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Abundant Life: How to Live Life to the Fullest

 Matthew 28:1-10John 10:7-15

"I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly" (John 10:10).

Every single one of us has a deep desire to know how to live life to the fullest.
That's a pretty strong statement, isn't it? I'm schooled to avoid making 100 percent statements. One can usually find an exception. A bit more caution is in order.
But on this one, I'll stand my ground. I'm convinced that every one of us shares that deep desire to know how to live life to the very fullest. Some of us are a long way from this reality. Others are closer to it.
Look inside yourself. Isn't there a deep, inner aspiration that life is more than being successful? Having money? Owning a nice home? Raising happy children? Being physically well? Having a lot of friends? Being married? Or being unmarried?
That's why you are here today. Whether you are a professing believer in Jesus Christ or simply a person open to truth wherever it is to be found--you dream of something that goes beyond all of this.
I
It is your dream of being fully human. I'm not here to convince you that you should give up a lot of what you have and value most, to live a negative, legalistic, unhappy, joyless but religious life. No! Far from this, I am inviting you to affirm the greatest adventure you'll ever have. It's the adventure of being fully human -- to live in touch with your deepest aspirations.
If you have not already begun this pilgrimage in living life to the fullest, I'm inviting you to begin. If you are already on this journey, I invite you to celebrate the fact that you are in the process of becoming the person God created you to be. Take joy in this aspiration. It's not yours by accident. It's planted within you by the very God of the universe.
One of the greatest preachers in history was Phillip Brooks, who for many years in the late 1800's was the rector of Trinity Church in Boston. In his classic sermon titled "The Christ in Whom Christians Believe," Brooks makes this insightful comment:
"When we remember that truth, when we recognize that no man is ever to be saved except by the fulfillment of his own nature, and not by the restraint of his nature, when we recognize that no man, no personal, individual man, is ever to be ransomed from his sins except by having opened to him a larger and fuller life into which he has entered, we seem to have displayed to us a large region, into which we are tempted to enter, and which is so rich and inviting to us that we immediately begin to ask ourselves if it is possible that there should be such a region."
Brooks went on to raise the possibility that perhaps this aspiration is a dream. If it is a dream, isn't it amazing that every single person who has walked the face of this earth has had this dream of living life to the fullest that goes beyond contemporary success standards?
Men and women have never been able to give up this hope and dream. Jesus Christ declared emphatically that His purpose in coming was to enable you and me to discover that this is not just a dream. This is a God-implanted aspiration that He has come to fulfill. He put it in these blunt terms: "I came that they may have life and have it abundantly."
The context for this gargantuan statement was when Jesus referred to Himself as being the Good Shepherd. He noted how sheep know the voice of their shepherd. They will never answer to a stranger.
There is something very special about this relationship. Flocks of sheep become intermingled. A shepherd can call out. His sheep will hear his voice. One by one, they will single themselves out from the rest of the sheep, moving in his direction, having learned to trust his care.
A typical Middle Eastern sheepfold was an open space with a circular stone wall with one small opening. The door was the shepherd himself. He would lead his sheep into the fold and then at night lay down across the opening. No sheep could get in or out except over his body. A thief would have to climb over the wall.
Jesus referred to Himself as being the door. "I am the door; if any one enters by me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture" (John 9:9). He went on to say, "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep" (John 10:11). Then He described hirelings who don't really care for the sheep. They lack the love dimension. They do not have an overall sense of care.
Do you aspire to live life to the very fullest? I know you do! Then let me introduce or reintroduce you to the One who makes this possible -- the crucified and risen Christ, the One who did lay down His life for you.
Skeptics have belittled the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Those outside of the church have scoffed at the very notion of the Deity of Christ. They have laughed at the idea that this first-century carpenter from Nazareth was God become man. They see Him as a somewhat naive, good but demented, first-century martyr.
Others, who still want to wear the label Christian, play around with the language. John Hick in 1977 edited a book, The Myth of God Incarnate. In it he argues against the idea of a supernatural Bible. Then he declares that the time has finally come to be honest about the last myth, that of the Incarnation.
He and his colleagues would argue for a resurrection principle that gives hope and encouragement to human existence. But liberal Protestant theology denies the Incarnation -- God become man in the Person of Jesus Christ. Liberal Protestant theology denies Christ's atoning work on the cross. Liberal Protestant theology denies His physical resurrection, His ascension into heaven, and His second coming. Frankly, my friends, that is why the Los Angeles Times observed that American Protestant liberal churches are shrinking in size. Why? They deny the very essence of the Christian faith, that supernatural intervention of God into human history is the hallmark of our faith.
The writer, John Updike, has in his own way seen through this verbal smoke screen of skepticism. Not particularly noted for his piety, but certainly one of the more perceptive observers of life today, he writes in his "Seven Stanzas At Easter":
Make no mistake, if He rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cell's dissolution did not reverse, the
molecules reknit, the amino acids rekindle
the Church will fall...
It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and
fuddled eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His flesh; ours.
The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that--pierced--dies, withered, decayed and
then regathered out of His Father's might,
new strength to enclose.
Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping transcendence,
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in
the faded credulity of earlier ages;
let us walk through the door.
The stone is rolled back, not papier-mache,
not a stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow
grinding of time will eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.
Martin Luther said it so succinctly. "He who would preach the Gospel must go directly to preaching the resurrection of Christ. He who does not preach the resurrection is no apostle, for this is the chief part of our faith .... Everything depends upon our retaining a firm hold on this article [of faith] in particular, for if this one totters and no longer counts, all the others will lose their value and validity."
The Apostle Paul said it so bluntly:
If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied.
But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. (1 Corinthians 15:17-21).
Life lived to the fullest is life lived in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. What then does this life lived to the fullest involve?
It involves a radically different approach to life from that of people not in relationship with Jesus Christ. It involves a citizenship in the kingdom of God as distinct from your citizenship in the various kingdoms of humankind here on this earth. Life lived to the fullest is a life of dual citizenship in which your citizenship in the kingdom of God will demand your ultimate allegiance. It will revolutionize your priorities. It will help you see what is really important and what is not so important.
Thursday night I went home from our Maundy Thursday communion service, settling in to watch the concluding segment of A.D. I sat in the comfort of my big easy chair, my feet propped up on the ottoman, holding in my arms my 9-year-old daughter Janet, as I watched Nero in the arena as he fed those first-century Christians to wild animals. He did it as a sport. I held my daughter oh so closely as I watched those little Christian children dressed up in sheepskins, led into the arena only to be attacked in their innocence by those wild animals, as the crowd cheered that bloody massacre.
I thought then, and I've been thinking since, "Who would I have rather been back then?" Would I have rather been a Roman citizen, living in opulent luxury, forced to take my cue from the emperor and the crowd so as to maintain my security and posture of success? Or would I have rather been a Christian watching my child ravaged by the wild beast, knowing that my turn also and that of my wife would come soon? Just who was really destroyed in that arena? The Christian, mauled to death? Or the cheering Roman citizen? I'll let you answer that question.
True power, true success is that for which you, at the deepest level, aspire. It is not a false power. You see, false power can be ripped from you by big, brute force. Whereas kingdom power of being fully human, as one in personal relationship with Jesus Christ, can't be taken from you by anyone.
Emperors become paranoid at the center of enormous power. They know they're as vulnerable as one dagger slipped into their heart by a disloyal bodyguard. Whereas the Christian knows that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. No tribulation, no distress, no persecution, no famine, no nakedness, no peril, no sword. "For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:38).
Life lived to the fullest is the potential property of someone who is rich or poor or somewhere in between. Life lived to the fullest is the property of the person who is white-skinned or black-skinned or some shade in between. Life lived to the fullest is the property of male or female or even the one whose orientation, because of environmental influences, is confused and somewhere in between.
Life lived to the fullest is the property of the employer or employee or someone who is a little bit of both. Life lived to the fullest is the property of the one who is honored or the one who is belittled or the one who is somewhere in between. Life lived to the very fullest is the property of a person at the top or at the bottom or somewhere in between.
Life lived to the very fullest is the discovery that your life was designed to go somewhere. You weren't intended to live in a nihilistic vacuum. You are a part of a great enterprise --God at work in eternity, eternity here on earth and eternity that goes beyond your life here on earth. Life lived to the very fullest is the experience of this eternal life which Christ came to offer you.
II
How do I live life to the very fullest? I live it by opening my life, the very center of my existence, to Jesus Christ, by receiving the gift He came to give me.
He said, "I am come that you might have life and that you might have it more abundantly." Study these words in the Greek and discover that this abundant life literally means that you will live life with a surplus. It is a super abundance of life. When you walk with Jesus Christ, when you discover His presence in your life, you will discover that life is worth living.
Let me review with you the exciting discoveries you will make or are now presently making as you learn how to live life to the fullest.
1. You discover you have tremendous promise.
You are a human being created in the image of God. You are part of a great enterprise with God here at work on earth. He has chosen you. He has selected you to help Him in this work. You are no accident. From the very beginning of time, the Creator-Sustainer God knew of you. You have been given particular gifts by Him that will help Him help others.
Bill and Gloria Gaither have put this truth to music in those words of the children's song, "I Am a Promise."
I am a promise, I am a possibility.
I am a promise with a capital P.
I am a great big bundle of potentiality.
I am learning to hear God's voice.
And I am trying to make the right choices.
I am a promise to be anything God wants me to be.

2. You discover that you are not the only one who is not perfect.
That's a great relief, isn't it? I know that you don't want a preacher shouting at you that you are a sinner. It implies a degree of presumption on the part of that preacher that postures him above you in a way that you know just isn't true.
But if I ask you, "Are you perfect?" you'll be quick to say, "No, I never claimed to be." The abundant life Jesus offers you understands that about you already. He knows you can't be perfect in your own strength and energy. He asks you to admit it. Quit pretending. Take a deep breath and admit to yourself, "I'm not perfect." Admit to God, "I'm not perfect." Admit to others, to your wife, your husband, your children, your friends, your employees, your employer, "I'm not perfect."
That's what God means when He tells you, "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). That's what God means when He says that there is "none righteous." That's what He means when He says, "For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 6:23).
The Good News is that God created you with tremendous potential. The Good News is that you don't have to be perfect to realize that potential. Christ in His death and His resurrection offers you a robe of "His righteousness" which clothes you in "His perfection" and enables you to stand before Him, justified, not by your own perfection but by His. He views you as perfect. His blood has washed you clean.
3. You discover that God gives you a choice between being your own God or allowing Him to be Lord of your life.
Life lived to the very fullest involves being in the center of God's will. It's not a flabby, sentimental, romantic life. It's one of rugged discipleship.
It involves receiving Jesus Christ as your Savior. I could go out and purchase you an elaborately expensive gift and wrap it up and offer it to you. You could very well refuse to accept it.
It is possible to refuse this abundant life which Christ offers. It will reorganize your life. It will cause change. Any kind of change is threatening. You know that. I know that. We human beings are creatures of habit. We are resistant to change. There is a weird comfort in the status quo. You have to make a choice -- an act of will to receive Jesus Christ as your Savior, acknowledging your need, if you want to experience this abundant life.
And, this also involves allowing Him to be the Lord of your life. Some of us here at St. Andrews have accepted the exciting challenge of reading the Bible during this year. Those of us who are on a schedule a few days ago read those final words of Moses to the people of Israel, prior to their entrance into the Promised Land, recorded in the last chapters of Deuteronomy. Moses, some 1400 years before Christ, declares the choice you and I must make as to whether or not you and I will allow God to be God.
"See, I have set before you this day life and good, death and evil. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you this day, by loving the Lord your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and ordinances, then you shall live and multiply, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land which you are entering to take possession of it.
"But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you this day, that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land which you are going over the Jordan to enter and possess.
"I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse; therefore choose life, that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice, and cleaving to him; for that means life to you and length of days, that you may dwell in the land which the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them" (Deuteronomy 30:15-20).
This is one of the toughest decisions I ever made in my life. As a youngster I accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior. As a teenager I struggled with whether or not I was going to allow Jesus Christ to be the Lord of my life. I had placed before Him my social life, my intellectual life, my future career. But I tried to skim the fringe benefits of salvation and the life to come. Was I really willing to experience His abundant life, obedience to His Word, as revealed in the Scripture, allowing Jesus Christ to be my Lord?
I'll never forget that time as a fourteen-year-old in which I wrestled late at night, under the Northern Illinois stars on that practice football field, struggling with this decision, finally saying, "Yes, I choose You to be my Lord, even at the points that it will pinch my own natural desires." There have been many times since then that I've had to reactivate that choice, only to find I'm not the loser. I'm the winner, as His abundant life once again becomes my experiences.
4. You discover that you can be forgiven and forgiving.
This is one of the most dramatic discoveries a person can make. You don't have to live with guilt. You are forgiven.
You can spend a lot of money on psychiatrists, experiencing the catharsis which comes through the ventilation of that dark-closeted side of your life. Christ provides the ultimate therapy, as He says there is nothing you've done that is unforgiveable, except your unwillingness to accept His forgiveness. His Word declares, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9). You need a risen Savior! He sets you free from guilt.
And you don't have to live with resentment. You can forgive another person. The risen Christ is a reconciler. Even when the other won't talk to you, you can still forgive in a way that does not demean that person. Remember that prayer of Jesus from the cross, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."
5. You discover that you can handle death.
This involves your own death. The fact of life is that every one of us in this sanctuary is terminally ill as far as this life is concerned. You and I are only mature beings when we come to grips with the inevitability of our own deaths.
And this involves a death of a loved one who loves Christ. Why? Because Jesus Christ has taken the sting out of death. Death's sting is not death. Death's sting is sin. Paul wrote to the church at Corinth that Christ took the sting out of death and rendered it harmless. Jesus told His disciples the night before He went to the cross that He was going to prepare a place for those of us who have put our trust in Him.
Frankly, this is not the case for the nonbeliever. The nonbeliever of Jesus Christ has no realistic hope beyond this life. The Bible refers to hell, eternal separation from God. Describe it in the most dramatic of literalistic terms or use those as symbols. The fact is that there is eternity, separated from god, alienated from His presence. That, my friends, is hell whether or not we enjoy thinking about it. Eternity in His presence is promised to you if you put your trust in Him. That's heaven, my friends.
6. You discover that serving others is far better than being served.
Unfortunately, many of us forget that God has chosen to work through us. This little bit of whimsey all too often describes what happens in this world when we expect someone else to do what needs to be done. It's titled, "What Went Wrong?"
This is the story of four people:
Everybody, Somebody, Anybody and Nobody.
There was an important job to be done and
Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it.
Anybody could have done it but Nobody did it.
Somebody got angry because it was Everybody's job.
Everybody thought that Somebody would do it.
But Nobody asked Anybody.
It ended up that the job wasn't done and Everybody blamed
Somebody, when actually Nobody asked Anybody.
This involves allowing your heart to be broken in love for other people. Some people live protected. They build shells around their hearts. Others live vulnerably. They are free to be honest. They are free to be hurt. They are free to help. They are free to be rejected. That's life lived to the fullest.
These are global Christians, serving a risen Christ. Their view is that everything they have is given from the Lord -- their money, their time, their abilities, their contacts. They turn right around and give not just 10% back to Him but everything, and then they lease back the 90%, or 85%, or the 80%, knowing that it's on loan for a temporary period.
Talk about life lived to the fullest. Mary Thompson of our church participates in the sandwich ministry, along with Alice Bystrom and many others. She wrote me this letter:
"Today my team made sandwiches, and I delivered them to S.O.S. The worker who accepted them kept expressing her thanks, said what a help they are, etc. She said earlier in the day a man was in who seemed about to faint from lack of food -- they had nothing quick to hand him that could be eaten on the spot.
"Then on my way out a young woman was sitting on a bench with the bag of groceries she'd been issued. Her small child was eagerly looking in the sack saying, 'What did you get -- anything for me?'"
Whether we make sandwiches or bring canned food for the hungry of Orange County, or we send our dollars to the One Great Hour of Sharing or World Vision or other agencies to meet world hunger needs, there is a joy that comes in service. We can't feed everyone, but we can feed someone. We can't care for everyone, but we can care for someone. That, my friends, is life.
7. You discover Christ grows with you, and you grow with Christ.
Someone here today has been injured by a bad church experience. Perhaps someone hurt you, betrayed you, didn't care for you. Perhaps it was me, or someone like me. I apologize.
But Christ never lets you down. He is a friend who walks with you. If you are a ten-year-old, He understands you as a ten-year-old. If you are an eighteen-year-old, He understands you as an eighteen-year-old. If you are a thirty-year-old, He lives and breathes with you the fears and aspirations of that segment of your life. If you are fifty, or sixty, or seventy, or eighty, Jesus understands. No, it's not true that He changes as you change. It's that He understands. He's able to flex to your needs. He's a good Friend. And a good friend is a friend for life.
I invite you this Easter morning to receive through faith the risen Christ in personal friendship. Or, I invite you to reaffirm your friendship with Him. You'll discover what it is to live life to the fullest. You'll discover that paradox that in losing yourself to Christ's love and grace in the service of others, you find yourself in the abundant life you were created to live!
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