Sunday, September 30, 2007

When God Calls Your Name: Jerusalem, Jerusalem

"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers! How often have I wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me. And now, look, your house is abandoned and desolate. For I tell you this, you will never see me again until you say, "Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord!"

Matthew 23:37-39

You’ve probably seen the bumper sticker as many times as I have – maybe you even have one on your car. Across the sticker, in the background is the familiar red, white, and blue of our flag, blowing in a breeze. In the foreground is the slogan, "God bless America."

There’s something that kind of bothers me about that slogan. I wonder about the particular use of the word "bless" that is used there. Hasn’t God already blessed us? We are one of the wealthiest nations, both financially and materially. God has blessed us over and over. But why?
Some would make a case that the United States of America is God’s new "chosen people." Our country, after all, was founded under Christian principles. We have doubtlessly been blessed – even Americans living in impoverished conditions have more than our counterparts in other parts of the world, and that’s just material and financial. We enjoy freedoms that many people don’t even dream of. God has blessed us.

God had blessed Jerusalem as well. Though I have serious reservations about claiming America as "God’s chosen people," I have no such reservations when talking that way about Jerusalem in Jesus’ time. Israel was indeed God’s chosen people, a people with a special blessing from God, a blessing that dated back to their ancestor Abraham. Do you remember the special blessing God gave Abraham? In Genesis 12, God told Abram to, "Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to a land that I will show you. I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous…"

But God didn’t stop there. He went on to say, "… and you will be a blessing to others." He finished up by saying, "All the families on earth will be blessed through you."
Jerusalem had the first part down. Under the leadership of great people like Moses, Joshua, King Saul, King David, and King Solomon, they became a great nation. They were famous. But they never quite latched onto the second part of the blessing – that they were blessed specifically to be a blessing to others.

Instead, they turned inward, focusing on themselves. If you read all of Matthew 23, Jesus is extremely critical of Jerusalem’s leadership, accusing them of hypocrisy, of loving attention, of loving money, of neglecting justice, mercy, and faith, of deception and murder. Thus he makes his statement about Jerusalem.

I wonder if the same comments would be appropriate for us as a nation. I believe we are headed in the same direction as Europe, which used to be a Christian continent, but is now completely secular. When I was in college, one Sunday in church we had a missionary speaker from India. Now, I was used to a certain kind of missionary – the American ones who went to far-away places like India to share the Good News. This missionary was somewhat different: he was a Christian from India, and his mission field… was the United States. It completely changed my thinking – we as Americans don’t have the Christianity market cornered.

God’s chosen people? To be honest, I still believe we are. But we’re only a small part of God’s chosen people. But I believe Jesus grieves over us like He did over Jerusalem. He says, "How I’d love to gather them together as a mother hen protects her chicks under her wings, but they won’t let me."

You see, God doesn’t force His will on us, not as individuals, and not as a nation. He wants us to freely follow Him.

In Amos 8:11, the prophet speaks these words from God: "The time is surely coming when I will send a famine on the land – not a famine of bread or water, but of hearing the words of the Lord." Much of our nation is gripped by this famine – but it’s a self-inflicted famine. We have Bibles readily available, but when we don’t read them, we are starving ourselves. We have a direct connection to God through prayer, but when we don’t pray, we are starving ourselves.

Think of it this way: I know many of you farm. Imagine that this year provides a bumper crop. Your fields are completely full of crops. You have all the equipment to harvest them, but for some reason or another, you don’t do it. You’ve got all kinds of other commitments – your other job, your family, your kids’ or grandkids’ activities, and by the time you get home, you’re exhausted. So you never get the crops out of the fields. What would happen? You wouldn’t have to go too long until someone from the bank came to foreclose on something, whether it’s your farming equipment or even the farm itself.

Let’s take this a little further: suppose it’s not just you individually who neglect to take your crops out of the field, but all the others as well. Now the effect is far more pervasive. Think about those who were counting on those crops to eat! Now not only are farms being foreclosed on, but people are starving.

When we neglect to hear God’s Word and to be obedient to His will, we are willingly putting ourselves into famine conditions. But it does not only effect us; it affects others, too, and they starve if we haven’t done our part.

The unfortunate thing? We can live our entire lives never seeing how the other half lives. We can be so sheltered in our own little worlds so much that we never know what goes on elsewhere. We can miss out on the fact that in many parts of the world, children die, one every three seconds, for want of one dollar a day. We can miss out on the fact that we’re living in a post-Christian nation. Even right here in town, almost ⅓ of the entire community claims no religious affiliation whatsoever. These are people you know and love. These are your family members, your friends, and your co-workers.

God has indeed blessed America. Each of us is a recipient of that blessing. But just as Jesus grieved over Jerusalem, His people who had squandered His blessing, so too I believe He grieves over us. We are meant to use that blessing to be a blessing to the world.

So what do we do next? Our first step is to examine our hearts and determine what we’ve done with our blessing. Have we acknowledged the blessing God has given us? Have we shared it?

Our second step is to pray. Pray for those you might share with – that God will show them to you and will give you the boldness to speak. Pray that God will show you new people to pray for, that He will lay new situations on your heart that you can pray over. If you watch the news, pray over each news story. If you read the newspaper, pray over each story. Pray that we can ease damages that have been caused by the church and can give people a taste of the Living Water that comes from the Holy Spirit.

Our third step is action. We can be pretty good at caring for our own, and I know that some of you are or have been highly involved in mission projects, but what are we specifically doing to share the blessing? What are we doing for the world? What are we doing for the persecuted church? What are we doing for African children who are starving or dying from AIDS? What are we doing for Darfur? And when you act, don’t just do it to ease your conscience. Don’t bring a "we’re better than you" attitude along – remember, Matthew 25:31-46 tells us that whatever we do to the "least of these" we actually do to Jesus Christ. So we can take a humble, servant’s attitude, knowing that when we work for God, we’re actually doing that work to God. That He blesses us to serve Him, that by doing so, we may be a blessing to the nations and bring glory to Him.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

When God Calls Your Name: Saul, Saul

Meanwhile, Saul was uttering threats with every breath and was eager to kill the Lord’s followers. So he went to the high priest. He requested letters addressed to the synagogues in Damascus, asking for their cooperation in the arrest of any followers of the Way he found there. He wanted to bring them—both men and women—back to Jerusalem in chains.

As he was approaching Damascus on this mission, a light from heaven suddenly shone down around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, "Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me?"

"Who are you, lord?" Saul asked.

And the voice replied, "I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting! 6 Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do."
Acts 9:1-6

What are the six hardest words to say in the English language? I pose that they are "I am sorry. I was wrong." Nobody likes to be wrong. It is part of our nature that we always want to be right – and even when we know that we aren’t, we’re unlikely to admit it. I was recently asked the question, "What is a significant political or religious idea that you’ve changed your mind on?" I had a hard time answering that question, not necessarily because I never change my mind, but because changing my mind seems to indicate that at one time or another, I was wrong. I don’t like to admit that I’ve been wrong.

When a politician admits to having been wrong, he is called a flip-flopper. But when a politician fails to admit where she was wrong, she is considered to be bullheaded and stubborn, arrogant even. There’s just no winning!

What if you happened to be wrong about something? What would it take for you to come around? In today’s scripture, we find someone who was wrong – dead wrong. Saul was a well-known persecutor of the church. His goal – to stamp out this new movement, and he had a lot of work to do. You see, the early church was growing by leaps and bounds. Thousands of people were converting at a time. Can you imagine having a service where three thousand people accepted Jesus Christ, all in one day? How about five thousand? This is how the church was exploding, and Saul wanted to do something about it.

I’ve talked before about how sometimes God speaks by 2x4 – this is definitely one of those cases. Jesus Christ showed up in a blinding light and spoke to Saul. Talk about a 2x4! God had to blind Saul in order to get Saul to hear Him. Have you ever had to lose everything in order to finally hear God’s voice? Have you had to hit rock bottom in order to realize where you’d been missing the mark?

Not only does Jesus have to blind Saul, but he also calls his name… (you guessed it) twice. Part of the problem, as I see it, was that Saul was already blinded. His problem was that he was blinded by religion. I might ruffle a few feathers here when I say this, but I believe it: religion isn’t as good a thing as some might lead you to believe. Religion is simply a belief in a divine power or the system of belief, worship, and conduct required by that belief. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s certainly not the goal. Religion is only a reaction to the divine. The only thing that makes religion good is when it is paired with relationship. Saul had no relationship, only religion, and that’s a dangerous combination. This is what fuels kooks like Osama bin Laden and the KKK. This is what fueled Saul, as well.

This is why God called Saul’s name twice – to give Saul credit, he was really trying. He really, truly thought that what he was doing was right. He never set out to be the bad guy. He was simply trying to preserve his religion and to do what he felt was his religious duty.
Because he was missing the mark so badly, God called his name twice (and blinded him as well!). Then (and I think this is neat), God gave Saul the next step. Do you remember what God told Moses when He called his name twice? God told Moses, "You will lead my people out of slavery." Can you imagine what Saul would have done if God had told him what the future held in store for him?

"Oh, yeah, Saul, you’re going to be my missionary. You’re going to be put in prison, you’re going to be whipped too many times to count, and you’re going to face death again and again. You’re going to face 39 lashes five times. You’re going to be beaten with rods three times, you’ll be stoned, you’ll be shipwrecked three times, and you’ll spend an entire night and day adrift at sea. You will be hungry and thirsty and alone and cold." This is all from Paul’s later account in 2 Corinthians 11:23-27. "Then, Saul, you’re going to be imprisoned again and eventually die in prison." What do you think Saul would have done with that? I don’t think he could have handled it all when he met Jesus on the road to Damascus. So Jesus told him simply, "Now get up and go into the city, and you’ll be told what to do." Often we want Paul Harvey’s ‘the Rest of the Story’. We want to know where we’re going to end up, but God only gives it to us piece by piece.

So what is our next step? I’m convinced that religion has gotten in the way of our relationship with Jesus Christ. Many of you have heard about the couple who began to cook a Thanksgiving ham and before she put it in the oven, the wife cut both ends off. Her husband asked her why she did it, and she responded by saying, "That’s how you cook a ham." Truth was, her mother always did it that way, so she called her mom and asked her, "Why did you always cut the ends off the ham?" Her mother didn’t have a good response: "I guess I did it because my mom always cut the ends off." So they called her mom and asked her the same question. "Oh, I cut the ends off the ham because I didn’t have a big enough pot to cook the whole thing in."

Another way to see it is this: sometimes at night, I’ll be reading a bookTara to get finished reading her book so we can go to sleep. Meanwhile, she’ll be reading, waiting for me to get finished with my chapter so we can go to sleep. We both want the same thing – we both have the same goal, but neither of us does anything about it because we don’t realize the other’s intention. Then, although our intentions were good, we both end up unhappy.

When we as a church are more concerned about our habits and traditions than about the reason behind them – or, more appropriately, about the relationship behind them, then we are just cutting the ends off the ham. When we go about what we’re doing the same way we’ve always done it, even though we have good intentions, we don’t end up fulfilled and Jesus isn’t glorified.
How about seeing what Jesus wants? How about seeing the needs of the community and the world and acting upon them?
I want to close with a scripture from Isaiah 55:6-12: Seek the Lord while He may be found; call on Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil one his thoughts. Let him turn to the Lord, and He will have mercy on him, and to our God, for He will freely pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. As the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth. It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and the trees of the field will clap their hands.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

When God Calls Your Name: Martha, Martha

As Jesus and the disciples continued on their way to Jerusalem, they came to a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed them into her home. Her sister, Mary, sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he taught. But Martha was distracted by the big dinner she was preparing. She came to Jesus and said, "Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me."

But the Lord said to her, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her."

-Luke 10:38-42

Last week, we studied how God called Moses’ name twice from the burning bush. Moses was mired in a life of inactivity, not living up to his potential or even to his training. God had prepared something for him to do, and He needed to call Moses twice.

Today we look at a completely different situation; Martha is anything but inactive. In fact, she is a wonderful host. She does everything right and her parties outdid everyone’s. If she lived in today’s world, her last name would be Stewart.

Here’s the deal; Martha was not only doing all that was expected of her, but, truth be known, she was going above and beyond the call of duty. In a church setting, Martha would be the go-to woman. Have you heard the old adage: if you want something to get done, ask a busy person. That was Martha. Sometimes I’ve heard this scripture preached in such a way that it makes Martha seem like some kind of ogre, but she wasn’t. No, not at all. Martha was dependable. Martha was a fantastic host. Martha was working in the area of her giftedness. Martha did all the behind-the-scenes work that allowed other people to do what they needed to do without worry about all those things. But Martha missed the boat.

In our society, usefulness is gauged by how much someone does. We value productivity. We value Marthas. Even in the church, we are always looking for volunteers – a case in point was last week, when I asked you to step up out of inactivity into participation, to do Kingdom work. And Martha was indeed doing Kingdom work – this party would not have happened had she not stepped up to do the work.

Unfortunately, as Jesus pointed out, Martha was worried and upset about many things, but only one thing was worth being concerned about.

Maxie Dunnam was the president of Asbury Seminary when I was there, and when he spoke in chapel, you could always expect three things. First, you could expect him to say, "God is good…" expecting a response of "All the time" – then he’d continue by saying, "All the time…" to which we’d respond, "God is good." Secondly, you could expect him to quote from Charles Schultz’ comic "Peanuts." And thirdly, you could expect him to remind us to "Keep the main thing the main thing."

It’s easy to get sidetracked by important things and only later realize that you’ve missed what was most important. I’ve never heard of anyone on their deathbed whispering, "I wish I’d spent less time with the kids and more time at work."

I don’t mean to imply that the work any of you do is unimportant. No, quite the contrary, what makes this so difficult is that every job, no matter how small, is of vital importance. Add to that all of your responsibilities outside the church – responsibility to your family, to your job, to your health, and you have quite a busy slate.

If you’re in caught up in the busy-ness trap, Jesus says to you, "Only one thing is worth being concerned about."

Something has been bothering me ever since our board meeting on Monday. We spent a whole lot of time talking about us, about things that are of importance to us as a congregation or as leaders. I gave a report of my activities of the month. We got a report on our financial status. We had a report from the Trustees about the physical structure. We talked at great length about furniture and about technology. We had some very passionate discussions – we really care about what we discussed. All of these things are important, don’t get me wrong, but I think maybe we’re missing out on that one thing that is worth being concerned about.

We can have great finances, we can have the best technology money can buy, we can have a beautiful building, but it doesn’t mean anything if our relationship with Jesus Christ isn’t central to everything we do. The apostle Paul talks about this in Philippians 3:7-8. He goes through a list of what used to be important to him, and he concludes by saying, "I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ and become one with him." That’s keeping the main thing the main thing.

Here’s where we have a problem: what is 1s this main thing that we’re supposed to be focused on? What is this one thing that we need to be concerned about? If we all filled out a survey, we’d probably all come up with different ideas of what that main thing is. I pose that it’s most important for us to be with Christ so we can be like Christ. We cannot expect to be Christ to a world that needs Him if we aren’t spending regular time at His feet, learning and growing. If we expect to do Kingdom work without spending significant time with the King, then we’re just spinning our wheels.

I think it would be neat to be a great golfer like Tiger Woods, but really, I am satisfied with having a miserable golf game, so I don’t go out and practice daily. I’d love to be an amazing guitar player like Eric Clapton, but since I am satisfied enough with my decent-enough guitar skills, I don’t spend all day and night practicing. And unfortunately, many of us are satisfied enough with the good things we are doing – so satisfied that spending time with Jesus Christ isn’t a high priority.

And we cannot expect to be like Christ if we’re not spending time with him.

This is why I’ve been stressing Bible studies over and over again – because we need that time with Jesus, and we need it desperately! The fact is, even I struggle with spending time alone with Him. Are you with me?

Let’s conclude by spending a few moments with God in silence. After we’ve had a little while with Him, join me in singing our love for the Lord.

Monday, September 10, 2007

When God Calls Your Name: Moses, Moses

note: this is the manuscript I prepared for Sunday's sermon. I delivered a bit different sermon, as I felt that God was really calling me to do so. Here's the outline of what I preached.
  1. God called Moses twice because of Moses' inactivity. He was brought up in the house of Pharaoh to be a leader, and here he was, tending sheep.
  2. God gets Moses in a place where he will hear Him. For us, times of prayer and fasting are such places where we can hear God.
  3. God calls Moses to a postition He had prepared for him. He has something prepared for you, too. God doesn't just call the equipped; He equips the called.

One day Moses was tending the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian. He led the flock far into the wilderness and came to Sinai, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a blazing fire from the middle of a bush. Moses stared in amazement. Though the bush was engulfed in flames, it didn’t burn up. "This is amazing," Moses said to himself. "Why isn’t that bush burning up? I must go see it."

When the Lord saw Moses coming to take a closer look, God called to him from the middle of the bush, "Moses! Moses!"

"Here I am!" Moses replied.

"Do not come any closer," the Lord warned. "Take off your sandals, for you are standing on holy ground. I am the God of your father—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." When Moses heard this, he covered his face because he was afraid to look at God.
Then the Lord told him, "I have certainly seen the oppression of my people in Egypt. I have heard their cries of distress because of their harsh slave drivers. Yes, I am aware of their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the power of the Egyptians and lead them out of Egypt into their own fertile and spacious land. It is a land flowing with milk and honey—the land where the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites now live. Look! The cry of the people of Israel has reached me, and I have seen how harshly the Egyptians abuse them. Now go, for I am sending you to Pharaoh. You must lead my people Israel out of Egypt."

Exodus 3:1-10
What do you do when God calls your name? I am a firm believer that God calls people even today – sometimes God calls people to full-time ministry, but more frequently, God calls each of us to follow Him in unique ways. Some of you might hear His voice easily, but for others of us, well, it’s more of a "call by 2x4."

Today we are starting a new sermon series called "When God Calls Your Name." We will be looking at some of the calls by 2x4 in the Bible. Specifically, we’ll look at some people who God had to call twice.
Our first subject is Moses. We find Moses living in exile, tending sheep. I love this scene. Imagine it – you’re a veteran shepherd, and all of a sudden you see a bush that’s on fire but not burning up. I can imagine Moses’ response wasn’t just a ho-hum "I must go have a look." In fact, if you think about it, I’ll bet he watered down his response when he told about it – he probably said something that we wouldn’t repeat in polite company.
Then God called Moses’ name… twice.
It wasn’t enough to have a burning bush speak to Moses, but God needed to call his name. And that wasn’t enough, so He had to call him twice.

I think God called Moses’ name twice because He really wanted to get his attention. It’s like when we call our kids by all three names. I knew my Mom really wanted to get my attention when she called me "Brian Edward Vinson." And Moses knew God wanted his attention as well.
Moses came closer, and God told him what was up – that he had a special mission for Moses.
I want to bring something to your attention. Did you notice where Moses was when God called him? This was the guy who was saved as a baby from a death decree. The Pharaoh’s daughter brought him up right in the Pharaoh’s palace. He was destined for greatness from his birth! Yet here he is, tending sheep. And why was he doing this? He was afraid of his call.

Exodus 2:11-15 tells us the story: Many years later, when Moses had grown up, he went out to visit his own people, the Hebrews, and he saw how hard they were forced to work. During his visit, he saw an Egyptian beating one of his fellow Hebrews. After looking in all directions to make sure no one was watching, Moses killed the Egyptian and hid the body in the sand.
The next day, when Moses went out to visit his people again, he saw two Hebrew men fighting. "Why are you beating up your friend?" Moses said to the one who had started the fight.
The man replied, "Who appointed you to be our prince and judge? Are you going to kill me as you killed that Egyptian yesterday?"
Then Moses was afraid, thinking, "Everyone knows what I did."
And sure enough, Pharaoh heard what had happened, and he tried to kill Moses. But Moses fled from Pharaoh and went to live in the land of Midian.
I believe Moses knew for a long time that he was destined to do something. Yet he was threatened with death, and he fled, not only from Egypt, but also from his call.

In my experience through seminary, through the supervised years program, and looking around the conference, I see a lot of second career pastors. Some didn’t hear God calling them until later in life. But many ignored or ran from that calling. It wasn’t until God called their name twice that they finally listened.
I want to tell you a little bit about how God called me. God didn’t first call me to the pastorate. God called me to a prayer group. It was in that prayer group that I heard God call me to Russia. And it was the Russia experience through which I heard God call me to seminary and into the ministry. Before I joined that prayer group, I was figuratively tending sheep in the desert. I was studying German in college instead of preparing for ministry. I had never led a Bible study or prayer group when I went to Russia, but when I came back, I was ready to do both.
When God called Moses, Moses didn’t think he was qualified to lead God’s people. To the outsider, this looks silly. Of course he was qualified. Moses was raised in Pharaoh’s household. He received all of the education that a son of the Pharaoh would have received. For him to be unqualified would be like me saying I was unqualified to coach soccer here because my only coaching course was given in Kentucky. Duh. But there’s a saying that’s appropriate to this conversation: God doesn’t call the equipped; God equips the called.
I believe we sometimes don’t hear from God because we don’t listen to God, and, like Moses, we don’t believe God when He calls us.
I’m convinced that we don’t listen to God calling us, so God has to call our names twice. I think you’re more like Moses than you may know – one thing’s for certain; when it comes to certain tasks, we’re reluctant leaders.
It’s coming time for Nominations Committee to start finding leaders for next year, and every time I’ve been a part of nominations, there are some jobs that are extremely hard to fill. How’s this for an idea: if we don’t have a leader for an area, maybe we shouldn’t work in that area. I once had someone tell me, "I can’t help in that area because it’s too important a job." Guess who I got to help in that area? Nobody. I guess it was so important that going without it was better than having someone step up and allow God to work through them. Can you imagine God letting Moses off the hook? I can’t see God saying, "You’re right, Moses, it’s too important to lead my people out of Egypt, so you go back to tending sheep."

Think about this – I’ve been trying to start up Bible studies and discipleship groups, but I’ve had a hard time finding leaders. Lots of people have told me, "I’d like to be in one," but I haven’t had anyone tell me, "I’d like to lead one."
I’ll be in a Bible study… but don’t ask me to lead it!"
By not leading one – which doesn’t mean you’ve suddenly got to be the expert, by the way – you’re in effect saying, "It’s not important enough."
Likewise with other areas of ministry. God will equip us to do mighty things, if only we agree to serve Him in whatever capacity He asks of us. Here are some specific ways you can answer God’s call.
  • I am starting a leadership study group in October. We will read through Erwin McManus’ An Unstoppable Force and will meet on Thursday evenings to discuss it with specific reference to our church and how we can better mobilize to reach our area and the world for Jesus Christ.
  • There are lots of you who want to be in a Bible study – is anyone brave enough to tell me right now that you’d like to host it? If you’ll tell me that, we can get one started this week, probably with people right here in this room. I can get materials to you.
  • Is God calling you to help in the nursery during Sunday School or Church?
  • Is God calling you to substitute teach the high school class?
  • If you aren’t serving in some way, what is one way you can work for God’s kingdom right here in this church?

Leading God’s people out of slavery was important enough for God to call Moses twice. God had already prepared Moses to lead His people out of slavery. I believe God has prepared each of you to follow Him and to answer His call. Will He have to call you twice?

Monday, September 3, 2007

Communion - What's Next?

So if you're serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides. Don't shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ—that's where the action is. See things from his perspective.

Your old life is dead. Your new life, which is your real life—even though invisible to spectators—is with Christ in God. He is your life.

Colossians 3:1-3 (Message)

Church camp was always a great time for me. I loved the setting in rural Indiana where I would spend a week every summer learning, playing games, memorizing scripture, worshiping God, eating camp food (honestly, I thought it was pretty good), and hanging out with Christian kids from all over north central Indiana.

One of the highlights of camp was the real way I would experience God. In fact, it seems like every summer, I was led to conviction about something, and on Friday night, I’d make my pledge to God that I’d straighten up, I’d read the Bible daily, I’d do whatever it took to live out the Christian life.

But inevitably by the time I got back to school in the fall, I wouldn’t even remember what it was that I’d committed to. All sorts of other things that were important to me, like sports, school, and girls, would absorb my time, energy, and attention. I left camp with great intentions of winning the world to Christ, but those intentions faded quickly. I left camp with a great relationship with Jesus Christ and wanting to continue, but that relationship faded right along with the other camp relationships.

When I was a kid, we learned the “steps” to becoming a Christian. It all seemed so easy. They went like this: confess your sins, repent of your sins, be baptized, live a Christian life. It sounded simple. Live a Christian life. That’s it. I thought it was supposed to be really easy. After all, I never heard adults admit that they struggled with living a Christian life. Little did I realize, much of the Bible deals with exactly this question: how do we live the Christian life?

So how are we, as resurrection people, supposed to live now? This was what Paul was writing to the Colossians about. In today’s scripture reading, he gave them – and gives us three concrete points to follow:
 If we’re serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it.
 Pursue the things over which Christ presides.
 See things from Christ’s perspective.

In college, in a German conversation course, we were supposed to interview a classmate and then describe that person in a presentation in class. The person who chose my name was a teammate from the soccer team, so he asked me, “I think I know you well enough – do I have to interview you?” I figured he didn’t need to. So in his presentation, he described me: loudmouthed, brash, arrogant, quick-tempered, and short-fused. My classmates were surprised to hear me described in those ways, because that’s not what they saw in the classroom. My soccer teammate, however, described me that way because he knew me on the field, and – this is the good part – he thought all of those were good attributes for his goalkeeper. I lived by the rule that I was the goalkeeper – so I acted like it. I made sure I looked and acted like a good goalkeeper from the minute I walked onto the field. Believe it or not, that carried over into the games. My teammates believed that I was a good goalkeeper, so they played better in front of me, and because they played so well, it made me better, too.
We as Christians have a duty to act like Christians. There is a problem when the divorce rate inside the church isn’t any different from that outside the church. There is a problem when teenage pregnancy rates outside the church aren’t any different than those inside the church. There is a problem when outsiders see church people as gossips, as greedy, as, well, un-Christian. There is a problem when people say, “I like Jesus, but I don’t like church people.” – and believe me, if you haven’t heard this, the only reason is because you haven’t been listening to today’s culture.

They see Christian people living as if there was no God. This is simply unacceptable. If you’re serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it.

You might be asking, “How am I supposed to act like it? Wasn’t that your main point – that people always said, ‘Live a Christian life’ but they never described what that looked like?” Paul already thought of that. He goes on to tell his readers to pursue the things over which Christ presides.

What kinds of things does Christ preside over?
[Invite congregation participation]

These, then, are the sorts of things we, as Christians, need to be pursuing. Too often we shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of us, and we ignore what Jesus Christ is doing all around us. The action is where Christ is present, where He is working, and where He is leading.

To get there, we must look at things, programs, and people with Christ’s perspective. What is Christ’s perspective?

Well, when we describe anyone’s perspective, it’s the way they see things. The phrase “looking through rose-colored glasses” is appropriate – if we view things through glasses with a certain color tint, everything will appear that color. We could say that Jesus views everyone through the lens of the cross – cross-shaped glasses, if you will.

In His perspective, we are all people that His Father created in His own image. We are all persons of worth, no matter what our name or background. We are all people whose sins are meant to be covered by the sacrifice He made for us on the cross, if only we accept His grace. From His perspective, we were all created on purpose, for a purpose. Are we living on purpose, or are we just running around like chickens with our heads cut off?

We celebrate Communion today, and as we do so, we’ll confess our sins to God and to one another. We will announce what we know is true – that in the name of Jesus Christ, we are forgiven of our sins. We will participate in the Lord’s Supper, celebrating Christ’s body, broken for us and His blood, shed for us. We will get to reflect on the great mystery of the faith – Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again. And as we rise from the table, cleansed of sin and in unity with Jesus Christ and the Church, let’s act like Christians, pursuing the things over which Christ presides and looking at all things through Jesus Christ’s perspective.