Among other things, I’m an actor. I always wanted to be an actor. I started at the age of 15 and…at some level…never stopped. I’ve played a WIDE variety of characters. I’ve played a doctor. A judge. A TV host. A boat captain. A DRUNKEN boat captain. A wealthy aristocrat. A paranormal investigator. A slumlord. A man dying of cancer. Orpheus in the Underworld. Joseph of Arimathea. Lazarus. Satan. An old, dead Irishman. An angry young man. Another angry young man. Yet another angry young man. (See a trend here?!) And the common thread among all of those characters is that they happened because I worked hard to redefine myself. That’s what actors do.
Interestingly, that’s what some pastors do, as well. United Methodist pastors are moved from church to church periodically. And sometimes, as a pastor moves, they take that opportunity to redefine themselves. At the first church I served, I was the Associate Pastor. I went from being “the Youth Guy” to managing the day-to-day operations of a church that ran 800/Sunday in attendance. But…I was the Associate Pastor. That’s how everybody knew me. That’s how everybody saw me. It’s logical. It’s the way it works.
Then, I was moved to another church- to be the Directing Pastor. (That’s a United Methodist term that translates to “ONLY Pastor”!) And so, I had to redefine myself. I switched roles and needed to make some changes in who I was to accommodate. And then I moved here…and it happens all over again. Don’t believe me? At the last church I served, I was tall, skinny and tan…with a FULL head of bushy hair!
Isaiah 65:17-18 I will create new heavens and a new earth. The things that have happened before will not be remembered. They will not even enter your minds. So be glad and full of joy forever because of what I will create.
Today brings us to Week 2 of our current sermon series- a brief, 3-week one entitled Doing a 180. This series focuses on how we can turn our lives around for Jesus Christ. It’s based on an interesting and often misunderstood New Testament character- Mary Magdalene. And through her story, we’re learning a thing or two about OUR story.
If you want to turn things around, there is a specific approach to take. If you want to turn my life around, you need to do a 180- the exact opposite direction from where you are currently headed. There are 3 main steps to making that happen. And each week, we’re looking at one of those steps. Last week, we started with Step One: Accept What Is. The truth is that, to be able to turn around, you first have to realize and accept where you are. Today, we move on to Step Two: Redefine Yourself. And the reason this is Step Two is that who you ARE isn’t nearly as important as who you COULD be.
Last week, we focused on the fact that Mary Magdalene started from a dark place- possessed by not one but seven demons. By the end of last week, she had been cleansed of that and was sitting at the feet of the Master- in her right mind. Let’s look at the next time Mary Magdalene appears in the Gospels.
John 19:25 Jesus’ mother stood near his cross. So did his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.
So…2 sentences. REALLY? TWO sentences? That’s it? Sometimes…two sentences is enough! Remember- Mary Magdalene had a rough start. 7 demons. Life was WAY beyond rough. It simply wasn’t worth living. And then…along came Jesus. And then…everything changed. Today’s Scripture shows us that this woman- who the world had written off as “crazy”- had come SO far that she was now one of the FEW who stuck by Jesus to the end. Peter had openly denied Jesus not once but THREE times. Most of the rest of the disciples had scattered to the four winds, fearful for their safety.
But when the rubber met the road, there was Mary Magdalene, along with 3 other women, at the foot of the cross as Jesus breathed his last. Mary- Jesus’ mother, her sister- Jesus’ aunt and Mary the wife of Clopas all joined Mary Magdalene in the vigil. 4 women, standing their ground after the men had run off. So guys, to quote that great theologian Stephen Colbert, the next time someone tells you that you throw like a girl…you say, “Thank you!”
How did this happen? How did this demon-infested woman, destined for NOTHING good, end up standing vigil at the cross? It happened because Mary Magdalene redefined herself. She had a real and tangible encounter with Jesus of Nazareth and He changed her. He helped her recognize her present reality AND He helped her have the courage to do a 180 and redefine herself. The demonized woman who had absolutely NO future at all was now at the forefront of this fledgling Christian religion. What an amazing 180. What an amazing example of what Jesus can do.
I’ve shared before that, back in the day, I was kind of drifting through life. I couldn’t figure out what I was supposed to be doing, and it often had a negative effect on my family. I just didn’t know who I was supposed to be. And all the while, God was working on me. He had me study acting, which would come in handy later on…in ways I could have never imagined. He had me earn a Bachelor’s Degree. Again, couldn’t imagine how that would come back into play. He had me, the Godless heathen, start going to church. I thought it was simply to make this girl that I wanted to marry happy. Turns out…God had deeper plans. He had me get more and more involved in church.
And then, He sprung the trap. “I want you to go into the ministry.” “I’m sorry…what? We must have a bad connection, because I could have SWORN You said you want me to…NAW! Can’t be! That’s funny, isn’t it…God?” Cricket. Cricket. Cricket! Aaaawww, SNAP! And so, for the next few years, I fought it tooth and nail. Why? Because I couldn’t THINK of a worse idea than going into the ministry. Although, the fact that you only work one day a week WAS enticing!
But God was persistent. He would NOT give up. Hammering and hammering. Endless. And over time…He wore me down. And so, finally, just to get Him to STOP…I gave in. I went to my wife and said, “I have to tell you something.” Her reply? “I know what you’re going to say.” Me- “Oh, I don’t THINK so!” Her- “You want to go into the ministry.” Cricket. Cricket. Cricket! When I regained consciousness, I said, “How did you KNOW?” She assured me she had known for a long time.
So I went to meet with our pastor, to get his input. He told me two things that had an immediate impact on me. The first thing he said was, “Do you have a Bachelor’s Degree?” “Yeah…why?” “Well, that’ll make it easier to get your Master’s Degree!” “My WHAT?!” (I had NO idea I had to get a Master’s Degree!) The second thing he said was, “If you can do anything else with your life…do it.” What he did NOT mean was that, if I wasn’t physically capable of anything else, go into the ministry. I mean, I had proved that I was physically capable of LOTS of things. No, he meant that if there is anything else that would feed my soul…do it. If not…welcome to the ministry!
I had a GREAT family. I had a lot to offer. And I was unhappy. Unsatisfied. Restless. I had to accept what was. And that was HARD. It meant facing a lot of things I really didn’t want to face. But once I finally did, I was able to begin the process of redefining myself.
Romans 8:1-2 Those who belong to Christ Jesus are no longer under God’s sentence. I am now controlled by the law of the Holy Spirit. That law gives me life because of what Christ Jesus has done. It has set me free from the law of sin that brings death.
You first have to accept what is. Once you DO that, you suddenly have the freedom to ask yourself THE most important question in regard to your life, “Who is God calling me to be?” The definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over…and expect different results. If the old way of seeing yourself isn’t working…stop it! As long as YOU don’t change…nothing else will either.
You have to be willing to see the new possibility God has for you. You are worth so much more than you think you are. You are the pearl of great price. Redefining yourself brings about new possibilities and a new vision of what you can do with your life.
Set clear intentions for yourself. Write down what you think God is calling you to. Picture it in your mind and DON’T let negativity cloud it. There is NO room for “I can’t” when you’re identifying what God is calling you to do. If He’s calling you…you CAN! Show the world that there is a new sheriff in town- a new you. And show it through your actions. Words are great, but often what you say and $2 will buy you a soda at McDonalds. Instead, show people, through your daily actions, that you have turned things around.
When the gravitational pull of your old ways, thoughts and actions starts threatening to simply drag you back down…refuse. Dig your heels in and recommit to being the NEW you that God has called you to be. Commit to a new understanding of who you are. See yourself as God sees you- NOT as you have always seen yourself. Or worse- how the world sees you. He made you. He loves you. He has your best interests at heart. He has plans for you.