When you are preparing to preach your very first message in a church plant a lot of different things go through your mind. Honestly, one of the first things you think about is, “will anyone actually show up for the service?” Boom! You also think about not boring the people who are coming and experiencing your church for the first time. No lie, you really think about things like this! You also think about the different groups of people who will be in the audience that morning and your desire to give them something meaningful from God’s word that is relevant for their lives and will impact and encourage them. You think about all the great things the Bible has to say and the different directions you could go. The challenge is, you can’t say everything all at once. So, you have to pick one message and one theme and go with it. For me, there is no better theme than to talk about what I consider Essential to life and the Christian faith.

In April of 2014, author Greg McKeown’s book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less hit the bookstands and quickly became a New York Times and Wall Street Journal best seller. Why? Probably because it hit directly at the heart of the current American experience and what so many people are feeling and wrestling with on a daily basis. We are trying to do it all and have it all. Here are some common statements you hear today:

• I’m stretched too thin.
• There’s just too much to do.
• I have way too many choices today.
• I’ve got decision fatigue.
• I’m busy but not productive.
•I’m on the treadmill and I can’t get off.
• I feel pressure to have it all and keep up with everyone else.

Does any of this sound familiar? It’s safe to say that life is more complicated now than it has ever been. We have more choices, more access to information, more opportunities, and more things. It’s easy to lose what is “essential” in the midst of this current cultural climate. This led McKeown to ask his most important question, “Are you investing into the right activities? Are you investing into what is truly essential?”

I believe the Apostle Paul had a great understanding of what is truly essential and wrote about it in Philippians 3:7-14. “But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

OK, that was a mouthful! Here are the four essentials I see Paul communicating to us out of this passage of scripture:

1. Knowing God is the single most important aspect of our lives. We were created by God for a relationship with God. This is the most important thing we can ever invest in as individuals, and as a church, is to see people meaningfully connected to God—to know God in an intimate and personal way. Psalm 16:11 says, “You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.” No writing says it better than the Westminster Catechism, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” Are you investing into and developing your relationship with God?

2. Salvation is a gift from God and not the result of our own good works or performance. Hallelujah! I love what Paul communicates in verse 9, “not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.” We live in a country that prides itself on people making their own way and being fiercely independent. We live in a country that prides itself on being moral and good. We are all pretty much good people, correct? If anyone was going to be qualified to “earn” their right-standing with God, it was probably Paul. He had all the right credentials, he had the right family, he had the right degrees, he had the right zeal for God. Paul came to an understanding that salvation was a gift from God. Have you come to this understanding or are you still trusting in your own efforts and righteousness?

3. Each of us has a unique purpose for our lives. Paul said that he pressed on to take hold of “that” for which Christ Jesus took hold of him. Paul understood he was born at a specific time, in a specific place, with a unique set of experiences and gifts, with a unique network of relationships and influence that were tied into God’s bigger plan. His life mattered. Mark Twain had it right when he said, “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” Unfortunately, according to one survey, about 80% of Christians don’t know their purpose or calling. Have you figured out your “that?” We are passionate about helping people discover and walk out their calling and purpose.

4. We have to let go of our past and focus on what God wants to do with us now in the present. Paul put it this way, “But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” What is the thing God wants to do in you now? What is your next step? God is calling all of us to that next place.

Several weeks ago, I received the sad news that former Butler basketball player Andrew Smith had passed away at age 25. I knew Andrew and his family from my time working at Traders Point Christian Church where Andrew’s father, Curt, was an elder. His early death seemed so unfair. He had so much life left to live. He had so much more to do. The good news is that Andrew invested into what was essential, and therefore, his death is a reminder that life is short, no day is promised to us, and we are called to invest into what is Essential and eternal: knowing God, receiving His grace, loving people, and walking in His purpose for our lives! All else pales in comparison.

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