You Are Here:
Placed with a Purpose
Jeff Jones, Senior Pastor
July 31/August 1, 2009
You are here. That’s the new series we are starting today, and before I jump in let me say that I am so glad to be here. I had a great break, first part vacation and second part study break, and many of you prayed that it would be a refreshing time, a spiritually rich time, and a productive time—and God made all those requests come true—so thank you very much for your prayers for me. And I also was deeply moved by the opportunity to pray for you, those who wrote out prayer requests that last week I was here before break. Thank you for that, too. And now I am back, and I have to tell you that I was very homesick for Chase Oaks. I could not have stayed gone one more week. So, I am very glad to be here.
This series we start today, You are Here, focuses on the basic and profound truth that God has placed you and me where he has for a very strategic reason. Where you are, your neighborhood, your family, your place of work, your social circles--none of that is accidental. You are there because you have been place there.
That’s important to realize, because I think that many of us who really want to be used by God in big ways assume that whatever ministry God has for us is out there somewhere. Like Dorothy singing somewhere over the rainbow, we can easily look past our current lives looking for that ministry out there somewhere that God has for us. Years back as a young believer, I was pretty sure that serving God meant moving to somewhere like Africa, and I was ready to go, to find my somewhere out there.
In fact, many of the prayer requests that I prayed for were about this very thing, people who wanted to be used by God and wanted me to pray that God will guide them to that place of ministry, presumably out there somewhere. And there may be a ministry for you and me somewhere out there, but for now, guess what. Your greatest ministry and my greatest ministry is not out there somewhere, but it is right now, right where God has placed us. Our greatest ministry is right in front of our noses!
We can easily miss what God wants to do, if we don’t really get this concept today. And over the centuries, we as Christians have had this somewhere over the rainbow mentality a long time, assuming that meaningful ministry was somewhere else, somewhere out there. In the NT book of 1 Corinthians, Paul challenges this tendency in their thinking. These were new Christians, who had just come to Christ in the most pagan city on the planet in that era. They were new believers and were excited and wanted to make an impact, so they began to leave their current job situations and relationships in order to find the ministry “out there” for them. Paul writes to say, “No! Don’t go anywhere. You have been placed where you are for a reason. You are leaving your most important ministry opportunity—those people in your life right where you are!”
He talks about this in 1 Corinthians 7. One situation was married people who came to know Christ whose spouse had not converted. Their spouses were still serving the Roman and Greek pantheon of gods, still worshiping in the temples by having sex with temple prostitutes, and had no use for Jesus Christ. So, these newly converted Christian spouses assumed that the best thing to do was to leave their spouses, so that they could be free to jump into that ministry out there somewhere unencumbered by their non-believing spouses. So Paul says,
Slide: ______________ ) 1 Cor. 7:12b-13
If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. 13And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. Why was this so important to Paul? He says it:
Slide: ______________ ) 1 Cor. 7:16
16How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or, how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife? Then he gives this important command, repeated throughout the chapter:
Slide: ______________ ) 1 Cor. 7:17
17Nevertheless, each one should retain the place in life that the Lord assigned to him and to which God has called him. Paul is saying, “God has placed you there in that home. That was no accident. It is an assignment, an opportunity to impact that non-believing spouse. Don’t leave your calling right in front of you for some phantom calling somewhere out there!
He continues with this same way of thinking, but this time about social circles. He says,
Slide: ______________ ) 1 Cor. 7:18
18Was a man already circumcised when he was called? He should not become uncircumcised. Was a man uncircumcised when he was called? He should not be circumcised. He tells them, Stay as you are! And the uncircumcised men in Corinth who might be thinking they should get circumcised said, “Amen!” But it wasn’t about that, it was about their social network. He is saying, “You are going to jump into church life and build community with other believers, but don’t do so in a way that separates you from these friendships you already have. Don’t leave your social circles now that you are a believer. God has maybe your greatest ministry right there in those circles with your non-believing friends.
Then Paul moves to the subject of work. Now, in that day, many of the new converts to Christianity were slaves. About 1/3 people in the Roman Empire were slaves, and because of the whole equality aspect of Christianity, many slaves were coming to know Christ. Because of that essential equality, some Christians thought they needed to escape that situation to be free to pursue ministry out there somewhere. They felt stuck, unable to pursue what God had for them. But Paul says this:
Slide: ______________ ) 1 Cor. 7:21-22, 24
21Were you a slave when you were called? Don't let it trouble you—although if you can gain your freedom, do so. 22For he who was a slave when he was called by the Lord is the Lord's freedman; similarly, he who was a free man when he was called is Christ's slave. . . 24Brothers, each man, as responsible to God, should remain in the situation God called him to.
Do you see Paul’s challenge! Stay where you are, because you have been placed there by God. Resist the somewhere out there temptation, assuming that your best ministry is out there. You have spend months and years in your social circles, your places of work, your families, your marriages building relationships and credibility—so if you want to know where God can use you most, you don’t have to look far! You are surrounded by people that God loves, most of whom do not yet know him.
The Bible is challenging us, as Drew did a few weeks ago in the Blind Spots series, to avoid the bubble, to avoid what seems unfortunately to happen to many people when they come to know Christ, to migrate away from their relationships, their social circles they had before, and be completely surrounded by fellow believers. This trend is so strong that a study was done on what happens in American churches when people come to know Christ, and the conclusion was that it takes about two years for the process to be pretty much complete…that in two years, the person pretty much is so busy with their church and with their believing friends that they have no significant friendships with non-churched people. In their well-meaning attempt to grow spiritually and surround themselves with Christian community, they did not “remain in the situation in which you were called,” and bailed out on the ministry God had placed right in front of them.
Think about your own life. What is your trend line? Are you increasingly engaged in loving and relating to those that God has placed in your world who might be far from God, or is your trend line the opposite direction?
You know, about once a month I have a conversation with someone who believes God has called them to “be in ministry.” For them, that means that they should quit their job, go to seminary, and get a full-time ministry job. And for some people that really may be the thing to do, but I really push on that first. Because what Paul is saying is this, “Your ministry is right in front of you. You’ve already been called to ministry and assigned a position. You are in your work place for a reason. You are in your family, in your neighborhood, on your sports team—because you have been placed there. Don’t be so quick to leave it. I was actually delighted to talk to someone last year who was leaving full-time ministry in a church to go back to his career. He felt guilty about it, like he was bailing out on God, but he said, “I honestly think I had more impact there then I do in full-time ministry.” The truth is, he was already in full-time ministry right where he was. Nothing to feel guilty about. He probably should have never left where he was in the first place, but very cool to be going back.
This is one of the reasons at Chase Oaks we have a very simple ministry model, meaning that we are a church essentially built around this large group experience we are in right now, plus the life group experience, and then ways to engage and serve our community. We do have other ministries and opportunities, but we work hard to limit those, which is not easy to do. Constantly we have the conversation on staff about how to keep ministry simple, because we could easily load up our ministry model with a million good things for Christians to be engaged in. And we always have a bunch of new people in the church with a great heart for some of those new things who want to help start some new ministry. We are extremely slow to do that, because we don’t want to happen at Chase Oaks what happens at most churches, and that is Christians getting so busy being around other Christians that they have no time for those God has placed in their lives who do not yet know Christ. We don’t want a ministry model that pulls people out of the very relationships God has placed in our lives to reach out to.
So, what does this mean for you? It means you really don’t have to look very far for your calling, your assignment from God. It is right in front of you, not necessarily somewhere out there. So, don’t abandon your calling. God’s primary way to reach people is very simple: one by one, through relationships with his followers. Sure, some might be reached through media or through some big crusade, but most of the people in this room were reached by a person. Just think about the person that God used in your life to reach out to you. Who was that person? Maybe they invited you to church, or they reached out to you somehow in a way that helped lead you to relationship with Christ, or at least to a process of seeing if there is something to Christianity. Aren’t you glad that they were there for you?
Yet, just staying where you are isn’t the total answer. It is very easy as a believer to be in our environments around non-believing people and be pretty ineffective. Just being there doesn’t do very much. We are to be there with a purpose, understanding that we are on assignment. We are on mission.
I want you to turn the page to 1 Corinthians 9, where we see this sense of purpose illustrated in the apostle Paul. You have to love Paul, because this guy was a guy on mission, a man whose every decision was driven by the passion to be used by God to reach people for Christ. This guy wasn’t just there, he was there with a mission. And I want us to be challenged by that, because in 1 Corinthians 9, he just lays his heart out there. Think about yourself, in whatever environment outside church God has placed you, and ask yourself, “How would I live in that environment differently, if I had the same passion?”
Slide: ______________ ) 1 Cor. 9:19-23
Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law), so as to win those not having the law. 22To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings. Paul is saying he adapts his whole way of life to whatever is best to reach as many as possible. It is the gospel, the good news about Jesus coming into this world to save us from sin, that drives him in every relationship he has. He then illustrates this with sports, verse 24:
Slide: ______________ ) 1 Cor. 9:24-27
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. Paul is of course saying this to the Corinthians, and one thing you have to know about Corinth is they were a sports obsessed culture. We are too. Any Cowboys fans out there? Not as many as there used to be, but there are some there. Any Aggies? Longhorns? Can I hear a Roll Tide? For the Corinthians, sports were such a big deal that they like all Greeks measured time by sports events. The Greek calendar started at the date of the first Olympic Games on Mount Olympus, which in Paul’s time still took place every four years. Almost as big as the Olympics though were the Isthmian games, called that because they took place, every 3 years, on an isthmus (remember that word from geography?)…and that isthmus was the same small stretch of land that held the city of Corinth. So, every three years, the town was invaded by athletes and fans from all over the empire for the games. Paul draws on that image that would be so familiar to everyone listening to this letter being read. Everyone had seen how hard the athletes train and prepare. They had seen how much they work out and practice. The Greek word for these work out facilities is gymnasia, which we still use when we talk about going to the gym. But that Greek word literally means nude, because that’s how they competed--in the nude. That’s probably also why they worked out so hard, because they knew they’d be naked in front of thousands of people. I know I’d be working out more if I knew that was going to happen to me. But the Greeks were not squeamish about nudity, and it was just part of their athletic culture. Not my thing, but I’m not ancient Greek.
So Paul is drawing on the illustration of how focused these athletes are on winning. They aren’t just there to run around the track for fun. They are in the race to win. They don’t just go into the boxing ring because they like flailing their arms around like Richard Simmons. They go into the ring to knock the other person out, to win. Athletes compete to win the prize, they are in it to win it.
It’s like coaching hockey. I’ve coached some kids that are great kids, but they aren’t in the game to win. It’s like they don’t really know that their job is to score a goal or to keep the other team from scoring. There’s no passion, no eye of the tiger look to them. They are just kind of skating around. I want to say, “Have you thought about figure skating?” But those kids usually don’t stay in the sport long, because the other kids are there to win. That’s the point. We aren’t just there on the ice because we like gliding on frozen water. We are there to win. When I was little though I fell into that with t-ball when I was five. I didn’t quite get the whole winning thing. I was excited to be there because of my friends, whether on our team or on the other team. So, one of the problems my coach had with me is if I’d get on base at first, I would often leave the base to run over to my buddy in the outfield or on third base just to say hi. I’d then be thrown out pretty easily. I didn’t get the whole in it to win it.
Paul was in every relationship he was in because he wanted to win as many as possible to relationship with Christ, and therefore he was willing to do anything he had to do to help connect people to God. That was his passion. Like an athlete, he was in it to win it. He wasn’t just there, he was there to help connect people to God. He was absolutely convinced that the greatest thing he could do for people he cared about was to show them the way to have a life, changing, life-giving relationship with God. His model urges us on to be so focused. So, let’s apply that to in two ways: first to church life, and then to us as Christ-followers in the environments God has placed us in.
As a church, what does this mean? It means that we are not just here in this community to be here; we are here with a mission, a purpose. It is our calling to be to do whatever we can to connect people to God, to display his love, to serve those God wants us to reach out to. We aren’t just here. We are here on mission. And at Chase Oaks it is that mission that drives everything we do. That’s why our ministry model is on the front end, come as you are…in the middle, be transformed, and then be equipped to make a difference. On the front end of engagement, we work hard to build an environment that is relevant, a come as you are environment here in this worship service that makes it easy for people to come and connect to God. A relevant environment isn’t just our idea; it is a biblical idea. That’s Paul’s point when he says, “When I’m ministering in a Jewish community, I do life and ministry as if I was Jewish. When I’m in a Gentile environment, I do life and ministry as if I was a Gentile. It’s not about my preferences, but about what is most relevant to the people I’m reaching.” Even Paul’s illustration of the Greek games is a great example of that. He was writing to Corinth, and writing positively about the Greek games is something they could all relate to. He is being relevant. Yet, Paul was not Gentile by background. He was Jewish, and to Jews the Greek games were offensive, because of the whole nudity thing. The Jews didn’t participate in the games or attend them, because they considered them lewd and vile. But Paul admires the dedication of the athletes, chooses to be flexible about the whole competing in the nude thing, and uses the positive illustration. If he was writing the book of Hebrews, which was to Jews, he would never do that. But in writing to Corinth, doing so makes all the sense in the world to communicate to the Corinthians.
I realize that for some of you, building a relevant environment sometimes is a stretch, when we pull certain art forms or music or illustration from culture. But Paul was saying, I’ll do anything short of sin to reach as many as possible. I’ll adapt to those I’m called to reach. I’ll stretch my own comfort zone, leave my own preferences, to reach as many as I can reach. That is our same commitment. And I know that this stretches some people. Also, the whole energy in our church is designed to go outward, not inward…meaning that we don’t just want to mature people, we want to empower people to make a difference in our world, the energy to spin out to bring mercy and justice and love to those who are hurting, to do all we can to help as many as possible connect to God through faith in Christ. We want to change not only our own lives but also be used by God to bring change in our city and in our world. We are here with a purpose.
Yet, that kind of church isn’t for everybody. I just received a letter while I was away on study break from someone who is leaving our church because they just can’t handle that commitment. They were very nice about it and said, “We are glad that you want to reach people for Christ, and believe you are doing a great job doing that, but this style of church is just not for us. We are wanting a different kind of church.” So, I wrote back and gave them a few suggestions to try of churches that are really not into the relevant environment idea. I don’t get it. Not compelling to me. But I understand not everyone wants to jump on board a commitment like Paul had.
As a church though, we are in it to win it, and we will make some mistakes, but they will be with the intent to win as many people as possible, to make as much of a difference as we can make. We aren’t just here. We are here with a mission.
What does this mean for each of us as individual Christ-followers? Again, realize that God has placed you right where he has for a reason. That job, that neighborhood, that marriage, that family situation, your social circle—none of them are accidental. They are assignments.
The coolest thing about this assignment is that we are not alone. God is our partner, he is the one who works in people’s lives to draw people to himself, and if we are willing he will use us in the process. That of course means that we are available to him and intentional on the mission he gave us. The reality is that living missionally with the people around us is not rocket science. It does take intent, but it isn’t complicated. And if we are open, God is the one who will open the doors for us to walk through in people’s lives. We don’t have to force things.
I was reminded of this on vacation a few weeks ago. Christy and I celebrated our 20th anniversary, and for that I had promised her 20 years ago that on our 20th, we’d go to Germany. She’s always wanted to go, that’s where all her heritage is, so we’ve been planning this trip for all those years. On the way back, we had a layover in London for a couple of days, and we took a double-decker bus tour of the city that included this little cruise on the Thames River. So, we start this cruise, and there is this couple sitting behind us, and after a little while Christy strikes up a conversation with them. I forget how she did, and honestly I was content to just be to ourselves, but she greeted them and asked them where they were from. They were from London, and while at dinner on a whim he said, “Hey, why don’t we just jump on the tour boat and take a little cruise on the Thames!” Sometimes we men get little twinges of romance. Soon in the conversation, the guy asked me, “So, what do you do there in Texas?” When I told him I was a pastor, he couldn’t believe it. He said, “Really? You are a pastor, of a church? I’ve had such little contact with people like you.” I had no idea if that was good or bad. He then asked me, “So, do you have special powers? Can you heal people and do miracles like the pastors on TV claim they can do?” I explained that I have no special powers, and that as a pastor I have no more pull with God than any other Christ-follower. He said, “If I give you money, will God bless me with more money, like those guys say?” I said, “Yes, if you give me lots of money right now, I’m sure God will bless you.” No, I made that part up. I didn’t say that. But you can see that his exposure was very limited, and then he said, “You know, I’ve always wanted to talk to someone like you, someone who genuinely believes in God. We even recently decided to attend a church.” She then added that they were very open to the idea of God and believed that they were doing their very best to get to heaven one day. They were not married and living together, and she felt some guilt about that, and asked how much good do you have to do to earn heaven? So, we had this great conversation about grace, about how we can’t earn heaven and a relationship with God is not based on our works but on his grace, how he reached out to us not us to him. They had never heard that and yet you could tell was ringing true in their souls. We continued our conversation when the tour was over, and they drove us in their car to our next destination, and we had this great spiritual conversation. They did hear how to begin a relationship with God, though they didn’t take that step that day. But was that conversation an accident? Of course not. God placed us on that boat just at the same time they decided on a lark to take a little boat ride. God arranged the whole thing. And for Christy and me that conversation was better than anything else we did in London. We were pumped that God used us as one link in the chain of bringing this wonderful couple closer to a relationship with him.
Yet, what made the conversation happen? It did take Christy reaching beyond herself to simply start a conversation. She didn’t say, “Do you want to hear how you can go have a relationship with God?” She just started the conversation with a greeting, and God took over from there. We didn’t force anything. It all just happened naturally. Yet, it did start with a greeting…because Christy chose not to just be on the boat but on the boat with a purpose, and I got to be pulled into the conversation that she initiated. It took initiative, but it wasn’t that difficult—just a greeting.
Those same opportunities surround us every day of our lives, should we choose to accept our mission and reach out to people in lots of little ways. What ways can you reach out to the people around you in a way that God can create an opportunity? Let me just throw out a few ideas. These are just small things, but each of these are things God can use to create opportunities.
Slide: ______________ ) PRAY
Start every day with this simple prayer: God, I want to be used by you today, and I know I will interact with lots of people today who have yet to begin a life-giving relationship with you. Use me today. Help me know what I should say, how I might serve, or who I might encourage. I am fully available to you today, so please guide me by your spirit. Then just go through the day with your eyes open for whatever opportunities God gives. When I was in high school, I used to pray a prayer like that every time I walked into the cafeteria, asking that God would guide me, making myself available. Sometimes nothing happened, but a sometimes these opportunities popped up. I need to pray that more today.
Slide: ______________ ) GREET
Just say hello, greet people around you, like Christy did. Initiate a conversation. Sometimes that is all it takes.
Slide: ______________ ) EXTEND FRIENDSHIP
Be a friend. Constantly ask yourself the question, “How can I be a better friend to this person? How can I extend the friendship?” Most people have lots of acquaintences and few friends. Think about what a good next step would be in just being a good friend. I’m not talking about being a friend with a big string attached, that they at some point have to become a Christ-follower for the friendship to be worthwhile. I’m talking about extending friendship with no strings attached. Just be a good friend. Think of someone in your life right now who may not know Christ, and then ask, “What would be a great next step in that friendship?
Slide: ______________ ) SERVE
Look for opportunities to serve. We live in such a busy, self-centered culture that one of the best ways to show the love of Christ is to serve, whether it is helping someone move, preparing meals for someone with a sick family member, offering to do someone’s lawn while they are away. Such things happen so infrequently in our culture, it will make people ask, “Why are you doing this?”
Slide: ______________ ) SHARE Your STORY
Be prepared to share your story when it is appropriate. As the Bible says, “Be prepared to give an answer to anyone who asks…” Be ready to share your story of how you began a relationship with God, what your life was like before and how it is different now. The great thing about your story is that you are the biggest expert in the world on that topic.
Slide: ______________ ) INVITE
We work hard to build an environment that makes it easy to invite people to church, so that may be a great next step.
As you can see, none of this is that complicated. We are just talking about being available to God and living in our world with a missional mindset, looking for opportunities to reach out to others just like someone did to us. Again, think of that person that God used in your life. Think of what they did in your life. Chances are, if you asked them what they did, they’d say, “I didn’t really do anything. I was just a friend, and God sort of took over the process. You were the one that was so open. I just did my best to answer the questions and invite you to where I knew you could take some next steps if that’s what you wanted.”
And aren’t you glad that they did! God wants to use you the same way, which is why he has placed you right where you are. It doesn’t mean that God can’t move you somewhere else, or that there isn’t something somewhere over the rainbow that God might have for you—but what you do know is that your best ministry for right now is right in front of you, right where he has placed you. So, be there, and be there with a purpose.