‘If Not You, Then Who’ Part 2: Better off Without Jesus?

proxyWhat if I were to tell you that your greatest ability or talent is not going to be of use to you for the rest of your life?  What if I told you that instead of the ability you currently have, I am going to fill you with the ability to be and to do something beyond your craziest imagination!

I began playing golf at a very early age.  By the time I was in high school, I played at high competitive levels – playing at the varsity level, while also playing in amateur tournaments in the off-season.  I considered myself a pretty decent golfer.  I would spend hours every day during the summer on the golf course.  Growing up in Michigan wasn’t like Florida, where you can play sports outside year around.  We had this white stuff that fell from the sky called snow that kept us from being able to do much of anything outside from the months of October to April.  But when the golf courses were open, I found myself consistently there!  I went on to play at Cornerstone University, a small Christian college in Michigan.  I felt like I was blessed with the ability and talent to be a pretty decent golfer.

In no way was I thinking then, that within 2 years, I will be married and on my way to 5 children over the course of our first 7 years of marriage.  If somebody were to have told me that I would have laughed at them and told them they were certifiably insane.  Well – now the joke is on me and I believe that anybody that has 5 kids over the course of 7 years automatically qualifies to be certifiably insane.  I never thought I would go months – if not years – without picking up a golf club because of the craziness of my schedule between ministry and family.

I remember sitting and having a serious heart to heart with my mom in regards to my relationship with Autumn.  We were dating at the time and my mom knew that Autumn’s life goals were to get married and start a family.  I had just ended another pretty serious relationship and had no desire to get married any time soon and DEFINITELY no desire to have kids within the first 5 years of being married.  I had goals, dreams, and aspirations – I knew exactly who I wanted to be and exactly what I wanted to do.

It was almost as if God was saying, ‘In order to become the person I desire you to be, I need to pick you up, flip you upside down, and shake the craziness out of you!  I will then mold you into the person I desire you to be.’

God was using me at that moment, and I knew He would continue using me no matter what I was doing – but I was comfortable right where I was.  I was happy.  I was satisfied with life, and I didn’t want a change!  I wanted what I wanted and that is where my focus was.

About 10 years later – here I am, a father of 5 beautiful children.  Autumn and I have been married for nearly 9 years…  Yes, 5 children in the first 7 years of our marriage – I call them the Euler Zoo on Wheels.  I have picked up a golf club once in the past year, and honestly I am content and fine with that.  I really do not even miss playing golf much at all.  My focus has changed – my passions have changed – and my talents and abilities have changed.

When we look at the phrase – ‘If not you, then who’ – we must realize that in order to be the person God desires us to be – we must step out of our comfort zone and allow God to shake us up.  We must allow Him to shape us how He desires us to be.

We only have to go as far as the New Testament to find the greatest example of this.  Jesus took 12 ordinary men, radically shook them up, and developed them into the individuals that changed the course of history.  Jesus’ call was simple – ‘Follow Me.’

There was not this long, drawn out list of things they were required to do.  They did not need to have an extended educational background.  They did not need to be on top of the totem pole when it came to spiritual or political leadership.  They did not need to be of a royal family that was loaded with money!  They simply needed to answer Jesus’ calling and follow Him.

Near the end of Jesus’ time on earth – shortly before his death and resurrection – He begins dropping hints to His disciples that He is no longer going to be here.  In John 16:7, Jesus says, ‘Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you.  But if I go, I will send Him to you.’

If I were in the disciples shoes – or I guess sandals at that time – this comment from Jesus would have frustrated the heck out of me!  They not only looked at Jesus as their spiritual leader and the Messiah, but also one of their best friends.  They spent every waking moment together for 3 straight years!  They laughed together, cried together, walked miles down dusty roads in each other’s company, ate together, had typical friendship disputes amongst each other.  They looked at Jesus as a best friend.  And here He was telling His disciples that not only was He going to go away for good, but that they will be better off without Him here!

Jesus had a purpose in this that went so far beyond the human comprehension of the disciples.  See it is easy for us to look at the end of the story and miss the shaking up of the disciples.  We forget that they were human – they had passions – they had goals – they had talents and abilities.  A few of them were known as successful fishermen.  They were tax collectors, uneducated men with their own personal goals and dreams.  Jesus picked them up, flipped them upside down, and shook much of their craziness out.  He saw them as individuals who could radically reshape the course of history!

A couple of weeks and months past – Jesus died, rose again, ascended into heaven, and there were the disciples – left alone to wallow in their own grief and frustration.  They didn’t know what to do – they knew what Jesus had taught them, but they were confused as to what the next step was.  But ultimately they realized, ‘If not us, then who…

And that is where we pick up the rest of the story in the early part of Acts.  In Acts 2, we see the dramatic arrival of the Holy Spirit.  God was fulfilling what Jesus had said in John 16.

Acts 2:1-4 – “When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

The Holy Spirit shows up and instantly begins shaking up the disciples – literally and figuratively.  They instantly realize the need to spread the truth of who Jesus was.  Later in chapter 2 we see the first ever evangelistic sermon.  Peter shakes up the minds and thoughts of his audience with the truth of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Acts 2:37-41 – “37 When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.” 40 With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” 41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.”

‘And about 3000 were added to their number that day!’

I cannot even imagine the incredible scene that occurred at the day of Pentecost – people left and right giving their lives to Christ!  All because Peter and John said, ‘If not us, then who!’

Peter and John continue in chapter 3 by healing a lame beggar at the entrance to the temple – completely spontaneous, shocking the entire world around them.  Acts 3:10 says, ‘And they were filled with wonder and amazement at what happened to the man who was healed.’

Instantly, Peter’s passion and excitement for sharing Jesus went into high gear!  He addressed the people in the temple, calling them to ‘Repent and turn so their sins may be blotted out.’ 

Their powerful messages and miraculous acts quickly catch the eyes of the spiritual leaders, they get arrested, and are placed in the custody of the rulers, elders, and scribes and questioned as to what ‘power or what name’ they did this through.

Peter’s response is one of the most powerful passages of scripture I have ever studied.  Right here – in the first few chapters of Acts we see living proof of 2 individuals who caught the concept of ‘If not us, then who!’ 

Acts 4:8-12 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rulers and elders of the people! If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a man who was lame and are being asked how he was healed, 10 then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. 11 Jesus is “‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone.’ 12 Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.’

So often we read through passages and we miss the power, the emotion, the passion behind them!  To me this is one of the most powerful messages Peter ever spoke.  Here is standing in front of every major spiritual and political leader in Jerusalem!  He holds nothing back, speaks the truth, and realizes that, ‘If not him, then who!’

Acts 4:13-22 – 13 When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus. 14 But since they could see the man who had been healed standing there with them, there was nothing they could say. 15 So they ordered them to withdraw from the Sanhedrin and then conferred together. 16 “What are we going to do with these men?” they asked. “Everyone living in Jerusalem knows they have performed a notable sign, and we cannot deny it. 17 But to stop this thing from spreading any further among the people, we must warn them to speak no longer to anyone in this name.” 18 Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 19 But Peter and John replied, “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges! 20 As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” 21 After further threats they let them go. They could not decide how to punish them, because all the people were praising God for what had happened. 22 For the man who was miraculously healed was over forty years old.”

This to me is one of the greatest examples of boldness we see in the entire Bible!  It is truly the first spiritual revolution in the history of the world!  They saw over 10,000 people – children, women, and men come to know Christ as their personal Savior over the course of 3 days!  Through the power of the Holy Spirit, Peter and John shook the world upside down for the cause of Christ!  They didn’t back down and they saw their God-given purpose.

The disciples’ goals, passions, and abilities changed over night!  They saw the significance in reaching people for the cause of Christ!  They looked fear in the eyes and completely stepped out of their comfort zone!

Their ministry was built around unity and prayer!  Several times throughout the first four chapters of Acts we see the group of 120 original followers of Christ develop unity and spend hours in prayer!  They did not miss the message of Jesus’ death and resurrection – it was what they lived for every step of every day!

What if our greatest ability or talent was sharing who Christ was with the world around us?  With our friends, family members, neighbors, teammates, and the people we see at the grocery store?  What if we saw the urgency to speak God’s truth into the lives of people we come in contact with on a daily basis?  What if we caught the same vision the disciples caught?  What if we completely relied on the power of the Holy Spirit to get us through every day?  What if we were bold?  Compassionate, yet truthful?  What if God’s Word consumed our every spare minute, instead of television, video games, relationships, sports, and social media?  What if we truly saw and experienced the power of prayer – not just prayer before a meal, but true, sincere, constant communication with our Heavenly Father?

What if each and every one of us caught the vision God has for us – ‘Go and make disciples of all nations.’  There is no Plan B!  We are called to be His hands, His feet, His voice, and to share His love with everybody we come in contact with!

‘If not you, then who?’ 

If Not You, Then Who?

proxyIt’s one of my favorite sayings… “If not you, then who? If not now, then when?”

We have to go all the way back to the first-century Jewish scholar named Hillel to find the source of this quote and it is as equally applicable now as it was then.

“If not you, then who?”  It is time for us to truly step up and be the individuals God created us to be!  Someone has to step up.  If we don’t, then who will?  I challenge you to let that someone be you.  God has called you to be a great leader, willing to take charge and make progress now.

I’ve often found that, even if you’re faced with a situation you aren’t all that familiar with, someone in your circle of influence knows the process and techniques, and is just waiting for you to get them going.

So I challenge you right out of the gate… step up, get in there, and don’t be afraid to be the leader God has called you to be.  It may mean more work for you, but waiting won’t help, and will probably make things worse, which leads to the second part of Hillel’s quote…

‘If not now, then when?’  I have 5 children – 5 incredibly beautiful children, but I can share story after story of things they have done that have triggered certain senses in my nose to flare!  A little over a year ago we stepped into our Swagger Wagon and noticed it didn’t smell the greatest.  We honestly didn’t think anything of it and left it.  A couple of days went by and I eventually stepped into our van and it hit me like a brick wall – one of the worst odors I have ever smelled in my entire life!  We were scheduled to take our van on a youth retreat – and there was no way any student in their right mind was going to want to ride with us!  We cleaned out the entire van – top to bottom inside and out, and finally found it – a rotten bottle of milk that had spilled into the carpet of our van.  It was not a pretty scene…  We scrubbed, scrubbed, and scrubbed some more, but it took weeks of air fresheners and cleaning to get the smell of week old rotten milk out of our van!

I love middle school students, but there is just something about the way a middle school boy smells that makes me cringe at the thoughts of it.  On every packing list we create for our trips, I make sure to explain that Axe is not a replacement for a shower.  Middle school boys should be required by the government to shower at least twice a day!

I explained the use of Axe one day to a group of our middle school students this way…  As a father of five, we have gone through a lot of dirty diapers!  I sometimes wish we had kept track to see exactly how many diapers we have gone through. Can you imagine if I took those dirty diapers and simply threw them straight into a bucket – no bag – just straight in a bucket that sat by our kitchen table?  And every once in a while I would go outside, pick fresh roses, bring them, and throw them in the bucket with the diapers.  Something in me says that no matter how good those roses smell they will not be able overtake and defeat the power of the dirty diapers…  I believe the same is true with Axe.  I love the smell of Axe, don’t agree with the commercials, but love the smell.  But there is nothing in Axe that will completely take away the aroma of a sweaty middle school boy…

Problems, like diapers or smelly middle school boys, do not smell better with age.  They will not get any easier and they will not disappear.  Waiting will not make it go away, and will not improve your situation.

God has called us to step up now…  He does not want us to wait.  He is ready to empower us to be His hands, His feet, and His voice!  Nehemiah didn’t wait!  Daniel didn’t wait!  Peter and John didn’t wait!  Jesus isn’t waiting for you to do something miraculous to enter into a relationship with you.  He has already provided each of us everything we need and has called us to live out our God-given purpose NOW!  In order to live out our God-given calling and grasp ahold of the phrase, ‘If not me, then who,’ our lives must be filled with purpose and discipline!

First and foremost, God has blessed us with a purpose that goes beyond our own comprehension.  Each one of us was created with an exciting purpose…a purpose that goes beyond who we are and what we do!  In his book, Purpose Driven Life, Rick Warren opens up with these words… “It’s not about you.  The purpose of your life is far greater than your own personal fulfillment, your peace of mind, or even your happiness . . . If you want to know why you were placed on this planet, you must begin with God. You were born by his purpose and for his purpose.”

It is not about YOU!  Our excitement in life must not be centered around who won the football game on Sunday afternoon.  We cannot discover our purpose based on how many friends we have on Facebook, what other people think of us, or even our own abilities and talents.

We must go back to creation in order to understand the purpose God has placed before us.  According to Genesis 1, our identity involved a “spiritual address.”  We were created in the image of God!  We were not designed in the image of a monkey, an elephant, or a spec of dust from the middle of the atmosphere.  We were created in the image of God, designed to live out our God-given purpose!  Life is not about our wants, our desires, or our needs.  It must be about what God wants, needs, and desires of us!  In Colossians 1:16, Paul writes, “all things were created by Him and for Him.”  We were created to bring Him honor and glory in everything we do and say.  We were created to be His workmanship… His hands and feet… His voice of truth… His instrument used to reach the world.  God has given us the command to go into the entire world, sharing the truth of Jesus Christ.

Paul writes in Colossians 3:17, “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father.”

Our complete purpose is found in an authentic relationship with Jesus Christ.  He displayed the ultimate example of what it means to “carry your cross daily.”  We must deny ourselves, carry our cross, and follow Jesus with our entire lives.

Honestly, I have struggled with this truth concept my entire life.  There is always something keeping me from a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ.  Whether it was a high school relationship, college golf, working as a retail manager, doing ministry, or growing a family, I have consistently struggled giving up everything that I am and everything I have for the cause of Christ.  What does that look like anyway?  Do I have to sell everything I own and give it to the poor?  Do I have to live homeless, since Jesus was pretty much homeless?  Do I have to walk around smelling like I just left the garbage dump because I cannot waste money on a shower?  Do my children not play Little League Baseball because I could use the money more wisely?  Do I sell my iPhone and give the money to grow God’s Kingdom?  How far do I go to deny myself for the cause of Christ?  I could go on an on for days with questions just like these.

Living out our God-given purpose begins with a choice of accepting Him as our personal Savior.  We must realize we are nothing and He is everything.  Without the Holy Spirit, there is not one ounce of righteousness within us.  We not only need Christ in our lives, but we must desire Him above everything else.  He must be the reason we live, the reason we walk, and the reason we talk!  Our lives must be centered around who He is and what He can do.  Our relationships must bring Him all honor and glory.  There is nothing more exciting than to live a life of Christlikeness!

Second, we must live a life of discipline!  Why is it that we always lose the fire that is burning inside of us from missions’ trips, spiritual retreats, and even from accepting Christ as our personal Savior?  Why do we go back to living life the same old way?  Why do the wildfires built up inside of us gradually burn out?  Why does it seem easy to be able to jump out of the gate with the passion and desire to change the world, but by the third or fourth lap we are ready to crawl back to our lazy boys?

We have all seen sporting events where one team begins the game untouchable, yet by the end of the game they can barely make it up and down the field of play.  We have all known of somebody who has missed the mark of what it means to finish well.  They have lost the desire, the passion, and the discipline to keep up the good fight.

Unfortunately, we are training a generation to believe it is fine to lose.  I may offend some people, but I struggle with this.  God does not want us to be mediocre at anything!  He wants us to strive after greatness, being the best we can be at whatever we are involved in!  He desires for us to not settle for second place, but to strive for victory.  We must not settle for mediocrity.  We must not settle for second best, or as my brother calls, the “first loser!”  This must carry over into every area of our life, including our walk with Christ.

I challenge you to look beyond who you currently are spiritually…  Right now, envision what your life would be like if you clearly strived after the prize – the prize of victory – the prize of greatness – the prize of impacting lives on a daily basis for the cause of Christ – the prize of living your life to the fullest – the prize of being used by God in ways you cannot imagine.  Picture the world around you.  Picture your family and the difference the impact of a deeper relationship with Christ would make on their life.  What about that broken relationship?  What about that student that is struggling?  What about the legacy you could leave?  Why are we allowing the comfort of our own bubbles to get in the way of striving for the prize – the ultimate prize of victory in Christ?

At the same time, a life with Christ can be extremely grueling.  I am not going to say it is the easiest life you will ever live, because that is not true according to Scripture.  God’s Word tells us that we will be persecuted, ridiculed, laughed at, mocked, and made fun for placing our faith and trust in Him.  The majority of the disciples were mocked, laughed at, stoned, and even put to death for their faith.  Stephen was stoned in a public setting for preaching the truth of the Gospel.  Daniel was thrown into a lion’s den because he refused to stop praying to the Creator of the Universe.  Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were thrown into a fiery furnace because they would not bow down to King Nebuchadnezzar’s image of gold.  We must be committed to a strengthening relationship with Jesus Christ, no matter the circumstances, no matter what others may think, and no matter what others may do or say towards us!

At the end of the day, what legacy are you leaving?  What are you doing to finish strong?  I will never forget a conversation I had with a fellow coworker of mine back in 2011.  He was just leaving a funeral of a father of three boys.  As he was walking up the stairs to our church offices, I was walking down, headed home.  The conversation, which lasted only about 30 seconds, was brief and to the point.  He looked at me and challenged me with words that I will never forget, “What legacy are you leaving?  How will you be remembered?  I want you to think through those two questions…

I didn’t even know what to say, how to respond, or what to think.  As I evaluated my own life, I was scared to think of the legacy I was leaving.  If something were to happen to me, what would my children remember me for?  What would the students I minister to remember me most for?  What would be said at my funeral?  What would be encrypted on my tombstone?  And most importantly, what would be the words of my Heavenly Father when I came face to face with Him?

What about you?  What legacy are you leaving?  How will you finish?  How will you finish today, tomorrow, this week, this month, this year, and this life – the one and only life God has blessed you with?

Are you living out your God-given purpose, dedicated to a growing relationship with Christ?  Are you focused on impacting those around you for the cause of Christ? Why do you do what you do?

‘If not you, then who?’