’t take a college freshman to a swimming pool. I wouldn’t trust me with that. And you’re giving me your kids to go play with like, we had a lot of fun. And here’s what we found. They weren’t perfect people. We heard some of the husbands and wives arguing and bickering. And I don’t know if you know this, but even Christian husbands and wives argue and bicker, you know, sometimes.
We caught some of their older kids smoking, but there was something about them and we were like, “Man, these people are pretty great.” And then the apartment complex got filled with a whole bunch of other Christians. And they just started living out their life. And after eight weeks, we were like, “Man, these people are different. There’s this peace about…I gotta figure out what that is, because I really like them.” So the night before the conference ended, the couple we got closest with, they were living next door to us, they invited us over for dinner.
And they invited us over for dinner and they sat us down, I’ll never forget, they cook spaghetti and meatballs, which that’s how you reach college students, is you feed them. And they sit us down, and we’re sitting on the couch. I’ll never forget the little nine-year-old daughter at the time gave us these little yellow books, called “The Four Spiritual Laws,” passed it out to every single one of us, and they simply walked through this little booklet with us. First one, God loves you and has a plan for your life. Second, man is sinful and separated from God.
Third, Jesus is God’s only provision for man’s sin. And fourthly, you can be in relationship with God for eternity through putting your full faith, trust, and belief in the name of Jesus. Friends, no one had ever told me any of those things about Jesus. Growing up Muslim, there’s some things I knew about Jesus. I trusted Jesus, Muslims adhere to the teachings of Jesus, the virgin birth, the miracles, all of those. But it was, you know, being the Son of God and dying for our sins and being resurrected that Muslims can’t get over, which those are obviously pretty big deals, you know, that you need to come to terms with. And so no one had ever told me these things.
And I remember we said goodbye and kind of, you know, we said our goodbyes. And at that point, I was almost tearing up because eight weeks of friendship, and they’re about to leave. And so I went back to my apartment, I sat on my bed and I said, “God, if what they said is true about Jesus, I want Jesus in my life.” And so it was through an eight-week relationship with this couple. And then we woke up the next morning and all the families are packing up everything and here’s where I realized, I didn’t stand a chance, because we opened up our front door and everyone had left their extra groceries on our front doorstep.
So I realized everybody had been praying for us. Now here’s what you need to know about this couple. This couple we live next door to, their names are Stephen and Debbie Tyler. Steve grew up in Littleton. Steve grew up here at Mission Hills Church. Steve and Debbie were missionaries that were supported by Mission Hills Church in the late ’90s. In the late ’90s, Mission Hills Church was supporting them as missionaries as they were serving athletes and sharing the Gospel with me. And so, friends, I’m standing here today as a spiritual legacy and as fruit of the Ministry of Mission Hills Church and all the people that have given throughout the years.
And so you don’t even know this, but you didn’t even realize you have an Iranian in your family, and so, welcome. I’m glad to be… I’m like a spiritual like grand great-grandson, whatever it is, but we’re together. And so Mission Hills, thank you for your investment in missions and the way that you give to missions. It’s because of that, then that I get to stand here now and proclaim the Word of God in front of you. And so that’s thrilling for me and my family. But one of the questions I oftentimes get when I share my story of where I’ve come from and growing up Muslim is, “Well, what about your family? Like, what about your mom, dad?”
I have a little sister. My little sister is coming to know the Lord. She’s came to know Lord. She just walked with the Lord, married in Southern California. But my mom and dad, people often ask, “Well, what happened with them? How did that ever turn out?” And I remember for years, I had been praying that God would open a door for me to talk to my parents about my faith. And after, I’d come to know the Lord in college, I was discipled, went to Bible studies, grew in my faith. I was a coach for two seasons on the college level at Colorado State and so coached as a graduate assistant.
And then after that, realized I liked people much more than I liked football, and so decided to go into ministry, and so became a pastor. I was a local church pastor for 12 years, 8 and a half of those years focused on college students up in Fort Collins. And then my wife and I we planted a church community in Windsor, Colorado. About five years ago, we resigned from that because we sense God was calling us to join this organization, Athletes in Action. So we resigned from the church. And we stepped into this ministry raising our support.
Now we get to serve athletes along the Front Range of Colorado. I oversee six athletic departments that we have here. Along the Front Range, we have a team that serves the different athletic departments. And at the same time, my wife and I get to serve as chaplains for the Denver Broncos. And so this will be our third season serving the men and women that play and they represent that organization. And so throughout the years, my father has heard about my ministry, and he’s listened to some of my sermons and this and that, but I’ve never had an opportunity to kind of share exactly what my faith is. And one day, I was visiting my family. It was about seven years ago.
And I can’t remember, we were like driving a Home Depot or something. I don’t remember where we were going, my dad asked me this question, and he says, “What’s the difference? I know you’re a Christian. What’s the difference between Islam and Christianity?” And I’m thinking to myself, “You might need to drive to the Home Depot like three towns away, you know, for us to finish this conversation.” And I was trying to think about how can I share this in a way that he would understand.
And I remember it came to me, there’s this parable, the story that Jesus told me, I thought, “I’m going to just share the story with my dad and just kind of expose a little bit about what the Gospel is, and who Jesus is, and what this major difference between Islam and Christianity is all about.” If you grew up in church, you know this story. If you knew someone who grew up in church, you probably heard of this story. If you’ve ever driven by a church, you know the story of the prodigal son. And so if you have a Bible with you, you can turn to Luke 15.
If you’ve got a device you want to go through or just look up on the screen, totally fine. But as we’re driving along, I’m thinking, “I’m going to tell my dad the story of a father and two sons.” Because here’s why I want to share the story, because in the story in the Scripture and the story that Jesus tells, this fabricated story that Jesus tells, is he uses to make an illustration point. My dad would understand the cultural ramifications of what Jesus was talking about in the story. And so I’m saying, “I can go into all the different differences and theological here and there. Let me just tell you the story that Jesus told.” Jesus tells a story, it’s in Luke chapter 15:11, you can follow along.
And I said, “Dad, Jesus tells a story. There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.'” And so my dad looks at me, and already my dad’s like, “What?” Because I understand, when does somebody get their share of the estate, or when does someone get an inheritance? When they die. And so this son was literally saying to his dad, “Hey, I wish you were dead. I don’t want to be in relationship with you. I don’t want to know you. I don’t want anything to do with you, but I want your stuff. Can you please give me what’s mine? I want my things. Just give me what I have and I want to be done with you.”
Now, do you know not just to any man, but to a Middle Eastern. That was incredibly disgraceful because of all the things that are represented in this place. He had two sons, and the young one said, “Father, give me my share of the estate.” So he divided his property between them. And my dad is like, “He did what? Like he actually gave him that?” I’m like, “You know, that’s the story that Jesus told.” And then it goes on, verse 13. “Not long after that the younger son got together all he had and he set off for a distant country, and there squandered his wealth in wild living.”
Now think to yourself, why did he go to a distant country? Because he knew what he was about to get himself involved with. I mean, he knew the type of party he was going to throw down, it was going to be on. He didn’t want anybody around to know who he was because he was going to get away from home and do anything that he wanted to do. But then we find that he squandered his wealth in wild living. And my dad is absolutely appalled at this point saying, “There’s no way Jesus would have told a story like this to a Middle Eastern culture.”
Verse 14, “After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need.” And this is where my dad says, “Well, that serves him right.” Because you got to understand, in the Middle Eastern culture, especially in Muslim culture, you absolutely get what you deserve, that there’s no room for grace, that what you do, you’re going to reap the benefits of it. And so this was a picture in my dad’s eyes of “he disobeyed his dad, God was punishing him.” That’s the picture that my dad got and so he’s understanding.
“There was a severe famine in that land and he began to be in need. So he went out and he hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to the fields to feed the pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.” You see, here’s a picture here that I don’t want us to miss, that this son, this younger son who went out, he was motivated by something. You and I were all motivated by something. He was motivated by worldly pleasures. He was motivated looking for life independent of his father, that everything that he was going after the emotional high. How can I find pleasure and that’s what motivates me.
And he got himself involved in a lot of these things, that his entire worth and everything that he was was dependent upon things that this world offers. I’ll never forget, it was a couple years ago, it was my first season as chaplain with the team. And we started off the season and we had a new coaching staff. A lot of new things were happening, a lot of new players. And we start off the season pretty well. We’re 3 and 0. We ended up going to Buffalo and there was some things that were happening around the NFL and social media and all these things.
It was kind of a chaotic week. We end up losing in Buffalo. We were 3 and 1 and we come back. We’re playing in Denver on Sunday Night Football against the 0 and 4 Giants. And so we’re thinking 3 and 1, doing pretty well, had a little bump in the road in Buffalo. We’re playing the 0 and 4 Giants, Sunday Night Football, tens of millions of people all around the country are going to be watching. We’re going to get this thing back on track. The game starts many of you have been there, many of you have seen it on TV. Broncos run out on the field for pregame.
I mean, people go crazy. There’s fire. I mean, it’s fire. It’s amazing. People are cheering like crazy. However, the first half did not go so well for us. We quickly found ourselves down 24 to nothing at the end of the second quarter, running into the tunnel. Running into the tunnel, the same people that were cheering when that game started, guess what they were doing? They were booing. Not just booing like, booing, like really booing. And there’s just this picture that I remember sitting there. I was at the game with my son and we’re watching this and we had Bible study the next day.
And I remember bringing up some of the guys, “Hey, did you guys catch what happened last night?” And they’re like, “Actually, we want to forget it.” Then I said, “No, no. Did you guys picture this? You run onto the field, people are cheering you. And 90 minutes later, because you didn’t meet their expectations, what happened? They start booing you.” You see, friends, if we try to find our life and our worth in the hands of other people or things in this world, we’re going to find ourselves severely disappointed.
Reza: And in verse 17, the story goes on and, and he says, “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare. Here, I am starving to death. I’m going to set out and I’m going to go back to my father and say to him, father, I’ve sinned against heaven and against you. I’m no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants. So he got up and he went to his father.'” And my dad, as we’re talking about this, he said, “This could never happen.” Because if he disgraced his father the way that he did… And did you catch previously when I read that there was a guy who sent him into the fields to go feed the pigs?
Do you know pigs are pretty filthy animals in that culture? The pigs would actually dishonor you that you couldn’t live holy in the presence of God if you’d even touched a pig? And this is another picture of the story that the son went out to a distant country to try to live out his wild desires doing everything he wanted. The people in the distant countries knew about the Jewish traditions. If they wanted to shame somebody, especially a Jew, you know what they would do? Send them out to the pigs. And so not only did he dishonor his family, he dishonored God because he was hanging out with swine. And so he gets up and he goes back to his father and my dad is thinking, “There’s no way this is what happened because the father actually has a right to stone him to death.”
Not only disown him, not only shame him, but stone him to death because that’s the penalty for bringing shame to a family name. But in verse 20 it says, “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; and he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” There’s some things in here that we’ve got to understand, and my dad caught it when I said it to him. You know, there’s not a whole lot of people going out for jobs in the Middle East. Okay, just very plain. There’s not a lot of, you know, Under Armour, is not, you know, Dri-Fit. There’s not a lot of those things, and especially old men, and we’re going to presume this gentleman was older.
We read in a little bit, he’s got servants, he’s got properties, he’s got sons, he’s dividing it. So he’s probably pretty well often. He is kind of a prestigious guy, probably dignitary of some sort. And the Scripture says, as Jesus was telling the story, he sitting on his… I just imagine him sitting on his porch just waiting for his son to come home. And he sees the shadow come over the horizon and they’re just really scrawny. He’s like, “That can’t be my son. Kind of walks like him. Kind of looks like him.” He’s like, “That’s my son.” And it says that he got up and he ran towards him. Now, do you know they didn’t wear like shorts back then? In the middle, especially this kind of…they would wear robes.
Do you know what you have to do to run in a robe? Like you got to pull your robe up and we’re in church. That’s all I’m going to say, you can use your imagination. He had to pull his robe up and he had to start running. And he runs to his son and he embraces him and he kisses him. And in verse 22, “And the father said to the servants, ‘Quick, bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate, for this son of mine was dead is alive again. He was lost and is found.”
So they began to celebrate. You know why this made no sense to my father? Because in Islam, there is no room for grace or mercy. There’s five pillars that you adhere to. At the end of your life, there’s this weighted scale of good and bad, and does the good outweigh the bad? And in a very simplistic form, even saying, even if Allah wills it, then you’re able to enter into a paradise. So you could adhere to all the five pillars, your good could outweigh the bad, but if Allah doesn’t will it, you’re not going to enter into the paradise. See, there’s no room for grace and mercy.
So my dad is thinking saying, “This doesn’t make sense. ” You see, grace is something that’s hard to understand, especially from Middle Eastern culture, because grace is getting something you don’t deserve. And mercy is not getting what you do deserve. You see this son deserved to be shut out from his family and when he came home, but the father show grace by putting his arms around him and embracing him back in the family. And he shows him mercy, not giving him what he did deserve. You know what’s cool about God’s mercy, that God’s standard for who deserves mercy is really low.
God does not have a high standard for who deserve… God’s standard is really low for who deserves mercy. Listen, the apostle Paul says it like this in Colossians 2. Here’s a paraphrase. “When you were stuck in your old dead sin life, you were incapable of responding to God.” God brought you alive right along with Christ. Think of it, all sins forgiven, the slate wiped clean, that old arrest warrant canceled and nailed to Christ’s cross.
Reza: And here’s the thing, a lot of us think, “I’ve messed up too much. There’s no way like I can get this mercy.” And there’s a lot of times I’m talking to a lot of athletes, I talk a lot of people, I say, “How many of you fix your own ACL before you go see the doctor?” You don’t. You go to the doctor because there’s something that needs to be healing the doctor works on you. The same goes for God.
We don’t need to clean ourselves up before we come to him. But he gives us grace and mercy. And my dad’s thinking to himself, “Well, you said there was two sons. Did Jesus mention the other son? Like what did he have to say?” And actually, my dad says, “Wait, this is the younger son? I said, “Yeah.” He said, “There’s an older son?” I said, “Yeah.”
So not only did this younger son disgrace his dad by saying, “You’re dead to me, just give me my stuff,” he jumped his older brother in the order of who gets the inheritance. Here’s how the older son responds, verse 25. “Meanwhile, the oldest son was in the field.” Presumably, he was working in the field. “When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and he asked him, ‘What’s going on?’ ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘And your father has killed a fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.” And the older brother rejoiced and celebrated. Just kidding. The older brother became angry and refused to go in.
So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look, all these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours,’ not even my brother, ‘when this son of yours who has squandered your property with wild living comes home, you kill the fatten calf. Like, Dad, we were saving that fattened calf for a good celebration, not wasting on this guy.'” You see, the older brother was motivated by some things as well.
If the younger brother was motivated by worldly pleasures, the older brother was motivated by a life of performance. He was motivated by self-righteousness. You see, he thought that he would have life, he’d have relationship, he found his worth in his affirmation and how hard he worked. You see, he was the kid. He went to Awana, he got the patches, he’s in Bible study, he goes to church, he gives money to the missions, he listens to K-Love he does all the things right. And he thinks that life and relationship with his father is going to be found in how hard he works. And I think he misses it as well. You see, a lot of us we have the things that we achieve.
And we try to take the things that we achieve, we put them before God and say, “God, look how great I’ve done. You know, I’m sure there’s some people in here have earned PhDs. And there’s a whole lot of study and tests and papers and research that goes into that. But no one takes their PhD and stand in front of the Grand Canyon and try to compare that to what God has done. You don’t take your financial portfolio and look at your financial portfolio and think that it compares to the glory and wonder of a Rocky Mountain sunset in July. Our performance does not gain us life. And this older son missed it. Because the response to a life like this is anger, bitterness, stubbornness, and pride. And I think some of us might be sitting here. I know traditionally, this story is called the prodigal son.
I wonder which son is the prodigal. They’re both lost. They both missed the father, one missed the father because he looked for life and he looked for life and worth through worldly pleasures, one looked for life and worth through performing. And the father himself was motivated by something as well. The father was motivated by his relationship with his sons. He wanted fellowship with them. You see, in Luke 15:20, the father looks up and he has compassion as he runs to his son. And in verse 22, we see that he put a robe around him.
And I just have this picture in my mind of this robe representing that the father is covering the shame of this young man who’s gone away, he wants that shame to be covered so he doesn’t have to live shameful anymore. And he puts a ring on his finger. And the ring it’s not like this, you know, silicone ring that represents this covenant that my wife and I are in. This ring would presumably have the family seal on it. And when those rings… You know, you used that ring for was the sign contracts, was to make agreement, was to enter into agreements with other people. Essentially, the father was saying, “You are a part of us just like you’ve never left.
That you signed for us, you speak for us, you are us and we are you.” And lastly, he put sandals on his feet. And again I just imagine the bottom of his feet were cut up and blistered from the long journeys in the living that he did. And Jesus was illustrating that the father wanted to cover that with sandals and comfort him. And then he reminds the performance-driven son. And in Luke 15:28, that he pleads him to come in and celebrate. Verse 31 and 32, “My son,” the father said, “You are always with me. Everything I have is yours. You already have my inheritance, my earthly possessions. But we had to celebrate and be glad because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again. He was lost and he is now found.”
Reza: You see, he was reminding his son that “Everything I have is already yours, but you gotta remember, son, our inheritance and the things that we get, it’s not limited to this world, that we can’t look to this world for the entirety of what we look for in worth. We have to look for the next life and the life that is to come.” See, so I’m telling my dad the story. We arrived at Home Depot, and it was a good conversation.
My dad is not a believer yet. He’s not a Muslim anymore, neither is my mother. But they’re not believers yet, but I know that was one step in the conversation and their story. But here’s the truth. John the Apostle as he introduces us to Jesus in the New Testament, John 1:12, very poignantly states that, “All who did receive him” Jesus, “to those who believed in his name, he gives the right to be called children of God.”
Reza: And I believe with my heart that today, there’s some people here that may be like me in that apartment years ago. Your spiritual eyes are opening because you’re hearing these Words of the Father. Your worth and your affirmation, and who you are is not dependent upon things of this world or your performance, but your worth comes from another place. I want you to watch this quick video of a comedian who’s talking about his infant baby being born and something amazing that happened in that room. Watch this video.
Michael: Yo, Comedian Michael Jr. here. As you know, I just flat-out enjoy doing comedy. But one of the things I love way more than that is being a dad. Not too long ago, I’m going through some video footage and I run into this video of my youngest daughter being born. Now, of course, I was there, I actually took the video, but I had never really experienced it from this perspective before. Now look, we’re in a hospital room, she’s sticky and she’s a baby and all that stuff, and she’s in the middle of crying. And then I speak up, I start talking to her.
And watch how she responds when she hears my voice. It’s okay, Portland. Look, I’m right here. It’s okay. It’s okay. I’m right here. I’m right here. You’re doing just fine. It’s okay. It’s okay. I’m right here. Right here. Yeah. It’s okay. It’s okay baby. It’s okay. That was pretty awesome. So check it. A few minutes later, the nurse starts working on her, puts her pamper on her, and I’m not saying anything and she actually starts to cry again. Then I speak up, she hears my voice and stops crying, like, again. But I want you to notice what else happens after I tell her that I love her. Portland, it’s okay. It’s okay, it’s good, it’s good, it’s good. I’m right here. I’m right here. I am right here. I love you. I love you. I love you. Yeah.
Reza: You know, friends, I don’t want us to miss the picture of that delivery room. But I imagine that this gentleman Michael Jr. was speaking to his little daughter when she was in the womb for months and months and months. And then this baby comes in the world where she’s got to be traumatic, I mean, it’s cold, people are touching you, and there’s all these things happening, she starts crying and she hears this voice that sounds familiar. And it calms her and it gives her peace that surpasses understanding.
Friends, I wonder, I just wonder if throughout the course of your life if God’s been knocking and speaking. And when you hear his voice, there’s something in you that calms you, you just can’t picture what that voice is. But you what, it brings you peace and it calms you. Just the story of the Gospel. And then he says, “I love you.” You see what happened to her eyes, her eyes open for the very first time. The first time her eyes open was in response to this voice that she had thought she had heard. And this voice says, “I love you.”
And then her eyes were opened. You see, to me, that’s the core difference between Islam and Christianity. Islam is do everything you can to earn God’s love. The Gospel of Jesus is the work has already been done. Because the Father loves you, and pulls you in a relationship. So my prayer is that we would understand the depth of this love for us. And you might be thinking to yourself, “I don’t know if I deserve this, the grace and mercy. That all sounds great, but I’ve messed up too much. I’m totally far away from God.
I’ve separated myself. Not only am I squandering and wild living, I’m also performing like I’m double messed up.” You know, Jesus is a much better forgiver than you are a sinner. I just want you to know that. You can’t out sin his grace, you can’t out sin his mercy because he is much better at forgiving than you are sinning. Here’s again how the Apostle Paul says this in Romans 8. Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ’s love for us? There’s no way. Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins listed in Scripture.
None of this fazes us, because Jesus loves us. I’m absolutely convinced that nothing living or dead, angelic, demonic today, tomorrow, high, low, thinkable or unthinkable. Absolutely, nothing here between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us. Like do you get it? Like, God’s love is eternal. It goes on forever. His mercy goes on forever and ever. His grace goes on forever and ever and ever. It’s like a Taylor Swift song forever and ever and ever. It continues to go on. He pours his grace out upon us. You know, like I said, I get to work with athletes, college, Olympic, pro-athletes for a living.
And here’s the hard part. Because for athletes, everything they do on the field, or in the pool, or the track, or wherever they can be, everything they do is scrutinized and it determines their worth to a team, or an organization, or a school. And that’s exhausting. And one of the things my wife and I and our team get to do is just share with that this is who you are. Beyond what you do, this is who you are and this is whose you are. But you know that message it’s not just limited to athletes, that’s for everybody. That what this world promises you will never fill you.
There’s not enough Instagram likes that are going to give you the affirmation that your soul craves. I don’t care how many Pinterest parties you put on. If you look for your worth in things of this world, you’re going to be severely disappointed. Your worth is not determined on what you or what other people say about you. Your worth is determined, a worth of something, is determined on how much someone is willing to pay for that item.
And you know what your worth is? Jesus gave his life for you. That’s how much you are worth. No matter if you feel it or understand it, or know it or believe it, it’s true. That’s the great thing about the Gospel. You cannot believe it, it’s still true. I want you to watch one more video. I promise I’ll be done. But I want you to watch this relationship between this father who’s also a coach and a son who is a pitcher. I’ll make one more point and then I’ll pray and then we’ll be gone.
Presenter: Finally tonight, the young pitcher and a pep talk from his coach heard by millions.
Reporter: It’s the biggest game of their young lives.
Commentator: …Game from south Williamsport Pennsylvania. The first of five days…
Reporter: The Little League team from Bend, Oregon, in battle with the team from Italy. Isaiah Bugsy Jensen on the mound.
Isaiah: Hi, my name Bugsy Jensen and my favorite baseball player is Clayton Kershaw.
Reporter: 12-year-old Isaiah pitching a great game until he gets a little tired of the top of the fifth.
Commentator: Now he can take his base…
Reporter: Outcomes his coach for a pep talk, but that coach just happens to be Bugsy’s dad.
Coach: I just came out say how much I love you. Because as a dad and a player. You’re doing awesome out here. One more hitter and then I’m going to Jude. This is your last out. Do you understand? Come right after him. Okay? Cheer up. Have some fun. Come right after him. Okay? Let’s go.
Reporter: One more batter before Bugsy’s replaced. That pep talk from dad worked. Another strikeout and the team goes on to win.
Coach: And that’s going to do it.
Reporter: Victory from nine players from Bend Oregon of one very proud dad.
Reza: See that kid was struggling and dad knew it. You see, dads… If I could just say this just because I’m a dad and I understand this youth sports and everything. A dad walks out on the mound. First thing you didn’t say is, “Hey, you gotta pitch better. Hey, you gotta get your acting. We’re gonna lose this game if you don’t start pitching.” He didn’t say that. The first thing he said, “I just want you to know I love you. I love you. I accept you. You’re already accepted. Now, strike this guy out. We got a job to do, but I need you to know that I love you.”
There is a job to do. And here’s what’s cool about that. I love that last pitch that kid threw when he struck that guy out and he was replaced they go on to win. I love it because I just have this picture in my mind in the spiritual sense that the chains were off his shoulders. It didn’t matter if he struck the guy out or didn’t strike the guy. I mean, ultimately they could have won or lost the game, I get that. But its ultimate worth was already determined that his dad’s opinion of him wouldn’t change. Imagine what life would be like, friends, if we entered into the things that we enter into knowing we’re already accepted. You’re already worthy. Your worth has already been determined.
The affirmation is there through the 66 words, I mean, 66 books that makeup this thing called the Bible. God loves you. He has a plan for you. We are separated from him. Unfortunately, there have been people because of sin, people have been enslaved, people have been hurt. There’s a lot of hurt pain, racism. There’s a lot of stuff happening in our culture because of this. But Jesus, but Jesus redeems us and shows us who we are.
Friends, would you stand with me as we pray. Lord, we thank you so much for this morning. Thank you for the words of Scripture, that literally reminds us of the words that you’ve been whispering to us throughout the course of our lives. And I pray God that our spiritual eyes would continue to stay open. And so in your name, Jesus, we pray. Amen.
STORIES OF LIFE ON MISSION
Geoff Surratt is our guest speaker this weekend, speaking on “being a lifesaver.” He helps us to remember that no one is beyond saving when we operate under Christ’s power. He asks us to look at how we can be a lifesaver to those who come across our paths. Join us for his tips.
Geoff: Hey, good morning. How are you today?
Congregation: Good Morning.
Geoff: Good. It’s great to be with you. My name is Geoff Surratt and it’s just an honor to be here at Mission Hills. I love Mission Hills. I actually live in Parker. My wife and I moved here about seven and a half years ago. We’ll tell you a little bit about that in a minute, but I just wanna say how much I love your church. When we very first moved to town, one of the first pastors I got a chance to get to know was Pastor Mike and you and pastor Craig became the pastor, he and I connected, and we’ve become friends. We get together pretty regularly, just praying for Mission Hills, talking about vision and what’s next. I’ve been in ministry for a long time. Since I got out of college, I became a youth pastor, children’s pastor, lead pastor, served in all kinds of staff positions. And now what I get to do is coach churches, coach pastors around the country, and just honored to be here today.
As I mentioned, I’m married. In two weeks, we will celebrate our 37th anniversary. So we’re excited about that. Yeah, yeah, yeah. If you saw how gorgeous my wife is, you’d be amazed that she’s married to me and you would say, how could she possibly have been married 37 years? And I would tell you we married when she was 10 or as they say in Missouri where we got married she was an old maid. No, I just have terrible jokes, terrible jokes. We have a couple of kids both grown and married. They actually work on staff at a church down at Castle Rock, which when we’re in town, that’s where we attend for Orange? Christian Church. But the most important thing to know about me and my wife are our incredible grandkids. Okay. So we have three grandkids. We have a little Maggie who’s eight, little Molly, who’s six, Mason who’s two and we’re excited we get to meet Copeland in November. He’ll be born in November.
So if you have grandkids after church, I’d love to meet you in the lobby. We can exchange pictures, but I will tell you mine are cuter. So there’s just that to know going in. Now I have to tell you, I told you I moved to Denver seven and a half years ago. I actually grew up in Denver, grew up in Arvada and in Lakewood. And if you wanna know what era I grew up in, I’ll help some of you. Do you have any natives? Any natives in here? So, okay, so I’ll tell you a little bit. This will help you know the era. When I was growing up, the baseball team was called the Bears. The basketball team was called the Rockets and the only player on the Broncos we were cheering for was Floyd Little. Okay. Does anyone, yeah. Yeah. So I’ve been a Bronco fan all of my life through the good, the bad, Craig Morton and all the other things. I have been there. And like I said, just love, love being here. And what we’re gonna talk about today is gonna come from Acts 9. And so if you have a Bible with you, just turn it to Acts 9. If you have a device, you can take a look on your device in your Bible app or don’t worry if you don’t have any of that, the scriptures will be on the screen. And we’ll get to that.
Just a bit of what we wanna talk about today is the idea of being a lifesaver. How can we be a lifesaver? And as we get into that, I wanna do a little audience participation. I want you to think back, has there ever been a time in your life that you have felt that someone has saved your life, that you’ve been in a near-death experience and someone has saved your life? We should think about that for a minute. Now for the extroverts, here’s what I want you to do. I want you to one or two people around you. I want you in a couple of sentences, not a paragraph, just a couple of sentences. I want you to tell them about that experience when someone saved your life. For the introverts who are like me, I’m an introvert, you just stare uncomfortably and fiddle with your phone, okay? So let’s just take a minute and share your story real quick with those around you.
Okay. Okay. I can tell what’s happening. The extroverts are starting to form a small group. They’re starting to share a lot of stories and the introverts are thinking, I think I need to hit the…get water or what. So we’ll move forward. I want to tell you a story about when I feel like someone saved my life. Now you may hear this story and go, you weren’t in that big a danger. And what I would say is you weren’t there, you don’t know how I felt. But let me tell you this story. So my wife and I, as I said, we got married in Missouri. We moved to Texas to work as youth pastors and then we eventually moved to South Carolina to work for a church out there. And when we got there, we joined a small group and they invited us to go on a raft trip.
Now that sounded great. We grew up in Missouri or I grew up in Colorado and then we moved to Missouri and in Missouri, we went on float trips. Now a float trip, you take inner tubes and you tie them together and you take a cooler and you put your diet coke or whatever in there and you float it in the river with you and you float down the river and you kind of paddle as you go and it’s just a, it’s a lazy fun day and we thought, that’ll be fun. So we go to the hills of Tennessee thinking we’re going on a float trip. I show up, I got my flip flops, I got my cooler. As I get out of the car, one of our friends says, “I don’t think you’re gonna need your cooler.” I’m like, “Well, where am I gonna get my diet coke?” And he said, “No, I don’t think that’s going to be your biggest concern today.” I said, “All right,” so put the cooler back in. We get to the raft company and the workers say, “Okay, first thing you have to do is go through a safety orientation.” And I’m like, “What? To make sure you get enough sunscreen, you don’t get sunburned? I mean, what are you talking about?” So we go into this safety orientation and they show us these videos and they show us 97 ways you will probably die in the next four hours. I’m like, “Wait a minute, wait a minute. What did I sign up for?” And then they said, “Okay, here’s a helmet, here’s a life jacket, jump on the raft.” I’m like, “Whoa.”
But we get in and it’s a calm pool and we have six people in a raft and we have a guide in the back. And she says, “All right, we’re gonna go through some instructions.” And I’m thinking instructions. I’m a man, I don’t need instructions. And so she’s saying things like, you know, hard right, back left. And I’m like, yeah, whatever. We’re paddling around, let’s get down the river, let’s go. All right. So she says, “All right, we’re ready. We’re gonna go.” We came around the first bend and I saw the rapids water thrown up in the air and boulders and churning and all I thought is I’m going to die. And I’m thinking, man, I wish I would’ve listened to something that had been said up until now. And I hear her in the back yelling orders. I have no idea what she means. I’m just flailing away in like tears to death. We get a few feet down through the rapids, and I guess there’s a technical term for this, they call it breaching a rock.
So our raft got turned up sideways on the rock and then the river was joining us in the bottom of the raft. Now, just a little rafting tip, if you don’t do it, the point of rafting is to keep the river out of the raft. That’s the goal, to keep you and the river out of the raft. Well, I was on the bottom of the raft and the river was inviting me to join it with the rocks and the boulders. And honestly, I thought, this is it. I love you, Sherry. I’ll see you in heaven. And right as I’m about to be swept out of the raft, my new friend Dave reached across the boat, grabbed me by my belt buckle and pulled me back into the boat. And I felt, in that moment that Dave saved my life. And I will tell you the rest of the raft trip got way worse than that. We didn’t know what we were doing and then it started to rain, then it started to hail. Then a tree fell on me and it…well it kind of fell on me. It sort of missed because I’m still here today, but I felt in that moment that Dave Smith had become a lifesaver. So that’s what I wanna talk about today. How could we be lifesavers?
So will you pray with me before we dive in? Father, thank you for today. Thank you for Mission Hills. Incredible witness it is in this part of Denver. Thank you for the leadership of Pastor Craig and the elders and the staff. Thank you for everyone that is here. I pray over the next few moments that you’ll just speak through me. Use my words just to illuminate your truth. And Lord, show us what you’re calling us to and we ask it in your name. Amen.
So we’re gonna get into Acts 9, but I wanna just kind of bring everybody up to speed, make sure we’re on the same page here in Acts. So I’ll just give you a quick review of what’s happened up until now in Acts. In fact, at the end of the book of Luke, which Luke was written by the same guy who wrote Acts and they’re kind of the same book, just chapter one, chapter two, sort of. And so at the end of Luke, Jesus is crucified. And then three days later he raises from the dead. And then at the beginning of Acts, he gives his disciples some final instructions. He goes back to heaven. And then in Acts 2, they gather in Jerusalem, the Holy Spirit comes in an incredible way, they just feel power. Peter gets up, he preaches his very first sermon and literally thousands of people hear Peter and they become Christ-followers. And the Church grows in the first day from 140-some people to over 2,000 people. And God’s doing miracles through the disciples and people are coming to Christ and this Church is growing and growing and growing and the religious leaders, the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem, they’re freaking out because they thought that when they had Jesus crucified, that that would be the end of this little sect and that they would die out. And instead of dying out, they’re growing bigger and exploding.
And so they decide to arrest one of the lay leaders, a guy named Stephen who was preaching and they arrested him and accused him of blasphemy. They took him outside of the city and they threw rocks at him and they stoned him to death. And then Luke tells us, the author tells us, that there was a young guy named Saul and he was there at the stoning, he held everybody’s coats for him and it said he approved of it. In other words, he looked on and said, “Okay, now I understand my mission in life,” because Saul was a zealous Jew. He was a religious leader and he said, “All right, I’m gonna help stamp out this little sect of Christ-followers.” And so he began going door to door in Jerusalem, finding Christ-followers and arresting them and handing them over to be persecuted. And as he did this, people were afraid. They had seen what had happened to Jesus, they had seen what had happened to Stephen. And so they began to scatter and get out of Jerusalem. And the religious leaders loved it, they said, “Finally, we’re turning the tide. We’re beginning to stamp this out. This is great.”
So Saul goes to them and says, “Guys, it seems to be going well in Jerusalem. We seem to have a handle on what’s happening here. But I hear that there’s a group growing over in Damascus about 120 miles from here. How about if I go up there and I’ll arrest Christ-followers up there and we’ll get that stamped out before it can grow into anything.” They said, “That’s a great idea.” So they wrote Paul some letters and said, take these to the leaders of the synagogue in Damascus and you can do your work there. So Saul grabs from some friends and they head to Damascus. That’s where we pick up the story in the third verse of Acts 9. It says, “As Saul neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly, a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’ ‘Who are you, Lord?’ Saul asked. ‘I’m Jesus, who you’re persecuting,’ he replied. The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless. They heard the sound, but they didn’t see anyone. ‘Now get up and go into the city and you will be told what you must do.’ Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes, he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. For three days he was blind and he did not eat or drink anything.”
Let’s just kind of put ourselves in Saul’s shoes at this point. He’s on what he feels like is a mission to Damascus, a mission from God. And on the way he sees this light, he hears this voice, he’s blinded, the voice is telling him that he’s been headed the wrong direction. Saul’s life has to be spinning around, what in the world is going on. He has to be pretty frightened, really. And so as we continue this story, we see the key to the story, we meet this guy, Ananias and we learn how Ananias becomes a lifesaver in Paul’s in Saul’s life. “So in Damascus, there was a disciple Ananias. The Lord called him in a vision, ”Ananias.’ ‘Yes, Lord,’ he answered. The Lord told him, ‘Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street.” I love the part where the Lord gives him his address. Right. You know, Judas over, you know, Straight Street, third street over, a couple of houses down. That’s Judas. And Ananias said, I got it, I got it. Okay. “Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul for he is praying. In a vision, he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.” Ananias is saying, “Whoa, Whoa, Whoa, hey, hey, you had me right up to Saul of Tarsus. I know who that is.”
So there’s just a little band of believers there in Damascus. They’ve heard what’s going on in Jerusalem and it’s bad. They know Saul is headed their way. They’re terrified. They’re hiding. This is the last guy in the world they wanna see. And now Ananias is hearing the Lord say to him, “Dude, I want you to go to Saul of Tarsus.” So Ananias just gets real with God. He says, “Lord, Ananias answered, I’ve heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem.” And I love this too. Now Ananias tells the Lord what Saul’s up to. He says, “And he has come here with authority from the chief priest to arrest all who call on your name.” See what’s going on is Saul is the last person on earth that Ananias could imagine being a Christ-follower. I mean of anyone, Caesar, anyone else, this guy, Saul, this guy who is destroying the Church, he could never be saved. And so Ananias right now is learning the first rule of lifesaving.
I told you we’re gonna talk about becoming lifesavers. And I’m gonna give you three or four rules of being a lifesaver, and the first rule is this. A lifesaver knows that no one is beyond saving. No one is beyond saving. Let’s do a little thought experiment right now. I want you to think who in the world, anybody, anybody in the world who’s the last person you could imagine being saved? Maybe you think about the Ayatollah in Iran. Maybe think about a famous atheist like Christopher Hitchens or someone like that. Maybe there’s a government leader that you think about it. Yeah, that’d be great, but I can’t imagine them being saved.
Well, if we’re gonna be lifesavers, we have to set that aside because a lifesaver knows that no one’s beyond being saved. I wanna make it a little more personal. I’d love for you if you can get to a piece of paper and a pen, that would be ideal. If you can’t, if you have a device, I really would love for you to seriously pull out your phone and find the notes app. Because here’s what I’d like for you to do, and if you can’t do one of those, just think about it. But if you can write it down, it’ll be better. I want you to think about someone in your life, not way out there, but someone in your life, they’d be a game-changer if they become a Christ-follower. Game-changer. You can’t imagine how they would do it. Maybe they’re off the rails, maybe they’re far from God, maybe they at one time were in church and now they’re completely away. But man, if they would follow Christ, that would be amazing. Maybe you’re like my friends who were here last night with me and they have a son who has been away from church, away from God for a long, long time. And as we sat down after church last night at dinner, tears ran down mom’s face as she said, “You know, if Dan would…man, if he would just turn his life over to Christ, it would just mean everything in his life.” And we began to talk about that and we’ve been praying together for months and months and months for Dan. Maybe it’s a son or a daughter, maybe it’s a spouse or a mom or dad or a friend or a coworker, that somebody you know they’d be a game-changer if they could be saved.
I want you to continue to think about that person as we continue this story. We’re gonna pick it up in Acts 9:15. “But the Lord said to Ananias, ‘Go. This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.'” I mean, Ananias, you gotta think about this, it’s like Jesus is telling him to go to the leader of ISIS and lay hands on him, pray for him in the name of Jesus. I mean, this is nuts and Ananias he just doesn’t feel comfortable about this. I mean, this is gonna be hard. This is gonna be way out of what he would normally do, but that’s what God is calling him to.
The first rule of lifesaving is that we have to believe that no one is beyond being saved. The second rule of lifesaving is we have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. We have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. And we see this in the Old Testament. We see it with Moses. Moses, God comes to Moses. Moses is tending sheep in the desert and God says, “Moses, I want you to go back to Egypt. I want you to go to Pharaoh and I want you to tell him, let my people go.” Moses has to be thinking, oh boy, that’s not good. Because when Moses left Egypt, he murdered an Egyptian and then he ran. He is a wanted criminal. When he comes back, he could be put to death, likely will be put to death. And it’s not like Pharaoh won’t know who he is. They grew up together, right? They grew up as brothers. And Moses knows this is uncomfortable, but if he wants to be a lifesaver, if he wants to be a part of seeing God’s people saved, set free, he has to do something very, very uncomfortable.
We see it in the New Testament with Jesus’ disciple Peter. God wants Peter to pray for Cornelius, the Gentile, that’s later on in the book of Acts. And Peter is like, “Whoa, hey, a Gentile? I have never even been in a Gentile’s house.” And so Peter has this dream and all these animals come and God says, “Peter, I want you to kill one of these animals and eat them.” Well, this is meat that Peter would never have eaten. It’s against Old Testament Law to eat this kind of meat. This is like he has never touched anything like this. He has been a devout Jew all his life and God’s saying, ”Get up and eat this meat.” And Peter’s like, “Dude, wow, God, no.” And God said, “Hey, if I call it clean, it’s clean, man, no matter what you think about.” What God was saying is, “Peter, what you’re about to do, go into Cornelius’ house, walking into his house.” Praying for a Gentile, that is uncomfortable. But if you wanna be a lifesaver, you got to go. I wonder about that name that you’re thinking about, that you wrote down. What uncomfortable thing is God calling you to do next?
We’re all praying, absolutely and that’s the most important thing we do. But I believe God almost always calls us beyond just prayer into doing something uncomfortable. And it usually involves something like a phone call or a sit-down, or a coffee, or a note, or a change in our behavior toward them. And we’ll talk about that in a minute. But we just have to realize right now that if we truly wanna be lifesavers, if we wanna go beyond just being good Christians and we wanna see our world change by seeing people come to Christ, we have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
So let’s continue the story. Just that first part of that next verse in Acts 9:17 says, “Then Ananias went to the house and entered it, placing his hands,” listen to this, “Placing his hands on Saul he said, ‘Brother Saul.'” Brother Saul. What a strange way to start. Wouldn’t you have started with “Saul, you worthless jerk?” I mean that would be a place to start. “Saul the guy who is messing up everything, who I can’t stand, who I wouldn’t be here unless God made me. You, Saul.” No, he starts with Brother Saul. Why in the world would he address him as Brother? He’s seen no change in Saul. He knows nothing about any new commitments Saul has made. Saul is pre-Christian at this point and yet he calls him Brother Saul. I think it’s significant. I think what Ananias is doing is he’s saying, “Dude, I accept you right where you are. I know that the Holy Spirit is doing work in you. I know that there is sin that God is dealing with. I know that you will change, but that’s not my job. That’s above my pay grade. That’s Holy Spirit work. My work is to love you, to accept you, to accept you right where you are today. Not to be the condemning one, not to be the judging one.”
The third rule of lifesaving is if we wanna be a lifesaver, we have to learn to accept people where they are. That’s incredibly hard for me. I know you don’t know me, but just being transparent, I struggle, struggle, struggle with this. I tend to judge people by how they dress or how they talk or the lifestyle I think they live or the language that they use. And I decide how I react to them based on the things I see, whether I approve or disapprove, and I hate that about myself because judginess doesn’t help anybody. Here’s what I know is no one has ever been judged into the kingdom. No one has been debated into the kingdom because salvation is not about how we dress or how we talk or how we look. Salvation isn’t even about the lifestyle that we live. Salvation is about accepting free grace based on the cross of Jesus Christ. That’s what salvation is about. Changing our life is the work of the Holy Spirit. It’s not the pre-work before salvation.
And so as you were thinking about that person, that it would be a game-changer if they were to become a Christ-follower. One of the uncomfortable things that God may be calling you to do is to accept them right where they are. Again, as I talked with my friends last night, they said, “You know, that’s one of the things we’re working on.” You know, here’s the deal. Their son knows what they believe. Their son knows where they stand. He knows all of their values. They don’t need to repeat it. They don’t need to look judgy. They don’t need to remind. They need to love and to accept. There’s people in your lives and they’re not wondering what you believe. They’re wondering, do you accept them? Do you love them? And Ananias looked at Paul, enemy number one and said, Brother, and he laid his hands on him.
Let’s continue and see how this story plays out. “Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here, has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes and he could see again. He got up and was baptized and after taking some food, he regained his strength. Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. At once, he began to preach in the synagogue that Jesus is the Son of God.” The change in Saul is incredible. It’s a 180-degree turn in his life because Ananias was willing to believe that Saul could be saved, because Ananias was willing to get uncomfortable, because Ananias was willing to accept somebody who was unacceptable. Because God worked through Ananias as a lifesaver Saul’s life changed.
And you guys who are, you know, been around church for a while you know the rest of the story, you know that Saul eventually becomes known as Paul. He becomes a church planter, plants church all across that region. Tens of thousands of people become Christ-followers through the ministry of Paul. Paul writes a good part of the New Testament. Much of what we know and believe about following Christ is based on things that Paul wrote. And it all started because this pretty anonymous guy named Ananias was willing to do what it takes to become a lifesaver.
I’m gonna tell you one more lifesaving story. This one’s about my grandfather. My grandfather grew up in western Oklahoma, northwestern Oklahoma, back in the dirt bowl Depression days. And he was a tenant farmer, but really the way he made his living is he made bootleg whiskey and he would sell it to the locals and then he would sell it, back then there were gangs that would travel and rob banks and rob people. And they would come through his part of the country and they would buy moonshine from my grandfather. See, my grandfather was just a mean little guy. He was about 5 feet 5 inches tall. He was tough as nails. He would go to the…they would have a dance every Saturday night. My grandfather would go to the dance, but he’d never danced. He just came to pick a fight and he’d get in a fight and he’d just, they’d go for it. Eventually, one time my grandfather goes out to his still where he’s making whiskey and he finds that some neighbors are stealing a barrel of his whiskey and he pulls out his gun. He starts firing away at ’em, they pull a shotgun out, they shoot him. There’s a little sapling between him and the gun and it saves his life. But for the rest of his life, he has buckshot in the lining of his heart.
That’s just the kind of guy he was. In the little town where he lived, he was known as the meanest man in town. If you’d asked anyone there at a local church, who’s the last guy in this town in Oklahoma, that would ever come to church, that would ever follow Christ, they would say, “Oh, it’s E.L. Surratt.” He’d never ever gonna happen. But then one day, my grandmother became ill, very ill. They went to see the little country doctor and he did what he could. But finally, he said, “You’re just gonna have to take her home. There’s nothing more we can do. She’s gonna die.” And so my grandfather took my grandmother home and put her in bed and made her as comfortable as he could and waited for her to die. But then she heard about two ladies and I don’t know how she heard about them, but these two ladies had started following Christ and they wanted to tell other people about it.
And so they started going to these little Oklahoma towns and they would go out in a field outside town and they’d set up a little, like a tent and they would just sing and preach at night and people would come and listen to them. And my grandmother heard about this and she said, “I wanna go hear these ladies sing and preach.” My grandfather, they had nothing to do with Church, but he thought, it’s her dying wish, I’ll take her. So he loaded her up in the backseat of their old Ford Model T and drove her out there. She was too weak to get out of the truck or the car and go into the meeting, so they just rolled down the windows and sat at the dark and listened to the singing and the preaching. At the end of the preaching, one of these ladies said, “If anyone wants to be saved, to follow Christ, raise your hand.”
My grandmother had no idea what it meant to be saved or anything like that, but she knew she needed something and so they are in the backseat of that old Ford in the dark. She raised her feeble little hand. No one saw it but my grandfather. He took her home, he didn’t think anything more about it. He put her back in bed and again waited for her to die. But a strange thing happened. She began to get stronger. She began to recover. God, in that moment, somehow miraculously and mysteriously began to heal her. And she told my grandfather, “When I get strong enough, I want to go to that little Pentecostal Church in town.” And my grandpa knew the reputation of that little Pentecostal Church. And so he said, “I’m not about to be a holy-roller.” Now, we can talk later about what holy-roller means.
And my grandmother said, “Well, I don’t know, but when I get stronger I’m going to church.” Well, he cursed her out. He stormed out of the house, slammed the door, and started storming down this hard, red, mud clay street, you know, in rural Oklahoma. And as he walked and cursed and yelled, he said that something hit him, he thinks it was God, but something knocked him down, face first in the dirt on that street. And he’s laying in that dirt, he thought he was gonna die. And for the first time in his life, he cried out to God. He said, “God, I don’t know who you are. I don’t know anything about you, but if you won’t kill me, I’ll figure it out. I’ll follow you.” He got up from the dirt, he went back and he told his wife what happened. When she recovered, they started going to the little holy roller church. My grandpa started reading the Bible and learning about Jesus. Eventually, he became a lay leader in the church. They moved to California and then he felt called to be a pastor and they moved back to Oklahoma and he began building little churches across western Oklahoma.
One day he ran into the guy that he had been in the gunfight with because my grandfather had shot him in the arm and crippled him for life. And that man had said, “If I ever E.L. Surratt again, I’ll kill him.” And one day my grandfather was walking down the street at this little Oklahoma town and here comes that man walking toward him. And my grandfather thought, okay, this is it. I don’t think he’s gonna wanna hear about the change in my life. And the guy walked right up to my grandfather, wrapped his arms around him and said, “I gotta tell you E.L., I’ve become a Christ-follower. I’m a different man.” But let me tell you the crazy thing that happened. My grandfather’s oldest son, my uncle Norman, he grew up and became a pastor too. And then my dad, his middle son, he grew up and became a pastor. And my dad’s little sister, my aunt, she married a pastor. And then my cousins became pastors. And then my brothers became pastors and then I became a pastor. And then my sister married a pastor and then some of their kids became pastors and some of the aunts and uncles and others became pastors. And not that being pastors is a goal, but here’s the crazy thing, that that mean little guy, the meanest man in town, descendants directly from him across America, at least 25 or 30 of us are all preaching today. And we’re preaching literally to tens of thousands of people. His kids and grandkids and great grandkids have planted churches literally around the world in South America and in Asia and in Africa.
It’s had this incredible wave effect. It has nothing to do with me. I’m just one that’s riding the wave. Where did it start? Started with two little ladies who said, we don’t really know the Bible that well, we don’t know much about theology, but we wanna see lives saved, so we’ll be uncomfortable. We’ll do something that people say women aren’t supposed to do. We’ll preach about Jesus and we’ll accept people where they are and I don’t even know who they are. We never learned their names, but they changed the life of my grandfather and my grandmother and my dad. And because of those two little ladies, my life was saved and that’s the last rule of life-saving is lifesavers don’t always get to see the end of the story.
The story I just told you, those two ladies in western Oklahoma, they never heard that story. Even my grandfather, when he died, he died young. He didn’t know that story. You don’t always get to see the end of the story. God works in long loops. So that person that you’ve been praying for, for five years or 10 years or 30 years, I don’t know if you’ll get to see the end of the story. Here’s what I know is that God loves them more than you do, and I know that you’re not actually going to save their lives, but you’re going to cooperate with God in his lifesaving operation. And I believe that out of this crowd of however many people, hundreds of people in here, I believe that we’re gonna see many people come to faith in Christ. As we step up and say, I’ll be a lifesaver.
On your way out today, at each door there’s a basket of lifesavers that look like this. If you have bad breath, grab one. That’s a whole different deal. But what I’d love for you to do is if you’ve written down a name or if you’re thinking about a person that, man, I’d love for it, to see them follow Christ, why don’t you grab one of these lifesavers. Put it in a pocket, put it in a purse, put it on a dresser at home. And every time you see that lifesaver, every time you feel it, pray for that person and then ask God, God, what are you asking me to do? What are you asking me to do? And I tell you, what I’d like for you to do, here’s what I’d love for you to do is God’s gonna change that person’s life. And when they do, when they tell you, you know what? I crossed the line of faith. Hey, I prayed a prayer. Hey, I wanna change my life. When you hear that story, do two things, eat your lifesaver, and then send an email here to Mission Hills to your church and say, Hey, I want to tell you a couple of things. I ate my lifesaver last night and here’s the story that came out of that.
I’ve shared this illustration. I actually got it from my brother who shared this illustration. And we have seen dozens and dozens of people over the years say, you know what, I carried that stupid lifesaver around for two years. I carried it around for five years, but last night, I ate my lifesaver, my son came to Jesus. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that story and that’s what I’m praying for you. But as we finish this, there’s another group of people here, many of you, you relate to Ananias, but some of you relate to Saul. You’re on the wrong path. You know what it feels like to be on the bottom of the raft with the river trying to pull you in and just hanging on with everything you have. And I wanna tell you today that today’s your chance, today’s your chance to see your life saved. Maybe your mom’s been praying for you. Maybe somebody invited you to church today just did the uncomfortable thing, hoping, hoping, hoping that God would come and speak to you. But today we’re gonna pray a prayer in a minute and it can be your first step. It can be the moment that Paul waits for Ananias to come. It could be your first step to becoming someone who follows Jesus. If that’s you, I wanna pray for you in just a minute, but for all of us, would you close your eyes? And I just wanna pray.
Father, I thank you for the incredible faithful people here. Lord, I know that there are moms here who have prayed for a decade or more for a child. I know that there are spouses here that are praying for their husband or wife, friends, relatives, coworkers. Lord, I just pray today that you will encourage each one of them to know that as they step up and accept others in love, as they do the uncomfortable thing that you call them to, as they pray fervently, that you are at work, that you are at work on their loved one’s heart. And Lord, I just pray right now that you will move in people’s lives. Lord, I also pray for that person who’s here today, who doesn’t know what it is to follow you or maybe they do, but it’s been years and today they say, I wanna take a step back to Jesus. I wanna put aside my past, and Lord, I pray that they’ll just pray this with me.
Father, I just, I’m sorry for my past, sorry for making my own decisions. I’m sorry for going down my own road. I wanna turn. I wanna change. I don’t know what all this means. I don’t know all about the Bible. I don’t know all about all the stuff that goes on. All I know is that I have to see something change in my life. And so I’m sorry for my past and I commit my future to you. And Lord, I ask that you help me take that first step today. And Lord, we pray all of this in your name. Amen.
For some here who are taking that very first step of faith, there’s a couple of things that I’d love for you to do. One of the things you could do if you want is in the seatback in front of you, there’s a connect card. On there, there’s a place that says, I Said Yes to Jesus. If you just wanna put a little bit of your information on that, drop it at the Welcome Center. They would love to give you some “Next Steps.” Tell you something simpler if you want to. You can just text a very simple number, 888111, three eights, three ones, and just text the word “Jesus.” That’s all you have to do. Text the word “Jesus.” We’ll send you a link and it’ll give you a link to “Ways to take this next step” because we don’t want you to do it alone. We are so glad that you’re a part of the Kingdom. And whether you’ve been a Christ-follower for many, many years, or today’s your first day, you’re gonna love what we’re gonna do next. Our elder Travis is gonna come, and he’s gonna lead us today in communion.