Life Giving Life – Willingness by John Burke

Today we began a new series at Gateway Church in Austin called “The Life Giving Life Project.” John Burke shared the following message:

“I believe that the next 5 weeks could be the most significant 5 weeks of your life and the life of our church. I believe the next 5 weeks could not only change your heart, but because of what we decide in the next 5 weeks, change your neighbors, change our city, change some of most impoverished places on earth. I believe there will be thousands and thousands of stories of changed lives because of what we decide in the next 5 weeks.

Today I’m simply asking you to be willing – willing to consider what God can do through a few ordinary people just like you who are willing to become a life giving life for others.

This is how Gateway started 14 years ago, and I believe God wants to do that again and again through you and through me – through us serving together.

Life Giving Life motivated all those who sacrificed and persevered in the early years of Gateway. We started growing together as one small group, serving people in need, inviting friends and neighbors to explore faith with us, and it grew to 2, 3 then 4 small groups (about 38 people serving together). We would dream and pray together about how God might take ordinary willing people like us and make a difference in the lives of thousands of people, because that’s the kind of God He is. He takes ordinary, willing people, and does extraordinary things through them.

There came a defining moment when this 1st network-size group realized how hard this was going to be. Moving forward would require much service, sacrifice, relational commitment, and financial investment. Just think about how many of us would not be here today, or would have life change stories like we do if they had chosen to take the easy road.

God did the impossible through this original network of ordinary but willing people. A decade later, thousands of people have found faith, grown spiritually, overcome addictions, healed their marriages, and became a life-giving life to others as well. Why wouldn’t God want to do the same thing through you and a network of 100% willing Christians locking arms? What if over the next 10 years we saw 300 networks like that original group, growing deep in faith in small groups, using this Inspire service to help others follow Christ, serving needs and eradicating injustices in our city? It would change our neighborhoods, our city, and you would never be the same. That’s what this Life Giving Life Project is about.

Peter Drucker, who was the foremost authority on Organizational Management in the 20th century, devoted the latter part of his life to help non-profits and churches.  After studying businesses and organizations his whole life, he became a Christ-follower and became convinced that the church is the hope of the world, and that non-profits that teach people to serve and give of themselves to better society is the only thing worth investing the rest of his life in.  Drucker pointed out that in every organization there come defining moments, when the choices they made together determined whether they accomplished great things or just stagnate and decline. Always, that defining moment took facing fears, risk, and unifying around a common vision.  Some were courageous and accomplished great things, some played it safe and faded away—but those moments defined their future.

This is one of our defining moments. Do we play it safe and do what’s easiest or most convenient for us individually, and slowly deteriorate and stop seeing Life by Life changed? Do we just play church—come and go and take what we can get? Or will we be the church—will we be followers of Jesus? Will we grow, serve, and learn to give of ourselves, like Jesus did for the sake of others?

God wants us to experience life and freedom with Him. He wants to bless us in every way. Learning to be grateful for how blessed we are will change us for the better.

But it’s not just about us. We are always blessed to be a blessing. When we miss this, we miss God’s purpose.

‘Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; and you will be a blessing, all peoples on earth will be blessed through you. ‘Genesis 12:1-3

God is blessing Abraham, so that he will be a blessing to the whole world, but His people keep forgetting.  So God repeats himself—533 times in Scripture – from Genesis to Revelation.

God blessed Issac, then Israel: I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and will give them all these lands, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed.’ Genesis 26:4

God blessed the nation of Israel, so that the people around her would notice it. They would come to know the true God and share in those blessings. God blessed Egypt, Egypt enslaved Israel, God set them free. As Israel entered the Promised Land, God warns them:

‘Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart…Be sure to praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. But that is the time to be careful…For when you have become full and prosperous and have built fine homes to live in,and when your flocks and herds have become very large and your silver and gold have multiplied along with everything else, be careful!Do not become proud at that time and forget the Lord your God.’ Deuteronomy 8:2, 10-14 

Unfortunately they forgot God blessed them, not just for themselves, but to be a blessing to others.

God often humbles and tests our hearts before he blesses us with more.

In Israel, some remembered. David never forgot why Israel was being blessed. There are over 60 references in the psalms are like this:

‘May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face shine upon us, that your ways may be known on earth, your salvation among all nations.’ Psalm 67:1-2   

This was the desire on God’s heart. He wants the blessings He gives us to flow out to the peoples of the earth who don’t know Him. This has happened throughout history. The African queen of Sheba and other nations came to learn about God during David and Solomon’s time. Then Solomon lost his focus as did many kings after him and got caught up in his own health, wealth, and prosperity (read Ecclesiastes).

When we become self-focused, we fail to become a blessing to others.

Others were bright spots: Esther was a blessing to the Persian Empire, Jonah to Ninevah, Daniel to the Babylonians.Too often though, the religious people kept thinking they were blessed because they deserved it. They thought they were better than others somehow. They lost God’s heart for wounded and wandering people.

‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock?…  You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound upthe injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost…They were scattered over the whole earth, and no one searched or looked for them.’  Ezekiel 34:2-6 

Self-centered gravity pulls us inward, and we have to fight against it so we can help to strengthen the weak, heal the sick, bind up the injured, and search for the lost. We must fight that inward looking force. It’s not God’s way.

I think that’s why God has blessed our church and done such amazing things through you guys because you’ve always been about creating a ‘come as you are’ place of grace and acceptance, but you haven’t stayed ‘as is.’ You’ve been willing to grow, change, then give of yourselves, use your gifts and resources to go out to serve others.

This is a defining moment. Will we turn inward to do what’s easiest, or will all of us who claim to follow Christ be 100% willing to do whatever God asks to be Life Giving Life to others?

Jesus came to embody what God is like and what he wants His church be His body. Jesus said:

‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’ Luke 4:18-19

We are blessed with God’s Spirit to be a blessing to the poor, enslaved, oppressed, and downcast. We need to let others know God is for them, not against them.

Four years ago, we realized something was wrong. Thousands of people were coming and going, but not getting connected to community to grow deep in faith, and most people struggled to use their gifts together to serve others. We reorganized our church asking God to do what He did through our original network. We relooked at Jesus’ Ministry because He intends His Church to be His body doing what he did.

  • He lived by the Spirit (60:60).
  • He developed 12 people (small groups, Life Groups, Running Partners).
  • He sent 70 to serve people in need (Networks).
  • He created “come as you are” hillside teaching (Inspire Service).

Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20    This Great Commission was the invitation to the CHURCH, His Body, to do what He’s been doing through History—Blessing people to be a Blessing to all nations—Life Giving Life giving Life.

God has put incredible opportunities before us, and over the next 5 weeks I want to help you see what I believe God will do through you in your neighborhood, among your coworkers, across our city, and in this world. We can’t be what God intends alone, but together we can see the impact of that original network multiply.

Willingness is the key to the spiritual life.  What God wants from us is relationship, a loving trust in our Maker above all other things. He won’t make us love or trust him or even obey him. The essence of what God wants is your willingness.  Without your willingness, God will do very little. With your willingness, there’s no limit to what God can do in your life and through your life when we are completely surrendered.

‘And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice–the kind he will accept. When you think of what he has done for you, is this too much to ask?  Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will know what God wants you to do, and you will know how good and pleasing and perfect his will really is.’ Romans 12:1-2  NLT 

What God really wants is YOU – all of you.

95% devotion is 5% short.  When you’re half-hearted about anything, you will never see the benefits and you’ll never see anything great come out of it.  That’s why God wants 100% willingness. He can’t give us all He has until we give him all we have.  T

To help us be His church, here is how we can each begin making a difference:

B – Begin Praying. God has you in your neighborhood, apartments, work, school for a reason. He cares about people you encounter every day. Write down a list of people you already interact with who don’t know God cares about them, and pray for them, and watch how spiritual doors open.

L – Listen. Jesus was asked 183 questions, answered 3. Asked 308. Jesus asked and listened. People just want to be heard. Too many Christians just talk. Find ways to ask questions, take interest, listen.

E – Eat.  Jesus ate with people, it’s amazing how relationship grows. Invite neighbors to eat.

S – Serve. If you pray, listen, eat, you’ll know how to serve them.

S – Story.  Tell your Story and God’s Story when the time is right.

I – Inspire. Invite them to our Inspire Service. We see people come to faith when 3 things happen:

  1. One Person demonstrates God’s love and grace.
  2. A ‘come as you are’ learning space for 6-18 months.
  3. A friendship with several Christians. This can happen in our network.

N – Network.  Our extended family, playing, serving, and a caring place to invite friends.  Serving our city together making a difference in pockets of injustice.

G – Group.  Smaller groups are where we connect to grow deep, to experience life and freedom in Christ and become life giving life to others- a BLESSING to others.

Imagine if all us lived this way! If we did, I believe a decade from now many of your neighbors and coworkers who right now are feeling hopeless and faithless will look back and tell how all of that changed because of what Gateway decided in these 5 weeks. I believe that!

I believe there are kids in our city, hungry today, who won’t be because of these 5 weeks. A decade from now they’ll tell how this church met his single mom at her point of desperation, came around her with resources and support, empowered her to climb out of poverty, helped her find faith because of what Gateway decided these 5 weeks.

I believe a decade from now there will be a refugee family following Christ, serving others, established, productive US citizens who came with the clothes on their backs and nothing else, but we loved them, helped them learn the language, helped them get a job, help them find a new life and new friends. A decade from now there will be hundreds of stories like that because of what we decide this next 5 weeks.

I believe a decade from now there will be an entire village of 4000 people in Haiti, the village of Simonette, that lifted themselves out of generational poverty and spiritual darkness and they will look back and tell the story of what Gateway Church decided to do in these 5 weeks partnering to set a model that spread to other villages.

I believe a decade from now, a 13 yr old Indian girl, orphaned and who right now is begging on streets in danger of forced prostitution, she will look back and tell of being taken in by Jaya and Lakshmi at Grace Children’s home, fed and clothed and educated and sent to a nursing school we helped build, working in the Hospital we helped build—bringing healing in Jesus’ name to 100,000 people each year because of what we decided in these 5 weeks.] That’s why I’m so excited about this Life Giving Life Project.

Today you may not believe that, you don’t have to agree with that, but I’m asking every Christ follower to engage on this 5 week journey and pray, ‘God, how do you want me to be a blessing?’ Just stay willing to do what God leads us each of us to do, and we will be amazed.”

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