James Meehan - The Turning Point
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Every great story has a turning point. Every great story has this moment where things are going in one direction, and then all of a sudden everything changes, to go in a different direction. Great example, Peter Parker. Before he got bit by a mutant spider, was nobody. But after that moment, come on, everything changed. Spiderman entered the scene. Another example, for those of you who like a little bit older school movies, and specifically I say that because there are newer movies in the series, forget about them, trash. But Luke Skywalker, the original "Star Wars" trilogy, his story was going in one direction. And then all of a sudden everything changed when he found out spoiler alert that Darth Vader was his father. Every great story has a turning point.
Now, one more for you. My personal favorite of those that have mentioned, Avatar Aang did not know until one fateful day that he was in fact the Avatar, master of all four elements. And when he discovered this, everything changed. His childhood was taken from him. And so he fled into the night. Was overcome by this crazy storm, trapped him in an iceberg for 100 years. And during that time, the Fire Nation tacked and everything changed. Because every great story has a turning point. We all know this, the recent meme, the, this is wait, "How It Started, How It's Going". That's what it's called. "How It Started, How It's Going". So for example, my wife and I, our relationship, I believe it's a great story. And let me tell you something. It had a turning point. So here's how it started. I met her and was immediately enthralled. I was like, "Okay, girl, you're good looking. You're nice to people. You love Jesus. Marry me".
Didn't say that specifically, but literally I'm not even kidding, the day I met her, I went back to the life church location where I was interning at. And my youth pastor was like, "Hey, man, how was your day"? I was like, "Dude, it was incredible. I met the girl I'm gonna marry". He's like, "Oh, cool. Who was it"? And I said the girl's name, Mandy. And he was like, "Yeah, she's out of your league, bro". But then, well, actually, before we get there, it is important to know that her first impression of me was not quite the same as my impression of her. She thought that I came on a little bit strong. Might've been a little bit cocky and was also sort of a tool. But, like I said, every great story has a turning point. That's how it started. But here's how it's going. We've been married almost five years. We've got a newborn baby son, three and a half week old baby Quatro James Theoman IV. Do you see how cute that boy is? That's how it's going because every great story has a turning point.
So, we are in the third part of our series, "Habits of Holiness," where we're exploring this idea that for those of us who are followers of Jesus, we have been called to live holy lives to represent our Holy God. And specifically, we've been wrestling with the question as to how we can live with sexual integrity, both in real life and online. Because the truth is that we live in a world today that has a lot of really bad ideas about sex and sexuality. And it is so easy to get caught up in all the bad ideas that we miss the truth of what we've been called to do and who we've been called to be. In the first part of the series, we were reminded of who we are. Because when we know who we are, we will know what to do. In the last week's message, if you've seen it, we talked about the idea of choosing obedience and making that a habit. Because obedience to God is so much better than obedience to anyone or anything else. Now, in part three of our series, we're talking about the habit of practicing repentance. Practicing repentance.
Now, here's why we're talking about this. First of all, because when Jesus started His public ministry, this was actually the first command that He gave. In Matthew's gospel, we're gonna look at that one there. In chapter four, verse 17, Jesus begins to preach. And here's what we're told He says. He says, "Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near". So part of why we're talking about this is because it's a big deal. It was the first public announcement that Jesus gave, both in Matthew's gospel and also in Mark's gospel. It's literally the first things that we ever read Jesus saying.
So this is an important idea for us to wrap our minds around. But here's the problem: for way too long, so many Christians have misunderstood the beauty and the power of repentance. And so that's why we're gonna explore this today. Because when we get this right, I am telling you what? You will start to understand that repentance is so much more than some weird weapon that people use to inflict shame on others. In fact, repentance, if we just begin to understand what it actually is, is turning from our sin and turning to God. That is what repentance is. It's the act of turning from sin and turning to God. What we've got to understand about repentance is that repentance leads to redemption. Repentance leads to redemption. If we're honest, every single one of us, we want our lives to be a great story, a story where there are those redemptive moments where, at the end of the movie, whenever he like stands up and cheers and celebrates, that's what we want our lives to be.
And for those of us who are followers of Jesus, if that's what we want, then we've gotta figure out how to get this right. Because I can say from the numerous conversations I've had with teenagers and young adults who grew up in Christian homes, who grew up going to church, and eventually something happened that just rocked their world, they either did something to hurt themselves, others or the heart of God. And they became so overwhelmed by their guilt and their shame that they felt like the only response was to run from God and run from His people. And instead of experiencing the redemption that comes from repentance, they just ran so far away that their entire life was consumed by guilt and shame. So they just said, "You know what? I'm done with this whole Christianity thing". Because they started to think that the problem was God. What they didn't realize is that when we really understand what repentance is, we begin to discover that repentance is choosing to accept God's invitation to experience redemption. Because God's grace and His mercy is always available to us. The question is, "Are we actually going to put ourselves in a position to receive it"? That's why we're talking about practicing repentance.
Now, to help us better understand this concept, we are going to look at one of the most famous stories from the most influential storyteller in history. The storyteller was a Middle Eastern Jewish rabbi by the name of Jesus. And the story we're gonna look at is the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Now, what I think we can all understand is that even if we don't believe that Jesus is the Son of God, you might be here and doubtful about the truthfulness of Christianity. Even if that's where you are today, I don't think that anybody can argue or deny the impact that Jesus has had on Western civilization and the history of humanity. Because Jesus had this beautiful way of telling these stories that all at once, challenged His listeners and compelled them to make changes that led to transformed lives in significant ways. He had this ability to capture truths about what it means to be human and the very foundation of reality that caused people to lean in, to listen. Even if they didn't exactly agree with everything that He said, there was something about Jesus and the stories He told that people couldn't resist.
So what I want us to do is look at this story, the Parable of the Prodigal Son, and allow this to be an illustration to help us understand the beauty and the power of repentance. So this parable can be found in the 15th chapter of Luke's gospel. Luke was one of Jesus's, well, so Luke was actually a guy who ended up writing this gospel account after interviewing a lot of the eyewitnesses who had spent their lives following Jesus, learning from Him. And he wrote down this account to share that story with others. And in the 15th chapter, Jesus tells three different stories. There's the Parable of the Lost Sheep, the Parable of the Lost Coin, and then this one, the Parable of the Prodigal Son. It starts kind of about halfway through this chapter. And it's this really beautiful story that I want us to look at and really lean into. So here's how Jesus starts. So He starts by saying, "Hey, there's a man who had two sons. Now, the younger son told his father, 'I want my share of your estate now before you die.'"
Now, what's interesting is, this is like not what people did. Like, you didn't just tell your dad, "Hey, I want my inheritance". Like, "I want what will be mine when you die, but I want it now". In essence, what this son was saying to his father, "Hey dad, I want your money, but I don't want you". And what's crazy is, the way that the father responded, was by agreeing to divide his wealth between his sons. Then we read that a few days later, this younger son, he packed all his belongings. He moved to a distant land, and there he wasted all his money in wild living. Now, about the time his money ran out, a great famine swept over the land and he began to starve. So he persuaded a local farmer to hire him. And this man sent him into his fields to feed the pigs. The young man became so hungry that even the pods he was feeding the pigs looked good to him. But no one gave him anything. So the story is, a younger son tells his dad, "Hey, give me what's mine".
I know it's not mine yet, but I want it now. Then he takes it. He goes off into a far off land. He wasted all on wild living. And he ends up in a place that I think we could safely call rock bottom. If you find yourself in a place where you are desperate to eat what pigs are eating, that is rock bottom. And that is exactly where sin leads us. When we choose to do things that hurt ourselves, others, and the heart of God, when we sin, we are choosing to take steps towards rock bottom, a place that none of us want to be, but unfortunately, some of us will find ourselves there at some point or another in our lives. A place where we are so overwhelmed by the regret of our mistakes. We feel ashamed about the things that we did that we wish we could go back and undo. That we find ourselves at a place best defined as rock bottom. So the question becomes, "When we are at rock bottom, how do we respond"? Like, what are our choices to make?
Now, the first choice when you're at rock bottom is you can simply live in misery. Like, that is a terrible choice. And thankfully not many people choose that option because it is miserable. The second choice we have in how we can respond when we find ourselves at rock bottom, is that we can numb pain. We can numb the pain. And I think what's so heartbreaking about the culture in the world that we live in today, is that there are so many ways that we can numb the pain of our situations that we don't ever even get to the point of actually wanting to make a change. Whether it's the things that we watch online, videos that we know we shouldn't be looking at. Whether it's the decisions that we make with our boyfriend or girlfriend that make us feel good and hide the pain that we're feeling. Maybe it's an unhealthy addiction to video games or some show on Netflix, or maybe it just, every time I've got free time, so that I'm not alone with my thoughts, I'm on my phone on Instagram or social media or something like that because I can't stand to be alone with myself because if I am, I'm gonna have to confront the reality of my situation. And that's just not something I'm willing to do.
So I'm gonna numb the pain. We have three choices when we hit rock bottom: Do we live in misery? Do we numb the pain? Or do we make a change? Do we make a change? Now, obviously, this is the right choice to make. As soon as you hear it, you know, yeah, that's what I want to do. But the problem is, is that making a change is so much easier said than done. And I think for those of us who are Christians, part of the problem comes from the fact that we've misunderstood the power of repentance. Because before we can make a change, we have to actually acknowledge that there's a problem. And for so many of us, we're afraid to admit that there's something wrong. So we settle for numbing the pain, but when we numb the pain, the problem never goes away. We just become unaware of it. In Paul, one of the apostles who was really well-known for spreading the message of Christianity further than any other of Jesus's disciples, in his letter to Christians living in Rome, had some really powerful words to say in chapter six of this letter.
And what I wanna do is I wanna read this to you, to help you feel a little bit of the language of what sin does to us, so that we can understand why it's so important to make a change. In chapter six, verse 16, Paul says this, he says, "Don't you realize that you become the slave of whatever you choose to obey? You can be a slave to sin, which leads to death, or you can choose to obey God, which leads to righteous living". We have a choice every single day of our lives. Do we choose obedience to God or obedience to something else? Our desires or sin or something like that? The problem is that obedience to anything other than God, leads to a place that none of us want to be. That's why we have to make a change. But like I said, it's not easy. And I think that the unfortunate reality is that, in our journeys of following Jesus, there are so many of us who have picked up bad ideas about repentance. And it's gotten to this point where if we were honest, repentance and the idea of it can be a little bit scary.
And so the question is, "Why"? Why is it that this beautiful gift from God has been distorted into this way that now it is scary so that nobody actually ever does it? I think the problem that we've made out of repentance is that we have assumed that God would do to us what we would do to someone else. Because when we mess up, when we do something that's wrong, when we hurt somebody else, what we want to do is punish that person. But what God always does is offers forgiveness. You see, we've caught up in this bad idea about who God is. There are some of you, as you're listening to this message, you have this, a perception of God, that He's some Almighty sky bully, waiting to see you mess up so that He can punish you. Maybe for others of you, you're like, "Nah, like, I don't think that's what God is like. He's more like a fun uncle. He just wants everybody to have a good time".
But the problem with both of those versions of God is, first, they're not true. Second, is that either of those versions will not lead us to experiencing the beauty of repentance because it is only the God revealed through Jesus where perfect justice and unbelievable mercy come crashing together in a way that helps us understand both the importance and the power of repentance. It's not a weapon to inflict shame. It's an invitation to experience the forgiveness of God and the redemption that comes from it. Listen to me, repentance is choosing to turn from your sins, to turn from death and then to turn to God, to turn to life. Repentance leads to redemption. And we all know that every great story has a turning point. And there are some of us right now who we are at that point. And today is the day that you finally make the change. You see, God's grace, His forgiveness, and His mercy are available right now in this moment. The question is, "Will you receive it"?
Now, here's what I do. I want to not just tell you about this, but I wanna show you a silly little illustration that I think can help us understand what repentance is like and how God is active through this process. So I invited one of our youth pastors, TJ Hemani, to come up on stage. This is him. He is an absolutely incredible gentleman. Look at that. Wow. Look at that. That's a walk with confidence. He's holding a nine square ball because that's what I happened to find. So here's what I'm gonna do. TJ, in this illustration, you are representing God in this relationship. So you have this ball, that ball is your forgiveness and your grace. Now, I am somebody who is walking away from you towards sin. So what I want you to do, is I want you to offer your grace, your mercy and your forgiveness to me. Did you see what happened?
When I am actively moving away from God or maybe even I'm subconsciously turning from Him, not even fully aware of it, when God is offering His grace, His mercy and forgiveness to me, I'm never going to be able to receive it. Because it is there and it's available, but I have my back turned towards God, who is the author of life and the Source of grace. But if I choose to repent, to turn from sin and to turn to God, then when God is offering His grace, His mercy and forgiveness, guess what happens? I can actually receive it. And this is the thing that I think is so important for us to wrap our minds around because there are people who would consider themselves followers of Jesus, but because they've messed up, because they've done something wrong, they're now feeling overwhelmed by shame and regret. And when they see their sinfulness in light of God's holiness, they become even more ashamed. So they just keep running away from God. But the entire time, God is inviting them to turn back to Him because repentance leads to redemption.
And when we choose to turn from our sin and back to God, what we're doing is we are choosing to accept God's invitation to experience redemption. So when you're at rock bottom, what do you do? Do you live in misery? Do you numb the pain or do you make a change? Listen to me, every great story has a turning point. Later on in that same letter to the Romans that I just read for you, I read you verse 16, but in verse 23, here's what Paul says. He says that the wages of sin is death. The consequences of sin is death. The place that sin leads us is death, but, the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord. The gift of life is available to us, but there are some of us who are so blinded by our sin and our shame, that we are so focused on our guilt that we miss out on God's gift. But I'm telling you, it's available. All you have to do is turn. To repent. To choose to accept the gift that God is offering. A gift that will lead to you experiencing redemption.
So how do you respond? Do you live in misery? Do you numb the pain? Or do you make a change? Every great story has a turning point. And the prodigal son, who said, "Hey, dad, I want your money, but I don't want you," his story is about to have its turning point. So continuing on in Luke 15:17, what we're told is that, the younger son finally came to his senses. He says to himself, "At home, even the hired servants have food enough to spare, but here I am dying of hunger. So here's what I'm gonna do. I'm gonna go home to my father. I'm gonna say, 'Father, I've sinned against both heaven and you, I'm not even worthy to be called your son. Please take me on as a hired servant.'" So what did he do? He returned home to his father. He turned from his sin and he turned to the goodness of his father. "And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. And filled with love and compassion,..."
With love and compassion, not shame and judgment, but love and compassion, the father runs to his son. He embraces him. He kisses him. His son says to him, "Father, I've sinned against both heaven and you. I'm not even worthy to be called your son". But his father doesn't even acknowledge what his son is saying. And here's what he does. He tells his servants, "Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house, put it on him. Get a ring for his finger, sandals for his feet. Kill the calf we've been fattening. We must celebrate with a feast, for this son of mine was dead, but now he has returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found".
So the party began. Listen to me, every time a sinner repents, heaven throws a party. And I believe that today is the day that God's gonna throw a party for you. Because today's the day that you're gonna make a change. You're gonna choose to practice repentance. To turn from your sin and turn to God. To accept the gift of forgiveness that God is offering you. The gift of an invitation to experience redemption. So, let's get a little bit more practical. We've talked about repentance. I've showed you from several different stories, even throwing a rubber ball, like what repentance look like. So let's get really, really practical. What is repentance? It's the act of turning from our sin and turning to God. So I'm gonna give you the ABCs of repentance. Come on, somebody. ABC, easy as one, two, three. This has gonna be good. You better get ready.
A, admit you've messed up. Admit you've messed up. Now, this is really difficult in our world today because we live in a world where if you've messed up, people are gonna find out about it and you better believe, they're gonna come at you. In today's counsel culture, to be willing to admit you've messed up, is basically putting yourself out there for people to criticize you, for people to condemn you, and for people to potentially cut you off. But as holy people called to represent a Holy God, what we have to remember, is that we are not called to protect our image. We are called to reflect God's image into the world. And our God is a God of truth. He says that what is done in the dark will be brought to the light. And so it is so much better for you to take that step to admit you've messed up.
That's A. B, beg for forgiveness. Beg for forgiveness. Why did I choose the word "beg"? Number one, it starts with a B. And number two, the word "beg" implies us humbling ourselves and asking the people that we've wronged to forgive us.
And then C, commit to make a change. Commit to make a change. Because repentance is not some half-hearted apology. Repentance is genuinely turning from one direction into another. It is making a change for the better. And here's the deal, after you repent, guess what? You will mess up again. That's okay. God's grace is unending and His mercy is always available. And it's amazing to continue on in this journey of ABC, admit you've done wrong, beg for forgiveness, commit to make a change. Do it so frequently, do it daily that it becomes a habit. Because in this series, we're talking about what are the habits we can develop to help us live holy lives, to represent a Holy God. And I believe that practicing repentance for some of you is gonna be the habit that changes everything in your story.
One of my favorite ways to make practicing repentance a habit is praying through Psalm 139:23-24. And this is something that I pray through every morning, because what I know is that every day I do something that is not honoring to God, and not loving to others. And so every single day, I come before God and I ask Him to search me, oh, God, and know my heart. Test me, God, and know my anxious thoughts. See if there's any offensive way in me and lead me in the way everlasting. Daily, I choose to practice repentance. Because I need it. Because every day I need God's grace. Every day I need His forgiveness. Everyday I am hungry for redemption. And I know that when I am not walking towards God, what I'm walking towards is death, it's shame, it's all the things that I don't want to define my life. But when I choose to practice repentance, to come before God, what I'm doing is I am walking towards Him, the author of life, the Father of truth, the One who is always ready to receive me with open arms full of grace and compassion. That's who my God is.
And for some of you, when you take that step to practice repentance, to pray that prayer daily, you will discover the beauty and the power that comes from experiencing the redemption that God is offering to you. So will you practice repentance? What I think is so powerful about this story that we're talking about, is that in the story, Jesus is telling a story that is very, very personal, but at the same time, this story is so much bigger than any of us, because this is the story actually of all of us. Because what you need to understand is that, from the very beginning, our good and loving God has been pursuing you. And as humanity, we've been just like that younger son. Where we've said, "Hey, God, I want Your favor. I want Your blessings. I want these good things, but God, I don't want You". And as human beings, in the beginning, we rebelled against God.
You see, for us, it wasn't good enough to serve on God's behalf. We wanted to serve in His place. It wasn't good enough for us to say, "God, you are King". Instead, we wanted to be the kings of our own lives. So we turned our backs on God. We rejected Him. But from that moment on, God has relentlessly been pursuing us so much so that 2,000 years ago, He entered history as the person of Jesus to bring about this plan of redemption. What you have to understand is that the story of the Bible, is the story of God's redemptive plan to rescue humanity and restore creation. The story of the prodigal son is yes, very personal, but at the same time, it is a story of humanity. Because from the beginning, God has been offering us grace, freedom and redemption. He's just been waiting for us to accept it. To turn from our sin and to turn back to Him. This is why we practice repentance. Because when we choose to repent, we are choosing to accept God's gift. We are choosing to accept God's invitation to experience redemption. Every great story has a turning point. And the greatest turning point we can experience is the moment when we say yes to Jesus. Because that's the moment that changes everything.
Heavenly Father, I thank You for the fact that You are so loving and You are so good. That from the beginning, You have been pursuing a relationship with us.
What I know is that there are people right now on the other side of the screen, and you're at a place where you realize that you have been running from God. You consider yourself a follower of Jesus, but maybe because of the mistakes that you've made, you've been afraid to turn back to God. But today is the day that that changes. Today is the day that you make repentance a habit, where you choose to turn back to God, to accept His gift of redemption. If that's you, type it in the chat, raise your hand. I wanna pray for you and ask that God would give you the courage, the wisdom and the discipline to practice repentance daily.
Heavenly Father, fill them with Your Spirit. Empower them to turn to You every single time they mess up. Not because You're waiting to punish them, but God, because you're waiting to cover them with Your grace and your forgiveness.
I know there's another group of you that are watching this message right now. And if you're honest, you're in a place right now where either you're living in misery or you're just trying to numb the pain. And the idea of making a change seems so difficult, so insurmountable, that honestly for you, you gave up a long time ago. But God never gave up on you. 2,000 years ago, Jesus entered history for you. He lived a perfect life. He died a brutal death on a cross for you. You've got to understand that God's plan from the beginning has been to bring you back to Him. And through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Because even though Jesus died, He did not stay dead. God raised Him from the dead so that anybody who puts their faith in Him would be changed, would be saved. They would be made new.
And that's exactly why you're here today, to have your turning point. Through beginning a relationship with Jesus. Today you're ready to say, "Jesus, I wanna follow You. I want to give you my life. I'm done moving towards sin. I'm ready to turn to You". If that's you, wherever you are, lift your hand right now, all over the place. If you're online, type it in the chat, click on the link, let us know that you're making the decision to say, "Jesus, I am turning to You". Because in that moment, everything changes for the better. And what we're gonna do is we're gonna pray together as a Switch movement. Because even though you've gotta make that choice on your own, we're not gonna make you pray alone. We're gonna pray together because we are a family. So repeat after me all together, out loud:
Heavenly Father, forgive me of my sins. I'm turning towards You. I need Your love. I need Your grace. I need Your forgiveness. Today, I give You my life. In Jesus' Name. Amen. Amen. And Amen.