FRESH PATHS: A Discovery Journey

Micah 4: 1-4
Acts 2: 14-26

August 22, 2021

The song begins, [1]Just a small town girl living in a lonely world. She took the midnight train going anywhere. Just a city boy; born and raised in South Detroit. He took the midnight train going anywhere.” The lyrics of Journey’s best selling song of all time. Steve Perry, Neil Shon, and Jonathan Cain’s lyrics take listeners to the chorus, “strangers waiting up and down the boulevard. Their shadows searching in the night. Streetlights, people, livin’ just to find emotion. Hiding somewhere in the night.” Before the band gives the answer, “Don’t stop believing. Hold onto that feeling. Streetlight people don’t stop believing. Hold on!”

And, it should be no surprise that “Don’t Stop Believing” went from pop hit to the Christian charts …. Friends, have you experienced those moments when you are just searching; perhaps aching or confused yet you are right there in the light of Jesus Christ? Well, I know I have had those moments out amidst the strangers along the boulevard not sure where I was headed … going anywhere or trying to go anywhere hoping to rediscover the answers. When truthfully I already had the answer.

So, that brings us to this third in my series of sermons focused on bringing freshness to our faith lives … putting us on fresh paths discarding the dusty dirty highways we have been on and discovering again in this journey called life the value of putting God and Jesus Christ first.

Of walking in the light and no longer searching but instead sharing and I know we can do it. I know we need to do it … not when we are in a hospital bed breathing our last like Mark McGuiness all alone and Kerrica Whisett surrounded by family were this Friday morning at Inspira. Today as we worship whether we are home or here in church we need to make an active decision for life now in these moments … to actively decide if we truly believe God is God not just some name we utter on occasion and whether Jesus is Christ … the Messiah … Immanuel, ‘God with us.”

Did you hear Elaine this morning as she read Peter’s words from the ACTS? “Fellow Israelites, listen to these words! Jesus, the Nazarene, was a man whose credentials God proved to you through miracles, wonders, and signs, which God performed through Him among you. YOU yourselves know this!”

People worshiping with me this morning at St. Paul’s, do you know this for yourselves? Have you sensed the saving power of God through Jesus Christ? Discovered God’s all encompassing love for every single person on earth? Did you sing with passion my brother’s favorite hymn this morning? Have you heard and treasured that old, old story how a Savior came from glory. How he gave His life on Calvary to save a wretch like me and frankly like all of you. [2]O Victory in Jesus, My Savior forever. He sought me and bought me with His redeeming blood. He loved me ‘ere I knew Him.”

And, that is where perhaps we find ourselves this morning. Even though we didn’t or don’t know Jesus and God; we have been loved. We are loved … right now love is coming towards us from heaven … always present love waiting for the return of I love you God; I love You Jesus. Jesus went to the cross for us …. Out of love but from God’s love, Jesus’ sacrifice … we need to be doing more than saying we heard an old story. Rather we need to be giving all of our love to this higher power of Creation that is always present … all our love is due Him. He plunged me to victory so I could have salvation.

So, today are you on the Discovery Journey of seeing how God’s love … how Christ’s love … how the Holy Spirit’s directions will put you on fresh paths to share the light of Christ with others while building up Christ’s church … this church in the days to come.

You may have noticed that this church has been in mourning .. .this church has lost some really good folks: Jean Keegan, Harriet Lawson, Bob Platt, and Dave Jones. Faces we loved seeing and voices we loved mixing with ours. They did the work of the church even as they got a little older and weaker. Harriet always in Bible Study and with the ladies, Bob our church electrician to the end always reminding me of our men’s breakfasts, and Dave … even in his weakened state helping one of our neighbors by exerting himself to the limits of his strength. These folks understood Victory in Jesus but I am sure each was confident that someone would follow them … step up …. Help grow this church they loved … would say I can rather than let someone else do it. Would rush to church to worship rather than choosing the Netflix movie or the grassy fields of athletics.

If you have made the decision to refresh your faith … reignite your faith … since I started this sermon series then I hope you have either discovered or are searching for that quiet place away from your usual distractions so that you can be focused on God. Last week, I urged you to pray deliberately a key phrase. To pray with intention when you call on God asking God to ignite your spirits into a fresh fire of faith. I suggested using the words of Paul “to ask God to strengthen us in our inner selves. To ask Christ to live in our hearts through our faith.” If you have taken those two steps then I can guarantee that you have already moved onto fresh paths for living your life and perhaps you are already onto the discovery journey where you will know how God’s Holy Spirit wants to use you to grow the kingdom.

I can tell you with certainty that if you do not include God in your daily lives and treat God as God rather than a character in your Sunday morning, Easter, and Christmas Eve entertainment shows you will not sense the fresh path. In fact, more than likely faith is not what you have … instead you are living a life where you follow a tradition because you want the world not God.

I have mentioned that this sermon series’ direction comes from a book of faith by Jim Cymbala that my pastor of life gave to me. It had been his book during his time in ministry. Cymbala writes, [3]God is not aloof. He says continually through the centuries, “I’ll help you, I really will. When you’re ready to throw up your hands —- throw them up to me.”

The Old Testament’s Hebrew language is not that easy to translate into English. And, in case you don’t know it … King James did not write the Bible it was written in Hebrew and Greek. We read in Jeremiah 33, “The Lord proclaims, “Call to me and I will answer and reveal to you wondrous secrets that you haven’t known.” Our English “call on” has been a frequent translation of the Hebrew which actually has more emotion to it … its used many times in the Old Testament and it really means to CRY OUT and pretty much get emotionally involved with God. God is there … God is waiting … I have told many of you that I get in my car and scream at God sometimes when I am angry or frustrated with what is happening with life … and frankly you need to find the comfort level to cry out to God because God is there for us.

But as I try to move us towards the discovery journey we need to be on; there is a factor that is essential and sadly, it is a factor that is vanishing from the lives of so many people who like to share their verbal business card “Oh, I am a Christian” to people they meet. We cannot be on the discovery journey without worship … it is impossible and frankly God is pretty clear that God expects God’s people to come together to worship God. In Deuteronomy when Moses comes down from Mount Sinai to give his farewell address he states, “What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to Him.” David in Psalm 4 wrote, “How long will you continue to love what is worthless and go after lies? KNOW THIS, the Lord takes personal care of the faithful.”

Choices … every day we make choices. We choose our words that we say. We decide whether it is helpful to be critical of others with words that might hurt them and we decide whether we will help the poor and those who are hurting or whether we will blame them for their own condition. We will decide to pray without ceasing or we will pray simple words before we eat if even that is part of our daily activities.

The prophet Micah this morning provided us with a glimpse of “the good times” in the “days to come.” “The mountain of the Lord’s house will be the highest of the mountain’s; it will be lifted above the hills; peoples will stream to it. Many nations will say ‘Come let’s go up to the mountain of the Lord so that He may teach us His ways and we may walk in God’s paths.”

We hear that when that happens war will end … but truthfully our angst and our fears can end too when we choose to learn about God. When we are focused on His ways. When we choose to worship with our hearts. The psalmist writes in Psalm 50, “Offer God a sacrifice of thanksgiving! Fulfill the promises you made to the Most High! Cry out to me whenever you are in trouble; I will deliver you and then you will honor me.”

When we call ourselves Christians we are pretty much promising God that we will obey, honor and worship God. We will pray; we will study; and we will come to God with our troubles and pains. Once again we hear the words offer God thanksgiving! In Psalm 150 we hear that we are to “PRAISE THE LORD in His Sanctuary! Let every living thing praise the Lord.”

So, the fresh paths we need if we are choosing to be people of faith come back to worship. Songwriter Matt Redman explains it better than anyone I know, [4]When all is stripped away and I simple come longing just to bring something that’s of worth … I’m coming back to the heart of worship. And, it’s all about You. It’s all about You Jesus. I’m sorry, Lord, for the thing I’ve made it when it’s all about You. It’s all about You Jesus.”

This week’s take home lesson … this week’s step in bringing freshness into our lives is harder than finding a quiet place or inserting words into a prayer … it’s making worship essential and once again accepting Jesus as the One our lives are all about.

I will admit that you can’t make it to the fresh paths where our discovery journey begins without the first steps because we need a place to escape the world and we need to talk with God deliberately. I suggest listening to that song; Michael W. Smith has an awesome version of it.

Friends, the Evil power has a simple strategy of dealing with God’s people. Cymbala writes, [5]the strategy is to whisper ‘don’t call, don’t ask, don’t depend on God to do great things. You’ll get along fine if you just rely on your own cleverness and energy.” The truth of the matter is that the Evil power is not terribly frightened of our human efforts and credentials.” I agree with Cymbala … too many Christians like the name but don’t like showing the world they are Christians by their love of God and love of neighbors.

Have your neighbors or your family members or your co-workers ever seen you worshiping with such energy that they thought you had lost your minds or were perhaps drunk? Did you ever dance with joy like David did before the Ark of the Lord? The neighbors who saw the faith-filled at Pentecost wondered because they were seeing people filled with joy in worship … imagine that … people who knew that they had VICTORY IN JESUS their Savior forever … and Peter explained that through their faith these people were on fresh paths; a discovery journey where “God was busy pouring out God’s Holy Spirit on them. Sons and daughters will prophecy! The young will see visions! The elders dream dreams! And, everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved!”

That can be you and me … just a small town boy from outside of Buffalo New York saved by the love of God. Challenged to focus my journey on my Savior forever! Together friends, let’s be the ones who help others discover the Light of Christ and grow God’s church … and grow this church … make God your priority and worship your focus … And, don’t stop believing!! Hold onto this feeling!! AMEN

[1] “Don’t Stop Believing,” recorded by Journey and written by Steve Perry, Neil Shon, and Jonathan Cain

[2] Victory in Jesus written by E.M. Bartlett

[3] FRESH WIND, FRESH FIRE by Jim Cymbala. Published by Zondervan Press

[4] The Heart of Worship by Matt Redman; Thank You Music, Ltd.

[5] FRESH WIND, FRESH FIRE by Jim Cymbala, Zondervan Press

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