This sermon is part of the sermon series "Life Force". See series.
Steve Jobs has been in the news this week after announcing that he was stepping down as the CEO of Apple. When Jobs announced the original iPhone as little more than a combination of "three revolutionary projects"—a cell phone, an iPod, and a handheld computer with internet connectivity—even he didn't know what had been unleashed.
Once Apple introduced the App Store and opened it up to outside developers, the iPhone became capable of performing almost any task. That's what an app is; it's software broken up into all kinds of little pieces, or individual applications, like iTunes, which took albums or discs and made each song an individual download.
There are now more than 425,000 applications on the apple.com app store. So now you can say, "There's an app for that," for almost anything in life. And that's what we're going to explore today.
We've been in a series called Life Force, looking at how our lives can have the impact and significance they were meant to have. We began by learning, from the teaching of Jesus, that the key to Life Force is serving, giving our lives away. Then we learned that those who follow Christ have been given at least one spiritual gift to be used in and through their lives for service. It might be leadership, helps, administration, or giving. It could be in the arts or in teaching. Whatever it is, it's a supernatural capacity to develop a particular ability for kingdom-impact through the church.
Today we're going to explore a simple idea: you're one of God's apps. Let's look at what Jesus had to say about this. And he did it through a miracle, and it's the only miracle recorded in each of the four Gospels. It's a miracle we're not supposed to miss.
This is what happened:
The crowds heard where [Jesus] was headed and followed by foot from many towns. Jesus saw the huge crowd as he stepped from the boat, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick.
That evening the disciples came to him and said, "This is a remote place, and it's already getting late. Send the crowds away so they can go to the villages and buy food for themselves."
But Jesus replied, "That isn't necessary—you feed them."
"But we have only five loaves of bread and two fish!" they answered.
"Bring them here," he said. Then he told the people to sit down on the grass. Jesus took the five loaves and two fish, looked up toward heaven, and blessed them. Then, breaking the loaves into pieces, he gave the bread to the disciples, who distributed it to the people. They all ate as much as they wanted, and afterward, the disciples picked up twelve baskets of leftovers. About 5,000 men were fed that day, in addition to all the women and children! (Matt. 14:13-21, NLT).
Now why is that event, that miracle, in every single account of the life of Jesus? Why did the Holy Spirit, who inspired the writing of the Bible, want that in every biography about Christ? It's because in that one miracle there are three principles that speak directly to how our lives can have force. And he didn't want us to miss a single one.
You're the app for that
This is the first principle: When there is a need, when there is a concern, when there is something that God wants to do in this world, you are the app.
People were hungry. They needed to be fed. What did Jesus say to his disciples? You feed them. You're my app. Go feed them.
When I was in seminary, I served a little church outside of town. One time, a woman came up to me after a service and said, "I've just had a real breakthrough." And I threw my shoulders back, thinking I had given a great talk. But she said, "It wasn't about your talk. As I was driving away from church last week, I said to my husband that the church really needed to do more with young people in high school. I said, 'They really ought to do something about that.' And then, as soon as the words left my mouth, it hit me. We are they!"
And she was right. We're the apps for what God wants to do on this planet. But we don't usually think that way, do we? Did you catch the first thing the disciples said to Jesus? They
basically said: We have nothing to offer. There's nothing we can do. This one is beyond us, bigger than we are, more than we can handle.
This is one of the biggest breakdowns in human life, the reason why more lives don't have the force God dreams for them to have. God says, "You're it," but we say, "No, I'm not." God says, "You're the one I want to send," but we say, "No, I'm not." God says, "You're the way I want to solve this, fix this, and accomplish this," but we say, "No, I'm not."
This is why we need this life principle. When it comes to what God wants to do, you are the app. There's no plan B. If you are a follower of Christ, there is a call on your life, and that call is to be a part of Christ's mission on this planet. And I do mean his mission, his cause.
Make no mistake about that mission. In Matthew 28, Jesus gave us his clearest, most direct missional edict: "Go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (Matt. 28:19-20, NLT). That mission is so clear, so direct, so compelling, so all-encompassing, that it is known as the Great Commission. And God is inviting us to be a part of it.
So what is it that God is doing? First and foremost, he's reclaiming a lost world back to himself. He sees human lives lost in the darkness. These lives are spent apart from a relationship with him. He wants to bring grace, forgiveness, restoration, reconciliation, new beginnings, and new identities to these lives. He wants to give them health and healing, wholeness and meaning.
He wants to restore marriages and strengthen families. He wants to infuse a sense of calling into each life. And most of all, he wants to change their destinies. He is on a mission to save people from the peril of darkness that lasts for eternity.
But that's not all. Within that Great Commission, rooted in the creation narrative itself, is a cultural commission. God wants to advance his kingdom in all areas of life—in our educational systems, in our judicial systems, and in the media. God is on the march against poverty, disease, homelessness, and crime. He's declared war on racism, abuse, oppression, and injustice.
There is a culture of life written on every page of the Bible, telling us that God is on the side of the weak and the unprotected, the widow and the orphan, the infant and the infirm. So don't water down this mission. It's not about serving in general, or giving yourself away just anywhere.
You can give your life to a lot of things that don't promote the cause of Christ. You can serve in countless areas that don't build up his church. The serving we're talking about has nothing to do with volunteering as a little league coach, or volunteering to work with the PTA at your school, or serving the homeowners association in your subdivision. Those things are fine and good. But they are vastly different than taking up your place in the body of Christ and using your gifts for his kingdom.
Don't let serving in these other areas get in the way of what God has called you, and gifted you, to do for his purposes. Don't sacrifice your involvement in Christ's mission.
Some people will say, "My job is my ministry," or "My family is my ministry." No, it's not. It can be a ministry, but it's not what your spiritual gift was given for. Your spiritual gift was given to you for the sole purpose of building up the body of Christ and for advancing his mission. There are 10,000 things that are worthwhile, good, and noble that you could invest in. But there is only one church, one mission, one cause. Don't confuse that with anything else.
So get the first principle down: God has unleashed a revolution on this planet, and you're the app for it.
God is the power for your app
Here's the second principle we're not supposed to miss. When God says, "You're the app for this," that doesn't mean you're on your own. It means that God is choosing to use you as an app. He empowers you. God is the power for your app. God's power takes what you bring, what you offer, what you do, and multiplies it in ways that only God can.
Do you think Jesus needed the loaves and fish to feed all those people? No! So why did he ask for them? He asked for them because he wanted people to see that when they brought what they had to the table, he would bring what he had to the table. When they offered to serve with their lives, he would bring his life and his power
When it comes to God's working in our lives, most of us are waiting for God to do something for us. But did you ever think that God wants to do something through us? What do you have right now that Jesus is asking you to bring to him, but you think it's insignificant? Or perhaps you think he won't show up when you act out in faith. Or maybe you think your app isn't. Maybe you just want to keep it for yourself.
Is Jesus calling you to give him your gifts and abilities? Your money? Your prayers? Your time? Do you have the gift of helps, and you think if you try to help somewhere that it won't matter, that God won't use you? If that's how you're living, then you will miss out on the miracle of multiplication. It is indeed a miracle. It is a God thing. But it's a God thing you can experience. And you were meant to experience.
When John tells this story of the feeding of the five thousand, he adds an interesting line. Right after Jesus asked for what they had, John says, "[Jesus] said this to stretch [their] faith. He already knew what he was going to do" (John 6:6, The Message).
Think about that. God already knows what he is going to do through you when you bring what you have to him, when you use your gifts and abilities, when you serve and sacrifice your time. He's just waiting to see if you'll bring it. And when you do, it will be multiplied. And not just through you, but for you. Its impact will be multiplied, not only in others' lives, but in your life, too. Serving is not just for the benefit of others; it is also for your benefit.
App + power = life force
This is the third principle: Your God-given app plus God's power is what gives your life force. Think about what happened. Not only were thousands of people fed; there were 12 baskets full of food left over. Does your life experience that kind of production, that kind of yield, that kind of outcome?
A life that has force is a life that has launched itself into the great revolution that God has unleashed on this planet through Christ, who was a servant. When you give your gifts, resources, time, sweat, and most of all, your servant's heart to Christ's mission, God shows up. He empowers your efforts. He multiplies your results. He works through you in ways that only he can.
And that gives your life force. The results are beyond anything we could imagine. Have you experienced that yet? Have you given your all and experienced his multiplying power? Have you looked around and seen basketfuls all around you? Or, are you still hanging on to a few loaves and a couple of stinky fish.
There are two kinds of lives that you can live. The first is a life that ends with nothing more than what you started with, because you never gave yourself away. This type of life is lived on the sidelines, or in the bleachers, watching, not participating. But that's not a meaningful life!
Getting a girlfriend, getting into a college, finding a major, getting a job, getting married, having kids, buying a house, putting some money away, taking trips, and then retiring—that's not the essence of a meaningful life. But some people think that's all there is to life. They are born with their five loaves and two fish, and they die with five loaves and two fish. And they think that bread and fish is everything.
But there's another life that you can live—a life in which you give yourself away. In this kind of life, God shows up and multiplies things in ways that only he can. He's gives this kind of life the significance, the weight, and the force it was meant to have. And the multiplication is amazing.
Which life do you want? Many of you are capable of experiencing incredible multiplication. God has given you incredible talents and gifts. You may be an athlete, an entrepreneur, a leader, an artist, a wealth-builder, a counselor, a lawyer, a real estate developer, a physician, a writer, a or teacher. Some of you have money. You all have loaves and fish, abilities that God wants to use and multiply. But many of you don't think those things are worth giving away. You don't see yourself as an app for God's kingdom. If that's the case, God hasn't empowered you, and you haven't experienced multiplication.
In his book The Volunteer Revolution, Bill Hybels talks about how someone once asked him if he felt awkward about asking people to give their lives to God's and the church's mission. He responded,
During the next few months you're going to meet people who stand at drill presses, ten hours a day, five or six days a week. When they go home at night, few of them sense the pleasure, meaning, and purpose of life they've heard advertised in commercials for beer or computer systems. They're godly, conscientious people, and they feel thankful for their jobs. But they don't find satisfaction in their souls at the drill press.
And you're going to meet fine, hardworking people in real estate who show thirty homes a week. If they're lucky, one buyer will make an offer, but they're not lucky every week. Many are extroverts who love showing property and helping families find the right home, but even then they probably don't arrive home at night filled with deep inner joy because of their latest showing.
You'll meet insurance salespeople who have been selling policies for twenty years. While they feel grateful that the insurance business puts food on their table and sends their kids to college, the thought of selling one more policy likely doesn't float their emotional boat.
You're going to meet car dealers and stockbrokers and bricklayers and police officers and plumbers who, despite their commitment to their careers and jobs, are honest enough to admit that their secular vocation does not offer enough meaning to satisfy the deeper needs that stir in their souls.
Some of them love their jobs; they feel stimulated and energized by their work. Some of them even leave their workplace each day knowing that they have honored God by their work and their love for people. But few of them would say, "This is what life is all about."
Then he looked this person in the eye and said,
You and I get to invite these people to be used by God in ways they never imagined. We have the opportunity to empower them to develop gifts they didn't know they had. We can cheer them on as they courageously assume new levels of kingdom responsibility that fill their hearts to overflowing. And we get to see the look on their faces when they realize God has used them to touch another human being. No … I never really feel guilty inviting people to become volunteers in our church. Never.
And neither do I.
Many of you have moved off the sidelines and into the game over these last few weeks. You've said to God, "Use me wherever there's a need." You've opened up yourself to having a servant's heart and a servant's life. And many of you have found that God has used you in incredible ways. For you, the adventure has begun. Your life has started to gain force in ways you can't even begin to imagine.
But many of you haven't stepped out. Don't wait. Don't delay. Don't stay on the sidelines. Join us today. You're the app God is looking for. He's waiting to empower you and multiply your gifts, to give it the force you long for.
James Emery White is founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, and is a consulting editor to Leadership Journal. He is author of Serious Times and A Search for the Spiritual, and blogs at churchandculture.org.