Forge a New Path

My apologies. I uploaded the audio to this sermon Sunday evening and forgot to post a link on this site to it. Here’s the audio to this week’s sermon, Forge a New Path.

Lion Chasers stop repeating the past and start creating the future. That’s what we discover as we look at the story of a ‘wee little man’ named Zacchaeus.

In the Spring of 1519, the conquistador, Hernando Cortez and his troops landed on the shores of Mexico. He commanded 11 ships, more than 500 soldiers, 100 sailors, and 16 horses. When they began, they were men on a mission, searching for the untold riches that were rumored to be hidden deep in the Mexican landscape. Precious jewels, gold, and silver were calling their name. The prospect of gaining enormous wealth was enough to encourage many to sign up for this risky endeavor. They were excited. They were going to be rich!

But by the time they actually landed on the shores of Mexico, the attitude had shifted, and there was a problem. Some who began the journey with energy and excitement were now grumbling and longing to return home. Cortez did all he could to motivate the troops and remind them of the riches that were ahead of them. But some continued to long for home, and they fixed their gaze on the ships anchored in the harbor. Some were longing for the life they used to have. And the morale of Cortez’s troops continued to weaken. If things continued this way, the mission would fail before it even began. Cortez needed to act, and he needed to act quickly.

“Burn the ships,” he commanded his men.

“Do what?” they surely asked.

“Burn them. Burn the ships. We’ve come this far and we’re not turning back.”

And upon his command, the men set their ships ablaze. And they watched any connection to their past lives literally go up in smoke as the fires consumed the vessels. They had eliminated any options. There was nowhere to run. They were forced to embrace the new lives they had chosen. Instead of longing for the past, their focus became the mission at hand. When things became difficult and their opponents seemed too overwhelming, they couldn’t turn around and run away. There was nowhere to run. Moving forward was their only choice. Instead of re-treading old paths, they were forced to create a new path – one that would lead to victory. It was a defining moment in the lives of Cortez and his men.

As Christians, we have signed up for a similar mission. We have been given the option of following Jesus wherever he leads, or longing for the life we have left behind. We’re in the middle of a series called Chase the Lion, discussing how God can use the obstacles in our lives as a means to accomplish amazing things. Towards the end of the account of David’s reign, found in 2 Samuel, you’ll remember that there’s a quick explanation of the exploits of a man named Benaiah, the chief of David’s bodyguard. He fought two Moabites at one time. Armed only with a club, he took on an Egyptian giant who had a spear. He chased a lion into a pit on a snowy day. You might be like me and think, “Snow? Isn’t the Middle East pretty much desert? Isn’t it hot and dry?” When we think of the region, we don’t really think of it as being snowy – even in the winter. I did a little research this week to see if I could find out if snow was a rare phenomenon or something that occurred more frequently than we tend to think. Apparently, snow is quite common in the hill country of the region. It’s not like the snows we get here. It’s not very deep. But that doesn’t mean it’s not slick. And there are some winters where they don’t get any snow at all. The mountains, of course, are covered with snow most of the year. This snow becomes the source for much of the water in the region

Benaiah had a choice when he encountered these obstacles. No one would blame him when he added up the odds he faced when the two Moabite warriors showed up. 2-on-1 is not favorable odds. He could have waited for reinforcements to arrive. Or he could have run.

No one would have blamed him when he assessed the situation with the Egyptian giant. A spear has a much larger range than a mere club. Benaiah could have retreated and waited until he had the high ground or had a more sophisticated weapon.

And when the lion fell into that pit on a snowy day, common sense says to just walk away. Instead, he chased the lion into the pit. And despite the odds, despite the fact that each event looked like lost causes, Benaiah emerged victorious.

In the same spirit of Benaiah, God is calling us to be Lion Chasers. The lions that we face could be the very obstacle that God will use to bring Himself glory through your life. That means He wants us to take some risks – to step out on faith and watch how God will work. He wants us to leave the comfort of the old life we knew before beginning a relationship with Him and blaze new trails, forging a new path. That’s one of the keys to being a Lion Chaser – stop repeating the past and start creating the future.

In the Gospel of Luke, there’s a story of a man who chose to blaze a new trail for himself in his attempt to follow Jesus. He definitely had some Lions to chase in his efforts to pursue Christ. If you have your Bibles with you, turn with me to Luke 19:1. If you don’t have your Bible with you, you’re welcome to use the one in the pew in front of you. Luke 19:1 is found on page 912 in that Bible. Jesus has been traveling around the countryside preaching about the Kingdom of Heaven. He’s been healing many people, including a blind man and ten men with leprosy. He was once approached by a rich young ruler who asked what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus told him to sell everything he had, give the profits to the poor, and his heart will be focused on the things of heaven, not just the accumulation of more stuff. And the man went away sad because he was too attached to the comforts of the life he already had. He encountered a Lion and chose to walk away instead of chase it.

Enter Zacchaeus in Luke 19:1. You know the kids’ song, right? Sing: Zacchaeus was a wee little man, and a wee little man was he. He climbed up in a sycamore tree for the Lord he wanted to see. And as the Savior passed him by He looked up in that tree. And He said, “Zacchaeus, you come down. For I’m going to your house today. For I’m going to your house today.

And the song does a pretty good job of summing up the beginning of this story. Look with me in Luke 19:1. Read Luke 19:1-6

Zacchaeus faced many obstacles in his pursuit to get closer to Jesus. As the song says, he was a short man and couldn’t see over the crowds. He could very easily have thrown his hands up and given up. After all, the odds of even seeing Jesus were stacked against him. But the odds didn’t matter to this Lion Chaser. He made a new way – he climbed a tree. Now, a sycamore tree in the Middle East is a fig-bearing tree. It’s apparently closely related to the mulberry tree. It would have been an easy tree to clime and was often planted by the roadside in Zacchaeus’s day.

Zacchaeus’s resourcefulness allowed him to blaze a new trail and his efforts to get closer to Jesus caught His attention. But Zacchaeus’s height wasn’t the only Lion he had to chase. In fact, it wasn’t even the main Lion he faced at this crossroads. Zacchaeus was a tax collector. Not only that, but he was the chief tax collector, the head of the Jericho branch of the IRS. Now, with it being tax season, you know how many people associate negative thoughts with IRS agents today. People don’t like giving up their money and many take their frustrations out on the IRS. You hear amazing stories of the ‘nice’ little gifts and notes people give the IRS when they file their tax return. I heard of one widow who enclosed her husband’s ashes with her tax return. With it was a note that essentially said, “You took everything else of his, so I figured I’d send him to you, too.”

Right or wrong, many people look at the tax collecting arm of the U.S. government with a less-than-positive perspective. But that viewpoint is nothing compared to the way Jews viewed tax collectors in Jesus’ day. You might be unhappy with the amount of money you have to give to the government through the IRS, but I doubt any of us think of a member of the Internal Revenue Service as a crook or a traitor. But that’s how tax collectors were treated in Judea. In the vast empire of Rome, there had to be some method of collecting taxes for the maintenance of the government. Rome would sell the responsibility to the highest bidder. That tax farmer, as Zacchaeus was, would then make his living of the taxes, tolls, and fees that were collected. The tax system was so complex that it was easily abused for the benefit of the tax collector. Needless to say, tax collectors were not a popular group of people. They were considered crooks, robbing from their neighbors in order to gain wealth. And not only that, but they were called traitors to the Jewish people. They were seen as turncoats. And they made a hefty profit in their betrayal. Tax collectors like Zacchaeus were equated with robbers, prostitutes, and ‘sinners.’ Needless to say, the people did not look kindly upon them. For Zacchaeus, it was the way it had always been. And so he kept repeating the past.

That is, until he came face-to-face with the Living Lord. Zacchaeus had a reputation of being a crook. And his history lived up to that reputation. When Jesus invited himself to Zacchaeus’s house, the people began to grumble.

Read Luke 19:7-10

This encounter with the King of Kings changed his perspective, and it changed his life. He had already chased lions in order to catch a glimpse of Jesus, overcoming the obstacles of both his physical and moral ‘smallness’. Now that he had shared a meal with Him, he was ready to do anything for Jesus. And on the spot, he gave away half of his possessions. The restitution he promised to pay was much more than was required by the Law. His encounter with Jesus had changed his life – and he showed that through his actions. No longer would he be known as a crook amongst his people, hoarding his wealth for personal gain. Zacchaeus would be known for his generosity and his fairness. He had been caught up in a repetitive cycle of self-gratification and self-glorification through the accumulation of wealth at the expense of his neighbors. No more. If he was going to continue to follow Jesus, he was going to have to overcome this Lion in his life – the reputation he had earned through his crooked lifestyle and the greed that comes with accumulating wealth. The best way to combat greed is to start giving it away. And that’s what Zacchaeus did. He could have assessed his situation and decided it was too much of a burden to carry. He could have been like the rich young ruler Jesus encountered earlier and merely walked away from this encounter sad because the obstacle was too great. But not this time. Not for Zacchaeus. It was time for him to stop repeating the past and start creating the future. Zacchaeus chose to burn the ships that reminded him of his crooked, sinful past. He chose to blaze a new trail in the light of the grace of Jesus Christ.

And that’s the challenge before us as Lion Chasers today. All of us have a past. Before you entered a life-changing relationship with Jesus Christ, you were caught up in the cycle of sin. And we can carry that burden with us, beating ourselves up for what happened in the past. Or we could look back like the life we used to live and be tempted to fall back into that cycle. Satan is bombarding us with temptation every day. And if we don’t take a proactive position against these temptations, it can be very easy to fall back into that cycle of sin that we had lived before. So we can’t look back and keep beating ourselves up over the past. We also can’t look back and secretly long for the ‘good old days.’ Both approaches to our past can leave us living in the past instead of moving ahead. It’s time to burn the bridges that call us back to a sinful past. It’s time to break out of the cycle that we can easily get caught up in and forge a new path into the grace of Jesus Christ and the eternal love of the Father. And we break that cycle by burning the ships that lead us to our sinful past.

I want to close this morning with the lyrics to a song called, Burn the Ships by Steven Curtis Chapman.

In the spring of 1519 a Spanish fleet set sail
Cortez told his sailors his mission must not fail
On the eastern shore of Mexico they landed with great dreams
But the hardships of the new world make them restless and weak
Quietly they whispered, “Let’s sail back to the life we knew”
But the one who led them there was saying

Chorus:
Burn the ships, we’re here to stay
There’s no way we could go back
Now that we’ve come this far by faith
Burn the ships, we’ve passed the point of no return
Our life is here
So let the ships burn

In the spring of new beginnings a searching heart set sail
Looking for a new life and a love that would not fail
On the shores of grace and mercy we landed with great joy
But the enemy was waiting to steal, kill and destroy
Quietly he whispers, “Go back to the life you know”
But the one who led us here is saying

Chorus:
Burn the ships, we’re here to stay
There’s no way we could go back
Now that we’ve come this far by faith
Burn the ships, we’ve passed the point of no return
Our life is here
So let the ships burn

Chase the Lion. And burn the ships while you blaze a new trail into the future.

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