One of my all-time favorite moves is the 1994 movie, the Shawshank Redemption. If you haven’t seen it, the story basically goes like this: Andy Dufresne is sent to prison on the charge that he killed his wife and her lover. It’s a false imprisonment, but every one claims to be innocent at the Shawshank prison. Andy meets a man named Red who can get you things, and over the course of the movie they become really close friends. About a quarter to half way through the movie, an older character named Brooks is released from prison and goes back to life outside of the walls. But living most of his life in Shawshank, he can’t adapt to life outside and eventually commits suicide.
Towards the end of the movie, after Andy had been at Shawshank for almost two decades we get a quiet moment between him and his friend Red. Andy talks about getting out of prison, and how he would head to Mexico where he would run a hotel and fix up a boat. He tells Red that he should come with him, because Andy could use a man like Red who knows how to get things.
But Red is having none of it. He knows Andy is serving out two life sentences for the murders. And Red tells Andy to stop dreaming of those things. And plus, Red states how he couldn’t live on the outside. He’s an institutional man, who’s lived behind bars most of his life, and couldn’t function in normal society.
Andy ends the conversation with this line that has always stuck with me. “I guess it comes down to a simple choice really, get busy living, or get busy dying.”
It’s a powerful movie of pain, suffering, friendship, betrayal, and of course redemption. But that line, “get busy living, or get busy dying,” to me encapsulates the state of humanity. Two years ago, as we here in the Alliance church began to look toward the future of what God is doing through this congregation, we began to talk about the vision that God has given us. This vision is simplified in the four words of Love, Lift, Locate, Life. We have talked about Three of these words in past. First love, it’s the love God has shown to us through everything he does for us, and hits it’s pinnacle in the sending of Jesus to die for us. We see this in Scripture with Jesus words in John 15:12, “love each other as I have loved you.” The Love of God towards us should then motivate us to love. It’s that same love that should then motivate us to move further into the vision.
The lift aspect of the vision is the worship of God. Jesus says in Mark 12 that we are to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. In other words, we are to worship him with everything that we have at our disposal.
But it doesn’t stop there, we are to be motivated to no only love God, but to love people. Following the greatest command of worshiping God with everything, Jesus connects loving other people with it. Which brings us to the third aspect of the vision, locating the needs of the people around us and meeting them. Jesus says, to love people as we love ourselves. We love ourselves by wanting the best for us, well, that means we should love people by wanting the best for them as well.
These three aspects are summarized like this, We are loved by God and should be motivated by that love to life him up in our daily worship, and to locate the needs of others, and meet them as God leads.
All of this brings us to the final aspect that we will be talking about for the next four weeks. This last aspect is life. And it is rooted in Jesus’ words in the book of John chapter 10 verse 10. Jesus says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
This last aspect is stated as, pointing people back to the life that God has for them. Today, I want us to dive into this life of God, and spend the next four weeks looking at different sides of it.
Usually I like to dive into one passage of Scripture and analyze it, but today I want us to grasp the full view of what it means to point people back to the life God that has for them. So We’re going to be jumping through the pages of Scripture from Genesis forward. And we’re going to be moving on fast forward, but don’t worry if you can’t keep up flipping through your Bible, everything will be on the wall.
So let’s begin at the beginning, Genesis 1-2 shows us God creating everything. But it’s in chapter 2 of Genesis where I want us to begin with verse 9. Previous to verse 9, verses 5-8 give us the context of what is going on. Scripture takes us to a barren section of God’s creation. A place he hasn’t developed yet, and it’s in this place that he forms man, verse 7. In the next verse we learn that God then creates a place to put man, this place is called Eden, verse 8. And then we come to verse 9 where it says, “9 The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.”
We know later on in verses 16 and 17 that God gives a command to this first man to not eat of the second tree. But do we realize what that means? By God emphasizing two trees, yet only restricting one, it means that the other tree is free to enjoy. In other words God’s intent for humanity is to have life and enjoyment thereof. Which is really the entire point of the first two chapters of Genesis. God is a God of life giving. But what this one point in Scripture relays to us, is that God is not just a God of life, but a God who wants his creation to experience that life. We get this understanding a chapter early in Genesis 1 verse 28, where God tells humanity to be fruitful and multiply.
But then Genesis 3 happens, where humanity chooses to disobey God, choosing the tree that is restricted and in turn choosing the opposite of the life God has for us, and that’s death a part from him.
But we don’t stop there. If we turn over to the 45th chapter of Genesis and look in verse 7 we see God’s life still at work. In the life of Joseph many bad things happened. He was sold into slavery by his brothers. He was falsely imprisoned by his master after the master’s wife accused him of sexual advancements, and he had been forgotten by a man he had helped. But it was all for a purpose, and Joseph recognized this with his statement in verse 7. “But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.”
Evil compounded evil in Joseph’s life, but God was working through it all to bring about life. If God didn’t take Joseph through all of that hurt and pain, then Egypt wouldn’t have been prepared for the famine, and his family would not have survived.
I want us to look in one more place here in the Old Testament, the book of Ezekiel chapter 37. Here God speaks to Ezekiel in a place were a great battle had been fought years before. The flesh from fallen warriors had been weathered away and laid barren. In verse 3 God speaks to Ezekiel, “Son of man, can these bones live?” To which Ezekiel responds, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.”
Ezekiel understood what we have been talking about today, that God is a God of life, and his intent for humanity is that they may live. God’s question of can these bones live, can only be responded by Ezekiel pointing back to God. Ezekiel is saying, only the one that can give life can answer that question.
To this God instructs Ezekiel to call these bones back to life, and they do. Not because of Ezekiel’s power, but because the God of life works through him.
Let’s go back to Jesus’ words in the book of John chapter 10 verse 10, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
The life that Jesus has come to give us is his own. And it’s in Jesus’ life that our lives can be found. And this is the point of the life aspect of the vision that God has given us here. We are to point people back to the life God has for them.
That means we’re not supposed to point people back to a church. This church congregation has been here for almost 40 years. Will it be here another 40? I don’t know, but congregations come and go. Right now, about 3,500 churches nation wide close this year. That means if we are pointing people back to a building as if that were the point, then we are pointing them to a place that might not be there next year. Instead, we are to point people to the life that is found in connection with the Body of Christ, the true Church.
This also means that we’re not supposed to point people back to a pastor. People tend to attend churches where they like the preaching, or the music, or this or that. And many Christians have their favorite big name preacher, or teacher. But did you know that only 1 out of every 10 pastors will retire from the ministry? That means 90% of pastors will leave their role before retirement age. If we are pointing people back to a pastor, we’re setting them up to fail. Instead we are to point them back to God the Shepherd, the one that will always be with them.
Finally, this means that we are not supposed to point them back to our idea of Christian life. Let’s take a look at our own lives. What are the experiences, circumstances, jobs, life choices we have made that are different than other people? Some of us have served in the military, some in combat, some not. Some have owned businesses, some haven’t, some worked in construction, others in an office. Some have been single their whole lives, others have had 10 children. Some of us have lived our whole lives on the west coast, others have traveled the world.
Each of us have lived lives that might be similar, even intersecting at some points, but are vastly different. It is the same in our spiritual lives as well. I became a Christian at around age 16, my wife was about 4, some are 60. Some of us have followed Jesus closely for years, some are renewing their walks, still others are beginning their search for God. I can’t point you to the life I have, and you can’t point me to the life you have. Instead we are to point people back to the life that God has for them. We can share experiences of how God has worked, and how we have learned, but we must encourage and extend grace to others so that they can experience God the way that God intended them to.
Paul says this in the book of Colossians chapter 1, starting in verse 16, “16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.”
Jesus says this about building his church, his people, in Matthew 16:18, “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”
God is the God of life. He spoke life into existence, he breathed life into our lungs. Even when we fight against his life, he continues to bring that life to us.
In the beginning of the book of John, where we started today, the author gives this little paragraph in his introduction, “9 The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.”
Jesus brings the life of God to humanity, and gives us the choice that he gave the first man and women: to eat of the tree of life, or to eat of the tree that leads to death.
And this is where we come to the statement that Andy Dufresne makes in the Shawshank Redemption, get busy living, or get busy dying.
The life that God has for us is right before us, it is a life that is only found in him. Not in this building, not in a pastor, and not in looking towards ourselves, but only in Jesus.
The question is, what are we going to get busy doing? If you have accepted Jesus as your Savior, then you need to get busy pointing people back to his life. Because he has given you life, and that life must be shared.
If you haven’t accepted Jesus as your Savior, I would like to talk to you about what that means. But if you’re still hesitant, come back again next, week, because will be talking more about this life that is only found in Jesus.
So today I want to leave you with this challenge, on your seat there was a little paper with the Shawshank phrase. My challenge is to decide right now, which will you choose: get busy living, or get busy dying. If you choose living, that means you're choosing God's life. If you choose dying, you're choosing your own. In Jesus' own words in Matthew 10:39, "Those who try to gain their own life will lose it; but those who lose their life for my sake will gain it."
Each of us is called to the life of Jesus, and when we gain that life, we are to spend the rest of it pointing others to the life God has for them. And that life, is only found in Jesus.
Now may the God who creates and sustains life, bring you deeper into his life today. Amen.