Sunday, November 19, 2017

The Purpose of Your Life

[This message was shared during worship with the people of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio, earlier today.]

Matthew 25:14-30
Someone once said to me: “I know that Jesus loves me and that I’m saved by grace through my faith in Christ, but what exactly is the purpose of my life?”

The short answer is that you and I are alive for only one purpose: To glorify God. In Isaiah 43:7, God says, “...everyone who is called by my name...whom I created for my glory.”

God commands this not because God is an egomaniac.To glorify God entails using our lives in the ways intended to be used by the One Who created us out of an overabundance of gracious love. When we glorify God, acknowledge the relationship of love initiated by the God Who made us and Who has redeemed us through Christ, setting us free to be all that those created in God's image are meant to be.

We most glorify God not when we consider at the Bible’s portrayal of holy living, like we see in the Ten Commandments or in Jesus’ Beatitudes, then grit our teeth and strive to be good and holy people, whether it makes us or others miserable or not. We most glorify God when we enjoy God and use His gifts to us in ways that honor Him.

None of this is to say that following Jesus is easy. It's not.

But there will be no joy in living with Christ if we think we must be holy people who glorify God in the strength of our own power. We must learn the joy of letting go and letting God, of acknowledging our sin and weakness, so that we can be covered in the grace and filled with the power of God. This is what Paul was talking about in the New Testament when he wrote: "...when I am weak, then I am strong." God's power is perfected in us when we admit our weakness. (1 Corinthians 12:9-10)

The Lord Who saved us by going to the cross for us will be glorified within us if we will allow the Holy Spirit empower us to live according to God’s call in Proverbs 3:5: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding.”

Our prayer each day should be that God would help us to glorify Him by helping us to remember His goodness to us and leaning on Him.

The parable Jesus tells in today’s Gospel lesson is the story of two men who didn’t grit their teeth to do the right thing, but who remembered the goodness of their master and so, enjoyed and used the blessings of the master to bring pleasure both to them and to the master.

It’s also the story of a third man who ignored the blessings given to him by his master, relying on his own personal sense of what was right and wrong, and so, denied himself a continuing relationship with him.

You know the story. A master, clearly a stand-in for God the Son, Jesus, is about to go on a journey. As we read Jesus’ story, we understand the “journey” Jesus is talking about. Since the crucified and risen Jesus ascended into heaven, we know that He has been enthroned in heaven, giving His followers millennia to share the Good News that all who turn from sin and believe in the crucified and risen God of all creation, will not perish in eternal separation from God, but will have eternal life with God! Jesus has been away from the earth on a long journey. As we talked about last week, there will be a day when the millennia cease and Jesus returns to judge the living and the dead and to establish His eternal kingdom, finally and fully making all things new.

Anticipating his journey, the master in Jesus’ parable entrusts some of his money to three different servants, just as Christ has entrusted the riches of the gospel to those of who follow Him (1 Corinthians 4:1-2).

Even the single talent (which is the word used by Jesus in this passage, not bags of gold, as the New International Version translates it, the master gave the third servant could be worth between 20 and 600 years of a day laborer’s wages!

In the same way, God entrusts a fortune of blessings to every human being. It’s called being alive. 

And that’s just the start for followers of Jesus Christ! Jesus expended His life on the cross so that all we fallen, sinful, imperfect human beings can, like the thief who was crucified next to Jesus on the cross, acknowledge our sin, turn from that sin, and turn to Him Jesus in faith to live with God for eternity. What a gift! 

Living lives that joyfully express gratitude for these two gifts--the gift of life and the gift of life made new that comes to us by grace through faith in Christ--is not a burden. It’s joy!

That isn’t to say that it’s easy. Throw yourself with abandon into the life of following Jesus--the life of Christian discipleship--and you’ll get bruised too. Maybe more than bruised. You may face rejection, ridicule. In some places today, following Jesus will put a disciple's life at risk. But even here, people may question your sanity or your judgment if you follow Jesus.

A woman told me once that she couldn’t speak with her father about her relationship with Christ. “He thinks I’m crazy,” she told me.

And the possibility of rejection is made greater these days by the public figures and “Christian” groups who claim to be Christians who live unrepentantly un-Christian lives or who turn Christian faith into a religion of good works and looking innocent while decaying inside from spiritual pride, what Jesus called "whitewashed tombs"! (Matthew 23:27-28)

But all of us who are bruised for believing in Jesus need to remember the words of Jesus’ earthly brother “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-4)

In Jesus’ parable, the master came back, as Jesus one day will return to the earth, and, like Jesus on judgment day, the master demanded an accounting for how the servants had used all he had given to them.

The master was glad to see that the first two men had enjoyed and used their gifts and so brought glory to his name.

The last man, not so much. His failure to honor and enjoy either his gifts or the giver brought him total separation from the master, just as happens to those who refuse to honor or enjoy Jesus, the Giver of the best gifts of all.

In his book, The Purpose Driven Life, which Lutherans can heartily endorse though not agreeing with everything in it, Pastor Rick Warren gives five portraits of what people who glorify God look like.

First, they worship God all the time. As Warren puts it, “Worship is a lifestyle of enjoying God, loving Him, and giving ourselves to be used for His purposes.”

Second, they love other believers. Long before Jesus walked the earth, God had already commanded all people to love God and to love neighbors. But just before His crucifixion, Jesus told believers, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 13:34) Jesus’ sacrificial love for us brought us eternity with God and He commands us to love our fellow believers in exactly the same way.

Third, they glorify God by allowing Him to shape them into the likeness of Jesus. Paul writes of Christian disciples in 1 Corinthians 3:18: “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”

We need to stand aside, lay down our will and submit to God’s will, which is to refashion us to be just like Jesus: loving, bold, fearless, forgiving, purposeful. If the third man in Jesus’ parable had simply used the gracious gift the master had given him, he would have had a productive, joyful life. But he didn’t. Christians who keep Christ buried, out of sight and out of mind, during the week, then try to resurrect Him on Sunday morning, are missing out on all that God has in mind for them.

Fourth, we glorify God by serving others with our gifts. No matter what our gifts or our limitations, God has gifted every Christian to glorify God by serving others in some way or another.

Finally, we glorify God by telling others about Jesus. Sharing our faith in Christ with others is the only way we will keep or grow in our faith. Use your faith and it grows. Hoard your faith and it dies out. Truly, faith in Christ is a “use it or lose it” proposition.

We can be like the first two men in Jesus’ parable. We can use the gifts our Master has given to us to glorify God. We do this when we worship God in our daily lives, love our fellow believers, ask God’s help to become more like Jesus, use our gifts to serve others, and tell others about Jesus and the new and everlasting life only He can give to those who turn from sin and believe in Him.

What is the purpose of our lives?

To put it another way, it's to take all the grace and blessings and forgiveness God has given to us through Jesus and our faith in Jesus and, in the certainty that we belong to God forever, give the grace and blessings and forgiveness to everyone we encounter.

First John 5:11, another one of our discipleship group memory verses, reminds us: “And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. Whoever has the Son, has life; whoever does not have the Son does not have life.”

You can never give away so much of your life for the glory of God that God can’t replace over and over for all eternity, if we will just trust in Jesus Christ alone. 

The purpose of our lives, yours and mine, then, is to spend our lives completely on glorifying God--Methodist theologian Leonard Sweet calls it "spending our last check," knowing that God has an eternity of life to give to all who live completely for Him.

God will never run out of life to give to those who daily surrender Jesus Christ!

So, Jesus calls us to a simple decision that can be framed like this:

Are we willing to give away the life that God gives to us in Christ for God’s purposes and so, allow God to grow our faith, our joy, our purpose for living? 

Or, will we hoard all of God’s grace and blessings given through Christ and die, whimpering about how hard this life is, and so, separate ourselves from God?

 Will we let God's grace in or lock it out? 

The choice is ours.

[I'm the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

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