Here’s another verse that also applies. It’s in John 6:40.
John 6:40 – For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in Him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.
So many people believe that when a person dies, they go to heaven immediately. That isn’t what Jesus believed. He believed that, when we die, we die. And then, at a later time, when He returns on the last day…. Some people think the last day means the last day of your life, but all Bible scholars, who really study God’s word, know that that term last day is a code term for the end of man’s time on earth – man’s government of the earth. When Christ comes back is the last day. All those who have been faithful to Him will be resurrected from the dead on the last day. That hasn’t happened yet. So, if you’re dead, you’re dead until then – kind of like being asleep. That’s what the Bible calls death. It calls it sleep. You can read more about it in 1 Corinthians 15 and 1 Thessalonians 4.
I was watching a documentary yesterday – interestingly enough – about a doctor that discovered that, if people stop eating a diet rich in animal protein and fat, that cancer and heart trouble drops dramatically. He grew up, as a child, on a dairy farm, where cow’s milk was thought to be the perfect food and that beef was essential for good health. He was completely dedicated to animal protein. When he learned differently from his scientific studies – one of which included the entire nation of China – he tried to get his point across to the mainstream people in the industry and government entities and he ran into stiff resistance. And he recalled his outlook about animal protein being the perfect food, and he said he had to look at the evidence and then change his bias that he had been invested in since childhood. And he wondered why, in the face of overwhelming evidence, others were not willing to do the same.
So, when Jesus said, “Everyone who looks on the Son and believes in Him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day,” I’m wondering the same thing. Why are so many Christians not willing to believe what Jesus believed and taught plainly?
Is this a digression? Well, not really. We’re talking about unlocking your full potential. And it’s not about going to heaven. You know, we’re not just going to sit on a cloud and stare at God’s face forever. There’s something much better than that in store for us. The Book says Jesus is coming down here! And eventually, heaven is going to come down here, too. If you don’t believe it, read the last two chapters in the Bible. It’s right there – right there in plain language! No need to be deceived or confused about it. Just read what God plainly says. Then you’ll know.
After we saw what our potential is for the future, we asked, “What potential is there for us in this life?” And that’s where we are today. We understood that long-term potential for every human and then we asked another question, “Why did God call you?” What’s He going to do with you now? And today’s question – hard on the heels of that one – is, “What is your mission?” So that’s what we’re going to talk about for the rest of today – “What is your mission – the mission God has given you after He called you?” God called each of us for a purpose now and placed each of us in His church for a specific mission. So today we’re going to consider what your mission might be.
Years ago, Jake and Elwood thought they were on a mission from God. They were mistaken. So how do you find the mission that God has for you? How do we detect our mission? One way to approach the project would be to look at missions that God has assigned to others. It’s good to know what a mission looks like before you go looking for yours. So let’s look in the Bible to see how God does that.
I’ve broken this down into four basic categories. There are lots of different ways to slice and dice this one, but these are the four I’ve chosen for today.
One is your example. Let’s look in Matthew 5:14.
Matthew 5:14 – You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden, nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and then it gives light to all the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
So that’s the example we set. We shine when we live God’s way before other people, if we don’t hide it. You know, the lights that are in your house? Where are they? Well, they’re up on stands or they’re up on the ceiling. Right? That’s so all can be seen. We have to take our light and put it where people can see it. I know that some people think this kind of mission is rather passive – we’re not really doing anything directly. But the Bible shows us that this mission can be tough duty.
There are two ways that I know of that I think can be really hard. Who was the first one who was the light in the world? Well, go all the way back to Genesis. Abel. Adam and Eve’s son, Abel, it says, pleased God. And Cain, his older brother, was jealous of that. So what did he do? Well, he killed his brother. Jesus plainly told His disciples that being an example for God in the world is tough business. He said, “They hated Me and they will hate you also.” So who is He talking about? Is He talking about the Roman government? Well, no, not so much. He’s talking about the religious leaders. They were the ones that hated Jesus. Of the twelve disciples, all but one died a hard death – directly connected to the example they set. They were killed because they followed Christ. So that’s out there. It’s always a possibility. I never thought that would be an issue here in this country until just recently, but I see more and more that our country is swinging more and more away from belief in God to other views. And it can be hard in another way also. In 1 Corinthians 7:13, we can read:
1 Corinthians 7:13 – If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases, the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace. For how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband, or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?
So God tells us that, if a person is married to someone who is not a Christian – someone who does not believe – they’re to remain with them and set a good example for them. And there is a possibility that that example can gradually turn the other person – the unbeliever – back to Christ. Maybe their good example will win them over. But that can take a long time. It can be very tedious and very frustrating. It’s like trying to find your car keys when their lost, you know. You just don’t think you’ll ever find them after awhile.
1 Peter 2:12 – Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable – that’s the example – so that when they speak evil against you, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. Well, that can be a long way off, so you know, the example we set isn’t so much for now, but it’s for later. Why is that? Because there’s a resurrection coming for people – a day of visitation.
So the mission of setting an example, besides requiring great understanding of God’s ways, is also an exercise in patience. And rather than being passive, it requires incredible internal honesty and character. Now why do I say internal honesty? Because, when it comes to obeying God, we are often prone to play at it and pretend we are obeying, when, in fact, we have deceived ourselves and are still on our own self-willed track. You know, none of us likes to be controlled by others when it comes to things with the church and religion. And yet, so many of us want to control other people in that arena. That’s hypocrisy. And those who live with us can often see that we aren’t really living what we preach, even when we are not willing to see it ourselves. So it requires real internal honesty and character.
Another kind of mission is evangelism. Just before Jesus ascended to heaven, when He was with the twelve disciples before He went up into the sky there in Acts, He told them to go out and make disciples, just like He taught them to do before His death.
Making disciples can be done in many ways. In fact, all missions are eventually related to making disciples in some way. The way I’m talking about here is the direct way – evangelistic preaching or personal witnessing. Paul did both of these. He would go into a city and go to the synagogue and preach Christ. That was one way he accomplished his mission. Philip, on the other hand, saw a man in a chariot reading a scroll of Isaiah, and walked up to him, in sort of a back door approach, and asked if he understood what he was reading.
How would you know if you were assigned the gift of evangelism? You would get good feedback from others and see good results. I knew a man who wanted to preach, but every time he did, people told him they felt like he was talking down to them. They felt insulted. His approach was a turn-off. Instead of drawing people to Christ, he was running them off. Sometimes, when an evangelist is strong, he resonates with the ones God is calling and turns off the ones God is not. But, in this man’s case, he was turning off everybody. The problem there was that he was not assigned the mission of evangelism. On the other hand, this man had been given a great gift for caring for the sick. It’s very important to work on the mission God has given us, rather than on the one we want. And we can often know what God wants us to do by the feedback we get when we’re engaged in those kinds of activities related to the mission He wants for us.
Another kind of mission is that of shepherding – shepherding the flock of God – taking care of and teaching the church – preparing them for their mission. I was in a church, in times past, that thought only ministers were to do God’s work. Everyone else was just supposed to pay, pray and obey. They were just there to provide support. Looking at the scripture in Ephesians 4:11, we learn something different.
Ephesians 4:11 – And He gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers to equip the saints for the work of ministry – for building up of the body of Christ.
Some people are set on a mission focused on the membership rather than on converting believers. But since the church is a place where new believers are nurtured to spiritual maturity, eventually even the shepherds are involved in the overall mission of making disciples. As I read earlier in 1 Corinthians 12, Paul said he planted and Apollos watered. So some go out and get them. Others take care of them once there in. And he said that God was the one that gave the growth – a miracle that no man can do. So God gets the credit. You know, a farmer plants a seed and he waters it, but unless a seed has life in it, it’s just not going to grow. You can’t plant seeds that have been boiled and see any fruit from it. Right? So we can’t do that part. God does. But isn’t it great that God doesn’t ask us to do what we can’t do? He only asks us to do things that we’re capable of once He’s given us His gift.
Another kind of mission we see in the Bible is that of prophet. Some people’s mission, in times past, was that of delivering information about Jesus. None of us has to wonder if God has assigned us that task, because in every case in the Bible, where someone was a prophet, God had spoken directly to them, telling them that they were to go to so-and-so and say thus-and-such. So don’t think God has laid it on your heart to predict the future. It’s a delusion. He doesn’t lay it on our hearts. He tells us directly and the experience is undeniable and unforgettable. And adding to this, in Hebrews 1, if you want to go read it, He tells us that He’s done with sending prophets for the time being. That was a vehicle He used in the past. And now He’s spoken to us through His Son. And everything Jesus has said has been written down and we have all we need. So, if you think you’re a prophet, you’re mistaken and disaster awaits if you persist, because you’re on the wrong mission.
So that’s some examples of missions that God has given people in times past. What about today? How can we apply what we’ve learned to the modern day situation? Well, I think of lots of people, but in my own sphere, I think of Guy Swenson. About nine years ago, he and I and Jim O’Brien went to a seminar on church health. And we learned there that growth happens naturally when a congregation is spiritually strong. We preached it, but the approach was so radically different from the media evangelism approach that most of us were familiar with that very few people absorbed it. They thought it was boring and irrelevant. So Guy just backed off, which was probably the smart thing to do, and simply started doing what he’d learned. He and Jennifer started out in their living room by themselves. Now they have a much larger congregation. So he proved it works. They’re evangelizing, they’re shepherding and they’re witnessing to the Church of God that congregations grow when they’re healthy. Jesus said the Kingdom was like horticulture. Healthy plants grow. It makes sense, doesn’t it? You know, that apple tree…if it’s a stressed tree, it won’t produce fruit. If you take care of it, and prune it, and water it, and fertilize it, then it’s going to produce lots of apples. Now I see that as a mission. What he’s doing is a mission. He’s using the gifts God has given him and he’s dealing with a need that is in our church. That’s it.
Let’s look at another contemporary example – my friend Jim O’Brien, who also went with Guy and me to that workshop. No one values freedom in Christ more than Jim, but once he was in the independent Church of God, he saw that, if the independent groups band together, they could accomplish greater things than they could if they were separate. It was possible to be organizationally separate, but still cooperate for the greater good. Since then, he has been tirelessly working toward that end. That’s a mission.
Both missions are about evangelism and they’re both about church health – taking care of the brethren. Those are some of the obvious missions that I know of. On another different level, I know of another man who sings when he’s at church. And people are moved when he sings. They’re moved in their hearts toward God. His mission is also one of shepherding – of nurturing and taking care of. And I heard of a lady who couldn’t sing, but she could make really great pies. People would come to church, and eat her pies, and feel really good about being there. And you might say, “Well, that’s just pie! It’s just physical.” But, you know, there’s a parable where Jesus said that people who give anybody that needs it a cup of cold water that they’re giving it to Christ. A physical act can be a spiritual act as well. Hers was. It was the love of God extended in a specific visible way to nurture other people. Sometimes our mission can be found in an unmet need right in front of our face. They don’t have any pie. There’s nobody to sing.
So how else can we detect our mission? Well, did you know that God gives each member of the church a special gift so they can accomplish their mission? Look with me in 1 Corinthians 12:4.
1 Corinthians 12:4 – Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of service, but the same Lord. And there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good – given in a specific way to each person. For to one is given, through the Spirit, the utterance of wisdom; and to another, the utterance of knowledge, according to that same Spirit; and to another faith by the same Spirit; and to another, the gift of healing by one Spirit; to another the working of miracles; to another, prophecy; to another, the ability to distinguish between spirits; to another, various kinds of tongues; to another, the interpretation of tongues – lots of different gifts. All those gifts were gifts that God gave in times past to help the church.
Then, in verse 11:
V-11 – All these are empowered by the one and same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills. So God gives to each of us, individually, a unique gift that enables us to accomplish the mission He has assigned.
So, if you don’t know what your mission is, a good question to ask is, “What can I do?” or, maybe, “What do I have the ability to do?” Another question after that is, “What needs to be done?” When Elaine and I left the church we were in, we took stock of the talents, interests, knowledge and values that we had, and we asked, “What needs does the Church of God have that others are not meeting fully?” We saw the steady attrition of young people in the church. We were bringing them in the front door and they were going out the back. We saw that no one was focused single-mindedly on that effort – on concentrating on that issue. We saw our love for the young people that we’ve always had. We saw our training in spiritual things, experience in ministry, and also the things of the mind, and we knew what to do. We also knew we could never accomplish it, except that God causes the growth. So ever since, we’ve been trying to move a mountain with a teaspoon, trusting that God’s front-loader is on the other side of the mountain working away. Of course, we will never know all the results of our efforts. As Paul said, our job is not to produce growth. It’s to plant and water. The growth is God’s job. So we do what He lets us do and we watch Him do the miracles.
So that’s an example of how a person can be led to their mission by detecting what gifts they have to work with. That’s how it came to us. It may be the same for you.
In two weeks, we’ll take a look at how to find your gift – the thing that God gives to each of us – to lift up our capabilities and, therefore, our potential to unheard of levels. Check back, then, in two weeks to see and consider more about your spiritual gift and how to use it to God’s glory.