I’m on a mission to prove; the gift of a singular interaction, how influence changes the trajectory of lives, the power that breaks generational chains, and the impact of quality over quantity.
I want to prove to you, reader, the value of an individual in a world and culture that highly emphasizes success solely based on upward numbers.
As you may have heard, I’m writing a book where the focus will be on the one-on-one interactions Jesus had and the aftereffect of those encounters. When I first started studying I came across a question that had me pause and self-reflect. My NLT Bible says this on the introduction page of the Gospel of Matthew: “The overarching theme within Matthew is a question given to all the believers of that day; How are we to follow Jesus in our day, surrounded as we are by Judaism while seeking to declare the Good News of the Kingdom to all? There is great focus and emphasis on Jesus’ teachings and standards of daily living. Matthew focused on this because he lived in a Christian community near Jerusalem, but was surrounded by Jews who had not left their faith. These Christians have to answer socially to the Jewish Law on a daily basis. The original recipients of Matthew were being challenged to live as Jewish Christians among Jews who were fully committed to the Torah.“
The question above is one that I ask myself and ask you; How are we to follow Jesus in our day, surrounded by a post-Christian nation, while seeking to declare the Good News of the Kingdom to all? How? What does that look like? Sound like? Feel like? How do we deal with rejection from the world we’re supposed to live in while simultaneously living out the command to love our neighbors?
I’ve spent the past few months studying through Matthew and while doing so I’m hyper-focused on Jesus’ encounters with others. He completely and radically changes the entire trajectory of these people’s lives. And the outcome of these powerful conversations? A series of events that lasted thousands of years and eventually led to me. And you. Now, we are part of those series of events that will lead to others who come after us to be changed, redeemed, forgiven, and receive the gift of eternal life. We’re like a chain-linked fence. All connected, our lives interwoven together for the sole purpose of our savior. We stand connected to people we have never met, some weren’t even alive at the same time as us, but we are all one. The body of Christ.
This is why the value of one person is so important. This is how we grow God’s Kingdom. A fence cannot be built with unchained links. So, we build one link at a time. Just like Jesus.
In the early nineties, my parents owned a pizza shop and the regulars frequented the shop getting to know my parents. As a child, I had a love-hate relationship with the pizza shop. I loved eating the pizza and making my own bread, and of course, the chips and soda were a huge plus. I helped fold and stack pizza boxes and spent every day after school there while my mother relieved my father who had worked all day. The part I hated was sitting there bored and hot. The ovens made the tiny pizza shop warm but I still remember the smell of the dough and to this day it’s one of my favorite scents. I remember the guests coming in to pick up their orders and my parents standing behind the counter talking and laughing away.
Both my parents were raised Catholic. Catholic schools, nuns, confession, first communion, etc. were a part of their childhood. The community they were raised in treated their faith as a list of to-dos. They simply went to mass because that is what was expected. Their knowledge of scripture was limited as they were encouraged to allow the priest to teach them because they couldn’t possibly teach themselves.
My parents had specific customers that frequented so much that they became friends. While these individuals were coming to pick up their order, they took time out of their day to get to know my parents and eventually shared the gospel with them. I’m too young to remember the details of how this played out and some of it very possibly could have occurred before I was born. But the aftereffects of these moments still impact my life today.
My parents heard the Gospel for the first time, in a way they were never told prior. Jesus started to come alive for them and this mundane list of to-dos became a vibrant, soul-changing relationship. They began attending church with their new friends, signed up for bible studies, and my brother and I attended the private school within the church.
The first years of my life were filled with church, Sunday school, worship, and the teachings of Jesus. After a series of events, my parents closing their pizza shop, and moving over an hour away, my parents stopped attending church and that meant I did as well. My middle school years were spent with zero Christian influence but the familiarity never left my heart. At the beginning of high school, my brother started dating a classmate whose parents went to church. My brother attended the youth group with his girlfriend for the sole purpose to spend more time with her. After a while, my brother, who was enjoying the youth group, invited me to go with him.
I went and my mind was flooded with all the things I learned in my earlier years. Familiar words, messages, and hope-filled my mind. It felt like I was meeting an old friend after many years and we were picking up where we left off. Except for this time, I had matured enough to understand more of what was being said.
One night after youth group I was sitting on my bed with the new bible the youth pastor gave me. I kept thinking about how Jesus died for me. I understood the concept of sin but I didn’t understand atonement. I sat there on my bed and wondered why God allowed His son to die for me. “If God loves me so much, why wouldn’t He die for me? Why did He give His son up?” This question was rolling around my mind and I had no one around me to ask. With the childlike faith, Jesus talks about I chose to ask my question in the only way I knew how- I would simply ask God myself.
I looked up because isn’t God “up?” And out loud I said, “Ok, God. If you love me as much as this youth pastor says you do and you are who this youth pastor says you are- then why did you send your son to die for me? Why didn’t you die for me?”
Immediately, my mind was filled with visions, words, phrases, and complete thoughts. The answer filled my mind all at once. I remembered my mother telling my brother and me how she loved us so much she would die for us. This idea of death was the ultimate sign of love. My mother’s love was the deepest love I knew at the time and one that had a great impact on me. At the same time, my mother’s words entered my mind, a phrase followed; “Doesn’t a parent love their child so much they would give their life so their child may live? Well, I love you so much more than that, that I allowed my child to die so you may live.”
And just like that, I met my creator, the author of my life, the one whom I will spend eternity with. This was a genuine question I did not have the answer to and all of a sudden the answer was in my mind. I knew in the depths of my spirit God was speaking to me.
“WOW!” was my initial response to God speaking to me. I was shocked, in awe, and amazed I heard God’s still small voice. Out loud I said, “I believe you. And I will follow you all the days of my life.” I didn’t know exactly what that looked like or where it would lead me, but I knew I meant it with every part of my being.
While reading The Gospel of Matthew and looking at Jesus’ encounters with those who became His disciples, I questioned how seemingly nonchalant these men dropped everything to follow Jesus. Jesus came across Peter and his brother Andrew while they were fishing and to them, it was another day of work, however, Jesus stopped and called out to them, “Come, follow me, and I will show you how to fish for people.” (Matthew 4:19 NLT) The very next verse says they left their nets and followed. No questions asked, no hesitation, nothing. They went.
It seems wild to me that a stranger came up to Peter and Andrew and said “Come…” and they came. How does one do that? Why did they do this? I always felt like there was a part of the story that was missing. Something not recorded. I wondered if Peter asked, “Who are you?” or Andrew said, “Fish for what!?” However, none of that is recorded. But, then, I remember my story. When my creator spoke, my spirit lit up with life, hope, and completeness. Instantaneously, I knew I needed to follow Jesus without question. Just like the disciples.
By the standards of today, Jesus had a short career in ministry. Three years. That is less time than it took for me to get my degree in theology to even start ministry, yet look at the impact it had. Yes, I get He was Jesus and that side seems so mysterious to us. Let’s not forget His humanity. He walked around, in the same manner, we do with the same human limitations. He ate, slept, traveled, worked, etc. He was never hurried but intentional with everything He did. The Gospel of Matthew in chapter four shares how Jesus went around teaching, preaching, and healing. Such a simple approach to ministry. He didn’t have fancy marketing or branding, but He did have a vision and a mission. He preached the Good News wherever He went to all who would listen.
As a minister, I want to note how Jesus didn’t save His time to only preach to large crowds. I’ve heard countless pastors and ministries who choose to only attend and speak at larger events, often saying it’s a better value of their time. I understand there are only so many hours in a day and only so many days in a year. No preacher can preach every single day of their life and it does require time to travel, study, and prepare a message. Please hear my heart, I’m not criticizing how those individuals chose to spend their time. That is between them, God, and the people on their team. What I’m bringing light to is this idea that quantity is always more fruitful. Mathematically, it increases the odds of someone being encouraged to become more like Christ and lives being changed. But no matter where Christ leads me, and if there is ever a day I do have to turn down speaking engagements because there are not enough days in the year- I never want my focus to be on quantity. I want to be led by the Holy Spirit on which engagements to take because Jesus knows who will be there and who needs whatever God is going to speak through me.
Because Jesus not only saw the value of one, He saw the power of one.
And that same value and power stand today.
How are we to follow Jesus in our day, surrounded by a post-Christian nation, while seeking to declare the Good News of the Kingdom to all?
Just like Jesus saw the value in Peter and Andrew, and how the customers carried that message to my parents in their pizza shop, we bring the Good News to the Kingdom by bringing it to the individual. This is why the value of one person is so important. This is how we grow God’s Kingdom. A fence cannot be built with unchained links. So, we build one link at a time. Just like Jesus.