daily Broadcast

Understanding the Power of Purpose

From the series I Choose Joy

Life isn't fair. Bad things happen and suffering is very real. We know this. Here’s the question: what do you do when the unfairness or the suffering are pressing in on YOU? Chip explains how, through understanding the power of purpose, God can use even our worst circumstances to bless and mature us into becoming more and more like Jesus.

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Message Transcript

What’s a circumstance in your life that is tough. Is there anything in your life, right now, that you say: If God really loves me, if He cares for me and I am obeying Him, I’m doing all that I know that is right, what is going on? I don’t get it. Well, you’re not alone. And so, if you’ll pull out your teaching notes, I want you to do a little exercise with me.

It says, “Sometimes the shortest distance between two points is a zig-zag line.” Now, I want to say that again. Sometimes the distance between point A and point B, unlike in geometry where it’s a straight line, with God, sometimes the distance between point A, this is where you’re at right now, this is where you’re at in your life, in your singleness, in your marriage, in your work, in your health – point A. God wants to take you to point B.

The way we think, and especially those of you that were really good in geometry, unlike me, is we think, Point A, point B, straight line. That’s how you get there. In God’s economy, mark it down, the shortest distance between two points is a zig-zag line.

And while you’re doing that, let me just give you a couple of examples so that I’m not just making this up. We are studying the book of Philippians, the apostle Paul. Now, God interrupts his life and reveals Himself and takes him to Arabia and says, Okay, this is what you’re going to do. You are My man to the Gentiles. Your mission is to take the gospel to the whole world. And he goes on these missionary trips and he plants all these churches. And, God is using him. It’s an amazing story.

And so, his point A – “God has spoken to me.” Point B – “Take the gospel to the whole world.” Now, do you realize how many times, year after year after year he was in prison? I mean, he’s got to be saying, “Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait a second! You told me to take the gospel to the whole world, now I’m in prison for this, now I’m in prison for this, now I’m in prison for that. How is this ever going to happen?”

Well, guess where Paul wrote a great number of all the letters, inspired by the Holy Spirit, that we read today – while he was in prison. The most strategic way that God’s Word would go all around the world then and now, this man wrote thirteen books. You see, God has zig-zag plan, but Paul couldn’t see it.

Or take David. God calls Dave to be the king and Samuel anoints him and this young man and he says, “David, you’re going to be the king!” And Saul has been cast aside and he has turned away and David, I’m sure he’s like, “Wow, I’m too young, but okay.” Well, he is anointed as king, and for the next ten-plus or minus years, he dodges spears, hides in caves, loses his wife, has everyone turn against him, and wonders, God, if this is what it’s like to be king, what’s the deal?

But, you see, the zig-zag line, He was preparing David, and He was preparing the circumstance. And you can look at Joseph, you can look at Moses, you can look at the children of Israel, you can look at your life, you can study Church history, you can look at the lives of people that you really admire that God has greatly used and have great character and I will tell you this: the game plan was a zig-zag line.

So what I want to help you do is learn: we can actually choose joy when we know that these current circumstances – God actually is using them, there is a purpose behind them. It’s not linear, it’s not always the way we think.

Now, for those of you that weren’t with us in our last session, let me do very, very quick review. I have a question before we move on. This a pitcher of water and the question is: is it half-full or is it half-empty? Now, you don’t necessarily need to vote, raise your hand, but is it half-full or is it half-empty?

And, of course, you know the answer, right? The answer is yes. It is half-full and it is half-empty. And in this series, what we are learning is that it’s your focus – how do you look at that? It’s your perspective.

And so on your notes, what I want to do by way of review, is simply say this: C + P = E. That’s our little formula. That’s our formula for choosing joy. Circumstances plus perspective equals our experience. This whole series about choosing joy is learning, moment by moment, day by day, and that everything in life, to get God’s perspective, to look at a lens.

Lens number one was, you’ll see in your notes, key is focus. Jot that down, will you? Your focus. The key question to ask when you’re sliding, when you get discouraged, when you don’t understand, when someone really ticks you off, here’s the question: where is my focus?

Key number two is purpose. You see, when I look at life, the ups and downs, the zigs and especially the zags, I need to ask myself: What is my purpose? I want to look at circumstances and challenges and difficulties through the lens of purpose.

But what I want you to see is the structure of this passage. Verse 12, he is going to give his thesis. He is going to tell us: “This is what I want you to know.” And then, in each one of the verses, it’s like a lawyer, he is presenting his argument and he has exhibit A, exhibit B, exhibit C.

I’m going to show you that he is going to look at his life through the lens of God’s purpose and whether he is zigging or zagging, he will end this section with: “And I rejoice.”

So, follow along, here’s his thesis, verse 12. “Now, I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel,” underline “greater progress” and underline “gospel.”

And then he is going to tell us how those difficult circumstances kind of help the gospel go forth. Exhibit A, he says, “…so that my imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else, and that most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear.”

And then he goes into some of the challenges and some things that were happening. “Some, to be sure, preaching Christ even from envy and strife, but some also from good will; the latter do it out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel; the former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition rather than pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment.”

And then his attitude toward it all: “What then?” Or, literally, “What’s it matter? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I,” circle the word, “rejoice.”

Okay, here’s his thesis: this church that loves him, that was birthed in Philippi, have heard: our beloved apostle, church-planter, our friend, our brother – well, he’s in Rome now. And we have heard he’s in prison and they know what the prisons are like. And we will learn later in the book, this was the very little, only the church at this time was supporting him financially.

And so, they have sent Epaphroditus to go meet him and bring a financial gift, and in that day, they didn’t serve you food. You had to have friends and people to take care of you and so they are concerned about Paul, and this letter is he is writing back to reassure them: it’s okay.

And so here is his premise: “I want you to know, because you’re concerned, I want you to know that my circumstances, the difficulties, the challenges you have heard about, are turning out for the greater progress.” The word greater progress I had you underline the word means advancement. It’s a military term.

It was a term that, when an army was coming through and they would have a barrier of trees, they would cut down trees, they would get rid of all the brush. But they would do, every, they would remove every barrier so that army could continue to advance.

And he says, “I want you to know that it’s difficult for sure, I am in prison just as you have heard, but here’s the deal: it’s caused the gospel, the good news…

And for some us that didn’t grow up in the Church, the gospel is not some formula, okay? Can I pause just a moment? Can we park just for a second? The gospel is a compound word: good news. Or, literally, it’s “happy news.”

And what it is, it’s an announcement. It’s not like: here’s how you ought or should to live. The announcement is: all men of all time are in chains and bondage to sin. And we fall short of God’s holiness. And God, the Second Person of the Trinity came to earth, He lived a perfect life, He died upon the cross and He paid for my sin and your sins and the sins of all people of all time.

And then He rose from the dead and He demonstrated that it’s true. And the good news, the happy news, the early Church wasn’t saying, “You have to believe this and you need to do this and why don’t you start living this way and your morals need to be this way.” No, they were just going and saying, “Look! There’s happy news! We all know that we fall short, we all know that we have sinned. God visited the planet! He died in our place! Our sins are forgiven! Will you receive it?”

It was like just going around, telling people, “This is amazing!” And so, Paul says, “My circumstances have turned out for the advancement of this message, this amazing, powerful message.” “The gospel,” he would write to the Romans, “is the power of God to salvation, to every, single person who believes, to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.”

Now, he is going to make his point, so Paul, okay, you say it’s an advancement. We are still concerned about you. How does it advance the gospel? Exhibit A: the gospel goes forth. Jot that word in. The gospel goes forth.

He says, “So that my imprisonment and the cause of Christ has become,” put a line under, “well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else.” Now, let’s, again, got to get a little context here. We read this through our twenty-first century lens.

The Roman Empire is in absolute control. By this time, Nero happens to be the emperor. And he is worshipped as god, and emperor worship is very big. But it’s Greek culture, so there are gods on every corner.

Now, in the midst of all these gods and emperor worship and this heavy-handed, strong Roman world, there was an itinerant preacher who came. He claimed to be God. He claimed to fulfill all these prophecies. He was rejected by His own people. He died, He rose from the dead, and five hundred witnesses actually met Him for forty days in a resurrected body. And He told them, “I want you to go into all the world,” and declare and proclaim that people’s sins are forgiven and now the barrier between God and man is down and you can have a personal relationship with God.”

And so, there’s this little sect that, early, they were called “the Way,” before they were called Christians. In other words, the Way, the path, this is how you get to God. Now, it’s A.D. 62 or 63. Jesus has only been resurrected thirty-plus years, in this huge Roman Empire. And there’s all these religions. So how in the world, how in the world does God give His key spokesman a platform?

And he says, “Everyone, everywhere, and especially this praetorian guard, they know I am here for the gospel.”

This is the platform of the known world. And after thirty years, God takes these difficult circumstances so that Paul is declaring the greatest truth that this planet has ever, ever heard.

And all people know is they are spoken evil of because they are weird. The people are selling their homes and meeting the needs of the poor. They touch lepers, they meet secretly, they are absolutely committed to one another. They are radical in their faith; they keep talking about this dead man that came back to life. No matter what we do, we can’t get rid of them! They were just a pain in the rear!

We march them into the colosseums and we let loose the lions and they sing praises to God and they are asking God to forgive us as we do it.” Nero actually took them and wrapped them, this is a bit graphic, but he would wrap these Christians who wouldn’t recant in tar and then he would put them on poles and he would light them for his cocktail parties. And they would sing praises to God.

And so Paul is saying, “This little thirty-year movement, this sect is getting global coverage because I am here. It’s turned out for the greater progress of the gospel. And, by the way, you talk about a viral movement, here’s a viral movement. The praetorian guards, every six hours, one of these guards gets chained to me.”

And you don’t know what a praetorian guard is. If you were an emperor at this time, the way that you normally lost your job is you were assassinated. And it might be a military coup or it might be one of your sons or it might be someone competing for power.

And so what the emperors would do, they would develop what was called a praetorian guard. And basically, it was an army. An army of somewhere between to twenty thousand. And these were like the Green Beret, the Navy SEALS. The greatest warriors, the most gifted, the best trained. These were the absolute cream of the cream of the cream. And their job was to be loyal to be emperor.

And they were esteemed. And so, he, every six hours, he has a different one. So, Claudius comes in and he is chained to Paul. “So, what are you in for?” “Hey, I’m glad you asked. Have you ever heard of Jesus?” Another six hours, Augustus comes in, then Bob, then Fred, then Joe. Can you imagine being chained to the apostle Paul for six hours? He comes to Christ, he comes to Christ, he comes to Christ, he comes to Christ, he comes to Christ, he comes to Christ. And what happens? What we find is that in the book of Acts we will learn that actually people in the household of Herod are coming to Christ.

And all I want you to get is sometimes the zig-zag line of difficult circumstances causes the gospel to go forward.

What are you going through? What are you going through right now that God wants to use so that other people, so the gospel can go forth? How you respond to the difficulty, the pain, the injustice. What is happening at work or what your ex is saying or what is happening with one of your kids or a health issue that everyone is going, “Wow! How do you even get through this?”

God wants to use your present circumstances, exhibit A, for the furtherance of the gospel. But that’s not all. Exhibit B, here’s another good thing that happened. The Church grows stronger. Notice what he says.

“And that most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord,” notice the phrase, “because of my imprisonment have far more courage to speak the Word of God without fear.” See, when we step up, when he is in the midst of this, and he is being bold, the rest of us go, “Wow, you know something?” The praetorian guard, the Church was being persecuted. And now they say, “If Paul can do it in prison, I can do it!”

Sometimes adversity and difficult circumstances cause the gospel to go forth and sometimes difficulty, circumstances, you know what it does? It builds the body. It causes the Church to grow.
In God’s economy, mark it down, the shortest distance between two points is a zig-zag line.

So what I want to help you do is learn: that these current circumstances – God actually is using them, there is a purpose behind them.

A number of years ago, I could give you probably a million illustrations. But one of the most graphic for me, anything inside of a knee that can blow up, blew up.

I find myself going to physical therapy after surgery and a lady begins to talk to me who is my physical therapist. I learned very early on, her dad is a super fired-up atheist, hates Christians. She finds out on my paper I am a pastor. And I began to explain to her who Jesus was. And to make a long story short, I saw her trust Christ. She had been through a horrendous hardship and abandoned by a husband and had a little five-year-old girl.

And what I remember thinking, because I went back to playing basketball and I had this brace and I was kind of bummed out, like, Okay, I lost my first step. Of course, I didn’t have much of one at that age anyway. And I couldn’t jump at all. And God said, "So, Chip, let me get this right. Do you think just blowing out your knee, a little difficulty, a little challenge is worth that young woman’s eternal future and what happens to her daughter?" And I remember thinking, Wow, Lord, that is so awesome. That is so awesome. Would I give a knee for someone and what I saw? Absolutely.

What are you going through? What are you going through right now that God wants to use so that other people, so the gospel can go forth? How you respond to the difficulty, the pain, the injustice. What is happening at work or what your ex is saying or what is happening with one of your kids or a health issue that everyone is going, “Wow! How do you even get through this?”

God wants to use your present circumstances, exhibit A, for the furtherance of the gospel. But that’s not all. Exhibit B, here’s another good thing that happened. The Church grows stronger. Notice what he says.

“And that most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord,” notice the phrase, “because of my imprisonment have far more courage to speak the Word of God without fear.” See, when we step up, when he is in the midst of this, and he is being bold, the rest of us go, “Wow, you know something?” The praetorian guard, the Church was being persecuted. And now they say, “If Paul can do it in prison, I can do it!”

I have two or three friends that have very high-level jobs in the high-tech world. And they are bold. They are out there. And they are not asking, “Can I do this?” or, “Can I say this?” They are loving, they are kind, they are great at what they do, but they are bold. They are not afraid to say, “Yes, I am a Christian. I am not anti-intellectual, I am not narrow, I am not a hater.” And by how they are living and how they are treating people, I’ll tell you what, it just makes me go, “I can do this. I can do this.”

Sometimes adversity and difficult circumstances cause the gospel to go forth and sometimes difficulty, circumstances, you know what it does? It builds the body. It causes the Church to grow.

One of my deepest zig-zags was God made it really clear, Chip, you have to be back in the local church. I had the privilege of leading Walk Thru the Bible and what they are doing here and all around the world, great organization, but I wasn’t teaching God’s Word anymore. I was just creating some videos and then traveling all around the world and kind of sharing it with a few people who would teach it to others. But I wasn’t teaching God’s Word.

And the administrative responsibilities got bigger and bigger and that’s not my strength and so God said, I want you to leave that and go back to the local church. I said, “Okay.” So, I had this good transition plan. And, No, I want you to resign. “God, You don’t understand. I don’t have a job yet.” I know. So, do you trust Me or not? Okay.

And so, I thought, at that stage in my life, I bet there’s a church somewhere and some people said, “Hey, yeah, why don’t you think about this or that?” And we came up with a profile. Here’s what I want to tell you. For two years, I was not pastoring a church, Living on the Edge was developing and growing and getting its feet as an independent organization. And I was in limbo. I woke up every day like, I went to a little make-shift office with a cardboard table with two other guys and two other employees, wondering every month: Are we going to even pay the bills to get Living on the Edge moving and where it needs to be?

And I’d wake up on Sunday morning and I’d visit this church and visit this church and then I found a friend that I went to this church. And if you do what I do for a living, and I love visiting good churches but when I’m sitting in this row over here and thinking, What, Lord, what, what, what, what are You doing? Are You kidding? You said to do this! It has been two years! Praying, processing.

And here’s what I learned is God wanted to do some things in me, it was crystal clear that we were to come here, He was preparing this church so this church would be ready and I would be ready and Theresa would be ready so we would all come together.

And let me tell you something that happened. This is really, really cool. I never thought about this until this week and this passage. I thought about, okay, that two years was wasted. Really, Chip? Yeah. So, what happened in those two years? Well, we prayed and the Internet was exploding and there are so many good communicators, maybe we are only on the radio in order to develop a platform for discipleship.

And we took this huge step of faith. And I’m sure we couldn’t have done it if I was teaching full-time. We took this huge step of faith and we said, “You know something? We’re really not just a teaching ministry. That has never been our heart. It’s a discipleship ministry.”

And so, we went off three major morning-time slots in top-ten cities in America to shift the paradigm to say: the issue isn’t how many people listen, it’s how many people are growing and becoming reproducing disciples. And then we took that and we started building small group material and we decided we would launch small groups off the radio and then, later, digitally.

And as I am sitting here, I thought, I wasted those two years. Nothing good happened. We now have twenty-seven, I think, different small group resources used all around the world, we have over three million people that are either in or have been in small groups, just in America alone. And all of that grew out of two years of limbo with a frustrated Chip going, What’s the deal? What’s the deal?

And, yet, those difficult times, it was a zig-zag line. The gospel is going forth, yes. Second, the Church was being strengthened. More people are growing deeper than if I was at a church, if I could have been at ten churches, fifteen churches, a hundred churches. Here’s the deal: God knows where you’re at. He knows what you are going through.

Third, He takes our circumstances, not only for the gospel to go forward, not only for the Church to grow strong, but Paul gets very personal. He says exhibit C is the man grows deep. When these zig-zags happen and if it’s cancer or losing your job or your mate walks out on you or one of your kids is going through a struggle, if you’re clinically depressed – I don’t know what it is with you.

But we all have stuff, right? You were injustice, you were passed over for a promotion, where you thought you would be in your life is not where you are right now. And you wake up, you just, you wake up almost every, single day going, You know what? It’s half-full. I’m still single. It’s half-full, I still don’t make any money. It’s half-full, I still don’t own a house. It’s half-full, I have had this physical problem, this ailment, I have prayed, I have been to doctors. Guess what, I still got it. I want you to know that part of God’s agenda is not just the gospel going out and not just the Church getting stronger. Part of what He does is He transforms you and transforms me and sometimes pain, challenges, difficulty.

I’ve got a testimony of a couple years of my back that have drawn me to Christ in ways that, and I already thought I was pretty close.

Notice what Paul says. He says, “Some to be sure are preaching Christ, even from envy and strife, but some from goodwill.” Then he goes on to talk about the latter do it out of love, but the former are, they are messing with me. He’s in prison. The rumors are, here’s what it is: guess what, if Paul had more faith, he wouldn’t be in prison. He can’t be God’s man.

And people, out of strife and envy and ego are, “We are the new leaders in the Church. We are God’s spokesmen. It’s not Paul.” Their doctrine was right but it was political, it was a power play, it was an agenda.

And Paul is in prison and going, “Really, guys? Are you kidding me?” “Well, I mean, God blesses people, right? And if He is blessing you, you’re in His will, and Paul is in prison, you know what? We don’t think he has enough faith. He’s not the real leader. We are.”

And Paul said when all that was happening, his reputation is being attacked, he feels, some of the people that he probably discipled are betraying him now. This is a really difficult, where do you go with all that, Paul?

Notice what he says. He says, “Some good motives, right. Some bad motives.” Are you ready? What’s the purpose? What’s his lens? What is my purpose? What did God tell me to do? Why am I here? I am here to take the gospel to all the world. I am here to disciple people to be mature so they are like Jesus. That’s my mission. So, I am being attacked, I happen to be in prison; yes, these rumors about me are this or that.

He said, “What,” literally it’s, “what does it matter to me if Christ is preached?” He goes, “Whether their motives are good or their motives are bad, my purpose and my mission is to preach the gospel and disciple people who disciple others.”

Guess what – that is happening. He grows deep. You know what? Sometimes the apostle Paul or some of us that grew up in churches where all these twelve guys were in stained glass or some of us grew up where the pastors or the clergy or the priest, they are way up here and we are all these regular people.

I’ve got news for you. There are no superstars. Paul, you, me, everybody. He’s got an ego. He had to wrestle, he had to struggle, he had to feel like this isn’t fair. But he had to come to the point where he would say, God, what do You want to do in me?

And I think some ego issues: my reputation. You know what? You have my reputation. What people think of me, God, it’s what You think of me. In pain, in difficulty, that’s where God gets our attention.

I want you to know that when you are going through pressure and it’s difficult and it’s hard and you’re angry and you want to give up, ask this question: God, what do You want to do in me? God, how do You want to use this to help other people? How do You want to grow Your Church? But what do You want to do in me? Don’t miss out. Don’t waste the pain. Because if you meet very, very, very godly people who have amazing walks with God, what you’ll find is they have been through a lot of pain.

A very, very close friend he has a physical issue going on right now that prevents him from driving. He runs a business, he’s got, and it is just, they have tried everything and there is no cure.

And I am around this man and I will ask him, “So, how is it really going and how are you doing? And they have tried a couple things and they give you a little temporary relief.” And his attitude makes me want to just be like Jesus. His perspective, his attitude. “You know, the Lord is teaching me a lot. And because of this, my wife is getting up at five in the morning and she is driving me to all the job sites. And it’s a great time together.” And he goes, “I have seen some things about myself I don’t think I would have seen.”

And he’s just saying, “God’s purpose is to make me like Jesus! Do I like this? No.” But he doesn’t complain. How about you? What’s your purpose, and what if you started looking at what the half-full issues in your life were through the lens, not just of focus, but of purpose?

I want you to ask yourself three important questions. Three purpose statements for every, single believer. This is true of all of us.

Purpose statement number one: I am an ambassador or messenger of the gospel. The gospel, the good news won’t go anywhere in your relational network, where you live, where you work, if it doesn’t come through you. Not just your life, but your words. The purpose is to reach the lost. The people out there aren’t bad. They’re lost! They’re lost! They don’t know.

I grew up in America. I had no idea what the gospel was. Someone shared it with me. Here’s the question: How could God use a difficult circumstance in your life to advance the gospel? Are you taking advantage of it? Advance the gospel.

Purpose statement number two: I am called to encourage God’s people to help them grow to full maturity. Every, single one of us. Why we talk about getting involved in ministry and talk about getting in groups and God using you where you’re at – here’s your purpose: it’s to build the found.

No one grows on their own. Someone came up next to my life, multiple times, in different stages of my life, and in your life if you have grown, and they helped you. Here’s the deal: who are you helping? Who are you discipling? Who are you mentoring? Who are you coaching? Who do you care about that their spiritual growth, well-being, quality of life, walk with God matters and you are building them up.

Question: how could your adversity, how could your circumstances, how could your current difficulty build up a brother or sister in Christ? I want you to really think about that.

Third purpose statement: I am a servant of the living God. A servant! Jesus called Himself a servant. Here’s your purpose: become like our Master. I don’t know what you’re going through, but I can tell you the will of God for sure. You got this? Here’s the will of God for sure: whatever you’re going through, no matter how good or how bad, God’s agenda is to make you like Jesus.

So here’s the question: what might God want to do in me, through my present circumstance? Some of you might learn to pray like never before. Some of you might learn to love God’s Word like never before. David, in Psalm 119 said, “If I had not been afflicted, I’d have gone astray. But when I was afflicted, now I keep Your Word.”

Some of us need the difficulty we are in to woo us, to make us dependent, and to bring us back into vital relationship with Jesus.

Because it’s not hearing God’s Word that changes things. It’s hearing with a heart that says, Lord, You see it all. You love me. I am going to take a step towards You, by faith, I am going to take a step of faith. I am going to believe You to the point of acting. I am going to believe Your promises are true. I am going to believe You are using the zig-zags and the circumstances for my good and for Your glory.

And so the question I would ask you is: whose purpose and agenda are you most eager to fulfill? When you look at your time and your schedule, your money – whose agenda? Whose purpose? Yours or God’s? That’s heavy. But God is working in our life, He is doing a great thing.