A sermon delivered by David Hughes, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Winston-Salem, Nc., on March 18, 2012.
John 3:14-21; Ephesians 2:1-10
In Ephesians 2:10, the Apostle Paul writes, For we are what God has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.
I ask you—do you believe this is true? Do you believe you are a product of God’s handiwork? Do you believe you were created in Christ Jesus for good works? Do you believe ages before you were even a gleam in your earthly father’s eye, your Heavenly Father had conceived you in his mind and then fashioned you for a particular purpose?
I know I’m putting you on the spot, but do you believe in your soul that God made you for a reason far grander than growing up, getting an education, making a living, having a family, providing for yourself and your loved ones until finally you pass on to glory?
In Psalm 139, the author writes,
For it was you (O God) who formed my inward parts;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb….
In your book were written
all the days that were formed for me,
when none of them yet existed (vv.13,16).
Do you really believe that God knit you (literally “crocheted” you) to be as you are today, with a particular plan for your life that matches you and only you, recorded in the Book of Life before you were even born?
For the sake of argument let’s assume for the moment these biblical teachings are true. Now, I want to ask you to see humanity from God’s point of view. I know I’m asking the impossible, but try to see the unfurling of human history from God’s perspective rather than your own.
To make this a bit easier, let’s focus on God’s evolving relationship with two people we will call Jim and Sue. And let’s suppose Jim and Sue are both Americans, both born in the 20th century and living on into the 21st century.
If the bible is true, God foresaw the births of Jim and Sue long before they happened. Perhaps as early as the dawn of creation God knew that almost 1800 years after the birth of his son Jesus a nation called America would be created out of revolution. Millions of people would eventually occupy this country, including two Americans named Jim and Sue.
In ways we can never understand, God not only foresaw the birth of Jim and Sue, but pictured how he would knit them together in their innermost parts so they might accomplish his purposes during their life time. Among the gifts God would give Jim was the gift of teaching, especially teaching children. He would also give Jim a beautiful voice that would be pleasing to the ear, and moving to the heart.
To Sue he would give the gift of leadership, so that when she spoke people naturally desired to follow her. He also gave her a gift of strategic vision, creating her with an ability to see what others could not see, and a brassy demeanor of courage needed to lead people forward in challenging times. Long before the first dogwood tree bloomed or the first bird soared in the breeze, God mentally formulated the genetic blueprints for billions of people – including Jim & Sue.
In time God would create the heavens and the earth, and people to populate the earth. But his perfect creation went askew when the first two people, Adam and Eve, departed radically from his plan and decided to take their lives into their own hands. Adam and Eve had no way of knowing their rebellion against God would cause the entire universe to fall into a deep hole of disharmony and discord that would plague their ancestors for generations.
That said, God loved his wayfaring creation, and he was not about to walk away from his people. Things became so bad God eventually destroyed most of creation, save Noah and his family, through a flood, hoping a “reboot” of creation would redeem creation. But sin returned in short order, and humanity returned to its squalor.
God gave the law, hoping that it would lift humanity out of the ditch. But human beings were ingenious in finding loopholes around the law, and continued to sin with abandon. A few tried following the law to the letter. But they became insufferable in their prideful legalism, and ultimately did more harm than good.
Next God sent prophets to declare his way to his people, reminding them he wasn’t nearly so interested in their sacrifices and rituals as he was commanding their hearts. But the people ignored the prophets, and insisted on going their own way… a way that would lead them headlong into destruction.
So God did the unthinkable. He sent his one and only son into this world to set the world right again. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish, but have everlasting life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn, the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
Jesus died on a cross to save all who were dead through their sins and trespasses. He did for them what they could not do for themselves regardless of how well they obeyed the law. And through his resurrection he would make them alive, brimming with life abundant for all eternity. In return they were asked to believe in Jesus and his forgiving grace. And to invite Jesus into the deepest recesses of their souls to transform them so they might live through the power of his Spirit, according to his purpose.
Two millennia later, at roughly the same time, Jim and Sue came into this world. Both were brought up in good homes. Jim was brought up in church, while Sue’s family only attended church for special occasions.
Despite Jim’s upbringing in church, he drifted away from God as soon as he entered college. For some time, Jim followed the course of this world more than he followed Christ. For that matter so did Sue. Neither was considered a bad person. In fact, both were viewed as successful. A born educator, Jim became a teacher in a local elementary school and did an outstanding job. He didn’t make a big salary. But he performed so well he was eventually recognized as teacher of the year in his school system. And he was a premier soloist in his local community chorus.
Meanwhile, Sue graduated from a prestigious university and went into business. Because she was a born leader and strategic thinker, she became a top-tier executive in a Fortune 500 company by her mid-30s. Her life was full of adventure, and her bank account was full of money. But somehow her soul felt empty.
For that matter, so did Jim’s. For some time both Jim and Sue had heard a Voice deep in their souls calling them to “come home.” For some time, they both tuned out that Voice. But both were eventually invited to churches by friends, where they were reminded of what God had done for them in Jesus Christ, something they could never do for themselves—namely placing them in right relationship with the One who created them.
Eventually, both accepted Christ as their Savior. And both joined a local church. And God and all his angels celebrated in heaven when both Jim and Sue were made alive in Christ. Now, imagine the excitement God felt at the prospect of these two precious creations finally being in a position to live up to their potential. Now they could live out the plan he sketched out for them centuries ago in the Book of Life. God could picture the people they would impact, the lives they would change, the churches they would resource through the giving of their tithes and offerings, their time, talents, and gifts.
But there was a problem. Somehow Jim and Sue wound up in churches that never challenged them to look beyond themselves. Somehow they failed to recognize that their lives were about more than their needs, their schedules, their goals, their aspirations. They’ve were saved, of course, and their salvation would get them to heaven. But as long as they attended church when they could, and give an offering when it was convenient, they were good. And frankly, it was just as well because they were busy people with lots of commitments. And if they just managed to get to church from time to time, they were doing well.
So, Jim never offered to teach in his church, and when he was asked, he said no because he simply did not have the time. Nor did he have time to share his musical talents with the Praise Team or choir of his church. Consequently, there were children and youth in Jim’s church who struggled to understand what it means to follow Jesus because they never had the opportunity to hear Jim clarify it. And the music ministry of the church never experienced the benefit of hearing Jim’s beautiful voice in the mix.
Meanwhile, Sue joined a church that had been in a long decline. Members of the church recognized Sue’s considerable gifts in leadership, and asked her on several occasions to lead various teams and committees, but she always said no. Eventually, the church began to wither away because no lay leadership rose to work with the staff in discerning God’s future for the church. Things got so bad Sue finally decided to leave her church, disappointed because her withering church could not seem to get its act together.
Now if you were God, how would you respond to this chain of events? My hunch is God cried. He wept in frustration because two people he had visualized at the beginning of time, and created at the right time, and redeemed through the gracious death of Jesus Christ, and gifted with considerable talents gifts and talents never saw fit to use those talents for the kingdom. It never occurred to them they were saved to serve, transformed in Christ for the sake of ministering to others.
They were perfectly content to be spectators. And their decision to stay in the sidelines cost them the joy that comes with serving where God wants you to serve. And it cost their churches who never benefited from their talents. And it cost the kingdom in ways only God could know, and only God could grieve.
Friends, I wish I could say that Jim and Sue are nothing more than figments of my imagination. But they are present in virtually every church, including this one. The shame of it is, we only have one life to live. And life really is a terrible thing to waste. And a Christian life is a tragic thing to waste.
That’s why today I’m asking you, especially those of you resemble Jim and Sue, to remember who you are and whose you are. And I’m asking you, in this season of stewardship and Lent, to commit your God-given, God-created time and talents and gifts to God and his church.
If you refuse, the God who made you will weep in frustration, and all of us will be the losers, including you. But if you step up and do what only you can do, God will be pleased, our church will be stronger, and your life will become the exciting adventure it was always intended to be.