Purpose Driven Life #1
Sermon on Purpose
January 16/18, 2004
Jeff Jones, Senior Pastor
Welcome to the 40 Days of Purpose. We are now ready to start on this journey that we’ve been planning a long time. Today we are going to look at one of life’s greatest and biggest questions, “Why on earth am I here?”
A few weeks ago I went to Little Rock Arkansas, where I was involved with a group of church planters around the Southeast. I drove with a couple of pastors from Little Rock to the place in rural Arkansas where the meetings actually were being held. We were having a great time talking, three senior pastors in the car—all telling stories and exaggerating like sr. pastor are prone to do—and we didn’t notice how lost we were getting. The good news is we were going there fast…we were making great time. The bad news is the further we got the more lost we were. We finally realized it, and pulled in this little RV park. There was only one rusted out old RV there, and a little store front. When we stopped, this old man came out that was very stereotypical for rural Arkansas. It’s actually fun to pick on Arkansas since I’m from Alabama. He was probably 400 years old, and he was giving his false teeth a break I guess. His mouth was puckered in. When we asked how to get to the resort, he said, “Oh, you’re a long way from there. How did you get way over here? Let’s see if I can get you there or not. Yep. Go down this road a ways and you’ll get to another road a lot like this one. Turn left. And you’ll go down that road a pretty long ways until you get to a bigger one and cross over that but then you want to take the next one to the right. Stay on that and you’ll go through this little town. I don’t remember the name, but it’s a town—so you’ll recognize that. After you go through the town, you’ll see another road and you want to take that road to the right. Then you’ll see where to turn in to where you want go.” By that point, I was just trying to submerge my laughter, and I was looking away at an old Coke machine. I put my money in, and he said, “Oh, that thing hadn’t worked in years.” Then I noticed it was unplugged. So, the joke was on me.
We got back on the road to find another place to ask directions. We were going fast, we just didn’t know where we were going—which is a pretty important thing to know. A lot of people live life that way. They are going through life fast—a lot of activity—but not necessarily a life of purpose. They are moving through life fast, but where are they headed?
That may be true of most of us, but it doesn’t have to be. You and I were created with a purpose. We were made to be purposeful, to make a difference. You and I were created with a God-given drive to be significant, to matter.
On that same trip I talked with a pastor who had screened Mel Gibson’s film on Jesus. He had a conversation with Mel and asked him what drove him to do the movie. He said, “Well, one day I was looking out my window in a high rise building and everything in me just wanted to jump. I realized that for all I was doing I wasn’t going any where. I had no purpose, no meaning. I just wanted to jump. Some time later I came back around to a relationship with Jesus Christ, and that changed everything. I had purpose and meaning. That’s why I had to do this movie, regardless of what it would do to my career.”
We were made to live with a purpose, and we will in fact begin to self-destruct with out understanding that. Purposelessness is the #1 reason sociologists give for the suicide rate steadily increasing among teenagers in this country. It is now the #2 killer of teenage students.
You can go into any bookstore and find hundreds of books that talk about discovering your life purpose. They all basically say the same thing, “You’ve got to invent your life purpose.” And they tell you some good platitudes to help: Discover your dreams. Go after your goals. Aim high. Believe to achieve. Never give up.” Those are good statements and might even help you be successful, but they are not the same as knowing your purpose in life. You can look within yourself, make sure you belly button is clean, but you won’t find life’s purpose there. It takes more than looking within. You have to look up.
It only makes sense to look at the creator. It’s kind of like those pictures your kids or grandkids or nieces or nephews draw for you, and you say, “Oh’ that’s great! Tell me what it is?” It only makes sense to ask the creator. You were made by God and you were made for God and you were put here for his purposes. Until you understand that, life will never make sense. And the best news of all is that we don’t have to guess about God’s purposes. We don’t have to grope around in the dark. God has revealed what they are, and he asks that we build our lives around them. He wants our lives to be significant and to make an impact. So, how do we do so? How do we find God’s purposes for our lives?
1) Realize it is not about you. It is about God—his glory.
The greatest sentence in the whole Purpose Driven Life book that we will be reading together is the first one. It is not about you. In fact, look at someone right now and say that. Go ahead. Isn’t that fun. It’s not about you. But notice that someone is saying the same thing to you. So, let’s all say this together, “it’s not about me.” Let’s say it.
The search for purpose and meaning has puzzled people for thousands of years largely because people begin with the wrong starting point—themselves. All of us tend to do so. We ask self-centered questions like, “What do I want to be? What should I do with my life? What are my goals? What do I want to accomplish?” The problem with that is that we will never reveal our true life purpose by focusing on ourselves. We did not create ourselves, so there is no way we can just tell ourselves why we were created.
The purpose of your life and mine is far more than your own personal fulfillment, your own peace of mind, or even your own happiness. It’s far greater than your family, your career, or even your wildest dreams and ambitions. If you want to know why you were placed on this planet, you must begin with God. He is the one who created you, and he created you with a purpose. You were born by his purpose and for his purpose. Colossians 1:16 says, “All things were created by him and for him…” and that includes you. Romans 11:36 says, “For everything comes from him; everything exists by his power and is intended for his glory. To him be glory for ever more” (Rom 11:36 NLT). The ultimate goal of the universe is to show the glory of God. It is the reason everything ultimately exists including you and me.
God created me for his glory.
Living for God’s glory is the highest aim we can have in life. God says of the nation of Israel in the Old Testament, “They are my own people, and I created them to bring me glory” (Is 43:7 TEV). That’s true for all of us.
When we live out God’s purposes for us, then we give him the greatest glory. We’ll see over the next weeks that when we prioritize his purposes is when we are giving him glory and expressing the significance we were made for. We bring glory to God by worshiping him. We bring glory to God by loving other believers. We bring glory to God by becoming like Christ. We bring glory to God by serving him and others with our gifts. We bring glory to God by telling others about him.
Living a life dedicated to God’s glory sounds like an easy step. It has a nice ring to it. But it is incredibly demanding. What God asks for is really everything. It means that we place God’s purposes first in our lives. When Jesus said we can’t serve God and material things, he wasn’t saying that material things are bad. He was saying you can’t have two #1 priorities in your life. You can only have one number one. You and I have to decide what our #1 is going to be. We can either choose to live as if it is all about us or as if it is all about God. Those are two very different ways to live. It may require a change in our priorities, our schedules, our relationships. It might mean choosing a difficult path over an easy one. It means a commitment to live the rest of our lives for his glory by expressing his purposes in our lives. Are you open enough before God to make that general commitment?
There are really three ways to live life…three different levels we can live on. The first and lowest level is the Survival level. The survival level is really where most people live today. They are just in survival mode. Just getting by, existing. Comparitively, the are not really living. They put in their time and live for the weekend. Most of the time they feel either listless or trapped, and they find different ways to escape those feelings. They are just in survival mode.
A step up from that, a better way to life to be sure, is the success level. From survival to success. Many in this room today would be at this level. By the worlds standards you’ve got it made. You’ve got a comfortable way of life, compared to most of the people on the planet. You have possessions, freedom, good health, and may be quite successful. But today there are these books, with the affluence that is so widespread in our culture now, that ask the question, “If everything is so good then why do I feel so bad?” Why am I still unfulfilled? The reason is that it takes more than success and more than status to satisfy. That’s why somebody like Mel Gibson could look out his window and want to jump. How many people would want to trade places with him, but he wants to jump out of the window. The cry of his heart really was for the next level of living.
The third level of living is the Significance level. Not mere survival and a step up from success.
How do we live on this level? When we realize how much we matter to God…when we realize that life has meaning that is bigger than we are…and when we know and live out God’s bigger purposes.
Over these next weeks, we will be discovering more deeply these purposes, but let me encourage you right now to commit to take this leap from success to significance. Let me encourage you to be courageous enough to open up your life before God and change your focus from yourself to Him and His glory. You can do that right now. At the front end of his process, tell God that you want his glory more than anything else, and you do want to live a life of significance—not just success. That you realize that all this is not about you but about him…that we are here for God—to serve him. He’s not here for us—to serve and bless us. He is not at our beck and call. We are at his beck and call. That is a radically different way to live.
2) Grasp God’s purposeful creation of you
No matter what you big brother may have told you growing up, you are not an accident. You are not a freak of nature. God created you on purpose and with a purpose in mind. Psalm 139 says, For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”
Isn’t that amazing! God formed us the way we are on purpose. And before we were even born he wrote the script of our lives. We are the way we are on purpose. It’s not an accident. One time Jesus’ followers asked Jesus about a guy who was born blind, and they said, “So, who sinned. This guy or his parents that he should be born blind?” And Jesus looked at them like they were nuts. He said, “Who sinned? What does that have to do with anything? He was born this way for the glory of God.”
I don’t know about you, but that makes me feel better. You are a custom job. God deliberately chose your race, the color of your skin, your hair, and every feature. He chose to make me height challenged, for example. If we did plays up here of Bible characters, I might get cast as David but never Goliath. That’s okay, though it has affected my basketball career (show picture with Bob Hornstein). As you can see, I’ll probably never go pro. The truth is though I can occasionally intimidate even a guy like Bob who played college ball. I have this move that I do when I drive down the lane. It’s kind of like a layup, but I go down the middle of the lane with my knee extended. It’s amazing how when you are playing with a bunch of guys how that clears out the lane. Hey, when God made you my height, you have to improvise!
I realize how much I matter to God when I think of the care with which he created me. He created me on purpose for a purpose. Over the next weeks, we’ll explore those more deeply.
3) Join God in his work in the world
God has an eternal purpose that he is working out, and he invites you and me to join him in it. We will focus these next weeks on his purposes for us as individuals, meaning what he wants to do in and through our lives, but we have to understand the bigger thing God is doing in history and in the world…because he invites us to be part of it. If you remember a few years ago, a book and study series was out that became really popular called “Experiencing God.” The heart of that book is that we should find where God is working and join him. And that is absolutely true. So, where is God working?
It is not a big mystery. Jesus told us what he is doing today. Jesus said before he ascended to heaven that he is building his church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it. He is working today to build his church, to touch the world through communities of believers who recognize him as their Lord and who are committed to his mission of letting the world know how they can come into relationship with him.
In Ephesians 3, Paul said that God has chosen the mystery of the church, where people from every walk of life come together around a common relationship with Jesus Christ, to display to the rulers in the heavenly places (talking about Satan and the fallen angels) his wisdom and his right to rule. He is using the church to be his ambassadors to this planet, letting people know how they can be reconciled to God.
In Ephesians 4, the church is referred to as Jesus’ body. Jesus is the head and we are his body. We do what the head says. We are his arms and his legs to do his work in the world. Ephesians 5 describes the church as Jesus’ bride, that he is working to make beautiful and radiant. There is not another person on the planet I love more or think is more beautiful than my bride, Christy. She is my wife and I love her and am committed to her. I remember when I saw her in our college days before we were dating, and she caught my eye. My eye has been stuck on her ever since. I remember that she was wearing a red sleeveless sweater and kaki shorts. Impressed ladies that I can remember? Don’t ask me what she is wearing today, but I do remember what she wore then. Here she is on our wedding day, beautiful and radiant. And you know what, she gets more beautiful each year. I mean that. A few weeks ago we had a Christmas party at our house, and I saw her from the other side of the room and thought, “Wow, how beautiful. She is what makes this party a party.” I never have to question the grace of God because he allowed a goofball like me to wind up with a wonderful person like her. I love her and am proud of her. That’s the way Jesus views the church. He is in love with the church. We are his people, and he is working to make us more like him—to radiate the glory of God to the world.
I say all this because sometimes I think we view the church as just something we go to, like a club to which we belong. But that’s not the church. The church is Jesus’ body, the hope of the world. God has a purpose for us, but it can’t be separated from what he is doing corporately in and through the church. Though we will focus more of our attention on our individual purpose over the next 40 days, we can’t do that without realizing how it is attached to God’s corporate purpose. He is working through the church to bring people to himself and to show the world his beauty and love and light. We are part of a bigger story of what God is doing in the world today through his body and his bride. That’s why I’m committed not just individually to Jesus but corporately to a local church. That’s not my idea. It is God’s idea. And that means that as a whole church we have to consider more fully what God’s purposes are for us and how we can be most effective. And as we begin this new chapter of our church’s life, let’s be praying about his vision and purpose for us as a whole body. The stakes are high, because God is using the church to impact the world.
So, as we go through this process, let’s ask God the question, “God, how do you want me to engage your corporate purposes expressed through your work of building prevailing churches who impact our world? How can I be more engaged in your mission?” God has given me the answer the question at this point of the church’s history—that the best way to serve God’s purposes at Fellowship is as Sr. Pastor. But this isn’t just about me. It’s something all of us have to ask the Lord of the church. I hope you aren’t here at Fellowship because of me or Gene or anybody else. I hope you are here because you are serving the Lord Jesus Christ, and that you will ask him the same question, “Lord, how do you want me to be involved in what you are doing in and through this church?” And since the church is made up of individual Christians, that brings us to the next point.
4) Commit to God’s purposes in your own life
We’ve talked generally about what they are, but we will be exploring this over these next days. And let me share with you where to start. Genesis 1:1, the first phrase in the Bible says, ‘In the beginning, God…” It starts with God. In Proverbs 9:10 the Bible says, “Knowledge of the Holy One results in understanding” (NLT). You want to understand the meaning of life and the purpose of life? Write this down. You find your purpose by getting to know God. That’s the starting point.
I find my purpose my getting to know God.
It all starts with God. If you want to know your purpose in life, start getting to know God. The more you know God, the more you are going to understand the ways of God and the wisdom of God and understand the purpose and meaning of life. The Bible says that it the beginning of understanding is to know God. You aren’t going to learn this on an Oprah show. You aren’t going to learn it in a seminar or some self help book. You aren’t going to find it reading your palms or some tea leaves. The only way you are going to learn the meaning of life and your purpose in life is to get to know God. It all starts with God, because it is all about God. Remember it is not about you. It is about Him. “In the beginning God…” It’s all about God.
Over the next 40 days we are going to look to God and His revelation to us, the Bible, to see his purposes for us. We aren’t going to base this on pop psychology or inspirational stories but on the Word of God. God is opening up a whole new way of life to all of us, and the first step is to begin a relationship with God.
If you are not sure you have begun a relationship with God and committing your life completely to Jesus Christ, all God asks you to do is to receive and believe. The Bible promises, “To all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. John 1:12. Will you accept God’s offer? Believe God loves you and made you for his purposes. Believe you are not an accident. Believe God loves you so much that he gave his own son to die on the cross to pay the penalty for your sins so that you could be forgiven. Believe that no matter what you’ve done, God wants to make you His child. You can do that in your heart right now. Discovering God’s purposes begins with knowing God—meaning a relationship with him.
Nothing matters more than knowing God’s purposes for your life. Knowing your purpose gives meaning to your life. It provides focus. It builds passion, that we are not just here for small things but are created for big things. We have something to wake up for every day that is far bigger than any of us could ever have dreamed. And knowing your purpose prepares you for eternity. Remember that this life is just a temporary assignment. This life is really a test. God has given you all that you have—your abilities, time, possessions, and he asks that you invest them wisely and purposefully. He invites you not to waste your life but maximize your life for his glory. Commit to living a life that will matter in eternity. One day you and I will stand before God, and he will do an audit of our life—a final exam. The Bible says that each of us will stand personally before the judgment of God. From the Bible, we can surmise that God will ask us two critical questions: First, What did you do with my Son, Jesus Christ? The only thing then that will matter is did I accept what Jesus did for me and learn to love and trust him. The second question, What did you do with what I gave you? The first question determines where you spend eternity, the second will determine what you do in eternity—the amount of responsibility and reward you enjoy. As C.S. Lewis said, “All that is not eternal is eternally useless.”
What are you going for in your life? And how much of that will matter when life gets to its end—which it will. All achievements will be surpassed, all records broken, all repuations fade, all tributes forgotten—but what we do for eternity will last for eternity…the extent to which we fulfilled the purposes of God in our lives.
So we are going to take these 40 days to get to know God’s purposes for our lives. With the realization that it is not about us, but about God and his glory…as we grasp how God has uniquely created us with a purpose in mind…as we join God in his bigger work in the world…and as we commit to pursuing his purposes for our lives both in these 40 days and beyond, I believe God will honor all that. We will see how God has created us to worship, grow, connect, serve, and share.
Right in front of you, in the little card and Bible holder on the seat in front of you, is a 40 Days of Purpose Card. Would you take this out? I want everybody to get one of these, no matter how old or young you are. I’m going to ask you to sign this card and take it home and put it on your refrigerator. You may be asking, why 40 days? Well, the Bible is clear that God considers 40 days to be a spiritually significant period of time. The next 40 days may transform your life. I’m absolutely confident of that. I want you to look at this card. Follow along with me.
Believing that God created me for his purposes and that the best use of my life is to fulfill these purposes, I commit the next 40 days to better understand God’s purposes for me.
· I will participate in a 40 Days of Purpose Small Group. We have over 150 host homes. If you are not yet in a group, it is not too late. You can go out on to the table in the lobby and get in one this week. It is not too late.
· I will read each day’s chapter from the Purpose Driven Life book. Today everyone is getting one of these books. We are going to pass them out right now. In there is a little card with a suggested donation, but if that is not a good thing budget-wise that’s alright. Let me encourage everyone to take one. If you already have one, then take one and give it to a friend, neighbor, or co-worker and invite him or her to participate with you. I want to suggest that you set aside a set time every day to sit down and read it. If you are married, why not do this as a couple? It will take you about 15 minutes a day. I would also suggest that you get a partner, perhaps your spouse, or someone else that you can call on the phone and discuss what you’ve read. Don’t go through this alone. Get yourself a spiritual partner.
· I will do my best to hear all 7 messages in this series, The Purpose Driven Life. What I’m going to be saying will set you up for what you are going to be studying the week following. So wha t we are talking about today you are going to be studying in a little more detail later in the week.
What we are asking is that you begin the new year by prioritizing your spiritual life. When you add up the commitments we are asking you to make, if you do all of them, then you are looking at less than 30 hours total. So here’s my question—is the rest of your life and eternity worth 30 hours of time spread out over the next six weeks? You already know my vote. I’m going to ask you to sign this card and take it home na dput it on your fridge as a reminder.
I realize that all of us here are at different stages in our spiritual journey. That doesn’t matter. We are all going through this journey together, no matter what stage of the trail we happen to be. Some of you are in search mode, and you are saying, “I’m not sure I even buy into all this, but I’m intellectually honest enough to check it out.” And that’s great. It’s good to have you on the journey. Some of you are brand new believers and for you I am particularly excited because this is a great way to start out your Christian life. Some of you could be called stumblers, meaning that you call yourself a Christian but would not feel very close to God. You might say that you are living more around your own plans for your life than God’s. Well, this 40 Days is a great time to come home and a great time to strengthen your walk with God. Still others of you are “returners.” Years ago God’s purposes were higher on your agenda than they might be right now. You may have been much closer to God and involved in serving hi, but all your stories are stories of days gone by. I want you to be able to make and tell some new stories. Use this 40 Days to get back with God. Some of you are strong believers, and you are going to go deeper with God than you’ve gone before these 40 days and you well bring some others along with you, too. Regardless of where you are in your spiritual journey, it’s like George Herbert once said, “It’s never too late to be where you might have been.” It is never too late to discover why on earth you are here.