As we close out one year and look forward to the next, it’s traditional to examine one’s life and decide what needs to change.
We make “resolutions” in which we resolve to change certain things about our lives in order to make them better. Perhaps you have resolved to lose weight, to save more money, or to spend more time with your family, all good goals.
The problem with resolutions, though, is that we rarely achieve what we’ve resolved to do. In fact, most of our resolutions (or mine at least) are broken before the end of January, leaving us in a depressed state to start the first quarter of the new year.
Instead, then, of talking about resolutions, I want to ask you about your story. What kind of story are you telling? What kind of story would you like to be telling? Is your story worth repeating to anyone else?
We’re all telling a story with our lives. The choices we make help push the plot of our story along. The relationships we build are the supporting characters. The places we go are the setting. What does your story say about you? Is it compelling and angst-filled? Is there some great thing you have as your goal? Is your story perhaps a little boring? Is there not really very much going on?
We find ourselves drawn to movies and books that tell great stories. They usually have compelling main characters that face some sort of major issue in the course of the tale. If these characters are well written we care about whether they achieve their goal or not. If we can empathize with them we truly get drawn into the story and we become emotionally involved with what’s going on. I want you to think for a moment about your favorite movies, the ones you could watch over and over and never get tired of. What draws you to these movies? Think about books you’ve read more than once. Why read them again?
God is a master story-teller. When you read the Bible you can see that. He uses character, setting, and plot to shape a person into exactly who he wants them to be. Take the story of Joseph for instance: he was the youngest (at the time) of the children of Jacob (Israel). (You remember Jacob. He’s the one we called out a few weeks ago for being a jerk.) Joseph has an uncanny ability to interpret dreams. One night he has a dream in which his older brothers all become subservient to him. Their wheat sheaves bowed down to his. Naturally he went immediately to his brothers to tell them about the dream.
Now, if you’re the youngest of the brothers and you’re already dad’s favorite (he’s already given you a coat with lots of colors on it) it may not be the wisest move to tell your older brothers that one day they’re going to bow down before you. Joseph already wasn’t the most popular among his siblings, but this really didn’t help his cause. They began to plot how they could get rid of the little nuisance.
First they decided to kill Joseph, then they thought better of it and threw him in a well. They wouldn’t have killed him personally, but he still would have died eventually. As they sat down to eat after tossing Joe into the well, a band of Ishmaelites came walking by. Thinking that they might as well make some coin off of their treachery, they hauled Joseph up out of the well and sold him to the Ishmaelites who were on their way to Egypt. Their problem was solved. Joseph was out of their hair and they could get back to life as usual.
Meanwhile Joseph is now off to Egypt. This seems to be a far cry from his dream. But God knew what was going on. Joseph ended up in the house of Potiphar. Because he was so faithful, he eventually became second in Potiphar’s household. He was put in charge of all the affairs of Potiphar’s house. It seemed good things were finally happening to Joseph. Then in walks Potiphar’s wife. She’d had her eye on Joseph for a while and thought he was nice to look at, so she made an advance toward him. Being the faithful man he was, though, Joseph rejected her time and again until one day she got him alone in the house. Then she made her move again. This time she caught him by the robe and begged him to sleep with her. Not wanting to sin, he tore himself from his robe and fled the house. Then she made up a story about how he tried to rape her and only ran off when she screamed, so Joseph was thrown into jail. Another negative turn in the story.
It seems that whenever something good happened to Joseph, something bad happened right after that. Does your life ever feel that way? Does is seem like whenever something good happens, something bad is usually right behind it?
So now Joseph is in jail. The dream from so long ago seems like only that, a dream. I bet at this point Joseph would have given just about anything to go back to the simpler times when the only thing he had to deal with was his brothers’ taunts and teases. Now he was stuck in a primitive Egyptian jail with no one to talk to but a cupbearer, a baker, and a few rats. But Joseph was faithful. He continued to be faithful in all of this. I don’t know about you, but it would be difficult for me to be faithful after this. I would be pretty put-out. I wouldn’t care very much about anything and would probably become quite despondent, but Joseph didn’t.
Joseph again demonstrated his ability to interpret dreams when both the cupbearer and the baker experienced dreams they didn’t understand. Joseph told them what was going to happen and it did. The cupbearer got his job back and the baker was killed. Joseph was hoping that the cupbearer would remember his talent when he got out and possibly help him get out of jail in return. Alas, the cupbearer either forgot or simply didn’t care because Joseph remained in jail for a while more.
Then, as chance would have it, the Pharaoh had a dream that no one could interpret. The sorcerers and magicians couldn’t answer his questions. The fortune tellers and soothsayers had no interpretation to offer. Then the cupbearer remembered Joseph. Pharaoh sent for him and sure enough Joseph was able to interpret Pharaoh’s dream. So Joseph rises in Pharaoh’s court. His wisdom is second to none and he quickly becomes one of Pharaoh’s closest advisors, even rising to second in command over all of Egypt. Here is the unlikeliest of men rising to a position of great power simply because he was faithful. What’s even more amazing is that because of a great famine in the land, Jacob and his sons had to travel to Egypt to buy food because that’s where all the food was. Joseph had prepared the land of Egypt well so they were in a position of abundance while people everywhere else had to come buy food from them.
Now the dream that Joseph had so many years ago was coming true, perhaps not in the same manner he thought when he dreamed it, but true nonetheless. His entire family had come and bowed before him because he was the second most powerful man in Egypt.
Joseph’s story is great not because Joseph was that great of a guy, but because God is that great of a God. Through the whole story, Joseph’s greatest quality was that he was faithful. Whenever something bad happened, he remained faithful to God, not desiring to sin at all. When he faced temptation he was able to overcome it not because he was such a cool guy, but because he was faithful to a great God.
Why tell you Joseph’s story? I want you to think about the story you’re telling with your life. Is it compelling? Would people want to talk about it? If someone were to make a movie of your life, would anyone want to see it? These are the things I want you to think about as we look forward to a new year.
I read the Beatitudes and my heart sinks. I often find that I am not like those Jesus references in this passage. I find that I am not often meek, but proud. I am not often a peacemaker, but one who can easily irk people and stir up dissention. I don’t often hunger and thirst for righteousness. Being like this, though, is what can help us tell a better story. Jesus says that those who hunger and thirst for righteousness WILL be satisfied. If we spend our days in prayer and in the Word, we will come out better for it. Then Jesus makes the statement that we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. When we follow Jesus, people will notice. When we are Jesus’ disciples, people will see us. May we be a people full of good deeds so that others may notice and give glory to God! By our works others will call him Savior.
Most of us tell really poor stories. Our stories consist of trying to make more money so we can buy a bigger house and have a better retirement. I read the following example on the back of a John Piper book. He said this: Imagine a couple who worked hard their whole life and was able to retire early. They moved from their home to a beach house in some southern state with lots of sun. They spent the rest of their days walking along the beach collecting shells, going to senior centers to play games with other retirees, and just enjoying each other. Then when they got to heaven and stood before the Creator of everything and he asked what they did with their lives they opened their hands and said “see our shells.” How tragic!
We’ve briefly talked about this a few times already, but the whole idea of following Jesus is actually following him. It’s doing the things he did, going the places he went. There is one call: “Follow Me.” Instead, we’ve invented multiple callings. We have callings for pastors, youth ministers, music ministers, missionaries, church planters, church musicians, and countless other areas of service. Then we justify what we don’t do by saying “I wasn’t called to do that.” The truth is we all have different gifts and areas of talent. We weren’t all designed to be on church staff. But, we were all called to follow Jesus. There is one call. “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” Jesus said this to his disciples in Luke 10. The harvest is plentiful. There is plenty of work to be done. According to estimates on Christmas Eve, the world population is almost 6.9 billion. The most generous estimates of the number of people claiming adherence to Christianity is at 2.1 billion. This represents 30% of the world population. This means that at best if Jesus returned today, 70% of the world’s population would march right through the gates of Hell to eternal damnation.
The sad truth is that most of us hear that statistic and shake our heads and say “what a shame. Someone ought to do something about that.” Then we go home, turn on our 50” HDTVs and fall asleep watching football or the latest cooking show or Lifetime movie. We miss the point of what Jesus said. The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. There aren’t many who will heed the call to go where Jesus went and do what Jesus did. We also miss the second sentence in that verse. “Pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” Pray that God will send laborers into the harvest. Pray that more people might take up the mantle of service and tell the world about Jesus. Pray that people will get the idea and use their time, talents, and tithes to preach the gospel to a world that desperately needs Jesus. That’s us. We’re the workers who are supposed to go into the harvest. Then we’re supposed to pray for help.
I’ve been reading this book Radical by David Platt for a while. I’m reading it slowly because I don’t want to miss anything that he’s saying. In it, he tells several different stories about his travels to other countries and his experiences with other believers. At the beginning of one of the chapters he writes about talking to a tribal man in Africa one day while drinking a cup of tea. This man made the statement that he was going to impact the nations for Jesus. Platt asked how because it was very unlikely that this man would ever travel very far beyond the villages that surrounded his. The man responded, “By making disciples.” This man took Jesus seriously when he said “Go and make disciples.”
Our job is to make disciples. This is where it gets messy. This is what I mean by “tell a good story.” Disciple making has nothing to do with converting people to your religion. It has nothing to do with getting people to walk an aisle. It has very little to do with getting people to say a prayer. Disciple making is about building relationships and sharing your life with others. It is about imitating Jesus so others might imitate you. It is about introducing people to Jesus and then walking with them through life. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11:1 “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” That’s a rather bold statement to make. “Imitate me because I am imitating Christ.” In order to say that, we must be doing it. We must actually be imitating Christ. If people follow you, do they get to Jesus or someplace else?
This is why it’s foolish to ignore the calling Jesus placed on your life. For so long we’ve made the plea to bring people to church so they can hear the gospel. Instead, we should have been teaching you to be imitators of Christ so you can take the gospel to the people. One of the top 10 things you learn about Cornerstone when you take the membership class is that our staff exists to equip you to do the work of the ministry. In Ephesians 4 Paul tells us that the Spiritual gifts were given so that the body of Christ may be equipped to do the work of the church. Ministry is a responsibility shared by every follower of Jesus. (Incidentally that’s why we say “followers of Jesus” instead of “Christians.” We believe that “follower” implies movement while “Christian” implies belonging to a religion.)
How do we tie all of this together? What does the story of Joseph have to do with anything? Life is difficult. It’s not easier just because we believe in Jesus. In fact, in many cases it’s harder because we have the responsibility of taking the message of Jesus to the nations. We have to forsake society and tradition around us because there’s another calling on our life. We have to sometimes leave behind people we love because there’s a task before us. Following Jesus is hard.
It wasn’t easy for Joseph to be faithful. He had a dream when he was young about how his life was going to turn out. During all the struggles he faced don’t you think he began to wonder if he’d gotten it wrong? Don’t you think he began to question whether God was in control at all? When Job went through his trials don’t you think he searched his mind for anything he could have done wrong? That’s our first instinct, too, isn’t it? When something goes wrong don’t we immediately begin to wonder what we did to bring all this down on top of our heads? I do that. Whenever something bad happens I fret and wonder what sin I’ve committed. But Joseph was faithful. Job was faithful. Even though God refused to remove the “thorn” from Paul’s flesh, he was faithful.
Your story can be so much more than it is. Think about all the good stories you’ve heard. Think of all the good people you’ve heard about or encountered. They all started out the same. They all had to face a moment when they decided that they wanted to live for something bigger than themselves. All the people who have ever done anything extraordinary faced the same trials we face. The difference is when they saw a problem they didn’t say “someone ought to do something about that.” They said “what can I do about that?” None of the people you admire ever did what everyone expected them to do. They did what God told them to do.
To follow Jesus is to leave. It’s to leave behind what you know and understand. It’s to leave behind what’s comfortable and easy. It’s to leave behind security for the unknown. But it’s to follow Jesus. In light of that, who wouldn’t leave behind everything? Who wouldn’t jump off a cliff to follow?
Jesus has commanded us to go and make disciples. Think about the people who watch you. Think about your children, your friends, your boss, or your coworkers. If they are watching you, what are you saying with your life? If they were to follow you would you lead them to Jesus, or someplace else?
Jesus said we would be his witnesses. He didn’t say we might be, but we will be. In light of that, how good of a witness are you? Do you show people Jesus or just another religious person chasing the American Dream?
What kind of story are you telling with your life? Are you making a difference in the world, or trying to get a better car? Are you taking your calling seriously, or working toward a fat retirement on a boat somewhere? Do you long to influence the nations or are you content with playing “Christian?”
Our goal here at Cornerstone is that everyone who walks through our doors would experience real lifechange. We don’t want cookie-cutter Christians, but passionate followers of Christ who radically impact their world by living out the Great Commission and the Great Commandment, to go into all the world and make disciples because they love the Lord with all their heart and they love their neighbors.
I want to close with this passage from Romans. Paul has spent the first 9 chapters building an argument for humankind’s depravity and our hopelessness apart from Christ. Then he reminds us of Jesus’ sacrifice and our hope in him. Once we get to chapter 10, however, he begins to reveal not only the situation, but God’s plan for the salvation of the world. God’s plan is us. We are God’s messengers to a dying world. He starts in verse 13 with “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Whoever calls on the name of Jesus will be saved. There’s no “might” or “maybe” about this. You will be saved if you call on the name of Jesus.
But there are steps to getting there. For people to call on Jesus’ name, they must have heard about him. Paul rhetorically asks “how will they call unless they believe?” You can’t call on Jesus’ name unless you believe in him. You can’t believe in him unless you’ve heard about him. You can’t have heard about him unless someone tells you. No one will tell you unless they are first sent. This takes us back to Jesus in Luke 10. Remember this is the passage where Jesus tells his disciples that the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. He follows that up by reminding them to pray to God that he would send workers into the fields. Instead of praying that the lost would come to hear the word, Jesus says to pray that God would send workers into the field. How can anyone preach the word unless they are sent?
God is in the sending business, not the bringing business. God is sending you into the field to harvest, because the harvest is plentiful. This is the point of Cornerstone. My prayer for this church is not that we would seek to be the biggest church in the area, but that we would seek to have as much impact for the Kingdom as possible. We are sending you into the fields, for they are ready for the harvest. People can’t call on the name of Jesus unless they believe. They can’t believe unless they hear. They can’t hear unless someone tells them. No one can tell them unless they are sent. We are sending you out.
The harvest is plentiful. The workers are few. What’s your story? Make it one people want to hear.