This blog post is based on the second sermon that was part of a recent sermon series. You can watch the first here:
We all have a life driven purpose. It's what makes us come alive and feel more fulfilled. Here's how to find yours..
The truth is sometimes hard to hear. We are broken people. We tend to get jealous. We argue. We do things we shouldn’t do. We get defensive thinking that the way we know is the only way and that other ways are bad. We realize that our witness and our beliefs don’t always add up. We want to grow spiritually. We want to be more like Jesus but sometimes that means taking baby steps first. These small steps seem frustrating but when we realize that it is God growing us, then we see that we have a growth that lasts with a strong foundation to keep growing and being made perfect in love.
When our purpose is misguided, our systems fail.
In 2014 there was a nationwide outage of one of the multi-state 911 service providers.
There were more than 6 thousand 911 calls failed to reach the call center during that system outage and it lasted more than six hours. It affected a population of 11 million residents in 60 counties across seven states
Those networks were owned by Century Link but the root cause of the failure was related to a software issue in the call routing service created by a third-party contractor. This software used a counter with a fixed limit. So as incoming calls came in they were assigned a number… and as the software ran it had a maximum value of 40 million. A number they never thought they would reach in a single day…. So once they reached that number on April 9, 2014 calls began to drop instead of routing them to another call-center. Although no one died as a result of the incident we realized how much we relied on this important service to communicate emergencies and possibly save lives.
In the case of this instance, nothing actually went wrong. The system did exactly what it was designed to do. The computer systems do exactly what the software tells it to do. The hardware of the system is the structure and harness of the power but that power needs a purpose. And when the purpose is off the mark the system fails.
Finding your purpose.
Everything in life needs a purpose. In fact everything in life has a purpose. One of the top google phrases year after year is finding my purpose.
Books have been written about finding our purpose and in 2002 Pastor Rick Warren wrote a bestseller called The Purpose Driven Life in which he outlines five different purposes for which each of us are created.
In it he says, “You cannot fulfill God‘s purposes for your life while focusing on your own plans.”
So what are God‘s plans for our life? And what is he calling us as a church to do? It’s a question that even the early church struggled with.
Corinth: the same purpose.
I love learning about the church of Corinth. What we read, leads us to believe that they were probably a hot mess. They were always making mistakes… always arguing… always getting it wrong…. but then time and time again they learn from their mistakes…. they would reconcile with one another… and because of their position… were able to spread the gospel and I truly believe that without the church of Corinth we wouldn’t be here where we are right now.
In Corinthians chapter 3, Paul is defending the teachings he taught them the last time he was with him in person. After he left them other preachers had come around and taught new teaching…then the church started divided into different groups. One group would say I believe what Paul says… another would say I believe what Apollo says …and so Paul writes this letter saying that both he and Apollos gave them right teaching. But they aren’t to follow Paul or Apollo‘s they are to follow Christ.
He says that when he first met them they were still infants in Christ. And so what he taught them were very basic teachings… And what Apollos gave them was a little bit more in depth. I
From here he uses a metaphor of gardening to show how faith can develop. Then he says these words in first Corinthians chapter 3 verses five through nine
“What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants or whom you came to believe, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted. Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither the one who plants nor the one who Waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. The one who plants and the one who waters have a common purpose, and each will receive wages according to the labor of each. For we are gods servants, working together; you are gods field, God‘s building.”
Think for a second about the people in your life who have assisted with your growth and faith. How are you emulating their efforts? Who are you assisting to help with their faith development?
Paul wanted the church at Corinth to continue tending to the garden. And it is one of the things that God calls us to do. To create a place where our faith can thrive.
Part of your purpose is to focus on conditions for growth.
If you know anything about gardening, you know it isn’t easy. It’s hard work. And there’s a reason for that. It’s biblical. When God kicked Adam and Eve out of the garden of Eden he told Adam that he would spend his life working the soil. It’s work. And it needs certain things in order to thrive. Sunlight, and just the right amount. Water, and just the right amount. Good soil which could mean a whole host of things depending on the type of plant. And one thing that you don’t always read about in gardening books. Patience.
Once you set up the right environment for a plant to grow …the next step is to sit back and watch it thrive. Sometimes that’s the most difficult work. We want things to grow quickly. And yet we have to wait for them to grow on God‘s timing.
So in order for faith to grow ..still using the garden metaphor …we need to have the right conditions. As United Methodist we have these spelled out for us. The UMC actually does have a method that makes us Methodist. We have something that is spelled out for us to do in our daily lives in order to grow through the grace that God offers us. And that method is this, it’s actually quite simple, and while there are many components to each of these, it really boils down to two things: do you things to experience the love of God and do things to show people that you love them. All people.
It’s simple. But it’s hard. Sometimes it’s hard to love an unknown God so we need to take efforts to get to know God. And then when tragedy strikes or we are stressed for one reason or another ….we question our love and we question God‘s love. So we have a method. A method that if we adhere to even when conditions don’t feel right….And we have the patience to continue pursuing the method,... we will once again experience the grace of God… He will nurture and grow us. These two things: loving God and loving people are called the means of grace.
They consist of things like worship, prayer, reading our Bible, being in a small group, receiving holy communion, participating in baptism, ministry to the poor, the sick, the imprisoned and advocating for justice when justice is due.
These are very active things for an active faith. The purpose of a church isn’t about a time or place it is about a people with a purpose. And I think Rick Warren,... while he has so much truth and wisdom in his book,... got the title backwards. We don’t have a purpose driven life …we have a life driven purpose.
Our purpose is to make the abundant life that Jesus calls us to …known throughout the world. And although we have times where our life doesn’t seem to bloom …season after season you see it coming back to life.
For those of you who are Bible scholars, I’m sure you’ve been waiting for me to say the magic words about purpose: the words of the great commission.
It’s interesting how the world has taken some of the churches best ideas. In the 1960s the church stopped using the word “mission” because it sounded too colonial and shortly thereafter companies started having mission statements. And after that the church said and you know what we don’t have? - a mission statement. And churches spend hours and days and sometimes years coming up with a mission statement that Sometimes doesn't sound a lot like Jesus’s words at the end of Matthew.
Sometimes we think our mission is for people to come and see what God is doing. And neglecting that sometimes we also have to go and do in order to see where God is working.
At the end of the book of Matthew Jesus tells us to go into all the world and make disciples of all nations. Preaching and teaching and baptizing in the name of Jesus. And when we make this our mission we have a co-mission with God. And one that is relational and incarnational. We are meant to embody Jesus, with the Holy Spirit dwelling in us, so that when people see us loving God and loving others: they see Jesus.
The world needs to see that we are different from a charity or nonprofit. Our purpose isn’t something of this world but it is something that will transform this world.
When I got my call to ministry, in my 20s, I was teaching middle school Sunday school. When you’re in your 20s and you’re teaching middle schoolers you really aren’t that far removed from their age. They get off track easily. And I realized that I couldn’t teach them alone. I needed God‘s help. So I asked God to give me something to keep the classroom a little less like chaos and a little more like the kingdom of God.
And I came up with three rules. These rules have shaped how I’ve done all parts of ministry. I share them with you today not because I think everyone should embody these three rules. But because it has helped me achieve a balance in life and it has helped me to love God and to love others in a way that is unique for me and that resonates with my soul.
Rules for fulfilling your purpose
- The first rule is to have fun. You don’t get to be known for holy mischief without a bit of fun! There is a reason that joy is a fruit of the spirit. We are meant to enjoy this crazy, difficult, amazing beautiful , wonderful and abundant life that Jesus has for us. And even in the times when I experience grief or tragedy, I hold onto joy, knowing it will always be there for me, because we always have hope.
- The second rule that I have is to always learn something. I live for aha moments. I live for those moments when someone says the words, but what if… What if the world we dream about could be the world that we live in now. This is our task in building the kingdom of God. This is our task in tending to a garden of faith. No, I don't expect to learn something profound about God or the Bible every time I experience either, but I do expect to learn something about myself or to learn something about other people. Which brings me to my last rule
- Respect others. Respect is my final rule but it’s also the rule that if I’m honest I tend to break more than the others. I don’t intend to, I don't want to, but it happens… and if we’re honest, it’s the rule that the world has forgotten. It’s the rule the Ekklesia has forgotten as well… people matter. You matter. You matter so much that Jesus was willing to pay the ultimate sacrifice, but also to not leave you alone. To give you the Holy Spirit who teaches and transforms and nurture‘s and tends to you every single day.
The Holy Spirit is turning you into more and more of a disciple each and every day. Our purpose is to be part of the process that helps do that in other people as well.
It is how we are programmed. The Holy Spirit rewires us for a new life. And a life driven purpose that changes the world. Are you ready?