Sometimes life can be a bit of a puzzle. There are so many decisions to make, so many unknowns in life. What is it all about? How can I live my life so that in the end it will make a beautiful picture?
Have you ever bought a puzzle at a thrift store, put it together only to find when you ran out of pieces that there were holes in your puzzle? How frustrating! Sometimes you may feel as if life is a puzzle with pieces missing. On the other hand, when you complete a puzzle and all the pieces are in place, it feels good.
We have been talking about “The Purpose Driven Life.” Which helps us put together the puzzle of life so that it makes a beautiful picture. This puzzle has 5 pieces.
Each piece is important to make a complete picture. We have one more piece to put in place and then I will make a few comments about the whole picture.
Talking about a life of purpose dovetails nicely with an opportunity to challenge and encourage those of you who are being baptized today. As you continue in your life in Christ, following this significant step, we want to encourage you to do it with purpose.
So let’s begin by talking about the last piece of the puzzle.
I have met people who have never been out of the province of Manitoba. I suspect there are people in Winnipeg who have never been outside the perimeter. I have also met people who have seldom been outside of the community in which were born and grew up. Their entire world was bound up in that little community and consequently, their world was pretty small, which is sad in a way because there is a large and amazing world out there.
The same kind of parochial thinking can happen in Christians. We discover the warmth and safety of the Christian community and are afraid to venture outside of that circle. As much as possible, we live in the Christian world, trying to go to Christian businesses, meeting only with Christian friends and spending much time in church. If that is where our whole world is, then we have missed out on the last piece of the puzzle which makes for a purpose driven life and that is the call to mission which we as Christians have on our life. We need to connect with the much larger world out there so that we can fulfill our mission to that world. Following the resurrection, Jesus said to his disciples, in John 20:21 - “…As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”
The mission on which we have been sent is important for many reasons.
It is important because God intendeds for us to continue the work that Jesus did while He was on earth. Luke is the writer of the books of Luke and Acts. In Acts 1:1,2, he wrote, “…I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven…” If the Gospel of Luke describes what Jesus began to do, what Luke is saying is that Acts describes what Jesus continued to do - after he left this earth. Thus the work of the church which began on the day of Pentecost and continues to this day, is the work of Jesus. Matthew 28:19-20 commissions us when it says, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations...”
To be involved in such a mission is also important because it is such a great privilege. I know how many of us are quick to return a favour. If someone invites us for dinner, we are grateful and want to invite them back. If someone gives us some of their time, we would want to return the favour. How much more is it natural for us to return to God the tremendous blessings we have received from Him. II Corinthians 5:18 reminds us, “…God… reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation…”
One of the statements for which Christians have always gotten in trouble is that found in Acts 4:12 which says, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” Yet it is this very passage which motivates us to mission. When we look at the people around us, see their burdens, baggage, struggles and lost condition and know they need Jesus, we are motivated by God’s love to realize that if we don’t bring them the word of salvation, they will not hear it.
We have often heard people say, “you can’t take it with you,” but that is not entirely true. There is one thing you can take with you and that is lost souls. We can involve ourselves in many activities and tasks which have benefit for the present, but when we are involved in mission, we are involved in something that has eternal significance. It is an investment that will never fail, one that has a guaranteed return on investment and has an eternal pay out. John 9:4 encourages us, “As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work.”
I feel sorry for people who fritter their life away going to the coffee shop and watching TV. If we begin each day asking, “God, how can my life make a difference to someone today?” we will live with meaning. Then there will always be something to do, something to focus on, something of value on the horizon. Paul reflected on the meaning of his life when he talked to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:24. He said, “However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.”
A perspective on this mission which we don’t often think about is that God’s timetable for his return is connected to the great commission. Although we don’t know when Christ will return, nor how God will evaluate the timing, there is a connection between our mission and Christ’s return. The Bible says in Matthew 24:14, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” Rather than allow this to turn us to end time speculation, it should move us into the work of mission.
Finally, the mission of God is important because, as Warren notes, of all the five purposes, only mission can be done only on earth. All the others will continue in heaven, but when Christ returns, this mission will be completed.
So the conclusion is quite clear - we have a mission to fulfil. How will we do it?
I have presented a concept several times which I have hoped will help us put ourselves in the place to fulfill our mission. I have called it the 4x4 concept. There are four things we can do:
1. Pray and ask God to reveal four people whom He wants us to influence towards God and write those four names down.
2. Pray for those four people. Ask God to stir their hearts and to draw them to Himself.
3. Make plans to enter into a genuine friendship with these people. Be very careful, however, not to relate to them as a project. They will see right through that.
4. When the time is right, speak to them about the things of the Lord. This may well be the most difficult step of fulfilling mission and therefore it requires preparation. Warren has a number of good things to say about preparing to share our faith verbally. We should write out our own story of how we became a Christian. This may well be the first thing that should be spoken, a simple story of how God has come to live in us. Furthermore, it would be good to frequently write out how God continues to help us and relates to us. Write out the most recent experience of God’s grace in your life. Keep it handy until a new experience happens and then write it out. Then it is also good to memorize a few key verses which will help you share the message of the Gospel using Biblical words. Know and write out what you would say to lead a person to Christ.
I want to encourage all of us to begin to work the 4x4 plan in our lives. At the root, it involves loving people as God does.
But mission involves also having the broader world perspective. Although I do not believe that all of us will go on mission to other countries, we still need to have a world perspective and a world wide involvement.
There are some here who may already have or will one day have the call of God to go to another place or another culture. All of us should examine the possibility, perhaps by becoming involved in some short term possibility. But let’s not ignore the opportunities that are close at hand. Involvement in Union Gospel Mission, Inner City Youth Alive, Café 75 or other such organizations are great opportunities for involvement and for testing further involvement. We seem to have the idea that VBS and camp are ministries for young people, but we should not dismiss the possibility of getting involved in these opportunities. Paul encourages us to openness in I Corinthians 10:33 when he says, “even as I try to please everybody in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.”
Giving is something all of us can do and also do. Although our tithing ought to be directed to our local church, our giving should not be limited to tithing. Some of you have been given the opportunity to make a lot of money and I want to encourage you to respond to that blessing by seeing your involvement in mission as making as much as you can and giving as much as you can.
Another thing that all of us can do and should do is pray. Warren says, “World-class Christians pray for the world.”
He has some good suggestions about what to pray for. We should pray for:
Opportunities - Colossians 4:3 - “And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message...”
Courage - Ephesians 6:19 - “Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth…I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel,”
For Those Who Will Believe - John 17:20 - “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message,”
For Workers - Matthew 9:38 - “Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”
As we remember that we have been made for mission, I want to invite all of us to think deeply about what that means for our life. As we do, let us keep in mind the blessing of God’s promise when He says in Mark 8:35, “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.” This is not a threat, as we have sometimes taken it, but a blessing. Abundant life is found when we are involved in God’s mission.
So now we have all the pieces of the puzzle together. They can be described in terms of 5 relationships
In relationship to God, we were “Planned For God’s Pleasure.” It must be our purpose to worship.
In relationship to the church, we were “Formed for God’s Family.” It must be our purpose to belong to a body of believers and to be in an accountable relationship.
In relationship to Christ, we were “Created To Become Like Christ.” Spiritual growth and maturing must be a part of our life.
In relationship to God and to one another, we were “Shaped For Service.” Serving must be in our life activities.
And in relationship to the world, we were “Made For A Mission.” There is a world-wide task for us.
Last week, our daughter Kristen, who is an assistant manager in a hotel, told us about an angry customer. This person had received an extra charge on her bill for smoking. She confronted Kristen and when Kristen inquired further, she found out that the person admitted that she had been smoking, she admitted that she had seen the sign that said no smoking and that you would be fined if you did, but she did it anyway and was now upset that she had actually been charged. When I heard this story, her anger seemed a little puzzling. She knew what was the right thing to do, knew the consequences of failing to do the right thing, but didn’t do the right thing. John 13:17 says, “Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.”
For those of you who are being baptized, I want to encourage you to act on what you have heard today and over the last few weeks. Today is such a significant day in your Christian life. You are not hiding your faith, but making it public. You are saying that God is important to you and you are trusting Him. Therefore, I want to encourage you to make these purposes central to your life as you continue to walk in your Christian life. After you are baptized, you will be receiving the book, “The Purpose Driven Life” and I want to encourage you to read it and to take time with your mentor to go through it so that you can learn more and make God’s purposes central in your walk with Him.
Of course the challenge is not only for those who are being baptized, it is for all of us. Proverbs 19:21 is a good reminder of the value of a purpose driven life because when it says, “Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” If we are in line with the Lord’s plans, then we also will prevail.
The beginning of living on purpose is to make a commitment to do it. One of the best ways to make such a commitment is to write it down. I would encourage you to write out a life purpose statement based on the concepts we have been looking at. As you write it out, perhaps you can ask yourself a series of questions:
a. What will be the centre of my life? - the question of worship.
b. What will be the character of my life? - the question of discipleship.
c. What will be the contribution of my life? - question of service
d. What will be the communication of my life? - question of mission.
e. What will be the community of my life? - question of fellowship.
The first step of a purpose driven life is to commit to it.
But, we also need to think about how we will live it. I recently heard about a woman who was addicted to sugar. She ate a 5 pound bag of sugar every week and she did it by eating as much as a spoonful at a time. I would say that her diet was seriously out of balance. If we want to be physically healthy, a balanced diet is important.
As we live by these five purposes, we need to live them in balance. There are people who get all excited about one purpose and forget about the others. Perhaps they rejoice about the importance of their relationship with God and focus all their energy on that, but live without a connection to a local church.
Each of the five purposes is solidly grounded in Scripture and if we miss one or emphasize one less, we will have serious gaps in our lives. God intends each of these purposes to be a part of our life and so we need to work at balancing them.
So what are the practical things that we can do to live by the commitment of the purpose driven life?
Just as a physical check up at a doctor is helpful to maintaining health, so also, a regular spiritual check up will help us evaluate these purposes in our life. From time to time, it is good to get away from the regular routines of life in order to think about life. Without noise, without distraction, we can think in the presence of God and examine our lives. There are two things that we need to evaluate. First of all we should ask, “am I living by purpose?” “Am I still pursuing a life of purpose or have I slipped back into the habit of living for the moment or for my own pleasure?” The other thing to ask is “How’s the balance?” I wrote out a purpose statement a number of years ago and have kept a copy of it. From time to time, I look at it to see if it still reflects what my life is all about and if I am involved in all the things on the list.
Another helpful habit of purpose is accountability. We need to recognize that we are weak and we need the help of others to keep us accountable. It is a great idea to give permission to someone you trust to ask you from time to time, “Are you living by purpose?” or “How is the balance in your life?” Just knowing someone could ask you these questions is already a tremendous help in living with purpose.
Briefly stated, two other habits can be helpful. Warren says, “a journey deserves a journal.” We are on a journey of growth and discovery and when we write out what happens on the journey, it helps us remember lessons we have learned and it also helps us reflect on truths we are wrestling with.
Communicating to others what is happening to us also helps us live by purpose. What you talk about sticks better with you.
Have you ever thought you were born in the wrong time? Perhaps you think that you would have fit better in another age. Maybe you think that if you had been born in the middle ages, in the days of knights and princesses, that would have been a lot better. Maybe the days of the American frontier sound much more exciting to you. Wishing these things won’t make them so. We were born now and in this place and with our own background and with our particular personality. What is more, it is not by accident, God has had his hand in this. Therefore, instead of looking to another time and another place, we need to ask, “How will I use who I am, in the time I have been born in order to be faithful to God?
The answer is to live the purpose driven life. Warren mentions Acts 13:36 which says, “For when David had served God’s purpose in his own generation, he fell asleep...” He notes in particular the phrase, “served God’s purpose in his own generation” and writes, “You do the eternal and timeless in a contemporary and timely way.”
May we see ourselves through God’s eyes and live our lives for the purposes of God in our own time and according to who we are so that in the end, all glory will go to God. May God bless each of us and particularly those of you who are being baptized towards this end.