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About this series
One at a Time
The Unexpected Way God Wants to Use You to Change the World
Have you ever considered the remarkable impact Jesus has had on history? Think about it… He lived over 2000 years ago and only had a small group of followers. Yet fast forward to today, Christianity is the leading world religion. So what was Jesus’ secret? In this 8-part series, guest teacher Kyle Idleman reveals the unexpectedly simple practices Jesus used to change our world. Don’t miss how you and I can continue the work He started… one interaction, one conversation, one life.. at a time.More from this series
If you’re struggling a little bit with understanding your purpose in life, if you’re struggling a little bit with motivation… like, when you get up in the morning, your job isn’t motivating and school isn’t motivating and you’re just kind of going through the motions, and you are making it through the day to go to bed that night… If you’re struggling a little bit with some depression and discouragement, and it’s pretty easy, I think, for all of us to get focused on ourselves, I just have found that this “one at a time” way of living affects all of that. That Jesus taught us to love others the way that He has loved us, and if I can start my day by being intentional with my interactions and the people I meet along the way—to love them the way that Jesus has loved me—it just…it gives everything purpose. It gives everything meaning.
And I’ve talked to you in this series that that has been something God’s really had to grow me in, right? Like, I’ve had to be discipled by Jesus to love people the way that He loves people. It wasn’t natural for me. I didn’t consider myself to be a people person. And that was tough as a pastor, because I thought I should be great all the time with people and I just wasn’t. That was a challenge for me. But over the course of the last twenty years, I’ve discovered that no matter what your personality type may be, that Jesus wants each of us to love people one at a time.
So one of the reasons I wrote the book, One at a Time, is because it was very personal to me. It was kind of an overflow out of what God’s been doing in my life, and I wanted other people to experience the discipleship that I had experienced in learning to love people the way that Jesus loved people. And we’re all growing in that. We’re all still on the path. I just think that that mission gives meaning to your life. No matter what you do, no matter where you’re at, no matter what challenges you face—that mission will give you meaning.
And so I want to challenge you to be intentional when you find yourself at certain intersections. When you are with someone who’s going through something maybe unexpected, maybe challenging and difficult, that you understand in that moment you have an opportunity that you may have never had before to point that person to Jesus. Those are the moments we need to be especially intentional—when someone is at an intersection—and we’re going to talk about what those look like.
For a lot of us, we’re pretty good at avoiding people at different times. But really what I want to challenge you with is to focus on, What are the moments where God wants you to lean in, where He wants you to be intentional? That there are these intersections that the people around you are at, and He wants you, I believe, if you’re a follower of Jesus, to meet them at that intersection and point that person to Him.
I was reading a story by Elizabeth Sherrill. She is an author from Chappaqua, New York. And she says, “I’ve got a yellow pencil holder on my desk, to remind me that every now and then God answers a need with me.” Every now and then, it turns out there’s something that’s happening in your backyard, and you are the person who’s in the best position to do something about it.
For us, as a church, this is what we mean when we talk about being unleashed. We want to unleash the full force of the church to love people one at a time. That there are certain people in your life that you’re in a position to love, and nobody else is really in that position to love the way that you are. There are certain people that you come across…right time, right place…where you’re going to be in a position to point them to Jesus at just the right moment to have the most impact for them.
I was talking to a lady between services. Her name was Melissa, and a few months ago she lost her mom and was sitting…coming to church and just feeling heavy and needing comfort and praying. And someone saw her, kind of noticed that there was a heaviness about her. Just wrote a note and said, “I want you to know that God sees you and you’re not alone.” Just someone who’s paying attention, leans in at that moment, has a really significant impact on her because they saw her at an intersection and did something.
I’m just convinced that all of you have people like that in your life right now. That there are people…maybe you’re close to them and know them well. Maybe it’s a stranger that you’ll come across this afternoon. But if you’ll keep your eyes open, you’ll find them at an intersection where they’re more open to learning about Jesus, to knowing about God’s love than maybe they ever have before.
And so what are those moments? What are those intersections?
You’re driving through the neighborhood, and you see a moving truck has pulled up to the house that’s been for sale for a while; and there’s a car there with out-of-state plates. Somebody new is moving in. You have a window here. You have an opportunity you might not get again. But for that moment, next month or two, that family is at this intersection of change and uncertainty, and a gesture of friendship in that moment goes a really long way. A gesture of kindness at that intersection says a lot about Jesus, a lot about the Church.
Or you hear news on social media that an old classmate has been diagnosed with cancer. And you haven’t talked to this classmate for a while, and you feel a little bit bad about that. Like, now it doesn’t seem appropriate to reach out to them because you haven’t reached out to them in the past. And yet the truth is that person is at this intersection of fear and suffering, and they have never been more open to the power and the presence of God in their lives. And maybe you are the one that needs to say something—just to check on ‘em, just to build a bridge, ask them how they’re doing, how can you pray for them?
There’s maybe a friend that you haven’t seen for a while, and you get the news that she and her husband separated. Apparently he got involved with someone else. And you’re a little reluctant to even run into her because you don’t want it to be awkward and you’re not sure what you would say. I mean, do you even bring something like that up or not? And yet, you know, she is at this intersection of loneliness and rejection, and she really needs somebody to step into that space with her and make sure that she’s staying connected to Jesus, make sure that she is seen and she knows she’s not alone.
A relative loses a job. You’re not really sure what to say. You don’t want there to be any embarrassment, so you just don’t bring anything up over the holidays. And yet the truth is they’re really struggling—struggling with identity. They just never thought it would happen to them. They’re at this intersection of disappointment and despair. And it might be a little awkward, but you have an opportunity to lean in. They’ve never been more open to a conversation. They’ve never been more receptive to a word of encouragement. An act of compassion has never meant more to them. There’s something about that intersection. That if we are intentional to meet people there it has significant impact.
I’ve found this is true for irreligious people. Like, one of the things that I will sometimes do is I’ll go to a hospital to meet people, to pray with people who are going through something difficult. But sometimes you get in the waiting room while you’re waiting for the moment to get the all clear and go back and see someone. And I’ve had a number of times where I’ve been in the waiting room, and there’s another family that I don’t know but they’re clearly going through something. Either there is an unexpected accident. Someone’s illness has taken a turn for the worse. But it’s clearly a heavy moment. And I don’t want to intrude. I don’t want to be in the way. But I also don’t want to miss an opportunity if they’re at an intersection and they just need some hope and they need to know that they’re cared for.
And so I’ll go over and say, “Hey, I don’t know you. I’m a pastor in town. I’m here to see somebody else. Is it okay if I just pray for you real quickly?” No one ever says no. No one ever acts annoyed. Like, I don’t know what their religious background may or may not be, but I know that in that moment they’re more open to that than they were twenty-four hours before. There’s something about those intersections that are sacred places, and Jesus invites you into them. Right now there’s someone in your life who’s at an intersection that needs you to show up. And Jesus just did this masterfully.
So let’s look at this in the Gospels by just a quick examination of some intersection moments Jesus had.
John chapter 3. There’s a man named Nicodemus. He’s a religious leader. He had some doubts. He didn’t believe what all of his colleagues believed about Jesus. He had some questions. He’s at the intersection of what I would call “seeking and searching.” He’s spiritually asking questions. The moment you hear someone asking some kind of a spiritual question…that is an invitation for you to step into that space. And you may not know all the answers. That’s okay. But that you meet them there. And so Jesus, in John 3, meets Nicodemus at night and has this very personal, spiritual conversation with him.
You go to John 4, and there’s the story of the Woman at the Well, when Jesus goes through Samaria and He meets this woman who’s at the intersection of shame and dissatisfaction. She’s been married a number of times. She’s living with somebody who’s not her husband. Nothing is satisfying her thirst. She’s thirsty for something deeper, something more. And Jesus meets her there and offers Himself, the Living Water. You wait for someone to reach that moment in life where they recognize, “What I’ve been doing isn’t working. I’m thirsty for more.” You meet them in that space.
If you go to John chapter 5, Jesus is in Jerusalem. He meets a lame man who’s at the intersection of hopelessness and helplessness, and Jesus reaches out, offers some help and new hope.
John 8—a woman who’s caught in the act of adultery…she finds herself at this intersection of guilt and shame, and Jesus meets her there with grace and truth.
I mean, it just keeps going. He meets a widow at the funeral of her only son. It’s a really significant intersection. He meets a father whose daughter is on her deathbed. He meets two sisters who are grieving the loss of their brother, Lazarus. They’re at the intersection of grief and despair. And Jesus meets them there, introduces Himself. “I am the resurrection. I’m the life.”
I was visiting with somebody else between services, and they…I said, “Have you been coming to church here for a while?” And she said, “No, but I heard you speak before coming here at a wedding and then at a funeral. And when I was at the funeral, you told me that we needed to stop meeting this way. That you need to come to church.” And she said that she started coming to church. But there’s something about a funeral. There’s something about that moment. It’s one of the reasons I would always rather, as a pastor -
When you speak at a funeral, there are just a lot of intersections taking place. In that moment people are more open to God in a way maybe that they aren’t at other times. And Jesus had a way of seeing that and leaning in and meeting people in those places.
So there’s a parable that I want us to look at in Matthew 13. If you have your Bibles you can turn there. Matthew 13. And I say, “a parable”; really, it’s two parables, but they’re each, like, two sentences long. They’re very brief parables. It’s in a passage here where Jesus is telling a lot of parables. There are a lot of stories that kind of pack a punch and unlock some deeper spiritual truth. And in this particular section He is giving us some different pictures of what the kingdom of heaven is like, and so He says, “The kingdom of heaven is like this, like this, like this.” And so each parable begins with, “The kingdom of heaven is like…”
The kingdom of heaven, of course, is a physical place, but it’s not just a physical place. It’s any place…one way to say this…it’s any place where God rules. Now God rules everywhere. But it’s any place where God has been identified, recognized, submitted to and surrendered to as ruler. That’s where you’ll find the kingdom of heaven. Whether that’s in heaven, the physical place, or whether that’s in your heart. That’s what the kingdom of heaven is like.
And so He’s describing the kingdom of heaven by telling us two, little, short stories: “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy he went and sold all he had and he bought the field.”
It’s like this treasure that’s hidden in a field. Who hides a treasure in a field? That’s not something we do. We take it to the bank, or we put it on deposit somewhere. He buries it in the field. And back in the day, like, that’s what they did. If there was a war, they would bury their wealth in the ground. They would be the only ones who knew where to find it. But what happens if they die at war, which they often did? It just stays buried in the ground.
And so that’s presumably what happened here. Like, a hired hand is working in the field.
But he stumbles across it. Didn’t plan on it. Wasn’t looking for it. Just happened. Just an ordinary day, just an ordinary field, and then he finds this extraordinary treasure that changes his life. Kind of accidental, but changes everything for him. And he goes and sells everything he has, and then people are talking. “Ah, midlife crisis. What’s he doing? Selling his house, selling his oxen, selling…selling everything he owns so he can buy this field?” They don’t understand it, but he knows what he’s doing. He knows it’s a good exchange.
Some of you who have become followers of Jesus…you’ve changed your life. You’ve surrendered some things over to Jesus. And the people around you see what you’ve given up, and they’re like, “I’m not sure. I’m not sure if they’re doing okay.” Like, they’re not sure what to make of it, but you know what to make of it because you’ve discovered a treasure. You’ve discovered this joy that’s in Jesus. It’s the treasure that’s hidden in a field. It's worth everything. That’s the intersection moment in your life, where you recognize it’s available to you. The Bible calls it “the riches of Christ.”
And then Jesus tells a second parable. So here’s what I want you to do, as you’re listening to this—is to try to identify how these two little parables are different. In the first one that we read, a man is working in a field. Presumably, he finds it; he hides it again, sells everything he has and buys it. Verse 44…or 45 and 46: “Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant on the lookout for choice pearls. When he discovered a pearl of great price, he sold everything he owned and bought it!”
So two stories…very similar…kind of give the same metaphor. I know that there’s probably half a dozen grammar teachers in here. It’s a simile. It’s a simile. I get it. The word like is in there, makes it a simile. But can we just say metaphor because it’s like a word picture? A pearl and a treasure, and this represents the kingdom of heaven.
So what’s different about those two? They both find a treasure. They both sell everything they have. What’s different about them? The first one…he stumbles onto it. It’s accidental. It just happens. Second one…he’s looking for it. He’s searching. He’s seeking. And as he looks for it, he finds it.