Yesterday at our church I preached a sermon entitled The Call to Gospel Pursuit. The primary text for the message was Philippians 2:3-8 where Paul reminds the church of Christ’s humility in coming to dwell among us and then laying down his life on our behalf. Christ was our model and just as he laid down his life for us, we are now called to do nothing from selfishness, but in humility consider others ahead of ourselves. God has called us to be intentional in our pursuit of others.
As I think about that word “intentional”, it’s something we must really consider. To my memory, it’s a word that wasn’t used often in my circles, but in the last couple of years, it has become quite en vogue. While it is used a lot, it also seems to mean a lot of things. Just as “coke” is the universal word for a carbonated soft drink in the south, “intentional” comes in many flavors. There is a time to be intentional with our families. There is a time to be intentional with our friends. We can be intentional in so many different ways. So what does “intentional” mean for the local church? I pray that “intentional” would be a word that describes our pursuit of others. As I consider what it means to be “intentional”, here are three things I’ve learned:
God was intentional in saving us!
Our salvation did not come from within. Just as Jesus described in the “Lost Parables” of Luke 15, God went to great lengths to seek and save the lost. He did not spare his only son. As I read Luke 15, I am reminded that the sheep, the coin, and even the prodigal son were insignificant in comparison to the whole. The sheep was one of a hundred sheep. The coin was a small coin of little value. The son had disrespected his father and squandered all his money, and the father was a very wealthy man. The prodigal son had nothing to offer. And yet the shepherd sacrificed the safety of ninety-nine sheep to pursue the one that was lost. The woman had nine other silver coins and yet spent an entire day searching for the one that was lost. The father had at least one other son and an entire estate and yet was overjoyed at the return of his son. God holds all of Creation in his hands and he still pursues us. Yes, God was extremely intentional when he sent His son to dwell with us and then lay down his life on our behalf. Jesus is our model for being intentional in pursuing others. We love because Christ first loved us. We pursue others because Christ first pursued us.
God was intentional in placing you where you live!
It is no accident that your address is what it is. You may think back to how you ended up where you live and say to yourself that you chose this house, you liked this school district, you designed the floorplan. All of those things are true, but what is also true is the sovereign God of the universe arranged time and space to place you right where you are. In our pride, we forget that it is God alone who “laid the foundation of the earth and determined its measurements.” (Job 38:4-5). God was intentional in spreading his people across the globe for the great mission of making disciples. (Matt 28:19). Just as he knows the hairs on your head, he knows exactly where you live, and you are there for a purpose. He has placed us in our cities to be light in the darkness. When we finally grasp that God sent us, we can go into the world with purpose. The disciples who walked with Jesus went boldly because they knew they were sent by God. We can live with the same boldness. We are called to seek the welfare of our city because in doing so, we become intentional about pursuing others. (Jer 29:7) One of Christianity’s favorite quotable verses is Jeremiah 29:11. We love being reminded that God has a plan for us, plans for good, plans for a future and a hope. All to often we forget that God’s plans for us are directly connected to our understanding that we are in exile, sent for a purpose, and God will fulfill his very intentional plan for us as we take responsibility for the calling he has given us. That calling is to intentionally seek out the lost and tell them the very good news of Jesus!
God has called us to be intentional in pursuit of others!
We have to be intentional with things that don’t come as naturally to us. Partially due to my own sinfulness and partially due to exhaustion, I could sit in front of the TV all day on Saturdays & Sundays this fall watching football. It comes quite naturally to me to sit and watch football while I plow through an entire bag of chips. It’s fun. It’s relaxing. It’s easy. But, it isn’t what is best. There is a season for everything, so taking some time to relax in front of a sporting event is not inherently sinful in any way! But there can be too much of a good thing. What is a better use of my weekend is to spend time with my family having a conversation, playing games, training my boys in righteousness, or dating my wife! I love doing those things, but I do have to be intentional to ensure I make time for them to happen. I have to be intentional about creating space, planning, and leading as a husband and father. This same idea applies to our pursuit of others. We have to be intentional because it isn’t always easy. Spending time with close friends is fun, it’s relaxing, it’s easy. But our mission as followers of Christ is bigger and better than that. If our lives are surrounded only by people we know well from one circle or another, we aren’t being intentional, we’re being comfortable. Again, there is a time and place for us to invest in, love, support, encourage those closest to us. But if we are going to be obedient to loving others and going after the lost, as our Savior came after us, we must be intentional to create the space to do so. We must be intentional to create the space and time in our lives to talk with the new co-worker, to invite our neighbor in, and to love them unconditionally. This is who God has called the church to be! We must be people who like Christ will lay down our lives in humble pursuit of others. We must be people who consider others ahead of ourselves on a daily basis. We must be intentional.