David Jeremiah - Fully Engaged
If you come to Shadow Mountain Church, you'll notice that we have a lot of buildings on our campus. Most of them were built in the time that I've been there over 35 years. One of the buildings that was more fun than any other was the children's building. And it sits on a place where we used to have a parking lot. That lot is special to me because that's where I taught my youngest son Daniel to drive his stick shift truck. If the children's building were not in existence, there might still be black marks on the pavement that Daniel and I created one Saturday morning as he was learning to use a clutch and shift gears.
Several of our neighbors came out and watched what we were doing out there that day. It was quite an instructional session. It was a beauty. But unless you are a truck driver or a collector of model cars, you probably haven't thought of shifting gears with a clutch in a long time. But since it serves my purpose in introducing this sermon, I want to tell you what little I know about a clutch. The clutch is an instrument that is used to disengage the engine of a motor car from the drivetrain or the gearbox. And when the clutch is pushed to the floor, the engine disengages so that gears can be shifted from one to another. There's a vastly more complicated explanation of that whole process, but hopefully you get the picture. When the clutch is activated, the engine is disengaged. And when it is returned to its normal position, the drivetrain is reengaged to the engine, and the power of the engine causes the automobile to go forward.
There are only supposed to be two positions for a clutch, either fully disengaged or fully engaged. But some have been known to ride the clutch. And that burns the clutch out. And there is a very special aroma for a burned out clutch. So, with that picture in mind, I want to talk with you about living a fully engaged Christian life. A fully engaged Christian life comes from the inside of us. Many of us sense, if we're honest, that maybe something vital is missing in our walk with God. By all standards, we may be considered successful. We never go hungry. All of our needs are met. We have friends and family. But something is missing. And deep in our soul, there is this stubborn insistence that there's got to be more to being a Christian than what we've experienced. That's not just something you feel. That's something all of us feel.
We know that if we're not careful, we get unengaged. We are not fully engaged with life. We are coasting, we are treading water. Over the years, if we're not careful, we become more interested in finding the comfort zone than the fully engaged zone. We worry about burnout. And in the process, many of us rust out, and we're no longer living out. I mean, when was the last time you saw somebody who was really on fire for God, someone on fire with vision, and passion, and excitement about serving the Lord? So perhaps tonight in our brief time together, I can throw a few logs on the flickering embers of our hearts, and get us flaming up into passion again for God.
Several years ago, I was asked to endorse a book by Erwin McManus, a friend of mine. Erwin is the lead pastor of a very innovative congregation in Los Angeles called Mosaic. The title of the book I was asked to endorse was "Seizing Your Divine Moment". And, as I remember, it was a very motivating read. In one place in his book, he wrote these words. "Back in 1887, Elisha Hoffman wrote a song that has become part of classic American church life. Its name is 'Leaning On the Everlasting Arms.' The chorus goes like this. 'Leaning, leaning, safe and secure from all alarms. Leaning, leaning, leaning on the everlasting arms.'"
Erwin said, "While I'm certain that these words have brought comfort to lots of people, it is at the same time an example of the direction we've been leaning for too long. The imagery that this great hymn gives us is of leaning backward. And it tells us if we lean on the everlasting arms of God, we will be safe and secure from all alarms. The implications are obvious. If you lean back into God's protective arms, he will not let anything hurt you". He said, "I want to absolutely affirm that we should lean on the arms of God, but I want to challenge both the direction of that leaning and its outcome. When you lean on the arms of God, you may find yourself in the most alarming situation you've ever been in, not safe from alarm. And even more important, when you begin leaning on God, you discover that you're leaning forward and not leaning backward".
Popular author Mark Batterson weighed in on this in a recent book that he wrote. He said, "When did we start believing that God wants to send us to safe places to do easy things, that faithfulness is holding the fort, that playing it safe is safe, and that there's any greater privilege than sacrifice, that radical is anything but normal? Jesus didn't die to keep us safe. He died to make us dangerous. Faithfulness is not holding the fort. It's storming the gates of hell. The will of God is not an insurance plan, it's a daring plan. And the complete surrender of your life to the cause of Christ isn't radical, it's normal. It's time to quit living as if the purpose of life is to arrive safely at death. It's time to go all-in and all out for the all in all". I resonate with that statement. When I started serving God many years ago, it was very popular for everybody to have a verse, a life verse. I remember people standing up in church, I used to think that it was so funny, and say, "My life verse for this year is", I thought life verses were supposed to be for life.
Well, I decided I needed a life verse. And I remember reading the Scriptures, and asking the Lord to help me find a verse that could kind of be the center of what he wanted me to do in my life. I've had this verse for my life. This isn't my verse for this year. This is the verse that I've had all of the life that I can remember having a verse. It's Colossians 3:23 and 24. It's a verse I write in Bibles and books when I'm asked to sign them quite often. "Whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance, for you serve the Lord Christ". I claim these verses as my very own. And I ask God to help me live out my life in the fulfillment of these truths. I need to confess that I have fallen short of this standard many times, but I've never lost sight of the goal: to live for the Lord with nothing held back, to do whatever he asks me to do with all of my heart. Never look back with regret, all-in, nothing withheld, fully engaged for his purpose.
Jack London, who was no evangelical, describes the fully engaged person. I love his words. He said, "I'd rather be ashes than dust. I'd rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry rot. I'd rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet. The function of man is to live, not to exist. I shall never waste my days in trying to prolong them. I shall use them, every single one of them". I know that this is the kind of life God wants us all to live. I remember when I was struggling with the reality of this verse in my life as a younger pastor. I heard lots of sermons about how we were to rest in the Lord, and trust God to do the work, and let the Holy Spirit flow through us, all of which is absolutely true. But sometimes, when we get into that passive mode, if we're not careful, we lose sight of what God has called us to do.
And I remember one day, when it got settled for me once and for all that this was the will of God. I'd read this passage many times, but I never thought about it this way. It's from the letter that was written to the church of Laodicea in the book of Revelation. And these are the words that were written to that church. "I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold or hot, I will vomit you out of my mouth". What does God think about lukewarm living? What does God think about saving your bets and living in the comfort zone? There he says it. He says, "I'd rather have you cold or hot. I can't stand you if you're lukewarm".
I wrote a whole chapter in that book on the apathy of America. And the explanation of apathy is so interesting because it's all wrapped up in the word. Apathy is made up of two words: an A and the word "patheos". Patheos means passion. When you put the A in front of it, it means without passion. So, the problem that we have in our culture and in our churches is we are apathetic, we are without passion. And the Bible says that God can't use us very much if we lose our fervor for him, if we just decide to kind of hang in there until it's over. In the New Testament, there are only three possible heart temperatures. I remember the story, as you do, in Luke 24, where the two disciples are walking on the road to Emmaus with Jesus, and they said after their conversation with Jesus, "Did not our hearts burn within us as we walked and talked along the way"?
The Bible says it's possible to have a burning heart. Over in Matthew, we're told that in the last days, some people will have hearts that are cold. And then, of course, there's the lukewarm heart. I don't know what it is about us, why we are so afraid of being on fire for Christ. We do not want to be labeled as emotionalist or extremist. Yet, in every other area of life, we laud wholeheartedness. We're enthusiastic about entertainment, and sports, and life in general. But so much of our Christian experience is dead, and cold, and without zeal, and without enthusiasm. Before we go back to my key verses, I want to introduce you to a man in the Bible who lived the way Colossians 3:23 says we should live. His name is Hezekiah. And in 2 Chronicles 31:21, this is what we read about him. "And in every work that he began in the service of the house of God, in the law and in the commandments, he did it with all his heart, and he prospered". He did it with all his heart. Hezekiah, go, man. He did it with all of his heart.
Now, let's go back to those verses I read, Colossians 3:23. "And whatsoever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men". Why is it that those verses are so captivating? Let me first of all tell you why from the perspective of the scope of these verses. Fully engaged, the scope of it. "And whatsoever you do," whatever you do. It doesn't say just when you're doing spiritual stuff. It doesn't say just when you're doing fun stuff. It says whatever you do, do it heartily, as unto the Lord. And that covers a vast territory of activity. That means that nothing falls outside of this instruction to the believer. It's not just about what happens when you go to church. Note that the Colossian passage, if you read it in the Bible, is set in the context of the family. It's at the end of a section that deals with husbands, and wives, and children, and fathers, and bondservants.
And Paul makes no distinction between the pleasant and the unpleasant. We are to dive into our tasks, fully engaged with each one. That includes fixing a leaky faucet, changing diapers, paying bills, resolving conflicts between our kids, you name it. The word is whatever. And it covers all that we do, no matter who we are as followers of Christ. You see, the Christ way is the all-encompassing way. It covers everything. Martin Luther King Jr. once said these words in one of his sermons. "If it falls your lot to sweep streets in life, sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures. Sweep streets like Beethoven composed music. Sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry. Sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will have to pause and say, "Here lived a great street sweeper, who swept his job well". He was absolutely right. We are to live our lives, the gift that God has given us, with our heart and our soul all engaged in what he's given us to do.
You say, "Pastor, you don't know my job. I have the most boring, awful job". Well, go to your boring, awful job, and do it for the glory of God with all of your heart. Because that's all God requires of you. He doesn't require you have a different job. He requires you to do the job he's trusted you with with all your heart and all of your soul. That's what the Bible says. Fully engaged, the scope of it, the key word is whatever you do. Fully engaged, the strength of it, do it heartily, says the Lord. I love that word. The word "heartily" is literally a word that means from your soul. Colossians 3:23 says, "Do it heartily". And then Psalm 103, verse 1, "Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name". I think that is a key phrase for us. All that is within me. Isn't it interesting to stop and think about when you serve the Lord, to serve him with all that is within you? That's what that word "heartily" means. It means you give everything you have in your heart and in your soul.
So, I just took a little liberty with that verse, and added some other applications. Drive your bus with all that is within you. Sing your song with all that is within you. Teach your class with all that is within you. Study your assignments with all that is within you. Love your kids with all that is within you. Love your wife with all that is within you. And love your country with all that is within you. Do it all with everything you have. When we invest wholeheartedly in our relationships, and in our work, and in our service for Jesus Christ, our heads will hit the pillow every night with that soulful kind of fatigue that we all know about.
I remember early on in the ministry at Shadow Mountain, I was preaching three times on Sunday morning and twice on Sunday night. And I would come home at the end of the second service on Sunday night, and we'd get in the car to go home, and I would tell my wife, I'd say, "Honey, I am so tired, but it is a really cool tired. I love this tired". It wasn't tired from over-exertion. It was just tired from emotionally pouring everything I had into those five services. When you know that you've given everything during your day to the cause of Christ, when you've poured out your heart and your soul and strength in the pursuit of God's purpose for your life, that's the life that God will bless. There's no feeling like that in all the world. We get tired over a lot of silly things, but it's wonderful to get tired over God's things.
This kind of Christianity, the kind the Apostles Paul and Peter, and thousands of other early Christians practiced, this isn't for wimps. It's not for the fainthearted, the lukewarm, the moderately committed, or the occasional churchgoer. It's for the passionate, the ones with the courage to say, "I believe God, and I will dedicate my every waking hour to his purpose, no matter what it costs". That's what the church is crying out for. That's what this country is crying out for. The time of passive Christianity is gone. Christians are being squeezed in almost every part of culture. And if you are not totally committed to Jesus Christ, you will not be victorious. You will be victimized. You are going to have to decide along the way, "Am I going to really be a Christian, or am I going to hide in the weeds and hope this goes away"?
And the Bible says we know what we need to do. And then the Word of God says we're to do this fully engaged. The scope of it, whatever fully engaged. The strength of it, heartily fully engaged. The secret of it, now watch this, as to the Lord and not to men. The Bible says that when we serve, we serve to an audience of one. Over and over in the Scripture, we are admonished to do this. For instance, in the Old Testament, the most important passage to the Jewish people was in the book of Deuteronomy, where they are given what is called a shema. "Hear, O Israel, the Lord your God is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your strength". And in the New Testament, Jesus adds all your mind.
Now, stop and think about that, and recognize how many times the word "all" is in there. He says, "How are you supposed to love God? Love him with all your heart. Love him with all your soul. Love him with all your strength. And love him with all your mind". If you're a student here tonight, when you study hard and work hard to determine the truth from the Word of God and from life, when you dedicate your mind to the Lord, that's a form of worship of God. And it says, "Unto him, for his glory, for his honor". I mentioned earlier Mark Batterson, in one of his books, he tells the story of Johann Sebastian Bach, who was to classic music what William Shakespeare was to English literature and Sir Isaac Newton was to physics. His body of work includes 256 cantatas. Listening to Bach's music is a rapturous experience, but it's not just because of the melodies and harmonies. It's more than the mere combination of notes. It's the motivation behind the music.
The reason "Toccata and Fugue in D Minor" or "Mass in B Minor" touch the soul is that they didn't come originally from music. They were prayers before they were songs. Literally before Bach started scoring a sheet of music, he would scrawl at the top of the page the letters JJ, Jesu Juva, at the very top. It was the simplest of prayers. You know what the prayer was? "Jesus, help me". And then, at the completion of every composition, Bach inscribed three letters in the margin of his music, SDG. Those three letters stood for the Latin phrase soli Deo gloria, to the glory of God alone. Soli Deo Gloria was one of the rallying cries of the Protestant Reformation, but Bach personalized it. His life was a unique translation of that singular motive, and so is yours, and so is mine. We cannot do anything for the Lord that's going to be worthy of our calling if we don't say, "For the glory of God".
If you're doing it for yourself, it's going to fall on its face. Whatsoever you do, that's the scope of it. Do it heartily, that's the strength of it. Do it for the Lord, that's the secret of it. And the source of it is knowing that, from the Lord, you will receive the reward of the inheritance, for you serve the Lord Christ. We don't always get paid down here, but we always get paid up there. The source of a fully engaged life is God, and passion comes from God. Enthusiasm is God in you. Passion is not something you develop as much as you discover along the way when God shows you what it is you're supposed to do. And I don't believe we can make a once for all decision about that. I have to keep reviewing that all the time, and redoing it all the time, and checking on it all the time. Am I doing whatever? Am I doing it heartily? And am I doing it for you?
So easy to slip off the track one way or the other. But the more that you move with this as your vision, the more God seems to bless your life. The more God blesses your life, the more you have to lose, and the more you have to risk. And the more you have to risk, the higher the price is of following God. I cannot begin to live fully engaged. It starts when God begins it in me. He saved most of you. You're Christians, you go to church. And I'm here to tell you tonight there was maybe a time when you could get by with being an also-ran Christian, and just average, and don't care too much about what else happens except you like your teacher, and you're okay with the music at church. But I believe God is calling the Christian people in this nation to a higher calling, to a place of more importance than we've occupied during my lifetime. God isn't finished with us. God has a plan for us. He has a plan for you.
And I want to end this message by reminding you how you can get involved in that. There are two things I want you to carry out of here tonight. One is a major determination, and the other is a major decision. Here is the major determination. Consider the parable of the bricklayers. Three bricklayers are working on the same project. And someone comes by the project and says to them, "What are you doing"? Well, the first bricklayer says, "I'm laying bricks". The second one says, "I'm building a building". And the third one says, "I am building a cathedral for God". Most of us would like to be like that third builder, but we have to imagine that we probably are in the first one or two.
Well, let me tell you the difference between these three men who were all doing the same thing. The bricklayers had a job, a necessity of life, breathing or sleeping. The man building the building had a career. But the man who was building the cathedral had a calling. Every one of us here tonight are ministry in one of those three ways. "Well, it's my job". And there's nothing wrong with that except everything is wrong with that. Some people come, they want a career. They want to stop over at our place on their way to someplace else. But when we find someone who has a calling, we jump on it as fast as we can and get them to sign the bottom line. That's the people we want.
And I want to tell you tonight that, whether you know it or not, every single one of you has a calling. There are three callings in the Christian life. You're called to salvation, you're called to service, and one day you'll be called to heaven. And because you're here tonight, the third calling hasn't happened yet. And the first two you should be concerned about. If you haven't been called to Jesus, I'll give you an opportunity in a moment to hear that call and accept it. But most of us here are Christians, and we've been called to serve. We just don't understand it's a calling. God has a calling on your life. He's equipped you to do something that nobody else can do. He's given you a gift that he gives to every Christian. And it's time that Christians began to realize this is not something I have an option about.
Almighty God has saved me, and he's called me, and I have a calling. You may not be able to preach, that's not that big of a deal. You may have a gift in whatever that you are gifted to do. I urge you to take what you know God has gifted you to do, and draw a straight line from that to the kingdom of God, and begin to use your calling for the greater good, for the kingdom of God and not the kingdom of this earth. You have a calling. Make the determination sometime in these days as to what that calling is. And many of you, you sit there and you hear me down deep in your heart, you're saying, "I know what it is. I know I have that calling, but I'm not following that calling. I'm doing something else". You will never know the full joy of the Lord until you follow the calling he's placed on your life.
And then I mentioned that there's not only an important determination, but there's an important decision. That decision is to do something now. You know, we are such great procrastinators as Christians. Our favorite phrase is "I'll pray about it," which means I don't want to decide about it now, so I'm going to postpone it. Let me give you some information about that. Here's what I've learned. The time between when God tells you to do something and when you finally do it, that time in between those two moments does not belong to God. It belongs to the devil.
You see, God expects immediate obedience. When he calls us, he expects us to answer. If he calls us and we postpone our response, all of that time in between when he told us and when we respond, all of that belongs to the devil, and gives him an opportunity to get his foot in the door, and dissuade us, or postpone us, or delay our obedience. When you're a follower of Christ, no matter what you do, you have a calling. And it's when you begin to see what that calling is that you become fully engaged in life. And then you begin to do something. You know what your calling is? Do something tomorrow to move toward the fulfillment of that calling. You see, a wonderful thing happens to people when they become passionate about something. They become proactive. They take initiative.
And the reverse is also true. When you begin to take initiative, when you begin to do the good that you see needs to be done, you find yourself growing in passion. When you commit to just do something, you move in the right direction. Once you're moving in a direction that is aligned with the character and heart of God, you find God's personal mission for your life begins to come into focus. I remember my father told me years ago, "God never steers a stopped car". He steers us when we're moving. So it's time to just do it, to begin today, to commit this very moment to follow God's direction in your life. Follow him with all of your heart, and see if he does not set your life on fire.
You say, "How do I do that"? You already know. Do the thing you know. When you do the thing you know, God will tell you what to do next. When you fail to do the thing you know, you will be paralyzed by all the things you don't know. You have to take the initiative to move forward. You have to take the step to say, "God, I'm in, all in, 100%, nothing reserved. I want to live my life heartily for you. Lord, tonight, from this moment on, I'm all-in. I'm 100%, totally, absolutely committed to what you have called me to do".