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James Merritt - Life Beyond Belief

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    James Merritt - Life Beyond Belief
    James Merritt - Life Beyond Belief

Leo told a story in the middle of his life, faced this great crisis, and it resulted in him becoming a follower of Jesus. But it was during that time that he literally almost ended his life. And he wrote some words that I want you to listen to because it really relates to what we want to talk about today. He said, "My question, that which at the age of 50 brought me to the verge of suicide, was the simplest of questions lying in the soul of every man. It is a question without an answer to which one cannot live. It was: What will come of what I am doing today or tomorrow? What will come of my whole life? Why should I live? Why wish for anything or do anything"? Big questions, hard questions, deep questions, tough questions, but it's what he finished with that I want you to listen to carefully. He said, "Is there any meaning in my life that the inevitable death awaiting me does not destroy"?

Now I want you to really ask yourself that question. Is there anything about your life that you're living right now that when the death that comes to all of us comes to you and comes to me would not totally destroy? Well I believe there is. And I believe there's more to life than just this life. And I believe there's more to life than just living. I believe there is life beyond. We're beginning a series today where we're talking about that life. And the reason why I believe there's more to life than just this life, and the reason why I believe there's more to life than just living, and the reason why I believe there's more to life than the way the vast majority of people live their life is because of something a man said who by any account is probably the one man that lived the most productive, meaningful, purposeful, impactful life in history. His name is Jesus.

And Jesus made this statement about life in John 10:10. He said, "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I have come that they may have life". And then He goes on to add this: "And have it to the full". Jesus said there's life but then there's life to the full. There's life that's empty. And there are a lot of people living empty lives. There's some of you listening right now. This is you, your life is empty. Jesus said there's more to life than emptiness. There's more to life than just this life. There is life beyond belief. And that's what we're really talking about today. And that phrase by the way has a double meaning. When I talk about life beyond belief, I'm going back to what Jesus said. He made a promise. He said, "If you follow me, you won't just live an ordinary, run of the mill, hum drum, dime a dozen life. If you follow me, you will experience life the way life was meant to be".

You will experience life the way life was meant to be lived. You'll experience life to the full. You'll live a life that is both filled and fulfilled. You'll live a life that is filled with joy and filled with meaning. You'll live a life that's fulfilled in its purpose. But there's a second meaning. Jesus very plainly said, "Life really begins when you trust me". But here's what I want you to hear. Particularly if you claim to be a "Christian". There's more to Christianity than just believing in Jesus. It is moving beyond belief to what I want to call the cross-shaped life. I'm going to talk about that in just a moment.

Let me tell you what I mean. When you truly decide to follow Jesus, and this is one way you can know if you have. When you really, truly decide to follow Jesus, you will find it will affect three areas of your life. Number one: Who you are. You won't be the same. You cannot be the same when you truly become a follower of Jesus. Number two: It'll affect what you do. You can't even do what you do the same way once you become a follower of Jesus. And number three: It will affect where you go. You will find yourself going to places you never thought you'd ever gone once you become a follower of Jesus. You know I've told you this many times before. One of the things I love about Jesus is this: We have a tendency as human beings to complicate the simple. I mean we just do, right? Have you seen the tax code of our country? I mean can you believe it? Have you seen you know how big the law code of the United States is? And the creator of the universe comes along and says, "I believe about ten will do". And Jesus comes along and says, "I believe I can shrink that to two".

What I love about Jesus is where we complicate the simple, Jesus simplifies the complicated. And before Jesus left planet Earth, He met with His eleven disciples and He shared with them in two words, two words what they needed to be doing for the rest of their life. And He said, "If you will just do what I'm going to tell you in two words, you will live a life beyond belief". And I want to show you what those two words are. And it's going to shock many of you this morning. If you brought a copy of God's word or you got a smart pad or an iPhone or whatever it is that you use an electronic device, that's fine, I want you to turn to the gospel of Matthew. Now if you don't know anything about the Bible, the Bible is in two parts: Old and New Testament. The first book of the New Testament is Matthew. So you go about halfway to the Bible, you'll run into Matthew.

I want you to turn to Matthew 28. Let me tell you what's going on in this story. Two thousand years ago we're somewhere on some Galilee mountain, some mountain there in Galilee. Jesus has gathered His eleven disciples around Him. He's kind of giving His farewell address. He's about to ascend back into Heaven. So He's kind of saying His final goodbye and He's kind of setting them up, for three years, 24/7 they've been with Him physically. They're not going to be with Him at least for a long, long time. And so He gives them this last commandment. And in this last commandment He tells them two words that He says, "if you will just do this one thing, you will live a life beyond belief". Listen to what He says. Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in Heaven and on Earth has been given to me". There's a reason He says that. We'll come back to it. "Therefore," He says, "Go and..."

Now let's say these two words. Make disciples. Let's say it again. Make disciples. You're going to hear those words a lot today. Make disciples of all nations. If you want to know what life beyond belief really is, it is found in those two words. Which by the way, in the passage we're going to look at, that is the only imperative in this entire passage. He says, "I want you to make disciples". It's not a request. It's not a suggestion. It's not just an idea. He's not asking us to do it. He says, "I want you to make disciples". In other words, here's what Jesus said: "Why have I left you here after you've come to me? Why didn't I go ahead and take you to Heaven the moment you gave me your heart and gave me your life? Why didn't I just go ahead and just whisk you out of this bad, evil, terrible world, get you away from all the pain, all the war, all the heartache, all the suffering? Why didn't I go ahead and bring you into my Disney world"? He says, "I'll tell you why. I didn't leave you here to make plans, to make friends, to make money, to make love, to make noise, or even to make progress. I left you here to make disciples. That's why you're here. That is your purpose on Earth".

That's why this church is here. That's why I'm here. That's why those of us who are followers of Christ are here. And I hope you'll listen very carefully because this is so important. If you're not a follower of Jesus, if you're on any of our campuses right now or you're listening online or watching by television and you're not a follower of Jesus, let me tell you why I want you to hear this message. I want you to at least understand why we're here. And I want you to at least understand why we do what we do, why we teach what we teach, why we are what we are, and why you are so important to us. Now I realize all of this raises a question. Because I guarantee you, for most of you, maybe 99% of you, you have never been told in your life that your major purpose for being on this Earth was to make disciples. I guarantee you, you've never heard that.

So there's all kinds of questions I'm sure going on right now. One of the first ones is: Well what does that mean? Well what does it mean to make disciples? What's the process? How do you do it? How do you know you're a disciple? How do you know that you're making disciples? How do you know if you've been made a disciple? How do you know you're living a life beyond belief? Jesus says, "Okay, let me tell you what that means. Let me tell you why making disciples is living a life beyond belief and let me tell you why you do it and how you are to do it". Jesus said number one: A life beyond belief is one that will make disciples outside the church. That's the first thing we've been called to do, to make disciples outside the church.

Now listen to what Jesus said. He just said, "Look, all authority in Heaven and on Earth has been given to me". Why did He say that? He said, "I want you to understand something. I've got authority over everything. I've got authority over everybody. I've got authority over everywhere and I've got authority all the time. Doesn't matter where you go. Go to Heaven, I've got authority over all the angels. Go below, I've got authority over all the demons. Come to Earth, I've got authority over every ruler. All authority has been given unto me. And by that authority," then He says, "Therefore go and make disciples of all the nations". Life beyond belief begins with that little word go. That's the first word out of His mouth. He says, "I want you to go".

By the way, that word go is one of Jesus' favorite words, especially after the resurrection. It's amazing after Jesus comes out of that empty tomb how often you hear that word. For example, when the first women got to the empty tomb, the first people to the empty tomb were women. When the first women got to the empty tomb, there was an angel sitting by that tomb and he said, "What are you doing here? He's not here. He is risen". And then here's the next thing he says to them. "Go quickly and tell His disciples". Well they didn't get very far. Guess who they meet. They meet Jesus. I mean they meet Jesus in the flesh. They meet the risen Lord. And what's the first thing He tells them? He says, "Go and tell my brothers".

Mary Magdalene, she's walking along the road by herself. She meets Jesus. What did He say to Mary Magdalene? He says, "Go to my brothers". Of His ten resurrection appearances, five times after Jesus is raised from the dead, the first word out of His mouth is go. Christianity is a faith on the go. And I'll tell you why I find that, people find that so kind of surprising. And I don't know how this happened. I'm going to give you a theory. You know there was a time that the church didn't have church buildings. There's always been a church but there's not always been church buildings. Matter of fact, the first church building that we find is not until about 300 A.D., somewhere around in there.

So for the first 300 years of Christianity, we didn't have auditoriums. We didn't have worship centers. We didn't have church buildings. We started building them about 300 years after the resurrection. And I'm not saying it's a bad thing but I'll tell you what I think happened. I think when we started building church buildings and church auditoriums, somehow followers of Jesus got this idea, oh I get it. My primary responsibility as a follower of Jesus is to come to church. And that's what many of you think. You think, "Hey man, all I've got to do is come to church on Sunday and the rest of the week is mine". Our primary responsibility is not to come to the church. Our primary responsibility is to go from the church to people outside the church who need the church.

See, let's just be honest. I hear people say this sometimes. They'll say, "Man, I just needed to come to church today". Well why'd you need to come to church? "Oh man, it's been a hard week and I just wanted to come and chill out". Read my lips. You're not going to chill out in this church because we're not to come to church to chill out. We're to come to get fired up. Listen. We don't come to church to cool down. We come to get fired up to go from the church and find people who don't come to church and try to get them to come to the church. We come to church so we can go from the church and be the church for people who don't even attend church. That's what our job is.

By the way, you'll notice in this passage we're going to study, church isn't even mentioned. He doesn't even talk about church. Why? He says, "You got one job. It's not to come to church. Your job is to make disciples". Let's say that out loud. Make disciples. That is our job. And oh by the way, I know for some of you this is a big revelation. You're going, "I thought that was your job". You're right. It is my job. What I want you to understand is it's also your job. It is our job. We are all to make disciples. Nobody gets a pass. Now let me tell you, that tells me something right there. You cannot become a disciple until you become a follower of Jesus. So job one for our church and every disciple is what we call evangelism, witnessing. Some people call it soul winning. And this is, I want you to get this.

Evangelism is not making church attenders. It's not making Baptists or Methodists or Presbyterians. It's not making good citizens or good people. It's not making good people into better people or well-behaved people. It is making disciples. And matter of fact, you know something that's kind of funny to me? The most common term that both believers and unbelievers use for followers of Jesus as you know is the word Christian. Right? So are you a Christian? Do you go to a Christian church? Do you belong to a Christian denomination? Do you have Christian beliefs? Here's what's interesting. Do you know how many times the word Christian is used in the Bible? Three. And two of those are negative. You know how many times the word disciple is used? Two hundred and sixty-nine times.

Now anybody can follow the crumbs there. Right? Jesus has plainly told us, "You know what? I really prefer the term disciple to the term Christian". Why do you think that's true? Here's why. That's never been more true than it is today. Everyone who is a true disciple is a Christian. But not everyone who calls themselves a Christian is a true disciple. That's why He said, "I want disciples". You know why? The word disciple literally means follower. Jesus said, "A life beyond belief is when followers of Jesus spend all their time that they can when God gives them the opportunity to find non-followers of Jesus and turn them into followers of Jesus".

Okay, you're in one of two categories. Real easy. You either need to become a disciple because you're not one or you need to become a disciple maker because you are one. So make that plain. You either need to become a disciple because you're not one or you need to become a disciple maker because you are one. You either need to become a follower of Jesus or you need to be making followers of Jesus. Well that raises another question. So who are we supposed to be making disciples of? Well Jesus says, "Okay, I can make this real easy. Of all nations". How about that for a clientele? Go anywhere, any time, any place. Everybody is a candidate for discipleship and anybody can become a disciple. It doesn't matter what their race is, what their nationality is, what the color of their skin is. It makes no difference.

And oh by the way, this is kind of cool. I just found this out the other day. Christianity has roughly 20% of its followers in Africa, 20% in Asia, 20% in Europe, 20% in North America, and 20% in South America. You say, "Well why is that so cool"? Every other major religion on the planet has at least 80% of its followers concentrated in one continent. Christianity, listen, Christianity is the only worldwide faith movement in history. And it's supposed to be because we're to make disciples of all nations. Now Jesus has just told us and told those disciples then, "Okay here's what I want you to do in two words, real simple. Go make disciples". But how do you do that?

Well again, Jesus keeps it simple but He keeps it straight. He says, "Okay, I knew you were going to ask that question. So let me tell you how to do that, all right? Step one: We are to make disciples outside the church". All right what's step two? We're to move disciples inside the church. You make disciples outside the church but you move disciples inside the church. Now this may surprise you. I guarantee you we would've never seen this coming. So if you'd have said to Jesus okay 200 years ago, 2000 years ago if you said, "Lord, I got a quick question. Okay. So Lord, so I'm a follower of Jesus and I talk to someone who's not a follower of Jesus and I share the gospel with them and they decide to become a follower of Jesus. Yeah, all right. So Lord, what's the very next step that they should take? What's the very next thing they ought to do"?

I guarantee you we would've never come up with this one. You ready? Watch this. Baptizing them. What? Yep. Everybody in the pool. Baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Now I have to be honest with you. I'm just talking, reads the bible. It just blows my mind. It just fascinates me. Jesus barely gets the words "make disciples" out of His mouth and He goes immediately to baptism. Jesus fully expected that the first step of a follower of His would be to follow Him in His example of being baptized. That's why, by the way, when you read the New Testament you'll find every person without exception, this is 100% true. Every person in the New Testament that decided to become a follower of Jesus was immediately baptized. Every single one.

And by the way, this is kind of big, too. Don't miss the order that Jesus gave in these steps, because they're very specific and they're very instructive. Jesus did not say, "Step one, baptize people. Step two, teach people. Step three, make disciples". He didn't say that. He did not say, "Step one, teach people. Step two, baptize people. Step three, make disciples". He didn't say that either. Order is very specific. He said, "You make disciples, then you baptize them, and then you teach them". So we can draw a conclusion right there. All right? You are a follower of Jesus. You have trusted Jesus. You've given your life to Jesus. You would call yourself a disciple of Jesus. However, since you became a follower of Jesus, you have never been baptized.

All right. Take a wild guess what your next step ought to be. Get baptized. Real simple. That's your next step. But I gave my life to Jesus 20 years ago. The water's still wet. No problem. Doesn't matter, okay? You need to follow Christ in baptism. Now let me just stop right here. I know there's some resistance. I get it. I know some of you sitting there, you say, "Well I was sprinkled when I was this and I did this and I", all right, listen. Just listen. If this was just about water, I wouldn't even bring it up. If it was just about making sure you got your hair wet, I wouldn't even be talking about it. It's just not that big a deal. I get that. But listen. This is more than just about water and it's more than just about getting wet.

You say, "Well how do you know that"? Because what Jesus goes on to say. He says, "I want you to baptize them in the name of the Father and the Son and of the Holy Spirit". Now watch this. Jesus knew what He was doing. That little word in can also be translated into. Baptize them into the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Had you lived 2000 years ago, your ears would've perked up. Because that little phrase "into the name of" was actually a commercial term. And what that term literally meant was it meant to put money into someone's bank account or to give someone something for them to keep and to have. And here's what Jesus was saying.

Jesus said, "Look. When you evangelize someone or you share the gospel with someone and they give their life to Christ and then you baptize them, you're just getting started". He said, "This is where the real work of discipleship begins". Because here's the third step we take. And that is we mature disciples within the church. We make disciples outside the church. We move disciples inside the church. But we mature disciples within the church, because listen. Jesus said, "Don't you dip them, dunk them, and drop them. That is not what a church does".

This is a picture of a Japanese soldier. His name is Hiroo Onoda. When Japan formally surrendered to the allied powers on September 2nd, 1945, World War II was finally over for everyone on the planet except for Mr. Onoda. And here's what happened. He was a Japanese army lieutenant. He was stationed on the Philippine island of Lubang. And just a couple of months before Japan surrendered, he got orders from his commanding officer, three words: Stay and fight. Those were his orders. Stay and fight. Japan surrendered two months after that. He didn't get word. So for another 29 years, of the billions of people on the planet, one man was still fighting a war that was over, because he didn't know the war was over. He just knew what his orders were. He'd raid villages for rice and meat and sometimes, unfortunately, he even would kill people he thought were enemy combatants.

Well somebody finally found out who he was and in 1974, he was finally persuaded to give up his guerilla campaign only when his former commander was flown in and brought back to him and convinced him the war was over and formally relieved him of his duty. They put him on a plane. He flies back to Japan. Of course, you know, to them he's a hero. He gets off the plane and there's all these reporters there to meet him. And the first question he's asked when he got off that plane, a reporter asked, great question. They said, "We just got to ask you. You have been fighting a war for 30 years that was over that nobody else was fighting but you. What in the world were you thinking about all those 30 years"?

I want you to listen to what he said. This is classic. "All I thought about was carrying out my orders, that's what drove me for 29 years. I'd been given an order". I want to say something to all of us who are followers of Jesus. Two thousand years ago the commander in chief of the universe gave us an order. Go and make disciples. That order will be in effect until He returns. And I believe with all of my heart every single day of our life, if we really follow Jesus we ought to get up in the morning and go through the day and go to bed at night thinking and praying and asking God, give me the opportunity today to begin the process of making a disciple of somebody. Because when you do, when you finally get it, when you finally get off the bench and into the game and you as a disciple begin to make other disciples, it is a life beyond belief.
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