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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 feeling like there’s a lack of purpose…you’re not really sure about this year or next year or three years from now; you’re not fully content and you don’t know why…I would just really encourage you to think about what we’re talking through in this series—one at a time living. Where you take the focus off yourself and you begin to think about, Okay, who are the people that God is putting in my path each day that He wants me to influence and impact? Like, this is why you’re here.
If you’re a Christian, the reason why God didn’t just save you and then take you to heaven is because He wants you to be on mission here. He has conversations, connections He wants you to make, people that He wants you to influence. As a church, it’s our commitment to love people one at a time. I think when we do that together the opportunity to change this world is right in front of us. But really it’s all motivated by this Jesus way of changing the world: that we want to love people one at a time. Like, this is how Jesus lived His life.
He challenges His disciples with this approach in John 13. So this is the same chapter where they have, what we would talk about as, the Last Supper, and Jesus washes their feet. Okay? Same chapter, same night in His life. And it’s later, after all of that, where He is talking to them about how He wants them to be known, and here’s what He says to His disciples in John 13:34-35: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this,” by loving people the way that I’ve loved you, “everyone will know that you are (My followers), My disciples, if you love one another.”
So Jesus is getting ready to send them out. It’s a small group of followers, really, but they’re going to turn the world upside-down. And Jesus wants them to not forget that the way they are to be known, what should drive their mission, is their love for others. Like, that should be what makes them so distinctive. And this is what changed the world through the early Church—is the way that they loved people.
Now I know some of you, if you’re like me, you sometimes think of yourself as a follower or a disciple, and you measure how you’re growing in that based on things like knowledge. Well, I know more now than I used to know. And learning is part of being a disciple, but… Or maybe you think of theological understanding or maybe you think of church involvement. You know, there are these things that are important, and they are ways to gauge growth. But - how you love other people tells the most about your maturity as a follower of Jesus. It’s how you love. You can know all kinds of things, but if you don’t love people the way that Jesus loved people then you’re missing it.
So Jesus says, “It’s a new command. A new command I give you.” Well, what makes it new? Well, it’s not new new. Like, they’ve heard this. “Love others” is something that was talked about quite often. So why is it new? Jesus says, “What’s new is that you’re to love the way that I loved you. This is how the world will know you’re Mine.”
Like, He doesn’t say, “Hey, guys…” (after the Last Supper) “I’ve got something for ya’ll. I’m just going to pass these out. I made some bracelets, and kind of…pretty creative really. They just say, ‘WWJD,’ on it. I just want you to go out. I want you to wear these bracelets. I want you…we’re going to do a campaign around it. And I want you to hand out as many of these bracelets as possible, and by this the world will know that you’re My followers—because you wear these bracelets.” Nothing wrong with wearing those bracelets. That’s not what Jesus said would change the world.
Jesus didn’t say to them, “Hey, guys. So here’s the plan. The world will know you’re My followers by your strict interpretation of every word I’ve ever said. So here’s what I want you to do. I want you guys to separate into different groups. We’ll call each of them a denomination. And you can argue and fight back and forth with one another and argue anything into significance. Whatever you do, don’t focus on what’s most important. Get down to the granular. Make a big deal out of little things, like your opinions and preferences. Make that what determines if someone gets to be a part of the church, and this is how the world will know you’re My disciples.” Like, that’s not how that conversation went.
He didn’t say, “The world will know you’re My disciples by your moral superiority and your self-righteous indignation. Like, the world will know you’re My followers by the way you’re angry and judgmental towards other people who aren’t My followers. So if you could just look disappointed in people all the time, I think that’ll win the world over. If you can just have a sigh of disgust that you perfect, and you use it at work, when somebody went to a party, when someone’s talking about something inappropriate…if you’ll just… and walk away, it’ll get ‘em every time. They’ll just come running.” Like, that’s…that’s not how the conversation went.
He doesn’t say, “Look, the world will know you’re My followers by your political preferences. By this all men will know that you’re My followers—by the politician that you back. By your yard signs, I will call all men unto Me.” Like, that’s…it’s not…that’s not how it went. It’s, “Love people one at a time.” It’s not, “Hey, by your social media posts, by your scrolling and trolling, I will call all men to Myself.” Like, that’s…that’s not it. It’s, “Love the way that I have loved,” and the way Jesus loved was one at a time.
And the disciples knew that that was different. Like, the other rabbis...they didn’t…they didn’t do things the way Jesus did. The disciples had a hard time figuring it out. That’s why, when they would be in crowds of people, the disciples thought that part of their job was to keep the people at a distance, to keep Jesus focused on the agenda for the day. You know, “He’s teaching right now. It’s not a good time.” Like, that’s how they approached Jesus, while Jesus was constantly pushing pause on whatever the plans were and giving attention to one person at a time. “Love people the way that,” Jesus says, “I have loved you.”
And maybe the disciples weren’t exactly sure what He meant. Like, what does He mean by that? And maybe, as they’re thinking about it, they look down and then they notice their freshly washed feet. Oh, that’s what He means. Love people one at a time—is how Jesus loved. It’s how He lived. It’s how He’s called us to change the world.
So if there’s a word that maybe doesn’t usually get much attention that, I think, describes what made the ministry of Jesus so impactful is the word proximity. Like, proximity is what ministry came from in His life. The people He happened to be around determined what He gave His attention to. So ministry flowed out of proximity.
And so we see this from the beginning, when He comes to Earth. We celebrate Christmas; we’re celebrating the incarnation. What’s the incarnation? God with us. It’s a celebration of proximity. That Jesus didn’t love us from a distance. He didn’t just love us from far away. He loved us close up. He came and He dwelt among us. I love the way The Message paraphrases that. John 1:14: “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.” That’s proximity. It’s proximity.
Proximity lets you know that you’re really cared for. Jesus did ministry that way. He did life that way. He loved people with whom He was in close proximity with. Sometimes that felt more like happenstance. He didn’t really plan it. And other times it felt very intentional and scheduled. But nothing communicates that you care like just being there.
So this week, I came into the office on Monday. It was MLK Day. Office was closed. But I needed to get started on the sermon because that’s still coming, and MLK understands. So I was in the office working on my sermon a little bit, and while I was by myself working on the message, I just felt like I was…I just felt like there was this burden, kind of something personal that I was struggling with and dealing with. And I knew I needed to share it with someone, but I didn’t want to share it with someone.
Do you ever have anything like that? Because, you know, it’s humbling, and the proud part of me just wants to say, I got it. I know what the Bible says: That we should bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2). I know that that’s what I’m supposed to do. I just don’t like doing it.
And so I felt…I felt like God wanted me to share it with someone. And around that time where I was kind of feeling that conviction, I get a text from a friend who says, “Hey…” It’s not somebody I hear from very often. “Hey, just wanted to check on you. Hope you’re doing good today. Let me know if I can pray for you, do something for you.” I texted him back and I said, “Hey, I’d love to tell you I’m doing great, but I’m struggling with something and it would probably be good to share it with someone.” I said, “Do you think you might have some time this week?” I was kind of hoping that’d be the end of it. Like, okay, God. I mean, that’s close enough, right?
He texted me back and he said, “What about now?” Ugh… I said, “Well, I’m at the office and by the time you got here, that’s probably…you’re probably thirty minutes away. He texted me back: “On my way.” (Audience chuckling) And he came up to the office and he listened; and we talked and prayed and… There’s something about just showing up that has tremendous power.
I remember when my dad’s mother passed away. The funeral was taking place in the town I grew up in, Joplin, Missouri. My parents lived in Evansville, Indiana, probably seven hours away. So they had made the trip for my grandmother’s funeral, and I was there as well, of course. And right before the funeral started, I saw…I don’t remember…four or five guys walk in the back, stand in the back. Then I recognized them. They were from my dad’s church, part of his men’s group in Evansville, Indiana. When the funeral was over, they turned around left, got back in the car, drove back to Evansville. They knew he had responsibilities—family, cousins, you know, siblings—and so they just came and then they left. What’s that say—that proximity, where you look up and somebody is there at just the right time? There’s incredible power in that.
It took me awhile to understand that and appreciate it as a pastor. I remember as a young pastor, while I was still in seminary but serving at a church, that when someone went through something tragic…an unexpected loss of a loved one… I would go over to their home and just feel this anxiety, because I wanted to say something to make things better. And I was nineteen, twenty, twenty-one years old. I didn’t know what to say, and I felt like, I’m supposed to know. I’m supposed to know what to say to answer these deep questions and to put them at peace. And I never knew what to say. And then I remember listening to one of my professors in a pastoral care class say that, “In those moments they don’t remember what you say. They just remember that you showed up.” I think he’s right. There’s something about proximity, about being close.
If there’s ever a time where we need to be reminded of that I suppose this is the time, because we’ve become more and more comfortable with isolation and doing life from a distance, and more and more uncomfortable with people being too close to us, and more and more aware when someone gets in our personal space. And yet there’s something about us—that we have been made to live life in close proximity with others.
I was reading in Japan that they put a new government position in place, the Minister of Loneliness. The job is to help people find better connection with one another because they have found just that suicide has become more and more of an issue. And they said, “We need each other, and we’re missing it. We’ve got to figure out some creative ways to make sure we live in proximity.”
And we see all kinds of examples in research that would indicate that with the rise of social media we actually feel more isolated than ever. Like, proximity is actually more difficult. It’s not easier. We struggle more with loneliness than we ever have before. It’s had kind of the opposite effect that we might think.
I was reading a New York Times article about a guy named Hal who had seven hundred friends on social media. Can’t remember if it was Facebook or Instagram, but he had, like, seven hundred friends. And he was pretty proud of that. He thought, “You know what would be really cool?” He was kind of doing it for the story. He’s a writer. It’d be really cool to get all seven hundred friends together.
And so he put on social media an invitation that there was going to be this party and they were going to meet there after work, but he needed to know how many people were coming. So they could “attend” or “maybe attend” or “not attending.” Fifteen people said they would be there. Sixty said they might be there. He was hoping for twenty. Not…that’s not a lot. Yeah, it’s 3%. But twenty. I mean, you’ve got twenty friends. That’s a lot of connection.
He writes, “And on the evening in question, I took a shower, I shaved, put on new pants and a favorite shirt. Brimming with optimism, I headed over to the neighborhood watering hole, and waited and waited and waited, and eventually one person showed up.” And the one woman who showed up to meet Hal—he didn’t know her. She was a friend of a friend. They talked for a few moments. She left. He waited until midnight. No one else came. He ordered a beer and sulked. And he concludes his article with these words: “Seven hundred friends, but I’m drinking alone.”
And that captures where a lot of people are at in our world. There’s something that’s tremendously powerful when those of you who are followers of Jesus decide that you’re going to intentionally put yourself in proximity with someone who may not have anyone. When you intentionally show up for someone, even though it’s inconvenient, and you don’t know what to say, but the fact that you’re there is what they’ll remember. There’s no substitute for this.
I was reading earlier this year where Elon Musk, the world’s richest human…I think his net worth is, like, $280 billion. He was selling all of his homes. You know, he had a number of homes. He was selling all of his homes. And he talked a bit about why. The material possessions were kind of a distraction from what he really wanted to focus on and… But then he did this interview where he talked a little bit more, and here’s what he said. He said, “Being in a huge empty house when there are no footsteps echoing through the hallways—how do you make yourself happy in a situation like that?”
He said, “When I was a child, there was one thing I said. I said, ‘I never want to be alone.’” And then he whispered to himself, “I never want to be alone.” And so he lives…at least reported, that he lives in this $50,000 prefab one-bedroom place, where he can stay focused on his work and… Here’s someone who’s worth $280 billion, but there’s within him this awareness that if you’re living alone, if you’re missing out on proximity, that it’s hard to find joy.
And so if you look at Jesus, He seemed to know this. And sometimes it was someone who was wealthy, like Zacchaeus, where Jesus just knew, He needs…just needs to spend some time with Me. “Zacchaeus, I’m going to go to your house today for lunch.” And sometimes it was someone who was more of an outcast, like the woman at the well. Jesus sits down, has a conversation with her. But ministry flowed from proximity.