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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
I recently Googled the phrase “most impactful person in history.” I guess I wasn’t too surprised to find that Time Magazine has already put together a list: “The top 100 most influential people to ever live.” I started scrolling through the list, wondering where Jesus would be on it. And sure enough, right there at the top, number one…Jesus. I’m not too surprised by that. I mean, even if you don’t believe Jesus is the Son of God, it’s hard to deny the impact He’s had on this world.
Think about it this way. You can’t even write down today’s date without acknowledging that all of history is divided into the time leading up to His birth and the time since. You look back on it now and His impact seems obvious. But when Jesus was born, it just didn’t seem like He was put in a position to have that kind of impact. It didn’t seem like things were in His favor to be a person with that kind of influence. I mean, just think about it. Jesus was born the child of poor peasants. He grew up in this remote, podunk town, lived in obscurity for thirty years, did some work as a carpenter, never ventured more than a few hundred miles away from where He was born.
He never went to college. He was never voted into office. Never had a title or a position that would have looked good on a resume. Jesus didn’t have, you know, thousands of Facebook friends or millions of Instagram followers. He wasn’t TikTok famous, didn’t have a YouTube channel. He never tweeted. I don’t think He did. He never even had His own podcast. He was a homeless preacher who spent a few years traveling around preaching. He was arrested, and He was sentenced to die a common criminal’s death.
Yet here we are, a couple of millennium later, and He is Time Magazine’s most impactful person in the history of the world. And so the question for us is: How did He do it? And the conclusion I came to is: One at a time. One at a time. Like, that’s it. Jesus did life with a zoom lens. When someone stood in front of Him, time stopped. Everything else in His life, all of His concerns and His agenda and His plans, His goals, His schedule for the day—seemed to just be put on pause. Everything seemed to just blur into the background. The only thing that mattered was the person standing in front of Him, and Jesus changed the world one person at a time. This is the way of the Gospel.
You’ve seen these before. This is a coin viewer, and it was created to help people focus in on something specific in the midst of a vast landscape. They are built for the purpose of zooming in and staying focused on something that you wouldn’t see if you’re not looking through it. And I would just say, “one at a time” living starts with a zoom lens. It starts with learning how to focus on the one.
So this is the way that Jesus lived His life. Even when He was surrounded by crowds, He had a way of zooming in and seeing one person at a time. If you study the Gospels, it’s really quite surprising how many stories there are—just individual, seemingly random people that interact with Jesus. Like, a lot of the Gospel real estate is committed to telling “one at a time” stories. I would argue that that should be true of our life as well. That if someone was going to tell our story, if someone was going to put together a biography of our lives, that we would want our lives to be marked by our “one at a time” opportunities, the “one at a time” moments that God gives us.
And that begins with living life with a zoom lens. That we’re able to focus in and see someone—like, really see them. Maybe you’ve had a person do this for you in your life, and you know the power of being seen, of being noticed, of being cared for at a certain time. But it’s hard for us to live life with a zoom lens. It’s counterintuitive. We tend to live life with…maybe you might call it a selfie lens. That we focus on ourselves more than we focus on others.
There’s a psychologist, Martin Seligman, who is considered to be, like, the world’s expert in happiness, which feels like a lot of pressure. But that’s the field of study. That’s what he has spent his life studying—is, What makes us happy as humans? And he writes a lot about the happiness paradox, or the irony of happiness. That we think what will make us happy is focusing on ourselves. Like, intuitively, we just assume, “I’m not happy because I don’t have enough of X. And if I just had more of that… Like, if I just had more…” You fill in the blank. “More money, more time, more chocolate, more pleasure…more…”
Whatever it is, “If I just had more of this, then…then I’d be happy.” That’s how we tend to think of it.
But he said, “It turns out that more is always a moving target. We always think we’ll be happy if we have more, but more is always, like, ten percent away from whatever we have in the moment.” And so the happiness paradox, as he explains it, is that it’s not by putting ourselves at the center. It’s not by focusing on ourselves that we find happiness. It’s actually by focusing on other people. So he did this experiment where he had people in this study go out and do one selfish act, one thing they knew that would personally bring them pleasure.
And here’s what he writes. He says, “The results were life-changing. The afterglow of the pleasurable or selfish activity”—buying something at a store, ordering something online, watching a movie, eating a hot fudge sundae—whatever it was, “paled in comparison with the effects of one selfless act for someone else.” That’s the happiness paradox. Most people would say, “What’s the purpose of life?” They’d say, “I ought to be happy.” They think the way they’re happy is by focusing on themselves. But instead what we find is that it’s a zoom lens. It’s focusing on other people one at a time.
It’s not just counterintuitive to live this way; it’s also countercultural. Digital marketing experts say that we’re exposed to, like, five thousand ads a day. We’re not always aware of it, but about five thousand ads. And every single ad begins with this assumption. The assumption is that you are missing something in your life, and if you had it, you would be happier. That’s what every ad focuses on. And so we have this idea in our consumer culture. I mean, it’s true of all of us. If I just keep clicking and scrolling, if I just keep ordering and subscribing, if I just keep dating and…if I…if I just keep at it, then I’m going to eventually find what will make me happy. But again, it’s always consumption. “I just…I need more.”
And our culture would tend to look at relationships as commodities. Like, “I will do for you because I think you’ll do for me.” Like, “I’m in this because I think I can get something out of it.” We tend to look at relationships that way. This isn’t how Jesus lived His life. Instead, He had this way of seeing people one at a time, recognizing their need, having compassion on them and doing something about it.
Turn to Luke chapter 15. Luke 15 records for us three different parables. “The Prodigal Son” is the last and the most well-known of the three. I want us to talk about the very first parable in Luke 15. It’s known as “The Parable of the Lost Sheep.” Now all three parables have a rhythm to them. They have this similar theme: that Jesus sees, Jesus saves, and Jesus celebrates one at a time. That’s who He is. That’s who He’s called us to be. That’s the mission He’s invited us to be a part of. He sees, He saves, He celebrates.
And so Luke 15, we begin with this “Parable of the Lost Sheep,” but I want us to really focus in on who He’s speaking it to. So let’s look at the audience. Luke 15, it says, “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathered around to hear Jesus.” So this isn’t your typical church crowd. Tax collectors and sinners would not even have been allowed in religious circles. Like, the typical rabbi wouldn’t have accepted them into the audience. And yet what we find is that when Jesus is teaching, they’re there—the tax collectors and sinners. Here’s what I want you to see. Jesus had a way of zooming in on the very people the religious community cropped out. Jesus had a way of zooming in on the very people the religious community would crop out.
The tax collectors were the liars, the cheats. They had sold out their friends and family, worked for the Roman Occupation, getting money by stealing, essentially, from their own people. So they were despised by the Jews in the first century.
And then it says, “The sinners.” Now if you’re thinking, “Well, isn’t that everybody?” you’re right. Like, that’s true. However, that’s not how the religious community would categorize people. They would see “sinners” in a couple different ways: people who sinned for a living—so like a prostitute, as an example—or people who were known for a sin. Think in terms of The Scarlet Letter. Like, their identity as a person was very much connected to something they did. It’s connected to the shame of their past. And so the religious community looks around, and they see people that they categorize this way—as tax collectors and sinners.
Verse 2 says, “The Pharisees and the teachers of the law,” so these are the religious leaders, “muttered,” complained, whispered in critical tones amongst themselves, “This man, Jesus…He welcomes sinners and He eats with them.” Yeah, He does. Like, they meant this as a criticism, but this is why Jesus came: to seek and save that which was lost. Jesus said, “It’s not the healthy who need a doctor; it’s the sick.”
And so He does two things: He welcomes and He eats with them. Do you do that? I really have to stop and ask myself, “Do I do that?” I guess I could make a case for welcoming, but how often do I sit down and eat with them? And by them, I mean people that the religious community would often not want to have anything to do with…because we’re all sinners.
The word welcome is an interesting word. It doesn’t mean, like, “a reluctant acceptance.” It’s an open-armed embrace. Really, the word would be used in a family context. Like, to welcome someone as family, as a close friend. And so these religious leaders watch as Jesus welcomes the tax collectors and the sinners like a father would welcome a son or a daughter coming back home. And they’re not sure what to do with that. Now how did Jesus…? How did Jesus have that kind of vision for people?
I think it’s because He zoomed in and He saw them as a son and daughter, right? Like, He doesn’t just see a tax collector; He sees a son. And He knows the story of His son. And He knows that when he was a younger man, he just…he got off track. And he didn’t have much, and he thought his life would be so much easier if he just had a little bit more money, if he just had some more stuff. And so in this moment that he wishes he could take back, he walked away, turned his back on his family and his friends, and he went to work for the Romans as a tax collector.
Now that’s who he is. He wishes he could do things differently, but he can’t. Like, there’s no path back to the man that he knows God wants him to be…until he sees Jesus. Jesus sees him. He doesn’t just see a tax collector. He zooms in and He sees a son. He doesn’t just see a prostitute; He sees a daughter, and He knows…He knows that this isn’t really what she chose. He knows about the abuse. He knows about the objectification. He knows the way that she’s been treated. And He looks and He sees something in her that nobody else…He sees a daughter. Some of my favorite moments in the Gospels are when Jesus unexpectedly refers to someone as a son or a daughter. As a father, I understand. I’d do anything.
I, earlier this week, dropped off my youngest daughter at the airport. She’d been home for the holidays, but she was flying to Brazil to do some mission work with an organization there for the next few months. And she flew into this city, one of the largest cities in the world. I didn’t know exactly that, that she’d be in this huge city. And then I…on the way there, she’s telling me that they’re going to spend some time in the Amazon, next month, going to these different tribes and handing out Bibles.
And as a dad, I’m listening to this and, you know, in my mind and since then on paper, I’m collecting all the contacts I have in Brazil, right? Like, putting them on speed dial. And I have insurance where if something goes wrong, like, the plane can go in and just pick her up. Like, I don’t know about everybody else, but we’re going to get her out if something goes wrong. I’m going to get her home. And then, you know, I downloaded a Portuguese app, so I could learn to say the phrase, “What I do have is a very special set of skills,” in Portuguese. I want to be able to say that in Portuguese, so I’m working on that.
The last thing I did before she got on… I made sure that her location services were on my phone so I can…so I can track her. And I slipped a little Apple tag into her backpack without telling her. So if she’s going through the Amazon, I’m like, “Okay, I see you.” And if you see me on my phone and you’re like, “Why is he on his phone? What’s he doing on his phone?” That’s what I’m doing. I’m just seeing where she’s at. There’s…she’s 5,031 miles away from me right now, but I know where she is, and I know how I can get to her. Why? Because she’s my…she’s my daughter, right?
And this is how God sees you. That there are billions of people in the world, but He sees you as His son, as His daughter. St. Augustine says, “He loves each of us as if there were only one of us.” That’s how He loves you. And the religious leaders didn’t understand it. Like, this isn’t how they saw people. So Jesus wants them to better understand His perspective and how He sees people.
On our Unleashed Magazine, is one of our longtime ministry partners. His name is Loyal Thurman, and Loyal started a ministry, I think, a couple of decades ago, where he reaches people who are a part of the underground subculture—so atheists, agnostics, neo-pagans, witches, satanists. And in the article, I love what he said. He said, “We go to groups who don’t like Christians.”
Specifically, like that’s who they target. “God opens doors for us to be good friends with these people. We live life with them. They are far from church and far from God, but He put a love in our hearts for them. They are our friends. And some people think they are unreachable. That is not true. Nothing is lost if God says it’s not lost. He always goes after the one.”