There is a question that I want you to wrestle with today. What is your MVP? I'm not asking who is your MVP but what is your MVP? Clearly we’re not talking about a person. We’re not talking about a most valuable player. We’re talking about principles and ideas that if you possess them, if you’re clear about them will help you to experience real success in your life.
During this series of sermons we have been looking at and talking about the secrets of success and we began by redefining what success looks like. Every week during this series we have been rethinking the world's definition of success versus the definition of success we find in the Scriptures. Today we are going to talk about this idea of the MVP and what that might look like in our lives.
The things we will talk about today are things that those of you in the business world might be very familiar with. These principles are constantly applied in business settings but sometimes we don't think to apply them to our personal lives or to what it means to be the church. So we’re going to talk about the MVP and what that might mean in our personal lives and to each of us as the body of Christ.
When I first began serving as a pastor I was told that each year I was supposed to go to a continuing education event so that I could continue to grow as a pastor. My very first continuing education event was a seminar by John C. Maxwell. Maxwell is a former Wesleyan Pastor who has become one of the foremost authors, speakers, and experts in the field of leadership. His influence is felt throughout the business world as well as in the church. And in his writings he talks about this idea of the MVP and the more I thought about it the more I realized that it applied not only to the business world or to the military or to sports but it also applies to our own personal lives. And MVP is a clear mission, vision and plan.
If you have a clear mission or sense of purpose and understand that purpose, why you exist, and you have a vision or picture of what that looks like when it is actually lived out with concrete goals and objectives, and then you develop a plan to actually fulfill those visions you will find that you accomplish more in your life. You will find a greater sense of joy and satisfaction and hopefully you get to the end of your life and you discover that you are all used up for this great purpose and you will hear the words, "Well done, good and faithful servant."
Let's begin with this idea of a mission. Now when you are talking about a mission statement you are typically answering the question, "Why?" A mission of an organization tells why it exists. What is its purpose and here at SUMC our current mission or purpose statement says this: “Sharing our Christian faith to enable all people to become actively devoted followers and ministers of Jesus Christ.”
That is supposed to drive everything that we do and it is our defining statement. When we set our budget and determine how we spend the finances that you contribute to this place it ties back into this idea of sharing our faith and being devoted followers and ministers of Jesus Christ. So what I want to ask you today is while we as a church try to be clear about our mission and great corporations try to do this as well, I want to ask you, “Are you clear about your mission?”
If I were to sit down with you and ask you, "Tell me your mission in life," could you tell me what that is? Do you know what your purpose is? Now if read atheist philosophers most of them say there is no inherent meaning or purpose in life but instead you make that up as you go along. You come up with your own meaning or purpose and that is one way to approach it.
But if you're someone who believes in God and you believe that God is ultimately the creator of all things, then the question we are meant to ask is what was God’s intention for creating human beings? What is God's purpose for us? Because it’s in that that we’re going to find our driving mission and purpose.
So I want to remind you of two broad brush stokes with which we can talk about why the Scriptures teach we can talk about why God created human beings. And if you own these things then you find they actually begin to shape your own purpose and mission in life.
Let's start with the idea that God is a God of love. The Scripture says that God is love and that God’s very nature and essence is love. God is also creator and God takes great joy in creating so God has love and is wishing to give it away. And so when we read the scriptures about creation the idea as I see it is that God created human beings to be recipients of His love.
The Scripture says that God created animals first and they certainly bask in God's love. But they don’t fully comprehend nor can they reciprocate God’s love in a conscious way. So if we were to talk about our first and primary purpose in life it would be to to be recipients of God's love and then to reciprocate that love.
This is not that hard to understand because most of your parents, when they decided to have you as their child, did so not because they thought they needed someone to do chores for them. They probably didn't decide to have you because they wanted a tax write off. They decided to have a child because something inside of them wanted to create and there was a yearning or a longing to give love away. This is one of the impulses that drives us towards procreating.
Now I realize that some of us are accidents, but even if you were, your parents very quickly figured out that they loved you deeply.
I remember the first time I held Robbie in my arms and he was squirming and I had a deep sense of love that just overwhelmed me and I could not imagine loving something someone more than anyone else except for maybe Robin. And it was the same for the other two as well. Of course I loved them in different ways, but there was something with each of my boys and this love that you feel for them. As I held them in my arms I didn't realize that you could love a human being this much.
And it allowed me to understand something of the love of God for us. But God created us and invests in us and loves us and God has a love that is so deep and wider than we could possibly imagine or believe for his creatures, His children. And the Scripture says that God is the Father and we are his children. God specifically said when you were born, “I loved you. I held you in my arms and drew you near to me.
Now as my boys were growing up – you know it was fun when they were finally able to reciprocate that love. It’s not that God had us because God had some sort of deficit and he needed us to tell Him how much we love Him. And we don’t have children because are emotionally needy – well some people do, but hopefully we don’t and we need our kids to tell us how much they love us. But when you love someone selflessly and sacrificially it’s just appropriate and right that the rhythm is to reciprocate that love.
I can remember when Robbie was first beginning to speak and he would wrap his arms around my neck and he’d say, “I love you Dada.” And you know there was something about that just melted me.
I can remember driving home from work and the boys would be waiting at the door and they would scream, "Daddy’s home, Daddy’s home!” They would give me bear hugs and we would wrestle around and it was magic.
And you know part of what we do when we gather for worship is we reciprocate God's love. We remember God's love but we also return that love as we sing songs and lift our hearts to God.
Now something happens when our children turn about 10-12 years old. Up to that point they would let me hold their hand in public and they would give me hugs but when they turned 11 or 12… I remember the first time Ricky didn't want to walk next to me anymore but instead he wanted to walk 5 feet in front or behind. He was embarrassed to walk with me! There is this pulling away that begins and we’re like, “What happened?”
But it wasn’t always like that. Through those years, I’d come home and Ryan would be like, “Dad I love you so much.” And I’d be like, “What do you want?” And inevitably there was something he wanted which was why he was being sweet. But once he’d gotten it he’d push me back away again.
Now that story, that journey is a journey that many of you have experienced in your spiritual lives. And it didn’t happen when you were 12 but typically for us it happens when we are 18 or 19 or 20 and we step away from the church when we go off to college. And we are a little bit embarrassed to admit that we actually believe in God maybe and we begin to push God away. We don't think we need God and God is seen as a restriction on our freedom. We don't want to be around God and God has to walk 30 yards behind us as we walk ahead. After then after a while we stop talking to God and we no longer worship or express praise or love to God.
Until suddenly we find ourselves in need of something and we come back to God and we say, "O Father, please help me. Daddy, please give me this thing that I need." We get very religious for a moment and then when the need is past we walk away from God again.
Finally, somewhere along the way we wake up. And we realize, “Hey, wait a minute and we realize that we have missed something very important in life. Which is how a lot of you ended up here at Sterling United Methodist Church.
Listen, the first purpose in your life is to let God love you, and to love Him in return. To love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength. Jesus said, “This is the greatest commandment. This is what you were made for and if you don't realize this and understand it then you’re going to miss out on an important part of life. And when you finally do figure this out and you live into it, what you find – well Augustine said it this way, “In His will there is peace."
Now the second big idea or broad brush stroke of understanding our purpose is that God created Adam and Eve not only to receive His love and reciprocate His love but also to take care of this planet and the people that God would populate it with. And so God said, “Have dominion over the planet. Rule over the planet. This is my earth but I’m going to ask you to rule over it and take care of it.” And that has to do with both caring for the creation as a whole but also specifically caring for other human beings. So we were created to do justice and to love kindness and to walk humbly with our God, according to the prophet Micah.
We were created to love our neighbor as we love ourselves, which is why Jesus gave this as an equally important commandment to loving God. Jesus said we were created to do unto others as we would have them do unto us. Jesus said we are to speak up for those who can't speak up for themselves. And Jesus said it this way. “At the last judgment it’s going to come down to, did you care for the hungry and the thirsty and the sick and the naked and the stranger and the prisoner?”
And so we were created to care for the creation and to care for our fellow creatures; our fellow human beings.
The Bible captures this second big idea with one phrase, “good works.” These are the things you’re going to do that are meant to be a rhythm in your life, that you are going to be waking up every day with the marching orders of loving God and letting God love you, seeking to honor Him in your life, and then seeking to do good works where ever you can, as often as you can, as John Wesley taught us.
And so when we think about this we find it in Ephesians 2:10 in this passage that captures it so well when Paul writes these words. “We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.”
I love this passage. You’ve heard me use it before. We are God’s workmanship. The Greek word here is poiema. This is the same word that we have for poem. This is saying we are God’s poetry. We are God's works of art. God created us but God created us to do good works. That is our purpose in life and God does that so it might be our way of life and a regular rhythm of how we live every day when we wake up, "Here I am Lord. I love you. I offer my life. I seek to honor you and live for you and follow you. I trust in your love for me." And then out the door you go and onto your mission which is to look for the people who are in need of a blessing of help of care. To do good works in this world.
And when I think about this I think we could summarize it in this way: Our purpose is to be loved by, and to love God; to love and serve others; care for God's creation and to follow Jesus Christ. So this is our mission. This is our purpose. And it’s meant to shape everything else in our lives. It is the foundation upon which the rest of our lives are built.
This is our purpose. But the truth is that many of us are not clear about our purpose and as Carlisle said, "When somebody is not clear about their purpose they are like a ship without a rudder." But when you realize, “Wait a minute, it’s not about that for me. It's about fulfilling and living into a purpose greater than myself, being all used up for that purpose, you find the joy in your life.
Let's turn for a minute and talk about vision. So if that’s our mission, what’s our vision? And when we speak about vision – if mission is why do you exist? Vision is where are you going?
And so the vision is the preferred picture of the future that says, “In this area of my life if I'm living out my purpose, this is what it’s going to look like in a year.” We sometimes talk about this as goals and objectives as we look at what life will look like down the road, when I get to the end of my life. This is what I hope it looks like.
One of the best examples I can think of to illustrate this is when Dr. Martin Luther King stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and said, "I have a dream." Millions of people bought into that dream because it was a lofty vision which tied in to the purpose that people maybe had never even articulated. Somehow inside they felt the desire to give dignity to other human beings and they were to pursue justice. As a nation we were changed by the power of a dream or a vision. That’s the power that visions and dreams.
The book of Proverbs talks about vision when in Proverbs 29:18 it says, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.”
When we don't know what our purpose is and we have no vision we find ourselves with little direction out wandering around in the world. Many of us today live without a clear sense of purpose and as a result we often have no vision or picture of a preferred future. We don't know why we’re here and we really don’t have any dreams of what we could be or should be or might be.
And listen not all visions in our lives are big and huge. Some of them are small, like when I went to the doctor about six months ago and I found out what I suspected that I have a touch of high blood pressure. And the doctor said, “It’s not too bad but you probably ought to do something about that.” So I had a vision. “I want to lower my blood pressure. I believe my body is a gift from God and I would like to make sure it’s useful for as long as possible. I would like to be all used up by God but not sooner than I need to be. I want to grow old with Robin and see my grandchildren if possible.
And so I said I have a vision of reducing my blood pressure back down to normal levels. It’s just a tiny little vision. But it motivates me to do the things I need to do in order to make that a reality.
Illustration of another “vision”: Seeing old couple playing golf: “I want us to be like that when we grow up.”
I’ve got lots of visions. I wondering, do you have any visions? Any concrete and specific goals, a picture of the preferred future that you are going to work towards? Because without a vision we perish; we wander aimlessly. We can't accomplish what we might accomplish.
And that leads us to talk about a plan. Because you see a vision without a plan is wishful thinking.
So the real need that we have once we’re clear about our vision is, “What’s the plan to get there?” And this is where many of us stop. We set goals but we never actually set down a plan to achieve them.
So when I was told by the doctor that my blood pressure was a bit high. And I said, “So how do I bring it down?” And I was counting on the fact that he was going to give me a prescription. And he said, “Well really the best way to do that is by diet and exercise and reducing stress.” And I was like, “Yeah I thought you were going to say that. Do you know what I do for a living?”
And you know I really wrested with this. I mean I was like, “I know this but do I really care enough to do something about it?” And I decided that I cared enough about wanting to live long enough to grow old with Robin and be there to see my grandchildren, and I cared enough about wanting to be your pastor for a long time so I decided I had to sit down and come up with a plan to do something about it. I realized that I need to plan to eat better. I had to decide where am I going to get an hour to go running or go to the gym several times a week when I don’t feel I have it to give. And how do I make this a priority? And so I have started running and working out at least 3 or 4 times per week. And I’ve been able to find that time in my week to be able to do that. And you know now when I check my blood pressure is down to where the doctor wants it to be, except after a Finance Committee meeting.
But this has happened because I had a vision and I put together a plan for it.
Now when we think about these kinds of plans it’s important that we recognize that there are times when those plans are going to need to be modified. Sometimes life happens and all the visions and dreams we had, we realize those are never going to happen.
And here’s the thing I want you to hear. When that happens, the key thing wasn’t the plan it was the purpose and the priority underneath it.
So when you’re clear about your mission and the dreams and the visions that you had are thwarted you still have the same purpose then lean back on your purpose. And sometimes what you find is that God is an expert at taking your broken dreams and using those as a springboard even more amazing things God wants to do in your life.
So here’s what I want to suggest. Here’s my challenge to each of you, and to myself when it comes to this idea of MVP. I want you to take a look at your life, in particular your spiritual life. I and want to challenge you not to leave here this morning without having taken a serious look at this idea. Are you where you want to be? I mean for those of us who claim faith in Christ our mission, our purpose in life is pretty clear. What is it: Our purpose is to be loved by, and to love God; to love and serve others; care for God's creation and to follow Jesus Christ.
What is your vision? When it comes to living out that purpose are you where you want to be? What is your picture of your preferred future? What would you like your life to look like a year from now? Ten years from now? Thirty years from now? And they may be different for you than it is for me. In fact I’m sure it will be different for every one of us because we are all different. But you’ve got to have that vision to serve as the driving force, that motivation to keep you moving forward and making progress.
And finally, what is your plan? What are the concrete steps and objectives that you are going to take to get there? What do you need to do today to take that first step? Because the first step is the most important step.
What’s your mission? What’s your vision? What's your plan?
I want to end today's sermon with the Scripture that is profound when it comes to discovering our purpose and seeing a vision and putting in place a plan. Paul writes to Timothy these words. “Teach those who are rich in this world not to be proud and not to trust in their money, which is so unreliable. Their trust should be in God, who richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment. Tell them to use their money to do good. They should be rich in good works and generous to those in need, always being ready to share with others. By doing this they will be storing up their treasure as a good foundation for the future so that they may experience true life.”
During this sermon series we've talked about success and success is about having a purpose, painting a picture of what it means to live out that purpose and then making a plan. My hope is that you will live out that plan in the days ahead.
Sermon Topics: Success in Biblical terms