Everyone wants a full life, a life of significance. I’ve never met anyone who said to me “you know I really want to just waste my life and never accomplish anything at all.”
Philosophers debate the meaning of life endlessly and scientists postulate about where we came from and how we all got here. This is fine for the rest of the world, but what about with Christians? If what we believe is really the truth and who we serve is really God, then all Christians should be insanely happy and incredibly generous. Yet even amongst those of us who call ourselves Jesus followers we ask the same questions. “Why am I here? What is God’s will for my life? How can I be fulfilled?”
We’re stumbling around in the same dark forest with no clue how to find the pathway out.
So what’s the answer? How can we find significance and not feel so utterly hopeless? The answer is at the same time simple and incredibly complex. The answer is to follow Jesus. Now this may sound easy, but it takes a great effort. For one thing, Jesus leads us all in different ways. Why? We are all different people. If you have more than one child you know this. What worked for the first child probably won’t work for the second, and certainly won’t work for the third. People are different. We’re all created with individual personality traits and idiosyncrasies. Following Jesus for me may look different than it does for you. In fact, I hope it does. I follow Jesus by preaching the Gospel and equipping other believers to do the same. Your path probably will look different than mine. Perhaps you’ll follow Jesus by teaching English in some school in Indonesia and by doing so, lead hundreds of Indonesian children to Jesus.
Last week we talked about telling a good story with your life. We talked about going into all the world and making disciples. After the service an interesting question was posed to me. In reference to making disciples, someone asked “how?” That may have been a question you were all thinking, but only one person asked. It made me think, though. How does one go about making disciples? Here’s the answer I’ve come up with. Ready?
I don’t know.
Now before you get frustrated and throw vegetables at me, let me clarify. I do know how to make disciples, but there’s no formula I can teach you that will show you step-by-step how to make a disciple. It’s not like putting together a puzzle. The pieces don’t all fit together nicely. There’s no Jesus yardstick you can hold up to someone and tell how much they’ve grown. “Why look at you! You’ve grown 3 Jesus inches this month!” It doesn’t work that way. Disciple making is a messy business because people are messy. Relationships are difficult at best and that’s what disciple making is based on. So when Jesus said “go into all the world and make disciples” what he was saying was “go into all the world, build relationships with people, live like I lived, and show them how to live like me too.”
This is much harder than getting people to say a prayer. This is much harder than inviting people to come to church. You see, I can preach the gospel. I can give the plan of salvation. But I can’t disciple everyone. I can’t be involved in everyone’s life. I can’t go to breakfast with everyone. I can’t pour my life into everyone. First of all, not everyone likes me. I know that’s shocking to you, but it’s true. I just don’t get along with everyone. In those cases, I would not be a good discipler. There are only so many people I can have close relationships with. There are only so many people I can really influence. So bring your friends, let me preach to them. Then you go take them to lunch and talk about the message. You ask them questions and let them ask questions of you. You search for the answers. You go and make disciples too. You can make your life count for the Kingdom.
So how do you start? You start by building relationships. You start by getting to know the people around you. You start by engaging people. Living a life of significance starts with leaving behind avarice and wanton desire to pursue something greater than yourself. Relationship by definition involves two people. When two people are involved, there is always give and take. When there is give and take, I don’t always get my way. When I don’t get my way, it means that someone else is getting theirs.
As we begin a new year together I want us to commit to making disciples. I want us to commit to real lifechange. I want us to commit to being different people on December 31 than we are on January 1. This semester (January-May) we’re going to talk about living Missional lives. This means being intentional with your time, talents, and tithes to reach a world that desperately needs Christ. We watched a video to begin the message. It talked about being a trader, trading in the American dream for a world that desperately needs Jesus. This is called being Missional, living your life on a mission. Your mission will be different than mine. It may take you further away than you ever dreamed. It may leave you right here. I can tell you that I didn’t want to live in East Texas after I graduated college. I had no desire to come back to this area. What I found was that because of my background in East Texas, I was uniquely suited to do the kind of work I’m doing here. I wouldn’t be as effective in the DFW metroplex. I was suited for this area. Perhaps you’ll find the same thing out about yourself.
As we talk about making disciples and living a Missional life, I want to draw your attention to a specific passage of scripture in the book of Matthew. Throughout this study in January, we’re going to be bouncing around in scripture quite a bit, but the whole idea starts with this passage.
Jesus seems to put an emphasis on serving others. Indeed, he seems to promise terrible things to those of us who refuse to take care of “the least of these.” Righteousness seems to be determined (according to this passage) by serving others, especially those who don’t have what we have or live like we live. In fact it seems that this act of faithfulness or lack of faithfulness has eternal significance. What a terrifying thing to encounter!
What is Jesus really saying here? Is it true that all I have to do is give to the poor and I’ll be saved? Of course not. Don’t hear me say that, because it’s not the truth. Your salvation is dependent upon one thing and one thing alone, deciding to follow Jesus. In order to be saved you must recognize that your only hope is Jesus. He came to earth, lived a perfect life, died as a sacrifice for all of our sins, was buried in a tomb, and rose from the grave. You can have eternal life only because of the gracious gift of God. You must decide to follow Jesus and make him your focus.
What is being said here is this: following Jesus looks like serving “the least of these.” If you’re wondering how to follow Jesus, if you’re wondering how to make disciples, if you’re wondering how all of this works, this is your passage to reference. Following Jesus looks like feeding the hungry. It looks like giving the thirsty something to drink. Following Jesus looks like visiting the sick and those in prison. It looks like clothing the naked and providing shelter for the homeless. It is true that Jesus came to save everyone in the world, but the people he ministered to while he was on earth were the sick and lonely, the mistreated and put down. He came to the sinners, those who needed a Savior.
In this passage in Matthew Jesus encounters a young man who has a lot of money. When asked by this young man what he had to do to inherit eternal life, Jesus told him to sell all his possessions and give the money to the poor. Why? Is money bad? Why is it that Jesus says rich people will have a hard time entering into the Kingdom of Heaven? Jesus himself said it would be easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into heaven. This caused his disciples to remark, “Who then can be saved?”
It is difficult for those who have spent all their lives chasing the American Dream to suddenly give it up. It is hard for people who have for so long put their faith in money to stop worrying about money. It’s incredibly difficult for someone to throw out their whole source of security and trust completely in a God they’ve never seen. Yet that’s what Jesus was asking the rich young man to do. Get rid of your identity, give it all to those less fortunate than you, and follow me, cling to me, trust me to provide for you. The young man couldn’t handle that lack of control, so he went away sad.
It’s hard to change everything about the way you’ve always lived. It’s difficult to embrace something so entirely new and radical, especially if the old way has been your way of life for a long time. Jesus is the way to eternal life. He is the only way. It’s not Jesus plus something else. You can’t have Jesus be your Savior and not have him as your Lord. You either follow Jesus or you don’t. It seems like to follow Jesus you have to do away with all your plans and take his plans for your life. The problem is we all want to be that guy that Jesus calls to make a billion dollars and then give away 900 million. You see the benefit there don’t you? You’d still have 100 million to do with what you want. Jesus does call some people to do that, but most of us he calls to be the ones in the trenches, getting filthy building relationships.
1 Corinthians 13
Paul got it. He understood what it was Jesus was talking about. He understood what he was supposed to do. He spent his life traveling around the Roman Empire starting churches. He would preach the gospel, see people saved, and then start a church so they could continue the work. He poured his life and his knowledge into others so they might, in turn, reach even more people. He spent his life serving Jesus.
In 1 Corinthians 13 Paul gives us a “more excellent way.” Love is the answer. It doesn’t matter how gifted or talented you are or are not. If you have love, you have the most excellent way. Love is what defines us as Disciples of Christ. Love is what sets us apart. Love is what makes us do crazy things for the Kingdom. Love is the answer. Good deeds can be manufactured. Fruitful works can be conjured. Love cannot be faked. If our love is for Jesus it will flow from us like a river. His life will erupt from us like a fountain. If we are in love with Jesus it will spill out onto everyone with whom we come in contact. Love is the answer. How will we know you are a disciple of Jesus? You will feed hungry people. You will give thirsty people something to drink. You will clothe the naked and shelter the homeless. You will love.
Why do good works, though? Aren’t we supposed to be making disciples? I’m glad you asked those questions.
This past Wednesday 17 of us went to Mission Arlington. We spent the day playing with kids at an apartment complex, sorting through donations brought by people, picking up donations of larger items, and generally helping out wherever we could. This wasn’t very glamorous work. I didn’t preach to crowds of people. We didn’t see revival break out. As far as I know no one prayed to receive Jesus. What was the benefit? Whenever we take groups to Mission Arlington, the people who work there tell us one thing. We do all of this stuff so that people will hear better. They meet physical needs so they might be able to better share the truth of Jesus. They provide furniture so that someone might attend a Bible study and be exposed to the message of salvation. Everything they do is so that they might share the gospel.
You want to know how to make disciples? This is it. You start by building friendships with people. You start by being a true friend to those already around you. It’s not a hard thing; it just requires time and effort. It requires you to be intentional about what you’re doing. Why don’t you share the gospel more? You’re afraid. You’re afraid of what someone might think. You’re afraid of what someone might say. You’re afraid you might not have all the answers. You’re afraid the other person might not listen to you because they know you too well. I go back to the question I posed last week. If someone were to follow you would they get to Jesus or someplace else?
What would it look like if your faith was alive, like James talks about? What would it look like if you lived like Jesus? What would it look like if you determined how much it would take for you to live and then you gave sacrificially to the Kingdom? What would it look like if you built relationships with people so they could see the Gospel in your life? This is far different than sharing the plan of salvation with someone or leaving a tract on someone’s doorstep. It requires effort. It’s messy. Do you think your life would be different? Do you think you would do different things? What would it be like if the love of Jesus was evident in your life?
You see, the love of Jesus not only makes our lives better, it makes others’ lives better as well. When we really get it and start to live like Jesus, we begin to seek out opportunities where we might serve other people.
We can close our eyes to the world. We can live how we want to live. God has given us free will. You really can do whatever you want with your life. You can chase the American Dream. You can pursue wealth and power. You can close your eyes to what is going on in the world. You can put your fingers in your ears and refuse to listen to the cries of those who are hurting. You can change the channel when things come on TV that make you uncomfortable. You can live your own life. But you can’t have it both ways. You can’t have your life and Jesus’ too.
We’re faced with a tough decision, then. Do I pursue my own desires or do I pursue Jesus? If I pursue Jesus, then my life is going to change. I’m going to go to different places. I’m going to do different things. I’m going to make different relationships. Jesus calls us to make disciples. He calls us to minister to “the least of these.” They are the same call.
What are you willing to trade in to pursue Jesus? Perhaps the better question is what are you not willing to trade? If “the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it” then nothing really belongs to us anyway. What is it you’re unwilling to part with? What is it you’re afraid of losing? It belongs to Jesus anyway. Why not give it back to him? Why not make that part of your sacrifice?
The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few, Jesus says. Then he said to pray to the Lord of the harvest that he might send more workers into the field. There are almost 7 billion people in the world and only 2 billion professing Christians. The harvest is plentiful. Pray that God will send more workers into the field to share the burden of the harvest. My prayer for you is that you will take up the sickle and enter the field. My prayer for you is that you will get it and make your life more missional, more focused.
We talked about this passage last week. Paul says that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved! That’s encouraging! But how can they call on his name unless they believe in him? And how can they believe unless they’ve heard about him? How can they hear about him unless someone preaches to them? How can someone preach unless he or she is sent? When you look at this passage you see a definite progression: send, preach, hear, believe, call. We have been sent out by Jesus. If we preach, people will hear. Not all who hear will believe, but certainly some will. When they believe they will call on his name. The only step in the process in which we have any control is the preaching. We have been sent. People can’t believe unless they hear and they can’t call unless they believe. If we don’t preach, they don’t hear. We have to preach the good news. We have to tell people about Jesus.
What are you willing to trade in so that someone may hear the gospel? What are you willing to do without? Where are you willing to go? What are you willing to change about yourself?
Last week I put forth a challenge I got from the book Radical by David Platt. It’s a challenge for one year. I believe if we will commit to this challenge together for one year we will see not only a change in our own lives, but a change in this church and this community. It’s a 5-step plan. I hope you’ll write these 5 steps down and commit to pursuing them.
- Commit to pray for the whole world
- Commit to read the entire Word
- Commit to sacrifice your money for a specific, Kingdom-centered purpose
- Commit to spend your time in another context
- Commit your life to a multiplying community
What will your life look like on December 31, 2011 if you commit to these 5 things for a year? There are plans available for reading through the Bible in one year. I’ll be glad to help you find one that fits your life. There are websites that will help you pray for the world specifically, country by country.
Personally, I’ve committed to praying for each of the continents one day a week with the seventh day spent on the 10/40 window. This is an area of the world within the latitudes of 10 and 40 degrees in which most of the unreached population lives.
If you need a cause to get behind financially, come find me or Tim, Amanda, Angie, Kristine, Cassie or anyone else in leadership. There are countless opportunities to which you can give.
Spending your time in another context is easy, too. Platt recommends spending 2% of your year in some other context. This comes out to about 1 week. That’s easy. It doesn’t even have to be all at the same time. We just spent a day in Arlington. Six more fulfills that commitment.
If you need help coming up with something we would be more than willing to help you. There are possibilities coming up this summer if you want to do something more adventurous. Just spend your time learning how other people live. I guarantee you it will help with sacrificing your money.
Finally, commit your life to a multiplying community. This is more than simply membership. It’s easy to take a membership class and join a church. That’s not what we’re asking for. We want you to commit your life to a community of faith. We’d love for it to be here at Cornerstone. We think that we’re much stronger together than any one of us is alone. We have a membership class coming up on January 16. This is the perfect opportunity for you to come and ask questions. There’s just something about entering into a covenant with a group that gives you a sense of belonging and purpose. That’s what we want for you.
I hope you understand what it is I’ve been talking about. I want Jesus to take complete control of your life and for it to never be the same. I hope you become radical with your love and that you’ll give it away freely. I hope you serve “the least of these.” I hope you’ll make disciples.
What will your life be like in one year?