January 6, 2008

Only One Thing

Part 1: The need to feed

Luke 10:38-42



          Ok, moment of truth.  How many of you gained a few pounds over the holidays?  I went in weighing 182 and came out weighing 190—that’s almost a 5% gain in less than a month!  I got out my calculator and figured that if I maintain this pace for a year, I’ll be 341 pounds by next Christmas!  How did do it?  I ate…and ate…and ate.  I didn’t just eat three square meals a day, I ate a couple round ones in between—round cakes and pies and cookies—and pounded down other snacks around those!  I love Christmas!

          If you eat all the time you get big.  But what if you only ate one meal a week?  What if you only ate for an hour on Sunday, and didn’t eat again all week?  Before long, you would be gaunt, thin, weak and sick…maybe dead!  That describes the spiritual state of many!  There are a lot of malnourished, weak, starving Christians.  You have to eat every day spiritually; to do that, you have to know how to feed yourself.  So we’re going to give you a plan for feeding yourself.  Today we start with “The need to feed.” 


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          Introduce baptisms.


Introduction: (offering here)

          Some of you recognize that sketch as a light-hearted modern male version of a story in the Bible.  It’s the story of when Jesus visited Mary and Martha, and it’s found in Luke 10. 

Luke 10:38-42 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Martha is your classic task-oriented person.  Jesus is coming to visit, and all she can think about are all the preparations: making the meal, setting the table, cleaning the house, fluffing the pillows and filling the wick dispersers with fresh scented oil.  Martha is so busy bustling from the kitchen to the dining room that she doesn’t have time to listen to Jesus.  She is busy, worried, distracted.  How many of you relate to Martha?  I can.  I can get so busy on my task that I’m oblivious to people around me…and to God.  I can get too busy for God.

          While Martha was busy with the preparations, Mary took a seat at Jesus’ feet, and listened to what He said.  It wasn’t a fair distribution of labor, and eventually Martha, frazzled and frustrated, protested to Jesus.  “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself?  Tell her to help me!” She didn’t say, “It’s not fair!” but you know that’s what she was thinking.  Martha must have been surprised by Jesus’ reply. 

          “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed.  Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” 

          Only one thing is needed.  That’s the title of this series: “Only one thing.”  Only one thing is needed, and Mary discovered it.  What is that one thing, and why is it so important.  Much of what I’m going to share with you in the next three weeks can be found in this book, The Divine Mentor, by my friend, Wayne Cordeiro.  If you want to read more about it, you can get a copy at our resource center.  By the way, Wayne will be our guest here at Life Center in June.

          Now before we dive into the one thing, I want to make it clear that Jesus isn’t saying there is only one thing we should ever do, to the exclusion of everything else.  No, the meal still has to be made.  The house still has to be cleaned.  We still need to go to work, pay the bills, go to class, do the laundry, fluff the pillows and fill the wick dispersers.  So what does He mean?  Watch this.

ILL: clip from “City Slickers”.

What’s the secret of life?  One thing.  One thing that rises above all the others.  One thing that gives meaning and purpose and direction to all the others.  One thing that gets top billing in your life.  What is that one thing?  Jesus tells Martha that Mary has discovered it.  It’s listening to Jesus.  It’s a relationship with Jesus.


1. I need a relationship with Jesus.

          It seems obvious that a relationship with Mary and Martha was more important to Jesus than the meal.  Martha focused on the meal, Mary on the relationship, and Jesus said, “Mary has chosen what is better.”  The one thing, the better thing, is a relationship with Jesus.

          Jesus wants a relationship with you.  This is why He came and lived and died and rose again.  All for one thing: He wants a relationship with you.  This is the one thing that gives life meaning and purpose and direction: having a relationship with the Living God. 

ILL: In my daily time with God this week, I read that Enoch walked with God, and Noah walked with God, and this is what distinguished them among their contemporaries.  They walked with God.  I love that phrase. 

          Do you ever go on walks with someone?  Laina and I love to go on walks.  We hold hands and we talk with each other.  We commune.  We enjoy being together.  I walk with Laina.

          Occasionally, when I meet a friend for an appointment here at my office, I’ll suggest we go for a walk, instead of sitting in the office.  Not long ago, I went for a walk with Tim.  We didn’t hold hands, but we talked as we walked.  We communed.  I walk with friends.

God wants to walk with you.  You should try going for a walk with God.  It’s one of my favorite ways to pray.  God wants to walk with you.  In Genesis 3, after Adam and Eve had eaten the forbidden fruit, it says “they heard the sound of Lord God as He was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord.”  Why was God walking in the garden?  The implication is that God was there to be with them, to visit them; God had come to walk with them.  I’ve wondered what the sound of the Lord walking in the garden was.  Maybe He was humming or whistling while He walked.  But it was a sound they recognized because they had walked with Him…and now they were hiding instead. 

          What are you doing?  Are you walking with God, or hiding from Him?  Our sin makes us want to hide.  But that is why Jesus came and died and rose again.  He paid our moral debt and forgave us completely so that we can walk with God in deep gratitude rather than hide from God in shame.  Come out of hiding and walk with God. 

          You can walk with God all day every day.  You can walk with God at home.  You can walk with God at work or at school.  This relationship with God, this give-and-take, this talk-and-listen relationship happens all day long, if you’ll let it.  God wants to walk with you.  God wants a relationship with you.  And it’s what you and I need more than anything else. 

          Being a Christian is all about relationships.  It is about loving God with all you’ve got and loving others.  It is not primarily about doctrine, although what you believe is important.  It is not primarily about keeping the rules, although what you do is important.  It is primarily about relationship, who you know and love.  The “one thing” is a relationship with Jesus.

          For three Sundays, I’m going to talk with you about how to feed yourself spiritually; how to sit at Jesus’ feet and listen to what He says, like Mary did; how to go for a walk with Jesus every day.  But you must remember this.  The purpose of all that we’ll do is to know Him, to love Him.  The one thing is a relationship with Jesus.  If we forget that, then our spiritual practices—reading the Bible, praying, listening, journaling, and obeying—all become religious calisthenics, more things to check off our to-do list like Martha did.  If our spiritual practices don’t bring us closer to Jesus, help us walk with God, then we’ve missed the point.

          What’s the one thing?  A relationship with Jesus.  That’s the one thing.  And to have that…


2. I need to feed on God’s Word.

          This is what Mary was doing.  She was sitting at Jesus’ feet and listening to what He said.  She was feeding on God’s word.  In Matthew 4, when the devil tempted Jesus to turn stones into bread,

Matthew 4:4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

We feed our bodies with bread, and we feed our spirits with the words of God.  If you don’t eat food regularly, you will grow weak and sick and die.  If you are not feeding on God’s word, you will grow weak and sick and die spiritually.  We live on every word that comes from the mouth of God.  Would you say that with me: We live on every word that comes from the mouth of God.  We have to feed on God’s word.

          Each Sunday when you come here, I try to feed you with God’s Word.  But if this is the only time you read the Bible, or feed on God’s Word, you will be a weak and sickly Christian!  If you ate only one meal a week on Sundays, you’d be weak and sick and eventually die.  You have to eat every day to stay healthy.  In the same way, you need to feed on God’s word every day if you want to stay spiritually healthy, if you want to have a growing relationship with Jesus.         

ILL: To use a different illustration: if I want to have a great relationship with my wife, we need to talk every day.  If we only talked once a week, for a few minutes on Sunday, our relationship would suffer.  We talk every day, all through the day, and we often have extended conversations, time when we give each other our undivided attention.

You’ve got to eat more than once a week.  You’ve got to talk with your spouse more than once a week.  And you’ve got to listen to God’s word more than once a week.  You’ve got to feed on God’s Word every day.  And that means…


          A. I need to feed myself.

Occasionally, someone will tell me, “Joe, I’m leaving Life Center and going to another church.”  And when I ask why, he’ll say, “Well, I’m not getting fed.”  I have two responses to that.  First, if you really are not getting anything out of the messages, if they don’t feed you spiritually, or challenge you, or move you closer to God, then by all means, find a church where that happens for you.  If I don’t feed you God’s word, find someone who does, with my blessing.  I’d rather you be fed and grow at another church, than starve and die at this one.  That’s my first response.  Here’s the second: if you are depending entirely on me (or anybody else) to feed you, you are in deep trouble.  You must learn to feed yourself.  One meal a week won’t keep you strong. 

ILL: Imagine that one day my wife notices I’m looking very thin: hollow cheeks, sunken eyes, bones sticking out everywhere.  She says, “What’s wrong with you?”

          I say, “I’m starving to death.  I’m not getting fed around here.  No one is feeding me.”  What do you think she’ll say?

          “Feed yourself!  There is the refrigerator, there is the pantry; they are full of food.  Go get ‘em, big boy; feed yourself.” 

That’s what my wife would say to me!  And that’s what I say to people who say, “I’m not being fed.”  You’ve got to feed yourself.

          Whose responsibility is it to make sure you are fed physically?  Yours!  Whose responsibility is it to make sure you are fed spiritually?  Yours!  You are responsible for your own spiritual health and well-being.  No one else can do it for you. 

ILL: Someone said that 80% of what you do, anyone could do.  15% of what you do, someone else could be trained to do.  But 5% of what you do, only you can do. No one else can do it for you.  Only I can be a husband to Laina, and a father to my children.  Only I can keep my body healthy.  Only I can feed myself spiritually.  It is my responsibility.

Only you can keep yourself healthy spiritually by feeding yourself, by making time to sit and listen to Jesus’ words.  No one can do it for you.  It’s the last 5%.  It’s the better part that Mary chose.  It’s the one thing that’s most important.  You need to feed yourself, and next Sunday, I’m going to spell out how to do it, how to read your Bible each day so that God speaks to you.

          You might be thinking, “But I’m not a Bible scholar or Bible teacher.  I don’t know how to understand or interpret the Bible.”  You have the same teacher that I do: the Holy Spirit.  He is the most gifted Bible teacher ever!  He can take God’s words and speak them to you and teach you what you need to know and feed you.  And the Bible promises that He will.

John 14:26 But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.

John 16:13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth.

Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would teach us and guide us into the truth.  The Holy Spirit is our Divine Mentor, and you can spend time every day with Him in the Bible, letting Him teach you and guide you into the truth. 

ILL: Have you ever wished you could have regular time with someone you admire and respect and let them teach you and mentor you?

          How many of you golfers would like to be personally mentored and coached by Tiger Woods or Jack Nicklaus?

          How many of you activists would like to be personally mentored by Martin Luther King, Jr. or Mother Teresa or Ghandi?

          How many of you gardeners would like to be personally mentored by Phyllis Stevens?

You get the idea.  Wouldn’t it be cool if we could be mentored by someone who was way ahead of us, someone way smarter than us, someone who know the way far better than us?  We can.  You have a Divine Mentor, the Holy Spirit, who is ready to teach you and guide you into all truth.  So open your Bible with confidence and let Him teach you. 

          I need to feed on God’s word.  Like Mary, I need to listen to what Jesus is saying.  And I need to feed myself.  I am responsible for this; I can’t delegate it to anyone else.  I need to make time every day to open my Bible, and let Jesus speak to me.  Next Sunday, I’m going to give you some very practical ideas about how to do this—how to read the Bible every day and hear Jesus speaking to you

          Let me point out some of the benefits of feeding on God’s word every day.


          B. God’s word will:


1. Equip you.

2 Timothy 3:16-17 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

God’s word will equip you for every good work.  You will be prepared for whatever life throws at you. 

          In Matthew 13, Jesus told the parable of the soils.  A farmer scattered seed, and it landed on four different kinds of soil.  Later, he explained to His followers that the seed is the word of God.  When you plant a seed, it takes time for it to sprout and grow and bear fruit.  There are times when I read the Bible and God speaks to me, and I wonder, “Why would I need that?”  Then a week later or a month later or a year later, I’m in a situation and “ding”—the light goes on.  Remember, John 14:26 says that the Holy Spirit will “remind you of everything I have said to you.”  Our Divine Mentor brings to mind that verse, that truth, right when we need it.  God’s word has prepared me; I’m ready to respond, to make a good choice.

          This daily time in God’s word is like an athlete or musician practicing every day, so that they are prepared at game time or for the concert. 

ILL: James Dobson wrote,

On a trip to Washington, D.C., a few years ago, my hotel room was located next to the room of a famous cellist who was in the city to give a classical concert that evening. I could hear him through the walls as he practiced hour after hour. He did not play beautiful symphonies; he repeated scales and runs and exercises, over and over and over. This practice began early in the morning (believe me!) and continued until the time of his concert. As he strolled on stage that evening, I’m sure many individuals in the audience thought to themselves, “What a glamorous life!” Some glamour! I happen to know that he had spent the entire day in his lonely hotel room in the company of his cello.

All those scales so that he would be ready for the concert.  When you make a habit of spending time at Jesus’ feet every day, reading the Bible every day, you are preparing yourself for life.  God’s word will equip you.


                   2. Make you fruitful.

John 15:7-8 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

In John 15, Jesus says that He is the vine and we are the branches.  We must remain in Him if we want to be fruitful.  If we don’t remain in Him, we will wither and die.  All of us understand this.  Cut a branch off an apple tree and it will never bear apples.  It will wither and die.  Jesus is saying that if we remain in relationship with Him, we will be fruitful.  And then He adds this: if you remain in me and “my words remain in you.”  Letting God’s word remain in us is an important part of this relationship that makes us fruitful.

          What do I mean by fruitful?  I mean that your life is producing what you were made to produce.  An apple tree is fruitful when it produces apples.  A berry bush is fruitful when it produces berries.  You are fruitful when you produce what God made you to produce, when you fulfill your God-given purpose.  How many of you would like to fulfill your God-given purpose?  That happens when you remain in Jesus and His words remain in you.  God’s word will make you fruitful.


                   3. Enable you to recognize His voice

John 10:4-5 When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5 But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.”

John 10:27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.

Mary had an advantage we don’t have.  Jesus was physically there.  She could sit at His feet, ask Him questions and listen to His answers.  We don’t have a physical voice to hear, and that makes it hard.  When I try to listen to Jesus, how do I know it’s Him, and not just my imagination?  How can I recognize His voice? 

We don’t have a physical voice to hear, but we do have His word, written for us in the Bible.  And as we read it every day, it enables us to recognize His voice when He speaks to us.  “That sounds familiar…like something I read in the Bible.”

Jesus compared us to sheep and He is our shepherd.  How do sheep recognize the shepherd’s voice?  By hearing it over and over.  

ILL: Have you ever seen a mom get up when she hears a baby cry because she knows it’s her baby?  How does she know?  She’s heard that cry…a lot!  In the middle of the night and all during the day, she’s heard that cry, so she recognizes her baby’s voice.

          You could blindfold me and have 1000 ladies talking and I could pick out Laina’s voice.  Why?  Because I have heard it so much…and it’s like music to my ears!

When people ask me how to recognize God’s voice, I tell them to read the Word every day.  You’ll hear God speaking and soon come to recognize when that voice speaks to you.  God’s word enables you to recognize His voice.


                   4. Help you make wise decisions. 

Here is a rule for the kings of Israel:

Deuteronomy 17:18-20 When he takes the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law, taken from that of the priests, who are Levites. 19 It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the Lord his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees 20 and not consider himself better than his brothers and turn from the law to the right or to the left. Then he and his descendants will reign a long time over his kingdom in Israel.

I love that.  God commanded the kings of Israel to each make their own hand-written copy of God’s word, and read it every day.  He gave four reasons:

  • So that he learn to revere (love and worship) the Lord.  Read it for relationship with God.
  • So that he would carefully follow all God’s laws.  Read it to obey.
  • So that he would not consider himself better than his brothers.  Read it to remember who you are and stay humble.
  • So that he would not turn from the law to the right or left.  Read it to make good decisions, and stay right on track.

Did you know that you make over 300 decisions a day?  About 10% of those have the potential to be life-changing.  How will you make those decisions?  Where will you find the wisdom to make good decisions?  God’s word will help you chart the right path, make wise decisions.  Are you reading it every day, storing up wisdom every day? 

ILL: By the time you graduate from high school, you will have watched more than 16,000 hours of television.  If you go to church for 2 hours a week, you will have 2,000 hours of spiritual help.  So when it comes time to make a decision, you will have 8 times more input from TV than from God’s word!  Are you happy with that ratio?  8 times more input from TV than from God’s word…unless you know how to feed yourself.  

Next week, I’m going to give you practical ideas on how to do that, how to read God’s word every day so that you’re hearing God speak to you. 

          Only one thing.  That one thing is a relationship with Jesus.  We grow that relationship by listening to Him, by making time every day to feed on God’s word.  And if we do, God’s word will

  • Equip us.
  • Make us fruitful.
  • Enable us to recognize His voice.
  • Help us make wise decisions.