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THE PROMISE OF PERSONAL FULFILMENT
John 10:1 - 10

18th August 2002

This week marks the 60th anniversary of the bloodiest battle Australians fought in World War Two. It was the battle of Kokoda, a muddy track over some of the steepest terrain anywhere in the world in Papua New Guinea. Coming down that track were sixteen thousand Japanese soldiers who landed on the north coast of Papua. Opposing them, were Australian soldiers desperately hoping to stop the advance towards Australia. The Australian Army was in the Middle East and Europe. So an emergency group of Australian soldiers were sent. They were very young men, 16 to 19 years of age, who had been too young to be included in the previous call up. They were totally inexperienced in war. Most of them came from Box Hill and Camberwell in Victoria, where I had been born four years earlier. Among them was my young uncle Eric. He was 19 years. These boys were rushed without training to New Guinea and to Kokoda. Their weapons were most from World War 1. They had trained on the way without rifles so they had used broomsticks.

I took Eric's two brothers, my step father Joe and his brother Maurie, both now in their nineties to The Kokoda Track Memorial through the mangrove swamps by Concord Hospital. During World War 2, Joe was required to work in the family bakery. Maurie had enlisted in the 2nd AIF and had seen action in the Middle East where they stopped Rommel and his Eighth army. They had dug underground like rats in Tobruk. They survived eight months and fought him to a stand-still at Alamein. Then they pushed Rommel 700 miles back to defeat. They had stunning success against the Axis General.

The battle-weary Australians were then wanted to defend home. 16,000 Japanese were on the Papua New Guinea Owen Stanley Ranges. Nothing stood between Port Moresby and Queensland. Eric, left Box Hill for Port Moresby in the 39th Militia in October 1941. They were semi-trained, only teenagers. Yet those apprentice bakers and bread-carters, factory hands and milkos became incredible soldiers. They had no tents, blankets or mosquito repellent. As the Japanese surged down Kokoda, the 39th inflicted severe casualties. The Australians were vastly outnumbered. The Australian strength at one point was only 110 men left.

The Japanese came within 30 miles of Port Moresby. They would have wiped out the 39th but for the arrival in the nick of time of the 2/14th from the Middle East. Maurie arrived with the others and instead of heat, flies and sand, they now were up to their knees in mud, soaked in rain and covered in sweat and leeches. The battered remnants of the 39th then volunteered to fight on with their mates rather than withdraw. On the 9th September 1942, Eric was killed. For the next four months those who remained pushed the Japanese back over the high mountains to the sea in the north inflicting heavy casualties. They wiped out the entire Japanese force in Papua. The two old men in their nineties stood before the large black marble facades on which have been sandblasted pictures of the Kokoda Track. I stood back and took a few surreptitious photographs. Maurie murmured "That Golden Staircase went up the sheer face of the mountain. 2000 steps made in the mud by the engineers, each one two feet high with the mud held back by felled saplings. It was hell to climb." The old men stood revolving many memories.

We looked at an etching of a soldier with the Bren gun firing into the tree-tops. "Snipers. The nips climbed up, and tied themselves to the trunk of the tree and shot us as we passed underneath. You'd see their bodies, shot by the blokes up ahead, hanging in the trees." There is a picture of a chaplain with a wounded digger's head cradled on his knees, with a worn and mildewed Bible, reading, 'Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil, for thou art with me.' Joe and Maurie stood in silence and thought of Eric. Maurie muttered: "Bloody Kokoda. Death. Despair. And hope, a hope for life, that one day it would be over, that we would get back to Australia and our families, to freedom, to food, and dry clothes." In the midst of despair they were living in hope.

Those soldiers from that time on felt their lives had meant something. They had been part of a bigger purpose. They had given Australia freedom. It did not matter what happened subsequently, somehow their lives had been fulfilled. Those who lay dead in the mud of Kokoda, had their lives cut off, hardly before they had had time to enjoy themselves or to find their own personal fulfilment. But those who came back, they were fulfilled, and nothing could take that away from them. Ironically, those had been the best days of their lives.

There are many who go through life missing out on what fulfils them. Many only find fulfilment in the great human tragedies of war. Few find personal fulfilment through who they are and what they do. So many feel life is meaningless and purposeless. They have no sense of personal fulfilment. I saw spray painted on a wall this week: "Life suxs!"

1. MANY LACK PERSONAL FULFILMENT.

Paul Newman, in his classic film, Winning, is a man who wants to be the best racing car driver in the world. He won the Indianapolis 500 but lost his wife to another competitor. Someone said how well he was driving, but he replies, "I am driving better than I have ever driven, but my life is meaningless and empty."

On the Kokoda Track this week, many old men remembered. Their lives counted for something. Many watching them on the TV news felt envious. They are safe but their lives lack fulfilment. There are many in Sydney like that. Life for them is empty, with no sense of meaning or purpose. They have no real fulfilment in who they are and in what they are doing. Many are doing what they do better than ever before, yet their lives are meaningless and empty. These are some of the marks of a person whose life is unfulfilled:

Aimlessness: The unfulfilled wander through life, living from one day to the next, without direction or purpose. As mice on an exercise wheel, they are full of activity, but going nowhere.

Dissatisfaction: Unfulfilled people accumulate things about them but are dissatisfied with what they have. Jesus said, "Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions." Luke 12:15 Paul wrote to Timothy, "Godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that." 1Timothy 6:6,7GNB But to the un-fulfilled, nothing satisfies.

I have attended more than 1000 funerals and I have never seen a trailer attached to the back of the hearse! You can't take it with you! Possessions do not satisfy.

Lack of achievement: At Brisbane airport recently I was met by a friend, the managing director of a large company. He told me about recent events in his life. He had everything, a big house, a good job, and a high income that rose month by month. "Everything was at my feet and my life was utterly empty! Then someone said, 'I want you to come along to church'. There I found Jesus Christ. Then my life became full".

Poor Relationships: The unfulfilled person does not have good relationships. The great pollster in the United States, Daniel Yankovitch, wrote a book entitled, "New Rules: Searching for Self-fulfilment in a World Turned Upside Down". He declares that Americans have been on a "'me' trip - my satisfaction, my fulfilment. As a result, lives everywhere are empty because they have been devoted more and more to the small parcel called "I". Marriages have suffered, careers have suffered; leisure has suffered; because people have been trying to find fulfilment in themselves and they have found nothing. Consequently, divorce rates have risen, suicide rates have risen, and people's sense of satisfaction has declined, because they have been centring on themselves. More and more people feel utterly isolated and alone." These are the signs of a life lacking fulfilment. Nothing can add to the vacuum. They have nothing to fight for. Nothing to die for. No one who cares if they live or die. No satisfaction. No personal fulfilment! What emptiness, meaninglessness and purposelessness!

2. JESUS PROMISES PERSONAL FULFILMENT.

Jesus said that He was the Good Shepherd who provides and cares for His people. "I tell you the truth, the man who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber." John 10:1 He was criticising the Pharisees. They had given their people only the husks of religion and not all the personal satisfaction that comes from a genuine relationship with God. Jesus continues: "The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep. The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger's voice." v2-5

When Jesus told that parable, not everyone understood. So he changed the parable. Now, instead of leading the sheep out of the fold, He brings them in to a place of safety. "I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep. All who ever came before me were thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate; who-ever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full." v7-10 The shepherd would call in his sheep and when they were in the fold, he would go to sleep at the entrance, the doorway. No one could enter so long as the shepherd was there. We come to Him to find refuge and He cares for us. Jesus told us how we can find fulfilment.

It is by going through Him and in living His way. He makes life meaningful. We have living proof that Jesus Christ in your heart makes all the difference and gives meaning to life.

3. WHAT PERSONAL FULFILMENT MEANS.

You know who you are. If you find Jesus Christ as Lord, you learn exactly who you are. God knows you and calls you by your name. He calls you into His fold and you can come in and go out because you follow your Lord.

You know why you are living. To ask the question, "I! Why?" is not only to ask about your identity but also to question the reason for your very existence. If the work you do has lost its purpose and you are asking what is the meaning behind life, if you wonder why it is that God has made you or why you are living, know that it is only when you come to Jesus Christ that you can know the real purpose for your life. God loves you. You are His child, and He has a plan for you. "I alone know the plans I have for you, plans to bring you prosperity and not disaster, plans to bring about the future you hope for." Jeremiah 29:11 God knows your name and He has a plan for you, a future with hope. If you know Him you can have fulfilment in your life.

You know where your resources are. When you know Jesus Christ as the Good Shepherd who laid down His life for you, and if, through Him, you enter into the fold of God, you can know where the resources are that give you strength for living. When you have a meaningful life, when you have a purpose in life, you have personal fulfilment. Jesus says: "I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full." That is what Jesus Christ offers you. Total personal fulfilment! That can be found no other way. In Jesus we find personal fulfilment.

Wesley Mission, Sydney.