Read Romans 12
Read 1 Corinthians 12
It is the 21st Century and churches across this country are struggling. Churches seem to be looking for identity.
Christians are looking for identity. Some are just hoping the end will come soon because it seems really hard to follow Jesus in the middle of a world that once again seems to be rejecting God.
So what do we do?
First, let’s look at what we know?
We have the word. We call it the Bible. It is the Holy Bible. It is one book that is really made up of 66 books, written by many authors all of whom were inspired by the same Spirit.
We have the Word. We call him Jesus. He is God’s divine message to the world. This message came not in inspired writings but in the flesh bearing our sin so we could know the extent of God’s love.
We know things that we can neither understand nor explain and we know that this is God’s own Spirit working within us.
So the first things that we know we know tell us that we are not navigating this crazy world blindly.
Next, we know that we are challenged to do two things that seem in opposition to one another. We are called to live this life to the full and we are called to give our entire lives to God as a living sacrifice.
We are called to abundance and to sacrifice at the same time.
Our dichotomous logic would tell us that we can only choose one or the other. Do we choose abundance or sacrifice?
But if one God and one Spirit have called us to both, must we truly choose one over the other?
What do we know?
God loves us.
He has wonderful plans for us.
He has things that no human eye has ever seen just waiting for us. What God has in store for us is just more than we can imagine. Imagining that which we cannot imagine goes beyond our imagination.
But we live in the here and now and the here and now is pretty messy, sometimes even outright ugly. This world is broken and defies the kingdom and the righteousness of God.
Somebody ought to do something about that.
We just happen to be those somebodies.
Just how can I be that somebody when I am trying to figure out if I am supposed to live a full life or make my whole life a sacrifice?
And the answer to that question is, “Yes you are.”
In our sacrifice we find abundance. In our abundance is the call to sacrifice. And in that sacrifice we again find abundance.
How can this be?
How can this be?
Really? The answer is relationship?
We who are the body of Christ are many; yet we form a single organism. Christ is the head. We are the body.
From a single Spirit come many gifts. God’s own Spirit has deposited gifts galore among God’s children.
So from many, we form one; and from One we become many.
We are different parts of the same body; yet, one Spirit has given out many different gifts to be used for the good of the one body.
If you are wondering how to bring glory to God in a world that has rejected him, just look around. We are connected to one another. Just about everything that we do to worship God and serve him involves other people.
We are to value others more than ourselves. We don’t look down upon anyone.
When we look at ourselves, we do so with the soberest of minds. We realize that God has given us both gifts and the faith to use them.
Go back to the beginning of the story. God said that it was not good for man to be alone. He made a helper. He made a mate or a companion.
This whole business of life got to the business of relationship very quickly. The relationship of God and man was followed by the relationship of man with each other.
Now relationships involve more than husband and wife. The natural union of that relationship brings children, and eventually grandchildren and aunts and uncles and cousins.
We are made to live in relationship with one another.
Through the blood of Christ we can live in right relationship with God and with one another.
Jesus told his disciples that he was giving them a new command, that they love one another.
Paul never seemed to be at a loss for words. He had plenty of instruction as to how we should treat each other. He packed plenty of instruction as to how to be love in action.
· Your love must be sincere.
· Hate what is evil.
· Hold on tightly to what is good.
· Be devoted to one another in love.
· Honor one another above yourselves.
· Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.
· Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.
· Share with the Lord’s people who are in need.
· Practice hospitality.
· Bless those who persecute you,
· Bless and do not curse.
· Rejoice with those who rejoice.
· Mourn with those who mourn.
· Live in harmony with one another.
· Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position.
· Do not be conceited.
· Do not repay anyone evil for evil.
· Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.
· If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
· Do not take revenge. Trust that God will settle whatever scores need settling.
· On the contrary: If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
· In doing this, you will make him squirm in his unrighteous condition and perhaps he will come to see the truth.
· Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Wow! It seems like we are back to living by the rules again, and these rules seem even more difficult than much of the stuff written in the Law of Moses.
It seems like we got a whole new list of rules that are more difficult to live by than anything we have tried before.
But we need to remember the target audience. Paul is talking to believers. Paul is talking to people who have been saved by grace.
That includes us.
We have just never learned what it is like to live in grace. The rules carry no punishment for us.
The rules carry no punishment for us.
They are still good rules whether they are etched on stone tablets or penned on parchment, but we are not condemned when we break the rules.
We live in grace.
So when we are doing everything that we should be doing and our gifts are producing good fruit for the body of Christ, we live in grace.
When we are frustrated beyond belief and maybe we can’t find other words to express this state than those that burn people’s ears, we live in grace.
When we feed the poor, we live in grace.
When we ignore them, we live in grace.
When we renew our minds by studying God’s written word, we live in grace.
When we watch another rerun of Law and Order, we live in grace.
Our lives are not about punishment. The wrath of God was poured out on his own son for our sins. The punishment question is settled. The price has been paid.
Our lives are about living for God. We live them fully and all for him. We live abundantly and sacrificially.
Before we knew our salvation, we lived for ourselves. Even if we were trying to live a life approved by God, it was generally because we wanted to get to heaven and didn’t want to burn in hell.
That outcome is no longer undecided. We belong to God. We are his children and his heirs.
Christ Jesus is our brother.
There is no punishment for us.
So why live good lives?
Why live godly lives?
Why try to follow the rules when there is no punishment if we don’t?
Is it all about rewards? That seems a little selfish.
What if now we can finally live abundantly? We don’t have to wonder if I do the wrong thing will I end up in hell.
We are finally free to truly live.
The obstacle here for so many is that sounds like a license to sin. It sounds like; let’s go sin all we can because we can get away with it.
What we really have is a license to live. We no longer worry about judgment and condemnation; therefore, we are free to take the faith we have been given and energize some of those gifts and talents within us, and live a life that pleases God.
I did not say that there is no judgment. I said, we don’t worry about it. We live in grace.
So is there no consequence for sin?
There is great consequence for sin. The relationships that we know with God and with each other as we navigate this world become strained. We no longer enjoy the fullness of these relationships. Sin kills relationships.
The gifts that came from the one Spirit are not being used for the good of the entire body.
The body composed of many parts has some that are not working. Some are infected and the whole body is weakened.
When every part sacrifices selfishness for the good of the other parts and the whole, the whole body lives fully. You might say abundantly.
When the whole body of Christ lives unselfishly, it also lives abundantly.
In our sacrificial living we know abundance.
In our unselfishness, we know fullness.
Sometimes we think that we are that part of the body that has to do all the dirty work. Why did I have to be the kidney and filter out all of those impurities? I wanted to be the mouth. I’ve got something to say you know.
It reminds me of the cartoon with the toothbrush and the toilet paper. The toilet paper says to the toothbrush, “Tell me one more time how bad your job is.”
We are a part of the body. We have our gifts. We have our faith.
So I ask now what I asked in the beginning. We live in the middle of a world that neither knows nor loves God, so what is the follower of Jesus to do?
Be the part of the body God made us to be.
Use the gifts that he gave us.
Put the measure of faith that he gave each of us to use into action.
Where does that get us?
It gets us to the point where we know what God’s good, and pleasing, and perfect will is for us.
In the middle of an evil, and displeasing, and imperfect world, we will know the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.
While our relationship with our Creator and Savior and Counselor is an individual relationship; the journey that we have set upon is a trip for the whole family.
From many books we have one Holy Bible.
From one Holy Bible we have many books.
From one Spirit we have been given many gifts.
From many parts we form one body.
The very fact that we worship a single God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit should tell us that we are made to live in relationship with God and with each other.
We are one out of many and out of many we are one.
If we are following Jesus and frustrated to be living in this ungodly age, then we have forgotten that we are not on this journey alone.
We have forgotten that we are part of the Body of Chirst.
We are a family of faith.
We are a covenant community.
If you find you are struggling and frustrated and don’t know what to do, then get connected.
Start making sacrifices of time and treasure and talents for the body of Christ. If we want to get to abundance and fullness in our lives we need to start with sacrifice.
Robin Williams death has surfaced the topic of depression once again into the national discussion. I can’t speak to the clinical aspects of this, but I can speak to the spirit that lives within each of us.
When we step out in faith and act unselfishly—even sacrificially—and help another person or another family, or get involved with a ministry of believers who are helping somebody somewhere, God’s Spirit connects with yours.
You are connected to the body of Christ and God’s own Spirit is communing with you.
And when your spirit is plugged into God’s own Spirit, there is no such thing as depression. We may experience intense mercy and compassion but never depression.
But we live in a culture that wants to be disconnected. What is the appeal of the mega church today?
You can go to church and not have to be the church.
You can show up and get your coffee and pick out a seat and sing if you want and listen to a very polished message without having to know anyone who attends that service.
You can catch up on your text messages during anything that seems boring.
You don’t have to connect with anyone.
You can go to church and not be the church.
Do you know what the highly technical theological term for this is?
Horsehockey. And no, that is not an equestrian sport involving horses with no teeth and Canadian accents.
The church is about connections. It is about relationships.
In the mega church—the disconnected church—who visits the sick?
Who makes sure that the folks who couldn’t get to the fellowship meal are brought a meal?
Who is there to encourage someone going through a trial?
We are brothers and sisters in Christ but the disconnected church looks like a gathering of strangers at a family reunion.
The preachers and teachers on television generally produce exceptional supplemental instruction but they offer the epitome of the disconnected church.
The church is about many coming together to become one body and about one Spirit generously distributing many gifts.
Do you know why most young people come back to a church body after they graduate high school and go on to the workforce or college?
It usually is not the youth group. We love our youth groups, but when you graduate, you are not in that group anymore.
What brings people back are the connections made between and among generations. The six year old kid that grew up with hugs from people he thought might have lived in Old Testament times—those are the connections that keep on connecting.
I have done some things in my time as pastor that others might condemn. I have given people a ride to worship every year since being called to ministry. Most of the time, I tell them that they need to find someone in the congregation to get a ride with over the next few weeks.
Usually after I have given that person a ride 3 or 4 times, I let them know it is time to get here with someone else.
I am not absolute in this matter, but I am insistent that people connect. A disconnected church is no church at all.
I am blessed to minister in a body that connects so readily. We have a corporate spirit that welcomes and seeks the connection of other believers.
Some return and some don’t. But I know that if they had asked almost anyone for a ride, they would have gotten a “yes” for an answer.
Cumberland Presbyterians claim to be a connectional church, and sometimes we struggle with that beyond the connections of the congregation.
But every time I have asked this session to connect with our sister church in Mangum in any way, the answer has always been “yes.”
I have asked the ministerial alliance to make some changes in the way we do Thanksgiving Baskets. I have asked to decentralize the process so it works less like a vending machine and more like a church.
There will likely be a few more people in our community who will call me that mean ole man but turkey and dressing without living water and the bread of life is not what the life of the church is all about.
Don’t worry, we won’t let any kids go hungry.
But my message to those who say that they follow Jesus is that they better get connected to a group of people who really do.
We are many parts of one body and the one Spirit has given each of us many gifts. We are connected.
So many around us are disconnected. They want some church when they need help but they do not want to be the church.
You can decide if I am a mean ole man or not, but here is what I have decided.
When the day comes when I will answer not for my salvation which is a gift so precious and beyond comprehension, but for what I did with my gifts and talents that God gave me as a redeemed man, and for the position of pastor that he entrusted to me; I will not have to say, “I just did the same thing as the last guy. I didn’t want to rock the boat. I just tried to maintain the status quo.”
I will say, “People might have thought me to be crazy and I might have fallen flat on my face a dozen times trying different things, but I never gave up trying to connect the disconnected.”
Paul said that love must be sincere.
We are called to speak the truth in love. Sometimes we just leave out the truth part. It is a might prickly sometimes.
The truth in 2014 America is that too many who say they know Jesus are disconnected from those who follow him.
What are we going to do?
From one Spirit we have so many gifts. We have been given a measure of faith.
Let’s take our faith and use our gifts and find a way to connect the disconnected.
Those who have professed Jesus as Lord are already part of the church. They are a disconnected for sure, but they became a part of the church when they professed JESUS IS LORD.
We are really not looking at a whole lot of new professions of faith. We are connecting those who are disconnected from the body.
We are calling everyone home.
We are going after the lost sheep.
We are finding the lost coin.
We are on the lookout for the lost son.
My challenge to you is to find one lost sheep this week and bring him home. Bring her home.
Bring her back to the body.
Bring him back to the family of faith.
Bring a family back to the covenant community.
Out of many we make one body.
From one Spirit we enjoy many gifts.
But until so many come home, we are still incomplete.
We are right where we should be but our body is not complete.
Our personal relationship with God has been made complete in Christ Jesus, but we are not complete as the body of Christ with so many who remain disconnected.
Let us get connected. When we have the Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit working in us, our connections are characterized by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, humility, and self-control.
Speaking the truth comes much easier when it is delivered via the fruit of the Spirit. We have God’s own Spirit working in us.
We are equipped to connect, so let’s do it. Let us connect the disconnected.
Let us bring them home.
Bring them home.
Bring them home.