Becoming Great

Pastor Craig Carter

When my daughter Abby was little, you could predict her answer to just about any question.

How was your day? “Good.

How’s your lunch? “Good.”

How was children’s church this morning? “Good.”

Like it was for Abby back then, life for most of us is pretty good. And good is certainly all right. It’s why we relish having a good friend and enjoying a good day at the office. But, given a choice, we’d all agree that great is better than good.

It’s why a good friend is nice, but having a great friend is even better. And, who wouldn’t prefer having a great day outside rather than a good day in the classroom?

Greatness has a very appealing quality, so to some degree or another, we all aspire to it. Women want to be great moms and wives, men want to be great dads and husbands, professionals want to have great careers, athletes want to be great champions.

Mediocrity is almost no one’s ambition.

But there is one area in life where that is not the case. Ask believers if they want to be great Christians and many seem reluctant to answer the question affirmatively. Most are afraid such an ambition would be presumptuous or seem arrogant.

Yet what is the alternative? Should we aspire to be average Christians? Is good enough really good enough when it comes to following Christ?

Not according to Jesus. Through a conversation between Jesus and His followers, we discover that just OK is not OK when it comes to living the Christian life:

After they arrived at Capernaum and settled in a house, Jesus asked his disciples, “What were you discussing out on the road?” But they didn’t answer, because they had been arguing about which of them was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve disciples over to him, and said, “Whoever wants to be first must take last place and be the servant of everyone else.” (Mark 9:33-35 NLT)

While walking along, Jesus heard His disciples engaged in a heated discussion. So that evening Jesus asked them, “What were you discussing out on the road?” Immediately they became like kids caught talking about something they shouldn’t be talking about.

Here’s the amazing part of this incident to me: Jesus didn’t rebuke them for their longing to be great. He never said, “Quit being so immature…unspiritual…worldly…arrogant…” Isn’t that interesting that Jesus didn’t seem at all opposed to their desire to be great? Instead, He laid out a pathway to greatness that, while counterintuitive, was incredibly easy to follow and understand: “Whoever wants to be first must take last place and be the servant of everyone else.”

According to the rest of the New Testament, they took Jesus’ words to heart. There is no question guys like Peter, John and James became great men of God and subsequently “turned the world upside down.” Through Jesus’ teaching and example they had learned that they were destined for greatness. This idea is rooted in the very nature of God our Creator.

According to the Bible, what kind of God is He?

The psalmist puts it this way:

“The Lord is a great God, the great King above all gods.” (Psalm 95:3 NLT)

“Great is the Lord! He is most worthy of praise!” (Psalm 96:4a NLT)

“How great is our Lord! His power is absolute!” (Psalm 147:5a NLT)

And what about God the Son, Jesus? I think we’d all agree He wasn’t prone to mediocrity, was He? Whether it was preaching, teaching, or healing, Christ did all things extraordinarily well and then He had the audacity to tell His followers they would do even “greater works” than He had done (John 14:12)

Without question, as God’s people, created in the Lord’s image and made by His Spirit to be like Christ, we are destined for greatness. Through service offered to the Lord and His people, we are made to become great – in God’s eyes, if not in the world’s.

That kind of purpose isn’t served well by being ordinary or even by being good.

I believe with all my heart that the Lynn Haven United Methodist Church is a good, if not very good, church. It is made up of some awfully good Christians.

But, I am equally as convinced the Lord doesn’t want us to settle for good. He wants us to move from good to great. Beginning today, I want us to explore how that transition is made possible.

My thinking on this subject has been shaped by two books. The first one is Good to Great by Jim Collins. Since its publication in 2001 it has become one of the most popular business leadership books of all time. Based on extensive research, Collins outlines the practices of companies that are a cut above the rest. When certain ingredients are present, companies are able to make the leap from just being good to being great and thus enjoy tremendous success in the marketplace.

The second is a book by Chip Ingram, author and radio Bible teacher, who took the Good to Great concept and applied it to the Christian life in a book called Good to Great in God’s Eyes. Like Collins noticed in his research of successful businesses, Ingram observed that great Christians have certain practices in common. When employed consistently, these practices serve as a blueprint for building the kind of life God intended each of us to live – not just good, but great.

To give you a taste of what is to follow in my coming messages, let me mention a few of them: Great Christians…

…think great thoughts

…pursue great people

…make great sacrifices

…dream great dreams

…pray great prayers

Before we begin to explore these practices in detail, I’d like to look at why we should even want to consider becoming great in God’s eyes. They are found in something Jesus, the Great One, said on the night before His death. In a prayer addressed to His Heavenly Father, Jesus said, “I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do.” (John 17:4 NLT)

Based on Jesus’ own life, there are two main reasons we should aspire to greatness:

1. Becoming great brings glory to God.

2. Through greatness we are able to complete the work God has given us to do.

Let’s explore what is involved in each…

Becoming great brings glory to God

According to the Bible, apart from God, we can’t even consider ourselves “good” because only God is good (Matthew 19:17). On the other hand, with Him, “all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26).

It is okay to be a good Christian or a good church. But when we are merely good, we run the risk of getting the credit. Examples: “He is a good Christian man” or “That’s a good church over there.”

In contrast, greatness is so rare persons who observe it know that something or somebody else is responsible. It serves as a marvelous witness to others. Examples: “She is a great Christian lady who walks with the Lord” and “That is a great church where God is alive and active.”

As Rick Warren pointed out in his book, The Purpose Driven Life, and we observed in a recent sermon, life is not about you or about me (nor is it about this church or any other church). It’s all about God.

So the very purpose for our existence is to bring honor and glory to His name. And the more we move from the mundane to the magnificent, or from good to great, the more glory we bring to the Lord.

As an example, consider that much of what has happened in the Lynn Haven United Methodist Church can be credited to the good folks who have made up this congregation for the past century: Several locations/campuses, countless lives impacted, ministries carried out, etc. But what has happened over the past 11 months since Hurricane Michael is inexplicable in human terms: new members joining in a parking lot; worship taking place each week without a building of our own; successful Youth, Vacation Bible School and AWANA programs for young people; mission trips; mobile food pantry; three times more money given to missions in 2019 than last year, while our financial position has improved six-fold. It doesn’t make sense and all points to a “higher power” at work among us.

And, of course, that is none other than the living presence of Jesus Christ working in and through this fellowship of believers. Join me in saying: “Praise the Lord! To God be the glory, great things He has done!”

Besides the wonderful witness that becoming great is to those around us, true greatness makes our Heavenly Father very proud of us. For instance, a mom might be proud of her son’s academic achievements, but she is especially pleased when his hard work pays off in a college scholarship.

The Lord made us to be great. It’s why he declared us to be not good, but “very good” when he created us from the dust.

When we aspire and then achieve greatness – as He defines it, through service – we reach our God-given potential and honor the One who made us in His very own image. There is no question: The Great One made us to be His great ones.

So greatness is a noble pursuit because it pleases the Lord and brings glory to God.

Through greatness we are able to complete the work God has given us to do

God can use anything and anybody to accomplish His purposes. After all, according to the Old Testament, He even once employed a donkey to speak His word.

Yet while the Lord did that on one occasion, more times than not, He uses great followers to do His best and largest work. I don’t think any of us would describe Noah, Moses, King David, the Virgin Mary, the Apostle Paul, John Wesley, David Livingstone, Mother Teresa, or Billy Graham as average, just okay, “run of the mill” believers. God uses great Christians to do great things for His kingdom’s sake.

And, as evidenced in the Book of Acts, the Lord uses great churches to impact their community and world for Christ. First Church, Jerusalem wasn’t just a good church down on the corner. It was characterized by “great (mega) grace…power…fear of the Lord.” (Acts 4:33, 5:5)

The fact that God uses great Christians and great churches to do great things really shouldn’t surprise us because that’s the way it is in every area of life. Average athletes don’t set world records, but great ones do. Mediocre artists don’t create breath-taking works of art, but great ones do. And, as Jim Collins and his fellow researchers discovered, good companies don’t return remarkable dividends to their investors, but great ones do.

By moving from good to great, we are enabled to complete more work for the Lord.

Maybe that’s why many Christians are satisfied with simply being “good.” They know the Lord uses great people in great ways and they’re not sure they want the extra work!

Rest assured, if you and I become great in God’s eyes, He is going to give us more to do.

But why would we want it any other way? It’s thrilling to be considered the “go to” guy in the clutch. It’s exciting to accomplish extraordinary feats (at least I’ve been told). It’s satisfying to be used by God to make a difference in this world.

And with so much to do, the Lord is not looking, as the Marines are – “For a few good men.” Instead, He’s looking for a whole bunch of great men, women, boys, and girls who are willing to do whatever is necessary to become world-changing, kingdom-seeking Christians.

And He’s searching for groups of that sort of folks to get together as well. With so many lost people and tremendous needs right here in Bay County, that’s why God wants the Lynn Haven United Methodist Church to become a great congregation.

Will you make it your ambition to become great? Will you consider the practices we’re going to explore in the coming weeks and commit to putting them into use?

It’s not so much that God is looking for great Christians as He is looking for folks who are willing to be made into great followers of Jesus Christ. In 2 Samuel 5:10 we’re told that King “David became greater and greater.” His secret to success? “For the Lord, the God of hosts, was with him.” (ESV)

May the Lord Almighty always be with us so that we can become great in God’s eyes in order to bring glory to His name and accomplish the work He has given us to do.

Our great God is worthy of nothing less.