“One by One” is about reaching one person at a time. Jesus would leave 99 people who are found to go searching for one person who is lost.
This series is about the one. It’s about the one son who is wandering away from God. It’s about the one daughter who is going through a difficult time in life. It’s about the one coworker, neighbor or friend who desperately needs a relationship with God.
Full Sermon Script
We’re devoting the next 3 weeks to what I believe is at the heart of Jesus for his church… for this church.
We’re going to talk about a 3 step strategy for advancing the Kingdom of God.
And I want to tell you right at the outset why this series means so much to me personally.
Before we started Blue Oaks Church, I read Andy Stanley’s book Deep and Wide — creating churches unchurched people love to attend.
That was over seven years ago now.
I remember being inspired by this group of people that seriously devoted themselves to reaching people who were outside the church — unchurched people who were far from God — that I told God, “I’ll give my life to that.”
Well, over these next 3 weeks, we’re going to devote ourselves to learning a 3 step strategy for reaching unchurched people.
And more than that, we’re going to do it.
And I just want you to know, at the outset, it matters that we do this.
It matters because if we don’t — this church or any church that doesn’t do this — will become real focused on it’s own comfort and it’s own convenience, and it will start to die.
It matters to every human being far from God, who lives in this community.
And there are thousands and thousands and thousands of them who have yet to be redeemed from a Christless eternity.
It matters to our heavenly Father who gave the very best that he had — the life of his Son — to rescue human beings that, for some reason known only to him, he loved so much.
It matters more than you and I can imagine that we devote ourselves to what we talk about over these next 3 weeks.
And I just want to ask you, without apology, to commit yourself to being here and to putting into practice what lies right at the heart of Jesus and what he wants for us, his church.
Now today, we’re going to look at the first step in this strategy, and that is:
1. Develop significant relationships with unchurched people.
I want to start by asking you a few questions about how influence works in human lives. How does influence work in human lives?
For instance, imagine a total stranger calls you out of the blue, and says, “You need to refinance your house, and I’m just the guy to do it with.”
How many of you would likely continue the conversation?
Or suppose someone you’ve never met walks up to you and says, “I know the person you should spend the rest of your life with — my cousin. And I’ve set up a blind date for the two of you this Friday… the day he gets out on parole. You can trust me. He’s the one for you.”
Who’s going to go on that date?
When it comes to what matters to us — our finances, our relational lives, our futures — we don’t usually put ourselves in the hands of total strangers.
We listen to people we trust. Those are the people who have influence.
If this is true in general, and I think it is, it’s most especially true when it comes to the ultimate issue in life: people’s spiritual destiny.
If people are going to come to know Jesus as their God and Savior, for the most part they will not be reached by strangers.
They will not be reached by television preachers.
They will not be reached by the radio.
They’ll be reached, primarily, through friends.
Now, there’s a real important pattern in the New Testament that I want for us to be clear on.
Look at Acts 16:14
I want you to notice one word in particular.
One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. Acts 16:14-15
And then a little later on in the chapter, Acts 16:31, Paul and Silas were in prison. They had an opportunity to leave because of God’s deliverance. But they stayed. And the jailer is astounded that they would stay out of consideration for him.
And he asked them, “What must I do to be saved?”
They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” Acts 16:31
Now, look at verse 33:
At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his household were baptized. Acts 16:33
And Acts 18:7
Then Paul left the synagogue and went next door to the house of Titius Justus, a worshiper of God. Crispus, the synagogue leader, and his entire household believed in the Lord; and many of the Corinthians who heard Paul believed and were baptized. Acts 18:7-8
And the word that keeps occurring is “household.”
The gospel keeps spreading through households.
Now, the household in the New Testament was not quite the same thing as in our day.
We tend to just think of parents and their children. In the first century, the word for household was the word oikos, and it had a broader meaning.
It would include parents and children.
But it would also include extended family members.
It would include servants. It would include slaves.
It would include people connected to each other by family ties, economic ties, vocational ties — what we would call in our day “networks” — circles of people with whom you work, play, live, relate, and do business.
That’s how the gospel spread.
The kingdom of God is never spread primarily by preachers speaking to crowds of unconnected strangers. It is never spread primarily by mass media.
Who do you think mainly listens to Christian radio and reads Christian books and watches Christian TV? Mostly it’s Christians.
The kingdom spreads now the same way it has spread for 2,000 years — when one Christ follower gets so convinced that the life Jesus offers really is the pearl of great price, that the whole oikos, the whole network, the whole web of relationships gets touched one life at a time.
That’s how it’s been happening for 2,000 years, from the Book of Acts right to our day.
But here’s the problem.
The problem in our day is far too many churches are filled with Christians who spend virtually all their time with other Christians — they’re not significantly connected with people who are far from God.
In too many cases, they try to design their lives that way. They try to arrange things so that in their work, their neighborhood, recreation, wherever, they’re just surrounded by Christians.
That’s not a good thing. That is not a victory for the kingdom of God.
Some Christians will say, “It’s just too hard. I don’t have the time to develop significant relationships with unchurched people. And to be honest, I don’t know that I want to. I don’t really like being around unchurched people.”
And I want to say to these people — When, in the Bible, did God ever give someone an easy job?
When did God ever interrupt someone and say to them, “I have an assignment for you, but it’s not going to be very difficult or take much time.”
Of course, the answer is — He never does.
God comes to Noah and says:
“I have a mission for you. I want to begin the whole project of the human race all over again, and I’m going to do it with you.
“So I want you to go to Home Depot, get some materials and build an ark. And you’re going to face ridicule and hostility.
“I want you to collect all kinds of animals.
“I want you to be willing to start with your little family — start civilization all over again from scratch — but I want you to know you are not alone. I promise that I’ll be with you.
“And I will give you a sign to remind you of My promise and My presence.”
And that sign was — the rainbow.
Noah said, “All right God. I don’t really understand it all, but I’m in. God, use me.”
God came to Abraham one day and said:
“I have a mission for you. I’m going to create a new people — the people of Israel.
“I want you to leave everything — your home, your culture, your wealth, everything — and I want you to go to a land that you do not know. I want you to make your home among strangers.
“I’ll tell you when you get to where it is that I am sending you, but I promise you that you are not alone. I promise I will be with you.
“I will give you a sign to remind you of My promise to you.
And that sign was — circumcision.
And Abraham said, “How come Noah got a rainbow?”
No, Abraham said, “Alright, God. I don’t understand all of it, but I’m in. God, use me.”
God came to Moses, and He said:
“I want you to free My people. I want you to go to Pharaoh, the most powerful man on earth, defy him to his face and demand that he let My people go.
And Moses said, “Here am I. I’m slow of speech. Send Aaron.”
No, Moses said, “God, use me.”
Nehemiah rebuilds a city.
David takes on Goliath.
Esther risks her life to change the mind of the King.
Joseph goes to prison.
Daniel gets thrown into a lions’ den.
Max DePree said, “Never insult someone by giving them an easy job.”
And God never does.
He gives the ultimate assignment to Jesus — To reconcile the world to Himself, to show how much God loves us by going to the Cross.
And then, because Jesus had done the hard part, He gathered His followers together and said to them:
Go into all the world and have really successful careers and drive really nice cars and build really big houses and live really safe, respectable lives. Hallucinations 1:1
That’s a great verse, isn’t it?
When Jesus prayed to his Father for his followers, this is what he said:
As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. John 17:18
Jesus said to His followers:
As the Father has sent me, I am sending you. John 20:21
It’s absolutely critical to the mission of God that you and I go out into the world and develop significant relationships with unchurched people.
In His last words before He left the earth, Jesus gathered His followers together and said:
You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. Acts 1:8
“I want you to take My power, My love, My aliveness, the message of My grace, the forgiveness of sins, and the way of the Cross into the whole earth, and we’ll change the world.”
“I want you to be My witnesses. You don’t have to be My salesmen. You don’t have to put a lot of pressure on people. Witnesses just tell what they’ve seen, and I just want you to tell people about Me and about what I have done in your life. And we’ll change the world.”
That’s a big job. Thinking about trying to change the whole world can be paralyzing.
So I want to make it real simple in this message. Let’s say you take on this mission that God has for you in one sphere.
Jesus says, “I want you to be My witnesses in Jerusalem.”
The disciples were in Jerusalem when Jesus said this. For them, and for us, this means in your own little world — your home, your neighborhood, your school, your workplace — right where you live.
He also talks about Judea and Samaria. Those were places that were nearby, but
the people there were very different — different languages, different cultures
and so on.
I only want you to think of one sphere today — your own little world.
There are people in your little world who don’t know Jesus.
God wants to love them and reach out to them, and He wants to do that through you.
If Jesus is going to change this world, it will one life at a time, and it will be through you.
But if you decide not to participate in this grand endeavor, if you get caught up in other pursuits, if you get distracted or discouraged, if you neglect being loving, carriers of the message of hope, there is no plan B.
God is not going to assign angels to do it.
He’s not going to drop leaflets from heaven or write it in the sky.
You and I are it. We are plan A, and there is no plan B.
If you take up this challenge, we can and will change our little world.
If you don’t, we will watch the lights go out in our little world one light at a time.
And we’ll watch a steady stream of people wind up in hell forever, just one life at a time.
It’s up to you. It’s up to me.
A friend was telling me about a neighbor of his who got taken to the hospital in an ambulance one evening. He had not been in very good shape.
My friend drove with his neighbors wife to the hospital.
He was thinking to himself, “This will be a good wake-up call for Andy. Maybe I can get him to the gym and we can start working out together. And maybe that will lead to talking about spiritual life issues.”
He was sitting in the waiting room with Andy’s wife when the doctor came out and
said, “He didn’t make it.”
He was 43 years old. 2 teenaged children.
On that day, he entered into eternity — whatever you think that means, whatever you believe about that. On that day, he entered into eternity.
This is what Jesus taught, and you have to decide what you believe about it — every person you know is an eternal being. They will all die one day. They will face an eternity with God or without God. They will face eternity.
Jesus said, “I want you to be My witness in your little world.”
No one can take your place in doing that — not programs or buildings or services.
If you say yes to this mission, God promises that He will partner with you.
He will lead you.
He will prompt you.
He will give you the words to say.
He will open the door to conversations.
He will open the door to the heart of those you’re witnessing to.
You just have to say a little prayer — “God, use me.”
Something happens when someone prays that prayer — “God, use me.”
I was thinking about this — I’ve heard people say they prayed for lots of things that never came: “Ive prayed for a certain house or a relationship or a job or whatever.”
But you know what I’ve never heard in my whole life? I’ve never heard a Christian say, “I’ve prayed urgently, persistently, day after day, year after year for God to use me to be a witness to those in my little world, but it never happened.”
I think God will answer that prayer.
I think he’ll give you lots of opportunity to develop significant relationships with unchurched people if you tell him, “God, use me.”
And I’ll tell you a little secret: the people who pray the “God, use me” prayer are the most joyful people you will ever know.
It’s ironic, because people think: “I don’t have time to witness to other people, to serve other people, to have spiritual conversations with other people. There’s too much going on in my life. It will drain me.”
The reality is that the most joyful human beings on the planet are those whose lives are given to God to be used by Him.
If you pray the “God, use me” prayer… knowing that it’s a dangerous prayer, Jesus really will do it. He really will!
And you will go on an adventure with God.
You will experience a sense of being part of an agenda that is bigger than:
How am I doing?
How’s my life?
How’s my comfort?
How’s my portfolio?
Just think what might happen in our little worlds and in the Tri-Valley if everyone at Blue Oaks were to pray: “God, Use Me. I’m available. Use me.”
In the time that remains in this message I want to talk about something that lies right at the heart of who we want to be as a church.
As we strive to be used by God, we will become difference makers in our little part of the world.
If you pray the “God, use me” prayer, you’re asking God to make you a difference maker in someone’s life.
That’s been my prayer for each one of you as I’ve been preparing for this series — that you would become difference makers in the lives of those people in your little world.
We all want to be difference makers, don’t we?
No one who’s picked to be on a team wants to sit on the bench.
No one gives a gift to someone and hopes it’s never opened.
No one devotes years of service to a company and then plans that when they retire, no one will notice.
No one dreams of dying and then having an unattended funeral.
No one hopes for a trivial obituary.
We want to make a difference… and not just for ourselves.
No one hopes that at his memorial service someone will stand up and say:
“He worked hard to be successful; he did a good job of acquiring power and money. He was anxious and driven and self-preoccupied and polite and respectable.”
We want to leave the world a little changed. When it’s time to go, we want someone to say:
“My life is a little richer, my world is a little bigger, my faith is a little stronger, I’m a better person because this human being walked the planet for a while. She made a difference. He changed my life.”
We don’t want to be space-takers.
We don’t want to be resume-builders.
We want to be difference-makers.
And that desire to make a difference is not a bad thing. It’s actually one of the most important things about you.
You were made by God to want to count — to want to matter.
This gets messed up because of sin and ego sometimes, but we were created by God to make a difference.
Did everyone get some salt when you came in? Would you grab that packet and hang onto it?
If you’re visiting, you might be wondering, “Is this some kind of Blue Oaks thing? Do they give out a different condiment every week?”
We all got this to help us remember what Jesus said one day to a group of His students:
You are the salt of the earth. Matthew 5:13
And to understand what Jesus meant by this, you have to understand that salt played a much more central role in Jesus’ world than it does in ours.
Does anyone know what the number one use of salt in the United States today is?
More than 50% of all salt that is produced here is used to de-ice roads.
That was not true for Jesus.
When He came to earth, He did not come to a place where roads were covered by ice and snow… because He knew that it was not God’s will that people should live in such places.
Only 8% of all salt produced in America is used as table salt.
In the ancient world, it was a different story. People discovered that there was something about salt that is a preservative. It kept decay and corruption from setting in.
In the ancient world, dead bodies were much more common than they are in our world… and decay was a horror.
There’s a verse in the Psalms that says:
You will not allow your holy one to see decay. Psalms 16:10
People discovered that there is something about salt that arrests decay… so it was almost like magic.
They found that if they used salt, they could preserve food for times of famine, so that it literally contributed to an outcome of life or death.
They discovered that it was a purifying agent, because it destroys bacteria.
They discovered that it brings delight to people who are eating, because there are special taste buds on your tongue that are designed to respond to salt.
So salt became highly prized.
Most of the ancient cities in Italy, including Rome, were founded on salt works.
Romans used it to pay soldiers. The Latin word for salt is the word “sal.” That’s where the word “salary” comes from, because salt was used to pay soldiers.
That’s where we get the expression, “He is worth his salt.”
In Salt: A World History, a book that was actually on the New York Times bestseller list, Mark Kurlansky writes:
“In the ancient world, salt was one of the most common factors that provoked and financed wars.”
People went to war over salt.
In fact, that’s why we say, when one country is attacked, that it has been “assaulted.” Okay, I just made that one up!
You can’t understand what Jesus is saying unless you understand that in the ancient world, salt was prized.
Plato said that salt was Dear to the gods.
Homer said that it was A divine substance.
It was prized.
It was currency.
Nations went to war over it.
Empires were built around it.
And Jesus, when He’s talking to an undistinguished group or his followers, says that God’s plan to protect the world from decay and corruption, to purify it and bring whatever flavor and zest it’s going to have… is you.
You are the salt of the earth.
You. That’s what Jesus says.
That’s staggering Good News!
But that’s hard for most of us to believe — we are the salt of the earth.
But there are sobering implications to this, one of which is:
Salt does not exist for its own sake.
When was the last time you went to someone’s home for a meal and said, “This is great salt! Honey, why don’t we have salt like this at home? We have to switch brands!”
Salt doesn’t call attention to itself.
I used to think that all salt was the same, but now that I live in Pleasanton, I’ve found out it’s not.
There is gourmet salt, rock salt, sea salt — special kinds of salt. Only here would people turn salt into a kind of status thing.
But in Jesus day, it wasn’t. Salt was just salt. It doesn’t call attention to itself. No one gets hungry and says, “I think I’ll go home and have a bowl of salt.”
Salt’s calling is to lose itself in something more glorious than itself, and then it has fulfilled its destiny.
But, if you’re salt, you’ve got to get out of the packet.
And if you do — one person who says that little prayer, “God, use me” can change the world.
There’s a story in a book by Philip Yancey that will just blow you away.
Yancey writes about a man named Ernest Gordon, a British army officer captured by the Japanese in WWII.
He was put in a labor camp that was forced to build a railroad through the jungle in Thailand under unbelievable conditions.
The prisoners had to work in 120° heat.
Their bodies were stung by insects and ravaged by disease.
Their feet were bare and cut by stones.
If a prisoner appeared to be slacking off, a guard would beat him to death or decapitate him in full view of the other prisoners.
Otherwise, they would be worked until they were too sick to go on.
Then they would be placed in a shack called “The Death House,” where they would just lay down and roast until they died.
These conditions were so brutal that 80,000 men died trying to build this railroad — 393 corpses for every mile of track. This really happened.
The prisoners who survived lived like animals. The strong would beat the weak for a few grains of rice.
The only thing that kept them alive was hate. It was a culture of death.
Until one day — one man — a work detail had finished for the day when one of the guards shouted that his shovel was missing and demanded to know who had stolen it.
No one confessed, so he screamed that everyone on the work crew was going to die.
He took his rifle, aimed it at the first guy in line, and was going to kill the whole work crew. And, at that point, one of the enlisted men stepped forward and said, “I did it. I stole it.”
And the guard started to kick and beat him while he just kept standing there at attention.
One of them crashed the end of a rifle into his skull, and he collapsed, and they kept beating his corpse.
That evening, when the tools were inventoried again, the work crew discovered they had made a mistake. No shovel was missing. No one had stolen anything.
And that night, one of the prisoners remembered a verse from the Bible — “Greater love has no one than this, Jesus said, than a man lay down his life for his friends.”
And something happened in that camp. Prisoners started to treat the dying with respect, started giving them funerals, started marking the graves with a cross.
And people who were strong began to give their food to people who were weak.
Ernest Gordon himself had been paralyzed with fever. He had been laid out in the “Death House.” He had written his final letter to his parents and was waiting to die.
Then some men came in and carried him out. Some prisoners gave him their food, massaged his leg muscles and cleaned his latrine. He had not thought about God for a long time, but now he did.
And they formed a little church in this camp where people were dying by the thousands. They formed a little church and Ernest Gordon became the unofficial pastor.
They planted a garden there to grow medicinal plants to help people who were sick.
This is so incredible — They formed what they called “The Jungle University.” And they started teaching courses in History and Philosophy and Science… in nine languages, including Latin, Greek, Russian or Sanskrit.
They created an alternative culture to the culture of death.
Jesus had a name for that culture: The Kingdom of God.
It crops up in the most unlikely places — the Kingdom of God.
They became so transformed that when the liberating armies finally arrived, instead of taking revenge on their guards, they treated the guards with kindness and mercy and respect and forgiveness.
And Gordon’s own life was turned upside down and much to his surprise, he ended up becoming a pastor.
All of this started with one man — and then it started to spread.
Never underestimate the power of one person who is willing to make a difference with their one and only life. One difference maker can change the world.
You are the salt of the earth. You’re it.
We’re not here just to hold services.
We’re not here just to run programs.
We’re not here just to meet in groups that feel safe and comfortable.
Salt doesn’t exist for its own sake. It doesn’t exist for itself.
We are here to permeate a dying world in the way that salt permeates food.
It’s interesting that Jesus is NOT giving a command here. He doesn’t say, “Try to be salty, or work hard to get saltier.”
He’s making an observation — You’re the salt of the earth.
Those words are so powerful that they’re often framed and hung on walls.
But Jesus goes on —
You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. Matthew 5:13
Now why did Jesus have to go and say that? It all felt so good up ’til now.
We don’t see those words framed and hung on walls.
This is the kind of thing that made people uncomfortable when Jesus said it.
This is the kind of thing that makes people come up to a teacher afterwards and say, “Give me some kind of secret meaning behind the Greek words so that it doesn’t mean what it looks like it means.”
Here’s what our culture will try to do to us.
It will try to seduce us to serve it rather than God, making us useless – no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled on by men.
Our culture will try to seduce you to spend your life being too busy, too driven, too preoccupied with whatever: career, money, status.
And I’ll tell you what my concern is — our culture will try to seduce you into making the church just kind of a “stress-management” tool.
On a bottle of aspirin, there are the words: Fast, soothing, temporary relief from pain.
Our culture will try to seduce you to bow down to it and then, if it can’t keep you away from God and His community, to turn it into just “fast, soothing, temporary relief from pain.”
But then you go out, and you’re still enslaved to all the things that everyone else in this crazy culture is still enslaved to.
And Jesus says, “No. That’s not the plan. You’re the salt of the earth.”
I see people sometimes who go to church year after year and stay on the same crazy treadmill — overworked, over-committed, over-extended financially, still praying about the same stuff they were praying about ten years ago.
And the real reason underneath, if they’re honest about it, is that they’ve never made the decision that they’re going to die to the culture.
So their prayers tend to be along this line: “God, relieve me of all the stress and pressure that I’m under, but let me keep chasing after all the stuff that everyone else is chasing after.”
I wonder if there is anyone here today who needs to say, “Jesus. I will die to this culture and be fully available to be used by you.”
The good news is that when someone in God’s community gets salty, it becomes contagious.
When you become a difference maker — because it’s really Jesus at work — other people look at you and are reminded that they want their lives to make a difference too.
That’s what we all want.
We do not come here just to put on services or to run programs, although those can be very important and very helpful.
You are the salt of the earth. You are it.
God’s plan to fight the decay and corruption of this sorry, dark world is you and me.
And Jesus is looking for someone who will say, “I will die to the culture. I will not live in slavery to its values and spend my lifetime and energy according to it and then use the church as an occasional temporary stress-management pain reliever. I will live as the salt of the earth. I will allow You to flow through me in it.”
One of the amazing things to me is — people who were opposed to the early church thought they would stop it by persecuting it.
They sent the leaders to prisons.
Guess what happened? The prisons started to get salty.
They said, “We’ll stop the church by kicking everybody out of Jerusalem.”
Go back to the Book of Acts. The believers get kicked out of Jerusalem and guess what happens. The whole region, first of which is Asia Minor, starts to get salty.
The idea that you could stop the early church by spreading Christians around — that was just getting the salt out of the shaker!
You are the salt of the earth.
All you have to do is get out into the world.
It starts to permeate your home, your work, your neighborhood, somebody else’s neighborhood, your school, and somebody else’s school.
You are the salt of the earth.
It doesn’t matter how old or young you are.
It doesn’t matter what your title is, or whether or not you’ve got one.
You are the salt of the earth.
Do you have any idea what Jesus could do with a church full of people who say, “Alright, God, the number one priority of my life — what I want to do between now and my last day — is to be used by you. Everything I’ve got — my time, my gifts whatever they are, my money whether it looks big or small — whatever I’ve got, it’s Yours. I’m want to get out of my little packet and be the salt of the earth for you.”
Do you have any idea?
So, here’s what we’re going to do.
My job and your job for the next several days is to carry this little packet of salt it in your pocket or in your purse. Put it some place where you’re going to see it for the next several days.
And when you do, take a look at it for a moment and say to yourself, “I’m the salt of the earth.”
That’s what Jesus said about you if you’re a follower of his.
With all of your flaws and fallen-ness, that’s what you are — you are the salt of the earth.
Carry this around and remember what Jesus said.
Then sometime this week, break it open and pour it out.
Use it on your French fries, if you’re a French fry kind of person. Or on your Brussel Sprouts if you’re a Brussel Sprouts kind of person. Or wherever you feel led to pour it on.
And when you do, just say a little prayer, “God, use me. I pour out my life to be used by you.”
I’ll close with this.
This is what the apostle Paul said. I hope you take this with you into your week.
Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. Colossians 4:6