Like most of you, our house lost electrical power for about three days because of Hurricane Isabel. And when that happened the first thing we did-once we found flashlights-was to try and save the food we had in the refrigerator and freezer. I mean, one of our first priorities was to do all we could to prevent WASTING our perishable food items. So…
- I went to the church to get ice to use to keep our milk and juice from spoiling.
- We got a bag full of meat and took it to Bill and Roberta’s so they could keep it in their freezer-which was still working since they did not lose power.
- Then, for our meal that first night we consumed those foods that we knew would not last without refrigeration-we ate them first so they wouldn’t go to waste.
I’m sure you did similar things because food is an expensive thing and we know better than to WASTE things that are expensive-things that are valuable to us.
Well, the MOST valuable thing-the thing that is at the top of our list of PRECIOUS things-is life itself isn’t it? As that old college fund ad used to say, “A mind-a human life-is a TERRIBLE thing to waste.” Well, the sad truth is that, as our text for this morning infers, many people do in fact waste their lives. Let’s read it aloud together. It’s printed on the sermon note portion of your bulletin:
“Be careful how you live, not as fools but as those who are wise. Make the most of every opportunity for doing good in these evil days. Don’t act thoughtlessly, but try to understand what the Lord wants you to do.” (Ephesians 5:15-17-MSG)
Now, the Greek here in verse 15 literally says, “Don’t stumble through life; don’t just drift through life.” And, unfortunately, that is what many people do-they drift through life-such that when they lay on their death beds they look back and see that they have indeed WASTED their days. They ignore the guidance in 2 Corinthians 6:1 where Paul said, “We beg you, please don’t squander one bit of this marvelous life God has given us!” (Msg) Well, the good news is that this text from Ephesians goes on to tell us how to AVOID this error. Look at verse 17. It says that the way to insure that our lives are not wasted is to “…understand [AND DO] what the LORD wants us to do.” In short, the way to make certain that your life is not squandered is to live it in the way that your Creator and Redeemer intended. Now, how many of you would like to make sure that your life is not pointless? How many of you would like to know why you were born-why God created you? How many of you would like to learn what it is that God wants you to do with your life-like the guy in the skit who worked at WALL-MART?
Well, you’re in luck because for the next 40 days we are going to look intently at this subject by studying a book by Rick Warren entitled, The Purpose-Driven Life. As many of you know, this best-selling book has been written with the express purpose of helping people like you and me make sure that we DON’T waste these lives that God has given us.
Now, at the onset I want you to know that I am basing the bulk of my messages during this campaign on the sermons that Rick Warren and his staff have prepared to compliment the study of this book. I’ll be adding my own comments and illustrations but the bulk of the material comes from Saddle Back and I want you to know that up front. I’m doing this because these messages have been custom-designed to go along with the Small Group studies that we are offering here at Redland for the next two months. And by the way, we are offering these small group studies of Warren’s book at least five times each week: Sunday and Tuesday mornings, and Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday evenings. If you haven’t gotten a copy of the book and signed up for a small group, do so ASAP. Now, to prepare our hearts and minds for these next six weeks I want us to take a few minutes to consider three important questions namely:
- What does God want from my life?
- What does it take to not waste my life? and finally,
- Why should I do it? Why should I live my life according to God’s plan?
Okay-let’s get started. If you want to take notes there is a portion of your bulletin that is set aside for that purpose.
1. Question #1: What does God want from my life? OR How much of my life does God want?
Well if you read through the Bible you will find that the answer is this. God wants your WHOLE life. Write that in the blanks provided in your outline: MY WHOLE LIFE. That’s what God wants. He wants you to live every second of every minute of every hour of every day of every week of every month of every year…in ways that please Him. God wants you to devote literally your WHOLE life to Him. C. S. Lewis once said, “The only thing Christianity cannot be is moderately important.” I like the way he put it because if the gospel is true, then God DESERVES everything we’ve got. If it’s not true then we are wasting our time here each Sunday. Of course it IS true so as Lewis said, “Christianity cannot be moderately important.” Our faith relationship with God should impact everything we do. And over and over again God’s Word clearly teaches this principle. In fact, there’s not a single verse in the Bible that says you can be a Christian and live your life the way you want to. It’s just not there because God wants ALL of you.
Let’s look at a few verses and you’ll see what I mean. Romans 6:13 says, “Give yourselves COMPLETELY to God since you have been given new life. And use your WHOLE BODY as a tool to do what is right for the glory of God.” (NLT)
Deuteronomy 10:12 says, “This is what the Lord your God wants you to do: Respect the Lord and do what He has told you to do. Love Him. Serve the Lord your God WITH YOUR WHOLE BEING.”
Now, a lot of people have trouble with this concept because they tend to look at their lives like a pie, divided into several pieces. One slice is their career; another is their sex life; another is the way they spend their money; another is their family time; another is their leisure activities; another is their retirement life and if they are really good, they leave a small slice for God. Well, these people get it all wrong because God want’s the whole pie. He doesn’t want to be pigeon-holed and hear you say, “You know God, I’ll give you 10% of my life.” No…God wants it all. He wants your whole being.
This week I read the familiar story of Ivan the Terrible, one of the Czars of 16th century Russia-best known for his erratic behavior and his brutality. Perhaps you’ve heard of him. Well, at one point Ivan was so busy conquering new territory for his country that he had no time to find a wife and his advisors became concerned that would not produce an heir to the throne, so Ivan commanded his men to find him a suitable wife who was beautiful, intelligent and the daughter of a nobleman. And they found a woman who fit all these requirements. Her name was Sophia, and she was the daughter of the King of Greece. Well, Ivan asked the king for his daughter’s hand in marriage and the king agreed on the condition that Ivan be baptized and join the church. Ivan agreed and set out for Greece, accompanied by 500 of his best soldiers. Well, when these soldiers discovered that Ivan was to be baptized, they decided that they wanted to be baptized as well.
Now, a requirement of baptism back then was to affirm the articles of the Orthodox church, which the soldiers agreed to do-except for one article. And, the article they couldn’t affirm was one which prohibited them from being professional soldiers. Well they asked the priest if they could have some time to think over the problem of how to join the church and at the same time remain soldiers in Ivan’s army. And, in a few days they devised a plan among themselves and announced that they were ready to be baptized. Here’s what happened. They marched out into the water, all 500 of them, with 500 priests but as the priests put the soldiers under the water, each soldier grasped his sword and lifted it high into the air. The soldiers were then baptized completely except for their swords and their fighting arms. Those who witnessed the mass baptism said that it was an amazing spectacle to see 500 dry arms and 500 shining swords sticking up out of the water.
Now do you understand their reasoning? These soldiers decided that they could give all of themselves to God-except for their fighting arms. This part of their lives would remain under the control of their Czar-to fight when and where he saw fit. Well, some of us today are no different than these soldiers because we make God Lord of some of our lives but we hold back certain portions from His control. And when we live like that we feel no joy-no sense of purpose-because you see, each of us are deigned such that life only “works” when God is in charge of everything.
In fact, any part of our life that is not given to His lordship is wasted. And when people lay on their deathbeds they realize this. As the old poem says,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.
Only one life, a few brief years,
Each with its burden of hopes and fears.
Each with its record of good or ill
As I please myself or obey His will,
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.
So give me Father a purpose true
That in my life, others may see You.
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.”
Friends, if life is to be meaningful-if we want to avoid WASTING our years-then God must be first. We must live every moment for Him. Only then does life have purpose and abundance! As Proverbs 3:6 says, “In everything put God FIRST and He will direct you and crown your efforts with success.” (LB) Okay, let’s move on to our second question.
2. Question #2 – What does it take?
In other words, what does it take to give God total control? Well, the answer to this question is one word: DISCIPLINE. Write that in your outlines. As Proverbs 10:17 says, “Whoever practices discipline, is on the way to life.” This is what it takes to become the kind of person God wants us to be. As 1Timothy 4:7 “Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness.” Now, what exactly is discipline? Well, basically discipline is delayed gratification. It is doing the difficult now, in order to enjoy the benefit later. And the truth is the vast majority of us understand this concept and practice it in our own lives. For example:
- Some of you are very disciplined in your work, your career. You plan your day, you’re always on time, you’re conscientious when it comes to your work habits.
- Some of you are like me in that you are very disciplined in your physical workouts. You never miss your daily jogs. It’s in your routine, in your schedule.
- Some of you never miss a favorite T.V. show. You are careful to structure your days so you don’t miss Everybody Loves Raymond or Oprah or CSI or General Hospital.
- And of course, all of us are disciplined when it comes to eating. We never miss a meal.
So you see, we do indeed UNDERSTAND what it means to be disciplined. Well in the next 40 days I want us to find out what it would be like if we were disciplined SPIRITUALLY. Think about it.
- What if you were as disciplined in having a daily quiet time as you are in never missing a meal? What if your fed yourself spiritually as regularly as you feed yourself physically?
- What if you were as disciplined in memorizing Scripture as you are in getting that daily work out done?
- What if you were as disciplined in serving others as you are in getting up and going to work everyday?
- What if you were as disciplined in attending Sunday School and worship as you are in watching that favorite T.V. show that you never miss?
By the way, there’s another word for discipline – It’s the word “habit.”
You see habits are, simply, disciplines that we have learned-practices that we have internalized such that they now come natural to us. We do them without even thinking. And the truth is: we are the sum total of our habits. I mean, tell me what you do habitually, and I’ll tell you what your basic character is. If you habitually tell the truth, you are an honest person. If you are habitually faithful to your spouse, you are a faithful person. So it follows then that if you want to become a Godly person-an individual who lives every moment for God, well, all you have to do is change your habits. This is what 1 Timothy 4:7 means when it says, “Spend your time and energy in the exercise of keeping spiritually fit.” In other words there are exercises we can do that will keep us spiritually fit-disciplines we can embrace that will help us to become more godly people.
And this morning I want to mention two.
The first is what Warren refers to as, “the discipline of letting go.” And it is just what it sounds like-letting go of some things because we realize we can’t keep adding things to our schedule without letting go of something else. Hebrews 12:1 refers to this when it says, “Let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily hinders our progress.” I want you to circle two words in your Bibles: the word “weight” and the word “sin.” You see, these are two things that hold us back-two things that keep us from being all that God wants us to be-two things that limit our potential in life and contribute to a wasted life. And Paul says, “You’ve got to let go of these things!” -SINS and WEIGHTS.
Now, we all know what SINS are…breaking one or more of the commandments of God. But what’s a “WEIGHT?” Well, a weight is something that’s not necessarily wrong; it’s just not necessary. It holds you back. For example, when I jog I get rid of everything that could slow me down-even good things. I don’t carry a water bottle. I use the lightest shoes I can find. I wear shorts that are made of some light synthetic that doesn’t cause friction between by legs. I don’t carry a towel to mop by sweaty brow. No, I get rid of anything that will slow me down or make it harder for me to finish-because finishing is important to me. Well think of your life as a long run-because the truth is if you want to finish well-if you want to get where God wants you to go in ways that make Him proud, there are some things you have to cast aside. There are activities-even good ones-that we have to say NO to in order to do what God wants us to do-in order to get as far spiritually as God wants us to get. You see, even with the best PDA’s and DAYTIMERS we can’t say, “yes” to everything. We have to say “no” to some things-you have to let go of some things-even GOOD things-in order to have time for the BEST things.
And that leads to the second form of spiritual discipline-which is what you might call, “picking up.” And today we are going to add three BEST things-three new HABITS to our daily schedules that we need to pick up if we want to make sure we don’t squander our lives.
- The first is a daily devotional reading of about 25-30 minutes a day-one chapter of Warren’s book, which will help you understand God’s purposes of your life.
- Second, we’ll add a weekly meeting in a small group for six weeks that will help you understand God’s purpose for your life.
- And third there will be a weekly Bible verse to memorize and internalize.
So, to do all this we need to decide right now what we’re going to cut out-things we’re going to let go of-before we start these 40 Days of Purpose. I mean, something has to go to make room for these three new HABITS that we want to pick up. Most of us don’t have room to add them-without letting some other things go. You see, the truth is if we put too many irons in the fire we’ll put out the fire. Or as someone once said, “If you burn the candles at both ends, you are not as bright as you think we are-you are sure to get burned!” So many of us live overcrowded lives and everything we crowd into our days is not of equal value. So we all need to ask, “What am I going to stop doing?” “What am I going to remove from my calendar to make time for this? What am I going to ‘FAST’ from in the next 40 days so I can have time to hear God speak to me?” Maybe you’re going to need to give up an hour or two a week of T.V. during 40 Days. I might have to give up STAR TREK. You might have to give up a soap opera or two. Some of us will need to go to bed 15 minutes earlier during 40 Days, so we can get up 15 minutes earlier to do our daily devotional reading. Maybe you need to cut back on your physical workout time and work on your spiritual workout for 40 Days. If that thought bothers you then remember one day your body is going to decay and die. But your spirit is going to go on forever. As I reminded you earlier, “Only what’s done for Christ will last!” The fact is there’s always a cost of putting God first in your schedule, but the rewards are worth it.
As Warren points out in the beginning of his book, you and I will live an average of 25,550 days.
Well, don’t you think it would be smart to take 40 of those days to figure out what you should do with the rest of them? And if this concept of letting go bothers you, let me point out one other Biblical principal. Proverbs 10:27 says “reverence for the Lord adds hours to each day.” To me this says that if we put God first He will make sure we get everything else done that we really need to get done. In the same way that He multiplied those loaves and fishes such that they fed 5000 men…God will miraculously multiply your hours so that you have the time to finish the things you need to finish. Let’s trust God on this! Let’s put Him first in these next 40 Days! Okay…What does God want? He wants all of you, every part of you. That’s what he wants. What’s it going to take to do that? It’s going to take discipline. You can’t be a disciple without discipline.
It’s time for Question #3 which is this: Why should I do it?
Why should we make the effort to grow spiritually? Why should we let go of some things to make time for God in our lives? Well, as I have said there are many benefits to doing this and we could spend the rest of the day just talking about those-benefits today in your life right now, and benefits forever in eternity. But you know, even if there were no benefits, to doing to what God tells us to do. Even if there were no benefits at all, right here on earth – I can tell you the reason why you ought to do this in two words – THE CROSS. We should commit to live this way because of the Cross. Jesus gave His life completely for us and He has a right to expect our lives in return. Several years ago-back when Graham Davis and Amy Forrer were teens-our youth did a musical called “The Pledge.” And it was built around a group of Christian teens who agreed to sign the following pledge in front of their peers: “He died for me. I’ll live for Him.” Well these eight words say it all. I mean this is why we want to do God’s will. This is why we SPEND every day furthering His purposes-because Jesus DIED for us on the cross. This week I read the story of the mother of a nine-year-old little boy named Mike, who received a phone call from her son’s teacher. The teacher said, “Mrs. Smith, something unusual happened today in Mike’s class. You son did something that I thought you should know about. This morning I was teaching a lesson on creative writing. And as I always do, I told he story of the ant and the grasshopper. The ant works hard all summer and stores up plenty of food. But the grasshopper plays all summer and does no work. Then winter comes. The grasshopper begins to starve because he has no food. So he begs, ‘Please Mr. Ant you have much food. Please let me eat too.'”
“Then I said, ‘Boys and girls, your job is to write the ending of that story. Your son, Mike, raised his hand and asked if he could also draw a picture. I told him he could.” “Well as I read over their stories, most of the students said the ant shared his food through the winter and both the ant and the grasshopper lived. A few children took another option and had he ant decline to share and wrote of the grasshopper starving to death.” Over the years all my classes have finished this story pretty much like this. But your son did something different.
He wrote, ‘So the ant gave ALL of his food to the grasshopper; the grasshopper lived through the winter. But the ant starved an died.’ Then at the bottom of his page Mike drew a picture of three crosses.”
Well this third grader understood the truth of the Gospel. Jesus gave His all of us. He died in our place. He died so that we can live and the only possible response we can have is to live for Him.
Now, I think it is very important for us to be reminded of this fact as we begin this campaign-and the best way I can think to do so is by sharing communion together. If you are our guest and are a Christian, I invite you to join us in this. Even if you are not a member of this church-please share this special God-given object lesson with us. After all, if you are His. This is yours.
THE ORDINANCE OF COMMUNION
As we close our service I want to urge you not to miss out on what is going to happen in these next 40 days. If you’re not signed up for a small group do so. Get a copy of the book and commit to study it with us. And, here’s one more motivation to consider. Have you ever wanted to be a part of a miracle? Well, our theme verse is from Habakkuk 3:2 where it says,
“Lord, I have heard the news about You; I am amazed at what You have done. Lord, do great things once again in our time; make those things happen in our own days.”
I believe God is going to do great things I the lives of those of us who devote these next 40 days to Him. So, join us in it. Come forward in a minute and say, “Mark, count me in! Where do I sign up!”
Or you may want to come forward and say,
“Mark, will you pray with me as I do this? Pray that God will help me to let go of the things I need to let go of so that I can pick up these habits I need embrace to become a Godly person.”
I would be glad to pray with you about that! And, if you are here and are not a Christian then become one right now. Ask Jesus to forgive your sins and to come into your heart and life…and then commit to use the next 40 days to starting your Christian life right by learning these holy habits of Scripture memory and a daily quiet time and Bible study and worship. If you feel led to join our church family or to make any other public decision we invite you to do so now by coming forward and sharing that decision with me right now as we stand and sing.
Won’t you come now as God leads?