Small Things Big Difference - Week One: "Your One Word"


This week we are beginning a brand new sermon series entitled "Small Things Big Difference."  It's been a long time since I was this excited about a sermon series--at least since the last sermon series!

Before we begin, though, I have a question:  Have you ever felt a little stuck?  Like you're in a rut of some kind, and can't seem to find your way out of it?  And maybe you're stuck to the point where you think it's going to take far too much effort to get out of your rut--more effort than you are willing to give.

Maybe you've felt stuck when it comes to your health. You know you should lose weight, eat better, get more exercise---but you think about what it will take to get you to where you want to be, and you feel overwhelmed. So you go to Donut King and get that maple bacon donut instead... Yeah, that was a bit close to home. 

Perhaps you feel like you are trapped in a dead end job--or you are stuck in a career that leaves you unfulfilled.  Maybe you are no good at being retired... but the thought of changing all of that is just too much to think about and you find yourself resigning yourself to your fate.

What about your marriage--or your relationship with a significant other?  You know that it's not what it should be, but you aren't quite willing to sacrifice all that you think you need to sacrifice in order to make it better.

Maybe it's your faith that feels stuck.  You might be sitting here today wondering why you're even here.  God hasn't really felt real to you in a very long time, and you feel as though you might need to do something about that--but you think you might not be holy enough, Christian-y enough to pull it off.

Over the course of the next few weeks we are going to be thinking about something that is incredibly simple and incredibly profound.  If you've felt stuck, overwhelmed or maybe in despair about how much effort it's going to take to change your life, your faith, your health or your relationships to be what you want them to be---you need to pay close attention to what I am about to say:

It's often the small things that no one sees that result in the big things that everyone wants.   

I go to the gym--on occasion.  I used to be pretty faithful about it.  I've sort of fallen off the wagon lately.  When I am not being my best self, I get kind of down about how much work it's going to take to get me back into shape again.

But then I think about a few people that I see in the gym every day who are absolutely ripped.  These people are in crazy shape.    But here's the thing.  They only come to the gym for about an hour, and they only come about four days a week.  They do about twenty minutes of weights and twenty minutes of cardio and then they shower before heading off to work.

I bet if we asked them about their diets they would all tell us the same thing: Low carbs, higher protein, watch your calories.   20 minutes of weights.  20 minutes of cardio. Watch your diet.  Don't get crazy.

I can do that!  Anybody can do that!

It's often the small things that no one sees that result in the big things that everyone wants.    

I heard about a guy who wrote love letters to his customers and employees almost every week.  Seriously.  He called them love letters, because in them he expressed how he felt about the people he was writing them to--personally.  If it was a customer, he would thank them for their patronage, and tell them stories about how they were part of keeping his business thriving.  He would write letters to his employees and their families, thanking them for their sacrifices to make their company great.  

And he did these by hand--every week.  Love letters. 

He said that these love letters helped him engage in what he was doing, find purpose in it and remind him why he was doing what he did in the first place.  Plus it just spread joy like you couldn't believe.  

 It's often the small things that no one sees that result in the big things that everyone wants.    

Several years ago, my wife and I started praying together.  Sometimes we pray as a couple, but we always find time to pray as a family before everyone walks out the door.  Then we also carved out time in our days to pray by ourselves, but to pray for one another and our family.  She does it at one of our local churches in the morning before going to work, and I do it at home with my journal before I head off to gym.

I can't tell you how much this has impacted our life as a couple.  Because of these simple prayers, we are more connected, we argue less, we agree more, we have more grace for one another's mistakes, we don't often offend each other--and when we do, we are quick to repent and forgive.  And it does wonders for other parts of our relationship--if you know what I am saying, and I think that you do---can I get a witness?

 It's often the small things that no one sees that result in the big things that everyone wants.    

A few years ago I was feeling a bit stale in the faith department.  I wasn't feeling all that sharp as a leader and a pastor.  I had begun to wonder if doing this whole Christian thing was really worth all of the effort.  So on the advice of a friend, I purposefully began to carve out 15 minutes every single day to read my Bible, and use some devotional books with inspirational messages.  I also began to journal, longhand in a straight up old-school journal.  

It took about 15 minutes a day at first---then it became 30 minutes, and sometimes longer.  I filled up one journal, then another and another.  I kept at it, failing at times, succeeding more often than failing, though.  I've read through the New Testament about three times and most of the Old Testament, particularly the Psalms as well.  It's not a magic pill for faith.  But it helps.  All because a friend told me to just carve out 15 minutes a day.  

It's often the small things that no one sees that result in the big things that everyone wants.    

In Zechariah chapter 4 verses 6-10 we have this fabulous passage: 
6 So he said to me, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty. 7 “What are you, mighty mountain? Before Zerubbabel you will become level ground. Then he will bring out the capstone to shouts of ‘God bless it! God bless it!’” 8 Then the word of the Lord came to me: 9 “The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this temple; his hands will also complete it. Then you will know that the Lord Almighty has sent me to you. 10 “Who dares despise the day of small things, since the seven eyes of the Lord that range throughout the earth will rejoice when they see the chosen capstone  in the hand of Zerubbabel?

In this passage of Scripture, the temple of God is being rebuilt in Jerusalem--a temple that had been destroyed by the Babylonians.  The people of Israel had been in exile in Babylon for a generation, but now are returning slowly.  The governor at the time is a man by the name of Zerubbabel, whose name means "pressed out of Babel" or "Born in Babylon."

So here's a man who was not even born when the Israelites were exiled.  He has no memory of the original temple that stood on Mt. Moriah in Jerusalem--Solomon's Temple, which had been one of the great wonders of the ancient world.  Nothing exists of that temple except ruins--some of which Zerubbabel probably used to rebuild a new temple.  The new temple doesn't look at all like the one that existed in the imagination of the people.  It was humble.  It might have been fairly crude. 

Maybe people were tempted to put it down, to focus on what used to be and the fact that this new temple wasn't even close to that. 

But it was a beginning.  And God says to his people, "Who dares despise the day of small things?"  or another way of translating it, "Who dares despise small beginnings?"

Don't despise small beginnings.  Don't think that starting off small is something to be ashamed of.

It's often the small things that no one sees that result in the big things that everyone wants.    

Renowned basketball coach John Wooden, who coached the UCLA Bruins to an ungodly amount of national championships in the 60's and 70's would begin the first day of basketball practice the same way every year.  He would take his players into the locker room and teach them how to put on their socks and tie their shoes properly.  

He told his players, "It's the little things that are vital.  Little things make big things happen."  

There are small adjustments that you can make in your life that will make a big difference--in your health, your career, your relationships and your faith.  

Over the course of this series we are going to be learning how small things can affect our thoughts, and how our thoughts can become words, and then our words can become habits.   

Today--as you might imagine--we are going to start small.  We are going to start with one word, and one verse.  

Where I want you to begin this entire process is by finding your one word--the word that is going to speak into your life in the coming year.  And then find one verse that helps you to illuminate that word, and to bring it to life in your heart and soul.  

At the beginning of this year, after hearing a sermon on this very topic, and reading a bit more about it on my own, I decided to give all of this a try.  I spent some time praying and thinking about the word that God might have for me.  I wanted a really good word.  I wanted--"Conquer"  I wanted--"Warrior"  You know what I'm saying, right?  Instead, over and over again I kept hearing the same word in my head... 

Peace. 

I didn't want that word.  It seemed too frail to me.  It wasn't the kind of word that bespoke of manliness, of victory...  But I couldn't shake it.  In the end, I realized that it may not have been the word I wanted, but it was most definitely the word I needed.  Because peace was eluding me.  

I walked around angry about things I couldn't control.  I was anxious about life the universe and everything--mostly because of all of the negative things I was ingesting through media, news, blogs and the like.  And deep inside all I really wanted was to feel peace.  

So I found this verse--Isaiah 26:3 "You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast because they put their trust in you."  I wrote that verse fifty times or so in my journal.  I prayed over that verse.  I prayed God would give me peace. 

It has not been easy to hold on to that word... 

I would love to tell you that I am completely at peace.  I would love to tell you that I walk around seeing the Eagles "Peaceful Easy Feeling" song every where I go.  But that wouldn't be truthful.  What I will tell you is this:  I am more peaceful than I was.  I feel like I am becoming more peaceful every single day.  I actually have long stretches of peace-filled bliss where I don't have a care in the world worth worrying about.  

And I am learning... It's often the small things that no one sees that result in the big things that everyone wants.    

In the middle of this whole search for my own one word and verse, God also began to work on my heart about a word for our church.  I started thinking, "If this could actually work for me--why wouldn't it work for a whole church?"  

The one word that I kept coming back to over and again was the word: Strengthen.  I couldn't shake it.  And then I read this verse--which is also found in Isaiah:  "Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtains wide, do not hold back, lengthen your cords; strengthen your stakes." - Isaiah 54:2

Our church is growing.  We've added nearly four hundred new members over the last six years.  Our worship attendance has more than doubled during that time.  The number of kids here on a Sunday morning is nearly eight times the number we had in 2008.  Even our bathrooms are getting refurbished, baby!   

But getting larger isn't the goal.  It's a sign of health to be sure, but it's not the goal.  The goal for us as a church is to know and to show Jesus to the world.  And if we are going to do that, and show the world what it means to do church differently--we need to be strengthened.  Our organizations need strengthened, our staff needs strengthened, and especially our congregation needs strengthened. 

Since God laid that word on my heart and I've begun praying and leaning in the direction of what it might mean for us to be strengthened as a church, amazing things have been happening.  We're developing new ways to be more efficient, better stewards, more organized... We're finding ways to encourage and motivate our staff.... We're offering more opportunities for Bible studies and small groups... 

And we've been preaching sermon series that are designed to help us grow in our faith, apply the Bible in very practical ways and learn to be stronger in our faith, our relationships, our careers and our families.  We'll be doing even more of that in the coming year.  

All because of one word... one verse... 

It's often the small things that no one sees that result in the big things that everyone wants.    

Jesus once told a parable of a master who left on a trip and gave his servants money to invest.  While one of the servants disappointed him by failing to grow his investment--Jesus said to the others, "Well done, because you have been faithful in this small amount, you will be given more..."  This isn't about prosperity, more money, more worldly success... This is about having more of the things that matter in life.  

So let's start small.  What's the one thing you would like to change or accomplish that would make a big difference in your life?  What's the one word that might make that possible?

Your assignment this week is to discover your "One Word."  Pray over it.  Think about it.  And when you feel like you have that word, find a verse to go with it.  Google is awesome for this.  Just type in your word and then "verse."  You will have more than you bargained for to choose from, trust me.  Or you can borrow a concordance from the church library, or you can email me and I'll give you some ideas.  

This is your assignment.  Start small.  Don't despise small beginnings.  

It's often the small things that no one sees that result in the big things that everyone wants.    

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